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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


2019 Narrative

After collecting the final participants at the airport and having lunch we decided to visit the Gammams water treatment area and get to grips with some of the locally common species. On arrival we were told due to an engineering mishap, an oil spill had happened and we were not allowed to enter. We then proceeded to Avis Dam instead. With a bit of effort we located one of our targets, the Orange River Francolin – a pair were seen well in the ‘scope along with a confiding Rockrunner shortly afterwards. Other good species included a few raptors in the form of Verreaux’s Eagle, Steppe Buzzard, Rock Kestrel, and Black-winged Kite. There were surprisingly few Southern Red Bishops this year, possibly due to the lack of rainfall. Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Great Spotted Cuckoo, White-backed Mousebird, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Black-faced Waxbill, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Red-headed Finch, Common Scimitarbill, and a breeding male Long-tailed Paradise Whydah all put in an appearance.

The next morning we had a pre-breakfast walk around the grounds of the lodge and bagged a few near-endemics in the form of Carp’s Tit, White-tailed Shrike and Damara Hornbill. Other good birds included better views of a pair of Orange River Francolins in front of the rooms as well as Rosy-faced Lovebird, a lovely pair of Pririt Batis, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Kalahari Scrub-robin, Barred Wren-warbler, the beautiful Short-toed Rock Thrush and Longbilled Crombec.

After breakfast and a quick stop in town we were on our way southbound on the C26, a gravel back road that winds through some pretty impressive countryside. Several stops en route provided views of three Ashy Tits, Chestnut vented Warbler (Tit-Babbler), Groundscraper Thrush, Burchell’s Starling, Red-crested and Northern Black Korhaan, great views of the elusive little Rufous-eared Warbler, an in-flight view of Brown Snake Eagle, Fawn-coloured Lark and Acacia Pied Barbet. On checking in at Namibgrens we were treated to quick views of Karoo Scrub-robin as well as a surprise European Honey Buzzard, a very pale form that allowed great perched and in-flight views. A quick afternoon walk produced very little but we had fleeting views of a single Layard’s Warbler and a single Rockrunner feeding between the bungalows. On the way back from dinner we encountered a Spotted Eagle Owl in the vehicle’s headlights, rounding off a pretty good birding day.

A dawn walk at Namib Grens produced Layard’s Tit Babbler as well as exceptional views of a calling male Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, a great start to the day. After breakfast we had better views of Karoo Scrub Robin as well as the very striking Bokmakierie, a bushshrike with striking yellow colouration. Departing Namibgrens we continued to the edge of the escarpment where the Spreetshoogde Pass winds down into the Namib, from the top it provides unparalleled views of the Namib Desert below.  A short search provided excellent views of our target species, Herero Chat; an adult and juvenile feeding down the gorge gave us ridiculously close views. Reaching the bottom we added Sabota Lark, the diminutive Pygmy Falcon, Rufous-crowned (Purple) Roller, and distant views of Karoo Chat.

We made a welcome stop at Solitaire during the heat of the day before reaching our accommodation, the impressive Sossus Dune Lodge. Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Stark’s Lark, and White-throated Canary were added en route. This spectacular setting is nestled on the edge of the Tsauchab River which drains into the famous Sossuvlei. The perfect habitat for Namibia’s only true endemic: the Dune Lark. We spent the afternoon searching in very windy conditions but managed to locate a pair quite easily which provided great entertainment for all as they scrambled through the dunes. Amazing views of Ruppel’s Korhaan, Namaqua Sandgrouse, and Greater Kestrel rounded off the afternoon. Beautiful changing light and shadows on the dunes had everyone scrambling for their cameras to get that iconic dune photo.

When travelling towards the port town of Walvis Bay one crosses through the Namib Naukluft Park with its rolling hilly vistas and then into the stark, barren looking landscape of the hyper arid Namib. We searched for a few key species and caught up with Double-banded and Burchell’s Coursers, both species providing close views. Also Gray’s Lark showed well on the roadside as well as Tractrac Chat and better views of Karoo Chat. On arrival at the coast, we made a quick stop at the sewage ponds, which held spectacular numbers of Lesser Flamingo as well as many waders and other common waterfowl.

The wetlands around Walvis Bay are a RAMSAR site and accommodate huge numbers of palearctic migrants as well as strong numbers of resident waders and waterbirds. It is estimated that over 250,000 palearctic migrants move through annually. Although good numbers of the normal birds were present not many unusual species were seen. Of note were one Red-necked Phalarope, one Bank Cormorant, Chestnut-banded Plover, and twelve Eurasian Curlews. Small numbers of pelagic species were sighted from shore including Cape Gannet, Parasitic Jaeger, Sooty Shearwater, and large numbers of feeding terns, including good looks at the diminutive and endangered Damara Tern. Also notable were huge numbers of Bradfield’s Swifts and a small number of Sand Martins that we sighted at a ground dam outside Swakopmund.

Leaving the coast our journey took us down the Khan River Valley where we caught up with some difficult to find species including an adult and juvenile Karoo Eremomela as well as great views of Karoo Long-billed Lark. We also saw an impressive Martial Eagle near its nesting site. A noteworthy mammal we sighted was a Damara or Koako Ground Squirrel on the edge of its southern distribution. Continuing toward our lodge in the Erongo Mountains we added Bearded Woodpecker and the tiny Pearl Spotted Owlet in the Khan riverbed. We also found the near-endemic Monteiro’s Hornbill near the lodge.

The Erongos are the eroded remains of a volcanic complex and consist of huge granite boulders stacked into impressive structures up to 2320m above sea level which provide home to a plethora of species. That evening we watched at least four Freckled Nightjars feeding in the spotlights and one even perched only a few meters from us, providing good looks at this chunky nocturnal bird. The following morning we explored some caves looking at some old bushmen rock art dating back some 2000 years. A female Cardinal Woodpecker perched up close and a couple of Violet-backed Starlings rounded off the morning’s sightings.

Leaving the Erongo Mountains we caught up with Violet Woodhoopoe, Ruppel’s Parrot, Bare-cheeked Babbler, and Benguela Long-billed Lark and went on past the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain, before reaching our next lodge. The night drive wasn’t too productive for mammals due to the full moon but we had a good view of Aardwolf, a shy nocturnal insectivorous mammal which closely resembles a small hyena (of which it is family). On the other hand the birds were out in force and we had three owl and two nightjar species. Also a fleeting glimpse of Spotted Thick-knee as it flew off into the night. The next morning we had our first views of African Scops Owl, the smallest owl in Southern Africa, in the car park before departure.

We continued to Namibia’s flagship National Park, the Etosha Pans. Etosha means “Great white place“in the San language and refers to the large white saline pan that spans approximately a third of the 22,270 square km park. It is home to a large variety of fauna and flora and due to the extreme lack of rainfall this season we had very good mammal sightings. We stayed in two camps, each with a unique habitat type and a good variation in birds and mammals species alike.  We had exceptional Lion sightings including just missing a double wildebeest kill and enjoying a male lion in the early morning light with no other vehicles around. The full moon definitely played a role at the floodlit waterholes, but some of the group who stayed up a little later had views of the endangered Black Rhinoceros and a small clan of Spotted Hyena. We had several good Black Rhino sightings during the daylight hours including a female and calf at close quarters. We also had several good elephant sightings including the famous large white bulls of Etosha. A hunting female Leopard as well as a Cheetah resting in the shade during the heat of day were definite highlights. Some smaller more difficult-to-see species like Honey Badger, Bat-eared Fox, Damara Dik-dik, Bushveld Sengi, and Yellow, Slender and Banded Mongoose were seen well. This all, among thousands of Burchell’s Zebra, Oryx Antelope, Blue Wildebeest, Springbok, Black-faced Impala, Red Hartebeest, Ostrich, Steenbok, Greater Kudu and Giraffe.

The birding was good too, but several of the migrant species were erratic, likely due it being very dry for that time of year. We got all the expected lark species including Pink-billed Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Rufous-naped Lark, Dusky Lark, and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark. Good raptors included African Harrier Hawk, Red-necked, Red-footed and Lanner Falcons, Lesser Kestrel, Booted Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Bateleur, and Tawny Eagle. We also had lovely views of several groups of the isolated population of Blue Crane, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Cape Penduline Tit, Icterine Warbler, and Chinspot Batis. Unusual finds included Lesser Moorhen, Wattled Lapwing, Senegal Coucal, Woolly-necked Stork, and Dark Chanting Goshawk.

Leaving Etosha behind we headed for our final destination, the Waterberg Plateau, a large sandstone plateau home to good variety of bird and mammal species. En route we stopped to find Black-faced Babbler and Southern Pied Babbler, both successfully located. We also made a stop at some sewage ponds after our lunch break, which provided us with a pair of White-faced Whistling Ducks and a Whiskered Tern as well as hundreds of common waders and waterfowl. A single Lesser Spotted Eagle was also notable.

Our main target at Waterberg was Bradfield’s Hornbill, which provided stunning views right within the campgrounds that morning. Another notable sighting was a Leopard laying on a rock during our morning walk. We were alerted to his presence by the frantic Red-billed Spurfowl sounding the alarm on the hillside.

Making our way back to Windhoek we had a great sighting of Dwarf Bittern at a roadside pan as well as two groups of White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures on carcasses on the roadside. Levaillant’s and Black Cuckoos were also seen en route. A dawn walk at Avis Dam on the last morning, for part of the group, added a few additions to the list like Yellow-billed Stork, Sacred Ibis, and African Spoonbill. At the airport we added our last bird, a Golden tailed Woodpecker, before taking the long flight home.

 -        Sean Braine


Created: 02 April 2019