With approximately 580 recorded bird species, and no true endemics, Botswana is not the richest country in Southern Africa in pure birding terms. The habitat is basically limited to Kalahari Sandveld and Arid Savannah, though the Okavango Delta and the major rivers of the north offer some additional elements. Botswana does however offer excellent general Southern African savannah birding, as well as good places to see sought-after species such as Pel’s Fishing Owl, Yellow-throated and Burchell’s Sandgrouse, African Pygmy Goose and White-backed Night Heron. Despite the relatively low species count, the Okavango region in particular offers incredible numbers of birds, especially at certain times of the year such as the arrival of the floodwaters from Angola and the annual ‘barbel run’ (Sharptooth Catfish spawning season). Furthermore, viewing conditions can be outstanding, and Botswana, while perhaps not being the destination of choice for the world lister, is definitely of interest to the general birder, the bird photographer and the general nature enthusiast.
In birding terms, Botswana can basically be divided into the Okavango region, the Kalahari region and the Tuli region.
The Okavango Delta is a massive inland labyrinth of waterways, islands and reed beds formed where the Okavango River hits a tectonic trough and can go no further, creating the 15 000 square kilometer inland delta. The river has its origins in Angola, and where the rains cause a flood that takes a month to reach the delta, usually arriving in the dry winter period between June and August, and thus drawing massive numbers of animals from the harshness of the surrounding Kalahari. Bird numbers and diversity peak in this region and it is also home to a range of south-central African swamp birds, though admittedly many of these can be seen just as easily in other destinations. However a trip to the Okavango is more about the uniqueness and fantastic wildlife of the delta and while it may not appeal to the hardcore world lister, for the general birder and wildlife enthusiast it is definitely worthwhile.
Significant birding spots: Shakawe and the Panhandle; Moremi Game Reserve, the Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park.
A few significant species: Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Skimmer, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Rufous-bellied Heron, White-backed Night Heron, Lesser Jacana, Chirping Cisticola, Slaty Egret, Brown Firefinch.
The Kalahari is synonymous with red sand. Much of the drier Kalahari comprises mile upon mile of more or less parallel sand dunes running with a roughly north-west / south-east orientation. In between the dunes ancient salt pans are found, which may fill up with water during the rare periods of good rainfall. The largest of these pans, known as the Makgadikgadi Pans, cover some 16 000 km² and when full of water teem with Flamingos, Pelicans and other waterbirds. Rainfall in the Kalahari varies from as low as 200 mm per year in the south-west to 500 mm per year in the north-east. Despite the low annual average, the Kalahari can be very productive, and after a decent rainfall can quickly be transformed from a barren semi-desert to grassy savannah teeming with grazing animals. While a visit to the Kalahari will more than likely be part of a general wildlife trip, there are some great birds to be seen and, as the grasses support large numbers of rodents and seed-eating birds, it is superb for raptors.
Significant Birding Spots: Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Khutse Game Reserve, Mabuasehube Game Reserve, Makgadikgadi Pans.
A few Significant Species: Short-clawed Lark, Sociable Weaver, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Chestnut-banded Plover, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Pallid Harrier, Double-banded Courser.
The Northern Tuli Game Reserve.
In the south-eastern corner of Botswana lies the Northern Tuli Game Reserve, a premier safari area and the only privately-owned land in the country (most land is owned by the state). The Limpopo River forms the border with South Africa to the south, while the Shashe forms the border with Zimbabwe to the west. The area is characterized by impressive orange sandstone formations and ancient Baobab trees, some of which may be over 2000 years old. There are several safari lodges which offer the usual game drives and walks and while wildlife is usually the main attraction here, there can be some good birding as well. There are large numbers of Rock Hyrax inhabiting the rocky outcrops and these are prime prey for numerous Verreaux’s Eagle pairs.
Significant Birding Spots: Tuli Safari Lodge, Mashatu Game Reserve, Tuli Wilderness Trails.
A few Significant Species: Verreaux’s Eagle, Martial Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Meve’s Starling, Senegal Coucal, Three-banded Courser, Tropical Boubou, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Meyer’s Parrot, Thick-billed Cuckoo.