Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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

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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