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This is a truly marvelous 2.5-week birding adventure, during which we sample three different countries and spectacular, diverse scenery. We start in the coastal Namib Desert with its impressive dune fields (inhabited by a desirable, localized endemic) and lagoons filled with flamingos, pelicans, shorebirds, and some really localized species such as Damara Tern and Chestnut-banded Plover. The mountains of the beautiful Namib Escarpment are next on our itinerary, and here we search for Rosy-faced Lovebird, Herero Chat, Rockrunner, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Damara Red-billed Hornbill, the incomparable batis-like (although largely terrestrial) White-tailed Shrike, and other charismatic endemics of northern Namibia/southern Angola. Heading to the palm-lined Kunene River separating Angola from Namibia (this remote, ruggedly beautiful corner of Namibia is often ignored on birding tours) we look for Angolan Cave Chat, Cinderella Waxbill, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Grey Kestrel, and other desirables.
Eventually we leave the endemic-rich desert and enter the grassland, savanna, and woodland of one of Africa’s greatest game parks, Etosha National Park. This must surely be one of the world’s best places for seeing black rhino and big cats, along with all the other African megafauna. And it is excellent for a good range of very special birds, such as Namibia’s dazzling national bird, Crimson-breasted Shrike, the world’s heaviest flying bird, Kori Bustard, the diminutive Pygmy Falcon, and stacks more.
After Etosha we head into an incredibly bird-diverse tropical corner of Namibia, the Caprivi Strip, and the adjacent panhandle of the Okavango Delta, which falls just within the borders of Botswana. The magnificent wetlands and woodlands in these parts support Pel’s Fishing Owl (this is the world’s most reliable place for this monster), White-backed Night Heron, Slaty Egret, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, and literally hundreds of other species, a rather large proportion of them spectacular. Finally we bird around the Victoria Falls of Zambia (with a brief optional foray into adjacent Zimbabwe) for yet again a rich assemblage of birds.
This birding tour covers a vast area and huge range of habitats, from the coastal deserts to the land of big rivers. While Namibian distances are large, we minimize driving time and maximize birding time by starting in Walvis Bay, Namibia, and ending in Livingstone, Zambia.
This tour can be combined with our Subtropical South Africa 18-day Birding Adventure October (14 – 31 October) for a 35-day Southern African adventure and even, preceding that, our Western Cape 8-day Birding Adventure October (7 – 14 October) or Kruger National Park and Escarpment tour (29 September – 07 October) for an even longer, southern African mega tour. Another possibility is to combine it with our Best of Madagascar: 15-day Birding and Wildlife Tour tour (17 – 31 October).
Itinerary (18 days/17 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Walvis Bay and start of coastal desert birding
Our birding guide fetches you from Walvis Bay airport, and we immediately start birding. The first site we usually visit is the picturesque red sand dune habitat across a (usually) dry riverbed from the village of Rooibank right in the middle of the Namib Desert. Dune Lark is the main target here, but we often also find the almost pure white desert form of Tractrac Chat. Our accommodation for two nights is at a place where one can sometimes literally see thousands of Flamingos (usually about half-half Greater and Lesser), migratory shorebirds from Eurasia, Great White Pelican, and all the rest.
Overnight: Lagoon Loge, Walvis Bay
Day 2. Walvis Bay Lagoon, Swakopmund and other areas
Most tour participants join the optional (around R900) boat trip that is focused mainly on marine mammals such as Cape fur seal, bottlenose dolphin, the localized Heaviside’s dolphin, and sometimes southern right whale. But one also often sees some good birds from the boat, not the least of which is Damara Tern. But there is also an incredible drive we do that usually gives us close-up views of all the target birds of the lagoon – these include not only this rare, tiny tern, but also Chestnut-banded Plover, Black-necked Grebe (often in large rafts) and hundreds of thousands of migrant waders. Today we also look for Gray’s Lark, a very pale Namibian near-endemic lark species.
Overnight: Lagoon Loge, Walvis Bay
Day 3. The Namib Escarpment via the Spitzkoppe (or “Matterhorn of Namibia”)
Heading inland and northwards, we start encountering some spectacular mountains. The Spitzkoppe in particular is a huge inselberg that rises abruptly from the desert plain. The flat surrounding areas are good for Burchell’s Courser, Double-banded Courser, Rüppell’s Korhaan, Ludwig’s Bustard, a number of localized lark species such as Karoo Long-billed Lark (replaced by Benguela Long-billed Lark slightly farther north), etc. The mountains themselves are where we search for the enigmatic, bizarre Herero Chat, noisy little flocks of Rosy-faced Lovebirds, a couple of hornbill species basically restricted to the Namib and adjacent arid habitats, Bradfield’s Swift, and many others.
Overnight: Huab Lodge, Kamanjab
Day 4. Birding around Huab Lodge
We continue birding the mountains. White-tailed Shrike, Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, Rüppell’s Parrot, and Rockrunner are four of the superstars of the show – all of them are very localized (occurring only in Namibia and a small part of Angola) and full of personality, not to mention striking-looking. Quite a number of brightly colored seedeaters also vie for attention. We might, if we’re lucky, see black mongoose, greater kudu, or another mammal or two.
Overnight: Huab Lodge, Kamanjab
Days 5 – 6. Birding the Zebra Mountains and Kunene
We venture right to the Angolan border, “marked” by the surprising Kunene River (a perennial river in an otherwise arid landscape), where we stay for two nights at our idyllic, remote lodge in a nice patch of riverine forest including blue-grey palms. Bat Hawk (farther west than usual) and nightjars such as Rufous-cheeked Nightjar can sometimes be seen over the river at dusk while enjoying sundowners from the comfort of the lodge. The next morning we leave really early (about two hours before dawn; non-birding spouses who prefer to relax around the lodge can of course opt out of the morning’s birding if preferred). The aim is to be positioned at our site in the spectacularly rugged Zebra Mountains just as it starts getting light. The target is the spectacular-looking, unusual Angolan Cave Chat, which was only very recently discovered as a breeding bird in Namibia (it was previously thought to be an Angolan endemic), and it occurs here in this remote mountain range in surprisingly high densities.
After seeing this bird we slowly start heading back to the lodge, stopping at our site for another incredibly localized species, the enigmatic Cinderella Waxbill. The lodge itself is very good for some of our other main target birds, so during our afternoon session of birding we’ll look for the unspotted form of Bennett’s Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush (a west-African bird which occurs from here, the Namibia/Angola border, northwards to Gabon). Usually we have to drive around a bit to find Grey Kestrel, another species right at the edge of its range here.
Overnight: Kunene River Lodge, Opuwo
Day 7. Etosha National Park: birds and mammals
Justifiably this is rated as one of the best game parks in Africa. The floodlit waterholes at the lodges (“camps”) within the park must provide one of the greatest wildlife shows on earth. This is big (and small) mammal country, where elephant, black rhino, large herds of springbok, gemsbok, plains zebra, blue wildebeest, and many other herbivores lurk, meaning (excitingly) that there are also relatively high densities of predators and scavengers such as cheetah, lion, leopard, caracal, African wild cat, spotted hyena, black-backed jackal, etc.
While we stop to look at all the mammal species, birding is still the main focus. An isolated population of South Africa’s national bird, the beautiful Blue Crane, inhabits Etosha. Kori Bustard and its smaller relative, Northern Black Korhaan, are both common. Secretarybird and an absolute stack of raptors and vultures are always much in evidence. This is one of the best places in southern Africa for owls, and we often find the tiny African Scops Owl, the giant Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, and then also others such as the beautiful Southern White-faced Owl at their daytime roosts (usually in Halali Camp, where we sometimes stop for lunch one of the days). Pink-billed Lark and Stark’s Lark are common near Okaukuejo, and Etosha must be one of the few sites where one has to kick Double-banded Courser from one’s feet. The unbelievably huge nests of Sociable Weaver are features of some areas, sometimes with Pygmy Falcon taking up residence in the same nests.
Overnight: Dolomite Camp, Western Etosha
Day 8. Traversing Etosha National Park from west to central
A full day in this great game park.
Overnight: Okaukuejo Camp, central Etosha
Day 9. Central to eastern Etosha National Park
We’ll explore the rest of the park today.
Overnight: Halali Camp or Mokuti Etosha Lodge, eastern Etosha
Day 10. Transfer to and birding at Rundu
As we continue eastwards the landscape becomes less arid, and today we start seeing some well-developed woodlands for the first time during our birding tour. We spend a night just west of the Caprivi Strip, on the banks of what is called the Kavango River here in Namibia, but which changes its name to the Okavango River when it enters Botswana a bit downstream. In Botswana it also widens quickly, first into a panhandle and eventually into the vast Okavango Delta proper, an incredible inland delta, the waters of which get absorbed by the thirsty Kalahari sands rather than ever reaching the sea.
The tall woodlands near Rundu are home to some tricky birds such as Rufous-bellied Tit (which can be very thin on the ground and tough to find; playback often brings in its more common and widespread relative, Southern Black Tit). Sharp-tailed Starling (along with the more common but also more spectacularly plumaged Greater Blue-eared Starling) and Sousa’s Shrike are two tough birds of human-modified woodland sometimes in poor condition. There are a plethora of other great birds to be found here, both woodland birds and waterbirds, such as cuckooshrikes, orioles, Green-capped Eremomela, Tinkling Cisticola, Swamp Boubou, Dwarf Bittern, Rufous-bellied Heron, and a rich assemblage of others.
Overnight: Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu
Day 11. Into the Caprivi Strip: Mahango
We spend time in the western parts of the Caprivi Strip, a narrow strip of Namibia wedged between Botswana and Angola, where we hope to find Rock Pratincole and any of the birds mentioned for the previous day that we may have missed. We stay at a lodge near the tiny but impressively diverse Mahango Game Reserve, a protected area within Bwabwata National Park. Here we add a great many new birds to our list, along with new mammals. African buffalo occurs here but not in Etosha, and this is also one of the best places in the world to find the rare roan antelope and sable antelope. Wattled Crane, Slaty Egret,Western Banded Snake Eagle, Luapula Cisticola, the oversized Coppery-tailed Coucal, several spectacular weavers with their bright yellow plumage and amazing nests, Greater Painted-snipe, and Grey-rumped Swallow are just a few of the many birds we’re likely to encounter at Mahango.
Overnight: Ndhovu Safari Lodge, Divundu
Day 12. Into Botswana: the Okavango Panhandle
The Botswana border is only a short drive away. After crossing it one immediately enters a more open, overgrazed habitat, which is, interestingly, the best place to see the localized Bradfield’s Hornbill. But the biggest treat awaits us when we arrive at Drotsky’s Cabins, from where we take a boat trip to their Okavango sister lodge, where we spend two nights. Here at Xaro Lodge the loud grunts of hippos startle one as one tries to fall asleep in the luxury safari tents. While in the water during the day, they do lurk around the lodge grounds at night eating grass – it’s not advisable to walk around after dark, as this is Africa’s most dangerous animal. The lodge grounds, which can become an island during floods, are one of the best places in the world to find Pel’s Fishing Owl, and African Wood Owl and the beautiful African Barred Owlet are also usually much in evidence. Brown Firefinch and its more common cousins, Red-billed Firefinch and Blue Waxbill, often feed on the lawns. The liquid calls of Swamp Boubou and coucals add greatly to the atmosphere.
Overnight: Xaro Lodge, Shakawe, Botswana
Day 13. A full day in Botswana
We spend a lot of time looking for birds by boat today, but we also do some easy walks.
Overnight: Xaro Lodge, Shakawe, Botswana
Day 14 – 15. Back into Namibia and continuing east through the Caprivi Strip
We continue birding the wetlands and woodlands of this bird-rich corner of Namibia. We spend two nights on the banks of the Kwando River, from where we can do boat trips and birding/game drives.
Overnight: Caprivi Houseboat Cabins or similar, Katima Mulilo
Days 16 – 17. Into Zambia and birding Victoria Falls
The habitat changes into a wonderful broad-leafed woodland as we approach the Zambia/Zimbabwe border. Here a new suite of fabulous birds awaits, many of them characteristic of south-central Africa. African Ground Hornbill and Schalow’s Turaco are two of the most spectacular birds we hope to find. But then there are also Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Grey-headed Parrot, Dusky Lark, and so many others also to look for. Racket-tailed Rolleroccurs here but is less conspicuous than the other rollers (several of which we will hopefully already have seen). Yellow-throated Leaflove was discovered as a breeding bird on the Namibia/Zambia border (the Namibian side) in 2015, hundreds of kilometers south of its previously known range, and, time permitting, we might look for it today.
We eventually reach the mighty Zambezi River (one of Africa’s largest rivers), where we may see African Finfoot and many other water-associated and riverine forest birds. This massive river forms the border between Namibia and Zambia, and after crossing the bridge into the latter country we still have a couple of hours of driving before we get to the famed Victoria Falls a bit farther east. We’ll spend some time admiring the falls, but it’s important to note that the whole area has a spectacularly rich birdlife, so we’ll add a lot of good new birds to our list near the end of the tour.
We usually find about 400 bird species on this tour of varied habitats – and we also get among the highest mammal lists on this transect of any of our tours.
Overnight: Maramba River Lodge, Livingstone, Zambia
Day 18. Departure
Your flight can leave Livingstone any time today.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.
We toured Namibia in a private group of six people through Birding Ecotours in 2010. Our group was rather diverse, with birding desires ranging from obsessive to casual and including a wildlife photographer. The range of interests could have led to issues, but we all were very satisfied with the trip. We not only had great birding results, thoroughly satisfying the more bird-oriented among us, but also had unforgettable experiences viewing mammals to the delight of the entire group. The tour was well-organized and well-executed, we had plenty of information in advance, the arrangements took account of our special needs, accommodations and transportation were excellent, and the price was quite reasonable. We were delighted with the trip and look forward to our next adventure (already booked!) with Birding Ecotours.
Hill Heck — Ohio, USA
Important explanation about the default vehicles we use on our southern African tours:
Whereas the standard birding-tour vehicle in East Africa is the popup-roof stretch Land Cruiser, in southern Africa these are extremely rare and not usually legal except within some parks. Open safari vehicles, on the other hand, are commonly seen in southern African parks but can’t be used outside the parks, and they are extremely unpleasant to be in when the weather is bad even inside the parks. The only tried-and-tested tour vehicle available in southern Africa that allows us to cover the ground we need so we can find the greatest diversity of birds (and other wildlife), and which is comfortable in all weather, is legal, has proper air conditioning, and does not make the overall tour price exorbitant, is the 13-seater Toyota Quantum when we have 6-8 (rarely 9) tour participants (or similar 7-10-seater vans when we have smaller group sizes). In areas where we are not restricted to the vehicle during the tour (such as in the Cape) we usually use unmodified standard Quantum vans – everyone gets out of the vehicle when we see a good bird or animal. In areas in which we are at times restricted to the vehicle because of the presence of dangerous megafauna including lions, elephants, and more (such as the Kruger National Park) we typically use a Quantum van with modified windows for better viewing of birds and other wildlife. In Kruger (and sometimes in Etosha) National Parks we usually do include a day or two in open safari vehicles as part of the tour price. Optional night drives (at nominal cost) in open safari vehicles are available at most southern African parks (including Kruger) for those who have less of a focused interest in birds (as these are operated by the park’s guides, who usually focus mainly on the “Big 5”). You can speak to the tour leader about joining these night drives, but in our experience some tour participants prefer not to join them, and hence we leave them as an optional extra for those willing to pay a (small/nominal) extra fee.
Even the tried-and-tested Toyota Quantum (or similar) vans we use fall far short of being ideal (small windows that are quite low, etc.), and we truly wish there were something better available without breaking the bank. But we use the best available vehicles, and we ensure that everyone has a fair turn in and near the front of the vehicle – we typically swap seating positions daily, but in the parks we can swap positions four times a day as necessary. The vehicles we use are by far the best vehicles available at a reasonable price. All the birding tour companies use the same vans unless their tours have a narrow focus just around Kruger/nearby or another park. It’s a big problem in South Africa that the East African style safari vehicles are, simply, unavailable, except for a handful of very old, shaky ones (and usually in East Africa they don’t have air conditioning anyway, are extremely slow between sites, and, in short, have a different suite of disadvantages). We use the very best vehicles we can without making our trips much more expensive than anyone else’s, but we also feel we have to be clear about what to expect before the tour, hence this note. If you are worried about the vehicle then please:
While we generally allow a window seat for every passenger and like to have at least a couple of free seats available for birding gear etc., it’s better to ask us about the specific tour to be sure what is the case. For photography trips the per-person price is higher because we leave more empty seats available as more tour participants have bulky camera gear!
It is our philosophy only to have one vehicle per tour as it invariably gets very frustrating when one vehicle sees a bird or animal and the other vehicle misses it! And our group sizes are small – maximum of eight (rarely nine). The tour prices would be very high and uncompetitive if we had a second vehicle and driver-guide with twice the guide’s accommodation, food, fuel and toll costs, considering the small group sizes on our tours. Again, if you request a private tour, we can take two or even three vehicles or absolutely whatever you request – a private tour is different. (It is illegal for us to have any person without a local driver’s license and professional driving permit to drive passengers who are paying to be on a tour, so we can’t even suggest that a tour participant drives a second vehicle to allow more space and window seats).
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