Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Chobe National Park

We spent the morning on a jeep safari in Chobe National Park. Following a sandy track down to the River Trail we crested a hill and below us was a vast grassy plain with a large river running through it. It was an incredible sight as there were just so many animals on view, with hundreds of African Elephants, and smaller numbers of Waterbuck, Wildebeest, Hippos and more. We heard about a Leopard sighting and drove for quite some time to get to the correct spot, but unfortunately it had disappeared and I hindsight we wasted several hours waiting in the general vicinity for the beast to show. But we did see quite a lot of birds such as Hooded Vulture, Pallid Harrier, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Black-crowned Tchagra, Red-billed Firefinch and Shaft-tailed Whydah.

One of my personal highlights of the day was watching a Collared Palm Thrush feeding on the lawn of a hotel at lunchtime, just right there out in the open. Wow! Almost as exciting as the Bronze Mannikins claimed by one of our jeeps!!

Collared Palm Thrush

After lunch the group split up into two, with a few people going with me in the jeep to look for the Leopard again, whilst the rest went with Charly on a boat trip into Chobe National Park. A great time was had by the group on the boat with close views of Elephants and Hippos right beside the boat, and a new mammal in the shape of a rare Puku. New birds included Grey Crowned Crane, the scarce Luapula Cisticola, Red-faced Cisticola, and Black-headed Heron.

Meanwhile the jeep crew followed the River Trail and the amount of wildlife on view was stunning. Pity we didn’t count the African Elephants but I would guesstimate almost a 1,000 animals along the river, as well as Hippos, Sable, WaterbuckWild Boar, Warthog and Impala all feeding on the floodplain. Some of the ellies were so close…


Elephant at Chobe NP

Blue Wildebeest

Moving on we reached the Leopard tree at 5pm and sure enough the Leopard was there just a few metres away from its kill, resting on a thick branch. Over the course of an hour we watched this young female moving around in the tree and finally coming down to its kill to feed. 

It's a Leopard
What a privilege to watch this beautiful animal in its natural environment, but all to soon we had to leave and rejoin the rest of the group back at the Bush Camp where we enjoyed a fine meal and a little relaxing time at the watchpoint, but nothing much was happening so we all retired early to bed. This had been a great day with plenty of great wildlife viewing and some decent birds as well. 

Monday, 16 November 2015

Back into Botswana

We had a nice walk around the area from the lodge this morning and the undoubted highlight was finding a singing Eastern Nicator – a lifer for everyone and a really big surprise. There was also Red-faced Mousebird, Olive and Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Black-collared and Crested Barbet, and tons of previously seen species.

Loved this Orange-breasted Bushshrike

We left this wonderful lodge and drove some 50+ kms to the border and then crossed over into Botswana, where from the overlook at the passport control we saw 3 Southern Ground Hornbills – just a shame the people at the border crossing were such idiots! The drive through Chobe National Park to Kisane produced another 5 groups of Southern Ground Hornbills totalling maybe 20 individuals! 

Southern Ground Hornbill

We also saw Spur-winged Goose, African Openbill, Great White Pelican, Rufous-bellied Heron, Red-crested KorhaanWhite-headed Vulture, Tawny Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, a Gabar Goshawk being chased by a Dark Chanting Goshawk, Lizard Buzzard, Striped Kingfisher, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling on the drive this morning.

Red-crested Korhaan

Lunch in Kisane was tedious but eventually our jeeps arrived and we drove off into the bush towards our remote lodge seeinga  Black-chested Snake-Eagle along the way.

Our rooms sort of overlooked a waterhole, but there was a viewing platform anyway and we spent the remainder of the day and up to 11.15pm scanning for anything that moved which included numerous Magpie Shrikes, Swainson’s Francolin, Kori Bustard, Tropical Boubou, and both oxpeckers amongst others.

Magpie Shrike

At night the waterhole was floodlit and we saw 2 Verreaux’s Eagle Owls, plus an African Scops Owl was spotlighted in the Acacia behind us, but there was a distinct lack of mammals tonight apart from a brief Spotted Hyena.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Hey That's Zambia Across the River....

A quick check of the lodge’s gardens began with a perched African Goshawk above our cabins, followed by Violet-eared Waxbill, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Southern Black Tit, Chinspot Batis, a showy Terrestrial Brownbul, as well as some previously seen species. 

Brown-crowned Tchagra

Terrestrial Brownbul - stunner isn't it...?
Yellow-bellied Greenbul

After breakfast we loaded the luggage into the trailer and set off along the Caprivi Strip for some 340kms, making a few stops along the way during which we found Green-capped Eremomela, a cracking little Cape Penduline-Tit, our first Shikra, and Lesser Grey Shrike

Cape Penduline-Tit

However, our best find was a pair of Racket-tailed Rollers that Charly called in and we watched them in a dazzling display flight with one bird flying high up into the sky before closing their wings and plummeting down to earth like a bullet. Simply stunning. With temperatures in the high 30’s we had a picnic lunch before continuing along the Caprivi Strip to our excellent lodge situated on the banks of the Zambezi River.

Racket-tailed Roller

Birding here was superb with a pair of Brown-hooded Kingfishers showing really well in the trees below the decking overlooking the river and a few White-crowned Lapwings inhabiting the sandbank on the Zambia side of the river. 

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

In the front garden a pair of Olive Woodpeckers was a big surprise and a lifer for me. 

Olive Woodpecker

We walked across a field to some large trees where at least 4 Schalow’s Turacos were busy flying around and we had excellent views as they came right towards us and pounced around in the canopy above us. 

Schalow's Turaco - what a stunner!

A Crested Barbet also put in an appearance despite the attentions of a Black-collared Barbet that kept trying to chase it away and a Golden-tailed Woodpecker also showed well. 

Golden-tailed Woodpecker 

And after dinner we spotlighted an African Wood Owl that flew in and landed on some telegraph wires right above our heads.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Mahango Game Reserve

Well the day got off to a good start when Gary and Gail saw some Clawless Otters in the creek behind our cabins.  After a protracted breakfast we headed up to the main road and once again made an attempt at Rufous-bellied Tit again without any success but did find a flowering tree full of White-bellied Sunbirds, along with our first Copper and Amethyst Sunbirds. Walking back to the bus we flushed a Black-bellied Bustard and also saw a Bradfield’s Hornbill.

Drove into Mahango Game Reserve and went down to the floodplain where there were lots of whistling-ducks and Spur-winged Geese. After several stops and scrambling out of the minibus to set up scopes we eventually located a group of 5 Wattled Cranes feeding quietly across a deep channel. 

Wattled Cranes

What a sight they made and we spent quite some time watching them through the scopes and taking photos. 

Black-headed Oriole

The large trees around us were home to a Pearl-spotted Owlet that was being mobbed by a Black Scimitarbill, a pair of Chinspot Batis, Icterine Warbler, some Yellow-throated Petronias and a Black-headed Oriole. Other birds seen included Common Ostrich, Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, Western Osprey, several Bateleurs, Black-breasted Snake-Eagle, Booted Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Southern Black Tit and Banded Martin.

Sable Antelope

 At lunchtime Gail and I were lucky enough to see an African Finfoot in the creek below our cabins, whilst an African Goshawk flew past the restaurant. Unfortunately we couldn’t locate the finfoot despite staking out the area during the course of our remaining time here.

In the afternoon we returned to Mahango Game Reserve and drove straight to the flood plain and Charly pulled the ‘rabbit out of the hat’ with a Rufous-bellied Heron that showed very well. At last! Further scanning in the same area produced a lot of good birds: 2 Goliath Herons, several Long-toed Lapwings, Intermediate Egret, another African Skimmer skimming – much to Dave W’s delight, a flotilla of Hippos semi-submerged in the lagoon, a huge Nile Crocodile, a Monitor Lizard, our closest African Openbill, Hamerkop, Sacred Ibis, lots of Collared Pratincoles, Brown Snake Eagle, and a few Jameson’s Firefinches spotted by Roberta…. 

African Openbill

An African Skimmer Skimming....

Snoozing Hippos
Hippos Awake
Red-billed Spurfowl

A superb Verreaux’s Eagle Owl was spotted by Garry as we drove out of the park and allowed some good photo opps.

Verreaux's Eagle Owl

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Moving on to Mahango National Park (Namibia)

With breakfast not until 7.30am we had a little time to enjoy the birding around the gardens and scanning across the river produced a Fan-tailed Widowbird and a Greater Swamp Warbler, with David and Chris finding a Lesser Honeyguide. It was quite hard to leave this wonderful lodge but we had to leave Botswana and along the way a dripping waterpipe beside the road was attracting lots of non-breeding Red-billed Queleas and Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah, along with flocks of Violet-backed Starlings, and lots of Yellow-fronted Canaries. Crossing back into Namibia was again relatively easy and from here we drove across Mahango National Park towards our lodge. a Striped Kingfisher was a good spot as we drove along and we finally arrived at Poppa Falls Lodge just before midday. A short 300m walk took us to a small river where a few Rock Pratincoles were found, and were almost eclipsed by a couple of Spot-necked Otters gambolling mid-stream, and a Red-footed Falcon flew by.

Spot-necked Otter

After lunch we drove across the river and entered a different section of Mahango National Park and drove along a sandy track towards the flood plain where we hoped to find some new birds. At the park entrance we were told about some African Hunting Dogs that had been chasing antelope yesterday, which was very exciting news. So we drove inside the park and stopped at a couple of sites to scope African Spoonbill, Spur-winged Goose, Long-toed Stint, Comb Duck, Long-toed Lapwing, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Common Waterbuck and a few other species, including Cape Buffalo and some more Hippos. It was the sandy track that proved to be our downfall and curtailed our drive as our minibus got stuck in the soft sand and we had to push it out a few times before deciding to turn around and head out. 

Roan Antelope

Another stop on the way back produced an African Skimmer actually skimming in a lagoon and a Pearl-spotted Owlet. One last stop to watch a family of African Elephants resulted in a large male flaring his ears and charging at us, kicking a cloud of dust up as we sped away to safety….. We exited the park to a fabulous African sunset… And to round off the day, I put the spotlight on a White-backed Night-Heron in the stream below the restaurant and a pair of African Wood Owls were spotlighted in the large trees right above our cabins.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

It's All About the Pel's....

We met on the lawn overlooking the Okavango River at 6am and scoped African Openbill, African Marsh Harrier and other birds flying over the burnt grassland on the opposite bank. As the day warmed up, and believe it or not it was very cool first thing, more birds appeared and we nailed Purple-banded Sunbird, Black Cuckoo, Ashy Flycatcher and Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike being the highlights.

White-backed Night-Heron

After breakfast we went on a boat upstream for 3 hours and enjoyed crippling views of a White-backed Night-Heron roosting under some roots of a large tree in the riverbank, and then had a great time with close views of species such as several African Fish-Eagles, White-faced Whistling-Duck, Hamerkop, Sacred Ibis, African Darter, Goliath and Purple Herons, a superb Western Banded Snake-Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle, Little Sparrowhawk, several Water Thick-Knees, Malachite Kingfisher, Broad-billed Roller, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Black-collared Barbet, Chirping Cisticola, Spectacled Weaver and others.

Western Banded Snake-Eagle

Black-collared Barbet 

African Openbill

White-fronted Bee-eater

I was particularly pleased to see my first African Skimmers but I think we got lucky as only two were present, although we'd see plenty more later in the tour.

African Skimmers

The Southern Carmine Bee-eater colony along the riverbank was also an amazing experience and we moored the boat up quite close and savoured the spectacle for quite a while. 

Southern Carmine Bee-eaters

I really messed up the African Fish-Eagle photos that were enticed to fly down and grab some fish thrown out by our boat driver.

African Fish-Eagle

Best of all was when we hopped out of the boat and looked up into a huge tree and had an adult and almost fully grown juvenile Pel’s Fishing Owl staring back down at us. This was one those special moments in a birders life and another one off the Bucket List. 

Pel's Fishing Owl

Upon reaching the lodge just after 11am we were greeted by flocks of Violet-backed and Meve’s Starlings and then a small group of Brown Firefinches were seen. Not by me, which was rather gripping but I staked out the area and finally had really close views beside the main building. Lunch was at 12.30pm and we decided to go out at 4.30pm giving us several hours to relax, siesta and swim. Great being in the swimming pool with White-fronted Bee-eaters diving around my ears and grabbing insects right beside me!

At 4.30pm we drove just a very short distance to the campsite where the riverine forest was quiet apart from a couple of African Elephants feeding in the marsh below us – a little too close for comfort! And our first Bushbuck was spotted. So we returned to the lodge and scanned the river area where a pair of Hippopotamus were loafing midstream.