Boat trip on the Okavango in winter

Most of the migratory birds move off to the north well before the start of the southern winter (May to August) and in mid-July it will still be some time before they return. Nevertheless, birdwatching on and around the rivers in north-eastern Namibia is certainly worthwhile. Hakusembe River Lodge on the banks of the Okavango in the Kavango East Region is not only an ideal spot for birdwatching but also for discovering an amazing number of reptiles – even in winter.

High up in a tree on the riverbank sits a young African Fish Eagle which as yet has to change into the distinctive brown, white and black plumage of the adult bird. Especially the head and neck are still mottled. He intently observes the river, then swoops down from his vantage point and with his long curved talons grabs an unsuspecting fish from just below the surface of the water. The catch is taken to a tree a little further away and eaten with relish.

Overhead passes a flock of African Openbills, a type of stork that prefers to feed on snails found in shallow water. Our guide Paulus Munango even discovers those well-camouflaged specimens of the birds’ world which are concealed by the thick riparian brush. Night herons hide in dense trees and bushes on the riverbank. Searching the profuse foliage for a single White-backed Night Heron, Paulus points to a green snake less than a metre away from the boat. The snake, a harmless Angola green snake (Philothammus angolensis), is almost one metre long but camouflaged so well that it takes us more than a minute to detect it. A little later we discover another one of the same species further upstream on the other side of the river.

Birds and reptiles
The harmless Angola green snake is very difficult to spot in the thick green foliage. It feeds on birds and chicks, on lizards, chameleons and frogs.

Also well-camouflaged, a Nile monitor lizard (Varanus niloticus) is resting on a branch. This one is not bothered by the boat while others disappear into the water or the undergrowth on the banks as swift as an arrow. Nile monitors can grow to a length of more than two metres. A young crocodile lying half in the water, half on twigs under a tree with luscious foliage does not escape Paul’s attention either. Many night herons, young ones as well as adults, are hiding in that tree. The reptile is probably waiting for a carefree bird to venture close enough.

Birds and reptiles
Nile monitors occur everywhere along the Okavango. They are good swimmers and forage for food on the riverbanks. Around midday they love to bask in the sun. These reptiles can grow to a length of more than two metres.

On the riverbank a male Stone Chat was sitting on a reed, a Reed Cormorant on a rock was drying its wings and Grey Herons and Great Egrets perched on a tree.

Birds and reptiles
A male stone chat in the reeds on the riverbank.

In and around Hakusembe we noted 78 bird species within two days in mid-July this year and counted 21 wetland bird species during a boat trip on the Okavango River. Especially the drumming sound, produced by male African Snipes in flight, caused a stir among employees and visitors alike. African Yellow White-eyes with their bright yellow plumage were hard to overlook in the bushes around the lodge.

Author: Dirk Heinrich

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