Saturday, 31 May 2014


We left Chengdu at 6am the following morning and drove towards the town of Ya’an and headed to a nice little area beside a river for our first birding stop. We’d already had lots of rain overnight and during our 2 hour journey, so I was pleased to see the weather clearing when we arrived. A quick scan of the river revealed Himalayan White Wagtail (alboides race), Plumbeous Water-redstart and a pair of Collared Finchbills perched on some telegraph wires. Walking down to the bridge and a group of Japanese White-eyes were found and there was a Forest Wagtail singing from some overhead power cables. We then spent a pleasant couple of hours birding along a trail at the edge of a small village and quickly found a very active couple of Brown-rumped (Swinhoe’s) Minivets in the tall trees. In fact we enjoyed repeated views of them during our time here, eventually seeing them perched rather than just flying around in a display flight. There were several Oriental Greenfinches here, although they were somewhat overshadowed by 3 male Yellow-rumped Flycatchers present. There was also several Asian Brown Flycatchers, which are transient migrants here and on their way to breeding grounds further north. A Rufous-faced Warbler was also much appreciated, as were some good views of Ashy-throated Parrotbills, whilst our first Brownish-flanked Bush-warbler put on a fine show. There was also Pacific and House Swifts, Sand Martin, and the white-headed form of Himalayan Black Bulbul as well.

Leaving here we had lunch across the river, and also had some very close views of a pair of Rufous-faced Warblers feeding some almost fully grown juveniles. Then we called into Ya’an to buy some fruit and bread for the next couple of days before driving another couple of hours to Longcanggou, seeing a group of Red-billed Blue Magpies along the way. We were staying in a brand new hotel, which was actually adjacent to where we stayed last year. However, this one has en-suite rooms – heaven!!

Golden Parrotbill

Some initial problems getting access into Longcanggou Forest Park enabled us to get great looks at Kloss’s Leaf-warbler, and then we drove to the mid-elevation level and began walking. Well we got all of 30 yards before a random piece of tape playing resulted in a pair of Golden Parrotbills coming straight in and giving mind-blowing views. Considering I missed them last year – not a bad start! 

Blue-winged Minla

We also had a pair of Ultramarine Flycatchers, Pygmy Wren-babbler, Claudia’s Leaf-warbler, Buff-throated Warbler, Blue-winged Minla, Yellow-browed, Green-backed and Fire-capped Tits, and a splendid male Gould’s Sunbird.

Back at the lodge and just before dusk 3 groups of Chinese Bamboo-partridges began calling and we scoped a Large Hawk-Cuckoo perched on a metal tower.

Sichuan Arrival

The 9th May was our arrival day in Chengdu and our multi-national group had flown in from the USA, South Africa and the UK, with Martin, Lia & Peter B arriving a couple of days ago – and getting lucky with Chinese Bamboo-partridge already! Once everyone had assembled we visited one of the city parks for a couple of hours, and over the noise of music and people dancing ( ! ) we found a few birds that are unlikely during the rest of the tour. Pride of place went to a pair of  Yellow-billed (Chinese) Grosbeaks giving good views in the canopy above us. It seemed to me that Chinese Blackbirds were more numerous than ever, whilst we found several flocks of Black-throated Tits, Vinous-throated Parrotbills and White-browed Laughingthrushes. A Taiga Flycatcher is rather unusual here and a few members of the group managed to get onto it before it disappeared, and there was also Black-crowned Night-heron and Little Egret here as well. An Eurasian Spoonbill flying over the hotel was particularly bizarre as well, but it is migration time and just a shame we couldn’t nail a canopy dwelling phylloscopus warbler in the park – bet it was something good! But this was just the first of many unusual sightings we were to experience over the course of the next few weeks. We ended the day with a fine evening meal in a nearby restaurant and then early to bed for the big kick-off tomorrow.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Waterberg to Windhoek - The Finale.

We were up at daybreak and walking along a narrow trail below the escarpment until we reached an open area where the rocky hillside was visible above us. Within a couple of minutes everyone had their bins on a pair of Rockrunners creeping around the boulders and we were able to watch up to 3 different birds at leisure. 

One of the star birds of the tour - Rockrunner

This was one of the key targets of the entire trip and everyone really enjoyed nice views through the scope when one bird sat on a large boulder above us and sang back at the ipod. A Short-toed Rock-Thrush was also scoped, Scarlet-chested and White-bellied Sunbirds appeared, and a fine pair of Hartlaub’s Francolins gave much closer views than our previous sighting.

Hartlaub's Francolin

With our targets found quite quickly we decided to pack up and load the luggage into the trailer before going to breakfast, however our plans were somewhat disrupted when Charly heard and then called in a couple of Violet Wood-Hoopoes that Frank & Laurie had great views of. We then spent quite a while trying to relocate them but they never came in again despite calling back at us from the far side of some particularly dense thorn-brush. 

Golden-tailed Woodpecker

We searched the campsite for them but to no avail, although a Golden-tailed Woodpecker was really great, more Ruppell’s Parrots were seen, and we also had a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles flying over as well. As we left the area a Bateleur flew over, a Kalahari Scrub-robin popped up on a bush beside the minibus, and we found our only Lesser Striped Swallow of the tour as well.

Kalahari Scrub-robin

Ruppell's Parrot

Following another 4 hour drive we reached our hotel in Windhoek, literally dumping our bags into our rooms and then headed out on our final birding session of the trip at the nearby sewage works. It was very surprising to see such great habitat here with grass and reed fringed pools and plenty of tall trees, with many White-breasted Cormorants nesting. There were lots of birds here and it was great to pick up Hottentot Teal, African Darter, Reed Cormorant, Little Bittern, Green-backed Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Pin-tailed Whydah, and best of all some White-throated Swallows – all new birds for the trip.

There was also South African Shelduck, African Purple Gallinule, White-backed Mousebird, African Reed Warbler, and lots of Southern Red Bishops.

And that was it. We returned to Windhoek for our final dinner before having a short night’s sleep and then driving to the local airport where we flew back to the UK having seen 266 birds and 34 mammals.

This had been a wonderful tour, staying in very comfortable accommodation, amazing food, great scenery and fantastic wildlife. We had such an enjoyable time with a great, fun group. And many thanks to Charly for being such an exceptionally knowledgeable guide, being so passionate about his country and having an uncanny ability for being in the right place at the right time to get us so many close views of Namibia’s plentiful wildlife.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Etosha to Waterberg

A nice walk around the large gardens of our lodge was pretty successful as we finally found Black-faced Babbler

We finally found Black-faced Babbler in the lodge gardens.....

There were plenty of other good birds with a female Black Cuckooshrike being something of a surprise, whilst we also had a group of Southern White-crowned Shrikes, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Southern Black Tit, and a White-bellied Sunbird.

Crimson-breasted Shrike - one of my favourite birds of the tour.

 We packed up and set out on the 400kms drive to the Waterberg Plateau, stopping for a Dark Chanting Goshawk along the way. 

Dark Chanting Goshawk

At Otjikoto sink-hole lake we called in for a brief visit and quickly picked up African Green-Pigeon and yet more Pearl-spotted Owlets and then headed out towards Otjiwarango  for lunch. Afterwards we visited the local sewage works at the edge of town and scored big-time with up to 6 Allen’s Gallinules – a supposedly rare bird in this part of Namibia. Several Black Crakes, including a family with 2 small chicks, Lesser Moorhen (another cracking find), Squacco Heron, African Jacana, Southern Pochard and African Reed Warbler were also seen.

Dusky Lark - a monster of a lark.....

Moving on we eventually reached the turnoff from tarmac to gravel road and up towards Waterberg Plateau Park and the approach road was quite soggy due to a recent thunderstorm. However, we did see our only Hamerkop of the trip, a Bearded Woodpecker and a little later the elusive Burchell’s Starling, and even better a superb Dusky Lark on the road.

After checking in at reception we walked around the campsite but only picked up a pair of White-browed Scrub-robins, so drove up the road and then found a Ruppell’s Parrot feeding in some large trees. We birded around our cabins as well, finding another Ruppell’s Parrot but the light began to fade so we decided to have a quick shower before meeting up at 6.15pm to walk the road in search of Southern Lesser Galago (Bushbaby) which we duly found without too much trouble.

Lesser Galago or Bushbaby

After dinner a couple of us decided to do some more spotlighting along the road outside our cabins and found another 3 Lesser Galagos, Barn Owl, African Scops-Owl, and best of all a Small Spotted Genet right outside our cabin.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Etosha continued......

In my opinion this was our best morning game drive so far as we started the day with African Golden Oriole at the lodge, 3 Double-banded Sandgrouse and some Southern Red-billed Hornbills beside the road, followed by a magnificent male Lion striding out of the bush towards us and passing within 3 metres of our vehicle! 

Double-banded Sandgrouse

Ok the deal with Lions is if you’ve never seen one before then they are quite impressive, however most views are of animals lounging around under a tree, doing nothing. But we’ve been lucky so far to see them on the move and doing something, but this animal was the best of the lot. Whether it was the scenery behind him, the fact he walked within 3 metres of our vehicle or both I don’t know, but I can tell you my heart was racing!

Our best sighting of Lion - magnificent!
Lovely scenery....

The scenery was pure Africa with wide open horizons dotted with acacias and huge expanses of grassland with numerous animals grazing. Superb! Several flocks of Burchell’s Sandgrouse came down to drink at a waterhole, a Brown-crowned Tchagra appeared, a couple of Marabou Storks were standing in a marsh, a fine Bateleur drifted over, and we also had nice looks at Scaly-feathered Finch.

Quite evocative hearing these Burchell's Sandgrouse flying around us..

Scaly-feathered Finch

Red-billed Queleas

At the large lake we found our first Southern Pochard, whilst a non-breeding plover took some working out but appeared to be a Pacific Golden Plover – a very rare bird here.  At the far end a Saddle-billed Stork was a great sighting, whilst another Great Spotted Cuckoo was also nice.

Saddle-billed Stork

 We also had this morning a Red-necked Falcon, White-backed Vulture, pair of Lappet-faced Vultures on a nest, numerous Kori Bustards, 2 distant Blue Cranes, Kittlitz’s Plover, more Temminck’s Coursers, Whiskered Tern, African Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis, flocks of Red-billed Quelea, Yellow Canary and Wattled Starling.

Temminck's Courser

At Namutoni fort we walked out to the waterhole but it was very quiet, although both Red and Yellow-crowned Bishops were nice. At a large fruiting tree we saw our first Red-faced Mousebird, along with Long-billed Crombec, Brubru, Black-backed Puffback, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Pearl-spotted Owlet, and another African Scops Owl.

The afternoon safari started off quiet but I most remember it for the number of Spotted Hyenas we found. The first one at a waterhole was something of a surprise, then another one came in and circled some Zebras before walking away. 

Spotted Hyena

A huge Greater Kudu was also rather impressive here. On the drive back we came across another hyena just lounging beside the track, and then we had three more leaving the park. 

Helmeted Guineafowl are common
One of the most common birds in Namibia - Sabota Lark....

A pair of Tawny Eagles were also impressive, a Spotted Thick-knee was a good find, whilst we had more Kori Bustards & Secretarybirds, a loose flock of over 40 African Grey Hornbills was impressive, and near our lodge both Damara Dik-Dik and our first Common Duiker was nice.