Posts Tagged ‘African Crake’

2015 – the year of the mighty Zambezi

Posted: 20/01/2016 in Birding
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Hi all

I am just too embarrassed to apologise yet again for the infrequency of these posts !!

Jan and I have had a busy 2015 to say the least.  How does TEN trips to different parts of the Zambezi River sound?

We started in early January by driving to the Victoria Falls where I was to pick up my long time client JNV.  We arrived safely and there he was waiting for us.  We checked into our various accommodations and went birding – specifically for Schalow’s Turaco and Rock Pratincole.  We failed, unfortunately.

Next morning we set off early to the Botswana border at Kazangula, crossed into Bots and headed straight towards the Namibian border at Ngoma Bridge over the Chobe River, crossing into Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and on to Katima Mulilo.  We had set ourselves a huge mileage target for the day so westward we continued. After about 130km it was time for a pit stop and we pulled into a Lay-by (Nam has fantastic Lay-by’s).

On the top of a tree was a largish  brown raptor and as JNV and I approached I said to him “This is going to turn into a Common (Steppe) Buzzard.”  Raising our binoculars JNV and I both commented that it had a white head.  After a minute or so the bird then took fright and took off to an immediate comment from JNV “It’s too big.”

Amazingly within just a few wing beats it already began to soar and we had excellent ventral and dorsal views for the minute or so that it took to gain altitude and depart.  The wings were large and “blocky” or squarish and the flight was very sluggish and slow before it soared so easily.

The primaries were dark tipped and there were distinct black patches on the underwing at the carpal, or wrist, joint. The leading edge of the wings and the underwing coverts were a honey/tan colour and the trailing edge very pale with just the slightest hint of dark tips to the secondaries.  The chin area was the same yellow-brown colour as was the spotted and mottled belly and dark thighs (with the chest just slightly paler).  As mentioned above the head was totally white and the rest of the dorsal view revealed a largely uniform brown to tan colouration but the dark patches at the carpal joint were again noticeable.  One of the most striking features was the tail as it was extremely pale and appeared almost translucent whilst very faintly barred with pale cinnamon barring.

We spent the next hour pouring over the various field guides that invariably litter the back seat of the car and came to the unanimous conclusion that we had just seen a Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus).  Due to the still pale tips to the trailing edge of the wing probably an immature or just sub-adult bird.

A very very rare bird in southern Africa and we were ecstatic.

Onward to Divundu and then past Popa Falls to a delightful riverside lodge from where we would explore the Mahango National Park in which we found several more ‘needed’ birds. Two nights there and back eastward to another lodge on the Kwando River from where we explored the newly formed and very remote Mudumu National Park.

This post is supposed to be about the Zambezi ……. OK ……. the next stop was Kalizo Lodge just east of Katima Mulilo and it is right on the great Zambezi.

Kalizo

Kalizo Lodge

What a delightfully refreshing place.  Jan and I are very fortunate to own a roof-top tent which is just perfect for this sort of campsite.

Kalizo

Kalizo Camp Site

Birding around here was also excellent and we were very surprised to discover Miombo Blue-eared Starlings about which are well separated from the rest of the southern African population.  The southern limit of the Angolan birds I suppose.

Zambezi

The magnificent Zambezi River

After two brilliant days there, it was back to Vic Falls.

Rapids

Rapids above the Falls

Rapids

Scanning the rocks for Pratincole

It happened to be Jan’s birthday so I felt she should be treated to dinner at the legendary Victoria Falls Hotel

Vic Falls

Vic Falls Hotel
“Garden with a view”

And the dinner ………

Vic Falls Hotel

“The Dinner”

The next day we took JNV exploring to a site he hadn’t heard of before – Chamabonda Vlei.  This extensive wetland runs east to west through the Zambezi National Park about 18 km and is very interesting for both mammals and avian species.

Chamabonda

Chamaboda Vlei

We found some good birds too.  African Crake, Common Button Quail and a lifer for JNV – Cuckoo Finch.

Eurasian Roller

Eurasian Roller

The next day it was time for JNV to leave us and to wend our way home.  Did we go the sensible way through Bulawayo?  No.  Did we take the shortest route through Lupane and Nkai? No.  We turned left at the Dete ‘crossroads’ and across the Gwaii River.

Gwaii River

Gwaii River on the road to Binga

After we ran out of tar road things got worse.

Siabuwa Road

The road to Siabuwa

At least, it was lovely and green – not like our current drought a year later.

Chizarira Gate

The Chizarira Gate

Our destination was Chizarira National Park – a new place for Jan to tick off her bucket list!

After checking in (and finding out we were the only visitors in the Park) we drove to our camp site which I had sorta kept a secret from her.

Mucheni Camp

Mucheni Camp view

She was blown away at the scale of these ‘hidden gorges’.  And then we spent the afternoon sitting quietly – with a cold beer or two – watching the rain storms over – yes you guessed it – the spectacular Zambezi Valley.

Zambezi rain storms

Rain storms over the Zambezi Valley

Next day it was a long, bumpy and, fortunately, uneventful drive home to Harare via Gokwe.

Our next Zambezi experience was not until April when Jan and I accompanied the extended McComb family on a houseboat holiday on Kariba. As always these are wonderfully over the top holidays with way too much food and possibly just about enough to drink.

Kariba house boat

The name of the houseboat was, rather suitably,  “What a Pleasure !”

Kariba Sunset

Kariba Sunset

Kariba is renowned for it’s wonderful sunsets  but the highlight for me was on our penultimate day we witnessed a mini cyclone on the lake.  It is a lousy photograph but I just had to include it.

Kariba Cyclone

Kariba ‘water spout’

That weather can easily be described as mean and nasty and ugly but also beautiful!

By early May, I had managed to conjure up sufficient evidence to persuade Jan that we needed to go back to Mphingwe Lodge in Moçambique. So off we went.

Catapu Pan

‘Lac Catapu’ was the fullest I have ever seen it.

The lodge is set right in the forest and as evidence, I post a pic of this butterfly on my side-table in the outside lounge area.

 

Gold-banded Forester

Golden-banded Forester  Euphaedra neophron

This may be way out of context for this post but I couldn’t resist it!  Land Rover owners will understand and probably not forgive me…….

Land Rover

Land Rover under repair!

One of my main reasons for making this trip was to explore the Zangue River delta.  The Zangue is a minor tributary of the Zambezi and due to the terrain being so flat and low lying a large delta forms when water levels are high.  I knew I had clients later in the year who wanted to go there so a reconnaissance was obligatory.

Zangue River Delta

Zangue River Delta – as far as the eye can see!

It was only a few weeks later, still in May, that it was time for Jan’s annual “Ladies trip” on a Kariba Houseboat.

Kariba Motor Vessel

MV Chessa Too

She had a good time – I am sure many G & T’s were consumed –

Tilapia spp

Fishing in Kariba

And the compulsory sunsets captured ……

Kariba Sunset

Kariba Sunset

Having seen out May, we needed to return to Victoria Falls in June for me, as outgoing President, to chair my last BirdLife Zimbabwe AGM.  Yes, some constitutionally limited Presidential terms still work!  I said to Jan that as we would be driving right past the Kazuma National Park we should pop in to have a look for two very good reasons. 1. I had last been there in the early 1970’s which is a long time ago. 2. Jan had *never* been there.

Way back in time it was called the Kazuma Depression – a huge wetland of no use to the myriad of cattle ranches surrounding it.  Sometime in the ’60’s the then government (mis?) appropriated these ranches and turned them into the Matetsi Safari Area which still exists to this day and the “depression” was declared a National Park, its purpose being to act as a wildlife refuge from the surrounding hunting area.

Jan agreed with my reasoning so we set off for the Falls days earlier than necessary.  To get to Kazuma you need to drive to the tiny border town of Pandamatenga and then head north following the Botswana border.

Botswana border

The road to Kazuma. The graded area on the left is the Zim/Botswana border

Then you simply follow the signage ….

Kazuma National Park

Kazuma sign posts

We were booked to stay in Nsiza Camp which simply doesn’t exist.  Just choose a spot and it’s yours.

Kazuma

Nsiza Camp

I chose that rather bleak looking patch of Mopane for the morning view from our tent.

Kazuma Pan

Kazuma Pan

The second night we moved to Kachetechete Camp.  Won’t bother next time except …….

Kachetechete

Kachetechete camp

…… I took this pic of our two chairs from the spot where a couple of African Wild Dog, Painted Hunting Dog to some, chased an Impala through camp whilst we were sipping cold beers in the aforementioned chairs.  Camera of course not to hand !!

There is quite a lot of game in the Park.

Kazuma Elephant

Kazuma Elephant

And of course, birds ….

Double-banded Sandgrouse

Double-banded Sandgrouse

Quite pleased with that one!

Anyway, it was now time for me to attend that bloody meeting.  It had been decided to time it to coincide with the Vic Falls Marathon so as to get the best publicity and exposure for BirdLife. To the extent we branded a hire bus and took a whole bunch of members up there for the festivities.

Vulture Awareness Program

BirdLife Zimbabwe Bus

Then there was the Marathon, and a full day of Vulture awareness conference activities.

Vic Falls Marathon

Vic Falls Marathon

Vulture Awareness Conference

Vulture Awareness Conference

Then the bloody AGM and finally sundowners overlooking the Falls and Gorges.

Vic Falls Gorge

Zambezi Gorge at Vic Falls

Vic Falls Sunset

Sundowners at last ….!

June was busy busy busy.  A local safari operator runs a small exclusive lodge on the Zambezi (funny that) at Nyamoumba Island.  This was a location I know well from years ago when it was a humble fishing camp. The now concessionaires needed a comprehensive bird list for the area and approached BirdLife for assistance.  Finding volunteers was not difficult.

Very clever roof that …. it is well laid second-hand conveyor belting.

Nyamoumba

Nyamoumba View

The view from the front lawn is amazing and, yes, the conical hill is in Zambia.  After my Sandgrouse here is a very lousy pic ….

Nyamoumba Pel's Fishing Owl

Pel’s Fishing Owl

Well, the bird list was done and I resolved that when my extended family visited, from Australia and the Philippines, that Nyamoumba was just the place to initiate them into Africa and as they were due in August it was barely a month until we were back again.

Nyamoumba Lodge Pool

Nyamoumba Lodge

It was warmer in August so the pool was utilised.

We also used the boats a bit more as I was not “listing” birds.

Going up the Kariba Gorge towards the dam wall is an amazing experience.

Nyam104

And this time, Elaine (the chick with the Wine) got a decent picture of the Pel’s Fishing Owl

Pel's Fishing Owl

A much much better shot

Sign Nyamoumba

The old campsite sign

I found the old National Parks sign to the camp we used to use decades ago.

My goodness, we were busy people.  After I had seen off the herds of extended family it was time to leave on the Matusadona National Park annual Game Count.  We were driving in via Magunje and once in the Park we decided to camp en-route to Tashinga and we chose a picturesque spot in the Gubu River.  Carl prefers to use a hammock.

Gubu River Hammock

The hammock set-up procedure

I prefer a tent.

Bubu River camp

My chosen spot

After leaving the next day we needed to set up two campsites – one in Tashinga for nights two and four and the other for our overnight 24-hour vigil.

Tashinga camp site

My Tashinga Site

Game Count

24-hour game count site

The Game Count was organised and managed by the Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project (MAPP)

MAPP

Matusadona Anti-Poaching Project vehicle

After the 24 hours was up we had developed an almost unquenchable thirst and because Kariba lake levels were very low we could drive to the resort on Spurwing Island where many beers were consumed.

Causeway to Spurwing Island

Causeway to Spurwing Island

There was time for some birding in Tashinga before we returned to Harare.

Ok ok – nearly done now.  I had clients coming and they arrived on December the 2nd but not in Harare. In Beira !!  So I was off to Moçambique to pick them up.  I was a little early for their flight from Johannesburg so I waited patiently at Clube Nautico.

Beira

2M at Clube Nautico in Beira

Picked the three of them up (including JNV !) and off we went.  Firstly to Rio Savane.

Rio Savane

Rio Savane

To get to Rio Savane, you need to cross the river on a boat taxi.  Lots of accommodation options from camping to little cabins to some rather more luxurious chalets.  This is the one we stayed in.

Rio Savane Chalet

Rio Savane Chalet

Birding around the area is very rewarding and we were soon picking up ‘lifers’  for the crew.  Locust Finch, Wattled Crane, Lesser Jacana, Lesser Sandplover and some other interesting things ….

Butterfly

Tiny Butterfly

Tree Frog

This tiny Tree Frog is on the bonnet of the Cruiser. That’s the gap between the bonnet and the fender

After a few days, we packed up and took off again, northwards to Mphingwe again and the Zambezi Delta.  All the Panga Panga (Milettia stuhlmannii) were in flowerPanga Panga

Panga Panga flowers (Milettia stuhlmannii)   

Then we headed off through the “Coutada” Hunting Concessions 11 & 12 where we had fantastic birding.  Black-headed Apalis, East-coast Akalat, White-chested Alethe just to get started.  The Miombo woodland is stunning and so very much more magnificent than the piddly stuff we get in Zimbabwe.

Brachystegia speciformis

Msasa tree (Brachystegia Speciformis) (the editor can confirm that’s a bloody big Msasa)

How is that for a huge Msasa??!!

After several hours, we started to enter the Zambezi Delta.

Zambezi Delta

Zambezi Delta in Coutada 11

This is pretty much the end of the road – and indeed of this very long post. Undoubtedly the birding highlight of the trip was a cracking Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo which was a lifer for all of us !!

Thanks for listening ….

Boots

A year of hard walking !!

Cheers for now

Tony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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