Birding Routes – On the Trail of Avian Life

Southern ground-hornbillThink of birding routes as a kind of bird watching safari. The routes are general directions to follow which are designed to give you great opportunities to spot a whole variety of bird species.

In the Kruger National Park region, there are a few bird routes which include the game reserve. Let’s have a look at each of them.

Lowveld Mpumalanga Birding Route

Mpumalanga is one of the provinces that Kruger National Park is in. The route takes bird watchers to southern Kruger Park which is a sub-tropical area consisting of a lot of open bushland. Acacia, leadwood, marula and tamboti trees are common and this vegetation impacts the type of birds that live here.

Some of the sought after and rare birds that you may find on the route in Kruger National Park are:

  • Martial eagle
  • Narina trogon
  • Southern bald ibis

Common birds in this area are:

  • African scops-owl
  • Bateleur
  • Crested francolin
  • Lilac-breasted roller
  • Southern ground-gornbill
  • White-crested (white) helmet-shrike

If you wanted to do more of the Lowveld Mpumalanga Route, not just the Kruger Park section, it includes the areas around Barberton, Hazyview, Malelane and Nelspruit.

Greater Limpopo Birding Route

Limpopo is the other province that the wildlife reserve is in. There are several parts to the Greater Limpopo Route and the ones which include Kruger National Park are:

Soutpansberg-Limpopo Birding Route

Lilac-breasted rollerThe Soutpansberg-Limpopo Route includes northern Kruger Park. The rest of the route goes through Mapungubwe National Park, the Soutpansberg Mountain Range and Venda.

Within Kruger Park’s northern region there are hills near Punda Maria which attract the following types of birds:

  • Crowned hornbill
  • Eastern (yellow-spotted) nicator
  • Mosque swallow

Further afield there’s mopani bush and woodland where these birds can be found:

  • Arnott’s chat
  • Black coucal
  • Little bittern
  • Racket-tailed roller
  • White-breasted cuckooshrike

In the vicinity of the Levubu (or Levuvhu) River, you might see:

  • Böhm’s spinetail
  • Dickinson’s kestrel
  • Lemon-breasted canary
  • Mottled spinetail
  • River warbler
  • Sooty falcon

The other part of the Greater Limpopo Route which includes Kruger Park is the Kruger To Canyons Biosphere Route.

Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Birding Route

This route incorporates parts of northern Kruger National Park and big sections of the central region.

The route begins outside the park in Graskop, goes along the Blyde River Canyon, down to Hoedspruit and on to Kruger National Park via Phalaborwa.

Once in the park, the landscape is a combination of bushveld and waterways.

Types of birds to keep watch for in this area include:

  • African barred owlet
  • Collared (red-winged) pratincole
  • Pel’s fishing-owl
  • White-crowned lapwing (plover)
  • Yellow-billed oxpecker

There are a number of rest camps around the central region of Kruger National Park where certain birds are known to be seen. The following table lists those camps and the birds sighted in their areas.

Of course, you can make your own bird route entirely within Kruger Park. The main thing is to include a variety of environments and circumstances to maximise the number of different species you may see. So, what are the ingredients that can help with this? Let’s see.

Bird Hides

White-faced duckare covered viewing platforms overlooking a scene such as a river, lake or dam. They’re great for spotting aquatic birds and other wildlife as well. They also provide an excellent platform from which to take photos. You can have your camera set up on the ledge ready to go. If you’re really keen, a fascinating experience is to sleep in one of the overnight hides.

Unless you’ve memorised a bird encyclopaedia, chances are you’ll need help to determine the bird you’ve seen. If you’re in a bird watching hide, you’ll see posters on the walls that’ll help you identify the birds seen in the area.

For a full description of all the birds that you can see in Kruger National Park, you’ll need a comprehensive bird book. You can buy these at any book shop in South Africa, at the general stores in the rest camps or online.

Birding Binoculars

Blacksmith lapwing ploverAnother great aid to bird watching is birding binoculars. They’ll really help you get the detail of a bird that’s too far away to see properly with the naked eye.

Compare what you’ve seen with the likely bird candidates in your bird book. Of course, some birds are instantly recognisable, once you get to know them, while others need special scrutiny with good birding optics to determine what it is. Even then, some birds seem impossible to identify!

If you’d like to keep a record of the birds you’ve seen, make sure you take a Kruger Park bird check list with you. We have a free one that you can print and keep. Read our bird list page for details.

When to Watch Birds

Some birds are migratory and only appear in Kruger National Park in certain seasons. A good bird book should tell you which birds visit the park when.

One of the best times to watch birds can be in the early morning and evening. This is when many species are out and about looking for food.

There’s still plenty of bird life around at other times of day too. And remember to have a look around your rest camp at night or go on a sunset or night game drive to try and see nocturnal birds.