North-eastern South Africa: pre-tour to Eastern Zimbabwe and Central Mozambique 2017

This wonderful tour through less-traveled but very bird-rich north-eastern South Africa will have us explore such renowned hot birding spots as Zaagkuilsdrift, Magoebaskloof, and Mapungubwe National Park. We will search for such special birds as Marsh Owl, African Finfoot, Forest Buzzard, and Boulder Chat, while our main targets are three of the very elusive ultimate skulkers: Red-chested, Buff-spotted, and Striped Flufftails.

This pre-tour extension to our Eastern Zimbabwe and Central Mozambique 2015 tour can also be booked as a stand-alone tour.

Please note that the detailed itinerary below cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.

Itinerary (8 days/7 nights)

Day1, 14th November. Johannesburg to Zaagkuilsdrift

Morning arrival in Johannesburg, South Africa, or perhaps more preferably the previous day (13th November) to allow rest time. We will be birding south of Johannesburg in the Alberton area, where we search the wetlands/grasslands for specials such as Red-chested Flufftail (main target – good chance), Orange River Francolin, Marsh Owl, African Snipe, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Cloud Cisticola, various warblers, and Northern Black Korhaan.  Then we will transfer north to Pretoria and bird the Seringveld Conservancy and surrounds in the afternoon for broad-leaved woodland specialists, Tinkling Cisticola, Green-capped Eremomela, Pale Flycatcher, Fawn-colored Lark, Brown-backed Honeybird, Coqui Francolin, and many others. In the late afternoon we will arrive at Zaagkuilsdrift Bird Sanctuary and Lodge. There is an option for owling this evening – this area is rich in nocturnal birds, with representatives of owls, nightjars, and coursers present.

Overnight: Zaagkuilsdrift Lodge

Day2, 15th November. Zaagkuilsdrift

In the morning we will be birding the famous Zaagkuildrift Road and the floodplain at Kgomo-Kgomo for many dry-country birds, such as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, Ashy Tit, Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbills, Barred Wren-Warbler, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Marico Flycatcher, Great Sparrow, and Cut-throat Finch. The wetland, depending on conditions, may host Baillon’s Crake, Greater Painted-snipe, Black Heron, Temminck’s Courser (at the edges), and many others. The afternoon will find us in the nearby Borakalalo Game Reserve, where we bird in the rich woodlands and river fringes for African Finfoot, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, and the above-mentioned dry-country specials. Again there is an option for owling this evening.

Overnight: Zaagkuilsdrift Lodge

Day 3, 16th November. Zaagkuilsdrift to Magoebaskloof

In the morning we will return to the Zaagkuilsdrift Road for any dry-country specials we may have missed, before transferring north to Polokwane and onwards to Magoebaskloof. After arrival we will begin birding the afro-montane forest for specials such as Cape Parrot (an isolated northern population), Forest Buzzard, Bush Blackcap, Mountain Wagtail, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Orange Ground Thrush, White-starred Robin, Barratt’s Warbler, and Black-fronted Bushshrike, among others. Please note, however, that some of these species occur in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe as well, so we may receive a bit of overlap with species occurring there. We will transfer to the nearby Magoebaskloof Hotel for the evening. Buff-spotted Flufftail occurs in the area and regularly starts calling in the evenings; we will keep our ears open for the eerie hooting, and should we hear them, we will try and get visuals.

Overnight: Magoebaskloof Hotel

Day 4, 17th November. Magoebaskloof

The main target of this day will be Striped Flufftail. This is a notoriously difficult-to-find species, and one that is even more difficult to lay eyes on. This will be the focus of the morning, and perhaps the afternoon as well. The surrounding area is also rich in birdlife, and we may run into Wailing Cisticola and various seedeaters, such as Forest Canary, Swee Waxbill, African Firefinch, and Green Twinspot. We will also search a nearby site for Bat Hawk, which breeds in the area. Depending on our time we may also pay the nearby town of Tzaneen a visit to try for Magpie Mannikin, Holub’s Golden Weaver, and Grey-rumped Swallow. We can try again for Buff-spotted Flufftail in the evening if we have not found it earlier.

Overnight: Magoebaskloof Hotel

Day 5, 18th November. Magoebaskloof to Mapungubwe National Park

We have the morning available for Striped Flufftail, if necessary again, before transferring onwards to the stunning Mapungubwe National Park. We will try for the highly localized Short-clawed Lark en route. Mapungubwe National Park is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the ruins and paintings present in the area. Located in the northern Limpopo Province of South Africa and bordering both Botswana and Zimbabwe, this is a stunning area characterized by magnificent riverine woodland surrounded by acacia bush, ephemeral pans, and mopane woodland. Mapungubwe is also a ‘Big 5’ park with a good sampling of South Africa’s mammals. Here we will search for Double-banded and Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Meyer’s Parrot, Meves’s Starling, Senegal Coucal, Tropical Boubou, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Monotonous Lark (after good rains), Red-headed Weaver, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Retz’s Helmetshrike, and various others. The ephemeral pans can prove interesting when inundated, when they play host to many exciting tropical birds, such as Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen, African Crake, Greater Painted-snipe, etc. The nocturnal birding around here is excellent too, and we may see a wide variety of owls, ranging from the large Verreaux’s Eagle Owl through to the small Southern White-faced Owl. Nightjars are also present, and species may include Square-tailed, Fiery-necked, Freckled, and European. One of the specials of this area is a chance at Three-banded Courser, and a night drive is the best way to find this species, although it is never an easy target.

Overnight: Leokwe Rest Camp, Mapungubwe National Park

Day 6, 19th November. Mapungubwe National Park

We have a full day around Mapungubwe National Park, where we search for the above-mentioned species as well as in the dry-country area for any of the species we may have missed on the tour up until now, such as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, and various seedeaters, including waxbills, finches and weavers. There will also be a variety of mammals to entertain us throughout the day.

Overnight: Leokwe Rest Camp, Mapungubwe National Park

Day 7, 20th November. Mapungubwe National Park to Masvingo

In the morning we will be birding around Mapungubwe, targeting any of the specials above that we may have missed, before departing and crossing the boarder to Zimbabwe at Beitbridge and transferring to Masvingo. We will bird a few sites en-route, once in Zimbabwe, including the Lion and Elephant Motel grounds for various riverine woodland species, as well as some nearby rocky outcrops for Boulder Chat. Depending on our arrival time, we can do some local miombo birding in Masvingo at the Lake Mutirikwi National Park. Here we will be searching for specials such as White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Miombo Tit, Miombo Rock Thrush, and Miombo Double-collared Sunbird. The nearby ruins of Great Zimbabwe are also a great ‘must-visit’ attraction and provide good birding within the ruins.

For those guests NOT wishing to join the Zimbabwe/Mozambique trip, just the pre-trip, we will arrange a free shuttle back to Johannesburg on Nov 20th.

Overnight: Inn on Great Zimbabwe, Masvingo, or similar

Day 8, 21st November. Departure or start of main tour

We will be able to undertake some brief birding this morning in the nearby miombo, or alternatively we can have a relaxing morning in preparation for the main tour starting later in the day. After breakfast we transfer north to Harare, from where we will begin the main tour.