Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
Day 1: Sunday 4th March 2012 ~ Dullstroom.
We kicked off the safari relatively late after the 09h00 flight arrival in Johannesburg from Manchester via Dohar. After boarding the vehicles and getting ourselves sorted out we headed out of the city and into Western Mpumalanga Province, with a couple of stops at good waterbird spots along the way. Groenfontein, a small water-filled depression (known locally as a ‘pan’) was particularly productive, with species such as White-backed Duck, Maccoa Duck, Yellow-billed Duck, Southern Pochard, Great Crested Grebe, African Snipe, Glossy Ibis, Grey-headed Gull, Black-headed Heron and Black-winged Stilt recorded. We then pushed through to a lunch stop, and continued towards Dullstroom. After passing through the small town of Belfast we took a back-road detour to Dullstroom, which took up most of the afternoon and produced some decent birds such as Malachite Sunbird, Malachite Kingfisher, Diedric Cuckoo, White-throated Swallow, Mountain Wheatear, Ant-eating Chat, Cape Longclaw, Amur Falcon (in large numbers), Steppe Buzzard, Denham's Bustard and Grey Crowned Crane, among others. We ended up in town in the late afternoon and had a little time to settle in before a festive first dinner at Fib's Restaurant, with the Malva Pudding being one of the culinary highlights of the tour.
Route: Johannesburg to Dullstroom.
Weather: Warm and partly cloudy.
Temperature range: 15 - 27°C.
Birds seen: 69.
Bird of the day: Malachite Sunbird.
Day 2: Monday 5th March 2012 ~ Dullstroom
With an early start on a fine clear morning we left Dullstroom and headed up the De Berg Road into the high grassy plateau of the Veloren Valei Nature Reserve, birding all the way. It was a gloriously sunny morning with lots of bird activity, culminating in a wonderful coffee stop (left) at over 2000 meters-above-sea-level in the reserve, during which we were serenaded by a confiding Yellow-breasted Pipit. Other birds seen during the morning included Blue Crane, Yellow Bishop, African Wattled Lapwing, African Fish Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Cape Vulture, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Longclaw, Pied Starling, Grey-winged Francolin and African Olive Pigeon, among others. We then headed back down to town for breakfast at Harry's Pancakes, followed by a break before a long afternoon route via Tonteldoos and back via the De Berg Road. Birds seen for the afternoon included Denham’s Bustard, Secretarybird, Wattled Crane (one vehicle only), Grey Crowned Crane, Purple Heron, Hamerkop, Spur-winged Goose, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk, European Bee-eater, Black-collared Barbet, Bokmakierie and others. We arrived back in town in the early evening and had a little time to get ready before dinner at Plat De Jour, where the meal was good but the Malva Pudding not quite up to Fib’s standard.
Route: Veloren Valei / Steenkampsberg in the morning and Tonteldoos Loop in the afternoon.
Weather: Clear to start, clouding over in the late afternoon.
Temperature range: 13 - 25°C.
Birds seen: 79.
Bird of the day: Yellow-breasted Pipit.
Day 3: Tuesday 6th March 2012 ~ Blyde River Canyon
With a very early start we left Dullstroom with our luggage and headed on through Lydenberg to Mount Sheba, which was under a heavy mist layer, though we did manage to get some good views of the endemic Gurney’s Sugarbird and a family of Red-necked Spurfowl on the way down to the hotel. Visibility was extremely poor so we opted for breakfast first and birding later. The mist eventually began to lift and by the time we left we had some great birds on the list, such as Lemon Dove, Knysna Turaco, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Bar-throated Apalis, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Batis and others. On the way back to the main road we stopped at a flowering Protea for better views of the Gurney’s Sugarbirds and some Wailing Cisticolas in the grass. We then headed down to the historical gold mining town of Pilgrim’s Rest for a lunch break before continuing along the Vaalhoek Road through to the Blyde River Canyon, where we had a well-earned rest before heading up to the Upper View Site for a spot of raptor-watching before getting ready for dinner. The weather was not too good however, with a heavy cloud layer and strong wind blowing, though we did manage to record Black Sarrowhawk to help us in our goal of beating the previous record of 32 raptor species. Later in the evening we met for a good buffet dinner at the restaurant, with pretty good Malva Pudding to end with.
Route: Dullstroom to Mount Sheba and the Blyde River Canyon.
Weather: Cool and misty to start, clearing slightly in the afternoon.
Temperature range: 12 - 25°C.
Birds seen: 65.
Bird of the day: Gurney’s Sugarbird.
Day 4: Wednesday 7th March 2012 ~ Satara Rest Camp
After a 05h45 meet up for coffee, under leaden, heavy skies, we headed out on a birding walk down to the Lower View point. Things started off slowly but soon gathered momentum and we ended the walk with a fine brace of birds such as African Black Duck, Trumpeter Hornbill, Black Cuckooshrike, Kurrichane Thrush, Mocking Cliff-Chat, White-throated Robin-Chat, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Long-billed Crombec, Green-backed Cameroptera, Black-backed Puffback and Collared Sunbird, among others. We ended up at the restaurant for breakfast and then packed and headed up to the Three Rondavels view site before continuing on up the Abel Erasmus Pass to meet with Michael at the Taita Falcon eyrie. We got superb views of the Falcons, one of which was chasing Speckled Pigeons, and then continued down to Orpen Gate. After a drinks and snack break we headed into the Kruger and birded our way to camp, with massive numbers of new species on the way. We arrived in the early evening and had time to settle in before dinner. New species seen included Tawny and Wahlberg’s Eagles, Brown Snake-Eagle, Bateleur, African Harrier-Hawk, Red-crested Korhaan, Senegal Lapwing, Grey Go-away Bird, Jacobin Cuckoo, Burchell’s Coucal, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Woodland Kingfisher, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller (this bird ending a 50 year wait for Tony!), Green Wood-hoopoe, Red-billed, Southern Yellow-billed and Grey Hornbills, Monotonous Lark, Marico Flycatcher, Lesser Grey, Red-backed, Southern White-crowned and Magpie Shrikes, Burchell’s Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Marico Sunbird, Blue Waxbill, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah and others. We also racked up some nice mammals, such as African Elephant, Southern Giraffe, Cape Buffalo, Kudu, Blue Wildebeest and Burchell’s Zebra. We ended up in camp in the late afternoon and had a little time to settle in before dinner in the restaurant.
Route: Blyde River Canyon to Satara.
Weather: Cool to start, warming up in the Kruger National Park.
Temperature range: 14 - 30°C.
Birds seen: 112.
Bird of the day: Taita Falcon.
Day 5: Thursday 8th March 2012 ~ Satara Rest Camp
Raptor quest! After meeting up for coffee at 05h15 we left camp in the vehicles and headed north-east into the Mavumbye Plains (below right), a region of productive grasslands on the Basalt Soils. Our target birds of Common Ostrich, Kori Bustard and Chestnut-Backed Sparrowlark were seen, as well as numerous other species and incredible numbers of certain birds such as Red-billed Quealea and Wattled Starling. We could hear the chirping of hundreds of thousands of chicks in a massive Quealea colony some distance off to the south of the S90 dirt road, over which was the most incredible congregation of eagles - most probably Lesser-spotted (identified in flight), Steppe and Tawny Eagles, perhaps several hundred birds in total and truly something to behold. Other species for the morning included White Stork, Hooded Vulture, Gabar Goshawk, Lesser Kestrel, Black Crake, Kori Bustard, Namaqua Dove, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Purple Roller, Rufous-naped and Sabota Larks, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Black-crowned Tchagra and others. We made our way back to camp, where we had breakfast before a quick walk to see a resident African Scops Owl. We then had time off to rest before an afternoon drive along the S100, which produced some good general game sightings, followed by a sunset drive with the National Park’s guide which produced Spotted Thick-knee, Bronze-winged Courser and three species of nightjar (European, Fiery-necked and Square-tailed) as new records.
Route: Various routes in the Satara region.
Weather: Warm to hot.
Temperature range: 17 - 31°C.
Birds seen: 83.
Bird of the day: Kori Bustard.
Day 6: Friday 9th March 2012 ~ Skukuza Rest Camp
After an early cup of coffee and a home-baked rusk we headed out on our morning safari, heading northwards once again into the plains in search of Harriers and Secretarybird. The latter Nic and I had found on a nest while the group was out on the sunset drive the previous evening and we found the pair atop a flat thorn tree awaiting the warmth of the rising sun. Other species seen during the morning included Hooded, Lappet-faced, White-headed and White-backed Vultures at a kill scene, Kori Bustard, Montague's Harrier, African Hawk-Eagle and others. We then made our way back to camp for breakfast. We did our bird list for the previous day and then packed and left for Skukuza, the journey being very eventful and taking up most of the day. Highlights included a pair of male Cheetah crossing the road in front of us, Black Cuckoo, Pygmy Goose, Allen’s Gallinule, African Jacana and Martial Eagle. We arrived in camp in the afternoon and had a well deserved rest before a short walk in the camp grounds which produced White-browed Robin-Chat, Black-headed Oriole, African Goshawk, Black-collared Barbet, African Palm-Swift, African Paradise Flycatcher and others. We then had time to get ready before a wonderful dinner at the Selati Train Restaurant.
Route: Various routes in the Satara region.
Weather: Warm to hot.
Temperature range: 17 - 32°C.
Birds seen: 109.
Bird of the day: Montagu’s Harrier.
Day 7: Saturday 10th March 2012 ~ Pretoriuskop Rest Camp
Our morning at Skukuza started with the usual cup of coffee before a long drive down the Sabie River. It proved to be a productive morning, with some excellent additions to the trip list, the highlights of which were Broad-billed Roller, Retz's Helmet-Shrike, African Finfoot (right), Mosque Swallow and White-crowned Lapwing, among others. Back at Skukuza we had breakfast and hit the shops for Magnums before departing for Pretoriuskop. Not far out of camp we came across a pack of Wild Dogs asleep next to the road, much to the delight of Sheila, whose twenty-year dream was thus fulfilled. We then continued on to Pretoriuskop, seeing birds such as Crested and Natal Francolins, Helmeted Guineafowl, Spotted Eagle-Owl, European Roller, Bearded Woodpecker, White-crested Helmet-Shrike and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting on the way. After arriving and checking in we had a short break followed by a walk around the camp which added two new birds to our list: Purple-crested Turaco and Yellow-throated Petronia. We then had some time to rest before meeting up for dinner in the camp’s restaurant.
Route: Various routes in the Skukuza region.
Weather: Warm to hot.
Temperature range: 18 - 33°C.
Birds seen: 88.
Bird of the day: African Finfoot.
Day 8: Sunday 11th March 2012 ~ Maguga Dam, Swaziland
Our morning routine continued, with an early game drive around Pretoriuskop, which produced a few new birds, including Lizard Buzzard, which took us close to our benchmark of 32 raptor species. Back at camp we had breakfast and then left, driving all the way through the park to exit at Malelane Gate. The drive proved to be highly successful, producing Dark Canting Goshawk as our 32nd raptor species, Southern Ground Hornbill to close up a massive hole on our check list, and Leopard to give us the 'Magnificent Seven' in terms of the mammals. After lunch at Afsaal Picnic Site we headed out of the park and into Swaziland, arriving at our accommodation in the late afternoon. While getting to our rooms and sorting ourselves out our raptor list jumped to 33 with Erurasian Hobby seen overhead. We then had a wonderful Swazi buffet dinner, and retired in anticipation of a later start the following morning.
Route: Pretoriuskop to Mguga Dam via Malelane Gate and Jeppe’s Reef Border Post.
Weather: Warm to hot.
Temperature range: 17 - 29°C.
Birds seen: 78.
Bird of the day: Dark Chanting Goshawk.
Day 9: Monday 12th March 2012 ~ Mkuze Game Reserve.
After eight days of early mornings we opted for a slightly later start, loading our bags at 06:45 and having a wonderful buffet breakfast at 07h00. We left Maguga Dam for Maloltja Nature Reserve not far away, where we did a bit of montane grassland birding, with the species component reminding us of Dullstroom. Top bird for the day was Blue Swallow, a pair of which was seen quartering low over the grasslands in typical fashion. We then left the reserve and drove down through Swaziland for a lunch break below the Lebombo Range at Nisela, where the Southern Red Bishops were still in breeding mode, before crossing back into South Africa and making our way to Mkuze. We had a brief stop at the Emshopi Gate, where we saw Martial Eagle overhead, as well as Purple-crested Turaco and Southern Black Flycatcher, before making our way to Mantuma Camp, seeing no fewer than five White Rhino en-route. We finally got the safari tent allocation sorted out, and then headed over to the mess chalet for a great barbeque chicken dinner by Don and Mavourneen.
Route: Maguga Dam to Mkuze Game Reserve via Lavumisa Border Post.
Weather: Cool to start, warming up later in Mkuze.
Temperature range: 12 – 33°C.
Birds seen: 56.
Bird of the day: Blue Swallow.
Day 10: Tuesday 13th March 2012 ~ Mkuze Game Reserve.
After an early cup of coffee we left Mantuma Camp and headed out on a morning drive, ending up at Nsumo Pan (below right) for some scope birding, recording water-associated species such as Pink-backed Pelican, Yellow-billed Stork, African Openbill, White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter and Water Thick-knee. Terrestrial birds seen included Speckled and Red-faced Mousebirds, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Pale Flycatcher, Violet-backed Starling and others. We then made our way back to camp for breakfast and list duties. Afterwards we had an hour-long walk around the camp, on which we netted four new species for the list (Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Yellow-rumped and Red-fronted Tinkerbirds and Rudd’s Apalis). We then had a short break before meeting for lunch at 13h00, when we saw a Crowned Eagle in display high above us as our 34th raptor species. It was then time for another break before an afternoon drive, which produced a few new species such as Gorgeous Bush-Shrike (only seen by Leon and Martin), Crested Guineafowl and Jameson’s Firefinch. We arrived back in camp in the late afternoon and then met up later for a fine steak dinner.
Route: Drives in Mkuze Game Reserve.
Weather: Warm to hot.
Temperature range: 17 – 31°C.
Birds seen: 81.
Bird of the day: Rudd’s Apalis.
Day 11: Wednesday 14th March 2012 ~ Wakkerstroom.
With a slight reprieve we met up for coffee at 05h25 before departing on an early morning drive, which unfortunately didn't produce too many new birds (despite much effort) but was nevertheless very enjoyable. We got back to camp and had breakfast, packed and departed for Wakkerstroom via Utrecht and Vryheid, the journey taking up most of the rest of the day. The last quarter was on back roads where the birding could continue, with a couple of new records and some old friends from the first couple of days seen again. Of particular enjoyment was a stop to scope out a large dam, with birds arriving in the late afternoon to settle down for the night, including South African Shelduck, Southern Bald Ibis, Sacred ibis and Cattle Egret, African Purple Swamphen and Red-knobbed Coot by the dozen. We arrived in town in the late afternoon and had time to settle in before dinner at the Wakkerstroom Country Inn.
Route: Mkuze to Wakkerstroom.
Weather: Warm in Mkuze, cooling as we climbed to Wakkerstroom .
Temperature range: 17 - 25°C.
Birds seen: 84.
Bird of the day: Crested Guineafowl.
Day 12: Thursday 15th March 2012 ~ Wakkerstroom.
With a 05h30 departure we left town on a long morning drive in the splendid Wakkerstroom countryside, with a coffee stop over a wide vista with plenty to seek out with our scopes. The route took us through to breakfast back at the inn at 10h00, where we ate, did our lists and then headed back out to scope out the wetland reserve for an hour or so, seeing some decent waterbirds. We then had a rest through the mid day period before a long afternoon drive in search of new species, recording Pearl-breasted Swallow and Brown-throated Martin, and we nearrowly missed both Rock Pipit and Ground Woodpecker, both of which we could hear but not see! On the way back, under a gathering storm, we had one of the highlights of the tour, or for me anyway, in the form of a massive flock of untold numbers of Amur Falcons, perhaps gathering ahead of their imminent return to Asia. Back at the inn we had a great farewell dinner before a final day of travelling. Other new birds for the day included Blue Korhaan, Spike-heeled and Red-capped Larks, African Reed Warbler, Lesser Swamp-Wabler, Cape Weaver and African Quailfinch.
Route: Routes in the Wakkerstroom district.
Weather: Cool to warm.
Temperature range: 12 - 24°C.
Birds seen: 84.
Bird of the day: Blue Korhaan.
Day 13: Friday 16th March 2012 ~ Departure.
There wasn’t much time for birding today, as we had to get to Johannesburg for a 13h30 flight departure, experiencing the only lousy weather of the tour on the way. We arrived a little late but still well in time for the check-in, where we said quick farewells to the group.
Below: To see more photos visit the Lawson’s Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leonmars/sets/72157629678428489/
Note: birds listed were seen by the guide and at least one member of the tour.
Great Crested Grebe
African Sacred Ibis
Southern Bald Ibis (E)
South African Shelduck (E)
African Black Duck
Cape Shoveler (E)
Cape Vulture (E)
Lesser Spotted Eagle
African Crowned Eagle
African Fish Eagle
Jackal Buzzard (E)
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Grey-winged Francolin (E)
Natal Francolin (NE)
Swainson's Spurfowl (NE)
Blue Crane (E)
Grey Crowned Crane
African Purple Swamphen
Blue Korhaan (E)
African Wattled Lapwing
African Mourning Dove
Knysna Turaco (E)
African Palm Swift
Southern Carmine Bee-eater
African Grey Hornbill
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Acacia Pied Barbet (NE)
Monotonous Lark (NE)
Sabota Lark (NE)
Greater Striped Swallow (E)
Lesser Striped Swallow
South African Cliff-Swallow (E)
Common House Martin
Eurasian Golden Oriole
Southern Black Tit
Grey Penduline Tit
Cape Rock-Thrush (E)
Sentinel Rock-Thrush (E)
Mountain Wheatear (NE)
Buff-streaked Chat (E)
Ant-eating Chat (E)
White-throated Robin-Chat (E)
Rudd's Apalis (E)
Drakensberg Prinia (E)
African Dusky Flycatcher
Southern Black Flycatcher
Marico Flycatcher (NE)
Cape Batis (E)
African Paradise Flycatcher
African Pied Wagtail
Yellow-breasted Pipit (E)
Cape Longclaw (E)
Lesser Grey Shrike
Southern White-crowned Shrike (NE)
Pied Starling (E)
Burchell’s Starling (NE)
Cape Glossy Starling
Greater Blue-eared Starling
Gurney’s Sugarbird (E)
Southern Double-collared Sunbird
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Cape White-eye (E)
Cape Sparrow (NE)
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow
Cape Weaver (E)
Southern Red Bishop
Cape Bunting (NE)
Bat, Fruit (Peter's Epauletted)
Dassie, Rock (Hyrax)