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N A M I B I A
     
     
26 December 2007 - 09 January 2008
     

Margaret and Trevor Hardaker Tiana and Sion Stanton

Introduction:

The idea for putting together this trip was that Souza's Shrike had now become available more readily in Southern Africa and a nest had even been discovered recently near Shamvura at the western end of the Caprivi Strip. As it was a bird that I still needed for my Southern African list, and probably the only one left that I could still add to my list (excluding vagrants), I was really keen to get up there to see the bird. Margaret still needed a number of species in Namibia and Sion and Tiana had never birded there, so the itinerary was built around this, first targeting the shrike and then doing an "Operation Clean up" of all the other Namibian specials.

Overview:

Namibia is a large country with an area of 824 268 km2. Affectionately known locally as "the land of the big sky", the majority of the country is desert type habitat encompassing the Namib Desert in the west along the coastal strip and the Kalahari Desert in the east. Only up in the far north of the country is this landscape replaced by more sub tropical habitats like lush woodland and riverine forests. It is bound by South Africa in the south, Botswana in the east and Angola and Zambia in the north whilst its entire western boundary is met by the Atlantic Ocean producing some of the most inhospitable coastline in the world. Where else would you expect a stretch of coast line called the "Skeleton Coast"? With just over 2 million people living in this vast country, it is also one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world.

Namibia's terrain ranges from the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean at 0m up to Konigstein, a peak in the Brandberg Mountains, and the highest point in Namibia at 2 606m. Namibia has a lot to offer the general tourist from the spectacular Namib Desert, said to be the oldest desert in the world, through to the awesome Fish River Canyon, and also boasts the world's largest meteorite, the Hoba Meteorite near Grootfontein. Amazingly, Namibia was the first country in the world to incorporate the protection of the environment into its constitution and currently, about 14% of the entire country is protected.

Birds:

With over 660 species recorded in Namibia, it is surprising that it only has one true endemic bird, Dune Lark. However, it does have a number of near-endemic species where the major part of the species' range is in Namibia and the range extends only marginally into neighbouring countries. These are Hartlaub's Spurfowl, Ruppell's Korhaan, Ruppell's Parrot, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Bradfield's Swift, Violet Woodhoopoe, Damara Hornbill, Monteiro's Hornbill, Barlow's Lark, Gray's Lark, Benguela Long-billed Lark, Carp's Tit, Black-faced Babbler, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Herero Chat, Rockrunner and White-tailed Shrike. With this in mind, it is a definite destination for any serious world birder to visit.

From a Southern African lister's point of view (those who keep their lists based on the area confined to south of the Kunene, Kavango and Zambezi Rivers), it is also an important place to visit within the subregion as, besides the birds already mentioned, it gives one the only opportunity for Chestnut Weaver in the subregion (there is also a large population in East Africa) as well as there being several species whose range just dips over the northern border of Namibia into the subregion and these include Sharp-tailed Starling, Rufous-bellied Tit, Souza's Shrike in the Caprivi and Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Cinderella Waxbill and Grey Kestrel along the Kunene River from Ruacana westwards.

     
Dune Lark Rockrunner White-tailed Shrike
     

Mammals:

Namibia is listed has having up to 240 species recorded of which, depending on which source and taxonomy one follows, up to 14 mammal species are considered endemic. Other than Black-faced Impala (sometimes considered a subspecies of Common Impala) and Black Mongoose (a near-endemic originally considered a subspecies of Slender Mongoose), most of the endemics comprise mice, gerbils and bats. Namibia also boasts the highest cheetah population of any place on earth.

For the Southern African mammal lister, there are once again a number of species available in Namibia that are not possible or very limited elsewhere in the subregion and these include Damara Ground Squirrel, Dassie Rat and Striped Tree Squirrel amongst others.

     
Black-faced Impala Setzer's Hairy-footed Gerbil Striped Tree Squirrel
     
Reptiles:

Namibia has about 250 species of reptiles of which 30 are considered endemic. Of the endemics and near-endemics, there are some really enigmatic species such as Carp's Barking Gecko, Web-footed Gecko and Namibia Rock Agama. For anyone who has a vague interest in reptiles, Namibia is certainly a country worth visiting.

     
Web-footed Gecko Namibian Rock Agama Carp's Barking Gecko
     
Our trip:

This 15 day trip was a round trip driving from Cape Town in South Africa where we covered just under 7 000km. Because we were limited for time and also had a lot of ground to cover to try and see everything that we had targeted, we spent quite a bit of time driving. With more time available and a less extravagant "want list", Namibia can be covered in quite a relaxed fashion. Our trip turned up over 360 species of birds (it was primarily a birding trip) as well as 45 mammals and 30 reptiles. We encountered no problems along the way and felt safe at all times in Namibia. Generally, the people of Namibia are friendly and helpful with only a few breaking the mould and trying to get as much money out of the tourists as possible. Most birders along the way went out of their way to assist with stake outs and even took us to show us some of the birds, but again, there were those that were not prepared to divulge any information on the whereabouts of a particular species without "having their palms greased" first.

Accommodation in most places was clean, comfortable and reasonably priced except in those areas run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts. Whilst their accommodation was up to standard, the cost, especially in Etosha National Park, was exhorbatant, and I am sure many Southern Africans who might have considered visiting here will no longer do so due to these high prices. Unfortunately, they have the monopoly in these areas and can, therefore, name their price.

Most towns along our route had more than adequate supplies for our trip and the only place that we ran into a little bit of trouble was at Ruacana, where we drove the more than 400km from Etosha to Ruacana only to find out that the only fuel station in the town's tanks had run dry earlier that day and there was no fuel available. Fortunately, we had some spare fuel with us and could continue on our trip, otherwise we might have been stranded for a couple of days until the fuel arrived in Ruacana.

Namibia has no real health issues and the only precaution we had to take was against Malaria, particularly in the northern parts of our trip. The local currency is the Namibian dollar which is fixed at 1:1 against the South African Rand. This made payments a lot easier as one never had to convert any figures to work out what you were "actually" paying and, in fact, virtually all vendors were prepared to accept South African Rands anyway if you did not have the correct local currency with you. All fuel stations also accepted South African "garage cards" which made life a lot easier not having to drag additional wads of cash along for this.

Route Dairy:

26 December 2007

We left Cape Town in the early hours of the morning and headed north along the N7 crossing into Namibia at the Vioolsdrif Border Post which went very smoothly. We continued north, with a lunch stop in Keetmanshoop, and eventually ended in Mariental where we spent the night at Anandi Guest House. Due to it being a public holiday, virtually every restaurant in town (not that there are many) was closed and we ended up having dinner at the Wimpy annexed to the Engen Service Station. A long day with some 1 200km travelled and very little of anything else. Highlights of the day included a flock of Bradfield's Swifts coming to drink at a dam just south of Mariental and a stop at a picnic spot in the heat of the day just south of Grunau which turned up 4 species of reptiles in as many minutes.

Anandi Guest House - www.anandiguesthouse.com ( N$ 175.00 per person sharing per night on a bed and breakfast basis)

     
Sociable Weaver nest The long road north to Mariental Anandi Guest House
     

27 December 2007

Leaving Mariental early, we continued heading north and, upon reaching Windhoek, visited the Daan Viljoen Game Reserve on the western side of town for a couple of hours. After leaving here, we broke for lunch at Okahandja and then carried on further until we reached the Waterberg Plateau Park which was to be our stopover for the night. The remainder of the afternoon was spent birding in the park. Both of these parks are run by Namibia Wildlife Resorts. Surprisingly, even although our chalet was not inexpensive, we did not even have any braai or cooking facilities at it and had to drive down to the camping area (which was about 1km from our chalet) to use the braai facilities there (as per instruction from the resort staff). Highlights included Great Sparrow nesting and several good reptiles at Daan Viljoen whilst Waterberg produced Ruppell's Parrot, Rosy-faced Lovebird and Violet Woodhoopoe in the afternoon.

Daan Viljoen Game Reserve - www.nwr.com.na/daan_viljoen.php

Waterberg Plateau Park - www.nwr.com.na/waterberg.php  (N$ 500.00 per person sharing per night on a bed and breakfast basis)

     
Lake at Daan Viljoen Game Reserve Typical habitat at Daan Viljoen Game Reserve Road through Daan Viljoen Game Reserve
     
View of Waterberg Mountain Chalet at Waterberg Plateau Park Road to chalets at Waterberg Plateau Park
     

28 December 2007

After early birding in the Waterberg Plateau Park and a hearty breakfast, we got on our way and travelled along a number of secondary roads which were good for birding before reaching Grootfontein where we stopped off for lunch. From there, it was another long haul north to Rundu which we reached late afternoon and ran into the local supermarket to stock up on supplies for the next few days. We then had about another 100km to travel to reach our destination at Shamvura Lodge along the banks of the Kavango River. We spent the next 3 nights here based in permanent tents which don't have electricity. Fortunately, the Land Rover was rigged up with an inverter and we could still charge all the necessary batteries, etc. Birding had been restricted to the morning at Waterberg, but did include Rockrunner, Hartlaub's Spurfowl, Damara and Monteiro's Hornbill and Red-billed Spurfowl to mention a few. Tiana also managed to maintain another constant on all of our trips together. She always seems to find the only scorpions on our trips and they are normally on her personal belongings or in her accommodation and I am always volunteered to remove them. This trip was no different when she located a small scorpion (Uroplectes vittatus) on the flap of their tent while she was still on the outside wanting to get in... Needless to say, I had no choice but to remove it.

Shamvura Lodge - www.shamvura.com (N$ 260.00 per person sharing per night bed only)

     
Secondary roads were good for birding The sign says it all Our tent at Shamvura Lodge
     

29 December 2007

We spent the day birding in different patches of woodland around Shamvura and managed to get my main target bird, Souza's Shrike, here. Other good birds during the day included Hartlaub's Babbler, Swamp Boubou, Senegal Coucal, Meyer's Parrot, Tinkling Cisticola, Ayre's Hawk Eagle, Bat Hawk and African Hobby. Today was Margaret's turn to be a little nervous as, when we had come back to our tent for some lunch, we had found an enormous bright green Boomslang slithering about in the tree directly above our tent. I had also spent quite a bit of time along the water's edge where I located a number of different species of dragonflies and damselflies.

 

30 December 2007

The early morning was again spent in a productive patch of woodland near Shamvura, before heading east. This produced some great birding including Rufous-bellied Tit, Wood Pipit, African Golden Oriole, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Arnot's Chat and Ayre's Hawk Eagle again. Our next stop was along the river at Divundu for a short stint of birding (picking up Rock Pratincole, Grey-rumped Swallow and Blue-cheeked and Southern Carmine Bee-eaters) before heading into the Mahango Game Park where we spent the rest of the day. Mahango is a fantastic reserve and comprises open woodlands and extensive floodplains which is a good recipe for some awesome birding. Top birds here were Wattled Crane, Rufous-bellied Heron, Slaty Egret, Coppery-tailed and White-browed Coucals, Hartlaub's Babbler and Long-toed Lapwing. The great thing about Mahango is that you can get out of your car and walk around freely. One almost forgets that the area is filled with predators and other not terribly friendly animals. At one point, we had all gotten out of the vehicle to photograph some birds when a rather nasty African Buffalo appeared out of nowhere and decided that it might be fun to charge us...you have never seen 4 people float back into a car so quickly!

     
The sign says it all Large Baobab in Mahango Game Park Extensive floodplain in Mahango Game Park
     
31 December 2008

After an early breakfast, we left Shamvura and headed back towards Rundu where we stopped off to spend a couple of hours at the local sewage works. Whilst the area has become somewhat degraded, the birding is still very good and we eventually had to drag ourselves away from there. Top birds were Lesser Jacana, Allen's Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen, Sand Martin and Greater Painted Snipe as well as a stunning Angolan Green Snake. Then, it was a long drive back to Grootfontein, stopping only about 50km or so north of the town to visit Roy's Camp. Although we were here in the heat of the day (attested to by the number of drinks we consumed at their local pub), we still managed some reasonable birding knocking off our target species, Black-faced Babbler, fairly quickly and also picking up Rosy-faced Lovebird and Chestnut Weaver. We then had to high tail it out of there as we still had to get to Etosha National Park and make it across to Halali Camp which is in the middle of the park where we would spend the next two nights. Halali has a flood lit water hole and we spent some time here after dinner enjoying Verreaux's Eagle Owls, Turner's Geckos and Black Rhinos.

Roy's Camp - www.swiftcentre.com/roys/

Halali Camp, Etosha - www.nwr.com.na/halali.php (N$ 750.00 per person sharing per night on a bed and breakfast basis plus N$ 60.00 per person per day conservation fee)

     
Entrance to Roy's Camp View across Etosha National Park Our chalet in Halali Camp
     
01 January 2008

Our day was spent in Etosha National Park where we travelled from Halali in a westerly direction as far as the Okaukuejo Camp and then returned back to Halali. Lunch at Okakeujo was supposed to be a N$ 40.00 dagwood sandwich which got served as a couple of slices of bread with hardly any filling. A bit of a rip off!! Birding was tough but good and we managed to see Burchell's and Double-banded Coursers, Caspian Plover and a whole host of larks as well as a number of commoner species. Mammals were also plentiful and top marks went to several sightings of Lion, a group of African Elephants pushing all the other animals out of the way as they took over a water hole and a dozing Cape Fox right next to the road.

     
A busy waterhole in Etosha National Park Entrance to Okaukuejo Camp View across a dry Etosha Pan
     
02 January 2008

After an early breakfast and then watching Violet Wood-hoopoes and African Scops and Southern White-faced Owls in the camp, we left Halali and headed towards Namutoni Camp, where we visited the old fort. From here, we headed north across the Andoni Plains and out of the park (not before having a huge argument at the gate with the gate keeper who insisted that we had paid too little for our stay and should pay the difference over to him, even although he did not have a receipt book with him to give us proof of our payment...). We saw most of the same species we had encountered the previous day. It was then the long haul to Ruacana with a lunch stop en route at Oshakati. At Ruacana, we picked up some further supplies and then continued westwards on the road along the Kunene River to our destination, the Kunene River Lodge, where we would spend the next 3 nights.

Kunene River Lodge - www.kuneneriverlodge.com (N$ 385.00 per person sharing per night on a bed and breakfast basis)

     
Perhaps there was grass here at some point? Fort at Namutoni View across the Andoni Plains
     
03 January 2008

The early part of the day was spent birding in the grounds of the Kunene River Lodge and then in a couple of spots after doing short drives from the lodge whilst the afternoon was spent on a boat trip along the Kunene River. The day had some incredible highlights including Cinderella Waxbill, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Grey Kestrel, Bare-cheeked Babbler, White-tailed Shrike, Carp's Tit, Bennett's Woodpecker (subsp buysi), Madagascar Bee-eater and White-backed Night Heron. Striped Tree Squirrels were resident in the camp and Namibian Rock Agamas and Ovambo Tree Skinks were everywhere. This must also be one of the places that has the highest density of moths that come out after dark that I have ever seen. Within 10 minutes of switching the light on the porch on, the entire wall would be covered in moths from top to bottom. One of the resident Flat-backed Toads had also cottoned on to this and every evening, almost like clockwork, it would arrive on our porch and wait for us to turn the light on. Then it would gorge itself on the feast provided for the next few hours! 

     
The sign says it all View down the Kunene River Palm savannah along the Kunene River
     
04 January 2008

Another day spent in the grounds of the Kunene River Lodge as well as birding in a gorge close to the lodge. Lots of time spent relaxing today and re-engergising after a hectic trip so far. Plenty of time in the pool and at the bar... Most of the same bird species as yesterday, but some new reptiles like Boulton's Namib Day Gecko and Bradfield's Dwarf Gecko as well as a new mammal for me, Angolan Epauletted Fruit Bat. The owners of Kunene River Lodge, Peter and Hillary Morgan, were superb hosts and I can highly recommend that anyone with an interest in nature visit this spot. Peter is a mine of local knowledge and not only knows where the birds are (and is happy to share this information freely), but also has a number of rather special mammals staked out in the grounds.

     
The grounds of Kunene River Lodge Deck at the lodge over looking the Kunene River Our chalet at Kunene River Lodge
     

05 January 2008

After a late and lazy breakfast with distractions in between like a Commerson's Leaf-nosed Bat located hanging in a tree right next to the restaurant and a South African Python catching and eating a Striped Tree Squirrel up in a tree while the rest of the lodge's birds and squirrels shouted all sorts of expletives at the python, we started on our long journey back south. First stop was at a small tribal village to do some birding in a patch of woodland there where we found Ruppell's Parrot and Retz's Helmet-shrike and then it was a slow and tiring journey down to the small town of Uis. Most of the latter part of the day was spent driving with little birding until we finally arrived at our over night stop, the White Lady Guest House. Just before arriving in Uis, we picked up a pair of Ruppell's Korhaans along the side of the road.

White Lady Guest House - www.africa-adventure.org/w/whitelady/ (N$ 225.00 per person sharing per night on a bed and breakfast basis)

 

06 January 2008

Up early and into the desert near the Brandberg for some birding (in particular, Benguela Long-billed Lark), we then returned to Uis to enjoy a good breakfast. From here, we headed south to the Spitzkoppe where we spent most of the rest of the day. Lots more Ruppell's Korhaans today as well as Augur Buzzard, Herero Chat and Dassie Rat. Although most of the trip had been rather warm, today was certainly the hottest with the temperatures easily reaching the 40 deg C mark at Spitzkoppe. We eventually left in the late afternoon and made our way through to Swakopmund where we would be staying with friends, Mark Boorman and Sandra Dantu. Sandra was excited to be able to show us a Western Olive Toad in their garden which must be somewhat of a range extension for this animal.

     
Habitat near Uis for Benguela Long-billed Lark The sign says it all Rocky outcrops at Spitzkoppe
     
07 January 2008

The day was spent birding with Mark Boorman in the general Walvis Bay and Swakopmund areas, firstly targeting Dune Lark at a place called Wortel, then birding the Walvis Bay Salt Works and visiting Dune 7 (the highest dune in the area), then on to Swakopmund to target Gray's Lark and then finally, birding Mile 4 Salt Works north of Swakopmund town. We also managed to find a number of rarities (from a Southern African perspective) during the day and these included at least 12 Red-necked Phalaropes at Walvis Bay Salt Works and a Common Redshank, a Pectoral Sandpiper and 2 American Golden Plovers at Mile 4 Salt Works. Margaret and I joined a friend of Mark's from the Walvis Bay Snake Park that evening to go and look for reptiles out in the desert which turned up 2 new geckos and a new gerbil for me.

     
Dune Lark habitat Walvis Bay has some impressive sand dunes Gray's Lark habitat
     
08 January 2008

We left Swakopmund early and, after a quick breakfast stop in Usakos, continued homeward. It was a long day's driving eventually ending at Noordoewer where we spent the night at the Orange River Lodge.

Orange River Lodge - www.orlodge.iway.na (N$ 175.00 per person sharing per night bed only)

 

09 January 2008

We left the lodge early and passed through the Vioolsdrif border post with ease. From there, it was about another 6 hours of driving and we were at home by mid afternoon.

     
Sion and Tiana could not resist the temptation... Margaret, Tiana and Sion on the Kunene River Margaret at Spitzkoppe
     

Conclusion:

Despite the trip being a bit rushed, we had a fantastic time. The only bird which we had a chance of that we missed was Sharp-tailed Starling, although I have seen them in this area on several previous trips there. Fortunately, Margaret has also seen it, but, Sion and Tiana will have to return sometime...not that I think they would ever complain about that! The only other "disappointment" was not being able to get a photo of Hartlaub's Spurfowl, the only Namibian special that I never managed to achieve this with. We had painstakingly stalked a bird at Waterberg Plateau Park and were within metres of it when Margaret got on to it and, in her excitement of finally catching up with this species, bellowed, "THERE IT IS!!" as I locked focus! Needless to say, it did not hang around to pose for us and disappeared in a flurry of feathers...

Disappointments in the line of mammals was missing Honey Badger again, despite trying on two consecutive nights at a supposedly "dead cert" spot for it. I was also hoping for a chance of Brown Hyena, but I suppose we have to leave something to go back for next time. Despite not really having a lot of time to look for reptiles, I would really have loved to catch up with Anchieta's Dwarf Python and Peringuey's Adder, but perhaps, now that Margaret and I have both seen all the "available" birds in Namibia, I will be able to concentrate a little more on the other creatures on our next trip, whenever that may be.

     
     
Some of the birds we saw on our trip:
     
Bradfield's Swift Ruppell's Parrot Rockrunner
     
Damara Hornbill Red-billed Spurfowl Monteiro's Hornbill
     
Souza's Shrike Wood Pipit Arnot's Chat
     
Swamp Boubou juvenile Ayre's Hawk Eagle Hartlaub's Babbler
     
African Golden Oriole White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike Rufous-bellied Tit
     
Rock Pratincole Rufous-bellied Heron Long-toed Lapwing
     
Coppery-tailed Coucal Senegal Coucal White-browed Coucal
     
Lesser Jacana Allen's Gallinule Lesser Moorhen
     
Chestnut Weaver Rosy-faced Lovebird Black-faced Babbler
     
Double-banded Sandgrouse Northern Black Korhaan Namaqua Sandgrouse
     
Sabota (Bradfield's) Lark Great Sparrow Stark's Lark
     
Double-banded Courser Caspian Plover Burchell's Courser
     
Secretarybird Violet Woodhoopoe Red-necked Falcon
     
Cinderella Waxbill Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush Grey Kestrel
     
Bare-cheeked Babbler White-tailed Shrike Bennett's Woodpecker (subsp buysi)
     
Carp's Tit Madagascar Bee-eater Retz's Helmet-shrike
     
Ruppell's Korhaan Benguela Long-billed Lark Yellow-bellied Eremomela
     
Augur Buzzard Herero Chat Common (Latakoo) Fiscal
     
Dune Lark Tractrac Chat Gray's Lark
     
     
Some of the mammals we saw on our trip:
     
Common Impala African Buffalo Southern Reedbuck
     
Scrub Hare Yellow Mongoose Common Ground Squirrel
     
Damara Dikdik Burchell's Zebra Springbok
     
Gemsbok Lion Black-faced Impala
     
Red Haartebeest Common Warthog Blue Wildebeest
     
Black-backed Jackal Common Tree Squirrel Cape Fox
     
Greater Kudu African Elephant Southern Giraffe
     
Striped Tree Squirrel Malbrouck Angolan Epauletted Fruit Bat
     
Small-spotted Genet Striped Leaf-nosed Bat Western Rock Elephant Shrew
     
Dassie Rat Damara Ground Squirrel Setzer's Hairy-footed Gerbil
     
     
Some of the reptiles we saw on our trip:
     
Namaqua Sand Lizard Karasburg Tree Skink Western Three-striped Skink
     
Namibian Rock Agama Common Flapneck Chameleon Spotted-necked Snake-eyed Skink
     
Angolan Green Snake Western Sand Lizard Leopard Tortoise
     
Turner's Gecko Common Ground Agama Ovambo Tree Skink
     
Water Monitor Nile Crocodile Boulton's Namib Day Gecko
     
Bradfield's Dwarf Gecko South African Python Kalahari Tree Skink
     
Husab Sand Lizard Wedge-snouted Skink Common Namib Day Gecko
     
Bradfield's Namib Day Gecko Web-footed Gecko Carp's Barking Gecko