Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Namibia Days 7-11 (Swakop, Wavlis Bay, Spitzkoppe)

I’m currently in Swakopmund and will embark in the morning for Tsumeb – the halfway point to my next destination – Ruacana along the Angola border. It’s safe to say that the past few days have been very successful with target birding picking up endemic and near-endemic Namibian birds. Starting where I left off…

Day 7 (August 20, 2011):
After pancakes and coffee at the Cardboard Box, I set off towards Swakopmund, a popular Namibian resort town. Leaving Windhoek’s thornveld-dominated landscape behind, the shrubs started thinning and after 280km, I was surrounded by what is considered the world’s oldest desert – the Namib, a Nama word meaning ‘vast place’. Covering 80,900 sq. km (31,200 sq. miles), I’d say it was appropriately named!

Following a tour around Swakopmund with my new Couch Surfing host, Susan, I was off to bed for a goodnights rest.

Day 8 (August 21, 2011):
In the morning, Susan and I drove down near Walvis Bay to an area called Rooibank, which is known to host Dune Larks – the only ‘true’ endemic bird to Namibia. Their range is restricted to the sparsely vegetated dunes and interdune valleys with Bushman grass and !nara, a type of melon that only grows in Namibia. No longer than 30 minutes passed and we were eye-to-eye with a Dune Lark.

Dune Lark
Dune Lark habitat
Following our success we took a quick drive around the Wavlis Bay lagoon and saltpans, one of the most important coastal wetlands in Southern Africa. Due to record rains recorded in the mainland, many of the birds followed the rain inland and the saltpans were empty for the most part. Nonetheless, there were still a few shorebirds around including good numbers of Curlew Sandpipers as well as Ruddy Turnstones, White-fronted Plovers, Common Greenshanks, Black-winged Stilts and Pied Avocets.

Day 9 (August 22, 2011):
Another target bird day – this time in the barest of gravel plains north of Swakopmund. The Gray’s Lark is probably the palest and least-marked lark, which offers efficient camouflage in what some would call inhospitable habitat. After a bit of searching east of the Swakopmund saltpans, I discovered a small flock working the barren grounds.

Gray's Lark habitat
Moving on, I walked over to the Swakopmund saltpans, which proved to be more productive than the Walvis Bay lagoon. Shorebirds include 60 Chestnut-fronted Plovers, 40 Kittlitz’s Plovers, 12 White-fronted Plovers, 9 Ruddy Turnstones, 7 Whimbrel, 6 Curlew Sandpipers, and 5 Common Greenshanks as well as Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Swift Terns and thousands of White-breasted Cormorants. They’ve built large platforms for the latter to collect the guano and the sight (and smell) is incredible.

Day 10 (August 23, 2011):
Moving back inland, I got a ride 120km from a local Afrikaans girl to the Spitzkoppe turnoff where I was almost immediately picked up by a van full of Afrikaans and Germans who took me the remaining 30km to the Spitzkoppe Community Rest Camp. For those who aren’t familiar with birding in Namibia – Spitzkoppe is renown for being one of the best and most reliable spots for the Herero Chat – a difficult to find near-endemic. These bald granite peaks stand out significantly from the flat surrounding plains and with luck, one can find the chats at the base of these hills. After setting up camp, I explored around a bit before dark adding Lark-like Bunting, Montiero’s Hornbill, Common Scmitarbill, Booted and Verreaux’s Eagles to the trip list. Other birds of note include more sightings of Carp’s Tit, Rosy-faced Lovebird and White-tailed Shrike.

Day 11 (August 24, 2011):
I woke up at 6am right as the sun was rising and set a goal to be out of the camp by 10am so I could move on to Omaruru. That gave me four hours to find Herero Chat and being one of the most challenging birds to find, I was having my doubts. It wasn’t until 9:58am when I finally had one…what a relief! Very little is known about this bird and its first nest wasn’t even discovered until 1969. Last I’ve heard their taxonomic position remained somewhere in the robin, chat, flycatcher combination. Leading up to the goal bird, other trip birds include Ashy Tit, Small Buttonquail and Layard’s Tit-Babbler at its northern limit. I then walked into the nearby village to see if I could luck out in finding a ride to Omaruru or at least to Karabib to the north. However, 5 hours passed and only the 3rd car drove east – an Italian couple heading to Swakopmund – guess I’ll go back there knowing there’s a bed to sleep on! While waiting under the big shade tree – a Bearded Woodpecker joined the wait.

Spitzkoppe - not the actual Herero Chat location
To remain on schedule, it looks like I’m going to have to cross out Omaruru from my itinerary and head straight to Tsumeb. That’s alright though, the exciting areas are yet to come!

1 comment:

SueSwakopmund said...

I was with Ethan for the Dune Lark experience - AMAZING! He is a truly dedicated birder with SERIOUS determination to find what he's looking for! I'm a very amateur birder and I wish I could find an Ethan Equivalent to show me all the special birds that Namibia has to offer. Sue (Ethan's couchsurfing host in Swakopmund)