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The Great Escape, Namibia. (4 Viewers)

DMW

Well-known member
28-29 November. Spitskoppe.

Another predawn departure from the coast, timed to arrive at the Spitzkoppe at sunrise. Rising from the desert plains, a geological masterpiece of towering rock pinnacles and rounded boulders, Spitskoppe is an amazing sight in itself, but for the birder it is also renowned as one of the most reliable sites for the difficult Herero Chat.


Day One.

A thousand acacia spikes and thorny grass seeds through my sandals, four hours from dawn I searched for Herero Chat, the temperature already climbing above 25 C. Banana-nosed Monteiro's Hornbills, a couple of Grey Go-away Birds, plenty of Dusky Sunbirds, Mountain Wheatears, Pritit Batis and Yellow-bellied Eremomela, a pair of Long-billed Crombec, several Sabota Larks, not bad birding at all, but as for Herero Chat, not a sign.

As temperature climbed and bird activity declined, chances of finding the usually reclusive chat dwindled, but quite a number of hyper active butterflies began to appear. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, I spent the hot hours pursuing the butterflies, also not too easy with them very rarely settling for more than a millisecond here and there. Nethertheless, reflecting the appearance of acacia stands rather than pure desert, eight species on the wing, my highest day count so far - at the one end of the size spectrum, tiny Grass Jewels, along with slightly larger Velvet-spotted Blues, while at the other end, several Natal Acaria and one Citrus Swallowtail. Sitting in the middle, and the most abundant butterflies of the day, four species of whites - one Zebra White, 30 or 40 Common Orange-Tips, one Lilac Tip and several Brown-veined Whites.
As the heat eventually began to wain from its peak of 35 C, gave the Herero Chat another attempt ...and again zilch on that front! Still, did see Acacia Pied Barbet, a couple of Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters and, as evening approached, a number of mammals - numerous Rock Dassies, three Cape Hares, one Black Mongoose (a rare Namibian endemic), a brief Western Rock Elephant-Shrew and two nimble-footed Klipspringers picking their way up a rockface.

At an exquisite site surrounded by high rocks, I camped out, total silence in the desert, a full moon illuminating the desert floor. Bat-eared Fox and Small Spotted Genet during the night.


Day Two.

Dawn, resuming the search for Herero Chat. Fortunately this day was rather more successful - after a half hour of birding, marked by Ashy Tits, Dusky Sunbirds et al, I heard a pleasant little song to my left ...and there atop a small acacia between boulders, one very nice Herero Chat! And moments later, a second joined it ... success, one pair of Herero Chats. After serenading a while atop its bush, off they both flitted, over a rock outcrop and gone.

Wandered a while longer, first butterflies rising as the temperature soared - Grass Jewels and Common Orange Tips - then decided for a complete change. Departed and drove across the stone deserts back to the coast, a fortuitous stop en route adding three Gray's Larks. And then there was Cape Cross, an assault on the senses on every angle ...a pong from a half kilometre away, a loud braying of incredible proportion from all sides, a seething mass of lumbering bodies occupying almost every conceivable patch of beach for hundreds of metres each way ...this was the Cape Cross Seal Colony, home to some 230,000 Cape Fur Seals, now right at the peak of their pupping season. Newborns all over the place, attendant Kelp Gulls looking for weaklings and afterbirth, numerous small youngsters desperately trying to avoid getting squashed by squabbling adults. No such thing as social distancing here, truly a remarkable sight. Off young, a dozen or so Black-backed Jackals snoozed in nearby desert, plenty of lunch available a little later.

Ponged out, eventually time to leave, headed to Swakopmund. Pick up truck reversed into my car, didn't bother stopping ...have some explaining to do with the rental company.
Spitzkoppe was my favourite site in Namibia. There's a primeval energy to the place. I can recommend Campsite #8, where you can pitch your tent under a huge overhanging boulder. I could have spent a week here just enjoying the changing colours of the rocks as the light changed.
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
Spitzkoppe was my favourite site in Namibia. There's a primeval energy to the place. I can recommend Campsite #8, where you can pitch your tent under a huge overhanging boulder. I could have spent a week here just enjoying the changing colours of the rocks as the light changed.
Mine too, however, we had to 'up sticks' as I was on the verge of murder. An 'RV arrived, along with drunken fools and loud music, just cannot tell you how close I was enacting some violence on these idiots, my wife, forced me to move our camp which in restrospect, was the best plan, I'd probably, just be up for parole about now.

The night sky was astounding here but bloody hot in the day.
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
4-6 December 2020. Erongo Mountain/Omaruru


250 km inland, daytime temperatures 38-40 C, a landscape of acacia bush, boulder massives and riverine forest along the dry Omaruru River. Reputed to offer some of the best bushland birding in Namibia, little did I know it would also be excellent for mammals.


Day One.

Arrived in the area late evening, a quick recce of the area seeing me stumbling through acacia thorns and up a koppe to a glorious setting sun ...one Pearl-spotted Owlet glaring at me, two Dassie Rats taking in the evening sun, one Red-crested Korhaan peering out from under an acacia, a range of passerines including Short-toed Rock Thrush, Kalahari Scrub-Robin and Crimson-breasted Shrike.


Day Two.

Pre-dawn, a surprisingly chilly 10 C, positioned myself in the semi-dark beneath rising domes at the flanks of the Erongo Mountain. Target here was Hartlaub's Francolin, just about the only bird in Namibia that I hadn't seen on previous trips. Living among the tumbling boulders and rocks, it is supposed to be a difficult bird to find, the best chance being to locate a calling bird as the sun rises. So there I was, Red-billed Francolins making a racket, Kalahari Scrub-Robins and White-browed Scrub-Robins active in the scrub, but strain my ears to their absolute limit, two brief distant calls were the best I could do for Hartlaub's Francolin. Not even sure which direction the calls came from, the rising sun put paid to further voice, so decided to call it quits on them and drive a few kilometres further for a day of birding along the Omaruru River.

Entered the gates of the Erongo Mountain Preserve, a warning sign depicting Black Rhino and another with Lion, a few kilometres further five Hartman's Mountain Zebras trotted through the bush, a Damara Dik-dik tenderly picked its way through withered grass. Ten kilometres beyond the gate, the dusty road crosses a branch of the Omaruru River, offering access to the slither of greenery that lines the otherwise dustbowl riverbed. Parked here and set out on foot, still only 9.00 am but already heading for 30 C. Stunning birding - within minutes, gaudy Crimson-breasted Bush-Shrikes, flocks of the totally charismatic White-tailed Shrikes, bright yellow eyes to a smart black and white dress, pods of Violet Wood-Hoopoes, five of the hoped-for Ruppell's Parrots. Also Black Cuckoo, Carp's Tit, Ashy Tit, Brubru Shrike and a range of commoner birds such as Southern Grey-headed Sparrows and Grey-backed Camaropteras. Aside the Omaruru River, Rosy-faced Lovebirds hurtling over, Monteiro's and Damara Red-billed Hornbills and, in staggering numbers, mammal footprints of assorted sizes and forms! Antelopes of various species and distinctive pads of Giraffes clear to see, then the track of a lumbering Black Rhino, the two side toes to a large central pad leaving no doubts. Then some prints to momentarily stop me … two sets of cat tracks, large cat tracks, very fresh! My thoughts immediately swung back to that warning sign of Lions, though these were too small, I think they were Leopards, a larger mama with adolescent. Followed the tracks a while, it seemed a regular route with older tracks also clearly visible. With numerous more Rhino tracks, it certainly added an edge for the day's birding, one eye in the massive fig trees for a lounging Leopard, another for a dozing hulk of a Rhino in the thick acacia bush. In the event, saw neither, but plenty of other mammals - several Kudu, a number of Black-faced Impala, some Steenbok, a couple of Gemsbok, a few Springbok, one Yellow Mongoose. Better still, a few kilometres later, I inadvertently flushed a Verreaux's Eagle Owl, the massive bird flying across the riverbed and appearing to land in a large tree opposite, immediately setting off alarm calls from local Cape Glossy Starlings and Southern Pied Babblers. Crossed to have a look and lucky I did ...the Verreaux's Eagle Owl was a fledgling and it had misjudged its landing, it was now tangled in an acacia shrub looking none too amused! Ascertaining it really didn't seem capable of extracting itself and keeping a wary eye open for a mother owl - didn't fancy the talons of a two-metre wingspan owl hitting me in the back of the head - I decided upon a rescue. One big fluffy ball of owl thereafter placed on a bough of an adjacent tree to recover its dignity. Crossing back to the opposite side the river, continued the owl theme with a roosting African Scops Owl, very nice indeed. Later on, found another two Verreaux's Eagle Owls and another African Scops Owl, so pretty good day for owls.

In the midday heat, popped back to base for an hour aside the pool, Violet Wood-Hoopoes and Citrus Swallowtail flopping over, Alpine Swift and Greater Striped Swallow high above. And then, relaxation over, it was back to the bush for a few more hours if excellent birding. Hyper fresh Rhino poo in abundance, more cat tracks, nice scattering of birds such as Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Common Scimitarbill. As sunset finally approached, Black-faced Impala, Steenbok and Damara Dik-dik emerged from cover, a couple of Red-crested Korhaans strutted their stuff. Night drive failed to produce any additional mammal species, but one Freckled Nightjar on the track was a nice conclusion to the day.


Day Three.

Another predawn vigil in the Erongo Mountains, hoping an elusive Hartlaub's Francolin would reveal its locality by call. No calls at all this morning, so as the sun began its rise, I decided to explore the rocky terrain and hopefully stumble across the desired birds. Plenty of birds as I climbed, parties of White-tailed Shrikes, Monteiro's Hornbills and Pale-winged Starlings prominent. As the sun warmed, Namibian Agama Lizards crawled atop boulders, bobbing bright orange heads, other smaller lizards skittling off at my approach. And then success, one hour into my scramble, as I climbed a particularly impressive boulder outcrop, a rush of wings and blur of movement, up flew a male Hartlaub's Francolin, cruising directly across to an adjacent boulder. Four more Hartlaub's Francolin on its immediate trail, these picking their way through arid scrub between boulders and onto the same boulder. There we had it, two males and three females, all in nice view. Clearly slightly curious, one of the males and, to a lesser degree, one female then picked their way back to my boulder and crept up its rear. Atop my rock, it then started calling, eyeball to eyeball with Hartlaub's Francolin, not bad.

Heat already beginning to build, gave up on finding a Rockrunner and instead returned to the car, thereafter taking a 30 km loop through very dry arid lands east of Omaruru. Among the many birds, plenty of Yellow-billed Hornbills, eight Ostriches, one Black Stork, one Brown Snake Eagle, one Red-crested Korhaan, several Acacia Pied Barbets and a couple of Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters. Also added a bit of butterfly flavour along a dry river bed, Common Orange-Tips, Brown-veined Whites, several Velvet-spotted Blues and a couple of African Migrants. And so a nice day rumbled on, a rare patch of water in an otherwise dry river adding Three-banded Plovers, Kittlitz's Plovers and Blacksmith Plovers, as well as Ruffs, Wood Sandpipers and Little Stints, then acacia woodland providing more variety with six stately Giraffe and the odd Damara Dik-dik here and there.

Afternoon relaxation by the pool again, a singing Hoopoe a lazy backdrop, then back out for another walk along the Omaruru River in the Erongo Mountains. Excellent mammal selection - more mega fresh droppings of Black Rhino, loads of footprints too, also a Kudu, one more Giraffe, a herd of Black-faced Impala, several Gemsbok, a couple of Steenbok and three or four Damara Dik-diks. Good stuff!

Returned to base just before sunset.
 
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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
You may want to check if you're going to have any issues in getting back to Europe, worse places to be than Namibia though, unless you get Covid that is!

No issues currently, that doesn't apply to British nationals, but will be returning to European mainland anyhow, not Britain. And should I get stuck in Namibia, quite happy to extend my stay as long as need be.
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
7-11 December. Work Week, Omaruru.


It's a tough life working on a sunlounger, dappled sunlight through the palms, Citrus Swallowtails floating about, periodic Violet Wood-Hoopoes flying over. Did drag myself away from the 'office' on occasion for little excursions into the Erongo Mountains – and some pretty impressive stuff seen, not least another covey of Hartlaub's Francolins, two more Ruppell's Parrots, a pair of Freckled Nightjars and, found whilst searching for Rockrunner, a female Honey Badger with small baby, the latter ambling right up towards me. One Black Mongoose also nearby.

Sighting of the week however was a beauty of a Horned Puff Adder! Almost stepping on it when I paused to admire a roost of about 50 Cape Vultures, this most cryptic of species revealed its presence by suddenly slithering away. Along with its close relative the Puff Adder, this snake is responsible for more fatalities in southern Africa than any other snake, mostly due to people accidentally stepping on them. Carefully lifting the rock it had hidden under, and even more cautiously testing its aggression by slowly moving a stick towards it - two rapid succession strikes against the stick - I was then able to very approach to within 50 cm, truly an amazing snake, big angular head, prominent horns, slit eyes.
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
12-13 December. Return to Walvis Bay.

Essentially to change rental cars, it was very good to see if any changes at Walvis Bay after a two-week absence. Still packed out with Greater and Lesser Flamingoes, White Pelicans, assorted terns and waders, there was nethertheless a notable increase in some species of Palearctic species, particularly Grey Plovers and Greenshanks, but highlight of the weekend was a very fine Grey Phalarope hanging out with a flock of Curlew Sandpipers.

Even more change at Rooibank - not giving me the run around this time, three Dune Larks were easy enough, and a Diderik Cuckoo was singing again, but the most appreciable difference was that the acacia were coming out into fresh leaf and flower. And with this, quite a flush in small butterflies - whereas I had seen just the odd butterfly at this locality on my first two visits, many dozens flitting around the acacias on this occasion, all highly mobile and rarely settling however. Took quite a while to sort them, but Brown Playboys, Velvet-spotted Blues and Common Zebra Blues the most common, a few Oticilia Hairtails also present, these new for the trip.

Part two of the trip about to begin, heading north.
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
More good stuff. Interested to see any pix of Hartlaub's Francolin, given the difficulty of connecting.

Wondering if Violent Wood-Hoopoe might be your next avatar ...

Cheers
Mike
 

wolfbirder

Well-known member
Great read Jos.

Not sure I'd be too happy walking around bush where rhino, leopard and puff adder were in striking distance, but little things like that never put you off :)-.
 

DMW

Well-known member
Great read Jos.

Not sure I'd be too happy walking around bush where rhino, leopard and puff adder were in striking distance, but little things like that never put you off :)-.
We camped at a wonderful private game reserve, Tandala Ridge, not far from the main entrance to Etosha. The owners, Tim and Laurel, had taken in 7 Black Rhinos to provide protect from poachers - one of which promptly thanked Tim by goring him in the stomach and almost killing him while he was walking in the reserve. He had just about recovered when we visited. Happily he was from the taking responsibility for your own actions school, and told us we could walk wherever we wanted day or night. Luckily, we didn't bump into any rhinos.
The camping is great, and it's also a good place to see Hartlaub's Francolin.
 

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
MONTH TWO. INLAND AND NORTH.


14 December. Departure from the Coast.


Walvis Bay International, an airport of almost ghost status, deserted and void of activity, I was standing there waiting for someone from Hertz to materialize out of the desert, six bird species while waiting - a Speckled Pigeon, two Tractrac Chats, one Familiar Chat, one Cape Wagtail, a pair of House Sparrows and a Pied Crow. Once Hertz arrived, we dropped off our small slightly dented car, picked up a shiny new dust-free car of slightly larger proportion.

Part two of the trip about to begin, departure from the coast. Plan was to drive 250 km inland back to Omaruru, have a few days working and birding, then continue north for the real delights of the north. Not much more seen birdwise this day, Citrus Swallowtails and Brown-veined Whites highlights back at base in Omaruru.



15-17 December Omaruru.

Last few days of work, Omaruru was again most pleasant. To rare backdrop of thunderstorms on a distant horizon, a short evening excursion out on the 15th added now familiar birds such as Damara Hornbill and Freckled Nightjar, as well as the first White-crowned Shrikes of the trip, a flock of these most charismatic birds hunting from stunted bushes, two Chat Flycatchers in their midst. Also a nice scattering of mammals - one hunk of a Baboon, a single Warthog, a herd of Black-faced Impala and several Gemsbok. In subsequent days, new for the trip, one Purple Roller, plus a nice Black-breasted Snake Eagle, but event of the week was the onset of rain - after a brooding day of 36 C with rolling clouds from mid-afternoon, a downpour of biblical proportions ...first rain in Omaruru for 11 months. Even preceding the rain, acacias were breaking out into leaf and flower. And with this, whereas a week before, I had noted a few butterflies here and there, now there were hundreds of butterflies around the trees, Brown-veined Whites in the main, but also African Migrants, a few Common Orange-Tips and one or two Common Zebra Blues. As the rain fell, magically from nowhere appeared flocks of swifts - in the dark skies, European Swifts, Bradfield's Swifts, Little Swifts. Looking forward to the next few days.
 

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