Trip report: Namibia & Botswana, set-departure (Oct 2017) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Ken Behrens.

Our Namibia and northern Botswana tour has long been one of our most popular, and for good reason. The Namib escarpment and desert hold a suite of endemic birds that is shared only with adjacent Angola. These include the croaking Rueppell’s Bustard, taxonomic oddity Rockrunner, boldly pied White-tailed Shrike, and cryptic Dune Lark. Farther north and east, the Okavango system holds a great wealth of birds, including two of the continent’s most wanted species: White-backed Night-Heron and Pel’s Fishing-Owl. There is no better spot in Africa for these scarce and shy birds.

Although they expect the special birds, birders are often also surprised by this tour’s richness of mammals. Etosha National Park is one of Africa’s great parks, and is at its best during the late dry season timing of this tour. The spectacle of thousands of big mammals crowding together for precious mouthfuls of water while trying to avoid the big predators that await in ambush, ranks among Earth’s great natural spectacles. And Etosha is just one of several sites on this trip that always have lots of mammals.

But the real thing that makes tours in Namibia and Botswana special is not the specific birds and mammals that these countries hold, but rather a magical quality to the landscapes of this part of the world. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to travel through these vast, wild, and largely “empty” countries, but every visitor comes away with a special experience. Indeed, the landscape itself seems to be the most fascinating “character” encountered on this tour, and memories of sunset in the Namib Desert or the endless papyrus swamps of the Okavango, are likely to stay with you for a lifetime. To put it another way, I often tell people that “you would have to actively hate nature not to enjoy a tour in Namibia”! Sure, there are some tours which mainly appeal to keen birders with a specific set of targets in mind, but this is not one of them… with enchanting landscapes, excellent infrastructure, and a formidable lineup of marquee creatures, Namibia and Botswana are nearly impossible not to love, whether you’re a die-hard lister or a casual naturalist.

On this tour, we recorded 364 species of birds, including nearly all of the Namibian near-endemics, plus Pel’s Fishing-Owl, Bat Hawk, White-backed Night-Heron, African Skimmer, Orange River Francolin, and Souza’s Shrike. We also racked up 48 species of mammals including Lion, Leopard, Honey Badger, and Black Rhino. We didn’t neglect reptiles and amphibians either, and identified 14 species, including Water Monitor and some huge Nile Crocodiles.

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