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Birding tours South Africa and birdwatching Cape Town, pelagic birdwatching, ecotours and birding breaks.

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Please note that the detailed itinerary below cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.

This tour can be combined with our Western Cape South Africa 8-day Birding Adventure for a combined 23-day South Africa birding adventure and with our Namibia, Okavango, and Victoria Falls 18-day Birding Adventure  for a 40-day Southern African mega tour .

This subtropical tour provides a representative sample of the very best that African birding can offer. Huge numbers of species will be seen (the typical bird list for this adventure is among the very highest in the world – in the range of 400 species), and we will also find large numbers of South African endemics. Apart from yielding hundreds of bird species, this dream African experience also provides the possibility of seeing  lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, rhinos, crocodiles, hippos, giraffes, antelope, plus many other mammal species, as well as breathtaking scenery. We also often get feedback that the accommodation on this tour is great!

We begin our birding safari in the bird-rich subtropical city of Durban on the Indian Ocean, then head inland to the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains. This “barrier of spears”, as locals have named the imposing Drakensberg Escarpment, separates South Africa from the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho, which we will also visit. The beautiful Lesotho and Drakensberg highlands harbor a host of localized avian endemics. After birding the Drakensberg, we will once again descend in altitude to explore the fascinating temperate forests of the Natal midlands (where such spectacular species as Spotted Ground Thrush, Orange Ground Thrush,Cape Parrot,Narina Trogon,Green Twinspot,Green Malkoha, and many others lurk). Next on our schedule is the habitat mosaic of subtropical forest, savanna, moist grasslands and superb wetlands of the northern Zululand coast, an area truly world-famous for its spectacular bird diversity. Then we head for the grassy hills of Wakkerstroom, essential for such sought-after species as Blue andBarrow’s Korhaans,Rudd’s andBotha’s LarksYellow-breasted Pipit,Bush Blackcap,Bald Ibis, and a plethora of other southern African endemics. We are now within easy striking distance of Kruger National Park, which is to many the greatest national park on earth. Eventually, we will ascend out of the subtropical lowlands and onto the temperate highland plateau on which the mile-high city of Johannesburg sprawls. Before flying out of Johannesburg, we will sample birds typical of the Kalahari semi-desert northwest of Pretoria (including such gems as Southern Pied Babbler andCrimson-breasted Shrike).

Join our scheduled tour: October 16, 2016 - October 31, 2016

Itinerary (16 days/15 nights)

Day 1. Arrival in Durban
Your international flight (or local flight if you are joining us from our Western Cape Birding Adventure) arrives in Durban. For those joining both the Cape and subtropical trips, Chris in the Birding Ecotours office plans to book the 1-way flight from Cape Town to Durban for everyone (on this, the first day of the subtropical trip, which is also the last day of the Cape trip). It is no problem at all, however, if you have already booked this flight. If Chris books the flight, the cost can just be added to the balance you owe – the flight usually costs R1000-R2000 (ballpark). We drive to our overnight accommodation, birding along the way. A host of incredibly exciting new birds not found in the Cape awaits us this very afternoon. Many of these can be found in the big garden of our Durban B&B – we may find the likes of Purple-crested TuracoBlack-throated Wattle-eyeWhite-eared BarbetYellow-rumped Tinkerbird, and many other mouth-watering species. We’ll also look for estuary birds, such as Little TernLesser Crested TernGreaterand Lesser Sand Ploversand numerous others.
Overnight: Gateway Country Lodge, Durban

Day 2, Oct 17. Durban to Underberg, birding on the way
After further birding in the Durban area, where we’ll spend quite a lot of time getting to grips with a whole new suite of species, we’ll eventually start heading inland to the foothills of the Drakensberg, where we will spend two nights near Underberg at the base of the Sani Pass. As we ascend into the rolling hills of the “Natal Midlands”, we’ll start seeing a host of new species, including several spectacular widowbird, bishop, and whydah species. The extravagant plumage of birds such as Long-tailed WidowbirdSouthern Red Bishop, and all the others provides much entertainment.
Overnight: Sani Valley Lodge near Underberg

Day 3. Birding the Sani Pass and Lesotho
We leave very early in the morning (around 5:30) with a packed breakfast and lunch to ascend the Sani Pass by 4-wheel drive with a local guide. The ascent up Sani Pass, one of the most famed birding routes in South Africa, provides easy access to most of the birds endemic to the Drakensberg Escarpment and highlands, plus spectacular mountain scenery. Patches of temperate forest and scrub, inhabited by sought-after Bush BlackcapDrakensberg Prinia,Chorister Robin-Chat, and other endemics, are found in the lower reaches of the pass. This habitat is replaced by Protea savanna a little higher up, where Gurney’s Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird occur. Above the tree-line, Drakensberg Siskin and Drakensberg Rockjumper start to appear, and at even higher altitude Mountain Pipit,Bearded Vulture (Lammergeier), and many other Drakensberg specials occur. We will spend a full day ascending to the top of the escarpment and into the beautiful mountain kingdom of Lesotho, with frequent stops along the way, in a quest to find all the localized specials. We then descend the mountain for dinner.
Overnight: Sani Valley Lodge near Underberg


Day 4, Oct 19. Birding Underberg, transfer to Eshowe
This morning before brunch we can bird sites for the critically-endangered Cape Parrot, the magnificent and endangered Blue Swallow, Narina Trogon and others. We may find Denham’s and Black-bellied Bustards, Bald Ibis, Southern Ground Hornbill, Black-winged Lapwing, and a host of other exciting specials. After brunch we depart on a long drive to Eshowe, where, time-permitting, we can already start birding Dlinza Forest with its splendid canopy tower and aerial boardwalk.
Overnight: Bird of Paradise B&B, Eshowe

Day 5. Birding Ongoye Forest, the Raffia Palms Monument, and Amatikulu Nature Reserve
We will make a very early start with packed breakfasts and lunches. We will bird the medium-altitude Ongoye Forest in the morning with a local guide. In this truly beautiful temperate forest we may find the localized Green Barbet at its only location in Southern Africa, Narina Trogon, the endangered Spotted Ground Thrush, the rare and unpredictable Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, the inconspicuous but very beautiful Green Twinspot,Grey Waxbill,Red-backed MannikinGrey CuckooshrikeGreen Malkoha,Yellow-streaked Greenbul, and many other phenomenal species. Ongoye red squirrel is also quite possible. After birding this and other forests in the area (time permitting), we will then head to the warm coast to seek Palm-nut Vulture (in the Raffia Palm Nature Monument at Mtunzini),Collared PratincoleBlack-throated Wattle-eye, and the rare Swamp Nightjar at its daytime roost (in the Amatikulu Nature Reserve), as well as a plethora of other tantalizing specials.
Overnight: Bird of Paradise B&B, Eshowe

Day 6. Birding Dlinza Forest, transfer to St. Lucia
We will visit the Dlinza Forest canopy tower in the early morning. Here it is often possible to see Grey Cuckooshrike and other generally elusive species at eye-level. White-eared Barbet, Green Malkoha, Trumpeter andCrowned Hornbills,Olive Bushshrike, and a whole host of other species often put in an appearance. When mixed feeding flocks (bird parties) gather, the birding becomes even more exciting than usual. Thanks to the new canopy tower, this is probably the easiest place in South Africa to find Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, but in some years this species is absent. After brunch, we head to the famed Lake St Lucia, which has a phenomenally rich assemblage of waterbirds, forest birds, grassland birds, and others in its great variety of different habitats. When we arrive at our accommodation, we’ll immediately start birding – Livingstone’s TuracoLemon DoveKlaas’s CuckooRudd’s Apalis, and other spectacular forest birds have actually become garden birds here.
Overnight: St Lucia Wetlands B&B, St. Lucia

Day 7. Birding Cape Vidal
We will leave early with a packed breakfast for Cape Vidal. We are bound to stumble across White rhino and other megafauna en route to Cape Vidal, which is one of the best sites for Green Twinspot, the elusive Southern Banded Snake Eagle, and the attractive Crested Guineafowl – far more exotic in appearance than its more common cousin, the Helmeted Guineafowl. There are of course many other birds, such as Green Malkoha, Red-backed Mannikin, etc. The rare and local Samango monkey also occurs at Cape Vidal along with the more widespread vervet monkey.
Overnight: St Lucia Wetlands B&B, St. Lucia

Day 8. St Lucia to Mkhuze Game Reserve
We’ll drive to the small but magnificent Mkhuze Game Reserve, which boasts 420+ bird species as well as a plethora of mammals, including black and white rhinos and leopard. Time-permitting, we may look for Pel’s Fishing Owl before entering the reserve. After dinner, we can embark on a night drive. Mkhuze night drives quite often yield leopard, and there are chances of seeing several species of owl, nightjar, thick-knee, and courser.
Overnight: Main Camp, Mkhuze Game Reserve

Day 9. Birding Mkhuze Game Reserve
An early morning bird walk in the Sand Forest should yield the extremely localized Neergaard’s Sunbird,
African Broadbill with its bizarre display flight, Pink-throated Twinspot, and other tantalizing endemics, plus a phenomenal diversity of other species. Mkhuze is one of the richest sites for birds on the entire African continent. We will also have a reasonable chance of finding the diminutive suni antelope in the Sand Forest. After our early morning bird walk we will embark on birding drives in search of a whole host of exciting species – we will bird woodland, savanna, and wetland areas. While looking for birds there is also an excellent chance of stumbling across white rhino (and possibly the rarer black rhino) and nyala, as well as other mammals that are difficult to find in most other game reserves.
Overnight: Main Camp, Mkhuze Game Reserve

Day 10. Mkhuze Game Reserve to Wakkerstroom
After final birding in Zululand, we’ll depart for Wakkerstroom, an area of rolling green hills on the Drakensberg Escarpment – in stark contrast to Mkhuze’s dry woodland. The first bird we will focus on finding at Wakkerstroom, in areas of long grass at relatively low altitude, is Barrow’s Korhaan (Southern White-bellied Bustard), a localized subspecies of White-bellied Bustard. This is a difficult korhaan because it is small, yet commonly lurks in tall grass. We usually find it in the late afternoon when it ventures into open fields close to its typical habitat. While looking for this bird, we should also find South African Cliff SwallowSouthern Ant-eating Chat,Grey Crowned CraneBlue Crane (South Africa’s national bird), and many more.
Overnight: Wetlands Country House, Wakkerstroom

Day 11. Birding the Wakkerstroom area
We will spend the day birding the beautiful Wakkerstroom area. This small town is famed for being the best site on earth for the extremely localized Rudd’s Lark as well as Botha’s Lark. We also usually find the endemic Pink-billed Lark,Eastern Clapper LarkEastern Long-billed Lark, and Spike-heeled Lark.Blue Korhaan is common and conspicuous, and Denham’s Bustard is also usually obvious. Jackal Buzzard,Bush Blackcap,Red-throated WryneckAfrican Grass Owl,Marsh Owl, and many other fine birds are also possible.
Overnight: Wetlands Country House, Wakkerstroom

Day 12. Wakkerstroom to Kruger National Park
After some final early morning birding around Wakkerstroom we head for one of Africa’s greatest game parks, the Kruger National Park! This park has a staggering bird diversity, and we are bound to find multiple species of each of the following groups: hornbillsbarbetsrollersbee-eaterskingfisherscuckoosstorks, eagles(including the amazingBateleur),vulturesowlsweavers(including Red-headed Weaver), turacos, and many others. As a byproduct of our marked focus on birding, we should also encounter elephantliongiraffe, buffalo, a plethora of antelope specieshippopotamuscrocodile, and many small mammals, such as mongooses, etc. We will, however, require much luck for leopard or cheetah.
Overnight: Lower Sabie or Skukuza or similar Rest Camp, Kruger National Park

Day 13. Birding Kruger National Park
We will spend a full day birding the rivers, riverine forests, woodlands and savannas of this pristine and huge African wilderness area.
Overnight: Lower Sabie or Skukuza or similar Rest Camp, Kruger National Park

Day 14. Kruger to Dullstroom via the Escarpment
After a final morning of birding in Kruger, we will depart for the escarpment. Here, we will look for one of Africa’s rarest birds, the small but powerful and extremely fast Taita Falcon, which has become more difficult to see recently, but nevertheless it is still present in the area. As usual, we may find all sorts of other birds, including Mocking Cliff ChatLanner Falcon,Cape Vulture, etc. We’ll then head further west, eventually arriving at one of South Africa’s premier grassland endemic birding sites, Dullstroom. Here, we may find Gurney’s SugarbirdMalachite Sunbird, SecretarybirdYellow-breasted Pipit,Cape Eagle Owl, and others.
Overnight: Linger Longer Country Retreat, near Dullstroom

Day 15. Dullstroom to Zaagkuilsdrift
We will drive further westwards to our next lodge, which offers spectacular birding that is very different from anything we will have done so far – hence we add a lot of new species to our already large bird list right at the end of the tour. We will bird the lodge grounds and along the nearby Zaagkuilsdrift Road, looking for many birds characteristic of the Kalahari, including such spectacular species as Crimson-breasted Shrike,Southern Pied BabblerViolet-eared Waxbill,Black-cheeked Waxbill.Kalahari Scrub Robin,White-throated Robin, Northern Black Korhaan, severalbee-eaterspecies (sometimes including Southern Carmine and Blue-cheeked),Temminck’s Courser,Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark,Red-headed Finch,and Black Heron.
Overnight: Zenzele River Lodge near Pienaars River

Day 16. Transfer to Johannesburg and departure 
We’ll do some pre-breakfast birding. Today is basically a travel day, and your international flight can leave from Johannesburg International Airport any time today. The lodge is 1.5 hours’ drive from the airport.

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