Botswana Traveler

An American explores the desert and the delta

Tips for Birding in Botswana

Posted on | August 27, 2009 | 5 Comments

Botswana has an amazing variety of birds, especially waterbirds and raptors. If you are interested in birds at all, you will not be disappointed in this country. I am only a begining birder and never found birds that interesting in the U.S. However, the beauty of the birds in Botswana cannot be ignored and I am now hooked on the hobby with my Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa always close at hand.  Here is my advice for a traveler interested in birding:

Before You Leave Home

  • Check out BirdLife Botswana and familiarize yourself with the news about birds in Botswana.  It is the local branch of the BirdLife International organization and has some of the most friendly and helpful I have ever met.  Specifically read about birding places and finding a guide specializing in birding tours.  Most importantly, help the organization monitor birds of concern while on your trip by keeping a list of specific threatened species that you have seen.  I find the birds of concern monitoring a fun challenge while on safari (or in town!) and participate every time I’m out.
  • Check the BirdLife Botswana Blog for the latest news and rarities sightings
  • Buy a good Botswana birding book.  It will be cheaper and easier to buy this before you get to Botswana.  This spinning Amazon doohicky has my favorites.

  • Get a good pair of binoculars.  If you are a veteran birder, you already have these and know how important they are.  If you are new to the hobby, save up some money and get a good pair – they are worth it.  The Safari Holiday Guide has a fantastic buying guide which is a good place to start.  I have the Brunton Echo 10×50 Porro Prism Waterproof Binoculars that are a bit big, but very comfortable in your hand and have fantastic clarity.  I bought these for the wide field-of-view and the price that was lower than similar Nikons.  For more binocular advice, check out Optics4Birdingbirding.com, and for safari binocular recommendations, you can’t beat Best Binoculars & Reviews.  If you want to get really nerdy about it, go to Optical Research Associates and read all about optics.
  • Download and print a Botswana Bird Checklist from Birdlife Botswana (Microsoft Excel File) or here (this one is in a nicer format).  You’ll never remember everything you saw without a checklist!

While In Botswana

  • Be sure to express your interest in birds to your guide or managers at the lodge you are staying at.  They are a wealth of information and can tailor your trip to take advantage of your interests.  Most guides will be very talented at spotting and identifying birds and can tell you much you may not know.
  • Visit areas of Botswana known for their birds, but be sure to visit in the right season!  Some of the best areas are:
    • Nata Bird Sanctuary – Known for the spectacular migration of thousands of Flamingos to this park at the edge of the Makgadikgadi Pan, but can be quite devoid of birds in the winter.  Easy to access.  Birds often seen include Greater and Lesser Flamingos, African Spoonbill, and Great White Pelican.  Best time to visit is the rainy season from December to April.
    • Lake Ngami – Water levels at the lake are unreliable; some years it fills up and floods the surrounding forest (as in 2009) and other years it is dry as a bone.  Easy day-trip from Maun.  Birds seen here are all variety of wading and shore birds including the Wattled Crane, Fish Eagle, Great White Pelican, African Spoonbill, and occasionally Flamingos, among others.  The end of the rainy season is often spectacular, around April and May.  When water levels get too high, some birds leave for shallower hunting grounds.  Best to ask around in Maun to find out the status of the lake this year.
    • Otse Vultures – At the Manyelanong Game Reserve just outside of Gaborone you can find one of the few nesting places of the Cape Vulture in Botswana.  The Cape Vultures live only in Southern Africa and are extremely endangered.  This is a great opportunity to see this rare bird, especially in the breeding and nesting season of May to December.
    • Khwai Area – Home to many Bataleur Eagles, White Backed Vultures, Wattled Cranes, Saddle-Billed Storks, and Ground Hornbills, the Khwai area between Moremi and Chobe should be on every birder’s itinerary.  Birding is good year-round, though the roads can be very treacherous in the rainy season December through April.
    • Central Kalahari Game Reserve – If you are interested in large, odd birds, the Kalahari has you covered.  Ostrich, Kori Bustard, and the Secretary Bird are common sights.  The rainy season is beautiful with wildflowers, but treacherous, while the dry season can be quite bland.  The end of the rainy season is likely the best, sometime around May, when grasses remain but the roads are dry.
  • Look for and record (GPS, photograph, note behavior and gender) birds of concern.
  • Be patient.
  • Take lots of pictures!  For some quick tips, check out the Safari-Guide.  If you have a GPS unit with you, keep it on always so that you can geotag your pictures when you get home with geotag software (just make sure your camera and GPS are set to the same time!).  This will help your birds of concern information for BirdLife Botswana as well!
  • Discuss birds with other travelers!  You may be surprised by how excited by birds other wildlife enthusiasts are.

When You Return Home

Even if you have no bird book, no binoculars, and no particular knowledge, one can’t help but be blown away by the abundance, diversity, and beauty of the birds of Botswana.

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