Subtropical South Africa Birding Tour: Comprehensive Eastern South Africa


THIS IS A PREMIUM TOUR WITH OPEN SAFARI VEHICLES IN KRUGER AND ENOUGH TIME TO STOP FOR MAMMALS WHILE ACCUMULATING A LARGE BIRD LIST

Dates and Costs:

 

14 – 31 October 2024

Spaces Available: This trip is full, waitlist only, but please consider booking the 2025 departure early.

Price: R105,987 / $6,042 / £4,742 / €5,569

Single Supplement: R20,338 / $1,159 / £910 / €1,069

 

21 November – 08 December 2024

Spaces Available: This trip is full, waitlist only, but please consider booking the 2025 departure early.

Price: R105,987 / $6,042 / £4,742 / €5,569

Single Supplement: R20,338 / $1,159 / £910 / €1,069

 

* 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.

 

14 – 31 October 2025

Price:  R117,646 / $6,706 / £5,264 / €6,181

Single Supplement: R22,575 / $1,287 / £1,010 / €1,187

 


Recommended Field Guide

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


Tour Details

Duration: 18 days
Group Size: 4 – 6
Tour Start: Durban
Tour End: Johannesburg


Price includes:

All accommodation
Meals (from lunch on Day 1 until lunch on Day 18)
Unlimited bottled water
Expert tour leader
All entrance fees
All ground transport, including airport pick-up and drop-off

Price excludes:

International/domestic flights (to Durban, and from Johannesburg)
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)

Download Itinerary

Subtropical South Africa Birding Tour: Comprehensive Eastern South Africa
November 2024/October 2024/2025

 

This is a premium tour with open safari vehicles in Kruger and enough time to stop for mammals while accumulating a large bird list

 

This subtropical (eastern) South Africa birding tour provides a representative sample of the very best that African birding can offer. Large numbers of species will be seen (the typical bird list for this adventure is in the range of 400 – 450 species for our October departures when migrants are present). Among these many birds, we encounter a lot of South African endemics such as the numerous localized denizens of the scenically spectacular Drakensberg Escarpment (the imposing “Barrier of Spears” as locals call it). Apart from yielding hundreds of bird species, this dream African experience also provides the possibility of seeing Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, African Elephant, White and Black Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Giraffe, Burchell’s Zebra, multiple antelope species, Nile Crocodile, and many other large (and small) animal species, with breathtaking scenery as a backdrop. We also often get feedback that the accommodation on this tour is great and indeed South Africa has an unsurpassed infrastructure of brilliant value B&Bs/lodges as well as good roads, compared to anywhere else in Africa.

Subtropical South Africa birding toursThe stunning Drakensberg Rockjumper occurs only in southern Africa and is one of the most-wanted specials of this tour!

 

We start this birding safari with an arrival in Durban on the east coast of South Africa, bounded by the warm Indian Ocean. Durban must be one of the “birdiest” cities on earth, and here we spend time looking for subtropical coastal species. We then head inland to the KwaZulu-Natal midlands and the foothills of the spectacular Drakensberg area of the Great Escarpment, where temperate forest and high-altitude grassland birds abound. The rare Cape Parrot is one of the targets (which, interestingly, cannot be found on our Cape birding tour despite its name), as are the beautiful Green Twinspot, two dapper ground thrush species (Spotted and Orange Ground Thrushes), the dazzling Narina Trogon, the impressively beautiful Green Twinspot, and, last but not least, the Vulnerable, declining Blue Swallow (what a truly spectacular-looking hirundine!). We then ascend the heights of the Drakensberg into Lesotho via Sani Pass, an amazing road that gives access from the base of the escarpment right up to the high plateau at 10,000 feet (over 3,000 meters), with different endemics appearing as elevation increases – near the base are birds such as Bush Blackcap, then as one ascends Gurney’s Sugarbird, Ground Woodpecker, Sentinel Rock Thrush, and the shining, metallic Malachite Sunbird appear, followed eventually by high-plateau species including Drakensberg Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin, and Bearded Vulture (which we often see across the border in the tiny kingdom of Lesotho).

Subtropical South Africa birding toursMajestic Lions, one of Africa’s most iconic mammals, should be seen on this tour!

 

Zululand, probably the most bird-diverse corner of South Africa, is next on our agenda, and not only does it have a great many species, but there are several very localized ones, basically only occurring here and in southern Mozambique – e.g. Pink-throated Twinspot, Lemon-breasted Canary and Neergaard’s Sunbird. This also is big mammal country and one of the world’s strongholds for Black and White Rhinoceros, is very good for Leopard, and also hosts a variety of mammals not likely to be seen in Kruger – including Samango Monkey, Nyala, the absolutely tiny Suni antelope, etc.

Subtropical South Africa birding toursPink-throated Twinspot is one of the specials of the Zululand region.

 

We then ascend to the legendary (among birders seeking endemics) Wakkerstroom highlands, and eventually we reach the Kruger National Park, one of the world’s greatest game parks, which is not only teaming with African megafauna but also has a brilliant bird list of over 500 species, many of them large and spectacular (e.g. a bunch of stork, raptor and owl species not to mention bustards and Secretarybird) or brightly-colored (e.g. all the barbets, bee-eaters, rollers, hoopoes and kingfishers): African birding is a feast for the eyes.

Before flying home out of Johannesburg, we sample an area which gives access to some Kalahari-type birds, meaning we usually add a disproportionally large number of species to our already large bird list right at the end of the trip – these include such beauties as the shockingly brightly-colored Crimson-breasted Shrike, the very striking Southern Pied Babbler, Violet-eared Waxbill, Black-cheeked Waxbill, Kalahari Scrub Robin, the amazingly beautiful Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, and a plethora of others.

We have specially crafted this unusually comprehensive birding tour of mega-diverse (from both a bird and mammal point of view) Eastern South Africa, allowing us sufficient time to adequately cover and explore all the key areas, without compromising on rushed visits which lack the time required to both find and enjoy the birds on offer. To further add to the experience, this tour uses open-top safari vehicles for the two full days in the Kruger National Park which ensures guests make the most of their time in the African bush. As always, we also err on the side of superior accommodation, and we therefore call this a “premium” tour yet the overall price is still reasonable mainly because South Africa is arguably the best value country on the entire continent.

Subtropical South Africa birding toursWe have a number of chances to see the stunning Narina Trogon on this tour!

 

Our October subtropical South Africa tour each year can be combined with our preceding Best of Cape Town and Beyond – endemics, seabirds and more if you want to see a good proportion of South Africa’s birds (the Cape Town area is very different from eastern South Africa and complements it very nicely, with a different suite of endemics and other birds!). This trip can also be combined with our Namibia, Okavango and Victoria Falls Birding Adventure afterwards, which in turn can be combined with our Zimbabwe and Mozambique Birding Tour; if you combine all these trips you’ll definitely experience a stunning southern African mega tour that will leave you with an impressive bird list (not to mention mammals and other fauna and flora). While this subtropical South Africa trip is one of the best ones for seeing big and small African mammals (although we still markedly focus on birds, of course, but do build in enough time to stop for each mammal species we encounter as well), if you want more time in one of the world’s greatest game parks, then we should also mention an alternative, our Kruger National Park and Escarpment birding (and mammal) tour.

 

Itinerary (18 days/17 nights)

 

Day 1. Arrival in Durban and transfer to Pennington on the south coast

Your international flight (or local flight if you are joining us from our preceding Best of Cape Town and Beyond Birding Tour) arrives in Durban (King Shaka International Airport), and we transfer out of the city to a small coastal village. We kindly ask for your flight to arrive around midday (or we can book an extra night for you in Durban before the tour starts). For those joining both our Western Cape and Subtropical (Eastern) South Africa birding tours, the Birding Ecotours office will advise/help book you onto the exact domestic flight required to join these tours, so that the group can travel together.

Following your arrival, the group will have lunch locally, before undertaking a short transfer south of the city, to the small coastal village of Pennington. Here we are conveniently based right next door to the excellent Umdoni Park, which will give us a great introduction to the common birds of the area, while also providing us access to excellent coastal forest, where we can begin searching for some sought-after species. We will likely have the afternoon available to explore the trails at Umdoni Park, covering a mix of coastal forest and open woodland. Some of the more conspicuous species we’re likely to find include the gaudy Purple-crested Turaco and the bright Red-capped Robin-Chat, while we’re likely to come across a number of barbets, flycatchers, sunbirds (including the tiny Collared Sunbird) and weavers.

Overnight: Botha House, Pennington

 

Day 2. Pennington to Underberg, birding en route

We have the morning available to further explore the stunning subtropical coastal forests of Umdoni Park. As we will likely already have become acquainted with many of the more common species of the area, we can now focus on some of the more sought-after species occurring here, such as Crowned Eagle (Africa’s heaviest and most powerful eagle, which sometimes breeds in the park), the incredibly beautiful South African endemic Knysna Turaco, the equally dazzling Narina Trogon, the personality-filled Green Malkoha, the localized Brown Scrub Robin and the jewel-like Green Twinspot.

We will then spend the remainder of the day gradually heading deeper inland, ultimately arriving at our base in the Underberg district, set in the Drakensberg foothills, in the late afternoon. There are a variety of routes we can take to reach Underberg, however, our first stop will likely be for some forest birding where we target a range of localized specials. We will also be sure to dedicate some time today to finding the stunning Blue Swallow (the swallows have become rare in South Africa, and, depending on their recent whereabouts, we may only be able to try for them on Day 4). The dense temperate evergreen Ingeli or Xumeni Forests will also likely feature as a stop today, and here we will be able to sample our first patch of Afro-montane (mountain) forest. While these forests can be quiet at times, persistence and patience are well rewarded, and we stand excellent chances at finding some top specials, including the likes of Bush Blackcap, Orange Ground Thrush, White-starred Robin, Olive Bushshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Barratt’s Warbler, Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary, all of which are regular here. While Cape Parrots do occur here, they are scarce and best sought on Day 4 of this itinerary. The forest surrounds are not to be excluded, and host further excellent birding, with species such as Grey Crowned Crane, Red-chested Flufftail, African Yellow Warbler, Wailing Cisticola and the spectacular Long-tailed Widowbird all possible. Eventually we will arrive at our comfortable base in the Underberg region, where we will begin preparing for one of the most anticipated, and arguably best days of the trip tomorrow, as we bird the famous Sani Pass!

Overnight: Sani Valley Lodge, Himeville

Subtropical South Africa birding toursThe secretive Bush Blackcap occurs in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains!

 

Day 3. Birding day trip up the Sani Pass and into Lesotho

This is one of the most spectacular birding adventures one can embark on. We spend a full day, taking along picnic breakfasts and lunches, ascending the Sani Pass and travelling into Lesotho (passports required), which gives amazing access to most of the Drakensberg endemics within the space of a single day. The “barrier of spears” (as the Drakensberg is known to locals) is impressive, to say the least, and the scenery today is amazing as we gradually ascend from the foothills up to the plateau. The birdlife changes as altitude increases with Red-necked Spurfowl, Brown-backed Honeybird, Drakensberg Prinia, Bush Blackcap (if we missed it the previous day) and Cape Grassbird occurring in the lower thickets (consisting largely of ouhout or “old wood”, a bush species that looks older than it is because of its gnarled bark). Moving into the higher ‘Protea belt’, these are replaced by Malachite Sunbird and Gurney’s Sugarbird, with a supporting cast of Grey-winged Francolin, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Yellow Bishop, and if we’re lucky, the scarce Fan-tailed Grassbird (Broad-tailed Warbler) and the enigmatic Short-tailed Pipit (occurring on grassy slopes). As we reach the top of the pass and the high-altitude plateau, these birds are eventually replaced by the stunning and charismatic Drakensberg Rockjumper (arguably the most emblematic bird of the pass), Sentinel Rock Thrush, Mountain and African Rock Pipits and Drakensberg Siskin. At the top of the plateau we cross the border into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, and will briefly explore the plains that run across this rugged landscape, where we will search for Southern Bald Ibis, and some species more typical of the Karoo region further to the west, such as Large-billed Lark, Sickle-winged Chat, Grey Tit, Layard’s Warbler (Tit-babbler), Fairy Flycatcher, Karoo Prinia and Karoo Scrub Robin. Occasionally a pair of Bearded Vulture nest nearby, and we hope to see this glorious bird up on the plateau. After a long day we eventually descend the mountain for a well-deserved dinner (and a toast to all the endemics).

Overnight: Sani Valley Lodge, Himeville

Subtropical South Africa birding toursGurney’s Sugarbird is one of many highly sought-after birds occurring in the Drakensberg!

 

Day 4. Birding the Underberg area, and transfer to Eshowe

We have the morning available to bird the greater Underberg region, which will likely see us visiting a variety of grassland, wetland and forest sites. The rare Wattled Crane will be one of our main targets, as they breed locally within the area, but they are nomadic and difficult to find, and we will need some luck to come across this prized bird. Cape Parrot also occur in some of the montane forest patches in the area and will be another key target for the morning. If required, we can also dedicate some time today to finding Blue Swallow. This region is a very birdy area and we’re likely to come across a great many species across the morning ranging from more widespread birds such as Levaillant’s Cisticola, Cape Weaver and Common Waxbill, to more difficult species such as Long-crested Eagle, Denham’s Bustard and Pale-crowned Cisticola. We also have further chances for a similar suite of species to those occurring in the Ingeli or Xumeni Forests (Day 2), should we have missed any of those targets. After a fulfilling morning, we will begin our drive northwards to the small village of Eshowe, where we will likely arrive in the afternoon, with an entire new suite of special birds awaiting us.

Overnight: Birds of Paradise B&B, Eshowe

Subtropical South Africa birding toursWattled Crane is a rare species in South Africa, and will be a major target on this tour!

 

Day 5. Birding Eshowe and surrounds

We have a full day to explore a number of sites within Eshowe, and some lying a bit further afield, which will likely include the Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk, Entumeni Forest, Ongoye Forest, and the coastal town of Mtunzini. Our day will likely start off at the Dlinza Forest, located right in the heart of Eshowe, where the secretive and highly sought-after Spotted Ground Thrush will be one of the main targets. While slowly walking the forest trails, listening for the tell-tale call of the thrushes, we are sure to come across many other birds, and in particular we’ll keep an eye out for Green Malkoha, Lemon and Tambourine Doves, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Grey Cuckooshrike, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Chorister Robin-Chat, Dark-backed Weaver and the prized Green Twinspot. The forest also features a canopy walkway and tower, and we’ll be sure to spend time up here, as it is a great area to see the rare Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon (although we will need some luck to see this bird), while more regular birds seen above the forest include African Goshawk, Trumpeter Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, White-eared Barbet and Black-bellied Starling.

Entumeni Forest acts as a wonderful backup to many of these species, while also holding a small population of the highly prized African Broadbill, although as ever, some luck is needed. Ongoye Forest is a bit further afield and preserves the only southern African population of Green Barbet (with the nearest population found roughly ~1000miles/1600kilometres further north in Malawi and northern Mozambique) – this localized population being of particular interest as it’s a separate subspecies, at times split into a full species restricted to a single forest here at Ongoye! A similar suite of forest birds occurs here as in Dlinza Forest, along with the star of the show, Green Barbet.

The coastal town of Mtunzini presents us with a different, coastal, habitat set, and along with it, a different assemblage of bird species. While our core target here will be the vegetarian Palm-nut Vulture, we’re also likely to find a wide array of other species such as Woolly-necked Stork, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Purple-banded Sunbird and Yellow-throated Longclaw, amongst many others.

Overnight: Birds of Paradise B&B, Eshowe

Subtropical South Africa birding toursThe scarce Spotted Ground Thrush is a big target while we’re based in Eshowe.

 

Day 6. Birding around Eshowe and transfer to St Lucia

We have the full morning available to continue birding this area, searching for any of the species we may still need, as mentioned under Day 5 above. We have a short transfer (roughly two hours) to reach our next destination – the lovely coastal village of St Lucia, where we will be based for two nights, and we will likely arrive in the early afternoon. St. Lucia is a wild place, where hippos can still roam the streets at night and Thick-tailed Galagos (Bush Babies) cry from the tree-lined main street at night. This village is completely surrounded by a World Heritage Site, the Isimangaliso Wetland Park, and is a truly phenomenal birding area. Our afternoon will likely see us investigating the estuary and the surrounding coast. Although tidal to some degree, the estuary is largely cut off from direct access to the ocean and as such doesn’t fluctuate heavily. During low-water periods, a number of shorebirds/waders occur here and we’ll be on the lookout for species such as Grey, Common Ringed and White-fronted Plovers, Eurasian Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Terek, Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers, Common Greenshank and Little Stint. Occasionally rarer species turn up, such as Bar-tailed Godwit, and Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. There is often a large tern roost present here, and one of our main targets will be the scarce Lesser Crested Tern, while more common species include Greater Crested (Swift), Sandwich, Caspian, Common and Little Terns. The estuary area also supports an array of other waterbirds, and we’re likely to see the impressive Goliath Heron here, with a supporting cast including Grey Heron and Great and Little Egrets, while Yellow-billed Stork is regular along with Pink-backed Pelican. The impressive Saddle-billed Stork can also be seen, but is easier to find in the Kruger National Park later in the tour. Vocal African Fish Eagles are never far away, with a number of pairs breeding in the area. The reedbeds host colonies of the prized Southern Brown-throated and Eastern Golden (Yellow) Weavers. The estuary is also home to Nile Crocodiles, and quite a few pods of Hippopotamuses, some of which call the St Lucia village home, and can even be seen in the evenings walking around the town grazing on lawns!

Overnight: St Lucia Wetlands Guest House, St Lucia

Subtropical South Africa birding toursSouthern Banded Snake Eagle is one of the localized, scarce species we’ll keep an eye out for around St Lucia.

 

Day 7. Birding the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Isimangaliso Wetland Park

We will spend the day exploring the wonderful Isimangaliso Wetland Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and will likely spend time in both the Eastern and Western Shores section of the park. While primarily consisting of coastal grassland, patches of coastal forest occur as well, and host a fine array of unique and special birds which we’ll spend time trying to find. These include the sought-after Southern Banded Snake Eagle, the glorious Livingstone’s Turaco, Narina Trogon, Woodward’s Batis, the spectacular (but difficult-to-see) Gorgeous Bushshrike, Brown Scrub Robin, Eastern Nicator, localized Rudd’s Apalis and Grey Waxbill, among others. We won’t ignore the more open areas, as they do also host some great birds and birding; some of the species we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for include Black-bellied Bustard, Senegal Lapwing, Collared Pratincole, Croaking Cisticola, Lemon-breasted Canary, and with some luck, Rosy-throated Longclaw. A number of raptors hunt over these open areas, and it’s a great place to see a wide range of these species. These open areas also support good numbers of Swamp Nightjar, and with some birding in strategic areas after dark, we stand a good chance of finding this prized bird.

Not to be forgotten, this park also supports a wide array of mammals, and we may see such charismatic species as African Elephant, African Buffalo and Giraffe, along with antelope such as Waterbuck, Impala and the dainty Red Duiker. This is also a great area to see the scarce Blue (Samango) Monkey, while species such as Leopard and White Rhinoceros will require a bit more luck to find. This is a very birdy park, and we’re sure to rack up a high list of birds for the day.

Overnight: St Lucia Wetlands Guest House, St Lucia

Subtropical South Africa birding toursRudd’s Apalis is another Zululand specialty we should get whilst traversing the region!

 

Day 8. Birding St Lucia and transfer to Hluhluwe

We have the morning available to bird around the village, and in particular, along the lovely iGwalagwala Trail, which passes through some excellent coastal forest. Although we should have seen many of these specials the previous day, it serves as an excellent backup for species we could have missed, including some very localized birds like Livingstone’s Turaco, Woodward’s Batis, Brown Scrub Robin, Rudd’s Apalis and Grey Waxbill, while also offering chances for species such as Buff-spotted Flufftail (with some luck and patience), Green Malkoha, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul and others. Strange-looking Crested Guineafowl are a common sight around the village as well and are sure to keep us entertained.

We have another short transfer (also roughly two hours) to get to the Hluhluwe area, where we’ll be based for two days, as we explore the mega-diverse but compact Mkhuze Game Reserve and surrounds. This is arguably one of the finest birding sites in southern Africa and certainly has a legendary status. We’ll likely arrive at our comfortable lodge in the early afternoon, and may explore some of the surrounding open areas, such as Mpempe Pan or the Nibela Peninsula this afternoon still. The birding here can be excellent, and some of the species we’re likely to see include Black-winged and Senegal Lapwings (sometimes offering great comparative views of these similar birds, both of them scarce and local), Collared Pratincole, Grey-rumped Swallow, all three locally occurring Longclaws (Cape, Yellow-throated and Rosy-throated), and the highly range-restricted Lemon-breasted Canary. A wide array of ducks, geese, herons, egrets and other waterbirds can also be seen here.

Our lodge itself also hosts some excellent birding and we’re likely to become acquainted with a number of sand forest specials here (sand forest is a delightful, localized habitat typical of Zululand and southern Mozambique, and contains some top birds). The highly sought-after Pink-throated Twinspot occurs commonly around the lodge and will be one of our main targets here. A number of other sought-after birds, which we may not yet have seen, are possible here as well, including Green Malkoha, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Rudd’s Apalis, Eastern Nicator, Bearded Scrub Robin, White-throated Robin-Chat and Purple-banded Sunbird. More widespread species found here include a wide array of cuckoos, including African Emerald-, Klaas’s, Red-chested and Black, Striped Kingfisher, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, Black Cuckooshrike, Southern Black Tit, Violet-backed Starling, Pale Flycatcher, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Golden-breasted Bunting, amongst others. Noisy Thick-tailed Greater Galagos (Bushbaby) wake up in the evenings, and can often be seen around the lodge. We’ll enjoy a good evening meal, in preparation for another excellent day in the heart of Zululand.

Overnight: Umkhumbi Lodge, Hluhluwe

 

Day 9. Birding Mkhuze Game Reserve and surrounds

We will undertake a day trip into the nearby Mkhuze Game Reserve (armed with picnic breakfast and lunch). This tiny reserve is one of the premier birding sites in the country. One is only allowed out of the van in designated areas (because of the presence of dangerous African megafauna), and so we will focus our birding on the excellent hides (and walkways to them), picnic sites and around the rest camp, where we are free to get out and walk around. This incredible reserve has a wide array of habitats, ranging from bushveld through to sand forest, and open wetlands, and we’ll explore all of these habitats during our day. The sand forest is home to our main targets, which will include the likes of Pink-throated Twinspot (if not seen previously), Neergaard’s Sunbird and Gorgeous Bushshrike, among other prized birds such as Rudd’s Apalis, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, the diminutive Grey Penduline Tit, Eastern Nicator, the attractive Stierling’s Wren-Warbler and Dusky Indigobird. The large Nsumo Pan also offers excellent birding, supporting a wide array of waterbirds, and depending on the water levels at the time, the pan supports one of the only breeding colonies of Pink-backed Pelicans in South Africa. Other species to be found here include the likes of the sought-after African Pygmy Goose and African Openbill while more regular birds include White-faced Whistling Duck, Black Crake, Water Thick-knee, African Jacana, Whiskered Tern, African Spoonbill, Squacco and Black Herons and Pied Kingfisher. The trees on the edge of the pan support the dazzling Broad-billed Roller, along with an array of woodpeckers, kingfishers, barbets, honeyguides, bushshrikes, flycatchers, robins, sunbirds and weavers. Pel’s Fishing Owl do occur in the area, but are nomadic and very rarely seen, and are more reliable on our tour to the Okavango Delta in Botswana/northern Namibia.

Subtropical South Africa birding toursThe rare Neergaard’s Sunbird is one of the top targets of Mkhuze, and indeed the tour!

 

The park will also allow us to increase our raptor list, being an excellent area for some of the more iconic bushveld species such as Bateleur and Martial Eagle, while White-backed Vultures are never far away. The bushveld areas are not to be ignored, and are home to species such as Common Scimitarbill, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Lilac-breasted Roller, Chinspot Batis, Brubru, Sabota Lark, Long-billed Crombec, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Red-billed Oxpecker (often catching a ride on large mammals), Kurrichane Thrush, Blue Waxbill and Green-winged Pytilia, among others.

In addition to all these excellent birds, Mkhuze also offers a wide selection of mammals including the full complement of big game species. While mammals such as Lion, Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Leopard, African Elephant and Black and White Rhinoceros occur, they are scarce and we’ll need some luck to find these. More commonly seen species include an array of antelope, including the spectacular Nyala, along with Greater Kudu and the ever-charismatic Plains Zebra. The diminutive Suni antelope can also be seen in the sand forest.

This is sure to be an excellent day, with a high number of birds and mammals seen. We’ll return to our comfortable lodge for a well-deserved dinner later in the afternoon.

Overnight: Umkhumbi Lodge, Hluhluwe

 

Day 10. Birding Hluhluwe and transfer to Wakkerstroom

We have the morning available to bird the excellent grounds of our lodge, or some other nearby areas, such as False Bay Nature Reserve, should any target species still be outstanding – these may include the likes of the difficult African Broadbill and Neergaard’s Sunbird. We’ll then begin the fairly long drive (4 hours+), to get to our next destination, Wakkerstroom, set in the montane grassland belt at high altitude. This is another one of the premier birding destinations in the country, and is a must for any world birder, as it hosts a number of prized endemic birds. Wakkerstroom is a lovely, quaint and charmingly small village located along the Drakensberg escarpment, and as such is fairly high in elevation (only just below 6500ft/2000m). We will likely only arrive in the afternoon and may begin exploring the area slightly lower in elevation located to the east of the town. Here, a number of species not regularly seen in the immediate vicinity of the town can be seen and include the likes of the curious southern African race of White-bellied Bustard (known locally as Barrow’s Korhaan, split by some authorities), and Cloud Cisticola. We’re also sure to get our eye in on some of the other more widespread grassland species occurring in the area, such as Swainson’s Spurfowl, Cape Crow, Spike-heeled and Red-capped Larks, South African Cliff Swallow, Banded Martin, Cape Grassbird, Pied Starling, Ant-eating Chat, Capped Wheatear, Red-collared Widowbird, Cape Longclaw and Cape Canary, amongst others.

Overnight: Forellenhof Guest Farm, Wakkerstroom

Subtropical South Africa birding toursThe highly sought-after endemic Yellow-breasted Pipit can be seen around Wakkerstroom!

 

Day 11. Birding the Wakkerstroom area

We will have a full day of birding the upland grasslands and wetlands surrounding Wakkerstroom, and we usually make use of a local guide. Our day will center around the three ‘big’ targets of the Wakkerstroom area – Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks and Yellow-breasted Pipit. These endemic species are all rare and localized, with the grasslands around Wakkerstroom proving one of the few and only reliable locations to find these prized species. The entire area is particularly species-rich with many of the following likely: Red-winged and Grey-winged Francolins, Southern Bald Ibis, Denham’s Bustard, Blue Korhaan, Eastern Long-billed, Pink-billed and Eastern Clapper Larks, Pale-crowned and Wing-snapping Cisticolas, Nicholson’s Pipit and Cape Bunting. The wetlands in the area are home to a number of birds, and amongst others we will search for White-backed and Maccoa Ducks, African Rail, Red-chested Flufftail (with some patience), African Snipe and Little Bittern. Aside from these, many other more widespread grassland species feature here, from Blue and Grey Crowned Cranes, to a variety of raptors, cisticolas, larks, widowbirds, weavers and more. Areas of woodland line some of the ravines and valleys, and these provide us with further species such as Red-throated Wryneck, Bokmakierie, Lazy Cisticola, Drakensberg Prinia, along with Bush Blackcap and Barratt’s Warbler in the wooded areas. We will also be sure to keep our eyes to the sky for raptors such as the tricky Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, along with Black Sparrowhawk, and African Marsh and Black Harriers. This is also a great area for aerial feeders (swifts, swallows and martins), and we’ll also keep an eye out for the tricky Horus Swift, along with Alpine and African Black Swifts.

While few of Africa’s larger mammals are found here, this area is a great place to find smaller mammal species such as the charming Meerkat as well as Yellow Mongoose and Common Duiker. After dark, we can also try for Marsh Owl, and if we’re lucky, the rare African Grass Owl.

Overnight: Forellenhof Guest Farm, Wakkerstroom

 

Day 12. Birding Wakkerstroom, and transfer to the Kruger National Park

We have the morning available to try for any highland birds we may still be missing, before having to gather our things and set off to our next destination. We have arguably the longest drive of the trip today (roughly 6 hours), but the reward is that we’ll eventually arrive in one of Africa’s greatest game parks – the Kruger National Park. We will spend three nights in this great park attempting to find as many of the birds and mammals mentioned below as possible, along with enjoying a great safari experience. The mammal and bird diversity here is nothing short of staggering. African Elephant, Hippopotamus, Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, African Wild Dog (now extremely rare but regularly sighted in the park), both White and Black Rhinoceros, Giraffe, and a stack of antelopes and smaller mammals will all be sought. Nile Crocodile is quite common in many of the park’s waterbodies. The park is absolutely full of birds as well, including a mega-diversity of raptors (ranging from the tiny Little Sparrowhawk to the massive Lappet-faced Vulture, and a great many in between), an array of storks, the most admired being Saddle-billed Stork, while on the other end of the spectrum ‘the undertaker’ Marabou Stork, and other large birds such as Southern Ground Hornbill. Indeed, the raptors and other large birds thrive here, as there is such a vast amount of conserved and wild land, allowing them to breed largely away from human disturbance – making this a stronghold for these species in South Africa. A great many other species occur, and include a number of francolins, cuckoos, hornbills, rollers, mousebirds, kingfishers, bee-eaters, woodpeckers, bushshrikes, flycatchers, robin-chats, starlings, waxbills, firefinches, canaries and buntings. The diversity of birds and mammals in the park has to be seen to be believed, and we will accumulate a long list of species during our stay in the park.

Overnight: Skukuza Rest Camp or similar, Kruger National Park

Subtropical South Africa birding toursKruger is home to a vast array of birds as well, including the Saddle-billed Stork!

 

Days 13 – 14. Birding the Kruger National Park

Making use of open-top safari vehicles, ideal for bird and game viewing in Kruger, we have two full days to explore the southern areas of this iconic park. Our exact routes may vary depending on which rest camp(s) we stay at, but we stand good chances at finding most of the above-mentioned (Day 12) species. We will also have the opportunity to undertake optional night drives (at your own cost), which can produce some of the scarcer nocturnal birds, such as Bronze-winged Courser and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, and mammals such as African Civet, South African Large-spotted Genet and perhaps even Serval.

Overnight: Skukuza Rest Camp or similar, Kruger National Park

Subtropical South Africa birding toursWhilst in Kruger, mammals, such as this White Rhinoceros, are major targets!

 

 Day 15. Birding Kruger, with a transfer to Dullstroom

We have our final morning available to spend within Kruger, before having to exit this wonderful area, and continue onto our next destination, that being Dullstroom, located in the highlands of the northern Drakensberg escarpment. The drive will likely be around 3 hours and should see us arriving with time to spare in the afternoon, where we’ll check into our very comfortable lodge and acquaint ourselves with the area and some of its birds. Dullstroom is a small, charming village which plays host to a number of specials which we’ll be targeting during our time here. Foremost amongst these is the rare Cape Eagle-Owl, which we will attempt to track down this evening.

Overnight: Linger Longer Country Retreat, Dullstroom

 

Day 16. Birding Dullstroom, and transfer to Rust de Winter

We have the morning available for some final birding around Dullstroom and surrounds. We usually focus our efforts on the nearby Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve, which hosts some of the most pristine montane grassland in the area. While we should have seen many of the species occurring here previously on the trip in the other highland areas (Wakkerstroom and Sani Pass), this stunning area offers us an excellent backup for a number of scarce and prized birds, such as Wattled Crane, Secretarybird, Denham’s Bustard, Red-winged Francolin, Southern Bald Ibis, Black-winged Lapwing, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Eastern Long-billed Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit.

We will eventually make our way onwards to our final destination, Rust de Winter, and have a relatively lengthy transfer (roughly 4 hours) to get here. We will likely take an ‘off-the-beaten-path’ route to get here, visiting some of the superb mixed broad-leafed woodlands north-east of Pretoria, which support some localized and scarce species. Here we can search for Shelley’s Francolin, Melodious and Fawn-colored Larks, Green-capped Eremomela, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Tinkling Cisticola, Bushveld Pipit and Red-headed Weaver. If conditions are right, we may also be able to find the incredibly difficult White-backed Night Heron and Half-collared Kingfisher. We will eventually arrive at our comfortable lodge located in the Rust de Winter district in the late afternoon.

Overnight: Golden Impalas Bush Resort, Dinokeng Game Reserve

 

Day 17. Birding Zaagkuilsdrift, Kgomo-Kgomo and Rust de Winter

We will spend the last full day of the tour birding the rich “acacia”-dominated savannas and other habitats of the area. We usually focus our efforts on the superb Zaagkuilsdrift Road, which offers a great transect through this habitat, and puts us in an excellent position to find some of the many more typical Kalahari edge type species that occur here. The road continues on for a while through bird-rich savannah before arriving at a floodplain, which also hosts some excellent species, but birding here is very much dependent on the conditions (usually dry on our October tours). This is another of the country’s premier birding sites, with a huge diversity of birds, and we’re sure to build up an extensive list of species. Some of the Kalahari-type birds we’ll try for include Northern Black Korhaan, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Barred Wren-Warbler, Chestnut-vented Warbler (Tit-babbler), Cape Penduline Tit, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Marico Flycatcher, Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbills, Great Sparrow, Cut-throat Finch, Scaly-feathered Weaver (Finch), White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Shaft-tailed Whydah and Yellow Canary. These are just a few of the many birds occurring in the thornveld, and the usually dry (at this time of the year) and open lands around the floodplain can support interesting birds such as Temminck’s Courser and Caspian Plover.

Subtropical South Africa birding toursThe stunning Violet-eared Waxbill is one of the specials of the Zaagkuildrift area!

 

The nearby Rust de Winter area supports a similar suite of birds to those mentioned above. This is also a great area to get to grips with owls, and some dedicated nocturnal searching may produce the likes of Western Barn, Southern White-faced and African Scops Owls, while the larger Spotted and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls do occur in the area as well. The dainty and partly diurnal Pearl-spotted Owlet is ever-present too, sometimes surrounded by a host of passerines mobbing it (which is useful to us as it means we can accumulate a lot of bird species fast!). We’ll eventually settle in for our last dinner together, reminiscing about all the excellent birds we’ve experienced over the course of this tour.

Overnight: Golden Impalas Bush Resort, Dinokeng Game Reserve

 

Day 18. Transfer to Johannesburg and departure

We have the morning available to bird and explore the surrounds at our leisure, and being no more than 2 hours away from the main Johannesburg Airport (OR Tambo International Airport), we do not have very far to travel today. The tour will conclude at the airport later in the day.

We kindly ask that you book your international flight to depart after 3 p.m. today.

 

 

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.

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Subtropical South Africa Trip Report

14 – 31 October 2023

By Dylan Vasapolli

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Subtropical South Africa trip report

A quintessential sight in the African bushveld – this Leopard lazing about in the final hours of the day, was one of the standout group sightings on this eastern South Africa tour.

 

Overview

South Africa has for a long while been arguably the best and most accessible African country to visit – due to its superb infrastructure, high diversity, and incredible value-for-money. This subtropical South Africa set departure tour is focused on an 18-day route taking in almost all of eastern South Africa’s premier birding (and wildlife) reserves and sites.

Starting in the coastal town of Durban, we headed to the fabulous Drakensberg Mountains and took a trip up the birdy Sani Pass into the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, before venturing through the myriad of coastal forests and Zululand bushveld nature reserves and sites. Meccas we stopped at included the world-famous Isimangaliso Wetland Park, and Mkhuze Game Reserve, amongst others. We then headed inland, and made a trip to the highlands of Wakkerstroom, where we focused on the many grassland endemics of South Africa, before calling in at the excellent Kruger National Park, where we enjoyed some of Africa’s megafauna, along with its supreme birding. The tour then ended in the diverse mixed acacia thornveld north of Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

This tour yielded a high number of birds, including many localized specials, and many endemics and near-endemics. This localized Rudd’s Apalis showed well during our time in Zululand.

 

We had challenging weather during our 2023 set departure tour, with rain and other adverse weather conditions affecting most days of this trip. Remarkably, despite all the inclement weather, this tour was still supremely successful, with a high count of species (more than 450 recorded, and just under this total being seen), and virtually all of the possible specials and endemics being seen (and generally seen very well)! There were too many highlights to list them all, but our day up a cold, windy, rainy and snowy Sani Pass was superb as, despite everything the weather gods threw down on us, the birds carried on obliging. A somewhat similar day at Mkhuze Game Reserve was equally superb due to the excellent birds we found, despite the atrocious conditions. Our Kruger drives were well enjoyed, with some superb birds intermingled with far too many Leopards (amongst other great wildlife, like African Wild Dog), while our trend continued with a cold, wet and generally miserable day on the Zaagkuilsdrift Road being wonderfully productive, netting us virtually every special possible at this time of the year.

A detailed daily account can be read below, and the full bird and mammal lists are located at the end of the report.

 

Detailed Report


Day 1, 14th October 2023. Arrival in Durban, local birding and transfer to Pennington

Our eastern South Africa subtropical tour began in a comfortable Durban guesthouse with several of the group having arrived early the previous day. With more guests arriving only later in the day, we spent the morning birding a few local sites in the wider Durban north area, including the KwaDukuza Wetlands near Stanger. Water birds formed the center stage during the morning birding, and we acquainted ourselves with the more widespread species like Egyptian GooseLittle GrebeAfrican SwamphenBlack CrakeThree-banded PloverBlacksmith LapwingAfrican JacanaAfrican DarterReed CormorantGrey HeronMalachite and Pied KingfishersLesser Swamp Warbler and a plethora of weavers including Thick-billedVillage and Eastern Golden (Yellow) Weavers and Southern Red Bishops. Our hoped for Red-headed Queleas were nowhere to be seen, but we did well to find a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes along with shy Black and Purple Herons. Our acquaintances continued with the likes of Lesser Striped SwallowBlack Saw-wingRed-winged StarlingPin-tailed WhydahAfrican Pied Wagtail and Yellow-fronted Canary.

We headed to the airport, where we met up with a few more guests who had just arrived from our Best of Cape Town & Beyond Tour, before settling in for lunch and transferring down the south coast to the sleepy village of Pennington. Here we met our final guests (who had been staying for a few days prior to the tour beginning) and checked into our comfortable and luxurious seaside accommodations. The wind had picked up to an extraordinarily high level and our afternoon walk around the fabulous Umdoni Park was extremely quiet, with little moving about in the gale-force winds. A fruiting tree proved our saving grace and here we enjoyed the likes of African Green PigeonWhite-eared Barbet and Violet-backed and Black-bellied Starlings, all cavorting around the tree. Nearby we enjoyed a small group of Little Bee-eaters, dainty Southern Black Flycatchers and we eked out an Olive Sunbirds in the forest. We settled in for the evening and enjoyed a lovely meal together.

 

Day 2, 15th October 2023. Birding Umdoni Park, and transfer to Underberg, via Weza Forest

Our early morning coffee and rusks kickstarted our day, and we headed off into the neighboring Umdoni Park where we would spend the morning birding the various forest trails running through it. With the wind having died down substantially, the birds were out and about and we had a superb morning. A pair of confiding Cape Batis’ gave us good looks, before being replaced by a Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, then a Black-backed Puffback and lastly a Square-tailed Drongo. A calling Narina Trogon gave us only the briefest of glimpses, while a bright Tambourine Dove gave us better views. We also did well to find a foraging Brown Scrub Robin, one of the main specials for the area (well spotted, Ohad!). We then struck gold and found a party of Knysna Turacos which came out into an open tree and put on a fine show for us! After having had our fill, we continued onwards and were drawn to a vocal Gorgeous Bushshrike. Rather unlike this usually extremely elusive bird, we had excellent views almost immediately, and enjoyed this brightly colored species calling from the top of a tree at length. Displaying African Goshawks were seen, along with Golden-tailed WoodpeckerBlack-headed OrioleSouthern Boubou, nesting Southern Black TitsGreen-backed CamaropteraAshy Flycatcher and Grey Sunbird. We headed back for breakfast after a few hours out walking, finding a Purple-crested Turaco en route. We kept getting repeatedly distracted during breakfast with the beautiful gardens bringing in excellent birds, like the scarce Southern TchagraBrown-hooded KingfisherCrested BarbetSpectacled Weaver and Red-backed Mannikin.

After eventually getting through breakfast, we gathered up our things and hit the road. We were ultimately bound for Underberg, but would take the bulk of the day getting there with various planned stops along the way. Our first stop at Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve was good, albeit brief. Here we tried hard in a known Knysna Woodpecker territory, but came up empty handed. A vocal Black Cuckoo gave us a few good flyby views, and we also added an excellent Olive Woodpecker and dainty Bar-throated ApalisNarina Trogon finally relented and we found a showy male that refused to budge, giving us all excellent views (thanks again, Ohad!). With inclement and colder weather brewing, our lunch stop at Ingeli was much welcomed, and allowed us to have some coffee and tea to warm up, along with a fine Sunday roast.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

We had sublime views of a male Narina Trogon whilst at Oribi Gorge.

The gardens here held the likes of Amethyst and Greater Double-collared SunbirdsCape WeaverCape Robin-Chat and Greater Striped Swallow. After having suitably warmed up again, we ventured off birding to the nearby Weza Forest. A Red-chested Cuckoo showed well on the forest edge, and almost as soon as we stepped out the car, we found a Bush Blackcap – one of the targets here. The bird kept slightly distant, but showed well. Olive Woodpecker and Cape Batis kept us entertained before we found a lively Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler. Our first try for the shy White-starred Robin produced the goods, and we then refocused on finding Orange Ground Thrush. We heard several birds calling as we went along, but try as we might, we simply couldn’t see any of them, despite the birds being extremely close at times. An Olive Bushshrike put in an appearance right at the end, before we headed down to a vlei. Here, we enjoyed excellent looks at several confiding Barratt’s Warblers that were working the rank vegetation along the edges, along with a vocal African Yellow Warbler. A fine Long-crested Eagle was seen on our way out. We spent the remaining part of the now rainy afternoon driving to Underberg, where we checked into our stunning lodge in the early evening.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

Drakensberg Rockjumper is one the main specials of the Sani Pass – here a young bird.

 


Day 3, 16th October 2023. Endemic birding on Sani Pass, and into Lesotho

We awoke to the same continuous rain as had been ongoing from the previous day, and braced for a cool day as we transited up the famous Sani Pass, and into Lesotho. We made use of several 4×4 vehicles to traverse the rugged road up the mighty Drakensberg Mountains. After meeting our drivers and ace local guide, Stuart, we climbed into the cars and set off. Early stops still in our lodge grounds produced a fine male Buff-streaked Chat, along with Wailing Cisticola and Nicholson’s Pipit. A calling Red-winged Francolin took some careful watching to locate, but we enjoyed good scope views of this secretive species. The large dam on the lodge grounds also held nesting Hamerkop, distant Grey Crowned Cranes, flyby Black-crowned Night Herons and a Giant Kingfisher for a lucky few. The lower reaches of the pass were extremely wet and pretty miserable, but we somehow managed to better our views of Bush Blackcap, enjoyed several showy Drakensberg Prinias and found numerous Malachite Sunbirds and a single Gurney’s Sugarbird on some of the flowering plants. While having breakfast in a short gap in the weather, we also eked out a few new birds like BokmakierieAfrican Dusky Flycatcher and Cape Canary, while Half-collared Kingfisher frustratingly only showed itself to a lucky few. Once we were past the South African border post, we managed to get our first Ground Woodpeckers, along with Cape Buntings and Cape Rock Thrushes, while the surprise of the day went to a Levaillant’s Cuckoo – a rare bird in the province. The higher reaches of the pass were blanketed in thick mist, and a quick stop at the Sani Top area, once we crossed into Lesotho, gave us a confiding Drakensberg Rockjumper and numerous Drakensberg Siskins.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

Mountain Pipit is a highly localized breeding endemic, only really possible within the high Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho.

 

The mist cleared and rain stopped as we went deeper into Lesotho, but it miraculously started snowing and was bitterly cold (unusual for this time of year). Despite conditions, the birding was excellent and we roped in all of our targets. One of the first Mountain Pipits of the season showed well to us, while we also netted Grey TitFairy FlycatcherKaroo PriniaSentinel Rock ThrushSickle-winged Chat and both Large-billed and Red-capped Larks. Comical parties of Ground Woodpeckers were seen at several places and we also did well to find a covey of Grey-winged Francolins feeding in the open. We eventually arrived at our Bearded Vulture nest site, and enjoyed good views of the adults on the nest and changing, along with seeing the now large chick on the nest, albeit distantly. We enjoyed much more satisfactory views of them flying overhead. Numerous Cape Vultures were also present, along with a few Southern Bald Ibis, and a Black Stork was a lucky sighting. Birding some of the surrounding areas here gave us our few missing Karoo species like Layard’s Warbler and Karoo Scrub Robin, while we also added a large party of Yellow CanariesAfrican Rock Pipit took a herculean effort to find, after spending much of our time in Lesotho listening to various birds calling, and we did well to add a Mountain Wheatear. We enjoyed repeat views of Drakensberg Rockjumpers here, along with some of the other Karoo species seen earlier in the day, like Fairy Flycatcher and Grey Tit.

Content and satisfied, and with all our target birds under our belt despite the most inclement of weather conditions, we made our way down the pass and into the Underberg farmlands. Here, heavy rain resumed and we made the most of our search for cranes. A large flock of Grey Crowned Cranes were seen in the farmlands, while a pair of Blue Cranes were sighted close to the road, and eventually we arrived at an active Wattled Crane nest. Here, the adults were seen on and around the nest respectively, and we counted ourselves lucky to see this locally rare and Critically Endangered (in South Africa) species. Opportunistic stops in the farmlands also gave us Cape CrowSouth African Cliff SwallowsPied StarlingsLong-tailed Widowbirds and our first Cape Longclaws. We retired for the remainder of the day, and warmed ourselves up in front of our fires.

 

Day 4, 17th October 2023. Blue Swallows and transfer to Mtunzini

We had an early start, as we checked out of our lodge and began the long journey to the coastal village of Mtunzini, where we would spend the night. As most of our travel days go, we would make several birding stops along the route, the first of which was at the Marutswa Forest in Bulwer. This is a usually reliable stakeout for Cape Parrot, but the weather gods were still angry with us, as we had much rain and inclement weather to deal with. As we waited it out, the likes of Black-headed OrioleSouthern BoubouWhite-necked RavenDrakenberg PriniaAfrican Dusky FlycatcherSouthern Double-collared Sunbird and Red-collared Widowbird kept us company. Some hard work paid off and we enjoyed a fine Orange Ground Thrush that remained perched, for all to admire, on the forest edge, while Narina Trogon offered some brief views and a vocal White-starred Robin offered no views. The rhythmic booming of Southern Ground Hornbills was heard out over the valley and Black-winged Lapwings were seen in flight above the forest. The parrots were unfortunately a no show, and we eventually had to throw in the towel and move on.

Our next stop was the Roselands Farm near Richmond, where we had a date with the sought-after Blue Swallow. Our journey took us through some farmlands, where some opportunistic birding stops in between bouts of rain produced some fine birds, such as Jackal BuzzardCape GrassbirdLevaillant’s CisticolaAfrican Yellow WarblerFan-tailed WidowbirdCommon Waxbill and Brimstone Canary. We also had to navigate our way down and up the Hela Hela Pass, and more opportunistic birding here gave us Southern TchagraBlack CuckooshrikeLazy Cisticola and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. We also picked up Cape Vultures overhead, along with a mixed flock of Alpine and African Black Swifts. Lower down the pass, we added Emerald-spotted Wood Dove and Natal Spurfowl before rain intervened once more and forced us onwards. We had done well and were nearly up the pass when a nasty churned up piece of mud ground us to a halt. Here we reassessed, thankful for a brief interlude from the rain and actioned a plan that got us through the mud patch with minimal hassle (though we must thank the local villagers for helping us carry bags up the hill through the mud).

We were on the road soon enough and found ourselves at Roselands Farm in no time. Here we met up with local guide, Craig, and he took us off to a nearby patch of remnant grasslands for our date with this rare bird. We almost immediately got our first, distant, views of the pair of Blue Swallows that come to this patch annually to nest, but it took a short wait before we were treated to our second views, which were much better and closer! We reveled in our amazing sighting of these rare birds, as they flitted about us and even perched for a short while. Forest Canaries were also obvious in the area. Thankfully the rain abated for the duration of our time with the swallows. After having had our fill, and with the skies darkening and looking ever more ominous, we retreated to the main farm where we settled in for a cup of coffee and our lunch, after a successful outing. The rest of our afternoon was mostly filled with driving, as we made our way back to Durban and up the north coast to Mtunzini. We briefly called in at the Umdloti area to try for Buff-spotted Flufftail at a local stakeout outside my parents’ house. Despite the continuous drizzle and inclement weather, a lovely male Buff-spotted Flufftail came in to view repeatedly, sadly, the dark and gloomy understory it frequented meant that not everyone in the group was able to see the bird. We also bid farewell to Ohad, who had only joined for the first few days of the trip and was departing from the Durban airport, before resuming our journey up to Mtunzini. Here, we would spend the next two nights, and we settled in for a lovely evening meal following a good and exciting day in the field.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

A male Blue Swallow drifts over its mistbelt grasslands – now a rare species in South Africa, with a tiny, fragmented population.

 

Day 5, 18th October 2023. Birding Ongoye and Dlinza Forests

After having our religious early coffee and rusks to kick start our first sunny day, we met up with local guide Sakhamuzi and immediately set off on our morning birding. We started our day off in the Ongoye Forest, where the highly localized endemic population of Green Barbet occurs, and this would be our main target. The barbets were fairly vocal and we heard several birds calling regularly throughout the morning, but they proved difficult to find and we were frustrated for some time. While we went about our search, we picked up a slew of other birds, including the likes of Striped Pipit and Yellow-throated Longclaw on the grassy edges to the forest, and the likes of Trumpeter HornbillGrey CuckooshrikeSouthern BoubouYellow-streaked GreenbulAshy FlycatcherCollared SunbirdDark-backed Weaver and Red-backed Mannikin in the forest interior. At our last scanning point, after a hike through the steep forest, atop a grassy hill looking over the forest, we finally found a fruiting tree and right on cue, picked up a feeding Green Barbet. We enjoyed some excellent scope views before the bird melted back into the forest. We enjoyed our breakfast after our efforts, and were aptly rewarded with a stunning male African Emerald Cuckoo that showed well.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

A close-up Grey Cuckooshrike watching over us in Ongoye Forest.

 

We then transferred to the Dlinza Forest, in Eshowe, where we would spend a few hours seeking out other species. We made our way up to the canopy tower, but as it was late morning now, bird activity was a bit slow and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeons were conspicuous only by their absence. We got wind of a Spotted Ground Thrush nest, and duly headed off towards this, finding a lovely Chorister Robin-Chat en route. We soon found the nest, and as if right on cue, an adult flew in and sat on the nest. It took a while for everyone in the group to see the bird, and we had to be content with partially-obstructed views as the bird sat hunkered down on its nest. A calling Scaly-throated Honeyguide showed well, and we also picked up our first African Woolly-necked Stork, amongst other more common species of birds seen. We picked up a few pizzas in Mtunzini and headed off to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve to eat them for lunch, and try for a few more birds. A lovely Green Malkoha showed right on cue, and gave us all incredible views – unusual for this normally ultra-shy bird. We also enjoyed a plethora of kingfishers here, with MalachiteGiant and African Pygmy Kingfishers all showing well. A late-staying Mangrove Kingfisher also played hide and seek, needing a few attempts to find, but we all finally got onto the bird and enjoyed good looks at this scarce species. The resident Palm-nut Vultures also found their way onto our list. Following lunch, and our quick-fire birding here, we retreated to our lodge, where we had an afternoon break. A late evening walk around the grounds of the lodge rewarded us with Purple-banded Sunbird along with showy White-eared Barbets and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds.

 

Day 6, 19th October 2023. Transfer to St Lucia, and estuarine birding

An unfortunate windy, drizzly and generally gloomy morning greeted us, as we set off to spend the morning in the Umlalazi Nature Reserve. Predictably, things were slow and we had to work hard to eke out new birds. Multiple feeding Purple-crested Turacos were an early highlight, as was a large flock of White-faced Whistling Ducks flying along the river. Here, we also added a hulking Goliath Heron, along with Purple HeronAfrican SpoonbillLittle Egret and several African Woolly-necked Storks. A pair of Rufous-winged Cisticolas were found flitting about in a reedbed, as were Lesser Swamp and Common Reed Warblers. Wooded patches held Cardinal WoodpeckerSouthern Black Flycatcher and a bright Yellow-bellied Greenbul. We also tried our luck with Red-chested Flufftail and, while we got close with a bird calling from only a few feet away, we had to be content with only hearing this species. Natal Red Duikers were numerous.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

A male Southern Brown-throated Weaver busily constructing its intricate nest.

 

We had a short drive up the coast further to St Lucia, where we would spend another two nights. We paused at the iMfolozi River bridge, where we fortuitously had a short break in the rain. We easily picked up the resident Southern Brown-throated Weavers here, and enjoyed the antics of the displaying males, along with the bustling colony of Eastern Golden (Yellow) Weavers. With the rain coming down again, we retreated to our comfortable guesthouse for lunch and a short break. The stars aligned for our planned afternoon walk on the beach, down to the river estuary for some coastal birds, with the weather clearing up. We had a good birding walk, with high numbers of waders and terns present. Comical White-fronted Plovers ran around on the beach, while the estuarine area held the likes of Grey PloverEurasian WhimbrelBar-tailed GodwitCommon GreenshankRuddy TurnstoneCurlew Sandpiper and Sanderling. Some careful scanning also revealed a few of the sought-after Terek Sandpipers, and a small flock of African Oystercatchers flew in as well. A small tern roost was also present here, and consisted of large numbers of Common and Greater Crested Terns, with smaller numbers of Caspian and Little Terns. A vagrant Saunders’s Tern had been seen on and off recently, and we scanned carefully in the hope of picking it up, but alas, it was not present in the roost during our time here. Remarkably, we also found a flock of Yellow-billed Storks congregated on the beach, and it was a strange sight, seeing this normally freshwater species standing in the surf! Returning back to our guesthouse, we picked up a fine male Klaas’s CuckooLittle Bee-eaters and a few Southern Crested Guineafowls around the town. We headed out to try for some nightjars and owls around the town, but things were remarkably quiet and only several calling Buff-spotted Flufftails and the resident Hippopotamuses were about.

 

Day 7, 20th October 2023. Birding the Eastern Shores of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park

Armed with packed breakfasts and lunches, we set off into the Eastern Shores section of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site. We would spend the bulk of the day birding and exploring the park, going as far up as Cape Vidal. A spot of birding at the gate gave us a few new birds like Golden-tailed WoodpeckerRed-capped Robin-Chat and a gorgeous Scarlet-chested Sunbird, along with favorites like Purple-crested TuracoTrumpeter Hornbill and African Green Pigeon. We started off at some wetlands, which were absolutely packed with birds. A small flock of White-backed Ducks showed well early on, followed by two pairs of African Pygmy Goose, before we struck gold and found several of the rare Rufous-bellied Herons. The continuing high water in the park had resulted in several of these (normally rare South African birds) to come down from Mozambique, where they are more numerous. We did incredibly well, finding five separate individuals, and enjoyed superb looks at several birds. African Jacanas were commonly seen and we picked up on a long-staying Lesser Moorhen in addition. A range of more widespread ducks, herons and waterbirds were seen as well. Some of the open grassy regions gave us the likes of Brown Snake-EagleCollared PratincoleLittle Bee-eaterRufous-naped LarkGrey-rumped and Red-breasted SwallowsAfrican Pipit and Yellow-throated Longclaw. Here, we also picked up the first large mammals in the park, with several White Rhinos and African Buffalos slowly striding through the coastal grasslands, with Red-billed Oxpeckers in tow. We called in at the Mission Rocks picnic site, where we had our well-deserved breakfast. The picnic site is situated in a spot of excellent coastal dune forest, and we did well to find several of the specials of the park here, with Livingstone’s Turaco and Rudd’s Apalis both showing well. Woodward’s Batis showed to only some in the group, while many other birds were out and about and included African Harrier-HawkStriped KingfisherBroad-billed RollerYellow-breasted ApalisTerrestrial BrownbulGrey and Purple-banded Sunbirds and Spectacled and Dark-backed Weavers.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

Rufous-bellied Heron is a rare bird in South Africa – to find five in one area was almost unbelievable!

 

We gradually made our way up to Cape Vidal, where we took a walk around the expansive grounds looking for two special birds – Green Twinspot and Grey Waxbill. We found both fairly quickly, but our views of Grey Waxbill left us wanting more. It took lots of effort and patience, but we were well rewarded with excellent views of the prized Green TwinspotBrown Scrub Robins were evident as well. With the wind having picked up dramatically, we opted to make our way back out the park, calling in at Mission Rocks picnic site again for lunch. A fine Southern Banded Snake Eagle that we found quietly perched next to the road was much welcomed, while we had some back and forth with a boisterous male African Elephant. Eventually, we found our way through, and enjoyed an afternoon break. Some of the other mammals we found in the park included Plains ZebraCommon WarthogHippopotamusWaterbuckSouthern ReedbuckGreater Kudu and Blue (Samango) Monkey.

Subtropical South Africa trip reportThe Critically Endangered (in South Africa) Southern Banded Snake Eagle perched in the open next to the road and gave us all excellent views!

 

Day 8, 21st October 2023. Birding St Lucia and the Nibela floodplains

Our morning began by exploring the excellent iGwalagwala Trail running through the coastal forest around the town. With the heavy winds continuing from the previous day, the birding was difficult, but we had a remarkable morning nonetheless. Comical Southern Crested Guineafowls greeted us at the trail head, and we also enjoyed excellent views of Rudd’s Apalis once more. A productive alley gave us fidgety Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, along with a cooperative pair of Woodward’s Batis that showed well to all. Buff-spotted Flufftails were heard in several places, and eventually we were rewarded with brief views as a male popped into the open right in front of us. We had repeat views of other specials like Livingstone’s Turaco, while also adding the scarce Black-throated Wattle-eye and Crowned Hornbill to our growing list. After a good breakfast, we gathered our things and made the short transfer to our next lodge in the Hluhluwe district.

We arrived in good time, had our lunch and a short midday break, before resuming in the afternoon. The wind had begun to die down, and despite the high temperatures, the birds were out and about and we struggled to even get into the car. Firstly, a pair of bright Southern Yellow White-eyes entertained us, before delightful Grey Waxbills joined the party and gave us all excellent views! Things weren’t done yet, when a Red-fronted Tinkerbird popped into view and showed itself off. We were eventually able to tear ourselves away and get going, bound for the vast Nibela floodplains region. We tried to access the first pan, but the high water levels effectively thwarted our access to get further into good habitat for the likes of Rosy-throated Longclaw. We made do with birding the edges, which were dripping with birds themselves. Vast flocks of both Fulvous and White-faced Whistling Ducks lined the shallows, numbering into the thousands, and we also picked up both Blue-billed and Red-billed Teals as well. Many other waterbirds were present, and we enjoyed numbers of Yellow-billed Storks, along with multiple Squacco Herons and other herons, egrets and ibises. Various shorebirds, consisting mainly of Wood Sandpipers and Little Stints, were present, and there were also several Collared PratincolesWhiskered Terns and Pied Kingfishers were seen dancing about above the water. The wooded edges produced a fine pair of Crested Francolins, along with more excellent views of Red-breasted Swallows and Violet-backed Starlings. Mpempe Pan followed, and here we spent a while working the dry grasslands on the edges for waders and were aptly rewarded with two of the rare Caspian Plovers. We enjoyed some superb views of this scarce species, along with the similar Kittlitz’s Plovers, but some of the other usual suspects like Black-winged and Senegal Lapwings were completely absent. The pan itself held another family of African Pygmy Goose, along with Goliath and Black Herons and Knob-billed Duck, amongst many others. We spent a long while searching for Lemon-breasted Canary in the palm-dotted edges, and while we had several birds fly over us at break-neck speed, we couldn’t find any individuals perched nicely and had to make do without them.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

The delightful African Pygmy Goose was always a highlight when we saw it.

 

Day 9, 22nd October 2023. Birding Muzi Pan and Mkhuze Game Reserve

This is always hotly anticipated as one of the best days of the trip, with not only a high species list possible, but lots of quality species possible as well. Unfortunately, the gloomy weather from earlier on the trip had rejoined us again, and we had to contend with inclement (and cold) weather throughout the day. We started off at the large Muzi Pan, just outside Mkhuze, and spent a while birding the wetland edges and the surrounding fever tree forest. It was amazingly productive and we quickly raced up to 80 species in the space of 30 minutes. A wide range of waterbirds were present here, though only the likes of Common Ringed Plover and Great Egret were new to our list, but many other ducks, herons, egrets and shorebirds were evident. The forested edges gave us a wonderfully cooperative Grey Penduline Tit, along with a showy Diderick CuckooBurchell’s CoucalLesser HoneyguideGolden-tailed WoodpeckerYellow-breasted ApalisKurrichane ThrushPale FlycatcherLesser Masked Weaver and a pair of bright White-browed Robin-Chats. We eventually tore ourselves away and pressed on into Mkhuze Game Reserve proper, where we headed straight for Kumasinga Hide.

The inclement weather finally had its say (as we had done remarkably well on the tour, despite the adverse weather on many previous days), and we battled for birds here. Rain was on and off, and bird activity generally low. Pink-throated Twinspot took a herculean effort, but we were finally rewarded with a stunning male that showed beautifully to all. Several Acacia Pied Barbets were picked up and we also found the likes of Common ScimitarbillBlack-headed OrioleBlack CuckooshrikeChinspot BatisSouthern Black TitWhite-browed Scrub RobinWhite-bellied Sunbird and Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow, amongst others. Brief interludes in the rain also gave us some raptors such as White-backed VultureBateleurMartial and Wahlberg’s Eagles and the regionally rare Dark Chanting Goshawk. We explored the reserve a bit, adding birds here and there slowly, with the likes of African OpenbillEuropean Bee-eaterPeregrine FalconWhite-crested Helmetshrike and White-throated Robin-Chat. Eventually though, the cold and rain had worn through and we called it a day in the early afternoon, and headed back to our comfortable (and warm) lodge, where we had the rest of the afternoon at leisure. Despite the inclement weather on the day, we still managed to record over 130 species!

Subtropical South Africa trip report

Neergaard’s Sunbird is a Zululand special, occurring only marginally in the Hluhluwe/Mkuze areas we get to on this tour – it took some searching, but we eventually enjoyed some good views.

 

Day 10, 23rd October 2023. Birding Hluhluwe and transfer to Wakkerstroom

We had the morning available for birding the small private reserve our lodge was based on, searching for some of our outstanding species. A pair of delightful Bearded Scrub Robins showed well early on, and we enjoyed repeat views of the localized Rudd’s Apalis. A Broad-billed Roller showed well, perched atop some dead trees, and we added a few more birds like Brown-crowned TchagraOrange-breasted BushshrikeWillow WarblerGrey Tit-flycatcher and Bronze MannikinPink-throated Twinspot and Gorgeous Bushshrikes were ultra secretive today, and both remained as heard only. It also took a few attempts, but we finally managed to get some good and prolonged views of an Eastern Nicator, and just as we were enjoying this species, we heard the tell-tale call of Neergaard’s Sunbird. In but a few moments we had the bird in view, and spent the next little while soaking up our views of this scarce and localized species. It was a fine male, and put on a wonderful show for us.

Following our good walk, we made our way back for breakfast, before gathering our things and beginning the drive to our next destination, the birding mecca of Wakkerstroom. It is a fair drive to get to Wakkerstoom, so we settled in for the scenic drive, before taking a backroad into the charming village, allowing us to do some afternoon birding before we arrived. Our first target was White-bellied Bustard, and we did well to find an extremely showy pair of these birds without much hassle. The surrounds also gave us a close-up flock of Southern Bald Ibis, along with others like White-fronted Bee-eaterLanner FalconAnt-eating Chat and Long-tailed Widowbird. Wakkerstroom is famed for its grassland and LBJ (little brown job) birding, and we started off well by getting Spike-heeled Lark (amongst other species we had seen already), and the crowd favorite Cape Longclaw. Numerous Banded Martins and South African Cliff Swallows were also evident over the grasslands. We checked into our comfortable guesthouse in the late afternoon, before settling in for the evening.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

We enjoyed watching this pair of White-bellied Bustards go about their business.

 

Day 11, 24th October 2023. Endemic birding around Wakkerstroom

We had a full day at our disposal for birding around Wakkerstroom, and were to make use of local guide, David, for the day. We started off the morning looking for Blue Korhaan near Wakkerstroom, and got off to a great start, finding a pair of Blue Korhaans feeding in the open. We enjoyed them for a time, also getting onto some Quailfinches in the surrounding area. We then moved on to the Groenvlei district where we would be trying for two big specials of the area, Rudd’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit. We paused along the way when we picked up an Eastern Long-billed Lark right next to the road, and then marveled as we found it had a nest right on the road edge. A Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk gave us a flyby as well, before we carried on. We eventually arrived at the Rudd’s Lark site, and set off on our walk up the hill. A small bird that flushed up out of the grass was our target, Rudd’s Lark, and soon we were enjoying good scope views of this prized endemic. We watched it for a while as it went about feeding in the grass, constantly moving about, before leaving the bird in peace. Yellow-breasted Pipit proved much more difficult to find, and eluded us at this first stop. We did well, though, to get excellent looks at both Wing-snapping and Pale-crowned Cisticolas. We arrived at our second site for the Yellow-breasted Pipit, and while it took some searching to find, we eventually hit the jackpot and found a lovely male Yellow-breasted Pipit which showed off very well to everyone. Content with the good progress from the morning, we broke for breakfast at our guesthouse, before resuming in the late morning.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

Watching an Eastern Long-billed Lark next to the road was superb, but watching as it walked over to its nest nearby was an even better surprise!

 

Unfortunately, the wind had been picking up throughout the day and it was now at high levels, which would make the rest of the day challenging. Botha’s Lark is the other major grassland endemic that is traditionally looked for in the Wakkerstroom district. This species, however, had largely disappeared from the area and there had been no sightings during the preceding 18 months, incredibly worrying to say the least. We still headed out to the ‘former’ sites where this species occurred and tried our hand at finding them – requiring much walking through short grassland. While no Botha’s Larks were found, we did pick up a small flock of the similar-looking Pink-billed Larks, which showed well in the gale-force winds. Nearby, we got extremely lucky when we flushed up a Black-rumped Buttonquail out of the field in front of us. Black-winged Lapwing required a dedicated trip to a specific site, and we made this trip without any hassles, this side trip also rewarded us with a close-up Secretarybird. Remarkably, we found Cloud Cisticola despite the intense winds, and enjoyed other birds like Swainson’s Spurfowl, a huge flock of Blue CranesAfrican SnipeAfrican Marsh HarrierJackal BuzzardCape CrowMountain WheatearRed-billed Quelea, delightful parties of Orange-breasted Waxbills and Black-throated Canary, amongst others. By early afternoon, we called it a day and sought refuge from the winds, and settled in for a more relaxed afternoon, in preparation for a busy few days to come once we got up to the Kruger National Park.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

Wakkerstroom is LBJ (little brown job) heaven – herewith a confiding Pale-crowned Cisticola.

 

Day 12, 25th October 2023. Birding Wakkerstroom wetland, and transfer to the Kruger National Park

A cold morning greeted us as we had a quick walk around the guesthouse. Here we picked up several Malachite Sunbirds, along with the hoped-for Red-throated Wryneck and African Paradise Flycatchers. We then made our way down to the Wakkerstroom wetland, where we spent a few hours birding. Things were slow to begin with, and we focused on the ducks, where we added the likes of South African ShelduckCape Shoveler and Southern Pochard, amongst the many other species present which we were already familiar with. Numbers of Red-knobbed CootsAfrican Swamphens and Common Moorhens were present, and we spent a while focusing on some of the other rallids. Black Crakes showed nicely without much effort, while Red-chested Flufftail took a considerable amount of effort to track down. We eventually found just the right bird, and were aptly rewarded with excellent views as a male wandered out into the open. African Rail proved even more elusive with scattered and extremely rapid views – until we arrived back at the car ready to call it, when we found a bird walking around in the open and could study it at length! African Snipes put on a good show, while Little Bittern left us wanting a bit more. Black-crowned Night Heron and Squacco Heron showed remarkably well, as did Purple Heron, while numerous African Spoonbills were also present patrolling the edges. A bright Malachite Kingfisher frequented the reedy edges, as did a vocal African Yellow Warbler. A few Spotted-necked Otters were also seen swimming about (well spotted, Mark!). We made a quick trip into a nearby patch of grassland where we enjoyed the multiple Long-tailed Widowbirds, along with other crowd favorites like Cape LongclawPin-tailed Whydah and a very showy Pale-crowned Cisticola.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

Elation as we finally lay eyes on the elusive Red-chested Flufftail.

 

We returned in time for breakfast, following which we loaded up all our things and settled in for the long drive to Kruger, where we would be arriving in the late afternoon. Our wonderful lunch stop in a scenic valley gave us an excellent Greater Double-collared Sunbird, amongst other species, and was a good break from the car. Another stop saw us visiting a known Bat Hawk nest, where one of the adults was present and perched nicely in the open for all of us to enjoy! Here we also opportunistically found a Groundscraper Thrush, and enjoyed our familiar Purple-crested Turaco once more. We eventually arrived at the gate into the world-renowned Kruger National Park, where we checked in, and headed to our camp, Skukuza, where we would be based for our entire three-night stay in the park. We picked up a few new birds on the drive to camp, but things were mostly on the quiet side. A noisy Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill showed well, and we also added a Purple Roller and several Burchell’s Starlings. We also had repeat views of Crested Francolin and Natal Spurfowl, along with others like Klaas’s and Levaillant’s Cuckoos and Striped Kingfisher. A Spotted Hyaena crossing the road right next to us was our first real moment of excitement and was followed soon after by another sighting of several young Spotted Hyaenas outside their den next to the road. After having had our fill, we pressed on, though didn’t make it too far before we picked up a Leopard lying down next to the road. Even though it was in incredibly dense bush, we had a good view as it walked through, and melted back into the undergrowth. We checked into our accommodations in the camp, and settled in for the evening.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

We enjoyed a pair of Bat Hawks along the route.

 

Days 13 – 14, 26th – 27th October 2023. Birding the famed Kruger National Park

Our two full days in the magical Kruger National Park blurred together with a similar suite of birds seen throughout each of the days. Both of the days are discussed below as one. We made use of an open safari vehicle for the duration of our full days within Kruger, as this enhances the views and experience of the park, because we are not allowed out of our vehicles except in designated areas (like camps and picnic sites).

Setting off in the cool of the early morning, activity was generally high on our drives and we enjoyed a wider range of sought after birds and mammals. We focused a fair bit of our time on the Sabie River and surrounds, and naturally waterbirds were a primary feature. Carefully scanning the river banks we picked up the localized White-crowned Lapwing and a pair of vagrant African Skimmers (well spotted, Maria!) as two notable standout species. Various smaller dams adjoining the main river were always bustling with birds, and here vast numbers of waterbirds entertained. While flocks of Yellow-billed Storks and African Spoonbills sunbathed on the edges, Hamerkops rode on the backs of Hippopotamuses and Wire-tailed Swallows flitted about over the water. Numbers of African Woolly-necked Storks were also present, and we eked out a few African Openbills and Marabou Storks, and eventually the prized Saddle-billed StorkBlack Crakes were commonly seen, as were African Jacanas and shorebirds like Common and Wood Sandpipers, while the inland race of White-fronted Plover was a good record. Red-faced Cisticolas were a common sight in the reeds along the river, and some of the quieter pools held the likes of Striated Heron and, on a night drive, the rare White-backed Night Heron – the latter of which sadly didn’t hang around for very long. A number of mammals were also seen, with the best sighting going to a large pack of African Wild Dogs found loafing about in the sand. We spent a while watching these special animals as they went about their business, as typical dogs do. Numerous herds of African Elephants were seen, as were the likes of African Buffalo and some antelope like WaterbuckImpalaBushbuck and Nyala.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

We spent some time watching a pack of African Wild Dogs lazing about in the dry river.

 

The immediate river surrounds were also highly productive; noisy Purple-crested Turacos jumped and jostled about in fruiting trees, while cuckoos were well represented with JacobinLevaillant’sDiderick and Red-chested Cuckoos all being seen regularly. Burchell’s Coucals showed well in the rank growth, and were often joined by various other species which included Black-crowned TchagraLong-billed CrombecYellow-breasted ApalisSombre GreenbulArrow-marked BabblerWhite-browed Scrub RobinWhite-browed Robin-ChatWhite-throated Robin-ChatLesser Masked Weaver and the delightful Blue WaxbillWhite-fronted Bee-eaters were found nesting opportunistically on some of the exposed sand banks, with Broad-billed Rollers watching over their patches of water from the treetops. A pair of Bearded Woodpeckers drummed from a bare tree and Golden-breasted Buntings called from the treetops. A particularly large herd of African Buffalo was scrutinized carefully and revealed a few of the scarce (this far south in the Kruger) Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, amongst the more numerous Red-billed Oxpeckers. We also did well to find several Mosque Swallows, another scarce species this far south in the Kruger. Bright Greater Blue-eared Starlings entertained at the picnic sites while flowering plants brought in numbers of Scarlet-chested Sunbirds. As the days began warming up, raptors also became particularly obvious, and White-backed Vultures were frequently encountered, as were Tawny Eagles and Bateleurs. We picked up several pairs of African Hawk Eagles, always quietly perched in the trees, and found Walhberg’s Eagles on several occasions. African Fish Eagles were conspicuous around any bits of water, but we struggled to find any large flocks of vultures. After careful scanning, we finally picked up a White-headed Vulture, and also added a lone Brown Snake Eagle and several Black-winged Kites and Yellow-billed Kites, but generally raptor numbers were down massively from their ‘usual’ numbers.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

Mosque Swallow calling – a scarce species in southern Kruger.

 

The wide range of mixed woodland and mixed savannah habitats in the Kruger was also explored, and added yet more species to our tally. Here we did well to pick up shy Red-crested Korhaans in the more open sections of grass, with these areas also patrolled by the likes of Southern Red-billed and African Grey HornbillsMagpie Shrikes and Lilac-breasted Rollers. Roving bird parties were usually led by noisy Southern Black Tits, but we also added other species like Green Wood HoopoeBrubruOrange-breasted Bushshrike, a bright male Red-headed Weaver and Village Indigobird, amongst others. We also took a trip farther north, which delivered a Spotted Eagle Owl on its nest next to the road, along with the localized Mourning Collared Dove, while drier areas gave up Namaqua DoveSabota LarkRed-billed Buffalo Weaver and the locally rare White-browed Sparrow Weaver, amongst others. Some night birding around the camp gave us a fine African Wood Owl, along with several vocal Fiery-necked Nightjars that frustratingly remained as heard only.

These bushveld regions also rewarded us with many more excellent mammal sightings. We encountered numerous prides of Lions, and enjoyed some up close and personal views of these big cats. Leopards were also extremely kind to us on this tour, and we had Leopard sightings on every day, with several cats found up in the trees and a glorious male Leopard on our night drive, that we were also privileged enough to have roaring in front of us! Our night drive also gave us a few nocturnal mammals, like Southern Lesser Galago and White-tailed Mongoose, along with a Spotted Bush Snake and several Flap-necked Chameleons. All the expected plains game was seen, with the bizarre Giraffes also being a favorite.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

An enormous male Lion kept an eye on us during one of our Kruger safaris.

 

Day 15, 28th October 2023. Birding Skukuza and transfer to Dullstroom, birding en route

Our final morning in Kruger saw us undertaking a birding walk around the Skukuza camp – normally a very birdy affair. This morning was no different, and progress was slow with birds coming in thick and fast. We spent a while enjoying various fruiting trees, which held numerous Purple-crested TuracosAfrican Green PigeonsRed-faced MousebirdsBlack-collared Barbets and a plethora of WattledGreater Blue-eared and Violet-backed Starlings. Some of the thickets in the camp gave us Bearded Scrub Robin and Terrestrial Brownbul, while the many larger trees yielded the likes of Golden-tailed and Cardinal WoodpeckersKlaas’s and Red-chested Cuckoos and, after much back and forth, Brown-headed Parrots. The parrots had proved elusive, with only brief flyby views repeatedly throughout the morning, before we finally tracked down where they had settled down. The cut lawns gave us a good opportunity to connect with the likes of dainty Bronze MannikinsBlue WaxbillsRed-billed Firefinches and Yellow-fronted Canaries. The first Spotted Flycatcher of the season also cropped up on our walk, while some flowering bushes held a plethora of sunbirds, with CollaredScarlet-chestedMaricoWhite-bellied and Purple-banded Sunbirds all showing well. A small party of African Black Ducks frolicked in the river in front of camp as we drew our walk to an end and settled down for breakfast.

We eventually had to bid this incredible wilderness area farewell, and we slowly made our way out the park, enjoying some of the regularly occurring suspects, including various hornbills, bee-eaters, rollers, shrikes and starlings. Our most exciting moments, however, came with two separate Leopard sightings on our way out, leaving all of us stunned and ecstatic with how many sightings of these elusive cats we’d seen. Once out the park, we made our way to Dullstroom, where we would be spending the night, but first via Mount Sheba. We broke at Mount Sheba for lunch and a spot of forest birding, but with the sun beating down, activity was virtually nonexistent. We eked out the likes of Familiar Chat and some species we were acquainted with, like Southern Boubou and Cape Robin-Chat, before we finally found a few Swee Waxbills, though the views left us wanting a bit more. A party of Western (Common) House Martins were seen flitting by, and we also did well to find a Black Stork riding the thermals, before calling it and moving to Dullstroom.

We arrived at our comfortable guesthouse, scenically set out in the hills, before heading to the local Dullstroom Nature Reserve where we would spend the evening. Our primary goal here was to stakeout Cape Eagle-Owl. While we waited, we enjoyed the antics of Banded Martins flitting above the grasses, along with numerous Long-tailed Widowbirds. The likes of Yellow Bishop and Streaky-headed Seedeater found their way onto our lists, before we finally picked up on the owl calling, just as it started to get dark. Rather frustratingly, light ran out before we could find the bird, and we had to be content with listening to the deep hoots of this species ringing out over the valley. We retired to dinner in town, and being a weekend combined with the Rugby World Cup Final match taking place later in the evening (in which South Africa was playing against New Zealand), dinner was a busy (and animated) affair in the town. Whilst making our way back to our accommodation, the most incredible thunderstorm rolled in and put paid to our attempts to try for a few nocturnal birds in the area.

 

Day 16, 29th October 2023. Birding Dullstroom, and transfer to Dinokeng, birding along the route.

Thick mist and ice-cold conditions greeted us in the morning, and we soldiered on and gave some morning birding in the normally excellent Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve a shot. We had a momentary break in the mist, which gave us some hope for the morning but alas when the thick mist rolled in a few minutes later, we admitted defeat with only a handful of birds seen and barely able to see but a meter or two in front of us, and headed for breakfast in town, and greener pastures (and no mist) elsewhere.

Our next destination was the Dinokeng and Rust de Winter region, lying in the rich bushveld north of Pretoria, and we took the adventurous route getting there, via Verena. We started off on some quiet backroads, which access superb tracts of grassland and rocky broad-leaved woodland. One of our major targets here, Melodious Lark, was easily seen with many birds all in full display singing from fence posts and from up in the air. We soaked up our views of this scarce near-endemic, before some careful scanning gave us a fine male Denham’s Bustard in full display. Though the bird was a bit distant, we enjoyed some good scope views. While here, we also picked up on the distinct whistles of an Eastern Clapper Lark – a species we had missed earlier around Wakkerstroom. We had good looks at several birds that were actively displaying in the grasslands, before we turned our attention to the numerous Desert and Cloud Cisticolas that were also present – both of which showed superbly to us! A pair of Capped Wheatears sat on some termite mounds in a burnt patch of grasslands, while a pair of White-bellied Bustards flew by calling away. We soon moved into a tract of broad-leaved woodland, and very soon had a covey of the scarce Shelley’s Francolin calling from a patch of dense grass. Unfortunately, all our efforts to see these birds went by unrewarded, as I was the only one to see them scuttling by and we had to make do with them being heard only. During our time trying to see the francolins, a lovely Flappet Lark gave us superb views, and we also picked up on Brown-backed Honeybird feeding in the surrounding vegetation, and a flyby Black-chested Snake Eagle entertained. Immensely dark clouds rolled in, thunder and lightning began and, with some trepidation, we headed over to the nearby Mabusa Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, we were only given a few minutes of birding here before the storm hit us and forced an early retreat. We only added a pair of charming Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds during our short time here. We completed the journey to our comfortable lodge, arriving in the afternoon, with the rain not relenting the entire afternoon.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

We enjoyed a Melodious Lark in full song in the Verena area.

 

Day 17, 30th October 2023. Birding the Zaagkuilsdrift Road and Kgomo-Kgomo

Another of the more famous birding routes in South Africa is the superb Zaagkuilsdrift and the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplains. This public gravel road traverses mixed thornveld and offers a host of sought-after specials, and while the floodplains around Kgomo-Kgomo are dry at this time of year, the dry thornveld here is always worthwhile for several species. We started the day in frigid conditions with rain about, but the rain fortunately abated, leaving us with productive overcast weather, though the temperature remained cold. Our biggest challenge was getting through the numerous (and deep) mud pools that had formed after the heavy rain the previous day and night, and we fortunately managed to get through without hassles.

Birding was extremely slow to start off with, almost certainly due to the cold temperatures, and our first sessions hardly produced any birds except vocal Rattling Cisticolas and chattering Chestnut-vented Warblers. A flash of color ground us to a halt, and we all piled out the car to enjoy a pair of Crimson-breasted Shrikes. The birds were shy, but gave us all good looks in the end. A noisy and confiding group of Southern Pied Babblers were also evident here, and we got our first looks at the fidgety Burnt-necked Eremomelas as well. Things were finally beginning to come out, and we also enjoyed a good flyby view of a Great Spotted Cuckoo. As we carried on, we enjoyed old friends like Magpie ShrikeLilac-breasted RollerBurchell’s Starling and White-browed Sparrow-Weavers. We spent a while with a mixed feeding flock of small seedeaters which were mostly made up of Blue Waxbills and Red-billed Firefinches. Careful scrutiny of the flock also gave us several Jameson’s Firefinches, along with several pairs of Green-winged Pytilias, while a Grey-backed Camaroptera also came to investigate the feeding birds.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

A confiding group of Southern Pied Babblers put on a fine display.

 

We pressed on to the drier Kgomo-Kgomo floodplains, and the new birds came rolling in. A fine party of Cape Penduline Tits kicked things off with a bang, and we quickly found the likes of Black-chested Prinia and Marico Flycatcher as other dry acacia specials. Small groups of the comical Scaly-feathered Weavers roved about, while dainty Kalahari Scrub Robins ran about between thickets. We found a female Great Sparrow huddled up in a tree, and some patience allowed us to track down the male, and their nest, which they appeared to be freshening up in preparation for the upcoming breeding season. Large numbers of Red-billed Queleas were feeding on the dry ground of the floodplains, and were interspersed with the likes of White-winged Widowbird. We also did well to find both Violet-eared Waxbill and Shaft-tailed Whydah feeding on the ground nearby, while our views of Black-faced Waxbill left us wanting a bit more. The flats also had several Kittlitz’s Plovers walking around them, while the remaining pools of water from the past rainy season had only a few common and widespread waterbirds in attendance. The wind began to pick up, and made it bitingly cold outside the vehicle, and we sought some shelter in the trees. We did well to pick up on a Barred Wren-Warbler and enjoyed superb views of this shy bird at point-blank range. Further along in denser areas, we finally managed to locate a Pearl-spotted Owlet, which showed well to all, while a Lesser Honeyguide also made an appearance. With the rain starting up again, we called it a day and made our way back to our lodge. Here we settled in for the afternoon, enjoyed some downtime and got our things sorted in preparation for our departure the following day. Following dinner, we opportunistically decided to make the most of the short break in the rain, and headed out for a night drive. Things were slow and quiet throughout, with the inclement weather hanging around no doubt affecting things, but just as the drizzle started up, we found a superb Southern White-faced Owl that gave us all excellent and prolonged views.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

A lovely Southern White-faced Owl in the drizzle rounded off a superb day of birding.

 

Day 18, 31st October 2023. Birding urban Gauteng, and departure from Johannesburg

The final day of the tour had come much too quickly, and our hopes of a morning walk around the lodge were put to paid as the rain continued. Following breakfast, we gathered our things one last time, and departed this area, bound for some urban Pretoria and Johannesburg sites, where we would spend the remainder of the day, before departing in segments from the Johannesburg airport.

Our first stop near Pretoria was unfortunately a washout, and the heavy rains meant the access gate was not functioning. We reverted to the nearby Rietvlei Nature Reserve, where we could stay in our car and negate some of the rainy weather. This proved a good move, and we enjoyed a drive around the grassland-dominated reserve adding a few new species, and finding several photogenic birds not wishing to move from the road edge. Common Ostriches seemed unhappy with life, and despite the rain bucketing down, we somehow pulled out a vocal Northern Black Korhaan and a pair of Spotted Thick-knees out in the open. We took a coffee break at the restaurant and picnic site, and wandered around in the drizzle, adding the likes of Fiscal Flycatcher, and enjoyed our last Fork-tailed DrongosGreen Wood Hoopoes and African Hoopoes. We also finally enjoyed some top Long-tailed Widowbird views, and also found the Cape Longclaws to be quite obliging, walking next to the road.

Our time had come to leave the reserve, and head to the airport for our first round of departures, where we bid farewell to some in the group. Those that were remaining only departed later in the day, and we headed off to some nearby pans where we would spend the remainder of our time birding. We had a bit of a gap in the rain here, and enjoyed the likes of Maccoa Ducks and Blue-billed Teals at Bullfrog Pan, and African Olive Pigeons and Karoo Thrushes in the surrounding suburbia. Korsmans Bird Sanctuary held a large flock of Lesser Flamingos, and some careful scanning revealed a few Greater Flamingos scattered in between them. We also found a lone Pied Avocet wandering the shoreline with a few Common Ringed Plovers, while a monstrous Goliath Heron attempted to eat a large fish further along the shoreline. A few Rose-ringed Parakeets seeking shelter from the now falling rain was our last sighting, before heading back to the airport, and dropping off the remaining guests in time for their departures.

Subtropical South Africa trip report

A content group and happy guide, after our Blue Swallow success!

 

I would like to thank the group for always keeping their heads up, despite the challenging weather and conditions we had on this tour. It was this, and the fantastic group camaraderie, that made the tour the success it was. Despite the inclement weather on many days, there were not many species missed and we did remarkably well to still find virtually all of the major targets on this route. We ended the tour off having recorded just over 450 species of birds, with marginally under that total being seen.

 

Bird List – Following IOC 13.2

Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen.

The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following the IUCN Red List:
CR = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable.

Common name Scientific name
Ostriches (Struthionidae)
Common Ostrich Struthio camelus
Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)
White-faced Whistling Duck Dendrocygna viduata
Fulvous Whistling Duck Dendrocygna bicolor
White-backed Duck Thalassornis leuconotus
Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis
Knob-billed Duck Sarkidiornis melanotos
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca
South African Shelduck Tadorna cana
African Pygmy Goose Nettapus auritus
Blue-billed Teal Spatula hottentota
Cape Shoveler Spatula smithii
African Black Duck Anas sparsa
Yellow-billed Duck Anas undulata
Red-billed Teal Anas erythrorhyncha
Southern Pochard Netta erythrophthalma
Maccoa Duck – EN Oxyura maccoa
Guineafowl (Numididae)
Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris
Southern Crested Guineafowl Guttera edouardi
Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
Crested Francolin Ortygornis sephaena
Red-winged Francolin Scleroptila levaillantii
Grey-winged Francolin Scleroptila afra
Shelley’s Francolin (H) Scleroptila shelleyi
Natal Spurfowl Pternistis natalensis
Swainson’s Spurfowl Pternistis swainsonii
Red-necked Spurfowl (H) Pternistis afer
Nightjars (Caprimulgidae)
Fiery-necked Nightjar (H) Caprimulgus pectoralis
Swifts (Apodidae)
African Palm Swift Cypsiurus parvus
Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba
African Black Swift Apus barbatus
Little Swift Apus affinis
White-rumped Swift Apus caffer
Turacos (Musophagidae)
Grey Go-away-bird Crinifer concolor
Purple-crested Turaco Gallirex porphyreolophus
Livingstone’s Turaco Tauraco livingstonii
Knysna Turaco Tauraco corythaix
Bustards (Otididae)
Denham’s Bustard Neotis denhami
White-bellied Bustard Eupodotis senegalensis
Blue Korhaan Eupodotis caerulescens
Red-crested Korhaan Lophotis ruficrista
Northern Black Korhaan Afrotis afraoides
Cuckoos (Cuculidae)
Burchell’s Coucal Centropus burchellii
Green Malkoha Ceuthmochares australis
Great Spotted Cuckoo Clamator glandarius
Levaillant’s Cuckoo Clamator levaillantii
Jacobin Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus
Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Klaas’s Cuckoo Chrysococcyx klaas
African Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx cupreus
Black Cuckoo Cuculus clamosus
Red-chested Cuckoo Cuculus solitarius
Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
Rock Dove Columba livia
Speckled Pigeon Columba guinea
African Olive Pigeon Columba arquatrix
Mourning Collared Dove Streptopelia decipiens
Red-eyed Dove Streptopelia semitorquata
Ring-necked Dove Streptopelia capicola
Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis
Emerald-spotted Wood Dove Turtur chalcospilos
Tambourine Dove Turtur tympanistria
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis
African Green Pigeon Treron calvus
Flufftails & Forest Rails (Sarothruridae)
Buff-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura elegans
Red-chested Flufftail Sarothrura rufa
Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)
African Rail Rallus caerulescens
Lesser Moorhen Paragallinula angulata
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata
African Swamphen Porphyrio madagascariensis
Black Crake Zapornia flavirostra
Cranes (Gruidae)
Grey Crowned Crane – EN Balearica regulorum
Wattled Crane – VU Grus carunculata
Blue Crane – VU Grus paradisea
Grebes (Podicipedidae)
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Flamingos (Phoenicopteridae)
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus
Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor
Buttonquail (Turnicidae)
Black-rumped Buttonquail Turnix nanus
Stone-curlews, Thick-knees (Burhinidae)
Water Thick-knee Burhinus vermiculatus
Spotted Thick-knee Burhinus capensis
Oystercatchers (Haematopodidae)
African Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini
Stilts, Avocets (Recurvirostridae)
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Plovers (Charadriidae)
Blacksmith Lapwing Vanellus armatus
White-crowned Lapwing Vanellus albiceps
Black-winged Lapwing Vanellus melanopterus
Crowned Lapwing Vanellus coronatus
African Wattled Lapwing Vanellus senegallus
Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
Kittlitz’s Plover Charadrius pecuarius
Three-banded Plover Charadrius tricollaris
White-fronted Plover Charadrius marginatus
Caspian Plover Charadrius asiaticus
Jacanas (Jacanidae)
African Jacana Actophilornis africanus
Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)
Eurasian Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
Sanderling Calidris alba
Little Stint Calidris minuta
African Snipe Gallinago nigripennis
Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Coursers, Pratincoles (Glareolidae)
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola
Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)
African Skimmer Rynchops flavirostris
Grey-headed Gull Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus
Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia
Greater Crested Tern Thalasseus bergii
Little Tern Sternula albifrons
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida
Storks (Ciconiidae)
African Openbill Anastomus lamelligerus
Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumenifer
Yellow-billed Stork Mycteria ibis
Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis
Black Stork Ciconia nigra
African Woolly-necked Stork Ciconia microscelis
Gannets, Boobies (Sulidae)
Cape Gannet – EN Morus capensis
Anhingas, Darters (Anhingidae)
African Darter Anhinga rufa
Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)
Reed Cormorant Microcarbo africanus
White-breasted Cormorant Phalacrocorax lucidus
Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)
African Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus
Southern Bald Ibis – VU Geronticus calvus
Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
African Spoonbill Platalea alba
Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus
White-backed Night Heron Gorsachius leuconotus
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Striated Heron Butorides striata
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
Rufous-bellied Heron Ardeola rufiventris
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala
Goliath Heron Ardea goliath
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Great Egret Ardea alba
Intermediate Egret Ardea intermedia
Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Hamerkop (Scopidae)
Hamerkop Scopus umbretta
Secretarybird (Sagittariidae)
Secretarybird – EN Sagittarius serpentarius
Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus
African Harrier-Hawk Polyboroides typus
Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis
Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus
White-backed Vulture – CR Gyps africanus
Cape Vulture – VU Gyps coprotheres
White-headed Vulture – CR Trigonoceps occipitalis
Black-chested Snake Eagle Circaetus pectoralis
Brown Snake Eagle Circaetus cinereus
Southern Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus fasciolatus
Bateleur – EN Terathopius ecaudatus
Bat Hawk Macheiramphus alcinus
Martial Eagle – EN Polemaetus bellicosus
Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis
Wahlberg’s Eagle Hieraaetus wahlbergi
Tawny Eagle – VU Aquila rapax
African Hawk-Eagle Aquila spilogaster
Dark Chanting Goshawk Melierax metabates
African Goshawk Accipiter tachiro
Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk Accipiter rufiventris
African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus
Yellow-billed Kite Milvus aegyptius
African Fish Eagle Icthyophaga vocifer
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Jackal Buzzard Buteo rufofuscus
Owls (Strigidae)
Pearl-spotted Owlet Glaucidium perlatum
Southern White-faced Owl Ptilopsis granti
Cape Eagle-Owl (H) Bubo capensis
Spotted Eagle-Owl Bubo africanus
African Wood Owl Strix woodfordii
Mousebirds (Coliidae)
Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus
Red-faced Mousebird Urocolius indicus
Trogons (Trogonidae)
Narina Trogon Apaloderma narina
Hoopoes (Upupidae)
African Hoopoe Upupa africana
Wood Hoopoes (Phoeniculidae)
Green Wood Hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus
Common Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus cyanomelas
Ground Hornbills (Bucorvidae)
Southern Ground Hornbill – VU (H) Bucorvus leadbeateri
Hornbills (Bucerotidae)
Southern Red-billed Hornbill Tockus rufirostris
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill Tockus leucomelas
Crowned Hornbill Lophoceros alboterminatus
African Grey Hornbill Lophoceros nasutus
Trumpeter Hornbill Bycanistes bucinator
Rollers (Coraciidae)
Purple Roller Coracias naevius
Lilac-breasted Roller Coracias caudatus
Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus
Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)
Brown-hooded Kingfisher Halcyon albiventris
Striped Kingfisher Halcyon chelicuti
Mangrove Kingfisher Halcyon senegaloides
African Pygmy Kingfisher Ispidina picta
Malachite Kingfisher Corythornis cristatus
Half-collared Kingfisher Alcedo semitorquata
Giant Kingfisher Megaceryle maxima
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
Bee-eaters (Meropidae)
Little Bee-eater Merops pusillus
White-fronted Bee-eater Merops bullockoides
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster
African Barbets (Lybiidae)
White-eared Barbet Stactolaema leucotis
Green Barbet Stactolaema olivacea
Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird – DD Pogoniulus bilineatus
Red-fronted Tinkerbird Pogoniulus pusillus
Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird Pogoniulus chrysoconus
Acacia Pied Barbet Tricholaema leucomelas
Black-collared Barbet Lybius torquatus
Crested Barbet Trachyphonus vaillantii
Honeyguides (Indicatoridae)
Brown-backed Honeybird Prodotiscus regulus
Lesser Honeyguide Indicator minor
Scaly-throated Honeyguide Indicator variegatus
Woodpeckers (Picidae)
Red-throated Wryneck Jynx ruficollis
Ground Woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceus
Golden-tailed Woodpecker Campethera abingoni
Bearded Woodpecker Chloropicus namaquus
Cardinal Woodpecker Dendropicos fuscescens
Olive Woodpecker Dendropicos griseocephalus
Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
Lanner Falcon Falco biarmicus
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus
African & New World Parrots (Psittacidae)
Brown-headed Parrot Poicephalus cryptoxanthus
Old World Parrots (Psittaculidae)
Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Wattle-eyes, Batises (Platysteiridae)
Cape Batis Batis capensis
Woodwards’ Batis Batis fratrum
Chinspot Batis Batis molitor
Black-throated Wattle-eye Platysteira peltata
Bushshrikes (Malaconotidae)
Grey-headed Bushshrike (H) Malaconotus blanchoti
Olive Bushshrike Chlorophoneus olivaceus
Orange-breasted Bushshrike Chlorophoneus sulfureopectus
Gorgeous Bushshrike Telophorus viridis
Bokmakierie Telophorus zeylonus
Brown-crowned Tchagra Tchagra australis
Southern Tchagra Tchagra tchagra
Black-crowned Tchagra Tchagra senegalus
Black-backed Puffback Dryoscopus cubla
Southern Boubou Laniarius ferrugineus
Crimson-breasted Shrike Laniarius atrococcineus
Brubru Nilaus afer
Vangas & Allies (Vangidae)
White-crested Helmetshrike Prionops plumatus
Cuckooshrikes (Campephagidae)
Grey Cuckooshrike Ceblepyris caesius
Black Cuckooshrike Campephaga flava
Figbirds, Old World Orioles, Piopios (Oriolidae)
Black-headed Oriole Oriolus larvatus
Drongos (Dicruridae)
Fork-tailed Drongo Dicrurus adsimilis
Square-tailed Drongo Dicrurus ludwigii
Monarchs (Monarchidae)
Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher Trochocercus cyanomelas
African Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone viridis
Shrikes (Laniidae)
Magpie Shrike Lanius melanoleucus
Southern Fiscal Lanius collaris
Crows, Jays (Corvidae)
Cape Crow Corvus capensis
Pied Crow Corvus albus
White-necked Raven Corvus albicollis
Rockjumpers (Chaetopidae)
Drakensberg Rockjumper Chaetops aurantius
Fairy Flycatchers (Stenostiridae)
Fairy Flycatcher Stenostira scita
Tits, Chickadees (Paridae)
Southern Black Tit Melaniparus niger
Grey Tit Melaniparus afer
Penduline Tits (Remizidae)
Grey Penduline Tit Anthoscopus caroli
Cape Penduline Tit Anthoscopus minutus
Nicators (Nicatoridae)
Eastern Nicator Nicator gularis
Larks (Alaudidae)
Spike-heeled Lark Chersomanes albofasciata
Eastern Long-billed Lark Certhilauda semitorquata
Sabota Lark Calendulauda sabota
Rudd’s Lark – EN Heteromirafra ruddi
Eastern Clapper Lark Mirafra fasciolata
Rufous-naped Lark Mirafra africana
Flappet Lark Mirafra rufocinnamomea
Melodious Lark Mirafra cheniana
Pink-billed Lark Spizocorys conirostris
Large-billed Lark Galerida magnirostris
Red-capped Lark Calandrella cinerea
Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae)
Sombre Greenbul Andropadus importunus
Yellow-bellied Greenbul Chlorocichla flaviventris
Terrestrial Brownbul Phyllastrephus terrestris
Yellow-streaked Greenbul Phyllastrephus flavostriatus
Dark-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus tricolor
Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)
Black Saw-wing Psalidoprocne pristoptera
Banded Martin Neophedina cincta
Brown-throated Martin Riparia paludicola
Grey-rumped Swallow Pseudhirundo griseopyga
Rock Martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula
Blue Swallow – VU Hirundo atrocaerulea
Pearl-breasted Swallow Hirundo dimidiata
White-throated Swallow Hirundo albigularis
Wire-tailed Swallow Hirundo smithii
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Western House Martin Delichon urbicum
Red-breasted Swallow Cecropis semirufa
Mosque Swallow Cecropis senegalensis
Lesser Striped Swallow Cecropis abyssinica
Greater Striped Swallow Cecropis cucullata
South African Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon spilodera
Crombecs, African Warblers (Macrosphenidae)
Cape Grassbird Sphenoeacus afer
Long-billed Crombec Sylvietta rufescens
Leaf Warblers (Phylloscopidae)
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus ruficapilla
Reed Warblers & Allies (Acrocephalidae)
Lesser Swamp Warbler Acrocephalus gracilirostris
Common Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
African Yellow Warbler Iduna natalensis
Grassbirds & Allies (Locustellidae)
Barratt’s Warbler Bradypterus barratti
Little Rush Warbler Bradypterus baboecala
Cisticolas & Allies (Cisticolidae)
Red-faced Cisticola Cisticola erythrops
Lazy Cisticola Cisticola aberrans
Rattling Cisticola Cisticola chiniana
Wailing Cisticola Cisticola lais
Rufous-winged Cisticola Cisticola galactotes
Levaillant’s Cisticola Cisticola tinniens
Neddicky Cisticola fulvicapilla
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Desert Cisticola Cisticola aridulus
Cloud Cisticola Cisticola textrix
Pale-crowned Cisticola Cisticola cinnamomeus
Wing-snapping Cisticola Cisticola ayresii
Tawny-flanked Prinia Prinia subflava
Black-chested Prinia Prinia flavicans
Karoo Prinia Prinia maculosa
Drakensberg Prinia Prinia hypoxantha
Bar-throated Apalis Apalis thoracica
Rudd’s Apalis Apalis ruddi
Yellow-breasted Apalis Apalis flavida
Green-backed Camaroptera Camaroptera brachyura
Grey-backed Camaroptera Camaroptera brevicaudata
Barred Wren-Warbler Calamonastes fasciolatus
Burnt-necked Eremomela Eremomela usticollis
Sylviid Babblers (Sylviidae)
Bush Blackcap – VU Sylvia nigricapillus
Layard’s Warbler Curruca layardi
Chestnut-vented Warbler Curruca subcoerulea
White-eyes (Zosteropidae)
Cape White-eye Zosterops virens
Southern Yellow White-eye Zosterops anderssoni
Laughingthrushes & Allies (Leiothrichidae)
Arrow-marked Babbler Turdoides jardineii
Southern Pied Babbler Turdoides bicolor
Sugarbirds (Promeropidae)
Gurney’s Sugarbird Promerops gurneyi
Starlings, Rhabdornises (Sturnidae)
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
Common Starling Sturnus vulgaris
Wattled Starling Creatophora cinerea
Black-bellied Starling Notopholia corusca
Cape Starling Lamprotornis nitens
Greater Blue-eared Starling Lamprotornis chalybaeus
Burchell’s Starling Lamprotornis australis
Pied Starling Lamprotornis bicolor
Violet-backed Starling Cinnyricinclus leucogaster
Red-winged Starling Onychognathus morio
Oxpeckers (Buphagidae)
Yellow-billed Oxpecker Buphagus africanus
Red-billed Oxpecker Buphagus erythrorynchus
Thrushes (Turdidae)
Spotted Ground Thrush – VU Geokichla guttata
Orange Ground Thrush Geokichla gurneyi
Groundscraper Thrush Turdus litsitsirupa
Olive Thrush Turdus olivaceus
Kurrichane Thrush Turdus libonyana
Karoo Thrush Turdus smithi
Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
Karoo Scrub Robin Cercotrichas coryphoeus
Brown Scrub Robin Cercotrichas signata
Bearded Scrub Robin Cercotrichas quadrivirgata
Kalahari Scrub Robin Cercotrichas paena
White-browed Scrub Robin Cercotrichas leucophrys
Pale Flycatcher Agricola pallidus
Grey Tit-Flycatcher Fraseria plumbea
Ashy Flycatcher Fraseria caerulescens
Southern Black Flycatcher Melaenornis pammelaina
Fiscal Flycatcher Sigelus silens
Marico Flycatcher Bradornis mariquensis
African Dusky Flycatcher Muscicapa adusta
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
White-starred Robin Pogonocichla stellata
White-browed Robin-Chat Cossypha heuglini
Chorister Robin-Chat Cossypha dichroa
Red-capped Robin-Chat Cossypha natalensis
White-throated Robin-Chat Dessonornis humeralis
Cape Robin-Chat Dessonornis caffer
Sentinel Rock Thrush Monticola explorator
Cape Rock Thrush Monticola rupestris
African Stonechat Saxicola torquatus
Buff-streaked Chat Campicoloides bifasciatus
Sickle-winged Chat Emarginata sinuata
Ant-eating Chat Myrmecocichla formicivora
Mountain Wheatear Myrmecocichla monticola
Capped Wheatear Oenanthe pileata
Familiar Chat Oenanthe familiaris
Sunbirds (Nectariniidae)
Collared Sunbird Hedydipna collaris
Olive Sunbird Cyanomitra olivacea
Grey Sunbird Cyanomitra veroxii
Amethyst Sunbird Chalcomitra amethystina
Scarlet-chested Sunbird Chalcomitra senegalensis
Malachite Sunbird Nectarinia famosa
Southern Double-collared Sunbird Cinnyris chalybeus
Neergaard’s Sunbird Cinnyris neergaardi
Greater Double-collared Sunbird Cinnyris afer
Marico Sunbird Cinnyris mariquensis
Purple-banded Sunbird Cinnyris bifasciatus
White-bellied Sunbird Cinnyris talatala
Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)
Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow Gymnoris superciliaris
Cape Sparrow Passer melanurus
Great Sparrow Passer motitensis
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow Passer diffusus
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Weavers, Widowbirds (Ploceidae)
Red-billed Buffalo Weaver Bubalornis niger
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali
Scaly-feathered Weaver Sporopipes squamifrons
Thick-billed Weaver Amblyospiza albifrons
Spectacled Weaver Ploceus ocularis
Cape Weaver Ploceus capensis
Eastern Golden Weaver Ploceus subaureus
Southern Brown-throated Weaver Ploceus xanthopterus
Lesser Masked Weaver Ploceus intermedius
Southern Masked Weaver Ploceus velatus
Village Weaver Ploceus cucullatus
Dark-backed Weaver Ploceus bicolor
Red-headed Weaver Anaplectes rubriceps
Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea
Southern Red Bishop Euplectes orix
Yellow Bishop Euplectes capensis
Fan-tailed Widowbird Euplectes axillaris
White-winged Widowbird Euplectes albonotatus
Red-collared Widowbird Euplectes ardens
Long-tailed Widowbird Euplectes progne
Waxbills, Munias & Allies (Estrildidae)
Bronze Mannikin Spermestes cucullata
Black-and-white Mannikin Spermestes bicolor
Swee Waxbill Coccopygia melanotis
Green Twinspot Mandingoa nitidula
Black-faced Waxbill Brunhilda erythronotos
Grey Waxbill Glaucestrilda perreini
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild
Quailfinch Ortygospiza atricollis
Orange-breasted Waxbill Amandava subflava
Violet-eared Waxbill Granatina granatina
Blue Waxbill Uraeginthus angolensis
Green-winged Pytilia Pytilia melba
Pink-throated Twinspot Hypargos margaritatus
Red-billed Firefinch Lagonosticta senegala
Jameson’s Firefinch Lagonosticta rhodopareia
Indigobirds, Whydahs (Viduidae)
Village Indigobird Vidua chalybeata
Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura
Shaft-tailed Whydah Vidua regia
Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)
Cape Wagtail Motacilla capensis
African Pied Wagtail Motacilla aguimp
Cape Longclaw Macronyx capensis
Yellow-throated Longclaw Macronyx croceus
African Pipit Anthus cinnamomeus
Mountain Pipit Anthus hoeschi
Nicholson’s Pipit Anthus nicholsoni
Striped Pipit Anthus lineiventris
African Rock Pipit Anthus crenatus
Yellow-breasted Pipit – VU Anthus chloris
Finches, Euphonias (Fringillidae)
Forest Canary Crithagra scotops
Black-throated Canary Crithagra atrogularis
Lemon-breasted Canary (H) Crithagra citrinipectus
Yellow-fronted Canary Crithagra mozambica
Drakensberg Siskin Crithagra symonsi
Yellow Canary Crithagra flaviventris
Brimstone Canary Crithagra sulphurata
Streaky-headed Seedeater Crithagra gularis
Cape Canary Serinus canicollis
Buntings (Emberizidae)
Cape Bunting Emberiza capensis
Golden-breasted Bunting Emberiza flaviventris
Species seen: 444
Species heard: 7
Total recorded: 451

Mammal List

The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following the IUCN Red List:
EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable.

Common name Scientific name
Hyraxes (Procaviidae)
Rock Hyrax Procavia capensis
Elephants (Elephantidae)
African Elephant – EN Loxodonta africana
Rabbits and Hares (Leporidae)
Scrub Hare Lepus saxatilis
Squirrels and Relatives (Sciuridae)
Smith’s Bush Squirrel Paraxerus cepapi
Red Bush Squirrel Paraxerus palliatus
Old World Mice, Rats and Gerbils (Muridae)
Sloggett’s Vlei Rat Otomys sloggetti
Bushbabies (Galagidae)
Southern Lesser Galago Galago moholi
Old World Monkeys (Cercopithecidae)
Chacma Baboon Papio ursinus
Vervet Chlorocebus pygerythrus
Blue Monkey Cercopithecus mitis
Bats (Chiroptera)
Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bat Epomophorus wahlbergi
Cats (Felidae)
Lion – VU Panthera leo
Leopard – VU Panthera pardus
Hyaenas and Aardwolf (Hyaenidae)
Spotted Hyaena Crocuta crocuta
Mongooses and Fossa (Herpestidae)
Yellow Mongoose Cynictis penicillata
White-tailed Mongoose Ichneumia albicauda
Slender Mongoose Herpestes sanguineus
Meerkat Suricata suricatta
Common Dwarf Mongoose Helogale parvula
Banded Mongoose Mungos mungo
Canids (Canidae)
Side-striped Jackal Lupulella adustus
Black-backed Jackal Lupulella mesomelas
African Wild Dog – EN Lycaon pictus
Mustelids (Mustelidae)
Spotted-necked Otter Hydrictis maculicollis
Horses, Asses and Zebras (Equidae)
Plains Zebra Equus quagga
Rhinoceroses (Rhinocerotidae)
White Rhinoceros Ceratotherium simum
Hogs and Pigs (Suidae)
Common Warthog Phacochoerus africanus
Hippopotamuses (Hippopotamidae)
Hippopotamus – VU Hippopotamus amphibius
Bovids (Bovidae)
African Buffalo Syncerus caffer
Nyala Tragelaphus angasii
Cape Bushbuck Tragelaphus sylvaticus
Greater Kudu Tragelaphus strepsiceros
Impala Aepyceros melampus
Steenbok Raphicerus campestris
Southern Reedbuck Redunca arundinum
Mountain Reedbuck – EN Redunca fulvorufula
Waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus
Grey Rhebok Pelea capreolus
Hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus
Blesbok Damaliscus pygargus
Common Wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus
Common Duiker Sylvicapra grimmia
Blue Duiker Philantomba monticola
Natal Red Duiker Cephalophus natalensis
Klipspringer Oreotragus oreotragus
Giraffes and Okapis (Giraffidae)
Southern Giraffe Giraffa giraffa
Rorquals (Balaenopteridae)
Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae
Species seen: 47
Total recorded: 47

Reptile List

Common name Scientific name
Crocodiles (Crocodylidae)
Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus
Colubrids (Colubridae)
Spotted Bush Snake Philothamnus semivariegatus
Chameleons (Chamaeleonidae)
Flap-necked Chameleon Chamaeleo dilepis
Skinks (Scincidae)
Rainbow Mabuya Trachylepis margaritifera
Tortoises (Testudinidae)
Leopard Tortoise Stigmochelys pardalis
African Side-necked Turtles (Pelomedusidae)
Cape Terrapin Pelomedusa galeata
Species seen: 6
Total recorded: 6

DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT

This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.

 

SOUTH AFRICA: GENERAL INFORMATION

 

OUR SOUTH AFRICAN BIRDING TOURS

We currently (at the time of updating this general information document, i.e. 16 March 2022) have six exciting set departure South African birding tours. These cover all of the country’s important birding regions, provide opportunities for you to see most of the country’s many endemics and specials, plus lots of mammals, spectacular scenery, and more. Our South African birding tours are as follows:

  1. Best of Cape Town and Beyond
  2. Subtropical South Africa
  3. Western South Africa: Cape Endemics, Namaqualand Wildflowers and the Kalahari
  4. Premium Kruger and Escarpment Birding and Wildlife Safari
  5. The Kalahari – Mammals and Birding
  6. Photo Tour: Western Cape to Kruger National Park

 

We also offer a number of South African birding day tours, if you only have a day or two to spare around one of the major cities, such as Johannesburg or Cape Town.

 

PASSPORT AND VISA

Your passport must be valid for a period of at least six months after the date of your arrival in South Africa. Please make sure that there is at least one full empty page available in your passport. Please make sure that you also bring a photocopy of your passport, to be kept in a different location from your passport, in case of loss. Visas are generally not required but please check for your nationality.

 

TRAVEL INSURANCE

We require (see Birding Tours Terms and Conditions – Birding Ecotours) that you purchase trip cancellation insurance in case you have to cancel due to illness just prior to the tour departure date, to protect yourself against accidents, medical, illness, loss of valuables, luggage etc. and travel interruptions or delays of all kinds. Allianz Travel and Generali Global Assistance are two options to consider.

 

HEALTH/MALARIA

Please carefully read the Center for Disease Control (CDC) information for travelers to South Africa (or your government’s equivalent health travel advice for South Africa). Below we have mentioned a couple of specific items but first and foremost kindly be advised by the updated information at the above link.

No vaccinations are required for South Africa however it is recommended that you are up to date with Hepatitis A and B, tetanus and polio. Please keep in mind that if you have not had any of these, one should make sure that you have been inoculated at least 6 weeks prior to your trip to take full effect

Malaria

We strongly recommend anti-malaria drugs for the Zululand and Kruger National Park portions of the subtropical South Africa tour and some other eastern South Africa tours of ours – when we’ll be in malaria areas. Any one of the following three drugs are highly affective (albeit not 100 %, due to resistant strains of malaria) as malaria preventative measures:

MalaroneÒ (atovaquone/proguanil),

Doxycyxline, and

LariumÒ (mefloquine).

Mosquito repellant, long trousers/jeans and long-sleeved shirts, particularly at night when malaria (Anopheles) mosquitos bite, are advised, in addition to the drugs.

In the unlikely event that one still contracts malaria after taking anti-malaria drugs and other precautions, the disease can still be easily treated if diagnosed soon after symptoms develop: suspect malaria if flu-like symptoms develop within a few months of visiting South Africa. If it is malaria, it can be treated with an alternative to the prophylactic that you chose.

There is no malaria in the Western or Northern Cape Provinces so our Cape trips do not pose a malaria issue.

 

MEDICAL CONDITIONS

Please make sure that you are covered with medical insurance in case of an emergency while on these trips. Without insurance the cost of medical care can be extremely high. Please notify us at the time of registering for the tour of any medical conditions you think we should know about (including allergies, heart conditions, epilepsy, etc.). This will greatly help us to cater to your needs.

 

WATER / FOOD

South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa where it is safe to drink the water in the major cities, eat unpeeled fresh vegetables and salads. However, we provide unlimited bottled water in the tour vehicles, and you are welcome to take water from the vehicle for evenings when not provided in the hotel rooms. More expensive bottled water at restaurants is excluded from the tour cost and is for your account, but (again) you can take water from our tour vehicle whenever you want.

 

CURRENCY AND MONEY

South Africa uses rands (ZAR or simply R) with notes representing R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10 and coins representing R5, R2, R1, 50 cents, 20 cents and 10 cents.

Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted and to a lesser extent American Express, including for drawing cash from ATMs. Note: US and Canadian dollars, pound sterling and euros cannot be used for purchases. We will be able to exchange or draw money at the airport upon our arrival, and regularly during the tours.

 

PELAGIC TRIP PREPARATION

This applies to our Cape Town pelagic trips. Please note that by request we also arrange one-day pelagic trips in Mozambique, Namibia, Australia, New Zealand, the USA, etc., and these notes generally apply for those as well.  A pelagic trip is run over the course of one day (or sometimes a half day) and involves heading out into the open ocean in search of various species only occurring out at sea. While this is a truly spectacular adventure, one must remember that we are always at the mercy of the ever-changing sea conditions.

The vessel will depart from the specified port around sunrise and venture out into the ocean for usually a maximum distance of 30 nautical miles (55 kilometers) from land. Off southern Africa this is usually the ‘drop zone’, where deep water is present and many fishing vessels operate. On a pelagic trip we strive to try and find a fishing vessel, whether it be a trawler or a longliner, as they attract huge masses of birds. We spend quite a large part of the day out at sea (depending on weather and sea conditions) and return to our port of departure in the afternoon (usually any time between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m.). We provide a light lunch on board with various snacks, eats, and drinks, although if you should want anything specific, we recommend that you bring it yourself.

A pelagic trip is booked over two consecutive days (usually a weekend). The first day is used as the primary day, but should the previous day’s weather forecast indicate that sea and/or weather conditions will prove more adverse on the first day, yet better on the second day, the pelagic trip will go ahead on the second day. However, it is possible that the trip may not go ahead at all due to adverse conditions over the entire two-day period. This is, unfortunately, not something we can predict and reliably confirm far in advance, and we are at the mercy of the weather/sea conditions and the word from our very experienced skippers, who ultimately give the final approval. Your safety on board the vessel is of paramount importance to us, and should the conditions of the sea prove to be too dangerous, the vessel will not go out. The pelagic trip is confirmed by the skipper, either way, a few days before it is due to depart. We will keep you informed about the decision.

What you will require:

  • Most important is a waterproof layer of clothing. There is often wind out at sea, and it blowing off the swells creates some spray. It is very easy to get wet on board, especially while heading out to the trawling grounds and returning back to port.
  • Layered and warm clothing. No matter the conditions predicted, whether it be sun or cloud, it can get cold out at sea, and bringing warm clothing is advised. It is also recommended to bring layered clothing, so that you can remove/add on as the conditions change. Sometimes it gets hot, so one needs to be prepared for this too (hence the need for layers).
  • Applying sun lotion or anti-sunburn cream is recommended, no matter the conditions. It is very easy to get badly burnt out at sea, whether it be a sunny or cloudy day. Sunglasses are also vital.
  • It is recommended to bring a hat that can be fastened to your head to prevent it from being blown away. Sunglasses are also recommended, as the glare from the ocean can be very bad at times, but note that it is very easy to lose a pair of sunglasses, and they will invariably pick up some spray from the ocean.
  • Due to the nature of the pelagic trip, water/spray invariably gets on board the vessel, and it is very easy to get your feet completely wet. Either waterproof hiking boots, or sturdy Teva-type sandals that can be fastened to your feet are recommended.
  • Anti-seasickness medication. Not everyone is affected by seasickness, but it is a very unpleasant experience should you get seasick. Various tablets, such as Stugeron, are recommended. Should you be prone to seasickness, it might be worth consulting your local pharmacist for stronger medication. Some seasickness pills make one very drowsy, so do consult a doctor and ask her/him as many questions as possible, before deciding.
  • Binoculars and cameras are recommended (as in any birding excursion), but again please note that they can very easily get wet and could get damaged as a result. A covering over your camera is advised.

Further information on pelagic birding can be found here.

 

WEATHER

South Africa is a land of great physical contrasts, from mountains and forests to grasslands and semi-deserts. October, when many of our tours run, is spring so we can get elements of winter or summer weather – with luck the weather will be mild throughout!  It is usually mild to warm or even hot at this time of the year and maximum temperatures can vary from about 68–86 oF (20–30 oC). Nights should be mild but there is a very small chance of temperatures slightly below freezing (32 oF) especially while at elevation in the Drakensberg (e.g. Dullstroom and Lesotho) – snow is even possible. So please be prepared for ALL weather possibilities, from a little below freezing to quite hot. Spring is unpredictable.

The Cape has winter rain – so we should miss rain there as we will be there in spring however rain can sometimes continue into spring too! Subtropical South Africa has summer thunderstorms, so we may experience these but often the rains only start in November or December – October is the end of the dry season over most of South Africa, except the Cape! But please be prepared for rain, even though there is not likely to be much.

The Cape pelagic trip can be cold and wet, or warm and very sunny, so be prepared with layers of clothing, waterproofing, as well as sunglasses and sunblock/sunscreen (reflection off the sea can burn eyes and skin severely).

Please note that on our 2018 tour we had at least one Canadian person finding it colder than expected in the Cape (in October, so spring) – there was late “winter-type” weather this year. Accommodations are often not heated like they are in North America, Europe, etc. Kindly be prepared for all kinds of weather, from cold to hot.

 

ELECTRICITY

The standard voltage in South Africa is 220–240 V. If you intend to recharge video batteries etc. in your hotel room you will need an international adapter (South Africa mostly uses Type D – 3 round prongs in a triangular pattern, but also uses Types M and N, see here for further details and photos). Lighting tends to be low wattage, so you might like to bring a good quality torch/flashlight if you like reading in bed! A good torch will also be useful if you fancy joining us for a night walk or drive. If you intend to do any trips, you’d be advised to bring at least one good torch preferably with a good beam.  All the places we will stay at will have electrical outlets for chargers and laptops.

Note: Please check all equipment that you plan on charging to see if it is 110/120 to 220/240 V compatible. If that is the case, you only need an adaptor to plug US plugs into. If your equipment is only listed as 110-120 V then you will need a converter to convert the electric current to 220–240 V.

 

LENGTH OF DRIVES

There are a couple of days in which there are long drives – say 5 hours, without stops, however most days involve far less traveling. In the Kruger National Park, it is illegal to alight from one’s vehicle because of the presence of large, dangerous animals such as lions and elephants, so we are restricted to the vehicle except at picnic areas and rest camps. In the Kruger National Park and Mkhuze Game Reserve, we do thus spend most of the day in the vehicle, but we also spend time doing birding walks around the rest camps (and picnic areas).

Some roads can be dusty so please consider bringing a scarf or other measures in case you’re birding along an unpaved road and a car goes past putting up dust. Dust is a particular issue on our Cape Town and Beyond birding tour, when birding in the Tankwa Karoo.

 

WHAT TO BRING


Clothing

Casual and informal dress is fine in the hotels. Loose lightweight field clothing works best, with a warm fleece or jacket for cooler weather. Shorts and T-shirts are fine – it’s what the locals wear! You will also need to bring some warmer clothing, certainly a minimum of a warm fleece and a rain jacket. Rain is always a possibility, so an umbrella and or rain gear is always useful to have. Early mornings can feel a bit chilly in some areas so come prepared, especially in the Drakensberg/Lesotho/Dullstroom which is at relatively high altitudes.

Sunglasses, sunhat and sunscreen (rated SPF 30 or higher) are essential. A pair of trousers or a long skirt, and a long-sleeved shirt should be included to help protect against forest vegetation and the sun. Swimwear can be brought as there are swimming pools at some of the lodges.

We would recommend lightweight walking boots for when out on foot. You might like to consider sandals/tevas for use in the safari vehicles and for walking between your room and restaurant in the hotels and lodges.

Do not forget – BINOCULARS, prescription drugs (also bring the generic names for these drugs), toiletries, prescription glasses (and a spare pair), insect repellant, camera, flashlight, batteries (for electronic equipment and chargers for the re-chargeable batteries), converter plug set, if needed (the electricity supply is 220 V, 50 Hz) and plug adaptors, alarm clock, mosquito repellant, money pouch, field guide(s),  soft-sided duffle style luggage is recommended (hard-sided luggage is not always ideal), daypack/backpack, and your favorite road snacks!

Key documents and cash – Passports, your travel or health insurance cards (you can send us copies to file in case of emergency), credit cards – Visa and Mastercard are best in South Africa – see above, US dollars, euro or pounds can be exchanged into rands if you prefer not to simply draw from ATMs, cash for drinks, gifts, tips, items of a personal nature etc.

 

LUGGAGE

Due to restricted space in the vehicles, please pack as lightly as possible. A medium-sized, soft-sided duffle bag (not the hard-sided cases) works best for packing in the vehicles. This allows us to better fit the bags. Please bring a daypack to keep items that you wish to use or need on a daily basis.

 

Download South African General Information

This was an eventful tour, with a rapid pace. It covered a diverse array of habitats across eastern South Africa, and therefore we saw a lot of species. We were lucky enough to see leopards and wild dogs in Kruger National Park, a variety of larks and other grassland birds, two flufftail species, and many others. I had never been to Africa before, and this tour provided me with a great overview of the eastern half of the country, its environments, and its birds.

Bill - On Subtropical South Africa

For birders wishing to explore a wide variety of habitats, from Kruger National Park to a range of wetlands and ascent to Lesotho via the Sani Pass, this tour offers a wonderful birding experience with some 400+ species to be encountered. The itinerary has been very well thought-out and gives participants maximum opportunity to see a great range of species in a relatively short time.

David - On Subtropical South Africa

I would highly recommend the South Africa Comprehensive Eastern Tour. The entire trip was wonderful – seeing an amazing number of fantastic birds, seeing up close some of the great mammals of the world, and meeting some really wonderful people. The lodging and food were top-notch, and where it was more rustic it was always clean and unique.

Sue - On Subtropical South Africa

The Subtropical South Africa tour was an action-packed trip full of amazing birds and mammals. The accommodation was great and left us wishing we could spend more time at these wonderful places.

Maria - On Subtropical South Africa

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