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South Africa

Namibia, Botswana and Zambia Birding Safari


This wonderful birding itinerary offers some of the best birding in Southern Africa. Besides covering most of central Namibia and finding the endemics and near endemic birds we will also cover the tropical woodlands of the Caprivi/Zambezi strip where our focus will be on finding the Okavango Specials.

We will start off in Victoria Falls where we will spend two days birding the Riverine Forest and Miombo Woodland as well as visit the mighty Victoria Falls. From here we cross over into the Caprivi Strip of Namibia where we will focus on finding all the regional Okavango Specials that include the magnificent Pel’s Fishing-owl. From here we will spend a couple of days in Etosha enjoying the great birding and game viewing that this park offers. We will look for all the Namibian near-endemics along the western escarpment before finishing off along the coast where we will look for Dune Lark, Namibia’s endemic.

DAY 1: Livingstone and the Victoria Falls

After meeting you at Livingstone International Airport we will make our way to our lodge situated on the banks of the Zambezi River where we will spend the next two nights. After settling in we will start our birding with a birding walk around the lodge where we will look for Collared Palm-thrush, Red-faced Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, African Yellow White-eye, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Eastern Bearded Scrub-robin, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Arrow-marked Babbler, White-browed Coucal, African Emerald, Jacobin, Red-chested, Levailant’s, Klaas’s and Diderick Cuckoo.We will enjoy a sun-downer drink and welcome dinner listening to the wildlife that live along the Zambezi.

Accommodation: Camp Nkwazi on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 2: Victoria Falls and the Zambezi River

We will enjoy a cup of coffee scanning the river hoping to see the resident African Finfoot pair before making our way to Victoria Falls where we will spend the morning enjoying one of the natural wonders of the world and birding in the Riverine Woodland around the falls. Some of the birds we hope to see include Schalow’s Turaco, Trumpeter Hornbill, White-browed Robin-chat, Red-winged Starling, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Rock Martin and a variety of water birds. If time allows we might visit the local water treatment works where species like African Rail, African Purple Swamphen, Orange-breasted Waxbill and several raptors might be seen. We will also enjoy a late afternoon boat cruise on the Zambezi River where we hope to see African Skimmer, Rufous-bellied Heron, African Finfoot, Western Banded Snake-eagle, Half-collared, Malachite, Pied and Giant Kingfishers.

Accommodation: Camp Nkwazi on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 3: Eastern Caprivi

We will start with a pre breakfast birding walk in the Miombo Woodland close to the lodge where we might see Miombo Rock-thrush, Racket-tailed Roller, Miombo Pied Barbet, Retz and White-crested Helmet-shrikes, Striped Kingfisher, Kurrichane Thrush, Lizzard Buzzard and a variety of woodland birds before returning for breakfast. From here we will make our way to the Namibian border where we will cross close to Katima Mulilo with several birding stops along the way. Depending on the time of the year we could arrange to drive to the Muchile Important Bird Area to look for the localised Black-cheeked Lovebird. Other birds found in the Mopane Woodland are Arnott’s Chat, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Meve’s Starling and Southern Ground Hornbill. Our lunch stop in Katima might produce Northern Grey-headed Sparrow and Bronze Mannikin and we will finish off the day at the spectacular Southern Carmine Bee-eater colony close to our lodge.

Accommodation: Kalizo Lodge on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 4: The Zambezi Floodplains and the Okavango River

After a cup of coffee enjoying the Wire-tailed, Lesser Striped, Grey-rumped Swallows, Brown-throated and Banded Martins flying over the river we will depart for a pre breakfast birding between the various lily-covered pans and Zambezi Floodplain. Our key specials here include Lesser Jacana, African Pygmy Geese, White-backed Duck, Slaty Egret, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Saddle-billed Stork, Black Heron,Rufous-bellied Heron, White-crowned Lapwing and even Black Coucal if we are very lucky. After breakfast we will embark for lengthy drive across the Caprivi Strip to the Botswana border and to our lodge with a beautiful setting on the Okavango River. Before crossing we will first stop at a well-known stake-out for Rock Pratincole. If time allows we will enjoy the variety of the resident birds in the garden that include Hartlaub’s Babbler, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Green Woodhoopoe, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird while African Wood and African Barred Owlet are often seen here as well.

Accommodation: Xaro Lodge on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis 

DAY 5: The Okavango

We will start off with a morning walk in the Riverine Forest where we will try to find Narina Trogon, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Grey-headed Buh-shrike, Bradfield’s Hornbill, Swamp Boubou, Brubru, Black-backed Puffback, Bennett’s, Golden-tailed, Cardinal and Bearded Woodpecker. After breakfast we will depart for a boat cruise on the Okavango River which will be one of the highlights of the trip. Our main targets here will be Pel’s Fishing-owl, White-backed Night-heron, Luapula Cisticola, Chirping Cisticola, Greater Swamp Warbler, Little Rush Warbler, Little Bittern, Allen’s Gallinule and Purple Heron with the more common birds being Squacco Heron, Grey Heron, Tawny-flanked Prinia, White-winged Tern, Hamerkop, African Openbill, African Fish-eagle, African Marsh Harrier and Village Weaver. Our afternoon will be dedicated to explore the productive Mahangu National Park which offers an incredible number of species for a small park. We hope to see Wattled Crane, Long-toed Lapwing, Slaty Egret, Collared Pratincole, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Violet-eared Waxbill, Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, Crested Francolin, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Greater and Lesser Honeyguide, Long-billed Crombec, Grey-tit Flycatcher, Broad-billed Roller, African Cuckoo-hawk, Ayre’s Hawk-eagle and smaller raptors like Lizzard Buzzard, Little Sparrowhawk, Ovambo Sparrowhawk and Shikra. Mahangu offers excellent game viewing as well and we hope to see Sable, Roan, Tsessebe, Elephant, Buffalo, Hippo, red Lechwe, Kudu, Impala and even Lion or Leopard if we are lucky. We will check in to our lodge situated on the banks of the Okavango River overlooking Bwabwata National Park just before sunset.

Accommodation: Mahangu Safari Lodge on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 6: The Caprivi Broadleaf Woodland

We will start with a pre breakfast birding walk around the lodge where we should see Black Cuckoo, African Mourning and Red-eyed Doves, African Green-pigeon, Meve’s Starling, Brown Firefinch, Woodland kingfisher, Thick-billed Weaver, Violet-backed Starling, Swamp Boubou, Meyer’s Parrot, Hartlaub’s Babbler, White-browed Robin-chat and African Yellow White-eye. From here we will spend the morning birding the woodland between Divundu and Rundu which offers us the chance to see some of the Miombo or Broadleaf specialists normally found further north in Zambia. These include Racket-tailed Roller, Rufous-bellied Tit, Souza’s Shrike, Sharp-tailed Starling, Green-backed Honeybird and African Hobby. Other more common birds found here include Pale and Black Flycatchers, Green-capped Eremomela, Southern Black Tit, Striped Kingfisher, Meyer’s Parrot, Fork-tailed Drongo, Tinkling Cisticola, Neddicky, Coqui Francolin and Dark Chanting Goshawk. We will spend a final night on the Okavango River and to try to catch up with any of the birds that we might have missed as we prepare for the second half of the trip in central and western Namibia.

Accommodation: Shamvura Camp on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 7: Eastern Etosha National Park

After breakfast we will leave the more tropical woodlands of the Caprivi behind and make our way south to Etosha National Park where we will spend the next 3 nights. The first night will be in the eastern section where we hope to find Blue Crane, Black-faced Babbler, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Blue Waxbill, Chestnut Weaver, White-browed Robin-chat, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, Cape Glossy Starling, Double-banded Courser and Chat Flycatcher along the way. If the Etosha pan is full of water it is transformed into a water bird spectacle with huge numbers of Pelican, Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Caspian Plover, Red-billed and Cape Teals, Chestnut-banded Plover, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilts and Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes. From a mammal point of view this area is perfect for finding the endemic Damara Dik-dik. Etosha is one of the best game viewing parks in Africa and we hope to see Elephant, Lion, Black Rhino, Giraffe, Cheetah, Spotted Hyena, Leopard, Black-backed Jackal, Black-faced Impala (another endemic), Red Hartebeest, Oryx, Greater Kudu and Springbok during our stay in the park.

Accommodation: Mokuti Lodge on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 8: Central Etosha National Park

Today will be dedicated exploring the vast Etosha National Park. As we make our way towards Halali camp which will be our Resort for tonight we will look for Monotonous and Rufous-naped Larks and we will keep an eye out for Etosha’ s raptors which include Martial Eagle and Tawny Eagles, Black-chested and Brown Snake-eagles, Lanner, Peregrine and Red-necked Falcons, Bateleur, Pale-chanting and Gabar Goshawks. Halali Resort is known for sightings of Violet Woodhoopoe, Carp’s Black Tit, Bare-cheeked Babbler, Pied Babbler, White-crested Helmet-shrike, African Scops Owl and Southern White-faced Owlet. Etosha is also well known for vultures and we might see Lappet-faced, White-backed, White-headed and Hooded Vultures. Around sunset and after dinner we will visit the waterhole next to the camp well known for Elephant, Black Rhino and Leopard sightings. From a birding point of view Double-banded Sandgrouse visit just after sunset and Spotted Eagle-owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet and Rufous-cheeked Nightjar are often seen around the waterhole.

Accommodation: Halali Resort on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 9: The Okaukuejo area of Etosha National Park

After breakfast we will make our way further west as we continue to explore this great park. The area around Okaukuejo should produce Dusky and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Acacia Pied Barbet, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Marico Flycatcher, Chat Flycatcher, Rattling Cisticola, Double-banded and Namaqua Sandgrouse, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Ostrich, Kori Bustard, Northern Black and Red-crested Korhaan and Great Sparrow to name a few. We will scan on top of all the huge Sociable Weaver nests for Pygmy Falcon. At the waterhole tonight we will look for Verreaux’s Eagle-owl. We will also use the afternoon and perhaps the following morning to bird the Okondeka plains north of the camp where we will look for Spike-heeled, Pink-billed, Eastern Clapper, Red-capped and Sabota Larks as well as Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Capped Wheatear, Double-banded Courser, Desert Cisticola and Rufous-eared Warbler.

Accommodation: Okaukuejo Resort on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 10: Western Etosha and Damaraland

After an early morning birding and game drive around Okaukuejo we will make our way to the far western section of the park visiting several waterholes along the way hoping to see Burchell’s Sandgrouse drinking at one of them. Once we leave the park we have an hour long drive to our lodge near Kamanjab. The lodge and surrounding area is home to several of Namibia’s near endemic birds and other specials that include Bare-cheeked Babbler, Carp’s Black Tit, Rockrunner, Hartlaub’s Spurfowl, Ruppell’s Parrot, African Scops Owl, Southern Pied Babbler and White-tailed Shrike. Monteiro’s and Damara Hornbills are both common around the lodge. The lodge is known for their excellent night drives which often produces Aardvark, Aardwolf, Porcupine, Bat-eared Fox, Black-backed Jackal, African Wild Cat, Spotted Eagle-owl and Rufous-cheeked Nightjar. Please let us know if you are interested in doing this in advance.

Accommodation: Toko Lodge on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 11: Damaraland

We will be up early to catch up with any of the target birds that we might have missed and after breakfast we will make our way to the arid plains around the Brandberg Mountain, Namibia’s highest mountain, where we will spend the night and search for specific target birds. We will scan the plains north of the mountain for Ruppell’s Korhaan, Burchell’s Courser, Bokmakierie and Benguela Long-billed Lark. The hills will hopefully produce Herero Chat, arguably the toughest of the endemics to find and Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Cape Penduline-tit and Grey-backed Cisticola can also be found here. Our lodge is situated close to the Ugab River where we hope to see Violet Woodhoopoe and Bare-cheeked Babbler. Ruppell’s Parrot and Augur Buzzard can be found here as well. We might also be lucky to encounter the famous desert adapted Elephants of north-western Namibia which move up and down the Ugab River during our stay.

Accommodation: Brandberg White Lady Lodge on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 12: The Erongo Mountains

We will spend the morning birding around the Brandberg we will make our way to the Erongo Mountains where we will spend the night. The Erongo Mountains and surrounds are a real endemic hotspot and we will focus on finding any of the endemics that we might have missed. The granite hills surrounding the lodge are famous for Hartlaub’s Spurfowl and Rockrunner.  Besides these two specials we can look for Ruppell’s Parrot, Carp’s Black Tit, White-tailed Shrike, Monteiro’s and Damara Hornbill, Violet Woodhoopoe, Pale-winged Staring, Red-billed Spurfowl, Augur Buzzard, Cinnamon-breasted, Golden-breasted, Cape and Lark-like Buntings. Rosy-faced Lovebirds are present in massive numbers and we will also wrap up on the general scrub savannah birds like White-throated, Yellow and Black-throated Canaries, Green-winged Pytilia, Short-toed Rock-thrush, Violet-eared, Black-cheeked and Blue Waxbills, Barred Wren-warbler, Rattling Cisticola, Pririt Batis, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Red-eyed Bulbul, White-backed Mousebird, Cape Glossy Starling and Mountain Wheatear. Dassie Rat and Rock Hyrax are common mammals while Black Mongoose, Leopard and Caracal are seen quite often. At night barn Owl and Freckled Nightjar are seen on most evenings.

Accommodation: Erongo Wilderness Lodge on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis

DAY 13: Walvis Bay and the coast

After our morning birding and breakfast we will make our way to Walvis Bay and the coast stopping to look for Gray’s Lark along the way. After settling into our Bed and Breakfast for the evening we will spend the afternoon at the Walvis Bay lagoon which has been declared a Ramsar site of global importance for thousands of waders that are found here. One of our main targets today will be the Damara Tern. Other birds we hope to find include Ruff, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Black-necked Grebe, Red-necked Phalarope, Bar-tailed Godwit, Spotted Redshank, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Swift, Common, Sandwich  and Caspian Terns, Eurasian and African Black Oystercatchers, Common Ringed, Chestnut-banded, Grey and Three-banded Plovers and Greater and Lesser Flamingos. Cape Cormorants are usually spotted in huge flocks and we will also look for Crowned and White-breasted Cormorants and if we are lucky Bank Cormorant. The great thing about this area is that anything can pitch up so we have the possibilities to see a rarity or two. Pomarine Jaeger and Subantarctic Skua are sometimes seen from the shoreline. Orange-river White-eye, Cape Sparrow and Common Waxbill are all present in the lodge garden.

Accommodation: Lagoon lodge on a bed and breakfast basis

DAY 14: Dune Lark and departure

On our final morning we will focus on finding Dune Lark, Namibia’s only true endemic and a great bird to end the trip with. We will spend time in the scenic Kuiseb Riverbed searching for this special at the base of some of the impressive dunes that forms a beautiful backdrop. Other interesting birds we might see here include Bokmakierie, White-backed Mousebird, Cape Sparrow, Jackal Buzzard, Pale Chanting Goshawk and the desert form of the Trac-trac Chat. As most flights from Walvis Bay International Airport depart around lunchtime we should have time to bird the lagoon area for any waders or shorebirds that we might have missed. This will be the official end of our birding safari.


South Africa – Mega Birding and Big Game Safari – 24 Days

Day 1: Johannesburg to Polokwane. This morning we will begin this mega birding tour of South Africa by striking out early for the acacia savanna north of Pretoria, the countries capital city. Shortly after we leave the airport we should find our first near-endemic, the Cape Sparrow. This well marked and rather beautiful sparrow is wonderfully common throughout most of the country. Thereafter our birding feast will begin as we make our way northwards out of the city. We will make several birding stops today as we familiarize ourselves with some of the country’s commoner species. We will also take some time to search an area for the localised  Melodious Lark, which particularly favours dense areas of ‘red grass’.  More typical birds seen on the drive up include a variety of widowbirds and bishops, while we will keep our eyes open for the possibility of migratory Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers. Bushveld in this area is largely dominated by Acacia woodland and is incredibly rich in bird numbers and species. We expect to arrive in Polokwane by late afternoon.

Day 2: Polokwane to Magoebaskloof. Most of today will be spent birding the bushveld around Polokwane, an area that is home to the highly localised and endemic Short-clawed Lark. We will take time to visit the Polokwane Nature Reserve where we may find the delectable Scaly-feathered Weaver, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Black-chested Prinia, Barred Wren Warbler, Greater Striped Swallow, Cape Starling and Sabota Lark. Other fairly conspicuous species of the woodlands in the area include delights such as Temminck’s Courser, Arrow-marked Babbler, Northern Black Korhaan, African Grey Hornbill, Purple Roller, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Magpie and Southern White-crowned Shrikes, Gabar Goshawk and Groundscraper Thrush. Seedeaters are generally very well represented in this area and frequently encountered species include the gorgeous Black-faced and Violet-eared Waxbills, Cut-throat and Red-headed Finches, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Great Sparrow Northern Violet-eared Waxbill by Jonathan Rossouw RBT South Africa and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.

After the morning’s birding, we head for the wonderful forests of Magoebaskloof. These forests can be very lively with bird activity and the key here is to locate mixed feeding flocks. Specials of the area include the seldom-sighted Bat Hawk,  Forest Buzzard, lovely little Swee Waxbill, skulking Barratt’s Warbler, the splendid Black-fronted Bushshrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Grey Cuckooshrike, Forest Canary and Green Twinspot.

Day 3: Magoebaskloof to Wakkerstroom. This morning we leave the diversity of the forests behind us and head for the grasslands and hills that surround the quaint town of Wakkerstroom, where we will be based for the next two nights. These grasslands are a centre for avian endemism and are critical for the survival of several range-restricted species. We will make a full exploration of the grasslands tomorrow while this afternoon will be spent birding the highly productive Wakkerstroom marsh at the edge of town. This is a haven for waterbirds and offers the chance of a number of uncommon or localised species. Purple Heron, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, Purple Swamphen, South African Swallow, Levaillant’s Cisticola and Cape Weaver are all regular, and we should also find African Snipe and the elusive African Rail. Rarely recorded species seen here on our previous trips include the secretive Baillon’s Crake and Redchested Flufftail. 

Day 4: Wakkerstroom area. Driving along with the network of dirt roads radiating out from Wakkerstroom we will explore the grasslands, rocky outcrops and gorges of this unique area in search of some of the countries most threatened and range-restricted endemics, along with with numerous other widespread but no less exciting species. These include Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Korhaan, White-bellied Bustard, Jackal Buzzard, the rare and localised Botha’s and Rudd’s Larks (the latter considered one of the world’s most endangered larks), Pink-billed and the recently split Eastern Long-billed and Eastern Clapper Larks, Ground Woodpecker, Ant-eating and Buffstreaked Chats, Sentinel Rock Thrush, African Rock and Yellow-breasted Pipits, Cape Longclaw, Pied Starling, the spectacular Longtailed Widowbird, Yellow-crowned Bishop, African Quailfinch and  Cape Canary. Redwinged Francolin is fairly common in the moist grasslands and we may find them feeding at the roadside or sunning themselves at dawn. Small mammals occurring in the grasslands include Yellow Mongoose and the rare Cape Fox. One of the more interesting denizens of these grasslands is the curious Suricate, or Meerkat, immortalized in Disney’s ‘Lion King’. We have a good chance of Southern Bald Ibis by Hugh Chittenden, finding family groups of these unusual yet delightful animals.

Day 5: Wakkerstroom to Mkuze. After some final early morning birding in Wakkerstroom, we will drive south to Mkuze, an area in northern Kwazulu-Natal that is home to a host of exciting specials and a handful of endemics. We will arrive in the mid to late afternoon for a two-night stay. The Mkuze area is one of the most productive birding hotspots in Southern Africa and, with its wide variety of savanna, forest and wetland habitats, you can expect an excellent diversity of bird and mammal species in your days here. While we will take time to appreciate the overwhelming number of birds, we will concentrate particularly on finding the region’s more localised specials. These include Eastern Nicator, Bearded Scrub Robin, Stierling’s WrenWarbler, Four-coloured Bushshrike and the stunning  Pink-throated Twinspot. More widespread but none-the-less spectacular species that we will look for are Black-bellied Bustard with its strange, “corkpopping” display, the nomadic Senegal Lapwing and beautiful Narina Trogon.

Day 6: Mkuze area. We will spend the entire day exploring the wonders of the area, searching the great diversity of habitats for its numerous species. One of the more exciting habitats for us here is the park’s SandForest, a rare and localised dry forest severely threatened by development. This habitat is home to  Neergaard’s Sunbird,  Rudd’s Apalis, the rather bizarre looking Crested Guineafowl, and the strange African Broadbill with its unique circular display. One of Africa’s smallest antelope, the tiny, habitat-specific Suni, also occurs in Mkuze’s Sand Forest but we would be fortunate to encounter one of these shy mammals. The ephemeral wetlands in the area can be very productive after good rains, and depending on the local conditions we may opt for some time at one of these ‘pans’ where we will search for Black Heron, Lesser Jacana, African Pygmy Goose and White-backed Duck. While in Mkuze we will be sure to enjoy some ‘bushveld’ birding – excellent habitat for raptors and ‘flock’ birding especially.

Here we will be ever vigilant for the huge Crowned and Martial Eagles, Little Sparrowhawk, Grey Penduline Tit, Bushveld Pipit, White-fronted and Little Beeeaters, White-crested Helmetshrike,  Southern Black Tit,  Burchell’s Coucal, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bushshrikes,  White-throated Robin-Chat, Purple-banded and Marico Sunbirds, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and if we are extremely lucky, the scarce and unpredictable Lemon-breasted Canary.  Mkuze is also an excellent reserve to see some of Africa’s classic mammals and species like Burchell’s Zebra, Southern Giraffe, Bushbuck, Grey Duiker, handsome Nyala, impressive Greater Kudu, Chacma Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Blue Pink-throated Twinspot by Hugh Wildebeest, Impala and White Rhinoceros are all likely to be encountered during our time here. Rarer species that we may be lucky to see include Cheetah, Leopard, Black Rhinoceros and Elephant. An evening walk and/or drive could produce African Wood Owl, Square-tailed and Fierynecked nightjars as well as small nocturnal mammals like Greater Galago and White-tailed Mongoose.

Day 7: Mkuze to St Lucia. After some final early morning birding in the Mkuze area, we will make our way to the coastal village of St. Lucia. This is nestled on the shores of a lake of the same name and is part of a world heritage site. If time allows we will take a drive to the nearby river mouth where we can obtain great views of Hippopotamus and Nile Crocodile lazing on exposed sandbanks. The Greater St Lucia Wetland Park is an incredibly important breeding site for many species of waterfowl and protects some excellent patches of coastal forest and grassland. This afternoon we will bird our way slowly through the patch of forest that flanks the St Lucia estuary, which is an excellent site for the regional endemics. Woodward’s Batis, Rudd’s Apalis, Brown Scrub Robin and Livingstone’s Turaco will be the focus of our efforts. Other birds to look out for here include the iridescent African Emerald Cuckoo, the scarce Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Lemon Dove, Grey Waxbill, Red-backed Mannikin, Narina Trogon and Red-fronted Tinkerbird.

Day 8: Greater St Lucia Wetland Park to Eshowe. This morning we will visit the finest and arguably the most beautiful of Zululand’s forests, the storied Ngoye forest. This majestic forest enjoys an important place in Zulu history and is a very important site for birders. This is the only place in the world where one can find the endemic subspecies of Green Barbet (Woodward’s Barbet). The nearest place to spot the nominate race is hundreds of miles away in northern Mozambique and this, coupled with plumage and song differences, have led many to believe that this is a full species. Ngoye is also a good site for Yellow-streaked Greenbul, African Green Pigeon and White-eared Barbet.

From here, if time permits, we will journey back to the coast, stopping in at the small town of Mtunzini. The town looks down on a wonderful patch of coastal forest and a large plantation of Raffia palms. These palms are an intricate part of the life of the Palm-nut Vulture and this represents the southern breeding limit of this species.  Other target specials include Black-throated Wattle-eye and a chance for African Finfoot. Our final destination for the day is the small town of White Rhino & calf at Mkuze G.R. Eshowe, which gives us an excellent launching pad to locate a number of key species in Dlinza Forest the following day. 

Day 9: Eshowe to Underberg. This morning we will enter into the verdant Dlinza, the forest that is situated on the outskirts of Eshowe. Our targets here may not be endemic, but they are certainly very special.  Spotted Ground Thrush, for instance, has a patchy distribution and is a very uncommon species throughout its range. We will also amble along the Dlinza canopy walkway in an attempt to locate the very uncommon and sparsely distributed Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon.  In the afternoon we will then make our way towards the fabled Drakensberg. En route, we will stop at an area of pristine rolling grassland. This locality supports a breeding population of the rare Blue Swallow, a species that only visits our region during the summer months in order to breed. Other birds we have a chance of locating are Darkcapped Yellow Warbler, Red-necked Spurfowl and Fan-tailed Grassbird. Later in the afternoon, if time allows, we can stop in at a small but productive patch of forest near Underberg known as Marutswa Forest, where we will have a chance of seeing some very good species such as  Cape parrot, Bush Blackcap, Knysna Turaco, Swee Waxbill, Cape and Forest Canaries, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Chorister Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, Cape Batis, Olive Bushshrike and Orange Ground Thrush. In the late afternoon, we head for the small town of Underberg that is nestled in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountain range.

Day 10: Sani Pass. Today we travel up into the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho in search of a handful of highly localised, highland endemics.  In order to do this, we will transfer to 4 x 4 vehicles and make our way up the rugged and spectacular Sani Pass, birding en route. The grassy slopes and rocky outcrops at the lower end of the pass are home to the bizarre Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush and Yellow Bishop, whilst stands of  Protea support the spectacular endemic  Gurney’s Sugarbird (belonging to a family endemic to Southern Africa),  Greater Double-collared Sunbird and the dazzling Malachite Sunbird. As we approach the crest of the Escarpment, we will be watching rocky scree at the roadside for the stunning  Drakensberg Rockjumper, African Rock Pipit, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Drakensberg Prinia and Drakensberg Siskin. Atop the plateau, the steep slopes and rugged cliffs are replaced by gently undulating terrain and endless vistas Spotted Ground Thrush of distant, blue mountains.  Black Stork and Southern Bald Ibis may be found alongside the mountain streams, whilst Grey-winged Francolin, Red-capped Lark, Sickle-winged Chat, African and Mountain Pipits, Yellow Canary and Cape Bunting prefer adjacent meadows. A number of birds more typical of the Karoo, such as Grey Tit, Large-billed Lark, Karoo Prinia, Layard’s Warblerand Fairy Flycatcher, reach the eastern limits of their range here in the Lesotho highlands. We will keep a careful watch skywards as the magnificent Bearded and Cape Vultures, Verreauxs’ Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Lanner Falcon and White-necked Raven are all possible. Other animals of particular interest atop the “Roof of Africa” are the approachable and endearing Ice Rat, the endemic Drakensberg Crag Lizard and the colourful Southern Rock Agama.

Day 11: Underberg to Hilton. We have an early departure this morning for the Karkloof, a range of forested hills not far from the town of Hilton and home to a number of uncommon and local birds restricted to Afro-montane forests.

We will be searching for South African endemics such as Forest Buzzard, Knysna Turaco, the highly endangered Cape Parrot, elusive Bush Blackcap – one of South Africa’s most sought-after endemics – Chorister Robin-Chat, Southern Boubou, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Swee Waxbill, Forest Canary and Barratt’s Warbler. We may also see more widespread, yet no less spectacular birds such as African Olive Pigeon, Olive Woodpecker, Narina Trogon, the uncommon Orange Ground-Thrush, White-starred Robin, Olive Bushshrike and Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler. Further up the Karkloof range, we visit a pristine area of upland grassland hosting breeding Black-winged Lapwings, but the star bird is undoubtedly the striking Buff-streaked Chat, an endemic wheatear that is breathtaking both in its appearance and song. Wetlands in this area host a variety of waterfowl that might include the uncommon Maccoa and White-backed Ducks, as well as Grey Crowned Crane. If we are lucky, we may encounter a pair of the endangered Wattled Crane striding majestically across the grasslands.

The afternoon will be spent in a forest nearby our accommodation. While afternoon forest birding can be challenging, we will make an effort to locate the secretive Buff-spotted Flufftail, White-starred Robin and Chorister Robin-Chat.

Day 12: Hilton to De Hoop via Durban and Cape Town.  Today we have a mid-morning flight to Cape Town. We will arrive in the “MotherCity” in the early afternoon and then make the drive to the De Hoop Nature Reserve. Our drive towards the wheat lands of the Overberg region takes us on a very scenic coastal route where we can enjoy breath-taking views of False Bay and the Indian Ocean. This area is home to a number of stunning birds including the national bird, the Blue Crane, which is occasionally seen here in very large flocks. Other exciting and noteworthy species we will keep an eye out for along the way include Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Southern Black Korhaan and Denham’s Bustard. We will overnight at a wonderful lodge next to De Hoop Nature Reserve.

Day 13: De Hoop Nature Reserve to Cape Town. This morning we will enter the De Hoop Nature Reserve and begin our search for  Cape Clapper Lark and  Southern Tchagra. The endemic Cape Mountain Zebra is refreshingly common here and we may also encounter the shy CapeGrysbok. A nearby patch of woodland houses the most sought-after woodpecker in the country, Knysna Woodpecker. This rather secretive endemic can be very difficult to find – patience and a little luck will be needed to track it down. Further bonuses are the possibility for three honeyguide species, namely Greater and Lesser and Brown-backed Honeybird, as well as a chance for Hottentot Buttonquail. On our route back towards Cape Town, we might stop in at Harold Porter Botanical Gardens. This is an excellent site for several tough birds and will serve as a backup for us if we are still on the hunt for some of the Cape endemics. The scenic gardens are blessed with fynbos patches and forested ravines. Victorin’s Warbler and Cape Siskin are found here, while commoner species include Black Saw-wing, Malachite and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, and Brimstone Canary.  In the afternoon we will stop en route at the rugged Hottentots-Holland’s Mountains in search of one of South Africa’s finest endemics, the handsome Cape Rockjumper. Though strikingly plumaged and conspicuous by their vocalizations, these charismatic birds possess an incredible ability to disappear amongst the boulders and we may have to be patient if we wish to enjoy prolonged sightings of these elusive creatures. Rock outcrops here also support  Ground Woodpecker, White-necked Raven and Cape Rock Thrush, whilst the thick mountain  Fynbos is the favoured habitat of Cape Siskin and the smart, endemic Victorin’s Warbler. If we are very lucky, we may flush Hottentot Buttonquail underfoot or stumble upon a Cape Eagle-Owl at its daytime roost. We will arrive at our accommodation in Cape Town towards the early evening.

Day 14: Cape Peninsula (Pelagic). The cold upwelling of the Benguela current off Cape Town supports a wealth of pelagic seabirds, with vast concentrations of albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters and prions gathering in the deeper water at the edge of the continental shelf. Though boat trips are generally most productive in mid-winter due to the possibility of vagrants from the Subantarctic, the birding is excellent year-round and we hope to see Shy, Black-browed and Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses and Southern Giant Petrels, Cape and White-chinned Petrels, Sooty, Great, Manx and Cory’s Shearwaters, Wilson’s and European Storm Petrels, Cape Gannet and Parasitic Jaeger. If we manage to locate one of the commercial fishing trawlers, the birding can be truly spectacular with a cloud of seabirds following in the vessel’s wake to feed off any resultant offal. Once the excitement has subsided, we will carefully search through the thousands of birds present for rarities such as Wandering Albatross, Southern Fulmar and Grey and Spectacled Petrels. Cetaceans are almost always encountered and we have a good chance of seeing Southern Right and Bryde’s Whales and Dusky Dolphin. It goes without saying that a day off the Cape is likely to be a highlight of any trip to South Africa!

Whilst in False Bay, we will also visit the famous African Penguin colony. The comical antics of the penguins make for superb entertainment and here you will be treated to exceptionally close views of these endearing creatures. African Oystercatcher, Cape Cormorant and the abundant Hartlaub’s Gull are often nearby. There will be time enough for us to hunt down the remaining endemic cormorants and our search will begin not far from the Penguin colony. Crowned and Bank Cormorants are largely restricted to Southern Africa and their numbers are densest here around the Cape peninsula. Granite domes, pounded by icy Atlantic swells, are the best areas to search for roosting cormorants.  The weather and ocean conditions off the Cape are extremely unpredictable, so our daily schedule will remain flexible to optimize our birding on land and at sea.

Day 15: Cape Peninsula. Today we have the whole day to explore the peninsula for its numerous endemics. We will start the day off with our greatest challenge, Knysna Warbler. This secretive, drab skulker has frustrated many a birder, and any view of it is a good one! By way of relief, we will occasionally focus skyward for Forest Buzzard. After the hard work for the warbler, we then visit Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, arguably the most beautiful gardens on the continent. This is an excellent site for Cape Spurfowl, Forest Canary, Cape Bulbul,  Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, Cape Batis, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds and further chances for the delightful little Swee Waxbill. The dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain, coupled with the great birding, makes this a very memorable stop. After enjoying this spectacle we travel to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. This wonderful park showcases the most south-western point of the continent and is very popular amongst birders and general tourists alike. Here we should find the impressive Cape Grassbird, Bokmakierie and Cape Siskin. We will explore the network of roads to less visited parts of the reserve, visiting secluded coves and searching for the elusive Cape Mountain Zebra and Bontebok antelope. In addition, we should see Eland and Chacma Baboon. If time allows we will spend the rest of the day at the productive Strandfontein Water Works. This is one of the best-known sites in the country for waterfowl and is always teeming with birds. Yellow-billed and Maccoa Ducks, Red-billed Teal, Southern Pochard, Black-necked Grebe, South African Shelduck, African Marsh Harrier and Levaillant’s Cisticola are all regularly encountered here.

Day 16: Cape Town to Langebaan via West Coast National Park. This morning we will be up early for our drive out to the West Coast National Park, including the globally important wetland sites of the Berg River estuary and Langebaan Lagoon. The morning quest will be dedicated mainly to larks. We will stop along the way to search for Cape Clapper Lark, a very localised species that favours coastal vegetation called ‘strandveld’, which is stunted by the salty air from the icy Atlantic.  Large numbers of waders spend the northern winter here and we will scan for Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Greater  Sand Plover and Eurasian Curlew, as well as Kittlitz’s and the localised Chestnut-banded Plovers. In addition to the shorebirds, these areas also support large numbers of Greater and Lesser Flamingos, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler and numerous other waterfowl. The surrounding strandveld is home to  Southern Black Korhaan,  Grey-winged Francolin, Grey Tit, Cape Penduline Tit, Karoo Lark, Capped Wheatear, Fiscal Flycatcher and the magnificent Black Harrier, surely one of the world’s most attractive raptors.

Day 17: Langebaan to Calvinia. We will begin our journey north today, travelling along the main national road out of Cape Town. Our first stop will be near Paleisheuwel, arguably the best site for the tricky Protea Canary. Other birds of interest here are White-backed Mousebird, Layard’s and Chestnut-vented Warblers, the dainty Fairy Flycatcher, Acacia Pied Barbet and Mountain Wheatear.  In the mid-afternoon, we will arrive in the Calvinia area where we will be in the Karoo proper, with a whole host of special birds now possible on the desolate plains around town. These include Pririt Batis in taller vegetation, Karoo and Spike-heeled Larks, Tractrac, Sickle-winged and Karoo Chats, Rufous-eared Warbler,  Yellow and White-throated Canaries and Pale Chanting Goshawk. If very fortunate we may see the nomadic Ludwig’s Bustard striding through the desolate plains. The usually dry river system that passes through the town will also form the focus of our attention, as the reedbeds here are home to the endemic Namaqua Warbler (recently assigned to a monotypic genus, Phragmacia).

Day 18: Calvinia & Brandvlei. Today we have a full day to search for some of the scarce inhabitants of this unique area. On leaving Calvinia we will search for flocks of Pale-winged Starlings. Three species of lark will be at the top of the hit list, namely Red Lark, a striking and very range-restricted endemic, and the highly nomadic Sclater’s and Stark’s Larks, Karoo Long-billed Lark and  Blackeared and Grey-backed Sparrow-Larks. Some of the many star birds of the region include other nomads such as Burchell’s Courser, while Ashy Tit, Bokmakierie, Grey-backed Cisticola, Chat Flycatcher and Pririt Batis should be less of a challenge to find. We will also listen for the distinctive flight calls of  Namaqua Sandgrouse and the strange, dawn croaking of the  Karoo Korhaan, which will help us locate these cryptically coloured birds. Some wonderful nonendemic species are also bound to capture our attention and the magnificent Martial Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Kori Bustard and Double-banded Courser are all likely. Today is also our best chance at finding Dusky Sunbird, Tractrac Chat and Lark-like Bunting, while we will make a concerted effort to locate a party of elusive  Karoo Eremomelas. We also have the opportunity of venturing out this evening in search of desert denizens such as Bat-eared and CapeFoxes, African Wild Cat, the bizarre Aardwolf and the strange, kangaroo-like Springhare. Nocturnal birds here include Spotted Eagle- and Barn Owls and Rufous-cheeked Nightjar.

Day 19: Calvinia to Springbok. This morning we have a fairly lengthy drive on some of the Karoo’s typical gravel roads. Our journey gives us further chances for a number of unique Karoo species that we may still be missing. In the afternoon we will make a stop at Goegap Nature Reserve and, while searching the rocky slopes and Acacia lined watercourses, we have great chances of finding many of the more difficult Karoo endemics. These include the highly localised Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Karoo Eremomela, Layard’s and Chestnut-vented Warblers, Dusky Sunbird and Black-headed Canary.

Day 20: Springbok to Port Nolloth and return. We have an early start today from Springbok as we strike out for the diamond-mining town of Port Nolloth, a small town nestled near the Namibian border on South Africa’s west coast. This area is famous for a single species of lark that is found only here and in the extreme south of Namibia: Barlow’s Lark. Another endemic lark that is found in this low coastal scrub is the impressive Sclater’s, Cape Long-billed Lark, an outrageous species with the longest bill of any Southern African lark.

Cape Penduline Tit can also be found feeding while little groups move from bush to bush. The road that gives access to the Barlow’s Lark habitat runs up the Atlantic coastline; however, most of the road passes through restricted diamond areas, and no stopping is allowed except for the first few kilometres where we may alight from the vehicles. Along the coastline we could enjoy sightings of Crowned, Bank and Cape Cormorants, Kelp Gull and the smart African Oystercatcher and if we are very lucky the tiny Damara Tern. In the afternoon we will make our way back inland to Springbok and, if time permits, we will visit the Goegap Nature Reserve once again in an attempt to track down anything that we may still need.

Day 21: Springbok to Augrabies Falls National Park.  Our journey today is rather short, though we will still be making several stops en route to search for any specific targets. Before reaching Augrabies Falls our route will take us through a few more of South Africa’s prime endemic sites. These include the gravel plains surrounding Pofadder, where Sclater’s Lark and Burchell’s Courser reside, while the red dunes around Aggenys are a good location for the dune form of  Red Lark. The immense communal nests of Sociable Weavers are also conspicuous on telephone poles in this area and these colonies frequently host “tenants” such as Pygmy Falcon and Red-headed Finch. In the late afternoon, we arrive at Augrabies Falls National Park for one night’s stay. A linear oasis in the desert heralds our arrival on the banks of the Orange River, South Africa’s largest waterway. We will follow its course westwards to where the river narrows and plunges headlong over the 100m high Augrabies Falls, scouring an impressive gorge on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. The national park, centred on the falls, protects a range of bird-rich habitats, and we will search the riparian vegetation and dry Acacia-filled watercourses for Red-necked Spurfowl (an isolated population well west of its usual range), Rosy-faced Lovebird, White-backed and Red-faced Mousebirds, Acacia Pied Barbet, Karoo Thrush, Black-chested Prinia, Pririt Batis, Dusky Sunbird, African Red-eyed Bulbul, the attractive, apricot-flanked Orange River White-eye and Black-throated Canary.

Day 22: Augrabies Falls National Park to Kimberley.   We have a morning to explore the riches of this scenic reserve. Here we will be scanning the skies constantly, as the rocky gorges below the falls are home to Verreauxs’ Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Greater Kestrel and large numbers of Alpine and the endemic Bradfield’s Swifts. The apparently desolate, boulder-strewn landscapes away from the river are also well-worth exploring for Mountain Wheatear and Familiar Chat and, if we are lucky, Short-toed Rock Thrush. Big game is not plentiful in this arid park, we should see the sure-footed Klipspringer and the unusual Dassie Rat, while Rock Hyraxes are numerous and can frequently be seen grazing fresh leaves atop flimsy Acacia bushes! The highly localised, brightly coloured Broadley’s Flat Lizard is also conspicuous along the walls of the gorge.

We then embark on the long drive east and south to the fabled mining town of Kimberley, where we will arrive in the early evening.

Day 23: Kimberley. Our search today will revolve around finding the Kimberley Pipit, only recently described to science and incredibly range-restricted. The Kamfer’s Dam, situated just outside the town, is usually an excellent place for Lesser and Greater Flamingos as both species have attempted to breed here in the past. We will also take some time to bird the mosaic of grassland and Acacia thornveld that dominate the area. Many interesting species can be found in this habitat, and these include the strikingly marked Northern Black Korhaan, elusive Orange-River Francolin stunning  Crimson-breasted Shrike, Marico Flycatcher, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Long-billed Crombec, Cape Longclaw, Common Scimitarbill and Shaft-tailed Whydah. This area also holds some interesting wildlife and bird species that are strictly nocturnal, and tonight we will head out after dark in search of a few of these strange animals. The amazing Aardvark tops the list of amazing potential nocturnal beasts in the area, while other highlights include the endearing Aardwolf and the unusual Springhare. On previous Rockjumper night drives in this region, we have recorded over 25 mammal species in a single evening! Night birds include Spotted Eagle- and Marsh Owls and the migratory Rufous-cheeked Nightjar.

Day 24: Kimberly to Johannesburg.  Today is the final day of our incredible journey through some of South Africa’s most beautiful and scenic countryside. We depart Kimberley this morning for the hub of Johannesburg, where the tour will conclude.