Category Archives: Birdwatching

South Africa

southafrica_featured

I traveled to South Africa with Birding Africa, a small tour company based in Cape Town, South Africa. The tour was a hard-core birding trip that focused on endemic species (species found only in southern Africa), and the itinerary included visits to several of the large game reserves in the east, which I was excited to see. I saw a total of 495 species of birds on the trip, and more than 50 species of mammals.

By popular request, here is a link to just the photos from my trip – I included about 150. All of the photos are posted below in slideshows below to go with this blog post. I also made a map of the places I visited at the bottom of this post.

I will get the elephant out of the room (elephant pun!!) so that I don’t have to discuss it further – our guide, Ethan, while an excellent birder, was a constant cynical jerk and I did not enjoy his company. For my birding colleagues, I do not recommend traveling with Birding Africa. I traveled to Ethiopia with Rockjumper Birding Tours last year, and their guide was outstanding.

Fortunately, I was blessed with the company of the absolute best group of tour participants, ever. There were seven of us in total, with one participant (Charlie) leaving the group after we completed the western part of the tour, and another participant (Rogier) joining us when we arrived in the east. I unfortunately don’t have a group photo of everyone, but two photos of most of us are posted below. David and Jane are a husband and wife from Canada – David has a great sense of humor and arrived for the tour directly after completing a hiking expedition in Peru, and Jane is an extremely sweet person who is great at spotting birds, likes to sit in the back of the van, and is often “inserted for scale” in David’s photos. Charlie (not pictured) is a very shy, sweet man from Oakland. Rogier, from the Netherlands, was an amazing birder with incredible optimism and enthusiasm, and had a fantastic spotting scope that he shared with us. Philip is a veterinarian from the town in the UK where they filmed Hot Fuzz, had just traveled to Botswana with his family, and was just about the most easygoing person ever. Margaret and Clare have been married for more than 30 years, and are from Santa Cruz! Margaret had us laughing so hard we were rolling in the aisle of the van on most days, and Clare took hundreds of amazing photos of birds and shared them with me! I cannot say enough great things about these people.

Left to right: David, Jane, Margaret, Robin, Rogier, and Philip. Best tour group ever!
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Left to right: David, Jane, Margaret, Robin, Rogier, and Philip. Best tour group ever!
A round of applause for the wonderful woman on the right (Clare) who took all the marvelous bird photos and gave them to me to share! Thank you!!! <3
(Margaret, on the left, is also wonderful.)
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A round of applause for the wonderful woman on the right (Clare) who took all the marvelous bird photos and gave them to me to share! Thank you!!! <3 (Margaret, on the left, is also wonderful.)
 

Cape Peninsula

I flew to South Africa on British Airways, which I was mostly happy with except for the substantial delays flying through Heathrow en route. Because of the delays I missed my domestic flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town and had to rebook and pay a fee, but I managed to get to Cape Town only a few hours later than expected. I rented a car and drove to Makapa Lodge in Capri Village, which is on the peninsula south of the city. I stayed there for two nights in a cute little cottage.

On my first day, I drove to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which was a ~30 min drive north of my lodge on the peninsula. The garden abuts Table Mountain National Park, and is quite large – with some fun birds and all kinds of cool plants. The most notable plants (to me) were the native proteas, which were blooming and attracting sunbirds and sugarbirds. I stayed at the garden until the afternoon, when I went to the Strandfontein Sewage Works. This is a popular local birding spot, with numerous ducks, waders, flamingos, and other birds.

The next day I drove to the Cape Point Nature Reserve when it opened at 6am. I had the entire park to myself for more than 2 hours. I drove to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope and walked around alone, and spent the rest of the day driving around the other roads in the park, again mostly without other people around. It was a very pretty park with some great birds to watch.

I returned the rental car in downtown Cape Town, which was something of a driving adventure, and took a taxi to my accommodation for the night, which was outside the main city. I met the other tour participants and the guide at breakfast the following morning.

'The Nest' - An appropriately titled little one-room cottage where I stayed upon arriving in Cape Town. It was on the peninsula a ways south of the city, in Capri Village.
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'The Nest' - An appropriately titled little one-room cottage where I stayed upon arriving in Cape Town. It was on the peninsula a ways south of the city, in Capri Village.
Backwards! Not so bad, except that the turn signal and winshield wipers were reversed. It makes sense so that you can signal while shifting, but also results in some interesting times ("I tried to signal, I'm sorry!!").
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Backwards! Not so bad, except that the turn signal and winshield wipers were reversed. It makes sense so that you can signal while shifting, but also results in some interesting times ("I tried to signal, I'm sorry!!").
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which abuts Table Mountain National Park. You can hike straight from the garden into the park, although I didn't go very far because there had been reports of muggings farther up the trails. Also, the loop trail was quite long, and I had other birds to see!
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The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which abuts Table Mountain National Park. You can hike straight from the garden into the park, although I didn't go very far because there had been reports of muggings farther up the trails. Also, the loop trail was quite long, and I had other birds to see!
 
Protea flowers at Kirstenbosch
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Protea flowers at Kirstenbosch
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden and Table Mountain National Park
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Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden and Table Mountain National Park
Great white pelicans and African sacred ibis at the Strandfontein Sewage Works
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Great white pelicans and African sacred ibis at the Strandfontein Sewage Works
 
Cape Point, at the tip of the Cape Peninsula. I arrived at the reserve gate shortly after 6:00 a.m. (when they opened), and had the park to myself for more than two hours.
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Cape Point, at the tip of the Cape Peninsula. I arrived at the reserve gate shortly after 6:00 a.m. (when they opened), and had the park to myself for more than two hours.
Robin and Cape Point. I've now been to Stewart Island, Tierra del Fuego, and Cape Point!
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Robin and Cape Point. I've now been to Stewart Island, Tierra del Fuego, and Cape Point!
Walking to Cape Point. There are two lighthouses, and a trail that goes out to the end.
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Walking to Cape Point. There are two lighthouses, and a trail that goes out to the end.
 
Cape Point Nature Reserve. I left the touristy area at the point and drove around the rest of the reserve (again nearly by myself) for the rest of the morning.
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Cape Point Nature Reserve. I left the touristy area at the point and drove around the rest of the reserve (again nearly by myself) for the rest of the morning.
 

Western Cape and Northern Cape

We spent the first couple of days birding around the Western Cape, based out of Cape Town. On the first day, we traveled to Roo-eis in the Hottentots-Holland Mountains, where we saw Cape rockjumpers. Rockjumpers are in the family Chaetopidae, and there are only two species in the world. Both are endemic to southern Africa. We also saw several species of sunbirds, Chacma baboons, and cape rock thrush. We drove to a Betty’s Baai where we visited a breeding colony of African penguins, which have precipitously declining populations and are in danger of going extinct. The penguins have a ridiculous call that sounds like a donkey, which is why they’re also called jackass penguins. We also saw three species of cormorant there. For lunch we stopped at the Harold Porter Botanical Garden, and in the afternoon we visited the Strandfontein Sewage Works again, and had much better luck birding than I’d had two days ago. Our guide also knew where to find certain species, such as a day-roosting Cape eagle owl.

On our second day we went on a pelagic trip. I used a scopolamine patch, which I hadn’t used for several years, and it gave me horrible acid reflux. The boat trip was extremely rough, the boat itself was very small, and most of us weren’t very comfortable. Myself and a few others clung to the back of the cabin for most of the trip. The highlight of the trip was several breaching humpback whales, which put on a fantastic show for us. We also saw two species of seabirds that I hadn’t seen before: Cape gannet and Cape petrel. There were albatross other petrels, too. We made our way out to a pair of trawlers and watched them for awhile (the birds are attracted to fishing boats), but we had to turn around soon after because the ocean was so rough. On the way back I nearly threw up, but managed not to. No one was very happy at the end of the day, and we joked quite a bit later about how terrible the trip was. After the boat ride, we visited Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve.

Cape sugarbird (photo by Clare). They're related to sunbirds, and feed on the protea flowers.
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Cape sugarbird (photo by Clare). They're related to sunbirds, and feed on the protea flowers.
Orange-breasted sunbird (photo by Clare).
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Orange-breasted sunbird (photo by Clare).
Rock hyrax (photo by Clare). They're the closest living relative of elephants!
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Rock hyrax (photo by Clare). They're the closest living relative of elephants!
 
A breeding colony of African (jackass) penguins. These penguins are called jackass penguins because their call sounds a lot like a donkey. Their populations are declining and they may go extinct.
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A breeding colony of African (jackass) penguins. These penguins are called jackass penguins because their call sounds a lot like a donkey. Their populations are declining and they may go extinct.
African jackass penguin (photo by Clare)
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African jackass penguin (photo by Clare)
Cape cormorant (photo by Clare). These were nesting along the shoreline.
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Cape cormorant (photo by Clare). These were nesting along the shoreline.
 
Unidentified flattish lizard.
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Unidentified flattish lizard.
Blacksmith lapwing (photo by Clare)
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Blacksmith lapwing (photo by Clare)
Where we went to see the Cape rockjumpers. Rockjumpers are birds in the family Chaetopidae, and there are only two species in the world. Both are endemic to southern Africa.
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Where we went to see the Cape rockjumpers. Rockjumpers are birds in the family Chaetopidae, and there are only two species in the world. Both are endemic to southern Africa.
 
Searching for Cape rockjumpers, and other fun things (photo by Clare)
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Searching for Cape rockjumpers, and other fun things (photo by Clare)
 

We spent a day birding agricultural fields around Cape Town, and West Coast National Park. We saw blue cranes, which are the national bird of South Africa, as well as ostriches, some waders and shorebirds, black harriers, and several species of terns.

Blue crane, the national bird of South Africa. They're pretty freaking cool! (photo by Clare)
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Blue crane, the national bird of South Africa. They're pretty freaking cool! (photo by Clare)
African hoopoe (photo by Clare)
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African hoopoe (photo by Clare)
Mole snake (photo by Clare)
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Mole snake (photo by Clare)
 
White-fronted plover (photo by Clare). I really liked these plovers because they were so clean, white, and fluffy!
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White-fronted plover (photo by Clare). I really liked these plovers because they were so clean, white, and fluffy!
A large group of terns sitting on the beach at West Coast National Park (photo by Clare).
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A large group of terns sitting on the beach at West Coast National Park (photo by Clare).
White-throated swallow at West Coast National Park (photo by Clare)
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White-throated swallow at West Coast National Park (photo by Clare)
 
A marsh at West Coast National Park. It was interesting that the marsh had a species similar to pickleweed, which is the same plant we have in marshes here in California.
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A marsh at West Coast National Park. It was interesting that the marsh had a species similar to pickleweed, which is the same plant we have in marshes here in California.
Spotted eagle-owl (photo by Clare). We saw these owls several times, they were fairly common.
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Spotted eagle-owl (photo by Clare). We saw these owls several times, they were fairly common.
Secretarybirds (photos by Clare)
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Secretarybirds (photos by Clare)
 

We drove to Malagas, where we crossed a river on a cable bridge operated by hand. Birding around the area, we saw karoo korhaan and Denham’s bustard, which were our first bustards of the trip. I spotted the korhaan sitting in brown grass and impressed everyone in the van! The next day we visited the nearby De Hoop Reserve, where after much effort we saw southern tchagra and knysna woodpecker. Knysna woodpeckers are really pretty!!

We crossed the Breede River on a ferry, where a couple of guys pulled us across by hand using the cable.
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We crossed the Breede River on a ferry, where a couple of guys pulled us across by hand using the cable.
Karoo korhaan (photo by Clare)
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Karoo korhaan (photo by Clare)
Denham's bustard, which we saw in the farmlands near Malagas (photo by Clare).
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Denham's bustard, which we saw in the farmlands near Malagas (photo by Clare).
 
Knysna woodpecker at de Hoop Reserve (photo by Clare)
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Knysna woodpecker at de Hoop Reserve (photo by Clare)
Bontebok at de Hoop Reserve
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Bontebok at de Hoop Reserve
 

One of our favorite accommodations of the trip was Honeywood Farm. It was a honey farm with a eucalyptus grove, which actually wasn’t that great for birding except at night – we saw one of my favorite birds on the trip, African wood owl, after dark. Our hostess, Miranda, was a boisterous and enthusiastic woman who cooked us dinner but hadn’t received the notification of our various dietary restrictions… she made up for it by mocking my ridiculous list of food allergies and causing us all to laugh so hard we were in tears. She and her husband sold honey and marmalades, and cooked us a fantastic dinner and breakfast. The old house we stayed in was fascinating, except for the dark brown water coming out of the tap. Most of us weren’t brave enough to shower.

Honeywood Farm was close to Grootvadersbach Nature Reserve, which we visited twice. There we saw blue-mantled crested flycatchers, knysna warbler, Narina trogon, and forest canary.

Cape weaver (photo by Clare)
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Cape weaver (photo by Clare)
Amethyst sunbird at Honeywood Farms (photo by Clare)
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Amethyst sunbird at Honeywood Farms (photo by Clare)
Honeywood farms, where we stayed the night. Clare, Margaret and I had the house on the left to ourselves. It was a cute old cottage, except the water coming out of the tap was dark brown (yuck!).
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Honeywood farms, where we stayed the night. Clare, Margaret and I had the house on the left to ourselves. It was a cute old cottage, except the water coming out of the tap was dark brown (yuck!).
 
Klaas's cuckoo (photo by Clare)
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Klaas's cuckoo (photo by Clare)
Grootvadersbach Nature Reserve
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Grootvadersbach Nature Reserve
 

From Honeywood we drove a very long way northwest to Ceres, which was the start of our time in the desert. The desert is called the karoo, and we drove through a small corner of the called the little karoo, or Tanqua Karoo. In the afternoon we made a trip up a mountain pass to see protea canary.

We spent the next several days driving through the desert. It was extremely scenic, with low-growing desert scub, barbed wire fences, and dirt roads. A few members of the group got a bit burnt out by the scenery and many brown birds, and I recall a memorable sketch of a barbed wire fence next to a few shrubs “x1,000,000,000,000 = the Karoo”. There may have been a few more zero’s. We did see a LOT of little brown birds. There are many endemic larks of southern Africa, and they are quite difficult to find and tell apart. We also saw pipits, Namaqua prinia, wheatears, Layard’s tit-babbler, several species of chat, canaries, antelope, and more karoo korhaans. We spent the night way up north in Calvinia. Margaret ordered a mystery sandwich at lunch that was almost entirely composed of bread, french fries, and ketchup.

The following day we drove a shorter distance from Calvinia to Brandvlei, and focused on finding several additional species of larks (yay…). It wasn’t a very productive day, and we spent several hours in the afternoon parked at a watering hole hoping the birds we wanted to see would come to drink (no luck). After dark we went for a night drive and spotlighted for aardvarks, but didn’t have any luck finding one. The next morning we tracked down a difficult lark, which we didn’t see well but got to see calling and displaying, and visited Akkerendam Nature Reserve, where we saw Verreaux’s eagles (they were miles in the distance, but they’re so big we could see field marks on them regardless) and pale-winged starlings. We spent the night in Clanwilliam.

View from the top of a mountain pass, where we drove to see protea canary. The area is called Gydo.
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View from the top of a mountain pass, where we drove to see protea canary. The area is called Gydo.
View from Gydo
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View from Gydo
Pale chanting goshawk (photo by Clare)
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Pale chanting goshawk (photo by Clare)
 
Klipspringer (photo by Clare) - tiny little antelope that stand on the tippy toes of their hooves!
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Klipspringer (photo by Clare) - tiny little antelope that stand on the tippy toes of their hooves!
The Tonqua Karoo, or "Little Desert"
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The Tonqua Karoo, or "Little Desert"
Our group, birding from the road in the Karoo
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Our group, birding from the road in the Karoo
 
Larks and pipits of South Africa. We saw 17 species of larks and 6 species of pipits. Some members of my group were referring to them as "50 Shades of Brown". I didn't want to post that many photos of brown birds, so you get a collage XD
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Larks and pipits of South Africa. We saw 17 species of larks and 6 species of pipits. Some members of my group were referring to them as "50 Shades of Brown". I didn't want to post that many photos of brown birds, so you get a collage XD
In a bird hide #STFO (photo by Clare)
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In a bird hide #STFO (photo by Clare)
Rufous-eared warbler (photo by Clare)
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Rufous-eared warbler (photo by Clare)
 
Tonqua Karoo. I thought it was pretty, but others were a bit bored with endless views of shrubs and barbed wire fences :)
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Tonqua Karoo. I thought it was pretty, but others were a bit bored with endless views of shrubs and barbed wire fences :)
Calvinia-Akkerendam Nature Reserve
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Calvinia-Akkerendam Nature Reserve
 
Southern black korhaan (photo by Clare)
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Southern black korhaan (photo by Clare)
Calvinia-Akkerendam Nature Reserve
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Calvinia-Akkerendam Nature Reserve
 

Finally out of the desert, we birded an estuary and salt pans where we saw several new heron species and chestnut-banded plovers, which were super cute. We also chased down another lark species, and the group finally saw cape longclaw (I’d seen it earlier on my own), which looks like a meadowlark with a red-orange breast. We flew from Cape Town to Durban late in the evening and drove to our hotel, where we checked in late and went straight to bed. It was a really nice hotel, and I think we were there for less than nine hours in total.

Chestnut-banded plover at the Berdlif salt pans (photo by Clare)
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Chestnut-banded plover at the Berdlif salt pans (photo by Clare)
Cape longclaw (photo by Clare) - a lot like our eastern and western meadowlarks, but more colorful!
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Cape longclaw (photo by Clare) - a lot like our eastern and western meadowlarks, but more colorful!
 

Kwazulu Natal, Lesotho, Mpumalanga, Kruger Park, and Limpopo

We left really early in the morning. I had the good fortune to be out in the garden a little bit early, and there were tons of fantastic birds!! I saw two species of barbet, several sunbirds, and had great looks of purple-crested turaco (WTF? in town??). I was sad when we left. We headed up to Hella Hella pass and Highover Nature Reserve, where we saw a pair of blue swallows – a threatened species that may go extinct due to habitat loss. There were only two pairs of them left in the area. In the afternoon we drove to Underberg, where we stayed at a really nice B&B – I shared an entire house with Jane and David. We birded around town in the afternoon, where we saw our first long-tailed widowbirds! We ate dinner at a fantastic restaurant with a charming waitress that everyone loved.

Greater double-collared sunbird, at Cedar Gardens (our B&B) in Underberg (photo by Clare)
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Greater double-collared sunbird, at Cedar Gardens (our B&B) in Underberg (photo by Clare)
A meadow at Highover Nature Reserve, where we saw the blue swallow. Blue swallow populations are declining - there were only two breeding pairs left at this site.
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A meadow at Highover Nature Reserve, where we saw the blue swallow. Blue swallow populations are declining - there were only two breeding pairs left at this site.
Mountains and agricultural fields near Underberg
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Mountains and agricultural fields near Underberg
 

Today was the best day of the trip! We were picked up in the morning by two local guides (Stuart and Aldo), and I spent the entire day in a 4×4 with Margaret, Clare, and Aldo. The rest of the group was in a second car. They drove us up into the Drakensburg mountains, to Sani Pass in the country of Lesotho (pronounced Lesuthu). Lesotho is a tiny mountainous country that is entirely contained within South Africa. We saw all of the fantastic birds we were out to see without hardly trying (the guides were fantastic!) – Drakensburg prinia, Gurney’s sugarbird, long-billed pipit, buff-streaked chat, fan-tailed grass-warbler, Barrett’s warbler, sentinel rock thrush, Drakensburg siskin, Drakensburg rockjumper, and bearded vulture (lammergeier!). Drakensburg rockjumper was my favorite bird of the trip – they came out and displayed for us, and were tons of fun to watch, and the top of the mountains where they lived was absolutely gorgeous.

We visited the ‘highest pub in Africa’ (which is disputed), which was packed with tourists, and a Lesotho craft shop. After most of the group tried a local beer, we headed back down the road. It was a long drive back, but our guide wanted to track down some wattled cranes back near Underberg before the end of the day. We found them!

Driving up the Drakensburg Mountains into the country of Lesotho (pronounced Lesuthu). We got to ride in two 4WD vehicles with two new guides - it was the most fun I had on the trip.
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Driving up the Drakensburg Mountains into the country of Lesotho (pronounced Lesuthu). We got to ride in two 4WD vehicles with two new guides - it was the most fun I had on the trip.
Bokmakierie (photo by Clare)
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Bokmakierie (photo by Clare)
Golden-breasted bunting (photo by Clare)
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Golden-breasted bunting (photo by Clare)
 
Gurney's sugarbird (photo by Clare)
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Gurney's sugarbird (photo by Clare)
Ground woodpeckers (photo by Clare) - they're so cute!!
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Ground woodpeckers (photo by Clare) - they're so cute!!
Buff-streaked chat (photo by Clare)
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Buff-streaked chat (photo by Clare)
 
Sani Pass, Lesotho
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Sani Pass, Lesotho
Sani Pass, Lesotho
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Sani Pass, Lesotho
Birding Sani Pass (photo by Clare)
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Birding Sani Pass (photo by Clare)
 
Malachite sunbird (photo by Clare)
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Malachite sunbird (photo by Clare)
Drakensburg rockjumper (photo by Clare) - my favorite bird of the trip. They danced around and displayed for us!
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Drakensburg rockjumper (photo by Clare) - my favorite bird of the trip. They danced around and displayed for us!
Sani Pass, Lesotho
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Sani Pass, Lesotho
 
Sani Pass, Lesotho
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Sani Pass, Lesotho
Angora goat (photo by Clare)
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Angora goat (photo by Clare)
Lesotho gift shop (photo by Clare)
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Lesotho gift shop (photo by Clare)
 
Lesotho gift shop (photo by Clare)
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Lesotho gift shop (photo by Clare)
 

We birded the Xumeni Forest near Underberg the next morning searching for parrots, but without any luck (not to worry – we saw them later). We did get to see knysna turacos, African goshawk, and white-starred robin after a picnic breakfast. We spent most of the day on the road, driving to Eshowe (Es-s-how-wee – like ‘how’ with an ‘s’ in front), which brought us back down in elevation and into some hot weather. We birded the dry Dlinza Forest in the late afternoon, which had a fun canopy walk. We stayed overnight in a fun hotel with ridiculous bathrooms that had glass doors overlooking the garden (and opening into thin air about 15 feet above the garden). There were hornbills in the garden and woolly-necked storks on the light posts in the morning. We visited the Dlinza Forest again the following morning with better luck (it was cooler) – we found the spotted ground thrush we’d been searching for the day before. We then sat on the canopy stand for an hour or so until we saw a pair of Eastern bronze-naped pigeons fly by, which heralded our departure for breakfast.

We drove from Eshowe to St. Lucia, stopping en route at Enseleni Nature Reserve where we didn’t see much of interest. At St. Lucia we birded a short forest trail (Gwalagwala) where we saw Livingstone’s turaco (yay more turacos!!) and then went to the nearby estuary for a short visit before dinner. Dinner and the accommodation that night were our least favorite of the trip (one member of the group got sick from the food).

African olive pigeon at Xumeni Forest (photo by Clare)
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African olive pigeon at Xumeni Forest (photo by Clare)
Collared sunbird (photo by Clare)
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Collared sunbird (photo by Clare)
Xumeni Forest
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Xumeni Forest
 
Xumeni Forest
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Xumeni Forest
Dlinza Forest - view from the canopy
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Dlinza Forest - view from the canopy
Trumpeter hornbill at Dlinza Forest (photo by Clare)
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Trumpeter hornbill at Dlinza Forest (photo by Clare)
 
Dlinza Forest
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Dlinza Forest
 

November 21st was our first day in a big game park – iSimangaliso Wetland Park. These parks have big mammals, which is really cool, but it means that you absolutely absolutely can NOT open any vehicle doors or leave your vehicle at any time, except in very specific areas (booooo….). We arrived at 5:30 a.m. and saw so many species of birds and mammals that we were having a hard time getting anywhere. We saw our first white (square-lipped) rhinos, a leopard (spotted by Clare), Woodward’s batis, brown scrub-robin, and an African cuckoohawk trying to take out a chamelion. We also noticed several dead hippos – the area was in a severe drought. We left the park later in the morning and headed to Mkhuze Game Reserve, which is actually part of the same reserve as iSimangaliso.

What birding from the van was like. The windows were too small! :(
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What birding from the van was like. The windows were too small! :(
Leopard at iSimangaliso Wetland Park (photo and spotted by Clare!)
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Leopard at iSimangaliso Wetland Park (photo and spotted by Clare!)
Leopard at iSimangaliso Wetland Park (photo and spotted by Clare!)
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Leopard at iSimangaliso Wetland Park (photo and spotted by Clare!)
 
African buffalo at iSimangaliso Wetland Park
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African buffalo at iSimangaliso Wetland Park
White (square-lipped) rhinoceros at iSimangaliso Wetland Park
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White (square-lipped) rhinoceros at iSimangaliso Wetland Park
 

Mkhuze (Ma-ku-zi) was also in a severe drought, but we had a lot of fun there anyway. We stayed at Mantuma Camp, and I shared a house with Clare and Margaret. There were broad-billed rollers flying around camp catching insects, which was really freaking cool. We saw our first giraffes (we all liked the giraffes a lot), and during an afternoon break I found an eastern nicator behind our house, which was apparently an awesome find. The birding in the park was a bit slow because of the drought, but we spent some time at a hide at a water hole and saw some cool critters, including pink-throated twinspot.

Our house had the biggest kitchen and eating area, so everyone came over for dinner. We had cheese, crackers, and fabulous soup made by Margaret.

Crested guineafowl at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
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Crested guineafowl at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
Southern yellow-billed hornbill at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
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Southern yellow-billed hornbill at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
Blue waxbill at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
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Blue waxbill at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
 
Spotted thick-knee at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
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Spotted thick-knee at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
Yellow-billed stork at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
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Yellow-billed stork at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
Nyala – Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Nyala – Mkhuze Game Reserve
 
Nyala with red-billed oxpecker at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
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Nyala with red-billed oxpecker at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
Zebras at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
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Zebras at Mkhuze Game Reserve (photo by Clare)
Terrapin (photo by Clare)
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Terrapin (photo by Clare)
 
Giraffe drinking – Mhkuze Game Reserve
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Giraffe drinking – Mhkuze Game Reserve
Crowned hornbill (photo by Clare)
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Crowned hornbill (photo by Clare)
Lesser striped swallow (photo by Clare)
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Lesser striped swallow (photo by Clare)
 

We spent an entire day in Mkhuze park, visiting various water holes and driving back roads looking for birds. It wasn’t a great day of birding because of the drought, and the weather was too windy in the morning. We did see lots of new birds and we had a good time. Later in the afternoon we were “chased” back to camp by an extremely large African bull elephant, who wanted use of the road. The chase speed was at a walk, but the elephant was very large and intimidating. He followed us (as we drove in reverse away from him) for more than a kilometer back to camp. It turned out he was heading for the camp’s bird bath, which had water in it. We encountered him again later wandering around camp eating the trees.

That night most of us went for a night drive with one of the camp’s guides, Amos. We got to ride in an open-sided truck, which was freaking awesome and a welcome change from our extremely cramped van. We saw African scops owls (squeeee!), firey-necked nightjars, some lapwings, and lots of sleeping antelopes. It was a really fun drive because we were the only ones in the truck, and the guide would stop and look for owls whenever we asked.

On our last morning at Mkhuze, we stopped at a water hole expecting to be disappointed again by a lack of water… but it actually had water! There were so many birds, it was ridiculous. We had a lot of fun for more than an hour, until we had to head onwards.

Mkhuze Game Reserve - the area was in a severe drought
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Mkhuze Game Reserve - the area was in a severe drought
Dry lake – Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Dry lake – Mkhuze Game Reserve
Bull African elephant of enormousness that chased our van and freaked us out, then drank the water from the bird bath at camp and grazed on the trees – Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Bull African elephant of enormousness that chased our van and freaked us out, then drank the water from the bird bath at camp and grazed on the trees – Mkhuze Game Reserve
 
Dainty elephant – Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Dainty elephant – Mkhuze Game Reserve
Brubru (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Brubru (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
Woolly-necked stork (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Woolly-necked stork (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
 
Pink-throated twinspot (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Pink-throated twinspot (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
Lilac-breasted roller (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Lilac-breasted roller (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
White-bellied sunbird (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
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White-bellied sunbird (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
 
White-fronted bee-eater (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
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White-fronted bee-eater (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
Violet-backed starling (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Violet-backed starling (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
African pygmy kingfisher (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
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African pygmy kingfisher (photo by Clare) - Mkhuze Game Reserve
 
Waterhole (artificially maintained) Mkhuze Game Reserve
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Waterhole (artificially maintained) Mkhuze Game Reserve
 

We drove from Mkhuze to Wakkerstroom, a very cute Dutch-influenced town far to the northwest and higher in the mountains. In the evening we visited a nearby wetland where we saw a ton of birds including African rail and little bittern. The next day we birded the Wakkerstroom area with a local guide named Lucky. He had the breeding territories of several of the difficult bird species GPS’d, and took us straight to them. We saw bald ibis, African quailfinch, buffy pipit, yellow-breasted pipit, meercat (OMG meercats!!!), blue korhaan, Eastern clapper lark, Botha’s lark, and Rudd’s lark without difficulty.

Vlei (wetland) near Wakkerstroom, where we saw a lot of birds!
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Vlei (wetland) near Wakkerstroom, where we saw a lot of birds!
Wattled lapwing (photo by Clare)
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Wattled lapwing (photo by Clare)
African quailfinch (photo by Clare). Notoriously, these little guys fly overhead chirping, and the guide hears them and shouts "QUAILFINCH!!" and all you see is a little chirping speck flying away in the distance. We got to see some on the ground!
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African quailfinch (photo by Clare). Notoriously, these little guys fly overhead chirping, and the guide hears them and shouts "QUAILFINCH!!" and all you see is a little chirping speck flying away in the distance. We got to see some on the ground!
 
Southern bald ibis (photo by Clare)
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Southern bald ibis (photo by Clare)
Bush blackcap (photo by Clare)
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Bush blackcap (photo by Clare)
Grey crowned cranes (photo by Clare)
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Grey crowned cranes (photo by Clare)
 
I got a cute e-mail from Clare and Margaret with this photo attached that said "We think this photo captures your youth, intensity, and comfort in the wilderness!"
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I got a cute e-mail from Clare and Margaret with this photo attached that said "We think this photo captures your youth, intensity, and comfort in the wilderness!"
 

In the early morning on the next day we stopped at the wetland again, where based on a tip from another birder we found Baillon’s crake. We then drove to Kruger National Park, where we arrived around lunch time. Unfortunately the service at the Wakkerstroom accommodation had been quite poor and they had packed us a horrible lunch, and some of us were now quite hungry from lack of eating. But the birds were really awesome! We stopped at one of the camps and saw African green pigeons, turacos, yellow-fronted tinkerbird, and crested barbet.

We stayed at Skukuza Camp our first night in Kruger. There was a rainstorm and the power went out, but I was very glad for the A/C when it came back on. There was also a gift shop there, and a good restaurant with food we could eat! I ordered a huge steak for dinner to make up for the past couple of days.

We went on a night drive with one of the Kruger guides, which was in a very large and fully packed open-sided vehicle. There was an ongoing thunderstorm for most of the drive. Unfortunately our guide wasn’t very good, and also got us back to camp an hour late (11 pm). We spotlighted out of the side of the truck and saw hyenas, a bush baby, some antelope, and a Verreaux’s eagle owl!

Purple-crested turaco (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Purple-crested turaco (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
African olive pigeon (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park. YELLOW SOCKS!! :)
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African olive pigeon (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park. YELLOW SOCKS!! :)
Grey helmetshrike (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Grey helmetshrike (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
 
Nile crocodile (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Nile crocodile (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Southern ground hornbills (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park. Their populations are also declining.
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Southern ground hornbills (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park. Their populations are also declining.
Verreaux's eagle-owl (photo by Clare) - night drive at Kruger National Park
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Verreaux's eagle-owl (photo by Clare) - night drive at Kruger National Park
 
Spotted hyenas (photo by Clare) - night drive at Kruger National Park
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Spotted hyenas (photo by Clare) - night drive at Kruger National Park
 

The next morning we drove from Skukuza Camp to Sahara Camp. We saw brown-headed parrots, a perched martial eagle, saddle-billed stork, ground hornbill, red-crested korhaan, and lions (yay, lions!). I found a chinspot batis on a nest. We saw some elephants that grazed peacefully by the side of the road (instead of chasing us down the road, like the previous elephant!). All of us were quite exhausted.

That evening there was a huge storm. All of the buildings in the area had lightening rods on them, and we found out why. We were in the middle of a lightening storm, and lightening was striking the ground all around the camp and forking through the air right above our heads. The brush caught fire within a mile of camp, and there was a HUGE fire on the horizon along with the lightening. It was really fucking scary!

African fish eagle (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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African fish eagle (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Chinspot batis on nest (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Chinspot batis on nest (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Black-collared barbet (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Black-collared barbet (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
 
Martial eagle (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park. This eagle was getting dive-bombed by a fork-tailed drongo.
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Martial eagle (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park. This eagle was getting dive-bombed by a fork-tailed drongo.
Pied kingfisher (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Pied kingfisher (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Saddle-billed stork (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Saddle-billed stork (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
 
Knob-billed duck (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Knob-billed duck (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Southern ground hornbills with frog (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Southern ground hornbills with frog (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
African elephant, grazing pleasantly by the side of the road (instead of chasing us, like the last elephant!) - Kruger National Park
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African elephant, grazing pleasantly by the side of the road (instead of chasing us, like the last elephant!) - Kruger National Park
 
Banded mongoose (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Banded mongoose (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Southern red-billed hornbill - Kruger National Park
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Southern red-billed hornbill - Kruger National Park
 

We had a good morning of birding on our last Kruger day, but we didn’t see many new birds. There was also some lingering bad weather, but fortunately the brush fires were out or nearly out (we drove by them, though). We did finally see a kori bustard, which rounded out our bustards for the trip. We saw a lot of raptors perched early in the day, but most were Wahlberg’s eagles. In the afternoon we drove a very long way, leaving the park and heading up into the mountains (and back into another, albeit smaller, lightening storm) to Bramasole.

Bramasole was my favorite accommodation of the trip. We were exhausted and hungry and had been staying in “comfortable” accommodations for awhile, and this place was fantastic. It was a house with lots of character, fun architecture and furniture, each room had a theme, and it was luxuriously (by my standards) comfortable. They cooked us delicious food that everyone could eat, and there was even wi-fi once the lightning stopped.

Little bee-eater (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Little bee-eater (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Wahlberg's eagle (photo by Clare). These got a bit old - someone in the van would spot a raptor and shout "Stop, raptor!" We'd stop and identify it... Wahlberg's eagle. Next one: "Stop stop raptor!" ...."Wahlberg's eagle." Repeat. At Kruger National Park
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Wahlberg's eagle (photo by Clare). These got a bit old - someone in the van would spot a raptor and shout "Stop, raptor!" We'd stop and identify it... Wahlberg's eagle. Next one: "Stop stop raptor!" ...."Wahlberg's eagle." Repeat. At Kruger National Park
"Stop! Wahlberg's eagle...." (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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"Stop! Wahlberg's eagle...." (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
 
Grey go-away bird (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Grey go-away bird (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Purple-banded sunbird (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Purple-banded sunbird (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Bateleur (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Bateleur (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
 
Kori bustard (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Kori bustard (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Crested barbet (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Crested barbet (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
Woodland kingfisher (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
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Woodland kingfisher (photo by Clare) - Kruger National Park
 

Early the next morning we birded the forest at Magoebaskloof near Bramasole, where we finally saw cape parrots (yay!). We got to go back to Bramasole for breakfast, which was fantastic, and then we drove to Polokwane. En route we stopped at some eucalyptus trees to see bat hawks, which were very cool and cooperative. We ate lunch in Polokwane, and then went to Polokwane Game Reserve in the afternoon. This reserve was nice because even though there’s big game, they let you get out of the van! …At your own risk. But we could get out of the van!! We saw red-headed finch, crimson-breasted shrike, violet-eared waxbill, marico flycatcher, pearl-spotted owlet, and black-faced waxbill. The next morning we went back to the reserve with a local guide, and sought out a couple of specialties including desert cisticola, tinkling cisticola, and short-clawed lark.

Crimson-breasted Shrike (photo by Clare) - Polokwane Game Reserve
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Crimson-breasted Shrike (photo by Clare) - Polokwane Game Reserve
Red-backed shrike (photo by Clare) - Polokwane Game Reserve
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Red-backed shrike (photo by Clare) - Polokwane Game Reserve
 

On our last day, we drove from Polokwane to Johannesburg, where we parted ways at the airport.

Here is a map of our accommodations (blue) and the places we visited (purple):

Ethiopia

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My Ethiopia trip was with Rockjumper Birding Tours, which is based in South Africa. Our Rockjumper guide (Wayne) was South African, and a fantastic guide. The tour was from 30 November – 18 December 2014. The trip consisted almost entirely of birdwatching (We got up, watched birds, ate breakfast, watched more birds, had lunch, watched even more birds, had dinner, and went to bed. Repeat next day.) so I’ll endeavor to make this journal entry not too boring for all of you non-birders.

So on the first day, we got up and watched birds…

Ethiopia is not the most picturesque country, so I don’t have lots of photos of scenic African landscapes. It’s mostly agricultural, with fields of wheat and a grass called teff (which Ronnie eats!) that they use to make a sour bread for dipping in spicy sauces. The roads vary in quality and are constantly populated by shepherds and herds of cows, goats, donkeys, and occasionally sheep. Our group consisted of eight people, our Rockjumper guide, and our driver. The others in our group were two Americans, two Canadians, two South Africans, and one German South African resident. Our Ethiopian driver, Deme, was with a locally based tour company called Dinknesh Ethiopia Tour, as was another driver in a backup 4WD vehicle who followed us the whole way. We traveled in a 17-seater bus for most of the trip. Having the 4WD backup vehicle was brilliant, and super handy when we had a flat or for skipping ahead to a restaurant to order meals ahead.

The Ethiopians we saw were not poor or starving – mostly, they were farmers. The country is not industrialized, so they obtain water by driving their donkeys down to the river, loading them with water, and driving them back home. They also move their hay and goods to sell on donkeys, or on carts pulled by horses or donkeys. All Ethiopian children think white people are made of money, and mobbed us every time we got out of the bus. Even in the middle of nowhere, they would appear and ask for money. They often shouted at us as we drove by. It got a bit ridiculous at times.

Our first few days in Ethiopia were spent at the Ghion hotel in the capital, Addis Ababa, and driving a very long way from Addis to Lake Awassa, with birdwatching stops at Lake Chelekcheka, Lake Hora, Lake Bishoftu, Koka Dam, Lake Ziway (lots of Important Bird Areas). We did a lot of driving on our trip, and covered several thousand kilometers by the end.

A farmer plowing at Lake Chelekcheka
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A farmer plowing at Lake Chelekcheka
Newborn baby goat
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Newborn baby goat
 
Maribu Stork
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Maribu Stork
Great white pelicans, marabou storks, hamerkop, African sacred ibis
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Great white pelicans, marabou storks, hamerkop, African sacred ibis
 
African sacred ibis and black-headed gulls
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African sacred ibis and black-headed gulls
African sacred ibis and little egret
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African sacred ibis and little egret
Hamerkop
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Hamerkop
 
Rüppell's vultures and white-backed vultures
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Rüppell's vultures and white-backed vultures
 

En route to Lake Awassa we saw about 150 species of birds, including lots of ducks, waders, and cranes. We stayed overnight at a nice hotel, and birded the Lake Awassa area the next day. We then drove a very long way to the Bale Mountain National Park, stopping along the way to see some cool birds. We saw our first owl, the Cape Eagle Owl, roosting on a hillside. The people at the local village know where the owls roost during the day and make money by taking birdwatchers to see them. At the National Park, we saw roosting Abyssinian owls.

Lake Awassa
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Lake Awassa
Pied kingfisher
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Pied kingfisher
Guereza Colobus
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Guereza Colobus
 
Guereza Colobus
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Guereza Colobus
Mini dangling tail = baby colobus
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Mini dangling tail = baby colobus
Guereza Colobus
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Guereza Colobus
 
Grivet Monkeys
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Grivet Monkeys
Horse and cows at the "Longclaw stop" en route to Goba
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Horse and cows at the "Longclaw stop" en route to Goba
Cape eagle-owl
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Cape eagle-owl
 

The next day we went to the Sanetti Plateau, which was really pretty but covered in fog. The plateau was more than 4,000 meters in elevation. We saw several endangered Ethiopian Wolves and a few specialized birds. We tried to go down to a forest on the far side of the plateau, but the bus got stuck because the road was in really bad repair. We hauled a bunch of rocks to toss under the tires, and the backup 4WD vehicle managed to tow the bus out. Instead of the forest, we went to a small wetland in the afternoon.

Sign for Bale Mountains National Park
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Sign for Bale Mountains National Park
Stop en route to Sanetti Plateau
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Stop en route to Sanetti Plateau
 
Sanetti Plataeu
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Sanetti Plataeu
Sanetti Plataeu
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Sanetti Plataeu
Sanetti Plataeu
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Sanetti Plataeu
 
Sanetti Plataeu
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Sanetti Plataeu
Augur buzzard
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Augur buzzard
Augur buzzard
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Augur buzzard
 
Augur buzzard
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Augur buzzard
Augur buzzard
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Augur buzzard
Ethiopian wolf (IUCN Endangered)
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Ethiopian wolf (IUCN Endangered)
 
Ethiopian wolf
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Ethiopian wolf
Ethiopian wolf
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Ethiopian wolf
Ethiopian wolf
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Ethiopian wolf
 
Sanetti Plateau
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Sanetti Plateau
Sanetti Plateau
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Sanetti Plateau
 

We then went to a place called Sof Omar, which was in a valley along a river. We saw some great birds, and got to explore some cool caves (the Sof Omar Caves) and see roosting bats!

Wheat fields
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Wheat fields
Rock hyrax
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Rock hyrax
Sof Omar
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Sof Omar
 
Northern red-billed hornbill
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Northern red-billed hornbill
Rocket frog
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Rocket frog
 
Sof Omar caves - where the river exits the caves
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Sof Omar caves - where the river exits the caves
Leopard track
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Leopard track
 
Sand frog
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Sand frog
River at Sof Omar
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River at Sof Omar
River at Sof Omar
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River at Sof Omar
 
Sof Omar caves
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Sof Omar caves
Horseshoe bat
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Horseshoe bat
Robin at Sof Omar Caves
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Robin at Sof Omar Caves
 
Camels are bred and exported for racing
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Camels are bred and exported for racing
 

For our next adventure, we drove a very, very, very long way to Negele. On the way we stopped to look for a special bird called Prince Ruspoli’s Turaco. By “stopped” I mean we got a flat tire in the general vicinity of the birding site and got out to search for the bird while the drivers fixed the tire. By “search for” I mean chasing the bird through the forest at a run for 30 minutes because turacos do not stop moving. The boys at the local village again made some money by finding the birds and leading us to them.

We were warned that our hotel at Negele was very basic, and although I didn’t personally have any major issues with it while we were staying there some others in my group did.  The first morning no one had water, and later that night two of our group staying upstairs still had no water. The water came on while we were at dinner and flooded their room. The hotel staff went into the room to shut the water off but didn’t bother to clean up the standing water or move the luggage off the floor. And then the water leaked through the electrical fixture of the room below and flooded the bed and luggage of the 83-year-old man, also in our group, staying there. The next morning we had no power. Camping in a monsoon, anyone?

From Negele, we took the road to Bogol Mayo and back. We looked for some grassland birds, and saw kori bustards and other neat things. We stayed in Yabello the next two nights, where we saw some endemic birds. We went owling at night and ran through the bush for about 30 minutes chasing down an African scops owl, which was very cute.

View from the far side of the Sanetti Plateau
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View from the far side of the Sanetti Plateau
Termite mound, en route to Negele
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Termite mound, en route to Negele
Village, en route to Negele
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Village, en route to Negele
 
 
Eastern chanting goshawk
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Eastern chanting goshawk
Tawny eagle
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Tawny eagle
Tawny eagle and Rüppell's vulture
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Tawny eagle and Rüppell's vulture
 
Drying coffee in front of an Ethiopian house
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Drying coffee in front of an Ethiopian house
Ethiopian car wash
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Ethiopian car wash
Our guide, Wayne
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Our guide, Wayne
 
Donkey cart
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Donkey cart
 

Along the constant theme of driving a really really long way, we then drove all day to Bishangari and Lake Lagano. The final road to the lodge was absolutely terrible. We didn’t arrive until after dark, and were exhausted. But Bishangari ended up being a really awesome – we saw tons of birds and got to stay in comfortable rooms for two nights. We took a day trip to Lake Abijatta to see flamingos and some other waterbirds. From there, we drove to the city of Nazreth where we stayed in a big fancy hotel for one night. I got an unusually nice room, and they had really good food at the restaurant.

Ficus tree at Bishangari
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Ficus tree at Bishangari
Red-billed oxpecker on a donkey at Bishangari
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Red-billed oxpecker on a donkey at Bishangari
African fish eagle
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African fish eagle
 
Yellow-fronted parrot
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Yellow-fronted parrot
Ficus tree at Bishangari
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Ficus tree at Bishangari
White-cheeked turaco
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White-cheeked turaco
 
How our luggage got from the bus to our rooms
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How our luggage got from the bus to our rooms
Hot springs at Lake Shalla
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Hot springs at Lake Shalla
Slender-tailed nightjar
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Slender-tailed nightjar
 
Greyish eagle-owl
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Greyish eagle-owl
"Bottle for Beverage Use Only"
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"Bottle for Beverage Use Only"
Northern white-faced owl
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Northern white-faced owl
 
Northern white-faced owl
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Northern white-faced owl
 

For our next epic drive, we went to Awash National Park. We stayed in little huts the first night, and at Awash Falls Lodge the next two nights. I liked the huts better because there was lukewarm water in the showers (versus COLD). In the park we got to drive out onto the plains, and we saw Arabian bustards and Somali ostriches (among other things). During a night drive we saw a star-spotted nightjar and bat-eared foxes. We spent the next day looking very hard for two species of bustards and sandgrouse, which were extremely difficult. We found both, with the bustard turning up about 5 minutes before sunset.

My hotel room at Awash
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My hotel room at Awash
Leopard tortoise
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Leopard tortoise
Arabian bustard
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Arabian bustard
 
Awash National Park
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Awash National Park
Termite mound at Awash NP
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Termite mound at Awash NP
Lion track
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Lion track
 
Awash NP
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Awash NP
Beisa Oryx
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Beisa Oryx
Awash Falls
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Awash Falls
 
Olive baboon
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Olive baboon
Bruce's green pigeon
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Bruce's green pigeon
 

Next we drove a very long way via Addis Ababa (a headache to drive through) to Weliso. We went out the next day to the Ghibe Gorge in the morning, and saw a few new birds but had bad luck overall. In the afternoon we drove back through Addis and switched to 4WD vehicles, and then drove to Debre Berhan, where we arrived late in the evening.

During our first day here, we went to Gemasa Geden where we looked for a localized bird called the Ankober serin, which are supposed to be difficult to see but landed in front of us as soon as we got out of the car. We then spent some time walking around (it was pretty there) taking photos and looking at very cool, fluffy baboons called geladas. We spent the afternoon in a valley along the Melka Gebdu Track, where again our target bird landed in front of us as soon as we got out of the car.

For our final day, we went to the Jemma Valley. We left early so that we could arrive there by sunrise, where we met some locals who were going to help us find two species of francolins. One species we were able to see by scoping an agricultural field from up on a ridge. The other we (and our village guides) chased up and down a steep, rocky hillside for about half an hour before finally getting brief looks through binoculars. I had a lot of fun, but I think some of the older folks on the tour were a bit overwhelmed.

We spent the afternoon along the river, where we saw some final birds before heading back to Addis Ababa. For our farewell dinner we went to a restaurant with traditional Ethiopian food, music, and dancing.

Monkey at Weliso
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Monkey at Weliso
Ghibe Gorge
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Ghibe Gorge
Gemasa Geden
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Gemasa Geden
 
Robin at Gemasa Geden
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Robin at Gemasa Geden
Melka Gebdu Track
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Melka Gebdu Track
 
Road to Jemma Valley
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Road to Jemma Valley
Jemma Valley
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Jemma Valley
Jemma Valley
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Jemma Valley
 
Jemma Valley
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Jemma Valley
Dancers at our farewell dinner
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Dancers at our farewell dinner
 

Argentina: Tierra del Fuego

On 15 December I flew to Ushuaia on the island of Tierra del Fuego. The flight was fun – the plane had to travel up the channel and back in order to descend to land on the runway. I stayed at Galeazzi-Basily Bed and Breakfast, where I had a room in a fantastic little house with very sweet owners. I had planned to camp a few nights in the park, but the weather was extremely cold and I decided to stay in the cozy warm house in town instead.

I went to see the penguin colonies at Estancia Haberton – this requires booking a tour from town and traveling in a tour bus down the coast to Estancia Haberton. We had a tour of the museum, which was fabulous with complete skeletons of many species of whales and dolphins that beach in Tierra del Fuego. The boat ride to the penguin colony was short and I did not throw up (yay!) and the penguin colony was rainy but full of penguins!! I was a little bit sad because there had been a king penguin at the colony on the previous day, and he wasn’t there when I visited. But I got to see Magellanic penguins and gentoo penguins, squee!!!

I also hiked up to the glacier above town, where there are supposed to be a couple of good bird species to see. I ran into the local birding guide with a paying tourist, and subtly inquired whether they had seen anything interesting. They hadn’t seen the bird, and I was glad I hadn’t paid several hundred dollars for the morning tour! I hiked up to the glacier on my own and walked all the way back to town.

On Monday I was supposed to rent a car, but the people of Ushuaia decided to lodge a protest in the middle of town. It started with garbage cans with fire in them, drums, and many work trucks, construction vehicles, and delivery trucks blocking the main street of town. This grew quite extensive by mid-morning, with piles of wooden pallets blocking streets and more of the main streets in town blocked by trucks and other vehicles. Needless to say my rental car was trapped and I could not rent a car that morning. Instead I caught a bus to the national park and went hiking. I hiked the coastal trail and over to the lake and campsite. There weren’t many birds, but it was a nice hike and a pretty day. On Tuesday I returned to the park and hiked the remainder of the trails.

On Wednesday I succeeded in renting a car and drove down to Estancia Haberton, birding along the way. I also drove up past Garibaldi pass and birded this area as well. I didn’t have a very good birding day because it was raining, but the scenery was very nice. I did get to drive myself to the rubbish dump, where I saw a few new species of birds (I know, birders visit weird places).

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