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Birding Trip Report: Namibia
Namib Desert, Erongo Mountains, Brandberg, Etosha and the Waterberg Plateau
November 2009

For the species lists of birds and mammals seen on tour, please click here.


Overview
:

This was a relaxed 15-day tour, from 15 to 29 November 2009
Areas visited: Sossusvlei, Walvis Bay, the Erongo Mountains, Brandberg, Hobatere, Etosha and the Waterberg

Number of bird species: 254 species seen, 3 heard, 4 seen by the participants only, 1 seen by the leader only.
Top ten birds: Burchell’s Courser, Rockrunner, Dune Lark, Herero Chat, African Quail-Finch, Violet-eared Waxbill, Rueppell’s Parrot, Damara Tern, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Bradfield’s Hornbill, Double-banded Courser, Rosy-faced Lovebird, African Hawk-Eagle, Orange River Francolin, Blue Crane, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Violet Woodhoopoe, Chestnut-banded Plover, Black-faced Babbler, Great Sparrow and Hartlaub’s Francolin.

Number of mammal species seen: 42 species, including Striped Polecat!
Top mammals: South African Porcupine, Dassie Rat, Bat-eared Fox, Cape Fox, Black Mongoose, distant views of Meerkat, Spotted Hyaena, a pride of Lion with very young cubs, two tiny Black-backed Jackal cubs at play, Caracal, African Wild Cat, Black Rhinoceros, Damara Dikdik and the rarely seen Striped Polecat.

We also saw 15 reptile species, the Marbled Rubber Frog and the Namib burrowing Spider.

Scroll down for the trip summary and detailed report.


Peringuey’s or Side-winding Adder, Namaqua Chameleon, Palmato Gecko and Shovel-snouted Lizard © Michael Mills on this Birding Africa Namibia tour during the Living Deserts Optional Excursion.


Trevor & Jenni Franks and Gillian & David Jackson © Trevor and Jenni Franks on this Birding Africa Namibia tour.


Summary

This relaxed Namibian tour took in the essential birds of the country, allowing enough time to thoroughly enjoy prolonged views of the specials, and savour the varied scenery, abundant mammal and reptile life, and superb lodges and sunsets. And there was even a little time for shopping! Our circular route took in Sossusvlei, Walvis Bay, the Erongo Mountains, Brandberg, Hobatere, Etosha and the Waterberg, over a 15-day period.

Burchell's Courser and Double-banded Courser © Trevor and Jenni FranksDouble-banded Courser © Trevor and Jenni 
              Franks
Burchell's Courser and Double-banded Sandgrouse © Trevor and Jenni Franks

Voted Top Ten birds of the trip were: (1) the stubborn Burchell’s Courser, which only relented on day 12, but gave superb views when it finally did, (2) confiding Rockrunner seen on several occasions, on both the first and last full days of birding, (3) a fearless Dune Lark that foraged within 5 m of us, (4) prolonged views of Herero Chat on the very first day of birding, a flock of 30 African Quail-Finch that foraged in the road for at least 15 minutes, allowing us to approach within 10 m, and Violet-eared Waxbill, for sheer gaudiness (all in tied fourth), (7) Rueppell’s Parrot for dazzling with its orange socks, (8) Damara Tern for perfection in a tiny package, (9) Bare-cheeked Babbler for pure entertainment and (10) Bradfield’s Hornbill for being unexpected. Other noteworthy highlights included Double-banded Courser, Rosy-faced Lovebird, African Hawk-Eagle hunting Orange River Francolin, Blue Crane, thousands of Double-banded Sandgrouse drinking after dark, Violet Woodhoopoe, Chestnut-banded Plover, Black-faced Babbler, Great Sparrow and Hartlaub’s Francolin.

Mammals of note included South African Porcupine, Dassie Rat, Bat-eared Fox, Cape Fox, Black Mongoose, distant views of Meerkat, Spotted Hyaena, a pride of Lion with very young cubs, two tiny Black-backed Jackal cubs at play, Caracal, African Wild Cat, Black Rhinoceros, Damara Dikdik and the rarely seen Striped Polecat.

Reptile highlights included the Peringuey’s or Side-winding Adder, Shovel-snouted Lizard, Palmato Gecko, Namaqua Chameleon, and several species of Agama.

This is a more detailed account of our travels…

Detailed trip report

Avis Dam near Windhoek provides a superb introduction to central Namibian birding, and shortly after arriving in the country we found ourselves surrounded by thornveld full of birds. While most species seen here would be seen again, our first White-backed Mousebird, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Barred Wren Warbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Mountain Wheatear, Dusky Sunbird, Black-faced Waxbill, Pririt Batis, Ashy Tit and Cape Bunting were very welcome. More noteworthy were Cape Penduline Tit, Grey-backed Cisticola, Bradfield’s Swift and Icterine Warbler. However, the undoubted highlights were a displaying male Monteiro’s Hornbill and very confiding pair of snappy Rockrunner, in full, melodious song. We also heard distant calls of Orange River Francolin, but that was all they remained by the time it was to move south to Sossusvlei.

We took the scenic route via a breathtaking mountain pass, where we were thrilled to find a confiding pair of Herero Chat, probably Namibia’s trickiest special. En route we also notched up Karoo Long-billed Lark and Spike-heeled Lark, before arriving on the flat desert plains near Sossusvlei. Along the entrance road to our accommodation we notched up the first of many Rueppell’s Korhaan and Stark’s Lark, a watched a pair of striking Ludwig’s Bustard feeding in the afternoon light. While Sossusvlei is not an essential birding destination, it did give us the chance to look for the localised Dune Lark whilst enjoying the world-renowned scenery. At first several birds were heard in the distance, and after trudging up a tall, orange dune we were rewarded with perhaps the most memorable bird sighting of the trip, a Dune Lark scurrying between wiry grass tufts not more than 5 metres from us, focussed on finding breakfast and not in the least perturbed by our presence. Other highlights during our visit included Double-banded Courser, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Desert Cisticola and Tractrac Chat.The best mammal was Bat-eared Fox, with its radar ears.

From Sossusvlei we headed for Walvis Bay, making numerous stops en route to watch Black-chested Snake Eagle, a striking Bokmakierie, impressive numbers of Gray’s Lark, a very responsive Rufous-eared Warbler and our first Karoo Chat. And we were on the continual lookout for Burchell’s Courser, of course, but to no avail. At Walvis Bay the hordes of waterbirds were as impressive as ever, and included vast numbers of Great White Pelican, Cape Cormorant, Greater Flamingo and waders. Some careful sifting through the thousands of birds turned up Common Redshank, Terek Sandpiper and Red-necked Phalarope. Also spotted were Cape Teal, Crowned Cormorant, African Black Oystercatcher, Cape Gannet, the ever-popular Chestnut-banded Plover and Orange River White-eye. However, the star of the show was the near-perfect Damara Tern, watched fishing for extended periods less than 10 m away. We also made a return visit to the desert to log some more hours unsuccessfully looking for Burchell’s Courser, and took an exciting dune tour on which we saw some fantastic reptiles, including Sidewinder Adder and Palmato Gecko.

White-faced Scops-Owl © Trevor and Jenni FranksRosy-faced Lovebird © Trevor and Jenni Franks
Rosy-faced Lovebird and White-faced Scops-Owl © Trevor and Jenni Franks

Our next destination was the Erongo mountains, specifically in the surrounds of our superb accommodation. Here we were treated to prolonged views of two coveys of Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, our first Red-billed Spurfowl, flocks of Rosy-faced Lovebird near our breakfast tables, Carp’s Tit, Short-toed Rock Thrush, numerous Great Sparrow and gaudy Violet-eared Waxbill. Nearby excursions to some river beds turned up Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, our first of many Rueppell’s Parrot, excellent views of Bradfield’s Swift, Damara Red-billed Hornbill, a band of Southern Pied Babbler and Burchell’s Starling. To our frustration all woodhoopoes we laid eyes on turned out to be Green Woodhoopoe, and not the expected Violet Woodhoopoe!

At night we watched Caracal and South African Porcupine drinking at the waterhole, and by day we were accompanied by Damara Dik-dik, Dassie Rat and Rock Hyrax.

From the Erongo mountains, we continued north towards Etosha, pausing en route at the Brandberg to visit the famous White Lady rock art and to find Benguela Long-billed Lark. And we continued logging many more miles in Burchell’s Courser country, still without reward. A roadside dam turned up South African Shelduck and Southern Pochard, and a lunch stop en route turned up the first flock of Chestnut Weaver (all in non-breeding plumage).

Our first stop in the Etosha area was at our fantastic lodge, where Bare-cheeked Babbler was studied in detail, a snappy Rueppell’s Parrot impressed with its orange socks, Olive Bee-eater was breeding, Meves’s Starling walked on the lawns and Red-headed Finch, Augur Buzzard, Double-banded Sandgrouse and Pearl-breasted Swallow visited the nearby waterholes. Our first Kalahari Scrub Robin was seen further afield and a night drive turned up Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, with three individuals captured and ringed by Steve.

The nocturnal mammals were even more impressive and we saw, in short succession, Bat-eared Fox, Cape Fox and Striped Polecat. Other mammals seen were a pride of Lion, Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra and the scarce Black Mongoose.

Perhaps the most memorable birding experience of the trip, however, was provided by two species… distant calls of Orange River Francolin lead us up a rocky hillside were we, after much persistence, managed to track down our quarry and watch a group of eight birds stalking through the rocky grassland. Suddenly all havoc broke loose a pair of African Hawk Eagle swooped in, sending birds running for cover and shrieking off in all directions. The francolins were lucky this time, and all appeared to escape unharmed… before we made our way to Etosha National Park.

At Etosha National Park, we worked our way from west to east. The plains north of Okaukuejo were fertile hunting grounds for bustards and larks, with Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, Eastern Clapper Lark, Pink-billed Lark and Red-capped Lark all seen well. In camp, Shaft-tailed Whydah was in breeding plumage. Towards Halali David spotted his much-desired and much-deserved Burchell’s Courser, and we enjoyed prolonged views of six birds, followed shortly by another two. Another highlight of the trip was finding a flock of African Quail-Finch, which fed in the road and allowed us to approach within 10 metres! Further east still the rains had come and the bush was greening up quite nicely. Rufous-naped Lark sang from the bushtops, we spotted a perched pair of very smart Red-necked Falcon and a trio of Blue Crane fed near the roadside. Raptors and vultures were numerous, and we found both Lapped-faced Vulture and White-headed Vulture. In the dense Commiphora bush near Namutoni we were treated to good views of Black-faced Babbler and Crested Francolin crossing the road. Before heading for the Waterberg we searched for Burchell’s Sandgrouse and waited at a waterhole for them to come and drink, but without luck.

Mammal highlights in Etosha included a pride of Lion, Spotted Hyaena, Black Rhinoceros, Banded Mongoose and Black-faced Impala.

Banded Mongoose © Trevor and Jenni FranksLion © Trevor and Jenni Franks African Elephant © Trevor and Jenni FranksBlack-backed Jackal © Trevor and Jenni Franks Greater Kudu © Trevor and Jenni FranksGemsbok © Trevor and Jenni Franks
Banded Mongoose, Lion, African Elephant, Black-backed Jackal, Greater Kudu, Gemsbok © Trevor and Jenni Franks

Finally we returned southwards back towards Windhoek, pausing for a night at the Waterberg Plateau National Park en route where we immediately found a smart Bradfield’s Hornbill, even before we could unload our bags from the vehicle. Bearded Woodpecker and Golden-tailed Woodpecker were also seen well and, after dark, Freckled Nightjar, which landed nearby and called in the torch beam. At the last minute we snatched Violet Woodhoopoe from the jaws of defeat, with a group of six birds first rallying noisily above our heads and then watched at eye level, feeding in the bright sunlight! What a fitting birding end to our Namibia tour!


Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Michael Mills.

Many of the birding sites on this trip are described in detail in the Southern African Birdfinder which is widely available in South African bookshops and on the internet. (e.g., www.netbooks.co.za or www.wildsounds.co.uk). However you're always welcome to contact us if you're interested in a guided trip in this area.

Practical tour information:
Namibia & Okavango

Please also visit our tour calendar and other trip reports.

Please click this link for more detailed information about our upcoming tours to Botswana.
Focus For keen birders and mammal enthusiasts. The tour focuses on most of Namibia's endemic birds and wildlife, including unique desert-adapted species. The extension to the Okavango Panhandle offers specials such as Pel's Fishing Owl, Slaty Egret and White-backed Night Heron and involves an Okavango River boat trip. While the tour is designed to see as many endemic birds as possible, we are also able to spend a lot of time looking for other aspects of wildlife such as mammals, chameleons, geckos, butterflies and interesting desert-adapted plants, such as Welwitschia and Hoodia. We can also customise any guided or self-drive itinerary to suit to the keen birder, the wildlife enthusiast or both.
Photography Many participants on our trips are amateur wildlife photographers. And when we get excellent views of a bird or mammal, some time is usually spent watching and photographing it. However, this is not a photographic tour and once the majority of the people have felt that they have absorbed the animal or bird to their satisfaction, then we move on in search of the next encounter. Thus, while the photographic opportunities are very good, the group will only occasionally wait for somebody who wants to spend even longer getting better photos.

Have a look at Wim de Groot's pictures and Utz Klingenböck's pictures taken in 2009 on Birding Africa Namibia & Okavango trips.
Fitness No fitness is required. The few walks are generally in relatively flat areas with occasional small inclines.
Timing Good year round. At Etosha, birding is best in summer, but game viewing is easiest in winter. September to November may be best for birding in the Okavango panhandle region as Afritropical and Palaearctic migrants begin to arrive. However, late summer is equally interesting.
Climate Hot, especially in summer.
Comfort A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and rest camps.
Transport We travel by minibus or four wheel drive vehicle. The tour starts and ends in Windhoek.
Group Size This depends on the specific tour. Please enquire.
Top birds Namibia: One endemic and almost 20 near-endemics in a spectacular setting; Herero Chat, White-tailed Shrike, Carp's Tit, Monteiro's Hornbill, Rockrunner, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Rueppell's Parrot, Hartlaub's Francolin, Dune Lark, Blue Crane, Secretarybird, Ludwig's Bustard, Southern Ground Hornbill, Burchell's Courser, Rosy-breasted Longclaw.

Okavango Panhandle: Pel's Fishing Owl, White-backed Night Heron, African Skimmer, African Wood Owl, African Pygmy Goose, Slaty Egret, Swamp Boubou, Greater Swamp-Warbler, Luapula Cisticola and Southern Carmine Bee-eater.
Top mammals African Elephant, Black Rhinoceros, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Springbok, Damara Dik-dik, Klipspringer, Gemsbok (Southern Oryx), Burchell's Zebra, Hartmann's Mountain Zebra, Hartebeest, Black-faced Impala, Meerkat, Dassie Rat. In the Okavango Panhandle, there is a chance of seeing Sitatunga and Hippopotamus.
Booking Please email us if you wish to book. You will receive the booking form and conditions and a tour information pack.

About Birding Africa

Birding Africa is a specialist birding tour company customising tours for both world listers and more relaxed holiday birders.  We combine interests in mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, botany and other natural history aspects and will guide you to Africa's and Madagascar's most diverse birding destinations. Our guides' knowledge of African birds and birding areas is our greatest strength and together we have rediscovered species, shared exciting observations with the birding community and had a fun time exploring our home continent.  We've even written two acclaimed guide books on where to find Southern Africa's and Madagascar's best birds. Birding is more than our passion, it's our lifestyle, and we are dedicated to making professional, best value trips filled with endemic species and unique wildlife experiences. Since 1997, we've run bird watching tours in South Africa and further into Africa for individual birders, small birding groups and top international tour companies. We've run Conservation Tours in association with the African Bird Club and work with and consult for a number of other top international tour companies and the BBC Natural History Unit.

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