Western Cape 12-day and Subtropical South Africa Trip Report March 2017

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09-31 OCTOBER 2017

By Wian van Zyl

 

ITINERARY

Date Itinerary Overnight
9-Oct.Arrival in Cape TownFernwood Manor Guesthouse
10-Oct.Transfer to the Tankwa KarooSothemba Lodge
11-Oct.Birding the Tankwa KarooSothemba Lodge
12-Oct.Transfer/birding West Coast National ParkLe Mahi Guesthouse
13-Oct.Transfer to the Cape PeninsulaMariner Guesthouse
14-Oct.Birding the Cape PeninsulaMariner Guesthouse
15-Oct.Birding the Cape PeninsulaMariner Guesthouse
16-Oct.Transfer to Durban (Start of main trip)Gateway Country Lodge
17-Oct.Transfer to UnderbergSani Valley Lodge
18-Oct.Birding the Sani Pass and Lesotho areaSani Valley Lodge
19-Oct.Transfer to EshoweBird of Paradise B&B
20-Oct.Birding Eshowe, Amatikulu, etc.Bird of Paradise B&B
21-Oct.Transfer to St LuciaNdiza Lodge and neighbor
22-Oct.Birding St Lucia and Cape VidalNdiza Lodge and neighbor
23-Oct.Transfer to Mkhuze Game ReserveMantuma Camp
24-Oct.Birding Mkhuze Game ReserveMantuma Camp
25-Oct.Transfer to WakkerstroomWakkerstroom Country Inn
26-Oct.Birding Wakkerstroom grasslandsWakkerstroom Country Inn
27-Oct.Transfer to Kruger National ParkSatara Rest Camp
28-Oct.Birding in Kruger National ParkSatara Rest Camp
29-Oct.Transfer to Dullstroom and birdingLinger Longer Country Retreat
30-Oct.Transfer to Rust de Winter and birdingZenzele River Lodge
31-Oct.Departure

 

Overview

By combining our Western Cape tour and our Subtropical South Africa tour one covers quite a variety of habitats, experiences, and an array of climates and gets to spend time searching for some spectacular biodiversity. Yes, the main focus is bird watching, but one just can’t ignore mammals, large and small, butterflies, and all things nature, even the stars. In general the trip went really well, seeing us connect with the majority of the specials in their selective areas. Some proved more difficult than others, but nevertheless they were “ticked”.

 

8-day Western Cape tour

 

Day 1, 9 October 2017. Arrival and birding Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

With today being the arrival day we only got around to birding after lunch, as we had to pick everyone up from their various accommodations. We checked into our guesthouse and immediately made our way to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. After having lunch we kicked off the birding with Swee Waxbill, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Ring-necked Dove, Karoo Prinia, and Cape White-eye. We walked around the botanical garden and recorded Spotted Eagle-Owl, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Bulbul, Common Chaffinch, Egyptian Goose, Cape Spurfowl, Helmeted Guineafowl, and Cape Robin-Chat. We entered the forest canopy walkway and found Southern Boubou, African Harrier-Hawk, African Olive Pigeon, Red-winged Starling, and Olive Woodpecker. As we were walking around the “Protea Garden” we got spectacular views of Malachite Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Canary, Forest Canary, another Spotted Eagle-Owl, and many more. We had a good look at Cape Grey Mongoose as it was crossing the pathway ahead of us and paused to look at us.

 

Day 2, 10 October 2017. Transfer to the Tankwa Karoo

Leaving Cape Town bright and early we stopped at Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve en route to the Tankwa Karoo. Here we recorded Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Malachite, Southern Double-Collared, and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, African Black Duck, Cape Canary, a quick flyby Klaas’s Cuckoo, Reed Cormorant, Bar-throated Apalis, and a few more. On the Bainskloof Pass we recorded Rock Martin and Jackal Buzzard as new. We entered the Tankwa Karoo via the Karoopoort area and managed Acacia Pied Barbet, Southern Masked Weaver, Laughing Dove, Long-billed Crombec, Cape Bunting, Pied Starling, Karoo Thrush, Namaqua Warbler, Pririt Batis, Cape Starling, and many more as an introduction to the Tankwa Karoo. Just before arriving at our lodge we managed to get smashing views of Ant-eating Chat in flight and a pair of Sickle-winged Chats calling from some scrubs near the road. After a hearty lunch we went out in the semi-heat of the day and managed to further record Familiar, Karoo, and Tractrac Chats, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Karoo Eremomela, Southern Red Bishop, Yellow Bishop, Yellow and White-throated Canaries, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Cape Weaver, and only heard Red-chested Flufftail calling within the thick reed bed. Mammals for the day included Springbok, Rock Hyrax, and Steenbok.

 

Day 3, 11 October 2017. Full day birding the Tankwa Karoo

Starting the day before sunrise we had a great breakfast and soon after made our way for some Tankwa Karoo birding. We tried for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler first and had a scope view of it from afar. Other species in the area included Levaillant’s Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Rock Kestrel, Rock Martin, and a Rock Hyrax as a mammal for the day. We then made our way to a different valley and here connected with Cape Bunting, White-throated Canary, Layard’s Warbler, Common Waxbill, Bokmakierie, Fairy Flycatcher, Karoo Scrub Robin, and Cape Sparrow. We then drove north and soon connected with specials such as Karoo, Large-billed, Red-Capped, and Spike-heeled Larks, Rufous-eared Warbler, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Karoo Korhaan, Tractrac, Karoo, Familiar, and Sickle-winged Chats, Namaqua Warbler, and European Bee-eater. At our lunch stop we managed Dusky Sunbird, White-backed Mousebird, Greater Kestrel, Yellow Canary, and Brown-throated Martin. The rest of the day was spent for a short time in the Tankwa Karoo National Park and driving back to our accommodation. Highlights for the rest of the day included Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Booted Eagle, Black-winged Kite, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Common Ostrich, and Karoo Eremomela.

 

Day 4, 12 October 2017. Transfer to Langebaan

We started the day at the crack of dawn after hearing Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, but there was no luck in locating an individual. We started the day with Pied Starling, Ring-necked Dove, Familiar Chat, Karoo Chat, Pale Chanting Goshawk, and Large-billed and Karoo Larks. We spent about an hour before finally getting absolutely smashing views of Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Other birds during the warbler hunt included Mountain Wheatear, Cape Bunting, Greater Striped Swallow, Rock Martin, Layard’s Warbler, Bokmakierie, and a few more. Before leaving the Karoo area we also found White-backed Mousebird, Red-winged Starling, Cape Canary, and Karoo Thrush. En route to Langebaan we managed to get great views of Spur-winged Goose, White-faced Whistling Duck, Southern Red Bishop, African Spoonbill, and Blue Crane. A quick stop in Velddrif provided us with our first shorebirds, namely Ruff, Common Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Common Greenshank, Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper, and Kittlitz’s Plover. Other birds that entertained us around here included Greater and Lesser Flamingos, African Sacred Ibis, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Reed and Cape Cormorants, Grey Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Cape Teal, and Black-necked Grebe. We made our way to Vredenburg to try for Cape Long-billed Lark, but with the gale-force wind we were facing it made actually seeing the bird impossible. We heard one or two calling, but unfortunately there were no visuals. We ended the day around Langebaan at a quarry site, where we connected with Verreaux’s Eagle, Rock Kestrel, Black Sparrowhawk, African Black Swift, and White-necked Raven.

 

Day 5, 13 October 2017. Transfer to Simon’s Town via the West Coast National Park

We started our day with an early morning drive to Vredenburg to try for Cape Clapper Lark. It took some hard searching and patience, but eventually we managed to get absolutely extraordinary views of one individual. Other species recorded while waiting for the lark included Black Harrier, Red-capped and Large-billed Larks, Sickle-winged Chat, Capped Wheatear, and Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark. Then wee made our way to West Coast National Park and en route recorded Blue Crane, Jackal Buzzard, and Black-winged and Yellow-billed Kite, as well as Black-headed Heron. Our first stop in the park was at the Seeberg bird hide, and here we had great views of a Cape Penduline Tit building a nest next to the boardwalk to the hide. We also recorded Chestnut-vented Warbler, Yellow Canary, Karoo Scrub Robin, Grey-backed Cisticola, and Cape Spurfowl. From within the hide itself we managed Caspian, Sandwich, Common, and Greater-crested Terns, Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls, White-fronted, Kittlitz’s, Common Ringed, and Grey Plovers, as well as various other shorebirds such as Whimbrel, Sanderling, Common Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, and Eurasian Curlew. After lunch we went to the Abrahamskraal freshwater hide and here observed Little Grebe, Red-knobbed Coot, African Sacred Ibis, Glossy Ibis, African Spoonbill, Cape Bulbul, Black-headed Canary, Cape Bunting, Cape Wagtail, and White-throated Swallow while looking at so much more. Other highlights for the day included Malachite and Southern-double-collared Sunbirds, Rock Kestrel, Cape Weaver, Common Ostrich, and Southern Red and Yellow Bishops, as well as White-backed Mousebird, among so much more! We saw at least five Angulate Tortoises as well as a Mole Snake. The only mammals for the day were Steenbok and Springbok.

 

Day 6, 14 October 2017. Birding Rooiels, Harold Porter, and the Stony Point penguin colony

With some disappointment because our pelagic had been canceled for the weekend we set out early to the opposite side of False Bay to look for Cape Rockjumper at Rooiels We walked around for the better part of two hours before we actually managed to get views of a pair; we had absolutely spectacular views of them as well as of a second pair on our way out. Other species for the Rooiels area included Cape Siskin, Cape Rock Thrush, Familiar Chat, Cape Bunting, Karoo Prinia, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Rock Kestrel, and others. After spending some time with the rockjumpers we made our way to Stony Point in Betty’s Bay to look at the local African Penguin colony, where we also had great views of Cape, Bank, Crowned, and White-breasted Cormorants. We faced gale-force winds all day long, which truly put a damper on the birding for the day. After Stony Point we visited the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, where we had lunch and then recorded Sombre Greenbul, Malachite Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Cape Wagtail, and Cape Canary. We also managed to see Rock Hyrax and Klipspringer for our mammal list of the day.

 

Day 7, 15 October 2017. Birding Cape Point, Strandfontein, and the Sir Lowry’s Pass

The day started a bit murky with clouds and a chilly breeze, but we went birding nonetheless. We managed to record Cape Grassbird, Cape Robin-Chat, Olive Thrush, African Oystercatcher, Hartlaub’s- and Kelp Gulls. The weather became absolutely miserable and we never walked to the top of Cape Point as we would’ve been drenched in rain and blown away by gale-force winds. We set out for the Strandfontein Sewage Treatment Plant, where the weather played along for the most part and the birding really picked up. In the first couple of ponds we recorded species such as Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Teal- and Red-billed Teal, Southern Pochard, Greater- and Lesser Flamingo, Little Grebe, Cape Shoveler, Western Cattle Egret, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, White-breasted Cormorant and African Sacred Ibis. Before moving on to the next ponds we managed to get great views of Brimstone Canary perched up on the fence line next to the road. Moving through the next few ponds we managed crazy views of Little Stint, Three-banded Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Tern, Marsh Sandpiper, Hottentot Teal, Pied Avocet, Black-headed- and Purple Herons, a flyby Black-crowned Night-Heron, Great White Pelican, White Stork, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Little Rush Warbler and a adult Jackal Buzzard. We ended the day with a quick drive to Sir Lowry’s Pass and after lunch we smashed great views of Victorin’s Warbler before we ended the day.

 

Subtropical South Africa tour

Day 1, 16 October 2017. Transfer/Arrival at Durban and birding around the lodge

Today we had a slow start to the day with a 7:30 breakfast and departure for the airport after it. En route to the airport we noticed Common Starling, African Sacred Ibis. Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gulls, Speckled Pigeon, and a few other common things. After our flight to Durban we eventually arrived at our guesthouse and managed to meet up with the rest of the group for the Subtropical South Africa tour. We spent the afternoon walking around the guesthouse gardens and managed to record White-eared, Black-collared, and Crested Barbets, Kurrichane Thrush, an odd calling White-browed Scrub Robin, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Green-backed Camaroptera, and Southern Black Flycatcher. Other specials for the afternoon included Violet-backed Starling, Purple-crested Turaco, Red-backed and Bronze Mannikins, Purple-banded, White-bellied, and Olive Sunbirds, African Black Swift, Barn and Greater Striped Swallow, and Red-eyed Dove. Just before the day came to an end we finally saw a Red-capped Robin-Chat.

 

Day 2, 17 October 2017. Birding Umhlanga and transfer to Underberg

We started the day before breakfast walking around the lodge, looking for some good forest birds, and connected with Bronze Mannikin, Speckled Mousebird, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, African Paradise Flycatcher, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Red-capped Robin-Chat, and Kurrichane Thrush. Some other highlights included Back-bellied Starling, Violet-backed Starling, African Black Swift, Green-backed Camaroptera, Crested, Black-collared, and White-eared Barbets, Yellow-billed Kite, and some members of our group managed to get a few quick views of Tambourine Dove. After breakfast we started making our way to a reliable Blue Swallow site and were very discouraged when we saw that more than half of the grassland area has burnt to the ground, once prime swallow habitat. After a couple of hours of searching and walking we eventually managed to get spectacular views of a pair of Blue Swallows, mixed in with Black Saw-wing and White-throated and Barn Swallows. Other species here included Plain-backed Pipit, Cape Crow, African Stonechat, Cape Canary, Black-headed Oriole, and Grey Crowned Crane. With a lot of road construction and so forth it took us longer than expected to arrive at our next lodge; we did, however, have views en route of Woolly-necked Stork, Long-tailed Widowbird, Cape Longclaw, and quite a few more.

 

Day 3, 18 October 2017. Birding the Sani Pass and Lesotho

A good early morning start to the day resulted in our finding a few great birds early in the day. We started with Black-headed Oriole, Yellow-billed Duck, Long-crested Eagle, Yellow Bishop, Whiskered Tern, and Cape Longclaw as we were making our way out of the lodge property to head for the famous Sani Pass! En route we had long-distance views of Red Hartebeest to kick off our mammals for the day. Before entering the pass itself we recorded Red-necked Spurfowl, Peregrine Falcon, Speckled Pigeon, and some long-distance views of Cape Vulture. Just as we started at the foot of the pass we stopped for great views of Bush Blackcap, Drakensberg Prinia, Southern Boubou, Cape Grassbird, Brown-backed Honeybird, Cape Rock Thrush, and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. On our way up the mountain pass we had spectacular looks at Ground Woodpecker, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Red-throated Wryneck, Buff-streaked Chat, White-necked Raven, Grey-winged Francolin, and Long-billed Pipit. At the South African border crossing we enjoyed Cape Canary, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, a brief Fairy Flycatcher, Familiar Chat, and a few more common things. Some further birding along the pass provided us with African Yellow Warbler, Barratt’s Warbler, Cape Robin-Chat. Drakensberg Rockjuper, Drakensberg Siskin, African Harrier-Hawk, and a few more Rockjumpers! After we crossed the Lesotho border we found African Rock Pipit, Mountain Pipit, Wailing Cisticola, Bearded Vulture, Mountain Wheatear, and many more. Additional mammals for the day included Chacma Baboon, Grey Rhebok, and Sloggett’s Vlei Rat.

 

Day 4, 19 October 2017. Transfer to Eshowe

With a bright and early start to the day we left our lodge for Marutswa Forest, where our main target was Cape Parrot. We were happy to be able to enjoy the parrot. Other species here were Chorister Robin-Chat, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Cape Batis, Knysna Turaco, Black-backed Puffback, and Forest Canary. After the morning’s successful birding session we made our way to Eshowe, and as soon as we had checked in at our accommodation went to the Dlinza Forest, where the rain and wind unfortunately didn’t help our case in hunting down birds. We did, however, manage to get great views of Trumpeter Hornbill en route and a spectacularly displaying female Narina Trogon. Mammals for today included Red Hartebeest and Blesbok.

 

Day 5, 20 October 2017. Birding Eshowe, Ongoye Forest, Amatikulu, and more

We started the day with our local guide in the Dlinza forest in Eshowe town. We had gripping views of Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon before we even managed to get ourselves sorted for the start of the day; there were at least six birds just flying around the canopy and sitting up really well, showing all the necessary identification features. At Dlinza Forest we also connected with Red-chested Cuckoo, Grey Cuckooshrike, African Olive Pigeon, Narina Trogon, White-eared Barbet, African Goshawk, Square-tailed Drongo, and a very odd, but nonetheless spectacularly beautiful Spotted Ground Thrush sitting up in a tree at eye-level to the boardwalk, which is quite unusual as they usually sit on the ground, as their name suggests. After this great success with our target bird we decided to head for Ongoye Forest, where we connected with Cape Batis, Trumpeter Hornbill, Black-backed Puffback, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Green-backed Camaroptera, and our main target bird for this forest, Green Barbet. En route to our next location, Amatikulu Nature Reserve, we recorded Collared Pratincole, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Southern Masked Weaver, Rufous-naped Lark, Rufous-winged Cisticola, and a flyby Palm-nut Vulture! We also got great views of Croaking Cisticola, Fan-tailed Grassbird, Barn, White-throated, and Red-breasted Swallows, Yellow-throated Longclaw, and a few more. At Amatikulu we hoped to be able to hunt down the seasonal migrant Mangrove Kingfisher, but unfortunately we were not successful. Mammals for the day included Giraffe, Plains Zebra, Blue Duiker, and Common Duiker.

 

Day 6, 21 October 2017. Transfer to St Lucia

Before breakfast and our departure for St Lucia we started the day with birding in the Dlinza Forest once more. Here we recorded Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, African Goshawk, Purple-crested Turaco, Chorister Robin-Chat, African Olive Pigeon, Olive Sunbird, Red-backed Mannikin, and Narina Trogon. Time allowed us to stop at Amatikulu again for some last-hour birding before making our way to St Lucia; here we managed Tawny-flanked Prinia, Fork-tailed Drongo, Olive Thrush, Trumpeter Hornbill, Palm-nut Vulture, and Southern Red Bishop. When we arrived in St Lucia we dropped off our luggage and managed some last-daylight birding before the sun’s shift ended for the day. We had good views of White-breasted Cormorant, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Dark-backed Weaver, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, White-fronted, Kittlitz’s, Common Ringed, and Three-banded Plovers. The birding around the mouth of the estuary proved to be very productive with the likes of Yellow-billed Stork, Great White Pelican, African Fish Eagle, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Caspian and Greater Crested Terns, Grey Heron, Thick-billed Weaver, Water Thick-knee, Pied Avocet, and Yellow-billed Duck.

 

Day 7, 22 October 2017. St Lucia Estuary, sewage ponds, and iSimangaliso Wetland Park

We met with our local guide for the day and started the day with a very productive walk on the Igwala Gwala Forest Trail not too far from our guesthouse. Here we managed great views of Square-tailed Drongo, Brown Scrub Robin, Woodward’s Batis, Crowned Hornbill, Grey Sunbird, Livingstone’s Turaco, Green Malkoha, and Grey Waxbill. We then continued to the St Lucia sewage ponds on the outskirts of town, where we easily connected with Grey Heron, Hamerkop, Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, White-faced Whistling Duck, Ruff, African Sacred Ibis, and more. Sadly, birding in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park proved to be a little less productive than anticipated, but we still enjoyed sightings of African Wattled Lapwing, White-fronted Bee-eater, Red-billed Oxpecker, Brown Snake Eagle, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Grey-rumped Swallow, Yellow-breasted Apalis, and brief views of Green Twinspot, to name a few. Other birds for the day included nesting Southern Brown-throated Weavers, a Common Sandpiper on the back of a Hippopotamus, and plenty of Common Terns. After our lunch break in Cape Vidal, when we were about to leave, we were amazed by the sight of a pod of Humpback Whales very close to shore splashing about and playing in the water, breaching every so often, and leaving a crowd of spectators on the beach in awe and wonder.

 

Day 8, 23 October 2017. Transfer to Mkhuze Game Reserve:

Starting bright and early with the day we walked the Igwala Gwala Forest Trail once more and recorded Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Sombre Greenbul, Yellow-billed Kite, Trumpeter Hornbill, Tambourine Dove, Green backed Camaroptera, Southern Boubou, and Livingstone’s Turaco. As we made our way back to the vehicle we found Hadada Ibis, Burchell’s Coucal, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, African Goshawk, and Fork-tailed Drongo. Before leaving town we swung by the sewage ponds again, where we enjoyed Hottentot Teal, White-faced Whistling Duck, Wood Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, African Jacana, Common Moorhen, Ruff, Diederik Cuckoo, and more.

After breakfast and some grocery shopping for the next two nights we transferred to Mkhuze Game Reserve. En route we saw African Pied Wagtail, Fan-tailed Widowbird, African Green Pigeon, and Western Cattle Egret. Once we had arrived in this wonderfully birdy park, Violet-backed Starling, Common Scimitarbill, Red-billed Oxpecker, Brown Snake Eagle, Village Weaver, and Red-billed Quelea were soon and easily found. Highlights on our afternoon drive included Black-crowned Tchagra, Crowned Lapwing, Crested Francolin, Chinspot Batis, Pink-throated Twinspot (female), Trumpeter Hornbill, African Harrier-Hawk, Lesser Spotted Eagle, and Emerald-spotted Wood Dove. We ended the day with an owling walk in and around the camp, but we were very unsuccessful in our attempts to tick some nocturnal species.

 

Day 9, 24 October 2017. Birding Mkhuze Game Reserve

A walk around the camp started our day, during which we connected with Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Chinspot Batis, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Barn and Lesser Striped Swallows, Blue Waxbill, and Green Wood Hoopoe. We spent most of the day in and out of the numerous great hides, walking in the parking lots and picnic sites, and driving around the reserve. Highlight birds for the day included Brown Snake Eagle, White-browed Scrub Robin, Red-faced Mousebird, African Openbill, Whiskered Tern, Woolly-necked and Saddle-billed Storks, Squacco Heron, African Darter, Western Osprey, African Jacana, Cape and White-backed Vultures, Sombre Greenbul, White-bellied Sunbird, and many, many more. Mammals included Nyala, Impala, Waterbuck, Hippopotamus, Blue Wildebeest, and others.

 

Day 10, 25 October 2017, Transfer to Wakkerstroom

During some early-morning birding in Mkhuze (before departing for Wakkerstroom) we enjoyed Little Bee-eater, Crested Guineafowl, Yellow-billed Stork, Bearded Scrub Robin, African Spoonbill, Purple Heron, Pink-backed Pelican, Whiskered Tern, Western Osprey, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Purple-crested Turaco, Broad-billed Roller, Black Cuckoo, Striped Kingfisher, and more. After breakfast we made our way to Wakkerstroom, an area well-known for its high-altitude grasslands and agriculture. This kind of habitat attracts a whole new array of birds, as one would expect. After arrival we connected with species such as Mountain Wheatear, Long-tailed Widowbird, Southern Fiscal, Eastern Long-billed Lark, African Pipit, Lesser Striped Swallow, Zitting Cisticola, Pied Starling, and Cape Sparrow.

 

Day 11, 26 October 2017. Full day birding Wakkerstroom

Our full day in the Wakkerstroom area started good and early with us picking up our local guide for the day. First on today’s menu were African Stonechat, Ant-eating Chat, Common Ostrich, Grey-winged Francolin, Jackal Buzzard, Blue Crane, Little Swift, African Hoopoe, and Greater Striped Swallow. Along a dirt track past the town we connected with the likes of Secretarybird, Common Buzzard, the magnificent Blue Korhaan, Grey-crowned Crane, Black-winged Lapwing, Cape Crow, and Red-capped Lark. After dipping on the White-bellied Bustard we decided to leave the area and try to hunt it down in a different spot. During our search for the bustard South African Cliff Swallow, Denham’s Bustard, Red-collared Widowbird, Red-winged Starling, Buff-streaked Chat, Malachite Sunbird, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Pin-tailed Whydah, Cape Longclaw, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Cape Canary, and Southern Bald Ibis also demanded our attention.

After eventually getting smashing views of a female White-bellied Bustard we made our way back past the town to the village of Daggakraal. En route we managed to connect with Spike-heeled and Eastern Clapper Larks, Cape Bunting, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Black-winged Kite, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Red-throated Wryneck, Rock Kestrel, Banded Martin, Pale-crowned Cisticola, and Southern Red Bishop. At Daggakraal itself we spent about two hours walking, searching, and hoping before we connected with the highly localized and endangered Botha’s Lark. We spent about half an hour with the bird as it fed closer and closer to us and even entertained us as we were eating our lunch in the field.

In the last hour or two of the day we raced to a sight for the well-known and sought-after Rudd’s Lark. This species, like Botha’s Lark, is also very localized and endangered, which is why it’s such a popular lark to hunt down. After some serious searching and hard work we eventually got great views of an individual feeding in the open, and while some of us were still looking at the lark the rest of us went to a nearby lake and connected with Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Maccoa Duck, Great-crested Grebe, South African Shelduck, Blacksmith Lapwing, Red-billed Teal, White-breasted Cormorant, African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, and Cape Wagtail.

 

Day 12, 27 October 2017. Transfer to Kruger National Park

Today was mostly a travel day, as we had about a seven-hour drive before we arrived at Kruger National Park. Driving through some extremely dense fog made for slow going and little to no bird watching for a lot of the way. We did, however, manage to record Grey-headed Gull, Long-tailed, Fan-tailed, White-winged, and Red-collared Widowbirds, Cape Sparrow, Black-winged Kite, Pied Starling, and Grey-crowned Crane en route to the park. As soon as we entered the park in grey cold and under rainy skies we encountered our first African Elephant and also found Wattled and Burchell’s Starlings, Swainson’s and Natal Spurfowls, Grey Go-away-bird, Tawny Eagle, Laughing Dove, Little Swift, and a few Red-billed Oxpeckers perched on a huge herd of African Buffalo. Before the day ended we had smashing views of a Pearl-spotted Owlet with a Barn Swallow in its talons, devouring the migrant bird in an Acacia tree right in the parking lot.

 

Day 13, 28 October 2017. Full Day birding Kruger National Park

Terribly cold and windy weather with some slight rain here and there resulted in a pretty miserable day in Kruger National Park. The birding was slow going and tough, but we managed to record Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Willow Warbler, Mourning Collared Dove, Crested Barbet, Bearded Woodpecker, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Brubru, Southern Red-billed and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Little and African Palm Swift, and some Grey-rumped Swallows in between Barn Swallows. As we were driving around we saw Yellow-billed Kite, Wahlberg’s, Tawny, and Martial Eagles, Red-billed Firefinch, Blue Waxbill, Black Crake, Marabou Stork, Purple and Lilac-breasted Rollers, Knob-billed Duck, and Natal and Swainson’s Spurfowls before our lunch stop. After lunch at Tshokwane we found Wood Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Three-banded Plover, Grey and Striated Herons, Southern Ground Hornbill, Hooded, Cape, and White-backed Vultures, and Red-billed Oxpeckers on a small bachelor herd of African Buffalo. We were delighted to connect with numerous mammals such as Greater Kudu, Impala, African Elephant, Side-striped Jackal, Banded Mongoose, Spotted Hyena, African Wildcat, Plains Zebra, a female White Rhinoceros, Giraffe, Waterbuck, and Steenbok. Early on in the drive we also has an absolutely spectacular sighting of a gorgeous male Leopard by the side of the road.

 

Day 14, 29 October 2017. Transfer to Dullstroom

With a long travel day ahead of us we decided to leave the park early to give us an opportunity to stop and search for a specific falcon species en route to Dullstroom. Highlights in the park included Marabou Stork, Lilac-breasted and Purple Rollers, Wahlberg’s and Tawny Eagles, African Fish Eagle, Black-bellied Bustard, Red-breasted Swallow, and Brown-headed Parrot. We also had more views of African Elephant, African Buffalo, and the common antelope species on our way out. En route to Dullstroom we stopped to scour the cliff faces surrounding the mountain pass in the hopes of seeing Taita Falcon. It took a little time and patience, but it soon paid off and we managed to see both male and female circling overhead before entering their roost in a crack in the cliff face. We arrived in Dullstroom in the afternoon and decided to go and find some birds. Levaillant’s Cisticola, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Capped Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, African Stonechat, Red-winged Francolin, and Cape Longclaw were soon found, but we unfortunately dipped on both Wattled Crane and Cape Eagle-Owl, which are found in the area fairly regularly.

 

Day 15, 30 October 2017. Transfer to Rust de Winter

We left Dullstroom good and early, as we yet again had quite some ground to cover before getting to our next lodge. En route we connected with Grey-headed Gull and Long-crested Eagle. We arrived around 11:00 a.m., and after offloading the van and having lunch the group decided that they wanted to take it easy for the day. So we birded Rust de Winter Nature Reserve and Rust de Winter Dam first. Here we recorded Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Coqui Francolin, Red-faced Mousebird, Grey Go-away-bird, Lilac-breasted Roller, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, and Cardinal Woodpecker. Then we decided to head for a well-known area called Zaagkuilsdrift, where without much effort we managed enjoy Crimson-breasted Shrike, Magpie Shrike, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Southern Pied Babbler, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Burchell’s Starling, White-browed Scrub Robin, Marico Flycatcher, Amethyst Sunbird, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Scaly-feathered Weaver, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Bronze Mannikin, Yellow-fronted Canary, and Golden-breasted Bunting.

 

Day 16, 31 October 2017. Departure

With the trip coming to an end today and a transfer to the airport was needed fairly early we opted to bird around the lodge and the reserve for the morning before breakfast. Here we recorded Bushveld Pipit, Flappet Lark, Red-crested Korhaan, Crowned Lapwing, Rufous-naped Lark, Pied Kingfisher, Southern Masked Weaver, Southern Black Tit, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Groundscraper and Kurrichane Thrushes, Green Wood Hoopoe, and Red-headed Weaver. After dropping half the group off at the airport we birded a little marshy area not far from the airport and had good views of Goliath Heron, Common Moorhen, Blacksmith Lapwing, Red-knobbed Coot, Little Grebe, Spur-winged Goose, and a few more.

 

Conclusion

This trip turned out to be a very productive and fun trip. The group got along really well. Although some members were pure birders and others very interested in photography, a good balance between the two was maintained and respected. We managed to record 444 birds (plus seven heard only) and 49 mammals. Traversing almost every corner of South Africa made for an exciting tour with lots of ups, downs, successes, and dips. In the end everyone left with a huge smile on their face and a sense of accomplishment.

 

Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.