South Africa: Premium Kruger and Escarpment Birding and Wildlife Safari


Dates and Costs

 

22 – 30 August 2022

Provisionally closed for new bookings –
do e-mail us ([email protected]) if you want to be waitlisted, added to a similar 2022 tour we still have openings for, or if you have a group of 4-8 and want a bespoke version of this birding tour

 

* Please note that currency conversion is calculated in real-time, therefore is subject to slight change. Please refer back to base price when making final payments.

 

22 – 30 September 2022

Spaces available: 7

Price: R75,379 / $4,893 / £3,670 / € 4,338 per person sharing.

Single Supplement: R12,540 / $814 / £610 / € 721

 

09 – 17 September 2023

Price: R81,409 / $5,285 / £3,963 / € 4,685 per person sharing.

Single Supplement: R13,794 / $896 / £672 / € 794

 


Recommended Field Guide

(Please also read our blogs about recommended field guides for the seven continents here)


Tour Details

Duration: 9 days
Group Size: 4 – 8
Tour Start: Nelspruit, South Africa
Tour End: Nelspruit, South Africa

Please also note that we have other versions of this tour available. For example, we also have a version that explores 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 more common in Mozambique, farther north). Please ask us for more details.


Price includes:

All accommodation
Meals (from lunch on day 1 until breakfast on day 9)
Unlimited bottled water
Expert tour leader
All entrance & conservation fees
All ground transport, including airport pick-up and drop-off
Open Safari Vehicle use in Kruger NP & Sabi Sands GR

Price excludes:

International/domestic flights (to/from Nelspruit)
Visas
Items of a personal nature, e.g. gifts, laundry, internet access, phone calls, etc.
Any pre- or post-tour accommodation, meals, or birding excursions
Soft/alcoholic drinks
Personal travel insurance
Gratuities (please see our tipping guidelines blog)

Premium Kruger and Escarpment Birding and Wildlife Safari
September 2022/2023/August 2022

 

Centered between the edge of the impressive Drakensberg escarpment and the bushveld of the Greater Kruger, this is a tour for those who want the ultimate African mammal safari experience while also seeing a huge diversity of birds. This tour should yield African Elephant, Lion, Leopard, loads of antelope species, Nile Crocodile, and many of the other megafauna (plus many small mammals too) that sub-Saharan Africa is famous for. We don’t neglect the birds, of which a disproportionate number of these are brightly colored, charismatic, and spectacular, along with a few southern African endemics and many raptors thrown in. To whet your appetite, we should come across multiple species of bee-eaters, rollers, kingfishers, hornbills, eagles (including Bateleur), vultures, owls, turacos, weavers, storks, and a myriad of others. The Kruger National Park itself boasts some 500 bird species!

Kruger National Park birding toursThe Kruger is a major stronghold of the Vulnerable (IUCN) Southern Ground Hornbill.

 

The tour as detailed below is great for first-time visitors to South Africa, or Africa, as it focuses on the bird-rich and mammal-rich southern parts of the Greater Kruger. We ensure we spend time in both the Kruger National Park and the exclusive Sabi Sands Game Reserve, to give you the best possible ‘safari’, with a combined focus on the birds and mammals. Game drives on open-sided safari vehicles, in both the Kruger National Park and the Sabi Sands are the order of our days here, as we track down as many birds and mammals as we can. In addition, this area is also relatively close to the major hub of Johannesburg, which is South Africa’s largest city, and is easily accessed. The combination of a never-ending stream of mammals, including The Big 5, and some excellent introductory African birding will leave you wanting more.

Kruger National Park birding toursMassive African Elephants are a regular feature in the Kruger.

 

This tour starts and ends in Nelspruit, the gateway to the Kruger – readily accessed by a short domestic flight from Johannesburg. From Nelspruit, we venture up onto the edge of the magnificent Drakensberg escarpment for two days, and focus our attention on the forests, grasslands and wide panoramic views. Following our time here, we descend into the biodiverse-rich lowveld and call into the Kruger National Park. Staying inside the National Park means we are primed to maximize on the plethora of birds and mammals that call this vast area home. We end this tour off a short distance away, in the exclusive Sabi Sands Game Reserve, located in the Greater Kruger conservation area, bordering on the national park. Here a more personalized safari awaits you, complete with arguably an even more complete suite of mammals, with good chances for some of the scarcer mammals such as African Wild Dog and Cheetah.

This tour is timed specifically to be at the start of the austral (southern hemisphere) spring, when the bush is at its least dense, making wildlife viewing excellent, and when the daily temperatures are comfortable.

Kruger National Park birding toursWe stand a good chance of seeing the highly sought-after African Wild Dog on this tour!

 

You can combine this premium birding and wildlife safari, with a number of our southern Africa tours: First off is our preceding Cape Endemics, Namaqualand Wildflowers and the Kalahari Birding Tour – a more bird-oriented trip targeting the endemic species of western South Africa. Secondly, is our Kalahari Mammal and Birding Tour, which follows after this Kruger tour, and is a great complementary tour with similar interests – where we focus on the rare and unique mammals (and birds) of the Kalahari region. And thirdly is our Western Zimbabwe Birding and Mammal Safari – which is another excellent complementary tour, focusing on the wildlife of the world-renowned Hwange, Motobo and Mana Pools National Parks, along with the exquisite Victoria Falls – one of the seven wonders of the world.

The August 2022 tour is an extension provided by Birding Ecotours for the International Ornithological Congress in Durban. It can be combined, preceding the congress, with our pre-tour to the congress, Cape Town and Beyond: Endemics, seabirds and more tour in August 2022.

 

Itinerary (9 days/8 nights)

 

Day 1. Arrival in Nelspruit and transfer to Mount Sheba

This tour begins in Nelspruit, where we meet at the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport. This small airport is serviced regularly by domestic flights from Johannesburg on a daily basis. We ask participants to arrive at the latest by early afternoon (3pm). Following your arrival, we embark on a 2-hour drive to our first destination, Mount Sheba Lodge. Time permitting, we may be able to explore the lush grounds of this expansive lodge, getting our first taste of the common birds of the area– which may include the likes of the endemic Drakensberg Prinia, along with Cape Batis, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Swee Waxbill.

Overnight: Mount Sheba Lodge, Pilgrim’s Rest

Kruger National Park birding toursThe glorious Narina Trogon is a target in the forests at Mount Sheba.

 

Day 2. Birding the escarpment

Today will be spent birding and exploring various parts of the Drakensberg escarpment. We’ll likely start off birding in the lush montane forests that surround Mount Sheba on foot. Many exciting and colorful species occur here, and we’ll try to track down the likes of Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon, Olive Woodpecker, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Bar-throated Apalis, Orange Ground Thrush and White-starred Robin, amongst others. The montane grasslands found above the forests are also home to more special birds, and here we’ll have chances for the likes of Red-winged Francolin, Blue Crane (South Africa’s national bird), Denham’s Bustard, Buff-streaked Chat and Malachite Sunbird. We will then likely call in at various panoramic stops in the area, such as God’s Window and the breath-taking Three Rondawels view sites. While taking in the views of the dramatic mountains, we’re likely to see various birds, and we’ll keep an eye out for species such as Cape Vulture, Jackal Buzzard, Lanner Falcon, Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Lazy and Wailing Cisticolas and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. This area is also home to one of Africa’s rarest birds, the small but powerful and extremely fast Taita Falcon. This species has become increasingly more difficult to see in recent years, but we’ll keep our ears to the ground on latest sightings.  Our afternoon will likely be spent further exploring Mount Sheba and surrounds.

Overnight: Mount Sheba Lodge, Pilgrim’s Rest

Kruger National Park birding toursThe edge of the Drakensberg Escarpment here supports small numbers of the very rare Taita Falcon – however, we’ll need an extreme amount of luck to see this bird!

 

Days 3 – 5. Kruger National Park

We have a final morning birding around Mount Sheba, searching for any species we may still need (see Day 2 above). We will also try for some of the trickier specials of the area, such as Southern Tchagra. We then descend the escarpment to the “lowveld”, a mega-diverse wildlife region, in which is found one of Africa’s greatest game parks, the massive Kruger National Park. We will base ourselves for three nights within the Kruger (usually at the Skukuza Rest Camp, as the birds and mammals occurring in and around the camp are arguably unequalled in the park, but may vary depending on availability). We will have the use of a private, open-sided safari vehicle during our time in the park, which enhances your experience of the birds and mammals, giving you unrivalled views while in the park.

The park has a staggering bird diversity, and we are bound to find a number of these during our visit. Being one of the last major conservation areas in South Africa, large species that require vast amounts of wild, undisturbed habitat thrive here – these include a wide range of raptors from vultures to eagles to accipiters, along with storks, bustards and others. Common and characteristic raptors include White-backed Vulture, Bateleur, Martial Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle and African Fish Eagle. We will also keep our eyes peeled for some of the less conspicuous raptors such as Hooded, Lappet-faced and White-headed Vultures, the majestic Secretarybird, and smaller species such as Dark Chanting Goshawk and Lizard Buzzard. Further examples of these larger birds include Saddle-billed and Marabou Stork, Kori Bustard and Southern Ground Hornbill.

We will also encounter a number of the ‘typical’ bushveld species as we traverse the park. Species that are likely include Swainson’s Spurfowl, Grey Go-away-bird, Purple-crested Turaco, Red-crested Korhaan, Burchell’s Coucal, Red-faced Mousebird, Green Wood Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, African Grey, Southern Red-billed and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Lilac-breasted Roller, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Little and White-fronted Bee-eaters, Crested Barbet, Bearded, Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Parrot, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Brubru, Magpie Shrike, Black-headed Oriole, Long-billed Crombec, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Arrow-marked Babbler, Greater Blue-eared and Burchell’s Starlings, Red-billed Oxpecker (often of various mammals), White-throated Robin-Chat, White-browed Scrub Robin, Scarlet-chested and Marico Sunbirds, Red-billed Buffalo, Spectacled and Lesser Masked Weavers, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-billed Firefinch, Blue Waxbill and Golden-breasted Bunting.

Kruger National Park birding toursWe’ll keep an eye open for White-headed Vulture whilst in the Kruger.

 

Wetland areas in the park are also usually well-attended and brimming with life, species that we’ll likely find include White-faced Whistling Duck, Water Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, White-crowned Lapwing (on some of the larger rivers only), Three-banded Plover, African Jacana, Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, Striated, Grey and Goliath Herons, Great Egret and Hamerkop. The rest camps within the park are also generally a great place to see owls, with Pearl-spotted Owlet, Western Barn and African Scops Owls widely distributed, with African Barred Owlet a bit more localized. These are only a small example of some of the species we’re likely to see during our time in the park.

Kruger National Park birding toursThe near-endemic White-throated Robin-Chat occurs in the denser stands of woodland.

 

On the megafauna side, we should also encounter large numbers of African Elephant, Lion, White and, with much luck, even Black Rhinoceros, Giraffe, African Buffalo, Spotted Hyena, a plethora of antelope species, Hippopotamus, Nile Crocodile, and many small mammals, such as Common Warthog, mongooses, etc. We would, however, require much luck for Leopard or Cheetah. Our time will be spent slowly driving and exploring the myriad of roads that cover the southern part of the park, notching up birds and mammals as we go, along with some walks around the rest camps. Optional night drives (at your own cost) are also available, and provide you with chances at some of the scarcer nocturnal creatures that inhabit the park, such as African Civet, Large-spotted Genet, White-tailed Mongoose and perhaps even Serval, along with giving you opportunities to see nocturnal birds as well; more commonly seen species are Spotted Eagle Owl, and Square-tailed and Fiery-necked Nightjars.

Overnight: Skukuza Rest Camp, Kruger National Park (or similar)

Kruger National Park birding toursWe’ll search for White Rhino (complete with Red-billed Oxpecker) whilst in the Kruger.

 

Days 6 – 8. Sabi Sands Game Reserve

The previous three days exploring the Kruger National Park serve as an excellent introduction to your African safari experience. For these next three days, we transfer a short distance to the private and exclusive Sabi Sands Game Reserve. The Sabi Sands needs no introduction and is famous for its exceptional wildlife encounters, especially cats. Bordering on the Kruger National Park, and located in the Greater Kruger conservancy, with no fences between the Kruger National Park and the Sabi Sands, this area is densely populated with wildlife, and offers you the ‘ultimate’ African safari.

We will base ourselves at an exclusive lodge set deep within the heart of the Sabi Sands, from which we can explore this private reserve. The ‘Big 5’ abound here, and sightings of them are almost guaranteed – these are Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, African Buffalo and (White/Black) Rhinoceros (although Black Rhinoceros does remain the trickiest of them to find). Although named for being the five most dangerous animals to hunt many years ago, these are generally the pinnacle of game and mammal sightings in Africa, and are often the most prized. While we would have likely seen some of these mammals in the Kruger National Park already, our views, encounters and experiences of these animals in the Sabi Sands will not be easily bettered. In addition, however, we also have good chances at finding some of the other scarcer mammals and predators in the area, with Cheetah and African Wild Dogs high on our wish-list as well.

Kruger National Park birding toursWe stand an excellent chance of seeing Leopard in the Sabi Sands.

 

As usual, while we’re out in the wilderness, birds and birding will not take a backseat, and this diverse area hosts a great many species too. A similar suite of species that are found in the park can also be expected, but the birding here will be easier, due to the combination of both the open-top vehicles present (not allowed in the Kruger National Park), and being able to walk more readily with guides (not allowed in the Kruger National Park). Both of the above allow us to more easily seek out some of the trickier bushveld species, which can often prove difficult in the park. Species we’ll keep our eyes peeled for include; Coqui Francolin, Black-bellied Bustard, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Purple Roller, Bennett’s Woodpecker, White-crested and Retz’s Helmetshrikes, Flappet Lark, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Bearded Scrub Robin, Grey Tit-Flycatcher and White-browed Robin-Chat, amongst others. The large Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl can also be more readily seen in the Sabi Sands.

Overnight: Umkhumbe Safari Lodge, Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Kruger National Park birding toursThe large Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl occurs in the area, often roosting in tall riverine woodland.

 

Day 9. Departure 

We have our last morning game drive, followed by a group breakfast, before transferring to the nearby Nelspruit, Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, where this tour ends at midday.

Please also note that we have other versions of this tour available. For example, we also have a version that explores 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 more common in Mozambique, farther north). Please ask us for more details.

 

 

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 addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.

Download Itinerary

Kruger National Park and Escarpment Trip Report October 2019

29 SEPTEMBER – 7 OCTOBER 2019

DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT

Kruger National Park is a great location to see many of the endangered Vulture species that we have in South Africa. Here is the Critically Endangered (IUCN) White-headed Vulture.

 

Overview

 

This is one of my personal favorite areas to go birding in South Africa. The escarpment regions hold a variety of different habitats and can produce some really top birds, while the reputation of Kruger National Park speaks for itself. We spent a couple of days birding the grasslands of Dullstroom, the escarpment forests near Graskop, and the rocky landscapes through the J. G. Strijdom Tunnel. Top birds here included Cape Eagle Owl, Blue Crane, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Narina Trogon, and Knysna Turaco, not to mention the pair of African Finfoots seen in the Wilge River Valley en route to Dullstroom. Kruger National Park delivered right from day 1 with Dark Chanting Goshawk, White-headed Vulture, and Greater Painted Snipe around Letaba. We worked our way south from Letaba Rest Camp all the way to Berg en Dal Rest Camp over the next few days, with Satara Rest Camp producing Martial Eagle, the magnificent Saddle-billed Stork, and a large pride of Lions with cubs on the famous S100. Berg en Dal Rest Camp was great for birding, once again producing Retz’s Helmetshrike, Purple-banded Sunbird, African Barred Owlet, Purple-crested Turaco, and Bearded Scrub Robin. Our last night’s stay was in the famous birding area about one hour north of Pretoria, known as the Zaagkuildrift road and Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain. Here we picked up a number of dry-country species such as Violet-eared Waxbill, Cape Penduline Tit, Southern Pied Babbler, and Cape Vulture. The trip also focused on smaller mammals and large game, and Kruger National Park delivered on both accounts: Thick-tailed Greater Galago and Common Dwarf Mongoose were both very entertaining. Sightings of Lion, Leopard, and Spotted Hyaena were also incredible!

 

Detailed Report

 

 Day 1, 29th September 2019. The Wilge River Valley and drive to Dullstroom.

We started our tour with birding a fairly well-known Gauteng birding spot, the Wilge River Valley. Things were rather quiet and in general very dry, but some new growth in many of the plants and trees did liven things up. We enjoyed picking up the likes of Familiar Chat, Greater Striped, Lesser Striped, and Red-breasted Swallows, Black-headed Oriole, Green Wood Hoopoe, Striped Kingfisher, and Black-winged Kite. The morning’s highlight, though, was a pair of African Finfoots cruising slowly on the Wilge River.

We arrived safely in Dullstroom, where we enjoyed a really good home-made-style lunch. Birding in Dullstroom for the afternoon was also slow. We headed up the De Berg Road and after some time with not much activity picked up Pied Starling, Hadada Ibis, and beautiful pair of Blue Cranes. Cape Longclaw, Mountain Wheatear, and Eastern Long-billed Lark were seen in good numbers, while a single male Sentinel Rock Thrush was on the lookout. We ended the day pretty well at the Dullstroom Nature Reserve, where we found a few Yellow-billed Ducks, Intermediate Egret, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow, and, of course the bird of the evening, Cape Eagle-Owl. Cape Eagle-Owl is known to occur in this area, but finding it is a completely different story. We were lucky enough to see a pair of them, albeit from a distance.

Not often seen, Cape Eagle-Owl is certainly a sought-after species in South Africa.

 

Day 2, 30th September 2019. Verloren Valei and Mount Sheba Nature Reserves

Another morning in the Highveld grassland habitats around Dullstroom certainly proved to be productive. Bird species were not too vocal today, but we still managed to get a few great species. A pair of Buff-streaked Chats was looking really nice on some nearby rocks, while Pied Starlings were moving from their roost sights. No less than three Marsh Owls put on a great show for us by quartering over the grasslands at the top of Verloren Valei Nature Reserve for a good fifteen minutes. One flew by with a large mouse in its talons. Mountain Wheatear, Cape Longclaw, Eastern Long-billed Lark, and African Pipit were all plentiful. We did well to pick up a Denham’s Bustard at least a kilometer away in the distance – an enjoyable sighting nonetheless. Malachite Sunbird was spotted landing on one of the few protea trees in the area. Later in the morning we tried a known spot for Gurney’s Sugarbird and were not disappointed. At least three Gurney’s Sugarbirds were around, singing away. We also picked up Cape Bunting, Streaky-headed Seedeater, African Black Swift, and another Cape Eagle-Owl! Getting another (even better) visual of the owl was both unexpected and incredibly welcome!

En route to Mount Sheba we enjoyed sightings of a few Cape Crows and a single Alpine Swift cruising overhead.

Blue Crane is South Africa’s national bird.

 

Both sugarbird species, Cape Sugarbird and Gurney’s Sugarbird, are almost always seen in association with protea plants.

 

Mount Sheba Nature Reserve is a well-known escarpment spot with the potential to deliver some excellent bird species. We arrived at the start of the forest and found a few Bar-throated Apalises, Swee Waxbill, and a lively flock of Cape White-eyes. Farther into the forest we picked up a single Lemon Dove feeding on the side of the road. After check-in and a quick rest we headed back into the forest. Narina Trogon, White-starred Robin, and Cape Batis were almost immediately found. Farther up the road we also picked up African Dusky Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Grey Cuckooshrike, and one of the specials of the area, Knysna Turaco! Things didn’t end there; we continued and found: Olive Thrush, and some Sombre Greenbuls showed well before the mist rolled in for the evening.

The only trogon species in South Africa, Narina Trogon.

 

Day 3, 1st October 2019. Mount Sheba Nature Reserve to Kruger National Park

The famous Mount Sheba weather man struck again with misty, drizzly weather for most of the morning, but we still managed to pick up the likes of Chorister Robin-Chat, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Olive Thrush, and Natal Spurfowl. En route to Phalaborwa, where we would enter Kruger National Park, we picked up a single Southern Bald Ibis along a section of the escarpment. We spent some time at the J. G. Strijdom Tunnel, which has historically been a breeding site for Taita Falcon. Despite spending a fair amount of time here scanning we did not manage to find the falcon. Consolation prizes were Cape Vulture, Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Rock Martin, Alpine Swift, Swee Waxbill, and White-bellied Sunbird. We had a fairly easy drive to a cold and windy Phalaborwa Gate (with a nice Purple Roller sighting included). The weather was pretty unexpected for Kruger. We made the most of it and focused on enjoying a few bird sightings. First Dark Chanting Goshawk was seen chasing a Smith’s Bush Squirrel around a dead tree. A single adult Bateleur came cruising over, while a small flock including Golden-breasted Bunting, Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow, Cape Starling, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah were feeding on the ground. Our first Lilac-breasted Roller produced the expected highs. Arriving at Letaba Rest Camp we birded around camp for a while, picking up the likes of Greater Blue-eared Starling, Mourning Collared Dove, Arrow-marked Babbler, and the awesome Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill. The river held Goliath and Grey Herons, Yellow-billed Stork, and three Greater Painted snipes. Areal feeders were in good numbers, with Wire-tailed, Red-breasted, Lesser Striped, and Greater Striped Swallows all present. The latter being a fairly rare passage migrant for Kruger National Park and the Lowveld in general. Spotted Hyena was really super to see; two animals were trotting along the riverbed at dusk.

 

Days 4-5, 2nd-3rd October 2019. The Letaba Area and onward to Satara

We explored a few of the areas around Letaba Rest Camp. The Engelhard Dam lies just to the east of the camp, so we decided to check out that area. We enjoyed a few bushveld species before we arrived in the riverine woodland habitat; these included Southern Black Tit, Green-winged Pytilia, Golden-breasted Bunting, Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-billed Firefinch, Blue Waxbill, and a few Yellow-throated Bush Sparrows. We also picked up a family of White-crested Helmetshrikes, which were slightly uptight about the fact that a Pearl-spotted Owlet was hanging around nearby. The riverine woodland was nice and produced Little Bee-eater, Arrow-marked Babbler, African Paradise Flycatcher, and a Red-capped Robin-Chat. The river was teeming with birds; various plovers including Common Ringed and White-fronted Plovers, Ruff, Common Greenshank, Little Stint, Common and Wood Sandpipers, Black-winged Stilt, and Collared Pratincole made up the shorebird count, and Saddle-billed Stork and African Openbill were a real treat. An African Fish Eagle was keeping watch while Striated, Squacco, Purple, Grey, and Goliath Herons were all not far away. It was also a good day for eagles; Brown Snake Eagle, Tawny Eagle, a pair of African Hawk-Eagles and Martial Eagle all made an appearance today in the Letaba area. Areal feeders were on the wing, decent numbers of Grey-rumped Swallows as well as a single Banded Martin. The latter is also a fairly scarce passage migrant through parts of central Kruger National Park. Our journey south to Satara Rest Camp the following day produced both Red-crested Korhaan and the sought-after Kori Bustard. A few vulture species were also a treat to see; White-backed, White-headed, and Hooded Vulture all showed nicely, some in flight and others perched in nearby acacia trees. The past few days had also produced some great mammal sightings. Spring Hare had been seen in massive numbers in the evenings from the Letaba restaurant, and we had had sightings of Slender Mongoose, Black-backed Jackal, Spotted Hyena, Lion, African Elephant, Common Warthog, Giraffe, Cape Buffalo, Greater Kudu, Impala, and good numbers of Blue Wildebeest.

Red-crested Korhaan is a very smart-looking bird species. It is even smarter-looking when it raises its striking crest in display.

 

Day 6, 4th October 2019. Satara to Berg en Dal

We enjoyed quite a long day’s drive today, heading south to Berg en Dal Rest Camp via the best- known camp in the Kruger Park, Skukuza. Once again we had exceptional big-game sightings en route; in addition to the more common antelopes, African Elephant seemed to be around almost every corner at one stage, while Cape Buffalo did well to attract both Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers. We couldn’t relocate the Lion pride (which included seven cubs) that we had seen the afternoon before on the S100 but did have two fantastic sightings of Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl. A Little Sparrowhawk was around to give one of the Owls a hard time. It was another good day for raptors; after the Sparrowhawk we also picked up Dark-chanting Goshawk, Wahlberg’s Eagle, and African Harrier-Hawk, as well as many Bateleurs cruising overhead in the heat of the day. Some more common species around Skukuza included Crowned Hornbill, African Hoopoe, African Green-Pigeon, and Red-faced Mousebird. Berg en Dal is situated in a beautiful array of rocky hillsides and outcrops, where many Leopards roam during the night. Nocturnal species at the camp were very vocal (as we enjoyed our South-African-style braai), namely Freckled Nightjar, Fiery-necked Nightjar, both Water and Spotted Thick-knees, and then a number of different African Barred Owlets were also heard calling.

 

Days 7- 8, 5th-6th October 2019. Berg en Dal and travel to Zaagkuildrift

A full day in the Berg en Dal area produced well over one hundred bird species. We started in the Berg en Dal Rest Camp, where we picked up most of the day’s specials. Eastern Nicator was the first of those specials, a single bird came by as we were having some coffee outside our cabin. Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Green Wood Hoopoe, and Black-headed Oriole were also around in good numbers. Both White-browed and Red-capped Robin-Chats were seen in small thickets, while African Green-Pigeon and both Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bushshrikes were very vocal from the taller foliage. We ended up recording six species of sunbirds this morning; these were Scarlet-chested, Amethyst, White-bellied, Marico, Collared, and the prized Purple-banded Sunbirds. The latter has moved into the eastern parts of Mpumalanga in great numbers in the past couple of years, now being common in Nelspruit and along the Crocodile River.  We finally managed to pick up one of the mammals that had alluded us on the trip so far, the last member of the big five, Leopard. A female was spotted in a large tree across one of the dry drainage lines We started our journey back to Pretoria on the morning of the 6th of October after a final walk in the camp. A few striking species showed well this morning; Purple-crested Turaco and Bearded Scrub Robin were welcome. On the way back to the Malelane Gate we found Southern White-crowned Shrike as well as a surprising sighting of Rock Kestrel. The rest of the day was spent traveling back to the Highveld and then dropping again in altitude towards the bushveld region of Zaagkuildrift. A few species greeted us at the lodge: Red-billed Firefinch, Crimson-breasted Shrike, and a fly-over Marsh Owl just after sunset.

 

Day 9, 7th October 2019. Zaagkuilsdrift to airport for international flight

Our final morning of the tour was productive, we added around ten species tor our trip list. The famous Zaagkuildrift Road has been known to produce good birding at all times of the year. We started with Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbills before also getting onto Chestnut-vented Warbler. Small flocks of mixed seedeaters included Red-billed and Jameson’s Firefinches, Green-winged Pytilia, and Red-billed Quelea. We stopped about two hundred meters before the floodplain starts and picked up a pair of Cape Penduline Tits, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Barred Wren-Warbler, Acacia Pied Barbet, Marico Flycatcher, and a single Neddicky. The floodplain was very dry and produced Capped Wheatear, Scaly-feathered Weaver, and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark. Another pair of Red-breasted Swallows were located by their distinctive, robotic-sounding call. Other species that we picked up today in various spots before we started the journey to the airport were Cape Vulture, Yellow-billed Stork, Southern Pied Babbler, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Crimson-breasted Shrike, and Burnt-necked Eremomela.

One of our most striking swallow species is the migratory Red-breasted Swallow, which is among the early arriving migrant species.

 

Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.

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