Surrounded by wetlands, the twitter of birds was nearly deafening. I could almost not believe that there were such beautiful spots hidden within the Mapungubwe National Park and World Heritage Site. From African fish eagles to smaller water birds, they were all there. We even added something special to our birding list…
“It is a Senegal coucal,” says guide Leonard Luula after carefully observing the bird through his binoculars for some time. It was slightly smaller than the Burchell’s coucal and the barring on the tail was different. “It is one of the rare species that people come to see in Mapungubwe.”
Despite not being a serious birder, this excited me. Not only did I find myself surrounded by incredible scenery not accessible to the general public, but I saw a bird many still wish to see. These are some of the benefits of a birding drive, a new activity currently on trial to see how much interest it will generate.
Mapungubwe is a wonderful birding destination, especially because of its location bordering Zimbabwe and Botswana. Apart from the Senegal coucal, Luula says that Temminck’s coursers, golden orioles, wren wablers and even Pel’s fishing owls have been spotted in the park before.
Apart from the secluded wetlands we explored, the drive includes sections of riverine vegetation of the Limpopo River, which proved to be rewarding in terms of different species. According to Luula, the birds here are generally more audible than those found in woodlands vegetation, as it is much harder for the sound to penetrate thick forest vegetation. From the noisy chirps of the Heuglins robin to the knock of a woodpecker, it was easy to notice the amount of life in the riverine forest.
Luula’s interest in birds and wildlife started at a young age growing up in Venda near the Kruger National Park. His knowledge about birds and animals helped him become a guide in this park where he led countless birding excursions. “I love birding. It tells you a lot about the environmental conditions, ecosystems and biodiversity of an area.” After nearly a decade at Punda Maria (Kruger National Park), he made the move to Mapunbuwe, and loves every moment of it.
While there is always something to see, the best time of the year for birding in Mapungubwe is from October, during the spring and summer seasons. This, Luula said, is when all the migrants return to southern Africa.
Interested in a birding drive?
Contact the park in advance to make a booking. The cost is R393.90 per person and includes a snack. From 1 November 2016, prices will increase to R420 per person. A minimum of two and maximum of 10 people are allowed.
Words and pictures by René de Klerk – SANParks Times Reporter
Content courtesy of SANParks Times: www.sanparkstimes.co.za