alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

Month: November 2015

Cape Town to Knysna, South Africa

We arrived back in Cape Town on 28 October 2015.  After getting our rental car and purchasing airtime and data for the phone we were off in search of birds.  The goal was the Cape Rockjumper.  Our Rockjumper tour guide Greg had mentioned an area called Rooi Els.  We read up on the site, but found the directions confusing.  We went down the right road, only not far enough.  We turned around and headed for Betty’s Bay and the Africa Penguin colony.  This place was nicer than Boulder Beach mostly because there were less people and a larger area to view, with a great ocean scene with waves crashing in on the rocks.  Also it seemed to me there were more Penguins.  And, as a bonus, there were nesting cormorants, including the Bank Cormorant.  A bird we hadn’t seen yet and is not always easy to find.  Here are a series of lovable “penguin” photos.

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There are artificial nest boxes here for the penguins and at one there was an adult penguin with four young – babysitting?  The typical number of eggs laid is 1-2, so not sure how this one ended up with four chicks.

Also present were Rock Dassies (or Hyrax) with young.  The young are so cute, the parents not so much.

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Two Kelp Gulls. Just before I took this photo they were copulating so I guess the one with its head in the air is singing?

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Egyptian Goose gosling

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Baby Rock Dassies. I think Jack wanted to take them home.

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Rock Dassies (aka Rock Hyrax)

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More young ones peeking out of the rocks

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Cape Cormorant on a nest

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Bank Cormorants on a nest. Instead of sticks they use seaweed/kelp.

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White-breasted Cormorants on a nest. All three cormorants were nesting in the same vicinity.

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Birds on the Rocks. A beautiful area.

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Not sure what this guy’s is other than a lizard

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Baby Cape Spurfowl

We stayed the night at a great place called Featherbed in Somerset West.  Nice area and private B&B with kitchenette.  I found the place (an apartment above the garage) on AirBNB.  I highly recommend this place if you ever find yourself in Somerset West, South Africa.  I would want to stay here if I were going to just hang out in the Cape Town area for a week or more.  Maybe if we ever come back….

The next day we went back to Rooi Els to drive the road we were on yesterday, this time all the way to a gate and then set off on foot down the road in search of the Cape Rockjumper.  We found the bird and zoomed in with the scope!  They nest among the grasses and rocks on the hillside, occasionally jumping up on a rock to look about or preen.  Two different birds did just that.  No photos, unfortunately.  The birds were too far away for good photos.  We needed the spotting scope to get decent views of the birds as it was.  The birds nest on private property and the owners are nice enough to allow birders to use the road in search of the bird.

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Clouds pouring over the mountains on our way to Rooi Els

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Cape Rock Thrush (Male)

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Cape Rockjumper habitat

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Dead flowers but I thought they were pretty. Would make a nice dried flower arrangement. Too bad I can’t bring them home.

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Cape Robin-Chat

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Lots of flowers around – It’s spring!!!

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Oh so pretty

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Adjacent hillside – Cape Rockjumper habitat

From there we drove along the coastline from about a 100 km before heading inland to Swellendam, our home away from home for the next two nights.  This town has lots of B&Bs, lodges, etc..  They also have the best pizza I ever tasted (Woodpeckers Deli and Pizzeria), except for the deep dish pizza my sister and her late husband cooked at their restaurant.  But we did bird along the way, of course.

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Bokmakierie (or as I call it “Bocamacaroni”)

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Cape Wheatear

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Okay I cannot even begin to pronounce the name of that town

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We’ve seen a lot of Blue Cranes, my favorite crane of the Grus genus

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Red-billed Teal

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White-faced Whistling Ducks

We woke to overcast skies but that didn’t stop us from heading to De Hoop Nature Reserve for some birding.  The 31 km trip took us two hours because we kept stopping to check out the various birds en route.  This is wheat farm country so lots of larks about.  However, the surprise for the area was a Spotted Thick-knee, which generally forages at night, and a Spotted Eagle Owl sitting on a hay bale.

At De Hoop Nature Reserve we birded the area around the reception area, and went on a 3.5 km hike adjacent to the lake.  Some people ahead of us said they had seen two snakes – big ones, and these people were going no further.  We birded on and luckily missed the snakes.  Not much warmth out for snakes.

The Nature Reserve borders the Indian Ocean so off we went to check out what birds might be hanging out there.  We spotted about five African Black Oystercatchers, several Kelp Gulls, and had one Damara Tern fly-by.  Other than those, not much bird activity.

We had one more place we wanted to check out – Potsberg Mountain (also part of the Nature Reserve), where there is a breeding colony of Cape Vultures.  When we got to the ticket office we told the park ranger why we were there and she gave us a map and told us where the birds could be seen via a trail.  What she didn’t say was that we had to do a strenuous 2-mile hike up the mountainside, all within 2 hours (when the gate closed).  Off we went, up and up and up and up.  Finally I stopped, scanned the slopes and spotted several vultures.  We got good looks of them, but decided to keep climbing.  After about 500 yards or so we stopped and scanned again.  Fewer birds circling, but better views.  Since we got good looks and were concerned about the gate closure we turned around and headed back to the car.  It wasn’t any easier going down than it was going up since the trail was very rocky.  We made it back in time to exit the reserve before closing time.  Didn’t want to be fined for being late.

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Thick-billed Lark

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Cape Teal

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Agulhas Long-billed Lark

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Spotted Eagle Owl

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Spotted Thick-knee

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Say What’s Happening?

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Bontebok

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Grey-winged Francolin

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Cape Wagtail

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Great Crested Grebe

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Water Thick-knee

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Karoo Prinia – I’ve tried to photograph this bird numerous times. Finally a halfway decent photo.

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These Zebra stripes were brown (in De Hoop Nature Reserve)

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Coastline in the Nature Reserve …

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… where African Black Oystercatchers like to roost and feed

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Jackal Buzzard

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We saw a large flock of Blue Cranes and watched them dance like our Sandhill Cranes

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Okay, this is the hike we took to see the Cape Vulture. We started way down below where those buildings are in the middle of the photo (I know hard to see).

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Pretty flowers

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We started at the Potberg EE centre and went as far as point 8.

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On the way back to our lodging we spotted these two Egyptian Geese on top of a hay bale.  They can be found in trees, on power poles, hay bales – you name it.

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The Agulhas Plains – now wheat farms essentially

The next morning we woke to rain and it pretty much rained all day long.  We decided to take it easy and check out some weavers (not the birds, but people who use looms to weave items) in Barrydale.  Along the main drag (Route 62) they have a lot of cute shops and eateries.  We made our purchases and headed back to Suurbraak, the location of our nights lodging (also obtained through Airbnb).  But first, since it wasn’t raining only overcast, we first went to Grootsvadersbosch Nature Reserve to search for the Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler.  Unfortunately we didn’t see the bird, only heard it.  Not good enough for me to “tick” the bird on my life list.

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African Olive Pigeon

The place we are staying at requires us to cross a bridge when it isn’t underwater.  Luckily the bridge was still above water when we got to it.  We were fearful of an overnight rain, but no rain and no water running over the bridge when we left the next morning.   The sky did look to be clearing somewhat so we headed back to Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve.  By the time we got there – we had to ascend in elevation – the clouds had moved in, there was a light mist, and a strong wind.  We waited about 15-20 minutes to see if the weather would change any, but no luck.  So down the hill we went along muddy roads.  We decided to drive to our next destination for the night – Oudtshroon – via Route 62 since the route goes over a beautiful canyon pass.  We stopped in Barrydale to check out the Karoo Weavers again and bought a few tea towels.  Tea towels in South Africa are expensive for some reason, but we were happy to support the local economy.  I would have bought more but I don’t have room even for the tea towels.  I’ve given a few things away but the contents of my bags seem to be growing, not shrinking.  Will leave a few more items while in Ethiopia.

The trip to Oudtshoorn was wet, wet, wet, and it continued to rain into the night.  We stayed at a cute B&B (Earthbound B&B).  South Africa needs the rain, but we got caught in the rain while walking back from lunch and we were soaked to the bone.  Glad we didn’t have too far to go – perfect conditions for hypothermia.

From Oudtshoorn we made our way back to the coast and Wilderness National Park.  This area isn’t what we thought it would be, i.e., “wilderness”.  I think the park got its name from the nearby town of Wilderness.  The park is pretty piecemeal, but we did visit two bird hides the first day, which netted us two life ducks – Southern Pochard and White-backed Duck.  I was so hoping to see the Southern Pochard on this trip.  Great birds.  The bird hides were a little hard to find.  The park needs to work on their maps and signage.

We stayed the night in the Knysna (pronounced niz-na – hard i) at the Puluma B&B located near the head of a bay.  So after depositing our things in our room we headed to the head of the bay to check for the Knysna Warbler – a secretive bird.  The bird kept its secret.  The day was beautiful however, so a short walk to the rocky viewpoint was worth the trip.  Prior to getting to the head of the bay we had to pass the estuary where shorebirds and waders were feeding frantically.  Fun to watch them.

The next day we headed back to Wilderness National Park to hike the “Half-collared Kingfisher Trail” (which later merges with the Giant Kingfisher trail).  This trail leads to a waterfall and is 7.2 km round trip.  The day was cool, but sunny and we made the hike along with about 50+ other souls.   Of course when you slowly bird along the way you see a lot more people than if you had simply hiked the trail.

We heard then saw several Knysna Turacos.  This bird is huge but hides so well.  I love these birds and this one did not disappoint.  Okay, maybe disappointed a little when it wouldn’t come out so I could get a good photo.  Go figure.  Of course it didn’t help that we were on a suspended boardwalk so anytime some walked by there was no way I could hold my camera still and we all know most birds don’t stay still for long either.  I was just happy to see the bird.

We also got a good view of the Half-collared Kingfisher, which was a surprise.  We didn’t expect to see the bird because they are not common.  But the bird posed for us on a branch for a few seconds before flying off – stopped long enough for good views, but not long enough for a good photo, or any photo really.  Am I becoming obsessed with photographing birds?  I think so.

Also along the trail we spotted a Red-breasted Cuckoo, which is also a secretive bird.  It’s call sounds like “whip-poor-will”.  An interpretive sign identified the bird as often heard but seldom seen.   It was the bird’s flight to an adjacent tree that allowed us to see the bird at all since it wasn’t calling at that time.  We were happy to see these three new birds, two which we really didn’t expect to see at all on this trip.

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Red-knobbed Coot on a nest

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Greater Double-collared Sunbird (Male)

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Pied Kingfisher with a fish in its mouth

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White-backed Ducks

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Crowned Cormorant …

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… love the red eyes

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Estuarine wetland near our lodging

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African Spoonbill

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Headlands at Knysna

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This is one big bug – about 3 inches long

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Most of the Giant Kingfisher trail was boardwalk, although this section was rock gabions

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We had to pull ourselves across the stream on this pontoon boat

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Brenton by the Sea shoreline (near Knysna)

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Bar-throated Apalis

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Some kind of fungus

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These looked like cauliflower growing on a tree

We have about a week left in South Africa.  We will make our way up the coast to Durban where we will catch our flight to Ethiopia.  I do not think we will have much internet coverage in Ethiopia so I will have to post a three-part blog of our Ethiopia bird trip once we return to the US in early December.  Also, I suspect I won’t be able to complete a post for our last week in South Africa until we return to the US.

Next stop – The East Cape of South Africa and then Ethiopia.  Until then …  IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

Namibia-Botswana-Victoria Falls – Part 3 – Days13-18

Our trip is 2/3rd over – hard to believe.  The time has gone by fast.  More places, wildlife, and birds to see, enjoy, and appreciate.

Day 13
Left Etosha National Park, but not without seeing two more lions lazing under trees.  Quite a few cars jockeying for position to see (and photograph) the lions.  The male was radio collared.

We stopped at Toshari Lodge to search for the Ruppell’s Parrot.  Our guide tried calling in the parrot to no avail.  Jack, Gina, and I were walking at the back of the pack when Gina casually pointed to a bird in a tree.  Sure enough it was the parrot!  Everyone was very happy to see the bird as we had circled the garden area for some time and our guide was getting nervous.

We then continued our drive to our next destination – Ai Aiba – The Rock Painting Lodge in the Erongo Mountains of Namibia.  We did bird along the way to the lodge, finding the most coveted bird – the Bare Cheeked Babbler.  This bird was seen several days earlier by one of our group members.  Now the rest of us got to see the bird too.  There were at least 6 of the birds flying into the trees to the right of our vehicle.  At one point there were 5 of them sitting next to each other on a bare branch.  I quickly got my camera, raised it up to focus, and off shot the birds.  I’ve learned on this trip that this happens to every photographer.  I did manage to ‘shoot’ a photo of one bird.  Speaking of photographers, Bobby Orr (no not the famous pro hockey player) has this big honking camera lens.  He’s a small guy (skinny, but regular height) and he lugs his camera and lens along on a tripod that also has to weigh a lot.  By the time he gets set up to take his photo the bird is long gone.  If we are in the vehicle, he rests the lens on the window sill.  Sometimes I’m in the way but he seems to get that lens in there anyway.  What some people won’t do for a photo.  I’m probably the same way, but my lens is much, much smaller.

Once we arrived at the lodge no one in the group wanted to go out in the heat to see the paintings so we had a lazy afternoon out of the hot sun.  I spent most of that time with my scope, binoculars, and camera looking at what flew into the trees, or on the ground, or at the water feature near my room.  Got some good birds, including the beautiful Crimson-breasted Shrike.

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Our tour guide “Greg”. He loves to wear his flip-flops.

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Mopane tree leaf

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Ruppell’s Parrot

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The countryside was still dry, dry, dry once we left Etosha National Park. In fact, only 2% of Namibia is arable.

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Score, Score, Score – the Bare-cheeked Babbler.

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Dead Black Mambo snake on the road. These snakes are very dangerous as they can be aggressive and come after you.

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Giraffe art – these are tree limbs made to look like Giraffes.  Clever.

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Martial Eagle with a dead Helmeted Guineafowl.

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The eagle trying to take off with its kill. Maybe he thought we were after it?

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Rocky hillsides of the Erongo Wilderness Area.

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As we approached the gates of our lodge, these two Damara Hornbills were in the shade trying to stay cool.  It was very hot outside.

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The warthogs loved the green grass at our lodge – Ai Aiba Lodge.

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Looks almost like they are dancing the two-step.

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More rock formations in the Erongo Wilderness

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Male Namibia Rock Agama. Love the colors.

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Not sure what this reptile is but he shared a table with me.

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Acacia Pied Barbet on, what else, an acacia tree.

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Familiar Chat. Much lighter than the ones we saw in South Africa.

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Female Namibia Rock Agama

Tomorrow we move onward.

Day 14
Before first light we head off in search of the Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, which is best found at daybreak as the sun is coming up over the rock formations.  Unfortunately the spurfowl were a no show.   This is the first time Rockjumpers has used Ai Aiba Lodge and I don’t think it was confirmed that the birds were here.  Their range is quite limited. We did bird the lodge grounds and had many Rosy-cheeked Lovebirds, but not much else.

We left the lodge and headed toward Spitzkoppe, an outcrop of rocks that is host to the Herero Chat, a species endemic to the area.  When we got there it was very hot outside (wish someone had a thermometer, okay maybe I don’t wish that.  Ignorance is bliss, right?).  We took a short walk (me with my umbrella) and tried calling the bird.  No luck.  We started back towards the vehicle when our driver spotted the Herero Chat in a nearby bush.  The bird stayed long enough for everyone to get good looks both through binoculars and the scope.

The rock formations of Spitzkoppe

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Speaking of scopes.  We brought ours because we were birding in South Africa before and after this trip and wanted to be able to check out birds at a distance.  Good thing we did bring it because our guide’s scope broke the first day.  The group has been using our scope for the entire trip.

After we got the chat we headed to Walvis Bay.  As we neared the coast you could feel the temperature difference.  We even had to close the van’s windows because it was downright chilly with the wind blowing in on us.  The van has no air conditioning (or I suspect heat).  Getting from Spitzkoppe to the coast took us through some pretty desolate landscape.  Despite that we did get several lark and chat species.  The birds blend in really nice with the light colored soils.

Shortly before arriving in Walvis Bay we stopped at a sewage plant to search for the Gray’s Lark.  We found several of the larks running around on the ground.  In the distance were large flocks of Greater and Lesser Flamingos.  Nice to see them again.  We arrived to overcast, foggy skies at Walvis Bay.  A welcome respite from the heat.

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Ruppell’s Korhaan

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White-tailed Shrike

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Mountain Wheatear

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Red-winged Starling

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Ruppell’s Korhaan

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Trac-Trac Chat

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Shipwreck – the birds liked it for roosting.

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Great White Pelican – these birds are BIG and just right outside our hotel room

Day 15
Up early for a 5:15 am departure to search for the Dune Lark.  This bird is found in only very localized areas and moves around mostly during the early daylight hours – smart bird.  With sunrise at around 6:00 am we departed early and only had a short hike from the road to their location before we found the lark scampering among the limited dune vegetation.  Since it was a cold, overcast morning with a light mist, we decided not to spend much time looking at the bird but instead retreated to Walvis Bay for breakfast, and once refreshed then more birding.

Walvis Bay has LOTS of Flamingos – both Greater and Lesser.  In addition to Flamingos there were a fair number of different tern species – Sandwich, Greater Crested, Caspian, Common, and the Damara Tern.  There were also lots of shorebirds about, including the coveted (by me) Chestnut-banded Plover.  Cute little bird.  At one point he got into a tiff with a Common Ringed Plover.  They both backed off.

The shorebirds and waders were found within the bay (Walvis) and around a salt works.  Some of the salt was pink – Himalayan.  I always thought Himalayan salt came from where else – Nepal.  Learn something new everyday.  Jack asked how the pink got its pink color.  Our guide didn’t know.  I told him they took a few Flamingos and threw them in to get the color, and that Lesser Flamingos were better because they are more pink, but they would settle for Greater Flamingos – I don’t think he believed me…..

In the late afternoon we took a drive out to check out a old tree – Welwitschia Tree (Welwitschia mirabilis) is endemic to the Namib desert and is one of the oldest plants known to man.  Our guide believes the plant we saw was at least 800 years old.  The adjacent landscape is very moonlike.  Pretty, but I still think the Grand Canyon is more spectacular.

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Our group in search of the Dune Lark

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This is the habitat of the Dune Lark

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Great Flamingo feeding alongside shorebirds

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Plenty of Lesser Flamingos too

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This one was just landing. I think it nailed the landing and scored a 5 out of 5.

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See just a “few” flamingos

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My what strange eyes you have – freaky really

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This is where I saw my first “Chestnut-banded Plover”.  Lots of shorebirds here, believe it or not.

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We birded near a salt works

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Looks like snow on a lake – not salt in the make

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And this was Himilayan salt we were told

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Isn’t it cute – Chestnut-banded Plover

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There were hundreds of them along the shoreline of Walvis Bay

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Here the Chestnut-banded Plover and the Common-ringed Plover were facing off

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Okay do I want big machinery plowing up the salt I use on my table?

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Bar-tailed Godwit

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Ruddy Turnstone – nice to see some familiar birds too, especially shorebirds

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The “moonscape” area in route to the Welwitschia Tree

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Yep, this is a tree. In fact, it is believed this Welwitschia Tree is around 800 years old. The tree only has two leaves, which split as it grows making it look like it has more than the two.

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More of the moonscape landscape

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It was quite impressive, but I think the Grand Canyon beats out this canyon any day.

Day 16
Most of the day was spent driving through barren landscape.  I don’t think we saw any wildlife (birds included) within a several hour stretch of time.  Very desolate.  It also happens to be Namibia’s Largest National Park (Namib-Naukluft National Park), and the fourth largest in the world).  The park includes the Namib Desert, which is the oldest desert in the world.  Continuing on, we made occasional stops for birds.  Throughout the trip we’ve yelled “STOP” at the driver.  I think the vehicle will need new brakes by the time our trip is completed.  I’m sure he will be glad to have a break from our group.

For lunch we stopped at the town of Solitaire, which boasts a gas station, cafe, bakery, general store, lodge, and camping area.  It is the smallest town in Namibia – population is 99, but I’m not sure where they live.  Didn’t see any houses.

Tonight we are staying at Namibgrens.  The villas are very, very nice.  I wish we had more time to spend here (only one night).  They are built around and incorporate the surrounding rocks and boulders.

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Gray version of a Mountain Wheatear

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River channel with no water

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Typical camper trucks in Namibia

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Jack

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Me – thought we should throw in a photo or two of ourselves. Neither of us likes to have our photo taken.

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Barren, sandy habitat

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Chat Flycatcher

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Close-up

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Dead Motorcycle (art?) at Solitaire, Namibia

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Small community with a hotel, gas station, bakery, cafe, and camping area.

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And plenty of old dead cars …

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… and trucks

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Post Office – or a place to put you postcards to be mailed

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As you can see they haven’t had much rainfall yet this year.

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If it isn’t sandy, then it is rocky …

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… but still beautiful

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Pygmy Falcon

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Cape Teal

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Also mountainous in some areas

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Our rooms were built into and around the rock. Nice accommodations, only wish we could have stayed more than one night.

Day 17
Today is our last full tour day.  Tomorrow we only bird for a couple of hours in the morning before half the group leaves to catch flights home.  Several of us are staying over a night.  We decided to stay overnight in Windhoek as we didn’t want to arrive at Cape Town in the evening (i.e., in the dark), pick up our car, and then drive 60 plus kilometers to find our accommodations.

We birded the grounds around Namibrgrens, but didn’t see too much.  We then headed to Windhoek (Capitol of Namibia) with stops along the way as we spotted birds along the road.  Once we reached Windhoek we went to the Daan Viljoen Private Game Reserve in search of the Cape Penduline Tit.  Didn’t find the bird, but got some great views of the Violet-earred Waxbill and Pearl Spotted Owlet.  Of course our guide calls in birds using the call of the Pearl Spotted Owlet so obviously it would draw in the owlet as well.

Before heading to our hotel for the night we made a stop at the Windhoek Sewage Facility.  There ponds were quite active with birds including some familiar birds such as the Black-crowned Night Heron and Common Moorhen.  There were plenty of waterbirds (egrets, herons, etc.), shorebirds, and waterfowl.  I really enjoy (except for the smell) visiting sewage treatment ponds, hey water is scarce in Namibia.  The birds seem to like them so generally lots of birds to see.  This place was no exception.

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Rockrunner

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Flowers just waiting for a sunbird

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We came across a large flock of vultures fighting over the remains of some dead animal.

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Lappet-faced Vulture at the kill

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Baboons always have such funny poses and hope for handouts

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Township outside of Windhoek – not as bad as some in South Africa

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Another view

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Ostriches cooling off or at least trying to cool off

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Opening one’s mouth helps

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Male Violet-eared Waxbill – what a beautiful bird

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Pearl Spotted Owlet

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Mountain Zebras. Their stripes do not go all the way down their bellies.

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Windhoek Sewage Ponds

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Black-crowned Night-heron at the sewage ponds

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Countryside on our way into Windhoek

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Dan Viljoen Nature Reserve. We didn’t see a lot of animals. Seems like a lot of people have private game or nature reserves, both here and in South Africa.

Day 18
Went to Avis Dam just outside of Windhoek.  There wasn’t any water behind the dam.  Our guide had been at the dam in July and said there was some, but not much water at that time.  We did bird the area, and surprisingly found a fair number of species, including two life birds – Orange River Francolin and the Cape Penduline Tit.   After a brief visit to the dam we were dropped off at our accommodations for the night.

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Scarlet-breasted Sunbird (Male)

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View of the lakebed from the lakebed

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Orange-River Francolin

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No water in the reservoir unfortunately

Our tour has ended.  It was hard to say good-bye to the other six people we had come to know a little on our tour – Moya and Rick from Vancouver British Columbia, Gina and Bobby from Scotland, Karen from Maryland, and Juliette from Florida.  Juliette is 80 years old and traveled on her own to come on the tour.  Amazing!!!

Time now to return to South Africa and drive from Cape Town up the east cape to Durban, with a stop near the country of Lesotho, where we will hire a guide to take us to see birds of the area.  After that we head to Ethiopia for 18 days of birding.  I recently learned that I will be the sole woman in a group of 9 men.  Should be interesting.

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD ……………………

Namibia-Okvango-Victoria Falls Tour – Part 2 (Days 7-12)

The saga continues ……..

Day 7
Before getting back on the road we took a walk around the Xaro lodge grounds in search of the Pel’s Fishing Owl.  We did manage to flush two adults and found a juvenile (still with down on its head) in a tree.  We stopped and took lots of photos.  The bird wasn’t as well hidden as the bird from yesterday and it was much easier to maneuver on land so we all got really good views of the bird.

After breakfast we boarded the boat and headed back to our vehicle for a long drive to Rundu, Namibia.  In no time, we crossed the Botswana border and entered Namibia.  Several times throughout our travels we have had to stop for Ebola checks (they take our temperature with a laser-like light near the ear) or to step on a chemical laden cloth to clean our shoes and spray the vehicle tires.  They don’t want you to bring in any hoof and mouth disease and so we have clean boots.

The drive to Rundu was long and yes, HOT, HOT, HOT.  Our vehicle does not have air-conditioning so have to drive with the windows down, which can make for a windy drive.  Did I say it was windy?  We did stop along the way in search of a Rufous-bellied Tit and the Arnot’s Chat.  We didn’t find either one of them, unfortunately.  Guess the birds don’t want to move much during the heat of the day either.  Can’t blame them.

We’ve driven by a lot of villages.  And we’ve seen more than our share of people living below the poverty line.  Our guide said that many of these people only have one meal a day.  Sometimes I wonder if they even eat daily.  Not many fat people here.   These people live in structures ranging from corrugated metal (must really be hot inside), to thatched homes, to homes made of mud blocks.  Most of them are unemployed and you generally see them sitting under a shade tree, with kids running  around playing.  The kids always seem happy, although some come running out patting their stomach indicating they are hungry and would like a treat.

We arrived at our accommodations Nkwazi Lodge, located near Rundu, Namibia.   The lodge is located along the banks of the Kavango River.  I could see Angola from our hut as it is located on the other side of the river.  So can I add Angolan birds to my list?

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Weaver nest in a tree at Xaro Lodge

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Up close view

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Hamerkop nest in a tree

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Up close view.

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African Grey Hornbill

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Juvenile Pel’s Fishing Owl

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Marabou Stork walking along a sandbar on the Kavango River

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Lots of Donkeys in the countryside

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Part of a settlement

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Topi – the fastest running antelope I’ve been told

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Groundscraper Thrush

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Teak tree at the picnic rest stop where we had lunch

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Must get windy here if you need stones to keep your metal roof down

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Clean ‘yards’ with lots of trash on the outskirts.    Of course where else are they going to put it?  I don’t think they offer garbage service.

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Hartlaub’s Babbler

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Angola is across the river

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Our hut for the night.

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Hartlaub’s Babbler searching for grub

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Woman carrying her laundry. The basket is balanced on her head.

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Rundu sewage ponds

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Rundu sewage ponds

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Another beautiful sunset

Day 8
Another long driving day – in fact we are driving further today than yesterday.  The continuous driving in the heat is tiring, but necessary.  We travel long distances on this tour in order to find the birds.  Stopped again in search of the Rufous-bellied Tit and this time we scored.  We found two of them, along with a Tinkling Cisticola.  We were all very happy as we were out in the heat of the day tromping through the bushes looking for this bird (I called it our death march).  Rebellion in the ranks – guide says no more “in the heat of the day” bird wanderings.

Once we left the Caprivi Strip (part of Namibia) we saw fewer people and homes/villages.  We also started seeing ranches/farms, most likely owned by whites.  Not sure what the cattle or sheep eat.  Many ranches are game reserves for ‘game ranching.’  Pretty desolate here, everyone awaiting the ‘wet season’ which provides a meager 3-5 inches of rainfall a year.

We arrived at our accommodations – Mushara Lodge located near Etosha National Park.  This place is VERY nice.  The owners have gone all out.  We did get a life bird on the lodge grounds – the Black-faced Babbler, which supposedly is only found in one other location.  No one knows where these birds hang out.  Tomorrow we head into Etosha National Park for birding and wildlife viewing.

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Meyer’s Parrot

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We could have gone on a sunset boat ride at Nkwazi Lodge.

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One use of old tires – shore protection.

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Southern Brown-throated Weaver

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Another walk in the woods in search of birds – this time for the Rufous-bellied Tit. We found it. Woohoo!!!

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When the kids saw our vehicle they came running hoping for candy. Unfortunately we did not give them any.  I guess authorities don’t want to encourage such behavior. Broke my heart.

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The girl in the foreground ran after our vehicle. She was fast. Olympic hopeful???

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This is the typical vehicle used for transportation of locals in Southern Africa

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Bradfield’s Hornbill

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Red-billed Spurfowl

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White-browed Scrub-Robin

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Crimson-backed Shrike – a beautiful bird. This bird was searching for food on the lawn at our lodge (Mushara Lodge).

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Black-faced Babbler. This bird is only found in a few locations. Luckily one of them happened to be where we were staying – Mushara Lodge and in the same area as the Crimson-breasted Shrike.

Day 9
A great day to bird and observe wildlife.  We visited several watering holes, as this place is very, very dry.  I got 12 new life birds today, including two sandgrouses (Burchell’s and Namaqua) and two coursers (Burchell’s and Double Banded).  I wonder if we could have found these birds on our own if we hadn’t come on the tour.

Everyday I try to identify my “bird of the day”.  Today is a hard one.  I really liked the sandgrouses and the coursers, but the Rosy-faced Lovebird was nice too.  So was the Violet-earred Waxbill.  So many birds ……….

No lions, leopards, or cheetahs, but we did have Black-backed Jackals, Spotted Hyenas, Giraffes, Zebras, Gemsbok, Springbok, Steenbok, Impala, Greater Kudu, Damara Dik-Dik, Common Duiker, and let’s not forget those cute Warthogs.  Lots of wildlife here considering how dry it is.

We did have wind and a little rain in the afternoon with overcast sky so some relief from the sun.  They sure could use some rain here.   Not sure what the animals eat this time of year – starvation is a bigger threat than lack of water.  Only a few trees have leaves, the grass is dry, the waterholes are near dry, and there isn’t much vegetation to begin with.

It was a great day to bird today, and hard to believe our trip is half way over.

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Baby Giraffe

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Momma and baby Giraffe

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Martial Eagle

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Damara Dik-Dik (Smallest Antelope in Namibia)

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Sharp-tailed Whydah

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Greater Kudu at a watering hole

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Rosy-faced Lovebird

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Namaqua Sandgrouse

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Gemsbok (aka Oryx) coming to a watering hole

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Gemsbok at a watering hole

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Gemsbok – up close

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Burchell’s Sandgrouse

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Red-crested Korhaan

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Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark

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Northern Black Korhaan

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Burchell’s Courser – there were over 30 of these birds trying to find shade from the hot sun.

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Rock Agama

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Double-banded Courser

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Red-capped Lark – these birds were seen in large flocks (large numbers for larks)

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Kori Bustard – the heaviest flying bird in the world

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Sabota Lark

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Black-backed Jackal taking an afternoon snooze

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Ovambo Tree Skink

Here are some photos of what we saw as we drove through the park – in terms of the habitat.  The park consists of a large “pan” that covers almost 25% of the park’s landmass.

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Day 10
Left Mushara Lodge around 7:00 am and headed back to Etosha National Park.  We made a stop at one of the watering holes we went to yesterday, but otherwise took a totally different route.  I feel a little lost without a map in my hand – the park only sells map booklets.

At the first waterhole, we had several Giraffes drinking water.  They really have to bend their legs and do the splits in order to reach down for a drink.  Not much here as far as bird life, i.e., variety of species anyway.  Lots of Cape Turtle Doves (at each of the watering holes).

At our next waterhole stop there were a lot of vehicles around so something interesting must be going on.  We scanned the watering hole, but saw little until Jack yelled “Lion”.  There were actually three lions that were resting after feeding on their kill.  Several Black-backed Jackals were feeding on the leftovers when four Spotted Hyenas appeared wanting their share of the spoils.  The lions were too full to care who took what.

As we continued our drive we came upon a Black Rhinoceros.  This is a first for us.  Haven’t seen a lot of rhinos during our visit to Southern Africa, unfortunately.  Too much poaching going on.  Just the thought makes my blood boil.

Speaking of boiling blood, our driver spotted a Cheetah resting under a tree.  Our guide said the Cheetah’s speed is only good for a short distance and so it waits for its prey to get within about 20 meters.  Once it does it pounces with its famous speed during which its body temperature raises from 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 F) to 48 degrees Celsius (118.4 F).  And while the chase is over in a few seconds, it takes three hours for the Cheetah to cool down.  Since this one was sitting under a tree when we first spotted it, and then laid down, it most likely tried to take down a Springbok and failed.  I would love to have seen that effort.

Our final big mammal of interest was a male Elephant that looked almost white.  This is because the elephant dusted himself with the surrounding white soils.  In the photo you may notice the elephant’s penis.  According to our guide, the male elephant uses its penis to help swat flies from its belly.  A multipurpose penis.

As for new birds today, I saw a Steppe (aka Common) Buzzard, an African Cuckoo (our first Cuckoo for the trip), and a Rufous-naped Lark.  Nice having a guide around to help sort out the larks, cisticolas, and pipits.  I am currently at 428 birds for the entire trip (including South Africa).

We took a night drive in the park and I’m glad we did.  We were driving along and saw something in the road.  Most of us thought it was road kill. Turns out it was a lioness lying in the road.  She got up and walked to the side of the road just in front of the vehicle and laid down as we gazed in amazement for some time before it got bored of us and wandered into the scrub brush.  We later saw several bat-eared foxes.  These small mammals have huge ears shaped like bat ears.  We went to a watering hole and saw a black rhino and then about 10 or so elephants come down to drink, including two small ones – they are so cute.  The rhino decided not to stick around once the elephants showed up.  Not much intimidates an Elephant.  We also saw a Spotted Thick-knee, which are nocturnal species for the most part, as well as a Rufous-checked Nightjar and a Fiery-necked Nightjar.  Our park guide/driver had amazing eyes in being able to spot these birds in the dark with only a strong flashlight to pick out their eyes.  All life birds for me.

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Crested Francolin

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Giraffe drinking at watering hole

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Steppe (Common) Buzzard

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Lions – these guys had just finished feeding

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Springbok

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Impalas at a watering hole

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Black-faced Impala – Namibian subspecies

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Black Rhino – our first

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Grey Goawaybirds.  If you hear their call you want them to go away.  An annoying whine.

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African Cuckoo

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Ostrich family – here is “looking up to your parents”.

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Cheetah

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Swallow-tailed Bee-eater

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Male elephant with his penis extended

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Southern Pied Babbler

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African Scops Owl.  Small little owl roosting in the tree outside the restaurant at our camp

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Cape Starlings were everywhere in camp – looking for handouts

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Violet Wood-Hoopoe

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Damara Hornbill – hopping around looking for food

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Springbok near a watering hole

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This giraffe was chewing on a bone.  I have a great (short) video of it.

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Our night drive vehicle

More photos of the countryside within Etosha National Park.

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Day 11
We started the day in search of the Bare-checked Babbler.  The babblers are generally found near the campground, but we didn’t see any – well no one but Bobby who was out early birding.  We don’t spend a lot of time searching for any particular bird.

We headed west through Etosha National Park.  This is a good sized park with lots of side roads to take to check out the dry salt pans and waterholes.  We visited several in route to our accommodations for the night.  As we were headed to one watering hole someone in our group spotted a lioness headed towards the watering hole.  This lion had to pass right in front of our vehicle so we stopped to let her do so.  What a magnificent animal.   We then headed to the watering hole to watch her drink, and drink, and drink.  Both our guide and driver said they have never seen a lion drink water for so long (more than 15 minutes).  Her mate was nearby as we caught a glimpse of him too, but he must have decided to take a snooze.  We think she was still nursing cubs.  He probably stayed behind with them.

We got to our destination around 1:30 pm and it was hot and humid – pretty miserable outside.  After lunch we got to take a several hour siesta in our chalet.  The park has a campground but I don’t know how these people in tents can stand the heat.  The place has a pool so that probably helps.  Too hot even in the shade.

Late afternoon we went back out looking for birds and mammals.  Our guide managed to see a Spotted Eagle Owl in a Sociable Weaver nest as our vehicle went roaring by – so a quick backup to view it – wonderful!  The weavers were still using the nest, or at least part of it.  We didn’t see much game out and about today but Jack and I have both commented that we’ve seen more diversity of game here and in larger numbers than we did in Kruger National Park.  While Kruger has a lot of Impalas, Etosha has a lot of Springbok.  Etosha is a landscape of beautiful open plains so very panoramic.

We went back to the camp and just inside the gate I spotted a Pearl Spotted Owlet sitting in a tree.  Got some great views (and photos) of the little owlet.  It flew off to an adjacent tree where we spotted its mate.  Both owlets were being mobbed by various other birds.

The camp has a waterhole with a large viewing area for people so we wandered down to check out what was coming in for their evening drink.  There were at least 13 Giraffes in the immediate area along with several hundred Double-breasted Sandgrouse that came flying in for their evening drink.  Our guide says the birds will wet their feathers and take the water back to the nest for the chicks.  They are such beautiful birds.  Of course with it being dusk I wasn’t able to get any decent photos.

While Etosha National Park is quite desolate, surprising there is much wildlife and bird life.  Today alone I observed 68 different species of birds.  And despite its isolated location, there were a lot of tourists out today too – a popular place.

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Our accommodations the previous night

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Grey-backed Camaroptera

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Spike-heeled Lark

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Pied Crow – about the size of our Common Raven. They came to the vehicle when we pulled up at a watering hole. They were hoping for handouts.

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Double-banded Courser – Beautiful birds.

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Lioness …

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… as she is walking right in front of our vehicle

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Now at the watering hole …

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… taking a pause from drinking

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Beautiful cat

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Elephant

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Sociable Weaver

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Red-headed Finch

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Sociable Weavers

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Weaver nests – and these ones were small compared to some we saw

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There are two Sociable Weaver nests in the tree. Think big.

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Our accommodations for the next two nights

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Scaly-feathered Finch

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Black-backed Jackal

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Spotted Eagle Owl – making itself at home in a weaver nest

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Yellow-bellied Mongoose

More Etosha National Park habitat

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Day 12
We went for a drive out into the park again today in search of more birds and mammals.  And, we started the day in high spirits as our driver spotted a Honey Badger –   something we were all hoping to see and this guy (or gal) didn’t disappoint.  Jack and I had seen two other Honey Badgers near West Coast National Park in South Africa, unfortunately they were both road kill.  Our bird guide said Honey Badgers are ferocious and will walk into a lion pride and scatter the lions.

We also got to have great daylight views of two Bat-earred Foxes.  I even got a few good photos.  Those ears are amazing.  According to our guide, they are able to hear what is happening underground and will dig for their grub based on these sounds.

Bird wise not too much happening.  I did see a Pink-billed Lark which is a life bird.  Our field guide book makes it hard to identify the larks, pipits, and cisticolas – coloring in the book is off.  Glad we are on a guided trip to have help in identifying these birds.

We took an afternoon siesta again due to the heat.  In the vehicle we are using the owners had used some type of sealant to block some areas where rain was getting into the vehicle.  While we don’t have to worry about rain, it was so hot yesterday that the sealant melted and ran down the window.  I wish I had brought along my temperature gauge, but then maybe we are better off not knowing the temperatures outside.

We took an afternoon drive once again after our siesta.  Saw two sleeping lions in the shade of some trees a fair distance off.  Not much in the way of birds.  It was still pretty hot out.

After dinner we went to the watering hole at the camp.  They have some flood lamps so you can see what is visiting the watering hole after sunset. I wonder what the animals see?  There were four Black Rhinoceros at the watering hole.  One was drinking and getting the bottom half of his body wet.  Bet that felt good.

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Pearl Spotted Owl

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Ground Squirrel

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Spotted Hyena

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Honey Badger

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Pink-billed Lark

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The Etosha Pan (well a very, very  small part of it)

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Bat-earred Fox

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Don’t you just love those ears?

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Plains Zebra

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Sociable Weaver Nests

More Etosha National Park countryside

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Tomorrow we leave Etosha National Park and head for the Erongo Mountains area.  I sure hope it is cooler there.  But I must admit, despite the heat I really loved our time in Etosha National Park.  I would definitely visit again.

Stay tuned for Part 3 – Days 13-18

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