ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME
Text & Photograps Pompie Burger
To put it mildly, I am geographically challenged. When the first GPS came on the market, I really thought my problems of becoming lost were at an end, but not so. My first visit to the then Mamili National Park was many moons ago, back in the nineties with Basie, camping on the banks of the Kwando-Linyanti-Chobe River. Hippos cruised by with guilty-looking faces, and many new acquaintances were made as far as birds were concerned. An important difference to other game parks were the various rivers we had to cross, without the luxury of a bridge! Subsequent visits revealed new routes, new islands, new names, new bridges, new rules and obviously new birds (the ones I had failed to see and ID on my previous visits).
From camping inside the park to doing the lodge thing or camping outside the park at a community camp might sound like retro-development, but, as with all these developments, there is method in the madness. In short, the more tourists, the more rules are required. The park is probably host to the most combretum trees in the country and also the biggest ones. If you’re into the ‘Big Five’ thing, you’ll find the Big Five Trees at Mamili: baobabs, jackal-berries, sausage trees, mangosteen and knob-thorn.
When its berries are ripe, the jackal-berry tree at the lodge hosts some exciting birds. Black-collared Barbet (Lybius torquatus), African Green-Pigeon (Treron calvus), Grey Go-away-bird (Corythaixoides concolor), Meyer’s Parrot (Poicephalus meyeri), Violet-backed Starling (Cinnyricinclus leucogaster) and Dark-capped Bulbul (Pycnonotus tricolor) are regular visitors to this enormous tree, devouring its berries with gusto. I haven’t seen any jackals around, although they would probably struggle to get that high up. For uninformed South Africans: the loud babbling in and around the camp comes from the Arrow-marked (Turdoides jardineii) and Hartlaub’s Babblers (T. hartlaubii), which lay claim to being the noisiest birds in the region.
The landscape in the park is constantly changing, as one would expect in a delta area. One thing that has definitely not changed are the large numbers of wildlife and birds. Birding in the woodland area has much to offer, for example the ground dwellers such as Denham’s Bustard (Neotis denhami), Black-bellied Korhaan (Lissotis melanogaster), Swainson’s Spurfowl (Pternistis swainsonii) and Burchell’s Sandgrouse (Pterocles burchelli). Various raptors are doing the rounds, such as the Bateleur (Terathopius ecaudatus), African Fish-Eagle (Haliaeetus vocifer), Wahlberg’s Eagle (Aquila wahlbergi), Dark Chanting Goshawk (Melierax metabates), African Marsh-Harrier (Circus ranivorus), Lanner Falcons (Falco biarmicus), and the White-backed (Gyps africanus) and White-headed (Aegypius occipitalis) Vultures, whose work is cut out for them, namely cleaning up the mess the lions have left behind.
During the summer months there are plenty of bee-eaters here, with the Southern Carmine (Merops nubicoides), White-fronted (M. bullockoides), Blue-cheeked (M. persicus) and Little Bee-eaters (M. orientalis) being a common sight. Somehow the hornbills prefer spending time here in winter, when African Grey (Tockus nasutus), Red-billed (T. erythrorhynchus), Southern Yellow-billed (T. leucomelas), Bradfield (T. bradfieldi) Hornbills and the bold and beautiful Southern Ground-Hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri) are regular alternatives to the summer migrants.
Kingfishers are well-represented here, with the African Pygmy-Kingfisher (Ispidina picta) and Woodland (Halcyon senegalensis), Grey-headed (H. leucocephala), Striped (H. chelicuti) and Brown-hooded (H. albiventris) Kingfishers having a rather special presence, while the ‘water kingfishers’ such as the Malachite (Alcedo cristata), Half-collared (A. semitorquata), Pied (Ceryle rudis), and Giant (Megaceryle maxima) are plentiful around the channels, flood plains and rivers.
The flood plains are one of the special habitats of this area, with some very exciting birds to go with them. The African Openbill (Anastomus lamelligerus), Wattled Crane (Bugeranus carunculatus) and Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis) have a ball on the plains, while the Rufous-bellied (Ardeola rufiventris), Squacco (A. ralloides) and Black (Egretta ardesiaca) Herons, Greater Painted-Snipe (Rostratula benghalensis), Slaty (Egretta vinaceigula) and Little (E. garzetta) Egret love the smaller pools. Spur-winged (Plectropterus gambensis) and African-Pygmy (Nettapus auritus) Geese, Comb (Sarkidiornis melanotos) and White-faced (Dendrocygna viduata) Ducks are a welcome variation to the boring buffaloes that mess up the flora along the waterways. Coucals are common, so if you want to add to your existing list, this is the place to look for White-browed (Centropus superciliosus), Coppery-tailed (C. cupreicaudus) and Senegal (C. senegalensis) Coucals, and maybe, just maybe, a Black Coucal (C. grillii), if you’re lucky.
A boat trip on the channels and Kwando-Linyanti-Chobe River is a must. First and foremost is the fact that apart from the odd Botswana Defence Force boat, there are no other racing boats on the river. We were lucky enough to have Moses as our helmsman, and although he was not able to part the water on our way to the mainstream, he did lead us to the promised land of plenty. The basket was filled with delicious snacks and drinks, but no baby Moses. Once you reach the main stream, African Darter (Anhinga rufa) nest along the river and weaver nests during summer beautify the trees growing alongside the river. Purple (Ardea purpurea) and Green-backed (Butorides striata) Herons, African Jacanas (Actophilornis africanus) and African Purple Swamphen (Porphyrio madagascariensis) are flushed from the reeds as you go. The elephants do become a bit of a hassle, but once you get used to them, you can relax and enjoy the birding.
At sunset, when settled on your director’s chair on the deck of the lodge, or for the “agtergeblewenes” at the community camp, the night sounds kick in. The Painted Reed Frogs (Hyperolius marmoratus) usually start the cacophony, followed by Pearl-spotted Owlets (Glaucidium perlatum). Differentiating between hippo and elephant sounds is not that difficult, except if you’re stranded on the ground in a small tent in the community camp. The lions have a tendency to sound much louder and closer when you’re on the same level as they are, but they usually have more interesting things on their mind than humans.
With a bird count of over 450 species, you are definitely in for some serious birding (almost more than 70% of Namibia’s total count). The Pink-backed Pelicans (Pelecanus rufescens) on my previous visit were a welcome addition to my birding list, although on our last trip we saw five pelicans looking for landing space. Whether they were Pink or White is debatable, but for the record I would put my money on Pink. As for the Rosy-throated Longclaw (Macronyx ameliae), I might get lucky on my next visit, which might not be too far in the future. Another Big-Five list for the intellectually handicapped accounts for lions, elephants, buffaloes, hippos and crocodiles.
If Moses were from Rome it would certainly make sense if he ended up in Kuala Lumpur. He, Simone and Laura make a formidable team. Keep in mind that once you enter the park, your GPS will be of no use because, for starters, the sun sets in the east, so just follow the road. Eventually you will reach Rome in time (it will take less than 40 years), although you might become confused with the various roads and wonder how many roads there actually are that lead to The Promised Land. TNN