Despite the fact that I own three Southern African bird books and work in travel, I admit what I know about birding is enough to make me break out in a cold sweat whenever clients ask me to identify a particular bird, especially when some people can identify an Herero Chat in flight. (true story)
That being said, it does not make the fact that Namibia’s FIFTH Ramsar site has officially been declared any less exciting.
The Ramsar convention is an intergovernmental treaty whereby countries commit to maintaining the ecological character of their ‘Wetlands of International importance’ – so these governments agree to ONLY sustainable usage of all their wetland territories.
August 1995, when the Ramsar Convention was held was busy time in Namibia with the original four Ramsar sites being proclaimed.
Walvis Bay has a tidal lagoon which supports between 37,000 – 79,000 birds. Flamingos occur here in great numbers and eleven endangered species are regularly spotted in this area. These include Eastern or Great White Pelicans (this is the only area in Namibia where they breed), Damara Tern, Cape Cormorants, whitebreasted Cormorants and crowned cormorants.
Sandwich Harbour is actually two distinct ecologies, one is a mudflat wetland, which is fed by an aquifer and the second is the raised shingle bars along the coast and is influenced by the tides. This is one of Namibia’s most important wetland areas, supporting at least 8 endangered bird species and several of archaeological sites that are over 1,000 years old are also found in this area. Besides the gulls, terns, plovers you also find the Knot, Bartailed Codwit, Greenshank and Curlew (I am not ashamed to admit that I have no idea what any of those are!)
Orange River Mouth is a trans-border site between Namibia and South Africa. The Orange River is the only perennial river in this entire region and the river itself has a number of sand bar islands. There are a number of endemic plants found here and in the summer (the European and North American winters) it becomes the sixth richest wetland in southern Africa. The bird numbers are so impressive that over 1% of the entire global population of at least three species of bird are found here, these include the Cape Cormorants, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveller and Hartlaub’s Gull! (I am starting to learn that birds with ‘Hartlaub’ at the beginning of the name are ones to keep an eye out for!)
Etosha Pan/lake Oponono and Cuvelai Drainage – besides being a mouthful, this is what you and I know as the Etosha National Park and Owamboland! This is basically a system different habitats which include seasonally flooded grasslands (oshonas), the Pans and savannahs. Believe it or not, not only do 45% of Namibia’s population lives here BUT this region also is home to a large number of rare and endangered species and large mammals! In the rainy season it is also a flamingo breeding ground. (reasons to travel to Namibia in the low season!)
Bwabwatwa/Okavango is made up of the lower Okavango River and part of the Okavango pan handle (yes, the Okavango Delta DOES start in Namibia!) and is home to a number of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red listed species; Elephants, Hippos, Lion, Slaty Egret and the Grey Crowned crane, amongst others. This region boasts the highest species diversity in the entire Zambezian flooded savannahs ecosystem. There are over 400 bird species here – the highest number of any site in Namibia!
So if you are an amateur twitcher or a dedicated ornithologist – there is definitely something out here for everyone. My personal crowning glory was when I spotted a Goliath Heron on the Kunene River along the Angolan border–it is only 10 cm shorter than I am, so it was probably less ‘elegant’ than I care to admit to!