Monday, January 5, 2015

South Africa - The Tour Part 1

Because of the length of this tour, 3 weeks, there is so much to tell you and thus I have broken this blog, or more correctly Trip Report, into 5 parts! The final part will be a bird species list and a mammal list. I hope you can forgive the drawn out nature of the information packed day by day accounts of my tour.

South Africa and THE tour. Part One of the Trip Report and really hope you will enjoy the read and of course the photographs. 
Tour Leaders: Peter Jones (Worldwide Birding Tours & Co-Author, Editor)
                Dylan Vasapolli (Birding Guide & Main Author)

This comprehensive tour of South Africa by Worldwide Birding Tours undertook a 3-week journey across eastern South Africa, and down into the Western Cape of South Africa. Starting in Durban on the scenic Kwazulu-Natal coast, we slowly worked our way northwards taking in the rolling hills and forests of Eshowe down to the coastal forest and bushveld of the greater Isimangaliso Wetland Park, before heading up to the high-altitudinal grasslands surrounding the endemic hotspot of Wakkerstroom. Kruger was next on the agenda, where a few days were spent enjoying this true natural side of Africa, before heading onto Cape Town and the Western Cape via Dullstroom. Some time was spent on the Cape Peninsula itself, before heading up the west coast to the sleepy village of Langebaan, thereby bring the tour to an end some three weeks later. Due to the length of the tour, and variety of habitats taken in, a mammoth total of nearly 470 species of bird were found on the tour!

Striated (Green-backed) Heron
Day 1, 21 November – Pre-trip Day – Umhlanga - Vernon Crookes, Umdoni Park back to Umhlanga
A few of the participants had agreed on arriving a few days prior to the beginning of the tour, and wanted to make the most of the extra day they had. I met the group at the grounds of the lodge at 05h30, and we set off down the south coast to Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve. Within no time, we had arrived on the access road, and immediately set off birding. For almost all of the participants, this was their first visit to southern African and birding along the way was good and delayed our arrival to the reserve a bit. Good birds seen included Eastern Golden (Yellow) and Thick-billed Weavers, Crowned Eagle, African Harrier Hawk, Little Bee-eater, Southern Tchagra, Lazy, Red-faced and Croaking Cisticola’s, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Dusky Indigobird and some of the attractive Violet-backed Starlings. We headed up into the reserve and slowly birded our way around, took a few short walks around the dam and picnic site respectively, and also took in our first mammals. Highlights on this section was an unexpected Cuckoo-finch, Common Quail, Lanner Falcon, Jackal Buzzard, African Pygmy Kingfisher, White-necked Raven, and African Green Pigeon while the undisputed highlight was definitely a noisy Knysna Turaco. We called it a day in the reserve, making our way over to the nearby Umdoni Park. A stop was made en-route to have a look at a stunning male Klaas’s Cuckoo. We pulled in for some take-away sandwiches in Pennington, before resuming our afternoon birding at Umdoni Park. The birding was rather slow, but we did manage to eek out Brown Scrub-Robin, White-eared Barbet, Bar-throated Apalis, Ashy Flycatcher, Dark-backed Weaver and Yellow-bellied Greenbul. We too called it eventually, and shot over to Blue Lagoon for some late afternoon wader watching. We weren’t to be disappointed and raked in Greater Sand Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Common Greenshank, and Curlew Sandpiper amongst others before getting our first views of Water Thick-knee, Greater Crested (Swift) Tern and Goliath Heron. A good end to the pre-day with a day list of 98.

Knysna Turaco
Day 2, 22 November – Umhlanga to Eshowe, via Mtunzini
Today I met the group for breakfast at a reasonable hour, where we enjoyed a hearty breakfast before setting off up the coast. Our first stop near Ballito produced some power-birding with great views of Green Malkoha, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Tambourine Dove, Grey and Purple-banded Sunbird’s, Woolly-necked Stork and some nesting Black-bellied Starlings. We eventually had to drag ourselves away and head on to the next birding stop. The Mbozambo Hide, Stanger proved a winner with a good sampling of waterfowl (all three teals, Southern Pochard, White-faced Whistling Duck etc.), nesting Reed and White-breasted Cormorants, African Darter, Greater Flamingo, Goliath Heron and our first African Jacana’s. We also enjoyed the antics of the local Rufous-winged Cisticola’s, and another Black-throated Wattle-eye was a good find! A slightly late lunch was had in Mtunzini before setting off for the next main target, Palm-nut Vulture. It took some time before finding one bird perched up atop the palms, but our wait was rewarded with great views of Striated (Green-backed) Heron and the brilliantly coloured Purple-crested Turaco. We arrived in Eshowe just in time for a lovely home-made meal.

Goliath Heron
Day 3, 23 November – Day around Eshowe
A few of us got up at first light and took a stroll around the grounds of the lodge. There was a bit of mist moving through, but we still managed to knock-off a beautiful Olive Woodpecker pair, along with Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Grey-headed Bushshrike, our first views of Red-capped Robin-Chat and a brief flyby of some Red-backed Mannikins. We soon departed for the Dlinza Aerial Boardwalk, where some warm sunshine enveloped us at the top! In no time at all we had some great scope views of a few Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, before a Black Sparrowhawk came shooting overhead in hot pursuit of a Red-eyed Dove – the Dove successfully managed to evade the Sparrowhawk. Setting off onto the trail, we notched up a few more species including great looks at a Chorister Robin-Chat, a Scaly-throated Honeyguide that toyed with us up in the canopy and some cracker views of Spotted Ground Thrush moving through the leaf-litter. The dainty Blue Duiker’s also kept us company in the forest. After a scrumptious breakfast, we shot back through to the forest, to try our luck briefly at trying to get some of the numerous calling Olive Bushshrikes to show themselves. Sadly, this was not the case, and a few only managed the briefest of views before it once again disappeared into the thickets. A Eurasian Hobby made up for the Bushshrike. Our next stop was a little to the north around Lake Phobane. Here we concentrated mainly on some woodland birding and managed to notch up Common Scimitarbill, Black and Klaas’s Cuckoo’s, Four-colored (Gorgeous) Bushshrike and White-browed Scrub-Robin. A showy White-bellied Sunbird proved to be a winner for the group. Before long, afternoon was upon us and we were off to Ongoye Forest for some afternoon birding. The forest was deathly quiet, but it delivered the expected Grey Cuckooshrike and Green Barbet. There wasn’t too much else to speak of, and we called it a day savouring the drive back to Eshowe and taking in the scenic panoramic views. A spell of ‘owling’ around the Lodge that evening produced African Wood Owl without much effort.

Olive Woodpecker
Day 4, 24 November – Eshowe to St. Lucia
A few of us were again up at first light, and this time took a little stroll through the streets of Eshowe. There was not too much that was new, but Southern Black Tit, Red-throated Wryneck and nesting Woolly-necked Storks were good sightings. We once again spent the next few hours around the Dlinza Aerial Boardwalk where we again found fair numbers of Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeons, together with Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Dark-backed Weaver, Grey Cuckooshrike, Cape Batis, African Goshawk, African Harrier-Hawk, African Emerald Cuckoo and our first views of perched Trumpeter Hornbills – what magnificent beasts! Olive Bushshrike again taunted us with no views, and we eventually had to drag ourselves away from the good birding to enjoy a well-deserved breakfast. We then set off to Enseleni Nature Reserve, a little bit further up the coast where we bird for a bit. As soon as we got out the vehicle a low-soaring Crowned Eagle gave brilliant views as it flew around calling its head off. Soon afterwards a Booted Eagle moved into the picture. Both hung around, and were seen a little later into the day as well. There was a gale-force wind blowing, so it did make birding slightly tougher but we still managed to get great views of Yellow-breasted Apalis, Croaking Cisticola and Yellow-throated Longclaw. After lunch in Richard’s Bay, we continued up the coast to St Lucia, quickly checked in to our lodge and then shot off for the estuary. There was quite a lot of activity on the shorebird front, and we managed to pull in Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper and Grey Plover amongst others. Two Pink-backed Pelicans showed well as did some Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters performing overhead.  We also enjoyed looks at our first Crested Guineafowl (what strange characters they are!), as well as our first Hippo’s –filled with noisy grunts and all.

Day 5, 25 November – Day around St Lucia
The majority of us were up at first light, and headed off for the start of the Igwalagwala trail. This trail passes through pristine coastal forest and plays host to some great South African birds! Before long we had seen the localized Rudd’s Apalis, Narina Trogon, Green Malkoha,  Terrestrial Brownbul, Ashy and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatchers amongst others. Woodward’s Batis and  Livingstone’s Turaco took a bit of time, but we were rewarded with great views in the end! After a productive morning walk (and a brief breakfast), I had to take Peter through to Empangeni for a dentist appointment due to some pain he had been having. After a successful tooth repair, we were off and into the Cape Vidal/Eastern Shore section of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park in no time. We slowly made our way up, enjoying the likes of African Fish-Eagle, Collared Pratincole and African Wattled Lapwing at some pans, along with a good sampling of mammals – Common Reedbuck, African Buffalo, Waterbuck and Warthog. A lone male Black-bellied Bustard was seen flying over the road just before we arrived at our lunch stop. The weather was threatening a little bit, and after we wolfed down our lunch, we headed over to the Mfazana Hide where we waited for the drizzle to abate. Not too much in terms of activity, but we eeked out a Black-chested Snake-Eagle along with a few Intermediate (Yellow-billed) Egrets. Slowly heading on up to Cape Vidal, stops were made for a group of Broad-billed Rollers and two Bushbuck feeding uncharacteristically out in the open. We found the main Bhangazi loop to be closed, and quickly pulled into Cape Vidal for a break. Time had rapidly run out from us this afternoon, and before long we were on the road back down to the main gate. A stop in at Catalina Bay produced a nice Goliath Heron, Crested Guineafowl and our first good views of Crowned Hornbill. We also marvelled at the numerous and rather showy Croaking Cisticolas. A little bit further down the road we came across a stunning Bushpig walking next to the road – and on closer inspection revealed it to have a horrible gash on its face – evidence of a recent fight. We got out the gate just before closing time, and headed on through to dinner.

Black-bellied Bustard
Day 6, 26 November – Day around St Lucia
As per the previous morning, a few of us were up at first light and set off for the Igwalagwala trail. Great looks were had at an Eastern Nicator perched out in the open, and a confiding Brown Scrub-Robin was a pleaser too. Repeat views were had of Woodward’s Batis and Livingstone’s Turaco, but our Green Twinspot was nowhere to be found. Red Duikers provided some entertainment as they slowly walked along the dark pathways in front of us. After breakfast, we headed over to the new Dukuduku Gate into the Western Shores of the Park. Birding was good in the overcast conditions and we had dynamite views of Violet-backed Starling for all to enjoy! Raptors were in great evidence here and we managed to notch up Southern Banded, Black-chested and Brown Snake-Eagles, Western Osprey, African Fish Eagle and Long-crested Eagle. A slightly more open patch in the grasslands produced an awesome pair of Plain-backed Pipits, and in some of the denser stands of grass, a nice group of four Cuckoo-finches! Broad-billed Rollers showed well, and our first Giraffe caused some excitement! The birding in this section was good and I look forward to future visits. We had to drag ourselves away from the activity and pick up some lunch before our boat cruise later that afternoon. The boat cruise up the estuary was a pleasant and relaxing way to do some birding (and general sightseeing). We had great views of Southern Brown-throated and Eastern Golden (Yellow) Weavers, Pied, Giant and Malachite Kingfishers, Common Sandpiper, Striated (Green-backed) and Goliath Herons and some inquisitive Hippos. Our first Nile Crocodile and Water Monitor (Lizard) were seen on the reptilian front. On the way back, we struck gold when a few groups of Red-headed Quelea were seen flying alongside the boat, but sadly not everyone in the group managed to get views. Some of the group opted for a relaxing afternoon, while the rest of us went to tackle the Umfolozi River mouth. We weren’t to be disappointed with African (African Black) Oystercatcher, Little and Common Terns, Whimbrel, Common Greenshank and all the usual suspects. After dinner, a few of the group wanted to try and find Swamp Nightjar, and I took them to a few spots around the town, but we were unsuccessful. Around the lodge, African Wood Owl and Thick-tailed Bushbaby were in evidence.

Pied Kingfisher
Well that about sums up the 1st installment and hope you might follow the blog and read about our remaining adventures on this spectacular tour. Why not consider joining me and Dylan later this year on another of our South African adventure tours? Details of the tour and itinerary can be found on this link

To see other destinations we visit please visit our main site. Thank you.



Margaret Adamson said...

HI Peter What a wonderful trip you all had and so many birds seen. I truly would have loved to be with you, perhaps another time. I could not get my flights to dove tail into the Costa Rica trip which was disappointing. I am looking forward to following NO 2,3,4, & 5 posts of your trips.

Pagan Birders said...

Brilliant blog Peter. Sounds like a fantastic adventure a birders dream! Love the Goliath Heron and Pied Kingfisher. I look forward to the next instalment!