Friends, birders, and globe-trotters, lend me your ears. Better yet, offer up your eyeballs because we have a powerhouse post here that deserves, nay demands your full attention. Adam Riley, owner and managing director of Rockjumper Birding Tours, is a world birder if ever there was one, but has a special place in his heart for his home continent. Adam will be leading 10,000 Birds readers on an amazing odyssey into Africa starting… now!
To the uninitiated, Africa conjures up images of underdevelopment, poverty and hardship. Yet after a first visit, so many travelers become Afrophiles and return again and again to explore the Dark Continent, sometimes even to the exclusion of all other destinations! My blogposts will aim at enlightening your view of Africa if you have never been here before, and sharing the joys of birding and exploring this remarkable continent to those who have indulged or would like to learn more.
I was fortunate to have been born and raised in Africa, and although I have traveled extensively around the world, it remains my home and in my blood. I have thoroughly explored vast parts of the continent as well as neighboring Madagascar, in the process seeing over 2,000 birds on the continent and all but one Malagasy endemic. And I’m delighted to share some of these adventures with you and keep you updated with the birding developments, sightings and discoveries of the region.
Approximately 2,300 bird species inhabit Africa, however as impressive as that sounds, much smaller South America boasts nearly 1,000 species more. I cannot but admit that South America is the “bird continent” but as Peter Kaestner, one of the world’s top listers, so eloquently put it, Africa is nevertheless the “birding continent”. Nowhere in the world are birds as colorful, easy to see and abundant as in Africa! Birding here is a joy, further augmented by the world’s most intact mammalian megafuana, fascinating tribal cultures, breath-taking scenery and the cradle of human history. And Africa is the ONLY continent without an extinct bird to boot!
Quintessential African scene from Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
Africa boasts a fabulous and unique avifauna. Families that are endemic to the continent include such strange birds as Shoebill, Secretarybird, Hamerkop, mousebirds and rockfowl (picathartes) and delightful groups including bushshrikes, sugarbirds, rockjumpers, woodhoopoes, turacos and hyliotas. Besides these truly African families, Africa abounds in a wealth of species in other more widespread groups; weavers, barbets, kingfishers, sunbirds, rollers, bee-eaters, and dare I mention them, cisticolas!
One of Africa’s unique birds, a Secretarybird photographed in Etosha National Park, Namibia
The Cape Rockjumper belongs to an African endemic family comprising of 2 species
Madagascar, oft termed the 8th continent, has her own attractions. Although the world’s fourth largest island’s affinities are closest to Africa, Madagascar’s fauna has evolved over millions of years of isolation creating a truly impressive degree of endemism, not only at the species level, but also in families. Vangas, asities, mesites, Malagasy warblers, ground-rollers and cuckoo-roller are all mouth-watering groups with very special members. Madagascar’s mammals are equally remarkable; over 100 species of endearing lemurs and bizarre carnivores amongst them!
Ground-rollers are also endemic to Madagascar, the Long-tailed occurs in habitat known as the Spiny Desert
Common Sunbird-Asity is one of 4 very bizarre birds in this endemic Malagasy bird family
(sometimes considered a sub-family of Broadbills)
So where to start? If you’ve never been to this part of the world, what would be the best way of tackling the continent? What are the must do destinations and what must one see? What should you avoid and where should you not go? I will elaborate in future blogposts with illustrated posts, but in summary, the essential Africa destinations are:
- East Africa – a combination of the best of northern Tanzania and Kenya’s parks and birding sites;
- South Africa – Africa’s most diverse country boasting the most endemics;
- Cameroon – central Africa’s richest destination with lowland and montane forests, woodlands and dry Sahel savanna;
- Morocco – a delightful country with superb desert and mountain birds and filled with European migrants in the winter months; and
- Madagascar – unique, endangered and like nowhere else on the planet.
The last wild population of critically endangered Northern Bald Ibis or Waldrapp is almost entirely restricted to Morocco
Once you’ve joined our ranks and are a confirmed Afrophile, the next level of trips to consider would be:
- Uganda – Africa’s overlap zone; 1,000 bird species in a tiny country and Mountain Gorillas (spending time with these gentle giants is arguably the greatest wildlife experience on earth!);
- Ethiopia – the roof of Africa, fascinating endemic birds and wildlife and an incredible cultural and historical destination;
- Namibia, Botswana & Zambia – a fantastic overland tour can combine these three countries boasting vast wildernesses and superb birds and wildlife; and
- Ghana – the friendliest country in the world and great birding opportunities with Africa’s only rainforest canopy walkway and endangered Upper Guinea endemics.
Mountain Gorillas are best observed in Uganda or Rwanda
And to avoid – currently, one needs to be very cautious if planning a trip to Ivory Coast, Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo (the People’s Republic or Congo-Brazzaville is however safe), Burundi, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and a few other unstable nations.
I look forward to sharing in more detail Africa’s secrets, her top destinations, and birds and wildlife with you, watch this space for the next installment……
Fischer’s Lovebirds in the Serengeti, Tanzania
All images © Adam Riley
Adam Riley has grown up with a lifelong interest in wildlife, which evolved into a particular fascination with birds. Raised in a rural region of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Adam qualified as a Chartered Accountant but in 1998 his career path took an alternative route when he founded Rockjumper Birding Tours with his friend Jonathan Rossouw. Since 2000 Adam has been the sole owner and managing director of Rockjumper and has also founded Indri – Ultimate Mammal Voyages (2008) and Oryx – Worldwide Photographic Safaris (2010). Adam has traveled extensively to all 7 continents, leading tours to numerous countries ranging from Colombia to Egypt, Angola to Papua New Guinea and Antarctica to Alaska. Adam is one of Africa’s most experienced birders, having seen over 2,000 species on the continent as well as 7,000 species worldwide.
As far as South African birders are concerned……we love to show people our birds!!! So come you lot, get packing and come birding with Adam and the rest of us!!
Wow! What an exciting addition to 10000Birds. I already love the photos and writing style and looking forward to posts from Africa. Very cool.
Fabulous post! I had one all-too-short visit to Senegal a few years back and am eager to return and see much more of the continent. Thanks for this wonderful overview — looking forward to more details as they come!
Welcome Adam! Great to have you on board mate and I look forward to more awesome posts.
Wonderful, I love learning about new species and seeing them in such beautiful photographs is a treat. Looking forward to following more posts from Africa!
who painted the sunbird-asity?
Having spent six months living in Uganda I can testify the birding there is quite optimal.
But I’m insanely jealous. Africa is a great place.
I am from Africa as well (Morocco) and must admit that I get so fascinated by this post and by the lovely pictures as well. Looking forward to read more from you Adam.
Wow. Some fantastic images! One could spend a lifetime birding there. Someday….
Thanks for the encouraging comments! I can’t wait to share more about Africa and my African images with you! Keep a lookout for my future posts……
Welcome Adam, more gratuitous pictures of Africa please.
I wasn’t born in Africa, but each time I visit it invokes a feeling of coming home.
There is a deep-seated genetic pull that the continent generates creating tidal flows in the blood. Your post had me listing to the south.
Welcome, I’m looking forward to more of these – we need more birders here in Africa! As well as that stunning view over Tarangire, I usually expect 60 species in 40 before breakfast from the Safari Lodge… Not quite sure what you mean by ZA being African’s most diverse country though?!
Safri Ecology Blog
Thanks for the welcomes Redgannet and Colin! You don’t need to wait long for more African images, my next post will appear online today! Of the world’s 17 mega-diverse countries, only DRC and South Africa are on the African continent. Although DRC has more bird and mammal species, South Africa dominates in the plant category (mostly due to the Cape Floral Kingdom) with more than double DRC’s count! So for total diversity South Africa rules the continent, both in terms of species numbers and endemism. South Africa’s diversity of habitat zones is also unmatched, ranging from coastal forests and high mountains to deserts and the unique Fynbos.