We are a couple of world listers, so seeing the endemics or near-endemics of a certain country or region is very important to us. We are also nature lovers and amateur landscape photographers, so Namibia offered us the perfect opportunity to indulge all our wildlife fantasies in one short trip. We had visited the country before and picked up some of the near-endemic species, but needed to complete the full list during this trip.
We contacted Nature Travel Birding and with their expert and prompt help, set up an itinerary that included all the country’s birding hot spots that we hadn’t visited before, as well as some other famous landmarks and attractions, all compressed into a short, 10-day trip.
We arrived in the country by air at the coastal town of Walvis Bay, revelling at the peculiar sight of seeing the Atlantic ocean and vast Namib desert only a mile or two apart. We met our guide who helped us pack our luggage into the big-windowed “safari car” that we would be using for the duration of the trip. We unpacked at our comfortable guest house in town and immediately set off on our first adventure late in the afternoon.
Our first target was also the biggest one, Namibia’s only true endemic, the Dune Lark. Our guide has a secret spot or two where he normally finds this wonderful, desert adapted star bird, and after a short walk we managed to see it. A great start!
We had our official welcome dinner at a nice restaurant in Swakopmund, with our guide explaining the finer details of our trip ahead. We were super excited and even had trouble falling asleep!
The next day we visited several hotspots scattered in and around the twin towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund, mostly for water-associated birds. The lagoon at Walvis Bay (one of five Ramsar wetland sites of international importance in Namibia) is regarded as the most important coastal wetland in southern Africa, as over 150,000 migrant birds spend the summer months here. The nearby salt works also attract thousands of birds.
We saw all our main targets, including the near-endemic Damara Tern, Chestnut-banded Plover, near-endemic Gray’s Lark, Tractrac Chat (albicans subspecies, that might be split in future), thousands of Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Bank and Crowned Cormorant, Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, Common and Greater Crested Tern, African Oystercatcher, Pied Avocet, Great White Pelican and many more. Other nice bonus bird was a Red-necked Phalarope at the salt works!
Once back in town in the late afternoon, we also managed to tick Orange River White-eye in a hotel garden. We then had dinner in a wonderful seaside restaurant, enjoying the local oysters and other seafood delicacies.
The next day we headed north after breakfast, stopping briefly at the wreck of the Zeila, a vessel that ran aground in 2008, now a famous attraction.
We headed inland to our next destination, the stunningly dramatic Brandberg in the Damaraland area. The landscapes were incredible, with the vast desert stretching all around us, making us feel totally insignificant. On the way we also ticked Martial Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite and another Tractrac Chat. It was quite a long drive, but our guide obviously knows the dirt roads (wide and in surprisingly good condition) very well, and we made short work of the long distance.
Our overnight stay was close to the Brandberg (literally meaning “fire mountain”), Namibia’s highest mountain. The peak, the Königstein (German for ‘King’s Stone’), stands at 2,573 metres (8,442 ft) above sea level; we could see it from a huge distance away – truly spectacular.
After checking in at the reception of our chosen lodge, we did a short drive on the property to look for something special… Our guide had received information that a herd of desert adapted African Elephants were in the vicinity, and as luck (or skill) would have it, we saw a few of these very special animals after only a short drive. It was difficult for us foreigners to understand that these animals are truly wild; they roam freely and are not confined to parks and reserves. It was an amazing experience we will never forget.
We arrived at our tents (very sturdy items with good beds and a built-on shower/toilet area) and marvelled at the scenery around us. Our guide then started a traditional African bush fire, our cooking method for the evening. We had a great time around the fire, or “bush TV”, as the locals call it, chatting about our previous trips and birding highlights of our lives so far. Just before bed we managed to see the resident Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, a great bonus.
We woke up the next day to the sound of a flock of near-endemic Violet Wood Hoopoes, and while sipping coffee and enjoying rusks to dunk into it (a southern African tradition), another near-endemic, the stunning Rüppell’s Parrot, also entertained us. The day was spent on the property of the lodge and the surrounding areas, enjoying the scenery and the amazing birds.
*insert Violet Wood Hoopoe
We managed to tick all our target birds for the area, including Benguela Long-billed Lark, 4 near-endemics (Rüppell’s Korhaan, Carp’s Tit, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Damara Red-billed Hornbill) and Ludwig’s Bustard, along with the ubiquitous Red-billed Spurfowl, Southern Fiscal and Fork-tailed Drongo.
The evening was once again spent around the fire, with our guide making a delicious dinner after a great day of birding and landscape photography.
The following morning we packed up, checked out and headed to our next destination, the world famous 22,300 km2 (8,620 sq mi) Etosha National Park. On the way we enjoyed some more stunning scenery and also ticked the stunning Red-breasted Swallow, as well as seeing a Martial Eagle that had killed a Kori Bustard!
We arrived at the Anderson Gate of Etosha and drove the short distance to our first night’s accommodation, Okaukuejo Camp. On the way we managed to see a Black Rhinoceros and two huge male Lions – what a start!
Our guide has been coming to Etosha for decades, and he said it was the greenest he had seen it for some years. The recent good rains meant that there were small pools everywhere, which he explained might make spotting animals more difficult, as they normally congregate around the waterholes.
A short late afternoon walk in the camp produced Willow and Icterine Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, very cute Pygmy Falcon, the stunning Crimson-breasted Shrike, Sociable Weaver and many others. We also spent some time at the camp’s famous waterhole with its stadium-like viewpoint, but because the park was so wet in general, not many animals came to drink.
We enjoyed dinner at the camp restaurant and all had a good night’s rest; tomorrow we would head into the park proper.
We started our day with coffee and rusks again and proceeded east. The “great white place” (the meaning of the word Etosha) that is the actual pan, covers almost a quarter of the park. It remains totally dry except in years of exceptional rainfall, like the one that the park was experiencing when we were there.
We drove east through the park for most of the day, enjoying the spectacular scenery and having lunch and bathroom breaks along the way. We saw more Lions, as well as a White Rhinoceros, Giraffes, and thousands of smaller antelope. It was a special sight seeing so many young animals; it seemed every antelope had just given birth! Baby Black-faced Impala, Springbok, Plains Zebra, Common Wildebeest, Hartebeest and Gemsbok were everywhere!
From a birding perspective we were amazed at the amount of water-associated birds we saw. In our minds we couldn’t comprehend how they could be here in the middle of nowhere in what is essentially an arid, desert-like environment for most of the year, and sometimes for years on end! We ticked Greater and Lesser Flamingo (what a spectacular sight!), African Spoonbill, White, Woolly-necked, Yellow-billed and Marabou Stork, Knob-billed Duck, Whiskered Tern, Ruff and many others.
We arrived at our home for the next 4 nights in the late afternoon. The lodge is on the eastern side of Etosha close to the Von Lindequist Gate. We checked in, had a dip in the wonderful pool and relaxed the evening away in the restaurant/bar area, while the resident Western Barn Owl screeched overhead.
The next three full days we spent in Etosha. We would have breakfast at the lodge and then enter the park at sunrise (the official opening time), driving slowly along the dirt roads looking for interesting birds, mammals, other creatures and more. We returned each day to the lodge for lunch and a bit of relaxation time. In the afternoon we would re-enter the park for another safari drive and then return at sunset to the lodge to update our lists, relax and enjoy dinner in the wonderful restaurant.
From a birding perspective the usual suspects (for summer) were also seen in good numbers over the three days, these being Common Ostrich, Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, Burchell’s and Namaqua Sandgrouse, Double-banded Courser, Grey Go-away-bird, African Grey Hornbill, African Pipit, Fawn-coloured, Sabota, Red-capped and Rufous-naped Lark, Brubru, Southern White-crowned, Lesser Grey and Red-backed Shrike, Lilac-breasted and European Roller, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Black-chested Prinia, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Diederik and Great Spotted Cuckoo, Golden-breasted Bunting, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Zitting, Rattling and Desert Cisticola, Chat and Marico Flycatcher, Blue and Black-faced Waxbill, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Scaly-feathered Weaver and many more.
Etosha is always a good place for vultures and raptors, and our 3 day list included Lappet-faced and White-backed Vulture, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Tawny Eagle, Pale and Dark Chanting Goshawk, Greater and Lesser Kestrel, Eurasian Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Red-footed Falcon, Black-winged Kite and Shikra.
A bonus that we really didn’t expect to see was a pair of Common Buttonquail, very close to the car while we were enjoying Spotted Hyaenas trolling for something to eat.
We also had two incredibly memorable events that really stood out for us. One afternoon our guide decided we should all take a walk in the lodge grounds to see what we could spot. It turned into an incredible 30 minutes, with several out-of-range species along with a host of others. The list included Pearl-spotted Owlet, Little Sparrowhawk, Black-faced Babbler, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Red-headed Weaver, African Golden Oriole, African Paradise Flycatcher, Grey-backed Camaroptera and many more!
Another very memorable experience came in the form of a game drive, our last one in Etosha. During this incredible 2 hour drive we managed to see a Lion stalking some Plains Zebra, a clan of Spotted Hyaenas around a waterhole and a beautiful young, relaxed Leopard close to the vehicle. However, the undoubted highlight was two Cheetah successfully chasing down a baby Springbok. We followed them for about an hour as they searched for the perfect target, with our guide expertly predicting their every move, from the stalk to the high-speed chase to the kill. What a way to say goodbye to Etosha!
The next morning we reluctantly packed our bags, checked out and started making our way down to the capital city, Windhoek. The drive was long but beautiful, with green scenery all around us. On the way we added to our trip lists in the form of Abdim’s Stork.
We arrived at our guesthouse in Windhoek late in the afternoon and relaxed at a very good local restaurant (there are several in town) before going to bed.
We needed to be in Windhoek for our Covid-19 tests anyway, so decided to make the most of our time there. We visited three key birding spots in and around town over the next two days and added some top birds to our lists.
A walk and game drive in the 4,000 hectare Daan Viljoen Game Reserve just outside town produced Verreaux’s Eagle, Monteiro’s and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, African Hoopoe, Barred Wren-Warbler, Violet-eared Waxbill, Pririt Batis, Carp’s Tit, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Red-headed Finch, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Yellow and Black-throated Canary, White-backed Mousebird and many others. We also saw Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, Gemsbok, Springbok, Greater Kudu, Klipspringer, Steenbok, Giraffe and Common Eland, along with some very cute Common Rock Hyrax.
A short drive around the city’s vast Gammam water treatment works produced Black-crowned Night Heron, Black and Squacco Heron, African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, White-breasted Cormorant, African Jacana and African Reed Warbler.
The nearby Avis Dam is apparently a hotspot anyway, and with water in the dam it not only produced great birds but also amazing post-rain scenery. We saw the near-endemic Rockrunner, Rock Kestrel, Mountain Wheatear, Ashy Tit, Common Waxbill, Dusky Sunbird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Common Scimitarbill, Egyptian Goose, Hamerkop and South African Shelduck.
Other birds we picked up while driving around town included Pale-winged Starling, Bradfield’s, Alpine, African Palm and Little Swift, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Ant-eating Chat, lots of Rosy-faced Lovebirds, Chestnut Weaver and many more. We couldn’t locate the pair of Bat Hawk that have apparently become quite common at a certain spot with some big eucalyptus trees. Maybe next time…
Our final evening was spent, first in a top restaurant in town, and then on the deck of our guesthouse; a beautiful sunset drawing the curtains on our time in incredible Namibia.
We started our last day with a hearty breakfast and then our guide drove us to the nearby Hosea Kutako International Airport. On the way we debriefed after an incredible trip. Our trip list ended on 230 bird species, 33 mammals and many other smaller creatures.
We fell in love with Namibia all over again, not just with the amazing scenery, but also with the people and the relaxed pace of life in these otherwise crazy times we live in. We will definitely be back for even more!
Arranging arrival and departure dates and times proved to be quite challenging due to the Covid-19 situation, but the helpful and knowledgeable staff at Nature Travel Birding made our travel arrangements a breeze! Not just that, but the entire operation went flawlessly. The company provided us with excellent and speedy information whenever we asked for it (even after hours) and the guide was truly excellent; not just knowledgeable, but also someone we became friends with during our time on the trip. The accommodation the company chose (after ascertaining our budget for the trip) and the vehicle used were fantastic, providing comfort and luxury in equal measures at competitive rates. We can highly recommend Nature Travel Birding, and we will definitely use them for our future birding trips all over the globe.