Winter Birding in Underberg, Himeville and the Sani Pass

Dr Aldo Berruti
Cell: 072 545 1753 Tel: 033 701 2311
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 the 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 principle focus, birders seldom realise the diversity of the special birds.

Winter is 'downtime' for birding on the South African mainland, as the number of bird species drops through migration. In our region, altitudinal migration also takes species such as Bush Blackcap and Barrat's Warbler to lower altitudes. The seedeaters revert to cryptic drab plumage and present identification challenges.
But many special and endemic species are still resident. The iconic Drakensberg Rockjumper and Drakensberg Siskin are active at the top of the Sani Pass. Cape and Bearded Vulture are residents and this region is one of the very best areas to find them both.

On the lower Sani Pass, many sought-after species remain, including the Buff-streaked Chat, Red-throated Wryneck, Cape Rock-thrush and Swee Waxbill. At this time of year, the occasional Sentinal Rock-thrush might be found as low as 1900m. Small numbers of Gurney's Sugarbirds remain, feeding on flowering Tree Fuchsia or the occasional Protea flower. This is a good time to familiarise oneself with Wailing and Levaillant's Cisticolas and Drakensberg Prinia and the winter plumage of the Yellow and Southern Red Bishops.
From mid-altitudes to the Lesotho plateau, Ground Woodpecker, White-necked Raven, Cape Bunting and the seldom seen Grey-winged Francolin may be found, whilst a few Sickle-winged Chats and Large-billed Larks remain on top. Yellow Canary, Karoo Prinia and African Rock Pipt are still present. Ocassionally extreme cold snaps may bring vagrants such as Black Harrier and Pale Chanting Goshawk and highland species to loweer altitudes. Southern Bald Ibis range from high ground to the farmlands of our region.

In the grasslands and wetlands, the three cranes (including the very rare Wattled Crane) are resident, and you may find a flock of more than 100 Grey Crowned Cranes, Blue Cranes have become more common over the last two years. Denham's Bustards, nowhere predictable, are widely but thinly distributed. Wetland species may become more abundant as dam water levels drop. The South African Shellduck, otherwise a scarce bird in KwaZulu-Natal, is present.

One relatively rare species which becomes more common in winter is the Forest Buzzard, difficult to separate from the Steppe Buzzard. We suspect they may breed in our region, as they are also recorded in summer.

The mist-belt forests support a number of charismatic species, including Cape Parrot, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Knysna Turaco, White-starred Robin, Olive Bushshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Olive Woodpecker, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Forest Canary. Search for Olive Woodpecker, Yellow-breasted and Bar-throated Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera and perhaps Lazy Cisticola in bracken and scrub on the edge of the forests. They are generally less vocal and active, but they are there!
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