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Birding From Johannesburg - Eastern Endemics Circuit (4-7 Days)


Introduction

This short tour covers a wide range of endemic-rich habitats. Just three hours drive from Johannesburg (Gauteng), lies the pristine Steenkampsberg highlands, and the scenic and diverse Mpumalanga escarpment, with remant afro-temperate mistbelt forests, mountain streams and grasslands. In addition we also spend significant time in the north-west arid woodlands, with it's glut of regional specialties. This tour can be done alone, or as an addition to a visit to the Kruger National Park

Expectations for a four day tour are 250 species with 65 regional endemics, while the full 7 day version offers up to 360 species with 75 regional endemics.

ITINERARY

Day 1: Johannesburg, Grasslands and Wetlands

After an early pickup at your hotel/lodging, we drive south to the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve. This pristine highveld reserve offers a host of endemics larks and chats, as well as a host of ground-birds and cisticola species. Target species include Melodious, Eastern Clapper, Eastern Long-billed and Spike-heeled Lark. Francolins are particularly well represented and one may encounter Orange-river, Redwinged, Grey-winged Francolin or Swainson's Spurfowl. Redthroated Wryneck and Mocking Cliff Chat are both present. Other specials include South African Cliff Swallow, Grass Owl, Red-eyed Bulbul, Cape Rock Thrush, African Rock Pipit and African Pied Starling. The reserve also offers an excellent diversity of mammals, including the endemic Black Wildebeest, Suricate and Red Hartebeest.

In the afternoon we travel north-east to Marievale Bird Sanctuary, part of the extensive Blesbokspruit wetland system. This is one of the finest wetlands in the region, and offers a host of waterbirds, including Goliath Heron, Cape Shoveller, Black Heron, African Snipe, Whiskered Tern, Little Bittern and a variety of shorebirds and rallids. Yellow Canary and Fantailed Widowbird are among the more interesting terrestrial species on offer.

Day 2: North-west arid woodlands

An early start will see us west into acacia woodland habitat along the Zaagkuildrift Road. This area consists of prime acacia thornveld, and apart from holding an excellent diversity of typical african birds such as Hornbills, Barbets and Mousebirds, will provide the opportunity to see a number of "North-western" specials such as Northern Black Korhaan, Kalahari Robin, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, Cape Penduline-Tit, Black-faced Waxbill, Ashy Tit and Barred Wren-Warbler. Then there is the absurdly plumaged Shaft-tailed Whydah, the jaunty Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Black-chested Prinia and a host of cuckoos and honeyguides. On flat plains adjacent to the Moretele Floodplain, we may see Temminck's Courser, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Scaly-feathered Finch and Kittlitz Plover.

Seasonal wetlands in the area typically provide a wonderful array of sub-tropical waterbirds, and depending on timing, Baillon's Crake, Greater Painted Snipe, Dwarf Bittern and Black Heron may be seen.

We will enjoy a picnic lunch on a private cattle ranch, before heading east for a longish drive to Dullstroom, some 4 hours away.

Day 3 Dullstroom and Lydenberg

The Dullstroom area has some of the most pristine high altitude grassland anywhere in Southern Africa. A host of endemics are on offer, including the wonderfully incongruous Ground Woodpecker and the fascinating Southern Bald Ibis. Rarities include Yellow-breasted Pipit, Rudd's Lark and Wattled Crane. Other highland birds we are likely to see include Sentinel Rock Thrush, Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk Gurney's Sugarbird, Blue Crane, Denham's Bustard, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Black-winged Plover, and Buff-streaked Chat.

After returning to the lodge for brunch, we may then explore one or two additional routes on our way further eastwards towards Lydenburg. Time permitting we will take the scenically superb Long-tom Pass, or alternatively birding in the Robber's Pass area, where species like Mountain Wagtail, Red-collared Widow, Golden Weaver, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler and Half-collared Kingfisher may be seen.

Day 4: Afromontane Forests - Johannesburg.

We will spend a full morning birding in the Robber's Pass area, and focus our attention on a superb Afromontane forest. We will spend a full morning birding in and around the forest. Key target birds include Orange Ground-Thrush, Chorister Robin-Chat, Yellow-streaked Bulbul, Knysna Turaco, Grey Cuckooshrike, Olive Bush Shrike, Cape Batis, Narina Trogon, Olive Woodpecker, Blue-mantled Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Warbler and Forest Canary.

The forest edge is good for Swee Waxbill, Drakensburg Prinia and African Dusky Flycatcher. We will also look for the endemic Southern Tchagra - at its northernmost limit here, as well as Red-necked Spurfowl, Yellow Bishop and Cape Grassbird.

After a full morning birding in this magnificent forest, return to Johannesburg, with an optional stop at the Wonderfontein Pans for a host of wetland species, including African Snipe and Cape Shoveller.

Tour Ends

Itinerary Notes: Note that this is a rather compressed itinerary, and it is preferable to do this region over a period of from 5-7 Days. It can also be combined with a few days in the Southern Kruger National Park.

EXTENSION DAYS

Additional days, if available, will be productive in terms of an increased bird-list. The following are extension options:
  1. Add a night at Borakolalo National Park, which will produce a host of other woodland bird, including Double-banded Sandgrouse, Red-crested Korhaan and Meyer's Parrot. This is also a good area for Kingfishers, Owls and the elusive African Finfoot.
  2. Extra night in the Lydenburg area - allowing us to focus more time on the trickier forest and grassland species including Barratt's Warbler, Buff-spotted Flufftail and Blue Swallow. This can also be used to spend more time in the Dullstroom area, or visit a site for the extremely localised Taita Falcon
  3. Far North-eastern Gauteng, In and around Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, allows us to spend more time on some fo the more elusive grassland birds such as White-bellied Korhaan, Melodius Lark and Orange-river Francolin, as well as some time in rather unique broadleaved woodland in Dinokeng, where localised species such as Tinkling Cisticola, Greencapped Eremomela and Fawn-coloured Lark may be seen.
To enquire about specific dates, itinerary variations and prices for larger groups, please use our ENQUIRY FORM

For more information on our tours, see our TOUR INFORMATION PAGE.

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