The Best Birding Holidays In Central & Western South Africa
If you are looking for something completely different, the semi-arid and arid areas in the central and western parts of South Africa will sooth your soul. Here there are wide, wide, wide open spaces with vistas that go on forever. There is a stretch of road through the Karoo that at one point goes for 60 miles without a curve in it at all.
The sounds are almost all sounds of nature, and at night there is no competition with the light of the stars.
All the sense of hustle and bustle belongs somewhere else and the time is just to concentrate on spotting, identifying, observing and enjoying the birds. And there are lots of them.
From the west coast to the Karoo and up to the Kalahari, these are really special places. They are some of the ones we miss most as ex-South Africans. We have lots of suggestions about where to go and what you should look for, and we can also suggest who you should go with if you would prefer an organised birding tour. Now that we live and work in the UK, with ABTA and ATOL protection for our UK company we can give you confidence as well as insight for your holiday.
Put in an enquiry and we will get back to you to talk about your holiday plans!
The Best Birding Options in Central & Western South Africa
Starting close to Cape Town with the West Coast National Park and extending all the way to the the Namibian border, through the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and across the Great Karoo to the north west of the Eastern Cape, this is a vast area. A few of the highlights...
West Coast National Park
Although the West Coast National Park is close enough to Cape Town for a day trip, it is significant enough to warrant much more time. This area of about 55 000 acres is a RAMSAR site (wetland of international importance) and includes the Postberg nature reserve, the Langebaan Lagoon, with extensive areas of mudflats, sandflats and saltmarsh, five islands off the coast (which are not accessible to the public), and large areas of Strandveld, a transitional vegetation type between fynbos and karooveld. In August and September the wildflowers here are absolutely exquisite. The Lagoon is home to over 35 000 waterbirds in summer, and the islands to 250 000 coastal seabirds.
You may expect to see African Black Oystercatcher, Crowned and Bank Cormorant, African Penguin, Cape Gannet, and Black Harrier, as well as Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Cape Cormorant, Greater Flamingo, Pied Avocet, Grey Plover, Kittlitz’s and White-fronted Plovers, Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls, Swift and Common Terns. Further from the sea and marshes you may find Cape Weaver, Cape Spurfowl, African Hoopoe, Scrub-Robin, Karoo Prinia, Cape Penduline-Tit, Grey Tit, Malachite Sunbird, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, White-throated, Brimstone and Yellow Canaries, White-throated, Barn and Pearl-breasted Swallows, White-rumped and Alpine Swifts, Namaqua Dove, Common Waxbill, Cape Bunting, Cape Shoveler, Black Crake, South African Shelduck, Little Grebe, African Rail, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Little Rush Warbler.
'Vlei' is the Arfikaans word for 'marsh' and 'verloren' means 'lost'. This is a huge estuarine system adjacent to the little town of Elands Bay. This is a great place for ducks, such as Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveller and South African Shelduck, as well as Great White Pelicans, African Rails, Baillon’s Crakes, Common Moorhens and Purple Swamphen. Southern Black Korhaan, Cape Long-billed Lark, Grey-backed Cisticola, Cape Bulbul, Karoo Scrub-Robin, and Grey Tit are species you are unlikely to see in other biomes.
Close to Lamberts Bay, this small, easily accessible island is one of only six Cape Gannet breeding colonies, and is a great place to see gannets, African Penguins, and many cormorants, gulls and terns.
Northern Cape Coast
Further north along the west coast there are great birding opportunities at the Namaqua National Park and at the mouth of the Orange River, which links westwards to the extraordinary and beautiful, but very remote Richtersveld National Park.
The Orange River is likely to provide sites of Maccoa Ducks as well as Cape Shovelers, and of White-backed Night Herons, Little Bitterns and flamingoes. Further up the banks you will see Cardinal Woodpeckers, Diederick's Cuckoos, Acacia Pied Barbets, Barn Owls, Freckled Nightjars, African Hoopoes and Orange River White-eyes.
This is also the place to see raptors, including Lanner and Peregrine Falcons, Black-breasted Snake Eagles, Rock Kestrels, and Booted and Verreaux’s Eagles.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the truly extraordinary and wonderful places in South Africa. On the margins of the Kalahari desert it is very dry, but not just sand, as some might expect in a desert. It has two river beds that run across it, though they are usually dry. It is one of the best places for seeing the birds of the arid Kalahari vegetation types, especially if raptors are what you are after. It must be said, though, that it is extremely hot in summer. If you are lucky enough to have summer storms the birds are out of this world!
Along the roads towards the Park look out for the extraordinary nests made by groups of Sociable Weavers on poles and trees.
Among the special sights you may be lucky enough to see in the park are Lappet-faced Vulture, White-headed Vulture, Martial Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Bateleur, Lanner Falcon, Red-necked Falcon, Pygmy Falcon, Red-footed Falcon , Secretarybird, Southern White-faced Scops-Owl, Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, Burchell's Sandgrouse, Double-banded Courser, Ashy Tit, Sociable Weaver, Great Sparrow and Violet-eared Waxbill as well as, in summer, Ludwig's Bustard, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Pink-billed Lark, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Capped Wheatear and Fairy Flycatcher. Our personal favourite is one of the commonest: the Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk.
Karoo National Park
Much further east, adjacent to the N1, the main road between Cape Town and Johannesburg, is the Karoo National Park. This little gem is an excellent place to see the birds that are characteristic of the Karoo vegetation types.
Look out for Ground Woodpeckers and Lesser Kestrels, as well as Rock Kestrels and Verreaux’s Eagles. Other less familiar species are Grey-winged Francolin, Speckled Pigeon, Pale-winged Starling, Mountain Wheatear, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, White-rumped and Alpine Swift, Grey Tit, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Grey-backed Cisticola, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, African Rock and Long-billed Pipit, and dozens more.
Samara Private Game Reserve
For a different type of birding experience, on the far eastern fringe of the Great Karoo, near the town of Graaff Reinet, is the Samara private game reserve. In this exclusive and luxurious place to stay you may see Ludwig’s Bustard, Blue Crane, Secretarybird, and Verreaux's Eagles and Cape Vultures.
Wherever you would like to go, and whether you want to go by yourself or in a guided tour, we can make sure that you have the best birding opportunities at the pace you would like and in the style that suits you.
Contact us today for a no-obligation discussion to get the planning started!