Our birdwatching tour to Namibia departs London Heathrow today on an overnight flight bound for Johannesburg (South Africa).
Days 2 - 3
WINDHOEK & THE ERONGO MOUNTAINS
Morning arrival in Johannesburg and onward connection to Windhoek (Namibia), where guide Joe Grosel will be waiting to welcome everyone. We load up our modern safari vehicle and head northwest on a scenic two-and-a-half hour drive towards the Erongo Mountains, pausing along the way to enjoy our first birding as we go.
Our destination today is a lodge set below magnificent boulders on the edge of the rugged Erongo Mountains. Huge granite monoliths dominate the scenery, and often birds are everywhere. Monteiro’s Hornbill, Short-toed Rock Thrush and the near-endemic Rockrunner - a ground-dwelling warbler with a streaky head and bright rufous belly and undertail - are key species to be found, along with White-backed Mousebird, Greater Striped Swallow, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and Crimson-breasted Gonolek. As night falls, if it’s a warm evening, Freckled Nightjars often hawk around our lovely lodge.
The Erongo range is home to yet more Namibian specials and we shall need to be up bright and early to find the first of them - Hartlaub’s Francolin - as this uncommon bird is only likely to be seen at daybreak, when pairs stand out atop the boulders and crow in duet. We have further chances of seeing the engaging Rockrunner scrambling about rocks near the lodge today, as well as the stunning Violet-backed and the drabber Pale-winged Starlings, plus the tiny Black-faced Waxbill. These huge granitic outcrops are also home to the magnificent Verreaux’s Eagle and we should see their distinctive dark shape as they patrol the rocks.
We’ll also have some time for a more relaxed approach today, after the morning birding, to wander and appreciate the unique surroundings at one’s own pace. Photographers might wait near the very productive waterhole for beautiful Violet-eared Waxbills and other seedeaters to come and quench their thirst, while the more energetic in the group explore the trails around the camp. The likes of Rüppell’s Parrot, Black-backed Puffback, Acacia Pied Barbet, Pririt Batis, Familiar Chat, Ashy Tit and Black-throated Canary occur - and we should be treated to some great views of them here! Two nights at a lodge on the edge of the Erongo Mountains
Days 4 - 5
SPITZKOPPE, WALVIS BAY & THE NAMIB DUNE SEA
Leaving Erongo, we set off early this morning for the Spitzkoppe - another magnificent granite inselberg or kopje that rises like a colossus from the flat gravel landscape.
As we head out over the stark gravel plains, we’ll be keeping a keen eye open for the near-endemic Gray’s Lark, an elusive and pallid desert dweller that's found only in western Namibia and the southernmost tip of Angola. This is also one of the premier sites for Herero Chat, another near endemic - but we will still require luck and patience to find this elusive bird! The enigmatic and splendid White-tailed Shrike is yet another local speciality here that’s all but confined to Namibia; with its pale eye, striking black, white and grey plumage, long legs and stubby tail, it’s a bird not to be missed! Also recognised by its disproportionately short tail, we’ll watch for the distinctive Augur Buzzard, along with the pretty Rosy-faced Lovebird, Acacia Pied Barbet, White-throated Seedeater and Mountain Wheatear.
The roadside birding is good, with the crisp lines of Black-breasted Snake Eagle, the aptly-named African Pygmy Falcon, more Pale-winged and Cape Glossy Starlings, Karoo Chat and Great Sparrow possible.
As the Namib’s landscapes become increasingly arid and stark, we’ll make frequent stops to scan for desert specialities such as the nomadic Rüppell’s and Ludwig’s Bustards, and the dapper Double-banded Courser, with its striking chestnut hindwing in flight. We should also see our first Springbok, an antelope that's restricted to the arid areas of Southern Africa.
Approaching the cool Atlantic coast, we’ll notice a definite - and welcome - drop in temperature. Our accommodation for the next two nights will be in the seaside town of Walvis Bay, at the southernmost end of the treacherous and utterly desolate Skeleton Coast. The gargantuan red dunes along the Kuiseb River south of Walvis Bay are simply stunning, especially in the early morning and late afternoon light.
We will wake up early for a ‘scramble’ in the sparsely vegetated foothills of the giant dunes, where we should enjoy excellent views of the surrounding dunescape, stretching into the distance towards Sossusvlei, over one hundred miles to the south. We will be close to the famous desert research station at Gobabeb, where so many of the pioneering studies that have been done on the region’s fascinating desert life have made the Namib Desert so famous. We’ll of course be looking for some of the small lizards and beetles that are remarkably adapted to this harsh landscape. The dunes in this area are also home to the handsome Dune Lark; endemic to Namibia, its coloration blends perfectly with the deep ochre sands of the Namib dune sea. Rufous-vented Warbler, Dusky Sunbird and Orange River White-eye eke out a living here too - and, if we are very lucky, we might find a wandering Burchell’s Courser.
We’ll also travel inland from Walvis Bay to seek out that most remarkable plant, the Welwitschia. With its ancient and gnarled grey stem and fraying leaves, one’s mind is transported back to ancient desert landscapes. In fact, as with the fictional triffid, the scene has been likened to that of a barren planet other than the Earth. In the same area we have good chances of finding the pale and ghostly Namib form of Tractrac Chat, a southern Africa endemic. Two nights Walvis Bay
WALVIS BAY TO THE BRANDBERG
The coast, offshore islands, saltpans and estuaries around Walvis Bay teem with shorebirds, terns and cormorants. Even in the Austral winter, migrant waders such as Curlew Sandpipers and busy Ruddy Turnstones can be present here in good concentrations, as lines of the near-endemic Cape Cormorant stream out over the cold ocean in search of food. Hartlaub’s Gull, Kittlitz’s Plover and the localised Chestnut-banded Plover are also likely, and the fish-rich waters support masses of terns, including Caspian and Greater Crested. Greater and Lesser Flamingos crowd the mudflats, presenting a confusing forest of bright pink legs as they bustle this way and that. We’ll hope to see Cape Fur Seals from the shore, although we’ll have to be much luckier to spot either Heaviside’s or Common Bottle-nose Dolphins that also occur off this coast.
Leaving Walvis Bay, we head back out into the Namib Desert on our way to the massive granite outcrop of the Brandberg. At 2500m (8200 feet), this is Namibia’s highest peak. This immense granite monolith towers above the shimmering desert plains below and is home both to a variety of endemic birds and Namibia's elusive ‘Desert Elephant’. We’ll be on the lookout for recently described Benguela Long-billed Lark, along with Rock Kestrel, Rüppell’s Bustard, Bare-cheeked Babbler and the lemon-chested Bokmakierie. With luck, we may find signs of Namibia’s famous ‘Desert Elephants’ in this remote landscape, but one has to be very fortunate to actually set eyes upon these mystical creatures. Night near the Brandberg
Days 7 – 10
ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK
After a morning birding the desert plains and tree-lined watercourses of the Brandberg, we’ll set our sights northwards to Etosha. As we continue north, the landscape becomes increasingly verdant. We shall spend the next four nights enjoying world famous Etosha National Park, dividing our time between lodges in the western, central and/or eastern sections of this massive reserve - which covers an area almost the size of Norfolk! Accommodation at Etosha is of an excellent standard and will be staying in lodges situated at the edge of the park, as well as in the government-run park itself.
With great anticipation, we enter Etosha itself. This fabulous National Park - at one time the largest such park in the world - fulfils everyone’s ideal of the ‘real’ Africa. We should arrive in the Okaukuejo area in time to enjoy some birding nearby. The stunning Crimson-breasted Gonolek, Sociable Weaver, African Hoopoe and Rufous-vented Warbler occur around camp. At dusk, flocks of thirsty Double-banded Sandgrouse descend upon the waterhole, and on some nights we’ll have the thrill of watching mammals visit the famous floodlit waterholes. These remain a scene of constant activity after dark, with chances of seeing an endangered Black Rhinoceros, African Elephant and Lion. Predators can also be much in evidence during the day and we expect to have a number of Lion sightings. Cheetah and Leopard occur in the park too, but we’ll have to keep a sharp eye open for them. Huge herds of Elephants frequent the waterholes at this time of year.
The open grasslands and acacia savanna are the haunt of impressive Martial and Tawny Eagles, sentinel Pale Chanting Goshawks and the aptly-named African Pygmy Falcon, while stately Kori Bustards move through the grassy brush. We’ll look out for the strikingly handsome White-quilled Bustard, which we hope to see in display flight - the males flying in circles above the grassland, calling raucously and flashing their dazzling white primary feathers. Ant-eating Chat and Rufous-eared Warbler are amongst a wealth of small birds we shall be looking for, and grazing mammals such as Common Zebra, Blue Wildebeest and Gemsbok are plentiful. We may find the enormous Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, hiding its gaze behind surreal pink eyelids, along with the rather smaller, superbly camouflaged African Scops Owl.
The central area of the park is a great place to look for Violet Woodhoopoe and Bare-faced Babbler. In the mopane woodlands, Fawn-coloured Lark, White-browed Scrub Robin and flocks of inquisitive White Helmetshrikes could all come our way, as we watch for the distinctive ‘tail-less’ outline of the snake-hunting Bateleur, sailing against the cloudless blue Namibian sky. Not to be confused with the similar call of African Hoopoe, the voice of African Cuckoo is its most diagnostic feature and we might well hear them here, calling from the trees.
Travelling east towards Namutoni, the scenery becomes ever greener and the vegetation taller. Few African birds are more elegant or instantly recognisable than the long-legged Blue Cranes and Secretarybirds, which frequent the more open areas here. However, unless we are fortunate enough to catch a male in display, we shall have to look a good deal harder to detect any evidence of the rufous nape feathers of the imaginatively named Red-crested Bustard! Happily, the striking Southern Pied Babbler is much more appropriately named (and somewhat easier to spot!), while the upright Groundscraper Thrush, delicate Burnt-necked Eremomela, Chinspot Batis and ‘must-see’ Long-billed Crombec could all be added to the list today.
Spotted Hyena and Black-faced Impala are among a host of mammals to watch for, while a habituated group of Banded Mongoose often forages around our accommodation. Four nights Etosha National Park
Days 11 - 12
ETOSHA & WATERBERG NATIONAL PARKS
Before we leave Etosha, we’ll spend some time birding and looking for more mammals near Namutoni. A highlight might be the diminutive Damara Dik-dik, which we’ll search for in the woodlands south of Namutoni. This is also the best area in the park for African Elephants, so we’ll keep a look out for them. Southern Red-billed Hornbills are common, and we’ll be able to compare them to the Damara Red-billed Hornbill that we will have seen further west.
After lunch, we head south for four hours to Waterberg National Park and our lodgings situated in woodland on the slopes of the Waterberg Mountain, close to Otjiwarongo. The park is dominated by a brick-red sandstone plateau - crowned with lush vegetation - which rises above the Kalahari plains of Eastern Namibia. This area has both an interesting natural and human history, the local Herero tribe ultimately being forced out of their ‘tribal grounds’ by German colonial forces in the early 20th Century. Nowadays, the park has a very active mammal protection programme.
The grounds of our rest camp are perfectly situated below the cliffs, and with birds all around - so we can simply stroll out from our accommodation to enjoy them. The variegated colours of light on the sandstone cliffs of the Waterberg provide a spectacular backdrop to our birding here. Highlights could include another chance of Rüppell’s Parrot, African Paradise Flycatcher, Little Sparrowhawk, Bradfield’s Swift, Bearded Woodpecker, Burchell’s Starling, Black-backed Puffback and more amazing Crimson-breasted Shrikes. Pearl-spotted Owlet is often present and mammals include two real cuties - the inquisitive Dwarf Mongoose and the delicate Damara Dikdik.
We will also allow ourselves some time off today, to relax and appreciate the beauty of the surroundings at one’s own pace - and maybe to catch up with some of the packing for tomorrow! Two nights Waterberg
TO WINDHOEK & FLIGHTS HOME
Reluctantly, on our final morning in Namibia, we must leave Waterberg after breakfast and travel back south to Windhoek (a journey of about four hours). If flight times permit, we may pay a short visit to Avis Dam, an area of rich woodlands and grassland on the edge of town and within a short drive of the airport. We may be treated to our last views of the extraordinary displaying male Shaft-tailed Whydahs, with their vivid orange plumage and impossibly long tails!
Arriving back at Windhoek, we bid farewell to Joe and board our flight to Johannesburg, with onward overnight connection back to London.
Morning arrival in London on Day 14, where our birdwatching tour to Namibia concludes.