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The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a combination of the former Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa and Gemsbok National Park and Mabuasehube Game Reserve in Botswana. This incredibly large conservation area (36000 km²) is almost twice the size of the Kruger National Park. There is currently a list of 302 bird species, of which only 102 species are resident, 74 are either seasonal migrants or nomadic, and 126 are vagrants to the park. Although the KTP offers a wide range of arid area and bushveld birds it is most renowned for its raptors, particularly along the Nossob and Auob riverbeds, with as many as 46 species having been recorded. Ideally a minimum of three days should be spent in the park, and at least one night at Nossob camp is recommended.

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Specials

Most of the specials are resident and include Lappet-faced Vulture, White-headed Vulture, Martial Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Bateleur, Lanner Falcon, Red-necked Falcon, Pygmy Falcon, Red-footed Falcon , Secretarybird, Southern White-faced Scops-Owl, Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, Burchell's Sandgrouse, Double-banded Courser, Ashy Tit, Sociable Weaver, Great Sparrow and Violet-eared Waxbill. Some seasonal specials include Ludwig's Bustard, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Pink-billed Lark, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Capped Wheatear and Fairy Flycatcher.

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Habitats

The KTP encompasses two of the three main Kalahari vegetation types, with vegetation changes reflecting an increase in average yearly rainfall from 180 mm in the south-west to about 300 mm in the north-east. This results in open, sparse dune savannah vegetation in the lower rainfall areas, and progressively more wooded acacia tree savannah vegetation towards the north-east. The dune savannah is intersected by two riverbeds, the Nossob and Auob, along which the trees support many Acacia woodland birds.

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Facilities

Tourist facilities include typical camps as well as wilderness experiences in remote unfenced campsites and four-wheel drive trails. On the South African side, the Auob and Nossob riverbeds and the interlinking dune roads are suitable for sedan vehicles. The area is serviced by three rest camps (Twee Rivieren, Mata Mata, Nossob) which offer chalets, camping facilities, shops, fuel and education centres. Nossob and Mata Mata also have hides. There are four picnic sites along these roads where one is permitted to leave one's vehicle at own risk. Exclusively for the use of four-wheel drive vehicles are a number of unfenced camps, 4x4 trails, and several similar campsites in the Mabuasehube area on the eastern side of the park.

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Birding

There are three main birding environments in the park; the general dune and tree savannah areas, the Nossob and Auob riverbeds, and the three main camps. Most bird species are found throughout the park, but some tend to be more common in either one of these environments. Many of the arid area species are highly nomadic, while many of the bushveld species are migratory and are found in the park only in summer.

Twee Rivieren, as the main entrance point is discussed first, followed by the riverbed sections between Mata Mata (Auob) and Nossob (lower Nossob) camps. This is followed by an account of the roads available in the dune savannah, the upper Nossob River and finally the Gemsbok Wilderness Trail and Mabuasehube areas in tree savanna.

Twee Rivieren

It is well worth familiarising oneself with the common and small birds of the Kalahari here. The habitat in the riverbed in front of camp is a good area to look for Red-necked Falcon, Black-shouldered Kite, Lilac-breasted Roller, Namaqua Dove, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Fork-tailed Drongo, Groundscraper Thrush, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Black-chested Prinia, Marico Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Cape Sparrow, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Scaly-feathered Finch, Red-headed Finch, Yellow Canary, Black-throated Canary, Shaft-tailed Whydah and Black-faced Waxbill. The trees on the dune behind the shop and administration centre regularly have Gabar Goshawk, Pearl-spotted Owlet and roosting Barn Owl, and produce African Reed-Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Eurasian Golden Oriole in summer, and Fairy Flycatcher in winter. Dusky Sunbird feed on the Aloes near the petrol station in winter. Be on the look out as this camp is fairly renowned for producing local oddities like Grey-backed Camaroptera and Burnt-necked Eremomela, and vagrants such as Reed Cormorant, African Crake and Striped Crake, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Alpine Swift, Red-breasted Swallow, Violet-backed Starling, Common Starling, Pied Starling, African Paradise-Flycatcher and.Green-winged Pytilia.

Night drives almost invariably produce Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Barn Owl, Southern White-faced Scops-Owl, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar (in summer) and Spotted Thick-knee. Occasionally Marsh Owl is seen near Samevloeing in summer.

An early morning circular drive up the Nossob to Kij Kij or Melkvlei picnic spot, followed by a leisurely drive across the lower dune road to the Auob, is a good way the explore the immediate area. Late afternoon drives to Leeuwdril or Rooiputs can also be rewarding.

Riverbeds

After leaving Twee Rivieren and travelling up either the Auob or Nossob riverbeds a whole range of species typical of the Kalahari duneveld may be encountered. These include Common Ostrich, Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, Crowned Lapwing, Double-banded Courser, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Common Scimitarbill, southern Ant-eating Chat, Fawn-coloured Lark, Sabota Lark, Desert Cisticola, Chat Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, Brubru, Ashy Tit and Sociable Weaver. In summer look out for Ludwig's Bustard, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Diderick Cuckoo, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Lesser Grey Shrike and Red-backed Shrike.

Anyone driving up a riverbed, particularly in summer after good rains, will be astounded by the numbers of Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Lanner Falcon, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Tawny Eagle and Bateleur. These are interspersed by sightings of Gabar Goshawk, Rock Kestrel, Red-necked Falcon and the diminutive Pygmy Falcon, as well as giants like Martial Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Booted Eagle and Secretarybird. Steppe Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle are uncommon summer migrants. Waterholes are generally good places to observe large raptors (particularly Bateleur and Secretary Bird) as well as Lappet-faced Vulture and White-backed Vulture coming to drink and bathe. Montagu's Harrier and Pallid Harrier are recorded in high rainfall years, and sometimes there is an influx of Jackal Buzzard in the south.

A vast proportion of the vagrants and nomads to the park are waterbirds of some description and as such are usually seen in the riverbeds. Unusual birds attracted to standing water include Little Grebe, Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal, Egyptian Goose, Spur-winged Goose, several egrets (including one record of Slaty Egret), Dwarf Bittern and Little Bittern. Waders such as Little Stint, Three-banded Plover, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Blacksmith Lapwing and Curlew Sandpiper can be fairly common at these pools. More unusually Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Greater Painted-snipe, Pied Avocet and Black-winged Stilt are recorded. Even rallids arrive after heavy rains, with Lesser Moorhen being fairly common, along with fewer records of Red-knobbed Coot, Allen's Gallinule, African Crake, Striped Crake and Common Moorhen. Green grass after good rains attracts large flocks of Abdim's Stork and White Stork, and small groups of Cattle Egret.

Twee Rivieren to Nossob (lower Nossob)

Waterpoints along the lower Nossob like Rooiputs and Kij Kij can be very good for vagrant waterbirds but unfortunately when conditions are wet sections of road may be closed. Scanning the skies in association with summer rain showers at open areas like Samevloeing, where the Nossob and Auob meet, usually produces large flocks of Common Swift, interspersed with Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Eurasian Swallow, Pearl-breasted Swallow, White-throated Swallow and Greater Striped Swallow. Namaqua Sandgrouse frequents waterholes in the early morning, but Burchell's Sandgrouse is less common. The southern waterholes of Rooiputs and Leeuwdril are particularly good for this species. Verreaux's Eagle-Owl can be fairly easily located by scanning the main branches of the huge Acacia erioloba trees, especially between Rooiputs and Gunong. Interestingly in the summer months Black Harrier are present and can be seen flying along the edge of the calcrete ridges. White-backed Vultures breed along the central Nossob riverbed.

Nossob

Nossob camp is renowned for Southern White-faced Scops-Owl and Great Sparrow, both of which should be searched for in the trees around reception. The northern section of Nossob camp is undeveloped and a walk through this bush in the early morning can produce most of the typical species for the area, as well as Burchell's Starling and Long-billed Crombec, and Fairy Flycatcher in winter. Shaft-tailed Whydah are particularly common here and it is worth watching the water troughs near reception for them. The hide can be good if there is sufficient water, particularly at mid-day when large raptors come in, and on summer evenings when Rufous-cheeked Nightjar hawk around the spotlight. A night drive from Nossob is likely to produce the same nocturnal species as Twee Rivieren, with the added possibility of Bronze-winged Courser in summer. Vagrants recorded in Nossob include Buff-spotted Flufftail, Pied Crow, Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah and Great Reed-Warbler

Twee Rivieren to Mata Mata (Auob River Bed)

The Auob River Bed yields much the same birding as the lower Nossob. It, however, gained legendary status by producing the first record for the sub region of White-throated Bee-eater (13th Borehole, December 1988) and European Turtle-Dove (Dalkeith, June 1988). The first 10km of this road actually traverses an area of tall dunes before it enters the riverbed and has many of the species typical of the dune roads described below. Once entering the riverbed look for both sandgrouse species at water points in the early morning, especially at Gemsbokplein. Notable additions to search for in winter include Mountain Wheatear (at Auchterlonie) and rarely Short-toed Rock-Thrush. The northern section has more trees and is the best area to look for Green Wood-Hoopoe, African Hawk-Eagle, Shikra and in summer African Cuckoo, Eurasian Golden Oriole and European Roller. 13th borehole sometimes attracts vast flocks of Red-headed Finch, Red-billed Quelea and Namaqua Dove and is a favourite hunting location for Lanner Falcon and Gabar Goshawk.

Mata Mata

The large number of trees in Mata Mata makes it a worthwhile camp for birding, as bushveld species less readily found elsewhere may be located. Some of these include Pearl-spotted Owlet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Ashy Tit. The hide allows relaxed viewing of game coming to drink and the occasional vagrant waterbird.

Dune roads and Nossob Eco-trail

The main access to the Kalahari duneveld proper is on these roads, although the eco-trail has to be specially booked. These roads traverse areas of both tall dunes and flat areas with dense stands of grass. Most species here are ground dwelling and cryptically coloured, and can be difficult to spot. Watch for birds flying up from the road verges and try note where they land. Northern Black Korhaan, Cape Crow, Fawn-coloured Lark, Stark's Lark and Spike-heeled Lark, Grey-backed Sparrowlark and Lark-like Bunting are common and widespread. Pink-billed Lark is best found along the lower dune road and along the road leading up to the Auob. In years when the greater Karoo area receives low rainfall an influx of Black-eared Sparrowlark can occur in this southern region of the Park. Ludwig's Bustard can also be fairly common in the duneveld. Greater Kestrel is common, but any number of other large raptor species may be seen, particularly Black-chested Snake-Eagle. Although very difficult to see, Kurrichane Buttonquail occurs throughout and Common Quail is present in high rainfall summers. Sandgrouse are best found at Vaalpan on the upper and Kielie Krankie on the lower dune roads.

Nossob to Union’s End (upper Nossob)

The upper Nossob remains very good for raptors with Red-necked Falcon being fairly common. Burchell's Starling are found close to Nossob Camp and African Grey Hornbill are most common further north. For some years there has been a pair of the yellow-breasted form of Crimson-breasted Shrike at Kwang. The edge of Kwang pan floods after heavy rains and birds like Marabou Stork are occasionally recorded. The northern stretches of the river are very flat and open and are home to Temminck's Courser and various harriers in summer. Grootkolk and Union’s End water points are renowned for Rosy-faced Lovebird.

Gemsbok Wilderness Trail and Mabuasehube

Raptors such as Brown Snake-Eagle, Shikra and Red-footed Falcon are more readily seen in the tree savannah. The falcons, along with Lesser Kestrel can be fairly common around the pans in Mabuasehube. Water points are provided at some of the pans in Mabuasehube and these are excellent for bathing vultures, with occasional sightings of White-headed Vulture and Cape Vulture. Species more readily observed in the tree savannah include Helmeted Guineafowl (only in Mabuasehube), Red-billed Spurfowl, Red-crested Korhaan, Southern Pied Babbler, Bennett's Woodpecker, Bearded Woodpecker, Burchell's Starling and Golden-breasted Bunting. Along with the cuckoos mentioned earlier, Black Cuckoo and Jacobin Cuckoo are fairly common in summer, and there are odd records of Klaas's Cuckoo and Levaillant's Cuckoo. Groundscraper Thrush, Long-billed Crombec and Cape Penduline-Tit are fairly common, as are Dusky Sunbird and Marico Sunbird which feed on flowering mistletoe (Tapinanthus oleifolius) - a parasitic shrub growing in false umbrella thorn trees (Acacia luderitsii) in summer. Both areas offer numerous calcrete basin pans, which usually have Temminck's Courser, Double-banded Courser, Red-capped Lark and Buffy Pipit.

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General

Access to the Park can be gained through five gates in three different countries. From South Africa access is through the Twee Rivieren gate, from Namibia through the Mata-Mata gate and from Botswana through the Two Rivers, Mabuasehube and Kaa gates. Passports are not required for entry, unless departure is planned through a different gate into another country.

Travelling from South Africa, the park can be approached from Upington in the south (260km with about 60km of gravel) or Kuruman in the east (383 km with about 340km of gravel).

There are a number of 4x4 routes for which booking is required;
  • Nossob 4 x 4 Eco Trail - 214 km
  • Bitterpan trail - 120 km
  • Mabuasehube Wilderness Trail - 155 km
  • Wilderness Trail (starting at Polentswa) - 257 km
  • Direct Route – Nossob Riverbed to Mabuasehube - 170 km
  • Direct Route – Kannaguass to Kaa - 85 km
  • Leeuwdril 4 x 4 Loop - 13,2 km

Gate hours vary from 06:00 – 19:30 in January and February, to 07:30 – 18:00 in June and July.

Contact information:
Park Tel: + 27 (0) 54 561 2000.
Fax: + 27 (0) 54 561 2005
e-mail:

The Offical Website should be visited for more detail on accommodation, facilities and 4x4 trails.

Mark Anderson 2007
Paul Funston 2001.
Kalahari Safaris
Copyright © 2008 SA Birding cc