On the afternoon of 25 April the participants met Joe Grosel and David Letsoalo at the Magoebaskloof Hotel for a briefing and a drink before heading off in convoy to Granny Dot's Guesthouse via Tzaneen. En route we stopped off at the New Agatha plantation at a Bat Hawk breeding site. On arrival at the avenue of giant Eucalyptus trees the resident female bat hawk gave us a brilliant fly past before disappearing over the plantations. Luckily David located the male bird roosting in one of the tall Gum trees and everyone had the pleasure of spending time with this remarkable species. While the group was being entertained by the bat hawk an unexpected pair of Cape Parrots flew overhead. Just before sunset the convoy made its way down to Granny Dot's where Lisa Martus from the GLBR and Trevor van Niekerk (Adventurer and 4 x 4 enthusiast) had set out snacks and drinks on the patio. Sundowners were enjoyed while taking in the vistas of the majestic Wolkberg Range. Typically when birders get together on the first night of a tour dinner becomes a very jovial affair. This was no different.
Day-two and the morning of 26 April started with the customary coffee and rusks and a light breakfast before we did some garden birding around Granny Dot's. Sunbirds were everywhere and within no time five species were identified namely Collared, Greater and Southern Double-collared, Amethyst and Scarlet-chested. Other species seen in the gardens were Dusky Flycatcher, Purple-crested Turaco, Cape Batis, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Black Saw-wing as well as two primate species namely Samango and Vervet Monkeys. After this relatively easy-going birding the vehicles started up and soon we were bumping along a series of narrow farm roads and forestry tracks as Trevor lead the convoy up the eastern face of the Wolkberg escarpment. Several mountain streams were crossed and several short stops were made in indigenous forest patches along the ascent. Noteworthy birds seen along this stretch were Narina Trogon, Long-crested Eagle, White-browed Robin-Chat, Tambourine Dove, African Crowned-Eagle and Jackal Buzzard. As we entered the Wolkberg Wilderness Area the countryside changed dramatically. Rolling afro-montane grassland against a backdrop of rugged cliffs and peaks dominated the landscape. Several very entertaining hours were spent up on the top of the Wolkberg. Trevor led some of the more adventurous participants into a dolomitic cave which had a small entrance but an extensive interior. Interesting sightings included Forest Buzzard, Gurney's Sugarbird, Wailing Cisticola, African Black Swift and a small herd of Mountain Reedbuck. The descent on the north-western side of the range was far more challenging than the ascent with several river crossings and very rocky tracks. Halfway down we took a break for lunch at a small stream and then continued on towards Haenertsburg. The last leg of the day's journey took us along yet another rugged dirt road through the hills and pine plantations near Veegkraal and onto our destination and base for the next two nights, the Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge. The evening was spent sitting around a braai-fire while marvelling at the clear night sky before everyone retired to the farmhouse for dinner and bed.
Day-three saw the convoy back on the road for a morning of forest birding in the Woodbush State Forest. On the drive out along one of Kurisa Moya's dirt roads a Gorgeous Bush-Shrike was heard calling so we all popped out of the vehicles to see if the bird would pop out. Fortunately this master skulker did reciprocate giving everyone reasonable views. After a short drive to the outskirts of Magoebaskloof we stopped off at one of David's favourite spots on the edge of a forest patch where we had good sightings of Forest Canary, Swee Waxbill, Red-backed Mannikin, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Square-tailed Drongo. A little further down the road the group had the opportunity to meet the World's tallest planted tree, a 105 year-old Sydney Gum Eucalyptus saligna measuring 81 meters. Not far from this site a pair of Cape Parrots was noisily inspecting a potential nest site in another tall gum tree. After this interlude we headed for the Woodbush forest drive, one of the best afro-montane forest birding sites in the country. Some of the species seen along the drive included Knysna Turaco, African Goshawk, Forest Buzzard, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Yellow-breasted Woodland-Warbler, Chorister Robin-Chat, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and fleeting views of Olive Bush-Shrike. A quick stop at the Bramasole vlei produced a lively little group of Drakensburg Prinias. Lunch was enjoyed at the Stanford Heights tearoom before we headed back to the Kurisa Moya farmhouse for a well-earned siesta. The late afternoon was spent walking in one of the forests on the Kurisa Moya property but due to some inclement weather that was rapidly moving in we decided to head back to the farmhouse to sample some more of the sponsors' products. Dinner was another boisterous affair with many amusing birding, safari and ghost stories being told.
The weather on the last morning of the trip was pretty gloomy but after a hot coffee most of the group were up for a walk in the nearby forest. Birds were hard to come by but we did manage to brief views of Brown Scrub-Robin and Olive Thrush. Knysna Turaco and Olive Woodpecker were more obliging. After examining another 'champion' tree, this time a gigantic Forest Cabbage Tree Cussonia sphaerocephala we left the forest to join Lisa for a delightful breakfast back at the farmhouse. The customary group quiz and prize-giving rounded off a very enjoyable time spent in the mountains and forests of Woodbush and Wolkberg.