Some 580 different bird species have been recorded in the country.
The north of the country is especially rich in bird life with around 450 species having been recorded in the northern Chobe National Park and surrounding areas and in the Okavango Delta. As indicated above, the summer months, November to March (rainy season) provide the best birding, when migrants from the northern hemisphere have arrived in good numbers and have joined the resident species, many of which are engaged in breeding. Bird watchers, with a good guide, may record 150 or more species in a day during this season. At other times of the year, 100+ species in a day is quite possible.
In the northern Chobe/Kasane area one team of four birders recorded 290 species in January 2001 within a radius of 50 km in 24 hectic hours, still a regional record.
Birding in the open wetlands and savannas of Botswana is generally very satisfactory with the views of birds easier and better than rainforest regions where thick vegetation and high forest canopies seriously limit sightings. Birders will also be impressed by the sheer abundance of certain species (e.g. francolins, doves, hornbills, bulbuls, weavers, Blue Waxbills) Botswana boasts the species occurring in the largest flocks anywhere (Red-billed Quelea, sometimes in aggregations of several million); the heaviest flying bird (the Kori Bustard) and, of course, the largest bird of all (the Ostrich). The region has an array of highly colourful species, too, amongst which one may include Green-Pigeons, Malachite and Woodland Kingfishers, bee-eaters, rollers, orioles, Crimson-breasted Shrikes, sunbirds, bishops and waxbills.
The best birding areas in Botswana are in the north of the country, in the north Chobe/Kasane area, in and around the Okavango Delta (including Moremi Game Reserve) and in the Makgadikgadi Pans. These, really, are the areas to concentrate on, even if reasonable birding can be enjoyed in other regions.
NORTHERN CHOBE NATIONAL PARK and KASANE
(FROM NGOMA TO KAZUNGULA)
This area has yielded some 450 species of birds (Botswana's longest list) and must rank as one of the top birding spots in southern Africa. A minimum of three days, ideally encompassing sorties by vehicle, by boat and on foot, would be required to do the birding justice in this area. In such a period keen birders can expect to see over 100 species in winter and over 200 in summer. The record number of different species of birds recorded – seen and heard – in 24 hours in southern Africa (290) is from this area.
Western Banded Snake-Eagle, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Racket-tailed Roller, Collared Palm-Thrush, Swamp Boubou, Copper Sunbird, Brown Firefinch, Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah, Orange-winged Pytilia, Slaty Egret, Rufous-bellied Heron, Pink-throated Longclaw, Chirping Cisticola, Greater Swamp Warbler, White-crowned Plover, African Skimmer, Pygmy Goose, Rock Pratincole, African Finfoot, Half-collared Kingfisher, White-backed Night Heron.
Mixed broad-leaved woodland, riverine woodland, floodplains, the Chobe River, seasonal pans.
One may not leave one's vehicle in C.N.P. (other than at camp sites), nor may one drive off the road, but satisfactory birding can be done from a vehicle. There are many firebreaks (accessible by 4x4) in the forest reserve bordering Kasane and Kazungula and, whilst being attentive to the presence of elephants and buffaloes, biders may walk freely in this reserve. Four principal birding habitats are found between Ngoma and Kazungula:
1. Mixed Broadleafed woodland (baikiaea plurijuga often dominant) a few hundred metres from the river and extending far south into the C.N.P. and adjoining forest reserves. Within these woodlands are patches of acacia woodland, varying in extent, that are attractive to certain species, e.g. Cape Penduline Tit, Marico Flycatcher, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Violet-eared Waxbill. The 10km. track in a shallow valley from the Kazungula border post to Lesoma Village - following the Zimbabwe border - traverses very impressive acacia woodland. Three-banded Courser are sometimes found on this track, especially at night. Specials include Pennant-winged Nightjar (Oct. - Dec., especially on the roads around the Kasane sewage works) Racket-tailed Roller, Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (annual summer influx from the north, and only easily recognisable Feb., Mar., Apr.), Orange-winged Pytilia.
2. Riverine woodland, with various species including Diospyros mespiliformis, various acacia spp., Berchemia discolor, Croton megalobotrys, Gardenia volkensii and Trichelia emtica. One can drive next to the river from Ngoma to Kasane. Specials include Western Banded Snake-Eagle, Trumpeter Hornbill, Narina Trogon (rare in summer), Pel’s Fishing Owl (rare), Eastern Bearded Robin, Red-faced Cisticola (common from Kasane to Kazungula), Collared Palm-Thrush, Swamp Boubou, Copper Sunbird, Purple-banded Sunbird, Brown Firefinch. Olive bee-eaters have occasionally been reported from Nov. to March.
3. Floodplains, largely relict on the south (Botswana) side and seasonally inundated and extensively covered with phragmites reeds and papyrus on the north (Namibian) side of the Chobe River. Specials include Slaty Egret, Rufous-bellied Heron, Pink-throated Longclaw; Allen’s Gallinule; Lesser Moorhen; Red-headed Quelea (especially on Sedudu Island, Feb. to April), Chirping Cisticola, Luapula Cisticola, Greater Swamp Warbler.
4. The Chobe River itself, inclusive of its banks, from a point just west of Ngoma to its confluence with the Zambezi and including the rapids near Kasane. The river constitutes the border between Botswana and Namibia. Guided boat trips on the river are highly productive for birders and are rightly considered an African birding highlight. From late March to end June (high water) the river is navigable from just above the rapids to Kabulabula. At lower water levels the boating range is more restricted, but the stretch from the rapids to Puku Flats (usually the most productive part for birds) is navigable all year. Our tour to this area would encompass a river trip, which is a must for birders. Specials include White-crowned Plover (Puku Flats to Kazungula), African Skimmer (best place is "Hippo Pools" just off Watercart Drive), Pygmy Goose, found in quieter backwaters, but less frequently than in the Kasai Channel. In the rapids area look for Rock Pratincole (from Sept. to Feb.), African Finfoot, Half-collared Kingfisher, White-backed Night Heron.
5. Kasai Channel. A trip up the Kasai Channel (which connects the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers) is also possible. As this channel is in Namibia there are Immigration and Customs formalities to be observed on both sides of the border, but the lily-covered lagoons next to the main channel are rewarding: Pygmy Goose, Allen’s Gallinule and Purple Gallinule, African Rail, Lesser Moorhen, Lesser Jacana, and, in the fringing reeds and papyrus, Chirping Cisticola and Greater Swamp Warbler.
The Okavango Delta
The Okavango Delta is a huge, green wetland (15 000 km²), a paradise for water and water-associated birds. It comprises a mosaic of clear flowing channels, large stands of papyrus and reeds, permanent and seasonally flooded areas, lagoons and hundreds of exotically vegetated islands of varying size. It is one of the last refuges of the endangered Wattled Cranes and the main habitat for the near endemic Slaty Egret. It is also the best place in Africa to see the magnificent Pel’s Fishing Owl. The Okavango Delta is one of the great bird sanctuaries of the world.
The upper (northwest) part of the delta – roughly a third of the entire deltaic system – is permanently flooded, with extensive stands of papyrus and reeds, deep channels and small islands. The broader central and southeastern part is seasonally flooded, with larger wooded islands and extensive floodplains. Birding throughout the breathtakingly beautiful Okavango Delta (a World Heritage site), by mokoro (canoe), motor-boat and on foot is enormously appealing. This is big game country, too.
Makgadikgadi Pans and Central Kalahari Area
The Makgadikgadi salt pans, the largest of their kind in the world, are made up of two giant pans, Ntwetwe and Sowa. These pans are the remnant of a huge lake that covered a large part of northern Botswana thousands of years ago. Now they are mostly dry, but in years of good rainfall will hold water in certain, places, thereby attracting great numbers of aquatic bird species.
The hundreds of thousands of Greater and Lesser Flamingos that sometimes congregate and breed there in the shallow water in the early part of the year provide one of Africa’s great birding spectacles. As it enters the northeast of Sowa Pan the Nata River forms a mini delta attracting large numbers of aquatic species, including Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, various ducks and geese and large numbers of waders. Caspian Terns are regular visitors to the pans which are also the best place in the country to see Chestnut-banded Plovers.
The Nata delta is accessible from the Nata Sanctuary which has short grassland and scrub (in which species such as Black Korhaan, Pink-billed Lark, Ant-eating Chat, Capped Wheatear, Secretary Bird, Greater Kestrel may be found) and a strip of acacia forest along the Nata River (good for Acacia Pied Barbet, Crimson-breasted, Red-backed and Lesser Grey Shrikes, Marico Flycatcher, Southern Pied Babbler, Ashy Tit).
Vehicle access to certain areas in the pans may not be possible following heavy rains.
Birding Botswana can arrange an expedition to this area, staying in a lodge or camping.
Central Kalahari Game Reserve
This 52 150 km² game reserve is the largest in Africa (nearly six times bigger than Yellowstone National Park in the USA) and covers a massive portion of the classic dry Kalahari semi-desert. There is no permanent water here, though shallow pans may hold water for some weeks following the rains. The reserve is typified by fossil river beds, endless Kalahari scrub and grassland, pockets of stunted acacias, sandy tracks. There is no permanent water here, and thus no elephants, buffaloes, and other water-dependent creatures; but there are lions and other large predators, including Brown Hyaena, and other desert specialists like Bat-eared Foxes, oryx (gemsbok), hartebeest, springbok, ostrich….
Amongst other dry-country birds occurring here, you may find Secretary Birds, Black and Red-crested Korhaans, Kori Bustards, Temminck’s Coursers, Namaqua, Double-banded and Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Acacia Pied Barbets, Eastern Clapper, Monotonous and Spike-heeled Larks, Chestnut-backed and Grey-backed Finch-Larks, Pied Babblers, Red-eyed Bulbuls, Kalahari Robins, Rufous-eared Warblers, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babblers, Chat Flycatchers, Pririt Batises, Scaly-feathered and Red-headed Finches, Violet-eared Waxbills and Yellow Canaries.
We can arrange lodge-based and camping trips to this destination.