African Affinity

African bird ringing and natural habitat tours

 Destinations 

From the rain forests of the equator, to Pelagic birding off the continental shelf and from the Atlantic surf to the white sands of the Indian Ocean, there are a wide range of experiences to choose from

South Africa

Namibia

Mozambique

Uganda

Ethiopia

Congo Brazzaville

Please contact me for more details!


South Africa

South Africa is a huge country by African standards and one of incredible diversity. With a bird list of over 900 species, there are 41 true endemics, out of a total of 161 for the sub region (Namibia-Botswana-Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique). 

From the tropical coastline of the Indian Ocean to the snow clad peaks of the Drakensberg Mountains, the Cape Fynbos arid Kalahari desert to the Afro-montane mist-belt forests of the eastern escarpment with the Greater Kruger Lowveld below this, there is a great deal of biodiversity to explore.

Our tours consist of two different ringing / banding expeditions, both 14 days duration.

‘Highveld to the Dryveld’ 

This expedition runs from December to April, and covers a route of 4300km’s which starts in the Highveld Grasslands of KwaZulu Natal and the Freestate Provinces, north through the Lowveld and Greater Kruger area, to the misty mountains of Magoebaskloof. It then heads north again up to the World heritage site of Mapungubwe National Park in the Limpopo Valley, then South West to the Waterberg World Biosphere reserve and back to Johannesburg.

We stay at a variety of lovely bush lodges with all mod cons and are based at these whilst conducting ringing operations in the immediate area. Some of the sites have been in operation for over 14 years.

One of the highlights on these SA trips which never fails to impress, is Road-Trapping for raptors, a novelty for the UK ringer. In the remoter parts of the provinces, we explore the quiet back roads for a variety of birds of prey to trap and ring. To date, 35 species of raptor have been caught as well as 9 Owl species. 

Whilst road trapping for raptors, we catch Lilac-breasted, Purple and European Rollers as well as Lesser Grey Shrikes, all common at this time.

Another highlight is ringing the Amur Falcon roost in the town of Newcastle in KZN Province. This roost has recorded up to a staggering 38,000 birds, the largest known roost in the southern hemisphere. These amazing little migrants travel from eastern Siberia on a round trip of 35,000km’s! Satellite tracking of 50 individuals from the roost have shown us that they make a non-stop 5 day 5 night flight from the east coast of Africa across the Indian Ocean and Indian subcontinent, to Nagaland in Assam, where over a million birds are known to congregate en route to their breeding grounds further north

Forest to desert Expedition

This second expedition starts in the cool misty forested mountains of the Eastern escarpment, where we look for the little known migratory, and endemic, Forest Buzzard which arrives here from its breeding grounds in the Southern Cape between February and August.

Also found here are Jackal Buzzard, Lizard Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle and African Goshawk. If we are particularly lucky we may even see the mighty Crowned Eagle which breed in these forests.

Heading west, we gradually get to drier and more arid country, in particular Kalahari Sand, with its beautiful Camel Thorn Trees (Acacia erioloba) red sand and vast blue skies.

Our targets on this expedition are mainly raptors, and with an abundance of Pale-chanting Goshawk to ring, we aim to find out if and what the difference is between two distinctly separated sub populations of these striking birds. Lanner Falcons are found here and ringing these beautiful falcons will hopefully shed light on the reasons why they make the movements they do. 

Greater and Rock Kestrels are also found here as well as African Hawk Eagle and Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles, the latter two species are nomadic wanderers whose origins little is known about. 

Tawny, Martial and Verreaux’s Eagles are found in much of this region and ringing these large eagles will hopefully help us in understanding survival rates and reasons for mortality. 

Another highlight on this trip is finding the African Pygmy Falcon. One of the bush lodges we stay at is a long proclaimed research station where these very cute little raptors are found and nest in the giant communal haystack nests of the Social Weaver.

We spend some time in the vast wilderness area of the Kalagadi Transfrontier National Park, which encompasses Namibia and Botswana to the west and east respectively. 

Here we look for the huge and distinct black-maned Lions of the Kalahari, along with Leopard and Cheetah. Winter is a good time to visit this beautiful park as the grasses have died and much of the game is reliant on waterholes, which also attract thousands of Burchell’s, Namaqua and Double-banded Sandgrouse.

Other activities on these trips are dazzling for Coursers, Thick-knees, Larks, Korhaan and Nightjars, for the latter, as well as owls, we use netsand playback.

During the day when there are few raptors about, we target with a modified spring trap, Lilac-breasted and Purple Rollers, the latter a partial migrant of which little is known.

Johannesburg Day Trips

Of the many business visitors to SA, many spend time holed up in a gaudy hotel in the city without anything exciting to do. Johannesburg is situated on the Highveld grassland biome, and as such can offer an extremely rewarding days birding from town. There are an amazing variety of species to find, including many of Southern Africa’s Endemics of which a possible 47 can be seen in the region.

We visit the beautiful Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens with its breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagles and in winter the many sunbirds which come to feed on the impressive Aloe collection.

We go to the Devon and Greylingstad Grasslands where flocks of up to 40 Secretary birds occur, this being a unique phenomenon, and flocks of 2-300 Blue Crane. Winter is a good time here, as Black Harrier occur and Marsh Owls are readily seen hunting by day. We can trap in this region and strong possibilities to ring are; Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles, Jackal and Steppe Buzzard, Lanner, Greater, Rock and Lesser Kestrel, Black-winged Kite and Mash Owl. From September to March we can mist net at the South African Cliff Swallow colonies to ring these little Afro-tropical migrants.

We also visit Marivale Bird Sanctuary, a wonderfully rich and exciting wetland with a profusion of waterfowl and shorebirds. We can ring at these wetland sites for a variety of species including Great Reed, African Reed, European Marsh, Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers. If an overnight ringing session is possible, there are many waders including Ruff, Wood, Marsh and Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Greenshank, Common Ringed Plover Blacksmith Plover, Avocet an African Snipe to name a few.

All this just an hour out from the city and there is enough to fill 3 days full birding andringing! 

Uganda

For a country the size of the UK that has over half the continents bird species in it (1300), Uganda is an absolute must for any birder or bander / ringer interested in Africa.

Geographically, Uganda is situated on a convergent zone of the majority of floristic based biomes in Africa and as such is incredibly diverse in its habitats. 

Our expeditions cover a wonderful range of these habitats, from Tropical and Montane Rainforests, to the banks of the River Nile in Murchison Falls National Park, to the Albertine Rift Endemic Area of Queen Elizabeth and Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahainga Volcanoes National Parks.

Some of the highlights are trapping the little known Grasshopper Buzzard, which migrate from the West African Sahel to the East African savannahs in the dry months between December and April. 

Ringing waders / shorebirds at a wetland where hundreds of birds have been caught,  including Great, Painted, Common and Jack Snipe, Ruff, Wood, Marsh, Curlew, Green Sandpipers, Greenshank, Ringed Plover, Little Stint and Black-tailed Godwit to name a few. 

Netting in Papyrus Swamps for endemics to that habitat, namely Papyrus Gonolek, White-winged Warbler, Carruther’s Cisticola and Papyrus Canary.

Ringing in forest edge habitat of Kibale National Park for species from Great Reed Warbler to White-collared Olive-back and 23 species of Sunbird gives you an idea of the diversity!

Having the incredible experience of trekking tracking the critically endangered Mountain Gorilla in the montane rainforests of the Albertine Rift Valley. 

Searching for the wonderfully fascinating Chimpanzees of the Lowland Rainforests of Budongo and Kibale, where groups of over 60 can be found feeding in the enormous fig trees found here.

Fishing for the mighty Nile Perch at Murchison Falls where fish of over 100kg’s have been caught!

In Uganda we run either a bird watching and primate safari, (with a bit of ringing) or a full ringing expedition with the option of trekking Mountain Gorillas and Chimpanzees as an extension.

Uganda remains a wonderfully friendly country which has not experienced any civil strife for many years.


Mozambique 

‘Bush to Beach’

Quirimbas National Park is a vast area in the far north of Mozambique. It covers 7500 square kilometres of Miombo and Brachystigia woodland and 1500 km sq of Indian Ocean archipelago.

We stay in scuba dive lodges on the beach as well as up in the incredibly diverse Miombo woodlands of the interior. The coastal scrub can reveal a good many species including Basra Reed Warbler to African Broadbill and in the Miombo, Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Bohm’s Bee-eater and Southern Banded Snake Eagle.

The main focus on this trip is to ring waders when based on the small islands in the archipelago. We stay on Ibo Island, a fascinating little town, the buildings consist of 14th century Portuguese and Arabic architecture including an old slave fort.

Our target species here is the remarkable and spectacular Crab Plover, which can be found at roosts of over 1000 birds. In the mix are Whimbrel, Grey and Greater Sand Plover, Mongolian Plover, Terek and Curlew Sandpiper, Bar-Tailed Godwit and Common and Lesser-crested Terns.

We also make a sea journey, island hopping and living on a Dhow powered by sail, with the option to go kayaking and snorkeling from the Dhow. At some of the stops, we set nets for the many migrants that get ‘trapped’ on these small islands.

There are often Humpbacked Dolphins which accompany the dhow on this voyage and it is a great opportunity to see this unusual and rare cetacean. 

The park still has a good population of Elephant, Lion and Wild Dog and there is a corridor connecting the park to the even greater wilderness of Niassa and Selous National Parks on the Tanzanian border.

 

Republic of Congo

(Brazzaville)

Here we go to Tchimpounga National Nature Reserve (RNT) it is 500 square km and is set in the flood plain of the Kouilou River in a forest / grassland mosaic.

The reserve is managed by the Jane Goodall Institute who look after 160 Chimpanzees in the sanctuary which have been orphaned as a result of the bushmeat trade.

There are wild populations of Chimpanzee in the reserve as well as West African Manatee in the rivers and a variety of small antelope and two monkey species.

I have compiled a bird list of 320 species for the reserve, which includes the very little known African River Martin who along with the Rosy Bee-eater breed in the reserve between September and December. These two species are targets when we ring them at their colonies.

Just for a taster, some of the more unusual species in the reserve include Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill, Long-tailed Hawk, Red-necked Buzzard, Hartlaub’s Duck, White-crested Tiger Heron, Black-headed Bee-eater and Black Spinetail. 

At the River mouth where it flows into the Atlantic, there is a roost of some 20,000 Royal Terns along with African Skimmers and Grey Pratincoles.

The forests provide an exciting variety of species to catch and vary from coastal sand forest to riverine swamp forest. We also ring in a patch of rank grassland and scrub for Great Reed, Icterine, Sedge, Garden and Willow Warblers along with a host of other Afro-tropical species. 

The sites we work at are quite remote and are accessed by boat, vehicle and on foot. We camp at some sites whilst some permanent structures are being constructed at other ringing sites in the reserve.

This is a 12 day trip with the possibility of visiting Conkoati National Park to the North, on the Gabon Border, for a variety of the species not found in RNT.

The nearest city to RNT is Point Noire which is 50 km from the reserve which has an international airport.

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