Love nature? For birders and wildlife watching enthusiasts, the unique landlocked nation of Botswana is a must-visit. Now, when we say that the country’s landscape is unique, we really mean it. Defined by the Kalahari Desert and Okavango Delta, the Southern African nation becomes a lush animal habitat during its seasonal floods — we’re talking cheetahs, giraffes, hyenas and myriad birds. Botswana is home to over 600 bird species, of which 415 are residents. And with an outstanding wildlife protection policy, Botswana sees as much as 40% of the country’s land set aside for conservation.
Followers of birds and big game travel across Botswana’s diverse habitats in some of the best protected areas in the world, with a focus on spotting some of the most difficult and rarest birds, not to be found anywhere else.
Not sure where to get started? Here are some of the best marshes, lagoons, floodplains and woodlands of Botswana that will take your animal viewing and birdwatching drives with Naturetrek to the next level.
1. Moremi Game Reserve
A nice way to start your safari is from the Moremi Game Reserve, which is located on the eastern fringes of the Okavango Delta — a fantastic region for waterbirds and raptors. Lookout for wattled cranes (high concentration found here), the critically endangered slaty egret, and crakes in one of the most picturesque areas of Okavango.
As you move along the banks of the Khwai River, lions, leopards, and servals are some of the common predators seen here, along with birding opportunities by the riverside.
There’s also a chance you could see four of the Big Five (the lion, leopard, black rhinoceros, African bush elephant, and African buffalo), and there are lots of places to engage in animal encounters, depending on the location. Besides that, Moremi is a great place to see the endangered African Wild Dog as you spot large hippo pods as you move further upstream.
The Khwai Concession area often throws up some uncommon bird species like the bat hawk and the rosy-throated longclaw. A dugout ride will offer ample opportunity to see waterbucks and red lechwes in close range.
2. Okavango Delta
The Okavango is the largest inland delta in the world and is fed by the waters of a river of the same name. The Okavango abounds in four of the iconic Big Five species and also harbours unusual antelope species like sable, tsessebe, and roan.
Wake up to the dawn chorus and stroll around your lodge looking for birds before your morning game drive. You may be lucky to spot a Pel’s fishing owl, African green pigeon, southern ground hornbill or even a bateleur eagle.
Take a walking safari to experience the wildlife of the Delta or ride a boat through Okavango’s opaque lagoons and winding channels, not only to see the wild animals which come to the water’s edge, but stunning birdlife as well.
From the boat, search for the African pygmy goose, a variety of kingfishers, black crake, Goliath heron, and many more. Later on in the day, look for the Delta’s changing wildlife, including predators and the elusive and rare African wild dog.
Make your binoculars really work as you try to spot Dickinson’s kestrel, carmine bee-eaters, violet-eared waxbills, hamerkops, and saddle-billed storks if luck is on your side.
3. Chobe National Park
Often compared with Yellowstone National Park in the USA, Chobe is sure to provide many an epic encounter with massive herds of elephants. The national park lies in the northeast part of Botswana and has been a haven for wildlife since the 1930s.
While it’s common to see hundreds of elephants in a herd and rarities like the roan antelope and orbi, what endears the avid naturalist to Chobe is the exceptional birdlife, with over 440 species having been recorded here.
A highlight of a safari to Chobe are the boat trips which provide enthralling close-up sightings of crocodiles, hippos, elephants, and buffalo. Not to forget rewarding sights of the African fish eagle, African skimmer, squacco heron, and brown firefinch among others.
On a series of game drives on the desert-like landscape of Chobe National Park, there is a good chance of watching a cheetah hunt or a lion stalking buffalo. Birds found in the broad-leaved woodland include the paradise flycatcher, amethyst sunbird, and violet-backed starling to name just a few.
4. Central Kalahari Game Reserve
Located in the heart of the Kalahari Desert, the Central Kalahari Game Reserve is one of the largest protected areas in the whole of Botswana. Even though the habitat seems extremely inhospitable, it supports a unique variety of birds and animals not found anywhere else.
The game reserve is not easily accessible, and is therefore devoid of the usual hordes of visitors. That said, a self-drive safari to the park will give you a good chance to see the king and star attraction of the park — the striking black-maned lions of the Kalahari.
Animal lovers are also bound to see large herds of oryx and springbok walking leisurely over the sand dunes. Apart from the magnificent lions, cheetahs are plentiful in the open country. Sightings of honey badgers and brown hyenas have also been reported from time to time.
For prime birding and wildlife viewing, the dry season between November and March is best. Of the 250+ bird species found in the Kalahari, raptors are the more prominent birds found here because of the large prey base available here.
But other birds abound! One is almost assured of seeing the black-shouldered kite, red-crested buzzard, and martial eagle among the common birds of prey. Other resident species include the kori bustard, secretary bird, common ostrich and the extremely pretty Kalahari scrub robin.
5. Makgadikgadi Pans National Park
The 3900 sq km Makgadikgadi Pans National Park extends from the Boteti River in the west to the Ntwetwe Plain in the east and forms a part of the Nxai and Makgadikgadi Plains.
During the dry summer months between May and October, the waters of the Boteti River act as a magnet for wildlife as it remains as the only source of water despite its low water levels.
A major part of the park is home to some of the largest salt pans in the world which, after rains, attract not only myriad numbers of wild animals, but thousands upon thousands of flamingos and pelicans.
Though the Makgadikgadi Pans National Park lies a bit off the beaten track, it’s visited by avian enthusiasts who look for a peaceful birding and wildlife experience over the vast open plains.
Come December, the park is host to the biggest migration of Burchell’s zebras in the world, followed by other herbivores like oryx, eland, red hartebeest, and the usual predators that stalk the herd in search of some easy prey.
As far as birding is concerned, the summer months throw up some spectacular sightings of the common ostrich, Burchell’s ostrich, great white pelican, greater flamingo, dusky lark, white-browed robin-chat, and black-cheeked waybill plus lots of other species.
Whether you’re a birder or not, as long as you love animals, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Botswana.