The main focus of our Rwanda Birding and Mammal tour was to see the key primates and as many birds and mammals as possible. With limited birding time we still managed to see most of the targets and some great mammals as well.
The trip started with a pre-trip birding extension to Nyungwe National Park in the south-western corner of Rwanda close to the Burundi and DRC border.
The first day was mostly a driving day but we did a quick stop at a wetland just outside Kigali where we found our two main targets, White-winged Swamp Warbler and Papyrus Canary. Other interesting birds seen here were Swamp Flycatcher, Slender-billed, Holub’s Golden and Spectacled Weaver, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Brimstone and Yellow-fronted Canary, Bronze and Red-chested Sunbird, African Harrier-hawk, White-headed Sawwing, Woodland, Malachite and Pied Kingfisher, Speckled Mousebird, African Jacana and Spur-winged Goose. We did visit the Genocide Memorial and you cannot help to get a little bit emotional when learning more about the terrible events of that time in Rwanda. From here we had a long drive to get to Nyungwe. Actually nothing is very long in distance in Rwanda but it takes a long time to get anywhere because of the winding roads. It is not called the land of a thousand hills for nothing!!
The most important bird seen of the drive was Ruaha Chat, which is surprisingly common and easily seen perching on the rooftops.
Other notable birds seen on the drive include Hooded Vulture, Yellow-billed Stork, Purple Heron, African Sacred and Hadeda Ibis, Black-winged Kite, Eurasian Kestrel, African Thrush and Scarlet-chested Sunbird. The last section of the road was through the park and we did see White-necked Raven, Thick-billed Seedeater, Dusky Crimsonwing, Angola Swallow, Golden-breasted Bunting and Black Sawwing. Black-fronted Duiker and L’houst Monkeys were the first new mammals.
We had two full days of birding before the main tour started and with a very small and specific target list we started off on the first trails. Equatorial Akalat, Red-throated Alethe, Strange Weaver, Black-billed Turaco, Black-crowned Waxbill, Abyssinian Thrush, Eastern Mountain and Slender-billed Greenbul, Green White-eye, Banded Prinia, Grey-headed Nigrita, Gray Apalis, Dusky Tit, White-bellied Crested-Flycatcher, Northern Puffback, Yellow-eyed Black-Flycatcher and African Dusky Flycatcher were all seen early in the morning.
The trails were very well maintained a pleasure to explore and we successful with other key targets seen including Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Apalis, Kungwe Apalis, Mountain Illadopsis, Luhder’s Bushshrike, Black-tailed Oriole, Archer’s Robin-Chat, Grauer’s Warbler, Chestnut-throated Apalis and Purple-chested Sunbird. Rwenzori Sun Squirrel, Blue Monkey and Boehm’s Bush Squirrel were new mammals. Other notable birds seen in the forest today include Regal, Collared, Olive, Blue-headed and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, Abyssinian Crimsonwing, Red-faced Woodland-Warbler, Black-faced Apalis, Grey and Black Cuckooshrike and Tullberg’s Woodpecker.
On our second full day we started off with the Ndambarare Trail and the birding were brilliant.
Some of the main targets seen were Neumann’s Warbler, Willard’s Sooty Boubou, Grey-chested Babbler, Blue-headed Sunbird, White-bellied Robin-Chat, Waller’s and Stuhlmann’s Starlings. Other great birds seen on the trail include Great Blue Turaco, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Red-throated Alethe, Equatorial Akalat, Brown-capped Weaver, Rwenzori Apalis, Dusky Tit, White-chinned Prinia and Scarce Swift. On the way out we did see Blue Malkoha, Yellow-romper Tinkerbird, Grey Apalis, Chubb’s Cisticola, Plain and Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Siffling Cisticola, Mountain Wagtail and Black-crowned Waxbill. From here we made our way back up the mountain and spend the afternoon on a trail with two big target birds – Handsome Spurfowl and Red-collared Mountain-Babbler and got both. We also managed to see White-browed Crombec, Rameron Pigeon, Chinspot Batis and Rwenzori Turaco. To end a fantastic day we heard and managed to see Montane or Rwenzori Nightjar and enjoyed a great evening at our lovely hilltop hotel.
The rest of the group joined us and we started our main tour where the shift would be on mammals and general tourism.
Our first big mammal target were the Chimpanzees and we did spend a wonderful hour with them as they enjoyed the fruit from one of the few fruiting trees this time of the year. We did manage to do a bit of birding and new birds seen on the tour include Long-crested and Crowned Eagle, Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Grey-throated Barbet and Ross’s Turaco. After the long but successful tracking we enjoyed a good shower and a cold beer and relived our time in the forest and in the presence of one of the great primates in Africa. The following morning we did a very short birding trail where we found Elliot’s Woodpecker, Rwenzori Batis, Eastern Mountain Greenbul, Yellow-eyed Black-Flycatcher, Purple-breasted Sunbird, Forest Weaver and Equatorial Akalat to mention a few. The group joined and we set off tracking Angola Black and White Colobus Monkeys and were fortunate to find them pretty close and had excellent views of this very attractive monkey. Snowy-crowned Robin-Chat were seen close to the monkeys.
After lunch we made our way to Lake Give where we were going to spend one night. We did see Grey-crowned Carne, African Sacred Ibis, Hamerkop and Northern Grey-headed Sparrows on the way. Our lodge were situated on the lake and had a really nice birder friendly garden where we managed to see Yellow-throated Greenbul, White-browed Robin-Chat, African Palm Swift, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Red-chested Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Yellow-fronted Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting. Freckled Nightjar was a nice surprise that evening. The following morning we did a boat cruise on Lake Kivu and added a few nice birds to our growing list and included White-breasted and Reed Cormorant, African Fish-Eagle, Palm-nut Vulture, Yellow-billed Duck, African Openbill, Black Crake, Water Thick-knee, Striated Heron, Malachite and Pied Kingfisher. A short walk on Napoleon Island produced a hug colony of roosting Straw-coloured Fruit Bats as well as Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Red-billed Firefinch, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Grey-capped Warbler, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Pin-tailed Whydah, Yellow Bishop, Green-backed Camaroptera and Tropical Boubou.
Our drive from here to Volcanoes National Park were pretty uneventful with good views of an active volcano in the DRC.
We had two nights at Volcanoes National Park and since we have seen most of the Albertine Rift endemics our main focus were on the seeing Golden Monkey and Mountain Gorilla. That said our lodge did have a nice birding garden where we found Scarlet-chested, Variable, Red-chested, Bronze and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds, Cape Robin-Chat, Baglafecht Weaver, Common Waxbill, Speckled Pigeon, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-crowned Canary and Augur Buzzard were seen overhead. The Golden Monkeys did cooperate and we had a wonderful hour being entertained with all their antics. These very localised primates are only found in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Ruhahinga National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park in the DRC. The Gorilla trekking was incredible and we had an amazing hour with a very relaxed family including two very young babies that were going to be named in the yearly naming ceremony. And we were lucky to find a group pretty low down which meant that it was not that difficult to get to which is a big advantage in doing the Gorilla trekking in Rwanda compared to Uganda. We did have one night in Kigali where had time to visit a small wetland in the city and had surprisingly good birds including Gray-crowned Crane, Spur-winged Goose, Palm-nut Vulture, Black-headed Gonolek, African Yellow Warbler, Blue-headed Coucal, African Openbill, Grey-capped Warbler, Swamp Flycatcher, Red-headed Weaver, Slender-billed Weaver, Grosbeak Weaver and Western Citril to mention a few.
It was time to move to our final destination in Rwanda, Akagera National Park on the eastern border with Tanzania.
This great park is now managed by African Parks and you can clearly see the positive impact since they took over. Akagera is now a big 5 reserve which good number of Elephant, Black and White Rhino, Spotted Hyena, Lion and Leopard as well as a good diversity of general wildlife. Our first night were in the southern section where our two drives produced sightings of White Rhino, Oribi, Vervet Monkey, Bohor Reedbuck, Northern Bushbuck, Defassa Waterbuck, Olive Baboon, Hippo, Nile Crocodile, Maasai Giraffe, Roan Antelope, Greater Kudu, Impala, Topi and Burchell’s Zebra. The northern section turned out to be very productive with 3 different lion sightings, many White Rhino, Elephant, Spotted Hyena, Cape Buffalo, Bushpig, Warthog and Common Dwarf Mongoose.
The birding in this savannah habitat was very good with some of the highlights including Klaas’s Cuckoo, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Ruaha Chat, Sooty Chat, Long-billed Pipit, Hildebrandt’s Spurfowl, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Spur-winged and Senegal Lapwing, Goliath Heron, Speckled and Blue-naped Mousebird, Tropical Boubou, Chinspot Batis, Red-faced Crombec, Long-tailed and Croaking Cisticola, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Tamborine Dove, Square-tailed Nightjar, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Ross’s Turaco, Mottled Swift, Spot-flanked Barbet, White-crested Helmet-shrike, Meyer’s Parrot, Slate-colored Boubou, Grey-backed Fiscal, White-winged Black Tit, Moustached Grass Warbler, Black-lored Babbler and Yellow-throated Longclaw. And this just while on a general game drive.
All in all we had a fantastic time in Rwanda and we still believe that is a great destination for people with both a birding and wildlife interest or for birders travelling with the family or a non birding partner and there are so many interesting things to see besides the great birding offered in Rwanda. Definitely a country that should be on your bucket list.
Day 1: Morning arrival in Argentina and Visit Costanera Sur reserve
Our exciting birding trip of Argentina begun as soon as we landed in Buenos Aires. We collected our luggage and found our local guide, Javier. Birding started straight away. Our first stop was Costanera Sur Reserve, conveniently located just a few blocks away from Buenos Aires city centre- regarded as one of the best urban birding reserves in the entire world!
With approximately 350 hectares (and a similar number of bird species historically recorded on it), this is a big reserve which protects a variety of habitats including marshes, lagoons, patches of grasslands and a mixed forest with native and invasive (exotic) plants and trees.
The birding started with views of one of the reserve’s main lagoons where we enjoyed some great birding with highlights being Southern Screamer, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Whistling Heron, Cocoi Heron, Wattled Jacana, Giant Woodrail, Silver Teal, Yellow-billed Teal, Brazilian Teal, Rosy-billed Pochard, Coscoroba Swan, Black-necked Swan, White-tufted and Pied-billed Grebes, and three species of coots-Red-fronted, Red-gartered and White-winged.
Passerines seen included Red-crested Cardinal, Shining Cowbird, Saffron Finch, Sayaca Tanager, Spectacled Tyrant, Blue-billed Black Tyrant, Buff-winged Cinclodes, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Black-backed Water-Tyrant, Cattle Tyrant, Grayish Baywing and Chalk-browed Mockingbird, offering exceptional views. Raptors seen included Chimango and Crested Caracaras, Harris’s and Roadside Hawks.
Our walk along the trails yielded sightings of Golden-crowned Warbler, Tropical Parula, Chivi Vireo, Golden-billed Saltator, Masked Gnatcatcher, Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch and a stunning Southern Yellowthroat. Black-capped Warbling-Finch was a welcome addition. The inner lagoons rewarded us with sightings of Black-necked Swan, Lake Duck, Giant Wood Rail and Grey-cowled Wood Rail.
After a few hours of great birding and an excellent introduction to the birds of Argentina we freshened up and some of us did a run in the nearby park. An excellent meal with some fantastic Argentinian Malbec wine was enjoyed by all as we chatted about the exciting trip ahead of us.
Day 2: AM transfer to southern Entre Ríos. All day birding in Ceibas surroundings. Night in Ceibas
An early start was on the cards, as this morning we headed for the south of Entre Ríos province- one of the most productive birding areas in Argentina. Although not being formally protected, the region preserves very good habitat for birds and wildlife, with an interesting combination of Espinal forest, immense wetlands and patches of natural grasslands, as well as agricultural land. A well-planned stop on route yielded sightings of Sulphur-bearded and Curve-billed Reedhaunters. Other birds we enjoyed included Scarlet-headed Blackbird, Black-and-rufous Warbling Finch, Rufous-capped Antshrike and Savanna Hawk.
We spent our day birding along public rural dirt roads, visiting different habitats looking for wetland and Espinal forest species. A few noteworthy species included: Southern Screamer, Maguari Stork, Plumbeous Rail, Giant Woodrail, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Ringed, Brazilian and Silver Teal, Chiloe Wigeon, and a Pantanal Snipe sitting in the open calling.
Passerines in the humid grasslands include Spectacled Tyrant, Brown-and-yellow Marshbird, Sulphur-throated Spinetail, Wren-like Rushbird, Black-crowned Monjita, Black-capped Warbling Finch and Yellow-billed Cardinal. The Espinal forest is rich in specialties from the closely related dry Chaco Forest and we enjoyed sightings of White-fronted Woodpecker, Brown Cacholote and Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper.
In the open savannas we enjoyed spectacular sightings of the stunning White Monjita. Greater Rhea- the largest bird in the New World showed so well. Our night birding rewarded us with sightings of Tropical Screech Owl and Great Horned Owl. Another excellent meal was enjoyed over a few cold ones as we socialised and chatted about our great day. A few of the group are already over 100 lifers.
Day 3: AM birding in Ceibas surroundings / PM transfer back to Buenos Aires / Night in Buenos Aires
Our morning begun with some Argentinian coffee and croissants before we made our way to bird the surroundings of Gualeguay-an even richer Espinal forest. Here we enjoyed some fantastic birding with highlights being: Little Thornbird, Lark-like Brushrunner, Burrowing Owl, Short-billed Canastero, Tufted Tit-Spinetail, Pale-breasted Spinetail, Spotted Nothura, White-tipped Plantcutter, Guira Cuckoo, Whistling Heron, Campo Flicker, American Kestrel, Wren-like Rushbird and Firewood-gatherer.
The stunning scenery and incredible birding really make this part of Argentina so spectacular. It was memorable to enjoy a milestone on the trip, as William saw his 1500 species in the world.
Our afternoon session yielded: Austral Negrito, Spectacled Tyrant, Short-billed Pipit, Hellmayr’s Pipit, Hooded Siskin, Saffron Finch, Grassland Yellow-Finch and White-rumped Swallow. We made our way back to Buenos Aires, as tomorrow we have a flight heading up north to the Atlantic Forest of the Iguazú region. We enjoyed another fantastic meal in a local pizzeria before heading to bed as tomorrow have an early start.
Day 4: AM flight connection to Puerto Iguazú / Birding transfer to Surucua Reserva & Ecolodge (SRE) across Iguazu National Park
We took an early flight to the Argentine province of Misiones- this area has one of the world’s largest continuous stretch of Atlantic Forest. We all enjoyed the most spectacular sunrise over the Panama river on the flight. Our flight went well, and we arrived safely at Puerto Iguazu and headed for Surucua Reserve & Ecolodge our home for the next three nights. We were happy to be enjoying some warmer weather up north.
Our drive to the lodge was rewarding and we enjoyed sightings of: Chestnut-vented Conebill, Sibilant Sirystes, Long-tailed Tyrant, Grey-headed Elaenia, Yellow Tyrannulet, Surucua Tanager, Buff-fronted and Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaners. Tanagers were well represented with us seeing Guira, Green-headed and Black-goggled Tanager. Chestnut-bellied and Purple Euphonia added to the excitement. A few stops along the way rewarded us with some great woodpeckers for the trip, namely: Yellow-spotted, Lineated, White-spotted, and Robust Woodpecker.
A quick lunch and rest at the lodge was welcomed by all before we headed out on our afternoon walk around the lodge. The group all enjoyed chatting about the amazing birding that is on offer in South America. The great birds, scenery and food makes for a wonderful trip. Our afternoon session was another one for the books and we enjoyed sightings of: Fawn-breasted Tanager, Magpie Tanager, Riverbank Warbler, Long-tailed Tyrant, Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Plain-winged Woodcreeper, Rufous-margined Antwren, Spot-billed Toucanet showing incredibly well, stunning Chestnut-eared Aracari, Rufous-capped Motmot, Scaly-headed Parrot and a Surucua Trogon posing in the open that we could get video footage of.
We enjoyed a great home cooked meal prepared by our friendly hosts. It’s so nice to stay at these small Eco lodges based in the forest and are so peaceful and the food is always amazing. A good night’s rest was had by all as we fell asleep to the calls of Common Pauraque calling from the forest.
Day 5: FD birding in SRE. Night in SRE
We begin our morning with some delicious coffee and breakfast before exploring the trails around our lodge. Surucua lodge has a good network of trails, and amazing views of the Iguazu River and into Brazil. Our morning was productive and we enjoyed some exceptional birding with highlights being: Band-tailed Manakin, Blond-crested Woodpecker, Ochre-collared Piculet, Spot-backed Antshrike, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Large-headed Flatbill, Euler’s Flycatcher, great views of the hard to see Southern Antpipit, Black-capped Foliage-gleaner- a good trip bird, Streaked-capped Antwren, Collared Forest-Falcon, the enigmatic Toco Toucan and Ruddy Ground Dove. We tried our best to get views on a flock of Spot-winged Wood-Quail that we heard and saw moving on the forest floor but had to walk away with only fleeting glimpses.
Lunch was enjoyed back at our comfortable lodge as we updated lists and celebrated multiple great birds and lifers for the morning. Everyone enjoyed a bit of downtime before our afternoon walk and session of owling.
Our owling session was rewarding, and we got great sightings of Rusty-barred Owl, Scissor-tailed Nightjar and Common Pauraque. A mammal highlight was having a Jagurundi cross the path in-front of us. A good night’s rest was enjoyed by all after an incredible day birding in Argentina.
Day 6: AM visit to Urugua-í Provincial Park. PM and night in SRE
Our morning begun with a delicious breakfast before making our way to Urugua-í Provincial Park to target a few Atlantic Forest species and the critically endangered Black-fronted Piping-Guan. Lady Luck was on our side and on arrival we had amazing views of a pair of Black-fronted Piping- Guan, if this was not enough, we had great views of Riverbank Warbler and Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper- what a great start to the morning. A pair of Plum-crested Jay kept the photographers entertained, as we started our next trail.
As we headed down the trail, we heard a Brown Tinamou calling- but despite all our efforts we could not get the bird to show. Our morning was however very successful, and we enjoyed sightings of: Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Large-headed Flatbill, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Southern Bristle-Tyrannulet, Rufous Gnateater, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Bertoni’s Antbird, Variable, Tufted and Spot-backed Antshrike. A stunning Purple-crowned Plovercrest was a welcome surprise for the morning.
With it heating up and the bird activity dying down we headed back to our wonderful lodge for lunch and a short break before heading out for an afternoon of birding. A Black-eared Possum at lunch was a new mammal for the trip.
Our afternoon birding was a little slow but will still managed good views of: Chestnut-vented Conebill, a Black-capped Foliage-gleaner was a welcome target, that showed well, Lesser Woodcreeper, Red-crowned and Chestnut-headed Ant-Tanager. Another delicious meal prepared by our lovely hosts was enjoyed over a great Argentinian wine as we celebrated multiple lifers and great birds. We all chatted away about birding and our wonderful hobby.
Day 7: AM transfer to Iguazu National Park, visiting Iguazu Falls
A slightly later start was on the cards this morning- before we headed out to target a few species we still needed for the area. Our morning walk was very rewarding, and we had great views of a Tataupa Tinamou crossing trail for us- what a bird and to have it in the open had the group giving high fives all around. Just after this we had in the open views of a Red-ruffed Fruitcrow- what a stunning bird. Other noteworthy sightings included: Double-collared Seedeater, Magpie Tanager, Swallow-tailed Manakin, and a Short-tailed Antthrush- offering cracking views.
We said our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts and headed towards Iguazu town to experience the famous Iguazu Falls, one of the world’s most outstanding waterfalls and a world heritage site. We travelled across Iguazu National Park, making birding stops along the way on the road 101. The views of the forest along this road are some of the best still found within the Atlantic Forest, with its unique combination of tall rosewood trees and “palmito” palms. Some of the highlights for our morning included: Saffron-billed Sparrow, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, White-throated Hummingbird and a stunning King Vulture flying above us. What a great morning.
We had a blast viewing the falls from different trails and taking in this majestic place. The excellent trails in the area lead to us enjoying some great birds too, a few noteworthy species included close Plush-crested Jay, Toco Toucan, Surucua Trogon and Blue-naped Chlorophonia as well as several Atlantic Forest endemics such as Ochre-collared Piculet, Blackish-blue Seedeater, Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher- perhaps the best spot in the world for this threatened and declining endemic. Another highlight was having a critically endangered Black-fronted Piping-Guan in one of the rapids that made for some great photo opportunities and videos.
As we approached the main falls, we saw the unique Great Dusky Swifts that nest behind the falls. As we made our way around the park the birds kept on trickling in with us seeing Blackish Rail, Olivaceous Elaennia- an out-of-range winter visitor and the cute Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant.
Another excellent meal was enjoyed by the group as we celebrated another milestone, with another participant reaching his 2500th species in the world. Another excellent day in Argentina.
Day 8: AM visit to the Hummingbirds Garden. PM flight connection to Buenos Aires
After a relaxing breakfast we made our way to bird a local patch nearby, this was rewarding and we had sightings of: A few stunning Green-headed Tanagers posing well, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Thrush-like Wren, Fuscous Flycatcher, Streak-capped Antwren and Rufous-margined Antwren.
Our next point of call was the “Jardin de los Picaflores” (Hummingbird’s Garden), the lovely garden is in town and was absolutely pumping with hundreds of birds. Our visit was a huge success and we enjoyed great views of: Black Jacobin, Planalto Hermit, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Versicolored Emerald and the astonishing Swallow-tailed Hummingbird. The scarce migrant White-throated Hummingbird was a highlight. The feeders also attracted songbirds and we had great views of the rare Palm Tanager, Bananaquit and Sayaca Tanager.
Lunch was enjoyed in town as we took in the sights of where the Iguazu and Parana rivers meet. We were looking into Brazil and Paraguay and a few of the group took the opportunity to add birds to these two countries as Black Vultures, Roadside Hawks and Short-tailed Hawks flew between the three countries. We had to make our way to the airport to catch our flight back to Buenos Aires and continue with the rest of our exciting trip. Tomorrow, we start to head south.
Day 9: FD birding in Samborombon Bay. Night in Buenos Aires
Our morning begun with an early start as this morning we headed to bird the Samborombon Bay area. The area is known for some sought after and fairly range specific species and a few good mammals. A quick coffee and we hit the road. Our day of birding was an excellent with some good mammals too. A few of the special birds included: nice close-up views on a flock of Chocolate-vented Tyrants, stunning American Kestrels, Brown-hooded Gulls in breeding plumage, flock of about 20 handsome Tawny-throated Dotterel and a Spotted Nothura crossing the road in-front of us.
As Argentina is known for the great food especially beef, we enjoyed a tasty lunch of BBQ in the near-by town. Our post-lunch birding was also rewarding with us getting great views of Olrog’s Gull- the species was split from Kelp Gull and now is only found in Argentina and Paraguay?? We also had great views of Long-tailed Reed Finch, Grass Wren, Long-winged Harrier hunting, beautiful Roseate Spoonbills and Chilean Flamingos, big flock of Black Skimmers, Snowy-crowned Tern-an attractive Tern of southern South America. Waders included: Greater Yellowlegs, Hudsonian Godwit, Semipalmated Plover, Two-banded Plover, American Oystercatchers and Black-necked Stilt.
We also had some great views of the following mammals: Plains Viscacha, Pampas fox and Southern long nosed Armadillo. The Armadillo being a big mammal tick for a good part of the group. An excellent day of birding was celebrated back in Buenos Aires over some great Argentinian wine as we updated our lists and chatted about the next exciting part of the trip- Patagonia.
Day 10 and 11: Flight connection to Río Gallegos. Boat trip in Santa Cruz River estuary. Birding Santa Cruz
A slightly later start and morning of rest was enjoyed by all, as we had a mid-morning flight to Río Gallegos. A few of the group enjoyed a run in one of the city’s green parks as part of our Nature Travel Active trips- Buenos Aires is a wonderful city, with a true European flair, friendly people and nice green spaces. Upon arrival in Río Gallegos, we quickly had to get the thermal gear out for our transfer to Puerto Santa Cruz and some birding in the area the next day and for our boat trip to look for the critically endangered Hooded Grebe.
The next day we headed out at first light- which was at 09h30 due to us being so far south, much later then what we are used to in Africa. The morning was productive, and we had views of: Mourning and Grey-hooded Sierra Finch, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Black-chinned Siskin, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Aplomado Falcon, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Flying-Streamer-Duck and a flock of Lesser Rhea. We also did well on the mammal front and had good sightings of Guanaco, Large hairy armadillo and Commersons dolphin in the estuary. A excellent sighting as we headed back for lunch was of a Lesser Horned Owl posing wonderfully next to the road.
The snow-covered hills and scenery in the part of Argentina is absolutely breathtaking and led to some excellent photographic opportunities for the group. We really experienced the wilderness of one of the most pristine regions in the world! Our afternoon boat trip on the Santa Cruz estuary in search of the critically endangered Hooded Grebe was a success and we had out of the world views on multiple birds on the trip. We estimated we saw about 70 of these cute birds- the population is critically endangered with an estimate of about 500 to 700 birds left in the wild. Other highlights included Magellanic Penguins, Upland Goose, Crested Duck, Silvery Grebe and the stunning Dolphin Gull- arguably the best-looking Gull in the world.
An excellent meal was enjoyed at a local restaurant as we chatted and celebrated a great day with some special birds. It’s so rewarding to see everyone enjoying our hobby and conservation work taking place to protect these birds. Some of the group are well over 250 lifers for the trip- which is so rewarding and exciting.
Lesser Horned Owl.
Humboldt’s hog-nosed Skunk
Day 12: AM land transfer to Río Gallegos. PM birding in Río Gallegos surroundings
Our morning begun with us enjoying coffee and breakfast at the local bakery before heading out to check up on a site that we had seen a dead Guanaco the night before in the hope of finding a Puma- unfortunately no luck on this front. We did however get some of our targets for the trip, noteworthy sightings being two representatives of the Tinamou family. Both Elegant Crested and Patagonian Tinamou giving great views for the group. Patagonian Fox was a great mammal for the trip too.
As we made our way Río Gallegos the birds kept on coming in with us seeing Black-chested Buzzard- Eagle, Variable Hawk and a cracking sighting of a big flock of White-bellied Seedsnipe. These birds gave us some great fly byes and extended scope views once they landed.
An afternoon visit to the mouth of Río Gallegos river was rewarding and we enjoyed some excellent birds with noteworthy species being: all three species of Oystercatcher namely Magellanic, American and Blackish Oystercatcher. An excellent close of view of a flock up Least Seedsnipe in the parking area added to the excitement. Along the shore we added Chilean Flamingos, Two-banded Plover, Rufous-chested Dotterel, Magellanic Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Peregrine Falcon- it’s so interesting how these two species occur almost all over the globe.
We checked into our accommodation, freshened up and enjoyed another excellent meal as we chatted away about our exciting day. It was good to hear about the conservation success Argentina is having in protecting their wildlife and birds. A good night’s rest was had by all.
Day 13: FD birding in the Magellanic Patagonian Steppe south of Río Gallegos
Our morning begun with breakfast and coffee before we headed out to bird the Magellanic Patagonian Steppe. We had a few targets we were hoping for and had to work hard for them with the rain and snow making it a challenge. We had fantastic views of a flock of stunning White-bridled Finch, Austral Canastero and top views on a pair of Band-tailed Earthcreepers. A pair of Lesser Rhea also put on a show for the group. A Humboldt’s hog nosed skunk was a mammal highlight that allowed us to approach and get some great videos and pictures.
Our afternoon birding session rewarded us with some good pelagic birds, birds seen included: Magellanic Diving-Petrel, Southern Fulmar, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels. Other noteworthy species included Magellanic Cormorant, American Oystercatchers, Least and White-bellied Seedsnipes.
With the temperature plummeting and us loosing light we headed back to our comfortable hotel to freshen up and enjoy a hot shower before dinner. A great dinner was enjoyed as we chatted about our birding adventures, birding trips and about our great hobby. The fantastic Argentine meat and wine was a hit with all.
Day 14: AM birding in Río Gallegos and surroundings. PM flight connection to Buenos Aires and departure
We headed out for our last final attempt at the Río Gallegos estuary mouth to target a few species we were still hoping for. A few noteworthy species included: Grey-hooded Sierra Finch, Chimango Caracara, Dolphin Gull, Flying Streamer Duck and Coscoroba Swan. We unfortunately had to say goodbye to this incredible landscape and head for the airport for our connecting flight to Buenos Aires and our international flights home.
We all had an incredible time in this fantastic country and enjoyed some incredible birds, mammals and scenery- from the humid Atlantic Forest right down to the southern tip of the South American continent. What an incredibly diverse country with excellent food and wine and such friendly people.
Thanks to you all for being so wonderful, understanding, great guests and for the great time we had together. We all shared a good couple of laughs. A fantastic 14 days of birding in Argentina came to an end. We all had a blast and had an amazing time in Argentina and left with a tear in the eye after a lovely trip. I would like to thank our guides on the trip for all the knowledge, help in making the tour run so smoothly and for the hard work pit in on the trip. Thanks to the Nature Travel Birding office for all the behind the scenes work that went on to ensure the tour was a success. I look forward to our next trip together.
This Eastern South Africa birding trip was a private departure with one of our repeat clients. Our aim was to see as many of the Eastern South Africa endemics. Although the route would give us the opportunity to see all of them; the request was that we focus on photographic opportunities and to enjoy a sighting and not rush to see as many as we can.
With that said, we still ended up with an incredible list, seeing pretty much all the targets. To top it all off we had incredible mammal sightings with the spoil of seeing Cheetah twice. Below is a brief summary of our birding tour.
African Scops Owl
Day 1: Johannesburg to Magoebaskloof
The flight from Dubai only arrived by late morning and we managed to get away from the airport around lunchtime so today was pretty much a driving day. With little time for proper roadside birding we just picked up a few general species that included Black-headed Heron, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Southern Red Bishop, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Black-winged Kite, Common Buzzard and Common Fiscal. We arrived at our guesthouse situated next to the Woodbush Forest with spectacular views towards Tzaneen with just over 45 minutes of daylight left. We did a quick walk around the gardens and still managed to see Knysna Turaco, Chorister Robin-chat, Forest and Yellow-fronted Canary, Red-backed Mannikin, Olive Thrush, African Dusky Flycatcher, Dark-capped Bulbul, Hadeda Ibis, Cape White-eye and Southern Double-collared Sunbird. The day ended with 6 Cape Parrots and a Forest Buzzard flying over. We had a nice dinner at a nearby hotel and it was time to get a good night’s rest with a full day of exploring Magoebaskloof waiting for us tomorrow.
Day 2: Magoebaskloof and Tzaneen
Since the forest is normally covered by thick mist early mornings at this time of the year, we decided to start our day a bit lower down around the town of Tzaneen. We started with our Bat Hawk stakeout spot and found a bird flying around which was a bit of a surprise as they are normally crepuscular. It must have been disturbed by something. From there we stopped at a roadside spot with great Acacia thickets and had a productive 45 minutes with Purple-crested Turaco, Holub’s Golden Weaver, White-winged Widowbird, Red-collared Widowbird, Dusky Indigobird, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Violet-backed Starling, Bronze and Magpie Mannikin, African Firefinch, Blue Waxbill, Speckled Mousebird, Kurrichane Thrush, Ashy Flycatcher, Collared, White-bellied and Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Spectacled Weaver and Black-collared Barbet.
A quick stop near the rubbish dump produced Marabou Stork and Abdim’s Stork before we tried for African Yellow Warbler which we found pretty quickly. Other interesting species here include Lizard Buzzard, White-rumped Swift, Pin-tailed Whydah, Spotted Flycatcher, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Alpine and African Palm Swift, Laughing Dove, Lesser Striped Swallow and African Olive Pigeon.
After a quick and well deserved coffee break we made our way up the mountain to try and see as many of the forest species as we can find. As we entered the forest we found a Bar-throated Apalis Forest Canary and Knysna Turaco. Our first mixed flock produced excellent species including Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Brown Scrub Robin, Olive Woodpecker, Grey Cuckooshrike, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Orange Ground Thrush, Green-backed Camaroptera, Barrat’s Warbler and a Long-crested Eagle kept them all moving around. A second mixed flock had equally good results with a few of the same species as well as Cape Batis, Black-fronted and Olive Bush Shrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Sombre Greenbul and Chorister Robin Chat. On our way out we found a beautiful Eurasian Hobby and Common Waxbill.
We had a lovely lunch at a local craft brewery before making our way to a patch of grassland with scattered Acacia bushes. Here our main target was Short-clawed Lark with a very limited distribution and after a bit of searching we had incredible views including a bird displaying. A short walk in the same area produced Diederik and Great Spotted Cuckoo, Southern Masked Weaver, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Sabota Lark, Black-chested Prinia, Great Sparrow, Southern Fiscal, Fiscal Flycatcher, Green-winged Pytilia, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Yellow and Black-throated Canary and a Verreaux’s Eagle. A small dam on the way back had African Black Duck, Yellow-billed Duck and Egyptian Goose. We ended a great day with a very nice pizza dinner and great evening listening to the sounds of the forest. Tomorrow we are off to Kruger Park!!
Day 3 & 4: Northern Kruger Park
After waking up to a wet and misty Magoebaskloof, we made our way east to Kruger Park’s Phalaborwa gate where had 5 days to explore one of Africa’s top game reserves. Our first two nights were in the northern part of the park which is dominated by Mopane Woodland with beautiful riverine woodland around the multiple rivers including the main Shingwedzi River. As we entered the park and made our way north we started adding a few bushveld species including Rufous-naped Lark, European Roller, Golden-breasted Bunting, Brown and Black-crowned Tchagra, Blue Waxbill, Sabota Lark, Southern Yellow and Red-billed Hornbill, Magpie and Red-backed Shrike, Yellow-billed Kite, Southern Black Tit, Fork-tailed Drongo, Arrow-marked Babbler, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver and Wire-tailed Swallow.
As we approached Mopanie Camp for lunch we added Yellow and Red-billed Oxpecker, Swainson’s and Natal Spurfowl, Crested Francolin, Grey Go-away-bird, African Grey Hornbill, Red-breasted Swallow and Brown-hooded Kingfisher. Around the water we found African Jacana, Marabou and Yellow-billed Stork, Glossy Ibis, White-winged Tern, African Fish Eagle, Lesser Striped Swallow, Pid Kingfisher, White-faced Whistling Duck and the beautiful Saddle-billed Stork.
With Kruger being famous as a top wildlife viewing destination it did not disappoint with plenty of Elephant, Giraffe, Waterbuck, Common Impala, Burchell’s Zebra, Vervet, Warthog and the highlight a pride of six Lions.
We had a good day for raptors with White-headed and White-backed Vulture, Martial, Wahlberg’s, Tawny and Booted Eagle, Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagle, Bateleur and Common Buzzard. A very quick drive around Shingwedzi produced Woodland Kingfisher, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Water Thick-knee, Natal Spurfowl, Grey Heron, Purple Roller, Rattling Cisticola, Red-faced Mousebird, Little Sparrowhawk and Kurrichane Thrush. Nyala and Blue Wildebeest were the only new mammals. Barn Owl and African Stops Owl were seen in camp that evening.
The following morning started with a bang and as the gates open before first light this time of the year we made it count with Rufous-cheeked and Square-tailed Nightjars on the road. With the very first light had a stunning male Lion right next to the vehicle and after enjoying a roosting Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and Cape Porcupine, we saw four male Cheetah cross the road in front of us. Buffalo and Elephant around in good numbers as you would expect for this section of the park.
The rest of the day were spent driving the various small riverine loops and new birds found include Dusky Lark, Helmeted Guineafowl, African Green Pigeon, Mosque Swallow, Spotted Flycatcher, Amur Falcon, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Black-backed Puffback, Little, Southern Carmine, European and White-fronted Bee-eater, Brown-headed Parrot, Common Scimitarbill, Green Woodhoopoe, Burchell’s Coucal, Southern Boubou, Striated Heron, Levailant’s, Diederick and Klaas’s Cuckoo, Wattled Starling, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Wooly-necked Stork, Three-banded Plover, Village indigobird, Long-billed Crombec, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Golden-tailed and Bennet’s Woodpecker, Southern Black Flycatcher, Red-faced Cisticola and Southern Ground Hornbill. We finished off the day with two male Lion, Elephant and Cape buffalo all within one view in the Shingwedzi Riverbed.
A night drive produced Barn and African Stops Owl, Bronze-winged Courser, Fiery-necked and Rufous-cheeks Nightjar, Springhare,
Day 5 – 7: Central and Southern Kruger
For the next three days we were in Letaba, Skukuza and Berg and Dal areas of Kruger with the main focus on finding good photographic spots and staying in that area to see what would show up instead of chasing after individual species. Even with this game plan and spending a lot of time exploring the camps on foot, we still saw an incredible amount of species. On our drive south from Shingwedzi we did a detour to an area of short grassland where we saw Dusky Lark, Plain-backed Pipit, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Kittlitz’s Plover, Temminck’s Courser, Cape Sparrow, Red-capped Lark, Lesser Grey Shrike, White Stork, Common Ostrich and a the birding highlight a displaying Black-bellied Bustard. From a mammal point of view Common Dwarf Mongoose and Black-backed Jackal were new mammals and we we very lucky and found two Cheetah casually walking down the road just in front of our car for about 30 minutes. A few other birds seen on the way down and around Mopanie camp include African, Jacobin and Diederick Cuckoo, White-rumped Swift, Woodland Kingfisher, Southern Red Bishop, Southern Ground Hornbill, Green-winged Pytilia, African Paradise Flycatcher, White-winged Widowbird and African Hoopoe. A family of Spotted Hyaena laying outside their den offered great photographic opportunities.
For the rest of the day we wondered around camp where we found African Barred Owlet, Black-headed Oriole, African Pied Wagtail, Goliath Heron, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Collared Sunbird, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Levailant’s and Great Spotted Cuckoo, Mourning collared Dove, Black-backed Puffback, African Openbill, White-crested Helmetshrike and Red-winged Starling. Our drive down to Skukuza via Satara produced Dwarf Bittern, Yellow-throated BushSparrow, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Kori Bustard, Red-crested Korhaan, Lesser Kestrel, Burchell’s Starling, Martial Eagle, Knob-billed Duck, Squacco Heron, Klaas’s Cuckoo, African Scops Owl at its daytime roost and a brilliant view of a male Harlequin Quail. As is often the case in the open savannah of central Kruger, we had a great game viewing with big herds of Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Elephant, Giraffe, Impala, Warthog, Slender Mongoose, Smith’s Bush Squirrel and another Spotted Hyaena.
The more dense woodland riverine thickest around the Sabie River gave us the chance to see a few different species and we had great views of Purple-crested Turaco, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, White-browed Robin-Chat, Chinspot Batis, Common Buttonquail, Red-billed Firefinch, Black-collared Barbet, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Red-faced Cisticola, African Spoonbill, Greater Striped Swallow, Speckled and Red-faced Mousebird, Ashy Flycatcher, Common Scimitarbill, Dusky and Village Indigobird. Klipspringer and Southern White Rhino were two new mammals for the trip and Greater Galago were calling camp throughout the night. We also got to watch a newborn Cape buffalo give its first steps with the very protective mother not allowing anyone to come close.
Day 8 & 9: Wakkerstroom
We started our day with a walk around Berg and Dal rest camp and we had a very productive hour with Shikra, Brown-headed Parrot, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Green Woodhoopoe, Giant Kingfisher, Southern Boubou, African Barred Owlet, Striped Kingfisher, Trumpeter, Southern Yellow-billed, Southern Red-billed and African Grey Hornbill, Kurrichane Thrush, Ashy Flycatcher and European Bee-eaters. Our 10km drive from camp to the park gate was non stop action in terms of mammals with a Leopard, two Lion, White Rhino and Elephant which brought the end to a wonderful few days in one of Africa’s great game parks.
Our drive south produced Speckled Pigeon, African Sacred Ibis, Southern Fiscal, Brown Snake Eagle, Black-winged Kite, White-winged and Long-tailed Widowbird, Pin-tailed Whydah, Cape Sparrow, Spur-winged Goose, Red-knobbed Coot and African Stonechat. Wakkerstroom is a small town on the edge of an important wetland and surrounded by beautiful rolling grassy fields, offering some of the best grassland birding in South Africa. A quick visit to the wetland that afternoon produced South African Shelduck, Purple Heron, Grey-crowned Crane, Little Rush Warbler, Levailant’s Cisticola, Black-crowned Night-heron, Common Moorhen, Reed Cormorant, Great Egret, Yellow-billed Duck, Southern Pochard, Red-billed Teal and Glossy Ibis while Malachite Sunbird were seen feeding nearby.
The next day was all about the grassland endemics and our day were off to a brilliant start when we flushed a family of Red-winged Francolin. Other endemics and grassland specials we saw include the endangered Rudd’s Lark, Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Crane, Blue Korhaan, White-bellied Bustard, Ground Woodpecker, Pink-billed Lark, Cloud, Lazy, Pale-crowned, Wailing and Wing-snapping Cisticola, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Yellow-breasted Pipit and Cuckoo-finch. In the small pockets of montane forest we found our two targets, Bush Blackcap and Drakensberg Prinia.
Other good birds we saw today include Cape Longclaw, Dusky Indigobird, Red-collared and Fan-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Long-tailed Widowbird, Mountain Wheatear, Bokmakierie, South African Cliff Swallow, African Black Swift, Banded and Brown-throated Martin, African Snipe, Denham’s and Black-bellied Bustard, African Marsh Harrier, African Harrier-Hawk, Jackal Buzzard, Secretarybird, Amur and Red-footed Falcon, White-backed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Common Quail and Cape Crow.
From a mammal point of view we enjoyed sightings of Blesbok, Yellow Mongoose, Rock Hyrax but the highlight was definitely two groups of Meerkat. With so many of the endemics seen on one day we enjoyed dinner at one of the local restaurants in town before heading back to our guesthouse. Tomorrow we are off to Kwazulu Natal.
Day 10 & 11: Mkhuze Game Reserve
It was time to move to the Elephant Coast in northern Kwazulu Natal and one of the most exciting birding destinations in South Africa. Our first stop was Mkuze Game Reserve which offers top birding and we had a very enjoyable full day in the park. A big part of the day was focussed on the area around the main camp which can be explored on foot and found Eastern Nicator, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, African Pygmy, Brown-hooded and Striped Kingfisher, Red-billed Firefinch, Dark-backed Weaver, White-bellied Sunbird, White-browed Scrub Robin, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Southern Black, Spotted and Pale Flycatcher, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Chinspot Batis, Acacia Pied and Black-collared Barbet, Natal Spurfowl while Rudd’s Apalis was the best find.
We did spend a great hour in and around one of the great hides and with the warm and dry conditions there were a lot of activity. We saw Pink-throated Twinspot, Grey Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-billed Oxpecker, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Terrestrial Brownbul, Brown-backed Honeybird, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Lesser Striped Swallow, Wattled and Cape Starling, Bearded Scrub Robin, White-browed Robin-Chat, Village and Southern Masked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Jameson’s Firefinch, Common and Blue Waxbill, Golden-breasted Bunting and Sombre Greenbul.
We explored some of the tracks and even with the thick vegetation and fact that you are not allowed to walk without an armed ranger due to the presence of dangerous wildlife we still found Black Cuckooshrike, White-crested Helmetshrike, African Paradise Flycatcher, Purple-crested Turaco, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Violet-backed Starling, Long-billed Crombec, Rattling Cisticola, Red-breasted Swallow, Sabota Lark, Black-headed Oriole, Black-crowned Tchagra, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Crested Barbet, Trumpeter Hornbill, European, Little and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Pied and Woodland Kingfisher, Speckled Mousebird, Little Swift, Burchell’s Coucal, Diederick Cuckoo, Reed Cormorant and Crested Francolin.
Mkuze is also very good for game viewing and we saw family of White Rhino, Giraffe, Greater Kudu, Nyala, Impala, Warthog, Red Duiker, Zebra, Blue Wildebeest and Slender Mongoose. We ended a great day with a Spotted Eagle-Owl on our way back to the lodge.
Day 12: Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve and St Lucia
It was time to move further down the coastline to the famous St Lucia wetlands but first we decided to do a detour and drive through Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve, famous for bring Southern White Rhino back from the brink of extinction in the wild. In the northern thickets and forest section we found Gorgeous Bushshrike, Olive Sunbird, Red-capped Robin-Chat, White-eared Barbet, Purple-crested Turaco, Amethyst Sunbird, Red-fronted Tinkerbird and Black-bellied Starling to name a few. A close up view of the shy Red Duiker was a great mammal bonus.
In the more open sections we found Fan-tailed, Red-collared and White-winged Widowbird, Pin-tailed Whydah, Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Rufous-naped Lark, Croaking Cisticola, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, White-throated and Red-breasted Swallow, Yellow-fronted Canary, European Roller, Cape Starling Red-faced and Speckled Mousebird and White-backed Vulture. We enjoyed seeing a few big herds of Elephant and Cape Buffalo while other mammals seen include Giraffe, Zebra, Nyala, Warthog, Vervet and Slender Mongoose. From here we made our way to the town of St Lucia, gateway to the iSmangaliso Wetland Park.
After enjoying a break for a few hours we made our way to the estuary mouth to see if we could find the reported African Skimmers and we had a pair flying around. White-fronted Plover, Common Sandpiper, Purple Heron, Eastern Golden Weaver, Yellow-fronted Canary, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Malachite Sunbird, African Pied Wagtail and African Palm Swift were also seen. On the way back we had a great sighting of an immature Crowned Eagle, Crowned Hornbill and White-eared Barbet. We enjoyed dinner at one of the local seafood restaurants and had an early night as we planned to get an early start tomorrow to explore the wetland paradise.
Day 13: Ismangaliso Wetland Park
We were again up and ready to enter the park at first light and to our surprise the first signs of life as we entered were a bachelor herd of Cape Buffalo and a male White Rhino. A small flock of Crested Guineafowl was a great start to our birding day. In the open grassland we found Yellow-throated Longclaw, Rufous-naped Lark, Croaking and Rattling Cisticola, Collared Pratincole, Fan-tailed Widowbird and a Common Buttonquail. After seeing both Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagle, we had a quick view of the localised Southern Banded Snake Eagle. Cuckoos were all over the place and during the morning we saw and heard Diederick, Klaas’s, African Emerald and Red-chested. A beautiful African Pygmy Kingfisher gave us really good views at one of the walkways while Livingstone’s Turaco was another of our big targets that we found.
Other interesting birds during the day were Black-crowned Tchagra, Ashy Flycatcher, Dark-backed Waver, Cuckoo-Finch, Sand Martin, Intermediate Egret, Red-billed Oxpecker, African Cuckoo Hawk, Little Sparrowhawk, Collared, Amethyst, Grey and Olive Sunbird, Spur-winged Goose, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbill and Green-backed Camaroptera.
Day 14 & 15: Sani Pass
We started our day with a forest trail at the edge of town which produced Square-tailed Drongo, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Livingstone’s Turaco, Rudd’s Apalis, Brown Scrub Robin, Olive Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Sombre Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Red-capped Robin-Chat while Southern Brown-throated Weaver was seen nearby.
From here it was time to head to the Drakensberg Mountains. On arrival at our beautiful lodge with great mountain views we did a quick walk around the property and picked up Levailant’s Cisticola, White-backed Duck, Grey-crowned Crane, Olive Thrush, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Zitting Cisticola, Fan-tailed and Long-tailed Widowbird, Spur-winged Goose, Cape Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Cape White-eye, Malachite Sunbird, Red-knobbed Coot, White Stork, Cape Robin-Chat, White-breasted Cormorant and White-faced Whistling Duck.
We then had a full day to explore this beautiful area and we started with a drive up to Lesotho via the famous Sani Pass. The road leading the South African border produced Red-winged Starling, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Horus swift, Barratt’s Warbler, Red-chested Cuckoo, Ground Woodpecker and Banded Martin. Once we started ascending up the mountain we started seeing the big specials for this area which include Barded Vulture, Cape Vulture, Drakensberg Rockjumper, Drakenberg Siskin, Drakensberg Prinia, Sentinel Rock Thrush while Grey Rhebok and Sloggett’s Vlei Rat were new mammals. Other interesting birds seen include Yellow Canary, Cape Bunting, African Yellow Warbler, Southern Boubou, Specked Pigeon, Cape Sparrow and Cape Canary.
We did a quick drive into Lesotho where we picked up Fairy Flycatcher, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Sickle-winged Chat, Large-billed and Red-capped Lark, Jackal Buzzard, Black Stork, Wailing Cisticola, African Stonechat, Mountain Pipit, Grey-winged Francolin, White-throated Swallow, Cape Wagtail, Cape Crow, Rock Kestrel and a large group of Southern Bald Ibis.
We slowly made our way down and new birds for the day included Malachite Kingfisher, Short-tailed Pipit, Rock Martin, Swee waxbill and Barn Swallow. We then had a bit of time and our final birding drive produced Wattled Crane, Nicholson’s Pipit, Red-throated Wryneck, African Sacred Ibis, Cape Longclaw, African Rail, Southern Pochard, South African Shelduck, Maccoa Duck, Little Grebe, Yellow-crowned Bishop, African Marsh Harrier, Ant-eater Chat, Amur falcon, Familiar Chat, Brown-throated Martin, Bush Blackcap, Black Saw-wing, African Black Swift, Greater Striped Swallow, Long-crested Eagle, Denham’s Bustard and Secretarybird.
It was then time for our farewell dinner and last evening enjoying the cool fresh mountain air before making our way to Durban Airport in the morning. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and very successful trip with a very impressive total bird list and fantastic wildlife along the way.
Namibia and Okavango Panhandle Birding Tour Trip Report Date: March 2023 Guide: Marc Cronje
During the tour the temperature ranged from º17C to 35ºC. We recorded 48 mammal species, over 250 species of birds and 14 species of reptiles. The species mentioned in the daily summaries are only some of those seen.
Day 1: Okaukuejo Resort, Etosha South
Our birding trip started with us all meeting for breakfast in our comfortable hotel on the outskirts of Windhoek. All rested from international flights, we made our way to Etosha National Park, one of the great parks of Africa. Etosha National Park, known as the great white place, is an impressive reserve and always delivers on sightings and in my opinion rates as one of the top parks in Africa. The magnificent landscape, teaming with wildlife and contrasting scenes makes Etosha a great place to visit. We will spend 4 nights here.
A few highlights from the hotel gardens included Rosy-faced Lovebird, Violet-eared Waxbill, Chestnut Weaver and Garden Warbler.
Our drive heading up to Etosha was uneventful and we enjoyed roadside sightings of Purple Roller, Tawny Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite, the migrant Lesser Grey Shrike and Shaft-tailed Whydah. Our first mammals for the trip were Chacma Baboon, Warthog, Oryx and Steenbok.
We arrived at Etosha in time for a short drive to camp and we enjoyed our first sightings of Burchell’s Zebra, the endemic, Black-faced Impala, Springbok and Dwarf Mongoose. Some of the birding highlights included: Southern Pied Babbler, Northern Black Korhaan, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Kori Bustard, Temminck’s Courser, African Cuckoo, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Namaqua and Double-banded Sandgrouse.
Our first dinner was enjoyed at the camp’s restaurant, we got to know each other and go through the plans and what to expect of the trip. It was great chatting about birding and how it brings people from all walks of life together.
We made our way down to the flood lit waterhole at Okaukuejo and had the most amazing sighting of seven Black Rhino drinking and bathing in the water, if this was not good enough, we had three Elephant bulls join in on the action. At one stage we had Black Rhino, African Elephant, Black-backed Jackal, Southern Giraffe and Spotted Hyena all around the waterhole- what an excellent start for the trip. The camp’s resident Barn Owl also showed well for the group.
A good night’s rest was had by all after an exciting first day.
Day 2: Okaukuejo Resort, Etosha South
After a hearty breakfast we headed out to explore the area around Okaukuejo. A stunning Kalahari Scrub Robin, was our first bird for the day. At Nebrownii waterhole we had an incredible sighting of a lioness drinking water and then we saw her head back to the pride and bring a small cub out of the bush.
A few noteworthy bird sightings included: Chat Flycatcher, Willow Warbler, Sociable Weavers at their amazing nests, Spotted Flycatcher, Cape Starling, Groundscraper Thrush, Secretary bird hunting and Greater Kestrel. On the mammal front we enjoyed a clan of Spotted Hyena coming off a Springbok kill and multiple sightings of the plains game. The Giraffe walking on the open horizon at sunrise was a huge highlight for the group.
A visit to the waterhole at Okaukuejo camp before lunch rewarded us with an incredible scene of over 500 Abdim’s Storks bathing and drinking. These intra-African migrants visit Namibia and Southern Africa from November and leave for their breeding grounds north of the equator in April. The species breed colonially in trees, on cliffs or rooftops.
The huge herds of Zebra, Springbok, Oryx, Giraffe also added to the atmosphere. As we were about to leave three big Elephant bulls joined the party. A Greater Painted Snipe was a welcome surprise.
In the afternoon we headed for the Okondeka Plains north of Okaukuejo and enjoyed sightings of Spike-heeled, Pink-billed, Eastern Clapper, Red-capped and Sabota Larks as well as Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Capped Wheatear, Ludwig’s Bustard, Martial Eagle, Double-banded Courser and Desert Cisticola.
Another excellent dinner was enjoyed at the Camp’s restaurant as we updated our lists and chatted away about all the new birds we had seen. It was nice to see the group getting so excited about the new species and bird families they have seen. It was also a celebration as one of the group members reached her 1000th bird in the world today.
Our night stint at the water hole rewarded us with a sighting of two Rhino bulls charging around the waterhole in a territorial dispute- very interesting to witness, from a behaviour point of view. A Spotted Eagle Owl was a new addition to the trip.
Day 3: Mushara Outpost, Etosha East
This morning we made our way towards the eastern part of the park, and we enjoyed sightings of Double-banded Courser, Common Ostrich, Monotonous and Rufous-naped Larks, Brown Snake-eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Ant-eating Chat, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Bateleur and Gabar Goshawk.
We were extremely lucky to witness a fascinating and exciting sighting of a group of five lioness trying to hunt Zebra at Salvadour waterhole. Watching the behaviour of these lions as they stalked the Zebra was truly spectacular and even through the kill did not take place it was thrilling to watch and have the lions walks past the safari vehicle. A large Elephant Bull having a mud bath next to the road, just after lunch, was a highlight for the group too.
Upon reaching Namutoni and exploring Fisher’s Pan we enjoyed sightings of at least 500 Greater and Lesser Flamingos feeding in the pan offering some great photo opportunities with the late afternoon light on them. Other birds we enjoyed included: Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Lesser Moorhen and Maccoa Duck.
The mammal viewing was also great, and we enjoyed sightings of: the endemic Black-faced Impala, Steenbok, Oryx, Warthog, Hartebeest, Black-backed Jackal, Springbok, Yellow Mongoose, Burchell’s Zebra and amazing views of Giraffe drinking at Tscumcor waterhole. Some other good bird sightings for the day included: Acacia Pied Barbet, Dusky Sunbird, Red-Crested Korhaan, Pale-chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Barred Wren-Warbler, Lappet-faced Vulture, Bateleur, Lesser Grey Shrike, African Cuckoo, Shaft-tailed Whydah and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah. Just before exiting the gate, we had a pride of seven lions walking in the road- what a way to end the day.
We checked in to our lovely lodge to relax and unwind and all met to complete our lists and enjoyed chatting about our great day. The group was in great spirits, all joking and laughing, and this makes it very rewarding for me as a guide. We enjoyed another wonderful dinner at the lodge as we discussed tomorrow’s plans; spoke about species hybridizing and species splits. We all retired to bed after another exciting day in the great white place known as Etosha.
Day 4: Mushara Outpost, Etosha East
This morning we spent time exploring the eastern section of the vast Etosha National Park. Our morning started with a great, in the open, sighting of a of Pearl Spotted Owlet posing perfectly for the photographers in the group. Soon after entering the park and checking up on the report of a Leopard kill on Dik-dik drive, we had a very special sighting of a big male Leopard resting below a tree with the remains of a Steenbok kill above him. This magnificent cat posed wonderfully, and we spent a good part of the morning with him. He walked out in the open as a herd of Zebra spooked him. What an amazing sighting of this elusive cat. For most of the group this is there first trip to Africa- so what an amazing first-time trip.
Other mammals spotted included the endemic Kirk’s Dik-dik (Namibian subspecies), African Elephant, Giraffe, Black-backed Jackal, Black-faced Impala (another endemic subspecies), Hartebeest (Red subspecies), Gemsbok (Namibia’s national animal), Greater Kudu and Springbok.
A few of the birding highlights included: Tawny Eagle, African Jacana, African Grey Hornbill, Damara Red-billed Hornbill, Peregrine Falcon, Red-billed Spurfowl, Red-headed Finch, Ashy Tit, Acacia Pied Barbet and Black-faced Waxbill.
We enjoyed a relaxing lunch back at our lodge and enjoyed some down time in the heat of the day. The camp’s bird bath was hive of activity and we enjoyed top views of Emerald Spotted Wood Dove, Blue Waxbill, Red-faced Mousebird, Grey-go-away-bird and Violet-eared Waxbill. A few of us, as part of our Nature Travel Active Safaris, enjoyed a run around the property.
We spent the afternoon visiting various waterholes to see if we can spot some of our target list mammals and birds drinking. We unfortunately came out empty handed on the Cheetah front, but we did enjoy some great birding. A highlight for the group was having the Flamingos fly by us, making for some incredible photographs. Five Blue Cranes next to Fisher’s Pan was also a major bird for the trip. A slow drive along the pan delivered: Cape Shoveler, Red-billed Teal, Wood and Curlew Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Marabou Stork, Pied Avocet posing wonderfully, Glossy Ibis, Desert Cisticola, Woolly-necked Stork and Black-winged Stilt.
At Klein Okevi waterhole, we had a nice close sighting a small flock of Cape-Penduline Tits. These small birds, build a globular nest made of the webs of spiders as well as silken fibre from various plants. An entrance hole is made on the side and towards the end, a false entry and chamber are constructed below the actual entrance to the nest chamber. The spout at the entrance has a separating septum with the entrance to the actual nest chamber at the upper portion, the septum pushed up with its forehead to close the upper entrance by the bird just before leaving the nest to show only the main entrance leading into a blind chamber. This is a defense against snakes and other nest predators.
We headed back to our comfortable lodge to enjoy another wonderful meal prepared by the friendly staff. A glorious sunset bid us farewell from the park.
We chatted about conservation issues and conservation programs in Namibia and how eco-tourism is so important in conservation. With our lists updated we headed off to bed for good night’s sleep after an incredible day in Africa.
Cape Penduline Tit
Day 5: Kaisosi River Lodge, Rundu
Our morning started with an early breakfast before heading into Etosha for our last morning drive. We said our goodbyes to friendly and helpful staff and headed for the park. We struck some luck with a pair of Bat-eared Foxes walking in the open along twee palms road. We also had a great sighting of a pair of Blue Cranes crossing the road in-front if us- seeing the majestic birds so close was incredible. The Etosha population of Blue Cranes is a separate sub population with the rest of the population being endemic to South Africa. The Etosha population and consists of about 60 birds- so it’s a great bird for the trip. A booted Eagle was also a welcome addition to our trip.
We said our goodbyes to Etosha and started making our way to the Caprivi area. Our lunch stop rewarded us with excellent views of the near-endemic, Black-faced Babbler and excellent views of Crimson-breasted Shrike, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah and Rosy-faced Lovebird all posing for the photographers in the group.
We arrived at our lodge on the banks of the river, overlooking Angola, checked in and freshened up before dinner. A few garden birds included White-browed Robin Chat, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Pied Kingfisher, Red-backed Shrike, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and a flock of Steppe Eagles flying above the river.
We enjoyed another meal as we chatted away about the trip, the new birds and updated our lists. A few clients and I chatted about other birding trips in Africa and the incredible avian diversity the continent has. We all retired for a good night’s sleep.
Day 6: Xaro Lodge, Okavango Panhandle
We started our morning with a walk around our lodge. Some of the species seen included African Green Pigeon, Violet-backed and Greater Blue-eared Starling, Swamp Boubou, Woodland Kingfisher, Meyer’s Parrot, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Black-collared Barbet, African Paradise Flycatcher, Little Sparrowhawk, White-winged Tern, Marico and Scarlet- chested Sunbird. The wetland in front of the restaurant was the perfect introduction to the wetland birds of northern Namibia with us seeing Giant, Pied and Malachite Kingfisher, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Squacco and Green-backed Heron, African Pygmy Goose, Hamerkop, African Darter, and Reed Cormorant.
A highlight was watching an African Harrier Hawk raid weaver nest- the behaviour of the bird hanging upside down and trying to pull chicks out of the nest is fascinating. The bird’s leg joint can bend both ways to probe into the nests.
Our drive along the strip towards Botswana was used to chat about bird conservation in Southern Africa, conservation issues and success stories. I enjoyed learning about the conservation work the Grassland Bird Trust is doing. It was an enjoyable drive just getting to know each other. A few birding highlights included Black-chested Snake Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, migratory Common House Martin and a stunning sighting of Racket-tailed Roller. Lunch was enjoyed overlooking the Okavango River before we made the super convenient and relaxed border crossing into Botswana and onto Xaro Lodge located on an island in the middle of the Okavango Panhandle- The Okavango Panhandle is the main watercourse supplying the Okavango Delta. The Panhandle is the stretch of approximately 70km of the Okavango River, from where the river enters Botswana until it fans out into the alluvial plain of The Delta.
On our short transit drive through Mahangu National Park which we visited in detail later in the trip we had an exciting sighting of a Ovambo Sparrowhawk hunt and catch a dove- the bird sat and posed wonderfully with its prey.
As we boarded our boat and headed for our stunning accommodation we enjoyed sighting of Pied Kingfisher, Blue-cheeked and White-fronted Bee-eater, Fish Eagle, African Pygmy Goose, Chirping Cisticola and Golden-tailed Woodpecker in camp. A in the open sighting of the camps resident African Wood Owls was a highlight for the group.
A exceptional dinner was enjoyed under the stars and we socialised and went through the plans for our next two days in the amazing Okavango Panhandle. A session of stargazing from the jetty was educational before a few of us enjoyed a cold one around the bush TV, known as a fire, before heading off for a good night’s sleep. Falling asleep to the grunting of the resident Hippopotamus and the deep hoot of a Pel’s Fishing Owl-you got to love Africa.
Day 7: Xaro Lodge, Okavango Panhandle
Our morning begun with us doing a short walk to locate a Barred Owlet which was calling as we woke up. We were treated to excellent views of this beautiful owlet. We enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast before heading out on our boat trip to explore this birding paradise that is the Okavango.
The big special here is the highly sought after Pel’s Fishing Owl and this area must be one of the best spots in the world to find this beautiful bird. Lady Luck was on our side, and we enjoyed an out of this world sighting of this bird. It posed for us, and we spent about 20 minutes with the bird just watching us.
Other special birds seen on our morning and afternoon boat trips included the Okavango specials mainly Greater Swamp Warbler, Chirping Cisticola and Luapula Cisticola- this was great as these are birds only found along the Okavango River. Other highlights included White-backed Night-heron, Brown Firefinch, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Broad-billed Roller, African Pygmy Goose, Allen’s Gallinule, Fish Eagle, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Swamp Boubou, Brown- throated, Spectacled and Holub’s Golden Weavers and a very special sighting of a Sitatunga antelope feeding in the open. What an incredible day.
Another fabulous sunset and meal were enjoyed by the group next to the river as we chatted about our favourite sightings and updated our lists. We chatted about how similar some of the bird families and species in the States are to some of our birds in Southern Africa.
Day 8: Kaisosi River Lodge, Rundu
Our morning started with an early breakfast before heading into Etosha for our last morning drive. We said our goodbyes to friendly and helpful staff and headed for the park. We struck some luck with a pair of Bat-eared Foxes walking in the open along twee palms road. We also had a great sighting of a pair of Blue Cranes crossing the road in-front if us- seeing the majestic birds so close was incredible. The Etosha population of Blue Cranes is a separate sub population with the rest of the population being endemic to South Africa. The Etosha population and consists of about 60 birds- so it’s a great bird for the trip. A booted Eagle was also a welcome addition to our trip.
Day 9: Mahangu Safari Lodge, Divundu
We enjoyed breakfast overlooking the river before heading into Mahangu National Park for the morning and afternoon. We enjoyed sightings of African Buffalo, plenty of Hippo. Burchell’s Zebra, Impala, Topi, Waterbuck, Sable, Common Duiker, Greater Kudu, Giraffe and Warthog.
A few of the special birds seen along the riverine woodland and Acacia savanna included Lesser Honeyguide, Meyer’s Parrot, White-browed Scrub-robin, Cardinal Woodpecker, Grey-headed, and Woodland Kingfishers, African Mourning Dove, Lizzard Buzzard, Black-crowned Tchagra, Bateleur, Red-headed Weaver, Collared Pratincole, Buffy Pipit, Fawn-colored Lark, Olive Tree Warbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, White-banded and Hooded Vultures.
The floodplain delivered an incredible sighting of three critically endangered Wattled Crane, right next to the road. We also enjoyed sightings of White-faced Duck, Slaty, Great White, Yellow-billed and Little Egret, Squacco, Black and Goliath Herons, African Spoonbill, African Sacred, Hadeda and Glossy Ibis, Long-toed and Wattled Lapwing. We came across a herd of Buffalo and had close sightings of Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers.
Another great meal was enjoyed along the banks of the Okavango River as we updated our lists and chatted about our great birding adventure. We celebrated a birthday and chatted about the vast birding on offer in the States. It was also so fantastic to hear the group being so enthusiastic and excited about the experience and excellent birds in Namibia.
Day 10: Roy’s Rest Camp, Grootfontein
Our morning started with a cup of coffee or tea overlooking the Okavango River enjoying a spectacular sunrise and breakfast.
We spent the morning in the Buffalo Game Park (the official name is Buffalo Core Area) part of the Bwabwata National Park. Highlights for the morning included: Saddle-billed Stork, Lesser Jacana out in the open and close by, Goliath Heron, Bradfield’s Hornbill, Chinspot Batis, Marico Sunbird, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike and Eurasian Hobby.
With the reminder of the day mostly being a travelling day, we left the tropical Caprivi and Okavango regions behind us and made our way back south to the Grootfontein area. As we headed south, we noticed how the habitat changed from Broadleaf Woodland to mixed Woodland and later Acacia Savannah with the species changing with the habitat. A few roadside stops yielded: Racket-tailed Roller, African Golden Oriole, Golden-breasted Bunting, Lizard Buzzard, Cocqui Francolin and Tinkling Cisticola.
We arrived at our accommodation, freshened up and enjoyed a wonderfully prepared local Afrikaans meal as we chatted away and updated our lists and plotted on a map our route. A good night’s sleep was enjoyed by all after another excellent and exciting day birding in Namibia.
Day 11: Olive Grove Guesthouse, Windhoek
An early morning walk before breakfast yielded sightings of Bradfield’s Hornbill, Black-faced Babbler, Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Violet-eared Waxbill and Accacia Pied Barbet.
We made our south towards Windhoek chatting about our great trip, birding and destinations we want to bird and visit. A great road side sighting of over 50 Marabou Storks feeding and bathing next to the road was a highlight. We also added African Spoonbill to our growing list.
The group enjoyed a wonderful final meal together celebrating a successful and enjoyable trip. I had a great time and really enjoyed the groups company and I thank the group for the great time we had, the sightings we enjoyed and the good times we shared. It was enjoyable to learn from the group and to gain an insight into the birds and birding taking place in the States. The amazing conservation work the Grassland Bird Trust does is exceptional and it was most enjoyable being part of this trip to raise money for this worthy cause. It’s always sad saying goodbye, especially when it’s been such a successful and enjoyable trip.
March 2019 – We have just arrived back from a wonderful two week Nature Travel Birding tour to the northeast of the vibrant country of India, a beautiful landlocked area surrounded by Bangladesh, Bhutan, Tibet and Myanmar.
Although all our clients met up at a comfortable hotel in the capital city of Delhi to get to know each other before we started, the birding trip actually started in the city of Guwahati in the northeast. Some of our clients had been on a birding trip with us to northern India before and instantly fell in love with the cuisine, landscapes, culture and people of this incredible country. They were back for more!
The birding trip was essentially divided into three distinct parts. Firstly we went to Nameri National Park in the state of Assam, a state famous for its tea and silk. Secondly we made our way to the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary on the lower foothills of the Himalayas in the culture-rich state of Arunachal Pradesh before ending off the trip back in Assam at the UNESCO World Heritage Site national park of Kaziranga.
Our trip count ended on almost 350 bird species and over 30 mammal species, along with stunning sights like the Brahmaputra river and the Himalayas, as well as amazing experiences like a boat ride on the Jia Bhoreli river and finding a beautiful secluded pond in the middle of a forest at Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary. One of our clients also had the privilege of seeing her 3000th worldwide species on her life list during the trip!
A great time was had by all, and we especially liked the relative quiet and solitude that this trip offered. It was sometimes difficult to believe that India has almost 1.4 billion people! We got to enjoy all that “incredible India” has to offer, and more!
Day 1 : Delhi to Guwahati to Nameri
The first day of our trip took us from our hotel in Delhi to Nameri National Park in Assam. We took an early flight to the city of Guwahati and the highlight of this was undoubtedly seeing the eastern parts of the mighty Himalayas on the left side of the plane – a truly magnificent sight.
We arrived in Guwahati mid-morning and met our drivers that would stay with us for the rest of the trip. We then drove northwards for about 4 and a half hours, with a stop en route for lunch for the first taste of authentic northeast Indian cuisine.
We saw our first birds of the trip on the drive as well, and these included the globally threatened Greater and Lesser Adjutant, White-throated Kingfisher, Asian Openbill, Indian Roller, and Great and Little Egret to name but a few.
We arrived at Nameri National Park (100 metres/330 feet above sea level) in the late afternoon after crossing the impressively wide Brahmaputra river and were met at our lodge situated just outside the park by the friendly staff and our local guide who would join us for the rest of the trip.
We checked into our lovely sturdy tents with their en suite bathrooms and set off for a short walk to the Jia Bhoreli river closeby. This walk produced Orange-bellied Leafbird, Greater Flameback, Wreathed Hornbill and Brown Hawk-Owl. A great start!
We then completed our first checklists for the trip (55 species for the group for today), had our first dinner together and enjoyed a good first night’s sleep.
Day 2 : Nameri National Park
We started our day as all birding days should be, with strong coffee at 6 am.
We then took a short drive to the river and crossed it on canoes to get to the National Park proper.
The park’s habitat is that of tropical and semi-evergreen forest, with cane and bamboo patches, and narrow strips of open grassland along the rivers and streams. These diverse habitats support a large number of bird species, and Nameri is an unmissable stop on any northeast India birding trip.
Our target this morning was the endangered White-winged Duck, which we found relatively quickly after a short walk in a forest patch with a beautiful tranquil pond. Even though the bird was quite far away and the photos not very good, it was still a trip highlight! It is even the state bird of the state of Assam!
We also picked up Golden-fronted Leafbird, the impressive Great Hornbill, Maroon Oriole, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Wedge-tailed Green Pigeon, Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, the eye-searingly red Scarlet Minivet, Barred Cuckoo-Dove, Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, White-rumped Shama, Abbott’s Babbler, the dimunitive Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Blyth’s Leaf Warbler, a hunting Crested Serpent Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Black-winged Cuckooshrike and Black-crested Bulbul amongst others.
We had the most hilarious moment of our trip soon after, as we were strolling down a track in the forest. An Indian Giant Squirrel suddenly popped out of the undergrowth a mere 5 metres from us, and got a huge fright when it saw us. So did we! It’s a tough call to say who was more surprised at the meeting : the squirrel or the humans!
We had a packed lunch on the bank of the river before returning via the canoe to the other side of the river. Here we had great views of Great Cormorant, River Tern, Oriental Darter, White Wagtail, Common and Pied Kingfisher, River and Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Merganser, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper, Crested Honey Buzzard, Sand Lark, Ruddy Shelduck, Great Stone-curlew and Striated Heron.
We then returned to the resort for a bit of a rest during the hot hours of the day, before making our way by car to a dock upstream so that we could river raft down the Jia Bhoreli back to Nameri. The rafting trip took us about 3 hours, and the views and birds were just amazing. From the rafts we saw Western Osprey, Dunlin, Small Pratincole, Blue-bearded Bee-eater, Kentish Plover, Rosy Pipit, Citrine Wagtail, Northern Shoveler and a huge highlight for the trip, a pair of Ibisbill! Two of our clients had put this bird on top of their wish list for the trip, and to get it so early on in the trip was a huge relief for them. We also had time to take photos of one tree with 44 (yes we counted!) Wreathed Hornbills in it, getting ready to roost up for the night. An amazing sight…
After enjoying a stunning sunset from the river banks, we returned to our resort for listing, dinner and then sitting around the firepit, staring into the flames and relating stories of our birding trips across the globe.
Day 3 : Nameri to Eaglenest
Our day started with breakfast at 6 am, before leaving for the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary.
The drive to Eaglenest was fascinating. It started with a flat section through farmlands in Assam before entering the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the town of Bhalukpong. Here we had to do some paperwork before entering the state. There are major roadworks on the go on most of the passes in the state, and to see thousands of workers toiling away on steep hillsides with the constant threat of landslides and rockfalls, was a truly humbling experience.
Soon after entering Arunachal Pradesh we had a fantastic birding stop close to the town of Thipey. Here we saw White-naped Yuhina, Nepal Fulvetta, Golden and Grey-throated Babbler, Black-throated Sunbird, Grey-cheeked and Grey-hooded Warbler and also had excellent views of a surprisingly inquisitive Chestnut-headed Tesia.
The road then turned skywards, as we went over the Nechi Phu Pass (top at 1700 metres/5600 feet above sea level) and down into the Tenga valley. Just over the pass in a section of roadworks, our local guide stopped us for an amazing bird and another highlight of most of our clients’ birding lives : a relaxed and very obliging Wallcreeper!
We enjoyed lunch in the military town of Tenga and then started our drive up the Eaglenest pass towards our destination for the night, Lama Camp. Just before reaching the camp, we turned off the road and did another short walk. This turned out to be the spot for the world famous Bugun Liocichla, and we found 4 individuals after only 20 minutes! A massive highlight, and the sole reason some world listers come to Eaglenest. Here we also saw the aptly named Beautiful Sibia, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Yellow-throated Fulvetta, Rusty-fronted Barwing, Grey-sided Laughingthrush, Brown-flanked Bush Warbler and Green-tailed Sunbird.
We reached Lama Camp (2300 metres/7550 feet above sea level) in the early evening, with a Grey Nightjar flying overhead and our eyes fixed on the amazing landscape around us, and did our lists and enjoyed dinner. Lama is very basic, with simple tents providing the accommodation. The communal bathroom area and communal dining room is also not something to get too excited about, but we soon realised that the setting in the heart of the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary would make up for any lodging shortcomings!
Today was going to be a “drive” day, but we still saw a surprising number of species. Our group trip lists was over 150 at this stage!
Day 4 : Lama camp and surrounds
We started our day at 6 am with Masala tea and coffee, and walked back down the pass towards Tenga for some early morning birding. The incredibly aromatic tea soon became an essential way for our clients to start their days!
On our walk we picked up Rufous-bellied Woodpecker, White-tailed Nuthatch, Fire-tailed Sunbird, Black-faced Warbler, Sikkim Treecreeper, a female Blyth’s Tragopan and the scarce Besra.
We returned to camp at 9 am for breakfast, and then walked the nearby “Tragopan Trail” in search for more exciting birds. We didn’t get the bird the trail is named after, but we did manage to see some fantastic birds. This included Bar-throated Minla, Rufous-vented and Stripe-throated Yuhina, Black-eared and Green Shrike-Babbler, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Rufous-capped Babbler, Short-billed Minivet, Yellow-browed and Yellow-cheeked Tit, Rufous-winged Fulvetta and Hoary-throated Barwing, to name just a few. We also found a beautiful pond in the middle of the forest where we all just sat down and enjoyed our own thoughts for a few quiet minutes. A magical setting indeed…
We returned to camp for a hearty lunch and left just after 2 pm for an afternoon session consisting of a walk up the pass and then driving back down to camp. The Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary is named after the Indian army post “Eaglenest” on the border with Bhutan, and is rated as one of the best birding sites in the world. It rises from just over 500 metres/1640 feet to 3200 metres/10500 feet above sea level and covers an area of 220 square kilometres. The unpaved road that cuts through it makes it a relatively easy birding site, despite being quite high up. The habitat is that of contiguous forest in different elevations.
On our afternoon walk we managed to get Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, Great Barbet, Sapphire Flycatcher, the skulking Rufous-throated Wren-Babbler and the very rare Yellow-rumped Honeyguide. We also had superb views of the snow-capped Sela Pass in the distance – a photographer’s dream spot!
We then went back down to camp and had dinner and a good night’s rest after our first day in Eaglenest.
Day 5 : Lama camp to Bompu camp
Our day started with coffee and tea out on the deck of the common dining room and we had a great flyby of a Northern Goshawk.
We had breakfast and then started our drive up and over the pass towards our next destination, Bompu camp.
We had a birding stop at the very top of the pass (2790 metres/9200 feet above sea level) and saw Darjeeling Woodpecker, Stripe-throated Yuhina, the impressively loud Spotted Nutcracker and Fire-capped Tit. These are all specialities of this high altitude and they are difficult to find elsewhere.
We continued driving down the other side of the pass, stopping frequently for short walks, looking for more species to see. At one of these stops we managed to get one of our main targets for the trip, the stunningly colourful Fire-tailed Myzornis.
We stopped for a packed lunch at a trail entrance and took a quick nap in the cars before setting off on this trail into the forest. It produced Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, White-browed Bush Robin, the stunning Ward’s Trogon, Spotted, White-throated and Grey-sided Laughingthrush and the iridescent Mrs. Gould’s Sunbird.
Our last stop before reaching Bompu camp at 6 pm was a flock of Golden-breasted Fulvettas, a ridiculously pretty bird if ever there was one!
We checked into our tents at Bompu (1950 metres/6400 feet above sea level) and then did our lists and had a great first dinner here. The group trip list had grown to over 200 species!
Bompu camp offers sturdy tents with cots and thick blankets to protect against the cold. There is a common dining area with a generator providing a few hours of electricity in the evening, and a common ablution area with hot water on request. Once again, the relatively sparse accommodation is balanced out by the amazing setting and the richly diverse fauna and flora of the area.
Day 6 : Bompu down to Sessni
We started our first day at Bompu with breakfast at 6 am, and then started birding lower down the pass towards Sessni. The day consisted of getting out of the vehicles whenever our local guide heard an interesting bird call, or when we spotted a mixed flock around us in the forest. Then we would walk along the road for a while and bird, after which we would get back in the cars and go a little further down the pass.
Highlights for the day included the always tough to find Spotted Elachura, Scaly-breasted and Long-billed Wren-Babbler, Sikkim Wedge-billed Babbler, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler, Orange-bellied Leafbird, Blue-winged Laughingthrush, Slaty-bellied Tesia, White-spectacled and Grey-cheeked Warbler, the very difficult to see Grey Peacock Pheasant, Fire-breasted Flowerpecker, Yellow-bellied and White-throated Fantail, Yellow-throated, Rufous-winged and Yellow-throated Fulvetta, a pair of Kalij Pheasant, Ashy and Bronzed Drongo, Rufous-necked Hornbill flying overhead, and Mountain Imperial Pigeon. We also enjoyed fantastic views of a Black Eagle hunting in the forest; a true king of the jungle. We could also hear Rufous-throated Partridge a few times, but we were never able to get views.
We had a packed lunch at the abandoned camp of Sessni (1250 metres/4100 feet above sea level), being especially careful not to sit on or step in the many nettles that grow in the area!
We returned at 6 pm for dinner back in Bompu and everyone enjoyed a good night’s rest.
Day 7 : Bompu down to Khellong
We started our day early at 5 am, aiming for the abandoned camp of Khellong (800 metres/2600 feet above sea level) further down the road past Sessni. We would target the birds residing at these lower altitudes today.
We started off with views of a pair of Kalij Pheasant again, and also saw Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo, Long-tailed Sibia, Grey-hooded Warbler and Black-throated Sunbird.
A highlight of the trip was when we encountered a family of Asian Elephant as we rounded a corner. There was no time to photograph them, but it was special to see these giants roam free in the forests of Eaglenest.
We then had a packed breakfast before some exciting birding in a bamboo patch. Here we saw Yellow-bellied and Rufous-faced Warbler, White-hooded Babbler, Pale-headed Woodpecker, White-browed Scimitar Babbler and the tiny White-browed Piculet. Some special species indeed!
Other star birds of today’s birding were Coral-billed Scimitar Babbler, Red-headed Trogon, Verditer and Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, Striated Yuhina, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, the beautiful Chestnut-bellied Nuthatch, Maroon Oriole, Green-billed Malkoha, White-bellied Erpornis, several Rufous-throated Partridge, Small Niltava, Blue-throated and Golden-throated Barbet, Blue-winged and Red-tailed Minla, a group of noisy Lesser Necklaced Laughingthrush, Whistler’s Warbler, the very cute Pale-billed Parrotbill, the bright yellow Sultan Tit, Rufous-backed Sibia and Streaked Spiderhunter, surely a nominee for bird with the coolest name.
We enjoyed a packed lunch at Sessni again, with a Green Cochoa watching over us, that one of our clients had spotted while scanning the nearby trees!
Late afternoon we had a special encounter when our local guide suggested we stop at a viewpoint and take photos of our amazing surroundings. Here we had fabulous views of a group of eight Himalayan Cutias, another top target bird for the trip. One of our clients also spotted a rare Common Palm Civet eating fruits in a tree, a truly memorable sighting!
We returned to camp for ticking our lists and dinner, and reflected on a fantastic day at Eaglenest.
Day 8 : Bompu camp to Kaziranga
We had a very early breakfast, sadly our last one in Eaglenest, and started the long drive to Kaziranga at about 6 am. We went up and over the pass again, with a quick stop at the top to look for one very specific target : Bar-winged Wren-Babbler. And we found one after about 10 minutes and even managed a half-decent photo!
After this excitement we settled in for the long haul down into the Tenga valley again, before climbing up and over Nechi Phu pass again and entering the state of Assam at about lunch time. We continued into the farmlands and crossed the Brahmaputra river again, before turning east, with the road running parallel to the Kaziranga National Park for many kilometres. It is a mostly unfenced park, but according to our local guide luckily very few human-animal interactions occur here. The locals are very proud of their park and its UNESCO World Heritage Site status, as could be seen from the hundreds of signboards, posters and murals all over the place!
We stopped by the roadside at a lookout point and put our first “Kaziranga” birds and mammals on our lists. From this lookout point we saw Black-headed Ibis, Bronze-winged Jacana, Spot-billed Pelican, Painted and Woolly-necked Stork, Indian Roller, White-breasted Waterhen, Indian Pond Heron and Bar-headed Goose. Mammals included Asian Elephant, Sambar, Asian Buffalo, Wild Boar and our first look at the legendary Indian Rhinoceros. Also called the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros, it is one of India’s best-known tourism mascots. The park holds two thirds of the world population of these incredible animals. It is estimated that there are only about 3500 of them alive in the wild, and as such they are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
After this exciting stop, we headed to our resort just outside the park (there is no accommodation inside the park), checked in and enjoyed dinner. Despite being a “moving day”, our group total was at over 250 bird species for the trip at this stage.
Day 9 : Kaziranga (Western and Central)
We started our first day at Kaziranga with coffee at 6 am, before driving to a nearby tea plantation for a short birding walk in the surrounding forest patches, as the park only opens its gates for visitors at 7:30 am.
We had a very productive walk and managed to add Ashy Woodswallow, Large Cuckooshrike, Pin-tailed Green Pigeon, Chestnut-tailed Starling, Black-hooded Oriole, Crimson Sunbird, Red-breasted and Alexandrine Parakeet, Blue-throated, Lineated and Blue-eared Barbet, Olive-backed Pipit, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Blue-winged Leafbird and Taiga Flycatcher to our list.
We enjoyed a packed breakfast on the edge of the tea plantation with an Asian Barred Owlet watching us from close by.
We then drove the short distance to the entrance of the Western range/zone of Kaziranga National Park. Kaziranga lies partly in the Golaghat District and partly in the Nagaon District of Assam. It is the oldest park in Assam and covers an area of over 400 sq km along the banks of the Brahmaputra river in the North and the Karbi Ang long hills in the South. The area was declared a national Park in 1974. The landscape is that of patches of dense wet semi-evergreen and evergreen broadleaved forest, tall elephant grass, rugged reeds, marshes and many shallow pools and ponds. Kaziranga has been identified by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area (IBA). It is divided into ranges or zones and out first taste was to be the Western one.
This range or zone is probably the one with the most water, and we were looking forward to seeing some waders and other water-loving species. We birded from our tiny “Jeeps” (actually Suzukis) with a local driver and a guide in each vehicle. We saw Indian Spot-billed and Knob-billed Duck, Ruddy Shelduck, Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Wigeon, Greater and Lesser Adjutant, Grey Heron, Great, Intermediate and Little Egret, Painted, Woolly-necked and Black-necked Stork, Oriental Darter, Grey-headed, River and Red-wattled Lapwing, Common Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, White-browed, Citrine and White Wagtail, Common Snipe, Temminck’s Stint, Stork-billed and Pied Kingfisher, Crested Honey Buzzard, Crested Serpent Eagle, Grey-headed and Pallas’s Fish Eagle, Baya Weaver and Chestnut-capped Babbler to name but a few.
We also saw an incredible amount of Indian Rhino; none of us could believe that there were so many! Kaziranga really is the best place to see these huge prehistoric-looking animals. Other mammals included Asian Elephant, Asian Buffalo with their beautifully wide horns, Hog Deer, Sambar and the cutest family of Smooth-coated Otter relaxing on a sand bank and generally being mischievous.
We returned to our resort for lunch after a fantastic morning. The park closes over lunch time and only reopens at 2:30 pm again, so we had ample time to eat and relax.
We jumped into our open vehicles again for the afternoon session, this time in the Central zone. This zone has more forest areas and grasslands, and we were looking forward to seeing some other birds than in the morning. We enjoyed sightings of Oriental Dollarbird, White-rumped Shama, Greater and Lesser Flameback, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Paddyfield, Thick-billed and Dusky Warbler, Rosy Pipit, Green and Blue-tailed Bee-eater, the threatened Finn’s Weaver, Plain Prinia, Chinese Rubythroat and the gorgeous Swamp Francolin. Some of these birds we saw from a viewing tower with incredible views of the surrounding habitat. It also made for some fantastic sunset scenes…
We returned to our resort for ticking our lists ( 135 species for the day!) and dinner, and slept well after a great first day in Kaziranga.
Day 10 : Kaziranga (Eastern and Western)
Today started again with an early coffee and a short walk around another tea plantation. Here we saw the skulking Grey-bellied Tesia, Rufous Treepie, Eurasian Hoopoe, Great Barbet and Dark-necked Tailorbird.
We enjoyed another packed breakfast, this time with a Great Hornbill close to us, and amazingly, another Asian Barred Owlet!
We entered Kaziranga through the Eastern gate at 8 am and again saw a host of water-based birds, including the globally threatened Greater and Lesser Adjutants and many others that we had seen the day before. We also added Purple Heron, the dainty Cotton Pygmy Goose, Pheasant-tailed Jacana, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Garganey and Glossy Ibis.
In the forest patches we saw the beautiful Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Rosy Minivet, Chestnut-headed Bee-eater, Green Imperial Pigeon, Fulvous-breasted Woodpecker, Oriental Pied Hornbill, a very photogenic Brown Fish Owl and Greater Spotted Eagle. We also had an incredible sighting of a tree filled with up to 14 barbets, including Blue-throated, Blue-eared, Lineated and Coppersmith!
We again returned to the resort for lunch and a bit of time off, and then returned to the Western zone for the afternoon session. Our drive here produced Streak-throated and Grey-headed Woodpecker, Striated Babbler, a quartering Changeable Hawk-Eagle, Common Emerald Dove and a very patient Cinnamon Bittern. This was a highlight for one of our clients, as he is planning to see all 16 species of bitterns in the world, and he had missed out on Cinnamon Bittern before.
We exited the park at 5 pm and decided to look for some nocturnal fauna. We waited until after dark, and our local guide took us to a spot where he had seen the elusive Fishing Cat before. Although we didn’t get to see that particular predator, we did manage to find a Spotted Owlet, Large-tailed Nightjar and a beautiful serpent, the non-venomous Checkered Keelback.
In terms of mammals, our day produced Asian Elephant, Asian Buffalo, Indian Rhino, Rhesus Monkey, Himalayan Striped Squirrel, Wild Boar, Hog Deer, Sambar and Barasingha.
We returned to the resort for a late dinner, did our lists and slept peacefully with a good thunderstorm all around us.
Day 11 : Kaziranga (Far Western and Central)
Our day started with coffee at 6 am and then a longer drive to reach the far western zone of Kaziranga.
This area is known for its grasslands and a relative lack of ponds and lakes. We were looking forward to catching up with some raptors, and we were not disappointed. We saw Himalayan Vulture, Pied and Hen Harrier, Pallas’s and Grey-headed Fish Eagle, Oriental Hobby and Changeable Hawk-Eagle.
We also added the very elusive Blue-naped Pitta after a typical long search in a dense forest patch, but it was well worth it. Other good birds this morning included Red Turtle Dove, Great Hornbill, Bengal Bush Lark, Silver-backed Needletail, Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker, Bank Myna, Richard’s Pipit, Striated Swallow and Indian Grassbird.
A mammal highlight of the morning was a Golden Jackal that even posed for some portraits before disappearing into a thicket.
We again returned for lunch at the resort and a bit of time to relax.
Some of our clients decided to skip the afternoon session in the park to do some shopping (Assam produces some of the finest tea and silk on the planet) at a local market, but the ones that went to the Central zone in Kaziranga had an incredibly rare Eastern Marsh Harrier sighting to boast about that evening!
We all got together for one final listing session and we were chuffed that our combined trip list had reached the incredible figure of 342! A good total in anyone’s books!
We had dinner and a good night’s rest for the day of travel that lay ahead.
Day 12 : Kaziranga to Delhi via Guwahati
We had a last breakfast at our resort at 5:30 am and then drove westwards towards an exciting excursion…
We crossed the Kolia Bhomora Setu at about 8:30 am. It is a 3.2 km long road bridge over the Brahmaputra river near the town of Tezpur, connecting the district of Sonitpur with Nagaon. The bridge is one of the most important links between the northeastern states and the rest of India.
We then hopped onto a powered boat on the river and looked for a very special mammal; the Ganges River Dolphin. This river dolphin is primarily found in the Ganges (as its name suggests) and Brahmaputra rivers and their tributaries in Bangladesh, India and Nepal. The Ganges River Dolphin has been recognised by the government of India as its National Aquatic Animal and it is the official animal of the city of Guwahati. We were in luck, as after only about 30 seconds on the boat we spotted our first dolphins! We were entertained for about 15 minutes with these graceful creatures jumping out of the water and being childishly playful all around us. A memorable event for all of us…
After this unforgettable sighting we drove to the city of Guwahati, with a very good lunch at a roadside restaurant en route, and arrived at the airport at about 1:30 pm. We said our sad goodbyes to our local guide and our drivers, and took the 4 pm flight back to Delhi.
By 7:30 pm we were in the bar at our comfortable airport hotel, reflecting on the fantastic trip we had experienced.
Normally it takes clients a while to assess a trip and decide on their next birding destination, but everyone agreed that they couldn’t wait to come back to this place; Incredible India!
Our Uganda Birding and Primate Safari started off with a meeting at the hotel in Entebbe. A quick tour briefing was done and we all settled in and enjoyed some time around the pool unwinding after the long flights and getting to know each other. We enjoyed an afternoon of birding in the Entebbe Botanical gardens, with top highlights being: Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, Red-headed Lovebird, Double-toothed Barbet, Grey Parrot, White-throated Bee-eater, Great Blue Turaco, Palm-nut Vulture, Orange Weaver and Black-headed Gonolek. We also had sightings of all 3 Primate species in the gardens namely: Angolan (Black and White Colobus), Vervet Monkey and Red-tailed monkey. A great way to start a birding trip and get familiar with some of the Ugandan species. Dinner was enjoyed overlooking Lake Victoria while discussing the plan for the next 13 Days of exciting Birding, Primate and mammal viewing.
Our one client has a keen interest in Primates, while the other client has an interest in Birdlife, so Uganda is the perfect destination for them both.
Day 2: Mabamba Swamp – Masindi Town
After a good night’s rest we enjoyed an early breakfast, met our fantastic and experienced local guide and driver Stephen and headed off to start our Uganda Birding and Primate Safari. Our first stop was the famous Mabamba Swamp to see the world famous Shoebill. This bird is high on any birder’s list and our clients really wanted to see this charismatic bird. We jumped on board our little canoe and went in search of this very special bird. After about half an hours searching – the words we had been waiting came out of my mouth, Shoebill! We were treated to a fly over of a young bird, which flew directly over us. We watched where it landed and managed to get into the Papyrus reeds and were treated to awesome views of the bird preening and then calling for an adult to bring in food. An absolutely amazing experience which will be forever in the memories of our clients. This almost prehistoric bird is a bird that many people dream of seeing and ranks up there with being one of the most sought after birds to see in Africa. Our first big target for the trip was in the bag, and the incredible sighting of the Shoebill really set the tone for the rest of the trip.
The iconic Shoebill
Other worthy highlights at Mabamba Swamp included: Swamp Flycatcher, Blue-headed Coucal, Malachite Kingfisher, Winding Cisticola, Blue Swallow, Blue-breasted Bee-Eater, African Pygmy Kingfisher and Marsh Tchagra. As a South African birder it’s always a real treat to see good numbers of Blue Swallows at Mabamba, as in Southern Africa this bird is critically endangered and rare due to habitat loss.
After the excitement of the morning’s birding we moved towards Kampala, stopping en route to enjoy views of: Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Sooty Chat, African Pied Hornbill, Olive Bee-eater, Splendid Starling and Long-crested Eagle.
Lunch was enjoyed outside Kampala before moving onto Masindi Town. We did some birding along the way and along the Kaufu River, highlights for the afternoon included: White-winged Black Tit, Marsh Widowbird, Grey-capped Warbler, Cardinal Woodpecker, African Openbill, Pink-backed Pelican, White-headed Barbet, Grey-backed Fiscal and Moustached Grass Warbler. A great day’s birding was celebrated at the lodge over dinner and a nice cold beer. Another great day birding in the “Pearl of Africa”.
Day 3: Royal Mile (Budongo Forest) – Murchison Falls
An early breakfast was on the cards as today we made our way to the Budongo Forest, The largest natural forest area in East Africa and includes the famous “Royal Mile” a top forest birding road lying under the Budongo forest canopy. We had an incredible morning’s birding in the forest and some of the top sightings included: White-thighed Hornbill, African Dwarf Kingfisher, Western Oriole, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Little Grey Greenbul, Buff-throated Apalis, Purple-headed Starling, Rufous-crowned Eremomela, Narina Trogon, Yellow-billed Barbet, White-chinned Prinia, Grey Parrot, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Chestnut-capped Flycatcher, Ituri Batis, Chestnut Wattle-eye, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Crowned Eagle and Yellow Spotted Barbet. As we were leaving the forest we were treated to a fly over of the resident Crowned Eagle.
Primate highlights included: Blue Monkey, Angolian (Black and White) Colobus and Red Tailed Monkey, we also saw both Boehm’s Bush Squirrel and Red-legged Sun Squirrel. After enjoying lunch in the forest we finished off our birding and headed for Murchison Falls to our accommodation for the night, overlooking the Nile River. Birding highlights en route included: Black-winged Red Bishop, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Baglafecht Weaver, Northern Red Bishop, Scarce Swift, Short-winged Cisticola and Black-bellied Firefinch. Our mammal tally increased with sightings of Warthog and Chacma Baboon. We had a lovely sighting of a breeding herd of Ugandan Kob, which our clients enjoyed seeing.
We settled in to our accommodation, took a swim and enjoyed sunset over the Nile River and were treated to a lovely dinner chatting about the great day’s birding we had. Our clients were still overwhelmed from spending time in the forest and enjoying the peace that the Budongo forest has to offer. Our primate sightings were also good and we did hear the Chimpanzees calling at a distance which got our clients’ hearts racing. We all slept well after a busy day of birding.
Day 4: Delta- Victoria Nile, Murchison Falls – Masindi Town via Kaniyo Pabidi Forest
We had a slightly later start this morning and took a little time to enjoy the view over the Victoria Nile, while enjoying a hearty breakfast and hit the road once again to make our way into the delta system by boat. Highlights of the boat trip included: Shoebill, Long-toed Lapwing, Saddle-billed Stork, Red-throated Bee-Eater, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Goliath Heron, African Darter and Wire-tailed Swallow. We also enjoyed the antics of the resident Hippo along the Victoria Nile. We ended our trip at the confluence of the Victoria and Albert Nile. It’s at this point the Victoria Nile flows South into Lake Albert and the Nile River continues into South Sudan and eventually to Egypt.
Our drive in the Savannah area of Murchison Falls National Park was most enjoyable and we had some really amazing bird and mammal sightings in the Park, highlights included: Speckled-fronted Weaver, Spotted Palm Thrush, Silverbird, Denham’s Bustard, Black-rumped Waxbill, Northern Crombec, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Black-headed Lapwing, Grey-Crowned Crane- The National Bird of Uganda, Ruppell’s Vukture, Nubian Woodpecker, African Grey Woodpecker and Black-billed Barbet. Mammal highlights included: Ugandan Kob, Defassa Waterbuck, Jackson’s Hartebeest, Oribi, Rothschild’s Giraffe, Elephant, African Buffalo, Olive Baboon and Patas Monkey. Lunch was enjoyed on the banks of the Victoria Nile and soon we moved onto the top of Murchison Falls, where the river Nile displays its beauty.
We all enjoyed the breathtaking view of the falls as it’s at this point the Nile is transformed into explosive foam of thunderous wide water- funnels shaped through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment – a truly magnificent sight for our clients, who had the falls on their bucket list. We also had good views of the resident Rock Pratincoles on the rocks above the falls. We made our way to Masindi, our accommodation for the night. Dinner was enjoyed at the restaurant as we all chatted and went over the amazing day we had in Murchison Falls National Park.
Day 5: Kibale National Park – Sebitoli area
Our day got off to an earlier start as we had a lengthy journey ahead of us to get to Kibale National Park from our accommodation in Masindi. We enjoyed breakfast and moved on towards Fort Portal for Lunch via Hoima town. Birding highlights en route included: Long-crested Eagle, Village Indigobird, Vieillot’s Black Weaver, Great Blue Turaco, Black-crowned Waxbill, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Shikra, Northern Double-collared Sunbird and Marico Sunbird. The area around Kagadi and Kagorro had some good rain overnight, which made navigating the clay rich dirt roads a challenge, but our fantastic local guide, Stephen did a great job. Lots of skidding and sliding but all in all a fun filled adventure was enjoyed by everyone. Lunch was enjoyed at the gardens in Fort Portal and our clients were very happy she could do some curio shopping at a lovely shop near to our lunch stop. After lunch we moved onto the Sebitoli area of Kibale National Park and we were treated to a great afternoon’s birding in the forest which included: White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Olive-bellied Sunbird, Bocage’s Bushshrike, Honeyguide Greenbul, Brown-breasted Barbet, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Blue Malkoha, Ross’s Turaco, African Dusky Flycatcher, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Red-capped Robin-Chat, and Luhder’s Bushshrike. What a fantastic afternoon of birding in Uganda, with us also getting good sighting of Uganda Red Colobus which made our clients very happy as they loves their primates. We enjoyed dinner at the lodge over a nice glass of wine and settled in early for bed as the next morning we had an early start.
Day 6: Kibale National Park – Chimpanzee trekking
Our day begun a little earlier than the days before today as this morning we headed off to Kibale National Park to try and locate one of the most sought after and charismatic bird species of the forest, the Green-breasted Pitta. We spent about an hour trying to locate the bird with just a brief glimpse and then as we started Chimpanzee trekking our luck turned and after a bit of climbing through the forest and getting low down we all got amazing views of this beautiful avian gem close in front of us feeding on the forest floor and then up on a tree branch. Other highlights included: Black Bee-eater, Grey-headed Nigrita, White-breasted Nigrita and Great Blue Turaco. We soon, after catching our breath, moved on to try and locate the resident troop of Chimpanzees that live in the area.
Our guide knew a group was nearby and it was not long and we had a top sighting of a troop of 20 Chimps feeding, playing, mating and displaying in the trees in front of us for well over an hour. We enjoyed watching the antics of the youngsters and also had the Alpha male display for us, this was a spectacular sighting and for our clients it was a dream come true that brought tears to everyone’s eyes. It’s a real privilege to watch these endangered Chimpanzees in the wild. The species of Chimpanzee in Uganda is known as the Eastern Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes schweinfurhi and occurs across Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Sudan and DRC.
After our exciting morning we enjoyed lunch and headed for our hotel just outside Fort Portal to check in, fresher up and have some down time before heading off to Sebitoli in Kibale National Park for an afternoons birding. Highlights for the afternoon included: Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Green Hylia, Brown-capped Weaver, Sooty Flycatcher, Purple-headed Starling, Chubb’s Cisticola, Yellow-whiskered Greenbul and Scarce Swift. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at our hotel and all slept well after an action packed day on Safari in Uganda.
Day 7: Semliki National Park – Fort Portal
Our day started slightly later today with a good breakfast before making the 2 hour journey to Semliki National Park. The forest tract of Semliki is an extension of West African forest that stretches from Equatorial Guinea through Congo forming a habitat for Guinea Congo biome species that do not exist in other areas of East Africa. En-route we had a wonderful sighting of a Grey Kestrel hunting next to the road, Blue-naped Mousebird, Black Kite, African Firefinch, Piping Hornbill and African Harrier- Hawk. The weather was not in our favour and was a little slow with rain and overcast conditions, however perseverance paid off and Simliki rewarded us with encounters of: Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Blue-throated Brown Sunbird, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Green Hylia, Orange-cheeked Waxbill( according to the field guide not supposed to occur in Uganda), Western Nicator, Rufous-sided Broadbill, Black-necked Weaver, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Wilcocks’s Honeyguide, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, Xavier’s Greenbul, Grey-headed Sunbird, Red-tailed Ant Thrush and Western Bronze-naped Pigeon. Primate highlights included: Angola (Black and White) Colobus, Ugandan Grey-cheeked Mangabey and Red-tailed Monkey. On the way back to the hotel our clients got the chance to enjoy the views over the Albertine Rift Valley. They also wanted to do some craft shopping from the local Pygmy (Batwa) people en route.
After a good day’s birding and walking in the primary and secondary forest of Semliki we enjoyed freshening up and relaxing at the hotel and enjoyed a lovely dinner and wine while catching up on our ever growing bird list for the trip.
Day 8: Queen Elizabeth National Park – Boat trip along Kazinga channel
This morning we had a slightly later start and enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the hotel before heading to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Highlights en route to the park included: Little Sparrowhawk, Bronzy Sunbird, African Golden Weaver and Black-headed Weaver. We arrived in Queen Elizabeth National Park, a highlight for both our clients, quickly checked in to our accommodation and had lunch overlooking the Kazinga Channel.
During lunch we enjoyed sightings of: Snowy- crowned Robin-chat, Swamp Flycatcher, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher and Green-winged Pytilia. We headed into the Park for a game drive before making our way to the boat trip on the Kazinga channel, we were extremely lucky and we managed to locate 2 of the famous tree climbing Lions relaxing in a Euphoria tree. This was a dream come true sighting for our clients and we were incredibly lucky to have the 2 young males all to ourselves close to the car.
Birding highlights included: Pin-tailed Whydah, Senegal Lapwing, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Rufous-naped Lark, Stout Cisticola, Kittlitz’s Plover, White-throated Bee-eater, Black-lored Babbler, Common Buttonquail, Buff-belied Warbler and White-tailed Lark. Mammal highlights included: Ugandan Kob, Defassa Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Buffalo and Elephant. We made our way to the boat trip, that runs on the Kazinga Channel, which divides lake Edward and Lake George and enjoyed magical sightings of Buffalo, Elephant and antelope coming down to drink in the late afternoon.
The birding was exceptional and we added about 40 species to our list, highlights being: Wire-tailed Swallow, Yellow-billed Stork, Hamerkop, Pink-backed Pelican, Great White Pelican, Bronzy Sunbird, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Common Greenshank, African Sacred Ibis, Wood, Marsh and Common Sandpipers. On route back to our lodge we enjoyed sightings of Hooded Vultures, Palm-nut Vulture and African Fish Eagle. Our clients thoroughly enjoyed the day today as they had always wanted to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park, and we were treated to some exceptional sightings. We enjoyed dinner at the lodge and fell asleep to the sounds of the resident Hippos, Hyena, Square-tailed and Black-shouldered Nightjars calling from the Kazinga Channel in-front of our lodge. Another great day on Safari in Africa!
Day 9: Queen Elizabeth National Park – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
We began with a nice early start and breakfast today in order to have time to bird the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Our clients were hoping to photograph the beautiful Pyrprus Gonolek, so we tried an area the bird is known to be in but unfortunately with the rain the bird was nowhere to be seen. We made our way through the Park and as we approached the Ishasha section of Queen Elizabeth National Park we hit a really bad patch of road that was really muddy. A truck had got stuck in the mud and with us trying to go around the truck, we also got stuck. We managed to get out of the mud after a lot of pushing and this added to the sense of adventure when traveling off the beaten track in Africa. The rain lifted and we had good sightings of: Red-necked Spurfowl, Martial Eagle, Western-banded Snake Eagle, Black Bee-eater, African Openbill Stork, Compact weaver and Violet-backed Starling. Mammal sightings included: Buffalo, Elephant, Topi, Ugandan Cob, Olive Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Red-tailed Monkey and Banded Mongoose.
We stopped for lunch , enjoyed a fresh pizza, got our boots all clean from the mud and made our way to the famous Bwindi Impenetrable forest, UNESCO World Heritage Site, home and stronghold for the Mountain Gorilla.
We checked into our accommodation, and quickly made use of the good weather to get some birding done. The forest was highly productive and we had a good afternoon of birding with highlights being: Mackinnon’s Shrike, Streaky Seedeater(en route to Bwindi), Grey-throated Barbet, Northern Double-collared Sunbird, Petit’s Cuckooshrike, Grey-winged Robin-Chat, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Green-throated Sunbird, Green Crombec, Red-tailed Greenbul, Buff-spotted Woodpecker, Dusky Tit, Tullberg’s Woodpecker, Ansorge’s Greenbul and Elliot’s Woodpecker. We also enjoyed views of a troop of L’Hoest’s Monkeys. We just made it back to our lodge before the heavens opened up and we enjoyed a lovely dinner at our lodge overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Day 10: Buhoma Sector – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
After a lovely breakfast we made our way to the forest for some birding in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park; this forest hosts some unique bird species and we had some good birding. Highlights being: Yellow-throated Tinkerbird, Vieillot’s Weaver, African Black Duck, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Green-throated Sunbird, Petit’s Cuckooshrike,Green-headed Sunbird, Pink-footed Puffback, Plain Greenbul, Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher, Grey Parrot, Red-headed Malimbe, Mountain Wagtail, Shelley’s Greenbul, Banded Prinia, Mountain Oriole, Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, Grey-chinned Sunbird, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Many-colored Bushshrike, Augur Buzzard and Waller’s Starling.
We enjoyed relaxing at the hotel for some time as tomorrow we have an early start to go Gorilla trekking. We enjoyed dinner at the lodge overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and chatted and reflected on another great day in Uganda before we head off Gorilla trekking tomorrow. One of our clients has really enjoyed spending time in the Forests of East Africa, and admits that the birding is addictive, so it seems we have converted her into a keen birder. With birds like Shoebill, Green-breasted Pitta on her list, she would make any keen lister jealous. As we retired to bed, we had an almighty rainstorm hit us – the start of the rain season in East Africa!
Day 11: Gorilla Trekking. Ruhija Sector – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
An early start was on the cards for us this morning as we had to drive to Ruhija across the neck for our much anticipated Gorilla trekking. We arrived at Ruhija at 8 a.m. for a briefing and headed into the forest of Bwindi to find the Mukiza Gorilla Group.
We were extremely lucky and fortunate and after just 45 minutes of walking we found a family of 17 individuals ranging from a baby of 7 months, infants of about 2 years of age, adult females and a big Silverback male. A real privilege to see these endangered great Apes in the wild. This was a once in a life time experience and will stay with us all for the rest of their lives. This Mountain race of Gorilla Gorilla beringei beringei is restricted to a part of the Virunga range, straddling the DR Congo/Uganda and Rwandan borders. The Mountain race is marginally larger than the three lowland forms and the coat is longer. After watching the Gorillas feed, play, interact for over an hour we moved off and let them continue feeding down the mountain side. We made our way out of forest, got our graduation certificates for seeing the Gorillas and made our way to our lodge where we were based for the next two nights
We enjoyed lunch and relaxed for a bit after the trekking before heading off to bird in the Ruhija area for the afternoon: Highlights for our afternoons birding included: African Hill Babbler, Mountain Illadopsis, Thick-billed Seedeater, Black-billed Turaco, Ruwenzori Apalis, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Strange Weaver, Little Sparrowhawk and Crowned Hornbill. After an extremely exciting and productive day we all enjoyed a lovely dinner at the lodge, celebrating our magical Gorilla experience over a glass of wine. Both our clients could not get enough of the Gorillias and the experience we had, and they said that coming face to face with a Silverback about 5m from you is an experience that words can’t describe and that they did not expect to see them so close. We all chatted around the fire for a while before retiring off to bed for a good night’s rest.
Day 12: Birding the Ruhija Sector – Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
After our busy we day yesterday we enjoyed a slight lie-in and enjoyed a hearty breakfast overlooking the Bwindi mountains. We spent most of the day birding the surrounding areas and enjoyed views of: White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Mountain Masked Apalis, Ruwenzori Batis, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Bar-tailed Trogon, Narrow-tailed Starling, Black-headed Waxbill, Crowned Eagle, Collared Sunbird, Regal Sunbird, Ruwenzori Apalis, Equatorial Akalat, Chestnut-throated Apalis, Western Tinkerbird, Grauer’s Warbler, Mountain Greenbul, Mountain Sooty Boubou, African Citril and Cinnamon-Bracken Warbler. Mammal and primate sightings included: Black-fronted Duiker, Red-legged Sun Squirrel, Blue Monkey, L’Hoest’s Monkey and Angola (Black and White Colobus).
Dinner was enjoyed at the lodge around the fire place (it was rather cool as we are at the height of about 2000m above sea level). After the busy and long day we hit the sack rather early and all enjoyed a good night’s sleep after the busy day!
Day 13: Lake Maburo National Park – Birding Lake Maburo and Savanna areas
A slightly earlier start was on the cards for us this morning as we headed off to Lake Maburo, our final destination on our amazing birding and primate Safari in Uganda. En route we enjoyed sightings of: Long-crested Eagle, Augur Buzzard, African Stone, Handsome Francolin (as we left Bwindi), Augur Buzzard, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Long-tailed Cisticola. We enjoyed our lunch overlooking Lake Maburo from our accommodation and headed off into the park for an afternoon of bird and game viewing. We had a spectacular afternoon in this gorgeous park and enjoyed many good sightings including: Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Woodland Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Crested Barbet, Red-necked Spurfowl, Bateleur, Green Wood Hoopoe, Tawny Eagle, Tropical Boubou, Meyer’s Parrot, Spot-flanked Barbet and Trilling Cisticola.
Mammal sightings were also really good, and we had good views of: Zebra, Buffalo, Topi, Defassa Waterbuck, Impala, Warthog, Bushbuck and Vervet Monkey.
We enjoyed sunset over the Lake and had dinner together, chatting, laughing and thinking back on the amazing trip we have had in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.
Day 14: Departure – Private Birding Boat Trip on Lake Mburo
An early start was on the cards this morning so we could get onto our private boat trip on Lake Mburo and enjoy the birdlife along the Lake before heading for the airport close to Entebbe. Highlights of the boat trip included: Squacco Heron, Water Thick-knee, African Finfoot, Ross’s Turaco, Pied Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher and loads of Hippos going about their antics early in the morning.
We left Lake Mburo to head for Entebbe and the airport and had a smooth uneventful drive to the airport.
An absolutely fantastic 14 days of birding and Primate viewing came to an end. I look forward to our next Uganda trip in 2019.
Report and Images compiled by Marc Cronje (Nature Travel Guide)
We just completed another wonderful Peru birding trip. I absolutely love birding in this country with few other birding destinations offering the same variety and diversity of birding habitats and birds (country list in excess of 1800 birds which is incredible). Add to that the spectacular scenery, great wildlife and friendly people; this country does have it all. The birding habitats visited varied from dry coastal plains and scrub, short ocean boat cruise, high Andes with snow covered peaks and Polylepis Forest, Cloud forest and Bamboo on the famous Manu road and off course the Amazon. We ended up with a total of 538 birds with 38 species of Hummingbirds, 19 species of Macaws, Parrots and Parakeets , 32 Raptor species and 32 species of Antbirds, Antwren, Antshrike and Antpittas. And not to forget Machu Picchu – undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip!
Day 1: Birding around Lima
After an early breakfast in our hotel in the heart of the Miraflores district of the bustling capital of Peru, our first birding stop was at the wetland marsh of Los Pantanos de Villa, a short drive to the south of the city. We walked along the reeds and waterways and our highlights here included Many-coloured Rush-tyrant, Wren-like Rushbird, Plumbeous Rail, Peruvian Meadowlark, Peruvian Thick-knee and Black Skimmer, along with others like Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalarope, American Oystercatcher, Little Blue Heron and Yellow-crowned Night Heron.
After a short drive further south we arrived at the colourful quaint fishing village of Pucusana. From here we did a 90 minute boat cruise out onto the Pacific Ocean, where the magic continued with hundreds of Inca Tern and Peruvian Booby on the cliffs close to the boat. We also saw Humboldt Penguin, Red-legged Cormorant, Peruvian Pelican and the endemic Peruvian Seaside Cinclodes. After lunch in a local restaurant we explored some of the local areas around San Andres with its scrubby semi-desert scrub vegetation and found the endemic Coastal Miner, Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Hooded Siskin, as well as our first hummingbird of the trip, the Purple-collared Woodstar. We then headed back to Lima for our first dinner together as a group and a good night’s sleep.
Day 2: Machu Picchu
After an early flight to Cusco we boarded a train for Machu Picchu. As we enjoyed the spectacular scenery we did mange a few nice birds like Black-chested Buzzard-eagle, Andean Gull, Andean Lapwing, American Kestrel, Mountain Caracara, Torrent Duck, Yellow-billed Teal and Puna Ibis. After arriving at the station in Aguas Calientes town we had a short bus trip up to the entrance of Machu Picchu where we enjoyed this incredible natural wonder of the world, listening to the history and interesting facts told by our local guide. We did manage to see the endemic Inca Wren, Green-and-white Hummingbird, Sierran Elaenia, Blue-and-grey Tanager and Saffron-crowned Tanager. We took the bus back down to the small village and with a bit of time to spare before our train departed we decided to walk one of the river trails (actually part of the famous Inca trail). We had a couple of great mixed flocks and did see Streaked Xenops, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Thick-billed Euphonia, Silver-beaked, Palm and Blue-necked Tanager, Sclater’s and Mottled-cheeked Tyrannulet, Common Tody-flycatcher (actually quite rare in this part of Peru), Capped Conebill, Brown-capped Vireo, and Red-eyed (Chivi subspecies) Vireo. A scan of the river did produce a young Fasciated Tiger-heron, White-capped Dipper, Torrent Tyrannulet and Black Phoebe. Between the regular trains going past we did also see Roadside Hawk, Mitred Parakeet, Dusky-green Oropendola, Sparkling Violetear, Speckled-faced Parrot and White-tipped Dove. We caught the last train to Ollantaytambo where we enjoyed a great dinner and well-deserved rest.
Day 3: Abra Malaga Pass and Huaypo Lake
With an early start we made our way up the absolutely stunning Abra Malaga Pass with the highest point 4300m above sea level. Our first birding stop today was the Bamboo Forest as you descend on the Eastern slope where our 3 main targets were Parodi’s Hemispingus, Cuzco Brushfinch and Unstreaked Tit-tyrant. Before long we had all 3 and also found Grey-browed Brushfinch, Marcapata Spinetail, Black-capped Hemispingus, Plushcap, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Scarlet-bellied and Rufous-breasted Tanager, Andean and Brown-bellied Swallow, Red-crested Cotinga, White-throated and White-banded Tyrannulet and Andean Guan was a nice surprise.
We made our way back to the top of the pass from where actually hiked a few hundred meters higher to explore the Polylepis Forest. It is amazing as you feel out of breath even walking 30 paces forcing us to take frequent rest breaks, but this gives you a chance to enjoy the spectacular scenery and with the stunning sunshine weather we had beautiful views of the snow-covered peak called Veronica. It was a bit surreal walking through the snow between the Polylepis trees and the great birding was a big bonus. On the hike we saw Cream-winged and White-winged Cinclodes (Royal Cinclodes was calling and seen in flight only), Andean Goose, Crested Duck, Cinereous and Taczanowski’s Ground-tyrant, Plumbeous and Ash-breasted Sierra-finch, White-winged Diuca Finch, Striped-headed Antpitta, Ash-breasted Tit-tyrant, Giant Conebill, Brown-backed and Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant, White-browed Tit-spinetail and Olivaceous Thornbill. Junín Canastero was a great find, and everyone enjoyed seeing Andean Flicker perching in their peculiar way on an exposed rock not far from us. A quick stop further down produced the localised White-tufted Sunbeam, Tyrian Metaltail and Blue-and-yellow Tanager.
After lunch we spent an hour birding around Huaypo Lake where great views of Black-faced Ibis and Many-coloured Rush-tyrant greeted us. Here we found Yellow-winged Blackbird, Andean Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Yellow-billed and Cinnamon Teal, White-tufted Grebe, Ruddy Duck and Andean Coot. Aplomado Falcon was seen by all and we found an excellent spot for shorebirds and quickly added Solitary Sandpiper, Black-necked Stilt, American Golden Plover and White-rumped Sandpiper. We arrived in Cusco by late afternoon and our very nice hotel was situated very close to the main square.
Day 4: Huacarpay Lake, San Salvador and down the Manu road
Our first stop for today was Huacarpay Lake not far from Cusco and soon after stopping we enjoyed great views of a Cinerous Harrier quartering low over the wetland. A walk along the edge of the marshy area produced Band-tailed Seedeater, Peruvian Sierra-finch, Olivaceous Siskin, Green-tailed and Black-tailed Trainbearer, Giant Hummingbird and Wren-like Rushbird. We had a beautiful flyby of an adult and juvenile Black-chested Buzzard-eagle and finally tracked down a calling Stripe-fronted Thornbird.
From here we did a detour and made our way up to the high elevation Lake San Salvador. En route a quick stop produced Golden-billed Saltator, Yellow-billed Tit-tyrant, Rusty-fronted Canastero, Variable Hawk and the beautiful Chestnut-breasted Mountain-finch. Once we reach the lake we easily found our two main targets – Giant Coot and Silvery Grebe. A Greater Yellowlegs was an unexpected bird and had great close-up vies of Mountain Caracara. Other nice birds we found in the area were Andean Flicker, Black-billed Shrike-tyrant, Rufous-webbed Bush-tyrant, Slender-billed Miner, Paramo Seedeater, Andean Goose and Ochre-naped Ground-tyrant. It was a long but very interesting detour and after enjoying a home-cooked lunch in a local restaurant in Paucartambo Town we arrived at the entrance of Manu National Park with great excitement and expectations about birding the famous Manu Road over the next few days.
Day 5: Wayqecha Biological Research Station and the Upper Manu Road
Manu National Park is known to have the highest biological diversity of any park in the world and this beautiful and very important park from a conservation point of view should be on every birder’s bucket list. We started off our day driving a little higher back up the road to try and find some of the high elevation specialists. In the short time we had up there we manged to see Masked Flowerpiercer, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Blue-and-black and Golden Collared Tanager, Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Pearled Treerunner, Montane Woodcreeper, Masked Trogon, Golden-headed Quetzal, Mountain Wren, Superciliaried Hemispingus and Black-faced Brushfinch. A walk further down the road produced great views of a roosting Swallow-tailed Nightjar. Other nice birds were Collared Inca, Blue-breasted toucanet, Andean Parakeet, Greater Scythebill, White-collared Jay, Streaked Tuftedcheek, Inca Flycatcher, Citrine and Pale-legged Warbler, Puna Thistletail, Barred Becard, Blue-backed Conebill, Drab Hemispingus and Mountain Cacique.
After lunch we started slowly making our way down the road and picked up Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Andean Solitaire, Slaty, Rust-and-yellow and Blue-capped Tanager, Capped Conebill and Azara’s Spinetail. A little later on we found a brilliant mixed flock which included Pale-edged, Olive-streaked and Striped Treehunter, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Versicoloured Barbet, Yellow-throated, Saffron-crowned, Beryl-spangled, Russet-crowned and Three-striped Warbler, Deep Blue Flowerpiercer, Bolivian Tyrannulet and Black-eared Hemispingus to name a few. Chestnut-collared Swift, Green-fronted Lancebill and Long-tailed Sylph were also found in the area.
We had a memorable 10 minutes where there were 3 Golden-headed and 3 Crested Quetzals present at the same spot. Later on we found Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Yellow-throated Bush-tanager, Andean Motmot, White-eared Solitaire and a female Andean Cock-of-the-Rock. Our final bird of the day was a displaying Lyre-tailed Nightjar. The famous Manu road truly lived up to its reputation and we still had a couple of days to go!
Day 6: Cock-of-the-Rock and the lower Manu road
We spent the day birding the Cloud Forest around the lodge and along the Manu Road. It only took us a short while to find our first flock which produced Yellow-throated, Beryl-spangled, Golden, Palm, Blue-grey and Silver-beaked Tanager, Orange-billed Euphonia, Streaked Xenops, Azara’s Spinetail, Uniform Antshrike, Golden-crowned Flycatcher and Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer. We found another female Andean Cock-of-the-Rock and had some nice Hummingbirds with Sparkling Violetear, Wire-crested Thorntail, Green Hermit, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, Bronzy Inca and Booted Rackettail. It took us a while but everyone had good views of White-throated Antpitta and other nice birds seen this morning were Yungas Manakin, Paradise and Spotted Tanager, Golden-olive Woodpecker and Russet-backed Oropendola. Tayra, Large-headed Capuchin and Brown Agouti were new mammals for the trip.
As we left the lodge after lunch had brilliant views of a Bluish-fronted Jacamar before visiting the famous Cock-of-the-rock Lek where we had 7 males displaying. Good views of a hunting Solitary Eagle was enjoyed and other birds we saw were Plumbeous Pigeon, Brown Tinamou, Dusky Green Oropendola, White-headed Tapaculo, Stripe-throated Antwren, Moustached Wren, Variegated Flycatcher, Two-banded Warbler, Rufous-tailed Bush-tyrant and Blue-necked Tanager.
On the way back to lodge we had incredible close-up views of a Rufescent Screech-owl. What a great end to a wonderful day’s birding.
Day 7: Bamboo and lower Foothills
Before making our way further down the Manu Road we tried to find one more mixed flock and this proved to be a very good decision as we followed a nice flock for a while. Some of the specials we found in the flock and surrounding area were Masked Tityra, Spotted, Golden-eared, Blue-necked, Golden, Orange-eared and Black-goggled Tanager, Olive-backed Woodcreeper, Golden-bellied and Three-streaked Warbler, Yellow-rumped, Yellow-breasted and Slaty Antwren, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Purple Honeycreeper, White-crested Elaenia, Black-bellied Thorntail, Marble-faced Tyrannulet, Grey-hooded Bush-tanager and Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant. It is amazing that you can walk in the forest for an hour without a single bird and then run into a stunning flock like this where it is all action for 45 minutes! Other good birds found were White-backed Fire-eye and Grey-mantled Wren.
The rest of the morning was spent in the Bamboo Forest where birding can be tricky and patience is required. We did end up with great birds which included Chestnut-breasted Wren, Stripe-chested, Yellow-breasted and Yellow-rumped Antwren, Ornate, Yellow-breasted, Dusky-capped, Cinnamon-faced, Lemon-browed and Slaty-capped Flycatcher, Red-billed Scythebill, Spot-winged Antbird, Crested Oropendola, Speckled Chachalaca and Yellow-breasted Warbling-antbird to name a few.
After another wonderful lunch at this very nice lodge it was time to head further down towards Villa Carmen Biological Station with Amazonian Umbrellabird, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied and Yellow-crested Tanager, Variegated Bristle-tyrant, Rufous-rumped and Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Lanceolated Monklet and Ash-browed Spinetail on the way. We still had time for some birding in the lower foothills where one stop produced Swallow Tanager, Fine-barred Piculet, Blue-headed Macaw, Plain-crowned Spinetail, Violaceous Jay, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Long-tailed Tyrant, Little Woodpecker, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Magpie Tanager, Blue-headed Parrot, Plum-throated Cotinga, Fork-tailed Palm-swift, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Chestnut-eared Aracari and Yellow-rumped Cacique. What a great end to the day and a very nice preview of what was to come over the next few days in the Amazon.
Day 7: Amazonian Bamboo
After an early breakfast we decided to bird around the ponds close to the lodge before moving our focus to the extensive Bamboo Forest with many trails to explore. And we were in for a great start to the day with Hoatzin, White-winged Piping-guan, Spot-breasted, Lineated and Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Red-throated Caracara, Scarlet, Blue-and-yellow and Chestnut-fronted Macaw, Blue-headed Parrot, Limpkin, Purple Gallinule, White-eyed Parakeet and White-winged Swallow. There were a few good Hummingbirds around with Emerald-spangled Brilliant, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Blue-tailed Emerald and Rufous-crested Coquette.
Birding in the Bamboo can be very rewarding but time-consuming as you seldom encounter mixed flocks and have to focus on seeing birds one species at a time. We still had a great session with Fiery-crested Manakin, Dot-winged and White-eyed Antwren. Plain-winged, Spot-winged and Bamboo Antshrike, Goeldi’s Antbird, Reddish Hermit, Dusky-capped Greenlet, Cabanis’s Spinetail and Blue-crowned Trogon.
After a nice lunch we were back in the Bamboo and had another great time with Flammulated Bamboo-tyrant, Wedge-billed and Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Plain Softtail, Large-headed Flatbill, White-bearded Hermit, Grey-crowned and Sepia-capped Flycatcher and Pectoral Sparrow. Part of the trail was next to the river where we found Amazonian Motmot, Buff-rumped Warbler, Grey-hooded Wood-rail and a Great Tinamou which unfortunately quickly disappeared into the forest. An excursion after dinner produced Tawny-bellied Screech-owl and Common Pauraque.
Day 8: Early Bamboo and down the River Madre De Dios
We had time for an hour of birding before we had to depart and our main target was the Amazonian Antpitta which offered great views. A pair of Brazilian Teals were a surprise this far into Peru and with a quick walk in the Bamboo we found Red-breasted and Great-billed Hermit, Scaly-breasted Wren, Chestnut-tailed, Manu and White-lined Antbird. After a quick coffee were in the vehicle and were making our way to the River Madre de Dios as we had a 5 hour boat cruise down river to our next destination – Manu Wildlife Centre deep in the Peruvian Amazon.
Initially we found a few of the more common species like Coqui Heron, Fasciated Heron, Giant Cowbird, Amazon Kingfisher, Neotropic Cormorant and Anhinga as well as a few specials like Sunbittern, Green Kingfisher, Capped Heron, Horned Screamer, Razor-billed Curassow, Sand-coloured Nighthawk, Black Skimmer, Wood Stork and Pied Lapwing. We had really good raptors and ended up with Crane Hawk, Bat Falcon, Red-necked Caracara, Swallow-tailed Kite, Plumbeous Kite, Short-tailed Hawk, White Hawk, Turkey and Black Vulture and Great Black Hawk being harassed by a Roadside Hawk. Red-bellied Macaw, Neotropical Otter and Yellow-spotted Amazon Turtle were new additions for the different lists. We arrived at Manu Wildlife Center by late afternoon and enjoyed a great dinner as we talked about the exciting day waiting for us tomorrow.
Day 9: Macaw Clay Lick and Terra Firma
We were up early and back on the boat as we made our way further downstream to the famous Blanquillo Macaw Clay Lick. As it was still fairly dark when we departed we found Ladder-tailed Nightjar and in the forest patch on way Rusty-margined Flycatcher, White-winged Becard, White-browed Antbird, Thrush-like Wren, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Plain Tyrannulet, Golden-bellied Euphonia, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher and Grey Elaenia. At the clay lick we had a big flock of Cobalt-winged Parakeets, Blue-headed Parrot and later Red-and-green Macaw and watching them fly together at once is sighting no one in the group will ever forget. We also had Orange-cheeked Parrot, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Dusky-headed Parakeet, White-bellied and Yellow-crowned Parrot, Mealy Amazon and Tui Parakeet. Greater Yellow-headed Vulture flew overhead and other nice birds seen from the hide were Barred Antshrike, Black-crowned Tityra and White-throated Toucan. Collared Plover was seen on the way back to the lodge.
We had the rest of the day to explore the Terra Firma Forest with the many great trails from the center and even with the day already getting warm we found Dusky-throated Antshrike, Grey and Pygmy Antwren, Black-faced Antbird, Black-tailed Trogon, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, both White-fronted and Black-fronted Nunbird and White-winged Shrike Tanager before lunch. With only one day to explore this forest habitat we started our afternoon session early and started with great views of Amazonian and Broad-billed Motmot and Band-tailed Manakin. Ihambari Woodcreeper, Ruddy Quail-dove, Ihering’s Antwren, Bran-coloured Flycatcher, Rufous-tailed Elaenia, White-bellied Tody-tyrant, Yellow-browed Tody-flycatcher, Plumbeous Antbird and Fork-tailed Woodnymph were seen as well. Then we climbed the 144 steps up to the 42 metre high viewing platform built between the branches of a massive Lupuna tree. The view from up there is amazing and it offered us the chance to see Red-necked Woodpecker and Bright-rumped Atilla from up there. Amazonian Pygmy-owl was seen on the way back and there was reason to celebrate as this was bird number 1500 for a couple of birders in the group.
Day 10: Blanco Oxbow Lake and off to Puerto Maldonado
We were up early as we wanted to explore one of the Oxbow lakes nearby. These quiet backwaters offer a new habitat with a chance to see some of the more difficult to find birds found here. And the couple of hours slowly moving close to the water’s edge on a floating platform produced Greater Ani, Sungrebe, Grey-breasted Martin, Black-capped Donaocobius, Great Kiskadee, Rufescent Tiger-heron, Orange-backed Troupial, Wattled Jacana, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Amazonian Parrotlet, Anhinga, Yellow-billed and Great-billed Tern, Channel-billed Toucan, Pale-eyed Blackbird, Silvered Antbird and Amazonian Streaked Antwren. We also had great views of a family of Giant Otters.
The forest on the trail to the lake produced Dull-capped Atilla, Collared and Green-backed Trogon, Cinereous Mourner, Western Striolated Puffbird and the highlight of the morning, a Pale-winged Trumpeter. These impressive birds are now very rare due to hunting and habitat destruction and it is great to hear that they are increasing in number. The rest of the day was spent travelling but we still found Upland and Spotted Sandpiper, Collared Plover, Black and Southern Caracara, and Black-tailed Tityra en route. We arrived in Puerto Maldonado by late afternoon and enjoyed a wonderful meal in our hotel restaurant.
Day 11: Puerto Maldonado
We had a couple of hours to bird before our flight to Lima and quickly found Burrowing Owl while Ferruginous Pygmy-owl was a nice bonus. We also found Purus and White-throated Jacamar, Ruddy Ground-dove, White-lored Tyrannulet, Streaked Flycatcher, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Saffron Finch, Black-throated Antbird, Southern Lapwing, Laughing Falcon, Black-collared Hawk, Double-collared Seedeater, Chestnut-bellied Seedfinch and Red-breasted Meadowlark in the open woodland close to town.
We explored a patch of Swamp Forest which produced American Pygmy Kingfisher, Buff-breasted Wren, Slender-billed Kite, Gilded Barbet, Fiery-capped and Band-tailed Manakin, Straight-billed Woodcreeper and Undulated Tinamou. We made our way to the airport which was the end of a wonderful birding trip with a wonderful group!
Ecuador is an amazing birding destination with a checklist of more than 1800 species and a variety of habitats. For this trip we would focus on the western and eastern slopes of the Andes, as we only had 12 days, so the Amazonian specials will have to wait for the next trip. Some of the highlights were Channel-billed and Choco Toucans, 5 species of Mountain-toucan and Toucanet’s, 7 species of Antpitta, various Antbird’s, Antwren, Antvireo, Antshrike and Antthrush. The Andean Condor is just such an iconic species and the main mammal highlight was a great Spectacled Bear sighting. We had 60 species of Hummingbird including highlights like Sword-billed and Giant Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel and Lazuline Sabrewing and 53 species of Tanager. Our lodges all had feeders which made seeing these two colourful families a lot easier and we ended up with more than 450 species which is remarkable as we spend all of our time in forest habitats. Below is a daily report with only some of the highlights mentioned.
Arrival Day: Jerusalem dry forest and garden birds
Since most of the group arrived a day early we decided to visit the nearby dry forest of the Jerusalem Reserve. This habitat does not hold the number of birds that we will be seeing the rest of the trip but it did give us a chance to see this unique habitat and to pick up a few birds that we will not see elsewhere. On the way we stopped at a pond for Andean Teal, Andean coot, Yellow-billed Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe and a Greater Yellowlegs. The dry forest did produce some birds like Purple-collared Woodstar, Harris Hawk, Variable Hawk, American Kestrel, Vermillion Flycatcher, Azara Spinetail, House Wren, Giant Hummingbird, Ash-breasted Sierra-finch, Pale-banded Seedeater and White-collared Swift. For the rest of the afternoon we enjoyed the great garden birds at our Guesthouse and saw Sparkling Violetear, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Saffron Finch, Scrub, Blue-grey and Blue and Yellow Tanager, Great Thrush, American Kestrel, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Golden Grosbeak, Rusty Flowerpiercer and Western Emerald. It was a great introduction into the more common birds found around Quito and got everyone excited about what was about to come – and we were in for a real treat.
Day 1: Yanacocha and the Tandayapa Valley
After an early breakfast we were off to Yanacocha Reserve, managed by the Jocotoco Foundation, protecting an amazing patch of cloud forest. After a quick stop for Andean Lapwing and Paramo Ground-tyrant and a visit to the feeders where we saw Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Shining Sunbeam, Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercer we were off on one of the various trails. The first 45 minutes didn’t produce many new birds except for Tyrian Metaltail and a great sighting of Tawny Antpitta so we decided to venture further down into the forest. This proved to be a great decision as we quickly walked into a few feeding flocks. Some of the highlights were a big group of Blue and Black Tanager, Barred Fruiteater, Yellow-breasted Brush-finch, Blackish Tapaculo, Andean Guan, Striped Tuftedcheek, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Great Sapphirewing, Hooded Mountain-tanager, White-banded Tyrannulet, Rufous Wren, Spectacled Whitestart, Superciliaried Hemispingus and Blue-backed Conebill.
After a very enjoyable lunch we started making our way down into the Tandayapa Valley on the famous Nono-Mindo road and although we did not have as much time to explore as we would have liked we still managed to see Golden-headed Quetzal, Beautiful Jay, Choco Brush-finch, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Blue-winged Mountain and Golden Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Lesser Violetear, Brown-capped Vireo and White-tailed Tyrannulet.
We had a fantastic view of a White-capped Dipper and we heard Andean Cock-of-a-rock and with the knowledge that we will be visiting a lek in a few days we somehow resisted the temptation to explore. Next would be Rio Silanche and Milpe Reserve for what would end up as one of the highlights of the trip.
Day 2: Rio Silanche and Milpe Reserves
After a quick coffee we were off to the Rio Silanche Reserve where we wanted to spend the first few hours of the day at the famous viewing tower. After a quick stop for Common Pauraque, which also produced Collared Aracari, Rufous Motmot, Laughing Falcon and Lemon-rumped Tanager, we hurried to get to the platform as soon as possible. And what a fantastic few hours followed. We were treated to great views of Choco Toucan (one of the main targets for this trip), Pale-mandibled Aracari, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Orange-fronted Barbet, Southern Mealy and Bronze-winged Parrots, Dot-winged Antwren, Yellow-tufted Dacnis and Striped Flycatcher. We had several mixed flocks moving through which included Palm, Golden-hooded, Dusky-faced, Guira, Grey and Gold and Blue-necked Tanagers, Choco Tyrannulet, Northern Barred and Spotted Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Olivaceous Piculet, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Buff-throated Saltator and White-whiskered Hermit.
After enjoying our packed breakfast we decided to take one of the trails through the forest and started off with a Chestnut-backed Antbird, Checker-throated and White-sided Antwren, White-tailed Trogon, White-bearded Manakin, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Black-streaked Woodcreeper and Red-faced Spinetail.
From here we spend a few hours at the Milpe Sanctuary and even with a few very light periods of rain we still managed to see both Choco and Yellow-throated Toucan, Red-headed Barbet, Silver-throated, Golden, Rufous-throated, Blue-grey Tanager, Green Flowerpiercer, Yellow-throated Bush-tanager, Ecuadorian Thrush, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Green Thorntail, White-necked Jacobin, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph, Green-crowned Brilliant, Purple-crowned Fairy, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant and Ornate Flycatcher.
As we got back to our lodge we were treated to a great spectacle at the feeders with White-booted Rackettail, Purple-throated Whitetip, Brown Violetear, Brown Inca, Velvet-purple Coronet, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Purple-throated Woodstar, Flame-faced Tanager, Black-winged Saltator and a Black Agouti to add another mammal to our count.
Overall it was a spectacular day – the western slope of the Andes is a truly spectacular birding destination.
Day 3: Refuge Paz de la Aves
Today was always going to be a highlight and wow it did not disappoint!! After our customary early morning coffee and a short drive we were at the Cock-of-a-Rock spot at first light. Even as we approached we could hear the males calling and soon had more than 8 males in the area. We were treated to a wonderful display including a few perching less than 10 meters from us. While watching them we were distracted by a Golden-headed Quetzal, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk and Masked Trogon. As we made our way up the mountain our first stop produced Powerful Woodpecker, Common Potoo at a day roost, Sharpe’s Wren, Red-billed Parrot and then Angel managed to call out a Dark-backed Wood Quail. The way he had them habituated to his presence was impressive but what was about to follow was a truly unforgettable experience. First he called out a Moustached Antpitta and we just missed a Giant Antpitta. From here we moved a little higher where got excellent views of Rufous-crowned Antpitta and Yellow-breasted Antpitta. Toucan Barbet, Black-capped and Beryl-spangled Tanagers were a very welcome distraction.
And as we thought that was it we went for breakfast at Angel’s place (best breakfast of the trip) with Golden-naped, Black-capped, Flame-faced, Golden, Blue-grey, Black-chinned Mountain, Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers, Toucan and Red-headed Barbet, Andean Emerald, Sparkling and Brown Violetear, Brown Inca, Green-crowned Brilliant, Buff-tailed Coronet and a pair of Crimson-rumped Toucanets coming to the feeders. Not bad while enjoying a freshly brewed coffee.
We made a quick stop at Alami to witness an amazing display of Hummingbirds at the feeders. We had Booted Rackettail, Andean Emerald, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Brown Violetear, Purple-throated Woodstar, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, White-necked Jacobin, White-whiskered Hermit and Velvet-purple Coronet to mentioned a few. Ecuadorian Thrush, White-lined, Lemon-rumped, Brush Finch, Golden-bellied Euphonia, Ringed Kingfisher and Golden-olive Woodpecker were around as well.
We made our way back to our lodge and after a quick coffee we were in a new hide as we heard of recent sightings of Rufous-breasted Antthrush and were not disappointed. After 10 minutes we had wonderful views of a single bird coming to feed on the moths. From here we decided to try to find Lyre-tailed Nightjar. A quick stop en route produced Buff-fronted Warbler and Torrent Tyrannulet before we had incredible views, both perched close to us and displaying, of the nightjar. What an incredible bird and end to the day.
Day 4: Bellavista Reserve
With an early start we were off to the Bellavista Reserve protecting a beautiful stretch of Cloud Forest. Forest birding is always most productive during the first few hours of the day but we decided to try a new hide where we heard good reports of insectivorous birds. And we were not disappointed for one second. As we arrived with the lights still on and plenty of moths around we saw Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush – what a beautiful bird. The next couple of hours just kept on producing brilliant birds that included Uniform Antshrike, Spillman’s Tapaculo, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Dusky Bush Tanager, Grey-breasted Wood-wren, Strong-billed, Montane, Wedge-billed and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, Western Woodhunter, Pearled Treerunner, Golden-crowned Flycatcher and Lineated Foliage-gleaner. These birds normally require a lot of effort to get a glimpse off never mind see so well. A quick stop at the Hummingbird feeders produced Tawny-bellied Hermit, Velvet-purple and Buff-tailed Coronet, Collared Inca, Sparkling Violetear, Spotted Hummingbird, Gorgeted Sunangel and White-sided Flowerpiercer. What a fantastic couple of hours.
It would have been great to stay a little longer but it was time to head up the mountain to the reserve. Our main target here was Plate-billed Mountain-toucan and we ended up with 3 different sightings. This was one of the main targets of the trip and we had a very happy group. That said I have yet to meet a birder that does not get excited when seeing a Mountain-toucan. Other great birds that we saw was Grass-green, Blue-winged Mountain, Flame-faced, Blue and Black Tanagers, Long-tailed Antbird, Sickle-winged Guan, Red-billed and Bronze-winged Parrot,
It was time to head of to our next destination but a bit of roadside birding produced Social Flycatcher, Pacific Hornero, Red-faced Spinetail, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Roadside Hawk and Swallow Tanager.
Day 5: Mashpi Cloud Forest Area
Today was our last morning in the western slopes of the Andes and we were hoping to see a few more Choco endemics. It was extremely misty and although at some point we could not even make out birds a few meters from us, we still enjoyed these unusual conditions. Luckily this didn’t last long and we starting seeing some good birds. A roosting Lyre-tailed Nightjar was a good start to the day followed by a displaying Golden-winged Manakin. What an amazing sight to see this beautiful bird move up and down flicking its golden wings to attract the attention of a nearby female. There we several Becard’s around and we quickly saw Barred, Uniform, White-winged and Cinnamon. Tanagers were all over and we found Moss-backed, Golden, Flame-faced, Glistening Green (a truly amazing bird), Blue-grey, Rufous-throated and Blue-winged Mountain. Yellow-bellied Euphonia, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Bay Wren, Golden-headed Quetzal, Variable and Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Rosy-faced Parrot, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, White-tipped Sicklebill, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmot and Golden-collared Honeycreeper.
White-throated Quail-dove, Black Solitaire, Orange-breasted Fruiteater and Indigo Flowerpiercer were all big targets and were all seen this morning. From here it was time to head back to Quito but not without a quick stop for coffee and taking a group photo when crossing the equator. It was time to move to the Eastern slopes.
Day 6: Papallacta and Wild Sumaco
With a slightly later start than what we have accustomed to over the last few days we set off for the Eastern slopes of the Andes. Our first target for today was a mammal and not a bird. After scanning for a lengthy period we found a male Spectacles Bear feeding against one of the steep slopes. They are the only Bears found in South America and we really enjoyed this sighting. Unfortunately the weather set in and we confronted with heavy rain, strong winds and sub-zero temperatures as we reach the top of the pass. This did not stop us from trying to find our next target, the Rufous-bellied Seed-snipe. After a lot of searching we had to give up as the weather was just too bad as can happen at 4200m above sea level. We did however see Stout-billed and Rufous-winged Cinclodes, Caranculated Caracara, Plumbeous Sierra-finch and Andean Tit-spinetail. Luckily we did work in an extra day to visit this altitude again so we will have another chance for the missing targets. From here we made our way to Wild Sumaco Lodge which will be our base for the next two nights. With a mixed habitat of Eastern Andes Slope and Amazon species this is a one of the more diverse birding areas in Ecuador. On the way we did find Long-tailed Sylph, Torrent Duck, Channel-billed Toucan, Rufous-backed and Crested Oropendola, White-lored Euphonia, Lined Antshrike, Cliff Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Fawn-breasted and Magpie Tanager, Violaceous Jay, Thrush-like Wren, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Green and Gold Tanager and Violet-headed Hummingbird.
Day 7: Wild Sumaco
Today we had a full day to explore this wonderful area. Our first target was the Ochre-breasted Antpitta and as we made our way down to where we were hoping to see the bird we ran into a nice mixed feeding flock. Blue-naped Chlorophonia was the main start with plenty of Paradise, Blue-grey, Palm, Golden, Golden-eared, Blue-necked, Spotted, Flame-faced, Bay-headed, Blue-browed, Swallow, Green and Gold and Orange-eared Tanagers, Black-faced Dacnis, Olive-backed, Olivaceous and Montane Woodcreeper and Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer around. We didn’t have to wait long to see the Antpitta and had the added bonus of seeing a White-crowned Tapaculo and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater as well. The Hummingbird feeders was very productive and we quickly saw Gould’s Jewelfront, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Collared Inca, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Peruvian Racket-tail, Long-tailed Sylph, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Many-spotted Hummingbird and Brown Violetear to name a few and most of this while enjoying a great breakfast or lunch. One of the great things about birding in Ecuador is that while taking a short break from walking or driving you can just wait at the feeders and continue to see fantastic birds. Collared Trogon was also found in the garden. As we left for the afternoon we found a Black Hawk-eagle flying overhead and Maroon-tailed Parakeet in the lodge gardens.
The afternoon was spend exploring deep in the forest looking for a few of the more difficult species. We did see a Amazonian Trogon as we started and by the end of the walk we had White-crested Tapaculo, Blue-rumped, Golden-winged and White-crested Manakin, Blackish Antbird, Black-faced Antwren and Russet Antshrike to name a few. We enjoyed a great night’s sleep with the constant soft rain.
Day 8: Wild Sumaco and off to San Isidro:
This was our final morning at Wild Sumaco and we were up early to make the most of it. We had a great start with White-chested and Black-streaked Puffbird, Short-tailed Antthrush, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Lineated, Yellow-tufted and Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Plain-backed Antpitta, Gilded Barbet, Ornate, Yellow-breasted and Plain-winged Antwren. A beautiful male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock from the eastern race was a great sighting and we had Blackish Rail out in the open. We managed to find Red-crested Finch which according to distribution maps should not be in the area. We managed to see a few very special Hummingbirds like Black-eared Fairy, Lazuline and Napo Sabrewing, Black-throated Brilliant, Green Hermit and Green-fronted Lancebill.
A few other nice birds on the way out was Black-billed Treehunter, Streaked Xenops, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Cliff Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Large-headed Flatbill, Short-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked and White-winged Becard and Slaty-capped Shrike-vireo. We arrived in San Isidro by late afternoon and enjoyed a wonderful dinner.
Day 9: San Isidro
We woke up with constant rain as we woke up that continued until about 11h00 which made birding difficult but the local Hummingbird feeders did produce Bronzy and Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, Gorgeted Woodstar, Green-fronted Lancebill and Fawn-breasted Brilliant. Once the rain cleared we did manage to get a productive afternoon of birding in and did see Black-crested Warbler, Common and Yellow-throated Bush Tanager, Tropical and Solitary Cacique, Russet-baked Oropendola, Southern Lapwing, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, Beryl-spangled, Blue-and-Black, Black-capped and Saffron-crowned Tanagers, Golden-eyed, Masked and Bluish Flowerpiercer, Olivaceous Siskin, Inca Jay, Mountain Wren, Rufous-crowned Tody-flycatcher and Handsome Flycatcher.
A late afternoon excursion did produce Sickle-winged and Andean Guan, White-chested and Chestnut-collared Swifts, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk and finally the famous San Isidro Owl. This mystery owl still remains unresolved with a subspecies of Black-banded Owl probably the closest known species. It sounds like if we will have an answer by the end of the year on whether this owl will be named as a full species or just a subspecies. Regardless we had fantastic views and a wonderful end to the day. We decided that for the following day we would try to catch up with a couple of missing species before heading further up the mountain for our final night on the slopes.
Day 10: San Isidro to Guango
We had a couple of hours to bird in the San Isidro area and although we were off to a fairly slow start we did mange to see Red-billed Parrot, Collared Forest-falcon, Montane and Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Lacrimose Mountain, Saffron-crowned, Blue and Black, Palm, Golden Blue-winged Mountain and Common Bush and Yellow-throated Bush Tanagers, Flavescent, Golden-crowned, Pale-edged, Streak-necked and Cinnamon Flycatcher, Mountain and Grey-breasted Mountain Wren, Collared and Bronzy Inca, Pale-eyed and Ecuadorian Thrush, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Inca Jay, Black and Chestnut Eagle, Smoke-collared Pewee, Subtropical and Northern Mountain Caciques, Oleaginous and Black-headed Hemispingus and Black-crested Warbler. Long-tailed Tapaculo kept us busy for a while and on the way to Guangu we did see Torrent Tyrannulet, Spectacled Whitestart, Red-breasted Blackbird, Russet-backed Oropendola, Ash-browed Spinetail and Band-tailed Pigeon.
After settling in and enjoying the fantastic hummingbird feeders at Guango where we quickly picked up White-bellied Woodstar, Sword-billed Hummingbird and Tourmaline Sunangel we decided to try the mountain trail with the Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan our main target. We had a great start to the walk with Rufous Antpitta, Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Grey-hooded Bush Tanager, Black-eared Hemispingus (good day for Hemispingus), Russet-crowned and Black-crested Warbler, Slaty, Chestnut-capped and Pale-naped Brushfinch, Cinnamon Flycatcher and Bar-bellied Woodcreeper. As we decided to head back to the lodge we did a final scan and we found the Mountain-toucan. What a fantastic end to the day.
Day 11: Guango to Quito
We decided to try and find some missing birds found higher up the mountain early this morning to hopefully use the better weather conditions in the morning. We had a very successful start when we stopped for a great Black-chested Buzzard-eagle sighting and ran into a nice mixed flock with Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Shining Sunbeam, Purple-backed Thornbill, Cinerous Conebill, Black and Masked Flowerpiercer, the absolutely stunning Golden-crowned Tanager, Brown-backed Chat-tyrant, Plain-backed Hawk, Pale-naped Brushfinch, Red-crested Cotinga and Plain-coloured Seedeater. We did manage to lure a Rufous Antpitta out of its hiding place as well. We did try to find the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes on top of the Papallacta Pass but again was faced with driving rain and strong winds so had to settle for a Tawny Antpitta, Plumbeous Sierra-finch, Rufous-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes and Many-striped Canastero.
Before lunch we did a quick walk around Guango Lodge and had great views of Mountain Caciques, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Capped Conebill, Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant, Smoky Bush Tyrant, Pearled Treerunner, Spectacled Whitestart, Turquoise Jay and Russet-crowned Warbler. After a much appreciated warm lunch (including a wonderful soup) we headed back up the mountain a final time a luckily quickly found out 3 targets: Black-backed Bush Tanager, White-throated Tyrannulet and the highlight a Masked Mountain Tanager. We arrived back in Quito by late afternoon with one more full day of birding left.
Day 12: Antisana
Most of the chat during breakfast was about seeing the Endean Condor as this was a big target for some in the group. After our drive up the Andes we had an excellent sighting of a Condor perching on a cliff (close to where it is nesting) and soon after moving on we encountered another two in flight. Caranculated Caracara’s were plentiful offering great close ups. An Aplomado Falcon was a nice surprise and soon after we had another of our targets – the Andean Hillstar. Regular stops produces Stout-billed and Rufous-winged Cinclodes, Black-winged Ground-dove, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Many-striped Canastero, Grass Wren and Brown Bellied Swallows. We saw our first White-tailed Deer and once we entered the open Paramo (offering great views of the Antisana Volcano) we saw more of our key targets in Andean Lapwing, Black-faced Ibis and Paramo Pipit. At Lake Mica we found Andean Duck, Andean Teal, Andean Gull and the main target the Silvery Grebe. We made our way back down to enjoy a wonderful lunch at Tambo Condor Restaurant overlooking the Condor cliff (at least one adult was present which was brilliant) with Giant Hummingbird around. We enjoyed a final dinner together in Quito before everyone left for the airport for the flights back home. It was a very successful and truly enjoyable trip.
We just completed a very successful South Africa birding safari with 2 clients from Canada. This was their 4th African birding safari with Nature Travel Birding and the main focus was on finding key endemic and range restricted species and species still missing from their African lists.
We started off at Magoebaskloof, a very attractive part of South Africa offering excellent forest and grassland birding. One of our main targets was the localised Short-clawed Lark which we found not far from our excellent lodge. In the forest our main targets were Cape Parrot, Olive and Black-fronted Bush-shrikes and we had great views of all three of them. Other specials we saw include Bat Hawk, Magpie Mannikin, Lazy Cisticola, Olive Woodpecker, Cape Batis, Lemon Dove, Long-billed Pipit, Brown Scrub-robin, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Knysna Turaco, Purple-crested Turaco, African Black Duck, African Emerald Cuckoo, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Swee Waxbill, Grey-rumped Swallow, Long-crested eagle, Jackal Buzzard and Barrat’s Warbler.
From here we moved onto Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s best game viewing parks offering excellent birding as well. Kruger is fantastic for raptors and we saw White-headed, White-backed, Lappet-faced, Cape and Hooded Vultures, Martial, Tawny, Lesser Spotted and Bateleur Eagles, Black-chested and Brown snake-eagles, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Black-winged Kite, Yellow-billed Kite, Amur Falcon and Secretarybird. Other interested birds include Kori Bustard, Red-chested Korhaan, Dusky Lark, Brown-headed Parrot, Bearded, Golden-tailed and Cardinal Woodpecker, Southern Ground, African Grey, Southern Yellow-billed and Red-billed Hornbills, Crested Francolin, Mocking Cliff-chat, Burchell’s Starling, Eurasian and African Golden Orioles, White-crested and Retz’s Helmet-shrikes, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Burchell’s Coucal, Southern Carmine Bee-eater and Yellow-billed Oxpecker to name a few. The game viewing did not disappoint (never does in this fantastic game reserve) and we had great sightings of African Wild dog (followed them on the hunt for 15 minutes), Cheetah, Leopard, Lion (including 3 different sightings in a 45 minute period), White Rhino, Cape Buffalo and off course hundreds of Elephant and Hippo.
From here we moved south to Wakkerstroom, an excellent place to see many of South Africa’s endemic birds and grassland specials. The key targets here for most birders are Botha’s and Rudd’s Larks and we had excellent views of both including Botha’s Lark on a nest! Other great birds we saw are White-bellied and Blue Korhaan, Southern Bald Ibis, Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat, African Rock and Yellow-breasted Pipit, Sentinel Rock-thrush, Denham’s Bustard, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Red-chested Flufftail, Eastern Long-billed and Spike-heeled Lark, Cloud, Zitting, Wing-snapping, Levailant’s and Croaking Cisticola, Cape Longclaw, Cape Weaver, Fan-tailed, Red-collared and Long-tailed Widowbird, Malachite Sunbird, South African Cliff Swallow, African Snipe, Grey-crowned and Blue Crane.
Our final stop was northern Kwazulu Natal visiting key sites such as Mkuze Game Reserve, Ongoye Forest, Amatigulu, Nkandla Forest, Mtunzini, Richard’s Bay, Dlinza Aerial Board and Eshowe Forest. This part of South Africa had a lot of rain over the last few weeks but this did not prevent us from finding Gorgeous Bushshrike, Rudd’s Apalis, Spotted Ground Thrush, Lesser Crested Tern, Allen’s Gallinule, Pink-backed Pelican, Common Quail, Common Buttonquail, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Green Barbet, Grey Cuckooshrike, Narina Trogon, Black-bellied Starling, Little Bittern, Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbill, Square-tailed Drongo, Chorister Robin-chat, Olive Sunbird, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Purple-banded Sunbird, Rufous-winged Cisticola, White-eared Barbet, African Pygmy Goose, Red-headed Quelea, Palm-nut Vulture, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Crested Guineafowl and African Cuckoo-hawk.
We ended up with an impressive 375 birds and 45 mammals and had great sightings of most of the key targets. This part of Africa is still one of my favourites and a must for any serious birder whether on a first African birding trip or having done several previous African trips. Extensions to the Drakensberg Mountains and Cape Town area should be considered to complete the South African endemics.
Even if one has very little time when visiting Windhoek, there is an option of a quick guided birding trip around the city. This morning I did a two hour birding walk with a client from the UK. Due to time constraints we decided to bird close to Windhoek and we had a very productive couple of hours. We had fantastic views of no fewer than 4 Rockrunner!! We were lucky with raptors and found Common Buzzard, Black-winged Kite, Rock Kestrel and Gabar Goshawk. Monteiro’s Hornbill is always a highlight being a near endemic.
With lots of flying insects we had lots of swifts and swallows with Greater Striped Swallow, Rock Martin, Little and White-rumped and African Palm Swift. In the grassy areas we found Zitting Cisticola, Southern Red Bishop, Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Black-chested Prinia, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red-billed Spurfowl and Scaly-feathered Weaver.
Other interesting scrub, rocky and woodland birds include Brubru, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Mountain Wheatear, Cape Bunting, Rattling Cisticola, Blue, Violet-eared and Black-cheeked Waxbill, Swallow-tailed and European Bee-eater, Diderick Cuckoo, Cardinal Woodpecker, Long-billed Crombec, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Green-winged Pytilia, Marico Flycatcher, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cape Wagtail, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Common Scimitarbill, Barred Wren-Warbler, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, White-backed Mousebird, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Black-throated Canary, Pririt Batis and Yellow-belled Eremomela.
We even managed to see a few mammals: Yellow Mongoose, Rock Hyrax and Dassie Rat. Very productive for a two hour walk and perfect for birders visiting Windhoek with limited time and can be combined with a full day or overnight trip to include more of the endemics.