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