Trip Report: Malawi, August 31 - September 6, 1997

Tom Harrison, La Canada, California USA;

Imagine: an all-expense paid trip to Africa.

Better still, to Malawi -- a country with 653 reported bird species.

Just one problem: it's a business trip where we work from dawn to dark every day, and it is impossible to arrive or depart in such a way as to tack on a day or two for birding (don't ask why, just trust me, it's Africa).

Such was my opportunity/dilemma, and I was determined to make the best of it.

The best birding part of the trip was my layover in Holland (per the trip report I posted last week). Any birders flying through Amsterdam should definitely plan a couple days of intense birding! I left Amsterdam Saturday, August 30 at 10 pm and set out on the overnight flight to Africa.

I arrived at the Nairobi airport the next morning in time to hear the breaking news of Princess Diana's death. A quick change of planes, and we flew Air Malawi into Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi.

The purpose of the trip was to film a television special for an international relief and development organization. The focus was the need for clean water -- and the impact on the people of drinking parasite-infested water. We stayed at the Capitol Hotel and used it as our base of operations as we headed out early each day to visit villages to examine water sources and check out malnutrition among children.

The long filming days meant the only time I could bird was an hour the day we arrived and a couple hours the morning we departed -- plus I snuck in about 20 minutes of birding at dawn each morning as the vehicles were being loaded. I was basically limited to the wooded grounds and gardens of the hotel outside Lilongwe. But walking outside my room and having a Schalow's Turaco land in a tree right in front of me assured me there were birds to be discovered. What a dramatic bird! I knew I was in Africa all right. And since it was my first trip to Africa, even this limited experience around the hotel yielded species that were quite exciting to me:

  1. Schalow's Turaco
  2. White-browed Robin-chat
  3. Black Kite
  4. Variable Sunbird
  5. Scarlet-chested Sunbird
  6. Yellow-fronted Canary
  7. Common Waxbill
  8. Blue-breasted Cordonbleu
  9. Pied Crow
  10. White-necked Raven
  11. Eurasian Hoopoe
  12. Green Woodhoopoe
  13. Black Flycatcher
  14. Fork-tailed Drongo
  15. Pied Kingfisher
  16. Gray-headed Kingfisher
  17. Red-eyed Dove
  18. Speckled Mousebird
  19. Red-faced Mousebird
  20. Black-crowned Tchagra
  21. Olive Thrush
  22. Tropical Boubou
  23. African Pied Wagtail
  24. Southern Masked-Weaver
  25. African Golden-Weaver
  26. African Yellow White-eye
  27. Tawny-flanked Prinia
  28. Glossy Ibis
  29. Black Cuckoo-shrike
  30. Black-headed Heron
  31. Brown-backed Mannikin
  32. Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
  33. Blue-eared Glossy-Starling
  34. Little Bee-eater
  35. Lilac-breasted Roller
  36. Yellow-vented (Black-eyed) Bulbul

In one of the villages we visited in I added:

  1. Coqui Francolin
  2. Gray-headed Sparrow
  3. Ring-necked Dove

One morning we filmed at a pond north of Lilongwe, and I was fortunate to see:

  1. African Jacana
  2. Lesser Jacana
  3. Little Egret
  4. Purple Heron
  5. Black-shouldered Kite
  6. White-rumped Swift

Clearly this is nothing compared to what would have been possible with a day or two set aside specifically for birding. But I was thankful to see this many species given the extreme time and location limitations. With my appetite now whetted, I'm eager to find a way to get back to Africa for some real birding!

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This page served by Urs Geiser;; September 30, 1997