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ULTIMATE SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa Birding Tours: our Ultimate South Africa bird watching holiday surely deserves the epithet ‘Ultimate’. Many bird tours feature this marvelous country, which hosts an extraordinary concentration of endemic birds, not to mention some great mammals, but for the most comprehensive coverage of the endemic birds, our Ultimate South Africa birding tour is the tour to take. Modern roads, good vehicles, accommodations, food and wines, and fabulous bird watching: what more could anyone want?

Friday 8th November — Monday 2nd December 2019
(25 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 extraordinary tour is the most comprehensive itinerary in South Africa available, allowing participants to see an unsurpassed variety of the country’s endemics and other specialities. With good roads, 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.

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.

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. Her we can marvel at several species of albatrosses, attractive Great Shearwaters and Cape Petrels, and many other seabirds.

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.

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.

From the Karoo we head still further north to the harsh, Skeleton Coast-like coastline of the Northern Cape, home to the little-known Barlow’s Lark and the endangered Damara Tern, and then travel inland, across Bushmanland (in former times the hunting grounds of many sects of the San tribe) to Augrabies Falls where the mighty Orange River has carved out spectacular canyons. Beyond Augrabies, the Pre-Cambrian river bed of the Orange River is nowadays an extensive valley of rolling red sand dunes, so reminiscent of the Kalahari to the north. In this desert region we will be looking in particular for Burchell’s Courser, Bradfield’s Swift, the dune form of the Red Lark, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Karoo Thrush, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Orange River White-eye and Red-headed Finch, as well as such spectacular mammals as Southern Oryx (Gemsbok) and Springbok.

Next we come to the famous diamond town of Kimberley, which is home to the spectacular Northern Black Korhaan, as well as Southern Anteating-Chat, Kalahari Scrub-Robin and Black-chested Prinia. We will go out on a night drive on a private reserve in the Kimberley area to look for such creatures as the bizarre Springhare, Bat-eared and Cape Foxes, Small-spotted Genet, South African Porcupine and Aardwolf. We even have a real if modest chance of encountering the strange Aardvark.

From Kimberley we travel northeast to Johannesburg, looking for the poorly-known Melodious Lark at a favoured spot or two, and onwards to Magoebaskloof in the north of the country. Here the dry grasslands hold the endemic Short-clawed Lark, as well as other good birds such as Swainson’s Spurfowl, Ashy Tit, Marico Flycatcher and the stunning Crimson-breasted Shrike, while one of the most productive forest areas in the country gives us our best chance for Cape Parrot. Black-fronted Bush Shrike will also be high on our agenda in this beautiful area and we will have a first chance for specialities that also occur in the Drakensberg, such as Barratt’s Warbler, Chorister Robin-Chat, Olive Bush Shrike, Greater Double-collared Sunbird and Swee Waxbill.

Heading south, we pause on our journey to Wakkerstroom in a mountain area where we will be wanting to see the dashing Taita Falcon (although widespread, this falcon is seldom seen anywhere else in Africa!).

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.

Next we cross the border into Kwazulu-Natal and the bird-rich bushveld, lakes and papyrus swamps of Mkuze (or Mkhuze) Game Reserve. Although we will already have seen a number of impressive mammals during the tour, Mkhuze is a mammalogist’s paradise, with White Rhinoceros, the beautiful Nyala (a relative of the Kudu) and Hippopotamus being among the more spectacular creatures. Yet more avian delights await us at Mkhuze too, including two specialities, Neergaard’s Sunbird and the delightful Pink-throated Twinspot, as well as African Broadbill and many other additions to the tour list.

Eventually we reach the Indian Ocean coast at Saint Lucia. Here, the lagoons and almost impenetrable, liana-choked forests of the Lake St Lucia area hold such specialities as Brown Scrub-Robin, Rudd’s Apalis and Woodward’s Batis. As we leave the coastal lowlands behind, on our way to the fabulous Drakensberg, we will pause at Eshowe to take in the endangered Spotted Ground Thrush.

Our visit to the mighty Drakensberg range will surely be a fitting finale to a fantastic 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, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Longclaw and Forest Canary.

By the time we come to the end of our South African odyssey we will have explored the whole 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. There are some long drives.

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 northern Cape) 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.

Prices are provisional

Tour Price: £5490, €6480, $7190 Cape Town/Durban. Single Room Supplement: £384, €453, $503. Deposit: £650, €780, $850.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water, entrance fees and tips/gratuities.

Base prices for this tour are in South African Rand. The exchange rates applied at the time of costing were: £1 = ZAR 17.40, €1 = ZAR 14.70 and $1 = ZAR 13.30.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

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)

As we travel along the southern edge of the Kalahari Desert we will encounter the amazing colonial nest structures of the endemic Sociable Weaver (Mike Watson)

As we travel along the southern edge of the Kalahari Desert we will encounter the amazing colonial nest structures of the endemic Sociable Weaver (Mike Watson)

Their architects look rather unfinished - Sociable Weaver, Pofadder (Mike Watson)

Their architects look rather unfinished - Sociable Weaver, Pofadder (Mike Watson)

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 along the Cape coastline  (Mike Watson)

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

Black-bellied Bustard is one of ten species of bustard which can be seen on this tour (Mike Watson)

Black-bellied Bustard is one of ten species of bustard which can be seen on this tour (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 delightful Pink-throated Twinspot is a sand forest specialist that is best found in Mkhuze Game Reserve (Pete Morris)

The delightful Pink-throated Twinspot is a sand forest specialist that is best found in Mkhuze Game Reserve (Pete Morris)

Just a single pair of Taita Falcons is known to breed in South Africa, and these are probably the only easily accessible pair in the world! (Pete Morris)

Just a single pair of Taita Falcons is known to breed in South Africa, and these are probably the only easily accessible pair in the world! (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 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 ranging from African Elephants to this endangered Cape Leopard Toad (Pete Morris)

Other wildlife is abundant in South Africa ranging from African Elephants to this 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)

South Africa is also a great place to see a selection of spectacular (albeit mostly reintroduced) mammals like White (or Grass) Rhino (Mike Watson)

South Africa is also a great place to see a selection of spectacular (albeit mostly reintroduced) mammals like White (or Grass) Rhino (Mike Watson)

Kudu, this is an impressive bull (Mike Watson)

Kudu, this is an impressive bull (Mike Watson)

and the stately Giraffe (Mike Watson)

and the stately Giraffe (Mike Watson)

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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