Note that you can double click on the photos to enlarge them.
If you would like me to send you a copy of our bird list – what Sally and I saw and where then click here to email me.
Sally and I recently returned from a nine day trip into Southern Mozambique. We went with Grahame Snow (our guide) of Reach Africa and three others – Pat Nurse, Joan Saggers and Andre Pienaar.
The purpose of the trip was to explore the Limpopo Floodplains; Panda forest and nearby floodplains; and the Bobiane-Unguana thickets. Our goal: to find the specials in each area as well as those birds which we do not see regularly back home. The two main specials included the Olive-headed Weaver and the Eastern Green Tinkerbird. Because of the time of year we also had our eyes out the Mascerene Martin and Malagasy Pond-Heron. The Eurasian Bittern was another hopeful in the numerous floodplains.
The day before we departed we drove to Johannesburg and stayed overnight in a B&B (My Home in Joburg) close to Grahame’s home. Arriving early we were able to spend a couple of hours in Walter Sisulu Botanic Gardens.
Verreaux’s Eagle on nest
Walter Sisulu Waterfall
The early start from Johannesburg got us away before rush hour. We reached Komatiport just after midday and got through the border quite quickly – perhaps because it was mid week and out of school holidays.
Instead of travelling via Maputo to our first stopover just north of Xai Xai, Grahame took us north from Moamba towards the small village of Sabie then NE to Magude and then east to join the EN1 and on to Xai Xai. This route is rough in places and mostly gravel all the way. The route is quiet and we were able to bird as we travelled.
Zona Braza 10 kms off the main road 30 kms north of Xai Xai was our overnight stop. We arrived quite late. The accommodation was very pleasant and the food at the restaurant very tasty.
The next morning we were up for an early morning walk around the camp and down to a rather large water-lily covered pan. There were numerous water birds including many African Pygmy-Geese and Southern Pochard. Black-throated Wattle-eye and Brown Scrub-Robin also entertained us.
After breakfast we headed to Morrungulo Bay – our luxury lodge for the next three nights – north of Inhambane close to Massinga.
Prior to arriving at the lodge we went looking for the Spinetails some 50 kms north of our turnoff for the lodge – near a village called Nhanchengue. Both the Mottled and Bohm’s Spinetails were seen circling the many large baobabs.
This detour was made to secure the first 2 specials of the trip.
The next three mornings the wake-up call was well before the sparrows so that we could arrive at the Bobiane-Unguana thickets by 06h30 – an hour’s drive away.
Some pictures of the habitat in the area:
The Eastern Green Tinkerbird our main goal. We searched 3 or 4 different locations where it had been seen before but had no luck in finding the bird – although we did hear the call once.
Grahame showed us the Eastern Green Tinkerbird’s nest recently found – see pictures. It was the unusual red seeds sticking to the bark which attracted attention to finding the nest. (Read all about this nest in the latest edition of Africa Birds and Birding.)
One morning we were greeted by the call of the East Coast Akalat. We searched in vain and despite it being very close we were unable to spot it. Grahame had heard it in the area on a number of occasions but had never seen it. The following day we tried again and eventually Sally saw it on a low branch in the thickets and I managed to see it as it flew away. None of the others were so lucky unfortunately – a lifer for both Sally and me. Everyone else except Joan had seen it elsewhere.
Several butterflies were seen (and identified by amateurs) including the following:
The habitat destruction here and in Panda Forest has been the subject of an earlier posting – “The Sadness of Mozambique’s Forests” so I will not repeat myself in this report.
Other birds photographed in the area include:
Red-throated Twinspot – male
Red-throated Twinspot – female
Purple-banded Sunbird – juv male with eyebrow
Purple-banded Sunbird – juv male with eyebrow
There was one other beautiful bird which a number of us had as a lifer- the Livingstone’s Flycatcher. It was incessantly on the move making it very hard to get a decent photograph.
Eventually it was time to move on. Back south to Caju Afrique “close” to Panda for our next three nights. Caju Afrique -where we stayed – is inland from Inharrime off the road to Panda. There are a number of lodges and a couple of full facility campsites – all overlooking the Inharrime River which was very broad at this point and looked like a lake, complete with small dhows and rowing boats
View from the deck
View from the deck.
Habitat around the lodge
On route from Morrungulu we stopped at Chucuque near the ferry across to Inhambane where we were treated to the sight of a flock of Greater Flamingos in the foreground of a passing Dhow with Inhambane as the background. A couple of Pied crows in display and a lovely Scarlet-chested Sunbird entertained us.
The road to the lodge is very colourful – check these photos:
Although the lodge is basic it does have hot water, power when we want it and friendly staff. In fact everyone we met was exceptionally friendly and helpful.
Again each morning it was up early – even earlier on the first day as Panda is almost two hours driving away and we wanted to be there at first light.
We set off into the “forest” and listen out for bird parties. Very soon we hear our first and see White-breasted Cuckooshrikes, White-crested Helmetshrikes, Southern Black Tits all moving fast from one tree to the next. We try to keep up and catch glimpses of the birds as they move through the trees – but no Olive-headed Weaver.
We get sightings of a number of interesting species – Pale Batis, Southern Hyliota, Black Cuckooshrikes, Retz’s Helmetshrikes, Shikra, Striped Kingfisher, Purple-banded and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbirds, Red-headed Weavers and Bearded Woodpeckers. As well as witnessing two male Cardinal Woodpeckers vying for position over a female.
Pale Batis – male
Pale Batis – female
Further into the forest we come across many large open clearings where the trees have been logged out. And, it was on the edge of one such clearing that we find our first pair of Olive-headed Weavers – a male and female.
Olive-headed Weaver – female
We look out for Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrikes without success but do eventually find a flock of five or six Racket-tailed Rollers.
One the way back we notice all the wetland areas we passed by in the early morning and we check out several to return to. Grahame goes waist deep in one place and flushes out Lesser Jacana.
Exploring the wetlands
Exploring the wetlands
The next morning we head for the most promising wetland area with a view to seeing an Eurasian Bittern. Wet grass and wet feet as we trample through the wetland – Grahame knee high in the water and Andre with the other end of the rope hoping to raise an Eurasian Bittern.
African Snipes everywhere, Lesser Jacana make appearances, Rosy-throated Longclaws give us aerial displays, Shelley’s Francolins call vociferously “Drink your beer, Drink your beer”. Rufous-bellied Herons appear and fly overhead – but no Bittern.
Grahame and Andre wander ever deeper into the wetland and eventually after several hours turn round and head back still dragging the rope between them. We get to the shorter grass plodding back through the wet when suddenly we hear this huge roar as Grahame yells at the top of his voice “Bittern”. Immediate unbelievable response from all of us – we watch this huge bird not more than 50 metres away and flying away from us. We watch as the bird languidly flaps into the middle of the wetland. Another lifer for all of us.
During the course of the day we lunched beside the road next to a clump of woodland – which was teeming with birds.
Birds photographed as we travelled in this area:
Then we headed south once again, through the exceptionally crowded town of Xai Xai to the Honey Pot, our overnight accommodation. We took the opportunity to visit the Limpopo floodplain after dropping off the trailer and before checking in as it was getting late. We returned there early in the morning before departing to Johannesburg.
We were treated to a number of birds we had not seen on the trip including Collared Pratincole, Allen’s Gallinule (lifer for Joan), Fulvous Duck, Goliath Heron, African Sacred and Glossy Ibis, Brown-throated Martin (we tried our best to convert some into Mascerene), Black-crowned night-Heron, Three-banded and Kittlitz’s Plovers, African Spoonbill, Wattled Starlings, Grey-rumped Swallows and Hottentot Teal.
After sunset we had an appearance of many Nightjars which we believe to have been both Square-tailed and Swamp Nightjars.
Finally it was time to head home. So after a quick squizz at the floodplain and a bit of breakfast off we set following our tracks back to Johannesburg.
Seen along the way;
Eventually we arrived well after dark.
It was a fantastic trip with good company and an excellent Guide. Hectic at times but that is birding. Would love to return to find all those specials we dipped on.
Help required to identify the bird in the following picture taken in Cumberland Private Nature Reserve (near Pietermaritzburg) this past weekend. We thought it was a flycatcher but the rufous wings puzzle us. Very like a Common Whitethroat?
Sally and I decided to spend the New Year camping away from home. Northern Zululand was our destination. Our program:
3 nights in Bonamanzi
4 nights in Mkuze
4 nights in Ndumo
3 nights in St. Lucia
At Bonamanzi we stayed in Campsite 5 and joined friends who were already there. Campsite 5 is huge and can accommodate 4 camp groups easily – however there is only one toilet/shower and one wash-up area. As pensioners it cost us R90 pppn.
In Bonamanzi as you may know you are able to walk anywhere on the property except in their Game viewing area. This is great for birding. However elephants do use the area as well. One morning when driving to the office we found a huge branch across the road and elephant tracks confirming who was the culprit for this roadblock. Beware.
The first night we had a lot of rain. So the next morning we (our friends and ourselves) decided to visit Hluhluwe rather than bird in the rain around the campsite. It continued raining.
Taking the shortcut to the freeway we went through numerous muddy pools past the Hakuna Mutata accommodation until we got to the bridge. The approach to the bridge was up a short steep bank which looked muddy and badly cambered – so down I went into Low range 4×4 and up we went – well actually did not make it. About a third of the way up the Fortuner slowly drifted off the road onto the trees on the left. Fortunately I was able to reverse out of trouble without damaging the car. Now the long way round to Hluhluwe.
The rain persisted. However we decided to look for the Finfoots (Finfeet?) which our friends had seen the previous day. Taking the immediate right turn as you enter the park we drove round to where they had seen them basking next to the river crossing – no luck! About the only excitement we had were 7 White Rhino crossing the road in front of us. They were the first aminals we saw since entering! Aminals were scarce and the birding was not much better. Eventually we decided to return to Bonamanzi for lunch. Altogether we had seen 35 species of birds in the 3 hours we were in Hluhluwe.
The following day we walked around the camp area and went on a drive to explore other parts of Bonamanzi. In one section we had heard an African Broadbill on a couple of occasions (Pathway E to F). Later we went back with our friends and another couple who had arrived to see if we would have any better luck.
Sally mentioned to Irene that you needed to look on cross branches about head height in the bush. We had not gone more than 20 metres when Irene spotted a Broadbill – unbelievable. I managed to get a few poor shots which you can see in the gallery below. On the way back I popped into the bush to see if I could get a few better shots – no luck finding the Broadbill but I did surprise a Narina Trogon – see pics in Gallery.
After that we visited the office area and drove back in the dark spotting a Shikra on the road munching on its prey – unconcerned with the car’s headlights on him. Poor pictures in the gallery.
Bonamanzi yielded 89 species plus one UI (Unidentified) Raptor – have a go there is a pic in the gallery. Most of the Cuckoos were heard as well as the Green Malkoa. A Black Cuckooshrike in magnificent breeding plumage gave a great display round the campsite – yellow gape and epaulets very strident. A Red-fronted Tinkerbird and a Bearded Scrub-Robin also gave us great displays in the campsite.
Surprisingly the tent was dry as we packed to leave Bonamanzi. We headed for the new gate to enter Mkuze. On the way we passed Muzi Pan. The water level was so high that it was a raging torrent beneath both bridges along the Muzi Pan dam wall. Not surprisingly there were few bird species about – we saw only 9 in the 10 minutes we stopped there. The Knob-billed Duck being the most interesting.
Mkuze Campsite. Still has water problems – the boreholes run dry regularly and the water is unfiltered so not only is it inadvisable to drink but the silt that comes with it is damaging all their taps – water leaks all the time.
Trying to book a campsite at Mkuze is often difficult because of this. Also they try to restrict the number of bookings to 10 campsites as that is all their one staff member can handle. They have over 30 potential sites. When we arrived on 31st December one man was still trying to cut the knee high grass in 50% of the sites!
On top of this the Ezemvelo Parks Board have fixed the campsite rate at R230 for 3 people – an increase from R180 last year (almost 30%) with no improvement in facilities and no way to get a rate for 2 people. Like Sodwana who charge for 4 people irrespectively, this is a total rip off.
During the 3 full days in Mkuze we never managed to find the newly released Lions perhaps because they are still happy to return to their boma where they were kept originally and also because all the rain the grass was high everywhere.
Some of our more interesting bird sightings include:
Black bellied Bustard
Cuckoos vociferously calling – Black, African Emerald, Diedrik’s, Klass’s, Jacobin, Levaillant’s and Red-chested. A pair of the latter chasing each other round the main office.
Lesser Spotted Eagle.
a juvenile Greater Honeyguide around our camp being fed by Black-bellied Starlings.
Common Quail obligingly walking ahead of us on the road to KwaMalibali Hide
Red-backed Shrikes – everywhere
Neergaard’s Sunbird – always a pleasure
Grey Penduline-Tits in the trees above our campsite
At the end of our visit we had identified 140 bird species – the pans were very full discouraging many water birds otherwise we would have expected many more.
Ndumo is always a special place to visit and the local guides have a reputation of excellence. It is always a pleasure to take advantage of the early morning walks which at R110 pp is really good value.
Again we had 3 full days in the Reserve. On one of these days we spent the morning in Tembe Elephant Park.
Tembe was full of elephants – fortunately in the open swamp area so we could easily see them and not be chased by them as happened twice the last time we visited.
Although it felt like birding was quiet, we managed to identify 66 species in the 4 hours we were there. We were rewarded with sightings of an African Cuckoo-Hawk juvenile and an African Harrier-Hawk – the only place where we saw each of them. The other special sighting was of a pair of Woodward’s Batis. No Plain-backed Sunbird.
The rest of our time spent in Ndumo. We went on a morning drive and 2 early morning walks and of course explored the Reserve on our own. In all we identified 142 species including an Eurasian Hobby.
On the last morning I went on the Southern Pongola walk. There were 3 of us and our guide, Sontu. His skills are superb. On the walk we heard the Narina Trogon and an African Golden Oriole – however the highlight was spotting a Black Coucal in the wetland area.
Sugarloaf Campsite in St Lucia was our base for 3 nights. It is a huge camp with 100 sites ideally located right by the sea. It was only about 20% full and the fishermen were well behaved. Watch it on weekends as they can be quite raucous. The three nights was R432 for both of us – very reasonable.
We birded in 3 areas: Eastern and Western Shores and around the campsite.
Western Shores is the newly opened area of the iSimangaliso WetlandPark. It has been very well developed. The habitat is predominantly flat open grassland with outcrops of woodland and forest. There is currently a lot of freestanding water with many wetland areas. There is one hide and a boardwalk to a lookout point overlooking LakeSt Lucia. The picnic site is large, shady and well situated. We spent almost 6 hours there covering the whole road network.
As we approached the hide a herd of elephants – about 15 – saw us and calmly walked away allowing us access. Then at the hide, just as we were about to leave, Sally saw a raptor flying over the pan in front of the hide. Small head and quite barred underside. We got excited. Sally immediately pronounced what she thought it was. The bird then landed in one of the large broad-leafed trees opposite us about 100 metres away. Out came the scope and luckily the bird was not secretly hidden within. On further inspection we had a clear sighting of its head and tail and it was clear that Sally was correct. A lifer for me – a European Honey-Buzzard.
I include some pictures of the habitat and a few of the birds we were lucky enough to photograph. In all we saw 72 species in the 5.5 hours we were there.
Eastern Shores. Similar in habitat to the WesternShores but more hilly with coastal forest and the sea and shore. There are 2 bird hides and several lookout points and picnic sites as well as a number of side loops off the main road to CapeVidal. In the past we have seen both White and Black Rhino and Leopards (one right next to the car park for the large new Mafazana hide).
On the Vlei Loop we saw our first raptor – a Southern-banded Snake-Eagle. It was sitting prominently in a bare tree with the sun directly behind it. We had to work hard to get the right angle to see it clearly enough to identify it.
At the Mafazana hide Sally spotted 2 Saddle-billed Storks on top of a distant tree. We wondered if they were starting to breed early!
The other sighting worth mentioning was surprisingly that of a Lilac-breasted Roller. It was the first and only sighting of one on our whole 2 week trip – most unusual.
In all we identified 73 species in the 6 hours we were there.
St. Lucia, Sugarloaf Camp and the immediate shore.
On setting up camp the monkeys arrived. There were also a couple of Grey Duiker close by. It was hilarious to watch them interact. One approached the other and the next minute they were all chasing each other around the site. Other aminals seen in the camp included Bushbuck, Red Duiker and interestingly Reedbuck – often paying little attention to us Humans.
Right next to the camp is the boardwalk to the sea and the mouth of LakeSt Lucia. Hippos and Crocs were very evident – just waiting for one of the fishermen to get too close.
On the first afternoon after setting up our camp we headed for a walk on the beach. We were surprised by a Palmnut Vulture which flew over our heads and landed on the inland side of the beach at the mouth of LakeSt. Lucia. We approached slowly watching it nibbling on the base of some of the spindly grass protruding from the muddy edges of the lake – managing to get with 15 metres of it. An unexpected waterbird!
Campsite birding was very good. One R-C R-C (Natal Robin or as Sally says Cossypha Natalensis) joined us for a sundowner doing good imitations of an African Emerald Cuckoo. An African Goshawk landed in the tall pine trees above us to sing his good-bye as we prepared to leave. But probably the highlight was a wonderful view of a male Green Twinspot in vivid plumage.
In all we recorded 57 species in and around the campsite including the walk along the waterfront.
Sadly we returned home to a chilly welcome in a not so sunny Hillcrest.
In total we identified 235 species on our two week odyssey.
If anyone would like a copy of our excel spreadsheet showing which birds we identified in each of the 9 different reserves we visited, then click here to contact me.
Well our trip to the Top End of Australia ended just over a week ago and we are still trying to assess what we have seen.
366 species have been recorded in the area – however quite a number are either vagrants or migrants which we had no chance to see. Realistically there were about 280 species we could have seen.
All in all we saw some 185 different species of which 49 were Australian lifers for Sally and 56 for me. Most of these lifers are only to be found in the north of Australia.
However the satisfying part for both of us was that we were able to get photos of most of the new birds we saw. In many instances the photos enabled us to identify or confirm our identification.
Rather than list the lifers we saw, the following gallery does the job for me. A few new birds escaped before the camera could get a shot in – the most disappointing being the Black-tailed Treecreeper, the Red-browed Pardalote, the Green-backed Gerygone and the Little Curlew.
That concludes our Darwin escapade. Hope you have enjoyed the read and photos.
Over the next week there will be a serial report-back on our birding expedition to Namibia.
The series will include pictures of places we stayed and birds we were lucky enough to photograph in each place.
Please email me if you interested in receiving detailed reports including our route and tracks, accommodation contact details, accommodation assessment. Also available is our Bird List in Excel format. You are able to see what birds we saw or heard in each place as well as where specific birds were seen.
The journal begins:………..
At very short notice we decided to go to Namibia. Our preparation was frantic over a 2 week period. Bird Lists to prepare, accommodation and route decisions and bookings, banks and credit cards, car & health insurance, knowledge of border crossing requirements, etc.
Our main goal was to get to Kunene River Lodge to see the Angola Cave-Chat with Peter Morgan – and to be there before the start of the school holidays. Of course we also intended to find as many of the Namibian specials as possible – in particular those we had not seen before.
We departed on Tuesday 11th June spending the first night in a Hunting Lodge in Botswana, Phuduhudu south of Lobatse. We entered Botswana through the quiet border post Ramatlabama. As we were staying only one night and needed an early start the next day, we stayed in one of their fancy chalets – which at R200 per person was very reasonable. Our birding began around the camp.
The next day we were up early. It was freezing outside. From there we took the Trans Kalahari highway to the Mamuno border post into Namibia. Again a pleasant crossing. Zelda was the campsite we were headed for. Once there we put up our 3 Second tent on grass with power to run our electric blanket. The cost to camp was exceptionally reasonable considering the facilities available. To cap it all their buffet dinner was tasty & value for money. On site were a number of interesting orphaned animals to see including Leopard, Cheetah and a huge porcupine.
The following morning we spent a bit of time enjoying Zelda before our short hop to our next campsite near Windhoek airport – Odekaremba at 1800 metres.
Ondekaremba has a small campsite with 4 spots. We had a site at the top of a hill on the only bit of level ground. It was open to the biting wind and the ground so hard it was exceedingly difficult to get the pegs into. Our ablution was very rustic and hot water only available when the staff got the donkey working – tepid water at best first thing. On top of that it was very expensive. We would be loathe to stay there again – except the birding round the camp was very good.
We had booked for 3 nights to give us a break from the long journeys and to have a base to bird around Windhoek while we were in the area.
We visited both Avis Dam and Daan Viljoen. Avis Dam was the more interesting but Daan Viljoen produced the first lifer for me – Rockrunner – Sally had seen it previously.