Eastern South Africa - Birding
Sustain's Eastern South Africa birding combines mountain vistas with the abundant birds and animals of the world-renowned Kruger National Park, the unique grasslands and wetlands of Wakkerstroom, the abundant northern Zululand game reserves and lakes, the endemic-rich grasslands and mist-belt forests of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands and the lofty heights of the statuesque Drakensberg. This journey will also lead us into several big wildlife areas for superb game viewing.
Some target species include: Blue Korhaan, Taita Falcon, Rudd’s and Botha’s Lark, Southern Ground Hornbill, Pel's Fishing Owl, Plain-backed Sunbird, the pretty Pink-throated Twinspot, African Broadbill, the endangered Blue Swallow, Spotted Ground Thrush, stately Blue and Wattled Crane, Ground Woodpecker, soaring Bearded Vulture, Drakensberg Rockjumper, Southern Bald Ibis, Gurney’s Sugarbird and Cape Parrot. Our chances of witnessing the classic ‘Big Five’ (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino) are excellent, while other sought-after mammals include African Wild Dog, Cheetah, Honey Badger, Eland and the endemic Black Wildebeest.
Highlands Meander & Panorama Region
The Highveld Plateau is dominated by grasslands and is largely devoid of native trees except along some rivers and sheltered hillsides. Extends across eastern Mpumalanga at an altitude of between 1400m and 1800m ASL.
Characteristic birds of this habitat include Long-tailed Widowbird, Southern Red Bishop, Cape Longclaw, Black-shouldered Kite, Blue Crane and Rufous-naped Lark. Prized endemics such as Rudd's Lard, Botha's Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit occur in pristine pockets of this habitat.
The escarpment foothills is a region of hills, valleys and boulder outcrops, with forest pockets, thicket and broad-leaved woodlands. Fast flowing rivers and waterfalls are a feature during the wet season. Small patches of evergreen forest exist in sheltered ravines and kloofs in the eastern escarpment.
Characteristic birds include Chorister Robin-Chat, Olive Woodpecker, Cape Batis, Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon and African Crowned-Eagle.
Grass & Wetlands Region
The Highveld plateau is sprinkled with pan systems which fill up during the wet summer season and typically hold water into winter. These ephemeral wetlands are a magnet for waterfowl, with ducks, geese, herons, cormorants and others often in abundance. Blue, Grey Crowned and Wattled Cranes breed in these natural wetlands, while plovers and migratory sandpipers forage on mudflats.
The Highlands & Wetlands Birding Route includes Wakkerstroom, Chrissiesmeer and Dullstroom.
Mkhuze & St Lucia - Zululand
The Mkhuze area is a place of great beauty and high contrasts. World-renowned as a mecca for bird lovers (more than 400 species have been recorded here) the junction of the moderate and tropical climate zones creates a habitat suitable for an extraordinary variety of plants and animals. This area is renowned for a variety of localised birds including Pink-throated Twinspot, Eastern Nicators, Pel's Fishing Owls and Neergaard's Sunbird.
St Lucia offers birders some of Zululand's best birdwatching. With over 420 species recorded in the area, one can be assured of some great birding in one of South Africa's most bio-diverse areas. Birding on foot trails with waterbuck and reedbuck grazing in the background and hippos snorting from the pans makes for an extra special birding experience. The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is a World Heritage Site and the lake itself covers an area of about 38,000ha and is one of South Africa's most important waterbird breeding areas.
The habitats are extremely varied from the estuary and its floodplains and pans to dune forest, sand forest, coastal thickets, mangroves and grassland (with flooded areas in the summer).
KwaZulu-Natal North Coast
The North Coast Birding Route stretch from Ballito to Mtunzini and comprises of a variety of habitats from coastal and wetland environments to forest, woodland and grassland. Above all it is the forest birding to be had here that is unmatched.
Specials including African Black and Eurasian Oystercatchers, Western Osprey, Palm-nut Vultures, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Eastern Nicator, Olive Woodpecker, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, African Emerald Cuckoo, African Crowned Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk, Swamp Nightjar, Green Twinspot, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Mangrove Kingfisher, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Redheaded Quelea, Common Quail, Woolly-necked Stork and White-fronted Bee-eater.
Kruger National Park - Wild Frontier
The Kruger National Park covers 19,685sq.km and is the tenth largest game reserve in the world. It has 3,000km of road, 23 rest camps and a host of excellent picnic sites, walking trails, 4x4 routes, hides and massive dams. The big game viewing in Kruger rival that of any reserve in Africa with large elephant, buffalo and lion populations being relatively easily seen. Every year over a million visitors tally up in the region of 520 bird species.
Birders can also look forward to pursuing the big 6: Saddle-billed Stork, Kori Bustard, Martial Eagle, Lappet-faced Vulture, Pel's Fishing-Owl and Southern Ground Hornbill.
Birding is best in the summer months (November to March) with the arrival of summer migrants but a remarkable amount of birds can be seen in the winter months (May to July). A birding trip to Kurger National Park should be on the agenda of any birder in South Africa.
Ndumo & Tembe - Maputaland
Tongaland is the name of the north-eastern corner of Zululand, flanked by the Lebombo Mountains on the west, the Indian Ocean on the east and the Mozambique border in the north. Most of the region is drained by the Phongolo and Mkhuze Rivers, and is characteristically flat. The Phongolo floodplain runs from Jozini to the confluence with the Usutu River, and is dominated by pans, Lala Palm savannah and bush clumps. Riverine forest lines some pans and streams. Coastal dune forest hugs the Indian Ocean, and numerous pans and lakes are scattered along the coast.
The region provides habitat for many species not found anywhere else in South Africa. Tropical stragglers, both marine and inland, are found every year, and include specials such as Crab Plover, Plain-backed Sunbird, Rosy-throated Longclaw and Livingstone's Turaco.
Ndumo and Tembe are world renowned birding destinations and are among the better places to view the shy Sand Forest specials such as Pink-throated Twinspot, African Broadbill, Green Malkoha (Chattering Yellowbill), Neergaard's Sunbird and Rudd's Apalis. Tembe is the only place in South Africa where Plain-backed Sunbird, Lemon-breasted Canary and Woodward’s Batis are seen regularly. Waterbirds such as Pygmy Goose and Lesser Jacana abound in the floodplain pans.
Kosi Bay, and the road to there, is an off-the-beaten-track spot with lots to offer. Mangroves, lala palm savannah, coastal dune forest and wetlands are the major habitats here, and birds such as Pel's Fishing Owl, Lemon-breasted Canary, Rosy-throated Longclaw and Black-throated Wattle-eye can be viewed.
KwaZulu-Natal Midlands & Drakensberg
This route starts in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site, and finds its way down from the sandstones cliffs, basalt precipices and buttresses, through the foothills of the Drakensberg and into the picturesque rolling hillsides of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Birders will have the opportunity to see Wattled, Grey-crowned and Blue Crane in one outing. Other key attractions include some of the most reliable sites for Cape Parrots, Blue Swallows, Bush Blackcap and Spotted Ground-Trush.
The source of the Lower Drakensberg Foothills is the majestic Sani Pass where birders get the unique opportunity to view birds in a rugged and stunningly beautiful environment, consisting of five different habitats and ranging in height from 1600m to 3200m. The heart of this route lies in the lowlands below the Sani Pass where you will find beautiful nature reserves and large tracts of pristine mist belt forest and grassland. This region is holds an amazing array of highly sought after endemic species such as Drakensberg Siskin, Drakensberg Rockjumper, Gurney's Sugarbird and Cape Vulture. It also hosts the Bearded Vulture and Red-necked Falcon.