Posts Tagged ‘roberts birds’

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.