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Trip Report RBT South Africa Comprehensive VIII November 2014
In a patch of forest near the town of Bulwer we spent a few hours searching for our remaining eastern forest targets. Here we enjoyed views of the critically endangered Cape Parrot, brilliant Knysna Turaco, Grey Cuckooshrike and brief Bush Blackcap for some participants. We then headed towards the foothills of the Drakensberg range, our base for the next 2 nights, where a large flock of Grey Crowned Crane welcomed us.
As is always the case, a highlight of the tour was our day trip up the Sani Pass, although the road conditions always make it a fairly tough and tiring day. We managed to find almost all of the targets we had set ourselves, adding a good number of endemics and other specials to the list, while simultaneously enjoying the spectacular scenery along the way. We started off very well with Brown-backed Honeybird and Bush Blackcap in some thickets near the base of this great road. A little later Fan-tailed Grassbird, Cape Grassbird, Malachite Sunbird, Streaky-headed Seedeater and Brimstone Canary were seen well on the roadside. Other birds we found at or near the South African border post included the very vocal Barratt’s Warbler in stunted streamside vegetation, and great views of the interesting Ground Woodpecker.
Nearing the top of the pass, as the corners became ever tighter, we found another two of the day’s main targets: the Drakensberg Rockjumper and Drakensberg Siskin - both named after this magnificent mountain range. After entering the country of Lesotho, we headed over a large plateau and a little higher to find the rest of the day’s targets. These included some rather tough species, although having some great weather conditions and good fortune allowed us to find almost all of them. Some of the better species included Fairy Flycatcher, Layard’s Warbler, Grey Tit, Yellow Canary, Mountain Pipit, Large-billed Lark and Sickle-winged Chat in the Karoo-like scrub at almost 3000m altitude. Overhead we also had some great views of Bearded and Cape Vultures, Jackal Buzzard and Peregrine Falcon. All in all a very successful day was enjoyed in this incredible part of the world, despite the very dry conditions that meant there were no proteas flowering.
Our last full day in eastern South Africa would prove as usual to be one of the most thrilling and memorable days of the tour for reasons over-and-above the cracking birds that were seen. The awe-inspiring scenery and hair-raising road also added immensely to the experience and this day will
definitely not be forgotten in a long time! Starting early from our guest house in Himeville we began the ascent up Sani Pass. The initial stretch of road has recently been paved and is in impeccable condition and we broke this stretch of the drive with a very surprise find in the form of a Booted Eagle. A little further on we then encountered a Giant Kingfisher, several White Stork as well as Bokmakierie, Drakensberg Prinia, African Yellow Warbler and Cape Grassbird. Soon the tar came to an end and the gravel started and before long this road turned into a track, which soon became extremely rutted and slow-going as we wound our way through the initial stages of the pass. The birding here was excellent though and we were soon picking up our targets; namely Ground Woodpecker, Gurney’s Sugarbird, exquisite Malachite Sunbird, Cape Rock Thrush, Red-throated Wryneck, Long-billed Pipit, Yellow Bishop, small flocks of Streaky-headed Seedeater and large, fast-flying flocks of African and Alpine Swifts, as well as a single Common House Martin and Horus Swift.
After a picnic breakfast at a particularly scenic spot we climbed higher and our second attempt at the secretive Barratt’s Warbler yielded unbeatable views of this often very difficult to see species. We also enjoyed excellent views of the endemic and sought-after Bush Blackcap near the South African border post. The last few switchbacks of the pass were particularly treacherous due to the recent heavy rains but our able drivers negotiated these tricky stretches impeccably and soon we had breached the top and were in Lesotho. Stopping to admire the incredible scenery on the last few corners of the pass also gave us our first of several Drakensberg Rockjumpers bounding around over boulders and scurrying through grass tussocks in typical fashion, pairs of Drakensberg Siskin and huge and impressive Cape Vulture soaring overhead. The remainder of the morning and early afternoon was spent in Lesotho and here we added specialties such as Fairy Flycatcher, Layard’s Warbler, Large-billed Lark, Karoo Prinia, Sickle-winged Chat, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Mountain Pipit, Yellow Canary and Cape Bunting. We also ended up with an almost unprecedented six Bearded Vultures during the course of the day and the return journey yielded more rockjumpers, a lovely male Buff-streaked Chat, better views of Red-throated Wryneck, a pair of Grey Rhebok (an endemic antelope), as well as many of the species seen on the ascending drive. All in all a fabulous trip once again up Sani Pass and into the tiny, land-locked highland country of Lesotho - and with that it was time to bid farewell to eastern South Africa ...
“Stuart McLean Bird Watching in Sani Pass”
Reviewed 3 July 2013
We saw more than 50 different bird species, many of which we had never seen before including the endemic Drakensberg Rock jumper and the endangered Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier. Stuart's knowledge of all Drakensberg flora and fauna was both encyclopaedic and fascinating. His generosity of time gave us fantastic value for money. Highly recommended even if you only have a casual interest in bird life.