a trip report by Don Roberson & Rita Carratello
Page 3: Daily Journal (part two)
Our attention now turned to the dry thornveld of northern Namibia. When we would reach Etosha Nat'l Park, we would be required to stay in our cars except at the gated camps. Therefore we fully enjoyed the ability to wander through the habitat around Spitzkoppe (below; Rita left, our guide Richard right) and in the Erongo Mountains.
Some dry country birds are widespread, including the Bokmakierie (above left), a bush-shrike, and Black-chested Prinia (above right), which lacks a black chest patch in winter or in non-male plumages. Others have limited ranges and are endemic to southwestern Africa, such as Monteiro's Hornbill (right).

The very local Namibian endemics are found in rocky mountains, such as the impressive Spitzkoppe (below, in an early morning shot). This was a spectacular area to bird, and probably Don's favorite spot on the entire trip.

Daily Journal
Day 18 (17 July): We left Windhoek very early (5 am) and headed west, toward the Skeleton Coast, to reach the dry plains below Spitzkoppe shortly after dawn (arrive 7:30 am). Here we also immediately had great luck with Rueppell's Bustard a northwestern Namibian endemic on the edge of its range here. We then birded the rocky edges of the Spitzkoppe itself for much of the rest of the morning, and with great success: White-tailed Shrike and Herero Chat were both found and photographed! The chats can be particularly difficult but we found two pairs, of which was banded with color bands. Someone is clearly doing a study.
   We then headed back inland toward Omaruru and our night's lodging at the very impressive Erongo Wilderness Lodge. Enroute we stopped and walked a bit of the dry riverbed of the Khan River, and found yet another set of specialties Violet Wood-hoopoe, Southern Pied Babbler, Rueppell's Parrot plus flushed a pair of Small Buttonquail.
   There was plenty of wildlife around Erongo Wilderness Lodge, and particularly many Rock Hyrax. Each individual chalet was actually a fancy tent with a hardwood floor and full bathroom, cleverly inserted among huge boulders (right). The food and drinks were superb; it was a treat to relax on our balcony, sipping a fine wine, and watch the sun go down over the desert.
   During a late afternoon walk, as I waited for Richard to join me, I witnessed a large Wild Cat (almost the size of our Bobcat) suddenly dash through a hyrax colony and grab a baby hyrax! The entire colony of hyraxes took off after the cat but it was too late the cat had a meal. The hyraxes took up a loud wailing that carried on for some time.

Day 19 (18 July): After an early morning walk around Erongo Wilderness Lodge where we heard a Hartlaub's Francolin but dipped on efforts to see it we headed off for Etosha Nat'l Park but via a long detour back to the west. The goal of this deviation was to get into the exceedingly arid, rocky ridge habitat around Uis. We didn't reach this site until midday, but then took a number of short walks in hopes of finding the very local endemic Benguela Long-billed Lark. It took several hours but finally we had success, and nice scope view.
   From there the drive back east and then north toward Etosha was uneventful, and we arrived at our lodgings at Okaukuejo Camp at about 4 pm. Because the camp was very full tonight, we had an okay but marginal bungalow. We would move to a much better self-service bungalow (with refrigerator, stove, and utensils) tomorrow night. It would be just steps from the famed Okaukuejo waterhole.

I found the northern Namibian endemics to be absolutely delightful species. These are the best three, each of them very local and rather scarce: Herero Chat (upper left), very much a 'hit-and-miss' bird that is often missed by tours; White-tailed Shrike (upper right), which is not a shrike but closely related to batises (Beresford et al. 2005; note the very short tail); and Rockrunner (left), a specialized 'warbler,' most closely related to crombecs and some other south African specialties, that acts like a Canyon Wren in cliffs and rocks
We spent four days in Etosha Nat'l Park. This is primarily a major wildlife reserve rather than a specialized birding spot and there were many tourists. All must remain in their cars except inside the fenced & gated camps (the gates are locked from dusk til dawn). We stayed at three major camps: Okaukuejo, Halali, and Namutoni. All three have waterholes just beyond the fence with benches & seating for visitors inside the fence but we found them to be (respectively) outstanding, okay, and poor. During the morning and evening, game drives in one's car can be very rewarding. This was not quite the Serengeti, but there was still an abundance of wildlife.

Etosha is named for Etosha pan a huge dry lake bed that shimmers in the heat in many Etosha vistas. The first shot below shows wildlife (including Ostrich, Blue Wildebeest, Common Zebra, and Springbok) near a small waterhole on the edge of Etosha Pan, and definitely gives one the feeling of the park. The next shot has a single Secretarybird surrounded by unending fields of dry grass another standard image. The wonderful waterhole at Okaukuejo is shown next (with Elephants & Springbok at mid-day) but it really comes alive at night. The bottom shot is one of 7 Black Rhinoceros that made an appearance during our first night here; 11 more would come the next night (photo of mother & calf on Trip Intro page; more on Trip Mammals page). The photo is taken without use of flash (which is discouraged here) but, rather, hand-held against the rock wall 'fence' using the lighting provided by floodlights.

Daily Journal
Day 20 (19 July): Last night herds of Elephant, Springbok, Wildebeest, and 7 Black Rhino had come to Okaukuejo waterhole. Today we moved our lodging to a comfortable and convenient bungalow within steps of the floodlit waterhole. We bought food at the little store and cooked our own dinner, washed down with a nice '02 Nederburg Cab-Merlot we had purchased in Windhoek. Roars of Lion would prompt us out to see the action throughout the night; three Lion spent most of the night hanging about and half-heartedly chasing Giraffe, but they quickly moved aside for the parade of 11 Black Rhinos mostly mothers and calves of various ages that trekked to the water during the evening. One little set of 'bleachers' (right) made for excellent viewing, and we ended up spending much of the afternoon and evening here.
   During the morning we had a fine game drive through thorn scrub and plain that netted a variety of new trip birds, including Lappet-faced Vulture and African Hawk-Eagle, plus lifer Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark was scoped among flocks of Gray-backed at the waterhole.

Day 21 (20 July): Before breakfast we did a game drive back toward to main western entrance, and came upon a lifer Southern Penduline-Tit,  After breakfast we headed towards Halali Camp in the center of Etosha NP. We mostly followed the edge of Etosha Pan, crossing dry plains and turning into waterholes here and there, coming upon large herds of zebra, scattered Greater Kudu and Impala, and a small herd of Elephant. Superb views of Kori, Ludwig's, and White-quilled Bustards were highlights, and we found what may prove to be the Etosha Rock Agama, a very localized endemic lizard. At a bathroom stop the women's restroom played host to a Slit-faced Bat new for all of us.
   We arrived at Halali Camp at 2 pm and made our own lunch of spaghetti. Walking through the camp we came upon a small flock of Bare-cheeked Babbler the only ones we would find on the trip just as they tucked into a tight huddle to sleep away the afternoon. The waterhole here didn't have much (an occasional Elephant for us, although other tourists told us that huge herds came in the next day). At dusk, Richard called in an African Scops-Owl to a tree within a few feet of our chalet. It was the most strenuously 'owling' we would do on the whole trip.

Day 22 (21 July): We checked Halali waterhole early, and had a confiding Red-necked Falcon and our only Spotted Hyena of the trip. Then, while walking to breakfast through the scattered trees among the individual chalets at Halali (right), I found a roosting Southern White-faced Owl. After breakfast, we headed off to the east end of the park and headquarters at Namutoni Camp, finding a Carp's Tit enroute, arriving mid-day. We chose to take this afternoon off, to nap and walk the grounds a bit, and do more laundry. We went to the waterhole at the edge of this camp several times, but it sucked.  New birds in camp, though, included Red-billed Francolin and Burnt-necked Eremomela

Day 23 (22 July): Our final morning in Etosha was productive with a little drive around 'Dik-Dik Loop.' Not only did we encounter the namesake Damara Dik-Dik, but we got views of a Ratel (not great views, but views nonetheless). After breakfast we headed northeast towards the Caprivi Strip. That is a narrow strip of land by which Namibia stretches east almost to Victoria Falls, a left-over from colonial times. Today it is filled with people (a fair number are refugees from the Angola war) and the habitat badly hacked up. Enroute we stopped in thorn-scrub at Roy's Camp, and were given permission to bird the grounds a bit [we would have stayed there when coming back at the end of the trip but Roy's was fully booked]. The highlight bird here is Black-faced Babbler, our only ones of the trip.
   When we reached the Caprivi Strip we entered a new habitat: deciduous broadleaf woodland. As our visit was in mid-winter it was birding through an oak woodland in winter in California, except for the thicker grass understory. There were very few birds during our mid-day visit, but what we saw included new species for the trip list [e.g., Dark Chanting-Goshawk, Wood Pipit], and Richard flushed a nightjar to a bare tree limb. We viewed it in the scope and found it had a rufous collar but almost no white in the tail. It was a female of either Fiery-necked Nightjar or Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, and some characters suggested the latter. However, all Rufous-cheeks should be north in the Congo Basin at this date while Fiery-necks are resident (indeed, we would hear them later at night). So it probably was a Fiery-neck.

Some of the birds of the scrub and plains of Etosha include (counterclockwise from upper right): Southern Penduline-Tit, the tiniest bird in southern Africa; Violet-eared Waxbill, a male of this gorgeous find; Double-banded Courser, a bird of open plains; Pearl-spotted Owlet, easily hooted up in the daytime; and Bare-cheeked Babbler, a family group of local endemics huddled together at Halali Camp.
CLICK HERE for DAILY LOG (part three) covering OKAVANGO DELTA (Botswana) and WATERBERG (Namibia)
CLICK HERE for a photo intensive ANNOTATED LIST of MAMMALS for the 2005 trip
CLICK HERE for a photo intensive ANNOTATED LIST of HERPS for the 2005 trip
PHOTOS: All photos on this page are © 2005 Don Roberson; all rights reserved. Many other shots from this trip are scattered about this web site. Check particularly bird families, mammals, and herps listings.

Literature cited:

Beresford, P., F.K. Barker, P.G. Ryan, and T.M. Crowe. 2005. African endemics span the tree of songbirds (Passeri): molecular systematics of several evolutionary 'enigmas'. Proc. R. Soc. B 272: 849-858.





Page created 20-31 Aug 2005