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This is a tour for those who want the ultimate African mammal safari experience while also seeing a huge diversity of birds, a disproportionate number of these birds being very brightly colored, charismatic, and spectacular, with some strategic Drakensberg endemics and incredibly rare raptors being thrown in. This tour should yield elephant, lion, loads of antelope species, Nile crocodile, and all the other megafauna (plus small mammals too) that sub-Saharan Africa is famous for, as well as multiple species of bee-eater, roller, kingfisher, cuckoo, hornbill, eagle (including Bateleur), vulture, owl, turaco, seedeater, stork, and a myriad of others. The Kruger National Park boasts 450 bird species! We also target the phenomenally rare Taita Falcon and many other localized species occurring along the forested Great Escarpment west of the drier Kruger National Park lowlands. The tour as detailed below is good for first-time visitors to South Africa or Africa, as it focuses on the bird-rich and mammal-rich southern parts of Kruger, which are also relatively close to Johannesburg, plus it also includes some excellent endemics.
This tour can be combined with our Western Cape, South Africa, 8-day Birding Adventure October 2019 tour and then with our 18-day Subtropical South Africa Birding Adventure October 2019 for a 35-day South African adventure, and, following this, our Namibia, Okavango, and Victoria Falls 18-day Birding Adventure 2019 for a stunning Southern African mega tour.
Itinerary (9 days/8 nights)
Day 1. Arrival, transfer to Dullstroom
Your international flight arrives in the mile-high city of Johannesburg, and we immediately embark on our 2.5-hour drive eastwards to the escarpment, where we’ll spend some time at one of South Africa’s premier grassland endemic birding sites, Dullstroom. Here, we may find Gurney’s Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Cape Eagle-Owl, Secretarybird, Yellow-breasted Pipit, and a host of others. We sometimes also visit a nearby farm for African Grass Owl,time permitting..
Overnight: Linger Longer Country Retreat, near Dullstroom
Day 2. Birding the Escarpment
We’ll head to a completely different part of the escarpment today, this time to an area of beautiful evergreen forest and other habitats. En route we’ll look for one of Africa’s rarest birds, the small but powerful and extremely fast Taita Falcon, which has become more difficult to see recently, but nevertheless it is still present in the area. As usual, we may find all sorts of other birds, including Mocking Cliff Chat, Lanner Falcon, Cape Vulture, etc. Eventually we’ll reach Mount Sheba Lodge, where we’ll look for South African endemics including Knysna Turaco, Swee Waxbill, and Southern Tchagra, along with many other more widespread but nevertheless sought-after birds such as the beautiful Narina Trogon.
Overnight: Mount Sheba Lodge, Pilgrim’s Rest
Days 3 – 7. Kruger National Park
We descend the escarpment to the “lowveld”, a mega-diverse wildlife region, in which one of Africa’s greatest game parks sprawls, the massive Kruger National Park. This park has a staggering bird diversity, and we are bound to find multiple species of each of the following groups: hornbills, barbets, rollers, bee-eaters, kingfishers, cuckoos, storks, eagles (including the amazing Bateleur), vultures, owls, weavers (including Red-headed Weaver), turacos, and many others. We should also encounter elephant, lion, rhinoceros, giraffe, buffalo, a plethora of antelope species, hippopotamus, Nile crocodile, and many small mammals, such as mongooses, etc. We will, however, require much luck for leopard or cheetah. We stay at some of the very best parts of the park for animals as well as birds – Lower Sabie and Satara Restcamps being focal places.
Overnight: Restcamps within the Kruger National Park
Day 8. Transfer to and birding the Rust de Winter Nature Reserve
After a long drive (about five hours), we will spend our last part of this diverse-habitat tour at KwaNdaba Game Lodge (approx.1.5 hour’s drive from Johannesburg airport), where we will immediately be overwhelmed by an incredibly rich assemblage of Kalahari bird species, quite a lot of them extremely spectacular, in the beautiful Rust de Winter Nature Reserve. The list includes the likes of Northern Black Korhaan, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, Violet-eared Waxbill, Black-cheeked Waxbill, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Scaly-feathered Weaver (Finch), Blue-cheeked Bee-eater as well as various other bee-eaters, Kalahari Scrub Robin, and a host of others.
Overnight: KwaNdaba Game Lodge, Rust de Winter
Day 9. Departure
We will do some final birding at this splendid site, which has a plethora of species absent from Kruger or from the Escarpment, before driving to Johannesburg airport for your international flights home.
Please also note that we have other versions of this 9-day tour available. For example, instead of driving five hours back on the second-last day, we sometimes fly. We also have a version that does the extreme north of the Kruger National Park, which increases driving distances but allows us to find birds that are very localized in South Africa (but sometimes common in Mozambique farther northwards).
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 guide and other factors.
Our trip was wonderful! Dylan was great. Top notch birder and guide. Patient, kind, thoughtful, understanding. Best birding ears ever! He found us so many great birds! My count is 430, more than I had expected for the entire trip! Great views as well. He worked hard to get the birds and get us in position for photos. My best decision was hiring Birding Ecotours.
Cheers, more later. Off to Vic Falls now…
Bob & Terrie Davis — Idaho, USA
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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