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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
We had barely travelled 2km up
the road, and although we tried, muddy conditions made it impossible
All in all it was a spectacular
trip (despite the rainy weather) with a very special group of participants.
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.