In Association with:
BOTSWANA with Namibia & Zambia - 2005
DAY 1 – 6th November
With people arriving fresh from London and others sleeping off a successful but hectic trip to western Namibia, the whole group met for its first collective supper at the Bernaby Delabunt Camp under the stunning red sandstone escarpments of the Waterberg Plateau. All were formally greeted onto the Birdseekers Botswana trip by the camps Red-billed Francolin plus Banded and Dwarf Mongoose and a couple of Lesser Bushbaby!
DAY 2 – 7th November
The bright early morning was punctuated by the calls of four Ruppell’s Parrot flying over and landing in a tree close to camp. A fine Shikra flew over, while all around Grey Lourie called and Red-billed Francolin scuttled by. In the flowering bushes, Scarlet-chested and White-bellied Sunbird peeped and nearby, a Pearl-spotted Owlet called (or was that Neil’s impersonation?) as Black-backed Puffback and Red-eyed Bulbul hopped about. Other goodies seen along the track include Monteiro’s Hornbill, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Long-billed Crombec, Pririt Batis and several European Bee-eater. On the slopes of the escarpment, we eventually found Hartlaub’s Francolin, our target species, with a group of six birds showing occasionally. Also seen on the rocky slopes were three Carp’s Tit, a fine Damara Rock-jumper, several Short-toed Rock Thrush, White-browed Scrub Robin, the ever rattling Grey-backed Cameroptera, Acacia Pied Barbet, the colourful Cape Bunting and some cracking Violet Waxbills. Leaving the wooded camp for the open scrub, we began to see a change in birdlife immediately. Familiar Chat, Purple Roller, Helmeted Guineafowl, Southern Masked Weaver, Rock Kestrel and several Bradfield’s Hornbill being seen quickly and then both Spotted and Chat Flycatcher. A couple of Gabar Goshawk were good value birds before we made an impromptu stop for a Flap-necked Chameleon that was crossing the road.
The thing is, you get so many birds for your minutes with these kind of stops and before long we were rattling off a big list of birds from right next to the vans; Spotted Thick Knee, White Helmet Shrike, Golden-breasted Bunting, Brubru, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Black-chested Prinia, Southern Red-billed Hornbill and then two tiny Cape Penduline Tit – we had to pull ourselves away! Although the journey to our lunch stop was long and arduous (as well as bumpy!) we found many more good birds along the way; Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters hung in their turns in the warm dusty air and overhead, several White-backed and a Cape Vulture cruised on with purpose. In the scrub, we flushed three Southern Pied Babbler while several Black Scimitarbill bounced across the road. As we finally hit tarmac, we celebrated with a Brown Snake Eagle and five minutes later a pair of African Hawk Eagle with an immature bird sat openly close to the road. After a stop at the bank, we took lunch in Grootfontein then headed towards Rundu by the Angola border. Along the way, we had a nasty puncture but there was still good birds to be found and sure enough an African Cuckoo Hawk was found perched and then seen well soaring overhead! Every cloud ….! More driving simply meant more good birds, with a couple of Jacobin Cuckoo and another Brown Snake Eagle seen from the vans. We made a more formal stop to look for Rufous-bellied Tit, a difficult bird that we eventually saw very well indeed. Also here were Golden-breasted Bunting and Striped Kingfisher and in the fields yonder was a Whinchat, Plain-backed Pipit and what was eventually identified as a Fawn-coloured Lark. An African Harrier Hawk remained quite distant. Arriving in Rundu, we made our way to that must-visit destination – the local sewage farm – which lived up to expectations with lots of very good birds. A Whiskered Tern dipped in typical Chlidonias fashion and the lakeside was full of African Jacana and waders plus a few Hottentot Teal. Moving round to the ponds at the rear, a Lesser Jacana was found along with some good waterfowl; Cape Shoveler, Cape and Red-billed Teal, and three Southern Pochard. On the bund, Red-billed Firefinch fed busily and Black Crake and Senegal Coucal were seen. Four noisy Crowned Plover flew overhead. Other birds of interest in the area included Mosque Swallow, Red-eyed and Namaqua Dove, and Wattled and Burchell’s Starling. At the Sarasungu Lodge, we encountered a noisy group of Arrow-marked Babbler and some also saw White-browed Robin Chat.
A nightjar foray proved fruitless save for a couple of Scrub Hare.
DAY 3 – 8th November
The morning started with a gentle walk around the Lodge gardens and to the Kavango River where among others we found flocks of Wattled Starling plus lots of Long-tailed Shrike, the conspicuously white-rumped Hartlaub’s Babbler, Red-faced Mousebird, Crimson-breasted Shrike, and Swamp Boubou. Nearer the huts we came across a couple of Terrestrial Greenbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Kurrichane Thrush, African Paradise Flycatcher, lots of Yellow White-eye and the lucky few also managed brief views of a female Red-headed Weaver. However, the star bird had to be the pair of mind-blowing Orange-breasted Bushshrike that serenaded each other from across the pristine lawn. After breakfast, we went back to the sewage pools where, in addition to most of the birds we saw the previous day, we found Namaqua Dove and Mosque Swallow and three Gabar Goshawk and a Lanner Falcon which entertained overhead.
Driving out of town we made a sudden stop to watch two kestrels that hawked over a field and these were comfortably ID’d as Lesser Kestrel. The stop was made even more worthwhile for finding an Abdim’s Stork, two Collared Pratincole, several African Cuckoo and four Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark. Along the roadside we found a couple of Bateleur circling, a super Lizard Buzzard perched in a tree and Black Kite circling near the petrol station at Mwitjiku. After filling up, we stopped along the river once more and found a couple of superb Rock Pratincole. Also here, we found a couple of Yellow-billed Kite, a Greenshank, African Pied Wagtail, a calling Chirping Cisticola and overhead buzzed our first Southern Carmine Bee-eater.
Awesome birds! We stopped for lunch at the Popa Falls Camp where we were treated to Red-backed Shrike, Village Weaver, Southern Cordonbleu and a stunning Black-collared Barbet, found by Rosemary. Those that strayed from the welcome shade were rewarded with more Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Cardinal Woodpecker, Meeve’s Starling and lots of African Paradise Flycatcher. Back at the camp a stunning Yellow-breasted Apalis was found and enjoyed by all. After lunch we drove through the small, but perfectly formed, Mahungu National Park where we found Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling and an out of range Red-eyed Bulbul before hitting passport control and entering Botswana. Once on the other side, a fine dark morph Booted Eagle was seen flying overhead with some kites and a few vultures. Passing through Shakawe, we made our way to the famous Drotsky’s Lodge where we took refreshments and lapped up the views of our first African Fish Eagle. Time was ticking on so we decided to make a move onto the river for our boat trip to our accommodation. Cruising down the papyrus-fringed rivers certainly lived up to all the hype and who among us will ever forget that amazing feeling of realisation upon thinking “YES, I really am in the Okavango Delta.” The birds were quite simply everywhere! Darters. Egrets. Harriers. Kingfishers. Waders. Herons. Weavers. African Skimmers!
It was all just so sublime! Add to that Greater Swamp Warbler, Reed Cormorant, Hammerkop, Black Crake …. Where to stop? Six types of hirundine – Wire-tailed, Barn, White-throated and Lesser Striped Swallow and Grey-rumped and Brown-throated Martin; Fulvous Whistling Duck overhead; a Black-winged and several Collared Pratincole; Water Thick-knee; two Wattled Crane in flight. And what about the White-fronted and Southern Carmine Bee-eaters – blinding! Then there’s the other animals such as Hippo and Nile Crocs. It was our little piece of Heaven. We arrived at Xaro Lodge with the biggest, most ridiculous smiles. Our hosts must have thought we’d just sailed in from the local funny farm!
DAY 4 – 9th November
Sorry folks but … Wednesday’s will never be this good again. Ever!
Starting the day with a super Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Giant Kingfisher and Broad-billed Roller, you just know you got up on the right side of bed. Taking morning coffee with a pair of African Wood Owl and then finding African Barred Owlet – also in the camp grounds – and you wonder if it could get much better.
But when you then see not one but TWO PEL’S FISHING OWL in the space of half an hour, you know your life has become charmed! I’m getting giddy just thinking about them again!!! Throw in Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-collared Barbet, Southern Black Flycatcher, three Red-billed (Retz’s) Helmet Shrike and Bennet’s Woodpecker for good measure and you can honestly say that it was a dream start to the day.
After breakfast, we took a slow boat back towards Drotsky’s and once again, the birdlife was amazing. Many more African Skimmer, White-faced Whistling Duck, and White-backed Vulture were enjoyed with a huge kettle of 100+ African Openbill Stork soaring overhead. Along the river banks, we found four White-backed Night Heron hidden away in the undergrowth while along the sandbars we found Rock and Collared Pratincole and a super Great White Egret.
Approaching the more flat grassy areas where cattle grazed, both Red and Yellow-billed Oxpecker were seen together with African Stonechat, Sedge Warbler and Luapula Cisticola. A Sacred Ibis was also seen before we reached the lodge in time for lunch. A gentle stroll through the woods was taken straight after, producing Violet-backed Starling, Arrow-marked Babbler, European Golden Oriole and good numbers of Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, although our hoped-for species, Narina Trogon, remained absent. Making our way back into Namibia we encountered another kettle of raptors that included White-backed and Lappet-faced Vulture, Yellow-billed Kite and a Booted Eagle. Several Meyer’s Parrot were seen at the border control after which we took a drive through the Mahungo National Park from the Buffalo entrance at the start of the Caprivi Strip. Straight away we started hitting into good birds; three White-crowned Shrike, two Crested Francolin, and a Tawny Eagle. Our attention was then drawn to a herd of African Elephant crashing through the scrub but then something smaller, running through the scrub … HUNTING DOGS! To our complete amazement, seven African Hunting Dog were cantering through the scrub alongside our vehicles and then they were gone. Up ahead, we came across a mixed party of Red-billed (Retz’s) and White Helmet Shrike, followed by a trio of great raptors – Bateleur, African Harrier Hawk and a stunning Brown Snake Eagle that glided feet away from us to make a snake kill. Overhead, five White Stork drifted over and a Cardinal Woodpecker was seen well on a nearby trunk. Out on the floodplains, hundreds of Buffalo roamed mixed with a few Reedbuck and Impala. Yellow-billed Stork and African Spoonbill fed out on the marshes and also here we found Coppery-tailed Coucal and Black Crake. Our attention was then fully focused on Neil’s screams for “LEOPARD! LEOPARD! Leopard Tortoise!” How he survived the near lynching I’ll never know. Maybe it had something to do with the African Wild Dogs that chose to play on the track in front of us … after this beautiful sight, anything could be forgiven.
DAY 5 – 10th November
Breakfast was taken early at Marunga River Lodge in the company of Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Woodland Kingfisher. Driving back into Mahungu National Park, we found an immature Martial Eagle, Gabar Goshawk and Red-crested Korhaan. Once inside, good birds were everywhere! Among the herds of Roan Antelope and Zebra, we found Scaly-feathered Finch, Fawn-coloured Lark, Capped Wheatear, Southern Black Tit, Violet Waxbill and Black-chested Prinia for starters. Mike’s request for Bearded Woodpecker was replied to with a fine pair of this stunning woody and the “I’m so sick” call of a nearby Black Cuckoo was finally followed to reveal the bird in flight only. Out on the marshes, Tsesebe, Red Lechwe and Reedbuck openly lazed and grazed. Good birds seen here were two Wattled Crane, four Coppery-tailed Coucal and a flock of African Spoonbill. Around the corner among the savannah, another Woodland Kingfisher and a few Swainson’s Francolin were seen as were Tawny-flanked Prinia and Charles found us a very out of range Red-faced Crombec.
In a big feeding tree were Black-headed Oriole and Black-collared Barbet and further down the track a superb Ayer’s Hawk Eagle perched long enough for us to confirm it’s ID before taking to the wing. Also here were six Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and both White-headed and White-backed Vulture. Two secretive Bushbuck were then seen before we arrived at a riverine area that held a huge Nile Crocodile and two Rufous-bellied Heron. Back to camp for lunch where we finally nailed Jameson’s Firefinch, feeding together with Southern Cordonbleu and Melba Finch. Some chose to stroll, finding Osprey in the process, while others chose the siesta option. After the break, we headed back towards Mahungu NP where Charles had previously recorded Green-capped Eremomela by a certain tree and decided to try taping for them again with magical effect as we saw four of these tricky birds for several minutes. We also has great views of Long-billed Crombec and Yellow-throated Petronia as we entered the park. On the marsh, we had Long-toed Lapwing and Spur-winged Goose plus more coucals and cranes. A family group of Chamca Baboon were great fun to watch and we were treated to super views of a large herd of African Elephant. We then hit a real purple patch with a male Pallid Harrier cruising past us kicking off a top hour followed by a smart African Hobby spotted by Jean. Then the star birds of the day that we almost drove right by – two Violet-tipped Coursers standing right next to the track!
Down the road, a 100-strong herd of Sable Antelope galloped off the plain and into the bush. The fine afternoon was topped off by four more Roan Antelope, a showy Lesser Grey Shrike and two Eurasian Hobby hawking ahead of the oncoming storm. As dusk fell, we made our way to the Ndovu Lodge area to look for Bat Hawk but they weren’t showing. However, we did get good close views of a Mozambique Nightjar after it was called in by the very on-form Charles.
DAY 6 – 11th November
Friday morning saw some very threatening rainclouds brewing on the horizon – a sign that the late migrants may finally be about to arrive, perhaps? After a smart Brown Snake Eagle at the start of the Caprivi Strip, we began seeing lots of Yellow-billed Kite swooping into the increasingly wet road. The falling rain had brought thousands of Blister Beetles out of hiding and the kites were feasting. More aerial insects bought in the next wave of smart raptors – Red-footed Falcon! We counted up to ten of these elegant birds hawking the skies before passing through and out of sight.
Further down the Caprivi, we encountered five huge Southern Ground Hornbill taking advantage of the insect windfall but the weather began to get so bad we just had to press on until we reached Bum Hill for lunch. Searching the lower branches of trees as we drove down the tracks, Bryan finally spotted the bird we were searching for – Racket-tailed Roller! What a cracker!
Driving away from Bum Hill, a small party of pied waterfowl were seen to include a single Comb Duck and five African Pygmy Geese, and further down the road a European Hobby was seen landing on a perch and was well scoped. Averting a near fuel crisis, we finally made it to our hotel, the Zambezi Lodge at Katima Mulilo where, after dropping our cases, we were greeted by a super Schalow’s Turaco, followed by an obliging Brown-headed Kingfisher and numerous African Green Pigeon. To the rear of the hotel, a large and noisy flock of Thick-billed Weaver dominated the scene but also here there were Black-backed Puffback, both Senegal and White-browed Coucal, Lesser Grey Shrike and a couple of Ashy Flycatcher. Despite the continuing rain, we tried our luck at the local sewage works where we jammed in on several usually-elusive African Rail, plus African Black Crake, Rufous-bellied Heron and Little Bittern together with spectacular numbers of hirundines feeding on aerial termites.
DAY 7 – 12th November
Our morning walk through the gardens of the Zambezi Lodge started with a spectacular Spectacled Weaver on the hotel roof, followed by a pair of courting Schalow’s Turaco, Tawny-flanked Prinia, around 15 Meyer’s Parrot, Marico Sunbird and finally an African Mourning Dove.
A quick stop at the sewage farm helped us find African Reed Warbler, four Green Wood-hoopoe, a smart Black-chested Snake Eagle, Purple Gallinule and a smart Lesser Jacana.
Chasing the border towards Botswana, we picked up Broad-billed Roller, Red-chested Swallow and Scarlet-chested Sunbird at a roadside stop. Bateleur and a couple of Lesser Kestrel were seen from the vans and at our next roadside stop, we lucked in on a superb Crested Barbet, a Bearded Woodpecker and Southern Black Tit. Further down the road, we picked up Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Red-billed Oxpecker and, just for Rosemary, a superb pair of Violet-backed Starling. At the border, we were treated to Wire-tailed Swallow, White-rumped Swift, Grey-headed Sparrow, Great White Egret, Egyptian Goose, and overhead both Hooded and White-headed Vulture. On our drive into Chobe National Park, we managed brief views of a Steppe Buzzard before arriving at the Chobe Safari Lodge for a Vervet Monkey-packed lunch.
Ready and eager to catch up with more fabulous birds, we took off on a wonderful boat trip across the Chobe waterworld. It wasn’t long before we’d connected with our target bird and one of Africa’s rarest, a Slaty Egret. Also around the same area, we found Long-toed Plover, African Fish Eagle, Fiscal Shrike, White-headed Vulture, Water Dikkop, African Openbill Stork, Intermediate Egret and some huge Marabou Stork. A Banded Martin floated over the still water before we found a second Slaty Egret, lots of Yellow-billed Stork and Spur-winged Goose. On the sandy banks we saw Bushbuck, Waterbuck and Impala and also Black-crowned Night Heron and Greenshank feeding in the shallows where we also found a superb Rufous-bellied Heron sitting alongside Purple Heron and Hammerkop. Out on the open marsh, a small flock of resting birds held two Comb Duck, three Fulvous Whistling Duck and lots of White-faced Whistling Duck. On a grassy knoll two Hadada Ibis fed busily and on a nearby shore we counted 44 Kittlitz’s Plover, lots of Collared Pratincole and a monster Goliath Heron. Four African Skimmer buzzed by, several Coppery-tailed Coucal fed on the marshes and around a dry grassy area a Black-shouldered Kite quartered and two African Stonechat were seen.
Elated at the success of the trip, we joined Charles and Neil in the vans and while chewing over the day’s bounty two Southern Ground Hornbill flew over the road in front of us as we headed to our hotel for supper.
DAY 8 – 13th November
At Toro Lodge, the group did a fine job of finding their own birds as the leader battled with a tummy bug (honestly, how feeble?), and very good they did too with Mike stealing the show with his three African Pygmy Geese and a Clawless Otter. Also seen here were Comb Duck, Pin-tailed Whydah and just as we were leaving some caught the shortest glimpse of a Diederick Cuckoo perched on top of a tree on the front lawn. As we drove through the suburbs, we lucked in on a couple of Black Cuckoo-Shrike and two Jacobin Cuckoo before arriving at Steve’s garden (he was the nice chap that organised our boat trip the previous day) to see Collared Palm Thrush which performed impeccably! Moving toward the border with Zambia, we stopped to check out a kettle of raptors which held mostly White-backed Vulture and a few Marabou Stork, while on the ground a few Swainson’s Francolin kept interest high.
Once we’d crossed the Kazangula ferry into Zambia, and ironed out the passport and visa fiasco that is almost par for the course in this part of the world, we got another new bird in the form of Pale Flycatcher along the roadside - a good bonus bird – before arriving at the lovely Royal Chundu Lodge on the Zambezi River. After a relaxing break, and many rain showers, a party headed out for a boat trip, with good views of several Rock Pratincole, and African Hobby and lots of White-crowned Plover and Malachite Kingfisher. Further upstream, a dozen Spur-winged Geese, Purple and Squacco Heron and numerous African Fish Eagle, Great Egret and African Jacana were watched on an open marshy area on the far bank. As the light began to fade and hope was running out, we found one then two African Finfoot under the overhanging vegetation on the near bank. We had excellent views of these wonderful birds including one of the birds scrambling onto the bank and then into the water again. Once they’d been thoroughly poured over and we began to turn back toward base, two impressive Trumpeter Hornbill flew over the river.
DAY 9 – 14th November
Our final morning began with Cape Reed Warbler, Lesser Jacana, Glossy Ibis and Lanner Falcon from the Lodge’s viewing platform. Around the gardens and towards the Lodge entrance, we found Red-faced Mousebird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Melba Finch, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Marico Sunbird, and further down the track we added African Hoopoe, Green Wood-Hoopoe, six Trumpeter Hornbill, Lesser Striped Swallow, three Meyer’s Parrot and some Red-billed Quelea. At the next stop by a tip we added Hooded Vulture, Black Kite, African Openbill Stork and a couple of Yellow-fronted Canary.
In an attempt to find Half-collared Kingfisher, we watched over some streams from a river bank but no sign of the little jewel here. Just as impressive, however, was a cracking Black Sparrowhawk perched right in the open – what a beauty! He then took a bit of a battering from a Schalow’s Turaco that clearly didn’t appreciate his presence as much as we did. Hopes were raised, and just as quickly dashed, as a Malachite Kingfisher buzzed right by – still no Half-collared.
A pair of noisy Hadada Ibis honked their way overhead and splashes of colour came from Orange-breasted Bushshrike and Violet-backed Starling and we also picked up a couple of Yellow-throated Petronia here. Around the bend, we entered a small village with lots of smiley faces and wandered around the nearby marshes and trees where we found Squacco Heron, Black Crake, a pair of Red-faced Cisticola and a cracking male Little Bittern that adopted a very inquisitive upright pose. We heard a Lesser Honeyguide which Charles then managed to call in for us to get great views of. Nearby a couple of Purple-banded Sunbird whizzed by but luckily the male returned to give us a good quick show before whizzing off again. Driving back to the stream, we stopped for a lovely Bearded Scrub Robin and we eventually got lucky with the Half-collared Kingfisher that was seen sitting on some boulders. Brilliant!!! Driving back to the lodge, we had great views of a dark morph Honey Buzzard that drifted over with a Hooded Vulture.
After saying our goodbyes to the charming staff at the lodge, we headed towards Livingstone, stopping for an elusive Racket-tailed Roller along the way. At the pitifully dry Victoria Falls, we found more good birds, with Red-winged Starling, Collared Sunbird and Tropical Boubou all showing well. In the dry chasms of the falls, a young Taita Falcon was seen briefly and then an adult too – very good birds! Our final stop was made at the Livingstone sewage farm which seemed pretty deserted until a Grey-rumped Swallow flew by. A huge flock of around 80 Sacred Ibis contained a single Glossy Ibis and we also had good views of Black-headed Heron before getting ‘temporarily disorientated’ and then finding our way to the airport where we said our goodbyes to our fantastic guides Neil and Charles before boarding our plane to Johannesburg and then onto London overnight.