Tag Archives: Rio Savane birding

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

IMG_0003

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

IMG_0002