Our 2016 Namibia and Botswana tour followed our well-tried route from Windhoek to the giant sand dunes at Sossusvlei, west to the Atlantic coast, north to Etosha and the banks of the Okavango River, and finally crossing into Botswana to the huge, sprawling Okavango Delta itself.
Beginning in Windhoek, we went to the local waterworks (sewage farm) and saw a variety of ducks, including our first South African Shelducks and the only Southern Pochards of the tour. We also enjoyed Long-tailed Cormorant, African Darter, Black Crake, African Swamphen and African Jacana at the pool areas, African Reed-Warblers and Southern Red Bishops in the reed beds, and Pearl-spotted Owlet, White-backed Mousebird, and Burnt-neck Eremomela in the acacia woodland. We then finished our first day at the local swift roost, where there were at least 100 of the near-endemic Bradfield's Swifts amongst the more widespread Alpine, African Palm-, and Little swifts.
The following day found us heading southwest for a two night stay in the Solitaire area of the Namib Naukluft Desert. But first, we stopped just outside Windhoek, where a small area of acacia bush country gave us great looks at an enormous variety of birds, including Barred Wren-Warbler, Black-chested Prinia, Rufous-vented Warbler, Mariqua Flycatcher, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Dusky Sunbird, Violet-eared Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia, and Shaft-tailed Whydah. Continuing on, we spent two nights at the Namib Desert Lodge, giving us access to some real desert birding, including some time at the magnificent red sand dunes at Sossusvlei. Some of the highlights included our first Common Ostrich, Lappet-faced Vulture, Ludwig's, Rueppell's and White-quilled bustards, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Pririt Batis, Crimson-breasted Gonolek, the very localized and endemic Dune Lark, Tractrac Chat, Pale-winged Starling, Yellow Canary and flocks of Social Weavers with their huge 'haystack' nests. We also saw our first big African mammals, with Gemsbok and Springbok both being common.
We then began our drive to Walvis Bay (at the coast), seeing Karoo Long-billed, Gray's and Stark's larks along the way -- three species which are localized and sometimes difficult to find -- plus great close looks at Mountain Zebra, right next to the road! As usual, the lagoon at Walvis Bay was fabulous, with huge numbers of both Greater and Lesser flamingos, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Most notable were African Oystercatcher, Chestnut-banded Plover, 400+ Bar-tailed Godwits (many in breeding plumage), and Damara Tern.
Next, we spent three nights (one in the south and two in the north) at the Erongo Mountains. Dassie Rat (sole member of the family Petromuridae) was the most interesting new mammal here, while birds included such localized species as Hartlaub's Francolin, Monteiro's and Damara Red-billed hornbills, Rueppell's Parrot, Rosy-faced Lovebird, White-tailed Shrike, Carp's Tit, Rockrunner, and Herero Chat, which is virtually endemic to Namibia, and only member of the genus 'Namibornis'.
Continuing north to Etosha National Park, we stayed in three different lodges, which gave us opportunity to cover more ground and see the wildlife of this huge area. Mammals were high on our 'want list', and we were all soon enjoying Lions (a mating pair and then another female), African Elephants (from tiny to huge), Burchell's Zebra, Common Giraffe, Greater Kudu (with some magnificent males), Gemsbok, 'Red' Hartebeest, Blue Wildebeest, Impala, and Springbok. Birds were also many and varied, with African Openbill and Greater Painted-Snipe at the waterholes, and Abdim's Stork, Kori Bustard, Blue Crane, Double-banded Courser and Double-banded Sandgrouse in the grasslands -- where we also saw no fewer than seven species of falcon, including migrating Amur and Red-footed falcons, and Lesser Kestrel. In the wooded areas, African Scops-Owl, Violet Woodhoopoe, Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Black-faced Babbler, Groundscraper Thrush, and a colony of Wattled Starlings (in their very best breeding plumage) were among the prizes. Birds of prey -- including White-backed Vulture, Bateleur, Black-breasted Snake-Eagle, and Tawny Eagle -- frequently crossed the skies, and we even saw a high-flying Secretary-bird.
Heading still further north, we then spent a night near Rundu on the banks of the Okavango River. Here, an afternoon's walk added African Pygmy-Goose, Rufous-bellied Heron, African Fish-Eagle, Black Cuckoo, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Woodland Kingfisher, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Gabon Boubou, Hartlaub's Babbler, and Yellow-crowned Bishop to our list.
Our final birding spot in Namibia was the delightful Mahango Reserve, right next to the Botswana border. Goliath Heron (the world's largest) was the most impressive of the waterbirds we saw, but we also enjoyed Martial Eagle, Red-faced Mousebird, Green Woodhoopoe, Bradfield's Hornbill, more gorgeous Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, Broad-billed Roller, Sulphur-breasted Bushshrike, Southern Pied-Babbler, Burchell's and Meves's starlings, and Red-billed Oxpecker. We also enjoyed 11 species of mammals, with new species including Black-faced Vervet Monkey, Bushbuck, Lechwe, and 'Southern' Reedbuck.
After an easy crossing into Botswana, we spent two nights at Xaro Lodge. This small camp is only accessible by boat, and is undoubtedly the best place to look for Pel's Fishing-Owl -- which for many birders is the highlight of a visit to the Okavango. We were not disappointed, with good views our first afternoon, and then a second bird (right in the open!) during a boat trip the following day. Other memorable sightings included Hamerkop, Little Bittern, Slaty Egret, the shy White-backed Night-Heron, African Marsh-Harrier, Allen's Gallinule, Lesser Jacana, African Wood-Owl, White-fronted Bee-eater, Crested Barbet, Retz's Helmetshrike, Chirping Cisticola, and Southern Brown-throated Weaver.
We finished our tour with charter flights into and out of Baines' Camp in the southern 'Stanley's concession area' of the delta. Here, we took morning and afternoon drives through the beautiful landscape -- a mix of lagoons, sandy and grassy vleis, wooded areas, palm trees and baobabs. Our open-sided 4x4 vehicle was ideal for watching wildlife as we slowly made our way, seeing Red-billed and Swainson's francolins, Saddle-billed Stork, Pink-backed Pelican, more than a dozen species of raptors, Wattled Crane, Long-toed Lapwing, Black Coucal, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Striped Kingfisher, Bennett's Woodpecker, Dickinson's Kestrel, Meyer's Parrot, Magpie Shrike, Southern Black-Tit, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Jameson's Firefinch, and Purple Indigobird. Mammal species were also varied, with our only Hippo, Spotted Hyaena and Leopard of the tour, plus more Lion, African Elephant, Burchell's Zebra, Warthog, Common Giraffe, Greater Kudu, Blue Wildebeest and Impala.
And finally, one evening as we drove back to camp after our 'traditional sundowner', both Verreaux's Eagle-Owl and Square-tailed Nightjar made an appearance -- just a fabulous way to end a day's birding in the Okavango Delta!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant