Photo: Namib Desert, Neil MacLeod, Safariwise
Chestnut-banded Plover Charadrius pallidus. Photo by Neil MacLeod, Safariwise
From the ochre dunes of the Namib Desert to the expansive plains of Etosha National Park, from the flamingo-thronged, coastal lagoons of the cold Atlantic Ocean to the land-locked papyrus swamps of the Okavango River, Namibia offers excellent birding in an amazing variety of bird-rich habitats. With sixteen near-endemics and a host of specials that are difficult to see elsewhere, a visit to Namibia is an essential part of the southern African birding experience.
The Namib is not only the world's oldest desert but has some of its tallest sand dunes and most arid expanses. The cold Benguela Current washing Namibia's long Atlantic coastline not only supports one of the world's richest marine environments, but also creates one of its driest deserts. Of the nine Benguela Current endemic seabirds that are essentially restricted to these nutrient-rich waters between Namibia and the Cape, the birder's main target will be the endangered Damara Tern Sterna balaenarum, as the majority of the global population breeds along the desert coast. This marine current also bears northwards from the Orange River the silt-laden water that has formed the Namib Desert's spectacular dune sea, which stretches nearly 400 km north of Luderitz and some 120 km inland. It is here that the only bird entirely endemic to Namibia, the handsome Dune Lark Certhilauda erythrochlamys, finds its home.
Near Walvis Bay, the dunes give way to the vast gravel plains of the Skeleton Coast. Although seemingly lifeless, this stony desert supports a host of highly specialised birds such as Gray's Lark Ammomanes grayi, Burchell's Courser Cursorius rufus and Rüppell's Bustard Eupodotis rueppellii. The coastal strip rises gradually to an altitude of 1,000 m above sea level at the base of the Namib escarpment, a discontinuous belt of broken mountains and inselbergs that forms the country's backbone. Incorporating such massifs as the Naukluft, Brandberg, Spitzkoppe and Erongo Mountains, this region holds the majority of the country's near-endemic birds, notably Hartlaub's Francolin Francolinus hartlaubi, Monteiro's Hornbill Tockus monteiri, Rüppell's Parrot Poicephalus rueppellii, Rosy-faced Lovebird Agapornis roseicollis, Violet Wood-hoopoe Phoeniculus damarensis, Damara Hornbill Tockus (erythrorhynchus) damarensis (subspecies of Red-billed on ABC checklist although some authorities raise this to full species T. damarensis), White-tailed Shrike Lanioturdus torquatus, Carp's Tit Parus carpi, Herero Chat Namibornis herero, Damara Rockjumper (Rockrunner) Chaetops pycnopygius, Bare-cheeked Babbler Turdoides gymnogenys and Benguela Long-billed Lark Certhilauda benguelensis.
Above the escarpment lies a lightly wooded central plateau that holds many of the species mentioned above and extends north to the Cunene River, where the world's only accessible site for the highly sought-after Cinderella Waxbill Estrilda thomensis is located. Eastwards, the plateau slopes down towards the Kalahari, which reaches its western limit at the world famous Etosha Pan. From the true desert they form in the south, the deep sands of the Kalahari stretch northwards to the Caprivi Strip, a finger of land distinctly different from the remainder of the country. Good summer rainfall here supports tropical woodlands rich in birdlife. The birding wonders of Botswana's Okavango Delta are well known, but few birders realise that all of the Okavango's special birds, including Pel's Fishing-owl Scotopelia peli, may also be found in Namibia's Kavango and Zambezi wetlands, accessible on good roads and easily linked with the endemic-rich birding loops of the dry west.
This country account for Namibia serves to provide birders with up to date information about birds and birding in the area. While the information provided has been sourced from a variety of reliable resources (a list is provided at the end of this document) the aim is such that this document is dynamic in that birders who have recently visited the region can add their own accounts and contributions. We therefore encourage readers to email new information to [email protected].