Reptile and bird focused trip to Namibia and Botswana in January 2014. Advice?





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  1. #1
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    Default Reptile and bird focused trip to Namibia and Botswana in January 2014. Advice?

    Hello all,

    I just registered on here. I found you while researching information on our planned Namibia/Botswana trip from 28 Dec to 19 Jan 2014. I have a few specific questions I was hoping someone with experience there during those times of year could answer. We plan to do some rural area exploring and will be traveling in a land rover type 4x4 with some of the more rugged off road features. I have experience driving in unimproved 4x4 back country, but never in this part of the world. I have visited Namibia twice before but not with my own vehicle and freedom, and always in the winter. I found the usual winter residents like the Pachydactylus geckos and the Mabuya skinks. This trip we have some specific goals, but a general interest in anny birds and reptiles. My wife and I are wildlife biologists in the USA with a professional background in reptiles and birds. We would greatly appreciate any general or specific advice. You can't beat local or experienced knowledge.

    1) Our general route will be from Windhoek - Sossusvlei - Swakopund - Spitzkoppe - Kamanjab - Waterburg - Etosha - Caprivi - Kasane - Victoria Falls - Chobe/Okavango - Windhoek. We will be there ~23 days. Any regional suggestions?

    2) Is road cruising slowly at night an effective reptile hunting method in Jan in southern Africa? It is the most efficient way to find reptiles during monsoon season in the US deserts.

    3) Advice on finding the Namaqua chameleon, Peringuey's adder, any of the elapids, other nocturnal species?

    4) Does anyone have any specific must see suggestions on the route through Skeleton Coast to Spitzkoppe and Kamanjab areas, or Caprivi? Specific bird or reptile suggestions?

    5) General reptile and amphibain suggestions for January here? I have experience in the deserts of the US, and some western hemisphere subtropical areas. I have only ever been to Namibia in the winter before now. I have professional experience with venomous species and my primary goals are to find and photograph several of the elapids and the Peringuey's adder. Everything else is of interest as well though.


    Thank you in advance. I will make sure to do a detailed trip report on here when I am back.

    Patrick

  2. #2
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    It's pretty warm during that time, so you won't find many reptiles that way.
    Come find Shallow's turaco, Pel's fishing owl and tons of other birds in the Caprivi. If you want any specific info for our area, let me know.

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    They don't tend to bask on the road when it is warm everywhere? What about during rainfall? Any of the reptiles or amphibians come out onto the road at night to drink, mate, escape flooding, etc? How would you suggest finding reptiles this time of year in Namibia?

    We will have at least 1 full day and possibly a second getting from the area around Popa Falls to Kasane. If we have 1 day we will probably just start from Popa and explore our way east. If we have 2 days we will probably head south out of Popa Falls and spend 1 full day in Moremi and across the border there a bit as well.

    We would love to see any of the birds really. I know I am especially fond to the bee eaters.

    Thanks

    Patrick

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    It isn't warm everywhere, temperatures drop at night like I am sure they do in the US deserts.

    I usually do my herping in areas without asphalt so the road method does not work so well, it is just gravel like the rest of the habitat. Though if you find a section with asphalt (Caprivi) then a slow cruise like in the US is a good idea, from sunset to about 9:30-10 is when I have had most success, then there is a huge dropoff of activity.

    I do mostly walking around to find my snakes though, on warm nights with cloudcover or less than 50% moon, I have had no success on well-lit or cool evenings, but some friends disagree. During the day cloud cover is best both for lizards and for walking around in the heat, they will bask on rocky outcrops.

    The best time is if it is warm, overcast with <50% mooncover and with a drop or low barometric pressure.

    At night you can spotlight for the chameleons, they appear bright white on bushes under the flashlight and are impossible to miss.

    If you start stone flipping put them back where you found them.

    Lots of walking is my tactic, try keep any finds away from the attention of locals- they kill all and every snake. Keep an ear out for bird activity- they mob snakes or monitors that move through the habitat. Alarm calls and group activity, easiest way to find a snake in the daytime.

    If you see derelict buildings along the route these are good places to look, or abandoned cattle sheds or farm buildings.

    Look on, around and in termite mounts, snakes live in them and bask on them in the mornings.

    Stop and look for odd structure in the habitat, a pile of wooden telephone poles on the side of the road that has overgrown, a piece of corrugated iron, look up around sociable weaver nests.

    Most desert activity happens around clusters of desert bushes and grasses, the chameleons hang out in them and therefore so does Peringuey's adder, you can find them buried at the base of these tufts or bushes in loose sand.

    And take pictures.
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  5. #5
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    For birds look out for Montieros Hornbill, Dune Lark, Burchells Courser and Ruppels Korhaan between Windhoek - Sossusvlei. Herero Chat is probably the only reason anyone wants to got to Spitskoppe

    Waterberg is good for Rockrunner and Ruppels Parrot, Icterine Warbler.

    Etosha you will definitely get Bare-cheeked Babbler, but possible Dusky Lark sightings.

    Caprivi you can see both Black-faced and Hartlaubs Babblers

    Popa is for Rock Pratincole.
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    Right....dirt roads. I love traveling dirt roads in the desert but I kind of forgot that it is out of necessity vs choice in Namibia. In Arizaon you are never more than 50mi from some pavement. The US deserts do cool off quickly at night but the asphalt retains heat until well after midnight. Not so with the dirt...you will find snakes in the monsoon season taking advantage of the opportunity to drink from standing water in potholes, but otherwise dirt road herping tends to be the luck of finding a snake who just happens to be crossing.

    As a conservation biologist I am very careful about the habitat where I am herping. I have a few plywood boards out in fields around home here that I spray painted "put it down how you found it or I will find you" on the under side of. It sounds like the road cruising strategy is very much the same as in AZ. I did not know that the chameleons liked to turn into bright white reflectors at night......that is nice of them.

    Artificial cover around abandoned and falling down buildings are great places in the US as well. What is the general risk in Namibia of offending landowners by wandering around their fallen down barn and looking under boards? In the US it varies by region.....you can do that all day in Arizona, but if you try that in Texas without finding the house and asking permission it could get you shot.

    Are the Peringuey's adders findable by following their trails or by just some strategic sand sifting (not with fingers) around the base of isolated plants on the dunes?

    I will definitely take photos. If you ever head the the SW deserts in the US let me know and I will hook you up with some great locations. I am good at finding snakes in general but you can't beat local experience.....too many times going to a new place I have found what looked like a perfect road or spot on an atlas or topographic map.....only to arrive and find that it had become a parking lot or had security fences and no trespassing signs.

    Quote Originally Posted by OwenD View Post
    It isn't warm everywhere, temperatures drop at night like I am sure they do in the US deserts.

    I usually do my herping in areas without asphalt so the road method does not work so well, it is just gravel like the rest of the habitat. Though if you find a section with asphalt (Caprivi) then a slow cruise like in the US is a good idea, from sunset to about 9:30-10 is when I have had most success, then there is a huge dropoff of activity.

    I do mostly walking around to find my snakes though, on warm nights with cloudcover or less than 50% moon, I have had no success on well-lit or cool evenings, but some friends disagree. During the day cloud cover is best both for lizards and for walking around in the heat, they will bask on rocky outcrops.

    The best time is if it is warm, overcast with <50% mooncover and with a drop or low barometric pressure.

    At night you can spotlight for the chameleons, they appear bright white on bushes under the flashlight and are impossible to miss.

    If you start stone flipping put them back where you found them.

    Lots of walking is my tactic, try keep any finds away from the attention of locals- they kill all and every snake. Keep an ear out for bird activity- they mob snakes or monitors that move through the habitat. Alarm calls and group activity, easiest way to find a snake in the daytime.

    If you see derelict buildings along the route these are good places to look, or abandoned cattle sheds or farm buildings.

    Look on, around and in termite mounts, snakes live in them and bask on them in the mornings.

    Stop and look for odd structure in the habitat, a pile of wooden telephone poles on the side of the road that has overgrown, a piece of corrugated iron, look up around sociable weaver nests.

    Most desert activity happens around clusters of desert bushes and grasses, the chameleons hang out in them and therefore so does Peringuey's adder, you can find them buried at the base of these tufts or bushes in loose sand.

    And take pictures.

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    The KAsane/Chobe/East Caprivi area is pretty good for bee eaters. Try to get to Kalizo in the eastern Caprivi (although your timing is a bit wrong to catch them in maximum numbers).
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    Quote Originally Posted by PatrickV View Post
    Right....dirt roads. What is the general risk in Namibia of offending landowners by wandering around their fallen down barn and looking under boards? In the US it varies by region.....you can do that all day in Arizona, but if you try that in Texas without finding the house and asking permission it could get you shot.
    .
    Much of the area you will be in is communal land, ie what used to be tribal trust areas, and much of the rest is under conservation status. You can pretty much wander about at will, but if you see a fence, then it is likely to be privately owned. Close to the road isn't really a problem, the homesteads tend to be miles away, but if in doubt, head up to the farm house and introduce yourself - Namibians are some of the most hospitable people on earth. It's worth packing a couple of UV torches for scorpions as well. They're a bit scarce in the rainy season, but a dry spell before a storm when the wind comes up often produces good results.
    Etosha is a great place to see Veld Monitor lizards, they hang out in the camps in the trees and in the scrub.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PatrickV View Post

    As a conservation biologist...
    As a conservation biologist please do not, not even temporarily, capture any specimen in a way that might be confused for collecting. For without a permit, and found in unclear circumstances, the authorities are rightly very heavy handed with people collecting (or though to be collecting) wildlife.

    Your future in biology could be tainted by a misunderstanding.

    Quote Originally Posted by PatrickV View Post
    Are the Peringuey's adders findable by following their trails or by just some strategic sand sifting (not with fingers) around the base of isolated plants on the dunes?
    Depending on the prevailing conditions you might still be able to see tracks and signs of where they bury themselves.

    Maybe you have some experience with small adders or baby rattlers, they are difficult creatures to control because of their size they can double back when hooked. Maybe take advantage of being in the US and pick up a pair of hexarmor hercules 400 for a bit of added protection before you come visit. We pay more for mistakes in Africa, and you don't want to ruin a holiday. THEY DO NOT GUARANTEE ZERO PENETRATION - but they can help, and add a layer between you and your camera hand and the snake for closeups. Also useful for rock flipping and moving rusted metal sheeting etc. and great in thorn bushes.

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    Last edited by OwenD; 2013/09/23 at 08:01 AM.
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    Hi Patrick,

    I do not have much experience with reptiles but would like to comment on the birding opportunities in Kasane. Here, an excellent outing is to go on a boat cruise on the Chobe River. This is a must do in Kasane.

    I am not sure where you will be staying in Kasane, but all the camps can organise or have their own cruises. There are various options, but if possible rather choose a trip on one of the smaller aluminium boats which only have 12 to 14 passengers. One can get much closer to the action compared to the larger barges. You will have to share with others and it is probably better to book a little ahead of time. They leave at various times of the day but obviously early mornings and especially late afternoons are the best. They leave at 15H00 and go out for about 3 hours. It is probably best to book at Chobe Safari Lodge as they are situated closest to the prime viewing areas. Most of the other lodges are further upstream and some time is wasted on travelling upstream to get into the Chobe Game Reserve itself.

    This is really a must do in Kasane and you will be able to experience excellent birding with close up views of the local specials. Excellent viewing of the local wildlife is also virtually gaurenteed and you should be able to experience really good views of the large crocodiles, hippos, elephants, buffalo and many other animals. You will have to pay entrance fees to the park, but these cover a 24 hour period so that it can be combined with game viewing in the park either the morning before or after to limit costs.

    I am not sure if this would be your thing, but I think there is a reptile park in Kasane. Does anyone else have info on this?
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