DESERT DUELLERS OF NAMIBIA

The sands of the Namib Desert are made up of a scenic mix of crescent shaped barchan dunes rising to 100m in height above the sandy coastline and rocky outcrops that flank the cold, nutrient-rich Benguela current which flows northwards from Antarctica along the southwestern coast of Africa.

Prevailing on shore winds carry moisture laden air in the form of coastal fog inland under the influence of a high pressure cell which prevents the inter-tropical convergence zone from reaching the Atlantic from the east. This combination gives the Namib Desert its extremely arid climate with less than ten rain days a year!

Within this sprawling sea of constantly shifting sand a fascinating variety of plants and animals have evolved to co-exist within what at first appears to be a totally inhospitable environment.

First impressions are misleading and on closer investigation the many signs in the sand point towards a vibrant community of ants, beetles, lizards, geckos, snakes, rodents, mammals and, of course, birds.

Of the latter the species mix is limited to a few hardy species that have successfully adapted to a life in the dune fields. Black-breasted Snake Eagles, Pale Chanting Goshawks, Dusky Sunbirds, Cape Sparrows, Common Waxbills, TracTrac Chats and Dune Larks constitute the suite of potential sightings on offer.

Setting off in search of Dune Larks in the low vegetated hummock dunes within the fossilized mouth of the Kuiseb River delta is a very special and different birding experience to the normal bird walk.

As one trudges along in heavy sand so one becomes attuned to the different tracks around one as lizards scamper off in all directions and tenebrionid beetles power their way up a slip face to escape the potential threat of predation.

Vegetation is sparse with isolated clumps of dollar bush and wild tamarisk here and there while the hummock dunes support a highly specialized melon like plant much favoured by humans and animals alike within this desiccated environment.

This habitat is home to the much sought after Dune Lark – one of Namibia’s prized sightings and top endemic birds.

Its presence in close proximity is usually disclosed by an increase in bird tracks about one. This is usually followed by a rodent like movement catching the eye within the spikey grass tufts or around the edges of the leafless, thorny branches that protect the life sustaining melons within the centre.

On first contact one is struck by how well matched the plumage is to the surrounding dune colour and how rodent like the bird is with its quick erratic movements as it chases about after ants and insects between quite spells of focused feeding around the base of a grass tuft.

Perseverance and a quiet approach are likely to reward with close up views of a foraging pair or even a bird in flight as it hovers skylark like in full song over its territory within this seemingly desolate yet rewarding environment of many exquisite interests for the visiting naturalist to enjoy.

For more information on birding tours and wildlife safaris with Avian Leisure for birders, wildlife enthusiastsand photographers, Contact Avian Leisure

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