Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Etosha Arrival

We headed to the Erongo Hills at dawn in search of Hartlaub’s Francolin, and duly scored with a pair calling back at us from their rocky perch. It was quite good to give directions to them from the pair of Klipspringers that they were hiding behind at one stage! We waited here for a while and were rewarded with a pair of Monteiro’s Hornbills (another key species) calling from the top of a tree, and the peculiar dipping motion of their bodies as they called made the branch they were perched on shake. Quite amusing really. Then we spent a little time in the lodge gardens after another great breakfast and saw Rufous-crowned (Purple) Roller, Red-billed Spurfowl, Black-backed Puffback and a pair of African Paradise-Flycatchers. I must say that this was another excellent lodge, with good rooms and great food – a trait of the whole tour.

We stayed here.....
We spent the rest of the morning driving along good roads to Outjo, making a few stops for a Tawny Eagle eating a snake, Jacobin Cuckoo, and our first Lilac-breasted Rollers amongst others.

Lunch was good, with Lesser Masked Weavers in the garden, and we also saw Red-billed SpurfowlCrimson-breasted Shrike, Pririt Batis, Marico Sunbird, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Acacia Pied Barbet,  and best of all, a White-browed Scrub-Robin

Red-billed Spurfowl

From here it was a 100kms or so to the entrance to Etosha National Park, but one more quick stop was necessary as we needed to find Fawn-coloured Lark, which we did and also saw Pearl-breast Swallow, Desert Cisticola, Southern Ant-eating Chat, Yellow Canary and Kalahari Scrub-Robin as well. And  a family of Warthogs was also much appreciated, especially by Laurie.

Entrance to Etosha National Park

On entering Etosha at around 3pm we drove to our accommodation inside the park, at Okaukuejo, dropping the trailer off here and setting out straight away on safari. 

We had only just arrived when this huge bull African Elephant was seen!

In the space of about an hour and a half we had an unbelievable time with so many of those typical African mammals you see on the wildlife shows on tv such as Plains Zebra, a distant 

It was very thrilling to see our first Lions

Plains Zebra are very common in Etosha
Our first Black Rhino

Giraffe, Blue Wildebeast, Red Hartebeast, Black-faced Impala, Springbok, Oryx, Black-backed Jackal, a huge male African Elephant ‘in must’ walking down the road towards us, Black Rhino, and to cap it all a pair of Lions sat in the grassland beside the road!

I was very surprised to see how common Kori Bustards are here.
Northern Black Korhaan

Oh and a Western Barred Spitting Cobra crossing the track in front of us was also quiteinteresting. And I mustn’t forget the birds as we had at least 8 Kori Bustards striding around us in the savannah, Ostrich, several Northern Black Korhaans, and a wonderful Secretarybird as well.

Lions at Okaukuejo Waterhole at night

We ended the evening watching 3 Lions drinking at the floodlit waterhole at the edge of camp, with Barn Owl and Verreaux’s Eagle Owl present as well. Phew! So good to finally be here and so excited..!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Swakopmund to Erongo

We set out at 7.15am for the drive up the coast to Swakopmund, where we quickly scored with several Gray’s Larks scrubbing around the desert.  

Gray's Lark

We spent a little time looking unsuccessfully for Bank Cormorant before heading inland to Spitzkoppe. It took until early afternoon to get there, only for our trailer to lose a wheel brace and it took some time for us to load the luggage into the minibus and some imaginative seating for the last few miles drive to the rocky escarpment.

White-tailed Shrike - just a record shot...

After our picnic lunch in the local bar and some cold drinks we birded the area and found many people’s bird of the trip in a pair of White-tailed Shrikes – what a bird! Currently a taxonomic conundrum, it is presently placed in the batis family. 

We birded the rugged scenery at Spitzkoppe

A distant view of the Spizkoppe hills

At the same spot we had Ashy Tit, Barred Wren-Warbler, and several Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters. We also had Karoo Long-billed Lark a little later, whilst Charly was getting the trailer fixed with some locals. 


A nearby waterhole held tons of Lark-like Buntings and 5 Namaqua Sandgrouse came down to drink, and a Lanner was spotted perched in a large tree. We reached our lovely little guest house at around 6pm and thoroughly enjoyed the oryx steaks!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Walvis Bay

We began the day just after sunrise with a few Orange River White-eyes being seen near our hotel. 

Orange River White-eye

Then after breakfast we walked to the harbour and boarded a catamaran for a boat trip through the bay and out into the ocean for about 9 nautical miles – but started with a glass of Sherry to warm us up. 

An early morning toast

I wasn’t expecting much at all in the shape of pelagic seabirds but we scored with Arctic Skua, Cape Gannet and, more unbelievably, a Subantarctic Skua before we’d even left the bay! 

Arctic Skua

Subantarctic Skua

Cape Gannet

There were hundreds of Cape Fur Seals along the shoreline, but one came even closer when it jumped onto our boat and begged for fish! 

Cape Fur Seal colony

A friendly Fur Seal!

A few African Black Oystercatchers were also seen as well. Thousands of Cape Cormorants were flying around and a flock of Black Terns was nice, but everyone was really pleased with some Crowned Cormorants perched on an old ship. 

Crowned Cormorants

Heading out into the open ocean it proved to be rather quiet, but we did get White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, and an African Penguin was a surprise, plus a few more gannets. 

White-chinned Petrel

We also had a couple sightings of Heaviside’s Dolphins which was very pleasing. We finished off with a buffet lunch on-board including some delicious oysters (according to those who tried them), some beer, soft drinks and sparkling wine! So we needed the 2 hour siesta to recover before heading out to the salt pans in the afternoon.

Heaviside's Dolphins

Our main quarry was Chestnut-banded Plover and it took some searching but we eventually found a few and took some time to enjoy them in the scope. 

Chestnut-banded Plover - just a record shot

Masses of shorebirds were present and we added Red-necked Phalarope, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Ruff and Cape Teal to our list, as well as enjoying very close views of waders we’d seen yesterday. Some poor views of African Reed Warbler ended another productive day.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Windhoek to Walvis Bay

I thought yesterday was a good day, but today was even better – fantastic in fact. We began the day driving to a rocky area just after first light and were very fortunate to find a Cinnamon-breasted Warbler creeping around the boulders on the hillside above us. It came in reasonably close to check us out, and the views through the scope were great but it wasn’t good for photos. A pair of Cape Buntings were also a good find here. We drove back to the lodge, and along the way saw a pair of African Hawk-Eagles and flocks of Namaqua Sandgrouse flying in the distance, and had repeated views of the very common Grey-backed Sparrow-lark.

A small drinking pool in the garden had lots of birds coming to drink including Namaqua Dove, Cape Sparrows, Lark-like Buntings and other common birds, and there was also a pair of Dusky Sunbirds feeding on some nearby flowers. I was surprised to see quite a few Rosy-faced Lovebirds flying out of the large trees in the garden, and we managed to see a couple of them perched as well a little later. After breakfast we loaded the luggage into the trailer of our minibus and had a quick walk around the grounds, but it was getting quite hot by now and apart from some very nice butterflies we really only saw a pair of Green-winged Pytilia. It was a shame a Bokmakierie was only heard as we very much wanted to see this species. John and Jenny also saw a Verreaux’s Eagle here, whilst everyone saw a pale-phase Booted Eagle.

Solitaire Guest Farm - gardens

The rooms

This is the Solitaire Guest Farm where we stayed

Leaving here we called into the Solitaire Filling Station for fuel and a chance to purchase some cold drinks before setting out on the drive towards Walvis Bay, passing through the Namib Desert. We spent much of the time scanning for bustards along the way but for the first couple of hours we drew a blank. Our first stop was for a Lappet-faced Vulture feeding on something close to the road, and as we watched it was joined by a White-backed Vulture. 

Lappet-faced Vulture

The usual Pale Chanting Goshawks were also around, and we also saw Greater Kestrel, Rufous-crowned (Purple) Roller, Cape Crow, Tractrac Chat, and the mega Dune Lark which took some work but everyone saw it quite well. Mammal highlights were Mountain Zebra and a family group of Meerkats – the latter was found as we watched the Zebras. Lucky or what?

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk - common on this tour

 Just before lunch John C pulled the rabbit out of the hat when he spotted a pair of Ruppell’s Korhaan feeding a couple of hundred metres away in the desert. 

Ruppell's Korhaan - more a habitat shot really......! But can you see them...?

And afterwards we had our picnic lunch in the shade of some trees before continuing our journey for another 130kms. A pair of Namaqua Sandgrouse and a small chick were present right on the edge of the road, prompting us into a hasty three-point turn to get a better look.

Namaqua Sandgrouse

We eventually arrived at Walvis Bay around 3.30pm and began birding along the lagoon immediately. As the tide was high there were many birds on the water on the inland side of the road, as well as out on the marshes at the edge of the bay. Tom spotted our first White-fronted Plover and I was amazed to see so many present as we drove along. 

White-fronted Plover and chick

A flock of Greater Flamingo held some Lesser Flamingo and you could see how much smaller the latter species was. There were hundreds of familiar waders (for UK birders) with the most numerous species being Curlew Sandpipers, some of which were in breeding plumage. There were also Common Greenshanks, Little Stints, Sanderlings, Common Ringed Plovers and a Whimbrel – all familiar fare admittedly, but it was fun scanning through so many birds. Undoubtedly, the highlight was a flock of 32 Damara Terns – the most wanted bird here and to see such a big flock perched on a sandbar was amazing as you can easily miss this species here. Other birds seen included Cape Cormorant, Great Crested (Swift )Tern and lots of Hartlaub’s Gulls.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

WIndhoek to Solitaire

A pre-breakfast walk from the hotel gave us much the same birds as yesterday, but after a refreshing night’s sleep I think we all appreciated them a little more this morning. We did add Common (Eurasian) Swift to our list, along with a pair of Blue (Cordon-bleu) Waxbills, Cardinal Woodpecker and Rock Kestrel were new for us as well.

After a superb buffet breakfast we headed to Avis Dam, just a short drive away where we spent a nice couple of hours. At the edge of the car park a Black-faced Waxbill appeared as soon as we arrived, and several White-rumped Swifts showed much better than yesterday. 

Red-headed Finch

The acacias nearby held Grey Go-Away Birds, a flock of Red-headed Finches, Common Waxbills, and Southern Red Bishop – all new birds for us. A Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler also appeared, whilst an Acacia Pied Barbet was also much appreciated. Out on the water, there was White-breasted Cormorant, a pair of Egyptian Goose, an African Fish-Eagle flew across, and later on we saw a Great White Pelican as well. Walking onto the dam itself, several Greater Striped Swallows showed amazingly well when they landed right below us, a Gabar Goshawk flew over and several Alpine Swifts appeared. A Cape Wagtail and some Red-billed Firefinches were seen in the damp areas below us, and a few people saw a Yellow Mongoose as well. 

Pearl-spotted Owlet

Walking on we called in a Pearl-spotted Owlet which came in close and was promptly mobbed by an Acacia Pied Barbet and a Brubru. Returning towards the minibus, we had a Great Spotted Cuckoo and shortly after a Diderik Cuckoo as well. Then a group of Red-billed Quelea flew down to a small pond to drink, and we saw a playful group of South African Ground Squirrels.

Leaving here we set out on the long journey to Solitaire, but it was birding all the way with many, many stops for some quality lifers. The first 90kms were on a paved road before turning off onto a ‘gravel’ road for the rest of the journey, passing through great open scenery interspersed with rocky canyons – finally arriving at our brilliant lodge around 6pm! 

We birded here.......

The road to Solitaire
Crowned Lapwing

Anyway, there were lots of birds today and we made our first stop when a pair of Pale Chanting Goshawks and Rattling Cisticola were seen, and from then on we made frequent stops. Amongst many goodies we saw Red-billed (Spurfowl) Francolin, Pygmy Falcon, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Chat Flycatcher, Sabota Lark, Capped Wheatear, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Crowned Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing, Common Fiscal, many colonies of Social Weavers, and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow.

Pygmy Falcon

Sociable Weaver

A pair of Double-banded Coursers actually on the road in front of us was my personal highlight today, and this sighting was made even more memorable when a displaying male Northern Black Korhaan flew right over us.

Double-banded Courser

As the scenery changed from the open, acacia plains to rocky canyons we tried a couple of times for Herero Chat, which never appeared. However, we picked up Lanner, White-throated Canary, Lark-like Bunting, and a Mountain Wheatear for a couple of us, plus a troop of Chacma Baboons and a few Klipspringers

Lark-like Bunting

As we dropped back down into the lowlands a Black-chested Snake-Eagle was a great spot by Charly and some Greater Kudu were rather impressive. And as we got closer to the lodge, Jenny spotted a female Northern Black Korhaan and our first Helmeted Guineafowl and Springbok were seen. 

Greater Kudu

After settling into our rooms nestled at the base of some hills we had a fabulous buffet dinner, were entertained by the staff singing some local folk songs and then had a quick night drive, seeing some Spotted Thick-knees. What a great day!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Namibia - Arrival

My first of two Namibia tours this year began with a long overnight journey, eventually arriving in Windhoek in the early afternoon and meeting up with our guide, Charly. A quick look around the airport  was quite productive with Familiar Chat, Black-chested Prinia, Black-throated Canary, Great Sparrow, Cape Wagtail, Greater Striped Swallow, African Palm, Little and White-rumped Swifts and lots of Rock Martins being seen. It was only 40kms into the city of Windhoek and after dropping our bags into our rooms, met up with Charly who gave us an overview of the tour ahead, as well as a map showing our forthcoming route. 

Great Sparrow

Afterwards it was down to business as we birded the road outside the hotel, which proved to be worthwhile as a number of good birds were discovered. We began with several Marico Flycatchers adorning the fence, followed by a group of amazingly beautiful Violet-backed Starlings, as well as African Red-eyed Bulbul and Fork-tailed Drongo. And then a little further along the road we came across a real burst of activity with a bunch of new birds all appearing at the same time. John C spotted a pair of Burnt-necked Eremomela, a stunning Crimson-breasted Shrike was many people’s top bird of the day, a pair of Marico Sunbirds were superb, a female Pririt Batis was also stunning, and there was also an Ashy Tit, a few Southern Masked Weavers and a Rufous-vented Tit-Babbler also put in an appearance.

Marico Flycatcher

As the light began to fade several hulking Bradfields Swifts flew over, and walking back to the hotel several close White-browed Sparrow-Weavers were admired, and a pair of Groundscraper Thrushes were scoped. Other birds seen this afternoon included Pied Crow, Pale-winged Starling, and lots of Cape Glossy Starlings as well. So we ended up seeing quite a few really nice birds quite easily but it was something of a relief to get a hot shower, excellent meal and retire early after all the travelling involved to get here.