AT A GLANCE
South Africa is known for its incredible cultural diversity, but the term could also be applied to its rich fauna and flora. From its crystal clear open oceans and lush, almost tropics-like forests to the desert areas in the western parts of the country, the savannahs and grasslands in the eastern areas and the high peaks of the mighty Drakensberg mountain range, it is indeed a special place.
Birding in South Africa in these distinctly different ecosystems allows birders to explore a diverse range of bird-rich habitats. A remarkable 840 bird species are found in South Africa, about eight percent of the world’s total bird species.
This Nature Travel Birding tour offers an extraordinary birding experience in of the most exciting birding destinations.
DAY 1: Magoebaskloof and Polokwane
Our first day starts in Johannesburg/Pretoria at your guesthouse/hotel. After a short meet and greet we’ll get all the luggage in the vehicle and head straight to our first destination, the town of Polokwane. A short stop at the Polokwane Game Reserve should hopefully net us the Southern African endemic, Short-clawed Lark.
As we continue to our destination in Magoebaskloof we will have our first taste of forest birding. Species to look out for include Knysna Turaco, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Gorgeous and Black-fronted Bush-Shrikes and Swee Waxbill. With a bit of luck, we could even find African Wood-Owl after dinner. We will spend some time in the gardens of Kurisa Moya as well as the bird hide on the property.
DAY 2: Magoebaskloof
More forest birding is on our schedule this morning. If we missed it the previous day, we will be on the lookout for Short-clawed Lark. We might pop in at a nearby stakeout where we have a good chance of finding the elusive Shelley’s Francolin. We will stop for a quick lunch at a roadside café.
Although forest birding can be hard work the reward is often worth its weight in gold. Tantalizing species such as Cape Batis, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Olive Bush-Shrike, Lemon Dove and African Emerald Cuckoo are waiting to be found.
DAY 3 & 4: Kruger National Park
After more birding around the magnificent Magoebaskloof, we head for the savannahs of the famous Kruger National Park with the odd birding stops and lunch break en-route. Once we enter the park proper our focus, while still on birds, will also divert a bit to the possibility of sightings of any of the Big 5. We will explore some of the smaller dirt roads and thereby keeping off the main tar road for the best birding experience.
The Greater Kruger conservation area includes vast areas of adjacent Mozambique and is one of Africa’s most famous parks. We will explore the superb road system in an attempt to locate big game, including the legendary “Big 5” – Lion, African Elephant, Leopard, African Buffalo and White Rhinoceros. Kruger will be our best opportunity to watch these spectacular animals in their natural habitat. We may encounter some of them in very large numbers and at very close quarters.
Of special interest here is some of the larger terrestrial birds as well as birds of prey that are difficult or near impossible to find reliably outside protected areas such as Kruger. These include Kori Bustard, Southern Ground Hornbill, Martial Eagle, Bateleur, Lappet-faced Vulture, Secretarybird and Saddle-billed Stork.
Other typical bushveld birds that we will encounter are Southern Yellow-billed and Southern Red-billed Hornbills, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, Brown-headed Parrot, Purple-crested Turaco, Crested and Swainson’s Francolin, White-crowned Lapwing, Grey-headed Bushshrike and African Mourning Dove.
Optional Activities at all Kruger National Park camps: (to be booked in advance)
An Early morning walk from the camp will give us a chance to experience the Park on foot and we might find a surprise or two.
A night drive through the park may encounter some of the rarer nocturnal mammals such as African Civet, Small-spotted and Blotched Genets, Side-striped Jackal, the beautiful Serval, White-tailed Mongoose and African Wild Cat, along with several species of owl and nightjar. These include Spotted and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls, African Scops Owl, Southern White-faced Owl, and Square-tailed and Fiery-necked Nightjars.
DAY 5-8: Satara Camp and Skukuza Camp – Kruger National Park
Travelling to the southern part of the Kruger National Park we will concentrate on slightly different habitats. We will focus on areas of open grassland, waterholes and broad-leaved woodland hosting species such as African Cuckoo-Hawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Green-capped Eremomela, Bennet’s Woodpecker and even Bushveld Pipit. The damp depressions around streams sometimes yield Black Coucal and in season after good rainfall, the odd Corncrake. This area is particularly good for the elusive Black Rhino and Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest.
DAY 9: Kruger National Park to Wakkerstroom
We have a fairly long but scenic drive from the Kruger National Park, where we will do a last bit of birding before breakfast, to the small hamlet of Wakkerstroom, which stands in stark contrast to the habitats we’ve visited thus far.
Wakkerstroom is situated on the Highveld plateau dominated by rolling hills and upland grassland. Several special birds occur here, with a good number of them being endemic and many are difficult to find elsewhere.
We should arrive in time for some afternoon birding. Our first port of call usually is the marsh just on the outskirts of town. Here we have a good chance of finding skulkers like Little Rush Warbler, African Rail and who knows even a Red-chested Flufftail if we are very lucky. African Purple Swamphen, Purple Heron, Cape Shoveller, Cape Weaver and Grey-crowned Cranes are some of the commoner species roosting here in the late afternoons.
DAY 10: Wakkerstroom
After an early morning coffee we head out in search of Wakkerstroom’s two very special and endemic Larks, Rudd’s and Botha’s, the former critically endangered. In our search for these two dowdy denizens of the grasslands, we’ll also be on the lookout for their more common cousins, Eastern Clapper, Eastern Long-billed, Pink-billed and Red-capped Larks.
Wakkerstroom isn’t just about LBJ’s though Yellow-breasted Pipit, Blue Korhaan and Cape Canary will add a subtle touch of colour. In the village, the striking Bokmakierie is usually an easy find alongside the peculiar Red-throated Wryneck.
We’ll also visit a local site in search of White-bellied Korhaan and Denham’s Bustard. At another spot, we’ll look for the enigmatic African Rock Pipit and Buff-streaked Chat. Some of the other birds that we might encounter include Bald Ibis, Jackal Buzzard, African Pied Starling, Cape Crow, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Grey-winged and Red-winged Francolins and the ‘often-heard-but-rarely-seen’ African Quail-Finch.
DAY 11: Wakkerstroom to Mkuze
A quick spot of birding in the morning for birds we might have dipped on the previous day. Our journey will then continue south, to one of KwaZulu-Natal’s premier birding spots, Mkuze Game Reserve.
We should arrive in the Mkuze area mid- to late afternoon and we’ll waste no time finding some of the spectacular birds that call this remarkable area home. We will drive down to the Sand Forest. This dry and localized type of forest is home to several spectacular species. We will look for Pink-throated Twinspot, Four-coloured Bushshrike, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Crested Guineafowl and Rudd’s Apalis, before we head to our accommodation outside the park.
DAY 12: Full day Mkuze National Park
We have a full day ahead to explore the incredible diversity of Mkuze, not just birds but also a whole host of fascinating mammals, from one of Africa’s smallest antelope the Suni to the largest mammals, the African Elephant. African Wild Dog sighting is a very real possibility as is sighting of Cheetah and even Serval.
Birding wise we’ll keep an eye out for Black-bellied Bustard, Senegal Lapwing, several Vulture species, Martial Eagle, White-crested Helmetshrike, Grey Penduline Tit and at one of the large wetlands, species such as Pink-backed and Great White Pelican, African Openbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Goliath Heron and Whiskered Tern. Several good hides are situated in the park, mostly overlooking waterholes and these can be worth a visit, sometimes producing memorable moments.
DAY 13: Mtunzini
Birding in the gardens of the accommodation can be top-notch and we will spend the early morning here. We often find birds such as Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin, Green Twinspot, Eastern Nicator and Purple-crested Turaco in camp.
We’ll head out and make our way to Mtunzini after breakfast. En route to Mtunzini, we’ll stop at several wetlands near Mtubatuba where we might add the likes of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Red-headed Quelia and many more.
We’ll arrive in Mtunzini around lunch and head out shortly afterward in the hope of finding Palmnut Vulture, usually a good spot for them. From Mtunzini we’ll head to Amatikulu Nature Reserve where we’ll look for Swamp Nightjar, Broad-tailed Warbler, Croaking Cisticola and Brown-backed Honeybird. We’ll arrive at our lodge in Eshowe later that evening.
DAY 14: Ongoye Forest and Dlinza Forest
Our first stop today will be at Ongoye forest, a remnant patch of coastal scarp forest which straddles the hills for about 20km between Eshowe and Empangeni. This is the only spot in Southern Africa where Green Barbet can be found. The forest here is also good for Green Twinspot, Narina Trogon, Chorister Robin-Chat, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, African Crowned Eagle and Striped Pipit.
We’ll use a different route back to Eshowe, travelling through rural Zululand, giving us an exciting and eye-opening perspective on the everyday life of the Zulu people. Back in Eshowe, we’ll enjoy lunch before heading out of town to a good stakeout for Southern Tchagra. We’ll also enjoy more forest birding at another nearby forest. Dlinza forest with its aerial boardwalk will be our birding spot of choice this afternoon.
DAY 15: Departure
Early morning birding in the gardens and after breakfast we will travel to King Shaka International airport for your onward flight. Extensions to Drakensberg and Cape Town can be arranged.
Do you have a quick question about this birding tour? Speak to a specialist at