The saga continues ……..
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
More photos of the countryside within Etosha National Park.
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.
More Etosha National Park habitat
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.
More Etosha National Park countryside
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