Want a birding outing second to none? Then head to one of South Africa’s 112 IBAs or Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas. We look at five unmissable IBAs situated in Wild parks and reserves. By Dale Wright
For anyone interested in birds, Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas, or IBAs, are must-see locales. These sites play a vital role in protecting bird species, especially threatened birds, large groups of birds, and birds restricted by range or habitat. The IBA Programme is one of BirdLife South Africa’s most important conservation initiatives.
The great news is that many of the IBAs are situated in Wild partner parks and reserves. These five definitely deserve a spot in any birder’s diary for 2016. Grab those binoculars Wild friends!
This birder’s paradise situated on the Zululand coastal plain conserves magnificent threatened species such as the southern banded snake eagle and white-backed vulture, whilst the Neergaard’s sunbird and Rudd’s apalis are undoubtedly a major tick for many birders. Nyamiti Pan offers great birding opportunities, particularly for viewing large congregations of pink-backed pelicans and the yellow-billed stork. Make sure to also set your sights on the enigmatic Pel’s fishing owl or shy pink-throated twinspot. An early morning start, and guided walk with the reserve’s well-known bird guide, a genius mimic, will undoubtedly reveal many of these special species.
Location: Situated on the Mozambique border, around 100km from Mkuze.
Accommodation: Self-catering rondavels and camping.
More to do and see: View the extensive wetlands on a guided game drive – keep your eyes peeled for crocodiles and hippos.
Heading to the interior, you’ll find an IBA that hosts a slightly different suite of species. This national park is particularly important for grassland biome species such as the southern bald ibis, yellow-breasted pipit and white-bellied bustard. Visitors may be especially interested in the southern bald ibis breeding colonies, including the well-known site at Cathedral Cave. And don’t forget some Drakensberg specials, including the Gurney’s sugarbird, Drakensberg rockjumper and Drakensberg siskin, that occur nowhere else in the world.
Location: Situated in the northern Drakensberg, equidistant from Gauteng, Bloemfontein and Durban.
Accommodation: Hotel with restaurant, self-catering rondavels, secluded log cabins, camping.
More to do and see: Get a picture of the sun lighting up the Brandwag Buttress rock formation, visit the Basotho Cultural Village, and take a dip in the natural rock pools.
The forest habitats of the Woody Cape Section of Addo also reveal species unique to South Africa. This IBA provides essential habitat for the conservation of coastal species such as the Damara tern, African black oystercatcher and Cape cormorant. More than 350 different bird species have been identified with the “Knysna Trio” – Knysna turaco, Knysna warbler and Knysna woodpecker – high on many birders’ lists. The 32km overnight Alexandria Hiking Trail is a great option for the more adventurous, whilst the 7km Dassie Day Trail could easily showcase many of the beautiful forest birds.
Location: Less than an hour from Port Elizabeth.
Accommodation: Self-catering chalets and forest cabins, luxury lodges, safari tents, camping.
More to do and see: The park is renowned for its elephant sightings – go on a guided game drive or get a hop-on guide. The Bedrogfontein 4×4 Trail offers breathtaking views.
Not to be outdone by our beautiful coastline, the Karoo also hosts a number of IBAs. Anysberg Nature Reserve in the Western Cape lies south of the town of Laingsburg. This hidden gem extends nearly 80 000 hectares with restored Karoo and fynbos habitats – larger threatened species such as the blue crane, Ludwig’s bustard and southern black korhaan rely on these large protected areas to persist. Keep an eye out for numerous raptors including the martial and Verreaux’s eagle, and visitors should not overlook smaller Karoo endemics such as the Karoo lark, Karoo eremomela and Namaqua warbler.
Location: Around 70km from Laingsburg.
Accommodation: Self-catering cottages, camping.
More to do and see: Explore the reserve on an overnight horseback trail. At night, train your binoculars on the stars or ask one of the reserve’s star guides to show you constellations through the telescope.
A visit to the cooler West Coast is always welcome. This national park with the exquisite Langebaan Lagoon is yet another highlight for birders. Here significant congregations of water birds are the order of the day. Geelbek Bird Hide, located along the southern shore of Langebaan Lagoon, provides hours of happy birding as many migrants such as the grey plover, ruddy turnstone and curlew sandpiper forage in large numbers along the mudflats. Make sure to first stop at the Geelbek Information Centre for tide information and ideal times for birding.
Location: About an hour from Cape Town.
Accommodation: Self-catering cottages, Duinepos chalets, Langebaan houseboats.
More to do and see: Flower season is a highlight and in August and September you can also go whale watching at Tsaarsbank. Bring your mountain bike to explore the park at a leisurely pace.
Dale Wright is BirdLife South Africa’s Regional Conservation Manager of the Western Cape.