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South Africa Ultimate Endemics: Trip Report: 8 - 30 November 2014


Overview

On this 23-day tour we targeted all of South Africa's endemic bird species, large mammals, and a diversity of landscapes from coast to mountain, desert to grassland, and savanna to forest. We visited all of South Africa's key habitats: from the fynbos of the Cape to the dry Karoo, Zululand's humid tropical coasts and sand forests, the dramatic Drakensberg and Lesotho mountains, the Wakkerstroom grasslands and Kruger's raptor and mammal rich savannas.

Total number of bird species: 503
Mammal species: 52

Highlights: African Penguin, Southern Bald Ibis, Bank and Crowned Cormorants, 41 species of raptors, 9 species of bustards, Blue Crane, 29 species of waders (shorebirds), all 13 species of pigeons and doves, Cape Parrot, 3 species of turacos, Narina Trogon, 6 species of hornbills, Ground and Knysna Woodpeckers, Black-fronted Bushshrike, 4 species of batis, both rockjumpers, 20 species of larks, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Bush Blackcap, both sugarbirds, 10 species of starlings, all 14 species of sunbirds, 11 species of weavers, Pink-throated Twinspot, Protea Canary, Cape and Drakensberg Siskins, and more!

Drakensberg Rockjumper during Birding Africa's South African Endemics Tour © Ethan Kistler
Drakensberg Rockjumper

Detailed Trip Report

Western Cape

Day 1 - We started the tour off with a full day pelagic off Cape Point. Light winds were forecasted for today much to our relief, as there had been strong winds off of the Point over the past week and projected gale-force winds in the next couple days. Our boat departed from Simon's Town to take advantage of this brief window of good weather for a Cape Town Pelagics trip guided by Rob Leslie.

False Bay was flat and calm so we made it out past the point in good time. The first birds to make an appearance included Cape Gannet, White-chinned Petrel, Sabine's Gull and Sooty Shearwater before the boat was surrounded by a light fog. Eventually we broke through the fog and reached the trawling grounds where we picked up Black-browed and Shy Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant-Petrels, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Great Shearwater, Arctic Terns and late season Pintado Petrels.

After a tasty packed lunch and brief views of an Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, we headed back towards land where we were rewarded with excellent views of Humpback Whales just off Cape Point totalling about a dozen individuals! Along the coastline back to Simon's Town we had Cape, Bank, Crowned and White-breasted Cormorants, African Penguins and countless Cape Fur Seals among others. Back at the harbour, we added African Black Oystercatcher.

Day 2 - East of Cape Town is the Hottentots Holland mountain range, which host most of the Cape specialties. Our first stop today was Rooi-Els, a scenic area right on the coast. Cape Rockjumper was our main target here and it didn't take long before we had one calling up the mountain slope. Along the gravel path we were treated with Cape Siskin, Cape Grassbird, Cape Bunting, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Rock-Thrush (seeing a pattern here?) as well as several Victorin's Warblers and countless Orange-breasted Sunbirds, among others. Overhead African Black and Alpine Swifts, Rock Martins and Greater Striped Swallows circled while a Rock Kestrel and a pair of White-necked Ravens made a brief appearance.

Cape Siskin seen during Birding Africa's Ultimate Endemics tour of South Africa © Ethan Kistler
Cape Siskin seen at the Hottentots Holland mountain area.

Further east we visited the Stony Point penguin colony, which provided up close views of Africa's only penguin, the African Penguin, along with several species of cormorants at a breeding colony and Cape Girdled Lizards. The Harold Porter Botanical Gardens provided excellent birding as well with the highlights being Sombre Greenbul, Cape Bulbul, Black Saw-wing and Southern Double-collared Sunbird in the gardens while the patch of Afromontane forest hosted Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Cape Batis and Olive Woodpecker.

Our final stop of the day was the infamous Strandfontein Sewage Works, which pushed our day list over 100 species. The first pool of water provided good numbers of ducks including Cape Shoveler, Red-billed and Cape Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, the more uncommon Southern Pochard and Maccoa Duck. Also present were all three grebe species - Little, Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes - Greater Flamingos and White-winged Terns. For the rest of the day we meandered our way through the various roads adding South African Shelduck, African Marsh-Harrier, Little Rush and Lesser Swamp Warblers, several species of terns and a pair of Spotted Eagle-Owls at their nesting site among countless others.

Day 3 - Today we focused on the West Coast, with our first stop being a gravel road en route to the national park. In the first hour we already had 50 species, highlights being 11 Blue Cranes, Diederik Cuckoo, White-backed Mousebird, European Bee-Eater, African Hoopoe, Bokmakierie, Red-capped and Large-billed Larks, Capped Wheatear and African Pied Starling.

Southern Black Korhaan on the West Coast during Birding Africa's Ultimate Endemics tour of South Africa © Ethan Kistler
Southern Black Korhaan on the West Coast of South Africa

Excellent birding ensued as we neared the park, where we picked up several great targets including two Black Harriers, four Southern Black Korhaans and Karoo Larks. A couple hides situated on the saltwater tidal lagoon provided sixteen species of waders (shorebirds) including Kittlitz's and White-fronted Plovers, Bar-tailed Godwit and African Black Oystercatcher as well as two African Fish-Eagles, great up close comparisons between Greater and Lesser Flamingos, and your typical mix of herons, egrets, ibises, etc.

En route between the hides, the park roads offered great birding providing Jackal and Steppe Buzzards, Namaqua Dove, Cape Penduline Tit, Bar-throated Apalis, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler and Karoo Scrub-Robin.

Our last stop in the park was a hide situated on a freshwater vlei where we had Black Crake and Lesser Swamp and Little Rush-Warblers among others. Our last stop of the day was a private gypsum mine where we had four Chestnut-banded Plovers. We ended the day with 110 species.

Jackal Buzzard © Ethan Kistler
Jackal Buzzard

Day 4 - Leaving Cape Town behind, we headed east over the Hottentots Holland and down into the Agulhas Plain. The Overberg Region is characterized by rolling hills and rocky slopes, with much of it today now used for commercial farming. Despite this, a few patches of renosterveld and fynbos still remain along with a few local specialties. Traversing the plains, we started ticking off our main targets including Agulhas Long-billed Lark, the 'Agulhas' subspecies of Cape Clapper Lark, the Cape subspecies of Cloud Cisticola along with Cape Crow, Whiskered Tern, 75 Blue Cranes and more great looks at Black Harrier and Southern Black Korhaan. Cape Grysbok were common throughout.

We spent much of the afternoon birding De Hoop Nature Reserve and surroundings, adding more target species such as Southern Tchagra and Cape Vulture. Also of interest were Klaas's, Diederik and Red-chested Cuckoos, Speckled and Red-faced Mousebirds, Acacia Pied Barbet and Cardinal Woodpecker. Slender Mongoose, Mountain Zebra and the attractive Bontebok were added to the mammal list.

In the late afternoon we left De Hoop (finding a giant Leopard Tortoise on our way out!) and headed off to our accommodation for the night. In the garden an Amethyst Sunbird was a nice addition while after dinner we heard calls of Barn, Spotted Eagle and African Wood-Owls, though none were seen. A Yellow Mongoose was an unexpected find for some.

Day 5 - We birded around our accommodation before breakfast and then headed north towards Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve picking up two Denham's Bustards, three Karoo Korhaans and a Brown-hooded Kingfisher along the way. Grootvadersbosch offers great Afromontane birding and is the western limit for many forest species. Some of those we found included Red-necked Spurfowl, Narina Trogon, Kynsna Woodpecker, Grey Cuckooshrike, Olive Bush-shrike and Terrestrial Brownbul. After a couple hours meandering our way through several of the trails we continued adding trip birds such as African Olive-Pigeon, the secretive Kynsna Warbler, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Forest and Brimstone Canaries, while Forest Buzzard and Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk were seen overhead.

Back at our accommodation down the road we had Lesser and Greater Honeyguides and calling Fiery-necked Nightjars after dusk.

Day 6 - We spent the morning birding the various trails around Grootvadersbosch once more before heading off to our next location. Although we cleaned up pretty well the previous evening on our target species, we still added a few additional species including Spotted Flycatcher, a summer resident to South Africa. After we had our fix of Kynsna and Victorin's Warblers and Grey Cuckooshrikes, we headed north towards Ceres, where we'd get a good night's rest before an early mornings start into the Tanqua Karoo.

Day 7 - We had an early start today in order to get the most out of our full day in the Tanqua Karoo. Our first stop of the morning provided us with views of the endemic Namaqua Warbler as it skulked through the moist vegetation, eventually teeing up in full view. As we entered the Tanqua Karoo, the landscape became drier and with that, a new variety of birds. We had breakfast among some boulders where we picked up Fairy Flycatcher, Karoo Chat, Layard's Tit-Babbler and Namaqua Sandgrouse as well as a Hewitt's Red Rock Hare. Further north, raptors started to make an appearance with the likes of ,b>Pale Chanting Goshawk, Booted Eagle and Greater Kestrel. A late morning stop on some private land provided us with fantastic views of Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, one of our main targets of the day! For the rest of the day we worked our way north slowly birding along the way towards Calvinia picking up Pririt Batis, Rufous-eared Warbler, Tractrac Chat and Grey Tit.

Day 8 - Another early morning start to take advantage of the cooler mornings and active birds, we left Calvinia around 5:15am and headed north towards Brandvlei. En route, some of the bridges host large breeding colonies of South African Cliff Swallows, so we stopped on one of them and enjoyed about fifty of them swirling around our heads.

The Brandvlei area is well known for being one of the best areas in South Africa to search for rare and localized endemic larks. It wasn't long before we were able to tick off our two main targets - Red and Sclater's Larks, while also picking up Sabota, Karoo Long-billed, Spike-heeled, Red-capped Larks and Grey-backed and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks along the way.

Of course, the area hosts numerous other species and by the end of the day we added Northern Black Korhaan, Black-chested Prinia, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Chat Flycatcher, Dusky Sunbird and Lark-like Bunting to name a few.

Day 9 - Today was mainly a travel day, but we had several stops planned along the way. After an excellent sit down breakfast, we headed back south making our way towards Clanwilliam. In Calvinia, we visited a large nature reserve where we had Pale-winged Starling, African Reed Warbler and Booted Eagle among others. The drive wasn't uneventful either with more great looks at Blue Cranes, Greater Kestrel, Red Lark and a stunning Black Harrier.

We eventually made it to Clanwilliam, where we birded a nearby pass to target Protea Seedeater. Seconds after stepping out of the vehicle we already had up to a half dozen feeding, calling, and flying around. An excellent start! Elsewhere along the pass we had excellent views of Fairy Flycatcher while Common House-Martins flew overhead. Before dinner we made a brief stop at a vlei that hosted a great mix of birds including South African Shelduck, Kittlitz's and Three-banded Plovers, Whiskered Tern and more.

Day 10 - Today was supposed to be spent searching for Protea Canaries, but due to yesterdays excellent luck, we were able to head out early and add another stop to today's itinerary. Our main target near Vredenberg was Cape Long-billed Lark after ticking Agulhas and Karoo Long-billed Larks earlier in the trip. Before long we had excellent views of a couple sitting on a barbed-wire fence right along the road offering great photographic opportunities. We also added Southern Ant-eating Chats to our trip list here.

On our way to the airport for our flight to Durban, we made a brief stop at a vlei north of Cape Town where we had a Little Bittern, Peregrine Falcon and Purple Heron.

Day 11 - We left Durban early and headed towards Underberg, our base for the next couple nights as we explore the Drakensberg Mountains and surroundings. Along the way we made a detour to an area of mist-belt grasslands to target one of South Africa's rarest birds - the declining Blue Swallow. These montane grasslands, which experience high rainfall and support deep soils, are ideal for timber plantations, which have replaced much of the Blue Swallow habitat. Upon arriving at a known stakeout, it was only a few minutes before we saw our first individual and soon we had up to four birds circling around in front of us feeding. Also in the grasslands were Wailing and and Fan-tailed Widowbirds.

Following great success, we birded the rest of the morning in prime forest in a beautiful river valley. The bridge over the river offered the best birding and an excellent vantage point. Here we picked up our first Knysna Turaco, African Pygmy-Kingfisher, Crowned Hornbill and several African Pied Wagtails along the river. The main highlight here, however, was the abundance of cuckoos. Four species were seen or heard including our first Black and . The latter spent a good 10 minutes sitting in a tree, eye level, singing, in full sun, only fifteen meters away! Further up, we continued walking along the road picking up Black Sparrowhawk, Emerald Spotted Wood-Dove, Black-collared Barbet, Black-headed Oriole, Southern Black-Tit, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Collared, Olive, White-bellied Sunbirds, Eastern Golden and Village Weavers. Bush Duiker and Vervet Monkey were the mammal highlights.

Emerald Cuckoo © Ethan Kistler during a Birding Africa Ultimate Endemics tour of South Africa
African Emerald Cuckoo seen on route to the Underberg

After checking into our accommodation in Underberg, we spend the last couple hours of daylight birding near town before heading off to an excellent supper. Half-collared Kingfisher, Long-crested Eagle, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler and Long-tailed Widowbird were some of the new additions, but the main highlight were 145 Grey Crowned-Cranes feeding in a single field together.

Day 12 - Today we headed up Sani Pass in what was certainly one of the most thrilling and memorable days of the trip and included some excellent birding! The awe-inspiring landscape and feeling of remoteness just added to the experience. After an early start we arrived at the base of the Drakensberg and immediately started picking up great birds, including the endemic Bush Blackcap and a pair of Cape Rock-Thrushes. Working our way up the pass, we stopped for a picnic breakfast at a gorgeous overlook. As we ate we were treated with excellent views of Ground Woodpeckers, Buff-streaked Chats and a stunning Gurney's Sugarbird. After hot coffee, we continued up the steep road adding Horus Swift, Long-billed Pipit, Brown-backed Honeybird, Fan-tailed Grassbird, Barratt's Warbler and Drakensberg Prinia to our growing list of birds.

Ground Woodpecker seen on Birding Africa's Ultimate Endemics tour of South Africa © Ethan Kistler
Ground Woodpecker on the Sani Pass

Up at the pass itself at the border of Lesotho is when the real fun started, with exceptional views of Drakensberg Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin and the endemic Sloggett's Ice Rat! Reaching 2,876 meters above sea level, we birded the rest of the morning in Lesotho, adding several Bearded Vultures (Lammergeier), Lanner Falcon, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Sickle-winged Chat, Mountain Pipit and Drakensberg Crag Lizard.

Sickle-winged Chat photographed in Lesotho during Birding Africa's Ultimate Endemics tour © Ethan Kistler
Sickle-winged Chat photographed in Lesotho

After an excellent packed lunch, we worked our way back down the pass adding African Rock Pipit to our list. Before dinner we did another quick loop in the area outside of town adding White-faced Whistling, White-backed and African Black Ducks as well as African Wattled Lapwing to our trip list.

Day 13 - We greeted the sun today positioned in an open patch within prime Afromontane forest. This is the best time of day to see the endangered Cape Parrot as they fly overhead towards feeding areas. Our wait paid off as we had several fly overhead screeching along the way. Cape Parrots are highly localized in these small patches of remaining forest dominated by Yellowwood Trees, which are disappearing due to logging. After a great start to the morning, we continued birding along the forest road in search of our next target - the endemic Orange Ground Thrush. We heard at least six singing off in the distance and eventually had superb looks at one right along the road. Other highlights from the forest include African Goshawk, Purple-crested Turaco, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Dark-backed Weaver, Lazy Cisticola and Red-capped Robin-Chat among others.

We continued towards Eshowe, where we would spend the night, detouring north to check out a local reservoir. Unfortunately the water levels were very low, but we still picked up our first Violet-backed Starling, Kurrichane Thrush, Southern Black Flycatcher, Blue Waxbill and Golden-breasted Bunting of the trip.

Day 14 - Today was packed with excellent birding as we explored several key areas in KwaZulu-Natal Province. We entered the Dlinza Forest at 6am and took advantage of being the only ones there to target the enigmatic Spotted Ground Thrush, which is sometimes found foraging in leaf litter right off the trail. Luck was with us as we stumbled upon five birds some of which provided superb views. Next we headed down the canopy walkway and up the tower to watch the sun rise over the forest. Trumpeter Hornbill, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Black-bellied Starling, White-eared Barbet, African Palm-Swift and Woolly-necked Storks were some of the highlights from the viewpoint. Continuing on, we did a productive loop around the forest picking up Lemon and Tambourine Doves, Chorister Robin-Chat, Eastern Olive and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Square-tailed Drongo to name a few. On the mammal front, we watched a good number of Blue Duikers walking around the forests paying little attention to us as they walked just meters away.

Our next stop was a tasty lunch in Mtunzini with a brief stop at the nature reserve in town. Here we added Rufous-winged Cisticola and a Palm-nut Vulture - a local specialty here that has benefited from all of the Raffia Palms planted around town.

We eventually made it to St. Lucia, where we checked into our birder-friendly accommodation and birded a nearby trail for a couple hours. Livingstone's joined Purple-crested Turacos calling from the treetops while Blue-cheeked Bee-Eaters hawked for insects from bare branches. We had no less than six Rudd's Apalis, a smart looking endemic and one of our main targets for this location. Other birds in the area included Purple-banded Sunbird, Thick-billed Weaver and at least twenty of strange looking Crested Guineafowl. We then headed to the river mouth of the St Lucia estuary to watch the sunset along with flocks of birds coming in to roost. Nearby Nile Crocodiles sat along the shoreline while Hippos grunted from the water.

Day 15 - iSimangaliso Wetland Park was listed as South Africa's first World Heritage Site, and for birders this area is a must! We found ourselves first in line as the gate opened to make our way towards Cape Vidal. This was to our advantage as we stumbled upon all of the mammals first. Being our first park with good numbers of game, we started see our first Plains Zebras, Giraffe, African Buffalo, Greater Kudu, Impala, Bushbuck, Blue Wildebeest and Warthogs. On the birding front, raptors certainly put on a great show this morning with excellent sightings of Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Crowned Eagle and African Cuckoo-Hawk among the more common species. As we worked our way to the end we continued adding new birds such as Black-bellied Bustard, Green Wood-Hoopoe and the similar Common Scimitarbill, Red-backed Shrike and Rufous-naped Lark.

At Cape Vidal, we birded the campground picking up both of our main targets here - Woodward's Batis and Brown Scrub-Robin. Nearby a large troop of Banded Mongoose put on a show. With these successes, we worked our way back to the park entrance stopping at several waterholes and a bird hide, picking up Yellow-billed (Intermediate) Egret, African Jacana, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Collared Pratincoles among others.

After lunch we headed towards Mkuze Game Reserve, our base for the next two nights. Mkuze is well known among birders, with around 450 species being reported from the park. Day lists of over a hundred species are expected and quite easy to achieve. We arrived in the early evening and drove along the main park road towards our accommodation within the park, picking up our first Crested Francolin, Striped Kingfisher, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Red-billed Oxpecker, Ashy Flycatcher and Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah. After checking in we spent the remaining hour of daylight hanging out in a hide overlooking a waterhole where we had several White Rhinos come in to drink right in front of us! Nearby scrub hosted Little Bee-Eater, Chinspot Batis, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-billed Firefinch, Dusky Indigobird and White-winged Widowbird - many coming in to drink at the waterhole - while Wire-tailed Swallows fed on insects over the water. The reptile highlight of the day was an impressive Black Mamba viewed from a safe distance at a hide!

Day 16 - Today we spent dawn to dusk birding various loops around Mkuze visiting several hides along the way. Our only interruption was a brief thunderstorm in the late afternoon, which we took advantage of to have a short break back at our chalets. In total we had 135 species for the day including several dozen new species for the tour! The main highlights for the day include great raptor viewing such as Brown Snake-Eagle, Bateleur, Tawny and Martial Eagles, the gaudy Lilac-breasted Roller, Eastern Nicator, White-throated Robin-Chat, Bearded Scrub-Robin and the striking Pink-throated Twinspot.

Insumo Pan provided a great variety of new water-based birds including Comb Duck, African Openbill, Goliath Heron, Pink-backed Pelican and more. Nearby trees hosted several parties of birds with the likes of Jacobin and African Cuckoos, Woodland Kingfisher, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Crested Barbet, Bearded Woodpecker, Brubru, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Grey Penduline-Tit, African Yellow White-eye and Green-winged Pytilia to name a few.

Mammals also didn't disappoint with today providing us the first of many views of African Elephants, including a close encounter with a huge bull. The highlight of the day, though, was a remarkable count of TEN White Rhinos around the park, always promising with the continued poaching of this species across its range.

Day 17 - We spent another morning birding some key areas around Mkuze, accumulating quite a few species we didn't have after yesterday's 135 species including Wahlberg's Eagle, Grey Go-away-bird, Pale Flycatcher, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Spectacled Weaver and Dwarf Mongoose. The highlight though was picking out a Neergaard's Sunbird amongst several other species feeding on a flowering tree. This threatened species has a very small range and population size so it was a great addition before heading off to our next destination!

From Mkuze we headed north to the village of Wakkerstroom, one of the best grassland birding areas in South Africa, which hosts many highly sought-after endemics including Rudd's and Botha's Larks, Yellow Breasted Pipit, Blue Korhaan and Southern Bald Ibis. In order to allow more time the following day to target more specialties, we spent the remaining hours checking one off the list, the vulnerable Yellow-breasted Pipit. We arrived at 'the field' and walked out a short ways and were instantly rewarded! We also picked up Eastern Long-billed Lark, our fourth and last long-billed lark of South Africa. To get the fifth, one would have to head to Namibia to get Benguela!

Day 18 - We spent the whole day traversing the avian-rich grasslands with a local guide, targeting all of the local specialties. Noteworthy sightings were plentiful with the highlights being eight species of larks including Botha's, Rudd's, Pink-billed and Eastern Clapper Larks, four Secretary Birds, Southern Bald Ibis, two White-bellied Bustards and an impressive count of seven Blue Korhaans! We also picked up African Rail, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Groundscraper Thrush, Red-collared Widowbird, African Quailfinch and back at town, a Red-throated Wryneck before the rain started in the early evening. Our mammal highlight of the day was certainly a "mob" of Meerkats (Suricates) standing around their burrows.

Blue Korhaan seen during a Birding Africa Ultimate Endemics tour © Ethan Kistler
Blue Korhaan

Day 19 - We spent an hour birding the vlei down the road, had a tasty sit down breakfast, and headed off on the long drive north to the famous Kruger National Park. Kruger needs no introduction. This world famous reserve is nearly the size of the US state of New Jersey and is one of Africa's most famous parks. Known for its high diversity and numbers of birds and mammals, the anticipation was high!

We arrived at 2pm and worked our way from the Phabeni Gate to Skukuza Camp to get checked in to our accommodation. Already we were adding our first Red-crested Korhaan, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Magpie Shrike, Greater Blue-eared and Burchell's Starlings, and Red-billed Buffalo-Weavers of the trip. After checking in, we headed back out and did a short loop along the Sabie River where we had Bateleur, Brown Snake-Eagle, African Green-Pigeon, Giant Kingfisher, Levaillant's Cuckoo and African Paradise-Flycatcher.

Before supper, we birded around the forested camp adding Natal Francolin, Arrow-marked Babbler and two Red-faced Cisticolas along the riverfront.

Day 20 - Today we got to spend the entire day birding Kruger from dawn to dusk, starting in the Skukuza area and working our way north to the more open savanna region of Satara. New birds were continued to be found including Dark Chanting Goshawk, Amur Falcon, African Scops-Owl, Mourning Collared-Dove, Brown-headed Parrot, Purple Roller, African Grey and Southern Red-billed Hornbills, Lesser Grey Shrike and Marico Sunbird.

The real highlights of the day however were the mammals! Throughout the day and a successful night drive we had Cheetah, Leopard, Lion, Serval, Large-spotted Genet, Spotted Hyena, Black-backed Jackal, South African Porcupine, Klipspringer and Waterbuck. Certainly one of my best "cat" days in Kruger! Not a bad way to spend our last full day in the park!

Day 21 - Yesterday went down as an incredible mammal day, today went down as a fantastic birding day! Before heading west out of Kruger, we did one final big loop around the central region, where we targeted some of the specialties of these open plains. We had Kori Bustard, the largest flying bird in Africa, Southern Ground-Hornbill, the largest species of hornbill, five species of vultures including Hooded and Lappet-faced, and great numbers of raptors including African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene), Little Sparrowhawk, and African Hawk-Eagle. Other new pickups included Yellow-billed and Saddle-billed Storks, Pearl-spotted Owlet, European Roller and a local rarity in the form of a Green Sandpiper, which was hanging out with a couple of Wood Sandpipers.

After a great morning, we left Kruger and headed towards Magoebaskloof, which is situated in pristine Afromontane forests where we'd target a few last forest specialties the following morning. En route, we made a detour to a private property where we had permission to scope out the resident Taita Falcon. Sure enough, we had extended great scope views of one sitting on the ledge of the magnificent cliff ledges. Also in the area were Striped Pipit, Mocking Cliff-Chat and nesting Red-headed Weavers. After yet another successful day, we settled in to our beautiful accommodation in the forest.

Day 22 - Unfortunately today was our last full day, and we definitely made it count! We started the morning birding in the mist along a dirt road. Our main target here was the localized Black-fronted Bushshrike, which we eventually had four individuals. Other great additions included White-starred Robin, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and eight Cape Parrots, while some had an Olive-tree Warbler.

After a feast of a breakfast back at our accommodation, we drove out to a nearby Bat Hawk nesting site in hopes to see one. Sure enough, both adults were present providing excellent views!

Eventually we made it to our accommodation for the night and after checking in, we headed to the Polokwane Game Reserve to target Short-clawed Lark, our last endemic lark of the trip. It took some time scanning several calling birds until we finally spotted a distant individual teed up on a shrub! The area was a new type of habitat for our trip and with that brought a good number of new species! Crimson-breasted Shrike, Ashy Tit, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Marico Flycatcher, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Scaly-feathered Finch, Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbills, and African Firefinch were added to the list as well as two mammals, Blesbok and Sable Antelope.

Day 23 - Today was a travel day to Johannesburg for everyone's flights home, broken up with a few stops along the way. After ticking Karoo Thrush in the garden, we birded a rural road along the way providing our first Black Cuckooshrike, Grey-backed Camaroptera and Southern Pied-Babbler while nearby locations produced Great Sparrow and a flock of 275 Abdim's Storks.

We met up with a local Johannesburg birder around mid-day right when a huge thunderstorm hit the region. As the rain pounded the car, we added our final new trip bird from the comfort of our car in a form of a Marsh Owl. It was then off to the airport. Today's birding pushed our trip list over 500 species.

Please click for the detailed list of bird species recorded during the 2014 South Africa Ultimate Endemics Tour.

Birding 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.



Practical tour information: South Africa Ultimate Endemics

Please also visit our tour calendar and description of other South African tours.
Focus For keen birders and mammal enthusiasts. Designed to see as many as possible endemic birds, but while on the walks we spend a lot of time looking for other aspects of wildlife such as mammals, chameleons, geckos, butterflies and interesting plants. We can also customise any itinerary to suit to the keen birder, the wildlife enthusiast or both.
Itinerary An ambitious 23-day Birding Africa tour that starts in Cape Town sweeping across both Western and Eastern South Africa to include the Karoo specials and endemics in the Western and Northern Cape, high altitude birding up Sani Pass to Lesotho, forest birding in Kwazulu Natal and woodland birding at Mkuze Game Reserve. Add Wakkerstroom grassland endemics, Kruger National Park lowveld birding and a finale with some highveld birding in Gauteng.
Photography Many participants on our trips are amateur wildlife photographers. And when we get excellent views of a bird or mammal, some time is usually spent watching and photographing it. However, this is not a photographic tour and once the majority of the people have felt that they have absorbed the animal or bird to their satisfaction, then we move on in search of the next encounter. Thus, while the photographic opportunities are very good, the group will only occasionally wait for somebody who wants to spend even longer getting better photos.
Fitness This depends on the specific tour. Please enquire.
Timing The best timing varies per region. Please enquire.
Climate Varies per region but usually Cooler in the Cape and highlands of the Drakensberg. Hot in the lowlands of KZN and on the highveld of Gauteng
Comfort A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and small hotels.
Transport We travel by minibus or four wheel drive vehicle.
Group Size This depends on the specific tour. Please enquire.
Top birds

Endemics and near-endemics in spectacular settings.

Top mammals African elephant, lion, cheetah, Sable, Roan, Bontebok, Cape zebra, Meerkat
Booking Please contact us if you wish to book a guided or self-drive tour. You will receive the booking form and conditions and a tour information pack.

About Birding Africa

Birding Africa is a specialist birding tour company customising tours for both world listers and more relaxed holiday birders. We combine interests in mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, botany and other natural history aspects and will guide you to Africa's and Madagascar's most diverse birding destinations. Our guides' knowledge of African birds and birding areas is our greatest strength and together we have rediscovered species, shared exciting observations with the birding community and had a fun time exploring our home continent. We've even written two acclaimed guide books on where to find Southern Africa's and Madagascar's best birds. Birding is more than our passion, it's our lifestyle, and we are dedicated to making professional, best value trips filled with endemic species and unique wildlife experiences. Since 1997, we've run bird watching tours in South Africa and further into Africa for individual birders, small birding groups and top international tour companies. We've run Conservation Tours in association with the African Bird Club and work with and consult for a number of other top international tour companies and the BBC Natural History Unit.

For feedback from our guests, please see our Client Comments. Please also browse our Latest News and Trip Reports.



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Black Harrier photograph courtesy of Keith Offord.
© Birding Africa 1997-2015 info@birdingafrica.com

[African Tailorbirding CC (CK2003/020710/23) trading as Birding Africa]
P.O. Box 22727, Scarborough, 7975, South Africa.



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