Amazing Birds of South Tour
Will I love This Holiday?
Travel Style: Comfortable
Cost: US $4,740 ex-flights double occupancy
Single Supplement: US $850
When: October 06 -20, 2019 + see below
Where: South Africa
Length: 15 Days
Physical Rating: Moderate. Walking, standing, hiking. Early mornings.
Right For: Adults with birding experience.
Children: +12-yo Not recommended for children without birding experience
What: Bird watching tour
Group Size: 6 plus Guide
Accommodations: Lodge and chalet style
Why You Will Love This Trip
1. Enchanting Endemics: From the lovely pink throated twinspot to that elusive and rare LBJ, Botha’s lark to the strange but beautiful southern bald ibis, they are all here to be found.
2. Birds and Beasts: Where there are birds there are also beasts. Leopard, elephant, rhino, and more all share the reserves with eagles, bustards, pipits, and the rare southern ground hornbill.
3. Forest and Woodbrush: Magoebaskloof is the land of the silver-mist forest; we may find Cape batis, African emerald cuckoo, black-fronted bushshrike, or a yellow-throated warbler among the tall trees.
4. Savannah Secrets: Explore Kruger’s protected savannah with someone who practically lives there; you may meet the magnificent martial and bateleur eagles, a Verreaux’s owl, or nightjar.
5. Wonders of the Wetlands: Keep your eyes open for the rare stately saddle-bill stork, the tiny blue cheeked bee-eater, and the oyster catchers.
6. Comfortable, Eco-sensitive Lodges, Good Company and a Fabulous Professional Guide.
Is This Trip Right For Me?
The birds of South Africa will have you mesmerized. From tiny, jewel-colored bee-eaters to the planet’s heaviest flying bird (kori bustard) to diving, rolling, avian acrobats (bateleur eagles), and it's myriad of other wading, walking, and flying wonders, many of them endemic to Southern Africa, and all living amongst the elephants, big cats, and rhino. A tour of South Africa is more than its exotic mammals.
Your guide, Marc Cronje, is a man living his passion and part of that is sharing his extensive understanding of Africa’s birds and wildlife with his guests. Having grown up here in a family steeped in wildlife conservation, he has lots of secrets to share.
We start in Magoebaskloof, in South Africa’s Limpopo province, a place dubbed “The Land of the Silver Mist.” Here, in the tall forests, we will look for the likes of Cape batis, yellow-throated warbler, and the elusive Shelly’s francolin. We will stay at a lodge designated as one of the Top Eco Hotels of the World, it was also assessed “environmentally and socially conscious and responsible” by BirdLife South Africa.
Then it is eight days exploring Kruger National Park’s three natural biomes (forest, grassland, and savannah), a diverse birding opportunity unsurpassed in South Africa. We will stay first in the comfortable Letaba Rest Camp on the bend of the Letaba River where elephant and others come to drink. Then onto Satura and Skukuza Camps (famous for leopard sightings). Look for secretarybirds, martial eagles, barbets, sunbirds, and saddle-billed storks along with the ungulates, rhinos, lion, and others that come to drink.
At Wakkerstroom, we will search out endemics such as the endangered Botha’s and other grassland larks. It is here that we may also find the rare southern bald ibis, francolins and the “often-heard-but-rarely-seen” African quail-finch.
Then it is onto Mkuze National Park, and Mtunzini (and the wetlands between them), plus Ongoye Forest. This is the only place in Southern Africa where green barbet may be found. We may also see green twinspot, narina trogon, yellow-streaked greenbul, African crowned eagle, and more. A day of forest birding on the elevated boardwalk high in the trees at Dlinza Forest rounds out our tour. There is nothing quite like birding in South Africa.
Marc was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and his passion for wildlife and birding began with his upbringing up at the Johannesburg Zoo, where his father was the curator of primates and small cats. The family moved down to the Lowveld when his dad started the first chimpanzee sanctuary in South Africa, Chimp Eden, now affiliated with the Jane Goodall Institute. Marc worked at the sanctuary for 5 years.
Today, Marc is based in Nelspruit, South Africa. Living so close to Kruger National Park, it is now his second home. Marc also leads birding and primate tours to Uganda and Rwanda and elsewhere. Marc has a Degree in Nature Conservation and is a THEATA/FGASA Level 2 Guide who is part of the Birdlife Lowveld Committee. Marc leads our African Wildlife Safaris as well as the Nature Travel Birding worldwide birding trips.
Marc is a keen wildlife photographer and enjoys sharing his passion for birding and wildlife with all who come to marvel at his wonderful office in nature. He is actively involved in research and conservation projects and is an important part of the Nature Travel Team.
Note from the Destination: Wildlife Team, We have known Marc for many years and in fact, he was the guide on our first safari. For us, there are few if any wildlife or birding safari guides that are better than Marc Cronje. His enthusiasm and passion for wildlife is contagious, and he loves sharing his considerable knowledge and wildlife secrets. Bird or wildlife safari with Marc is real treat not to be missed. Learn more about Marc in our interview.
DAY 1: OR TAMBO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT TO POLOKWANE AND MAGOEBASKLOOF
Our first day starts in Johannesburg/Pretoria at your guesthouse/hotel. After a short meet and greet we’ll get all the luggage in the vehicle and head straight to our first destination, the town of Polokwane. A short stop at the Polokwane Game Reserve should hopefully net us the Southern African endemic, short-clawed lark.
We continue to our destination in Magoebaskloof, were we will have our first taste of forest birding. Species to look for include Knysna turaco, yellow-streaked greenbul, white-starred robin, gorgeous and black-fronted bush-shrikes, swee axbill, and with luck we could even find African wood-owl after dinner. We will spend some time in the gardens of Kurisa Moya as well as the bird hide on the property.
Overnight: Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge on a DBB basis.
DAY 2: MAGOEBASKLOOF
We will start the day with some more forest birding and if we missed the short-clawed lark the previous day, we might pop in at another stakeout nearby where we also have a good chance of finding the elusive Shelley’s francolin. We will stop for a quick lunch at a roadside café.
Forest birding can be hard work but often the reward is worth its weight in gold, with tantalizing species such as Cape batis, yellow-throated woodland-warbler, olive bush-shrike, lemon dove and African emerald cuckoo waiting to be found.
Overnight: Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge on a DBB basis
DAY 3-4: MAGOEBASKLOOF TO KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
After some more birding around the magnificent Magoebaskloof we head for the savannahs of the famous Kruger National Park with the odd birding stops and lunch break en-route. Once we enter the park proper, our focus, while still on birds, will also divert a bit to the possibility of sightings of any of the Big 5. We will explore some of the smaller dirt roads for the best birding experience.
The Greater Kruger Conservation Area includes vast areas of adjacent Mozambique and is one of Africa’s most famous parks. We will explore the superb road system in an attempt to locate big game, including the legendary “Big 5” - Lion, African elephant, leopard, African buffalo, and white rhinoceros. Kruger will be our best opportunity to watch these spectacular animals in their natural habitat, and some of them we may encounter in very large numbers and at very close quarters.
Of special interest here is some of the larger terrestrial birds as well as birds of prey that are difficult or near impossible to find reliably outside protected areas such as Kruger, these include kori bustard, southern ground hornbill, martial eagle, bateleur, lappet-faced vulture, secretarybird and saddle-billed stork. Other typical bushveld birds that we will encounter are southern yellow-billed and southern red-billed hornbills, southern white-crowned shrike, red-billed and yellow-billed oxpeckers, brown-headed parrot, purple-crested turaco, crested and Swainson’s francolin, white-crowned lapwing, grey-headed bushshrike and African mourning dove.
Optional Activities at all Kruger National Park camps (to be booked in advance): An early morning walk from the camp will give us a chance to experience the park on foot, and we might find a surprise or two. A night drive through the park may encounter some of the rarer nocturnal mammals such as African civet, small-spotted and blotched genets, side-striped jackal, the beautiful serval, white-tailed mongoose, and African wild cat, along with several species of owl and nightjar. These include spotted and Verreaux’s eagle-owls, African scops owl, southern white-faced owl, and square-tailed and fiery-necked nightjars.
Overnight: Kruger National Park – Letaba Rest Camp (2 nights) on a B&B basis
DAYS 5-8: KRUGER NATIONAL PARK, SATARA CAMP AND SKUKUZA CAMP
Travelling to the southern part of the Kruger National Park, we will concentrate on slightly different habitats with the focus on areas of open grassland, waterholes, and broad-leaved woodland hosting species such as African cuckoo-hawk, dark chanting goshawk, green-capped eremomela, Bennet’s woodpecker, and even bushveld pipit. The damp depressions around streams sometimes yield black coucal and in season after good rain, the odd corncrake. This area is particularly good for the elusive black rhino and Lichtenstein’s hartebeest.
Overnight: Kruger National Park-Satara Rest Camp (2 nights) Skukuza Rest Camp (2 nights)on a B&B basis
DAY 9: KRUGER NATIONAL PARK TO WAAKERSTROOM
We have a fairly long but scenic drive from the Kruger National Park, where we will do a last bit of birding before breakfast, to the small hamlet of Wakkerstroom, which stands in stark contrast to the habitats we’ve visited thus far.
Wakkerstroom in situated on the Highveld Plateau dominated by rolling hills and upland grassland. Several special birds occur here, with a good number of them being endemic and many are difficult to find elsewhere.
We should arrive in time for some afternoon birding and usually our first port of call is the marsh just on the outskirts of town, here we have a good chance of finding skulkers like little rush warbler, African rail and - who knows - even a red-chested flufftail if we are very lucky. Commoner species include African purple swamphen, purple heron, Cape shoveller, Cape weaver, and we often find grey-crowned cranes roosting here in the late afternoons.
Dinner will be in town at one of the restaurants.
Overnight: Wetlands Country House on a B&B basis.
DAY 10: WAAKERSTROOM
After an early morning coffee we head out in search of Wakkerstroom’s very special and endemic larks, Rudd’s and Botha’s, the former critically endangered. In our search for these two dowdy denizens of the grasslands we’ll also be on the lookout for their more common cousins, eastern clapper, eastern long-billed, pink-billed, and red-capped larks.
Wakkerstroom isn’t just about LBJ’s though; yellow-breasted pipit, blue korhaan and Cape canary will add a subtle touch of colour, and in the village, the striking bokmakierie is usually an easy find alongside the peculiar red-throated wryneck.
We’ll also visit a local site in search of white-bellied korhaan, Denham’s bustard, and at another spot we will look for the enigmatic African rock pipit and buff-streaked chat. Some of the other birds that we might encounter include bald ibis, jackal buzzard, African pied starling, Cape crow, sentinel rock-thrush, grey-winged and red-winged francolins and the ‘often-heard-but-rarely-seen’ African quail-finch.
Dinner will be in town at one of the restaurants.
Overnight: Wetlands Country House on a B&B basis.
DAY 11: WAAKERSTROOM TO MKUZE
A quick spot of birding in the morning, for birds we might have dipped on the previous day before we pack the car and continue our journey south, this time to one of Kwazulu-Natal’s premier birding spots, Mkuze Game Reserve.
We should arrive in the Mkuze area mid- to late afternoon and after arrival in the park we will waste no time finding some of the spectacular birds that call this remarkable area home. A possible drive down to the Sand Forest, a dry and localized type of forest that is home to several spectacular species such a pink-throated twinspot, four-coloured bushshrike, Neergaard’s sunbird, crested guineafowl and Rudd’s apalis, before we head to our accommodation outside the park.
Dinner at Ghost Mountain Inn.
Overnight: Ghost Mountain Inn on a DBB basis.
DAY 12: FULL DAY AT MKUZE GAME RESERVE
We have a full day ahead to explore the incredible diversity of Mkuze, not just birds but also a whole host of fascinating mammals, from one of Africa’s smallest antelope the Suni to the largest mammals, the African elephant. African wild dog sighting is a very real possibility as is sighting of cheetah and even serval.
Birding wise we’ll keep an eye out for black-bellied bustard, Senegal lapwing, several vulture species, martial eagle, white-crested helmetshrike, grey penduline tit and at one of the large wetlands, species such as pink-backed and great white pelican, African openbill, yellow-billed stork, goliath heron and whiskered tern. Several good hides are situated in the park, mostly overlooking waterholes, and these can be worth a visit, sometimes producing memorable moments.
Overnight: Ghost Mountain Inn on a DBB basis.
DAY 13: MKUZE TO MTUNZINI
We’ll spend the morning birding in the gardens of the accommodation where birding can be top-notch, we often find birds such as red-fronted tinkerbird, eastern bearded scrub-robin, green twinspot, eastern nicator and purple-crested turaco in camp.
After breakfast we’ll head out and make our way to Mtunzini. En route to Mtunzini we’ll stop at several wetlands near Mtubatuba where we might add the likes of blue-cheeked bee-eater, red-headed quelia and many more.
We’ll arrive in Mtunzini around lunch and head out shortly afterwards in the hope of finding palmnut vulture, usually a good spot for them. From Mtunzini we’ll head to Amatikulu Nature Reserve where we’ll look for swamp nightjar, broad-tailed warbler, croaking cisticola and brown-backed honeybird. We’ll arrive at our lodge in Eshowe later that evening.
Overnight: Birds of Paradise B&B (Eshowe)
DAY 14: ONGOYE FOREST AND DLINZA FOREST
Our first stop today will be at Ongoye Forest, a remnant patch of coastal scarp forest which straddles the hills for about 20km between Eshowe and Empangeni. This is the only spot in Southern Africa where green barbet can be found. The forest here is also good for green twinspot, narina trogon, Chorister robin-chat, grey cuckoo-shrike, yellow-streaked greenbul, African crowned eagle and striped pipit.
We’ll use a different route back to Eshowe, travelling through rural Zululand, giving us an exciting and eye-opening perspective on the everyday life of the Zulu people. Back in Eshowe we’ll enjoy lunch before heading out of town to a good stakeout for southern tchagra and we’ll also enjoy more forest birding at another nearby forest. Dlinza Forest with its aerial boardwalk will be our birding spot of choice this afternoon.
Overnight: Birds of Paradise B&B (Eshowe)
DAY 15: DEPARTURE
Early morning birding in the gardens and after breakfast we will travel to King Shaka International airport for your onward flight. Extensions to Drakensberg and Cape Town can be arranged.
What to Expect
2019 Dates: October 06 - 20
2020 Dates: February (TBD)
Cost: US $4,740 per person, ex-flights, double occupancy
Single Supplement: US $850
Group Size: This is a limited opportunity for 6 guests, plus our naturalist, birding guide, and additional local guides in some areas.
Included: All accommodation, Meals (except dinner in Kruger National Park and Wakkerstroom), refillable water bottles, transportation during the tour (vehicle, fuel, tolls), park entry fees, full-time services of a personal guide and driver, pick up and drop off at OR Tambo International Airport.
Excluded: Items of a personal nature, international or local flights, gifts and souvenirs, tips, dinner in KNP and Wakkerstroom, and alcoholic beverages. Additional night or other drives in the national parks not included in this itinerary. If accommodations are necessary prior to the evening of October 06, please contact us.
► Day 0, Accommodation in Johannesburg:
No accommodation, transfers, or dinner, are included for the first night but can be arranged. Safari starts morning at 08h00 in Johannesburg/Pretoria. Guide will pick up clients from their accommodation. Some clients arrive a few days before the safari and prefer to make their own arrangements, therefore we do not add this as a standard inclusion. Accommodations and dinner can be arranged if required.
► Physical Activity:
You need to be relatively fit to do this safari, some days you will be walking while birding and other days birding will be from the car. We can adjust according to the client’s fitness level, but most bird watchers are used to longer days outside due to the nature of the activity.
►Weather and Temperature Changes :
Early morning and late afternoon will be quite cool (16C / 61F) especially in the tents. But midday temperatures can be warm to hot in this part of the country (38C / 88F ) so dress in layers. There is a chance of a cold spell during that time of the year so participants should be prepared as the nights will then be cold especially in tents.
Visiting Kruger National Park as well as Mkuzi National Park in summer time carries a risk of malaria. We recommend that all clients visit their travel clinic beforehand to discuss the appropriate prophylaxis. Wearing long sleeved shirts and using insect repellent is also highly advisable. No other inoculations etc are applicable for South Africa.
► Drinking water: Many National Parks, reserves and regions and even entire countries on the African continent have taken a major step toward a cleaner, healthier environment by banning plastic bags and single use receptacles. You will be given a refillable water bottle at the outset of the safari and your guide will refill it with clean drinking water as you need it.
A full suggested packing list will be supplied upon booking. Pack layers, it will be cool (perhaps cold) at night and in the early morning, but warm midday. Long sleeves and pant legs are recommended against possible mosquitos. Camera, Binoculars, Hat and sunscreen, Insect repellant
Travel insurance: Travel insurance is recommended for every regardless of the destination trip.
Accommodation will mostly be in rooms or in chalet style lodging on a sharing basis (except if client paid the single supplement) All bedding and towels will be provided as well as basics like soap etc. All accommodation used on this safari is en suite.
The lodges used in Magoebaskloof. Wakkerstroom, Mkuze area and Eshowe are all part of their local birding communities. They contribute to various birding projects and some of them have a local bird guide on site which forms part of the Birdlife Guiding community.
The lodges form part of the Birder Friendly accommodation which is endorsed by Birdlife South Africa. The local guides we use are all part of the birdlife guide project which supports local guides with training and equipment through the support of our clients.
At Mkuze we opt to stay outside the park as they offer only self catering options and there are no restaurants in the park. You can also not exit the park at night so we stay outside the park and do two days visits to this area.
Wildlife You May See
Wildlife: African buffalo, African wild cat, cheetah. African civet, African wild (painted) dog, elephant, blotched and small-spotted genets
Lichtenstein’s hartebeest, side-striped jackal, leopard, lion, white-tailed mongoose, rhino, black and white, serval, and suni, Africa’s smallest antelope are among the many species you may see.
Birds: Kori bustard, ground hornbill, bateleur, martial eagle, green twinspots, pink throated twinspot, spotted ground thrush, southern bald ibis, saddle billed stork, Botha’s lark as well as secretary bird. And don’t forget many species of bee-eaters and buzzards, cuckoos and cranes, goshawks and guineafowl, herons and hornbills, pipits and pelicans, shrikes and sunbirds, twinspots and turacos, and so much more. Contact us for basic list.
How This Trip Makes a Difference
Wildlife and the Environment
The trip provider is a member of Birdlife South Africa, “Birdlife South Africa’s mission is to strive to conserve birds, their habitats and biodiversity through scientifically-based programmes, through supporting the sustainable and equitable use of natural resources and by encouraging people to enjoy and value nature.” Their initiatives include education of local guides, birdwatchers and the general public, multiple environmental, habitat, and species conservation programs.
Many of the areas in which you will be birding are designated IBAs (Important Bird Areas). This means they should be protected for the bird life, but not that they have been protected. Your visit brings economic relief to the local community, and shows the area’s importance to outsiders thereby quietly making the case for conservation.
Local Culture and Community
The lodges you will be staying at in Magoebaskloof. Wakkerstroom, Mkuze area and Eshowe are all part of their local birding communities. They form part of the Birder Friendly accommodation which is endorsed by Birdlife South Africa. The local guides we use are all part of the birdlife guide project which supports local guides with training and equipment through the support of our clients. Each contributes to various birding (conservation) projects.