ANGOLA & NAMIBIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Angola: Day 1 Our Angola birding tour begins this evening at the southern city of Lubango, where we will stay for three nights.
(We will be happy to arrange your Luanda-Lubango flight on request.)
Angola: Days 2-3 The stunning view from the cliffs of Tundavala near Lubango, which tower over 1000 metres up above the coastal plain far below, will certainly be a highlight of the tour. The wonderful panoramic view towards the coast stretches for many kilometres before disappearing into the haze. Beneath us, groups of Bradfield’s and Alpine Swifts whirl through the air and occasionally a magnificent Verreaux’s Eagle glides past. If we can tear ourselves away from the sheer natural beauty of these dizzy heights we will be able to explore the surrounding open ground where Red-capped Larks and Buffy Pipits are displaying. Here, amongst a maze of bizarrely-shaped rocky outcrops and stunted, windswept vegetation we shall search for the handsome endemic Angolan Cave Chat, which is fairly common and easy to see here as well as the endemic Angolan Slaty Flycatcher and localized Ludwig’s Double-collared and Oustalet’s Sunbirds.
This is one of the few known sites for the recently rediscovered endemic Swierstra’s Francolin and we shall certainly be on the lookout for this rare bird. In some of the gullies and little gorges some vegetation clings to the rocks and in these sheltered and moister places we will look for the handsome Miombo and Short-toed Rock Thrushes as well as the near-endemic Hartlaub’s Spurfowl and Red-backed Mousebird and the endemic Angolan Waxbill. The brightly coloured local form of Jameson’s Firefinch can also be found.
Other species likely to be found around the Tundavala Escarpment include Yellow-billed Kite, Augur Buzzard, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Freckled Nightjar, Rufous-naped Lark, Lesser Striped, Greater Striped and Angolan Swallows, Rock Martin, Dark-capped Bulbul, White-browed Robin-Chat, African Stonechat, Sooty and Familiar Chats, Wailing and Wing-snapping Cisticolas, Grey Apalis, Chinspot Batis, Variable Sunbird, Southern Yellow White-eye, Northern Fiscal, Pied Crow, Blue Waxbill, Yellow-crowned and Brimstone Canaries and Cinnamon-breasted and, sometimes, Lark-like Buntings.
We will also have our first chance to look for the smart and localized Fülleborn’s Longclaw, and, if luck is on our side, the extremely rare Angolan form of White-headed Barbet or the scarce Spotted Eagle-Owl or Rufous-cheeked Nightjar. On the rocky slopes, we are also likely to encounter the cute Yellow-spotted Hyrax, whilst around our comfortable lodge, we are likely to see the endearing Lesser Angolan Epauletted Fruit Bat.
We will also pause at a small dam where Little Grebe, Red-billed Teal and Three-banded Plover are often present, and occasionally a pair of the scarce African Black Duck joins them.
Other species to watch for in the general area include Black-winged Kite, Rock Kestrel, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, African Olive Pigeon (scarce), Red-eyed, Ring-necked, Laughing and Namaqua Doves, the crazy Schalow’s Turaco, Little Swift, Crowned Hornbill, the smart Black-collared Barbet, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Lesser Honeyguide, Red-faced Mousebird, Black Cuckooshrike, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, White-browed Scrub Robin, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Long-billed Crombec (also possible later in the tour), Hartlaub’s Babbler (sometimes around our lodge!), Black-crowned Tchagra, African Paradise Flycatcher, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Swamp Boubou, Cape (Glossy) and Violet-backed Starlings, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Bronze Mannikin and Pin-tailed Whydah
On one of our full days, we shall descend the escarpment. A major feat of engineering has constructed a wonderful road that snakes down the precipice. As we descend we will check out likely patches of scrub for the attractive Rockrunner and the superb White-tailed Shrike that looks like some strange giant batis!
We will continue along a fine highway into the deserts towards the town of Namibe. Here in the dry country we will target some special birds, many of which are only shared with Namibia, including the sometimes elusive Cinderella Waxbill. Much of the birdlife is concentrated in the more vegetated areas and river beds. African Red-eyed Bulbuls sing cheerfully away, and we can also expect to find Rüppell’s Parrot, charming Rosy-faced Lovebirds, Striped Kingfisher, the localized Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Pririt Batis, Carp’s Tit, the smart Bare-cheeked Babbler, and the local form of Meves’s Starling and the small local form of the Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill both of which are of interest and could be be split as separate species in the future, and we may find the spectacular Crimson-breasted Shrike. Away from the few watercourses, dry scrub covers the landscape. Here, Chat Flycatchers flit from bush to bush, Kalahari Scrub Robins sit up to sing from prominent perches, flocks of White-throated Canaries and handsome Cape Sparrows roam from bush to bush, Dusky Sunbirds seek what little nectar there is, and flocks of Pale-winged Starlings can be found. As the road goes on we will pass handsome Mountain Wheatears that perch upon convenient posts or favour the isolated kopjes, while Karoo Chats flick away from the roadsides (the small pale form here has a pale rump and probably merits taxonomic investigation). As the landscape becomes still more arid we can look for the localized Benguela Long-billed Lark as well as Sabota, Spike-heeled and the uncommon Stark’s Larks, and small flocks of Grey-backed Sparrowlarks. By regularly stopping for anything of interest the numerous birding opportunities could include other Namibian ‘specials’ such as Rüppell’s Korhaans, Ludwig’s Bustard or the ghostly Tractrac Chat.
Other species we may well encounter include Western Cattle Egret, Black-headed Heron, raptors including include Little Sparrowhawk, African Hawk-Eagle, Martial Eagle and Black-chested Snake Eagle (all scarce), Palm-nut Vulture, African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene), the smart Pale Chanting Goshawk, Pearl-spotted Owlet, African Green Pigeon, Grey Go-away-bird, Klaas’s Cuckoo, White-browed Coucal, Common Scimitarbill, African Palm Swift, Little and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Purple Roller, African Hoopoe, Acacia Pied Barbet, Rattling and Grey-backed Cisticolas, Black-chested Prinia, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Groundscraper Thrush, Chestnut-vented Warbler (scarce), Scarlet-chested, Purple-banded and White-bellied Sunbirds, Southern Fiscal (here with a distinct white supercilium), Southern White-crowned Shrike, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Black-backed Puffback, Yellow-breasted Apalis, (Eastern) Black-headed Oriole, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape Crow, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Southern Red Bishop, Green-winged Pytilia, the smart Violet-eared Waxbill and Red-billed Firefinch.
Angola: Day 4 After a final morning in the Tundavala area, we will drive to Benguela for an overnight stay. We should have some time this afternoon and more time in the morning to explore areas close to Benguela, and will visit an area of impressive Baobabs set amongst dense thickets and kopjes (rocky outcrops) inland from the coast and some more open areas. Here we will be keen to find the localized Hartlaub’s Spurfowl and, with luck, the energetic Cape Penduline Tit. Other species in this area may well include Bateleur, White-rumped Swift, Yellow Bishop and Yellow-fronted Canary. There will be a number of otherwise Namibian specialities, similar to those found at Tundavala, so we will have a chance to catch up on any that we may have missed, as well as a few additional species such as Gabar Goshawk, Red-crested Korhaan and Scaly-feathered Weaver, and we should also have our first opportunity to see the ubiquitous endemic Bubbling Cisticola.
Angola: Day 5 After some more birding inland from Benguela, we shall continue our journey to the Huambo area, where we shall stay for three nights. On the way, we will stop at a number of saltpans and coastal wetlands that are likely to be absolutely teaming with bird life! Here, large flocks of Kelp Gulls are joined by Grey-headed Gulls, Caspian, (African) Royal and Sandwich Terns, whilst throngs of waders jostle their way around the pools and may include Water Thick-knee (particularly numerous here), Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Grey, Common Ringed, and Kittlitz’s Plovers, (Eurasian) Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Ruff, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Stint, Curlew, Common, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers and Common Greenshank, and with luck the delicate Chestnut-banded Plover. Good numbers of smart Lesser Flamingos are joined by smaller numbers of Greater Flamingos, and we are likely to get some lovely views of flocks of Great White Pelicans. In the fresher water areas, both Yellow-billed and African Openbill Storks and African Sacred Ibis are likely to be present, and amongst the throngs of herons we are likely to find Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret and attractive Squacco Herons, as well as perhaps Black Heron and Intermediate Egret, and we should also find our first African Spoonbills. Ducks will include numerous Cape Teals and perhaps smaller numbers of Hottentot Teal and Southern Pochard, and other species possible include African Darter, Reed and White-breasted Cormorants, Common Moorhen and perhaps Red-knobbed Coot and Zitting Cisticola.
Angola: Days 6-7 From our base in the Huambo area we will be able to explore a great variety of habitats in the surrounding area. Of prime interest will be the nearby Mount Moco, which we will explore for a whole day. The mountain supports some isolated patches of Afromontane forest, an increasingly rare and threatened habitat, and as a result, some special birds can be found here. This is the site where the secretive and threatened endemic Swierstra’s Francolin was first rediscovered, and we have another chance to find this tricky species here. Fernando Po Swift is also known from the mountain (though is both hard to find and hard to identify with certainty) and Finsch’s Francolin and Angolan Lark can be found in the grasslands. Whilst exploring the remaining forest fragments we will have a chance of finding interesting species such as the local form of Rock-loving Cisticola (which is actually not even related to Rock-loving Cisticola and is best split off as Huambo Cisticola), the smart Dusky Twinspot and the localized Black-chinned Weaver as well as the delightful Bocage’s Akalat. More widespread species in the forest patches may include Olive Woodpecker, Red-throated Wryneck, Tropical Boubou, Yellow-throated Leaflove, the elusive Evergreen Forest Warbler, African Dusky and White-tailed Blue Flycatchers, African Hill Babbler, African Spotted Creeper, Bronzy Sunbird, Northern Yellow White-eye, Spectacled Weaver and Thick-billed Seedeater. Whilst walking to the patches we may encounter smart Striped Pipits, as well as Plain-backed and perhaps Long-billed Pipits, and the local form of Mountain Wheatear.
In the scrubby grasslands below the higher slopes, we will look for another suite of species. One of the best, is also one of the toughest, and we will need to work hard to find the rare Bocage’s Sunbird, though the striking Black-collared Bulbul should be somewhat easier to find, and we should also enjoy the poorly named Black-and-rufous Swallow (which is a gorgeous deep blue and rufous!) and Horus Swift. Other species in the various scrubby grasslands and wet dambos in the areas may include Red-necked Spurfowl, African Wattled Lapwing, African Marsh Harrier, Red-necked Buzzard, the stately Black-bellied Bustard, the diminutive Common Buttonquail (scarce), Coppery-tailed Coucal, the delightful White-fronted Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, the dashing African Hobby, Grey Kestrel, Flappet Lark, Black Saw-wing, the subtle Grey-rumped Swallow, Banded Martin, Barn Swallow, Moustached Grass Warbler, African Yellow Warbler, Fan-tailed Grassbird, the distinctive local form of Red-faced Cisticola (sometimes split as Lepe Cisticola), Croaking and Short-winged Cisticolas, Capped Wheatear, Copper Sunbird, the localized Marsh, White-winged and Red-collared Widowbirds, Fawn-breasted, Orange-breasted and Common Waxbills, the tiny Quailfinch, the smart and localized Black-faced Canary, Cape Wagtail and African Pipit, and if we are fortunate, the localized Dusky Indigobird.
Whilst exploring the area we will cross a number of other wetlands and rivers, and here we will be keeping a very sharp eye out for the poorly known and very special Brazza’s Martin, which is sometimes found amongst the throngs of other hirundines which may also include White-throated Swallows. Another special bird we will hope to come across in this area is the superb Bocage’s Weaver, whilst Chirping Cisticola and Little Rush Warbler, though not quite as spectacular, should also be found.
We will also spend some time exploring the numerous miombo patches in the area. Although they hold a number of great species, they are under great threat from cutting for charcoal. Nevertheless, we will hope to find a number of special miombo birds such as the hooting Miombo Pied Barbet, the scarce Souza’s Shrike, the spectacular Black-necked Eremomela, and the delightful Western Miombo Sunbird. More widespread species that are possible in these woodlands include Green-backed Honeybird, Brubru (the form here lacks rufous on the flanks), Petit’s Cuckooshrike, the smart Miombo Scrub Robin, Pale Flycatcher, White-winged Black Tit, Grey Penduline Tit, the delightful Red-capped Crombec, Tinkling Cisticola, Neddicky (or Piping Cisticola), Miombo Wren-Warbler, Green-capped Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow, Black-throated Canary, the stunning Orange-winged Pytilia, Golden-breasted Bunting and the somewhat elusive Wood Pipit (which seems to be easy here), and with luck Salvadori’s Eremomela.
Other species possible in the Huambo/Mt Moco area include Lizard Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Speckled Mousebird, Grey-headed and Brown-hooded Kingfishers, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Mosque Swallow, African Thrush and perhaps African Cuckoo-Hawk, whilst at night we may well come across the spectacular Pennant-winged and Square-tailed Nightjars.
Angola: Day 8 After a final morning in the Huambo/Mt Moco area we will make our way north towards Kumbira Forest where we will stay for three nights at Conda (or Konda). We will make plenty of stops for birding along the way, looking for any of the species that we have not yet found. Once at Conda, we will begin our exploration of the area.
Angola: Days 9-10 Kumbira Forest is an area of degraded habitat on the southern scarp that was selectively logged before the civil war. Sadly, in the previous few years, the rate of habitat destruction has continued at pace, to the point where the speciality birds of the region are now under real risk of extinction in the near future. Despite not being pristine habitat, however, it can be teeming with birds. Patches of forest adjoin farmbush (mainly old coffee plantations) and these cover the slopes beneath the impressive quartzite cliffs of Njelo Mountain.
We will be exploring various forest patches in the area, in particular for three little-known and rare endemics, namely the unassuming Gabela Akalat, the unusual blue-eyed Pulitzer’s Longbill and the attractive Gabela Bushshrike, and with perseverance, we should find all three, despite obvious recent declines. Hopefully, the distinctive pooping calls of the bushshrike and the loud and distinctive song as of the longbill will lead us to our quarries, whilst we will have to look carefully for the furtive akalat, which is typical of its congeners, being shy, quiet and elusive with a hardly perceptible song. Indeed, with their drab plumage, they have the appearance of a quiet understorey flycatcher. In this area, we may also find the attractive Monteiro’s Bushshrike and try to tease out a Pale-olive Greenbul or Forest Scrub Robin that sings its sweet song from the dense tangles from the undergrowth. One endemic that should give us no problems at all is the gorgeous Red-crested Turaco as they are very common here and can often be seen bouncing through the canopy or flashing brilliant red as they take to the air, and the attractive Angolan Batis is also usually relatively easy to see. Equally colourful is the stunning Gorgeous Bushshrike and we should have the first of many chances to see this aptly-named bird here. The endemic Hartert’s Camaroptera is common here and should present few problems. The booming hoots of Gabon Coucals will likely reach our ears well before we can first catch sight of the birds themselves, for these are true skulkers!
Other species we may find here include African Goshawk (often displaying at dawn), Long-crested Eagle, Mottled Swift, Blue Malkoha, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Trumpeter Hornbill, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Falkenstein’s and Yellow-whiskered Greenbuls, Yellow-throated Nicator, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Black-throated and Buff-throated Apalises, Green Crombec, Green Hylia, Southern Hyliota, Ashy and African Blue Flycatchers, the gorgeous Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye (though this species is becoming more tricky as the habitat is cleared), Brown Illadopsis, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Dusky Tit, Wire-tailed Swallow, Collared, Olive, Olive-bellied, Green-headed, Superb and Carmelite Sunbirds, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Black-necked, Village and Vieillot’s Black Weavers, Black-and-white Mannikin, the scarce Brown Twinspot, the gorgeous Grey Waxbill and the endemic Landana (or Pale-billed) Firefinch, and we may also come across one or two of the more difficult species such as Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle, African Wood Owl, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Brown-backed Honeybird, Bates’s Paradise Flycatcher or Red-headed Bluebill.
On our second full day we will make a visit to Mount Namba to the north of us. Although it will be a long day out, Mt Namba house the largest tracts of surviving Afromontane forest in Angola. The walk to and from the forest is not difficult, and we will hope to track down a couple of key birds here, namely the local form of Naked-faced Barbet (sometimes split as Pale-throated Barbet) and the tricky Margaret’s Batis. Also here we will have a chance of finding a few other new species such as Western Tinkerbird (common here), Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Red-tailed Bristlebill and the sneaky Cabanis’s Greenbul as well as perhaps Crowned Eagle. We will also have a chance, if necessary, to look for many of the species we were targetting in the Mt Moco area.
Angola: Day 11 From Kumbira we will drive northwards towards N’Dalatando for an overnight stop. On the way we will stop at a wetland where we may pick up Yellow-billed Duck, Giant and Pied Kingfishers, and Greater Swamp Warbler. Later we will reach the scarp forests which continue here, and in particular we we will be on the lookout for Red-fronted Parrots that screech overhead as they search for ripe fruits in the large trees. Other species we may well find here include Tambourine Dove, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Woodland Kingfisher, African (Congo) Pied and (Eastern) Piping Hornbills, Naked-faced, Hairy-breasted and (Eastern) Yellow-billed Barbets, Speckled Tinkerbird, Cassin’s Honeybird, the smart Yellow-crested Woodpecker, Black-winged Oriole, Little, Slender-billed, Plain and Honeyguide Greenbuls, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Sooty Flycatcher (which sallies out from the canopy like a hirundine), Splendid Starling, the smart Rufous-vented Paradise Flycatcher, and Little Green, Green-throated and Blue-throated Brown Sunbirds, whilst canopy flocks may hold Red-headed and Crested Malimbes, and the very smart Yellow-mantled Weaver.
Angola: Day 12 After an early morning back in the scarp forests at N’Dalatando, we will head east to Calandula for a two nights stay. On the way, we will pause at a river crossing where we will have an excellent chance of finding Rock Pratincole and perhaps Cassin’s Flycatcher.
Near to the town of Calandula are the magnificent Calandula Falls. These falls drop 105 metres and span some 400 metres making them one of Africa’s greatest in volume of water and are certainly worth a look! African Pied Wagtail are often on the rocks below and the Red-tailed Rock Agamids (colourful lizards) add to the value! Further on a bridge across the river should hold a colony of Red-throated Cliff Swallows, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, seed-eating species such as Black-winged Red Bishop, Red-headed Quelea, Fan-tailed and Yellow-mantled Widowbirds haunt the riverside vegetation, and with luck will find the lovely (Anchieta’s) Marsh Tchagra and Blue-headed Coucal.
Angola: Day 13 One of the main reasons for visiting the Calandula region is to visit the site where the beautiful and little-known endemic White-headed Robin-Chat was collected as recently as 1966. Some visiting birders rediscovered the species in the area in 2004 and we also found this enigmatic bird here on our first visit in 2005. We will have left behind the Guinea forests and have now entered the distinctive Brachystegia or miombo woodland with its twisted trunks and stunted branches that covers much of Angola. The avifauna of the area is enhanced by the varied habitat, with miombo woodland merging with the slender gallery forests and open areas that occur along the rivers that flow into the Congo basin.
The beautiful White-headed Robin-Chat should not be too difficult to find, as it appears to be reasonably common in this area and has a loud and distinctive song with which it duets with its partner. Also in the gallery forest White-spotted Flufftails hoot from the safety of dark, damp and tangled undergrowth that also offers hiding places to pretty Grey-winged Robin-Chats. African Broadbills whirl round like little mechanical toys upon their perches and Brown-headed Apalises ‘chip’ away from the canopy. At the edge of the forests, we will also search for the localized and attractive Black-backed Barbet which we also have a good chance of finding.
Out in the miombo itself, we shall search for the localized Anchieta’s Barbet, the glorious Anchieta’s Sunbird (though they seem to be absent on some visits, presumably depending on the flowering trees available), and the colourful Sharp-tailed Starling. Other birds occurring in the miombo here, that we may not have encountered already, include African Barred Owlet, Black Scimitarbill, the smart Pale-billed Hornbill, the colourful Narina’s Trogon, Golden-tailed and Bearded Woodpeckers, Meyer’s Parrot, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, White-crested and smart Retz’s Helmetshrikes, Whistling Cisticola, Southern Black Flycatcher, Arrow-marked Babbler and we may find one or two of the scarcer species such as the hulking Thick-billed Cuckoo, Grey-headed Bushshrike, African Golden Oriole or the smart Rufous-bellied Tit. We will also make an effort to find the confusing Bannerman’s Sunbird. However, most Bannerman’s-like sunbirds in the area appear to actually be the local blue-headed form of Green-headed Sunbird, and the exact status of the species in the area seems somewhat unclear!
In the general area we should find a number of other interesting species which may include the spectacular Ross’s Turaco, Red-chested, Black and African Cuckoos, Black Crake, Striated Heron, Common Swift, Green Wood Hoopoe, Broad-billed Roller, Malachite Kingfisher, Greater Honeyguide, the smart Black-throated Wattle-eye, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Grey Tit-Flycatcher and Dark-backed Weaver, whilst at night we will make an effort to track down both Fiery-necked Nightjar and African Scops Owl.
Angola: Day 14 After a final morning in the Calandula area, we will continue even further north, to Uige for a two nights stay. We will stop along the way to look for any species we may have missed until now, and if time permits, we will begin our exploration of the area.
Angola: Day 15 The northern scarp extends to the Uige area and this higher ground is covered by a finger of lush evergreen and semi-deciduous Guinea Forest that projects southward from the Congo into Angola. The type of forest that cloaks the attractive hills in the Uige region is evergreen and semi-deciduous and part of the southern extension of the Guinea Forests. The district is blessed with a warm, wet climate that is perfect for growing coffee. In many areas, the undergrowth has been cleared, but the large shade trees that dominate the coffee plantations have been left. This combination makes for a surprisingly marvellous habitat for birds and should provide more opportunistic birding. Sadly, and inevitably, the habitat is under great threat and is being cleared at an alarming rate, making this another threatened avifauna.
Our prime target here will be the brightly-coloured and rare endemic Braun’s Bushshrike, so we shall be listening out for the telltale croaks that should alert us to its presence. Both this species and the more southerly Gabela Bushshrike share some vocalisations with the more widespread Lühder’s Bushshrike (Lanius luehderi) with which they were once lumped, but they also seem to have repertoires of their own as well. Since the discovery of Braun’s Bushshrike in 1939, remarkably few birders have seen this little known and highly localized species that is classified by BirdLife International as ‘Endangered’.
Many of the other species that can be found here will be familiar to anyone who has travelled in West Africa and species that we hope to find include spectacular Guinea and Great Blue Turacos, African Emerald Cuckoo, Western Bronze-naped and Afep Pigeons, the huge Black-casqued Hornbill, Black Bee-eater, the scarce Blue-throated Roller, the bizarre Bristle-nosed Barbet, Brown-eared and Buff-spotted Woodpeckers, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Bocage’s Bushshrike, Pink-footed Puffback, Simple Greenbul, Banded and White-chinned Prinias, Lowland Masked Apalis, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Black-and-white and African Shrike-flycatchers, Velvet-mantled Drongo, Yellow Longbill (with its amazing descending song), Chestnut-winged and Narrow-tailed Starlings, Grey-headed, Chestnut-breasted and White-breasted Nigritas, Orange-cheeked Waxbill and Thick-billed Weaver, whilst in the more open grasslands here we should find Brown-backed Scrub Robin and perhaps some migrant European Bee-eaters. We will also hope to find a few of the more difficult species such as Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-spotted Barbet, the local form of White-throated Greenbul, Tit Hylia or the recently found (in this area) White-collared Oliveback.
Angola: Day 16 After some final birding in the northern scarp forests, we will head towards Muxima and the Kissama National Park, which is situated on the coastal plain to the south of Luanda and is a rich mosaic of thicket and riparian forest. We will be staying here for two nights. We will make some stops along the way, seeking any species we have not yet seen, and may also have our first chance to see the much-wanted Gabela Helmetshrike. We may well also find Mottled and bat-like Böhm’s Spinetails flitting around the impressive baobabs.
Angola: Day 17 Kissama (or Quiçama) National Park overlooks the floodplain of the Kwanza (or Cuanza) River, while the surrounding area is a pleasant mix of gently undulating land covered in thorny thickets, and punctuated with imposing and very photogenic baobabs and stunning candelabra-like Euphorbias. We shall concentrate on finding our remaining Angolan endemics, including the dapper endemic White-fronted Wattle-eye, a species that is not uncommon but which can be tricky to find at times. A more difficult bird is the secretive endemic Grey-striped Francolin, which can be tricky to lure from the safe cover of the densest thickets, but we shall be making a big effort to track this one down. Roving flocks of White-crested Helmetshrikes may put in an appearance, but our target here will be their much rarer endemic cousin, the Gabela Helmetshrike. Fortunately not all the species are difficult and we should find Golden-backed Bishops quite easily, although unfortunately at this time of year they will not be in their colourful breeding plumage, though fortunately they are distinctive in their non-breeding dress!
During our stay we should also encounter more widespread African species such as Marabou Stork, African Fish Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Helmeted Guineafowl (the interesting West African form here is quite scarce), Red-necked Spurfowl (of the striking nominate race), Olive Bee-eater, Wattled Starling and Red-billed Buffalo Weaver (that give themselves away by their huge nests). If we are fortunate we will come across one or two of the scarcer species in the park such as Crested Guineafowl or perhaps the stunning Egyptian Plover which can sometimes be found here. Unusually for Angola, mammals and in particular primates are quite conspicuous here, and species we may see include Blue Monkey, Malbrouck Monkey and Southern Talapoin Monkey.
If time permits, and we’ve seen all the key birds, we can also spend some time shamelessly list-padding at some of the wetlands in the park! Here we may add a number of new species such as White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Knob-billed Duck, African Pygmy Goose, African Jacana, Collared Pratincole and Goliath and Purple Herons, and with luck we may also find Long-toed Lapwing, White-backed Duck and the secretive Little Bittern.
Angola: Day 18 After some final birding at Muxima/Kissama, we will drive through the park and head for Luanda for an overnight stay and a celebratory dinner.
We will have a chance to stop along the coast, including at the mangroves at the mouth of the Kwanza River where we will look for a few new species such as Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Mangrove Sunbird, the ungainly Long-legged Pipit, and perhaps the local race of Lesser Masked Weaver.
Later, we will stop off at other wetlands along the coast, including on the Mussulo Peninsula where we will hope to find the diminutive Damara Tern as well as Common Tern, and other new species may include White-fronted Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and Western Osprey. If conditions are favourable, we will also have a look out to sea, and here we may even see Cape Gannet, Sooty Shearwater or Wilson’s Storm Petrel, all species we have seen on previous tours.
Luanda is a bustling and expensive city that is experiencing a building boom following from the newfound oil wealth available in the country. The lavish modern buildings here are in stark contrast to the poverty of much of the country.
Our Angola birding tour ends this evening at Luanda airport.
Namibia: Day 1 This evening we will fly from Luanda to Johannesburg for an overnight stay.
Namibia: Day 2 We will take a morning flight to Walvis Bay on Namibia’s Atlantic coastline. We will spend two nights in this former South African enclave that was handed over to Namibia not long after its independence.
The famous Skeleton Coast has a cool but almost rainless climate and as we head inland we begin to cross the open, featureless gravel of the Namib Desert – a desolate landscape, with little vegetation in sight, relieved only by the occasional convincing mirage.
This environment is not entirely birdless, however, and we can expect to encounter small groups of near-endemic Stark’s Larks (skimming low over the ground), Burchell’s Coursers (a Southern African near-endemic) standing in the limited shade offered by the telephone poles and near-endemic Rüppell’s Korhaans striding slowly across the plains. We shall search the stark, white, unvegetated plains for the elusive, near-endemic Gray’s Lark, almost white itself and thus extremely hard to pick up unless it flies. Sometimes the larks utter soft piping calls which drift across the desert and make them easier to locate. The local race of Tractrac Chat (a Southern African near-endemic) is likewise almost white and looks very different from its southern counterpart. Close to the coast, we will stop to admire the apparently lifeless ‘moonscapes’ of the Namib Naukluft National Park.
Namibia: Day 3 Early mornings in the coastal desert can be frustrating because of the cold, dense fog that blankets a strip up to 30 kilometres (20 miles) inland, reducing visibility and making it difficult to locate small passerines. Fortunately, it soon burns off and as the fog begins to lift this morning a massive dune system will come into full relief, the huge reddish dunes stretching away to the horizon. In the grassy gullies between the dunes and amongst the scrub in the dry river beds we shall look for the endemic Dune Lark (this is Namibia’s only strict endemic, as compared with species that extend into southernmost Angola), as well as the Orange River White-eye (restricted to Namibia and adjacent South Africa) and the attractive Cape Sparrow (a Southern African near-endemic).
Freshwater is at a premium in this desolate coastal region which stretches for more than 1600km. Wherever there is some seepage of water from underground rivers near the coast many thousands of waterbirds gather and during the course of a single day amongst the coastal lagoons, saltpans and sewage works around Walvis Bay and Swakopmund it is quite possible to see over a million birds! The majority consist of Cape Cormorants (a Southern African near-endemic) and both Greater and Lesser Flamingos, but there are also huge numbers of Great White Pelicans, wildfowl, waders, gulls and terns.
Amongst the additional species that we are likely to find here are such Southern African endemics and near-endemics as Cape Gannet, Crowned Cormorant, Cape Shoveler, African (Black) Oystercatcher, Cape Gull (split from Kelp) and Hartlaub’s Gull, as well as Black-necked Grebe, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, White-breasted Cormorant (breeding alongside Crowned Cormorants on the man-made guano platforms together with huge numbers of Cape Cormorants and Great White Pelicans), Grey Heron, Little Egret, Egyptian Goose, Cape Teal, Maccoa Duck, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Ringed, White-fronted, Chestnut-banded, Kittlitz’s and Grey (or Black-bellied) Plovers, Wood, Common, Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint, Sanderling, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Whimbrel, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Grey-headed Gull, and Caspian, Greater Crested, Sandwich and Common Terns. Whilst exploring the lagoons and saltpans we should also find the diminutive and endangered Damara Tern.
Other birds likely in the area include Speckled Pigeon, Little Swift, African Palm Swift, Rock Martin and Cape Wagtail.
Providing time permits, we will drive inland in order to admire the strange Welwitschia plant with its two long curled-up leaves shredded at the tips by wind and sand. These huge, primitive plants are thought to live for more than a thousand years!
Namibia: Day 4 We will set off early this morning and drive northwards across the desert, en route to the dramatic, isolated Spitzkoppe mountain. Here we will be looking in particular for the near-endemic Herero Chat. This is an uncommon and localized species, but Spitzkoppe is one of the best places for finding it.
Afterwards, we will continue to the Khorixas region of Damaraland for a two nights stay.
Along the way, we shall be looking out for several Southern African endemics and near-endemics, including South African Shelduck, the large-billed form of Sabota Lark (sometimes split as Bradfield’s Lark), Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark and Red-headed Finch, as well as Southern Fiscal (of the white-browed ‘Latakoo’ form). We will pass through areas of rocky escarpments where we should find the localized, near-endemic Benguela Long-billed Lark and where we will have another chance for Herero Chat if need be.
Other new birds during the journey are likely to include Red-billed Teal, Three-banded Plover, Ring-necked, Laughing and Namaqua Doves, and Fork-tailed Drongo.
Namibia: Day 5 Today we will explore mopane woodland, interspersed with granite hills and outcrops. We will soon get to know the typical butterfly-shaped leaves of the mopane tree as we explore this fascinating habitat.
Here amongst the rocky crags and gullies, scrub and riverine vegetation there is a truly wonderful selection of Namibian endemics and near-endemics, including our major target, the attractive Violet Wood Hoopoe, a Namibian near-endemic that reaches into southern Angola.
Other Southwest African specialities include Hartlaub’s Spurfowl (which can usually be located by its characteristic duetting calls), Rüppell’s Parrot, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Monteiro’s Hornbill (which cements its mate into rock crevices when breeding), Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Carp’s Tit, Bare-cheeked Babbler and the interesting Rockrunner. Best of all is the strange-looking White-tailed Shrike, which looks more like a giant terrestrial batis than a true shrike and which has recently been found to share a genetic affinity with the latter!
We should also encounter such Southern African endemics and near-endemics as Pale Chanting Goshawk, Red-billed Francolin, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Ashy Tit, Chestnut-vented Warbler (or Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler), Black-chested Prinia, Southern Pied Babbler, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Chat Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, the striking Crimson-breasted Shrike, Cape (or Cape Glossy) and Pale-winged Starlings, Dusky Sunbird, Great Sparrow, Southern Masked Weaver, Scaly-feathered Finch, Yellow and White-throated Canaries, and Lark-like Bunting.
Raptors are well represented here and we should find Yellow-billed Kite, Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagles, Tawny and Wahlberg’s Eagles, African Hawk-Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Gabar Goshawk, Shikra and, with luck, Little Sparrowhawk.
Other more widespread species we are likely to observe include Rock Kestrel, Helmeted Guineafowl, African, Black and Diederik Cuckoos, Red-faced Mousebird, Grey Go-away Bird, African Scops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, White-rumped Swift, Swallow-tailed and Olive Bee-eaters, Lilac-breasted and Purple (or Rufous-crowned) Rollers, African Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, African Grey Hornbill, Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, Pearl-breasted and Greater Striped Swallows, Groundscraper Thrush, Familiar Chat, Capped Wheatear, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Long-billed Crombec, Brubru, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Black-backed Puffback, the restricted-range Meves’s Starling, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Chestnut Weaver, Red-billed Quelea (often by the thousand!), Common Waxbill, Black-throated Canary and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Rufous-cheeked Nightjar is also possible.
Large mammals are well represented in the area and among the species we are likely to encounter are African Elephant, Mountain Zebra, Common Warthog, Southern Giraffe, Springbok, Klipspringer, Steenbok, Gemsbok, Kudu, Common Eland, Black-backed Jackal and Chacma Baboon.
We can go night driving here as we are not subject to restrictions. A night drive may well turn up the bizarre but delightful Springhare, a mammal that behaves more like a small wallaby than a rodent, and we are also likely to see Bat-eared Fox and Small-spotted Genet. There is also a fair chance of a Cape Fox or an Aardwolf, and if we are very lucky indeed we will come across the strange Aardvark.
Namibia: Day 6 After some early morning birding in the Khorixas region, we will head for Windhoek airport, where our tour ends this afternoon.