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Day 1: Thurs 2 Sept London – Cape Town
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly overnight from London Heathrow, and on arrival in Cape Town meet our local guide on the morning of Day 2.
Days 2 – 4: Fri 3 Sept - Sun 5 Sept
Cape Peninsula, Table Mountain NP and pelagic boat trip
The Cape Peninsula is one of the world’s most botanically rich regions, and its habitats provide great birding opportunities. The Fynbos region contains heathland and natural shrubland, and we begin birding here, focussing on endemics, including Knysna Warbler, Cape Rock-jumper, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Siskin, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Ground Woodpecker, and Cape, Crowned and Bank Cormorant. We visit colonies of globally threatened African Penguin, where Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gull will be in attendance. African Black Oystercatcher and roosting terns including Caspian can be found on pristine beaches and at wetland sites we may see Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Maccoa and Yellow-billed Duck, Cape and Red-billed Teal, Cape Shoveler and African Fish Eagle. Other raptors might include Black Eagle (rare), Lanner Falcon, Jackal Buzzard, Red-breasted Sparrowhawk and African Goshawk. On walks around the Kirtstenbosch National Botanical Gardens we should see Malachite and Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Forest Canary, Swee Waxbill, Cape Batis and more – a fine introduction to South African Birding! Table Mountain National Park gives us the chance to get our mammal list underway, being home to troops of Chacma Baboon plus Cape Mountain Zebra, Red Hartebeest and Rock Hyrax.
Early in the tour and if the weather is suitable, we plan a pelagic voyage into the southern oceans for one of South Africa’s ornithological highlights. Seabird trips off Cape Town are famous worldwide, and among the species we might encounter are Northern Royal, Black-browed, Shy, Atlantic Yellow-nosed and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross (with an outside chance of Wandering, Grey-headed and Southern Royal Albatross), Northern and Southern Giant-Petrel, Spectacled, Cape and White-chinned Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Great Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Cape Gannet and Brown Skua. Feeding birds are attracted to fishing trawlers and if we find one, several thousand seabirds can be on view at once – a memorable spectacle! We also hope to see Cape Fur Seals and Southern Right Whale, the shallow waters off False Bay well-known for calving females at this time of year. We stay at Whale View Manor Guest House for three nights and may even see whales from our hotel rooms!
Days 5 and 6: Mon 6 and Tues 7 Sept West Coast NP
Heading up the Atlantic Coast, we enter the West Coast National Park 120 miles north of Cape Town. Roadside birding within the Park can be rewarding and we hope for good views of Southern Black Korhaan, Cape and Grey-winged Francolin and perhaps our first Common Ostrich. We visit Langebaan Lagoon where on tidal mudflats African Spoonbill, South African Shelduck and large numbers of migrant waders can be easily observed from well-positioned hides. Species including Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff, Greenshank, Marsh and Wood Sandpiper and many more should be abundant, with both Chestnut-banded Plover and White-fronted Plover special targets.
Elegant Black Harrier may be seen quartering low over vegetation and grassland habitats within the reserve, with Black-shouldered Kite, African Marsh Harrier and Osprey likely. Passerines may include White-backed Mousebird, Cape Penduline Tit, Cape Bulbul, Cape and Karoo Robin, Layard’s Tit-babbler, Grey-backed and Cloud Cisticola, Long-billed Crombec, Grassbird, Bokmakierie, Cape Weaver, White-throated Canary and Cape Bunting. New mammals on the grasslands may include Bat-eared Fox, Caracal and Eland. Overnight Crystal Lagoon Lodge, Langebann for two nights.
Days 7 and 8: Wed 8 and Thurs 9 Sept Tankwa Karoo
After five days on the coast we relocate inland, entering the rugged interior to search for a range of rocky and gravel plains specialists. The karoo is a semi-desert region of South Africa, partly defined by its topography, geology and climate, comprising cloudless skies, and the extreme hot and cold temperatures typical of the desert. Endemics and sought-after birds in this arid environment include Namaqua Sandgrouse, Namaqua Warbler, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Karoo Eremomela, Karoo, Sickle-winged and Tractrac Chat, Karoo Long-billed, Thick-billed, Red-capped and Spike-heeled Lark, Black-eared Sparrow-Lark, Pririt Batis, Mountain Wheatear, Fairy Flycatcher, Layard’s Warbler, Black-headed, Protea and White-throated Canary, Southern Grey Tit and White-necked Raven. Aerial predators include Pale Chanting Goshawk, Verreaux’s and Booted Eagle and by spending two days here we have greater chances of seeing Ludwig’s Bustard, Spotted Thick-knee, Double-banded and rare Burchell’s Courser. We stay at The Village Restaurant & Guesthouse, Ceres for two nights.
Days 9 and 10: Fri 10 and Sat 11 Sept Bontebok NP and De Hoop NR
The south coast offers new opportunities and based at Swellandam in the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains, we are well positioned to explore two of its premier reserves. The Bontebok National Park is the smallest in South Africa and was established in 1931 to preserve the Bontebok (an antelope) which at the time had declined to perilously low numbers. Bordered by the Breede River, species here and in nearby farmland can include African Black Duck, Denham’s Bustard, Giant Kingfisher, Aghulhas Long-billed and Large-billed Lark, Cape Clapper Lark, Quail Finch and Yellow Canary and as expected, it is a good place to see Bontebok with roughly 200 animals present.
Blue Crane is the national bird of South Africa, and we hope to see good numbers at De Hoop Nature Reserve, a south coast site offering a superb mix of habitats and a rich ecosystem. The cranes thrive here, while raptors present include Secretarybird, Martial Eagle, African Harrier-hawk, Black Harrier, Lesser Kestrel and we make a special effort for Cape Vulture on the cliffs of the Potberg Mountain. Other desirable birds include Hottentot Buttonquail and Knysna Woodpecker (both endemics), Southern Tchagra, Olive Bush Shrike, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Southern Boubou, Black Crow, Capped Wheatear, Orange-throated and Cape Longclaw, Sombre and Cape Bulbul and Pin-tailed Whydah. De Hoop can also be a great place for mammal watching with endemic Cape Grysbok and Grey Rhebok targets. Rock Hyrax, Duiker, Caracal, Cape Grey and Yellow Mongoose are also possible.
We stay at Swellendam, South Africa’s third oldest town with beautifully restored Cape Dutch buildings. This area can offer the best chance of encountering Hamerkop, an iconic species becoming increasingly harder to find in the country. Tambourine Dove, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Olive Woodpecker, Swee Waxbill, Grey-headed Sparrow may be found near our accommodation by day, with Fiery-necked Nightjar at dusk. Overnight Swellendam Country Lodge for two nights.
Day 11: Sun 12 Sept Grootvadersbosch NR and transfer to Outshoorn
In the morning, we enjoy a few hours at Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, a 250 hectare wildlife-rich site of indigenous forest, a habitat we haven’t yet explored. New birds could include eastern specialities such as Narina Trogon, Olive Woodpecker and Victorin’s Warbler. We might also see White-rumped Swift, Pearl-breasted and Greater Striped Swallow, Greater Honeyglide, Amethyst and Black Sunbird, African Dusky and Fiscal Flycatcher and raptors including Forest Buzzard, Black Sparrowhawk and perhaps rare Cuckoo Hawk.
Later, we transfer east to Outshoorn, a town with a strong history of Ostrich farming. Some roadside birding stops will break up the journey as we drive through an area known as 'Little Karoo'. We look out for raptors including Secretarybird, Verreaux’s and Booted Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Black Harrier, Yellow-billed Kite and others, plus Sentinel Rock Thrush, Mountain Chat and Pale-winged Starling. Overnight Thorntree Country House.
Days 12 and 13: Mon 13 and Tues 14 Sept Garden Route NP
Continuing east, we enter the famous ‘Garden Route National Park’, where in more verdant surroundings, forest birding and woodland species become the focus of the next two days. With many great birding sites to choose from the stunning Knysna Turaco is a prime target. Other forest specialists including Crowned Eagle, African Wood Owl, Chorister Robin-chat, Knysna Woodpecker, Scaly-throated and Sharp-billed Honeyglide, Red-necked Francolin, Red-eyed Dove, Narina Trogon, Olive Thrush, Grey Cuckoo-shrike Terrestrial Bulbul and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Knysna Warbler, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, White-starred Robin, Cape Batis and Green-backed Camaroptera. In more mountainous habitats we look for Protea and Cape Canary, Black Saw-wing, Stripped Flufftail and Cape Siskin.
Set against a spectacular backdrop of the Tsitsikamma Mountains, Storms River Rest Camp offers more birding opportunities. Species in these coastal habitats, on lakes or watercourses might include African Finfoot, Cape and White-breasted Cormorant, Yellow-billed Egret, White-backed Night-Heron, Purple Heron, African Fish Eagle, African Black Oystercatcher, African Rail, Giant, Pied, Malachite and perhaps Half-collared Kingfisher. Mammals will be less prominent during our two days here, though could include Blue Duiker and Cape Clawless Otter. Aside from birding, the 77 meter suspension bridge above the rusty-coloured waters of the Storms River is well worth a visit, not least for its views in every direction including beneath your feet! We stay at Storms River Mouth Rest Camp for two nights.
Days 14 - 16: Wed 15 Sept - Fri 17 Sept Addo Elephant NP
Set in the enchanting Eastern Cape Province, the Addo Elephant National Park is the third largest in South Africa. This finely-tuned ecosystem has expanded greatly in recent years to contain a variety of habitats, having been established initially to preserve the last thicket vegetation, essential in preserving the survival of the rapidly declining African Elephant population. We have three days to enjoy the National Park, and with unforgettable 4x4 safaris and night drives, big game will very much be in our sights. An impressive 95 species of mammal have been recorded, including 22 carnivores, and we hope to see Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Caracal, Spotted Hyena, Aardwolf, Bat-eared Fox, Cape Buffalo, Black Rhinoceros, Eland, Kudu, Red Hartebeest, Bush-pig, Porcupine with chances of Wild Dog, Honey Badger and Aardvark too.
Over 400 bird species have been recorded at Addo, including many of the South African endemics which have been top targets on the tour so far. Other possibilities include Black Crake, Goliath and Black-headed Heron, Black-winged Plover, Grey-headed Gull, Emerald-spotted Dove, Cape Parrot, Spotted Eagle and Western Barn Owl, Acacia Pied and Black-collared Barbet, Red-collared Widowbird, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Crowned Hornbill, Red Bishop, Fork-tailed Drongo, Red Bishop, Dark-backed and Spectacled Weaver and Golden-breasted and Cape Bunting. A wonderful destination for the wildlife enthusiast! Overnight Addo Rest Camp for three nights.
Day 17: Sat 18 Sept Departure
Depending on flight times, we might have some time to enjoy the wildlife of Addo one last time before transferring to Port Elizaebeth for our overnight flight back to the UK on Day 18: Sun 19 Sept 2021.
Special thanks to Matt Prophet and Leon Marais for use of their images on this page.