10 May 2008

The Erongo Wilderness Lodge

Peregrine's Bird Photographers Recommendations

On todays blog I am not going to recommend a photographer but I am going to recommend A Guide who can take you on a Birding or Photography Tour in Namibia. He is Vernon Swanepoel who runs Frantic Naturalist Tours and Safaris He was raised in the remote Kaisut desert in Northern Kenya, where he developed a love for the desert. He studied nature conservation and became a guide in Namibia. At the end of 2000 he moved to Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge, where he developed a serious interest in the desert ecology and in the birds of the area. He then completed his Inkwazi Ranger Training School at Phinda and took over the role of head ranger and lodge naturalist. He has extensive knowledge of all aspects of the desert including archaeology, geology, behaviour and adaptation of desert fauna and flora, and a special interest in both the birds and the reptiles. So if you need a really good guide he is your man!!

On our last morning at Walvis Bay I looked out of the window and an Artic Skua was chasing some Terns less than a hundred yards from my hotel room. I grabbed my camera and took a shot for it to say no card in camera. When will I learn. We left the Pelican Bay Hotel, which we felt was pretty awful. Nobody smiled or said hallo when you came into the hotel. Our hotel rooms air conditioning wasn’t working one of the lights wasn’t working and the shower head came to about waist height. They had a card to be filled out saying Hot or Not. Well in our opinion definitely Not.The only thing I would recommend is the view.

We drove on a tarred road to Swakopmund where incredibly frustratingly we had to wait for the next six hours while Penny made phone call after phone call and we went from garage to garage while they tried to make their mind up what the problem was with our car. In the end a spare hire car was brought to us from Walvis Bay. It was such a frustrating wait and I had planned to go to this rocky outcrop on the way to our next lodge to try and catch up with a near endemic called the Herero Chat. So that had to be cancelled while we drove on to our next lodge. Just as we turned of the main road for the last few kilometres to the lodge there was a massive thunderstorm in the distance.

The Erongo Wilderness Lodge is nestled amongst granite outcrops on the outskirts of an ancient volcano.
It is flanked by the Namib Desert to the West and mixed-woodland savannah to the East, the mountains form a rare confluence of ecosystems that give rise to a remarkable biodiversity, including a vast array of plant, reptile, mammal and bird species that are endemic to Namibia.The endemic birds I wanted to see were the Hartlaub's Francolin, The Rockrunner and the Carp's Tit. It was truly an amazing place once you turn left at the above sign you only have to drive about 600 metres but you have to have a good four wheel vehicle as there is a fairly steep rockface that you have to drive up to get to the lodge.There is parking further away and you can be collected. Within five minutes of being taken to our tented accommodation I vowed I would be back.

This is what it looks like from inside.

How often can you say that about a destination. I sat on the balcony with a nice bottle of cold Windhoek beer and watched firstly a Rock Kestrel calling and flying to a nest in the outcrop directly in front of us followed shortly after by a Monteiro’s Hornbill taking food to its young.

Closer to our tent was a Grey Go Away Bird and some Red Eyed Bulbul’s.

We then made our way up to get our dinner in the restaurant. It was a set menu and excellent. There were a couple of German birders and it transpired that one of them, Jürgen Lehnert, who spoke excellent English , was one of the top 25 world listers with just short of 7000 species to his name. He had started in 1990 and he reckoned it had cost him £200,000 and a marriage so far!!!!! Talking to him nearly cost me mine as well!!

After a bad night's sleep we had opted to go on the Eagle Walk at 7.00am. We left with our guide Regan and had barely gone a few yards when he pointed out a Diderick Cuckoo, at this stage it was just light and I got a record shot at most.Then within a very short distance i I got another record shot of a Klaas's Cuckoo. We headed up into the granite outcrop behind the camp and spotted Lovebirds, Spotted Flycatcher, Sabota Lark, Yellow Bellied Eremomela and a Rockrunner in the far off distance (Not really a tick) We climbed higher and higher until we came to the top of the mountain and then it was down the mountain which at times was quite steep. We looked over towards a rocky outcrop and saw firstly a Yellow Billed Kite and then further up in the sky a Verraux's Eagle or Black eagle as they are called here..

The Verraux's Eagle nests on this outcrop. You can find out more about it Here
On the walk there were a fair few different species of Butterfly of which these two were the easiest to photograph. The African Monarch

After our walk we had our breakfast where we met Jurgen again. He had been feeding the birds from the restaurant with the muesli and had attracted 18 different species. I spent most of the rest of the day photographing birds from the restaurant.

Cape Glossy Starling

Carp's Tit

Laughing Dove

Rosy Faced Lovebirds These are beautiful little birds and it is such a tragedy to see them in captivity when you realise the habitat that they live in. (They are a popular house bird in many parts of the world)

Monteiro's Hornbill I loved these birds as they seem to have a great character.

Namibian Rock Agama This is a male with the female having a totally different colour.

On our final evening we went for a guided drive to see some cave paintings by bushmen around 3000 years ago.

However on the way there we saw a Hartlaub's Francolin which made my whole day as I was getting worried that after three days I would have only heard one as opposed to seen one.

The cave paintings were quite impressive and well preserved. On the way back we saw a Kudu in the distance on a hilltop.
He looked suitably majestic. We also came across some Guineafowl which were making a great racket and a Roller flew overhead. While the two swiss tourists and penny had a beer watching the sun go down. Regan, the guide, and I went for a walk and came across a Bare Cheeked Babbler and a Black bellied Korhaan. We also came across some very fresh Leopard tracks in a river bed. I was quite relieved to get back to the safety of the Landrover.

I have to say i think the food at the lodge was absolutely excellent as was the service. In the evening you get a three course set meal and they have a very good wine list ranging from a few quid a bottle upto about twenty. They also serve an absolutely fantastic thirst quencher called the Rock Shandy. It is half lemonade, half soda water a splash of angostura bitters and loads of ice. Brilliant. Go on Try It.

On the final morning I got up early and it was a bit overcaste and I got a shot of the endemic Rockrunner. It was taken in fairly low light at a high iso so the image is quite noisy.

I also climbed a hill to take a photo of the Lodge area

and as I was doing so this Black Kite flew overhead.I was using a flash with better beamer to light up its underside.

As we were having our breakfast before setting of to the Etosha National Park this Rosy Faced Lovebird appeared on a rock just outside the restaurant. I like to think he was coming to say goodbye and hoping we would be back soon :-)