South Africa: The Western Cape; Kwazulu-Natal & Kruger NP
September 24-October 16, 2020
Leader: Jan Hansen
$7995 from Johannesburg
The Western Cape lies in the austral winter rainfall region of South Africa and constitutes a medley of varying habitat types ranging from coastal sand dunes and rocky shores to rugged mountain ranges that flank the southern and eastern extremities of the province.
As such the region is comprised of a variety eco-systems including coastal shrubland known as “fynbos,” an area of hardyplants capable of withstanding the hot, dry and windy conditions of the South African summer as well as the frequent winter rains. Fynbos are home to an impressive number of endemic plants and animals including many birds that are found nowhere else on earth. Examples of these birds include Cape Sugarbird, Cape Rockjumper, Cape Francolin, Black Bustard, Black Harrier, Protea Canary and Orangebreasted Sunbird. Further inland one enters a vast arid region known as “karoo,”a region of sparse and irregular winter rainfall stretching from the Kalahari Desert in South Africa to the Namib Desert in Namibia. Like the coastal fynbos, the karoo region hosts large numbers of birds and plants endemic to this unique eco-system. Examples include Yellow-rumped Eremomela, Sclater’s Lark, Red Lark, Namaqua Warbler, Karoo and Tractrac chats and Ludwig’s Bustard.
Finally, the coastal areas of the Western Cape, heavily influenced by the cold Benguela Current, are home to species like African Penguin, Bank, Cape and Crowned cormorants, Cape Gannet, Cape Siskin, African Oystercatcher and Hartlaub’s Gull and we will visit several areas in pursuit of these birds. The coastal areas of the Western Cape have seen significant human alteration of the land. Large urban settlements and extensive farming practices over generations have transformed the geology of the alluvial plain significantly, providing emerging habitats for an influx of birds and mammals capable of adjusting to the ongoing pace of change associated with rural development and a steadily expanding population. As one moves further from the coast, the high summer temperatures and low rainfall make any activities beyond low key pastoral farming with sheep and goats untenable for most of the year. Otus asio Tours LLC otusasiotours.com As such, the province provides visiting naturalists with a wide variety of botanically unique habitats supporting an amazing diversity of plant and animal species within one of the most scenic parts of the world, aptly described by Sir Francis Drake on his global voyage as by far the ‘Fairest Cape in all the World’.
The second portion of the tour will take us to Kwazulu-Natal in the eastern part of the country and the South African province with the highest bird list. Like the Western Cape, Kwazulu-Natal is comprised of four very different eco-systems and we will spend time in each.
- 1) The Drakensburg Mountains are sure to be one of the scenic highlights of the tour. Here we will use 4WD vehicles to climb above 10,000 feet, and eventually entering the imbedded country of Lesotho. The rocky landscapes here are host to species like Drakensberg Rockjumer, Drakensberg Siskin, Yellow-tufted Pipit, Ground Woodpecker, Bearded Vulture and Sentinel Rock-Thrush.
- 2) Afro-montane Forest. Most of Kwazulu-Natal’s forests have been cleared for farming and grazing, but a few small remnant patches persist and these also hold a unique set of birds unavailable anywhere else on the tour. We will visit remnant patches at Xumeni, Dhlinza and near St. Lucia in search of species like Delagorgue’s Pigeon, Trumpeter Hornbill, Orange Ground-Thrush, Spotted Ground-Thrush, Knysna Turaco, African Emerald Cuckoo, Narina Trogon, Bush Blackcap, Green-backed Twinspot, Chorister Robin-Chat, Barratt’s Warbler and Woodward’s Batis.
- 3) Grasslands: Like most places around the world, grasslands in Africa have been largely destroyed and the birds found there have become increasingly scarce, and in many cases, quite rare. We will spend 2 days in remnant grassland habitat near Wakkerstroom where we will seek Botha’s and Rudd’s larks, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Blue Bustard, Gray-crowned Crane and Southern Bald Ibis. One highlight in this area will be the impressive numbers of the spectacular Long-tailed Widowbird.
- 4) Acacia and Savanna. Near the Mkuze game reserve south of the border with Swaziland, we will spend time in these habitats that are more characteristic of points further north in Africa. Distinctive birds here will include White-throated Robin-Chat, Neegard’s Sunbird, Kurrichane Thrush, Rudd’s Apalis, Lilac-breasted Roller, Four-colored Bushshrike, Crested Francolin, Golden-breasted Bunting and Bearded Scrub-Robin. This area will also provide us with our initial opportunities to see large mammals like Giraffe, Burchell’s Zebra, White Rhinoceros and a variety of antelope including the rare Nyala.
We will conclude our tour with three days in the world famous Kruger National Park where we will have excellent chances to see some of Africa’s most famous wildlife including Lion, Leopard, Elephant, White and Black rhinoceros and a splendid variety of antelope. Kruger is also a fantastic birding area and we will have chances to find Bataleur, Lappet-faced Vulture, Martial Eagle, Red-crested Bustard, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Gray-go-away Bird, Red-billed Oxpecker, Burnt-neck Eremomela, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Violet-eared Waxbill and many, many more.
All in all, the widely varying habitats available along this tour’s itinerary will provide participants with excellent chances to a large number of South Africa’s suite of endemic birds. The tour will be conducted at onset of South Africa’s spring season, so many species will have begun singing and breeding which will increase our chances of finding them. South Africa is a splendid and diverse country and this tour will provide everyone with lasting memories of this amazing land.