Oh what a massive Twitch !!

Posted: 06/03/2017 in Birding

Well folk a few weeks ago I went off adventuring with some mates and what an adventure it turned out to be !!!   Amazing !!

I will let Jono tell the story …………….

Pied Wheatear – Victoria Falls Airport – February 2017

What a Twitch, What a Twitch, What a mighty, mighty big Twitch!!

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Pied Wheatear  Oenanthe pleschanka

On Thursday 23rd February 2017 the following message was posted on the Zimbabwean Special Species Sighting whatsapp group:

23/2/2017, 2:38:02 PM: Hilton: Just through from Trevor Hardaker on RSA rare bird net. Pied Wheatear in parking area of Victoria Falls airport

A picture of the bird had been sent to Trevor Hardaker of the Rare Birds Committee in South Africa for verification and on confirmation the excitement began to mount!

First and foremost, we must acknowledge well renowned Professional Guides, Gavin Ford and Dave Carsons who were the first to spot the bird and make the call on its ID.  Below is Dave’s description of the initial encounter:

25/2/2017, 11:35:21 AM: Dave Carsons: You cannot believe the absolute chance encounter of it all… Having Gavin F with me helped as he spotted it…. I just picked up Gavin and we were driving out of the airport and Gavin said, “hey there is a wheatear”.  At that point we were not sure of which one (at least I was not).  We hauled anchors…. stopped, ID it and got very very excited. Gavin got some great pics and then we called the cavalry.

Dave and Gavins excitement was well justified as the Pied wheatear has very few confirmed records for Southern Africa, in fact, according the Roberts, there have only been two sightings prior to our very exciting Vic Falls Record.

Rare Bird Data (Roberts VII Multimedia, Birds of Southern Africa)

1984/01/23-27 2831DD KZ-Natal Mtunzini, Twin Streams Farm I. Garland, I Sinclair, C. Mowat

2000/12/12-20 1823CD Botswana Third Bridge, just N or M. Tripp, P. Whittington et al.

 

So as the buzz and hype began to increase over all the social media channels, so too did my itch for a twitch!! At 4:17 on Thursday afternoon, the question was posed on The Chirpers Chat whatsapp group “Anyone keen for a twitch if the Pied hangs around?”.   From that moment on the phones were hot.  Darryl, who lives in Vic Falls, confirmed that the bird was still around on Friday morning. Sadly, there were not as many genuine twitchers out there as we had hoped. So, began the task of trying to establish the most cost effective means of making this twitch happen within the shortest possible timeframe (given that the bird could take advantage of the next available weather front and head on out of there at any moment) and trying to convince others to sign up for this totally spontaneous and awesome adventure.  On Friday afternoon, after rushing around for most of the day trying to pull everything together, Tony Wood and I made the call “screw it, let’s do it”! The plan was to drive to Vic Falls on Saturday, twitch the Wheatear, camp the night in the National Park and head back to Harare on Sunday.  As there were no other takers for the twitch, my wife and 4-month-old baby were fortunate enough to be invited to join the expedition! After a quick SOS call to Gwanny and Gwampa our two older children were taken care of and we were packed and ready for our crack of dawn departure the next day.

Tony arrived promptly at 4:30am on Saturday 25th in his very smart Landcruiser Station wagon & we set off on our epic adventure.  We had been promised an update on the bird’s presence by Darryl but as we were in and out of signal on our journey, the messages weren’t coming in very frequently.  Just before 8am, my wife got signal on her phone and made that apprehensive call to Darryl.  We all held our breaths while we waited for the response…..the bird was still around and feeding happily at the airport….phew! Despite this news, Tony managed to maintain an even keel and we soldiered on avoiding any speeding fines.  As we passed through Gweru, we received a message from Steve Edwards of Musango Camp (Kariba) asking how far we were and if he could join us from Bulawayo.  The timing was perfect and we found him on the side of the road just before the toll gate leading out of Bulawayo with a duffle bag slung over his shoulder!  He piled in with us and we were on our way again barely noticing the excitingly swollen rivers and delicately blooming teak trees along the way as we anxiously headed towards Vic Falls.   We were all so nervous that the bird would have disappeared, or simply flitted over the roof of the terminal building and into the restricted area at the airport before we arrived.

My stomach was churning and my palms were sweaty as we approach the airport turn off.  At 15:05, with overwhelming support from all the members of The Chirpers Chat group on whatsapp, we turned into the Vic Falls International Airport parking lot. My mouth was dry and my breathing laboured as I scanned the parking lot for any sign of fellow birders.  Tony, who had driven like a champ for a full 10.5 hours remained composed (I think…. his driving wasn’t at the forefront of my focus at that point in time) as we drove toward the drop and go section.  Then, to my relief I noticed one person with a mega camera lens on a tripod right in front of the terminal entrance.  Not wanting to disturb the bird, we stopped just short of the camera man and as we came to a stop, Steve said “there it is…I got it first!!”.  Sure enough, there was the Pied Wheatear perched on the terminal building behind the flag poles.  A wave of euphoria and jubilation swept over us as we all clambered out of the car to get better visuals, leaving Tony to find a suitable parking. It had taken us less than a minute from entering the carpark to getting a visual of this little beauty.  WHAT JOY!!!  Over the course of the next 15 minutes we revelled in our sighting, amazed at how accommodating this little chap was, in the presence of our gradually increasing crowd of twitchers.

He was an absolute beauty even in his non-breeding plumage.   His dark dusky face was slowly transitioning into the soot black breeding colour which was accentuated by his pale buff belly.  He spent much of the time preening each feather affording the odd view of that striking white tail with the broad dark tail tip.  Electrifying, to say the least!  He would then see a poor unsuspecting moth below and take a plunge to rid himself of that hot African hunger…. after all he had flown a very long way.  The dark face, dark back and stunning white tail flash reminded me of the Forktails in Asia which are like our wagtails just a lot more striking!  He was very contented and ate a mountain of moths right in front of us. The Northern Grey-headed sparrows would flush insects from the grass and he would capitalise on this opportunity to indulge.  He was joined by a Spotted flycatcher who seemed equally thrilled with this manna from heaven.

It was exceptionally hot and our euphoria meters were running at one hundred percent as was Tony’s car equipped with an Engel fridge brimming with bitterly cold beers.  The combination of the Wheatear and the hops and barley was absolutely staggering…. Elation beyond belief!

jf5jf6

After a couple of cold ones in the car park and some shared photos and conversation with the fellow twitchers, we headed into town to see if we could pick up a Schalow’s Turaco which my wife still needs.  Steve made some calls and we popped in to one of his friends’ houses where they have been seen on the odd occasion.  Sadly, we did not find a Turaco, but we did meet the loveliest and most hospitable Vic Falls locals who joined our excitement and opened their homes and their bar fridges to us.  After being invited to stay at the beautiful, well located, well equipped, comfortable, upmarket and very reasonably priced Lorries B&B and now, under no pressure to get into the park and set up camp before the Park closed, we headed to the boat club for sundowners on the banks of the Mighty Zambezi.  It was most important that I washed my face in the Zambezi…. you can’t be that close to the river and not touch it!

We tucked into a delicious dinner at the Boat Club then headed to our B&B for an early night.  In the early hours of Sunday morning we were woken by rolling thunder, followed by a deluge.  The heavens opened and it bucketed down.  We were very grateful for the hospitality of Lorrie and Clive and even more grateful that we were not having to break camp in the rain.  After a quick cup of coffee, we left Lorries B&B and headed out for one last failed attempt at getting the Schalows turaco before we were back on the road again, homeward bound.

The weather was still very grey and wet as we approached the airport.  We decided to do one last drive by, hoping to get a final glimpse of the little beauty but he was nowhere to be seen and the security guard on site said that he had not made an appearance that morning yet.  We headed on, relieved that we had secured such a fantastic sighting the day before.

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There was still a lot of buzz about the bird on social media as we picked up signal along our way and we passed fellow birders heading to the Falls in the hope of catching a glimpse, but their quest did not bear the same fruits as ours.  We managed to get a great sighting of two bull eles crossing the road just in front of us and we also got a glimpse of a rufous morph of a Steppe Buzzard which was a first for us.

jf7

We dropped off Steve in Bulawayo and stopped a couple of times to try in vain for the Barred-wren warbler and Melodious lark.  The weather system was still all around us with ominous black clouds whichever way we looked. We arrived home safe and sound at around 6:30 only to learn that today’s twitchers, which included many South Africans who had flown up especially for the twitch had had a dismally unsuccessful day and the Wheatear had not been seen at all that day.  We breathed a sigh of relief that we had made the call to strike while the iron was hot and had been blessed with such crippling views of the bird.

Today, less than 48 hours after our sighting, an announcement has been posted on social media that “The Bird Has Flown”!  This news has made our merry team of twitchers even more elated that we had such a successful twitch and little did we know how close we had been to missing this fickle little feathered friend.

Thanks must go out to all those who made this twitch such a great one.

Gavin Ford for spotting the bird and making a call on its ID & Dave Carsons for getting the information out to the public

Tony Wood who drove like a legend on such a long journey

Steve Edwards who provided some great entertainment on the road trip and introduced us to his very special friends from The Falls

Lorrie and Clive from Lorries B&B who took us in and made us so comfortable and at home in their lovely establishment

My wife, Jen (Sausages) and my Baby Leo who accompanied me and held the reigns when the celebrations began

Jan Wood who was our number one supporter on The Chirpers Chat Whatsapp group throughout the journey

Darryl Tiran for keeping us updated of the whereabouts of the bird

All those who sent messages and shared our excitement remotely as our road trip progressed.

________________________________________________________________

Thank you Jono.  Well written

Cheers all

Tony

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Hi All

Zimbabwe had a bad drought in 2016 with dams very low and the underground water table taking a beating.

Also there were no Blogs from me !!

In January the beautiful Jan and I celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary !!   Where oh where have all those wonderful years gone ?

I had a number of excellent trips with clients last year and Jan and I did two of own. Firstly we joined a whole bunch of mates at Rifa Education Camp on the Zambezi River near Chirundu – wonderful birding but distressingly little game around.

braai

There have to be worse places to have a Braai.

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The Rifa Camp dining area

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There is a giant Fig tree in the camp which attracts thousands of birds.

The next trip was the BirdLife Zim AGM which this year was held at Lake Muturikwi outside Masvingo.  Great camp sites, Chalets and Lodges and a very good AGM with me not in the chair for a change.

Then I was off to Cape Town !!!

There is a little bird that breeds in southern Europe – the Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin – and then migrates to the Sahel zone to avoid the Eurasian winter.  Then a “lost” bird turned up in Cape Town to be discovered by Peter Steyn.  It was seen reliably for several weeks and I desperately wished to see it.  Eventually Jan said “Just go !”  So I did.

rtsr

Rufous-tailed Scrub Robin (Erythropygia galactotes 

This photo is ©Tinus Lamprecht.    Well I was successful and also caught up with some old buddies I hadn’t seen for nearly ten years.

Then – big surprise – Jan was effectively summonsed to an Alzheimer’s conference in Nigeria.  Greatly excited to meet the King of Ibadan and of course to see a bit of another country.

Roll on to September and we were off again, this time to Malawi  with our dearest friend (who has featured many times in these Blogs) AJS. Whilst not specifically a birding trip something new was bound to crop up. We drove all the way via Lusaka in Zambia, through Chipata and on to Kasungu National Park where we stayed in Lifupa Lodge.

lifupasign

Kasungu Sign

It is a vast park and we saw some antelope species, heard Lion roaring very close to camp and saw loads of Elephants

kasunguview

Fantastic view of the park from Black Rock

kasunguele

Plenty of quite relaxed elephant about

From Kasungu we drove north to the Nyika Plateau, which I covered in a previous post “Above the Tree Line”, and stayed in the very impressive Chelinda Lodge.

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Fantastic reception Room at Chelinda Lodge

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Gorgeous chalets over looking the moorland

I had a couple of hours of forest birding and saw a raft of new, to me, species. Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Bar-tailed Trogon, Denham’s Bustard, Olive Woodpecker, Olive-breasted Mountain Greenbul, Red-rumped and Angola Swallows,Fulleborn’s Black Boubou and we heard a Mountain Nightjar.

Next stop was on the other side of this tiny country at Ngala Beach Lodge on the shores of Lake Malawi.

ngala2

Ngala Beach Lodge is delightful

lake1

The lake is gentle, tide free and very blue

ngala1

Very peaceful and relaxing surrounds 

After three nights of mega relaxing we were off again, southwards this time, to the bottom end of the lake with Nkopola Lodge as our destination.  Jan and I had last been to Nkoplola Lodge way back in 1975 !!  This was a great romantic reminder of simpler times.

nkopola1

Lovely gardens

The hotel has, naturally, changed over the decades and is now much larger and very much more commercial.  Not altogether a bad thing.  We did take an afternoon out to visit the very bohemian village of Cape McClear where AJS and Jan went snorkeling to see some of the colourful Cichlids for which the Lake is so famous.

capemc

Relaxing at Cape McClear

After a few days it was time to return home and, due to the problems in central Moçambique, we had to again go all the way across Malawi into Zambia and use the same route home. All in all a fantastic holiday.  Thank you AJS.

Cheers for now

Tony

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