2015 – the year of the mighty Zambezi

Posted: 20/01/2016 in Birding
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Hi all

I am just too embarrassed to apologise yet again for the infrequency of these posts !!

Jan and I have had a busy 2015 to say the least.  How does TEN trips to different parts of the Zambezi River sound?

We started in early January by driving to the Victoria Falls where I was to pick up my long time client JNV.  We arrived safely and there he was waiting for us.  We checked into our various accommodations and went birding – specifically for Schalow’s Turaco and Rock Pratincole.  We failed, unfortunately.

Next morning we set off early to the Botswana border at Kazangula, crossed into Bots and headed straight towards the Namibian border at Ngoma Bridge over the Chobe River, crossing into Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and on to Katima Mulilo.  We had set ourselves a huge mileage target for the day so westward we continued. After about 130km it was time for a pit stop and we pulled into a Lay-by (Nam has fantastic Lay-by’s).

On the top of a tree was a largish  brown raptor and as JNV and I approached I said to him “This is going to turn into a Common (Steppe) Buzzard.”  Raising our binoculars JNV and I both commented that it had a white head.  After a minute or so the bird then took fright and took off to an immediate comment from JNV “It’s too big.”

Amazingly within just a few wing beats it already began to soar and we had excellent ventral and dorsal views for the minute or so that it took to gain altitude and depart.  The wings were large and “blocky” or squarish and the flight was very sluggish and slow before it soared so easily.

The primaries were dark tipped and there were distinct black patches on the underwing at the carpal, or wrist, joint. The leading edge of the wings and the underwing coverts were a honey/tan colour and the trailing edge very pale with just the slightest hint of dark tips to the secondaries.  The chin area was the same yellow-brown colour as was the spotted and mottled belly and dark thighs (with the chest just slightly paler).  As mentioned above the head was totally white and the rest of the dorsal view revealed a largely uniform brown to tan colouration but the dark patches at the carpal joint were again noticeable.  One of the most striking features was the tail as it was extremely pale and appeared almost translucent whilst very faintly barred with pale cinnamon barring.

We spent the next hour pouring over the various field guides that invariably litter the back seat of the car and came to the unanimous conclusion that we had just seen a Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus).  Due to the still pale tips to the trailing edge of the wing probably an immature or just sub-adult bird.

A very very rare bird in southern Africa and we were ecstatic.

Onward to Divundu and then past Popa Falls to a delightful riverside lodge from where we would explore the Mahango National Park in which we found several more ‘needed’ birds. Two nights there and back eastward to another lodge on the Kwando River from where we explored the newly formed and very remote Mudumu National Park.

This post is supposed to be about the Zambezi ……. OK ……. the next stop was Kalizo Lodge just east of Katima Mulilo and it is right on the great Zambezi.

Kalizo

Kalizo Lodge

What a delightfully refreshing place.  Jan and I are very fortunate to own a roof-top tent which is just perfect for this sort of campsite.

Kalizo

Kalizo Camp Site

Birding around here was also excellent and we were very surprised to discover Miombo Blue-eared Starlings about which are well separated from the rest of the southern African population.  The southern limit of the Angolan birds I suppose.

Zambezi

The magnificent Zambezi River

After two brilliant days there, it was back to Vic Falls.

Rapids

Rapids above the Falls

Rapids

Scanning the rocks for Pratincole

It happened to be Jan’s birthday so I felt she should be treated to dinner at the legendary Victoria Falls Hotel

Vic Falls

Vic Falls Hotel
“Garden with a view”

And the dinner ………

Vic Falls Hotel

“The Dinner”

The next day we took JNV exploring to a site he hadn’t heard of before – Chamabonda Vlei.  This extensive wetland runs east to west through the Zambezi National Park about 18 km and is very interesting for both mammals and avian species.

Chamabonda

Chamaboda Vlei

We found some good birds too.  African Crake, Common Button Quail and a lifer for JNV – Cuckoo Finch.

Eurasian Roller

Eurasian Roller

The next day it was time for JNV to leave us and to wend our way home.  Did we go the sensible way through Bulawayo?  No.  Did we take the shortest route through Lupane and Nkai? No.  We turned left at the Dete ‘crossroads’ and across the Gwaii River.

Gwaii River

Gwaii River on the road to Binga

After we ran out of tar road things got worse.

Siabuwa Road

The road to Siabuwa

At least, it was lovely and green – not like our current drought a year later.

Chizarira Gate

The Chizarira Gate

Our destination was Chizarira National Park – a new place for Jan to tick off her bucket list!

After checking in (and finding out we were the only visitors in the Park) we drove to our camp site which I had sorta kept a secret from her.

Mucheni Camp

Mucheni Camp view

She was blown away at the scale of these ‘hidden gorges’.  And then we spent the afternoon sitting quietly – with a cold beer or two – watching the rain storms over – yes you guessed it – the spectacular Zambezi Valley.

Zambezi rain storms

Rain storms over the Zambezi Valley

Next day it was a long, bumpy and, fortunately, uneventful drive home to Harare via Gokwe.

Our next Zambezi experience was not until April when Jan and I accompanied the extended McComb family on a houseboat holiday on Kariba. As always these are wonderfully over the top holidays with way too much food and possibly just about enough to drink.

Kariba house boat

The name of the houseboat was, rather suitably,  “What a Pleasure !”

Kariba Sunset

Kariba Sunset

Kariba is renowned for it’s wonderful sunsets  but the highlight for me was on our penultimate day we witnessed a mini cyclone on the lake.  It is a lousy photograph but I just had to include it.

Kariba Cyclone

Kariba ‘water spout’

That weather can easily be described as mean and nasty and ugly but also beautiful!

By early May, I had managed to conjure up sufficient evidence to persuade Jan that we needed to go back to Mphingwe Lodge in Moçambique. So off we went.

Catapu Pan

‘Lac Catapu’ was the fullest I have ever seen it.

The lodge is set right in the forest and as evidence, I post a pic of this butterfly on my side-table in the outside lounge area.

 

Gold-banded Forester

Golden-banded Forester  Euphaedra neophron

This may be way out of context for this post but I couldn’t resist it!  Land Rover owners will understand and probably not forgive me…….

Land Rover

Land Rover under repair!

One of my main reasons for making this trip was to explore the Zangue River delta.  The Zangue is a minor tributary of the Zambezi and due to the terrain being so flat and low lying a large delta forms when water levels are high.  I knew I had clients later in the year who wanted to go there so a reconnaissance was obligatory.

Zangue River Delta

Zangue River Delta – as far as the eye can see!

It was only a few weeks later, still in May, that it was time for Jan’s annual “Ladies trip” on a Kariba Houseboat.

Kariba Motor Vessel

MV Chessa Too

She had a good time – I am sure many G & T’s were consumed –

Tilapia spp

Fishing in Kariba

And the compulsory sunsets captured ……

Kariba Sunset

Kariba Sunset

Having seen out May, we needed to return to Victoria Falls in June for me, as outgoing President, to chair my last BirdLife Zimbabwe AGM.  Yes, some constitutionally limited Presidential terms still work!  I said to Jan that as we would be driving right past the Kazuma National Park we should pop in to have a look for two very good reasons. 1. I had last been there in the early 1970’s which is a long time ago. 2. Jan had *never* been there.

Way back in time it was called the Kazuma Depression – a huge wetland of no use to the myriad of cattle ranches surrounding it.  Sometime in the ’60’s the then government (mis?) appropriated these ranches and turned them into the Matetsi Safari Area which still exists to this day and the “depression” was declared a National Park, its purpose being to act as a wildlife refuge from the surrounding hunting area.

Jan agreed with my reasoning so we set off for the Falls days earlier than necessary.  To get to Kazuma you need to drive to the tiny border town of Pandamatenga and then head north following the Botswana border.

Botswana border

The road to Kazuma. The graded area on the left is the Zim/Botswana border

Then you simply follow the signage ….

Kazuma National Park

Kazuma sign posts

We were booked to stay in Nsiza Camp which simply doesn’t exist.  Just choose a spot and it’s yours.

Kazuma

Nsiza Camp

I chose that rather bleak looking patch of Mopane for the morning view from our tent.

Kazuma Pan

Kazuma Pan

The second night we moved to Kachetechete Camp.  Won’t bother next time except …….

Kachetechete

Kachetechete camp

…… I took this pic of our two chairs from the spot where a couple of African Wild Dog, Painted Hunting Dog to some, chased an Impala through camp whilst we were sipping cold beers in the aforementioned chairs.  Camera of course not to hand !!

There is quite a lot of game in the Park.

Kazuma Elephant

Kazuma Elephant

And of course, birds ….

Double-banded Sandgrouse

Double-banded Sandgrouse

Quite pleased with that one!

Anyway, it was now time for me to attend that bloody meeting.  It had been decided to time it to coincide with the Vic Falls Marathon so as to get the best publicity and exposure for BirdLife. To the extent we branded a hire bus and took a whole bunch of members up there for the festivities.

Vulture Awareness Program

BirdLife Zimbabwe Bus

Then there was the Marathon, and a full day of Vulture awareness conference activities.

Vic Falls Marathon

Vic Falls Marathon

Vulture Awareness Conference

Vulture Awareness Conference

Then the bloody AGM and finally sundowners overlooking the Falls and Gorges.

Vic Falls Gorge

Zambezi Gorge at Vic Falls

Vic Falls Sunset

Sundowners at last ….!

June was busy busy busy.  A local safari operator runs a small exclusive lodge on the Zambezi (funny that) at Nyamoumba Island.  This was a location I know well from years ago when it was a humble fishing camp. The now concessionaires needed a comprehensive bird list for the area and approached BirdLife for assistance.  Finding volunteers was not difficult.

Very clever roof that …. it is well laid second-hand conveyor belting.

Nyamoumba

Nyamoumba View

The view from the front lawn is amazing and, yes, the conical hill is in Zambia.  After my Sandgrouse here is a very lousy pic ….

Nyamoumba Pel's Fishing Owl

Pel’s Fishing Owl

Well, the bird list was done and I resolved that when my extended family visited, from Australia and the Philippines, that Nyamoumba was just the place to initiate them into Africa and as they were due in August it was barely a month until we were back again.

Nyamoumba Lodge Pool

Nyamoumba Lodge

It was warmer in August so the pool was utilised.

We also used the boats a bit more as I was not “listing” birds.

Going up the Kariba Gorge towards the dam wall is an amazing experience.

Nyam104

And this time, Elaine (the chick with the Wine) got a decent picture of the Pel’s Fishing Owl

Pel's Fishing Owl

A much much better shot

Sign Nyamoumba

The old campsite sign

I found the old National Parks sign to the camp we used to use decades ago.

My goodness, we were busy people.  After I had seen off the herds of extended family it was time to leave on the Matusadona National Park annual Game Count.  We were driving in via Magunje and once in the Park we decided to camp en-route to Tashinga and we chose a picturesque spot in the Gubu River.  Carl prefers to use a hammock.

Gubu River Hammock

The hammock set-up procedure

I prefer a tent.

Bubu River camp

My chosen spot

After leaving the next day we needed to set up two campsites – one in Tashinga for nights two and four and the other for our overnight 24-hour vigil.

Tashinga camp site

My Tashinga Site

Game Count

24-hour game count site

The Game Count was organised and managed by the Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project (MAPP)

MAPP

Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project vehicle

After the 24 hours was up we had developed an almost unquenchable thirst and because Kariba lake levels were very low we could drive to the resort on Spurwing Island where many beers were consumed.

Causeway to Spurwing Island

Causeway to Spurwing Island

There was time for some birding in Tashinga before we returned to Harare.

Ok ok – nearly done now.  I had clients coming and they arrived on December the 2nd but not in Harare. In Beira !!  So I was off to Moçambique to pick them up.  I was a little early for their flight from Johannesburg so I waited patiently at Clube Nautico.

Beira

2M at Clube Nautico in Beira

Picked the three of them up (including JNV !) and off we went.  Firstly to Rio Savane.

Rio Savane

Rio Savane

To get to Rio Savane, you need to cross the river on a boat taxi.  Lots of accommodation options from camping to little cabins to some rather more luxurious chalets.  This is the one we stayed in.

Rio Savane Chalet

Rio Savane Chalet

Birding around the area is very rewarding and we were soon picking up ‘lifers’  for the crew.  Locust Finch, Wattled Crane, Lesser Jacana, Lesser Sandplover and some other interesting things ….

Butterfly

Tiny Butterfly

Tree Frog

This tiny Tree Frog is on the bonnet of the Cruiser. That’s the gap between the bonnet and the fender

After a few days, we packed up and took off again, northwards to Mphingwe again and the Zambezi Delta.  All the Panga Panga (Milettia stuhlmannii) were in flowerPanga Panga

Panga Panga flowers (Milettia stuhlmannii)   

Then we headed off through the “Coutada” Hunting Concessions 11 & 12 where we had fantastic birding.  Black-headed Apalis, East-coast Akalat, White-chested Alethe just to get started.  The Miombo woodland is stunning and so very much more magnificent than the piddly stuff we get in Zimbabwe.

Brachystegia speciformis

Msasa tree (Brachystegia Speciformis) (the editor can confirm that’s a bloody big Msasa)

How is that for a huge Msasa??!!

After several hours, we started to enter the Zambezi Delta.

Zambezi Delta

Zambezi Delta in Coutada 11

This is pretty much the end of the road – and indeed of this very long post. Undoubtedly the birding highlight of the trip was a cracking Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo which was a lifer for all of us !!

Thanks for listening ….

Boots

A year of hard walking !!

Cheers for now

Tony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi All

I am back at last and yet again I apologise for the inordinately long delays between these ramblings.

But I do have good news !!  This blog is about birding is it not ?  So now we can actually show you that we actually do bird-watch !!

I need to start by thanking Roger MacDonald for his permission to use these fantastic images and to also say how amazing the quality of his pictures is.  Roger – thanks a tonne.

Roger

Roger

These images all come from the trip we did to Catapu in November of 2014.  When I arrived there, with JNV,  I was delighted to find a bunch of the other visitors were friends of mine and all avid birders.  This situation works to everyone’s benefit because in forest birding the more eyes the better.

The crowd !

The crowd !

Left to right – JNV, Roger, CVC and IR.  Alison is missing and I am behind the lens !

We went birding in the forests of Catapu and Coutada 12.

The forest in Coutada 12

The forest in Coutada 12

And now – at last – some birds.

Common Waxbill

Common Waxbill

As the name suggests a common little bird but gorgeous just the same.

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

Crested Guineafowl

Crested Guineafowl

The common Guineafowl of forests. On Catapu they are amazingly tame and confident.

Orange-breasted Bushshrike

Orange-breasted Bushshrike

Another common bird but very difficult to photograph.

The next one is also quite common along the eastern littoral and the major rivers but it too is notoriously difficult to capture with a camera.

Eastern Nicator

Eastern Nicator

In years past it was known as the Yellow-spotted Nicator and the jury is still out on whether it is closer to the shrikes or the bulbuls.

Yet again the next two are also not uncommon but getting pics of this quality in dense forest is astounding.

Female African Broadbill

Female African Broadbill

I just love the glint in her eye as she watches her mate displaying below.

Displaying Broadbill

Displaying male Broadbill

This next one, a Batis, used to be called the Mocambique Batis.  It is normally very high on the list that birders dream of seeing.

Female Pale Batis

Female Pale Batis

Green Malkoha

Green Malkoha

You need to be lucky, skilled and patient to capture an image like that! I wonder why its other name is Yellowbill ?

Immature Bateleur

Immature Bateleur

Can you hear him saying “And just who the hell are you ?”

Next up is probably one if the most difficult birds to photograph that there is.  Well done Roger.

Livingstone's Flycatcher

Livingstone’s Flycatcher

Purple-banded Sunbird

Purple-banded Sunbird

Getting that iridescence right is no mean feat.

One of the most spectacular sights is the breeding display of the Mangrove Kingfisher.  Normally a bird of coastal Mangroves (funny that) it moves to inland forests to breed.

Mangrove Kingfisher breeding display

Mangrove Kingfisher breeding display

Simply coming into the bird bath at the lodge was this enigmatic and very difficult to see fellow

Scaly-throated Honeyguide

Scaly-throated Honeyguide

Yet another Batis of the eastern littoral that is much sought after by birders.

Woodward's Batis

Woodward’s Batis

This next chap behaved way out of character by leaving the dense undergrowth and hopping out onto the road !

Red-capped Robin-Chat

Red-capped Robin-Chat that used to be known as the Natal Robin

The rapid and energetic behaviour of this next one makes it another very difficult one to get.

Yellow-Breasted Apalis

Yellow-Breasted Apalis

Well I guess it would be very remiss of me to leave out a snap of something dear to my heart and frequently a subject of many past ramblings on this site.

African Pitta

African Pitta

That was taken in the tree behind lodge 25 I think ?  Stunning !

Well last but not least we have some extremely special images of significant ornithological importance !

Böhms Bee-eaters

Böhms Bee-eaters.   Adult on the right and an immature/juvenile on the left.

Böhms Bee-eater

Böhms Bee-eater.  The sub-adult bird again.

This bee-eater has been controversial for some decade with some experts denying its existence in the southern African region.  That is south of the Cunene and Zambezi rivers.  These photographs finally prove they are here AND breeding !

How cool is that for a closing hit !?

Cheers for now

Tony

Hi all

I always seem to end up apologising for not keeping these posts either up to date or even very regular so I do so again in the certainty that it is true !  Sorry

We left off last time with us making a long and arduous journey into the Chewore Safari Area on a secret quest.  The reason for the secrecy was that I already had plans to take my buddy AJS to the same place as a surprise and knowing that he is a follower of these ramblings I could barely divulge the destination could I ?

AJS arrived in early October and the very next morning we set out on those crappy bloody roads for Masoka Camp on the Angwa River.  We were accompanied by one of my other mates, DY, who has failed to go African adventuring for some decades and was itching to get “out and about” in the wilds.  A very pleasant and uneventful trip and evening and off into Chewore the next day.

Chewore Sign

Remember this ?

We checked in at the Parks Mkanga HQ and followed the road deeper into the area to see …………

Fossilised Dinosaur Footprints

Dinosaur tracks

Dinosaur tracks

They are, according to the experts ……..”Palaeontological experts who have studied this trackway of footprints are non-specific about the type of beast that made them.  All they will say is that the dinner-plate-sized “three-toe’d” prints, some of which have clear claw markings, are those of a huge carnivorous “theropod” of the Mid-Late Jurassic period.  That’s about 200 million years ago!”

Bigger than my feet !

Bigger than my feet !

Or those of AJS …….

Dinosaur footprint with AJS

Dinosaur footprint with AJS

They may well be in a very remote place but they are not too difficult to find.

Signage to the site

Signage to the site

Well after that little surprise it was back to Masoka for sundowners and relax before dinner.

Evening visitors

Evening visitors

Relaxing after a long and eventful day

Relaxing after a long and eventful day

Next day it was simply back on that bloody awful road and return to Harare being troubled most of the way with a dodgy tyre that we had to keep on pumping up every 40 minutes or so.

We slept, and the next day restocked, fixed tyres, and packed for a departure next day to Mocambique………..

.... but only after breakfast ......

…. but only after breakfast.

Now, I need to back track into August.  JNV and I went adventuring into Mocambique looking for special birds that are known to winter in that country.  Like the Malagasy Pond Heron and Mascarene Martin.  Needless to say it was a very interesting trip and we started off very successfully by finding Böhm’s Bee-eater south of the Zambezi (placing them firmly in southern Africa).  Unfortunately, that evening, JNV slipped in the shower breaking some ribs in the process !

Needless to say that put him out of action and we ended up back in Harare with just that one bird under our belts.

But the scene had been set, the explorations done, the appetite seriously “whetted” and AJS, JBW and I were on our way !

First stop Casa Msika in Mocambique’s Manica province.

Delightful chalets even if a little run down

Delightful chalets even if a little run down

Situated on a very empty Lake Chicamba

Situated on a very empty Lake Chicamba

I know this is only 3 or 4 hours from Harare but it does break the journey very nicely.

The next day we were off with a single stop in Chimoio to purchase necessary supplies (Read beer and chocolate into that!)

Turn left at Inchope onto the EN1, across the Pungwe Bridge.  I first crossed this river in 1959 !  No bridge then of course – just a pontoon.

Pungwe River Bridge

Pungwe River Bridge

Pungwe Pontoon 1959

Pungwe Pontoon 1959

Shortly after crossing the river you drive around a bend ………

The entry signage for Gorongosa National Park

The entry signage for Gorongosa National Park

Gorongosa is a fantastic park with a very chequered and interesting past.  See www.gorongosa.org

The accommodation available at Chitengo is very varied.

JNV's room

JNV’s room

My room !

My room on the last trip!

Reception at Chitengo

Reception at Chitengo

JBW and I stayed up there !

JBW and I stayed up there this time!

I know that it is a bit confusing but it is me trying to get pics from the two trips to really explain what Mocambique is really like.

The Gorongosa mammal populations are recovering very nicely since my previous visit there in 2000. See https://birdingzimbabwe.com/2012/05/17/birding-in-mocambique/

The Gorongosa flood plain

The Gorongosa flood plain

Reedbuck, Waterbuck and Oribi in their hundreds.

Elephant too .....

Elephant too …..

.... and Lions

…. and Lions

The elephant have been seriously traumatised by years of persecution, poaching and illegal hunting.

They have neither forgotten of forgiven ….

....she came on and on - to about four metres !

….she came on and on – to about four metres !

After two fabulous days in the park it was time to move on … so northwards we went. All the way to the Zambezi in fact.

The Zambesi is a huge river as JBW and AJS discover

The Zambezi is a huge river as JBW and AJS discover

We stayed at M’phingwe Lodge in the Catapú logging concession.  A truely delightful destination with great (and very affordable) accommodation, hospitable hosts and fantastic staff.

The well signposted turn off

The well signposted turn off

Quaint ablution block

Quaint ablution block

Delightful setting

Delightful setting

Right in the forest

Right in the forest

We stayed four nights and thoroughly enjoyed all of it.  The Inamitanga forest (which borders on Catapú) is magnificent and still contains all sorts of wild beasts …….

Protected species

Protected species (African Painted Hunting Dogs or Wild Dogs)

There is lots to see and do.  The 3.2km rail bridge at Villa de Sena, Mary Moffat Livingstone’s grave on the way to Marromeu and the newly completed 2.7km road bridge at Caia.

The bridge at Caia

The bridge at Caia

There was a great little restaurant on the north bank which had the most interesting collection of light fittings.

Locally manufactured poaching tools !

Locally manufactured poaching tools !

Needless to say, the birding was just fantastic. White-breasted Alethe, East coast Akalat, Mangrove Kingfisher, Green Malkoha, Tiny Greenbul, Brown-throated Weaver, Narina Trogons and yes, the Pitta too !

Eventually we had to leave.  Sad, I know, but move on we must.

Southwards through the Inhamitanga and Inhaminga forests.

Through the forests ......

Through the forests ……

Near Muanza

Near Muanza

Into the rather dreary town of Dondo and then to Beira.

We stayed at Clube Nautico right on the beach

We stayed at Clube Nautico right on the beach

On the beach .....

On the beach …..

This concluded an ambition of ours – years ago we had taken AJS to Swakopmund in Namibia on the west coast of Africa.  Now Beira on the east coast.   Yep – right across Africa.  A moment for high-fives indeed.

It was an uneventful trip home and then AJS was all too soon on a plane back to the UK.  A fantastic trip all around and now I need to be planning something new for 2016.

That’s all folks.  See you sooner than last time I hope.

Cheers

Tony

Hi all

My goodness I am useless in keeping these posts up to date !!  It has been way way too long and I humbly apologise.

Let’s get on with it shall we ?

We last chatted about the enigmatic African Pitta way back after two abortive trips in December 2012 and January 2013 and I did mention that JNV was going to return in December 2013.

Well he did – and he brought AC and PH too, so it was a very full Land Cruiser that made its way down the escarpment and into the Zambezi Valley.

Rain

The rains had arrived.

At this time of year it tends to rain in Zimbabwe – my Harare garden the afternoon before we left.

Full Cruiser

Not even half packed !

We arrived in camp about noonish having left Harare early and after quickly unpacking and snacking a small lunch we set off looking for Pittas !  Fantastic views of Livingstone’s Flycatchers got us off to a good start and within about 45 minutes – SUCCESS !

AC and PH were Pitta virgins and there was much frivolity and back slapping spontaneously erupting all around.

African Pitta

Can you see it ?

Go on – look carefully ………

ok ok – technology to the rescue ………….

Pitta

Zoomed in a tad – ok – a lot.

That Jesse Bush is made up largely of Combretum spp. and is VERY thick and being in big game country also quite dangerous.

Whilst all acknowledged that this was not a brilliant sighting, it was without doubt an acceptable “tick” for the boys.

Who are pictured below …..

The boys

The Troops

Left to right PH, AC and JNV.

Well that certainly took the pressure off me and Mack.  I promise that relaxed guides are better than tense ones !

AC needed a photo of a Red-throated Twinspot so we obliged.

Red-throated Twispot

Not easy to get a Red-throated Twinspot

Evening rolled in and with a fire made by the very helpful Tich, we ate (and drank) well and retired tired.

Fire

Helpful chap our Tich.

That night, starting at about 1 am, it started to rain. In bucket loads !  And windy too.  The lodges have gauze, not glass, windows and in the rain came, and came, and came.

We were all soaked through but at least the rain stopped around 4:30 am.

AC is lying in his bed at 05:30 and he can hear a Pitta.  He thinks “Bloody Wood buggering around with a tape”

I am lying in my bed at 05:30 and I can hear a Pitta. I think “Bloody Client buggering around with a tape”

Both of us were wrong !   Very wrong !  There WAS a Pitta in the tree above the kitchen.  It is amazing how quickly people can get dressed when the need arises !

 

African Pitta

Right in camp !

Displaying Pitta

Displaying !

Blue tail

That rump is electric !

Well it doesn’t get any better than that does it ?

What ?  The sighting or the three ecstatic clients ?  Both I guess.

We all set off into the forest to see what else we could find and wandered about ticking species off and generally birding the riverine forests that overlook the dry Angwa River.

River bed

The dry Angwa River

By about 10:30 0r so I suddenly became aware that I could hear traffic. Traffic !  Not possible.

The evening before during the much chatting stage JNV had stated that one of the biggest ticks in his Bucket List was to see a dry river come down in flood.  Yep – that traffic noise was water !   We ran, slipping and sliding on the wet forest floor back to camp to an absolutely amazing sight.

Flood

That water is coming UPstream !!

Yes – upstream.  The Mkanga River a few kilometres downstream came down in a massive flash flood and on reaching the Angwa spread out in both directions !!   Then to cap it all we heard the sounds of voices and water coming from upstream – and around the corner come all the local lads running ahead of the water wielding spears and stabbing cat-fish by the dozens. We watched this whole spectacle in awe for a good half an hour before the two floods, one up and one down, finally met -right in front of our camp to which we had retreated to attain higher ground.  The entire river bed was now covered.  A few hours later, however it had started to retreat.

Flood

The flood starts to retreat

And by evening, as the sun burnt off the clouds, we had sand again.

Moon rise

Sundowner or Moonriser ?

zWetAngwa

Yep – in front of AC is the retreating river just about 8 hours after the flood.

So now what ?  We are done with the Pitta pursuit.  We have seen a flood. We have had two days birding.

I ask if the guys want to go exploring.  For something I had seen 20 years or so before.  The reply – a resounding “Yes”

This will involve quite a lengthy drive through the Chewore South Safari Area.

Chewore Sign

A warm welcome ….

 

Chewore

‘Tis a remote and wild place

Chewore

Lovely ….

We traveled to this delightful place where one can spend hours exploring.

Why ?

That little secret I am afraid will have to wait until next time !  Sorry

We made our weary way back to camp after a fantastic day.

Masoka Camp

I have seen better signage …..

The next day it was time to return to Harare but unfortunately we became a little delayed !

Loose Wheel

You picked a fine time to leave me Loose wheel …..

Always …. Always check your wheel nuts when using corrugated roads !

Well I guess that’s it for now folks.  I am off to Moçambique next month and then again in October. After that I will tell you about our adventuring in Chewore South Safari Area.

Cheers

Tony


Hi all

It has been a while since I did anything here.  Sorry !

October 2013 saw the arrival in Harare of SP and PP.  A delightful couple who, although not fanatic birders, wished to tour the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe.  We started out in Nyanga staying at a lovely cottage with great birds including the stunning Bronzy and Malachite Sunbirds.

Bronzy Sunbird

Bronzy Sunbird

Malachite Sunbird

Malachite Sunbird

The cottage was just above a dam and had fantastic walks up the hill behind the house.

Fura cottage

Fura cottage

Fura Dam

How relaxing is this ?

The hills behind the cottage have brilliant views and are the ideal habitat for the endangered Blue Swallow.

Blue Swallow habitat

Blue Swallow habitat and vista.

There are also some quite exciting different plants up there including some indigenous cycads and of course Tree Ferns.

Tree Fern

Tree Ferns

We made a traditional visit to Worlds View and climbed to the top where we used the GPS to establish that we were 2500 metres above sea level !

2500 above sea level

at 2500 m asl

And the next port of call had to be Troutbeck hotel for tea and cream scones.

Troutbeck Hotel

The institution that is Troutbeck Hotel

It was now time to move on so we took a back road to ensure we did some more of the touristy scenic stuff on our way to the Bvumba.

Pungwe

The Pungwe Gorge and Falls

Mutarazi Falls

At 740 metres are the Mtarazi Falls the 2nd highest in Africa ?

Once in the Bvumba, where we stayed at Seldomseen cottages, the serious birding began !

Nest

The ground level nest of Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler

Orange Ground Thrush

Orange Ground Thrush has beautiful blue eggs

Forest photography is extremely challenging.

Tambourine Dove

Not easy to get decent pics of Tambourine Dove in thick forest

We spent hours looking for Swynnerton’s Robin before we were finally successfull.

Swynnerton Robin habitat

Forest Birding

We also found a nest !  It was late afternoon when we found it purely by chance.

Swynnerton's Robin nest

Nest and eggs of Swynnerton’s Robin

SP wasn’t particularly happy with the above picture so we went back early the next day for another go ….

Swynnerton's Robin Chicks

.. and lo and behold …. we were too late !

We left the Bvumba and proceeded to drive down and down into the Honde Valley where we camped overnight at Katiyo on the Pungwe River.

Katiyo tents

Roof top tents at Katiyo

Pungwe River

Pungwe River

The right hand bank is Moçambique !

Pungwe River

The Pungwe at 400 metres above sea level

That’s right 400 masl !  That puts us 2.1 kilometres lower than the top of Worlds View in Nyanga !!

From Katiyo we drove throught to the Abefoyle Tea Estates and to the lovely Aberfoyle Lodge.  More serious birding followed as we tracked down Singing Cisticola, Anchieta’s Tchagra, Black-winged Red Bishop, Pale Batis, Pallid Honeyguide, Short-winged Cisticola, Green-backed Woodpecker and many others.

Thick-billed Weaver Nest

The delicate and very neat nest of the Thick-billed Weaver

Tea

Tea Plantation

The Singing Cisticola like the tea bushes.  We also found some interesting reptiles.

Rainbow Skink

Adult Male Rainbow Skink

Rainbow Skink

Th colourful juvenile Rainbow Skink

Anchieta’s Tchagra, which used to be known as the Marsh Tchagra, is found here ….

Wamba Vlei

Wamba Vlei

Wamba Vlei

Fortunately the area receives some protection.

The local guide, Morgan, is fantastic.

It was now time to wend our way homewards but I couldn’t resist taking a snap of this delightful bit of Africa.

Boozer-Bell

The local pub ?

And when we eventually got back to Harare my dear wife showed us her discovery in the garden.

African Paradise Flycatcher

Nesting African Paradise Flycatcher

That is all for now folks and I hope you enjoyed the trip

Cheers

Tony

Hi again.

I’m back.

So now you all know that I am a shit hot expert on finding Pitta’s ! Yes ?

Fraid not !

The Big Birding Day of 2012 was scheduled for late November so JB (a Pitta virgin) and I decided to enter the competition and to do it in my ‘Pitta Patch’. We plan, we pack, we drive, we arrive. Then we start searching.

Day two and we are a few hundred metres from camp when I realise I have left my little bird calling speaker behind. JB waits for me. On my way back I put up a Pitta at my feet and away it flies.

That was the only one seen !

Angwa River

Very dry Angwa River

It was very dry and very hot.  Those forest patches on the left is where DE got his photo’s in 2011 !

Pitta Patch

Ebony Trees

Still very hot and dry up a tributary of the Angwa.  Those tall leafless Ebony trees are where Jan watched a Pitta for several minutes on the previous Pitta trip !

It all became a game of sit and wait.  Sit and listen. Sit and try calling them.

Resting

Sit and Wait !

We even tried some formal meetings about strategy with the local guide, McKenzie

Meeting

Mack and I discuss our predicament

Lot’s more walking in the 40°C+ temperatures. Despondency sets in ……..

Tired

Looking a tad despondent here !

What an exceptionally sad and pathetic little bunny this is !

As far as Big Birding Day was going we were, however, doing quite well.  This intensive 24 or 48 hour competition is run annually worldwide and between JB, Mack and myself we were ticking all sorts of other specials like Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Lilians’s Lovebird, Red-throated Twinspot and Pennant-winged Nightjar.

We paid a visit to the Angwa Bridge which is a fantastic engineering feat.

Angwa Bridge

A serious feat of engineering

This is a single lane bridge over the river at a considerable height and damn nearly 200 metres long !  It has obviously been built where there was a suitable amount of bedrock to anchor it and the view is quite spectacular.

Angwa view

The dry Angwa River

The bedrock on which this concrete arch structure stands has seen some fascinating weathering in the eons this river has been flowing !

Weathered rock

Fascinating weathering

OK.   So now we have failed on the Pitta but we do return home with an impressive 175 species on the list for the competition and romp into second position in the Big Birding Day race.

The months drag by and winter passes and then it’s after Christmas – amazing how time flies !

JNV arrives from Johannesburg to go looking for a Pitta.   He is not a Pitta virgin having seen one years ago in Zambia but he needs another sighting for his southern African list.

It is now the second week of January and it has been raining for weeks !  Remember how dry it was ?

Sign

Look at the greenery in the background !

It was indeed very wet and very green everywhere.  We had been told to use the new road from near Angwa Bridge so we dropped by.

Angwa Bridge

Once again look at that vegetation !

I know the bridge doesn’t look as long as the earlier pic but that is a perspective problem.  We set off and after a few hours we encountered a small difficulty.

Flooded river

Full flood

We studied this obstacle for some time and could clearly see that the level had been much higher during the night and a shouted conversation with those on the other side confirmed that a wait of two or three hours would make it a viable option. So JNV and I decided to drive back along the old road to see what was happening.

Wash away

We didn’t get far !

Again – because of the perspective – you can’t see the 12 foot vertical drop off a few feet in front of JNV.  So we parked the car, set up the chairs and chatted to while away the time.

Waiting

Simply waiting

Ooops !  Does that look like a beer can on the bumper ?  Waiting can bring on boredom and a thirst !

After the allotted waiting period had past we again set forth towards Masoka and indeed the river had receded sufficiently.

Flooded River

They started out and briefly got stuck !

Flooded river

Then they broke down !

But my Cruiser and a bit of rope solved that and, after crossing safely ourselves, we were on our way.  We arrived in camp quite late and what a different place it was after six weeks of summer rains.

Camp View

This is the same spot where that pathetic little Bunny was seen earlier !

We spent the next three days Looking for Pitta’s !   Once Mack and I saw a fluttering glimpse and we spent hours in that forest trying to find the bird for JNV but to no avail.   We did however succeed with Western-banded Snake-Eagle, Pennant-winged Nightjar and Lilian’s Lovebird.  Also a very nice pair of courting Dickinson’s Kestrel.

Kanyemba Sign

The signage pointing to an international border post !

Kanyemba Road

The road to that same Kanyemba international border !

Do you recall me mentioning in the previous post that this was big game country ?  And that the river had been dry ?

Elephant

They crossed the river daily.

Elephant

There were several different herds several time a day.

Well there you have it.  That shit hot Pitta guide is in fact bloody useless.  Or, to be fair, November is too early and January too late ?

We had had a fantastic trip otherwise with lots of adventure and excitement and of course plenty of other birds and wildlife.  I haven’t mentioned the Corn Crake, the Twinspot Indigobirds or the more than several Striped and African Crakes. Or the Kurrichane Buttonquail ?They were all there.  And cracking Emerald Cuckoos

As the rains had held off the trip back was less eventful.

Toyota Land Cruiser

My rather dirty vehicle !

I guess that’s about it folks.  JNV is planning on coming back this December so we will then find out if I really know something about the fantastic African Pitta ?

Pitta angolensis

Many thanks to my buddy Celesta for this photo
© C von Charmier

Cheers and thanks for listening

Tony

Pitta Quests

Posted: 26/08/2013 in Uncategorized

Hi All

I am back after a *very* long and embarrassing period of ignoring you.  Sorry.  OK – EXTREMELY sorry !

Let’s have a little chat about the African Pitta  Pitta angolensis.

This is a bird of the west and central African rain forests that migrates south every year into central and southern Africa to breed.  Extremely elusive and retiring it is a species eagerly sought after by the more determined birders.  Unfortunately the ‘back yard twitcher’ just won’t, or to be fair, can’t, put in the considerable effort required to track down and see this magnificent bird.

Southern African birders probably all have a copy of the well known “Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa” so will be very familiar with the picture of a Pitta on the cover.

Pitta

Newman’s Pitta

Yeah – the really colourful one at the bottom.  Looks stunning doesn’t it ?  But, trust me, compared to the real thing, not great !

After nearly 30 years of active birding I decided it was time to go and find one of these very reclusive birds so I called my buddy FC and we set up a trip in 2009.  Remember it is a breeding migrant so arrives here in Zimbabwe in late November.  Four of us set off to the fabled riverine forests of the Angwa River in far northern communal lands just south of the Zambezi River where it enters Mocambique.  We worked very hard, mostly in the rain, but we were eventually successful in seeing a Pitta !  Quite good views with bino’s in the dark understory of the forest thickets where this special bird feeds among’st the leaf litter.

Cool.  Fantastic. A new ‘lifer’ !  Then Wood’s little brain starts ticking and now no longer a Pitta virgin starts telling all and sundry that if they want to see one they had better talk to me !  Arrogant prick that I am.

Along comes December 2010 and I have a  bigger group – six of us – including some school friends I had not seen for 40 something years !!  And a university Professor – also a buddy of long standing.  Back we go to the same site and …………

BINGO !!

Pitta’s everywhere !  We must have seen 6 or 7 over the three days and DE even got some half decent photographs.

Derek's first Pitta

African Pitta

DE had been looking for this bird for 21 years !!

African Pitta

Derek’s first Pitta

That’s a better one !  I did mention forest thickets !!

Right – so now not only am I not a Pitta virgin but have become a practically perverted expert !  It’s time to set up the third attempt for 2011 because now I want to show one of these stunning jewels to my wife Jan.

December of that year a whole bunch of us set off, including four South Africans and a local ringing expert. With luck we were going to catch one of these things and put a bit of jewelry on it’s leg !

Well we failed on that count but did manage to ring some pretty cool stuff.  like Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Paradise Flycatcher, Red-throated Twinspot and even a fledging Wood Owl !

Paradise Flycatcher

Paradise Flycatcher

And of course the enigmatic Livingstone’s Flycatcher Erythrocercus livingstonei

Livingstone's Flycatcher

Livingstone’s Flycatcher

Livingstone's Flycatcher

Livingstone’s Flycatcher

Wood Owl

Derek and Joe trying to not get bitten by a Wood Owl !

Red-throated Twinspot

Red-throated Twinspot

Alex Masterson

ANBM in typical habitat

ANBM – some of you will remember him from our long journey up to Arusha and back.  He is in the “Pitta patch” – just see all the leaf litter.

Pitta Habitat

Jan watching a Pitta 8 metres up in that Ebony tree

Sometimes it gets really thick.

Pitta forest

Imagine this after the leaves are out in just a few weeks !

Putting up ringing nets in the thorny entanglements is a really tricky problem

Ringing nets

One working – four watching !

This particular area is a tad wild !

Buffalo hind-quarter

Million with his lucky treat.

Yes – that is a Buffalo hind-quarter.  Lions killed two in front of camp and only ate one of them so the local folk had a really good supper the next day.

375

A necessary accessory

Which means that one needs to keep safe when traipsing about in the forests.  Elephant are also common.

The location of my ‘Pitta Patch’ is very remote and the roads are quite dodgy.

Masoka Road

Remote roads

NissanPatrol

KJ’s NissanPatrol got a bit stuck

Well I guess that is enough for one post but another will follow soon with the details of two more trips to get to grips with the fantastic Pitta !

See you soon and thanks for listening.

Tony