Birding in Namibia: back roads from Fish River Canyon to Walvis Bay

A road trip through southern Namibia in March 2012 opened my eyes to an area that I had always regarded as desert and not much else. Apart from spending the time soaking up Namibia’s spectacular scenery and birds, we also planned to visit my wife’s parents in Swakopmund for Easter. This Easter visit would also allow us to settle an ongoing debate between my wife and I about a “German Easter,” which according to her surpasses any other Easter imaginable…

Fish River CanyonThe broad trip plan was to spend 4 days exploring the south, gorge ourselves on German chocolate for a few days in Swakopmund and then wrap it up with a few days in Etosha before hot-footing it home via Windhoek. Specifically, our route in the south included: Orange River – Fish River Canyon – Seeheim – Bethaniem – Helmeringhausen – Betta – Namib Rand Private Nature Reserve – Sesriem – Sossusvlei – Solitaire – Tinkas / Bloedkoppe – Swakopmund. This route was travelled over three nights / four days and included some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen in Namibia! The veld was particularly green after the summer rains and birds were in abundance.

The Fish River Canyon should be included on any itinerary that covers southern Namibia, the area is just spectacular. Birding is best at the entrance to the park where the thick acacias harbour Pririt Batis, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Yellow-bellied EremomelaDusky Sunbird, Orange River White-eye and other passerines seeking a bit of shade, The canyon view site is great for close-up views of Pale-winged Starling and Mountain Chat as they try and steal your lunch.

Orange River White-eyeDusky Sunbird

Our drive north from Betta to Sesriem took us through the Namib Rand Private Nature reserve, an area that was just teeming with SpringbokOryx and Burchell’s Zebra.

Namib Rand ReserveWe also encountered a feeding group of Bat-eared Foxes that were completely unperturbed by our presence. What was interesting about this group was that a Yellow Mongoose followed them wherever they went, which we assumed was some form of symbiosis – an easy meal for the mongoose when the foxes flush something and perhaps some sharp mongoose eyes and ears to watch out for an approaching Martial Eagle?

Bat-eared FoxThe birding along the Namib Rand road was fantastic. Our list wasn’t particularly long or diverse at the end of it, but the light was just amazing and between Ruppell’s and Northern Black Korhaans I had my hands full trying to photograph everything!

Namib Rand KorhaanOne of the highlights of our trip was the camping we did in the Namib Naukluft Park around Tinkas and Bloed Koppe. We did not see another vehicle the entire time we were in this area; you need to be completely self-sufficient and preferably need a 4×4 for the rougher sections of the trail. Permits are required for driving and camping in this area, which can be obtained from Ministry of Environment & Tourism at Sesriem.

Bloedkoppe RockTinkas

HoodiaThe gravel roads in Namibia are generally pretty good, but be careful after heavy rains as sections of road have been known to wash away. If you are trying to cover distance 80 km/h is probably the maximum speed you want to travel at, but 60 km/h is better for birding and general sight-seeing. Road-side birds we encountered included: Ludwig’s BustardRuppell’s Korhaan, Lark-like Bunting, Grey-backed Sparrow-lark, Northern Black Korhaan, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Red-headed Finch, Greater Kestrel, Rock Kestrel, Martial Eagle, Lappet-faced Vulture, Black-eared Sparrow-lark, Namaqua Sandgrouse and Ant-eating Chat. Vegetated river courses contained Pririt Batis, Scaly-feathered Finch, Dusky Sunbird, Cape Penduline Tit and Acacia Pied Barbet while mountainous areas were good for Pale-winged Starling and Mountain Chat.

David Winter

Birding in Namibia: Sossusvlei

A key stop-off point on our 2012 Namibia road trip was Sossusvlei. My wife, being a true Namibian, insisted that no trip through her homeland would be complete without at least two nights at this iconic site. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much, perhaps a few large dunes and average birding, but I was wrong. The scenery and light were spectacular and the birding was top notch!

Sossusvlei Balloon

For those who enjoy camping I can recommend the Sossus Oasis Camp  that is across the road from the entrance to Sossusvlei. There is a campsite at the entrance to Sossusvlei, but Sossus Oasis is exactly that, a welcomed oasis in the desert – each site has its own covered kitchen, bathroom, electricity etc and there’s a pool for those hot summer days!

Sossus Oasis CampingBe sure to enter the park as the gate opens in the morning to enjoy the great light and birding opportunities. Most cars speed into the park and head for the dunes, but don’t be tempted as there’s lots to see as you drive in. Also don’t ignore the touristy spots like Dune 45 and Dead Vlei, they’re all great!

Sossus TreeSossusvlei

 We managed to buy our permits the evening before we entered the park so we had limited faffing in the morning and were in by 6am. Top birds for the day were Burchell’s Courser (4 birds along the road as we drove into the park), Bradfield’s Swift (in and around Sesriem Canyon), Ludwig’s Bustard, Ruppell’s Korhaan and a dark-phase Booted Eagle.

Burchell's Courser_Flight

David Winter

Birding in Namibia: Hobatere Lodge

In the interest of brevity I’ve limited this post to photos and captions from a two night stay at Hobatere Lodge in Namibia. Hobatere is located to the west of Etosha and is run by one of Africa’s most passionate and competent naturalists, Steve Braine. When you visit Hobatere be sure to ask Steve to take you on a guided walk, you won’t be disappointed. Below follows a series of photos and a few notes from my stay at the lodge:

Damara Hornbill 1

Damara Hornbill is common around the reception area at Hobatere. They’ll even join you in the morning at the breakfast table.

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Bare-cheeked Babblers are also common around the camp. The bird bath in the reception garden is a particularly popular rendezvous point.

Rockrunner habitat

The rocky hills to the south of the camp holdDamara Rockrunner and Hartlaub’s Spurfowl. One needs to go on a guided walk (preferably with Steve Braine) to bird in this area.

Scops Owlet1

Listen for African Scops-Owl during the day – they have a distinctive prrrpp call, which helps you triangulate them. The camp staff also try and keep tabs on their roost sites so ask them if they know where they are. And if you think a Scops Owl is calling from a particular tree persevere with your search because they can be extremely difficult to spot. I circled this individual’s tree at least 3 times before I spotted it!

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African Scops Owl, such great camouflage.

Grey-backed Cameroptera

This Grey-backed Cameroptera was breeding in a tangle close to the dining area.

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Non-breeding flocks of Chestnut Weaver would often move through the camp at great speed.

Great Sparrow

Great Sparrow is common around the camp’s water hole.

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The water hole is also overrun with Red-billed Quelea flocks.

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Red-billed Spurfowl, a common and tame camp bird.

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Sabota Larks were common on the plains beyond the air strip. The air strip is apparently also very good for Dusky Lark in summer.

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Bateleur, always a crowd-pleaser.

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There were at least three Verreaux’s Eagle Owls in the large trees about 100m from the camp entrance.

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We encountered Lark-like Bunting on our morning walk with Steve. Small flocks were drinking at a pool in a dry river bed.

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We encountered Carp’s Tit fairly commonly in the woodland flanking the entrance road to Hobatere.

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Meves’s Starling was another common visitor to the birdbath.

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A party of Violet Wood-Hoopoe passed through the camp on a couple of occasions, but they didn’t hang around for long.

Hartmann's Mountain Zebra 1

Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra is a special for the area and are common.


We saw 4 lion during our stay including this young male.

African Rock Python

I lucked upon this African Rock Python close to our bungalow. I was alerted to its presence by the incessant mobbing and alarms calls from a group of Bare-cheeked Babblers, White-crowned Shrikes and a Crimson Boubou.

David Winter

Birding in Namibia: Avis Dam, Windhoek

Following the introductory post on my trip to Namibia’s Kaokoveld, below is a brief account of some birding at the popular Avis Dam. Avis is a great birding spot very close to the centre of Windhoek. It’s the sort of place you can visit if you’ve just got an hour or two to spare. Try and avoid weekends as the place is overrun with dog walkers, however both of my visits were on the weekend and it wasn’t too bad if you’re able to drown out the incessant yapping. There are two popular entrances to Avis, I opted for the entrance to the south of the dam on both occasions rather than the one close to the dam wall. There was a lot of activity around the wall (fisherman, dog walkers etc), which didn’t bode well for birding.

Avis Dam reduced

My target bird for Avis was Damara Rockrunner and as you can judge by the photo below it produced the goods. I’ve circled the exact spot where I snapped this pic, but I imagine they’re fairly widespread in the area. I actually ticked my first Rockrunner at the dam wall back in ’93 so try there as well.


The encircled Rockrunner spot on the map above is where I did most of my birding. There’s a path that winds its way up a small hill through some sparse acacia woodland, which had regular bird party activity. I found mimicking Pearl-spotted Owlet particularly effective at attracting birds. Below are a few common party participants:

Burnt-necked Eremomela

Burt-necked Eremomela is a common bird at Avis Dam and was present in just about every bird party.

BrubruPririt Batis

Brubru and Pririt Batis

Marico Flycatcher

Marico Flycatchers were always very quick respond to the “owlet”.

Sabota LarkCrimson Boubou

Sabota Lark and Crimson Boubou

Black-chested Prinia

Black-chested Prinia

Violet-eared Waxbill

Violet-eared Waxbill

Black-cheeked Waxbill

and Black-cheeked Waxbill

Green-winged Pytilia female

Female Green-winged Pytilia

Short-toed Rock-Thrush

Short-toed Rock-Thrush

Yellow-bellied Eremomela

Yellow-bellied Eremomela

Namaqua SandgrousePalm Swift

Listen for the “kelkiewyn” of Namaqua Sandgrouse as they fly over after a drink and watch for Palm Swift overhead.

Bradfield's Swift

Avis Dam is a good area for the near-endemic Bradfield’s Swift so check all swift flocks for them.

My next Namibia post will be on Hobatere Lodge, a fantastic reserve west of Etosha, where we spent two nights en route to the Kaokoveld.

David Winter

Birding in Namibia: A Kaokoveld experience

This post summarises a two week trip to the north-western regions of Namibia I completed in September last year. My travel companions thought they were going on a gentle 4×4 exploration of the Kaokoveld. Five thousand bird and mammal photos later I think they concluded that in fact it was a birding trip :) For those not familiar with the Kaokoveld, it’s the region in the north-western corner of Namibia.

Map Koakoveld1

The Kaokoveld is a rather unique place in that it’s one of Southern Africa’s last true wilderness areas. Venturing from your car is encouraged, but in many areas there’s a very real chance you could encounter desert elephant, lion or even black rhino! I’ve summarised our itinerary in the map below.

Route map kaokaveld

The map above is a little crude -here’s a more detailed breakdown of our actual route and stop-overs.

21-Sep-09 – Hobatere Lodge
22-Sep-09 – Hobatere Lodge
23-Sep-09 – Epupa Falls – Kunene River
24-Sep-09 – Van Zyls Pass campsite
25-Sep-09 – Marienfluss – camping
26-Sep-09 – Marienfluss – camping
27-Sep-09 – Camp Syncro
28-Sep-09 – Hartmann’s Valley
29-Sep-09 – Purros – Okahirongo Elephant Lodge
30-Sep-09 – Purros – Okahirongo Elephant Lodge
01-Oct-09 – Grootberg Lodge
02-Oct-09 – return to Windhoek

For anyone interested in visiting this exceptional area I highly recommend you contact Udo Kannegiesser for assistance. Udo has been visiting the Kaokoveld for the last 30 years and whether you want a guided trip or a self-drive option he’ll ensure you get to experience the best of what the area has to offer. The best way to contact Udo is via his website.

I’ll post various photos and notes from this trip over the next few weeks.

David Winter