Author Archives: Josh Shusko

Mokoro trip and birding in the Okavango Delta

okavango delta landscape

As Peace Corps Volunteers based in Rundu, Namibia, we lived for two years along the Kavango River which forms the border between Angola and Namibia for several hundred kilometers in the north of the country. We also had the chance to visit tourist lodges in the Divundu/Bagani area, a gorgeous stretch along the semi-tropical banks of the Kavango River. In this area about two hours east of Rundu, the river begins to curve south through a narrow strip of Namibia and then into Botswana before emptying out into the Kalahari Desert to form one of the largest inland deltas in the world. Before we left the U.S. to begin our service in July 2013, we watched a great documentary on the Okavango Delta and had it high on our list to visit.

Great egret

A great egret taking flight in Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

After we finished our travels in Namibia, we flew from Windhoek, Namibia to Maun, Botswana. The delta supports agriculture mostly in the form of livestock and, like most rivers and lakes in Africa, thousands of people use the water the delta provides for drinking and washing. We stayed at Old Bridge Backpackers (a campsite costs about $7USD per person per night) along the southern end of the delta and about 10km from the town of Maun. They have resident pied kingfishers in the delta area just in front of the lodge, a very helpful staff and a decent self-catering kitchen area.

If we had to do it again, we probably would have done a multi-day kayak trip through the delta since we enjoy active tours. We still had a great time, basing ourselves at Old Bridge and enjoying a couple of day trips including a ride in a traditional canoe called a mokoro.

The video really sums up the three hour experience of gliding through the reeds in a beautiful channel of water. In the southern part of the delta, you find more domestic animals than wild ones, but it was still interesting to see donkeys up to their necks grazing in the water as we were poled along. We also saw many new species of birds including the elusive malachite kingfisher.

malachite kingfisher in the okavango delta

Malachite kingfisher. These small and colorful kingfishers are much easier to spot with the slow pace of a mokoro than with a motorboat.

malachite kingfisher in the okavango delta

Another photo of the malachite kingfisher. It is my favorite of the 155 species of birds that I have seen in southern Africa.

African fish eagle

African fish eagle. These impressive birds were very common in the delta. It seemed like we saw one every kilometer or so.

reed cormorant

Reed cormorant. Another very common bird in the delta.

saddle-billed stork

Saddle-billed stork. This bird has a very colorful long bill and legs.

spotted frog

This tiny spotted frog jumped into our mokoro at one point.

Okavango Delta lillypads

The water of the delta is very clear and the colors can be amazing.

hamerkop

Hamerkop. This bird was much better at posing for pictures than the one I saw previously in Chobe National Park.

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Namibia’s Quiver Tree Forest

quiver tree forest

As we prepared to leave Namibia after two years of service as Peace Corps Volunteers and then as tourists for two weeks, one of our final stops was the Quiver Tree Forest near Keetmanshoop in south-central Namibia. This interesting desert landscape contains thousands of quiver trees, a distinctive species of aloe. The lodge and campground also provide a home for a few cheetahs that would have otherwise been killed for attacking livestock. Nearby the Quiver Tree Forest is an area called Giant’s Playground for all of the larger boulders that are stacked upon each other.

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A good example of a mature quiver tree. A short walking trail through the trees is located next to the campground.

cheetah

One of the rescue cheetahs waiting to be fed.

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Lisa being the brave one and petting a cheetah at mealtime. She is a crazy cat lady and couldn’t resist. I offered to be the photographer.

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One of the larger male cheetahs enjoying a dinner of raw rodent.

quiver-tree-bokmakierie

Bokmakierie

quiver-tree-acacia-pied-barbet

Acacia pied barbet

quiver-tree-rosy-faced-lovebird

Rosy-faced lovebird

quiver-tree-giants-playground

Giant’s playground

quiver-tree-sunset

The quiver tree forest at sunset. After we watched the sun go down we had our final braai in Namibia.

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Images of Lüderitz

luderitz-lisa

Lisa overlooking the town. We climbed up a rocky hill and had great views of the sunset.

In July, we spent four days in the Namibian coastal town of Lüderitz, an interesting mix of old colonial German architecture and a more modern port that is used mostly for mining transportation. One of the highlights was a boat tour to a nearby island where a colony of African penguins is now recovering from past guano-mining and human encroachment. It is a good success story for conservation efforts in Namibia. In the early 1900’s the penguins were nearly wiped out during extraction of their nutrient-rich guano which was shipped off for use as fertilizer. Unfortunately, this layer of guano on the cold and wind-swept island had acted as a safe place for the penguins to burrow and lay their eggs. Once the several meters of guano were removed, the population of penguins crashed. Recent conservation efforts have improved the penguin numbers to several thousand.

Other highlights included a drive along the coast to Diaz Point, one of the windiest places I have ever been! The seascape is craggy, with exposed rocks and some short sandy beaches. Flamingos and other waterbirds make their home along this stretch of coast, including the rare African Black Oystercatcher.

While in Lüderitz, we enjoyed the company of fellow Peace Corps Namibia Volunteer Janet who lives in town. She showed us around and joined us for the boat tour. Thanks, Janet!

We stayed at Element Riders Backpackers, a cozy and friendly place on a historic street in the middle of town. We also took a tour of Kolmanskop which we covered in a previous post.

 

luderitz-horses

Our drive to Lüderitz was spectacular, with the landscape of mountains, sand dunes and windswept plains. Wild horses roam just east of town.

 

African black oystercatcher

African black oystercatcher

 

luderitz-african-penguin

African penguin

 

luderitz-cape-gannet

Cape gannet

 

luderitz-coast

The coast near Diaz Point

 

luderitz-flamingos

Flamingos near an abandoned ship in a bay just southwest of Lüderitz.

 

luderitz-house-and-church

Colonial German architecture in the very hilly town of Lüderitz.

 

luderitz-lighthouse

The still-active lighthouse at Diaz Point.

 

luderitz-penguin-colony

Looking through the fog at the colony of African penguins.

 

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The ghost town of Kolmanskop

Just outside of the coastal town of Lüderitz in Namibia, one of the more interesting sights is the old German mining town of Kolmanskop which was abandoned in the 1950’s and is gradually being overtaken by the Namib Desert. It is a fun place to photograph with the sand, fading colors and colonial German architecture. We arrived at the time of a tour which was a great way to learn about the history of diamond mining in the region. Some images of our visit are below.

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kolmanskop houses

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Return to Sossusvlei

We have a previous blog post about the amazing beauty of Sossusvlei, a region in the Namib Desert of Namibia, but we returned as part of our Close of Service trip with a rental car and a wide-angle lens so that we could enjoy the remote scenery for a couple of more days before we departing Namibia. Sossusvlei is truly one of the must-see destinations of Namibia and even though it is popular with tourists, it is still like visiting a underused U.S. national park on a slow day. There are some tourists, but you can easily get away from the crowds, climb your own dune and relax.

desert-zebra

This zebra was posing for us on the six hour drive between Walvis Bay and Sossusvlei

big-daddy

The summit of Big Daddy, one of the largest dunes in the Sossusvlei area, was our goal for the hike during our second day at the dunes.

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The view from the summit of Big Daddy. Looking in the opposite direction displays views of Deadvlei, named for the blackened trees that dot the surface of the flat clay pan trapped in between the shifting dunes.

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After a long descent down the sheer side of Big Daddy, we arrived in the large pan of Deadvlei.

lisa-josh-deadvlei

The other end of Deadvlei has the famous trees that have been the scene for many photos promoting the scenery of Namibia.

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As part of our “flat daughter” series, our Peace Corps daughter, Mary Grace, joined us for our walk through Deadvlei.

sossusvlei-one-horned-oryx

This oryx, missing one horn maybe as the result of a fight with another male, looked even more like a unicorn in the surreal desert landscape.

sunrise-dune-40

We hiked up the less popular Dune 40 on the day that we left to catch the sunrise, but we started a trend and many other people followed us to the top. The dunes look very red in the light of a sunrise or sunset.

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The sun starting to appear on the horizon as we ascended Dune 40.

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The dunes make for interesting angles and these small grasses seemed to tolerate the extreme conditions.

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Swakopmund lagoon birding

Just south of Tiger Reef Restaurant in Swakopmund, Namibia is a very shallow lagoon with a very diverse mix of birds. I identified 13 different species  on the very cold and windy morning that I was there, many of which were new to me.

swakopmund-blacksmith-lapwing

Blacksmith lapwing

Black-winged stilt

Black-winged stilt

swakopmund-cape-teal

Cape teal

swakopmund-common-moorhen

Common moorhen

swakopmund-common-ringed-plover

Common ringed plover

swakopmund-greater-flamingo

Greater flamingo

swakopmund-grey-heron

Grey heron

swakopmund-hartlaubs-gull

Hartlaub’s gull

swakopmund-lesser-flamingo

Lesser flamingo

swakopmund-pied-avocet

Pied avocet

swakopmund-three-banded-plover

Three-banded plover

swakopmund-white-breasted-cormorant

White-breasted cormorant

swakopmund-white-fronted-plover

White-fronted plover

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Day trip along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia

We recently started our “close of service trip” which we hope will be even more fun than our second Great American Road Trip that kicked off our Peace Corps adventure more than two years ago. Our travels along the coast of Namibia, much of which is protected as national parks, were a great way to begin. We had visited the resort town of Swakopmund a few times during our service, but always on public transportation. This time we had a rental car for our ten day finale tour of southern Namibia so we could drive and stop anywhere we wanted along the way. Due to the long distance between our site of Rundu in Kavango Region and the south, we never got to explore much of this scarcely-populated but fascinating part of the country.

We camped again at Desert Sky Backpackers right in Swakopmund which is a great place for budget accommodation within a few blocks of restaurants and the beach. After a day to recover from the stresses of closing our Peace Corps service and saying good bye to close friends, we headed north on the coast towards Henties Bay, a much smaller town. It was a sleepy Sunday, we saw very few people and everything was closed. It felt like a ghost town or a movie set.

On the way north, we passed a shipwreck and mile after mile of treeless sand-covered landscape. North of Henties Bay, we stopped at Cape Cross which has a large cape fur seal colony. It is maintained by the Namibian government and a day pass is required, but the small fee is worth it. The thousands of seals there were very entertaining but also very noisy and smelly. Some photos of our day trip are below as well as a photo from when we passed just north of Walvis Bay on our way to Sossusvlei.

Skeleton Coast shipwreck

According to a very unofficial source – a guy hassling tourists to buy semi-precious gemstones – this wreck occurred in 2008. Cormorants are using the ship as a staging point for their fishing.

Cape cormorant

Cape Cormorant. A new cormorant! This all-black bird is sadly classified as threatened but there seemed to be healthy populations along the coast near Swakopmund.

Cape cross

A cross on Cape Cross. A replica marker for a Portuguese explorer who claimed this coastline in 1488.

cape cross seals

A small section of the cape fur seal colony. Thousands of seals live on this stretch of the rocky coast, fed by the many fish just offshore.

Cape Cross seals

The seals were fighting, basking in the sunshine and sleeping. Walkways provided a nice viewing area and a clear path through the outer reaches of the seal colony. This one had amazing whiskers.

Cape Cross seals

It was very entertaining to watch the seals enter the ocean and return to shore as large waves crashed against the craggy shoreline. The seals in the water were mostly concentrated about 20 meters off of the beach, but they can swim much further out in search of fish. Due to prior over-fishing and the collapse of certain fish stocks, the seals have had to change their diet as human pressures have  altered even this very remote stretch of the Atlantic Ocean.

kelp gull

Kelp gull. Somehow this bird was able to hang out in the midst of all of the chaos, noise and smells of the seals and even posed nicely for a picture.

Walvis Bay ships

These red ships were striking against the blue-green calm water of this area just north of Walvis Bay, the major port city of Namibia.

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