8-Day North East South Africa
Our North East Birding tour takes place in the Mpumalanga province and includes several days in the world-renowned Kruger National Park. You will be treated to magnificent landscapes, modern infrastructure and the full big game experience whilst exploring the wonderful birding opportunities. Typically we could expect a bird list in the region of 400 birds, including many of South Africa’s 39 endemic species.
Full Itinerary – Mountain, Canyons and more: North East South Africa
Start of tour in Johannesburg, birding at Rietvlei Nature Reserve and drive to Dullstroom
Welcome to the “rainbow nation” of South Africa! Your fantastic birding safari will start today in one of the most vibrant cities in Africa!
You will be met by your Nature Travel guide at the O.R. Tambo International Airport on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South African biggest city and the economic hub of the continent. Johannesburg, affectionately called Jo’burg, Jozi, and E’Goli, the “city of gold,” is the financial and industrial metropolis of South Africa, built on a rich history of gold mining. We will pack our bags in our comfortable, airconditioned vehicle that we will be using for the duration of the tour, and then set off.
*Please note that we advise an early arrival into Johannesburg, as this ensures a good few hours of birding at our first stop on the trip. Alternatively you can arrive a day or two before the official start of the tour to enjoy Johannesburg and its many attractions at your own pace. If you would like us to arrange extra activities for you (like a visit to historic Soweto and the Mandela Museum, theme park rides at Gold Reef City, or the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cradle of Humankind nearby) please don’t hesitate to ask. We will gladly assist.
We will start chatting about the upcoming trip and specific targets that you might have, ensuring everyone has a good time and a great trip list. We are going to see some spectacular scenery, wonderful birds, top African big game, and enjoy excellent accommodation and great local cuisine, along with friendly people and interesting culture. A great trip awaits!
We will drive northwards, a short distance to the Rietvlei Dam Nature Reserve on the outskirts of the country’s capital, Pretoria. This 4,000 hectares (40 km2) reserve is a favourite birding spot for many local birders due not only to the interesting variety of birds that can be found here, but also because of the excellent leisure facilities, three well-maintained bird hides and beautiful Highveld grassland landscapes.
Rietvlei (literally translated from Afrikaans as “reedy marsh”) also has a number of mammal species, including White Rhinoceros, African Buffalo, Hippopotamus, Plains Zebra, and several antelope and smaller mammal species. This small reserve conserves some Highveld grassland habitat and holds a few bird species which we will not have a chance of seeing on the rest of the itinerary. These include South African Shelduck, Northern Black Korhaan, Greater Kestrel and Chestnut-vented Warbler, among others. We will also test our LBJ identification skills and look for Plain-backed and African Pipit, and Spike-heeled and Rufous-naped Lark.
The two dams in the reserve provide some excellent wetland and open water habitats, and we hope to add species like Great Crested Grebe, Little Bittern, African Fish Eagle, African Swamphen, African Rail, White-breasted and Reed Cormorant, African Reed Warbler and Grey-headed Gull to our lists. Other species we will almost definitely tick include the beautiful Crimson-breasted Shrike, Groundscraper Thrush, photogenic African Stonechat, inquisitive Cape Longclaw, Zitting and Leveillant’s Cisticola, African Yellow Warbler, beautiful Capped Wheatear and Cape White-eye, to name just a few. If we are lucky we might even see Greater and Lesser Honeyguide, Red-throated Wryneck, Willow Warbler and Eurasian Hobby. The introduced (but tickable) Rose-ringed Parakeet also breeds in the reserve.
After a few hours at Rietvlei we will head east, for the Mpumalanga Province and the town of Dullstroom, about 250 kilometres away. We will have a few stops along the way to add some waterbirds to our list as well as lunch at an authentic South African roadside restaurant. Not far off the N4 highway there are some pans and wetlands where we will look for species such as Greater Flamingo, Cape Shoveler, Hottentot and Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed, White-backed and Maccoa Duck, Southern Pochard, Black-necked Grebe, Southern Red Bishop and many others.
Further on we may deviate slightly to check out a South African Cliff Swallow colony before arriving at our base for the next two days. Dullstroom is one of South Africa’s premier fly-fishing destinations, while its relatively cool and temperate climate has made it a favourite with well-off people as a weekend getaway destination. The town boasts many excellent restaurants, curio shops and South Africa’s biggest whisky bar!
But we are here for the birds! The altitude around Dullstroom vary from 2,000 to 2,250 metres (6,500 feet) above sea level, and the habitat comprises open grasslands and rocky hillside. If time allows we may have a short afternoon drive in the area before getting ready for dinner. Species we will be on the lookout for include the endemic Southern Bald Ibis, Cape Longclaw, Ant-eating Chat, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Buff-streaked Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Pied Starling, Steppe Buzzard, Cape Crow, Common Fiscal, Bokmakierie and many others.
The Dullstroom area does not hold too many large mammals, though Black Wildebeest, Blesbok, Springbok and other antelope can be seen on farms, having been re-introduced by many landowners. Grey Rhebok, Mountain Reedbuck, Yellow Mongoose, Meerkat and Natal Red Rock Rabbit live under free-ranging conditions and can be seen in the area.
We’ll then have some time to freshen up before dinner at one of the many excellent establishments in town, and then our first night’s sleep of the trip.
Dullstroom, including Mount Sheba
We will start the day with coffee or tea and rusks (traditional South African dunking biscuits that you will grow to love on the tour!) and then head into the Verloren Vallei (Lost Valley) Nature Reserve, a Ramsar Site of Importance high up in the Steenkampsberg mountain range, a short drive from town.
With a range of wetland types including permanent and seasonal marshes and streams, peatlands and springs situated in an area of high altitude grassland close to Dullstroom, the reserve contains more than thirty wetlands in near-pristine state. Specials we will be looking for include the endemic Grey-winged Francolin and Red-winged Francolin, Wattled and Blue Crane, the endemic Yellow-breasted Pipit, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Mountain Wheatear, Ant-eating Chat, the endemic Eastern Long-billed Lark, Pale-crowned and Wing-snapping Cisticola, the endemic Sentinel Rock Thrush, Denham’s Bustard, and the endemic and fascinating Ground Woodpecker. During summer Long-tailed Widowbird, Southern Red, Yellow-crowned and Yellow Bishop can be seen in their spectacular breeding dress. Raptors such as Jackal Buzzard, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk and African Marsh Harrier can be seen over the grasslands.
After our adventurous morning we will have brunch or an early lunch back in Dullstroom, after which we will make our way to Mount Sheba, a hotel situated around two hours’ drive away on the edge of the escarpment. Here the warm air rising up from the Lowveld (low-lying plain) to the east brings a lot of moisture and large stands of indigenous forest grow on the mountain slopes. Mount Sheba is situated close to one of the largest remaining forest patches, and this is where our birding will take place.
It is one of Mpumalanga’s premier forest birding localities, and there are some great species to be seen here. We will do a walk in the beautiful forest and search for Narina Trogon, the endemic Knysna Turaco, White-starred Robin, the endemic Chorister Robin-chat, Cape Batis, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Lemon Dove, Olive Woodpecker, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Grey Cuckooshrike, African Emerald Cuckoo, Barratt’s Warbler, Mountain Wagtail, Forest Canary, Crowned Eagle and Southern Tchagra amongst many others. It is considered one of the best spots in the country for the very special Orange Ground Thrush.
We will return to Dullstroom in the early evening, freshen up at our accommodation and then have dinner in a local restaurant, followed by a good night’s rest.
Dullstroom to Blyde River Canyon
Today an early morning start will be best in order for us to get into the surrounding forest areas for some birding before breakfast, though as the region is often shrouded in mist we’ll have to play it according to ear based on the current weather conditions. We’ll put in quite a bit of effort to try and rack up a decent list of forest birds before a late breakfast or brunch, and if we still have some key species to see we’ll have another bash in the forests before packing and departing for the Blyde River Canyon, a 3 to 4 hour drive away.
It is a beautiful drive, with stunning mountainous scenery and valleys full of tropical fruit farms. On the way to the canyon we will stop at a rugged cliff face on the side of the escarpment close to the J.G. Strijdom tunnel. This is one of the best spots in Africa to see the rare Taita Falcon, listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN RedList 2016. A pair used to breed here annually but sightings are now unfortunately far more irregular. Cape Vulture is also common here, so we will definitely scan for them as well.
The Blyde River Canyon is one of the largest canyons on Earth, and it may be the largest “green canyon” due to its lush subtropical foliage. It has some of the deepest cliffs of any canyon on the planet. It is the second largest canyon in Africa and is known as one of the great wonders of nature on the continent. The canyon offers spectacular scenery with viewing sites and rock formations overlooking the Lowveld along with dramatic towering cliffs, plateau grasslands, broadleaved woodland, riverine thicket and Afromontane forest.
The canyon supports large diversity of life, including numerous fish and antelope species as well as Hippopotamus and Nile Crocodiles, and every primate species that may be seen in South Africa. The Three Rondavels lookout site is dominated by montane grassland which hosts a number of high altitude species.
We will stop at quite a few spots in the canyon en route to our lodge and look for Wing-snapping, Wailing, Levaillant’s and Croaking Cisticola, the endemic Drakenberg Prinia, Fan-tailed Grassbird, the endemic Cape Rock Thrush, White-bellied Sunbird, Streaky-headed Seedeater, the endemic Buff-streaked Chat, Familiar Chat and Mocking Cliff Chat. In addition, the lookout is a good area to look out for raptors, including Cape Vulture, Verreaux’s Eagle, Rock Kestrel, Lanner and Peregrine Falcon.
Set on the banks of the tranquil Blyde River, our thatched lodge for the evening is every nature lover’s dream and rests under the shade of majestic Jackalberry and Fig trees. We will enjoy dinner and a good night’s rest here; tomorrow we go to Kruger!
Blyde River Canyon to Kruger National Park (Satara Camp)
We start the day with an early walk in the rocky woodland around the lodge, where the transition zone between the highveld and the lowland savannah is found. Our walk will take us along the Kadisi Trail, with views of some of the canyon’s wonderful geological formations. Birding here can be superb and we hope to see Mocking Cliff Chat, Striped Pipit, Lazy Cisticola, White-throated Robin-chat, African Firefinch, Swee Waxbill, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-crowned Tchagra and Golden-breasted Bunting, among others.
After breakfast we will depart, perhaps taking in the canyon view site before heading for the edge of the escarpment and dropping down to the Lowveld (the low-lying savannah region of the northeast).
After about an hour and a half we will enter the world famous Kruger National Park at Orpen Gate on the western side of the park. The park covers almost 20,000 square kilometres and is the tenth largest game reserve in the world. The big game viewing in Kruger rival that of any reserve in Africa with large African Elephant, African Buffalo and Lion populations being relatively easily seen, along with almost 150 other mammal species.
The park is without doubt the finest birding locality in southern Africa. Due to its massive size and incredible biodiversity, it supports a unique combination of wilderness areas and varied habitats. For us, the high diversity and density of bird species is the great attraction. Every year over a million visitors tally up in the region of 520 bird species!
Once we enter the park the going gets really slow, due to the incredible numbers of bird species to be seen. We need to stop for every movement and wingflap, as it could be something rare and wonderful every time! The species we could see on our way to our first camp include Green-winged Pytilia, Brown-crowned Tchagra, African Grey, Southern Yellow-billed and Southern Red-billed Hornbill, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Senegal and Crowned Lapwing, Magpie Shrike, Lilac-breasted, European and Purple Roller, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Common Scimitarbill, Secretarybird, Southern Ground Hornbill, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bushshrike and many others. Raptors are also plentiful in this area of the park and we could see Gabar Goshawk, Wahlberg’s, Tawny and Martial Eagle, Bateleur, Brown Snake Eagle and several other large raptors.
Here in the south-central region of the park the basaltic soils result in good grass growth and a reduced shrub component, and this more open savannah attracts the grazers such as Plains Zebra, Common Wildebeest and African Buffalo. These in turn provide food for Lion prides and Spotted Hyaena clans, while the smaller herbivores such as Impala and Common Warthog are preyed upon by Leopard, African Wild Dog and Cheetah.
We will arrive at our home for tonight, Satara rest camp, in the late afternoon and check in. Satara camp itself , although fairly large, has a rustic charm, with the bulk of the accommodation set out in a series of circles. Look out in the camp for the resident African Scops Owl, who might provide us with very good photo opportunities.
We will have dinner in the camp’s restaurant on a wide open verandah, and settle in for the night with the African sounds all around us. You might want to take a walk to the camp fence and look at the water trough through your binoculars. The trough has a 24 hour webcam and some truly amazing wildlife interactions have been captured here over the years. You never know what you might see!
Tonight might be a good opportunity to partake in probably one of the best optional activities one can do here in the park, namely a night drive with one of Kruger’s knowledgeable rangers in an open game vehicle. On this drive you may encounter some of the rarer nocturnal mammals such as African Civet, genets, Side-striped Jackal, the beautiful Serval, White-tailed Mongoose and even African Wildcat, along with several species of owl and nightjar. These include Spotted and Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, African Scops Owl, Southern White-faced Owl, and Square-tailed and Fiery-necked Nightjar. Please inform us well in advance of the trip if you plan to do a night drive, as this is a very popular activity that is normally filled up as soon as bookings open.
Kruger National Park (Satara Camp to Skukuza Camp)
Today we have our first full day of birding and game viewing in “Kruger”, as the locals call it. We will pack our bags and go out into the wilderness as soon as the camp gates open. We will enjoy a packed breakfast and stop at one of the many picnic spots or rest camps for lunch.
Driving around in Kruger will soon make you realise why it is such a legendary and well-loved park… We will focus our attention on the different habitats that Kruger is rightly famous for. We will decide (with everybody’s input of course) on the best course of action for the day in terms of the route to follow, but rest assured we will cover most of the important birding areas in this section of Kruger.
We might start our day with one of the most legendary roads in all of Kruger. The S100 gravel road that runs east-west from Satara towards the Lebombo mountains and Mozambique is that road. Many long-time visitors to Kruger swear by this road for spectacular sightings of the Big Five and all sorts of other interesting creatures not seen anywhere else in the park.
As we drive along we will keep our eyes open for movement in the grass, bushes and trees. Areas of open grassland and broad-leaved woodland host species such as African Cuckoo-hawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Green-capped Eremomela and even Bushveld Pipit. The damp depressions around streams sometimes yield Black Coucal and in times after good rainfall, the odd Corn Crake.
The area between Satara and Skukuza (our next camp) is good for species like Common Ostrich, Kori Bustard, Southern Ground Hornbill, Secretarybird, Sabota Lark, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark, Lesser Grey Shrike, Montagu’s and Pallid Harrier, Red-billed Quelea, Burchell’s Starling, Bennett’s Woodpecker and many more. This area is also particularly good for the elusive Black Rhinoceros and Lichtenstein’s subspecies of Hartebeest, along with all the usual fantastic and numerous Kruger mammals.
We will slowly make our way south during our drive today and arrive at Skukuza Rest Camp in the late afternoon. If time permits it is always a good idea to walk around the camp grounds in search of some special fauna and flora species. Skukuza is the park’s headquarters and its largest camp, and the camp grounds are well foliaged, with some lofty trees along the river’s edge. Facilities are diverse, as are the animals and plants found within the camp’s boundary fence. The camp is a great place to spot the dove-sized Wahlberg’s Epauletted Fruit Bat and the very cute South African Thick-tailed Galago. Birds like Crowned Hornbill, Grey-headed Bushshrike and African Green Pigeon are regularly seen in the camp.
We will do our trip lists and enjoy dinner at the restaurant overlooking the Sabie river and enjoy a good night’s rest, falling asleep to the sounds of the African bush. Remember to look up at the Milky Way on your way to the room, it really is spectacular out here in the bush!
Kruger National Park (Skukuza Camp)
We will have a full day to explore this part of Kruger. We will enjoy an early breakfast and either head out into the park immediately, or do a walk in the camp itself before heading out. Camp birding in Kruger should not be underestimated! The Sycamore Figs along the river provide excellent birding, attracting African Green Pigeon, Purple-crested Turaco and Brown-headed Parrot when in fruit.
The reed banks visible from the walkway are good for sightings of Half-collared Kingfisher, Red-faced Cisticola and both Red-backed and Bronze Mannikin. Seven species of flycatcher occur in the camp: Grey Tit-flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Southern Black Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher (winter vagrant), Spotted Flycatcher (summer migrant), Ashy Flycatcher and Pale Flycatcher. In winter, flowering aloes attract Scarlet-chested, White-bellied and Marico Sunbird, as well as Black-headed Oriole and various weavers. We will also check the river for African Black Duck and the weird but wonderful Hamerkop.
Depending on what we have seen so far and which species we need, we will make our way either south towards Lower Sabie rest camp, or head west on the Doispane road, another of Kruger’s near-mythical stretches of gravel. There are many tar and dirt roads to explore in the area, so we will certainly not be bored! We will enjoy breakfast and lunch in one of the many camps in the area, or at a lovely picnic site.
A few kilometers to the west of Skukuza, on the road to the Kruger gate, is the turn off to the famous Lake Panic Bird Hide. This can be a very rewarding site, with Malachite Kingfisher, Striated Heron, Wire-tailed Swallow, Greater Painted-snipe, Spur-winged Goose, White-faced Whistling Duck, Black Crake and Thick-billed Weaver among the many species providing photographic opportunities for us. Also resident here are Nile Crocodiles, hippos and every now and again, a relaxed Leopard that frequents the area.
The plant nursery at Skukuza attracts a variety of birds, and, time permitting, we will swing by and look for Marico and Collared Sunbird, while the nearby golf course has had its fair share of rarities, including River Warbler and Buff-spotted Flufftail! The tall riverine woodland along the Sabie and Sand rivers is one of the best places in South Africa to search for the rare Thick-billed Cuckoo during the summer months.
The habitat around Skukuza comprises riparian zones, with large trees lining the river banks, and thickets away from the river courses. The permanent water sources here attract large numbers of Impala, one of the main prey items of Leopard, so be on the lookout for these and other predators such as Lion, African Wild Dog and Spotted Hyaena. The riverbanks also play host to huge numbers of bird species, and some uncommon ones like Crowned Eagle, African Finfoot and Pel’s Fishing Owl are seen here fairly regularly.
Other birds we will look for in this area of the park include Terrestrial Brownbul, Bearded Scrub Robin, Green-backed Camaroptera, Kurrichane Thrush, Grey Tit-flycatcher, Black-headed Oriole, Brubru, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Black Cuckooshrike, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Southern Black Tit, Pied and Giant Kingfisher, Red-billed and African Firefinch, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Cardinal and Bearded Woodpecker, Coqui Francolin, Brown-crowned and Black-crowned Tchagra, Burnt-necked and Yellow-bellied Eremomela and many others.
We will return to Skukuza late in the afternoon to update our lists, have dinner together and another good night’s sleep in wonderful Kruger.
Kruger National Park (Skukuza Camp to Pretoriuskop Camp)
Once again, after a morning drive and breakfast, we’ll head on to our next camp and the last stop for the tour, about 50 kilometres away.
Pretoriuskop Camp is situated in the region of the Park that receives the highest rainfall and is dominated by a veld type known as Pretoriuskop Sourveld. The tall, coarse grasses growing here are not too palatable, so the area does not hold large numbers of grazers, though it is particularly good for White Rhinoceros and the rare and beautiful Sable Antelope. It is immediately apparent to any visitor that Pretoriuskop is a unique camp, as brilliant red Common Coral trees adorn the camp, pre-dating the decision to make exclusive use of indigenous plants in laying out rest camp gardens.
Birds we will be searching for in the grassland savannah as we get closer to Pretoriuskop include Dark Chanting Goshawk, African Cuckoo-hawk, Bushveld Pipit, Yellow-throated Petronia, Pale Flycatcher, Retz’s and White-crested Helmetshrike, Red-billed Firefinch, Golden-breasted Bunting, Grey Penduline Tit, Neddicky, Green-capped and Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, among others.
The impressive granite dome known as “Shabeni Hill” is not far from the camp; here we will look for Lizard Buzzard, Shikra, Little Sparrowhawk and the rare Ovambo Sparrowhawk. The dense thickets at the base of the dome are good for Southern Boubou, Red-throated Wryneck, Amethyst Sunbird, Striped Pipit, Brown-crowned Tchagra and Mocking Cliff Chat, as well as the more easily heard than seen Gorgeous and Grey-headed Bushshrike. It is also one of the best spots to see Leopard, as there is a resident male in the area that often lies on the rocks surveying his territory.
We will probably arrive at camp in the mid-afternoon and check in. There are several camp specials around the pool area and we will take a walk there and look for Brown-headed Parrot, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Black-headed Oriole, Common Scimitarbill, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Black-collared Barbet, Violet-backed Starling, Black-backed Puffback, Red-headed Weaver, Blue Waxbill and Arrow-marked Babbler. A pair of Bat Hawks have recently been seen hunting in the camp at dusk!
We will have some time to settle in before a short afternoon drive in the area, looking for something interesting in this beautiful area.
We will then enjoy a final dinner together in the camp’s restaurant, or even a traditional South African barbeque (called a “braai” over here), while we listen for the distinctive call of a Fiery-necked Nightjar as we fall asleep. Africa definitely is special!
Kruger National Park (Pretoriuskop Camp) to Johannesburg and Departure
After breakfast we’ll meander slowly out of the park and then head back to Johannesburg, a five hour drive away. Our tour ends in Johannesburg at the O.R. Tambo International Airport.
*Please note: Extensions to the Drakensberg, Cape Town or further afield can easily be arranged. Get in touch with us if you need our assistance.
Do you have a quick question about this birding tour? Speak to a specialist at