Tuesday, January 6, 2015

South Africa - The Tour Part 2

What a wonderful destination South Africa is, wildlife and scenery combine to entrance the visitor and if like me you love nature, then the call of Africa will haunt you for the rest of your days. The diversity of birdlife is so rewarding and just seems to supplement the whole experience of emersion in the nature of this wonderful country, and so I hope sharing this blog come trip report part 2 will give you, the reader, a taste of the enjoyment that awaits friends who choose to accompany our tours to this natural wonder.

South Africa and THE tour: Part Two of the Trip Report with our day to day account of our adventure.
Tour Leaders: Peter Jones (Worldwide Birding Tours, co-author and editor)
                                     Dylan Vasapolli (Bird Guide and Main Author)

Lilac-breasted Roller
To recap, 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!

African Black Oystercatcher
Day 7, 27 November – St Lucia to Mkhuze
We opted for a walk along the beach this morning before breakfast, and managed to finally lay eyes on a Terek Sandpiper. All the waders on the mudflats suddenly took flight and looking around revealed a young Black Sparrowhawk learning the ropes. A Brimstone Canary also put in a brief appearance along the dunes. We managed repeat views of African (African Black) Oystercatcher and Whimbrel, whilst large numbers of Little Tern were seen flying offshore. After a hearty breakfast, we set off up the coast up to Mkhuze Game Reserve, still located within the greater Isimangaliso Wetland Park. Shortly after getting onto the N2, we found a Palm-nut Vulture perched atop some raffia palms – a rather unexpected sighting! Our first stop was at Mpempe pan, where the dry grasslands produced a string of great birds! Senegal and Black-winged Lapwings side-by-side, Caspian and Kittlitz’s Plovers showing great comparisons between the two species. A Lemon-breasted Canary floated by, but couldn’t be relocated for better views. We again had to drag ourselves away and push onto lunch at Mkhuze. A quick stop of Muzi Pan revealed some Great Egrets and Greater Flamingos. After our lunch break, we set off around the reserve. Birding was good and we managed to get repeat views of Four-colored (Gorgeous) Bushshrike, Cardinal Woodpecker, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Little Bee-eater, Jameson’s Firefinch and Chinspot Batis. We had a good run of raptors this afternoon and managed to get good views of Martial Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagles and European Honey Buzzard. Chatting to some of the other cars in the reserve, we were informed of some Cheetah’s nearby. We effectively did some ‘twitching’, and shot off for the site. We nearly drove right past them, but fortunately caught another vehicle on a side road seemingly too stationary! We ended up having great vies of the two Cheetah as they lazed about and put their head up occasionally and spent some good time with them, before having to head back for dinner.

Bateleur
Day 8, 28 November – Day around Mkhuze
Up at dawn, and an early morning walk around the camp was our plan before breakfast. We weren’t to be disappointed and nailed pretty much all of our main targets. Good views were had of Golden-breasted Bunting, Long-billed Crombec, Purple-banded Sunbird, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green Wood Hoopoe, Broad-billed Roller, Brubru, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Yellow-throated Petronia, Black Cuckooshrike and our main target Pink-throated Twinspot. We had a lovely pair come to within a few metres of us, providing absolutely great views! The dainty Blue Waxbills also stole many a heart! After this great birding we had worked up a healthy appetite and enjoyed a good breakfast. Soon after, we headed over to the Kumasinga Hide, with birding stops en-route for Striped Kingfisher, European Honey Buzzard and a collection of vultures at an old carcass. Amongst the vultures we managed to pick out White-backed and a lone Cape. We arrived at the Hide and immediately settled in. The mammals would come in waves, whilst the bird stream was slightly more regular. On the birding front, we found Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah, Dusky Indigobird, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Red-billed Firefinch, Wire-tailed Swallow, African Pygmy Kingfisher, our first Bateleur along with Red-chested and Jacobin Cuckoos. After lunch at the camp, we set out for another hide, to find they are busy upgrading it, and it is inaccessible. No major problem as the ‘detour’ gave us a stunning White-throated Robin-Chat, Lizard Buzzard, Marico Sunbird and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill. We set off for the southern section of the reserve, and had some good sightings en-route. Pot of the prize went to a group of three White Rhino. Close in second was the large volumes of raptors we encountered – species comprising Tawny, Wahlberg’s, Lesser Spotted, Martial Eagles, Bateleur and yet another European Honey Buzzard. Two more groups of Rhino’s stopped us as we headed back to camp.

Grey-crowned Crane
Day 9, 29 November – Mkhuze to Wakkerstroom
As we had a fair drive today, and still had not been to the some parts of the reserve, we shot off early for Nsumo Pan. The pan didn’t disappoint and we marvelled at Knob-billed Duck, Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans, Squacco Heron, African Openbill and witnessed some aggressive behaviour between a Western Osprey and an African Fish Eagle. We quickly stopped off at the Kumasinga Hide to see if there was anything different – just a vocal African Cuckoo that would not show! Black-bellied Bustard halted our arrival back at camp, parading around next to the road. After breakfast, we set off for Wakkerstroom, and took it easy going out the reserve. We managed to get our first looks at White-fronted Bee-eater and Lesser Grey Shrike before we hit the highway. The group wanted to do a bit of shopping, but being a weekend all the major towns (Mkhuze, Pongola and Piet Retief) were full of people and it was a nightmare to get around – we agreed to tackle this another day! Before Piet Retief I noticed a strange bird flying over the N2 – it was miles upfront, and appeared fairly large, but also a brown colour (so not your crows ;)). As we got closer, I saw the unmistakeable head of a korhaan/bustard sticking up out of the grass. We quickly came to a halt and marvelled at a group of three White-bellied Bustards slowly patrolling the area. We spent some time soaking up the views of this normally tough to find bird, and in the process found our first Southern Bald Ibis. We managed to notch up over species over the time here including Greater Striped Swallow, Long-tailed Widowbird and Cape Crow. After lunch in Piet Retief we set off to cover the last little bit to Dirkiesdorp we would resume birding again. Here we enjoyed the likes of Ant-eating Chat, Cape Canary, Wing-snapping Cisticola and African Quailfinch. A lovely pair of Grey Crowned Cranes brought us to a grinding halt alongside the road. After a lovely dinner, we retired for the evening.

Mountain Wheatear
Day 10, 30 November – Day around Wakkerstroom
With the assistance of local guide, Norman, we set off to tackle the LBJs of Wakkerstroom. We made good progress throughout the morning and all of our stops were incredibly productive. The overcast weather conditions certainly seemed to be working a treat. Over the morning we managed to knock-off a plethora of larks, namely Rudd’s, Red-capped, Spike-heeled, Eastern Clapper and Botha’s; Jackal Buzzard, one of the first arriving Amur Falcon, African Marsh-Harrier, Blue Korhaan, Blue Crane, large numbers of Grey Crowned Cranes, a few sightings of Denham’s Bustard, the ever-charming Pale-crowned Cisticola, Banded Martin, Mountain Wheatear and the sunning Cape Longclaw. One particular sighting however captured our attention a little bit more than the others – a Lanner Falcon seen next to the road with a male Long-tailed Widowbird held firmly in its talons! Some wetlands over the morning produced Whiskered Tern, Great Crested Grebe, Maccoa Duck, South African Shelduck and many others. After lunch, rain set in and would continue on and off for the rest of the afternoon. The frequency of the rain put paid to our efforts to bird the Wetland area properly, and we resigned ourselves to walking around the grounds of the lodge. Not to be undermined, we managed to get Dark-capped Yellow-Warbler, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Weaver, African Black Duck, Malachite Sunbird and the vocal and boisterous Bokmakierie. We once again retired after a hearty dinner.

Leopard
Day 11, 1 December – Wakkerstroom to Kruger NP 
Today was mainly a driving day, and we had quite a lot of ground to cover to get up to the south-eastern part of Kruger, and just had some time for morning birding around Wakkerstroom. We decided to head up the Paulpietersberg road, and were blessed with a brilliant morning – not a cloud in sight, and not a breath of wind. Of course, with it being still early on in the day, the air was still rather fresh! We again had a good spell of birding, and managed to find Ground Woodpecker, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Bunting, Malachite Sunbird (for those who missed it the previous day), Yellow-breasted Pipit, Mountain Wheatear, Secretarybird and White-bellied Bustard. On the mammalian front, a group of Grey Rhebok kept us company. We quickly wolfed down breakfast, and hit the road. We made good progress and a stop was made for a group of Lesser Kestrels feeding over a recently ploughed patch of grass. We grabbed an ‘on-the-go’ lunch, and arrived at the Crocodile Bridge gate a little after 15h00. We took it easy up to Lower Sabie, where we would be based for the next two nights, and enjoyed the plethora of mammals and birds en-route. Woodland Kingfisher were full up, as were Red-backed Shrike and European Roller. Stops were made for a lovely group of White-crowned Lapwings right next to the road, our first herd of African Elephants and a stunning Leopard. We were driving through fairly dense scrub and a flash of tan caught my eye just off the road – I knew immediately what it was, and carefully reversed (having a trailer hitched behind you always made this an interesting task!) until we found an opening. The Leopard very fortunately obliged – walking right out into the opening, and then onto the road behind us. What a sighting!! With everybody in a great mood after the Leopard, we enjoyed a brilliant dinner before calling it a day!

Sentinel Rock Thrush - Juvenile
And thus ends part 2 of this mammoth blog, only 3 more instalments to go, thanks for bearing with me! Mind you, hopefully it reflects the wonderful time we all had on the tour. There is so much more to come and much to tell. Please do pop-by and read the next episode, I just hope you get a feel of how enjoyable this tour was and might join Dylan and I later this year on a repeat of this great and diverse adventure into one of the world’s natural wonders. Take a look at the itinerary on this link

Burchell's (Plains) Zebra
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2 comments:

Margaret Adamson said...

well another wonderful days birding and so many more species seen. the shots of the Crane and Leopard are stunning. Looking forward to hearing and seeing more of this adventure. I was in Kruger last year for 5 days and it was wonderful.

Mary Cromer said...

You never cease to amaze with your expert writing and photography shares Peter The first image alone, is a masterpiece. Happy you are back home to your wife and mountains for a bit~