to Namibia with Rockjumpers 1

To: "birding-aus" <>, <>, <>, "birdchat" <>
Subject: to Namibia with Rockjumpers 1
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Mon, 27 Oct 2008 21:36:55 +0100

                                           TO NAMIBIA WITH ROCKJUMPERS. 1
The Acacia thornveld

This was the 'Overland' tour, that starts out in Windhoek, the capital of
Namibia, and ends in Livingstone, Zambia, taking in two days of Botswana
en route. We were a group of ten birders, most of us not all that young
anymore (65 to 75), with two young S.African leaders, Keith Valentine and
Gavin Lautenbach, and the invaluable Namibian Willem as driver and
lunch-provider. The bus, although without AC, was fine---although we were
often glad that one couple had to cancel at the last moment; even now the
three people in the backseat suffered on secondary roads, which oftenwere
rather on the 3-dimensional side. But otherwise we each had a double seat,
and a free view, all greatly contributing to a birder's comfort. Namibia
is a large country, and although the main roads are mostly sealed and in
good condition, distances are quite large, so we were many hours in the
bus, in addition, of course, in the Etosha park, where we spent four whole
days, one is not even allowed to leave the vehicle'. Many days we had
picnic-lunches, provided by Willem from the recesses of the bus, which
also yielded stools and an inexhaustable supply of drinks, very imporatnt,
as temperatures often soared to 40*C.

In such circumstances it is very important that the group is compatible,
and there we were very lucky this time; no loners, no cliques, everybody
talked to and laughed with everybody else! These people were almost all
very experienced travelers indeed, and I listened with open-mouthed awe as
the conversations ranged from lodges in Peru, to Ethiopia and the
Philippines, and all the birds seen at all those various places. No wonder
then that life lists reached 5000, 6000, and even 7000 within the group; I
myself passed 3000 this year! In spite of this the trip did not have a
taste of fanatism, and to my great joy people not only ticked, but watched
and enjoyed the birds. Keith and Gavin are excellent birders and leaders
and took great care that everybody got to see all the birds, and they also
were wonderful bird spotters, both from the bus and in the field.

 Namibia is, as I said, a vast country, and we visited  only the central
and northeastern parts of the country. The first 10 days we were in the
dry part . Of course we must always keep in mind that we experienced the
area at its dryest, at the end of the lang dry period; I suppose
everything must look and feel completely different in the rainy months,
which start in October/November. Around Windhoek, in the Daan Viljoen game
park close by, and also in parts of Etosha the country was mostly rolling
hills and 'thorn savanne'; most of the trees and bushes were leafless, but
to my surprise quite a lot of Acacias were already in full green leaf,
although this phenomenon was somewhat patchy: some areas looked already a
quarter green, while in others there were only a few green trees. When you
travel from Windhoek (at 1700 m asl) to the coast, the land gets drier and
drier, from smaller and smaller bushes to only yellow dry grass to, near
the coast, virtually no vegetation at all. It is here that one finds the
amazing, up to 1000years old, Welwitschia 'trees' (The stems often less
than 1m, with two enormous leaves, and male and female cones on different
plants. A true 'living fossil!).

After a complicated journey we meet in Windhoek, where I am so tired that
the only thing I can do, is lie on a dekchair in the garden of the
guesthouse and pretend to study the swifts overhead. Not so stupid, it
turns out, as there is quite a diverse group: slender, almost emaciated
Palm Swifts, white-rumped small Little Swifts, enormous white-bellied
Alpine Swifts, and a medium-large, somewhat scaly one, a new bird for me,
Bradfield's Swift.

The Acacia savanne looks pretty lifeless when one drives through the area
during the day, but we learned quickly that that impression is quite
wrong. Walking through the thornveld in the early morning pishing soon
brings out some birds: tits, sunbirds, waxbills, and the imitation of the
call of the Pearly-spotted Owlet--- a sound that would follow us during
the entire trip--- brought even more, including often the little owlet
itself. A stunning bird in these areas is the Crimson-breasted Shrike (A
boubou, not a real shrike); we also found the neat White-tailed Shrike
(Not a real shrike either, but some sort of Batis. It is easy to get
confused). There are Bee-eaters here (the colourful Swallow-tailed
Bee-eater), hornbills (Grey Hornbills, but also the 'near-endemic'
(Another sound that would follow us the entire trip) Monteiro's Hornbill,
and Barbets (the aptly named Acacia Pied Barbet).
Many of the thorn trees are festooned with the untidy straw nests of the
White-browed Sparrow-Weavers, and there are also different species of true
sparrows, and a few true weavers. As everywhere in Africa, doves and
bulbuls are ubiquitous, and also the raucous Grey Go-away Birds are
present every day. Other daily birds these first days are the glossy Cape
Starlings, the acrobatic Pale-winged Starlings, and some canaries and
The area also holds a true  Namibian endemic, the Rockrunner Achaetops,
earlier placed together with the rockjumper, but now considered an old
world warbler. We walk in the afternoon along Avis Dam, where a lone
pelican loafs and a  shallow bight shows off a diverse suite of
shorebirds, ducks and wagtails in wonderful afternoon light, to a steep
rocky slope with Hyraxes. It takes a little time, but the bird shows
itself beautifully in the end. This is a pattern, that would keep all
three weeks: the birds generally show themselves when the leaders want
them to do so. Amazing!

Another constant feature of the thornveld are the troups of Chacma
Baboons. Of game kudus and springbok are most to the fore around Windhoek,
but in Daan Viljoen park we get 'the full packet': giraffes, many
different antelopes (eland, gemsbok, wildebeest, hartebeest, steenbok) and
mountain zebras, seen only here.Here also the firs raptors appear, but in
general we will see far fewer raptors (individuals, not species) than I
had expected, compared to e.g. Spain. There are Black-winged Kites here;
African Fish Eagles (near water) and every day a single Tawny Eagle.

I stop here; we'll drive to the coast in the next bit.

Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum

9037 Tromsø, Norway

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