A well-established family enterprise, Lawson’s Birding, Wildlife, and Custom Safaris specialise in guided birding and wildlife tours in Africa. Leon Marais spoke to us about all things Africa, a lifetime of birding on the continent, and offered helpful advice and tips for first-time birders and anyone contemplating a bird tour.
I’m sure all your tours are uniquely special, but do you have a favourite destination? Where and why?
How to choose? We visit so many unique and amazing areas, it’s really hard to narrow it down to one favourite but, if I had to choose, I’d go with the Kruger National Park – which I consider to be my ‘home patch’ as I live fairly close by. I like the Kruger because it’s big – nearly 20 000 square kilometres, highly diverse, and easy to do, plus it’s got an amazing range of birds (over 500 species have been recorded in the park) plus the full range of big game species to add the exciting edge. I’m just back from a safari in Namibia, where we spent five nights in Etosha National Park. After five nights there, I feel like I have pretty much ‘done’ Etosha, but five nights is just scratching the surface in the Kruger - one could easily spend several weeks there and not see it all.
What makes it a special place for a birding safari?
The range of species – as mentioned, over 500 species, including an incredible array of birds of prey; the ease of birding (many of the birds are open perchers, happy to sit out in the open); the numbers of birds, particularly in the wet season (the Red-billed Quelea flocks in late summer are truly something to behold); and, for me personally, the joy that comes from showing the Kruger and its birds and other wildlife to international birders.
What wildlife and birds are your favourite African destination known for? Is there anything in particular people travel to see? What do you recommend guests to the area should be on the lookout for?
The Kruger is well known for great game viewing, as it’s home to most of Africa’s iconic big game species and is said to be one of the most diverse of Africa’s big parks. If you throw in the private reserves on the western boundary, such as the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, which boasts some of the world’s best big cat viewing, you have an incredible wildlife holiday destination. I guess most people visit to see the big mammals, but many of our clients come to see the wealth of feathered fauna as well – I had one client who had waited over 50 years to see a Lilac-breasted Roller. We like to give a holistic experience, taking in the small stuff as well as the classic big game species and I would urge visitors to not be too focused on the big cats etc., as they can then run the risk of missing out on all the overall picture.