How to find the Namibian Endemics
A report by Christian Wagner [main part; CW] and Christoph Moning [additional and updated information; CM]
09th January - 07th February [CW] and 11th - 24th December 2003 [CM]
Christian Wagner [CW] Christian.Wagner@bio.tum.de
This report is the result of the preparation for and the experiences made on a 4 weeks trip to Namibia and Northern Botswana by CW in January/ February 2003 and of a 3 weeks trip by CM in December 2003. The major aim of the trips was, to find the Namibian endemics and near-endemics. So the focus of this report is on these species. We hope that it will be useful, in order to find the Namibian specials.
Key areas to find the Namibian specials (except Herero Chat; see below) are Lüderitz, Swakopmund/Walvisbay, Erongo Mountains near Omaruru, the area around Twyfelfontein, Etosha National Park, Waterberg Plateau Park and some places in or around Windhoek, if you missed some species at the other places.
Jarvis, Alice M. & Robertson, Antony (1999): Predicting population sizes und priority conservation areas for 10 endemic Namibian bird species. - Biological Conservation 88, 121 - 131 (essential issue; description of habitat requirements and distribution for 10 Namibian endemics).
Sinclair, Ian; Hockey, Phil, Tarboton, Warwick (2002): SASOL Birds of Southern Africa, third edition. - Struik, Cape Town, 447 pages (best field guide for southern Africa, the third edition includes the recent splits).
Ryan, Peter G. & Bloomer, Paulette (1999): The Long-billed Lark complex. A species mosaic in southwestern Africa. - Auk 116(1), 194 - 201.
Boix-hinzen, Christian (2002): Namibia, Africa's secret realm -Tropical Birding 1 august 2002; pages 11-13.
NOTE: There is also a promising book to come (Cohen et al.) which includes the very essential birding information for Namibia as well as for many other African countries south of the equator. Check for this before you go! Try also www.birdingafrica.com for up-to-date information.
Homepage of the Southern African Birding C. C.: www.sabirding.co.za (birding hotspots of southern Africa, very essential information).
Stratford, Jos (2001): Namibia & South Africa Birding Report, October - December 2001. - www.birdtours.co.uk (funny and helpful trip report).
Pallesen, Torben; Meedom, Jesper; Molgaard, Erik (1990): Namibia & South Africa 1990. (old but very good).
Hines, Christopher (1996): Namibia’s Caprivi Strip. - Bulletin of the African Bird Club, volume 3.2, www.africanbirdclub.org/feature/caprivi.html (if you want to visit the Caprivi strip, you need this paper).
Pritchard Duncan (2002): Botswana Trip Report. -mail from 13.1.02 in SABN (Shakawe Fishing Camp and Okavango panhandle).
And some additional more or less good trip reports from different authors and sources.
http://napha.50megs.com/cgi-bin/i/images/etosha.jpg (Etosha National Park).
http://napha.50megs.com/cgi-bin/i/images/map%20W_berg.jpg (Waterberg Plateau Park, better than the official map).
Many thanks to Callan Cohen, Chris Boix-Hinzen and Richard Randall for their support. Callan is also offering guided tours in Namibia and may be contacted, also if you just have questions about birding in Namibia: email@example.com.
Finding the Namibian Endemics
Hartlaub’s Francolin (Pternistes hartlaubi)
Estimated population size (Jarvis & Robertson): 26,500 individuals (conservative estimate).
Habitat: confined to kopjies, rocky outcrops and scree slopes with vegetative cover.
Note: Calls a quarter before sunrise very distinctive „wiich ter wideo“. Stops calling at sunrise. Otherwise very secretive.
Where to go: We found this species at the following places:
Erongo Mountains near Omaruru (Pallesen et al.): Take the road (C33) from Omaruru out towards Karibib and turn right on the D2315 (signposted „Erongo Wilderness Lodge“, also accommodation available here, but CW camped at the Hotel Staebe in Omaruru) 1.5 kilometres after crossing the large bridge just outside the town park the car near the sandy riverbed exactly 8 km from the turnoff from the C33. Follow the riverbed upstream to the cliffs (maybe 200 or 300 meters) and climb up the cliff at your right to a good view point at the top of a boulder (problem: the area is private property and it is signed, that you should not enter the farm). At 18th January individuals were calling at 5 different places [CW]. Pallesen et al. saw in 1990 20 different Hartlaub’s Francolins in three groups. The place is also good for Freckled Nightjar (Caprimulgus tristigma), Rockrunner, Carp’s Tit and White-tailed Shrike. The probably best place in whole Namibia (Callan Cohen) is at the Erongo Wilderness Lodge itself. Here groups of Hartlaub's Francolins forage between the huts very regularly. Although quite expensive the Lodge is affordable if you are accommodated in a group and the scenery is fantastic in any case.
Waterberg: Viewpoint at top of the plateau, accessible via Mountain View walk (40 minutes walk one way) or via Fig tree walk (20 to 30 minutes walk one way). At the 5th February one individual was calling from the plateau and one from the bottom of the escarpment rocks [CW]. You have to start before dawn. Also seen Rockrunner and Freckled Nightjar here. CM didn't hear the species on 12th and 13th December at this place but found a group along the Kambazembi walk.
There is also a chance to see Hartlaub’s Francolin at the Hobatere Game Reserve. The tour operator Birdquest is looking for the bird there.
Waterberg: Sunrise at the viewpoint at top of the plateau with Hartlaub's Francolin, Freckled Nightjar and Rockrunner [CW]
Rüppell’s Korhaan (Eupodotis rueppellii)
Estimated population size (Jarvis & Robertson): 100,000 individuals.
Habitat: Restricted largely to areas of low rainfall (< 200 mm) along the coastal desert strip, encompassing the gravel plains of the Namib desert and extending eastwards into the more vegetated and hilly Namibian escarpment zone. A desert species.
Where to go: Widespread (for example: driving the C28, C34 or C35; near Trekkoppie). Own observations at:
Spitzkoppe [CW, CM] : Gravel plains 10 km west of the Westgate (not the main entrance, see also Herero Chat). The vegetation cover declines and after 10 km the gravel plains are substantially without any plants (also good for Gray’s Lark and Stark’s Lark (Eremalauda starki). At the 13th January CW found 1 male and 2 females along this road on the sparsely vegetated plains. After some 20 km you can turn left at a T-junction and beyond turn left again so you will drive back to the Spitzkoppe area (total distance 50 km). CM heard this species also commonly at Spitzkoppe and surroundings in December. There is a basic campground around the Spitzkoppe. If you want to stay overnight there, be sure that you’ve got enough water with you.
Twyfelfontein [CM]: Commonly heard during early morning in the surrounding of the Abu-Kuab Camp Site (also good for other Namibian endemics: see other species below) in December. To reach the camp from Khorixas (east) take the C39 to the west until you reach a signposted turnoff to the left. The camp is 5 kilometres before Twyfelfontein. Along the C39 on your way to Twyfelfontein: between the different entrances to three or four different Petrified forests and the first turnoff to Abu-Kuab (or Aba-Huab) camp/ Twyfelfontein to your left look for the species in open areas. CM saw the Korhaan here twice next to the road (see picture below).
Rüppell's Korhaan near Twyfelfontein [CM]
Namib-Naukluft Park [CM]: 2 birds seen and several heard in the surrounding of the Blutkuppe, where there is a basic campground without water. Also several encountered between Blutkuppe and Kuiseb River Canyon during early morning (road easily negotiable by two-wheel car). All December. You need a permit for the park (northern part) which you can obtain in Swakopmund: Mistery for Environment and Tourism; Woermann Haus at the Castle (corner Bismarck St/ Dr Sam Nujoma Avenue) or at the fuel station next to the Hans Kreiss Autohaus in the Dr Sam Nujoma Avenue. In the southern part of the Namib Naukluft Park CM saw the species next to the Tsauchab River Camp (approximately 70 km east of Sesriem) and also in the Sossusvlei NP along the road between the park entrance and the 2x4 parking area.
Damara Tern (Sterna balaenarum)
Not a Namibian endemic, but breeding range is restricted to the coastal line of Namibia and western South Africa.
Habitat: Sheltered coastlines, bays and lagoons, nests at gravel slacks near coast and at the edges of saltpans.
Note: A very small, uniformly coloured and short billed Tern with a distinctive two-syllabic call (kid-ick).
Where to go: Widespread in the Swakopmund and Walvisbay area. Regular sightings at the Walvisbay esplanades, at the salt works south of Walvisbay and at the coastal line between Walvisbay and Swakopmund. We observed the Damara Tern easily at the salt works of Swakopmund just west of the C34 8 km north of Swakopmund (14th January). A scope is useful. Also a good place to see Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus minor).
Swakopmund salt works: Damara Tern, Greater and Lesser Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber, Ph. minor) are common [CW]
Rüppell’s Parrot (Poicephalus rueppellii)
Estimated population size (Jarvis & Robertson): 30,000 individuals.
Habitat: Primarily a riverine species, distribution largely dependent on mature riparian woodland. Occurring at highest concentrations within, and at the fringes, of the Mopane zone. A locally high population density is found around Waterberg Plateau Park.
Where to go:
Occurs regularly at the Waterberg Plateau Park and is often seen in the vicinity of the reception and the campground. CW found Rüppell’s Parrot at the 4th and 5th February and CM at 12th and 13th December in the trees shadowing the campground. It is helpful to listen for the typical parrot-call. CM saw the parrot also along the fig tree walk.
There are also sightings from the Etosha National Park.
Abu-Kuab campsite 5 km from Twyfelfontein: CM followed the dry river course next to the camp "downstream". Two birds where encountered on early morning of 19th December. Also Carp's Tit, Bare-cheeked Babbler and many Leopard and Elephant spoors.
In this tree at the Waterberg rest camp CW and CM found Rüppell's Parrot (4th February and 13th December respectively) [CW]
Bradfield’s Swift (Apus bradfieldi)
This Swift also occurs in the north-western part of South Africa, but is more easily found in Namibia.
Habitat: Inland cliffs.
Note: In the field not easy to separate from the Common Swift (Apus apus), which occurs in the same habitat. Call is two-sybillic (We always first heard the bird), mottled underparts are only seen at close range and under good light conditions. More easily seen in the evening.
Where to go: This species is widespread in Namibia:
Omaruru: In the air above the hotel Staebe (Pallesen et al.).
Windhoek downtown: There is no better place than Windhoek’s city centre to obtain excellent views of Bradfield’s Swift.
Waterberg Plateau Park.
Spitzkoppe: Have a sun downer at the detached hills left of the main entrance while watching this bird. Looking from north, the peak to the right is accessible without heavy climbing. From the top good views of Bradfield’s Swift in the evening of 12th January [CW].
The sun downer hill (right one) seen from north. Good views on Bradfield`s Swift from the top [CW]
Violet Wood-hoopoe (Phoeniculus damarensis)
Estimated population size (Jarvis & Robertson): 1,850 individuals.
Habitat: Normally in dry thornfeld and broad leafed woodland along major river courses. Scarce resident, with highest concentrations along the eastern edge of the Namibian escarpment zone and an isolated pocket within and around the Waterberg Plateau Park.
Note: The violet (not bottle-green) head, mantle and back is not easily seen, also not at very good conditions. Maybe ask some experts for further distinctive determination details, to separate this species from the Green Wood-hoopoe (Phoeniculus purpureus). Systematic status remains uncertain.
Where to go:
Etosha National Park: Halali-Camp (good place), CW saw a family in the vicinity of the entrance gate (22nd January).
Etosha National Park: Okaukuejo-Camp.
Waterberg Plateau Park: At the campground or at the swimming pool (CW found only Green Wood-hoopoe (?) at the Waterberg Plateau Park). CM found two birds in a mixed flock along the Kambazembi Walk (13th December).
Monteiro’s Hornbill (Tockus monteiri)
Estimated population size (Jarvis & Robertson): 340,000 individuals.
Habitat: Dry thornfeld, broad leafed woodland.
Where to go:
South of Windhoek: 2 adults at a farm (10th January) [CW].
Windhoek (Stratford): Avis dam.
Erongo Wilderness Lodge (near Omaruru).
Waterberg Plateau Park: At the campground or at the Kambazembi walk (there CW picked up 2 individuals at the 5th February, CM saw/heard the bird regularly here on 12th/13th December). Waterberg Plateau Park is also a good spot for Bradfield’s Hornbill (Tockus bradfieldi), a rare bird seen more easily here than elsewhere.
CM saw the bird twice at Spitzkoppe
Kambazembi walk: Follows the escarpment cliffs for some kilometres. Habitat of Monteiro's and Damara Hornbill [CW]
Damara Hornbill (Tockus damarensis)
Recent split from Red-billed Hornbill (Tockus erythrorhynchus) and endemic to central and northern Namibia and southern Angola.
Habitat: Semiarid scrub and woodland.
Note: Totally white head and dark eye are diagnostic.
Where to go: CW saw Damara Hornbills south of Windhoek at a farm (17th January) and at the Waterberg Plateau Park at the entrance area (4th February) and at the Kambazembi walk (5th February). CM found the bird also commonly at the campsite of the Waterberg Plateau Park.
Benguela Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda benguelensis)
The former Long-billed Lark species is now split into 5 separate species (see the Ryan and Bloomer issue).
Habitat: The Benguela Long-billed Lark occurs in northern Namibia and southern Angola. You can find the lark at arid rocky hill slopes and plains north of the Brandberg.
NOTE: Hybridisation with Karoo Long-billed Lark, distribution limits and ID-features are poorly understood and CM saw a Long-billed Lark south of Windhoek which might have been a Benguela Long-billed Lark. Check the bill when you see a Long-billed Lark as this feature seems to bee quiet important. Also keep in mind that the Karoo Long-billed Lark is an extremely variable species. So if you see a bird that shows a plumage like shown in the bird books you might still not be sure that you are looking at the Benguela Long-billed.
Where to go (location given by Callan Cohen): 34,5 kilometres north of Uis the C35 (gravel road) crosses the Ugab river. You can’t miss the riverbed. At the slopes upstream on the left and right side of the river CW found three larks calling their distinctive Long-billed Lark call (19th January). One individual foraged in the riverbed. CM tried it there on 24th December during the heat (44°C in the shade) of the day for one hour without success. Nevertheless Callan Cohen who tried it several times there says it is a reliable place, but expect to walk around for hours if you try during midday (when the birds use to perch on top of the bushes).
Dune Lark (Certhilauda erythrochlamys)
Restricted to the Namib desert south of Swakopmund/Walvisbay.
Habitat: Scrub growth on gravel plains between sand dunes in the Namib desert.
Where to go:
A classic place is the Kuiseb river bed at Rooibank (Rooikop) (Pallesen et al.). From Walvis Bay take the road towards the airstrip (C14) and then go right along a dirt road for some 20 kilometres (signposted). Rooikop is a fenced settlement. To the right of the settlement, there is the dry riverbed with bushes and red dunes with long tufty grass. Leave the road to the right 100 or 200 meters before the fence and drive again to the right and after two signs (Coca Cola, Coca-Cola/ Accommodation) keep to your right. From the second sign you have to walk, if you don't have a 4-wheel drive. This way you will reach the riverbed. The lark may best be searched for between the Nara hummocks and the tussocks at the base of the small [CW] and very small [CM] dunes in the dry riverbed. Don’t search directly at the base of the main dunes (as described at the homepage of the Southern African Bird Club).
Richard Randall found the Dune Lark driving along the Kuiseb River from the Walvisbay salt works towards Rooibank (4-wheel drive essential).
The Lark is also easy at Sossusvlei: anywhere on vegetated dunes before the 2x4 parking area. Try also at Elim dune in early morning. They are also around in the heat of the day and are sometimes easier to see as they do not like to run when it is hot. If there was no rain the road into Sossusvlei is also good for Burchell's Courser (another near endemic) and at any time for Rüppell's Korhaan.
The Kuiseb river bed, home of the endemic Dune Lark [CW]
Barlow’s Lark (Certhilauda barlowi)
An endemic species in southern Namibia and the extreme northwest of South Africa.
Habitat: Arid scrublands and vegetated dunes.
Where to go:
South Africa: most accessible at Porth Nolloth, see Callan Cohen’s and Claire Spottiswoode’s book (2000: Essential Birding. - Struik, 137 pages).
Namibia (Stratford): At the B4 (Keetmanshoop - Lüderitz) exactly 3 km west of the „Luderitz 50“ signpost. The site is marked by low Euphorbia bushes north of the road.
Gray’s Lark (Ammomanes grayi)
Uncommon and nomadic resident along the coastal desert strip of Namibia.
Habitat: Sparsely vegetated gravel plains.
Where to go:
Spitzkoppe: See Rüppell’s Korhaan.
Swakopmund: Gravel plains just north of Swakopmund, or plains just east of the Swakopmund salt works (see Damara Tern). This was the place, where CW saw this species. He scanned the sparsely vegetated gravel plains along some tracks east of the C34, maybe 2 km south of the salt works (4-wheel drive in few parts necessary, if you don’t want to walk) and picked up a flock of maybe 15 individuals (14th January). CM tried there without luck. But he finally found two birds crossing the road between Walvisbay and Swakopmund in front of his car.
Namib-Naukluft Park: For example Welwitschia drive or next to Blutkuppe. CM saw two birds on 23rd December there (for both roads permission required).
Rooibank: At the gravel plains before Rooibank (see Dune Lark)
The gravel plains north of Swakopmund are home of Gray's Lark and the pale form of Tractrac Chat (Cercomela tractrac) [CW]
Tractrac Chat; pale Namib form. Picture taken at the parking area at the end of the Welwitschia drive (Namib-Naukluft near Swakopmund) [CW]
Bradfield’s Lark (Miafra naevia)
The large and heavy billed form of Sabota Lark (Miafra sabota) is maybe a future split. The Bradfield’s Lark is common and for example easily seen at Etosha National Park.
Habitat: thornveld and arid savannah.
Carp’s Black Tit (Parus carpi)
Estimated population size (Jarvis & Robertson): 500,000 individuals.
Habitat: thornveld, arid savannah.
Where to go:
Halali-Camp is said to be an excellent place (Etosha National Park), but only CM saw the bird there.
Waterberg Plateau Park: up on the plateau (only accessible by walking the mountain view walk to the view point or with a guided tour). CM saw it along the Kambazembi Walk on 13th December.
Omaruru (see Hartlaub’s Francolin), CW saw one individual at 18th January.
Twyfelfontein: Abu-Kuab campsite (see Rüppell’s Parrot). CM found the species three times along the dry river bed next to the camp.
Halali rest camp; Etosha National Park. Violet Wood-hoopoe, Bare-cheeked Babbler and Carp's Black Tit are regulars [CW]
Bare-cheeked Babbler (Turdoides gymnogenys)
Estimated population size (Jarvis & Robertson): 79,000 individuals.
Habitat: Dry, broad leafed woodland and wooded kopjies; and mopane woodland. Occurs almost exclusively north of 21° latitude, corresponding to the southern distribution limit of the mopane-dominated vegetation with which it is closely associated.
NOTE: Listen out for distinctive Babbler sounds.
Where to go:
Etosha National Park: Halali-Camp (maybe the best place). CW found 2 individuals at the edge of the chalets (1st February). CM tried two evenings and one morning without success at Halali. The Bare-cheeked Babbler is also reported from Anderson Gate, Okaukuejo and the Goa waterhole.
Twyfelfontein: CM found a confiding foraging group in the Abu-Kuab camp site and another group along the dry riverbed next to the camp in the early morning of 19th December (see Rüppell's Parrot).
Bare-cheeked Babbler at Abu Kuab camp [CM]
Herero Chat (Namibornis herero)
Estimated population size (Jarvis & Robertson): 108,000 individuals.
Habitat: Restricted to the sparsely vegetated gullies and slopes of the Namibian escarpment vegetation zone with centres of highest density in the rugged Kaokoland region in the north and the steep escarpment fringe in the south. Dry scrub and thornveld at the base of hills and in boulder-strewn country.
Note: Restless and shy. Also spends much time perched in trees and bushes and is mostly silent except during the breeding season. So the bird is not easy to see.
Where to go:
Spitzkoppe: The Herero Chat is the main special of the Spitzkoppe, but still not easy there (CW tried it three days without luck, and CM nearly dipped after two days!). Try the wash/ drainage line near the chain ladder which leads up to Bushman's paradise in the south east corner of the Pontok Mountains (CM saw the bird there badly).
the thicket at the wash/ drainage line near the chain ladder offers good birding including a chance to see the elusive Herero Chat
Usakos foothills (Pallesen et al.): From the centre of Usakos take the road leading south until you pass under a railway bridge. Turn right after the bridge. The road will follow some small mountains to the left for some kilometres, and a track will turn off up in a pass as the mountains become lower and the road leaves them. On the slopes of the mountains just before the track you can find Herero Chat. Pallesen and friends worked 3 hours in 1990 to see the shy and restless bird.
Some of the best places to see the Herero Chat is said to be in the north at the C35. Unfortunately we have no further details which might be obtained by asking directly and kindly Chris Boix-Hinzen (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Callan Cohen (email@example.com).
Rockrunner/Damara Rock-jumper (Achaetops pycnopygius)
Estimated population size (Jarvis & Robertson): 96,500 individuals.
Habitat: Rocky habitats. Confined to hillsides, rocky outcrops and scree slopes. Highest densities of this species are to be found within the highlands to the south of the arid woodland vegetation zone and the rocky slopes in the vicinity of Waterberg Plateau Park.
Note: Calls loud and distinctive, but skulks normally in bushes and trees and is therefore not easy to see.
Where to go:
Spitzkoppe: Good place to tick Rockrunner, although only CM did.
Erongo Mountains near Omaruru (see Hartlaub’s Francolin) (18th January, CW) and
Waterberg Plateau Park: view point (see Hartlaub’s Francolin) and Kambazembi walk (5th February CW and 13th December CM).
Windhoek: Hoffmeyr walk, Daan Viljoen Game Reserve und Avis dam in the vicinity of Windhoek are also said to be good places.
White-tailed Shrike (Lanioturdus torquatus)
Estimated population size (Jarvis & Robertson): 1,5 million individuals.
Habitat: Dry thornveld and scrub desert.
Note: looks like a big Batis (Batis spec.; actually thought to be a terrestrial Batis (Boix-Hinzen)) and is conspicuous, so you should tick it without problems.
Where to go:
We saw the bird several times, for example at a farm south of Windhoek (17th January CW), at Spitzkoppe (12th January CW, 19th/20th December CM), at Vingerklip (17th December CM), and at the Erongo Mountains near Omaruru (see Hartlaub’s Francolin) (18th January).
Another good place is the Hoffmeyr walk in Windhoek.
Pallesen et al. saw the White-tailed Shrike at the Usakos foothills (see Herero Chat).
Etosha National Park: Okaukuejo Camp.
not endemic but impressive: White-backed (Gyps africanus) and Lapped-faced Vultures (Torgos tracheliotus) at a carrion [CW]