Thursday, January 8, 2015

South Africa - The Tour Part 3

The blog come trip report continues (Part 3) with one of the most exciting periods of our tour in South Africa, 4 nights in the wild areas of the famous Kruger Park. We cruised around in an open safari vehicle for some of our time and this just enhanced the whole experience, albeit with cool temperatures meaning we had to wrap up with extra clothing first thing in the mornings! Here we encountered Lion, Leopard, Black Rhino and all the animals that encapsulate Africa’s spirit, or at least for me since childhood.

South Africa and THE tour: Part Three of our trip report on a great adventure.
Tour Leaders: Peter Jones (Worldwide Birding Tours, Co-author and Editor)
                                Dylan Vasapolli (Bird Guide and Main Author)

Brown Snake Eagle
And so a further episode in our adventure reaches the blog! Our 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!

Black Rhino
Day 12, 2 December – Day around Kruger 
We had arranged an open safari vehicle from Bubezi Safaris for the main Kruger days to better enhance the sightings within the park itself. We met Andy, who was to be taking us around for the day bright and early at 04h30, and decided on a route. The morning was filled with lots of stops, some great sightings on both the bird and mammalian front, and some great views of the Lowveld! High up on the birding side of things was a very vocal Stierling’s Wren-Warbler – singing its heart out from next to the road. We took in quite a few of the larger birds namely African Hawk-Eagle, Hooded Vulture, Marabou and Yellow-billed Storks, African Goshawk, Red-crested Korhaan, our first Levaillant’s Cuckoo and a brief Eurasian Golden Oriole amongst many others. We did quite well on the mammalian side too. Top honours went to a Wild Dog pack seen catching and killing a young Impala – a special sight, albeit rather gruesome! A stunning Black Rhino was a somewhat unexpected, but very much welcomed sighting as well. We even managed to sneak in a few reptiles with an African Rock Python high up in a tree, and a Boomslang that attempted raiding the weaver nests, both at Lake Panic Hide. After a hearty lunch we rested for a short while before setting out for the afternoon – main target being Lion. We followed up on some sightings earlier that day, but all proved fruitless – only a few gestures on where they were earlier that morning. A nesting pair of White-headed Vultures made up for the lack of Lions however! We stopped to watch the sunset capping off another great day!

African Green Pigeon
Day 13, 3 December – Day around Kruger
Today we were transferring up to Satara Restcamp and a few of us met at dawn to walk around the camp and try see what species we could get. The camp was alive, and a mad raucous of bulbuls, starlings and white-eyes lead us onto a Pearl-spotted Owlet. We had some good views of this small, dainty little owl. Other birds seen around the camp included White-browed Robin-Chat, Red-faced Cisticola, Lesser Honeyguide, Cardinal Woodpecker, Jacobin Cuckoo, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Marico Sunbird, African Green Pigeon and a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl calling from the other side of the river. After breakfast we hit the road north with some of the group with me, and the rest with Andy. We agreed to meet up at Tshokwane for lunch. Stops were made en-route for some raptors coming to an old carcass. Amongst the crowds were two Lappet-faced Vultures, a White-headed Vulture, a Hooded Vulture and two stunning Steppe Eagles – a scarce bird this far south in its range! Numerous African Elephants were seen en-route. We coincidentally met up at a view point, before setting off again. Green-winged Pytilia was the only note-worthy sighting before arriving at Tshokwane. After a precarious lunch with the cheeky Vervet Monkeys, we set off to cover the last little bit to Satara. Again, good sightings halted our progress and included Wattled Starlings, Red-faced Mousebirds, another Steppe Eagle, Common Ostrich, Little Sparrowhawk and another Lappet-faced Vulture (as some had missed the earlier one!). A large herd of African Buffalo just before Satara was the last noteworthy sighting of the day. A walk around camp after dinner saw us successfully getting one of the African Scops Owls that are regularly around the camp.

African Lion
Yellow-billed Kite
Day 14, 4 December – Day around Kruger
We were up at first light again, and with Andy’s guidance shot off south of Satara, main target being Lion. After an early African Civet, we got word of a nearby sighting of Lion and raced off towards it. Success, 3 male Lions lazing about next to the road. We spent some time with them, and with the ‘main target’ out of the way, we concentrated again on the birds – Southern Ground Hornbill, Martial Eagle, African Openbill, Black, Woolly-necked and Yellow-billed Storks, Green Sandpiper, Bearded Woodpecker, Black-bellied Bustard, African Barred Owlet and Acacia Pied Barbet (sadly I was the only one to get this species!) were seen during the course of the morning. After an ‘on-the-go’ breakfast with the resident Mocking Cliff-Chats, we resumed our drive and got some further good species – Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Spotted Thick-knee, Montagu’s Harrier and the giant Kori Bustard. We returned a little early, and had some resting time before our Sunset Drive that afternoon. For the most part, the Sunset Drive was relatively quiet, although we finally managed to find Saddle-billed Stork! Once it got dark, we managed to notch up Lesser Bushbaby and a stunning Leopard. As it always is, watching the sun go down in the African bush is a great experience!

Malachite Sunbird
Day 15, 5 December – Kruger to Dullstroom
We were up at dawn, and undertook a morning walk around the Satara camp. The birding was good, and we enjoyed great views of African Morning Dove, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, and then two good ones – Icterine and Olive-tree Warblers moving about in some denser stands of acacia. We ended up getting great views of the Olive-tree Warbler, but the Icterine wasn’t as cooperative. Suddenly a flash of pink glided into view – Southern Carmine Bee-eater! We spent some time with it as it hawked insects from tree to tree until it eventually moved it off. We couldn’t find any Brown-headed Parrots and eventually had to break for breakfast before our legs fell off. Naturally as it happens, the Parrots turned up right outside the restaurant while we were having breakfast! A short spree away and we had them happily ticked and photographed. We were off to Dullstroom for the evening, and soon got on our way. White-headed Vulture, Steppe Eagle and Southern White-crowned Shrike halted us before arriving at the parks gate. After a quick coffee in Hoedspruit, we continued on our way, notching up Abdim’s Stork. A stop at the Stryjdom Tunnel produced Cape Vulture and Red-winged Starling, whilst the hoped for Mountain Wagtail was a no-show. We were on the road again, and took in Southern Bald Ibis before eventually reaching the De Berg road later that afternoon. Gurney’s Sugarbird showed well just before the turnoff, as did Malachite Sunbird, Streaky-headed Seedeater and Alpine and African Black Swift. Heading onto the road proper, we notched up Yellow Bishop, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Buff-streaked Chat and Cape Crow. We arrived at our overnight lodge and soon headed off to a great dinner in town.

African Elephant
Speckled Mousebird
Day 16, 6 December – Dullstroom to Cape Town
The entire group had opted to join the Western Cape extension, and with us overnighting down in the Western Cape tonight, we had a midday flight down to Cape Town before resuming that leg. The group opted for an ‘easy morning’, and those that went out found Olive Thrush, African Olive-Pigeon, African Harrier-Hawk and Cape Robin-Chat. Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Groundscraper Thrush halted us on our way. We had a quick breakfast stop en-route for OR Tambo Airport, and arrived with some free time on hand. We decided to pop in at the nearby Korsmans Bird Sanctuary to kill some time. We had good species on the dam including Maccoa Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Squacco Heron, Southern Pochard, Intermediate (Yellow-billed) Egret, and sadly couldn’t find the regular Karoo Thrushes or Red-headed Finches. We all made it in one piece down to Cape Town, and were soon at our overnight accommodation in Noordhoek, ready to tackle some of the Cape birds.

Cape Rock Thrush
The next instalment of this blog, Part 4, will focus on the Western Cape and a wonderful day spent at sea on a very special paleagic birding extension. It was a great day and was complimented by other days spent around the Cape with time to stay in the area of the West Coast National Park, some great birding and worth looking-in on the next instalment for the story and photos. Thank you for spending time and interest in this adventure. For details on the tour itinerary, click-on this link

Arrow-marked Babbler
To see other destinations we visit, please see our main website. Thank you.


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