The Kafue National Park has over 500 recorded bird species and is fast becoming one of my favourite birding spots in south-central Africa.
The real drawcard for me, and probably most southern African birders, are the pristine tracts of pretty miombo woodland. Miombo is a term used to describe a specialised, deciduous, moist broad-leafed woodland community dominated by trees belonging to the Brachystegia, Julbernardia and Isoberlinia families. This woodland type is essentially restricted to Angola, southern Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, with vast areas covering Zambia. Within miombo, towering trees are bedecked in old man’s beard lichens and epiphytic orchids. A rich leaf litter adds an equally intriguing understorey of pretty grasses and flowers. It is perhaps most captivating at the end of the dry season when the trees’ new leaves blush in gold and red hues before turning green.
Kafue’s miombo-associated birds were varied as they were impressive and included the likes of Souza’s Shrike, Rufous-bellied Tit, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Red-capped Crombec, Arnott’s Chat, Woodland Pipit, Brown-backed Honeybird, Green-capped Eremomela, Green-backed Woodpecker, Böhm’s Flycatcher, Miombo Rock-Thrush, Miombo Double-collared Sunbird, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Miombo Tit and Spotted Creeper. Many bird species are thus basically restricted to miombo, and this unique woodland offers some of Africa’s most rewarding birding opportunities, particularly when encountering mixed-species feeding flocks of up to 25 species!
Miombo woodland is unfortunately under extreme threat. Rural communities depend on the wood they cut as a primary fuel source, while there is a dramatically growing demand for charcoal from these woods in burgeoning urban areas. As the soils are relatively nutrient-poor, slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture exacts a heavy toll when new lands for crops are opened each season. Zambia’s Kafue National Park, cloaked in pristine tracts of this threatened woodland, is thus critical for its future conservation.
Miombo is certainly not the only exciting habitat type in the Park though. Birding in pristine riverine forest along the Lunga and Lufupa River systems allowed us to find Red-throated Twinspot, African Broadbill, Bohm’s Bee-eater, noisy flocks of Trumpeter Hornbill, the crimson flash of a flying Schalow’s Turaco, the stunning Ross’s Turaco, Black-backed Barbet and Black-throated Wattle-Eye. Pel’s Fishing-Owl was remarkably common with the distinctive low-pitch booming call of the adults and the screeching juveniles a distinctive sound at night. On the river itself one can look out for African Finfoot, Half-collared Kingfisher and many commoner waterbird species. Around the central Musanza area of the Park the mixed woodland is interspersed with stately baobabs and this is where one has a decent chance to possibly find Grey-Headed Parrot and African Hobby. Tracts of miombo here too host species already mentioned. In this area we also found Chaplin’s Barbet – one of Zambia’s only true two endemics. The other is Black-cheeked Lovebird which is more common in the south of Kafue.
The north of the Park culminates in the vast 90,000 hectare Busanga Plains – a visual fest for the eye and a very different bird community. Grey-rumped Swallow as the common hirundine, and Collared Pratincole vied with African Openbill, Saddle-billed Stork and Southern Ground Hornbill. Bubbling Coppery-tailed Coucals were everywhere and other good records included Fülleborn’s Longclaw, Rufous-bellied Heron, Long-toed Lapwing and Luapula Cisticola. The sycamore fig and date palm thickets around Busanga Bush Camp were alive with species such as Olive Woodpecker, White-winged Black Tit, Brown Firefinch and Golden Weaver. At dusk we noted flying flocks of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse flying overhead and Swamp Nightjar was another common night sound. With the latter, drives on the Plains often flushed them from their day-time roosts. Whilst birding the wildlife was not bad too – lion, leopard, serval, water mongoose, sitatunga, big herds of red lechwe and puku, yellow baboon, decent numbers of roan and oribi were all provided distraction to the birding. Other more unusual mammals were tree hyrax and Selous’s mongoose. Species such as Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, sable antelope and African wild dog also favoured the miombo areas. For both beginner birders and hardcore twitchers visiting Kafue will certainly result in high species counts. Over our most recent 10-night stay in late winter, in the absence of many migratory species, we tallied an respectable 260 species. Can’t wait to go back…
By Martin Benadie