Staying at Gondwana Collection Namibias Chobe River Camp might sound a bit second hand, like a stepping stone across the border to the real McCoy (Chobe Game Park), but the accommodation is incomparable. Maybe that was the initial idea when this lodge was build; little did they know that today it can offer so much more than being a stepping stone. There are no stones in this area, so skip the stepping and just enjoy what this beautiful place has to offer. Like any bird watcher would know, it is best to start at the beginning, in this case at the lodge. This might take some time but there are other activity options, like taking a boat trip on the Chobe river, driving to the carmine bee-eater colony or exploring the area along the river.
The lodge and camp area, being on the banks of the Chobe River, offer some rather excellent birding opportunities along the river, and if you are not in the mood to walk, just sit on the deck and watch the river flow. Doing the G&T option, I am always amazed by the acrobatics of the Whiskered Terns (Chlidonias hybrida). To be honest, I am not so impressed by them when trying to get some decent shots with my camera; somehow they do not allow one to do this exercise lying down with your sundowner drink in hand.
There are always African Openbill (Anastomus lamelligerus) foraging in the flood plains for snails, either as a lone ranger or in large flocks. Invariably there will be the odd Kingfisher trying its luck from the trees and reeds along the river. The most captivating times are, like all birding exercises, early mornings and late afternoons, when large flocks of birds fly to from roosting areas to the flood plains. This part can in fact be done by lying down on a deck chair staring into the sky with a loved one.
A walk along the banks of the river will bring you closer to various birds enjoying the reeds and grass and the Lily Trotters tossing and turning leaves looking for insects. If this is your first visit to the Zambezi region, the African Jacanas, and if you are lucky, a Lesser Jacana, will be a special treat. The ever-present Warblers, Cisticolas and other unidentifiable birds will also be looking for new names by the novice bird watcher.
The camp is a rather special place to wonder around. The massive Natal Mahogany near the entrance will be a spectacle on its own, while there are some rather interesting birds in the area like Burnt-necked Eremomela (Eremomela usticollis) (the only Eremomela I will ever be able to ID). In fact, we also saw a Rattling Cisticola (Cisticola chiniana), (another I will never be able to ID). The White-browed Coucals (Centropus superciliosus) love to hang around in the trees behind the kitchen while the Red-billed Buffalo Weavers (Bubalornis niger) try to make another messy nest in the Ana trees. There are almost always Forked-tailed Drongo’s (Dicrurus adsimilis) and Rollers hunting on the ground for insects and bugs, and the different weavers (look especially for Village Weavers (Ploceus cucullatus) try their utmost best to impress the females in order for them to join and to enlarge their population.
A river boat cruise, be it a canoe, or if river level allows, a sun downer boat cruise, will prolong the trip and allow for more birds to be seen. A canoe trip is rather special as you can get much closer to the birds and also get your bicep muscles in shape. Malachite Kingfishers (Corythornis cristata) are relatively common, and the small sand beaches provide the usual White-faced Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna viduata), Water Thick-knee (Burhinus vermiculatus), and various Plovers. If you come across a crocodile, put your canoe in overdrive or 4x4 and skip the birds. During the rainy season look out for African Skimmers (Rhynchops flavirostris), which, if they are still breeding, are quite protective of their eggs and off-spring.
If you have to cross the border, look for a lodge or camping area with Tropical Boubous (Laniarius major), Collared Palm Thrush (Cichladusa arquata), and a Poisonpod Albizia in bloom which will be teaming with sunbirds because, for some reason, the Amethyst (Chalcomitra amethystine) and Copper (Cinnyris cupreus) Sunbirds are relatively common here compared to the Namibian side of the Chobe River.
Do yourself the favour during the breeding season and ask the staff to take you to the Southern Carmine Bee-eater colony (Merops nubicoides), it will turn you into a bird watcher forever. Have you ever seen the colony? Share your experience at Chobe River Camp with us in the comments below.
Author: Pompie Burger