With just over 950 different bird species, of which, 177 birds are endemic, and ±700 are land birds, Southern Africa can justifiably be called a bird watchers dream!
Birders from around the world come to experience both the great variety of typically African birds, migrants, and endemic birds. These birders enjoy excellent birding, whether they are with an organised commercial birding tour or are touring independently.
Identification of birds is the challenge which underpins birdwatching, and can get increasingly challenging as one takes on more difficult bird species. The next challenge is to find birds which one wants to see, and when one starts looking for specific species then one is truly hooked!
Once one has a lifelist, and you become obsessive about building it up, then you
become a twitcher. A twitcher is someone who actively seeks out new birds to put
on their lifelist and the word is supposed to describe the uncontrollable spasms
of excitement when seeing a new bird for the first time. Many birders are
twitchers to some extent, but the degree to which the ticking of new species is
important is a personal thing. Some birders can be described as "hard-core" twitchers, and are interested in nothing other than ticking new species, while some of the country's most knowledgeable bird experts do not consider themselves to be "twitchers". Twitching has led to a whole vocabulary to describe what happens when you go twitching. "Gripping" a bird means that you have "got it" - you can add it to you life list. Conversely when you go looking for birds and miss out on something you should have seen then you "dipped out" on that species.
Most birders still enjoy seeing birds they have already seen. Birdwatching which is not oriented towards "twitching" (not about new species) is usually more leisurely, unless when it becomes "power-birding".
Both power-birding and twitching have leant themselves to the use of a whole range of techniques for finding birds. One of these is the use of tape-recorded calls. Birders need to remember that birds are wild animals and disturbance should be kept to a minimum. Familiarity with a code of conduct for birders is a good idea.
South Africa's key birding areas: The endemics and endangered species are one of the major attractions for birders visiting South Africa. Many of these endemic species are found in the grasslands, mountains, arid interior and southwestern regions. The following areas offer exceptional birding experiences but great birding can be had in many other parts of the country.
The north-eastern part of KwaZulu Natal is one of the most species-rich areas of South Africa with a tropical feel and spectacular birds. Lush forests, marshes, freshwater lagoons, flooded grasslands, tidal estuaries and acacia woodland support an excellent array of birds. Specials of the area include Woodward's Barbet, Palmnut Vulture, African Broadbill, Neergaard's Sunbird, Rudd's Apalis, Delegorgue's Pigeon, Knysna Turaco, Livingstone's Turacos and Southern Banded Snake Eagle.
Birding facilities are exceptionally well developed in this region. The Zululand Birding Route is centred on Eshowe. Dlinza Forest in Eshowe has a forest boardwalk that takes you into the canopy from there you can observe species such as Delegorgue's Pigeon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Crowned Eagle and Spotted Ground Thrush.
THE WESTERN CAPE:
The Western Cape is a much visited region with excellent birding and superlative scenery, the best whale-watching in the world and the possibility of seeing Great White Sharks. Apart from the pelagic trips which are good all year but best in winter, the Western Cape hosts a large number of endemics and the best wader watching in the country. The endemics include fynbos specials such as Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Siskin, Protea Seedeater and Hottentot Buttonquail. Cape Rockjumper is found on the craggy mountainsides. Knysna and Victoria's Warblers can be seen in the damper valleys and a variety of larks in the dry interior.
The West Coast National Park (which includes the Langebaan Lagoon) attracts massive numbers of waders from their Arctic breeding grounds during the southern summer and is particularly important for the Curlew Sandpiper. The Langebaan Lagoon is surrounded by the strandveld where Black Harrier, Southern Black Korhaan and a variety of smaller birds such as Grey Tit, Cape Penduline Tit and Layard's Titbabbler can be seen. Closer to Cape Town the Cape of Good Hope National Park offers excellent birding for species such as Hottentot Buttonquail and a variety of seabirds. The nearby Boulders Beach National Park at Simonstown has a flourishing African Penguin colony.
The Lowveld is the low-lying tropical region in the north-eastern part of Mpumalanga largely taken up by the famous Kruger Park and is bordered in the west by Drakensberg escarpment. These low-lying bush areas are home to large populations of South Africa's Wildlife and birds typical of such South African Reserves. Raptors occur here in good numbers including Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Walhberg's Eagle, Steppe Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle. Other large and noticeable birds include Saddlebilled Stork, Southern Ground Hornbill, Ostrich and Kori Bustard. Along the western edge of the Lowveld the escarpment supports many forest and cliff dwellers including Taita Falcon, Bat Hawk and Cape Parrot.
The Central Grasslands are a key area for birders holding a number of special grass- and wet- land species. One of the most visited towns is Wakkerstroom which is close to where Mpumalanga, the Free State and KwaZulu Natal Provinces meet. Wakkerstroom is visited by most of the birding tours that come to South Africa and as a result has excellenent birding facilities including resident tour guides.
Even though Gauteng is the most heavily developed area in South Africa, Gauteng offers excellent birding. Around 350 different species can be seen within easy reach of Johannesburg and Pretoria, and a wide range of habitats are easily accessible. Of primary interest are Marievale, Suikerbosrand, the Magaliesberg Mountains, Witwatersrand Botanical Gardens and the Dinokeng Bushveld area. Even within cities a great variety of birds may be found, and garden lists often exceed 100 species. Common species include Hadeda Ibis, Speckled Pigeon, Grey Loerie, Bokmakerie, Green Woodhoopoe, Black-collared Barbet, Olive Thrush and Cape Robin.