Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe 1998

By David Kelly

(Full list of birds seen)


This is a report on my visit to Southern Africa this autumn. This was my third visit to the region, I visited Zimbabwe in 1993 and Cape Town/Zimbabwe in 1996. On this trip the first part was an overland tour of Namibia with Kumuka, this was on a MAN truck and there were twelve passengers. This meant that birding was done where we stopped and that some of the classic Namibian sites and endemics were missed. I did, however, thoroughly enjoy the trip and was very happy with the birds (and mammals) I could see. The overland ended with two days in Chobe NP in Botswana and two days at Victoria Falls. My wife, Lillian, and I then spent a week in Zimbabwe at Christon Bank near Harare with Lillian's sister, her husband and our nephew. They kindly lent us their car so we could go to Kariba for three days.

We flew by KLM uk from Edinburgh to Amsterdam, then by KLM to Johannesburg where we connected to a British Airways flight to Windhoek, the capital of Nambia. With sterling being so strong we found prices rather cheap.

Windhoek 27-29 September 1998

The first birds of the trip were at Jo'burg airport where we saw Pied Crow and Sacred Ibis from the shuttle bus taking us to the terminal. The time in Windhoek was spent changing money and getting acclimatised to the country. I didn't do much birding but the common Pale-winged Starlings were my first lifer of the trip. Windhoek is very different from Harare with relatively traffic free, clean streets. We visited the Alte Feste museum and ate some excellent meals. The exchange rate was 1 = $Nam10 and a bottle of Windhoek Lager cost $Nam5.50 in the pub attached to the hotel we stayed in. On 29 September we left Windhoek for the long drive south. We stopped for lunch at a truck stop outside of town where my second lifer obligingly flew overhead, a Greater Kestrel.

Hardap Dam 29 September 1998.

We camped overnight here at the largest lake in Namibia. While pitching the tent I was stung in the head by a large black wasp after walking underneath it's nest. This did not prevent me from going on my first birdwalk of the trip around the campsite before dusk. Birds were plentiful in the campsite, although the lake only seemed to have a few birds on it. South African Cliff Swallow and Mountain Chat were lifers. A large tern flew over the lake which I identified as a Caspian Tern but the field guide map suggested these are scarce this far inland. There were large numbers of Rock Hyrax around the campsite boundary wall and I flushed a female Greater Kudu and her calf from a valley on the landward side of the campsite.

Ai-Ais 30 September 1998

We camped at these hot springs at the end of the Fish River Canyon and here I managed to get some birding done in the late afternoon around the camp site and the tall reeds by the river. This was not as productive as Hardap Dam but I did see lifers in Sickle-winged Chat and Dusky Sunbird. A third lifer, Pale Chanting Goshawk, was the common roadside raptor on the journey south, Greater Kestrels and a Martial Eagle were also seen from the road.

Fish River Canyon and Hobas 1 October 1998

We walked down to the bottom of the Fish River Canyon in the cool of the morning. This is falsely claimed to be the second biggest canyon in the World but it is undoubtedly a spectacular gash in the desert and well worth seeing. We climbed down 500m then had to return. I managed to see a few birds on the way down and back up including more Dusky Sunbirds, the ubiquitous Pale-winged Starling and Cape Bunting. We returned in the evening to watch the sunset as clouds of Alpine Swifts came into roost on the cliffs. We were camping at Hobas and I saw a few birds here.

Duiseb Castle 2 October 1998

We stopped at this castle built by a German colonialist before the First World War for lunch. I walked around the grounds to see what birds I could see. This was quite productive, despite it being midday with Chat Flycatcher and Sabota Lark being lifers. A third lifer was added at Solitaire where we passed a flock of Grey-backed Finch-larks just outside of the settlement.

Sessreim 2 & 3 October 1998

We camped here at the edge of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. On the road in we had seen the first wild Ostriches of the trip, a Secretarybird and we had flushed three Ludwig's Korhaans from the side of the road. We stopped to look at a huge Sociable Weaver's nest which had signs that Pygmy Falcons were in residence but I failed to see this species on the trip. The 2nd was Trevor, the driver's birthday, and the evening was spent enjoying a few Windhoek Exports. That night some magnificent Gemsbok Oryxes galloped through the campsite. The common bird in the campsite was the Scaly-feathered Finch.

In the morning we drove into the dunes to watch the sunrise over Dune 45. When I got off the truck I saw a large, gull-like bird fly towards me. It was dark above with a white patch on the primaries, its breast and belly were whitish with the breast bisected by a yellow band. The diamond shaped tail had two spines projecting out from its centre. I was thinking of Coursers and Korhaans and it took me a little time to realise that this was an Arctic Skua. Is it unusual for Arctic Skuas to be seen inland in Southern Africa?

That evening was spent within the Namib-Naukluft National Park at a campsite at the base of a granite hill called Bloedkoppie. Here there were dozens of Ruppell's Korhaans in the desert, some unidentified Sandgrouse which I flushed and a small, very pale lark which I identified as Gray's Lark.

Swakopmund 4-6 October 1998

We spent two nights in this seaside town. I didn't make it to the saltworks and couldn't do a lot of birding as we had to do our laundry as well as socialising. the laundry is opposite the Hansa brewery and has its own bar and casino too. On 5 October I went out on a boat to fish. Everything was going well, we were catching lots of fish and I had seen Wilson's Storm-petrel when my "socialising" caught up with me and I was seasick for the first time in my life. That evening I couldn't find the key to our chalet and had to cancel a planned walk to the Swakop Estuary. Nearby Hartlaub's Gulls and White Pelicans were scavenging for scraps as the fishing boats were cleaning out their catches.

Cape Cross & Ojitotongwe 6 October 1998

We left Swakopmund this morning and drove north to the seal sanctuary at Cape Cross. There were thousands of Cape Fur Seals here as well as huge numbers of birds offshore. The sand showed that jackals came to the beach at night as their tracks were everywhere. The smell was pretty powerful and the seals made quite a noise, one female was giving birth while we were there. From Cape Cross we drove across country to,Ojitotongwe Lodge, a ranch where they were working to conserve Cheetahs. There were some tame Cheetahs which enjoyed being scratched on the top of their heads. One female Cheetah decided to lie over my legs to be petted and she purred like the blue and white house cat which is sitting on my desk as I type this. There were nine wild Cheetahs in an enclosure next to the campsite. One of our hosts, Kobus, explained that they had been caught on ranches where they were preing on livestock. The family that own this ranch hope to fence all 7,000 hectares off and stock it with Springbok to create a Cheetah sanctuary. That evening there was more socialising at the well stocked bar run by Mario and Kobus.

Oukuajeko Camp Etosha National Park 7 October 1998

The truck left the ranch after saying goodbye to the Cheetahs and being introduced to a male Suricate. Most people looked a bit delicate after the previous night's refreshments. As we left the ranch we saw three Kori Bustards by the side of the road and a pair of Spotted Sandgrouse. From here we headed to the famous Etosha National Park where we were staying our first night at Oukuajeko. We camped under a tree with a huge Sociable Weaver's nest and the residents joined us to tidy up our crumbs at lunch. There was no evidence that Pygmy Falcons used this nest. We had a quiet game drive that afternoon but we did see more Kori Bustards as well as Red-crested and Northern Black (White-quilled) Korhaans and a flock of Namaqua Sandgrouse at a waterhole. That night we watched eight Black Rhinos at the floodlit waterhole, one of the highlights of the trip and one female was with a young calf. Giraffes, Elephants, Black-backed Jackal and Gemsbok were also seen.

Halali Camp Etosha National Park 8 Ocober 1998

This morning we left Oukuajeko for a game drive which turned out to be the best game drive I've ever been on. Apart from the abundant Common Zebra, Giraffe, Springbok, Gemsbok, Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest and Greater Kudu we saw 2 young male Lions on their own only a few metres from the truck. we then saw a Black Rhino before going to a waterhole where there was a pride of Lions, including a litter of cubs. Our next overnight stay was at Halali camp which also had a floodlit waterhole. We went on an evening game drive but this was less productive than this morning.

Naumatoni Camp, Etosha National Park 9 October 1998

Another game drive in the morning, going on to Naumatoni where we spent midday. This was greener than the other camps and there were Pied Babblers and Red-billed Buffalo Weavers around the lawns. I also saw a small, Merlin like falcon chasing the Cape Glossy Starlings into the verandahs of some buildings. This was a Red-necked Falcon and seeing this almost made up for not seeing any Pygmy Falcons. An afternoon game drive was rather unproductive and that evening we set off for a campsite at Tsumeb where some locals partying kept a lot of us awake. I didn't like Celine Dion's music to start with but after hearing "Think Twice" so many times in one I have began to really hate it.

Rundu 10 October 1998

We drove from Tsumeb via Grootfontein to the N'Kwazi campsite beside the Kavango River at Rundu. Here Namaqua Doves were plentiful and White-rumped Babblers foraged around the braais. On the river I saw African Finfoot and Cape Clawless Otters. We had a boat trip on the river, then a late night in the bar. When we left Grootfontein we crossed a veterinary line and the landscape changed from the sparsely populated, arid ranching country of most of Namibia to a densely populated countryside of subsistence farmers in grass huts.

Popa Falls 11 October 1998

I got up at dawn and walked through the riverine forest of the campsite. Birds were everywhere from the unfamiliar Pygmy Geese and Coppery-tailed Coucals by the river to more familiar Willow Warblers and Whitethroats in the woodland. We left Rundu to enter the Caprivi strip and travel on to Popa Falls. Here the Kavango goes through a series of rapids and through riverine woodland. Here highlights were a Giant Kingfisher which let us get within a few metres, Carmine Bee-eaters and lots of Green-backed Herons. A large, broad winged raptor was soaring above the river with distinctive red barred underwing coverts and a barred tail, a Cuckoo Hawk. That evening I watched the river looking for Rock Pratincoles, seeing plenty of birds as I stood by the bank. Eventually a Rock Pratincole flew in from the north and I went back to camp happy. This was our last night in Namibia and a few of us went with the driver of another truck to see the night sky.


Chobe: 12 October 1998

Today is Lillian's birthday so the truck was decorated with balloons and everyone sang happy birthday all day. We were going into Botswana today so stopped for lunch after a visit to Katima Mulilo. When we stopped the local kids came to watch us and joined in singing Happy Birthday to Lillian. Trevor made a mask from the paper plates with clowns on them and took some sweets to the children, giving the mask to the smallest child. From here we went onto the Ngoma where we crossed into Botswana, through Chobe National Park to Kasane where we camped in the Chobe Safari Lodge. The camp was shared with Vervet Monkeys, Warthogs and Banded Mongooses.

Chobe 13 October 1998:

We got up just after dawn and set out on a game drive into the National Park, Elephants were everywhere and close to the river we saw some more Lions but these were distant. Helmeted Guinea-Fowl were especially abundant and we also saw Hamerkop and Fish Eagle but few other birds. The drivers were in touch with each other by radio and soon we joined a few other vehicles for good views of a pair of courting Lions. They spared our blushes by resting all the time we were watching them. As we drove back to camp we saw three Sable Antelope drinking at a pool but they were worried by the vehicle and trotted off into the bush.

That afternoon we went on a cruise along the Chobe River. This was perfect birding, I could enjoy a Castle lager between getting really close to Hippo, Elephants and Fish Eagles. The Elephants were mostly males and, unlike the Lions this morning, did not spare any blushes, drawing a few ribald comments from the girls. We could see Waterbuck, Impala and Puku on the shore but only got distant views of Buffalo. The birding was terrific, especially the herons, and we saw numerous Green-backed, Rufous-bellied, Squacco and Grey Herons as well as Goliath Herons, Great Egret, Little Egret, Cattle Egret, Black Egret and a single Great Bittern which flew across the river over the boat. This was the first Bittern I'd seen outside the UK. Other more familiar species seen were Stonechat and Osprey. If you're ever in Kasane I really recommend this boat trip. 


Victoria Falls 14 October 1998:

We crossed from Botswana into Zimbabwe at Kazungula then headed through the Zambezi National Park to Victoria Falls. I had been here in 1993 and decided to give the Falls a miss. Instead we went to the craft fair, running the gauntlet of the Nyaminyami sellers. We were staying at the Municipal Campsite and the common birds here were Black-eyed Bulbul, Blue Waxbill and Red-winged Starling. I saw the Pied Crows mobbing an accipter and through my bins was able to id it as a Little Banded Goshawk, better known outwith Southern Africa as a Shikra. That night we went to the Boma Restaurant where I tried a Mopane Worm for the first and last time and an Ndebele fortune teller told me I would be rich and live to see my grandchildren even if I was in for some bad luck. Well for $Z20.00 (45p) he was never going to tell me any winning lottery numbers!

Victoria Falls 15 October 1998:

Today Lillian and I went canoeing on the Zambezi. Our guides were Quentino and Peter and there were eight in the party, two French, two Americans and four Scots. The two French guys and ourselves were booked for the whole day and this was well worth it, we had to cross into Zambia to start our trip. This time we avoided Hippos but we could canoe close to a herd of Elephants and we saw various birds including Bee-eaters, Kingfishers, Plovers and a Rock Pratincole. The day ended with a Mosi Lager and a drive through the Mosi o Tunya Game Park where we saw five White Rhinos as well as a non-reticulated Giraffe. This was the last night of the tour and we all went out for a meal before trooping down to the local nightclub. Bed by 3.00am.

Hangover to Harare 16 October 1998:

We caught the early morning flight from Victoria Falls to Harare. After yesterday;s canoe exertions I was suffering from heat exhaustion and, of course, that had absolutely nothing to do with the amount of Zambezi I had consumed.

Kariba 17-20 October 1998:

Wendy, Gordon and Calum (Sis in law, husband and nephew) couldn't come to Kariba so they lent us their car. We had a beautiful lodge in the Charara Safari Area, where Elephants raided the dustbins at night and Hippos grazed on the lawn. The Lake is far higher than it was in 1993 and the waterbirds were close to our verandah. The bush was teeming with small birds and I spent the early mornings trying to id them. On the second day we went on a lake cruise but this was rather quiet. We returned to Harare on the 20 October.

Harare 21-23 October:

First day back in Harare was spent shopping. I was tagged along to amuse Calum and keep him away from the porcelain. The next day I was released into the Christon Bank Nature Reserve and spent a good couple of hours exploring the miombo woodland in the company of Broad-billed Rollers, Bearded Woodpeckers, Black-collared Barbets, African Golden Orioles and Red-chested Cuckoo. I watched flocks of European Bee-eaters then African Hawk-Eagles and Wahlberg's Eagles overhead while the Fork-tailed Drongos put on their own air defence. It couldn't last and I was soon found and taken back. On our last day we went out to a famous viewpoint over the Mazoe Valley where we saw Whyte's Barbet in the burnt bush and watched an Augur Buzzard hovering in the wind.

That afternoon we left Africa and returned to a cold, windy and wet Edinburgh. In all I had seen around 240 species and if I'd bothered to look harder at Sunbirds and LBJs I would probably have seen a few more. As it was I saw around fifty new birds and had any number of memorable experiences. Thanks to everyone on SABIRDNET who gave me information. If you want a list of mammals seen please e-mail me.

Full list of birds seen