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Forests, Mountains and Mangroves

 10 day trip :31 October to 9 November 2023

The Eastern Cape is the main meeting point of the country’s biomes and the birding is a diverse mixture of western endemics and tropical eastern species. The tropical influence and varied habitat results in an extremely high bird diversity and the area that we visit holds the prospect of finding numerous highly sought-after species.

We leave Johannesburg bright and early and fly to the coastal city of Gqeberha at the start of what promises to be a memorable tour

Our first destination is Mountain Zebra National Park, near Cradock, where we spend our next two nights

Gemsbok, Mountain Zebra NP

This Park may be unique in having as many as 20 species of birds endemic to Southern Africa.  It consists of a rugged landscape of mountains, grassy plains, bushy hillsides and rocky gorges.  The birding is excellent

The park is ideal habitat for Verreaux’s and Booted Eagle, Lanner Falcon and Cape Eagle-Owl which all breed there. Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock-Thrush and African Rock Pipit are rock loving birds to watch for while Layard’s Tit-babbler, Dusky Sunbird and Black-headed Canary occur in hillside shrubs.  Rufous-eared Warbler, Sickle-winged Chat and Eastern Clapper, Thick-billed and Spike-heeled Lark are resident breeders.  Eastern Long-billed Lark, Long-billed Pipit, Grey-backed Cisticola, Southern Tchagra and Namaqua Warbler are all regularly seen.  The park is home to 6 species of Canary, namely, Yellow-eyed, Black-throated, Cape, Black-headed, Brimstone, White-throated and Streaky-headed Seedeater.

The Park is home to several mammal species, including Lion, Black Rhinoceros, Buffalo, Cheetah, Eland, Kudu, Red Hartebeest, Black Wildebeest and, of course, Cape Mountain Zebra.

Black Rhinoceros

We head eastwards, via Queenstown, to Stutterheim where we spend our next two nights in cottages at the very edge of the Kologha Forest.

Kologha Forest
Kologha Forest

This forest is a fine example of Afromontane forest, and is one of the most extensive tracts of indigenous forest outside of the Tsitsikamma.

Birding in and around the forest is spectacular.  During the months of October to December one may hear Orange Ground -Thrush calling and good sightings of this elusive species can be expected.  Robins to be seen include White-starred Robin, Brown Scrub-Robin and Chorister Robin-Chat. Knysna Turaco, African Emerald Cuckoo and Narina Trogon are always present.  Olive and Knysna Woodpecker are common, while Mountain Wagtail is found along the forest streams.  Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Dark-backed Weaver and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher are regularly encountered.  Raptors include African Crowned and Long-crested Eagle.  Cape Parrot roost and nest in the forest and can readily be seen at early morning or in the evenings returning to their roosting sites.  Many people come to the area to see Red-winged Francolin, which is quite common.  Both Buff-spotted and Red-chested Flufftail can be heard

The montane grassland above the forest often yields Buff-streaked Chat, Ground Woodpecker, Cape and Gurney’s Sugarbird and various pipits and cisticolas.

Our next port of call is the Wavecrest Hotel, situated some 160 km north of East London, along the spectacular Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape.  This is a true paradise for birders.  It is on the edge of a crystal-clear lagoon, fed by two mangrove lined rivers which weave through pristine forest where over 300 bird species have been recorded.  The estuary at the mouth of the Nxaxo and Nxusi Rivers forms the epicentre of birding in the area.  A boat trip at high tide up the river is usually very rewarding.  The Mangrove Kingfisher, one of seven kingfisher species found here, is abundant during summer and the estuarine mudflats usually yield wader species such as Sanderling, Grey Plover, Turnstone and Whimbrel.  Large flocks of terns often roost on the sandbanks closer to the river mouth and include Swift, Sandwich, Common and Arctic Tern.  The dunes adjacent to the Nxaxo River are covered in dune forest which contains several forest specials such as Narina Trogon, Spotted Ground-Thrush, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbill, Red-fronted Tinkerbird and Knysna Woodpecker.

The grassland adjacent to the forest patches holds Black-winged Lapwing, Red-necked Spurfowl, Cape and Yellow-throated Longclaw, Black Saw-wing and Banded Martin.  However, the major drawcard to Wavecrest must surely be the resident Grey Crowned Cranes which come to roost on an island in the estuary every evening.



After two glorious days at the Wavecrest Hotel, we set sail for the quaint and picturesque village of Rhodes, which lies in the north-eastern corner of the Eastern Cape. Rhodes lies at the foot of the Naude’s Nek Pass which, at 2740m, is the highest mountain pass in South Africa.  This area has spectacular mountain scenery, sandstone formations, unspoilt valleys, rolling grassland and air crisper and cleaner than you will find anywhere else in the country.  This is without doubt one of the finest birding destinations in South Africa.  Cape and Bearded Vulture are common as are Drakensberg Rock-jumper, Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat and Drakensberg Siskin which can be found with some regularity during a drive up the Pass.

We will be staying for two nights at a guest house in the town.. 

Mountain Pipit, Sickle-winged Chat, Grey-winged Francolin, Sentinel and Cape Rock-Thrush are all regularly seen  at the summit, while the prospects of seeing Barratt’s Warbler, Grey Crowned Crane, Denham’s Bustard and Wailing Cisticola in the surrounding grassland are good.

Drakensberg Rockjumper
Drakensberg Rockjumper

The Golden Gate Highlands National Park is located in the north-eastern part of Free State and derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock. The area is famous for its captivating scenery, spectacular geology and invigorating climate. Vegetation in the Reserve consists mainly of wooded ravines, gullies and grasslands.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park
Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Birding in the Park is excellent. Bearded and Cape Vultures are often seen at the vulture restaurant. Magnificent sandstone cliffs provide breeding habitat for Verreaux’s Eagle, Jackal Buzzard,

Lanner and Peregrine Falcon, Black Stork and Rock Kestrel. Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat, African Rock Pipit and Sentinel Rock-Thrush frequent rocky slopes. Alpine, Black and Horus Swifts soar overhead and with some luck Cape Eagle-Owl may be encountered after dark. Areas of short grass are favoured by Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Crane and Secretarybird. Moist grasslands hold Cape Grassbird, Wailing Cisticola, and Yellow-crowned Bishop while areas of scattered proteas may produce Gurney’s Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird.

We spend the last night of this remarkable trip in the Basotho Cultural Village Rest Camp which nestles on the eastern side of the Park.  The camp resembles an 18th century Basotho Village where the Basotho lifestyle, architecture and hospitality is the order of the day.

Basotho Cultural Village
Basotho Cultural Village

We head for Johannesburg the next day at about lunch time at the conclusion of a memorable trip.

This 10 day tour commences with a flight from Johannesburg to Gqeberha. We travel in an air-conditioned VW Caravelle, 4-wheel drive Microbus.


Day 1

Date : October 30, 2020

Jhb-Gqeberha-Mountain Zebra NP

Early morning flight from OR Tambo Int. to Gqeberha.
Head for Mountain Zebra NP, via Cookhouse and Cradock.
Bird en route and arrive at destination in the mid-afternoon.
Afternoon game drive in Park.
Overnight at rest camp in Mountain Zebra NP


Date : November 1, 2023

Mountain Zebra National Park

Day spent birding in woodlands and grasslands.
Overnight at Rest Camp.

Day 3

Date : November 2, 2023

Mountain Zebra National Park-Stutterheim

Morning birding around camp.
Depart after brunch and head for Stutterheim, via Commando Drift Nature Reserve.
Afternoon forest birding and overnight at lodge near Kologha forest.

Day 4

Date : November 3, 2023


Day spent birding in Kologha forest and surrounding area.
Overnight at lodge near Kologha forest.

Day 5

Date : November 4, 2023


Early morning birding in forest.
Depart after brunch for Wavecrest, via Butterworth.
Afternoon boat cruise on Nxaxo River.
Overnight at Wavecrest Hotel.

Day 6

Date : November 5, 2023


Morning birding in forests around Wavecrest.
Afternoon boat cruise on Nxaxo River.
Overnight at Wavecrest Hotel.

Day 7

Date : November 6, 2023


Early morning in forests around Wavecrest.
Depart after breakfast for Rhodes, via Elliot and Barkly Pass.
Arrive at Rhodes mid-afternoon after birding en route.
Overnight at lodge in Rhodes.

Day 8

Date : November 7, 2023


Early morning birding on Naude’s Nek Pass.
Afternoon visit to Tiffendell Ski Resort, birding en route.
Overnight at lodge in Rhodes.

Day 9

Date : November 8, 2023

Rhodes-Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Early morning birding around town.
Depart after breakfast for Golden Gate NP, via Lady Grey and Clarens.
Afternoon birding in Golden Gate Highlands NP.
Overnight at Basuto Cultural Village camp.

Day 10

Date : November 9, 2023

Golden Gate-Johannesburg

Morning birding in Park, including visit to Vulture Hide.
Depart after lunch for Johannesburg, arriving late afternoon.

Trip Includes

Transport, all meals and accommodation, guiding, conservation fees, entrance fees and  specified activities.

Trip Excludes

Alcoholic beverages, gratuities and items of a personal nature.

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