Hi to whoever is out there……….

This first post is quite long and very old news – like about 12 years old !! And some of it is seriously out of date out I do need to get some historical stuff up there in the cloud so as to emphasise my experience and commitment to good birding.

So here goes…………….

Moçambique Birding – 2000

A wonderful trip with fourteen lifers.

The planning for this trip was spread over about five meetings over several months. The excellent information available on the “Roberts Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa” compact disc made life very much easier than expected. The party consisted of myself, Alex Masterson a lawyer and birder of note, John Dawson – onetime geologist and sometime IT man and finally Chris Wall who claims to work as a chemical engineer but has yet to be seen working at anything. We also took Kazaya Banda and Patrick to act as camp guards and interpreters. As it turned out Alex speaks better Shona than either of them and John was an absolute whiz at Portuguese which was very much more useful anyway. In the following pages of escapades all birds new to my personal list will be marked with an Asterisk

Day One – Saturday 28th October 2000

A diabolical start to the morning involving flat vehicle batteries (Alex – Toyota Hilux Double Cab – petrol), malfunctioning automatic gates (John) and a pet killed by a car (Johns dog – because of the gate), delayed our departure from Harare but we eventually got on the road. An uneventful and surprisingly simple border crossing saw us safely into Moçambique. It was pissing with rain so it was decided to commence our birding adventure from Beira rather than setting up camp in the rain. We hired a couple of “beached” caravans at Biques resort, had an excellent crab curry for dinner with lots and lots of Manica cerveja and went to bed.

Day Two – Sunday 29th

An 05h00 start saw us heading north from Beira for about 40 km to the delightful resort of Rio Savanne. The only way in is to cross over the estuary of the Rio Savanne river in the resorts own dhow. They have a concession of several thousand hectares consisting of mangrove swamp, grassland, lowland forest, coastal forest and patches of varying quality miombo. The owner, James Nelson, very kindly allowed us access to this wonderful area and the first serious birding commenced. Some of the specials we saw here were Southern-banded Snake Eagle, Black-headed Apalis*, Locust Finch*, Blue Quail*, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Green Coucal*, Yellow Weaver, African Finfoot, Black-bellied Starling and in the lagoon area Whimbrel and Terek Sandpiper*. The journey back through the flood plain gave us Black-backed Cisticola, Red-shouldered Widow, Wattled Cranes and some ring-tail Harriers. John (Land Rover Defender – diesel – he gets a bit emotional when discussing this vehicle) has a wonderful toy – a Coleman like ice box which plugs in to a 12v power source and makes beer cold !! Now that is a helluva thing. It works really well and we were well supplied with refreshment for the whole trip. You wouldn’t believe the teeming millions of Beira residents that think the beach around Biques is just THE place to be on Sunday afternoon. We had a mutton stew and loads of red wine for dinner.

Day Three – Monday 30th

Having discovered that the Indian House Crow* is now established in Beira and following instructions from the “Roberts’ CD” we back tracked to Dondo and turned northward. Main tar roads were pretty good but once off them progress was slow and roads were either very badly potholed tar or (more commonly) poor dirt roads that prevented speeds over about 40 km per hour. (Except in the case of Chris who seems to feel a need to pretend his name in Michael Schumacher.) We drove up through some excellent looking miombo and occasionally stopped to check out the better looking patches where we found the Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike to be quite common as was the Black Saw-wing Swallow*. Most of the journey follows a derelict railway line which is littered with hundred upon hundreds of war damaged wagons, locos and tankers. A very sobering sight – it certainly made me realise the damage that the Rhodesian forces and subsequently Renamo inflicted on that country. We eventually arrived at the thriving metropolis of Muanza about 110 km north of Dondo, drove through the town and then turned east at the 11 km peg north of Muanza. We set up our camp for the next two nights in some beautiful miombo woodland about 20 km down a logging road which headed towards the coast. Our intention was to locate the Chinizua Forest to look for Gunning’s Robin, White-breasted Alethe and Angola Pitta. An unusual call for miombo woodland was Hadeda Ibis both in the morning and evenings and we also heard Rufous-cheeked Nightjar*.

Day Four – Tuesday 31st

We drove about 25 km further east from our camp site to where the forest was supposed to be but found commercial loggers in residence. Our feelings of shock and horror were almost tangible as we looked at the devastation they were causing with the “slash and burn” assistance of newly resettled locals. After much scouting around we discovered that there were still some patches of remnant forest and decided to try them out which we did with some success. Both the Blue-throated Sunbird* and Gunning’s Robin* were found along with Narina Trogon, Woodwards’ Batis, Collared Sunbird, Black-headed Apalis and, in a clearing, some more Blue Quail. Slender Bulbul were quite common. The Gunning’s Robin was present in most patches of forest, making it locally common, but it is extremely difficult to see. Unfortunately the Pitta and Alethe remained elusive. John had the best views of Gunning’s Robin when one sat on a little branch about two feet in front of his face ! John also had some fun using the Land Rover is some quite difficult situations but nothing that a bit of diff-lock couldn’t fix.

Day five – Wednesday 1st November

A day of much driving. Leaving our camp site early we stopped quite frequently in the miombo in the unfulfilled hope of finding the Yellow-breasted Hyliota. The Red-faced Crombec was common and we did find a pair of Red-winged Warblers* which is a bit bloody strange for a reed and sedge dweller. We also saw Red-billed Helmetshrike and lots of very impressive Stag-horn Ferns. We returned to Dondo via Muanza to find our previously productive road side birding spots fenced off with red tape and much de-mining activity going on ! One needs to be very careful in Moçambique !! From Dondo we headed west back to Inchope where we once again turned north, crossing the Pungwe River. The bridge was quite impressive and the bomb damaged bit was fixed with a sort of steel Bailey bridge affair. The last time I crossed the Pungwe was on a pontoon in 1958 !! We went through Gorongosa town and then another 35 km of terrible road to the village of Vunduzi, only arriving there at 21h00. A long day indeed. We had a few language problems trying to check into the “motel” which consisted of a very large mango tree with a plinth built around it and a dilapidated rondavel without sides in which some of our number camped. Dinner was a very late Kudu stew done in the poitjie !

Day 6 – Thursday 2nd

On this day we climbed Mount Gorongosa in search of the elusive Green Headed Oriole. It was the hardest working day of the trip – we set off at about 06h10 and finally got off our feet at 17h40 in the afternoon. We were accompanied by three youngsters from the village whom we hired as guides and then picked up the local parks warden who insisted on accompanying us despite the fact that he was obviously a heavy smoker and or asthmatic and was not nearly as fit as we were. He kept falling way behind and we had to stop repeatedly for him to catch up. The climb is not hard if you are reasonably fit – perhaps about twice the climb of Inyangani – and the scenery is stunning. Unfortunately civilisation (?) is encroaching on the mountain and there are only a few patches of montane forest left. The Green-headed Oriole* appears to be fairly common on the mountain in that we encountered at least a pair in each of the two forest patches we worked. They are however very difficult to see as the forest is very tall and very thick and the birds seem to a large degree to confine themselves to the canopy. Fairly good sightings were eventually achieved and a trio of Grey Cuckooshrikes* were an added bonus as was a Cape Batis sitting on a single egg. During the climb and descent we saw Forest Weaver, White-eared Barbet and a Yellow-spotted Nicator*. We also heard Delagorgue’s Pigeon and saw Blue-spotted Dove. Our legs were pretty stuffed from thorns etc. and on our return home thirsts needed to be quenched. We had a great sit down dinner with good red wine served by chef Dawson.

Day 7 -Friday 3rd

From Vunduzi we had a fairly easy drive to Gorongosa National Park arriving in time to unpack and go for a drive in the Land Rover before dark. The park is very beautiful – lush and green but with very little game. We saw perhaps 20-30 antelope all told (Reed Buck, Bush Buck, Oribi and Eland). However the bird life made up for everything – we saw 116 species in less than 24 hours. The Moçambique Fauna and Flora authorities are making quite an effort to rehabilitate Gorongosa which was completely poached out during the war years. The poaching was systematically organised firstly by the then Rhodesian forces and later the South Africans, simply as a means of getting Renamo to be self funding. At the moment they only offer self catering camping but they intend to rehabilitate the old lodges soon. Ablutions were clean and pleasant and the camp site was beautiful. We had the whole park to ourselves as we were the only visitors at the time. An overnight stop is insufficient time to effectively bird here and we would recommend at least a two night stop. As the park is very susceptible to flooding it would be advisable to plan your visit for September so as to gain maximum access to a fairly extensive road system. Unfortunately all fees are payable in US dollars. Getting back to the birding there is good miombo and of course extensive grassland and wetland. The numbers of waterfowl were amazing with thousands of White-faced Duck taking flight at a time. Wattled and Crowned Crane were to be found alongside Spur-wing Geese, Herons and Coucals. Raptors were common, most notably Lesser-spotted Eagle and Batleur. Hooded Vulture and Red-necked Francolin were seen.

Day 8 – Saturday 4th

We left Gorongosa around midday and drove via Chimoio to a place called Casa Msika – a very pleasant complex with rondavel lodges and a good bar and restaurant complex on Lake Chicamba south of the main road in Manica province. We spent our last night there before driving home uneventfully on Sunday. Well uneventful is not quite true. We did find a pub in the town of Manica which was open at 06h30 and we felt it needed trying out. Just outside Harare we encountered a really bad road accident with bodies and blood and gore all over the road and Alex planned the last puncture at about this time. 

All in all a great trip – great birds – great company – great places to visit – now lets see what the future brings?

Phew…..

Tony

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