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Botswana Ornithology

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Bird watching in Botswana

Very few places in Africa can offer the variety and sheer number of Bird species as can Botswana. Visitors will discover that game viewing soon becomes a holistic wildlife experience which encompasses every aspect of the many eco systems offered. Birding should be an important part of the overall enjoyment of visits to the different regions. A number of rare species, such as the Pel's Fishing Owl of the Okavango, are endemic to the region and present a challenge to the enthusiast. The Okavango has some 440 species of birds. Fish Eagles are common residents across the Delta and northern reaches of Botswana occasionally offering that never - to - be forgotten sight of a strike and catch over open water. The call of the Fish Eagle is one of the most evocative sounds of the African wilderness. For a memorable birding experience visit Shakawe where excellent birding facilities are available.


Kalahari Birds

The bird life of the Kalahari is distinctive kori bustards stalk tall through the long grasses, as do korhaans, secretary birds and ostriches. Bataleur eagles, lanner falcons, chanting goshawks, greater kestrels and white-backed vultures are commonly seen raptors. More colourful are the lilac-breasted and purple rollers.

Flamingoes on the Pan

During the rainy seasons when the pans are flooded they become home to thousands of greater and lesser flamingoes. The pans are the second largest breeding site for greater flamingoes in Africa, especially the Sowa Pan. Most of these birds migrate to the area from Etosha in Namibia and East Africa. Flamingoes are excellent fliers and can cover distances of up to 5OOkm overnight. Flamingoes are attracted to the pans by the algae and crustaceans which thrive in the intermittent lakes. They feed on the algae by utilising a complicated and sophisticated feeding system for filtering the food from the highly alkaline salt pans. Most spectacular of these birds are greater and lesser flamingos, who can turn whole sections of the Makgadigadi Pans to a shifting, dazzling mass pink and white, their reflections in the water seeming to double their number. Also to be seen in big numbers are pelicans, terns, spoonbills, waders, storks and plover.

Moremi

Moremi is an ornithologist's delight. Fish eagles, kingfishers and bee-eaters abound. Other birds commonly seen include parrots, shrikes, egrets, jacanas, pelicans, bateleur eagles, hornbills, herons, saddle-billed storks, yellow-billed oxpeckers, wattled cranes, reed cormorants, spur-winged geese, long-tailed shrikes and flocks of thousands of red-billed queue which fly together in a sphere like a great spotted flying ball.

Nata Bird Sanctuary

Nata sanctuary is managed through a local community project devoted to conserving this diverse eco-system while addressing the needs of growing human populations in the Nata area. This unique approach to community involvement in eco-tourism is considered to be the future Key to conservation throughout Africa. In the wet season a variety of water birds descend on the pans and the whole Nata area generally abounds with wildlife. Situated on the far north eastern edge of Sowa Pan, this area is generally more accessible and easier to traverse than the remainder of the Makgadikgadi area.

Okavango

The Okavango has possibly the highest concentration of fish eagles in the world numerous occasions our guide waved a fish in the air and called to a fish eagle perched high in a tree over a half-mile away, then tossed the fish into the water about 30 feet (9 m) from the boat. Like magic, the eagle dived down at full speed and plucked the fish from the water. To catch the best action of fish eagles must be fast with a camera to catch that on film.

Other bird species include' the coppery tailed coucal, purple heron, striped kingfisher, Meyer's parrot, black collared barbet, yellow-fronted tinker barbet, hamerkop, red-bilIed woodhoopoe, saddle-billed stotk, Dickenson's kestrel, lesser spotted eagle, grey lourie, carmine bee-eater, slaty egret, little egret, reed cormorant, wattled crane, green black heron, goliath heron, black smith plover, pied kingfisher, yellow billed kite, western banded snake eagle, African edarter and African jacana.

Vulture Colonies

The hills south of Gaborone have two known Cape vulture colonies, a rare find now that vultures have been eradicated from many areas not designated as National Parks. The closest to the city is at Mannyelanong, reached by a dirt road from Mogonye village, which lies just east of the Lobatse road.

Gaborone and Surrounds

The Gaborone area provides the birder with a variety of species and habitats to explore, and gives one an opportunity to pick up a number of typical bushveld species, including several Kalahari specials. Depending on rainfall, a full midsummer day birding could yield anything up to 230 species. The following sites can easily be visited in a day and are well worth the effort if you are passing through or have a day to spend in Gaborone. An early start to any birding day is essential, particularly in summer, where mid-day temperatures often climb into the forties.

Gaborone Game Reserve

The Gaborone Game Reserve is situated very close to the middle of town, and is an excellent spot to visit, especially after heavy rains. Large numbers of Wood and Common Sandpiper move into the area as well as impressive flocks of Whitefaced Duck . Painted Snipe as well as African Crake may be seen in the flooded areas. Redcrested Korhaan are common in the Game Reserve and Little, European and Bluecheeked Bee-eaters can be seen throughout the Reserve. Yellowbilled Kite have been known to breed along the river which forms the eastern boundary, and Little Sparrowhawk has also been seen in the large Combretum trees along the river course. Blackbreasted Snake Eagle may be seen sitting on the Electricity Powerlines, while Crimsonbreasted Shrike is common in the reserve.

Kgale Hill

Kgale Hill, which overlooks the southern end of Gaborone, is a very distinctive landmark, and can be seen from a long distance. Kgale provides a totally different habitat to the surrounding areas, the walks up to the top may take up to two hours. In the thicker bush at the base of the hill, listen out for the two syllable call of the Fantailed Flycatcher and the "squeaky windmill" call of the Whitethroated Robin.

In summer, the beautiful Plumcoloured Starling may be seen feeding in small flocks at the base of the hill. Also look out for Kalahari Robin, Yellow Canary, Southern Black Tit and the ever-present Blackchested Prinia. Black Eagles have bred on Kgale in the past, while Lanner Falcon, African Hawk Eagle and Booted Eagle may be seen circling around Kgale and the adjacent hills.

Some of the interesting species that can be seen while moving up the slopes of Kgale include Short toed Rock Thrush, Natal Francolin, Lazy Cisticola, Redeyed Bulbul, Barthroated Apalis, Cape White-Eye, Mocking Chat and Striped Pipit, which can be heard calling near the top. In summer look out for Garden Warbler and Yellowthroated Sparrow in the trees towards the top of Kgale.

Phalakane Sewage Ponds

Phakalane sewage ponds, about 20km north of Gaborone is an excellent spot to see many of the water birds of the area. Access may be gained by contacting the Botswana Bird Club. A walk around the ponds in summer may yield Blacknecked Grebe, Maccoa, Fulvous and Whitebacked Duck, Cape, Redbilled and Hottentot Teal, Black Crake and Purple Gallinule. Pygmy Goose, Lesser Moorhen and Spotted Crake are a few of the more unusual species to have been recorded in the last few years. Both Flamingo species are seen regularly at Phakalane as well as the occasional Fish Eagle.

Waders are well represented with Common, Wood, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Greenshank, Little Stint and Threebanded Plover all being recorded regularly. Jacobin and Black Cuckoo as well as Striped and Woodlands Kingfisher may be seen in the bushveld surrounding the ponds. Marico Flycatcher, Swallowtailed Bee-Eater, Sabota Lark and Whitecrowned Shrike roost on the telephone lines.

Bokaa Dam

Bokaa Dam, north of Gaborone can be aproductive birding area depending on the level of the water, especially on the southern shore. When you approach the dam the area is covered by Acacia tortilis thickets and is excellent for many of the migrant warblers. A variety of water birds can be seen on the dam but this depends to a large extent on the level of the water. Blackwinged Pratincoles can be seen as well as Whitebacked Duck, Grey Plover, Fulvous Duck and South African Shelduck.

Notwane Siding

Situated 11km south of Gaborone, on the Lobatse road, Notwane Siding is a good place to start the day. Notwane is dominated by Acacia and Terminalia woodland and is easily accessible by car. Numerous roads lead to many parts of the suburb, but walking provides the best results. Some of the interesting species that you can expect in the early hours of the morning include Pearlspotted and Barn Owl and Rufouscheeked Nightjar.

A pair of Giant Eagle owls nest on the Notwane River, and can be heard calling in late summer. After dawn, Scimitar billed Woodhoopoe, Pied Barbet, Ashy Tit, Brubru, Great Sparrow, Marico Sunbird, Crimsonbreased Shrike, Whitebacked Mousebird, Titbabbler and Jacobin Cuckoo as well as both Kalahari and Whitebrowed Robins are common and may be heard calling. The Rattling Cisticola and Marico Flycatcher are particularly common, the latter being identified by its white underparts and contrasting darker upperparts.

Acacia thickets are particularly productive for many of the smaller species. Keep your eyes and ears open for Burntnecked Eromomela, Violeteared and Blackcheecked Waxbill as well as Melba, Redheaded, Scalyfeathered and Cutthroat Finch, and in winter look out for the delicate Fairy Flycatcher. A few of the more colorful migrants to enter the area during summer include Bluecheecked and Carmine Bee-Eater, Woodlands Kingfisher and European Golden Oriole. Whitethroat and Icterine Warbler are both present as well as the beautiful Barred Warbler. The larger but more secretive Olivetree Warbler, which has been returning to the same Acacia mellifera thicket in Notwane for the last three seasons can also be seen. Keep your eyes open for Pintailed, Shafttailed and Paradise Whydah, which can be seen flying above the treetops or sitting on the power lines. Pied Babbler may be seen moving through the trees, listen for their babbling calls. The Notwane River, which is flanked by private estates, is lined with large Acacia Karoo and Combretum trees. Giant Eagle Owl have bred along the river for the past few years, and they may be seen on most winter evenings hunting in the surrounding bush.

Malachite, Brownhooded, Pied and Woodland Kingfisher all frequent the river, while Blackcrowned Night Heron roost in large numbers in trees overhanging the water. Quiet shores provide an excellent home for Black Crake, Little Bittern, Black Egret and Greenbacked Heron. The large trees fringing the river are home to many Cuckoo species. African, Redchested, Striped, Klaas, Diederic, Black and Jacobin are all seen regularly.

Last Updated on Wednesday 25th November 2009

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