Namibia and Botswana: The Living Desert and Okavango
Deserts, savanna waterholes, and massive swamps.
Namibia is a land of exceptional diversity. The rocky Namibian escarpment dominates the backbone of the country, while the desolate Skeleton Coast and adjoining red dune sea of the Namib Desert fringe the Atlantic Ocean. The north holds Africa’s most spectacular ephemeral wetland, the Etosha Pan, part of a national park of the same name. Further east the deserts give way to moist woodland in the club-shaped Caprivi Strip. The Caprivi and adjacent Botswana hold the panhandle portion of the Okavango Delta, a world-famous watery oasis spilling onto the Kalahari sands. With such a diversity of habitats, a trip to this country cannot fail to produce a wealth of exciting birds.
Day 1: Windhoek. After the airport pick-up, we head out to a nearby reserve to look for our first specialties, Monteiro’s Hornbill and Carp’s Tit. The Augeigas River acts as a magnet for a variety of multi-colored desert-dwellers including Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Crimson-breasted Boubou, Rosy-faced Lovebird, and Violet-eared Waxbill. We overnight in Windhoek.
Day 2: Windhoek to Spreetshoogte. Leaving Windhoek we make our way towards the dramatic Namibian escarpment. Here we will search for Pygmy Falcon, Pale Chanting-Goshawk, Sociable Weaver, Lark-like Bunting, and Chestnut Weaver. In the evening we arrive at the spectacular Spreetshoogte Pass where we spend the night perched above the Namib Desert.
Day 3: Spreetshoogte to Swakopmund. Descending the escarpment, we comb the gravel plains of the seemingly empty and wild Namib Desert. We should see some great birds, including Ludwig’s Bustard, Rueppell’s Korhaan, Burchell’s Courser, Gray’s Lark, and Tractrac Chat. We take a detour via Homeb, a fascinating area where the stony gravel plains meet the red dune sea at the Kuiseb River. This oasis attracts some interesting species including the Orange River White-eye, Pririt Batis, Common Scimitar-bill and others. This area also gives us our only chance to see the Welwitschia, a bizarre plant that is regarded as a living fossil. We complete the day at Walvis Bay watching Cape Gannets plunging into the icy Atlantic Ocean.
Day 4: Walvis Bay. Today we explore the fascinating and famous Walvis Bay lagoon. The waters are tinged pink with Greater and Lesser Flamingos, large pelican formations, and tern flocks. The backdrop of the desert dunes makes for dramatic scenery. Cape, Bank, and Crowned Cormorants sit atop the largest guano platforms in the world, and the endemic Damara Tern may drift by.
Day 5: Swakopmund to Omaruru. In the early morning we head towards Spitzkoppe, a series of impressive granite inselbergs rising from the desert plains. Here we shall search for Herero Chat, Namibia’s most elusive endemic. Other birds occurring here include Augur Buzzard, Pied Barbet, the green and yellow Bokmakierie, and Pale-winged Starling. Later we drive to the boulder-strewn landscape of Omaruru, where our lodge is nestled in the midst of the mountains. One of the highlights of the trip, it is not only exquisitely beautiful, but the grounds are heaving with Namibian endemics.
Day 6: Erongo. As the early morning light strikes the red rocks, we will be perched atop a boulder waiting for boisterous coveys of Hartlaub’s Francolins and rock-hopping White-tailed Shrikes to put in an appearance. While we are waiting, we should be serenaded by the melodious Damara Rockrunner, a stunning songster that scuttles over rocky slopes. There is still some debate as to whether this odd bird is better classified as a rockjumper. Later we will venture down to the sandy riverbeds in search of cackling Violet Woodhoopoes, Damara Hornbills, and turquoise-bellied Rueppell’s Parrots. Imitating the vocalizations of a Pearl-spotted Owlet should bring in a bunch of passerines including Pied Babbler, Dusky Sunbird, Black-chested Prinia, and more. With luck one of the Anna trees will hold the sizable Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl.
Days 7-9: Etosha NP. Today we reach the renowned Etosha NP, where we will spend nights at two different camps, each with a floodlit waterhole, and one more full day in the park before we leave at dusk and overnight in Tsumeb. Our days will be spent exploring the various habitats including the Etosha Pan and Andoni plains. There is much to see here, including a variety of bustards, francolins, coursers, eagles, and vultures. After the sun sets, the wildlife festival gets into full swing at the waterholes, which are visited by numerous big game including Lion, Black Rhinoceros, and African Elephant. At dusk, flocks of hundreds of Double-banded and Namaqua Sandgrouse arrive in an unforgettable melodious downpour. Even birding around the camps can yield an excellent variety of woodland birds, including Southern White-crowned Shrike and Bare-cheeked Babbler.
Day 10: Tsumeb to Kavango. We’ll spend some time looking for Black-faced Babbler before driving on to Kavango.
Day 11: Kavango. The morning will be spent exploring the Kavango area for herons, ducks, skimmers, pratincoles, and other waterbirds. A stop will be made in the broadleaf woodlands near Popa Falls, which support White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Green-capped Eremomela, and Rufous-bellied Tit.
Day 12: Kavango to Okavango Delta. Following the Kavango River south towards Botswana, we begin to encounter Okavango birds, including Hartlaub’s Babbler and Swamp Boubou. In Mahango the river begins its splendid outpouring into the sands of the Kalahari, and we search the open floodplain for Slaty Egret, Rufous-bellied Heron, and the regal Wattled Crane.
Day 13: Okavango Delta. The extensive reedbeds in this sea of papyrus are directly adjacent to our lodge, and home to a wide variety of herons, egrets, and kingfishers, as well as Chirping Cisticola and Southern Brown-throated Weaver. A number of rare or difficult species are regular here, such as the highly sought-after foxy-brown Pel’s Fishing-Owl. White-backed Night-Herons are also occasionally seen stalking the river’s edge.
Day 14: Shakawe to Kavango. We return to Kavango in Namibia.
Day 15: Kavango to Windhoek. Depending on what birds we still need, our return route can explore either the woodlands near Rundu or make for the impressive Waterberg escarpment, where the birding can be as spectacular as the scenery. We end the day in Windhoek.
Day 16: Departure. Today we leave the sunny city on our international flights.
CLIMATE: Warm to hot and always dry.
DIFFICULTY: Easy with no strenuous walks.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to luxurious throughout.