Africa

Plan a birdwatching trip to Namibia – a land of wide open spaces

Namibia is a land of extremes. It is 824,292 square kilometres in size and has a coastline that stretches over 1,500 km from South Africa in the south to Angola in the north. Its western neighbour is Botswana, and it shares a short border with Zambia.

It is generally an arid country with low rainfall. The Namib Desert follows the coastline. The only major rivers are the Orange and Kunene Rivers which form the borders of the country in the south and north. Annual rainfall varies between 10 mm in the Namib to around 600 mm in the Caprivi region.

Map showing the location of NamibiaThe population of Namibia is only 2.6 million. Windhoek is the country’s capital and the only city. Some areas of the country are not populated at all. When touring the country by car expect to travel on long stretches of road with no facilities, so plan accordingly.

Birdwatching in Namibia

Despite the harsh conditions the country is a great place to go birdwatching. Around 580 species have been recorded. There are many great birding spots to be visited but as mentioned above, the distances between them are long and careful planning of your route is required. Realistically one wouldn’t be able to visit all the best spots on one trip.

Etosha National Park

This must be my favourite spot in Namibia although it is not only for the birding. Etosha is 22,270 square kilometres in extent and amazingly the Etosha pan occupies some 4,760 square kilometres. Etosha is located in the north of the country and is a dry region where wildlife depends on natural and artificial pans.

Before getting to the birds, I must mention the excellent game viewing. Around 110 species of mammal can be found. There are a couple reasons that make Etosha a great reserve for game viewing.

• The population of all the major mammals are surprisingly large.

• There is not much dense vegetation making them easy to spot.

• The animals are drawn to water sources.

Lion, Cheetah and Leopard are all present as Elephant and both Black and White Rhinos.

The bird checklist stands at around an impressive 340 species. Although birding is good all year round the best time is after the rains have come. At this time large numbers of migrant birds join the resident population.

After rains the pan is a major drawcard for both Greater and Lesser Flamingos. At times one million flamingos may be present. Big numbers of Abdim’s Stork may also be present.

Birds of prey are another highlight of Etosha with over 40 species having been recorded. Some of the raptors to look out for include Martial Eagle, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Lanner Falcon, Pygmy Falcon, Tawny Eagle and Secretarybird.

Namib Naukluft Park

Occupying nearly 50,000 square kilometres the Namib Naukluft Park is one of the biggest conservation areas in the world. It is predominantly a desert region, and it follows the coastline from the South African border north to Walvis Bay in the north. In parts the Park is 150 km wide. Access to the southern half of the park is restricted. The most interesting and accessible area is the Sesriem and Sossusvlei region.

Namib Naukluft Park
Namib Naukluft Park

Nearly 250 species of birds have been recorded in the park which is quite amazing when you consider the arid nature of most of the park. Along the coast you will be searching for species such as African Black Oystercatcher, Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo, Damara Tern and Cape Cormorant.

One of the specials to be found is the Dune Lark which lives its life amongst the sand dunes. It is endemic to Namibia and a good one to tick. Look for it near Sossusvlei and inland from Walvis Bay. It is often seen amongst the grassy tufts on top of dunes. The Dune Lark shares this habitat with Ludwig’s Bustard, and Greybacked Sparrowlark.

Grey-backed Sparrowlark
Grey-backed Sparrowlark

The Namib Naukluft Park incorporates vast areas of “sand” desert and “gravel” desert. The gravel desert areas support a larger number of birds than the sand desert. Look out for Stark’s Lark which can sometimes be seen escaping the heat of the day in the shadows of poles and other features. Spike-heeled and Gray’s Lark can also be found. Namaqua and Double-banded Sandgrouse are abundant and congregate at water sources in large numbers before heading back into the desert. Raptors to be seen include Cape Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, White-backed Vulture and Martial Eagle.

Different birds may be found around the rocky outcrops and ridges. Look for Barn Owl, Augur Buzzard and Mountain Wheatear. In the north-east of the park, you can find Herero Chat along with Karoo Long-billed Lark and Karoo Eremomela. Along the water courses where there are nearby cliffs you should see Rosyfaced Lovebird and Black Stork.

Rosy-faced Lovebird
Rosy-faced Lovebird

Hardap Dam

Hardap Dam, the largest in Namiba, is located around 260 kilometres south of Windhoek. It is a popular recreational destination providing opportunities for activities such as fishing, swimming and, of course, birdwatching. The dam has a surface area of 25 square kilometres.

There is a variety of habitats around the dam including reedbeds, grassy plains, thorn scrub and acacia thickets. Besides the birds you may encounter mammals such as Black Rhino, Kudu, Springbok, Gemsbok and Hartmann’s Zebra.

As you would expect the dam attracts numerous waterbirds including South African Shelduck, Red-knobbed Coot, African Darter, Reed Cormorant and White-breasted Cormorant. Along the edges of the dam look for the brightly coloured Malachite Kingfisher along with the Pied Kingfisher. African Fish-eagle is also present. Herons are normally present, and you may see Goliath, Black-headed and Grey Heron.

The acacia thickets are home to species such as African Hawk Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Common Scimitarbill, Pririt Batis, Red-billed Francolin and Karoo Scrub Robin. Other birds to search for in the game park are Sociable Weaver, Dusky Sunbird, Burchell’s Courser, Double-banded Courser and Rufous-eared Warbler.

Daan Viljoen Game Park

If you are spending time in Windhoek, then a visit to Daan Viljoen Game Park is worthwhile as it offers some excellent birding. It is situated 25 kilometres west of the city. One of the attractions of this reserve is that you can explore it on foot. Some of the Namibian specials are present in the reserve including Rockrunner, White-tailed Shrike, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Ruppell’s Parrot and Carp’s Tit.

Namaqua Sandgrouse
Namaqua Sandgrouse

Other birds to look for are Orange River Francolin, Yellow Canary, Great Sparrow, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Short-toed Rock Thrush and many more. There are a few cliffs in the reserve, and these are home to Verreaux’s Eagle, Augur Buzzard and Rosy-faced Lovebird.

Birding around Walvis Bay and Swakopmund

There is a 35-kilometre stretch of road that separates these two great birding destinations. Waterbirds are the name of the game here and, at times, they are there in their thousands.

In summer one can see large numbers of waders along the lagoon at Walvis Bay. Among the most sought-after birds are Broad-billed Sandpiper, Greater Sandplover and Common Redshank. These may not always be found but one needs to scan through the vast numbers of more common waders to find something more unusual. Flamingos are also attracted to the lagoon with both Lesser and Greater being found. Chestnut-banded Plover can be found on the drier parts of the mudflats towards the south end of the lagoon.

The lagoon is not the only spot for birders – try find a spot where you can look out to sea and watch any passing seabirds. You have a chance to see Cape Gannet, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and perhaps an albatross.

Between the two towns you should look for places where you can park and scan the beach and rocky outcrops for a variety of waders such as Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Turnstone and Curlew Sandpiper. You should also see White Pelican, Cape Cormorant and Crowned Cormorant.

At Swakopmund you get a second chance to look for birds that you might have missed at Walvis Bay. The salt pans and sewage works offer some decent birding. Damara Tern can be found in the area.

But wait there is more…

This article has only covered a few of the birding locations in this fascinating country. Other good places include The Waterberg, Sandwich Harbour, The Erongo mountains, Bwabwata National Park, Nkasa Rupara and more.

If you want to escape the city and to visit a place with excellent birdwatching, then Namibia is a really good choice. Fly into Windhoek, rent a vehicle and tour the country. You won’t be sorry.

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