Trip report: South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal (Oct-Nov 2015) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Lisle Gwynn.This was a custom tour.

The beauty of Tropical Birding custom tours is that people with limited time but who still want to experience somewhere as mind-blowing and birdy as South Africa can explore the parts of the country that interest them most, in a short time frame. South Africa is, without doubt, one of the most diverse countries on the planet. Nowhere else can you go from seeing Wandering Albatross and penguins to seeing Leopards and Elephants in a matter of hours, and with countless world-class national parks and reserves the options were endless when it came to planning an itinerary. Winding its way through the lush, leafy, dry, dusty, wet and swampy oxymoronic province of KwaZulu-Natal (herein known as KZN), this short tour followed much the same route as the extension of our South Africa set departure tour, albeit in reverse, with an additional focus on seeing birds at the very edge of their range in semi-Karoo and dry semi-Kalahari habitats to add maximum diversity.

KwaZulu-Natal is an oft-underrated birding route within South Africa, featuring a wide range of habitats and an astonishing diversity of birds. This tour began in the lush tropical beach city of Durban, exploring local estuary and reedbed habitats infested with Golden Weavers before moving on to the mid-altitude open grasslands and agriculture of the Underberg and the daunting towering Sani Pass. From here we made our way to the tropical forests of Eshowe and the coastal dune forest of Mtunzini before progressing up the coast to the enormous estuary of St. Lucia, together with its fantastic coastal forest. Escaping unexpected dire weather, we also explored the world-famous Hluluwe-Imfolozi park, where White Rhino was saved from extinction, before moving on to the equally famous Mkhuze Game Reserve and our luxury river-side hotel. Having explored the majority of KZN we progressed swiftly to Johannesburg and enjoyed an evening and morning exploring additional habitats, from the large wetland of Marievale and grasslands of Suikerbosrand to the scrubby open Kalahari thornveld of the Zaagkuildrift road.

This region of South Africa is a favourite amongst our guides, and this tour really showed it in its best light. From Red-headed Quelea to Wattled Crane, Lammergeier to Orange Ground-Thrush, Blue Duiker to Cheetah, the highlights were endless; by the end of our short tour we had racked up a respectable 351 species of bird and 33 species of mammal, and some truly fantastic photos to boot.

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