Summer – the great birding time
November to February
Dr Aldo Berruti
Cell: 072 545 1753
Simply one of the ten best birding areas in South Africa at any time of the year!
The Underberg/Himeville/Creighton/Sani Pass area is key to the southern African birding experience for foreign and local birders. More than a thousand birders visit annually, but while the Sani Pass is the principal focus, birders seldom realise the diversity of the special birds.
The last of the summer migrant species arrive: Broad-tailed Warbler and Short-tailed Pipits, both difficult to locate, occur patchily. The Amur Falcons arrive in late November, occasionally accompanied by a few Red-footed Falcons, usually a western species. One of the most difficult birds to tick in South Africa, the Striped Flufftail, is regularly heard in the highland damp areas but very rarely seen. A few Yellow-crowned Bishops are seen annually.
In past years, local bird guide Stuart McLean has shown birders the elusive Buff-spotted Flufftail, but future sightings depend on occasional favourable circumstances. Similarly Red-chested Flufftail is possible at Himeville Nature reserve and other wetlands.
The iconic Sani Pass offers access to the high montane specials: Drakensberg Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin, Mountain Pipit, Bearded and Cape Vultures. En route up the pass, there are many specials including Bush Blackcap, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Ground Woodpecker, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Red-throated Wryneck, Brown-backed Honeybird, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Rock-thrush, Swee Waxbill, Grey-winged Francolin, Barratt’s Warbler, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler and Horus Swift are all possible. Malachite Sunbirds are common. A number of western birds reach the high ground in eastern Lesotho: Layard’s Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Southern Grey Tit, Sickle-winged Chat, Large-billed Lark, Sentinel Rock-thrush, Karoo Prinia and Yellow Canary. Southern Bald Ibis may be seen both high in Lesotho and in the lower-lying grasslands.
Many South Africans keep provincial bird lists, and the Sani Pass is the best chance to add species such as Sickle-winged Chat, Yellow Canary, Karroo Prinia, Mountain Pipit, Grey Tit and African Rock Pipit to their KwaZulu-Natal list. South African Shelduck is usually seen in our district, whilst Black Harrier is far less common.
The low-lying grasslands host Denham’s Bustard. This is one of the few places in South Africa where one can see Wattled, Grey Crowned and Blue Cranes in one day. Long-crested Eagles, Pale-Crowned Cisticola and Quail Finches all occur. Wetlands can offer the chance of Half-collared Kingfisher and African Black Duck.
The local mist-belt forests at Xumeni and Marutswa host the endangered Cape Parrot and the very localised and difficult-to-find Orange Ground Thrush. The forests offer a range of endemic and great ticks such as Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Knysna Turaco, White-starred Robin, Olive Bushshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, African Emerald Cuckoo, Olive Woodpecker, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Forest Canary.
Finally, at both Highover (Hela Hela) and Impendle Nature Reserves, breeding pairs of the very threatened Blue Swallow occur. A visit to the valley woodland at Highover presents a chance of a range of different species of warmer woodland habitats, such as Black Cuckoo-shrike, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Crowned Hornbill and Southern Tchagra.