A planned overnight stop on my way to the Zambezi region usually ends up being at one of my favourite places to stay at, and staying for just one night almost always ends up in staying 2 or 3 nights. The view from the deck onto the Okavango River, and the food are not the main reason for this fortunate change in our traveling schedule.
Initially, my time was spent walking around the lodge looking for “garden” birds. I soon realized that the Hakusembe River Lodge is not only comprised of a “garden birding” garden but a river, floodplain, woodland and restaurant birding spot. While my family was relaxing, doing nothing like tree spotting (Helga), swimming (Karlien), and working (Jana), I was slogging along looking for birds. To wake up in the morning, hearing a Woodland Kingfisher (Halcyon senegalensis) calling me to come and have a look at their nest in a Silver-leafed Terminalia, barely 20 meters from my bungalow, is in fact not that laborious. In fact, they do the calling the whole day long without taking a break. The birds, not my family.
To be quite honest, the concerto of bird-songs early in the morning cannot leave you untouched. The Coucals, Fish Eagles, Doves and later on the duet of the Swamp Boubous (Laniarius bicolor) are but a few. The Black Cuckoo (Cuculus clamosus) seems to have endless problems, because they call their “I am so sad” call for almost 24 hours uninterrupted. The Grey-headed Bushshrike (Malaconotus blanchoti) also seems to love the gardens, but always from a safe distance high up in the trees. On the lawn, for the stiff-necked birders, who cannot look up into the trees, there are Magpie Shrikes (Urolestes melanoleucus), and two types of Thrushes and Drongos, relentlessly cleaning the garden from any potential bad “goggas”, so called local bugs and insects.
During springtime, when the Peltophorums start to bloom, the Marico Sunbirds ( Cinnyris mariquensis) enter the scene of crime and will entertain you with endless joy, jumping from one flower to the next, sucking nectar. You can almost see how the trees becomes smaller by the minute, as their juices are gradually sucked out of the tree. At night, the call of the Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus) and the African Wood Owl (Strix woodfordii) will tell you that there are some species that do their duties after dark only.
Sitting on the banks of the Okavango you can watch the constant traffic of Cormorants, White-faced Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna viduata), and African Openbills (Anastomus lamelligerus) along the river in front of the deck. The breeding pair of African Pygmy Geese (Nettapus auritus) right in front of the western side of the deck along the river banks, will allow a close-up view of these beautiful birds. If you are into Warblers and other small UFO’s, the reeds along these banks can test your skills and patience, in the process seeing some wild and wonderful new birds, in case your knowledge of these birds are as limited as mine
The main reason why we started to extend our visits to Hakusembe River Lodge, was because we started to explore the flood plains around the lodge. Apart from the untouched woodlands of Silver-leaved Terminalia woods, and a large number of Gardenias which are a joy to see and smell during springtime, the bird life, when the flood plains fill up, are a sight not to be missed. Along the floodplains Collared Pratincoles (Glareola pratincole) are common migrant visitors. Large flocks of African Openbills give a nice contrast to the white lilies covering the flood plains. Knob-billed Ducks (Sarkidiornis melanotos) are also quite common. In the areas where the grass is long, we saw a Dwarf Bittern (Ixobrychus sturmii) trying not to be seen with their outstretched necks, and the Bullfrogs trying to escape the locals, who collect them. Coincidentally, I heard a never before seen Great Snipe (Gallinago nigripennis) on the flood plains, but after hours of searching for them we realized it was one of the Bullfrogs. In the more permanent water pans, Rufous-bellied Egrets (Ardeola rufiventris) are a must to look for, as well as Greater Painted Snipes (Rotratula benghalensis).
A sunset river cruise, depending on your preferences, could be a very fruitful experience as far as water and beach birds are concerned. If you are more into sundowners it might also be entertaining, but as far as bird watching is concerned it can then be a bit of a waste. Apart from the Nguni cattle on the Angolan side of the river, the Giant (Megaceryle maxima) and Pied Kingfishers (Ceryle rudis) are common.
Whatever you do when visiting Hakusembe, never ever get caught not doing a drive around the lodge on the flood plains, that’s if you are into birds, trees and flowers at all. Have you seen any specific birds at Hakusembe River Lodge before? Share your birding experience with us in the comments below.