Day 1: Arrival in Durban
Incredibly exciting new birds not found in the Cape await us on our South Africa birding tour to the subtropics. Many of these can be found in the big garden of our Durban accommodation: Purple-crested Turaco, Black-throated Wattle-eye, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird and many more. We also look for estuary birds, such as Little Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, and Greater and Lesser Sandplovers. Overnight in Durban.
Day 2: Durban to Underberg
After early morning birding in the Durban area, we head inland towards the foothills of Drakensberg, where we will spend two nights near Underberg at the base of the Sani Pass. As we ascend into the rolling hills of the "Natal Midlands", we start seeing a host of new species, including several spectacular widowbird, bishop and whydah species. The extravagant plumage of birds such as Long-tailed Widow, Southern Red Bishop and all the others provides much entertainment. Time permitting, we can look for Pied (Magpie) Mannikin and also bird the fine Oribi Gorge and Vernon Crookes Nature Reserves. Overnight in Himeville.
Day 3: Sani Pass and the mountain kingdom of Lesotho
We leave very early in the morning (around 05h30) with a packed breakfast and lunch to ascend the Sani Pass by 4-wheel drive with a local guide. The ascent up Sani Pass, one of the most famed birding routes in South Africa, provides easy access to most of the birds endemic to the Drakensberg Escarpment and highlands, plus spectacular mountain scenery. Patches of temperate forest and scrub, inhabited by sought-after Bush Blackcap, Drakensberg Prinia, Chorister Robin-chat and other endemics, are found in the lower reaches of the pass. This habitat is replaced by Protea savanna a little higher up, where Gurney’s Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird occur. Above the tree-line, Drakensberg Siskin and Orange-breasted Rockjumper start to appear, and at even higher altitude, Mountain Pipit, Bearded Vulture (Lammergeyer) and many other Drakensberg specials occur. We will spend a full day ascending to the top of the escarpment and into the beautiful mountain Kingdom of Lesotho, with frequent stops along the way, in a quest to find all the localized specials. We then descend the mountain for dinner. Overnight in Himeville.
Day 4: Underberg to Eshowe
This morning we will bird the “midlands” for the magnificent and endangered Blue Swallow, Secretarybird, Narnia Trogon and the critically-endangered Cape Parrot. We may find Denham’s and Black-bellied Bustards, Bald Ibis, Southern Ground Hornbill, Black-winged Lapwing and a host of other exciting specials. We then travel northward to Eshowe where we overnight.
Day 5: Ongoye Forest and Raffia Palm Nature Monument
We will make a very early start with packed breakfasts and lunches. We will bird the medium-altitude Ongoye Forest in the morning with a local guide. In this truly beautiful temperate forest, we may find Narina Trogon, the endangered Spotted Ground Thrush, the rare and unpredictable Delegorgue’s Pigeon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, the inconspicuous but very beautiful Green Twinspot, Grey Waxbill, Red-backed Mannikin, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Green Malkoha, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, and many other phenomenal species. Ongoye Red Squirrel is also quite possible. After birding this and other forests in the area (time permitting), we will then head to the warm coast to seek Palm-nut Vulture (in the Raffia Palm Nature Monument at Mtunzini), Collared (Red-winged) Pratincole, the rare Swamp Nightjar at its daytime roost, and a plethora of other tantalizing specials.
Day 6: Dlinza Forest Canopy Tower and transfer to St. Lucia
We will visit the Dlinza Forest canopy tower in the early morning. Here, it is often possible to see Grey Cuckoo-shrike and other generally elusive species at eye-level. White-eared Barbet, Green Malkoha, Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbill, Olive Bush-shrike and a whole host of other species often put in an appearance. When mixed feeding flocks (bird parties) gather, the birding becomes even more exciting than usual. Thanks to the new canopy tower, this is probably the easiest place in South Africa to find Delegorgue’s (Eastern Bronze-naped) Pigeon, but in some years this species is absent. We then head to the famed Lake St. Lucia, which has a phenomenally rich assemblage of birds, mammals, and all kids of other wildlife in its great variety of habitats. When we arrive at the Guest House, we’ll immediately start birding – Livingstone’s Turaco, Lemon Dove, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Rudd’s Apalis, and other spectacular forest birds have actually become garden birds here. Overnight St. Lucia
Day 7: UNESCO World Heritage Site ISimangaliso Wetland Park
We will leave early with and head into the park, which is full of Africa’s big mammals, including rhinos and large cats (which we will try to see). This area is one of the best sites for Green Twinspot, the elusive Southern Banded Snake Eagle and the attractive Crested Guineafowl – far more exotic in appearance than its more common cousin the Helmeted Guineafowl. There are of course many other birds, such as Green Malkoha, Red-backed Mannikin, etc. The rare and local Samango Monkey occurs at Cape Vidal along with the more widespread Vervet Monkey. Overnight St. Lucia.
Day 8: St. Lucia to Mkuze Game Reserve
We’ll drive to the small but magnificent Mkuze Game Reserve, which boasts 400 + bird species as well as a plethora of mammals including Black and White Rhinos and Leopard. Time-permitting, we may look for Pel’s Fishing Owl before entering the reserve. After dinner, we can embark on a night drive. Mkuze night drives quite often yield Leopard, and there are chances of seeing several owl, nightjar, thickknee and courser species. Overnight in Mkuze Game Reserve.
Day 9: Birding Mkhuze Game Reserve
Mkuze is one of the richest sites for birds on the entire African continent. We will have a full day of birding and mammal-viewing in this diverse park. Some species that we may encounter today include Grey Penduline-Tit, Common Scimitarbill, Bearded Woodpecker, White-crested and Retz’s Helmetshrikes, Purple-banded Sunbird and other tantalizing endemics, plus a phenomenal diversity of other species.
Day 9: Transfer to Wakkerstroom
Today we we’ll depart for Wakkerstroom, an area of rolling green hills on the Drakensberg Escarpment - in stark contrast to Mkuze’s dry woodland. The first bird we will focus on finding at Wakkerstroom, in areas of long grass at relatively low altitude, is Barrow’s (Southern White-bellied) Korhaan. This is a difficult korhaan because it is small yet usually lurks in tall grass. We usually find it in the late afternoon when it ventures into open fields nearby its typical habitat. While looking for this species, we should also find South African Cliff Swallow, Southern Ant-eating Chat, Southern Crowned Crane, Blue Crane (South Africa’s national bird) and many more. Overnight in Wakkerstroom.
Day 11: Wakkerstroom
We will spend the day birding the beautiful Wakkerstroom area. This small town is famed for being the best site on earth for the extremely localized Rudd’s Lark as well as Botha’s Lark. We also usually find the endemic Pink-billed Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Eastern Long-billed Lark and Spike-heeled Lark. Blue Korhaan is common and conspicuous, and Denham’s Bustard is also usually obvious. Jackal Buzzard, Bush Blackcap, Red-throated Wryneck, Grass Owl, Marsh Owl and many other fine birds are also possible. Overnight in Wakkerstroom.
Day 12: Transfer to Kruger National Park
After some final early morning birding around Wakkerstroom, we head for one of Africa’s greatest game parks, the Kruger National Park! This park has a staggering bird diversity, and we are bound to find MULTIPLE species of each of the following groups: hornbills, barbets, rollers, bee-eaters, kingfishers, cuckoos, storks, eagles (including the amazing Bateleur), vultures, owls, weavers (including Red-headed Weaver), turacos and many others. As a by-product of our marked focus on birding, we should also encounter elephant, lion, giraffe, buffalo, a plethora of antelope species, hippopotamus, crocodile, and many small mammals, such as mongooses, etc. We will, however, require much luck for leopard or cheetah. Overnight in Kruger National Park
Day 13 & 14: Kruger National Park
We will spend two full-days birding the rivers, riverine forests, woodlands and savannas of this huge, pristine and spectacular African wilderness area. Overnight in Kruger National Park
Day 15: Kruger and the escarpment
After a final morning of birding in Kruger, we will depart for the escarpment. Here, we will look for one of Africa’s rarest birds, the small but powerful and extremely fast Taita Falcon. This was only recently discovered as a breeding bird in South Africa, but this site is probably the most reliable place on earth to find this species at present. As usual, we may find all sorts of other birds, including Mocking Cliff Chat, Lanner Falcon, Cape Griffon Vulture, etc. We’ll then head further west, eventually arriving at one of South Africa’s premier grassland endemic birding sites, Dullstroom. Here, we may find Gurney’s Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Secretarybird, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Cape Eagle Owl and others. Overnight near Dullstroom.
Day 16 & 17: Heading Inland to Rust de Winter
We will drive further westwards to our next lodge, which offers spectacular birding that is very different from anything we will have done so far – hence we add a lot of new species to our already large bird list right at the end of the tour. We will bird the lodge ground and along the nearby Zaagkuilsdrift Road, looking for many birds characteristic of the Kalahari, including such spectacular species as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, Violet-eared Waxbill, Black-cheeked Waxbill. Kalahari Robin, White-throated Robin, Northern Black Korhaan, several bee-eater species (sometimes including Carmine and Blue-cheeked), Temmink’s Courser, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark, Red-headed Finch and Black Egret. Overnights in Rust de Winter.
Day 18: Departure Day
We’ll do some pre-breakfast birding and birding enroute to the airport. Today is basically a travel day and your international flight can leave from Johannesburg International Airport any time after 3pm.