Larking Around Namibia. Part 3. Erongo and Brandberg.

With dusty Etosha behind us (see Part 2) we headed for the Erongo Mountains to try and find the Hartlaub’s Spurfowl.

We had booked to stay at the Erongo Plateau Camp in the Erongo Mountain Rhino Sanctuary for 4 nights. The camp is situated quite high up and takes a while to get to from the road. The view was good and the ablutions respectable. We felt 4 nights here was excessive so we changed our stay to 2 nights.

Our target bird here was the Hartlaub’s Spurfowl. The birding on the whole was limited around the camp. On the first morning we did hear the Hartlaub’s Spurfowl calling and so set off along one of their steep and rocky paths. The undergrowth was quite thick so our view was restricted. As expected we were not successful.

Later that morning we took a drive along the road back towards the Rhino’s Gate entrance to try and find our target bird. We were not successful. There was another campsite – Mara Camp – which we had noticed on the way. We called in to check it out. The campsite next to a dry riverbed was amongst tall shady trees on flat ground with well done up ablutions – unfortunately with a donkey boiler.  But what sold the place to us was the agreement between Mara and the up-market Erongo Wilderness Lodge enabling Mara guests to visit the Lodge which is virtually opposite Mara camp.

We immediately switched camps and stayed 2 nights at Mara Camp. The birding in and around the grounds was excellent with Rosy-cheeked Lovebirds screeching everywhere, sunbirds and many other seedeaters. However the highlight was the presence of Ruppel’s Parrots.  Many other species were present as the following photos will attest.

Of course we visited the Erongo Wilderness Lodge – we had heard how fantastic the birding was from Sean of Batis Birding. We were welcomed on arrival and as we waited to seek permission from the manager a Rockrunner ambled past us. That was the start!

The manager was very happy to see us and suggested we return in the morning to enjoy their breakfast and observe the birds from the restaurant which overlooked a close by bird feeding area. Needless to say we accepted and returned the next morning very early to find a pair of Hartlaub’s Spurfowls ambling around next to the restaurant deck. We enjoyed a full morning in the camp and returned for sundowners on both days we had available. The following pictures give you an idea of the Lodge setting as well as some of the birds we were lucky enough to photograph.

In future we would stay at least 3 nights at the Mara Camp. However we had a deadline in Swakopmund which if we left after 2 nights at Mara allowed us to visit Brandberg for 2 nights – the minimum we stay in an area we want to bird.

So on to White Lady Lodge through the Erongo Mountain Sanctuary – a fairly scenic drive on a reasonable (if dusty) gravel road.

As we approached Uis we prepared ourselves for our next target bird – the Benguela Long-billed Lark. This is the southernmost part of its range and fortunately it is the only long-billed Lark in the area. This was a lifer for both of us – if we could find it.

Within a few kilometers of turning north from Uis we saw a potential bird on the left. Bins quickly to the eyes, the bird sees our aim and off he took flying over a nearby ridge in to the next gully. Ever hopeful we follow as it looked as though it would be less than 50 metres from the road. A careful scan found the bird and we watched as it got ever closer to us. Bingo – Benguela Long-billed Lark.

As we enjoyed the sighting we noticed a group of birds further back – a Common Fiscal was chasing off the others. Amongst them were Mountain Wheatears and another pair – one of which eventually perched in a bare tree. The scope was already out and on to him in a shot –  white eyebrow, russet rump – Herero Chat!! We had good viewings but it scarpered as I tried to get closer for a decent photo.

We had visited Brandberg previously and not much had changed – fortunately. The campsite is huge and well spread out. It is sandy, shady and flat. The ablutions a bit basic and hot water in the morning dependant on the boiler being kept fed through the night – the perennial problem with donkey boilers.

No Desert Elephants visited the camp this time fortunately.

The lodge has a welcoming pool and gardens and we had several drinks there during the heat of the day.

Our time was spent early morning birding around the area to the White Lady Rock paintings entrance as well as on some of the local tracks at the base of the mountains.

The first evening we took a short drive out of the camp were treated to great sightings of Ludwig’s Bustards and Ruppel’s Korhaan (the only place we saw this species). What surprised us was the sight of a Bokmakerie in the camp although looking back at our records we also saw on the last time we visited.

On to Swakopmund. Part 4 to follow. Look out for the next instalment in the coming days.

Larking About in Namibia. Part 2.

Larking About in Namibia. Part 2. 

After five days camping at Kunene River Lodge we headed for Etosha.  We left on Saturday 22nd June. Our plan for Etosha was 2 nights at Namutomi followed by 3 nights at Halali.

Etosha as expected was very expensive. Not just the campsites but also the daily charge for 2 people and the car. Namutomi was R440 and Halali R290 per night plus the  daily charge of R130!! Our mistake, we should have camped just outside the Park.

Namutomi  was run down. The only saving grace was the flat grassy campsite.

The Park was exceptionally dry and very dusty. The man-made waterholes were the main source of interesting birding. And of course this is where the animals congregated.  The natural springs and fountains near the Pan’s edge were all dry.

We circled the Dikdik Drive 3 times looking for the Black-faced Babblers without success – we did see lots of Dikdik though.

The highlights were the waterbirds and the raptors.

Halali campsite is flat and reasonably shady – not that the shade was so important in winter time. It has a very good waterhole and viewing platform. In the evenings after a day out in the Park, it was rewarding sitting there and watching the interaction of the various animals which came – many Elephant and surprisingly at the same time, Black Rhinos (see photos). While we were there one Elephant cheekily intentionally sprayed water over a Black Rhino.

We spent one day in the area around Halali – mainly going from one waterhole to another. At the Goas Waterhole we had an interesting time watching the elephants and many different birds coming in to drink. It was here that we fleetingly saw an interesting bird which we could not identify at the time – see if you can – check the few photos I did manage to get.

More Photos taken around Halali:

The second full day that we had at Halali was spent Larking About just north of Okaukuejo. This was our challenge in Etosha – to test our skills at identifying as many Larks as we could and this was the best area to find them.

To make life simpler, we listed all the possible Larks we could find in the area (excluding summer visitors) and wrote down the key features for identifying each one. There were 9 possibles in all and only one of these with a long decurved bill. This certainly helped and we were reasonably confident with our ID in most instances.

It was on this road out to Okondeka that we saw a number of other interesting birds – Double-banded Courser, Northern Black and Red-crested Korhaans and Ludwig’s Bustards.

Another highlight towards the end of this road near Okondeka was a pride of about 20 lionesses all lying down tightly together. They were being followed by a film crew who were waiting patiently for them to do something! They were set in for a long wait.

A mound of Lionesses - about 20 all cuddled together
A mound of Lionesses – about 20 all cuddled together

Five dusty days in the cold of Etosha were enough. We set off for Erongo and Brandberg on the way down to Swakopmund.

Part 3 to follow. Erongo Mountains and Brandberg.

Larking About in Namibia

Larking About in Namibia

June & July 2013

Sally and Paul Bartho

Over the next week there will be a serial report-back on our birding expedition to Namibia.

The series will include pictures of places we stayed and birds we were lucky enough to photograph in each place.

Please email me if you interested in receiving detailed reports including our route and tracks, accommodation contact details, accommodation assessment. Also available is our Bird List in Excel format. You are able to see what birds we saw or heard in each place as well as where specific birds were seen.

The journal begins:………..

At very short notice we decided to go to Namibia. Our preparation was frantic over a 2 week period. Bird Lists to prepare, accommodation and route decisions and bookings, banks and credit cards, car & health insurance, knowledge of border crossing requirements, etc.

Our main goal was to get to Kunene River Lodge to see the Angola Cave-Chat with Peter Morgan – and to be there before the start of the school holidays. Of course we also intended to find as many of the Namibian specials as possible – in particular those we had not seen before.

We departed on Tuesday 11th June spending the first night in a Hunting Lodge in Botswana, Phuduhudu south of Lobatse. We entered Botswana through the quiet border post Ramatlabama. As we were staying only one night and needed an early start the next day, we stayed in one of their fancy chalets – which at R200 per person was very reasonable. Our birding began around the camp.

The next day we were up early. It was freezing outside. From there we took the Trans Kalahari highway to the Mamuno border post into Namibia. Again a pleasant crossing. Zelda was the campsite we were headed for. Once there we put up our 3 Second tent on grass with power to run our electric blanket. The cost to camp was exceptionally reasonable considering the facilities available. To cap it all their buffet dinner was tasty & value for money. On site were a number of interesting orphaned animals to see including Leopard, Cheetah and a huge porcupine.

The following morning we spent a bit of time enjoying Zelda before our short hop to our next campsite near Windhoek airport – Odekaremba at 1800 metres.

Ondekaremba has a small campsite with 4 spots. We had a site at the top of a hill on the only bit of level ground. It was open to the biting wind and the ground so hard it was exceedingly difficult to get the pegs into. Our ablution was very rustic and hot water only available when the staff got the donkey working – tepid water at best first thing. On top of that it was very expensive. We would be loathe to stay there again – except the birding round the camp was very good.

We had booked for 3 nights to give us a break from the long journeys and to have a base to bird around Windhoek while we were in the area.

We visited both Avis Dam and Daan Viljoen. Avis Dam was the more interesting but Daan Viljoen produced the first lifer for me – Rockrunner – Sally had seen it previously.

Sunday 16th we headed north stopping over in Kamanjab Rest Camp in our 3 Second tent again. For one night it is not worth the effort after a long days driving, to put up the trailer only to take it down again early the next day.

We were the only people in the camp. The facilities were good and clean. We managed a walk round the camp grounds late afternoon. As usual most of the birds were to be seen around the camp area – including Bare-cheeked Babblers and White-tailed Shrikes – in numbers.

The next day we arrived at Kunene River Lodge – staying for 5 nights. We had been before and it remains an oasis along the stretch of the river. Birds in camp were plentiful and special.  Cinderella Waxbills, Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrush, Swamp Boubou, White-tailed Shrikes to name a few.

No sooner had we set up camp than we were on an sunset cruise heading for the rapids up river. On the way back we stopped on the banks for sundowners. A Pearl-spotted Owlet greeted us.

During our stay Peter Morgan took 4 of us to find the Angola Cave-Chat in the Zebra Mountains. We left early to get there at dawn. Not a drive for sissies – pre-dawn.

Once there we set ourselves up for a wait hoping they would appear close by. Peter had not been there for a month so he did not know what to expect. After some time once the sun had finally generated some warmth we heard one call. A lovely melodic call slightly different from its cousins in Angola apparently. Sean from Batis Birding was with us and his recordings made in Angola were decidedly different to what we heard.

Anyway, having heard the call we soon spotted the culprit for a fleeting few seconds. Then within minutes a pair were seen slowly making their way up the steep rocky slopes. The scope was soon on them so we all had very good views despite them being some way up the slope. The Cave-Chat looks kinda like a Swamp Boubou with a white eyebrow. As an after thought I managed to get a few very poor photos. The light was poor and the birds were moving.

The Grey Kestrel was our next target bird. The area around the Lodge had not had any decent rain for 2 years so there was no food for the Kestrel – and we had no expectations of seeing it. However Sean said he was heading for the power lines in Ruacana to find the Kestrel – leaving very early one morning intending to be there at the crack of dawn. Sally and I followed but could not keep up the pace. We dipped on the bird but Sean had a fly past on arrival.

On the way back we popped in to Hippo Pools and as it happened we unexpectedly bumped into Mark Boorman who was bird ringing. Before leaving home we had been in contact with Mark about birding in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, so this was a pleasant way to make his acquaintance. Mark was ringing his way down river to Kunene River Lodge where he and Peter intended to have another go at ringing an Angola Cave-Chat. We learnt later that he was successful.

Our next instalment will include our time in Etosha which followed on from Kunene. Second instalment to follow soon.

Paul Bartho