|PEREGRINE BIRD TOURS|
ZIMBABWE AND MOZAMBIQUE
21st November - 7th December 2014
This exciting birding transect, which began in the picturesque highlands of Zimbabwe and ended in the sprawling coastal plain of Mozambique, encompassed an amazing variety of very productive birding habitats. We enjoyed good weather throughout the entire tour, the accommodation was good throughout, as was the food, and our local guide Errol, proved to be a first class birding guide. We observed almost all of the endemics and regional specialities and just some of the many birding highlights included super looks at both Red-chested and Buff-spotted Flufftails, all three Zimbabwean Eastern Highlands endemics, Robert's Warbler, Chirinda Apalis and the splendid Swynnerton's Robin. The very skulking Barratt's Warbler was seen well, we observed the endangered Blue Swallow at very close quarters, and in the coastal forests of Mozambique we found all three of the areas skulking and uncommon specialities; we enjoyed a quick look at the hard to find, African Pitta, but were well compensated with super looks at both the White-chested Alethe and the highly localised East Coast Akalat. Mammal highlights included the usual monkeys, mongooses and antelopes, however, the Thick-tailed and Grant's Lesser Bushbabies were much more appreciated, and our most pleasing sighting was that of a very fine Side-striped Jackal, the noise of the Southern Tree Hyrax, in the dead of the night, was much less appreciated!
A lengthy flight from Perth to Harare, via Johannesburg, was followed by a refreshingly smooth immigration and customs at Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe. In the car park of the airport we saw a dozen or so Abdim's Storks, sitting on the fence posts of the airport, this intra-African migrant, is not a common bird, the tour was off to a great start.
From the airport, we drove to our hotel, on the outskirts of Harare, en route we saw a sprinkling of common South African birds, the inevitable Feral Pigeon, a flock of African Palm-Swifts and a couple of Pied Crows. We then did a little birding in the grounds of our hotel and here we added Arrow-marked Babbler, Dark-capped Bulbul, Kurrichane Thrush, the very beautiful White-browed Robin-Chat, Southern Black Flycatcher and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow.
Following lunch, we drove to the outskirts of Harare, to a small wetland known as Monavale Vlei, where we birded away the remainder of the afternoon. While driving through suburban Harare, on our way to the vlei we stopped for new birds along the side of the road, and these included Cattle Egret, Laughing Dove, Senegal Coucal, African Hoopoe, Willow Warbler, African Paradise-Flycatcher and the very beautiful Violet-backed Starling.
Monavale Vlei, held little water and as a result, there was very few wetland birds there, even so, we did see a very good selection of African birds. We were particularly pleased to find a splendid Jacobin Cuckoo, which sat up nicely for us, an uncommon White-throated Swallow flew around us and we enjoyed good prolonged looks at a pair of perched Pearl-breasted Swallows, a fine-looking Dark-capped Yellow Warbler responded very well to tape-playback and a flock of a dozen or so diminutive Orange-breasted Waxbills flew around us, allowing us to get very good looks at this uncommon and unpredictable species. There was also a supporting cast of other African birds which included, Grey Heron, Sacred Ibis, Long-crested Eagle, Black-shouldered Kite, African Wattled Lapwing, Red-eyed Dove, Cape Turtle-Dove, Little Bee-eater, Croaking, Rattling and Levaillant's Cisticolas, Tawny-flanked Prinia, a wintering Red-backed Shrike, Southern Fiscal, nest-building Southern Masked Weavers, a solitary Red-billed Quelea and no less than three species of widowbirds, Red-collared, White-winged and Yellow-mantled.
The following morning we spent the first hour of the day birding along the road, close to our hotel, in the outer suburbs of Harare. New birds for the tour were not hard to find and we added Black-headed Heron, the stunningly attractive Purple-crested Turaco, Little Swift, Cardinal Woodpecker, Bar-throated Apalis, Black-backed Puffback, Greater Blue-eared Starling, the attractive Red-winged Starling and Yellow-fronted Canary. Following breakfast, we drove to the nearby Christan Bank Nature Reserve, where we spent a very enjoyable morning birding in bolder-strewn Miombo woodland. New birds came thick and fast. A Brown Snake-Eagle flew above our heads, a pair of delightful Lanner Falcons flew around us a couple of times, an African Grey Hornbill flew into a nearby tree, and the diminutive Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird popped up right in front of us. A pair of Familiar Chats performed well for us, as did the beautiful Mocking Cliff-Chat. A Lazy Cisticola responded well to tape-playback, showing itself very well, a Spotted Flycatcher flitted into view, along with a pair of Pale Flycatchers. A small flock of delightful African Yellow White-eyes fed in a large tree, a pair of Chinspot Batis showed well and a Black-crowned Tchagra put in a brief appearance. Sunbirds were much in evidence and we enjoyed great looks at Amethyst, White-bellied, Miombo Double-collared and Purple-banded, a nearby flock of small birds feeding on the ground, included Jameson's Firefinch, Blue Waxbill and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting. It was an impressive list of birds, however the bird of the morning was undoubtedly, a fine Collared Flycatcher, a very uncommon migrant from Eastern Europe. We also saw our first mammal of the tour here, when we observed a small troop of Chacma Baboons.
Following lunch, we drove to nearby Cleveland Dam, on the outskirts of Harare, unfortunately, there was not many wetland birds in evidence, but even so we managed to add Reed Cormorant, Purple and Squacco Herons, a stunning African Cuckoo-Hawk, Eurasian Moorhen and African Jacana, to our ever growing trip list. We then went for a game drive, in the adjacent Haka Game Reserve and new birds were observed regularly throughout the afternoon. A Hamerkop flew past us, a stunning Black-chested Snake-Eagle hovered overhead, we found a perched Lizard Buzzard, somewhat surprisingly, a Gabar Goshawk responded well to tape-playback, as it circled our group. A Swainson's Spurfowl showed well, there were several flocks of Helmeted Guineafowls, a pair of White-rumped Swifts flew overhead, a Fork-tailed Drongo popped into view, as did a pair of African Stonechats, and we taped in a large flock of very obliging Green-capped Eremomelas. We enjoyed prolonged looks at a Zitting Cisticola, saw a couple of Yellow-throated Longclaws, a brightly plumaged Yellow Bishop, a beautiful male Pin-tailed Whydah, a large flock of Common Waxbills, both Streaky-headed and Black-eared Seedeaters and best of all, prolonged looks at a very uncommon male Cuckoo Finch. We also observed a small group of Vervet Monkeys and good numbers of Burchell's Zebra, Blue Wildebeest and Impala, but best of all, we enjoyed a very good sighting, of the uncommon Side-striped Jackal.
The following day, we did some pre-breakfast birding in the tree-lined streets around our hotel in Harare, where we added Black-collared Barbet, Variable Sunbird and Bronze Mannikin. Following breakfast, we began the long drive to the Eastern Highlands and just after leaving Harare we added Wahlberg's Eagle and Lilac-breasted Roller along the roadside. We then made a short stop at a small farm dam, not far from Harare, where we enjoyed scope views of a Black Crake, as a pair of Lesser Striped Swallows flew above us. Next we made a short stop at an abattoirs, close to Bromley, where we found a large flock of Marabou Storks flying above the abattoir. Our next stop was a fine area of Miombo woodland, where new birds for the tour included a Eurasian Buzzard, a fine male Black Cuckoo-shrike and Miombo Tit. A beautiful Grey-headed Bush-shrike responded well to tape playback and we saw a female Scarlet-chested Sunbird, very well. A Slender Mongoose ran across the road in front of the bus, just prior to our lunch stop.
We enjoyed a very fine lunch at a restaurant close to Macheke and in the garden, we enjoyed good looks at a wintering Icterine Warbler. After lunch, we drove to the Honde Valley, and roadside birding here produced African Black Duck, a splendid Augur Buzzard, a large flock of European Bee-eaters, several Barn Swallows, an Eastern Saw-wing, several common House-Martins, large flocks of Black-winged Bishops, a pair of Grey Waxbills and a flock of Red-backed Mannikins. Following dinner at our lodge in the Honde Valley, we enjoyed good looks in the spotlight, of a superb African Wood-Owl.
We spent the whole of the following day birding in the Honde Valley, and new birds were very much in evidence. We enjoyed scope views of a perched Shikra, some of us saw a fairly obliging Red-chested Flufftail, we scoped a Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, a Tambourine Dove flew past us, a Burchell's Coucal popped up for us and we saw Mottled, Common, African Black and Scarce Swifts in the skies above our heads. Speckled Mousebirds showed well and throughout the day we saw no less than four species of kingfishers, Malachite, African-Pygmy, Brown-hooded and Grey-headed. We scoped a pair of European Rollers, taped in the range-restricted Pallid Honeyguide, we enjoyed watching a pair of White-eared Barbets, we found a perched Wire-tailed Swallow, several Black Saw-wings flew overhead, Yellow-bellied Greenbuls proved rather obliging, a Cape Robin-Chat was much admired, as was a Little Rush-Warbler and a Cape Grassbird. A Yellow-breasted Apalis, showed well, both Short-winged and Singing Cisticolas duly obliged and the beautiful Red-winged Warbler, was greatly admired. A pair of Pale Batis flitted around a small tree, a Tropical Boubou skulked in the undergrowth, a splendid Brown-crowned Tchagra, came in well to tape, we saw our first House Sparrows of the tour, found a small breeding colony of Thick-billed Weavers, enjoyed great cope views of Golden Weaver and close looks at a few Yellow Weavers. Scope views of a stunning male Red-throated Twinspot, were greatly appreciated, as were good close looks at the very uncommon Magpie Mannikin.
Most of the following day was spent birding on the Nyanga Plateau, where new birds were found frequently throughout the day. A pair of Verreaux's Eagles flew directly above us, an immature Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk perched obligingly for us and an Alpine Swift flew overhead. The main bird we were looking for here, was the endangered Blue swallow, and fortunately, we observed a pair at very close quarters. A pair of White-necked Ravens flew overhead and we actually enjoyed good looks at the usually very skulking Barratt's Warbler. Wailing Cisticola proved plentiful, we found a pair of Roberts' Warblers, the first of the three Eastern Highlands endemics, that we were particularly looking for. An African Dusky Flycatcher proved to be very tame, as was a pair of White-tailed Crested-Flycatchers, we glimpsed a Southern Hyliota, saw several Cape Batis, a few African Pipits, we taped out the skulking Olive Bush-Shrike, enjoyed a large flock of Yellow-bellied Waxbills, admired several Cape Canaries and a beautiful Golden-breasted Bunting. In the late afternoon, we drove to our lodge in the Vumba Mountains, for a three nights stay.
The whole of the following day was spent birding in the Vumba Mountains. In particular we were looking for two endemic birds, Chirinda Apalis and Swynnerton's Robin. Early in the day, we picked out a pair of Chirinda Apalis, feeding in a tree, and we were able to observe them very well, for a prolonged period of time. In the afternoon, some of the group saw the Swynnerton's Robin very well. Although these were the two main target birds, there was also a very fine supporting cast of new birds which included, African Goshawk, the beautiful Livingston's Turaco, Crowned Hornbill, Lesser Honeyguide, Stripe-cheeked and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls, the very secretive Orange Ground-Thrush, Olive Thrush, the stunning White-starred Robin, the dainty Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Red-faced Crombec, Western Olive and Collared Sunbirds, Michael saw a Black-fronted Bush-Shrike and we saw the very uncommon Red-faced Crimsonwing and Cabanis's Bunting. We also saw our first group of Samango Monkeys today.
We once again spent the whole day birding in the Vumba Mountains and even though we had spent much of the previous two days here, the area proved once again, to be extremely productive. An African Crowned Eagle circled overhead, an Emerald Spotted Wood-Dove, perched in a nearby tree, as did a Red-chested Cuckoo, a Beautiful Black Cuckoo responded well to tape playback, giving us a few fly-bys and a Dideric Cuckoo, sat up in a tree calling loudly. We watched a pair of Striped Kingfishers displaying to each other, a pair of Broad-billed Rollers showed well, a Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird sat in a tree above our heads, a Square-tailed Drongo, scolded us, we enjoyed great looks at a White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike and we saw both Cinnamon-breasted and Southern Black Tits. A Sombre Greenbul showed well, we had particularly good looks at a Miombo Rock-Thrush played hide-and-seek with a Red-capped Robin-Chat, admired the diminutive Yellow-bellied Eremomela, taped in a Red-faced Cisticola, an Ashy Flycatcher performed well for us, we found a rather obliging Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, we enjoyed super looks at the diminutive Brubru, a pair of Bronzy Sunbirds and a Village Weaver.
Our final morning in the Vumba Mountains had been reserved to try for the very difficult to see, Buff-spotted Flufftail. A speaker was placed in a likely spot on the forest floor, we stood close by, not moving a muscle, the speaker was operated by remote control and out rang the call of this tiny denizen of the forest undergrowth. In no time at all, a male Buff-spotted Flufftail appeared from the forest undergrowth and slowly made its way to the speaker, allowing us stunning looks at a very beautiful bird. On reaching the speaker he hurriedly turned around and ran off, in the direction he had come from. A splendid start to the day. Following breakfast we drove to Mutore. On the way, a Lemon Dove flew in front of our vehicle. In Mutore, while filling our vehicle with diesel, we observed a pair of Common Mynas. We then drove to the border post and crossed into Mozambique, for the second leg of our African transect. We then drove to our tented camp, close to Gorongosa, observing Yellow-billed Kite on the way. We broke the long drive with a birding stop at the Pungue River and new birds here included a Striated Heron, a superb Dickinson's Kestrel, a Three-banded Plover, a Green Sandpiper, a rare visitor, this far south in Africa, we also saw a Greater Painted-snipe and a couple of African Pied Wagtails. We did some birding close to our tented camp and new birds for the tour included Brown-headed Parrot, Trumpeter Hornbill and the very uncommon Speckle-throated Woodpecker.
The following day we woke up at 3am and began the gruelling drive to the upper slopes of nearby Mount Gorongosa, where our main target bird was the extremely range-restricted Green-headed Oriole. While still dark, we flushed a pair of Pennant-winged Nightjars off the road. Following a long and bumpy ride, we enjoyed a picnic breakfast and then began a rather demanding walk up the side of Mount Gorongosa. After some time we finally made it to the remaining forest that clings precariously to the upper slopes of this isolated mountain, which rises abruptly above the Mozambique coastal plain. In no time at all, we enjoyed good close looks at our main target bird, the range-restricted Green-headed Oriole. Other new birds for the tour included the illusive Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, the delightful African Geen-Pigeon, a splendid pair of Grey Cuckoo-shrikes, a wintering Garden Warbler, the uncommon Broad-tailed Warbler and the equally uncommon Moustached Grass-Warbler, the very uncommon Anchieta's Tchagra and a pair of diminutive Red-billed Firefinches.
We spent the afternoon birding in broadleaf woodland close to our tented camp. New birds here included a stunning Bateleur that glided overhead, the tiny Little Sparrowhawk buzzed by at head height, a Golden-tailed Woodpecker climbed a nearby tree, a stunning African Golden Oriole lit up the whole forest, while a party of White-crested Helmetshrikes made their way through the forest, and we also found an immature Miombo Blue-eared Starling. A quick look along the Pungue River, produced a Little Egret. After dark we taped in a Barn Owl at our tented camp.
We spent the following morning birding in a patch of broadleaf woodland, which proved very rewarding. A pair of stunning Levaillant's Cuckoos flew into a nearby tree and we were able to see them very well and a pair of enormous Silvery-cheeked Hornbills flew over our heads. We admired a young male Greater Honeyguide and a very close Bearded Woodpecker. A bushfire burned out of control ahead of us and several Eurasian Buzzards and a large number of European Bee-eaters, as well as several dozen Barn Swallows, were catching insects fleeing from the bushfire. Closer inspection of the Barn Swallows produced a pair of Mosque Swallows. A Black-headed Oriole provided colour in the forest and a Stierling's Wren-Warbler was much appreciated. We then came across a flock of Retz's Helmetshrikes, a female Red-headed Weaver and a superb Green-winged Pytillia. Some of us also observed a Blue Duiker this morning.
In the mid-afternoon, following a short siesta, we walked through a small knee-deep stream, in order to gain access to the banks of the Pungue River. Here we found a good number of new and interesting birds. A White Stork circled overhead, a Woolly-necked Stork, foraged along the edge of a large reedbed, an African Fish-Eagle circled above us, and a Bat Hawk flew across the river and landed in a large tree, on the far bank. A Common and a Marsh Sandpiper, where seen on a large sandbank in the river and a Pied Kingfisher hovered over the river. We enjoyed scope views of an Eastern Nicator singing in deep cover and found several beautiful Southern Brown-throated Weavers, building nests in an extensive reedbed.
A little pre-breakfast birding around our tented camp produced two new birds, the attractive Common Scimitar-bill and a Bearded Scrub-Robin. The rest of the morning was taken up by a long drive to our eco-lodge, close to Caia, passing through native villages, and unfortunately recently cleared woodland. During the drive, a Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill flew across the road in front of us.
In the afternoon, we walked the nature trail at our very fine lodge, and here we added a pair of stunning Narina Trogons, a Mangrove Kingfisher, which at this time of year, leave the mangroves to nest in the forests of the interior. We very much enjoyed a stunning pair of range-restricted Woodward's Batis and a beautiful Black-bellied Starling. Ted enjoyed good looks at a Scrub Hare during the walk and we all enjoyed super looks at Red Squirrel, Red Duiker and the diminutive Suni.
The next two days of the tour, were reserved for searching for three of Africa's most difficult, skulking and elusive birds. The stunningly beautiful African Pitta, the White-chested Alethe and the delicate East Coast Akalat. We knew that the pittas had arrived on their breeding grounds, but the rains were late this year and this meant that they had not yet started breeding, and more importantly, the males had not started calling, and this would make locating and observing one extremely difficult. Quite frankly, we needed a miracle, in the form of rain, or a chance meeting in the forest. Following two very early morning starts, the miracle occurred, we stumbled across a pitta sitting on the floor of the forest, unfortunately, only some members of the group were able to get it in their binoculars, before it took flight. However, we did see the White-chested Alethe fairly well and then enjoyed point-blank looks at the beautiful and very striking East Coast Akalat.
Throughout the two days we also enjoyed a supporting cast of other lovely birds, which included a juvenile Lappet-faced Vulture, a soaring Southern-banded Snake-Eagle, several haughty Crested Guineafowls, a pair of Crested Francolins, the rarely encountered Bronze-winged Courser, a simply stunning African Emerald Cuckoo, the skulking Green Malkoha, the rather spectacular Bohm's Spinetail, a Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, a small flock of Green Wood-Hoopoes, the very range-restricted Green-backed Woodpecker, the unobtrusive African Broadbill, a male Eurasian Golden Oriole illuminated the forest, a couple of Terrestrial Brownbuls where observed, along with the Tiny Greenbul. Other new birds included White-browed Scrub-Robin, Black-headed Apalis and we greatly admired the beautiful and very active Livingstone's Flycatcher. A Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, flicked around in the undergrowth, and we found a nesting pair of Black-and-white Flycatchers. We also enjoyed a fine flock of Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrikes, a pair of very uncommon Plain-backed Sunbirds, a small flock of rather plain Yellow-throated Petronias, a very handsome, nest building Dark-backed Weaver and enjoyed tremendous scope views of a non-breeding plumaged male Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah. We also observed several new mammals for the tour, which included a family party of Dwarf Mongoose, which had taken up residence in a large termite mound. We also saw a few Common Warthogs, a Common Duiker and enjoyed great looks at two large species of antelope, Greater Kudu and Nyala. A little spot-lighting following dinner produced a Four-toed Elephant Shrew, a Thick-tailed Bushbaby and a couple of Grant's Lesser Bushbabies.
During the afternoon of the second day we visited the floodplains of the Zangue and Zambezi Rivers at Caia. We found plenty of new birds here, which included several African Openbills, a solitary Knob-billed Duck, several large flocks of White-faced Whistling-Ducks, a few wintering Amur Falcons, a couple of Black-winged Stilts, a couple of Common Ringed Plovers, a couple of Little Stints, a couple of large flocks of Wood Sandpipers, a couple of Common Greenshanks, a small flock of Collared Pratincoles, a pair of African Mourning Doves, several wintering Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, a flock of Brown-throated Martins and a single, wintering Yellow Wagtail.
Much of the following day was taken up by the long drive to Biera, on the coast. As we were leaving the lodge, we enjoyed good looks at a Southern Tree Hyrax, as it sat in a large hole in a nearby tree. Most of the journey was on a dirt road, so it was a rather bumpy ride for much of the journey. However, it was livened up by one or two new birds along the way. These included, a stunning pale morph Booted Eagle and a couple of huge Spur-winged Geese. On arrival at our seaside hotel at Biera, we found a pair of House Crows.
We spent the latter half of the afternoon birding the nearby Rio Savane Wetlands, where new birds included a single African Marsh-Harrier and large flocks of Fan-tailed Widowbirds.
Very early the following morning we spent a few hours back in the Rio Savanna Wetlands, and on the last birding day of the tour new birds included the beautiful Saddle-billed Stork, a pair of Blue Quail, a Black-bellied Bustard, a Senegal Lapwing, a beautiful Temminck's Courser, a Southern Red Bishop and a small flock of diminutive African Quailfinch. Following a late breakfast and a quick shower, it was off to the airport, where we said our final goodbyes to Errol, who had done such am outstanding job for us, and we begin a series of long flight back to Australia.