Posts Tagged ‘african pitta’

Hi All

I am back at last and yet again I apologise for the inordinately long delays between these ramblings.

But I do have good news !!  This blog is about birding is it not ?  So now we can actually show you that we actually do bird-watch !!

I need to start by thanking Roger MacDonald for his permission to use these fantastic images and to also say how amazing the quality of his pictures is.  Roger – thanks a tonne.

Roger

Roger

These images all come from the trip we did to Catapu in November of 2014.  When I arrived there, with JNV,  I was delighted to find a bunch of the other visitors were friends of mine and all avid birders.  This situation works to everyone’s benefit because in forest birding the more eyes the better.

The crowd !

The crowd !

Left to right – JNV, Roger, CVC and IR.  Alison is missing and I am behind the lens !

We went birding in the forests of Catapu and Coutada 12.

The forest in Coutada 12

The forest in Coutada 12

And now – at last – some birds.

Common Waxbill

Common Waxbill

As the name suggests a common little bird but gorgeous just the same.

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

Crested Guineafowl

Crested Guineafowl

The common Guineafowl of forests. On Catapu they are amazingly tame and confident.

Orange-breasted Bushshrike

Orange-breasted Bushshrike

Another common bird but very difficult to photograph.

The next one is also quite common along the eastern littoral and the major rivers but it too is notoriously difficult to capture with a camera.

Eastern Nicator

Eastern Nicator

In years past it was known as the Yellow-spotted Nicator and the jury is still out on whether it is closer to the shrikes or the bulbuls.

Yet again the next two are also not uncommon but getting pics of this quality in dense forest is astounding.

Female African Broadbill

Female African Broadbill

I just love the glint in her eye as she watches her mate displaying below.

Displaying Broadbill

Displaying male Broadbill

This next one, a Batis, used to be called the Mocambique Batis.  It is normally very high on the list that birders dream of seeing.

Female Pale Batis

Female Pale Batis

Green Malkoha

Green Malkoha

You need to be lucky, skilled and patient to capture an image like that! I wonder why its other name is Yellowbill ?

Immature Bateleur

Immature Bateleur

Can you hear him saying “And just who the hell are you ?”

Next up is probably one if the most difficult birds to photograph that there is.  Well done Roger.

Livingstone's Flycatcher

Livingstone’s Flycatcher

Purple-banded Sunbird

Purple-banded Sunbird

Getting that iridescence right is no mean feat.

One of the most spectacular sights is the breeding display of the Mangrove Kingfisher.  Normally a bird of coastal Mangroves (funny that) it moves to inland forests to breed.

Mangrove Kingfisher breeding display

Mangrove Kingfisher breeding display

Simply coming into the bird bath at the lodge was this enigmatic and very difficult to see fellow

Scaly-throated Honeyguide

Scaly-throated Honeyguide

Yet another Batis of the eastern littoral that is much sought after by birders.

Woodward's Batis

Woodward’s Batis

This next chap behaved way out of character by leaving the dense undergrowth and hopping out onto the road !

Red-capped Robin-Chat

Red-capped Robin-Chat that used to be known as the Natal Robin

The rapid and energetic behaviour of this next one makes it another very difficult one to get.

Yellow-Breasted Apalis

Yellow-Breasted Apalis

Well I guess it would be very remiss of me to leave out a snap of something dear to my heart and frequently a subject of many past ramblings on this site.

African Pitta

African Pitta

That was taken in the tree behind lodge 25 I think ?  Stunning !

Well last but not least we have some extremely special images of significant ornithological importance !

Böhms Bee-eaters

Böhms Bee-eaters.   Adult on the right and an immature/juvenile on the left.

Böhms Bee-eater

Böhms Bee-eater.  The sub-adult bird again.

This bee-eater has been controversial for some decade with some experts denying its existence in the southern African region.  That is south of the Cunene and Zambezi rivers.  These photographs finally prove they are here AND breeding !

How cool is that for a closing hit !?

Cheers for now

Tony

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Hi all

I always seem to end up apologising for not keeping these posts either up to date or even very regular so I do so again in the certainty that it is true !  Sorry

We left off last time with us making a long and arduous journey into the Chewore Safari Area on a secret quest.  The reason for the secrecy was that I already had plans to take my buddy AJS to the same place as a surprise and knowing that he is a follower of these ramblings I could barely divulge the destination could I ?

AJS arrived in early October and the very next morning we set out on those crappy bloody roads for Masoka Camp on the Angwa River.  We were accompanied by one of my other mates, DY, who has failed to go African adventuring for some decades and was itching to get “out and about” in the wilds.  A very pleasant and uneventful trip and evening and off into Chewore the next day.

Chewore Sign

Remember this ?

We checked in at the Parks Mkanga HQ and followed the road deeper into the area to see …………

Fossilised Dinosaur Footprints

Dinosaur tracks

Dinosaur tracks

They are, according to the experts ……..”Palaeontological experts who have studied this trackway of footprints are non-specific about the type of beast that made them.  All they will say is that the dinner-plate-sized “three-toe’d” prints, some of which have clear claw markings, are those of a huge carnivorous “theropod” of the Mid-Late Jurassic period.  That’s about 200 million years ago!”

Bigger than my feet !

Bigger than my feet !

Or those of AJS …….

Dinosaur footprint with AJS

Dinosaur footprint with AJS

They may well be in a very remote place but they are not too difficult to find.

Signage to the site

Signage to the site

Well after that little surprise it was back to Masoka for sundowners and relax before dinner.

Evening visitors

Evening visitors

Relaxing after a long and eventful day

Relaxing after a long and eventful day

Next day it was simply back on that bloody awful road and return to Harare being troubled most of the way with a dodgy tyre that we had to keep on pumping up every 40 minutes or so.

We slept, and the next day restocked, fixed tyres, and packed for a departure next day to Mocambique………..

.... but only after breakfast ......

…. but only after breakfast.

Now, I need to back track into August.  JNV and I went adventuring into Mocambique looking for special birds that are known to winter in that country.  Like the Malagasy Pond Heron and Mascarene Martin.  Needless to say it was a very interesting trip and we started off very successfully by finding Böhm’s Bee-eater south of the Zambezi (placing them firmly in southern Africa).  Unfortunately, that evening, JNV slipped in the shower breaking some ribs in the process !

Needless to say that put him out of action and we ended up back in Harare with just that one bird under our belts.

But the scene had been set, the explorations done, the appetite seriously “whetted” and AJS, JBW and I were on our way !

First stop Casa Msika in Mocambique’s Manica province.

Delightful chalets even if a little run down

Delightful chalets even if a little run down

Situated on a very empty Lake Chicamba

Situated on a very empty Lake Chicamba

I know this is only 3 or 4 hours from Harare but it does break the journey very nicely.

The next day we were off with a single stop in Chimoio to purchase necessary supplies (Read beer and chocolate into that!)

Turn left at Inchope onto the EN1, across the Pungwe Bridge.  I first crossed this river in 1959 !  No bridge then of course – just a pontoon.

Pungwe River Bridge

Pungwe River Bridge

Pungwe Pontoon 1959

Pungwe Pontoon 1959

Shortly after crossing the river you drive around a bend ………

The entry signage for Gorongosa National Park

The entry signage for Gorongosa National Park

Gorongosa is a fantastic park with a very chequered and interesting past.  See www.gorongosa.org

The accommodation available at Chitengo is very varied.

JNV's room

JNV’s room

My room !

My room on the last trip!

Reception at Chitengo

Reception at Chitengo

JBW and I stayed up there !

JBW and I stayed up there this time!

I know that it is a bit confusing but it is me trying to get pics from the two trips to really explain what Mocambique is really like.

The Gorongosa mammal populations are recovering very nicely since my previous visit there in 2000. See https://birdingzimbabwe.com/2012/05/17/birding-in-mocambique/

The Gorongosa flood plain

The Gorongosa flood plain

Reedbuck, Waterbuck and Oribi in their hundreds.

Elephant too .....

Elephant too …..

.... and Lions

…. and Lions

The elephant have been seriously traumatised by years of persecution, poaching and illegal hunting.

They have neither forgotten of forgiven ….

....she came on and on - to about four metres !

….she came on and on – to about four metres !

After two fabulous days in the park it was time to move on … so northwards we went. All the way to the Zambezi in fact.

The Zambesi is a huge river as JBW and AJS discover

The Zambezi is a huge river as JBW and AJS discover

We stayed at M’phingwe Lodge in the Catapú logging concession.  A truely delightful destination with great (and very affordable) accommodation, hospitable hosts and fantastic staff.

The well signposted turn off

The well signposted turn off

Quaint ablution block

Quaint ablution block

Delightful setting

Delightful setting

Right in the forest

Right in the forest

We stayed four nights and thoroughly enjoyed all of it.  The Inamitanga forest (which borders on Catapú) is magnificent and still contains all sorts of wild beasts …….

Protected species

Protected species (African Painted Hunting Dogs or Wild Dogs)

There is lots to see and do.  The 3.2km rail bridge at Villa de Sena, Mary Moffat Livingstone’s grave on the way to Marromeu and the newly completed 2.7km road bridge at Caia.

The bridge at Caia

The bridge at Caia

There was a great little restaurant on the north bank which had the most interesting collection of light fittings.

Locally manufactured poaching tools !

Locally manufactured poaching tools !

Needless to say, the birding was just fantastic. White-breasted Alethe, East coast Akalat, Mangrove Kingfisher, Green Malkoha, Tiny Greenbul, Brown-throated Weaver, Narina Trogons and yes, the Pitta too !

Eventually we had to leave.  Sad, I know, but move on we must.

Southwards through the Inhamitanga and Inhaminga forests.

Through the forests ......

Through the forests ……

Near Muanza

Near Muanza

Into the rather dreary town of Dondo and then to Beira.

We stayed at Clube Nautico right on the beach

We stayed at Clube Nautico right on the beach

On the beach .....

On the beach …..

This concluded an ambition of ours – years ago we had taken AJS to Swakopmund in Namibia on the west coast of Africa.  Now Beira on the east coast.   Yep – right across Africa.  A moment for high-fives indeed.

It was an uneventful trip home and then AJS was all too soon on a plane back to the UK.  A fantastic trip all around and now I need to be planning something new for 2016.

That’s all folks.  See you sooner than last time I hope.

Cheers

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 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

Hi again

It is certainly time I caught up with my posts here as there is so much happening I am in serious danger of falling way behind !

When you were last listening (reading) we had just arrived at the entry gate to Chizarira – the Hidden Gorges in remote north-western Zimbabwe.

Chizarira National Park

Arrived………..

First of all lets deal with vehicles.  We are all now quite familiar with the dear old Mazda Bongo that has carried us so far.  In Hwange we met up with CvC and CH in their Toyota Prado……..

Chizarira - Toyota Prado

CvC’s Prado

This shot also shows one of the two “Basha’s” that provided the lucky few with accommodation.

Chizarira Mazda BT 250

Mazda BT 250

A rather poor shot of a Mazda BT 250 double cab.  Also the ablution block which was, I suppose, adequate IF it had any water.

It didn’t !

We will get on to the provenance of this vehicle a bit later.   Also we have some tented places for some folk to lay their weary heads at night.

OK – now the people.  We were joined in Chizarira by two other adventurers who drove – in the Mazda – directly from Harare.

PF…….

Chizarira Peter Fahy

PF

…….. who is standing looking chilly.

Also ANBM……………..

Chizarira Alex Masterson

ANBM

……… who is here hiding behind a huge grin and the peak of his cap.  I mentioned that the two girls were mad photographers – check out the lens on that camera !!

Next CvC ………

Chizarira - Celesta von Charmier Greg Watson

CvC and GJW

….. who is seen here giggling at the fact GJW has fallen asleep !

Finally CH……..

Claudia Holgate - Chizarira

CH

…… who I caught in her Basha recovering from an overdose of Imodium !   Not funny at all.  Poor girl.

Oh of course – you don’t even know where we are…………

Chizarira signage Kaswiswi Busi Lusulu

Kaswiswi sign

Kaswiswi !   A fantastic camp site on the banks of a river of that name.  Which is where we got the water to make the ablutions function after a fashion.  Within a few hundred metres we found three pools suitable for bathing.  The crocs occupying them were 3, 4 and 5 metres long respectively.  Bathing didn’t happen !

Kaswiswi River Chizarira

The Kaswiswi is pretty

Kaswiswi River Chizarira

….and sometimes rugged

And the roads ?  Not good I am afraid.

Chizarira road

Remote ?

Chizarira road

Rocky ?

Chizarira road

Very rocky !

Chizarira road

Overgrown ?

Chizarira road

And the bridge is where ?

Chizarira road

Good progress ?

Chizarira road

Failed – damn !

Yup we failed the exit.  It was a 500 mm vertical wall.  We built it up with rocks before the Prado made the attempt.  Fortunately the Mazda was still in camp and was fetched with a fairly short walk and quite easily extricated me.

We saw mentioned on the welcome sign something about ‘hidden gorges’ ?

Mucheni Gorge Chizarira

The sign

Mucheni Gorge Chizarira

The Mucheni Gorge

The Mucheni River cuts its way through the Zambezi escarpment which makes up the Parks northern border.

Mucheni Gorge Chizarira

Mucheni Gorge

It is about a 300 metre deep canyon.

Mucheni Gorge Chizarira view

Mucheni View

Mucheni View Chizarira

AJS & ANBM

It was quite spectacular – mesmerizing in fact !

We were in the Park for five nights and we reckon that to be about the minimum stay due to the huge distances involved.

When we left we popped into the Chizarira Lodge.  This lodge had it’s heyday in the late 80’s after African Pitta (Pitta angolensis) was found to breed in the forests on the escarpment, as I am sure they still do.

Chizarira Lodge

The sign is easy to miss

Chizarira Lodge

Chizarira Lodge

Chizarira Lodge

Dining area

Chizarira Lodge Pitta

They even had a Pitta on the bar !!

Chizarira National Park Gokwe Road

It was a long way to Harare

After leaving the Lodge we had about 3 hours on a middling bad road to the Gokwe turn-off then still a very long way home.

This post is plenty long enough so I will close off now with a big promise to be back soon with the next post being wholly dedicated to the BIRDS of Chizarira  !!

Thanks for joining us

Cheers

Tony

Hi to whoever is out there……….

This first post is quite long and very old news – like about 12 years old !! And some of it is seriously out of date out I do need to get some historical stuff up there in the cloud so as to emphasise my experience and commitment to good birding.

So here goes…………….

Moçambique Birding – 2000

A wonderful trip with fourteen lifers.

The planning for this trip was spread over about five meetings over several months. The excellent information available on the “Roberts Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa” compact disc made life very much easier than expected. The party consisted of myself, Alex Masterson a lawyer and birder of note, John Dawson – onetime geologist and sometime IT man and finally Chris Wall who claims to work as a chemical engineer but has yet to be seen working at anything. We also took Kazaya Banda and Patrick to act as camp guards and interpreters. As it turned out Alex speaks better Shona than either of them and John was an absolute whiz at Portuguese which was very much more useful anyway. In the following pages of escapades all birds new to my personal list will be marked with an Asterisk

Day One – Saturday 28th October 2000

A diabolical start to the morning involving flat vehicle batteries (Alex – Toyota Hilux Double Cab – petrol), malfunctioning automatic gates (John) and a pet killed by a car (Johns dog – because of the gate), delayed our departure from Harare but we eventually got on the road. An uneventful and surprisingly simple border crossing saw us safely into Moçambique. It was pissing with rain so it was decided to commence our birding adventure from Beira rather than setting up camp in the rain. We hired a couple of “beached” caravans at Biques resort, had an excellent crab curry for dinner with lots and lots of Manica cerveja and went to bed.

Day Two – Sunday 29th

An 05h00 start saw us heading north from Beira for about 40 km to the delightful resort of Rio Savanne. The only way in is to cross over the estuary of the Rio Savanne river in the resorts own dhow. They have a concession of several thousand hectares consisting of mangrove swamp, grassland, lowland forest, coastal forest and patches of varying quality miombo. The owner, James Nelson, very kindly allowed us access to this wonderful area and the first serious birding commenced. Some of the specials we saw here were Southern-banded Snake Eagle, Black-headed Apalis*, Locust Finch*, Blue Quail*, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Green Coucal*, Yellow Weaver, African Finfoot, Black-bellied Starling and in the lagoon area Whimbrel and Terek Sandpiper*. The journey back through the flood plain gave us Black-backed Cisticola, Red-shouldered Widow, Wattled Cranes and some ring-tail Harriers. John (Land Rover Defender – diesel – he gets a bit emotional when discussing this vehicle) has a wonderful toy – a Coleman like ice box which plugs in to a 12v power source and makes beer cold !! Now that is a helluva thing. It works really well and we were well supplied with refreshment for the whole trip. You wouldn’t believe the teeming millions of Beira residents that think the beach around Biques is just THE place to be on Sunday afternoon. We had a mutton stew and loads of red wine for dinner.

Day Three – Monday 30th

Having discovered that the Indian House Crow* is now established in Beira and following instructions from the “Roberts’ CD” we back tracked to Dondo and turned northward. Main tar roads were pretty good but once off them progress was slow and roads were either very badly potholed tar or (more commonly) poor dirt roads that prevented speeds over about 40 km per hour. (Except in the case of Chris who seems to feel a need to pretend his name in Michael Schumacher.) We drove up through some excellent looking miombo and occasionally stopped to check out the better looking patches where we found the Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike to be quite common as was the Black Saw-wing Swallow*. Most of the journey follows a derelict railway line which is littered with hundred upon hundreds of war damaged wagons, locos and tankers. A very sobering sight – it certainly made me realise the damage that the Rhodesian forces and subsequently Renamo inflicted on that country. We eventually arrived at the thriving metropolis of Muanza about 110 km north of Dondo, drove through the town and then turned east at the 11 km peg north of Muanza. We set up our camp for the next two nights in some beautiful miombo woodland about 20 km down a logging road which headed towards the coast. Our intention was to locate the Chinizua Forest to look for Gunning’s Robin, White-breasted Alethe and Angola Pitta. An unusual call for miombo woodland was Hadeda Ibis both in the morning and evenings and we also heard Rufous-cheeked Nightjar*.

Day Four – Tuesday 31st

We drove about 25 km further east from our camp site to where the forest was supposed to be but found commercial loggers in residence. Our feelings of shock and horror were almost tangible as we looked at the devastation they were causing with the “slash and burn” assistance of newly resettled locals. After much scouting around we discovered that there were still some patches of remnant forest and decided to try them out which we did with some success. Both the Blue-throated Sunbird* and Gunning’s Robin* were found along with Narina Trogon, Woodwards’ Batis, Collared Sunbird, Black-headed Apalis and, in a clearing, some more Blue Quail. Slender Bulbul were quite common. The Gunning’s Robin was present in most patches of forest, making it locally common, but it is extremely difficult to see. Unfortunately the Pitta and Alethe remained elusive. John had the best views of Gunning’s Robin when one sat on a little branch about two feet in front of his face ! John also had some fun using the Land Rover is some quite difficult situations but nothing that a bit of diff-lock couldn’t fix.

Day five – Wednesday 1st November

A day of much driving. Leaving our camp site early we stopped quite frequently in the miombo in the unfulfilled hope of finding the Yellow-breasted Hyliota. The Red-faced Crombec was common and we did find a pair of Red-winged Warblers* which is a bit bloody strange for a reed and sedge dweller. We also saw Red-billed Helmetshrike and lots of very impressive Stag-horn Ferns. We returned to Dondo via Muanza to find our previously productive road side birding spots fenced off with red tape and much de-mining activity going on ! One needs to be very careful in Moçambique !! From Dondo we headed west back to Inchope where we once again turned north, crossing the Pungwe River. The bridge was quite impressive and the bomb damaged bit was fixed with a sort of steel Bailey bridge affair. The last time I crossed the Pungwe was on a pontoon in 1958 !! We went through Gorongosa town and then another 35 km of terrible road to the village of Vunduzi, only arriving there at 21h00. A long day indeed. We had a few language problems trying to check into the “motel” which consisted of a very large mango tree with a plinth built around it and a dilapidated rondavel without sides in which some of our number camped. Dinner was a very late Kudu stew done in the poitjie !

Day 6 – Thursday 2nd

On this day we climbed Mount Gorongosa in search of the elusive Green Headed Oriole. It was the hardest working day of the trip – we set off at about 06h10 and finally got off our feet at 17h40 in the afternoon. We were accompanied by three youngsters from the village whom we hired as guides and then picked up the local parks warden who insisted on accompanying us despite the fact that he was obviously a heavy smoker and or asthmatic and was not nearly as fit as we were. He kept falling way behind and we had to stop repeatedly for him to catch up. The climb is not hard if you are reasonably fit – perhaps about twice the climb of Inyangani – and the scenery is stunning. Unfortunately civilisation (?) is encroaching on the mountain and there are only a few patches of montane forest left. The Green-headed Oriole* appears to be fairly common on the mountain in that we encountered at least a pair in each of the two forest patches we worked. They are however very difficult to see as the forest is very tall and very thick and the birds seem to a large degree to confine themselves to the canopy. Fairly good sightings were eventually achieved and a trio of Grey Cuckooshrikes* were an added bonus as was a Cape Batis sitting on a single egg. During the climb and descent we saw Forest Weaver, White-eared Barbet and a Yellow-spotted Nicator*. We also heard Delagorgue’s Pigeon and saw Blue-spotted Dove. Our legs were pretty stuffed from thorns etc. and on our return home thirsts needed to be quenched. We had a great sit down dinner with good red wine served by chef Dawson.

Day 7 -Friday 3rd

From Vunduzi we had a fairly easy drive to Gorongosa National Park arriving in time to unpack and go for a drive in the Land Rover before dark. The park is very beautiful – lush and green but with very little game. We saw perhaps 20-30 antelope all told (Reed Buck, Bush Buck, Oribi and Eland). However the bird life made up for everything – we saw 116 species in less than 24 hours. The Moçambique Fauna and Flora authorities are making quite an effort to rehabilitate Gorongosa which was completely poached out during the war years. The poaching was systematically organised firstly by the then Rhodesian forces and later the South Africans, simply as a means of getting Renamo to be self funding. At the moment they only offer self catering camping but they intend to rehabilitate the old lodges soon. Ablutions were clean and pleasant and the camp site was beautiful. We had the whole park to ourselves as we were the only visitors at the time. An overnight stop is insufficient time to effectively bird here and we would recommend at least a two night stop. As the park is very susceptible to flooding it would be advisable to plan your visit for September so as to gain maximum access to a fairly extensive road system. Unfortunately all fees are payable in US dollars. Getting back to the birding there is good miombo and of course extensive grassland and wetland. The numbers of waterfowl were amazing with thousands of White-faced Duck taking flight at a time. Wattled and Crowned Crane were to be found alongside Spur-wing Geese, Herons and Coucals. Raptors were common, most notably Lesser-spotted Eagle and Batleur. Hooded Vulture and Red-necked Francolin were seen.

Day 8 – Saturday 4th

We left Gorongosa around midday and drove via Chimoio to a place called Casa Msika – a very pleasant complex with rondavel lodges and a good bar and restaurant complex on Lake Chicamba south of the main road in Manica province. We spent our last night there before driving home uneventfully on Sunday. Well uneventful is not quite true. We did find a pub in the town of Manica which was open at 06h30 and we felt it needed trying out. Just outside Harare we encountered a really bad road accident with bodies and blood and gore all over the road and Alex planned the last puncture at about this time. 

All in all a great trip – great birds – great company – great places to visit – now lets see what the future brings?

Phew…..

Tony

I am an experienced and passionate birding guide with extensive knowledge of birding in all southern African countries. I am based in Zimbabwe but can organise tours across the region. I specialise in one on one guiding.