Trip report: South Africa Fairest Cape to Kruger (Jan 2016) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Lisle Gwynn.This was a set departure tour.

South Africa is a land of many contrasts and incredible natural wealth, and the set departure tour is designed to take in as much of this as possible. From the fresh breezes and roaring ocean of the Cape to the dry savanna of the Kruger National Park, and down to the lush green montane forests of KwaZulu-Natal, we bird our way through many different habitat types and go in search of the myriad birds that call this place home, be it for the whole year or just part of it.

The tour followed our tried and tested route through the roaring but san-washed Cape and along the south coast into the Garden Route. From there we moved inland to the unique dry landscapes of the Karoo and Tankwa Karoo before flying up-country to Johannesburg and exploring the mid-altitude grasslands of Wakkerstroom. After a few days in the world famous Kruger National Park we then backtracked to Jo’burg before winding our way through Zululand, visiting Mkhuze Game Reserve, the St. Lucia estuary, the montane forests of Eshowe and Ngoye and the agricultural lands of Howick and Underberg. A final ascent took us into the striking high altitude vistas of Lesotho before we finally wound our way back down to the tropical Indian Ocean shores of Durban.

With 23 days in South Africa, including the KwaZulu-Natal extension, we managed to accumulate quite the haul of birds, with the final count coming in at an impressive 508 species including around 20 species that were either heard-only or seen by just the guide. This of course includes every member of two families (the sugarbirds and rockjumpers), some fantastic raptors, cute and hilarious African Penguins, regal Secretarybirds, striking Southern Ground Hornbills, ultra-rare Botha’s and Rudd’s Larks, and so much more beside. In addition to this we came away with 56 species of mammal, a fairly significant number, including such iconic animals as Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Giraffe, Hippo and White Rhino. Considering the weather was against us for the first week or more of the tour, which also meant that the pelagic didn’t run, this is even more impressive.

South Africa is a second home to me; I love leading tours there, as do several other Tropical Birding guides, and it is for good reason: the birds are amazing, the food is fantastic, the diversity is mind-boggling, and it is a real catalyst for great experiences. Throughout the tour we enjoyed great accommodation, fantastic hosts, some superb restaurants, incredible scenery, not to mention fantastic birding and many laughs along the way.

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