Friday, November 23, 2012

Daan Viljoen Nature Reserve, Windhoek

We had a few grumbles as previously noted, with the Manager not turning up on time so we missed breakfast altogether and the toilet broke.  But it was still comfortable, with air con and we'd stay there again.

As part of our starting to push for more birding on our birding holiday, we'd asked if there were other nature reserves we could visit on our last morning.  It turns out there are indeed a few, and we were taken to the Daan Jiljoen Game Park.

This was a good birding spot and we managed to add a decent number of lifers and trip birds on our final morning, including Black-crowned Tchagra:

Common Scimitarbill:

Golden-breasted Bunting:

Long-billed Crombec:

Green-winged Pytilia:

Rufous-vented Tit-Babbler:

Short-toed Rock-Thrush:

It of course had to end, so we packed-up, drove back to the Guest-house, packed-up there and headed to the airport.  Gys's sister-in-law had very kindly spent a few hours helping us move our booking to an earlier Windhoek-Jo'burg flight, taking the pressure off our connection back to London (BA had cancelled the day flight and there were now two evening flights only) and so we headed home.

We saw a total of 281 species, of which 123 were lifers, taking our Africa list to 650 species and our overall list to 1,650 or roughly 16.5% of the species of the birds of the world.

We would recommend Namibia to anyone.  Personally speaking we'd have added a day north and south of Walvis Bay and picked better accommodation for the bulk of the trip and done more planned birding but another lesson learned there too.  We'll almost certainly stop using guides now other than dipping in to new areas to help get us started and we'll do much more of our own arrangements as we don't feel we got value for money from the trip given all the short-cuts and indeed the lack of birding expertise.  But Namibia is amazing!


the long road to Windhoek

The following morning, after grabbing a coffee, we drove first to the sewerage pits near Rundu (I take Helen to the nicest places).  We did see African Swamp Hen:

Purple Roller:

And the much sought after Wattled Starling:

The pits were properly stinky though and some locals were clearing the land alongside by burning brush so we were soon flushed away ourselves, stopping at the Wimpy in Rundu before the 10 hour drive back to Windhoek and the Guest-house where we'd started our trip in Klein Windhoek.


Nkwasi Lodge, Rundu

Why were booked to stay at the next place, Nkwasi Lodge is beyond me.  I'm guessing it proved cheap given all the building work going on.  The rooms really reflected the general chaos of the Lodge (which is a perpetual building site apparently) with beds moved to sit under mosquito nets, their location dictated by the unbroken lengths of string.  You could see they used to try and have the beds together but when the original string broke they moved the net and the bed.  Of course!

Frankly the place was shoddy.  The coffee and cake was good, the dinner was passable, the staff worked hard but the management and organisation was a shambles.

 A particular illustration of just how bad this place was and indeed how poorly prepared the tour was overall, was the booking of a bird trip on the river.  The boat selected had an engine that could only propel the boat at about 1 mile an hour against the current.  In addition it was tremendously noisy and could only be started by a rope tied around it.  They do have a bird guide but he was busy so we got another chap who was hopeless.  We went past some reed-beds with at least three new species in, he insisting we'd see more birds further along.

We did indeed see Black-crowned Night-Heron, stopped briefly before fleeing in terror of the approaching banging engine:

Next we approached a village bathing area, and we had to ask the driver to turn us back to the other side (Angola as it happens) but it was clearly all too much.  At one point he saw a Pied Kingfisher and pointed at it saying 'kingfiss' and that summed up his expertise.  It was a complete farce.  We asked he take us back and we got off the boat.  

That in fact summed up our experience of Nkwasi Lodge.  Avoid it.

We had a wander around the grounds as I'd seen some birds behind the huts.  We got a great view of a Kurrichane Thrush:

Levaillant's Cuckoo:

And Red-headed Weaver:

The sunset, even with more fires in the distance, was spectacular:

So an uneasy night's sleep in an overly hot and poorly secured hut was next.


morning walk at Xoba Lodge

Nope, they don't know best.  Despite sprays and coils and creams the lack of net proved decisive and we both got properly bitten for the first time on the holiday with around 15 bites between us.  This in Malaria central.  Frankly this is irresponsible.   We did finish the course of anti-malarials to give ourselves the best chance of not getting it though.

Anyway a pre-breakfast birding walk was called for.  This time the Lodge Manager decided to guide us and we immediately went in search of an owl he had heard.  We did locate it, an African Barred Owlet:

Morning really is the very best time to be birding here and again we saw a lot, including African Fish Eagle:

Common Waxbill:

Myer's Parrot

Pin-tailed Wydah:

Red-backed Shrike:

This bird proved quite contentious and took repeat approaches to get a picture I could show with the bill shape, etc., for it be accepted.  But with a bit of patience we positively identified it!

The next bird is a cracker, Retz's Helmetshrike, a really odd looking bird:

The Lodge Manager kept grabbing us to try and locate the local Southern Black Tit, third time lucky we did indeed see one!

Another Palearctic migrant - Spotted Flycatcher:

This one had me confused for a while, turns out it's a female Violet-backed Starling:

And then, at last, a decent picture of a White-bellied Sunbird:

After breakfast we packed-up and headed on, this time about 3 hours towards Windhoek, just to the right of Rundu.  That meant going back in to Namibia and saying goodbye to Botswana, which we really enjoyed.


Xoba Lodge, Botswana

It was an amazingly hot day and on arrival at Xabo we immediately sought out the chilled drinks and then settled in the open lounge area to read and let the hot middle of the day pass.

While we were sat quietly a commotion started-up with some of the birds.  The Bulbuls were joined by Weavers and finally a group of Hartlaub's Babblers.  It took a while to identify (you can see by the light in these pictures) the source, which it turned out was a highly venomous, rare, and dangerous snake, a Boomslang.

The birds were very disturbed the the presence of the snake and we sat and watched a pitched battle that lasted around 15 minutes:

Eventually the snake conceded defeat and slid down the branch, dropping into the fast-flowing river:

We were frankly relieved it was headed off the island.  Apparently the Lodge Manager has now seen four in all his years (fourteen as Manager of the Xabo for starters).

After that excitement it was time to head around the island on a bird walk.  He helpfully pointed out this African Wood Owl:

We were then left to our own devices, seeing African Pied Wagtail:

Brown Firefinch:

Cardinal Woodpecker:

Golden-tailed Woodpecker:

Crested Barbet:

Green-winged Pytilia, sleeping:

I like the light in this one:

A distracted ground squirrel:

Southern Brown-Throated Weaver:

White-bellied Sunbird:

White-browed Robin-Chat:

Very tuneful birds these.  Next one is a 'dunno bird':

This stuff grows in the forests and is apparently seriously poisonous.  Maybe that's why it's used as a table decoration in the restaurants then?

Willow Warbler:

We know it's they as they sing just like they do in the UK in Spring and Summer!  We enjoyed the walk and enjoyed the Island.  We were looking forward to dinner and good night's sleep.  Just one problem, no mosquito net in the room, which is odd as this is Malaria central!  Maybe they know best...