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: 14-day Birding and Wildlife Tour tour (17 – 30 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
Days 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 Roller occurs 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
This is a sample trip report. Please email us (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more trip reports from this destination.
BIRDING TOUR NAMIBIA, OKAVANGO AND VICTORIA FALLS: GENERAL INFORMATION
This 18-day birding adventure includes three countries, Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia. In Namibia we bird the Namib Coast and Namibian Escarpment for the host of species that inhabit only northern Namibia and southern Angola. In addition we will see one of the greatest shorebird spectacles on the African continent (plus find localized species such as Damara Tern and Chestnut-banded Plover). We also bird the woodlands, rivers, and swamps of the Caprivi Strip and Botswana. These areas are inhabited by a phenomenal diversity of birds. Birding around the stunning Victoria Falls can also be very rewarding. The entire trip mixes truly unforgettable birding with impressive and unbelievably diverse scenery. Although the trip focuses on the endemics and specials, we will end up with an impressive list also of other birds as well as loads of mammals.
Namibia’s climate is typical of semi-desert terrain, hot days, and cool nights. The coastal regions are cooled by the cold Benguela current, causing fog and inhibiting rainfall. Over the central plateau in the country, which is higher up, temperatures are understandably lower. With 300 days of sunshine on average per year, Namibia is truly a sunny place. Only during the summer months from November to April does rain occur, mostly as heavy thunderstorms. Then the usually dry riverbeds become saturated with torrents of muddy water in a very short time. It is during this time that the sun-scorched land comes to life and develops a colorful horizon-to-horizon floral carpet within a few days. The interior enjoys two rainy seasons: the short season is between October and December, marked by frequent thunderstorms. The longer season is from mid-January to April. Summer is from October to April. Temperatures can reach 40 ºC, which drops at night to cool levels. Average daily temperatures range from 20 to 34 ºC. Winter is from May to September with wonderful warm days, which are contrasted by very cold nights when temperatures often drop to below freezing.
On this trip we expect very hot weather in the desert. Further east toward Victoria Falls we expect hot and humid weather. The weather can be surprisingly cool on the coast, even in summer, so please be prepared for all weather but generally expect heat to be the main problem. It might rain, but since the areas visited are typically dry we don’t expect it to interrupt birding very much
We will be visiting areas inhabited by venomous snakes, although as usual we will be very lucky to see any. We recommend hiking boots, jeans/long trousers, and a good dose of care to minimize the danger of snakebites. We do not take anti-venom on our tours but will try and rush you to a private hospital if you do get bitten (although we will often be in extremely remote places); your own travel insurance (especially medical insurance) is crucial. In game reserves, where large predators freely lurk, it is illegal for very good reasons to alight from one’s vehicle except in rest camps and picnic areas. Scorpions and spiders may also cause problems.
Malaria and other diseases
We strongly recommend taking anti-malaria precautions. Any of the following three drugs is highly effective as a malaria preventative measure (albeit not 100 percent due to resistant strains of malaria):
Mosquito repellent, long trousers/jeans, and long-sleeved shirts, particularly at night when malaria (Anopheles) mosquitoes bite, are advised in addition to the drugs.
In the unlikely event that one still contracts malaria after taking anti-malaria drugs and other precautions the disease can still be easily treated if diagnosed soon after symptoms develop: suspect malaria if ‘flu-like’ symptoms develop within a few months after visiting Namibia. If it is malaria it can be treated with an alternative to the prophylactic that you chose.
The Centers for Disease Control website, particularly the section on malaria in southern Africa, is very informative: http://www.cdc.gov/travel/regionalmalaria/safrica.htm
Please do carefully read
You can also take a look at https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/zambia, but please be aware that we only venture into a tiny part of Zambia near Botswana/Namibia, so the countrywide text for Zambia does not really apply to this tour – the Botswana and especially Namibia sections are far more relevant here.
Although you will find that the people of Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia are generally friendly, helpful, and kind, crime is always a possibility (as it is virtually worldwide). We urge you to be aware that crime is possible (although unlikely) throughout the trip – please take very good care of your personal belongings and don’t leave valuables visible in the vehicle when no one is with it.
Electricity is 220-240V. If you intend to recharge video batteries etc. in your hotel room you will need an international adapter (3 round prong in a triangular pattern, ITA Type D/M for Namibia, ITA Type D/G for Botswana, and ITA Type C/D/G for Zambia). Note: If you are from North America or elsewhere that does not have 220-240V electricity, then do check all equipment that you plan on charging to see if it is 110/120–220/240V compatible. If that is the case you only need an adaptor to plug the US/Canadian/etc. plugs into. If your equipment is only listed as 110-120V then you will need a converter to convert the electric current to 220-240V.
SOME THINGS WE RECOMMEND YOU BRING
General list for all tours – specific destinations may need further recommendations
(Please note that space in the vehicle may be fairly limited, but we understand that birders do need lots of equipment! There will be opportunities for laundry.)
Binoculars (the guides cannot lend theirs)
A spotting scope and tripod or window mount (optional)
Any other birding equipment
Spare batteries for photographic and other gear
Flashlight/torch/headlamp with spare batteries
Personal medication (including anti-malaria drugs). We recommend packing important medication (and a change of clothes) in your hand luggage in the unlikely event of lost luggage.
Some countries might require a valid Yellow Fever Certificate, and we advise visiting a travel clinic or your family doctor and visiting the Centers for Disease Control website for health advice.
Rain gear (little rain expected on this trip, but we might have some rain)
Passport and if required, visas (you can get a Zambian visa at the border – will need US$ cash for it – usually around $50). Please note that those wanting to cross into Zimbabwe on foot to see Victoria Falls from the other side (across from Livingstone, Zambia) will have to pay for an additional (Zimbabwean) visa, the cost of which changes quite often but can be as high as US$100 (unfortunately, some nationalities are charged a lot more than others, too).
Copies of passport, medical insurance policies, and other important documents, which can be left with the Birding Ecotours office or at your home
Money for drinks, gifts, tips (although tips at restaurants during the tour are included), items of a personal nature, etc. Traveler’s checks are often difficult to use, except in the USA, but Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, including for drawing local currency at ATMs.
Hiking boots plus another pair of shoes and sandals
Cap/hat and sunglasses
Sunscreen and lip sun protection
Long-sleeved clothes as a precaution against biting insects
Comments specific to this tour
In Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia we expect the weather to be warm to very hot during the day, and often mild at night. We do this tour at the best time for birds, but the disadvantage is the heat. However, the coast can sometimes be foggy and quite cool, and we recommend bringing sweaters, windbreakers, and long pants at least for the coastal part of the trip. Inland the Namib Desert is often extremely hot, but dry, whereas the Caprivi can be very hot and humid, even at night. So hot weather clothes are recommended, but long trousers, hiking boots, and long sleeves, although uncomfortable in hot weather, will help prevent snakebite and sunburn. There is a chance of rain, especially in the Caprivi, the Okavango, and at Victoria Falls.
EMERGENCY CONTACT DETAILS
Our emergency contact numbers are as follows (please note that the “+27” should be substituted by a “0” if dialing from within South Africa):
Birding Ecotours office: Nadia: +27 72 211 9863
Fax: +27 21 592 7438
E-mail (which is checked almost daily): email@example.com
Please refer to our online resource for field guides and apps
Stuarts’ Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa by Chris and Mathilde Stuart, Struik Publishers. 2015
Smithers’ Mammals of Southern Africa – a field guide. Edited by Peter Apps. 1996
Field Guide to Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa by Bill Branch, Struik Publishers. 1998 – Excellent
Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa by Steve Woodhall, 440-page paperback. 2005 – the best of those available
Sasol First Field Guide to Butterflies and Moths of Southern Africa by Simon von Noort, 56-page paperback. 1999
Field guide to Insects of South Africa by Mike Picker, Charles Griffiths and Alan Weaving, Struik Publishers. 2004