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General Advice for Birders


In Southern Africa, as in much of Africa, early morning is the best time to be out birding, and some birders opt for resting in the heat of the day in summer. Despite the widely held view by some local birders that birding is "dead" in the heat of the day, this is never really true, but requires greater patience and sometimes endurance!

A lot of localities and reserves are geared towards birdign from a car. Although this has its limitations, it can also be very rewarding as birds generally are not disturbed by a vehicle. The best strategy is to drive slowly, watching for movement, and listing for birdcalls. The presence of one species, is usually indicative of the presence of more birds, and frequent stops can be rewarding.

While it may be somewhat brackish at times tap water is potable and safe to drink at most places throughout South Africa. If not, your guide will inform you and potable rainwater is usually provided. The tour vehicle will always have a (limited) supply of bottled water for those who prefer it.

The air-conditioned vehicle is equipped with a small natural history library, and the guide will have a spotting scope for use by the group, when the opportunity arises. You are welcome to bring scopes as well, but if travelling with a partner, one Scope is usually more practical for everyone.


Some parts of South Africa (and especially Mozambique) fall within low-risk Malaria Areas. To get an idea of the extent of malaria in the region see the map here. You should however consult a medical practioner regarding taking a recommended malaria prophylaxes. In addition, lightweight long-sleeved shirts and long trousers are recommended for protection and repellents should be used in the early morning and evening to minimise the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes. It is a good idea to take a supply of insect repellant (DEET) with you.

Medical services are good, but may be difficult to reach in the remoter areas. It is often a good idea to ask your tour operator/accommodation establishment for details of good medical services in the areas you will be birding.


South Africa has distinct and different climatic regions. Cape Town, the Garden Route and most of the West Coast have a Mediterranean climate, with most rainfaill falling mainly in the winter months. The climate here is moderated by winds from the atlantic and is warm to mild in the summer months, while winter is cold and wet.

The Sub-tropical, lower lying parts of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwa-Zulu Natal have summer rainfall, and warm to hot conditions, with high humidity in some of the lower lying coastal areas. These areas have sunny, mild winters. Much of the interior, including Pretoria and Johannesburg lie on the highveld plateau, nearly a mile ubove sea-level and have a near perfect climate, with warm to hot summer days and mild winters. Outside of the Cape Town region, rainfall is most likely in the summer months (September - April), but is nevertheless still possible at other times.

Average daily maximum temperatures in January (summer):
Skukuza (Kruger Park): 31, Johannesburg: 26, Durban 27, Cape Town 27

Average daily maximum temperatures in April (Autumn):
Skukuza (Kruger Park): 29, Johannesburg: 22, Durban 26, Cape Town 23

Average daily maximum temperatures in July (Winter) :
Skukuza (Kruger Park): 25, Johannesburg: 16, Durban 22, Cape Town 17

Some higher lying areas can be colder than the above temperatures and night birding (especially in an open vehicle) can also be chilly so windbreakers and/or light sweaters are advisable Light-weight, neutral-coloured clothing that can be easily rinsed out and quickly-dries (cottons or cotton blends) is recommended for the field. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants will help protect you from insects, thorny plants and sunburn. Shorts are often appropriate in the game reserves, when one is not walking in the bush. A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen are also recommended. You should also bring light raingear, which should be packed in your daypack. You can get by with light footwear, but strong-soled shoes or hiking boots are recommended for those areas where we walk. (some areas have a lot of thorny plants)


The recommended field guide is Sasol Birds of Southern Africa (also called Birds of Southern Africa, by Sinclair, Hockey and Tarboton, 3rd Edition, and published by Princeton in the USA). Given the number of splits and new species we strongly recommend you get a copy of the 3rd Edition. A very useful guide is Birds of Africa South of the Sahara, by Sinclair and Ryan and published by Struik.


South African Rands ($1: 6.7 Rands, ZAR). Credit cards such as Visa American Express, Mastercard and Diners Club, are accepted at major tourist centres, but can have limited use in many of the remote areas visited on birders

Cash machines are available in most towns, even quite small ones.


A passport valid for at least six months after your departure is required to enter RSA, and to visit Lesotho (If Sani Pass is included in the Itinerary). It is very important that your passport and traveller's cheques be on your body at all times.


You should pack a pair of binoculars, a moon bag or backpack (for carrying books, sunscreen, extra film, etc.). You will want to pack an alarm clock, a water bottle or canteen, a small flashlight, hat, insect repellent, a washcloth, film and batteries for your camera. Accommodation usually has mains electricity, but if you have several electronic appliances, an international adapter is useful for re-charging batteries

Web Site Updated 28 MAY 2006 © Indicator Birding