Category Archives: Africa

Biodiversity Hot Spots are Boosted by Birding

Ecotourism Plays a Protective Role in Endangered Places

The world’s biodiversity hot spots are often, unsurprisingly, birding meccas. After all, birders are keenly interested in seeing novel species, and biodiverse places by definition are home to unique plants and animals.

What may be less obvious is how important ecotourism is to preserving ‘biodiversity hot spots’, a term coined by ecologist Norman Meyers more than 30 years ago. He defined it in an article for the journal Nature: “Hotspots: Earth’s Biologically Richest and Most Endangered Terrestrial Ecoregions.”

Biodiversity Hotspots

An area must be both irreplaceable and under threat to be listed among the 36 biodiversity hot spots identified by Conservation International, a global non-profit whose mission it is to help preserve them. More precisely, a biodiversity hot spot must have more than 1,500 endemic plant species, making it unique, and its territory must be degraded to 30 percent or less of its original range, making it endangered.

So while Yellowstone National Park is ecologically irreplaceable, home to 300 bird species and majestic herds of bison, elk, and pronghorn and the wolves, bears, and cougars that hunt them, it is not endangered. Under federal protection since 1872, Yellowstone “is one of the largest nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth,” according to the National Park Service. (Just two spots remain on our spring Yellowstone tours, on the June 1-8 departure.)

  • Guided US Nature Travel and Tourism to Yellowtone National Park
  • bison are among the ungulate species you may see in Yellowstone, a biodiversity hot spot
  • Fall is Golden in Greater Yellowstone

By contrast, the Madrean Sky Islands we visit on our three Monsoon Madness tours in August fit the biodiversity hot spot definition perfectly. We have chances to see many range-restricted species on these tours, including Mexican Chickadee, Elegant Trogon, Montezuma Quail, and Whiskered Screech Owl, among many others. They occupy the Sky Islands’ varied habitats: from desert floor to scrubland, oak and, finally, in the highest elevations, Douglas Fir and Apache Pine. As marvelous as they are today, the Madrean Pine-Oak forests now cover just 14 percent of what they once did, whittled away by development and agriculture. Though marvels remain, much was lost. Great flocks of Thick-billed Parrot were once common in the southwestern US, but were hunted to extirpation in 1938, when the last individual was spotted in lonely flight over the Chiricahua Mountains. It is now endangered in its remaining redoubts in northern Mexico.

  • Coatimundi are found in Southeast Arizona: A biodiversity hotspo
  • Monsoon rainbows are found in Southeast Arizona: A biodiversity hotspo
  • Elegant Trogon are found in Southeast Arizona: A biodiversity hotspo
  • Montezuma Quail are found in Southeast Arizona: A biodiversity hotspot

Biodiversity Hotspots: Brazil

The Pantanal region of Brazil, which we visit twice this year, is sandwiched between two biodiversity hot spots: the vast tropical savannas of the Cerrado and the dwindling Atlantic Forests. Both support apex predators like Harpy Eagle, Giant Otter and Jaguar, which require huge territories in the treetops, rivers and countryside, respectively. But both the Cerrado and Atlantic Forests are threatened by agricultural and urban development, fragmenting their territories and making them vulnerable to hunting and reprisals by ranchers.

  • Giant River Otter require huge territories in Brazil, a biodiversity hotspot
  • Jaguar are residents of Brazil, a biodiversity hot spot
  • birding guides are your best chance of seeing species like Harpy Eagle in biodiversity hotspots

Biodiversity Hotspots: Africa

Eight biodiversity hot spots are found in Africa, including the Cape Floristic Region in South Africa we visit Sept. 28 – Oct. 12, our tour timed for one of the most jaw-dropping wildflower explosions anywhere in the world. More than 9,000 plant species call this small piece of real estate home, 69 percent of them endemics. The birds that co-evolved with this plant community are equally stunning, like the Cape Sugarbird and Protea Canary.

We also visit three of the thirteen African countries – Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya – that are part of a large but not-contiguous Eastern Afromontane biodiversity hotspot. The opportunity to trek in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to see endangered populations of Mountain Gorilla and Chimpanzee is one of the highlights of our Uganda tours, along with opportunities to see the iconic African Shoebill, whose prehistoric visage, 5-foot-tall frame and machine-gun bill-clattering greeting make them both unmistakable and unforgettable. This hotspot is incredibly important because its lush forests play an important role in providing fresh water to eastern Africa. But it is also a very poor region, which puts the trees at threat for commercial logging and for use as firewood.

  • Shoebill are among the birds we see in Uganda, a biodiversity hotspot
  • Mountain Gorilla in Uganda, a biodiversity hot spot visited on our birding and nature tours.

Why is Biodiversity So Important?

Biodiversity brings richness to our lives (and our life lists) of course, but it is also economically important well beyond the sales of binoculars, spotting scopes and hiking poles. Healthy environments deliver what scientists call ‘ecosystem services’, and they do it far more cheaply and elegantly than the man-made alternatives. Thriving populations of birds, bees and bats pollinate crops; mangrove swamps and coral reefs offer flood protection and, along with swamps, bogs and fens, water purification services, to name just a few examples.

  • Reef systems provide ecosystem services to biodiversity hot spots and many other places

Complex Ecosystems Depend on Apex Predators

It can be difficult to explain to a farmer whose cattle is being picked off by big cats that shooting them can lead to bigger problems, but an ecosystem that loses its apex predators gets out of whack very quickly. Unchecked by hunters, herbivore populations soon swell, with the potential to encroach on croplands. Meanwhile, scavenger species like vultures, Wild Dog and hyenas, which rely on the scraps from hunters, are also threatened with population crash. Likewise in the Patanal, healthy Jaguar populations keep crop-menacing peccaries in check. So when farmers bait these hooved “skunk pigs” with poison, they may inadvertently kill off allies in their fight when jaguars and other cats like ocelot and puma feed on the poison-tainted carcasses.

Payments for Peacekeeping

One of the ways that governments and non-profits try to preserve biodiversity hot spots is to pay farmers when they lose crops or livestock to wild animals. Likewise, ecotourism has a vital role to play. When money flows into communities, we hold up our end of the ecotourism bargain, showing locals that natural resources will be worth more to them alive and thriving than they will hunted for meat or the pet trade, or in the case of forests, cut down for fuel or to make way for farming.

Local communities in special places depend on us! Photo Credit, Peg Abbott

Responsible and sustainable tourism is even more important in the face of other more intractable threats, like climate change. A warming, less predictable planet has already initiated a shift in the ranges of many plants and animals, with the potential to drive them from protected parks to less welcoming places already occupied, or where habitats are substantially more degraded.

COVID-19 Ecotourism Lessons

If there was any doubt about the importance of ecotourism to protecting biodiversity hot spots and wild animals in general, it was dispelled by COVID-19. Tourism ground to a halt for more than a year, putting pressure on what are, in many cases, very poor communities whose people who do the tracking, porting, cooking and guiding on which tourism companies like ours rely.

Uganda women birders help to protect biodiversity hot spots
Uganda Women Birders is an organization that trains women for ecotourism careers. Photo credit: Uganda Women Birders

Shutting out not just the binocular set, but trophy hunters who pay big bucks to hunt in not-protected areas, the lockdown was devastating to wildlife protection, as The Economist detailed in “Pandemic is a Gift to Poachers in Africa.

While doing our best to stay afloat during COVID lockdowns, Naturalist Journeys and our clients raised substantial sums of money to help sustain our partners in places like Uganda and Trinidad and Tobago when we couldn’t send them business-as-usual.

One modest example was a decision by our founder, Peg Abbott, to send small monthly stipends to our guides in Trinidad and Tobago to keep them out birding even without guests, asking them to submit eBird checklists. It’s possible they found more birds than they would have, because they didn’t have to stop and show clients where to look!

eBird checklist data from our Trinidad and Tobago guides is super useful!
Trinidad and Tobago birders. Photo Credit: Dodie Logue

But now that we have vaccines, and travel has become more manageable, we are getting out there again, and we hope you will feel comfortable doing so too. Because there is no substitute for the financial and emotional support that ecotourists bring to the protection of precious and endangered places, and the birds, animals and people who call them home.

Desert Birds are Marvels of Adaptation

The big banana-like beak of the Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill and its long fringe of “eyelash” feathers are not just defining characteristics of this iconic African species; they are adaptations, deployed by desert birds to battle climates others find inhospitable.

Desert Birds of Namibia

  • Southern Yellow-bill Hornbill are among the desert birds we see on our Namibia tours.
  • Southern Yellow-bill Hornbill are among the desert birds we see on our Namibia tours.are among the desert birds we see on our Namibia tours.
  • the range of Southern Yellow-bill Hornbill in southern Africa.
  • sociable weavers are among the desert birds we see on our Namibia tours.
  • The Secretary Bird are among the desert birds we see on our Namibia tours.
  • The Secretary Bird are among the desert birds we see on our Namibia tours.
  • Freckled Nightjar are among the desert birds we see on our Namibia tours.
  • Gray's Lark are among the desert birds we see on our Namibia tours.
  • Sociable Weavers are camoflauged in dun

We see many hornbills and other desert birds and arid-land birds on our trips that include Namibia:

Ultimate Namibia-Botswana Combo: Birds, Wildlife & Landscapes

July 23 – August 15, 2022

Grand Namibia: Birds, Wildlife & Landscapes

October 13 – 25, 2022

Every desert has birds, even when it has little else, as British explorer John Philby saw for himself in 1932 crossing the Arabian Desert by camel train. Setting off with an increasingly disgruntled crew and 32 camels in the midst of a 30-year drought, the only plants the search party found were dead. Yet somehow, there were animals still calling the desert home, among them many Hoopoe Larks, according to The Ohio State University researchers who study adaptations of desert birds.

Larks are one of the most common desert birds, and ecologists study them closely to see how they prevail in such austere conditions, including “intense solar radiation; extreme air temperatures; low relative humidity; scant, unpredictable rainfall; and meager primary productivity,” as the OSU researchers wrote in “Physiological Adaptation in Desert Birds,” published in 2005 by the journal BioScience.

“For inhabitants of these environments, food supplies and drinking water can be scarce. In such extreme habitats, there may be strong selection pressures on the physiological attributes of animals that live there, especially adjustments that minimize rates of energy expenditure or water loss, or that enhance tolerance of high body temperature,” the researchers wrote.

Dune Lark can be found on Naturalist Journeys' birding and wildlife tours to Namibia
An artful Dune Lark, a Namibia endemic. Photo Credit: Yathin S Krishnappa via Wikimedia Commons

Consider the Dune Lark, a Namibia endemic we have chances to see, which deploys a three-part survival secret recipe. It’s one part “pre-adaptations,” shared by most birds, like having a naturally high body temperature and being able to fly to get water. Dune Lark also help themselves behaviorally by nesting on dry stream beds, which serve as unobstructed flight corridors, reducing energy output. Finally, unusual subcutaneous fat deposits in the sun-facing part of their wings are believed to represent physiological adaptation to arid conditions, reducing evapotranspiration to retain precious water.  

But the lark family is just one among a rich variety of desert and adjacent arid-land birds displaying a staggering array of adaptations. Many, naturally, are focused on conserving water or regulating temperature – and not just heat, but cold, since deserts demonstrate dramatic temperature shifts between day and night.

Coffee, tea and birders go together. Photo Credit, Peg Abbott

Behavioral adaptations dictate the pace of our tours, as we go out early to catch diurnal birds at their most active, at dawn and dusk, resting like they do during the hottest part of the day. But the physiological adaptations of desert birds are perhaps the most fascinating.

Coming back to the charismatic hornbills, they are able to shed heat by dilating the vascular structure beneath their hard keratin bills, whose large surface area offloads unwanted body heat like a radiator. This adaptation reduces their need to open their bills and pant, an evapotranspirative cooling method which by definition squanders precious water resources.

Other adaptations address different environmental conditions, like their feathered “eyelashes” which, according to some theories, help keep things out of their eyes, including blowing sand or glaring sun.

Southern Ground Hornbill
Southern Ground Hornbill, which we see on the Botswana portion of the Namibia-Botswana tour. Photo Credit: George Bakken

In a further nesting adaptation that is part behavioral and part physiological, the Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill female dens up with the chicks, walling its developing family off from the sun and nighttime chill. Typically starting with an existing hole or crevice in rocks or a tree, the hornbill pair line it with nesting material.

They then work together using an ‘adobe’ made of food scraps, excrement and whatever mud the male can find and bring back to help seal in the brooding female. They leave a “feed us” sized hole that the male hornbill pokes food through and the female, waste.

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill investigate a nesting site in Botswana. Photo Credit: Peg Abbott

Protected or imprisoned, depending on your viewpoint, the female has the capacity to voluntarily shed her flight and tail feathers to make movement easier on their now-feathered carpet. She will slowly regrow them before emerging with the chicks.

  • spurfowl in namibia and zaire

Hartlaub’s Spurfowl has devolved its titular fighting mechanism, preferring to conserve precious resources by hiding from predators between rocks in the granite outcrops where it nests. Its spurs are little more than bumps now.

Another African desert bird, the Freckled Nightjar, has evolved a high tolerance to both heat and cold. They manage to survive surface temperatures on their rocky outcrop nesting grounds of up to 60 C/140 F, and yet, in the colder winter months, can also enter torpor, a form of short-term hibernation that conserves energy, warming back up to an animated state with sufficient sunshine. Like other desert birds and nightjars, in times of great heat, they may engage in “gular flapping” behavior, fluttering throat skin with their bills mostly closed to help offload heat.

Rosy-faced Lovebirds are among the desert birds we see on our Namibia tours.
Rosy-faced Lovebird is a species threatened by the pet trade. In fact, escapees have colonized desert areas near Phoenix. Photo Credit: Charles J. Sharp

One of the most sought-after birds in Namibia is the Rosy-faced Lovebird, which inhabits arid-land areas that are flying distance to water sources. These short-tailed parrots charm with their namesake canoodling and have been known to opportunistically try to “get a room” inside the massive apartment-complex nests of the Sociable Weaver.

They thereby hitch a ride on the weavers’ behavioral adaptation to beat the heat. They build multi-chambered suites that are an upgrade from the studio apartments most birds use, with interior rooms used for warm nighttime roosting and exterior rooms providing mostly shade.

Sociable Weaver nests may be quite large and we see them on our Namibia and Botswana Naturalist Journeys birding and wildlife tours
Sociable Weaver nests may be quite large. Photo Credit: Sonse via Wikimedia Commons

Though we don’t see them on our Arizona tours, there is a sizable feral Rosy-faced Lovebird population outside of Phoenix, having moved from wild to pet to wild again. Failing to find Sociable Weaver apartment complexes in the Wild West, they continue to seek out existing nests made by other birds, like the cavity nests made by Gila Woodpecker and other desert bird species in Saguaro, Barrel, and other cacti.

Arizona Desert Birds

  • Gila Woodpeckers feature in Naturalist Journeys tours in Arizona

Native desert birds, each with their own clever adaptations, are plentiful on our two spring and three fall tours of Southern Arizona.  

The Greater Roadrunner has some things in common with the Secretary Bird, both snake-hunters capable of flight but preferring to walk or run after prey, up to 20 mph in the Greater Roadrunner’s case. That’s roughly half the top speed of their coyote predators, with flight as a solid escape plan in reserve. Like some marine species, roadrunners are able to excrete salt through glands in the nose, because passing salt requires substantial water. A roadrunner also uses its dark skin to help regulate temperature, spreading its wings and fluffing its feathers to expose this ‘solar panel’ when they want to invite the warmth of the sun, and re-covering it like a parasol, when they’ve had enough.

Costa’s Hummingbird, one of the world’s smaller hummingbirds at just over 3.5 inches, can, like the Freckled Nightjar, enter torpor, greatly slowing its heartbeat and maintaining a lower body temperature. During torpor, a Costa’s heart beats just 50 times per minute, a fraction of the 500–900 times it beats while active, according to Cornell University’s All About Birds.

We may also see tiny Elf Owl on our Arizona tours, nesting in tree hollows and other cavities to stay warm during cooler nights. The Cactus Wren will often nest in the branches of a Cholla cactus, taking its spiny defense for its own against predators not small enough to slip past them.

  • Elf Owl are among the birds and animals we may see on our Arizona birding and nature tours.

To decide whether desert Africa is the right journey to the continent for you, we have written a guide for how to choose a birding tour to Africa.

And of course, our travel planners are always happy to talk with you about any of our tours! Email us at travel@naturalistjourneys.com or call 866-900-1146.

What Does Your Dream Africa Birding and Nature Tour Look, Sound, and Feel LIke?

From Lodges to Landscapes to Length, Building a Bucket List Africa Trip Depends on You

Imagining yourself in Africa is the way most journeys to the continent begin. Train your binoculars on a hunting Lion pride from the back of an open-air Landcruiser, come over a rise to greet a herd of Elephant. Return visitors anticipate the excitement of wild nighttime sounds just outside a canvas tent, of Elephants shuffling by, or Hyenas calling on the prowl.

Kenya wildlife safari, binoculars and telephotos up!

“The questions people ask me before they’ve been to Africa and after they’ve been are totally different,” Naturalist Journeys founder Peg Abbott said.

Whether you’re weighing bucket-list alternatives for a first venture or as an Africa veteran looking for that next wildness adrenaline rush, we have ideas for you. Read on to compare and contrast our carefully crafted Africa birding and nature tours, keeping in mind that if you’re flying to Africa from the US, you want to make the most of your investment. (Not to mention, once you start to experience Africa birding and nature, the lure to return will be strong, no matter how long you stay.)

With you in mind, in addition to our standalone trips we pair Uganda: Fabulous Birds & Mammals Sept. 5 – 13, 2022 with our Sept. 13 – 27 Kenya Wildlife Safari. Guests on our South Africa Birding and Wildlife Safari Sept. 28 – Oct. 12 can transition to our Oct. 13 – 25 Grand Namibia: Birds, Wildlife & Landscapes. We have done the combining for you in our Ultimate Namibia-Botswana Combo: Birds, Wildlife & Landscapes July 23 – Aug. 15, which is an unforgettable three week trip!

Massai Mara Elephants. Photo Credit: Peg Abbott

East Africa or Southern Africa?

“People often tell me ‘I am only going to Africa once, so should I go to East Africa or Southern Africa?” said Peg Abbott, Naturalist Journeys founder and guide. “Keep in mind, once you go to Africa you’re going to want to go back.” If that is not possible, you want to hit it right.

“Second, consider this, that question is the equivalent of saying I’m only going to come to the U.S. one time, should I go to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon? They are very different experiences, and you should absolutely do them both,” she said.

Comparing Our Africa Trips (and the Competition’s)

There are many lenses you could train on our Africa Birding and Nature tour options: landscapes, lodgings, birds and animals, and of course, length and cost. But before we dive into each of those categories below, a word from Peg about how our tours contrast with our competition – because our guests are savvy travelers.

“Our Africa tours are aimed at people who want to learn the wildlife and birds in detail, to spend time taking photos and really absorbing place,” Peg said. By contrast, one of our competitors offers a 15-day, 3-country tour, with only 5 days in each country.

We can’t bear to move that fast! Skipping from place to place like that doesn’t allow for spending two to three nights at each stop of our mobile tented camp safaris, for example, which is always our goal.

“We like to let people settle in and experience first-hand Africa’s richness. To hear the sounds of the night,” Peg said.

“We have a LOT of facetime with these animals, so anyone with a camera or binoculars is going to be very happy,” she said.

  • Leopards are always an exciting find on an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Elephants are always an exciting find on an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Cape Buffalo are always an exciting find on an Africa birding and nature tour
  • bat-eared foxes are always an exciting find on an Africa birding and nature tour
  • A mixed herd of Wildebeest and Zebra are always an exciting find on an Africa birding and nature tour
  • lioness kills are part of an Africa birding and nature tour

Landscapes

Great wildlife viewing can be found in all of the tours we offer in Africa, but the feel of place can be quite different. To latch on to the Yellowstone/Grand Canyon analogy, southern Africa is more like the desert Southwest in the US, warm and arid, though much flatter, while eastern Africa is more temperate, green and with both grasslands and mountains – not unlike Montana and Wyoming. 

  • Lions in Moremi, Botswana are part of your Africa birding and nature adventure.
  • Kenya is an old guard of the Africa birding and nature destinations.
  • Hippos in Uganda.
  • Rhino in Tanzania are part of an exciting Africa birding and nature tour
  • Amboselli is a wonderful stop on our Africa birding and nature tours
  • Elephants are a required element of Africa birding and nature tours

East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda

East Africa offers a more temperate climate than one might expect near the equator, supporting massive herds of animals like the famed Wildebeest that migrate with seasonal rains between Kenya and Tanzania. (Our Kenya safari is perfectly timed so we are at the Maasai Mara at the peak of Wildebeest migration.) Mountains and forests add to the diversity of flora and fauna we encounter. Uganda is a very lushly forested country, supporting some of the last rare and endangered Mountain Gorilla in the world.

Southern Africa: Botswana, Namibia and South Africa

Namibia and Botswana are home to the Namib and Kalahari deserts, respectively. Great wildlife viewing abounds here, as arid conditions concentrate animals at lakes, deltas and watering holes. The Okavango Delta and Chobe River in Botswana and the world-famous watering holes in Etosha National Park in Namibia make for reliable and spectacular wildlife viewing (and occasional excitement as predator and prey are brought together.) South Africa stands on its own, anchored at the southern terminus of the continent. It offers much more landscape diversity between its coast and its famous wildflower-strewn Cederberg or Drakensburg Mountains. South Africa is HUGE and contains a wide variety of ecoregions including grassland, bushveld, semi-desert, savannah, and riparian areas. South Africa’s Western Cape is more botanically diverse than the richest tropical rainforest in South America, including the Amazon, offering unique plant species in the fynbos biome and the animals and insects that rely on it.

  • Mountain Gorilla in Uganda are part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • East African Crowned Cranes is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Kori Bustard is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Africa Paradise Flycatcher is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Lilac-breasted Roller is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Mountain Gorilla in Uganda is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Hartlaubs Spurfowl is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Violet-eared Waxbill is part of an Africa birding and nature tour
  • Baboons are part of an Africa birding and nature tour

Africa Birding Diversity/Animal Encounters

 “The mammal viewing is equally compelling,” Peg said, in eastern and southern Africa destinations, with Uganda’s Mountain Gorilla and Chimpanzee trekking an optional added bonus. Not for the faint of heart (or the bum of knee) these encounters offer a stunning and emotional payoff at the end of your trek. Guests sometimes encounter Gorilla after as little as an hour of hiking with our guides and porters, but four or five hours of hiking would not be unusual.

Bird diversity, on the other hand, is going to be significantly higher in East Africa or South Africa because of the greater variety of habitat types. If going for the most birds: choose Kenya, Uganda and South Africa. 

One of the reasons we scheduled our shorter Botswana trip to pair with Namibia (and put the two together in our Ultimate Namibia-Botswana combo) is to enrich birding options. Botswana is landlocked, so adding Namibia brings in coastal and arid-land birds. Visitors to the Botswana Namibia tour have the opportunity to see in the neighborhood of 270 amazing birds, while those on the Kenya-Uganda trip can easily see more than 400!

Here are the most recent species lists from each country:

Botswana  • Kenya Trip Report  • South Africa  • Tanzania  • Uganda  • Namibia

Lodging/Movement Between Parks

Our tour lodging is ALWAYS selected with seeing the animals in mind. Where can we go that maximizes our opportunities to see wildlife in a safe and eco-friendly way? That said, there are differences between countries in what lodging is available to us based on factors like the maturity of their ecotourism facilities. 

  • Selinda Bush Camp
  • Tanzania Lodges are a wonderful respite during our Africa birding and nature tours
  • Uganda accommodations are a wonderful part of our Africa birding and nature tours there

Kenya is the old guard of African wildlife safaris and that’s apparent from its lodge selections, many of which harken back to a British colonial time in style and in their not-yet-updated but absolutely charming facilities. Movement between parks in Kenya can involve highway travel to get the maximum diversity, whereas in Tanzania, once you enter the park system, it’s possible to go from park to park without emerging into the outside world (though you stay solidly in savannah.) 

Built in a different era than Kenya’s, Tanzania’s lodges tend to be big resort-style properties; big enough for large buses to roll in. We’ve worked hard to find some smaller safari camps like the one we visit at the apex of Wildebeest migration at their calving grounds in Ndutu.  

“There are a lot of lodges in Tanzania that are luxury and high end but not particularly well situated – we don’t typically go to these,” Peg said. “We pick our trips by the wildlife, not so they will have a bathroom the size of one’s living room.”

Botswana’s facilities are new, idyllic for ambiance, and they tend to be smaller, Peg said, many with no more than a 35-person capacity. Botswana made a choice for low-volume, higher cost visitation – it’s a place to spoil yourself and immerse. South Africa travelers demand trendy atmospheric lodges, resulting in their well-deserved reputation for extravagant safari options and local dining specialties.

At the other end of the maturity spectrum from Kenya, Uganda is a newbie and an up-and-comer. Uganda has the old colonial facilities but they went dormant in many years of unrest. Post Idi Amin’s military dictatorship, from 1980 a new page was turned. “There’s a real upbeat feel to Uganda’s nature and its ecotourism,” Peg said. “The roads get better and there are new facilities every time we go back. The quality of guides and their training is astonishing. ”

  • guides and porters in Uganda Africa birding and nature tour

Length/Cost

While all of Naturalist Journeys’ tours are centered on birds and wildlife, you can find a range of experiences. A two week South Africa tour, for example, can be viewed as a sampler: a toe-dipping option with a bit of everything for the Africa-curious. It includes a three-night safari in Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s crown jewels, wonderful food and wine in glorious Cape Town, a trip to experience endemic fynbos wildflowers, and comfortable but exciting birding in varied habitats. For some people, it feels more like pampering than “Out of Africa.” It’s also more budget-friendly than many of our other Africa trips, because we aren’t spending as much time in national parks. When you are comparing different companies’ offerings, look at how many days of your trip are inside national parks. That’s where the animals are, admission fees pay for their conservation and that’s a big driver of Africa tour costs –rightfully so!  

Our shorter Uganda trip is also less expensive at 9 days and 8 nights, it’s meant to be paired with our Kenya tour but also to fit into other travel plans. We can facilitate add-ons to your journey. We recommend time in Cape Town or a few days in Victoria Falls.

  • Victoria falls should be added to any Africa birding and nature safari

At the other end of this spectrum, our 23-night, 24-day Namibia-Botswana Combo will really leave you feeling the re-entry to your not-Africa life. Living the true safari life in mobile tented camps, staying as close to wildlife as possible, our guests find this a truly immersive, life-changing, bucket-list trip with Greg Smith, one of our most experienced guides. Ultimate Botswana with company owner Peg Abbott is just that – limit of six or seven clients, and more depth in one country than one can imagine.

In between on the spectrum our various Africa tours feature safari game drives and mobile tented camp experiences offering great looks at wildlife and birds. All of them transport you into the other world that Africa is.

Why Go to Africa in 2022?

Even though Africa is back open to tourism, the number of visitors is sharply down from pre-pandemic levels. For cautious but intrepid travelers, visiting Africa in 2022 offers an opportunity to view animals and wildlife that have not been exposed to high levels of safari pressure for more than two years. 

“The lull will be brief,” Peg said. “Once the world opens back up there will be a huge push to get back here. We went in 2021, we plan to be there in 2022. After all you’ve lost, you deserve to go to Africa and have the most amazing trip of your life.”

Below are our Africa trips listed chronologically with costs and guides. If you want to get a good feel for a trip, read the most recent trip report, which we’ve also linked below.

Our Africa Birding and Nature Tours:

Grand Uganda: Fabulous Birds and Mammals

July 15 – 31, 2022

17-Day / 16-Night Uganda Wildlife Safari w/ Gerard Gorman

$7790, from Entebbe

Read the Trip Report!

Ultimate Namibia-Botswana Combo 

July 23 – August 15, 2022

23-Night / 24-Day Namibia-Botswana Nature Tour w/ Greg Smith

$14,700 DBL from Windhoek, departing Maun

New Combined Trip!

Botswana: Wildlife Safari & Birding

Aug. 3-15, 2022

13-Day / 13-Night African Safari with Greg Smith

$9,710, from Maun

Read the Trip Report!

Uganda: Fabulous Birds & Mammals

Sept. 5-13, 2022

9-Day / 8-Night Uganda Wildlife Safari with Jon Atwood

$4290, from Entebbe

Read the Trip Report!

Pairs with:

Kenya Wildlife Safari

September 13 – 27, 2022

5-Day / 14-Night Kenya Safari with Jon Atwood

$8990, from Nairobi

Read the Trip Report!

Ultimate Botswana

September 14 – October 4, 2022

21-Day / 20-Night Botswana Safari w/ Peg Abbott

$15,500, from Maun

Read the Trip Report!

South Africa Birding and Wildlife Safari

Sept. 28 – Oct. 12, 2022

15-Day/ 14-Night South Africa Birding & Wildlife Tour w/ expert local guides and Bob Meinke

$6390, from Cape Town

Read the Trip Report!

Grand Namibia: Birds, Wildlife & Landscapes

October 13 – 25, 2022

12-Day / 11-Night Namibia Wildlife Tour

$5590, from Windhoek

Namibia Species List

February of 2023 is our next Tanzania tour!

Tanzania Wildlife and Birding Safari

January 30 – February 11, 2023

13-Day / 12-Night African Safari with Peg Abbott and Washington Wachira

$TBD, from Arusha

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A Human Voice: International Travel Agents Give Aid and Comfort To the Adventurous

Naturalist Journeys’ Expert Pam Davis Has Connections and Savvy KAYAK Can’t Touch

It was December, and Naturalist Journeys guests had just returned from an epic Antarctic cruise to the port of Ushuaia, Argentina to find their airline on strike, putting return trips and holiday plans in jeopardy. But our unflappable international travel agent Pam Davis saved the day, busing our guests across the border to Chile and sending them home on a different airline.

Stories like these are what keep international travel agents in demand many decades after the demise of their profession was first incorrectly forecast.

Pam Davis, International Travel Agent Superstar

Pam helps our guests book travel into and out of smaller, out-of-the-way birding and nature hotspots and provides support in cases of unexpected turbulence.

International Travel Agents Will Get You Into AND Out of Africa

Pam’s expertise in Africa is one reason we felt super comfortable spontaneously putting together a new Combo Uganda-Kenya tour Sept. 5-25, 2021. We moved quickly to take advantage of the fabulous wildlife sightings being reported this year by safari game drives after a year of little tourist pressure. In a bit of a COVID silver lining, guests who book this Africa trip may experience the best wildlife viewing in recent years and for many years to come.

Our new safari combo takes in the best of both countries: the Kenyan wildebeest migration on the Masaai Mara and the wonderful gorillas, birds and other wildlife found in Uganda’s pristine forests and mountains. 

We are able to confidently say “Don’t let getting there stop you from going there,” because we know Pam has deep experience, knowledge and most importantly, a genuine desire to make things happen. We are happy to pay her ticketing fees to help our guests make their way to the tour start in Entebbe, Uganda, and to depart out of Nairobi, Kenya. (We also pay Pam’s ticketing fees for any international tours in excess of $5,000.)

An Expert Ticketing Agent

With more than 40 years of experience in travel, Pam can sleuth out fares to out-of-the-way locations when other people can’t. And her service doesn’t stop once the ticket is issued. She supports our guests through whatever changes the travel gods might throw at them.

If a flight is unexpectedly canceled, she is automatically notified, and she immediately begins solving the problem. We’ve had guests flying in the air when their connection is canceled, and before they touch down and find out about it, Pam has already sent them a re-booking notice. 

Through new technologies, namely the internet, people can book their own airfares to major airports through KAYAK.com and other aggregator sites. That slice of the travel agency business is long gone, like the hand-written airline tickets and the simple computation of fares that were standard in the industry when Pam first joined it in 1978.

There were just two ticket prices at that time, she says, “a one way fare, and round trip was 80 percent of two one ways.”

Now that ticketing is computerized and sales more diffuse, she said, “on any given airplane there might be 40 or 50 different fares that people paid.”

Change is Now a Constant

And the complexity doesn’t stop with ticketing. Flight schedules used to be reasonably stable, changing maybe once a month. Now they change nearly daily. There has been additional volatility with COVID vaccination and quarantine restrictions. As a result, International tour operators like us and travel agents like Pam spend a lot of their day keeping on top of unfolding events so our guests don’t have to.

“We are looking up the information every time someone asks a question,” she said. “Things are changing that often.”

Pam is gratified that she is starting to get travel requests from the 20- and 30-year-old children of her longtime clients, who have seen the magic worked by international travel agents and crave the comfort of a familiar voice on the phone when they’re far from home.

That support is taking up to three times as much effort these days, Pam said.

“It used to be there was one transaction and then they’d get to go on their trip,” she said. ”Now people will make a plan and rebook it and rebook it again,” she said.

Undeterred by obstacles, though, people seem determined to get out and start seeing the world again.

“Everyone wants to get the heck out of town,” said Pam, who is herself a frequent and adventurous traveler. “We’re all tired of being locked up.”

Best Memories from our Tanzania Safari

Tanzania Safari
Elephant Line Up by Greg Smith

In February of 2017, a Naturalist Journeys group embarked on a spectacular 13-day Tanzania safari. Here are the highlights.

Naturalist Journeys‘ owner, Peg Abbott, is just wrapping up her trip in Botswana, and it got us thinking about this past February’s Tanzania safari … what a treat! East Africa is the ULTIMATE wildlife watching destination, and Peg is known to say that if she had just one more trip left in her lifetime, it would be to East Africa. What follows are the highlights, by location, from our 2017 Tanzania safari. Enjoy! Continue reading Best Memories from our Tanzania Safari