Working for birds in Africa


Fri, 01/11/2013 - 14:07 -- abc_admin

November to February are not just the hottest, but also the wettest months - and the best time for a birder to visit Botswana since most of the intra-African and Palearctic migrants are present and resident species are in breeding plumage.

The Okavango Delta System at 6,864,000 ha. in area is one of the world’s largest Ramsar’s sites. Bordering Namibia, it is the only inland delta in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the world’s ultimate safari destinations. Vast herds of animals cross the plains of the Kalahari to the Okavango Delta, the Chobe River swamps and floodplains and the salt pans of Makgadikgadi - a unique range of ecosytems in which bird, plant and animal life flourish.

From a birder's perspective, the habitat is ideal for many species including Dwarf Bittern Ixobrychus sturmii, Slaty Egret Egretta vinaceigula, African Pygmy Goose Nettapus auritus, Western Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus cinerascens, African Crake Crex egregia, Allen’s Gallinule Porphyrio alleni, Wattled Crane Bugeranus carunculatus, Lesser Jacana Microparra capensis, Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis, Long-toed Lapwing Vanellus crassirostris, Black Coucal Centropus grillii, Pel’s Fishing-owl Scotopelia peli, Greater Swamp Warbler Acrocephalus rufescens and Brown Firefinch Lagonosticta nitidula.

The Gaborone area provides the birder with a variety of species and habitats to explore and gives an opportunity to see many of the typical bushveld species as well as numerous Kalahari specials. From 1989 to 1999, 430 bird species were recorded in and around Gaborone. Depending on rainfall, a full midsummer day birding could yield anything up to 230 species. An early start to any birding day is essential, especially in Gaborone where mid-day summer temperatures often climb into the forties (°C). The following places are known to be productive and may be worth a visit if you are passing through or have a day to spend in Gaborone.

South-east Botswana Grasslands IBA is an extensive site which includes the Pitsane grasslands (32 km south of Lobatse) as well as mixed savanna, low rolling hills and farmland stretching north from Ramatlabama on the South African border to Gaborone, north to Bokaa, west to Moshawong Valley and south through Thamaga and Kanye down through Mokgomane and into the Pitsane grasslands. The main reason for its status as an IBA is because the site holds over 50% of the global population of Short-clawed Lark Certhilauda chuana which are widespread and locally abundant in the area. Other species of interest are Black Stork Ciconia nigra, Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres, Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus, Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni, Secretary Bird Sagittarius serpentarius, Blue Crane Anthropoides paradiseus (regularly seen at Kgoro Pan, possible breeding), Orange River Francolin Francolinus levaillantoides, Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori, Cape Longclaw Macronyx capensis and Long-tailed Widowbird Euplectes progne.

Mannyelanong Hill supports a Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres colony which lies by the village of Otse, nearly 50 km south of Gaborone on the Lobatse road. Follow the main dirt road through the village. Visitors must sign in at the Department of Wildlife and National Parks centre (on the right side of the road). The colony is on the kopi behind the village, on the left. You should not enter the gate by car since birds are very vulnerable to disturbance. Park by the gate and walk the last 50 metres to the good viewing clearing by the inner fence. Don't try to come closer by climbing the fence - the inner area is off-limits. Having picnics close to the hill is forbidden. Noise levels and general disturbance near the perimeter fence should be kept to a minimum. The kopi itself is a sandstone hill with a cliff face on the southern side. It is one of only two localities currently regularly used by Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres in Botswana. After a period of decline, the population has stabilized at around 50 pairs breeding per season. A pair of Black Stork Ciconia nigra also breeds on the cliffs, as well as one pair of Verreaux’s Eagle Aquila verreauxii together with Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus and Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus.

Phakalane Sewage Lagoons about 20 km north of Gaborone, is an excellent spot to see many of the waterbirds of the area. Take the Phakalane turning some 7 km north of the "Airport Roundabout" along the A1. At the roundabout beyond the railway crossing, take the right turn past garages and "Spar" supermarket. Continue along the tar road to where it becomes a dirt road. Continue for a further 200 m and take a right turn into the bush. Follow this track that turns to the left and takes you straight to the entrance gates. Constructed in 1990, Phakalane is now one of the most important wetlands for waterfowl, notably Maccoa Duck Oxyura maccoa, in south-east Botswana. A walk around the ponds in summer should yield a variety of duck, wader and waterbird species. Jacobin Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus, Black Cuckoo Cuculus clamosus, Woodland Kingfisher Halcyon senegalensis and Striped Kingfisher H. chelicuti may be seen in the bushveld surrounding the ponds. Swallow-tailed Bee-eater Merops hirundineus, Sabota Lark Mirafra sabota, Marico Flycatcher Bradornis mariquensis and Southern White-crowned Shrike Eurocephalus anguitimens may be seen on telephone wires.

The Gaborone Game Reserve is situated very close to the town centre. To reach it, go along Nyerere Drive, heading east from Nelson Mandela road. Go straight on after the first roundabout and follow the road as it veers left. Continue to the sign to Gaborone Game Reserve and bear right for 1 km. The Reserve is at the end of the road. It is open daily from 6.30 am to 18.30 pm and is an excellent spot to visit, especially after heavy rains. Large numbers of Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola and Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos move into the area as well as impressive flocks of White-faced Whistling Duck Dendrocygna viduata which fill the air with their calls. African Crake Crex egregia and Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis may be seen with a little luck in the flooded areas. Look out for Marsh Owl Asio capensis late in the afternoon. Red-crested Bustard Eupodotis ruficrista is common and its characteristic call can be heard. Little Bee-eater Merops pusillus, European Bee-eater M. apiaster and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater M. persicus can be seen hawking insects. Yellow-billed Kite Milvus migrans parasiticus has been known to breed along the river which forms the eastern boundary, and Little Sparrowhawk Accipiter minullus has also been seen in the large Cambretum trees along the river course. Black-chested Snake Eagle Circaetus pectoralis may be seen sitting on the electricity power lines, while Crimson-breasted Shrike Laniarius atrococcineus is really common in the Reserve.

Kgale Hill is a landmark in Gaborone, lying at the southern end of the western by-pass and accessible on foot from the Lobatse road. Kgale provides a totally different habitat to the surrounding areas and is well worth a stop. From the car park near the Lobatse road, two paths lead up the Kgale Hill - the one on the western side is more productive and not as steep. It is advisable to leave somebody at your car as break-ins are sometimes reported. Once over the stile, follow the signboards to the walk. The walks up to the top may take anything up to a couple of hours, but it is very enjoyable and the view makes the trip worth it alone. Passing through some of the thicker bush at the base of the hill, the two-syllable call of the Grey Tit-Flycatcher Myioparus plumbeus and the "squeaky windmill" call of the White-throated Robin-Chat Cossypha humeralis can usually be heard. In summer, the beautiful Violet-backed Starling Cinnyricinclus leucogaster may be seen feeding in small flocks at the base of the hill. Also Kalahari Scrub-Robin Cercotrichas paena, Yellow Canary Serinus flaviventris, Southern Black Tit Parus niger and the ever-present Black-chested Prinia Prinia flavicans should be visible. Verreaux’s Eagles Aquila verreauxii breed on Kgale, while Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus, African Hawk Eagle Hieraaetus spilogaster and Booted Eagle H. pennatus may be seen circling around Kgale and the adjacent hills. Some of the interesting species that can be seen while moving up the slopes include Natal Francolin Francolinus natalensis, Striped Pipit Anthus lineiventris, which can be heard calling near the top, African Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus nigricans, Cliff Chat Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris, Short-toed Rock-Thrush Monticola brevipes, Rock-loving Cisticola Cisticola aberrans, Bar-throated Apalis Apalis thoracica and Cape White-eye Zosterops pallidus. In summer Garden Warbler Sylvia borin and Yellow-throated Petronia Petronia superciliaris might be seen in the trees towards the top of Kgale.

Other local birding spots inside town include: Gaborone Dam (take the Yacht Club entrance from the road into Gaborone from the Lobatse road / Kgale roundabout); Tsholofelo Sewage Ponds (the same route as for the Gaborone Game Reserve, but continue after the reserve sign board over the Segoditshane River to a roundabout, go right at this roundabout and continue until you reach the Botswana Power Corporation National Control Centre and Segoditshane Sub-station on your right; turn right immediately after these buildings onto a good dirt road, signed to Glen Valley Treatment Works; follow this road until you reach the sewage ponds to your left).

Further details can be found at BirdLife Botswana and in

HESTER, A. (1998), TYLER, S.J. & BORELLO, W.D. (1998) and BARNES, K.N. editor, (1998).

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