I recently returned from a trip to the Eastern Cape with clients. It was a very good trip, seeing 284 bird species.
We started off in Beaufort West and drove to Mountain Zebra Nat Park via Aberdeen and Graaff Reinet. It was a cool and over cloud morning with towards Graaff Reinet a couple of Steppe Buzzards, Greater Kestrels and Blue Cranes. A surprise was the number of Amur Falcons perching on the wires.
In Graaff Reinet we paid a visit to the Valley of Desolation and another surprise was a Dusky Indigobird quiet far out of range. Other birds here were Lark-like Bunting, Afr Harrier-Hawk, Alpine Swift, Southern Boubou and Spotted Flycatcher.
Shortly after we entered MZNPark we saw a group of Blue Korhaans. Desert Cisticola, Chat Flycatcher and performing Eastern Clapper Lark were abundant. Afr Rock Pipit was also performing and we saw several calling from rocks. Although the park was dry, we saw good numbers of birds including Eastern Longbilled Lark, Golden-breasted Bunting, Black-headed Canary, Southern Tchagra, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Red-billed Firefinch, Gabar Goshawk, Red-billed Oxpecker and Red-backed Shrike.
After 2 nights we left MZNP and proceeded to Tsolwana Nature Reserve south east of Tarkastad. Beyond Tarkastad we saw a pair of Great Spotted Cuckoos and soon afterwards Buffy Pipit. At the entrance to the reserve we were welcome by Black Cuckoo and Piet-my-Vrou which both responds to its call.
Tsolwana seems to be a very good bird reserve especially in summer, but the roads are only friendly to LDV’s or 4x4’s. We managed to get to our lodge, Otterford Lodge, but it was impossible to explore the rest of the reserve due to the roads. Other birds to mention which we saw were Green Woodhoopoe, Long-billed Pipit, Pririt Batis, Grey Tit, Jacobin & Klaas’s Cuckoo and Cape Penduline Tit.
From Tsolwana we drove to Lady Grey via Queenstown and Aliwal North. Just remember the Eastern Cape gravel roads are mostly UNDRIVABLE and very corrugated. On the way to Aliwal North we saw some Blue Korhaans, Booted Eagle, Amur Falcons and Yellow-throated Petronia. Just on top of Penhoek Pass we got onto a lovely dams with lots of water birds including Southern Pochard, Ruff, Cape Shoveller, Red-billed Teal and White-winged Tern. East of Aliwal North we found a colony of SA Cliff Swallows.
We stayed at Lupela Lodge south east of Lady Grey and along the upper slopes of the Karnmelkspruit. It is a very pleasant lodge with very friendly and helpful owners, surely recommended to birders. Shortly after we turned off the tar road we were welcomed by some soaring Cape Griffons. Around the lodge we saw Red-throated Wryneck, Afr Paradise Flycatcher, Black Sparrowhawk, Cape Grassbird, Piet-my-Vrou, Afr Black Swift and Lesser Honeyguide.
Next morning on our way to Rhodes we visit the Karnmelkspruit Cape Griffon colony. The colony is on private land and an entrance fee of R25/p is payable to the owner. It is actually all that worth and you have marvellous views onto the birds and its nests which are mostly situated on the western side of the gorge.
Between Barkly East and Rhodes we found a huge flock (40+) Grey Crowned Cranes. In Rhodes we stayed at Kinmel Guest Farm which has good accommodation but it could be difficult for elderly people as all the rooms are upstairs. Birding around Rhodes was good with White Stork, Cape Canary, Afr Black Swift, Spotted Flycatcher and Afr Harrier-Hawk to name a few.
The next day we went birding in Naudesnek Pass where the road was very bad due to that it was not repaired after the rains. Birding was excellent as we soon ran into Cape Rock Thrush, Ground Woodpecker, Orange-breasted Rockjumper and Drakensberg Siskin. Higher up in the pass we found Sentinel Rock Thrush, Sickle-winged Chat, Mountain Pipit, Cape Griffon and a couple of Bearded Vultures. Common Quail was calling from the grass and some Grey-winged Francolin was also found. A real surprise was Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk hunting on top of the mountain.
From Rhodes we went to Stutterheim via Engcobo with along the road Banded Martin, more Grey Crowned Cranes just outside Elliot and Long-tailed Widowbird.
In Stutterheim we stayed at Eagle Ridge Lodge. The lodge is close to the forest, very comfortable and with good food. Recommended to birders.
In the lodge’s gardens we saw Black Sawwing, Thick-billed Weaver, Afr Olive Pigeon, Amethyst Sunbird, Piet-my-Vrou, Black-headed Oriole and Little Rush-Warbler.
In the Kologha Forest we saw Chorister Robin-chat, Grey Cuckooshrike, Forest Canary, Knysna Woodpecker, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Cape Batis, Grey Sunbird and Dark-capped Yellow-Warbler.
The next day we were off to Hogsback for more birding and we were greeted by Knysna Turaco, Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Long-crested Eagle and Afr Olive Pigeon. Cape Parrots were our garden birds at Maylodge Country Cottage. There were also Swee Waxbill, Cape Grassbird and Red-necked Spurfowl. We found Barrat’s Warbler calling from the thickets, but it won’t show itself.
From Hogsback we drove to East London where we stayed at Areena Resort north of the town. This lodge has excellent accommodation and more excellent birding. Birds around the lodge included Southern Black Tit, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Black Cuckooshrike, Forest Weaver at our doorstep, Crowned Hornbill, Black-bellied Starling, Half-collared Kingfisher and Black Flycatcher.
Next morning we went to East London to bird with Ken & Gertie Griffin in Nahoon Estuary. Birds around the estuary include Trumpeter Hornbill, Red-capped Robin-chat, Brown Scrub-robin, Drakensberg Prinia, Olive Sunbird, Knysna & Olive Woodpecker and Pied Mannikin.
We went from East London to Addo Elephant Nat Park via the R72, but birding along the way was almost zero. We stayed at Lenmore Chalets outside the park which has good accommodation. Around the lodge we saw Spotted Eagle Owl, Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Spectacled Weaver and Black-headed Oriole.
A visit to the park gave views of Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Southern Tchagra, Karoo Scrub-robin, Black-collared Barbet and Hamerkop. We saw large herds of elephants which enjoy themselves at the Hapoor waterhole.
The last day was all the way back to Beaufort West. We saw our biggest flock of White Storks (why are they so scarce?), more Blue Cranes, and a couple of Secretarybirds and just before Beaufort West 3 Kori Bustards.
The end of another good birding tour!!