Namibia, day 5 ... birdwatching in Etosha

15 November – Etosha National Park (Namutoni, day 2)
Meet at 06:05 as the gates open at 06:15, was the instruction, and actually the gate was open already a little before that as the two buses went in separate directions around a large salt pan area called Fischer’s Pan. I was in Geoff’s bus and we soon saw several kori bustards walking close to or across the road: the heaviest flying bird in the world, says Geoff, though in Extremadura (Spain) that’s also claimed for great bustard. Other bustards were a single red-crested korhaan (the crest is rarely seen, only when a male is displaying) and several northern black korhaans including a male with a fine black face and neck with a large white cheek spot vaguely reminiscent of a goldeneye, as Malcolm observed, and a smart vermiculated pattern on the back, as Mary described. We agreed counts of 36 wildebeest and 54 elands. The eland group clearly had a big age mix and was joined by three others, probably bachelor males, and spent a long time at a water hole. Black-backed jackal, early on in the drive, and a group of banded mongooses were among other mammals out in the relative cool of the early morning. New birds for the holiday included ostriches, red-breasted swallows, black-shouldered kite, a party of Burchell’s sandgrouse and two elegant secretary birds. Darrin’s bus returned with tales of honey badger and Namibian scrub robin on a nest. Breakfast was back at Namutoni Camp, complete with Doctor Sue’s regular reminder to take anti-malarials. 
Kori bustard (David Bennett).
A morning drive took us to two water holes, first Koinachas, then Chudop. At Koinachas, as we arrived, a tawny eagle was perching out in the open, allowing first class views, before it dropped out mostly of view behind the island of reedmace in the centre of the large pond. Several white-backed vultures dropped into the same area, plus one Cape griffon vulture. There were two blue cranes on view the whole time, one of which had a turquoise colour ring with the letters NBZ. Wildebeest, southern oryx (locally and hereafter called gemsbok), impalas and springboks all came into drink.
Tawny eagle (David Bennett).
Two bull elephants were enjoying the second water hole, Chudop. One left the area having urinated and defecated and could have been mistaken for having five legs; you can imagine some of the commentary from onlookers. Again there was a succession of mammals coming to drink, including some fine, twisted-horned kudus. Emerald-spotted wood-doves outnumbered Namaqua and Cape turtle doves. Waves of red-billed queleas moved between the reeds and the water’s edge. We (in Darrin’s bus) paused on the return drive for a very close and clear red-capped lark with two smaller brown, streaky birds in the same dry bush for which desert cisticola was the best fit for ID.

After lunch, Geoff and Darrin went out in search of diesel during the usual afternoon break in the heat. That included time for me at the Namutoni waterhole where Daphne, Jeremy and Gill were watching marabou storks. Jeremy had also found a pair of painted snipe, definitely a five-star bird, which we shared though telescopes with others waiting there. Red-necked falcon, banded martin and red-breasted swallow were other good finds, and finally Gill found a golden oriole which moved from the rushes to a perch beside a fork-tailed drongo.
 
"Gill found a golden oriole which moved from the rushes to a perch beside a fork-tailed drongo."
The afternoon drive took us back to Koinachas and other waterholes with many birds and mammals to see, including a scrub hare. A stream of impalas was close to the buses at one waterhole so you could admire not only their general beauty but also the black blaze on the nose, which might be just a colour form or might be a subspecies. Injuries were also talking points: a zebra with a scar on the rump and a giraffe with just a stump of a tail, both presumably ‘ones-that-got-away’ from a lion.

After our return several visited the old German fort at sunset, and from there we saw our first lions. Apparently a male came and went and when I reached the viewing area on top of the fort there were two large lionesses and eight cubs of two sizes. Red-necked falcons moved to and fro, especially into a large fan palm.

Nightfall, dinner and a catch-up of wildlife checklists included comparing notes on geckos: for example, there were four Cape geckos outside my chalet, helped by the outside light bringing in insects. The reptilian theme continued as I removed a striped skink from Gill’s bath. Over at the waterhole, rufous-cheeked nightjars churred and flew around.    
Cape gecko on a Namutoni chalet door.

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