Top 5 Spots for Bird Watching in South Africa
South Africa is ranked 25th in the world when it comes to size. But it isn’t area alone that is responsible for the over 900 listed species of birds you are likely to see.
Most of the country lies in rather temperate climes, some of it in the subtropics, and the huge diversity of habitat means that birds rather like it here. Whilst you can safely spot them in just about any green space, there are several ‘hot spots’ that you cannot afford to miss. Top 5 Spots for Bird Watching in South Africa…
The lilac breasted roller’s beauty is often displayed on marketing brochures for the Kruger National Park, despite there being lion and other Big 5 mammals that easily rank ‘up there’ on people’s lists of things to see before they die. With over 507 species of bird in the Kruger, even if twenty percent of these sightings are considered rare, you will sometimes find that you have more luck with birds than with mammals.
Die hards recommend the northern parts of the reserve as undoubtedly the best on the continent, and a number of the camps have their own hides. For information about the Kruger’s annual 24-hour Birding Big Day, contact SANParks.
This World Heritage site is worthy of a visit for its 420 species that include the lesser and greater flamingo, rufous-bellied heron and buff-spotted flufftails – up there with nightjars, kingfishers and a variety of robins. The greater part of this biodiverse park protects a vital wetland, home to a collection of waterbirds that include the saddle-billed stork and a host of waders like grey plover, pied avocet and ruff.
Self-guided trails and hides make birding on foot, whilst keeping an eye out for the odd hippo, relatively easy, and the extremely varied habitats mean that you can explore from estaury to dune forest and mangrove swamp for a greater diversity.
Despite its reputation as an arid, windswept skeleton coast, the West Coast has a number of different eco-systems – coastal, sandveld and estuarine habitats – where bird spotting for special and endemic birds could easily result in a myriad sightings.
Head to: the Berg River Hides in Velddrif (a RAMSAR site) for blackwinged stilts or purple gallinule; Bird Island in Lambert’s Bay for marine birds like kelp gulls and white-breasted cormorants; Rocherpan Nature Reserve with its seasonal vlei for the African black oystercatcher (and a glimpse of whales); Verlorenvlei, also a RAMSAR site, for the African spoonbill, African fish eagle or white pelican; and the West Coast National Park for bird hides overlooking the lagoon.
The mountains and foothills of the Southern Drakensberg, closest to the towns of Barkly East and Rhodes, abound with birdlife – close to 230 species, 30 of which are regarded as highly endangered. Bearded vultures, grey crowned cranes, flycatchers, warblers and eight different species of chat. You might even see European bee-eaters, not very common to the area, but recently sighted nonetheless.
Why select just one nature reserve in the vast north eastern swathes of the country? When the Nyl River floods the Limpopo wetlands in this 4 000 hectare Nylsvley Conservancy (also a RAMSAR site) the bird spotting opportunities are unsurpassed. Not only is the reserve home to 37 Red-Data species, but as many as 365 species of birds have been spotted here at the height of the flood.
When fully inundated, the floodplain reaches 16 000 hectares, only ten percent of which is formally conserved as Nylsvley. Over 104 water birds visit, and breed, during the heavy floods, which do not occur annually but once every three or four years.
If you can time it for a high rainfall year, then get there between February and May. Even in the dry season, the bushveld birds are well worth spotting.