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Welcome to our Birding Tour Kalahari expedition. The vast Kalahari area is semi-desert, where some very tough African mammals can be found relatively easily. Moreover, it has a lot of mammals (notably smaller ones) that are only very rarely seen anywhere else and most certainly are not found on your typical Serengeti or Kruger safari. We invite you on a spectacular African experience that you will not forget in a hurry. Birding Tour Kalahari is very memorable!
This ‘Birding Tour Kalahari’ adventure can be combined with our Drakensberg and Zululand Mammal and Bird Extravaganza (April 10 – 18). You can join either tour independently, but we strongly recommend doing both. Doing both tours means you will sample two African habitats that are absolutely poles apart.
Main Kalahari trip
Itinerary (8 days/7 nights)
Day 1. Transfer to Witsand Nature Reserve
Today we fly to Upington from Johannesburg, and transfer to Witsand Nature Reserve, commonly known as Witsand Kalahari and part of the “Roaring Kalahari Route” (2 ½ hours). Aardvark, Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, and Black-footed Cat occur here, and with luck we might catch a glimpse of one of them on our first night drive.
Day 2.Witsand Nature Reserve
Here at Witsand Nature Reserve game drives with some good birding (three species of sandgrouse occur here) are the order of the day. We will spend some time on foot, looking for Elephant Shrew (three different species are possible), Yellow Mongoose, Cape Hare, and other small mammals. Later in the afternoon we will concentrate our efforts on the “Brulsand” (which translates to “roaring sand”) area, because this is a known Temminck’s Ground Pangolin haunt. Whichever way we look at it, Temminck’s Ground Pangolin will be our biggest challenge on this trip, as even in their known haunts they remain difficult to find.
Day 3.Witsand Nature Reserve
Temminck’s Ground Pangolin, if not yet found, will still be our main target, although we might also encounter Gemsbok, Red Hartebeest, and Springbok, and Common Duiker. From a birding point of view, we can look forward to seeing Pygmy Falcon, Sociable Weaver, Kori Bustard, and Crimson-breasted Shrike.
Day 4. Transfer to Kimberley
After breakfast we head for Kimberley, and more specifically Marrick Safari, a large game farm, which will be our base camp for the next few days. On our first night we will look for Aardvark, which has burrows quite close to the lodge and as a result has become fairly tame toward humans, relatively speaking. We might also encounter Bat-eared Fox and Aardwolf, both of which are quite common here.
Day 5. Kimberley
After breakfast we head out to look for some more of our target species. Black Wildebeest, rated by some as the most stupid of all antelope (due to their inquisitive nature), will be found with relative ease. Giraffe, Common Eland, Gemsbok, and Caracal are other possibilities. Once again we will spend some time on foot during the day, looking for small mammals, reptiles and the likes. Birding can be particularly rewarding, with Blue Crane often breeding on the farm and Double-banded Courser sometimes common. After dinner we go on a night drive either at Marrick or Benfontein, which might yield Aardvark, Aardwolf, Southern African Hedgehog, Mouse Gerbil, and Spring Hare.
Day 6. Kimberley
Benfontein Game Farm (11,300 ha) is a particularly good area for Black-footed Cat, and Black Wildebeest occurs here as well. We will spend a fair amount of time on this farm, which belongs to the De Beers Group. Dronfeld, another of the De Beers farms, is also an option, and there are a number of other great birding sites around Kimberley. Night excursions can be arranged, and Cape Fox is possible, although it is quite scarce here. We might also visit some caves in Griekwastad, where we can study a number of bat species.
Day 7. Kimberley
This will be our last day in the Kimberley area, which we’ll spend for the most part in nearby Mokala National Park. This is a recently proclaimed South African national park, a truly splendid one, which holds, among many others, not only a large herd of Roan Antelope but also Sable Antelope, Black Wildebeest, Giraffe, Tsessebe, Aardwolf, Bat-eared Fox, and Meerkat (suricate), as well as many spectacular birds, among them six lark species. We might also briefly visit the Kimberley “Big Hole” for those that might want to catch a quick glimpse of the deepest human-made hole in the world. Another night excursion may be on the cards as well, depending on what species we still need.
Day 8. Departure
After some final mammal-viewing we do a short (half-an-hour) drive to Kimberley airport, from where we’ll fly to Johannesburg.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park pre-trip
Please note that a 6-day pre-trip to the massive (twice the size of Kruger!) KgalagadiTransfrontierPark is possible – here you have a good chance of seeing Lion, Leopard, and Cheetah, as well as many other animals and some unique birds. This is a massive national park of open semi-desert habitat (unlike Kruger or Hluhluwe), making game-viewing easy. It is scenically stunning and one of the few African parks where migration of animals such as Common Eland is undisturbed by fencing/small size of the park.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.
Birding Ecotours company and SA office staff
I can highly recommend booking a trip through Birding Ecotours South Africa. The Birding Ecotours staff is professional, the e-mail responses fast and all questions receive detail replies. Chris Lotz of Birding Ecotours forwarded excellent advice to me on how to start world birding, which countries to visit in order to find a high number of birds over a short period and which bird book(s) to use for a country. Birding Ecotours’ newsletters provide further information on upcoming trips, details on areas (e.g. East African birding), on target birds per trip, as well as regarding birding books available for countries or areas. Trip reports (forwarded upon request) allow one to mentally prepare regarding number of possible birds, endemics per country and difficulty or travel time of a trip. The Birding Ecotours’ Facebook postings include snippets from current trips with photos as well as spaces available on future trips. The single supplement for Birding Ecotours’ trips is in most cases lower than other tour companies, which makes for safe as well as affordable travelling.
Lisl van Deventer — Pretoria, South Africa
Important explanation about the default vehicles we use on our southern African tours:
Whereas the standard birding-tour vehicle in East Africa is the popup-roof stretch Land Cruiser, in southern Africa these are extremely rare and not usually legal except within some parks. Open safari vehicles, on the other hand, are commonly seen in southern African parks but can’t be used outside the parks, and they are extremely unpleasant to be in when the weather is bad even inside the parks. The only tried-and-tested tour vehicle available in southern Africa that allows us to cover the ground we need so we can find the greatest diversity of birds (and other wildlife), and which is comfortable in all weather, is legal, has proper air conditioning, and does not make the overall tour price exorbitant, is the 13-seater Toyota Quantum when we have 6-8 (rarely 9) tour participants (or similar 7-10-seater vans when we have smaller group sizes). In areas where we are not restricted to the vehicle during the tour (such as in the Cape) we usually use unmodified standard Quantum vans – everyone gets out of the vehicle when we see a good bird or animal. In areas in which we are at times restricted to the vehicle because of the presence of dangerous megafauna including lions, elephants, and more (such as the Kruger National Park) we typically use a Quantum van with modified windows for better viewing of birds and other wildlife. In Kruger (and sometimes in Etosha) National Parks we usually do include a day or two in open safari vehicles as part of the tour price. Optional night drives (at nominal cost) in open safari vehicles are available at most southern African parks (including Kruger) for those who have less of a focused interest in birds (as these are operated by the park’s guides, who usually focus mainly on the “Big 5”). You can speak to the tour leader about joining these night drives, but in our experience some tour participants prefer not to join them, and hence we leave them as an optional extra for those willing to pay a (small/nominal) extra fee.
Even the tried-and-tested Toyota Quantum (or similar) vans we use fall far short of being ideal (small windows that are quite low, etc.), and we truly wish there were something better available without breaking the bank. But we use the best available vehicles, and we ensure that everyone has a fair turn in and near the front of the vehicle – we typically swap seating positions daily, but in the parks we can swap positions four times a day as necessary. The vehicles we use are by far the best vehicles available at a reasonable price. All the birding tour companies use the same vans unless their tours have a narrow focus just around Kruger/nearby or another park. It’s a big problem in South Africa that the East African style safari vehicles are, simply, unavailable, except for a handful of very old, shaky ones (and usually in East Africa they don’t have air conditioning anyway, are extremely slow between sites, and, in short, have a different suite of disadvantages). We use the very best vehicles we can without making our trips much more expensive than anyone else’s, but we also feel we have to be clear about what to expect before the tour, hence this note. If you are worried about the vehicle then please:
While we generally allow a window seat for every passenger and like to have at least a couple of free seats available for birding gear etc., it’s better to ask us about the specific tour to be sure what is the case. For photography trips the per-person price is higher because we leave more empty seats available as more tour participants have bulky camera gear!
It is our philosophy only to have one vehicle per tour as it invariably gets very frustrating when one vehicle sees a bird or animal and the other vehicle misses it! And our group sizes are small – maximum of eight (rarely nine). The tour prices would be very high and uncompetitive if we had a second vehicle and driver-guide with twice the guide’s accommodation, food, fuel and toll costs, considering the small group sizes on our tours. Again, if you request a private tour, we can take two or even three vehicles or absolutely whatever you request – a private tour is different. (It is illegal for us to have any person without a local driver’s license and professional driving permit to drive passengers who are paying to be on a tour, so we can’t even suggest that a tour participant drives a second vehicle to allow more space and window seats).