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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Southern Namibia and the Northern Cape, 25th November – 9th December 2006,
Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa, 26th November 2006 (Richard Rae)
This report covers a two week trip to Central/Southern Namibia and the Northern Cape by Richard Rae and Emer Callanan.
Having enjoyed our previous trip to Namibia in 2004 so much, we decided on a return to visit some different parts of the country, primarily in the south. We also ventured into South Africa, visiting the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (formerly known as the Kalahari-Gemsbok Park) and a few other sites in the Northern Cape before heading back up through Namibia, and finishing off the trip at the superb Erongo Wilderness Lodge, a couple of hours north of Windhoek.
Having covered a fair bit of Namibia on our previous trip, and with RR also having done a small amount of birding in the Western Cape a few years ago, the number of potential lifers was actually quite small, but this was compensated by the satisfaction of nailing some of the trickier birds of the region. In fact this was probably one of the most successful trips I’ve been on in terms of difficult species targeted, with hardly anything missed except the nomadic Ludwig’s Bustard, Black-eared Sparrow-Lark and Black-headed Canary, and excellent views of all the lifers.
It is impossible not to enjoy travelling in this region, with its’ superb scenery and weather, plentiful other wildlife, excellent infrastructure and (presently) good value food and drink.
Getting There and Getting Around
We flew with Air Namibia direct from London Gatwick to Windhoek at a cost of £528 per person, booked through www.travelocity.co.uk
The flight times were good, being overnight both ways thus minimizing sleep disruption. Air Namibia were OK although we were less than impressed on the return flight when both of our seats were quite obviously broken (one wouldn’t recline at all, the other had a reading light that couldn’t be switched off) yet they really dragged their heels over moving us into the only available seats to sleep, which happened to be in business class. The attitude of the stewardess appeared to be that we were being awkward which was pretty outrageous given the condition of our seats. Also the fact that they booted us out of business class before breakfast was very poor customer service, when in my opinion that was the least they could have given us to compensate for the rude stewardess and crap seats they’d given us in the first place.
Car hire was booked directly through Avis. They were offering what we considered to be the best deal at the time – many of the other major rental companies were quoting what initially appeared to be better prices but closer scrutiny revealed that they weren’t unlimited mileage deals (anything other than unlimited mileage is not even worth considering for Namibia) or didn’t include key insurance.
The only nasty surprise was that when we announced our intention to take the car across into South Africa, we were told that this would cost an extra N$1000.
The total cost of the rental, including one extra driver, came to N$6983.50 (about £520).
One thing to be aware of when booking with Avis is that although the rate quoted is in your currency, it is tied to the local currency, and not charged until the end of the rental, so in the (admittedly unlikely) that GBP or USD fell strongly against the South African Rand (to which the N$ is tied one-to-one) you might find yourself paying significantly more than the original price quoted.
The car gave us no problems at all (not even a puncture), despite driving 5100km along sometimes quite bad roads.
All the main roads in the area visited are excellent tarmac and speeds of up to 160km are perfectly possible for sustained periods (although watch out for mobile speed cameras of which there were a few in Namibia). The odds are that once you get off anything resembling a major road it will be unsurfaced, but even these are mostly fine for driving on at up to 80km/h.
I can’t think of any roads worth highlighting as being particularly bad.
Police roadblocks are not uncommon in Namibia so it is important to carry your driving licence with you at all times. An international licence is required in order to hire a car.
Accommodation in the region is generally of a decent standard and not too pricey. We booked a few places in advance when we knew we were definitely going to be in a particular place on a particular date or we didn’t want to chance it (eg. The Kgalagadi National Park is too far from anywhere to discover they haven’t got any beds!), but if you took a tent as back up I think you could get away without booking.
Good and plentiful, and cheap, although you may tire of steak. Not much in the way of vegetarian options. Great seafood on the coast.
Health and Safety
Information I was able to find suggested that the risk of malaria in this area was not large enough to warrant taking any prophylactics, however this can always change.
Other than that no significant risks other than large animals in some places.
The whole area seemed very safe to us, although the usual caution needs to be used in urban areas, particularly at night.
Trip Reports and Field Guides
The SASOL Guide to Southern Africa was the only field guide used.
The publication earlier in 2006 of the Southern African Birdfinder book by Cohen, Spottiswoode and Rossouw has pretty much rendered trip reports for this region redundant (in fact I don’t even know why I bothered writing this one….). It is totally indispensable.
I had purchased Guy Gibbons Southern African Bird Sounds CDs, available from www.wildsounds.co.uk and uploaded certain tracks onto the iPod prior to the trip.
Mainly used for reference although a couple of species were taped in.
Electrical sockets in Namibia take a 3-prong plug. You can easily buy adaptors but they will not work with English plugs, so it’s necessary to take a European adaptor and then plug that into the Namibian adaptor.
Thanks to Robin Gray, who we met at Erongo Wilderness Lodge, for pointing us in the direction of Hartlaub’s Francolin.
Most of the sites we visited are well covered in other reports and particularly in the new Birdfinder book, so I will not waste too much time repeating what has been written elsewhere.
NORTHERN CAPE (South Africa)
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (a.k.a. Kalahari Gemsbok Park)
A well run park, noted for its large concentrations of big cats and, among birders, birds of prey.
We failed completely to see any cats and the numbers of birds of prey were considerably lower than I had been led to believe, although a decent range of species were seen.
We spent our first night at Twee Rivieren, followed by one night at Nossob and then our last night back at Twee Rivieren. This is probably the bare minimum. Some unusually heavy rain on our first night actually flooded the main road up to Nossob, meaning we had to take the Mata-Mata road and then one of the two roads cutting across to rejoin the Nossob road further north. The Mata-Mata road was flooded in parts too and we only just made it through some bits.
Major disappointment here was the lack of White-faced Scops Owl at Nossob, which, according to the Birdfinder guide, is virtually guaranteed. I asked the staff if they knew of its’ current whereabouts but they didn’t and we were unable to find it.
We went on an evening drive, lasting from approx 18.30 – 21.00 , from Twee Rivieren. Not much seen, bird- or mammal-wise and with hindsight we would have been better off doing this at Nossob (or, if we had visited it, Mata-Mata).
Augrabies Falls National Park
We were pleasantly surprised by this place, both in terms of the birding, the sight of the falls (probably more impressive as a result of recent heavy rains) and the accommodation.
One night was spent here, which proved sufficient.
The birding targets here for me were Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and Namaqua Warbler, both seen well, at Echo Corner and in thickets around the campsite respectively. A tape is useful for both species.
Pofadder and Koa Dunes
We spent one night in this rather likeable little outback town, which proved sufficient to see what we wanted. We spent the afternoon at sites near to Pofadder, then got up early the next morning to take the road to the Koa Dunes
via Namies (which is in fact nothing more than a couple of houses). The best bird seen in this area was a Sclater’s Lark at the water trough marked “E” in the Birdfinder Guide (note that we recorded the position of this as being 3.8km from the left turn onto the P2961 – the Birdfinder book denotes it as 4.6km from Pofadder). We had been waiting for about 45mins before it appeared. Also 2 Red Larks gave good views at the Koa Dunes (site “J” in the Birdfinder guide) the following morning. There is a fence along the road here, which I had not been expecting and was reluctant to climb over so I just watched from the road. However having re-read other reports since it seems that people do climb over the fence.
The landscape around here is, as the Lonely Planet says, “expansive and beautiful”.
Goegap Nature Reserve
We visited this reserve twice, in the afternoon and the following morning. Last admission is at 1600hrs although you can stay in the park until 1800 (or 1830?) hrs. Also, the entrance gate (park opens at 0800hrs) was unmanned when we arrived the following morning so we just let ourselves in. Payment is made at the visitors centre, a few km past the entrance gate.
The Birdfinder guide once again proved its’ worth here as the delightful Karoo Eremomela was found at 4 and 8km along the one-way tourist loop. Other good species seen here included Layard’s Titbabbler, Cape Penduline Tit and Long-billed Pipit. Rufous-eared Warbler was common here. There were also numerous young wheatears and chats around exhibiting a bewildering variety of plumages.
Locations where we saw Burchell’s Courser
We had the good fortune to see this uncommon and nomadic species on two consecutive days, once in South Africa and once in Namibia. Although they are not necessarily likely to be seen in the exact same spots again, the habitat was good in both these areas and they had clearly bred nearby, so it would be worth keeping an eye out for them.
- approx 21 km south of the Nam/SA border post at Vioolsdrif, along the N7, there is a sign to “Swartkop”, and a small restaurant just off the road. A further 6.4km south from here, on the east side of the road, were at least 7 including one juvenile.
- Several kms east of the Canyon Roadhouse (in Namibia) along the D601 on the south side of the road, a pair with a young juvenile were seen.
Fish River Canyon
Not really a birding stop, although a few interesting birds were seen in this area (including Burchell’s Courser as described above). However this area is well worth visiting for the scenery alone. One night spent here (at Ai-Ais restcamp).
The other highlights were the fantastic views of Freckled Nightjar at the Ai-Ais restcamp, plus Verreaux’s Eagle and Karoo Eremomela in the vicinity of the main canyon viewpoint, and two Karoo Korhaans along the C10 to Ai-Ais.
Although nowhere near as good for birds as the Swakopmund/Walvis Bay area, this quirky town on the southern Namibian coast did have something to offer, and certainly swelled the trip list as it was the only coastal site visited. We spent 3 nights here but if you were visiting strictly for the birds one or two would suffice.
After about 20 minutes of searching in the area of low scrub about 3km west from the “50km to Luderitz” sign along the B4, we had good views of two Barlow’s Larks running from bush to bush. This was in the late afternoon. There are hardly any other passerines here.
We took a drive around the Luderitz peninsula which gave lots of new waders for the trip list including Terek Sandpiper, also all four marine cormorants (Bank being a lifer for me) and a pair of Damara Terns.
Windhoek Sewage Works
A fine wetland site in the heart of Windhoek, if you can stand the smell! Directions are in the Birdfinder guide. As this was the only ‘fresh’-water site visited on the trip, many species were seen here but not elsewhere including lifer Pearl-breasted Swallow. Somewhat surprising was a Rockrunner singing from the top of a tree just beyond the fence of the sewage works!
Erongo Wilderness Lodge and area
I had a very embarrassing gap in my list at the end of our previous trip to Namibia in the form of White-tailed Shrike, and we had also missed Hartlaub’s Francolin and Damara Hornbill, all species that are reputed to be relatively easy to see here. Plus from what we had read it sounded like a pleasant place to finish the holiday.
Fortunately the above proved to be accurate on all counts (the hornbill was actually seen along the C36 but not at the lodge itself), although we had to work for the francolin, finally seeing it on our second morning along the Eagle Trail.
We spent two nights here, more than most groups but as it turned out we needed the second morning. The Erongo Wilderness Lodge itself is a great place to stay, more expensive than anywhere else we stayed but it is full board and the food is superb.
25th November – Following our overnight flight from Gatwick with Air Namibia, we touched down in Windhoek, at once appreciating the warmth and sunshine, having left a dark and cold London the previous evening. Having passed through the typically miserable and self-important immigration officials, we made our way to the Avis desk to fill out the paperwork for our hire car for the next two weeks, and then we were on our way.
Our plan for the day was to make it all the way down to Upington in South Africa, a punishing 1020km drive, but we reasoned it was better to get this drive out of the way in one day rather than wasting two days. Fortunately the roads were just as good as we remembered and we were able to eat the miles, although it was with much relief that we arrived in Upington, about an hour after dark. After checking in to the River City Inn motel we set out to find some food, although ended up having a less-than-satisfactory KFC. Retired to bed thoroughly shattered!
26th November – After a decent night’s sleep we arose, rejuvenated and looking forward to our visit to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Before heading northwards, we took the opportunity to buy a cool-box and stock up on provisions in one of Upington’s supermarkets. After filling up the car we hit the road, making good progress on the excellent road (sections of this road are so straight and smooth that they are used for speed testing of cars up to 250kmph). A few birds were seen along this stretch of road although generally I took the approach that anything on the wires would probably be seen again in the actual National Park, and we concentrated on getting to the park itself. It was nice though to get reacquainted with species such as Greater Kestrel, Northern Black Korhaan and Southern Anteating Chat, while Spike-heeled Lark was a lifer (although seen frequently afterwards). About 50km before the entrance to the National Park the road deteriorated to a rough gravel surface, demanding a rather more conservative driving approach. After arriving at Twee Rivieren and checking into our pleasant Chalet, we headed out again, keen to explore the park a bit before dark. We decided to take the western fork (ie. towards Mata-mata), as we were planning to take the eastern fork to Nossob camp tomorrow. The first 10km or so of this road traverses some not particularly interesting dunes before descending into the river valley and following the dried up river bed north. The dunes did however massively redeem themselves when EC called out a couple of birds under a roadside bush, which turned out to be a pair of Burchell’s Sandgrouse, one of the more missable Kalahari specials and probably the birding highlight of the Kgalagadi for us. They fortunately stayed put for several minutes and RR was even able to obtain some reasonable photos of the male. Following this we headed on to the riverbed, which we followed as far north as Auchterlonie before turning back. There were a few raptors to be seen including the only Red-necked Falcons and Montagu’s Harrier of the trip, plus a fine pair of Double-banded Coursers and the first of many Namaqua Sandgrouse.
We returned to Twee Rivieren by 19.20 and dined at the restaurant on tasty Ostrich steak.
27th November – Having heard heavy rain during the night, it was with some trepidation that we embarked at 6.30 on the long drive up to Nossob camp. Unfortunately our fears were justified as just a few kms up the road we found the road to be closed due to flooding. After some procrastination, we decided to try an alternative route, by taking the Mata Mata road as far as Urikaruus and then cutting across to rejoin the Nossob road at Dikbaarskolk. Fortunately this proved to be passable although there were a few tense moments as we ploughed through rather more water on the road than we would have liked! There were some good birds en route, including a superb Martial Eagle, a pair of Pygmy Falcons, several Kori Bustards, 2 Verreaux’s Eagle Owls several smart Bateleurs and a Secretarybird.
Martial Eagle, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, South Africa, 27th November 2006 (Richard Rae)
On arrival at Nossob at about 14.30 we checked into our chalet and then I immediately went to talk to the rangers to try and find out where the resident White-faced Scops Owls were currently residing. Unfortunately they didn’t know and weren’t able to suggest anything very precise about their likely whereabouts. Very disappointing. After a fruitless look around the camp in the stifling heat, we decided to head out for a late afternoon drive in the hope of seeing some cats. Recent info suggested that the loop road to Marie se Draai might be worth a look, but unfortunately little was seen, mammal or bird. After our evening meal in the chalet (there is no restaurant at Nossob) we wandered down to the hide which overlooks a small water hole. A few animals came and went, but nothing too dramatic, while a Rufous-cheeked Nightjar hawked around.
28th November – Today we retraced our steps back to Twee Rivieren, unfortunately having to take the same route as yesterday as the direct road was still closed due to flooding. Not a huge amount of new stuff, and sadly still no large cats, but there were some pleasant diversions including at least 7 Secretarybirds, 2 Spotted Eagle Owls, 2 Lappet-faced Vultures and a Little Stint at one of the water-holes, which caused the usual familiar-wader-out-of-context fun! Also a part of Giraffes were a nice bonus, as they are not that regular in the Kalahari. Arriving back at Twee Rivieren at about 16.00, we chilled out for a bit before heading out on the sunset drive that we had booked a couple of days previously. This lasted from 18.30 – 21.00, and while pleasant enough, didn’t really get off the main roads as much as we were hoping, and our hopes of a large cat were again to be dashed.
29th November – Up early for our final morning in the park, we once again drove the Mata Mata road as far as Auchterlonie, seeing no fewer than 6 Spotted Eagle Owls (4 in one tree!), 4 Pygmy Falcons, and getting superb views of a photogenic Double-banded Courser. 4 Black-cheeked Waxbills at the water hole near the junction where the Mata Mata and Nossob roads split were also nice to see. We checked out of our chalet and embarked on the drive to Augrabies Falls at 10.00 (arriving at 16.00). The first, gravel section of road after leaving the park gave us another Spotted Eagle Owl and another Pygmy Falcon but otherwise the journey was unremarkable. On arrival at the very pleasant Augrabies Falls camp, after checking into our chalet we spent a little time chilling out by the pool (each little cul-de-sac of chalets has its’ own private pool), before heading out for a walk. Nothing spectacular bird-wise, although the sunset views of the falls and surrounding landscape from the various lookouts were very picturesque. A very nice meal in the restaurant rounded off the day.
30th November – Up very early in pursuit of the main avian targets at Augrabies. The Birdfinder guide suggested that the thickets around the camping area were a good place to find the first, and so, armed with the iPod, we marched off. It proved to have a rather healthy population of mosquitoes, so EC, who is not a great fan of mozzies, headed back to the chalet to pick up some repellent. While she was doing that I had a brief view of a Karoo Thrush, before getting a response to the recording of Namaqua Warbler. The bird proved quite difficult to get a decent look at, but eventually I got some reasonable views. Pleased with this early success, I headed back to the chalet, meeting EC half way. After packing up our things and checking out, we drove up to Echo Corner, which, according to the Birdfinder guide, would be the best place to look for my other target. Knowing what a tricky bird this can be, I was surprised to get a very quick response to the recording of Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, and over the next 15 minutes enjoyed some good views of this rather curious bird, as a pair of them scurried, mouse like, over the boulders on the hillside in front of me, eventually coming quite close. A nice bird that appears noticeably longer-tailed and darker-plumaged than illustrated in the SASOL guide. After driving to a couple of other lookouts and taking a few photos, there didn’t seem to be much reason to hang around, and so on we drove to the next location. It only took us an hour and a half to get to the dusty outback town of Pofadder. This place is not really on the tourist route, so it was with some surprise that on trying to check in at the main hotel in town, we were told they were full. Whether this was true or not, I have no idea, but nevertheless we now had to find somewhere else to stay. Driving up the main street, we saw a sign advertising accommodation over the Spar supermarket. Although it didn’t look massively appealing, there isn’t an abundance of accommodation in Pofadder, and when you have been turned away from the main hotel, you have to take what you can get. We ventured in and asked one of the checkout operators. They summoned over their boss, who explained that the accommodation was actually a couple of blocks away. We duly followed her half a mile or so, to the basic, but clean accommodation, which we took. After chilling out for a bit, we decided to head out to check out a couple of sites close to the town. Birdfinder mentioned a drinking trough a few kms south west of Pofadder, which attracts decent numbers of birds including Sclater’s Lark. After a couple of kms the car came screeching to a halt, after EC spotted four Karoo Korhaans close to the road, giving excellent views. Carrying on, we soon found the drinking trough and, though the heat was stifling, pulled up to see what came in. There was certainly plenty of activity, with good numbers of Grey-backed Sparrow Larks and Lark-like Bunting coming in for a drink. Not really expecting to see a lot, but not having much else to do either, we decided to stay for a while. Every time new birds appeared I would raise the bins for a quick check to make sure it wasn’t anything interesting. Usually it wasn’t, but after about 45 minutes, I found myself looking at the diagnostic head pattern and rather long, straight edged bill of a Sclater’s Lark, one of the most enigmatic avian residents of the area. Much jubilation in the Corolla! Delighted with this success, we drove back towards Pofadder then spent the last part of the day driving a few kms up Onseepkans road. The scenery was stunning, with the mountains of southern Namibia clearly visible in the distance, and a lifer in the form of Karoo Long-billed Lark didn’t hurt either. Another nice evening meal at a restaurant recommended by the owner of our accommodation.
1st December – Yet another early morning, as we needed to get to the Red Lark site at Koa Dunes before the day heated up too much. Although there were plenty of birds en route, there was nothing too show stopping, so we pressed on to our destination. It didn’t take too long before we had our first, brief, views of the endemic Red Lark, but it was a while longer before I felt I was really satisfied, with a bird perching nicely on top of a bush in perfect light. Not bad for a lark… After taking a few poor photos of the numerous Grey-backed Sparrow Larks and Lark-like Buntings at the nearby drinking trough, we pressed on to Springbok. Having rather more luck on the accommodation here, we went for a stroll through town and a bite to eat before heading back to the hotel for bit of relaxation. This turned out to be rather shorter than hoped for when, perusing the Lonely Planet, EC announced that Goegap nature reserve, our proposed venue for late afternoon, apparently closes at 4.30pm. Without further ado we made the short drive south of Springbok to this pleasant little reserve. As soon as we entered the reserve it was apparent that there were a lot of young chats and wheatears around, showing a large variety of plumages. After paying at the visitors centre, we took a drive along the Nature Loop centre, stopping first at what is apparently a good spot for Karoo Eremomela. After about half an hour walking around in the baking heat, we returned to the car, only to discover a party of 3 Karoo Eremomelas working their way through the bushes right next to where we had parked! Typical… These are actually a delightful little bird, that the SASOL guide really doesn’t do justice to at all, in my opinion. We carried on, stopping periodically, with 3 more Karoo Eremomelas seen a little further along, and other highlights of the afternoon including 2 Long-billed Pipits, 3 Karoo Prinias and a Rufous-eared Warbler. We discovered that, although the last admission to the reserve is at 4.30pm, you don’t actually have to leave until 6pm (or possibly 6.30pm, I don’t quite recall). Anyway we had had enough for one day by 6pm, so headed back to Springbok.
2nd December – Up fairly early for another visit to Goegap, hoping to pick up a few additional species. This proved to be worthwhile for, in addition to further views of Karoo Eremomela, we also picked up 3 Layard’s Tit-babblers and 3 Cape Penduline Tits, both somewhat unobtrusive species which can easily be missed and, as it turned out, were not seen subsequently on the trip. By about 11am we felt that it was time to be heading on, as we had quite a distance to travel today up to Ai-ais in southern Namibia. After picking up some food in Springbok we headed north. About 21km short of the Namibian border, a party of birds standing around a little way back from the roadside piqued my interest, and the car was swiftly brought to a halt. A quick look through the bins was enough to confirm what I had suspected – Burchell’s Courser. This was a major target for the trip, an uncommon, nomadic and highly dippable bird, as well as being (in my humble opinion) the most attractive of the southern African coursers. There were at least 7, although once they were aware of our presence they started to move away into the longer vegetation and my hopes of getting a photo were to be dashed. Absolutely delighted, we resumed our journey and, after a straightforward border crossing, were soon speeding up through southern Namibia, and arrived at Ai-ais at about 5pm. It must be said that the rest camp at Ai-ais is not aesthetically pleasing in any way, and ridiculously over-priced. This resulted in us cutting short our stay from two to one nights (which was in fact all we needed anyway). After relaxing in the thermal springs for a while, we went and had an unremarkable evening meal at the restaurant, before retiring to our balcony with a couple of cold ones. This didn’t last long however as sharp-eyed EC spotted a bird flying around at the far side of the car park. Knowing what it was likely to be, we hurried over there, and enjoyed some absolutely fantastic views of 2 Freckled Nightjars. We discovered that shining the torch on the ground actually resulted in the birds flying in to sit in that spot – if only all nightbirds were so co-operative! Well pleased with the day we retired to bed, looking forward to seeing the canyon tomorrow.
3rd December – Up at 05.30 after a not-so-air-conditioned night at the salubrious Ai-ais resort, we drove for about an hour and a half to the main canyon viewpoints, arriving at about 07.15. We spent about the next four hours in this area, savouring the views from the various different lookouts. The canyon is stunning and, although not an essential stop from a birding point of view, well worth making a detour for should you find yourself in southern Namibia. As it turned out, there were a few birds to be seen as well, with a fine pair of Verreaux’s Eagles near the main lookout, also a Long-billed Crombec and another couple of Karoo Eremomelas along the short Hiker’s Trail. Aware of the long drive to Luderitz in front of us, and feeling that we’d had our fill of the canyon, we headed off at 11.00. We had not been driving for long before our stomachs started rumbling and, conveniently, the Canyon Roadhouse hoved into view by the roadside. This proved to be an absolutely cracking little place where we enjoyed a tasty lunch sat outside. It was so nice that for a moment we were tempted to actually change our plans and spend a night here! However Luderitz was calling so, with some reluctance, we tore ourselves away. Just a few kms further the car came screeching to a halt, as 3 Burchell’s Coursers were stood practically on the road! They proved to be two adults and a young bird, and gave even better views than the birds yesterday.
Burchell’s Courser, near Fish River Canyon, Namibia, 3rd December 2006 (Richard Rae)
It was a long, dusty drive back to the main road, and then another long drive along the black-top to our ultimate destination. It was late afternoon before we got to the next birding stop, approx 50km east of Luderitz. About half an hour of trudging around this barren windswept place, not seeing a single bird, was eventually rewarded as 2 Barlow’s Larks were found, running rather coyly from bush to bush. I now have the dubious distinction of surely being the only person to have seen Barlow’s, Red and Dune Larks but not their much commoner congener, the Karoo Lark…
Relieved that I wouldn’t now have to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to drive back to this godforsaken place (actually, it is beautiful, in a barren, featureless type way, but I was ready for a lie in!), we soon completed the final leg of the journey and arrived in the colourful town of Luderitz just as the sun was setting. Accommodation was found without difficulty, followed by the first of three excellent evening meals here (amazing seafood!).
4th December – A non-birding day today, in the morning we went to the fascinating ghost-town of Kolmanskop, in the desert just a few kms outside Luderitz. This was superb and provided numerous photo-opportunities. In the afternoon we wandered around the town of Luderitz itself.
5th December – Another fairly leisurely day. In the morning we took a drive around the nearby Luderitz Peninsula. This gave a lot of new birds for the trip, as it was the first (and only) coastal area visited. The highlight (for me if not for EC) was 6 Bank Cormorants at Diaz Point, the last of the southern African marine cormorants that I needed. Other notable species included 2 Terek Sandpipers and 2 Damara Terns. A chilled out afternoon and evening.
6th December – The last of the epic drives today, all the way back to Windhoek. The 840km took us from 08.00am to 5.25pm, with various stops along the way (including a very satisfying Wimpy!). Relatively few birds seen although a large flock of several hundred Namaqua Sandgrouse drinking at a trough about 80km west of Aus was a fine sight, as were 2 Martial Eagles and a Secretarybird near Aus. Accommodation for the night was the very pleasant Rivendell Guest House in Windhoek, a place we had stayed on our previous visit to Namibia in 2004. In keeping with the theme of nostalgia, we ate our evening meal at Luigi and the Fish, which fortunately lived up to our memories of it.
7th December – For some reason EC declined to join me on my morning excursion today, to the fragrant Windhoek Sewage Works. I was particularly keen to visit this place, as we didn’t have time on our last trip, and I knew it would be my only chance for seeing any decent numbers of freshwater birds on this trip. It proved straightforward to find, and after signing in (the staff on reception clearly thought I was nuts although they must get birders visiting with reasonable regularity) I started working my way around the extensive system of pools. The smell was, it must be said, quite unpleasant, but the abundance of birds more than compensated for any aesthetic shortcomings of the site. Pearl-breasted Swallow and the finally-nailed Black-throated Canary (although I’m sure this species was overlooked in 2004) were both lifers, but other good species included Osprey, Squacco Heron, Hottentot Teal, Black Crake, Diederik Cuckoo, Wattled Starling, stunning male Red Bishops and Pin-tailed Wydahs. Something of a surprise was a Rockrunner singing its’ heart out from the top of a tree for about 10 minutes- still one of my favourite southern African birds. After about 3 and a half hours of fun, the smell was getting a bit much so I headed back to the guest house where EC had enjoyed a relaxing morning and leisurely breakfast.
After doing a bit of shopping in Windhoek, we were on the road again, to our final destination, Erongo Wilderness Lodge near Omaruru. I had been particularly looking forward to this, as it would hopefully enable us to finish off the trip with a few Namibian specialities that had eluded us on our previous trip. The first of these was actually seen before we even got to the lodge, as a couple of hornbills spotted by EC as we were driving along the C36 proved to be Damara Hornbills. One down, two to go! Soon after this we arrived at the Lodge, and checked into our extremely nice accommodation. Keen to try and get another one of the targets before the end of the first day, we walked up to the restaurant, which looks out on a small drinking pool much favoured by a variety of small birds. It wasn’t long before a cracking White-tailed Shrike appeared, much to my delight. This really is a brilliant bird, somewhat resembling an oversized terrestrial batis but with a character all of its’ own. This proved to be a very common bird over the next couple of days and we were left trying to work out how we could have possibly dipped it on our previous trip to Namibia. Various other birds were seen here including Rosy-faced Lovebird, Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting and Monteiro’s Hornbill. After this we enjoyed a dip in the pool before dinner. We had, on arrival at the lodge, made it known that we were very keen on seeing Hartlaub’s Francolin, the other main speciality of Erongo. They had suggested a good spot to try in the morning and, during dinner, introduced us to South African birder Robin Gray, who had seen the francolin that morning, but was going to try and get some better views the following morning. We arranged to meet up at 5.30am and then retired to bed.
8th December – We met Robin by the lodge reception, and quickly headed up the Eagle track to the area where he had briefly seen a Hartlaub’s. It wasn’t long before we heard a bird calling, however it was unfortunately not in quite the same place as it had been the previous day! We quickly repositioned ourselves, but despite some use of playback, the birds had shut up. We waited around for a couple of hours, seeing plenty of other birds including at least 5 Rockrunners, a Verreaux’s Eagle, several Carp’s Black Tits and a Red-billed Francolin, but it looked like we had been beaten by the Hartlaub’s, for today at least. Just as we were turning back towards the lodge, we heard what definitely sounded like another call from the Hartlaub’s (which would be unusual as they normally only call just after dawn). This encouraged us to spend another hour or so looking but in the end we had to admit defeat. After an excellent breakfast, we spent some time near the entrance to the lodge where Robin had seen Orange River Francolin the previous day, but unfortunately drew a blank with this as well. As it was now the heat of the day, we spent a very pleasant few hours by the pool, with a ridiculously tame White-tailed Shrike and a pair of Short-tailed Rock Thrushes to keep us company. Once the temperature became a little more comfortable, we headed out again onto the Eagle track once again, seeing a few birds but nothing spectacular. We wandered back towards the lodge entrance gate to watch the sunset, before returning to the lodge for a superb evening meal washed down with an excellent bottle of red.
9th December – Robin had left yesterday, so it was just two of us this morning on the dawn Hartlaub’s vigil. We got in position, and, right on cue, the birds called at 5.50am, once! An anxious bit of scanning of the area where the sound seemed to be coming from revealed nothing, and it was starting to look like a repeat of the previous morning. The problem with this species is that after they have called at dawn from an exposed ledge, they tend to descend and spend the rest of the day running around among the boulders, where they are much harder to find. Fortunately, EC spotted a bird up on a ridge, and the views, although not brilliant, were good enough to ID it as a Hartlaub’s Francolin. Hoping for some better views, we hastily repositioned ourselves so that we could see beyond the ridge that the bird seemed to have headed over. After a bit of scanning, I spotted some movement at the base of a small bush, and there were 3 Hartlaub’s. We got some great views before they snuck away among the boulders. Feeling jubilant about this success, but also rather tired, we decided to return to bed for a couple of hours extra sleep. I awoke a couple of hours later wondering whether seeing the francolins had just been a dream! After eating a relaxed breakfast, we checked out and started our journey back to Windhoek. We stopped at a couple of places en route that were mentioned in Birdfinder, but failed to add anything new in the blistering heat. A couple of new birds for the trip were seen on the roadside wires, such as Purple Roller and Lesser Grey Shrike. Back in Windhoek a little earlier than anticipated, we did a little bit of shopping before heading to the airport, in plenty of time for our flight which had been delayed a couple of hours.
10th December – We arrived back at a freezing Gatwick Airport, collected our car, and drove back to Sheffield.
White-tailed Shrikes, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia, 7th/8th Dec 2006 (Richard Rae)
Please feel free to contact me for any further info. Richard Rae, Sheffield, June 2007