Driving just eight kilometres in 90 minutes would seem sluggish in anyone’s book – except for keen birders. In the Karoo National Park it’s worth going slow to witness the avian riches. Story by Dale Wright, BirdLife South Africa’s Western Cape Regional Conservation Manager. Feature picture by Mike Cary

On an afternoon drive in the Karoo National Park I was planning to drive 35 km in three hours, which is usually possible in a reserve. But the excellent birding en route had me turning around one and a half hours later, after just eight kilometres!

The following morning my drive over the Klipspringer Pass revealed stunning views across the Karoo landscape, with a pair of Secretarybirds walking and hunting for prey, whilst Karoo Long-billed Larks did their beautiful song-flight in the background. This involves the bird flying 10-15m straight up before dropping vertically with closed wings whilst giving their characteristic ‘peeeeuuo’ call.

The Karoo National Park provides critical habitat for a number of Karoo endemic birds, larger terrestrial species and raptors. On my recent visit to the park to conduct an IBA (Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas) assessment, I met with senior section ranger Johan de Klerk to gather information regarding the key bird species status, threats facing the site and conservation action.

The park’s special ticks include the iconic Secretarybird, Ludwig’s Bustard, Martial Eagle and Verreaux’s Eagle. The smaller endemic or biome-restricted species include the Karoo Chat, Karoo Eremomela, Namaqua Warbler and Karoo Long-billed Lark. A well-maintained road network and walking trails in the Karoo National Park provide ample opportunity to spot some of these enigmatic birds.

Due to the sound management and protection as a South African National Park, this IBA faces relatively few threats and enjoys a high level of conservation action, contributing to the long-term persistence of these birds. South Africa has 122 such IBAs, many of which are in South African national parks, CapeNature reserves or Ezemvelo Wildlife nature reserves.

Did you know?

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) Programme in South Africa was initiated by BirdLife South Africa, a South African conservation NPO, focused on the conservation of birds. The IBA Programme is a flagship project of BirdLife International, the largest partnership of conservation organisations in the world. Using standardised scientific criteria, over 12,000 IBAs have been identified globally, to allow for the long-term conservation of our planet’s bird diversity.