July 22, 2015: Pietermaritzburg, South Africa — For the last full day of my eastern South Africa trip with Rockjumper, the weather was gray, misty, and moody. Most of the group will disperse tomorrow to return to Sweden (Klas), Canada (Martha and Janine), and the U.S. (Brian and Alan). Janine has been calling us the SWAT this week: The Swedish/Western/African birding Team! Wayne, our intrepid South African leader, will have a day off before heading to Namibia to lead back-to-back tours there, and I will stay in South Africa for another week.
It’s been entertaining to be part of a group for the past 11 days. This is the only set-departure tour I signed up for this year—everywhere else, I’ve made various arrangements with local birders. Going with a group has some nice benefits: There are more eyes on the prize, it feels more gregarious, and you can share costs. Birding with seven people is also deliberately paced, and this trip has felt downright relaxing after blitzing across Europe and West Africa in the past month—a welcome rest break.
Not that the birding has been slow. In 11 days our group recorded 338 species of birds in eastern South Africa, of which 225 were new for my year list. Today we spent the morning in the Karkloof area, looking for cranes and forest birds under a heavy sky. Wayne spotted a flock of 42 Gray Crowned-Cranes, then followed up with a pair of Wattled Cranes—a bird which is found from here to Ethiopia but which has a global population of fewer than 10,000 individuals (think of how many humans live between South Africa and Ethiopia, by contrast, and you get an idea of how rare the Wattled Crane is).
Our last stop before dinner was at Howick Falls, a picturesque cascade with a Peregrine Falcon perched on the cliff nearby. Nobody else was at the falls except a guy with a guitar who started singing Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” when we arrived. Did he pick the song or was it random chance? I guess I’ll never know.
New birds today: 12
Year list: 3678