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Travel Namibia 45 The Namib beckoned. Descending the Spreetshoogte, we wondered what would be seen next. Once on the fl at gravel plains, the starkness of the landscape exceeded my wildest dreams as, in the distance, ostrich shimmered in the afternoon light. The desert was far from lifeless, and we were lucky to fi nd a fl ock of cryptic Gray's lark without getting out of the car. These birds are unique in that they display before sunrise to avoid predators, but I am sure their pale plumage helps conceal them too. A lagoon swarming with pink greater fl amingos welcomed us at Walvis Bay, just in time for an awesome sunset and cold beer at the stilted Raft Restaurant overlooking the lagoon. Walvis Bay Lagoon is one of the most valuable wetland sites along the west coast of Africa. This haven is a phenomenal you've never spotted before. From Windhoek the tarred B2 is the quick route to the coast. My parents always chose gravel roads instead of highways on family holidays and we continued the tradition. Settling for the less- travelled pass ( C26) off the central escarpment was a good choice, but progress was slow. Within minutes we'd screeched to a halt. There was a Monteiro's hornbill. It was quickly followed by snow- white pied babblers and a short- toed rock- thrush. Alongside the road, telephone poles and trees were decorated with gigantic sociable weaver nests - one of the truly remarkable sights of Namibia. Oh, and there were plenty of pale chanting goshawks too. The 340km stretch took us all day to complete. I was in paradise, and all these birds had been spotted by the side of a road. It couldn't have been easier. HARTLAUB'S SPURFOWLVIOLET WOOD- HOOPOE HERERO CHATSECRETARY MADAGASCAR BEE- EATER BARE- CHEEKED BABBLER YELLOW- BILLED HORNBILL HOBATERE LODGE D BRAINE

GRAY'S LARKSOCIABLE WEAVER Namibian birds 46 Travel Namibia drive slowly, exploring the park's many waterholes. At Sueda a pair of blue crane and their fully- grown youngsters was the highlight. At Salvadora, on the pan's edge, a red- necked falcon orchestrated a tactical mid- air kill on a hapless Namaqua dove. Who needs a lion kill? The intimate Halali Camp, nestling beside a dolomite kopje in soothing mopane woodland, is famous for violet wood- hoopoe, and the camp security guards showed us a roosting white- faced owl too. We left Etosha through King Nehale Gate, and crossed the plains. Here springbok mingled with cattle belonging to the local tribesmen, and we found the spectacle in summer, when it supports more than 150,000 birds. Apart from the fl amingos, the mudfl ats are home to masses of pelicans, terns, grebes, plovers, gulls and migratory wader species. Even if you are not a birder, you cannot help being impressed by the numbers. The imposing dunes at the nearby settlement of Rooibank harboured another gem: dune lark. In the crisp morning air their rattling calls and distinctive tracks betray their presence. A walk on the southern side of the dry river course found us stumbling over a foraging group of these birds. After a whirlwind 48 hours in Walvis and Swakopmund we continued northwards, but not without several essential stops. Slightly anxious, we left Swakopmund early - we were in search of an illusive bird: the Herero chat. From the abandoned mining town of Uis we worked the dry, wooded drainage lines, and eventually found one. It was very shy and not anywhere as colourful as the traditional dress of Herero ladies. Perched unobtrusively in a shepherd's tree, the bird fl ew closer to us as if to reward us for all the hard work. Next, in the rocky mountain slopes north of the Brandberg, Namibia's highest mountain, we found the Benguela long-billed lark. This distinctive bird with a long, downward- curving bill is often located by its whistling call, likened to the sound of a falling bomb. In Damaraland the fl at- topped Etendeka Mountains and red- rocky plains dotted with welwitschias create a dramatic birding habitat. This is interrupted by the Huab and Aba- Huab Rivers - linear oases with beautiful specimens of camel thorns, ana trees and Salvadora bushes, home to some sought- after endemic birds and desert- adapted elephants. An early morning walk along the Aba- Huab started off fairly slowly, until we tried a whistled imitation of pearl- spotted owlet ( a diurnal owl species that often preys on small birds). This soon produced the goods and in no time we had Damara hornbill, the bizarre white- tailed shrike and a noisy fl ock of bare- cheeked babblers trying to fi nd the ' owl' in the tree above us. Walking on fresh elephant tracks, I felt like the late Dr Austin Roberts on one of his pioneering ornithological fi eld trips. Next up on our fast- paced ' twitch' was Etosha National Park which, apart from the abundant wildlife, offers superb birding. From Okaukeujo Camp, the drive towards the natural spring at Okondeka crosses vast fl at plains, and we spotted many different larks and the distinctive secretary bird. In Etosha, the key to success is to Wooden platform in Walvis Bay used to collect guano PALE CHANTING GOSHAWK