Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Shamvura update

The past couple days have yielded a dozen or so new birds for my Namibia list. Tropical Birding guides Charles Hesse and Jerry Connolly brought a tour through the past two nights and I tagged along while they birded the area. I knew it was going to be an excellent couple days when I stumbled upon my first Thick-billed Weaver on my way to greet everyone – a common resident to the region but one that has eluded me.

Tropical Birding group
The following morning we headed off to explore the surrounding forests near Shamvura. Our first stop was the nearby quarantine station where cattle are held for a period of time to prevent the threat of foot and mouth disease. A couple small feeding flocks were present but nothing of interest and the area was fairly quiet. However, upon returning to the van, we discovered at least 20 Sharp-tailed Starlings drinking from a leaking pipe – a highly sought after specialty and a lifer for the whole group. Also present was a pair of Southern Black Flycatchers, a species I’m amazed I haven’t run into yet.  As the starlings moved on, we worked our way east along the B8 birding a couple locations where the habitat was still rather intact. Despite the increasing heat, we wondered around the broad-leaved forests in search of more feeding flocks. We found a few including one consisting of a half-dozen Green-capped Eremomelas – an uncommon and localized target bird. Other birds of interest include Purple Roller, Black-crowned Tchagra and a Dark Chanting Goshawk on our drive back to Shamvura. Around the garden I finally found a Purple-banded Sunbird in a good sized feeding flock – another bird that has eluded me this trip.

Observing a feeding flock
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Following lunch and an afternoon swim, the group reassembled and loaded a boat for a 3 hour trip down the Okavango River. As we drifted downstream, we counted numerous species of herons, egrets, bitterns among other waterbirds as well as Fan-tailed Widowbirds patrolling the floodplains. Plenty of great birds were recorded including Comb Ducks, African Skimmers, Collared and Rock Pratincoles as well as trip birds for me such as Wood Sandpiper, Gray-rumped Swallow and an unexpected White-winged Tern flying around the oxbow lake

From here on forward, it’s all target birding for me. My trip list has reached 320 and I hope to achieve 350 before returning to Cape Town. I’m very doubtful but if I remain up here into summer (southern hemisphere), I should be able to pick up quite a few birds including cuckoos and old world warblers.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Namibia Days 12-16 (Ovamboland, Ruacana Falls)

It’s been a month since my last update and during that time I have traveled all along the Kunene, Okavango and Zambezi Rivers in four countries. After reaching my final destination, the incredible Victoria Falls, I have since then backtracked to Shamvura Camp where I’m currently volunteering. Located roughly 110km east of Rundu, Shamvura Camp is well known among birders and has a list exceeding 430 species. In the next couple weeks I’m going to make an effort to finish writing up my trip reports as well as send out updates from Shamvura Camp. I also want to apologize for the lack of bird photos – I’ve been lazy at taking photos in general and have been spending most of my time just observing. Now that I have settled down for a bit, I’ll make a greater effort to do some bird photography. Starting where I left off…

Day 12 (August 25, 2011)
Leaving the vast Namib Desert behind, I took a combi (informal minibus taxi) to Tsumeb the “gateway to the north”. This small mining town of roughly 45,000 residents is world-renown for its productive mineralogical sites where nearly 40 minerals were first discovered. I have little knowledge on minerals but from what I have read, this area is quite exceptional. Tsumeb is also notorious for being the site of the biggest meteorite in the world, known as Hoba, which weights roughly 60-tons! Being a travel day however, I didn’t have enough time for any birding so I met up with my Couch Surfing hosts for the night, a group of Peace Corp volunteers - Quinn (Texas), Gretchen (Oregon) and Rob (Florida).

Day 13 (August 26, 2011)
Starting early in the morning Rob and I hitched out of town heading northwest towards Ondongwa – the heart of Owamboland - far from your typical tourist routes. This region is home to over half the population of Namibia on just 6% of the land and as you can imagine, the environmental degradation proves it. Upon arriving in Ondongwa, Rob headed north and I continued towards Outapi where I stayed with my next host, Ben, a Swiss-German working in the IT industry along with two visiting Algerian friends of his. Today was another travel day but involved some spot-lighting of the resident African Scops-Owls.

Baobab tree in Outapi (prior post office and chapel inside!)

Day 14 (August 27, 2011)
Luckily Ben and his Algerian friends were heading to Ruacana Falls this morning, my next destination. Before getting dropped off at the Hippo Pools Camp where I was going to camp for the next two nights, we stopped by Ruacana Falls to find they were entirely dry! The water flow depends upon whenever Angola decides to release water and our timing was bad. Nonetheless, the area was still incredible and I ticked off a couple more trip birds including Black-checked Snake-Eagle and Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrush – the latter just hardly creeping into Namibia from Angola. After setting up camp, I did some birding along the Kunene River and the surrounding creeks which host the sought-after Cinderella Waxbill, a difficult bird restricted to the area. No waxbill this evening but the birding was phenomenal giving my trip list quite a boost. Some of the additions include Meve’s Starling, Montiero’s Hornbill, Goliath Heron, African Green-Pigeon and an unexpected Rüppel’s Parrot, an endemic to Namibia and Angola. I went to sleep that evening to the deep grunt of Hippos and calling African Scops-Owl and Pearl-spotted Owlets.

View of Ruacana Falls from below
Angola Border Post
Day 15 (August 28, 2011)
Another exciting day packed with scores of trip birds. I started along the river where Red-headed and Chestnut Weavers made an appearance along with a vocal group of Hartlaub’s Babblers before moving inland to a series of creek beds that drain into the Kunene. As I mentioned before, this is one of very few sites in the world where you can find the Cinderella Waxbill; a notoriously difficult bird to find. During normal years, the water in the beds dry up leaving a few scattered puddles which the waxbills visit during the heat of the day. This year however, the region received a lot of rain causing the beds to retain a lot of water. The once localized puddles became too prevalent. No waxbills were found but several other birds made up for it including Bare-cheeked Babbler, White-tailed Shrike and more Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrushes. That evening I joined a French couple (Vincent and Sarah) for a braai and learned they are traveling around Namibia photographing and filming wildlife and in the morning heading east - so was I and they offered me a lift back to Outapi in the morning.

View of the Kunene from my Hippo Pools campsite
Day 16 (August 29, 2011)
After one last failed attempt for Cinderella Waxbill, Vincent, Sarah and I hit the road towards Outapi by 8:30am. Besides a brief stop along the road to look at Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, the rest of the day was spent relaxing, catching up on emails and packing for my next jaunt in the morning – Roy’s Camp, known among birders for hosting Black-faced Babblers.

Yellow-billed Oxpecker on cow