On this two-week tour we targeted South Africa's unique birds, incredible mammal diversity, and a multitude of habitats and landscapes. It is an ideal trip for those who haven't been to Africa yet, or for those still needing to see some South African specialties.
The first half of the trip was spent traversing the scenic Western Cape, targeting many of the local endemics and specialties, visiting a variety of habitats from coastal beaches and lagoons to the locally famous fynbos, and experiencing a deep-sea pelagic off Cape Point. After a short flight, the second half of the trip took us to the high altitude grasslands and AfroMontane forests of the northern Drakensberg escarpment and ended with a visit to the renowned Kruger National Park.
Total number of bird species seen: 358
Bird Highlights: 4 species of Albatrosses, African Penguin, 26 species of raptors, Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon, Cape Rockjumper, 6 species of owls, a myriad of sunbirds, and both Cape & Gurney's Sugarbird to name a few!
Mammal Highlights: The BIG FIVE (Lion, White Rhino, Leopard, Buffalo and Elephant) at Kruger National Park, plus Wild Dog, Spotted Hyena, Giraffe and many more species.
Day 1 - After dropping off half of the group in Simon's Town for a pelagic trip, the other half chose solid ground and so we did a scenic loop around the Cape Peninsula. The coastal fynbos offered a great selection of local specialties including Bokmakierie, Cape Grassbird, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted, Malachite and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Cape Bunting and stunning views of six Cape Siskins! From the point we observed Cape Gannets offshore while the rocky coastline provided Common, Swift and Sandwich Terns, African Black Oystercatcher, White-fronted Plover and Crowned Cormorant. We arrived back in Simon's Town late afternoon to meet the other half of the group following their pelagic trip. Some of their highlights included Atlantic Yellow-nosed, Indian Yellow-nosed, Black-browed and Shy Albatrosses, Southern & Northern Giant, Pintado and White-chinned Petrels, Sooty and Great Shearwaters, Wilson's and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels, Arctic Tern, Subantarctic Skua and Bank Cormorant at the docks. We ended the day with excellent pasta and pizza at a local restaurant.
Day 2 - We started the morning at the world-renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, where we targeted key areas throughout the extensive grounds. The calls of Sombre Greenbuls and Cape Bulbuls were common throughout the gardens as were flocks of Cape and Forest Canaries. A highlight for everyone was the resident Spotted Eagle-Owls who chose to nest right along one of the footpaths at eye level! Elsewhere in the gardens we had Cape Batis, Swee Waxbill, Olive Thrush, the elusive Lemon Dove and Black Saw-wing overhead.
After a quick lunch we headed to the Strandfontein Sewage Works, a productive network of pans. This locality offers some of the finest water-based birding close to Cape Town and today surely didn't disappoint. Cape and Red-billed Teal, Cape Shoveler, Yellow-billed Duck, Southern Pochard and Maccoa Duck were just some of the ducks present, while all three Little, Black-necked (Eared) and Great Crested Grebes made an appearance. The vegetation along the shorelines held Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers, Levaillant's Cisticola and African Purple Swamphen. Of course, good numbers of Greater Flamingos, herons, egrets, cormorants and darters were present as well as several waders (shorebirds), including the attractive Kittzlitz's Plover and the odd Water Thick-knee. An African Marsh-Harrier flushed birds as it glided over the pans, while a Cape Longclaw provided good views along one of the roads.
Day 3 - Traveling up the west coast, the aptly named West Coast National Park promised excellent birding and did not disappoint! En route, a quick detour down a farm road produced Blue Crane, Capped Wheatear, Pied Starling, Red-capped Lark and European Bee-Eater. Arriving at the park, we drove slowly birding the scrub, which held Bar-throated Apalis, Long-billed Crombec, White-backed Mousebird, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Yellow and White-throated Canaries and Karoo Lark. Near one of the hides we witnessed a pair of Cape Penduline-Tits visiting their unique oval-shaped bag nest with a false entrance constructed from plant down, spider webs and other soft materials. We moved on visiting two very productive hides along the Langebaan Lagoon, which yielded South African Shelduck, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Great White Pelican and eighteen species of waders (shorebirds). Highlights include Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Red Knot and 20 African Black Oystercatchers. Later in the day raptors picked up and included Black Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite, Booted Eagle and Black-shouldered Kite. Our last stop was a hide next to a small freshwater vlei, which provided excellent views of a Black Crake, among other species. We stopped en route to Cape Town at Yzerfontein where we had views of the miniscule but smart looking Chestnut-banded Plover.
Day 4 - We traveled east over the Hottentot Holland Mountains into the fertile Agulhas Plains. Although mostly under wheat, these rolling hills still have a few key patches of native vegetation and provides a large diversity of much sought after open-country species. Most notable were the impressive numbers of Blue Cranes scattered throughout the drive. Cape Crows are also common in this habitat and Rock Kestrels seemed to be present around every corner. We headed straight for De Hoop Nature Reserve, our base for the next two nights, picking up Large-billed Lark and the local endemic Agulhas Long-billed Lark along the way. In the park, new additions included African Hoopoe, Speckled Mousebird, Hamerkop and one of our main targets - Southern Tchagra. Mammals for the day include Chacma Baboon, Scrub Hare, Rock Hyrax, Greater Kudu, Cape Grysbok and Bontebok. A giant Leopard Tortoise was a nice addition! Before dinner we scanned the swift flocks overhead finding Alpine, Little, African Black and White-rumped Swifts.
Day 5 - Today we spent the whole day birding various parts of De Hoop. The vlei held a good mix of expected birds as well as our first African Spoonbills, Osprey and Three-banded Plover. A lot of mammals have gathered to drink including Mountain Zebra, Bushbuck and a hundred Eland. We then headed towards the coast adding Pale Chanting Goshawk, Namaqua Sandgrouse and the 'Agulhas' subspecies of Cape Clapper Lark, which is sometimes treated as a separate species, to our list. From the coast we witnessed a good number of Southern Right Whales migrating right off the coast! After a while we had to tear ourselves away and head for lunch. Fortunately for us, a pair of Knysna Woodpeckers started calling from the trees right next to our table. Eventually we had superb looks at one of these elusive birds. An Acacia Pied Barbet and Cardinal Woodpecker nearby were also new for our trip.
After lunch we headed to the other side of the nature reserve to the Western Cape's last breeding colony of Cape Vultures. We were delayed for a while after stumbling upon two Denham's Bustards en route. After arriving, it didn't take long before we spotted a few Cape Vultures flyover over the ridge. Also present was a Jackal Buzzard, a common buzzard of the open plains. A nearby area of alien vegetation produced Red-chested Cuckoo and countless African Paradise-Flycatchers. After nightfall, a Barn Owl was heard screeching on the other side of the vlei.
Day 6 - Leaving De Hoop behind, we headed back towards Cape Town, birding along the way. Shortly after leaving we had a Secretarybird close to where the Denham's Bustards were the previous day while nearby White Storks were also new for the trip. Our first main stop of the day was the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens, where we did a quick loop around the gardens, yielding a few new birds including Victorin's Warbler. After lunch we headed over to the Stoney Point penguin colony where we enjoyed close views of African Penguins as well as better views of Bank and Crowned Cormorants. Our last stop at Rooi Els produced a good number of key specialties of South Africa, namely Cape Rockjumper. Other highlights include Neddicky, Cape Rock-Thrush, Cape Siskin and a pair of Verreaux's Eagles, which nest on the cliffs above.
African Penguin seen at the Stoney Point colony
Day 7 - Today we caught our morning flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, arriving before noon. After leaving the airport we headed towards Dullstroom, an area of highland grassland, vleis and ridges: a prime spot for grassland endemics. It was raining upon our arrival so we checked in and birded from the balcony of our accommodation and surroundings. Here we picked up Fork-tailed Drongo, Long-tailed Widowbird, Golden-breasted Bunting and a family of African Black Ducks on a vlei below. After the rains subsided, we did a quick drive down the road finding Eastern Long-billed Lark, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Banded Martin and a surprise African Rail. For supper, we enjoyed a huge feast of Afrikaans home cooking.
Day 8 - We spent the morning driving around rural roads in the Dullstroom area. Around our accommodation we had Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, African Wattled Lapwing and Pied Kingfisher. Working our way higher in elevation and into more open grasslands, a new set of birds were had including Wing-snapping Cisticola, Mountain Wheatear and the local endemic Yellow-breasted Pipit. Rocky slopes provided Buff-streaked Chat and Sentinel Rock-Thrush while a promising area for Gurney's Sugarbird produced a distant calling individual. Before continuing on, we picked up a pair of Drakensberg Prinias while several territorial Red-chested Cuckoos called back and forth. From here we headed towards Mount Sheba, arriving in very thick, wet, fog, which halted the birding for the evening.
Day 9 - Today we spend the entire day between fog and rain birding the various forest trails around Mount Sheba. Although foggy and damp, the birding was still exceptional! Typical mixed species flocks consisted of Olive Bushshrike, Gray Cuckooshrike, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Terrestrial Brownbul and Yellow-throated Woodland Warblers. We eventually caught up with two of our main target birds of the day - Knysna Turaco and a pair of Narina Trogons.
Walking along the paths quietly is key for finding some of the more secretive Afromontane species and we eventually found White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-Chat and four stunning Orange Ground-Thrushes! Before the fog rolled back in for the evening, we adding a few more birds including African Olive-Pigeon, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Golden-tailed and Olive Woodpeckers. Our only mammal came in the form of the resident Blue (Samango) Monkeys.
Day 10 - We left Mount Sheba after breakfast and headed towards Kruger National Park, one of the most famous game reserves in the world needing no introduction. En route we made a brief stop along a mountain pass where we picked up Mocking Cliff-Chat, Mountain Wagtail, Red-capped Robin-Chat and Black-collared Barbet among others.
Arriving at Kruger, we entered a new habitat of savannah and scrub and with this, a host of new birds. Lilac-breasted Rollers, Magpie Shrikes and Grey Go-away-birds perched from prominent branches, and Crested, Natal and Swainson's Francolins scurried off the road while raptors dominated the sky (Tawny Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle and Bateleur to name a few).
A waterhole with a dozen or so Hippos hosted both Yellow-billed and Red-billed Oxpeckers, while nearby trees held African Gray, Southern Red-billed and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Common Scimitarbills, and Arrow-marked Babblers. Before arriving at camp we continued adding to our list with the the likes of Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Red-headed Weaver, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Crested Barbet and Brown-hooded Kingfisher.
Red-billed Oxpeckers share a symbiotic relationship with many mammals, here an Impala.
After we settled into our chalets, we spent the evening wandering around camp adding African Green-Pigeons, Brown-headed Parrots and Violet-backed Starlings feeding in large fig trees, Green Wood-Hoopoe and Bearded Woodpecker working the trunks while African Palm-Swifts flew overheard. After dark a few African Scops-Owls called and we had excellent views of one on our way to dinner.
Day 11 - We left our camp at first light when the gate first opened to do a loop before breakfast. For the first good while we had the gravel roads to ourselves and slowly crept along. Martial Eagle, Little Sparrowhawk, Burchell's Coucal, White-throated Robin-Chat, and a Spectacled Weaver were just some of the highlights. After breakfast back at camp, we headed back out and went north into the more open savannah. By this time raptors were already prominent, with White-headed, Lappet-faced, Cape, and White-backed Vultures soaring and a Wahlberg's Eagle wrecked havoc on a family of francolins. A few waterholes produced Woolly-necked and Saddle-billed Storks, Goliath Heron, African Fish-Eagle, Collared Pratincole, and African Pied Wagtail while a small group of Southern Ground Hornbills stole our attention. Of course we also had a wide range of your typical African mammals such as Plains Zebra, White Rhino, Giraffe, African Buffalo and more.
In the evening we did a different loop to target a few species that would become more difficult when we head to the south of Kruger in the morning. We eventually ticked off Kori Bustard and Red-crested Korhaan as well as White-crowned Shrike, Dideric Cuckoo, Purple Roller, and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark.
After supper, we had a very successful night drive, which yielded South African Porcupine, Black-backed Jackal, White-tailed Mongoose, Large-spotted Genet, African Civet, Wild Cat, a dozen or so Lion, and a stunning Southern White-faced Owl which teed up right along the road.
Day 12 - After breakfast we covered a long of ground heading from central to south Kruger birding along the way. African and Jacobin Cuckoos, Brown Snake-Eagle, and a vagrant Green Sandpiper hanging amongst Wood Sandpipers were some of the highlights while Dwarf Mongoose and a White Rhino were the mammal highlights. After an afternoon break, lunch, and birding around our new camp, we headed out for another loop around Satara. Gray-headed Bushshrike, Southern Black-Tit, Collared Sunbird, Golden-breasted Bunting, and Pearl-spotted Owlet were just some of the birds we had. The real highlight of the day was on our way back to camp before the gate close - we stumbled upon a pack of twelve African Wild Dogs! As if that wasn't enough, we had two different Leopards en route back to camp.
Day 13 - Most of the morning was spent birding the riverine forests near Skukuza Camp. Before breakfast, a loop along the Sabie River produced Purple-crested Turaco, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black Cuckooshrike, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Southern Black Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Petronia, and Scarlet-chested Sunbird. After breakfast we visited a nearby hide that was situated right on a large lake. Here we had African Jacana, Giant Kingfisher, Water Thick-Knee, nesting Lesser Masked and Village Weavers and a couple Nile Crocodiles. Nearby forests held African Black-headed Oriole, White-browed Robin-Chat, and Pied Kingfisher.
In the afternoon we birded various gravel roads to the east, which proved to be an excellent choice. Hooded Vulture, White-fronted Bee-Eater and Bennett's Woodpecker were just some of the highlights. The best bird of the evening though was certainly a stakeout pair of Verreaux's Eagle-Owls roosting in a large tree over the Sabie River.
Day 14 - On our last day of the tour, as we were packing the vehicle, a group of six Trumpeter Hornbills worked their way through camp. A memorable sighting! We then spent a good few hours slowly birding our way out of Kruger and still continued adding new species including Dark Chanting Goshawk, Levaillant's Cuckoo, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Rufous-naped Lark, Spotted Flycatcher, Red-collared Widowbird as well as four White Rhinos and Spotted Hyena. The real highlight however was a European Honey-Buzzard, a local rarity. Not a bad way to end our stay in Kruger! We moved on towards Johannesburg for our flights back home.
Please click for the detailed list of bird species
recorded during the 2014 Cape to Kruger Tour.
Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Ethan Kistler.
Many of the birding sites on this trip are described in detail
in the Southern African
Birdfinder which is widely available in South African bookshops
and on the internet. (e.g., www.netbooks.co.za
or www.wildsounds.co.uk). However
you're always welcome to contact
us if you're interested in a guided trip in this area.