Day 1. Arrival in Walvis Bay, Dune Lark, and Walvis Bay Lagoon
Your Namibia and Botswana birding tour begins with your arrival in Walvis Bay. After collecting the luggage and fetching a rental vehicle, we will head straight for our Dune Lark site near the intriguing Namib village of Rooibank. Here it is usually easy to find Namibia’s only true endemic in a picturesque setting. After finding this species, if time permits, we may begin exploring the huge Walvis Bay Lagoon. This lagoon happens to be one of Africa’s most important shorebird stopovers (it is a Ramsar site), where we will see incredible numbers of Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Great White Pelican, and some extremely localized species such as the diminutive Damara Tern and Chestnut-banded Plover.
Overnight: Lagoon Lodge, Walvis Bay
Day 2. Birding around Walvis Bay
We can join an optional dolphin, seal, whale, and seabird boat trip on the Walvis Bay Lagoon (at an additional cost of R750), or we can continue birding from the shore. Southern right whales often come close inshore (seasonal), and the highly localized Heaviside’s dolphin is frequently seen, along with the more common bottlenose dolphin. Cape fur seals may also be seen on the boat trip, and with luck perhaps an ocean sunfish or a leatherback turtle. Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Great White Pelican, White-chinned Petrel, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Cape Gannet, Black Oystercatcher, and other seabirds are often observed from the boat. Today we will also explore sites closer to Swakopmund, where our main target bird is another localized Namib near-endemic, the incredibly pale Gray’s Lark. While looking for this species, we should also find the almost pure white desert subspecies of Tractrac Chat, large rafts of Black-necked Grebe, and very large numbers of other waterbirds and waders.
Overnight: Lagoon Loge, Walvis Bay
Day 3. Birding the Spitzkoppe
This morning we will leave the coast and head inland. If we were really unlucky and missed Gray’s Lark the previous day, we will visit other sites for this nomadic species. We may also encounter the rare and declining Burchell’s Courser and many other sandy desert species during our drive, before reaching the magnificent Spitzkoppe. The Spitzkoppe, or “Matterhorn of Namibia”, is an impressive desert mountain that rises steeply out of the plains. On the road to this imposing batholith we usually find Stark’s Lark and other strategic species. The main target around the base of the huge boulders is the most difficult of the Namibian/Angolan endemics, Herero Chat, a truly bizarre species that tends to hunt in small groups from low perches onto the ground. Rosy-faced Lovebird, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Bradfield’s Swift, Augur Buzzard, Dusky Sunbird, Karoo Long-billed Lark, and many other tantalizing endemics will distract us (in a good way) from our main task of finding our major target. We will also see more common and widespread species such as Familiar Chat and the attractive Mountain Wheatear. After birding here, we will travel to the fine Huab Lodge, where we will spend two nights.
Overnight: Huab Lodge, Kamanjab
Day 4. Birding the Namib Escarpment
The charismatic and striking White-tailed Shrike is common along the Namib Escarpment, and early morning birding usually generates the equally beautiful Rockrunner and Hartlaub’s Spurfowl. This spurfowl is really weird-looking (like many of the Namibian specials), and it is a genuine skulker (again, very different from other spurfowls). The only time it is usually an easy bird to find is at dawn, when it calls loudly from atop boulders. Other spectacular birds we might see include Violet-eared and Black-cheeked Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia, and a plethora of others.
Overnight: Huab Lodge, Kamanjab
Days 5-6. Birding the Ruacana district
Today we continue further northwards to one of the most remote parts of Namibia, the Ruacana district, where we hope to find the spectacularly localized Cinderella Waxbill along with other specials such as Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush, Grey Kestrel, Bat Hawk, and a host of others. Our lodge for tonight and the next is the isolated, peaceful, and stunning Kunene River Lodge.
The next morning we leave really early (about two hours before dawn; non-birding spouses who prefer to relax around the lodge can of course opt out of the morning’s birding if preferred). The aim is to be positioned at our site in the spectacularly rugged Zebra Mountains just as it starts getting light. The target is the spectacular-looking, unusual Angola Cave Chat, which was only very recently discovered as a breeding bird in Namibia (it was previously thought to be an Angolan endemic), and it occurs here in this remote mountain range in surprisingly high densities.
After seeing this bird we slowly start heading back to the lodge, stopping at our site for another incredibly localized species, the enigmatic Cinderella Waxbill. The lodge itself is very good for some of our other main target birds, so during our afternoon session of birding we’ll look for the unspotted form of Bennett’s Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush (a west-African bird which occurs from here, the Namibia/Angola border, northwards to Gabon). Usually we have to drive around a bit to find Grey Kestrel, another species right at the edge of its range here.
Overnight: KuneneRiver Lodge, Opuwo
Day 7. Birding Etosha National Park
At the world-renowned Etosha National Park we’ll start our birding and wildlife viewing with a night at Dolomite Camp, situated in the previously closed western section of Etosha. This is one of Africa’s truly great game parks, and here we expect to find a plethora of Kalahari birds as well as many big mammals as a byproduct of the birding. Lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, gemsbok (oryx), and other very large (as well as small) mammals are quite possible, and, more importantly, we should find many spectacular birds. Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, Blue Crane (a South African endemic except for an isolated population in Etosha), Pygmy Falcon, Red-necked Falcon, an excellent diversity of other raptors, many owl species, Pink-billed Lark, Chestnut Weaver, Damara Hornbill, Crimson-breasted Shrike (the name says it all), Sociable Weaver, and many other birds inhabit the grassland, savanna, woodland, and wetlands of Etosha. We will sample the different habitats of Etosha while driving slowly from west to east. Each of the three major rest camps has a floodlit waterhole, offering spectacular wildlife viewing at night. Double-banded Sandgrouse (which drinks at night), nightjars, and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl are quite easy to observe at these waterholes.
Overnight: Dolomite Camp, Western Etosha
Day 8. Birding Etosha National Park
We will have another full day in Etosha, but will have to traverse some distance to get to the center of the park where we stay the night.
Overnight: Okuekuejo Camp, Etosha
Day 9. Birding Etosha National Park
Today we’ll drive slowly, busily birding and wildlife-watching, through this wonderful park from west to east. Overnight: Mokuti Lodge just outside Etosha’s eastern gate.
Day 10. Transfer to and birding at Rundu
After some final birding in Etosha we will depart for Rundu, the gateway to one of Africa’s greatest wildlife havens – the Caprivi Strip and Okavango Panhandle. The well-developed woodland around Rundu hosts such important species as Rufous-bellied Tit, Red-headed Weaver, Green-capped Eremomela, Common Scimitarbill, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Black Cuckooshrike, African Golden Oriole, Tinkling Cisticola, and many others. We may even be fortunate enough to find Sousa’s Shrike or Sharp-tailed Starling. Birding the rich wetlands in the area may generate the diminutive Dwarf Bittern, Rufous-bellied Heron, African Pygmy Goose, African Jacana, Lesser Jacana, Swamp Boubou, and a whole host of other desirable species.
Overnight: Hakusembe River Lodge, Rundu
Day 11. Birding the western Caprivi Strip
Today we continue eastwards into the heart of the Caprivi Strip, finding exciting tropical bird species along the way. We will overnight near Mahango National Park, which often hosts Rock Pratincole, Swamp Boubou, Harlaub’s Babbler, and a plethora of other species in lush surroundings (so different from the Namib – this is a birding tour of great contrasts!).
Overnight: Ndovhu Safari Lodge, Divundu
Day 12. Birding Mahango National Park and the Okavango Panhandle
We will start early and spend most of the day birding the absolutely phenomenal Mahango National Park. This tiny reserve hosts over 400 bird species, plus lots of big game including some mammals not easily found in Etosha, such as African buffalo, sable antelope, and roan antelope (both antelope being very rare globally, but relatively easy to find in Mahango). There is a rich variety of habitats in this reserve, from expansive floodplains to papyrus swamps to huge baobabs with associated birds, to dry thornveld, etc. In the late afternoon we will head due south into Botswana, where we will spend the next two days birding the panhandle of the magnificent Okavango Delta. Birds such as Pel’s Fishing Owl, White-backed Night Heron, Slaty Egret, Wattled Crane, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Lizard Buzzard, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Brown Firefinch, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Chirping Cisticola, Luapula Cisticola, Greater Swamp Warbler, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Golden Weaver, Greater Painted-snipe, and many others are relatively easy to find in these magnificent swamps.Overnight: Xaro Lodge, Shakawe, Botswana
Day 13. Birding the Okavango Panhandle
Today we will continue birding in the swamps, both on foot and by boat.
Overnight: Xaro Lodge, Shakawe, Botswana
Day 14. Birding the eastern Caprivi Strip
We will re-enter Namibia and continue eastwards along the Caprivi Strip, birding the fine Caprivi National Park and looking for difficult species such as crakes, rails, Dwarf Bittern, Luapula Cisticola, and more around the Kongola River. Our next luxurious lodge is located on an island in the Kwando River
Overnight: Mazambala Island Lodge, Kongola
Day 15. Birding the eastern Caprivi Strip
We will spend another full day in this splendid and exciting birding area.
Overnight: Mazambala Island Lodge, Kongola
Days 16-17. Into Zambia and birding Victoria Falls
Today we will embark on a long drive and travel to one of Africa’s largest rivers, the mighty Zambezi, then enter our third country, Zambia and drive to the incredible Victoria Falls, where we spend two nights. Not only is “The Smoke That Thunders” one of the most spectacular waterfalls on earth, but the birdlife is stunning and exceptionally diverse. We could find Racket-tailed Roller (along with other more widespread roller species), Southern Ground Hornbill (and other hornbill species, African Hobby, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Schalow’s Turaco, Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah, Grey-headed Parrot, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Copper Sunbird, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Dusky Lark, and many others. A walk across the bridge over the deep gorge below the falls into Zimbabwe might yield Taita Falcon, one of Africa’s rarest and most difficult-to-locate breeding birds (although this species is now easier to find near South Africa’s Kruger National Park), along with Peregrine Falcon and other species.
Overnight: Waterberry Lodge, near Livingstone, Zambia
Day 18. Departure
After some final birding in the Victoria Falls area our international flights will depart from Livingstone (LVI).