a trip report by Don Roberson & Rita Carratello
Page 4: Daily Journal (part three)
Our final major habitat is the humid wetlands of northern Botswana and the Caprivi Strip of northern Namibia. The Okavango River (called the Kavango River where it separates Namibia from Angola) flows past patches of deciduous broadleaf woodlands (more extensive away from the river; very chopped up near the river) and then broadens into a wide delta in northern Botswana. We were there in the high-water period when the river has spread out into broad, open swamps (top photo below) cut by deep channels lined with papyrus reeds (middle photo below, a sunset shot).
Here there are great concentrations of wildlife. As you cruise the river and channels in a small boat, you may be passed by an African Skimmer (top below). The swampy grasslands along the edge of the river may hold huge numbers of waterfowl including, if you are lucky (as we were), a stately pair of the endangered Wattled Crane (middle below). On high perches along the river, you may find a Giant Kingfisher (bottom below). 
Daily Journal
Day 24 (23 July): Our accommodations near Rundu at the entrance to the Caprivi Strip was Nkwazi Camp, a small establishment right on the banks of the Kavango River (which is called the Okavango River in Botswana). We looked directly across into Angola. War-torn Angola is now open for visitors again, but we ran into several folks who had been there recently (including one who did U.N. refugee work), and learned the country is dysfunctional; bribery is rampant and required to accomplish anything; and that land mines present a major problem. Nonetheless it was interesting to look across and, as it turned out, we saw one lifer Coppery-tailed Coucal in Angola before it was seen elsewhere. I actually have an 'Angola list' for about a dozen species, without ever stepping foot inside the country. There were a few new birds around camp (Swamp Boubou, Hartlaub's Babbler) but mostly there were German tourists camping. It is very popular for campers and backpackers to go on bus tours of this part of Africa. This is a cheap way to see Africa, and dozens had arrived the night before to put up little pup tents everywhere throughout the bit of woods around the resort.
   While driving out the sandy roads from Nkwazi we came upon a small rain puddle that held a juvenal Painted Snipe! We stopped in bits of Brachystegia woods and roadside scrub during our drive through the Caprivi Strip, netting new trip birds such as Meve's Long-tailed Starling and Cut-throat Finch. Violet-backed Starling in pairs was a surprise in mid-winter. A mid-day stop at Mahunga Reserve the last spot in Namibia before one crosses the Botswana border was very productive. This is one of very few reserves that permits one to leave your car, so we were very aware that a Lion or Elephant could be around the next bush. The best spot was at the Giant Baobab (right) which edges a huge swampy plain that is full of wildlife (Red Lechwe especially) and waterfowl (flocks of White-faced Whistling-Duck and Spur-winged Geese, herons, jaçanas). Here we found our only pair of Wattled Crane of the trip. And the drive through the reserve was entertaining with herds of Sable Antelope and a pair of Roan Antelope.
   After the brief formalities at the border, we drove into Botswana and almost immediately had a mysterious falcon perched next to the road. We stopped for a look, it soared up and over our heads and off, and proved to be a vagrant Gray Kestrel (see annotated list for details). Past the ramshackle town of Shakawe we found the signs to Drotsky's Cabins. We were booked here on the banks of the Okavango River for two nights, but learned that another busload of campers had also just arrived. We were offered the option of staying at Xaro Camp, about 5 miles downriver, where only 4 American birders were in residence, and spot reachable only by boat. We jumped at that option. I knew (from Jeri Langham) that our friends Ed Harper & Susan Scott were somewhere in southern Africa, so on the long-shot asked if the Americans included an "Ed and Sue"? "Yes," we were advised. And as our boat pulled into Xaro Camp late that afternoon, there were Ed & Susan (with their newly wed friends Michael & Deborah), sitting on the banks of the Okavango, beneath the tall trees, enjoying an alcoholic beverage. I took this shot (below) from the boat as we pulled up. Susan & Ed (to the left) still haven't figured out who we are (they had no idea we were in Africa) while Michael (who had never met us) waves a friendly hand. Ed and Sue were completely surprised by our arrival (a more proper group photo is further down this page):

Day 25 (24 July): A full day on the Okavango River by boat, cruising both downstream and upstream of camp. We got to see the difficult papyrus bird (e.g., Chirping Cisticola, Little Bittern); sandbars with African Skimmers; isolated clumps of riverine thickets that served as day roosts for White-backed Night-Heron; flooded backwaters with glimpses of Sitatunga and African Pygmy-Geese; and great experiences with otters. 
Xaro Camp (pronounced "Karo Kamp") was lovely. We had glass-fronted chalets (right) fronting the river. White-fronted Bee-eaters perch on the hanging vines in front of our cabin (and in summer, swarms of Carmine Bee-eaters will also be in, but they were entirely gone in winter). The only negatives were how cold it got at night and the fact that one had to leave the chalet to visit the restroom/shower bungalows. But meals were very good, and the alcoholic selection excellent.
   The woods around camp were good for many new trip birds, some of them lifers. We were taken to a Pel's Fishing-Owl roost at mid-day, being very careful not to disturb them. At dusk the evening before, Richard had called in an African Barred-Owlet for Ed and me. Other woodland highlights included Western Banded Snake-Eagle and Retz's Helmet-Shrike.

Day 26 (25 July): We had a long way to go today, so we reluctantly left Xaro Camp after breakfast for Drotsky's (picked up Arrow-marked Babbler, Terrestrial Brownbul, and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird there) and headed back north into Namibia. We stopped at Mahunga Reserve again. No cranes today but an African Barred-Owlet was calling mid-morning and Richard brought him in for Rita's lifer. There were fresh Lion tracks (so were cautious when outside the vehicle) and more Roan Antelope.
   We drove back through the Caprivi Strip (lunch in Rundu) and into the main part of northern Namibia. As Roy's Camp was full, we had booked the only alternative nearby as a convenient stopping point for the night: Dornhugel's Game Farm. This proved to be a small family-run farm in ranch land (not good for birds) but interesting because it was now operated as a bed-and-breakfast by a German couple, and all the guests were German tourists. We had interesting discussions about Europe, Namibia (and its Germanic heritage), and American politics over an abundant dinner table and while drinking 'sun-downers' at the outdoor fire pit. It was not a shock to find that all the Europeans agreed with us that Bush is a disastrous President. It was a shock to learn that even the folks living on remote ranches in Namibia had watched and knew everything about the TV show Desperate Housewives!

Scenes from around Xaro Camp on the Okavango River (counter-clockwise from above right): White-fronted Bee-eater; California reunion (Rita, Susan, Don, Ed); Retz's Helmet-Shrike (a long desired bird); day-roosting Pel's Fishing-Owl; day-calling African Barred-Owlet (this shot from Mahunga Reserve but also seen Xaro)
Scenes from the Okavango River: a Spot-necked Otter gives us a careful look (above) while a Nile Crocodile (right) eyed us warily from the shallows. A Little Bittern (top left, below) flushes from the Papyrus, which is the habitat for Chirping Cisticola (top right, below). Other Okavango specialties include Hamerkop (bottom left, below) and Comb Duck (bottom right, below).
The last couple days of our trip find us back in the dry thornveld of northern Namibia, visiting rocky cliff country with some of its specialties (such as Rockrunner; see the preceding page of this report). The primary locale is Waterberg Nat'l Park with its dramatic cliffs (below). We spent just one night at Waterberg before heading back to Windhoek, from which we will fly home (via London).
Daily Journal
Day 27 (26 July): It's about a 4 hour drive to Waterberg Nat'l Park from Dornhugel, blasting CDs in the Mercedes all the way as we watch for the occasional raptor overhead. The Waterberg Plateau can be seen from miles away in country recalling Utah, but the flat-topped plateaus remind me of the tepuis of Venezuela. There is a 'hidden kingdom' atop the plateau where White Rhinos have been reintroduced and lions roam, but permits are needed to hike there and we won't have time. For us, we enjoy the trails around the base of the cliffs; watch the Red-billed Francolins stroll across the laws behind our rooms; and visit the German graveyard filled with soldiers killed in the Herero uprising at the turn of the 20th century (right).
   Richard and I hike to the top edge of the plateau while Rita wanders around the trails with her video (and had very close encounters with Damara Dik-Dik). Late in the afternoon we take another trail in hopes of Hartlaub's Francolin (we had heard but not seen this endemic at Erongo Wilderness Lodge) and after quite some effort, we get a brief response to Richard's tape. It requires an uphill hike trashing through thornscrub to get where they are, so Rita declines. Richard and I eventually have nice views of the adorable little francolin, and another Rockrunner. Later we finish the day with a feeding Ruppell's Parrot. After dark, a short stroll from our lodging yields great looks at two very active and very cute Lesser Galago (Bush Baby). Boy, can they leap!

Day 28 (27 July): After a short walk and breakfast, we leave Waterberg for Windhoek, arriving mid-day (actually we stopped to shop for souvenirs in a local crafts market in Okahandja). More shopping, a check of email, and repacking the suitcases for tomorrow's flight complete the day. That evening we have a fine dinner at Joe's with Richard and Alan Kirby, the entertaining Canadian who runs Wild Dog Safaris and had put together the Namibia/Botswana part of our tour. 

Day 29 (28 July): An early morning visit to Daan Viljoen Game Reserve, just west of Windhoek, is our final birding locale. Our main target here was actually a mammal (Mountain Zebra) and it took substantial effort to find it during our limited time. We also had a brief glimpse of an elephant-shrew. Rita got a catch-up Barred Wren-Warbler to boot. All these treats were on a very rough dirt track; our short stop at headquarters was very unimpressive. Richard says that staying at the chalets here are an unmitigating bureaucratic nightmare.
   The airport is 40 km east of Windhoek, so we left at 11 am for our 2 pm flight to London. Ironically, this was just after the subway and trolley suicide bombings in London, and our hotel (the Bonnington) was right next to one of the affective tube stations, but we managed to get around the city just fine on foot and other subway lines, and enjoyed four days of museums and theatre.
   We arrived home in Monterey (after an Air Canada flight via Calgary) on Tuesday, August 2, after 11 pm. [Don's back went out lifting luggage on the first flight, and he had to have a wheelchair to transfer from flight to flight after that; that's another story. We also lost all our luggage, coming home with nothing at all but the carry-ons; yet another story. The last of the missing luggage did eventually turn up some 10 days later.]

Our final days in dry thornveld added only a few new species, but did bring additional photo opportunities. In Waterberg Nat'l Park, I finally managed a decent shot of the small, personable Acacia Pied Barbet (right) and Rita was pleased with some video.

The last morning of the last day netting a final life mammal: a small, skittish herd of endemic Mountain Zebra (below) in Dann Viljoen Game Reserve, just west of Windhoek. Note the white belly and broad hip stripes on these species of zebra. 

[The next things on my camera would be Monterey Bay seabirds.]

CLICK HERE for DAILY LOG (part two) covering northern NAMIBIA (Spitzkoppe to Etosha)
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.







Page created 31 Aug-2 Sep 2005