Etosha National Park Part 2 – Afternoon

Continuing on from Part 1:  It’s lunch time and we have now arrived at Halali Rest Camp for a break to eat our packed sandwiches and have a look around, also use clean facilities!

It’s located 9kms down a side road.

We had a drive around first to suss it out and find the best picnic spot.

Plenty of tables here and you can drive right up to them!

Always nice to have a peek at the Tourist Shop!

Opening and closing times are always posted at each gate so we made note that we had to exit the park before 5:30pm.

Not much going on at this time.  This is a typical gravel road in the park.

Springbok

Spotted Thick-knee

African Grey Hornbill

Starling

Lilac-breasted Roller

We finally made it to Namutoni Rest Camp and decided to have a look and take advantage of the last facilities before the hotel.

The grounds are very nice here and since it was getting cooler by the time we got there some birds were out and active.

There’s a cool fort here but the shop was closed.

The museum was open, free to enter and had some interesting exhibits about the park.

Even the Go-Away Birds here are friendly and didn’t tell us to go away!  They get along with starlings too!

I missed the shot but interesting colour combination on this bird!

Getting close to 5pm and not wanting to miss the curfew, we drove on to the exit gate.

While I normally don’t approve of road-side bird sellers (meaning real birds), these ones are perfectly fine.  I even bought a few birds from one of these guys!

Headed down the road to Ondangwa where we would spend the night before continuing on to Kunene River Lodge.  Gorgeous sunset!

 

Etosha National Park Part 1 – Morning

Etosha National Park is one of the highlights of any trip to Namibia, whether you are birders or not.  It’s very easy to explore the park on your own as the gravel roads are well-maintained, can be done in a sedan car and there are signposts at all intersections.

In the map below, I have highlighted our route for a day trip in yellow.  We entered at Anderson Gate, drove through via Okaukuejo, stopped at Halali for lunch, then continued on to Namutoni Gate to exit just before the park closed.

We were up at the crack of dawn to be the first ones inside the gate, an easy 10 minute drive from Eldorado Guest House & Camping.

First in line at Anderson Gate!

Once they opened, we were given a form to fill out and told to pay at the office in Okaukuejo.

Sunrise brought the birds out!

Okaukuejo Rest Camp is in a large complex with an office, restaurant, shops and all kinds of accommodation from tent spaces to cabins. 

Get this map & bird book at the gift shop. I’ll be using it to identify the birds below since we didn’t have a guide with us.

Get down to the watering hole as quickly as possible to catch the early birds and animals.

We saw a lot of these beautiful little birds – Shaft-tailed Whydahs.

These cabins are near the watering hole and there were quite a few tourists hanging out here.  We couldn’t get a room here as it was full and here was the evidence.

Cape Turtle Dove

Shaft-tailed Whydahs in flight.

Red-headed Finch

Sociable Weaver

Crimson-breasted Shrike

African Red-eyed Bulbul

Starling

Red-headed Finch

Crowned Lapwing

Oryx

Black-crowned Tchagra

Northern Black Korhaan

Blue Wildebeest

Fork-tailed Drongo

Purple Roller.

There actually isn’t a real toilet here, just pull up a bush!

Ostrich

Blue Crane

Kudu

Oryx Pied Crow

All this before lunch!  We turned off towards Halali Rest Camp to find a picnic area.

“Follow me to Halali!”

The Namibian Road Trip Begins

As I mentioned before, the only practical way to see Namibia is with your own rental car.  In most cases, if you stick to the beaten paths you will be fine with a sedan car so that is what I booked with Hertz.  So when we arrived at WDH after the delay of the previous day, we were pleasantly surprised to be upgraded to a Toyota Rav4!

As usual, we did the walk around inspection with photos.

And we were off and running!  It was nice to finally be able to drive ourselves, go at our own pace and do what we wanted!

The first part of the trip is from Windhoek to the border of Etosha NP, the blue dot just before Okaukuejo..

This was our grocery stop.  No, we did not buy any guns but I thought it was strange to see a gun shop right next to a supermarket!

Most of the trip is on the main highway which was in excellent condition although they did have some road works going on which made us slow down a bit.

We stopped in Outjo to top off the tank, it’s cheaper here than it would be in the park.

And then it was back on the road, headed to our first stop and making it just before sunset.

 

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!

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!

South Luangwa Game Drive Afternoon/Evening #1

We were given afternoon tea at 3:30pm, then left on the game drive around 4pm-ish.  It was still pretty hot and most birds and animals were resting.  As dusk approached, they started coming out.

Meyers Parrots in flight

Hammerkops

Grey-crowned Cranes

It’s always a pleasure to see the beautiful Lilac-breasted Roller

Don’t bother me!

Openbill Stork

South Luangwa River, a great place to see hippos and elephants

Although the showier Carmine Bee-eater wasn’t around this time of year, thankfully the elegant White-fronted Bee-eaters were.  After all someone has to eat all those bees!

Meves Starling

Art in the middle of the reserve

Notice the safari vehicle without a roof, these would be very hot with no place to hide!

It was just as the sun was starting to set we spotted a small flock of Lillian’s Lovebirds!  I was thrilled to find these little beauties!

A sweet little family!

The sun was setting and I was losing the light, plus the other people in the truck weren’t was bird-crazed as I was!

Sunset stop with a snack

The sun goes down fast and the nocturnal animals started coming out.  Unfortunately, I am even worse at night photography than I am at day photography.

Hyaena

Hippo

We slowly made our way out of the park where dinner awaited us back at Marula Lodge.

South Luangwa Game Drive Morning #1

I have a ridiculous number of photos so I will be breaking up this series into 4 parts and selecting a few key birds to profile.  In this post, I will be writing about the 1st morning game drive the day after we arrived at Marula Lodge.

We had a 5am wake up call, then served a light breakfast at 5:30.  At 6am, we were off to the park!

The sun was coming up as the driver/guide pulled up to the gate and we each paid $25 for the entry fee.  You are advised to keep your ticket as you can use the same one for the full day but you have to buy a new one each day.  Cash only so be prepared!

We drove slowly over the bridge and into the park, stopping for all creatures great and small.

Helmeted Guinea-fowl

African Fish Eagle

There are quite a few of these little guys.  While I do have the checklist made with the guide, putting a name to a photo is a bit harder!

Grey-headed Kingfisher

Hornbill

Probably an eagle nest

Meves Starling

Lions were fairly common, we saw at least 1 on each drive.

Mid-morning snack

Perspective of how close we were in an open vehicle

Hammerkop

Hornbill

Southern Cordonbleu

Red-necked Francolin

Monitor Lizard

Giraffe with a hitch-hiker

Grey Go-away Bird

We returned to the lodge around noon-ish in time for lunch, then time to rest or swim or whatever until the afternoon.

Expedition To Machile IBA, Zambia – Part 3

In this final installment of my series on Machile IBA (Part 1 & Part 2), we enjoy a leisurely birding drive back along that smaller road to the main road which is the road between Livingstone and Kazangula.  Since I got my target bird, the Black-cheeked Lovebird; it was nice to be able to relax and enjoy seeing some of the other beautiful birds in the area!

Lilac-breasted Roller

Crowned Lapwing

African Openbill Stork – there’s a slight gap and he can’t close his beak completely.

Crowned Lapwing

Malachite Kingfisher

The White-fronted Bee-eater is blurred out but you can see the bright blue of the Malachite Kingfisher in the swamp.

Goshawk??

Crested Barbet

Just a cool angle, not sure what this is but looks like it is half dragon!

Crimson-breasted Shrike trying to hide from the paparazzi!

I was especially happy to see the lovely, elegant Meyer’s Parrot which I had not seen since Tarangire in Tanzania.

Blurry flight shots!

Last look at a local house.

I’ve always admired how African ladies carry these huge things on their heads!

It wasn’t long after reaching the main road that the sun set on our wonderful adventure! 

If you want to visit this area and see these fabulous birds, please contact Chiinga at Savannah Southern Safaris, he’s an amazing guide who found all these gorgeous birds for us!

 

Expedition To Machile IBA, Zambia – Part 2

Continuing on from Part 1, we will now visit the Machile IBA (Important Bird Area) and meet the target bird, the charming little Black-cheeked Lovebirds and a few other birds that were in the area.

We stopped at an office to get permission, then set up in a privately owned farm to look for the lovebirds.  Other birds were in the area as well of course!

Our first sighting, I didn’t get good photos, lucky we saw them again later!

African Harrier Hawk

Southern Red-billed Hornbill

Sunbird

I know I am going a bit overboard with pics of the Black-cheeked Lovebird but considering how rare and endangered they are it’s worth it!

Cardinal Woodpecker

Scarlet-chested Sunbird