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BIRDING SAFARIS

Southern and East Africa offer an enormous variety of specialist birding opportunities. Birding safaris are offered to almost every part of the region and cover every habitat ranging from the high altitude slopes of Mount Kenya or Kilimanjaro, to deserts, rain forest, savannah, the Indian Ocean Islands and the open oceans south of Cape Town.

Most specialist birding safaris use lodges, hotels or B&Bs as bases from which to explore areas of interest for the day, or days, usually by vehicle but sometimes on foot. The vehicles have space for telescopes, long lenses and other paraphernalia carried by birders. Usually these safaris cater for small groups but personal guides for one or two people are available.

There are also photographers who guide specialist birding safaris.

Some operators also make use of local guides not only to compliment the skills of the specialist guide but also to help employment in rural areas which are often very poor.

A wide range of safaris are on offer. Some may focus on species endemic to a certain country or habitat, others on raptors and still others on water birds.

Some safari tours will also attempt to ensure birders are treated to sightings of a particularly unusual species, perhaps the Shoebill in the Lake Bangweulu region in Central Zambia, the Taita falcons in Tazania’s Usamburu Mountains or perhaps the Madagascar Fish Eagle.

A number of operators in South Africa offer boat excursions that take birders out to sea off Cape Town to record pelagic species that seldom, if ever, come inshore. The region is particularly rich in birdlife during the winter (April – August) when many species move into warmer southern African waters to escape the Antarctic winter. A variety of albatrosses, petrels, skuas, terns and other oceanic species are regularly spotted. Most tours are day excursions but longer trips are also offered.

One of the top raptor spotting destinations in Africa is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, shared between Botswana and South Africa. The end of summer (late February/ March) is particularly rewarding as many of the migrant raptors are very active as they try and build up their body weight for the long journeys ahead. Resident raptors also take full advantage of prey availability before the harder winter months in the Kalahari Desert.

Large populations of both Lesser and Greater flamingos breed in some of the Rift Valley Lakes, particularly Lake Nakuru in Kenya. The Rift valley also forms a “flyway’ for many species of migrant moving from southern Africa to Western Asia and eastern Europe.

In central Africa the Albertine Rift Valley of Rwanda and Uganda offers specialist tropical birding with many endemics. Uganda alone has a national checklist of more that 1000 species – Uganda is slightly smaller than the US state of Oregon and the whole of Britain. “Special sightings” include the Ruwenzori Apalis, Ruwenzori Turaco and the Green-breasted Pitta. Uganda is also a good place to look for the enigmatic Shoebill.

Madagascar is another birding hotspot – of the approximately 290 species recorded on the island just over 100 are endemic – in other words they are found nowhere else on earth.

There are many other birding hotspots throughout Southern and East Africa and, as with birding everywhere local knowledge is essential to advise the best times and locations to see specific species.

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