Twitching with SERIOUS Intent !!

Posted: 13/01/2021 in Birding
Tags: ,

We spent the last blog with folk travelling large distances to see rare and unexpected vagrants to southern Africa. If you recall, these two were the Spur-winged Lapwing and a very lonely Red-rumped Swallow.

But what about birds that are resident in the region ? Resident birds that are just plain difficult to see ? Or those that are difficult to access ? Or the nomads that drift around, well, nomadically, and are therefore unpredictable ?

A number spring to mind. Cardinal and Red-headed Quelea, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Marsh Tchagra. Even quite common species like Horus Swift and Racquet-tailed Roller are not guaranteed ticks for one’s list.

So, my long time buddy and faithful client PR has been birding for decades and realises that his very substantial southern African bird list has reached the critical number of – wait for it – 899 !

Of that huge number there is only one resident bird that he has not photographed or, even, seen !!

He contacts me and we decide to ‘give it a bash’.

He has Covid19 tests. He buys air tickets. Packs a suitcase and gets airborne.

So this is twitching with serious intent ! Fraught with problems and difficulties.

Think about it – the LAST southern African resident bird that he needs !! Wowser !

We depart for Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands – well, lowlands, actually because we are aimed at the Honde Valley where we will spend 3 nights at the fabulous Aberfoyle Lodge.

Aberfoyle Lodge

We arrive safely having successfully avoided being harassed by the police road blocks for breaking lock down rules. Which we haven’t, as tourism is ‘open’. We check in and are quickly found by the local guide, Morgan, and informed that the quest must get underway as soon as possible. To achieve this we are back on the road barely minutes after arriving – this time heading for Katiyo Estates on the Moçambique border.

Katiyo is an old tea estate dating back into the ’70’s but has recently changed hands and is being re-purposed for Macadamia and Avocado plantations so we were awe struck when, on arrival, we witnessed the changed landscape.

All of these Tea bushes had been neglected and grew into trees. All gone now !
That is Katiyo forest rear left. It is going to be left alone they tell me. Hope so !

It looks like devastation but it is, in its own way, progress.

Now to birding. After passing Katiyo forest we arrive at an area of grassland, probably not more than 4 or 5 hectares in extent. We park, alight and commence birding.

This area is very, very special place indeed because we picked up the following quite quickly.

Cabanis’s Bunting Emberiza cabanisis On the road towards Katiyo.
Cuckoo Finch Anomalospiza imberensis
Grey Waxbill Estrilda perreini
Short-winged Cisticola Cisticola brachypterus

Now things really started to get going with the specials………

Moustached Grass Warbler Meliocichla mentalis
Red-winged Warbler Heliolais erythropterus

Those last two were in the same bush !! We also saw Short-winged Cisticola, Marsh Tchagra (used to be Anchieta’s) and loads of Common Waxbills.

Then ……………………………………………………..

much gesticulating by Morgan in the distance …………………………………………..

and a very rapid walk/trot/trip by PR and me ……………………………………………..

seedcracker !!!!!!!

The ever elusive Lesser Seedcracker !!!! Pyrenestes minor

This is the last southern African resident species that PR was looking for !! We had cracked it !! (Pun intended)

Even cracking a seed !!
What an absolutely amazing moment – and photographs !

There was much excitement and merriment for some time after that. Hugely exciting with plenty of high fives going around between the grinning participants !!

I had actually seen one of these before but that was as long ago as 1993 and not a sighting since !!

Well, that was well done ! What are we going to do for the next two full days of our planned trip ?

Not a problem because PR needs to up the quality of his photo’s of a few more of the special species in the area and searching these out was our next priority but only after suitable celebrations had taken place.

Celebration time ! PR and Morgan with the Seedcracker habitat behind them.
Proper celebrations back at the Lodge – 900 !! Wow !

With a strategy of search and photograph then search again the game was on …………..

African Pygmy Kingfisher Ispidina picta
Yet another Moustached Grass Warbler
Green-backed Woodpecker in the rain ! Campethera cailliautii
African Broadbill Smithornis capensis
Fly by shooting Silvery-cheeked Hornbill Bycanistes brevis
A very lucky sighting of Common Quail Coturnix coturnix
Small Striped Swordtail, Green Banded and Emperor Swallowtails

And finally the most difficult of all ………….

Pallid Honeyguide Indicator meliphilus

Oh ! By the way, PR is only the 15th person to ever reach the southern African 900 milestone !

And he says he is not coming back !!!

So that’s it for now folks. Keep well in these trying Covid19 times and let’s hope we can all go birding again as soon as possible.



  1. How far off 900 are you?

  2. Mark Snell says:

    Nice one! M

    On Wed, 13 Jan 2021 at 10:03, Birding in Zimbabwe wrote:

    > birdingzimbabwe posted: ” We spent the last blog with folk travelling > large distances to see rare and unexpected vagrants to southern Africa. If > you recall, these two were the Spur-winged Lapwing and a very lonely > Red-rumped Swallow. But what about birds that are resident in ” >

  3. dale arden says:

    Congratulations Boss on getting PR to his 900. Interesting to see that tee is out and avos and macs are in too. I love tea estates, look like giant golf courses.


  4. Tony Wood says:

    102 as of this morning !

  5. says:

    Good morning from another serious twitcher with serious intent who has now retired – sadly true. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your report and seeing the photos of all those wonderful Zim birds. Well done to all three of you on the trip. Kind regards Helen Biram

  6. Janet Wood says:

    Fantastic birding. Congratulations PR on reaching such a milestone with a great bird. Congratulations to Morgan Sanieti for guiding TW and PR

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