Bateleur, Kruger National Park
Bateleur, Kruger National Park

Introduction: 

As a global birding destination, South Africa scores very highly indeed. While it may not have as many bird species as some other more tropical African countries, it is extremely rich in endemics and near-endemics; it is an easy travel destination with a good road network and well-developed tourism infrastructure; it offers unrivalled habitat diversity; and combines birds with big game and other wildlife to appeal to anyone with an interest in natural history. This tour aims to show off the best of South African birds and wildlife in a concise itinerary that will introduce participants to a wonderful array of bird species, mammal species, habitats and landscapes. The tour starts in Johannesburg and visits the Polokwane region; Mapungubwe National Park along the Limpopo River, Lake Albasini; the northern and central Kruger National Park; and the forests of the Magoebaskloof region before ending off back in Johannesburg. From the ancient Baobabs and Sandstone formations of Mapungubwe to the forested and often mist-shrouded slopes of the Soutpansberg and the vastness of the Kruger National Park, this tour will leave participants hankering for more of Southern Africa’s wonders.

2 – 14 March 2019 (12 nights / 13 days)

Starts in Johannesburg on the morning of the 2nd March 2019. Participants should ideally overnight in Johannesburg on the night before the tour starts.  We are happy to arrange this accommodation. Alternatively participants need to arrive on early morning flights on the day the tour starts. Tour ends in Johannesburg on the late afternoon of the 14th March 2019. Please check with us before booking any flights.

2019: ZAR 53 925 per person sharing, ZAR 8 200 single supplement

Price subject to change based on external factors. Price is based on a minimum of 4 participants. Small group surcharge will be levied for groups smaller than 4 participants. Please contact us for more detail.

Includes
• Accommodation
• All breakfasts and dinners
• Ground transport
• Bottled water in vehicles whilst travelling
• Entrance fees
• Personalised checklists
• Specialist guide fees
• Boat trip at Shiluvari

Excludes
• All airfares
• Travel and medical insurance
• Lunches
• All drinks
• Optional excursions where applicable
• Gratuities
• Items of a personal nature

Note
• This itinerary is subject to change due to weather conditions at the time and other factors beyond our control.
• The species mentioned in the itinerary represent only some of the possible ones we may see on the tour, however, none of these can be guaranteed even though every effort will be made where possible to locate them. A full list of possibles appears on your checklist.

Group size: maximum of 12 participants, 1 guide per 6 participants.

Areas visited: Polokwane, Mapungubwe National Park, Lake Albasini, Kruger National Park, Magoebaskloof.

Expected weather conditions: warm to hot most of the time. Rain is possible, usually in the form of summer convection thunderstorms, and cool wet weather is possible in the event of a cold front moving up from the south.

Tour tempo: medium to medium-plus, optional mid-day breaks (advisable considering on hot days), no serious walking.

Accommodation standards: medium to medium plus; hotels and private lodges.

Birding in brief: excellent variety of birds to be seen; Pafuri rated as the top birding region of the Kruger National Park. Good chances for large birds of prey.

Top birds: Collared Palm Thrush, African Broadbill, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, Short-clawed Lark, Arnot’s Chat, Martial Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle, Southern Ground Hornbill, African Scops-Owl, African Finfoot, Orange Ground Thrush, Cape Parrot, Brown-necked Parrot, Crested Guineafowl, Half-collared Kingfisher, Knysna Turaco, Kori Bustard, Bat Hawk.

Mammal viewing: very good game viewing throughout, especially the Kruger National Park; Big Five as well as Cheetah, Spotted Hyena and typical savannah general game, and good chances for uncommon smaller species.

Add-ons: this tour can be combined with extensions to Victoria Falls or Cape Town.

Eagles, Elephants & Baobabs map
Start / end Johannesburg. 1: Polokwane. 2: Mapungubwe. 3: Shiluvari. 4: Pafuri. 5: Kruger Shingwedzi. 6: Kruger Letaba. 7: Magoebaskloof.

Day 1: Polokwane
The tour begins early on the morning today, and we suggest that participants spend the night of the 13th November in Johannesburg to allow for an early start. Lawson’s can book the accommodation for you. We’ll leave after an early breakfast and the tour will begin with a journey northwards to the Zaagkuilsdrift area along the Pienaarsrivier for our first taste of western bushveld and water-associated birds. Bushveld birds we’ll be looking for include Southern Pied Babbler, Northern Black Korhaan, Barred Wren-Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Acacia Pied Barbet and African Paradise-Whydah, while the water-associated species will vary according to how much water there is in the system. We’ll have a packed lunch in the shade of a tree somewhere along the road and will hopefully make it as far as the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain before turning back to the N1 and heading north to our first night’s stop in Polokwane. We’ll arrive in the late afternoon and have time to settle in before dinner.

Days 2 – 3: Mapungubwe National Park
With an early morning start we’ll head through to Polokwane Nature Reserve on the edge of town to look for Short-clawed Lark specifically as well as a wide range of bushveld birds such as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Marico Flycatcher, Ashy Tit, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Common Scimitarbill, Green Woodhoopoe, Secretarybird and others. Mammal species we may see include a superb array of antelope, from the diminutive Common Duiker to the massive Eland, Africa’s largest antelope. Moving on after breakfast, we’ll have a few hours’ drive before we enter the spectacular arid world of Mapungubwe National Park on the southern bank of the Limpopo River. This is a world of orange sandstone outcrops, ancient Baobab trees, Elephant and other big game, as well as a host of exciting bird species such as Temminck’s Courser, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Meyer’s Parrot, Grey Tit-Flycatcher and both White-Crested and Retz’s Helmet-shrikes and maybe even the highly elusive Three-banded Courser. Mammals to be seen include the majestic Gemsbok, Southern Giraffe, African Elephant, Rock Hyrax, Lion and other species. We have two nights in the area, staying at a wonderful bush lodge just outside the park, and will spend our time on morning and afternoon drives in the park and relaxing at the lodge.

Days 4 – 5: Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge, Makhado
After a last morning drive and breakfast at Mopane Bush Lodge we’ll make our way south-eastwards to the hill country in the Lake Albasini district near the town of Louis Trichardt. After arriving and settling in we’ll have a boat trip on the dam as a great way to do some birding and relaxing at the same time, where we’ll keep an eye out for species such as Malachite and Giant Kingfishers, African Pied Wagtail, African Darter and, with a bit of luck, African Finfoot and White-backed Night Heron. The following day we’ll have a very early departure on a day trip to some of the main birding spots in the area. Target species for the day include African Broadbill, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, African Pygmy-Goose, Lesser Moorhen, African Finfoot, White-backed Night-Heron, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Chorister Robin-Chat, African Emerald Cuckoo, Narina Trogon and Orange Ground-Thrush. We’ll return in the afternoon for some time to relax and do some birding in the lodge grounds before dinner in the evening.

Days 6 – 7: Pafuri Camp, Kruger National Park
Leaving after an early breakfast we’ll head eastwards as we make our way into the Kruger National Park, where we’ll be based for the first two nights at a private camp in the Makuleke Concession between the Levhuvu and Limpopo Rivers. This is often touted as the most spectacular part of the whole part, with impressive Fever Tree forests and riverine forest along the banks of the two lazy rivers. We’ll explore the concession on open-vehicle game drives and birding walks. The region also holds some of the best birding in the Kruger, and we’ll be searching for species such as African Yellow White-eye, Meves’s Starling, African 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. Game species to be seen includes large herds of Buffalo and Elephant, as well as Lion, Leopard and a host of herbivore species. Our afternoon drives will include an after dark portion during which we may see nocturnal species such as Fiery-necked and Square-tailed Nightjars (and Pennant-winged Nightjar if we’re lucky), Spotted Thick-Knee, Spotted Eagle Owl and mammals such as Serval, African Civet and Genet (Small- and Large-Spotted).

Day 8: Shingwedzi, Kruger National Park
Leaving the camp after a morning activity and breakfast we’ll make our way into the public part of the park and on to Shingwedzi Rest Camp, a small rest camp situated on a weir in the Shingwedzi River. The camp has recently been refurbished after being flooded out during a cyclone in January 2013, and will provide a great one night stop and a chance to explore the surrounding region. 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 Veld stretching out in all directions. The area is well known as the haunt of big tusker Elephant bulls, and we’ll be on the lookout for some impressive specimens. Birds we’ll be looking out for include Goliath Heron, Saddle-billed Stork, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Water Thick-knee, Mosque Swallow, Red-headed Weaver and others. Back at camp we’ll enjoy dinner and breakfast the following day at the restaurant overlooking the river before continuing on to our next port-of-call.

Days 9 – 10: Letaba, Kruger National Park
After an early breakfast we’ll leave Shingwedzi and make our way southwards to Letaba Rest Camp. Situated on a bend in the Letaba River, this camp has an incredibly scenic setting overlooking a permanent pool in the river. Here we’ll again embark on morning and afternoon game drives with rest periods during the heat of the day, perhaps spending time enjoying the view of the river and watching animals come down to bathe and drink. Birds we’ll be looking out for include Collared Pratincole, Greater Flamingo (rare in the Kruger), Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Red-headed Weaver, African Palm-Swift, a host of Flycatchers and Green-capped Eremomela, among others, while we’ll also hope for sightings of Lion, Leopard and other big game. Once again, there is a chance for participants to book on the park sunset or night drive (at own cost).

Days 11 – 12: Magoebaskloof
Moving on from the Kruger, we head west into the Escarpment for a radical change in habitat over a relatively short distance. Here we have our final two nights of the tour in the Magoebaskloof region, a world of forest patches and misty mornings. We will do some forest birding, with the main targets being Black-fronted Bush-Shrike and Cape Parrot. Other birds we could expect to see include Square-tailed Drongo, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Cape Batis, African Emerald Cuckoo and many more, while a visit to the nearby Debengeni Falls may give us Mountain Wagtail, and if we are lucky, Grey Wagtail, a regional rarity that has been returning to this site regularly.

Day 13: Departure
Depending on departure flight times, we may have a morning activity followed by breakfast and departure for Johannesburg, where the tour will come to an end. If time allows we may do some birding at Polokwane Game Reserve to look for the range-restricted Short-clawed Lark and a few other arid bushveld birds before continuing on to Johannesburg.

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