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BEST OF SOUTH AFRICA

The Cape, the Drakensberg and the Transvaal

Birdquest's Best of South Africa birding tour is a splendid way of seeing this marvellous and highly scenic country's many endemic birds, not to mention some great mammals. We can honestly say that this is the best shorter (two-week) South African birding itinerary there is, as it focuses on the prime areas where the endemics have evolved, taking in the Cape, the desert Karoo, the Drakensburg and the best of the Transvaal. Modern roads, good vehicles, accommodations, food and wines, and fabulous birding: what more could anyone want?

Friday 13th October — Friday 27th October 2017
(15 days)


Leader: Martin Benadie

Group Size Limit: 6

Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and comfortable accommodations

The fantastic Cape Sugarbird, a classic symbol of the Cape avifauna, and a much-wanted bird for the family-hunters! (Pete Morris)

The fantastic Cape Sugarbird, a classic symbol of the Cape avifauna, and a much-wanted bird for the family-hunters! (Pete Morris)

Over 180 species are endemic or virtually endemic to Southern Africa, the highest concentration of endemics on the continent, and the great majority of these are to be found inside South Africa itself. Many are confined to the arid and semi-arid western regions of Southern Africa or to the unique ‘fynbos’ and ‘karoo’ habitats of the Southwestern Cape. Others have evolved in isolation in remote mountain and upland regions, whilst a few are relict species found only in tiny restricted areas in out-of-the-way places, virtually unknown until recently. Not only is South Africa extremely rich in endemic birds, but there is a host of more widespread species and also a surprisingly diverse selection of large mammals.

Not surprisingly, South Africa is nowadays one of the world’s top birding destinations and this exciting tour focuses on the country’s many endemics and other avian specialities, as well as some great mammals. There is no other itinerary that produces so many regional endemics in just under two weeks. With good roads and accommodations, food and wine, and a quiet, rural atmosphere over much of the country, South Africa offers some of the most exciting and most comfortable birding experiences in Africa, yet at a very reasonable cost compared to most African countries.

This splendid tour is designed to record as many of South Africa’s special birds, and in particular Southern African endemics, as is practicable in a shorter tour to the region and is unequalled in this respect.

Our South African birding adventure begins in Cape Town, justly famous for its dramatic mountainous scenery, including the famous Table Mountain that dominates the city. From the lofty sea-cliffs near the Cape of Good Hope, the sight of the South Atlantic meeting the Indian Ocean in all its seabird-thronged turbulence is something truly memorable. To make it even more memorable, there are often a few Southern Right Whales present at this time of year.

Along the rugged coastline, or at small wetlands, we can expect such specialities as African Penguin, Cape Gannet, Cape, Bank and Crowned Cormorants, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, African Oystercatcher and Cape and Hartlaub’s Gulls.

We will also spend time in the strange fynbos, the macchia-like, Mediterranean-style vegetation characteristic of the Southwestern Cape which holds many endemic or near-endemic birds, including Jackal Buzzard, Cape Francolin, Cape Bulbul, Cape Grassbird, Karoo Prinia, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Bokmakierie, Cape White-eye, the spectacular Cape Sugarbird, Southern Double-collared and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver and Cape Canary, as well as the more difficult Knysna Warbler and Cape Siskin.

Countless thousands of seabirds occur in the waters off the Cape and a deep-sea pelagic cruise to the fishing grounds off Cape Town is one of the birding spectacles of Southern Africa. Here we can marvel at several species of albatrosses, attractive Great Shearwaters and Cape Petrels, and many other seabirds.

Further afield, we will pass through the Hottentots Holland range, with its superb Cape Rockjumpers and secretive Victorin’s Warbler, and then the Overberg, with its elegant Blue Cranes, stately Denham’s Bustards and Cape Clapper and Agulhas Long-billed Larks, before we explore the attractive coastal reserve of De Hoop. Here, the localized Southern Tchagra and Knysna Woodpecker will be high on our want list, while we shall also want to see Acacia Pied Barbet, Fiscal Flycatcher and White-throated Canary. This beautiful coastal reserve also holds an interesting selection of large mammals.

We will then head north up the Atlantic coast before turning inland into spectacular mountain scenery, looking for such spectacular birds as Black Harrier and Southern Black Korhaan, as well as Cape Clapper, Cape Long-billed and Karoo Larks, Grey Tit, Mountain Wheatear, Layard’s and Chestnut-vented Warblers, Fairy Flycatcher, Cape Penduline Tit and the uncommon Protea Canary, until we reach the arid plains of the Karoo.

Amidst the starkly beautiful scenery of the Karoo, in the region surrounding the remote town of Calvinia, we can expect a host of arid country specialities, including Karoo Korhaan, Namaqua Sandgrouse, White-backed Mousebird, Sickle-winged, Tractrac and Karoo Chats, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Grey-backed Cisticola, Namaqua Prinia, the handsome Rufous-eared Warbler, Chat Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, African Pied and Pale-winged Starlings, Dusky Sunbird, Black-headed and Yellow Canaries, and Cape and Lark-like Buntings. We will also be hoping to find Ludwig’s Bustard and the elusive Karoo Eremomela.

The Karoo also has a splendid aggregation of larks, including Red, Sabota, Spike-heeled, Large-billed, Karoo Long-billed, Sclater’s (and sometimes nomadic Stark’s) Larks, and Grey-backed and Black-eared Sparrowlarks.

During the second part of the tour we will move eastwards to Kwazulu-Natal and the former Transvaal.

Our visit to the mighty Drakensberg range will surely be a major highlight of an exciting tour. We will climb high into these magnificent mountains to the Sani Pass and enter the Kingdom of Lesotho. This small, mountainous country, most of which lies over 2000m (or roughly 6600ft), possesses truly spectacular scenery. Situated amongst the peaks of the lofty Drakensberg range, southern Lesotho is reached by only a few roads that climb over breathtaking mountain passes and the winding road that we will take reaches an altitude of nearly 3250m (10,663ft). In the higher reaches of the Drakensberg we can expect a suite of montane specialities, including the strange Southern Bald Ibis, the endangered Cape Vulture, the enigmatic Bush Blackcap, Cape and Sentinel Rock Thrushes, the beautiful Buff-streaked Chat, the superb Drakensberg Rockjumper, Mountain and Yellow-tufted Pipits, Gurney’s Sugarbird and Drakensberg Siskin.

At lower altitudes we shall visit the ‘mist forests’ and rolling grasslands of the Natal Midlands where the special birds include the spectacular Wattled Crane, the colourful Knysna Turaco, Blue Swallow, the gorgeous but elusive Orange Ground Thrush, Southern Anteating-Chat, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Longclaw and Forest Canary.

After leaving the Drakensberg behind, our next destination will be the rolling grasslands of the southern Transvaal (now known as Mpumalanga province) around Wakkerstroom. One of the most threatened habitats in Southern Africa, the endemic bird species that live there, including Blue and Barrow’s Korhaans (the latter split from White-bellied Bustard), Eastern Long-billed, Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks, and Yellow-breasted Pipit, are now in a precarious situation. This beautiful area of rocky ridges, pristine grasslands, small lakes, marshy meadows (with delightful Long-tailed Widowbirds bounding over them) and gullies choked with forest is bird-rich and is a taste of what the whole region must have looked like a century ago.

By the time we come to the end of our South African journey we will have explored a wide range of this extraordinary country’s diverse habitats and seen a remarkable variety of birds, including many of the most sought-after in Africa.

Birdquest has operated tours to South Africa since 1989.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are of good standard throughout. Road transport is by minibus and roads are good.

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are a few longer walks.

Climate: Rather variable. In the Cape conditions range from cool to warm (or hot in the Karoo) and a mix of sunny and overcast conditions are typical, perhaps with some rain (most likely at the coast). In the east conditions range from warm to hot at lower altitudes, cool to warm at higher altitudes or even cold in the high Drakensberg. Again a mix of sunny and overcast weather is typical, and some rain is likely.

Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities are good.

Important Information for Pound Payers: Kindly note that the Pound prices shown here are based on post-EU-referendum exchange rate reality, unlike the website prices of most UK bird tour operators which are still based on outdated and hugely higher pre-referendum exchange rates. Consequently you can rest assured that we will not have to adjust these prices upwards at invoicing, unless the Pound falls significantly further, and if there is any recovery by the Pound you will receive the full benefit of the cost-saving by way of a price reduction at invoicing.

Tour Price: £3080, €3630, $4030 Cape Town/Johannesburg.

Price includes all transportation (including the Cape Town-Durban flight), all accommodations, all meals, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.

Base prices for this tour are determined in South African Rand, the currency in which we pay for most tour services. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = ZAR 19.00, €1 = ZAR 16.10 and $1 = ZAR 14.50. Prices may be adjusted (either downwards or upwards) at the time of invoicing should there be a change in the exchange rate. See booking information.

Single Room Supplement: £238, €281, $312.

Deposit: £350, €450, $550.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.

The superb Orange-breasted (or Drakensberg) Rockjumper, one of the two representatives of the (sometimes recognized) endemic rockjumper family (Pete Morris)

The superb Orange-breasted (or Drakensberg) Rockjumper, one of the two representatives of the (sometimes recognized) endemic rockjumper family (Pete Morris)

The gorgeous Orange Ground-Thrush is one of the star birds in the eastern forests (Pete Morris)

The gorgeous Orange Ground-Thrush is one of the star birds in the eastern forests (Pete Morris)

Black Harrier is perhaps one of the most attractive raptors in the world! This one was photographed in the West Coast National Park (Pete Morris)

Black Harrier is perhaps one of the most attractive raptors in the world! This one was photographed in the West Coast National Park (Pete Morris)

African Penguins are having a tough time but can still be enjoyed at a couple of mainland colonies in the Western Cape (Mike Watson)

African Penguins are having a tough time but can still be enjoyed at a couple of mainland colonies in the Western Cape (Mike Watson)

Cape Gannets are frequently seen off the Cape coastline  (Mike Watson)

Cape Gannets are frequently seen off the Cape coastline (Mike Watson)

South Africa can also boast probably the world's most obvious stakeout of the widespread Spotted Eagle Owl (Mike Watson)

South Africa can also boast probably the world's most obvious stakeout of the widespread Spotted Eagle Owl (Mike Watson)

The endemic Mountain Pipit is one of a bewildering array of pipits and larks that will be seen on the tour, many of which are endemic! (Pete Morris)

The endemic Mountain Pipit is one of a bewildering array of pipits and larks that will be seen on the tour, many of which are endemic! (Pete Morris)

The tiny Cape Penduline Tit can be hard to find (Pete Morris)

The tiny Cape Penduline Tit can be hard to find (Pete Morris)

The endemic Protea Canary is extremely localized (Pete Morris)

The endemic Protea Canary is extremely localized (Pete Morris)

More widespread species include the charming Red-capped (or Natal) Robin-Chat (Pete Morris)

More widespread species include the charming Red-capped (or Natal) Robin-Chat (Pete Morris)

Another endemic that takes a special effort is the Southern Tchagra (Pete Morris)

Another endemic that takes a special effort is the Southern Tchagra (Pete Morris)

Other wildlife is abundant in South Africa. This is the endangered Cape Leopard Toad (Pete Morris)

Other wildlife is abundant in South Africa. This is the endangered Cape Leopard Toad (Pete Morris)

The rare Botha's Lark is classified as endangered due to the destruction of its native grassland habitat (Pete Morris)

The rare Botha's Lark is classified as endangered due to the destruction of its native grassland habitat (Pete Morris)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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