Birder’s geography of Namibia
Namibia is a vast country. Birders planning to visit Namibia need to take travel into consideration, and therefore having a good idea of what is where is even more important than in other parts of the world. This text will provide a basic guideline for what regions you should focus on in a general birding trip in Namibia.
Luderitz and the deep south
If you are planning a Namibian birding trip, you are unlikely to include the far south. It is generally a large amount of traveling for very few bird species. It may be of interest to you if you are hunting specific birds, if you have been to Namibia before and wanted to visit the south for it’s own sake or if you have a lot of time (more than 20 days.) Luderitz is the coastal town in the far south, and remains somewhat of a strange place. It is so far to get there from any other major center in Namibia that it has in isolated feel. It is the only easily accessible area on the Namibian coast where African Penguins are commonly found. There is a Penguin colony at Halifax island, and it’s visited on most of the boat trips. About 140km inland from Luderitz is Aus and a road heading south from there goes to Rosh Pinah. A long way to go to see a bird, but this is the hang-out of the Barlow’s Lark (which was only described as a new species [reference] in 1997.) Even further west of that is the great Fish River Canyon, regarded as second or third largest gorge in the world (The Grand Canyon and the Blue Nile Gorge are larger.) The region mainly consists of Dwarf Shrub Savanna (Nama Karoo) and therefore contains a lot of the birds typical of that biome.
Sesriem and the Naukluft region
In contrast to the deep south, a trip to Namibia without including the rich red dunes of the Namib Naukluft Park would be a shame. Despite the aridity of the region, it’s not a loss for birders, and indeed it contains Namibia’s only true endemic bird, the Dune Lark. The Dune Larks are best seen in the dunes on the eastern margin of the desert (partly vegetated compound linear dunes.) Lappet-faced Vultures can often be seen in the Sossusvlei valley, Namibia’s iconic desert tourist destination. If you are really lucky you may just see a Red-necked Falcon at Sossusvlei itself! Further inland the mountains form the eastern margin of the hyper arid region, and here a variety of birds can be found, from Karoo specials (such as the Karoo Eremomela) to Namibian specials such as the White-tailed Shrike.
Swakopmund and the coast
The coastal area is somewhat strange. To get there one drives across a vast desert, and just when the desert is at it’s driest, one reaches the ocean. The huge coastline doesn’t have much in the way of lagoons and estuaries, primarily because there are no permanent rivers flowing into the desert between Namibia’s north and southern borders. That means that the few regions with bodies of water become very important to wading birds. The most significant area is perhaps the Walvis Bay Lagoon. The huge area has been declared a ramsar site and supports huge numbers of migratory waders, terns, flamingos and other birds. North of Walvis Bays is the town of Swakopmund. Just north of the town lies a salt works. These salt works provide a large area of pans and support lots of birds as well. The barren desert along the coast isn’t a loss either. These barren open plains right along the shore provide breeding ground for another of Namibia’s specials, the Damara Tern. Moving inland from the coast, the desert plains support a Namib desert endemic, the little white Grey’s Lark. Travelers to Namibia also find the coast a nice break. Often a Safari would include very few chances to relax…and you are on holiday after all. Swakopmund and the coastal region has a lot to offer from boat trips and kayaking, to sandboarding and sky-diving, or for a more refined tastes, a game of golf or a even some shopping. In the warmer months the cooler coast also provides a welcome relief from the constant warmth of the interior.
Windhoek and the central region
Windhoek is Namibia’s capital city and often a start location for a birding trip. A number of Namibia’s special can be seen in the area surrounding Windhoek. Let an experienced guide take you to Avis Dam to look for Rockrunners. In Windhoek be aware of not walking around with binoculars and expensive cameras in the bushy areas (or anywhere.) If you travel north west of the capital to the area around Omaruru and the Erongo mountains, you get into Namibia’s specials hotspot. The areas with bolders around the Erongo Mountains are the best location for finding Hartlaub’s Francolin, an near endemic that can be very tricky to locate. Travel a few hours north of Windhoek and you get to the Waterberg Plateau, another area to look for various Namibia specials.
Kunene Region and Ovamboland
Still often referred to by the old names of Damaraland and Kaokoland, this is Namibia’s wild region where elephants, rhinos, lions, cheetah and other large animals roam free. To the north the well know Himba people still live out a pastoral nomadic way of life. This is adventure country, and for the birder there is also adventure to be had in the region. This region holds most of Namibia’s near endemic birds, such as the White-tailed Shrike and the Violet Woodhoopoe. In the north the Kunune river falls over the Epupa Falls. From this region, stretching eastwards to the Ruacana Falls, a few birds that are mostly Angolan species can be found. These include Cinderella Waxbill and Rufoustailed Palm Thrush. In very limited areas, the west African Grey Kestrel can be found as well.
Travel in this region can be tough, as almost the whole area is away from tarmac roads and much of it is really the most remote region in southern Africa. If you plan to travel in the area, it is best to visit it with a reputable tour operator, and to plan to have enough time in the region.
Etosha is Namibia’s most popular national park. It’s for good reason. Etosha is a masive 23000 square kilometers in extent. From an aesthetic point of view, Etosha is unique. The name refers to a great white place, and the park is dominated by a massive salt pan. Associated with this old lake bed, the geology of the whole area is dominated by white. During the dry times the birding is good, with the rest camps providing good locations for various of Namibia’s specials. But when the region has had good rain the park becomes a birders paradice. It’s a time when it’s a lot harder to find the high profile animals, but any water filling parts of the pan attract large numbers of birds into the park. When the rains have been especially good, the pan attracts flamingos that come here to breed.
Caprivi and the north east
The Caprivi is where the dry land gives way to woodland and riverine forest. A birding trip to Namibia is not complete without including a trip through the Caprivi. The Caprivi is a long stretch of land jutting out to the east of Namibia. Here the Kavango, Zambizi and Kwando rivers provide great areas for birding and bring up the species list for Namibia dramatically. Normally tours through the Caprivi would start in one of the neighboring countries, such as Zambia.