Early December for 2 weeks.
In the first two weeks of December I joined a group of Birders with Bustard Birding Tours on a trip to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Penny de Vries and Dave Rimmer were also part of the group led by Niall Perrins. This trip was a wonderful adventure for me and taught me what real birding was all about. Dave Bishop who was also part of the group kept reminding us that this was “intense birding”, I couldn’t agree with him more, but loved every minute of it.
There were 8 of us in the group, besides those mentioned above we had Richard Everett and his faithful landrover and Karen and Rolfe Weisler from Johannesburg. As a group we recorded 337 birds seen, a total of 349 if we include those we heard. My personal count was 216 with a spectacular list of 44 lifers. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop …………
My adventure started on Saturday when we left Johannesburg and headed for Norma Jeans on the edge of Kyle Dam. Needless to say we had massive issues at Beit Bridge which was chaotic. Queues of hundreds of people trying to get through in the blazing sun, and greedy touts making promises to short circuit the system delayed us by over four hours. Eventually at nightfall we arrived at our destination, tired, hungry and very thirsty for an ice cold Zambezi beer (or two!).
The next day started early (after a few days into my trip I questioned if birders ever sleep – 3.30 am is late for them!) and we birded around Kyle Dam. It was here I found my first lifer of the trip – a beautiful Miomba Double-Collared Sunbird singing his heart out at the top of a tree with Kyle Dam in the background. Birding around the dam was wonderful and I was able to record a further seven lifers.
After reluctantly leaving Kyle Dam we headed for Seldomseen near Mutare in the Eastern Highlands. It is magnificent birding here with all the forest birds, but oh so difficult. Due to thick mist in the morning we decided to head to Cecil Kop Nature Reserve which offers magnificent views of Mutare. Here we found the Tree Pipit which was exciting and another lifer on my list. On the way back to Seldomseen we did a detour via the Golf Course in Mutare where we saw Whyte’s Barbet eyeing us from his little hole above us. The easiest bit of birding I have ever done.
Seldomseen offers magnificent birds but most certainly made us work hard to find them. The forests are thick, dark and offers these blighters lots of hiding places. It was then I was rudely reminded that this is the reason why I avoid forests if at all possible, far prefer to find such obliging birds like Whyte’s Barbet!! Saying that, we found some specials one of them being Swynnerton’s Robin.
Our next destination was Beira where we visited Rio Savanne and Rio Maria areas. It was very dry as the rains had not yet arrived so we missed out on a number of species we were targeting. After enjoying watching a pair of Copper Sunbirds in the company of some Little Bee-eaters Rich Everett declared this to be a “mighty fine day”.
Beira offered us a little bit of nightlife – the only bit we had the entire holiday unless you count Dave Rimmer chasing owls, bush babies and bugs in the middle of the night. On the way to dinner the one evening Niall and myself raced Dave and Rich in our tuk-tuks. Rich and Dave won the race, but at a price. We splashed a puddle of water drenching our opponents and filling Rich’s mouth with Beira Road flavoured mud! This was soon washed down with 2M beer so there were no hard feelings from either side.
Mphingwe Camp near the little town of Caia was our next stop. It was here that I was warned about the Coutadas – hot, humid, full of mosquitoes and horse flies, added to that when you ‘go in’ (to quote Niall), you fight with tree vines getting you all knotted up like the forest wants you there forever, merciless thorn trees and pits of ants that bite as if you are standing in a bush of nettles. I learned very quickly, if you want to see the East Coast Akalat, White Chested Alethe and the African Pitta this is what you are subjected to. Our efforts were rewarded with fine sightings of both the Akalat and Alethe, but sadly not the Pitta –not even a single ‘pleeup”. I think this was the Coutadas telling me I have to come back despite my moans.
It was here that Niall found a pair of Barred Long-Tailed Cuckoos which was a lifer for him. They really gave us the run-around but eventually displayed themselves briefly (so briefly I missed out) and not good enough for a photo.
We also had the priveldge of visiting Grown Farm near the town of Senna in the Chemba District where we met a friendly lady called Sharon. She allowed us to scour her farm which is on the Zambezi River for Bohm’s Bee-eater and yes we found it! Was truly thrilling.
Our final destination was none other than Gorongoza – a place I always dreamed of and has been on my bucket list forever. The park is closed for the wet season but our intention was to go up the mountain to find the Green Headed Oriole.
Another early morning saw us bumping up a long rocky road to Mount Gorongoza. Along the way everyone once again fell out their cars, this time to the call of the Marsh Tchagra. By now I was so sleep deprived I just could not join them as I was still battling to open my eyes and as a result dipped on this one.
Gerbre van Zyl led the pack, a very pleasant easy walk up to the fringes of the forest on the mountain. Not too far in we heard the Oriole and a few of us decided to plonk ourselves on the comfy rocks and wait for the birds to come to us rather than battle deeper into the forest. This paid off, not only did a pair of Orioles visit, we also had the pleasure of the company of the Pallid Honeyguide, Delegorgue’s Pigeon, African Harrier Hawk being harassed by a group of Drongos and the beautiful Red-Capped Robin Chat among many others.
Our trip was not without incident. We had Niall accusing us of walking through the bush “like a bunch of rhinos”, causing much mirth. Rich kept us entertained with first of all getting stuck in the mud while were trying to flush out the Great Snipe, and then getting lost in Mphingwe. We had Penny doing a flamingo dance while everyone was chasing the Speckle-Throated Woodpecker – cannot remember why she chose to imitate a flamingo when we were in the middle of the Coutadas, imitating a Pitta would have been more appropriate! We lost a number plate and had to be very innovative dodging the Zim police, Niall took out a pole and lost a running board in the process and Rich’s faithful Old Lady broke her fan belt.
Too soon it was time to face the journey home and be subjected to the dreaded border crossing at Beit Bridge. After travelling a total of 5800 km I can only say that this was a wonderful worthwhile experience and thank Niall Perrins and my fellow travellers for one of the most exciting trips I have ever done.