Birding on Namibia's Rivers with Mark Paxton


Today we travel to the Kavango Region. This part of Namibia is famed for its incredible biodiversity and, in particular, its birdlife. We figured the best way to find out about the amazing birds you can spot in this part of Namibia would be to interview a local expert and bird guide, Mark Paxton, who runs Shamvura Camp on the Okavango River.

Caprivi, Namibia, Shamvura, Zambezi region, Kavango Region, africa birding, Namibia birding, Mark Paxton

African Openbills, African Darters and hippos on the Okavango River.
(Photo by Ethan Kistler via Nature Travel Network)

 

Mark, could you share with our readers who you are and what you do… 

I own and run a tourism venture called Shamvura Camp that is situated on the Okavango River about 120kms East of Rundu. I have been actively involved in professional bird guiding for almost 15 years, and I personally conduct specialized birding groups from Shamvura Camp into the surrounding regions. Before that I was a qualified game ranger.

Caprivi, Namibia, Shamvura, Zambezi region, Kavango Region, africa birding, Namibia birding, Mark Paxton

The Okavango River, near Shamvura Camp.
(Image via Shamvura Camp)

 

What makes the Kavango Region and the Caprivi Strip such an amazing place for birdlife? 

This region boasts about 450 bird species this is close to half the entire South African Birdlist. Although this region is low on endemics we have almost 30 “near endemics” with close to 100 “sought-after birds” some of which are found nowhere else in the Southern African sub-region.

 

Caprivi, Namibia, Shamvura, Zambezi region, Kavango Region, africa birding, Namibia birding, Mark Paxton

If you’re keen-eyed you even catch a glimpse of Shelley’s Sunbird when staying at Shamvura.(Image via The Flacks)

 

With three major river systems (Okavango, Zambezi and Kwando) this region is the last stop-over resting place for most migratory birds from the Northern hemisphere before they disperse and embark on the last long and largely waterless journey South.

Caprivi, Namibia, Shamvura, Zambezi region, Kavango Region, africa birding, Namibia birding, Mark Paxton

The African Skimmer.
(Picture by Ethan Kistler via Nature Travel Network)

 

If you could pick your three favourite bird species in the region what would they be?

Souza’s Shrike, Sharp-tailed Starling and Rufous-bellied Tit are certainly the three most challenging species.

Caprivi, Namibia, Shamvura, Zambezi region, Kavango Region, africa birding, Namibia birding, Mark Paxton

Souza’s Shrike- The Kavango region of the only places in Namibia
where you can catch a glimpse of this illusive bird.
(Image via Outdoor Photo)

 

the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now

A young Sharp-tailed Starling photographed near Shamvura Camp.
(Image via Niall Perrins)

 

the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now

The ever bustling Rufous-bellied Tit.
(Image via Responsive)

 

What are some tips you could recommend to birding enthusiasts when they are exploring the Kavango and Zambezi Regions?

In the Kavango Region because of the increasing human population factor, the birding is quite difficult and confined. This necessitates the services of a professional guide who knows the area and the habits, movements and preferred habitats of particular birds. Most woodland birding is confined to feeding parties which follow certain islands, routes or corridors amongst the inhabited and badly farmed woodland.

Caprivi, Namibia, Shamvura, Zambezi region, Kavango Region, africa birding, Namibia birding, Mark Paxton

With guides you are sure to get the most out of your birding adventure.
(Image via Shamvura Camp)

 

Are there any guided birding tours that visitors can sign up for? 

In the Kavango Region only Shamvura Camp offers specialized birding tours with professional guiding. Most other lodges offer birding tours with local guides who although partially trained have limited knowledge but still manage to give a good experience. In the Zambezi Region, Caprivi Birding offers professionally guided tours.

 

What time of year is best for birding, and why?

The best months of the year which offers a large diversity of birding overall is September, October and November. The majority of the breeding is then in full swing with the sparsely leafed trees offering excellent visibility. A lot of the migrants are then starting to arrive adding to the diversity factor. The Okavango and Zambezi rivers are still low with sandbanks for waders and other water birds still available.

Caprivi, Namibia, Shamvura, Zambezi region, Kavango Region, africa birding, Namibia birding, Mark Paxton

Exposed river bank with some Southern Carmine Bee Eaters going about their business.
(Picture by Ethan Kistler via Nature Travel Network)

 

On the other hand the slower flowing Kwando at a higher level again has a different birding aspect. River birding on the Okavango and Zambezi systems picks up during January, February, March and April when water-logged floodplains offer ideal feeding and breeding habitat for the Gallinules, Rails, Crakes, Herons, Egrets and some Storks.

Caprivi, Namibia, Shamvura, Zambezi region, Kavango Region, africa birding, Namibia birding, Mark Paxton

When the river rises look out for the Gallinules.
(Image via Travel News Namibia)

 

+++++++ 

Mark Paxton is the current Chairman of the Kavango Open Africa Route (KOAR), and the Namibian Chapter of the Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA-Nam). He is also the Co-ordinator of Poisoning of Wildlife Action Group (POWAG) and also heads up the Biodiversity Working Group for the Okavango Basin Management Committee.

 

For a full list of the birds you can see in the Kavango Region click here.

To book at Shamvura Camp click here.

If you want to read more about Namibia's north east then click here.

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