Birding in Namibia and the Okavango Panhandle

Namibia and Okavango Panhandle Birding Tour Trip Report
Date: March 2023
Guide: Marc Cronje

During the tour the temperature ranged from º17C to 35ºC. We recorded 48 mammal species, over 250 species of birds and 14 species of reptiles. The species mentioned in the daily summaries are only some of those seen.

Pel’s Fishing Owl

Day 1: Okaukuejo Resort, Etosha South
Our birding trip started with us all meeting for breakfast in our comfortable hotel on the outskirts of Windhoek. All rested from international flights, we made our way to Etosha National Park, one of the great parks of Africa. Etosha National Park, known as the great white place, is an impressive reserve and always delivers on sightings and in my opinion rates as one of the top parks in Africa. The magnificent landscape, teaming with wildlife and contrasting scenes makes Etosha a great place to visit. We will spend 4 nights here.

A few highlights from the hotel gardens included Rosy-faced Lovebird, Violet-eared Waxbill, Chestnut Weaver and Garden Warbler.
Our drive heading up to Etosha was uneventful and we enjoyed roadside sightings of Purple Roller, Tawny Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite, the migrant Lesser Grey Shrike and Shaft-tailed Whydah. Our first mammals for the trip were Chacma Baboon, Warthog, Oryx and Steenbok.

We arrived at Etosha in time for a short drive to camp and we enjoyed our first sightings of Burchell’s Zebra, the endemic, Black-faced Impala, Springbok and Dwarf Mongoose. Some of the birding highlights included: Southern Pied Babbler, Northern Black Korhaan, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Kori Bustard, Temminck’s Courser, African Cuckoo, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Namaqua and Double-banded Sandgrouse.

Our first dinner was enjoyed at the camp’s restaurant, we got to know each other and go through the plans and what to expect of the trip. It was great chatting about birding and how it brings people from all walks of life together.
We made our way down to the flood lit waterhole at Okaukuejo and had the most amazing sighting of seven Black Rhino drinking and bathing in the water, if this was not good enough, we had three Elephant bulls join in on the action. At one stage we had Black Rhino, African Elephant, Black-backed Jackal, Southern Giraffe and Spotted Hyena all around the waterhole- what an excellent start for the trip. The camp’s resident Barn Owl also showed well for the group.
A good night’s rest was had by all after an exciting first day.

Kori Bustard

Day 2: Okaukuejo Resort, Etosha South
After a hearty breakfast we headed out to explore the area around Okaukuejo. A stunning Kalahari Scrub Robin, was our first bird for the day.  At Nebrownii waterhole we had an incredible sighting of a lioness drinking water and then we saw her head back to the pride and bring a small cub out of the bush.

A few noteworthy bird sightings included: Chat Flycatcher, Willow Warbler, Sociable Weavers at their amazing nests, Spotted Flycatcher, Cape Starling, Groundscraper Thrush, Secretary bird hunting and Greater Kestrel. On the mammal front we enjoyed a clan of Spotted Hyena coming off a Springbok kill and multiple sightings of the plains game. The Giraffe walking on the open horizon at sunrise was a huge highlight for the group.

A visit to the waterhole at Okaukuejo camp before lunch rewarded us with an incredible scene of over 500 Abdim’s Storks bathing and drinking. These intra-African migrants visit Namibia and Southern Africa from November and leave for their breeding grounds north of the equator in April. The species breed colonially in trees, on cliffs or rooftops.

The huge herds of Zebra, Springbok, Oryx, Giraffe also added to the atmosphere. As we were about to leave three big Elephant bulls joined the party. A Greater Painted Snipe was a welcome surprise.

In the afternoon we headed for the Okondeka Plains north of Okaukuejo and enjoyed sightings of Spike-heeled, Pink-billed, Eastern Clapper, Red-capped and Sabota Larks as well as Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Capped Wheatear, Ludwig’s Bustard, Martial Eagle, Double-banded Courser and Desert Cisticola.
Another excellent dinner was enjoyed at the Camp’s restaurant as we updated our lists and chatted away about all the new birds we had seen. It was nice to see the group getting so excited about the new species and bird families they have seen. It was also a celebration as one of the group members reached her 1000th bird in the world today.
Our night stint at the water hole rewarded us with a sighting of two Rhino bulls charging around the waterhole in a territorial dispute- very interesting to witness, from a behaviour point of view. A Spotted Eagle Owl was a new addition to the trip.

Day 3: Mushara Outpost, Etosha East
This morning we made our way towards the eastern part of the park, and we enjoyed sightings of Double-banded Courser, Common Ostrich, Monotonous and Rufous-naped Larks, Brown Snake-eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Ant-eating Chat, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Bateleur and Gabar Goshawk.

We were extremely lucky to witness a fascinating and exciting sighting of a group of five lioness trying to hunt Zebra at Salvadour waterhole. Watching the behaviour of these lions as they stalked the Zebra was truly spectacular and even through the kill did not take place it was thrilling to watch and have the lions walks past the safari vehicle. A large Elephant Bull having a mud bath next to the road, just after lunch, was a highlight for the group too.

Upon reaching Namutoni and exploring Fisher’s Pan we enjoyed sightings of at least 500 Greater and Lesser Flamingos feeding in the pan offering some great photo opportunities with the late afternoon light on them. Other birds we enjoyed included: Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Lesser Moorhen and Maccoa Duck.

The mammal viewing was also great, and we enjoyed sightings of: the endemic Black-faced Impala, Steenbok, Oryx, Warthog, Hartebeest, Black-backed Jackal, Springbok, Yellow Mongoose, Burchell’s Zebra and amazing views of Giraffe drinking at Tscumcor waterhole. Some other good bird sightings for the day included: Acacia Pied Barbet, Dusky Sunbird, Red-Crested Korhaan, Pale-chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Barred Wren-Warbler, Lappet-faced Vulture, Bateleur, Lesser Grey Shrike, African Cuckoo, Shaft-tailed Whydah and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah. Just before exiting the gate, we had a pride of seven lions walking in the road- what a way to end the day.

We checked in to our lovely lodge to relax and unwind and all met to complete our lists and enjoyed chatting about our great day. The group was in great spirits, all joking and laughing, and this makes it very rewarding for me as a guide. We enjoyed another wonderful dinner at the lodge as we discussed tomorrow’s plans; spoke about species hybridizing and species splits. We all retired to bed after another exciting day in the great white place known as Etosha.

Day 4: Mushara Outpost, Etosha East
This morning we spent time exploring the eastern section of the vast Etosha National Park. Our morning started with a great, in the open, sighting of a of Pearl Spotted Owlet posing perfectly for the photographers in the group. Soon after entering the park and checking up on the report of a Leopard kill on Dik-dik drive, we had a very special sighting of a big male Leopard resting below a tree with the remains of a Steenbok kill above him. This magnificent cat posed wonderfully, and we spent a good part of the morning with him. He walked out in the open as a herd of Zebra spooked him. What an amazing sighting of this elusive cat. For most of the group this is there first trip to Africa- so what an amazing first-time trip.

Other mammals spotted included the endemic Kirk’s Dik-dik (Namibian subspecies), African Elephant, Giraffe, Black-backed Jackal, Black-faced Impala (another endemic subspecies), Hartebeest (Red subspecies), Gemsbok (Namibia’s national animal), Greater Kudu and Springbok.

A few of the birding highlights included: Tawny Eagle, African Jacana, African Grey Hornbill, Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Peregrine Falcon, Red-billed Spurfowl, Red-headed Finch, Ashy Tit, Acacia Pied Barbet and Black-faced Waxbill.

We enjoyed a relaxing lunch back at our lodge and enjoyed some down time in the heat of the day. The camp’s bird bath was hive of activity and we enjoyed top views of Emerald Spotted Wood Dove, Blue Waxbill, Red-faced Mousebird, Grey-go-away-bird and Violet-eared Waxbill. A few of us, as part of our Nature Travel Active Safaris, enjoyed a run around the property.

We spent the afternoon visiting various waterholes to see if we can spot some of our target list mammals and birds drinking. We unfortunately came out empty handed on the Cheetah front, but we did enjoy some great birding. A highlight for the group was having the Flamingos fly by us, making for some incredible photographs. Five Blue Cranes next to Fisher’s Pan was also a major bird for the trip. A slow drive along the pan delivered: Cape Shoveler, Red-billed Teal, Wood and Curlew Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Marabou Stork, Pied Avocet posing wonderfully, Glossy Ibis, Desert Cisticola, Woolly-necked Stork and Black-winged Stilt.

At Klein Okevi waterhole, we had a nice close sighting a small flock of Cape-Penduline Tits. These small birds, build a globular nest made of the webs of spiders as well as silken fibre from various plants. An entrance hole is made on the side and towards the end, a false entry and chamber are constructed below the actual entrance to the nest chamber. The spout at the entrance has a separating septum with the entrance to the actual nest chamber at the upper portion, the septum pushed up with its forehead to close the upper entrance by the bird just before leaving the nest to show only the main entrance leading into a blind chamber. This is a defense against snakes and other nest predators.

We headed back to our comfortable lodge to enjoy another wonderful meal prepared by the friendly staff. A glorious sunset bid us farewell from the park.
We chatted about conservation issues and conservation programs in Namibia and how eco-tourism is so important in conservation. With our lists updated we headed off to bed for good night’s sleep after an incredible day in Africa.

Day 5: Kaisosi River Lodge, Rundu
Our morning started with an early breakfast before heading into Etosha for our last morning drive. We said our goodbyes to friendly and helpful staff and headed for the park. We struck some luck with a pair of Bat-eared Foxes walking in the open along twee palms road. We also had a great sighting of a pair of Blue Cranes crossing the road in-front if us- seeing the majestic birds so close was incredible. The Etosha population of Blue Cranes is a separate sub population with the rest of the population being endemic to South Africa. The Etosha population and consists of about 60 birds- so it’s a great bird for the trip. A booted Eagle was also a welcome addition to our trip.

We said our goodbyes to Etosha and started making our way to the Caprivi area. Our lunch stop rewarded us with excellent views of the near-endemic, Black-faced Babbler and excellent views of Crimson-breasted Shrike, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah and Rosy-faced Lovebird all posing for the photographers in the group.

We arrived at our lodge on the banks of the river, overlooking Angola, checked in and freshened up before dinner. A few garden birds included White-browed Robin Chat, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Pied Kingfisher, Red-backed Shrike, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and a flock of Steppe Eagles flying above the river.
We enjoyed another meal as we chatted away about the trip, the new birds and updated our lists. A few clients and I chatted about other birding trips in Africa and the incredible avian diversity the continent has. We all retired for a good night’s sleep.

Rosy-faced Lovebird

Day 6:  Xaro Lodge, Okavango Panhandle
We started our morning with a walk around our lodge. Some of the species seen included African Green Pigeon, Violet-backed and Greater Blue-eared Starling, Swamp Boubou, Woodland Kingfisher, Meyer’s Parrot, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Black-collared Barbet, African Paradise Flycatcher, Little Sparrowhawk, White-winged Tern, Marico and Scarlet- chested Sunbird. The wetland in front of the restaurant was the perfect introduction to the wetland birds of northern Namibia with us seeing Giant, Pied and Malachite Kingfisher, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Squacco and Green-backed Heron, African Pygmy Goose, Hamerkop, African Darter, and Reed Cormorant.
A highlight was watching an African Harrier Hawk raid weaver nest- the behaviour of the bird hanging upside down and trying to pull chicks out of the nest is fascinating. The bird’s leg joint can bend both ways to probe into the nests.

Our drive along the strip towards Botswana was used to chat about bird conservation in Southern Africa, conservation issues and success stories. I enjoyed learning about the conservation work the Grassland Bird Trust is doing. It was an enjoyable drive just getting to know each other. A few birding highlights included Black-chested Snake Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, migratory Common House Martin and a stunning sighting of Racket-tailed Roller. Lunch was enjoyed overlooking the Okavango River before we made the super convenient and relaxed border crossing into Botswana and onto Xaro Lodge located on an island in the middle of the Okavango Panhandle- The Okavango Panhandle is the main watercourse supplying the Okavango Delta. The Panhandle is the stretch of approximately 70km of the Okavango River, from where the river enters Botswana until it fans out into the alluvial plain of The Delta.

On our short transit drive through Mahangu National Park which we visited in detail later in the trip we had an exciting sighting of a Ovambo Sparrowhawk hunt and catch a dove- the bird sat and posed wonderfully with its prey.

As we boarded our boat and headed for our stunning accommodation we enjoyed sighting of Pied Kingfisher, Blue-cheeked and White-fronted Bee-eater, Fish Eagle, African Pygmy Goose, Chirping Cisticola and Golden-tailed Woodpecker in camp. A in the open sighting of the camps resident African Wood Owls was a highlight for the group.

A exceptional dinner was enjoyed under the stars and we socialised and went through the plans for our next two days in the amazing Okavango Panhandle. A session of stargazing from the jetty was educational before a few of us enjoyed a cold one around the bush TV, known as a fire, before heading off for a good night’s sleep. Falling asleep to the grunting of the resident Hippopotamus and the deep hoot of a Pel’s Fishing Owl-you got to love Africa.

Black Rhino

Day 7:  Xaro Lodge, Okavango Panhandle
Our morning begun with us doing a short walk to locate a Barred Owlet which was calling as we woke up. We were treated to excellent views of this beautiful owlet. We enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast before heading out on our boat trip to explore this birding paradise that is the Okavango.

The big special here is the highly sought after Pel’s Fishing Owl and this area must be one of the best spots in the world to find this beautiful bird. Lady Luck was on our side, and we enjoyed an out of this world sighting of this bird. It posed for us, and we spent about 20 minutes with the bird just watching us.

Other special birds seen on our morning and afternoon boat trips included the Okavango specials mainly Greater Swamp Warbler, Chirping Cisticola and Luapula Cisticola- this was great as these are birds only found along the Okavango River. Other highlights included White-backed Night-heron, Brown Firefinch, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Broad-billed Roller, African Pygmy Goose, Allen’s Gallinule, Fish Eagle, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Swamp Boubou, Brown- throated, Spectacled and Holub’s Golden Weavers and a very special sighting of a Sitatunga antelope feeding in the open. What an incredible day.

Another fabulous sunset and meal were enjoyed by the group next to the river as we chatted about our favourite sightings and updated our lists. We chatted about how similar some of the bird families and species in the States are to some of our birds in Southern Africa.

Lesser Jacana

Day 8:  Kaisosi River Lodge, Rundu
Our morning started with an early breakfast before heading into Etosha for our last morning drive. We said our goodbyes to friendly and helpful staff and headed for the park. We struck some luck with a pair of Bat-eared Foxes walking in the open along twee palms road. We also had a great sighting of a pair of Blue Cranes crossing the road in-front if us- seeing the majestic birds so close was incredible. The Etosha population of Blue Cranes is a separate sub population with the rest of the population being endemic to South Africa. The Etosha population and consists of about 60 birds- so it’s a great bird for the trip. A booted Eagle was also a welcome addition to our trip.

Retz’s Helmet-Shrike

Day 9:  Mahangu Safari Lodge, Divundu
We enjoyed breakfast overlooking the river before heading into Mahangu National Park for the morning and afternoon. We enjoyed sightings of African Buffalo, plenty of Hippo. Burchell’s Zebra, Impala, Topi, Waterbuck, Sable, Common Duiker, Greater Kudu, Giraffe and Warthog.

A few of the special birds seen along the riverine woodland and Acacia savanna included Lesser Honeyguide, Meyer’s Parrot, White-browed Scrub-robin, Cardinal Woodpecker, Grey-headed, and Woodland Kingfishers, African Mourning Dove, Lizzard Buzzard, Black-crowned Tchagra, Bateleur, Red-headed Weaver, Collared Pratincole, Buffy Pipit, Fawn-colored Lark, Olive Tree Warbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, White-banded and Hooded Vultures.

The floodplain delivered an incredible sighting of three critically endangered Wattled Crane, right next to the road. We also enjoyed sightings of White-faced Duck, Slaty, Great White, Yellow-billed and Little Egret, Squacco, Black and Goliath Herons, African Spoonbill, African Sacred, Hadeda and Glossy Ibis, Long-toed and Wattled Lapwing. We came across a herd of Buffalo and had close sightings of Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers.

Another great meal was enjoyed along the banks of the Okavango River as we updated our lists and chatted about our great birding adventure. We celebrated a birthday and chatted about the vast birding on offer in the States. It was also so fantastic to hear the group being so enthusiastic and excited about the experience and excellent birds in Namibia.


Day 10:  Roy’s Rest Camp, Grootfontein
Our morning started with a cup of coffee or tea overlooking the Okavango River enjoying a spectacular sunrise and breakfast.
We spent the morning in the Buffalo Game Park (the official name is Buffalo Core Area) part of the Bwabwata National Park. Highlights for the morning included: Saddle-billed Stork, Lesser Jacana out in the open and close by, Goliath Heron, Bradfield’s Hornbill, Chinspot Batis, Marico Sunbird, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike and Eurasian Hobby.

With the reminder of the day mostly being a travelling day, we left the tropical Caprivi and Okavango regions behind us and made our way back south to the Grootfontein area. As we headed south, we noticed how the habitat changed from Broadleaf Woodland to mixed Woodland and later Acacia Savannah with the species changing with the habitat. A few roadside stops yielded: Racket-tailed Roller, African Golden Oriole, Golden-breasted Bunting, Lizard Buzzard, Cocqui Francolin and Tinkling Cisticola.
We arrived at our accommodation, freshened up and enjoyed a wonderfully prepared local Afrikaans meal as we chatted away and updated our lists and plotted on a map our route. A good night’s sleep was enjoyed by all after another excellent and exciting day birding in Namibia.

Racket-tailed Roller

Day 11:  Olive Grove Guesthouse, Windhoek
An early morning walk before breakfast yielded sightings of Bradfield’s Hornbill, Black-faced Babbler, Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Violet-eared Waxbill and Accacia Pied Barbet.

We made our south towards Windhoek chatting about our great trip, birding and destinations we want to bird and visit. A great road side sighting of over 50 Marabou Storks feeding and bathing next to the road was a highlight. We also added African Spoonbill to our growing list.

The group enjoyed a wonderful final meal together celebrating a successful and enjoyable trip. I had a great time and really enjoyed the groups company and I thank the group for the great time we had, the sightings we enjoyed and the good times we shared. It was enjoyable to learn from the group and to gain an insight into the birds and birding taking place in the States. The amazing conservation work the Grassland Bird Trust does is exceptional and it was most enjoyable being part of this trip to raise money for this worthy cause. It’s always sad saying goodbye, especially when it’s been such a successful and enjoyable trip.