South Africa: 1-Day Zaagkuilsdrift Birding Tour Report, March 2022

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06 MARCH 2022

By Dylan Vasapolli

zaagkuilsdrift-2022-trip-reportLesser Moorhen is a special that moves into the area following good rains, and showed well to us on this day tour.



This Johannesburg/Pretoria, South Africa, birding day tour visits one of the premier South African birding sites, in arguably the best season for this site. While the many dry-land specials can be sought throughout the year, such as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler and Cape Penduline Tit, it is the subtropical and palearctic migrants that visit this area in the summer months that make this area truly exciting. Indeed, these birds would take up most of our focus during this day trip. This site is characterized by acacia woodlands and thickets, along with a vast seasonally inundated floodplain. This season has been a particular wet one, and meant the floodplain was totally inundated, bringing with it a vast number of birds.

This trip was carried out for a large group of seven clients.

zaagkuilsdrift-2022-trip-reportThe bright Crimson-breasted Shrike can be found throughout the year.

Detailed Report


We departed Johannesburg early in the morning, and found ourselves on the Zaagkuilsdrift Road at sunrise, where we immediately set out birding. The many palearctic warblers would be our primary focal point, before turning our attention to some of the floodplain specials, and then the resident thornveld species. Our first stop saw us birding the edge of a flooded dam, with a stream of various waterbirds flying overhead. Red-billed Teal, African Darter, Glossy Ibis, Black-crowned Night Heron, Striated Heron, Hamerkop and Pied Kingfisher were all evident. A calling Marsh Warbler refused to show, before we turned our attention to Great Reed Warbler, which gave us brief views. We also managed to get some brief views of a Marsh Warbler, while a calling Common Whitethroat remained unseen. A bout of acacia birding followed, and yielded lively groups of Cape Penduline Tits and Burnt-necked Eremomelas, with more common species such as Marico Flycatcher, Magpie Shrike, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver and Blue Waxbill all seen well.

An extended search for the ever-difficult River Warbler ensued shortly after this. This species is one of the most sought-after specials occurring here, with birds in varying numbers present almost annually. As we set about birding and exploring, we heard no less than four birds calling at various places. However, try as we might, we simply couldn’t obtain any views of these master skulkers, despite the birds calling from almost arms-length away at times. Our time here however added other birds such as Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Chinspot Batis, Willow Warbler, Grey-backed Camaroptera, White-throated Robin-Chat, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Violet-eared Waxbill, Village Indigobird and Shaft-tailed Whydah. A jaunt down ‘crake road’ was surprisingly quiet, though we did add Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern White-crowned Shrike and Red-billed Oxpecker, before we heard another River Warbler calling. We tried once more to pry this bird out from its thickets, but were unrewarded with our efforts.

zaagkuilsdrift-2022-trip-reportBlack-winged Pratincoles were active around the Kgomo Kgomo floodplains.

With the temperature warming up as we approached midday, and bird activity tailing off we stopped for our lunch break in the shade of some trees on the edge of the Kgomo Kgomo floodplain. Groups of Black-winged Pratincoles flying by overhead kept us company during our interlude. We resumed our birding, with our attention turning to the floodplains and surrounding areas. We were finally able to pry a Common Whitethroat out in the open for some good views, before the water birding took over. A group of extremely confiding Lesser Moorhens gave us wonderful views at length, while some of the group latched onto the rare Striped Crake. Try as we might, we weren’t able to relocate this bird however. The floodplain proper also gave up a brief Allen’s Gallinule sitting atop the vegetation as arguably the most exciting find, but also produced the regionally scarce Marabou Stork, the secretive Sedge Warbler and a shy Little Bittern. More widespread species such as Fulvous and White-faced Whistling Ducks, African Swamphen, Black Crake, African Jacana, Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, Purple and Black Herons and Malachite Kingfisher, amongst others. The dry plains on the edge of the water added Kittlitz’s Plover, Red-capped Lark, African Pipit and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah. Venturing into the acacia woodland we also finally notched up the sought-after Olive-tree Warbler before trying once more to see a River Warbler. Sadly, it just wasn’t to be, as we had to be content with hearing the birds only, before calling it a day and making our way back to Johannesburg in the late afternoon.

zaagkuilsdrift-2022-trip-reportAfter a concerted effort, we finally located an Olive-tree Warbler.

Despite not seeing any River Warblers, we enjoyed an otherwise successful day out, that produced nearly 150 species of birds – a true testament to the immense birding potential of this area! A full list of the species recorded can be seen below:


Bird ListFollowing IOC (11.2)


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

Common name Scientific name
Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)
White-faced Whistling Duck Dendrocygna viduata
Fulvous Whistling Duck Dendrocygna bicolor
Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca
Red-billed Teal Anas erythrorhyncha
Guineafowl (Numididae)
Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris
Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
Crested Francolin Ortygornis sephaena
Natal Spurfowl Pternistis natalensis
Swainson’s Spurfowl Pternistis swainsonii
Swifts (Apodidae)
African Palm Swift Cypsiurus parvus
Little Swift Apus affinis
Turacos (Musophagidae)
Grey Go-away-bird Crinifer concolor
Cuckoos (Cuculidae)
Burchell’s Coucal Centropus burchellii
Levaillant’s Cuckoo Clamator levaillantii
Jacobin Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus
Diederik Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius
Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
Speckled Pigeon Columba guinea
Red-eyed Dove Streptopelia semitorquata
Ring-necked Dove Streptopelia capicola
Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis
Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)
Lesser Moorhen Paragallinula angulata
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Allen’s Gallinule Porphyrio alleni
African Swamphen Porphyrio madagascariensis
Black Crake Zapornia flavirostra
Striped Crake Aenigmatolimnas marginalis
Plovers (Charadriidae)
Blacksmith Lapwing Vanellus armatus
Crowned Lapwing Vanellus coronatus
Kittlitz’s Plover Charadrius pecuarius
Three-banded Plover Charadrius tricollaris
Jacanas (Jacanidae)
African Jacana Actophilornis africanus
Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Coursers, Pratincoles (Glareolidae)
Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni
Storks (Ciconiidae)
Yellow-billed Stork Mycteria ibis
Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumenifer
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
Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
African Spoonbill Platalea alba
Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)
Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Striated Heron Butorides striata
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Hamerkop (Scopidae)
Hamerkop Scopus umbretta
Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus
Black-chested Snake Eagle Circaetus pectoralis
Gabar Goshawk Micronisus gabar
Owls (Strigidae)
Pearl-spotted Owlet (H) Glaucidium perlatum
Mousebirds (Coliidae)
Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus
Red-faced Mousebird Urocolius indicus
Hornbills (Bucerotidae)
Southern Red-billed Hornbill Tockus rufirostris
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill Tockus leucomelas
Rollers (Coraciidae)
Lilac-breasted Roller Coracias caudatus
European Roller Coracias garrulus
Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)
Brown-hooded Kingfisher Halcyon albiventris
Woodland Kingfisher Halcyon senegalensis
Malachite Kingfisher Corythornis cristatus
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
Bee-eaters (Meropidae)
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops persicus
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster
African Barbets (Lybiidae)
Acacia Pied Barbet (H) Tricholaema leucomelas
Crested Barbet Trachyphonus vaillantii
Woodpeckers (Picidae)
Golden-tailed Woodpecker (H) Campethera abingoni
Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
Amur Falcon Falco amurensis
Wattle-eyes, Batises (Platysteiridae)
Chinspot Batis Batis molitor
Bushshrikes (Malaconotidae)
Orange-breasted Bushshrike (H) Chlorophoneus sulfureopectus
Brown-crowned Tchagra Tchagra australis
Black-backed Puffback Dryoscopus cubla
Southern Boubou Laniarius ferrugineus
Crimson-breasted Shrike Laniarius atrococcineus
Shrikes (Laniidae)
Magpie Shrike Urolestes melanoleucus
Southern White-crowned Shrike Eurocephalus anguitimens
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio
Lesser Grey Shrike Lanius minor
Drongos (Dicruridae)
Fork-tailed Drongo Dicrurus adsimilis
Crows, Jays (Corvidae)
Pied Crow Corvus albus
Penduline Tits (Remizidae)
Cape Penduline Tit Anthoscopus minutus
Larks (Alaudidae)
Sabota Lark Calendulauda sabota
Red-capped Lark Calandrella cinerea
Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae)
Yellow-bellied Greenbul (H) Chlorocichla flaviventris
Terrestrial Brownbul (H) Phyllastrephus terrestris
Dark-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus tricolor
Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)
White-throated Swallow Hirundo albigularis
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Crombecs, African Warblers (Macrosphenidae)
Long-billed Crombec Sylvietta rufescens
Leaf Warblers & Allies (Phylloscopidae)
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Reed Warblers & Allies (Acrocephalidae)
Great Reed Warbler Acrocephalus arundinaceus
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
African Reed Warbler Acrocephalus baeticatus
Marsh Warbler Acrocephalus palustris
Olive-tree Warbler Hippolais olivetorum
Grassbirds & Allies (Locustellidae)
River Warbler (H) Locustella fluviatilis
Little Rush Warbler Bradypterus baboecala
Cisticolas & Allies (Cisticolidae)
Rattling Cisticola Cisticola chiniana
Levaillant’s Cisticola Cisticola tinniens
Neddicky Cisticola fulvicapilla
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Tawny-flanked Prinia Prinia subflava
Black-chested Prinia Prinia flavicans
Grey-backed Camaroptera Camaroptera brevicaudata
Burnt-necked Eremomela Eremomela usticollis
Sylviid Babblers (Sylviidae)
Chestnut-vented Warbler Curruca subcoerulea
Common Whitethroat Curruca communis
Laughingthrushes & Allies (Leiothrichidae)
Arrow-marked Babbler Turdoides jardineii
Southern Pied Babbler Turdoides bicolor
Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
Cape Starling Lamprotornis nitens
Burchell’s Starling Lamprotornis australis
Oxpeckers (Buphagidae)
Red-billed Oxpecker Buphagus erythrorynchus
Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
White-browed Scrub Robin Cercotrichas leucophrys
Marico Flycatcher Melaenornis mariquensis
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
Sunbirds (Nectariniidae)
Amethyst Sunbird Chalcomitra amethystina
Marico Sunbird Cinnyris mariquensis
White-bellied Sunbird Cinnyris talatala
Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow Passer diffusus
Weavers, Widowbirds (Ploceidae)
Red-billed Buffalo Weaver Bubalornis niger
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali
Scaly-feathered Weaver Sporopipes squamifrons
Southern Masked Weaver Ploceus velatus
Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea
Yellow-crowned Bishop Euplectes afer
Southern Red Bishop Euplectes orix
White-winged Widowbird Euplectes albonotatus
Waxbills, Munias & Allies (Estrildidae)
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild
Orange-breasted Waxbill Amandava subflava
Violet-eared Waxbill Granatina granatina
Blue Waxbill Uraeginthus angolensis
Green-winged Pytilia Pytilia melba
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
Long-tailed Paradise Whydah Vidua paradisaea
Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)
Cape Wagtail Motacilla capensis
African Pipit Anthus cinnamomeus
Species seen:  140
Species heard:  7
Total recorded:  147



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

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