Birdwatching in Namibia

Birdwatching in Namibia

Namibia is a birdwatcher’s paradise. Most people think of the Namib Desert when they hear about thiscountry in the south-western corner on the African continent. However, there is much more toNamibia than just the oldest coastal desert in the world. From this barren piece of land stretching allalong the coast from the Deep South to far north-west and one of the world’s driest environments,over the arid central plateau to the more humid riverine forests and savannahs of the dry tropicalZambezi Region in the extreme north-east, ornithologists have recorded close to 700

different kind of avifauna.

While the favourite travel season in Namibia are the drier months from May to November, when mostgame gathers around the many waterholes in the iconic Etosha National Park and other gamereserves, the best time for birding is during the rainy season from December to March. ManyPalearctic migrants have then arrived from Europe and Eurasia, and birds are in their breedingplumage.

As most visitors arrive in Windhoek, which is centrally located in the country on the high plateau, ourjourney commences here. There are some excellent birding spots in and around town, of which theDaan Viljoen Park 18 km west of the capital is probably the most rewarding. Upmarketaccommodation as well as superb camping facilities are available as are various hiking trails ofdifferent lengths. This reserve offers excellent savannah birding as well as game viewing. Largepredators and pachyderms are absent but an abundance of plains game may be encountered. Birdspecies to be found here include Monteiro’s Hornbill, Mountain chat, white-tailed shrike, and crimson-breasted boubou. With a bit of luck black-breasted snake eagle, tawny eagle and the rare mountain-dwelling black eagle make their appearance.

Some 250 km further north lies the Waterberg and the Waterberg Plateau National Park. Althoughslightly of the major the major tourist route, the park offers excellent birding opportunities with 250species recorded in a relatively small area. To be ticked off the list of the most wanted areAlpine swift, Augur buzzard, Bennett’s woodpecker, booted eagle, Bradfield’s hornbill, Cape vulture(actually, at Waterberg the only breeding colony of Cape vulture is found), the near endemic Carp’s titHartlaub’s francolin, and violet wood hoopoe amongst many others.

Before travelling further north, we deviate to the Namib Desert, one of the driest places on earth witha highly specialized fauna and flora. Animals to be found here are bat-eared foxes, yellowmongooses, Oryx antelopes, Mountain zebra and springbuck. Cheetah, leopard and black rhino onceextinct in the desert, have been reintroduced in some areas. Birders will find the endemic dune lark,the black-eared sparrow lark, black-breasted snake eagle, lesser and rock kestrel as well as thecommon ostrich here. In the mountainous Naukluft section of the Namib Naukluft Park, the Verreaux’sor black eagle may be observed soaring over the cliffs while rosy-faced lovebirds andcrimson/breasted boubou populate the dense vegetation and undergrowth along the riverbeds.

As we arrive at the coast, we find the wetlands of Walvis Bay and the freshwater lagoon of SandwichHarbour, both RAMSAR sites and famous home to thousands of greater and lesser flamingos,pelicans, the near extinct Damara tern, brown skuas, oyster catchers and myriads of blackcormorants. Cape Gannets may also be found here. In February, when significant rains have falleninland and north in the Etosha National Park, flamingos and pelican migrate from the coast to the saltlake of Etosha Pan, which is their favourite breeding spot in southern Africa.

Continuing our journey north towards the Etosha National Park, the overwhelmed birder may findsome respite in game viewing, too, indulging in in some of the 144 mammal species living in the park.However, soon the birding passion gets the upper hand as we try to identify as many of 340 birdspecies found here. Namutoni area is the birders Garden Eden. In summer and once the dry lake ofEtosha fills with water, the pan attracts many aquatic birds. At Fisher’s Pan Saddlebill storks may befound, flamingos, spoon bills, avocets, spur-winged geese, and knob-billed ducks populate thiscontributory to Etosha Pan. In the forests around Namutoni, crimson-breasted shrikes dart throughthe thickets, blue waxbills frequent the waterholes, black-faced babblers hop around the Terminaliatrees, and red-billed hornbills eerily call in the midday heat.

Travelling further north-east we arrive in the Zambezi Region, formerly known as the Caprivi Strip.This is just another birders paradise with over 450 recorded species. Here you may find the very raremelanistic crimson-breasted shrike in its yellow plumage. Meyer’s parrots are frequent. If you stopalong the route from Rundu to Divundu, you have a good chance to see Steppe and Lesser SpottedEagles, Hobby, and Red-footed Falcon. Specifically when termites emerge from their mounds, a largevariety of birds of prey congregate to feed on the insects. The larger raptors tend to feed on theground and feeding parties may include most species of vulture, Secretary Bird, Wahlberg's Eagle,African Hawk Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, and Dark Chanting Goshawk.

Regular stops along the way in tall, mature woodland should give good views of African GoldenOriole, Tinkling (Grey) Cisticola, Neddicky (Piping Cisticola), Southern Black Tit, Pale Flycatcher andBlack (Amethyst) Sunbird.

A sight to behold are the hundreds of Carmine Bee-Eaters that you may encounter during a boat tripon the Kwando, Linyanti and Chobe Rivers, as they emerge from their nests built in the riverbanks orsunbathe on the sandbanks on the rivers. Especially with sunset when they return to their nests, youwill see myriads flying back and forth, as they feed their chicks. Have your camera ready as youapproach malachite kingfishers balancing on the reeds, and pied kingfishers as they dart in the slowflowing waters in search for prey. African Fish Eagles are frequently seen perching on top of the treesalong the rivers are darters and white-breasted cormorants. Not to forget the African Jacana or lily-trotters.

The mopane woodlands are the preferred habitat of the stunning White-headed Black Chat, whichcan seen virtually anywhere. Bennett's, Golden-tailed, Cardinal, and Bearded Woodpecker arerelatively common, as are Crested and Pied Barbets. Several small raptors including Lizard Buzzard,Dark Chanting Goshawk, Chakra, and African Little Sparrow hawk should be seen on most visits.Mopane woodlands seem to be the habitat in which to find Common Scops Owl and you should hearthem throughout the night. White-faced Scops and Barn Owls, African Barred and Pearl-spottedOwlets have also been recorded here. Bird parties occur in this woodland type and usually compriseSouthern Black Tit, Long-billed Crombec, Black Cuckoo-shrike, White Helmet Shrike, and Burnt-necked Eremomela. Long-tailed and White-crowned Shrikes are relatively common in thesewoodlands.

Why go birding in Namibia? The close to 700 species of birds found here including 1 endemicspecies, the Dune Lark, and nearly 30 near-endemics, the stunning variety of raptor birds, are a mostrewarding experience for the passionate birder. In addition to birding, Namibia offers excellent gameviewing in its many game reserves and national parks, as well as some extraordinary opportunities forphotography in the Namib Desert and along the southern coastal dune belt. The variety of aridregional as well as tropical birds and mammals along with its proximity to the water wonderland of theZambezi Region and nearby Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe makes Namibia a most fascinating country toexplore.