Okay I was going to do one long blog but thought I might bore people with too many photos and text. I have a lot of photos. So I am spitting the blog posts into three parts. Since the trip was 18 days long, I am doing Days 1-6, Days 7-12, and Days 13-18. Here goes . . . . . . . . .
When we touched down in Livingstone, after going through heavy turbulence prior to landing, I was surprised to see only one other plane at the terminal, and it was a small commuter plane. We were told they only get about 2-3 flights per day and when those people deplane, the plane takes on passengers and then quickly departs. Our welcome to Zambia was HOT, HOT, HOT a big change in temperature after being along the cool West Cape. Hard to imagine we are going to bird in these hot temperatures for 18 days.
Livingstone, the town, itself is not inspiring but the nearby Victoria Falls was awe-inspiring! We stayed at a place called Gloria’s B&B. Trip Advisor and booking.com gave it good reviews, but we weren’t overly impressed. The window in our room was missing a window pane and the screen had a hole in it – think Mosquitos. The doors – bath room and entrance – took some effort to lock.
We walked into town the first day for dinner – about 1.5 km – and passed only one other white couple. Most of the blacks wouldn’t look at us, a couple of them gave us hostile looks or sneers, and only a few said hi and only if we spoke first. They have to see a lot of white people in town since we are big part of their tourism economy.
Day two in Livingstone we went to a defunct golf course to bird. We walked there and back – about 6+ kilometers. We only saw three other white people walking during our walk to and from the golf course. We were approached by a caretaker at the golf course telling us a little bit about the historic looking, shuttered club house and then requesting a donation because he was hungry. Unfortunately we didn’t have any local currency so gave him South African Rands instead. I’m sure he will be able to change it at a bank or on the streets.
We stopped at a local store to buy soft drinks (yea they sell Pepsi) and water. I only seem to drink soft drinks when it is really hot outside. For some reason I seem to crave a cold cola drink. However, it was not to be – at least not yet. The store wouldn’t take South African Rands.
Oh and the electricity went out around 6:00 am and didn’t come back on until 2:00 pm. After going to the golf course it was too hot outside so we went back to the guest house. There they had ice cold Coke, but no air conditioning. We took it easy in the afternoon and then headed out again for dinner. Another pleasant experience walking among the locals. I’m surprised at their attitude as tourism is big business here. While soft drinks and bottled water and eating out is less expensive than in South Africa, lodging is not. Also if you want to take a taxi to the falls – approximately 15 kilometers from town, it costs around $10-$15 US Dollars. I think anyone who has a car in town offers their services as a taxi. As we are out walking the taxi drivers will honk their horns wanting to know if we want a taxi.
Let the tour begin……
We joined our birding group and the first biding hot spot – the Livingstone Sewage Works! The sewage works is a series settling ponds which attract lots of great birds, including a White-cheeked tern (life bird), as well as lots of shorebirds (Wood Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs (only the second recorded sighting at this location), Common Sandpiper, Ruff) and waterbirds (Black Crake, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, African Purple Swamphens, and a Lesser Moorhen [life bird]).
We had to crawl under some wires to get to the ponds. The fence was an electric fence but our guide Greg said it was dead and proceeded to grab the wires and crawl through. I grabbed the wires and had a shocking experience – in both hands. Yikes!!! Luckily not too painful and no damage to the hands.
After the sewage works and heat exhaustion by one of our group, we went back to our hotel for a siesta and to cool off. Under the searing sun, it sure gets hot here (47 degrees celsius on this day we were told), so waited until late afternoon to head to Victoria Falls. Got a fantastic bird – Schalow’s Turaco (bird for the day)- but there was virtually no water falling over the rocks on the Zambia side of the river. We are at the tail end of the dry season so water is a scarce commodity. Apparently the falls are best viewed in April, when water levels are at their peak. Kind of disappointing, so we had the imaginative view of a curtain of water cascading over the very long cliff face into a deep gorge.
Next we went in search of a Collared Palm Thrush at an area popular for local, and we found the bird as soon as we drove up. Next stop was the Bush Front for the Bearded Scrub Robin. We had to work a little harder for that bird, but we did find it.
I mentioned earlier that people in Livingstone do not seem happy with all the foreigners. However, at our hotel our lunch waiter was the friendliest person around, with the biggest smile. So cute – wanted to bring him home.
We left the hotel early and headed to our next night’s lodging in Namibia – Kalizo Lodge. We had to cross the border – getting our passports stamped saying we were leaving Zambia, and getting our passports stamped for arrival in Namibia. In Namibia we waited over an hour standing in line to get permission to enter the country. In the hallway there was a sign regarding corruption and how the government is fighting it. Maybe they shouldn’t. Things might run more smoothly with corruption, because without it we got incompetency instead.
We birded along the way, stopping off at an area known for the occasional Racket-tailed Roller. Greg played the song for the roller and almost instantly the bird came in with a vengeance looking for the intruder. The roller did its “roll” several times (fun to watch), then landed in a nearby tree for a great view. Woohoo!!! This was my bird for the day.
We got to Kalizo Lodge late afternoon and birded the area. We did flush a Square-tailed Nightjar, which was a good find (and a life bird). Luckily the bird didn’t fly too far off and ‘posed’ for us.
We went to check out some nearby wetlands, finding several new species and a number of birds we had seen before. We weren’t out too long, because it just gets too hot. And speaking of hot, the heat is drying up all the wetlands in the area – if they aren’t being drained by locals for planting.
We had several hours to take a siesta so Jack and I birded the lodge grounds. The lodge owners put a sprinkler hose into a tree and the sunbirds were a real treat to watch as they flew in for a shower bath. The water attracted other birds as well, including the Violet-backed Starling – what a brilliant bird! The male is so beautiful when the sun hits its back.
We tried earlier for a Shelley’s Sunbird. The bird was high in the tree and I was getting warbler’s neck (a sore neck from looking up for so long), so I decided to lay down on the raised walk way. Sure saved my neck and I got the bird.
In late afternoon we headed to a wetland area to look for Greater Painted Snipe and African Snipe. Our guide flushed up the African Snipe, but none of us saw it. At this wetland however were a large number of Marabou Storks and Yellow-billed Storks; we had about nine Hamerkops, a number of shorebirds, plenty of Squacco Herons, and several African Skimmers actually skimming the water. Fun to watch.
Then it was off to see the Southern Carmine Bee-Eaters breeding and roost site. WOW!!! only mildly describes the sight of several thousand beautiful birds actively digging their nest burrows and flying in and out of the immediate area. I think I took several hundred photos of the bee-eaters. Now to limit it to a few to include in the blog (see Day 4). We decided to come back the next morning to see them again.
At night we went in search of the Swamp Nightjar. According to Greg, our tour guide, only 15% of the tours have seen this bird. We increased that percentage. Greg played the call and within minutes the bird came flying in. We put the spotlight on the bird and sat and watched it for several minutes. This is one beautiful bird – definitely my Bird of the Day.
In the morning we went back to the Carmine Bee-eater site around 6:30 am just after sunrise. Lots of birds still about. Fun to watch them dig their nests in the ground – shooting sand out behind them. Sometimes into the faces of other birds. Lots of birds in the trees looking like Christmas ornaments.
Then it was off again to our next location. We spent most of the day on the road. It was HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT outside. I guess you get the idea that it was really HOT outside. I’m not used to the heat and our vehicle does not have air conditioning (air is ‘conditioned’ by putting down the windows and getting wind burn). There were a number of other things wrong with the vehicle too, like uncomfortable seats but we bird on….
We did make a few stops along the way. One to check for an Arnot’s Chat (did not find it), and whenever anyone spotted a raptor that was not a Yellow-billed Kite. The Kites are quite common. We saw a lot of them while in South Africa as well. It is easy to tell the Kite by its tail and flight pattern. Makes identification easier in the confusing world of raptors as dots in the sky.
We did stop along the Okavango River (aka Kavango) before reaching our destination for the night (Mahangu Lodge), where we spotted a Rock Pranticole. Small grayish colored bird, with a red bill. They like, of course, the rocks. Nearby were a bunch of kids swimming in the water (they had the right idea). They loved seeing us. The young boys were totally naked, while the young girls (yes, with breasts) were naked from the top up. However, when they saw us the boys quickly put their underwear back on and the young girls got dressed.
Speaking of naked. At the lodge I went out to find our vehicle to help bring in our bags. I wasn’t paying attention to which hut I went into and walked into a hut where an older man had just come out of the shower naked. Luckily he had enough time to react and cover parts up certain parts of his body. Boy was I apologetic and embarrassed.
After birding the grounds at the lodge, where we got several new species, including the Meyer’s Parrot and the Ashy Flycatcher, we headed to Mahango Game Reserve. We did see a lot of wildlife – Zebras, Giraffe, hippos, Sable and Roan Antelope, Bushbuck, Greater Kudu, Baboons, Vervet monkeys, and Warthogs. We also saw some new birds, including the Crimson-breasted Shrike, the Red-billed Spurfowl, and Southern Pied Babbler. All cool birds. The area here, however, was dry, dry, dry. Not sure what the animals eat.
We left Namibia (but we will be back) and entered Botswana. I have been wanting to visit the famous Okavango Delta in Botswana for some time now. I’m here – sort of. We only see a really small portion of the Delta headwaters. I think the only way to get a real idea of the immensity of the delta is to fly over it (will have to be satisfied with a Google Earth view).
We stopped at the Drotsky Lodge (very nice, and expensive I hear) where we boarded a boat to travel down the Kavango River to our accommodations for the next two days- Xaro Lodge. This is a very nice area and lodge. We are staying in upscale tents, complete with toilets and showers. Very quiet here except for the birds and the hippos in the water. At night you can here the hippos snorting and splashing away, and as grazers they come onto land at night, meaning the grounds of the lodge. We did do some night owling and spotted a pair of African Wood Owls. I really do like owls. Earlier in the day we had a Pearl Spotted Owl. Jack and I had seen this species in Kruger National Park. Tomorrow we will go exploring along the Kavango River in search of the magnificent Pel’s Fishing Owl.
We did some early morning birding around the lodge grounds and called up an African Barred Owlet. The lighting was bad so no decent photo. After breakfast we headed up river (north) on the Kavango River to the town of Shakawe. There were actually a lot of birds along the way and once we reached Shakawe our eagle-eyed boatsman spotted got the Pel’s Fishing Owl in a riverbank tree. Now this bird knows how to stay hidden. We spent at least a half an hour trying to get the boat in position for everyone to get on the bird. Luckily the owl did not fly off. But with so much vegetation in the way and in a moving boat it was hard enough trying to see the owl let alone photograph it. I had to sit on the bottom of the boat to get the right angle to see the bird.
After lunch we headed down river in search of Lesser Jacana and African Pygmy Goose. We got the African Pygmy Goose, but not the Jacana. These geese (although not true geese) are very small – hence their name “Pygmy”. Cute though. The males head reminded me of an eider.
Today was another hot day, but a cool and relaxing float on the river, ending in a beautiful sunset.
What great days to bird despite the HOT, HOT, HOT weather. Coming soon – Part 2 (Days 7-12).