We just completed a comprehensive Namibia birding tour and after a fantastic rainy season, the bush was truly alive! It was incredible to see so much standing water in Etosha National Park and the Kwando River floodplain full of water. We had a very successful trip with an incredible 375 species of birds and more than 40 species of mammals.
Trip Report – Namibia Bespoke Birding
Day 1: Arrival in Windhoek and off to Rundu
The first day was always going to be a travel day as we had to make our way from Windhoek International Airport to the town of Rundu, which is situated on Namibia’s northern border with Angola. As soon as we left the airport gate, we had a beautiful Gabar Goshawk perched right next to the road – not a bad start at all! Since this was the first trip to Africa for the clients, we decided to do a short detour before we got to Windhoek to try and pick up a few of the more common Acacia species and this turned out to be a brilliant stop. The highlights were a Pearl-spotted Owlet and an Ashy Tit while other good birds we got included Short-toed Rock Thrush, Southern Pied Babbler, Desert and Rattling Cisticola, Rock Martin, Rosy-faced Lovebird, White-backed and Lappet-faced Vulture, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Violet-eared Waxbill and lastly a Monteiro’s Hornbill, the first of the Namibian near-endemic species.
A quick stop in Windhoek produced Bradfield’s and Alpine Swift and then it was time to hit the road to the north. We did do a few quick roadside stops along the way; some of the highlights for the long drive were Tawny Eagle, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Purple Roller, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Lapped-faced and White-backed Vulture, Black-winged Kite, Rock Kestrel, Pale Chanting Goshawk and Bradfield’s Hornbill. We arrived at our lodge just before sunset and had just enough time to pick up Knob-billed Duck, White-faced Whistling Duck, African Mourning Dove, Red-eyed Dove, Wire-tailed Swallow, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Pied Wagtail and Black-crowned Night Heron.
We also had our mammal list up and running with Springbok, Greater Kudu, Steenbok, Common Warthog, Chacma Baboon, Smith’s Bush Squirrel and Four-striped Field Mouse seen along the way and at the stops. Not bad for a travelling day!
Day 2: Teak Woodland and Kwando boat cruise
We were up at first light and a short pre-breakfast walk around the lodge produced Mourning Collared Dove, White-browed Robin-Chat, Greater Swamp Warbler, Black-collared Barbet, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Green Wood Hoopoe and Water Thick-knee. A Western Barn Owl flying low over the river at first light and straight to its roosting spot in a Mangosteen tree was an unforgettable sight.
As we left the lodge grounds, we scanned an open field and picked up Temminck’s Courser and a small pan produced an immature Dwarf Bittern. Our main target area for the morning was an intact piece of Teak woodland but a few roadside stops en route produced Arnot’s Chat, Dusky Lark, African Harrier-Hawk, Bennett’s and Bearded Woodpecker, African Golden Oriole, Common Ostrich, Dark Chanting Goshawk and a melanistic Gabar Goshawk.
Our main target with the woodland stop was Racket-tailed Roller and we found a group of 4 birds almost immediately after stopping. We decided to spend a few more minutes exploring the area; this produced Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Brown-crowned Tchagra, White-browed Scrub Robin, Chinspot Batis and Southern Black Flycatcher. Since we were short on time and could not go to the lodge for lunch we had to improvise and had a delicious home-made “Boerewors roll”, which is basically a hot dog but with Namibian home-made sausage. Delicious!
We had time for a quick coffee and then we departed on our afternoon boat cruise on the Kwando River. It was incredible to see the floodplain full of water with the highest flood in 10 years and the birding did not disappoint. Birding highlights from the cruise include Wattled Crane, Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen, Little Bittern, Luapula and Chirping Cisticola, African Openbill, Malachite and Pied Kingfisher, Little and White-fronted Bee-eater, Martial Eagle, Red and Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Long-toed Lapwing, Tawny-flanked Prinia and African Harrier-Hawk.
We also had a few great mammals including Southern (Red) Lechwe, Hippopotamus and Chacma Baboon, but the highlight was two separate Sitatunga sightings including a beautiful male! As we got off the boat we were greeted by an African Barred Owlet, Grey-headed Bushshrike and a Yellow-bellied Greenbul. We enjoyed a great dinner watching the local pair of African Wood Owl and enjoyed listening to Lion and Spotted Hyaena calling for most of the night.
Day 3: Bwabwata National Park and off to the Zambezi River
We were again up early and after a quick breakfast we made our way to Bwabwata National Park where we would spend most of the day. The birding, wildlife and landscape are almost identical to the Okavango Delta, and as an added bonus we only saw one other vehicle the whole day!
It was a good day for woodpeckers, and we saw all four possible species: Bearded, Cardinal, Bennett’s and Golden-tailed Woodpecker. Other birding highlights included White-crested and Retz’s Helmetshrike, Red-headed Weaver, Flappet Lark, Common Buttonquail, Shikra, African Pygmy Goose, Brubru, Brown Firefinch, Rufous-naped Lark, Brown-backed Honeybird, Purple-banded Sunbird, Giant Kingfisher, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and Dickinson’s Kestrel.
We had a spectacular encounter with a massive Black Mamba on the hunt in a Camelthorn Tree and African Elephant, Sable Antelope, Impala and Southern Reedbuck were some of the new mammals. From here we made our way to our lodge on the banks of the Zambezi River and a quick birding walk in the lodge gardens produced Scarlet-chested, White-bellied, Collared and Marico Sunbird, Brown-hooded and Half-collared Kingfisher and the main target: Schalow’s Turaco.
Day 4: Caprivi wetland birding
Today was all about the wetlands of the Eastern Caprivi floodplains. After an early breakfast we headed out and a large flock of African Openbill told us where to go to find the best floodplain. And we were in for a treat. A tree full of Rufous-bellied Heron, a real special for this part of the world, and a group of Black Herons using their famous umbrella fishing technique were a couple of highlights. Other wetland birds seen include African Sacred Ibis, Purple Heron, Glossy Ibis, Lesser Moorhen, Allen’s Gallinule, Hamerkop, Little, Great and Intermediate Egret, Whiskered Tern, Grey-headed Gull, Lesser Striped, Grey-rumped and Pearl-breasted Swallow, Greater Painted Snipe, Long-toed Lapwing, Malachite Kingfisher, Red-billed and Hottentot Teal, Thick-billed Weaver, Southern Red Bishop and Black-crowned Tchagra.
After a late lunch we spent a couple of hours in the lodge gardens enjoying sightings of Schalow’s Turaco, Ashy Flycatcher, Tropical Boubou, Little Sparrowhawk, White-backed Night Heron and a distant White-crowned Lapwing. The very loud call of Trumpeter Hornbill had everyone running out of the rooms for great views of this stunning hornbill. A quick drive into town gave us great views of both target birds in Northern Grey-headed Sparrow and Mosque Swallow.
Day 5: Birding around Katima and off to Mahangu
After a quick coffee, we enjoyed the dawn chorus and first hour of the day birding around the lodge and were not disappointed as one of our main target, Yellow-throated Leaflove, made an appearance. They were joined by Half-collared Kingfisher, Terrestrial Brownbul, Schalow’s Turaco, Southern Yellow White-eye and a Crested Barbet.
After breakfast, we spend an hour in prime thicket habitat and soon found our main target, Bearded Scrub Robin. Other great birds found here include White-browed Scrub Robin, Copper Sunbird, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Green-winged Pytilia, Black Cuckooshrike, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Grey Tit-Flycatcher and Ashy Flycatchers. En route to the Divundu area we had brief views of Brown Snake Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Tawny Eagle, Black-winged Kite and Bateleur.
After enjoying lunch overlooking the Okavango river, we headed for Mahangu Game Reserve, part of Bwabwata National Park and the massive Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. Since it was late afternoon, we just did a short loop but were not disappointed with Saddle-billed Stork, Black-winged Pratincole, Burchell’s, Greater Blue-eared and Meves’s Startling, Senegal Coucal, Blue Waxbill, Rattling Cisticola, Yellow-billed stork, African Openbill, Meyer’s Parrot, Common Ostrich, Striped Kingfisher, Marabou Stork, Spur-winged Goose, White-backed, Lappet-faced and White-headed Vulture.
As always Mahangu did not disappoint from a mammal point of view with great sightings of Roan Antelope, Topi (Tsessebe), Bushbuck, Common Warthog, African Elephant, Hippopotamus, Southern (Red) Lechwe, Plains Zebra and Impala. And what better way to end a wonderful day by enjoying a drink overlooking the mighty Okavango river listening to the hippos grunting away…
Day 6: Mahangu
We had a full day to explore Mahangu National Park and its variety of habitats ranging from the Okavango river, riverine woodland, floodplains, mixed woodland, Teak woodland and open savannahs. With such a diversity of habitats it is little wonder that this small park is home to the highest number of species for any park in Namibia.
We were in the park at first light and the day started off with three species of babbler – Arrow-marked, Black-faced and Hartlaub’s Babbler. Other species seen include Senegal Coucal, Long-toed Lapwing, Saddle-billed Stork, African Openbill, Common Ostrich, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, African Golden Oriole, African Pygmy Goose, Woolly-necked Stork and a Gabar Goshawk hunting Ring-necked Doves.
After enjoying lunch and a short siesta we were back in the park and enjoyed an hour at a waterhole watching a herd of African Elephant drinking while a herd of Plains Zebra with Red-billed Oxpeckers on their back waiting their turn.
Other good birds for the afternoon were Lizard Buzzard, Meves’s Starling, Meyer’s Parrot, African Harrier-Hawk, Lappet-faced, Hooded and White-backed Vulture, Bearded Woodpecker, and Brown and Red-billed Firefinch.
As always with Mahangu we had plenty of great mammal sightings including African Buffalo, Southern Reedbuck, Common Wildebeest, Banded Mongoose and a herd of Greater Kudu barking at an unseen predator. It is impossible to have a disappointing day in this wonderful park. To round off a great day, we had both Fiery-necked and Square-tailed Nightjar hunting around the floodlights.
Day 7: Mahangu to Etosha
We were again up early to enjoy dawn birding around the lodge and had good sightings of Spectacled, Village and Holub’s Golden Weaver, White-backed Night Heron, Goliath Heron, Mourning Dove, Brown Firefinch, Meves’s Starling and Green Wood Hoopoe. While enjoying breakfast we had a Spotted-necked Otter cruising down the river and African Buffalo making their way out of the floodplains into the woodland.
We did bird in the Teak woodland for a couple of hours looking for missing specials and had good views of Red-headed Weaver, Yellow-bellied and Green-capped Eremomela, Tinkling Cisticola, Neddicky, Pale and Southern Black Flycatcher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Golden-breasted Bunting, Southern Black Tit, African Hawk-Eagle, Yellow-fronted Canary, Bradfield’s Hornbill, Black-backed Puffback, Chinspot Batis, African Golden Oriole, Booted Eagle and the highlight: an Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle.
From here we still had a long drive to get to the park gate at Etosha before closing time and we got there just in time to stop at Klein Namutoni waterhole to see the last Namaqua Sandgrouse coming in for a drink joining about twenty Giraffe already present. A quick walk around the lodge after dinner produced Western Barn Owl and Rufous-cheeked Nightjar.
Day 8: Eastern Etosha
For our morning excursion, we decided to head north to the Tamboti woodland and open plains of Andoni, the only part of Etosha where you find this specific habitat. Our main targets in sandy soils of the Tamboti woodland were Fawn-collared Lark, Burchell’s Sandgrouse and Crested Francolin and all 3 were seen by mid-morning. From a mammal point of view, we had an awesome morning with 2 Black Rhinoceros bulls interacting with a cow and older calf. This was followed with an incredible Cheetah sighting when we found a female sitting on top of a termite mound scanning the open grassland for springbok. We had about an hour alone with her before the first vehicle showed up.
Other interesting birds we saw during the morning include Namaqua and Double-banded Sandgrouse, Jacobin and Great Spotted Cuckoo, Eastern Clapper Lark, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Northern Black Korhaan, Double-banded Courser, Capped Wheatear, Ant-eating Chat, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Red-capped Lark, Chestnut-banded Plover, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Gabar Goshawk, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Acacia Pied Barbet, Kittlitz’s Plover and South African Shelduck. What a great morning!
For the afternoon session we explored the flooded Fisher’s Pan currently with the biggest flood we have seen in about 12 years. And the birds did not disappoint with the highlight of an out-of-range Fulvous Whistling Duck. Other interesting birds we saw include Lesser and Greater Flamingo, Pied Avocet, African Spoonbill, Marabou Stork, Yellow-billed Stork, Cape and Red-billed Teal, Egyptian Goose, Cape Shoveler, Knob-billed Duck, Grey Heron, Black-winged Stilt and Black, Whiskered and White-winged Tern. This evening we had a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl around the floodlit waterhole. Another brilliant day in Etosha!
Day 9: Off to Western Etosha
After an early breakfast, we starting making our way to the drier western section of the park and had a good start to the day with Common Buttonquail, Southern Pied Babbler, Quailfinch, Yellow Canary, Northern Black and Red-crested Korhaan, Common Ostrich and Kori Bustard, and the highlight a carcass with White-backed, White-headed and Lappet-faced Vulture present. We had a beautiful White Rhinoceros sighting while a Spotted Hyaena and Black Rhinoceros entertained us for a while.
As the habitat became drier, we started seeing birds associated with the drier scrub savanna which include Rufous-eared Warbler, Black-chested Prinia, Marico Flycatcher, Great Sparrow, Spike-heeled Lark, Capped Wheatear, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Chat Flycatcher and Southern Fiscal. We had a good morning from a raptor point of view with Tawny Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Greater Kestrel, Red-necked Falcon, Lanner Falcon and Pale Chanting Goshawk seen.
We stopped for lunch at Halali camp where our main birding target was Violet Wood Hoopoe, and a small flock gave us excellent views. Other good birds seen in camp include Yellow-billed, Southern Red-billed and African Grey Hornbill, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Groundscraper Thrush. As we got to Okaukuejo camp we did a late afternoon walk around the campgrounds where we picked up Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Acacia Pied Barbet, Wattled Starling, Rock Martin, Marico Sunbird and the Sociable Weavers at their massive communal nests.
That evening around the floodlit waterhole we had Lions trying to hunt a Black Rhinoceros calf, but the mom would have nothing of that! We had plenty of Black Rhinoceros visit the waterhole that evening together with a herd of 50 African Elephants, Spotted Hyaena, and a Western Barn Owl to cap off a great day.
Day 10: Okaukuejo section of Etosha
We had a full day to explore the arid grasslands, sandy Okondeka duneveld, scrub savanna and stunted Mopane woodland of this section of the park.
Our early morning drive produced Pink-billed, Eastern Clapper and Spike-heeled Lark, Chestnut-backed and Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Sociable Weaver, Great Sparrow, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Northern Black Korhaan, Lanner and Red-necked Falcon, Cape Penduline Tit, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Acacia Pied Barbet, Desert Cisticola and Chat Flycatcher. We also had a stunning Lion sighting with a beautiful male walking through the long grass in perfect light.
After a relaxing lunch and enjoying a bit of time in camp we were off for the afternoon drive with our main target, the adorable Pygmy Falcon. We scanned and searched every Sociable Weaver nest we came across and at the very last stop for the day we finally had one. And it was a beautiful sighting with one sitting very close to the road. Other notable birds we saw include Double-banded Courser, Red-headed Finch, Black-throated Canary, Red-necked Falcon and Pale Chanting Goshawk.
That evening at the waterhole we again had Black Rhinoceros and African Elephant with Acacia Tree Rat making an appearance. We also had Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl and Western Barn Owl hunting in the floodlit area.
Day 11: Brandberg
We had a great early start to the day with a lioness coming to drink just before sunrise.
With all our Etosha targets seen we decided to get an early start and made our way to Brandberg without too many stops. The reason behind this was to get to the Herero Chat habitat before lunch. Our thinking paid off as we had an incredible sighting of a calling bird at the first stop. The bird was joined by two Benguela Long-billed Larks and a Karoo Chat. Other birds seen on the drive include both Grey-backed and Red-backed Sparrow-Lark, Dusky Sunbird, Lark-like Bunting and Chat Flycatcher.
We enjoyed lunch at a small coffee shop and make our way to our lodge where had time to relax for a few minutes and from our chalets we saw Pearl-spotted Owlet, Alpine Swift, and Pale-winged Starling.
For the afternoon drive, we decided to do a short loop through the open arid plains and a drive down the dry ephemeral Ugab river. In the plains, we had success with Ruppell’s Korhaan, Mountain Wheatear and Stark’s Lark and in the big trees near the river, we had Carp’s Tit, Violet Wood Hoopoe, Damara Red-billed and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill and Common Scimitarbill. Our nocturnal spotlight excursion produced African Scops Owl, Southern White-faced Owl and Freckled Nightjar.
Day 12: Brandberg and Erongo Mountain
For the first part of the morning, we birded around Brandberg looking for any missing targets. Some of the key birds seen included the beautiful Bokmakierie, Cape Sparrow, African Hawk-Eagle, Violet Wood Hoopoe, Ruppell’s Parrot, Stark’s Lark, Mountain Wheatear, Bearded Woodpecker and Rock Kestrel while a Squacco Heron was a long way out of range.
From here we made our way to the Erongo mountains, picking up Pririt Batis, White-tailed Shrike and Lark-like Bunting on the way. We enjoyed a nice lunch at our lodge situated amongst beautiful granite rocks watching Rosy-faced Lovebirds coming into the feeder.
For the afternoon walk, we soon found our main target, the near-endemic Rockrunner. Other great birds we saw include Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, White-tailed Shrike, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Ruppell’s Parrot, Green-winged Pytilia, Pale-winged Starling, Speckled Pigeon, Short-toed Rock Thrush and Carp’s Tit.
That evening we had Freckled Nightjar, Pearl-spotted Owlet and Western Barn Owl. Mammal highlights for the day included Common Rock Hyrax, Dassie Rat, Klipspringer and Chacma Baboon while interesting reptiles seen were Horned Adder and Namib Rock Agama.
Day 13: Off to the coast
We were up before dawn for a quick coffee and then off on a walk to search for the secretive Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, our last remaining target in the Erongo Mountains. We were in luck and saw no fewer than 3 different birds! As always, the birding here is brilliant and on our short walk, we also saw Rockrunner, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rosy-faced Lovebird, White-tailed Shrike, Ruppell’s Parrot, Cape Bunting, Mountain Wheatear, Speckled Pigeon, Rock Kestrel, Chestnut Weaver and Pririt Batis.
It was time to head to the coast and after enjoying lunch in Swakopmund spend the afternoon birding the coastal gravel plains and coastal lagoons. We found Gray’s Lark on the plains as well as the desert form of Tractrac Chat. The salt works north of Swakop and Walvis Bay Lagoon were productive stops where we picked up Great White Pelican, Lesser and Greater Flamingo, African Oystercatcher, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, Greater Crested Tern, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Common Tern, Pied Avocet, Black-necked Grebe and an out of range Stark’s Lark. The highlight for the afternoon were a group of 25 Damara Terns!!
In the lodge gardens we picked up Orange River White-eye and Common Waxbill. We enjoyed a delicious seafood meal at a restaurant in the harbour and a great night’s rest with the fresh ocean breeze.
Day 14: Dune Lark
We arranged for an early breakfast and then made our way to the vegetated dunes of the Kuiseb river where we looking for Dune Lark, our last big target and Namibia’s only true endemic bird. It took a bit of searching but we ended up spending 30 minutes with a very obliging pair. Other birds seen here include Bokmakierie, Black-chested Prinia, Pririt Batis, Brubru, Dusky Sunbird, Common Scimitarbill, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Cape Sparrow and Namaqua Dove.
From here it was time to head back to Windhoek International Airport where our fantastic trip came to an end.
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