Kalahari – Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

About the Birding

As you enter Twee Rivieren, the thorn trees on the right are a good place to start searching for some of the commoner thornveld birds such as White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Brubru, Pririt Batis, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Black-chested Prinia, Marico Flycatcher, Common Scimitarbill, Red-headed Finch and the gaudy Yellow Canary. If you’re lucky, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Kalahari Scrub-robin, Ashy Tit and the diminutive African Pygmy Falcon can be found here with a little work.

The riverbed in front of camp is a good place to look for Black-winged Kite, Namaqua Dove, Red-necked Falcon, Cape Sparrow, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Violet-eared Waxbill and Black-cheeked Waxbill. For those overnighting, it is well worth exploring the fenced campsite after dark for owls, as Western Barn Owl, African Scops Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Spotted Eagle Owl and the sought after Southern White-faced Owl occur here too. Learn their calls beforehand, so you know which one you’re heading after. Alternatively a night drive from camp could add Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar (in summer) and Spotted Thick-knee and occasionally Marsh Owl. Although not strictly the Kalahari type birding one would expect, in wetter years this camp produces some strange birds and the likes of African Crake, Striped Crake, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher have turned up in the past. Also, of local interest, keep an eye out for Grey-backed Camaroptera, Burnt-necked Eremomela and Violet-backed Starling which have also been recorded in the camp.

Auob and Nossob Riverbeds:
The Kgalagadi is well known for its two predominantly dry river systems. However, even without water, the large line of trees that follow the banks of both the Nossob and Auob Rivers, make for great birding. Careful scanning of the flats along either of these systems will likely turn up Kori Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan and groups of Common Ostrich. With luck, Burchell’s Courser or the more likely Double-banded Courser can be found along these roads. The vegetated banks hold typical Kalahari specials, so you should be able to locate Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Common Scimitarbill, Ant-eating Chat, Fawn-coloured Lark, Sabota Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Monotonous Lark and Wattled Starling after good rains, Chat Flycatcher, Desert Cisticola, Brubru, Ashy Tit, Rosy-faced Lovebird, White-backed Mousebird, Pearl-spotted Owlet to name a few.

To keep the raptor fanatics happy, Bateleur, Jackal Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Martial, Gabar Goshawk, Southern Pale-chanting Goshawk, Greater Kestrel, Lesser Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite, Yellow-billed Kite, Lappet-faced Vulture, White-backed Vulture and both Black-chested Snake-eagle and Brown Snake-eagle are possible along these routes. Whilst Steppe Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle are irregular summer migrants, as are Pallid Harrier and Montagu’s Harrier. For those that get their timing right and are here when the rivers are either flowing or are full of stagnant pools, you might bump into some interesting birds for the region. These include waterbirds that move into the area, like Little Grebe, Red-billed Teal, Cape Teal, Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose and any muddy areas might host waders like Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper Three-banded Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing, Ruff and less commonly encountered but present in small numbers in good seasons are Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Common Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank and even Greater Painted Snipe are recorded now and then. Any rank grassy areas might hold rare rallids such as African Crake, Striped Crake and Lesser Moorhen, whilst in summer White Stork and Abdim’s Stork often move into the area.

Twee Rivieren to Nossob (lower Nossob):
The drive between Twee Rivieren and Nossob along the river is a scenic one. You’ll pass a number of small waterholes like that of Rooiputs and Kij Kij. These are great places to sit and do some game viewing, but they also attract Namaqua Sandgrouse and Burchell’s Sandgrouse and the odd waterbird too, which aren’t easily found in this arid environment. The thornveld is alive in the area and you’re likely to bump into Acacia Pied Barbet, Pririt Batis, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Bokmakierie, Brubru, White-throated Canary, Cape Crow, Desert Cisticola, Red-headed Finch, Chat Flycatcher, Marico Flycatcher, White-backed Mousebird, Kori Bustard, Ludwig’s Bustard and Lark-like Bunting. Always keep looking up, as aerial feeders like Common Swift, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, White-throated Swallow, Greater Striped Swallow and Pearl-breasted Swallow can be found as can a good selection of raptors. Black-chested Snake-eagle and Brown Snake-eagle are common here, White-backed Vultures breed in some of the larger camelthorns, as do Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Secretarybird and Martial Eagle.

This campsite, situated along the edge of the Nossob River, is a great place to look for some arid specials. The large trees around reception and in the northern section of the camp are good places to start, and here Southern Pied Babbler, Acacia Pied Barbet, Great Sparrow, Pririt Batis, Brubru, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Burchell’s Starling, Long-billed Crombec and Shaft-tailed Whydah are common. Fairy Flycatchers are worth looking for here in winter. Other birds to look out for in the area around Nossob are Kori Bustard, Ludwig’s Bustard, Desert Cisticola, Cape Crow, Greater Spotted Cuckoo, Booted Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Red-necked Falcon and Gabar Goshawk. Nossob has also turned up some interesting vagrants in the past, Great Red Warbler and Buff-spotted Flufftail being significant examples, so it’s always worth scouring the camp well, especially in the days after very large weather events.

Nossob has a well-lit hide, and if there is water it is a great place to sit and watch raptors coming to drink on a hot day and in the evenings, keep your eyes out for shy mammals making their way in after dark. Rufous-cheeked Nightjar can be regularly found hunting insects beneath the lights, and White-faced Scops Owl, Western Barn Owl and Spotted Eagle-Owl are often found in the camp and occasionally Bronze-winged Courser which arrive in summer.

Twee Rivieren to Mata Mata:
In a similar fashion to the drive between Twee Rivieren to Nossob, you’ll be birding large stands of thornveld tracking along the edges of the Auob River. The species composition here is much the same and the closer you get to Mata Mata, the more vegetation the area has and the birding starts to improve. Keep a lookout for Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Cardinal Woodpecker, Green Wood-hoopoe, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Pin-tailed Whydah, Sociable Weaver, Violet-eared Waxbill, Black-faced Waxbill, Rufous-eared Warbler, Ashy Tit, Dusky Sunbird, Purple Roller, Lilac-breasted Roller and a variety of Larks, like Fawn-coloured Lark, Monotonous Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Sabota Lark, Spike-heeled Lark and Stark’s Lark. Occasionally you might bump into Ground-scraper Thrush, Spotted Thich-knee, Bradfield’s Swift, Short-toed Rock-thrush here, and a number of cuckoo species move through here in summer. The 13th Borehole is always a good place to spend some time, as Gabar Goshawk and Lanner Falcon can often be seen hunting Red-headed Finch and Red-billed Quelea which come down to drink in large flocks.

Mata Mata:
place to start birding outside of camp towards Mata Mata, which is accessible by taking the first turn after leaving camp. Here the rolling sand dunes house Eastern Clapper Lark and small numbers of Pink-billed Lark and the ever present Fawn-coloured Lark too. Mata Mata itself, located on the border of Namibia had very large trees in the camp can produce Pearl-spotted Owlet, Ashy Tit, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Cardinal Woodpecker, Acacia Pied Barbet, Pririt Batis, Brubru, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Black-throated Canary, Familiar Chat, and in summer a variety of migrant cuckoos, like African Cuckoo, Black Cuckoo, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Diderick Cuckoo and Jacobin Cuckoo. There is also a hide in the camp which one can view both game and the odd waterbird from. The surrounding drier thornveld outside of Mata Mata camp can yield Desert Cisticola, Double-banded Courser, Burchell’s Courser, Temminck’s Courser, Monotonous Lark is wet seasons, Rosy-faced Lovebird, White-backed Mousebird, Buffy Pipit, Kalahari Scrub Robin and countless others.

Dune Roads and Nossob Eco Trail:
Booking for the eco trail is necessary, and for those that do so, you’ll be traversing a magical part of the park. These duneveld systems hold a high density if Ludwig’s Bustards and a good raptor diversity too and Greater Kestrel, Tawny Eagle, Booted Eagle, Martial Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Bateleur, Black-shouldered Kite are all regulars here. The area had a good sandgrouse population and any time spent around Vaalpan and Kielie Krankie could produce Namaqua Sandgrouse, Burchell’s Sandgrouse and occasionally Double-banded Sandgrouse. The grassy dunes, especially after good rainfall years, were searching for Common Buttonquail and Common Quail as well as the sought after Black-eared Sparrowlark which occasionally move into this part of the park in high numbers. Both the upper and lower dune roads are good places to search for larks, and Sabota Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Fawn-coloured Lark, Pink-billed Lark occur here and Lark-like Bunting and Grey-backed Sparrowlark and likely bycatch.

Nossob to Union’s End (upper Nossob):
Although the Nossob is fairly consistent with regards to habitat and species composition, the northern reaches are rather good for raptors and this is a great place to look for the sought after Red-necked Falcon. Other key things to look out for in the area are Rosy-faced Lovebirds, which are searched for around Grootkolk and Union’s End waterholes where they come down to drink. Typical thornveld birding is the order of the day up here, although African Grey Hornbill is more common here than elsewhere in the park. Pallid Harrier and Montagu’s Harrier, although uncommon in the park are probably best looked for on the large open stretches of the river up here and you might also pick up Buffy Pipit, Capped Wheatear and Burchell’s Courser, Temminck’s Courser and Double-banded Courser and a variety of larks out on these flats too.

Gemsbok Wilderness Trail & Mabuasehube:
In appearance, both of these areas are far more typical savannah and like all good savannahs, the raptors seem to flock to the area. In summer this is a great place to look for Red-footed Falcon and Lesser Kestrel which move into the area, especially in the vicinity of the Mabuasehube pans. These calcrete pans are also good places to search for Double-banded Courser, Temminck’s Courser and Buffy Pipit. These pans are also regular bathing sites for White-backed Vulture and Lappet-faced Vulture, but occasionally White-headed Vulture and Cape Vulture make an appearance here too. The summer months also bring lots of cuckoos and you have a good chance of finding Great Spotted Cuckoo, Black Cuckoo, African Cuckoo, Diderick Cuckoo and Jacobin Cuckoo around here. Other typical thornveld birds here include Cape Penduline-tit, Long-billed Crombec, Ashy Tit, Dusky Sunbird, Marico Sunbird, Golden-breasted Bunting, Burchell’s Starling and some less commonly encountered species like Southern Pied Babbler, Groundscraper Thrush, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red-billed Spurfowl, Red-crested Korhaan and both Bearded Woodpecker and Bennett’s Woodpecker, both readily picked up by their characteristic calls.

Due to the sparse vegetation, the Kgalagadi offers premier mammal watching, especially within the dry Auob and Nossob Rivers and is renowned for its big cat sightings and seasonal migrations of Blue Wildebeest, Springbok, Eland and Red Hartebeest. Whilst black-maned Lions, Leopards, Cheetah and Brown Hyena are often encountered, one also has a chance to view Pangolin, Bat-eared Fox, Honey Badger, African Wild Cat, Caracal many other less commonly encountered mammals.

Key species:

Secretarybird, Martial Eagle, Red-necked Falcon, Pygmy Falcon, Southern White-faced Owl, Kori Bustard, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Double-banded Courser, Sociable Weaver

About the Birding Site

Stretching over two countries, the Mabuasehube Game Reserve in Botswana and the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in South Africa were combined to form the region’s first Transfrontier park. Covering an area twice the size of the famed Kruger National Park, this conservation area is vast and covers some of the region’s top arid bushveld birding. Its large dry river beds and wooded savannas host an immense raptor diversity, and its well situated waterholes make for both spectacular game viewing and wildlife photography.

Key species:

Secretarybird, Martial Eagle, Red-necked Falcon, Pygmy Falcon, Southern White-faced Owl, Kori Bustard, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Double-banded Courser, Sociable Weaver

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
South African Citizens & Residents (with ID)
R101 per adult/day, R50 per child/day
SADC Nationals (with passport)
R202 per adult/day, R101 per child/day
Standard Conservation Fee
R404 per adult/day, R202 per child/day

Gate hours vary month to month, please visit the website prior to arrival for details.
Times range from 05:30-19:30 in Summer (November to January) and from 07:30-18:00 in Winter (June and July).

Other related information:

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is situated in a semi-arid region, due to this, extreme temperature fluctuations can be experienced. Pack sufficient warm and light clothing to accommodate for this.

This low rainfall area (150-350mm) receives its rain during the summer months (November to April).

  • Peak Summer Temperatures (January/February) can exceed 42°C.
  • Winter Temperatures (May-August) are a cool 20°C, often dropping well below 0°C at night.

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park offers a number of activities, which include:

  • Morning and Sunset Drives (Twee Rivieren, Nossob, Mata-Mata, Kalahari Tented Camp)
  • Nossob 4×4 Eco Trail (214km)
  • Bitterpan Trail (120km)
  • Mabuasehube Wilderness Trail (155km)
  • Wilderness Trail (257kkm)
  • Nossob Predator Centre

Important information:

  • Park roads have gravel surfaces. 4×4 with high clearance and low range is recommended.
  • No travelling after dark is permitted, pay close attention to distance and travel times.
  • 4×4 vehicles are required to access Botswana side of the park, and require a minimum of two vehicles to serve as a backup.
  • 4×4 routes require prior bookings.
  • Laundry and Ironing facilities (no iron) available in main camps.
  • Twee Rivieren has a swimming pool, shop, and cell phone reception.
  • Restaurant serves breakfast and dinner.
  • ATM only available at Twee Rivieren.
  • No credit/debit card facilities outside of Twee Rivieren camp.
  • Nossob and Mata-Mata have viewing hides.
  • Limited freezing space in camp, pack accordingly.
  • Shops in main camps sell fresh meat, alcoholic beverages, milk, bread etc.
  • Fuel stations are located at the three main rest camps, providing both diesel and Petrol (unleaded). Card facilities can be used for fuel purchases (subject to availability).
  • No pets are permitted within the park.
  • Although this is a low risk malaria area, consult your doctor/chemist.
  • In case of emergency, nearest medical and police services are in Kakamas (40km away)
  • Access with motorbikes and quad bikes is not allowed within the park.
  • Pack sufficient drinking water, tap water is very mineralized.
  • Maps are available for a small fee at the entrance gate.
  • Wildcards can be utilized for this park. Please note that no firearms will be allowed in the park, or to cross borders via either Mata Mata, Kaa or Mabuasehube. Any tourists carrying firearms are advised to use either Rietfontein or Bokspits border posts for access into Namibia and Botswana.
  • Mata-Mata has wheelchair friendly ablutions, while the wilderness camp Kieliekrankie has a wheelchair accessible cabin, and two tents with access ramps can be found at Kalahari Tented Camp.

Location of main campsites:

  • Nossob Rest Camp: -25.4215, 20.5964
  • Twee Rivieren Camp: -26.4721, 20.6125
  • Mata Mata Camp: -25.7665, 20.0014

The park is accessible via five gates, in three separate countries. From South Africa, one accesses the park via Twee Rivieren gate, through Mata-Mata gate in Namibia and via either Two Rivers, Mabuasehube or Kaa gates in Botswana. Although passports are not required to enter the park, they will be necessary to exit a gate into a country different to that which you entered from.

Travelling the 904km to the park from Johannesburg, one can take the 255km tarred road from Upington to reach the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, or alternatively the roughly 340km gravel route through Kuruman, Hotazel and Vanzylrus. The park can be accessed by air, via Upington airport (250km away) where car rental facilities are located both at the airport and within the city itself. Those travelling the gravel road via Vanzylsrus must take into account that conditions vary year to year and corrugations can both slow you down and be a risk, the tarred route via Upington is the preferred option.

For travelling distances from other major cities, and key points within the park, please visit the website below.

All maps for Kgalagadi National Park can be found here.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
There are a number of private Bed & Breakfasts and lodges in the area, which are all available through online booking sites. Both camping and chalet type accommodation can be located within the park itself. Kameelboomkoelte Chalets located in Askam, is the only BirdLife Recommended Accommodation listed for this area.

Local guide information:
There are no community bird guides available for this site. However, there are a number of BirdLife Recommended Tour Operators that can supply guides or guided tours for this site, Unearth Safaris.

Text prepared by:
Justin Rhys Nicolau, Unearth Safaris

Key species:

Secretarybird, Martial Eagle, Red-necked Falcon, Pygmy Falcon, Southern White-faced Owl, Kori Bustard, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Double-banded Courser, Sociable Weaver

Contact details:

Kgalagadi National Park Website:
Website: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/kgalagadi/

For reservations, one can contact:

Central Reservations
Tel: +27 (0) 12 428 9111
Website: reservations@sanparks.org

For enquiries, please contact:
Twee Rivieren
Tel: +27 (0)54 561 2000
Website: kgalagadi@sanparks.org

Botswana Parks and Reserves Reservation Office
Tel: +267 (0)0267 3180774
Website: dwnp@gov.bw

In case of emergency in South Africa or Botswana, contact:

Upington Medi-Clinic (South Africa)
Tel: +27 (0) 54 338 8900

Maun (Botswana)
Tel: +267 (0)0267 686 0444

Gaborone (Botswana)
Tel: +267 (0)0267 390 1999

Medical Rescue (Botswana)
Tel: +267 (0)0267 390 1601