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Mozambique Lite (South): 21 - 30 November 2008
Central Mozambique in Search of Pittas, December 2008

Trip Report: Mozambique "Lite" North 24 April to 5 May, 2008


Summary

15 birders led by Etienne Marais ventured into Central Mozambique via the long and strenuous southern Mozambique route. The route allowed for some excellent birding at Inhambane. Other localities covered included Vilanculos, Save Pan, Rio Savane, Dondo to Muanza and Chinizua roads, Catapu, Caia, Gorongosa Mountain and woodlands outside Gorongosa Park.

This was a self-drive birding adventure led and organized by Indicator Birding. Overall the distance covered from Gauteng was about 5600km, and 7 vehicles completed the trip without any mishaps or breakdowns.

Overall 317 species were recorded in Mozambique and despite difficult birding at several localities a host of specials were seen including: 37 Crab Plovers, Pacific Golden Plover, 1000's of Lesser Sand Plover (Mongolian), Livingstone's Flycatcher, Southern Banded Snake-eagle, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Rufous-bellied Heron, Madacascar Bee-eater, Lesser Crested Tern, Violet-backed Sunbird, Raquet-tailed Roller, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Pale Batis, Red-faced Crombec, Black-eared Seed-eater, Magpie Mannikin, Southern Hyliota, Green-backed Woodpecker, Variable Sunbird, Collared Palm-thrush, Green-headed Oriole, Swynnerton's Robin, Chirinda Apalis, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Slender Greenbul, Blue-spotted Dove, Red-winged Warbler, East Coast Akalat, Grey-headed Parrot, Bohm's and Mottled Spinetail, Ayre's Hawk-Eagle, Dickinson's Kestrel, Red-necked Falcon, Sooty Falcon, Cuckoo Hawk, Broad-tailed Paradise-whydah, Black-winged Bishop, Orange-winged Pytilia, Lemon-breasted Canary, Grey-rumped and Mosque Swallow, Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike, Black and White (Vanga) Flycatcher, Cabanis's Bunting and Locust Finch

A full day by day report follows below, but of particular interest to birders visiting Mozambique will be the following:
  1. The remarkable autumn concentrations of shorebirds on the Barra Peninsula, Inhambane. After wading through tidal waters past White Sands, we located 37 Crab Plovers, Pacific Golden Plovers and numbers of other waders. The most amazing sight here however was seeing mudflats near the end of the peninsula covered by thousands and thousands of waders, the vast majority being Lesser Sand Plover, many in full breeding plumage. A huge flock few off as we arrived and total estimates of the number of Lesser (Mongolian) Sand Plovers in the area range from 3000 - 6000 birds. It was great to be able to see Lesser and Sand Plovers standing side by side.
  2. The birding at Rio Savane, Chinizua Road and Miombo birding outside Gorongosa Park was somewhat quiet compared to previous visits, In particular the Forest Patch on the road between Beira and Rio Savane was dead-quiet with only Terrestrial Brownbuls being heard after being there for more than an hour! Also not seen in this area in a full day of birding were Wooly-necked Stork, Saddlebilled Storks, Wattled Crane and Collared Pratincole.
  3. The road between Dondo and Muanza - which traverses mostly degraded woodland with just a few trees left standing, is still excellent and we had best views of species such as Vanga Flycatcher here as well as good bird parties with plenty of woodpeckers, Hyliota's etc.
  4. The variable floodplain habitat along the Zambezi should not be under-estimated, and Moustached Warbler, Anchieta's Tchagra and Blue-spotted Dove all seem to be common (although never easy to see) in the mixed/modified habitats of the floodplain. More time might well have been spent birding here!
  5. Gorongosa Park and the Carr Foundation has ceased organizing walking outings on the mountain, so it is back to the old style ceremonies - either at Canda or Vinduzi. The former locality is much more accessible, and if rain has not fallen in the last few days the shorter walk via Renamo Hut is by far the easiest way I know to access the forest. Compared to November, birding on the mountain was more difficult due to very long grass (up to 10 feet high in places) and a rather quiet post summer forest, which made us work hard to get views of Green-headed Oriole and other forest birds.
Participants and Vehicles: (Lifers in brackets) 1 Landrover Disco 3 D Etienne Marais (1) Ralph (44) and Daphne Wordon (44)
2 Pajero GLS 3.2 TD: Roy & Marguerite McGrath (55)
3 VW Touareg: Howard (1) and Magui Rayner (11)
4 Ford Ranger 4x4sc Gerhardt(14) & Anle Streicher (13)
5 Toyota Prado: Frikkie & Hester Cornelius (140)
6 Toyota Landcruiser: Barry Scott (5) & Michelle Perry (47)
7 Landrover 110 Defender: Verdun Pardini (33) & Stefan Pardini (123)

Day by Day Narrative Report

Day 1:24 April Johannesburg to Inhambane

Most of the group made an early start from Gauteng and headed for the Mozambique border at Komatipoort. Some of the group had stayed over in Komatipoort to enjoy a more relaxed trip. At about 9:00am, after meeting up on the SA side, we headed through the border and met the others as Campo do Casa - 6km beyond the border. The border crossing was relatively painless and easy.

Without wasting any time, we headed towards Maputo and then turned off the main road northwards towards Moambo - with the aim of taking the more scenic and pleasant "detour" via the Nkomati River. This route can be shorter if the road quality is good, but we stopped several times for birding, and in the latter stages the road quality deteriorated. Birds seen were mainly common Bushveld species including Hornbills, Rollers, Bee-eaters and so on.

On the last section of the detour (as one once again approaches the EN1) the road crosses large tracts of Cane-fields and here a aggregation of hirundines included at least two Horus Swift and numbers of Grey-rumped Swallow.

As it turned out this "detour" proved costly in terms of time and Frikkie and Hester (who had missed the turn and headed through Maputo) had been waiting at Xai-xai for about 90 minutes before the rest of the group arrived.

Making time as quickly as possible northwards, there was little time for birding. We arrived at Inhambane at about 8:00pm and after finding some resort staff, checked into the chalets at Makolobay Lodge. The Lodge restaurant was already closed so we headed to the adjacent Barra Lodge and had an excellent seafood dinner at the bar, overlooking the beach.

Day 2:25 April Inhambane to Vilanculos

We headed out towards White-sands, but the high tide that submerges the road looked a little high, and we turned back - intending to return later once the water had subsided. The Lighthouse area was a little quiet as far as birds were concerned, with species like House Sparrow, Cape Turtle Dove, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Pied Crow among the first birds we saw. On the beach a flock of Sanderling and a Whimbrel were seen, while distant terns were probably Swift and Lesser Crested.

A return to to the southern point of the Peninsula, and we followed the bold Landy crew in venturing across the still flooded track towards White Sands. Beyond the inundated area a Falcon was ID'd as European Hobby, and a number of terns posed beautifully on poles in the water - Here one was able to view Lesser-crested and Swift Tern side by side. Past White-sands camping area, we reached the Peninsula, where a flock of Crab Plovers were visible. A vegetated dune and small shack provided a screen to allow for a close approach and we had some excellent scope views of a variety of shorebirds including 37 Crab Plovers, Pacific Golden Plover, Terek Sandpipier, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Curlew Sandpipier, Turnstone and others. A large area of mudflats was covered with a huge flock of sandplovers, the vast majority; of which proved to be Lesser Sandplover (Mongolian). It was great to see Lesser Sand Plover and Sand Plover side by side for comparison. The number of birds seen here was staggering with Lesser Sand Plovers numbering between 3000 and 6000. Huge numbers of Grey Plover were also present.

The birding completed we headed back towards Inhambane and stopped briefly to scan the mudflats where numbers of Hamerkop hunted and Caspian Tern hawked low over the remaining channels.

Our next birding stop was the grove of Baobab trees about 47km north of Massinga, where Mottled and Bohms Spinetail and Mosque Swallows were seen. En route we also had plenty of good sightings of Lizard Buzzard.

Further stops along the way to scan the wetlands near Vilanculos slowed us down, and we arrived at Blue Waters Beach Resort just after sunset. The setting here is superb, and the accomodation OK. The restaurant service left a lot to be desired - we waited nearly nearly 2 hours to be served a smallish plate of fish and chips that cost double that in SA!

Day 3: 26 April Vilanculos to Beira

With the focus on birding in the Save Pan area, we left the beach resort at sunrise, and headed back towards Vilanculos on the sandy track. Good progress was made in covering the 160km to the Save Pan area, with a few stops along the way. The best stop produced excellent views of Grey-headed Parrot, and now we started to encounter more Bataleur eagles as well as the ever-present Lizard Buzzard. At Save Pan we turned off the main road and then pulled off the track leading to the pan and had breakfast whilst listening to the rather quiet woodland. Birds heard here included Square-tailed Drongo, Mozambique Batis and Dark-backed Weaver.

We then took a walk down towards the pan. The 2km walk occupied about 3 hours and produced some good birds, most notably Livingstone's Flycatcher, Pale Flycatcher, Stierling's Wren-warbler, Mozambique Batis, Amethyst and Collared Sunbird, Red-backed Mannikin, Village Indigobird, Flappet Lark, Brown Snake-eagle and a nice display flyover of a Southern-banded Snake-Eagle. Other species present in the area included Bearded Scrub-Robin and Nicator.

We then headed northwards, this section of road being mostly good, but with regular villages and attractions to slow us down. Stops at the Gorongosa River Bridge and Buzi River Bridge were also made and lunch was taken in a shady spot along the road, where Orange-winged Pytilia tantalised us by staying just out of sight! Further north, towards Inchope, one starts to travel through fine miombo type woodland, and in one open patch, Marguerite McGrath recorded the first Racquet-tailed Roller of the trip - a bird which promptly disappeared into a distant clump of trees. Not long afterwards however, the lead vehicle spotted another Racquet-tailed Roller in a clearing and it turned out that two pairs were using this patch as a hunting ground - allowing excellent views by all in the group. At the same spot a party of Black-eared Seed-eaters were also seen as they displayed above the trees and then sat out in the open.

As one approaches Beira, the wetlands offered promise with large numbers of African Openbill in evidence, as well as Egrets and Herons along the road. We pressed on to Beira City, with a stop to fill up with Fuel. We arrived at Beira Guest House after dark, and checked in to the Guesthouse. The Guesthouse has well appointed and comfortable rooms, but could only accommodate 8 or our group, the others staying in a flat a few blocks away. The flat was quite smart and the rooms comfortable, but the surrounding area reminds one a little of newsroom war footage of Beirut!

Once settled in, most of the group headed for Biques on the beachfront. This spot has long been a favourite among birders, and the food was good, although biques has, by all accounts, lost a lot of it's former charm and quality.

Day 4: 27 April Rio Savane area

We leave Beira at 5am and head out towards Rio Savane. Our first target is the short grassland towards the Savane River. En-route we pick up several Rufous-bellied Herons and see large numbers of Great Egret, Grey Heron, Bateleur African Marsh Harrier and Palm-nut Vulture.

On the floodplains proper, we walk over the grasslands and almost immediately get good scope views of Locust Finch on the ground. We soon encounter the first of numbers of Short-tailed Pipit. A flushed Quail turns out to be Harlequin Quail. Other birds seen in the area include Plain-backed and Grey Sunbird, Palm-nut Vulture, Senegal Lapwing, Broad-tailed Warbler, Mangrove Kingfisher, Bronze, Red-backed and Magpie Mannikin, Southern Red Bishop, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Brimstone canary and Red-faced Cisticola.

We head back to the forest patch for Lunch and while the forest itself is almost eerily quiet, the skies above deliver a superb Ayre's Hawk-Eagle.

On the way back some more good birding is on offer and we see an exciting tussle between a pair of Dickinson's Kestrel and a Red-necked Falcon.

Once again we are back at Biques for dinner again, and although we arrive there before sunset, the food is generally not as good as the previous night!

Day 5: 28 April Beira to Catapu

We leave with the intention of getting some way north of Dondo early enough for good birding. As it turns the birding is good and we make slow progress with frequent productive stops. Birds here include Southern Banded-Snake Eagle, Mozambique (Pale) Batis, Green-capped Eremomela, African Golden Oriole, Ashy Flycatcher, Bateleur, Red-faced Crombec and Black and White (Vanga) Flycatcher. We stop in Muanza, and pay a visit to the well-known Bread shop and everyone gets nice hot rolls for lunch! We then head northwards and another stop produces some more Hyliota's, Green-backed Woodpecker, Ret'z Helmet-shrike and Black-eared Seed-eater.

We head down towards Chinizua - and stop for lunch in a nice spot in this pristine, undisturbed woodland. The plan is to bird the chinizua access road, which offers good miombo birding. While the woodland is dead quiet for long stretches, we do encounter a handful of bird parties which include Cardinal, Bearded and Green-backed Woodpecker, Southern Hyliota, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Violet-backed Sunbird and more Red-faced Crombec, Green-capped Eremomela, Stierling's Wren-warbler and Mozambique Batis. Closer to Chinizua we encounter the first Kirk's Francolin, as well as Red-winged Warbler, Grey Waxbill and African Firefinch.

North of Chinizua the road quality deteriorates somewhat and despite pushing on hard, we arrive at Mphinqwe camp after dark and enjoy simple but tasty fare at James White's small restaurant, which proves to be one of the culinary highlights of the trip.

It is surprisingly cool at night and many animals and birds are heard, including the ever-present Thick-tailed Bushbaby (Greater Galago) and Scops, White-faced and Wood Owls.

Day 6: 29 April Catapu Birding

We make an early start to the Coutada's where the grass stands 10 feet tall along the track into Coutada 12- making it difficult for the Disco to figure out exactly where the track is! En-route we see a few nightjars, probably Fiery-necked and Square-tailed. Our main target birds are Alethe's and Akalats and while most of the group gets good views of the first, the Alethe proves to be a real "ghost bird". Other good birds seen in the area include Woodward's Batis, Slender Greenbul, Livingstone's Flycatcher, Narina Trogon, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and Plain-backed Sunbird. We walk beyond a patch of dense forest and in more open woodland are able to watch the display flight performed repeatedly by an African Broadbill. Soon afterwards, while searching for another alethe, we encounter a large flock of Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike as well as a host of other birds.

In the afternoon we head down to the Zambezi and gawk at the massive construction going on there. There are not too many birds in this area, save for a few African Jacana, Common Squacco and Purple Heron. Nearby flooded pools harbour a lot of Great and Little Egret, Grey Heron and African Openbill. We also find a single Long-toed Lapwing, which is able to disappear before everyone has seen it!!

In the mixed woodland-grassland near the Zambezi there is tantalizing birding on offer. Here we hear Anchieta's Tchagra, Moustached Grass-Warbler and Blue-spotted Dove, but the rough and very overgrown terrain prevents us from getting near to any of these birds! We do however get good views of the local race of Red-necked Francolin.

Water levels at the wetland in front of Caia Lodge prove to be high, which rules out chances of mudflat birding. The pan is no covered with lilies and large numbers of Jacana's are present. The area teems with birds and we see Pink-backed Pelican, Allen's Gallinule, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Common Squacco and Purple Heron. We leave the area after dark and head back to Mphingwe.

Day 7: 30 April Catapu Birding

Another early morning outing to the Coutadas during which the group spends considerable time patiently waiting in the forest for an Alethe to show itself! Despite hearing several more Alethes at different spots, nobody gets a sighting of this elusive bird. We do however see a fair number of other birds, which include Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Slender Greenbul, Bearded Scrub-Robin and Crested Guineafowl.

As some of the group head back to catapu, the group splits up - some birding along the Inhamitanga-Marromeu road, which offers superb habitat. Others spend time birding on the Catapu concession itself, which is some 25 000 ha in extent and also offers plenty of interesting habitat! Birds seen in this later session of birding include Kirk's Francolin, Green Malkahoa, Southern-banded Snake-eagle, Crested Guineafowl, African Crowned-Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Bataleur and Wahlberg's Eagle.

Etienne and Magui head for Gorongosa Town and go to see the Regulo at Canda to arrange for tomorrow's walk up Gorongosa Mountain. The meeting and negotiation goes without hitch and the regulo agrees to organize the ceremony on our behalf. The requirements for the ceremony are as follows: 1 Litre Red Wine
1 Litre Brandy
1 box matches
2 packs of Cigarettes
1 snuff
1 piece of white and Black Cloth

Not to forget the litre of wine needed for the additional ceremony at the "little chief" at the base of the forest. He normally asks for money too, but this is not required!

While traveling back we run into a male Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah in full breeding plumage. En route back to Catapu we also see no less than 5 Dickinson's Kestrels, a single Meyer's Parrot and a soaring Cuckoo-Hawk.

Day 8: 1 May Catapu to Gorongosa Mountain

We leave Mpingwe early, with the aim of starting the walk relatively early. The drive in the early hours of the morning is uneventful apart from one or two trucks parked in the road with only a few branches as warning of their presence! We meet our guides at Canda at 06:00 am. The track up to Renamo Hut is relatively well-worn and clear - until one reaches the higher parts where the long grass makes following the track a little tricky!

En-route there are plenty of seed-eaters and bishops (Black-winged) in the track and adjacent fields, but we push on in fear of walking on the mountain in searing heat later. One short (500m) section of the track is steep and rocky, and the lead Disco has a heart stopping moment as the electronic traction control goes haywire and pits the engine against the brakes for a short while - creating a cloud of smoke. Thankfully the fault is not permanent and we are soon on our way up to Renamo Hut, where we locate some car guards and start the ascent onto a grassy plateaux below the forest clad slopes a little higher up. En route we see many African Firefinch, Singing Cisticola,Variable and Olive Sunbirds, Eastern Saw-wing, and get tantalizingly close to Moustached Grass Warbler.

Once in the main forest, necks are strained up into the high canopy, By now it is already 10:00 am and post breeding season is not the best time to be birding here. Nevertherless there are plenty of birds about which include Chirinda Apalis, Stripe-cheeked and Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Cape Batis, Yellow White-eye, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Yellow-rumped Tinker-Barbet, Grey Cuckoo-shrike and Livingstone;s Turaco. We work hard to see Green-headed Oriole and despite hearing many, not everyone gets adequate views of this bird. Swynnerton's Robin is also apparently common here and several birds play hide and seek with the group - some getting excellent close up views of this stunning bird.

On the way down we search the grasslands for onther specials, including Seedcracker and Anchieta's Tchagra, but to no avail. Blue-spotted Dove is equally elusive - with a few birds playing hide and seek with the group. It is after 3 by the time we head down the track towards the main road. We arrive at Gorongosa gate only 20 minutes before closing time and there is little time for birding en-route.

Gerhardt and Anlie did not join us for the mountain walk, but rather spent more time in the coutadas before heading down to Gorongosa NP. They had a good bird party along the road to Gorongosa NP featuring views of Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah

In the evening we enjoy an excellent buffet dinner and some good 2M beer. Both the chalets and the food are of a higher standard than South Africa's much vaunted Kruger Park!

Day 9: 2 May Gorongosa Park to Vilanculos

After a tiring and very long previous day, we take up the nice breakfast on offer at the restaurant at Chitengo Camp. Even before breakfast the camp is alive with the sound of Collared Palm-thrush and a spell of birding here proves very productive with several pairs just outside the restaurant. Also here we have more excellent views of a pair of Black and White (Vanga) flycatchers. We then head out towards the woodland just outside the Gorongosa NP. En-route there are quite a few birds, including Gabar Goshawk, The woodland birding is very quiet and we work hard for a few bird parties in the area. The challenge here is that this area is still thought to pose a mine threat and one cannot bird off the road, which makes it difficult to track bird parties. Nevetherless we do see some good birds which include Bearded and Green-backed Woodpecker, Violet-backed Sunbird, Cabanis's Bunting, Little Sparrowhawk and Arnot's Chat. We finish the birding here at about 10 am and then it is a long drive to Vilunculos and Blue Water Beach Resort. A stop at the impressive Pungwe river bridge produces a few Blue-spotted Doves which are well seen by everyone.

We arrive just after sunset at Blue Waters, having pre-ordered our dinner by SMS, which makes a big difference not only to the service, but apparently also to the quality of the food!

Day 10: 3 May Vilanculos to Morrungulo Resort

An early morning reward for Ralph who has good views of a Sooty Falcon while watching the sunrise. First stop is the Vilanculos area. In front of Casa Rex we find a small group of Madagascar Bee-eaters. There is other good birding here, including Grey Sunbird and a Nicator that drops down onto the lodge lawn. We then head for a patch of "Msasa-Miombo" woodland, where we have heard unconfirmed reports of Olive-headed Weaver. The area proves a little tricky to find, and en-route we get a bonus in the form of a nice floodplain area with Rosy-throated Longclaw and plenty of Grey-rumped Swallows in attendance.

We reach the woodland and ask permission at a house. We spend about 2 hours walking the woodlands and have plenty of good birds including Grey Waxbill, Orange-winged Pytilia, Red-faced Crombec, Red-capped Robin-chat, Ashy Flycatcher, Grey Penduline-Tit, Mozambique Batis and Green-capped Eremomela.

We then head south - we are now truly on the road home, and Morrungulo with it's palms and beaches is a welcome relief from a day of really bad potholes for miles and miles.

Most of the group opts for a walk or swim on the beach, which must have one of the most powerful side-washes seen anywhere! The small "take-away" restaurant works hard to provide for a group like ours, but the fare is good and 2M plentiful and cheaper here than anywhere else thus-far.

Day 11:4 May Morrungulo to Chidinguele

This was a laid back day with a little birding in Morrungulo itself, where Collared Palm-thrush serenaded the morning. Other birds seen here included Swift Tern, Purple-crested Turaco, Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Purple-banded Sunbird. The trip down to Chidinguele was not focused on birding, as most were keen to get in some snorkeling at Chidinguele. En route we saw Lizard Buzzard, House Crow and Dickinson's Kestrel (Near Chidinguele itself)

At Chidinguele, very few birds were seen. As it turns our the local advice regarding snorkeling is not all that reliable and the sea is just too rough for any such recreation! The most notable marine sighting was that of numbers of Loggerhead Turtles just beyond the surf-line.

The restaurant here has a reputation for good food, and most voted this the best eating on the whole trip - with the massive crayfish being most appreciated!

Day 12:5 May Chidinguele to Gauteng.

We left at 5:00 am and apart from seeing a number of Greater Flamingos at Maputo, there was very little birding to speak of. None of the vehicles are stopped at any road-block or speed-trap and we reached the border at about 10:00 am (5 hours from Chidinguele), and the border crossing was very painless and quick. Most were back home before 16H00

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