Botswana is fortunate in offering nature enthusiasts vast, unpopulated wilderness, a tremendous variety and quantity of big game … and fabulous birding. Some 580 different bird species have been recorded in the country, and birding may be organised as a dedicated activity in itself, or as part of a more general wildlife experience. In any case, there is every chance that even on specifically bird watching trips big game will be encountered whilst viewing birds. There are unique opportunities to view birds on foot, by boat, in 4x4 vehicles amidst spectacular African scenery.
The north of the country is especially rich in bird life, with the northern Chobe National Park and surrounding areas and the Okavango Delta boasting over 450 species in a relatively small area. The summer months, November to March, provide the best birding, when migrants from the northern hemisphere have arrived in good numbers and have joined the resident species, many of which are engaged in breeding. Bird watchers, with a good guide, may record 150 or more species in a day during this season.
Birding at other times of the year is good, too, and in the “winter” months, May to August, many small passerine species, now no longer breeding and therefore not territorial, form “bird parties” which forage together. 100+ species in a day is certainly possible then.
Given good rains the vast Makgadikgadi Salt Pans attract staggering numbers of flamingos, pelicans, wildfowl and waders. One of the best places to see these is from the Nata Sanctuary adjoining the northern edge of Sowa Pan.
Birding in the open wetlands and savannas of Botswana is generally very satisfactory with the views of birds easier and better than rainforest regions where thick vegetation and high forest canopies seriously limit sightings. Birders will also be impressed by the sheer abundance of certain species (e.g. francolins, doves, hornbills, bulbuls, weavers, Blue Waxbills) Botswana boasts the species occurring in the world's largest flocks (Red-billed Quelea, sometimes in aggregations of several million); the heaviest flying bird (the Kori Bustard) and, of course, the largest bird of all (the Ostrich). The region has an array of highly colourful species, too, amongst which one may include Green-Pigeons, Malachite and Woodland Kingfishers, bee-eaters, rollers, orioles, Crimson-breasted Shrikes, sunbirds, bishops and waxbills.
Passionate birder-guide Richard Randall, and three friends recorded 290 species in 24 hours in January 2001, a southern African 24 hour “birding marathon” record. Richard, who has been birding in southern Africa since the early 1960s, organises birding itineraries for all levels of birding, from casual birders to outright “twitchers”, and is happy to dovetail birding with other activities such as game viewing and fishing. He has led many birding trips for individuals, families and small and large groups. In 1998 he had the privilege of guiding the President of the USA and the First Lady on a safari in the Chobe region of Botswana and found the Clintons to be fascinated by the birds as well as by the big game there.
Some bird “specials” of the region: