BirdLife Port Natal

Report by Sally and Paul Bartho

27 April to 17 May 2018

(An aside: Remember by clicking on a photo it will enlarge).

Our trip to the Kgalagadi ended when we got to Tsabong. As we were so close to Namibia we decided to pay a visit to Namibia. Our goal was to get to Epupa Falls and take in the various Parks along the way there and back.

Our first stop – Kalahari Rest Lodge and Camping – was our only stop in Botswana once we had left the Kgalagadi. It was about 25 kms north of Kang on the Kalahari Transfrontier Highway. This was a long journey (some 430 kms taking over 5 hours) to add to the day we had already driven. We left Tsabong mid-day so arrived just before dusk.

We certainly recommend this campsite as a stop over point. It is a small campsite with four bathrooms – each with toilet, shower and basin- as the ablution block. After a long day we ate at the restaurant and the food and ambiance was good.

The next day we headed to Windhoek to a campsite near the inner city Eros airport – Arebbusch Travel Lodge.  A distance of about 710 kms taking close to eight hours. The border post was a tad busy so it took us a while to get through. However checking our insurance documents later we found they had entered the licence place of our campervan incorrectly. We hoped it would not be noticed at the police check points.

Some Namibian Scenery:

At Arebbusch we spent two nights, the first in a chalet and then camping. There are only 4 campsites all of which are under cover round a large glassy patch.

Our provisions needed replenishing otherwise we would have only stayed one night. Unfortunately our night’s camping was loudly disturbed by the antics of an open air concert right next door after a soccer match. Avoid Saturday nights camping here.

No bookings had been made for our time in Namibia. We called Etosha for a booking but all they could offer us was 5 days camping at Halali in three days time – we took it. So we booked a campsite ten kms before Okaukuejo at Etosha Safari Lodge for two nights. Nice grassy sites and entertaining ablutions. 420 kms taking a almost five hours due to the police checks. Very nervous at the first as he was fairly thorough checking the car licence plate. However he did not see it necessary to check the campervan licence plate. This was the case fortunately at all the police stops.

Etosha Safari Camp

Campsite birding was good. We had a nesting pair of Great Sparrows right beside us.

Other campsite birds

Time was spent in Etosha around Okaukuejo puzzling over the various larks and other ground birds favoured by the open flat grassland/scrub area. We saw a good variety of different species which we did not see elsewhere in the park.

However there is one big criticism that I have to make. Outside of the main camps there are no ablution facilities fit for humans at the various run down picnic spots. Some picnic sites are so bad that they have been closed. We never found one that had an even passable excuse for a toilet. I dread to think what foreign tourists think. For the cost of entering and staying in the park this is shameful.

Okaukuejo waterhole – very quiet
Blue Crane – double header

At last we arrive in Halali – the central camp between Okaukuejo and Namutoni – about 70 kms from each. We just miss the best campsite – No. 37 – by about 5 minutes. However we did recamp there when the people left after two nights.

Many overlander safaris visit the camp and they can be very noisy at night. I don’t think we would camp there in future although the waterhole can be interesting at night. While there this time we saw Elephants, Black Rhinos, Hyenas and Jackals there plus hundreds of Double-banded Sandgrouse each night, maybe more.

Sandgrouse in their hundreds at Halali waterhole every evening

Perhaps because of the rains we did not see a wide variety of game. We did have one sighting of three Cheetah on the first morning leaving the camp. After that no big cats. Much of our time was spent away from the camp in and around Namutoni.

Cheetah

There were of course many Black-faced Impala, Springbok, Burdhell’s Zebra, Steenbok, Black-backed Jackals about with campsite Banded Mongooses, Tree Squirells, lizards etc.

In the camp wew had a selection of special birds visiting us. There was a flock of about twelve Violet Woodhoopoes, a Pearl-spotted Owlet, a Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Southern Red-billed and Monteiro’s Hornbills, and a Red-billed Spurfowl.

For birding, one of the nearby waterholes – Goas- had the most interest for us.

Goas Waterhole close to Halali

Just north of Namutomi is Fischer’s Pan. It was full of water so we had excellent sightings of numerous water birds.

Great White Pelicans in various poses

At Namutoni picnic site there were some interesting birds.

Palms around Namutoni

Then at the Klein Namutoni waterhole south of the camp there was a mix of animals and birds.

Here are some photos of unidentified birds that we saw which we hope you can identify.

After five nights in Halali it was time to move on. Epupa Falls was our goal via Ruacanna and Kunene River Lodge, then on to Epupa along the recently improved road. We called Epupa Falls Lodge to book a few nights there and quickly learned that flooding had severely damaged this road and we would not be able to get through that way. We would have to go via Opuwo – a route I did not particularly fancy.

So after this disappointment and a disappointing time in Etosha we considered going home via the Caprivi. Not on. Most of the places we were interested in staying were flooded. When we contacted the Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge for a campsite so we could see the Leaflove, they told us “Sure you are able to see the bird but we will have to come by boat to fetch you”.

Then we considered simply heading back home.

On the day of departure, Sally said that as we had come this far we ought to go to Epupa Falls. I agreed reluctantly as I was not looking forward to the drive. We contacted Epupa Falls Lodge and booked ourselves in for three nights.

Fruit and Flora which Sally had photoed

We had always wanted to see the recently opened western side of Etosha and decided that we would do so on our way to Epupa Falls. 70 kms to Okaukuejo then another 200 kms to the Anderssen gate at the west of the park.

It was too long a journey to comfortably get to Epupa Falls in one day. That being the case we unthinkingly booked ourselves a campsite in Kamanjab for a night as there was nothing close to the Anderssen gate. Instead we should and could have camped in Ruacana and given ourselves a chance to find the Grey Kestrel. It would have meant backtracking about 40 extra kms compared to going to Kamanjab. Unfortunately we only considered this as we reached Kamanjab.

The west side of the park was quite different from the rest of Etosha. It started much like the area around Okaukuejo for a long part of the journey to the new campsite at Olifantsrus where the road forks. We took the left fork to the campsite and were quite impressed. Although there is no shade nor power for the 10 campsites, they were neatly arranged and the ablutions good. One of the big plusses was the double level hide. Walk along a boardwalk to the hide which is situated overlooking a wetland area.

Continuing along the left fork to the gate the landscape changes and we drive through rugged and hilly country well vegetated. Quite different and unexpected. We would like to spend a short time to explore this area in the future. The problem is that the campsite is extremely popular and hard to book.

Kamanjab to Epupa Falls is about 430 kms and takes a good 6 hours to do when you are towing. In fact it took us four hours from Opuwo – a journey of 180 kms. The last 70 kms travelling through over 100 marked dips in the road. It meant virtually stopping at the bottom of the dip each time to protect the tow hitch.

Smiley sign means dips ahead. We counted over 100 of these on the way back.

The scenery was spectacular along the way especially as we approached Epupa Falls.

Epupa Falls was was worth all the effort to get there. Fortunately we were there when the Kunene River was flowing strongly. The dam gates up river in Angola had been opened.

We checked in to Epupa Falls Lodge. The campsite is right beside the river and from our site we could see the spray as the water started going over the falls. It is a well palm shaded campsite but without power. The solar panels had to be constantly moved every hour to find some sun.

On our first evening we went up to the lookout point over the Falls. What a view especially to see it in flood.

Epupa Falls complete

Truely Spectacular.

The birding was excellent. We had birding round the camp with numerous Rosy-faced Lovebirds, Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrushes and Ruppel’s Parrots amongst them.

Then there was the birding beside the banks going upstream along the road towards Kunene River Lodge. We drove 20 kms along this road without difficulty.

Big Bug. Many in the fields from road to river. Body alone about 4 cms.