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South Africa | Birding with Julie Zickefoose & Leon Marais


September 25, 2015 - October 07, 2015

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South Africa is world-renowned for its incredible habitat and biological diversity. Descending in altitude, this birding tour explores montane forest habitat, the cliffs and gorges of the Blyde River Canyon, the third largest canyon in the world, and transitional habitats before leveling out in Kruger National Park, where birds and beasts abound.

For birders and wildlife enthusiasts this translates into a superb range of species to be seen, including endemic birds and big mammals such as lions, elephants, and White Rhinoceros.

Join Julie Zickefoose and Leon Marais for this fantastic introduction to South Africa’s scenery, birds, and animals.

This program is wait list only. To be added to the wait list please contact Debbie Sturdivant Jordan at

Participants registered on this program can also sign up for the optional pre-extension in Cape Town, September 17-26, 2015.

Julie Zickefoose started off as an illustrator of natural history subjects as a college freshman in 1976. A six-year stint as a field biologist with The Nature Conservancy`s Connecticut Chapter proved a strong motivator both to learn more about ecosystems and to go back to drawing. Along the way, she began to write her own essays, studded with observations of birds and animals, and writing slowly crept into the forefront of her interests. Bird Watcher`s Digest has been the major print venue for her writing since 1986, and she`s painted 26 covers for the magazine. She had a five-year run as a commentator for National Public Radio`s All Things Considered, telling about bird-eating bullfrogs and hummingbirds who came home to their foster mother, among other subjects.

Julie`s first book of illustrated essays, Letters from Eden, was published by Houghton Mifflin in 2006. She contributed natural history commentaries to National Public Radio`s All Things Considered from 2005-2010. Julie Zickefoose on Blogspot entertains around 30,000 visits per month.

Her current book, The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds With Common Birds, was Oprah`s Book of the Week in April 2012. It`s an amalgam of memoir, natural history and beautiful watercolor paintings and life sketches. She is now at work on a heavily illustrated book on songbird development, titled Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest.

Go birding with Julie and expert guide Leon Marais, with emphasis on behavioral and natural history interpretation.

Watch birds through new eyes, as we linger to see what they’re doing and how they fit into the complex web of tropical ecology.

Appreciate mammals, insects, and plants in a big-picture sweep through a variety of ecosystems.

Maximize photographic and observational opportunities while learning fieldcraft in approaching wildlife.

September 25 -

Depart the United States for South Africa.

September 26 - Johannesburg

Today will be arrival day, with most participants arriving on evening flights. For those participating in the pre-trip extension and arriving from Cape Town, we’ll spend the afternoon visiting the nearby Rietvlei Nature Reserve as an opportunity to become familiar with some of the more common species. A few of the regular birds we can expect here include Black-winged Kite, African Pipit, Rufous-naped Lark, Crowned Lapwing, Dark-capped Bulbul, Fiscal Flycatcher and White-throated Swallow. Afterwards we’ll return with some time off before dinner, and a good sleep. Overnight Outlook Lodge (D)

September 27 - Mount Sheba

After an early breakfast, we’ll load up the vehicle for the drive through to our first night’s accommodation situated in a beautiful area of escarpment forest. We’ll spend much of the day travelling there with various birding stops along the way, with our first visit being to some of the small flooded water bodies where we’ll have a chance to search for species such as White-backed Duck, Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe, Great-crested Grebe, Purple Heron, and Common Moorhen. Afterwards we’ll drive through to our lunch stop in the small Highveld town of Dullstroom, before birding our way through to Mount Sheba via the beautiful Verloren Vallei Nature Reserve where we’ll search for some Highveld grassland species such as Wing-snapping Cisticola, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Yellow Bishop, Denham’s Bustard, and possibly Yellow-breasted Pipit, Southern Bald Ibis, and Blue Crane. From here we’ll finish the drive off with the aim of reaching Mount Sheba late the afternoon with some time to relax before dinner. Overnight Mount Sheba (BD)

September 28 - Blyde River Canyon

We’ll be up early to explore the surrounding escarpment forest on foot, and although the number of species that occur in this habitat type is not very high, several will likely not be seen again anywhere else on the tour. Some of the specialties we’ll be looking for include Knysna Turaco, Green Twinspot, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Narina Trogon, Cape Batis, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and White-starred Robin. Afterwards we’ll have a relaxed breakfast here, before packing up our gear and driving through to our next destination, situated on the edge of the Blyde River Canyon. Along the way we’ll do some general birding for species such as Red-throated Wryneck, Amethyst Sunbird, Neddicky and Streaky-headed Seedeater. We’ll aim to reach our accommodation just after mid-day, allowing some time to relax during the hottest part of the day, before having a stroll up to the viewpoint overlooking the canyon later the afternoon, whilst searching for Lazy Cisticola, Brimstone Canary, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Green-backed Camaroptera along the way. We’ll enjoy watching the sun set over the magnificent Blyde River Canyon, before returning for dinner. Overnight Forever Blyde Canyon (BD)

September 29 - Kruger

We’ll start the day off with a birding walk to search for a few more species that we may have not seen yet including White-throated Robin Chat, Yellow-fronted Canary, Mocking Cliff Chat, Familiar Chat and Striped Pipit, before returning for a relaxed breakfast and some time to sort out our suitcases before we get going. Along the way to the Kruger Park we’ll search for species such as Cape Vulture, Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Mountain Wagtail and, with luck, Taita Falcon, before arriving at the entrance gate to the Kruger National Park around mid-day. After grabbing a bite to eat we’ll spend most of the rest of the afternoon driving through to our camp, situated about 30 miles away, although a multitude of new species such as Magpie Shrike, Tawny Eagle, White-backed Vulture, Brown-headed Parrot and Green-winged Pytillia will be there to distract us. Mammals will also be well represented with Impala, Blue Wildebeest, Kudu and Southern Giraffe all likely to be seen on the way, whilst we may bump into some of the ‘big 5’ with African Elephant and African Buffalo in particular being likely possibilities. Overnight Satara Rest Camp (BD)

September 30 - Kruger

Full day to explore the area around Satara camp, and we’ll initially focus our birding on the area to the north of camp where we hope to see Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove, Kori Bustard and Red-crested Korhaa. Species such as Gabar Goshawk, Sabota Lark, Burnt-necked Eremomela and African Pipit should also be seen. Afterwards we’ll return for a late breakfast in camp, followed by a short birding stroll where our main aim would be to track down one of the resident African Scops Owls that roost here, before taking some time to relax during the hotter parts of the day. Later in the afternoon we’ll head out once more to try and add a few species to our list, and hopefully bump into some more of the large mammal species such as lion, with the Satara area offering excellent habitat for them. Overnight Satara Rest Camp (BD)

October 01 - Kruger

Today we’ll start off with a short morning drive, possibly locating birds such as African Green Pigeon, African Harrier Hawk, Grey Tit Flycatcher, Southern Red-billed Hornbill and perhaps Southern Ground Hornbill, before heading back to camp for breakfast and to pack up all our gear for the drive through to our next camp, Skukuza, where we’ll spend another two nights. The drive there will take much of the rest of the day as we’ll be spending our time birding and searching for other wildlife along the way. We break up the journey around mid-day when we’ll stop at Tshokwane picnic site for lunch where a short stroll should turn up Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Mourning Collared Dove, Grey-headed Bushshrike and Tawny-flanked Prinia. The riverside vegetation is a favorite haunt for the vocal Red-faced Cisticola. After lunch we’ll complete the second part of the drive, arriving at Skukuza in late afternoon with some time to get settled in before dinner. Overnight Skukuza Rest Camp (BD)

October 02 - Kruger

Explore the area around Skukuza, with the same approach as at Satara where we’ll be out during the morning and afternoon and relaxing in camp during the warmer periods around mid-day when activity typically dies down a bit. We’ll start off exploring the Sabie River where we hope to encounter White-browed Scrub Robin, Eastern Bearded Scrub Robin, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Ashy Flycatcher, Golden-breasted Bunting and White-fronted Bee-eater. On the river itself we may find White-crowned Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, Goliath Heron, and with a fair share of luck, African Finfoot. Return mid-morning for breakfast, after which we’ll bird in the camp where Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, Crowned Hornbill, White-browed Robin Chat and Long-billed Crombec may all be seen. After some time relaxing we’ll drive out to the south of camp towards Shirimantanga hill, hoping to find some of the usual thicket species such as Blue Waxbill, Red-billed Firefinch, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Natal Spurfowl and Brubru, before returning just before the camp gates close and in time for a lovely dinner, possibly even adding Greater Galago in the process. Overnight Skukuza Rest Camp (BD)

October 03 - Kruger

We’ll be up early as we drive to a nearby bird hide where we’ll not only hope to add some species to our list in the form of African Darter, Malachite Kingfisher, African Pied Kingfisher, Water Thick-knee and African Jacana, but also hopefully getting some excellent photographic opportunities as the Hippos often come fairly close to the front of the hide. We’ll spend some time here before perhaps birding around the Skukuza plant nursery for a short period of time, before returning for breakfast and making our way through to our last night in Kruger at the oldest camp, Pretoriuskop, situated in the south-west corner. The drive there will see us likely arrive around early afternoon, and after settling in and relaxing for a while, we’ll head out on an afternoon drive for a few target species such as Green-capped Eremomela, Grey Penduline-Tit, Brown-headed Parrot, Little Bee-eater, Yellow-throated Petronia and Bushveld Pipit, before returning to camp and having a quick search around for Barn Owl and Pearl-spotted Owlet before dinner. Overnight Pretoriuskop Rest Camp (BD)

October 04 - Wakkerstroom

After a short morning outing around camp, we’ll return for breakfast and then start to make our way through to Wakkerstroom where we’ll spend the last two nights of the tour. The drive there will not involve a great deal of birding, although on the way there we may stop at a known roost site for the scarce Bat Hawk, and may also be able to locate species such as LeVaillant’s Cisticola, Holub’s Golden Weaver and Amethyst Sunbird, whilst later the afternoon we’ll stop in an area of grassland to try and track down White-bellied Bustard, with this race, formerly known as Barrow’s Korhaan, sometimes being treated as a distinct species. We should arrive in Wakkerstroom late the afternoon with some time to relax and get settled in before dinner. Overnight Wetlands Country Inn (BD)

October 05 - Wakkerstroom

Today we’ll have a morning outing with a packed breakfast to explore the area around Wakkerstroom, and in particular to track down a few of the more scarce inhabitants of the grassland areas to the north where we’ll search for Blue Korhaan, Secretarybird, Grey-winged Francolin, Red-capped Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Blue Crane, Grey Crowned Crane and Southern Bald Ibis. Undoubtedly the most important species though are Rudd’s Lark and Botha’s Lark, both globally threatened with populations of fewer than 5,000 each, and for both, possibly as low as 1,500. Another species we may be lucky enough to bump into is Yellow-breasted Pipit, although this species can be tough to track down during the winter months. We’ll return to town around lunch time, after which we’ll have some time to relax, before spending the afternoon birding the wetland alongside town to track down Cape Shoveller, Red-billed Teal, Hottentot Teal, Spur-winged Goose, African Snipe, African Marsh Harrier, Little Rush Warbler and Black Crowned Night Heron. Overnight Wetlands Country Inn (BD)

October 06 - departure

On our final morning we’ll have an early outing to the south of town where we’ll search for two Pipit species, namely South African Rock Pipit and Long-billed Pipit, both of which occur along a hillside where we’ll stop for a cup of coffee,. We may also see Wailing Cisticola, White-necked Raven and Cape Bunting. After returning for breakfast, we’ll pack up the vehicles before completing the drive through to Johannesburg. (B)

October 07 - departure

Overnight flight and arrival home.


$3,750 per person

Based on a group of 12 in double occupancy rooms. For a single room (limited availability) add $515.

+ Accommodations
+ Activities
+ Meals as mentioned in the itinerary
+ Non-alcoholic beverages with meals
+ In-country transportation
+ Full-time guide

Cost does not include international airfare or gratuities.

A $200 per person deposit and enrollment form is required to secure your space on the trip.

Participants registered on this program can also sign up for the optional pre-extension in Cape Town, September 17-26, 2015.

For more information contact Debbie Sturdivant Jordan at or 866-748-6146.