South Africa - Naturetrek Bargain Birds Tour, April 2008

Published by Lawson's Birding (leon AT

Participants: Leader: Leon Marais.


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Homo sapiens, subsp: aviaobsessivorius
Homo sapiens, subsp: aviaobsessivorius

Day 1: Saturday 29th March 2008 ~ Dullstroom

We met up at a rather crowded A1 terminal at O. R Tambo International in Johannesburg and were soon on our way eastwards along the N12 Highway. With a later than normal arrival time, and a delay at the Heathrow end, we didn’t have much time for road-side stops, but did have a rather productive stop on the provincial border at a body of water just next to the highway, which as usual produced a good waterbird count, as well as several birds for which it was the only record for the tour, such as Hottentot and Red-billed Teals, Cape Shoveler, Maccoa Duck, White-breasted Cormorant, Greater Flamingo and White-winged Tern. Further on we stopped for lunch and then, just before Dullstroom, our stop-over for the next two nights, we took a dirt road off to the east and did some back-road birding before arriving in town in the late afternoon. Other birds recorded for the day included Olive Pigeon, Diderick Cuckoo, Speckled Mousebird, Pied Kingfisher, White-throated and Greater-striped Swallows, Banded Martin, Mountain Wheatear, Ant-eating Chat, Zitting and Levaillant’s Cisticolas, Bokmakierie, Southern Red Bishop, Long-tailed Widowbird, Pin-tailed Whydah, Black-throated and Cape Canaries. Several antelope species were seen, but the only one deemed to be wild enough to be counted was the Mountain Reedbuck, with the others, such as Black Wildebeest, Blesbok, Red Hartebeest and Springbok found on small private farms and thus part of someone’s private collection, and besides, there would be plenty of wild animals yet to come. After checking in we had a break, and then walked over to Fibs Restaurant for a wonderful meal.

Daily Total: 57.
Trip Total: 57.
Bird of the day: Bokmakierie.
Mammal total for the day: 2.

Day 2: Sunday 30th March 2008 ~ Dullstroom

With a heavy mist rolling in over the town and surrounding countryside we headed off at 6:00 AM for an excursion into the Steenkampsberg Range, the roof of the province at over 2000 meters above sea-level. The highlight here is the Veloren Valei Nature Reserve, a RAMSAR site and wetland region of international importance. On the way up the mist hindered the birding, but after an hour or so it began to clear and we enjoyed some welcome sunshine during our coffee stop at the top. While we were drinking we were surprised by a giant Denham’s Bustard flying past, and other birds for the morning included Yellow Bishop, Cape Longclaw, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Striped, African and Long-billed Pipits, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Mountain Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Robin-Chat, Giant Kingfisher, Long-crested Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, Black-headed Heron and Spur-winged Goose, among others. The plain on the top was dotted with groups of Blesbok, an endemic grassland antelope, and here we also recorded a pair of endangered Oribi, another grassland species. On the way down we stopped at the base of a hillside dotted with flowering Protea plants and searched for Gurney’s Sugarbird, but could only locate Malachite Sunbirds. Back in town we had breakfast, followed by a short rest, and then headed out on a long afternoon birding excursion. This took us westwards out of town and on to the strange little hamlet of Tonteldoos, and back around via the Veloren Valei road through the Steenkampsberg Range, with the weather looking increasingly ominous all the time. Notable species recorded included Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk, some of the season’s last Amur Falcons, Greater Kestrel, Black-collared Barbet, European Bee-eater, Karoo Thrush, Cape Crow, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Neddicky, Pied Starling, Cape Sparrow, Cape White-eye, Yellow-crowned Bishops in great flocks, White-winged, Red-collared and Long-tailed Widowbirds, Streaky-headed Seed-eater and Golden-breasted Bunting. While these were some of the notable species, the real highlights included three Brown-backed Honeybirds seen well at close range and a flock of 30 + Southern Bald Ibis with three Grey-crowned Cranes in between (pictured to the left above). Coming in up over the high ground of the Steenkampsberg it became apparent that a massive electric storm was rolling in over the Dullstroom area, and we wisely got off the high exposed flat land as quick as possible. Soon the rain hit and a massive deluge put paid to any attempt to look for Gurney’s Sugarbirds or Cape Eagle Owls. By dinner time it had abated somewhat, and we had another fine meal, this time at the Plat de Jour restaurant on the main road.

Daily Total: 79.
New Birds: 43.
Trip Total: 100.
Birds of the day: Denham’s Bustard.
Mammal total for the day: 7.

Day 3: Monday 31st March 2008 ~ Blyde River Canyon

We left Dullstroom early and headed on through Lydenberg and up over Robber’s Pass to Mount Sheba, a Forever Resorts property on the escarpment edge that has some good montane forest habitat that is easily accessible from the hotel. The first creature we came across was a male Samango Monkey sitting on the roof of the restaurant, with the rest of the troop found along the path to the forest. Bird-wise the most productive areas seemed to be on the fringes of the forest and here we came across a bird party with species such as Cape Batis, Olive Woodpecker, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Chorister Robin-Chat, Sombre and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls, Cape White-eyes and Bar-throated Apalis foraging together. In the forest we found Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, as well as a stunning Knysna Turaco and an Olive Bush-Shrike outside the breakfast venue, and Forest Canary on a short walk afterwards. After a good, hearty meal we departed and made our way down towards Pilgrim’s Rest and the road to the Blyde River Canyon. Much of the back-road birding we had planned to do was hampered by rain, but later on it began to clear. We stopped at the Bourke’s Luck Potholes, were we managed to glimpse three Mountain Wagtails flying over, and also recorded Cape Rock-Thrush, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Lazy Cisticola, as well as our first Klipspringer, a small, rock-dwelling antelope species. Further on, at the Three Rondawels View Site, offering spectacular views of the canyon, we found two superb White-necked Ravens, and saw what was probably a Rock Elephant Shrew scurrying across the rocks. We then headed on to the resort, and after unpacking met for a cup of tea and had a walk around the resort. Notable birds recorded included White-throated Robin-Chat, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Greater Double-collared Sunbird and Cardinal Woodpecker, among others. Later on we had a buffet meal in the Kadisi Restaurant, completed our day’s list and called it a night.

Daily Total: 74.
New Birds: 39.
Trip Total: 139.
Birds of the day: Knysna Turaco.
Mammal total for the day: 3.

Day 4: Tuesday 1st April 2008 ~ Satara, Kruger National Park

Day four on this itinerary marked the beginning of the serious increase in bird numbers as we dropped in altitude and headed on to the Kruger National Park. We began with a 6:00 AM meeting and a walk in the Blyde River resort grounds, which proved to be very productive, despite the heavily clouded conditions. Exciting finds included a male Black Cuckoo-Shrike, Narina Trogon, Southern Black Tit, Southern Boubou, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Ashy Flycatcher, Chinspot and Cape Batis, among others, as well as Vervet Monkey and Chacma Baboon. We had yet another fine breakfast and then got underway, heading down through the Abel Erasmus Pass to the lowveld, the low-lying savannah region of the north-east. En-route we stopped at the Taita Falcon site, where local falcon-man Michael Khumalo pointed out the pair on the rocks high above us. We were treated to some great views of this small, bullet-like falcon, which is probably the rarest resident breeding bird in the country, with only two pairs of known breeders. With further rain we drove on and entered the Kruger Park via Orpen Gate, when the serious birding began. The water on the road drew out loads of thirsty Leopard Tortoises, as well as a nice group of Senegal and Crowned Lapwings. Other birds for this section included Bateleur, Bronze-winged Courser, Saddle-billed Stork, Magpie Shrike, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Burchell’s Starling, Southern Yellow-billed and Red-billed Hornbills, European, Purple and Lilac-breasted Rollers (the latter pictured to the left), Grey Go-Away Bird, Jacobin Cuckoo, Common Scimitarbill, Black-headed Oriole, Arrow-marked Babbler, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Long-billed Crombec, Green-winged Pytilia, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Marico Flycatcher, Marico Sunbird, Red-billed Oxpecker and many others. Well, perhaps of more interest to Francine was the huge male giraffe the Oxpeckers were sitting on, and we also racked up an impressive tally of mammals, including Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Hippopotamus, Black-backed Jackal, Impala, Steenbok, Dwarf Mongoose, Tree Squirrel, Warthog, Waterbuck and Burchell’s Zebra, among others. We arrived at Satara Rest Camp late in the afternoon, and checked in before having some time to rest, followed by a buffet dinner, list duties and bed.

Daily Total: 94.
New Birds: 53.
Trip Total: 192.
Birds of the day: Narina Trogon.
Mammal total for the day: 16.

Day 5: Wednesday 2nd April 2008 ~ Satara, Kruger National Park

We awoke with high expectations of a fantastic full day in the park. Heading north-east from the camp we explored the arid scrub savannah of the Mavumbye plains. The area didn’t disappoint either, and the recently burned firebreaks also attracted large numbers of birds. Some of the birds recorded included Kori Bustard (pictured right), Small Buttonquail, Black Crake, Green-backed Heron, Lesser Kestrel, Temminck’s and Bronze-winged Coursers, Namaqua Dove, Burchell’s Coucal, Green Woodhoopoe, Bearded Woodpecker, Sabota Lark, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark, Buffy Pipit, Black and Brown-crowned Tchagras, Wattled and Cape Glossy Starlings, Red-billed Quelea and Long-tailed Paradise Wydah. and We made it back to camp for a late breakfast and then took a walk about camp in search of African Scops Owl. We found one in his usual roost, and had fantastic close-up views. Otherwise the camp was rather quiet bird-wise, and we soon headed out on a long afternoon drive. This took us along the Nwanetsi creek and back via the Sweni Bird Hide. New birds recorded for the afternoon included Ostrich, Jameson’s Firefinch, Dusky Indigobird, African Jacana, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Collared Sunbird, Wire-tailed Swallow, Little and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Greater Honeyguide, Brown-headed Parrot, African Harrier-Hawk and White-headed Vulture. Top of the new mammal list was a Lioness, although the view was not great but at least it was on the list! We made it back in time to freshen up for the sunset drive, which departed at 5:00 PM and produced Fiery-necked and Square-tailed Nightjars and a range of exciting mammals such as Spotted Hyena, Porcupine, Civet, Lion and Large-spotted Genet. All in all it was considered to be a successful evening drive, and a successful day at that.

Daily Total: 107
New Birds: 41.
Trip Total: 233.
Bird of the day: Kori Bustard.
Mammal total for the day: 24.

Day 6: Thursday 3rd April 2008 ~ Skukuza, Kruger National Park

Once again we met at 6:00 AM for coffee and rusks before heading out on another morning drive. This time we did the Nsemani waterhole loop to the east of camp. It was a wonderful sunny morning, and species put onto the day’s list included Double-banded Sandgrouse, Hooded and Lappet-faced Vultures (which gave us a full house in terms of resident vultures), Pearl-spotted Owlet (eating a lizard, one of the highlights of the trip), Acacia Pied Barbet, Woodland Kingfisher, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and Village Indigobird, and the mammal highlight was a pair of Lions drinking at the waterhole, right out in the open and affording superb views. We returned for breakfast and a bit of shopping and then headed on south towards Skukuza. At the Tshokwane Picnic Site we had a break and with starlings clustered around our feet and were able to separate Cape Glossy and Greater Blue-eared Starlings under ideal conditions. The drive took most of the day and we arrived late in the afternoon at Skukuza. After checking in we took a short walk around the camp, recording both Red-billed and African Firefinches feeding together (along with what was probably an immature Village Indigobird, which parasitizes Red-billed Firefinch) and White-browed Robin-Chat and Bearded Scrub-Robin as highlights for the afternoon. Other highlights and new species for the day included a pair of African Harrier-Hawks (pictured left) and Pygmy Geese with chicks at Leeupan, Great Egret, Black Stork, Secretarybird, Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, African Green Pigeon, White-fronted Bee-eater and Red-breasted Swallow, while those more keen on mammals were entertained by regular Giraffe sightings, Elephants and plenty of Blue Wildebeest and Burchell’s Zebra.

Daily Total: 102
New Birds: 25.
Trip Total: 258.
Bird of the day: Secretarybird.
Mammal total for the day: 19.

Day 7: Friday 4th April 2008 ~ Pretoriuskop, Kruger National Park

For the morning activity we took a drive along the Sabie River Road, hoping for a glimpse of a large spotted cat while looking for birds. Unfortunately no cats were seen, though the alarm calls of a troop of Vervet Monkeys served to illustrate that just because we didn’t see any didn’t mean they weren’t there. Two young baboons also drew a lot of ‘aaahs’ from the group. We found them - a small, obviously injured fellow with a larger troop-mate as company – in a sate of apparent distress, calling out for the rest of the group. The touching moment came when the older baboon came over and put his arms around the injured fellow in an obvious display of comfort… nearly bringing tears to the eyes of the ladies. We also had great views of White-crowned Lapwing, which are confined to exposed sandbanks in the Sabie River, three different Martial Eagles, lots of Hippopotamus out of the water, and a generally superb morning all together. After breakfast back at the camp we headed on to our next and final port-of-call, Pretoriuskop restcamp in the south-west corner of the park. A highlight on the drive was looking down on a group of large Elephant bulls digging for water in a dry riverbed. After arriving we had a short break and then headed out on a drive in the area, seeing Klipspringer up on Shabeni, one of the large granite outcrops in the area, and new birds such as Lizard Buzzard, Purple-crested Turaco, African Black and Alpine Swifts, Malachite and Striped Kingfishers, African Hoopoe, Trumpeter Hornbill, Mosque Swallow, Kurrichane Thrush, African Paradise, Grey-tit, Pale and Southern Black Flycatchers, White-crested and Retz’s Helmetshrikes, Violet-backed Starling, Yellow-throated Petronia and Red-headed Weaver as new and notables for the day.

Daily Total: 109
New Birds: 21.
Trip Total: 279.
Bird of the day: Martial Eagle.
Mammal total for the day: 18.

Day 8: Saturday 5th April 2008 ~ Departure

Trying to pack the most into the trip we once again decided to forgo any ideas of a later morning and headed out as the gates opened at 6:00 AM. We did the Albasini Road to the north-east and were well rewarded with a sighting of 3 White Rhinoceros (at last!) as well as Cuckoo Hawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Croaking Cisticola as new birds. We returned to pack up, after which we had breakfast and then took a walk about camp. Not too many birds were seen on the walk, but we were treated to a low fly-past by a pair of awesome Lappet-faced Vultures. On the way out we had reports of a pack of Wild Dogs close to the camp, but unfortunately weren’t able to find them. We did however record two new raptor species – Shikra and African Hawk Eagle - as some of the last new birds for the trip. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time, where we said fond farewells and called an official end to a most successful trip.

Daily Total: 70.
New Birds: 8.
Trip Total: 287 .
Bird of the day: Cuckoo Hawk.
Mammal total for the day: 8.

Total endemics / near endemic birds: 31.
Total Mammal species: 36.


Once again this itinerary proved to be very rewarding. The habitat diversity covered was incredible, from the cool plateau near Dullstroom at over 2000 metres above sea level to the hot plains around Satara which are only a few hundred meters above sea level. The bird life seen and experienced was just amazing, as was the array of large mammals. All together we had nearly 700 recorded bird sightings of the 287 different species seen, and enjoyed nearly 100 mammal sightings of the 36 recorded species, not to mention sightings of reptiles such as Leopard Tortiose, Nile Monitor, Nile Crocodile, Dwarf Gecko, Tree Agama and various terrapin species, as well as various flowers and butterflies. Considering the time of the year, and the fact that only one vehicle was involved, the large total of the species seen was as a direct result of a lot of time spent out in the field. Thanks to all the participants, and well done for keeping up the pace without complaint!

Species Lists

For a full species list and report see:
Lawson's Birding and Wildlife Tours; Trip Reports.