Benenden

Trollope's Bird Notes
May 2017
From the Benenden Magazine

Read the April 2017 notes by clicking here

Namibia Part 3. Caprivi Strip - Okavango Chobe National Park - Botswana, Victoria Falls - Zimbabwe

Leaving Etosha we motored North East to the Caprivi Strip, which is a strip of land belonging to Namibia (formerly German SW Africa) squeezed between Angola and Botswana. This land was purchased from the British by Leo von Caprivi, the German Chancellor, in the 1890s. In exchange the Germans gave up their interests in Zanzibar; the idea was to get access to the Indian Ocean but his plans were thwarted by the Victoria Falls!

The habitat became more wooded as we ventured north-westwards, yielding new species including hornbills and birds of prey. The most impressive of the raptors was the Martial Eagle, a large erect eagle with crested head and white breast flecked with fine black spots. One could see how he got his name. Hornbills are big birds with long tails and large decurved bills. The Southern Red-billed Hornbill, with striking black and white plumage, was a good sight both in a tree and in flight.

As we neared the flood plains of the Okavango River there were a few bee-eaters to be seen, including the beautiful pink plumage, turquoise crown and rump and long tail streamers of the Carmine Bee-eater. This was a very special bird which I had very much wanted to see when I went to Kenya 36 years ago but failed. Close by was the lovely Blue-cheeked Bee-eater; both these bee-eaters winter here before leaving to breed, the Carmine elsewhere in Africa and the Blue-cheeked in the Middle-East. Sometimes, though, they from their course and a Blue-cheeked Bee-eater was found in St Margaret’s at Cliffe in July 2009.

We ‘glamped’ by the Okavango, which is a very unusual river in that it flows inland and ends up in a swamp called the Okavango Delta. The river was about 60 metres wide and fast flowing and it was difficult to imagine where it all ended. The annual flow is about 11 cubic kilometres, which then spreads over 15,000 square kilometres and eventually evaporates. In 2014, the delta became the 1000th World Heritage site, which is not surprising. At night we could hear the hippos foraging close by and it was a very special place. Up at first light we could see black, orange and green African Pygmy Geese flying up the river, and it was still almost dark when a Black Crake emerged very briefly from the reeds. Breakfast by the river was rewarded by a Giant Kingfisher landing on the handrail of the pier.

Our journey then took us to Botswana and the Chobe National Park. The River Chobe used to join the Okavango but an uplift diverted it eastwards and it now joins the Zambezi. However it flows very slowly through the flood plains that form the border between Namibia and Botswana and our river trip was probably the highlight of the whole trip.

The boat followed the wooded river bank where Malachite and Pied Kingfishers used the overhanging branches to fish. A Southern Red Bishop was building its nest in the reeds, where its startling red plumage contrasted with the reeds - no camouflage there. A large flock of birds flew up the river and at first glance I thought they were terns, but as they came closer they proved to be pratincoles which are tern-sized brown birds with pointed wings and broad beaks for catching aerial prey. Both Black-winged and Collared Pratincoles were in the flock. These birds breed in the marshes around the Mediterranean, Black and Caspian seas and winter in Southern Africa, although I was lucky enough to see a stray Black-winged Pratincole at Stodmarsh a few years ago.

The boat moved out to some islands in the river where crocodiles were sunbathing and both Long-toed and White-crowned Lapwing were present. The latter is one of the prettiest lapwings, with grey head and white crown stripe together with pendulous bright yellow wattles. On the river bank amongst the water buffalo were Water Thick-knees, very much like our own Stone Curlews (sometimes called thick-knees) with their piercing yellow eyes. A Goliath Heron towered over us on the river bank, standing tall in the reeds. It really is a monster, measuring about 50% taller than our own Grey Heron. Swallows were sweeping across the river feeding on aerial prey, and included our own Barn Swallow as well as Wire-tailed and Grey-rumped Swallows.

Our next stop was the Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, where on the border we saw one of the few woodpeckers on the trip, a Bearded Woodpecker, a proper welcome to Zimbabwe after being fleeced by the border officials over visa costs! The Victoria Falls Hotel was a luxury after some of our overnight stay, and the gardens were full of the giant-beaked Trumpeter Hornbills, which make calls very reminiscent of a young and distressed baby. Our visit to the hugely impressive falls, which were at maximum flow, was somewhat spoiled as we experienced our own monsoon rains. With the spray of the falls (which can be seen from miles away) joining the rain, visibility was down to just a few feet, but the noise was thunderous and the experience unforgettable.

The final bird tally for the trip was 308 bird species, 28 mammals and six reptiles, which was far higher than I anticipated, and over the last three months I have probably described about ten species per edition. I have therefore enough material for another 28 editions! Don’t worry, this is the final one, but it gives you a sample of the diversity of this part of the globe and it is worthwhile making a visit. The trip was organised by Wild Dog Safaris, owned by Jean and Roy Chapman’s daughter.

Charles Trollope cetetal@btinternet.com

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