5 of the Best Birding Spots in South Africa

From South Africa's national bird the Blue Crane to Pel's Fishing Owl and many more, the variety of habitats in the country means that South Africa offers some of the best birding spots in the world.

South Africa is home to over 10 percent of the species of birds in the World. The country has a wide range of habitats which is why the country has such a wide variety of avian life. Southern Africa is home to many rare and endemic species, making it a paradise for twitchers. What follows below is a guide to what are considered to be some of the best birding spots in South Africa.

Mkhuze Game Reserve

The Mkhuze Game Reserve is considered to be one of the top birding destinations within South Africa, and is home to over 420 different species of birds. The reserve forms the north western spur of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park which is a World Heritage Site. The reserve is very birder friendly and there are three hides which are ideal for bird watching.

The park office can provide detailed maps and directions as well as arrange for guides to escort you. The Reserve offers an escorted walk through the Fig Forest in the early morning which is ideal for spotting many different species. During the walk you might see Southern Banded Snake-Eagles, Broad-billed Rollers and Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher. The walk is about an hour's drive from camp and the walk takes about 2 hours.

The reserve is home to a wide variety of habitats, including savannah, mixed woodland and riverine forests, grassland and rocky cliffs. The reserve also has a rare type of sand forest. The park has a good network of roads that makes getting around and seeing birds easy.

Species to look out for in the Mkhuze Game Reserve include the Pel's Fishing-Owl, Neergaard's Sunbird, the Southern Banded Snake-Eagle and the Pink-throated Twinspot.

The Kruger National Park

Over 500 species of birds can be seen in South Africa's Kruger National Park, including many which are endemic. The reserve contains a variety of habitats and the northern sections of the park is the southernmost range of many species of tropical species and the southern areas are the northern most range of many Southern African Birds.

However over 20% of these are considered to be rare sightings and many species have a limited distribution range. Some are also seasonal visitors and others are elusive. Therefore if you want to get the most out of your birding in the Kruger National Park you need to have lots of patience.

The best time to visit is between October and March when the many migrant species arrive and double the birding population in the park. The best birding in the park is generally in the northern sections.

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park, the former Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, is used by more than 530 species of birds including over 20 000 greater Flamingos and 40 000 Lesser Flamingos as well as many species of other water birds. The area has now been declared a World Heritage Site, as it is home to the highest concentrations of breeding birds in South Africa. It is here that you can see many coastal forest species.

The seasonally flooded wetlands are home to African Pygmy-Goose, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Short-tailed Pipit (winter only) and Rosy-throated Longclaws. Some rare species can be found in the coastal forests such as Neergaard's Sunbird and Pink Throated Twinspots. There are also high densities of African Fish Eagles. You might also be lucky enough to see Pel's Fishing Owl's and Mangrove Kingfishers.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the slopes of Table Mountain are a major attraction in the Western Cape, and is mostly known for its collection of rare fynbos plants. However it is also one of the easiest places to see the more common mountain fynbos and forest endemic bird species.

The lower sections of the garden are landscaped and are generally very busy. The higher slopes are less so, and this is where most of the Erica's and Proteas grow and you can see many indigenous bird species. There are a number of trails that lead up into the indigenous trails where you can spend a couple of hours wandering around before heading back to the restaurant in the gardens for some well earned refreshment.

Birds to look out for in the cultivated Proteas are the Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbirds. Cape Spurfowl, the Southern Boubou and Cape Batis are also commonly seen in the gardens. If you follow the path up skeleton gorge, you might be rewarded with a sighting of the Cape Siskin.

Pelagic Birding

The south-western Cape coastline offers some of the best Pelagic or sea birding anywhere in the world. This is due to the meeting of the Benguela Current that carries lots of nutrients up to the surface of the water. This supports large stocks of fish, which in turn support a wide variety of Pelagics.

There are a number of companies offering birding tours out to sea where you follow the trawlers which are often mobbed by thousands of birds which fight over any scrap of fish. Along the coast you will see many different species of Cormorants and Terns. You can see Petrels, Shearwaters, Gannets and Albatrosses.

Sea birding is usually at its peak in the winter months including ocean going giants such as Southern and Northern Royal Albatrosses. Other highlights include seeing mammals such as Cape Fur Seals, Southern Right and Humpback Whales and many different species of Dolphins.

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South Africa Nature Reserves : Game Reserves and National Parks