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Southern and Central Mozambique Trip Report
Day 1 Pretoria - Komatipoort (1 July '05)
The day was mainly concerned with getting to the border post and ensuring that everything would be ready, but a request by Peter for some LBJ spotting in the highveld east of Pretoria saw us walking in the hills south of Rayton where we ticked Long-billed Pipit, Plain-backed Pipit, Spike-heeled Lark, Capped Wheatear and a beautiful Fawn-coloured Lark- not a bad haul for a short winter noon stop on the highveld!
We then headed down to Nelspruit and stopped for supplies there, before heading on to Komatipoort, arriving just before 6. We filled up all diesel and water containers before checking into the 'Spice of Life' backpackers.
Day 2 Komatipoort to Panda (2 July '05)
We got through the border at 9:30 (3.3 hours after the border opened at 6 am) and soon stopped for some dry-country birding. Here we saw Tawny Eagle and White-winged widow - still in breeding plumage. Later on we saw Bateleur, many rollers and hornbills.
It was a long drive up to Panda, and having started at 9:30 we had little chance of getting there early. We resisted the temptation to stop too much and headed east then north. In the Maputo area we noted the active bustle of country at work and the colourful stalls of baguettes in baskets. The villages seemed upbeat, with a bustle of purposeful activity.
Our first serious stop was before Magul. A ruined bridge marked some good habitat but we stopped at the wetland just 1km before Magul (about 200m before a small bridge), and walked into the flooded grassland on the left of the road. We soon saw several Pale-crowned Cisticola - were showing vry rich rufous-buff flanks and throat and chest edges, compared (in some birds) with much whiter central chest area. (same as the birds seen in June at underberg) Here too we saw Yellow-throated and Rosy-throated Lonclaw, and a variety of swallows, inlucing many Grey-rumped, Wire-tailed, Banded Martin, and Lesser-striped Swallow. This good birding spot is about 200m before (S of) the bridge over the last 'wetland area' before Magul. Magul is not on some maps and lies between Manhica and Macia, roughly 3 km N of the Nkomati river/floodplain.
Heading on we wasted little time in getting to Inharrime, but the road was slow, and with the 90 mins birding stop, we only go to the start of the Panda road at 5. The road was slow, bumpy with regular holes and wash-outs and passed through interesting habitat, with extensive wetlands, and marshes - a sense of wonderful unexplored lands! Square-tailed Nightjar was seen well in the road in the headlamps.
Arriving at Panda we headed 13km on the road to the SW and easily found a track to the left (near to the brow of small hill). We camped after about 1km. - where old mans beard lichen appeared to be very numerous. A braai was punctuated by numerous Scops Owl, a distant hoot of Southern White-faced Owl and Galago screeches. During the night we heard distant Verreaux's Eagle-owl and Barred Owl.
Day 3 Panda to Save Pan (July 3 '05)
We were woken by the calls of Barred Owlet, Crested (Kirk's) Francolin, Red-necked Francolin and what sounded like Olive-headed Weaver. We enticed Barred Owlet into the campsite and had cracking scope views of the bird. We then worked the woodland and disturbed agricultural areas, which initially seemed much more active with bird parties containing many birds; working their way around the edge of these woodlands.
The Panda woodlands are beautiful, with tall 15+M trees and an open understorey. Some areas have a very high density of 'old man's beard' lichen. Bird parties seemed to prefer moving along the forest edge, but those with weavers in them were in the middle of mature woodland.
The bird parties here were very good, in particular, Southern (Mashona) Hyliota, Pale Batis and White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike were very common. After a lot of time spent scanning numerous bird parties, we got onto one in mature woodland. Peter had gone to bring up the vehicle and predictably this was where we spotted two Olive-headed Weavers, which immediately disappeared. We searched in the rain before eventually after 11, finding another pair of these brilliant birds which showed nicely. They appear much brighter than in some illustrations, and moved quickly with a bird party, perching briefly et the top of tall trees. Other good birds in the area included Green-backed Honeybird and a probable Mascarene Martin.
The long drive from Panda to Save Pan via Vilanculos was uneventful, although the road was slow in places. The Baobab forests were awesome with lots of Bohm's Spinetails whirling everywhere and large flocks of Mottled Spinetail also in evidence.
Vilanculos was howling wind, but the pans and lakes were inviting and we stopped for a bit of wetland birding seeing Osprey, Curlew Sandpiper and Whimbrel. No sign of Madagascar Bee-eater in the wind, but did some good Nightjar watching at the Rubbish dump on the north of the main road as you come into Vilanculos. We then moved onto the 'campsite' at Save Pan which is set in tall quiet woodland, and enjoyed a very quiet and restful night in the bush.
Day 4 Save Pan to Rio Savane (4 July '05)
We were up at dawn and headed to the pan, which turned out to be almost dry. In fact the area as a whole was very dry, and the pan itself a shadow of its former glory. We saw Saddle-billed Stork and a Black Sparrowhawk which was chasing small birds.
In the forest a Woodwards Batis played hide and seek with us and then disappeared completely. The birding was relatively quiet, but we did have excellent views of Livingstones Flycatcher, and a flock of Retz Helmet-shrike.
We left Save pan at about 9 and headed towards Beira. The road was better and we stopped at the Busi River bridge and a few other spots, seeing quite a few good birds along the road, including Dark Chanting Goshawk and A Juvenile Rufous-bellied Heron. The Pungwe river marshes looked very interesting and we saw plenty of African Marsh Harriers.
Arriving in good time on the Rio Savanne allowed us to spend a bit of time birding the forest patch (on the way in to Rio Savanne), which was brilliant with a patch of birding which included Slender Bulbul, Black-headed Apalis, Narina Trogon, Green Coucal all in view at virtually the same time!!
At Rio Savanne a walk produced Black-rumped Buttonquail, and several Short-tailed Pipits, which flew off to some height. We also saw a flock of Senegal Lapwing near the main road.
The wind howled as we ate dinner at our camp at Rio Savanne Parking area, and the camp had a flush loo too!
Day 5 Rio Savanne area (July 5 '05)
Early morning on the beach produced a surprise flock of 12 Terek Sandpipers, as well as Mangrove Kingfisher flying past. We went walking and took a long walk to the spot where Rick Nuttall's group had seen Locust Finch. This was dry and we did see a lot of Quail Finch and many more Short-tailed Pipit. We then headed back in the direction of Beira and found Magpie Mannikin and towards the forest patch a single Madagascar Squacco, which was very co-operative. We birded the road and spent a lot of time looking for Locust Finches and others. In the wetter areas near the prawn Factory we saw Wattled Crane and Rufous-bellied Heron, but did not hear any Great Bitterns, (seen here a few days later by Colin Valentine) In hindsight we should not have spent time driving round the prawn factory, looking for terns and shorebirds, which took us away from the floodplain in the afternoon. We also wasted some time hopefully exploring the Forest Patch again, before heading back to camp and looking for Crab Plover (a real long shot at this time of year)
Day 6 Rio Savanne to Chinizua (July 6 '05)
Locust Finch was seen on a nearby (to the camping area) grass patch, before one reaches the junction where the chain is. (if travelling away from the resort parking). This species responded to tape playback. Later on we found more herons and at least 1 more Madacascar Squaccos. The forest patch was quiet and we went to Dondo, to fill up etc. Dondo had no diesel so we had to back track to get diesel. We got on Dondo-Muanza road and after 35km the birding improved dramatically. We saw 3 Southern banded-Snake Eagles in the first few km. A tree produced a mixed flock including Black-eared Canary and Magpie Mannikin. The birding was good as we turned into the Chinizua road and here we picked up Short-winged Cisticola, Silvery cheeked Hornbill etc, seen along main road before the turn-of, then Red-winged Warbler, Cabanis's Bunting, Southern Hyliota and Raquet-tailed Roller. We had a Woodpecker that responded to Bennett's call, but looked like Bearded - probably just inter-specific competition?
On arriving in the Chinizua area, there were a lot of birds and we saw Red-throated Twinspot and firefinches, as well as several of the amazing 4-toed Elephant-shrew.
Day 7 Chinizua to Catapu (July 7 '05)
Early morning we headed out and immediately encountered an East Coast (Gunning's) Akalat near the camp. Birding was quiet as we worked the forest along the little river, but we did see another Akalat and had excellent views of Plain-backed Sunbird. We walked 'the grassy glade' in somewhat optimistic mood (it was probably far too dry for Blue Quail), and then birded the "semi-agricultural" slash and burn area to the south of Chinziua were the birding was excellent with Black and White (Vanga) Flycatcher, Black-eared Canary, Lesser Seedcracker, Grey Waxbill, Chestnut-fronted Helmut-Shrikes, Red-winged Warbler, Delegorgues Pigeon, Eastern Saw-wing and Miombo Glossy Starling. Leaving Chinizua we headed back along the miombo road and found a nice bird party which included Violet-backed Sunbird. Nearby we saw an adult Ayre's Hawk-eagle . All the good birding delayed our progress and we only reached the main road after 4:00pm. After dark we arrived at Catapu- a nice relief of hot showers and comfortable beds. Here we met James White who runs the coutada.
Day 8 The Coutadas to near Marromeu (8 July '05) Today we tried for the Alethe first and headed. Stopped 1 km and birded southern road. Better habitat appeared at 5.2km but did see another Gunnings Akalat. Then birded steadily south-east through Coutada 12 which offered an amazing variety of habitats. We reached the bottom end of coutada 12 and found our way into agricultural stuff where Vanga Flycatcher and a probable Barred Cuckoo were seen. Off to Coutada 11 and even more amazing habitat. The scenery and trees were amazing nand had we not been to Chinizua this would have been a mind-blowing day. Species included Slender Bulbul, Black-headed Apalis, Flappet Lark, Plain-backed Sunbird, Hooded Vulture, Crested Guineafowl, Narina Trogon, Pale Batis, Short-winged Cisticola, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Grey-headed Parrot and Violet-backed Sunbird. We ended of the day with birds like Lemon-breasted Canary near the Zambezi and returned via Mary Moffat's Grave on the Zambezi and arrived well after dark.
Day 9 Catapu-Caia-Maringue-Catapu (9 July '05)
First stop was a nice patch of lowland forest in Coutada 12. We stopped at a stake-out for Alethe and found 2 birds calling at 5.2km along this road (on right of track). We spent some time sitting quietly in the forest, but did not manage to catch a glimpse of the bird, which is not known as the ghost-bird for nothing! We did see a host of other good birds including Woodward's Batis
We then went to look for an African Crowned Eagle, finding a fledged youngster on the nest. We then turned round and headed for Caia, which was very good with Lesser Jacana, Long-toed Plover, Red-necked Falcon and a host of other birds. We then headed up the Zambezi and spent the day doing a long loop into the drier country south of the Zambezi. Lanner Falcon and Ayre's Hawk-Eagle were among the birds seen en-route, and the drier country itself held a host of "pretoria species" such as Green-winged Pytilia and Chinspot Batis! (which brought our Batis total for the day to 3, including Pale seen in the Coutadas) The road was beautiful in places, and it turned out into something of an adventure as one of the tracks on the map turned out to be non-existent.
Day 10 Catapu to Gorongosa Mountain (July 10 '05)
Because of the lateness o the previous night we headed out very late and had taken up James Suggestion of taking Antonio along to help with the mountain negotiations. This was good as it helped us understand a lot about the country, but may also have slowed us down a lot, as he insisted on doing everything by the book! En-route we saw a nice Dickinson's Kestrel and another pair of Black and White Flycatcher as well as several Lizard Buzzard. The "quarry road" track was impassable even by Landcruiser and after walking 2km we met the guide who assured us that it was not possible to return down the mountain before dark. We decided to return the next day and did some good birding on the way down seeing species such as Orange-winged Pytilia, Variable Sunbird and Blue-spotted Wood Dove. We then headed to the town of Gorongosa town to fill and get a few supplies. We camped in a village about 2km north of the quarry track, and introduced the village headman to instant noodles and western style camping techniques, which the locals found somewhat astounding!
Day 11 Gorongosa Mountain (July 11 '05) It took us very long to get going and when we finally got to the mountain it transpired that we had to visit the "king" and get blessed. We went to the local headman and were asked for 350 000 metcais to pay for the ceremony (we actually had to go to gorongosa town to get provions for the Ceremony). We negotiated a quicker deal and headed up, letting the tyres down to aid traction up the very slippery track. A puncture delayed things further and we only started walking at 9:00. At 11:40 we had climbed from 600m to 1060m and I saw that most mystical of all Southern African Birds - the GREEN-HEADED ORIOLE. The area also offered Eastern Saw-wing, plenty of Yellow-bellied Waxbill (East-Arican Swee) and a nice Pallid Honeyguide and several White-tailed Crested-Flycatcher. On the way up we had also had good views of Moustached Grass Warbler on the way up and then came down much more slowly. After returning to the base and picking up our vehicle, we headed for Casa Msika and after setting up camp, went for a nice steak dinner on the waterfront restaurant where the music was incredibly loud!
Day 12 Casa Msika to Aberfoyle(July 12 '05)
In the early hours of the morning, Spotted Eagle-owl, Barn Owl and Scops Owl called in the camp. At 7 we left and headed for the border, getting thru after an hour at 8:30. We headed immediately for Cecil Kop and at the lower end of the reserve found Whyte's Barbet. The Livingstones Turaco's here seemed to have longer white feather plumes on the crown than those in KZN. The area harbours a range of bushveld birds, such as Golden-rumped Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Greenbul and others such as Singing Cisticola.
Mutare heights, also part of Cecil Kop offered good miombo birding and here we saw some good birds in the form of Miombo Tit and Miombo Rock Thrush. Others seen included Cabanis's Bunting, Red-faced Crombec and Puffback. After a breakfast at the Wimpy in Mutare, we headed towards Aberfoyle, and took the road via Penalonga. The road offered excellent birding. Forest Patches along the road produced Stripe-cheeked Bulbul, Yellow-bellied Waxbill and Pallid Honeyguide, while miombo birds were varied with White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Miombo Tit, Green-capped Eremomela, Miombo Double-collared Sunbird and Mozambique (Pale) Batis. At a picnic spot near (2km) frm the tar end, we found a large bird party which incuded several Cinnamon-breasted Tit and Mashona Hyliota as well as many other birds. We also saw Red-necked Spurfowl along this road.
The road to Aberfoyle is winding and slow and the only significant birding was a stop to look at swifts including a Scarce Swift. Arriving at the gate it turned out that Selwyn Rautenbach had booked us in on the wrong date and we therefore had no booking - it was then quite a performance to get in, and advance booking is highly advisable. On the way in Barratt's Warbler were heard calling.
Day 13 Aberfoyle to Bubi (July 13 '05)
The morning was dark and misty until 7, as we started birding around the club. Several sunbirds and a number of twinspots were seen in the forest remnant adjoining the club. Further on we some tall trees held African Golden-Oriole and a flock of 30+ Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters. We walked along a service track between remnants of forest in a sea of tea. Here we found a Green-spotted Woodpecker. Returning to the clubhouse, we then drove to the 'Gleaneagles ' forest, where we birded the patches of degraded forest and forest edge. Here we saw a number of Pink-throated Twinspot, a single Green Twinspot, we also had Magpie Mannikin, calling Chirinda Apalis, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Klaas's Cuckoo, Singing Cisticola and an out of season calling Tree Pipit in cleared forest (Which had been seen the previous season by another group).
We headed out for the 'Womba Bird'. On the way, we stopped 4 some swifts and had superb close-up views of Mottled Swift, swooping low overhead.
At the vlei we found mechanised tea-pruning in progress, and perhaps the disturbance prevented us from seeing the Anchieta's Tchagra and we had to make do with a Dark-capped Yellow Warbler instead!
Leaving Aberfoyle at around 11, we headed South, a largely uneventful trip livened by a nice view of two Black Storks, many Meve's Glossy Starling and several other new trip birds. We reached Bumi (elephant hills lodge) by about 9pm, where we camped.
Day 14 Bumi (Zimbabwe to Pretoria) (July 14 '05)
Getting through the border was relatively easy and we reached Pretoria by about 1:30 pm. Overall the trip was very successful with lifers all around and a trip total in excess of 320 species.