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Eastern South Africa 8 - 18 November 2004: Trip Report

Participants: Dean and Carole Byers, from Oregon, USA

This tour was run by Indicator Birding on behalf of Birding Ecotours. The Eastern Leg of the tour was led by Etienne Marais. The full tour also included 4 days in the Western Cape, led by Brian van der Walt.

The aim of the of the tour was to enable Carole and Dean Byers to see a good proportion of the birds found in Eastern South Africa. While endemics were the focus in some areas, overall the aim was high species diversity.

Day 1: Durban to Underberg

Etienne met Carole and Dean at Durban International Airport. In the afternoon, this allowed for some birding en-route, despite a late afternoon rain shower. Long-crested Eagle, Wailing Cisticola and Greater Striped Swallow were seen. We spent some time birding in the Impendle Nature Reserve and saw a number of birds including Yellow Bishop, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Cape Grassbird and huge flocks of Common Waxbill. Here we recorded a host of widowbirds, including Long-tailed and Red-collared, before the rain drove us onward to Underberg.

After our arrival at Tumble Inn just outside Underberg, a Buff-spotted Flufftail was heard hooting from deep tangled thickets in the garden. However attempts to see this secretive species were thwarted by the dense vegetation.

Day 2: Sani Pass and Lesotho

The day up Sani Pass with Stewart McLean started with some birding on a small wetland outside Himeville where species such as African Snipe, Orange-breasted Waxbill, African Marsh Harrier and Grey-crowned Crane were scoped. Into the pass area, we had excellent views of Red-chested Cuckoo and Long-crested Eagle. Soon afterwards we saw Bush Blackcap, Greater double-collared Sunbird, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Rock Thrush and Gurney's Sugarbird. Higher up we had views of Barratt's Warbler and further on, Drakensburg Siskin and Drakensburg Rockjumper. On the top, in Lesotho, the weather settled down and were able to see Mountain Pipit, African Rock Pipit, Large-billed Lark (the small billed eastern race), Bearded Vulture and had a number of excellent views of both Ground Woodpecker and Drakensburg Rockjumpers, as well as a number of Karoo species such as Layard's Tit-babbler, Grey Tit and Yellow Canary.

Day 3: Xumeni and Mtunzini

An early start to the forest was worthwhile as we immediately found 2 Cape Parrots sitting in a dead tree. Intermittent drizzle and misty conditions dampened the birding, but we were able to see Olive Thrush, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, African Olive Pigeon, Lesser-double Collared Sunbird, Terrestrial Brownbul, Red-necked Spurfowl and an excellent scope view of African Emerald Cuckoo.

We traveled northwards into more tropical country, and stopped for some birding at Mtunzini. Here we saw Trumpeter Hornbill, Black-bellied Glossy Starling, Square-tailed Drongo, White-eared Barbet's Redbacked Mannikin, Red-capped Robin Chat, Olive Sunbird and Woolly-necked Stork.

We arrived just before sunset at our accommodation in Eshowe.

Day 4: Dhlinza and Thulasikela

An early morning in the Dhlinza Forest had us making good use of raincoats, but we did manage to see some good birds, including Cinnamon Dove, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, African Goshawk, Crowned Hornbill, African Cuckoo Hawk, Purple-crested Turaco and Chorister Robin-chat. After a hearty breakfast in the forest, we headed northwards and found Thulasikela Pan near Richards bay also affected by intermittent rain. We escaped to the "conveyer hide" which puts one in a wonderful position above the wetland and were able to add a host of birds to our list, including Pink-backed Pelican, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Goliath Heron, Whiskered Tern and Common Squacco. We also had excellent views of Burchell's Coucal and Yellow-throated Longclaw.

We then headed up northwards and stopped briefly in Mtubatuba to look for the Palm-nut Vulture. Here we saw Red-faced Cisticola and a preening African Harrier-Hawk.

We arrived at St Lucia in time for some birding, and an investigation of the river mouth area revealed several Yellow-billed Storks, and shorebirds such as White-fronted Plover.

Day 5: St Lucia

Early morning had us walking in the Iphiva area and we were able to locate Brown Scrub- Robin, Woodward's Batis, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and Grey Sunbird. We had excellent scope views of a Narina Trogon, and also saw Livingstones Turaco and Rudd's Apalis.

On the Iphiva Trail itself we saw Cuckoo Hawk, Southern banded Snake Eagle and Croaking Cisticola. We then drove through the reserve up to Cape Vidal, seeing a variety of game on the way, including White Rhinoceros, Greater Kudu and Waterbuck. On arrival at Vidal, termites were in the process of erupting and we were treated to the site of about 20 of the rare Samango Monkeys catching termites in the roadway!! They were joined by Crested Guineafowl and the normally secretive Brown Scrub-Robin.

Other species seen on this drive include Tambourine Dove, Little Bee-eater, African Fish-eagle, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Green Pigeon, African Jacana and White-fronted Plover. Around the estuary we saw Pink-backed Pelican, Pied Avocet, Caspian Tern, Goliath Heron and a range of shorebirds.

Day 6: Mkhuze and Wakkerstroom

We made an early start for Mkhuze Game Reserve, picking up Lemon-breasted Canary and Violet-backed Starling along the way. At Mkhuze we had some good birding around the hides where we saw Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Purple-banded Sunbird, Ashy Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Bulbul and Tambourine Dove. The Nsumo Pan produced a host of waders, herons and storks, including African Openbill. Here we also saw Common Pratincole and African Wattled Lapwing. Just as we left, we picked up a superb Neergaard's Sunbird, which Dean saw very well, although Carole unfortunately missed this one.

After lunch we headed northwards again towards Wakkerstroom. Near Wakkerstroom we paused for some birding and found calling Black-rumped Buttonquail, Denham's Bustard and Black-bellied Bustard, as well as Southern Ant-eating Chat and Plain-backed Pipit.

Day 7: Wakkerstoom to Kruger

We were out early and went straight to the locality for the very restricted Rudd's Lark. After some searching we found a bird carrying food to a nest, which provided for quite good scope views of this most prized endemic. In the same area we saw Mountain Wheatear, Blue Korhaan and Wing-snapping Cisticola. Soon afterwards we located several pairs of Botha's Lark, and were able to go in search for Yellow-breasted Pipit, which we found after a short walk, along with Common Quail. In the same area we managed good scope views of Wing-snapping Cisticola. The Pipit's offered superb views and we headed north towards Kruger, stopping near Amersfoort to see Pale-crowned Cisticola and Pink-billed Lark - the latter at a locality where more Botha's Lark were present. Arriving at the Kruger Park in the late afternoon, we were treated to views of Red-headed Weavers, and soon afterwards our first elephant. Late afternoon birding was cut short by a massive, intense thunderstorm, which locals said was the heaviest they had every witnessed. Almost 5 inches of rain fell in 3 hours, and our dinner was somewhat delayed due to the difficulty of getting to the restaurant in the storm!

Day 8: Pretoriuskop to Lower Sabie

We started early with a drive from the camp. Good birds encountered here included Northern Hobby, Lizard Buzzard and Striped Kingfisher. The storm had however washed away many bridges and we ended up on a route with many other cars. Here we saw African Firefinch, Pale Flycatcher, Flappet Lark, Bushveld Pipit and Orange-breasted Bush-shrike. Mammals included more White Rhinoceros and Cape Buffalo.

We then returned to Camp where we spent about an hour birding, seeing Brown-headed parrot, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, African Hoopoe and Puffback. We then packed up and headed westwards for the drive to Lower Sabie, where we were due to stay the next night. En-route we had several more raptors including Dark chanting Goshawk, Wahlberg's Eagle, Bateleur, Tawny Eagle and Martial Eagle. We also saw several Temminck's Courser. On towards Lower Sabie we picked up several new birds including 3 hornbill species, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Burchell's Glossy Starling and Magpie Shrike. Mammals were plentiful and included White Rhinocerous and 7 lions.

Lower Sabie offers an interesting deck for viewing over the Sabie River, but were more immediately focused on the weaver colonies near reception. Several Diederiek Cuckoo's hung around the colony, and we located a female who was skulking in a nearby tree, waiting for the right opportunity to lay her egg in a weavers nest. From the deck we saw African Fish Eagle, Goliath Heron, Black Crake and Greenbacked Heron. A late afternoon drive produced Double-banded Sandgrouse, White-fronted bee-eater and Brown Snake-eagle.

Day 9: Lower Sabie to Skukuza

An early morning walk around the camp produced such gems as White-browed Robin-chat, Spectacled Weaver and a beautiful Pearl-spotted Owlet. We then headed eastwards towards Mlondozi, coming across a pair of Black Coucal and two Saddlebilled Storks along the way. This area had received extensive rains and a Montagu's Harrier sailed past, while Harlequin Quail called across the plains. We saw White-headed Vulture and witnessed the extraordinary mating ritual of a pair of Black-bellied Bustard. The drive up to Orpen Dam produced many mammals, including more rhinocerous and a very worked-up Bull elephant, who delayed us for several minutes!

Day 10: Skukuza to Rust de Winter

We left early and headed westwards out of the park. Given the birdlist, we had decided to cover the escarpment and Blyde River area, which proved very productive as we added specials such as African Finfoot, Forest Buzzard, Mountain Wagtail, Cape Vulture and Taita Falcon to the list. We then headed west into Gauteng, and spent a productive hour birding the Seringveld Conservancy, where we saw Tinkling Cisticola, Greencapped Eremomela, Cardinal Woodpecker and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. Excellent views of a displaying Desert Cisticola made up the full list of all Cisticolas which occur in South Africa.

On to Rust de Winter, where the plan was to visit the nearby reservoir for species such as African Pygmy Goose and Black Heron. Unfortunately, road works were in progress and a bridge construction prevented access to the best part of the reserve.

Day 11: Pienaars River to Kempton Park

Dawn found us in superb acacia woodland habitat near Pienaarsriver. New birds came quickly, and included the superb Crimson-breasted Shrike, the dashing Southern Pied Babbler and gems such as Black-cheeked and Violet-eared Waxbill. A highlight was a Southern White-faced Scops-Owl at the nest with two fluffy owlets. We also saw Kalahari Robin, Great Sparrow, Bearded Woodpecker, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Burn't necked Eremomela and many others.

In the afternoon we visited a sewerage disposal works, where we picked up Grey-headed Gull (about 40 of them) and Sand Martin, as well as a host of ducks, shorebirds and other swallows.

A search for the dwindling list of missed birds now proved tricky, as we dodged storms and birded in gusty conditions. The last locality visited was Elandsvlei Pan, where we were greeted by large flocks of ducks, and a massive flock of Glossy Ibis - estimated to be about 400 birds. The final birds added to the trip list, were a pair of Ovambo Sparrowhawk in flight over their nesting locality.

We headed to Johannesburg International, once again dodging storms, with the total list for the Eastern Leg standing at 396 species. Carole and Dean's 15 day African adventure had produced a total of 461 species, with some 24 others heard.

Etienne Marais - 25 November 2004

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Web page updated 5 November 2004© Indicator Birding