16-Day Subtropical Adventure

Birding Ecotours 16-Day Subtropical South Africa Birding Adventure

     

Prices on Request

Itinerary

Overview: This subtropical tour provides a representative sample of the very best that African birding can offer and can be combined with the Western Cape Birding Tour. Huge numbers of species will be seen (the typical bird list for this adventure is amongst the very highest in the world – in the range of 400 species), and we will also find large numbers of South African endemics. Apart from yielding hundreds of bird species, this dream African experience also provides the possibility of seeing lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, rhinos, crocodiles, hippos, giraffes, antelope, plus many other mammal species, as well as breathtaking scenery.

We begin our birding safari in the bird-rich subtropical city of Durban on the Indian Ocean, then head inland to the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains. This “barrier of spears”, as locals have named the imposing Drakensberg Escarpment, separates South Africa from the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho, which we will also visit. The beautiful Lesotho and Drakensberg highlands harbor a host of localized avian endemics. After birding the Drakensberg, we will once again descend in altitude to explore the fascinating temperate forests of the Natal midlands (where such spectacular species as Spotted Ground Thrush, Orange Ground Thrush, Cape Parrot, Narina Trogon, Green Twinspot, Green Malkoha and many others lurk). Next on our schedule is the habitat mosaic of subtropical forest, savanna, moist grassland and superb wetlands of the northern Zululand coast, an area truly world-famous for its spectacular bird diversity. Then we head for the grassy hills of Wakkerstroom, essential for such sought-after species as Blue and Barrow’s Korhaans, Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Bush Blackcap, Bald Ibis and a plethora of other southern African endemics. We are now within easy striking distance of Kruger, which is to many the greatest national park on earth. Eventually, we will ascend out of the subtropical lowlands and onto the temperate highland plateau on which the mile-high city of Johannesburg sprawls. Before flying out of Johannesburg, we will sample birds typical of the Kalahari semi-desert northwest of Pretoria (including such gems as Southern Pied Babbler and Crimson-breasted Shrike).

Tour

Day 1 Tues: Arrival

International flight arrives in Durban. Drive to overnight accommodation, birding along the way. A host of incredibly exciting new birds not found in the Cape awaits us this very afternoon. Many of these can be found in the big garden of our Durban B&B – we may find the likes of Purple-crested TuracoBlack-throated Wattle-eyeWhite-eared Barbet,Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird and many other mouth-watering species. We’ll also look for estuary birds, such as Little Tern,Lesser Crested TernGreater and Lesser Sandplovers and numerous others.

Overnight: Gateway Country Lodge, Durban

Day 2 Wed: Creighton

After further birding in the Durban area, where we’ll spend quite a lot of time getting to grips with a whole new suite of species, we’ll eventually start heading inland to Creighton. As we ascend into the rolling hills of the “Natal Midlands”, so we’ll start seeing a host of new species, including several spectacularwidowbirdbishop and whydah species. The extravagant plumage of birds such as Long-tailed WidowSouthern Red Bishop and all the others provides much entertainment. Time permitting, we can look for Pied (Magpie) Mannikin and also bird the fine Oribi Gorge and Vernon Crookes Nature Reserves.

Overnight: Smithfield Guest House, Creighton

Day 3 Thurs: Sani

We leave very early in the morning (around 05h30) with a packed breakfast and lunch to ascend the Sani Pass by 4-wheel drive with a local guide. The ascent up Sani Pass, one of the most famed birding routes in South Africa, provides easy access to most of the birds endemic to the Drakensberg Escarpment and highlands, plus spectacular mountain scenery. Patches of temperate forest and scrub, inhabited by sought-after Bush Blackcap, Drakensberg Prinia, Chorister Robin-chat and other endemics, are found in the lower reaches of the pass. This habitat is replaced by Proteasavanna a little higher up, where Gurney’s Sugarbird andMalachite Sunbird occur. Above the tree-line, Drakensberg Siskin and Orange-breasted Rockjumper start to appear, and at even higher altitude, Mountain Pipit, Bearded Vulture (Lammergeyer) and many other Drakensberg specials occur. We will spend a full day ascending to the top of the escarpment and into the beautiful mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, with frequent stops along the way, in a quest to find all the localized specials. We then descend the mountain for dinner.

Overnight: Smithfield Guest House, Creighton

Day 4 Fri: Eshowe

This morning before brunch we’ll bird a patch of high altitude temperate forest and surrounding grasslands for stunning birds such as Orange Ground Thrush, Olive Woodpecker, the critically-endangered Cape Parrot, the magnificent and endangered Blue Swallow, Narina Trogon and a host of others. We may find Denham’s and Black-bellied Bustards, Bald Ibis, Southern Ground Hornbill, Black-winged Lapwing and a host of other exciting specials between the B&B and the forest patch.

After brunch, we depart for Eshowe where, time-permitting, we can already start birding Dlinza Forest with its splendid canopy tower and aerial boardwalk.

Overnight: Eshowe B&B

Day 5 Sat: Eshowe

We will make a very early start with packed breakfasts and lunches. We will bird the medium-altitude Ongoye Forest in the morning with a local guide. In this truly beautiful temperate forest, we may find Narina Trogon, the endangered Spotted Ground Thrush, the rare and unpredictable Delegorgue’s Pigeon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, the inconspicuous but very beautiful Green Twinspot, Grey Waxbill, Red-backed Mannikin, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Green Malkoha, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, and many other phenomenal species.Ongoye Red Squirrel is also quite possible. After birding this and other forests in the area (time permitting), we will then head to the warm coast to seek Palm-nut Vulture (in the Raffia Palm Nature Monument at Mtunzini), Collared (Red-winged) Pratincole, the rare Swamp Nightjar at its daytime roost, and a plethora of other tantalizing specials.

Overnight: Eshowe B&B

Day 6 Sun: Dlinza Forest & Lake St Lucia

We will visit the Dlinza Forest canopy tower in the early morning. Here, it is often possible to see Grey Cuckoo-shrike and other generally elusive species at eye-level. White-eared Barbet, Green Malkoha, Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbill, Olive Bush-shrike and a whole host of other species often put in an appearance. When mixed feeding flocks (bird parties) gather, the birding becomes even more exciting than usual. Thanks to the new canopy tower, this is probably the easiest place in South Africa to find Delegorgue’s (Eastern Bronze-naped) Pigeon, but in some years this species is absent.

After brunch, we head to the famed Lake St. Lucia, which has a phenomenally rich assemblage of waterbirds, forest birds, grassland birds and others in its great variety of different habitats. When we arrive at the B&B, we’ll immediately start birding – Livingstone’s TuracoLemon DoveKlaas’s CuckooRudd’s Apalis, and other spectacular forest birds have actually become garden birds here.

Overnight: St. Lucia Kingfisher Lodge

Day 7 Mon: St Lucia

We will leave early with a packed breakfast for Cape Vidal. We are bound to stumble across White Rhino and other megafauna en route to Cape Vidal, which is one of the best sites for Green Twinspot, the elusive Southern Banded Snake Eagle and the attractive Crested Guineafowl – far more exotic in appearance than its more common cousin the Helmeted Guineafowl. There are of course many other birds, such asGreen Malkoha, Red-backed Mannikin, etc. The rare and local Samango Monkey occurs at Cape Vidal along with the more widespread Vervet Monkey.

Overnight: St Lucia Kingfisher Lodge

Day 8 Tues: Mkuze Game Reserve

We’ll drive to the small but magnificent Mkuze Game Reserve, which boasts 400 + bird species as well as a plethora of mammals including Black and White Rhinos and Leopard. Time-permitting, we may look for Pel’s Fishing Owlbefore entering the reserve. After dinner, we can embark on a night drive. Mkuze night drives quite often yield LEOPARD, and there are chances of seeing several owl, nightjar, thickknee and courser species.

Overnight: Mkuze Game Reserve

Day 9 Wed: Mkuze Game Reserve & Wakkerstroom

An early morning bird walk in the Sand Forest should yield the extremely localized Neergaard’s Sunbird, African Broadbill with its bizarre display flight, Pink-throated Twinspot and other tantalizing endemics, plus a phenomenal diversity of other species. Mkuze is one of the richest sites for birds on the entire African continent. We will also have a reasonable chance of finding the diminutive Suni Antelope in the Sand Forest.

After our early morning bird walk, we will embark on birding drives in search of a whole host of exciting species – we will bird woodland, savanna and wetland areas. While looking for birds, there is also an excellent chance of stumbling across White Rhino (and possibly the rarer Black Rhino), Nyala, as well as other mammals that are difficult to find in most other game reserves.
O/N Mkuze Game Reserve.

Overnight: Wakkerstroom Country Inn

Day 10 Thurs: Wakkerstroom

After final birding in Zululand, we’ll depart for Wakkerstroom, an area of rolling green hills on the Drakensberg Escarpment – in stark contrast to Mkuze’s dry woodland. The first bird we will focus on finding at Wakkerstroom, in areas of long grass at relatively low altitude, is Barrow’s (Southern White-bellied) Korhaan. This is a difficult korhaan because it is small yet usually lurks in tall grass. We usually find it in the late afternoon when it ventures into open fields nearby its typical habitat. While looking for this species, we should also find South African Cliff Swallow, Southern Ant-eating Chat, Southern Crowned Crane, Blue Crane (South Africa’s national bird) and many more.

Overnight: Wakkerstroom Country Inn

Day 11 Fri: Wakkerstroom

We will spend the day birding the beautiful Wakkerstroom area. This small town is famed for being the best site on earth for the extremely localized Rudd’s Lark as well asBotha’s Lark. We also usually find the endemic Pink-billed Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Eastern Long-billed Lark and Spike-heeled Lark. Blue Korhaan is common and conspicuous, and Denham’s Bustard is also usually obvious.Jackal Buzzard, Bush Blackcap, Red-throated Wryneck, Grass Owl, Marsh Owl and many other fine birds are also possible.

Overnight: Wakkerstroom Country Inn

Day 12 Sat: Wakkerstroom – Kruger National Park

After some final early morning birding around Wakkerstroom, we head for one of Africa’s greatest game parks, the Kruger National Park! This park has a staggering bird diversity, and we are bound to find MULTIPLE species of each of the following groups: hornbills, barbets, rollers, bee-eaters, kingfishers, cuckoos, storks, eagles (including theamazingBateleur), vultures, owls, weavers (including Red-headed Weaver),turacos and many others. As a by-product of our marked focus on birding, we should also encounter elephant, lion, giraffe, buffalo, a plethora of antelope species, hippopotamus, crocodile, and many small mammals, such asmongooses, etc. We will, however, require much luck forleopard or cheetah.

Overnight: Lower Sabie or Pretoriuskop Rest Camp, Kruger National Park

Day 13 Sun: Kruger National Park

We will spend a full day birding the rivers, riverine forests, woodlands and savannas of this pristine and huge African wilderness area.

Overnight: Lower Sabie or Pretoriuskop Rest Camp, Kruger National Park

Day 14 Mon: Kruger National Park

After a final morning of birding in Kruger, we will depart for the escarpment.

Here, we will look for one of Africa’s rarest birds, the small but powerful and extremely fast TAITA FALCON. This was only recently discovered as a breeding bird in South Africa, but this site is probably the most reliable place on earth to find this species at present. As usual, we may find all sorts of other birds, including Mocking Cliff Chat, Lanner Falcon, Cape Griffon Vulture, etc. We’ll then head further west, eventually arriving at one of South Africa’s premier grassland endemic birding sites, Dullstroom. Here, we may find Gurney’s Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Secretarybird, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Cape Eagle Owl and others.

Overnight: Linger Longer Country Retreat, near Dullstroom

Day 15, Tue: Dullstroom

We will drive further westwards to our next lodge, which offers spectacular birding that is very different from anything we will have done so far – hence we add a lot of new species to our already large bird list right at the end of the tour. We will bird the lodge ground and along the nearby Zaagkuilsdrift Road, looking for many birds characteristic of the Kalahari, including such spectacular species as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, Violet-eared Waxbill, Black-cheeked Waxbill. Kalahari Robin, White-throated Robin, Northern Black Korhaanseveral bee-eater species (sometimes including Carmine and Blue-cheeked), Temmink’s Courser, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark, Red-headed Finch and Black Egret.

Overnight: Linger Longer Country Retreat, near Dullstroom

Day 16, Wed: Departure

We’ll do some pre-breakfast birding. Today is basically a travel day and your international flight can leave from Johannesburg International Airport any time today.

The lodge is 1.5 hours’ drive from the airport

Prices

Price includes: daily full breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, cool-drinks, bottled water, accommodation, entrance fees, guiding fees, and all transport while on tour in South Africa.

Not included: Air ticket to South Africa, personal insurance, alcoholic beverages, tips, laundry and personal expenses such as gifts.

NB All Anytime Tour itineraries are essentially drafts – the final itinerary will be arrived at during discussions with the clients and tailored to the client’s individual needs and is, of course, subject to the availability of accommodation etc. and any changes in local conditions. Our aim is to arrive at an itinerary which gives you the maximum chance to see the birds [& etc.] you want to see.

 

October 2013

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