Approximately the size of France or Texas and land-locked in the heart of southern Africa, Botswana has about 150 resident birders and about 560 bird species (320 non-passerines and 240 passerines), with more than 500 being regular - as well as 12 globally Important Bird Areas (IBA) covering 130,000 km2 or 25% of the country's territory.
There are no endemic bird species in Botswana, and country's only near-endemic is Short-clawed Lark with the major global stronghold in the grasslands of the southeast. Populations of globally threatened Wattled Crane and Slaty Egret in the north (mainly Okavango Delta) are of great importance. Lesser and Greater Flamingo, and White Pelican breed in large numbers on the Makgadikgadi Pans when conditions are suitable - such as after the rich rainy season of 1999-2000, when more than 200,000 flamingos concentrated to breed in shallow saline lake formed on the pans.
Most birders live in the Gaborone (the capital) and Francistown in the southeast, along the border with South Africa. This area is mainly avoided by the tourists but visited by the business people - sometimes birders themselves, but often lacking the time and/or the information where to go and what to look for. IBAs close to Gaborone are:
IBAs close to Francistown are:
However, real centers of avian diversity are the northern IBAs close to the tourist towns of Maun and Kasane where only a few birders live (but numerous tour-operators offer bird walks with knowledgeable guides).
IBAs close to Maun are:
IBAs close to Kasane are:
The Gaborone area provides the birder with variety of species and habitats to explore and gives you an opportunity to pick up many of the typical bushveld species as well as numerous Kalahari specials. From 1989 to 1999, there were 430 bird species 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.
This is not exactly one spot - this extensive site 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 the south through Thamaga and Kanye down through Mokgomane and into the Pitsane grasslands. These grasslands include open grasslands, Acacia erioloba parkland and some low savanna dominated by A. hebeclada and patchy A. mellifera scrub.
The reason this site got a status of global IBA is for its important population of the near-threatened Short-clawed Lark - the site includes over 50% of the global population. They are widespread and locally abundant in the area.
Other birds include Blue Crane (regularly seen at Kgoro Pan, possible breeding), Lesser Kestrel, Pallid Harrier, Cape Griffon Vulture (from the Mannyelanong colony), Black Stork, Kori Bustard, Secretarybird, Orange River Francolin, White-bellied Korhaan (two records only), Orange-throated Longclaw and Long-tailed Widow.
Mannyelanong Hill 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 center (on the right side of the road). The colony is on the kopi behind the village, on the left.
Don't enter the gate by car since birds are very vulnerable to disturbance. Park by the gate and walk the last 50 meters 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 the one of the only two localities currently regularly used by Cape Griffon Vulture in Botswana. After a period of decline, the population has stabilized at around 50 pairs breeding per season. A pair of Black Stork also breeds on the cliffs, as well as one pair of Black Eagle together with Lanner Falcon and Rock Kestrel.
Phakalane Sewage Lagoons, about 20 km north of Gaborone, is an excellent spot to see many of the water birds 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, in southeast Botswana. Phakalane Sewage Lagoons are large irregular-shaped ponds with rocky and muddy edges and extensive fringes of reedmace Typha. Narrow fringes of Phragmites are occasional, and small trees and bushes overhang the water in places.
A walk around the ponds in summer may yield a variety of species. Species regularly recorded on the Phakalane SL include Black-necked Grebe, Maccoa, Fulvous and White-backed Duck, Cape, Red-billed and Hottentot Teal, Black Crake and Purple Gallinule. Pygmy Goose, Lesser Moorhen and Spotted Crake are a few of the more unusual species to have been recorded in the last several years.
Both Lesser and Greater Flamingo are seen regularly at Phakalane as well as the occasional African Fish Eagle. Waders are well represented with Common, Wood and Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Greenshank, Little Stint and Three-banded Plover all being recorded regularly. Keep your eyes open for Jacobin and Black Cuckoo as well as Striped and Woodland Kingfisher, which may be seen in the bushveld surrounding the ponds. Carefully watch all of the telephone lines for Marico Flycatcher, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Sabota Lark and White-crowned Shrike.
Bokaa Dam, north of Gaborone, can be a very good spot depending on the level of the water. Take the A1 north from Gaborone towards Mochudi. Some 7.5 km after the Odi turnoff bear left at a sign marked Bokaa Dam. From the main road to the shore of the dam, keep your eyes open on bare ground in-between stands of Acacia for the Short-clawed Lark, which has been recorded here in the past. Follow the dirt road for 3.5 km, crossing the pipeline road to a gate into some buildings behind a fence. Before the gate, bear left but keep close to the fence, which you should follow for 1 km until there is a gap in it (there is a "Private Property" sign just to the right of the gap). Bear right through the gap and meander along the bush track (it forks but either turn goes to the dam) to the water's edge. An ever-expanding village on the northern shore of the dam has had a large impact on the birding in the area, so the southern side is probably a lot more rewarding.
The reservoir was constructed in 1990 by damming the Motsemotlhaba River just south of Bokaa village. The body of open water stretches for some 6 km or more and is over 0.5 km in width at its maximum. Being shallow and rich in nutritients, this dam attracts large numbers of waterfowl.
When you approach the dam the area is covered by Acacia tortilis thickets and is excellent for many of the migrant warblers. A variety of water birds can be seen on the dam but this depends to a large extent on the level of the water. The dam supports small numbers of Pink-backed Pelican and Greater Flamingo. Black-winged Pranticoles can be seen as well as White-backed Duck, Grey Plover, Fulvous Duck and South African Shelduck. A European Marsh Harrier was recorded recently while the level of the dam was low.
The Gaborone Game Reserve is situated very close to the town center. To reach the Game Reserve, 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.
The Gaborone Game Reserve is an excellent spot to visit, especially after heavy rains. Large Numbers of Wood and Common Sandpiper move into the area as well as impressive flocks of White-faced Duck which fill the air with their calls. Painted Snipe as well as African Crake may be seen with a little luck in the flooded areas. Look out for Marsh Owl late in the afternoon. Red-crested Korhaan is a certain tick for the Game Reserve, listen out for its characteristic call. Little, European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters can be seen hawking insects. Yellow-billed Kite have been known to breed along the river which forms the eastern boundary, and Little Sparrowhawk has also been seen in the large Cambretum trees along the river course. Black-breasted Snake Eagle may be seen sitting on the electricity power lines, while Crimson-breasted Shrike is really common in the Reserve.
This 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, listen out for the two-syllable call of the Fan-tailed Flycatcher and the "squeaky windmill" call of the White-throated Robin. In summer, the beautiful Plum-coloured Starling may be seen feeding in small flocks at the base of the hill. Also look out for Kalahari Robin, Yellow Canary, Southern Black Tit and the ever-present Black-chested Prinia. Black Eagles breed on Kgale, while Lanner Falcon, African Hawk Eagle and Booted Eagle 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 Short-toed Rock Trush, Natal Francolin, Lazy Cisticola, Red-eyed Bulbul, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape White-eye, Mocking Chat and Striped Pipit, which can be heard calling near the top. In summer look out for Garden Warbler and Yellow-throated Sparrow in the trees towards the top of Kgale.
Other local birding spots inside town include:
BirdLife Botswana (formerly Botswana Bird Club) aims to conserve and protect birds and their habitats. BirdLife Botswana has an office at the IUCN - The World Conservation Union offices at Hospital Way, Gaborone.
The Gaborone Group has monthly evening meetings (on the third Tuesday of the month) at the Botswana Accountancy College off the Tlokweng Road starting at 7.30 pm and featuring talks and slide shows. Bird walks take place on the first Sunday of the month in and around Gaborone. Departure is from the National Museum, Gaborone, at 6.30 am October to April and at 7.15 am May to September.
Regular talks and walks are organized by the Francistown and Maun Groups. For information on the Maun group, please contact Roger Hawker, phone +267 663057 or 662257.
Field Camps are organized approximately every three months at weekends.
The membership fee includes a free copy of the biannual journal Babbler with papers and notes on birds and reports of rarities and interesting sightings, and quarterly popular newsletter Familiar Chat. Field Cards, Nest Record Cards and Migrant Forms available upon request. Birdlife Botswana also produces books, like Birds in the Gaborone Area and where to find them by Stephanie J. Tyler and Wendy D. Borello (available for 80 Rands).
For information, please write to the BirdLife Botswana, IUCN Private Bag 00300, Gaborone, Botswana
Physical address: BirdLife Botswana, IUCN plot 2403, Hospital Way, Gaborone, Botswana, Tel/Fax: +267 371584
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please head all emails "Attn: BirdLife Botswana" so they are filed in the BLB file at IUCN separate from main IUCN correspondence.
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