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RuaCana to Swartbooisdift

This area on the border of Angola offers some good birding but may get flooded from February to April, not allowing access much further than 10 km downstream from the RuaCana Hydro Electric Scheme. Along the river as well as the bordering hills and valleys one could in summer list 150 species within two or three days of intensive birding. Birding is done from the road that runs along the Cunene river. The road is tarred from RuaCana, descending into the Cunene river valley and to Hippo Pools, a viewpoint and picnic/camping area on the river. From here the road is gravel to Swarbooisdrift and beyond, and can be in poor condition.



Chestnut Weaver, Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrush, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Grey Kestrel, Hartlaub's Spurfowl, Carp's Tit, Monteiro's Hornbill, Madagascar Bee-eater, Cinderella Waxbill, Hartlaub's Babbler, Senegal Coucal



The riverine vegetation consists mainly of scattered Ana Trees (Faidherbia albida) and jackal Berry trees (Diospyrus mespilliformes). Leadwood (Combretum imberbe) and Mopane are also found. Occasional dense stands of Makalani palms and reedbeds line the riverbanks. Away from the river there are rolling rocky hills with Mopane scrub, and several gorges with water seeps.



Limited 2-wheel drive access, camping and lodge accommodation.



1. During the wet season thousands of Chestnut Weaver breed in the mopane woodlands along the tar road from RuaCana town to Hippo Pools.

2. Rufous-tailed Palm-Thrush and Bare-cheeked Babbler are easily seen in most palm thickets along the river, while Hartlaub's Babbler, Senegal Coucal and Golden Weaver occur in the reedbeds along the riverbanks. Hartlaub's Spurfowl, Carp's Tit, Monteiro's Hornbill, and Madagascar Bee-eater (summer) also occur. More general birds include Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Water Thick-knee, Goliath Heron, Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, African Barred Owlet, and several nightjars.

3.The elusive Cinderella Waxbill is found along the river banks, or alternately at seeps in the nearby rocky hills. A good place to try is the hillsides south of the road as you head west from the campsite at Hippo Pools. During the dry season the right fork of the small stream running south from Hippo Pools (the bridge crosses it), sometimes has small pools and springs. Patient watching in this area is usually rewarded with good views of Cinderella Waxbill.

3. Grey Kestrel is often seen on the power line pylons where the tar road ends towards at Hippo Pools.

4. Angola Swallow has been reported from the area of the Hydro Electric Power Plant outlets of the Cunene Dam. (although there are no confirmed records for this species in southern Africa - ed).

5. Look out for the distinctive race of the Red-necked Spurfowl (Pternestis afer cunenensis). The race of Bearded Woodpecker (Campethera bennettii buysi) found along the Cunene also shows distinctive unspotted yellow underparts.



To get to RuaCana from Windhoek one can take the B1 to Ondangwa and then the C46 to RuaCana. The road is tarred all the way. Fuel is obtainable at RuaCana village. Anyone progressing beyond the Hippo Pools area (the end of the tar road) should check on road conditions towards Swartboois Drift. Flash flooding, wash-aways and terrible road conditions are the order of the day, particulary in the wet season. A 4x4 is recommended.

There are several new campsites along the Cunene river, and one can also camp wild at any one of the beautiful spots along the river. One of the best campsites is Otjipupa Camp Site about 20 km east of Swartboois Drift. The birding here is excellent and the riparian woodlands are almost pristine.

At Swartbooisdrift, Kunene river Lodge offers bungalow accommodation, camping and a restaurant. Activities include boat trips and canoe hire. For reservations tel. +264-65-274300.

RuaCana village offers accommodation as well. The local power utility’s, NamPower Guest house is undoubtedly the best of the bunch 065-270096. Cheap wholesome meals need to be ordered well in advance if you plan to eat there. Osheja Guest house has self-catering facilities for eight people. Sunset Lodge offers three twin-bedded rooms (self catering), and camping. For reservations at both lodges tel +264-65-270092. In RuaCana village there is a small supermarket, and at the BP service station the "Quick Shop" stocks basic camping requirements.

Steve Brain and Chris Hines 2001.

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