Trip Report – October 2010
DAY 1: I should just say before I start, that all the birding spots mentioned in this trip are detailed in the Where to Bird guide mentioned below. In Cape Town there are several places in to bird – we started gently with the Kirstenbosch Gardens – a truly beautiful spot and a nice introduction to SA birding. There is also a restaurant here for lunch. In the afternoon, a drive to the Strandfontein Sewage works will offer great views of a number of the ducks, herons, shorebirds, gulls and passerines. All the ponds are a bit of a maze so give yourself plenty of time to find your way back before it closes.
DAY 2: We had a pelagic trip booked for our second day – they only normally go on weekends ( from near Simons Town) but you can charter the boat (as we did) and get out any day – weather permitting. The weather didn’t co-operate for us so we only got as far as the Cape but still had a number of gulls & terns, Shy Albatross, White Chinned Petrel plus Cape, Bank and White-breasted Cormorant.
If you are lucky enough to get all the way out, you should still have a couple of hours on your return to bird on land. You can start with the African Penguin (although there is a better spot mentioned later in this report) which is very close to the harbor and then head up to Table Mountain National Park and bird out towards the Cape. Apart from being beautiful, you should get Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted and Malachite Sunbird, Cape Bulbul etc.
DAY 3: I would highly recommend an early start to get to West Coast Reserve today. It is about 130 km north of Cape Town but it is well worth the drive and it is an easy drive. The birding starts right at the entrance and there are too many to mention. This reserve is stunning – there is a great restaurant, a number of hides, marshes, fields and a small amount of forest. It is great. Find out the time of the tides and organize your route accordingly. Apart from the hides on the inlet additional stops should include a walk out to the Bird Hide which is just past the Visitor’s Center ( we had Spotted Thicknee, Cape Longclaw, Kittlitz’s Plover, Chestnut banded Plover and Karoo Lark); Abrahamskraal should be on your list and Seeberg View Point ( scramble around on the rocks below the old house there – we had Black -Headed Canary).
This is just a great way to spend the day – afterwards we drove back into Cape Town for dinner at the V&A Waterfront – a little touristy but a great setting looking up at Table Mountain.
DAY 4: We left Cape Town early and drove east. We had been told not to bother with Sir Lowry’s Pass but to stop at the point mentioned between Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay for Cape Rockjumper, which breeds there. We were lucky and found it, along with Cape Rockthrush and Cape Sugarbird as well. Then onto the Stony Point Penguin Colony at Betty’s Bay. Great views of the penguins and all 4 cormorants – including the Crowned Cormorants that we had missed in Cape Town. Then lunch and another great birding opportunity at the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens on the other side of Betty’s Bay.
Don’t linger too long over lunch as there is still a fair distance to get to De Hoop – and some good birding to be had as you leave the main road for the final 40 kms over a gravel road. Blue Crane, Southern Black-bellied Korhaan, Red-Capped Lark, Slenderbilled Pipit, Capped Wheatear and more can be seen from this road. De Hoop park itself is stunning – get a cottage on the Vlei – you could self cater or enjoy the bar and restaurant. We spend an hour before dinner birding and got 10 new species.
DAY 5: We did an early morning walk around the campsite and the restaurant area before breakfast (African Hoopoe, Horus Swift,
Familiar Chat etc) and then drove down towards the beach. It was very windy so not too much was about but still a stunning place – with huge sand dune that are incredible. Look down at the ocean from the top of the dues, you can watch the Southern Right Whales in the bay. I should mention that there are many other animals in this park which are quite fabulous! In the evening after dinner we enjoyed great views of the Fiery-necked Nightjar flying over the area. Play-back worked really well to bring them in and enable us to spotlight them.
DAY 6: We left De Hoop early in order to get some great birds en route to Wilderness First birds happened quite soon with several Denham’s Bustard displaying, quickly followed by Agulhas Clapper Lark, Large-billed Lark, Cloud cisticloa and Agulhas Long-billed lark. Then Crowned Plover, Cape Vulture and Marshal Eagle. What a start.!We drove on the the Potberg Centre but we didn’t find any people or any birds so we had a quick walk and moved on.
Drove through to Wilderness – taking the manually-driven ferry at Malagas, which is a nice route and offers further opportunities to bird before hitting the freeway again. We didn’t bird much en route because of the weather but we had fantastic birding at the Kingfisher Guesthouse when we arrived.
At the feeder, which hangs right next to the deck where you have breakfast, were Swee Waxbill, Forest Canary, Streak-headed Canary,and Knysna Turaco.
A trip to one of the hides before dinner ( not a great time because of the light) gave us Black Crake and African Reed Warbler. Nice Dinner in Wilderness, which has the feel of a little surfer town but offers plenty of restaurants and internet access.
DAY 7: Wilderness is forest birding at its most frustrating – but if you get a guide you MAY have better luck. Having said that it was unusually windy during our time in Wilderness and the birds were exceptionally hard to find. We had Terrestrial Bulbul and Chorister Robin in the grounds of the guesthouse and Olive Bushrike, Green Wood-hoope, Great Reed Warbler on our walk – other than that nothing new . There are several hides that were very quiet and a number of different walking routes so am sure it can be great but for us it was disappointing.
DAY 8: We flew to Durban in the morning – but not before stopping en route to George Airport at Victoria Bay to see the Knysna Warbler – we were successful but extremely lucky to see it – we could hear many of them but seeing them is something else!. Nice little spot.
We were picked up at Durban airport by our bird guide and driven up to his home in Creighton, which is also a B&B. Interesting area
because it was so different to the southern coast – a great deal of poverty and traditional housing and a whole different selection of birds. Red-throated Wryneck, Dark-capped Bulbul and Amethyst Sunbird were in the garden the first evening but the wind had followed us and so it was quieter than usual.!
DAY 9: An early start today took us on one of the most memorable birding days of our live – not just because of the birds but because of the scenery and the overall experience. We went up the Sani Pass into Lesotho. This has to be seen to be believed. The pass is spectacular and Lesotho is a story all of its own. Got nearly all the specialties we wanted , including Bearded Vulture, Drakensburg Rockjumper, Sisken & Prinia, Sicklewinged Chat and so much more. What a great day – and Malcolm is a great guide.
DAY 10: Another early start to get to Xumeni Forest for the Cape Parrot – which arrived right on cue. Along with Orange Groundthrush, Lemon Dove and Yellow-throated Warbler. Spent the rest of the day around the Crieghton area and though we did not get the elusive Black-rumped Buttonquali, we did get Black-winged Lapwing and one the the early returning Blue Swallows!
DAY 11: Moving north today we headed for Eshowe. The weather had been very windy our whole time in South Africa and it didn’t stop today which made forest birding even more frustrating than usual!! Still, Entumeni Forest, while unbelievable quiet, gave us Crowned & Trumpeter Hornbill and Grey-headed Bushshrike. Stopped at Dlinza Forest got White-eared Barbet but really wanted Spotted Groundthrush but no luck today. Much deserved beer and dinner at the King George Hotel. (there doesn’t seem to be any good accommodation in this area so be prepared!)
DAY 12: Back to the Dlinza Forest before breakfast where we were finally rewarded with the Spotted Groundthrush, Purple Turaco and African Crowned Eagle. Moved on further north after breakfast and spent most of the morning tramping through various parts of the Ngoye Forest for Green Barbet – which we finally got thanks to the efforts or our guide, PJ. Also had Narina Trogon and Forest Weaver. Gorgeous Bushrike & Palmnut Vulture en route and many more. The day ended on a high note as well when we found our accommodation at Umkhumba Lodge which was fabulous. (especially after the previous night at the Eshowe B&B which wasn’t great.)
DAY 13: Started with a walk around the grounds of the lodge – great for Red-capped Robin Chat. Then we went to the Mkuze floodplain and
found a spot that PJ knew which was incredible – got Rose-Throated Longclaw and Lemon-breasted Canary – but that was just the start of an incredible day. Stopping at the pans on the road into Mkhuze was fabulous and then Mkhuze itself was great! We had close up views of rhino from the hide where they run water into a scrape for both the animals and the birds. Unfortunately someone forgot to turn the tap on the day we were there but the forest in general produced a great deal. Including amazing views of African Broadbill displaying!! Too many birds to mention today – just great. Spent a second night at the wonderful Umkhuma Lodge.
DAY 14: Left really early and drove through to St Lucia ( which had a great market for souvenirs) – There are Brown-throated Weaver in the reeds by the jetty and the forest is wonderful.This is a great spot for Livingston’s Turaco and we got Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird,
Woodward’s Batis and Green Malkoah amongst others. The estuary ( which is now completely blocked by sand) didn’t offer too much other than crocodiles so we walked along the boardwalk where we were rewarded with Mangrove Kingfisher and Black-throated Wattle-
eye! It is certainly worth heading to the Camp Site at Cape Vidal – amongst the cabins you should find Green Twinspot and en route we had African Wattled Lapwing.
We then drove down to Bellito ( near Durban) in order to catch an early flight in the morning. We stayed at the Hotel Izuzu because it was convenient and supposedly luxurious – don’t waste you money!
DAY 15: We flew to Phalaborwa – where we were picked up by our next guide and driven to Punda Maria in the north of Kruger. After so much wind and cold weather we left the airport and it was 47C – so now there were no birds because it was too hot! Actually the area around the cabins was quite birdy and there is a hide overlooking a bog which is a lovely spot for birds and animals. White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Red-headed Weaver, Jamieson’s Firefinch and Crested Barbet were among our new birds.
DAY 16: We left in the morning to work our way through to our final stop which was at a game lodge in Pafuri. En route some great birds – Pearl Spotted Owlet, Southern Hyliota, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, White-fronted Bee-eater, Purple Roller to name a few.
The main area in Pafuri part of Kruger Park to bird is the picnic area because you can leave your vehicle in this area and wander around. Unfortunately the normal guy wasn’t there to fill us in and it seemed very quiet so we had our guides drop us at safari camp which is just outside the park. What we didn’t realize was that we couldn’t come back into that area with the guides from our next lodge, so we were unable to return. We did get Bohms Spinetail while we were there but I would like to have been able to return.
Our safari lodge was heaven – not really about birds (although we arranged private guiding with a ‘goodish’ bird guide) but a great safari experience which included lions, more elephants up close than I needed (!) and so much more.
Our first game drive that evening turned up Pel’s Fishing Owl, White-crowned Lapwing, Saddle-billed Stork and Square-tailed nightjar. Dinner was great – and the staff were amazing.
DAY 17; After a night in a wonderful tented lodge by the river, watching elephants, buffalo and birds from our veranda we started our day with an early game drive. This was followed by brunch and a rest before our second game drive.
We saw Retz’ Helmet Shrike, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Chestnut-vented tit-babbler, Arnott’s chat, African Cuckoo hawk, Red Crested Korhaan and Senegal Coucal – what a great way to end our trip!!
I highly recommend this area – especially if you haven’t done the typical open-sided safari before and this lodge was extremely nice.
Although the guides aren’t amazing birders they know where to find the specialties so we were still had over a dozen life birds even though it was the end of 4 weeks birding in Africa.
General Notes: South Africa is vast and varied. If you cover the ground we did you will experience everything from 5 star accommodation to tents; 0 degrees C to 47 degrees C; wealth to extreme poverty; modern freeways to dirt tracks; 747s to bush planes. The key is to ‘know before you go’ and plan for everything.
We felt very safe everywhere we went and found most people very friendly.
Car hire was easy – but much of the time guides were prepared to pick us up from the airport or somewhere convenient en route so we were able to get by with out our own vehicle much of the time.
We went early October and the wind was significant – if I were to do it again i would go late October when more of the migrants are back.
Summit Place Guesthouse – Cape Town
Vlei Cottages at De Hoop Collection – De Hoop Nature Reserve ( also has great restaurant)
Kingfisher Country House– Wilderness
Smithfield Guesthouse – Creighton
Eshowe B&B – Eshowe (no web site – but you won’t need it because you shouldn’t stay here!!)
Umkhumbi Lodge – Hluehluwe
Izulu Hotel – Ballito
Punda Maria Camp – Kruger – no longer on the internet
Pafuri Camp – Kruger
Guides & Resources
Wilderness – we couldn’t get a guide here because it was Sunday and the only lady that guides doesn’t guide on Sunday – I can’t recall her name but, if you stay at the Kingfisher they can arrange if for you. As them to book her before you get there.
Creighton – Button Birding– Malcolm Gemmel – they also provide the accommodation noted above.
Rockjumper Tours – we used them for a part of the trip – they could have done it all but they aren’t cheap! Ask for PJ Fryer if he is available. They also have some useful self-drive itineraries on their web site.
Kruger National Park- Afreco Tours (very nice people) helped us with booking and arranged the guide for Punda Maria
Pafuri Camp provide their own guides
Field Guides – Birds of Southern Africa – Ian sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton
Southern African Birdfinder – www.birdingafrica.com
Lonely Planet Guide