Trip report: Zambia and Namibia custom tour (Nov 2009) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Ken Behrens. This was a custom tour with a similar itinerary to our Zambia and Namibia set-departure tour.

Southern Africa offers a tremendous diversity of habitats, birds, and mammals, and this tour experienced nearly the full gamut: from the mushitus of northern Zambia, with their affinity to the great Congolese rainforests, to the bare dunes and gravel plains of the Namib desert. This was a custom tour with dual foci: a specific list of avian targets for Howard and good general mammal viewing for Diane. On both fronts, we were highly successful. We amassed a list of 479 birds, including a high proportion of Howard’s targets. Of course, this list could have been much higher, had the focus been general birding rather than target birding. ‘Mammaling’ was also fantastic, with 51 species seen. We enjoyed an incredible experience of one of the greatest gatherings of mammals on earth: a roost of straw-coloured fruit bats in Zambia that includes millions of individuals. In Namibia’s Etosha National Park, it was the end of the dry season, and any place with water had mammals in incredible concentrations. The undoubted highlight there was seeing lions 5 different times, including a pride with a freshly killed rhino and a female that chased and killed a southern oryx, then shared it with her pride.

In Zambia, much of our birding was in miombo, a type of broadleaf woodland that occurs in a broad belt across south / central Africa, and that has a large set of specialty birds. We were highly successful in finding miombo species, including Pennant-winged Nightjar, Spotted Creeper, Black-necked Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Souza’s Shrike, Anchieta’s, and Miombo Double-collared  Sunbirds, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver, and Bar-winged Weaver. Another distinctive habitat in this part of the world is dambo, seasonally inundated grassland that covers the low areas between stretches of miombo. Here we found spectacular and range-restricted birds like Blue Quail, Swamp Nightjar, Marsh Tchagra, Fuelleborn’s Longclaw, and Locustfinch. Yet another set of spectacular species is found in and adjacent the rain forest-like mushitus, where we spotted Crowned Hawk- Eagle, Ross’s Turaco, Black-backed Barbet, Boehm’s Bee-eater, Bocage’s Akalat, and many others. In the last couple of hours of birding we did in Zambia, we located Chaplin’s Barbet, a beautiful and unique species, and Zambia’s only endemic.

With a couple of quick flights, we switched countries, and found ourselves in the arid vastness of Namibia – quite a change from moist and wooded Zambia. Descending from the highlands around Windhoek, we birded the great Namib Desert and the escarpment, with its unique endemic birds. Here we were remarkably successful with specialty species, locating Dune Lark, Namibia’s only endemic, along with every other near-endemic that was likely along our route. This load of specialties included the taxonomically confusing Rockrunner, charismatic White-tailed Shrike, a load of larks, including Benguela, Stark’s, and Gray’s, two beautiful parrots: Rosy-faced Lovebird, and Rueppell’s Parrot, and Hartlaub’s Francolin.

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