Category Archives: Birding Trips

My Birding Year 2016 (Part 2) – Twitching, Lifers, Atlasing and more

It was a memorable Birding Year for several reasons – many great places visited in pursuit of new birds, many amazing experiences, often when least expected, atlasing at every opportunity, all of which has left me more than satisfied and (hopefully) has boosted my birding and bird photography skills. It was also sprinkled with enough “Lifers” to make it a special birding year, most of which were not planned but rather just happened along the way.

Part two follows my birding journey from July through to December and is just a brief synopsis of my birding activities along with photos of the species encountered and places visited. Some of my trips are / will be covered in separate posts in a lot more detail.

July

The month kicked off with some mid-winter atlasing on the 2nd, in the Balmoral / Witbank area with Koos Pauw

On the 8th, in Kasane, Botswana for my monthly project visit, I did a spectacular birding trip by rented boat on the Chobe River, which was every bit as good as I had hoped

Chobe River Boat Trip
Chobe River Boat Trip
African Fish-Eagle, Chobe River Boat Trip
African Fish-Eagle, Chobe River Boat Trip
African Skimmer, Chobe River Boat Trip
African Skimmer, Chobe River Boat Trip
Lappet-faced Vulture, Kasane
Lappet-faced Vulture, Kasane

Just three days later it was back to more normal birding / atlasing – this time east of Potchefstroom where we had gone to visit Stephan and family

And another two days later it was time for a truly memorable trip to Heilbron in the Free State to ” twitch”  the reported Burchell’s Courser with Koos, which we duly did, finding  along the way two other Coursers (Double-banded, Temminck’s) and a bonus lifer for me in the form of a Pink-billed Lark which Koos spotted

Burchell's Courser, Heilbron area
Burchell’s Courser, Heilbron area

The last week in July was spent in Mossel Bay where the Pincushions were in full bloom and attracting numbers of nectar feeders, which kindly posed for some colourful photos

Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Mossel Bay
Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Mossel Bay

Writing this, I realised that I had done birding across 2 countries and 5 of SA’ s provinces during July!

August

My visit to Kasane from the 3rd to 5th allowed for some great birding again, visiting a riverside spot late afternoon where my colleagues went to fish and I took the opportunity to do some atlasing, photographing the Hartlaub’s Babblers and just enjoying the ambience as the sun set and hippos blew bubbles and snorted in the river

On the Friday morning before returning to SA I travelled to the Ngoma gate into Chobe Game Reserve and drove eastwards along the Riverfront road, atlasing all the way. I was rewarded with good views of Openbill, Great White Pelican, Tawny Eagle, Dickinson’s Kestrel and Slaty Egret amongst many others.

Brown-crowned Tchagra, Chobe Game Reserve
Brown-crowned Tchagra, Chobe Game Reserve
Slaty Egret, Chobe Game Reserve
Slaty Egret, Chobe Game Reserve (a very average photo, but my first of this scarce species)
Dickinson's Kestrel, Chobe Game Reserve
Dickinson’s Kestrel, Chobe Game Reserve

Mid August I fitted in some Monday atlasing, this time near Leandra where a farm dam was very productive with a nice range of waterfowl and one Caspian Tern

September

A family wedding took us to Vryheid and the farm of Pieter and Anlia Genis, where I was able to enjoy excellent birding in between the family festivities, with the assistance of Pieter and his rugged Bakkie (Pickup). The drive up to the plateau high above the farmhouse was as spectacular as ever and was good for a number of the area specials such as Black-winged Lapwing, Denham’s Bustard, Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat and Eastern Long-billed Lark

Onverwacht farm, Vryheid
Onverwacht farm, Vryheid
Black-winged Lapwing, Onverwacht farm, Vryheid
Black-winged Lapwing, Onverwacht farm, Vryheid

Another family event saw us in Potchefstroom two weeks later and I was able to squeeze in some atlasing early on the Monday morning before returning home to Pretoria

October

A visit to Kruger National Park in the first week of October with Andre and Geraldine and the girls was a highlight of the year, with the dry conditions limiting the bird numbers somewhat but each day proved to be full of interesting sightings.

Our home for the week was Olifants camp in the northern section of the Park.

African Harrier-Hawk, Afsaal area KNP
African Harrier-Hawk, Afsaal area KNP
Southern Ground Hornbill, KNP
Southern Ground Hornbill, KNP
Golden-breasted Bunting,  Olifants Balule road KNP
Golden-breasted Bunting, Olifants Balule road KNP
Hooded Vulture, S37 Trichardt road KNP
Hooded Vulture, S37 Trichardt road KNP
Brownheaded Parrot, Pretoriuskop KNP
Brownheaded Parrot, Pretoriuskop KNP

The rest of October was devoted to atlasing some of the birding “hotspots” around Pretoria and further afield.

Roodeplaat dam was good for two separate visits on consecutive Saturdays, one with Koos Pauw, both visits proving that this is one of the best spots for a relaxed morning’s birding with good roads and well-kept facilities.  The highlight was the constant calls of Tchagras, Titbabblers, Boubous, Scrub-Robins and others that accompanied the drives. The two birding sessions produced a remarkable 100+ species!

It was also the place where I saw the strangest bird of the year – one that had me completely flummoxed until I realised it was a fairly common Lesser Striped Swallow missing its tail. For a moment or two I thought I had discovered a new species of Spinetail!

Lesser Striped Swallow (tailless), Roodeplaat NR
Lesser Striped Swallow (tailless), Roodeplaat
Diederik Cuckoo, Roodeplaat NR
Diederik Cuckoo, Roodeplaat
Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Roodeplaat Dam
Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Roodeplaat Dam
Caspian Tern, Roodeplaat Dam
Caspian Tern, Roodeplaat Dam

Another attractive venue was Mabusa Nature Reserve, some 1.5 hours drive from Pretoria, but almost constant light rain put a damper on my visit and the slightly unscheduled arrival of our 7th grandchild had me rushing back to Pretoria a little earlier than planned. Definitely a spot to revisit on a sunny day.

A Terrapin in the middle of the drenched gravel road was proof of how wet it was – I have only ever seen them clinging to a rock in a river or dam

Terrapin, Mabusa NR
Terrapin, Mabusa NR
Mabusa NR
Mabusa NR on a wet day
Cape Glossy Starling, Mabusa NR
Cape Glossy Starling, Mabusa NR trying to look happy about the rain
African Pipit, Mabusa NR
African Pipit, Mabusa NR

Last up was a visit to the area around Settlers in the Bela Bela area of Limpopo province, where the highlight was meeting a farmer that I encountered on the road who invited me to visit the “Vulture restaurant” at a large Pig-farm nearby.

Greater Kestrel, Settlers area, Limpopo
Greater Kestrel, Settlers area, Limpopo
Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Settlers area, Limpopo
Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Settlers area, Limpopo

November

You would think I’d had enough of Chobe by now, but no, once again I arranged a boat trip along with a colleague while in Kasane and once again it was spectacular. My aim was to find Rock Pratincole which we did quite easily and had an up close and personal view to boot. I will do a separate post on this trip but suffice to say it was special.

Rock Pratincole, Chobe River trip
Rock Pratincole, Chobe River trip
Long-toed Lapwing, Chobe River trip
Long-toed Lapwing, Chobe River trip

On the 9th another local hotspot demanded a visit when Green Sandpiper was reported from Rietvlei Nature Reserve near Pretoria (actually part of Pretoria). I did not find the Sandpiper but plenty of others kept me busy and fascinated, including a variety of antelope and other game. I still managed to make it to the office by mid-morning with 62 species counted.

Cape Longclaw, Rietvlei Dam
Cape Longclaw, Rietvlei Dam

Our annual “long stay” trip to Mossel Bay came around almost before we were quite ready and an overnight stop at Abbotsbury guest farm near Graaff-Reinet on the way there was my next opportunity for some Karoo birding on this delightful farm.

Red-eyed Bulbul, Abbotsbury near Graaff-Reinet
Red-eyed Bulbul, Abbotsbury near Graaff-Reinet

We were barely settled in Mossel Bay when Birding Big Day came up on the 26th and at the last moment I decided to enter the Birdlasser challenge despite not having a team, planned a route or being even vaguely prepared. As it turned out I had a great day doing a circular route in the surrounding area, with Gerda joining me in the afternoon, and recorded 112 species on the day – not too bad for the area.

December

On the road again – this time on a 5 day trip to the Western Cape mainly to visit family, but naturally I took every opportunity to do birding along the way. News of several rarities at Strandfontein Sewage Works had filtered through in the few days prior to the trip and, prompted by Gerda who knows I can’t resist the temptation of a new bird, we adjusted our itinerary to spend a night nearby the spot, which meant I could spend time there in the hope of finding them. As it turned out I added Temminck’s Stint, Red-necked Phalarope and American Golden Plover to my life list – my only dip was the Pectoral Sandpiper.

Temminck's Stint, Strandfontein Sewage Works
Temminck’s Stint, Strandfontein Sewage Works
Red-necked Phalarope, Strandfontein Sewage Works
Red-necked Phalarope, Strandfontein Sewage Works
Pied Avocet, Strandfontein Sewage Works
Pied Avocet, Strandfontein Sewage Works

Worcester was our base for 3 nights and on the return trip to Mossel Bay we stopped for an overnight stay at Jan Harmsgat guest farm

I felt that the rarities were following me when a Red-necked Buzzard was seen in Stilbaai, just and hour or so away from Mossel Bay, so on the 13th I went to look for it and ended up getting great views accompanied by some of the top birders in SA, who had driven a lot further to see this mega-rarity. One of them was the country’s leading seabird expert, Barrie Rose, with whom I had a chat as we were at school together. Barrie was tragically killed just a couple of weeks later  when he fell off rocks at Cape Point while fishing. Just another reminder how tenuous life can be.

Red-necked Buzzard, Stilbaai Twitch
Red-necked Buzzard, Stilbaai Twitch
Stilbaai Sewage Works
Stilbaai Sewage Works – a bird hide for the birds
Stilbaai twitch
Stilbaai twitch – RIP Barrie Rose (walking up the hill at the rear)

On the 22nd I atlased two pentads north and south of Herbertsdale, one of my favourite birding areas, which was also my last formal birding trip of the year.

During our lengthy stay in Mossel Bay I did regular atlasing in the Golf Estate, where 30+ species can be seen in an hour’s walk during Summer, as well as around town which has a few reliable birding spots such as the Point and the harbour area for seabirds and the small dam at the SPCA grounds for waterfowl.

Grey-backed Cisticola, Mossel Bay
Grey-backed Cisticola, Mossel Bay
African Black Swift, Mossel Bay
African Black Swift, Mossel Bay

I am not sure how I will top 2016 as far as birding goes, but I will certainly give it a go!

My Birding Year 2016 (Part 1) – Twitching, Lifers, Atlasing and more

It was a memorable Birding Year for several reasons – many great places visited in pursuit of new birds, many amazing experiences, often when least expected, atlasing at every opportunity, all of which has left me more than satisfied and (hopefully) has boosted my birding and bird photography skills. It was also sprinkled with enough “Lifers” to make it a special birding year, most of which were not planned but rather just happened along the way.

What follows is a brief (remember, brief is relative) synopsis of my birding activities along with photos of the species encountered and places visited. Some of my trips are covered in separate posts in a lot more detail.

January

Our year kicked off in Mossel Bay, our home town for some of the year, including December and half of January, and I took the opportunity to do some atlasing / birdmapping in the area. This included one particularly memorable trip through the mountains on a back road north of Herbertsdale (actually an old wagon route)  where I saw just one other person in two hours and not a single other vehicle. The pentad (a block of 5 x 5 minutes of latitude and longitude) had never been atlased previously so was virgin territory.

Old Wagon route, Herbertsdale north
Old Wagon route, Herbertsdale north
Jackal Buzzard, Herbertsdale north
Jackal Buzzard, Herbertsdale north

Further atlasing on the 14th was limited by almost constant light rain, but was nevertheless interesting, producing some scarcer species such as Little Bittern doing its “sky-gazing” trick and a group of Amur Falcons, unusual in this part of SA. Parts of the gravel road were very slippery and called for close concentration.

Cattle Egret, Herbertsdale south
Cattle Egret, Herbertsdale south (spot the raindrops!)

Our customary “slow and easy” trip back to Pretoria started on the 16th with a short drive to Prince Albert for a two night stay, allowing time for some Karoo birding, then on to Prior Grange guest farm near Springfontein in the Free State, where I was able to fit in some early morning birding before our last push to Pretoria and home.

A report of a Caspian Plover near Hanover persuaded us to deviate for an hour or two to look for it – with the help of the farm owner we found it, as well as some other delights such as Blue Korhaan and Namaqua Sandgrouse

Namaqua Sandgrouse, New Holme Guest Farm, Hanover
Namaqua Sandgrouse, New Holme Guest Farm, Hanover
Caspian Plover, New Holme Guest Farm, Hanover
Caspian Plover, New Holme Guest Farm, Hanover
Blue Korhaan, New Holme Guest Farm, Hanover
Blue Korhaan, New Holme Guest Farm, Hanover

Back in Pretoria I was soon chasing further rarities when reports of a Red Phalarope at Mkhombo dam filtered through and I ended up visiting this exciting birding spot three times before the month was out, once on my own, once with George Skinner and once with Francois Furstenburg, the latter trip including some great birding along the Zaagkuildrift road.

Red Phalarope, Mkhombo Dam
Red Phalarope, Mkhombo Dam
Grey Plover, Mkhombo Dam
Grey Plover, Mkhombo Dam
123 Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Mkhombo Dam (925)
Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Mkhombo Dam

And to round off a memorable month, a Spotted Crake was reported outside the main gate to one of Johannesburg’s largest residential estates. It proved to be one of the easiest twitches ever as more than 1000 birders went to see it.

Spotted Crake, Waterfall Estate
Spotted Crake, Waterfall Estate

After that exciting start to the year I took a break in February to focus on other life matters and recommenced in…

March

The month started with a bang when I visited Kasane in Botswana for the project I am involved in and took the opportunity to “pop over” to the Caprivi Strip in Namibia to see the Yellow-throated Leaflove reported at a lodge near Katimo Mulilo, along with some of the other area specials and another lifer by way of an accommodating Schalow’s Turaco at the same lodge. The Leaflove was a new species for Southern Africa and created a lot of excitement amongst twitchers.

Yellow-throated Leaflove, Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
Yellow-throated Leaflove, Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
Schalow's Turaco, Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
Schalow’s Turaco, Caprivi Houseboat Lodge

While in Kasane I visited Chobe Game Reserve and the Kasane Waste treatment works which both produced some excellent birding.

Chobe NP
Chobe NP
Red-billed Spurfowl, Chobe NP
Red-billed Spurfowl, Chobe NP
African Openbill, Chobe NP
African Openbill, Chobe NP
Southern Carmine Bee-Eater, Chobe NP
Southern Carmine Bee-Eater, Chobe NP
Wood Sandpiper, Kasane Water Treatment
Wood Sandpiper, Kasane Water Treatment works

The following week I fitted in some atlasing, this time in and around Cullinan area east of Pretoria (where the famous Cullinan diamond was found)

The next weekend we visited Potchefstroom and I atlased in the area, focusing on the Boskop dam north-east of Potch which proved to be an excellent spot with a total of 72 species, the highlight being an African Rail walking along the dam edge for 50m or so before disappearing into reeds.

April

Back in Kasane for my monthly visit, the only birding I managed was at Senyati camp, which we visited late one afternoon and viewed the elephants coming to drink at the waterhole, along with a variety of bird life.

Then it was time for our long-planned trip of the year to celebrate 45 years of marriage – two weeks in Europe  , visiting Prague and Passau, with an eight-day Danube River Cruise sandwiched in between. Birding was limited to whatever crossed my path but was still good for a handful of Lifers added to my “World list”

Eurasian Jay, Prague
Eurasian Jay, Prague
Black Redstart, Cesky Krumlow
Black Redstart, Cesky Krumlow
Petrin Hill
Petrin Hill in Prague
Great Tit, Vienna
Great Tit, Vienna
Red Fox with fish catch
Red Fox with fish catch along the Danube River (OK it’s not a bird but rates as one of my sightings of the year)
Caspian Gull, Danube
Caspian Gull, Danube
Common House Martin, Danube
Common House Martin, Danube
Barn Swallow, Danube
Barn Swallow, Danube
Lesser Kestrel, Passau
Lesser Kestrel, Passau
Passau - views from the Castle
Passau – views from the Castle
Black-headed Gull, Passau
Black-headed Gull, Passau

May

My trip to Kasane Botswana from the 10th to 12th presented few opportunities for focused birding, nevertheless I was able to spend time in three spots that I have got to know fairly well – Kasane Waste Treatment works, Thebe lodge and Seboba Nature Park, all of which are reliable for a variety of species.

113 White-crowned Lapwing, Seboba Nature Park - Kasane (290)
113 White-crowned Lapwing, Seboba Nature Park – Kasane (290)
Marabou Stork, Kasane Water Treatment
Marabou Stork, Kasane Water Treatment
Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Thebe Safari Lodge
Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Thebe Safari Lodge
Blue Waxbill, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
Blue Waxbill, Seboba Nature Park Kasane

On the 16th and again on the 23rd I got back to some “ordinary” atlasing in some of my favourite parts of eastern Gauteng – lying generally in the corridor between Bronkhorstspruit area and Delmas area. Good solid midwinter atlasing in these run-of-the-mill parts of Gauteng can be just as inspiring as birding some of the more recognised birding spots.

Brown-throated Martin, Delmas area
Brown-throated Martin, Delmas area

On the 26th and 27th we joined Koos and Rianda at our favourite getaway – Verlorenkloof estate near Machadadorp – which as usual did not disappoint with the quality of the birding

Verlorenkloof
Verlorenkloof
Mocking Cliff-Chat (Female), Verlorenkloof
Mocking Cliff-Chat (Female), Verlorenkloof

June

Kasane was the destination once again from the 1st to 3rd with another birding trip along the Riverfront section of Chobe Game Reserve.

Bradfield's Hornbill, Chobe Riverfront
Bradfield’s Hornbill, Chobe Riverfront

Winter atlasing in the Delmas area on the 6th included a visit to a farm dam courtesy of the farm owner who I tracked down – worth the trouble as the dam contributed 21 species to the list including both Flamingoes, Black-necked Grebe and Maccoa Duck

African Marsh-Harrier, Delmas area
Harrier in the mist (African Marsh-Harrier), Delmas area

Next up was our visit to La Lucia near Durban for a week, during which I enjoyed a Fathers Day feast of birding in Ongoye Forest, Mtunzimi and Amatigulu Reserve with local guide Sakhamuzi Mhlongo,  who found the Green Barbet that I had hoped to see. This species is restricted to this one single forest in Southern Africa.

Ongoye Forest
Ongoye Forest
Green Barbet, Ongoye Forest Reserve
Green Barbet, Ongoye Forest Reserve (Not a photo-friendly species at all!)
Ongoye Forest
Ongoye Forest
Square-tailed Drongo, Ongoye Forest Reserve
Square-tailed Drongo, Ongoye Forest Reserve
Yellow-throated Longclaw, Mtunzini
Yellow-throated Longclaw, Mtunzini
Amitigulu Nature Reserve
Amitigulu Nature Reserve, Sakhamuzi leading the way
Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Amitigulu Nature Reserve
Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Amitigulu Nature Reserve

On the way back to La Lucia I popped into the well-known birding spot at Sappi Stanger, which was lively with waterfowl and others

Sappi Mill Stanger / Kwadukuza
Sappi Mill Stanger / Kwadukuza
Cape and Hottentot Teal, Sappi Mill KwaDakuza
Cape and Hottentot Teal, Sappi Mill KwaDakuza
Cape Teal, Sappi Mill KwaDakuza
Cape Teal, Sappi Mill KwaDakuza

Before the week was done we did a quick trip to Pigeon Valley in Durban’s suburbs, where a few of the forest species were in evidence.

Red-capped Robin-Chat, Pigeon Valley
Red-capped Robin-Chat, Pigeon Valley

Atlasing the Delmas area once again on the 27th concluded the month’s diverse birding

July to December are covered in a separate post called ,,,,,,,,  wait for it ………..Part 2.

 

Leaflove Story – a Sudden Twitch

Leafloves?

As I mentioned in my previous post about twitching (https://mostlybirding.com/2016/02/23/a-twitch-or-two/), I hardly consider myself to fall into the category of keen twitchers, those hardy, sometimes mildly bonkers birders who let nothing stand in the way of seeing rare birds that turn up in Southern Africa.

Such was the case when a pair of Yellow-throated Leafloves (interesting name!) turned up and started nesting at a riverside lodge near Katima Mulilo in Namibia, some 200 kms south of their normal distribution in Zambia and northwards. Suddenly the Southern African region had a brand new bird added to the regional list!

The reports started coming through in mid February 2016 of this unexpected pair of birds in the gardens of the Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge near Katima Mulilo and there was soon a gold-rush like invasion of keen twitchers heading to this remote part of Southern Africa via plane and car from various places in South Africa and Namibia.

The Twitch

I watched with interest the messages coming through from Trevor Hardaker and the SA Rare Bird Facebook page, knowing that I would be going to Kasane in northern Botswana for a project I am involved in, during the 1st week in March. I also had a look at the map and realized that Katima Mulilo fell nicely within my “twitch limit” of around 2 hours drive, being about 120 kms from Kasane with a border crossing from Botswana to Namibia to negotiate along the way. So, if the Leafloves hung around until then, I planned to “pop over” the border for a quick visit and hopefully a new tick on my life list for Southern Africa.

Tuesday 1st March

Come Tuesday,  I caught the daily flight from Joburg to Kasane – a day early for my site visit so that I could spend a night in Katima Mulilo (KM) and be back in time for the project commitments the following day. I had arranged for a bakkie (pickup) to be available and shortly after landing I set off for KM via Ngoma border post. The border formalities went smoothly, perhaps because I was the only customer in an hour or two.

From Kasane to Ngoma the public road (tarred) bisects the northernmost section of Chobe Game Reserve and the landscape is pristine woodland all the way.

The road to Katima Mulilo
The road to Katima Mulilo

Once into the Caprivi in Namibia, the scenery changes to more open, patchy woodland interspersed with small settlements and small-scale agriculture.

I arrived at the lodge by 4.30 pm and settled into the rustic accommodation on the river in unit No 5, which is right alongside the tree where the Leafloves were nesting.

Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
The rustic cabin at Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
The rustic cabin at Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
View from the cabin
View from the cabin

I immediately saw one of the young chicks peering over the edge of the nest and within minutes the parents were in the vicinity and at the nest, bringing morsels and calling in a Babbler-like manner although less harsh.

Nest site, Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
Nest site, Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
Yellow-throated Leaflove nestling
Yellow-throated Leaflove nestling
Yellow-throated Leaflove
Yellow-throated Leaflove

The rest of the afternoon was spent re-visiting the nest site in the hope of getting better views / photos and exploring the small property with its jungle-like gardens and river views.

River views, Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
River views, Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
River views, Caprivi Houseboat Lodge
River views, Caprivi Houseboat Lodge

It proved to be really challenging trying to get the Leafloves in my camera’s viewfinder for long enough to get a decent photo, as they seemed intent on hiding in the shadiest part of the foliage at every opportunity and when they did show themselves briefly, it was in an opening high up in the trees with bright light behind them.

Yellow-throated Leaflove
Yellow-throated Leaflove

Other birders had arrived earlier and a few more arrived after me – we enjoyed a good evening meal together and then made our way to mosquito-netted beds in the rustic cabins, happy to be able to add the Leaflove to our life lists.

Wednesday 2nd March

In the morning the others were already gathered at the coffee and rusks and I tagged along with the small group as they set off for a birding walk along the dirt road outside the lodge, which turned out to be quite busy with early morning commuters on their way to places unknown.

Morning walk near the lodge
Morning walk near the lodge

White-bowed Robin-Chat and Tropical Boubou were competing for loudest call as we walked and there was no shortage of other interesting species, such as :

  • Paradise and Grey-tit Flycatchers
  • Village Indigobird on the very top of a tree
  • Namaqua Dove perched on overhead wires
  • Brubru working its way through the foliage of a large tree
  • Little Sparrowhawk perched on an open branch
  • Copper Sunbird female peering from its nest in the roadside bush
  • Brown-crowned Tchagra posing beautifully on a nearby branch
  • Greater Blue-eared Starlings
  • African Golden Oriole – bright yellow against the green foliage
Copper Sunbird (Female) at nest
Copper Sunbird (Female) at nest
Flame Lily
Flame Lily
Brown-crowned Tchagra
Brown-crowned Tchagra

After the walk it was breakfast time followed by some further garden birding. A Schalow’s Turaco was calling and I followed the sound to find this lifer – a pair were moving about in the dense foliage of a tall tree, making it challenging to get a decent view or a photo. Fortunately I heard them again as I was leaving and found one on an open branch, almost inviting me to photograph this handsome species.

Schalow's Turaco
Schalow’s Turaco
Schalow's Turaco
Schalow’s Turaco

The trip back to Kasane was uneventful, other than coming across a trio of elephants along the road traversing Chobe.

The road through Chobe
The road through Chobe

Another successful twitch and memories of a brief but busy trip that will stay with me for a long while.

 

 

My Birding Year 2015

Just when you thought it was safe to go into 2016, here is another of those pesky “looking back at 2015” stories. Apologies but I just have to do it – so here is my review of my birding year, for what it is worth.

It has been another busy year of travel for Gerda and myself, in between maintaining our normal home routines, however this time around we did not do any “overseas” trips but confined ourselves to travel within South Africa. In addition my birding  took me to Mozambique for a dedicated 2 week birding extravaganza and work-related trips took me to northern Botswana, where I was able to fit in some wonderful birding and game viewing – all in all it made for another interesting year…….

January

The year started, as it has over the past couple of years, in Mossel Bay where we have a second home and I used the opportunity to do some atlasing  in the Golf Estate where our house is located and in the surrounding area. (reminder : “atlasing” is the recording of bird species in an area called a Pentad, defined by coordinates, about 8 x  8 kms in extent, with the data collected going to a database at the University of Cape Town)

Gerda joined me for a morning of atlasing near Albertinia, with breakfast and coffee stops to make it a pleasant outing for both of us.

Malachite Sunbird on flowering sisal trees, near Albertinia
Malachite Sunbird on flowering sisal trees, near Albertinia

From the 9th to 12th we did a short trip through the Western Cape, spending one night in Swellendam and two more visiting Johan and Rosa in Worcester. I managed to sneak in some atlasing as we went without turning up anything of note.

On the 16th it was time to leave Mossel Bay and return to Gauteng but not without making the most of the journey – two nights in Prince Albert in the Karoo and one in Hoopstad in the Free State made sure of that.

Karoo Chat (Juvenile), Prince Albert
Karoo Chat (Juvenile), Prince Albert
Kurrichane Buttonquail, Hoopstad
Kurrichane Buttonquail in mielie (corn) fields, Hoopstad

February

Undoubtedly the highlight of my birding year started on 29th January with a two week birding trip through Mozambique as part of a group of 10 in four vehicles. The full report appears in my posts from earlier in 2015 and it is difficult to isolate the highlights as every day was full of them, but here are a few that were really special and the “Lifers” that went with them :

  • Early morning on the Limpopo floodplain with Sedge Warblers and Rufous-winged Cisticolas
Limpopo floodplain near Xai-Xai
Limpopo floodplain near Xai-Xai
  • Birding on the mudflats at Imhambane and Lighthouse beach nearby – Lesser Sand Plover, Lesser Crested Tern and Crab Plover
The mudflats, Inhambane
The mudflats, Inhambane
Lesser Sand Plover, Inhambane
Lesser Sand Plover, Inhambane
Mixed Terns, Lighthouse beach Barra
Mixed Terns, Lighthouse beach Barra
  • Driving through dense woodland to the Panda area to view Olive-headed Weaver, Green Tinkerbird, Woodward’s Batis and Livingstone’s Flycatcher, amongst a plethora of other desirable species
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland
Olive-headed Weaver, Panda Woodland
Olive-headed Weaver, Panda Woodland
  • Lunch stop in more dense woodland which was alive with bird life, adding Red-winged Warbler
  • Dragging a rope across pristine floodplains of the Rio Savane near Beira in hot, humid weather, hoping to flush some of the specials – Great Snipe was one reward
Rio Savane
Rio Savane
Rio Savane (Photo ; George Skinner)
Rio Savane (Photo ; George Skinner)
  • Photographing a warbler in the Rio Maria area, which turned out to be Basra Reed Warbler, a southern Africa megatick
Basra Reed Warbler, Rio Maria Beira
Basra Reed Warbler, Rio Maria Beira
  • Mphingwe camp and the surrounding pristine forests of the Catapu area which produced a multitude of magnificent lifers – Ayre’s Hawk-Eagle, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Mangrove Kingfisher, Tiny Greenbul, White-crested Alethe, East Coast Akalat, Black-headed Apalis, Plain-becked Sunbird, and Broad-taled Paradise Whydah
Black-bellied Starling, Mphingwe camp
Black-bellied Starling, Mphingwe camp
Mangrove Kingfisher, Coutada 12 area
Mangrove Kingfisher, Coutada 12 area
  • A memorable trip to the Zambezi to view Bohm’s Bee-eater and several other special birds (not to mention the atrocious road and the failed propshaft bearing of my vehicle)
Collared Palm-Thrush, in palm grove on the Road to Sena
Collared Palm-Thrush, in palm grove on the Road to Sena
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Road to Sena
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Road to Sena
Bohm's Bee-Eater, Rademan's Farm on Zambezi River
Bohm’s Bee-Eater, Rademan’s Farm on Zambezi River
  • Coutada 12 birding adding Short-winged Cisticola, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike and Orange-winged Pytilia
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Coutada 12 area
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Coutada 12 area
Bush driving (Photo ; George Skinner)
Bush driving (Photo ; George Skinner)
  • Mphingwe camp – enforced longer stay due to car repairs but also time to explore the surrounds and home in on some beautiful butterflies

March

A weekend in Cape Town revolved around the Cape Town Cycle Tour which I had entered – no time for any intensive birding but we did enjoy a walk through Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and some lightweight birding in Stellenbosch where we stayed in the Devon Valley Hotel

On the 14th I joined Koos Pauw for some interesting atlasing at the Baviaanspoort Water Treatment works (ie Sewage farm) where a pale form Steppe Buzzard had us postulating for some time.

Common (Steppe) Buzzard (Pale), Baviaanspoort
Common (Steppe) Buzzard (Pale), Baviaanspoort

27th saw us heading to Mossel Bay for the Easter holidays, with a stop over at Prior Grange near Springfontein – a favourite overnight spot in the Free State with some excellent birding on the farm and the surrounds

April

During our stay in Mossel Bay I confined my birding to the immediate area with one atlasing trip to Albertinia.

Orange-breasted Sunbird, near Albertinia
Orange-breasted Sunbird, near Albertinia

A short trip to the Western Cape included a stay in McGregor on the 12th and some exploration of the Robertson area and Greyton – I squeezed in some atlasing as we went

Back in Pretoria Koos and I atlased in the Kwamhlanga area on the 25th, which produced some surprisingly good birding – near a vlei we saw Lanner Falcon, African Quail-Finch and heard African Rail in quick succession. Soon after, in a hilly, rocky area along a side road, I  was thrilled to find Short-toed Rock-Thrush posing beautifully in a dry tree, a lifer for me.

Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Kwamhlanga
Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Kwamhlanga

May

My first trip to Kasane in northern Botswana from 5th to 7th for a project I am involved in, was the first of many for the year and a chance to explore the natural delights of Chobe National Park in between work commitments. This trip was all about excellent game viewing experiences with enough birding to whet my appetite for later visits.

Bateleur (Juvenile), Chobe Game Reserve
Bateleur (Juvenile), Chobe Game Reserve
Red-billed Oxpecker, Chobe Game Reserve
Red-billed Oxpecker, Chobe Game Reserve

More atlasing on the 16th (Kwamhlanga area) and 25th (Delmas area) and 30th (Coalfields around Ogies), produced some memorable species.

Ogies Area
Ogies Area
Cape Longclaw. Ogies area Coalfields
Cape Longclaw. Ogies area Coalfields
Levaillant's Cisticola, Delmas area
Levaillant’s Cisticola, Delmas area

June

Winter atlasing in the dry grasslands near Bronkhorstspruit on 6th was followed two days later by atlasing near Balfour after a two hour drive through early morning traffic.

The same day I visited Marievale Bird Sanctuary for some relaxed birding and photography at this wonderful venue, which I had all to myself, it being a Monday.

Hottentot Teal, Marievale
Hottentot Teal, Marievale
Lesser Swamp Warbler, Marievale
Lesser Swamp Warbler, Marievale

18th to 25th was Koos and Rianda’s timeshare week at Verlorenkloof, which we were once again invited to share with them, unquestionably our favourite place for superb birding and relaxation and it produced many highlights as usual.

Bald Ibis, Verlorenkloof
Bald Ibis, Verlorenkloof
Black-winged Lapwing, Verlorenkloof
Black-winged Lapwing, Verlorenkloof
Cape Rock-Thrush, Verlorenkloof
Cape Rock-Thrush, Verlorenkloof
Chorister Robin-Chat, Verlorenkloof
Chorister Robin-Chat, Verlorenkloof
African Golden Weaver, Verlorenkloof
African Golden Weaver, Verlorenkloof

July

Saturday 4th was time for more winter atlasing, this time south of Balmoral with the challenge being ID’ing the seed eating species in their drab winter plumage – the watchword is definitely “practice makes perfect”.

Orange-breastsed Waxbill, Balmoral area
Orange-breastsed Waxbill, Balmoral area

Another trip to Kasane, another chance to visit Chobe, followed on the 7th to 9th.

Yellow-billed Stork, Chobe Game Reserve
Yellow-billed Stork, Chobe Game Reserve
Senegal Coucal, Chobe Game Reserve
Senegal Coucal, Chobe Game Reserve

Our winter trip to Mossel Bay started on the 12th and we only returned on the 1st of August. Birding was confined to Mossel Bay for the first 10 days due to cold, wet weather which gave me the chance to atlas the Golf Estate thoroughly and watch the birds coming to our feeder.

Cape Bulbul, Mossel Bay
Cape Bulbul, Mossel Bay
Red-faced Mousebird, Mossel Bay
Red-faced Mousebird, Mossel Bay
Streaky-headed Seedeater, Mossel Bay
Streaky-headed Seedeater, Mossel Bay
Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Mossel Bay
Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Mossel Bay

Gerda joined me for a short trip to Klein Brak and the beautiful countryside, green and lush after the substantial rains

My only specific atlasing trip was along the Herbertsdale road with some good birding in the two pentads.

Cape Robin-Chat, Mossel Bay-Herbertsdale
Cape Robin-Chat, Mossel Bay-Herbertsdale

Our trip to Robertson to taste the culinary and birding delights followed – see my separate  post on this trip.

Swee Waxbill, Orange Grove Guest farm near Robertson
Swee Waxbill, Orange Grove Guest farm near Robertson

August

A late winter trip to Kasane on the 4th to 6th produced some memorable game and bird sightings once again.

Marabou Stork, Chobe Game Reserve
Marabou Stork, Chobe Game Reserve
Kori Bustard, Chobe Game Reserve
Kori Bustard, Chobe Game Reserve
Red-billed Oxpecker, Chobe Game Reserve
Red-billed Oxpecker, Chobe Game Reserve

Koos and I atlased the De Wildt area on the 8th with some interesting sightings

September

Another Kasane trip on the 8th to 11th included a day trip to Victoria Falls to view the new airport under construction and an afternoon visit to the Falls

Red-billed Firefinch (Male), Victoria Falls
Red-billed Firefinch (Male), Victoria Falls

We managed to squeeze in a Chobe Riverfront drive with some stunning sightings being the reward

An atlasing trip on the 19th to dusty, sprawling Garankuwa north of Pretoria produced more than expected with lovely sightings of Fairy Flycatcher, Striped Kingfisher and others

Golden-breasted Bunting, Lethlabile North West
Golden-breasted Bunting, Lethlabile North West
Fairy Flycatcher, Lethlabile North West
Fairy Flycatcher, Lethlabile North West

October

One of the year’s highlights came up in October with a week long visit to Satara camp in Kruger, documented in several separate posts, followed by another highlight when our timeshare week at Verlorenkloof came up just afterwards from 16th to 20th, producing some of the best birding ever in this superb locality

Bateleur, Satara
Bateleur, Satara
Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Satara
Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Satara
Broad-tailed Warbler, Verlorenkloof
Broad-tailed Warbler, Verlorenkloof
African Stonechat (male), Verlorenkloof
African Stonechat (male), Verlorenkloof

November

Back to Kasane on 6th to 8th and more of Chobe Riverfront, but this time, accompanied by another keen birder – Derek Thomas, we did some proper atlasing in this amazing slice of Africa and in a new (for us) location – Kasane Water Treatment Works

Wood Sandpiper, Kasane Treatment Works
Wood Sandpiper, Kasane Treatment Works
Ruff, Kasane Treatment Works
Ruff, Kasane Treatment Works
Kori Bustard, Chobe Riverfront
Kori Bustard, Chobe Riverfront

The 13th saw me heading to Mkhombo dam area for an atlasing session, with a visit to the dam to see if some of the special birds seen during the preceding weeks were still around.

Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Mkhombo area
Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Mkhombo area
Grey Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Mkhombo area
Grey Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, Mkhombo area

Before we knew it, we found the year was rapidly running out as we packed once again for the trip down to Mossel Bay for our end-of-year long visit. On the way we stopped over in Hoopstad for two nights, one on the farm where I was able to fit in some good birding walks and drives.

Spur-winged Goose, Annasrust farm Hoopstad
Spur-winged Goose, Annasrust farm Hoopstad
Sociable Weaver, Annasrust farm Hoopstad
Sociable Weaver, Annasrust farm Hoopstad

Our second stopover was at Karoo National Park where we enjoyed the quiet Karoo atmosphere and some good birding.

Southern Masked-Weaver, Karoo National Park
Southern Masked-Weaver, Karoo National Park
Southern Red Bishop, Karoo National Park
Southern Red Bishop, Karoo National Park

In Mossel Bay my first atlasing trip was to the area west of the village Ruiterbos in beautiful rolling countryside

December

The last visit to Kasane on 2nd to 4th was another opportunity to atlas in Chobe and in Kasane itself at some spots located by Derek

Broad-billed Roller, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
Broad-billed Roller, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
African Golden Oriole, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
African Golden Oriole, Seboba Nature Park Kasane
Common Sandpiper, Chobe Riverfront
Common Sandpiper, Chobe Riverfront
White-browed Coucal, Chobe Riverfront
White-browed Coucal, Chobe Riverfront

Back in Mossel Bay I saw the year out with some fine atlasing around Herbertsdale, Vöelvlei and Gouritzmond

Pacific Golden Plover, Gouritzmond
Pacific Golden Plover, Gouritzmond
Black-winged Stilt, Voëlvlei near Gouritzmond
Black-winged Stilt, Voëlvlei near Gouritzmond
African Spoonbill, Voëlvlei near Gouritzmond
African Spoonbill, Voëlvlei near Gouritzmond
Diderik Cuckoo, Herbertsdale south
Diderik Cuckoo, Herbertsdale south

Plans for 2016? Let’s see what develops

 

 

My 2015 Photo pick

Here’s a selection of my photos from places visited in 2015 – mostly from places that support my favourite pastime of birding.

 

The Places

Sunset, Inhambane - Mozambique
Sunset, Inhambane – Mozambique
Near Springfontein Free State
Near Springfontein Free State
McGregor, Western Cape
McGregor, Western Cape
Sunset, Chobe River
Sunset, Chobe River
Canola fields along Herbertsdale road near Mossel Bay
Canola fields along Herbertsdale road near Mossel Bay
Aloes along the Ashton-Swellendam road
Aloes along the Ashton-Swellendam road
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Ruiterbos area near Mossel Bay
Ruiterbos area near Mossel Bay

The Animals

Leopard, Chobe Game Reserve
Leopard, Chobe Game Reserve
Giraffe at waterhole, Chobe Game Reserve
Giraffe at waterhole, Chobe Game Reserve
African Wild Dog, Kasane area
African Wild Dog, Kasane area
Elephant at sunset, Chobe Game Reserve
Elephant at sunset, Chobe Game Reserve
African Lion, Chobe Game Reserve
African Lion, Chobe Game Reserve
Olifants camp viewpoint
Olifants camp viewpoint
Burchell's Zebra, Satara - Nwanetsi S100
Burchell’s Zebra, Satara – Nwanetsi S100
Zebra juvenile, Satara
Zebra juvenile, Satara
Pride of Lions, Chobe Riverfront
Pride of Lions, Chobe Riverfront

The Birds

Hottentot Teal, Marievale
Hottentot Teal, Marievale
Malachite Kingfisher, Marievale
Malachite Kingfisher, Marievale
Lanner Falcon, Verlorenkloof
Lanner Falcon, Verlorenkloof
Jackal Buzzard with nest material, Mossel Bay-Herbertsdale
Jackal Buzzard with nest material, Mossel Bay-Herbertsdale
Glossy Ibis, Chobe Game Reserve
Glossy Ibis, Chobe Game Reserve
Red-billed Oxpecker, Chobe Game Reserve
Red-billed Oxpecker, Chobe Game Reserve
Trumpeter Hornbill, Victoria Falls
Trumpeter Hornbill, Victoria Falls
Brown-headed Parrot, Satara - Orpen H7
Brown-headed Parrot, Satara – Orpen H7
Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Satara
Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Satara
Drakensberg Prinia, Verlorenkloof
Drakensberg Prinia, Verlorenkloof
Malachite Sunbird, Valsriviermond
Malachite Sunbird, Valsriviermond

Others

Painted Reed Frog, Mozambique
Painted Reed Frog, Mozambique
Gold-banded forester, Mozambique
Gold-banded forester, Mozambique
Mostly Buffalo, Chobe Game Reserve
Mostly Buffalo, Chobe Game Reserve
Moon shot with I-phone
Moon shot with I-phone
Tree Squirrel, Satara
Tree Squirrel, Satara

Best wishes to all for 2016 and hope you enjoy my ramblings as much as I enjoy recording them in words and photos!

Punda Mania 2014 – The Madness Continues

Third Time Lucky?

We had participated in two of these special weekend birding events in previous years, based in Punda Maria camp, and had enjoyed the vibe of a group of keen birders and the unbeatable location of the event, taking in a large chunk of the northern part of Kruger Park. The scoring is probably not meant to be that important, but people and in particular keen birders are competitive animals and it certainly adds to the spirit of an event such as this.

So being the optimistic lot that we are and in anticipation of some special birding experiences, we once again put our names down for the event planned for November 2014.

Thursday

George Skinner and I left Pretoria early and followed the familiar route to Punda Maria. George had arranged with well-known bird guide Samson Mulaudzi to meet him near the Entabeni Forest, which we duly did around 10.45 am and we proceeded into the forest area, hoping for a few specials. Both Lesser and Scaly-throated Honeyguides were easily located by call and the latter was seen flying and trying its best to stay out of sight in the canopy as it did a wide circle around us.

Entabeni Forest
Entabeni Forest
Bat Hawk, Entabeni Forest
Bat Hawk, Entabeni Forest

From there we drove close to the river to a spot where Half-collared Kingfisher was quickly located, then to the spot where Bat Hawk has been nesting for more than 10 years and we soon found it perched high in the tall trees, just off the gravel road. This was a lifer for me, thanks to Samson!

Satisfied with this short birding sortie, we carried on to Punda Maria gate an hour or so away, arriving at the camp at 2.20 pm, to be greeted by the West Rand Honorary Rangers (HR’s) team of William, Monika and Norma who all feel like old friends the third time around.

Punda Maria entrance gate
Punda Maria entrance gate

The Event Starts

Punda Maria chalets
Punda Maria chalets

Check-in and finding our comfortable bungalow did not take long and by 3pm we were back in the air-conditioned restaurant for the briefing led by Monika, who explained the HR’s role and wonderful sponsorship spread over a variety of efforts in many of the National Parks.

Then it was Joe Grosel’s turn to highlight the attractions, features and different habitats of this special part of the Kruger National Park, from Giant Rats to Racket-tailed Rollers, his passion for the area clearly showing.

Once done with the briefing, it was time for the first late afternoon drive and we had hardly left the gate when we were surrounded by a bird party gathered in and around a large tree – I could barely keep up listing the species on Birdlasser, my new bird atlasing App.

White-browed Robin-Chat, Punda Maria
White-browed Robin-Chat, Punda Maria
Brown-crowned Tchagra, Punda Maria
Brown-crowned Tchagra, Punda Maria

Destination PWNJ Lek

As in previous years, a highlight of this event is the visit to the Lek where the rare Pennant-winged Nightjar does its display flight at dusk – this was our destination once again and there was a swell of anticipation as the 40 – odd (the number not the birders, although some of them are pretty odd as well) birders sipped our Strettons G & T’s and waited for the action in the gathering dusk. Well, as Joe put it, it was like the Springbok’s loss to the Irish the previous weekend – disappointing – as the PWNJ’s kept their distance with just one doing a rapid fly past, but nevertheless tickable for my atlas list.

Sunset at the lek, Punda Maria
Sunset at the lek, Punda Maria

Punda Mania 2014-4

On the way back to the camp we came across a magnificent Giant Eagle-Owl, imperious on his perch in a large tree.

Verraux's Eagle-Owl
Verraux’s Eagle-Owl
And it's not eye make-up, all natural
And it’s not eye make-up, all natural

Dinner was a bring and braai and we headed to bed with thoughts of the treasure hunt and a long day’s birding the next day.

Friday

Up (very) early after a 3.30 am alarm, to be ready for the treasure hunt drive at 4.15 am. The treasure hunt entails deciphering cryptic clues into a list of 14 bird, animal and tree species, then finding and photographing each one before returning to the camp by the cut-off time of 12.30 pm, for adjudication by Joe Grosel.

Once every one was on the safari truck, we made our way to Pafuri area, not encountering much of interest until the light allowed us to see the surrounding bush a bit clearer, starting with Black-chested Snake-Eagle and followed by good numbers of birds. A brief diversion to Kloppenheim area added some water-reliant species such as Squacco Heron, Water Thick-Knee, Common Moorhen (unusual in the Kruger), Black Crake and Three-banded Plover.

Punda Mania 2014-31

African Wild Cat
African Wild Cat
Common Scimitarbill
Common Scimitarbill
Broadbilled Roller
Broadbilled Roller
Pit stop for our team
Pit stop for our team
Giant Kingfisher
Giant Kingfisher

Onwards to the Luvuvhu bridge at Pafuri for the usual feast of birding and back to the Pafuri area itself with a lengthy stop at Crook’s Corner, which provided a good boost to our growing list of bird species recorded. A feature of the day’s birding was the number of bird parties we encountered, some called up by Ranger/Driver Jobe who uses his skill at imitating the Pearl-spotted Owlet to draw the birds nearer. On a few occasions we had between 10 and 15 species in close proximity to the vehicle and had to work hard to keep up with ID-ing them all.

At the Pafuri picnic spot, Norma and her colleagues had prego rolls ready which went down a treat, while we continued to scan the area for as yet un-ticked species.

Pafuri picnic spot
Pafuri picnic spot
White-crowned Lapwing
White-crowned Lapwing
Bearded Scrub-Robin
Bearded Scrub-Robin
Ground Hornbill
Ground Hornbill
Great Egret
Great Egret

By then it was late morning and we had found most of the target species, so it was time to head back to camp to be in time for the cut-off – on the way we came across our final target species – Crested Francolin, which had amazingly eluded us till then. Our only slip-up was choosing the wrong Euphorbia species to photograph.

Some of the species we had to find and photograph :

Little Swift
Little Swift
Predator footprint
Predator footprint
Reptile
Reptile
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove
Trumpeter Hornbill
Trumpeter Hornbill
Crested Francolin (only just)
Crested Francolin (only just)

After this intense species-hunting, it was time for a siesta until the next round of clues – this time covering targets in the camp itself, which turned into quite a challenge, but again we managed to get all of them photographed between 4 and 6 pm, almost coming short on the Passer Domesticus (House Sparrow) once again, but a last-minute rush to find a “proper” one saved the day.

Vervet Monkey, Punda Maria camp
Vervet Monkey, Punda Maria camp
Dark-capped Bulbul, Punda Maria camp
Paradise Flycatcher, Punda Maria camp
Dark-capped Bulbul, Punda Maria camp
Dark-capped Bulbul, Punda Maria camp
Passer Domesticus, Punda Maria camp
Passer Domesticus, Punda Maria camp

A slightly dazed Pygmy Kingfisher which had flown into a restaurant window, drew some attention away from the goings on in the camp

Pygmy Kingfisher, Punda Maria camp
Pygmy Kingfisher, Punda Maria camp

All that remained was the dreaded Quiz which went a little better than previous years but once again some hasty decisions cost us valuable points, leaving us with only the atlasing session the next day to catch up to the leading teams.

Saturday

Our atlasing session turned into a marathon, starting at just after 4 am and ending at 3 pm when we eventually returned to the camp. Each team was allocated a “good” pentad and a “poor” pentad to atlas, the good one being in a lush bushveld area and including a stretch of river while the poor pentad was in a dry area dominated by Mopane bush. What we were not told was that only the “poor” pentad total would count towards the scoring and so we focused our attention and time on the “good” pentad, leaving the “poor” pentad for later in the day when birds generally take cover from the heat.

At least we enjoyed some excellent early morning birding in the windless, overcast conditions and in prime bushveld, which included the new Nyala Wilderness Trail camp on a bend of the Luvuvhu river with views over the river and the koppies beyond. This was also the cue to enjoy coffee and rusks in this beautiful location.

 

Wahlberg's Eagle
Wahlberg’s Eagle
Honey Badger
Honey Badger
Red-crested Korhaan
Red-crested Korhaan
Arnot's Chat
Arnot’s Chat

After a short drive further we alighted from the vehicle again to take a walk along a stretch of the river, which produced a few species including a highly debated Wagtail which photos showed was a Pied Wagtail despite arguments to the contrary. Then an even shorter drive to a viewpoint over the river which we knew from previous visits to Punda Maria, with wonderful views over the river below.

We continued atlasing productively until we left the pentad after about 2.5 hours of recording and headed south towards the “poor” pentad some distance away, which we entered after 12.00 pm after some heavy debate about where we were in relation to the map provided by Sanparks. Inexperience at working with co-ordinates, which are essential for atlasing, meant there was a total misconception on the part of our driver as to where the pentad boundary was and we found ourselves a full pentad (about 8 km) out of position in a north-south direction.

After much lively discussion and some input on my part (as the only regular atlasser in our team), we did eventually find the pentad boundary, but the map versus co-ordinates debate continued unabated, also due to non-existent roads being shown on the map. The area we found ourselves in was single habitat – Mopane bush with no pans or any other water, so atlasing was slow and quite laborious in the heat of the day and we were relieved when we had completed the minimum 2 hours of atlasing and could head back to the camp. On the way back a Coqui Francolin surprised us as he crossed the road in front of our vehicle.

Baboon
Baboon

Punda Mania 2014-39

Coqui Francolin
Coqui Francolin

The Final Curtain

A last visit to the lek was spectacular, with the male Pennant-winged Nightjar performing majestically, floating back and forward just above tree height and settling on a rock for a minute or two.

G and T's at the Lek
G and T’s at the Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar Lek
Pennant-winged Nightjar (Photo : George Skinner)
Pennant-winged Nightjar (Photo : George Skinner)

As usual the Honorary Rangers and Sanparks put on a fine closing out dinner and prize-giving but unfortunately our team had fallen out of the running completely.

Punda Mania 2014-28

Nevertheless a great event that added to our appreciation of this part of Kruger, although three in a row is probably enough for the time being.

Mozambique Birding Trip : Getting Home

The Conclusion

Those brave souls who have read the 3 part story of our trip through Mozambique, will know that we had to cut it short due to a propshaft bearing that collapsed under the punishment meted out by a certain rutted road, leaving us temporarily stranded at Mphingwe camp, just south of the Zambezi river. This is the conclusion of the story – how we got the vehicle repaired, our enforced longer stay at Mphingwe and our experiences getting home. Finally, I have included my overall Impressions of Mozambique.

Day 11 : Coutada 12 Birding (Squeezing in)

I woke up early and rather despondent this Sunday morning, not knowing how we were going to get ourselves and the vehicle back home. There seemed to be just 2 options – fix the car here and drive home or get home by other means and arrange to repatriate the car – neither would be simple but it would be a lot easier if we could just drive the car back ourselves.

To take our minds off the problem and encouraged by the others in the group, we squeezed the whole team into the remaining 2 vehicles and set off to do mostly forest birding in the Coutada 12 area, along with some woodland birding, hoping to clinch some of the difficult (for the time of year) specials. Thanks are due to Owen and Sue for making room for us in their vehicle, which turned a potentially depressing day into another great day of birding. In fact I was able to add another 3 lifers to my list :

  • Short-winged Cisticola perched high up on a dry tree
  • The very distinctive and colourful Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, which was followed moments later by a group of their close cousins, Retz’s Helmetshrike
  • Orange-winged Pytilia in woodland
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Mphingwe camp
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike – not pleased for some reason

Other significant birds we came across (any one of them would be a great sighting for the average SA birder) :

  • Martial Eagle circling overhead
  • Common Scimitarbill
  • Green-backed Woodpecker
  • White-breasted Cuckooshrike
  • Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher
  • Cabanis’s Bunting
  • Narina Trogon – flying right over our heads

In the forests we tried the “waiting for the bus” routine again, hoping that some of the shy species would be curious and come and join us, but we only came up with Tiny Greenbul, which called frequently and then played hide-and-seek with us, affording a brief glimpse or two

Back at Mphingwe we enjoyed a last dinner with the full group, as those still mobile would be heading to Zimbabwe the next day. Our fate lay squarely in the hands of Joe, the resident mechanic looking after the sawmill, who would look at the Touareg in the morning and confirm our options. We had a date with him for 6.30 am at the sawmill.

Day 12 : Solving the Car Problems and Time for Contemplation

We took the car to the sawmill just after 6 am for Joe to have a look and once we had it up on the ramp, his recommendation was simple and quick – get the part and he will fix it.

So we set about getting the part, which meant driving cautiously and slowly up to the tar road – anything over 30 km/h and the knocking would start – and towards the nearest tower for a cellphone signal, where I spent some time phoning various people in SA to arrange for the part to be supplied and paid for. That was the easier part – getting the part to Mphingwe seemed to be a real problem until Pat, the wife of Mphingwe’s owner Ant White, suggested her daughter, based in Johannesburg, would be prepared to collect the part from Pretoria and fly to Beira the following day, where after Pat would arrange for it to be transported by “Runner” (one of their employees from Beira) on a “Shapa” (local min-bus taxi) to Mphingwe. These people are nothing short of amazing! With luck the part would be here in two days. The only proviso was that I would pick up the cost of her air ticket to Beira and back, which I did with alacrity and relief. The benefit to them was an opportunity for mother and daughter to have a day or two together in Beira, so definitely a winning solution all round.

At the same time Neithard was making arrangements to get both his damaged vehicle and himself and Kathrin back to Pretoria, which was looking like a lengthy affair.

By lunchtime our arrangements were done and we could relax for the rest of the day. I took a walk along the Suni Trail which winds through the forest and had a magical time with the many butterflies, which posed for some beautiful photos in the soft dappled light of the forest.

Suni Trail
Suni Trail
Army ants on the march
Army ants on the march
Gold-banded forester / skaduweedansertjie (Euphaedra neophron neophron)
Gold-banded forester / skaduweedansertjie (Euphaedra neophron neophron)
False dotted-border / valsvoelentwitjie (Belenois thysa thysa)
False dotted-border / valsvoelentwitjie (Belenois thysa thysa)
Eyed bush brown (henotesia perspicua)
Eyed bush brown (henotesia perspicua)

Birds were not plentiful in the immediate vicinity of the camp but some nice specials occur including Crested Guineafowl (aka The Rockers – which will make sense if you’ve ever heard a group of them doing their call, which sounds like a rock band warming up, plus their wild hairstyle), Black-bellied Starling and Yellow-bellied Greenbul. The resident Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves and Tambourine Doves provide a constant soothing background sound with their calls right through the day.

Our equally stranded camp-mates Neithard and Katherina, with Mandy (part time emergency nurse), Mphingwe camp
Our equally stranded camp-mates Neithard and Katherina, with Mandy (part-time emergency nurse), Mphingwe camp
Heading to fire up the donkey for the hot water, Mphingwe camp
Heading to fire up the donkey for the hot water, Mphingwe camp
Black-bellied Starling, Mphingwe camp
Black-bellied Starling, Mphingwe camp

The evening meal was memorable for a great sirloin steak and good conversation with Neithard and Kathrin, all of us in the same boat at that stage, in rough waters and no paddle in sight.

Day 13 : Waiting for the Part and some birding at Mphingwe

A day of waiting, while the vital spare part travels from Pretoria to Mphingwe near Caia in Mozambique via Jo’burg (by plane to) Beira (by Shapa to) Mphingwe all courtesy of Pat and her daughter Carrie, or Wonder Woman as I was now regarding her. Our hopes were that it would arrive the next morning and be fitted without a problem – what if it was the wrong part?

To pass the time George and I took a long birding walk along the Suni Trail, diverted to the track down to the sawmill and returned via the main dirt road back to the camp.

This helped to push the pentad total (I hadn’t given up atlasing) up to 31 with some exciting species such as

  • Terrestial Brownbul
  • Bearded Scrub-Robin
  • Mangrove Kingfisher
  • Common Cuckoo
  • Red-throated Twinspot
  • Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike
  • Eastern Nicator
Mphingwe walk
Mphingwe walk
Terrestial Brownbul
Terrestial Brownbul
Grey-backed Camaroptera
Grey-backed Camaroptera
Natal acraea / Natalse rooitjie (Acraea natalica natalica)
Natal acraea / Natalse rooitjie (Acraea natalica natalica)
Green-banded swallowtail / groenlintswaelstert (Princeps nireus lyaeus)
Green-banded swallowtail / groenlintswaelstert (Princeps nireus lyaeus)

All in all some excellent birding and plenty of Butterflies

The rest of the day was relaxed with another good dinner to close out the day.

Day 14 : Replacing the part – an all day event

The bearing arrived
The bearing arrived

We took the Touareg down to the sawmill just after 6 am and left it with Joe who had assured us it would be a quick job. Well it didn’t turn out that way as an “hour or so” job turned into a whole day affair as Joe and his men had to dis-assemble and re-assemble the propshaft bearings to get the centre carrier bearing in place, in the process having to fashion special tools to fit the VW components.

So we postponed our departure until the next day, hoping an early start would get us to Beit Bridge in the day.

We got through the day with much sitting around, reading and contemplating – the only birds that raised any interest were a pair of Crested Guineafowl making their way through the camp and a Bateleur and what looked like a Long-crested Eagle soaring high overhead.

Mphingwe camp
Mphingwe camp
Our home for an extended stay, Mphingwe camp
Our home for an extended stay, Mphingwe camp
Crested Guineaufowl, Mphingwe camp
Crested Guineaufowl, Mphingwe camp
Gaika blue (Zizula hylax hylax)
Gaika blue (Zizula hylax hylax)
False chief / bontvalsrooitjie (Pseudacraea lucretia tarquinia)
False chief / bontvalsrooitjie (Pseudacraea lucretia tarquinia)

With plenty of time on our hands, there was a chance to appreciate the smaller wildlife and the camp was full of interesting lizards, bugs, ants and others – the shower and toilet block was a magnet for them and I counted over 20 species of insects, moths and dragonflies during one “sitting”. A couple of small black snakes had to be persuaded to leave the toilet including one which was curled up under the hollow seat!

Transparent Dragonfly, Mphingwe camp
Transparent Dragonfly, Mphingwe camp
Furry little caterpillar, Mphingwe camp
Furry little caterpillar, Mphingwe camp
Mphingwe camp
Mphingwe camp
Millipede, Mphingwe camp
Millipede, Mphingwe camp (as long as my middle finger)
Ants on a cracker, Mphingwe camp
Ants on a cracker, Mphingwe camp

Day 15 and 16 : The long and winding road home

We set off at our planned time of 5 am in near dark, gradually getting lighter as we progressed slowly along the potholed road to Inchope. The first 260 km took all of 4 and a half hours as I drove gingerly around and through the badly potholed sections.

From Inchope to the Zimbabwe border was a little better, but there was a constant stream of trucks to contend with and some hazardous overtaking manoeuvres were the only way to make some progress. It was a relief to get onto the Zim roads which are generally in a good condition, albeit narrow.

We proceeded through Mutare and Masvingo (Fort Victoria in the “old days”) where we decided to carry on to the Lion and Elephant Motel another 2 hours away, as it was only 4.30 pm. With the light fading, I didn’t see a 60 km/h sign along the way and was stopped by a cop who tried the by now familiar scare tactics – according to him we would have to appear in court the next morning and he was clearly looking for some “persuasion” to help us avoid this fate. I stood my ground refusing to play along and eventually he wrote a R200 fine which I paid and we proceeded on our way. I was only too glad to get away from that spot, having smelt alcohol on his breath.

The motel was a welcome sight some time later, after 14 hours of driving the 950 kms from Mphingwe.

Next morning we were up early and at the Beit Bridge border post where yet another pair of cops looked for some reward for letting us through, after a veiled threat of having to search the vehicle for drugs – “but the guy who does the search will only be here at 10 am” implying a 4 hour wait for us.

Once again we refused to play along but “rewarded” them with a couple of our remaining snack bars which they took in disgust and waved us on.

The rest of the trip home was uneventful other than another speeding ticket – think I was just too tired to spot the signs by then – and we got back to Pretoria around 1 pm, thankful that Joe had done a good job on the Touareg, which had made it without further problems.

The end of the trip
The end of the trip
The end of the trip
The end of the trip

 Impressions of Mozambique

The Birding

With our trip cut short by car trouble we spent about 10 days birding in a diverse range of habitats and places including

  • Wetlands and floodplains
  • Forests
  • Tidal flats and estuaries
  • Beaches
  • Woodland
  • Roadside spots
  • Bridges

Birds were plentiful and the Moz specials were there, although it proved quite difficult to get a good view at times. I was very pleased with the 30 lifers that I chalked up and with the general quality of birding overall.

The Roads

On a long trip like this the quality of the roads becomes important and this is where Moz is a less attractive birding destination, unless you are prepared to risk damage to your vehicle, don’t mind dodging potholes for long stretches and can remain relaxed despite some atrocious road conditions. We drove many different roads and experienced every imaginable road condition :

  • Good tar roads limited to the south of Moz
  • Severely potholed tar roads further north with the Inchope – Caia road being the worst
  • Sand roads varying from reasonable to poor, but still preferable to potholed tar
  • Rutted, rock hard gravel roads – such as the one that caused 2 of the vehicles damage
  • Rain in places added to the stress of driving

Villages and towns we passed through often have hawkers both sides of the road and buses, trucks and cars parked anywhere and everywhere so require particular caution

The People

The vast majority of people are obviously poor but friendly and we saw some back-breaking tasks being performed for probably very little compensation. I did not pick up any feeling of aggression from the “have-nots” in the way we often experience it in SA.

Bicycles are an important form of transport and we were amazed to see the loads that get transported – 3 or 4 heavy bags of charcoal and in one case cement get transported long distances in this way.

Strings of people along the roads near towns are a common sight as taxis are few and money tight.

The Food

Chicken is a popular item on menus and often the safe choice. Surprisingly fish was scarce, even at the coast. Our best meals were at Mphingwe where we had superb sirloin steaks and all meals were tasty. The local beers were good – Manica and 2M (Dosh M). Our other meals were self-prepared and simple – rusks early morning with coffee, snack bars in between and tuna, pork in tins, sardines, cheese etc on cracker bread and the like for lunch. Being able to boil water for coffee/tea wherever we stopped long enough was a real boon.

The Weather

We expected hot and humid and we got exactly that – winter may be a better option as being in a constant bath of sweat is not enjoyable and can detract from the pleasure of the surroundings and bird life.

Occasional rain brought some respite from the oppressive heat, but not for long.

The Accommodation

The tour is not about luxury accommodation – what you get is fairly basic but comfortable in rustic surrounds – a clean bed, simple bathroom (communal at Mphingwe) aircon (except Mphingwe) and the important mosquito nets

The Guide

There is no question that having a guide with the expertise in birding and the knowledge and experience of Mozambique is invaluable and trying to do this trip without Etienne would have resulted in dipping on many of the special birds.

Personally, I would have liked to have spent more time photographing some of the birds, but this would only be possible if a specific photography trip was arranged, as it requires a very different approach – ie spending a lot more time in certain locations rather than trying to cover as much ground as possible.

Mozambique Birding Trip : Mostly Magical (Part 3)

The Trip so far

We had set out to cover some of the best summer birding spots of southern Mozambique during a 15 day birding trip and, in the 6 days covered by Parts 1 and 2, we had already seen a lot of special birds. This Part 3 includes further birding of the Rio Savane area outside Beira, then we continue northwards to Mphingwe and the assorted delights of lowland forests plus a hazardous trip to the Zambesi River to look for a highly sought after species of Bee-eater.

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 7 Beira to Mphingwe

“After some early morning birding in the Rio Savane area, we depart northwards on the Dondo-Muanza road. This drive is long and the road poor – but it offers excellent birding in the woodlands en route

Overnight : Mphingwe Camp (the cabins are simple wood structures which are pleasantly furnished and beautifully situated within the woodland. The restaurant offers a limited but good menu and early morning coffee is usually provided 30 minutes before departure time.”

Rendezvous time at our lodge in Beira was 5 am for breakfast, but the staff had misunderstood and we had to wait a short while until they were ready.

Immediately after breakfast, we left and headed back to the Rio Savane area for further attempts to find some of the secretive species.

The 40 km of sandy road leading to the Rio Savane was busier this morning and we once again marveled at the local men, riding old-fashioned “dikwiel” bicycles, trying to earn a few Meticals by delivering long bags of charcoal to agents somewhere in town (ie 80 km or more there and back) – there were many of these fit men (some older men too) visible on the road, carefully steering their bikes with their heavy loads mounted crosswise behind the seat.

Charcoal transporters, Rio Savane
Charcoal transporters, Rio Savane

Various stops on the way through the lush fields of grass produced Osprey, Lizard Buzzard, several Black-chested Snake-Eagles again, 5 or 6 African Marsh-Harriers (where else is this species a “trash bird”?) and many Yellow-throated Longclaws.

Rio Savane
Rio Savane
Rio Savane
Rio Savane

Giant Kingfisher was a new one for the trip, as was a pair of Wattled Cranes with a youngster at the far end of one field.

Wattled Crane, Rio Savane (a long way from the camera)
Wattled Crane, Rio Savane (a long way from the camera)

The bridge where we looked for Seedcracker yesterday was busier today with White-browed Robin, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Spectacled Weaver and Black-throated Wattle-Eye (first and only sighting of this species on the trip) all busily going about their daily routine in and amongst the dense bushes.

Kathrin and Edith enjoy a rest at Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Kathrin and Edith enjoy a rest at Rio Savane (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Dragonfly
Dragonfly

We followed this with a couple of “rope trick” attempts, hoping to flush a Blue Quail, but to no avail and we returned sweating to the vehicles but energized for the long (in terms of time) trip to Mphingwe.

We did 9 hours of driving in all for the day, covering some 480 km on the way to Mphingwe along the EN1 National road, which for long stretches is in a shocking state, so it was a case of constant vigilance and a drunken style of driving, swerving back and forth to avoid the worst potholes. Passing Gorongosa National Park, we stopped to take in the view of the Gorongosa mountain in the distance.

Gorongosa
Gorongosa
A stop on the road near Gorongosa
A stop on the road near Gorongosa
Stick insect, Gorongosa (males are usually smaller than females)
Stick insect, Gorongosa (males are usually smaller than females)

Once settled in at Mphingwe, we enjoyed a superb dinner – simple food well cooked.

Mphingwe turn-off
Mphingwe turn-off

We had arrived to heavy rain and hoped that the weather would play along the next day, which promised to be special.

Day 8 and 9 Catapu Area

“We have three full days in the Catapu area which includes the Zambesi River and associated wetlands, the Zangue floodplain, Coutada 12 and Catapu itself. The time will be managed according to the birds we see and what the priorities are. Catapu provides access to excellent patches of lowland forest…. In late summer large numbers of Cuckoos are often present.

Overnight : Mphingwe Camp.”

We had our first exposure to proper lowland forest birding, doing a long circuit on day 8 and a shorter out-and-back trip on day 9.

The forest was pristine and stretched for tens of kms and it seemed that wherever we stopped there was bird life aplenty to be seen. Once off the tar road, which also provided excellent roadside birding but was rendered a little hazardous by passing trucks and buses, we made frequent stops along the quiet sandy roads, each stop providing opportunities to see and hear the numerous specials.

Road through the forest, Catapu area
Road through the forest, Catapu area
Here comes the team (part of it) (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Here comes the team (part of it) (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
What's happening?  (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
What’s happening? (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Butterfly : Eyed bush brown (henotesia perspicua), Catapu area
Butterfly : Eyed bush brown (henotesia perspicua), Catapu area

Some of these were fairly easily found and seen, such as :

  • Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah – up until then this species had an almost mythical feel for me, but in fact we saw it a few times during the two days, proving once again that many “rare” species change to common when you are in the right spot
Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah
Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah
  • Retz’s Helmetshrike
  • Black-winged Red Bishop (the old name of Fire-crowned Bishop still suits it better)
Black-winged Red Bishop
Black-winged Red Bishop
  • Grey-headed Parrot in small flocks, calling in typical squawky parrot fashion
Grey-headed Parrot
Grey-headed Parrot
  • Emerald Cuckoo
  • Thrush Nightingale – calling melodiously from a roadside bush but refusing to show itself, as they are wont to do
  • Buffy Pipit
Buffy Pipit
Buffy Pipit
  • Cuckoos, both Common (European) and African – each time we came across one of these it generated some discussion as to which one it was – they are very alike with only the subtlest of differences in bill colouring. At least once we wondered whether the species we were looking at could be of the Lesser/Madagascar species but could not come to a conclusion.
Cuckoo on a cable, Catapu area
Cuckoo on a cable, Catapu area
African Cuckoo, Catapu area
African Cuckoo, Catapu area
  • Zambezi Indigobird – seen a few times
  • Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike – raised the pulse rates of a few in the group, being a lifer and quite a dramatic bird
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike
Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike

Then it was the turn of some of the more difficult species as we tried to get a glimpse of Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo which was calling stridently close by, but concealing himself in the tall trees to the extent that all we could see was a dark shape flitting about, until he kindly flew across the road high above our heads, allowing the briefest of glimpses.

At certain stops, Etienne took us into the forest where the relatively clear understory allowed easy access, found a suitable clearing and had us sit down in a crescent to wait for target species to react to calls played on a remote speaker. It’s a wonderful way to do forest birding, in surroundings that couldn’t be more peaceful and the combination of sitting in a comfy camp chair, surrounded by trees with dappled sunlight filtering through the canopy, with  no  sound  but   the   soft   calls   of   forest   birds , tends .. to ..  make ..  you …  quite drowsy ….. ….. zzznnnggggzzzzznnnnggg (oops, it’s happening again) and at least one of our group succumbed for a while, head bowed and snoring quietly!

Waiting for the bus (or a rare bird) (Photo ; George Skinner)
Waiting for the bus (or a rare bird) (Photo : George Skinner)
Forest floor (Photo ; George Skinner)
Forest floor (Photo : George Skinner)
Butterfly : Brown Commodore (Junonia natalica natalica), Catapu area
Butterfly : Brown Commodore (Junonia natalica natalica), Catapu area

In this way some of the group got brief glimpses of White-chested Alethe (I think I was the only one to actually see it), Tiny Greenbul, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and better views of East Coast Akalat.  While waiting, a Mangrove Kingfisher came and sat on a branch literally above our heads.

Mangrove Kingfisher
Mangrove Kingfisher

The calls we heard ranged from Square-tailed Drongo to Narina Trogon, in between the vociferous calls of Tiny Greenbul, very vocal but hard to see.

Overgrown track in Catapu area
Overgrown track in Catapu area
Kite Spider, Catapu area
Kite Spider, Catapu area
Joker / Tolliegrasvegter (Byblia anvatara acheloia), Catapu area
Joker / Tolliegrasvegter (Byblia anvatara acheloia), Catapu area

At other spots we waded through shoulder height grass and into wooded areas and were rewarded with sightings of Cabanis’s Bunting, Short-winged Cisticola amongst others.

More birders in the bush, Coutada 12 area
More birders in the bush, Coutada 12 area
Birders beating about the bush (Corne (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Birders beating about the bush (Corne (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Short-winged Cisticola
Short-winged Cisticola – Etienne pointed out the main feature of this bird ie no features at all

All of this wonderful birding (and some butterflies) made up for the fact that I started suffering around lunchtime with an aching body and tummy problems which got progressively worse as the day wore on – some sort of bug had got to me.

Back at Mphingwe, I skipped dinner and on one of my trips to the toilet block in the dark, while pointing my torch at the pathway to see where I was going, I hit my head against the protruding edge of the corrugated iron roof, cutting the top of my head quite severely in the process. It’s well-known that your head bleeds profusely when cut and this was very much the case with me – blood poured down my face and over my glasses until I could get hold of a towel to wrap around my head and soak up some of the worst of it. But enough of the gory detail – suffice to say I sought assistance and it came in the form of Mandy, ex nurse now working at Mphingwe and resident there, who worked some magic, cleaning the wound and applying strategic plasters that held it together. The slight scar I have will forever remind me of that evening.

The camp staff cut off the offending, dangerously protruding roof the next morning, so others won’t have to worry about suffering the same fate.

Day 10 Via Sena to Rademan’s Farm and back

Day 10 was a day of mixed fortunes, to say the least. I was not on top of the world after last night’s drama, but my head was not too uncomfortable and my tummy manageable so I clocked in with the others for the day’s outing. We left after early morning coffee at around 5.30 am and did a short recce along the road in the vicinity of the turn-off to Mphingwe, but heavy mist made it difficult to spot much, other than a Harrier-Hawk and an initially puzzling raptor which turned out to be an African Goshawk.

Misty pond near Mphingwe
Misty pond near Mphingwe
African Goshawk in the mist, Mphingwe
African Goshawk in the mist, Mphingwe

Then we moved on to Caia 30 km away for two of the vehicles to fill up with petrol, which had been unobtainable for a day or two – they had to be content with roadside “take away” petrol at inflated prices as the regular petrol station had run out. From Caia we took the road to Sena along a road which fast turned out to be the worst kind for a vehicle – rough and rutted dirt that shook the vehicles to their core for the whole 80 kms. I was concerned about what it may do to my vehicle but pressed on at speed in order not to lose contact with the rest of the group, hoping that everything would hold together.

There was a good reason for taking on this poor road – our destination was the farm where we hoped to find Bohm’s Bee-eater (remember Inspector Closeau’s “bomb”) – a highly sought after bird in the Southern African region. Part of the way there, Etienne stopped at a small graveyard with a few large Palm trees and heavy surrounding bush – ideal habitat for another desirable species, Collared Palm-Thrush, and, true to their name, there they were.

Collared Palm-Thrush, in palm grove on the Road to Sena
Collared Palm-Thrush, in palm grove on the Road to Sena
Looking for a Palm-Thrush in the dead centre of town
Looking for a Palm-Thrush in the dead centre of town
Collared Palm-Thrush
Collared Palm-Thrush

A Blue-spotted Dove made a brief appearance to add to the moment and as we were on the verge of leaving a large raptor flew over the nearby tall trees and settled in the top of one, then took off to soar high over our heads, causing much camera activity amongst the group. It turned out to be Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, despite our attempts to turn it into the Western variety, nevertheless a desirable tick.

Blue-spotted Dove
Blue-spotted Dove
Butterfly : Green-banded swallowtail / groenlintswaelstert (Princeps nireus lyaeus)
Butterfly : Green-banded swallowtail / groenlintswaelstert (Princeps nireus lyaeus)
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Road to Sena
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Road to Sena
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Road to Sena
Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Road to Sena

Arriving at the farm at last, shaken but not stirred, we were immediately “greeted” by our target species, Bohm’s Bee-eater, in the garden of one homestead on the way to the main farm-house, hawking insects from open branches. Thrilled with this special sighting we recovered enough composure to check out the Yellow Wagtail nearby (thunbergi race).

Bohm's Bee-Eater, Rademan's Farm on Zambezi River
Bohm’s Bee-Eater, Rademan’s Farm on Zambezi River
Bohm's Bee-Eater, Rademan's Farm on Zambezi River
Bohm’s Bee-Eater, Rademan’s Farm on Zambezi River
Yellow Wagtail (race Thunbergi)
Yellow Wagtail (race Thunbergi)

Etienne had the owner’s permission to use their verandah even though they were not at home, which we gladly did, enjoying breakfast with a view of the Zambesi at the bottom of the garden and several species in the trees. I wonder where else would you be able to view six species of Bee-eater in one location? Apart from Bohm’s there were White-fronted, Little, Carmine, Blue-cheeked and European Bee-eaters.

On the verandah at Rademan's Farm (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
On the verandah at Rademan’s Farm (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
The gardens at Rademan's Farm, Zambezi River in the distance
The gardens at Rademan’s Farm, Zambezi River in the distance

A walk around the garden and birding a patch of dense undergrowth nearby added a number of species with highlights being :

  • Great Reed-Warbler calling constantly from the undergrowth
  • Goliath Heron flying overhead
  • Rufous-bellied Heron over the river
  • Thrush Nightingale and Basra Reed-Warbler calling from the same clump of bushes but remaining concealed despite our attempts to flush them
  • Willow Warbler foraging in the trees
Willow Warbler
Willow Warbler
Striped Kingfisher, Rademan's Farm on Zambezi River
Striped Kingfisher, Rademan’s Farm on Zambezi River

Eventually we gathered ourselves for the return journey along the same bone-rattling and car-shaking road – we hadn’t gone very far when my heart sank as I felt and heard a knocking from the transmission tunnel next to my seat, gradually getting worse until I was forced to drive at snail’s pace for the last 30 kms, but fortunately made it back to Mphingwe. Neithard and Kathrin in their Pathfinder were less fortunate as the fan had dislodged itself and caused the radiator to lose all its coolant, so the remaining 2 vehicles had to help get them back to the camp. A disastrous end to an amazing day’s birding! One consolation was a Moustached Grass-Warbler in long grass next to the road, a lifer for me.

Moustached Grass Warbler, on the Road to Sena
Moustached Grass Warbler, on the Road to Sena

The next day was Sunday so any attempts to repair the Touareg would have to wait until Monday, when Joe, an experienced Mechanic and responsible for keeping Mphingwe’s sawmills in operating condition, undertook to assess the damage and see what could be done.

That took care of the rest of the planned trip for George and myself, as the group was due to travel to Zimbabwe on Monday and we were not sure how and when the vehicle would be repaired or how we would get back home, all of 1500 kms away.

Part 4 will conclude this particular trip story – will we make it back home? Tune in next time to find out.

Map of the route

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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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Mozambique Birding Trip : Mostly Magical (Part 1)

The Planning

This trip was a long time coming – George Skinner, my longstanding friend, with whom I have enjoyed some memorable birding trips and moments, had been nudging me in the direction of Mozambique for a couple of years, but circumstances had not allowed me to join him on one of these trips. Then in late 2014, George passed on details of a trip on offer in early February 2015 by Indicator Birding, which would cover some of the best summer birding spots of southern Mozambique – it looked very tempting and after “clearance for take off” from my dear wife Gerda, it was game on.

The trip was due to start on Thursday 29th January 2015, so we returned from our annual long stay in Mossel Bay a little earlier than planned, to allow time to see to some work commitments (yes, I actually do some consulting work in between birding and blogging) and make the necessary preparations for the trip, which included making sure my vehicle was in good shape for approximately 5000 kms of driving in conditions which at that stage were unknown to me, but bound to be challenging in places (little did I know what was in store).

And so the day arrived for departure, the VW Touareg was loaded with the necessities for a road trip of 15 days – an all-important  fridge for cold water and other drinks, a crate full of breakfast, lunch and in-between snacks and  goodies, a nifty little gas stove for preparing boiling water for tea and coffee, a few bottles of good wine stuck into various available corners of the load space and, of course, a bag full of bush clothes and all the other paraphernalia that goes with a trip dedicated to birding – books, cameras, spotting scope, etc. Dinners were planned to be taken at restaurants at or near our overnight stops, which was a good way to avoid having to take even more self-catering equipment and food and gave us more time for bird watching until dusk, without having to rush back and prepare meals.

I had a “Dr Livingstone goes into darkest Africa” feeling about the trip prior to departure – a country I had not visited before, news headlines of the recent flooding in parts of Moz (although we were assured it was all north of the Zambezi where we would not be going), the stories of corrupt and aggressive border officials that constantly do the rounds, etc – but nothing was going to put me off at this stage.

Etienne Marais (Indicator Birding : http://birding.co.za ), our group leader and guide for the trip, had proposed meeting at Milly’s near Machadadorp, for breakfast and introductions to the other group members, which we duly did, reaching this popular roadside stop at 7 am. There we met the group which was spread over four vehicles – Etienne 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 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 1 RSA to Xai-Xai

“After meeting early morning we drive up to Xai-Xai and stay at Honeypot camp. This gives us easy access to the superb Limpopo floodplain nearby”

After breakfast at Milly’s we headed off in convoy towards the Lebombo border post, stopping just short of it to fill up with fuel and change some of our Rands to Meticals. We approached the Moz side of the border with some apprehension, having heard so many stories, but in the end it all went smoothly and we studiously ignored the many “helpers” and touts who pester you from the moment you enter the border post area.

We had made good time and were through the border formalities by 12 noon, but from there it was slower going, especially once we got to the “bypass” (a euphemism if there ever was one) around Maputo which is still under construction and only partly complete, so we had to negotiate the incomplete sections along atrocious dirt roads clogged with traffic. The rest of the trip was through beautiful countryside interrupted only by small typically African towns.

Outskirts of Maputo - on the way to Xai-Xai
Outskirts of Maputo – on the way to Xai-Xai

Not much birding was done, but we did stop to view both European and African Hobby in the same trees, just outside the town of Macia.

Eurasian Hobby, Macia
Eurasian Hobby, Macia

We reached Honeypot camp just outside Xai-Xai (non-SA readers note it’s pronounced shy-shy) at 5 pm after 12 hours on the road and celebrated with a cold local beer, which tasted especially good. A short spell of birding the camp produced the first Olive Sunbird and a Peregrine Falcon sitting high up on a radio mast, then it was supper time in the camp’s restaurant and early to bed to prepare for our first serious birding the next day.

Honeypot lodge Xai-Xai

Honeypot lodge Xai-Xai
Honeypot lodge Xai-Xai
Honeypot lodge Xai-Xai - fair warning (they had nets)
Honeypot lodge Xai-Xai – fair warning (they had nets)

Day 2 Xai-Xai to Imhambane via Panda Woodland

“Today we do a long circular route (370km) which will ensure an excellent variety of birds. Our first stop is on the wetlands of the Limpopo Floodplain. We then head across the floodplain and inland towards the Panda area. Once we have finished our woodland birding we head north to Imhambane. Overnight : Areia Branca Lodge, Barra Peninsula.”

Etienne had us up early for departure (which became the pattern for the trip) by 5am and we headed for our first stop in rainy weather at the wetlands of the Limpopo floodplain, very close to our overnight stop.

Limpopo floodplain near Xai-Xai
Early morning on the Limpopo floodplain near Xai-Xai

Very soon we were adding our first water birds of the trip, from the road that skirts the floodplain. African Openbill, African Jacana, Little Egret and Little Stint were immediately obvious in the reed-lined ponds not far from the road, while several Squacco Herons and Black-crowned Night-Herons flew by overhead in the soft, cloud-filtered morning light. A Sedge Warbler (my first lifer of the day) was heard by Etienne and made a brief appearance among the reeds, raising excitement levels as much as the early hour allowed (considering we were still coffee-deprived at that point). Fan-tailed Widowbirds flew nervously back and forth while the group scanned the wetlands and the skies for further species.

Excitement increased another notch when a Rufous-winged Cisticola was spotted and became my second lifer for the day, as it was for several of our group. Further into the wetland Common Greenshank, African Spoonbill and the colourful flash of a Malachite Kingfisher were spotted. The rain was moving in and getting increasingly heavy so we moved on to the next spot some distance along the road where we got out for a walk along a pathway that led into the wetlands and between the ponds.

We soon discovered the path was designed to attach the maximum amount of sticky cotton mud to the soles and sides of our shoes and, as the layers grew, our feet became progressively heavier and we became a little taller – no amount of shaking could get rid of it until we got back to the road and washed most of it off, using the puddles formed by the rain. The feeling was a bit like being a 4-year-old kid who tries on daddy’s shoes and clumps down the passage.

Sticky mud problem!
Sticky mud problem!

However, the muddy walk was well worthwhile, as we added several desirable species, including Hottentot Teal, White-backed Duck, African Pygmy Goose and Whiskered Tern.

The next 280kms or so was all on sandy roads and tracks, traversing “real Mozambique” – lovely green countryside with regular wetlands and stretches of Miombo woodland – parts of Mozambique that the casual tourist to this country will probably never experience, so we were pleased to be able to do so.

Our first stop after the floodplains was alongside the road to enjoy breakfast and coffee in typical bush.

Breakfast stop on the way to Panda Woodland
Breakfast stop on the way to Panda Woodland
Collared Pratincole was a welcome sighting along the road
Collared Pratincole was a welcome sighting along the road

Setting off again, it was soon time for the major excitement of the day, when Etienne stopped at a bird party amongst Acacia trees with a sprinkling of lichen (aka “Old Man’s Beard”) and we were immediately rewarded with a mega-tick  and lifer for most of us, in the form of Olive-headed Weaver, which only occurs in an isolated patch near Panda.

Olive-headed Weaver, Panda Woodland
Olive-headed Weaver, Panda Woodland

In the excitement we almost missed the rest of the bird party but soon caught up with most of them, including delights such as Neergard’s Sunbird and Red-faced Crombec. Further on we stopped in the road to view a Flappet Lark displaying energetically and a Lemon-breasted Canary was seen by some but my view was too brief and poor to make out any detail so I did not tick it at that stage.

Panda Woodland

Crowned Hornbill, Panda Woodland
Crowned Hornbill, Panda Woodland

A vlei alongside the road was an opportunity for a brief stop, but it turned out to be bone dry – this didn’t stop Bruce and Corné from finding a Reed Frog clinging to a reed, unperturbed by the sudden attention and bevy of cameras.

Dry Vlei, Panda - Inhambane road
Dry Vlei, Panda – Inhambane road
Reed Frog
Reed Frog

Our lunchtime stop was off the road along a rough track, after which we set our sights to complete the long run to Barra Peninsula, arriving after a total of almost 9 hours driving at our overnight stop at Areia Branca Lodge right on the estuary.

Barra Peninsula

Areia Branca Lodge
Areia Branca Lodge

Before settling in, we walked across the wide expanse of mudflats to view the waders present near the water’s edge and found several such as Greater Sand Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover, Whimbrel,  and plenty of the smaller Plovers – Common Ringed -, Kittlitz’s –  and White-fronted Plover, Sanderling and others. Our timing was a bit late for greater numbers of waders so we hoped the next day would bring more.

The mudflats, Inhambane
The mudflats, Inhambane
White-fronted Plover
White-fronted Plover
Sunset, Inhambane
Sunset, Inhambane

The evening meal was at a nearby beach restaurant – no fish available (!), but the limited choice of other dishes did the trick and the beers were good, so we left satisfied.

A feature of the trip was the “calling up” of the day’s bird list at the dinner table every evening, while we waited for our orders – a practical arrangement and one which adds greatly to the camaraderie of the group.

Day 3 Imhambane Area

“The area is best known for the numbers of shorebirds which are present in summer. We aim to bird the end of Barra Peninsula in the middle of the day. Birding is usually best at high tide (roosting sites) or in the receding tides. Fresh water wetlands may host some rarities, while bush and swamp edge birding is not too shabby. In the afternoon we take a short drive up to Morrongulo Lodge – which will serve as the springboard for a visit to the habitat where Green Tinkerbird occurs. Overnight : Morrongulo Beach Resort”

Up at 4.30am and on the mudflats of the estuary right in front of the lodge just a half hour later as it grew lighter.

Heading to the Barra mudflats (Photo : Katherina Grafin von Durkheim)
Heading to the Barra mudflats – armed but not dangerous (Photo : Katherina Grafin von Durkheim)
Checking the waders on Barra mudflats (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)
Checking the waders on Barra mudflats (Photo : Corne Rautenbach)

There was plenty of action in the shallows near the water’s edge – Lesser Crested Tern were prominent, accompanied by the waders seen yesterday afternoon, plus the likes of Curlew Sandpiper and Lesser Sand (Mongolian) Plover, a lifer for me and some of the group.

Lesser Sand Plover
Lesser Sand Plover
Ruddy Turnstone, Barra mudflats
Ruddy Turnstone, Barra mudflats

After an hour or two of superb birding we were sated and on the verge of leaving when I spotted a (very) distant Crab Plover on the far side of the estuary through the scope, which caused some excitement amongst the group as it was a lifer for most of us.

By 7 am we were done and made our way back to the lodge for breakfast and to get ready to leave, which we managed to do by 8.30am but not before viewing a Lemon-breasted Canary in the palm trees in the lodge gardens, spotted by Etienne – my third lifer for the morning and very pleasing after yesterday’s non-view plus all the times I have hoped to find one in the Pafuri area of Kruger, without success.

Before leaving the Barra Peninsula, we ventured along a track with thick sand in places, to the lighthouse and the beach below, where we encountered not a single other soul but an interesting looking Tern roost near the water’s edge a couple of hundred metres away.

Taking on thick sand on the road to the lighthouse at Barra
Taking on thick sand on the road to the lighthouse at Barra
The wide expanse of sand on Lighthouse beach Barra
The wide expanse of sand on Lighthouse beach Barra

It had been raining lightly on and off, while the temperature and humidity remained high as we approached the Terns, standing and preening in a long line 2 or 3 abreast.

Four species of Tern were evident – from small to large :

  • the cute Little Tern, looking like the baby sibling of the other Terns
  • Common Terns with black bill (some in breeding plumage with red bill and legs)
  • Lesser Crested Terns, handsome birds in their clean white and black plumage, prominent crest and orange bill
  • Swift Tern, noticeably larger than the others (Etienne called them Greater Crested Tern) with large yellow bill.

Mingling with them were Sanderling and White-fronted Plover.

Mixed Terns, Lighthouse beach Barra
Mixed Terns, Lighthouse beach Barra

Moving on, we headed back to the EN 1 and northwards, past the turn-off to our overnight stop at Morrenguro, towards the area known for the last 2 years for Green Tinkerbird. The last 10 kms were along a sandy track through bush and woodland which at times narrowed so much that the foliage brushed the car on both sides, raising a few grimaces, but after the first few squealing sounds of branch against paintwork, I resigned myself to the fact that some damage was inevitable and in any case “dis aardse goed”.

Driving a narrow track through Panda Woodland

A road through Panda Woodland
A local learns to drive a scooter
Panda Woodland
Panda Woodland

The rest of the afternoon, after a quick “in the bush” lunch, was spent trying to find, by hearing or sight, said Green Tinkerbird and we came close, having heard it at a distance, but eventually had to call it a day and head back along the track to the EN1. From there we backtracked to Morrengulo Beach Resort for supper and our overnight accommodation right on the beach – real beachcomber style with no windows and the sound of the sea to send you to sleep.

Morrongulo Beach Resort
Morrongulo Beach Resort

Dinner was crayfish, bought from vendors at Imhambane and prepared by the resort kitchen – served with chips! Not bad but rather tasteless – I think they overcooked the delicacy we entrusted to them.

Crayfish for dinner
Crayfish for dinner

Tomorrow we resume the search for Green Tinkerbird – more about that in Part 2. (This is a bit of suspense-building, just like those short films they used to show before the main feature on a Saturday morning at Scala cinema in Claremont in my distant youth – the hero is on a runaway train approaching a bridge destroyed by the baddies – will he escape in time? – come back next Saturday and find out!!)

Map of the route

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