Mozambique Birding Trip : Mostly Magical (Part 2)

The Trip so far

We had set out to cover some of the best summer birding spots of southern Mozambique during the first part of a planned 15 day birding trip and, in the 3 days covered by Part 1, we had already seen a lot of special birds. This Part 2 takes us back to Panda area to continue the search for Green Tinkerbird, then we continue northwards to Inhassoro and Beira, where we focus on the Rio Savane area.

The Group

Etienne Marais (Indicator Birding : http://birding.co.za ), our group leader and guide for the trip, with his passengers Corné Rautenbach, Edith Oosthuizen and Bruce Dyer who had all flown up from Cape Town for the trip, Owen and Sue Oertli from Johannesburg, Neithard and Katharina Graf von Durkheim from Pretoria, Myself (also Pretoria) and George Skinner (Johannesburg, but at the time I write this has “emigrated” to Dullstroom).

In describing the trip I have again borrowed from the itinerary which Etienne had drawn up and distributed prior to the trip and which sets it out nicely on a day by day basis ……….

Day 4 Morrongulo to Inhassoro

“We bird the area west of Unguane, The area is a type of coastal scrub-thicket with emergent larger trees here and there. …..the mega here is the Green Tinkerbird and we hope to encounter this bird in the thickets which are criss-crossed by small tracks. Once we have had success we head northwards…….

Overnight : Complexa Turistico Seta, Inhassoro”

A crack-of-dawn getaway saw us heading back to the Tinkerbird area at 5.15 am and an hour later we were in the same spot as the previous afternoon, where we recommenced the search.

Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland

At first it seemed as if it was going to be easy as the Tinkerbird was calling at regular intervals and sounded as if it was nearby, but as it turned out we chased it in circles in the hot humid thickets for quite a while until a shout from Etienne – “there it is!” – told us we had struck gold – or in this case green, in the form of Green Tinkerbird.

Green Tinkerbird (from a distance, wish I had a better photo)
Green Tinkerbird (from a distance, wish I had a better photo)

The precious bird thankfully perched for a few minutes, fully exposed on top of a dead tree, affording all of us excellent views through the scope, but just too far for a decent photo. It continued its trilling call, its whole body seeming to shake in unison with the call, as we made high-fives all round in celebration of this mega-tick of a bird (although if truth be told it is quite drab), which was only rediscovered some 2 years ago after being lost to the Southern African region for many years.

With the pressure of finding the Tinkerbird now off, we proceeded to bird the surrounding area thoroughly and made several stops to walk the tracks and bush, each of which produced notable sightings, such as –

  • Both species of Spinetail – Mottled and Bohm’s (think Peter Sellers/Inspector Closeau’s pronunciation of “bombs” which comes out sounding like “berms”) in numbers in an area with Baobab trees, one of which was clearly used as a roost by the Spinetails as they flew in and out of the hollow centre while we stood there watching
Mottled Spinetail. Not a great photo but they are very difficult to photograph, flying fast and turning unexpectedly
Mottled Spinetail. Not a great photo but they are very difficult to photograph, flying fast and turning unexpectedly
Bohm's Spinetail
Bohm’s Spinetail – showing off its bat-like appearance
  • Woodward’s Batis calling vigorously and moving about in the bush (lifer)
  • Almost constant calls of Purple-crested Turaco, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird and Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove ringing through the bush
  • The mournful call of a Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, spooky in the distance
  • Livingstone’s Flycatcher showing briefly in the foliage of the taller bushes (another lifer)
  • Marsh Warbler calling and showing in low bushes
  • A pair of Mosque Swallows circling above a clearing – they are also birds often associated with Baobab trees
  • African Cuckoo perching in the “Tinkerbird tree” for a minute or two, prompting discussion about the differences between it and the almost identical looking Common (European) Cuckoo (more yellow in upper mandible was mentioned)
African Cuckoo. Another fuzzy photo - also taken from a distance
African Cuckoo. Another fuzzy photo – also taken from a distance
  • A lone Honey Buzzard cruising high in the sky, accompanied by a Wahlberg’s Eagle, distinctive with its long straight tail and dark colouring
  • Several other significant birds such as Pale Flycatcher, Trumpeter Hornbill, Broad-billed Roller, Square-tailed Drongo, House Martin, Black-bellied Starling and Rudd’s Apalis showed just how rich in bird life this area is

On this trip we had a couple of the group, including myself, who were on the lookout for interesting insects, butterflies and the like and the pickings were rich – some examples :

Red-tip female
Red-tip Butterfly (female)
Locust - very well disguised (clue - it's on the left)
Locust – very well disguised (clue – it’s on the left)
Photographing the locust
Photographing the locust
Golden Orb Spider
Golden Orb Spider
Buxton's Hairstreak. Hair tails are used to deceive predators (see where it's actual front end is)
Buxton’s Hairstreak Butterfly. Hair tails are used to deceive predators (see where it’s actual front end is ?)
Caterpillar
Caterpillar
Golden Orb Spider
Golden Orb Spider

We also came across a small village in the middle of the bush – seemingly deserted but probably because it was a Sunday.

Village
Village
Village
Village
Village
Village
Village in Panda Woodland - we could not work out what these structures were for
Village in Panda Woodland – we could not work out what these structures were for

We eventually left this special area by late morning and headed back along the, by now, familiar track and once on the tarred EN1 we pointed our vehicles in the direction of Inhassoro, north-east from that point. Stops for lunch and fuel were made along the way before arriving at the Seta beach resort for our next overnight stop.

Complexo Turistico Seta, Inhassoro

The beach at Inhassoro
The beach at Inhassoro

George and I proceeded to the open deck for a cold beer where we had a view of the local fishing activities, with men going out in handmade boats, which on closer inspection were nothing more than polystyrene foam bottoms clad in rough planks, but the sea was calm and they were bringing in small catches so they obviously do the job. All that remained was the evening meal with the usual limited but tasty choice (fish, chicken or calamari) and calling up the day’s list.

The beach, Inhassoro
The beach, Inhassoro
Inhassoro - home made fisherman's boats (Photo ; George Skinner)
Inhassoro – home made fisherman’s boats (Photo ; George Skinner)
Complexo Turistico Seta, Inhassoro
Complexo Turistico Seta, Inhassoro

A little misunderstanding, when I went to tell the “management” (one man hovering around reception) that we had no water in the bathroom, led to George being locked out when, unbeknown to me, he sought shower facilities elsewhere and he ended up coming to fetch the key at the restaurant in a partially clothed state, but still decent. Sorry George! Hey, these things happen.

Day 5 Inhassoro to Beira

“Morning birding in the Inhassoro area. We then take the moderate drive to Beira. There will be plenty of opportunities to bird along the way. In particular the Buzi River bridge is an excellent spot for swifts and raptors. The road takes us through a variety of habitats and at this time of year one may also see temporary wetlands along the way. At Inchope we turn left and head back east towards Beira. As we approach the Pungwe floodplain, wetland birding can be spectacular.

Overnight : Jardim de Velas guest house.”

An early breakfast had been arranged for around 6 am, by which time we were more or less packed. Early additions to our list were a Common Sandpiper, cheekily perched on a small boat offshore and a Swift Tern flying by, while one of the trees in the gardens was alive with Village Weavers.

Complexo Turistico Seta, Inhassoro
Complexo Turistico Seta, Inhassoro
Early morning coffee at Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Early morning coffee at Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Neithard and Katherina, Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Neithard and Katherina, Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Dedicated birders - Don and Bruce, Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Dedicated birders – Don and Bruce, Inhassoro (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)

After breakfast on the deck, overlooking a smooth glassy sea dotted with the home-made boats of the fishermen who were already going about their day’s business, we loaded up the vehicles and headed for the village ATM to draw cash, then on to the road out of Inhassoro.

On the way out a White-throated Swallow caught our eye, perched on the roof of an industrial building and a little further on we came across our first Striped Kingfisher and a Village Indigobird, while a short stop at a roadside quarry added Magpie Mannikin, Red-faced Crombec and Little Bee-eater.

Village Indigobird, Inhassoro
Village Indigobird, Inhassoro
Pied Mannikin, Inhassoro
Pied Mannikin, Inhassoro
Neithard, Kathrin, Etienne and Edith at the quarry outside Inhassoro (Looks a bit "See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil")
Neithard, Kathrin, Etienne and Edith at the quarry outside Inhassoro (Looks a bit “See no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil”)

Further brief stops were made to break the journey and add to the group list :

  • At a bridge over a reed-lined river, which produced a number of Red-headed Quelea, first for the trip and a lifer for a few of us (me included). Close by a Yellow-throated Longclaw was calling loudly, seeming to be indignant about our presence
Red-headed Quelea, Inhassoro
Red-headed Quelea, Inhassoro
Yellow-throated Longclaw, outside Inhassoro
Yellow-throated Longclaw, outside Inhassoro
  • A woodland area which appears in the “Birding Spots” book but is now under severe pressure from charcoal makers who burn the trees to make charcoal, which apparently goes to Europe
  • Lunchtime stop in dense woodland, which was alive with bird life to entertain us as we enjoyed snacks and coffee
    • Paradise Flycatcher servicing a nest
    • Red-faced Cisticola calling stridently
    • Black Cuckoo, mournful as usual
    • Red-winged Warbler, called up by Etienne, which responded by flying back and forth and perching for good views (both ways – him of us, us of him) and to add to my list of lifers
    • Purple-crested Turaco showing nicely in the trees
  • Brief stop alongside the busy EN6 to view African Openbills and an African Marsh Harrier
  • Ponds close to Beira which held Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck and Spur-winged Goose, albeit difficult to see against the late afternoon sun.

The road was challenging with long stretches of heavily potholed tarmac, so it was a rock and roll affair as I tried to choose the right line to avoid the worst potholes. We passed through a few typical villages along the way

Village scene, Inhassoro - Beira road
Village scene, Inhassoro – Beira road

We reached Beira after 6 pm and soon thereafter left for dinner at Club Nautica, where we had a very acceptable meal with a view of the beach and sea.

Day 6 Rio Savane area

“We have a full day in the Rio Savane area. There are a number of good areas for birding and some of the time it will involve walking in short grassland in the Rio Savane floodplain. Our focus will be on the more difficult birds… Woodland patches on the floodplain hold all sorts of surprises…..

Picture the scene – Four SUV’s arrive at a pristine floodplain, with varying lengths of short-ish grass in a myriad shades of green, stretching for kilometres, punctuated by clusters of trees forming mini-woodlands. Ten people alight from the vehicles, don hats and apply sunscreen to exposed flesh, while a couple of the group pull a long, heavy-looking rope out of a box.

After some instructions from the one who appears to be the leader, they start shouting in loud voices and then four of the group grab the rope and start walking across the floodplain in line abreast, leaving the rope slack between them so that it drags across the clumps and tufts of grass. Even though it is hardly 6 am and the sun has still to gather its full strength, it is soon clear that those dragging the rope, and indeed the remaining six who are doing their best to stay close behind them, are sweating profusely in the extreme humidity.

Nevertheless they carry on across the floodplain until someone gives a tentative shout as instructed by the leader and the whole group stops, pulls up binoculars to their eyes and almost in unison start babbling strange names such as “Black-rumped Buttonquail” or “Great Snipe”. After a few sweeps of the floodplain they all walk rather slowly back to the vehicles and after a while drive off, only to repeat the whole scenario in the next floodplain they come across.

What on earth are they up to? Well, they are trying to “flush” (ie encourage to fly up) certain birds which spend their whole life in floodplains such as these, often tiny birds which find safety in being extremely hard to find (and identify) unless you can get them to rise up out of the concealing grasses and fly for a distance. And this is where the rope comes in – it’s not enough to walk the floodplain and hope these elusive birds will flush – most will only do so if the rope is about to roll over them or one of the walkers is about to step on them.

This was our mission – find some of the really “hard to get” species, including Black-rumped Buttonquail, Blue Quail, Locust Finch amongst others. Unfortunately we dipped on the latter two despite a number of attempts at 3 or 4 different spots, but the Buttonquail flushed three times and a Great Snipe suddenly burst from the wet grass, flew a few hundred metres before disappearing out of range. A pair of elegant yet colourful Saddle-billed Storks mostly ignored our doings as they foraged in longer grass.

Don and Etienne at Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Don and Etienne at Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Rio Savane
Rio Savane
The rope trick, Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
The rope trick, Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Rio Savane (Photo ; George Skinner)
Rio Savane (Photo ; George Skinner)

On the way to the floodplain and back, we made a few birding stops alongside the dirt road, which we shared with the ubiquitous cyclists on their old-fashioned Raleighs (or the modern Chinese equivalent) carrying their heavy loads of charcoal. Sightings included Copper Sunbird, African Fish Eagle, several African Marsh Harriers and as many Black-chested Snake-Eagles.

A breakfast break in a copse of trees provided a welcome break from the hot sun and was enlivened by the arrival of Pale Batis flitting about in the canopy.

Rio Savane
Breakfast spot at Rio Savane
Rio Savane
Rio Savane
Pale Batis, Rio Savane
Pale Batis, Rio Savane

By now it was late morning and, drained by the heat, we made our way slowly back to the guest house, stopping at a known Lesser Seedcracker spot but with no luck. After a “lunch and relax” break we set out for the Rio Maria area where Etienne showed us a small dam with some interesting bird life present, such as Pygmy Goose, Malachite Kingfisher and a lone but exciting Lesser Jacana.

Rio Maria Beira
Rio Maria Beira
Lesser Jacana, Rio Maria Beira
Lesser Jacana, Rio Maria Beira

Also drawing our attention was a large, plain warbler, spotted by George moving about in the low branches just above the water (the bird, not George), which we could not ID with any certainty – Etienne, probably the best person to ID a Warbler in Southern Africa, had gone around to the back of the dam to try to flush a Nightjar for us. I took some photos of this mysterious Warbler, which turned out to be fortunate as Etienne later confirmed that it was a Basra Reed-Warbler, one of the mega-ticks for Southern Africa and a THS bird.

Basra Reed Warbler, Rio Maria Beira
Basra Reed Warbler, Rio Maria Beira

This was a lifer for all of those that saw it, including Bruce Dyer, taking him to 888 for his Southern Africa list! Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine seeing this bird, one which experienced birders refer to in hushed tones. Sensational stuff!

Next stop Mphingwe and the delights of the lowland forests…… (Part 3 to follow)

Map of the route

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