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Trip Report - Mozambique and Zimbabwe (well no just Mozambique) Nov 16-28, 2007

16 November Pretoria to Letaba

The plan was to drive up to Beira and meet Richard, Andy, Andrew and Dale there. I entered Kruger in the afternoon at Phalaborwa Gate, and headed across to Letaba Camp.. The most notable bird here were numbers of MONOTONOUS LARKS displaying along the road between the gate and Letaba.

The early arrival allowed for relaxed birding in Letaba camp where Red-billed Oxpecker were seen feeding on hippo as the sun set and a pair of Verreaux' Eagle Owl grunted from the the big trees across the river. The camp also offered a few nocturnal birds, in the form of African Scops Owl and African Barred Owlet, which showed beautifully in the tented camp area.

17 November Letaba - Giriyondo Border Post to Rio Save Game Reserve.

The Giriyondo Border post opens at the relatively late hour of 08:00 - but is relatively easy to get through. Once through the drive through the transfrontier park was relatively easy, and after less than two hours, one reaches the tar at Massingir Dam. This is still a very long drive - it took just on 12 hours to reach the Rio Save Game Reserve.

18 November - Rio Save GR to Beira - Rio Savane

Early morning birding in Rio Save Game Reserve produced a fair number of good birds, including Brown-headed Parrot, Red-faced Cisticola, THICK-BILLED CUCKOO, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and a calling Southern Banded Snake-eagle. A 7 am departure allowed for plenty of time to get to Beira, where I met the rest of the group at about 2:30pm After a brief stop at the Shoprite to draw money, we headed out to the wetlands around Rio Savane. Without wasting any time we headed straight for the track behind the locked chain - which is on private land on the Rio Savane floodplain. The floodplain was much drier than on previous visits, but after a relatively short walk, we first heard and then saw a pair of LOCUST FINCH as they flushed from the grass in front of us. Repeated attempts were made to flush the birds onto an area of shorter grass, and this proved highly productive as in the process we flushed a Black-rumped Buttonquail and then a nice male BLUE QUAIL. Soon afterwards another Black-rumped Buttonquail was seen, and we then headed back to the Rio Savanne estuary, to set up camp. Here we had great views of MANGROVE KINGFISHER and Black-throated Wattle-eye, as well as a few Terek Sandpiper, large numbers of Whimbrel and Osprey.

19 November Rio Savane to Mount Tsetserra

We spent the cool part of the morning birding around Rio Savane, where birds included Flappet Lark, Collared Pratincole, Little Rush Warbler, Osprey, Mangrove Kingfisher and Livingstone's Turaco. We then headed westwards towards Mount Tsetserra - a rather poorly known area close to the western border of the country, which is essentially the Mozambique part of the Chimanimani range.

A birding stop on the Pungwe River floodplain near Tica, proved productive as we had good views of Rufous-winged Cisticola and Southern Brown-throated Golden Weaver, amongst others.

After a stop for fuel, and some supplies in Chimoio we took the gravel road southwards towards Chicamba dam. The road proved to be pretty good, and we made good time. We stopped for some birding above the scenic dam - where species like Yellow-spotted Nicator and Purple-banded Sunbird were in evidence. Further on, the road passes below the dam wall - a spectacular area, before passing three small lakeshore lodges - where accommodation is also available. At the junction to Rutenga, we stopped to explore a promising patch of Miombo and here had species like RED-FACED CISTICOLA, African Golden Oriole and several others. As one approaches the mountains, the miombo woodland becomes more impressive and a stop here produced RED-THROATED TWINSPOT. On the way up the mountain we saw Grey-headed Kingfishers. At the base of the mountains proper, the miombo is replaced by grassy rolling hills. Above these, forested valleys reach down towards the lowlands, all framed within a spectacular panorama. From the forests in the valleys, we could hear species like African Emerald Cuckoo, Livingstone's Turaco, Olive Bush-shrike and others. As we approached the forest proper a big female African Goshawk was seen, as was a pair of brilliant Pygmy Kingfisher - using the road-bank as a nest site. Once in the first patch of forest, CHIRINDA APALIS and STRIPE-CHEEKED GREENBUL immediately made their presence known and soon afterwards were well seen. Further up we encountered Eastern and Black Saw-wings and a party of BRIAR WARBLER (Robert's Prinia) and also a pair of WHITE-TAILED CRESTED-FLYCATCHER and good views of Orange-ground Thrush. As we approached the top of the pass, the forest gave way to old Pine plantations and montane scrub, where Cape Canary, Malachite Sunbird, YELLOW-BELLIED WAXBILL and Cape Robin-chat were seen.

20 November Mount Tsetserra to Gorongosa NP

The cool misty morning was heralded in by the clattering squawks of Natal Spurfowl, and the hooting of Buff-spotted Flufftails. Good birds around the camp included Briar Warbler, GREEN TWINSPOT, YELLOW-BELLIED WAXBILL and BARRAT'S WARBLER. We then started a slow descent, birding all the way. The slow descent through the forest produced species such as Olive Bush-shrike, White-starred Robin, Livingstone's Turaco, African Firefinch, Olive Sunbird, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, From the forested valleys other species heard include Olive Thrush, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Tropical Boubou, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Gorgeous Bush-shrike and Bronze-naped Pigeon. As we exited the forest and entered a mosaic of grassland, forest patches and adjacent woodland we saw other species including Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Lazy Cisticola, TREE PIPIT, Red-capped Robin-chat, African Goshawk, Variable Sunbird, SHORT-WINGED CISTICOLA and Eastern Saw-wing, and heard Flappet Lark, and Klaas's Cuckoo and others. As one descends the pass, the forest and grassland gives way to good looking miombo woodland, and here we had species such as Jameson's Firefinch, PALE BATIS, WHITE-BREASTED CUCKOO-SHRIKE, Retzs and White-crested Helmet-shrike, Red-faced Crombec, VIOLET-BACKED SUNBIRD, WHYTE'S BARBET, Green-winged Pytilia and others.

We then headed for Gorongosa National Park, and a little birding on the way in produced Carmine Bee-eater, the very handsome swynnertoni race of Red-necked Spurfowl, a nice family party of RED-WINGED WARBLER and in the camp just before sunset, COLLARED PALM-THRUSH.

We enjoyed an excellent buffet dinner in the restaurant, with a few rounds of ice-cold manica and stayed in the very well equipped chalets which have recently been built,

21 November Gorongosa to Mount Gorongosa

Some early morning birding in and around the camp produced Ashy Flycatcher, Shikra, Burchell's Coucal, Heuglins' Robin, Purple-banded Sunbird and literally dozens of Collared Palm-thrush. After a good sit-down breakfast, we headed out of the park gate, with the intention of birding the excellent miombo between the gate and the main road. Several hours of birding along this road proved to be a little slow and it was soon very hot, but we kept on birding and ran into good numbers of Broad-billed Rollers as well as birds including SOUTHERN HYLIOTA, GREEN-BACKED WOODPECKER, WESTERN HONEY-BUZZARD, AYRE'S EAGLE, ARNOT'S CHAT, Green-capped Eremomela, Stierling's Barred Warbler, Golden-breasted and CABANIS BUNTING and numbers of Grey-headed Kingfishers. We were fortunate enough to stumble across the finely built nest of Retz's Helmet-shrike.

Based on the news that Gorongosa NP could not organise trips up Gorongosa Mountain, we went to plan B, which involved going it alone, and in particular exploring the option of doing the mountain from the northern side, using a concession run by Dup du Preez as a base. After stocking up in Gorongosa town we headed northwards along the EN1, and travelled a distance of about 70km with the mountain keeping us company on the right. We arrived at Du Preez place in the mid-afternoon and after some discussion, decided that the best route to go up, was the shorter western route, via the "Renamo hut", which would also get us onto the path to an area where groups usually camp. This involved another trip back to Canda (just northo of Gorongosa), to meet the administrator and chief. Thanks to a local store keeper who knew both well and translated, this was relatively simple, and we were able to pay the required for the ceremony to be conducted in our absence, and were also given guide. With arrangements for the next day finalised, I headed back to Dup place where the rest of the group had done some afternoon birding.

After enjoying dinner with Dup we did a short but very productive night drive on the concession, and had good views of Square-tailed and European Nightjars, as well as one or two probable Fiery-necked Nightjar. The highlight was seeing at least 4 male PENNANT-WINGED NIGHTJARS in full regalia dancing through the night over our heads. Several passes were made by the birds and it appeared that they were engaged in some sort of collective show.

22 November Mount Gorongosa Hike

The plan was to camp on the mountain if need be, and given the heat an early start is essential. On, arriving at the house of the chief, we found that our guide was still sleeping, but he did not keep us waiting long. He then informed us that additional wine was also required so that the chief at the base of the mountain could also perform a ceremony. A quick visit to a local shop solved this problem and we headed for the track. Fortunately dry weather had prevailed over the last few days and we were able to take the steep track up to the Renamo hut, where one can park a car

In contrast to July, we found the area deserted and we were walking by 07:00am, which is essential in summer! Birding on the way up was tantalising, but we pushed on, with brief stops to look at the Kurrichane Button-quails which seemed to be all over the lush grassy areas just below the hike starting point. We also searched for Lesser Seedcracker and a calling Moustached Warbler. Common birds included Livingstone's Turaco and Variable Sunbird, and we also paused to look at Croaking and Singing Cisticola and Brimstone Canary.

After meeting the chief close to the forest, we parted with two bottles of wine with Green-headed Orioles calling in the background. We then proceeded up towards the forest. We entered the forest a little more north than in July and found this to be an excellent and very substantial part of the forest. In the end we spend nearly 6 hours in this patch of forest and amongst others saw SWYNNERTON'S and Starred Robin, Chirinda Apalis, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, GREEN-HEADED ORIOLE, Cape Batis, Stripe-cheeked and Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Livingstone's Turaco, Emerald Cuckoo, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler, Dark-backed Weaver and BRONZE-NAPED PIGEON. The Chirinda Apalis here have a distinctly different call from those on the Eastern Highlands, with a clear, rapid bisyllabic note.

Other species heard included Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Red-faced Crimsonwing and Pallid Honeyguide.

On the way down the mountain we had a little more time for birding and got good views of ANCHIETA'S TCHAGRA, BLACK-WINGED BISHOP, MOUSTACHED WARBLER, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler and Short-winged Cisticola amongst others.

We then headed back to Dup's place with a celebratory stop for a cold beer in Gorongosa Town.

23 November Gorongosa to Catapu

Having gained an extra bit of time, we spent a little of the morning exploring the concession and found some good birds including LIVINGSTONE'S FLYCATCHER, a pair of RACQUET-TAILED ROLLER and a DWARF BITTERN. We then headed north towards the Zambezi, and picked up a small group of Bohm's Spinetail along the way. Arriving at Catapu at midday, we found searing heat and high humidity, but a very active water feature outside the restaurant area offered good birding as a host of birds came down to the water. Species seen here included Eastern Bearded Scrub-robin, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Lizard Buzzard, Tambourine Dove, Jacobin Cuckoo and Purple-banded Sunbird. A drive through the timber concession in the afternoon produced sightings of Kirk's Francolin, Broad-billed Roller and Red-capped Robin-chat.

23 November Catapu to the Coutadas and Caia

An early start found us in the Coutada's exploring some prime patches of lowland thicket and forest. Birds seen here included Mangrove Kingfisher, Trumpeter Hornbill, Crested Guineafowl, SLENDER GREENBUL, EAST COAST AKALAT, Good views of WHITE-CHESTED ALETHE by some of the group, Terrestrial Brownbul, African Golden Oriole, Black-bellied Starling and others. We then headed for the Caia wetlands, which offer a completely different of waterbirds, including African Openbill, Collared Pratincole, African and LESSER JACANA, and assortment of shorebirds, including Wood and Marsh Sandpiper and numbers of waterfowl, including Hottentot Teal and GARGANEY (3). After a rest in the heat of the day at Catapu, we returned to the Coutadas to try for better views of the Alethe, but to no avail in the afternoon.

24 November Catapu area

Another early morning session in the lowland forest patches of the coutadas produced more excellent views of WHITE-CHESTED ALETHE - this time a pair collecting nesting material. Here we also saw more Akalat's Slender Greenbul, PLAIN-BACKED SUNBIRD, Crested Guineafowl, Eastern Nicator, Red-capped Robin-chat and many others. Overhead regular fly-pasts of Bataleur were a highlight. Exploring the coutada road further south produced a host of open woodland birds, including ORANGE-WINGED PYTILIA, BROAD-TAILED PARADISE-WHYDAH, Pale Batis, Ashy Flycatcher and African Golden Oriole.

We then headed back north towards the Zambezi a road which proved excellent for raptors as we picked up African Crowned Eagle, African Hawk-eagle, White-headed Vulture, Wahlberg's Eagle, Martial, Western Honey-Buzzard and several Lizard Buzzards.

A late afternoon walk on the Catapu concession proved good for raptors and swifts - we had Martial Eagle, Mottled Spinetail and Kirk's Francolin.

25 November Catapu to Chinizua to Beira

A 2:30 am start was required to get into the always-excellent Chinizua area early. The road is much improved over previous years, and the trip is uneventful save for a dancing male Pennant-winged Nightjar near the Levasflor concession area north of the Chinizua turn-off. On arrival in the lush vegetation just south of Chinizua we walked the roads looking for seedeaters and were rewarded with a small flock of Grey Waxbill. In the same area, Bronze-naped Pigeon called and small parties of Red-winged Warbler bounced around. Moving towards the small Chinizua stream, we encountered MIOMBO GLOSSY STARLINGS and a pair of SILVERY-CHEEKED HORNBILL flew overhead. Towards the Chinizua stream we found a nice Pygmy Kingfisher and at the stream itself Mangrove Kingfisher and VANGA FLYCATCHER were seen. Other birds in the area included Broad-billed Roller, Woodland, Brown-hooded and Striped Kingfisher and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. Further down the road towards the Chinizua river, we found a nice patch of good quality forest (adjacent to a small pond on the right) Here we had a nice bird party which included BLACK-HEADED APALIS, GREEN-BACKED HONEYBIRD and PALLID HONEYGUIDE, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Plain-backed Sunbird. East Coast Akalat was heard calling nearby. Of note in this area was the number of Mangrove Kingfishers, which seem common around Catapu as well. In fact in this region, Mangrove Kingfisher was probably the most common of all the Kingfishers, notwithstanding the fact that Grey-hooded, Pygmy and Striped Kingfisher were all common.

We birded the woodland one encounters between Chinizua and the main Muanza-Inhaminga road. Several bird parties were encountered with species such as Dark-chanting Goshawk, Pale Batis, Stierling's Barred Warbler, White-breasted and Black Cuckoo-shrike, Eurasian Golden Oriole. Five woodpecker species were recorded, and the most surprising was Bennet's Woodpecker, recorded some 15km westwards from Chinizua.

On the way back towards Beira, we continued to look for raptors, and with Black-chested and Brown-snake Eagles, Western Honey Buzzard, Bateleur, Wahlberg's, Martial and African Crowned Eagle, Steppe Buzzard and Long-crested Eagle, raised the day tally to about 15 raptor species before arriving in the outskirts of Beira, where a Red-necked Falcon jetted over the road and landed in a tree.

26 November Beira to Rio Savane

This was to be an early morning raid and we started birding before the forest patch where two new trip raptors, in the form of African Marsh Harrier and Palm-nut Vulture were seen. Just beyond the forest patch a distant raptor turned out to be a SOUTHERN BANDED SNAKE-EAGLE, which was harried by Yellow-billed Kites and Pied Crows, but did not relinquish it's prey - a medium sized green snake. In the same area we located a displaying male CUCKOO-FINCH and also recorded both LOCUSTFINCH and AFRICAN QUAILFINCH.

Further exploration of the very dry floodplain, did not produce many new birds, although we did have good views of Woolly-necked Stork and a female Lesser Kestrel.

Overall a successful trip with 363 species being recorded.



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