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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


2020 Narrative

After meeting the participants at River Crossing Lodge and having lunch, we decided to visit the Gammams water treatment area and get to grips with some of the locally common species. Having just broken through a drought of six years there was not as much activity as previous years around the sewage ponds. We still managed to see large numbers of breeding African Darters, and also added Hottentot Teal, African Swamphen, Green-backed Heron, Squacco Heron, Black crake, Reed and White-breasted Cormorant, South African Shelduck and African Reed Warbler. In the dry acacia thickets around Gammams we had views of White-backed and Red-faced Mousebirds, multiple Diederik Cuckoos, Black-winged Kite, Marico Sunbirds and Acacia Pied Barbet.

At first light we made our way toward Avis dam for a pre-breakfast walk and managed to get amazing views of our two targets; Orange-river Francolin, as well as the sought after near-endemic Rockrunner. The dam didn’t hold too much water so there were not many waterfowl present but we managed to see breeding Pin-tailed Whydah and Southern Red Bishop, Cape Bunting, Mountain Wheatear, Nicholson’s Pipit (Previously Long-billed Pipit), Black-faced Waxbill and Black-throated Canary.

After breakfast and a quick stop in town we were on our way southbound on the C26, a gravel back road that winds through some pretty impressive countryside. Birding was slower than previous years but several stops en route provided views of Chestnut vented Warbler (Tit-Babbler), Pale-chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Cardinal Woodpecker, Groundscraper Thrush, great views of the elusive little Rufous-eared Warbler, Fawn-coloured Lark, Rufous-crowned (Purple) Roller and a surprise pair of Rüppel’s Korhaan which were slightly further east of their range. On checking in at Namibgrens we were treated to good views of Karoo Scrub-robin. A quick afternoon walk produced very little as it had not rained in the area yet which certainly affected the bird activity. We met up with Evan who managed to catch up after a few delays with his flights and had an early dinner.

A pre-dawn walk at Namibgrens produced Bokmakierie, a bushshrike with striking yellow colouration, a single Ashy Tit and more good ‘scope views of Rockrunner, but very little else.

After breakfast we had better views of Karoo Scrub Robin in the garden as well as some nesting Greater-striped Swallows. Departing Namibgrens we continued to the edge of the escarpment where the Spreetshoogde pass winds down into the Namib, from the top it provides unparalleled views of the Namib desert below.  A surprise Ludwig’s Bustard showed at the top of the escarpment. A short search toward the bottom provided excellent views of our target species, Herero Chat, a pair of adults feeding and calling in very close proximity, which provided jaw-dropping views. Layard’s Warbler (Tit-babbler) made and appearance as well as distant views of a pair of Verreaux’s Eagle. Reaching the bottom, we added Sabota Lark and far heat hazed views of Karoo Chat.

We made a welcome stop at Solitaire during the heat of the day before reaching our accommodation, the impressive Dead Valley Lodge. The Lodge has some amazing views over the vast Namib plains toward the famous red dunes. The perfect habitat for Namibia’s only true endemic, the Dune Lark. We spent the afternoon searching in very windy conditions but unfortunately came up empty handed. Amazing views of Rüppel’s Korhaan and Namaqua Sandgrouse rounded off the afternoon. Beautiful changing light and shadows on the dunes had everyone scrambling for their cameras to get that iconic dune photo.

We had a pre-sunrise trip to look for Dune lark and managed to locate a pair, one providing us with very close views. After a quick lesson on dune formation and climate in the Namib we continued to breakfast. Whilst travelling toward the port town of Walvis Bay one crosses through the Namib Naukluft Park with its rolling hilly vistas and into the stark, barren looking landscape of the hyper arid Namib. We searched for a few key species en route and caught up to Stark’s Lark.  Also Gray’s Lark showed well closer to the coast. Arriving at the coast, a quick stop at the sewage ponds held spectacular numbers of Lesser Flamingo as well as many waders and other common waterfowl.

The wetlands around Walvis Bay are a RAMSAR site and accommodate huge numbers of palearctic migrants as well strong numbers of resident waders and waterbirds. It is estimated that over a 250,000 palearctic migrants move through annually. Although good numbers of the normal birds were present, not many unusual species were seen. Of note was one Red-necked Phalerope, large numbers of Chestnut-banded Plover and a single Eurasian Curlew. Small numbers of pelagic species were sighted from shore. These included Cape Gannet, Parasitic Jaeger (Arctic Skua), Sooty and Cory’s Shearwater as well as large numbers of feeding Terns. Good numbers of several tern species were sighted as well as good looks at the diminutive and endangered Damara Tern of which there were notable numbers this season, along with Black Tern. We managed to see Orange-river White-eye around Swakopmund as well as Tractrac Chat on the golf course. Fresh signs of an elephant were seen around the golf course but we didn’t see it.

Leaving the coast, our journey took us down the Khan river Valley where we caught up with some difficult to find species including a four rare Karoo Eremomelas as well as great views of Karoo Long-billed Lark and Karoo Chat. We also saw a pair of Martial Eagles near their nesting site. A noteworthy mammal we sighted was Meerkat (Suricat). Continuing on towards our lodge in the Erongo mountains we added Bearded and Golden-tailed Woodpecker, the tiny Pearl Spotted Owlet, the near endemic Damara Hornbill, Carp’s Tit and Violet Woodhoopoe - all along the Khan riverbed. After arrival at our lodge we explored the local caves and looked at some old bushmen rock art dating back to around 2000 years ago. Good views of a couple of Violet-backed Starlings rounded off the afternoon’s sightings.

The Erongos are the eroded remains of a volcanic complex and consist of huge granite boulders stacked into impressive structures up to 2320m above sea level and provide home to a plethora of species. That evening we watched at least four Freckled Nightjars feeding in the spotlights and one even perched only a few metres from us, providing good looks at this chunky nightjar.

A pre-breakfast search for Hartlaub’s Spurfowl came up fruitless but we managed good looks at the near endemic White-tailed Shrike and a pair of Monteiro’s Hornbills. Leaving the Erongos we caught up with more Violet Woodhoopoes and a Black-backed Puffback.  Further into the Namib, and after some hard work in the heat of the day, we managed to locate a very confiding Benguela Long-billed Lark.  Passing the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain, we tried successfully in locating another near-endemic in the form of Bare-cheeked Babblers. Arriving at the lodge during some rainy weather we settled in before dinner. The night drive wasn’t too productive with mammals due to heavy rainfall in the area, but we had good views of Southern White-faced Owl, Spotted Eagle-Owl and Spotted Thicknee. A lone Scrub Hare rounded off the evening.

A pre-breakfast walk around Rustig looking for Hartlaub’s Spurfowl was also unsuccessful. We continued toward Namibia’s flagship National park, the Etosha Pans. En route we had good views of the near-endemic Rüppel’s Parrot, Dusky Lark and Southern Pied babblers. Etosha means “Great white place“ in the Hai//om San language and refers to the large white saline pan that spans approximately a third of the 22270 square km park. It is home to a large variety of fauna and flora. We stayed in two camps, of which each has a unique habitat type and a good variation in birds and mammals species alike.  We had exceptional mammal sightings, but the rain definitely played a role in the animal numbers we saw. Some of the group who stayed up a little later at the floodlit waterholes had views of the endangered Black Rhinoceros, a single Spotted Hyena and a single Rufous-cheeked Nightjar. We had several good Black Rhino sightings during the daylight hours too including a young male at close quarters. A distant White Rhino grazing on the Andoni plains was a pleasant surprise. We also had several good elephant sightings including the famous large white bulls of Etosha. A sighting of three Leopards in the same area was certainly a highlight. Some smaller, more difficult to see, species like Honey Badger, Bat-eared Fox, African Wild Cat and Banded Mongoose were seen well. This all among thousands of Burchell’s Zebra, Oryx Antelope, Blue Wildebeest, Springbok, Black-faced Impala, Red Hartebeest, Ostrich, Steenbok, Greater Kudu and Giraffe.

The birding was good too, but several of the migrant species were erratic.  This was likely due it being very wet the last few weeks across the entire sub-region. All the expected lark species were seen including Pink-billed lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Rufous-naped Lark, Dusky Lark, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, and many of the migrant Monotonous Larks, as well as good raptors like Red-necked, Red-footed, and Lanner Falcons, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Bateleur and Tawny Eagle. We had lovely views of several groups of the isolated population of Blue Crane, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Cape Penduline Tit, Burchell’s and Double-banded Sandgrouse as well as large numbers of nesting Chestnut Weavers. Unusual finds included Wattled Lapwing and Black-winged Pratincoles.

Leaving Etosha behind we headed for our final destination, Waterberg plateau, a large sandstone plateau home to a good variety of bird and mammals. We also made a stop at some sewage ponds after our lunch break, which provided us with a pair of White-faced Whistling Ducks and at least three African Crakes. African Rail responded but did not give any views. En route we managed to get great views of a pair of Bradfield’s Hornbill.

Our main target at Waterberg was Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, which made us work quite hard for a few distant views. Luckily having two nights here we went out on the last morning and relocated them for better views in the ‘scope. A pair of Wahlberg’s Eagles soared along the sandstone cliffs above us and good views were had of a pair of the diminutive Damara Dik-dik on the way back to breakfast.

Making our way back to Windhoek we had a view of an African Black Stork on the roadside.  After a quick lunch break in Okahandja we set off toward the international airport to drop off the remaining participants.


                                                                                                                                                                                 – Sean Braine

Created: 09 March 2020