Namibia with Rockjumpers 2 Namib desert and coast

To: "birding-aus" <>, "birdchat" <>, <>, <>
Subject: Namibia with Rockjumpers 2 Namib desert and coast
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Tue, 28 Oct 2008 10:26:24 +0100

                                NAMIBIA WITH ROCKJUMPER. 2. NAMIB DESERT

One drives from Windhoek to the coast via the Khomas Hochland (German and
Afrikaans names abound still in Namibia), and we descended into the
low-lying Namib desert via the steep Spreetshoogte pass, where we sought
for---and found, of course-- the archetypic Namibian endemic, the
otherwise somewhat unremarkable Herero Chat Namibornis herero (The Hereros
are one of the dominant tribed in Namibia, the Damara tern is called after
another important tribe)

At first the desert still has a lot of grass, now yellow and more like
hay, and this is a favourite ara for a number of walking grassland birds.
We saw our first large cackling flocks of Guineafowl here. We soon found
two different bustard species, the stately Ludwig Bustard and the smaller
and more slender Red-crested Korhaan (An interesting name, that, for a
Dutchman, as in the Netherlands the Korhaan is the Black Grouse Tetrao
tetrix; clearly the name has first been transferred to the blackish
bustard-types, and from there to other similar birds). And not much later
we found the archetypical grassland-bird , the Secretarybird, striding
without undue haste away from our bus. Here there were also some more
raptors: dove-grey large, but small-billed Pale Chanting Goshawks sat on
many telephone poles, Rock and Greater Kestrels hovered overhead, and at
the Spreetshoogte pass we also noted the first (and only, it turned out)
Augur Buzzard and Mountain Hawk Eagle. Springboks and the stately Gemsbok
were the dominant antelopes in this area.

We went to fill petrol in the aptly named isolated village of Solitaire,
and the trees here, as well as a number of bird feeders and drinking
opportunities had attracted a large number of birds: sparrows, weavers,
i.a. our first Sociable Weavers (we had already seen their amazing
'apartment blocks', waxbills and Red-headed Finches. The trees held large
numbers of doves and starlings, and also the cute Rosy-faced Lovebirds,
and here we also found our first droll ground squirrels.

 The further east we came, the less vegetation, making this the right
country for larks. And here I needed a steep learning curve, as we spotted
one lark species after another, after two days with only Sabota Larks. Now
we found the large and long-billed Spike-heeled Lark, and the small and
social nomadic Stark's Lark, as well as Gray's Lark, another near-endemic.
The bare desert also held Lark-like Buntings, not the most spectacular
bird on earth, and both Cape and Pied Crows, the first crows we had seen.
The next morning we ventured out into the spectacular dune landscape south
of Walvis Bay, to search for the endemic Dune Lark, which turned out to be
a Desert Lark look-alike; these birds really have sought out a stark
landscape! We also visited the Welwitschia plants, as mentioned, and they
are really content with little. (In Norway we have a children's song,
where the girl sings: 'eg bur på et sted kor ingen ville tru at nokon
kunne bu'='I live in a place where nobody would believe that anybody could
live'. If the Welwitschias could sing, this would be their song!). Near
Swakopmund, where some low scraggy bushes eke out an existence in the bare
desert, we also finally found the Tractrac Chat, running around among the
bushes like a mechanical toy; a fun bird!

Walvis bay is a large harbour, the only such one on the Namibian coast,
which otherwise is quite hard of access (the name Skeleton Coast speakes
for itself!). The sea here is cold, and this very rich, and the area
attracts lots of seabirds, and in this season also northern shorebirds. It
was nice to find 'home-birds' that I was able to identify at least as
easily as the others: Whimbrels, Greenshanks, Marsh, Wood and Common
Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint, Turnstones, Ringed Plovers,
and even no less than 13 Red-necked Phalaropes, an uncommon bird here. Of
course there were also less well-known birds here: Kelp and Hartlaub's
Gulls, the neat grey Damara Tern (a lifer!), and White-fronted, Kittlitz's
and Chestnut-banded Plovers, the latter also a lifer, although we never
found a adult in summer plumage. Flamingoes were common here, mostly
Greater, but at Swakopmund also a small flock of Lesser. The most
impressive were the enormous flocks of thousands of Cape Cormorants that
nested on specially built guano-platforms N. of Swakopmund. Keith and
Gavin did not rest until they had found and showed us some Bank Cormorants
among the multitudes of Capes. A single Cape Gannet fished closely
inshore, 'especially for us'!

After two days here we trekked NE, via Spitzkoppe and the Erongo mountains
to the vast Etosha park. More of that next issue.

Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
9037 Tromsø, Norway

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