|PEREGRINE BIRD TOURS|
9 - 22 August 2013
Our tour to South Africa was an outstanding success; we recorded a staggering 321 species of birds, in just two weeks, which included most of the hoped for southern African endemics and regional specialties. As with everything in life; it is quality, not quantity, that counts, and we certainly enjoyed many quality birds, which included Red-necked Spurfowl, Bat Hawk, Lammergeier, Cape Vulture, Little Sparrowhawk, Taita Falcon, Common Quail, Denham's Bustard, Wattled Crane, Knysna Turaco, Marsh Owl, Narina Trogon, Brown-backed Honeybird, Botha's Lark, Broad-tailed Warbler, Spotted Ground-Thrush, Green Twinspot and Drakensberg Siskin, to name but a few. We also saw a very impressive 45 species of mammals; which included two rarely observed species of cats, the Caracal and the Wild Cat and we also enjoyed the best roads, restaurants and accommodation in Africa; all set against some of the most stunning scenery in the world.
The tour began in Johannesburg, where we enjoyed a delightful breakfast at our hotel. Following breakfast, while loading baggage onto our two vehicles, we saw our first birds of the tour, which included Grey-headed Gull, Cape Wagtail and Southern Masked Weaver. Most of the day was taken up by the long drive to Dullstroom, in the high veld, to the northeast of Johannesburg. We punctuated the long drive by frequent roadside birding stops, where we saw a large and varied selection of birds. By far the longest and most productive birding stops were at two fairly large lakes, situated on the outskirts of Johannesburg. With great excitement, we began observing a host of wetland birds, which included Little Grebe, Great and Reed Cormorants, Sacred Ibis, Greater Flamingo, Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese, Yellow-billed and Maccoa Ducks, Southern Pochard, Cape Shoveler, Red-billed Teal, Eurasian Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Blacksmith Lapwing and African Snipe. Other new birds at the lakes included Speckled Pigeon, Cape Turtle-Dove, Laughing Dove, Pied Kingfisher, Southern Fiscal, Brown-throated Martin, Cape Sparrow, Southern Red Bishop, Long-tailed Widowbird, Cape Longclaw and our only Black-throated Canaries of the tour.
Another roadside stop at a small lake close to the town of Belfast, produced Grey Heron, Cape Teal, Mallard, Black-winged Stilt, Crowned Lapwing, Three-banded and Kittlitz's Plovers, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff and Common Myna, to make up a very impressive first mornings list. We arrived at Dullstroom just in time for lunch and while enjoying our meal we watched the skies blacken and large hailstones began to fall. It was not what we had expected or wanted, unfortunately, a large cold front all the way from Antarctica had swept through Capetown, causing considerable damage, and was heading north from the Cape! However, the hailstorm was short lived and soon passed, although it remained very cold throughout the next couple of days.
Undaunted, we then spent a very productive afternoon birding along the dirt roads above Dullstroom, on the high veld. We saw our first flock of Helmeted Guineafowl, found a few Black-headed Herons and Hadada Ibis feeding in farmland, we saw a couple of endangered Southern Bold Ibis in flight, as well as a flock of beautiful Glossy Ibis. We saw our first of many Black-shouldered Kites, observed a splendid Jackal Buzzard in flight, a Red-eyed Dove flew past, there were a few Little Swifts, we enjoyed watching the beautiful African Hoopoe and the attractive Crested Barbet. We also saw three species of pipits, African, Long-billed and Plain-backed, saw our first Dark-capped Bulbul and enjoyed watching the beautifully marked Groundscraper Thrush. We found a Levaillant's Cisticola perched on a roadside fence and a Neddicky in scrub along the edge of the road. The uncommon Fiscal Flycatcher popped up along the roadside, we found several very obliging African Stonechats, a couple of Mountain Wheatears and Buff-streaked Chats, as well as the rather tame Southern Anteater-Chat. We saw one or two Bokmakieres, a flock of Cape Crows, the localised Pied Starling, a flock of Red-winged Starlings, a few House Sparrows, several stunning Cape Sparrows and a large flock of beautiful Cape Canaries. Mammals for the day included Vervet Monkey, Blesbok, Grey Rhebok and Springbok.
We spent the following morning birding once more on the high veld, above Dullstroom. The birding was very good once the mist had lifted, enabling us to see more than just a few meters ahead of us. As the morning sun burnt off the early morning mist, we enjoyed super close looks at a small covey of Red-winged Francolins, which, fortunately for us, stood stationary for a little while, allowing us the opportunity to study this uncommon species of francolin and we also found a small covey of much commoner Swainson's Francolins. A flock of three African Wattled Lapwings had been upset by something and were putting on quite a performance, we enjoyed super close looks at the elegant Eastern Long-billed Lark, both Zitting and Wing-snapping Cisticolas, one or two Sentinel Rock-Thrushes and a solitary Yellow Bishop. Heading back to Dullstroom for lunch, we saw a Purple Heron in flight, and best of all, we enjoyed a pair of stunning Grey Crowned Cranes in the scope. We also added two new species of mammals, the very attractive Yellow Mongoose and Bush Duiker, a small species of antelope.
We then drove the a short distance to Lydenburg, where we had lunch. Here we saw a small flock of Cattle Egrets, a few Feral Pigeons and a small flock of Pied Crows. Following lunch, we continued on to Mount Sheba Nature Reserve, during the drive, a stunning Caracal broke from cover and sprinted across the road, just in front of our leading vehicle. Unfortunately, it all happened so quickly, that not everyone managed to see this rarely observed species of cat. We arrived at Mount Sheba late in the afternoon. On the drive up Mt. Sheba, on the way to our lodge, Chris spotted a pair of Red-necked Spurfowl, lurking in the undergrowth of the dense forest we were driving through. Most of us were able to enjoy good looks at the birds, which are particularly scarce, in this part of Africa. We also added one other new bird, the much easier to see Wailing Cisticola. We arrived at the lodge, just as it was getting dark.
At first light the following morning we birded along the forest edge, which adjoined the gardens of the lodge, before birding in the beautifully kept grounds of the lodge. This proved very rewarding and produced a good number of new birds for us. We found a rather tame Natal Francolin walking across one of the lawns, we greatly admired a pair of very attractive Cape Batis, a stunning Olive Bushshrike was unusually kind to us and showed well from the top of a tall shrub, as did a female Black Cuckoo-shrike. The aptly named Sombre Greenbul popped into view, we watched a particularly confiding pair of Bar-throated Apalis, as well as several Cape White-eyes, we had a quick look at the beautiful Amethyst Sunbird, before enjoying great looks at a few Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, we stumbled across a small flock of Swee Waxbills feeding on the lawn and enjoyed a prolonged observation of the rather uncommon Forest Canary.
We then walked through the dense forest of the nature reserve searching for anything that moved, fortunately for us, a few things did move. Some species needed a little encouragement, and with the aid of judicial use of a little playback, we managed to tempt into view the two glamor birds of the reserve, the beautiful Knysna Turaco and the delightful Narina Trogon. In the leafy canopy a pair of Yellow-streaked Greenbuls were searching for food, we glimpsed the very shy White-starred Robin and a pair of Southern Double-collared Sunbirds gleaned nectar from a flowering shrub. The sweet song of the splendid Chorister Robin-Chat alerted us to its presence and then fortunately for us, one appeared in front of us on the road and we all enjoyed great looks at this very attractive species. We then headed off for a late breakfast at the lodge, but not before finding an obliging Familiar Chat and a stunning Malachite Sunbird feeding in a flowering shrub, right next to the breakfast room. As we were driving away from Mount Sheba, we watched several Rock Martins flying overhead and a very obliging Drakensberg Prinia, which perched nearby in roadside vegetation.
We then headed north towards the world famous Kruger National Park. While driving through huge ares of farmland and private game reserves, we found new birds for the tour along the roadside. We found a stately Common Ostrich, a beautiful Lizard Buzzard, one or two Eurasian Kestrels, the first of many Grey Go-away-birds and we had a quick look at an Alpine Swift. We also added two species of mammals, which were both seen in private game reserves, the first was an Oribi, which was only glimpsed by a couple of people, however, the second sighting was of three Sable Antelope, which we were able to watch in the scope. We then made a stop near the J.G. Strijdom Tunnel, part of the very impressive Blyde River Canyon, where for the past seven years, the only pair of Taita Falcons is known to have nested, in the whole of South Africa. Unfortunately, only one bird returned to the nest site this year, the other bird must have died. Now the single bird was only visiting the nest site very sporadically. So our chances of seeing this highly endangered species were now very slim, but birders are by definition optimists, so we stopped at the old nest site, to have a look. We enjoyed our time here, buying local artifacts and keeping a watchful eye for the diminutive falcon. We were very pleased to watch several Cape Vultures flying around the vertical cliffs, this species is also quite endangered. Then the falcon suddenly appeared and perched on a small ledge near the top of the vertical cliff. Eventually, we managed to get it in the scope and we all enjoyed super looks at this small, but very aggressive falcon. While watching the falcon, we also enjoyed our first sighting of the attractive Black-backed Puffback and the very colourful Mocking Cliff Chat.
We then entered the world famous Kruger National Park, through the Orpen Gate, where we enjoyed a substantial picnic lunch, while John and Bert swapped the baggage over from our minibuses to our open top, 4 wheel drive safari vehicles. While eating our picnic lunch we also found several new species of birds, a Southern Red-billed Hornbill was perched nearby, several very large Magpie Shrikes, sat on the top of small trees, a Yellow-breasted Apalis and a Long-billed Crombec were feeding together in a small bush, there were lots of Burchell's Starlings on the ground, along with a large mixed flock of Red-billed Firefinch and Blue Waxbills. We also added two new species of mammals while having lunch, the rather tame Smith's Bush-Squirrel and the rather untame Slender Mongoose.
We then headed for Satara Lodge, for a two nights stay. Kruger is one of Africa's oldest and largest national parks. It was established in 1898, to protect the wildlife of the low veld and is home to an incredible diversity of both animal and birdlife. An afternoon drive in the park yielded a great many new birds, which included Crested Francolin, Hooded, White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures, the magnificent Bateleur, the diminutive Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, African Green-Pigeon, Burchell's Coucal, both Purple and Lilac-breasted Rollers, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Fork-tailed Drongo, Wire-tailed and Lesser-striped Swallows, Arrow-marked Babbler, Red-billed Oxpecker, the localised Marico Flycatcher, the stunning Marico Sunbird, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver and the very beautiful Golden-breasted Bunting. We also enjoyed a good selection of mammals, which included African Savanna Elephant, Chacma Baboon, Dwarf Mongoose, Black-backed Jackal, Burchell's Zebra, Common Warthog, Hippopotamus, Giraffe, Bushbuck, Blue Wildebeest, Waterbuck, Steenbok and Impala. While checking in at the Satara Lodge, we enjoyed good looks in the spotlight of the diminutive African Scops-Owl.
We spent the next day driving around the many roads that dissect the park. Once again we saw a huge number of new birds; which included such interesting species as the very uncommon White-headed Vulture, the delightful Gabar Goshawk, the huge Tawny Eagle, the very uncommon African Hawk-Eagle, the stately Kori Bustard, the beautiful Namaqua Dove, the diminutive Pearl-spotted Owlet at its daytime roost, the delightful Little Bee-eater, the decidedly uncommon Retz's Helmetshrike, the very attractive Orange-breasted Bushshrike, the beautifully plumaged Black-headed Oriole, the localised Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark and the beautifully marked White-browed Scrub-Robin. Other, more common birds that were new for the trip list today, included both Wooly-necked and Saddle-billed Storks, Striated Heron, Hamerkop, Brown Snake-Eagle, Black Crake, African Mourning Dove, Brown-headed Parrot, Green Woodhoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, African Grey Hornbill, Chin-spot Batis, both Brown-crowned and Black-crowned Tchagras, Sabota Lark, Red-breasted Swallow, Rattling and Desert Cisticolas, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Wattled, Cape Glossy and Greater Blue-eared Starlings, Southern Black Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird, Lesser Masked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, White-winged Widowbird, Green-winged Pytilia, Jameson's Firefinch, Pin-tailed Whydah and Yellow-fronted Canary. We also saw some new mammals today, which included African Buffalo and Greater Kudu. We also watched with great delight, a Spotted Hyaena which was seen off by a Waterbuck! On arrival back at camp, we drove slowly around the camping area of the lodge, searching for a Wild Cat, which had become semi-tame. In no time at all we were enjoying great looks at this very rarely observed species of cat, in the spotlight.
Today we set off at first light for a morning game drive; new birds for the tour included an African Harrier Hawk in flight, the well camouflaged Water Thick-knee, several African Jacanas, the tiny Cardinal Woodpecker, Southern Black Tit, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Kurrichane Thrush and Yellow-throated Longclaw. We also found a pair of
White Rhinoceros, which were a delight to watch. Our second new mammal during the morning drive was a beautiful Klipspringer, our only one of the tour.
Following a late breakfast, we set off for our second game drive of the day, on our way to Skukuza Lodge, in the southern part of Kruger National Park. New birds included a stunning Martial Eagle, which we saw perched and then it took off and flew right over our vehicles. We saw the uncommon Red-crested Korhaan, the beautiful White-crowned Lapwing, which is right at the southern edge of its range here, a migrant Common Sandpiper, White-rumped Swift, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, the tiny Brubru, the rather plain Yellow-throated Petronia, Village Weaver and African Pied Wagtail. We also came across a massive herd of African Buffalo, which we had to wait for as they crossed the road ahead of us, which took 40 minutes! While checking the oxpeckers on the buffalo, we found a few Yellow-billed Oxpeckers amongst the far more common Red-billed Oxpeckers. This species is at the southern edge of its range here. We added another species of mammal during this drive, it was a lone lioness.
On arrival at Skukuza Lodge, we went for a walk along the river, where we added new birds for the tour, which included both Great and Little Egrets, the superb African Fish-Eagle, the very beautiful White-browed Robin-Chat and White-bellied Sunbird.
Early the following morning while we were gathering together, we heard an African Goshawk call, which we soon tracked down. We then drove to a nearby wetland, where we spent some time birding from a well constructed hide. New birds here included the aptly named Goliath Heron, African Darter and the diminutive African Dusky Flycatcher. Our attention was also drawn to an enormous 7 meter Nile Crocodile, which was doing his best to devour a large plastic bucket!
Later in the morning we drove to a large golf course where we did some birding. New birds here came thick and fast and included the very attractive Purple-crested Turaco, African Palm-Swift, the uncommon African Black Swift, Acacia Pied and Black-collared Barbets, Bearded Woodpecker, Southern Boubou, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Green-backed Camaroptera, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Spectacled Weaver.
An afternoon game drive produced new birds for the tour, which included Marabou Stork, Yellow-billed Kite, Spotted Thick-knee, a small flock of White-crested Helmetshrikes and Bearded Scrub-Robin. We also saw a new species of mammal, the decidedly uncommon Nyala. That evening, just as we arrived back at our cottages, we found a Greater Brown Galago, in the tree above us, which we were able to observe in the spotlight.
Following breakfast, we left our lodge and spent the rest of the day slowly birding our way to Pretoriuskop Lodge, on the southern edge of Kruger National Park. New birds for the day included the inconspicuous Squacco Heron, the majestic Crowned Eagle, the large Crowned Hornbill, a flock of Red-faced Mousebirds, the tiny Yellow-bellied Eremomela, the unobtrusive Pale Flycatcher and the uncommon Grey Tit-Flycatcher.
The following morning we drove out of Kruger National Park but not before adding Black-bellied Bustard, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Bronze Mannikin, to our ever growing list. While the formalities for leaving the park were being concluded, we did a little birding and we were pleased to find a male Red-headed Weaver in full breeding plumage and we also admired the day-time roost of a good number of Wahlberg's Epauletted Fruit Bats.
We then drove to the Sabie River Golf Course, at Hazey, for lunch. Following lunch, we did some birding at a small wetland at the golf course, where we added a couple of very distant White-faced Whistling- Ducks.
In the afternoon we broke the long drive to Nelspruit, with a birding stop at the small town of White River, in Mpumalanga Province. In an area of tall grassland, we hoped to find the day-time roost of the crepuscular and very uncommon Bat Hawk, in an isolated stand of Eucalypts. While searching for this very difficult bird, one flew over our heads, circled for a couple of times and then flew back to it's roost site. Other new birds in the tall grass included Malachite Kingfisher, Black Saw-wing, Dark-capped Yellow-Warbler, the uncommon and difficult to find Broad-tailed Warbler, Golden Weaver, Common Waxbill, Streaky-headed Seedeater and the uncommon Cape Grassbird.
The following morning, we started the day off with a little pre-breakfast birding, in the grounds of our lodge, which worked out very well. New birds we enjoyed finding included the beautiful Red-throated Wryneck, an aberrant species of woodpecker, both Lazy and Croaking Cisticolas, the beautiful Red-capped Robin-Chat, Thick-billed Weaver, African Firefinch, Cape Weaver and Brimstone Canary.
Following breakfast, we set off on the drive to Wakkerstroom, situated on the high windswept plains in the far south of the Transvaal. After only a short distance we found a very handsome Long-crested Eagle sat on a roadside telegraph pole, which was greatly admired. We broke the long drive, with a short birding stop close to Dirkiesdorp, here we added African Spoonbill, the stunning Denham's Bustard and two new larks, Spike-heeled and Red-capped.
An early morning start found us at the Wakkerstroom Wetland Reserve; where we added the delightful Hottentot Teal and one or two African Swamphens. The rest of the day was spent birding around gravel roads and marching through native grasslands in our quest for two rare and illusive species, the Botha's Lark and the Yellow-breasted Pipit.
In the montane grasslands we found a family party of Grey-winged Francolins, the local race of the very difficult to observe Common Quail, we enjoyed super looks at the beautiful South African Shelduck and we enjoyed watching a female African Black Duck swimming along in a small stream, with ducklings paddling furiously behind her. We observed three Great Crested Grebes at a small wetland, observed several beautiful Blue Korhaans, we saw a couple of Blue Cranes very well, observed a migrant Common Greenshank, enjoyed good looks at a pair of Ground Woodpeckers, Eastern Clapper Lark and we also saw the Cape Bunting very well. Following a great deal of searching we found three rare and elusive Botha's Larks, as well as the elusive Yellow-breasted Pipit and best of all, we enjoyed super looks at a stunning Marsh Owl, both in flight and perched, in broad daylight. We also enjoyed our first looks at a Rock Hyrax, flushed a couple of Scrub Hares, observed a couple of Mountain Reedbuck and very much enjoyed good close looks at a family part of Suricats, now made famous by the TV program 'Meerkat Manor'.
The following day, was very much a travel day, as we drove from Wakkerstroom to Sani Pass, in the Drakensberg Mountains, the southernmost extension of the Great Rift Valley.
As we were packing the bus, unfortunately, an introduced Common Starling flew by. Shortly after leaving Wakkerstroom we tried a stakeout for the very uncommon African Rock Pipit. While searching for the pipit we did enjoy good looks at another new bird, the particularly striking White-necked Raven. After an hour or so we gave up and started to drive off, then suddenly one popped into view, but unfortunately, only those in the second vehicle saw the bird. During the drive to Sani Pass, we stopped at a small wetland where we added White-throated and South African Cliff Swallows and enjoyed great looks at a Spotted-necked Otter. Later in the day, we very much enjoyed watching a pair of Secretary-birds stalking the plains.
Following breakfast at the Sani Pass Hotel, we boarded our 4 wheel drive vehicles and headed up into the clouds, to the independent African kingdom of Lesotho, with three local birding guides. A few stops en route to the border crossing produced good looks at the endemic Gurney's Sugarbird. On crossing the border into Lesotho, we were very pleased to find that the weather gods were kind to us and we very much appreciated the bright sunny day. Our first new bird in Lesotho, was a stunning Black Stork, which we saw well in flight. One of the star birds of the day was the very impressive Lammergeier, their numbers are now very low in southern Africa. A quick stop at the `highest pub in Africa` produced good looks at three extremely localised birds, the stunningly attractive Drakensberg Rockjumper, the rather plain Grey Tit and a small flock of Drakensberg Siskins. As we drove deeper into the kingdom, we enjoying brilliant looks at a very fine
Lanner Falcon, several Large-billed Larks, a pair of Sickle-winged Chats, several Cape Rock-Thrush and a very large flock of Yellow Canaries. We continued through to our furthest point, where we enjoyed a very fine picnic lunch, before returning back down the mountain to the Sani Pass Hotel. New mammals today included a large number of splendid Sloggett's Rats, some members of the group saw a Small Grey Mongoose and we all saw Eland, Africa's largest antelope and Southern Reedbuck.
A pre-breakfast walk in the grounds of our hotel at Sani Pass, did not produce any new birds. The rest of the day was taken up with the long drive to Eshowe, in Kwazulu-Natal Province, where we would spend the night. It was this area; where the Boers, British and Zulus clashed in bloody conflict and in doing so, shaped the future of South Africa. We broke the long drive with a few birding stops along the way. The first, was at Marutswa Forest, unfortunately, there was very little moving in the forest and we failed to find any new birds. Our second birding stop was at Howick Falls, at Howick. Here we enjoyed great looks at a pair of Peregrine Falcons, which have nested at the falls for a number of years. We watched them flying around the falls and we even watched them copulating on a narrow ledge, towards the top of the falls. Our final birding stop was in the Karkloof Valley, where we enjoyed a very fine picnic lunch and did some birding at a small wetland and in the surrounding farmland. Very surprisingly, we found all three species of South African cranes, within five minutes of each other. The Wattled Crane was a new species for the tour and by far the rarest of the three species. We enjoyed good scope views of three birds together, which rounded our birding for the day off perfectly, we then drove to our lodge, on the edge of the Dlinza Forest, at Eshowe.
At first light the following morning we climbed a very tall tower, which took us up into the canopy of Dlinza Forest. Unfortunately, there was a very strong wind blowing and low cloud, making the light very poor. Somewhat disappointingly, we only added two species from the tower. We enjoyed very good looks at the diminutive Little Sparrowhawk in flight and we also saw a flock of Black-bellied Starlings, also in flight. We decided to climb down from the tower and do some birding on tracks through the forest. This proved far more productive and we enjoyed good looks at the very scarce Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Olive Woodpecker, Square-tailed Drongo, Terrestrial Brownbul and best of all, the very uncommon Spotted Ground-Thrush. We also saw our last new mammal for the tour, a Blue Duiker. We then did some birding in the grounds of our lodge, which proved even more rewarding. New birds here included Trumpeter Hornbill, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, the very scarce Brown-backed Honeybird, the very uncommon Dark-backed Weaver, the very difficult to see Green Twinspot and a small flock of Red-backed Mannikins. We then enjoyed a wonderful late breakfast at a very fine restaurant and in the grounds of the restaurant a flowering shrub attracted an Olive Sunbird, which was the last new bird of the tour.
We then drove to Durban airport, where tour ended and we reluctantly went our separate ways. We had traveled many kilometres together, got to know each other really well and had seen many terrific birds, mammals and plants. Both John and Bert had done a wonderful job for us and we shall all have fond memories of our time together in South Africa.