OKAVANGO DELTA, CAPRIVI AND VICTORIA FALLS
"Just a short note to thank you again for your excellent leadership of the recent Bird Holidays trip to the Okavango which I know was hugely enjoyed by all the participants."...... Dr B, Cambridge, August 2009
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The Okavango Delta is one of the last great wetland wildernesses on the planet and probably the most important Ramsar site in the world. Namibia’s Caprivi Strip is a long narrow extension of land running nearly five hundred kilometres along the northern border of Botswana and is one of the world’s birding hotspots, with around five hundred species recorded in a relatively small area. Victoria Falls is not only one of the seven natural wonders of the world, it also has superb wildlife habitat surrounding it. On this holiday of a lifetime we will visit all three of these awe-inspiring locations.
Arriving in Windhoek, Namibia, we will drive east into the Kalahari Desert. As we enter the world of the San Bushmen, we will be observed by the many rollers, shrikes, eagles and hornbills that sit atop roadside acacias. Red-capped Lark, Groundscraper Thrush, Ashy Tit, Acacia Pied Barbet, Greater Scimitarbill, Kalahari Robin and Rufous-vented Tit-babbler are typical of the many bushbirds that occur in this land, grazed by Oryx and Kudu. Perhaps a Meerkat will stand to attention as we pass by. We will spend our first night at Zelda Guestfarm, in Namibia, and our second at Thakadu Lodge across the border in Botswana. During this time we will also get the chance to go on a walk with a bushman, learning a few secrets about the desert that these people call home.
Heading north, we then follow the western edge of the Okavango Delta, to the wildlife-rich corridor known as the Panhandle.
Visible from space, the Okavango Delta is an emerald green gem in the Kalahari Desert and arguably the continent’s most pristine wildlife area. Home to around half of the continent’s elephants and key predators like Cheetah and African Wild Dog, conservationists have also begun moving small populations of threatened species like Rhinos here for safe-keeping.
Each year this papyrus-filled bowl becomes saturated by rivers that rise in the Angolan highlands, running down through Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and into Botswana, terminating in the dry Kalahari Desert. The many habitat zones in and around the delta support an abundance of life.
Xaro Lodge, located at the base of the panhandle, is situated beside papyrus beds, bordered by large trees that are home to one of the stars of this trip. Pel’s Fish Owl is a large copper-coloured teddy bear of a bird, and we have two nights here to search for it. On our last tour we had five sightings. Touring the delta by boat, every twist and turn of the channels reveals birds. Some, like Wire-tailed Swallow, even perch on the boat, while Southern Carmine and White-fronted Bee-eaters chase the many dragonflies. Allen’s Gallinule, Black Crake, Lesser Jacana, Saddle-billed Stork and flocks of White-faced Whistling Ducks are wary of the African Fish Eagles. Photographers struggle to know which way to point their lenses as there are Elephants, Crocodiles, Sitatunga, Reedbuck and Lechwe. Two herons feature highly, the range-restricted Slaty Egret and the shy and nocturnal White-backed Night Heron.
THE CAPRIVI STRIP
On day six we will head north along the upper reaches of the Panhandle, until we enter the Caprivi Strip. This narrow strip of land, annexed by Germany in 1890 in a deal that allowed them access to the Zambezi and further east, has habitats quite different to anywhere else in Namibia. This remote area receives few visitors, while the lack of fencing allows animals to move freely between reserves in Botswana and Namibia.
We will have three nights in the Caprivi, travelling its length to eventually reach Chobe. Mahango is the premier reserve in the Caprivi and has a fine selection of mammals very different from Etosha and southern Namibia. Oribi, Roan and Sable are highly prized antelope and there is a reasonable chance to see Wild Dog as well. Miombo and mopane woodlands are home to specialties like Racket-tailed Roller, Dickenson’s Kestrel, Arnot’s Chat and Southern Ground Roller. Crimson-breasted Shrike scold us from the acacia trees. Marshy grasslands are home to Pink-throated Longclaw, Golden-breasted Bunting and Coppery-tailed Coucal, while the rare Wattled Crane breeds here. Many raptors and waterbirds pass through on migration. Parties of Abdim’s Stork are often accompanied by Yellow-billed Kite, European Hobby and Brown Snake-Eagle. Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Bradfield’s Hornbill, Black-collared Barbet, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Magpie Shrike and Monotonous Lark are also found here.
CHOBE NATIONAL PARK
On day nine, our journey takes us back over the border into Botswana for two nights, exploring Chobe National Park. A combination of game drives and a boat cruise allows us to experience Africa as it was 1000 years ago – full of animals. Chobe is said to contain the highest concentration of elephants in the world, with an estimated winter population of around 46,000. We will see a wide range of antelope, stalked by Lions, including the strikingly colourful Chobe Bushbuck. This is the only area south of the Zambezi River where Puku can be seen.
Over 350 bird species have been recorded. These include a whole swathe of wetland species, with families like kingfishers, bee-eaters, herons and storks well represented. The boat ride should reveal Saddle-billed Stork, Long-toed Plover, Pink-backed Pelican, and African Skimmer, with a Malachite Kingfisher at every bend.
Heuglin's Robin is a delight to hear in the early morning. Diederik Cuckoo, Emerald-spotted Dove, Purple Roller, Amethyst Sunbird, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike and Crested Francolin are common birds of the bush, while a Greater Honeyguide may try to attract our attention.
On day 11 we will then travel to Zambia’s Mosi-oa-Tunya, ‘The Smoke that Thunders’.
In 1881, F.C. Selous wrote “…Victoria Falls - One of, if not the, most transcendentally beautiful natural phenomenon on this side of Paradise", and who could argue? We shall visit this breathtaking curtain of water, and there is also has great birding nearby. Rock Pratincoles nest on the boulders surrounded by rushing water, Schalow’s Turacos and Trumpeter Hornbills take fruit from trees on the cliffs of the gorge, while Meyer’s Parrots, Broad-tailed Paradise Whydahs, Shaft-tailed Whydahs, Copper Sunbirds and Stierling’s Wren-warblers can be found among the bushes. A boat trip on the Zambezi will allow us to search for African Finfoot, an elusive species, but we have a great track record for finding them. Giant Kingfishers and Pied Kingfishers fly over Hippopotamus as they move ahead of our boat, and African Darter circle high overhead. We have even seen African Scops Owl during a cruise here. Sometimes a Bat Hawk patrols over the hotel.
After two nights at this stupendous site we have a short journey to Livingstone Airport, flying back to Windhoek and then onward to the UK.
CLIMATE AND PACE
The days should be warm to hot, with cooler nights. We will be visiting at the end of the wet season, when rain is less likely but not impossible. The cooler morning temperatures and peak in wildlife activity mean that we must rise early to make the most of the opportunities available. The pattern involves early morning and late afternoon excursions, resting and relaxing, or travelling, between these times. Basic fitness is all that is required. Walking will be at a sensible pace mostly on the flat. The terrain at Victoria Falls is the only exception, with an optional walk to the bottom of the falls. Temperatures can be high, and we will take things easy during the heat of the day.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full-board accommodation is provided in good hotels, lodges and camps. We shall spend one night at Zelda Guestfarm, one night at Thakadu Lodge, two nights at Xaro Lodge, one night at Mahango Lodge, Caprivi, two nights at Kalizo Lodge, Caprivi, two nights at Garden Lodge, Chobe, two nights at the Kingdom Hotel, Victoria falls. Thakadu, Xaro and Kalizo are permanent tented camps. All accommodation has private facilities en suite.
PRICE INCLUDES …..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with lunch on 4th, ending with lunch on 15th), soft drinks at meal times, local transport, all safari activities and boat trips, park entrance fees and international flights.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Cost of obtaining a Zambian visa (approx US$50 and obtainable on arrival in Zambia). Items of a personal nature, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flight from London Heathrow to Windhoek (via Frankfurt), using the scheduled services of Namibian Airlines. We return to Windhoek from Victoria Falls also with Namibian Airlines. Outbound flight departs mid-afternoon, return flight arrives back late morning. Domestic flights from Manchester and other UK airports are available on this tour. See booking form for details.
Pel's Fishing Owl
African Fish Eagle
White-backed Night Heron
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