The rugged and awe inspiring Drakensberg Mountain range is arguably South Africa’s most prominent geological feature. As a mountain chain it stretches for nearly 1000km dividing the savanna woodland along the coastal plain to the east from the high lying grassland of the central interior. In parts the towering peaks of volcanic rock rise to over 3350 metres to form an almost impregnable and intimidating escarpment of sandstone and basalt known to early pioneers as the Dragon Mountains and to the Zulus, who inhabited the plains below the imposing peaks, as the ‘Barrier of Spears’.
Our journey takes us from the City of Gold, as Johannesburg has been known since the discovery of this precious metal in 1886, to the wind swept grasslands of the Highveld to the east of the city. Here we will search a range of scattered granite outcrops, known as ‘kopjes’ in South Africa, for a select number of birds located on the extremity of their semi-arid distribution range. Sighting possibilities include Northern Black Korhaan, Orange River Francolin, Red-eyed Bulbul, Chestnut-backed Finch Lark and Black-throated Canary.
From here our routing takes us to the open grassland of the Highveld where we will search for a highly localized suite of very special SA endemics including Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Korhaan, Yellow-breasted Pipit and the rare and endangered Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks.
Beyond the Highveld we descend through a series of passes into the foothills and erosion weathered valleys of the Drakensberg itself. Here we will search for habitat specific species favoring the rocky slopes and dolerite cliff faces such as White-necked Raven, Jackal Buzzard, Drakensberg Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin and Bearded Vulture at the head of the Sani Pass in the Lesotho.
Dropping down to lower altitudes we will explore a number of relic forest patches in search of the bright & beautiful birds such as the Knysna Turaco and Cape Parrot if we are extremely lucky.
Closer to the Indian Ocean coast the country changes once again to a more tropical format comprising of thornveld scrub and dune forest within which we can expect to find highly localized birds such as Purple-crested Turaco, Pink-throated Twinspot, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Green-spotted Wood-Dove and a host of raptors including Bateleur, Brown and Black-breasted Snake-Eagle.
As we head north across the coastal plain we will check the waterways for Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck, Black Crake, African and Lesser Jacana.
Gallery forest along the drainage lines holds the possibility of Trumpeter Hornbill and good views of Palm Nut Vulture as well as Wooly-necked Stork and other birding delights such Pel’s Fishing Owl, if water levels are right. Elephant and the striking and secretive Nyala antelope are definite possibilities within the mammal mix with Hippopotamus and Crocodile in the mouth of St Lucia estuary itself.
From here our route north takes us through the Kingdom of Swaziland to the southern end of the Kruger National Park where we will spend three nights in the park spread over three camps in different habitat types. We can look forward to excellent mammal sightings and colourful birdlife in super abundance, in particular the opportunity of getting to grips with Kruger’s Big Six birds – Saddle-billed Stork, Kori Bustard, Ground Hornbill, Lappet-faced Vulture, Martial Eagle and Marabou Stork.
Our last day sees us heading back to Johannesburg on a flight from Nelspruit Airport in time to connect with your international flight.
In summary a tour of widely varied birding and mammal delights within a range of very special and very distinctive habitat types.
Key Species: Red-capped Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Rudd's Lark, Botha's Lark, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Grey-wing Francolin, Mountain Wheatear, Red-eyed Bulbul, Red-throated Wryneck, Northern Black Korhaan, Cape Vulture, Southern Bald Ibis, Malachite Sunbird, Grey Crowned Crane, Black-headed Oriole, Bush Blackcap, Barratt's Warbler, Drakensberg Siskin, Bearded Vulture, Drakensberg Rockjumper, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Mountain Pipit, Knysna Turaco, Cape Parrot, Starred Robin, Cape Batis, Grey Cuckoo Shrike, Black-rumped Button Quail, Long-crested Eagle, Palm-nut Vulture, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Olive Sunbird, Green Malkoha, Narina Trogon, Spotted Ground Thrush, Hottentot Teal, African Jacana, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Rudd's Apalis, White-backed Duck, Pygmy Goose, Lesser Jacana, Livingstone's Turaco, Purple-crested Turaco, Woodward's Batis, Gray Sunbird, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Lesser Masked Weaver, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Bataleur, Goliath Heron, Crested Guineafowl, Pink-throated Twinspot, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Lilac-breasted Roller, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Broad-billed Roller, Denham's Bustard, Blue Crane, Spotted Eagle Owl, Ground Woodpecker, Blue Korhaan, African Rail, Saddle-billed Stork, Kori.
Key Mammal Species – you have a very good chance of seeing the Big Five African Mammals on this tour: Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant
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