31st July to 5th August 2007 Tour Participants: Mary Lou Lafler, Robbie Fischer & Joe Morlan and Cathy Pasterczyk.
Trip report compiled by Tour Leader: Jan Pienaar.
After collecting the group at the Birchwood, we struck out for Genius Loci Game Ranch north of Pretoria. After negotiating traffic (and hearing about a horse being hit on the highway!), we left the hustle and bustle behind and arrived at the Lodge in time for lunch. En route to Genius Loci we enjoyed sightings of Helmeted Guineafowl, Black-headed Heron, Black-winged Kite, Crowned and African Wattled Lapwings, Grey-hooded Gull, flocks of Red-eyed and Ring-necked Doves, Lilac-breasted Roller, Pearl-breasted Swallow and a Pearl-spotted Owlet on the telephone lines close to the lodge. At the lodge itself we were treated to White-faced Whistling-Duck, Egyptian Goose, Reed Cormorant, Striated Heron (the only one for the tour!), Hamerkop, African Jacana and Brown-hooded Kingfisher.
With lunch a thing of the past, we headed out for some afternoon birding along the Zaagkuilsdrift Road. The area is characterized by Acacia savannah and some farmland, with a stream and marsh close to the village of Kgomo-Kgomo. Fork-tailed Drongos and Grey Go-away-birds were everywhere, whilst other species included Crested Francolin, Natal and Swainson’s Spurfowls, Northern Black Korhaan, Laughing Dove, Red-faced Mousebird, three hornbills (African Grey & Red- and Southern Yellow-billed), Magpie Shrike, Black-chested Prinia, Southern Pied Babbler, Red-billed Firefinch, Violet-eared Waxbill, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver and Scaly Weaver. On one of the open fields across from Kgomo-Kgomo we saw Capped Wheatear, the first of many Eurasian Stonechats (later dubbed ‘Dollar-bird’, with no connection to the Australian roller), Cape Sparrow, African Pipit and a hunting Greater Kestrel stirring up the smaller fry. The star bird, however, was undoubtedly the Crimson-breasted Shrike, of which we saw a number of individuals. This included a sighting of the rare ‘yellow-morph’, which was unfortunately LO (Leader Only). We then settled down to a wonderful ‘braai’-dinner and recollected on the exciting day behind us.
It was an early start to the day as we had quite a distance to drive and many places to visit. The resident Ostriches at Genius Loci bid us farewell, which started the argument of ‘to tick, or not to tick’. This argument seemed to follow us all through the tour (for the record, I did not tick it). We enjoyed our breakfast at a service station next to the highway, where we had good sightings of Black-headed Oriole. A couple of Black Storks later, we arrived at the town of Polokwane, where our main target was the endemic Short-clawed Lark. We eventually enjoyed a sighting of it after searching for about an hour. Good birds were seen during this hour and included Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk, a number of Lanner Falcons, Greater Kestrel, Brown Snake-Eagle, Jackal Buzzard and Temminck’s Courser. Whilst driving through the forested slopes of the Magoebaskloof, we saw a Forest Buzzard circling overhead, a pair of Black-chested Snake Eagles in a display flight, Dark-capped Bulbul and African Firefinch. En route to our next accommodations we had a good sighting of Lizard Buzzard.
We arrived at Edeni River Lodge in time to go on the afternoon game drive and this proved to be a highlight of everybody on tour. We were treated to stunning views of a herd of African Elephants drinking, playing and rolling in the mud. We definitely had the best of this sighting, being at the waterhole as they arrived and leaving just as they were going off. A Lesser Bush Baby showed briefly and we were treated to a sighting of a Honey Badger female and youngster. Birds included an immature Martial Eagle with a very full crop, a small flock of Little Bee-eaters hawking insects along the road, smart Chinspot Batis and White-crested Helmetshrike, Retz’s Helmetshrike at our drinks stop and Red-billed Oxpeckers feeding on some Giraffe. After returning to the lodge we settled down to an excellent dinner in the dining room.
The following two game drives did not disappoint. Derrick & Evans tried all they could to show us as much as possible and it paid off. On the birds’ side we had Black and Woolly-necked Stork, a host of raptors including Dark Chanting and Gabar Goshawks and African Hawk-Eagle, Southern White-faced Owl, Fiery-necked Nightjar, Alpine Swift, Common Scimitarbill, White-winged Widowbird in non-breeding plumage, Jameson’s Firefinch and Blue and Common Waxbills.
We also saw the first squirrels of the tour (Tree Squirrel), Burchell’s Zebra, a White Rhinoceros cow and calf, a pod (or raft) of Hippopotamus, Nyala, Bushbuck and a small Spotted Genet. On the afternoon drive we had the unforgettable experience of firstly going off-road after some lions and then watching the youngsters playing with a blanket that was lost from the back of one of the other vehicles. Mary Lou’s cane was used to good effect to retrieve the blanket after the lions left it alone. Certainly an experience never to be forgotten!
Birding around the lodge was also very good and we recorded White-fronted bee-eater, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Black-collared and Crested Barbets, Golden-tailed and Bearded Woodpeckers, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Kurrichane Thrush, White-throated and White-browed Robin-Chats, Ashy, African Dusky and Grey Tit-Flycatchers and Collared, Scarlet-chested and White-bellied Sunbirds. In the evening we settled down to a buffet ‘Braai’ in the boma.
We were up early again to go on our final game drive, before bidding farewell to Edeni. A Tawny Eagle was one of the first birds of the drive and we enjoyed good sightings of a Purple Roller later on during the drive. Flashy Green Wood Hoopoes flew past showing well and we had good views of African Green Pigeon, Grey-headed Bushshrike and White-browed Scrub Robin. Our only Grey Penduline Tits and Spectacled Weavers of the tour were also seen on the drive, as well as a fleeting glimpse of a Stierling’s Wren-Warbler. Mammals seen on the drive included Hippopotamus, Warthog, African (Savanna) Buffalo, Steenbok, Grey Duiker and the only Gemsbok (Oryx) of the tour. Notable reptiles included Nile Crocodile. As we were leaving the lodge there was a small flock of Bronze Mannikins bidding us farewell on the lawn.
After breakfast we headed for the immense wilderness of the Kruger National Park and the drive to there was full of avian activity. Marabou Stork were seen flying overhead, as well as White-backed and White-headed Vultures, Bateleur, African Fish Eagle and another Tawny Eagle sitting right next to the road. Namaqua Doves did a couple of fly-bys, we had Southern White-crowned Shrike and Pearl-spotted Owlet outside the park and we had Brown-headed Parrots just outside the gate. Closer to our destination we had Saddle-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, Goliath Heron, Common Greenshank and Double-banded Sandgrouse all at the same waterhole. Oh, and let’s not forget the ten lions on the wall! We stopped at a picnic site and Joe was fortunate (and the only one on tour) to see the Mourning Collared (African Mourning) Dove. Greater Blue-eared Starlings were abundant and coming in very close, allowing for great views. Mosque Swallows are expanding their range in the park and we saw a couple of them feeding over a waterhole near Satara. There was an influx of Grey-backed Sparrow-Larks into the park this year and we saw some small flocks of them. Rattling Cisticolas were present everywhere, as were Burchell’s Starlings. Red-billed Queleas were seen in small flocks (rather atypical) and we had a good sighting of the stunning Green-winged Pytilia and Golden-breasted Bunting.
We also enjoyed sightings of Banded and Dwarf Mongooses and African Elephant, whilst around sunset we had a Spotted Hyena walking down the road. On our way to dinner we had roosting Peter’s Epauletted Fruit-Bats, and thus ended another ‘terrible day in Africa!’
We started fairly early the next day and had some Chacma Baboons walking over the old railway bridge outside camp. After breakfast we took a walk around and saw, amongst others, noisy Natal Spurfowl, African Goshawk, Purple-crested Turaco, Black-backed Puffback, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Sombre Greenbul, Greater Blue-eared Starling and Bronze Mannikin.
A stop on the bridge over the Sabi River revealed Goliath Heron, African Finfoot, Water Thick-knee, African Palm and Little Swifts, Giant and Pied Kingfishers and Wire-tailed Swallow. We then made our way towards Wakkerstroom, which took slightly longer than expected. En route we saw Spur-winged Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Sacred and Southern Bald Ibises, Yellow-billed Egret, Common Kestrel, African Swamphen, Grey Crowned Crane, Black-winged Stilt, Grey-hooded Gull, Marsh Owl, African Black Swift, small flocks of Red-capped Lark, Ant-eating Chat, Southern Red Bishop, Long-tailed Widowbird, Cape Longclaw and Plain-backed Pipit. We arrived at our accommodation in the late afternoon and afterwards settled down to a wonderful, home-cooked meal.
Our local guide met us at our guesthouse early in the morning and took us into the grasslands around Wakkers (as it is affectionately known). A quick stop at the vlei outside town produced South African Shel- and Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Red-billed and Hottentot Teal, Southern Pochard, Little Grebe, African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot and African Snipe. We then headed into the grasslands on one of the many gravel roads that radiate from town. On a burnt area we located numerous Cape Longclaws, whilst other highlights of the morning’s birding included Grey-winged Francolin, Southern Bald Ibis, African Marsh Harrier, Blue Korhaan, a brief view of a Bokmakierie, Cape Crow, Spike-heeled, Red-capped and Rudd’s Lark, Zitting Cisticola, Pied Starling, Cape Robin-Chat, Buff-streaked Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Sentinel Rock Thrush and Cape Weaver. Of interest on the mammal side were Blesbok (reintroduced onto some farms), Yellow Mongoose and comical Meerkat (Suricate).
After lunch (and saying good-bye to our guide), we once more headed to the vlei, this time to the hides on the western side. This was a little disappointing as there was no water anywhere close to these. As we were heading back to the tar road, we spotted a Secretarybird and had fairly good views of this unique bird as it strolled through the grass. We stopped again on the bridge over the vlei and picked up African Rail, Purple Heron and two roosting Spotted Eagle-Owl. After this we headed back to the guesthouse for another scrumptious dinner.
We headed to the vlei before breakfast and had good views of African Rail, Black Crake, Malachite kingfisher and Spotted Eagle-Owl, then left the rolling grasslands of the highveld behind and made our way to Mkhuze Game Reserve, arguably the best birding locale in South Africa. On the way to Mkhuze we had African Spoonbill, Secretarybird, Brown Snake-Eagle, African Marsh Harrier and African Black Swift. Once inside the reserve we had views of White-backed Vulture, Bateleur, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, African Green Pigeon, Speckled Mousebird, colourful Lilac-breasted Roller, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Cardinal Woodpecker, dainty Chinspot Batis, Brubru and Lesser Striped Swallow.
Whilst checking I was checking in, Cathy had an African Paradise Flycatcher at the bird hide. A stroll down the River Walk and through the camp produced good views of White-browed and Bearded Scrub Robins, Rudd’s and Yellow-breasted Apalises, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Kurrichane Thrush, Southern Black Flycatcher, Collared, Scarlet-chested, White-bellied and Purple Sunbirds and Lesser Masked Weaver. After a long day’s birding and driving, we then settled into our beds for the night.
After some birding in the camp, we headed out in search of all the avian wonders Mkhuze has to offer. In the savanna areas we managed to see African Hoopoe, Lizard Buzzard, Grey Go-away-bird, Brown-hooded and Striped Kingfishers, Green Wood Hoopoe, Acacia Pied Barbet, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, ubiquitous Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape (Glossy) Starling, Pale & Fiscal Flycatcher, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Yellow-throated Petronia, Green-winged Pytilia, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Yellow-fronted Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting. The Sand forest did not disappoint and we saw African Broadbill, Black-backed Puffback, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Neergaard’s Sunbird and Dark-backed Weaver.
A couple of stops along Nsumo Pan delivered White-faced Whistling Duck, Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Stork, Glossy Ibis, Great and Little Egret, Pink-backed Pelican, African Fish Eagle, Spotted Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, African Jacana and Whiskered Tern. On the way back to camp we had Eastern Nicator sitting in the middle of the road and a covey of Crested Guineafowl, as well as a Red Duiker welcomed us back to our chalet. Hippopotami were plentiful in Nsumo, as well as Nile Crocodile.
We ventured out on a night drive and although it was quiet bird-wise, we did see Spotted Eagle-Owl. Special mammals included Scrub Hare and White-tailed Mongoose.
After breakfast we ventured back into the Sand forest to try and pick-up again on some of the specials of the area. We found a male African Broadbill and Terrestrial Brownbul within five minutes of starting to look for it, and a male Neergaard’s Sunbird responded well to some playback. It was back through Mantuma and onwards to the new Ophansi Gate where we met our local guide to take us to Muzi Pans. Along the way we had a sighting of Crowned Hornbill flying over the airstrip, as well as Yellow-throated Longclaw.
Along the Mkhuze River, outside the park, we saw Trumpeter Hornbill, Common Scimitarbill, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Black-headed Oriole, Square-tailed Drongo, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Black Saw-wing, Grey-rumped Swallow, Flappet Lark, Red-faced and Croaking Cisticolas and African Yellow White-eye. We also had a host of raptors flying over, which included Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles, African Marsh Harrier and Martial, Long-crested and Crowned Eagles.
After this we headed to the pans where we saw African Pygmy Goose, Pink-backed Pelican, Black-winged Stilt, Kittlitz’s Plover, African Jacana, Common Sandpiper and Collared Pratincole. We bid farewell to our local guide and continued on to St. Lucia.
We arrived at our guesthouse in the late afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing around there. The seafood that evening will not easily be forgotten!
We were in the dune forest in town early in the morning the next morning and we picked up some specials here. Tambourine Dove, Livingstone’s Turaco, Trumpeter Hornbill, Olive Bushshrike, Square-tailed Drongo, Rudd’s Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Brown Scrub Robin, Southern Boubou, Grey Sunbird, Thick-billed and Dark-backed Weavers and Red-backed Mannikins were all seen during the morning’s birding. A Red Forest Squirrel also showed briefly, to the delight of everyone in the group. After breakfast we went to have a look at the estuary mouth and here we located Goliath and Purple Herons, Little Egret, White-fronted Plover, Grey-hooded Gull, Caspian and Lesser Crested terns, Wire-tailed Swallow and Cape and African Pied Wagtails.
Thereafter we headed inland to the famous Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park with its rolling hills of grassland and savanna. Raptors were definitely a feature of the day and we saw White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures, Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles, Bateleur and Tawny, Martial and Crowned Eagles. Other notable species included Kurrichane Buttonquail, Purple-crested Turaco, Red-faced Mousebird, Lilac-breasted Roller, African Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Chinspot Batis, Black-crowned Tchagra, Southern Black Tit, Rufous-naped Lark, Rattling Cisticola, Long-billed Crombec, Fiscal Flycatcher, White-winged Widowbird, Blue Waxbill, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Golden-breasted Bunting. The park is also well known for its diversity of mammals, and in this category it did not disappoint. On the cards were Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Burchell’s Zebra, Black and White Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Warthog, Giraffe, African Buffalo, Greater Kudu, Nyala, Common Waterbuck and numerous Blue Wildebeest and Impala. The reptilian highlights included a Southern Tree Agama, Nile Crocodile and Serrated-hinge Terrapin.
After a day of thoroughly enjoyable bird- and game-viewing, we headed back to St. Lucia for a second night’s stay.
Another hearty breakfast prepared us for the day ahead. Our first stop of the day was the small coastal town of Mtunzini, where our main target was the Palm-nut Vulture. We saw a pair of these sitting atop some of the Raffia Palms in the monument. Thereafter we made our way into the Umlalazi Reserve, with its mangrove-lined lagoon. An African Fish Eagle soared above us, as well as a Black-chested Snake Eagle. The Palm-nut Vultures gave us another look as they sat next to the lagoon, and then we had some good looks at a Mangrove Kingfisher, a good bird for the area as they are only present in winter. As we were leaving, a flock of Woolly-necked Storks bid us farewell.
Our next stop was the town of Eshowe, specifically the Dlinza forest and canopy walkway. Here we had great views of Grey Cuckooshrike, Narina Trogon, Trumpeter Hornbill, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-rumped and Red-fronted Tinkerbirds, Cape Batis, Square-tailed Drongo, White-starred Robin and Eastern Olive Sunbird. Thereafter we headed down the coast towards Durban, where two Grey Crowned Cranes surprised us next to the highway, and then inland to the town of Hilton.
We headed out to the Karkloof range of mountains and the surrounding area in the morning. We stopped at a small dam next to the road and picked up White-backed, White-faced Whistling and Yellow-billed Ducks, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot and Lesser Jacana. In the grasslands further up we had views of all three crane species, Long-crested Eagle, Drakensberg Prinia and Plain-backed Pipit, as well as two unseasonal White Storks.
Then we visited a patch of indigenous forest and an adjacent garden. Here we had Black Sparrowhawk, Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Sombre Greenbul, Orange Ground and Olive Thrushes, Chorister Robin-Chat, Greater and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Village Weaver, Swee Waxbill and Cape and Forest Canaries. We stopped for some lunch in Howick and had good views of a Familiar Chat catching some insects. Then we headed out towards our accommodation in Underberg.
We did some initial birding in the lodge grounds and picked up Olive Woodpecker, Southern Boubou and Streaky-headed Seedeater, whilst Joe and Robbie had an African Harrier-Hawk and Cathy had some Ground Woodpeckers. Afterwards we settled down to a good, home-cooked meal.
The next day was one of those that we were all looking forward to since the tour started. We were met by our local guide and transferred to his 4x4 vehicle for a trip up Sani Pass. A couple of stops along the road before the pass yielded African Olive Pigeon, Giant Kingfisher, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Drakensberg Prinia, Olive Thrush and Red-billed Quelea. Further up the road (and inside the Ukahlamba Park) we had Jackal Buzzard, Red-throated Wryneck, Olive Woodpecker, Bokmakierie, Wailing Cisticola, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Grassbird, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Cape Robin-Chat, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Rock Thrush and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. A couple of Eland, the largest antelope in the world, were also seen on the grassy slopes.
At the top of the pass we stopped at the highest pub in Africa and had stunning views of our namesake, the Drakensberg Rockjumper. Other birds we saw included Cape Sparrow, Cape Bunting, Drakensberg Siskin and Sentinel Rock Thrush. The cute Slogget’s Ice Rats were delightfully common as they sat out in the sun. Further into The Kingdom of Lesotho we had views of Cape Vulture and Jackal Buzzard, as well as White-necked Raven and Ground Woodpecker. We stopped at a lookout and had some spectacular views into Lesotho, but had to turn around there lest we wanted to stay the night. Along a vegetated stream we had views of Grey Tit, here at the eastern limit of its range. On the way back to the border post we had a single Bald Ibis on an open field and we searched for and found Large-billed and Red-capped Larks.
The birds on the way down were much the same and we added some reptiles to the list: Striped Skink and Drakensberg Crag Lizard. On a farm outside the park we also had views of some Red Hartebeest.
It was up and away early, as we had to get to Durban International Airport and board our flight to Cape Town. We arrived in the early afternoon and immediately went off to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. These are widely considered the most beautiful gardens in the world, and we could see why: most of the plants were flowering, and the Protea and Leucospermem bushes were the most spectacular.
The birding did not disappoint, either, and we managed to see Helmeted Guineafowl, Cape Spurfowl, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Forest Buzzard, Karoo Prinia, Sombre Greenbul, Cape White-eye, Orange-breasted, Malachite and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Common Chaffinch and Cape Canary. After enjoying the spectacle we headed through the suburbs of Cape Town to our accommodation for the next three nights.
Another exciting day loomed as we were heading out to sea on a pelagic trip. We met at seven in the morning at the harbour and headed out. The first hour or so was uneventful, with a couple of roosting Kelp Gulls and Cape Cormorants. Just past Cape Point we had a taste of things to come. We had barely cleared the point when we saw Manx and Sooty Shearwaters, Soft-plumaged, Northern Giant and White-chinned Petrels, Cape Gannet and Sub-Antarctic Skua. The transit to the trawling grounds was quiet after the initial burst of activity, but we were able to add Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross and Arctic Tern. The skipper located a trawler and we quickly headed in that direction.
This is where the fun started! We had some very good looks at the cloud of birds that was following the trawler. Amongst the plethora of birds were Black-browed, Shy and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Pintado Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and Sub-Antarctic Skua. Many Cape Fur Seals were around scavenging of the trawler as well.
It was with some reluctance that we had to turn back, as the wind was picking up from the northwest. Inshore we had good views of Swift Tern, African Penguin, Bank, Crowned, Cape and White-breasted Cormorants, African Black Oystercatcher and Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls.
We bid farewell to our guides and headed to the famous colony of African Penguins at Boulders Beach. Then we headed back to our accommodation, exhausted.
We started the day at Strandfontein Sewage Works early in the morning. Here we recorded Cape Teal, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Maccoa Duck, Black-necked and Little Grebes, Glossy Ibis, Great White Pelican, White-breasted Cormorant, Peregrine Falcon, African Marsh Harrier, African Swamphen, Black-winged Stilt, Grey-backed Cisticola, Cape Bulbul and Little Rush Warbler. A few Small Grey Mongooses were also seen.
Then we headed out to the small village of Rooi Els. We had some good views of African Harrier-Hawk on the way, and we had Cape Rockjumper and Orange-breasted and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds in the village itself. A strong wind forced us to abandon the day’s birding, but not before we saw the magnificent Cape Sugarbird.
Our last day in Cape Town started with a lot of cloud cover and drizzle. We headed through the city and up the west coast to the West Coast National Park. One of the first birds we saw was a Common Ostrich, the population here representing one of the last remaining ‘natural’ ones. Other highlights included Cape Spurfowl, South African Shelduck, Cape Teal, Greater Flamingo, Great White Pelican, White-breasted Cormorant, African Fish Eagle, African Marsh and Black Harriers, Southern Black Korhaan, African Black Oystercatcher, Pied Avocet, Grey & Kittlitz’s Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Hartlaub’s Gull, Caspian Tern, White-backed Mousebird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Bokmakierie, Grey-backed Cisticola, Cape Bulbul, Cape Grassbird, Wattled and Pied Starlings, Karoo Scrub Robin, Fiscal Flycatcher, Malachite Sunbird, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver and Yellow and White-throated Canaries. Interesting mammals included Striped Mouse, Red Hartebeest, Grey Duiker and richly coloured Steenbok. Angulate Tortoise, a very localized reptile, was also delightfully common throughout. After leaving the park, we headed via Darling towards our guesthouse in Ceres.
The penultimate day started off cold, but clear. On this day we headed in to the vast expanses of the Tanqua Karoo. In a field out toward Karoopoort we had some Blue Cranes, as well as a big flock of Egyptian Geese interspersed with a couple of South African Shelducks. At Karroopoort we had some interesting birds, including White-backed Mousebird, Namaqua Warbler, Cape Weaver, White-throated Canary and Cape Siskin.
Then we entered the Tanqua Karoo proper. The mountains gave way to flat, open spaces and the area was lush and green after heavy rains. All over the area pools of water were standing next to the road and many birds were singing and displaying. Karoo Larks were common and a Pale Chanting Goshawk followed us along for a while. Other species we saw were Pied Avocet, Grey Tit, Red-capped Lark, Rufous-eared Warbler, Karoo Scrub Robin and Karoo Chat.
We had lunch in Skitterykloof, and here we recorded Black Harrier, White-necked Raven, Brown-throated Martin (including an individual with a brown belly), Cinnamon-breasted and Fairy Warblers, Chestnut-vented and Layard’s Tit-babbler, Mountain Wheatear, Malachite, Southern Double-collared and Dusky Sunbirds and Black-headed Canaries. We then drove via Katbakkies and Gydo Passes back to Ceres for our last night of the tour.
On our last morning we drove the Bainskloof Pass to go past Wellington and Paarl on our way to the airport. The last bird added to our list was House Crow, which we recorded just outside the airport. We then said our farewells and myself and Mary Lou flew back to Durban, while the other participants spent an extra day in Cape Town before their respective flights home.
Photos from top to bottom: Lilac-breasted Roller, Drakensberg Rockjumper and Cape (Kelp) Gull.
All photos by: Jan Pienaar BIRD SPECIES LIST
Species recorded: 398, plus two that were only heard.
E = Endemic, NE = Near-endemic, BE = Breeding-endemic
Ostrich Struthionidae Ostrich Struthio camelus
Our first ‘tickable’ birds were seen in West Coast National Park where we had at least twenty.
NOTE: some authorities regard the subspecies S. c. molybdophanes of dry East Africa as a distinct species: Somali Ostrich. The form we observed would remain with the nominate Common Ostrich S. camelus. Clements does not as yet recognise this split. Guineafowl Numididae Helmeted GuineafowlNumida meleagris
Recorded on most days of the tour. A very common and conspicuous bird.
NOTE: The nominate N. m. meleagris Helmeted Guineafowl, is sometimes regarded as distinct from the western (N. m. galeata) West African Guineafowl and the southern, which we recorded, (N. m. mitrata) Tufted Guineafowl. Clements does not as yet recognise these splits.
Crested GuineafowlGuttera pucherani
We saw two flocks of this beautiful bird in Mkhuze GR with our highest day count being eight birds.
NOTE: The West African form is sometimes split off as Western Crested Guineafowl (G. edouardi). Pheasants & Partridges Phasianidae Crested FrancolinFrancolinus sephaena
Although more often heard that seen we enjoyed some great sightings in open woodland at Edeni and Kruger NP.
NOTE: The subspecies F.s.rovuma of Coastal SE Africa is sometimes considered by authorities to be a separate species, Kirk’s Francolin. This split is not currently accepted by Clements.
Grey-winged Francolin (E) Francolinus africanus
We managed excellent looks at this tricky to find species with a covey of six birds in the Wakkerstroom area.
Cape Francolin (E) Pternistes capensis
We saw our first birds in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens with further sightings in West Coast NP.
Natal Francolin (NE)Francolinus natalensis
A few groups were easily seen at Edeni and Kruger NP.
We had great looks at up to a thousand birds on the pelagic trip off Cape Town.
Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta
About three hundred were seen on the pelagic. We enjoyed stunning views of birds flying right past the boat.
NOTE: Some authorities split the Shy Albatross Thalassarche cauta, the one we observed, into two further species, Salvin’s Albatross T c salvini and Chatham Island Albatross T c erimita. Clements does not as yet recognise this split.
We had stellar views of four adult birds on the pelagic. On all birds the obvious grey heads showed really well.
NOTE: Some authorities split the Yellow-nosed Albatross into the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross T. chlororhynchos, the nominate form, and the Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross T. carteri. Clements does not as yet recognise this split.
Shearwaters and Petrels Procellariidae Antarctic (Southern) Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus
At least fifteen birds were positively identified as this species with the greenish tip being noticeable on the close individuals.
Hall’s (Northern) Giant Petrel Macronectes halli
We had four birds that were definitely of this species as the reddish tip to the bill was clearly visible.
Cape (Pintado) Petrel Daption capense
Over a thousand of these smart-looking birds were seen on the pelagic trip of the Cape.
Antarctic Prion Pachyptila desolata
About forty birds were seen on the pelagic trip.
Soft-plumaged Petrel Pterodroma mollis
A single bird was seen on the pelagic trip.
White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis
A common bird off the Cape, we had an estimated one thousand birds on the pelagic trip.
NOTE: The circumpolar White-chinned Petrel (P.a.aequinoctialis) is regarded by many authorities as a separate species from the endangered Spectacled Petrel (P.a.conspicillata), which breeds only on the Inaccessible Islands. Clements does not as yet recognize this split.
Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus
We got views of about two hundred and fifty, most of which were seen in flight, where their distinctive silvery underwings were particularly noticeable.
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus
A single bird was seen on the pelagic, unusual for this time of the year.
A single bird was seen at a wetland close to Ermelo in Mpumalanga.
NOTE: This group may be split into 3 species, the Africa Yellow-billed Egret (E. brachyrhyncha) (the form we recorded), Plumed Egret (E. plumifera) and the nominate Intermediate Egret. This split is as yet not recognised by Clements.
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Encountered at Muzi Pan, St. Lucia and Strandfontein.
NOTE: Clements lumps Little, Western Reef (E. gularis) and Madagascar’s Dimorphic (E. dimorpha) Egret into a single species. This treatment is not widely accepted.
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Commonly recorded throughout South Africa. Seen almost every day.
NOTE: This group may be split into 2 species, the nominate Common Cattle Egret and the Asian/Australasian Eastern Cattle Egret (E. coromanda). This split is as yet not recognised by Clements.
Striated (Green-backed) HeronButorides striatus
This species was seen only at Edeni with only a single bird seen.
NOTE: Controversial to some authorities, Clements includes a full twenty-nine subspecies under this species. The only split he recognizes is the Green Heron (B.virescens) of North and Central America. Hamerkop Scopidae Hamerkop Scopus umbretta
This unusual bird, placed in its own family, was first seen at Genius Loci. We found it again at a few other localities in the east.
Pelicans Pelecanidae Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus
About ten were found at Zeekoeivlei near Cape Town, with many more just north of Cape Town and about twenty in the West Coast NP.
Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens
We had about ten at Nsumo Pan in Mkuze GR with another sighting at Muzi Pans.
Boobies and Gannets Sulidae Cape Gannet (BE) Morus capensis
This is a common bird around the Cape Peninsula and we recorded forty plus in our time there, both from shore and the pelagic.
Cormorants & Shags Phalacrocoracidae Great (White-breasted) Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo (lucidus)
A few individuals were seen on the pelagic, with more at Strandfontein and three in the West Coast NP.
NOTE: The white-breasted African subspecies of the widely distributed Great Cormorant P. carbo is sometimes considered a different species: P. lucidus.
Cape Cormorant (BE) Phalacrocorax capensis
This is the common saltwater cormorant around the Cape and we saw about one hundred birds during the pelagic trip and many more on the shoreline daily.
Bank Cormorant (E) Phalacrocorax neglectus
This saltwater cormorant was encountered at its breeding rock in False Bay where five were positively identified.
We encountered this bird for the first time in Kruger; more were seen at Nsumo Pan and the Karkloof.
NOTE: The resident African form P. rufa is sometimes lumped with the Asian P. melanogaster and the enlarged species called Darter. Clements uses the latter treatment of lumping these forms. Falcons & Caracaras Falconidae Eurasian (Rock/Common) KestrelFalco tinnunculus
Initially we had some in the Wakkerstroom area with further sightings up Sani Pass and in the Cape.
NOTE: Clements has not split the distinctive Rock Kestrel F.t.rupicolis we observed, which he lumps as a subspecies of the Eurasian Kestrel. Many authorities accept this split.
Greater Kestrel Falco rupicoloides
Fairly common around Rust-de-Winter, we also had a sighting of two just outside Polokwane.
Lanner FalconFalco biarmicus
We enjoyed our first sighting of this powerful Falco just outside Polokwane. One more was encountered up Sani Pass.
Recorded on many days of the tour. A common species of open country.
NOTE: Clements has split the two species Black-shouldered Kite (Elanus caeruleus) of the Old World and White-tailed Kite (Elanus leucurus) of the New World. This split is not universally accepted.
African Fish-Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer
The call of this familiar species is the signature sound of the African wild. Encountered a couple of times in Kruger and the Zululand reserves. Also, a single bird was seen in the West Coast National Park.
Palmnut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis
A pair was seen in Mtunzini.
(African) White-backed VultureGyps africanus
This, the regions most widespread and numerous vulture, was seen frequently in the Kruger NP with further sightings in Mkhuze GR.
Cape Griffon (Vulture) (E)Gyps coprotheres
We had a total of four on our memorable day up Sani Pass.
Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus
One bird was seen in flight during our time spent in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve.
White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis
We saw a single bird during our time spent in Kruger.
Black-chested Snake-Eagle Circaetus pectoralis
Two were seen in flight over Magoebaskloof. Another single was located at Muzi Pan, with more in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi.
Brown Snake-Eagle Circaetus cinereus
Seen on a number of occasions on tour. Sightings were outside Polokwane, Kruger NP and in Mkhuze GR.
The tight rope walker. Our first sightings were in Kruger NP. Two more were brilliantly studied in Mkhuze GR. This is another species that is totally confined to the large game reserves.
African Marsh-HarrierCircus ranivorus
We had a pair come over the wetland in Wakkerstroom and more at Strandfontein and in West Coast NP.
Black Harrier (E) Circus maurus
A great looking harrier. A single bird was seen in the West Coast National Park, with another sighting over Skitterykloof.
First sighting was of a single bird in Kruger NP. Further views were had in Mkhuze GR.
NOTE: The West African forms are sometimes separated as Red-chested Goshawk (A. tousseneli).
Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk Accipiter rufiventris
This is a rather uncommon raptor in South Africa. Good views were had of a bird hunting near Polokwane. While at Kirstenbosch we had one perched in a large oak tree.
Black Sparrowhawk Accipiter melanoleucus
A single bird was seen flying over a garden in the Karkloof.
Forest (Mountain) Buzzard (E) Buteo trizonatus
A single bird was seen in flight over Kirstenbosch BG.
Jackal Buzzard (E) Buteo rufofuscus
This endemic was commonly encountered in higher lying areas in the east. The first sighting was in the Polokwane area.
Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax
One of the big raptors that are confined to the large game reserves. We had excellent views of four individuals while in Kruger and a further two in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi GR.
African Hawk Eagle Hieraaetus fasciatus
Uncommon in the south of its range. We were fortunate to have good views of an adult at Edeni.
Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus
Our first sighting was of a juvenile at Edeni, a few more were found in Mkhuze GR and another was sighted in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi.
Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis
We enjoyed many sightings of this regal bird with the bulk of the sightings coming from the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands and coastal area.
Crowned Hawk-Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus
A truly magnificent eagle of temperate forest. A bird was displaying over the Mkhuze River, with more sightings in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi and St Lucia.
Bustards Otididae Blue Bustard (Korhaan) (E) Eupodotis caerulescens
We saw four of these well during our morning’s birding in the Wakkerstroom area.
Red-crested Bustard (NE) Eupodotis ruficrista
A single bird was seen at Edeni.
Black Bustard (Southern Black Korhaan) (E) Eupodotis afra
We got great views of a single bird on the road to the Seeberg lookout in West Coast NP.
NOTE: Although formally lumped, Clements has now split the two forms; the localized Black Bustard of the SW Cape and the more widespread White-quilled Bustard E.afraoides.
Northern Black Korhaan (NE) Eupodotis afraoides
Seen on our way out of Gauteng, towards Rust-de-Winter, where we had a total of two birds.
Rails, Gallinules & Coots Rallidae
African Rail Rallus caerulescens
We had excellent views of this bird at the Wakkerstroom wetland.
Black Crake Porphyrio porphyrio
A single bird was seen in the Wakkerstroom wetland
Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio
Our first birds were seen at the wetland in Wakkerstroom with one more seen at Strandfontein Sewerage Works.
NOTE: This cosmopolitan species is currently in taxonomic review and several forms are expected to be recognised as distinct species. The form we recorded would then become African Swamphen (P. madagascariensis.) Other forms to be recognised may include Indian Swamphen (P. poliocephalus,) Philippine Swamphen (P. pulverulentus) and Eastern Swamphen (P. melanotus).
Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
A common bird, encountered at several wetland sites throughout the tour.
Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata
As with the above species, good numbers were seen throughout the tour.
African Finfoot Podica senegalensis
A pair was well seen off the bridge over the Sabie River at the Kruger Gate.
We had wonderful encounters with this lovely species in the dune forest at St Lucia. Two in total.
Note: This species used to be lumped under the Green Turaco (T. persa), now split into four full species the others being Knysna Turaco T. corythaix, Livingstone’s Turaco (T. livingstonii) and Schalow’s Turaco (T. schalowi).
This sleek species was encountered many times on the eastern part of the tour.
Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba
A seriously large species of swift. We had a small flock at Edeni on two consecutive days.
African (Black) Swift Apus barbatus
A few large groups encountered at Wakkerstroom.
NOTE: The Fernando Po Swift (A.sladeniae) is often separated by authorities as a distinctive species from the much more widespread Black Swift (Apus barbatus) which we observed several times during our tour. Clements does not currently recognize this split.
Little SwiftApus affinis
The commonest swift in the region with numbers often reaching fifty.