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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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.

The birds that catch the eye

Nature-Travel-Namibia-Rosycheeked-lovebirds-NM6_1665-2Most people picture the dry desolate desert when they think of Namibia. However, though it is quite an arid country, there is much more to it than the Namib desert. In much the same way, first time birders to the country often expect the birds to be of the drab, brownish variety. Even though you do find those as well, three of my favourite Namibian birds are much more colourful… and very loud!

The Rosy-faced lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis, pictured above) is native to arid regions in southwestern Africa. With its luminous green coat, blue rump and pink face, this Lovebird adds a splash of colour to any occasion. They also have a high-pitched shriek call that is unmissable. Lovebirds are very social animals and often congregate in small groups, eating seeds and fruit, and taking frequent baths. They are colonial breeders with natural breeding sites in inaccessible and often vertical cracks in sandstone areas.

The Rüppell’s parrot (Poicephalus rueppellii, below) is another bird that initially seems entirely out of place in the Namib desert. It is endemic to an area from central Namibia to southwestern Angola, favouring mixed woodland near to dry streams or rivers, where it nests in tree cavities. Although mostly greyish brown, this parrot stuns with its bright blue rump and striking yellow on the wings and thighs. It also boasts a loud raucous shriek call in flight.

The Violet wood-hoopoe (Phoeniculus damarensis, below) is another of my personal favourites. Its distinctive features are the coppery purple iridescence on the upperparts and its long, bright red bill. They are normally found in groups in arid woodlands along dry streams on the Namibian escarpment, where they give their resonant cackling call.

The calls of these three birds are usually the first thing that would alert me to their presence. I have had guests jump up from their breakfast to photograph a flock of very entertaining Rosy-faced lovebirds only to return 30 minutes later to cold eggs and coffee. I have also had many encounters where I heard both the Rüppell’s parrot and Violet wood-hoopoe call somewhere down a dry riverbed and ended up running after them with guests in tow. It is always very rewarding when we find these three stunning birds.

Namibia is home to over 600 bird species, including one true endemic and about 14 near endemics. Most of the country’s specials are found in relatively accessible locations, with good infrastructure in terms of accommodation and roads. All of this makes Namibia a brilliant birding destination.

With training in guiding and veterinary science, Nick Buys’ work in the field and passion for birds resulted in him setting up Nature Travel Namibia, through which he guides specialist trips around the country as well as the rest of Africa.

Birding Hotspots in Namibia – Erongo

The Erongo area of central Namibia is one my favourite birding spots in the country. The landscape is dominated by rugged granite outcrops standing tall over the surrounding arid plains. This region is named after Mount Erongo, a well-known and often photographed landmark. It has excellent accommodation options and is only a short drive away from Windhoek.

Many rare, endemic, and special species of bird, animal, invertebrates, reptiles and plant life thrive here, making this one of Namibia’s most diverse and wildlife-rich areas. The region is one of the 19 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) designated by BirdLife International in Namibia.

Erongo is the best area in the country to search for the very secretive Hartlaub’s Spurfowl Pternistis hartlaubi. This species is almost entirely confined to granite and sandstone outcrops surrounded by grassy shrubland in northern Namibia and southern Angola. It is the smallest of the southern African spurfowl, but makes up for that with a complex, high-pitched synchronised call that, due to its ventriloquial character, makes it difficult to locate the bird. Unless calling, they are almost impossible to find. However, I have sat sipping my morning coffee at a lodge in the Erongo area only for a small family group to casually saunter past seemingly oblivious to my presence!

The other very special bird found in the Erongo area is the Rockrunner Achaetops pycnopygius, also known as the Damara Rock-jumper. It is a fairly common but localised species, occurring from the north-central and western escarpment regions of Namibia northwards to southern Angola. It occurs on hillsides and rocky outcrops, and has the odd habit of hopping, running or flying from boulder to boulder, as its name suggests. I have spent many early hours clambering over boulders trying to catch up with one of them for a photo!

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Other fantastic birds that occur in the Erongo area include Monteiro’s and Damara Red-billed Hornbills, Ruppell’s Parrot, Rosy-faced Lovebird, White-tailed Shrike, Barred Wren-Warbler, Carp’s Tit and Short-toed Rock-Thrush.

The Erongo area is not just famous for it’s wonderful birds. I have been very lucky to see leopard a few times whilst birding in the area. An early morning bush walk started off with following a flying Peregrine Falcon through my binoculars, when I saw a big male leopard staring at me from the rocky outcrops. A fantastic bonus and big treat! Erongo really should be on your must-see list when you visit Namibia.

Kunene region, Namibia.

When people talk about getting away from their busy lives in the city and going to the stillness of the bush to relax, I inevitably think of the Kunene region of Namibia. It is the quietest place I know; a place where you can hear your own breathing, truly relax and get in touch with your creative and contemplative sides.

Kunene is situated in the northwestern corner of the country, and compared to the rest of Namibia, it is very much underdeveloped. This is due to the inaccessible mountainous terrain and the extreme dryness of the area. It is a spectacular remote wilderness area, with my personal highlight being the contrast between the bone-dry desert and the lush green strip of the Kunene river running through the region as it forms the northern border of Namibia with Angola. The river even boasts two dramatic waterfalls, the Epupa and Ruacana. I have often done some white-river rafting there!

This region is home to some incredibly well-adapted animals, including the famous desert lions and elephants, as well as the largest population of free-roaming black rhino. All animals here, from biggest to smallest, have adapted to survive in the most harshest of conditions imaginable.

Kunene is also known as a legendary birding hotspot, as it is the only place in the world to reliably see the elegant Cinderella Waxbill, and one of the few sites for the noisy Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush. Over 300 species have been recorded in the area, with other highlights being Grey Kestrel, Chestnut Weaver, Bare-cheeked Babbler and Olive Bee-eater. If you are feeling very adventurous you can even organise a day trip to look for the very rare and enigmatic Angola Cave Chat.

The sense of adventure, the utter exotic remoteness and the spectacular scenery; this makes the Kunene region of Namibia one of my favourite destinations on the entire continent. Put on your boots and your hat and come feel like an explorer again!

Chestnut-banded Plover: Namibia’s Special Plover

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It is Africa’s smallest and palest Plover and with a total population estimated at 18 000 individuals, the Chestnut-banded Plover (Charadrius pallidus) is one of the birding specials in Namibia. The chestnut breast band is diagnostic in adults with the juveniles only sporting an incomplete grey band. Adult birds are only about 15cm in length and they are easily overlooked unless moving.

Their habitat consists of Salt Pans (of which the Etosha Pan in northern Namibia is a massive example), soda lakes (East Africa), estuaries and coastal wetlands. In Namibia they are found on the Etosha Salt Pan when wet but the Walvis Bay coastal lagoon is home to the majority of the world population and in fact one of the reasons why this wetland is considered a RAMSAR site in terms of water bird habitat protection. They are a sought after bird on our Namibia Endemic and Namibia, Botswana and Zambia birding safaris.