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This is a birding adventure in which a large number of localized southern African endemics will be encountered. In addition, big mammals such as black-maned Kalahari Lion will be an exciting distraction to birding.
We start with a couple of days around Cape Town, where a plethora of fynbos habitat endemics can be found amid some of Africa’s most splendid scenery. We then drive to Springbok in northern Namaqualand.
From here we can bird the endemic-rich, beautiful desert mountains of one of the most famous flower areas on earth. Namaqualand has a huge plant diversity, and its spring flower shows are an impressive sight. In addition, we can also access the desert coast just south of the Namibian border. Then we head inland for some extremely localized birds inhabiting the region called Bushmanland.
Farther inland we bird the surroundings of the impressive “waterfall in the desert” (Augrabies Falls) and its associated gorge before heading for one of Africa’s great game parks: the vast Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park extending into neighboring Botswana. This conservation area is on a par with Kruger and Etosha National Parks and is set in one of South Africa’s most remote wilderness areas, wedged between Namibia and Botswana. Not only is this park inhabited by Africa’s charismatic megafauna such as Lion and Gemsbok (oryx), but it also hosts many vibrant southern African endemic birds like Crimson-breasted Shrike, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Southern Pied Babbler, Kori Bustard, and Black-faced Waxbill. This park is a truly phenomenal place for raptors and owls, many of which can be found at their daytime roosts.
We then add on a drive to Kimberley; this is especially rewarding during the southern winter when recently described pipits can be seen. We also have an excellent chance of seeing aardvark there.
Please note that this itinerary is still flexible, and we may opt to spend more time in Cape Town if any participants request this.
Itinerary (13 days/12 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Cape Town, transfer to Agulhas
After international flights arrive in Cape Town in the morning (any time before noon is acceptable), we immediately head to the Agulhas Plains adjacent to the southernmost tip of the African continent. Agulhas is situated about a 2.5 hours’ drive east of Cape Town. Here we find many exciting birds, including some incredibly localized ones, such as Cape Clapper Lark, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, etc., as well as impressive species such as Secretarybird, Blue Crane, Denham’s Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Black Harrier, and many others.
Overnight: Potteberg Guest Farm, Bredasdorp, or similar.
Day 2. Birding the Agulhas Plains, transfer to Cape Town
After spending the morning exploring the bird-rich Agulhas Plains we head back to the Cape Town area, where we can see more endemic birds, for example three spectacular sunbird species, Cape Sugarbird and Cape Rockjumper and also get a feel for the real Cape Town.
Overnight: Cape Town or Tableview B&B or similar, Cape Town
Day 3. Transfer to Springbok, birding on the way
Today we drive to Springbok in the heart of Namaqualand – this is a long (5.5 hours) but very scenic drive through Namaqualand, and we will most probably see incredible carpets of blooming flowers. A plethora of exciting endemics awaits us in this very remote part of South Africa: Karoo Eremomela is common, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler skulks on the rocky hillsides and sometimes gives decent views when it sits atop a rock to sing, but the birds we are really looking for are remote Northern Cape specialities not occurring close to Cape Town (or anywhere else). We’ll search for the “Damara” form of Black-headed Canary, Red Lark, and all the others of the Namaqualand mountains and plains.
Overnight: Hotel in Springbok
Day 4. Birding the edge of the Namib Desert
We will bird the beautiful escarpment and the West Coast just south of the Namibian border before returning to Springbok. One of the star birds at the edge of the Namib Desert along the coast is Barlow’s Lark, easy to find once we are within its tiny range. Cape Long-billed Lark is also relatively common. We will, as usual, see a lot of other birds as well, like Lanner Falcon, Greater Kestrel, Southern Black Korhaan, and many others.
Overnight: Hotel in Springbok
Day 5. Birding the Northern Cape
Today we look for more South African super-specials, i.e., birds found most easily in the remote Northern Cape. We traverse a wide range of scenery in our search for the elusive Sclater’s Lark, Stark’s Lark, Black-eared Sparrow-Lark, Rosy-faced Lovebird, and other highly sought-after species.
Overnight: Pofadder Hotel, Pofadder
Day 6. Birding for Bushmanland endemics, transfer to Augrabies Falls National Park
After further searching for any of the Bushmanland specials we may have so far missed around Pofadder, we head to the spectacular Augrabies Falls National Park, where South Africa’s biggest river plunges into a deep gorge in the middle of the desert. As always this area is full of endemics, and we may also start seeing our first large mammals (interesting small mammals can be seen almost anywhere in South Africa, of course). Klipspringer is a favorite animal among most visitors and is fairly common here.
Overnight: Restcamp, Augrabies Falls National Park
Day 7. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Today we head into one of Africa’s greatest game parks – Kgalagadi is twice the size of Kruger and is one of the best places for big and small cats. Cheetah are relatively common here, but we always need luck to see them. Black-maned Kalahari Lions are reasonably common also, and even Leopard may put in an appearance, along with the smaller cats. In addition to a rich assemblage of big mammals, including some that can’t be found in the less remote game parks such as Kruger, like Gemsbok (Southern Oryx), Springbok (South Africa’s national animal), and Suricate (or Meerkat), we of course also find a host of exciting birds. The Kgalagadi is arguably the best place in South Africa to observe owls – many of which roost during the day within the lodge grounds. From the minute African Scops Owl to the giant Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, these birds will entertain us day and night. The rolling red sand dunes of the Kalahari are also inhabited by many other birds, such as the magnificent Crimson-breasted Shrike, Northern Black Korhaan, Kori Bustard (common; the world’s heaviest flying bird), a plethora of raptors, colorful seedeaters, Sociable Weaver with its massive nests, and many, many others.
Overnight: Twee Rivieren Restcamp, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Day 8. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
We will drive northward into the very heart of this national park and will spend the next two nights at the South Africa/Botswana border.
Overnight: Nossob Restcamp, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Day 9. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
We have another full day of birding this magnificent national park.
Overnight: Nossob Restcamp, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Day 10. Birding the “Green Kalahari”
We leave the national park and look for more endemic birds just north of Upington back in the “Green Kalahari” – the oasis formed by the Orange River as it flows through the desert. Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, sandgrouse species and many others await us.
Overnight: Kalahari Guest House, Upington
Day 11. Transfer to Kimberley
We will drive to Kimberley, searching for Orange River Francolin and other specials en route to Kimberley, famed as the world’s greatest diamond city. The Kimberley area will give us the opportunity of seeing some other species not found earlier on this tour. Kimberley is where three biomes meet – grassland, Karoo and Kalahari – so it has elements from all three. We also have an excellent chance of seeing aardvark and other elusive mammals here.
Overnight: Marrick Safari, Kimberley
Day 12. Birding Kimberley
A full day of birding in and around Kimberley. A visit to the “Big Hole” and the diamond museum can also be arranged.
Overnight: Marrick Safari, Kimberley
Day 13. Departure
After final birding in the Kimberley area you fly to Cape Town or Johannesburg – then fly home.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.
In the fall of 2011 my wife and I did a 28 day bird watching tour of South Africa with Birding Ecotours. Birding Ecotours was recommended by our Canadian agent, Tours of Exploration. Both of our driver/guides were excellent and our group of 5 saw well over 500 species of birds and over 60 species of animals as well as a large number of amazing endemic plants. The tours were well planned and run and came off without a hitch. The guides were very patient and accommodating and allowed us to change the schedule when we were in areas of great interest. Along with showing us the amazing natural history of South Africa our guides also explained the cultural history which made the trip special. We hope that we will have the opportunity to will travel with Birding Ecotours again in the near future.
Otto Peter — Canada
Important explanation about the default vehicles we use on our southern African tours:
Whereas the standard birding-tour vehicle in East Africa is the popup-roof stretch Land Cruiser, in southern Africa these are extremely rare and not usually legal except within some parks. Open safari vehicles, on the other hand, are commonly seen in southern African parks but can’t be used outside the parks, and they are extremely unpleasant to be in when the weather is bad even inside the parks. The only tried-and-tested tour vehicle available in southern Africa that allows us to cover the ground we need so we can find the greatest diversity of birds (and other wildlife), and which is comfortable in all weather, is legal, has proper air conditioning, and does not make the overall tour price exorbitant, is the 13-seater Toyota Quantum when we have 6-8 (rarely 9) tour participants (or similar 7-10-seater vans when we have smaller group sizes). In areas where we are not restricted to the vehicle during the tour (such as in the Cape) we usually use unmodified standard Quantum vans – everyone gets out of the vehicle when we see a good bird or animal. In areas in which we are at times restricted to the vehicle because of the presence of dangerous megafauna including lions, elephants, and more (such as the Kruger National Park) we typically use a Quantum van with modified windows for better viewing of birds and other wildlife. In Kruger (and sometimes in Etosha) National Parks we usually do include a day or two in open safari vehicles as part of the tour price. Optional night drives (at nominal cost) in open safari vehicles are available at most southern African parks (including Kruger) for those who have less of a focused interest in birds (as these are operated by the park’s guides, who usually focus mainly on the “Big 5”). You can speak to the tour leader about joining these night drives, but in our experience some tour participants prefer not to join them, and hence we leave them as an optional extra for those willing to pay a (small/nominal) extra fee.
Even the tried-and-tested Toyota Quantum (or similar) vans we use fall far short of being ideal (small windows that are quite low, etc.), and we truly wish there were something better available without breaking the bank. But we use the best available vehicles, and we ensure that everyone has a fair turn in and near the front of the vehicle – we typically swap seating positions daily, but in the parks we can swap positions four times a day as necessary. The vehicles we use are by far the best vehicles available at a reasonable price. All the birding tour companies use the same vans unless their tours have a narrow focus just around Kruger/nearby or another park. It’s a big problem in South Africa that the East African style safari vehicles are, simply, unavailable, except for a handful of very old, shaky ones (and usually in East Africa they don’t have air conditioning anyway, are extremely slow between sites, and, in short, have a different suite of disadvantages). We use the very best vehicles we can without making our trips much more expensive than anyone else’s, but we also feel we have to be clear about what to expect before the tour, hence this note. If you are worried about the vehicle then please:
While we generally allow a window seat for every passenger and like to have at least a couple of free seats available for birding gear etc., it’s better to ask us about the specific tour to be sure what is the case. For photography trips the per-person price is higher because we leave more empty seats available as more tour participants have bulky camera gear!
It is our philosophy only to have one vehicle per tour as it invariably gets very frustrating when one vehicle sees a bird or animal and the other vehicle misses it! And our group sizes are small – maximum of eight (rarely nine). The tour prices would be very high and uncompetitive if we had a second vehicle and driver-guide with twice the guide’s accommodation, food, fuel and toll costs, considering the small group sizes on our tours. Again, if you request a private tour, we can take two or even three vehicles or absolutely whatever you request – a private tour is different. (It is illegal for us to have any person without a local driver’s license and professional driving permit to drive passengers who are paying to be on a tour, so we can’t even suggest that a tour participant drives a second vehicle to allow more space and window seats).
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