Birding Tour South Africa: Flock to Marion and IOCongress – KwaZulu-Natal Extensions
Dates and Costs
01-09 February 2022
R25,626 / $1,686 / £1,273 / €1,495 per person sharing, assuming 5-8 paying participants (there will be a surcharge for smaller groups)
R9,926 / $653 / £492 / €580 per person sharing, assuming 5-8 paying participants (there will be a surcharge for smaller groups)
6-day trips R3,600 / $237 / £179 / €210
3-day trips R1,400 / $92 / £69 / €82
* 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.
05-29 August 2022
Provisionally closed for new bookings –
do e-mail us ([email protected]) if you want to be waitlisted, added to a similar 2022 tour we still have openings for, or if you have a group of 4-8 and want a bespoke version of this birding tour.
(Please also read our blogs about recommended field guides for the seven continents here)
Duration: 6 or 3 days
Group Size: 5 – 8
Tour Start: Durban
Tour End: Durban
Personal expenses such as gifts
Featured Guide:Dominic Rollinson
Flock to Marion and IOCongress – KwaZulu-Natal Extensions February/August 2022
Flock to Marion 2022
Flock to Marion is an incredible opportunity. Please book this amazing value trip to a remote sub-Antarctic Island directly with BirdLife South Africa here. Please also see our blog about Flock to Marion here. This cruise starts in Cape Town on 24 January 2022 and ends in Durban on 31 January 2022. Birding Ecotours is offering a series of pre-trips to this cruise in the Western Cape, detailed here, and two post-tours to this cruise in KwaZulu-Natal, detailed below as well as our Highveld/Johannesburg extensions, detailed here.
Drakensberg Rockjumper can be seen at high altitude in the Drakensberg.
International Ornithological Congress 2022
The IOC Congress from 14-20 August 2022 is coming to South Africa, specifically Durban, and we’re offering the same pre-tours and extensions in the Western Cape and in KwaZulu-Natal as we’re offering for Flock to Marion. The KwaZulu-Natal tours are shown below the Highveld/Johannesburg extensions here and the Cape tours are shown here.
Birding Ecotours is offering two post-Flock terrestrial birding tours targeting KwaZulu-Natal and Drakensberg endemics and specials, a 3-day tour to the Drakensberg followed by a 6-day tour around Zululand. If you join both trips you’ll basically have birded the area for most of its important specials, but you can also join either tour as a stand-alone trip. These are conservation trips, and we donate a percentage per trip to BirdLife South Africa for their conservation work; the percentage increases as the number of tour participants increases.
We are also running bird-photography-based versions of these same tours; when booking please specify if your emphasis is on photography and we’ll add you to that group.
Details of each KwaZulu-Natal post-Flock trip are shown below:
Tour 1, Natal Midlands, Sani Pass, and Lesotho endemics 01-03 February 2022, 11-13 August,
and 21-23 August 2022
Price R9,926 per person, assuming 5-8 paying participants (there will be a surcharge for smaller groups), single supplement R1,400
(The 01-03 February 2022 trip is provisionally FULL but we have added a 2nd departure on the same dates which has limited spaces left so please kindly book ASAP to avoid disappointment)
Special requirements are passport and a warm jacket/waterproof in case of bad weather in the highlands. We’ll fetch you from Durban and transfer through the Natal Midlands to Himeville (gateway to the Sani Pass), where you will spend two nights. Within two days you’ll ascend from sea level to over 3000 meters.
Day 1. Durban to Himeville, overnight Himeville
After collection we drive to the midlands, passing through the forest to an arboretum. As we pass through grassland areas we have the chance of seeing Blue, Grey Crowned, and Wattled Cranes. Long-tailed Widowbird is common, while hillsides provide a chance for Buff-streaked Chat and Wailing Cisticola. A forest patch gives an opportunity for Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Knysna Turaco, Olive Woodpecker, Forest Canary, and Olive Bushshrike. At the arboretum we will search for Orange Ground Thrush (the best place in South Africa to search for this elusive species) and Lemon Dove.
Forest Canary is a colorful South African endemic.
Day 2. Sani Pass and Lesotho, overnight Himeville
An early start will take us up South Africa’s most spectacular pass, the Sani Pass. It is one of the world’s most exciting birding routes, which provides opportunities for four of the most-restricted-range species in Southern Africa: Drakensberg Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin, Mountain Pipit, and Bearded Vulture.
We begin at wetlands close to Himeville, looking for Half-collared Kingfisher and African Yellow Warbler. We will stop for Bush Blackcap, Drakensberg Prinia, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Red-throated Wryneck, Brown-backed Honeyguide, and other denizens of the lower reaches of this pass. Higher up the vegetation changes from Ouhout thickets to Protea savanna and grassland, where Ground Woodpecker, Gurney’s Sugarbird, and the superb Malachite Sunbird are quite common. Depending on early summer rains and burning, there is a chance of Fan-tailed Grassbird and the very difficult Short-tailed Pipit.
As we go higher we will search for Barratt’s Warbler, the Sani Pass being one of the best places to find this species. Higher altitudes above the treeline, just before reaching the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho, are perhaps the most exciting part, as the charismatic Drakensberg Rockjumper and Drakensberg Siskin start putting in an appearance. As we cross the border into Lesotho we earnestly start looking for the truly magnificent Bearded Vulture, along with Sentinel Rock Thrush and Mountain Pipit. Several Karroo species reach the north-eastern edge of their range here, including Grey Tit, Fairy Flycatcher, African Rock Pipit and Layard’s Warbler. At any altitude we could encounter the beautiful, scarce, and localized Southern Bald Ibis.
We return to Himeville for the night.
Southern Bald Ibis is fairly common in the Drakensberg Mountains.
Day 3. Natal Midland forests and grasslands, return to Durban
Another early start takes us to another forest, where we target Cape Parrot and also White-starred Robin and Chorister Robin-Chat. Careful searching may produce Olive Bushshrike, Grey Cuckooshrike, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, and even Lazy Cisticola on the edge. And with luck, perhaps, we’ll see African Goshawk or Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk overheard.
We continue to Highover Wildlife Sanctuary to try for the rare Blue Swallow and other cryptic and difficult species. In the grasslands we will search for Black-rumped Buttonquail, Fan-tailed Grassbird, and Black-winged Lapwing, as always dependent on conditions. Other sightings might include Pale-crowned Cisticola or Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk overhead.
We then proceed back to Durban, where we’ll arrive at around 6 p.m.
Tour 2: Zululand and Wakkerstroom 04-08 February 2022, and Zululand 05-10 August 2022,
and 24-29 August 2022
Price: R25,900 per person, assuming 4-8 paying participants, single supplement R2,700, for the 5-day Zululand and Wakkerstroom trip in February, the August trips are now closed to new bookings
(4 places left on 04-08 February 2022 trip)
The itinerary shown here was for the original tour which has now been shortened, please e-mail [email protected] for details.
Day 1. Durban to Dlinza, Ongoye, and Mtunzini, overnight Eshowe
We will collect you between 5:30 and 6:30 a.m. from wherever you’re staying in Durban, then transfer to Eshowe. We will begin at Dlinza Forest, an incredibly exciting mid-altitude birding forest. We’ll be looking for such star birds as Spotted Ground Thrush and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon. Other targets include Red-backed Mannikin, Green Twinspot, Yellow-rumped and Red-fronted Tinkerbirds, Grey Cuckooshrike, Trumpeter Hornbill, Ashy Flycatcher, White-eared Barbet, and Narina Trogon. The forest is a great spot for the diminutive Blue Duiker.
From here we transfer to the fabled Ongoye Forest, looking for Striped Pipit en route. The prime target here is Green Barbet, a subspecies (“Woodward’s Barbet”) occurring only in this forest and disjunctively on the Rondo Plateau in southeastern Tanzania, but we will also pursue African Emerald Cuckoo, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, and Yellow-streaked Greenbul. Occasionally Black-rumped Buttonquail flushes from the lush rolling grasslands surrounding the forest, and we will search for Fan-tailed Grassbird (Broad-tailed Warbler).
We’ll also visit humid coastal areas such as Amatikulu Nature Reserve and the Raffia Palm Monument near Mtunzini. Here we hope to find species such as Palm-nut Vulture, Swamp Nightjar, Green Twinspot, Grey Waxbill, Red-backed Mannikin, and a host of others.
Dlinza Forest holds good numbers of Spotted Ground Thrush.
Day 2. Dlinza to St Lucia, estuary, night drive, overnight St Lucia
We head northward to the wild town of St Lucia, where we’ll spend a further two nights. Here Hippopotamus sometimes roams the streets at night and Thick-tailed Greater Galago (Bushbaby) makes its loud call at night from trees lining the main road.
Stopping on the St Lucia bridge we search for Eastern Golden and Southern Brown-throated Weavers and perhaps Blue-cheeked Bee-eater. We’ll spend time birding the forest patches around the village, searching for the endemic Rudd’s Apalis, Brown Scrub Robin, and Woodward’s Batis. We expect to find such amazing birds as the magnificent Livingstone’s Turaco, Purple-banded Sunbird, Green Malkoha, Crested Guineafowl, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Green Twinspot, Grey Waxbill, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Southern Yellow White-eye, and perhaps Buff-spotted Flufftail (of course more easily heard than seen, but this is one of the better areas to get visuals on this mega-skulker).
We will take an afternoon trip to St Lucia Estuary to search for waterbirds such as Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans, Yellow-billed Stork, Pied Avocet, Caspian Tern, and Hottentot Teal. This site is a hotspot for vagrants, and with good fortune we might tick a vagrant tern or wader.
In the evening we will take a night drive along the Eastern Shores of St Lucia in an open safari vehicle, using spot lights; this is great for mammal viewing including Common Reedbuck, Waterbuck, African Buffalo, the legendary Aardvark (rarely), Serval, and Hippopotamus (feeding on land), with chances of Water Thick-knee and Swamp Nightjar.
Rudd’s Apalis is fairly common in the right habitat in Zululand.
Day 3. Eastern Shores of St Lucia, overnight St Lucia
An early morning departure takes us up the Eastern Shores. This part of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an unforgettable experience for its scenery, habitats, and biota. In most austral summers the pans offer chances of great species such as Collared Pratincole, Fulvous Duck, Senegal Lapwing, White-backed Duck, Rufous-winged Cisticola, and Lesser Jacana. This is the best place in southern Africa to search for Southern Banded Snake Eagle and its more common relative, Brown Snake Eagle.
Lesser Jacana can be seen on seasonally flooded pans in Zululand.
We progress through wonderful countryside of coastal grasslands interlaced with freshwater pans to the dune forests on 200-meter-high sand dunes. Here Red Duiker, Bushbuck, and Samango Monkey are common. These forests also host east coast specials such as Green Twinspot, Woodward’s Batis, Rudd’s Apalis, and Green Malkoha.
At night we will search the surrounding forests for Thick-tailed Greater Galago (Bushbaby) and African Wood Owl.
Day 4. St Lucia to Mkhuze, overnight Msunduze
An early morning departure from St Lucia takes us to False Bay Park, another part of the extensive iSimangaliso Wetland Park, searching en route for the localized endemic Lemon-breasted Canary. We hope to get to False Bay Park early to search for a rich trove of species. There is the iconic African Broadbill, the endemic and stunningly pretty Pink-throated Twinspot, the endemic Neergaard’s Sunbird, and a swathe of other species such as White-throated Robin-Chat, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Grey Sunbird, Eastern Nicator, Pale Flycatcher, and Bearded Scrub Robin.
In the afternoon we’ll likely bird the northern edge of Lake St Lucia which has great wetland and sand forest birding. Here we’ll hope for specials such as Rosy-throated Longclaw, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Eastern Nicator and an assortment of waterbirds, and perhaps any rarities which are often on offer in the area.
We’ll then proceed to our overnight accommodation, set within Kuleni Game Park.
Day 5. Mkhuze Game Reserve birding
Again, we have a very early start and head to Mkhuze Game Reserve where we’ll spend the day enjoying the birds and wildlife of this fantastic reserve. Mkhuze is a mega-diverse part of the world, and our bird list should also include a spectacular number of more common bushveld birds in addition to the very localized species which are our main targets. Here too a range of mammal species can be enjoyed, including Nyala and the rarely seen Suni.
At Mkhuze we can find the endemic Neergaard’s Sunbird, but there is also a rich haul of species such as Pink-throated Twinspot, Crested Guineafowl, Eastern Nicator, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Woodland Kingfisher, Bearded Woodpecker, Burnt-necked Eremomela, and Black-bellied Bustard.
African Broadbill occurs in low densities in northern Zululand.
On our way back to our accommodation in the afternoon we will bird Muzi Swamps which often shelters Goliath Heron, Black Heron, Saddle-billed Stork (uncommon), African Openbill, and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater.
Day 6. Kuleni Game Park birding and departure for Wakkerstroom
We will have the morning to hopefully mop up on any specials we may still be missing and will then either depart for our Highveld Extension in Wakkerstroom or organize transfers back to Durban for your evening flights.