Kariba birds’ mixed fortunes

Vautour africain. Famille des Accipitridés. Ordre : Accipitriformes

By Ngoni Shumba

Matusadona National Park and the vast Lake Kariba – a manmade ‘inland sea’ is a prime birding hotspot for its rich aquatic and terrestrial catalogue of birds. 

Although Zimbabwe has no endemic bird species because of its landlocked nature it has many prime birding hotspots of which Kariba is one of the finest.

Plover enjoying life a Lake Kariba

There are over 240 bird species in this area whose index of water birds, particularly waders, exciting for both novices

Pel’s fishing owl

and seasoned birders.

This makes birdwatching more rewarding when combined with boat cruising as it offers opportunities to encounter the rare Pel’s Fishing Owl among other fascinating water birds like herons and egret which fish the lake’s shorelines.

African Fish Eagles, Ospreys and Darters are a common sight on the dead mopane trees that stand along the lake shore and on the tens of islands that litter Kariba.

The many kingfisher species like the Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher and brightly coloured Malachite Kingfisher among others are always a savoury sight.

Grey Crowned Crane, Black-bellied Bustards, Water Thick-knee and strident White-crowned Lapwings are all common along the waterlines. So are geese, ducks and plovers.

Marabou stocks might not be beautiful birds but their graceful glides in the sweltering Zambezi valley heat are a marvel to watch.

Related to these seemingly ugly birds are vultures which as scavengers always suffer bad press but are an increasingly vulnerable group of birds which are however still relatively easy to see in this region especially around kills in the game reserve.

Marabou Stock and Vultures

They are nature’s sanitisers and prevent the spread of disease as they are gifted with exceptionally corrosive stomach acid which allow them to safely digest decomposing carcasses infected with various types of bacteria like botulinum toxin, hog cholera bacteria, and anthrax bacteria that are lethal to others.

This region has six main vulture species of 11 that are found on the African continent.

The commonest is the White-backed Vulture which is listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as Critically Endangered, along with the White-headed and Hooded Vulture.  It’s also home to the Lappet-faced and Cape Vultures which are categorised as Endangered as well as the Palmnut Vulture which is specific to palm habitats.

Hooded Vulture

The common place Cape buffalo herds are always accompanied by Red and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers with many more diverse terrestrial birds.

Birdlife Zimbabwe lists a variety of birds to look out for in this section of the Zambezi valley as among others Grey-headed and Lesser Black-backed White-backed Night-heron, African Finfoot, Arnot’s Chats, Western Banded Snake-eagles, Trumpeter Hornbills, Orange-winged Pytilia and Broad-tailed Paradise-whydahs as well as a variety of Widowfinches among others.

Tamarind Lodges which lies along a wildlife corridor can offer an interesting starting point for terrestrial birdwatching as its thicket has an amazingly rich concentration of birds that can be enjoyed from right at one’s door-step.