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Bird Watching Tours in South Africa

Article by Byron Palacios

With its amazing biological diversity, thriving ecosystems and wonderful climate, it is no wonder that South Africa has emerged as one of the top global destinations for bird watching tours. South Africa has around 850 recorded bird species, 725 of them resident or migrant and 50 endemic. These numbers make bird watching tours supremely satisfying for birders of all levels who flock together (pardon the pun!) from all over the globe to catch a glimpse of beautiful, rare and endangered species – such as the blue crane and black African oystercatcher.

Hundreds of nature parks and game reserves throughout he country provide excellent opportunities for bird watching. Tours to the coastal areas, the grassy wetlands, and even the interior regions and cities with their high density of birds per square kilometre, allow bird watchers of varying ages and levels of expertise countless hours filled with sightings. Here are just a few of the important birding areas of South Africa:

Western Cape

Many say that Cape Town offers the best sea-birding and pelagic bird watching tours in the area. Certainly, many varieties of gulls, frigate birds, tropic birds, boobies, petrels, cormorants, albatrosses, and terns abound. For those who manage to schedule their bird watching tours during the Sardine Run that occurs around June or July, the incredible sight of Cape gannets diving into the seas to catch fish is definitely something to remember and record in birding journals. And did we mention the African penguins? Make your way to Boulder Beach, and you’ll be delighted at how close they come to you.

Bird watching tours in the Western Cape will take you where the fynbos are, and that’s where you’ll also be able to spot some of South Africa’s favourite endemics such as the orange-breasted sunbird, protea seedeater, Cape siskin, Cape sugarbird and Hottentot buttonquail. The rocky cliffs are home to the Cape rockjumper, while the Knysna and Victoria’s warblers prefer damper valleys.

Kwazulu-Natal

Freshwater lagoons, tidal estuaries, marshes and flooded grasslands make this province a perfect habitat for a large variety of birds. It is one of the most species-rich spots to visit on South Africa bird watching tours. In Tembe Elephant Reserve alone, about 340 species of birds can be found, including some rare one such as the Rudd’s apalis, Natal nightjar and the Woodward’s barbet Others you may be lucky enough to see include the palmnut vulture, African broadbill, Neergaard’s sunbird, Delegorgue’s pigeon, Livingstone and Knysna turacos, and the southern banded snake eagle.

Mpumalanga

The central grasslands – an area of high grasses, marsh and wetlands – are a popular destination for organised bird watching tours to spot a wide variety of birds such as Rudd’s and Botha’s larks, yellow-breasted and African rock pipits, the bush blackcap, blue and white-bellied korhaans, Stanley’s bustard, the blue, grey-crowned and wattled cranes, the southern bald ibis, and the white-winged flufftail. Lowveld, on the northeastern part of the province, and low-lying bush areas (such as that taken up by Kryger National Park) serve as home to a large number of South African raptors such as the martial eagle, tawny eagle, brown snake eagle, African hawk eagle, Walhberg’s eagle, steppe eagle and lesser spotted eagle. Other great birds of note are the saddle-billed stork, ostrich, southern ground hornbill and the Kori bustard.

About the Author

Byron Palacios is a Tour Manager for Naturetrek, a tour operator specialising in expert-led natural history and bird watching tours worldwide. Naturetrek bring over 25 years of experience to their bird watching tours in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.

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