Planning A Birding Safari To Namibia

Namibia is a very user-friendly country with fantastic national parks and good roads so it is a great choice for a novice eco-tourist.  You can rent a car, drive yourself around or join a birding tour, whatever suits you best!  The parks here are much less crowded than those in South Africa but the wildlife is amazing!  Birders can look forward to seeking 706 species of which one is endemic.

Namibia’s gateway airport at Windhoek is very small and doesn’t have as many airlines as other safari destinations but careful planners can still use their miles to get here.    If you have limited time and finances you will really have to make some tough decisions on how many parks to visit. It really helps if you know what species are your priority. For some people this may be raptors or trying to check off all the endemics. For me it’s always parrots first, then songbirds, then other birds and mammals.

Rosy-faced (aka Peach-faced) Lovebird at Kunene River, Namibia

 

DO YOUR HOMEWORK

With so much on offer, you have to do lots of research online to find out your best chances of seeing the species you really want to see. I always check trip reports on Surfbirds and more recently added Cloudbirders to that. Xeno-canto has mapped locations where birders took sound clips of many species so that can pinpoint them even more.

I always check bird sightings on eBird, you can see my full guide on locating bird species .

I also look through trip reports by major birding companies such as Birdquest, VENT, Naturetrek, Rockjumper and more. The trip reports will show you which parks you need to concentrate on. Once you have this, you can start contacting birding tour operators or safari companies that are well-recommended for quotes.  If you are traveling on your own, it’s worthwhile to note when the birding groups will be in the area as they will have the best guides already reserved and you may not even find accommodation.

HOW I CHOSE MY ITINERARY

I had 2 definite target birds – Ruppell’s Parrot & Rosy-faced Lovebird.     My research revealed that the Lovebirds had a large range all over Namibia and were possible in Etosha NP, the Kunene River area near the Angola border and Omaruru area.  Ruppell’s Parrots were being reported at Huab Lodge.  Since I was prioritizing parrots knowing that plenty of other bird species would be in the same habitats I chose these locations:

ETOSHA NP:

Rosy-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis)

Plus it’s the major safari destination in Namibia!

KUNENE RIVER LODGE

Rosy-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis)

Slim chance for Cinderella Waxbill, a local speciality.

HUAB LODGE

Rüppell’s parrot, Poicephalus rueppellii

OMARURU AREA

Rosy-faced Lovebird (Agapornis roseicollis)

Here is a map showing the locations.

 

 

HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR OWN BIRDING SAFARI

A rental car is essential to visit the national parks in Namibia.  The public transport is very limited and only has buses between main cities and minivans linking smaller towns.  A few car rental firms to check are Hertz, Avis and Europcar.  Use coupon codes that can be found on Flyertalk to get the best deals.  In most cases, the roads (even gravel roads) are ok for sedan cars but in some cases you need at least an SUV if not a 4×4.  The road from Ruacana to Kunene River Lodge was hard for us in a Toyota Rav4 but we took it slow and made it.  A 4×4 would have no trouble at all, don’t try it in a sedan.

Doing a self-drive safari means you have to rely on your own bird spotting and identification skills.  I found an excellent book in the gift shop at Okakuejo Rest Camp in Etosha which has pictures of the most commonly seen birds and animals which was a huge help!  The book also has maps and helpful info, I’d say get one of these books straight away.

If you stay overnight in some national parks, check with the local rangers about guided day and night drives.

Namibia has many accommodation options for all budgets such as campgrounds, backpackers, budget motels and high-end luxury lodges.  As this report progresses you will see examples.  Before heading off to the bush, it’s best to stop at a supermarket in Windhoek to stock up on drinks, snacks and food for anything you plan to cook as it will be much cheaper.  Always top up the fuel when going through any reasonable sized town.

VISA FOR ZAMBIA

Good news, visitors from 52 countries do not need a visa to enter Namibia, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK, and USA!

BEST SEASON TO TRAVEL

There’s a couple things to consider, the weather and potential crowds.  I always check the weather on Weather to Travel.  Namibian weather was a priority as I knew the places we were visiting would be difficult to reach if it were raining.  May is in the dry season and we enjoyed good weather throughout the trip.

 

If you have “must-see” bird species, always check eBird to make sure the birds are being seen that time of year by other birders.

OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES

NWR Resorts – this is where you book accommodation at the rest camps.  They fill up fast so you need to plan in advance.  I missed out as the camps (budget options) were full on our dates so we had to use alternatives which I will be explaining in detail.

BOTTOM LINE

Namibia is a great choice for both newbies and experienced birders as the infrastructure is so good for travelers.  Everyone speaks English, it’s a safe country, no malaria and you can do it on a budget!  There are wonderful birds and animals to be seen, Namibia never disappoints!

Getting To Namibia With Airline Miles

Most frequent flier programs place Namibia into the Africa (southern) zone.   Most people will arrive here via JNB in South Africa and then get a flight from JNB to WDH.  Namibia does have some interesting direct flight options such as Qatar Airways via DOH, an excellent use of AA miles!  I already have a blog with my recommendations for which programs to join if you are new to the world of miles and points.

The major gateway city for Namibia is Windhoek (WDH).    Once you have been in the miles and points game for awhile, you will get a feel for which airline to use where but if you are just starting out Wikipedia will show you all the airlines that fly into Windhoek.  Since it is a small list I can even fit it all into one screen shot!

ONE WORLD OPTIONS

Comair (British Airways subsidiary) flies from JNB.

Qatar Airways flies from DOH.

STAR ALLIANCE OPTIONS

Ethiopian flies from Addis Ababa

South African flies from JNB.

SKYTEAM OPTIONS

KLM flies from AMS.

NON-ALLIANCE OPTIONS

Air Namibia is the national airline but they don’t partner with anyone so it’s a cash basis only.

HOW MANY MILES WILL IT COST?

Every airline member of the 3 main alliances has it’s own frequent flier program. Examples are in my East Africa post.

AVIOS (BA OR IB)

Many people like to combine South Africa with Namibia if they have the time and money.  In this case, Avios can be a great bargain priced at 10,000 Avios but keep an eye on the fuel surcharges as they can sometimes make the redemption a bad deal.

Avios

 

South African Airways Delay Costs Us Our First Night In Namibia

After a relaxing morning at the Intercontinental Lusaka, it was time to go to the airport.  About noon, I got an email that the flight was delayed 30 minutes.  At this point I wasn’t worried as we would have still made our connection in JNB to WDH.  We used the free shuttle and went straight to South African Airways check in where we learned the delay was now an hour.  This was cutting it way too close so we went to the Priority Pass Lounge and I got on Twitter and tried to arrange a fast track to make the flight.  The Twitter was very unresponsive but when we arrived in JNB I saw that someone had finally replied asking for my phone # so they could call.  Too late and I didn’t have a working SIM card, I was just using wifi.

The lounge in Lusaka is very small with a few snacks and drinks available.  Normally we wouldn’t have bothered but I needed the wifi and I still had one pass left so I used it.

There are several souvenir shops like this one in Lusaka’s airport.

The departure was pushed back again, now we would be arriving with 20 minutes to run and make the connection.

I was desperate to make it as we had a very nice hotel booked called the Etango Ranch Guest Farm that had bird baths attracting many species so the plan was to spend the morning and then pick up the car and drive to Etosha.

I tried really hard.  The minute we boarded, I was asking the FA’s to radio JNB and have people waiting to transfer us to the other plane.  They just said to check with the ground crew.  Very unhelpful!  We weren’t the only ones, there were several people connecting to various places in Europe.  Some were as worried as I was, some didn’t care as they were only headed home and didn’t mind a free layover at SA’s expense.

It didn’t help that the plane landed on the tarmac, not at a gate so we had to wait for buses to transfer us to the terminal.  I noticed a few planes right next to us, one of these was probably our WDH flight.  In retrospect, I should have tried to sneak over, we already had boarding passes and no checked bags.

We ended up having to go through a transit passport control, security and RUN to the gate.  The WDH flight was still there!  We are not in great physical shape so were breathless and exhausted, almost ready to pass out from the run.  In spite of all my attempts to connect to SA staff and have the plane held, the ground staff had no idea we were coming.  The gate had barely been closed.  I begged them to radio the pilot or FA’s and ask them to let us run out there and board.  It would have taken 5 minutes, we had our backpacks and boarding passes.  The gate agent did try but the captain (or someone) refused to even give us those 5 minutes.  Even though it was the airline’s fault we were late!  It was the last flight of the day and there were no connections leaving WDH so no one else would have been inconvenienced by a 5 minute wait.

After being refused the chance to board, we were sent to the transfer desk and waited in a long line of people waiting for re-accommodation.  The agent was in a foul mood maybe because there were a lot of people who missed their flights.  She rebooked us on the first SA flight which was around 9am.  I tried for the 7am Air Namibia flight but she refused and said we were lucky to get the morning flight as we got the last 2 seats, otherwise we would have to wait for the evening flight.  She gave us a choice of the airport Protea Hotel or a hotel outside the terminal.  Since it was only an overnight, we had no desire to pass through formalities and wait in more lines so took the Protea.

As far as in-airport hotels go, the Protea is actually pretty nice and any other time we would have been happy to have an overnight here.  It just didn’t compare to the lodge we already had booked, certainly there were no bird baths!  There were showers for humans which we made good use of (after all that running, we needed it) and the bed was comfy.  They gave 30 min free internet, time enough to email the Etango Ranch and tell them not to come to the airport to pick us up.  They still got to keep the money from our pre-paid room.

We also got vouchers for dinner and breakfast at Mugg & Bean which turned out to have really good food!  It was hard to spend the whole dinner voucher as we couldn’t use it for alcohol and the menu was very reasonable.  The breakfast one was a bit tighter, I would have preferred to swap them around as we weren’t real hungry that night.

We did get a good sleep after all that frustration and rushing around, we were just exhausted!  The flight the next morning was on time and we made it to WDH in time to pick up the rental car since I had allowed for a leisurely breakfast and walk around Etango Ranch.

 

Grey-headed Kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala)

The Grey-headed Kingfisher (Halcyon leucocephala) has five subspecies:

  • H. l. acteon (Lesson, R, 1830) – Cape Verde Islands
  • H. l. leucocephala (Statius Müller, PL, 1776) – Senegal and Gambia to northwest Somalia, north Tanzania and north DR Congo
  • H. l. semicaerulea (Gmelin, JF, 1788) – south Arabian Peninsula
  • H. l. hyacinthina Reichenow, 1900 – southeast Somalia to Tanzania
  • H. l. pallidiventris Cabanis, 1880 – south DR Congo to northwest Tanzania and south to north South Africa

The ones I saw in Zambia would be the last subspecies, H. l. pallidiventris.

As you can see they have a huge range covering most of sub-Saharan Africa.  The photos above were taken by me in South Luangwa NP, Zambia.

LEARN MORE ABOUT GREY-HEADED KINGFISHERS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Biodiversity Explorer

VIDEOS

Let’s see what Youtube has.  Here’s one from Ghana.

Another one from Gambia.

How about the Kenyan subspecies?

And lastly one from Kruger in South Africa which is the same subspecies as Zambia.

 

 

A Quick Visit To The Kabwata Cultural Village, Lusaka

I always love to go shopping at local markets, especially ones where the crafts people are on hand selling their own creations.  So we took a taxi for a negotiated fare outside the Intercontinental to the Kabwata Cultural Village including about 30 minutes waiting time.

It’s basically a group of huts around an open area where cars can park.  Each hut is occupied by one or more crafts people selling their wares.  Some sellers have open air stalls.  Bargaining is essential, aim for roughly half what they quote up front.  We weren’t after big ticket items so I wasn’t as ruthless a bargainer as I had been back in the day but we came away with some cool stuff!

This hut was like a women’s co-op or something, they had nice stuff!

Interesting signs on the way home.

Lusaka Secretariat

Whatever this was, I missed the shot, but that tree just looks so funny with the white trunk!

The taxi dropped us back  at the hotel and it was time to pack up and go to the airport.  Little did we know the trouble was yet to come……………….

Hotel Review: Intercontinental, Lusaka

Our journey through Zambia was coming to an end and the next day we would fly to Windhoek via JNB.  After all those bus rides and accommodation ranging from backpackers to cheap hotels to safari lodges.  Now it was time to pamper ourselves in a bit of luxury courtesy of my Chase Free Night benefit with the IHG Rewards card at the Intercontinental Lusaka.

We took a taxi from the Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminus, I think it was 30-40ish Kwacha.  One of these days I have to remember to write down taxi fares.

The large lobby had a special desk for IHG elite members which I had from my IHG credit card so we had a relaxed check-in, then admired some artwork before heading up to the room with our out-of-place backpacks.

The room was typical of a 4 star hotel and had a nice view of the swimming pool.

Yay, a bath tub!

As an elite, I was gifted with wine and fruit in the room, a nice touch!

Free wifi that works very well!

We decided to just hang out and relax, I wanted to catch up online so we got room service for dinner.  I had some kind of pasta, my husband had kebabs and chips.  We aren’t foodies so it was all good.  I really just wanted internet!

Our hunger sated, I looked out the window for birds, not too many around.  If we hadn’t been so tired we would have gone for a walk, the grounds were pretty nice.

Safari Bar is near the restaurant which overlooks the swimming pool.

The fabulous buffet breakfast wasn’t included on a free stay but it sure was delicious!  We ate so much, we didn’t need lunch!

Waffles & pancakes

Omelette station

Afterwards we went down to the pool.  It was a bit too cold to swim that day so we just hung out a bit.

Dark-capped Bulbul

We really enjoyed out stay here and the staff treated us very well.  One man told us where to find cheaper taxis ( the official hotel taxis are expensive) and when check out was delayed due to a new person not knowing how to process the free stay, I was gifted 5000 IHG Rewards points without even asking!  They have a free airport shuttle which waited for us to settle our bill.  The flight was delayed anyways.  I’m happy to recommend the Intercontinental Lusaka!

White-fronted Bee-eater (Merops bullockoides)

The White-fronted bee-eater (Merops bullockoides) is a species of bee-eater widely distributed in sub-equatorial Africa.  They have a distinctive white forehead, a square tail and a bright red patch on their throat. They nest in small colonies, digging holes in cliffs or earthen banks but can usually be seen in low trees waiting for passing insects from which they hunt either by making quick hawking flights or gliding down before hovering briefly to catch insects.

They have a very large range in southern Africa.  I saw them in Zambia in both Machile IBA & South Luangwa NP.

LEARN MORE ABOUT WHITE-FRONTED BEE-EATERS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Mashatu

VIDEOS

Preening action

Just hanging out waiting for food.

 

 

 

South Luangwa Game Drive Afternoon/Evening #2

Once again we headed off at 4pm for our last game drive in South Luangwa NP.  Having seen our target bird (Lilian’s Lovebird) and the stunning leopard in the morning, we were ready  to just relax and enjoy this drive, come what may.

Mama hippo with a cute little baby hippo

We continued along the river to see the nesting areas for the Bee-eaters.  In season, this is where you find the striking Carmine Bee-eater.  At least we did see some White-fronted Bee-eaters, which are also very lovely birds!

We hit the rush hour traffic.

Here we see a dead crocodile that has been pretty well picked over.

Time for the traditional sunset viewing and snack.

This is where I had been sitting in the truck for all the drives, except I did get shotgun on the first morning drive.  Take careful note of how open this vehicle is.  Nothing to prevent an animal from jumping inside if it wanted to.

A lonely Fish Eagle looks for one last meal before bedtime.

It does get dark very quickly once the sun sets.  The nocturnal animals were coming out eager to find food.  We returned to the dead crocodile and found a hyaena chowing down.  Yuck!

Notice the glowing eyes from the spotlight, this is how they spot animals in the dark.

I hope this rabbit doesn’t become someone’s dinner!

Do our butts look big in this?

And then it happened.  Out of nowhere, a pride of lions was spotted.  We were the first truck to find them and had them all to ourselves for quite a while.  Remember how open the truck is?  Well take note of how close we were, I got the mirrors in on purpose.  There we were, basically room service for these hungry lions!  The guide told us to stay quiet and keep our hands and bodies inside the vehicle.  My heart was beating rapidly as I realized that they could leap inside anytime they wanted for a nice human buffet dinner.  The logical part of me was saying that the guide sees this all the time and wouldn’t have come so close if there was any real danger. 

This last one seems to be saying, “Yeah, I know I could eat you but I’m going to let you go instead”.

What a way to finish an amazing stay at the South Luangwa National Park!

South Luangwa Game Drive Morning #2

Fasten your seatbelts because this is going to be an epic ride!

Just like the previous morning, we stopped at several vantage points to watch the sunrise.

Waiting our turn to pay the $25 entrance fee.

Security is tight so don’t try to get away without paying.

Unless the “guards” are otherwise occupied!

See anything interesting?

How about a closer look?

OMG a leopard actually strolling along within meters of our truck!

Flushed with the excitement of seeing a wild leopard up close, we proceeded on the rest of the game drive.  We had a break at a point overlooking the river.

Birds were out in full force!  A Lilian’s Lovebird trying to hide

Woodland Kingfisher also trying to hide

Cute family of Helmeted Guineafowls

The ever-elegant Lilac-breasted Roller

Grey-headed Kingfisher

Some tourists can’t hide from the hot sun………….

…………….but hippos can hide in the river!

Yet another sighting of Lilian’s Lovebirds!

Small crocodile

These guys work in the park.

And once again it was back to Marula Lodge for lunch and a siesta!

Lilian’s Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae)

The Lilian’s Lovebird (Agapornis lilianae), also known as Nyasa Lovebird, is a small African parrot species of the lovebird genus.  At 13 cm (5 inches) long, they are the smallest parrot on mainland Africa.  I was so excited to get really good sightings of these cuties in South Luangwa NP.

With a very limited range in Zambia, Zimbabwe & Malawi, you need to plan well to find these lovely but rare birds.  I got lucky at South Luangwa in Zambia.

LEARN MORE ABOUT LILIAN’S LOVEBIRDS

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

Birdlife – Conservation

 

VIDEOS

Amazing clip of a large flock drinking at a waterhole.

 

A bonded pair foraging on a tree.