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South Africa birding trip (14 November till 14 December 2002),Wim Heylen
14 November. Flight Brussels-London-Cape Town.
15 November. Arrival in Cape Town. The Boulders, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, Kommetjie.
16 November. Pelagic trip off Simon's Town. Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (near Olifantsbos)
17 November. De Hel, Strandfontein, Rondevlei Nature Reserve, walk up Table Mountain.
18 November. Rooi Els, Sir Lowry's Pass, Paarl Mountain, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, drive to Karoopoort.
19 November. Karoopoort, Eierkop, Katbakkies, drive to Calvinia
20 November. Drive to Clanwilliam (Kransvlei), Velddrif, Paternoster.
21 November. West Coast National Park, Tienie Versveld Flower Reserve, Darling area, Rietvlei, drive to De Mond
22 November. De Mond, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Potberg, Farmland loops.
23 November. Farmland loops, Bontebok National Park.
24 November. Grootvadersbosch NR, drive to Beaufort West, Karoo National Park.
25 November. Karoo National Park, drive to Kimberley, Big Hole.
26 November. Beaconsfield Park 1908, Big Hole, Vaalbos National Park, drive to Bloemhof.
27 November. Sandveld Nature Reserve, drive to Rustenburg.
28 November. Pilanesberg.
29 November. Drive to Johannesburg International Airport to drop two people off, drive to Wakkerstroom.
30 November. Wakkerstroom area.
1 December. Southern White-bellied Korhaan & Melodious Lark site near Ladysmith, Underberg region, drive to Himeville.
2 December. Sani Pass, Weza, drive to Port Shepstone.
3 December. Oribi Gorge, drive to Eshowe.
4 December. Eshowe and surroundings, Mtunzini, Richard's Bay, drive to Saint-Lucia.
5 December. Gwala-Gwala walk at Saint-Lucia, road to Cape Vidal, drive to Bonamanzi.
6 December. Bonamanzi, drive to Mkuze.
7 December. Mkuze, drive to Kruger.
8 December. Drive to Kruger, southern part of Kruger, night at Skukuza.
9 December. Southern part of Kruger, night at Skukuza. Night drive at Skukuza.
10 December. Central part of Kruger, night at Letaba. Night drive at Letaba.
11 December. Central-northern part of Kruger, night at Punda Maria.
12 December. Northern part of Kruger (Pafuri), drive to Pietersburg.
13 December. Pietersburg Game Reserve, Pietersburg Bird Sanctuary, drive to Johannesburg International Airport. Flight Johannesburg - London - Brussels at 21.30.
14 December. Arrival in Brussels around 1200.
Most birding sites in South Africa are very well documented, both in trip reports and in books. It's easy to get detailed site descriptions straight from the net, and the "Essential birding" guide by Callan Cohen and Claire Spottiswoode is excellent. That's why we haven't included site descriptions as they would be redundant and would have made the report even longer. The few site descriptions that we obtained from bird guides during the trip are documented as this was genuinely new information for us.
C. Cohen, C. Spottiswoode,
Essential Birding, Western South Africa, Struik Publishers.
By far the best site description guide available - covers the entire Western Cape. A must-have book for the area.
I. Sinclair, P. Hockey, W. Tarboton, SASOL
Birds of Southern Africa, Struik Publishers
Best available bird guide for the region. New edition was released in September 2002, with some new splits.
A lot of expert location information can be downloaded from the www.sabirding.co.za website. This was particularly useful for the area that was not covered by the "Essential Birding" guide. Surf to http://www.sabirding.co.za/birdspot/index.htm and click on the regions you're travelling to.
Additionally, we used various trip reports in order to prepare the trip - most of them were obtained from the classic internet trip report sites. Thanks to the editors of these reports - Wim Veraghtert, Keith Taylor, David Fischer, David Van Den Schoor and especially Raf Drijvers.
We used three guides during the trip.
An excellent bird guide for the Wakkerstroom area is
John McAllister. He lives in Wakkerstroom village, runs a B&B and
knows where to find all the local specialities.
Beautiful Just Birding Tours
13 van Riebeeck St.
Tel. 017 730 0269
We also used a local guide called Norman who was dispatched by the Birdlife Center in Wakkerstroom.
Hammish MacLaggan was our guide in the Eshowe region. He can be reached at +27 35 474 2531.
Daily trip report
Note that the bird listings of every site are not necessarily complete. In the beginning of the trip, we noted all species we recorded, but gradually we started omitting the more common species from our notes. Obviously, the less common species are all included. Please consult the species list at the end of the report to get a good feeling of the occurrence of species.
Day 1 - 15 November. Arrival in Cape Town. The Boulders, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, Kommetjie.
We arrived around 9.30AM at Cape Town International Airport. The queue at the border control point was frustratingly long, as we were of course very eager to get out and start birding. First birds at the airport were Greater Striped Swallow, Yellow-billed Kite, House Crow, House Sparrow, Little Egret, Cape Wagtail.
After picking up our rental car (a Toyota Condor 2-wheel drive jeep from Budget), we headed straight for The Boulders where we got African (Jackass) Penguin , Cape Cormorant, Cape Gull, Crowned Cormorant, Hartlaub's Gull, Karoo Prinia, Cape Canary, African Black Swift, Alpine Swift, White-breasted Cormorant, Sandwich Tern, Cape White-eye, Cape Sugarbird, Southern Boubou, Southern (Lesser) Double-collared Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow and Fiscal Flycatcher.
We then headed further south to Cape of Good Hope
Nature Reserve on the Cape peninsula. Along the road and near the Cape
point itself, we saw Cape Grassbird, Cape Gull, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Wagtail,
Cape White-eye, Fiscal Flycatcher, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Malachite
Sunbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Ostrich, Speckled Mousebird, Cape Bunting,
Cape Siskin, Crowned Plover and Yellow Bishop.
We also tried to find Hottentot Buttonquail but failed to find any. Admittedly we didn't try very hard because it was getting rather late. It might have been a hopeless attempt anyway, because we later heard from local birders that the Cape peninsula is not really a reliable site anymore for this elusive species. Apparently, there's an area in the Potberg region (near De Hoop Nature Reserve) where the chances to find this bird are higher. Up-to-date information from locals is essential if you want to see it.
In the early evening, we headed back north to the west coast town of Kommetjie. In failing light, we found African Black Oystercatcher, Cape Cormorant, Cape Gull, Common Tern, Crowned Cormorant, Hartlaub's Gull, Sandwich Tern, Swift Tern, White-breasted Cormorant, White-fronted Plover, Sanderling and Karoo Prinia.
We spent the night in Simon's Town in a small hotel within walking distance from the harbour.
Day 2 - 16 November. Pelagic trip off Simon's Town. Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (near Olifantsbos)
Today we set out on a pelagic trip off Simon's Town,
organised by Anne Albatross Cape Pelagics (http://peter.maxitec.co.za/CapeTownPelagics/Trips/Operators/AnneAlbatross1.htm).
The weather was a bit rougher than usual according to our guides, with a 3-4m swell past Cape Point, occasional rain, and a rather heavy return trip that soaked us all to the bone. We were rather afraid of getting seasick so we had done some pre-trip research in order to get the best anti-seasickness medication. On pharmacist's advice, we eventually took a cocktail of two products : Primperan and Stugeron. This worked perfectly - none of us 4 got sick, while there were several other people on the boat that were suffering heavily throughout the trip.
The boat took us to a few fishing boats and we got a lot of very good birds. Highlights were 2 Spectacled Petrels and 1 Salvin's Albatross. Additionally we got 50+ Black-browed Albatrosses, 10+ Yellow-nosed Albatrosses (between which we only managed to positively identify Atlantic yellownoses but no positive Indians - the rather rough sea provided tough viewing conditions), 100+ Shy Albatrosses, 40+ Pintado Petrels, 15+ Sabine's Gulls, 10+ Arctic Skuas, 20+ giant petrels spec. (a few of both Northern and Southern were positively identified), 200+ White-chinned Petrels, 60+ Sooty Shearwaters, 10+ Great-winged Petrels, 20+ Great Shearwaters, 3 Black-bellied Storm-petrels, 4 Wilson's Storm-petrels, 2 Subantarctic Skuas, 10+ Arctic Tern, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Swift Tern, Cape Gannet, Bank Cormorant (on an offshore boulder in False Bay), Crowned Cormorant. Additionally, one of the guides spotted a European Storm-petrel but we missed it as he didn't draw our attention to it straight away, assuming that we Europeans would have seen plenty of European Storm-petrels back home (NOT!). Additionally we saw a Bryde's Whale, Common Dolphins, seals and a flying fish.
The trip back to Simon's Town through a very rough sea indeed seemed to take ages but eventually we made it back. After putting on some dry clothes, we headed back to the Cape of Good Hope reserve to visit the remainder of the reserve, near Olifantsbos. Birds there were African Black Oystercatcher, Black Harrier, Cape Gull, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Wagtail, Cape White-eye, Common Greenshank, Common Tern, Crowned Cormorant, Curlew Sandpiper, Familiar Chat, Fiscal Flycatcher, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Malachite Sunbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Ostrich, Pied Avocet, Swift Tern, White-fronted Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Cape Robin, Cape Turtle Dove, Helmeted Guineafowl, African Fish Eagle, Cape Francolin, Yellow Bishop, Rock Kestrel, White-necked Raven, Blacksmith Plover, Sacred Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Kittlitz's Plover, Hartlaub's Gull, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck. Despite trying hard to see a Plain-backed Pipit, we failed to find any.
We spent the night in the same hotel as yesterday in Simon's Town.
Day 3 - 17 November. De Hel, Strandfontein, Rondevlei Nature Reserve, walk up Table Mountain.
We started at De Hel, which is part of the Constantia Greenbelts. Our main target was Knysna Warbler and that was about the first bird we heard singing when we got out of the car. Unfortunately it took off straight away, but we saw a very brief glimpse of the bird - the only time during the entire trip that we got to see this species, although we tried to tape it several times. A walk around the area produced Cape Batis, Cape Robin, Cape White-eye, a singing Chaffinch, African Olive-Pigeon (Rameron Pigeon), Karoo Prinia, Olive Thrush, Sombre Greenbul, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, frustrating views of a Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk, Speckled Pigeon, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Dusky Flycatcher, and Yellow-billed Kite. No flufftails though despite some more taping efforts. Tip: try to see the Rameron Pigeon here, this is one of the better sites to see it.
We then drove to Strandfontein to look for waterbirds. A drive around the various pools produced most of the target duck species: Maccoa Duck, Southern Pochard, Red-billed Teal, Cape Teal, Cape Shoveler, South African Shelduck, and Yellow-billed Duck. Also Hadeda Ibis, Black-headed Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Little Egret, Cape Francolin, Pied Avocet, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter, Cape Longclaw, Cattle Egret, 2 Red-necked Phalaropes which are rare in the Cape, Egyptian Goose, Zitting Cisticola, Levaillant's Cisticola, Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Moorhen, Southern Masked-Weaver, Cape Bulbul, Greater Flamingo, Blacksmith Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Sandwich Tern, Caspian Tern, Hartlaub's Gull, Great White Pelican, Glossy Ibis, Sacred Ibis, Black-shouldered Kite, Pin-tailed Whydah, Lesser Swamp-Warbler, African Purple Swamphen, Yellow Bishop, Brown-throated Martin, Banded Martin, Barn Swallow, White-throated Swallow. Although Hottentot Teal is said to occur here, we didn't see any, but we got a lot of them later during the trip (in the north and east).
We also paid a visit to the nearby Rondevlei reserve. We recorded our target species African Marsh-Harrier, and also Malachite Kingfisher, African Fish Eagle, Black-crowned Night Heron, Glossy Ibis, Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill, Hadeda Ibis, African Darter, Caspian Tern, Southern Masked-Weaver, Common Waxbill, Reed Cormorant, Karoo Prinia, Cape Weaver, Little Swift, Banded Martin, White-throated Swallow, African Marsh Warbler, Purple Heron, Three-banded Plover and Lesser Swamp-Warbler.
In late afternoon, we drove up the Tafelberg to the beginning of the cable lift and we hiked up the mountain. Birds recorded were Neddicky, Cape Grassbird, Familiar Chat, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Speckled Pigeon, Alpine Swift and African Black Swift.
We spent the night in a hotel in Somerset West.
Day 4 - 18 November. Rooi Els, Sir Lowry's Pass, Paarl Mountain, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, drive to Karoopoort.
We started early at Rooi Els to look for Cape Rock-Jumper. We found one after about 10 seconds, and we got prolonged but distant views. In case you're not as lucky as us, it is probably best to climb up the hill towards the base of the big rock. Our other target species for this site was Cape Rock Thrush (we saw a pair on the wires - picture). Other birds seen were Verreaux's Eagle, Cape Bunting , Familiar Chat, Karoo Prinia, Orange-breasted Sunbird, White-necked Raven, Cape Gull, Speckled Pigeon, Cape Sugarbird and Cape Bulbul.
We then headed for Sir Lowry's Pass. After looking at our first Baboons of the trip in the parking lot, we went for a walk along the ridge. We saw another Cape Rock-Jumper (again reasonable but distant views), Cape Siskin, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Sugarbird, Grey-backed Cisticola, Ground Woodpecker, Karoo Prinia, Malachite Sunbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, White-necked Raven, Long-billed Pipit, and several Victorin's Warblers singing and also seen at close range. This is one of the better spots to see Victorin's Warbler.
We then drove up north to Paarl Mountain to look for canaries. We recorded Brimstone Canary, Cape Canary, Swee Waxbill, Black Saw-wing, Honey Buzzard along the way (apparently a not-so-common visitor to the Cape but there was an influx during and after our trip), Cape Bulbul, Steppe Buzzard, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Common Waxbill, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Little Sparrowhawk, Cape Sugarbird, and Greater Striped Swallow. No sign of the hoped-for Protea Canary, which meant that we needed to visit Kransvlei near Clanwilliam for a second attempt.
At Paarl Bird Sanctuary, we recorded Grey-headed Gull, African Black Duck, Maccoa Duck, a presumably escaped Ruddy Duck, African Darter, African Marsh Warbler, Cape Shoveler, Cape Teal, Cape Turtle Dove, Cape Wagtail, Cape White-eye, Cattle Egret, Common Moorhen, Common Sandpiper, Great Crested Grebe, Karoo Prinia, Little Egret, Southern Masked-Weaver, Reed Cormorant, Southern Pochard, White-winged Tern, Yellow-billed Duck, Hartlaub's Gull, African Snipe, Blacksmith Plover, Red Bishop, White-throated Swallow, Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, Sacred Ibis and Red-eyed Dove.
At the end of the day, we drove further north towards Karoopoort. Along the road we saw our first Blue Cranes. There was a small wetland along the road near Ceres where we got Pied Starling, Wattled Starling, Cattle Egret, Little Egret, Hadeda Ibis, South African Shelduck, Egyptian Goose, Greater Flamingo, Whiskered Tern, Red Bishop, Red-billed Teal, Purple Heron, Black-shouldered Kite, Red-knobbed Coot, Cape Sparrow, Cape Teal, Blacksmith Plover, Sacred Ibis and Glossy Ibis.
At dusk, when we were entering the Karoo, we saw several Spotted Eagle Owls perched on the poles along the road. We also saw our only Cape Eagle Owl there. We camped at the picnic spot near the crossing of the R355 and R356.
Day 5 - 19 November. Karoopoort, Eierkop, Katbakkies, drive to Calvinia
The first target species of the day was Namaqua
Warbler at Karoopoort, which responded well to tape and was subsequently
seen very well. The resident Cinnamon-breasted Warbler at the picnic site
where we camped did not respond at all though.
A stop at Eierkop produced Karoo Eremomela, which we saw once more later on along the road to Katbakkies.
We spent the entire day driving north all the way to
Calvinia, with one side-trip to Katbakkies. Species encountered along the
road to Calvinia were Southern Ant-eating Chat, Familiar Chat, Karoo
Chat, Sickle-winged Chat, Tractrac Chat, Southern Grey Tit, Lark-like Bunting,
Bokmakierie, Cape Bunting, Cape Sparrow, Fiscal Flycatcher, Grey-backed Cisticola,
Karoo Lark, Karoo Robin, Karoo Prinia, Mountain Wheatear, Malachite Sunbird,
Southern Masked-Weaver, Pririt Batis (at Katbakkies), Rufous-eared
Warbler, White-necked Raven, Yellow Canary, White-throated Canary, European
Bee-eater, Namaqua Dove, White-backed Mousebird, Booted Eagle, Pale-winged
Starling, Pale Chanting-Goshawk, Rock Kestrel, Fairy Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented
Tit-babbler, Layard's Tit-babbler, Lesser Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Penduline
Tit, Black Harrier and Steppe Buzzard.
Katbakkies hosted some of the species listed above, and also a Cinnamon-breasted Warbler which showed itself for about one second to a single observer - the only one of the trip.
Further north towards Calvinia, in late afternoon, we added a single Greater Kestrel, Karoo Korhaan , Red-capped Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Namaqua Sandgrouse and Southern Thick-billed Lark. At dusk, we saw our first Martial Eagle on a pole along the road, and a few more Spotted Eagle Owls.
We spent the night in a hotel in Calvinia.
Day 6 - 20 November. Drive to Clanwilliam (Kransvlei), Velddrif, Paternoster.
From Calvinia we drove west and then south-west towards Clanwilliam. Although we had planned not to do too much roadside birding along the way, this turned out to be a very productive road. We added our second Greater Kestrel to the trip list, and after turning left on the gravel road towards Clanwilliam, we soon saw several flocks of Karoo Korhaan, Grey-winged Francolin, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Southern Black Korhaan, several Namaqua Sandgrouse, and Blue Crane. The desert landscape along that road is patched with several large grain fields and the desert edges around these fields seemed to be particularly attractive for birds. Other species along that road were Jackal Buzzard, Crowned Plover, Cape Sparrow, Yellow Canary, Karoo Chat, Blacksmith Plover, Southern Ant-eating Chat, White-throated Canary, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Rock Kestrel, Namaqua Dove, Red Bishop, European Bee-eater, White-throated Swallow, Yellow-billed Duck, Southern Masked-Weaver, Laughing Dove, Black-shouldered Kite and a puzzling leucistic Familiar Chat.
Just before we reached Clanwilliam, one too enthousiastic
stop on loose gravel cost us a tyre - the only mechanical incident of the
trip. It was not a coincidence that the first shop we saw when we entered
Clanwilliam was a Supa-quick tyre centre.
We then visited the Kransvlei poort, the well-known Protea Canary site. About the first bird we saw when we got out of the car was a Protea Canary , and a walk along the road produced our first Streaky-headed Seedeaters, Little Rush-Warbler, and more Protea Canaries. Other interesting birds were Verreaux's Eagle, Pale-winged Starling, Cape Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Red Bishop, Yellow Bishop, Cape Bunting, Speckled Mousebird, Pied Crow, Red-winged Starling and Cape Bulbul.
The remainder of the day was spent birdwatching in the Velddrif and Paternoster area. At the location described in Essential Birding we got the Cape Long-billed Lark. Other birds along the road and at the estuary were Banded Martin, Capped Wheatear (common although it took a while to see our first one), Lesser Flamingo, Chestnut-banded Plover, Lanner, Cape Turtle Dove, Caspian Tern, Common Tern, Crowned Plover, Greater Flamingo, Whimbrel, African Pipit, Hartlaub's Gull, Cape Gull, White-winged Tern, Bokmakierie, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Little Tern, White-fronted Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover, Red Knot, Common Greenshank, Little Stint, Speckled Mousebird, Cape Weaver, Yellow-billed Kite, Steppe Buzzard, Pied Kingfisher, Black-shouldered Kite, Malachite Kingfisher, African Hoopoe, Marsh Sandpiper.
We spent the night in a beautiful B&B in Paternoster.
Day 7 - 21 November. West Coast National Park, Tienie Versveld Flower Reserve, Darling area, Rietvlei, drive to De Mond
First area of the day was the Tienie Versveld Flower Reserve. There were no flowers in this time of year, but we quickly found our target species, Cloud Cisticola. Other birds there were Blacksmith Plover, Common Greenshank, Little Stint, Kittlitz's Plover and Pied Starling.
We entered West Coast National Park from the north and first visited the Seeberg hide to look for the wintering Great Knot. Unfortunately we didn't see it. A drive around the park with regular stops and walks produced African Marsh-Harrier, Banded Martin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black Harrier, Southern Black Korhaan, Black-shouldered Kite, Black-winged Stilt, Bokmakierie, Cape Bulbul, Cape Bunting, Cape Canary, Cape Francolin, Cape Gull, Cape Sparrow, Cape Turtle Dove, Cape Weaver, Capped Wheatear, Common Greenshank, Crowned Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, European Bee-eater, Greater Flamingo, Grey Plover, Grey-backed Cisticola, Helmeted Guinea-fowl, Karoo Prinia, Karoo Robin, Kittlitz's Plover, Little Stint, Malachite Sunbird, Marsh Sandpiper, Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Sandwich Tern, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Whimbrel, Great White Pelican, White-fronted Plover, White-throated Canary, Yellow Canary, Yellow-billed Kite, Black Crake , Bar-throated Apalis, Red-backed Shrike, White-necked Raven, Pied Crow, Namaqua Dove, Common Tern and Ostrich.
A drive through the Darling area was not particularly productive. We tried hard to find Cape Clapper Lark at the site described in Essential Birding but found only Cape Longclaw, Pearl-breasted Swallow and some more common species. A large Cape Cobra and a pair of foxes were also seen.
We then headed for Bredasdorp near De Mond and en route we quickly stopped at Rietvlei. No White-backed Duck, but we did see White-winged Tern. We spent the night in a hotel in Bredasdorp.
Day 8 - 22 November. De Mond, De Hoop Nature Reserve, Potberg, Farmland loops.
Along the road to De Mond, we soon recorded Secretary-bird and Stanley's Bustard. At De Mond itself, we saw Damara Tern (10+), several Greater Sand Plovers, Southern Tchagra (tape), Bar-tailed Godwit, Bokmakierie, Cape Bulbul, Cape Crow, Caspian Tern, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Common Tern, Curlew Sandpiper, Greater Flamingo, Grey Plover, Eurasian Curlew, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Kittlitz's Plover, Little Stint, Marsh Sandpiper, Southern Masked-Weaver, Pied Avocet, Red Knot, Red-billed Teal, Red-capped Lark, Red-knobbed Coot, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Sombre Greenbul, Southern Boubou, Spur-winged Goose, Swift Tern, Whimbrel, White-fronted Plover, Yellow-billed Duck, Yellow-billed Kite and Cardinal Woodpecker .
We proceeded to De Hoop where we saw African Pipit, Bar-throated Apalis, Bokmakierie, Cape Bulbul, Cape Bunting, Cape Francolin, Cape Gull, Cape Sparrow, Cape Wagtail, Cape White-eye, Horus Swift (colony at the buildings near the vlei), Karoo Prinia, Southern Masked-Weaver, Ostrich, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Sombre Greenbul, Speckled Mousebird, and Yellow Canary. We also saw about 7-8 Southern Right Whales (adults with their young - picture) from the Koppie Alleen viewpoint.
Along the road to Potberg, we saw several more Blue Cranes, Stanley's Bustards, and a group of Cape Vultures in a field. At Potberg itself, we got frustrating views of a Sharp-billed Honeyguide, and Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape White-eye, Olive Thrush and Sombre Greenbul. Best bird though was undoubtedly a superb Knysna Woodpecker which showed itself very briefly at first but eventually gave prolonged views at close range (<8m).
We spent the night at the Backpacker's Lodge in Swellendam.
Day 9 - 23 November. Farmland loops, Bontebok National Park.
A quick early morning bird tour around the lodge produced our first Amethyst and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds. We then drove around the Farmland loops during most of the morning, and got both Agulhas Clapper Lark andAgulhas Long-billed Lark at the site described in Essential Birding. Other birds were Blue Crane, Bully Canary, Capped Wheatear, Lesser Kestrel, Karoo Korhaan, Thick-billed Lark, Stanley's Bustard, Bokmakierie, Cape Francolin, Cape Longclaw, Cape Robin, Cape Sparrow, Cape Turtle Dove, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Grey-backed Finch-lark, Karoo Prinia, Karoo Robin, Red-capped Lark, Spur-winged Goose and Yellow Canary.
We paid an afternoon visit to Bontebok NP. In the fields next to the airstrip along the access road to Bontebok, HM saw 5 African Quail-finches, unfortunately the only ones from the trip. In the park itself, we had African Marsh Warbler, Alpine Swift, Bar-throated Apalis, Bokmakierie, Bully Canary, Brown-throated Martin, Cape Longclaw , Cape Robin, Cape Sparrow, Cape Turtle Dove, Cape Wagtail, Cape White-eye, Common Waxbill, Fiscal Flycatcher, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Karoo Robin, Levaillant's Cisticola, Southern Masked-Weaver, Neddicky, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Secretary-bird, Southern Boubou, Speckled Mousebird, Spur-winged Goose, Black Harrier, Little Rush-Warbler, Streaky-headed Canary, Southern Black Korhaan, Giant Kingfisher, Klaas's Cuckoo, Red-chested Cuckoo, Fairy Flycatcher, Verreaux's Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Swee Waxbill, and Grey-winged Francolin.
Back at the backpacker's lodge in Swellendam we made a short walk in the neighbourhood and got more Black and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Black Saw-wing, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Dusky Flycatcher, African Paradise-flycatcher, Red-chested Cuckoo, Olive Thrush, Black Sparrowhawk and Pearl-breasted Swallow.
We spent the night in the Backpacker's lodge again.
Day 10 - 24 November. Grootvadersbosch NR, drive to Beaufort West, Karoo National Park.
An early morning start to do some serious forest birding in Grootvadersbosch NR. A morning of hard work produced Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Bully Canary, Cape Batis, Cape Siskin, Cape White-eye, Forest Buzzard (1 initially confusing individual), Forest Canary, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Knysna Warbler (only heard), Narina Trogon (only heard), Olive Thrush, Olive Woodpecker, Red-chested Cuckoo, Victorin's Warbler, and Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler. On the way out of the reserve we saw a very probable African Goshawk and a Plain-backed Pipit.
The rest of the day was spent on a long drive to Beaufort West, to the Karoo National Park. By the time we got there, we still had an hour and a half of daylight ahead of us so we took advantage of that to quickly clean up some target species: African Rock Pipit (a few individuals, one singing in typical posture), the Transvaal subspecies of Short-toed Rock Thrush, Verreaux's Eagle, and a small flock of Black-headed Canaries were all seen in the higher areas of the park.
We spent the night at the camping of the national park.
Day 11 - 25 November. Karoo National Park, drive to Kimberley, Big Hole.
We were woken up by calling Red-winged Francolins at the camp site of the park. An early morning drive back up to the higher parts of the park did not produce the hoped for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Species we did get were African Black Swift, Ground Woodpecker, Layard's Tit-babbler, African Rock Pipit, African Marsh Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Greater Striped Swallow, Red Bishop, Bokmakierie, Long-billed Pipit, White-throated Canary, the same flock of Black-headed Canaries, Grey-backed Cisticola, Mountain Chat, Cape Bunting, very bad views of one or two Chat Flycatchers, Karoo Chat, Karoo Prinia, Karoo Robin, Lark-like Bunting, Malachite Sunbird, Pale Chanting-Goshawk, Pale-winged Starling, Red-eyed Bulbul, Sickle-winged Chat, Transvaal Rock Thrush (very good views), Thick-billed Lark, White-backed Mousebird, Rock Kestrel, Steppe Buzzard, White-necked Raven, European Bee-eater, Namaqua Dove, and Rufous-eared Warbler. Two drives around the Lammertjiesleegte additionally produced four Double-banded Coursers (at last !), 10+ Namaqua Sandgrouse, 1 Karoo Long-billed Lark, Dusky Sunbird and Spike-heeled Lark.
In early afternoon we left for Kimberley. Roadside birding was surprisingly productive and we got several unexpected species. In order of appearance: Sociable Weaver (first nests from 11 km before Hopetown on the N12 to Kimberley), White-browed Sparrow-weaver (about 5 km past Hopetown on the N12 to Kimberley), Kori Bustard (3 birds about 101 km before Kimberley on the N12) and Pygmy Falcon (about 95 km before Kimberley on the N12 - picture) typically perched on a wire right next to a Sociable Weaver nest.
When we arrived in Kimberley, we immediately headed for the Big Hole to look for Bradfield's Swift. We couldn't get into the museum anymore so we had to scan from the other side of the hole but we were still able to get good views of the huge swift flocks, mainly consisting of House Swift, African Black Swift, European Swift, and Alpine Swift. Although we did see several suspect birds that appeared lighter, we were never able to properly see a certain Bradfield's swift.
We spent the night in a hostel in Kimberley.
Day 12 - 26 November. Beaconsfield Park 1908, Big Hole, Vaalbos National Park, drive to Bloemhof.
At first light, we headed out to try to find the recently described Kimberley Pipit. We tried the lawns of Beaconsfield Park 1908, but we had no luck and soon gave up because we didn't really have a clue where to look.
When the Big Hole museum opened, we paid a visit to the old mine site and the hand-dug diamond hole. Of course the swifts overhead were carefully checked but again we never felt sure that we had seen a real Bradfield's Swift so we had to let that one go. We did see a probable Cape Vulture overhead.
After this cultural intermezzo, we visited Vaalbos National Park. The best birds here were Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, our first Acacia Pied Barbets (a species that took surprisingly long to find), Ashy Tit, Northern Black (White-quilled) Korhaan, Brubru, Buffy Pipit, Chat Flycatcher, Fawn-coloured Lark, Marico Flycatcher, Scaly-feathered Finch, Kalahari Robin, African Fish Eagle, African Hoopoe, African Pipit, Black-chested Prinia, Brown-throated Martin, Cape Glossy Starling, Cape Sparrow, Cape Turtle Dove, Crowned Plover, European Bee-eater, Familiar Chat, Fiscal Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Drongo, Greater Striped Swallow, Hamerkop, Laughing Dove, Little Egret, Southern Masked-Weaver, Namaqua Dove, Ostrich, Pririt Batis, Red-eyed Bulbul, Red-billed Firefinch, Spike-heeled Lark, Tawny Eagle, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, White-backed Mousebird, White-backed Vulture, Yellow Canary, African Pied Wagtail, Reed Cormorant and Sabota Lark. We also saw our first large mammals, like Giraffe and Wildebeest .
In the late afternoon we continued our journey in the direction of Sandveld Nature Reserve, picking up Long-tailed Widowbird and White-winged Widow along the way. We spent the night in a sleazy hotel next to a noisy disco in the awful town of Bloemhof. This was the only town that really looked unsafe - staying there is not recommended.
Day 13 - 27 November. Sandveld Nature Reserve, drive to Rustenburg.
Sandveld Nature Reserve gave us some nice new birds. Blue Waxbill, Eastern Clapper Lark, Common Scimitarbill, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Desert Cisticola, Goliath Heron, Groundscraper Thrush , Jameson's Firefinch, Red-crested Korhaan, Rufous-naped Lark, South African Cliff-Swallow, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Golden-breasted Bunting, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Red-faced Mousebird, Crested Barbet, Tinkling Cisticola, Hottentot Teal, and Black-throated Canary. Also African Fish Eagle, Southern Ant-eating Chat, Black-winged Stilt, Egyptian Goose, Kalahari Robin, Little Egret, Little Swift, Marico Flycatcher, Northern Black Korhaan, Pygmy Falcon, Red-billed Teal, Ruff, Sabota Lark, Scaly-feathered Finch, Sociable Weaver, Spur-winged Goose, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Whiskered Tern, White-backed Vulture, White-winged Tern, Yellow-billed Duck, Acacia Pied Barbet, South African Shelduck, Neddicky, Diederik Cuckoo, and Yellow-billed Hornbill.
In late afternoon we drove further north towards our
next destination, Pilanesberg reserve. We took a wrong turn somewhere and
lost the way, but luckily this small detour led us via a small wetland near
Brakspruit. This produced Fulvous Duck, White-backed Duck, Glossy Ibis,
Black Stork, Marsh Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, African Snipe, Long-tailed
Widowbird, Black-shouldered Kite, Zitting Cisticola, Red-knobbed Coot, Little
Grebe, Great Crested Grebe and Red-breasted Swallow.
We spent the night at Rustenburg.
Day 14 - 28 November. Pilanesberg.
We drove around in Pilanesberg all day. Birds recorded were African Fish Eagle, African Grey Hornbill, African Spoonbill, Arrow-marked Babbler, Blue Waxbill, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Dark-capped Bulbul, Golden-breasted Bunting, Hamerkop, Kalahari Robin, Lilac-breasted Roller, Marico Flycatcher, Ostrich, Pin-tailed Whydah, Rock Kestrel, Rock Pigeon, Rufous-naped Lark, Sabota Lark, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Violet-eared Waxbill, Wahlberg's Eagle, White-browed Robin, White-throated Robin, Black-collared Barbet, Plum-coloured Starling, Chinspot Batis, Great Sparrow, Green-backed Heron, Blacksmith Plover, African Wattled Plover, Three-banded Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Lesser Striped Swallow, Greater Striped Swallow, White-throated Swallow, White-faced Duck, Great Egret, Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Melba Finch, Natal Francolin, Black-throated Canary, Yellow-fronted Canary, Yellow-throated Petronia, Black Sunbird, Olive Thrush, Fork-tailed Drongo, Jameson's Firefinch, Crested Barbet, Black-shouldered Kite and European Bee-eater. And of course the ubiquitous Helmeted Guinea-fowl .
We spent the night at Rustenburg again.
Day 15 - 29 November. Drive to Johannesburg International Airport to drop two people off, drive to Wakkerstroom.
This was mostly a non-birding day. We had to drop off our two friends at Johannesburg International Airport; the report covers the remainder of the trip by WH and HM. We arrived at the BirdLife centre in Wakkerstroom in mid afternoon and immediately tried to arrange a guide to take us to the rare, localised and endemic larks of the region: Rudd's and Botha's Lark. Unfortunately, all guides were occupied until the afternoon the next day. A hot afternoon is not ideal to look for larks, but we had to accept the offer since we were on a tight schedule and couldn't afford to wait until a more favourable early morning guide became available.
By a stroke of sheer luck though, we ended up in the Beautiful Just B&B, owned by the region's top birder John McAllister. He was extremely helpful in arranging free access to the lark site and drawing us a detailed map of where to find the Rudd's and the Botha's Lark. He also gave us several more useful tips and bird sites - you will find out more later in this report.
After a chat with John, we went for some late afternoon and dusk birding, in rather awful misty weather. Best birds recorded were Pale-crowned Cisticola, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Grey Crowned Crane, Spotted Thick-knee and Spotted Eagle Owl. No sign of any Grass or Marsh Owls though.
Day 16 - 30 November. Wakkerstroom area.
We started very very early indeed, at around 4.15 AM, on the bridge at the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve, hoping to hear Red-chested and/or White-winged Flufftail. No luck though, and there was also no sign of the hoped-for African Rail.
After a while we gave up on the flufftails and decided to come back later for the rail - the larks were higher priority now. We headed out to the field that John had pointed out to be thé site for both Rudd's and Botha's Lark, and we were not disappointed: the first bird we heard when we got out of the car was a displaying Rudd's Lark. We walked up to the bird and soon heard one or two more, and we finally managed to see the larks both in display flight and on the ground. A few minutes later, we got beautiful views of a pair of Botha's Larks . That went easier than expected! Other birds in the same and the adjacent fields were Blue Korhaan (5-6), Pale-crowned Cisticola, Cape Longclaw, Drakensberg Prinia, Southern Bald Ibis.
The lark field is private property and should not be
entered without permission - therefore access should always be arranged via
the Birdlife International office, or via John McAllister (see the references
After spending some time trying to find Eastern Long-billed Lark (no luck), we made a big tour through the fields and got African Pipit, Southern Ant-eating Chat, Cape Canary, Cape Glossy Starling, Cape Robin, Cape Wagtail, Cape Weaver, Common Waxbill, Crowned Plover, Diederik Cuckoo, White-winged Widowbird, Glossy Ibis, Grey Crowned Crane, Levaillant's Cisticola, Long-tailed Widowbird, Southern Masked-Weaver, Pied Starling, Red-winged Starling, Rock Kestrel, Rock Pigeon, Secretary-bird, South African Cliff-Swallow, Spike-heeled Lark, Spur-winged Goose, Stonechat, Swainson's Francolin, White Stork, Zitting Cisticola, Red-capped Lark, Amur Falcon, Banded Martin, Cape Longclaw, Mountain Chat, Red Bishop, Southern Bald Ibis and Horus Swift.
The Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve produced Great Crested Grebe, Red-knobbed Coot, Whiskered Tern, Yellow-billed Duck, African Yellow Warbler (tape along the boardwalk towards the Clive Beck hide), African Marsh Warbler, African Wattled Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Crowned Plover, Glossy Ibis, Grey Crowned Crane, Little Grebe, Little Rush-Warbler, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Reed Cormorant, Three-banded Plover, Black-headed Heron, Cattle Egret, African Snipe, Black-crowned Night Heron, Little Swift, Purple Heron, Purple Swamphen, White-rumped Swift, Common Moorhen, Hottentot Teal, Red-billed Teal, Red-knobbed Coot and White-breasted Cormorant.
In the afternoon, we went on a tour with our Birdlife guide, Norman. Since we'd seen the larks in the morning, the focus of the tour shifted towards Yellow-breasted Pipit which he soon showed us at the well-known site. He also whistled in a pair of Eastern Long-billed Larks and showed us another lifer, Buff-streaked Chat. By then we only had two target species left - Red-throated Wryneck and African Rail - and Norman didn't seem too hopeful to show us any of both, so we dropped our guide off after 1.5 hours. In a slightly discouraged mood, we decided to drive around town for a while in the hope of finding a wryneck after all - two minutes later we got one on a fence in Wakkerstroom village. Feeling that our luck had turned, we quickly headed back to the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve to look for the rail once more - and yes, 15 minutes later we got superb views of an African Rail.
To conclude this brilliant day, we drove around the reserve a few times more once again to look for owls but no luck. We spent the night at John McAllister's place again.
Day 17 - 1 December. Southern White-bellied Korhaan & Melodious Lark site near Ladysmith, Underberg region, drive to Himeville.
We got up at dawn and had planned to search for White-bellied Korhaan in the Wakkerstroom area in the morning. However, John gave us a much more reliable site for this bustard, which happened to be along the road to the Underberg region where we were heading anyway. And more importantly, John's site also held Melodious Lark - another endemic we had not hoped to see. So we changed our minds and headed south in the direction of Ladysmith.
To reach the site, you must take the N11 south from Volksrust to Ladysmith. About 28 km before Ladysmith, there is a road going left signposted for Elandslaagte, and a road going right signposted for Colling's Pass. Turn right there and drive about 10 km. After crossing the river, take the first road to the right. Search for Southern White-bellied Korhaan and Melodious Lark in the fields along that road.
We got a pair of Southern White-bellied Korhaans after about 1.5 km in the field on the right side of the road, and we found Melodious Lark in song a bit further along the road (about 5 km from the turnoff). Other birds there were Rufous-naped Lark, Jackal Buzzard, Rock Kestrel, Amur Falcon, Cape Longclaw, African Pipit, Grey Crowned Crane .
After seeing our two target species, we continued the trip to the Underberg region to look for Wattled Crane. According to John, the best place to look for them is the road that runs from north to south along the east side of Lesotho. This road took us through very promising crane territory, but we struggled to find any initially. At last we found the Kamberg Wetland Reserve and got short, rather distant, but nevertheless good views of a pair of Wattled Cranes. There were also a lot of Common Quails calling in the fields (and we saw one flying too), and our first Gymnogene. Other birds seen were Amur Falcon, Cape Glossy Starling, White Stork, Yellow-crowned Bishop (Golden Bishop), Bokmakierie, Stanley's Bustard, Cape Longclaw, Common Waxbill, Grey Crowned Crane, Red-collared Widowbird, White-backed Vulture, South African Cliff-Swallow, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Red-backed Shrike, Intermediate Egret, Spur-winged Goose, Long-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-billed Kite, Honey Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, Red-throated Wryneck, White-winged Widowbird, Hadeda Ibis, Jackal Buzzard, Levaillant's Cisticola, Red-winged Starling, Steppe Buzzard, Stonechat, Wing-snapping Cisticola.
Our day trip through the Underberg region also took us to Mpendle, where there is supposedly a new nature reserve that holds Blue Swallow (another tip by John McAllister). We didn't find the reserve nor the swallows unfortunately. We spent the night in Himeville, but before dusk we quickly took a trip to the Pholela Wetland Reserve, near the road to the Sani Pass. We got lousy views of a Half-collared Kingfisher perched in one of the trees.
Day 18 - 2 December. Sani Pass, Weza, drive to Port Shepstone.
Today's plan was to try to get to the top of the Sani Pass into Lesotho. We started early at a roadside marsh along the road to the Sani Pass where we got plenty of White-backed Ducks and a few Grey Crowned Cranes. Next stop was the scrub around km 14 near the ruins. This quickly produced Bush Blackcap (taped in - picture), African Yellow Warbler, Barratt's Warbler, African (Blue-billed) Firefinch, and Cape Robin. Other birds along the road were Bokmakierie, Cape Bunting, Rock Martin, Drakensberg Prinia, Jackal Buzzard, Malachite Sunbird, Cape Grassbird, Cape White-eye, Common Waxbill, Red-capped Lark, Red-collared Widowbird, Rock Pigeon, Stonechat, and Yellow Bishop.
It is not allowed to drive all the way up the Sani Pass unless you have a four wheel drive vehicle, and since we were driving a two wheel drive high clearance Toyota Condor, we had anticipated a long and steep walk. We were lucky however: because of the dry weather conditions, the officer at the bottom of the pass allowed us to drive up the pass anyway.
Along the road we soon got Cape Rock Thrush and Gurney's Sugarbird further on, but for the specialties you really needed to be near the top. We saw one party of Orange-breasted Rockjumpers just before the last and steepest part of the climb, and Drakensberg Siskin is common near and at the top. We also got Ground Woodpecker and Lammergeier, and into Lesotho we recorded Mountain Pipit, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Wagtail, Sickle-winged Chat and Thick-billed Lark.
Because we had gained a lot of time by being able to drive all the way up the Sani Pass, we still had time to try to find Blue Swallow near Weza, along the road towards Oribi Gorge - we had several Long-crested Eagles along that road by the way. We first stopped at km 10 where we had short and frustrating views of one promising swallow. At km 6 though we got very good views of one pair of Blue Swallows hawking for insects over the cattle.
We drove on to Port Shepstone where we spent the night.
Day 19 - 3 December. Oribi Gorge, drive to Eshowe.
Today we visited Oribi Gorge NR in the pouring rain. Despite the horrible weather, we did manage to see and/or hear African Black Duck, African Paradise-Flycatcher, African Pygmy-Kingfisher, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Black-backed Puffback, Black-bellied Starling, Black-headed Oriole, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Bronze Mannikin, Burchell's Coucal, Chorister Robin, Collared Sunbird, Crowned Hornbill, Forest Weaver, Eastern Olive Sunbird, Grey Sunbird, Forest Canary, Fiery-necked Nightjar (flushed), Green Wood-Hoopoe, Green-backed Camaroptera, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Grey Waxbill, Knysna Turaco, Lazy Cisticola, Mocking Cliff-chat, Mountain Wagtail, Narina Trogon, Natal Robin, Red-chested Cuckoo, Sombre Greenbul, Square-tailed Drongo, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Trumpeter Hornbill, White-starred Robin and Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler.
We had the feeling that we hadn't really "cleaned up" the gorge and considered staying an extra day, but the weather forecast was pretty awful so we decided to move up north. We called up Hammish McLaggan, a guide that was recommended to us by John McAllister, to take us into Dlinza Forest in Eshowe, hoping that he could show us some of the forest species that we dipped on in Oribi.
After a three hour drive, we arrived in Eshowe where we stayed in the George Hotel.
Day 20 - 4 December. Eshowe and surroundings, Mtunzini, Richard's Bay, drive to Saint-Lucia.
And yet another early start with Hammish McLaggan. He took us to scrubland, farmland and eventually Dlinza Forest, and showed us both Rudd's Apalis and Yellow-breasted Apalis, White-bellied Sunbird, Spotted Ground-Thrush, Cape Batis, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Olive Bush-Shrike, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Cinnamon Dove, Purple-crested Lourie, Emerald Cuckoo, Spectacled Weaver, Chorister Robin, Black-backed Puffback, Terrestrial Bulbul, Yellow-fronted Canary (including a leucistic individual), Yellow-throated Longclaw, African Goshawk and Collared Sunbird. We also heard a Golden-rumped Tinkerbird.
In the afternoon, we visited Mtunzini. We soon spotted a Palmnut Vulture in the palms near the N2 highway and also got Black-crowned Tchagra, Bronze Mannakin and Tambourine Dove. At the Raffia Palm Monument Boardwalk, we followed Hammish's instructions and walked exactly 40m along the boardwalk and taped in a Black-throated Wattle-eye, the only one of the trip. Other birds there were African Fish Eagle, Black-bellied Starling, Burchell's Coucal, Emerald Cuckoo, Cape White-eye, Green-backed Camaroptera, Natal Robin, White-bellied Sunbird, Golden-rumped Tinkerbird, White-browed Robin and White-eared Barbet.
Final stop of the day was in Richard's Bay. We felt as if we were in Belgium again - birdwatching in an industrial area. Best birds recorded were Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Brown-throated Weaver, African Fish Eagle, African Jacana , Black Crake, Little Bittern, Squacco Heron, Yellow Weaver and Thick-billed Weaver.
We spent the night in Saint-Lucia.
Day 21 - 5 December. Gwala-Gwala walk at Saint-Lucia, road to Cape Vidal, drive to Bonamanzi.
We started our day in Saint Lucia with the Gwala-Gwala Walk and saw (several pairs of) Woodward's Batis, African Green-Pigeon, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-backed Puffback, Black-bellied Starling, Black-collared Barbet, Brown Robin, Buffspotted Flufftail (heard only), Cape White-eye, Collared Sunbird, Forest Weaver, Dark-capped Bulbul, Diederik Cuckoo, Eastern Olive Sunbird, Green Coucal, Green-backed Camaroptera, Grey Sunbird, Livingstone's Turaco, Purple-banded Sunbird, Natal Robin, Red-chested Cuckoo, Rudd's Apalis, Sombre Greenbul, Emerald Cuckoo, Southern Boubou, Spectacled Weaver, Spotted Flycatcher, Square-tailed Drongo, Tambourine Dove, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Terrestrial Brownbul, White-eared Barbet, Willow Warbler, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Yellow-fronted Canary.
Next stop was at the caravan park near the river mouth. We mostly got the same species as above, plus a beautiful Purple-crested Lourie, but no sign of Green Twinspot unfortunately. The river mouth held Pink-backed Pelican, Caspian Tern, African Fish Eagle, a fly-by Palmnut Vulture, African Spoonbill and Pied Kingfisher.
The afternoon was spent along the road to Cape Vidal. Best birds along that road were Southern Banded Snake-Eagle (two), Cuckoo Hawk , Gymnogene, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, African Crowned Eagle, African Darter, Banded Martin, Osprey, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Crowned Hornbill, Brown-throated Martin, Burchell's Coucal, Cape White-eye, Croaking Cisticola, Great Egret, Green-backed Camaroptera, Intermediate Egret, Little Bee-eater, Little Egret, Long-crested Eagle, Rattling Cisticola, Red-knobbed Coot, Reed Cormorant, Zitting Cisticola, Yellow-throated Longclaw.
We then headed for Bonamanzi, but not without checking out a pool near the N2 where we quickly located several Lesser Jacanas and African Pygmy-Goose. We spent the night at Bonamanzi in a tree house. We also did a self-guided night drive in the park and saw a few (probably Fiery-necked) Nightjars, Water Dikkop and Barn Owl.
Day 22 - 6 December. Bonamanzi, drive to Mkuze.
The first bird in the morning was a Red-fronted Tinkerbird singing in a tree above our hut. Other birds were Yellow White-eye (a few near the camp offices), Bearded Robin, Black-bellied Bustard, Black-bellied Starling, Black-collared Barbet, Black-crowned Tchagra, Black-headed Oriole, Blue Waxbill, Bronze Mannakin, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Brown-throated Martin, Cape White-eye, Chinspot Batis, Collared Sunbird, Common Waxbill, Crested Francolin, Croaking Cisticola, Forest Weaver, Dark-capped Bulbul, Diederik Cuckoo, Eastern Nicator (heard only), Eastern Olive Sunbird, Green-spotted Dove, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike (heard only), Green Coucal (heard only), Green Wood-hoopoe, Green-backed Camaroptera, Grey Sunbird, Grey Waxbill, Klaas's Cuckoo, Kurrichane Thrush, Lemon-breasted Canary (one near the restaurant), Lesser Masked-Weaver, Lesser Striped Swallow, Southern Masked-Weaver, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Pale Flycatcher, African Palm-Swift, Purple-banded Sunbird, Purple-crested Turaco, Rattling Cisticola, Natal Robin, Red-chested Cuckoo, Red-faced Mousebird, Rudd's Apalis, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Sombre Greenbul, Southern Black Flycatcher, Southern Black Tit, Southern Boubou, Speckled Mousebird, Spectacled Weaver, Spotted Flycatcher, Square-tailed Drongo, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Terrestrial Brownbul, Village Weaver, White-bellied Sunbird, White-browed Robin, White-throated Robin, Willow Warbler, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Yellow-fronted Canary, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Zitting Cisticola, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Bateleur. The funniest insect of the trip was this dung beetle spec. .
Note that Pink-throated Longclaw occurs on the floodplains of the reserve, but these are not freely accessible. If you want to see them, you have to pay cash - needless to say Bonamanzi is a privately owned reserve.
We spent the night in Mkuze Game Reserve.
Day 23 - 7 December. Mkuze Game Reserve, drive to Kruger.
An early start to look for Pink-throated Twinspot along the River View walk was not productive. We did get a highly desired Neergaard's Sunbird in the trees around the camp office. A search through the scrub behind the toilets of the Kubube Hide was rather frustrating - we heard exactly one African Broadbill that didn't respond to tape so we didn't see it. We gave up after a while with the intention of coming back later during the day and we went for a drive around the park. Along that drive and near the various pans, we got African Fish Eagle, African Green-Pigeon, Red-winged Pratincole, Gymnogene , African Crowned Eagle, African Hoopoe, African Openbill, African Spoonbill, Bateleur, Bearded Robin, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Black Swift, Black-backed Puffback, Black-bellied Bustard, Black-bellied Starling, Black-crowned Tchagra, Black-headed Oriole, Black-winged Stilt, Blue Waxbill, Brown Snake-Eagle, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Burchell's Coucal, Cardinal Woodpecker, Chinspot Batis, Collared Sunbird, Common Mynah, Common Waxbill, Crested Francolin, Crested Guinea-fowl, Crowned Hornbill, Curlew Sandpiper, Forest Weaver, Dark-capped Bulbul, Diederik Cuckoo, Eastern Nicator, Green-spotted Dove, Flappet Lark, Fork-tailed Drongo, Glossy Ibis, Goliath Heron, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Green Wood-hoopoe, Green-backed Camaroptera, Hamerkop, Hottentot Teal, Intermediate Egret, Jameson's Firefinch, Kurrichane Thrush, Lappet-faced Vulture, Little Egret, Marico Sunbird, Southern Masked-Weaver, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Pale Flycatcher, African Palm-Swift, Pink-backed Pelican, Pin-tailed Whydah, Purple-banded Sunbird, Purple-crested Turaco, Rattling Cisticola, Red-backed Shrike, Red-breasted Swallow, Red-chested Cuckoo, Red-eyed Dove, Red-faced Mousebird, Rudd's Apalis, Rufous-naped Lark, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Sombre Greenbul, Southern Black Tit, Southern Boubou, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Speckled Mousebird, Spectacled Weaver, Spotted Flycatcher, Spur-winged Goose, Steppe Buzzard, Striped Kingfisher, Tawny Eagle, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Terrestrial Brownbul, Trumpeter Hornbill, Violet-backed Starling, Wahlberg's Eagle, Water Dikkop, White-backed Vulture, White-bellied Sunbird, White-browed Robin, White-faced Duck, White-throated Robin, White-winged Tern, White-winged Widowbird, Willow Warbler, Woolly-necked Stork, Yellow Weaver, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Yellow-billed Stork, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Yellow-fronted Canary, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-shouldered Widowbird.
During the drive we encountered a party of South African birdwatchers who had seen the Broadbill in the morning, so we went back to the scrub and this time we were successful - WH soon found a perched but silent individual and after a little while we got good views of another individual that was displaying. This was definitely the funniest bird of the trip - its call is very similar to a trumpetting Elephant (!) and it flies in a little circle every time it calls. The same South African birdwatchers also gave us directions to a spot in the safari tent camp where they had seen Pink-throated Twinspot the previous day. We looked very hard but didn't find any at first, until our fellow local birdwatchers returned to their tents and soon located a female by its call. A good find were a pair of Neergaard's Sunbirds that showed briefly during the search for the twinspot.
In late afternoon we took off in the hope to reach the southern border of Kruger the same night, but we stopped halfway along the road to get some sleep, somewhere west of Swaziland.
Day 24 - 8 December. Drive to Kruger, southern part of Kruger, night at Skukuza.
We entered the Kruger NP through Malelane Gate in the south. We drove along the S110 with a brief stop at Berg-en-Dal rest camp, then along the S114 and the S25 to Crocodile Bridge, and then along the S28 to the Lower Sabie and Sunset Dam, and finally via the H4-1 to Skukuza.
Best birds today were Tawny Eagle , Steppe Eagle, White-fronted Bee-eater, one fly-by Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Jacobin Cuckoo, Levaillant's Cuckoo, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Brown Snake-Eagle, Bateleur, Shikra, Magpie Shrike, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Southern Black Flycatcher, Wattled Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Long-billed Crombec, Arrow-marked Babbler, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Marabou Stork.
Note that the records in Kruger are not very accurate - the birding was so good and tiring that we didn't get to writing everything down until after the trip J. So only the best birds of the day are mentioned - check the full species list to see which are the more common Kruger birds.
Day 25 - 9 December. Southern part of Kruger, night at Skukuza. Night drive at Skukuza.
Today we drove from Skukuza along the road towards Paul Kruger Gate, and we followed the S3 just before the exit to the camp. We then took the S1 and the S7 via Pretoriuskop and the H1-1 back to Skukuza.
Best birds were Heuglin's Robin (in the camp), Burnt-necked Eremomela (just before Paul Kruger gate, fly-by but taped back in with good views), Broad-billed Roller (along the S3 - picture), Bearded Woodpecker, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Crested Barbet, Purple Roller, Lesser Spotted Eagle, African Dwarf Bittern, Black Stork, Marabou Stork, White-crested Helmet-Shrike (a few flocks), Retz's Helmet-Shrike (a few flocks, often together with White-crested Helmet-Shrikes), Chinspot Batis, Wire-tailed Swallow, Stierling's Wren-Warbler (only heard).
A night drive at Skukuza was rather frustrating - we saw a few perched nightjars but couldn't identify any. We did get one Pearl-spotted Owlet and a Spotted Eagle-Owl.
Day 26 - 10 December. Central part of Kruger, night at Letaba. Night drive at Letaba.
Today's drive went from Skukuza via the H1-2 and the S36, the S39 and the S127 back to the main H1-4. There we went south again for about 9km and then back east along the S90, and eventually via the H1-5 to Letaba.
Best birds were Coqui Francolin, European Hobby, Kori Bustard, Senegal Lapwing, Temminck's Courser (one pair along the S90), Osprey, Hooded Vulture, White-headed Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Pallid Harrier, Gabar Goshawk, Secretary-bird, Ostrich, Saddle-billed Stork, European Golden Oriole, Burchell's Starling, Meves's Starling, Rufous-naped Lark, Sabota Lark, Red-billed Firefinch, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah. We looked for a Pel's Fishing Owl that had been seen near Piet Grobler Dam the day before but didn't find it.
The night drive at Letaba was just as bad as the one in Skukuza - this time we only got a Spotted Eagle-Owl. There was one surprise though - before dusk, the guides took us to a drinking spot at a big pool nearby, and we got our first Black Herons . Anyway, our advice if you really want to see night birds in Kruger : get a personal guide so you can stop whenever you want to, e.g. to have a good look at a nightjar if you want to. Night drives are a waste of time and money - we didn't even see any rare mammals.
Day 27 - 11 December. Central-northern part of Kruger, night at Punda Maria.
The camp itself was very birdy indeed, with Ashy Flycatcher, Fan-tailed Flycatcher, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Grey-rumped Swallow, Common Waxbill, African Mourning Dove, and several Heuglin's Robins. We went back to the marsh near the camp and got beautiful views of several Black Egrets, White-faced Duck , and Yellow-billed Stork.
A drive along the H1-6 to the Mooiplaas picnic site and the nearby bird hides, and then via the S106 and S50 past Shingwedzi to Punda Maria kept us busy for the rest of the day. Best birds were Gabar Goshawk (near Letaba), two more Temminck's Coursers, Comb Duck, Dickinson's Kestrel, Amur Falcon, Red-faced Cisticola, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Green-capped Eremomela (taped in at Mooiplaas picnic site), Brown-headed Parrot, Red-headed Weaver and Dusky Indigobird.
Day 28 - 12 December. Northern part of Kruger (Pafuri), drive to Pietersburg.
Our last day in Kruger was spent in Punda Maria and along the road to Pafuri and back.
In Punda Maria, we got a duetting pair of Tropical Boubous. Along the road to Pafuri, we saw an unexpected Black Coucal and a bit further on an even less expected Senegal Coucal. Other good birds were Mosque Swallow, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Bearded Woodpecker, Broad-billed Roller, Grey-backed Camaroptera, White-fronted Bee-eater, Giant Kingfisher, Southern Carmine Bee-eater (only two), Great Spotted Cuckoo, Mottled Spinetail (one at the famous bridge near Pafuri), African Green-Pigeon, African Goshawk, Pearl-spotted Owlet, White-crowned Plover (a few on the river near Pafuri), Stierling's Wren-Warbler (heard only), Heuglin's Robin and African Hawk Eagle.
In late afternoon, we left Kruger and headed southwest towards Pietersburg where we spent the night. One more lifer along the road : Abdim's Stork.
Day 29 - 13 December. Pietersburg Game Reserve, Pietersburg Bird Sanctuary, drive to Johannesburg International Airport.
We spent our final day in South-Africa in Pietersburg Game Reserve and surroundings, looking for the highly endemic Short-clawed Lark . According to our information, they are fairly common in the reserve, and this proved to be correct, as we saw and heard about 3-4 birds. Other interesting birds there were Rufous-naped Lark, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (common), Scaly-feathered Finch, Marico Sunbird, Black-chested Prinia, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Great Sparrow, Black-chested Snake-Eagle and Pearl-spotted Owlet.
We also visited the Pietersburg Bird Sanctuary to see the last lifers of the trip, Village Indigobird and Black-cheeked Waxbill. There were also a good variety of waders and ducks, and a female European Marsh-Harrier at the bird-filled reserve - definitely worth a visit.
By late afternoon, we left for Johannesburg International Airport where we caught the BA flight at 21.30 to London.
Full species list