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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


2024 Narrative

IN BRIEF: Overall the entire trip was a great success. The group managed to get views of all the Namibian specials and other targets species. The variability in rainfall added an interesting element to birding, leading to observations of several arid species, many of which were observed farther east than their normal expected range.  Nonetheless there was an absence of some of the more common species and regretfully we missed sightings of a few typical guaranteed species in a normal rainfall season.

IN DETAIL: After collecting the final participants at the International Airport, we proceeded to River Crossing Lodge where we joined the rest of the group. Following lunch, we embarked on a walk in the surrounding area of the lodge. This excursion proved fruitful, with several sightings of Rockrunner, which initially required some effort to locate but ultimately provided excellent views for everyone. Among the other noteworthy species observed were the elusive White-tailed Shrike, Acacia Pied Barbet, Greater-striped Swallow, Cardinal Woodpecker, Violet-eared Waxbill, Jacobin, Great-spotted & Diederik Cuckoos, Rosy-faced Lovebirds, Short-toed Rock Thrush and Southern-masked Weaver

On Day 2, as dawn broke, we ventured towards Avis Dam for an early morning stroll. The dam had filled from the rainfall of the previous season and was teeming with waterfowl, boasting a remarkable congregation of at least 150 Maccoa Ducks, alongside Red-knobbed Coots, South African Shelducks, Egyptian Geese, Cape Shovelers, Red-billed Teals, Greater Flamingos, Common Moorhens, as well as Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plovers. Additionally, the area around the dam was bustling with activity from common species such as the Black-faced Waxbill, White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Black-throated Canary, Black Cuckoo, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Common Reed Warbler, White-rumped Swift, African Palm Swift, Bradfield’s Swift and Rock Martin. Additionally, worth mentioning was a brief sighting of a single Garden Warbler, a rather uncommon summer visitor to Southern Africa. Furthermore, the unexpected appearance of a lone Pied Kingfisher added to the delight of the day.

On Day 3, following breakfast and a brief stop in town, we embarked on our journey southbound along the C26, a gravel road that meanders through stunning countryside. Along the roadside bird watching endeavours yielded several raptors, beginning with a single Verreaux’s Eagle as well as Pale-chanting Goshawk, Yellow-billed and Black-winged Kites, Common Buzzard, Brown Snake-eagle, White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures. Our lunch break provided sightings of Burchell’s Starling, Red-billed Spurfowl and Southern Pied Babbler. As we transitioned into a more Karroid habitat, our observations continued, revealing species such as Chat Flycatcher, Rufous-eared Warbler, White-backed Mousebird, Great Sparrow, Kalahari Scrub-robin, Long-billed Crombec, Desert Cisticola, Black-chested Prinia, Pale-winged Starling, Dusky Sunbird Chestnut-vented Warbler, Sociable Weaver, Scaly-feathered Finch and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Upon reaching Namib Grens, our sightings expanded to include the Pearl-spotted Owlet, Karoo Scrub-robin, Groundscraper Thrush and Golden-tailed Woodpecker.

On Day 4, a pre-dawn stroll at Namib Grens unveiled the striking Bokmakierie, a Bushshrike species adorned with vibrant yellow plumage. We also enjoyed splendid sightings of a pair of Layard’s Warbler, Mountain Wheatear, Cape Bunting, Grey-backed Cisticola, White-tailed Shrike, Rock Kestrel, Nicholson’s Pipit (Long-billed) and Verreaux’s Eagle.

Following breakfast we bid farewell to Namib Grens and journeyed to the precipice of the escarpment where the Spreetshoogte Pass descends into the desert. From its summit we marvelled at unparalleled vistas of the Namib Desert below. A brief exploration at the base rewarded us with excellent views of our sought-after species, the Herero Chat. Among other notable sightings were a pair of Klipspringers (a diminutive, rock-dwelling antelope) and White-throated Canary, Southern Fiscal, Short-toed Rock Thrush and Larklike Bunting.

As we ventured further into the Namib, we encountered a variety of arid-adapted species, including Stark’s Lark, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Sabota Lark, Greater Kestrel and Pygmy Falcon. Our journey led us to the remarkable Dead Valley Lodge in time for lunch amidst breathtaking views of the expansive Namib plains and the iconic red dunes. This setting provided ideal habitat for Namibia’s sole true endemic, the Dune Lark.

Despite the strong south-westerly wind, we ventured to Sossusvlei, admiring the landscapes and encountering some of the area’s large mammals. The play of light and shadows on the dunes captivated us, prompting a flurry of camera activity to capture the quintessential dune photography. Our observations also included sightings of the Spotted Eagle Own and Rüppell’s Korhaan. En route back to the lodge, we were treated to extraordinary views of a solitary Brown Hyena, a rare and elusive nocturnal species.

The following day before sunrise, we embarked on a journey to seek out the elusive Dune Lark, and our efforts paid off as we not only located a cooperative pair but were also joined by another pair! Following a brief lesson on dune formation in the Namib, we proceeded to breakfast and were delighted to encounter the same Brown Hyena from the previous evening.

As we journeyed towards the port town of Walvis Bay, we traversed through the Namib Naukluft Park, characterised by its undulating hills and transitioned into the stark, desolate landscape of the hyper-arid Namib. Along the way, we searched for several key species and successfully spotted Gray’s Lark, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Karoo Chat and Tractrac Chat. We also encountered numerous Common Ostriches.

Upon reaching the coast, a brief stop at the sewage ponds revealed a spectacle of birdlife, including impressive numbers of Lesser and Greater Flamingos, alongside many waders and other common waterfowl. A rare sighting of a single Eurasian Curlew added excitement as they are infrequently seen along the Namibian coastline. Blue-billed, Red-billed and Cape Teals were abundant. Among the multitude of bird species, we observed a breeding pair of Little Grebes among a large congregation of Black-necked Grebes. Additionally, sightings of African Swamphens, Black-winged Stilts, Pied Avocets and various common palearctic waders delighted us before we checked into our accommodation overlooking the Walvis Lagoon.

Today, we had a full day to explore the coastal region. The wetlands surrounding Walvis Bay, designated as a RAMSAR site, serve as a crucial habitat for an impressive array of palearctic migrants and resident waders and waterbirds. Annually over 250 000 palearctic migrants pass through this area. While the usual bird inhabitants were present in substantial number, sightings of unusual species were relatively limited. Noteworthy observations included a pair of Terek Sandpipers, modest numbers of Chestnut-banded Plovers and remarkably high numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits.

Unfortunately the conditions were not conducive to pelagic bird sightings and we only managed distant views of Sooty Shearwaters. However we enjoyed sightings of several tern species, including the diminutive and endangered Damara Tern which appeared in notable numbers this season. A pleasant surprise was the discovery of a single Little Tern feeding among the Damara Terns, a species not typically found along the Namibian coast.

During our exploration around Swakopmund, we were delighted to spot Orange-river White-eyes and we enjoyed improved views of both Gray’s Lark and Tractrac Chat. Additionally we added sightings of African Oystercatchers, Crowned, Cape and White-breasted Cormorants to our birding list.

As we departed from the coast our journey led us through the Kahn River Valley, where we were fortunate to encounter some elusive species, including the prized Karoo Eremomela, as well as excellent sightings of the Karoo Long-billed Lark. Among the notable mammalian sightings was a group of Meerkats (Suricats).

Continuing towards our lodge nestled in the Erongo Mountains, we made a stop in the upper Kahn River area where our birding endeavours were rewarded with sightings of the Damara Hornbill, African Scops Owlet, Common Scimitarbill, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Rufous-crowned Roller, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Spotted Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Brubru, Black-backed Puffback and Brown-crowned Tchagra. Upon reaching our lodge we were welcomed by the presence of Rüppell’s Parrot.

The Erongo Mountains, characterised by the eroded remains of a volcanic complex, boast towering granite boulders forming impressive structures reaching heights of up to 2320 meters above sea level. This unique landscape provides a habitat for a diverse array of species.  That evening we had the opportunity to observe a pair of Freckled Nightjars feeding under the spotlights, adding to the enchantment of our experiences.

Our pre-breakfast quest for Hartlaub’s Spurfowl proved to be highly successful with a pair calling out early and granting us unobstructed views. Additionally we enjoyed improved sightings of the Rockrunner, Monteiro’s Hornbill and added the African Paradise Flycatcher to our observations. Departing from the Erongo Mountains, we journeyed back into the Namib where we were rewarded with a close encounter with a very cooperative Benguela Long-billed Lark.

As we passed by the Brandberg, Namibia’s tallest mountain our efforts to locate the Violet Woodhoopoe along the Ugab River were fruitful. Arriving at Hobatere in the late afternoon, we were treated to sightings of several flocks of breeding Chestnut Weavers. The night drive after dinner provided memorable encounters with Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Spotted Thicknee and Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, while highlights among the mammalian sightings included African Elephants, African Wildcats and Small Spotted Genets.

Etosha, meaning “Great White Place” in Hai//om San language, derives its name from the expansive white saline pan that covers approximately one-third of the 22,270 square kilometre park. Home to a diverse array of fauna and flora, we had the opportunity to stay in two camps, each offering a unique habitat and a rich variety of bird and mammal species.

Despite the impact of rain on animal numbers, we were treated to exceptional mammal sightings throughout our stay. Some members of the group who stayed up later at the floodlit waterholes were rewarded with views of the endangered Black Rhinoceros. During daylight hours, we had a notable sighting of a Black Rhino along with several encounters with Lions and Cheetah. Despite the challenges posed by the rainy season, we managed to observe a herd of elephants and a few bulls. Additionally we encountered smaller, more elusive species such as the Cape Fox, Yellow Mongoose and Banded Mongoose. Overall, the park provided abundant sightings of all the common large mammals throughout our four-day exploration.

Our birdwatching experience was good too although the presence of several migrant species seemed to be unpredictable, likely influenced by the erratic and insufficient rainfall across the entire sub-region. Nonetheless, we encountered abundant populations of all the expected Lark species, including the Pink-billed, Clapper and numerous migrant Monotonous Larks as well as Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark.

Our sightings of raptors were particularly rewarding, with notable species such as the Red-necked, Red-footed and Lanner Falcons, Pallid Harrier, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Bateleur and Tawny Eagle. We were treated to delightful views of several groups of the isolated population of Blue Cranes along the sighting of Burchell’s Sandgrouse and large numbers of nesting Chestnut Weavers.

At Fischer’s Pan, the presence of water attracted various waterfowl, including significant numbers of Greater and Lesser Flamingos. Our observations also included the pleasant surprise of Greater Painted Snipes, Yellow-billed Storks, Saddle-billed Storks and Intermediate Egrets.

Today marked our departure from Etosha as we headed towards our final two-night stay at Waterberg. The Waterberg a vast sandstone plateau is renowned for its diverse array of birds and mammal species.

Having already had excellent sightings of all the endemic and near-endemics, we approached our birding adventures in the area with a relaxed demeanour. Nonetheless, the region still yielded several new species for our trip. Bradfield’s Hornbills made a captivating appearance right in front of our rooms, offering delightful viewing opportunities. We were also fortunate to hear and spot the uncommon red-chested Cuckoo, a species not typically found in this area.

Additionally, we caught the distinct call of a Senegal Coucal, although it remained elusive, adding to the allure of our birding experience around the Waterberg

As we made our way back to Windhoek, we were treated to the sight of a Yellow-billed Stork in a roadside pool, accompanied by a couple of African Spoonbills. After a quick lunch at River Crossing Lodge, we set off towards the international airport to drop off the remaining participants who were not staying overnight.

                                                                                                                                                                                -          Sean Braine

Created: 28 February 2024