Trip report author: John Brooks
Guide : Dylan Vasapolli
 
Day 1 Johannesburg
We arrived in Johannesburg on the overnight flight from London and were met and taken to Outlook Lodge, ten minutes from the airport, and located in a tranquil suburb adjacent to a golf course. We had time to refresh ourselves but by 15.00 we were met by our bird guide, Dylan.
White faced Whistling duckAfter introductions we went to two local reserves, Bullfrog Pan and Korsman’s Bird Santuary. These were within a local gated suburb where we scanned the marsh and reed beds finding White-Backed and Fulvous Ducks, White-faced Whistling Duck, Black Heron, Little Rush Warbler, Paradise Flycatcher, Southern Pochard, Greater Flamingo, and Cape Shoveler with a highlight being several Maccoa Ducks whilst overhead flew an African Harrier-Hawk and a Grey Go-away Bird. A great start to our tour.
 
Day 2 Johannesburg to Wakkerstroom
We started birding after 30mns driving south of Johannesburg in Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve at 1800mtrs with its acacia thornveld and rolling grasslands. Then we had a 2 hour drive to Wakkerstroom where we spent the afternoon walking in the grass covered hills behind the village.
Southern Bald IbisNorthern and Black Koraan, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Klaas Cuckoo, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Southern Bald Ibis VU, Buff-streaked Chat, Sentinel Rock Thrush and Brubru were the standout birds. But also seen were Cape Long Claw, African Pipit, Red-capped Lark, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Red-faced and White-backed Mousebird, Crested Barbet, Black-chested Prinia, Bar-throated Apolis, Chestnut-vented Warbler, African Red-eyed and Dark-capped Bulbul, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver and Fiscal Flycatcher.
We then checked into a delightful country house with a beautiful flower strewn garden. Our rooms overlooked a dam which together with the flowers attracted a wide range of birds. A perfect location for spotting and relaxing.
 

 

 
Day 3 Wakkerstroom
An early morning walk in the hills where we saw the Red-winged Francolin, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Spike-heeled Lark, with highlights being close-ups of Yellow-breasted Pipit VU, Rudds VU and Bothas EN Larks. Also seen were Denhams and White-bellied Bustards, and Blue Crane VU.
Spike heeled LarkIn the afternoon we walked around the grounds of the Wetlands Country House, where we were staying and then into the Wetlands Reserve where we saw Secretary Birds VU, Cuckoo Finch, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Black-crowned Night Heron, Hamerkop, Western Marsh and Montagu’s Harriers, White-winged Tern, Giant Kingfisher, Red-footed Falcon, Cape Grassbird, Red-collared Widowbird, Black-throated and Cape Canary and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting.
 
Day 4 Wakkerstroom to Mkhuze.
 
Day 5 Mkhuse.
We started off by searching for the Blue Koraan in the fields a few kilometres from Wakkerstroom and eventually we were lucky enough to find several.
Then off for a 3 hour drive to Mkuse Game Reserve where we spent two nights in Mantuma Camp. Here we had our own private Lodges located in the woods where we could watch the wildlife by just sitting on our terraces. As the Park was closed to the public from 18.00 we enjoyed the peace of the reserve.
The Reserve and surrounds are Bushveld. Dense low bushes alternating with open patches of grassland but with few trees and the occasional open water.
Red breasted CuckooArriving in the afternoon and the rest of the following day we birded the Reserve which has the reputation of being one of the best reserves in the country. We were to find out that this was true as we saw 163 species.
These included Knob-billed Duck, South African Shelduck, Helmeted and Crested Guineafowl, African Openbill, Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill, Dwarf Bittern, Hooded CR and White-backed Vultures CR, Bateleur, Black Harrier VU, Spotted Thick-knee, African Wattled Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, African Snipe,Bronze-winged Courser, Whiskered Tern, Jacobin and Diederik Cuckoo’s, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Woodland and African Pygmy Kingfishers, Green Wood Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Lanner Falcon, White-crested Helmetshrike, Grey-headed, Orange-breasted and Gorgeous Bushshrikes, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Black Cuckooshrike, Sabota, Eastern Clapper, Rufous-naped and Flappet Larks, Sombre Greenbul, Wire-tailed Swallow, Great Reed Warbler, Neddicky, Pale Flycatcher, Cape Robin and Ant-eating Chats, Marico and White-bellied Sunbirds, Lesser, Southern and Village Weavers, Yellow-crowned and Southern Red Bishops, White-winged Widowbird, Green-winged Pytilia, Dusky Indigobird and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah.
 
Day 6 Mkhuze to St Lucia.
We spent the morning in the reserve where we continued to see many new species including Neergard’s and Purple-banded Sunbirds, Spotted Flycatcher, Chinspot Batis, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Southern Black Tit, Red-billed Firefinch, Broad-billed Roller, Long-billed Crombec, Wahlbergs Eagle and many more.
Chinspot BatisWe then drove the short distance to St Lucia stopping at Muzi Pan which was nearly dry but we did manage to see Arrow-marked Babbler and Great Reed Warbler, and Mpempe Pan which was wetter and here we saw Black-winged Lapwing, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Kittlitz Plover, Peregrine Falcon, Collared Pratincole, Lemon-breasted Canary, White-fronted Bee Eater, Fish Eagle, Western Yellow Wagtail, Brown-throated Weaver. Also Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, Red-billed and Hottentot Teal.
Later we walked along the coastal strip at St Lucia but due to the high wind and changes made by the local authorities to the dunes we saw nothing new. Here we stayed for two nights at Ndiza Lodge.
 
Day 7 St Lucia
Today we went to the Isimangaliso Wetland Park which is a World Heritage Site which is divided into two different areas. Both have coastal grasslands, with large stretches of water, vegetated sand dunes, with few trees but abundant bushes.
Spotted Thick kneeHere we saw Grey Waxbill, Brown Scrub Robin, Green Malkoha, Southern Banded and Brown Snake Eagles, Plain-backed Pipit, Marshall Eagle VU, Hadada Ibis, Black-headed Heron, Western Osprey, Red-eyed, Emerald-spotted Wood and Tambourine Doves, Red-chested Cuckoo, European Roller, Brown-hooded and Striped Kingfishers, Blue-cheeked and European Bee Eaters, White-eared and Black-collared Barbet, Golden-tailed and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Amur Falcon, Black-backed Puffback, Square-tailed Drongo, Lesser-striped and Red-breasted Swallow, Rattling, Rufous-winged, Croaking, and Zitting Cisticolas, African Yellow White-eye, Violet-backed Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Kurrichane Thrush, Olive and Purple-banded Sunbirds, and Yellow-fronted and Brimstone Canaries.
 
Day 8 St Lucia to Eschowe
We started the day walking in the woods near St Lucia then drove towards Eschowe, stopping at Amatigulu Reserve on the way where we saw Lesser Honeyguide, Birchells Coucal, Spectacled Weaver, Crown Eagle, and Scarlet-chested Sunbird. Further down the N2 motorway we turned off and after a few kilometers we came to an expanse of grassland surrounded by sugarcane fields and eucalyptus forests. Here we saw Palm Nut Vultures, Black Coucal and Broad-tailed Warbler.
Trumpeter HornbillLater nearer Eschowe we also added Wooly-necked Stork VU, Great and Intermediate Egrets, Long-crested Eagle, African Marsh Harrier, Black Crake, Common Buttonquail, African Jacana, Livingstone’s Turaco, Speckled Mousebird, Little and White-fronted Bee Eaters, African Hoopoe, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Woodwards Batis, Red-backed Shrike, Southern Fiscal, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Rudd’s and Yellow-breasted Apolis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Cape Starling, Red-capped Robin Chat, Collared, Grey and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Thick-billed, Spectacled and Eastern Golden Weavers, Green Twinspot, and Pin-tailed Whydah.
 
Day 9 Eschowe to Sani.
In the morning we drove a short distance to Dlinza Reserve, an Afro Montane Forest and then onto Marutswa Forest. However thunder storms cut short the day. However we did manage to see Southern Ground Hornbills VU, White Stork, African Sacred Ibis, Yellow-billed Kites, Common and Jackel Buzzards, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Purple-crested Turaco, White-rumped Swift, Narina Trogon, Black-bellied Starling, Spotted Ground Thrush EN, Chorister Robin Chat, Familiar Chat, Dark-backed Weaver, and Fan-tailed Widowbird.
Narina TrogonWe stayed for two nights at Sani Valley Lodge. A truly magnificent location with our own private Lodge overlooking grassland and a large lake, where in the mornings we had Zebra grazing a few meters away, and numerous species of birds nearby. The backdrop were the Drakensberg Mountains creating an altogether unforgettable vista.
 
Day 10 Sani Pass
We spent a full day going up to the famous Sani Pass along a narrow track with numerous hairpin bends which leads into Lesotho. Ascending to a height of 2900mtrs the views were spectacular. We continued for some distance within Lesotho where the grasslands continued to rise towards an even higher pass.
BokmakierieAmong the birds seen were African Black and Yellow-billed Ducks,Grey-winged Francolin, Red-necked Spurfowl, Reed Cormorant, Black-winged Kite, Bearded and Cape Vultures, Grey-crowned Crane EN, Blacksmith Lapwing, Black Cuckoo, Horus, Alpine and Black Swifts, Greater Honeyguide, Red-throated Wryneck, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Batis, Bokmakierie, Southern Boubou,Black-headed Oriele, White-necked Raven, Drakensberg Rockjumper, Grey Tit, Black Saw-wing, Brown-throated and Rock Martins, Greater-striped Swallow, African Yellow and Barratt’s Warblers, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Karoo and Drakensberg Prinias, Bush Blackcap, Cape White-eye, Cape Sugarbird, Olive Thrush, African Dusky Flycatcher, Cape Rock and Sentinel Rock Thrushes, Sickle-winged Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Amethyst, Malachite and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Yellow Bishop, Long-tailed Widowbird, Swee and Common Waxbills, Mountain and African Rock Pipits, Drakensberg Siskin, Streaky-headed Seedeater and Cape Bunting.
A most exciting and never to be forgotten last day of our tour.
 
Day 11 Departure from Durban.
Today we spent three hours driving to Durban Airport where we said a fond farewell to Dylan. A highly capable and personable guide. We then flew to Port Elizabeth to continue our tour of the Western Cape.
 
Note
VU - Species Vulnerable ;
EN - Species Endangered;
CR – Species Critical