Binoculars strapped up and bird book in hand, it is not difficult to spot a birder in their natural habitat – the bush.
For those interested in birdwatching, a safari is about so much more than seeing the Big Five and other large animals. With birding, every tree branch has the potential to provide a spectacular sighting, especially when you are in a place that has been listed as an Important Bird Area.
Crowned Eagle © Vicky Stephenson
Here is the ‘where, when and how’ of birding safaris in South Africa…
WHERE TO DO A BIRDING SAFARI IN SOUTH AFRICA
While just about anywhere in South Africa is good for birding, KwaZulu Natal encompasses a wide variety of biomes and is renowned for being the most diverse area for birding in the country, making this region a must on any birders’ wish list.
Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl © Vicky Stephenson
Situated in the heart of Zululand, one of KZN’s birding hotspots, Manyoni Private Game Reserve is a brilliant destination for a birding safari. In fact, Manyoni translates to ‘place of the birds’, a fitting name given that the reserve has over 400 recorded bird species. Some of the rarer recent sightings include the Golden Pipit, Lesser Moorhen, Black Coucal and Great Spotted Cuckoo. Whether you’re an avid twitcher or a beginner birder, you’re guaranteed to witness some special bird sightings whilst in Manyoni, and perhaps even spot some ‘lifers’.
African Green Pigeons © Claire Birtwhistle/Rhino River Lodge
WHEN TO DO A BIRDING SAFARI IN SOUTH AFRICA
The best time for a birding safari is – ALWAYS! But if you’re really searching for the ultimate season to see birds in the bush, it’s during the rainy summer season when they are displaying their gorgeous breeding plumage and the migratory species are present. To be specific, October to early December is typically regarded as the ‘best’ time of the year for a birding safari.
European Roller © Darren van Tonder/Rhino River Lodge
HOW TO DO A BIRDING SAFARI: GUIDED GAME DRIVE VS. SELF-DRIVE
Many birders opt to do self-drive safaris as this allows ample opportunity to take your time while searching the skies and trees for our feathered friends. However, one of the biggest advantages of a guided game drive is the knowledge of the rangers. Rangers not only live in the bush, but they also spend several hours driving through the reserve with guests every day. As a result, you would be hard pressed to find a guide who does not boast extensive birding experience. Rangers also tend to have an almost superhuman ability to spot birds that would be missed by the untrained eye and can easily identify the species with just a quick glance or even just by hearing a call. If there is something specific that you are wanting to see, they might even be able to locate it for you within the reserve.
Photo © Claire Birtwhistle/Rhino River Lodge
WHERE TO STAY
Located within the Manyoni Private Game Reserve, Rhino River Lodge is an affordable and family-friendly safari lodge that offers the ideal combination of hominess and unpretentious luxury. Completely surrounded by nature, the lodge is frequented by a wide variety of birds and wildlife and guests often experience some very special sightings without even leaving the grounds. There is also a bird hide that can be enjoyed in between game drives.
Pink-throated Twinspot © Heidi Watson/Rhino River Lodge
Rhino River Lodge offers a variety of accommodation options, and as all meals and game drives are included in the rates, all you have to do is arrive and enjoy yourself! No need to hassle with planning meals or packing half the house to go on holiday. Visit their website and start planning your ultimate birding safari, you won’t ‘egret’ it!
Cattle Egret © Claire Birtwhistle/Rhino River Lodge