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The Great Escape, Namibia. (1 Viewer)

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Background to Travel.

Lithuania was largely spared the spring wave of Coronavirus, case numbers were low and I have to admit the three-month national quarantine was a pleasurable time for me personally, a prolonged period on my land in Labanoras, not exactly a hardship at the height of spring bird migration.

Can't say the same for the second wave - not only is Lithuania being hit very hard by Coronavirus, case numbers rising fast at time of departure and already exceeding rates in Spain and the UK, but the country is also heading into a Baltic winter. Staying on my land for an extended period in winter is quite a different prospect to that in spring - relatively birdless, short days and cold to the extreme in my cabin.

Decision time ...with my summer tick-borne encephalitis still having some impact, I was acutely aware that tiredness or even a minor cold could bring back assorted aches and pains, I really had no wish to potentially add Coronavirus to the cocktail. So sit in the grey early winter gloom of Lithuania or flee, it was a decision that did not take long.

As for the destination, most of the world was either in the same boat as Lithuania (Europe) or totally closed to incoming tourists (almost everywhere else), so choices were limited to a precious few options. Fortunately one possibility was Namibia - newly reopened, albeit with strict entry requirements. Having lived in Namibia before, this country ticked all the boxes - not only an amazing country for wildlife and possessing an excellent climate, it is also blessed by a low population density and very low level of Coronavirus at present. On top of this, enabling me to work remotely as easily as in Lithuania, it shares a common time zone and has good internet possibilities.

Decision over, I would move to Namibia, pull Little One out of school, rent an apartment for a month or so at Walvis Bay, work and bird during the week, then travel at the weekends. Come Christmas and New Year, with holiday, we could travel more widely, essentially to Etosha and the Caprivi Strip. Beyond that, no idea - depending on the situation on Europe, we could possibly return to Lithuania in mid-January or possibly just stay longer in Namibia. Have to say, I don't really expect to leave Namibia for at least three months.
 
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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Prelogue, Travel in Uncertain Times

Quite interesting process to plan a trip in the era of Covid! Even buying flights just ten days in advance, there was considerable uncertainty up until departure - in the days after buying, the Lithuanian government announced a national quarantine and closed the country's borders, fortunately then clarifying this did not include the airport, Covid cases further sky-rockered making me fear yet more travel restrictions, then the airports announced partial closures and significant cuts to flights. On top of all, I had to hope that Namibia did not change its entry requirements, that the airline would not cancel and that we would all pass the obligatory Covid test and not fail a temperature check at either the airport or on arrival. Just for added complication, one half of our party needed to obtain a visa from a third country pretty quickly and Little One ran into a wall and broke arm, doctors initially thinking surgery might be required.

Ah, it was with some relief that the day of departure finally arrived
 

foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Now, really looking forward to some vicarious travel and birding plus some good memories of a trip back in the '90's.
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
DAY LOG

14 November. Masked Up and Aboard.

Thermometer check, no temperatures. Under a cold grey sky, we donned our masks and entered the airport, check in control of our Covid tests, health declarations and other documents, all in order - onboard and a pleasant two-hour flight to Germany. Lengthy transit at Frankfurt, then an overnighter to Windhoek.


15 November. Windhoek - Walvis Bay.

Touchdown at Windhoek International, glorious sun shining, a mix of swifts (Palm Swift, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Bradfield's Swift) swirling around the palms of the airport, Rock Martins and a couple of Greater Striped Swallows in their midst. Picked up a car for an initial month's rent, tootled off onto the great open roads stretching to Windhoek, Baboons and Warthogs roadside, Gabar Sparrowhawk over.

Less than 30 minutes later, time for first stop - Avis Dam on the eastern outskirts of the city, a former regular haunt of mine from past days. As expected, now the tail end of the long dry season, open water was scant, but one wet area did kick the birding off - 30 or so Sacred Ibis, a couple of Hammerkops and two Grey Herons leading the charge, associates including several Three-banded Plovers and Palearctic migrants Wood Sandpipers and Ruff. Also Red-billed Queleas. In the acacia scrub around, common bushland birds, Familiar Chats, Marico Flycatcher, Groundscraper Thrush, White-backed Mousebird, African Hoopoe, Black-faced Waxbill, etc. Had intended a long hike, but all too soon got waylaid by butterflies - hundreds of Brown-veined Whites, both massing around flowering shrubs and flocking to take moisture from damp soil, plus a few exquisites from the blues family - several Velvet-spotted Blues, two Silver-spotted Greys and a loose colony of Sooty Blues. One Citrus Swallowtail drifted past.

A long drive ahead, departed late morning to cross the ever more arid western parts of Namibia to Swakopmund and onward to Walvis Bay, home for the foreseeable period. Glorious place to base, magnificent dunes to the one side, an extensive intertidal bay to the other, jam-packed with many thousands of Greater and Lesser Flamingoes, plus tens of thousands of Palearctic waders. Rich pickings on a brief quick scoot down the bay - setting the stage for the coming days, endless flocks of waders dominated by Curlew Sandpipers, Sanderlings and Little Stints, plus numerous White-fronted Plovers all over the track and, further up the bay, delightful Chestnut-banded Plovers. White Pelicans, Damara Terns and many more birds too, I could see the next few days were going to be fun.

For today however, I called it a day, we returned to Walvis Bay town and settled into an apartment, checking the WiFi was going to handle requirements, popped to the local supermarket.
 
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Maroon Jay

Airborne
Canada
"Picked up a car for an initial month's rent, tootled off onto the great open roads stretching to Windhoek."
Following your tootling with interest.
 

Andy Adcock

Deplatformed dissident
England
DAY LOG

15 November. Windhoek - Walvis Bay.

Touchdown at Windhoek International, glorious sun shining, a mix of swifts (Palm Swift, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Bradford's Swift) swirling around the palms of the airport, Rock Martins and a couple of Greater Striped Swallows in their midst. Picked up a car for an initial month's rent, tootled off onto the great open roads stretching to Windhoek, Baboons and Warthogs roadside, Gabar Sparrowhawk over.
Think you mean Bradfield's Swift?
 
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rosbifs

Well-known tool
France
You know how to spawn jealousy!

I share the sentiment that this a much harder confinement and one where I lack motivation, also one that personally I struggle to see the value.

Have a great trip and keep safe. Vicarious birding it is...
 

etudiant

Registered User
Supporter
Just wonderful, escaping from a dreary mandated isolation!
Good on you and your small companion. She is brave, travelling with a broken arm. Very best wishes to her as well!
Will follow your excursions diligently, from my small patch in NYC.
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
This report should really start "Call me Ishmael"! Great move Jos and I'm looking forward to vicarious enjoyment over the coming months!

John
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
16-20 November. Walvis Bay.

New home, and not too bad a place to base - Walvis Bay lagoon on the doorstep, teeming with birds, the single most important waterbird locality on the west coast of southern Africa. Saltpans just beyond hold countless more birds, while the town's sewage pools create a unique freshwater ecosystem on the edge of the desert. A few kilometres distant, abutting the great dunes of the Namib, the Kuiseb valley at Rooibank offers a flavour of bushland birding in the acacia stands and a chance of the endemic Dune Lark.


Sites visited in week one:

Walvis Bay Lagoon.
Absolutely fabulous, from the town's esplanade to the salt works at the top end, the number of birds here was simply staggering. As well as perhaps 60,000 Greater and Lesser Flamingoes, a sight for sore eyes, and flocks of White Pelicans too, I managed 18 species of wader between my spells of work in this first week (plus another four wader species away from the bay), the vast bulk being fellow exitees from the northern winter - thousands of Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stints and Sanderlings dominating, Avocets, Grey Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwits and Turnstones also in no shortage. In among this migrant soup, residents too - African Black Oystercatchers, abundant White-fronted Plovers and, in the upper bay particularly, a good couple of hundred Chestnut-banded Plovers, truly a smart bundle of feathers.

Also across the bay, Cape Gulls and Hartlaub's Gulls on mass, Common Terns in their thousands, plus hundreds of Swift Terns too, these often roosting on sand banks right off the main esplanade. Adding variety, commonplace Sandwich Terns, good numbers of Caspian Terns, a few Black Terns and, star of the bay, dainty Damara Terns - the upper bay proving best for this Bengula endemic. Add abundant Cape Cormorants, a few Crowned Cormorants and a scattering of marine mammals (Cape Fur Seals, a single Bottlenose Dolphin and pod of five Heaviside's Dolphins) and, all in all, not too bad for birding as a backdrop to work.


Walvis Bay Bird Sanctuary.
From a pongy start just beyond town, the city's effluent is pumped out into the dunes on the western fringe, thereafter seeping eastward through the sands and creating a unique series of freshwater pools. Skipping out from work for just an hour or two on each occasion, these pools provided quite a number of birds not found in the bay - predominant among them ducks such as South African Shelduck, South African Shoveler, Hottentot Teal and Maccoa Duck. Also Purple Swamphen, Red-knobbed Coots, Little and Black-necked Grebes and a few waders, Marsh Sandpipers, Three-banded Plovers and Blacksmith Plovers most notable. For sheer spectacle however, Lesser Flamingoes stole the show - quite an image it is, a pink mat of several thousand flamingoes against the pastels of the rolling dunes of the Namib Desert, even more spectacular as something spooks the flocks sending them into the air.

Bird Island.
A quano platform 10 km north of town, one visit. White Pelicans and Cape Cormorants in the main, lesser numbers of White-breasted Cormorants and Crowned Cormorants.

Rooibank.
Precious few land birds around Walvis Bay, the week's haul basically amounting to frequent Cape Wagtails, small flocks of Cape Sparrows and a few Speckled Pigeons and Laughing Doves, plus one flock of Rosy-faced Lovebirds and occasional Orange River White-eyes. Even less land birds in the surrounding desert.

Fortunately, tracing a narrow slither of acacia-dotted land between the great sand dunes of the Namib Desert and the barren stone deserts stretching north, the Kuiseb valley at Rooibank offers a nice contrast to the coastal birding, plus one of the most accessible localities for Dune Lark, a Namibian endemic. About 25 km from town, one visit here, a three-hour exploration that was predominantly to look for the lark. Drew a blank along the edges of the dunes, so eventually gave up and turned my attention to the acacia woodland and scrub. Not teeming in birds, but not bad either - Dark Chanting Goshawk, Common Scimitarbill, several Southern Grey Tits, a pair of Common Fiscals, several White-backed Mousebirds, plus abundant Cape Sparrows and Southern Masks Weavers.
As for Dune Lark, I thought I had failed on this, but almost back at my car, on a nondescript patch of low dune partially covered by tussocks and small acacias, one very fine Dune Lark! Very nice indeed.

And so it was, a week at work soon passed, over 90 species already totalled up, sure beats a cold grey November week back in northern Europe.
 

Larry Sweetland

Formerly 'Larry Wheatland'
Go Jos! We spent a Christmas at Walvis Bay, and I struggled with Dune Lark at that site too. Luckily one decided to appear eventually. Great to remember that area. Good luck with everything :)
 

dandsblair

David and Sarah
Congrats on making your escape. I tried to persuade Sarah we should do something similar for 2 or 3 months but in the end we are settling for a few trips as she didn't want to be away at Christmas. I will be watching enviously
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
21-22 November. Solitaire & Sossusvlei.

Day One.


Up at 4 am, out into the darkness, eastbound across the Namib Desert, a somewhat eerie atmosphere as a strange fog pushed a hundred kilometres in from the Atlantic. Hints of light as we twisted through the barren Kuiseb gorge, then the first bird of the day, a mighty Ludwig's Bustard roadside, a good start. As sun broke the horizon, zapping out the fog in seconds, it was then a cruise the remaining kilometres to Solitaire, now already 200 km of the journey already gone.

Solitaire truly lives up to its name, a one-horse settlement consisting of a petrol station, coffee shop and campsite surrounded by endless desert. But also birds and mammals! Hadn't even pulled in when I spotted a Bat-eared Fox, and this turned out to be a most engaging pair with two small cubs. A short while later, an interesting stand off when the local cat decided to come and say hello ...one plucky mother fox putting up a brave defence. Oodles of Sociable Weavers and Cape Sparrows around the buildings, then wandered out back and immediately found a pair of Spotted Eagle Owls, rapidly beginning to like this pit stop. Beyond, at an artificial waterhole, flocks of Namaqua Sandgrouse dropped in to drink, Southern Masked Weavers built nests in an acacia.

Topped up with petrol, then continued, now southbound. In the next 80 km, some nice roadside observations - two Ruppell's Korhaans strutting their stuff, a surprise Giraffe in a rare patch of acacia, five Hartman's Mountain Zebras and other odds and ends, Gemsbok and the like. And then we arrived at Sossusvlei, the great dunes still some way off, but the campsite also a rather nice experience. Plonked my tent under a shady acacia, one Cape Crow nesting in its upper boughs, then settled back to enjoy the other guests - breakfast all round, umpteen Sociable Weavers flocking in, several Scaly-feathered Finches and a bunch of Cape Sparrows. One Cardinal Woodpecker also popped in.

Drove down to the stunning desertscapes at Deadvlei, walking the last five kilometres due to lack of 4WD. Amazing landscapes, very few birds ... Layard's Tit-babblers, Common Scimitarbill, Fiscal Shrike, one very out of place looking Willow Warbler. Gemsbok and Springbok wandering between the dunes, one Black-backed Jackal trotting up. Hiked there and back, ten kilometres in 35 C, tootled back to the campsite for mid-afternoon relaxation beside the pool, nice Sociable Weaver nest overhanging. Finished the day off with butterflies - the first seen in a week in the desert ... three Brown Playboys.

Back at the tent, watched the sun go down, a few Gemsbok ambling around. One Spotted Eagle Owl calling after dark.


Day Two.

Dawn appreciation of the colours, climbing a 300 metre dune to take in the glorious reds and shades, then departed Sossusvlei for the return journey. Stopped again at Solitaire, one of the Eagle Owls still in the campsite, heaps of Sociable Weavers and Southern Masked Weavers. No sign of the Bat-eared Foxes this day, but a very notable presence of Southern African Ground Squirrels …. dozens of them scampering around, standing alert at their burrows, digging for titbits. Also, rather pleasing, butterflies too - several Brown-veined Whites, two Velvet-spotted Blues.
From Solitaire, headed on towards Walvis Bay, a brief pause at the Kuiseb Gorge, additions here including Cape Buntings, Great Sparrows and Mountain Wheatears, then the long haul across the arid stone plains back to the coast, an occasional Ostrich the highlights of the journey.

An okay weekend :)
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
And just to reinforce my reasons for leaving, not only does Lithuania now have the 5th worst level of Coronavirus in the 30 countries of the EU/EEA, but Little One's grandfather has contracted the virus and grandmother has been rapidly discharged from a recuperation centre (where was for another issue) following an outbreak there. Not very pretty back at hte home base, and it's cold, wet and grey, sleet on the menu.
 

foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
I knew I was in for some memory jogging: I could almost feel the heat and isolation of Solitaire and fondly remember the whole Sossusvlei experience - the Namib had been one of my most wanted places to see. Thanks.
 

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