South Africa Birding and Photo Tour – Western Cape to Kruger National Park
South Africa Birding and Photo Tour – Western Cape to Kruger National Park
South Africa’s Western Cape Province is stunningly beautiful and hugely varied – from rocky sea cliffs and impressive mountains rising straight out of the sea to everything from moist temperate forests to semi-desert, peaceful lakes, and a great deal more.
The stunning Southern Double-collared Sunbird will be a highlight in the Cape area.
We begin our South Africa birding and photo tour in one of the world’s most scenically spectacular cities, Cape Town. The growth of this city is constrained by imposing geographical features – Table Mountain, the Cape of Good Hope, and of course the sea – the whole of Cape Town is on a stunning-looking peninsula that was once an island. The Cape Peninsula is full of localized endemics restricted to the world’s most plant-diverse floral kingdom, the Fynbos Biome (which has more plant species per unit area than even the Amazon). Some of these endemic birds restricted to the fynbos biome are dazzling; they include the likes of Orange-breasted Sunbird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird with its incredibly long tail, and many others. The nearby False Bay coast hosts one of the Cape’s most sought-after birds, the charismatic Cape Rockjumper – along with Cape Rock Thrush, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Ground Woodpecker, and many others. We’ll also look for seabirds, such as African Penguin, Cape Gannet, and more. The Cape is also famed for whale watching – Southern Right Whales in particular come very close inshore (seasonal).
Cape Rockjumper is one of the most prized birds on this tour!
After a few days around Cape Town itself we head to the West Coast, which is much drier and has a whole new suite of birds (and other wildlife) which we will try to photograph. In the West Coast National Park and other great sites, we hope to encounter Common Ostrich, Black Harrier, Southern Black Korhaan, Cape Penduline Tit, Grey-winged Francolin, and other stunning (and often very localized) birds. We will also look for new mammals, such as the West Coast endemic Heaviside’s Dolphin, the strange Rock Hyrax (which looks like a large rodent but is more closely related to elephants), and others.
We then head inland to the Karoo semi-desert. This area has even more endemics than the Cape Peninsula (Fynbos Biome), and we will look for and try to photograph various larks, Black-headed Canary and other canaries, Karoo Korhaan, Ludwig’s Bustard, and all the others. There is also a chance of encountering some great mammals, which could even include something like a Caracal or Aardvark (both these require a huge dose of luck).
Eventually we head back to the coast – but this time the East Coast. After crossing imposing mountain ranges, which form rain-shadows that actually create the semi-desert we have just visited, we fairly abruptly find ourselves in a different world in amazing contrast to the arid Karoo – here we see green forests and beautiful lakes. This is the Garden Route – an idyllic area you truly will not want to leave. You could spend two weeks just here, photographing birds and other wildlife and of course the stunning scenery. However, the aim of this tour is to introduce you to the diverse habitats of the entire Western Cape Province. We do this at a pace suited to wildlife photography, though, and rush around a bit less than on one of our standard birding tours.
En route to the Garden Route, in the Agulhas Plains, we have a great chance at finding the fine-looking Cape Mountain Zebra, the striking Bontebok, and many wondrous birds such as Secretarybird, White Stork, Denham’s Bustard, loads of Blue Cranes (South Africa’s stunning national bird), some localized endemics such as Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Cape Clapper Lark, Southern Tchagra, and, as always, loads more. In the Garden Route itself we’ll probably find the jewel-like Half-collared Kingfisher, the gorgeous (there is no better word for it) Knysna Turaco with its green body and scarlet underwings, and a rich diversity of other birds – plus some nice mammals, as always.
Getting good photos of Knysna Turaco will be one of our major objectives in the Garden Route.
From the Garden Route we fly to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, and begin the second part of this exciting photo trip. Here we spend five days at one of Africa’s greatest game parks, the Kruger National Park. We have a good chance of photographing the “Big Five” as well as a host of other, smaller mammals. Kruger is one of the richest national parks for mammals on the entire African continent. What’s more, it also has over 500 bird species, most of which are extremely easy to see in the dry woodlands and savanna – you will see multiple species of brightly colored and spectacular rollers, bee-eaters, storks, eagles, vultures, hornbills, and more.
Charismatic African Penguins are always a tour highlight!
This South Africa Birding and Photo Tour can be combined with our preceding birding and photo tours to Kenya, Namibia, and Botswana. Our Kenya Photo, Birding and Wildlife Tour combines both excellent game and bird viewing opportunities, making for excellent photographic conditions, in this world-renowned East African country. Here a wide range of unique birds and mammals, many of which don’t occur in South Africa can be found. Following on from Kenya, our Quintessential Namibia Photo and Birding Tour is our premium luxury offering to Namibia, enjoying the best of this arid destination, while ensuring every comfort. Our Namibia and Botswana Photo and Birding Tour follows (and runs directly prior to this South African photo and birding tour), taking in some of the classical sites of this biodiverse area. Here we explore the Erongo Mountains, the world-famous Etosha National Park, and the incredible Okavango Delta, offering a complementary suite of species to what you will see and photograph in South Africa.
Itinerary (15 days/14 nights)
Day 1. Cape Peninsula
Depending on arrival times today we should have time to enjoy some late-afternoon photography in the golden light, and with Table Mountain as our backdrop. We will likely be able to find some of the more common endemic species, which may include the likes of Southern Boubou, Cape Robin-Chat, Karoo Prinia and Southern Double-collared Sunbird.
Overnight: Fernwood Manor, Newlands (or similar).
Day 2. Hottentots Holland and False Bay
Today we will spend the day to the east of Cape Town in the Hottentots Holland mountains, where we will be targeting a number of Cape endemics. The drive to our destination is a spectacular one; the route straddles the coastline with dramatic fold mountains on the opposite side. During the drive we may get lucky with sightings of whales in False Bay, including Bryde’s and Southern Right Whales. Our first stop will be at the quaint coastal town of Rooi Els, where we will search the rocky mountain slopes for Cape Rockjumper. Other important birds to look for on the mountain slopes include Cape and Sentinel Rock Thrushes, Cape Siskin, Ground Woodpecker, and perhaps Verreaux’s Eagle overhead. The thicker fynbos nearby will be searched for Cape Sugarbird (frequently posing on top of Protea flowers), Orange-breasted and Malachite Sunbirds, Cape Bulbul, Grey-backed Cisticola, and Karoo Prinia.
Flowering proteas are popular with birds, such as this Malachite Sunbird.
We will then head around the corner to Betty’s Bay to explore the beautiful Harold Porter National Botanical Garden. Here the birds are often very approachable, allowing for great photographic opportunities. Sunbirds abound in these gardens, including Amethyst, Southern Double-collared, Orange-breasted, and Malachite. We should also have the opportunity to become acquainted with Southern Boubou, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin-Chat, and Fiscal Flycatcher.
After enjoying lunch in the gardens, we will head to the rocky coast at Stony Point to visit an African Penguin colony; however, the target here will be Bank Cormorant. Four species of marine cormorant breed here (Bank, Crowned, Cape, and White-breasted Cormorants) and often give you a chance to photograph them as they fly back and forth feeding chicks or constructing nests.
If time allows, we will pop into Strandfontein Bird Sanctuary on our way back to Cape Town. This area represents the best wetland birding around Cape Town, and we will aim to photograph flying Lesser and Greater Flamingos in the golden afternoon light with Table Mountain and the Hottentots Holland Mountains serving as beautiful backdrops. Other waterbirds to be enjoyed here include South African Shelduck, Maccoa Duck, Southern Pochard, Black-necked Grebe, and many other common aquatic species. If we run out of time this afternoon, we can head back here the following day.
Overnight: Fernwood Manor, Newlands (or similar).
African Oystercatchers are present on the coastline around Cape Town.
Day 3. Cape Peninsula
Today will be spent birding and photographing on the Cape Peninsula. We will start the morning by heading south to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, where we will visit the most southwesterly point of the African continent. The views of False Bay and the Atlantic Ocean are truly impressive, and from here we can also enjoy Cape Cormorants nesting on the cliffs below us along with the odd Peregrine Falcon. We may do a sea watch for various seabird species from the cliffs, when we should be able to pick out distant Cape Gannet, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, and perhaps an albatross or two! African Oystercatcher is usually present as well. Around the reserve we will also keep a lookout for Cape Grassbird, Cape Siskin, Cape Bunting, and Fiscal Flycatcher. Common Eland, Africa’s largest antelope, should be encountered during our time in the reserve as well as good numbers of Common Ostrich.
In the afternoon we will head to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, where we will wander around the picturesque gardens with Table Mountain serving as a stunning backdrop. In the gardens we should find African Olive Pigeon, Cape Bulbul, African Dusky Flycatcher, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted and Malachite Sunbirds, Cape, Brimstone, and Forest Canaries, and the tiny and colorful Swee Waxbill.
Overnight: Fernwood Manor, Newlands (or similar)
Day 4. West Coast National Park
After a few great days around Cape Town, we will head to the scenic west coast to look for a different suite of birds occurring in the strandveld vegetation. We’ll start with some farmland birding around Darling in the glorious early-morning light. Hopefully Blue Cranes will pose for us while European Bee-eaters in their small colony here are often a little more edgy. We’ll search the adjacent strandveld for Cape Clapper Lark, Grey-backed Cisticola, Southern Black Korhaan, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Cloud Cisticola, and Pearl-breasted Swallow. The wheat fields are normally alive with birds, and we can expect to also find Pied Starling, Yellow Canary, African Hoopoe, Red-capped Lark, and Capped Wheatear.
The Western Cape is a stronghold for Blue Cranes, South Africa’s national bird.
Next, we will head farther north along the coast to West Coast National Park. We will try to time it right so that we arrive at the Langebaan Lagoon at a time when the shorebirds are close to the various hides on the lagoon. Here we can expect to see thousands of Palearctic shorebirds, which should still be showing some breeding plumage at this time of year. Species to look for include Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Grey and Common Ringed Plovers, Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, and occasionally Terek Sandpiper. Of the resident shorebirds we should find White-fronted, Kittlitz’s, Three-banded, and Chestnut-banded Plovers.
The strandveld throughout the park will be explored for Grey Tit, Long-billed Crombec, Chestnut-vented Warbler, White-backed Mousebird, Bokmakierie, Cape Penduline Tit, Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Weaver, and our most important target, the graceful Black Harrier.
After leaving the park and before checking into our accommodation in Langebaan we should have time to look for the resident pair of Verreaux’s Eagles just outside of town (if we run out of time today, we will ensure that we try the next morning).
Overnight: Le Mahi Guest House, Langebaan
The tiny Cape Penduline Tit can be reliably seen in the West Coast National Park.
Day 5. West Coast and Tankwa Karoo
This morning we will leave early to explore the farmlands north of Langebaan. Some of the specials we’ll look for here include Blue Crane, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cape Long-billed and Large-billed Larks, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Sickle-winged and Ant-eating Chats, and perhaps Lanner Falcon.
After a great morning’s birding we will stop at a nearby salt works to try to improve our photos of Chestnut-banded Plover as well as Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Black-necked Grebe, Red-necked Phalarope, and other shorebirds. Heading farther inland (approximately a three-hour drive) we will travel through some spectacular mountain passes before eventually dropping back down into the vast, dry plains of the Tankwa Karoo, where we will be based for the next two nights.
Overnight: Tankwa Karoo/similar.
Day 6. Tankwa Karoo
The Tankwa Karoo is an endemism hotspot with many of the species we will encounter here being restricted to these endless and seemingly barren plains. Looks, however can certainly be deceiving, as we will spend the day hunting down many of these Karoo-adapted specials. The open plains will be searched for Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Eremomela, Burchell’s Courser, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Greater Kestrel, Black-eared Sparrow-Lark (highly nomadic), Tractrac and Karoo Chats, Rufous-eared Warbler, and a host of lark species including Karoo Long-billed, Karoo, Spike-heeled, Large-billed, and Red-capped Larks. In the dry riverbeds, we should be able to find Namaqua Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, Dusky Sunbird, and Acacia Pied Barbet. We will also spend some time exploring rocky outcrops, where Cinnamon-breasted Warbler will be our primary target along with Layard’s Warbler, Pale-winged Starling, and perhaps even Black-headed Canary. In the evening we will take a night drive to look for Freckled and Rufous-cheeked Nightjars and perhaps some of the Karoo’s rarer nocturnal mammals.
Overnight: Tankwa Karoo/similar.
Large-billed Lark — one of the many lark species we should encounter on this tour.
Day 7. Agulhas Plains
After some early-morning photography in the Tankwa Karoo we will leave the dry plains and head southeast to the Agulhas area, where we will have two nights before continuing further east. The drive (roughly 3.5 hours) is another picturesque one as we make our way through the Cape Fold Mountains. We will keep a lookout for Ground Woodpecker and Verreaux’s Eagle during the drive. Then we will spend some time birding the wheat fields in the Agulhas area, which are good areas for Denham’s Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Cape Crow, Cape Long-billed Lark, and Blue Cranes (usually in large numbers).
Overnight: De Hoop Collection, De Hoop National Park
Day 8. Agulhas Plains
We will visit the beautiful De Hoop National Park, which has good numbers of antelope and some great birding too. Common Eland, Bontebok, and Cape Mountain Zebra are normally seen easily and can be quite confiding. Top birds to look out for include Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Southern Tchagra, Knysna Woodpecker, Secretarybird, and Black Cuckooshrike. We will visit some impressive dunes that overlook the Indian Ocean, where we should see Southern Right Whales, which come to this stretch of the coastline to calf in winter and spring. We may also get views of Cape Vulture, which have a large breeding colony nearby.
Overnight: De Hoop Collection, De Hoop National Park.
The endemic Knysna Woodpecker will be high on our agenda in the Agulhas Plains.
Day 9. Garden Route
We’ll take advantage of the morning light to try to improve on photos from the last couple of days before we drive (roughly three hours) further east to the forests and wetlands of Wilderness. En route we will keep a lookout for Forest Buzzard, which is sometimes seen perched on roadside pylons. We should have time this afternoon to visit one of the many wetlands in the area, where we could find African Snipe, African Fish Eagle, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, and other waterbird species. We may also see small groups of Red-necked Spurfowls feeding on the roadside.
Overnight: Dolphin Dunes, Wilderness (or similar).
The bright Chorister Robin-Chat occurs in the forests of the Garden Route.
Day 10. Garden Route
Today we will spend time among the various wetlands and forests in the Wilderness area. We will probably start the day at a few wetlands, where we may get lucky with sightings of the elusive duo of Red-chested Flufftail and African Rail. We will then walk a few trails through beautiful forest along the Touws River. This will be our first bit of true forest birding on the trip, and there should be many new birds to find. The skulking Knysna Warbler will be searched for in thick tangles of undergrowth, while we could even get incredibly lucky with a sighting of Buff-spotted Flufftail, although it puts Knysna Warbler to shame with its ability to remain hidden. Other forest species to look out for include Back-backed Puffback, Black-headed Oriole, Chorister Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, Green-backed Camaroptera, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Narina Trogon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Black-bellied Starling, Green Wood Hoopoe, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Grey Cuckooshrike, Olive and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, and possibly the most beautiful of them all, Knysna Turaco. In the evenings we may get lucky with sightings of African Wood Owl.
Overnight: Dolphin Dunes, Wilderness (or similar).
Days 11 – 15. Kruger National Park
Depending on flight times this morning, we may have time for some last-minute forest birding, targeting anything we may have missed over the last couple of days. George Airport is only a 20-minute drive from Wilderness, from where we will take a flight to the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport for the Kruger National Park leg of this trip.
Lion, one of the ‘Big Five’, can be found throughout the Kruger National Park.
Here we will spend five days/four nights photographing Africa’s “Big Five” as well as a host of other mammals and small animals – expect such charismatic species as African Elephant, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, Plains Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Impala and Nile Crocodile. We also have good chances for some of Africa’s most prized predators such as Lion and Leopard, along with Spotted Hyaena, and to other animals such as Banded Mongoose and Vervet Monkey. Of course, the birds are also extremely important, and we will not forget about them whilst in Kruger – as many of them are extremely photogenic. Some of the big and obvious species we will look for include Kori Bustard, Martial Eagle, Bateleur, Saddle-billed Stork, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Southern Ground Hornbill, and Lappet-faced Vulture, while the smaller, more colorful species include Brown-headed Parrot, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Lilac-breasted Roller, Grey-headed Bushshrike, White-browed Robin-Chat, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Blue Waxbill, Golden-breasted Bunting and a host of kingfishers, barbets, bee-eaters, hornbills, and weavers – and so much more. The above-mentioned species are just a small sampling of some of the exciting possibilities that await us in Kruger – this truly is an incredibly diverse area, with over 500 bird species and 100 mammal species recorded from just within this reserve.
After four nights in this incredible birding and wildlife destination, we will have to bid the Kruger National Park, and this tour, farewell. This tour will end at the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport on Day 15.
Overnight: Rest camps, Kruger National Park.
We’ll be on the lookout for Brown-headed Parrot in Kruger.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.
‘My sister and I used one of our 2 and a half days in Cape Town to do a birding tour of the Peninsula including the Cape of Good Hope. I had great communication with our guide, Dom, before the tour and he picked us up right on time at our hotel. It was an excellent day. Dom is very knowledgeable and good company. It turned out he was at Magee Marsh in Ohio the same time I was this year! The weather was glorious and we got to see lots of SA endemics plus a Humpback Whale and a lifer sewage pond! I would recommend Birding Ecotours and Dom Rollinson to anyone birding in South Africa.’
‘Birding Ecotours company and SA office staff
I can highly recommend booking a trip through Birding Ecotours South Africa. The Birding Ecotours staff is professional, the e-mail responses fast and all questions receive detail replies. Chris Lotz of Birding Ecotours forwarded excellent advice to me on how to start world birding, which countries to visit in order to find a high number of birds over a short period and which bird book(s) to use for a country. Birding Ecotours’ newsletters provide further information on upcoming trips, details on areas (e.g. East African birding), on target birds per trip, as well as regarding birding books available for countries or areas. Trip reports (forwarded upon request) allow one to mentally prepare regarding number of possible birds, endemics per country and difficulty or travel time of a trip. The Birding Ecotours’ Facebook postings include snippets from current trips with photos as well as spaces available on future trips. The single supplement for Birding Ecotours’ trips is in most cases lower than other tour companies, which makes for safe as well as affordable travelling.’