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TRIP REPORT: Mozambique and Eastern Zimbabwe - June/July 2007

Introduction.
This was a self-drive birding adventure organized by Indicator Birding and led by Etienne Marais. Successful trips into Mozambique - as with any birding destination, require a significant amount of research and intimate knowledge of the birding sites. This report does not include every bit of information of use to birders, and I hope to include some useful information on my website: http//:www.birding.co.za in due course. It will also be available on the web-site of Mike Slater: www.mozguide.com - which is an excellent overall resource on Mozambique.

Overall 396 species were recorded between Letaba Camp (29 June) and Beit Bridge (14 July), with 381 of the species being seen.

The participants traveled in five 4x4 vehicles, one of which pulled an off-road trailer. Participants were: Etienne Marais (Leader), Jacqui and Eric Ehlers, Rodney and Anneke Vincent, Louis and Ralda Heyns, Charmaine and Derek Oosthuizen, Corné Rautenbach, Vic Jenner and Warren Smith.


Top Birds Seen
Specklethroated Woodpecker, Mascarene Martin, Pallid Honeyguide, Green-backed Woodpecker, Yellow-breasted Hyliota, Oliveheaded Weaver, Lesser Seedcracker, Locust Finch, Kirk's Francolin , , Greenheaded Oriole, Miombo Tit, Cinnamon-breasted Tit, Spotted Creeper, Slender Bulbul, Swynnerton's Robin, East Coast Akalat, Blackheaded Apalis, Moustached Warbler, Singing Cisticola, Shortwinged Cisticola, Redwinged Warbler , Livingstone's Flycatcher, Anchieta's Tchagra, Chestnutfronted Helmetshrike, Plainbacked Sunbird, Blackwinged Bishop, Redfaced Crimsonwing, Cabanis's Bunting, Scarce Swift, Silverycheeked Hornbill, Green-backed Honeybird, Eastern Sawwing Swallow, Stripecheeked Bulbul, Southern Hyliota, Chirinda Apalis, Redfaced Crombec, Brier Warbler, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Yellowbacked Widow, Orange-winged Pytilia, Redthroated Twinspot, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Lesser Crested Tern, Bluespotted Dove, B&W Flycatcher (Vanga), Mozambique Batis, Wood Pipit, Bronzy Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Western Violetbacked Sunbird, Blackeared Canary, Mottled Swift, Whyte's Barbet, Miombo Rock-thrush, Boulder Chat, Miombo DC Sunbird, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Madagascar Bee-eater, Woodwards' Batis, Short-tailed Pipit, Palm-nut Vulture, Augur Buzzard, Collared Pratincole, Greyheaded Parrot, Livingstone's Turaco, Mangrove Kingfisher, Collared Palmthrush, Stierling's Barred Warbler, Rufouswinged Cisticola, Blackfronted Bush Shrike, Green Twinspot, Grey Waxbill, Lemon-breasted Canary, Cuckoo Hawk, Rednecked Falcon, Lesser Jacana, Longtoed Lapwing, Bohm's Spinetail, African Broadbill, Flappet Lark, Greyrumped Swallow, Magpie Mannikin, Black Coucal, Osprey, Dickinson's Kestrel, Rednecked Francolin, Square-tailed Nightjar, Mottled Spinetail, Rackettailed Roller, Yellowstreaked Bulbul, Yellowspotted Nicator, Orange Thrush, Arnot's Chat, Greencapped Eremomela, Wattle-eyed Flycatcher, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Senegal Lapwing, Swallowtailed Bee-eater, African Golden Oriole, Yellow White-eye.


Day 1, 29 June: KNP - Parque Nacional do Limpopo.

The group assembled in Letaba Camp and after quick installation and testing of the two-way radios, we were off in convoy towards the Giriyondo Border post. The border post is small and crossing was relatively painless and quick. There has to be a really good reason why one should consider the horrible Komatipoort Border post!! The dry woodland on the moz side of the Border post provided for some good birding, including Lark-like Bunting and Grey-backed Sparrowlark - both rarities in Mozambique. Several woodland stops produced birds such as Sabota Lark, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Chin-spot Batis, Lizard Buzzard, and as we entered the moister woodland near the lake, Stierling's Barred-Warbler Yellow-bellied Greenbul and others. In the mid-afternoon we arrived at the Campismo Aguia Pesueira, (Fish Eagle Camp) which lies in the hills high above the spectacular Massingir Dam. Our camp provides superb views over the lake of Massingir, which is a huge body of water. From our vantage point we were able to see Herons, Cormorants and many Fish-eagles, while groups of White Pelicans moved from area to area on the lake. We had a great braai at one of the camp-sites and found the ablution blocks to be of a high standard. The local camp attendant provided wood, and during the braai a large nightjar flew past - pretty much like a female Pennant-winged, but views were not adequate to confirm this species, which is surely common here in the summer months.

Day 2, 30 June: Massingir to Panda - birding en-route.

We leave early and travel through the southern part of the park, where thorny thickets start to replace the taller woodland of the northern sector of the park. We did not have time to explore the thorn thickets, but one could expect east coast birds like Pink-throated Twinspot in this area, along with Bearded Scrub-robin, Purple-banded Sunbird, Rudd's Apalis, Nicators and others. The 100km down to the Limpopo is rather disorientating as one always thinks of the Limpopo as being north, but you go south-east to reach it! The tarred road was fairly good, with occasional pot-holed sections and we made good time to the Limpopo. At this point (one crosses the river near Macarretane, as the bridge at Chokwe has still not been repaired). - the Limpopo River is an impressive expanse of water and birds seen included African Openbill, Wire-tailed Swallow, White-fronted Bee-eater and African Jacana. Just after crossing the river, we experienced virtually our only checkpoint stop of the entire trip.

After a drive of some 3 and half hours (by 10:30am) we reach an accessible and promising looking part of the Limpopo floodplain near Chibuto. Here we explore parts of the vast plains, and the area turns out to be very dry, which limited bird variety. Nevertherless we see numbers of Collared Pratincole, Senegal Lapwing, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Fantailed Widowbird, Grey-rumped Swallow, African Openbill and African Quailfinch, amongst others.

Once we completed our birding here we headed towards Mandlakaze and then turn northwards towards Panda. This back route to Panda, may be pioneering for South African groups, but is obviously well-known to the locals. The quality of the road in this, the dry season was surprisingly good,- with only a few rough spots. This road may not be as easy in the summer months. The road took us through wonderful habitat, with several river crossings, wide open plains, extensive palm savannahs dotted with hyphanea palms, and areas of mixed woodland.

Unfortunately we were pressed for time and could not stop too much, but did see species such as Pygmy Goose, Dark-chanting Goshawk and Lizard Buzzard. Some 20km before the turnoff onto the track to the concession which lies north of the Mandlakaze-Panda back road, we started to see patches of Brachystegia woodland. Near the turnoff itself, some distance to the west of Panda, the habitat was rather similar to that around Panda. The track to the concession proved to be tricky in parts, with deep sand and winding tracks, which prevented one from travelling faster than 15km/hour in places. We started to see some prime Brachystegia along the road and stopped and started birding in an area of apparently pristine woodland. Here we saw Southern Hyliota, Pale Batis, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike and heard the calls of Olive-headed Weaver, but were unable to locate them in the dense forest.

A stop to engage the front locking hubs produced one of the birding highlights of the trip - a flock of 20+ Mascarene Martins, which swooped low over the clearing and provided crippling views to all. The Martins were in company with Grey-rumped Swallows and Black Saw-wing Swallow.

It was now getting dark and the last 25km of track was negotiated with difficulty and took us through beautiful albeit slightly stunted brachystegia woodland festooned with old man's beard - far more of this lichen than I have ever seen nearer Panda. The road also crossed some good looking open grassy plains, where the grass was long and thick and presented a problem by clogging up the radiator of the lead vehicle. The sun set and the leader headed for camp, while Derek and Charmaine had a few problems with their trailer in the deep sand. On the final stretch of road, we flushed a few Square-tailed Nightjars and heard African Wood Owl. By about 7:45pm all had reached the camp, set on the banks of a large lake.

The camp is still work in progress, but we enjoyed the beautiful lapa area and camped inside the large reed/thatch houses that have been built. This camp will soon be completed, and may serve as a good base for birding groups, but can only be visited by prior arrangement and is strictly 4x4 only. Visit www.birding.co.za for updates.

Day 3, 01 July: Panda Woodlands and on to Morrungulo

Soon after sunrise, we head out from the camp, having had a look around the spectacular area, situated on a beautiful lake. Sadly we had to leave this great area behind and stick to the plan - which was to get to the best miombo woodland as soon as possible to look for the main target bird - the Olive-headed Weaver. From the camp we passed through excellent open grassland were several larks were flushed - including Flappet, as well as several Kurrichane Button-quail. Areas of mixed woodland close to the lake held typical Zululand coastal birds and Gorgeous Bush-shrike, African Broadbill and Crested Guineafowl were among those recorded. Open areas provided views of Fawn-coloured Larks.

After some 25km we got back into the taller brachystegia woodland, and began to search for the top prize. A stop produced brief flight views of Green-backed Honeybird and soon afterwards, several Raquet-tailed Rollers. Eventually, after a search in the woodland, the calls of the weaver were heard and we located a male bird which showed beautifully- the female proving more elusive. There were plenty of good bird parties about with the Panda usuals like Pale (Mozambique) Batis and White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike being particularly common here.

We then headed for Panda- pausing in the traditional "Olive-headed Weaver" spots and also in the town of Panda to photograph the surreal town layout. Here Pale Flycatcher and Mottled Spinetail were seen. The road northwards was relatively relaxed and after negotiating the moderate dirt to Homoine and back to the coast road, we filled up with fuel at Maxixe. Shortly afterwards, some of the group had excellent flight views of a Cuckoo Hawk. On arrival at Morrungulo, most of the group took a walk on the beach, while others located the resident Collared Palm-thrush in camp. Most of the group stayed in newly renovated Casita's - which were well equipped and comfortable.

Day 4: 2 July To Vilanculos, Save Pan & Rio Save GR

We headed north soon after sunrise and our first stop was at the first spectacular grove of Baobab trees about 47km north of Massinga. On arrival several Brown-headed Parrots were seen, and soon afterwards the first Bohm's Spinetail appeared, followed soon afterwards by several mottled Spinetails. Soon we were watching large numbers of both species wheeling low between the Baobabs. This location is certainly far better for these birds than anywhere in South Africa. We also stopped at the second grove and here had good birding, including Lesser Honeyguide, Grey Waxbill, Mosque Swallow and a variety of starlings, hornbills, greenbuls and sunbirds.

Next stop was Vilanculos, and here we searched for Madagascar Bee-eater, which was eventually located right in the middle of a residential area. The destruction wreaked by the recent cyclone on buildings and trees was very evident. Waterbirds were disappointing with only a few Whimbrel and Little Egrets being seen. We spent some time exploring the big wetlands outside of town, and other than Pygmy Goose and some Whiskered Terns, this area did not produce so much as a single Common Squacco.

We then headed on north and a short detour was followed to explore the wetlands towards Inhassoro. The road crosses a river and the extensive wetlands here were scanned for birds - but were somewhat disappointing - producing a number of common species including Little Bee-eater and African Openbill.

We stopped in at the legendary Save Pan, but found the area very dry. The wind did not make for easy birding, but we did see our first Dickinson's Kestrel, while Southern Banded Snake-eagle called from woodland across the pan. We were able to reach the Rio Save Game Reserve in good light, seeing more Raquet-tailed Rollers on the way into the Papagaio Camp. Here we stayed in a variety of tents- some more sheltered than others. Nelson - the local camp head, provided a large fire under a stupendous Baobab tree. Once again the braai was visited by the resident Barn Owl, which seemed to be feeding a brood in the heart of the giant Baobab at the centre of the camp.

Day 5: 3 July Rio Save GR to Rio Savane

We made a sunrise visit to Baobab Valley, some 7km from the camp. This area consists of a spectacular Baobab" forest" and Grey-headed Parrots were plentiful in the area. A short walk into the adjacent woodland proved very fruitful with a variety of excellent birds being seen in a short time, including Greater Honeyguide. Lemon-breasted Canary, Arnot's Chat, Collared Palm-thrush, Stierling's Barred Warbler, Swallow-tailed bee-eater and others. A Thick-billed Cuckoo was seen (and heard) on the concession a little closer to the main road. Here some wetlands attracted a variety of storks and herons and we saw Saddlebilled and African Openbill, as well as Fish Eagle and several Hamerkop.

The drive up to the Beira area was relatively uneventful, with a birding stop at the Buzi River bridge. Several raptors were seen en-route, including Martial Eagle and Bateleur.

Arriving in Beira, we had time to visit the Shoprite where a few supplies were purchased, before heading out on the road to Rio Savane. Along the way we had rather few birds, but did see several African Marsh Harriers, Rufous-bellied Heron and Woolly-necked Storks. We crossed over the river fairly quickly and after settling in, were enjoying a feast of prawns and excellent local fish together with Manica and 2M beer.

Day 6: 4 July Rio Savanne area

After crossing the river at first light, our first target was the grassy floodplain south of the Rio Savane and we found it quite wet compared to last year. Early on we flushed a Black-rumped Buttonquail and another quail which was probably a female Blue Quail, but the views were too fleeting to be certain of the birds ID. In shorter grass nearby we found the first of many Short-tailed Pipits and after a bit of walking started to run into Locust Finches. After repeated flushing of a single male bird and then later a group of 8 finches, everyone had pretty good flight views (best with the naked eye as the birds popped out close to ones feet!)

After extricating our vehicles from a muddy patch, we birded an area of woodland, were Black-headed Apalis had been heard calling earlier. Here we flushed a Square-tailed Nightjar and saw Red-faced Crombec. A Short-winged Cisticola provided suberb views as it sang from an exposed branch. We then drove the 20 or so km back along the floodplain road towards the forest patch near the Prawn Factory. Here we had good views of Black-headed Apalis and Slender Greenbul, as well as Woodward's Batis and Green Malkoa. The manager at the Prawn factory were not very amenable to our visit, but we were able to drive through the factory towards the sea, seeing species like Pink-backed Pelican, Grey Heron, Kittlitz, Common Ringed and Chestnut-banded Plover, Osprey, Marsh and Curlew Sandpiper.

Back in camp, some of the group explored the estuary and especially the tern roosts at the mouth of the river. Here we saw Little, Common and Lesser Crested Tern, before once again enjoying a great seafood dinner.

Day 7: 5 July Rio Savanne area

An early start produced a pair of Green-backed (Little Spotted) Woodpecker in the camp. The second day at Rio Savanne was first spent looking for quails and we visited the same area as the previous day. This time we had good views of a pair of Common Quails. Large numbers of Senegal Lapwings, Collared Pratincole and Wooly-necked Storks were seen on the floodplain, and we also saw Rufous-bellied Heron once again. A nest site of African Marsh Harrier was visited and we then explored woodland areas where Livingstone's Turaco, Pale Batis and Golden Weaver were recorded. Further on in a patch of woodland on the floodplain we had all three mannikins in a single bush, the Magpie (Pied) not staying as long as the others. Before returning across the river we picked up a nice Mangrove Kingfisher and Black-throated Wattle-eye in the mangroves near the jetty. The earlier return allowed for a bit of birding in the camp and most saw Grey Sunbird, Collared Palm-thrush, Yellow Weaver and Tropical Boubou amongst others. In the evening Square-tailed Nightjar was seen in the camp.

Day 8: 6 July Rio Savanne to Chinizua (Msasa)

Just after sunset we embarked for the last of 6 boat trips across the Rio Savane estuary. Once back in our vehicles we headed through to Beira, with a few stops for Yellow-billed Stork, Yellow-billed Egret and others en-route.

After topping up fuel supplies we head north past Dondo and towards Muanza. Initially we made only a few birding stops, but as one approaches Muanza areas of good woodland can be seen along the road. Here we saw Racquet-tailed Roller, and in a clearing picked up Mozambique Batis, Eastern Saw-wing and distant Black-eared Canaries. A little later on, we had good views of a Black-eared Canary on a tree. A stop for a further bird party produced good sightings of Violet-backed Sunbird.

With time in hand, we birded the road towards the traditional Chinizua area, but our target is the new Msasa Camp, north of the old Chinizua Camp. The woodland along the road to the camp looked really excellent and as we arrived in the area, we picked up species like Grey Penduline Tit and heard Bearded Robin-chat. In the evening, Barred and Wood Owl called in the camp.

Day 9: 7 July - Msasa Camp to Catapu

An early morning start - we were joined by Pieter Odendaal - who is involved with auditing the forest management at Msasa. In the dense dark forest along the stream below the camp, we located an Akalat which provided a few of the group with views. We then moved on getting good views of Slender Greenbul, We also had great views of Bearded Scrub Robin, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill and a variety of forest birds - including glimpses of Plain-backed Sunbird, and what appeared to be a juvenile Alethe.

As we packed up, a flock of Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike come flying past the camp and soon everybody is onto these great birds. We then spend some time birding the miombo woodland on the way to the main road - and here we pick up more good birds, including a pair of Kirk's Francolin, some cracking Red-winged Warblers, and a couple of Plain-backed Sunbird - this time seen well by everyone.

The drive up the Coutada area was relatively easy, and one successful stop is made for a flock of Miombo Starlings which show well in the afternoon light. -uttering their characteristic calls. We arrive at the excellent Mphingwe Camp at Catapu, where James White was on hand to regale the visitors with local stories. As always the food was good value and delicious too! Day 10:8 July Catapu -area Zambezi Coutadas (Zambezi Valley)

The morning is spent birding in some lowland patches of forest in Coutada 12. Here we record many typical lowland forest species including Black-headed Apalis, Slender Greenbul, Green Malkahoa, Woodward's Batis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Plain-backed Sunbird and Narina Trogon. Many Ground Hornbills are heard in the distance and Eastern Nicator calls near most of the forest patches. We have excellent views of a displaying African Broadbill and also get very good views of Livingstones Flycatcher.

After exploring the very extensive area of lowland forest on the loop road east of Catapu - further along this road we encountered a very large flock of Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike, in a mixed bird party.

We then travelled north through the hilly country, where many baboons were seen - and stopped at the Zangue Bridge. Here we saw several African Openbill and our first Blue-spotted Dove, which came to the water to drink. The Zambezi river itself was busy and rather dirty, as construction is underway on a new bridge. Few birds were seen at the river itself, but on the way back, we picked up the call of Moustached Warbler and a stop produced good sightings of this bird for everyone. The big pan near Caia had plenty of water in it and lots of Common Squacco's were seen here too, but no Malagasy Pond-herons. Here we saw many African Openbill, African Marsh Harrier, Black Heron, White-backed Duck and Lesser Jacana. A pair of Long-toed Lapwing flew away just after they had been spotted and were not seen again in this trip! During the night, the loud cries of Thick-tailed Bushbaby are interspersed with the screams of Tree Dassies and the hooting of Wood Owls.

Day 11, 9 July Catapu Birding

Another full day was spent in the Catapu area - to try and locate Alethes and Akalats. After some effort in the lowland forest, we found several Akalats - which proved elusive in the dim light, but were well seen by some of the group. An Alethe made a very brief visit, but was not seen by any of the group.

We headed back to Catapu and on arrival, Warren alerted us to a struggle going on between a large flap-neck chameleon and a vine snake. Apparently some other visitors had disturbed the chameleon at it crossed the wooden walkway in the camp and witnessed it being attacked and bitten by a vine snake, which ignored the onlookers. This occurred at about midday. Over the hours that followed, the snake repeatedly returned to bite the chameleon and appeared to examine it for signs of life each time. Biting was deliberate and carefully targeted at the neck area, where the powerful feet of the chameleon were not effective in defending the animal- which nevertherless drew blood from the snake by gripping it on the body. By 6 pm the Vine Snake had succeeded in almost completely swallowing the Chameleon. In the afternoon we also undertook a drive around the Catapu concession itself, visiting some small pans and a diversity of woodland habitats. Here we briefly saw our only Southern Banded-Snake Eagle of the trip and picked up a nice party of Orange-winged Pytilia.

Day 12, 10 July: Catapu to Gorongosa Mountain to Gorongosa NP

Leaving at 4:45 we drove the 200+km to the Gorongosa area without incident. Some 14km before the town of Gorongosa, we met up with Jonathan (From Gorongosa NP) at the appointed spot. Jonathan was unsure about the conditions of the drive, since it had rained the previous night, but we eventually had opted to try and reach the "Renamo Hut" spot, which provides for a shorter walk than the easier road to the "Morrombedze Falls" parking area. The area was alive with birdlife and two Pallid Honeyguides were briefly seen by the lead vehicle on the way up. Also common were Blue-spotted Dove, Variable Sunbird and African Firefinch.

The drive proved to be OK, and we arrived at the "Renamo Hut" at about 8:30am, ready to start walking. Jonathan arrives with three guides and three porters to carry our daypacks. Overall the walk costs just under R100-00 per person, a bargain considering that one does not have to attend any ceremonies!! The walk proved to be very productive as far as birds were concerned -with Augur Buzzard and Variable Sunbird very much in evidence. Higher up, in a small valley, we had a burst of excellent birding, with Anchieta's Tchagra, Moustached Warbler, African Golden Oriole and a Nyasa Seedcracker - the latter unfortunately not seen by everyone. The Brimstone Canaries here are smaller and much yellower than those in SA - reminiscent of the Yellow Canaries found in parts of SA. In the same area we had great views of Singing Cisticola and also Short-winged Cisticola, before we headed up towards the forest. The walk was easier than expected and while we watched Livingstone's Turaco flashing from forest patch to forest patch, we found ourselves on a flattish area heading toward the forest. Below the forest, Yellow-bellied Waxbill were found and seen by all.

The forest is impressive with towering trees, damp moss underfoot and towering trees, with distant canopy. We are soon hearing the call of Green-headed Orioles and it is not long before we are able to watch two birds in the lower canopy near us. Other forest birding was good and we also saw Chirinda Apalis, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher and Stripe-cheeked Greenbul. Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler and Cape Batis were heard.

We get back from the hike soon after 1:30pm and have plenty of time to take an easy drive to Gorongosa NP, arriving in the area just after 3. This gives us time to bird the very promising miombo on the approach road into Gorongosa NP, which is an excellent area for miombo birds. Unfortunately the woodland here is suspected to still harbour landmines and none or our party ventured off the road at any time!! Here we find one or two bird parties and see many Yellow-throated Petronia. Other birds seen include Bearded Woodpecker, Arnot's Chat, Stierling's Barred Warbler, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike and as we enter the reserve proper, the handsome local form of Red-necked Francolin.

The Campsite at Chitengo is quite crowded and there is lots of building going on, but the restaurant offers superb fare (certainly the buffet was far superior to Kruger and a lot cheaper!!). The new chalets are very well equipped and comfortable. Near the restaurant, some of the group see a Bat Hawk hunting over the camp.

Day 13, 11 July Gorongosa NP

We spend the full day exploring and birding in the Gorongosa NP area. An early morning walk around the camp produces a number of seed-eaters and several cracking Collared Palm-thrush. We also locate a single female Black and White (Vanga) Flycatcher in the camping area. We start off in the woodland outside the gate, which is a known area for Speckle-throated Woodpecker and Yellow-bellied Hyliota. After several hours, we find a single Speckle-throated Woodpecker, among many Bearded and Cardinals. Other birds seen include Arnot's Chat, Southern Hyliota, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, displaying Crowned Eagle, Martial, Dark-chanting Goshawk, several bateleur and yet more Lizard Buzzards. We also see a number of non-breeding Broad-tailed Paradise Whydahs in the woodland. Some of the group are fortunate enough to see Orange-winged Pytilia and Red-throated Twinspot along a well-wooded gully along this road. We take good heed of the warnings that there may still be mines in this area, and all birding is done from the road itself.

In the afternoon we explore the park itself and as it turns out, everyone does their own thing. With my group we head to some beautiful pans, and marvel at the incredible palm-swamp savannahs which are absolutely crawling with Collared Palm-Thrush - seemingly one of the most common birds in this park. We also explore the north-western corner of the reserve along a wide floodplain. Birds seen include Marabou Stork, Square-tailed Nightjar, Pygmy Kingfisher, Green-winged Pytilia, Black-winged Bishop, Red-necked Falcon and a Black Coucal, which has obviously not read the field guides. Along the floodplain we also encounter a flock of Grey-Crowned Crane - some 35 birds in all. We rush back to camp to make it in time to see the Bat-Hawk and are rewarded by another excellent sighting, as the bird lazily swoops above the camp.

Day 14, 12 July Gorongosa - Zimbabwe

Birders have to live in hope, and we head out the gate and then spend some more time in the tall woodland about 10km from the gate. After some hours of searching, we locate yet another mixed bird party, and play the call of Yellow-bellied Hyliota. Two Hyliota's immediately come to investigate, and over the next 20 minutes we have several excellent views of several Hyliota's of both species, the very extensive white wing bar of the male, combined with brighter yellow underparts and slightly different gizz being conclusive in clinching the ID of the Yellow-bellied. The same bird party also has Pale Batis, White-breasted Cuckoos-shrike and Violet-backed Sunbird. We then go in search of Spotted Creeper and instead find a Speckle-throated Woodpecker.

Eventually we head towards Zimbabwe, and a stop at the Massive Pungwe river bridge is rewarded as a pair of Scarce Swift appear and offer several minutes of viewing. We stop in Chimoio for some shopping at the Shoprite, and after filling all fuel tanks, head through the border to Zimbabwe.

3rd Party insurance has doubled to R200, bringing the total cost of going through the border to R400 per vehicle (below 3 litres), but this border is still relatively painless. Once through the border we head to Cecil Kop NR, (Tiger Kloof) in town where we pay R20 per head (in rand) entry fee. The lower section is rather quiet, the highlight being a co-operative Miombo Double-collared Sunbird, while a pair of Green-winged Pytilias cause a few flutters (we saw Orange-winged here last year. We then drive up to the top of the pass and enter the top end of the reserve, where the first bird we see is a Cinnamon-breasted Tit. Lifers come thick and fast as we work through the bird party, which also included several Cabanis's Bunting and Miombo Tit. More Miombo Double-collared Sunbirds are seen, along with Pale Batis, Lazy Cisticola and Red-faced Crombec. We search further up the hill, and after a while get another great bird in the form of a very co-operative Spotted Creeper. Near the top of Cecil Kop we enjoy great "views from above" of an Augur Buzzard. Elated we head back through Mutare - taking a detour to avoid a police checkpoint we had noted on our way towards Cecil Kop. We arrive at Seldomseen before sunset, to find the electricity out, and as it turns out, it only comes on briefly during the night. Everyone self-caters during a cold evening.

Day 15, 13 July Seldomseen and the Bvumba area.

Just after 6:00 am we meet up with Bulawesi and his father, Peter - probably one of the most legendary bird guides in Africa. A smaller group of more experienced birders go with Peter, while the rest go with Bulawesi. Each group has different birding experiences, and by the end of the day, most have seen most of the birds on offer, which includes excellent views of Robert's Warbler, Chirinda Apalis, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Orange Ground-thrush, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, White-starred Robin, Olive, Collared and Variable Sunbird, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Cinnamon Dove, African Olive-Pigeon, Malachite Sunbird and Gurney's Sugarbird. A few see Green-backed Honeyguide and one group sees a group of Mottled Swift flying over. A highlight was being shown a number of Marshall's Leaf Chameleon in hanging baskets at Seldomseen.

In the afternoon we head for the Miombo towards White Horse Inn and here we have success with Whyte's Barbet and Miombo Rock-thrush. Other birds seen here include Pale Batis, Green-capped Eremomela and Golden-tailed Woodpecker. In the afternoon, we try to make amends for the gaps in the mornings birding and spend some time birding the Bunga Forest, where another Swynnerton's Robin is located. We pay R60 per person and R40 per vehicle to enter the Bvumba Botanical Gardens, where another Swynnerton's Robin obliges and provides almost everyone with views. Here we also get superb views of Bronzy Sunbird as well as Mountain Wagtail and Yellow-bellied Waxbill. It is now getting pretty cold and miserable and Peter and Bulawesi correctly predict that tomorrow will be a dismal birding day because of mist!

In the evening we visit the Genaina Restaurant, where one pays 650 000 dollars for a main course. The food is excellent and we eat millions of dollars worth of food. The good cheer is somewhat subdued due to the realization that our meal would cost the average Zimbabwean about 3-4 months of wages!



Day 16, 14 July Seldomseen to South Africa

At 6:00 am we are up and start the long drive back home. We head south towards Birchenborough bridge without pause. Other than getting back home, our first birding objective is the good miombo woodland that one starts to get into about 40km west from the bridge. We stop at the best looking patch, and after a search head on for a few km to another good looking area. Here we find our target bird: Wood Pipit - near the road in classic miombo woodland with short grass and rocky outcrops. A few km further on the road crosses a marshy area, and here we spot a flock of Yellow-mantled Widows. These are easy to pick out, due to the yellow shoulder patches and absence of yellow rumps as with Yellow Bishop - which is also common in the area. On to Masvingo and then southwards towards Beit Bridge. Unfortunately we run into some opportunistic traffic officials who try to squeeze us on the basis of not carrying white reflectors on the front of the vehicles. Stubborn politeness does the trick and after about half an hour, we are on the way, without having paid a bribe.

Some 67km south of Masvingo we stop in an area of jumbled granite outcrops and after having a cup of coffee while some of the vehicles refuel from jerry cans, we walk a short distance off the road and call up a pair of very obliging Boulder Chats.

From then on, it is straight back to the Beit Bridge and the border crossing here goes rather smoothly indeed. Despite the awesome birding in Mozambique and Zimbabwe, it is always nice to get back to South Africa after a long and tiring trip like this one!

_____________ © Etienne Marais July 2007

A "Simply Unbelievable" Mozambique-Zim Trip (June/July 20007)


This is a summary of some trip highlights from our amazing June-July Trip to Mozambique and Eastern Zimbabwe. A full trip report and list is available on request.
  • Lark-like Bunting and Grey-backed Sparrowlark observed within the Parque Nacional do Limpopo - the former in large numbers. Neither species is listed in the Atlas of Birds of Southern Mozambique and perhaps someone could confirm that these would be new species for the Mozambique list? The park is easily reached from Letaba in Kruger via the Giriyondo Border post and having gone this way, I am unlikely ever to venture near Komatipoort again.
  • In woodland 50+km NWest of Panda we encounted a flock of 20+ Mascarene Martins which provided crippling flight views as they hunted over a small clearing of "old-man's beard" infested trees.
  • Woodland W of Panda was birded and excellent views were had of most of the Miombo specials including Olive-headed Weaver, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Pale Batis, Raquet-tailed Roller and Southern Hyliota. This area - NW of the traditional sites has good expanses of pristine Brachystegia woodland and should hold a fair number of Olive-headed Weavers.
  • A patch of excellent birding at Rio Save Game Reserve which including Lemon-breasted Canary, Grey-headed Parrot, Arnot's Chat, Raquet-tailed Roller, Collared Palm-thrush, Stierling's Wren-Warbler, Swallow-tailed bee-eater and others. A Thick-billed Cuckoo was seen on the concession a little closer to the main road.
  • A wet, but in terms of waterbirds rather dissapointing Rio Savane. We had plenty of Locust Finch and other Savane usuals like Mangrove Kingfisher, Green-backed Woodpecker, Short-tailed Pipit, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Slender Greenbul, Magpie Mannikin, Black-headed Apalis, Short-winged Cisticola, Lesser-crested Tern and Square-tailed Nightjar.
  • The new Msasa camp in the Chinizua area was good with East Coast Akalat, 3 Helmet-shrikes, Black-headed Apalis, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Green-backed Woodpecker and several others. On the way in and out the woodlands provided Kirk's Francolin, Violet-backed Sunbird, Plain-backed Sunbird, Red-winged Warbler, and many White-breasted Cuckoo-shrikes and Southern Hyliotas.
  • The Catapu area also offered good birding, with more Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrikes, Livingstone's Flycatcher, Broadbill, Akalat, Golden-winged Pytilia, Dickinson's Kestrel, African Broadbill, Eastern Nicator, Bataleur, Bohm's Spinetail and many others. On the Zambezi Floodplain we had Blue-spotted Dove, brief views of Long-toed Lapwing, Lesser Jacana and many Common Squacco (the first Squacco's of the trip). Near the Zambezi, Moustached Warbler called from several spots along the main road.
  • The new easier route up Gorongosa provided some of the group with views of Seedcracker, while everyone saw Anchieta's Tchagra, Moustached Warbler, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Singing Cisticola and a variety of Sunbirds including Western Olive and Variable. Apart from the Oriole which we saw in the forest, we also had Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Chirinda Apalis. Only a few briefly saw Pallid Honeyguide.
  • Gorongosa NP and especially the woodlands outside the gate offered superb birding with Red-throated Twinspot, Green-winged Pytilia, Vanga Flycatcher, Red-necked Falcon, Red-necked Francolin, Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Hyliota (part of a large mixed bird party with both Hyliota species), Black-winged Bishop, Red-winged Warbler etc. According to Jonathan who is based there, Spotted Creeper is also regular in the Miombo area just outside the park. Gorongosa NP is crawling with thousands of Collared Palm-trush, including in the camp where we also saw Bat Hawk. Other interesting birds seen in the area included a single Black Coucal, a flock of Grey-crowned Cranes, Black-winged Bishop, numbers of presumed Broad-tailed paradise Whydah in the miombo and displaying African Crowned Eagle. The Pungwe River bridge provided excellent views of Scarce Swift.
  • A trouble-free foray into Zimbabwe was a little weird as most of the place seemed to be closed up due to the enforced price cuts. In the Mutare area we had specials like Cinnamon-breasted Tit, Miombo Tit, Miombo Double-collared Sunbird, Cabanis's Bunting and a very co-operative Spotted Creeper, while the Bvumba and Seldomseen area provided superb views of most of the specials, including Swynnerton's Robin, Briar Warbler, Chirinda Apalis, Crimsonwing, Mottled Swift, Whyte's Barbet, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Green-backed Honeybird, Bronzy Sunbird and Orange Ground-thrush. On the way home we managed to find a few more good birds, notably Wood Pipit in miombo woodland between Birchenborough bridge and Masvingo, and Yellow-mantled Widows a little further on, as well as a co-operative pair of Boulder chats along the road some 60km s of Masvingo.
Overall the trip to Zim was relatively trouble free and extremely good value - both in terms of birds and the food enjoyed at the Genaina restaurant near Seldomseen. I would encourage more birders to take the trip up to Eastern Zim - places like Seldomseen offer an unparralled birding experience with fantastic local guides (Peter and Bulawesi). Despite some alarmist warnings from some regarding visiting this region, everything seemed very quiet and the police we encountered as several roadblocks were really friendly and mostly innocuous - apart from one attempt to exhort a bribe from us. Seldomseen and the guides there need your support - otherwise this gem may well go under before Zimbabwe sorts itself out.

On the reptile front, a 6 hour struggle between a large flap-neck chameleon and a vine snake at Catapu which was filmed and photographed by several people was quite something to see. Watch this space! Anyone wishing to get the full trip report, please drop me an e-mail.


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