Southern Zambia, Caprivi & upper Okavango Delta Birding and Mammal Trip

This was a private, customised birding and mammal trip with returning clients. They had a very small but specific list of target birds and mammals and decided to stay two nights at each location instead of covering a larger area, and so cut down on driving time.Some of the targets that we found include Black-cheeked Lovebird, Chaplin’s Barbet, Schalow’s Turaco, Miombo Tit, Southern Hyliota, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Tinkling, Chirping and Luapula Cisticola, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Copper Sunbird, Serval, Greater and Lesser Galago, Civet, African Wild Dog, Spotted-necked Otter, Roan Antelope and Oribi. Even with the current drought conditions we had a great trip with just under 50 mammals and close to 300 birds.

Day 1: Off to Choma
After meeting the clients at Livingstone airport after an overnight flight we decided to make our way straight to our lodge near Choma. After a nice lunch and siesta we enjoyed coffee and cake with Arnot’s Chat, Purple-banded, Scarlet-chested, Collared and Amethyst Sunbird, Schalow’s Turaco, Village and Southern Masked Weaver, Miombo and Greater Blue-eared Starling, African Hoopoe, Blue Waxbill and Yellow-throated Petronia all in the lodge garden.

With only a couple of hours left in the day we decided to give our main target, Chaplin’s Barbet (Zambia’s only endemic species), a go and managed to find a feeding bird in one of the Fig Trees! Other interested birds seen were Sooty Chat, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Croaking and Rattling Cisticola, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Shelley’s Francolin and Red-necked Spurfowl.
After dinner we had a pair of African Wood Owl entertain us in the garden.

Day 2: Nkanga Conservancy
While enjoying our first cup of coffee we had Bennett’s Woodpecker, Grey Penduline Tit, African Yellow White-eye, Yellow-fronted Canary, Yellow Bishop and Yellow-throated Petronia in the garden.
Brown-headed Parrots did a quick fly-over which was a nice surprise.

We made our way to the great thicket habitat close to the lodge where our main target was the African Broadbill. We heard a bird calling close by and after finding a way into the thicket we managed fantastic views of a displaying male.

What a wonderful start to the day! We also found Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Terrestrial Brownbul in the thicket and once we got to the open Miombo we found Red-breasted Swallow, Brubru, Chinspot Batis, Tropical Boubou, Bearded Woodpecker, Miombo and Southern Black Tit, Red-headed Weaver, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbill, Kurrichane Thrush, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Yellow-throated Apalis, Pale and Spotted Flycatcher, Black-eared Seedeater and Violet-backed Starling.

A quick stop at a dam produced Saddle-billed and Yellow-billed Stork, Wattled Lapwing, Black-winged Stilt, Red-billed Teal, Common Greenshank and Common Sandpiper. We also ended up with a few nice raptors – African Hawk-Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Martial Eagle, Steppe Buzzard and Gabar Goshawk.

Late afternoon birding produced Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, African Paradise and Southern Black Flycatcher, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Black-bellied Bustard, Hottentot Teal, Common Ringed and Three-banded Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff and a short early evening spotlight excursion did produce Spotted Eagle-Owl, Thick-tailed Greater and Southern Lesser Galago, Scrub Hare and South African Large-spotted Genet.

Day 3: Off to Kafue National Park
We were again up early and a couple of hours of birding in the Miombo woodland close to the lodge produced Racket-tailed Roller, Grey-headed and Striped Kingfisher, Lizard Buzzard, Miombo Tit, Southern Hyliota, Black-eared Seedeater, Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-headed Weaver, Willow Warbler, Southern Black Tit, Chinspot Batis, Bearded Woodpecker, Brubru, Black-backed Puffback, Cabanis’s Bunting, Pale Flycatcher, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Black-headed Oriole, White-browed Scrub Robin, Wood Pipit and Common Buzzard.

Cabanis's Bunting
From here we made our way to southern Kafue National Park where we would spend the next two nights. We did see Martial Eagle, Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagle en route and after arriving at the lodge and a quick coffee we did a quick late afternoon drive which produced Meves’s Starling, Bennett’s and Cardinal Woodpecker and Zitting Cisticola.

With the current drought conditions in this part of Africa we found a small pool of water with trapped catfish. This got the attention of several African Fish Eagles and Marabou Storks. Hamerkop and Senegal Coucal were hunting around the pool and we had several Black-cheeked Lovebirds drinking which was our main target in this part of the trip. The waterhole at the lodge was very productive and we had Serval, African Civet Cat, Southern Lesser Galago, Bushpig and Common Duiker coming to investigate. Spotted Eagle-Owl and African Barred Owlet were seen, and Fiery-necked and Square-tailed Nightjars were heard that evening.

Senegal Coucal

Day 4: Kafue National Park
We were up early and straight into the game drive vehicle as we made our way back to the same pond as yesterday, seeing Dickinson’s Kestrel, Swainson’s and Natal Spurfowl, Meves’s Starling, Red-billed Firefinch, Tropical Boubou, Black-crowned Tchagra, Bateleur and Sharpe’s Grysbok on the way.

Going back to the pool turned out to be a great idea as we found a pack of 20 African Wild Dogs including 8 pups resting by the pool. Reedbuck and Impala came to drink and we had 4 adult dogs chasing one of the Impala for a few minutes before giving up and returning to the pack.

Saddle-billed Stork joined the African Fish Eagles and Marabou Storks today and we had a young African Harrier-Hawk coming to investigate as well. We stayed with the dogs for about and hour before making our way back to the lodge for brunch. Here we had Spotted and Ashy Flycatcher, Hartlaub’s and Arrow-marked Babbler, Golden-tailed and Cardinal Woodpecker, African Goshawk, Shikra and African Green Pigeon joining the Yellow Baboon (Kinda subspecies), Bushbuck, Waterbuck (Defassa subspecies), Hartebeest (Lichtenstein subspecies), Common Wildebeest, Vervet, Smith’s Bush Squirrel, Common Warthog and Impala around the lodge.

For the afternoon game drive, we decided to drive back to the lodge and luckily we found the African Wild Dogs in the same place. It was fascinating to see how nervous the other animals were coming to drink with the dogs not far off watching them.

By late afternoon they started moving off and after a few kilometres the leading dogs tried to hunt Bushbuck and later Reedbuck (unsuccessfully). As we came around a corner we found a dead Impala that must have been killed a few minutes ago. After watching the dogs going off into the woodland we went back to the kill and after waiting a while a mating pair of Leopard appeared. What an unforgettable afternoon drive!

We also saw Southern Ground Hornbill. Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, African Scops Owl and Fiery-necked Nightjar.

It was an incredible day; there are not many places in Africa where you can spend more than 4 hours with a pack of African Wild Dogs without seeing another vehicle.

African Fish Eagle

Day 5: Morning drive and off to Livingstone
We decided to do one final morning drive in the Miombo Woodland around the lodge. With the current drought the Miombo is uncharacteristically quiet but we still found Miombo Tit, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, African Goshawk, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Green-capped Eremomela, Willow Warbler, Long-billed Crombec, Brubru, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Racket-tailed Roller and Jameson’s Firefinch.

The highlight of the morning was watching a Lanner Falcon chase and catch a dove in front of the vehicle. It managed a poor grip on the dove and had to go to ground at which moment the dove managed to escape, and the chase was back on. The dove eventually escaped in the woodland.

Kafue is an incredible park with a huge diversity of wildlife. You often go for periods without seeing much but when you do have a sighting it is more often than not quite spectacular and often you have the sighting to yourself.

From here we made our way back to Livingstone where we would spend the next two nights. We did have time for a late afternoon birding walk around the lodge and found a roosting African Wood Owl, Dark-capped Bulbul, Olive Woodpecker, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Village Weaver, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Hadeda Ibis, Broad-billed Roller and Collared Palm Thrush. The highlight was two displaying White-backed Night Herons in front of the lodge.

Day 6: Livingstone
With the African Wood Owls and Fiery-necked Nightjars calling all night we were up early for a pre-breakfast walk and found Red-faced Cisticola, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Yellow-throated Petronia, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Violet-backed Starling, Marico, Collared, Scarlet-chested and White-bellied Sunbird, White-browed Robin Chat, Ashy and Spotted Flycatcher, Bearded Scrub Robin, African Reed Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis, African Paradise Flycatcher, Tropical Boubou and Black-backed Puffback. We also found two Black-collared Barbets at a nesting hole busy trying to keep two parasitic Lesser Honeyguides away from the nest.

After breakfast we made our way to the Livingstone sewage works where we did find Allen’s Gallinule, African Swamphen, Long-toed Lapwing, Squacco Heron, Wood and Common Sandpiper, Ruff, Black-headed Heron and African Sacred Ibis.

We had a great late afternoon boat cruise on the Zambezi River with African Finfoot, African Skimmer and Rock Pratincole all seen pretty quickly. A flock of 29 Pink-backed Pelican was a nice surprise and other good birds included Greater Honeyguide, Yellow-billed Stork, Glossy Ibis, African Darter, Purple Heron, Grey-headed Gull, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, African Hawk-Eagle, Spur-winged Goose and African Fish Eagle.
We did see Hippopotamus, Plains Zebra, Impala, Giraffe and Common Warthog on the cruise.

We finished off the day with an incredible sunset. We enjoyed our final dinner in Zambia on the deck under the stars overlooking the mighty Zambezi River.

Day 7: Off to Namibia via Chobe
Today was mostly a travelling day but did a quick early morning birding walk and found Southern Red-billed and African Grey Hornbill, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Trumpeter Hornbill, Schalow’s Turaco, Common Swift, African Green Pigeon, Collared Pratincole, Swainson’s and Natal Spurfowl, Orange-breasted Bushshrike and Western Osprey.Luckily the border crossing and the ferry ride across the Zambezi were pretty uneventful and we did manage to see White-backed, Hooded and Lappet-faced Vultures, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Racket-tailed Roller, Southern Black Flycatcher, Southern Ground Hornbill, African Elephant, Giraffe, Plains Zebra and Vervet while driving through Chobe.

After lunch in Katima we stopped at a small wetland where we found Hottentot Teal, African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Rufous-bellied Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Black Crake, Southern Carmine Bee-eater and White-faced Whistling Duck.

We arrived at the Kwando River just before sunset and were treated with a beautiful sunset with Tsessebe, African Buffalo, African Elephant, Southern Lechwe, Impala, Sable Antelope and Common Warthog in the floodplains in front of camp. We enjoyed a great dinner under the stars and African Wood Owl called several times that evening.

Day 8: Bwabwata National Park and the Kwando River
We enjoyed a cup of coffee while scanning the floodplains and enjoyed watching a herd of African Buffalo making their way back to the woodland from the floodplains. A few Black-winged Pratincoles were a nice find and after an early breakfast we did a game drive in the park.

A stunning Western Banded Snake Eagle offered unbelievable views.

Other good birds were Red-crested Korhaan, Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagle, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Arrow-marked Babbler, Green Woodhoopoe, Common Ostrich, Violet-eared Waxbill, Copper Sunbird, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Desert Cisticola, Swamp Boubou, European and White-fronted Bee-eater, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Lappet-faced Vulture and African Harrier-Hawk.

We also enjoyed great mammals with African Buffalo, African Elephant, Tsessebe, Sable Antelope, Common Warthog, Southern Lechwe, Chacma Baboon, Giraffe, Reedbuck and Plains Zebra.

A boat cruise on the Kwando River with its many channels and beautiful scenery is always a highlight of any trip to northeastern Namibia. We enjoyed some good birds with Coppery-tailed Coucal, African Wattled and Long-toed Lapwing, Black-crowned Night Heron, Southern Brown-throated and Thick-billed Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Goliath and Rufous-bellied Heron, Lesser Swamp Warbler, African Jacana, Broad-billed Roller, Giant, Pied and Malachite Kingfisher, Little, White-fronted, European and Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Eurasian Hobby, Banded Martin, Barn Swallow, Chirping Cisticola and Fan-tailed Widowbird.

Day 9: Bwabwata and off to the Okavango
We started with another short morning game drive and after seeing a nice displaying Rufous-naped Lark we focussed on the woodland habitat where we found Gabar and Dark Chanting Goshawk, Retz’s and White-crested Helmetshrike, Yellow-fronted Canary, Chinspot Batis, Pale Flycatcher, Little Sparrowhawk, Spotted Flycatcher, Golden-breasted Bunting, Yellow-throated Petronia, Yellow-billed and Red-billed Oxpecker, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Southern Yellow White-eye, Rattling Cisticola, Meyer’s Parrot and Red-billed Spurfowl.

But the highlight was seeing a Sitatunga on the short boat ride to the park from the lodge. Not often you are lucky enough to get a good view of this shy antelope. As luck would have it we had the sighting very close to a unhappy and grumpy territorial Hippopotamus bull which made it pretty clear that it was time to move on!

From here we made our way to the Okavango River. We had lunch at a lodge overlooking the Buffalo section of Bwabwata National Park and while enjoying lunch we saw Wattled Crane, Slaty Egret, Goliath Heron, Spur-winged Goose, African Harrier-Hawk, Hamerkop, Yellow-billed and Marabou Stork, Wire-tailed Swallow, Violet-backed Starling, African Paradise Flycatcher, White-browed Robin-Chat, Ruff, Little Stint, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper and Swamp Boubou.

We crossed the border into Botswana for our two nights on the upper Okavango Delta Panhandle just in time to see an African Cuckoo make an appearance.

Day 10: Okavango Delta Panhandle
Since we had a full day to explore the Okavango River we decided to do two separate boat cruises. The main target was Pel’s Fishing Owl and we did not waste time getting to our well known and reliable stakeout and found it without too much trouble.

Pel's Fishing Owl

With everyone really happy we could enjoy the rest of the cruise looking for some of the other specials. We had great views of Greater Swamp Warbler, another Okavango Delta special. Other good birds were Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Giant and Pied Kingfisher, Goliath Heron, Sanderling, Ruff, Little Stint, African Marsh Harrier, Chirping Cisticola, Hartlaub’s Babbler and Brown Firefinch.

On the afternoon cruise we found several massive Nile Crocodiles feeding on a dead cow. It was amazing watching them doing the famous “death roll” to tear the meat off the carcass. We again had a brief view of a Sitatunga and enjoyed a breeding herd of African Elephants on the bank. A flock of 50 African Skimmers was another highlight and we ended the day watching tow huge bull Hippos having a serious territorial fight.

Nile Crocodile

Day 11: Mahango National Park
We decided to have an early breakfast and make our way back across the border into Namibia and into Mahango National Park, part of the Bwabwata National Park complex. Our main target this morning was Burchell’s Sandgrouse which drink around mid-morning.

As it normally happens when you are in a hurry we had great game viewing along the way with African Elephant, Greater Kudu, Steenbok, Giraffe, Plains Zebra, Sable Antelope, Tsessebe and Impala.

Then about 2 kilometres from the normal drinking spot I heard a Greater Kudu give a warning bark and after some searching managed to spot a beautiful male Leopard under a bush. After enjoying the sighting for about 15 minutes we marked the spot and went the waterhole with the plan of coming back later. It worked perfectly in that as soon as we arrived at the waterhole two sandgrouse arrived to have a drink. And as we got back to the Leopard spot it was still there and we had plenty of time to enjoy the sighting!

Sable Antelope herd
We used the rest of the day to explore this great birding park and found Marico Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Acacia Pied Barbet, Long-billed Crombec, Common Scimitarbill, Meves’s Starling, Tawny Eagle, Black-chested and Tawny-flanked Prinia, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Long-toed Lapwing, Spur-winged Goose, Wattled Crane (at least 3 sightings which were great), Fawn-coloured Lark, Violet-eared Waxbill, White-faced Whistling Duck, African Spoonbill, Hamerkop, African Pipit and another great African Elephant sighting.

We enjoyed dinner overlooking the park with Hippopotamus calling most of the evening. There is just always something happening when staying in the Mahango area.

Day 12: Teak Woodland and final boat cruise
We were up early to get to the Teak Woodland which we expected to be quiet with the drought. It was pretty quiet, but we did find our main target, Tinkling Cisticola, with this subspecies much paler than its cousins further south. Other interesting birds include Southern Black Tit, Green-winged Pytilia, Golden-breasted Bunting, Pale and Southern Black Flycatcher, Black-headed Oriole, Kurrichane and Groundscraper Thrush, Fork-tailed Drongo, Violet-backed Starling, Bradfield’s Hornbill, White-browed Scrub Robin, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Amethyst Sunbird and Purple Roller.

We had a great sighting of a Spotted-necked Otter while enjoying lunch and on our final short boat cruise we saw African Buffalo, Impala, African Elephant, Common Warthog, Greater Kudu, Waterbuck and Hippopotamus.

We did see a few good birds such as African Fish Eagle, Wattled Crane, Arrow-marked Babbler, Collared Pratincole, Namaqua and Red-eyed Dove, Wire-tailed Swallow, Greater Blue-eared Starling, African Stonechat, African Grey Hornbill, Marabou Stork and Coppery-tailed Coucal.

It was time for our final dinner together and having a chat about a great trip with truly memorable sightings.