The Ultimate In Birding Tours


BEST OF SOUTH AFRICA – Cape, Drakensberg and Transvaal

Tuesday 10th October – Tuesday 24th October 2023

Leader: Mike Watson

15 Days Group Size Limit 6


Birdquest’s Best of South Africa tours are 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 our Best of South Africa tour is the best two-week South Africa birding tour itinerary there is, as it focuses on all 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 bird watching: what more could anyone want?

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 South Africa tours since 1989.

What makes the Birdquest Best of South Africa tour special?: A winning combination of the very best South Africa two-week itinerary there is, combined with an unusually small group size limit. An unbeatable combination that makes for a wonderful birding experience for our group members.

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

Walking: The walking effort during Best of South Africa 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 during Best of South Africa are good.


  • Seeing unique rockjumpers hop across boulder-strewn slopes
  • Visiting the wonderful African Penguin and cormorant colonies along the southern Cape Coast
  • Gazing in awe as our boat is surrounded by albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters off the Cape of Good Hope
  • Finding tricky rarities such as Damara Tern, Knysna Woodpecker, Southern Tchagra, Victorin’s and Knysna Warblers and many more!
  • Exploring the fabulous fynbos with its wonderful Black Harriers and Southern Black Korhaans
  • Getting to grips with South Africa’s amazing selection (more than twenty species!) of larks
  • Enjoying a magical day trip up into Lesotho, with fabulous Drakensberg scenery, Lammergeiers, Southern Bald Ibises and much-wanted endemics
  • Having a decent chance of actually seeing a flufftail!
  • Going into the Highveld grasslands for stunning Blue Korhaans, stately Blue, Grey Crowned and Wattled Cranes and fabulous Blue Swallows
  • Seeing a great number of bird species, including a majority of the South African endemics and specialities
  • Coming across some superb mammals
  • Admiring the fabulous flowers and landscapes of the Western Cape
  • Enjoying the great hospitality, food, wine and infrastructure that South Africa has to offer


  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Cape Town airport.
  • Days 2-3: Cape Town region, including pelagic.
  • Day 4: Drive to Swellendam. Explore Hottentots Holland Mountains and De Hoop reserve.
  • Day 5: De Hoop, then return to Cape Town.
  • Day 6: Drive to Langebaan via coastal heathlands and wetlands.
  • Day 7: Drive to Calvinia in the Karoo.
  • Day 8: Calvinia region of the Karoo.
  • Day 9: Karoo, then return to Cape Town.
  • Day 10: Morning flight to Durban. Drive to Underberg area in the Drakensberg.
  • Days 11-12: Drakensberg Mountains, including visit to Lesotho.
  • Day 13: Drakensberg, then drive to Wakkerstoom.
  • Day 14: Wakkerstroom area.
  • Day 15: Wakkerstoom, then drive to Johannesburg airport. Early evening tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include this flight: Cape Town-Durban.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)

2023: provisional £3460, $4950, €4030, AUD6380. Cape Town/Johannesburg.

Single Supplement: 2023: £250, $370, €300, AUD470.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

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.


Best of South Africa: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at the airport in the city of Cape Town, where we will stay for three nights.

After checking in to our hotel, and a chance to get ready, we will begin our exploration of the beautiful Cape Town region.

Best of South Africa: Days 2-3  Cape Town is famous for its fine natural setting close to the magnificent scenery of Table Mountain and the Cape of Good Hope. This wind-swept area at the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans has an interesting avifauna with a high proportion of endemic species.

The area is famous for its botanical richness (indeed, the Cape Floristic Kingdom comprises a unique floral region with a diversity far in excess of temperate regions in the Northern Hemisphere). A family of plants characteristic of this region are the proteas, and, wherever there are concentrations of their beautiful and spectacular flowers, we should find Cape Sugarbirds, one of two members of a Southern African endemic family which resemble gigantic sunbirds, and gorgeous endemic Orange-breasted Sunbirds.

(Endemic as used here refers to Southern Africa rather than South Africa alone, as so many of the regional endemics overlap a national border or two.)

Amongst the other endemic and near-endemic species we should find while exploring the scrubby vegetation around Cape Point, at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens or in the woodland at the foot of Table Mountain are the attractive Jackal Buzzard, Cape Francolin, Cape Bulbul, Cape Grassbird, Karoo Prinia, the attractive Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Bokmakierie, Cape White-eye, Southern (or Lesser) Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver and Cape Canary. Two of the more difficult Cape endemics are Knysna Warbler and Cape Siskin, the former because it is so secretive, the latter simply because it is scarce and a bit unpredictable.

Species of wider distribution include Hamerkop, Black-headed Heron, Hadeda Ibis, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed and Black-shouldered Kites, Steppe Buzzard (sometimes split from Common), Common Kestrel (the form found here is sometimes regarded as a separate species, Rock Kestrel), Helmeted Guineafowl, Speckled and African Olive Pigeons, Cape Turtle (or Ring-necked), Laughing and Namaqua Doves, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Alpine, Little and African Black Swifts, Speckled Mousebird, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow, Black Saw-wing, Sombre Greenbul, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin-Chat, Familiar Chat, Pied and House Crows (the latter a relatively recent arrival), Common Fiscal, Red-winged Starling, Malachite Sunbird, Southern (or Vitelline) Masked Weaver, Southern Red and Yellow Bishops, and Brimstone Canary.

A highlight of our time at the coast will be a visit to a colony of African (or Jackass) Penguins, and as these dapper endemics wander unconcerned around us we will come to appreciate the appropriateness of their vernacular name as they give their braying calls. We also have an excellent chance of finding a huge Southern Right Whale loafing offshore in False Bay and, whilst looking offshore, we will see a number of Cape Gannets and may well be able to pick up a few pelagic seabird species such as White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater or even Shy Albatross. We will also be searching the coastline for Bank Cormorant, a Southern African endemic that has declined in numbers by over 60% in recent years, as well as endemic Cape and Crowned Cormorants.

Along the coast, or in nearby wetlands, we should also find the endemic South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, African (Black) Oystercatcher and Hartlaub’s Gull, as well as Little Egret, Glossy and African Sacred Ibises, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape and Red-billed Teals, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Cape (split from Kelp) Gull, Common, Sandwich and Greater Crested Terns, Levaillant’s (or Tinkling) and Zitting Cisticolas, and Little Rush, African Reed and Lesser Swamp Warblers.

Cape Town is famous for the concentrations of seabirds that can be found offshore. Weather permitting (there is a low but real risk of cancellation for Cape Town pelagics), our boat will take us out to the trawling grounds which lie about 30-40 nautical miles offshore in the cold Benguela Current.

Shortly after leaving port the first seabirds to join the boat will be White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and Cape Gannet. Further from the shore, an occasional albatross will inspect our wake and as we reach deeper waters they may be almost continually in view.

We may spot a long-liner before we even sight the fishing boat itself, simply from the cloud of birds following it, and once one has been sighted we will steam directly for its wake. The commonest birds associated with the long-liners are Black-browed, Shy, Atlantic Yellow-nosed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Cape and White-chinned Petrels, Great and Sooty Shearwaters and Cape Gannets. We should also find smaller numbers of Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, Wilson’s and Black-bellied Storm-Petrels, Arctic Skuas (or Parasitic Jaegers), Subantarctic Skuas, Arctic Terns (newly arrived from the breeding grounds) and dainty Sabine’s Gulls. There are literally thousands of birds around some of the boats and seeing seabirds in these numbers, with huge albatrosses repeatedly sweeping past our vessel at very close range, is an unforgettable experience.

We shall also be looking out for less common species such as Wandering Albatross and European Storm-Petrel and if conditions are sufficiently windy, Soft-plumaged and Great-winged Petrels.

The Cape Peninsula gives some shelter to False Bay and here we may well come across a pod of Southern Right Whales loafing at the water’s surface, while there is also a slim chance of Bryde’s Whale or Humpback Whale.

Best of South Africa: Day 4  This morning we will leave Cape Town and head eastwards into the Hottentots Holland Mountains, a dramatically rugged, windswept range which receives the brunt of the southeasterly gales that are so frequent in the Cape during the winter months. Here we will be looking in particular for the superb endemic Cape Rockjumper and the colourful but shy endemic Victorin’s Warbler, and we are also likely to find White-necked Raven and Neddicky (or Piping Cisticola).

From here, we continue eastwards into the rolling grasslands of the Overberg and on to Swellendam for an overnight stay.

As we head east, we will be delighted by the large numbers of elegant endemic Blue Cranes, South Africa’s national bird, in the roadside fields, and we will visit some areas of grassland and cultivation to search for the localized endemic Agulhas Long-billed and Agulhas Clapper Larks, and the streaky Cape form of the minuscule Cloud Cisticola, a bird that seems to vanish into the heavens during its song flight!

We will also explore the scenic and productive De Hoop Nature Reserve, which is home to the skulking Southern Tchagra and the secretive Knysna Woodpecker. Whilst looking for these two rather secretive endemics, we are likely to come across some other new species for the trip, such as Common Ostrich, Great Crested, Black-necked and Little Grebes, Long-tailed Cormorant, African Darter, Great White Pelican, Crowned and Blacksmith Lapwings, White-rumped Swift, Giant Kingfisher, the near-endemic Acacia Pied Barbet, Red-capped Lark, Pearl-breasted and White-throated Swallows, Capped Wheatear, Bar-throated Apalis, the shrike-like, endemic Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Wagtail, African (or Grassveld) Pipit and the stocky, near-endemic White-throated Canary.

We will also spend time admiring the mammals of the park, which include the attractive Bontebok, the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra and, if we are fortunate, the shy Cape Grysbok. In the surrounding grasslands, we should find stately Denham’s Bustards (with their spectacular ‘chrysanthemum’ display). We also have a slim chance of encountering the rare Hottentot Buttonquail, which is perhaps Southern Africa’s most difficult endemic!

Best of South Africa: Day 5  After some final birding at De Hoop we shall return to Cape Town for an overnight stay. We will stop at one or more sites along the way if we are still missing any of the specialities.

Best of South Africa: Day 6  Today we shall drive northwards to Langebaan for an overnight stay.

We will stop for long periods in the coastal ‘fynbos’ (heathland) and we shall also explore open areas and some coastal wetlands. We will be looking in particular for such endemics as the superb Black Harrier, the stunning Southern Black Korhaan, Cape Clapper, Cape Long-billed and Karoo Larks, Grey Tit and Cape Penduline Tit (the region’s smallest endemic).

Other likely new species include Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Grey Heron, Common Quail (as usual, hard to see), Spotted Thick-knee, Common Ringed, Kittlitz’s, Three-banded, White-fronted and Grey (or Black-bellied) Plovers, the exquisite Chestnut-banded Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Eurasian Whimbrel and European Bee-eater. From time to time we may come across Steenbok and Grey Duiker feeding amidst the low scrub.

Best of South Africa: Day 7  We will head northwards into the Karoo today, our destination the small town of Calvinia where we will spend two nights.

Along the way, after skirting the impressive Cedarberg mountain range, we will stop at a good site for the uncommon and localized endemic Protea Canary, while other endemic or near-endemic additions here may well include Mountain Wheatear, Layard’s Warbler (or Layard’s Tit-Babbler), Chestnut-vented Warbler (or Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler) and Fairy Flycatcher.

Part of the day will be spent exploring the Karoo plains and we are sure to have seen quite a number of dry country specialities by the time we reach Calvinia.

Best of South Africa: Day 8  Calvinia is situated deep in the desert region of the Northern Cape. Here, we will focus our attention on the starkly beautiful northern Karoo where arid, stony plains, bisected by sandy wadis dotted with thorn trees, give rise to shimmering mirages during the heat of the day. We will explore the area surrounding Calvinia out as far as the tiny settlement of Brandvlei, even deeper into the desert.

These harsh landscapes hold some very interesting endemics and near-endemics. Here we should find Karoo Korhaan, Namaqua Sandgrouse, White-backed Mousebird, Grey-backed Cisticola, the handsome Rufous-eared Warbler, Chat Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, African Pied and Pale-winged Starlings, Dusky Sunbird, Black-headed and Yellow Canaries, Cape Bunting, the undistinguished Lark-like Bunting and, with a bit of luck, the elusive Karoo Eremomela. Larks and chats are well represented here and we will be looking for the restricted-range Red Lark, Sabota Lark (here of the form sometimes split off as Bradfield’s Lark), Spike-heeled, Large-billed, Karoo Long-billed and Sclater’s Larks, Grey-backed and Black-eared Sparrowlarks, Sickle-winged, Tractrac and Karoo Chats, and Karoo Scrub-Robin. Less predictable are two nomadic near-endemics, the splendid Ludwig’s Bustard and Stark’s Lark, although with a bit of luck we will see both. We will also visit a small reedy patch that holds the shy and furtive endemic Namaqua Warbler. Other species we may well find in the Calvinia region include Booted Eagle, Southern Chanting Goshawk and Greater Kestrel.

Best of South Africa: Day 9  We will have time for some final birding in the Karoo today before we head back to Cape Town for an overnight stay.

Best of South Africa: Day 10  We will take a morning flight eastwards to Durban on the coast of Kwazulu-Natal and then head inland and uphill to the Underberg area in the Drakensberg range for a three nights stay. We will stop for some birding en route.

Best of South Africa: Days 11-12  During our time in the Drakensberg we shall explore grasslands, small lakes and marshes, alpine scrub and high altitude woodland. The high peaks of the magnificent eastern Drakensberg (rising to over 3000m or 9800ft), with their massive craggy spikes and rock buttresses, form an impressive backdrop as we look for such special birds as the strange endemic Southern Bald Ibis, the huge endemic Cape Vulture and the rare and endangered Wattled Crane.

We will have to transfer to four-wheel-drive vehicles in order to ascend a precipitous and scenic mountain pass amongst the loftiest peaks of the high Drakensberg and then continue into Lesotho. Known as the Sani Pass, at nearly 3250m it is the highest road in the eastern Drakensberg.

On the lower slopes, we will look for the rare and localized endemic Gurney’s Sugarbird around flowering proteas, and other species we may see in this zone include Red-throated Wryneck, the endemic Bush Blackcap (a species which is variously considered a babbler or a bulbul), African Stonechat, the stunning endemic Buff-streaked Chat (surely one of the best wheatears of all), the endemic Cape Rock Thrush and Streaky-headed Seed-eater. As we climb further, stands of proteas and grasslands, which are thronged with displaying Long-tailed Widowbirds at this season, give way to crags and cliffs with open alpine meadows bisected by fast-flowing streams where Drakensberg (or Orange-breasted) Rockjumpers should be seen bounding from rock to rock along the roadside.

Eventually, passports in hand, we will cross the border into Lesotho. It is not unusual to see snow still on the higher peaks, even at this time of year, and the local inhabitants scale these mountain passes astride small ponies and wrapped in colourful blankets. Endemic specialities are everywhere. Sentinel Rock Thrushes and Sickle-winged Chats are common, and we should also find the highly localized Mountain Pipit and the often secretive Yellow-tufted (or African Rock) Pipit, while Drakensberg Siskin is another local speciality. A few pairs of Lammergeiers (or Bearded Vultures) nest on the towering basalt ramparts of the high plateau and we may even see this magnificent raptor at the nest, while with luck we will encounter Black Stork, another cliff-nesting species with a breeding outpost in Southern Africa. Large mammals are scarce in Lesotho (most have been eaten!), but we should see one high-altitude speciality, the endearing Sloggett’s (or Ice) Rat.

During our time in the uplands of Kwazulu-Natal, we will also visit some remnant ‘mist forest’ with its tall yellow-wood and stinkwood trees heavily festooned with ‘old man’s beard’ lichens. These cool, damp forests are good for Red-chested and Klaas’s Cuckoos, the stunning African Emerald Cuckoo, the glorious endemic Knysna Turaco, Olive Woodpecker, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, the skulking endemic Barratt’s Warbler, Lazy Cisticola, the gorgeous but elusive Orange Ground Thrush, the endemic Chorister Robin-Chat (a species which can produce near-perfect imitations of almost any other, causing some confusion at times), White-starred Robin, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Black-backed Puffback, the endemic Olive Bushshrike, the endemic Forest Canary, African Firefinch and sometimes the endemic Swee Waxbill. With luck we will also encounter a party of endangered endemic Cape Parrots flying over the forest, attracting attention with their raucous calls, but while we may hear the moaning calls of Buff-spotted Flufftails we shall count ourselves very fortunate if we see one of these ultra-skulking little crakes.

Tours operated between mid-October and December will also explore some relict patches of natural mist-belt grassland where we have a fair chance of finding the migratory Blue Swallow, a supremely elegant, steel-blue hirundine that nests in Aardvark burrows in pristine grasslands and is South Africa’s most threatened bird.

Other species that we should find in this region include Grey Crowned Crane, Secretarybird, African Harrier-Hawk, Long-crested Eagle, Lanner, Black-headed Oriole, Cape Crow (or Cape Rook), the endemic Southern Anteating-Chat, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Green-backed Camaroptera, the endemic Drakensberg Prinia (split from Karoo), Wailing Cisticola, African Dusky and Southern Black Flycatchers, the endemic Cape (or Orange-throated) Longclaw, Amethyst and Collared Sunbirds, Pin-tailed Whydah, Fan-tailed and Red-collared Widowbirds, Bronze Mannikin and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow.

We could also encounter two or three of the scarcer species, which include Black, Little and Rufous-chested Sparrowhawks, the endemic Forest Buzzard (a bird widely distributed but very hard to observe), Red-necked Spurfowl, the near-endemic Natal Francolin, Black-winged Lapwing and Half-collared Kingfisher. Large mammals regularly observed in the area include Common Reedbuck, Mountain Reedbuck, the handsome but endangered Oribi, Blesbok and Black Wildebeest.

Best of South Africa: Day 13  After some final birding in the Drakensberg we will cross over into the Mpumalanga (formerly Transvaal) and work our way up through the grassy uplands to Wakkerstroom for a two nights stay.

Best of South Africa: Day 14  Of all the diverse habitats we will have travelled through, the upland grasslands of the central plateau of South Africa are the most threatened, and as a direct consequence its endemic birds are now endangered. The area we will be birding in is one of the few extensive stretches of this ‘highveld’ habitat left and is typified by small wetlands (‘vleis’) surrounded by lush, marshy meadows, rugged, rocky peaks and open stretches of pristine grassland. This bird-rich area has some exciting endemic species, in particular 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.

Other birds we should see in the Wakkerstroom region include Purple Heron, Hottentot Teal, Southern Pochard, White-backed Duck, African Marsh Harrier, Red-winged and Grey-winged Francolins, African Swamphen, African Wattled Lapwing, African Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, Spotted Thick-knee, Whiskered Tern, Banded Martin, Pink-billed and Spike-heeled Larks, South African Cliff Swallow, Wing-snapping Cisticola, the introduced Common Myna, Red-billed Quelea, African Quailfinch, Common Waxbill and perhaps also Maccoa Duck, African Rail, Orange-breasted Waxbill and Golden-breasted Bunting. At dusk, we will spend some time overlooking a grassy wetland where we may see hunting Marsh Owls or perhaps a Spotted Eagle-Owl.

This evening we will enjoy a celebratory dinner to mark the upcoming end of the tour.

Best of South Africa: Day 15  After some final birding in the Wakkerstroom area we will return to our hotel to wash and change. Afterwards we head for Johannesburg airport, where the tour ends in the early evening.


by Julien Mazenauer


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Other shorter Southern Africa & Indian Ocean Islands birding tours by Birdquest include: