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Birding Southern and Central Mozambique and the Eastern Highlands - When to go?
By Etienne Marais. This article is the second of a series on birding Mozambique. To see the first article go here.
I am regularly asked: "when is the the best time to go birding to central Mozambique"?
This is by no means a simple question and since we usually also do the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe (or the Western Highlands of Mozambique as back-up) I have included those in this discussion.
Most people naturally assume that the summer months are far better than the winter months, since in South Africa, these seasons are like chalk and cheese as far as birding is concerned. Mozambique is however more tropical and the rainy season is much later and much more spread-out than in South Africa. It is also somewhat erratic and rains are notoriously unpredictable! One is often surprised to find that species like Black-winged Bishop and Red-headed Quelea are in full breeding plumage in July, but not in December ! The first thing to look at is the birds that you want to see. If you have already done one or two trips into Mozambique and need only a handful of birds, then you must pick your time according to when these migrants are present. Summer offers a variety of cuckoos, African Pitta, and a better chance for Great Snipe and Blue Quail. You also have a chance to see African Hobby, Eleonora's Falcon and Sooty Falcon, as well as migrant Harriers. In summer the eastern Highlands offer Tree Pipit, Collared Flycatcher, Eurasian Blackcap and the possibility of Eleonora's Falcon.
Winter offers the only chance of Malagasy Pond-Heron, Mascarene Martin and Short-tailed Pipit. It is also possible to see Madagascar Cuckoo in winter and all the resident species are available in winter. While there is no replacing the exciting rush of full activity in mid-summer, winter birding can be surprisingly good and we have had good views of Great Bittern, Thick-billed Cuckoo, African Golden Oriole, Rufous-bellied Heron, Allen's Gallinule and even Black Coucal in the winter period. Carmine Bee-eater, Madagascar Bee-eater, Collared Pratincole, Black-winged Lapwing, Wattled Crane, Osprey, Terek Sandpiper, Grey-rumped Swallow, Mangrove Kingfisher are all regularly seen on winter trips.
A large number of other species are resident, and our winter trip lists are not that much different in overall quality from the summer lists, albeit a little shorter. This is made up by the fact that the classic winter trip, which includes Panda and Morrungulo adds quite a few species not seen on the summer trip, including Olive-headed Weaver, which cannot be seen on the central circuit. The summer trips tend to focus primarily on Central Mozambique between Beira, Mutare and the Zambezi.
Birding Conditions.A summer trip is more uncomfortable, as most summer days are very hot and humid, which limits some birders to a few hours of morning birding every day. While the morning birding is often excellent in summer, it can soon become more oppressive when hot. Temperatures go as high as up to 42° C with high humidity and even nights can be very hot. In January we recorded a temperature of 37° C at dinner time in the Gorongosa area. Note that these are real temperatures and not those recorded by in-car gauges, which tend to over-read quite a bit! There are also larger number of insects, mosquitoes and biting flies in summer. In winter conditions are generally milder and while in many areas the birding is quieter, groups tend to bird with enthusiasm for a higher proportion of daylight hours, since conditions are easier.
December is an exciting time in Central Mozambique, as many birds are actively breeding and displaying. However the boom is often quite short and some species have gone quiet by January, as they guard young. On the other hand, species such as viduines (Paradise Whydah's and Indigobirds), Black-winged Bishop and Red-headed Quelea are often not in Breeding Plumage until sometime in January, and this is dependent on rains.
For the bulk of resident species breeding may continue through to April or even May, and there tends to be a lull in activity levels after this. This results in the classic autumn lull until June/July, with things picking up again in some areas (particularly forest birding) in July, but this is very variable indeed.
In 2010 the big rains were very late, so we expect a lot of breeding activity to still be ongoing in July and even August.
ClimateIn summer (October - April) maximum temperatures are often in the high 30's (Centigrade) and sometimes over 40° C between November and January. Humidity tends to be higher in December and January making for some uncomfortable days (and nights) . Winter temperatures are mild at the coast, with cooler nights inland. The average maximum in winter is around 25°C - 28°C from May - September. Average minimum temperatures are 16° - 17° C in Winter with extremes of 10°, although it obviously gets colder in the higher altitude areas of the Eastern Highlands.
To download our comparative annotated checklist, based on actual bird sightings, click here.
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