Trip Report and Photographs by Martin Benadie

Clients : A North American couple
Dates :
3rd Feb – 15th Feb 2008
Duration :
12 days

Namibia: Damaraland & Etosha National Park

South Africa: central Kruger National Park

This specialist safari was tailor-made for our clients to bring out the best of Namibia & Kruger as an unbeatable combination of mammal sighting opportunities linked to a diverse and spectacular mix of bird sightings. The tour took in the Damaraland and Etosha regions of Namibia and ended with a visit to the central region of Kruger National Park. As the tour made use of private air charters we were able to cover a lot of ground in a short space of time.

Total birds: 247 SPECIES

Total mammals: 41 SPECIES

Desert Elephant – M Benadie
Bare-cheeked Babbler – M Benadie
Short-toed Rock-Thrush – M Benadie
Square-lipped Rhino – M Benadie
Ostrich – M Benadie
Sundowner – M Benadie

Doro! Nawas Conservancy, Damaraland

This community run conservancy is situated in Damaraland, around 100 kilometres north of Brandberg, Namibia ‘s highest mountain. We stayed at the spectacular Doro Nawas Camp which is nestled against a small hill in a vast ancient floodplain which is sheltered by the dramatic red Etjo sandstone range and the flat-topped Etendeka Mountains. Our drives concentrated on exploring the dry Huab and Aba Huab river systems, the open plains and numerous rocky outcrops found in the area.

This is not big game country, but one is struck by the vastness and serene tranquillity of the landscapes here. On the mammal side we did see gemsbok (oryx), springbok, meerkats (suricate), bat-eared fox and a troop of chacma baboon. The real prize however had to be finding the unique desert-adapted sub-species of the African elephant in the Aba Huab. We encountered a breeding herd that allowed us to approach quite closely, almost unperturbed by our presence. Two of the elephants had recently born calves, the one less than a month old! The birding along the Aba Huab was just as interesting. Highlights included Madagascar Bee-eater, Carp’s Tit, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Red-billed Francolin, Grey-backed Cameroptera, Crimson-breasted Shrike, African Cuckoo, Red-crested Korhaan, Little Banded Goshawk, Damara Hornbill, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Common Scimitarbill, White-backed Mousebird, Southern White-crowned Shrike and African Hawk-Eagle.

The vegetation along the Aba Huab is characterised by camel thorns, ana trees and salvadora bushes. Certain of the camel thorns were some of the biggest I have seen anywhere.

An afternoon drive to the north exploring the Huab River was very different – the river has several springs as the bedrock is close to the surface. Here we found Three-banded Plover, Cape Wagtails and several Black Storks.

The open plains are a very different habitat – scattered mopane trees and Euphorbia damarana dominate, with the odd smelly shepherd’s tree, welwitschias and pretty Namib star bushes. Birdlife on the plains was sparse but we managed to see Scaly-feathered Finches, Dusky Sunbird, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Ruppells Korhaan, Bokmakierie (a colourful bush-shrike), Rock Kestrel, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Karoo Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Ostrich, Lark-like Bunting, Ludwig’s Bustard and Black-chested Prinia. The real surprise was finding a stunning male Montagu’s Harrier, which caused great excitement. An unusual phenomenon in these plains is the occurrence of fairy circles – large circular bare patches whose origins are much disputed. Theories range from termite activity, to toxicity caused by Euphorbia plants to electromagnetism. I think the termites win for me. A certain rocky ridge had displaying Benguela Long-billed Lark.

At night we were spoilt with fine dining and enthusiastic singing from the staff – the song ‘Amarula’ will always be remembered! From our tent the faint call of barking geckos resounded all around us (and the odd donkey as this remains community land!) One morning we visited Twyfelfontein, a San rock art site featuring a plethora of rock engravings and paintings depicting wildlife and abstract patterns. This was also recently proclaimed a world heritage site. Twyfelfontein is set amongst spectacular red Etjo sandstone formations, and well-placed walkways lead you to the best sites. A small fountain produced White-throated Canary, Red-eyed Bulbul, Speckled Pigeon, Pale-winged Starling and Lark-like Bunting. Verreaux’s Eagle nest here (rock hyrax is abundant), and the shepherd’s trees had Long-billed Crombec and Yellow-bellied Eremomela . A reptile highlight was the colourful Namib rock agama. Other interesting geological formations visited were the Organ Pipes and Burnt Mountain. On the way to burnt mountain we found some large specimens of male and female welwitschia plants – primitive cone-bearing plants restricted mostly to Namibia.

Ongava Game Reserve, Etosha area

From Doro Nawas we took a 60-minute charter flight to Ongava Game Reserve, a 30,000 hectare private reserve on the southern boundary of Etosha National Park – dominated by mopane woodland and trumpet thorn bushes. We stayed at Little Ongava, a luxurious exclusive camp perched on a small dolomite outcrop with endless views over the reserve. Activities centered on game drives and walks on the reserve and a morning trip into Etosha National Park. We did not have to go far to find birds, starting directly from the main camp veranda. Here there was Southern Masked Weaver nesting, Carp’s Tit, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Familiar Chat and Short-toed Rock-Thrush.

On our first afternoon Kapona, our local guide, found some fresh mushrooms, which was enjoyed as a tasty starter at dinner by all guests in camp. After recent rains, there was a major emergence of Mopane moths which was enjoyed as a protein-rich snack by many wildlife – striped tree squirrels, groups of Bare-cheeked Babbler and Red-eyed Bulbul were some of the takers. One morning at breakfast we were alerted by the calls of Hartlaub’s Francolin, and after some searching we found a covey of three birds – a very tricky endemic to find. Drives on the reserve were also very interesting for birds and mammals. Monteiro’s Hornbill, Eurasian Hobby, Buffy Pipit, Chestnut Weaver, White-tailed Shrike, Squacco Heron, African Harrier Hawk, Violet-eared Waxbill, Barred Wren-Warbler and a stunning male Shaft-tailed Whydah were some new additions to our birdlist. A recent springbok kill had several vulture species fighting for the scraps. We found White-backed, Lappet-faced and a single White-headed Vulture.

On the mammal side we had Hartmann’s mountain zebra, Burchell’s zebra, red hartebeest, southern giraffe, springbok, blue wildebeest, black-backed jackal, a lioness with cubs, slender mongoose and greater kudu. Other highlights were tracking white rhino on foot and a special sighting of Anchieta’s dwarf python. The reserve was lush and green with many flowers in evidence – It was quite a sight to see fields of purple Crinum lilies…

A morning trip into Etosha National Park produced several new birds for us – Double-banded Courser, Spike-heeled and Red-capped Lark, Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, a pair of Secretarybirds, Ostrich, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Lanner Falcon, Pygmy Falcon, Sociable Weaver to mention a few. Due to the wet conditions with several small pans forming everywhere and the main pan filling, we were treated to some unusual sightings for Etosha: a flyover over of Greater and Lessser Flamingos which were picked up by their peculiar honking calls, a flock of Fulvous Duck and a Black Heron. In the more wooded areas we found Pririt Batis, Icterine Warbler, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Red-headed Finches, Marico Flycatcher, Kalahari Scrub-Robin and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah.

After Ongava, we took a scheduled charter back to Windhoek with an late flight to Johannesburg where we spent the evening wining and dining at the extravagant Westcliff Hotel. The following morning we took a charter flight to Kruger National Park, for the last leg of our journey.

Singita-Lebombo Concession, central Kruger National Park

We spent 4 nights in a remote 24,000 hectare concession in the central parts of the Park. Our ‘home’ was the spectacular Singita Lebombo Lodge which certainly has a unique architectural design – glass suites hidden into a hillside with a breathtaking vista over the Sweni River below. One could easily just sit on the suite veranda for hours and watch the procession of birds and mammals below. The food here was excellent and a sommelier was on hand to assist in local wine selection.

Drives on the concession also produced top-class birding and mammal viewing. We added so many new birds: White-backed Night-Heron, Grey Hooded Kingfisher, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Amur Falcon, Dusky Lark, African Jacana with chicks, Goliath Heron, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Red-headed Weaver, Green-winged Pytilia and Mosque Swallow.

Mammals here were equally exciting: a male leopard scent marking his territory, white rhino, buffalo, elephant, a lion pride consisting of almost twenty individuals, the shy Sharpe’s grysbok, vervet monkey, dwarf and banded mongoose, caracal, large spotted genet, spotted hyaena, hippopotamus and klipspringer.

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