Nature Travel Birding

To be in the business of showing your clients our beautiful world and it’s spectacular birds is such a privilege.

On every journey we take, there are so many moments that we want to capture and share.  Our idea with this blog is to share a bit of the wonderful experiences we encounter on every tour. We hope you enjoy the journey with us and join us on a tour sometime.

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Birding in and around Windhoek

Many people find it strange that I love my hometown of Windhoek so much. They say it is dry and drab, but I see it completely differently. It sits at 1700 metres above sea level (12th highest capital in the world) in the Khomas Highland plateau area between the Auas and Eros mountain ranges. It is home to about 400 000 people at a low density of only 63 per square kilometre and has over 300 sunny days per year.
It is also very rich in avifauna, with over 300 species possible in and around Windhoek, many of them near-endemics of Namibia. There are a few key areas to visit to maximise your bird count here.
The Daan Viljoen Game Park on the western side of the city provides excellent dry-country birding and could yield Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rockrunner, Carp’s Tit, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Orange River Francolin and Barred Wren-Warbler. The park also hosts gemsbok, eland, greater kudu, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, giraffe and other antelope.
East of the city is Avis Dam, a spot that should see you add Shaft-tailed Whydah, Violet-eared Waxbill, Rock Kestrel, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Desert Cisticola to your list. If there is water in the dam you could also see South African Shelduck, Red-billed Teal or other waders and warblers.
The sewage works in the city is, as always, a productive if somewhat strange spot to visit. Only a birder would understand! Here you should see Maccoa Duck, Purple Heron, Common Moorhen or even Black-necked Grebe and Baillon’s Crake if you are lucky.
Another must-visit spot is the area around the odd “ice cream cone” structure on the hill in the city centre. You can’t miss it! This is a good spot for White-tailed Shrike, Pririt Batis, Rosy-faced Lovebird and Chestnut Weaver.
So you see, even in a supposedly dry and drab place like Windhoek, there is plenty of birding excitement to be had. That is why I love the city so much and am proud to call it home.

Birding in and around Windhoek

Shaft-tailed-Whydah-(1)Many people find it strange that I love my hometown of Windhoek so much. They say it is dry and drab, but I see it completely differently. It sits at 1700 metres above sea level (12th highest capital in the world) in the Khomas Highland plateau area between the Auas and Eros mountain ranges. It is home to about 400 000 people at a low density of only 63 per square kilometre and has over 300 sunny days per year.

It is also very rich in avifauna, with over 300 species possible in and around Windhoek, many of them near-endemics of Namibia. There are a few key areas to visit to maximise your bird count here.

Daan Viljoen.jpg

The Daan Viljoen Game Park on the western side of the city provides excellent dry-country birding and could yield Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rockrunner, Carp’s Tit, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Orange River Francolin and Barred Wren-Warbler. The park also hosts gemsbok, eland, greater kudu, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, giraffe and other antelope.

East of the city is Avis Dam, a spot that should see you add Shaft-tailed Whydah, Violet-eared Waxbill, Rock Kestrel, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Desert Cisticola to your list. If there is water in the dam you could also see South African Shelduck, Red-billed Teal or other waders and warblers.

Sewage Works (1)

The sewage works in the city is, as always, a productive if somewhat strange spot to visit. Only a birder would understand! Here you should see Maccoa Duck, Purple Heron, Common Moorhen or even Black-necked Grebe and Baillon’s Crake if you are lucky.

Another must-visit spot is the area around the odd “ice cream cone” structure on the hill in the city centre. You can’t miss it! This is a good spot for White-tailed Shrike, Pririt Batis, Rosy-faced Lovebird and Chestnut Weaver.

Rosy-faced Lovebird

So you see, even in a supposedly dry and drab place like Windhoek, there is plenty of birding excitement to be had. That is why I love the city so much and am proud to call it home.

South Africa Birding trip report

We just completed a very successful South Africa birding safari with 2 clients from Canada. This was their 4th African birding safari with Nature Travel Birding and the main focus was on finding key endemic and range restricted species and species still missing from their African lists.

We started off at Magoebaskloof, a very attractive part of South Africa offering excellent forest and grassland birding. One of our main targets was the localised Short-clawed Lark which we found not far from our excellent lodge. In the forest our main targets were Cape Parrot, Olive and Black-fronted Bush-shrikes and we had great views of all three of them. Other specials we saw include Bat Hawk, Magpie Mannikin, Lazy Cisticola, Olive Woodpecker, Cape Batis, Lemon Dove, Long-billed Pipit, Brown Scrub-robin, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Knysna Turaco, Purple-crested Turaco, African Black Duck, African Emerald Cuckoo, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Swee Waxbill, Grey-rumped Swallow, Long-crested eagle, Jackal Buzzard and Barrat’s Warbler.

From here we moved onto Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s best game viewing parks offering excellent birding as well. Kruger is fantastic for raptors and we saw White-headed, White-backed, Lappet-faced, Cape and Hooded Vultures, Martial, Tawny, Lesser Spotted and Bateleur Eagles, Black-chested and Brown snake-eagles, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Black-winged Kite, Yellow-billed Kite, Amur Falcon and Secretarybird. Other interested birds include Kori Bustard, Red-chested Korhaan, Dusky Lark, Brown-headed Parrot, Bearded, Golden-tailed and Cardinal Woodpecker, Southern Ground, African Grey, Southern Yellow-billed and Red-billed Hornbills, Crested Francolin, Mocking Cliff-chat, Burchell’s Starling, Eurasian and African Golden Orioles, White-crested and Retz’s Helmet-shrikes, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Burchell’s Coucal, Southern Carmine Bee-eater and Yellow-billed Oxpecker to name a few. The game viewing did not disappoint (never does in this fantastic game reserve) and we had great sightings of African Wild dog (followed them on the hunt for 15 minutes), Cheetah, Leopard, Lion (including 3 different sightings in a 45 minute period), White Rhino, Cape Buffalo and off course hundreds of Elephant and Hippo.

Male Lion

From here we moved south to Wakkerstroom, an excellent place to see many of South Africa’s endemic birds and grassland specials. The key targets here for most birders are Botha’s and Rudd’s Larks and we had excellent views of both including Botha’s Lark on a nest! Other great birds we saw are White-bellied and Blue Korhaan, Southern Bald Ibis, Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat, African Rock and Yellow-breasted Pipit, Sentinel Rock-thrush, Denham’s Bustard, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Red-chested Flufftail, Eastern Long-billed and Spike-heeled Lark, Cloud, Zitting, Wing-snapping, Levailant’s and Croaking Cisticola, Cape Longclaw, Cape Weaver, Fan-tailed, Red-collared and Long-tailed Widowbird, Malachite Sunbird, South African Cliff Swallow, African Snipe, Grey-crowned and Blue Crane.

Our final stop was northern Kwazulu Natal visiting key sites such as Mkuze Game Reserve, Ongoye Forest, Amatigulu, Nkandla Forest, Mtunzini, Richard’s Bay, Dlinza Aerial Board and Eshowe Forest. This part of South Africa had a lot of rain over the last few weeks but this did not prevent us from finding Gorgeous Bushshrike, Rudd’s Apalis, Spotted Ground Thrush, Lesser Crested Tern, Allen’s Gallinule, Pink-backed Pelican, Common Quail, Common Buttonquail, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Green Barbet, Grey Cuckooshrike, Narina Trogon, Black-bellied Starling, Little Bittern, Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbill, Square-tailed Drongo, Chorister Robin-chat, Olive Sunbird, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Purple-banded Sunbird, Rufous-winged Cisticola, White-eared Barbet, African Pygmy Goose, Red-headed Quelea, Palm-nut Vulture, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Crested Guineafowl and African Cuckoo-hawk.

We ended up with an impressive 375 birds and 45 mammals and had great sightings of most of the key targets. This part of Africa is still one of my favourites and a must for any serious birder whether on a first African birding trip or having done several previous African trips. Extensions to the Drakensberg Mountains and Cape Town area should be considered to complete the South African endemics.

 

Windhoek Birding Day Trip Report

Even if one has very little time when visiting Windhoek, there is an option of a quick guided birding trip around the city. This morning I did a two hour birding walk with a client from the UK. Due to time constraints we decided to bird close to Windhoek and we had a very productive couple of hours. We had fantastic views of no fewer than 4 Rockrunner!! We were lucky with raptors and found Common Buzzard, Black-winged Kite, Rock Kestrel and Gabar Goshawk. Monteiro’s Hornbill is always a highlight being a near endemic.

With lots of flying insects we had lots of swifts and swallows with Greater Striped Swallow, Rock Martin, Little and White-rumped and African Palm Swift. In the grassy areas we found Zitting Cisticola, Southern Red Bishop, Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Black-chested Prinia, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red-billed Spurfowl and Scaly-feathered Weaver.

Other interesting scrub, rocky and woodland birds include Brubru, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Mountain Wheatear, Cape Bunting, Rattling Cisticola, Blue, Violet-eared and Black-cheeked Waxbill, Swallow-tailed and European Bee-eater, Diderick Cuckoo, Cardinal Woodpecker, Long-billed Crombec, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Green-winged Pytilia, Marico Flycatcher, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cape Wagtail, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Common Scimitarbill, Barred Wren-Warbler, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, White-backed Mousebird, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Black-throated Canary, Pririt Batis and Yellow-belled Eremomela.

We even managed to see a few mammals: Yellow Mongoose, Rock Hyrax and Dassie Rat. Very productive for a two hour walk and perfect for birders visiting Windhoek with limited time and can be combined with a full day or overnight trip to include more of the endemics.

Etosha NP

I am fortunate to have been able to visit al the big game parks in Africa but Etosha is still my favourite. My first memory of being in the bush was from this great place and most of my childhood holidays and weekends were spend exploring this unbelievable park.
Etosha needs no introduction and is synonymous with big game and wide open spaces. The name Etosha actually means “great white area” referring to the huge dry pan in the middle of the park. It is home to a staggering amount of wildlife, both common and rare. What makes the park unique is the floodlit waterholes at all the main camps. There is something magical about enjoying the spectacular sunset at either the Okaukuejo or Halali waterhole watching as hundreds of Double-banded Sandgrouse come to drink, landing between an Elephant herd or solitary Black Rhino.
Etosha also has a bird list of more than 350 species, and summer is definitely the best time to visit. The occasional rains then turn the dry pans into seasonal lakes, attracting migratory and wetland species in large numbers. The sight of thousands of bright pink flamingos in the Etosha pan is something one never forgets.
Etosha also has the odd record of having the smallest southern African bird, the Cape Penduline Tit, the world’s largest bird, the Common Ostrich, and the world’s largest flying bird, the Kori Bustard.
The park is furthermore home to more than 40 species of raptors and owls, and bushveld Namibian specials include Bare-cheeked Babbler, Violet Wood-hoopoe, Carp’s Tit, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rockrunner and Rüppell’s Parrot.
It is also a hotspot for rarities, and it is the only place in the sub-region where Egyptian Vulture is seen with any regularity.
Naturally Etosha is a photographer’s dream, with the contrasts in light, colour and textures particularly dramatic. Many of my “lifer shots” of southern African bird species was taken in the park.
A variety of accommodation options are available, and include ultra-luxurious lodges, luxury bungalows, camping and caravan sites. The park is malaria free and accessible in a regular sedan car.
Whether from a birding or wildlife point of view Etosha is truly is one of the great parks of Africa.

 

Walvis Bay/ Swakopmund

I like contrasts. In nature, in photography and in my life in general. One of the most extreme examples in my home country of Namibia, is Walvis Bay where you have the contrast between the dry Namib Desert just outside Walvis Bay and the pink brilliance of over 50,000 Flamingos in the lagoon a few hundred yards away!
The two tourist towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund on the West Coast of Namibia are very important sanctuaries for hundreds of thousands of both resident and migrating water birds. The Walvis Bay lagoon and salt pans are regarded as the most important coastal wetland in southern Africa, as over 150,000 migrant birds spend the summer months in here, with non-breeding Palearctic and intra-African species dominating. The famous Mile 4 Saltworks just north of Swakopmund support similar species.
Over 150 different bird species have been recorded in this area. The usual suspects are Greater and Lesser Flamingos, South African Shelduck, African Black Oystercatcher, Hartlaub’s Gull, Damara Tern, Chestnut-banded Plover, Black-necked Grebe, Cape Gannet, Crowned Cormorant, Black-tailed Godwit and Red-necked Phalarope. The more rare vagrants include Broad-billed, Pectoral and Terek Sandpipers.

Although there are many rare and special species, it’s the sheer number and diversity of birds that is the major attraction of visiting the Walvis Bay/Swakopmund area. The best time for birders is between October and April when the visiting migrants are around.
For general naturalists like myself, there are also other attractions. 11 types of chameleons, lizards and geckos, and 13 species of mammal (including Pygmy Rock Mouse, Littledale’s Whistling Rat and Setzer’s Hairy-footed Gerbil) reside in the area.
I have never had birding friends or clients visit this area and leave disappointed. This area is a must stop both as a destination on its own or as part of a longer Namibia birding itinerary.

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Trip Report – Malawi

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Malawi (formerly known as Nyasaland)  is a landlocked country in southeast Africa . Lake Malawi is the ninth largest lake in the world and takes up around a third of Malawi’s area.

Visiting Malawi has exceeded all our expectations and more. The breathtaking scenery, friendly people and incredible birding makes this one of the top African destinations for any avid birding enthusiast.

Birding in Malawi is mostly centered around protected areas as there are little natural vegetation outside the national parks and protected pockets of forests. Malawi boasts a bird list of around 650 species, of which our trip ticked 326 off the list. On our short trip the main focus was the two big National Parks of Malawi (Liwonde and Nyika) as well as the Miombo Woodlands at Dzalanyama, the Viphya Plateau and the Zomba Plateau.

Starting off in Blantyre, we headed to the Zomba Plateau.  Excitement all around as we spotted our first birds; Grey-olive Greenbul , Southern Citril and an Olive-headed Greenbul. A troop of Yellow Baboon entertained us while we searched the trees for the Grey-olive Greenbul calling out loud.

Making our way to our overnight accommodation, we were treated to a beautiful sighting of red-throated twinspots, next to the road. Our early morning walk in the garden, delivered some Forest Double-collared Sunbirds as well as Samango monkeys, playing in the trees above us.

Exploring the Zomba Plateau further, we encountered  Red-rumped Swallow, Augur Buzzard, Evergreen Forest Warbler, the endemic  Yellow-throated Apalis, Malawi Batis, Little Greenbul, Placid Greenbul, Black-headed Apalis and the beautiful White-winged Apalis.

After enjoying our packed lunch we travelled to Liwonde National Park. The low-lying park stretches along the Shire River and offers excellent riverine and woodland birding. Arriving at Liwonde, our local guide was waiting for us with a big smile and lots of enthusiasm. As we alighted from the car, we only had to walk a few meters to spot our first bird in Liwonde NP – a breathtaking sighting of a Pel’s Fishing Owl flying across the Shire River. A beautiful Bohm’s Bee-eater rounded off our short walk before we started our river cruise on the Shire River. Another highlight was the Spur-winged Lapwings and trees full of Pied Kingfishers and Black-crowned Night Herons. A MGT (Malawi Gin&Tonic), lots of hippos, crocodiles and around 25 African Skimmers flying past the boat ended off another wonderful day of birding in Malawi.

During our two night stay in Liwonde, we were treated to  wonderful sightings of the localised Brown-breasted Barbet , Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Lilian’s Lovebird, White-backed Night-Heron, Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Racket tailed Roller, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Collared Palm-Thrush and Arnot’s Chat.

The late afternoon boat cruise treated us to a spectacular sighting of around 150 African Skimmers, roosting on a sandbank next to the Shire River. Other highlights included: Eurasian Hobby, Great White Pelican, Goliath Heron and Saddle-billed Stork. Early the next morning, before we made our way to the next destination, we stopped at Lake Malombe where we spotted several waders as well as flocks of Gull-billed Terns. A small group of elephants entertained us on our way back to the lodge.

Our next two night stay was in Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, which one of the prime miombo birding areas in Malawi. Whilst searching for the famous miombo “bird-parties” we were very lucky to see Stierling’s Woodpecker, Reichard’s Seedeater, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, and in the late afternoon light, an Anchieta’s Sunbird. A Side-striped Jackal and Small-eared dormouse topped off the day’s mammal list.

An early morning start walking through the miombo woodland treated us to sightings of Yellow-bellied and Southern Hyliotas, Rufous-bellied Tit, Red-capped Crombec, Boulder Chat, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Spotted Creeper, White-breasted Cuckooshrike and African Golden Oriole.  During our afternoon walk we managed to find Bohm’s Flycather, Souza’s Shrike and Schalow’s Turaco.

Our next stop was the Viphya Plateau, where we were had great sightings of Chapin’s Apalis, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Southern Mountain Greenbul, Eurasian Blackcap, the aptly-named White-headed Saw-wing, Trilling Cisticola and an Elephant Shrew.

Our next stop was Nyika National Park, one of the most beautiful parks in the southern half of Africa. The park extends into Zambia and offers grassland and forest birding of note, most of it at an altitude of more than 2000m above sea level. The stunning rolling hills are dotted with herds of Eland, Roan Antelope, Reedbuck and Crawshay’s Zebra. Shortly after entering the park we had incredible views of Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbird, Yellow-crowned Canary, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Brown Parisoma, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Churring Cisticola and Yellow-browed Seedeater.  One of the many highlights of the day was a spectacular display of five Black-lored Cisticolas singing in a bush right next to our vehicle.

We decided to make the best of our time at Nyika and spent two full days exploring and searching for the special birds of the park. Highlights included: Dusky Turtle Dove, Montane Widowbird, Pallid Harrier, Waller’s Starling, Angola Swallow, Sharpe’s Greenbul, Bar-tailed Trogon, White-chested Alethe, Baglafecht Weaver, Moustached Tinkerbird, Slender billed Starling and Scarlet-tufted Sunbird. We had incredible sightings of two Fulleborn’s Boubou calling and interacting as well as Hildebrandt’s Francolin posing for some good photos.

We had an incredible time in Malawi, it is a country of friendly people, spectacular natural beauty and incredibly diverse birdlife. A must for the birding bucket list.