18 Mar 2008

A Day in The Dunes at Sossusvlei and no luck with the Dune Lark.

Peregrine's Bird Photographer Recommendation

Keeping to my African Theme My Reccomendation is Nigel Dennis Wildlife Photography

Monday 26th February

We had our alarm call at 5.30 and we went and had our breakfast before heading off with our guide and a South African couple the thirty kilometres to the gate into the National Park.It opens at Sunrise (6.45) and we had to stop on the way because an Oryx was just standing in the road then to another lodge to pick up ice for our cooler and then onto Sesriem to get our permit. I was getting slightly irritated as I had been told you need to go as the gate opens to get really good photos of the dunes, however we seemed to take for ever to get in the park. On a positive note once inside the park it was tarmac which made traveling easier. Our Guide Regan explained the geology and history of the park as we were going along. We saw some Jackals and some Springbok on our way before we stopped at the Sossusvlei lookout. Here we went into some small dunes and had a look at beetle, bird, snake and lizard tracks.Whereas my main object was to see the endemic Dune Lark. There were a number of other LBJs around which I was having a hard time identifying and I saw a Lark but wasn't sure whether it was the Dune Lark and was going to take a photo to find I had left my lens cap on and by the time I had it off it had flown. I was beginning to steam at this point.One of the LBJ's I later found out was a Grey Backed Sparrow Lark.

Our Guide pointed to some tracks tiny footprints that made their way across the sand. These he said belonged to the Dancing White Lady Spider that rests during the day upto a metre below the surface of the Namib Desert before coming out at night. The tracks stopped at the entrance to a tiny hole and after being dug up this was the beautiful result.

The drawbacks of travelling with other people was that they wanted to continue the 60 Kilometre journey to Sossusvlei and Deadvlei and I wanted to look for the Dune Lark unfortunately for me the majority won:-(. However as we were heading there I did spot the largest bird I have ever seen in the wild The Ostrich and it had two chicks.(Is that what you call baby Ostriches??)

We then stopped at the famous DUNE 45 which a number of tourists were climbing.

We were asked whether we wanted to or not. Not for me!!! A few kilometers further on I spotted a covey of Namaqua Sandgrouse on the roadside, which I got out to photograph as they all disappeared in seconds or rather I got out of the blindside of the car and crept round to photograph at the same time as our guide thought he would get out of the car. Seeth again.The only shot I got was this one as they were departing at high speed.

We get to Deadvlei which is famous for its sunken lake and dead trees.

We then headed towards it when the guide decided we were going to climb one of the dunes and descend down into it.
I had my backpack with my camera gear etc which must have weighed 20 kilos on me and Oh Yes at this stage it was 30C I got half way and had to descend early as I was exhausted. Walking on this sand is like walking in treacle every three steps you are actually going one and a half!! Penny on the other hand thoroughly enjoyed it.

It was worth it and I took loads of photos but wished it had been properly at sunrise to get the more intense colours and better shadow detail.

By the time we left my thermometer showed that it was now 40C bloody hot. Our guide then drove us to Sossusvlei where he laid out a white table cloth on a table and set up a picnic under a tree. It was a rather surreal picnic drinking South African sparkling wine accompanied by loads of Cape Sparrows and a Pied Crow.The Pied Crow tried to nick things of the table while we were eating.

On the way back I decided that while my wife went for a ride the following morning I would come back on my own and find the Dune Lark for myself.

We stopped in Sesriem on the way out of the park and I bought a permit for the following morning. We then went to Sesriem Canyon where there were a number of Swifts and Rock Martins and Rock Doves. Due to it being in the rainy season there was too much water to do a decent exploration.

Then it was back to our lodge. Penny proceeded to have a small breakdown re my birding and not talking to each other etc. The normal travails of a married birder I think!!!!

Things got better for me when I heard this bizarre frog like call coming from just in front of our room. I had absolutely no idea what it was.It turned out to be a pair of Ruppel's koorhans a few hundred metres from the lodge calling in duet.
Dinner again was pretty good apart from the beef which was rather well described by the South African Erwin ,who we had traveled with in the morning who came upto our table and said the only thing tougher than our walk this morning was the beef we were eating now. Infact most of mine was slipped to the friendly cat sitting right next to me.

Again the sky was totally clear and unlike anything I have ever seen before. The milky way was very bright and it felt as though you could almost reach out and touch it.

On my return to UK a friend, Julia, who had lived in Africa for half her life said "Do you know why an Ostrich is called an Ostrich" She said think about it when an Ostrich lays an egg it's Os Strich (Said with a Zimbabwean accent)

12 Mar 2008

From the Cheetahs at Amani Lodge, Namibia to the Wildness of the Desert at the Desert Homestead Lodge, Namibia.

Peregrine's Bird Photographer Recommendation

Remaining in Africa I am going to recommend Vincent Grafhorst a Dutch Photographer living in Botswana. His website "Khwai Photography" is HERE.

Sunday 24th February

Slept pretty well woke around seven and went outside as dawn chorus was pretty intense. There was also the lion roaring in the distance. The main birdsong was coming from a Black Chested Prinia that had a tiny nest adjacent to the bungalow

The Red Eyed Bulbul's were everywhere and there was also a male and female Scarlet Breasted Sunbird.Here is a photo of the rather drab female.

Penny and I went and had our breakfast served to us by Doreen

next to an enclosure which contained Cheetah's and this one arrived just outside window. Rather a nice backdrop to having breakfast.

After Breakfast we went with our guide on the "Big Cat Experience". We drove in an open topped 4x4 through the double gates and into the 60 hectare enclosure. It was very steep and bumpy driving down this valley. Infact so steep at one point that I had to close my eyes. We arrived at the valley bottom and the guide chucked out some zebra heart and lungs onto the ground. Within a minute five cheetahs were running down the hill towards us and stopped right beside the vehicle.

The five cheetahs were only 8 months old when they came to the Amani Lodge after being caught on farmland. Namibia is a large country with an area of 824 300 km² (321 500 sq.miles) 12 times the size of Ireland with half the population of only 1.9 million people. All regions of the country still have wildlife, including carnivores, although population numbers are often unknown . Namibia is home to approximately 25% of the world's cheetah population of which 90% live on the unique farmland habitats. It is the inevitable conflict with humans on farmland that created the demand for the establishment of these rescue centres. In nature they stay with their mothers for a year and a half. So these five have been rehabilitated and are waiting to be introduced to a national park where they can live and breed. We were told that there is only paperwork remaining before they can be released.

While we were watching there was a very loud Cape Turtle Dove in the nearby trees and a Red Backed Shrike.

We decided we had to get a move on as we had quite a long drive ahead of us. So we settled up in the office. This was the view from the office

We left Amani Lodge to drive to the Desert Homestead Lodge.

The roads are gravel and one cannot travel faster than 80k or 50mph without the danger of sliding and potentially tipping the car over.

We set off initially for Solitaire and proceeded through the bush and saw our first Pale Chanting Goshawk of which we were to see a great many.
It has to be one of the commonest birds in Namibia. You nearly always see them perched on telegraph poles. A few miles further on we saw a Yellow Billed Hornbill in this small acacia bush.

The amazing thing with Namibia is that you drive 150 kilometres and the terrain completely changes.

We went the route that Alain at Amani had recommended not the quickest but the most scenic. We left the bush into the semi desert and my main worry was whether we had enough fuel as Namibia is one of those countries that you always fill up at every petrol station as they are so far apart. Once we had left the C26 to Walvis Bay and turned left to Solitaire the countryside was absolutely vast with mountain ranges to our left and open plains to our right.

I stopped to take a few photos and a vehicle passed us and stopped a couple of kilometers in front of us which is generally a sign there is an animal or something of interest.. We caught up with it and there was the Tropic of Capricorn sign which Penny had decided she must be photographed next to.
Fortunately the Elderly Australian tourists (Assumed by the fact they had strong aussie accents and Queensland T-Shirts) were still there and took our photos and asked us where we came from I said Sydney rather tongue in cheek and they said oh are you. We are from Australia as well ☺ We left them and shortly after I spotted a Ruppels Korhaan.
After five hours of driving at this point I was pretty chuffed to see it. The Ruppels Korhaan is a near Endemic in that it only lives in the west of Namibia and a few hundred kilometers into Angola. It is in the Bustard family.

We finally made it to Solitaire a tiny settlement in the middle of nowhere. I filled up with unleaded and ordered two sandwiches, which turned out to be one of the best I have ever had. The bread was homemade with caraway seed and totally unexpected. The only problem now was that the road we wanted to travel on had had a part of the road unpassable because of a flash flood in the mountains. So a fifty kilometer detour was in order which after five hours was not what I wanted.( We later heard a tourist in an Audi had been swept down the river, we didn’t find out whether he survived or not.) I was getting pretty tired by now and hacked off as we didn’t really know how far it was to our lodge. Things did brighten up when I spotted a pair of Lappet Faced Vultures which are becoming increasingly rare.

We also spotted a Greater Kestrel which I took a few photos off.

Finally seven and a half hours after we set off we arrived at the Desert Homestead where we were welcomed by a fresh glass of ice cold orange juice again. The sun was going down and there was a lovely sunset.
We went to our bungalow which was really a thatched room with shower and loo behind a dividing wall. It looked really nice and there was a verandah outside with a couple of chairs. We had a shower and headed for dinner which was excellent even if the meat was a bit tough.(I shared it with the lodge cat) We also arranged to go to Sossusvlei (Saus ouf fly) in a tour the following morning.

8 Mar 2008

A Holiday in Namibia with my wife and as much Birding as I thought I could get away with!!!!

92.Grey Wagtail
93. Sparrowhawk
94. Woodcock

Peregrine's Bird Photographer Recommendations

As I have just come back from 11 days in Namibia I am going to recommend Chris van Rooyen a South African Bird and Wildlife Photographer. His website can be found HERE

I am going to post my trip report as a day by day blog. This holiday is the first Penny and I have been on in 19 years of marriage without the children. Over the eleven days I identified 140 different species of birds and photographed a few of them. I also drove about 3500 kilometres and probably came quite close to the divorce courts. So here is the first days diary.

We set of from Belfast Airport at lunchtime to fly to Gatwick just outside London where we were flying the 5000 miles to Windhoek in Namibia. As we were going down the runway in Belfast I noticed a Snipe flying alongside the aircraft as we were about to take off. I took this as a good omen!!

The flight to Windhoek takes about nine and a half hours and is quite a pleasant way to fly as you get on the plane in the evening and with the time difference of +2 hours you arrive at around 9.30am hopefully having had some sleep.

The plane landed at Hosea Kutako International Airport about 25 kilometres from Windhoek. It was a nice 70 degrees Fahrenheit and there were swifts and swallows flying round the airport. African Palm Swift, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow and Common Swift.

We were then taken into Windhoek to pick up our hire car. On the way I was seeing all sorts of birds but had no idea of what they were which is where my bible for the next eleven days came in handy.

Ian Sinclair incidentally was born and educated in Northern Ireland

We also saw a group of Baboons on the side of the road which really made us feel as though we were in Africa.

We picked up our Dodge Nitro and the hire company gave me a short walk around a shed full of cars that had been rolled or totalled due to excessive speed on the gravel roads. It was definately a successful scare tactic as he said two people died in this one, three children died in this one etc etc. The hire companies lose 7% of their cars a year. A pretty high statistic. Our car in fact was a bit of a sore thumb and was looked at where ever we went.

We then made our way to our first stop which was Amani Lodge about thirty Kilometres from Windhoek.On the way we saw a European Bee Eater on the side of the road.

The lodge was four miles off the main road up a very rough track where four wheel drive was a necessity.

Amani Lodge is known as the highest Lodge in Namibia at 2,150 metres above sea level. It is run by Alain and Olivier Houlet, who are originally from France. Unknown to us its major attraction lies in its big cats. Orphaned Cheetahs

that have been given to them by the Africat Foundation to bring up and then release into the wild. A pair of lions
which had been appaulingly treated in captivity and were now in a 40 hectare paddock and an ill Leopard which they are rehabilitating.

For those of you in the UK who watched Simon Reeve's programme about the "Tropic of Capricorn" which started in Namibia will have seen the dishy (according to my wife) Frenchman feeding the Cheetahs. So it was very bizarre to have watched this programme and a week later be at the same place.

We walked into the reception and were met and brought a glass of ice cold freshly Squeezed Orange Juice which was a nice touch before being shown the bungalow that we were staying in. It was pretty comfortable with a deck looking out over the Bush. We were pretty exhausted and both had a kip for a few hours. After a shower I went onto the deck and saw my first Red Eyed Bulbul of which we were to realise are one of the most populous birds in the region.

We then decided to take one of the lodge trails through the bush while I birded my wife followed. I heard a Willow Warbler and then saw it an earlier tick than last year! Then I saw a Red Backed Shrike and a Pririt Batis. We were walking along this track when my wife bent down and nearly touched this object that looked dead.Until it hissed!!! It was a very deadly Puff Adder. So I nearly lost her before the holiday had really started.

Well I was told later that we would have had an hour or two to get to the hospital. Anyway it was a sober reminder that we were in an environment which isn't as safe as the UK. Needless to say from then on I looked at where I was putting my feet all the time.

We then went back to the Lodge and had a Windhoek lager which was very refreshing and just outside the seating area there was a Mountain Chat and a Scarlet Chested Sunbird singing.

We had to remain inside as a storm arrived with lightening and heavy rain. Not that different from Ireland then !!! A nice dinner followed. The most amazing thing to me was the night sky the stars were so bright and I saw the Milky Way like I have never seen it before. I never realised how much light pollution there was in the UK.