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.