and Victoria Falls
"Deserts, Wetlands and Wilderness"
by Ian Broadbent
This was the first trip to Africa for my wife and I, and it proved to be an
excellent introduction to the wildlife and culture of the region. The holiday
was organised through Exodus www.exodus.co.uk
and involved a 3 week overland tour starting and ending in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
The tour is marked as their "Deserts, Wetlands and Wilderness" tour,
and takes in Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta in Botswana, followed
by Waterberg, Etosha and Namib-Naukluft National Parks in Namibia, before finishing
with 3 days in Victoria Falls, where we visited the Victoria Falls NP in Zimbabwe
and Mosi-au-Tunya National Park in Zambia.
Transport was by overland truck with 16 other travellers plus 2 leaders, and
we camped for all but three days in Namibia and the final 3 days in Victoria
Falls where we stayed in backpackers hostels. Food was mostly prepared by the
tour leaders with assistance from the rest of the group on the truck's gas stove.
All food was paid for by a food kitty (£70 per person) which was more
than enough for the three weeks and also paid for a couple of restaurant meals.
Flights were arranged through Exodus; we flew on British Airways from Aberdeen
down to London Gatwick, then Air Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls via Harare.
This was not intended to be an all out birding holiday, and so some key sites
were not visited and a few of the Namibian endemics missed, but the tour still
facilitated a lot of great birding and game viewing and we had a wonderful time.
We ended up with a bird list of 318 species and a mammal list of 40, both of
which exceeded all expectations considerably. The species list was greatly topped
up in Victoria Falls with the expert assistance of local birder Chris Pollard,
who can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- his Zambesi boat trip costs US$10 and is well worth it, although his small
boat can only take one passenger. However he can arrange boat trips for larger
groups, and will tailor-make a day's itinerary according to your needs. Chris'
rates are US$5 per hour to a maximum of $60, plus fuel charges of 20cents per
km outside the municipality of Victoria Falls.
Most of the group experienced minor stomach upsets during the trip (mostly
cured by Immodium), but some of the group also went down with flu-like symptoms
for a couple of days, which thankfully Gill and I avoided. We took Malarone
anti-malarial pills daily, and got the usual jabs before we left the UK (typhoid,
hepatitis, tetanus etc). Insect bites were nowhere near as bad as we expected;
this was probably due to the time of year (September is towards the end of the
dry season). However, the one night where we slept out in the open (at Abu Huab),
I forgot to put repellent on and was bitten 10+ times on my face. Nice! It is
advisable to take (and use!) repellent with as much DEET as you can get, although
remember that DEET and cameras/binoculars do not mix.
A quick note about money; we took far too much in US$ travellers cheques and
hence got a crap exchange rate particularly in Victoria Falls, where hard currency
(US$ or £ sterling) would have effectively doubled our money. Also make
sure you have the correct money for the Zimbabwe airport departure tax (US$20
at the time of writing, but check when you arrive) - they don't give change.
The books I took were the Collins Illustrated Checklist of Birds of Southern
Africa by Ber van Perlo, and Haltenorth and Diller (1977) A Field Guide to the
Mammals of Africa including Madagascar (Collins). The Ian Sinclair guide for
the birds looks pretty good, but the Collins was adequate for most purposes.
As a first-timer in Africa, the biggest identification challenges were posed
by the non-breeding plumages of the weavers and widows etc., cisticolas, sunbirds,
larks and some of the starlings - quite a few of these birds remained unidentified!
The report is arranged into 5 main sections, Introduction,
Itinerary, Daily Diary, Systematic
Bird List and Systematic Mammal List. Any mistakes or omissions in this report
are entirely my fault; please feel free to contact me (email@example.com)
to point them out or ask about any aspect of the trip.
Saturday 8/9/01: Departed
Aberdeen mid-morning, long wait at Gatwick before overnight flight to Harare,
Sunday 9/9/01: Arrived Harare
and met up with the rest of the group; flew to Victoria Falls to rendez-vous
with the truck and trip leaders; short drive to Kasane, Botswana, on the edge
of Chobe NP.
Monday 10/9/01: Morning
game drive in Chobe, followed by afternoon/sunset game cruise along the river.
Tuesday 11/9/01: Long drive
from Kasane to Maun via Nata.
Wednesday 12/9/01: Early
morning flight over the Okavango Delta to Seronga. Mokoro (canoe) cruise to
bush camp in the Delta.
Thursday 13/9/01: Morning
game walk then mokoro back to Seronga; speedboat to Sepupa to meet up with the
Friday 14/9/01: Long drive
south from Sepupa to Namibian border at Mamuno via Ghantzi; camp at Windhoek,
Saturday 15/9/01: Drive
from Windhoek to Waterberg NP. Late afternoon walk to the plateau.
Sunday 16/9/01: Drive to
Etosha NP via the Hoba meteorite. Late afternoon game drive in eastern Etosha;
camp at Namutoni.
Monday 17/9/01: Full day
of game drives in Etosha; via Halali camp to Okaukejo camp. Stayed up overnight
to watch the Okaukejo waterhole.
Tuesday 18/9/01: Left Etosha
to drive to Petried Forest via Khorixas; on to rock paintings at Twyfelfontein;
night under the stars at Abu Huab camp.
Wednesday 19/9/01: Abu Huab
to Skeleton Coast, Cape Cross seal colony. Inland to bush camp at Spitzkoppe.
Thursday 20/9/01: Spitzkoppe
to Swakopmund; afternoon watching skydiving. First of 2 nights in a bed at Villa
Friday 21/9/01: Morning
Walvis Bay dolphin cruise; afternoon in Swakopmund.
Saturday 22/9/01: Drive
inland to Sesriem in Namib-Naukluft NP; sunset at Dune 45 near Sossusvlei
Sunday 23/9/01: Sesriem
to Rehoboth; stayed in chalets at Rehoboth hot spa.
Monday 24/9/01: Long drive
from Rehoboth to Maun via Windhoek; camp at Maun.
Tuesday 25/9/01: Long drive
Maun to Victoria Falls via Nata and Kazungula. First of 3 nights in a chalet
at Shoestring Backpackers hostel in Vic Falls.
Wednesday 26/9/01: Early
morning walk to Victoria Falls NP; afternoon walk to watch bungi jumping; night
game drive near Vic Falls.
Thursday 27/9/01: Early
morning boat trip with Chris Pollard on the upper Zambesi followed by birding
at the golf course, sewage ponds and Gorges Lodge. Mid-afternoon/evening game
drive in Mosi-au-Tunya game park in Zambia with Tony Simpson of Baantu.
Friday 28/9/01: Morning
walk around Vic Falls area/last minute shopping before early afternoon flight
to Harare. Overnight flight to Gatwick. Saturday 29/9/01: Early afternoon flight
9th September: We arrived
at Harare airport with no major hold-ups, and the first birds of the trip were
Pied Crows around the main terminal, closely followed by large numbers of Little
Swifts and a distant Black-shouldered Kite which provided a good distraction
while we waited for our connection to Vic Falls. We met up with most of the
other travellers here, before taking the short flight to Vic Falls where we
were picked up by the two Exodus leaders. We made an immediate start out towards
Chobe, via the Kazungula border post, and birds were fairly easy to come by,
the pick of which was a young Bateleur at the border. Roadside Chacma Baboons
also reminded us that we were quite a long way from Aberdeen. We reached the
Chobe Safari Lodge by mid-afternoon, a delightful campsite right by the riverside
(we were told to be careful of hippos and crocs!). I started to get familiar
with some of the starlings and weavers around the campsite, and I managed to
scope a few distant waterbirds including African Darter. Our first African Fish
Eagles circled noisily around, and a flock of Carmine Bee-eaters overhead was
only just bettered by Gill finding a White-browed Robin Chat (Heuglin's Robin)
- a right little jaw-dropper.
A pair of Brown-hooded Kingfishers
around the terrace were a perfect accompaniment to my first bottles of Castle
lager, which I thought were having an early effect when a distant mound of earth
started to move across the plain - scoping revealed it had a trunk on its front
end, the first of many, many Elephants. Our first dinner around the campfire
was great fun meeting our fellow truckmates, and our first night in the tent
was only interrupted by the grunting sounds of Hippos on the river outside.
10th September: We made
a dawn start for a game drive around Chobe, and the birds came thick and fast;
the only Chinspot Batis of the trip was at the entrance to the park, Red-billed
Hornbills were all over and a Hooded Vulture stood on the road tucking into
some Lion droppings. Game included Kudu, Impala and large herds of Elephant,
and when we reached the river plain itself it was a case of where to look next.
Flocks of Guineafowl, francolins, plovers, storks, Spur-winged Geese, White-faced
Whistling Ducks to name but a few, however the best was yet to come. As we made
our way along the side of the plain, I caught the unmistakable frame of a Lioness
ambling towards us - my response is unprintable - but the driver had located
an even closer lioness sat under the shade of the trees. We had fantastic views
of these, plus another two distant lions that were making a rather laughable
attempt to stalk a couple of Cape Buffalo.
A short distance later we
caught up with the rest of the pride lazing around within a few feet of the
truck, snoozing in the shade. Not to be outdone by the mammals, the birds also
started to turn up trumps with a group of African Skimmers doing their thing
along the river, the first of many Hamerkop, a couple of Trumpeter Hornbills,
and best of all were two Crimson-breasted Bush Shrikes - again my response is
unprintable! On the way back we were entertained by Carmine Bee-eaters and a
large herd of Elephants, some of which crossed the road in front of us. We headed
back to the camp in fine spirits after such a great start, and after lunch we
had time for a few beers and I wandered around the camp to catch up with some
more of the campsite birds, including the only Square-tailed Drongo of the trip.
A troop of cheeky Vervet Monkeys tried to steal food from the truck while I
was being distracted by Tropical Boubous. A group of circling White-backed and
Hooded Vultures also included an adult Cape Griffon Vulture, which is becoming
increasingly scarce in this part of Africa. Mid-afternoon saw us set out on
a double-decker boat cruise along the river, and the birds and game rivalled
the morning's game drive. A pair of Giant Kingfishers along the riverbank was
one of many highlights, but perhaps the most memorable experience was watching
a family group of Elephants negotiate a river crossing. Nile Crocodiles lined
the banks, and a group of Hippos wallowed in a waterhole. We saw the same pride
of Lions again from a distance, and they seemed a little more active in the
late afternoon. Waterbuck, Puku and Red Lechwe were amongst the numerous ungulates
on the plain, whilst notable birds included Water Dikkop, White-fronted Bee-eater
and Swainson's Francolin. We headed back to the lodge after sunset to reflect
on a stunning first full day over a few bottles of Castle.
11th September: This darkest
of days started innocently enough with a stroll outside the camp towards the
main drag in Kasane. I picked up quite a few new species including the only
Bearded Woodpecker and Southern Black Tit of the trip, before it was time to
join the truck and head off on the long journey to Maun via Nata. Roadside birds
and pitstops en route produced our first Southern Ground Hornbill, a White-headed
Black (Arnot's) Chat, White-crowned Shrike, Magpie Shrike and numerous hornbills
(Red-billed, Yellow-billed and African Grey) as well as more Elephants. Just
west of Nata we saw our first Ostriches, although these were likely to have
been of feral stock. Nearer to Maun I found a couple of Capped Wheatears, and
the first Burchell's and Southern Long-tailed Starlings. The campsite at Maun
had lots of Red-billed Francolin, Red-billed Buffalo Weavers, Arrow-marked Babblers
and a Southern Pied Babbler, but shortly after we got the tents up our driver
came back from the bar where he'd seen the first CNN reports from New York.
12th September: Tried to
clear my head a little with a walk around the camp, a very confiding Kurrichane
Thrush strutted up the path to say hi, and a Golden-tailed Woodpecker, two Hoopoes
and a Brown-headed Tchagra were all new to the trip list. We then drove out
to the airstrip at Maun to take an early morning flight over the Okavango Delta.
Crowned Plovers paraded alongside the runway, and pretty soon we were enjoying
great views of this enormous inland delta. Someone said that the delta was roughly
the same size as Wales, and probably just as soggy! We were low enough to identify
mammals below (some people saw Giraffe and even Spotted Hyaena) and I picked
out three pairs of Wattled Cranes, a Saddle-billed Stork and a flock of all-dark
egrets. On arrival at Seronga we drove through the village past a couple of
Magpie Shrikes to the "put-in" for the mokoro safari. Whilst we were introduced
to our guides a flock of Meyer's Parrots zoomed around, and Black-headed Oriole
and Yellow-throated Petronia were also added. The mokoro safari (they use fibreglass
canoes instead of wooden ones these days) was incredibly peaceful, and although
we were low down we saw an incredible variety of birds. We were in the lead
mokoro with a guide who seemed to really know his stuff, so we got excellent
views of any bird that we flushed out of the reeds, including several Lesser
Jacanas, Black Egret, the rare Slaty Egret, and three African Pygmy Geese. Swallows
and martins were much in evidence, and on the banks we saw another Southern
Ground Hornbill, several Black-collared Barbets, and Coppery-tailed Coucal.
Raptors included a Dickinson's Kestrel, Long-crested Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle,
Gymnogene, African Fish Eagle and Hooded Vulture. A Saddle-billed Stork gave
a spectacular low flypast, and Carmine Bee-eaters were numerous. Pied Kingfishers
were abundant, but we also had a few sightings of the more elusive Malachite
Kingfisher. We arrived at the bush camp in the middle of the delta, and after
setting up our tents we headed back out on the mokoros to a Hippo pool, and
enjoyed close views of these fearsome beasts. A short walk produced Red Lechwe,
more Wattled Cranes, another Saddle-billed Stork, African Marsh Harrier, the
local race of African Snipe and a Marsh Owl. Red-shouldered Whydahs reminded
me somewhat of American Red-winged Blackbirds, and various cisticolas (including
Chirping, Winding, Rattling and Zitting!) provided more of an identification
challenge. Back at the camp a huge flock of Carmine Bee-eaters had assembled,
which had turned a distant row of trees a vivid shade of pink. We were told
not to leave our tents during the night, as Lions, hyaenas, elephants and hippos
all frequented the area, although we only heard the latter. We were glad of
our decision to bring sleeping bags, as the temperature was unseasonally cold!
13th September: Breakfast
around the camp fire and then a walking safari. Less than 50m from our tents
we walked right up to a pair of Grant's Zebra. There were also lots of fresh
elephant tracks not too far away! No new birds, but good views of Black-headed
Oriole, Bateleur, Carmine Bee-eater and another Marsh Owl flushed from the ground.
We headed back to Seronga in the mokoros, with the main highlight being an adult
Pink-backed Pelican circling above us. Other than that we saw pretty much the
same as the day before, with the same group of 3 African Pygmy Geese, Southern
Ground Hornbill, Malachite Kingfisher and Rufous-bellied Heron being amongst
the highlights. From Seronga we bade farewell to our excellent mokoro guides
and headed out on speedboats across the panhandle to Sepupa, where we were to
meet up with the truck again. The campsite at Sepupa had a small waterhole which
attracted Red-billed Firefinches and Blue Waxbills, and above the bar were a
pair of Green Pigeons and a Crested Barbet. The rubbish dump attracted 3 Bradfield's
Hornbills which allowed fairly close approach, as did the numerous Magpie Shrikes.
A sunset cruise produced several Malachite Kingfishers, the ubiquitous Carmine
Bee-eaters, a Little Bittern and a couple of Senegal Coucals.
14th September: Very early
start for one of the longest drives of the trip. We headed south towards Ghantzi
where Pale Chanting Goshawks became evident at the roadside, then across towards
the Namibian border at Mamuno. White-winged Black Koorhaans and Crested Bustards
were also seen en route, along with Southern Anteater Chats and the first Black
Crows of the trip. The petrol station just before the border had a water sprinkler
that attracted various canaries, weavers and waxbills, and the border post itself
was made all the more interesting by a Shikra that perched on a fence in right
in front of me. The first bird we saw in Namibia was a Black-breasted Snake
Eagle, but not too much else of interest before night fell just as we got into
Windhoek. We camped at the Arabusch Travel Lodge just on the edge of town, and
got taxis into the centre for a great night at German-style Bierkeller that
did a very nice medium-rare Kudu.
15th September: Early morning
walk around the campsite was extremely productive with several new birds, including
White-backed Mousebird, Scimitarbill, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Black-chested
Prinia, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Chat Flycatcher, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Dusky
Sunbird and Scaly-feathered Finch, alongside old favourites like Crimson-breasted
Bush Shrike. We headed into Windhoek town centre to change some travellers cheques,
and the larger hotels and buildings seemed to swarm with Little Swifts (but
no Bradfield's here). From here we headed north to Waterberg Plateau, and en
route a large roadside raptor smacked of Martial Eagle, but I didn't get enough
on it to be sure. The entrance road to the campsite produced our first Monteiro's
Hornbills, an Angolan/Namibian speciality. We walked along some of the trails
eventually to a look-out at the top of the plateau, well worth the climb for
the spectacular views across the plain (and my first Familiar Chat). Birding
here was a little disappointing, with no Carp's Tit, Rockrunner or Hartlaub's
Francolin, but we just didn't have enough time to do the place justice. Rock
Hyraxes scurried about at the base of the cliffs, and another Shikra darted
through the canopy. Swifts were numerous, mostly Alpine with a few Bradfields.
We bumped into a couple of Rueppell's Parrots, another speciality of the region,
on the way back down to the tents.
16th September: Another
productive morning walk along the entrance road, with new birds including three
Groundscraper Thrushes, White-browed Scrub Robin, Pied Barbet, Rosy-faced Lovebird,
Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Grey-backed Cisticola, Marico Sunbird and Violet-eared
Waxbill. Southern White-Crowned Shrikes were very approachable in the campsite,
but probably the thing that put the biggest smile on my face was a Bushveld
Elephant Shrew. Of all the places we visited on the trip, Waterberg was the
place where I felt I missed out on most species, as we just didn't have enough
time - I had maybe less than 4 hours of daylight to bird there! We headed out
of the park, north towards the giant Hoba Meteorite. I was a little underwhelmed
with the great lump itself, although the surrounding gardens had lots of canaries,
waxbills and sunbirds. On the approach to the meteorite a couple of people on
the truck saw a bird that they thought I was also looking at. I was actually
watching a kestrel, but from their descriptions the kestrel must have flown
directly over a Secretarybird, on the edge of a burnt stubble field. By the
time we'd worked out what they'd seen it was several miles away, so I just hoped
that Etosha would turn up trumps for me! Just inside the entrance gate at Etosha
we saw the first of many Giraffes, but not too many birds on the road up to
Namutoni Camp. How that was to change! After setting up our tents, we took the
truck out on a game drive around the waterholes in the east of the park, which
proved to be probably the most productive game drive of the whole three weeks.
No sooner had we left the campsite when we saw the first of an incredible 99
Kori Bustards over the next 2 days, and a juvenile Martial Eagle perched at
the roadside. Game animals were everywhere, with Burchell's Zebra, Giraffe,
Springbok, Oryx (Gemsbok), Wildebeest and Elephant all common. I managed to
claw back Secretarybird, with two of these bizarre crane-like raptors strolling
across the grass land. I turned round to see 4 Blue Cranes feeding alongside
more Kori Bustards, and a Pale Chanting Goshawk landed on the road in front
of us. Other roadside birds included a Greater Kestrel, and two Spotted Dikkops.
Across the pan, we could see the occasional Ostrich - probably the only wild
Ostriches of the trip? We encountered several Black-backed Jackals, and a wary
Giraffe pointed the way to a couple of Spotted Hyaenas. It was almost too much
to take in! A superb buffet dinner followed, but the wind was starting to pick
up so we didn't spend too long at the waterhole, although the floodlights revealed
a Cape Shoveler. During the night the heavens opened, and the tent got a little
damp - this was the first rainfall for months. Just our luck!
17th September: Sadly the
weather did not improve greatly through the morning. However, we went for an
early game drive and came across a Spotted Hyaena defending a Springbok carcass
from a couple of jackals, plus more Kori and Crested Bustards, Tractrac Chat,
and many more game animals. Unfortunately the weather meant that for long periods
we had to pull down the clear plastic sides of the truck, which didn't make
for good game viewing. At Halali camp things started to brighten up a little,
and three Violet Woodhoopoes flew past. A Gabar Goshawk was another flypast
in the camp. En route to Okaukejo I found a Double-banded Courser strolling
amongst a group of Zebra, and an adult Lappet-faced Vulture at a roadside nest
was the other main birding highlight. A group of thirty-plus Elephant at a waterhole
offered yet another opportunity to shoot more film. We got into Okaukejo camp
just half an hour before dusk, and we parked up near to the famous Sociable
Weaver nest (it has grown so big it is now supported by a large wooden post).
We headed straight down to the waterhole, and a Spotted Eagle Owl was the first
thing I clapped eyes on - what a start! There were no mammals at the waterhole
initially, probably due to the noisy groups of tourists on the benches. However,
just after dusk a group of 10 Double-banded Sandgrouse came in to drink (we
had arrived too late for the other species of sandgrouse, which normally drink
by day). At least four Rufous-cheeked Nightjars hawked around the waterhole,
and two Barn Owls were active more or less all night. At about 8.30pm, we were
thinking of heading back to the truck for some food, when we spotted an animal
approaching the waterhole. In the murk I could make out a pair of ears, and
then a horn! This was the first of four Black Rhinos that we saw, a young male,
and these were my favourites of all the mammals we encountered. After dinner
we went back to the waterhole, and spent all night watching the comings and
goings. First was another Black Rhino, an adult male, then a female with a very
young calf in tow - a very special moment indeed. Gill spotted a bird drop down
behind a log, which eventually revealed itself to be a Verreaux's (Giant) Eagle
Owl, a really spectacular bird, which gave us a great show. Various other mammals
came down to drink during the night, including Springbok, Zebra, Giraffe, Spotted
Hyaena, and a herd of thirty Elephants that loomed like huge grey ghosts out
of the darkness. Lions had been reported there the previous night, but they
didn't put in an appearance unfortunately. A Marsh Owl landed briefly at the
side of the water, but it was rapidly chased off by the Barn Owls. A mouse ran
along the bench beside us, and the nightjars churred away as we kept up our
watch through the small hours.
18th September: Just before
dawn the Double-banded Sandgrouse returned, and other birds included several
Cape Sparrows and a lone Rufous (Great) Sparrow. Just as we were packing up
a little old lady came up to me and asked if I could help her identify a bird
for her. Just outside her chalet, right out in the open, was the Verreaux's
Eagle Owl again! I filmed it for a couple of minutes, before its piercing stare
made me chicken out and move back a few paces before it had me for breakfast!
Just before we left the camp, I returned to the Sociable Weavers nest, and hit
upon another major target bird, a female Pygmy Falcon. These cracking little
birds actually nest inside Sociable Weaver nests! Again, we had to leave too
soon, but Etosha hadn't disappointed us. The drive from Okaukejo to the park
gate produced a group of forty White-backed Vultures at a dead giraffe, which
had also attracted three Lappet-faced Vultures. A Bat-eared Fox at the roadside
was a surprise parting shot. After the highlights of Etosha, the rest of the
day was a bit of a comedown, and the Petrified Forest near Khorixas was a bit
of a dud. Much better were the ancient petroglyphs of Twyfelfontein, but the
attractive Mountain Wheatear was the only new bird of the afternoon. We made
camp at the Abu Huab bush camp, and whilst supping a beer outside the bar we
were pretty stunned to see a Desert Elephant stroll through the camp! This population
of Elephant is rarely encountered according to our guides, and it was a bit
unnerving to see one so close to the open-ended A-frames where we were to spend
the night under the stars.
19th September: Overslept
a bit so there was no time for an early walk, we had to start out early to get
across to the Skeleton Coast. A more barren, desolate, God-forsaken place you
could not imagine! Most of us were tucked into our sleeping bags as we drove
along to try and keep warm as the wind blew in off the coast into the truck.
Near Toscanini we stopped to look at a shipwreck, so it gave me the first real
opportunity to check out the seabirds. At least 3 White-chinned Petrels were
seen close inshore, a larger bird than I had envisaged, and a Swift Tern flew
south. Lines of Cape Cormorants flew past, and Kelp Gulls patrolled the shore.
A small coastal pool had 15 Curlew Sandpipers, a Little Stint and two White-fronted
Plovers. We headed south to the Cape Fur Seal colony at Cape Cross - it has
to be smelled to be believed! Kelp, Grey-headed and Hartlaub's Gulls were all
seen here, as was a Northern Giant Petrel loafing offshore - a bird that I was
less than half-expecting. In the bay I also picked out 3 Wilson's Storm-petrels.
A Cape Wagtail wandered around the seals, which were blocking the gate to the
toilets. After 45 minutes or so the group had had enough of the stink, so we
headed inland to Spitzkoppe, arriving just before sundown. A couple of Rueppell's
Koorhaans were seen from the entrance track, and Alpine Swifts circled the cliffs.
We climbed a short way up the rocks to watch the sunset, another spectacular
end to the day.
20th September: Another
place where we didn't spend enough time, but an early walk produced two White-tailed
Shrikes (a very attractive Namibian/Angolan speciality), a pair of Layard's
Warblers, White-throated Canary, Sabota Lark and another two Rosy-faced Lovebirds.
Unfortunately, Herero Chat and Rockrunner both eluded me - guess I'll just have
to wait until next time! We made our way west to Swakopmund, where we stayed
in a half-finished guest house (Villa Wiese), and we spent the afternoon drinking
and watching some of the silly sods from the group as they went skydiving.
21st September: We had arranged
a boat trip through Mola Mola safaris, and they sent someone to pick us up and
drive the 30km or so south to Walvis Bay to meet up with the Gambit. We had
barely set sail when a Cape Fur Seal launched itself out of the water into the
middle of the boat! We were face to face with a 180kg fish-hungry beast that
wouldn't take no for an answer. Fortunately our skipper had plenty of fish,
and eventually "Flipper" left us to get on with some birding and cetacean-spotting.
We had several close views
of White Pelicans, and pretty soon there were lots of Wilson's Storm-petrels
around the boat.
Two less friendly seals
jumped into the boat and started to fight, which was a bit disconcerting! No
sooner had they jumped off than somebody shouted "Penguin!", and sure enough
there was an adult Jackass Penguin, one of four that we saw on the boat trip
- another bird I was less than half-expecting.
As we headed towards the
tip of the sand bar that runs along the western edge of the lagoon, I picked
out a group of five African Black Oystercatchers on the shore, another major
target bird. A small pod of Heaviside's Dolphins began to bow-ride - this Benguela
Current speciality is only found along 1600km of the south-west African coast
line. Another Jackass Penguin allowed us to circle around it at close quarters.
Along the shoreline were thousands of Greater Flamingos (couldn't pick out any
Lessers unfortunately), various terns and waders, and I picked out a diminutive
Crowned Cormorant on a pier. Cape Gannets and White-chinned Petrels were also
present in small numbers, and "Flipper" made another surprise appearance on
board, before our skipper got the champagne and oysters out for lunch. We headed
back to shore, from where I scoped a couple of young Jackass Penguins, and spectacular
numbers of birds filled the lagoon. We got a lift back to Swakopmund, where
we wandered around the shops for a while, then headed out to the beach and the
small lagoon just south of the town, where we spent a while finding out how
the Red-knobbed Coot got its name. We spent the evening eating and drinking
far too much - no change there then!
22nd September: Set off
east through the Namib-Naukluft desert towards Sesriem. Birds were few and far
between, although we saw a few Ostrich and our lunch stop gave me the opportunity
to video three Rueppell's Koorhaans, and Karoo Chat was added to the trip list.
From Sesriem we headed to Dune 45, and en route I saw at least ten Ludwig's
Bustards amongst Rueppells and White-winged Black Koorhaans. The desert floor
near Dune 45 was almost bird-free, although I did find a few Grey-backed Finch-Larks
and a Black-shouldered Kite. The view of the sunset from the top of the dunes
was pretty spectacular - all very Lawrence of Arabia.
23rd September: We spent
an hour or so of the morning at a canyon near Sesriem, which was quite productive.
There were lots of Namaqua Sandgrouse around, and the canyon hosted many Bradfield's
Swifts and Rock Martins. A bush on the canyon floor had a couple of Pririt Batis,
and I found a Cape Bunting on the path. The plains above the canyon had more
Rueppell's Koorhaans, Familiar Chats, Grey-backed Finch-Larks and a couple of
Red-capped Larks. En route from Sesriem I had a roadside Pygmy Falcon (there
were lots of Sociable Weaver nests along the roadside) near Weltevrede Farm,
and a Jackal Buzzard. We spent the night in chalets at the spa at Rehoboth -
the spa was just what we needed!
24th September: A long driving
day (12+ hours in the truck!) so birding was limited to the roadside and during
pitstops. Roadside raptors included Pale Chanting Goshawk, Bateleur and Black-breasted
Snake Eagle. The Mamuno petrol station sprinkler was still attracting birds,
and I identified a Shaft-tailed Widow alongside its host species, the Violet-eared
Waxbill. Lunchtime brought me my only Rufous-naped Lark as it sheltered in the
shade of a roadsign, and the usual hornbills, rollers and Go-away birds were
roadside regulars throughout the rest of the day. We arrived at the Maun campsite
just before dusk, and I managed to watch the Villa on the bar TV giving Southampton
a beating, so I went to bed happy.
25th September: Another
long driving day, and as I'd celebrated the Villa win a bit too much, I spent
much of the morning on the truck asleep - hence I missed a roadside Lesser Flamingo
spotted by our guides as we were en route to Nata. North of Nata we stopped
for a family party of 3 Southern Ground Hornbills, and the lunchtime stop was
particularly good - a Lanner falcon was hassling an African Hawk-Eagle, while
a Black-breasted Snake Eagle looked on. We arrived at Vic Falls at around 4pm,
whereupon we were shepherded into the Shearwater Adventures office to book our
"activities" for the rest of the trip. We booked a game drive in Mosi-au-Tunya
(Zambia) and a night drive for later in the week, but other members of the trip
were able to book up for whitewater rafting, bungee jumping and elephant rides.
Dinner in town consisted of an "Elephant Turd" (it's a rump steak). We stayed
in chalets for the rest of the trip, at the Shoestrings Backpackers hostel,
which was ok (it had a bar and a pool - what else do you need?) but the walls
of the chalets were rather thin - a couple next door spent the night playing
the Toy Story 2 video loud enough for us to hear every word. At one point there
were some extra noises coming from through the wall that suggested that they
weren't watching Buzz Lightyear too closely...
26th September: We got up
early and the first birds of the morning were a group of Violet-backed Starlings.
We wandered down through the town to the Victoria Falls National Park past the
money-changers and tat merchants - they were a bit of a pain but usually gave
up if you told them you didn't have any money. Top tip - get into the park early
before all the tourists arrive, at 7am we were about the 2nd people in, but
by the time we left at about 9.30 it was pretty busy. Take care if you walk
down past the railway lines as we saw Elephant here on two occasions. In the
National Park we wandered down to the Devil's Cataract and Livingstone's Statue.
We had really close views of a Bushbuck, and I found a White-headed Lapwing
and 3 Rock Pratincoles just above the Devil's Cataract. We then walked along
the trail past the main falls and birding was pretty good, with White-browed
Coucal, displaying Southern Puffbacks, Red-winged Starlings, African Pied Wagtail,
White-browed Robin Chat, Eastern Bearded Scrub Robin, and I found an Ashy Flycatcher
near the toilet block. Trumpeter Hornbills flew overhead, and a distant Yellow-billed
Stork circled on the developing thermals. The main dip here was Schalow's Lourie
(Green Turaco) which are apparently better here in the late morning. Still,
the mighty drip itself was pretty impressive, not to be missed. As we were at
the end of the dry season, the water flow wasn't at its highest, but we probably
got better views of the falls as the spray wasn't too prohibitive for photography.
We spent the afternoon shopping and watching one of our friends do the bungee
jump from the bridge (the big eedjit!), and then we were picked up for our night
drive. This was in an area not far from the sewage ponds, and was rather disappointing
in that there were two trucks which followed each other, so we ended up seeing
a lot less than the lead truck. Still, the highlight was a Serval, and other
mammals included the bizarre Spring Hare, Dik-diks and other ungulates, and
Elephant. A brief nightjar sp. may have been a Mozambique Nightjar, but I didn't
get enough on it. Dinner and beers around a campfire in the middle of a bush
stockade made up a little for the lack of animal action.
27th September: While Gill
wandered around the markets for the morning, I had arranged to meet local birder
Chris Pollard for an early morning boat trip up the Zambesi above the falls.
Chris's fantastic knowledge and good humour made this the birding highlight
of the trip. Chris's boat can only take himself and one passenger, so we were
able to navigate channels that other boats can't. Before we'd got into the boat
though, we'd already encountered Collared Palm Thrushes, a bit of a local speciality.
On the river we dodged Hippos and soon we were among Collared and Rock Pratincoles,
Water Dikkop, White-crowned Plovers, African Skimmers, various herons, egrets
and jacanas, and the only Hadada Ibises of the trip. On a smaller channel we
bumped into the first of three Half-collared Kingfishers, and we attempted to
tape-lure a Western Banded Snake-Eagle, but this was to prove about the only
real dip of the day. Chris beached the boat on an island in the middle of the
Zambesi, and warned me to stay close as Elephants, Hippos and Crocs could all
make an appearance at any time! Still, it was worth it as we came across our
main quarry pretty easily - a young Pel's Fishing Owl. What a fabulous bird,
with huge dark eyes, a powerful bill and beautifully marked brown feathers.
Its crown was still whiteish, indicating that it was one of the two young birds
that had been raised on the island that year. There was no sign of its sibling
or parents, but we made a swift exit as Chris had heard some approaching Elephants.
Before I managed to draw breath in the boat I spotted a male African Finfoot
running out of the water and along the bank, another stunning creature! After
that, anything else was a bonus, but the good birds just kept on coming. Two
White-backed Night Herons lurked in the shade of the trees together with a Barn
Owl, and a Gymnogene circled over us. We got really close to some Rock Pratincoles,
and had great views of Giant Kingfisher, Goliath Heron and the spectacular Orange-breasted
Bush-shrike. We also found a Broad-billed Roller, apparently about a month early
for this species, and the earliest date Chris had ever seen one. In a little
over two hours on the boat we had seen nearly all of our targets, and so we
had plenty of time to clean up on a few species I had missed elsewhere. We had
a stroll around the Vic Falls golf course (Beware of the Crocodiles!) and found
the female Klaas' Cuckoo that had overwintered, in addition to Long-billed Crombec,
White Helmet Shrike, White-bellied Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Apalis and Natal
Francolin. After a light lunch in town we headed south to the sewage ponds,
where a large group of Marabou were loafing. We found various waders and wildfowl,
including Three-banded Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Hottentot
Teal, Red-billed Teal, Knob-billed Duck and White-faced Whistling Duck. We then
drove to the Gorges Lodge Hotel, via a nest of a much sought-after raptor, the
Bat Hawk, with two adults in attendance. On arrival at the Gorges Lodge we immediately
scored with an adult Verreaux's Eagle being mobbed by an Augur Buzzard at eye
level with us over the Zambesi Gorge, both lifers and both high on the wanted
list! This area may be your best chance of locating a Taita Falcon, but unfortunately
egg-collectors scared off the resident pair a few years ago, and even Chris
hasn't seen one for two years. In the gorge below the hotel balcony, a Black
Swift zoomed past, and three Black Storks circled over. After a last look at
the Bat Hawks, we headed back to Vic Falls and Chris dropped me off back at
Shoestrings in time to meet up with Gill and rendez-vous with the Baantu Safaris
truck. We were taken across the border into Zambia to the Mosi-au-Tunya game
park for an afternoon game drive. Not too far into the park we came across a
group of four White Rhinos lounging in the shade. White Rhino was extirpated
from Mosi-au-Tunya by poachers several years ago, but a group of five were reintroduced
in 1996 from South Africa. One subsequently died, but another was born and reared
in the reserve and they are under constant armed guard. We left the Rhinos for
a while, enjoying the other animals in the park including Elephant, Cape Buffalo,
Zebra, Warthog, Wildebeest and Baboon, plus the local non-reticulated Giraffes
which were very distinct from the other Giraffes we had seen, with very pale
maple-leaf markings. The local guide, Tony Simpson, was probably the most knowledgeable
safari guide we met on the whole trip, and filled us with fascinating facts
(apparently the average Elephant ejaculate is over two litres!). On our way
back we encountered the Rhinos again on the road, crossing in front of us from
roadside mudbath. One even followed the truck at close range, an awesome sight.
We left the park enthralled, and passed over the Vic Falls bridge as the sun
was setting. Still there was one final surprise, a herd of Elephants crossing
the road just by the railway tracks on the edge of town. We met up with the
rest of the tour group at the Kingdom Hotel and tucked into a mighty feast,
which included Kudu and Warthog - a fine end to our last full day, and what
a day it was.
28th September: We got up
late and did a last-minute shop at the local market, where I traded my trainers
for some Rhino bookends. We wandered down to the grand old colonial Victoria
Falls Hotel, which is well worth a visit for the views and the chance to wander
among the corridors lined with lots of fascinating photos of days gone by. We
got on the truck for one last time and headed for the airport where we bade
farewell to our guides, and got on the plane to Harare. At Harare Airport I
got the last new bird of the trip, Abdim's Stork, on the airfield and the Little
Swifts again provided entertainment before the long flight home via Gatwick
to Aberdeen, arriving mid-afternoon back home. Somehow I managed to summon up
enough strength to twitch the Lincolnshire Green Heron on the 30th- some folks
are never satisfied.