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

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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