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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Namibia

2018 Narrative

Having all gathered in Windhoek, our first afternoon started with a visit to Windhoek Water Treatment plant. The combination of all those lagoons and associated vegetation was perfect for lots of birds. The variety of water birds on and around the pools included good numbers of African Darters, Squacco Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green-backed Heron, Hamerkop, South African Shelduck, Hottentot Teal, Southern Pochard, Red-knobbed Coot, African Purple Swamphen, and Black Crakes. Diedrik Cuckoos called loudly from the trees, African Palm Swifts and European Bee-eaters swooped overhead, and hundreds of Wattled Starlings busied themselves looking for insects while in the dense reeds we teased out African Reed and Lesser Swamp Warblers, and Rattling Cisticolas. The next morning we had a few hours at Avis Dam where our main quarry, Rockrunner, showed really well, as did the very vocal Orange River Francolins. Other highlights included Common Scimitarbill, hoards of glowing Southern Red Bishops in full breeding plumage, Mountain Wheatears, Icterine Warbler, Lesser and Red-backed Shrike, and Pririt Batis.

Having sorted out vehicle issues we began our journey south, taking a back road that soon found us in some good habitat. Well, once we had passed hundreds of Marabou Storks at the city tip that is! Our drive was punctuated with numerous stops. At lunch we found a party of 12Violet Woodhoopes along with Burchells’ Starlings, Groundscraper Thrushes, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Desert Cisticola, and Kalahari Scrub Robin. There were also numerous White-back Vultures, some impressive Lappet-faced Vultures, and plenty of Sabota Larks but perhaps the real highlight of the drive was a fine Ludwig’s Bustard that stayed right by the roadside for several minutes, and not long after we were looking at three Ruppell’s Korhaans.

A dawn walk at Namib Grens produced Bokmakarie and Layards Tit Babbler, and leaving this interesting lodge we were soon admiring the view from Spreetshoogte Pass, along with the sought-after Hereo Chat which showed really well for us. Storks and more Sabota Larks, Long-billed Pipits, and Short-toed Rock-thrush followed and lower down we found Pygmy Falcon and Northern Black Korhaan. We made a welcome stop at Solitaire during the heat of the day before reaching our accommodation, the impressive Sossus Dune Lodge. This was our base to explore the wonderful dunes that dominate this part of Namibia, and a visit at dawn made the most of the low sun and striking shadows and colours. This was the perfect place to find Namibia’s only endemic, Dune Lark, and it did not take us long to locate a pair scurrying over the sand. Sean gave us a brilliant explanation of how these amazing dune systems were created, and then it was off across the vast expanse of the Namib Nakluft Desert, heading for the coast at Walvis Bay. This barren landscape is not exactly teeming with birds, but while Gray’s Lark showed well, the same could not be said for the distant Double-banded and Burchell’s Coursers.

The abundant birdlife around Walvis Bay was in complete contrast to what we had experienced before – there were literally hundreds of thousands of birds. We found the salt pans to be teeming with life: both species of flamingo, Great White Pelicans, gangs of Black-necked Grebes, Cape Teal, Pied Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, African Black Oystercatchers, and so much more. Plovers were well represented with lots of White-fronted, Chestnut-banded, and Kittlitz’s Plovers around the edges of the salt pans. There was also a single American Golden Plover to add to the mix along with a wide variety of other waders, including some Red-necked Phalaropes. And then there were terns – thousands of them with Common, Swift, Caspian, Sandwich, and Black. However getting a good view of the localised Damara Tern took some work but we managed it in the end. Out to sea there were countless Cape Cormorants, and a few interesting seabirds with Sooty and Cory’s Shearwaters, Cape Gannets, and some distant skuas which eventually resolved in to Arctic and a few Pomarine. Inland we had some wonderfully tame Tractrac Chats.

Leaving the coast our journey took us first to see the amazing Welwitchia plants and then into the Erongo Hills, and another interesting lodge set into the domes of red rocks typical of the area. Here we caught up with White-tailed Shrikes and the rare Hartlaub’s Francolin, a group of which entertained us before breakfast. There was also some ancient rock art to be seen and as dusk fell Freckled Nightjars buzzed around the lodge and landed right outside the restaurant, while other highlights here included lots of Rosy-faced Lovebirds. Leaving here we eventually got to grips with Benguela Long-billed Lark before reaching our next lodge. This was surrounded by some lush vegetation, where we caught up with Red-crested Korhaan, our first Red-necked Falcon, and Bare-cheeked Babbler, while a night drive here produced Southern White-faced Scops Owl, Barn Owl and a selection of mammals including some comical Spring Hares and a fleeting Brown Hyaena.

And so on to Etosha, where we would stay at two locations allowing us to fully explore this world-famous National Park. With the recent rains many mammals had dispersed throughout the Park but as soon as we entered we saw our first Giraffes which were to be a common sight throughout our visit. Springbok, the black-fronted form of Impala, Greater Kudu, Blue Wildebeest, and Burchell’s Zebras were all common and we had some wonderful encounters with group of African Elephants. We had one close encounter with a group of Lions, plus some distant ones, but probably the star mammal was Hook-lipped (or Black) Rhinoceros. Not only were we treated to some great views around the floodlit waterhole at Okakuejo Lodge at night, but we also came across a party of three at a waterhole in the daytime, which were then joined by a mother and well-grown calf – a memorable experience.

Bird highlights were many. The waterholes inevitably were the focus of our attention as they almost always contained a wider variety of birds. Waterhole highlights included Abdim’s and Yellow-billed Storks, Glossy Ibis, a selection of ducks including Knob-billed Duck, lots of waders including Black-tailed Godwit, a rarity here, and Wattled Lapwing. After some searching we also located a couple of pairs of stately Blue Cranes. Smaller birds were also attracted and almost any scrap of water had a myriad of birds dropping in, ranging from Grey-backed Sparrowlarks to Larklike Bunting and included in this were a few Pink-billed Larks. Away from the waterholes the open grassland and savannah also held birds. There were lots of Ostrich, a couple of Secretarybirds, Woolly-necked Storks, lots of Kori Bustards and Northern Black Korhaans, Burchell’s, Temminck’s and Double-banded Coursers (all of which showed well), and Namaqua, Burchell’s and Double-banded Sandgrouse.

There was a good sprinkling of raptors including Bateleur, Martial and Tawny Eagles, Montagu’s Harrier, Shikra, Gabar Goshawk, African Harrier Hawk, and some obliging Red-necked Falcons. However pride of place goes to an Eleanora’s Falcon perched at one of the waterholes which proved to be the first for Namibia. The various lodges we stayed at and visited en route into were also good spots for birds  at one we found a day roosting African Scops Owl.

Leaving Etosha behind we headed for our final destination, the Waterberg Plateau. This National Park is dominated by a huge table mountain and our lodge was located right at the base of this, close to a spring that created an almost tropical setting. One of the main targets here was Ruppell’s Parrot and eventually we had good views of these feeding on acacia seed pods. Less obliging was the other target bird, Bradfield’s Hornbill. Despite hearing them calling, getting anything other than a fleeting glimpse proved difficult. But there were still plenty of other things to see here: a fine perched African Hawk Eagle, a Walhberg’s eagle gliding along the cliff face, more Hartlaub’s Francolins, a large flock of Bradfield’s Swifts screaming overhead, Southern Pied Babblers, Damara Hornbills, and African Paradise Flycatcher to mention a few. After dark we were visited by a Cape Porcupine while we were eating dinner, and at dusk and dawn we found some agile Lesser Galagos bouncing around the trees.

And then it was the long drive back to Windhoek where we had just enough time to find a roosting Bat Hawk showing well in the town, before we needed to connect with our various flights back home.

- Steve Rooke

Created: 27 March 2018