Someone, who steps into the northern region of Namibia for the first time, might be met with one of wildest and most wonderful destinations that the country has to offer. Except for lions, leopards, and wild dogs, this park offers a wonderful variety of birds, probably even the biggest variety in the region.
Driving on your own, it is quite a detour from Namushasha River Lodge to the entrance of the Babwata National Park. Joining the Half-Day Game Drive into the Park, starts with a boat trip, this is a shortcut via the river and quick option. After that you will have to switch to the game viewing vehicle to continue your three hour drive into and around the park. Keep in mind that there are 4X4 routes, so do not attempt this drive without the necessary know-how. Viewing the park through a self-drive allows you to have access to more of the park, like the broad-leaved forest right at the entrance of the park. You will also have more time available to stop at fascinating trees and to take photographs of birds and animals.
If you haven’t experienced the wildlife at the horseshoe-bend during a afternoon boat cruise excursion, you can end your trip for the day there, depending on your guides enthusiasm for bird watching. The variety of habitat that the park offers probably makes this the most diverse park in Namibia. Apart from the river, you have broad-leave and acacia woodlands, savannah grassland, seasonal pans and flood plains. If you are looking for a bird you have been looking for forever, this is your opportunity to find it.
The one raptor to look for, apart from the regulars like African Fish Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), Martial (Polemaetus bellicosus), Tawny (Aquila rapax) and African Hawk-Eagle (Aquila spilogaster), is the Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus, Gabar Goshawk (Micronisus gabar), African Harrier-Hawk (Polyboroides typus) and the Western Banded Snake Eagle (Circaetus cinerascens). These are quite common in the park and you can call yourself unlucky, if you do not see one. Like it is the case for most game parks, the White-backed (Gyps africanus), Lappet-faced (Torgos tracheliotos), Hooded (Necrosyrtes monachus) and White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) are to be seen whenever there is a kill, which is very likely in any season.
Wattled Cranes (Grus carunculate) are definitely a special sight in the park grasslands. I have yet to visit the park without seeing the pair, often with an offspring looking for insects. Apparently the Rufous-bellied Heron (Ardeola rufiventris) is a rather special edition to our southern neighbours but for the average birder in Namibia you might find them rather common.
My favourite coffee/breakfast stop during a morning boat cruise is along the seasonal pans, which inevitably will have some or other interesting birds hanging around. Spending time there, you might see Dwarf Bitterns (Ixobrychus sturmii), Slaty Egret (Egretta vinaceigula), Knob-billed (Sarkidiornis melanotos), White-faced Whistling Ducks (Dendrocygna viduata) and Blue-billed Teal (Anas hottentota). Sometimes a hippo might get lost during the night and end up in one of these pans, looking rather ridiculous in a small pan. You will most likely see a few Oxpeckers trying to steal the limelight from their host.
Ask your guide to look for the Racked-tailed Roller (Coracias spatulatus) (remember the tip when he finds them) in the broadleaved woodland. While you are there, spot the Retz’s (Prionops retzii) and White-crested Helmetshrike (Prionops plumatus), as well as the Broad-billed Roller (Eurystomus glaucurus). Probably one of the few known Southern Ground Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) nests in Namibia are in the park, but for know it will remain my secret as to where to find them. While doing the hornbills apart from the regulars, look out for Bradfield’s Hornbill (Lophoceros bradfieldi).
My other favourites are the sunbirds, of which there are quite a few species, especially during springtime when a lot of trees are in bloom. White-bellied (Cinnyris talatala), Amethyst (Chalcomitra amethystine), Copper (Cinnyris cupreus), Marico (Cinnyris mariqensis), Scarlet-chested (Chalcomitra senegalensis), and Collard Sunbirds (Hedydipna collaris) are all likely to be spotted if you get to the right tree at the right time. While you are busy stalking the colourful birds keep a look out for those which are regularly heard when flying from the one important meeting to the next.
Up to now, this might sound like a rewritten Roberts Bird Guide, but I think you will catch my drift, and if not, go and see for yourself. You might even see a few pelagic birds when the tide comes in. Within these different habitats you can also expect to see a variety of insects, mushrooms, plants, trees, reptiles and, as a result thereof, birds. Lots of birds. I doubt that you will ever see so many Bakia trees anywhere else in the region.
Which surprises have you come across while exploring the Bwabwata National Park?
Author: Pompie Burger