Zambia, Botswana, Namibia 2006 October

Southern Africa October 2006

1st Leg Zambia, Botswana & Namibia

      

Stone Lesser-striped Swallows, Okavango Owls and Erongo Eagles…

Livingstone to Walvis Bay – 29th September to 12th October 2006 – Caprivi Specials & Namibian/Angolan Endemics with Chris Lotz

Zambia, Botswana & Namibia Leg Itinerary

28th September London to Johannesburg

29th September Johannesburg to Livingstone

29th September to 1st October Zambia – Livingstone – [Livingstone Safari Lodge]

1st October to 3rd October Namibia – Katima Mulilo – [Kalizo Lodge]

3rd October to 5th October Botswana – Okavango Delta Panhandle – Shakawe – [Drotsky’s Cabins]

5th October to 12th October Namibia – Rundu Sarasungu Lodge] – Waterberg Plateau Park – Erongo [Hohenstein Lodge] – Walvis Bay [Protea Hotel]

12th October Fly from Walvis Bay to Cape Town

19th October Fly from Cape Town to Durban

30th October return from Johannesburg to Heathrow

Overview

Notes: All photographs © copyright to Bo Beolens, Brian Anderson and Sue Sayers. Bold numbers in square brackets indicate the route number in Southern Africa Birdfinder. Names highlighted in yellow are eponymous names of birds explained in the addendum.

Throughout the “Africa” reports Brian Anderson’s – a full-time wheelchair user – provides an assessment of how disabled friendly each property visited was. This will be shown just after the website reference for each holiday destination.

The vehicles used for touring each country were minibus types and were not adapted for disabled access. The method used to get Brian on and off the vehicles was a mixture of pushing and sliding from the wheelchair to the floor of the vehicle, and then being lifted from there to the passenger seat by two people i.e. under each arm and straight lift.

This practical method worked out pretty well, despite the loss of dignity and Brian’s acceptance of the situation. Other vehicles were used from to time i.e. 4-wheel drives and high safari-type vehicles and various push/pull methods were used to get him on board.

Guide:

Chris Lotz – Owner Operator

 

Participants:

Bo [Report Writer] & Maggie Crombet-Beolens, Brian & Joanna Anderson, Sue Sayers and Andy Senior

Bo Beolens Brian Anderson Joanna Anderson

Maggie Beolens Andy Senior Sue Sayers

Detailed Daily Diary

This leg was a truly marvellous 2-week multi-nation birding safari. The adventure first sampled one of the richest birding regions in Africa, the Victoria Falls/Caprivi/Okavango region. This is one of the greatest bird (both water birds and woodland species) and mammal havens on earth. The itinerary then took us westwards into increasingly dryer habitats and eventually into the very heart of the Namib Desert with its beautiful, rugged mountains, gravel plains, camelthorn-lined dry riverbeds, dunes and more. The stunning, scenically diverse Namib Desert (which extends into southern Angola) is inhabited by a host of endemic bird species. Finally, this leg ended on the Namib Coast. Here, Namibia’s only true endemic (Dune Lark) displays above sparsely vegetated red sand dunes, the diminutive, endangered Damara Tern reaches its highest densities anywhere, the beautiful Chestnut-banded Plover runs over the sand, and an amazing spectacle of flamingos, pelicans, waders and grebes work the Walvis Bay Lagoon.

Birds were of course, the focus of this trip, but, we also incidentally saw many interesting mammals (some of them well-known African mammals and others endemic to the southern African desert), and, of course, we saw splendid scenery.

28th September 2006 – Overnight Flights from London to Johannesburg
Day 1, 29th Sep 2006:

After an early morning arrival in Johannesburg we had just sufficient time to get to our flight on to Livingstone. We arrived later morning only to find that most of our bags would not arrive until the next flight an hour later. Fortunately our guide – Chris Lotz was waiting for us and he managed to go and buy some cold drinks for us whilst we perched on whatever we could and, by gazing out of the windows, managed to start our lists off with Pied Crow, House Sparrow and the inevitable Feral Pigeons.

As soon as the baggage arrived we went to meet our vehicles, Chris’s rather splendid small bus and a rather dilapidated hire bus to take a few of us and our luggage [Driven mostly by Bo with relief on occasion by Andy]. Once loaded we drove to our accommodation stopping only to get a better view of a yellow billed kite which at first seemed to be sporting a huge long white tail; this turned out to be a streamer of polythene! Yellow-billed Kite was the commonest bird of prey and was seen many times on most days throughout this leg.

On arrival at the Lodge we found that a Black-crowned Tchagra had taken up residence in the foyer’s high, thatched ceiling… a lifer for several participants. We were dropped off at our rooms to meet later in the bar to view the gardens and chill out.

The rooms here are individual huts with high thatched roofs, attached shower-rooms and even an outside attached second shower. Dusty dirt roads connect the widely spaced cabins and the main building. The accommodation is described as rustic and this is petty accurate. Cabins were shared with a variety of insects, lizards, geckos, frogs and spiders. This is no place for arachnophobes with friendly house spiders [two to three inches across], roaming spiders [three to four inches across] and others [over five inches across]!

Meals were ‘interesting’. Evening meals were all cooked by the owner [a chap of German extraction married to a local lady] on a bar-b-q – mostly steak, chicken or a large rather earthy freshwater fish. The most unusual dish was rape leaf soup a taste not acquired by any of the participants! Breakfasts were painfully slow affairs as they were cooked on a one ring camping stove. However, the hosts were friendly and helpful and shared their local knowledge freely; the bar was ever open and we all had our first taste of the beer preferred by all throughout the trip – Tafel.

That first afternoon saw all the participants notching up a few lifers from the comfort of armchairs in the open-air bar. Red-faced Mousebirds seemed to struggle to fly with their long tails hanging down, Red-eyed Doves called, Trumpeter Hornbills streamed over head going to their late afternoon roosts, Brown-hooded Kingfishers watched the lawn for grasshoppers and skinks [which sensibly stayed near our feet]. Northern Grey-headed Sparrows and their Southern cousins joined Bronze Manikins to eat the seeds in the long grass and a superb Black-collared Barbet sat in a bush showing off his vermillion plumage. On the entrance track Blue Waxbills showed their turquoise rumps, Helmeted Guineafowl abounded and an Orange-breasted Bush-shrike gave distant views.

Our first night’s sleep was disturbed by most by dogs barking in the early hours of the morning whilst people whistled seemingly right outside our cabins and then off in the distance. It turned out that this was the locals noisily dissuading elephants from trampling their crops. Others of us had wee small hour encounters by not so wee small spiders – one arachnophobic participant found her worst fears made flesh by these reputedly harmless denizens of the night.

Overnight: The Livingstone Safari Bush Lodge Livingstone, Zambia.

Wheelchair access comments:

Access to the accommodation – “Andrew” cottage was basically easy with just a little help over some stony ground. The rooms were spacious so movement to the bathroom and bedroom was easy. In the bathroom the wash basin was too high for someone in a wheelchair and, additionally, it had a wood surround which meant that I had to remove the footboards from my wheelchair to get close to the sink.

For me, personally, it was not safe to transfer from the wheelchair to either of the two showers, and with a fixed showerhead it would have been difficult and possibly dangerous to sit under the shower when it is not possible to adjust the temperature before going under it. Both shower (one inside and one outside) could, quite easily, be altered for wheelchair access, and in both cases the showerheads could be changed to flexible ones thus making them more manageable for safe use.

The toilet was suitable for wheelchair use except that the fitting of hand-rails would make life so much easier.

The longish push to the bar and dining area was also difficult because the path was quite stony and sandy. It was also steep in places. Once again with help it was all manageable.

Day 2, 30th Sep:

At breakfast we watched the lawn and the drinking bowl strategically placed in the shrubs and clocked up Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, our first Dark-capped Bulbul which showed themselves every day of the trip, and nice close views of Grey Camaroptera, Blue Waxbills, Tawny-flanked Prinias, skulking Tropical Boubous, striking White-browed Robin-chats and Red-billed Firefinches. After breakfast and birding around the Lodge we set off towards the falls stopping to look at tributaries of the great Zambezi finding such excellent birds as Rock Pratincole, African Pied Wagtail, White-rumped and African Palm Swifts and our first looks at the virtually ubiquitous Egyptian Geese and Black-headed Herons, Reed Cormorants and other Egrets. The rest of the morning was spent birding from the Zambian side of the incredible Victoria Falls. Not only is this, “the smoke that thunders”, one of the most spectacular waterfalls on earth, but the birdlife is truly stunning and exceptionally diverse. The falls viewed from Zambia [unless one was intrepid enough to walk the cliff-tops] were fairly restricted and one had to imagine the true extent and magnificent of the whole falls from a fairly narrow vista… nevertheless, not a sight one would want to miss. In the gorge Rock Martins flew through the spray whilst our first African Fish Eagles soared away towards the Zimbabwe border.

 

Victoria falls from the Zambian Side

We headed over to Zambezi Waterfront campsite and Lodge where Chris had seen some excellent birds on previous visits… it proved not only to be brilliant for the participants giving us great views of Collared Palm Thrush, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and commoner species such as White-browed Sparrow Weavers, Lemon-breasted Canaries, and White-bellied Sunbirds but also a lifer for our guide, spotted by Hawkeye herself [Maggie] a high-flying Ayer’s Hawk-Eagle along with White-necked Raven.

We also lunched at the Zambezi Waterfront overlooking the mighty Zambezi hoping to get distant views of African Finfoot but it was not to be and we had to content ourselves with Wire-tailed, Lesser Striped and White-throated Swallows, Herons, Egrets, Kingfishers, distant vultures and a very nice close up Water Monitor. The best bird was a Western Banded Snake Eagle called excitedly by Chris & Andy as some of us had wandered away and nearly missed it.

 

Some of the group wanted to walk across the bridge over the deep gorge below the falls, into Zimbabwe so the rest of the party were taken back to their cabins for a rest. The walkers managed to add Grey-headed Bush-shrike to their list and a couple of commoner birds on their brief step into another country. [299]

The other participants found time to get to grips with many of the commoner birds around the Lodge such as over-flying Sacred ibis, Red-billed and Grey Hornbills as well as the recently split Bradfield’s Hornbill, Lesser-striped Swallows, Fork-tailed Drongos, Pied Kingfishers and the like.

The grounds also held Collared and Amethyst Sunbirds, Arrow-marked Babblers, Red-billed Quelea and Southern Masked Weavers. When everyone got together to watch the sun go down we also saw many familiar birds of the previous day.

Overnight: The Livingstone Safari Lodge, Livingstone, Zambia.

Day 3, 1st Oct:

After final birding around the Lodge [which included a Chin-spot Batis near one of the cabins], we headed off into Namibia’s stunningly bird-diverse Caprivi Strip. As we birded along the strip we added roadside raptors such as African Goshawk.

[NB For anyone who needs to know these things the Caprivi Strip is named after Georg Leo Graf von Caprivi de Caprara de Montecuccoli (1831–1899) who was a German major general and statesman, who succeeded Otto von Bismarck as Chancellor of Germany from March 1890 to October 1894. He also managed to obtain the Caprivi Strip, which was added to German South West Africa (Now Namibia), thus linking that territory with the Zambezi River.]

We made several stops along the way to stretch our legs or just to find a few more birds. One stop netted southern Black Tit, Golden-breasted Bunting, and White-winged Widowbird; at another we saw Black-backed Puffback and several vulture species.

We crossed the border into Namibia just near the town of Katima Mutilo having seen Blue-eared Glossy starlings at the Zambian border posts and as we travelled the road towards our overnight accommodation we saw our first soaring Wahlberg’s Eagles.

En route we stopped to lunch at a pleasant roadhouse and were delighted by a brilliantly coloured Schallow’s Turaco in a tree next to the eatery. As we left Arrow-marked Babblers chased each other around the garden.

After we left the tar-sealed road we picked up new exciting species such as Meyer’s Parrots, our first Magpie Shrikes a Cardinal Woodpecker, Retz’s Helmet Shrike and a Crested Barbet. The final drive down to our Lodge was through land which is marsh in the wet season. Here we saw a variety of bee-eaters [Little, European and White-fronted as well as fleeting views of Southern Carmine] as well as our only Quail finch of the trip and several cisticola species including Zitting Cisticola. Plovers flew in front of the vehicles and Lilac-breasted Rollers flew off bushes as we passed by.

In camp we spotted our first Swamp Boubou and after settling in walked the gardens and took a look at the river. Marico Sunbirds were found in bushes and gulls, skimmers and waders abounded along the river. We stayed at the Kalizo Lodge near the town of Katima Mulilo [219]. Here, the mighty Zambezi River is certainly much more tranquil than at Victoria Falls. We saw a plethora of water bird species including our first African Skimmers, more Rock Pratincoles and lots of familiar and not so familiar waders such as Greenshank and Old World Painted Snipe and many egrets and herons including our first Squaccos. Grey-headed Gulls shared sand bars with African Spoonbills and distant White Pelicans. Furthermore, Crocodiles, and hippos could be seen in and around the Zambezi, together with terrestrial mammals such as various antelope species.

In the grounds as the sun goes down the air is filled with the sound of croaking frogs as typical of Africa as the Red-eyed Doves and Laughing Doves waking you from the night.

In the Lodge grounds we searched, unsuccessfully for Shelley’s Sunbird, finding only Marico sunbirds to test our ID skills. Giant Kingfishers almost lumbered by compared to the quick flash of Malachites and the obvious hovering Pieds.

 

Our accommodation was well appointed and comfortable although it was hot at night with power going off at 2100 and not coming on again until 0600 – difficult when dressing for an early start! Mosquito nets were provided – necessary when close to water. We had a cooling thunderstorm through the night which also gave intermittent light with the flashes of lightening.

Like many of the places we stayed at the cabins had thatched roofs and no ceilings – apparently the height of fashion and cooler than all alternatives. Those of us who were unhappy to share with arachnids and insects found this style of building particularly attractive to creepy-crawlies. Early morning Coffee was available with hot water left out in flasks so one could make it oneself in the dining room. The food was acceptable although, despite advanced warning, vegetarian provision was unimaginative. It is worth saying that, throughout the trip, many participants felt that they did not often have any variety of vegetables.

Overnight: Kalizo Lodge – Katima Mulilo, Caprivi

Wheelchair access comments:

The self-catering accommodation was accessible and large, but as ever, there were some difficulties. Access through the main door was o.k. because of a good concrete slope. The shower was accessible but difficult for me to use safely from a wheelchair access point of view.

The toilet was wheelchair friendly but could be enhanced by suitably placed grab rails.

The wash basin was too high, so I had to wash at the kitchen sink which was the right height. There were good firm paths along throughout the grounds, but they were a little awkward for wheelchairs because the path was constructed of paving slabs with gaps between each slab. This meant that the small wheels of the chair kept getting caught in the gaps thus making pushing very slow and frustrating.

The bar and dining area was inaccessible because of a flight of steps, so I had to be lifted up and down them by willing helpers.

Day 4, 2nd Oct:

We had an early breakfast to give ourselves plenty of time to scope all over the river and to make sure we had all the birds in the gardens.

The number & variety of waders and herons was pleasing to see and, in addition to familiar waders such as Greenshanks, Sanderling, Ruff and Common Sandpipers and the like we saw Old World Painted Snipe, African Openbills, Black-crowned Night-heron, White-crowned and Blacksmith Plovers, Black-winged Stilts and Collared Pratincoles, Grey-headed Gulls and African Skimmers. The hippos kept their distance but we did get to look down upon close up crocs. We also saw Senegal Coucal and a brilliant view of an African Fish-eagle that landed in one of the trees in the gardens. Also at the Lodge was a constantly calling Swamp Boubou, Common Waxbill and Hartlaub’s Babblers.

We took our time crossing the land near the Lodge as we drove out enjoying the Bee-eaters, Rollers, Hirundines and finches and on the dirt-road back into town we stopped for Red-billed Buffalo Weaver [which we had seen the day before], Magpie Shrikes and the like. In Katima Mulilo town we shopped for picnic lunch ingredients before starting the long drive to the Botswana border and our destination for the night.

We traversed the Caprivi National Park and saw our first Ostrich and a good number of raptors along the road including Tawny Eagle, Shikra, Dark Chanting Goshawk etc. but the undoubted highlight was a pair of displaying Southern Ground Hornbills spotted by Sue just off the road. We picnicked under a Baobab tree in the blistering heat before driving on seeing more raptors and other woodland birds including our first Bradfield’s Hornbill.

 

It was quite late by the time we crossed the Mahango Game Reserve [with the entrance gate decorated with the sun-bleached skulls of some of the larger game] [215] before entering our fourth country, Botswana. We did see a few larger antelope and a soaring Bateleur but resolved to take a closer look at the reserve when we went back two days later. We slept the next two nights in Drotsky’s Cabins on the panhandle [216] of the magnificent Okavango Delta with its unbelievable birdlife.

It is famed for such species such as Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Wood Owl, White-backed Night Heron, Slaty Egret, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Brown Firefinch, Greater Swamp Warbler, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Meve’s Starling, to name but a few of those seen by some or all of the participants.

We watched the sun go down over the river from our cabins with Anhinga, weavers and Giant Kingfisher perched on branches sticking out of the water and some were lucky enough to see Rufous-bellied Herons and others Pygmy Geese.

 

Drotsky’s Cabins are well appointed cabins in lush grounds overlooking the river. Rooms are large and nicely decorated with the open ceilings and thatched roofs of current fashion. No nets were provided although, on request, the management went out of their way to find some and help us put them up for the participant who needed shielding from arachnids. The dining room is built out over the river giving superb views and the food was varied and very tasty with service being excellent. Coffee was always available… particularly appreciated by the early risers.

 

Overnight: Drotsky’s Cabins, Shakawe, Botswana.

Wheelchair access comments:

The first cabin allocated to us at Drotsky’s was unsuitable because the bathroom door was too narrow. This was a bit of a disappointment because my wheelchair dimensions had been advised to the tour guide prior to the holiday. No matter, we were transferred quickly to another, more accessible, cabin – No.4.

Access to this cabin was solved by erecting a makeshift ramp and could easily be improved by constructing a proper, substantial slope of wood or the building of a proper concrete incline.

Once inside, the ground floor rooms were large, with an accessible shower and toilet. Once again the strategic provision of grab rails would be an easy enhancement to fit. The wash basin was also the right height for a wheelchair user.

The rest the site was accessible with good paths. The dining area was also very accessible and had good views over the Kavango River for bird watching. There was also an accessible toilet near the dining area, but this has not been adapted in anyway.

Day 5, 3rd Oct:

The grounds most typical residents seemed to be White-browed Robin-chats, Hartlaub’s Babblers, Red-faced Mousebirds, Swamp Boubou, Violet-backed Starlings, Common Waxbills and Southern Brown-throated Golden Weavers.

This was one of the very best days of our entire Southern African birding trip as we took a boat trip along the Okavango River. We set out in the morning towards the Carmine Bee-eater colony full of anticipation and, unlike most of life, the experience far outshone our imagination. To linger in front of such a colony just a few feet from such magnificent birds is what birding is all about at its best. Just next to the colony a Half-collared Kingfisher [our only one of the trip] sat beneath the bank as did Pied, Giant and Malachite Kingfishers. Grey Go-away Birds, Little Bee-eaters and White-fronted Bee-eaters and more seemed to jostle for our attention as we gently moved along the waterway. In the papyrus were many egrets and heron species and on the margins Black Crake, Night Herons, etc. and, on more open banks African Pipits and our first Cape Wagtails. On sandbanks Water Dikkops [Thick-knees] [birds we had heard for three days before seeing our first ones], Wattled Plovers, our only Long-toed Lapwing of the trip and African Jacanas were joined by African Skimmers and more familiar birds such as Common Sandpipers and Greenshanks. We also had a very brief glimpse of a Spotted-necked Otter and good views of a pod of hippos – which we wisely avoided getting too close too. Our boatman took us close to a huge tree in which roosted an open-eyed Pel’s Fishing Owl – my 2000th lifer!

 

Carmine Bee-eater River Trip

These highlights are the mere tip of the birding iceberg [to use a singularly inappropriate analogy given the heat in the high 30s] as we saw many more species from crakes to cormorants and weavers to warblers.

After lunch the party split with the majority taking another trip on the river to an island where African Wood-owl was seen. Maggie and Bo just stayed on the deck overlooking the river sipping cold drinks and trying to keep count of the Malachite Kingfishers, Goliath Herons, Great, Little, Black and Yellow-billed Egrets, Lesser Swamp Warblers and Southern Brown-throated Golden Weavers. Constant watch did not result in any Rufous-bellied herons but did turn up a flight of no less than four Slaty Egrets! On the far bank we had poor views of Coppery-tailed Coucals.

Overnight: Drotsky’s Cabins, Shakawe, Botswana.

Day 6, 4th Oct:

We birded the grounds and surrounding campsite before moving on and this netted African Goshawk, Terrestrial Brownbul, after some searching, and many common Waxbills, but no Brown Fire-finches as most of the party hoped. Before leaving Botswana we visited a small Petrol filling-station where we had been told a White-fronted Scops Owl roosted – sure enough it was there, wide awake and quite interested to see us! It was there we saw our only Shaft-tailed Whydah of the trip, albeit not in breeding plumage.

We then set off and crossed the border and re-entered the Caprivi Strip of Namibia. We began by birding the Mahango Game Reserve finding many new species amongst the open woodland and in the small but crowded wetland – several antelope species were seen here as well as many birds including our first Red-breasted Swallows that at first glance as they fly by look like small bee-eaters. Top birds in the woodland and clearings were Bennett’s Woodpecker, Southern Black & Marico Flycatchers, Green-winged Pytilia, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Jameson’s Firefinch, Yellow-fronted Canary and Crowned Lapwings. At the small wetland we saw our first Marabou and Yellow-billed Storks along with stilts, herons, Hamerkop, African Open-bill, many White-faced Whistling Ducks and Spur-winged Geese with Tawny Eagles, African Fish Eagles and Kites. There were also two francolin species; Red-billed & Swainson’s. On our way out we saw our first Crimson-breasted Shrike – Namibia’s national bird and our only Fawn-coloured Lark of the trip.

We spent more time here than originally intended as the wildlife was so easy to see so had little time to visit other sites in the Caprivi. Our guide had somewhere in mind for lunch – Popa Falls, but we arrived to find someone locking up. However, the lady unlocked for us and very quickly produced toasted sandwiches and cold drinks. What is more we added some excellent birds whilst lunching including our only Long-billed Crombec of the trip and many Blue-eared and Meve’s (Long-tailed Glossy) and Wattled Starlings, Grey Camaroptera, Tawny-flanked Prinia, and our first Red-eyed Bulbuls.

We then drove westwards to the town of Rundu bordering Angola just outside of the Caprivi. It was late when we arrived and there was little time to do anything other than get settled into our rooms and ready ourselves for dinner.

 

Sarasungu Lodge is an odd mixture – the grounds are very pleasant and turned up some excellent birds and, in places one can look across the Kavango river into Angola. Meals in the restaurant were excellent if rather slow in coming and the bar with its mixture of locals and guests made one feel as if one was having a more real experience of the country.

The rooms were an odd mixture. They were clean and had air con and mosquito nets, en suite showers and loads of room but had incredibly high ceilings and rather cold looking whitewashed walls and there was something rather institutional about them. There were even TV’s although we did not check to see if they worked. Liberal spraying with ‘Doom’ [the local insecticide spray] before going to dinner netted no less than 37 large wasps when we returned. Whilst rooms were described as accessible there were problems with all the rooms. Whilst we didn’t mind I am sure some guests would object to there being fixed mirrors so placed as to give anyone in the room full on views of anyone using the toilet… there being no door or even curtain to the bathroom – OK for couples perhaps but not so acceptable to those sharing a room with anyone other than their partner.

Overnight: Sarasungu Lodge, Rundu, Namibia

Wheelchair access comments:

We arrived at the Lodge in semi-darkness, and we were disappointed to find our accommodation was not very accessible. After a bit of ‘toing and froing’ we eventually got placed in a cabin that was spacious and mainly accessible. In the curtained-off bathroom area access to the toilet, from a wheelchair, was sideways on and therefore difficult. The wash basin height was ok, but the shower was not accessible.

The paths around the site were very sandy, so it was very difficult for wheelchair pushing. Access to the dining area was o.k. with assistance.

Day 7, 5th Oct:

We spent the day birding Rundu [213] and environs; but started the morning by walking the gardens as Chris had heard an owl in the night and we tape lured it in; an African Barred Owlet. Here also Andy turned up Kurrichane Thrush hopping about giving great views; other birds were Green Woodhoopoe, Emerald Spotted Dove and many birds we had already become familiar with.

From the gardens we could see Angola across the river and were able to see a few birds to create an Angola list although an attempt to cross the border later was unsuccessful. Top bird for that list was Green-backed Heron in the reeds on the Angolan side.

After breakfast we set off to look for some of the special birds of the well-developed woodland around Rundu. On a small track between fields and open woodland we tape-lured Rufous-bellied Tit and saw many other species including Ground-scraper Thrush and Purple Rollers. Here we also saw and, more often heard, Tinkling and Rattling Cisticolas. All the time we drove slowly down this track stopping periodically we were accompanied by village children who were fascinated by being able to look through the scopes. On the fields we saw our only Sabota Lark.

We returned to Sarasungu Lodge for lunch whilst Andy tried, in vain, to find someone able to take him across the river into Angola. The rest of us took a break, had a beer and enjoyed the birds in the garden including around 7 or 8 African Paradise Flycatchers sporting tails of varying lengths. Some people took a siesta whilst others wrote up their notes and caught up with lists etc. After this break we headed for the Sewage Ponds in Rundu which are known for a variety of birdlife.

 

The majority of birds were waders, ducks and other water birds but there were others such as our first African Hoopoe of the trip; Lesser Swamp Warbler and a variety of hirundines. Waders included Three-banded Plover, Wood Sandpipers and waders we are used to seeing in the UK, other water birds such as Black Crake, Purple Gallinule and Common Moorhen and the only Hottentot Teal and Little Stint of the entire tour.

For the last hour before sunset we re-traced our steps and went back 40 kilometres into the Caprivi Strip hoping to find Racket-tailed Roller to no avail. However, we did see our first Acacia Pied Barbets, Striped Kingfisher, and other woodland species we had already seen such as Southern Black Tit, Fork-tailed Drongos, rollers and hornbills.

Overnight: Sarasungu Lodge, Rundu.

Day 8, 6th Oct:

We made an early start, heading southwards, for the long drive to our destination, eventually reaching the scenic Waterberg Plateau Park. The long journey was characterised by many sightings of roadside raptors sitting on poles and wires or soaring overhead including many Black-shouldered Kites, both Pale and Dark Chanting Goshawks, we also saw the first Rock Kestrel of the trip on the road. Those in the second vehicle were lucky enough to see a Levaillant’s Cuckoo land in a tree top.

Our first stop was for breakfast at a game ranch called Roy’s Camp where we enjoyed the hospitality of the owner and her fresh coffee and breakfast pack. Here we also saw nesting Black-faced Babbler – our only sighting of the tour. Helping us enjoy breakfast were also Red-billed Francolins, and our first Pale-winged Starlings and also Burchell’s and Cape Glossy Starlings. Stunning Crimson-breasted Shrikes also made an appearance along with a solid supporting cast of more familiar species. Some of us took advantage of the break to buy souvenirs.

When we stopped for lunch we were lucky to catch up with a number of passerines among the road-side bushes, such as Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler and Black-faced Waxbills.

 

We also were lucky enough to see some Secretarybirds fly over the road and land in a field giving us all excellent views.

As we came in sight of the Plateau and the National park turning on to a dirt road the bird life seemed to increase; the nearer we got to the park the more often we stopped to take in birds including new species for us such as Kalahari Scrub-robin and Scaly-feathered finches and many Common Fiscal for the first time on the trip – a bird which we then saw most days for the next three weeks. We also saw some beautiful Rosy-faced Lovebirds [which apparently breed on the impressive cliff faces] just before the entrance gate to the Lodge – Bernard De La Batt Camp; a government-run establishment with a series of solidly brick built chalets and an extensive dining room.

As we waited for Chris to complete the formalities at reception, we watched the trees around about and saw our first Pririt Batis, and African Yellow White-eyes… we returned to the entrance for a better look after settling in to our rooms.

 

The rooms are rather stark but very clean and perfectly comfortable, what they lack in character they make up for in being spotless, roomy and cool. Right outside are excellent views of the escarpment and a variety of birds and small mammals. We were visited by Black Mongoose and Damara Dikdik. Behind the cabins in the scrub Grey-backed Camaroptera called constantly and even showed down to three feet along with weavers, white-eyes, bulbuls and other common birds. We birded around the cabins and reception and back out along the tracks until dinner which was in the impressive restaurant. The food was very good and the service slick.

Overnight: Bernard De La Batt Camp – Waterberg Plateau Park.

Wheelchair access comments

Our cabin was accessible with a good slope to the front entrance and a small step down to the back patio area.

Inside the cabin the rooms were well laid out with a large accessible bathroom. The toilet was well sited, and with support rails. The sink was a good height with a usable mirror, but because of a tiled surround it was not possible to bend over the basin and wash my hair.

The dining area was about a kilometre away down a very steep slope so we used the vehicle to get there and back. The restaurant was very accessible and the toilets nearby were ok but not adapted for disabled use at all (i.e. had inward-opening doors).

Day 9, 7th Oct:

The park is an excellent site for Hartlaub’s Francolin, Rockrunner (Damara Rockjumper), Ruppell’s Parrot and all sorts of other exciting localised endemics. But some need an early start so we were up before dawn watching the Plateau and listening for Hartlaub’s Francolin which most of us did manage to see. We were also lucky here to get distant but clear views of Rockrunner and Red-billed Francolin and Swainson’s Spurfowl. Tapes did lure in Freckled Nightjar which we all heard well but only managed the briefest glimpse of. Fortunately, we also managed Ruppell’s Parrots which flew into the trees right beside our chalets although we did not see Carp’s Tit which is also supposed to be resident amongst the accommodation blocks, but did see many Bradfield’s Swifts and Alpine Swifts along the escarpment.

After a leisurely breakfast we decided to relax by birding the area near reception where the laziest of us could sit and let the birds come to us. Chris had heard Pearl-spotted Owlet so played a tape to see if he could lure the bird in. Not only did one turn up but it was then mobbed by other birds such as Common Scimitarbill and Violet Woodhoopoes and a number of more common species and, nearby we saw our first Black-throated Canaries coming to drink from a dripping tap. Another Hoopoe turned up giving good views to those who had missed them at Rundu.

 

 

View of Waterberg Plateau from our accommodation

 

We went to the restaurant for lunch and take advantage of the superb views from the long veranda where we spotted one or two small passerines in the bushes. There was a large party of Black-faced Waxbills and a Familiar Chat was true enough to his name as to land on the veranda wall very close to us. It occurred to us that the mobbing of the owl brought in some good birds so decided to play the tape again to see if the birds would come to us. We were treated to a magical half an hour as a wave of birds appeared looking for an owl to mob including the very beautiful Violet-eared Waxbill, Melba Finch, Acacia Pied Barbet, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Black-chested Prinia, Pririt Batis, Marico Flycatcher, Brubru, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Marico and White-bellied Sunbirds, Red-eyed Bulbuls and Golden-breasted Bunting. What is more it also brought in the Owlet!

As we stopped to go inside for lunch, a party of 17 Banded Mongooses trooped out of the bushes on the lawn below us. After lunch we continued birding in the Waterberg Plateau Park [206] driving some of the dirt roads and tracks leading to other Lodges etc.

On the drive into Waterberg Wilderness Lodge we caught up with Carp’s Tit as well as our first Verreaux’s Eagle and a number of other raptors including Booted, African Hawk, Black-chested Snake and Wahlberg’s Eagles and our first Lanner. We also saw many antelope species and mongooses.

 

We birded on into the dusk before returning to our accommodation and readying ourselves for dinner – but had time to complete our lists in comfort. Dinner was a spectacular affair as, just as we had ordered to the sound of lashing rain and spectacular lightning, all the lights went out. So a candle-lit supper ensued and we were able to go on to the veranda to see the remarkable scene as the lightning illuminated the plain beneath us… Andy remembered the opening scene of The Day of the Triffids! The lights returned before dessert and we braved the rain to get to the vehicle to take us back to our accommodation.

 

Overnight: Bernard De La Batt Camp – Waterberg Plateau Park

Day 10, 8th Oct:

We left after breakfast for the long drive towards the southwest, eventually reaching the true Namib Desert with its imposing desert mountains forming the Namib Escarpment. Our destination for the night was the Erongo Range.

An early stop to ID several vultures [as Lappet-faced and White-backed] led us to find Northern Black Korhaan amongst the large antelopes including Kudu and Oryx in some large open fields. There too we got reasonable views of Desert Cisticola and our first Bradfield’s Lark as well as commoner species such as Rufous-naped Lark. En route we saw our second Ostrich for the trip.

We also picked up the localised Monteiro’s Hornbill and a better view of Damara Hornbills than the fleeting glimpses of the previous day, with, for some of us, a catch up bird; Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill. Raptors included Brown Snake Eagle.

We stopped in the small town of Karibib to buy water in the local supermarket. At this point we discovered that the air-con in the hire vehicle had decided to leak water all over the suitcases so some hasty re-arranging had to be done with strategic use of plastic bags to stop the water getting into the luggage. Thereafter we had to make sure that the fan was set at max to drive the water past the leak. We took lunch at a local restaurant with its dark cool interior and stone tables and rather Mexican feel. After lunched we stopped ages to re-fuel as the staff fell over themselves to fill both vehicles. While we waited we spotted Rock Kestrel, Mountain Chat and other birds at the edge of town. We were speeding away some five or six kilometres on when we heard horn honking and saw lights flashing behind us and pulled over. It turned out to be some of the petrol station people showing us that we had only paid for the fuel in one vehicle. The mix up was soon sorted and we were on our way again.

We eventually arrived at Hohenstein Lodge in the Erongo Mountains to be greeted by the friendly and very helpful staff offering cooling juice and then carrying our bags to our very nicely appointed rooms – certainly the nicest mixture of good clean and spacious facilities with charm and a truly beautiful setting.

 

We quickly settled in, freshened up and headed for the bar which is an open terrace with just a canopy to shield you from the sun right in front of a pool which attracts a wide variety of birds. On that first evening we saw a succession of birds many of them new for the trip including Great Sparrow, Lesser-striped Swallow, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Familiar Chat, Chat Flycatcher, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Scaly-feathered Finch, Green-winged Pytilia, Violet-eared Waxbill, Red-headed Finch, Black-throated and White-throated Canary, Golden-breasted and Lark-like Bunting and Acacia Pied Barbet and a Dassie Rat! We also saw several new species in the scrub and rocky clearings between the pool and some small hills including Red-faced Mousebird, Mountain Wheatear, Rockrunner and Short-toed Rock-thrush. A Black-chested Snake Eagle roosted on a ridge right beside a Damara Rock Hyrax and all around we could hear the calls of Red-crested Korhaan although we never saw one here. We watched the sun go down drinking cold Namibian beers before being ushered into the dining room to be treated to a very nice dinner

 

Overnight: Hohenstein Lodge – Erongo Mountains.

Wheelchair access comments

Our cottage was very roomy and very thoughtfully designed. After the provision of a poolside chair I was able to manage the shower safely. The bathroom was spacious and the washbasin was a good height, but once again it had a tiled surround which made close access more difficult. The toilet was ok too, but without grab rails.

The paths to the dining area were well paved and easy to traverse, and access to the dining area was also easy.

Day 11, 9th Oct:

The day was spent exploring the arid plains and rolling hills which abut the Erongo Mountains with a series of long drives seemingly miles from anywhere apart from a stop or two at some very small towns.

Among familiar raptors we saw our first Gabar Goshawk. We were lucky to see several parties of the so-called Meercat characteristically standing on hind legs and moving in the arid country in family groups as well as ground squirrels and other mongooses. We stopped to re-fuel at the largest town; Uis, which was surrounded by spoil heaps from mining. Whilst taking a ‘comfort break’ we were lucky to see a party of Namaqua Sandgrouse flying by and later saw some at closer quarters on the ground.

Our first target was to get our first glimpse of the charismatic, bizarre and very striking White-tailed Shrike and when we did we found several at a spot that also turned up several other lifers including Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Barred Wren-warbler and Dusky Sunbird.

The route was a long and dusty one and involved crossing a dry river bed near the strangely strung-out town of Okombahe. When we arrived at the crossing place that Chris had used before the sand looked loose and deep but we took a chance only to bog down to our axles. Those of us who could, got out to push but it was very slow progress backwards until some locals turned up and kindly helped out. We took another route through the town and found another crossing place where the sand was firmer and caused no problem… although, when we returned later in the day it took some finding.

 

We took our packed lunch down to a dry river bed next to a camp site near Brandberg hoping to spot the enigmatic Desert Elephants that sometimes lurk there but were out of luck although we did see our first small groups of Springbok. We shared our lunch with a confiding Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill and also managed to find our only Southern Pied Babblers of the trip.

After lunch we targeted, and spent some time searching for, Benguela Long-billed Lark, which we eventually found along with Spike-heeled Larks and other commoner lark species. Whilst searching for all these species we had been keeping an eye out for Ruppell’s Korhaan which was eventually spotted by Hawkeye. Later in the day we found Stark’s Lark & Grey-backed Sparrowlark.

In that general area we also saw Red-billed Buffalo-weavers.

When we returned to the Lodge there was still time to settle by the pool and watch the passerines and hirundines come in to drink with more or less the same cast as the night before although Lark-like Buntings and Red-headed Finches seemed to predominate. Nevertheless it also tuned up a Pririt Batis.

As the sun sank we watched familiar chats using the patio where the lights of the Lodge attracted a variety of insects.

 

Over dinner we saw even more bizarre insects as huge beetles flew in and a hand sized grasshopper clung to the window pane. One of the staff pointed out a green and orange centipede fully eight inches long that was hiding by a potted palm in the dining room. Dinner was very good and made even more pleasant by the staff treating us to some local songs after dinner. Truth to tell each of them could have been selected for their voices as they formed a more than passable choir! When I returned to my room a Chameleon decided to walk through the door with me and tried its best to imitate the floor tile until persuaded that there was more food on offer outside.

The setting, staff, accommodation and food were all as good as the cold beer and I would heartily recommend this Lodge for any visiting birder.

 

Overnight: Hohenstein Lodge – Erongo Mountains

Day 12, 10th Oct:

Today we headed for the coast, via the magnificent Spitzkoppe [204]. The Spitzkoppe, or “Matterhorn of Namibia” is an impressive desert mountain that rises straight out of the desert plain. The target species here is the elusive, rare and very localised Herero Chat.

 

En route to this imposing batholith we once again saw several Ruppell’s Korhaan, a better view of a Short-toed Rock-thrush and White-tailed Shrike as well as many familiar species and more Bradfield’s and Stark’s Larks and our first Karoo Long-billed Lark.

At Spitzkoppe we spent quite a time trying to locate the Chat having no luck for the first couple of hours but seeing our first Layard’s Tit-babbler and other species such as Dusky Sunbird, Mountain Wheatear etc. After eating our packed lunch out of the sun at Spitzkoppe Rest Camp we tried one last time around the rocks and, at the very last second we had allowed ourselves, driving away from the rocks, Chris tracked down the Herero Chat at long last; the time put in had not been wasted after all!

 

We then headed for the coast and our final Namibian destination. After miles of gravel desert it gradually gave way to flat, off-white sandy dessert flats. [203] We stopped at one point to look for Tractrac Chat which we eventually connected with before driving on to Swakopmund where we saw our first Hartlaub’s Gulls and then down the coast to Walvis Bay. We checked in to our hotel and took a well earned rest after the long drive.

Protea Hotels are a rather modern chain of hotels with very similar rooms of a very good standard with perhaps the biggest beds I’ve ever seen in any hotel. The bathrooms were very modern yet suffered from the triumph of form over function with glass washbasins which leaked and had nowhere to put the soap etc. A welcome feature for me was internet access and I took the time to check my mail and delete a few thousand of those that had stacked up since I left home.

This particular Protea has a breakfast room but no restaurant so we had to eat dinner out. Normally, I much prefer hotels with restaurants as this allows a group to eat when each member wants and for some to linger and others move on quickly. However, as we had to go out we went to a superb restaurant called The Raft which is set on its own jetty where the lights attract hundreds of gulls to roost on the water and Cape Fur Seals play acrobatically in the water. What is more the food [and service] was the best of the entire trip and we all very much enjoyed the two dinners we ate there with copious quantities of Tafel beer and a few bottles of wine.

 

Whilst we were trying not to look at birds during or on the way to dinner, we did add White Pelican, Greater Flamingo, Cape Gull, Reed Cormorant and Grey Heron to the trip list.

 

Overnight: Protea Hotel, Walvis Bay.

Wheelchair access comments

This was first class accommodation in a hotel sense, and after changing from room 319 to 318 with Maggie and Bo we found that we had a very good ‘disabled’ room. I managed to have a shower ok with the supply of a poolside chair. The wash basin and toilet were both suitable for wheelchairs. Room 319 was also suitable, but not quite so usable for me. The bed was level with the wheelchair and was plush.

The rest of the hotel – dining room, bar and entrance were all accessible

Day 13, 11th Oct: We started the day birding around the town itself first in search of Orange River White-eyes which we had eventually in some tall reeds on the edge of town; having seen Cape Sparrow in the park with common species such as Waxbills and Red-faced Mousebirds. We spent a little time overlooking Walvis Bay itself but decided to leave a serious look until later in the day.

We then moved up the coast to the Swakopmund area where we searched in the barren flat white sand dessert areas by the sea for larks and chats but saw very little indeed. The first Cape Crow of the trip and Tractrac Chat kept us searching and we eventually did manage to find the species we sought – Gray’s Lark. We then lunched overlooking the sea at the Lighthouse Restaurant.

After lunch we drove back to Walvis Bay Lagoon [201] where we followed the lagoon way out past the salt pans. Here we had Greater Flamingo, Great White Pelican, White-breasted and Cape Cormorant, and some extremely localised species such as Chestnut-banded Plover and other waders including White-fronted and Kittlitz’s Plover, Black-winged Stilt and many familiar ones such as Avocet and Ruff, Little Stint and Ruddy Turnstone. We saw many Common and Sandwich terns and our target tern; the diminutive Damara Tern.

In the late afternoon we moved down into the sand dunes near the little village of Rooibank where some of the party were able to search for, and connect with Dune Lark although the deep sand made it impossible for wheelchairs… the rest of the party amused themselves watching Dung Beetles scurrying to and fro with their interesting burdens.

Overnight: Protea Hotel, Walvis Bay.

Day 14, 12th Oct:

After having seen over 300 species in the first leg of the trip most of the group had a lazy morning before driving to the airport to move on to Cape Town, whereas Andy had an early start to get his flight to Johannesburg where he met John McAllister for a few days chasing the South African specials that he had missed on his last trip there

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