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Days 1 and 2: Mon 15 & Tue 16 January 2024
London - Johannesburg, birding at Rietveli NR
We fly overnight from London to 'OR Tambo' International Airport in Johannesburg, and meet our local guide, before driving to nearby Rietvlei Nature Reserve. Here we begin birding with exciting new species including South African Shelduck, Spotted Thick-knee, Crowned and African Wattled Lapwing, Northern Black Korhaan, Black-winged Kite, Greater Kestrel, Malachite Kingfisher, Cape Grassbird, Long-tailed Widowbird, Pied Starling, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Cape Longclaw and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler.
From Rietvlei, we make our way east towards Dullstroom, expecting to arrive late afternoon. En-route birding will depend on time available, though may include a roadside stop at marshland to look for Greater Flamingo, Cape Shoveler, Hottentot and Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed, White-backed and Maccoa Duck, Southern Pochard and Black-necked Grebe, or perhaps a South African Cliff Swallow colony. Situated in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province, Dullstroom (‘stroom’ meaning stream), enjoys an abundance of water despite being over 2000m above sea level, and has enviable wildlife habitats. If time allows, a short afternoon excursion may yield Southern Bald Ibis, Steppe Buzzard, Ant-eating Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Pied Starling, Malachite Sunbird, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Cape Crow and Bokmakierie while possible mammals include Black Wildebeest, Blesbok, Grey Rhebok, Mountain Reedbuck, Yellow Mongoose and Natal Red Rock Rabbit. Overnight Old Transvaal Inn for one night.
Day 3: Wed 17 January - Verlorenvalei NR, Panorama Route
The historical Panorama Route is a scenic road through Mpumalanga Province, centred around the Blyde River Canyon and connecting several cultural and natural points of interest. We spend the morning in the Steenkampsberg Range, at Verlorenvalei Nature Reserve where we search for endemics including Yellow-breasted Pipit, Gurney's Sugarbird, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Buff-streaked Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Drakensberg Prinia and Sentinel Rock-Thrush. More conspicuous, larger species we may also see include Denham’s Bustard, Grey Crowned and Blue Crane, Jackal Buzzard, Cape Vulture and Secretarybird and perhaps mammals such as Blesbok, Oribi and Steenbok. Pushing on to Mount Sheba, once settled we explore the Afro-montane Forest surrounding the hotel for forest specialities including Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon , Orange Ground Thrush, White-starred Robin, Olive Woodpecker, Cape Batis, Chorister Robin-Chat, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Lemon Dove, Bar-throated Apalis, Grey Cuckoo-shrike and Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher. Overnight Mount Sheba Hotel for one night.
Day 4: Thur 18 January – Blyde River Canyon, Panorama Route
A pre-breakfast session in the forest will give us a second chance for any Afro-montane specialities we may have missed, before we relocate to Blyde River Canyon itself. The third largest in the world, the canyon is dominated by subtropical vegetation and we will have plenty of time for both birding and sightseeing stops along our chosen route through this scenic area. Among the birds we look out for are Long-crested and Verreauxs' Eagle, Rock Kestrel, Cape Rock Thrush, Black Saw-wing, Holub's Golden Weaver, Red-throated Wryneck, Amethyst and Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Little Bee-eater, Arrow-marked Babbler, Rufous-naped Lark, Southern Bald Ibis, Mocking Cliff Chat and many others. We stay overnight Forever Resort Blyde Canyon for one night.
Days 5 & 6: Fri 19 & Sat 20 January – Blyde River Canyon – Satara, Central Kruger
After a morning birding in the resort grounds, looking for White-throated and Red-capped Robin Chat, Black-collared Barbet, Striped Pipit, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Greater Double-collared, White-bellied and Collared Sunbird, African Palm Swift, Yellow-breasted Apalis and many more, we depart for Kruger National Park.
Entering via Orpen Gate, we spend the rest of the day birding our way to camp, with many new birds expected. Notable species include Southern Ground Hornbill, Kori Bustard, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Temminck’s Courser, Red-crested Korhaan and perhaps roosting Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. A whole range of more widely-occurring birds are also likely, including Southern Carmine Bee-eater, European, Lilac-breasted and Purple Roller, Green-winged Pytilia, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Magpie Shrike, Green Wood Hoopoe, African Hoopoe, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Burchell's and Greater Blue-eared Starling, Flappet Lark, Common Scimitarbill, African Grey, Southern Red-billed and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill and many others. The spectacular array of possible raptors here includes White-headed and Lappet-faced Vulture, Bateleur, Martial, Tawny, Wahlberg's, Steppe and Lesser-spotted Eagle, Pallid and Montagu's Harrier, African Harrier Hawk, Brown Snake Eagle, Gabar Goshawk and Amur Falcon.
Satara is also one of the best game viewing areas within the Kruger National Park, and on the savannah during daytime are Burchell’s Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Common Waterbuck and Cape Buffalo. These in turn provide food for Lion prides and Spotted Hyena clans. Smaller herbivores such as Impala and Warthog may also be seen, doing their best to avoid being preyed upon by Leopard and Cheetah! Night drives are also an option at Satara, with chances to encounter African Scops, Pearl-spotted and Southern White-faced Owl, Verreaux’s and Spotted Eagle Owl alongside partial-nocturnal mammals such as White-tailed Mongoose, African Wild Cat, Serval and Leopard. Overnight Satara Main Camp for two nights.
Days 7 & 8: Sun 21 & Mon 22 January – Skukuza, Kruger National Park
Following a morning excursion at Satara, we head south towards Skukuza, the headquarters and operations centre for the entire Kruger National Park, and our next rest-camp on the southern bank of the Sabie River. The habitat here is much more vegetated than that of the central plains of Satara, and as such attracts different birds and mammals. Among those we seek are Purple-crested Turaco, Trumpeter Hornbill, Hooded Vulture, African Green Pigeon, Giant and Pied Kingfisher, African Jacana, Black Crake, Crowned Hornbill, Goliath Heron, African Finfoot, African Darter, Saddle-billed Stork, Hamerkop, Water Thick-knee, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, Brown-headed Parrot, Bennett’s, Bearded and Cardinal Woodpecker, White-crested Helmet-shrike, Black-collared Barbet, Violet-backed Starling and plenty more. As well as the famed ‘big five’, the relative abundance of water at Skukuza attracts many more mammals, and large Impala populations, in turn support predators such as Cheetah and Wild Dog. The latter can be a tricky mammal to find, and is a key target during our time exploring this rich section of the park. Early morning and afternoon game drives take place when both mammals and birds will be at their most active, with some time to relax planned in between. Overnight Skukuza Rest Camp for two nights.
Day 9: Tue 23 January - Pretoriuskop, Kruger National Park
For our final day in the Kruger, we continue southwards until we reach Pretoriuskop, one of the oldest and most well-known Rest Camps within the park. Dominated by large granite outcrops and some broad-leaf vegetation, the area holds a range of bird species which are uncommon in other areas. The camp gardens are one of the best places to see Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Purple-crested Turaco and Brown-headed Parrot, while other species we may find include Dark-chanting Goshawk, Lizard Buzzard, Bushveld Pipit, Croaking Cisticola, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Green-capped Eremomela, Striped Kingfisher, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Pale Flycatcher. Though mammals can be relatively scarce here during the wet season, the area can be good for White Rhino with African Elephant, Lion and if lucky Wild Dog possible too. Overnight Pretoriuskop Rest Camp for one night.
Days 10 & 11: Wed 24 & Thur 25 January – Wakkerstroom, Mpumalanga Highlands
Today we must leave Kruger behind, and head south-west to Wakkerstroom, a small agricultural town in the Southern Mpumalanga highlands widely known as one of South Africa’s best birding spots. Day Ten will be spent mostly travelling, though we make a few birding stops and pause for any interesting wildlife we may see en-route. Our accommodation affords magnificent views of rich grassland and wetlands, plus Martin's Dam and its waterfall, and if time allows we can explore a little before dinner. On our full day here we use a local guide to help find our target birds, which include Blue and Grey Crowned Crane, Secretarybird, Blue Korhaan, White-bellied Bustard, Ground Woodpecker, Quail Finch, Marsh Owl, Rudd’s and Botha’s Lark, Black-winged Lapwing, Cape Longclaw, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Pale-crowned Cisticola and many more. Mammals we may see on this final part of the tour include Yellow Mongoose and the endearing Meerkat. Overnight Wetlands Country House & Sheds for two nights.
Day 12 Fri 26 January – Departure
We may have a chance for some final wildlife watching before we make our way back to the airport, with some birding stops en-route if time allows. Our overnight flight departs late-afternoon arriving in the UK on Day 13, Sat 27 January.