Namibia Day 11: Rummaging for the rockrunner

Today was our final day in beautiful Namibia and we had only one more species to find, the rockrunner (Achaetops pycnopygius). The rockrunner is small, warbler-like bird that is near-endemic to Namibia. It lives in hilly, rocky areas where it dashes from boulder to boulder. It looks similar to a scampering mouse when it clambers around the rocks. In addition to being a stunning bird with a rusty colored throat and bold brown stipes down its chest, it has one of the most beautiful songs with long, warbling phrases that carry down the mountain sides.

We awoke before sunrise to try to reach the rockrunner spot by the time the dawn chorus began. When we awoke, the groundbird “chorus” had already begun with red-billed spurfowl (Pternistis adspersus) calling on the lawns surrounding the lodge and Hartlaub’s francolin (Francolinus hartlaubi) duetting on the rocky scree surrounding us. White-browed scrub-robins (Cercotrichas leucophrys) improvised their song from every tree as we made our way down the winding dirt road to the spot. We stopped briefly to try at one trailhead but the rockrunners were silent and so we moved onwards and upwards to a new spot.

Waterberg Panoramic - Namibia
Waterberg Plateau scenery

As we arrived, it was clear that we had hit the motherlode of rockrunners. They were calling all around us (or so it seemed). However, the difficult part was not over as we could not seem to spot a single bird despite their abundance. We walked up and down the road, getting increasingly disheartened as each bird we found moved off as we got close. Finally, Melissa and I climbed up a little hill and spotted the little bugger, singing in a bush. Now, we can personally say that the rockrunner is every bit as beautiful as the book shows it to be. We watched it sing for a few minutes before a black-backed jackal flushed it.

With our final target in the bag, we all relaxed a bit and walked along the road searching for anything and everything. We found half a dozen more rockrunners, and a nice pair of Carp’s tits (Parus carpi). We headed down the hill back to the lodge for breakfast and packing, finding a white-browed scrub-robin (the first seen on the trip) and a few Rüppell’s parrots (Poicephalus rueppellii) on the way. After breakfast and packing, we headed out, pausing at a pond for one last surprise, a dwarf bittern (Ixobrychus sturmii)! On our way we also stopped to admire a pair of violet-eared waxbills (Uraeginthus granatinus), and a Jacobin cuckoo (Clamator jacobinus). We also found our only chameleon of the trip, a flap-necked chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis) crossing the road.

We continued south to Windhoek, stopping to look at a massive flock of Abdim’s storks (Ciconia abdimii) and yellow-billed kites (Milvus aegyptius) flying above us. We also quickly popped in to try for a xanthocroic (yellow-form) crimson-breasted (Laniarius atrococcineus) shrike to no avail. We arrived in Windhoek and admired our last Namibian birds Bradfield’s (Apus bradfieldi), African palm (Cypsiurus parvus), and alpine swifts (Tachymarptis melba) before saying goodbye to Dayne and heading onwards to Johannesburg.

Melissa, my mother, and I cannot say enough good things about Namibia, Batis Birding Tours, and our guide, Dayne. We saw every Namibian near endemic (except Barlow’s lark (Calendulauda barlowi) in the south which we never aimed for due to its range) over the course of the trip. In addition to birds, we saw tons of mammals from meerkats (Suricata suricatta) to elephants (Loxodonta africana). In the end, we will definitely be back! So just to remember our trip, Melissa and I figured we would go through a few highlights:

Favorite bird(s)?

M: bare-cheeked babbler (Turdoides gymnogenys), double-banded courser (Rhinoptilus africanus), dune lark (Calendulauda erythrochlamys), pallid harrier (Circus macrourus), and African golden oriole (Oriolus auratus)

C: black-faced babbler (Turdoides melanops), terek sandpiper (Xenus cinereus), karoo long-billed lark (Certhilauda subcoronata), red-necked falcon (Falco chicquera), sociable weaver (Philetairus socius), Hartlaub’s francolin, white-tailed shrike (Lanioturdus torquatus) (on a nest), and pallid harrier

Favorite mammal(s)?

M: Aardwolf (Proteles cristata)

C: Meerkat, aardwolf, gemsbok (Oryx gazella)

Favorite landscape(s)?

M: Spitzkoppe and Sossusvlei

C: Sossusvlei and Rietfontein waterhole in Etosha

Favorite overall place?

M: Spitzkoppe

C: Swakopmund (basically I love shorebirds)

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