Flying, soaring, flitting and swooping over mainland Africa are some 2,250 bird species, colouring the most spectacular and varied habitats on the continent. Of these, about 1500 are found nowhere else in the world. And If you include Madagascar, that’s another 100 endemic species added to the list. This makes Africa certainly one of the most spectacular places to go on birding tours.
At Timbuktu, we have a number of avid birders, some of whom love to take adventures to specific spots in order to track down elusive and endemic birds. With this knowledge and passion, we put our heads together to come up with a collection of spectacular birding hotspots in Africa that might inspire others to do the same.
Here we go.
Cape Town’s ocean coast
At the point where two great oceans collide—the Indian and the Atlantic—the nutrient rich waters provide food for a wealth of fish. And where there are fish, the deep-sea pelagic bird specials will follow. Ocean trawlers drag the sea floor at the continental shelf, and thousands of birds follow these boats—White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Cape Gannet Sula, Subantarctic Skua—hoping to catch some of the scraps of the boat’s bycatch.
This is an ocean birder’s dream! And for most people the albatrosses are the key target – Shy; Black-browed and Indian Yellow-nosed subspecies. The range of species is highest in the southern winter, when you can also see Southern and Northern Giant Petrel, Pintado Petrel, Antarctic Prion and Antarctic Tern. Occasionally you can also find rare albatrosses such as Wandering, Southern D. and Northern Royal and Grey-headed. Aside from the amazing birding, you might spot spectacular marine wildlife too, whales, seals, penguins and perhaps even an orcha.
Learn more about birding in Cape Town here.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Bwindi forms part of one of the largest forest areas in Africa—33,100 ha–and with its habitat covering both highland and lowland areas, this forest is one of the best birding spots on the continent. The area lies in the rugged Kigezi Highlands near the borders with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Uganda has 24 Albertine Rift endemic bird species, 23 of which can be found in Bwindi. These include globally threatened species such as African Green Broadbill and Shelley’s Crimsonwing, plus others such as Kivu Ground-Thrush Zoothera, Oberlaender’s Ground-Thrush, Dwarf Honeyguide, Lagden’s Bush-Shrike and Chapin’s Flycatcher.
Learn more about Bwindi Impenetrable Forest here.
The Rift Valley Lakes
Picture 1,400,000 pink Lesser Flamingos covering a shallow Lake in a shimmering mass of colour and movement, and you have some idea of what you might expect at Lake Nakuru in Kenya. Set at the base of the Mau escarpment in the shadow of two ancient volcanoes, Nakuru is one of Africa’s must-sees for birding tours. Mixed in with the Lessers are up to 9,000 Greater Flamingos, and around them are Sacred Ibises and African Fish Eagles hoping to catch some of the scraps. Not far from Nakuru is Lake Baringo, where woodland savanna meets water and you can spot specials such as the Hemprich’s Tockus and Jackson’s Hornbills.
Isimangaliso Wetland Park
With an impressive existing list of 526 bird species throughout the World Heritage Site, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a mecca for birding tours. iSimangaliso offers some of SA’s finest birding tours, and the wetlands are renowned for huge numbers of water birds; flocks of pelicans, storks and flamingos congregating alongside specials such as Pinkthroated Longclaws, Pygmy Geese and Lesser Jacanas. The uMkhuze section of the Park is a renowned birding destination, hosting 420 of the Park’s recorded species. It is also one of the country’s only pelican nesting sites.
Watered by the great Okavango and Zambezi Rivers, this rich environment of broad-leafed woodlands, river banks and floodplains is a mecca for birds and draws birders from all over. The river systems attract special species such as Slaty Egret, Coppery-tailed Coucal and Luapula Cisticola Cisticola (galactotes) luapula, African Skimme, Rock Pratincole, White-backed Night Heron, Pel’s Fishing-owl.
Other targets are the endangered Black-cheeked Lovebird, Sousa’s Shrike and Sharp-tailed Starling. This area also happens to host one of the densest populations of elephants in Africa— so while you are searching for those specials, marvel at these great herds of elephants frequenting the plains of the Chobe and Kwando Rivers.
Learn more about Caprivi here.
Bale Mountain National Park
High up in the Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains are the afro-alpine grasslands of the Sanetti Plateau, where you can find interesting and strange creatures such as the rare Simien Fox hunting for Mole Rats. The birds up here in this wonderland are just as fascinating, with specials such as the endemic Rouget’s Rail, Spot-breasted Lapwing, Abyssinian Longclaw, Wattled Crane and Eastern Imperial Eagle in winter. Walking in these highlands can be a challenge with the altitude, but the views are spectacular, and visiting this place is surely a time warp.
Kruger National Park
You might as well begin your Kruger birding tours experience in the best spot by far; in the north of Kruger, at the Pafuri, Punda Maria and Makuleke concessions. In the summer, this area is a buffer between the subtropical birds of east Africa, and the birds of Southern Africa, so there are all sorts of migrants frequenting these forest and river systems, such as the Southern Hyliota, Bohm’s Spinetail, Dickinson’s Kestrel, and this is also a spectacular place to find the elusive Pel’s Fishing-owl. The rest of Kruger can be just as wonderful, with over 500 species of birds to be found in the park alone. Birding from the car is one way to go, but there are also six wilderness trails that traverse the park with experienced rangers ready to point out various bird species.
Learn more about birding in Kruger here.
Murchison (Kabalega) Falls National Park
One word: Shoebill! This Ugandan park is your best chance of seeing this strange and prehistoric stork-like bird with an enormous boat-shaped beak. People travel here from all over the world to find it. Regular birding tours in the parks will transport you 10 kilometers upstream to an amazing waterfall where the Nile River penetrates a 10-meter wide gap and plummets down to a spot where two pairs of shoebills regularly perch. This interesting species is in fact a genus of it’s own. Keep an eye ot for Rock Pratincole, and many other bird species along the river.
Learn more about Murchison Falls National Park here.
The Seychelles, São Tomé, Principe, Comoros and Mauritius
Between the islands of The Seychelles, São Tomé, Príncipe, Comoros and Mauritius, there are some 5 endemic bird families and huge colonies of seabirds and the range of species that nest and roost on the islands. Add the island of Madagascar, with an astronomical 120 endemic species, any birding trip to Africa should include one of these destinations.
When it comes to birding tours—your guide is everything.
Firstly, arm yourself with an identification field guide that is as focussed on your area as possible. It also helps to have an incredibly knowledgeable and personal guide taking you through some of these areas – someone who knows the bush and where to find those specials.
If you plan it right and do a bit of research, an African birding quest can be one of the best holidays of your life. The skies are filled with colourful wonders, so take that leap and get in touch so we can help you make the first move.