Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

CKGR

Posted: 06/12/2018 in Uncategorized

Hi all

CKGR ? Well, it stands for Central Kalahari Game Reserve.   Simple huh.

This huge reserve was demarcated in the early 1960’s to allow space for the San (Bushmen) people to live out their lives in their traditional manner. It is 52800 square kilometres !!  That’s HUGE. In fact you could fit Swaziland AND Lesotho inside it at the same time. Yes, it is bigger than Switzerland !

In much more recent times it has been partially opened up, by special permit, to the public – so naturally that is where the Woods wanted to go – not so easy to do – it is very remote – there is no fuel – there is no water – there are very limited camping facilities – so we needed to be prepared – VERY prepared. To start with we would need three vehicles and finding willing participants was never going to that easy.   Getting quick agreement from AJS and GJW was simple but that still didn’t get us another vehicle. A second couple sadly had to pull out because of illness. So I honed my marketing skills and went searching. CS and RR, both veterinarians were quite an easy target and once they had found locums were now on board.  Months previously I had conned a couple into agreeing to be a standby team so a call and a short wait they realised to extent of this opportunity and acquiesced and PW and DW became the third vehicle. Yay !

We were on our way – AJS arrived on October 4th and we immediately started fitting the compressor he had so kindly brought with him.

When tackling sandy deserts a compressor is vital

On the 5th we were off to our first stop in Bulawayo where we were also to pick up GJW.  We spent the night in the very quirky and eccentric Nesbitt Castle.

Next morning we met up with the other parties and drove, now in convoy, for the Botswana border and on to Francistown.  Here there was a bit of urgent shopping to do before we were on the road again to Nata Lodge where we were to camp. didn’t stop us from relaxing ……

Sundowners before dinner at Nata Lodge

Day three saw us heading west towards Maun.  That is until I noticed we would be passing relatively closely to “Baines’ Baobabs”.  A roadside conference established eagerness from all parties so that is what we did. Thomas Baines immortalised these trees when he painted them in May of 1862 and they are still there and still look the same.

Driving in Nxai Pan – heavily loaded vehicle indeed

Baines’ Baobabs in Nxai Pan National Park

After that small five hour excursion we arrived at our Maun campsite in time to set up and then once again have sundowners and dinner.

Day four after much critical shopping for tyres, water and of course beer we were ready for the last leg to Rakops before heading to CKGR.

After shopping in Maun

 

 

Last fuel in the not so delightful Rakops

At Last ………..

….after four days we get to the turn off !

…. and we get to the main gate ……..

Matswere Gate

After check-in all eight very excited bunnies drove into the park to be absolutely blown away by the first vistas of Deception Valley

Deception Valley

We were staying at one of the Deception campsites for two nights so explored as much as we could.

Bat-eared Fox are delightful creatures

Deception Pan

During the rains this large Pan would be just a couple of inches deep in water.

Leopard Pan

The team gathered for sundowners at Leopard Pan

Left to right – CS, GJW, me, PW, DW, AJS, RR.    This was taken just after we had seen two Cheetah.

My GPS wasn’t much use

Then we were off again on the long drive south to Piper Pan.

Jan is a very happy lass at Piper Pan

There is a pumped waterhole at Piper and game was plentiful – in fact to see something – just look in the shade !

Springbok – in the shade

Wildebeest – in the shade

Kudu – in the shade

Gemsbuck – in the shade

It was here at Piper Pan that we saw our first Lion

Lion – oh look ! He is also in the shade

It was very early the next morning that a pair walked right through our camp, roaring and generally scaring the campers in their tiny nylon tents !

Piper is a lovely spot and on a return visit we would spend more time there.

Piper Waterhole

Sundown at Piper Pan

Any visit to CKGR will involve big distances being travelled.

Big distances on lousy roads

It is on these sandy roads that tyre pressures need to be lowered to improve both traction and ride comfort.

Thats why we needed to fit the compressor – remember the compressor?  It worked brilliantly.

Letting the tyres down

From Piper we drove to Lekubu where once again we had a Lion in camp !

Lion at Lekubu – standing to the right of frame

Next day off to Sunday Pan, where there is another pumped waterhole.

And more Lions – who walked right through our camp – again !! That’s three nights out of six !!

Jan’s shadow

This pic shows a shadow of Jan as she is trying to get a photo of the Lion spoor going down the road and directly past one of our tents.

….. and here they are !

One of our concerns about this trip was Scorpions.  There are a couple of species that can be fatal to man that live in these parts so we went prepared with UV torches and we found plenty.

Scorpion in UV light – they fluoresce

On our way out of the park we were delayed …….

….. a stroll of Lions ?

Well I think you will have an idea of the wonderfulness of this expedition by now.

So to close – a picture of an African Wildcat

It is in there …

Here is a closer one ….

Sweet ? Probably not !

 

Cheers for now

Tony

Hi All

The Woods are once again off adventuring !!!

CKGR

 

Google it !

Cheers

Tony

A Tribute

Posted: 11/07/2018 in Uncategorized

To this lovely man !  John Neville sadly died last week.  A wonderful gentleman and a brilliant birder. John had a fantastic sense of humour, huge courage in the face of the many health difficulties than aflicted him but never stopped him from going off on yet another birding adventure.

Here he is handing over a significant donation to the Chairman of the Greystone Park Nature Preserve in Harare for the construction of an island in their dam.  So he was also a man of great generosity !

John resting on the banks of the Pungwe River in far eastern Zimbabwe.

He loved the forests in the Zambezi delta region of central Mocambique as these two pictures show very typical views of John simply absorbing his environment and ensuring that he remembers it all.

Rest in Peace John.  We will all miss you.

Hi all …..

A short message from my long time client and friend PR ..

“Are you available at short notice ?”

A simple affirmative reply and PR starts booking various things, like airline tickets, hotels etc and I start my research.  PR wants to take photographs of various species he has seen previously but did not, could not capture on camera.

He arrives and I have decided that his priority should be a Spotted Creeper.  Off we go into the Mukuvisi Woodlands right here in central Harare.  We worked hard but eventually ………

Success !

Creeper Spotted2_Mukuvisi

African Spotted Creeper – Salpornis spilonotus

Well done PR !!  Good one !!  Priority number one ticked but we cant relax now because next on the list is Zimbabwe’s near endemic, and very elusive, Boulder Chat so it is off to Christon Bank just north of Harare.

 

Chat Boulder_Christon Bank

Boulder Chat – Pinarornis plumosis

That was much easier than the Creeper and whilst we were there we chanced upon this chap.Cuckoo Common2 (hepatic)_Christon Bank

At first we thought we had found an hepatic Common Cuckoo but later decided that is is in fact a juvenile Red-chested Cuckoo – Cuculus solitarius.

The following day we packed the car and headed off to the Bvumba Mountains just outside Mutare on the border with Mocambique where our priority bird was Swynnerton’s Robin but we would also take whatever else decided to co-operate.

Turaco Livingstone's_Seldom Seen

One of the first was the stunning Livingstone’s Turaco – Turaco livingstonii

We then went hunting the Robin !  Found a nice confiding one in the forest at that birding Mecca, Seldomseen, but the light was far from conducive for photography so the hunt continued ………….

…..again…… Success !!

Swynnerton2

What a stunning little bird – Swynnertonia swynnertoni

Robin Swynnerton's2_Seldom Seen

Can’t post just one can I ??

We had a fantastic week and PR left for home a very happy man.

Cheers for now …

Tony

The Twitching Continues

Posted: 18/10/2017 in Uncategorized

Well folks I am back again.

A few days ago I was peacefully reading a book at home, not annoying anyone, not doing anything dodgy or illegal, not doing chores – just minding my own business and quietly turning the pages of my book.  Very relaxed fits the description.

THEN …….

… my cell phone buzzes and pings !!!

Mildly irritated, I lower my book and glance at that infernal nuisance called a mobile phone.

A message.  From someone I have never met but I am vaguely aware of his existence.

A very polite request for assistance in identifying a bird from some pretty crabby photos and a vague mention of a Gull-billed Tern.  Knowing this to be nigh on impossible I glance briefly at the picture.

GBTernAsher

My eyes widen and I come out of my previous state of mind numbing detective stories and look at the photograph again. That looks pretty good as a possible Gull-billed Tern !!

I text him back – Leg colour ?  Facial markings ? Bill colour ? and various other ramblings.

I get his reply with pretty much all the correct answers !!

By now I am no longer comfortably seated on the verandah under a cooling fan.

I am on my mobile phone (of which I have become suddenly very fond) and I am starting to irritate and annoy people.  It doesn’t take very long to get James to agree to go driving about the countryside.  Roger (of photography fame in a previous post) has to attend a meeting – a terribly sorry but I can’t get out of it – sort of meeting !

“What bird did you say ?  A Gull-billed Tern ?!!  Hold on a mo’ ……….. OK I have cancelled the meeting – come and pick me up !”  I do like a man who can make decisions !

Yay !  Game on !  We are off to Joyce Mine near Beatrice, about 70 km south of Harare.

We get there and meet up with Asher who originally alerted me to this birds presence and within minutes we are in contact with a large Tern flying over the dam.  What do we need ?

  1. Black legs and feet.  Yes I saw those.
  2. Short, stout black bill. Yes I saw that.
  3. Smudge behind the eye. James saw that.
  4. Strange sort of alternate light and dark primaries.  Roger says he can see that on the back of his camera !
  5. A grey rump.  None of us saw that !! Chase the bird to the other dam ……

…and Boom !

Gbtzw7

Gull-billed Tern Gelochelidon nilotica

Everyone can see the grey rump !  And the smudge behind the eye ! And the stout bill !

GBtzw8

And the strange alternate appearance of the primaries !

Gbternzw1

And the black feet & legs !

Ladies and gentlemen – there you have it – Zimbabwe’s 8th ever Gull-billed Tern !!

The other seven sightings of this species are very spread out. The 1st (Campbell & Manson) was way back in 1969 and the 2nd (Hancock) in 1972. The 3rd (Pollard) only appeared in 1991 as did the 4th (Tree). Numbers 5,6 & 7 (all F & T Couto) were spread over 1993 and ’94 . So this bird of ours hasn’t been seen in Zimbabwe for something like 22 years !!  That’s why we are super chuffed !!

And Asher ?  Remember Asher ?  He is relatively new to birding and this was his first Tern of any kind – now that’s the way to start !!

One for the road …………

Gbtzw2

A huge thanks to Roger McDonald (and Asher) for the free use of the pictures.

Cheers all

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

Forgetful ?

Posted: 14/04/2013 in Uncategorized

Oh my !   How forgetful and dumb can one be ?

Ooops – not dumb – just forgetful …..

I completely forgot a whole country !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Zambia Nyika

Zambian Wildlife Authority

If you want to visit this magnificent part of the Nyika Plateau as a Zambian, or from Zambia, you, unfortunately, have to first come into Malawi and go in from the east !!

We popped over – because we could – and added country five to our journey!

And on the subject of anybody having an appalling memory …

http://www.facebook.com/ZARDAHARARE

This fantastic society is run by by wonderful wife Jan.  She won’t let me forget anything.  Bless her little cotton socks. Which are invariably multi-coloured.

Thanks for watching and please visit her Facebook site and LIKE everything.

Cheers

Tony

Hi all

I’m back for the final stretch …….

When we left off last time we had made it all the way back to Mt Rungwe just north of Tukuyu in south western Tanzania.

We made an early departure (another big thank you is due to the Clowes family) and headed for Malawi.

Songwe Bridge

Songwe Bridge

After crossing the Songwe River and doing all the normal customs and immigration stuff we were off southwards back down Lake Malawi, past Livingstonia and back up onto the escarpment.

Lake Malawi

Stunning views of Lake Malawi

Then onwards inland and south to a little town called Rumphi.  A critical stop to purchase beer and off westwards for several hours on crap dirt roads to Thazima Gate.

Thazima Gate

Thazima Gate

This is the entrance to the Nyika National Park.  Take very careful note of the stated altitude !!  1646 metres above sea level is already in the region of 5000 feet a.s.l.

We drove into the park and through some magnificent Miombo woodland.  Essentially Miombo is a Swahili word for broad-leafed woodland consisting mostly of  Brachystegia species.

Miombo Woodland

Miombo habitat in Nyika N.P.

It was here we found a new species for both of us !

Starling - White-winged

The White-winged Starling
Neocichla gutturalis

That was cool !   It has another name – White-winged Babbling Starling. But still a long way to go and ever and ever upwards.

We eventually arrived at the Park HQ but because it was quite late (read early evening) and decidedly chilly we opted for chalet accommodation.  A bit pricey ……  but …… cest la vie.

Nyika Nat. Park Chalet

Nyika Nat. Park Chalet

During the evening we could clearly hear the calls of several Montane Nightjars and it was really eerie as the call is so similar and yet so different from our well known Fiery-necked Nightjar.

The real revelation was the next morning ………………….

Nyika Plateau

Nyika Plateau

Wow !!   That is why this chapter in entitled Above the Tree Line !!  Pretty much the whole of this huge park covers the Nyika Plateau and is nearly all above 2800 m.a.s.l.  Thats way above 8000 feet !

Nyika Plateau

Central African Plateau Moorland

This Moorland is very extensive and has small relict patches of Montane Forest.  It is certainly *not* a sterile environment and has loads of interesting inhabitants.

Roan Antelope

Roan Antelope

And the birds ………………….

Blue Swallow

Blue Swallow

Stanley's Bustard

Denham’s Bustard

…. also Churring Cisticola and the very elusive Mountain Yellow Warbler.

What an incredibly fascinating place.

We left about 9’ish and drove interminably south, eventually through a very busy Lilongwe, through the Mocambique border, foolishly after dark, and slowly and carefully inched our way to the metropolis of Ulongue where we settled in to a B&B with loads of Manica Lager and a delicious Piri-piri Galinas !!

Piri-piri Chicken

Galinas Piri-piri

Those of you with southern African connections will know about the famous grilled spicy chickens they serve !

Early next day back on the road , across the Zambezi, through Nyamapanda border post and finally in Harare about lunch time.

It was a long long way but a more than fantastic experience.

Thanks Alex.

Thank you for listening.

Cheers

Tony

Hi all

I’m back ………………………

Leaving the Indian Ocean behind us we drove steadily westwards passing the famous Uluguru Mountains.  There are a bunch of special birds up there including the Uluguru Bush-shrike.  Unfortunately it is a long hard and arduous climb and as ANBM had a triple by-pass some months previously it was deemed unwise for us to attempt the climb.

Uluguru

The famous Uluguru Mountains

Through the Mikumi National Park and into the town of Mikumi itself, where we booked in to the Tan-Swiss Lodge.  Very comfortable motel type accommodation and a restaurant.  Next morning we were off again on a new mission !

Southwards, skirting the also famous Udzungwa Mountains National Park.

Udzungwa Mountains

The sign ….

Our destination was to go past the town (village ?) of Ifakara and into the Kilombero swamps !  Why – you ask ?

Kilombero Weaver

Kilombero Weaver – only discovered in 1986 !!

There are two other specials, also both discovered as recently as 1986 ……………….

Kilombero Cisticola

Kilombero Cisticola

White-tailed Cisticola

White-tailed Cisticola

Well our intentions were good.  The reality is that at that time of year the locals burn the swamp vegetation to plant their crops !!  So to get away from the road we resorted to a different form of transport ……

Kilombero River

Dugout on the Kilombero River

Whilst this little sojourn was great for general birding it failed in it’s quest to find any of the three specials !!  Sigh …..

We were entertained on the return journey (of some 140 km) by this ……..

Nice Truck

A very Nice Truck

We checked back into the same motel in Mikumi and went exploring into the adjacent National Park to be rewarded by a bird which ANBM was very keen to see.

Long-tailed Fiscal

Long-tailed Fiscal

The next day we were once again off westwards and through the amazing Ruaha Valley which gave us a whole string of new species that we were keen to find.

Ashy Starling

Ashy Starling

White-winged Tit

White-winged Tit

von der Decken's Hornbill

Male von der Decken’s Hornbill

Female von der Decken's Hornbill

.. and the female

It was a long day but most productive from a birding point of view.  Very tiring because the driving in Tanzania can be a little frenetic with about 80% of the traffic being huge trucks.

Tanzanian Highway

.. busy roads….

But it can be quite entertaining too ……..

Bob Marley

Bob Marley

We eventually arrived back at the Mount Rungwe Avocado Company and were once again welcomed and royally accommodated by the Clowes family.

The last chapter was about to begin……….

And it will unfold soon …………….

Thanks for listening

Tony

Hi All

Terribly sorry about the inordinate delay !!  It is no excuse but there is a reason …… I have been a very very busy chap and have had little time to consider my readers. Sorry !

After the PAOC conference we could now start to relax a little and start to think seriously about getting into birding mode.  This started with a small trip up into the foothills of Kilimanjaro (still hidden in cloud and we never actually saw this mythical Gomo)

We then followed our original route back through Karogwe and then turned left.  From chatting to various Tanzanian folk we had learnt that some of the best birding was around the tiny village of Amani (nowt more than a medical research station – Malarial research specifically) which sits atop the East Usambara Mountains.

Amani sign

Arrived !

These Usambara Mountains are large things.  Although we were only at about 900 metres above sea level when at the top remember that the surrounding flat Tanzanian veld is only 200 metres a.s.l.

The roads were distinctly not great ….

Bad roads

Up the Usambara’s

Usambara

Really lousy roads

But the forest was impressive – very impressive !

Usambara-Forests

Usambara Forests

And the birds ?  Fantastic is the only word.  Stuff we had not even known existed !

Two of which live there and nowhere else !!

Amani Sunbird

Amani Sunbird

Long-billed Tailorbird

Long-billed Tailorbird

The known global range of the Tailorbird is about 20 square kilometres !!  And to top that no nest has ever been found !  There in itself is a nice little PhD project for an enterprising little soul.

Lots and lots of other very special birds – especially for us southern Africans who know a few of them as very special for our region.

Vanga

Female Black & White Flycatcher

Male Black & White Flycatcher

… and her Husband.

And the enigmatic Green-headed Oriole which in southern Africa is restricted to the massif of Mount Gorongosa in central Mocambique.

Green-headed Oriole

Green-headed Oriole

Also the Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird in which, unlike the others in Africa, the female also wears the metalic Violet back and is only found here and on the Uluguru Mountains some hundreds of kilometre away.

Uluguru-violet-backed-sunbird

Uluguru violet-backed sunbird

And how about this next one ?  Not even the internet can produce a photograph of this bird !!!

Olive Ibis

Olive Ibis –

Bostrychia olivacea is the scientific name.

We stayed up there for two nights and also found the special Owl.  What an amazing call this bird has !

Usambara Eagle Owl "Bubo vosseleri"

Usambara Eagle Owl “Bubo vosseleri”

Finally we had to leave – the word Safari is simply Swahili for “journey” and has absolutely nothing to do with the way we westners view or understand its perceived meaning.

Amani sign

Farewell Amani – and thank you.

When we got back to the main road we turned left – because we could – and drove to the coast simply to put our feet in the Indian Ocean.

Tanga

The Indian Ocean at Tanga

A delightful city/town sort of place with poverty and tourism happily sharing the same tropical paradise and idyllic weather.

And somebody seems to have forgotten something that happened way back in the sixties ………..

Tanganyika

Tanganyika or Tanzania ?

That was it !  We filled up with fuel, money from an ATM and of course some beer supplies and headed west into the hinterland with yet another mission on the cards.

More later………… hopefully sooner rather than later ………..

Thanks for listening.

Tony

Hi all

What a fascinating trip it was.  We had to meet really early in the morning and get allocated into a specific Land Cruiser.  Amazing tourist industry – there were 38 customised vehicles and *all* from the same tour company !   I was impressed to say the least.

Land Cruisers

Customised Tour Vehicles

Arusha National Park is a game reserve so we did see a few mammals………

Giraffe

Giraffe

…. but that is not what this is all about !      Things ornithological is what this is all about !

In the foothills of Mt Meru it is quite dry so these two were to be expected – Superb Starling and Pygmy Batis.

Batis Pygmy

Pygmy Batis

Starling Superb

Superb Starling

The two best ‘yellow’ birds of the day were the Taveta Weaver and Cinnamon-chested Bee-Eater.

Taveta Weaver

Taveta Weaver

Cinnamon-chested Bee-Eater

Cinnamon-chested Bee-Eater

Ok – so the Bee-Eater ain’t too yellow – but the Baglafecht’s Weaver’s were…..

Male Baglafecht's Weaver

Male Baglafecht’s Weaver

Female Baglafecht's Weaver

Female Baglafecht’s Weaver

Although quite common I really did like these little chaps…….

Spot-flanked Barbet

Spot-flanked Barbet

One of the neatest birds of eastern Africa is the Slaty White-eyed Flycatcher.

White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher

Or is that White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher ?

Either way it is Melaenornis fischeri.

Everywhere on the mountain we could here a bird calling and it took ages and ages before someone glimpsed what we used to call a Green Coucal, then we called them Green Malkoha………

Yellowbill

…. and now we call them Yellowbill’s !

Turaco’s were in evidence with the common one being this handsome chap.

Hartlaub's Turaco

Hartlaub’s Turaco

Juvenile Crowned Eagle

Juvenile Crowned Eagle

This juvenile Crowned Eagle was very accommodating and must have had hundreds of photo’s taken in the hour or so that he sat there.  Unusual thing is that this is actually one of my own pictures !!!

Typical of the east African scene are the hundreds, nay thousands, of Greater and Lesser Flamingo’s in the lakes and there are dozens of lakes around Mt Arusha. Some are ground fed with soda rich waters, some are fed from hot springs and others are topped up with fresh water from streams or precipitation.

Lake Momella

Lake Momella Sign

Well I guess that that last pic proves I am running out of Arush material and I should stop now !!

So I will.  See you soon on the next leg of this fantastic journey.

Thanks for watching

Tony

The 13th Pan African Congress took place over seven days in Arusha,  Tanzania in October 2012.

This congress is held every four years and I believe the first one took place here in Zimbabwe around 1960.

There were about 250 delegates from all over the world and in excess of 400 contributors, authors and presenters and with around 34 presentations being given every day in two halls over 6 days we certainly had our work cut out for us !!!

Delegates and presenters came from as far afield as Canada, Poland and Australia and within Africa from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Senegal, South Africa and even the newest country in the world South Sudan !

The theme for this 13th Congress was “Birds in a Changing Environment” which led to presentations ranging from the density of Rufous-bellied Tits in the Miombo biome to the fact that migratory birds link Niger to 80 countries to their North, South, East and West.  The importance of Quelea management as a food source and problem birds in relation to airports and aviation safety.

I could go on and on …. 34 daily presentations for six days is a *lot* of material !  Six days ?  Not seven ?

Thats because they gave us a day off and also took us, en masse, into Arusha National Park which surrounds Mount Meru !  Lovely people they were.

Mt Meru Arusha National Park

A rare view of Mount Meru without clouds !

I will be back soon with the birds of Arusha National Park !

Thanks for reading this

Cheers

Tony

Hi all

I’m back !   It has been a long time but so much has happened !

My last blunt statement to you was that ANBM and I were going to drive from Harare to Arusha in far north Tanzania !

We did !

Because we could !

It was a fantastic trip and soon I will start posting about the whole adventure – very busy with some other pressing stuff at the moment so please be patient.

Lake Malawi view

Lake Malawi suddenly appears !

Mount Meru, Arusha, Tanzania

Mount Meru also suddenly appeared !!

There you are.  A simple taster of things to come…….

And there will be *lots* of birds I promise.

See you soon

Tony

I am back – again !!

Sorry about this but I have to get up to date – TODAY.  Lots of other stuff starts happening tomorrow !

A few weeks back about 14 people went of a mission to Hwedza Mountain south east of Harare.

Why? – you ask.  Well back in 1990 TFC saw a Swee Waxbill up there and put it on an Atlas card.  No-one believed her !

Michael Irwin did (and so did I).  Michael put out a request for someone to go and check it out and our mission was the result.

It is nice up there………..

Hwedza Mountain

View

Even the view from our campsite was cool…..

Hwedza Mountain

View from Camp

Where Hwedza Moutain got the name mountain I am not sure.  It really is a massif with lots of hills and peaks. It covers about twenty square kilometres.  I’ts huge……….

Hwedza Mountain Massif

Hwedza Mountain

There are two peaks which are noticeably higher than the others.  One of them now houses the inevitable array of telcomms masts.

Romorehoto Hwedza Mountain

Cliff face

The east face of Romorehoto has a magnificent cliff face which houses Lanner Falcons, White-necked Ravens and Black Storks.

The other high peak is Dangamvuri……

Dangamvuri Hwedza Mountain Bush fire

Fires

……. it had bush fires burning on it’s slopes for the four days we were up looking around.

Dangamvuri Hwedza Mountain

Dangamvuri

We got to the top and were enthralled by a display given by 30 or 40 Alpine Swifts swooping around at head height Magnificent.           So fast !

Once again the haze was very much against us but it made for great sunsets……

Hwdeza Mountain haze sunset

Sunset on Hwedza Mountain

Did we find the Swee Waxbill ?

Yes we did !

Swee Waxbill Black-faced Swee Estrlda melanotis

Swee Waxbill

This picture was actually taken in Juliasdale, where they are to be expected, by Geoff Hawksley.  We only found one bird, a male, which had a nest which we also found.  TFC has been vindicated !   We were all delighted at the positive result.

Once again thanks for listening.  I will be quiet for a while now because tomorrow I leave on another huge and exciting journey !

ANBM and I are driving to Arusha !!   That’s right – northern Tanzania.  Via Malawi and Mocambique.  T”is a long way !

Cheers

Tony

The Marathon Graphically

Posted: 08/10/2012 in Uncategorized

Me again.  Unexpectedly !

I forgot a very important picture. Damn.

Anyway here it is………………

Map Zimbabwe

The map

Yep……. the dark blue lines cover the Marathon Journey !!

Talk about going around and about a whole country !!

Cool huh ?

Cheers

Tony

 

Hi again to whoever is out there.  Very sorry about the slow rate of arrival of new posts but………………. forget it – excuses never work !

Whilst I own a fantastically versatile little Mazda Bongo with a very “go anywhere” attitude we have to accept that she really only seats the driver (me) and one client.

The Bongo in the Jungle !

However we do have other options.  If time is limited, as it so often is for travellers from other worldly spots, I have access to a pilot and his plane !

The love of Ron’s life !

No – not the chicks – the plane.

We are off to Hwange on Monday to meet up with a Canadian client of mine and hopefully you will soon be able to read all about it here.

Cheers for now

Tony

Hi again to those in the ether…….

This trip from way back in 2003 was awesome…….

Just wait until I post the pictures………………

Enjoy

Botswana and Namibia

The first tentative enquiries for making this trip were made as far back as July 2002 and actual planning started in early October of that year. The overall concept was for Tony, Jan (TW & JB) and their friend Andrew Scothern (AJS) from the UK to tour through the Kalahari to Etosha and then on to a delightful riverside campsite on the Okavango River. As will transpire this plan was bent and massaged significantly en route. The objective ? To show AJS a bunch of Africa he had not previously seen on prior visits; to have a damn good holiday and for TW to squeeze in as much serious birding as possible without boring the others too much.

AJS arrived from Heathrow on time at 06h45 on Friday 11th April and was promptly transferred to our house to unpack very gratefully received goodies and to generally recover from what has never been a particularly easy flight. TW went off to work which actually involved little more than traipsing around the office saying farewell to colleagues and filing a last monthly and weekly report. At about 12h30 TW fetched AJS for a well earned lunch at the Harare Club from which we rolled home in rather poor but high spirited condition. At lunch AJS met a few old business acquaintances and caught up on the news in the city.

D-day – We are off……………….

Saturday saw us up fairly bright and early to commence the task of packing the vehicle, a Mazda B2500D 4×4 Twin Cab. This started with the fitting of a new roof rack which incorporates a 60 litre fuel tank and also carried chairs, tables gas bottles and a few other fillers like a case of wine for JB. We finally concocted a suitable and acceptable configuration within the back of the pick up when Daryll arrived with more kit for us to haul across Africa for two weeks before meeting up with him in the Okavango region. A quick reorganisation got this packed and we were ready to roll by 10h30 and we ‘hit the road’.

Our intended destination was Bulawayo which was accomplished uneventfully by late afternoon. As Zimbabwe seems eternally to be in the midst of a fuel crisis the roof top tank was christened and the truck once again fully fuelled in a matter of minutes. We were staying at a friends house and his daughter Emma had prepared a great dinner for us and to cap it all had invited over a whole bunch of our Bulawayo friends and a merry time was had by all. Thanks Emma !! Dunx also very kindly and bravely lent JB a digital camera for the trip. Thanks Dunx !!

Into Botswana ……..

Sunday morning very early we were up and on our way to Plumtree because the Ramokwebane border post into Botswana becomes very unpleasant after 07h00 with the simultaneous arrival from Bulawayo and Francistown of bus loads of indigenous informal cross border traders. We were early enough for all formalities on both sides to be over within about half an hour and we proceeded to Francistown where we refuelled both tanks and then had a leisurely breakfast at one of the ubiquitous Wimpy establishments. After brekkies we started on the long haul to Gaborone, arriving at the delightful home of Peter and Helen (HellsBells) Bell. Wonderful hospitality ensued and after breakfast the next morning we commenced another long haul north eastwards to rather quickly pick up our first speeding fine ! (87 in an 80 limit)

This Monday leg was 690Km to the metropolis of Ghanzi in the Central Kalahari Desert. About a third of the way there near the ‘town’ of Kang we picked up our second fine (77 in a 60 limit) and it started to rain and drizzle for the rest of the drive. Arriving in Ghanzi at last light we checked into the Kalahari Arms Hotel. (Great camping trip this !) Dinner was excellent, the beer cold and the red wine warm so we were doing swimmingly thus far.

Into Namibia…………….

Tuesday we were off at dawn with a magnificent sunrise heading directly west to the Namibian border at Buitepos. It was still drizzling and continued to do so all of the 520Km to Windhoek !

About mid morning we stopped in a lay-bye and quickly heated up great leftovers kindly given to us by HellsBells. It was brilliant and we received very strange looks from passing vehicles as we stood under a tree in the rain with the Skottle going, each with a fork in one hand, beer in the other, tucking into ham and six veg. We arrived in Windhoek at lunch time and as it was still drizzling booked into a great little truck park where the self catering chalets are all one needs. We still ate in the restaurant and AJS tucked into a huge portion of medallions of Springbok and Gemsbok. These camping holidays are really tiresome.

During the afternoon we had parked ourselves in the centre of the city and embarked on some serious retail therapy. TW had prearranged the purchase of a 40 litre “Engel” camping freezer from a company called Cymot Greensport and apart from a few irritations with various combinations of credit cards this was successfully accomplished but only after we had worked out why Windhoek shops close from 14h00 to 15h00 ! Being so far west he Namibians have ‘winter daylight saving’ and we had gained an hour at Buitepos. Other retail stuff involved some serious grocery shopping because we were on a camping trip – right ? Also some compulsory stuff like new bird books, booze, reading specs for specs lost in Harare by AJS (more on this later).

Into the fray……………..

The next morning TW found a Grey-backed Cisticola (in the rain) and we discovered that the new Engel freezes absolutely brilliantly but would not work in the previously installed car socket !! Back to Cymot and extremely good service involving the big boss taking us to their fitment centre and after simply fixing a faulty fuse we were on our way north with the freezer running, to Okahandja, Karibib and Omaruru. It was still raining and irritation is starting to set in – especially with AJS who had travelled half way around the world to ‘sunshine in the desert’. Around mid morning TW sees his first ‘lifer’ – a White-tailed Shrike – and it is time to stop for a beer ! Whilst this small interlude, just before Karibib, is in progress some discussions were held over which route to take to Omaruru when JB notices it is a mere 200Km detour to Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast !! TW ‘cracks’ another tinnie and says “OK – lets go – AJS – you drive !”

This is the first time AJS has driven the truck and as we start getting into serious Namib type desert he is having a bit of difficulty with holding a straight line. We stop for JB to study some cactii and AJS to take videos and are nearly blown over by a quite awesome desert wind. Steering problem resolved or at least understood !

We get into Swakopmund (the mouth of the Swakop River) and drive directly to the beach for JB to dip her tootsies in a very chilly Benguela current in the Atlantic. With the assistance of a very helpful shop keeper we find an excellent Pension to stay in. Yes it may have stopped raining but remember the wind ! She also has identified a cool restaurant made from a tug hauled up onto the beach and she ‘phones and makes a table booking for us. So after showers and a change of clothes we ensconce ourselves in the “Tug Pub” with litre glasses of German draught beer and a Campari and fresh orange for JB. The wind blows up a real storm during an excellent dinner with great Delheim red wine. The Pension provides us with an excellent breakfast which we eat with gusto after a dawn stroll down the beach. After purchasing some more film for AJS and sunglasses for JB we fill up with fuel and drive out of town.

Back to Karibib ? No chance – directly North up the Skeleton Coast !

This is all a well surfaced “salt” road. I will not even attempt to describe the next 250 odd Km. The words awesome, amazing, mind-blowing and life-changing will about suffice. More simply put – if you get the chance – do it ! If you don’t get the chance – engineer the chance !

At Torra Bay we turned right on the road to Khorixas and after a short while started having a few problems with sand so 4×4 hubs were engaged in case of urgent need and we proceed after having a good look at the Welwitchia plants. We passed Namibia’s Great Table Mountain, cracked four more lifers (Burchells Courser, Mountain Wheatear, Ruppels Korhaan and Herero Chat) and promptly drove back into RAIN. After about 100Km we turned left to Palmwag where we refuelled and then proceeded north in ever increasing darkness arriving in Sesfontein at about 19h30.

Its dark, its raining, I’m knackered ! Put up tents ? No chance ! With some difficulty we arouse the staff of the Sesfontein Fort which charges us an exorbitant tariff for quite a nice suite of rooms. Too late for dinner but we have cheese biscuits, tins of tuna and mussels, bread for AJS’s sarmie, red wine and a bunch of cold beer and a table to sit around so we eat, drink and retire.

The ‘hotel’ provides an excellent breakfast and with AJS behind the wheel we point, still north, to Opuwo, on quite a good dirt road and it has stopped raining. Half way there we stop for AJS to see a Crimson-breasted Shrike and I crack Monteiro’s Hornbill. We come around a corner to the most amazing sight – the road is tarred ! And if that’s not enough – it points upwards ! At a 1:2 ratio ! We engage the low range gear box and simple bumble up to the top (only about 800 meters) to discover a vista of green wooded rocky hills and streams. We have this amazing scenery (and a brilliant lifer in Violet Woodhoopoe) all the way into Opuwo which I must say is a bit of a dump. We refuel and head north west on the D3700 (this is only remembered because there was no other signage).

Before Opuwo we had already started to encounter the Himba peoples who are indeed strange in their Iron Age clothing or rather lack of clothing. They are a nomadic tribe who cover their skins in ochre and spread butter fat everywhere including their hair and wear little else than tiny leather aprons and amazing iron and bead ornaments. No time here for more of that – look them up at the library. Just before the town of Okongwati we turn right and drive, in four wheel drive, the last 56Km to the Angolan border and the world renowned Epupa Falls !

Don’t say I didn’t warn you that we were going to bend and batter the original plans. We quickly, and surprisingly efficiently, set up our first camp of the trip !! It is Good Friday and the camp site is very full but very pleasant with flushing toilets and hot and cold showers. I suppose that generally it is only those of a kindred spirit who venture into such remote places which makes for politeness, understanding and willing hands from all around you.

The car doors were barely open when JB says “Look up there !” TW does and there is a Rufous-tailed Palm Thrush !!! This is the only place in southern Africa where this species occurs and was my secret reason for wanting to show AJS the falls !!

Epupa…………..

The Epupa Falls ? I guess at times of low water they would be quite pretty and pleasant to explore. At times of high water – which is coincidentally April – UNBELIEVABLE !!! In terms of noise and spray it is synonymous with the Victoria Falls. AJS and TW said this to each other almost simultaneously ! The three of us were awe struck !

The huge Kunene River (which demarcates the Namibian & Angolan border) spreads out over what looked like more than a kilometre to split up and plunge through countless little ravines and crevasses. Water flowing and tumbling around rocks, Baobab trees, palms and fever trees growing all over the place and the constant calling of mourning doves and peach-faced lovebirds adding to the spectacle. The total drop over a couple of kilometres is probably not more than 60 or 70 metres but the scale and tropical feeling make it worth every minute of the effort to get there. Let alone the Palm Thrush !

So, after a week on the road we have finally camped and “roughed it” ? Hardly ! We all had mattresses (no sleeping bags mind you – sheets and light duvet’s), two more than adequate tents, a functioning freezer, plenty of firewood, 12v fluorescent lighting in tents and around camp. Kitchen table and cooking area. A table, with chairs, to lay for dinner. Table cloth, cutlery, condiments, silver wine goblets and a beer bottle for a candle stick. I can’t for the life of me recall what we had for our candle lit dinner (wine was in there somewhere) but it was excellent and with the warm and dry weather who could ask for more ?

And onwards……..

After taking a bunch of video at sunset the day before AJS sensibly went off to get some more footage of sunrise over the Falls and as there is no reason to hang around just because the camp is comfortable – there are things to do and birds to find – we pack and leave after wandering around camp to gather local knowledge about how to get upstream (going east for the first time) to Ruacana Falls.

Following our route in we return to the Okongwati turn off and retrace for a while to the turning to the Kunene River Lodge. En route TW adds the Madagascar species of Olive bee-eater, White-throated Canary, Carp’s Tit, Chestnut Weaver and Ruppels Parrot to the list. All lifers – Wow !! We had some seriously impressive river crossings on this leg but we arrived at the lodge unscathed to discover a first world pub where it was deemed necessary to pause for a while so more local knowledge could be acquired. This took several hours and turned out to be necessary as our original destination was deemed unsuitable and we should stay at a better camp site than the one we had earmarked.

This was accomplished, via an awesome river crossing, and we arrived at the Cunene-Omunjandi Rest Camp, and after another successful camp site being set up we once again retired after a candle lit dinner. Early morning TW found the Kunensis sub-species of the Red-necked Francolin and we proceeded to Ruacana Falls.

These are not nearly as impressive as Epupa having been disrupted by the building of an Angolan Hydro Electric scheme but still looked good from a distance due to the high water levels. We spent some time wandering around this area looking for the remaining two specials for the area but having failed and with long distances to cover that day we left (but I did find the newly split Damara Hornbill). All this really means is that TW will have to return at a later date to get the last two specials for his southern African list.

To Etosha…………………

The 175Km from Ruacana to the Etosha turn off was interesting in that there are large expanses of marshland, an unbelievable number of shebeen type pubs (literally thousands – including one called Botol Stor), goats, cattle, locals, traffic and small town after small town meant obeying very irritating speed limits every few kilometres. We eventually entered Etosha via the famous von Lindequist Gate, by passed the first camp site and proceeded to the central Halali camp where we checked in and set up camp.

After recent rains the park was very different in comparison to our last visit. Water and puddles everywhere and it was all generally very green. After supper we spent a few fruitless hours at the flood-lit water hole and retired. The next day we spent an hour or two touring around the local drives (I picked up a Great Sparrow and Pink-billed Lark).

We returned to camp so TW and AJS could change the engine oil in the vehicle (thanks to Nam National Parks for the loan of the pit.) We also found some of the resident owls (White-faced and Scops) before breaking camp and spending the remainder of the day leisurely touring back towards the first camp, Namutoni, where we set it all up again and once again embarked on candle-lit dinners. Next day saw us traipsing around a few local drives in search of, and finding, the diminutive Damara Dik-dik and some beautiful Dusky Larks. Fuel was purchased and we headed for Tsumeb.

East then North ……………….

It is now Tuesday the 22nd of April and Tsumeb is a delightfully colonial mining town where we embarked on separate missions to get groceries, get booze, get some hardware items for running repairs, get cash and a few gifts ending up in the Etosha Cafe & Biergarten which we highly recommend for light meals and a few cold beers.

From Tsumeb we drive to the site of the Hoba Meteorite, the largest in the world, and essentially a block of about 50 tons of stainless steel – an interesting stop and not too much of a detour. Then on to Grootfontein for a few abortive retail attempts, fuel and then North east we go with the sunset to Roy’s Camp. (52Km from Grootfontein).

It’s late, we are tired, the chalets look delightful, we check in. The proprietor informs us they are full for dinner so can we cope ? Of course we can – we got beer – we got wine – we got firewood – we got pasta – we got tins of stuff – its warm and dry – no problem. The next morning a leisurely breakfast (included in the chalet price), a conversation with Mrs. Proprietor about the worries of farming in southern Africa and we are back on the road.

It is 196Km to Rundu along what must be the longest runway in the world. This dead straight road was built by the South African Defence Forces during Namibia’s “troubles” and can handle a C130 Hercules anywhere along the whole distance !!! At Rundu, a rather poxy little overcrowded town, we are, again, on the Angolan Border but this time the border demarcation is the Okavango River. Here we bought some groceries required by folk back home in Zimbabwe and of course re-fuelled both the diesel and beer stocks before turning directly eastward and following the border for another 200Km to the metropolis of Divundu where only one of the two petrol stations was operating, re-fuelled and turned directly south, still following the Okavango River, towards Botswana.

To Drotsky’s……………..

We crossed back into Botswana at Mohembo Border Post. Rather sadly this is being modernised – on previous visits this was a very quaint little hut under a tree – but progress is progress I suppose. It is only a matter of about 60Km from the border to the village of Shakawe and from there about 10Km to Drotsky’s Camp where we arrived at about 16h00 a mere 20 minutes or so after the previously mentioned Daryll and his buddy Dan White had themselves arrived. Camp was quickly laid out, erected, cooking area, lighting, parking, firewood and dining area organised. A veritable little nylon city in about 25 minutes ! Over dinner that night we resolve to spend the next day at Tsodilo Hills.

The Tsodilo Hills lie about 40Km off the main road and I am happy to report that this journey which last year took us four hours each way was now accomplished in 40 minutes. Amazing what you can do with a bulldozer, some substrate and the will. Well done Botswana ! The hills themselves are reputed by the Bushmen (San) folk to be the birthplace of mankind and we had one major objective which was to find the stone-age paintings of whales and a Penguin !! Remember we are in the middle of the Kalahari desert and about 1000Km from the coast !! OK – so they are primitive line drawings and maybe they are poor representations of a courser or plover and some cat-fish from the lake that once covered the Kalahari – but JB and TW agreed that they sure looked like whales and a penguin. Cool. We explored lots, climbed a few hills, quick picnic lunch, kazillions of photo’s of the amazing colours of the lichens, shadows and sunlit bits. A truly amazing place.

Over another candle-lit dinner we decide to squeeze two ventures into the following day and as we anticipate this will be a very long day we organise to have dinner prepared for us in the adjacent restaurant, and retire for an early start.

Mahengo ……………….

On Friday we rose early and headed north, back into Namibia (I know, I know – we did a LOT of border crossing) to visit the delightful Mahengo game park. Not too much game about but that’s luck but some beautiful spots and cool birding. I could show off Coppery-tailed Coucal and the elusive Sharp-tailed Starling and I found the white-billed sub-species of the Village Indigobird.

The Kudu were awesome but it was time to head home to Drotsky’s (back into Botswana – again) for our rendezvous with the boatman to take us fishing on the Okavango river. Enough said.

Daryll caught an imminently let-go-able Tiger fish and said boatman caught two very nice Robustus but he doesn’t count !

Sunset and compulsory sundowners were however really lovely.

A tired little quintet returned to Drotsky’s to find the pub humming and about 25 people for dinner. We made new acquaintances every few minutes and once again the kindred spirit took over and a great Boeuf Stroganoff dinner was had by all.

Just chilling ……………….

Daryll and Dan left us on Saturday morning and the three remaining adventurers wandered about 4Km downstream to another campsite with the express intention of finding JB and AJS a Pels’ Fishing Owl which was accomplished relatively easily. We returned to Drotsky’s and, to coin a phrase, “just blobbed” for the rest of the day.

Sunday saw a repeat performance with time spent alternating between occupying bar stools, eating, and a small amount of birding during which I found the Luapula Cisticola, a recent split from Black-backed Cisticola. JB also did a wonderful job of washing the car.

Birding around Drotsky’s is generally excellent with Brown-throated Weaver, Swamp Boubou, Purple-banded and Collared Sunbirds, Hartlaub’s and Arrow-marked Babblers, Coppery-tailed, Senegal and White-browed Coucals and the evenings are full of wonderfully calling Barn, Wood, Spotted-eagle, Giant-eagle and White-faced Owls.

To Vic Falls ……………….

Monday saw us packing up camp and heading for Zimbabwe.

To do this we needed to cross back into Namibia, again at Mohembo, back past Popa Falls to Divundu and crossing the Okavango over a bridge into the Caprivi Game Park and heading east about 200Km to Katima Mulilo where we re-fuelled and drove south about 80Km to Ngoma Bridge where we left Namibia and, crossing the Chobe River, went back into Botswana and eastward to Kasane. Phew !

In our efforts to re-fuel we managed to get a bit lost here but eventually succeeded and on leaving had our first glimpse of a very full Zambezi river. We crossed our last border post, Kazungula, back into Zimbabwe and drove through the Zambezi National Park (lots of Elephant) to Victoria Falls where we met up with Greg Watson. (Emma ? Remember Emma ? Greg is her father) Greg had kindly arranged for us to stay in a very nice lodge and we had a wonderful Beef Fillet for dinner along with plenty of beer as TW and Watson catch up with each others lives..

Homeward bound ……………….

On Tuesday morning we left the Falls early and drove directly to Robin’s camp in the Hwange National Park.

From here we slowly threaded our way down the 160Km to Main Camp. We saw plenty of elephant but not much else and only passed one car – a sad reflection of what is happening to our beloved Zimbabwe.

Having left Hwange we headed for Bulawayo, arriving there at sunset. We took Emma and her boyfriend out to dinner at the Brass Monkey and retired early so as to be fresh for our last drive.

Wednesday saw us back in Harare by mid-afternoon.

A “trip list” of 233 bird species included 18 “lifers” for TW and all in all a wonderful, if hectic, holiday.

The bird count actually works out at a smidgen over 32Km travelled per new species seen.

AJS’ glasses ?

Remember the glasses.

Sometime before we left Harare AJS had dropped his glasses in our drive way and on departure I simply ran over them !! All is well however, that ends well because apart from the frames being quite seriously bent, the lenses were intact.

Arriving at the delightful resort of Rio Savane

The Entrance

The Resort

The crowded beach !

The Rio Savane road can be difficult after rain.

The road to Chinizua wasn’t too good either …..

And it rained again !

Before you get to Chinizua you pass through the metropolis of Muanza

Alex Masterson and Chris Wall entering what is left of the Chinizua forest

First they “Slash” !!

Then they “Burn” – absolutely horrific !!

A bigger view – compare the tree far left to the Land Rover !

All for the timber !

Stag Horn Ferns grow to incredible sizes – this is the size of a large desk

This is what land mines do to trains !

The cost of war is high !

The cost of de-mining is also very high……

There is some magnificent miombo woodland around Muanza

On the way to Mount Gorongosa you cross the war damaged Pungwe River bridge

You can see Mount Gorongosa from miles away !

The top of the mountain is rugged

And beautiful !

And the view is like – Wow !!

And proof that we were actually up there …..

The wonderful hardwood “Panga Panga” (Millettia stuhlmannii) is common on the mountain

We sayed at “The Big Tree Motel” in Vunduzi

Central Business District – Vunduzi

Borasus Palm trunks welcome you to Gorongosa National Park

Punctures were a big problem

The Gorongosa flood plain is awsome !

And after all that memory jogging stuff  I guess I need to get back to Moçambique !!

Any takers ?

Next time……

Posted: 17/05/2012 in Uncategorized

Hi again

Next time I will try and show you some pictures I have from the Mocambique trip.

Long before the days of digital photography.  Sigh…………..

Tony