Namibia, Botswana and Zambia Aug 06—22, 2011
Posted by Geoff Lockwood
Our Walvis-Bay Pre-trip to the coast provided a number of endemic, near-endemic, and breeding endemic species not recorded on the main tour, as well as the spectacle of flocks of flamingos and Great White Pelicans on the Walvis Bay Salt Works. Unprecedented rains earlier in the year in the interior were reflected in the later-than-usual arrival of some species, however.
Conditions in Namibia and Botswana reflected the incredible rains earlier in the year, with the eastern part of the Etosha Pan still completely full (the first time we have ever seen water on these tours), the river at Shakawe at its highest level in decades, and much of the area at Xakanaxa flooded and inaccessible. The two countries had also experienced particularly severe winter conditions in the weeks and months prior to the tour, and much of the vegetation showed frost damage. As a result, bird numbers were generally lower than usual for this time of year, and finding some of even the more common species proved surprisingly difficult.
Grass cover in the west of Etosha was again excellent for this time of year and, as a result, the normal anti-clockwise movements of game along the southern edge of the pan were only just starting. We still enjoyed spectacular game-viewing, with excellent sightings of black rhino, awesome elephant encounters, sightings of a cheetah killing a springbok…and then calling her two well-grown cubs across to feed, and an amazing view of seven giraffes striding through knee-deep water crossing the main pan. The full pan also gave us sightings of many duck species and other waterbirds not normally recorded on these tours—most notably, stunning views of a male Chestnut-banded Plover.
Flood levels along the Okavango River in the Mahango Game Reserve and at Shakawe were again extremely high, with water still flowing into the floodplains (instead of draining back into the main channels as is normal for this time of year), and waterbirds were widely dispersed. We managed to record most of the Delta specials, however, though in lower numbers than on previous tours. Game-viewing in the Mahango Game Reserve also provided the amazing sight of a herd of 32 sable antelope, as well as best-ever views of seven roan antelope curiously gazing at us from less than 200 yards away in perfect afternoon light. The night boat trips at Shakawe gave us two spectacular sightings of Pel's Fishing-Owl fishing, and great, close views of an adult White-backed Night-Heron. Bush birds were unusually scarce, but turned up a surprise in the form of a new species—White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike—for the Lodge.
Flooded conditions at Xakanaxa meant that road access was severely restricted, and also that much of the game had moved out of the area. In spite of these challenges, birding was good, with great sightings of African Barred Owlet (our 8th owl for the tour), four species of woodpeckers, and a stunning male Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Game highlights were great sightings of a honey badger industriously digging for rodents only yards from our vehicle, and a large breeding herd of elephants around the airstrip on our departure.
A boat trip on the Zambezi River above the Victoria Falls at Livingstone provided views of five different African Finfoot (including stunning views of a male swimming along an open stretch of shoreline close to our boat); Rock Pratincoles; African Skimmers; White-crowned Lapwings; and our best sightings of hippopotamus on the trip. Our drive in the Mosi oa Tunya National Park gave the group the unforgettable experience of having a male square-lipped rhinoceros walk up to within 30 yards of our group (also on foot)…and then start scent-marking his territory.
An early morning return to the view site overlooking the stunning Victoria Falls wrapped up a fantastic tour!