Trip Report: KwaZulu-Natal, Kruger N.P. (South Africa); Lesotho and Swaziland, August 16 - September 6, 1998

Michael R. Leven, Hong Kong;


The following report covers three weeks spent in the north-east of southern Africa between 16th August and 6th September 1998. This was not exclusively a birding trip: during the first week I was at the International Ornithological Congress in Durban, and birding was restricted to early morning excursions, mostly arranged for Conference participants by the Natal Bird Club, together with a "free day" pelagic trip. For the remainder of the time I was joined by my wife Liz (EPL) and young daughter (Katie) as well as by my parents, Charles (CJL) and Marjorie (MML), during the period from 23rd August to 1st September.

Thus, the itinerary was arranged as a compromise between visits to sites for specialities and endemics of north-eastern southern Africa and those of more general wildlife interest; a secondary consideration was that I had previously visited Kenya and so did not go out of my way to look for some species which are considered KwaZulu-Natal specialities in a southern Africa context but which I had seen elsewhere (see under Sites below). Finally, August/September is not the ideal time for a birding trip to this region (see under Weather below), the dates being dictated by the time of the Conference.

Itinerary/Daily Log

16th August: From Hong Kong - Johannesburg - Durban

Arrived Johannesburg at 0600 from Hong Kong by SAA 747-200 (six hour time change). Temperature in Johannesburg 0°C but dry and sunny! Easy transfer despite having to collect luggage and pass through customs as Domestic Terminal is actually in the same building as International. O800 flight to Durban (SAA 737) was one hour. Met by conference organisers at airport; whilst awaiting shuttle bus saw my first birds: Black-headed Heron, Great Cormorant, Hamerkop and (too) many Common Mynahs. Arrived at Beachfront Hotel at 10.00 - too early to check in so looked at the sea and was pleasantly surprised by my first lifers: Cape Gannet, Kelp Gull and Subantarctic Skuas, the latter were only a couple of hundred metres out to sea. (Remainder of day taken up by Conference)

17th August: Durban (Burman Bush NR) 0600-0800

No official conference outing so met up with David Melville and took a taxi to Burman Bush for 0600. It was still dark when we arrived, first bird seen at 0615 was a Natal Robin. Only managed to cover a few hundred metres of the main trail because of so many new birds and unfamiliar calls: highlights were Purple-crested Lourie, Grey Sunbird and Thick-billed Weaver. (Rest of day at Conference)

18th August: Durban: Pigeon Valley NR, 0630-0800; Durban Botanic Gardens 1300-1530

Conference outing: many species similar to the day before but highlights were White-eared Barbet and Spotted Ground Thrush, the latter just after getting off the bus. In the afternoon took a taxi up to the Botanic Gardens which produced several new species for the trip including breeding Reed Cormorant, Sacred Ibis, herons and egrets.

19th August: Umhlanga Waste Water Treatment Works, Durban 0630- 0800

Conference outing: rather frustrating as it was a cold morning, and bird activity only just getting going as we left, but birds included African Darter and good views of African Yellow Warbler.

20th August: Pelagic Trip to c. 40km Offshore from Durban 0700-1400

Trip for conference participants led by Atholl Marchant. Eight Procellarids: Shy, Black-browed and Yellow-nosed Albatrosses; Pintado, White-chinned and Wilson's Petrels; Sooty and Flesh-footed Shearwaters as well as Subantarctic Skuas, Cape Gannets, and Common and Crested Terns, but highlight was the cetaceans - Humpback Whales and four species of dolphins.

21st August: Bluff NR, Durban 0630-0800

Once again bird activity better as we left - lots of waterbirds but widespread species.

22nd August: Karkloof, Natal Midlands, Pietermaritzburg Area and Pigeon Valley

An intensive birding day for conference participants organised by Jonathan Rossouw and Adam Riley of Rockjumper Tours; very worthwhile with 120 species seen (the highest day list of the trip), though weather unhelpful with mist in the morning and drizzle in the afternoon. Highlights (in chronological order) were Knysna Lourie at Howick; Buff-streaked Chat, Southern Bald Ibis, Blue and Wattled Cranes (all three crane species seen together); Orange Ground Thrush, Chorister Robin; Yellow-throated Warbler and Lesser Double-collared Sunbird in the mistbelt forest in and around Benvie; Red-headed Quelea and African Sedge Warbler near Pietermaritzburg and two Spotted Ground Thrushes at Pigeon Valley.

23rd August: Durban - Bushlands - Mkuze Game Reserve (Travelled 368km)

Collected EPL and Katie from the airport (MML and CJL had already arrived) as well as hire vehicle - had booked a seven-seater Toyota but they gave us a VW Microbus (better); back into Durban for shopping. Left at 1100 on N2 (main coastal highway) initially dual carriageway, then single but a good fast road and traffic light, easy to average 120kph. Reached Bushlands after about three hours then spent one hour searching Lala Palm (Hyphaene coriacea) area for Lemon-throated Canaries but hopeless with strong winds and clouds of dust; not a bird to be seen. Reached Mkuze Game Reserve at 1530 and immediately started getting distracted by birds and mammals including a flock of Crested Guineafowl and Pink-throated Twinspot and Bushveld Pipit from the vehicle. Reached Matuma camp at 1603 to discover office closed at 1600 - grumpy warden tells us to look on notice board for room number and check in tomorrow - fair enough but an explanation at the gate would have been helpful. Gave our food to the cook, then just time for an hour's birding at Kubebe and Kumasinga hides which produced another pair of Pink-throated Twinspots.

24th August: Mkuze GR - Hluhluwe (162km)

0600-0800 back at Kubebe and Kumasinga Hides with yet more Pink-throated Twinspots, White-throated and lots of Bearded Robins and Rudd's Apalis; still very windy, and birds in winter flocks with little singing - tried tape for African Broadbill but didn't really expect a response, and a disturbing lack of flowering trees for sunbirds. After breakfast with still more twinspots drove to the Fig Forest. This was beautiful with huge Sycamore Figs (Ficus sycomorus) and lots of birds including Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Blue-mantled Flycatcher but still very few sunbirds and no Neergaard's. The forest deserved several hours but not suitable for the family, so on to Ensumo Pan for a lunch stop. The Pan was low so gave a good selection of wading birds but few ducks; however it produced an unexpected grip-back in the shape of a flock of Lemon-breasted Canaries which landed on the dry lake shore in front of us. Drove to Hluhluwe, arriving at about 1600. A slow drive to Hilltop Camp produced our first three rather distant White Rhinoceroses. At Hilltop we were placed in the 40 year old lodge - very spacious with private garden and cook; but after Mkuze it seemed high and cold and bird-less. Nevertheless, thanks to Mkuze, 92 species of birds were seen, the second highest day total of the trip.

25th August: Hluhluwe - False Bay - Hluhluwe (112km)

A walk around Hilltop Camp from 0630-0800 confirmed yesterdays fears - it was cold and windy with little bird activity though a huge fruiting Natal Fig (Ficus natalensis) was full of Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills. The family kindly sympathised with my lack of birds and need for Woodward's Batis and Neergaard's Sunbird, so we headed down to False Bay where MML, CJL and Katie went to look for crocodiles whilst EPL and I looked for sunbirds. A flowering Common Coral Tree (Erythrina lysistemon) produced Purple-banded, Grey, Olive, Scarlet-chested, Collared and, eventually, a single Neergaard's Sunbird but this had all taken longer than expected, and a spirit of compromise required abandonment of my plan to drive to Cape Vidal (and Woodward's Batis) and, instead, we returned to Hilltop for a late lunch. An afternoon drive around Hluhluwe (Nzimane Loop) from 1500-1800 produced a selection of mammals (including more White Rhinoceros) and a few birds but nothing special, so returned to an excellent braai but unfortunately too cold to eat outside.

26th August: Hluhluwe - Mkhaya, Swaziland (256km)

From 0600-0800 I went alone to a series of viewpoints along the Hluhluwe River (Sitezi and Maphumolo) adding a few species to the trip list but no ticks until a superb Striped Pipit by the roadside just outside Hilltop Camp. On leaving Hluhluwe we were treated to our best views yet of White Rhinoceros (2 on the road) and left at 1000 for the drive to Mkhaya. No one in South Africa appeared to know how long this would take, and we were told that the roads were bad but in fact the roads were as good as in South Africa, and it only took three hours including the border crossing. We arrived at 1300 for our 1600 rendezvous (vehicle access to Mkhaya only by reserve vehicles) but fortunately we were able to arrange an earlier pick-up. After lunch, a brief rest and some camp birding, departed on a drive at dusk but this was disappointing adding only a genet to the list of species seen during the day.

27th August: Mkhaya

A game drive from 0600-0900 was totally mammal orientated but was well worth it for the experience of approaching a mother and calf White Rhinoceros and a herd of elephants on foot; I then spent the rest of the day birding in the general area of the camp which produced a reasonable but unspectacular bird list. I would have been better to go on the afternoon game drive with EPL as they succeeded in tracking down a Black Rhinoceros on foot.

28th August: Mkhaya - Nelspruit (313km)

Another early morning game drive produced little that was new, then it was time to leave; picking up our vehicle at 1000 then driving north-westwards across Swaziland through very agricultural and rather bird-less countryside. Crossed back into South Africa west of Mbabane, then drove north to Nelspruit. This must once have been interesting highveld but is now endless eucalypt and pine plantations. Bird-less, but at least the roads were good and quiet. Reached Nelspruit in the early afternoon and stopped for drinks and shopping, then drove to the Crocodile Country Inn (about 20km west) where there was time for an hour's birding in the extensive grounds.

29th August: Nelspruit - Skukuza Camp, Kruger (194km)

Found a few birds in the hotel grounds from 0630-0800 then drove to Kruger NP entering at the Malelane Gate at about 1000 and then driving slowly north. Mammals were much in evidence, and many of the birds were new for the trip. After reaching Skukuza early afternoon made a short trip to the Bird Hide - this didn't have many birds but did produce three Lions - whilst nearby the area near the Native Plant Nursery gave Southern Ground Hornbill, both Swainson's and Natal Francolin as well as our only Groundscraper Thrush. That evening MML and CJL joined a night drive - this was very successful with Leopard, several African Civets and White-backed Night Heron.

30th August: Skukuza - Letaba Camp, Kruger (219km)

0600-0800 I went alone back to the bird hide, the Nursery and a nearby pan. Most birds were as the night before but I found a flock of Brown-headed Parrots, and there were a few Horus Swifts over the pan. At 0900 headed slowly north reaching Satara Camp for lunch. Lots of mammals on the way and changes in the bird community with African Long-tailed Shrikes in evidence. Satara Camp was full of starlings (5 species) then entered grassland to the north with many raptors including Secretary Birds; Kori Bustard, and Red-billed Quelea flocks. Reached Letaba Camp late afternoon, then EPL and I departed for a night drive. However, in contrast to MML and CJL's drive this was disappointing with much time spent on Elephants and, whilst a large pride of Lions was worth seeing, it would have been good to see more night birds or mammals: only African Wild Cat and Spring Hare were additions to the daytime list.

31st August: Letaba - Olifants Camp - Letaba (123km)

0630-0800 around Letaba Camp and then a slow drive down the Olifants River produced a good selection of birds and mammals including Double-banded Sandgrouse; though the best might have been Leopard which we dipped on by about 15 seconds. The early afternoon was hot and relaxed, whilst a short drive in the late afternoon added only Cut-throat Finch to the trip list.

1st September: Letaba - Phalaborwa - Johannesburg - Durban (79/22km)

Spent the morning driving slowly west to the Phalaborwa Gate, stopping at an eighteenth century iron foundry (which had Martial Eagle and Mosque Swallow) then took the 1400 flight to Johannesburg (Jetstream 42). Having said goodbye to MML and CJL we then flew back to Durban (737) arriving at 1800, then drove the short distance to our Hotel in the western suburbs (Pinetown). This was, at best, 1* but was all we could find due to the Non-Aligned Conference booking out Durban, but the beds were clean, and the plumbing worked.

2nd September: Durban - Howick Falls - Benvie, Karkloof - Underberg (293km)

Set off at 0530 to reach Howick Falls, where we had Cape Rock Thrush and a juvenile Crowned Eagle at 0700, and Benvie at 0800. The purpose of the early start was to get Cape Parrot coming out of roost but I needn't have worried: John Robinson had the male staked out on a dead tree and he thought that the female was probably on a nest in the same tree. Forest Canaries (missed on 22nd August) were a bonus but unfortunately the Orange Ground Thrush didn't perform for EPL, though this disappointment was somewhat mitigated by the superb breakfast prepared by Jenny Robinson with Chorister Robins in attendance on the bird table. At 1000 headed off on a scenic drive through the Drakensberg foothills to Underberg, with two beautiful Blue Cranes for EPL. Arriving at Underberg at 1300 I then set off for an afternoon's birding with Robin Guy whilst EPL and Katie relaxed in the Guy's extensive garden. Robin worked very hard on my hit list of (mostly) open-country birds but unfortunately most did not "fall" (see Weather, below), highlights being displaying Stanley's Bustard and Oribi, as well as Cinnamon Dove (a bogey bird for me from Kenya). The evening was memorable for Bella's excellent dinner, the Guy's wonderful hospitality and the luxury of a bottle of wine and a wood fire in the cottage.

3rd September: Underberg - Sani Pass - Lesotho - Underberg

Due to the border opening time there was no need for an early start so we had a cooked breakfast before leaving just after 0700 in Robin Guy's four-wheel drive. The day started well with a pair of Wattled Cranes just outside Underberg, then Buff-streaked Chat, Malachite Sunbird and Gurney's Sugarbird in the lower Sani Pass. Going up the pass it was not as cold as we had feared (though we found some patches of snow for Katie), nor was there mist and rain, but it was very windy and though the wind dropped a bit as the day went on, it made finding the Drakensberg specialities rather hard work. Nevertheless we found (in order from the top of the pass): Sentinel Rock Thrush, Cape Sparrow, Cape Bunting, Drakensberg Siskin, African Thick-billed Lark, Pale Chanting Goshawk (a vagrant here), Sicklewing Chat, Fairy Flycatcher, Cape Vulture Lammergeier, Spotted Prinia, Orange-breasted Rockjumper, Southern Grey Tit, Ground Woodpecker and Grey-winged Francolin. Notable dips were African Rock Pipit and Layard's Tit Babbler (too windy?) and Southern Bald Ibis - I was very glad that I had seen the latter at Karkloof. On the way down we tried hard for Bush Blackcap and Barratt's Warbler, though Robin thought that we were probably too early, but had to settle for Grassbird. Finally, near Underberg, we had frustratingly untickable views of a small kingfisher which was probably Half-collared.

4th September: Underberg - Franklin Marsh - Oribi Gorge (277km)

After an hour's birding in Robin Guy's garden and another excellent breakfast, set off at 0900 south-westwards towards the coast. Another excellent road, and a few grassland birds from the roadside, the best being a flock of Cape Vultures, a bonus for EPL who had missed the only one yesterday. Arrived at Franklin Marsh at 1200 and spent about an hour 'scoping from various vantage points. A bit difficult to work without knowing the area but great views of African Marsh Harriers and a large flock of Southern Crowned Cranes. Meant to stop at Weza Forest but had driven past before we realised (should have turned off to the Ingeni Forest Motel). Anyway, it was a bad time of day, and we were a bit short of time. Missed the turn-off for Oribi Gorge and ended up in Port Shepstone - for some reason it was only signposted from the south, not the north (the only bad signage of the trip) so had to retrace our steps and arrived at about 1600 having stopped to buy some food. Time for a bit of birding next to the camp and at the head of the gorge; quite productive including Greater Double-collared Sunbird, but a brief walk down the gorge side (Baboon Trail) was too late and nothing seen. Pleasantly warm in the evening and another great braai with the cook providing the wood and doing the washing up.

5th September: Oribi Gorge (82km)

Awoke to low cloud and drizzle but set off at 0600. Played the Brown Robin tape and brought in Starred Forest Robin; moved 200m, tried again, and a Brown Robin flew in and perched at head height. Moved another 100m and played the Knysna Woodpecker tape, and one flew in above me. This was almost too easy with my two main target birds by 0630. The walk down to the gorge bottom was very birdy, however, and as well as flocks of Knysna Louries and a couple of Narina Trogons, I rapidly found Olive Bush Shrike and Grey Waxbill. The rain had almost stopped, and I was surprised when EPL and Katie arrived by car to hear that it was still raining at the top. Walked the first part of the Hoopoe trail and found a further two Knysna Woodpeckers, with the female giving prolonged views. Now about 1300 and distinctly quiet compared with earlier, but after much work with the tape eventually got brief views of Barratt's Warbler. After lunch drove into Port Shepstone to shop (many shops shut on Saturday afternoon) and then drove into the bottom of the gorge but it had gone very quiet. Tried the top again near the camp, still quiet except for a flock of cranes. Stayed dry for another braai but when we went out to try for Freckled Nightjar with the tape we got a couple of answering calls, and then the rain came on again.

6th September: Oribi Gorge - Durban - Johannesburg - Hong Kong (129km)

Up at 0500 and walked down to the top of the gorge to try for Freckled Nightjar. Initially no response to the tape then at 0540 one flew over and took a look at me without calling. After packing set off at 0830 and reached Durban at 1000 for 1100 flight, SAA 737, to Jo'burg, then just a wait of an hour before the SAA 747-200 flight to Hong Kong.



This trip was almost entirely arranged over the web; starting with a perusal of trip reports, then web sites of the various parks etc.

The following web sites were useful (note some of these are commercial sites - I am not necessarily recommending purchase or booking through them; for example, most of the parks or reserves can be booked directly or through a travel agent over the web). However, I would single out Jon Hornbuckle's trip report (linked from Trip Reports) which I would recommend as essential reading!

Where to Watch Birds in Africa by N. Wheatley was also worthwhile, but I couldn't get hold of Where to Watch Birds in Southern Africa (A. Beruti and I.C. Sinclair) which is unfortunately out of print. Further advice was obtained prior to the trip from Rob and Kerian Morris (Zululand sites) and Peter and Peggy Stevens (Kruger N.P.). Once in South Africa invaluable advice was provided by Jon Rossouw of Rockjumper Tours and Robin Guy (see contacts below).

Getting around

I think that it is probably impossible to do a birding trip to South Africa without hiring a car. The roads were all good and the driving no worse than in most of Asia, whilst car hire was not too expensive by Asian standards and petrol cheap. We hired from Avis because I could do this over the net, and I could get a one-way hire which suited our itinerary but I suspect that you could get cheaper by shopping around. A 4-wheel drive is necessary for the Sani Pass.

We failed to get a map which showed the smallest roads but this didn't matter because of good signposting, and in general the sites are well covered with maps which you can get on arrival. Even most of the small reserves around Durban had maps, bird lists etc.

One minor hassle was closing times of parks - usually around dusk/dawn but variable - check when you book. Also note that camp closing times may be different from main gate closing times; just because you can get in the gate may not let you into the camp.


The notes below refer to a winter trip, probably most sites, especially inland and wetlands, are better in summer.


A superb National Park with a full range of large mammal species, but not a must as a birding destination. We had been told to expect lots of birds round the camps but, in general, the range of species was small. The area around Skukuza and the Olifants River generally had the most birds, whilst the grasslands south of Satara produced a few open country species not seen elsewhere. The mopane (Colophospermum mopane) woodland in the central park was particularly bird-less. (The north of the park has a number of central African species not otherwise present in South Africa but these were not a priority on this trip.)


Mkhaya was selected for rhinoceros and "bush experience" rather than birds - it has a small tented camp with outdoor cooking and access only by camp vehicles (you leave your own car at a rendezvous point with arriving/leaving at 1000 and 1600 only). Great for seeing rhinoceroses but not recommended as a birding site.


An essential site for a number of Zululand specialities. Kumasinga and Kubebe Hides, the Fig Forest and Ensumo Pan were all excellent. Important birds were: Bushveld Pipit, Rudd's Apalis, Pink-throated Twinspot and Lemon-breasted Canary. We didn't have long enough: dips included African Broadbill, Neergaard's Sunbird, Southern Tchagra and Stierling's Barred Warbler.


Having dipped on Neergaard's Sunbird at Mkuzi, one was found here, as was Rudd's Apalis, and the sand forest looked very good in the brief time available. This should be combined with Cape Vidal (for Woodward's Batis, Brown Robin and Natal Nightjar) which we didn't have time for.


Very disappointing as far as the birds were concerned, though it was particularly cold and windy whilst we were there. A good place to see White Rhinoceros but this could be achieved during a brief visit from St Lucia, Bonamanzi or even Mkuzi.


These were visited because I was based in Durban, so would probably not be part of a usual visitors' itinerary. However, Grey Sunbird was easier at Burman Bush than anywhere else, whilst Pigeon Valley is apparently the most reliable winter site for Spotted Ground Thrush (apparently they leave in September). It is also a site for Buff-spotted Flufftail (seen twice during the week that I was in Durban!).


The mistbelt forest, grassland and vleis in the Karkloof area were well worth the two half days spent there: good birds included Southern Bald Ibis, Wattled and Blue Cranes, Cape Parrot, Buff-streaked Chat, Chorister Robin and Orange Ground Thrush, whilst Bush Blackcap should be present in summer (we dipped). Benvie is a private farm/forest and seems to be the most reliable site for Cape Parrot and Orange Ground Thrush. We would strongly recommend staying there (see contacts below).


The grasslands and vleis around here looked good but were a bit disappointing. However, it is obviously better in summer (see Jon Hornbuckle's report) with flufftails and warblers in the vleis and a big roost of Amur Falcons. Staying with Robin Guy is essential for the Sani Pass trip (see contacts below) but we would thoroughly recommend staying with him in any case. He will either guide you in the area or point you in the right direction (he also has a site for Blue Swallow (summer) to which I think you need to go to with him (private land).


Essential for a heap of Drakensberg's endemics (unless you are a keen hiker, in which case Giant's Castle would be a possible alternative). The road is closed to all but 4-wheel drive vehicles so it makes sense to take a day-trip with Robin Guy (and he knows where all the birds are too). Key birds: Cape Vulture, Grey-wing Francolin, Ground Woodpecker, Orange-breasted Rockjumper, Buff-streaked Chat, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Southern Grey Tit, Gurney's Sugarbird, Drakensberg Siskin. We dipped on Mountain Pipit, Bush Blackcap and Barratt's Warbler here (wrong time of year), also, surprisingly, on Layard's Tit-babbler, South African Rock Pipit and Southern Bald Ibis which are usually relatively straightforward.


This site is famous for holding White-winged Flufftail (but on a private/inaccessible area). However, Red-chested and Striped Flufftails are apparently possible (summer only?). A large area and we didn't know where to start. It would be worth trying to get gen. in advance.


A small and easily-worked area. Perhaps I was just lucky, but Knysna Woodpecker, Brown and Starred Forest Robins, Olive Bush Shrike, Grey Waxbill and Barratt's Warblers on my last morning's birding of the trip made it one of my favourite sites.



The one major drawback with South Africa was the need to book accommodation in advance. Despite trying to book 3-4 months in advance we did not get our preferred camps in Kruger NP (we wanted Lower Sabie and Olifants instead of Skukuza and Letaba) and Mkhaya was initially fully booked, and we got in on a cancellation. The biggest problem was Mkuze Game Park - we wanted one night at Hluhluwe then two nights at Mkuze but we ended up with one night at Mkuze followed by two at Hluhluwe. This meant extra driving (Mkuze is further from Durban than Hluhluwe) but, more importantly, less time at the better birding site.

Mkuzi Game Park, Hluhluwe and Oribi Gorge had a standard arrangement whereby you could give food to cooks or do your own barbecue (braai). They also had cooking facilities, and we took our own cooking equipment but rarely used it, other than kettle and stuff for braais. Note: this arrangement might have changed - we heard that provision of cooks was to be phased out. Kruger camps had communal kitchens, and both Hluhluwe and Kruger had camp restaurants. Kruger camps also had shops with food, charcoal etc but at Mkuze, Hluhluwe and Oribi it was necessary to buy food outside the parks. At Oribi Gorge the cook also supplied wood for braais at a nominal cost.

Most towns had good supermarkets where you could buy all food, charcoal, batteries, films etc. but, except in Durban, everything shuts down at 1700, Saturday afternoons and on Sunday. Note, especially, that alcohol (sold in special liquor stores and a few large supermarkets) cannot be bought after 1700 or on Sundays except in bars. Licensed establishments only seem to allow in children if they also sell food - though the places that didn't sell food looked like real dives anyway!

All booking was done over the net except Crocodile Country Inn, Robin Guy's and Benvie which was by phone and fax. Mkhaya was easy to contact by e-mail but not by fax - payment was complicated as it required deposit by telegraphic transfer then a fax to confirm that we had paid. All others were straightforward but parks/reserves had to be paid in advance.


The area visited has a strongly seasonal climate, and the bird community reflects this. Late August/early September was still winter or, at best, early spring. We saw almost no intra-African migrants, and a few waders were the only Palearctic migrants. Thus we had no chance of Blue Swallow or Mountain Pipit amongst others. Also, many of the Drakensberg species are altitudinal migrants and are absent from their breeding areas in midwinter. These seem to move back to their breeding areas earlier than the intra-African migrants: we saw some species (Spotted Ground Thrush and African Yellow Warbler) at winter sites, whilst others (e.g. Fairy Flycatcher and Malachite Sunbird) had just arrived back in the breeding areas in small numbers. One or two species seemed to be lost in between winter and summer sites (e.g. Bush Blackcap) and we dipped.

In general whydahs and bishops were in eclipse plumage, but the weavers seem to start breeding earlier and some of these were in breeding plumage and nest-building (but this was considered to have been a mild winter). Wetland areas seemed to be particularly lacking in bird activity and some birds such as flufftails and cisticolas were either silent or absent. In general there was little singing and birds were still in winter flocks. The exception was at Oribi Gorge - on the coast at the end of the trip - where it did feel like spring, and the use of tapes was noticeably more successful.

We were advised that late October/November would be the best time to visit.

Generally we experienced similar temperatures during most of the trip: 8-10°C in the early morning and 15-20°C at midday. Midday temperatures in Kruger NP were higher (20-25°C) but it was still cold at night. At the Sani Pass the temperature ranged from 5-20°C but there were patches of snow left from the cold front of 23rd August. Most days were sunny except the days when fronts went through which were drizzly, with quite heavy rain in Durban on 23rd (i.e. three wet days in three weeks). The Karkloof mistbelt forest was (appropriately) misty on 22nd and one morning at Underberg was also misty but it soon cleared. Rather than rain, the main problem was wind: strong winds at Mkuzi, Hluhluwe and Sani Pass severely inhibited bird activity (and made it feel much colder than it was!).

Systematic List

All observations are by MRL except where stated.


Sequence and both English and scientific names follow Sinclair, I., Hockey, P. and Tarboton, W. 1997. Sasol Birds of Southern Africa, Struik Publishers, Cape Town.

Names of species considered endemic or near-endemic to southern Africa are indicated in bold type; introduced species are included in brackets.


Sequence and English and scientific names follow Kingdon, J. 1997 The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals, Academic Press, London except for cetaceans and Sloggett's Rat which follow Stuart, C. and Stuart, T. 1988. Chris and Tide Stuart's Field Guide to the Mammals of Southern Africa, New Holland, London. Where English names commonly in use in South Africa differ from these sources, these are included in brackets.

Relocations and re-introductions are very common in the South African National Parks. All the mammals listed were seen in "wild" conditions except when contained in brackets. However, known introductions include the following: Hluhluwe (Giraffe), Mkhaya (most [all?] large mammals), Kruger NP (White Rhinoceros).


Sequence and English and scientific names follow Branch, B. 1998 Field Guide to the Snakes and other Reptiles of Southern Africa, Struik Publishers, Cape Town.

It was probably too cold at most sites visited for much obvious reptile activity. For example, disappointingly, no snakes were seen during the entire three week period.

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; January 22, 1999; updated February 28, 2003