Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Namutoni Safari

Began the day with an out-of-range Yellow-bellied Greenbul in the gardens showing nicely in the early morning sunshine, whilst a few Black-backed Puffbacks in the same tree were also new and there was also a couple of Red-billed Buffalo-Weavers. A nice way to start the day. 

This Yellow-bellied Greenbul should have been along the Caprivi Strip, far to the north....

Then we set off on our morning safari, driving along Fischer’s Pan and boy it was chilly! Before the day warmed up we had good views of a pair of Red-necked Falcons, Black-shouldered Kite, Secretarybirds, Black-chested Snake-eagle and a pair of Gabar Goshawks perched in an acacia, one of which was a melanistic bird. 

Gabar Goshawks

We continued along the edge of a huge wide-open plain and then into more typical ‘bush country’ until we reached a small waterhole where a few Burchell’s Sandgrouse were coming in to drink. 

Burchell's Sandgrouse is one of the star birds of Etosha

One male was very obliging as he sat in the water gathering moisture on his belly feathers to take to his chicks somewhere out in the vast expanse of Etosha.

Continuing on we had a close flyover from a stunningly superb Bateleur that circled right above us several times, and then later a Martial Eagle was seen in flight, although the close views of a fine adult perched on top of a bush later on were much better. A White-headed Vulture was also seen a couple of times and is a rather scarce bird here, and we also saw Rufous-crowned Roller, Red-billed Quelea, Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah, our only Red-breasted Swallow of the tour, Long-billed Crombec, and both Desert and Rattling Cisticolas.

Bateleur

Undoubtedly the highlight of the day was at the last waterhole we checked as there were two separate herds of African Elephants present, with numbers estimated at around 100+ animals. They came quite close to us and were maybe just 10 metres away at one stage, with some very close behind us which made me a little nervous. But they seemed quite calm and we enjoyed watching them for a good half an hour as they sprayed water over themselves, and several very small youngsters were revelling in the mud and water, rolling around and scraping their very small trunks in the dirt. They seemed to be having a lot of fun and again, it was a privilege to share this little insight into these highly gregarious animals lives.

African Elephants gave outstanding close views this morning

In the afternoon we spent some time at a couple waterholes, and it was really nice just to enjoy the animals coming and going. Again we had Giraffes, Elephants, Greater Kudu and others drinking, whilst Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plovers skittered along the water’s edge. 

There's always plenty of action around the waterholes. This Kori Bustard seemed to be on territory here....
Another waterhole....
We drove the Dik-Dik Trail but it was quiet apart from some Damara Dik-Dik’s, a few Green-winged Pytilia’s, and a pair of Pearl-spotted Owlets in a tree. 

Damara Dik-Dik

We reached Namutoni Fort just as the sun was setting and as I am writing this diary I can hear Black-backed Jackals howling and a Lion roaring. That’s Africa!

An Etosha Sunset

The evening session at the waterhole produced a South African Porcupine, Small Spotted Genet and a Verreaux’s Eagle-owl.





Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Etosha Magic..!

Some people say that lightning doesn’t strike twice, well this morning proved the exception as once again Etosha delivered some true magic. We decided against a pre-breakfast bird walk around the grounds in favour of returning to the spot where we saw the Leopard yesterday evening, in the hope it had made a kill and was still in the area. Well, we left at 6.30am as soon as the gates opened and drove straight there, and were surprised to find that we were totally alone with no other vehicles in sight. Unfortunately there was no sign of the Leopard, so drove on to a nearby waterhole where an African Fish-Eagle was perched in a large tree – a nice addition to our list. 

Then Charly took us on a new track and amazingly the same female Leopard was walking through the grass and bushes and heading towards the track we had just driven along. 

I couldn't believe it when we spotted the same Leopard again..

So we turned around and drove back a little way before killing the engine and watched in awe as it walked out right in front of us and stopped in the middle of the track. It had seen some Springbok out on the open grassland off to our right and crouched right down and crawled across the track with its belly almost touching the floor. 


She crawled across the road, keeping low and out of sight of her prey

It waited for a while, peering through the grass and out onto the Springbok herd. Then it crept ever so slowly into the taller grass and out of sight, so we drove forward and watched this amazing animal as it sat gazing intently at its prey. It was maybe 8 - 10 metres away at any one time, oblivious to us and we spent a magical half an hour as it crept parallel to our position and inside the cover of some taller grass and acacias, and more importantly out of sight of the other animals. 

She sat watching a herd of Springbok for quite a while

She had obviously not made a kill during the night and was so intent on watching the herd of animals out on the savannah that we had a very personal and close encounter without disturbing her at all.

When she had crept into taller grass we were about to leave a Lion roared from nearby and we drove back only to find a male walking along the track towards us. Wow!  And he just walked right by us without taking any notice of us at all. Ok well how can you better this? 


The Lion just walked right past us...

So we drove back for breakfast, seeing an African Scops-owl at a day roost and a nice Groundscraper Thrush,  before heading out towards Namutoni (where we would spend 2 nights) in a jeep, with our bags and minibus following on later. It took several hours to travel the 75 or so kilometres as we checked out several waterholes and meandered around a series of tracks through ‘the bush’. At the first a family of Swainson’s Francolins were seen and the male became very inquisitive as he walked in front of us and hopped up on a dead tree right beside us – much to close to photograph!

This Groundscraper Thrush was quite confiding in Halali Camp

This Swainson's Francolin was very close..!

The last waterhole we checked before reaching Namutoni had Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove and Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah – both new for us.  It was wonderful to watch a group of Giraffes drinking at the pool and a young Spotted Hyena also came in as well. 

This morning was good for birds again and we also saw our first Marabou Storks, African Jacana and Western Cattle Egrets. Other birds and animals seen included Ostrich, Lappet-faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Black-backed Jackal, Red Hartebeest and plenty of others.

Red Hartebeast

After lunch we drove to a couple of nearby waterholes where we had more Giraffes coming down to drink, another Spotted Hyena,  a herd of African Elephants, Greater Kudu, and other animals. We also had nice views of Gabar Goshawk, Kittlitz’s and Chestnut-banded Plovers, Wood Sandpiper, Grey-headed Gull, African Grey Hornbill, a gang of Grey Go-Away-Birds, Red-billed Spurfowl and Helmeted Guineafowl. Another male Lion was seen striding across an open area, and he seemed to be following a distant Lioness.

The Namutoni waterhole was not producing anything this evening, however there were a couple of Elephants in the tall grasses along the boundary fence which caused us a bit of a panic as they were very close indeed and prompted a hasty retreat to the relative safety of our luxurious cabins!


So that was our day, another incredible action-packed Etosha adventure.


Monday, 28 July 2014

Okaukeujo - Halali

Headed out at sunrise, which was at 6.30am, and drove across wide open plains to an area favoured by numerous larks. In pretty quick time we had seen Pink-billed, Spike-heeled, Red-capped, and Eastern Clapper Lark, plus stunning views of Double-banded Courser and Northern Black Korhaan – not a bad haul really. 

Etosha sunrise

Following a delicious breakfast, and very close views of Long-billed Crombec in a tree beside our table,  we loaded the luggage into the trailer and then walked to the waterhole for one last look. 

Long-billed Crombec

Upon arrival we were greeted with a huge mass of animals all gathered close to the water: Springbok, Black-faced Impala, Burchell’s Zebra, and our first Greater Kudu. Flocks of Namaqua Sandgrouse were flying in to drink, and both African Palm and Little Swifts flew overhead. We literally had to tear ourselves away and set out on the drive towards Halali, spending the next three hours driving across Etosha. Birds of note on the drive were headlined by Rufous-eared Warbler, with other species such as Ostrich, Kori Bustard, Martial Eagle, Rufous-naped Lark, and our first Red Hartebeest being seen. 

Rufous-eared Warbler

We primarily checked out the waterholes en-route and at one there were herds of Burchell’s Zebra, Springbok, Blue Wildebeast and Black-faced Impala. At another we saw Red-billed Teal, Egyptian Goose and flocks of African Quailfinch flying in to drink.


The waterholes at Etosha were full of mammals this morning

Upon reaching Halali we were a bit late so dived straight I for lunch, and got interrupted by a flock of White-crested helmetshrikes. 

White-crested Helmetshrike

Then after getting our rooms sorted headed straight out on a drive through the Mopane woodland, where our first stop was teeming with birds responding to the owlet tape. Of course, a real Pearl-spotted Owlet flew in and this helped us out a lot as in came a superb Carp’s Black Tit, as well as numerous Grey-headed Sparrows and Red-eyed Bulbuls

Pearl-spotted Owlet

Slowly, more species appeared such as Yellow-bellied Eremomela, several Violet-eared Waxbills, and a pair of stunning Golden-breasted Buntings. The rest of the drive around the woodland was quiet apart fro a Bateleur that Sorrell spotted, until Jenny spotted a Leopard walking through the grassland – unfortunately no-one else could get on it!

Then we drove back out to the open plains, finding our first Red-crested Korhaan, and carried on to where a Leopard had previously been reported earlier in the day. With the temperature dropping we had high hopes of seeing it, maybe a foolish thing as I’ve twitched mammals on these tours before and they usually end up in disappointment. But this afternoon was different and as we pulled up at the spot there was just one other vehicle there. 

Leopard giving us a bit of attention before heading towards the Springbok

Within a few minutes we had located the Leopard, a large female, sitting behind a small bush in the grassland. How bizarre to see a Leopard in this environment and not a Cheetah, but apparently the herds of Springbok and Impala had left the dry bush and woodlands for the richer harvest of the open plains. And the Leopard had followed them. We spent a while watching the bulky shape of the beast through the bush before all of a sudden, it began walking off to our right. 

Here she goes...

Then it went into a crouch and began stalking some Springbok that were stupidly walking right towards it. The Leopard crouched down and became invisible and 4 Springbok kept on walking straight towards it. The first one walked right past the hidden predator, but the second one got too close and the Leopard gave a short chase, which proved unsuccessful.

This female Leopard gave chase to an unwary Springbok

But boy what an experience to witness nature in the raw!  We kept on watching the beast until the sun was just above the horizon before driving quickly back to Halali.

As the sun began to set we had to leave the Leopard....

 After dinner we spent a pleasant time at the waterhole in the camp, where we saw 2 Black Rhinos, 2 Black-backed Jackals, an African Elephant, and best of all, 2 Cape Foxes.



Sunday, 27 July 2014

Erongo Hills - Etosha

We headed to the Erongo Hills at dawn and walked up onto an open area where we could scan the surrounding rocky hills. It was very quiet and rather cool here which may have been the reason we saw very little to start with and only had a very brief view of a White-browed Scrub-robin to show for our efforts. So we walked back down to the minibus and drove further along the road, playing the call of Hartlaub’s Francolin as we drove along. Sure enough we got a response a short while later and were then treated to a male, found by Jenny, calling back at us from the top of a large boulder. All of a sudden it flew down towards us and landed maybe 8 metres away from us, looked up at us and then flew away.

Hartlaub's Francolin

A few minutes later we saw the same pair and a small juvenile working their way across the rocky slopes, and then they began calling back at us giving marvellous looks through the scope. At the same spot some Rosy-faced Lovebirds flew over, then a Rockrunner appeared, and a pair of White-tailed Shrikes perched on top of a nearby acacia. Plenty of Rock Hyraxes were here and a Slender Mongoose was also a nice find.

Another White-tailed Shrike

After a superb breakfast we set out on the drive towards Etosha National Park. It was quite a long drive to our lunch stop at Outjo, but was enlivened by views of Common Ostrich, Damara Red-billed Hornbill, a party of Southern Pied Babblers, Fawn-coloured Lark, Southern Ant-eating Chat, Wattled Starling, Black-faced Waxbill, Shaft-tailed Whydah and many Common Warthogs.

Southern Pied Babblers

At lunch we had a lively time with a number of birds responding to the owlet tape, including Lesser Masked Weaver, White-bellied Sunbird, Violet-eared Waxbill and Rattling Cisticola being new. There was also Crimson-breasted Shrike, more Black-faced Waxbills, Marico Sunbird, Pririt Batis, Grey-backed Cameroptera, Burnt-necked and Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, Blue-breasted Waxbill, and many Red-eyed Bulbuls – all this in one tree! In the garden, Groundscraper Thrush, Red-faced Mousebird and Striped Tree Squirrel were also new additions to our lists. Driving on we had Shikra, Southern White-crowned Shrikes, and a gang of Banded Mongoose.

Once we reached Etosha the excitement duly kicked in as the first waterhole held 30 African Elephants, some Plains Zebra and Black-faced Impalas. Not a bad start huh?

We saw these African Elephants shortly after entering Etosha

Then we took a loop circuit towards Okaukeujo, and around the first bend was a flock of Namaqua Sandgrouse that allowed us to drive up next to them. 

We got quite close to this Namaqua Sandgrouse

But the next section was very quiet apart from a perched Greater Kestrel, until a huge Kori Bustard appeared, and then the first of many Northern Black Korhaans was seen. Continuing on we came across more Zebra, Springbok and Impala, but then a pair of Secretarybirds was seen. We stopped to admire them and what we thought initially was a Spotted Hyena walking behind them. But the stripes on its back were a bit of a giveaway, as it was an Aardwolf! Holy cow! I just couldn’t believe it, but there it was and we had very nice scope views of it walking across the grassland. One of my most wanted mammals – BANG!!

Obviously everyone was elated with this and we continued driving towards our destination, but further on a pair of Bat-eared Foxes were spotted and we spent a magical 10 minutes watching them. Unbelievable! 




This pair of Bat-eared Foxes were a huge surprise

At the nearby waterhole a bunch of Giraffes were present but we had to leave as the sun was setting and we wanted to get to Okaukuejo waterhole in time for some sandgrouse action. 

Giraffes

So we hot-footed it and made it with a few minutes to spare, watching the sun set behind the horizon and within minutes the first Double-banded Sandgrouse arrived. And then more and more came in, until there must have been up to 300 present. It was just a shame some of them were hidden and then disturbed by a couple of Elephants at the waterhole! Anyway, as the light faded the sandgrouse flew off and we headed for a shower and then dinner.


Probably THE most magical experience of any Etosha visit, is the floodlit waterholes you can find at the main lodges. In my opinion Okaukuejo is the best of the lot, as the viewing area is quite large and you usually get a good variety of mammals. This evening was superb, as after dinner and checklist we walked over and upon arrival there were 4 Elephants and a couple Black Rhinos. Shortly after another 2 Rhinos, a mother and well grown youngster, came in. It was simply wonderful to watch the Elephants huddled up together with the Rhinos drinking behind, and their reflections in the water were crystal clear. As time went on, Black-backed Jackals and a few Springbok appeared. But the appearance of a mature male Lion and a large Lioness really put the icing on the cake. They walked slowly across the scene in front of us, and at one point the Lioness began stalking a Springbok, making a short dash for it that came to nothing. As the Lions continued walking away a solitary Giraffe came in, and then a herd of 14 African Elephants all came in to the waterhole in a line. Absolutely magic!