Zambia

Lusaka

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A bounty of birds

A bounty of birds

A bounty of birds
FRANK WILLEMS

FRANK WILLEMS

Kasanka National Park in northern Zambia is renowned for its bird diversity including most of the region’s specials, making it one of Zambia’s best birding destinations. Becoming world famous for its seasonal colony of millions of bats, the Park’s birding qualities are still relatively unknown.

Measuring some 400 km2, Kasanka is one of the smallest national parks in Zambia. Despite its relatively small size, a lack of altitudinal variation and limited attention from birders so far, an astonishing 453 bird species have been recorded to date.

The focal point of any visit should be the Fibwe forest, a 40ha block of wet ‘mushitu’ tropical forest typical of the high rainfall areas of Zambia. Böhm’s bee-eater is normally spotted at the car park at the forest edge before one even turns off the engine. Black-backed barbet perch in the tree tops at the forest edge in the early morning and late afternoon. Equally common here, but slightly less conspicuous, is the localized purple-throated cuckooshrike.

A platform high up in a mahogany tree overlooks the adjacent peat swamp, with its vegetation of papyrus, reeds and sedges. This is perhaps the best vantage point to see sitatunga, a scarce and secretive swamp antelope. Of the many swamp birds, greater swamp warbler and coppery-tailed coucal are of special interest for bird lists.

Many of the rivers in the park are lined by riverine forests. The largest stretches are found along the largest river, the Luwombwa in the west of the park. Nightly boat rides are almost guaranteed to produce foraging Pel’sfishing owl and white-backed night heron. During the day, African finfoot, half-collared and giant kingfisher are often seen, as well as Pel’s fishing owl basking in the early morning sun.

Birding at Kasanka is excellent throughout the year, although the best period is October to December. In the cool winter months of April to July birds are relatively quiet here, but this is the period that the nearby Bangweulu Swamps are at their most spectacular and shoebills are almost guaranteed to be seen.

Fact File

Birding specials: shoebill in the Bangweulu, Pel's fishing owl, brown-headed apalis, crowned eagle, wattled crane, African finfoot, locust finch, harlequin and blue quail, black-rumped and kurrichane buttonquails, African crake, corncrake and chestnut-headed and streaky-breasted flufftails.

Fun fact:The bird list for Kasanka is the second largest in the whole of Zambia, behind Kafue which is almost 50 times as big as Kasanka.

How to get there:Driving time from Lusaka or the Copperbelt is 6-8 hours. From Lusaka, take the Great North Road passing through Kabwe on to Kapiri Mposhi. Pass through Kapiri, then turn right after 4km toward Mpika and Tanzania. From the Copperbelt, turn left 4km before Kapiri town towards Mpika and Tanzania. Then continue 200km, passing the Mkushi turn-off, and you will reach the Serenje turn-off, clearly visible with a Puma filling station. Continue on the main road for 36km until you find a tarred road on your left signed to Mansa. Turn left here and continue for 55km, at which point you will see a large sign to Kasanka and the park gate on your left side.

Read more articles from this issue:
Main menu (Issue 16, March 2014)
Full contents listing
Birds & Birding

Read more about the region in our destination guide:
Lusaka Destination Guide
Lusaka News