With the vast and varied landscapes that Kruger National Park has to offer, it comes as no surprise that the bird life in the Kruger is equally spectacular.
The majority of the Kruger is classified as a savanna biome. It is therefore dominated by grassy ground cover and woody vegetation as the upper layer. With the numerous river systems that flow through the protected reserve, the biome transforms into an ecological hotspot.
One of my favourite areas to observe birds in the park is around water systems. One specific spot is the Lake Panic viewing hide situated close to Skukuza camp. This spacious hide is positioned over a large lake and while many animals may be viewed quenching their thirst here, it is worthwhile hanging around and watching the various birds move around the water’s edge.
Taking some downtime in the rest camps is important to recharge after rising early for your morning safari. Take a few minutes to walk around the camp and see how many different birds you may encounter. All the camps are well established and boast some enormous, mature trees around the gardens and boundary fences. These tall trees often make excellent nesting structures or provide food for birds. Listen out for a bird chorus, often located around thickets or dense shrubs. These provide a safe haven for the smaller birds.
Generally birding is best done earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon when the temperatures are lower and birds feed and drink water. If you miss out on these times, enjoy the various birds that move through some of the larger animal sightings. I have spent a lot of time birding while lions are sleeping, waiting for them to wake up. Watching birds like oxpeckers, cattle egrets or flycatchers interact with or around larger animals is also entertaining.
A few handy tools also make bird watching a whole lot simpler. A trusty pair of binoculars is a lifesaver as birds seldom perch right in front of you. If you start taking birding more serious and wish to start identifying birds, then a bird book and a camera makes a world of difference. Sometimes birds may take off before you are able to identify them so referring back to a record photo may help you find a positive ID. Another way to differentiate between similar looking birds is to listen out for their calls. Using bird apps on your phone allows you to play back the call and search through images of the many plumage differences in some birds.
When starting out, do not feel overwhelmed with the multitude of birds that the Kruger has to offer. If you struggle to identify a specific bird, just identify the general size and shape of the bird. Identify if the beak is long and slender or short and thick. Gauge whether the bird is the size of a typical sparrow or large like a crow or eagle. Did the bird have any unique markings like a spotted chest or a prominent yellow eye? This alone will reduce the search for the correct bird.
With each visit to the national park, one will notice different birds as the seasons change. The fun part is taking note of which birds you have not yet seen. You may even be lucky and see some of the more rare or out of range birds that you could add to your list.
Which bird sightings within the Kruger National Park have been your most memorable and noteworthy ones?