The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Africa (and its islands)

NAMIBIA & BOTSWANA WITH ZIMBABWE – A feast of Southern African endemics, near-endemics, scenery and wildlife

Thursday 12th October – Friday 27th October 2023

Leaders: Steve Braine and a local bird guide in Zimbabwe

16 Days Group Size Limit 8
Zimbabwe Extension

Friday 27th October – Tuesday 31st October 2023

5 Days Group Size Limit 8

NAMIBIA & BOTSWANA WITH ZIMBABWE: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Namibia birding tours combined with Botswana and Zimbabwe are special African birding and wildlife journeys that feature a spectacular feast of special restricted-range birds, not to mention some magnificent scenery and splendid mammals. In keeping with the Birdquest tradition, our itinerary is speciality focussed and so differs from most birding tours to the region, which are more general safaris that do not seek out some of the key birds. Our combined Namibia & Botswana birding tour takes in the edge of the Skeleton Coast, Etosha National Park and the famous Okavango Delta, as well as several very important but less well-known areas. The optional extension to the Vumba Mountains of eastern Zimbabwe adds yet more specialities. Among the many key specialities are the superb Slaty Egret (this is the only bird tour where it is reliable!), Hartlaub’s and Red-billed Spurfowls, Orange River Francolin, Ludwig’s Bustard, Rüppell’s Korhaan, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Burchell’s Courser, Damara Tern, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Rüppell’s Parrot, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Violet Wood Hoopoe, Whyte’s Barbet, Damara Red-billed, Monteiro’s and Bradfield’s Hornbills, the strange White-tailed Shrike (or Ground Batis), Souza’s Shrike, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, the endemic Dune Lark, Gray’s, Stark’s and Benguela Long-billed Larks, Luapula and Chirping Cisticolas, Chirinda Apalis, Roberts’s Warbler, Rockrunner, Herero and Angolan Cave Chats, Swynnerton’s Robin, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Miombo Rock Thrush, Carp’s, Cinnamon-breasted and Miombo Tits, African Spotted Creeper, Orange River White-eye, Pale-winged Starling, the uncommon Sharp-tailed Starling, Bare-cheeked and Black-faced Babblers, Eastern Miombo Sunbird, Cinderella Waxbill, Brown Firefinch and Streaky-headed Seedeater. And we have not even started on the fantastic mammals to be seen on this remarkable African journey!

The southwestern corner of Africa not only contains some of Africa’s most magnificent scenery but also the greatest concentration of endemic birds on the continent. This part of Africa offers superb, easy, very enjoyable birding (almost entirely in open country) with many endemic, near-endemic or restricted-range specialities, some of the best mammal watching on the continent, wonderful scenery, surprisingly good roads, and good accommodations and food.

Namibia, once the German colony of South West Africa, is one of the last great wilderness regions in Africa and, in many areas is still almost empty of people. Namibia provides the visitor with a birding experience that is hard to match.

Washed by the cold, nutrient-rich Benguela Current that flows northwards from the Antarctic, the coastline itself is a bleak area of endless dunes and expanses of gravel – the stark Namib Desert that gives the country its name. This remote, fog-bound coastline, famous as the Skeleton Coast, a graveyard for ships, is nonetheless a scenically impressive area that possesses some of the largest concentrations of coastal seabirds and shorebirds in Africa.

Further inland, the plains and mountains of the Namib Desert give way slowly to the mountainous central uplands and progressively richer vegetation. From thin scrub, one passes through dense bushveld and mopane woodland before the landscape again becomes more arid and less vegetated as one reaches the Kalahari Desert that stretches onwards across Botswana to the borders of Zimbabwe.

In striking contrast to the rest of the country, the northeastern part of Namibia (and especially the odd-shaped Caprivi Strip) has a tropical feel about it and enjoys a much higher rainfall. Here the waters draining from the highlands of Angola join to form the Okavango River that flows on towards the southeast and ultimately creates the famous Okavango Delta in Botswana.

This is a truly wonderful birding itinerary, specially targeted towards seeing every major Namibian and northern Botswanan endemic, near-endemic and restricted-range bird speciality, in a fantastic part of the world. We will be in the region during one of the very best times of year to visit Namibia and neighbouring Botswana.

Our Namibia birding tour together with northern Botswana is a marvellous journey through two of Africa’s ‘real’ democracies, which are surely two of the friendliest and most modern states in Africa.

Our Namibia & Botswana birding tour begins at Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Here we will look for such specialities as Red-billed Spurfowl, White-backed Mousebird, Bradfield’s Swift, Monteiro’s and Damara Red-billed Hornbills, Rosy-faced Lovebird and the strange Rockrunner. If we are fortunate we will come across the shy, restricted-range Orange River Francolin.

Next, we will explore Namibia’s Skeleton Coast around Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, where the myriads of waterbirds contrast so strikingly with the paucity of birds in the Namib Deserts inland. Nonetheless the local landbird fauna is very high quality, including such specialities as the endemic Dune Lark and such near-endemics as Rüppell’s Korhaan, Burchell’s Courser, Stark’s, Gray’s and Benguela Long-billed Larks, and Orange River White-eye.

From the Skeleton Coast, we turn inland as we head for the dramatic Spitzkoppe, home to the near-endemic Herero Chat and the strange, near-endemic White-tailed Shrike (now known to be a giant member of the batis family and sometimes called Ground Batis in consequence).

At the base of the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain, we will be looking for four more Namibian near-endemics: Rüppell’s Parrot, Violet Wood Hoopoe, Carp’s Tit and Bare-cheeked Babbler.

Heading further north, we come to the Ruacana region in the far northwest of Namibia. This remote area is only visited on our more comprehensive Namibia tours, like this one. Ruacana is most famous as the best place to see the pretty, near-endemic Cinderella Waxbill, which is much more reliable in northern Namibia than in southern Angola. Additional major specialities include Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush and the localized Angolan Cave Chat.

Next, our Namibia birding tour explores the wilderness of Etosha National Park. This world-famous sanctuary, centred on the dried-out Etosha Pan, offers some of the most exciting birding and wildlife experiences to be found in Africa. Here, Lions, African Savanna Elephants, Southern Giraffes, handsome Gemsboks (or Southern Oryx), Springboks, Black Rhinoceros and many other mammals will compete for our attention with huge Kori Bustards and elegant Double-banded Coursers, not to mention the smart Red-necked Falcon, the near-endemic Black-faced Babbler and such Southern African specialities as the stately Blue Crane, the smart Northern Black Korhaan, Ludwig’s Bustard, Namaqua, Double-banded and Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Pink-billed and Spike-heeled Larks, Rufous-eared Warbler and Southern White-crowned Shrike.

From Etosha, we journey northeastwards to the curiously-shaped Caprivi Strip, a quirk of late 19th-century colonial diplomacy. Here the Okavango (or Kavango) River flows out of Angola and crosses Namibia on its way into Botswana and its eventual dissipation in the sprawling Okavango Delta.

A visit to this remarkable area, a meeting point between the avifaunas of the arid southwest and the moister regions of Central Africa, provides an opportunity to see yet more specialities, including a high chance of an encounter with the rare, near-endemic Slaty Egret as well as Bradfield’s Hornbill, Rufous-bellied Tit, Chirping and Luapula Cisticolas, Souza’s Shrike, Brown Firefinch and perhaps Sharp-tailed Starling. We should also find the extraordinary Pel’s Fishing Owl, White-backed Night Heron, Rufous-bellied Heron, the stunning Southern Carmine Bee-eater and many other wonderful birds.

We will break our journey back to Windhoek at the scenic Erongo Mountains, home to a fabulous selection of Namibian endemics or near-endemics. We can play catch-up here if we need to and this is the prime site on the tour for Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, not to mention Freckled Nightjar and the strange Dassie Rat.

During the optional extension, we will explore the Vumba Mountains in eastern Zimbabwe. These mountains hold two species, Chirinda Apalis and Roberts’s Warbler, found nowhere else except adjacent Mozambique. In addition, the pretty, restricted range. Swynnerton’s Robin and the restricted-range Stripe-cheeked Greenbul are also found here and there is a good chance to see Buff-spotted Flufftail.

There are of course many other species beyond these major specialities that will be new for the tour, as eastern Zimbabwe offers entirely different habitats and scenery as compared to the main tour! Among the more notable are Whyte’s Barbet, Gorgeous and Olive Bushshrikes, Cinnamon-breasted and Miombo Tits, the very patchily-distributed African Spotted Creeper, Lazy Cisticola, Miombo Rock Thrush, Eastern Miombo Sunbird and Streaky-headed Seedeater.

Birdquest has operated Namibia birding tours and Botswana and Zimbabwe birding tours since 1987.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of a good or fairly good standard throughout. Road transport is by minibus/passenger van. Roads are mostly of good quality (even the untarred roads in Namibia and Botswana are well graded).

Walking: The walking effort during our Namibia birding tour together with Botswana and Zimbabwe is easy throughout.

Climate: Rather variable. In interior Namibia and Botswana, most days will be hot, dry and sunny, but overcast conditions are not uncommon and it may well rain in the north. In coastal Namibia, conditions range from warm to rather cool during the frequent periods of sea fog, but rain is unlikely. In Zimbabwe, conditions are similar to northern Namibia but cooler at high altitudes in the Vumba Mountains.

Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities during our Namibia birding tour together with Botswana are very good. They are worthwhile in Zimbabwe.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Enjoying a real travel adventure in one of the most empty, scenic and bird and wildlife rich areas in all Africa
  • Tracking down the strange Rockrunner and hopefully the shy Orange River Francolin near Windhoek
  • Rüppell's Korhaans making their strange, frog-like croaking calls in the Namib Desert.
  • Strolling through the dramatic landscape of the Skeleton coast and bumping into desert-adapted species like the near-endemic Gray’s Lark
  • Scanning through the thousands of shorebirds, terns and gulls at Walvis Bay to find the diminutive Damara Tern and wonderful Chestnut-banded Plover
  • Walking on huge reddish sand dunes, the habitat of Namibia’s sole strict endemic, Dune Lark
  • Locating a Herero Chat in a vegetated gully while admiring the surrounding moon-like landscape
  • Watching the antics of the weird, terrestrial, near-endemic White-tailed Shrike (or Ground Batis)
  • Tracking down Angolan Cave Chat, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush and the sought-after Cinderella Waxbill on the Kunene River in Namibia's far northwest
  • Enjoying mammals galore at the wonderful Etosha National Park, including Lions and hopefully Leopard and Cheetah in a mosaic of dry pans, grasslands and woodlands
  • Waiting patiently at a waterhole for Burchell’s Sandgrouse to fly in to drink
  • Scanning the Etosha grasslands where near-endemic Ludwig’s Bustards roam
  • Scouring the Okavango in Botswana in search of all its specialities, including the Okavango-endemic Slaty Egret and the much-wanted Pel’s Fishing Owl
  • Hoping to see Bat Hawk and White-backed Night Heron at dusk along the Okavango River
  • Accessing by boat colonies of stunning Southern Carmine Bee-eaters on the Okavango River in Botswana
  • Birding the granite hills and mopane woodlands of the Erongo Mountains and observing unique near-endemics like Hartlaub’s Spurfowl
  • Seeking out Chrinda Apalis, Roberts's Warbler and other specialities in Zimbabwe's Vuumba Mountains.

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • NAMIBIA & BOTSWANA
  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Windhoek airport.
  • Day 2: Drive to Walvis Bay.
  • Day 3: Walvis Bay and Swakopmund area.
  • Day 4: Drive via Spitskoppe to the Brandberg.
  • Day 5: Brandberg to Ruacana.
  • Day 6: Ruacana region.
  • Day 7: Ruacana region, then drive to Etosha National Park.
  • Days 8-9: Exploring Etosha National Park.
  • Day 10: Etosha, then drive to Rundu.
  • Day 11: Rundu, then drive to Ndhovu in the Caprivi Strip.
  • Day 12: Mahango Game Reserve, then cross Botswana border and continue to Shakawe.
  • Day 13: Shakawe, Botswana
  • Day 14: Drive via Mahango Game Reserve to Grootfontein.
  • Day 15: Drive to the Erongo Mountains near Omaruru.
  • Day 16: Drive to Windhoek airport for midday tour end.
  • ZIMBABWE EXTENSION
  • Day 1: Fly from Windhoek to Harare via Johannesburg.
  • Day 2: Drive to Vumba Mountains.
  • Days 3-4: Vumba Mountains
  • Day 5: Return to Harare airport for late morning tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

If you are taking the Zimbabwe extension, we also include these flights: Windhoek-Johannesburg-Harare.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)




2023: provisional £4980, $6190, €5810, AUD8850. Windhoek/Windhoek.
Zimbabwe Extension: £1840, $2290, €2150, AUD3270. Windhoek/Harare.


Single Supplement: 2023: £480, $600, €560, AUD850.
Zimbabwe Extension: £160, $200, €180, AUD280.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

NAMIBIA & BOTSWANA BIRDING TOUR WITH ZIMBABWE: DETAILED ITINERARY

Namibia & Botswana: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at Windhoek, Namibia’s capital city, where we will overnight.

(There are daily flights into Windhoek from Frankfurt, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Addis Ababa and elsewhere.)

Today we will visit the nearby nature reserve at Avis Dam. There is sometimes little water in the dam itself, but the interesting species at this location are not waterbirds.

Here we should find such Namibian near-endemics as Rosy-faced Lovebird, Monteiro’s Hornbill (which cements its mate into rock crevices when breeding), Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Pale-winged Starling and the strange Rockrunner. With persistence, we also have a fair chance for the uncommon, restricted-range and rather shy Orange River Francolin.

In addition, we will have our first chances for such Southern African endemics and near-endemics as Red-billed Spurfowl (a species we see on no other tour!), White-backed Mousebird, Bradfield’s Swift, Acacia Pied Barbet, Pririt Batis, the stunning Crimson-breasted Shrike, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Black-chested Prinia, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Marico Flycatcher, Great Sparrow, Scaly-feathered and Southern Masked Weavers, Violet-eared Waxbill, Nicholson’s Pipit, Yellow Canary and Cape Bunting.

More widespread birds we are likely to encounter for the first time are Gabar Goshawk, Rock Kestrel, African Palm, Alpine, Little and White-rumped Swifts, Grey Go-away-bird, Speckled Pigeon, Ring-necked and Laughing Doves, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, White-throated, Pearl-breasted and Greater Striped Swallows, Rock Martin, Long-billed Crombec, Yellow-bellied and Burnt-necked Eremomelas, Groundscraper Thrush, Familiar Chat, Marico Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Blue Waxbill, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Cape Wagtail, Black-throated Canary and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 2  We will set out early today and head for Walvis Bay. 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 for the coast 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 Namibian near-endemic Stark’s Larks skimming low over the ground, Burchell’s Coursers (a Southern African near-endemic that can be hard to find in South Africa) perhaps standing in the limited shade offered by the telephone poles and Namibian near-endemic Rüppell’s Korhaans striding slowly across the plains.

We shall search stark, white, unvegetated areas for the rather elusive, Namibian 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. Even some mammals survive here and we can expect to see the restricted-range Mountain Zebra. Closer to the coast, we will stop to admire the apparently lifeless ‘moonscapes’ of the Namib Naukluft National Park.

Namibia & Botswana: 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 attractive Dune Lark, Namibia’s only strict endemic, as well as the Namibian near-endemic Orange River White-eye, the attractive Cape Sparrow (a Southern African near-endemic) and also Red-faced Mousebird and Common Waxbill.

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 a huge number of birds. The majority consists of Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Great White Pelicans, cormorants, wildfowl, shorebirds, gulls and terns.

Amongst the additional species that we are likely to find here are such Southern African endemics and near-endemics as Cape and Crowned Cormorants, Cape Shoveler, African Oystercatcher, Cape Gull (sometimes split from Kelp Gull) and Hartlaub’s Gull, as well as the diminutive, restricted-range and endangered Damara Tern.

More widespread waterbirds include Black-necked Grebe, White-breasted Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Egret, Egyptian Goose, Cape and Red-billed Teals, Maccoa Duck (irregular in occurrence), Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, White-fronted, Chestnut-banded, Kittlitz’s, Three-banded, Common Ringed and Grey (or Black-bellied) Plovers, Wood, Common, Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint, Sanderling, Ruff, Common Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Whimbrel, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Grey-headed Gull, and Caspian, Greater Crested, Sandwich and Common Terns. We may also see Cape Gannet (another Southern African near-endemic), Sooty Shearwater and perhaps White-chinned Petrel and Wilson’s Storm Petrel passing offshore.

During our time in the coastal zone of Namibia, we will have the chance to see 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 & Botswana: 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 for the Namibian near-endemic Herero Chat (another species we only see on this tour). This is an uncommon and localized bird, but Spitzkoppe is surely the best place for finding it and we have plenty of time to achieve our goal.

Spitzkoppe is also an excellent site for the strange-looking, Namibian near-endemic White-tailed Shrike (also known as Ground Batis), which looks more like a giant terrestrial batis than a true shrike and which has in fact been found to share a genetic affinity with the latter.

Afterwards, we will continue northwards into Damaraland until we reach the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain, where we will spend the night.

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 the Sabota Lark (sometimes split as Bradfield’s Lark), Karoo Chat 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 easily find the localized, Namibian near-endemic Benguela Long-billed Lark.

Our stop at the Brandberg is not just about breaking up the journey to Ruacana, but also about Namibian near-endemic specialities. This is an excellent spot for both Rüppell’s Parrot and the attractive Violet Wood Hoopoe, and we should also see our first Carp’s Tits and Bare-cheeked Babblers.

Additional Southern African endemics and near endemics are likely to include Chat Flycatcher, Cape Starling, Dusky Sunbird, White-throated Canary and Lark-like Bunting.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 5  After some final birding at the Brandberg, we will head north to the remote Ruacana region for a two nights stay.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 6  In the Ruacana region, the Kunene River (which forms the border with Angola) flows turbulently through a series of dramatic, precipitous canyons, broken by several impressive waterfalls (including the Cinderella Falls, that gave their name to the eponymous waxbill). Below these falls, amongst scattered stands of palm trees, we will search for three restricted-range specialities: Rufous-tailed Palmthrush (here at its southernmost limits), Bennett’s Woodpecker (the race here shows an unmarked breast and possibly represents a distinct species) and Meves’s Starling. We have even seen the rare, restricted-range Slaty Egret in the Ruacana area, although it is only regular in the Caprivi Strip and northern Botswana.

Our most important target here, a true mega-speciality, is the highly range-restricted Cinderella Waxbill. This species, which occurs only in northwesternmost Namibia and southwesternmost Angola, is a tough bird to find in Angola and much easier here. With persistence, we should find a small flock at one of the favoured drinking pools.

We will also go in search of Angolan Cave Chat, an Angolan near-endemic that also just extends into northwesternmost Nambia. It favours rocky slopes with rather sparse vegetation and rock crevices.

The Ruacana area also offers more chances for the near-endemic Carp’s Tit and Bare-cheeked Babbler.

As well as its specialities, the Ruacana area holds African Openbill, Augur Buzzard, Red-necked Spurfowl, Square-tailed Nightjar, Mourning Collared, Red-eyed and Namaqua Doves, African Hoopoe, Green Wood Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Malachite, Giant and Pied Kingfishers, African Grey Hornbill, Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, Brubru, Swamp Boubou, White-crested Helmetshrike, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Rattling Cisticola, Grey-backed Camaroptera, African Paradise Flycatcher, Wire-tailed Swallow, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Chestnut Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Red-billed Firefinch and African Pied Wagtail. Olive Bee-eater is an intra-African migrant that typically arrives in the area by late October/November.

We should also see Vervet Monkey and Chacma Baboon.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 7  After some final birding in the Ruacana region, we will head for Etosha National Park for a three nights stay. We will arrive in time for some late afternoon birding and mammal watching.

Namibia & Botswana: Days 8-9  Etosha National Park, covers nearly 23,000 square kilometres (roughly 8,800 square miles) and is justly famous as one of the finest game reserves in Africa. (The name ‘Etosha’ means ‘Big White Place’ in the language of the local San or Bushmen people.) Covering such a large area, the park naturally encompasses a varied selection of habitats and a high diversity of birds and mammals. For most of the year, the area is very dry, ranging from near-desert in the west to dried-out lake beds in the central sector and well-developed woodland in the moister east, but the many waterholes act as a magnet for mammals and birds during the drier months. Several small forts were built in the area in the late nineteenth century to house the German troops patrolling Ovamboland and one of these, at Namutoni, has been converted into part of a park lodge.

The open plains and wooded areas teem with game, including large herds of Gemsbok (or Southern Oryx), Springbok, Plains (or Burchell’s) Zebra and Blue Wildebeest, while other mammals that we are likely to encounter include African Savanna Elephant, the highly endangered Black Rhinoceros, Southern Giraffe, Red Hartebeest, Steenbok, Impala (of the distinctive local ‘black-faced’ form), Greater Kudu, Common Eland, the delightful Damara Dik-Dik, Common Warthog, Cape (or South African) Ground Squirrel, Slender Mongoose, Banded Mongoose, Spotted Hyaena, Black-backed Jackal and Lion. With luck, we will encounter Leopard and even Cheetah or Honey Badger.

Birds are equally varied. Common Ostrich and the striking Northern Black Korhaan (a Southern African endemic) are common, whilst the stately Kori Bustard strides amongst the herds of game. The elegant Blue Crane, a Southern African endemic that has an isolated population at Etosha, can be found in the grassier, damper depressions. In areas of open country or around waterholes one can come across groups of Pink-billed, Spike-heeled and Red-capped Larks, and Chestnut-backed and Grey-backed Sparrow-Larks (the first two and the last of these are Southern African near-endemics). During the hotter hours, large raptors, such as Lappet-faced, White-headed and White-backed Vultures, Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagles, Martial and Tawny Eagles, Bateleur and African Hawk-Eagle ply the thermals overhead.

A key bird speciality of Etosha is the localized, near-endemic Black-faced Babbler. This restricted-range speciality is shared only with western Botswana and southern Angola, but in practice is only seen on birding tours in Namibia, so is a prime target for us. The park also holds the near-endemic Violet Wood Hoopoe, so is a useful backup locality.

Other Southern African endemics and near endemics that are usually seen in the park and its surroundings include Pale Chanting Goshawk, Namaqua and Double-banded Sandgrouse, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, the handsome Rufous-eared Warbler (surviving here in an isolated population), Ant-eating Chat, Southern Pied Babbler, Burchell’s Starling, Southern White-crowned Shrike and Sociable Weaver.

Etosha is a good place to catch up on some additional Southern African endemics and near-endemics including the sparsely-distributed Burchell’s Courser, the stately Ludwig’s Bustard and Burchell’s Sandgrouse (the latter is usually uncommon but occasionally numerous).

Additional widespread birds include Secretarybird, Black-winged Kite, Shikra, Lanner Falcon, the attractive Red-necked Falcon, Greater Kestrel, Helmeted Guineafowl, Crested Francolin, Red-crested Korhaan, Spotted Thick-knee, Crowned and Blacksmith Lapwings, Double-banded Courser, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, African Scops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Lilac-breasted and Purple (or Rufous-crowned) Rollers, Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Eastern Clapper Lark, Pied and Cape Crows, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Barred Wren-Warbler, Desert Cisticola, African Pipit, Wattled Starling, Marico and White-bellied Sunbirds, Lesser Masked Weaver, Blue, Violet-eared and Black-cheeked (or Black-faced) Waxbills, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah and the gaudy Golden-breasted Bunting. More uncommon species include Black-headed Heron, Little Sparrowhawk, Rufous-naped Lark and Capped Wheatear.

Seasonal Palearctic and intra-African visitors (generally from late October/November onwards) include African Cuckoo, Common Swift, European Bee-eater, Willow Warbler and Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes. Caspian Plover is also a possibility. If we are very lucky indeed we will also come across the rare Dusky Lark, another intra-African migrant.

We can go night driving outside the park boundary as there we are not subject to restrictions. A night drive may well turn up Bat-eared Fox, Small-spotted Genet and Rufous-cheeked Nightjar. There is also a chance of Cape Porcupine and Cape Fox.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 10  This morning, we head northeastwards to Rundu, situated at the western end of the narrow Caprivi Strip, for an overnight stay.

Along the way, the dry mopane woodland (where the trees have distinctive, butterfly-shaped leaves) gradually gives way to tropical palm savanna and finally a climax teak forest which closely resembles the miombo woodlands further north in Africa and indeed harbours a rather similar avifauna.

Our lodge at Rundu is situated along the Okavango River that forms the border with Angola. Reed-fringed pools with abundant vegetation and the marshy floodplain around Rundu hold such waterbirds as Little Grebe, Reed (or Long-tailed) Cormorant, Black-crowned Night Heron, Purple, Squacco and Striated Herons, the secretive Rufous-bellied Heron, Western Cattle Egret, Little Bittern, Hottentot Teal, African Rail, the surprisingly bold Black Crake, African Swamphen, African Jacana, Greater Painted-snipe, African Snipe, Water Thick-knee and Whiskered Tern.

In the waterside reeds, thickets and grassy patches by the Okavango we may well find the restricted-range Coppery-tailed Coucal, Hartlaub’s Babbler and Brown Firefinch as well as Dark-capped Bulbul, Lesser Swamp, African Reed and Little Rush Warblers and Tawny-flanked Prinia.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 11  The Caprivi Strip is a narrow finger of Namibian territory bordered to the north by Angola and to the south by Botswana. It is still relatively unknown ornithologically and comprises a virtually untouched mosaic of extensive swamps, rivers and pristine forests. The Cubango and Cuito Rivers that drain the highlands of Angola join to form the Okavango River which widens and slows as it meanders southwards until it dissipates in a vast inland delta in northern Botswana. The Okavango has a special magic and we shall all enjoy this charismatic region with its rich diversity of birds and game.

Large expanses of open woodland can be found away from the Okavango River itself, and later today we shall travel eastwards through this habitat to Ndhovu near Popa Falls for an overnight stay.

Dark Chanting Goshawks keep a wary eye on us from exposed boughs and the calls of Striped Kingfishers carry through these miombo-like woodlands. Fast-moving mixed-species flocks hold such birds as Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black Cuckooshrike, the attractive Rufous-bellied Tit, Southern Black Tit, Green-capped Eremomela, Red-headed Weaver and Yellow-fronted Canary. An important species we will be on the lookout for is the uncommon, restricted-range Souza’s Shrike.

We have a good chance of finding the lovely White-backed Night Heron along a quiet stretch of the Okavango River and a rocky, fast-flowing stretch holds the attractive Rock Pratincole. The stunning Southern Carmine Bee-eater nests in colonies along its banks (from here to Mahango and Shakawe) and this species is sure to be a trip highlight.

Other species we are likely to encounter in the Caprivi Strip or in adjacent northern Botswana include Yellow-billed Kite, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Temminck’s Courser, African Green Pigeon, Senegal and White-browed Coucals, Broad-billed Roller, White-fronted and Little Bee-eaters, Lesser Honeyguide, Brown-throated and Banded Martins, Red-breasted and Mosque Swallows, Fawn-coloured Lark, African Golden and Black-headed Orioles, Kurrichane Thrush, White-browed Scrub Robin, Tinkling and Zitting Cisticolas, Neddicky (or Piping Cisticola), Southern Black and Pale Flycatchers, Chinspot Batis, Arrow-marked Babbler, Southern Yellow White-eye, Violet-backed and Greater Blue-eared Starlings, White-browed Robin-Chat, Brown-crowned and Black-crowned Tchagras, Black-backed Puffback, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Magpie Shrike, Red-billed Oxpecker, Collared, Amethyst and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow, Village, Spectacled and Holub’s Golden Weavers, Southern Red Bishop, Green-winged Pytilia and Cut-throat Finch.

More uncommon species include the restricted-range Arnot’s Chat as well as African Cuckoo-Hawk, Bat Hawk, Temminck’s Courser, Marsh Owl, African Barred Owlet, Buffy Pipit, Pin-tailed Whydah and the furtive Quailfinch.

Palearctic migrants include Western Osprey, Steppe Eagle, Common Buzzard, Eurasian Hobby, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Barn Swallow, Common House Martin, Spotted Flycatcher and sometimes Lesser Spotted Eagle, Red-footed Falcon and White-winged Tern, while intra-African migrants likewise present from late October/November onwards include Woodland Kingfisher and Levaillant’s, Jacobin, Klaas’s, Diederik, Black and Red-chested Cuckoos.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 12  Today we will explore the small but bird and mammal-rich Mahango Game Reserve, keeping a lookout on the approaches for Sharp-tailed Starling, a largely Angolan speciality that sometimes turns up in this area or closer to Rundu.

The reserve consists mainly of dry deciduous woodland, but at its edge, the mighty Okavango has created a wide floodplain with marshes of reeds and papyrus and old meanders filled with water lilies. Here we have a very good chance of finding the mega-speciality of this part of the world, the rare, restricted-range Slaty Egret, while handsome Long-toed Lapwings can be seen skipping across the lily pads. Another special bird of the area is the stately but fast-declining Wattled Crane, which can often to be seen with young at this time of year.

In the climax teak forests south of the river we will search for the restricted-range Bradfield’s Hornbill (a species we do not usually see on any other Birdquest tour, so a key species).

The Mahango area offers another chance for the restricted-range Burchell’s Sandgrouse, although this is a bird of rather unpredictable occurrence.

Other species frequently seen in the Mahango area include African Darter, Great and Intermediate Egrets, Black and Goliath Herons, Hamerkop, African Sacred Ibis, Hadada and Glossy Ibises (uncommon), African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed, Woolly-necked and Marabou Storks, Spur-winged Goose, White-faced Whistling and Knob-billed Ducks, African Pygmy Goose (uncommon), African Fish Eagle, African Marsh Harrier, Swainson’s Spurfowl, African Wattled Lapwing, Collared Pratincole, the bizarre African Skimmer, Meyer’s Parrot, Crested Barbet and Terrestrial Brownbul.

There are many mammals to be seen in this superb area and new ones for the tour are likely to include Hippopotamus, Red Lechwe, Common Reedbuck, Topi (or Sassaby) and the magnificent Roan and Sable Antelopes.

After exploring the Mahango reserve, we will drive into adjacent northern Botswana for a two nights stay at Shakawe.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 13  The Shakawe area comprises dense gallery woodland alongside the papyrus-fringed banks of the Okavango River. It is an attractive spot and we have further chances here for many of the birds already mentioned for Mahango Game Reserve and elsewhere in the Caprivi.

Our prime motivations for a visit, however, are because Shakawe has long been recognized as the best place in the region to find the huge, marmalade-coloured Pel’s Fishing Owl and because it is also a prime area for finding Slaty Egret.

The attractive papyrus swamps and reed marshes fringing the Okavango River at Shakawe hold African Stonechat, Greater Swamp Warbler, Southern Brown-throated and Thick-billed Weavers, Fan-tailed Widowbird and in particular the restricted-range Chirping and Luapula Cisticolas.

Around our lodge, handsome Black-collared Barbets utter their duet from the higher branches waterside trees that provide habitat for Ashy Flycatchers, while with luck we will also see the lovely Narina’s Trogon. After dusk the hooting calls of African Wood Owls should allow us to locate this species and we may also see Fiery-necked Nightjar.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 14  We will spend some time in Mahango Game Reserve (or other sites in the Caprivi) this morning and then drive to Grootfontein for an overnight stay.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 15  This morning we will head south to the beautiful Erongo Mountains near Omaruru for an overnight stay. This is yet another very scenic area, comprising granitic hills and mountains with areas of mopane woodland.

Here amongst the rocky crags and gullies, scrub and riverine vegetation, there is a wonderful selection of Namibian near-endemics. We could have seen all of them already, but the Erongo provides valuable insurance just in case any have been missed so far. Here, in particular, we can find Rüppell’s Parrot, Violet Wood Hoopoe, White-tailed Shrike and the interesting Rockrunner. The Erongo is the key site for Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, a species that can usually be located by its characteristic duetting calls.

The Erongo is also a good spot for the impressive Verreaux’s Eagle, Ashy Tit (a Southern African endemic) and the rock-loving Freckled Nightjar.

Mammals are few in number but we should see Klipspringer, Rock Hyrax and the rather hyrax-like Dassie Rat.

Namibia & Botswana: Day 16  After some early morning birding in the Erongo Mountains we will drive to Windhoek airport, where our tour ends around midday.

 

ZIMBABWE EXTENSION

Zimbabwe: Day 1  We will take an afternoon flight from Windhoek to Johannesburg in South Africa followed by an onward flight to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, where we will stay overnight.

Zimbabwe: Day 2  From Harare, we will head for the Vumba (or Bvumba) Mountains, part of the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, for a three nights stay.

The drive passes through a mosaic of open grasslands, fertile agricultural areas, well-wooded hills and valleys and attractive conglomerations of enormous, well-weathered rocks. Abdim’s Stork may be observed during the Austral summer. Eventually, we will climb up into the Vumba Mountains. We will commence our exploration of the area this afternoon.

Zimbabwe Extension: Days 3-4  The Vumba (or Bvumba) Mountains rise to just over 1900m, astride the Mozambique border and are still partly covered in lush montane evergreen forest. Large areas have been transformed into banana, tea and tobacco plantations, but in these ‘mountains of the mist’ several large chunks of forest have been rigorously protected.

Here we will search for two near-endemics (shared only with adjacent Mozambique), Chirinda Apalis and Roberts’s Warbler (formerly Roberts’s Prinia), as well as the restricted-range Stripe-cheeked Greenbul and Swynnerton’s Robin. All four are fairly easy to find.

On the forest floor, we may chance upon a shy Lemon Dove and the handsome Orange Ground Thrush, while the skulking Barratt’s Warbler calls from the densest thickets. We even have a fair chance of seeing the secretive Buff-spotted Flufftail.

We shall also have time to visit an interesting area of miombo where we shall look for such interesting birds as Whyte’s Barbet, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Cinnamon-breasted and Miombo Tits, the very patchily-distributed African Spotted Creeper, Lazy Cisticola, Miombo Rock Thrush, Eastern Miombo Sunbird and Streaky-headed Seedeater.

Other species we may well find in the region include African Black Duck, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Livingstone’s and Purple-crested Turacos, Speckled Mousebird, African Black Swift, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Cape Batis, White-necked Raven, the handsome Black-fronted and Olive Bushshrikes, White-breasted and Grey Cuckooshrikes, Square-tailed Drongo, Sombre and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls, Black Saw-wing, Cape Grassbird, Wailing and Singing Cisticolas, Bar-throated Apalis, African Yellow Warbler, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Red-winged Starling, Grey Tit-flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Cape and Red-capped Robin-Chats, White-starred Robin, Olive Thrush, Variable and Bronzy Sunbirds, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Dark-backed Weaver, Yellow Bishop, Red-collared Widowbird, Red-throated Twinspot, the secretive Red-faced Crimsonwing, African Firefinch, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Striped Pipit and Cape Canary.

More uncommon species include Little Sparrowhawk, Tambourine Dove and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher.

Mammals are inconspicuous but are likely to include Blue Monkey.

Zimbabwe Extension: Day 5  This morning we will return to Harare. Our tour ends in the late morning at Harare airport.

(There are various options for international flights out of Harare to Europe and elsewhere. One of the simplest is to take a flight to Johannesburg, from where there are various onward connections the same evening. Even if you are arranging your own flights to and from the tour, we will be happy to arrange a Harare-Johannesburg flight for you if you would find this more convenient.)

NAMIBIA & THE OKAVANGO TOUR REPORT 2019

by Julien Mazenauer

 

View Report

NAMIBIA & OKAVANGO TOUR REPORT 2017

by Steve Braine

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ZAMBIA & ZIMBABWE: AFRICAN PITTA SPECIAL TOUR REPORT 2018

by Nik Borrow

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Other Southern Africa birding tours by Birdquest include: