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Also see Kruger Birds for Birding in Kruger’s Northern Section – (Olifants River to Limpopo River)
Birding in Marakele National Park
Arguably the Park’s biggest birding attraction is the largest colony of Cape Vultures in the world (around 800 breeding pairs). However the park is also appealing to birders as it falls within the transition zone between the dry western regions and the moister eastern regions of the country. Thus it is possible to see certain closely related species alongside one another. These include (eastern species first) Southern Boubou and Crimson-breasted Shrike, Arrow-marked and Southern Pied Babbler, Tawny-flanked and Black-chested Prinia, Pin-tailed and Shaft-tailed Whydah, Dark-capped (Black-eyed) and Red-eyed Bulbul, Grey and Cape Penduline Tit and White-browed and Kalahari Scrub Robin.
The park is an excellent place to look for raptors, with many species using the uplift generated off the cliff faces of the Waterberg to ride thermals. Apart from the vultures, visitors should look for African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene), Jackal Buzzard and several eagle species, including Verreaux’s (Black), African Hawk, Black-breasted Snake and Brown Snake Eagle. In summer Wahlberg’s Eagle becomes prominent. Rock Kestrel are prominent on the mountain plateau, while Peregrine and Lanner Falcons should be watched for.
On areas of high ground Cape Rock Thrush, Buff Streaked Chat, Mocking Cliff-Chat; Mountain Wheatear, Cape Bunting, Malachite Sunbird, Lazy and Wailing Cisticola, Gurney’s Sugarbird and Swee Waxbill should be searched for.
Other species to look out for in the lower lying bushveld and broadleaf woodland regions include Purple Roller, Black Cuckooshrike, Brubru, Southern White-crowned Shrike and White Crested Helmetshrike and the exquisite Blue, Violet-eared and Black-cheeked Waxbills. Bee-eaters are conspicuous, particularly White-fronted and Little with Swallow-tailed (winter) and Carmine and European (summer) present as well. The Matlabas River (formerly home to the Tented Camp, but now only accessible from the Hoopdal Road) can be scanned for signs of Halfcollared Kingfisher and African Finfoot. From the relocated tented camp, now called Tlopi, water birds have a different profile. Black Crake may be seen in the rushes just in front of the units. A steady stream of woodland species uses the foliage around the safari tents to drink from the water’s edge. At night Freckled and Fierynecked Nightjars and Spotted Eagle and Scops Owl compliment the pulse of crickets and cicadas.
An annual birding census in the park and surrounding farms is organised by the Marakele Honorary Rangers. Check the Big Birding Day link for sightings records and details on how to take part.
Because of its new status, the park is relatively unexplored bird wise and with its proximity to Botswana and Zimbabwe, all sorts of species could turn up. Along the Limpopo specials for South Africa such as Meve’s (Longtailed) Starling, Tropical Boubou and the reclusive Pel’s Fishing Owl should be searched for (one of the local farmers reportedly has one nesting in the yard of his house). There is a high density of Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle in this craggy landscape and other raptors are also prominent. Particularly enticing is an abundance of cuckoo species in summer with up to eleven different species being found, including the rarer Common and Thickbilled Cuckoos.
A list of over 400 species for the area is purported and will be posted on this site once available electronically. An interesting attraction of the park is the occurrence of species typical of the arid western regions of the country (e.g. Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike and Black-faced (Black-cheeked) Waxbill) occur alongside species associated with the moister Lowveld habitat of the Kruger National Park.
At Leokwe Camp Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle nest on the cliff face above the reception block. The most prominent bird is probably the Cinnamon-breasted (Rock) Bunting, but other species associated with bush and rocky environments are common too. Blue Waxbill and Black-backed Puffback are also particularly common.
The Limpopo Tree-top Boardwalk and hide is a magnificent facility allowing the visitor into the trees alongside the birds or looking down on those that forage on the ground and lower strata. Meyer’s Parrot, White-crested Helmetshrike, Meve’s (Longtailed) Starling and some flycatcher species will be seen. Both Tropical and Southern Boubou occur. Birding from the hide in the riverbed will vary depending on water levels in the river and can be very rewarding. Pel’s Fishing Owl are around, so hope for some luck. White-fronted Bee-eater breeds in the river banks and are very prominent. African Fish Eagle will make their presence known too.
The Confluence is a great place to scan for passing raptors, while several other species will be easy to locate here.
At the Limpopo Forest Tented Camp the environment is very similar in appearance and atmosphere to the Pafuri Picnic Site in Northern Kruger. And the cacophony of birds calling in the morning suggests it will be as productive. Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Meve’s (Long-tailed) Starlings, Black-backed Puffback and Tropical Boubou should be seen, and Southern Pied Babbler and Natal Spurfowl (Francolin) are very vocal as are Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-shrikes and Grey-backed Camaroptera (Bleating Warbler). At night one should hear several species of owl including Barn, African and White-faced Scops, Verreaux’s (Giant) Eagle and Pearl-spotted. Pel’s are also not infrequently seen in the area.
The Maloutswa Hide is a good place to sit to watch mammals and birds of all descriptions come and go. To get there from the Tented Camp is a short drive, first through riverine woodland, then through arid thornveld, before one passes across a plain of reclaimed and rehabilitating farmland. This human intervention has created a different habitat type and is rewarding from a birding perspective. Kori Bustards are prominent while Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark and Wattled Starling are nomadic, but may be abundant. Temminck’s Courser and Ground Hornbill may also be seen in this habitat, as will a number of swallows. Crimson-breasted Shrike are resident in the area by the hide’s parking area. Red-billed Buffalo Weaver and Meve’s (Long-tailed) Starlings will be among the most evident of species seen from the hide, but anything is possible. Leopard and Bushpig are regular evening visitors.
The Limpopo Floodplain in flood is a paradise for aquatic birds when in flood. Grey-crowned cranes, up to 7 stork species and several wader, heron, crake and duck species will be seen in these wet times.
Rarities are always on the cards. It is reported that Boulder Chat has been seen and when one looks at the habitat (particularly around Leokwe) and considers the proximity to the Matobos and other known locations, it would appear a distinct possibility. There are many stands of Lala Palms (although the elephants do hammer them) and Collared Palm Thrush has been recorded. Other specials that one should look out for include Great White Pelican, White-backed Night Heron, Bat Hawk, Augur Buzzard, African Hobby, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Green Sandpiper, Three-banded Courser, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Grey-headed Parrot, Senegal Coucal, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Broad-billed and Racket-tailed Roller, African Golden Oriole, Olive-tree Warbler and who knows what else.
View Limpopo Birding Route (www.limpopobirding.com) for more birding info on the park and the surrounding area.