18 NOVEMBER – 9 DECEMBER 2018
By Dylan Vasapolli
The enigmatic African Pitta was arguably ‘the’ bird of this trip, and it didn’t disappoint!
This comprehensive tour consisted of three legs, first a pre-trip to Mana Pools National Park in northern Zimbabwe, followed by our set-departure eastern Zimbabwe and central Mozambique tour, and last a post-trip traveling back to Johannesburg from Beira, birding along the way.
We were treated to largely good weather throughout the trip, with rain only interfering on a few days, which, although it did cost us some birding time, fortunately didn’t cost us many species. We were also treated to excellent birding throughout the tour, with almost all of the region’s key species being found and enjoyed at length. The pre-trip to Mana Pools saw us chiefly targeting some of the Zambezi Valley species that wouldn’t be possible on the main route, foremost among them Lilian’s Lovebird. Although the heat was sweltering we enjoyed a plethora of species, including Saddle-billed Stork, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Bat Hawk, Greater Painted-snipe, Three-banded Courser, Mottled and Böhm’s Spinetails, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Lilian’s Lovebird, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Arnot’s Chat, Copper Sunbird, Orange-winged Pytilia, Zambezi Indigobird, and a rarity – Green Sandpiper. Mammals also abounded, and we enjoyed a few African Wild Dog sightings along with Lion, Honey Badger, African Civet, African Elephant, and a host of others.
On the main tour Zimbabwe’s miombo woodland treated us well, and we enjoyed the full spectrum of specials, including Whyte’s Barbet, Green-backed Honeybird, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Cinnamon-breasted and Miombo Tits, Red-faced Crombec, Green-capped Eremomela, Southern Hyliota, African Spotted Creeper, Miombo Rock Thrush, Boulder Chat, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Eastern Miombo Sunbird, Wood and Tree Pipits, and Cabanis’s Bunting. As is usual for this early in the season the Harare wetlands were dry, but we managed to eke out Marsh Owl, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, and Rosy-throated Longclaw. The diverse Eastern Highlands yielded many more exciting species, such as Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Livingstone’s Turaco, Scarce and Mottled Swifts, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Pallid Honeyguide, African Broadbill, Black-fronted and Olive Bushshrikes, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Blue Swallow, Moustached Grass Warbler, Barratt’s Warbler, Singing and Short-winged Cisticolas, Roberts’s Warbler, our first of many Red-winged Warblers, Chirinda Apalis, Orange Ground Thrush, Swynnerton’s and White-starred Robins, Bronzy Sunbird, Black-winged Red Bishop, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Red-throated Twinspot, and Grey Waxbill.
After we dropped into the lowlands of central Mozambique a plethora of birds awaited us. Rich woodlands delivered Pennant-winged Nightjar, Narina Trogon, Böhm’s Bee-eater, Speckle-throated and Green-backed Woodpeckers, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Brown-necked Parrot, Pale Batis, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Collared Palm Thrush, Arnot’s Chat, Orange-winged Pytilia, and Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah, while the dense lowland forests yielded Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Mottled and Böhm’s Spinetails, Mangrove Kingfisher, the incredibly sought-after and primary target bird for the set-departure tour African Pitta, Woodward’s Batis, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Lowland Tiny Greenbul, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Black-headed Apalis, White-chested Alethe, East Coast Akalat, and Plain-backed Sunbird. The coastal wetlands held a bit more water than usual and gave us African Pygmy Goose, Corn Crake, Wattled Crane, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Lesser Jacana, Great Snipe, Red-headed Quelea, Locust Finch, and Cuckoo-finch, while the coastal mudflats provided the hoped-for Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers. The post-trip saw us targeting a few of the rare and difficult species occurring in southern Mozambique and eastern South Africa on the drive back to Johannesburg, such as Green Tinkerbird, Olive-headed Weaver, Neergaard’s Sunbird and Striped Flufftail. This proved to be the most challenging birding, with us only being able to find one of the main targets, Neergaard’s Sunbird, although we did enjoy a host of other sought-after species.
The sought-after African Broadbill was a big highlight of the trip.
We ended the entire tour with 464 species being seen and 476 species recorded, while the mammals were equally as good, with 40 species being seen, all attesting to the excellent and diverse birding we had on the tour, which is to be expected in this exciting part of the world. As for the set-departure tour itself we did well, recording well over 400 species, with exactly 400 being seen, which is a bit higher than usual.
Day 1, 18th November 2018. Arrival in Harare and transfer to Mana Pools National Park
Don and Rosemary landed at Harare Airport in the mid-morning, and after I had collected them we began the long drive to Mana Pools National Park in the far north of the country. Located in the scenic Zambezi Valley, this National Park is one of the country’s most pristine wilderness areas, home to the full spectrum of large game along with a plethora of birds and the allure of species not possible on the main Zimbabwe/Mozambique tour – which ultimately was our main drawing card to the area. The trip went smoothly, and a stop for lunch en route at Lion’s Den yielded our first exciting species, Abdim’s Stork, African Cuckoo-Hawk, Red-faced Cisticola, and a surprise Copper Sunbird. After we had arrived at the gate to Mana Pools we worked our way to our luxury safari camp, where we would spend the next three nights. Despite the sweltering-hot conditions we did well and ran into our first group of Lilian’s Lovebirds – one of our major targets for the area. We enjoyed some good looks at the lovebirds, along with other species such as Broad-billed Roller, White-crested and Retz’s Helmetshrikes, Meves’s Starling, and Red-headed Weaver. After checking into our rooms we had a quick snack on the deck, overlooking the waterhole in front of the camp, before heading out on an afternoon game drive. We enjoyed some excellent birding from the deck, picking up Saddle-billed Stork, Shikra, and both Mottled and Böhm’s Spinetails drinking from the waterhole, together with Mosque Swallows and a lone Dickinson’s Kestrel hunting around the waterhole. Our afternoon drive was great. Very soon we ran into the resident pack of African Wild Dogs lazing about in the riverbed! After spending some time with them we slowly began working through some of the riverine bush and surrounding open woodland, finding Crested Guineafowl, Hooded and White-backed Vultures, Bateleur, African Hawk-Eagle, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Southern Ground Hornbill, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, Red-billed Oxpecker, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-billed and Jameson’s Firefinches, and a large flock of Long-tailed Paradise Whydahs. We enjoyed our sundowners atop a ledge overlooking the dry Ruckomechi River, with a colony of Southern Carmine Bee-eaters nesting below us and a few White-fronted Bee-eaters. Our night drive back to camp saw us run into a few Square-tailed Nightjars, along with a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl back at the camp. Other mammals seen on our afternoon drive included Side-striped Jackal, Spotted Hyaena, African Elephant, Common Warthog, African Buffalo, Impala, Bushbuck, and Common Duiker.
Day 2, 19th November 2018. Full day in Mana Pools National Park
We spent a full day birding within Mana Pools, more specifically within the confines of the concession in which our camp was situated. The primary habitat here is the dry Ruckomechi riverbed that runs through the concession with its associated riparian woodland and thickets, while there is quite a bit of bushveld located away from the streambeds, and a small section of mature mopane woodland creeps into the concession. We spent the morning birding along the riverbed and in the thickets and bush of its immediate surroundings, while the afternoon saw us tackling the mopane woodland before heading back into the riverbed. The midday period saw us taking it easy, birding from the camp ground. We had a good day overall, connecting with a few more of our targets and ending with a day list of around 120 species. The big highlight of the morning came when we heard the sought-after Livingstone’s Flycatcher calling from within a patch of thicket, grinding us to a halt, and within a few minutes we were enjoying a pair of these dainty birds moving about busily just above our heads. Other highlights from our morning spell included African Harrier-Hawk, Tawny Eagle, Bateleur, Lizard Buzzard, Swallow-tailed and Little Bee-eaters, Greater Honeyguide, Bearded Woodpecker, Meyer’s Parrot, large flocks of Lilian’s Lovebirds coming to drink from a spring, Southern Black Tit, Eastern Nicator, Terrestrial Brownbul, a Bearded Scrub Robin that played hard to see, Ashy Flycatcher, Collared, Scarlet-chested, Purple-banded, and White-bellied Sunbirds, and Red-throated Twinspot. A single mid-sized Lion cub was the highlight on the mammalian side. Our midday period was filled with brief periods of rest in between bouts of birding, some of the highlights being Abdim’s and Saddle-billed Storks, Squacco Heron, Gabar Goshawk, Greater Painted-snipe, Böhm’s Spinetail, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Lesser Kestrel, and Yellow-breasted Apalis, while the two stand-out species were Olive-tree Warbler and a pair of the scarce Orange-winged Pytilia. Our afternoon was dedicated to finding Arnot’s Chat, and we were rewarded with a small group with minimal effort and enjoyed excellent views at length of these unique birds. Other species seen during the afternoon included Black-chested Snake Eagle, African Goshawk, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Green Wood Hoopoe, African Grey Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Grey-headed Bushshrike, and Buffy Pipit. We had a similar suite of mammals as on the previous day, with new additions being Banded Mongoose, Sharpe’s Grysbok, and Greater Kudu. Following dinner we did a night drive and came up trumps with a glorious Three-banded Courser that was content with us admiring it for as long as we wanted. Fiery-necked Nightjar was the only other bird seen on the drive, while mammals encountered included Spotted Hyaena, African Civet, and Cape Genet.
A Three-banded Courser sat still for us!
Day 3, 20th November 2018. Full day in Mana Pools National Park
We headed out early in the morning to cover the section of Mana Pools along the Zambezi River and in and around Nyamepi camp. We had a bit of ground to cover to get to where we wanted to be but arrived in good time. We slowly began working the strip along the Zambezi River, enjoyed a great breakfast along its banks, and eventually completed the loop to Long Pool. We headed to Mana Mouth for our lunch break and spent most of our time there in the shade, watching the many birds and mammals moving up and down the Zambezi, before slowly making our way back to camp, arriving in the late afternoon. Throughout the day the birding was quite simply breathtaking, and by the end of the day we had notched up over 150 species. It was a pleasure getting to do some wetland birding, and we had numerous highlights, including White-faced Whistling Duck, Knob-billed Duck, African Openbill, Saddle-billed and Yellow-billed Storks, African Spoonbill, a plethora of Herons (Striated, Squacco, Grey, and Goliath) and Egrets (Great, Intermediate, and Little), both Long-toed and White-crowned Lapwings, Water Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, Greater Painted-snipe, Collared Pratincole, a host of waders/shorebirds including Ruff, Little Stint, Common Greenshank, Common, Marsh, and Wood Sandpipers and a vagrant Green Sandpiper, Malachite Kingfisher, and Western Yellow Wagtail. Raptors were well represented today, and things started well with good views of Dark Chanting Goshawk and ended even better with finding a Bat Hawk perched in a Baobab in the late afternoon. In between we noted Hooded and White-backed Vultures, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Bateleur, Martial and Wahlberg’s Eagles, African Fish Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, and Yellow-billed Kite. Although quite dry and parched, the riverine vegetation was constantly alive with birds, and we never had to look far to find new ones. Aside from some of the regular and to-be-expected species new additions were African Green Pigeon, Senegal and White-browed Coucals, Striped and Woodland Kingfishers, Common Scimitarbill, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Wattled Starling, Kurrichane Thrush, White-browed Robin-Chat, Lesser Masked Weaver, Village Weaver, and arguably the highlight of the day, Zambezi Indigobird. We found the latter during our post-lunch walk along the Zambezi after having spent a few minutes in the scorching sun, scanning the marshes and rapidly returning to the comfort of the shade. While re-gathering our composure I heard a twinspot call briefly, but from high in the canopy – rather unusual for this group of birds, and a short while later a typical indigobird chattering started up, all pointing to Zambezi Indigobird. After a bit of searching, we found the culprit, quietly perched in the upper story below the canopy, softly calling away, and could confirm it to be Zambezi Indigobird. We watched the bird at length before eventually having to tear ourselves away. We enjoyed another round of sundowners in Mana Pools before enjoying another great meal, followed by another night drive. We again managed to eke out Fiery-necked and Square-tailed Nightjars along with Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, while African Wood Owl and African Barred Owlet remained heard only. Throughout the day we also enjoyed a number of mammals, many of which we’d seen during the previous days; however, the highlight went to another pack of African Wild Dogs we found lazing about next to the road, while we were also able to add Hippopotamus to our list, along with Plains Zebra, Waterbuck, and Common Eland. Two Honey Badgers on the move along with some good looks at Cape Genet were the highlights on our night drive.
The glorious Mana Pools National Park.
Day 4, 21st November 2018. Mana Pools National Park to Harare, birding Christon Bank
With the Mana Pools pre-trip coming to an end today, as we transferred back to Harare to begin the Zimbabwe/Mozambique set-departure tour, we enjoyed our last morning around the camp with an early breakfast before departing this piece of heaven. We had a similar suite of species to what he had seen previously around the camp, but it was great nonetheless to enjoy Little Sparrowhawk, both Böhm’s and Mottled Spinetails, Broad-billed Roller, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Lesser Honeyguide, large flocks of Lilian’s Lovebirds coming to drink at the waterhole, Mosque Swallow, and Cut-throat Finch. All too soon we found ourselves on the road to Harare, enjoying the likes of Lesser Spotted and Black-chested Snake Eagles along the way. We eventually arrived in Harare, where we checked into our comfortable hotel and met up with James, who would be joining us for the main tour. Following lunch we headed out to Christon Bank, where we spent the afternoon birding the rocky miombo. The miombo was pretty quiet throughout the afternoon, perhaps due to the almost unbearably-hot and humid conditions, but we persisted. Our main target was the localized Boulder Chat, which we found rather easily and enjoyed some great and prolonged views! The rest of the birding wasn’t that easy, however, and after battling a while we managed to find an Augur Buzzard flying over, Levaillant’s, Red-chested, and Common Cuckoos, Little Bee-eater, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Chinspot Batis, Black Cuckooshrike, African Golden Oriole, Grey Penduline Tit, Red-faced Cisticola, Green-capped Eremomela, Southern Hyliota, Mocking Cliff Chat, Eastern Miombo Sunbird, Yellow-throated Petronia, Holub’s Golden and Red-headed Weavers, Red-backed Mannikin, and Cabanis’s Bunting before we called it a day.
We had close encounters with the sought-after Boulder Chat.
Day 5, 22nd November 2018. Birding Haka Game Park
We had a full day to bird and explore Harare and, following an early breakfast, arrived at the great Haka Game Park at the edge of town. Despite being surrounded by suburbia, this small patch of wilderness hosts a great many of the miombo specials, and this would form our primary focus during the day. As an added bonus there is also some good floodplain habitat present here along with a dam. As it so often happens in miombo woodland we had a rather quiet start, but with enough persistence we ran into a few bird parties and managed to find the majority of the specials. This is arguably one of the best places for the scarce Green-backed Honeybird, and we once again managed to come up trumps here, tracking a single bird as it moved through the woodland before it eventually alighted and gave us some great views! Southern Hyliotas were dime a dozen, and a pair of gaudy White-breasted Cuckooshrikes seemed content to follow us around for quite some time. Other highlights in the woodland included Purple-crested Turaco, Greater Honeyguide, Crested Barbet, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Black-crowned Tchagra, Brubru, White-crested Helmetshrike, Grey Penduline Tit, Green-capped Eremomela, Eastern Miombo Sunbird, and Red-headed Weaver. Notably only by its absence was African Spotted Creeper. A midday jaunt around the floodplain and grassy zones, although completely dry at this time of year, gave us a few more star birds, including Abdim’s Stork, Senegal Coucal, Marsh Owl, Pale-crowned and Croaking Cisticolas, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, and a pair of the much hoped-for Rosy-throated Longclaws together with its two cousins, Cape and Yellow-throated Longclaws as well. After flushing the first Rosy-throated Longclaw we slowly and carefully tracked where the bird settled in the thick grass, and some diligent scanning revealed it quietly tucked up against a clump of grass. It took some back and forth before we all got onto it, enjoying some great views! A short distance away we found another individual, this one a proper adult male in all its splendor, and it too put on a fine show for us. We returned to town for lunch and a break before resuming birding later in the afternoon. Sadly our afternoon was dogged by rain, which cut our birding time a bit short as we searched for the few missing miombo species. We had a similar spectrum of birds as in the morning, with the only notable additions being a very vocal Gabar Goshawk, a young Ovambo Sparrowhawk perched in the open during a break in the rain, and Swainson’s Spurfowl, African Fish Eagle, Black Crake, African Wattled Lapwing, African Jacana, African Snipe, Greater Striped Swallow, and Spectacled and Thick-billed Weavers all around the dam.
Day 6, 23rd November 2018. Transit to the Honde Valley, birding en route
With a busy day ahead we departed Harare at predawn as we began the drive to the Honde Valley, arriving at our first stop, the excellent Gosho Park, a little after sunrise. The rain from yesterday had only recently abated, and a low threatening cloud cover persisted. Fortunately the rain held off, and we made the most of these excellent birding conditions, enjoying a wealth of activity and birds right throughout our morning here. We are able to add almost all of our missing miombo birds in some of the finest and most exciting miombo birding I’ve had, including the localized Whyte’s Barbet, Miombo Tit, Red-faced Crombec, Miombo Rock Thrush, the difficult Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Wood and Tree Pipits, and Black-eared Seedeater. Aside from these new additions we enjoyed great views of African Harrier-Hawk, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Purple-crested Turaco, Black-collared Barbet, repeat views of the scarce Green-backed Honeybird, White-breasted and Black Cuckooshrikes, Black-headed Oriole, Rufous-naped Lark, Bar-throated Apalis, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Common Whitethroat, Southern Hyliota, Violet-backed Starling, Kurrichane Thrush, Southern Black and Pale Flycatchers, Striped Pipit, Yellow-fronted Canary, Streaky-headed Seedeater, and both Cinnamon-breasted and Golden-breasted Buntings. The small dam gave us African Sacred Ibis, Grey Heron, Hamerkop, Black Crake, Wood Sandpiper, Levaillant’s Cisticola, and Common Waxbill. After a few hours of birding we enjoyed our packed breakfast together with a warm coffee before continuing our journey.
The gaudy White-breasted Cuckooshrikes showed well in the miombo.
Our next stop brought up into the highlands of the Nyanga area, where our main target was the rare and patchily-distributed Blue Swallow – of which the Nyanga area is one of the last remaining strongholds. As is often the case in montane areas mist can be a problem, and it very nearly ruined our chance for the swallow. We arrived at the site to find it blanketed in thick mist with visibility of only a few meters. We persisted, though, and hiked down the valley to get to a good vantage point, while the mist slowly began to clear, and we made the most of the now mostly-cleared conditions with finding three Blue Swallows working the valleys. While they mostly kept their distance, we were treated to a few fairly close fly-bys. The surrounding area also gave up a few species, including Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk, a shy Olive Bushshrike, White-necked Raven, Cape Grassbird, African Yellow Warbler, Wailing Cisticola, a group of shy Roberts’s Warblers, African Stonechat, Pin-tailed Whydah, and Cape Canary. We enjoyed our lunch as the mist started to roll back in before calling it a day here and continuing the last part of the drive into the Honde Valley and to our end point, Aberfoyle Lodge. The winding road to the bottom of the valley was smooth going for the most part, with the highlights being a group of Mottled Swifts that did a few low passes over us, along with an African Pygmy Kingfisher perched on the roadside wires and a Red-capped Robin-Chat in the road shortly before arriving in the late afternoon. Rain threw our efforts out the window for some late afternoon birding around the lodge, and we settled in for an early evening in preparation for what the following day might hold.
Day 7, 24th November 2018. Birding the Honde Valley
After rain through much of the evening by the time we awoke it had fortunately stopped, and we were able to head out for the morning. We journeyed to the old Katiyo Tea Estate, where we would focus our efforts for the early-morning birding session. We made a few stops on the way there, enjoying the likes of Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Singing Cisticola, Arrow-marked Babbler, Brown-crowned Tchagra, White-browed Robin-Chat, Yellow Bishop, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-throated Twinspot, African Firefinch, Grey Waxbill, and Magpie Mannikin. Before long we were on the estate and enjoyed the first of many Black-winged Red Bishops. As we walked along we notched up the prized Red-winged Warbler, Short-winged Cisticola, and after much searching eventually Moustached Grass Warbler. A nearby patch of forest produced stunning views of an African Broadbill as it displayed right in front of us, along with Black-throated Wattle-eye and a Pale Batis that refused to come into the open. We had many other birds throughout the early morning, including Long-crested Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Tambourine Dove, Burchell’s Coucal, Speckled Mousebird, Broad-billed Roller, European Bee-eater, Lanner Falcon, Square-tailed Drongo, Sombre Greenbul, Black Saw-wing, Common House Martin, Wire-tailed and Lesser Striped Swallows, Collared, Olive, Scarlet-chested, and Variable Sunbirds, African Pied Wagtail, Brimstone Canary, and Cabanis’s Bunting. We broke for a cup of coffee, but then the rain began once more and we decided to head back for breakfast. A stunning Ayres’s Hawk Eagle greeted us as we arrived back at the lodge. Following breakfast we took a walk around the lodge, trying for a few of the forested species occurring here, in particular the rather uncommon Pallid Honeyguide. Despite the cloud cover persisting the birding was still good, and we were able to find the resident Palm-nut Vulture along with White-eared Barbet, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Grey Cuckooshrike, Dark-backed Weaver, and, after a bit of a walk, our target, Pallid Honeyguide – though the bird only showed briefly and not well enough for all of us. The rain started once again, and we retired to our rooms for a midday break. James braved it out at the feeder and was rewarded with prolonged views of the prized Red-faced Crimsonwing. Despite the non-stop rain we all gathered ready for our afternoon birding and piled into the car, bound for the famed Wamba Marsh. On arriving at the site we braved the rain, hoping it would abate soon, but eventually conceded defeat and returned to Aberfoyle to dry off. The remainder of the day was spent around the lodge, and in the late afternoon the rain eventually halted and we were able to get out for some birding. Our primary goal was the Pallid Honeyguide once more, and we managed to find another individual, but it too didn’t hang around long, and we were left wanting a bit more. Small numbers of Scarce Swifts were also found moving overhead, and we spent some time watching them before the lazy flapping of a Bat Hawk moved into view, followed by a vocal African Goshawk. Our first Buff-spotted Flufftail was heard calling in the early evening but was out of reach for us, and we had to be content listening to if. We enjoyed a good, warm meal to round off the day.
A singing Moustached Grass Warbler, which showed very well in the end
Day 8, 25th November 2018. Transfer from the Honde Valley to the Bvumba highlands
We had an early start, planning birding around the Wamba Marsh, but sadly awoke to rain again. Nevertheless we headed to the marsh to see if the conditions were different there, which they unfortunately weren’t, and none of us fancied getting wet again. So we headed back to the lodge for an early breakfast. Following breakfast the rain stopped, and we did a quick walk around the grounds and managed to find Pallid Honeyguide, hanging around a group of White-eared Barbets that finally gave us some good and prolonged views. After packing and leaving Aberfoyle Lodge we tried the Wamba Marsh once more, and the third time did prove to be the charm, as it actually was not raining here and we were able to enjoy some excellent birding! Our primary goal was the scarce Marsh Tchagra, and after some patience we eventually found an individual perched quietly atop some reeds and enjoyed good views. Just as quickly as it had appeared it was gone, though, and we focused on some other species. Red-chested Flufftail was calling from the marsh close to us, and we got in position to hopefully see the bird. Try as we might, however, we just weren’t able to find the flufftail, as it stuck to the thickest parts of the marsh. Also present here were African Fish Eagle, African Rail (heard only), Livingstone’s Turaco, Malachite Kingfisher, and Red-collared Widowbird, while Don was the only one to see Fan-tailed Grassbird and I was the only one to see Giant Kingfisher. As we arrived back at the car a pair of the massive Silvery-cheeked Hornbills flew low overhead, giving us good views but sadly didn’t alight in sight. As soon as the hornbills had disappeared we had a flyby of the scarce European Honey Buzzard, followed by another Ayres’s Hawk Eagle! On that high note we made our way out of the great Honde Valley and onward to our next destination, the Bvumba highlands. The trip there was quick and smooth, and we arrived in good time, following our lunch stop in Mutare along the way. We checked into our comfortable accommodation and headed out for a walk around the property. The birding was excellent, and we were able to knock many of the montane forest species off the list. Black-fronted and Olive Bushshrikes both showed well and at length, as did the dainty (and lively) White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Stripe-cheeked and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls, Chirinda and Bar-throated Apalises, Olive Thrush, African Dusky Flycatcher, the glorious White-starred Robin, and Cape and Red-capped Robin-Chats. Barratt’s Warbler and Orange Ground Thrush remained as heard-only birds, while Lemon Dove and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon gave us only the briefest of views and left us wanting more. As we ventured deeper into the forest the soft calls of Swynnerton’s Robin reached our ears, but, try as we might, we were unable to see this shy forest robin. Then Buff-spotted Flufftail began hooting from close by, and this saw us spending the rest of the afternoon trying to see this bird in the near-dark conditions. But the flufftail too would frustrate us, remaining well hidden and refusing to budge. We eventually pulled ourselves away and retired for dinner at the end of a good, successful day.
Day 9, 26th November 2018. Birding the Bvumba highlands
Together with our local guide, Bulawesi, we spent the morning birding the grounds of our well-appointed lodge, continuing from yesterday afternoon. Things started well, with us enjoying a confiding Orange Ground Thrush perched and singing in the open on the forest edge, before we delved a bit deeper in and crossed paths with a Buff-spotted Flufftail that gave a few of us good but brief views. We tried for a while to persuade the bird to come into the open again but were not successful. As we continued our walk through the montane forest patch and the adjoining open areas we also notched up Red-necked Spurfowl, African Goshawk, Lemon Dove, Livingstone’s Turaco, a glorious male African Emerald Cuckoo, White-eared Barbet, repeat views of Black-fronted and Olive Bushshrikes, Square-tailed Drongo, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Stripe-cheeked and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls, Chirinda Apalis, Roberts’s Warbler, Red-capped Robin-Chat, dainty White-starred Robins, Eastern Miombo Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, and a few groups of the sought-after Red-faced Crimsonwing. We had to put in some effort to get good views of the latter, but we were well rewarded with excellent and prolonged views of a stunning male, perched in the open for a while, rather uncharacteristically. Following a good brunch we took a short time off over the midday period, as I had to go into town to have my car looked at and the lights repaired, which went smoothly and quickly. I was back just in time before the heavens opened, and, although it rained for a short time, it finally stopped and we were able to resume our afternoon birding at the nearby Vumba Botanical Gardens. As soon as we stepped out of the car we found one of our main targets sitting in a tree next to us, Bronzy Sunbird – what a start! We watched both male and female for a little while before resuming our walk. Following the recent rain the birds were pretty active, and we enjoyed a similar suite of species to the one we had had in the morning, along with the likes of Tambourine Dove, African Black Swift, Cardinal Woodpecker, White-necked Raven, Terrestrial Brownbul, Black Saw-wing, Dark-backed Weaver, and Brimstone and Cape Canaries before we heard another one of our targets call, Swynnerton’s Robin. We moved into position before trying to call them in, and as if right on cue we picked up their rapid movements deeper in the thicket before they came out. They were almost as inquisitive as they were shy, giving us great views before moving to another perch. A little further on a Buff-spotted Flufftail began calling from right next to the edge of the road, and we again moved into position to try to see it. It seemed as if this was becoming a habit, because, no matter what angle we tried, we just couldn’t lay eyes on this secretive bird. With the day drawing to a close we had to make our way out of the gardens, but not before enjoying a group of Grey Waxbills frolicking around.
We encountered quite a few Red-faced Crimsonwings today.
Day 10, 27th November 2018. Birding the Bvumba highlands
With another full day available to bird this exciting part of the country we started the day at the Cecil Kop Nature Reserve, hoping to clean up on the few miombo birds we were still missing. It was a spectacular morning, and we often had bouts of activity as we slowly combed through the woodlands. The likes of Striped Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Chinspot Batis, Black-crowned Tchagra, Brubru, Black Cuckooshrike, Green-capped Eremomela, Southern Hyliota, Violet-backed Starling, Spotted Flycatcher, and Eastern Miombo Sunbird proved common and were present in the bulk of the bird parties we encountered. It was only after we had been following a few different parties, however, that we started encountering some more exciting species, the first of which was the sought-after Cinnamon-breasted Tit. We heard their characteristic grating calls and quickly moved off after them, only to be rewarded with the briefest of views. Just as we watched the party move away to an inaccessible area we heard the high tones of African Spotted Creeper, another of our main targets and a bird that had evaded us so far on the trip. We eventually found the bird as it rapidly moved up the trunks of a tree, and we spent some time enjoying a few individuals, although they always stayed a bit distant. Just as we were beginning to move on we heard the tits again, and this time they showed very well, giving us excellent views. Quite a few Miombo Tits were also present, allowing us some good comparative views. Miombo Rock Thrush showed well, while African Cuckoo-Hawk gave a brief flyby. Some of the other species we encountered here were Brown-backed Honeybird, Grey Penduline Tit, Flappet Lark, Red-faced Crombec, Lazy Cisticola, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, and Cabanis’s Bunting, while some frustrating moments were had when I saw a Collared Flycatcher, but it seemed to disappear into thin air before all of us could set eyes on it, despite our best efforts. We briefly spent some time at a grassland patch on our way back for brunch, picking up Cape Grassbird, Wailing and Croaking Cisticolas, and African Pipit in the process. We took it easy over the midday period again, with some of us trying for better views of Buff-spotted Flufftail and Roberts’s Warbler. We saw the warbler very nicely, but the flufftail didn’t cooperate, and we had to be content with listening to it hooting away. Our afternoon plans were washed out, as rain set in for the remainder of the day. Regardless, we had done well with the miombo birds earlier in the day.
Day 11, 28th November 2018. Transfer from the Bvumba to Gorongosa National Park
Today we crossed the border and headed into central Mozambique, but only after our pre-breakfast birding walk around the grounds. We did well, notching up Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Tambourine Dove, African Black Swift, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Olive Bushshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, White-starred Robin, and Red-faced Crimsonwing. Barratt’s Warbler had evaded us so far, but today we finally managed some good views of this skulking bird, which showed us all its features. We also did well with Swynnerton’s Robin, finding a very confiding bird that showed well, giving us more prolonged views than what we had had previously. The border crossing went smoothly, and soon we were dropping into the lowlands of Mozambique. We had to stop and pick up a few supplies and some cash in Chimoio, which took quite a while due to the long month-end cues, but we eventually got going and found ourselves enjoying our lunch in the vast woodlands just outside of Gorongosa National Park. Despite the really warm conditions there was a lot of bird activity, and we took a walk to see what was around. We enjoyed a number of exciting birds, such as Broad-billed Roller, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Pale Batis, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, African Golden Oriole, Red-faced Crombec, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Arnot’s Chat, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, and Red-headed Weaver. We went to check in at our basic lodge, meeting our great hosts Piet and Ria, before taking a break. The resident African Wood Owls were in their usual perch and showed well while we were settling in. We resumed birding later in the afternoon, visiting an area similar to where we had been at lunch and noting some of the same species, but also Bateleur, Lizard Buzzard, Black and African Cuckoos, numbers of Common Swifts, Grey-headed and Woodland Kingfishers, Common Scimitarbill, Bearded Woodpecker, Eurasian Hobby, Brown-headed Parrot, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Southern Black Tit, Red-faced Cisticola, the sought-after Red-winged Warbler, Southern Hyliota, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Purple-banded and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Yellow-throated Petronia, Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah, and Cabanis’s Bunting before settling in for the evening and enjoying a fine dinner.
We enjoyed many great looks at the lively Red-winged Warbler.
Day 12, 29th November 2018. Birding Gorongosa National Park and surroundings
We had a thunderous storm in the early hours of the morning and woke to gloomy, rainy weather. We had a drive booked in Gorongosa National Park for the morning, which was unfortunately canceled due to recent rains, which had left the roads deeper in the park flooded and inaccessible. We still entered the park, though, and took a drive to the main camp, hoping that the weather would relent. Sadly this was not to be, and it rained the whole morning we spent in the park. These were not ideal conditions, but we managed to find a few wet and bedraggled birds, including Crested Guineafowl, Red-necked Spurfowl, Crowned Eagle, African Cuckoo, Greater Honeyguide, and Collared Palm Thrush, along with some mammals, notably Blue Wildebeest, Waterbuck, Southern Reedbuck, and Yellow Baboon. We took it easy, waiting for the rain to ease, which it eventually did in the afternoon, when we headed out to explore more of the surrounding woodlands and riverine thickets. The woodlands gave us a similar suite of species to those we had seen yesterday, such as Lizard Buzzard, Black Cuckoo, European and Broad-billed Rollers, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Green Wood Hoopoe, Brown-headed Parrot, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Brubru, African Golden Oriole, Red-winged Warbler, Green-capped Eremomela, Southern Hyliota, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Purple-banded Sunbird, Yellow Bishop, and Golden-breasted Bunting. The thickets held a few different birds, notably Purple-crested Turaco, a very showy Narina Trogon, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, the skulking Eastern Nicator, and the prized Orange-winged Pytilia. Our last species before heading back to our lodge was a small group of Brown-necked (Grey-headed) Parrots that flew overhead, leaving us all wanting more. Following another good dinner we headed for a night drive, hoping the weather would hold. We had a good night drive with quite a bit of activity, including Common Buttonquail, Spotted Eagle-Owl, and both European and Fiery-necked Nightjars. We also picked up a few mammals, including Cape Genet and Thick-tailed Greater Galago (Bushbaby).
Day 13, 30th November 2018. Transfer from Gorongosa to Catapu
We had a long transfer ahead of us, moving to the Zambezi Delta area around Catapu and the Inhamitanga Forest, which hosts many of the most sought-after species for this tour. So we had only a short time in the morning for some birding before we had to leave. We had a wealth of activity in the morning, picking up many species, although most of them were species we had seen over the last few days. Nonetheless, some of the highlights were Crested Guineafowl, Hooded Vulture, Narina Trogon, Pale Batis, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Red-winged Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Bearded Scrub Robin, and Lesser Masked and Village Weavers. The road was in a terrible condition, which meant that the going was very slow, but we gradually progressed and took our lunch break at Nhamapaza. Some birding there, along with a few stops along the route, gave us Brown Snake Eagle and Wahlberg’s Eagle, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Jacobin Cuckoo, Mottled Spinetail, Peregrine Falcon, Eastern Golden and Southern Brown-throated Weavers, Black-winged Red Bishop, Common Waxbill, and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, while Gorgeous Bushshrike was heard only. Eventually we arrived in the Zambezi delta area and made our way to the Inhamitanga Forest, where we spent what remained of the afternoon. We started in the more open woodland, where one of the first species seen was a small group of Silvery-cheeked Hornbills that came flying overhead. Soon we encountered the prized Green-backed Woodpecker, while a supporting cast of species included Crowned Eagle, Klaas’s Cuckoo, European Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Bearded Woodpecker, Pale Batis, Retz’s Helmetshrike, snazzy Mosque Swallows, Red-winged Warbler, Ashy Flycatcher, and Jameson’s Firefinch, along with another flyby of Brown-necked (Grey-headed) Parrots, which, however, still didn’t quite satisfy our desires. By the time we had progressed to the lowland forest we didn’t have too much time left in the day, but this didn’t stop us as we enjoyed the first of the major lowland forest specials. One of the first birds seen at this bout was a party of the sought-after Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, which moved through the trees quietly, rather unlike the regular behavior of this species and family. We had just about had our fill when the loud notes of Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher filtered through, and we went off to search for it. In no time we had found the bird and enjoyed great looks at this prized species, a young male, as he noisily went about his business. While enjoying the shrike-flycatcher we also picked up a calling Plain-backed Sunbird and successfully managed to get some views before we had to call it a day and make our way to our lodge, where we would be based for the next four nights. Other species seen here included Eurasian Hobby, Square-tailed Drongo, Sombre Greenbul, Black-bellied Starling, Collared Sunbird, and Red-backed Mannikin, while African Barred Owlet and Woodward’s Batis were heard only. We enjoyed a good meal to round off a long day, looking forward to what the following days would hold.
We had quite a few encounters with the sought-after Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike.
Day 14, 1st December 2018. Birding Inhamitanga Forest
We had a pre-dawn start to ensure that we would arrive at the prime birding spots at sunrise, giving us the best chance to locate, among others, the highly-prized African Pitta – they key bird around which this trip is built. This rather unknown and enigmatic bird is only really possible during a small window at the start of the rains (the end of November to the end of December), as its display is the only sure way of finding it when its loud call rings out, giving away its presence. Without this the shy bird would almost certainly go unnoticed. We knew we were in for a good day when we started with a female Pennant-winged Nightjar sitting in the road. A number of European Nightjars were also in the area and allowed a good comparison. A pair of Dickinson’s Kestrels perched atop a dead tree in the early-morning light before we started in one of the lowland forest patches that had held pittas previously and slowly began working our way through it. The forest was alive with birds, and we hardly covered any ground, as there was so much to see! Good views of a few vocal Mangrove Kingfishers started things before birds rolled in thick and fast. Normally shy and reclusive, Green Malkohas seemed to be everywhere, giving us many great views, while a small bird party held Woodward’s Batis, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Nicator, Lowland Tiny and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls, the sought-after Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Black-headed Apalis, Black-bellied Starling, Plain-backed, Collared, Olive, and Purple-banded Sunbirds, Dark-backed Weaver, and the stunning Red-throated Twinspot. While enjoying all these and more we heard the soft notes of an East Coast Akalat and walked a little stretch off the track into the forest. We found a suitable position and tried to call it in, and almost immediately the bird appeared and gave us some spectacular views. This shy forest robin is a notoriously difficult bird to see, and it was a privilege to have some great looks! Another shy forest species, White-chested Alethe, was heard here, but we had no response from it and made our way back to the track. We found a spot where we could have breakfast and a short break. We were interrupted regularly with raptors moving overhead, which included European Honey Buzzard, White-backed and White-headed Vultures, Bateleur, Martial and Wahlberg’s Eagles, and Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle. We then birded some of the open woodland for a while, noting Crested Francolin, African Green Pigeon, Red-chested Cuckoo, both Mottled and Böhm’s Spinetails, Southern Carmine and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, the prized Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Brown-necked and Brown-headed Parrots, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Red-winged Warbler, and Red-headed Weaver. Another forest patch that we worked for a while was rather quiet over midday, with a young Southern Banded Snake Eagle and another calling White-chested Alethe being the only birds of interest. We took a short siesta after lunch before we gradually began making our way back to our lodge, where we spent the last part of the day searching some of the surrounding thickets, looking for the pitta. The heat during the afternoon was sweltering, and the bird activity was also low, but we did pick up Common Cuckoo and a vocal group of Grey-headed Bushshrikes before calling it a day. We also saw a few mammals during the course of the day, including Slender Mongoose, Natal Red and Common Duikers, Suni, Nyala, Samango Monkey, and Red Bush Squirrel.
The scarce Speckle-throated Woodpecker gave us great views.
Day 15, 2nd December 2018. Birding the Zambezi River and Inhamitanga Forest
Today would see us venture up the Zambezi River to Vila de Sena, where we would try to find a recently-discovered population of Böhm’s Bee-eater, a species only known from further north in Africa, with this being the only location in southern Africa where this species can be found reliably. We had some distance to go on a fairly bad road, but we made good progress. For breakfast we stopped at a large flooded pan that was brimming with birds. Here we picked up White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Knob-billed Duck, African Openbill, Striated, Squacco, and Purple Herons, Reed Cormorant, African Darter, Black-winged Stilt, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Grey-rumped Swallow, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Wattled Starling, and Black-winged Red Bishop. We had to tear ourselves away to complete the drive. Fortunately we didn’t have to search for too long after arriving, first hearing Böhm’s Bee-eater call and then finding a small group of around three to four birds, which gave us excellent views. Some of the other species present here included African Harrier-Hawk, African Fish Eagle, White-crowned Lapwing (on the Zambezi River), Mourning Collared and Namaqua Doves, Jacobin Cuckoo, Little and White-fronted Bee-eaters, a small group of migrating Amur Falcons, Copper and White-bellied Sunbirds, and a few Western Yellow Wagtails. Despite it being only mid-morning the heat was almost unbearable already, and, with the target seen, we decided to head back to camp. We stopped again at the flooded pan at a different section and picked up a few new birds, including numbers of Greater Painted-snipes, African Jacana, Common, Marsh, and Wood Sandpipers, and a Western Banded Snake Eagle that flew right over our heads. A quick stop at Caia didn’t yield much, but we were able to eke out Long-crested Eagle, Kittlitz’s Plover, Collared Pratincole, and Southern Brown-throated Weaver. We took a break over the midday period, during which another birding group graciously sent word of an African Pitta they had found on a private concession in the morning. We quickly made arrangements with the land owners and headed that way later in the day. It was a quiet afternoon with not a lot of activity, but we didn’t let this perturb us. We slowly started finding a few birds, including African Barred Owlet, Narina Trogon, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Livingstone’s Flycatcher and Bearded Scrub Robin, among others. Eventually we heard the frog-like call of African Pitta and slowly tracked the bird down. We very cautiously made our way to the call, and once near the tree it was calling from settled into position to see it as it moved during its call display. Soon enough we had found the bird and relished its incredible display and coloration. However, it soon flew off. Fortunately it began displaying again from a short distance away, and we cautiously approached it once more and managed to find it high up. The perch was a bit more open here, giving us a better look at this spectacular bird. Celebrations all around, and on that high we called it a day and made our way back to camp, elated as can be!
The incredible African Pitta pauses for a few moments while displaying.
Day 16, 3rd December 2018. Birding Inhamitanga Forest
The past few days had been extremely successful, and we had found almost all of the main specials of the area, with the only exception being White-chested Alethe, which we had only heard, so this would be our primary target for the day. We headed to a productive forest, where we spent the morning working a few different pairs of the alethe. Our predawn start gave us Western Barn and Spotted Eagle Owls, along with Fiery-necked and European Nightjars along the way. True to their name as the ‘ghost bird’, we were treated to only brief views of the White-chested Alethes as the birds flicked across the track and through small openings in the forest, giving us only pieces, such as the russet back one time and the stark white belly another. While we were trying for the alethe many other birds were present around us and included Crested Guineafowl, Green Malkoha, Narina Trogon, Mangrove Kingfisher, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, African Broadbill, Woodward’s Batis, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Lowland Tiny Greenbul, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Plain-backed Sunbird, and Red-throated Twinspot. We had also just missed a large alate emergence, as a portion of the track was littered with birds and the remains of the termites. Some woodland birding followed, where we picked up African Emerald Cuckoo, African Pygmy and Striped Kingfishers, Common Scimitarbill, another sought-after Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Amur Falcon, Eurasian Hobby, White-crested Helmetshrike, Mosque Swallow, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, and Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah. Following lunch we found a nice patch of shade and settled in for a rest before resuming birding later in the afternoon. Following the trend the afternoon was again on the quiet side as we continued on our search for a more confiding White-chested Alethe, among others. The soft notes of an East Coast Akalat filtered through, and we headed toward the call, only to find the most confiding individual, giving us even better and more prolonged views than what we had had previously! And, as if right on cue, White-chested Alethe called and we moved into position. These were far more territorial birds than any we had encountered previously, and they came right toward us, but the dense thickets kept them just out of sight. We persisted for a little while more and were rewarded with brief views as they flicked across the track, before one landed briefly right next to us, although it didn’t hang around long enough for all of us to get views. But then we were treated to a much longer flyby as two birds flew a large loop around us before disappearing. We had to be content with what we had seen and slowly began making our way back to the lodge. We passed through the African Pitta area on our way back and heard the bird displaying, so we couldn’t resist trying for another look. But it soon stopped displaying, and we were unable to find it, sadly – probably we had approached a bit too quickly. With daylight running out we made our way back to the lodge and enjoyed another good meal.
We had sublime views of the secretive East Coast Akalat!
Day 17, 4th December 2018. Transfer from Catapu to Beira
With a long drive ahead of us, on dirt roads, to the port city of Beira we started early to ensure that we had some time available for birding around Beira in the afternoon. The drive went smoothly, albeit slowly as we navigated the bad road, and we made a few birding stops en route. Some of the better species seen during these stops included African Harrier-Hawk, Bateleur, Crowned Eagle, African Goshawk, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Brown-headed Parrot, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, and Black-winged Red Bishop. Around midday we finally arrived at the new main road and finished the last leg to Beira. We made a quick stop on the way for the resident pair of Bat Hawks that roost next to the road and enjoyed some excellent views of this elegant raptor. Following a quick lunch we dropped our things off at our comfortable B&B and headed out for the afternoon. We first went to some nearby mudflats, only to find the tide up and the mudflats completely under water. We reassessed and decided to come back shortly before sunset, when the water would be lower, and headed into the surrounding floodplains. A lily-covered dam held the desired African Pygmy Goose and, after careful scanning, a few Lesser Jacanas among their African Jacana cousins. As we birded the floodplains we also picked up a few of the sought-after Rufous-bellied Heron along with Grey and Purple Herons, Great and Little Egrets, African Marsh Harrier, African Wattled Lapwing, Malachite Kingfisher, a confiding pair of Dickinson’s Kestrels hunting over the floodplains, Yellow-throated Longclaw, and a few groups of seedeaters, namely Red-billed Firefinch, Common and Orange-breasted Waxbills, and Bronze Mannikin. When we revisited the mudflats the water had just begun to recede, with the first patches of sand beginning to show. It took a little while for the birds to start filtering in, but they slowly started to appear, and we had raked up a decent list by the time the light ran out, forcing us to head back to town. Here we found Black-crowned Night Heron, Pink-backed Pelican, Pied Avocet (which had us thinking of Crab-plover for a few moments), Grey, Common Ringed, White-fronted, Lesser Sand and Greater Sand Plovers, Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Common Greenshank, Grey-headed Gull, and Caspian Tern. We enjoyed our final dinner together on the beachside, reliving some of the excellent birds we’d seen on the trip, before tucking in and getting ready for our final morning tomorrow.
A confiding Dickinson’s Kestrel gave us a rare close view.
Day 18, 5th December 2018. Birding Rio Savane and transfer to Macoche
We had an early start once more as we headed to the nearby Rio Savane floodplains, where we spent the morning trying for some of the exciting floodplain species that occur here. There was quite a bit of water present throughout this vast area, no doubt due to all the recent rain, and we enjoyed some good birding. Larger patches of open water held Spur-winged Goose, Woolly-necked Stork, Rufous-bellied and Black Herons, Great Egret, Hamerkop, and Western Osprey, while the surrounding grasslands, bush, and thickets gave up Palm-nut Vulture, Collared Pratincole, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Lesser Kestrel, Flappet Lark, Sand Martin, Red-breasted Swallow, Rufous-winged and Croaking Cisticolas, Copper Sunbird, large groups of Red-headed Queleas, and a surprise Cuckoo-finch. The really exciting birding came when we explored the shallowly-flooded grassy sections interspersed between the mudflats, and we did exceptionally well, managing to flush a few Black-rumped Buttonquails, giving us all excellent in-flight views, along with a few groups of the sought-after Locust Finches, which we also managed to track down on the ground, allowing us to enjoy their intricate patterns. Not to be outdone, we also found a rare Great Snipe, which allowed good views as it whizzed away, while the surprise of the morning was a stunning Corn Crake, and we were able to enjoy some views of this prized species on the ground! Some of the other birds seen included Greater Painted-snipe, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Quailfinch, and Yellow-throated Longclaw. Before we knew it we had to make our way back and along the way ran into a glorious pair of Wattled Cranes and a Saddle-billed Stork next to the road, bringing this morning’s birding to a close. Back at our B&B we had a late breakfast, picked up our last new trip bird, House Crow, and packed our things before transferring to the airport, from where Don and Rosemary would be flying back to South Africa, bringing the main Zimbabwe/Mozambique set-departure tour to an end after 15 very successful days.
James would, however, join me on the drive back to Johannesburg, with us adding a few extra days of birding time en route. After saying our goodbyes to Don and Rosemary we settled in for a long drive and began the trip to southern Mozambique, where we would overnight at Macoche. We arrived in the late afternoon and took the remainder of the day off, enjoying a good dinner later on before retiring for the night.
Day 19, 6th December 2018. Transfer from Macoche to Morrungulo, birding Unguane
We had some distance to cover before arriving at Unguane, where we spent the afternoon birding. The drive went smoothly, picking up Senegal Lapwing en route, and we arrived right on cue in the early afternoon and made our way into the woodlands and thickets, where we would try to find the isolated population of Green Tinkerbird occurring here. It was a warm afternoon, the birding was relatively quiet, and we sadly went deeper and deeper into the woodlands without a trace of the tinkerbird. Some of the highlights of our time here were both Mottled and Böhm’s Spinetails, Trumpeter Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Brown-headed Parrot, Southern Boubou, Brubru, Black Cuckooshrike, Square-tailed Drongo, Southern Black Tit, Eastern Nicator, Flappet Lark, Marsh Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Pale Flycatcher, Yellow Bishop, and Golden-breasted Bunting. Before long we had to make our way to Morrungulo, where we spent the night.
Day 20, 7th December 2018. Transfer from Morrungulo to Inharrime, birding Panda
We had some time in the morning to try and track down the tinkerbird once again and started early. It was a good morning with lots of activity, but, try as we might, the tinkerbird eluded us once more, with the bird frustratingly not even being heard. Other species that kept us company, however, included Lizard Buzzard, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Purple-crested Turaco, Jacobin Cuckoo, Black-collared Barbet, Pale Batis, Gorgeous Bushshrike (of which we enjoyed multiple and excellent views), Eurasian Golden Oriole, Eastern Nicator, Terrestrial Brownbul, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, the sought-after Rudd’s Apalis, Bearded Scrub Robin, a confiding Plain-backed Sunbird, and Lesser Masked Weaver. We eventually had to tear ourselves away and continue to the Panda area, where we would spend the afternoon birding. We didn’t have too much ground to cover, enjoying both Mottled and Böhm’s Spinetails en route, and arrived in the early afternoon. The miombo woodlands in this area play host to another sought-after and incredibly localized bird, Olive-headed Weaver – here a disjointed population from its otherwise south-east African range. We had another quiet afternoon with exceptionally warm conditions, but still we managed to find a few bird parties. Highlights were Bearded Woodpecker, Pale Batis, Black-crowned Tchagra, White-crested Helmetshrike, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Southern Black Tit, Red-faced Crombec, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Southern Black Flycatcher, and Village Weaver, but, try as we might, we couldn’t turn any of the latter into Olive-headed. With some ground to cover to get back to our overnight stop at Inharrime we soon had to give up. After arriving at our overnight accommodation at dusk we had a good meal to end a somewhat trying day.
Day 21, 8th December 2018. Transfer from Inharrime to Kaapschehoop
We had a long drive ahead for today, driving back into South Africa and onward to the small mountain village of Kaapschehoop. So we had only a short time in the morning available for birding in the Panda area. The localized Neergaard’s Sunbird was another target for James, and we decided to focus on this for the morning. We did very well and managed to find two vocal males early on and enjoyed superb views at close range of this sought-after bird. With a bit of time still open we had another go at the weaver. But fortune again wasn’t on our side, as the wind picked up and made birding very difficult. Despite this we were still able to eke out Shikra, Little Sparrowhawk, White-crested Helmetshrike, Black-headed Oriole, Fawn-colored Lark, Southern Hyliota, and Yellow-throated Petronia. The drive to the South African border went well, and we found ourselves there in good time. After a bit of a hassle we entered South Africa and made our way to Kaapschehoop, running into a massive storm en route. We arrived in the late afternoon and took it easy for the rest of the day, while the rain eased up and finally stopped altogether. We also enjoyed a good final meal together, as tomorrow would be James’s final day.
A not-so-shy Gorgeous Bushshrike
Day 22, 9th December 2018. Transfer from Kaapschehoop to Johannesburg and departure
Today was the last day for James. With his flight departing Johannesburg late in the afternoon we had most of the day available to try and track down a few new species for him. We awoke to a misty morning and headed to the surrounding grasslands and bracken slopes. After yesterday’s rain the birds were out and about, and we enjoyed the likes of Jackal Buzzard, Black-winged Lapwing, Horus Swift, Cape Grassbird, Wailing and Wing-snapping Cisticolas, Drakensberg Prinia, Groundscraper Thrush, Cape Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Cape Weaver, African Firefinch, Cape Longclaw, and Long-billed Pipit. A fire not too long ago had burnt large parts of the area, and sadly we weren’t able to find any Striped Flufftails. We headed back for a late breakfast before gathering our things and beginning the drive to Johannesburg. We would spend the afternoon birding a few spots north of Pretoria for, primarily, Red-winged Francolin and Tinkling Cisticola and arrived with enough time to search for them. Re-winged Francolin proved elusive for a long time, but after quite some searching we heard a few birds and set off to track them down. Much to our dismay the birds went silent, and we were unable to find them in the grass. We stuck around for a while longer, hoping they’d call again, but it was not to be. Other species present here were Rock Kestrel, Cape Crow, numbers of Melodious Larks, Desert and Cloud Cisticolas, Buff-streaked Chat, and White-winged Widowbird, while birds heard only were Coqui Francolin and White-bellied Bustard. The scarce Tinkling Cisticola was next, but en route to its stakeout we saw large clouds building and hoped they would keep at bay long enough for us to find the bird. We arrived on site and immediately set off, and within a few minutes we heard a bird calling close by, but frustratingly out of sight. The rain was somewhat closer than we had anticipated, and the first drops began falling. But we persisted, eventually finding the bird as it perched, albeit very briefly, before the proper rain arrived and sidelined us back to the car, leaving us wanting more. We waited it out for a while and then tried once more in the rain (although we quickly retreated), with no sign of the rain letting up and our time running out. So we made our way onward to Johannesburg, briefly stopping to refresh and repack, and then I dropped James off at the airport, which brought this ‘mega’ tour to a close.
I would like to thank Don, Rosemary, and James for an excellent trip, the good times had, and the great fun shared. We did exceptionally well on the birding side as well, missing very few species and enjoying great looks at the majority of the main specials and targets for the trip, including the mesmerizing African Pitta, which would surely go down as one of the major highlights of the trip, along with the fine miombo birding in the Eastern Highlands and our near-clean sweep of the Bvumba-highlands specials. I look forward to the next one!
The group – Dylan, James, Don, and Rosemary
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.