North West – Madikwe Game Reserve

About the Birding

Target species for Madike are numerous and include Pale Chanting Goshawk, White-backed Mousebird, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Southern Pied Babbler, Ashy Tit, Cape Penduline-tit, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Burchell’s Starling, Marico Flycatcher, Black-chested Prinia, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Black-faced Waxbill, Barred Wren-Warbler, Acacia Pied Barbet, Northern Black Korhaan, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Short-toed Rock Thrush (subspecies pretoriae) and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill amongst loads more.

Other exciting finds will include Crimson-breasted Shrike (and even possibly the rarer yellow morph of this species!), Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Great Sparrow, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Kalahari Scrub-Robin and Cinnamon-Breasted Bunting. Madikwe is also rich in ‘LBJ’s’ or ‘Little Brown Jobs’. These could include locally-occurring Desert Cisticola, Buffy Pipit, Sabota and Rufous-Naped Lark amongst others. Summer birding in Madikwe is definitely action packed too with incredible diversity!

What is particularly appealing for visiting birders is the number of range-restricted southern African endemics or near-endemics which occur here – those species also known as Kalahari endemics restricted to the western parts of the sub-region. These are common Madikwe residents like Double-banded Sandgrouse, Southern Pied Babbler, Ashy Tit, Barred Wren-Warbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Marico Flycatcher, Kalahari Scrub-robin, Great Sparrow, Monotonous Lark, African Red-eyed Bulbul And Shaft-tailed Whydah – the males of the latter in full breeding regalia in the summer months.

Other species are typically ever present out on game drives, including: Common Scimitarbill, Red-billed And Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Chestnut-Vented Tit-babbler (warbler), Black-chested Prinia, Green-winged Pytilia, Violet-eared Waxbill, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Marico Sunbird, Scaly-feathered Finch (Weaver), Southern Black Tit, Red-crested Korhaan, Purple Roller, Magpie Shrike And Burchell’s Starling. Bee-eaters are particularly well represented in the summer months with European, Southern Carmine, Blue-cheeked, Swallow-tailed and Little all present.

In the wetter summer months, migrants are around in full force from Jacobin and Levaillant’s Cuckoo, to Red-backed Shrike, vivacious Violet-backed starling, Barn Swallow, Spotted Flycatcher, Lesser Grey Shrike, Wahlberg’s Eagle and European Roller. Following good rains, large numbers of Common Quail and Harlequin Quail are to be seen, as well as good numbers of Common (Kurrichane) Buttonquail. Corn Crake has also been recorded in wet years.
Other notable mentions include Burchell’s Coucal, Red-faced Mousebird, Black-backed Puffback, Brubru, Wattled Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver with their huge nests, White-Browed Sparrow-weaver, Flappet Lark, Blue Waxbill, Black-throated Canary, Common Ostrich and Golden-breasted Bunting to mention a few.

The immediate area around Jaci’s Safari Lodge and Jaci’s Tree Lodge is good for ‘general’ birding to pass the time between nature drives. An exciting wetland between the camps always has something of interest such as South African Shelduck, Dwarf Bittern (summer), Greater Painted Snipe, Black Crake, Red-billed Teal, Hamerkop, and Wood Sandpiper. Other species recorded around Jaci’s are Grey-headed Bush-shrike, the endemic White-throated Robin-chat, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Kurrichane Thrush, Willow Warbler, African Paradise Flycatcher, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-chested Cuckoo, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Icterine Warbler and Woodland Kingfisher. After dark one can look for the pair of Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls that are often around the wetland, as well as listening for Freckled Nightjar and the soft, soothing prrrrp of African Scops Owl. Talking about nocturnal species, Rufous-Cheeked Nightjar, Bronze-Winged Courser, and Spotted Thick-knee are often out on night drives in summer.

In more open habitats, such as Madikwe Plains, a differing bird community is on offer: Kori Bustard, chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, the occasional Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Plain-backed and Buffy Pipit, Red-capped Lark, and Temminck’s Courser. This area is also where the sought-after Yellow-throated Sandgrouse is best searched for. In summer, access may however be difficult, due to the predominance of heavy black clay soils in the area. The drier months are often a better bet when looking for yellow-throated Sandgrouse. There are three seasonal pans on the Plains, which are excellent spots at any time of day, but particularly in the evening and early morning when the various sandgrouse species congregate.

Some of the regularly recorded raptors are African Hawk Eagle, Booted Eagle, Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, and African Harrier-Hawk performing its nest-raiding antics. Summer visitors include Wahlberg’s Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Steppe Eagle occasionally and Montagu’s Harrier is occasionally seen hunting over the Madikwe Plains. White-backed Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture and Cape Vulture are also usually seen.

The Marico River north of Madikwe River Lodge is fringed by dense bush thickets and tall riverine vegetation and is a good place for exercising one’s warbler identification skills. Icterine Warbler, Olive-tree Warbler, Garden Warbler and Common Whitethroat are among the species that occur. This is also a good place to look for African Finfoot.

A visit to the Molatedi Dam wall, which is outside the park, is often rewarded with good sightings of various raptors. Blue-cheeked Bee-eater are regularly seen at Tshukudu and other dams during the summer months, and these dams are also a haven for various waterfowl species.

As an added byproduct to all the phenomenal birding, Madikwe protects a varier mammal assemblage too. Large predators include lion, cheetah, African wild dog and spotted hyena. Antelope are super-plentiful with red hartebeest, greater kudu, common impala, bushbuck, blue wildebeest, common waterbuck and the diminutive steenbok. As frequent were southern giraffes, both white and black rhinoceros, African elephant, Cape buffalo, slender mongoose, Burchell’s zebra, chacma baboon, warthog, lesser bushbaby, tree squirrel and scrubhare.

With such an impressive suite of sightings possible, birds or otherwise, typically tallied in a relatively short time, it is not hard to understand why Madikwe is such an exciting birding destination.

Key species:

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Kori Bustard, Black-faced Waxbill, Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike (also yellow morph), Barred Wren-Warbler, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Great Sparrow, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Monotonous Lark

About the Birding Site

The remote 75 000-hectare Madikwe Game Reserve is situated on the Botswana border and mostly covered in vast plains of arid acacia woodland and grassland – very rich in wildlife (66 large mammal species) and approximately 350 birds. The habitat mosaic in the reserve is exciting for birders: Acacia thornveld, mixed broad-leaved woodland communities on rocky outcrops, grassy open plains, the Marico River with associated riverine thickets as well as several waterholes and dams, seasonal pans and small wetlands.

It is bordered in the south by the Dwarsberg Mountains. Madikwe Game Reserve is one of the lesser- known parks in South Africa.

Key species:

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Kori Bustard, Black-faced Waxbill, Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike (also yellow morph), Barred Wren-Warbler, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Great Sparrow, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Monotonous Lark

Other Related Information

Access facilities:
Guided game viewing drives, walks and night drives are conducted by the various lodge and camp operators, using the extensive network of roads which has been developed. Independent movement within the park is not possible (Visitors are allowed to drive to their overnighting lodge only). Accommodation in private game lodges only. No day visitors are allowed. Madikwe is malaria free and approx. 4.5 hours drive from Johannesburg, about 90 km north of Zeerust.

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Turnoff to Molatedi Dam wall off Molatedi Gate access road: 24°50’16.4″S 26°27’09.3″E
Molatedi Gate: 24°49’42.2″S 26°24’55.4″E

The gates of the reserve are open from 06h00 to 18h00. There are five main gates (Abjaterskop Gate, Wonderboom Gate, Tau Gate, Derdepoort Gate and Molatedi Gate) to enter the reserve. Which to use will depend on the lodge/camp you are staying at.

A once-off conservation levy is also payable.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No BirdLife Recommended Accommodations are in the area.

Various private lodges (many child friendly) are available in Madikwe Game Reserve. These range from bush camps, to luxury lodges and self-catering lodges that can be booked as sole-use.

Local guide information:
No BirdLife Recommended Tour Operators are in the area.

Text prepared by:
Martin Benadie | Specialist Birding Guide

Key species:

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Kori Bustard, Black-faced Waxbill, Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike (also yellow morph), Barred Wren-Warbler, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Great Sparrow, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Monotonous Lark