Flock 2017 was an outstanding birding experience which I know many people would relish doing again. It is incredible that BirdLife South Africa managed to virtually fill all the cabins with birders on MSC Sinfonia. As everyone said, this must be a world record for the largest flock of birders gathered together in one place.
Almost 2000 birders from all over the world were on board including many of the seabird experts worldwide.
The BLSA organisation of the trip was highly professional. The AGM was well organised, there were interesting talks, prizes and entertainment and the guiding on board was exceptional for us novices.
We left Cape Town on a lovely clear day and were escorted out to sea by a number of seals and dolphins.
The route was planned by the very willing captain according to BLSA wishes.
Our first day of birding started at dawn and lasted to dusk (as did every day) with quick dashes away for food etc. It was also one of those days when numerous different exciting and rare birds appeared. Sometimes we were unable to keep up with a special bird appearing on one side of the boat and another rare bird on the opposite side.
And from our height above the sea we were lucky if we got a few decent photos of any of the birds. For me, virtually every bird was a lifer having never been on a pelagic trip before.
The ship’s entertainment areas were virtually empty during the day, however the bars at night were quite popular. I think the staff were mystified by all us birders as they tried to talk us into the large empty casino and away from the birding.
That first morning there were seven different species of Albatross seen – Black-browed, Indian Yellow-nosed, Light-mantled, Shy, Sooty, Tristan and Wandering. The Light-mantled Albatross had all the guides screaming as this was most unexpected.
For our Bird List click here. Of the 21 species shown 17 were lifers for me, and 7 for Sally. There were numerous other lifers called out which unfortunately we were not at the right place at the right time.
Here are some photos of birds I did managed to connect with. I hope I have correctly identified most of the birds in the pictures. Do let me know my mistakes. Note the Tristan Albatross was identified by Peter Harrison. I am aware that there is not full consensus on its ID as there is not enough published about the bird to clearly identify it beyond doubt. However Peter Harrison has done a huge amount of research on the bird and I will happily accept his opinion.
Some birds I have struggled to identify from my photos include this Giant Petrel:
And these two birds:
There was fascinating birding along the sides of the ship each night. The lights from the ship enabled us to see the birds as they bobbed on the water alongside. It was interesting to watch as the Great Shearwaters diappeared behind the boat only to returne to the front and bob alongside again catching squid and other delicious morcels.
We understand that the bewildered captain was so impressed with the BLSA organisation and nature of our trip that he suggested we do it again but for a week or more next time.
Another memorable moment was the sunset and double rainbow at the end of the four nights at sea.
This was a wonderful trip that Sally and I will always fondly remember.
(An aside: Remember by clicking on a photo it will enlarge).
Our trip to the Kgalagadi ended when we got to Tsabong. As we were so close to Namibia we decided to pay a visit to Namibia. Our goal was to get to Epupa Falls and take in the various Parks along the way there and back.
Our first stop – Kalahari Rest Lodge and Camping – was our only stop in Botswana once we had left the Kgalagadi. It was about 25 kms north of Kang on the Kalahari Transfrontier Highway. This was a long journey (some 430 kms taking over 5 hours) to add to the day we had already driven. We left Tsabong mid-day so arrived just before dusk.
We certainly recommend this campsite as a stop over point. It is a small campsite with four bathrooms – each with toilet, shower and basin- as the ablution block. After a long day we ate at the restaurant and the food and ambiance was good.
The next day we headed to Windhoek to a campsite near the inner city Eros airport – Arebbusch Travel Lodge. A distance of about 710 kms taking close to eight hours. The border post was a tad busy so it took us a while to get through. However checking our insurance documents later we found they had entered the licence place of our campervan incorrectly. We hoped it would not be noticed at the police check points.
Some Namibian Scenery:
At Arebbusch we spent two nights, the first in a chalet and then camping. There are only 4 campsites all of which are under cover round a large glassy patch.
Our provisions needed replenishing otherwise we would have only stayed one night. Unfortunately our night’s camping was loudly disturbed by the antics of an open air concert right next door after a soccer match. Avoid Saturday nights camping here.
No bookings had been made for our time in Namibia. We called Etosha for a booking but all they could offer us was 5 days camping at Halali in three days time – we took it. So we booked a campsite ten kms before Okaukuejo at Etosha Safari Lodge for two nights. Nice grassy sites and entertaining ablutions. 420 kms taking a almost five hours due to the police checks. Very nervous at the first as he was fairly thorough checking the car licence plate. However he did not see it necessary to check the campervan licence plate. This was the case fortunately at all the police stops.
Campsite birding was good. We had a nesting pair of Great Sparrows right beside us.
Other campsite birds
Time was spent in Etosha around Okaukuejo puzzling over the various larks and other ground birds favoured by the open flat grassland/scrub area. We saw a good variety of different species which we did not see elsewhere in the park.
However there is one big criticism that I have to make. Outside of the main camps there are no ablution facilities fit for humans at the various run down picnic spots. Some picnic sites are so bad that they have been closed. We never found one that had an even passable excuse for a toilet. I dread to think what foreign tourists think. For the cost of entering and staying in the park this is shameful.
At last we arrive in Halali – the central camp between Okaukuejo and Namutoni – about 70 kms from each. We just miss the best campsite – No. 37 – by about 5 minutes. However we did recamp there when the people left after two nights.
Many overlander safaris visit the camp and they can be very noisy at night. I don’t think we would camp there in future although the waterhole can be interesting at night. While there this time we saw Elephants, Black Rhinos, Hyenas and Jackals there plus hundreds of Double-banded Sandgrouse each night, maybe more.
Perhaps because of the rains we did not see a wide variety of game. We did have one sighting of three Cheetah on the first morning leaving the camp. After that no big cats. Much of our time was spent away from the camp in and around Namutoni.
There were of course many Black-faced Impala, Springbok, Burdhell’s Zebra, Steenbok, Black-backed Jackals about with campsite Banded Mongooses, Tree Squirells, lizards etc.
In the camp wew had a selection of special birds visiting us. There was a flock of about twelve Violet Woodhoopoes, a Pearl-spotted Owlet, a Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Southern Red-billed and Monteiro’s Hornbills, and a Red-billed Spurfowl.
For birding, one of the nearby waterholes – Goas- had the most interest for us.
Just north of Namutomi is Fischer’s Pan. It was full of water so we had excellent sightings of numerous water birds.
At Namutoni picnic site there were some interesting birds.
Then at the Klein Namutoni waterhole south of the camp there was a mix of animals and birds.
Here are some photos of unidentified birds that we saw which we hope you can identify.
After five nights in Halali it was time to move on. Epupa Falls was our goal via Ruacanna and Kunene River Lodge, then on to Epupa along the recently improved road. We called Epupa Falls Lodge to book a few nights there and quickly learned that flooding had severely damaged this road and we would not be able to get through that way. We would have to go via Opuwo – a route I did not particularly fancy.
So after this disappointment and a disappointing time in Etosha we considered going home via the Caprivi. Not on. Most of the places we were interested in staying were flooded. When we contacted the Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge for a campsite so we could see the Leaflove, they told us “Sure you are able to see the bird but we will have to come by boat to fetch you”.
Then we considered simply heading back home.
On the day of departure, Sally said that as we had come this far we ought to go to Epupa Falls. I agreed reluctantly as I was not looking forward to the drive. We contacted Epupa Falls Lodge and booked ourselves in for three nights.
Fruit and Flora which Sally had photoed
We had always wanted to see the recently opened western side of Etosha and decided that we would do so on our way to Epupa Falls. 70 kms to Okaukuejo then another 200 kms to the Anderssen gate at the west of the park.
It was too long a journey to comfortably get to Epupa Falls in one day. That being the case we unthinkingly booked ourselves a campsite in Kamanjab for a night as there was nothing close to the Anderssen gate. Instead we should and could have camped in Ruacana and given ourselves a chance to find the Grey Kestrel. It would have meant backtracking about 40 extra kms compared to going to Kamanjab. Unfortunately we only considered this as we reached Kamanjab.
The west side of the park was quite different from the rest of Etosha. It started much like the area around Okaukuejo for a long part of the journey to the new campsite at Olifantsrus where the road forks. We took the left fork to the campsite and were quite impressed. Although there is no shade nor power for the 10 campsites, they were neatly arranged and the ablutions good. One of the big plusses was the double level hide. Walk along a boardwalk to the hide which is situated overlooking a wetland area.
Continuing along the left fork to the gate the landscape changes and we drive through rugged and hilly country well vegetated. Quite different and unexpected. We would like to spend a short time to explore this area in the future. The problem is that the campsite is extremely popular and hard to book.
Kamanjab to Epupa Falls is about 430 kms and takes a good 6 hours to do when you are towing. In fact it took us four hours from Opuwo – a journey of 180 kms. The last 70 kms travelling through over 100 marked dips in the road. It meant virtually stopping at the bottom of the dip each time to protect the tow hitch.
The scenery was spectacular along the way especially as we approached Epupa Falls.
Epupa Falls was was worth all the effort to get there. Fortunately we were there when the Kunene River was flowing strongly. The dam gates up river in Angola had been opened.
We checked in to Epupa Falls Lodge. The campsite is right beside the river and from our site we could see the spray as the water started going over the falls. It is a well palm shaded campsite but without power. The solar panels had to be constantly moved every hour to find some sun.
On our first evening we went up to the lookout point over the Falls. What a view especially to see it in flood.
The birding was excellent. We had birding round the camp with numerous Rosy-faced Lovebirds, Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrushes and Ruppel’s Parrots amongst them.
Then there was the birding beside the banks going upstream along the road towards Kunene River Lodge. We drove 20 kms along this road without difficulty.
The local population were always smiley and friendly.
Undoubtedly Epupa Falls was the highlight of our trip to both the Kgalagadi and Namibia.
Sadly leaving Epupa Falls behind we headed back to Windhoek – the car was due for a service there.
We had a one night stopover at Buschfeld – Igaba camp near Otjiwarongo. 670kms taking about 10 hours. The campsite is small but attractive. The restaurant was excellent and the birding not bad.
In the garden there was a large bird party of Green-winged Pytilias and Violet-eared and Blue Waxbills.
Then we had a two night stay at Erindi camping at R850 a night plus a daily R300 charge to access the wilderness area. The campsite had its own ablution and wash-up area with power – pretty smart. However, despite camping in Namibia being double RSA rates, we felt the price here was a rip-off.
The wilderness area is small and not all that exciting from an animal perspective.
Most of the game animals were seen in the camp along with some very annoying buzzing bugs hovering around your ears.
The camp does have a waterhole where animals came in to drink. Two hippos are also resident there and kept us entertained with their antics.
However the highlight of our stay was right in our campsite. I was busy copying photos onto my PC inside the trailer. For no particular reason I got up to see what Sally was up to outside. So I walked out to her totally unaware of what was beside me. When I reached Sally she pointed. I looked round and was most surprised I had walked within feet of the animal. I could not believe my eyes as we had scoured around Namutoni to see one of these.
The best birding in the Wildereness area was when we heard a Hartlaub’s Spurfowl.
When we entered Windhoek from Botswana we had noticed a campsite just before entering the city and close to Avis Dam. The Vineyard Country Lodge. It looked inviting and as it turns out we are sorry we did not stop there originally. This was our next stop for three nights. It took us less than three hours to get there – about 190 kms. And it was one of the cheapest places we camped at in Namibia at R 180 per person per night. It was the best value for money as well as being close but out of town.
The car went in for service the next day and we caught up with laundry and shopping once the car returned. We had parked and set up camp next to our own ablution facilities. Sally outside, me inside when I hear a quiet call from Sally. This time I sneak out of the campervan and there on a post very close was a Rockrunner. However it had gone before I was able to get my camera. Such a lovely and unexpected sighting.
We visited both Avis Dam and Daan Viljoen the next day. At Daan Viljoen we had a few sightings of birds we had not yet seen on the trip. The picnic site area is slowly collapsing unfortunately. The camp grounds look flat, grassy and level – inviting. Perhaps one should check if any events – like weddings – are planned if you wish to camp there.
Travelling round the park we came across some interesting birds, the odd scorpion and lizard.
At Avis Dam there were numerous Long-tailed Paradise-Whydahs and a Rock Martin which caught our interest.
Eventually it was time to return home. We could have gone through Botswana on the Trans Kalahari Highway but we could not find a place to safely camp in South Africa near the Botswana border. So we headed south to the White House just before Grunau. (660 kms in about 7 hours). Little did we realise that this was owned by people we met in Epupa Falls. We recognised each other on arrival. We did not camp but took a cheap room in the house including dinner as a treat.
Getting there early we had a short drive round the property and were pleasantly rewarded by some special birds.
Our intention was to take two more nights on the road to get home in Howick. However we sort of made a detour to find a place near Kendall to stay. It was not where we expected so we pushed on doing almost 1000 kms when we fortunately saw a sign for Kandirri Game Lodge. The detour had cost us an extra 200 kms and several hours more.
We were thankful to have arrived there as it was almost dark. We were the only guests. Not wanting to cook, we asked if the restaurant was still open. No problem, we were told they will call the chef to come in just for us – fish and chips never tasted so good.
Our campsite was surrounded by caged lions and other animals (a good security shield if ever you need one). Next to us was a white lion – obviously a youngster and very good looking. As we set up tent we noticed a large black dog in its cage. Oh no, we thought – not for dinner surely. Then we saw the dog playfully give the lion a swipe on its head – the return cuff was markedly stronger but it was obvious they were playmates – must have been brought up together.
The next day we set off early to do the last 630 kms taking about 7 hours to get home with daylight to spare.
Altogether our bird list was 195 different species. Click here to see our list as well as the list per area.
Sally and I were invited by our friends, Arthur and Rose Douglas to join them for 3 weeks in the Kgalagadi. Also with us was another couple, Bernard and Lynda Kriel.
Our first night was spent at the River of Joy campsite close to Bloemfontein. A 528 km journey from Howick taking around 6 hours. A pleasant enough spot to overnight. We went down to the river but did not see much. Our best birding was up the entrance road .
Here we managed to do a little birding and our best sighting was that of a pair of Spotted Thick-knees.
The next day we took it easy and headed for Kheis Riverside Lodge. This time a 445 km journey taking about 5 hours. That left us with a shortish drive the following day to reach Twee Rivieren (a 379 Km journey taking about 4 hours) with time to do any last minute shopping in Uppington.
Kheis Riverside Lodge campsite is very pleasant – shady and green and right next to the Orange River.
Birding was quiet but we did see some nice birds – Orange River White-eye and Black-chested Prinias.
At last we arrived in the Kgalagadi. After checking into the Transfrontier Park at Twee Riv1eren we headed for Rooiputs. Because we were leaving the Park into Botswana at the eastern gate of Mabuasuhube at the end of our trip, we remembered to get our passports stamped as entering Botswana (easily forgotten).
We shared campsite number 2. A large site with an A-frame, cold water and a loo and shower a tad far away to walk comfortably to at night especially as there were lions about.
Early to bed and early to rise – typical of enjoying the bush.
Then it happened – the first of three nights worth at Rooiputs. Big thunderstorm and loads of rain. Each night the same. Wake up and find the river bed was surprisingly full of water. However by evening it had gone.
The rain covered most of the Park each night.
As well as down to Twee Rivieren and across to Mata Mata.
Over the four days in Rooiputs we had some lovely bird sightings. Great raptor sightings – Black Harrier in particular.
Amongst the non-raptors there were
Of course it was not just about birds. In the Sociable Weavers’ nest we found a Cape Cobra.
And Black-backed Jacal, Brown Hyena, Lions on a kill, Bat-eared Foxes, Cheetah and cubs on a kill, a Honey Badger with opportunistic friends, Oryx (aka Gemsbok), numerous Springbok and Mongooses to name a few.