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Birding Trip Report: South Africa
Kruger birds & mammals
November 2009

Overview:
This was a 5-day tour, 17-21 November 2009.
Areas visited: Magoebaskloof, Kurisa Moya, Central Kruger Park, Nylsvley and Zaagkuildrift Road (near Pretoria).
Total number of bird species recorded: 198 species

Summary

The 5-day Birding Africa tour to Magoebaskloof, Letaba in the Kruger Park, Nylsvley and the Zaagkuildrift road ran from 18-21 Novermber. The tour was organised for Timo and Riita Reunala, two avid birders from Finland. The weather throughout the tour was poor at best with an almost constant downpour. Nonetheless we managed to squeeze in 198 species for the trip with many specials including Greater Painted-Snipe, Green Twinspot, Grey Cuckooshrike, Saddle-billed Stork, Short-clawed Lark, Temminck's Courser, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, White-starred Robin-Chat.


Birding Africa Trainee Tour Leader Gordon Botha with tour participant Timo Reunala and local guide David Letsoala looking for Afromontane specials.

Detailed Trip Report

Day 1, Tuesday 17 November:

After a longish 4 hour drive from Johannesburg on 17 November we spent our first night at the wonderful Kurisa Moya. The lodge definitely comes highly recommended. We only arrived after dark so birding started the next morning. Local guide David Letsoala was astonishingly good and birding at Kurisa Moya without him, would be like having a waffle without ice-cream.

Day 2, Wednesday 18 November:

The weather was less than ideal with a temperature of 6ºC, drizzle rain and a nippy little breeze. Nonetheless we were out in full force. We met David at 6:30am. At the Peanut Butter feeder we spotted Chorister Robin-Chat, Spectacled Weaver, Southern Boubou, Swee Waxbill and Sombre Greenbul among the usual suspects in attendance. David suggested that we went to the Mamabolo Grasslands first and hoped that the weather would clear a bit later on. The grasslands proved very productive.

The definite gem of the grasslands were the many displaying Short-clawed Lark. African Pipit also displayed beautifully. Sabota and Rufous-naped Lark were also seen. Timo magnificently spotted a Temminck's Courser, which turned out to be part of a group of 5. We managed to grab the attention of African Quailfinch, Kalahari Scrub-Robin and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler with call playback. The sensational Green-winged Pytilia afforded some wonderful sights. Other birds seen in these grasslands included Black-crowned Tchagra, Long-billed Crombec, Neddicky, White-bellied Sunbird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Pin-tailed Whydah, African Firefinch, Steppe Buzzard, Red-breasted Swallow and Scaly-feathered Finch.

We returned to Kurisa Moya for some Afromontane forest birding before heading on to Letaba in the Kruger Park. We proceeded through the forest surrounded by the calls of Narina Trogon, Knysna Turaco, African Emerald Cuckoo, Bar-throated Apalis and Olive Woodpecker. David's keen ears picked up the soft "rasping" of Green Twinspot amongst the chorus and after a brief search we had nice views of a pair foraging on the forest floor. Shortly after, David spotted a Grey Cuckooshrike making it's way through the upper canopy. A White-starred Robin-Chat whizzed past us but responded wonderfully to playback and gave Timo great views from less than 3m away.

We came to a spot which was exceptionally busy and within minutes we managed to pick up several species using call playback. These included Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Cape Batis and African Dusky Flycatcher.

Unfortunately our time ran out with David and we had to make our way to Phalaborwa gate to get to our next destination Letaba Camp. On the drive there we spotted African Harrier-Hawk being chased by Red-billed Hornbill.

At Phalaborwa gate, Timo picked up Fork-tailed Drongo, Southern Black Flycatcher and Southern White-crowned Shrike whilst I was handling the paperwork.

We took the main tarmac road (H-9) to Letaba, which turned out to be a very good drive. We came across several White-backed Vulture and Tawny Eagle nests, with the occupants being wet, dreary and "grounded" due to the weather. A Red-crested Korhaan crossed our path and also reacted very well to playback, as did a Pearl-spotted Owlet. We managed to get Levaillant's and Jacobin Cuckoo along this road, and I was astonished at the shear number of African Hoopoe's flying around. Other birds along the road included Eurasian Oriole, Violet-backed Starling, Red-backed Shrike, Red-headed Weaver and Southern Black Tit.

The evening in camp was very rainy and we were unable to do any owl-spotting.

Day 3, Thursday 19 November:

The weather was cloudy, but no rain.

We started the morning birding around camp, especially along the river path. African Mourning Dove and Woodland Kingfisher were the main contributors to the dawn chorus. We managed to attract Green-backed Camaroptera and Yellow-throated Petronia using playback. In front of the restaurant we had great views of Grey-rumped Swallow, African Palm Swift, African Black Swift and Little Swift. We managed African Green Pigeon in the nearby fig tree amongst the constant chattering from Tawny-flanked Prinias.

The river bed afforded some nice birds including Collared Pratincoles, Yellow-billed Stork, Goliath Herons, African Spoonbill and a European Sedge Warbler. Several Marabou Stork were trying to steal a half-eaten catfish from a juvenile African Fish Eagle. Amongst their feet we spotted a wonderful Greater Painted Snipe female. We also spotted Kittlitz's Plover and Three-banded Plover here.

Near the end of the path we came to a dense riverside thicket. We played Pearl-spotted Owlet calls which produced a nice little mob. Dark-capped Bulbul, Willow Warbler, Garden Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Chinspot Batis were out in full force. Further down we came across a party of Black-backed Puffbacks, a party of Arrow-marked Babblers, a White-browed Scrub-Robin, Crested Barbet and a Brown-crowned Tchagra.

We decided to make our way along the river to Matambeni Hide at Engelhardt dam for the afternoon session. On the way there we were lucky enough to get Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike and Great Spotted Cuckoo amongst the constant chatter of Rattling Cisticola. Little and White-fronted Bee-eaters also made an appearance

We spotted Black Crake and Saddle-billed Stork at the Low-level bridge 4km from the camp together with a perched Steppe Eagle and nesting Wahlberg's Eagles.

At Matambeni Hide we had a relaxed afternoon's birding with periodic rain showers. Amongst the river foliage we had Knob-billed Duck, White-faced Duck, African Openbill and a hunting Black Heron. We found Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver near a nest of theirs and African Pied Wagtail. A single White-throated Swallow kept catching insects above the water and returning them to its nest on a rockface above the water. We also discovered a wet wet wet Grey Go-away Bird after a gurgled kweeeeh. His crest had even fallen flat on his head. Waders in attendance were Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper and Little Stint. Other birds included Giant Kingfisher, African Jacana and Common & Blue Waxbill.

During sundown back at camp we were greeted by a Broad-billed Roller and Kurrichane Thrush whilst a Lesser Striped Swallow swooped overhead.

We went for a night drive that night and, as Murphy would have it, the rain poured down!! We did however see a wet wet wet Brown-hooded Kingfisher, a wet wet wet Fish Eagle and a Black-crowned Night Heron. We were also lucky to see three wet wet wet young male Lions.

Day 4, Friday 20 November:

The rain from the previous night persisted and during a brief pause in the rain we managed Red-faced Cisticola.

The rest of the day was a total wash-out and on our drive from Letaba to Dinonyane Lodge at Nylsvley the rain poured down.

Day 5, Saturday 21 November:

The morning was again rainy with dreary weather. At Dinonyane Lodge we got Groundscraper Thrush, European Bee-eater and Timo got Black Cuckooshrike.

We made off to Nylsvley and first birded in the Reserve itself. Here we picked up Coqui Francolin, Pale Flycatcher, Black Stork, Red-billed Quelea, Black-colorad Barbet, Burchell's Starling, African Stonechat, Yellow-crowned Weaver, Spotted Flycatcher and a Golden-tailed Woodpecker. The reserve was extremely wet and most of the roads looked more like rivers.

We made our way to the Vogelfontein Hides. At the Northern Hide we found Levaillant's Cisticola, Long-tailed Widowbird, Diederick's Cuckoo and numerous Greater-striped Swallows. I was surprised to find many dead swallows in the hide itself, does anyone know anything about this?

The Southern Hides gave us some nice views of Purple Heron and Squacco Heron. Other birds included White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter, Yellow-billed Duck and Pied Kingfisher.

We made our way to the final part of the trip, the Zaagkuildrift Road. At the turnoff we spotted Northern Black Korhaan with a Rufous-naped Lark calling continously. A Lesser Grey Shrike sat perched nearby. We had displaying Rattling Cisticola, Desert Cisticola and Zitting Cisticola all at once which was a pleasure to observe. Further down the road we spotted a Black-chested Snake Eagle. We managed to attract a Red-chested Cuckoo with playback, but a calling Black Cuckoo was not so easily enticed. We found Crimson-breasted Shrike building a nest out of a piece of rope and a party of Southern Pied Babbler nearby. We managed Red-billed and Jameson's Firefinches in the road and a party of Wattled Starling. We also recorded White-browed Sparrow-weaver and Marico Flycatcher.

We had barely travelled 2km up the road, and although we tried, muddy conditions made it impossible to proceed.

All in all it was a spectacular trip (despite the rainy weather) with a very special group of participants.

Birding Africa Trip Report by Trainee Tour Leader Gordon Botha.

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: Kruger birds and mammals

Please also visit our tour calendar and description of other South African tours.
Focus This trip can suit keen birders as well as more general nature enthusiasts. While on birding walks, we can equally spend a lot of time looking for other aspects of wildlife such as mammals, chameleons, geckos, butterflies and interesting plants. We can customise any itinerary to suit to the keen birder, the wildlife enthusiast or both.
Itinerary This itinerary is designed to complement birds with mammals, in both Kruger National Park and Afromontane forest. It starts and ends in Johannnesburg.
Photography Many participants on our tours and day 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 Birding is highly rewarding year round, but easier duing summer rains (November to March), when birds are most vocal and migrants are present. Mammal viewing is best in winter (May to September) - when the climate is also superb and malaria risk is lower.
Climate Summer rainfall rainfall (November to March). Cool on the escarpment and warm in the Kruger lowveld.
Comfort A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and National Park Restcamps.
Transport Group tours travel by minibus or other suitable vehicle. Please enquire.
Group Size This depends on the specific tour. Please enquire.
Top birds Drakensberg Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin, Bearded Vulture, Southern Bald Ibis, Ground Woodpecker, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Orange Ground Thrush, Spotted Ground Thrush, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, African Finfoot, Pel's Fishing Owl, Rudd’s Apalis, Livingstone’s Turaco, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Woodward’s Batis, Brown Scrub Robin, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Lemon-breasted Canary, Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Crested Guineafowl, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark, Blue Korhaan, Barrow’s Korhaan, Black-rumped Buttonquail, African Grass Owl, Red-winged Francolin, Orange River Francolin, Cuckoo Weaver, Southern Pied Babbler, African Rail and Red-chested Flufftail.
Top mammals African Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Sable, Giraffe, White Rhino, Samango Monkey
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.

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