Featured Image: Lesser Flamingo, Walvis Bay, 2 October

Safari to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls, Part 1

In Travel, Botswana, Africa, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe by tony1 Comment

Featured image: Lesser Flamingo, Walvis Bay, Namibia, 2 October 2023

ORT_Logo   Breadtag Sagas ©: Author Tony,  11 December 2023

This is the third article in a series on Southern Africa inspired by a birding trip to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls with Rockjumper and two safaris to Chobe National Park in Botswana with Kalahari Tours and Kruger National Park in South Africa with Lion Roar Safaris.

The articles in order so far are: 1 A Lark in Africa2 Welwitschia3 Safari to Namibia Part 1, 4 Safari to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls Part 2 and 5 Large Raptors.

 

A Birding Safari to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Part 1 Windhoek to Etosha

Bird Trip Overview

Our Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls Overland … investigate[d] the gravel plains and Red Dunes of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the seemingly inhospitable Etosha National Park and the desolate, vast Etosha Pan, the Burkea woodlands on the dry, hot Kalahari sands of the Caprivi Strip and, finally, the antithesis of the Okavango Panhandle and the Victoria Falls where water is in abundance. (Rockjumper Trip Report)

 

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Pririt Batis, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia, 3 October 2023

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Pririt Batis, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia, 3 October

Main Points

  • Windhoek
  • Khomas Hochland
  • Namib-Naukluft National Park
  • Walvis Bay
  • Spitzkoppe
  • Erongo Mountains

1 Introduction

The trip to Africa for the Rockjumper birding tour came about almost by accident, with some intense planning thereafter. The tour was for 18-days through Namibia, Botswana to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Our part of the group, almost half, consisted of Denise and I and our friend Robyn from Australia.

Rockrunner, Spitzkoppe, Namibia, 2 October

Rockrunner, Spitzkoppe, Namibia, 2 October

We stayed at the City Lodge Hotel at OR Tambo airport, Johannesburg overnight (~$180 AUD a double, all prices to follow are per couple per night). It was a short, very safe internal walk from the terminal. We caught a flight to Windhoek in Namibia the next morning.

Surprisingly, I always enjoy being met at the airport and taken to my destination. It is probably a hangover from the days of hard travel, when everything including arrival required decision-making.

The photographs below are not representative of the birds. I intend to highlight birds in further articles, such as, A Lark in Africa.


Windhoek, Namibia

2 River Crossing Lodge (2 nights)

River Crossing Lodge   (Good photo on home page.)

We arrived at the River Crossing Lodge (~$160 AUD; prices are indicative rates for independent travellers, per couple per night) a day before our tour began. So we had the opportunity of birding on our own first.

Our Room, River Crossing Lodge, Namibia, 27 September

Our Room, River Crossing Lodge, Namibia, 27 September

 

The Lodge was situated on a prominent ridge, just outside of Windhoek (not a river crossing). There were plenty of birds in their private reserve. It was a lovely place to stay in huts separate from main reception area (typical of all such lodges) and good value.

Thailand 2023

As a digression, we also did a long day-trip professional birding trip in February from Chiang Mai, Thailand (5 am to 5 pm) with Mr Green (a convenience name for foreigners). The birding trip was to Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand. We saw 57 species in one day.

Our First Weaver Bird Nest, River Crossing Lodge, Namibia, 28 September

Our First Weaver Bird Nest, River Crossing Lodge, Namibia, 28 September

I had been to Thailand many times. It was only in January/February 2023 that Denise and I began to look at birds seriously. Mostly we did this on our own having purchased a small bird guide in Bangkok.

Our First Birds in Africa

Grey Go-away Bird, Mokuti Lodge, Namibia, 7 October

The wonderful thing about going to an overseas country birding for the first time is that virtually every bird is a new species.

We had the privilege of seeing, getting excited about, and remembering several birds, on our own, on the first day before our tour started.

The Grey Go-Away bird (a form of Turaco) was close to our first bird. They were so exotic on that first occasion. We saw them every day after that. They are so common.

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Picnic Area, Eastern Etosha National Park, Namibia, 7 October 2023

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Picnic Area, Eastern Etosha National Park, Namibia, 7 October

The Grey Go-Away birds were even more exotic, because their amazing high feathery crest and the sides of their heads were a lovely yellow in the sunlight. Greg explained that they had probably been feeding on flowers and were covered in pollen. They are meant to be just grey.

The Grey Go-Away bird, the Crimson-breasted Shrike (bright, bright red), the Pririt Batis (black and white), and the Rosy-faced Lovebird (red, pink and green) were our first birds of note. My choices are completely subjective and often idiosyncratic.

We also saw our first wild gemsbok or oryx from the verandah of our hut.

Three Gemsbok in a Waterhole, Western Etosha National Park, Namibia 4 October

Three Gemsbok in a Waterhole, Western Etosha National Park, Namibia 4 October

General Overview

Greg de Klerk, our guide was a consummate professional, like Mr Green. He went out of his way on the whole trip to show us as many birds as possible in an interesting way.

In addition to ourselves, were three Americans and an Englishman. Three women and four men in total. It turned out to be, a much nicer and more amenable group, than usual. We didn’t undergo mid-tour squabbles.

Shepherd's Tree, Namib Grens Guest Farm, Namibia, 30 September

Shepherd’s Tree, Namib Grens Guest Farm, Namibia, 30 September

The Shepherd’s tree has amazingly deep tap roots (more than 70 metres recorded). It is an important arid zone tree for browsers, giraffe and antelopes, and for birds.

On the whole trip, we saw 381 bird species in total in 18 days. Our cumulative tally of new birds from day 1 to day 18 was roughly as follows: 58, 107, 136, 155, 164, 173, 183, 197, 214, 223, 338, 345, 264, 371, 383.

Naturally, we saw many birds over and over in different combinations and engaging in different behaviour. Some birds attracted one’s attention more than others. Nevertheless, I surprised myself by caring about larks and other LBJs, almost as much as the more colourful, exotic and surprising species.

Roadside Bird Stop, Khomas Hochland, 29 September

Roadside Bird Stop, Khomas Hochland, 29 September

We had come one day early at the start and stayed two nights at the River Crossing Lodge. The pattern of the tour thereafter was one night’s stay followed by two nights and so on to the end. An excellent arrangement. I’ve indicated the two night stops.


Khomas Hochland Plateau Region

Mountains and Namib Desert from Spreetshoogte Pass, Namibia, 30 September

Mountains and Namib Desert from Spreetshoogte Pass, Namibia, 30 September

3 Namib Grens Guest Farm

Namib Grens Guest Farm

Pygmy Falcon, Side of the Road, Rural Namibia, 29 September

Pygmy Falcon, Side of the Road, Rural Namibia, 29 September

From Windhoek we took a minor dirt road to our next destination (~175 km), which was supposed to be quaint and good for birding, but it had been upgraded to a more major route and was disappointing for our guide. Though we saw many birds, especially the Pygmy Falcon: Length 20 cm, Weight 60 g, Wingspan 37 cm. We saw an even smaller falcon in Thailand (reputed to be the smallest in the world), the Collared Falconet: Length 15-18 cm, Weight 35-50 g, Wingspan 30-34 cm. Hence the Pygmy Falcon is quite small.

Rock Hyrax, Dassie, Namib Grens Guest Farm, Namibia, 29 September

Rock Hyrax, Dassie, Namib Grens Guest Farm, Namibia, 29 September

Namib Grens Guest Farm is in the Namib-Naukluft National Park (see Welwitschia) on the Khomas Hochland plateau.

The Guest Farm is part of a much-larger commercial farm for raising sheep and cattle. It is a very large operation for Namibia. The villas (~$200 AUD) are amazing, integrated into the granite boulders of the site (see website).

The accommodation was quirky, impressive and stunning all at once.

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia, 2 October 2023

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia, 2 October

The birding in the morning was excellent. We saw both birds and mammals including the Groundscraper Thrush, Noki (a squirrel-like Dassie Rat restricted to the Namibian escarpment), Rock Hyrax or Dassie (very common) and a Pearl-spotted owlet for the first time.

Noki, Namib Grens Guest Farm, Namibia, 30 September

Noki, Namib Grens Guest Farm, Namibia, 30 September

On leaving the villas we went down to the farmhouse and old guesthouse (a cheaper option) for breakfast. It was the best breakfast we had on the tour. The omelette was exceptional.

The food, breakfast and dinner, at all the lodges on the trip was of a high standard. Lunch was on the road and more variable.

Greater Kestrel, Near Solitaire, Namibia, 30 September 2023

Greater Kestrel, Near Solitaire, Namibia, 30 September 2023

Shortly after leaving, we descended the escarpment via Spreetshoogte Pass down into the Namib Desert. Once reaching the highway we visited Solitaire (a Wild West style town) and drove to Walvis Bay through the Namib Desert (268 km).


Walvis Bay

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Greater Flamingo, Walvis Bay, Namibia, 1 October 2023

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Greater Flamingo, Walvis Bay, Namibia, 1 October 2023

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Greater Flamingo, Walvis Bay, Namibia, 1 October

Shorebirds are found all along the Atlantic coast of Namibia, but are concentrated in Walvis Bay. Walvis Bay’s topography is a wide tidal lagoon, fed by sea currents. The erratic Kuiseb river also debouches into the bay. Walvis Bay became Namibia’s first Ramsar wetlands in 1995.

Lesser Flamingo, Walvis Bay, Namibia, 2 October

Lesser Flamingo, Walvis Bay, Namibia, 2 October

4 Flamingo Villas Boutique Hotel (2 nights)

Flamingo Villas Boutique Hotel

Flamingo Villas Boutique Hotel (~$228 AUD) is a pleasant enough hotel with good staff and good meals, but it is a hotel. Across the road is the bay, full of flamingos and other water birds too numerous to name.

High Dunes, Outside Walvis Bay, Namibia, 1 October

High Dunes, Outside Walvis Bay, Namibia, 1 October

Flamingos are the immediate and main attraction of Walvis Bay.

When you come into Walvis Bay from the desert the temperature drops by about 10°C. When we went out into the perennial fog at 5am to find the Dune Lark, it was cold for the first and last time on our trip.

At Walvis Bay we ate one night at Godenfang Urban Farm and Kitchen, an excellent place for a night out. The following day Sunday we also went to the Goanikontes Oasis, inland from Swakopmund, a pleasant lunch spot with cold beer, but busy with locals and tourists.

Greater Flamingo, Walvis Bay, Namibia, 2 October

Greater Flamingo, Walvis Bay, Namibia, 2 October

Our main destinations other than Walvis Bay were:

  • Rooibank (for the dunes and the Dune Lark, though we couldn’t see any dunes in the fog); the other large dunes nearer to Walvis Bay we did see.
  • The saltworks in Swakopmund and the coast for water birds; and,
  • The Namib-Naukluft National Park (where we viewed Welwitschia).
The Group Examines a Medium-Sized Welwitschia, Namib Desert, Namibia

The Group Examines a Medium-Sized Welwitschia, Namib, Desert, Namibia, 1 October

Key birds seen and remembered apart from the dune lark were: Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Chestnut-banded Plover, Ruff and a host of others.

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Side of the Road, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia, 1 October 2023

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Side of the Road, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia, 1 October

In the middle-class housing estates of Walvis Bay and neighbouring Swakopmund one sees chimneys everywhere. They are not for the cold, but debouche onto outside decks and patios.

They are for the braaivleis (or barbecue for grilled meat). It is a national pastime for whites and some Africans in Namibia and South Africa. There is even a national Braai Day in South Africa on 24 September.

Pied Avocet, Walvis Bay, Namibia, 1 October 2023

Pied Avocet, Walvis Bay, Namibia, 1 October 2023


Erongo Mountains, via Spitzkoppe

Spitzkoppe

Greg Views Spitzkoppe, Namibia, 2 October

Greg Views Spitzkoppe, Namibia, 2 October

The Spitzkoppe is a group of bald granite peaks or inselbergs located between Usakos and Swakopmund in the Namib desert of Namibia. Spitzkoppe is is about 195 km or two-and-a-half hours from Walvis Bay.

Spitzkoppe, Namibia, 2 October

Spitzkoppe, Namibia, 2 October

The granite is more than 120 million years old and the highest outcrop rises about 1,728 metres above sea level.

Kirk's Dik-dik, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia 2 October

Kirk’s Dik-dik, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia 2 October

We had lunch here, enjoyed the remarkable granite outcroppings and saw several species of bird. My key ones were: Karoo Long-billed Lark, Verreaux’s Eagle, Rockrunner, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater.


Erongo Mountain Range

Our Accommodation, Early Morning, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia 3 October

Our Accommodation, Early Morning, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia 3 October

5 Erongo Wilderness Lodge

Erongo Wilderness Lodge

The Erongo mountain range, rising to a height of 2302 metres, near Omaruru is a granitic volcanic intrusion originating about 150 million years ago. It is a haven for birds and other wildlife. We were now moving into more the more expensive safari lodge range and also paying for exclusivity. The cost was ~$500 AUD per double.

Searching for Hartlaub's Spurfowl, Early Morning, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia, 3 October

Searching for Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, Early Morning, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia, 3 October

The Erongo Wilderness Lodge (~ 150 km from Spitzkoppe) near Omaruru is an amazing quirky place with its own game reserve set amongst granite boulders and granite intrusions. Some key birds we saw there were Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, Rockrunner and White-tailed Shrike.

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Hartlaub's Spurfowl, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia, 3 October 2023

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia, 3 October

Dinner on the deck overlooking the landscape was spectacular.

On the drive to Etosha we saw our only Secretary Bird on the trip, which was amazing, striding across the landscape.

We had also seen large game: ostrich, giraffe and antelopes already, but not as much as we were about to see from Etosha on.


Key Words: Rockjumper birding tour,Windhoek, Khomas Hochland, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Walvis Bay, Spitzkoppe, Erongo Mountains, City Lodge Hotel, OR Tambo airport, Johannesburg, River Crossing Lodge, Grey Go-Away bird, Turaco, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Pririt Batis, Rosy-faced Lovebird, gemsbok, oryx, Shepherd’s tree, Spreetshoogte Pass, Namib Grens Guest Farm, Groundscraper Thrush, Noki, Dassie Rat, Rock Hyrax, Dassie, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Solitaire, Greater Kestrel, tidal lagoon, sand dune, Kuiseb River, Flamingo Villas Boutique Hotel, Lesser Flamingo, Greater Flamingo, Rooibank, Dune Lark, Welwitschia, Swakopmund, braaivleis, Pied Avocet, Chestnut-banded Plover, Ruff, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Spitzkoppe, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Verreaux’s Eagle, Rockrunner, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Erongo mountain range, Omaruru, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Kirk’s Dik-dik, Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, White-tailed Shrike, Secretary Bird, ostrich, giraffe, antelope


Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Secretarybird, Side of the Road near Outjo, Namibia, 3 October 2023

Photo by Stephen Kierniesky, Secretarybird, Side of the Road near Outjo, Namibia, 3 October 2023


Further Information

Rockjumper

I mentioned that Rockjumper were our birding tour company and gave a link to them in the introduction. I just wanted to reiterate that they were an excellent organisation, the tour guide Greg de Klerk was terrific, the accommodation and food were excellent and everything went of well. We’d recommend them highly.

Birding tours, are usually conducted by individuals in various countries and by larger organisations. Rockjumper is one of the larger birding tour companies and offers tours world-wide. Rockjumper is based mainly in South Africa but headquartered (for valid tax reasons) in Mauritius.

Rockjumper uses local agents in the various countries in which they operate.

More Photography of Our Trip

Birds and animals of Southern Africa, Photographs by Stephen Kierniesky

If you want to look more at the birds and other animals of Southern Africa that we saw on the trip, Stephen Kierniesky has posted photographs that can be accessed on Exposure using the following links:

Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe Sep/Oct 2023 Volume 1 by Stephen Kierniesky on Exposure

Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe Sept/Oct 2023 Volume 2 by Stephen Kierniesky on Exposure

Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe Sept/Oct 2023 Volume 3 by Stephen Kierniesky on Exposure

Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe Sept/Oct 2023 Volume 4 by Stephen Kierniesky on Exposure

Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe Sept/Oct 2023 Volume 5 by Stephen Kierniesky on Exposure

Inside Our Room, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia 3 October

Inside Our Room, Erongo Wilderness Lodge, Namibia 3 October

Information Part 1

I divided this into Part 1 and Part 2 because it was getting to be too long. As a consequence, I have also divided up the further information section.

I wanted to mention traveller safety because it was a concern before the the trip. It was mentioned in Rockjumper’s pre-trip information and by our guide at the start of the trip. We were also briefed about the danger’s of wildlife at various times. Although after the briefing the implementation sometimes relaxed. They merely wanted to get your attention and to make sure you had taken the warnings on-board.

The other section regarding the issue of wealthy tourists and poor locals will be covered in Part 2, as part of this I’ll give a summary of economic conditions and governance in the four countries visited.

Traveller Safety

I was initially apprehensive about going to Johannesburg, even just to the airport. Unnecessarily, it turned out, though there had been problems at the airport previously.

My friend Helene, who had been on a family trip to South Africa a month before, said: ‘you’ve travelled extensively, just keep your wits about you and be aware of your surroundings.’ Good advice.

I think many things have changed post-Covid. I was even slightly apprehensive on our first overseas trip to Thailand in January/February 2023 for a month.

Our guide warned us initially about the Caprivi Strip, not to leave valuables openly in our rooms. I think security had improved. At Katima Malilo, we heard anecdotally that local tribal leaders had identified some notorious robbers, had confiscated the stolen goods and meted out rough justice.

We did not feel at all unsafe anywhere on our tour. Nevertheless, I think Helene’s advice was wise.

White suburbs in all four countries have razor wire and electric fences as boundaries.

The Trip Report

If there are any committed birders who want to know more, I am including the Rock Jumper, Trip Report, 28 Sept to 15 Oct 2023 as a pdf for interest. It is supposedly only a draft at this stage.

Published in Canberra

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