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Kalahari Gemsbok National Park:

This vast wilderness area offers the alluring combination of abundant game, superb landscapes and good birding, all within two-wheel drive access. The park is best known in birding terms for its remarkable diversity and abundance of raptors, including Bateleur, Red-necked and Pygmy Falcons and Giant Eagle Owl (p.116*). However, it also offers a number of other often underestimated specials, among them Burchell’s Sand-grouse (p.116*) and Pink-billed Lark. Antelope such as Gemsbok (Oryx gazella) and Springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) are common, and the park is also arguably one of the best places in the world to watch hunting big cats, like Lion (Panthera leo) and particularly Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus). Spotted (Crocuta crocuta) and Brown Hyenas (Hyaena brunnea) also occur. The latter is actually the more common, but is rarely seen due to its crepuscular habits.

In 1997, the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park was officially joined to the Gemsbok National Park in adjacent Botswana to form South Africa’s first Transfrontier Park, the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, a vast conservation area spreading over 3.6 million hectares of the southern Kalahari. It is now possible for visitors from South Africa to enter the Botswana portion of the park, provided that they are equipped with four-wheel-drive vehicles and have checked in at the Gemsbok/Bokspits border post, 60 km south of Twee Rivieren (see Useful Contacts, p.136).

The southern (South African) segment of the park forms a vast triangle enclosed by the Namibian border in the west, the Nossob River (also the Botswana border) in the north and east and, approximately, the Auob River in the south. These two rivers remain dry for decades on end, but are punctuated by numerous artificial waterholes that concentrate the game along the otherwise parched riverbeds. The principal roads in the park run along the length of the two riverbeds; the only other roads are two short-cut routes across the central dune sea between the two rivers. The park roads are all unsurfaced, but are well maintained and fully accessible to sedan cars. The 260-km approach route from Upington is however tarred for all but the final 60 km of its length. There are three rest camps in the park: Twee Rivieren, at the entrance (the southeastern extremity); Mata-Mata, on the Namibian border in the far west; and Nossob in the north, halfway up the Nossob River.

The timing and length of your stay in the park will most likely depend on the availability of accommodation (camping facilities and very comfortable cottages are available in all the camps; see p.136 for reservation details), and on your own priorities. Because there are relatively few roads, and much of the park is uniform in character, the exact sequence is not especially important and the proposed route we describe below could be executed in any order. This route is an optimal birding one for those spending three to four nights in the park, and encompasses an itinerary from Twee Rivieren northwards to Nossob (day 1) and possibly Union’s End (day 2), followed by an arc southwest to the Auob riverbed via the central dune sea, before returning to Twee Rivieren (day 2 or 3). Note that the drive between the Twee Rivieren and Nossob rest camps is decep-tively long — allow at least half a day without stops. Enquire about current game-viewing conditions, and about the highly recommended night drives that depart from both the Twee Rivieren and Nossob rest camps about an hour before sunset. These make for an atmospheric evening drive before the spotlights come out for an exciting search for nocturnal birds and carnivores.

Allow at least three and a half hours for the drive from Upington north to Twee Rivieren. If you have time to spare, the Spitzkop Nature Reserve just north of Upington is worth a brief visit (see p.111). Sixty kilometres from Upington, the landscape changes from open Karoo plains to sand, and the road takes a roller coaster route over parallel dunes. Watch for Burchell’s Courser (p.96*) and Black-eared Finchlark (p.96*) along the initial Karoo expanses. Northern Black Korhaan, Double-banded Courser and, in wet years, Pink-billed Lark, are all likely along the grassy dune sections of the road. Look out for the occasional Pygmy Falcon, which is dependent on the numerous Sociable Weaver nests ingeniously attached to the telephone poles (see p.110).

Near Andriesvale, 60 km south of the park, the road joins the confluence of the Molopo and Nossob rivers, which are wooded with giant camelthorn (Acacia erioloba) trees. This woodland, especially near Molopo Lodge, offers good roadside birding, including Lilac-breasted Roller and Golden-tailed Woodpecker.

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27/09/09: Dalton Gibbs reports back from Gough Island! Read the blog!

26/09/09: New Cape Town Pelagics trip report from trips of 12 and 19 September 2009.

30/08/09: British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water proved very successful, with sunny weather and over 20,000 visitors. Callan's "Birding Namibia and the Okavango" was the most highly-attended lecture on the Saturday, with over 240 people. Congratulations to the winners of the Birding Africa competition and the African Bird Club raffle that we helped sponsor!

12/08/09: New Cape Town Pelagics trip reports from August and July 2009. Highlights: Little Shearwater and more!

07/08/09: The sub-adult Black Sarrowhawk visits our garden again! Read on about Raptor Research in the Western Cape.

27/07/09: Cape Town's Verreauxs' Eagle Chick has grown! And its sibling never had a chance to hatch. See the pictures of the chick, its nest and the breeding pair. Find out more about the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme.

27/07/09: To follow modern nomenclature and systematics, we've adopted the IOC World Bird List, Version 2.1.

13/07/09: The 8th African Bird ID Challenge has launched! Win a 50% discount on a Cape Town Pelagics trip, a copy of Southern African Birdfinder, or African Bird Club membership for 1 year.

6 July 09: Cape White-eye research in our garden.

2 July 09: Cape Town's Verreauxs' Eagle Chick has hatched! See the pictures of the chick, its nest and the breeding pair. Find out more about the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme.

2 July 09: Campbell Fleming, a Cape Town scholar, avid birder and photographer, joined Birding Africa last month as an intern. Click here, to see what he got up to.

2 July 09: New pelagic trip reports from the Cape Town Pelagics trips in June 2009. Highlights: Slenderbilled Prion and Leach's Storm Petrel

30 july 09: Our latest Cape Fynbos and Karoo trip reports feature Hottentot Buttonquail, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and other fynbos and Karoo endemics...

26 June 09: Tungsten mining threatens RAMSAR site, South Africa's Verlorenvlei. Read the Media Release.

22 June 09: Claire Spottiswoode, one of the Cape Birding Route founders, was part of the exploratory team at Mount Mabu. The mountain is part of the newly discovered largest rainforest in Southern Africa.

11 June 09: A colour-ringed Black Sparrowhawk visits the Birding Africa office garden. Read why it's a 10 months old male!

14 June 09:
Wildlife at the office of The Cape Birding Route, Birding Africa and Cape Town Pelagics.

31 May 09:
Michel Watelet wins the 7th African Bird Club & Birding Africa ID Challenge. Test your African birding skills and WIN a Birding Africa Cape town day trip or a copy of the Birdfinder!

30 May 09: A tragedy unfolds at Kommetjie south of Cape town as 44 beached False Killer Whales were shot. Click here for more details and pictures.

14 March 09: Raptor Watch in Cape Town on 14 March 09