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.
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.
Tomorrow we move onward.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ……………………