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The Four Corners: Birding paradise

The Four Corners: Birding paradise

Whiskered turn, photographed on Kazuma Pan
Whiskered turn, photographed on Kazuma Pan
TOM VARLEY

ALAN SPARROW

The five countries of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) have many great birding spots. So many, that for this article we have focused on the area where the four countries of Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe meet on the Zambezi River, sometimes known as “The Four Corners”. If you were to plan a birding safari to the Four Corners, where would you go? What birds would you see? Are there any ‘specials’?

Look at the map below. You see that this area has several International Bird Areas (IBAs). Imagine you are standing at the point where the four countries meet. To the west is the eastern Caprivi wetland IBA in Namibia. To the east, not far away, is the Machile IBA in western Zambia, where you can see black-cheeked lovebirds.You might also see Souza’s shrike, the sharp-tailed starling, the olive woodpecker, the African hobby and Shelley’s sunbird. Zambia is a great birding country. This IBA is within the Simalaha Community Wildlife Conservancy, a key project within the KAZA TFCA. To the south, in Botswana, is the Chobe National Park IBA. To the southeast is the unique Kazuma Pan National Park in Zimbabwe.

I asked Dr Kit Hustler, a professional ornithologist, what birds might be seen within easy reach of the point where the four countries meet. For the serious birder he recommends that you look for a rare form of the village indigo bird known to occur in a small stretch of the Zambezi River between the Katombora Rapids and Kazungula. It is known to parasitise the brown firefinch. Kazungula is a terrific spot for sub-continental rarities from a migratory perspective. Dr. Hustler recorded curlew, whimbrel, black-tailed godwit, grey plover, Mongolian plover, sanderling, Terek sandpiper, spotted sandpiper, whinchat, gull-billed tern, olive-treewarbler and European reed warbler, great snipe, black-winged pratincole and Ross’s turaco.

The Katombora floodplain on both sides of the Zambezi at Kazungula is right on the edge of the geographical range of some central African forms. The coppery sunbird breeding there is the central African form, as are the red-shouldered widow and the yellow-rumpedwidow. Red-headed queleaare known to breed on the floodplains. Birds that overlap into the Katombora floodplains from further upstream include the chirping cisticola, the Luapula cisticola, the greater swamp warbler, the swamp wagtail, the slaty egret, the coppery-tailed coucal, the swamp nightjar, the long-billed snipe, the plain-backed pipit, Hartlaub’s babbler, the brown-throated golden weaver, and Livingstone’s turaco.

From Kazungula you could head south down the old Hunters Road for 75km and visit the unique Kazuma Pan National Park in Zimbabwe. This is a beautiful area of open grass-land with peripheral pans that fill up in summer and attract a wide range of birds. There you might see both migratory grassland harriers. Camp out on the Kazuma depression and you could hear the swamp nightjar. It is possible to see all four species of southern African sandgrouse– and that is unique.

So plan to visit us soon. Happy birding.

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