Birding Habitats in Namibia

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The Atlantic Ocean alongside Namibia is a cold murky ocean. The Atlantic not only holds pelagic bird species, but is responsible for creating the conditions along the shore that contribute to the aridity and character of the Namib Desert. Boat trips can be done from Walvis Bay or Luderitz to view Dolphins and Fur Seals and provide an oportunity to view some of the Atlantics birds that are more common inshore.

Namibia’s entire coast is hyper arid and has miles and miles of barren beaches, littered with whale bones and ship wrecks. It is commonly refered to as the Skeleton Coast

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Namibia is a dry country. Most of the countries rivers only flood seasonally…if the rains have been good. There are almost no lakes. The various open pans such as the Etosha pan are dry most of the time. Obviously, the the few coastal wetlands there are mean a lot to the regions birds. These wetlands have significant conservation status because they are essential to migratory birds moving down the shore. Two of the more important coastal wetland areas are the Walvis Bay Lagoon and Sandwich Harbor. Both hold significant numbers of migrant bird species, especially in summer. Walvis Bay’s Lagoon has a significant number of both Greater and Lesser Flamingos. In Namibia the coastal areas have also been fun for finding rare bird species

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There are only a couple permanent lakes in Namibia and they are of little significants to birders. Lake Otjikoto is the most well known, and is a lake in a 50 meter deep limestone hole. Seasonal floodpans, hoverver, are much more significant. There are many and they are interesting for various reasons. Sossusvlei area is a series of pans where a river ends in the dunes. Sossusvlei isn’t an important area for birders, but is an amazing place and worth a visit. When it floods it is rather amazing which birds do show up, including various teals and waders.

The most important salt pan is the huge Etosha Pan. The pan is 6,133 km2 in extent [ref]. The Etosha Pan is an Endorheic Lake meaning water flowing into it doesn’t have anywhere to flow out. Water flows into the pan from rivers, the most significant being the Ekuma river to the north of the pan It recieves some water most years, but only occasioanlly fills enought to allow flamingos and other birds to breed. The pan is surrounded by springs that provide water for wildlife and of course birds. In fact some of these waterholes can be a real birding treat, with various small raptors attacking small birds at the waterhole. Some days even the larger raptors join in.

The pan is perhaps most important for it’s role in the breeding of Lesser Flamingos. Both Greater and Lesser Flamingos breed on the pan when it holds water, as do Eastern White Pelicans Numerious waders and other birds also use the pan to breed or simply to feed. Lessers are significant due to the fact that there are only six breeding areas for Lesser Flamingos worldwide and most are under significant threat.

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Most rivers in Namibia are westward flowing ephemeral rivers (only flow when they have rain in the catchment areas.) These rivers include:

  • Tsauchab which is the river that flows dead in the dunes creating Sossusvlei
  • Tsondab, less known, but also flows dead in the dunes
  • Kuiseb. The Kuiseb river flows towards Walvis Bay and forms the northern barrier for the great Namib Sand Sea. The Kuiseb river around Walvis Bay is one area where Namibia’s only endemic bird can be found, the Dune Lark.
  • Swakop, flowing into the sea (which it only reaches something like once a decade) just south of the town of Swakopmund. It creates and interesting little wetland at it’s mouth which is worth having a look at for birders in Swakopmund.
  • Omaruru, which flows past Omaruru and the Erongo mountains, an important area for birding in Namibia, reaches the ocean at Henties Bay. Due to water extration and damming in the river bed, this river doesn’t reach the ocean any more.
  • Ugab, the southern most river that the special Desert adapted elephants and black rhinos can be found.
  • Huab and Aba-huab, which flow near the Twyfelfontein area (a world heritage site with prolific bushman rock art (especially petroglyphs.)
  • Koigab, flows through the vast Palmwag concession
  • Uniab, which also flows through the Palmwag concession
  • Hoanib, which forms the northern border of the Palmwag concession and flows past Sesfontein
  • Hoarusib, in the far north
  • Khumib, the furthest north major Ephemeral river in Namibia

These Ephemeral rivers can be a great place to look for various birds, and perhaps the most obvious special bird in these riverbeds would be the Rüppel’s parrot.

Despite Namibia’s aridity, not all the river are dry riverbeds. All the perennial, or permanently flowing rivers orgionate in other countries but flow part of their distance through (or alongside) Namibia. There are five major perennial rivers:

  • The Orange river forms Namibia’s southern border. This sparce dry country can be good for finding various arid area birds that Namibia shares with South Africa, including the Black-eared Sparrow-lark
  • Kunene, aside from the Orange river, the only other perennial river that reaches the Atantic. This river also lies on the border, as do all the perenial rivers for at least part of their way through Namibia.
  • Okavango, starts as Namibia’s northern border for a while, before turning through the Caprivi, and flowing down to Botswana, to end in spectacular fashion in the wonderful Okavongo Delta. In Namibia the Okavango delta has it’s origion in a small game park, Mahango National Park. This tiny National Park is one of Namibia’s best birding spots.
  • Zambezi, the river that flows eventually over the Victoria Falls, and much further along, into the Indian Ocean on Mozambique’s coast, is also Namibia’s northern border on the far east of the Caprivi. The best way to enjoy birding on the Zambizi from Namibia is to stay at Impalila Ilsand on the river itself!
  • Kwando (which later becomes the Linyanti and then the Chobe, before flowing into the Zambezi,) this river flows strait through the Caprivi. It then turns to form the southern border of the east Caprivi, before later joining the Zambizi at a unique point where four countries meet…Nambia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It also provides great birding areas.

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Acacia Savanna form the main vegetation type on the eastern half of Namibia. Most of this area is taken up by the typical Kalahari Vegetation (Kalahari Xeric Savanna.) Though often refered to as ‘Desert’ the area receives more rain than the Karoo, and much more than the Namib. However, there is a high degree of aridity. The vegetation type doesn’t have many endemic birds, but a few are well known for this vegetation type. One of the most charactersitic is the Sociable Weavers, the little birds that build masive, hey stack like structures in the trees. The Kalahari is also well known for it’s diversity of birds of prey.

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Woodlands are defined as areas with tree cover, but that remain open (as opposed to forest, where there is a canopy.) In Namibia there are a number of different types of woodland. Mopani woodland covers a large part of the north of Namibia, extending into Angola to the north. To the east other types of broadleafed woodland also occur. This diversity of wooland types add numerious bird species to Namibia’s birdlist. Most of the countries near endemic birds are found in Mopane woodland, such as the Bare-cheecked Babbler and Violet Woodhoopoe Other types of woodland include specials like the Souza’s Shrike and Sharp-tailed Starling.

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The Nama Karoo is a huge vegetation zone, taking up much of the middle and north-west of South Africa. In Namibia the Nama Karoo region a large area in the south, and then extends up the margin of the Namib as a thin band. To many the Karoo can seem bland because it is mainly composed of rather short bushes that are often mostly grey. However, it is a very diverse ecosystem, and holds some interesting birds. A couple of the interesting ones include Rufous-eared Warblers and Karoo Eromomelas.

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Namib Desert stretches from the Succulent Karoo in the far south, all the way up into Angola. The desert lies on the Atlantic coast and reaches inland for about 100 to 150 kilometers Therefore almost the whole Namib desert is in Namibia. The Namib Desert, though, isn’t one thing. The Namib is made up of many different types of vegetation zones and geological regions. The three main zones within the Namib consist of dunes, gravel plains and rocky hills.

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The Succulent Karoo is really Namibia’s forgoten biome. This vegetation zone is found in Namibia’s south-west corner. The region where this vegetation zone is found is called the Sperrgebiet, an access restricted Diamond minning area. Things are changing, though, and recently a new National Park has been created in the region. From a birding point of view, the eastern part of this region contains the Barlow’s Lark, a recently described Lark, with a very small global range. From a vegetation point of view, despite being clasified as hyper arid in Namibia, this vegetation zone holds a huge proportion of Namibia’s plant species.

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There are really only very small patches of forest in Namibia, only on the banks of the major rivers in the north. For the birder, though, these small patches mean a lot. It means that birds like Pel’s Fishing Owl are also found in Namibia!

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