Namibia day 2: Dashing after the dune lark

Today was dune lark (Calendulauda erythrochlamys) day. We are in the heart of Namib which is the core of the endemic dune lark’s range. The dune lark is a highly specialized little bird and is only found on the vegetated dunes of the Namib. It spends its days foraging for seeds and insects with a little nap in the shade at the hottest hours. It is unique in that it can be tracked through the dunes using its distinctive foot prints which can be up to 19cm apart when the bird is running across the hot sand. In addition the tracks, it also leaves 5cm conical holes where it has dug with its bill for seeds. Dayne had a spot for this little bird and that was our main target for the day. We also were looking for any of the other desert birds and animals that call the Namib home.

We woke up before the crack of dawn to climb one of the famous red sand dunes over Dead Vlei for sunrise. We drove across the desert in the dark to get to our dune, crossing the Tsaucuab River which occasionally floods the area. We hiked up a beautiful red dune to look over the beautiful Dead Vlei. The red color that the Sossusvlei dunes are famous for is caused by oxidation of iron. The older the dune, the redder and more oxidized it is. We summited our dune and admired the gorgeous windswept environment. Three ostriches (Struthio camelus) ran across below the dune. These ostriches are the one of the few truly wild populations in southern Africa. Dead Vlei was bright white below us with striking skeletons of camelthorn trees scattered throughout. We sat and admired the view before wading through the sand into the former vlei.

As we drove out, we stopped at a few of the live camelthorn trees to check for new birds. We found a few old friends like sociable weaver (Philetairus socius) and chestnut-vented tit-babbler (Sylvia subcaerulea) and quite a few new trip birds such as swallow-tailed bee-eaters (Merops hirundineus) and a single yellow-bellied eremomela (Eremomela icteropygialis). The highlight of our drive out was a pair of red-necked falcons (Falco chicquera) perched in a tree. Sadly, they flew off too quick for a photo.

After our dune adventures, we headed to find our little lark. We made it to the spot and admired a few scaly-feathered finches (Sporopipes squamifrons). A wedge-snouted lizard (Meroles cuneirostris) darted in front of us and we followed it for 15 seconds until my mother spotted a bird in the shrubbery. No more than 30 seconds after getting out of the car, we had found the dune lark (well actually two dune larks). They scurried around the dunes and in and out of grassy tufts. They even called a couple times as we watched them. We spent 15 minutes with the birds and then headed off for a quick stop at Sesriem Canyon. The calcrete canyon has been carved by the Tsaucuab River over milenia. Bradfield’s swifts (Apus bradfieldi) swooped through there canyons and speckled pigeon (Columba guinea) calls echoed throughout. Pale-winged starlings (Onychognathus nabouroup) darted into holes to feed their chicks with bright red berries in their mouths. We even heard a barn owl (Tyto alba) calling from a hole in the rock. We climbed back out and headed home for lunch and a siesta (just like the dune larks).

At 4pm, our siesta ended and we headed out to bird a little more. We headed out to the small runway in the middle of a gravel plain. A little pale bird scurried out of the runway and into onto the plain. As it turned and looked at us, we saw its plain coloration and big bill. It was the near endemic Gray’s lark (Ammomanes grayi), our first for the trip. It was an unusual sighting for the area, particularly because it was by itself. Gray’s larks tend to stay in small family flocks and are highly nomadic. We continued our drive and picked up a flock of grey-backed sparrow-larks (Eremopterix verticalis), many sociable weavers, and plenty of rock (Falco rupicolus) and greater kestrels (Falco rupicoloides). And we went and saw the dune lark again to get some photographs in the beautiful golden light.

Even though we only saw 31 species over the course of the day, the species we did see were quality species. Melissa saw three new species and I saw two. More than anything, we enjoyed the spectacular scenery of the dunes and plains and were truly amazed than anything could survive in such a harsh habitat.

Deadvlei Panoramic - Sossusvlei, Namibia

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