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Birding Africa: Two steps to prepare for the adventure of a lifetime!


Narina Trogon

As I've been preparing for a trip to an African country I've never visited before, I've been struck by how willing people are to share their knowledge. Many birders I've spoken to have offered suggestions, and my challenge has been to organize this wealth of information into a simple, orderly process. In this article, I'll share the steps I'm taking to prepare for my African birding adventure.


The information I'm sharing here has been gathered from experienced birders who generously shared their knowledge. It's important to note that this article won't cover every step I'll take; instead, it serves as a starting point for my preparation journey.


Through the advice I've received, I've come to realize that two key steps should guide our preparation process: listing and learning.


  1. LISTING


The first step is to establish which bird species can be found in the country or region you're planning to visit. There's a wide range of resources available to assist with this part of the process.


One particularly helpful resource I've found is the avi-base website. Under the 'Checklists' tab, you can access species lists for both countries and birding sites within those countries. While there's much more to explore on the site, for the sake of this article, I'll focus on these two areas.


When you click on the 'Checklists' tab, it opens a page where you can generate lists for different countries around the world. For example, if I use Uganda as an example, clicking directly on Uganda's name will take you to a page listing all the bird species in Uganda. It's important to select the taxonomy list you want to use and push the 'Refresh checklist' button. By selecting 'PDF wide' or 'PDF narrow,' you'll have a downloadable PDF checklist for the country.


A screenshot of the avibase website

What's great about these checklists is the ability to not only see the total list but also to create lists for specific places you'll be visiting within the country. Next to each species, there's a block corresponding to different areas you'll be visiting.


An example showing how avibase prepares the PDF lists

There are several ways to generate lists for different locations. You can return to the 'Checklists' page on avi-base and, instead of clicking on the country's name, click on the plus sign next to it to see a list of different locations within the country. Clicking on a location's name will show you a list of species that can be seen there.


You can also use the powerful eBird website to generate species lists for different places. Simply open the eBird website, click on the 'Explore' tab, and enter the name of the region you're interested in exploring. This will provide you with species information for the chosen region, and you can click on the 'hotspots' option to explore specific birding locations in the country. One benefit of eBird is that in many regions, the data is more up-to-date than on sites like avi-base, allowing you to not only see what has been seen but also what has been seen recently.


The powerful eBird website

I've also found the 'Sasol Southern African Birdfinder' book to be valuable for countries in the southern part of the continent. This book provides information on different birding locations, including possible species and tips on how to see them.


Another excellent way to learn about the species you can expect to see at different locations is to read trip reports from Bird Tour Companies that have visited the countries you're interested in. Many of these reports provide detailed information that will help you find sought-after species.

 

Once I've gathered all this information, I sort my list. I plot out where I can see different species on my trip, allocating a column for each destination I'll be visiting on the avi-base checklist. I then highlight the blocks to show which birds are possible at each destination. If a species is only likely to be seen at a specific location, I identify it as a target species and highlight that block in a different color to ensure I know what I need to see at that specific location.


2. LEARNING


The learning part involves familiarizing myself with the species I may encounter, as well as honing field skills that may be important.


To learn about the species, I again refer to the avi-base checklist. I go through the list of potential species and highlight those I may need to spend time learning about.



Here are a few fantastic resources I use:

  • Chamberlain's Birds of Africa: South of The Sahara 2nd Edition: Although a bit outdated, this field guide remains a valuable resource. With over 2000 species covered, it's a comprehensive guide that serious birders should consider owning.

  • Birds of the World Website: This website offers detailed information, photos, drawings, calls, and even videos covering all the species on the planet. However, the abundance of information provided can be overwhelming.

  • Birds of the Africa App: This free app allows you to download packs for different countries in Africa, providing distribution information, photos, similar species, and detailed write-ups. It's a resource every birder should have on their phone.


In terms of field skills, I encourage reaching out to local birders and those who have visited the countries you're planning to visit. They can provide information not found in field guides or websites, as well as details on recent sightings and current conditions of venues you'll be visiting. The Birdfinder book also offers valuable insights into this important information.


Feel free to share any tips you may have for birders planning trips to other African countries that I may have missed.

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