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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

Southern Africa, Namibia,  South Africa,  Botswana, Lesotho  Mozambique  Swaziland,

Author

Jos Stratford, October - December 2001 and December 2002 -March 2003

Introduction

This report is based on the findings of two complementary trips to Southern Africa - a ten-week trip to the west of the sub-continent (Namibia and the Cape Province of South Africa) and a fifteen-week trip to the eastern half of the region (Botswana, the east of South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique). The basic aim of the first trip was to cover Namibia in depth, attempting to pick up all the endemics and specialities, while also visiting most of the prime sites in the Western Cape, thereby also seeing the majority of the Cape's special birds. The second trip had a rather different agenda - in addition to covering the eastern half of the sub-continent and thereby neatly supplementing the species seen in the west, it was also planned around a month of organised survey work in Botswana, covering both wetlands in the Okavango Delta and the south-east of the country.

In all, a total of 715 species were seen (532 on the first trip and 625 on the second). Within this very respectable total, nearly all the endemics, near endemics and specialities were seen and, if broken down into the constituent countries, 440 species were noted in Namibia, 538 in South Africa, 389 in Botswana and 200 in Mozambique.

Contents

In order to maximise the value of this report, it is divided into the following chapters, allowing the reader to quickly locate and cross reference all possible information required in the planning of a successful trip.

Detailed Itinerary/Daily Bird Account                                          

       ˇ Part 1 - Namibia & Cape Province 

        ˇ Part 2 - Botswana & eastern South Africa

        ˇ Part 3 - Mozambique

List of All Birds Seen
List of Mammals and Reptiles Seen 

Timing of Trip

The timing of the both trips, the southern spring to summer, couldn't have been better - not only are many of the birds in breeding plumage and actively displaying, but also the sub-continent is swamped by numerous migrants, both intra-African and those from Eurasia. To this end, my visit to the Caprivi Strip on the first trip (the best area for northern migrants in Namibia) was left as late as possible to coincide with the rains and the peak arrivals of these migrants.

Additionally, October is the best month at Etosha, both for birds and the mammals too - as the long dry season reaches its climax, huge concentrations of game are forced to congregate at the waterholes, thus giving unparalleled viewing and almost guaranteed Black Rhinos and big cats. This would not have been the case at Kruger had the rains started at their normal times - in what should have been a green fertile time, there was not the slightest hint of rain and the entire national park remained brown and parched.

This was also the situation in the whole of Botswana, where next to no rain had fallen and most pans were either totally dry (including the extensive Makgadikgadi Pans) or almost so. Whilst this undoubtedly resulted in fewer birds seen - especially at Makgadikgadi - it was beneficial in that it made land rover access into remote areas of the Okavango far easier.

Anther benefit of a 'summer' trip included that on the southern coast, from Cape Town eastward to De Hoop, the months of September through to November are also the calving times of Southern Right Whales, during which period these great sea mammals can be seen very close inshore.

And, of course, for any European fleeing the northern winter, the final obvious benefit is the fantastic weather during this period, with only limited possibilities of rain along the Cape coast and, in the latter parts of the season, in the far north and in Kwazulu. Otherwise, it's all hot and sunny .but beware, often very hot in the Namib and Kalahari Deserts and other parts of inland Namibia and Botswana (well in excess of 40ēC is common!). Oh yes, March is also cyclone season in Mozambique and, just my luck, no sooner than I had arrived and I got hammered by a full-blown cyclone!!!

Birding Sites

Namibia. An ideal trip to Namibia, after a couple of days rounding up on the many specialities in the Windhoek area, should include several days at Etosha, a loop to the west encompassing Sossusvlei, Walvis Bay (including the Dune Lark site), Spitskoppe and possibly Twyfelfontain. Thereafter, adding an almost entirely new avifauna and a great number of spectacular species, an extended trip throughout the Caprivi Strip would be very well rewarded indeed, as would a trip to Ruacana Falls. In fact, of the 433 species I saw in Namibia, an impressive 35% were noted only in Ruacana or, moreover, the Caprivi Strip. Leaving the north, those with time could also make a trip to the far south, incorporating Luderitz and its seabirds, the Barlow's Lark site and then possibly the Orange River for a number of species more typical of South Africa.

South Africa. For the Cape Province, all the localities visited are detailed in the excellent site guide 'Essential Birding' by Callan Cohen and Claire Spottiswoode, a copy of which I suggest is well worth purchasing. At an absolute minimum, however, I would advise several days in the Cape Town area, a loop out to the Overburg and up to the Karoo, along with trips up the West Coast and into Bushmanland. For those with sea legs, I would also recommend a pelagic trip - these, for any birder from the Northern Hemisphere, are an amazing spectacle - sitting out on the continental shelf in a small boat, barely above the waves, surrounded by countless albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, all just metres away.

In the eastern half of the country, there are enough sites to keep the birder happy for months, but even a trip of short duration should try to squeeze in Kruger (preferably including the north), the endemic-rich farmlands of Wakkerstroom, the coastal sites and forests in Kwazulu and a taster of the Drakensburg specialities at, for example, Sani Pass. If you have time to spare, the highlands of Swaziland are also highly recommended, especially if Blue Swallow is on your hit list (it is also only a short drive from he southern end of Kruger).

Botswana. The obvious birding site is the Okavango Delta and no birding trip to the country would be complete without at least a few days in this paradise - but be warned, Moremi is expensive and the private concessions covering most of the delta are absolutely expensive! Fortunately, however, the best of Moremi's birds can be seen in just a couple of days and furthermore most of the delta's specials also occur (and in many cases are more common) along the freely accessible Boteti and Thamalakane Rivers to the south of Maun. Under no circumstances, however, should you forget the Pan Handle - a visit to Shakawe, as well as being considerably easier on your wallet, is almost guaranteed to deliver a whole host of mouth-watering birds, including Pel's Fishing Owl and White-backed Night Heron. Other sites in the country that would be well worth a visit could include the Makgadikgadi Pans (countless thousands of breeding flamingos, pelicans and other waterbirds.if not dry, as was on my visit), some of the sites in the Gaborone area (Cape Vulture, Short-clawed Lark and waterbirds) and of course the immense Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for all the Kalahari specials. The Kgalagadi is, however, much easier to visit on the South African side, but if you are equipped with a four-wheel drive, the Botswana part offers a much wilder 'back of beyond' experience. Not visited, but the Chobe (east of the Okavango) is another fantastic birding spot and would pay rich dividends to any trip there.

Mozambique. Not always the easiest country to visit - most sites have either no facilities or only the most rudimentary and the best localities generally require considerable effort to access. Staying south of the Zambezi, a well-planned trip would do well to include a couple of days on the Inhambane peninsula, before then heading north to Vilankulo and the Benguera Archipelago (preferably including a pelagic trip here). Heading a long way north, you could then stop for a few days in some of the best sites that Mozambique has to offer - the fantastic Gorongosa Mountain, the rewarding Zambezi lowlands and Rio Savane, each of these rich in species that you'll be hard pushed to find elsewhere in southern Africa. Anybody planning a trip is advised to consult www.sabirding.com, an excellent wed site detailing all the key sites in Mozambique (as well as the rest of Southern Africa).

Transport.

A hire car is essential (try www.rhinocarhire.com) for the national parks and would be desirable for many of the remoter sites, such as the Namib Desert, the Overburg and the Karoo. The majority of sites are, however, easily accessible by public transport or hitch-hiking and, indeed on my first trip, I hitched throughout and hired a car only twice - for nine days to cover central Namibia and Etosha, then four days for the Overburg and Karoo. The second trip was rather different - the first month was courtesy of a land rover to battle through the Kalahari and Okavango, a rare treat for the backpacker bones in me; the second month even more luxurious with a hire car to cover South Africa; while the third month it was back to the rough and tumble, attempting to hitch-hike and survive the buses of Mozambique!

Index

ˇ Part 1 - Namibia & Cape Province 

        ˇ Part 2 - Botswana & eastern South Africa

        ˇ Part 3 - Mozambique

List of All Birds Seen (Very Big!)
List of Mammals and Reptiles Seen 

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