Zambia justly plays proud host to
a word-class assortment of natural wonders: the breathtakingly powerful Victoria Falls, the
rough-and-tumble Zambezi River and the gorgeous Kariba, Tanganyika and Mweru lakes.
this impressive list are several national parks of rapidly rising prominence,
home to a plenitude of birds and mammals under the increasingly vigilant guard
of rangers, conservationists and nature-oriented tour operators. And given the
country's distracting ecological opulence, it can be hard to know where to
focus – especially for birders.
the tourist town of Livingstone in the south of the country, the small, easy-to-access
Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park, which
includes the Zambian side of Victoria Falls and a short stretch of the upper
Zambezi, gets its fair share of feathered friends such as plovers, skimmers and
swifts. And from the viewing deck of the remote and perfectly perched Taita
Falcon Lodge on the edge
of the Batoka Gorge, a few kilometres
downstream from Livingstone, lucky gazers may spot, for example, a rare and
elusive Taita falcon nesting in cracks of the gorge's high walls.
need to head further inland for Zambia's true wilderness gems, where vast
expanses of protected land promise real reward to any amateur ornithologist
ready to reach for them.
National Park and Bangweulu Wetlands
Kasanka National Park, located in
northern-central Zambia and world famous for its millions
of roosting fruit bats,
was the country’s first park to be placed under private management. Since 1990,
Trust Ltd has worked in
partnership with government wildlife services and the surrounding communities
to superintend and promote the park, responsibilities that have also been
extended to the adjacent wetlands around Lake Bangweulu. It is this latter
habitat, especially the floodplains on the southern and eastern edges through
which the Lukulu River flows, that is a particularly powerful draw for birdwatchers.
scores of waterfowl and plains birds species in both Kasanka and Bangweulu, the
star attraction is the rare shoebill, a tall stork-like bird with a shoe-shaped
beak that forages for catfish in the shallow waters. Bangweulu is said to be
the world's best place for scouting the shoebill, an undertaking made easy at Shoebill Island Camp, a safari-tent
facility set in the middle of the swamps from which small poled boats push
through endless channels in search of these trusting and approachable birds.
being the largest national park in Zambia and the second largest in Africa (after
Mudumu National Park in Namibia), Kafue National Park is not well
known. Most people who do visit Kafue, located in the southern centre of the
country, head to Busanga Plain in the north of the park. This vast and pristine
tract is flooded for much of the year, providing excellent provender for some
of the greatest wildlife diversity of any national park on the continent,
including hundreds of bird species, many kinds of antelope and the big game
that feed on them, such as lions, leopards and cheetahs.
Part of the
somewhat neglected southern stretch of Kafue National Park, though, is dominated
by Lake Itezhi-Tezhi, an inland sea created by the dammed Kafue River that has
given rise to superbly scenic, land- and water-based wildlife-watching experiences.
Travelling with professionals like Wildside Tours, which has an extensive range of eco-friendly
excursions and programmes targeting Kafue, will ensure that your eyes stay peeled
for fish eagles, spoonbills and herons, among many others.
It is in Kafue
that two of Zambia's most precious birds have been spotted. The Zambian barbet
(aka Caplin's barbet) is the country's only endemic bird and, due to its small
population and disappearing habitat, has been listed as a vulnerable species
(likely to become endangered). The bright red feathers around its eyes and
noisy cackle are hard to miss once identified. Southern Kafue is also one of
the few places in the word to spy the colourful black-cheeked lovebird, also
listed as vulnerable. Its parrot-like shrieks and bright-green body easily give
Plains National Park
In the far
west of the country, Liuwa Plains National Park is a
remote and virtually untouched wilderness that is best visited in the company
of an established operator; try Robin
Pope Safaris, the Virgin Holiday Responsible Tourism winner in 2011.
Liuwa is known
principally for being on the trail of a massive annual migration. Every year in
November, wildebeest and zebra move south from Angola across Zambia's plains, stalked
by large and impressive clans of hyena, as well as wild dogs, cheetahs and lions.
As its name implies, and notwithstanding the unusual suffrutex (dwarf shrub)
forest that covers large areas at higher elevations, Liuwa is wide-open country,
which allows for bush-loving nature lovers to witness animal interactions
without affecting outcomes.
Liuwa will be treated to glimpses of many winged critters that are rare in
Zambia, such as the pink-billed lark, white-cheeked and blue-breasted
bee-eaters, and red-crested and white-bellied korhaans. Generally speaking,
though, the real delight here is the open country, which reveals spectacular
numbers of waterbirds – crowned cranes, slaty egrets, whiskered terns and many
more – foraging in the receding pools as the flood waters recede into the dry