NAMIBIA & OKAVANGO (BOTSWANA) BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Namibia & Botswana: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Walvis Bay airport. We will spend two nights in this former South African enclave that was handed over to Namibia not long after its independence.
(There are direct flights into Walvis Bay from Windhoek, Cape Town and Johannesburg.)
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 & Botswana: Day 2 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 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 & Botswana: Day 3 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 Huab Lodge in 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 & Botswana: Day 4 Huab Lodge is situated in 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 Hartlaub’s Francolin (which can usually be located by its characteristic duetting calls), Rüppell’s Parrot, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Violet Wood Hoopoe, 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 at Huab 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 & Botswana: Day 5 After some early morning birding around Huab Lodge, we will head for Etosha National Park for a three nights stay.
As we approach Etosha, the habitat changes from dry thornveld to open grassy plains dotted with palm trees. We will reach Namibia’s best-known game reserve in time for some initial exploration.
Namibia & Botswana: Days 6-7 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 an unusually 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, Common Zebra and Blue Wildebeest, while other mammals that we are likely to encounter include African Elephant, the highly endangered Black Rhinoceros, Southern Giraffe, Red Hartebeest, Steenbok, Impala (of the distinctive local ‘black-faced’ form), Greater Kudu, the delightful Damara Dik-Dik, Common Warthog, Cape Ground Squirrel, Banded Mongoose, Spotted Hyaena, Black-backed Jackal and Lion.
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 which 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 Sparrow Larks (the first two of these are Southern African near-endemics). During the hotter hours, large raptors, such as Lappet-faced, White-headed and White-backed Vultures, Bateleur and Martial Eagle, ply the thermals overhead.
Other Southern African endemics and near endemics that are usually seen in the park and its surrounds include Ant-eating Chat and Marico Flycatcher.
More widespread birds include Secretarybird, Black-winged (or Black-shouldered) Kite, Lanner Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, the attractive Red-necked Falcon, Greater Kestrel, Crested Francolin, Red-crested Korhaan, Spotted Thick-knee, Crowned and Blacksmith Lapwings, Double-banded Courser, Common Swift, European Bee-eater, Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Eastern Clapper Lark, Pied and Cape Crows, Burnt-necked Eremomela, African Wren-Warbler, Desert, Zitting and Rattling Cisticolas, the handsome Rufous-eared Warbler (this Southern African endemic survives here in an isolated population), Willow and Icterine Warblers, African (or Grassveld) Pipit, Southern White-crowned Shrike (another Southern African near-endemic), White-crested Helmetshrike, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Wattled Starling, Marico and White-bellied Sunbirds, Lesser Masked Weaver, Blue, Violet-eared and Black-cheeked (or Black-faced) Waxbills, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, the exquisite Shaft-tailed Whydah and the gaudy Golden-breasted Bunting.
With luck, we will encounter one of the park’s more uncommon species, such as the stately Ludwig’s Bustard (a Southern African near-endemic), the elusive Burchell’s Sandgrouse (another Southern African near-endemic), Caspian Plover or Dusky Lark.
Namibia & Botswana: Day 8 Early this morning we will concentrate on finding the localized, near-endemic Black-faced Babbler before 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 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 (or Green-backed) Herons, the secretive Rufous-bellied Heron, Black and Western Cattle Egrets, Little Bittern, Hottentot Teal, Western Osprey, African Rail, the surprisingly bold Black Crake, African Swamphen, Red-knobbed Coot, African Jacana, Greater Painted-Snipe, African Snipe, Water Thick-knee, White-winged Tern and both Pied and Malachite Kingfishers.
In the waterside reeds, thickets and grassy patches by the Okavango we may find such species as Dark-capped Bulbul, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Lesser Swamp (or Cape Reed), African Reed and Little Rush Warblers, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Spotted Flycatcher, Swamp Boubou and, with a bit of luck, the small and elusive Brown Firefinch.
Namibia & Botswana: Day 9 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 Woodland and Striped Kingfishers and Levaillant’s, Jacobin and Klaas’s Cuckoos carry through these miombo-like woodlands. Fast-moving mixed-species flocks hold such birds as Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black and White-breasted Cuckooshrikes, the attractive Rufous-bellied Tit, Southern Black Tit, Green-capped Eremomela, Red-headed Weaver and Yellow-fronted Canary. Another species we will be on the lookout for is the scarce Souza’s Shrike.
We have a good chance of finding the lovely White-backed Night Heron along 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 and is sure to be a trip highlight.
Other species we may well encounter in the Caprivi and surrounds include African Cuckoo-Hawk, Temminck’s Courser, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, African Green Pigeon, Senegal and Coppery-tailed Coucals, Marsh Owl, African Barred Owlet, Square-tailed Nightjar, Blue-cheeked and Little Bee-eaters, Green Wood Hoopoe, Lesser Honeyguide, Red-breasted, Mosque and Wire-tailed Swallows, African Golden and Black-headed Orioles, Kurrichane Thrush, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Neddicky, Pale Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Chinspot Batis, Yellow White-eye, Violet-backed and Burchell’s Starlings, Amethyst Sunbird, White-browed Robin-Chat, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, African Pied Wagtail, Village, Spectacled and Holub’s Golden Weavers, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-billed Firefinch and the furtive Quailfinch. After dark, the hooting calls of African Wood Owls can be heard and we should be able to track one down.
Namibia & Botswana: Day 10 This morning we will explore the small but bird-rich Mahango Game Reserve, keeping a lookout on the way for the elusive Sharp-tailed Starling, a largely Angolan speciality that sometimes turns up in this area. 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 our best chance to find the rare, restricted-range Slaty Egret, while Long-toed Lapwings can be seen skipping across the lily pads.
In the climax teak forests south of the river we will search for the restricted-range Bradfield’s Hornbill and Crested Barbet. The Mahango area offers our best chance for the rather unpredictable Burchell’s Sandgrouse.
Other species frequently seen in the Mahango area include African Darter, Great and Intermediate (or Yellow-billed) Egrets, Goliath Heron, Hamerkop, African Openbill, Woolly-necked and Marabou Storks, Spur-winged Goose, African Fish Eagle, African Marsh Harrier, Common Buzzard (of the form known as Steppe Buzzard, which is sometimes split), Swainson’s Spurfowl (or Swainson’s Francolin), the stately Wattled Crane (often to be seen with young at this time of year), Collared Pratincole, the bizarre African Skimmer, African Mourning and Red-eyed Doves, Meyer’s Parrot, White-browed Coucal, Giant Kingfisher, White-fronted Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Rufous-naped and Fawn-coloured Larks, Brown-throated and Banded Martins, Barn Swallow, Terrestrial Brownbul (or Terrestrial Bulbul), Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Tinkling Cisticola, Ashy Flycatcher, Arrow-marked Babbler, Buffy Pipit, Magpie Shrike, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, Yellow-throated Petronia, Southern Red Bishop, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Pin-tailed Whydah.
Amongst the many mammals in this superb area are Hippopotamus, Red Lechwe, Common Reedbuck, Tsessebe, and both Roan and Sable Antelopes.
After exploring Mahango we will drive into Botswana for a two nights stay at Shakawe.
Namibia & Botswana: Day 11 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 the rare Slaty Egret and many of the other birds mentioned for Mahango Game Reserve.
Our prime motivation for a visit, however, is because Shakawe has long been recognized as the best place in the region to find the huge marmalade-coloured Pel’s Fishing Owl.
The attractive papyrus swamps and reed marshes fringing the Okavango hold African Stonechat, Greater Swamp Warbler, Southern Brown-throated Weaver and in particular the restricted-range Chirping and Luapula Cisticolas.
Around our lodge, handsome Black-collared Barbets utter their duet from the higher branches of the waterside trees, while another regular species here is the lovely Narina’s Trogon. At night the hooting calls of African Wood Owls can be heard and we should be able to track one down.
Namibia & Botswana: Day 12 We will spend the cool morning hours in Mahango Game Reserve and then drive back to Rundu for an overnight stay.
Namibia & Botswana: Day 13 After some final birding in northernmost Namibia we will head south to the Waterberg National Park for a two nights stay.
Namibia & Botswana: Day 14 Waterberg National Park is a very attractive, scenic area and also a superb place for seeing Namibian near-endemics. At the Waterberg, we will have another opportunity to find more elusive specialities including Hartlaub’s Francolin, Rüppell’s Parrot (unusually easy to see here as they feed close to our accommodations) and Rockrunner, as well as many of the other Namibian specialities.
This is also a reliable spot for Bradfield’s Swift and White-backed Mousebird (both Southern African near-endemics), as well as the spectacular Verreaux’s Eagle and Alpine Swift.
Namibia & Botswana: Day 15 After some early morning birding at the Waterberg, we will drive to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, where our tour ends this afternoon.