NAMIBIA BIRDING TRIP REPORT: JANUARY 2011


Brandberg Scene, Namibia

Our birding trip to Namibia can best be described as an ‘educational’ aimed at exploring new areas and checking out a number of lodges in the more remote parts for comfort and suitability from a birding point of view. As such it was compressed into a nine day trip and concentrated on the mid-section and north eastern corner of the country.

Conditions for birding proved to be ideal on arrival in Windhoek with the countryside green and lush following good rains towards the back-end of last year. Black Kites on the wing and spiralling ‘kettles’ of Abdim’s Stork were very much in evidence on the way to the Erongo Mountains north of Usakos.

If you have a map you will be able to trace our circular route westwards to the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain range and a paradise for rock art lovers of which the ‘White Lady’ panel is by far the most famous.

Here too springbuck and oryx roam freely over the surrounding plains while family groups of desert elephant favour the shady Anaboom Faidherbia albida  lined banks of the non-perennial Ugab river as it wends its sandy way westwards across the Namib Desert to the infamous Skeleton Coast…

Target birds north of Uis comprised of Herero Chat as a desirable repeat and Benguela Long-billed Lark, as a potentially new sighting for both of us. Thanks to Alvin Cope’s directional guidance we connected with both species with the former proving frustratingly elusive from a photographic point of view. The Benguela Long-billed Lark completed my SA portfolio of ‘long-billed lark’ species and I was well pleased with the photographic result.

Benguela Long-billed Lark

As we approached the Brandberg massive the rocky terrain gave way progressively to sandy soils and grass studded plains with Double-banded Courser and Stark’s Lark becoming increasingly common, along with Chat Flycatcher, and the ubiquitous Pale Chanting Goshawk conspicuously perched on the more prominent Acacia and Commiphora trees. A pair of African Hawk Eagles on a remote rocky outcrop came as an unexpected surprise while a single Black-breasted Snake Eagle wheeled about in effortless flight. Family groups of Ruppell’s Korhaan and the occasional Northern Black Korhaan and Ludwig’s Bustard were encountered at regular intervals in close proximity to the main access road.

Ruppell’s Korhaan

Birding along the Ugab River proved particularly rewarding with good views of Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Red-eyed Bulbul, Brubru , Scimitarbill, Red-billed Francolin, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Pearl-spotted Owlet, African Grey Hornbill – a race with particularly dark ear-coverts, Purple Roller, Long-billed Crombec, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Cape Glossy and Pale-winged Starling, Dusky Sunbird were very much in evidence with Black-backed Puffback and Grey-backed Camaroptera proving to be surprise encounters in this extremely arid desert environment.

Bare-cheeked Babbler

From the barren edge of the Namib we headed north east below the Etosha Game Reserve to Grootfontein picking up Lanner and Red-necked Falcon along the way. Here the vegetation changed to mixed woodland with thick Acacia scrub dominating the sprawling countryside and only an occasional Hyphaene palm breaking the surrounding skyline. This thornveld habitat is prime Namibian birding country and we notched up an incredible number of species in the course of an hour’s birding walk. Highlights included the highly localised Black-faced Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Golden-tailed and Bearded Woodpecker, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Acacia Pied Barbet, White-helmet-Shrike, Pririt batis, White-crowned Shrike, Southern Black Tit, Rattling Cisticola, Violet-eared Waxbill, Groundscraper Thrush, White-bellied Sunbird, Green-winged Pytilia and Golden-breasted Bunting.

                                          Golden-breasted Bunting                                                 Black-faced Babbler

Our next stop was Shamvura Camp situated on a well-wooded hillside overlooking the Kavango River to the east of Rundu on the Namibian/Angolan border. This area of Kalahari Sandveld supports an amazing number of different trees of which Burkea and Pterocarpus dominate the mix of magnificent trees and shrubs, many of which were in flower at the time of our visit.  Although heavily populated along the river banks there are many pristine sections of woodland along the main highway towards Katima Mulilo. Birding at a leisurely pace searching for bird parties and following up on bird song is by far the best way to go for best results in this vast area of open woodland. Key species are highly localised and seeking the services of a professional bird guide is unquestionably the way to go if optimum numbers and saturation sightings of the ‘specials’ unique to the area are what you’re after.

Souza’s Shrike

We  enjoyed two guided walks with Mark Paxton and were fortunate to connect with the much sought after Souza’s Shrike on no less than seven separate occasions, including fledged young being fed, as well as Sharp-tailed Starling, Racket-tailed Roller, Barred Owlet, Meyer’s Parrot, Arnott’s Chat, Pale Flycatcher, Southern Black Tit, African Golden Oriole, Black Cuckooshrike, White-browed Scrub Robin (western form), African Yellow White-eye, Southern Black Flycatcher, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Red-headed Weaver, Scarlet-chested and White-bellied Sunbird, Grey-headed Parrot and White-breasted Cuckooshrike and Rufous-bellied Tit as further sighting possibilities.

            Racket-tailed Roller                                           Grey-headed Parrot                                    Sharp-tailed Starling           

Aside from the woodland walks a boat trip at days end on the Kavango with Mark is a must do in search of Hartaub’s Babbler, Golden and Thick-billed Weaver, Wire-tailed Swallow, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Lesser Jacana, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Greater Swamp Warbler, African Openbill, Collared Pratincole, Swamp Boubou and African Skimmer in season when water levels are low and sandbanks for roosting and breeding are fully exposed.

Our return via the Waterberg connected with Ruppell’s Parrot and a single Cape Vulture on the wing above Klein Waterberg.

Cape Vulture

This was a great observation as the breeding colony in the Waterberg Plateau Park collapsed some years back and may now be staging a recovery albeit off a low base.

Our last stop before flying back was a guesthouse outside of Windhoek situated in hilly country studded with acacia as the principal vegetation type. Red-billed Francolin were common and the cryptically plumaged Orange River Francolin are found throughout the farm along with Pied Babbler, Marico Sunbird, Violet-eared Waxbill, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Barred Wren-Warbler, Black-throated Canary, White-backed Mousebird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, African and Long-billed Pipit, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Great Sparrow and a good chance of Lappet-faced Vulture overhead on most days, along with a string of other sighting possibilities, including Dusky Lark in the summer months.

Shaft-tailed Whydah

So after a leisurely trip of nine days we headed back to Simon’s town with 252 bird sightings – close to fifty per cent of the total number of recorded bird species in Namibia. Indeed it is a great country to visit with incredible diversity throughout, for birding, wildlife, general nature and spectacular scenery. Certainly a ‘must do’ in any keen birders book!

Rosy-faced Lovebird

                  Kavango River Sunset                                                                   Ovamboland, Northern Namibia

Text and Images by Patrick Cardwell : January 2011

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