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.