Birding in Botswana Limpopo River by Harold Hester
Birding in Botswana
The Limpopo River
The Limpopo River, made famous by Rudyard Kipling, is an excellent stop for birders. There are several tourist destinations, ranging from the up-market Mashatu and Limpopo Lipadi to more affordable lodges such as Tuli River Lodge, Serolo Safari Camp, Limpopo River Lodge and Stevensford Game Reserve, which provide self-catering accommodation and camping.
Migratory birds use the river as a north-south flyway at change of seasons. There is always much action along the river at all times of the day. Normally the river is full in summer season, but is reduced to pools during the dry winter months.
One of the best ways to bird along the river is to organise a comfortable chair in the shade, relax with a suitable beverage at one’s side to prevent dehydration, and sit and quietly observe the passing show.
Two bird species dominate the river all year; the strident call of fish eagles is normally heard in the mornings and late afternoons, while the secretive and confiding call of the beautiful Orange-breasted Bush Shrike is synonymous with the river. It can be heard all day.
Several raptors can be seen in the Tuli Block. White-backed Vultures are common breeders on the tops of Acacia Albida trees. AfricanHarrier Hawks (Gymnogenes) are often seen scrambling along the tree trunks. Of the eagles, Martial, African Hawk, and Wahlberg’s are most common, apart from Fish Eagles of course. With some luck, Tawny, Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles can be seen.
There is a vast variety of water birds to be seen. If you are very lucky, you may see an African Finfoot. You may also see Black-crowned Night Heron in the quieter stretches of the river. You can almost be guaranteed to see Hamerkops with their enormous nests, African Spoonbills, Striated Herons (Green-backed Herons), Squacco Herons and possibly Dwarf and Little Bitterns. Grey and Black-headed Herons are ubiquitous.
There are a couple of special Lapwing species to look out for, namely the White-crowned and African Wattled. Keep your eyes peeled for a Caspian and White-fronted Plover. With luck, you should see both Spotted and Water Thick-knees.
Weavers are everywhere. Study them closely and separate them into their various families.
Reedbeds along the river support many bishop birds, cisticolas and warblers. It takes time to find them and then to identify them. Many can only be separated by a knowledge of their calls. Good luck!
Eight cuckoo species are regularly seen along the river. Other specials are a range of kingfishers from Giant, to Woodland, Brown-hooded, Striped, Pygmy, Pied and Malachite.
With great luck, you may see Pel’s Fishing Owl in the north of this region. Other owl species you should see or hear are Spotted Eagle-owl, Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, Marsh Owl, Barn Owl, African Scops and Southern White-faced Scops-owl.
There is no doubt you will find this area very rewarding for a range of species, especially water birds, and will want to return at a later date.