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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


2022 Narrative

IN BRIEF: This tour, which began in Windhoek and ended there 14 days later, covered 4,035 kilometers in total. As usual, the landscapes covered were diverse and interesting, taking in various habitat types from mixed thornveld, savanna, desert, mopane woodland, scrub, and mixed savanna. Most of the key species were seen except for the elusive Blue Cranes of the Etosha Park. All in all, 268 different bird species were seen (3 only heard, but not seen). 40 different mammals and 9 reptiles were recorded on the trip. This was the “Martial Eagle tour”, seeing no fewer than nine individuals.


Day 1: We picked up the group at the Hosea Kutako airport outside Windhoek and drove to River Crossing Lodge to book in and prepare for lunch. We took an afternoon drive to Avis dam nearby and walk around, doing some introduction birding, then later birded around the lodge. Around the Avis dam, we recorded a single Great White Egret, approximately thirty Egyptian Geese, a few Cape Teal and, in the surrounding grassland, African Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, several Red-billed Spurfowl, and a few Blacksmith Lapwings. Other species seen were Speckled Pigeon, Alpine, Bradfield’s, Little, White-rumped and African palm-Swifts, White-backed Mousebirds, Grey Go-away Birds, Great-spotted, Jacobin and Diederik Cuckoos, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, and Rufous-crowned Roller. Greater Striped Swallows and African Rock Martins were plentiful as were African Red-eyed Bulbul, Chestnut-vented Warbler (Tit Babbler), Rosy-faced Lovebirds, and Pririt Batis. The smaller seed eaters included Southern and Lesser Masked Weavers (a breeding colony of both species), Green-winged Pytilia, Scaly-feathered Finch (Weaver), Blue and Black-faced Waxbill, Black-throated Canary, and Golden-breasted and Cape bunting. Sunbirds included Marico, Scarlet-chested, and Dusky. Savanna Baboons were seen along the road from the airport. Around the lodge and at the Avis dam Rock Hyrax were also seen.

Day 2: After breakfast on the second day, we visited the Gammam’s Water treatment plant. Because of the recent rains there was not too much activity in the waterbird line, however we did see White-breasted and Long-tailed (Reed) Cormorants, Cattle Egrets, and Black-crowned Night Heron, Red knobbed Coot, Common Moorhen, African Jacana, good views of Red Bishop, White-throated Swallows, African Reed and Sedge Warblers, as well as some species seen the previous day.

Along the road to Spreetshoogte on the edge of the Namib desert we saw White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures, Common Ostrich, Black-chested Prinia, White-tailed Shrike, Marico and Chat Flycatchers, Southern Grey-headed and Great Sparrows, White-browed Sparrow Weavers, Red-billed Buffalo Weavers, Sociable Weavers with their colossal nests, and at the pass some Chestnut Weavers in full breeding plumage. On arrival at the lodge, we had good views of Karoo Scrub Robins in the garden. Other species in the area included Red-headed Finch, Lark-like Bunting, Common Fiscal and Lesser Grey Shrike. Dusky Sunbirds were plentiful, and a few Scarlet-chested Sunbirds were also observed. We had our packed lunch overlooking the Namib desert on top of the pass before returning to Namibgrens for the night. Before dinner, we called in a Spotted Eagle Owl which showed well!

Day 3: The following morning before breakfast, we did a short walk around the granite hills and managed good views of Rockrunner, Pale-winged Starling, Sabota Larks, Spotted Flycatcher, Acacia Pied Barbet, Bokmakierie, Fork-tailed Drongo, Layard’s Warbler (Tit Babbler), and Mountain Wheatear. After packing up and returning to the main lodge for breakfast, we started our drive to Sesriem where we spent the night. En route we saw some interesting birds such as the elusive Herero Chat, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Chestnut Weavers once again in breeding plumage, a pair of wonderful Pygmy Falcons. Other raptors included Pale-chanting Goshawks, Lanner Falcon, Greater and Rock Kestrels, Steppe Buzzard, Black-winged (shouldered) Kite, and, on leaving the farm, a confiding European Honey Buzzard. Namaqua Sandgrouse, Namaqua Doves, Cape Turtle Doves, and Monotonous Larks were common at the bottom of the pass. Further along the route we encountered our first of several Ludwig’s Bustards and Rüppell’s Korhaan. We arrived at the Dead Valley Lodge and spent the afternoon driving to Sossusvlei where Cape Sparrows, and Namaqua Doves were seen, and a mother Bat-eared Fox with three youngsters was seen en route, as well as small groups of Springbok and Oryx (Gemsbok). We then spent the late afternoon searching for the only endemic to Namibia, the Dune Lark (although there were many tracks the birds were silent and the only bird was spotted in the fading light!). We then travelled back to the lodge and prepared for dinner, and after the daily bird list all retired for the night.

Day 4: We drove through the Namib desert that was greening up after recent rains and did birding along the way. Lappet-faced Vultures, a single Augur Buzzard, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Pale-chanting Goshawks, Lanner, Red-necked, Pygmy and Red-footed Falcons, Starks and Grey-backed Sparrow Larks, Black and Pied Crows, and several species seen the days before were also observed. On arrival in Walvis Bay the vehicle had to go in for a tyre repair and the group did birding along the promenade in front of the lodge. Birds seen included Caspian, Swift, Sandwich, Common, and Black Terns, and a host of waders including Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers, White-fronted Plovers, Sanderlings, Curlew Sandpipers, and Eurasian Whimbrel. Black-necked Grebe, White-breasted and Cape Cormorants, and Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls were all there in numbers. Huge flocks of primarily Common Terns were seen fishing in the lagoon- the sheer numbers were mind blowing!

Day 5: A full morning birding around the lagoon added Damara Tern, Little Egret, and breeding Caspian Terns. Hundreds of Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Great White Pelicans, Common Waxbill, Crowned Cormorant, and Grey Herons were also observed. We then travelled to Swakopmund to search for Gray’s Lark and Orange River White-eye (which we found!), and on returning to Walvis Bay we spent time at the sewerage ponds and added South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, Purple Swamphen, Kittlitz’s Plover, and several others seen over the past few days.

Day 6: We left Walvis Bay early for Erongo Wild via Spitzkoppe. After turning off onto the gravel road the birding started! We had several species which we had seen before, and then encountered huge flocks of Yellow-billed Kites feeding on termite alates (erupting after the rain the previous evening). Amongst the Kites we were happy to find four Lesser Spotted Eagles, a single Steppe Eagle, and a large flock of Abdim’s Storks- some of which landed close by, providing excellent views. Further along the road we encountered a single female Lesser Kestrel and had good views of two Jacobin Cuckoos before encountering our first Hornbills, both Monteiro’s and Damara Red-billed. Many species seen on previous days were once again seen, and Common Scimitarbill and Red-capped Larks were added to the list. Hartlaub’s Spurfowl behaved well and we had some stunning views around the rooms. At dinner we called in a pair of Freckled Nightjars, which landed nearby and showed well. A Western Barn Owl also made an appearance.

Day 7: We departed Erongo Wild to Hobatere Lodge, located on the border of Etosha National Park. We drove via Omaruru and then Uis for lunch (with friends Rowan and Margitta) where we fixed the door (which had rattled loose on the corrugated roads), and then continued via Kamanjab to refuel and then on to Hobatere Lodge. A night drive delivered our first game and a pair of mating lions, African Wild Cat and a few birds including Crowned Lapwing and Spotted Thicknee. In the campgrounds, Meve’s Long-tailed Starling and Damara Red-billed Hornbill were common, and at dusk Double-banded Sandgrouse came in to drink at the waterhole. The rain had dispersed the game and not many mammals were seen! In the campgrounds Striped Tree Squirrels were  plentiful.

Day 8: Early morning, we heard and saw a pair of Giant Eagle Owl (Verreaux’s). We left Hobatere for western Etosha and enter the park via the Galton Gate. Many House Martins seen on the telephone wires at the gate and many calling Monotonous Larks! We traveled through the park to Okaukuejo and have lunch at Olifantsrus (Elephant’s rest) where they originally had a huge elephant cull. The road was very good up to Olifantsrus and disastrous thereafter. The game seen en route were Springbok, Black-faced Impala, Steenbok, Red Hartebeest, Blue Wildebeest, Angolan Giraffe, Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, Burchell’s (Plains) Zebra, with many Steenbok and Oryx (Gemsbok). New birds for our list included Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Fawn-colored Lark, Northern Black and Red-crested Korhaan, Kori Bustard, and Secretary bird. The night was spent at Okaukuejo; those that spent time at the waterhole after dinner had the first good sighting of Black Rhinoceros!

Day 9: After breakfast a drive to Okondeka proved fruitful with the first sighting of Tawny Eagle, Spike-heeled Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Capped Wheatear, and good views of Double-banded Courser. The afternoon drive took us via Gemsbokvlakte to Newbrownii waterhole and back to Okaukuejo. Along this route we had good views of Temminck’s courser, many Northern Black Korhaans, Kori Bustards, and both Grey-backed and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larks! The latter a new bird for our list. Other birds included a conglomerate of African White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures interacting on a kill with a lonely Marabou which provided some good views. No new animals were seen, but good views of Yellow Mongoose were obtained. Other mammals included Black-backed Jackals, Greater Kudu, Oryx (Gemsbok), and Angolan Giraffe. The waterhole delivered nothing for the second night! Too much water lying around in the veld after the recent rainfalls.

Day 10: The day was spent travelling eastwards through the park with lunch in Halali and the on to Namutoni for the night. While in Halali at lunch we got good views of Violet Woodhoopoe, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Groundscraper Thrush, and Damara Red-billed and African Grey Hornbills. En route to Namutoni from Halali a few Spotted Hyaena showed well. A pride of lion was observed on the hunt, with about 8 or 9 individuals, and a distant cheetah was seen. Several other game species including Burchell’s Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest, Springbok, Greater Kudu, and several Steenbok were seen. Southern Pied Babblers showed well on a few occasions as did Crimson-breasted Shrike and a couple of juvenile Gabar Goshawks. After booking in at Namutoni we went for an afternoon drive around Dik-dik Drive and saw several of these tiny antelopes, plus many Black-faced Impala and Angolan Giraffe. Birds included a pair of confiding Verreaux’s Eagle-owls (Giant), Green-winged Pytilia, Violet-eared Waxbills, Southern Red-billed Hornbills, Crowned and Blacksmith’s Lapwings, and a Tawny Eagle.

Day 11: Once the gates had opened, we travelled to the Andoni Plains to look for Blue Cranes. However, there had been a lot of rain recently, and unfortunately the birds were not located. Along the way we had our first sighting of an African Elephant bull and spent some time observing him! We did however have splendid views of Eastern Clapper Larks, South African Shelducks, Cape Teal, Common (Steppe) Buzzards, Black-winged and Yellow-billed Kites, and many Lilac-breasted Rollers. Southern Ant-eating Chats were plentiful as were African Pipits and Desert, Zitting, and Rattling Cisticolas. Along this route we called in a Barred Wren-Warbler and good views were obtained. We returned via the pan’s edge and recorded Warthog, Greater Kudu, and Angolan Giraffe, and Rufous-naped Larks, Burchell’s Sandgrouse and a few Leopard Tortoises. However, the moment arrived when we had at least fifty African Elephants drinking and playing in ponds formed by the recent rains. Some time was spent there with these animals. At Fisher’s Pan there were small groups of Greater Flamingos, Red-knobbed Coots, Common Moorhens, many Greenshanks, and a few Ruff and Wood Sandpiper. Kori Bustards and Northern Black Korhaans abounded!

After lunch we took a drive to Twee Palms (Two Palms) hoping again to find the cranes, but they had all left the area. Many more Lilac-breasted Rollers and Southern Ant-eating Chats were seen with a few other species which we had seen on the morning drive.

Day 12: A quick drive around Dik-dik drive before departing from the park produced no new birds, but at the exit gate we had African Paradise Flycatchers, White-crested Helmet Shrikes, Eurasian Golden Oriole, (heard Black-headed Oriole), several Violet-backed Starlings, Black-backed Puffback and Pearl-spotted Owl. Many Black-faced Impala, a few Damara Dik-diks, and several Angolan Giraffe were seen on the way out. The long drive then commenced to the Waterberg Wilderness Lodge. No new birds were seen en route but once on the gravel road we had large groups of Long-tailed Paradise Whydahs, Shaft-tailed Whydahs, Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrikes, and several species which we had already recorded the previous few days. On arrival at the lodge, we heard the piping call of Bradfield’s Hornbill- our bird for the next morning. A short night walk delivered close-up Pearl-Spotted Owl and we had a Western Barn Owl fly over. The only Grey Duiker seen on the trip was seen briefly.

Day 13: The following morning in the grounds we had a group of Greater Kudu and an African Green Pigeon showing well before departing on a hike up the ravine. This hike was fruitful and delivered Hartlaub’s Spurfowl and Rockrunner calling at close range. We then called in a pair of Bradfield’s Hornbills that showed well. Damara Red-billed Hornbills were also seen on the walk. Very good views of a beautiful African Golden Oriole male were had, and then a real surprise was good views of Grey-headed Kingfisher and Black-backed Puffback.

In the afternoon we did a hike to Andersson’s Camp and had very good close-up views for all for those that had not seen the Rockrunner perfectly. Likewise was another pair of calling Hartlaub’s Spurfowl. A group of eight Violet Woodhoopoe were also called in and we watched them doing their flagging ritual by waving their tails up and down and calling on the top of their voices! Grey-backed Camaropteras abounded and were heard calling throughout. On calling in a Pearl-Spotted Owl, we had close views of Marico and White-bellied Sunbirds, and a pair of Crimson-breasted Shrikes mobbing the owl.

Day 14: At start to the day along the gravel road, we had good views of a pair of circling Verreaux’s Eagles and several birds we had seen earlier in the week. No new or exceptional birds were seen on the drive to River Crossing in Windhoek. We arrived in time for lunch and afterwards I bid farewell to all the participants who then spent a further night in Windhoek while I returned via the Bosua Pass back to Swakopmund.

                                                                                                                                                                          -   Steve Braine

Created: 31 March 2022