Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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

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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