© Under One Botswana Sky

Southern Africa’s rainy summer is birding safari season as the landscape turns into a radiant green backdrop for displays of colourful plumage shown off by resident and migratory bird species.

A birding safari in Southern Africa during the region’s warm and rainy months of October to March is one of those ultimate bucket-list experiences for most avifauna enthusiasts. It is home to many diverse resident bird species and acts as a layover for various migratory species that come to breed in the warm environment. Around 900 species of birds have been recorded in this region of contrasts.

Martial eagle © Musango Safari Camp

There are birding opportunities in Southern Africa for beginners with a burgeoning passion for all things ornithological as well as for those avid twitchers and long-time birding professionals. A major advantage of a Southern Africa birding safari is that combining multiple destinations into one trip is relatively simple and affordable.

We take a look at what two of the region’s premier birding destinations, Botswana’s Makgadikgadi Pans and Zimbabwe’s Matusadona National Park, have in store for birders that have long species lists to tick off.

Makgadikgadi Pans, Botswana

In the untouched wilderness of the Central Kahalari lies the iridescent salt pans of the Makgadikgadi, considered to be the largest in the world. The rains of summer transform this otherwise dry landscape into a convergence of verdant grass plains and one of the most important wetlands in Botswana.

Grey crowned cranes © Under One Botswana Sky

This area is known almost solely as a birding destination, as opposed to the animal-rich Moremi Game Reserve, Okavango Delta and Chobe National Park. While Botswana may be without endemic species, the short-clawed lark is its near-endemic bird and counterpart to a stunning variety of birding specials such as the African fish eagle, kori bustard and great white pelican.

Pied kingfisher © Under One Botswana Sky

Within the Makgadikgadi Pans is the Nata Bird Sanctuary, which is home to over 150 bird species and is of particular significance for the flocks of greater and lesser flamingos that migrate here to breed and rear their young in the perfect conditions offered by Botswana’s summer rains. Up to 250 000 of these pink beauties descend on the pans over this time and, when water levels are high enough to protect their young from predators, they begin their courtship rituals and breeding.

Greater Flamingos © Bernard DuPont

Located in the sanctuary, birding around Nata Lodge by Under One Botswana Sky is fantastic and guests should look out for the helmeted guineafowl, crested francolin, yellow hornbill, Meyers parrot and paradise whydah. Depending on water levels, guests can take their birding safari onto the pans via 4×4 safari vehicle.

Matusadona National Park, Zimbabwe

On the southern shores of Lake Kariba, Matusadona National Park is one of Southern Africa’s wild gems that takes you off the beaten track into the heart of Zimbabwe’s thriving animal and bird life. The rains of summer fill the lake and turn the surrounding rugged mountains a vibrant shade of green.

African fish eagle © Musango Safari Camp

While Zimbabwe, like Botswana, has no endemic bird species, it does play host to various migratory birds that breed here during the warmer months. During this time, the air comes alive with the colours and sounds of birds, like the Southern carmine bee-eater, which adorn their breeding plumage and make their presence known through characteristic mating calls.

African green pigeon © Musango Safari Camp

Over 240 species of birds have been recorded in Matusadona National Park, with water-associated and wading birds taking the spotlight in this lakeside habitat. The iconic cry of the African fish eagle is heard throughout the day around Lake Kariba, while reed cormorants, African darters, grey herons and saddle-billed storks fish for their lunch in the shallows. The green pigeon, osprey and Verreaux’s eagle can be seen going about their daily lives in the trees nearby.

Saddle-billed stork © Musango Safari Camp

Overlooking the peaceful waters of Lake Kariba is Musango Safari Camp, which offers guests front row seats to this watery haven of birding specials. Whether on foot journeying into the Matusadona National Park or out on a boat scanning the shores and skies above, this is an unbeatable birding safari destination.

If hearing the calls and seeing the colours of these feathered friends sounds like a perfect way to spend a holiday, then plan a trip to Southern African for birding safari season!

Feature image courtesy of Under One Botswana Sky.