13-Day Northern South Africa Birding
This 13-day birding tour takes us to Northern South Africa where we will explore birding in less-visited parts of the world-renowned Kruger National Park as well as Mapungubwe National Park. The tour also includes Magoebaskloof with fantastic forest birding spots. You can look forward to excellent birding opportunities, and we will focus on seeing over 400 species during the trip which includes many endemic and special species.
Private and small group, customised safaris can be booked on request for your preferred travel dates
Full Itinerary – Highlights of the North Birding Tour
Start of tour in Johannesburg, birding at Zaagkuildrift and drive to Polokwane
Our exciting birding tour starts in Johannesburg at your guesthouse or hotel, or at the O.R. Tambo International Airport if you flew in from somewhere. We suggest that participants spend the night before the tour starts in Johannesburg to allow for an early start. Nature Travel Birding can book the accommodation for you.
After a quick meet-and-greet we’ll get all the luggage in our comfortable airconditioned vehicle and head straight to our first destination to the north. We will start chatting about the upcoming trip and specific targets that you might have, ensuring everyone has a good time and a great trip list. We are going to see some spectacular scenery, wonderful birds, top African big game, and enjoy excellent accommodation and great local cuisine, along with friendly people and interesting history and culture. A great trip awaits!
You will quickly see that the road network in South Africa is better than in most African countries and this 90 minute leg is on the main N1 highway (that stretches 2,000 km/1,240 mi from the Zimbabwean border in the north all the way to Cape Town), from which you will get a feel for the Highveld grassland biome of the country.
Our first stop is the Rust-de-Winter area, and more specifically the legendary Zaagkuildrift road, an area very popular with local birders and in the latter part of summer, a brilliant spot for warblers. The 25 km (15 mi) gravel road runs east-west close to the Pienaars River, with the small town of the same name at its eastern end and the beautiful and productive Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain on its western side. We will drive slowly with our windows open, looking and listening for our first species to tick on the trip; this is superb acacia thornveld habitat!
Here we can expect a good selection of typical bushveld species but the real drawcard here is a whole host of species more typical of the drier west, here pretty much at the edge of their range. Highlights to look out for include the spectacular Crimson-breasted Shrike, as well as species like Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbill, African Firefinch, Amur Falcon (summer), Acacia Pied Barbet, Brubru, Kalahari Scrub Robin, several kingfishers, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, White-throated Robin-chat, Marico Flycatcher, Southern Pied Babbler, a whole host of cuckoos in summer, Great Sparrow, Ashy Tit and many more. At the right time of the year some amazing warblers hang out here, including Common Whitethroat, Thrush Nightingale, Olive-tree, Icterine, Marsh and very rare River Warbler, as well as the melodious Barred Wren-warbler.
Further along this road we’ll come to another top birding spot, the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain. For a couple of weeks in years of good rainfall this place comes alive and arguably offers some of the most spectacular birding in the country. If we are lucky and our timing is right we could see Lesser Moorhen, African Crake, Allen’s Gallinule and Greater Painted-snipe, to name just four!
Even when there is not much water around there is always some rewarding birding to be had. During these drier spells there is usually quite a spectacle with hundreds of Black-winged Pratincoles filling the sky, Temminck’s Courser can be plentiful at times and an added cast made up of Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larks, beautiful Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Capped Wheatears, Shaft-tailed Whydahs and even a harrier or two complete the picture.
We will have lunch somewhere en route and there will always be coffee close by; what birding trip doesn’t have good coffee on hand at all times?
We will then return on the Zaagkuildrift road the way we came, this time maybe driving a little faster but still keeping our eyes open for anything interesting along the way. Once on the N1 highway again, we turn north, aiming for the town of Polokwane (previously called Pietersburg).
We’ll arrive in the late afternoon and have time to settle in before dinner and a good night’s rest at our comfortable guesthouse.
Birding at Polokwane Game Reserve and drive to Mapungubwe National Park
After an early morning coffee and rusks (a sort of dunking biscuit, and essential food on a birding trip as you will discover!) we make our first stop at the Polokwane Game Reserve, just outside the town. This 3,200 hectare gem of a reserve is characterized by open savannah with scattered Acacia and broadleaved trees. Granite outcrops and riverine thickets add to the habitat diversity, and there are also open areas of grassland (called Pietersburg false grassland) that are critical to a number of lark, pipit and cisticola species. Our main targets here are Short-clawed Lark and Northern Black Korhaan, along with the small possibility of seeing Double-banded Courser, Barred Wren-warbler and Tinkling Cisticola.
A short drive in the reserve and a walk at one of the picnic sites should yield some nice birds to add to our trip list. This could include Burnt-necked Eremomela, Blue Waxbill, Southern Black Flycatcher, Magpie Shrike, Black-throated Canary, Black-chested Prinia, Sabota Lark, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Cape Starling, Black-collared and Crested Barbet, Marico Sunbird, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Crowned Lapwing, Ring-necked Dove, Groundscraper Thrush, African Hoopoe, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Fork-tailed Drongo, Southern Boubou and Golden-tailed Woodpecker to new a few. From a mammal point of view the reserve is well stocked, and we should see Plains Zebra, Greater Kudu, Common Wildebeest, Hartebeest (Red subspecies), Tsessebe, Giraffe and maybe even the herd of beautiful Sable Antelope.
After this exciting stop we turn straight north. We have a drive of about 4 hours ahead of us, going through the small towns of Dendron, Vivo and Alldays (known for its diamond mine and many game and hunting farms), before reaching the gate of the Mapungubwe National Park.
We will arrive at the park in the late afternoon, and if time permits we will enjoy our first afternoon game drive. This UNESCO World Heritage Site (inscribed in 2003) is as rich in history as it is in wildlife and flora. It is located where the mighty Shashe and Limpopo rivers join, and is filled with numerous patches of land that possess traces and artefacts of ancient civilisations and cultures. The park protects the important historical site the “lost city” of Mapungubwe Hill, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, a community dating back to the Iron Age. South Africa’s first kingdom was established here just prior to 1,300 AD and was home to a powerful tribe that flourished on trading with oriental cultures such as modern-day China and India. Remember, this is the place where archaeologists excavated the famous Golden Rhino and other evidence of a wealthy African kingdom. Mapungubwe saw the rise and fall off this great civilisation, and its natural beauty and historical artefacts and artwork will amaze you.
This is a world of orange sandstone outcrops, ancient Baobab trees, riverine forests and big game, including the famed Big Five, as well as the majestic Gemsbok, Giraffe, Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Spotted and Brown Hyaena, Common Eland, Common Wildebeest, Greater Kudu, Plains Zebra, Waterbuck, Impala, Klipspringer, Hartebeest (Red subspecies), Common Warthog, Bushpig and many other species. Interestingly, it is one of the only places in Africa where you can see Nile Crocodile and Meerkat in one park!
We have a choice of accommodation options here, and depending on your preference, we will either stay just outside the park or in the main rest camp inside the park. We will get together to update our lists and have dinner and then enjoy a good night’s sleep. On your way back to your room do remember to look up at the stars; here in the African bush, far away from light pollution, the stars are truly brilliant.
Mapungubwe National Park
Today we will enjoy a full day of birding in the park. This will include a morning and afternoon game drive and breakfast and lunch will be arranged according to our specific birding needs for the day.
Mapungubwe is one of South Africa’s newest national parks, having only been established in 1995. It covers an area of over 28,000 hectares (69,000 acres) and boasts a variety of habitats, including excellent riverine forest and mixed woodland. The park is part of the 4,872 km2 (1,881 sq mi) Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area, a fantastic wildlife conservation area envisaged for the future, that will protect important tracts of habitat and great amounts of wildlife in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Although Mapungubwe boasts many special mammal species, it is for the birds that most people come here. More than 400 species have been recorded in the park, and newer ones are added regularly as more birders visit. There are a host of exciting and special species that we will look for during our time here, including Three-banded, Bronze-winged and Temminck’s Courser, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Meyer’s Parrot, Grey Tit-flycatcher, White-crested and Retz’s Helmetshrike, African Barred Owlet, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Monotonous and Dusky Lark, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Olive-tree Warbler, Tropical Boubou, Meves’s Starling and many others.
During our driving time in the park we can expect several typical bushveld species, including Black-backed Puffback, Brubru, Golden-breasted Bunting, Chinspot Batis, Sabota and Fawn-coloured Lark, woodpeckers, Red-crested Korhaan and others. Remember to scan the rocky cliffs and the sky for Verreaux’s Eagle, Rock Kestrel, Lanner Falcon and other raptors.
We will definitely spend some time on the aerial boardwalk at the main camp, walking along the sturdy platforms and searching for Meves’s Starling , Meyer’s Parrot, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Mourning Collared Dove, Tropical Boubou, White-browed Robin-chat, and many more. The riverfront and other seasonal water bodies may give us African Fish Eagle, Senegal Coucal, White-fronted and Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Goliath Heron, Saddle-billed Stork, Western Osprey, African Pygmy Goose. Greater Painted-snipe, White-crowned Lapwing, Little Egret, Water Thick-knee and when it is particularly wet, even Dwarf Bittern.
Woodland, thornveld and scrubland birding may provide us with Red-headed Weaver, Dusky Lark, Kori Bustard, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Great Sparrow, Red-headed Finch, Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah. Close to the tented camp inside the park there is a stretch of thick riverine forest, and this is a good spot for the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl, Verreux’s Eagle-owl, Yellow-bellied Greenbul and many other interesting species.
We will return to our lodge after a great day’s birding to update our lists, have dinner and our last night in magical Mapungubwe.
Mapungubwe National Park to Louis Trichardt
After a last morning drive in Mapungubwe and breakfast at our lodge we’ll make our way south-eastwards to hilly country and the town of Louis Trichardt.
Louis Trichardt (formerly both Makhado and Trichardtsdorp) is a town at the foot of the peak of Songozwi, in the beautiful Soutpansberg mountain range, in a highly fertile region where litchis, bananas, mangoes and nuts are produced in huge amounts. It is situated in the Lowveld and has a subtropical climate. We will reach the town after about 3 and a half hours.
Timber plantations, nut orchards and avocado orchards dominate the land use in the area, yet nestled in between the agricultural lands are some of the best birdwatching sites in the region, if not the entire country.
After arriving and settling in at our accommodation we’ll have a boat trip on the Albasini Dam, a great way to do some birding and relaxing at the same time. It is the largest body of water in the area and a boat trip and walk around the dam edges will provide us with some excellent birding opportunities. We will spend the whole afternoon here, so remember your sunscreen!
Here we will keep an eye out for species such as Malachite, Giant and Half-collared Kingfisher, African Pied Wagtail, African Fish Eagle, Woolly-necked Stork, African Darter and, with a bit of luck, African Finfoot and White-backed Night Heron. A pair of African Skimmers even appeared here for a while some years ago! The dam edges could produce Gorgeous and Olive Bushshrike, Cape and Chinspot Batis, Bar-throated and Yellow-breasted Apalis, Sombre and Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Croaking Cisticola.
We will relax and have dinner at our birder-friendly lakeside lodge, and settle in for a good night’s sleep.
Louis Trichardt and surrounds
Today we’ll have a very early departure on a full day trip to some of the main birding spots in the area around town. Depending on what we see and the weather, we could change our plans around, but we will try to visit at least three hotspots in the area.
Hanglip Forest Reserve is an easily accessible Afro-temperate mist-belt forest of about 350 hectares with many short trails. It is flanked by pine plantations and overlooks the town. This is the best place to find White-starred Robin and Yellow-streaked Greenbul, as well as Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Grey Cuckooshrike, Common and Forest Buzzard, Lemon Dove and Crested Guineafowl. Also look out for Natal Red Duiker, Blue Monkey and Bushpig in the forest, as well as the endemic and localised Forest Rain Frog on misty or rainy days. There is a lovely picnic site under some large trees where we will enjoy our packed breakfast and coffee.
Entabeni Forest Reserve is a great example of Soutpansberg Afromontane forest with a canopy height of 20 to 30 metres. It is situated in the Entabeni pine plantation and covers almost 1,900 hectares. The forest boast good specials such as Orange Ground Thrush, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Green Twinspot, Knysna Turaco, Swee Waxbill, Olive Woodpecker, Grey Cuckooshrike, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Chorister and Red-capped Robin-chat, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Long-crested Eagle, African Goshawk, Narina Trogon, Mountain Wagtail, Collared Sunbird and Brown Scrub Robin. It is probably the best place in the country to find the uncommon, elusive and shy Blue-spotted Wood Dove. It has also recently been a reliable spot to see a pair of Bat Hawk and a large flock of Brown-necked Parrots.
The 390 hectare Roodewal Nature Reserve, just to the east of town, has a mix of woodland, riverine and Afromontane tree species, and is the most reliable site in the area for African Broadbill. Other species we will hope to see here are Eastern Nicator, White-throated Robin-chat, Narina Trogon, White-browed Scrub Robin, Gorgeous and Olive Bushshrike and Red-faced Cisticola. There is also a picnic site in the reserve, and this might be a good place to enjoy our packed (late) lunches. Crowned Eagles have been known to circle overhead at the picnic site, so keep an eye out. We have also seen Bushpig, Dwarf and Slender Mongoose, Bushbuck and Serval here before.
We will return to our accommodation in the late afternoon for some time to relax and maybe do some birding in the lodge grounds before dinner in the evening. Tomorrow we go to Kruger!
Louis Trichardt to Kruger National Park (Makuleke concession)
After an early start and breakfast we’ll head northeast on our 3 to 4 hour drive as we make our way into the famous Kruger National Park.
Everything that can be said about the Kruger National Park has probably already been said, but suffice to say that it is undoubtedly one of the greatest game parks on the planet. It covers a vast area of 19,485 square kilometres (7,523 sq miles) and extends 360 kilometres (220 mi) from north to south and 65 kilometres (40 mi) from east to west. Areas of the park were first protected by the government of South Africa in 1898, and it became South Africa’s first national park in 1926. It is now part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, a peace park that links Kruger National Park with the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe and the Limpopo National Park in Mozambique. It welcomes more than 1.5 million visitors every year.
All the Big Five game animals are found in Kruger National Park, which has more species of large mammals than any other African game reserve (at 147 species). Over 520 species of birds have been seen in “Kruger”, as it is affectionately known.
One of the most exciting areas in which to bird is up in the north, with impressive Fever tree forests along the Luvhuvu and Limpopo rivers. We’ll explore the private Makuleke concession in open-vehicle game drives and by doing birding walks. The community-owned concession consists of 24,000 ha of land in an area has long been recognised as the most diverse within the entire Kruger, containing approximately 75% of its biodiversity.
We’ll be searching for species such as Southern Yellow White-eye, Meves’s Starling, African Golden Oriole, Crowned Eagle, Green-capped Eremomela, Lemon-breasted Canary, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Böhm’s and Mottled Spinetail, African Cuckoo-hawk and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, while the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl is a possibility. This is also the only area in Kruger to find Dickinson’s Kestrel, Broad-billed Roller and even Three-banded Courser. Scarce species found in the past here include Sooty Falcon and River Warbler.
Game species to be seen includes large herds of African Buffalo and African Elephant, as well as Lion, Leopard and a host of herbivore species. Our afternoon drive will include an after-dark portion during which we may see nocturnal species such as Fiery-necked and Square-tailed Nightjar (and Pennant-winged Nightjar if we’re lucky), Spotted Thick-knee, Spotted Eagle-owl and mammals such as Serval, African Civet, genets and Aardvark.
We will stay at the beautiful and birder-friendly Pafuri Camp tonight. The camp consists of 20 luxury tents (en suite with indoor and outdoor showers) located in dense riverine forest overlooking the Luvuvhu River. This will be a special two-night stay, as almost all the staff members are locals who love the park and its fauna and flora, especially birds. They are very knowledgeable and will go out of their way to make us feel welcome. The level of service and care, and the quality of the cuisine, is top notch.
Kruger National Park (Makuleke concession)
We will determine today’s full day birding program according to what we have seen and which species we may still need for our lists. Breakfast and lunch plans will also be made according to our specific birding needs and the time we need to spend out in the concession.
Activities in the concession include twice daily game drives, or walks to legendary sites such as the Pafuri picnic site, Crooks Corner, Lanner Gorge and the Fever tree forests. There is also the opportunity to explore historic rock art, Stone Age and Iron Age sites.
Habitats in this northern section of Kruger are surprisingly diverse. The low-lying hills around Punda Maria to the south of our concession are home to Crowned Hornbill, Mosque Swallow and Eastern Nicator. Tall Mopane and broad-leafed woodland expanding out from the base of these hills holds specials like White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Arnot’s Chat and Racket-tailed Roller. In damp, low-lying areas Senegal Coucal, Black Coucal and Little Bittern can also be seen.
Game viewing is very good with regular sightings of high profile species like African Elephant, African Buffalo, Lion and Leopard. Regional specials such as Common Eland, Nyala, Tsessebe, Sharpe’s Grysbok and Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax are also present. The best thing about the northern part of Kruger for us is that it never ever feels crowded. Most visitors to Kruger flock to the central and southern parts, and up here you will experience a much more relaxed wildlife safari. The animals also seen to “feel” that we are more relaxed, so they in turn will give us plenty of time to enjoy their antics and beauty.
The area is also good for raptors, and we should tick Bateleur, White-backed, Hooded and Lappet-faced Vulture, Crowned, Martial and Lesser Spotted Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite and maybe even Steppe Eagle.
After a long day of ticking specials and lifers we will return to Pafuri Camp to freshen up, do our lists, have dinner and a good night’s rest.
Kruger National Park (Makuleke concession to Shingwedzi Camp)
Leaving the concession after a morning activity (game drive or walk) and breakfast we’ll make our way into the public part of the Kruger National Park and southward onto Shingwedzi Rest Camp, roughly 100 kilometres away. We will drive past Punda Maria Camp and the Babalala picnic site on our way to the camp, where we will stop to stretch our legs. Soon after we will make a quick detour to the Mooiplaas waterhole, where we almost always see Temminck’s Courser and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark.
The drive down to Shingwedzi is especially famous for the chance of seeing some of Kruger’s rare antelope species, and on previous trips we have seen Sable and Road Antelope, Hartebeest (Lichtenstein’s subspecies), Tsessebe and Common Eland on this stretch of road.
We will arrive at our home for tonight at about mid-day. We will have lunch in the restaurant on the riverfront, and then check in and have a short siesta.
Shingwedzi is a lovely, tranquil rest camp situated right on the Shingwedzi river. We’ll concentrate our efforts on the river drives, where mature riparian vegetation growing on the alluvial soils provides a welcome respite from the endless Mopane woodland stretching out in all directions. The nearby Kanniedood Dam provides a reliable water source in the dry season, and during that time of year it teems with wildlife, especially large herds of African Elephant.
As always in Kruger, don’t neglect to do some birding in the camp itself; the camp list includes Red-headed Weaver, Natal Spurfowl, Cape and Greater Blue-eared Starling, African Palm Swift, Bennett’s Woodpecker and Cut-throat Finch. Collared Palm Thrush was even resident in the palm trees around hut number 25 for a while a few years ago!
The area is well known as the haunt of big tusker African Elephant bulls, and we’ll be on the lookout for some impressive specimens on our afternoon drive. Birds we’ll be looking out for include Goliath Heron, Saddle-billed and Yellow-billed Stork, Little Egret, African Openbill, White-winged and Whiskered Tern, White-crowned Lapwing, Black-winged Stilt, Common and Curlew Sandpiper, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Water Thick-knee, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Brown-headed Parrot, Green-backed Camaroptera, Cut-throat Finch, Mosque Swallow, Red-headed and Thick-billed Weaver, and others.
After our drive we will return to camp for dinner in the restaurant (they claim to serve the best steak in all of Kruger!) overlooking the riverbed and then enjoy a good night’s rest.
Kruger National Park (Shingwedzi Camp to Letaba Camp)
After an early breakfast we’ll leave Shingwedzi Camp and make our way southwards to Letaba Camp, about 110km away.
We will reach Letaba at mid-day and enjoy lunch in the restaurant overlooking the river and its floodplain. We will then check in to our bungalows and enjoy a siesta.
Letaba is a haven for woodland birds and the parklike gardens are particularly pretty and productive. The camp is well spread out with the highlight being a paved footpath which runs along the northern perimeter through broad leaved riparian vegetation and then back along roads skirting the southern perimeter of the camp offering the chance to see a number of species within the confines of the camp as well as out on the Letaba River floodplain. Letaba is the camp that defines Kruger for many visitors; lots of trees, plenty of water, great birds and fantastic mammals, and not too busy; in other words, perfect!
We will walk these pathways and the camp grounds this afternoon and look for Gabar Goshawk along the riverside, as well as a number of camp residents such as Red-headed Weaver, African Palm Swift, Red-winged Starling, Black-headed Oriole, Barred Owlet, Red-capped Robin-chat, Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, Red-billed Oxpecker, Bearded Scrub Robin and Grey-headed Bushshrike. There is also a family of Bushbuck in the camp, along with the usual naughty Vervet monkeys!
We will definitely be spending time enjoying the view of the river and watching animals come down to bathe and drink. We will be hoping for sightings of Lion, Leopard, African Elephant, Waterbuck and other big game. Before returning to your room to freshen up, it might be a good idea to visit the Elephant Hall, a superb informative display about the “Magnificent Seven”, Kruger’s legendary old tuskers.
We will then get together on the viewing deck, update our lists and have dinner in the restaurant, and then head to bed for a good night’s sleep.
*Please note: tonight might be a good opportunity to partake in probably one of the best optional activities one can do here in the park, namely a night drive with one of Kruger’s knowledgeable rangers in an open game vehicle. On this drive you may encounter some of the rarer nocturnal mammals such as African Civet, genets, Side-striped Jackal, the beautiful Serval, White-tailed Mongoose and even African Wildcat, along with several species of owl and nightjar. These include Spotted and Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, African Scops Owl, Wesrtern Barn Owl, Southern White-faced Owl, and Square-tailed, European and Fiery-necked Nightjar. Please inform us well in advance of the trip if you plan to do a night drive, as this is a very popular activity that is normally filled up as soon as bookings open.
Kruger National Park (Letaba Camp)
We will spend a full day in the vicinity of Letaba Camp in the middle-northern section of Kruger. We will embark on a morning and afternoon drive and spend lunchtime and the hottest part of the day back in camp.
Driving around in Kruger will soon make you realise why it is such a legendary and well-loved park… We will decide (with everybody’s input of course) on the best course of action for the day in terms of the routes to follow, but rest assured we will cover most of the important birding areas in this section of Kruger.
The floodplain of the Letaba river hosts a high number of water birds whilst a number of roads emanating from the camp run alongside the river and through riparian vegetation offering first class birding. We will also visit two dams in the area in order to boost our trip count. Birds to look out for today include Grey-rumped and Pearl-breasted Swallow, Little Swift, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Dusky Lark, Collared Pratincole, African Spoonbill, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Green-capped Eremomela, Bennett’s and Bearded Woodpecker, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Greater Flamingo, Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plover, African Jacana, Black Crake, Little Bittern, Common Moorhen, Hamerkop, Squacco, Goliath and Grey Heron, Knob-billed Duck, White-crowned Lapwing and African Openbill, along with a host of other typical Kruger birds like the loud but beautiful Purple-crested Turaco, European Bee-eater, Grey Go-away-bird, Woodland Kingfisher, Southern Red-billed and Yellow-billed Hornbill, Lilac-breasted Roller and many others.
We will then enjoy a final Kruger dinner together in the camp’s restaurant, or even a traditional South African barbeque (called a “braai” over here) at one of the bungalows, while we listen for the distinctive call of a Fiery-necked Nightjar as we fall asleep. Africa definitely is special!
Kruger National Park (Letaba Camp) to Magoebaskloof
This morning we will say goodbye to Kruger, as we head west onto the escarpment for a radical change in habitat (and altitude) over a relatively short distance.
We will exit Kruger at the Phalaborwa gate and make our way over the next 160km to the famous Magoebaskloof, passing Hans Merensky Nature Reserve, the subtropical town of Tzaneen and the Wolkberg Wilderness Area.
The Magoebaskloof area is located in the northeastern escarpment section of the Drakensberg mountain range, originally made up of grasslands and mist belt forest. The patches of forest have largely remained but the grasslands have been almost entirely planted to gum and pine trees and more recently avocado orchards.
Good birding can be found in areas in which the grassland or forest is intact. Depending on our arrival time in the area, we could do some forest birding in the afternoon already. Our main targets are Black-fronted Bushshrike, Bat Hawk and Cape Parrot. Other birds we could expect to see include Square-tailed Drongo, Barratt’s Warbler, Orange Ground Thrush, Purple-crested Turaco, Long-crested Eagle, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Cape Batis, African Emerald Cuckoo and many more.
We will overnight at the legendary Kurisa Moya Lodge. It is a beautiful nature lodge positioned in the heart of an indigenous forest overlooking the breath-taking Kudu’s River Valley. The Kurisa Moya farm measures 422 hectares of extraordinary landscape. Because the farm is situated between the lowveld and the highveld, it enjoys the benefits of both climates and environments. Kurisa Moya boasts excellent birding on site, including seven species of robin, including White-starred Robin and Chorister Robin-chat. Five bushshrikes are on offer, with Black-fronted Bushshrike heading up the list. Other specials include Narina Trogon, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Lemon Dove, Green Twinspot and Knysna Turaco, to name but a few.
We will update our trip lists before a fantastic dinner prepared by the attentive and friendly Kurisa Moya staff. Thereafter we will enjoy a good night’s sleep, but just before you nod off listen for the distinctive who who, who who, who-are-you call of the resident pair of African Wood Owls.
We have a full day of birding in the area. We will only return to the lodge late in the afternoon, as we will have lunch at a local birder-friendly establishment.
We will concentrate our efforts on the famous Woodbush Forest Drive. This 14km dirt road is the best forest birding area in the entire Limpopo province, if not the country. The Woodbush Forest Drive winds through pristine afro-montane forests, down into semi-decidious mixed forest along the lower sections of the drive. Cape Parrot, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Orange Ground Thrush, Brown Scrub Robin, Tambourine Dove, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher are simply a few of the specials to be seen on this road. We will stop regularly to listen for sounds and scan the breaks in the forests, looking for African Cuckoo Hawk, Crowned Eagle and African Goshawk. Towards the bottom of the Forest Drive, we will look out for Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, which has been sighted there on a few occasions.
We will also visit the nearby Debengeni Falls which may give us Mountain Wagtail, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, African Dusky Flycatcher and Red-backed Mannikin, and if we are lucky, Grey Wagtail, a national rarity that has been returning to this site regularly.
If time allows we could also visit the Dap Naude Dam (good for Cape Grassbird, Olive Woodpecker, Lazy Cisticola and Double-collared Sunbird), and the Swartbos Forest Reserve (good for Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Square-tailed Drongo, Chorister Robin-chat and Crowned Eagle).
We will return to Kurisa Moya for our last dinner together before heading to bed after an amazing trip in the north of South Africa.
Magoebaskloof to Johannesburg and Departure
After breakfast we’ll meander slowly out of the forest and then head back to Johannesburg, a four-hour drive away.
Our tour ends in Johannesburg at the O.R. Tambo International Airport, from where you will catch your onward or homeward flights.
*Please note: Extensions to the Drakensberg, Cape Town or further afield can easily be arranged. Get in touch with us if you need our assistance.
Do you have a quick question about this birding tour? Speak to a specialist at