Posts Tagged ‘Katima Mulilo’

2015 – the year of the mighty Zambezi

Posted: 20/01/2016 in Birding
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hi all

I am just too embarrassed to apologise yet again for the infrequency of these posts !!

Jan and I have had a busy 2015 to say the least.  How does TEN trips to different parts of the Zambezi River sound?

We started in early January by driving to the Victoria Falls where I was to pick up my long time client JNV.  We arrived safely and there he was waiting for us.  We checked into our various accommodations and went birding – specifically for Schalow’s Turaco and Rock Pratincole.  We failed, unfortunately.

Next morning we set off early to the Botswana border at Kazangula, crossed into Bots and headed straight towards the Namibian border at Ngoma Bridge over the Chobe River, crossing into Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and on to Katima Mulilo.  We had set ourselves a huge mileage target for the day so westward we continued. After about 130km it was time for a pit stop and we pulled into a Lay-by (Nam has fantastic Lay-by’s).

On the top of a tree was a largish  brown raptor and as JNV and I approached I said to him “This is going to turn into a Common (Steppe) Buzzard.”  Raising our binoculars JNV and I both commented that it had a white head.  After a minute or so the bird then took fright and took off to an immediate comment from JNV “It’s too big.”

Amazingly within just a few wing beats it already began to soar and we had excellent ventral and dorsal views for the minute or so that it took to gain altitude and depart.  The wings were large and “blocky” or squarish and the flight was very sluggish and slow before it soared so easily.

The primaries were dark tipped and there were distinct black patches on the underwing at the carpal, or wrist, joint. The leading edge of the wings and the underwing coverts were a honey/tan colour and the trailing edge very pale with just the slightest hint of dark tips to the secondaries.  The chin area was the same yellow-brown colour as was the spotted and mottled belly and dark thighs (with the chest just slightly paler).  As mentioned above the head was totally white and the rest of the dorsal view revealed a largely uniform brown to tan colouration but the dark patches at the carpal joint were again noticeable.  One of the most striking features was the tail as it was extremely pale and appeared almost translucent whilst very faintly barred with pale cinnamon barring.

We spent the next hour pouring over the various field guides that invariably litter the back seat of the car and came to the unanimous conclusion that we had just seen a Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus).  Due to the still pale tips to the trailing edge of the wing probably an immature or just sub-adult bird.

A very very rare bird in southern Africa and we were ecstatic.

Onward to Divundu and then past Popa Falls to a delightful riverside lodge from where we would explore the Mahango National Park in which we found several more ‘needed’ birds. Two nights there and back eastward to another lodge on the Kwando River from where we explored the newly formed and very remote Mudumu National Park.

This post is supposed to be about the Zambezi ……. OK ……. the next stop was Kalizo Lodge just east of Katima Mulilo and it is right on the great Zambezi.

Kalizo

Kalizo Lodge

What a delightfully refreshing place.  Jan and I are very fortunate to own a roof-top tent which is just perfect for this sort of campsite.

Kalizo

Kalizo Camp Site

Birding around here was also excellent and we were very surprised to discover Miombo Blue-eared Starlings about which are well separated from the rest of the southern African population.  The southern limit of the Angolan birds I suppose.

Zambezi

The magnificent Zambezi River

After two brilliant days there, it was back to Vic Falls.

Rapids

Rapids above the Falls

Rapids

Scanning the rocks for Pratincole

It happened to be Jan’s birthday so I felt she should be treated to dinner at the legendary Victoria Falls Hotel

Vic Falls

Vic Falls Hotel
“Garden with a view”

And the dinner ………

Vic Falls Hotel

“The Dinner”

The next day we took JNV exploring to a site he hadn’t heard of before – Chamabonda Vlei.  This extensive wetland runs east to west through the Zambezi National Park about 18 km and is very interesting for both mammals and avian species.

Chamabonda

Chamaboda Vlei

We found some good birds too.  African Crake, Common Button Quail and a lifer for JNV – Cuckoo Finch.

Eurasian Roller

Eurasian Roller

The next day it was time for JNV to leave us and to wend our way home.  Did we go the sensible way through Bulawayo?  No.  Did we take the shortest route through Lupane and Nkai? No.  We turned left at the Dete ‘crossroads’ and across the Gwaii River.

Gwaii River

Gwaii River on the road to Binga

After we ran out of tar road things got worse.

Siabuwa Road

The road to Siabuwa

At least, it was lovely and green – not like our current drought a year later.

Chizarira Gate

The Chizarira Gate

Our destination was Chizarira National Park – a new place for Jan to tick off her bucket list!

After checking in (and finding out we were the only visitors in the Park) we drove to our camp site which I had sorta kept a secret from her.

Mucheni Camp

Mucheni Camp view

She was blown away at the scale of these ‘hidden gorges’.  And then we spent the afternoon sitting quietly – with a cold beer or two – watching the rain storms over – yes you guessed it – the spectacular Zambezi Valley.

Zambezi rain storms

Rain storms over the Zambezi Valley

Next day it was a long, bumpy and, fortunately, uneventful drive home to Harare via Gokwe.

Our next Zambezi experience was not until April when Jan and I accompanied the extended McComb family on a houseboat holiday on Kariba. As always these are wonderfully over the top holidays with way too much food and possibly just about enough to drink.

Kariba house boat

The name of the houseboat was, rather suitably,  “What a Pleasure !”

Kariba Sunset

Kariba Sunset

Kariba is renowned for it’s wonderful sunsets  but the highlight for me was on our penultimate day we witnessed a mini cyclone on the lake.  It is a lousy photograph but I just had to include it.

Kariba Cyclone

Kariba ‘water spout’

That weather can easily be described as mean and nasty and ugly but also beautiful!

By early May, I had managed to conjure up sufficient evidence to persuade Jan that we needed to go back to Mphingwe Lodge in Moçambique. So off we went.

Catapu Pan

‘Lac Catapu’ was the fullest I have ever seen it.

The lodge is set right in the forest and as evidence, I post a pic of this butterfly on my side-table in the outside lounge area.

 

Gold-banded Forester

Golden-banded Forester  Euphaedra neophron

This may be way out of context for this post but I couldn’t resist it!  Land Rover owners will understand and probably not forgive me…….

Land Rover

Land Rover under repair!

One of my main reasons for making this trip was to explore the Zangue River delta.  The Zangue is a minor tributary of the Zambezi and due to the terrain being so flat and low lying a large delta forms when water levels are high.  I knew I had clients later in the year who wanted to go there so a reconnaissance was obligatory.

Zangue River Delta

Zangue River Delta – as far as the eye can see!

It was only a few weeks later, still in May, that it was time for Jan’s annual “Ladies trip” on a Kariba Houseboat.

Kariba Motor Vessel

MV Chessa Too

She had a good time – I am sure many G & T’s were consumed –

Tilapia spp

Fishing in Kariba

And the compulsory sunsets captured ……

Kariba Sunset

Kariba Sunset

Having seen out May, we needed to return to Victoria Falls in June for me, as outgoing President, to chair my last BirdLife Zimbabwe AGM.  Yes, some constitutionally limited Presidential terms still work!  I said to Jan that as we would be driving right past the Kazuma National Park we should pop in to have a look for two very good reasons. 1. I had last been there in the early 1970’s which is a long time ago. 2. Jan had *never* been there.

Way back in time it was called the Kazuma Depression – a huge wetland of no use to the myriad of cattle ranches surrounding it.  Sometime in the ’60’s the then government (mis?) appropriated these ranches and turned them into the Matetsi Safari Area which still exists to this day and the “depression” was declared a National Park, its purpose being to act as a wildlife refuge from the surrounding hunting area.

Jan agreed with my reasoning so we set off for the Falls days earlier than necessary.  To get to Kazuma you need to drive to the tiny border town of Pandamatenga and then head north following the Botswana border.

Botswana border

The road to Kazuma. The graded area on the left is the Zim/Botswana border

Then you simply follow the signage ….

Kazuma National Park

Kazuma sign posts

We were booked to stay in Nsiza Camp which simply doesn’t exist.  Just choose a spot and it’s yours.

Kazuma

Nsiza Camp

I chose that rather bleak looking patch of Mopane for the morning view from our tent.

Kazuma Pan

Kazuma Pan

The second night we moved to Kachetechete Camp.  Won’t bother next time except …….

Kachetechete

Kachetechete camp

…… I took this pic of our two chairs from the spot where a couple of African Wild Dog, Painted Hunting Dog to some, chased an Impala through camp whilst we were sipping cold beers in the aforementioned chairs.  Camera of course not to hand !!

There is quite a lot of game in the Park.

Kazuma Elephant

Kazuma Elephant

And of course, birds ….

Double-banded Sandgrouse

Double-banded Sandgrouse

Quite pleased with that one!

Anyway, it was now time for me to attend that bloody meeting.  It had been decided to time it to coincide with the Vic Falls Marathon so as to get the best publicity and exposure for BirdLife. To the extent we branded a hire bus and took a whole bunch of members up there for the festivities.

Vulture Awareness Program

BirdLife Zimbabwe Bus

Then there was the Marathon, and a full day of Vulture awareness conference activities.

Vic Falls Marathon

Vic Falls Marathon

Vulture Awareness Conference

Vulture Awareness Conference

Then the bloody AGM and finally sundowners overlooking the Falls and Gorges.

Vic Falls Gorge

Zambezi Gorge at Vic Falls

Vic Falls Sunset

Sundowners at last ….!

June was busy busy busy.  A local safari operator runs a small exclusive lodge on the Zambezi (funny that) at Nyamoumba Island.  This was a location I know well from years ago when it was a humble fishing camp. The now concessionaires needed a comprehensive bird list for the area and approached BirdLife for assistance.  Finding volunteers was not difficult.

Very clever roof that …. it is well laid second-hand conveyor belting.

Nyamoumba

Nyamoumba View

The view from the front lawn is amazing and, yes, the conical hill is in Zambia.  After my Sandgrouse here is a very lousy pic ….

Nyamoumba Pel's Fishing Owl

Pel’s Fishing Owl

Well, the bird list was done and I resolved that when my extended family visited, from Australia and the Philippines, that Nyamoumba was just the place to initiate them into Africa and as they were due in August it was barely a month until we were back again.

Nyamoumba Lodge Pool

Nyamoumba Lodge

It was warmer in August so the pool was utilised.

We also used the boats a bit more as I was not “listing” birds.

Going up the Kariba Gorge towards the dam wall is an amazing experience.

Nyam104

And this time, Elaine (the chick with the Wine) got a decent picture of the Pel’s Fishing Owl

Pel's Fishing Owl

A much much better shot

Sign Nyamoumba

The old campsite sign

I found the old National Parks sign to the camp we used to use decades ago.

My goodness, we were busy people.  After I had seen off the herds of extended family it was time to leave on the Matusadona National Park annual Game Count.  We were driving in via Magunje and once in the Park we decided to camp en-route to Tashinga and we chose a picturesque spot in the Gubu River.  Carl prefers to use a hammock.

Gubu River Hammock

The hammock set-up procedure

I prefer a tent.

Bubu River camp

My chosen spot

After leaving the next day we needed to set up two campsites – one in Tashinga for nights two and four and the other for our overnight 24-hour vigil.

Tashinga camp site

My Tashinga Site

Game Count

24-hour game count site

The Game Count was organised and managed by the Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project (MAPP)

MAPP

Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project vehicle

After the 24 hours was up we had developed an almost unquenchable thirst and because Kariba lake levels were very low we could drive to the resort on Spurwing Island where many beers were consumed.

Causeway to Spurwing Island

Causeway to Spurwing Island

There was time for some birding in Tashinga before we returned to Harare.

Ok ok – nearly done now.  I had clients coming and they arrived on December the 2nd but not in Harare. In Beira !!  So I was off to Moçambique to pick them up.  I was a little early for their flight from Johannesburg so I waited patiently at Clube Nautico.

Beira

2M at Clube Nautico in Beira

Picked the three of them up (including JNV !) and off we went.  Firstly to Rio Savane.

Rio Savane

Rio Savane

To get to Rio Savane, you need to cross the river on a boat taxi.  Lots of accommodation options from camping to little cabins to some rather more luxurious chalets.  This is the one we stayed in.

Rio Savane Chalet

Rio Savane Chalet

Birding around the area is very rewarding and we were soon picking up ‘lifers’  for the crew.  Locust Finch, Wattled Crane, Lesser Jacana, Lesser Sandplover and some other interesting things ….

Butterfly

Tiny Butterfly

Tree Frog

This tiny Tree Frog is on the bonnet of the Cruiser. That’s the gap between the bonnet and the fender

After a few days, we packed up and took off again, northwards to Mphingwe again and the Zambezi Delta.  All the Panga Panga (Milettia stuhlmannii) were in flowerPanga Panga

Panga Panga flowers (Milettia stuhlmannii)   

Then we headed off through the “Coutada” Hunting Concessions 11 & 12 where we had fantastic birding.  Black-headed Apalis, East-coast Akalat, White-chested Alethe just to get started.  The Miombo woodland is stunning and so very much more magnificent than the piddly stuff we get in Zimbabwe.

Brachystegia speciformis

Msasa tree (Brachystegia Speciformis) (the editor can confirm that’s a bloody big Msasa)

How is that for a huge Msasa??!!

After several hours, we started to enter the Zambezi Delta.

Zambezi Delta

Zambezi Delta in Coutada 11

This is pretty much the end of the road – and indeed of this very long post. Undoubtedly the birding highlight of the trip was a cracking Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo which was a lifer for all of us !!

Thanks for listening ….

Boots

A year of hard walking !!

Cheers for now

Tony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi again to those in the ether…….

This trip from way back in 2003 was awesome…….

Just wait until I post the pictures………………

Enjoy

Botswana and Namibia

The first tentative enquiries for making this trip were made as far back as July 2002 and actual planning started in early October of that year. The overall concept was for Tony, Jan (TW & JB) and their friend Andrew Scothern (AJS) from the UK to tour through the Kalahari to Etosha and then on to a delightful riverside campsite on the Okavango River. As will transpire this plan was bent and massaged significantly en route. The objective ? To show AJS a bunch of Africa he had not previously seen on prior visits; to have a damn good holiday and for TW to squeeze in as much serious birding as possible without boring the others too much.

AJS arrived from Heathrow on time at 06h45 on Friday 11th April and was promptly transferred to our house to unpack very gratefully received goodies and to generally recover from what has never been a particularly easy flight. TW went off to work which actually involved little more than traipsing around the office saying farewell to colleagues and filing a last monthly and weekly report. At about 12h30 TW fetched AJS for a well earned lunch at the Harare Club from which we rolled home in rather poor but high spirited condition. At lunch AJS met a few old business acquaintances and caught up on the news in the city.

D-day – We are off……………….

Saturday saw us up fairly bright and early to commence the task of packing the vehicle, a Mazda B2500D 4×4 Twin Cab. This started with the fitting of a new roof rack which incorporates a 60 litre fuel tank and also carried chairs, tables gas bottles and a few other fillers like a case of wine for JB. We finally concocted a suitable and acceptable configuration within the back of the pick up when Daryll arrived with more kit for us to haul across Africa for two weeks before meeting up with him in the Okavango region. A quick reorganisation got this packed and we were ready to roll by 10h30 and we ‘hit the road’.

Our intended destination was Bulawayo which was accomplished uneventfully by late afternoon. As Zimbabwe seems eternally to be in the midst of a fuel crisis the roof top tank was christened and the truck once again fully fuelled in a matter of minutes. We were staying at a friends house and his daughter Emma had prepared a great dinner for us and to cap it all had invited over a whole bunch of our Bulawayo friends and a merry time was had by all. Thanks Emma !! Dunx also very kindly and bravely lent JB a digital camera for the trip. Thanks Dunx !!

Into Botswana ……..

Sunday morning very early we were up and on our way to Plumtree because the Ramokwebane border post into Botswana becomes very unpleasant after 07h00 with the simultaneous arrival from Bulawayo and Francistown of bus loads of indigenous informal cross border traders. We were early enough for all formalities on both sides to be over within about half an hour and we proceeded to Francistown where we refuelled both tanks and then had a leisurely breakfast at one of the ubiquitous Wimpy establishments. After brekkies we started on the long haul to Gaborone, arriving at the delightful home of Peter and Helen (HellsBells) Bell. Wonderful hospitality ensued and after breakfast the next morning we commenced another long haul north eastwards to rather quickly pick up our first speeding fine ! (87 in an 80 limit)

This Monday leg was 690Km to the metropolis of Ghanzi in the Central Kalahari Desert. About a third of the way there near the ‘town’ of Kang we picked up our second fine (77 in a 60 limit) and it started to rain and drizzle for the rest of the drive. Arriving in Ghanzi at last light we checked into the Kalahari Arms Hotel. (Great camping trip this !) Dinner was excellent, the beer cold and the red wine warm so we were doing swimmingly thus far.

Into Namibia…………….

Tuesday we were off at dawn with a magnificent sunrise heading directly west to the Namibian border at Buitepos. It was still drizzling and continued to do so all of the 520Km to Windhoek !

About mid morning we stopped in a lay-bye and quickly heated up great leftovers kindly given to us by HellsBells. It was brilliant and we received very strange looks from passing vehicles as we stood under a tree in the rain with the Skottle going, each with a fork in one hand, beer in the other, tucking into ham and six veg. We arrived in Windhoek at lunch time and as it was still drizzling booked into a great little truck park where the self catering chalets are all one needs. We still ate in the restaurant and AJS tucked into a huge portion of medallions of Springbok and Gemsbok. These camping holidays are really tiresome.

During the afternoon we had parked ourselves in the centre of the city and embarked on some serious retail therapy. TW had prearranged the purchase of a 40 litre “Engel” camping freezer from a company called Cymot Greensport and apart from a few irritations with various combinations of credit cards this was successfully accomplished but only after we had worked out why Windhoek shops close from 14h00 to 15h00 ! Being so far west he Namibians have ‘winter daylight saving’ and we had gained an hour at Buitepos. Other retail stuff involved some serious grocery shopping because we were on a camping trip – right ? Also some compulsory stuff like new bird books, booze, reading specs for specs lost in Harare by AJS (more on this later).

Into the fray……………..

The next morning TW found a Grey-backed Cisticola (in the rain) and we discovered that the new Engel freezes absolutely brilliantly but would not work in the previously installed car socket !! Back to Cymot and extremely good service involving the big boss taking us to their fitment centre and after simply fixing a faulty fuse we were on our way north with the freezer running, to Okahandja, Karibib and Omaruru. It was still raining and irritation is starting to set in – especially with AJS who had travelled half way around the world to ‘sunshine in the desert’. Around mid morning TW sees his first ‘lifer’ – a White-tailed Shrike – and it is time to stop for a beer ! Whilst this small interlude, just before Karibib, is in progress some discussions were held over which route to take to Omaruru when JB notices it is a mere 200Km detour to Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast !! TW ‘cracks’ another tinnie and says “OK – lets go – AJS – you drive !”

This is the first time AJS has driven the truck and as we start getting into serious Namib type desert he is having a bit of difficulty with holding a straight line. We stop for JB to study some cactii and AJS to take videos and are nearly blown over by a quite awesome desert wind. Steering problem resolved or at least understood !

We get into Swakopmund (the mouth of the Swakop River) and drive directly to the beach for JB to dip her tootsies in a very chilly Benguela current in the Atlantic. With the assistance of a very helpful shop keeper we find an excellent Pension to stay in. Yes it may have stopped raining but remember the wind ! She also has identified a cool restaurant made from a tug hauled up onto the beach and she ‘phones and makes a table booking for us. So after showers and a change of clothes we ensconce ourselves in the “Tug Pub” with litre glasses of German draught beer and a Campari and fresh orange for JB. The wind blows up a real storm during an excellent dinner with great Delheim red wine. The Pension provides us with an excellent breakfast which we eat with gusto after a dawn stroll down the beach. After purchasing some more film for AJS and sunglasses for JB we fill up with fuel and drive out of town.

Back to Karibib ? No chance – directly North up the Skeleton Coast !

This is all a well surfaced “salt” road. I will not even attempt to describe the next 250 odd Km. The words awesome, amazing, mind-blowing and life-changing will about suffice. More simply put – if you get the chance – do it ! If you don’t get the chance – engineer the chance !

At Torra Bay we turned right on the road to Khorixas and after a short while started having a few problems with sand so 4×4 hubs were engaged in case of urgent need and we proceed after having a good look at the Welwitchia plants. We passed Namibia’s Great Table Mountain, cracked four more lifers (Burchells Courser, Mountain Wheatear, Ruppels Korhaan and Herero Chat) and promptly drove back into RAIN. After about 100Km we turned left to Palmwag where we refuelled and then proceeded north in ever increasing darkness arriving in Sesfontein at about 19h30.

Its dark, its raining, I’m knackered ! Put up tents ? No chance ! With some difficulty we arouse the staff of the Sesfontein Fort which charges us an exorbitant tariff for quite a nice suite of rooms. Too late for dinner but we have cheese biscuits, tins of tuna and mussels, bread for AJS’s sarmie, red wine and a bunch of cold beer and a table to sit around so we eat, drink and retire.

The ‘hotel’ provides an excellent breakfast and with AJS behind the wheel we point, still north, to Opuwo, on quite a good dirt road and it has stopped raining. Half way there we stop for AJS to see a Crimson-breasted Shrike and I crack Monteiro’s Hornbill. We come around a corner to the most amazing sight – the road is tarred ! And if that’s not enough – it points upwards ! At a 1:2 ratio ! We engage the low range gear box and simple bumble up to the top (only about 800 meters) to discover a vista of green wooded rocky hills and streams. We have this amazing scenery (and a brilliant lifer in Violet Woodhoopoe) all the way into Opuwo which I must say is a bit of a dump. We refuel and head north west on the D3700 (this is only remembered because there was no other signage).

Before Opuwo we had already started to encounter the Himba peoples who are indeed strange in their Iron Age clothing or rather lack of clothing. They are a nomadic tribe who cover their skins in ochre and spread butter fat everywhere including their hair and wear little else than tiny leather aprons and amazing iron and bead ornaments. No time here for more of that – look them up at the library. Just before the town of Okongwati we turn right and drive, in four wheel drive, the last 56Km to the Angolan border and the world renowned Epupa Falls !

Don’t say I didn’t warn you that we were going to bend and batter the original plans. We quickly, and surprisingly efficiently, set up our first camp of the trip !! It is Good Friday and the camp site is very full but very pleasant with flushing toilets and hot and cold showers. I suppose that generally it is only those of a kindred spirit who venture into such remote places which makes for politeness, understanding and willing hands from all around you.

The car doors were barely open when JB says “Look up there !” TW does and there is a Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush !!! This is the only place in southern Africa where this species occurs and was my secret reason for wanting to show AJS the falls !!

Epupa…………..

The Epupa Falls ? I guess at times of low water they would be quite pretty and pleasant to explore. At times of high water – which is coincidentally April – UNBELIEVABLE !!! In terms of noise and spray it is synonymous with the Victoria Falls. AJS and TW said this to each other almost simultaneously ! The three of us were awe struck !

The huge Kunene River (which demarcates the Namibian & Angolan border) spreads out over what looked like more than a kilometre to split up and plunge through countless little ravines and crevasses. Water flowing and tumbling around rocks, Baobab trees, palms and fever trees growing all over the place and the constant calling of mourning doves and peach-faced lovebirds adding to the spectacle. The total drop over a couple of kilometres is probably not more than 60 or 70 metres but the scale and tropical feeling make it worth every minute of the effort to get there. Let alone the Palm Thrush !

So, after a week on the road we have finally camped and “roughed it” ? Hardly ! We all had mattresses (no sleeping bags mind you – sheets and light duvet’s), two more than adequate tents, a functioning freezer, plenty of firewood, 12v fluorescent lighting in tents and around camp. Kitchen table and cooking area. A table, with chairs, to lay for dinner. Table cloth, cutlery, condiments, silver wine goblets and a beer bottle for a candle stick. I can’t for the life of me recall what we had for our candle lit dinner (wine was in there somewhere) but it was excellent and with the warm and dry weather who could ask for more ?

And onwards……..

After taking a bunch of video at sunset the day before AJS sensibly went off to get some more footage of sunrise over the Falls and as there is no reason to hang around just because the camp is comfortable – there are things to do and birds to find – we pack and leave after wandering around camp to gather local knowledge about how to get upstream (going east for the first time) to Ruacana Falls.

Following our route in we return to the Okongwati turn off and retrace for a while to the turning to the Kunene River Lodge. En route TW adds the Madagascar species of Olive bee-eater, White-throated Canary, Carp’s Tit, Chestnut Weaver and Ruppels Parrot to the list. All lifers – Wow !! We had some seriously impressive river crossings on this leg but we arrived at the lodge unscathed to discover a first world pub where it was deemed necessary to pause for a while so more local knowledge could be acquired. This took several hours and turned out to be necessary as our original destination was deemed unsuitable and we should stay at a better camp site than the one we had earmarked.

This was accomplished, via an awesome river crossing, and we arrived at the Cunene-Omunjandi Rest Camp, and after another successful camp site being set up we once again retired after a candle lit dinner. Early morning TW found the Kunensis sub-species of the Red-necked Francolin and we proceeded to Ruacana Falls.

These are not nearly as impressive as Epupa having been disrupted by the building of an Angolan Hydro Electric scheme but still looked good from a distance due to the high water levels. We spent some time wandering around this area looking for the remaining two specials for the area but having failed and with long distances to cover that day we left (but I did find the newly split Damara Hornbill). All this really means is that TW will have to return at a later date to get the last two specials for his southern African list.

To Etosha…………………

The 175Km from Ruacana to the Etosha turn off was interesting in that there are large expanses of marshland, an unbelievable number of shebeen type pubs (literally thousands – including one called Botol Stor), goats, cattle, locals, traffic and small town after small town meant obeying very irritating speed limits every few kilometres. We eventually entered Etosha via the famous von Lindequist Gate, by passed the first camp site and proceeded to the central Halali camp where we checked in and set up camp.

After recent rains the park was very different in comparison to our last visit. Water and puddles everywhere and it was all generally very green. After supper we spent a few fruitless hours at the flood-lit water hole and retired. The next day we spent an hour or two touring around the local drives (I picked up a Great Sparrow and Pink-billed Lark).

We returned to camp so TW and AJS could change the engine oil in the vehicle (thanks to Nam National Parks for the loan of the pit.) We also found some of the resident owls (White-faced and Scops) before breaking camp and spending the remainder of the day leisurely touring back towards the first camp, Namutoni, where we set it all up again and once again embarked on candle-lit dinners. Next day saw us traipsing around a few local drives in search of, and finding, the diminutive Damara Dik-dik and some beautiful Dusky Larks. Fuel was purchased and we headed for Tsumeb.

East then North ……………….

It is now Tuesday the 22nd of April and Tsumeb is a delightfully colonial mining town where we embarked on separate missions to get groceries, get booze, get some hardware items for running repairs, get cash and a few gifts ending up in the Etosha Cafe & Biergarten which we highly recommend for light meals and a few cold beers.

From Tsumeb we drive to the site of the Hoba Meteorite, the largest in the world, and essentially a block of about 50 tons of stainless steel – an interesting stop and not too much of a detour. Then on to Grootfontein for a few abortive retail attempts, fuel and then North east we go with the sunset to Roy’s Camp. (52Km from Grootfontein).

It’s late, we are tired, the chalets look delightful, we check in. The proprietor informs us they are full for dinner so can we cope ? Of course we can – we got beer – we got wine – we got firewood – we got pasta – we got tins of stuff – its warm and dry – no problem. The next morning a leisurely breakfast (included in the chalet price), a conversation with Mrs. Proprietor about the worries of farming in southern Africa and we are back on the road.

It is 196Km to Rundu along what must be the longest runway in the world. This dead straight road was built by the South African Defence Forces during Namibia’s “troubles” and can handle a C130 Hercules anywhere along the whole distance !!! At Rundu, a rather poxy little overcrowded town, we are, again, on the Angolan Border but this time the border demarcation is the Okavango River. Here we bought some groceries required by folk back home in Zimbabwe and of course re-fuelled both the diesel and beer stocks before turning directly eastward and following the border for another 200Km to the metropolis of Divundu where only one of the two petrol stations was operating, re-fuelled and turned directly south, still following the Okavango River, towards Botswana.

To Drotsky’s……………..

We crossed back into Botswana at Mohembo Border Post. Rather sadly this is being modernised – on previous visits this was a very quaint little hut under a tree – but progress is progress I suppose. It is only a matter of about 60Km from the border to the village of Shakawe and from there about 10Km to Drotsky’s Camp where we arrived at about 16h00 a mere 20 minutes or so after the previously mentioned Daryll and his buddy Dan White had themselves arrived. Camp was quickly laid out, erected, cooking area, lighting, parking, firewood and dining area organised. A veritable little nylon city in about 25 minutes ! Over dinner that night we resolve to spend the next day at Tsodilo Hills.

The Tsodilo Hills lie about 40Km off the main road and I am happy to report that this journey which last year took us four hours each way was now accomplished in 40 minutes. Amazing what you can do with a bulldozer, some substrate and the will. Well done Botswana ! The hills themselves are reputed by the Bushmen (San) folk to be the birthplace of mankind and we had one major objective which was to find the stone-age paintings of whales and a Penguin !! Remember we are in the middle of the Kalahari desert and about 1000Km from the coast !! OK – so they are primitive line drawings and maybe they are poor representations of a courser or plover and some cat-fish from the lake that once covered the Kalahari – but JB and TW agreed that they sure looked like whales and a penguin. Cool. We explored lots, climbed a few hills, quick picnic lunch, kazillions of photo’s of the amazing colours of the lichens, shadows and sunlit bits. A truly amazing place.

Over another candle-lit dinner we decide to squeeze two ventures into the following day and as we anticipate this will be a very long day we organise to have dinner prepared for us in the adjacent restaurant, and retire for an early start.

Mahengo ……………….

On Friday we rose early and headed north, back into Namibia (I know, I know – we did a LOT of border crossing) to visit the delightful Mahengo game park. Not too much game about but that’s luck but some beautiful spots and cool birding. I could show off Coppery-tailed Coucal and the elusive Sharp-tailed Starling and I found the white-billed sub-species of the Village Indigobird.

The Kudu were awesome but it was time to head home to Drotsky’s (back into Botswana – again) for our rendezvous with the boatman to take us fishing on the Okavango river. Enough said.

Daryll caught an imminently let-go-able Tiger fish and said boatman caught two very nice Robustus but he doesn’t count !

Sunset and compulsory sundowners were however really lovely.

A tired little quintet returned to Drotsky’s to find the pub humming and about 25 people for dinner. We made new acquaintances every few minutes and once again the kindred spirit took over and a great Boeuf Stroganoff dinner was had by all.

Just chilling ……………….

Daryll and Dan left us on Saturday morning and the three remaining adventurers wandered about 4Km downstream to another campsite with the express intention of finding JB and AJS a Pels’ Fishing Owl which was accomplished relatively easily. We returned to Drotsky’s and, to coin a phrase, “just blobbed” for the rest of the day.

Sunday saw a repeat performance with time spent alternating between occupying bar stools, eating, and a small amount of birding during which I found the Luapula Cisticola, a recent split from Black-backed Cisticola. JB also did a wonderful job of washing the car.

Birding around Drotsky’s is generally excellent with Brown-throated Weaver, Swamp Boubou, Purple-banded and Collared Sunbirds, Hartlaub’s and Arrow-marked Babblers, Coppery-tailed, Senegal and White-browed Coucals and the evenings are full of wonderfully calling Barn, Wood, Spotted-eagle, Giant-eagle and White-faced Owls.

To Vic Falls ……………….

Monday saw us packing up camp and heading for Zimbabwe.

To do this we needed to cross back into Namibia, again at Mohembo, back past Popa Falls to Divundu and crossing the Okavango over a bridge into the Caprivi Game Park and heading east about 200Km to Katima Mulilo where we re-fuelled and drove south about 80Km to Ngoma Bridge where we left Namibia and, crossing the Chobe River, went back into Botswana and eastward to Kasane. Phew !

In our efforts to re-fuel we managed to get a bit lost here but eventually succeeded and on leaving had our first glimpse of a very full Zambezi river. We crossed our last border post, Kazungula, back into Zimbabwe and drove through the Zambezi National Park (lots of Elephant) to Victoria Falls where we met up with Greg Watson. (Emma ? Remember Emma ? Greg is her father) Greg had kindly arranged for us to stay in a very nice lodge and we had a wonderful Beef Fillet for dinner along with plenty of beer as TW and Watson catch up with each others lives..

Homeward bound ……………….

On Tuesday morning we left the Falls early and drove directly to Robin’s camp in the Hwange National Park.

From here we slowly threaded our way down the 160Km to Main Camp. We saw plenty of elephant but not much else and only passed one car – a sad reflection of what is happening to our beloved Zimbabwe.

Having left Hwange we headed for Bulawayo, arriving there at sunset. We took Emma and her boyfriend out to dinner at the Brass Monkey and retired early so as to be fresh for our last drive.

Wednesday saw us back in Harare by mid-afternoon.

A “trip list” of 233 bird species included 18 “lifers” for TW and all in all a wonderful, if hectic, holiday.

The bird count actually works out at a smidgen over 32Km travelled per new species seen.

AJS’ glasses ?

Remember the glasses.

Sometime before we left Harare AJS had dropped his glasses in our drive way and on departure I simply ran over them !! All is well however, that ends well because apart from the frames being quite seriously bent, the lenses were intact.