Mike Pope (author), Russell Hutton, Richard - Landrover Discovery
Grant Dunbar, George - Toyota Landcruiser
The thoughts and planning for this trip began months ago after reading many mouth-watering articles by previous pioneering groups that worked their way through the largely unspoiled habitat of the central Mozambique Region in search of the 'abundant' and locally common specialties. Groups of people like John Graham, Rodney Cassidy, Morne de la Rey, Adam Riley, Mostert Kriek, Callan Cohen, Peter Thompson, David Hoddinott and many more whose trip accounts were published on the local SABirdnet and provided a valuable source of information. The last trip I had undertaken of this nature was a 3-week trip through East Africa in February 1996, which was a fantastic experience.
This time we had planned to tackle Mozambique in two 4x4's (Landrover Discovery and Toyota Landcruiser) from a safety perspective and because the time of year was moving into the wet season, and we were not sure what conditions we would encounter. The general itinerary was to head up through Zimbabwe, cross at Beit Bridge and then again at Machipanda and East to Enchope. From there it would be north to Gorongosa Mountain at the town of Vunduzi before moving into Gorongosa Reserve. After Gorongosa we planned to spend 3 nights in the Chiniziua Forest which was generally where most of the specialties were the most easily found, especially the Pitta which was our target bird. After the forest we planned to spend some time at the coast at Beira and then head back toward Machipanda and get close to Beit Bridge to have a short drive home on the last day. We had planned for a total of 10 days and had previously decided that both vehicles needed to be self-sufficient. They were both fitted out for an adventure of this kind with long range tanks, roof tents, fridges, winches (these would all be of use during the course of this trip as a result of the pressure system that had set in for the duration of this trip) etc. which all added to our creature comforts in the bush. Got to keep those beers cold no matter what the ambient temperature might be and fresh vacuum packed rump steaks also taste good after a few days. Another useful item was 2 way radio's in each vehicle - this gave us the luxury of not having to sit on each others tailgate, but still keep in contact with sightings, breakdowns etc. (it was discovered that to be effective both had to be switched on). In the Landcruiser it was Grant Dunbar and George from Lebanon, a most unlikely birder who up until a few months earlier was only interested in what they might have tasted like. In the Discovery it was Russell Hutton, Richard also a fairly new birder but already competent with bushveld birds and myself. At our last meeting we had agreed to meet at that well-known watering hole just 80 km north of Beit Bridge - the Lion and Elephant, on the banks of the Bube River.
The Landcruiser had left at 10h30, and we got underway at 12h30, which was later than planned. Just to set the tone a few Zambezi's were toasted and consumed on the N1 north. This was my first trip on the new N1 toll road and it is certainly an improvement on the old road. It does look more difficult to get to Nylsvlei however. On route the roadside birding was fairly poor, with a distinct lack of raptors (not even a BSK!) - we did not take this too seriously, as it was the heat of the day despite the cloud buildup. Beatrice, our on board dashboard mascot did provide entertainment (already) on the long road north. To me the best part about heading north is the area just south of Messina when you almost suddenly enter the land of the Giants - those magnificent Baobabs, which never seem to lose there mystique and charm. That is almost where the trip actually starts, we filled up before crossing the border at 19h00, and it was quite painless and uneventful. It wasn't long before we checked into the Lion and Ele where Grant and George had only arrived an hour before. They had a fanbelt break and had battled to get spares and replace it (they bought an extra just in case - forward planning!). The 900m drop in altitude was already noticeable when we dashed down to supper before the kitchen closed and had the thinnest fillet steak I've ever seen, the large G&T's sorted out any potential mossies and was a fitting end to the first day. However before bed, since it was so hot we decided to try and find the pool - took us ages, bit like the blind leading the blind. However once found, there weren't many clothes to strip off for a 'thar she blows' skinny dip, it would have been more refreshing to have swum in the mushroom soup that was on offer earlier on. We did have a brief moment of hysterical giggling when the calling Giant Eagle Owl in the tree above the pool turned out to be a leave stuck in the pool filter. We amazingly found our bungalow and bed in time for some communal OBS and an early morning recital from the King George Bible. There weren't any volunteers for Matthew from 2 to 4.
Whose idea was it to have the coffee delivered at 04h30!!! As in Good Morning Vietnam the 0, was for 'Oh my God it's early.' Heavy heads, heavy binocs we wandered through the hotel grounds. Having found nothing on the floor we thought it best to look skyward, the dawn chorus was fairly disappointing made a welcome change from our Gauteng gardens. We soon picked up most of the local hotel birds like Long-tailed Starling, Tropical Boubou, Broad-billed Roller (the highlight), Heuglin's Robin, Red-headed Weaver, Diederick's and Jacobin's Cuckoo, Woodland Kingfisher and a rather elusive Grey-headed Shrike. I still find it quite amazing how skulking these large shrikes are. A greasy breakfast settled the queasiness, and R300 settled the bill for 3 of us, and by 07h30 we were on the road to Mutare. By 08h30 at 100km/h with the windows open, the high irritating (at that time of the morning it was) shrill of the Cicadas in the woodlands was almost deafening. The sky was ominous all the way to Mutare, and we passed through many squalls with rain and mist. Lappet-faced and White-backed Vulture along with a magnificent Martial Eagle were some of the sightings. We filled up at Mutare on their blended fuel which I though could be a problem for the unleaded Discovery (this didn't prove to be a problem at all).
The Machipanda border was easy on the Zimbabwe side, but crossing over to Mozambique, Portuguese and Metichas was different to say the least. You pay for every stamp on every piece of paper with the price being randomly charged. Keep small denominations in US $, Zim $ and Rands as there is not much change that is given back. After the formalities we headed east in convoy through the rain and after 120 km's the Landcruiser broke another fanbelt (this is what happens when you don't use original spares - the tensioner wheel damaged the belt when it was bent against itself). This roadside repair put us back over an hour and the weather was looking quite ominous. We made it to the Enchope turnoff at 17h00, and we already had to have our lights on. It was 42 km to the turnoff at Gorongosa Reserve along a badly potholed tar road, you also cross the Pungwe River over a bombed bridge which has been repaired with steel girders. This could be a great birding area, but will need to confirm whether de-mining has taken place along the banks - probably not. The rain became torrential and the road turned to sand, mud, potholes and puddles, which made for serious concentration on the way to Gorongosa town, which was 24km beyond the Reserve turnoff.
After Gorongosa, which we reached in the dark, we turned right at the split to Vunduzi and traveled over 30km asking wherever we could for the infamous Pastor Zias (his 5 Shona bibles safely in the back of the vehicle). The language barrier was the biggest problem in trying to get any sense out of the locals, obviously trying to do this in the dark was even more difficult and worrying. Perhaps the next party that goes up can get a GPS point of his 'church'. We eventually came to a river whose bridge had been washed away and was flooding and decided it was too risky to cross in the dark, so at 20h00 decided to camp 300m back from the river right on the road. Camp was set up in the rain whilst some pasta was put on the boil - this had turned out to be a long day and maybe some thought should have been given to overnighting at Casa Misika. The drums from a very nearby village tried to lull us to sleep after a well-deserved Captains and ice cold coke and a few beers and some OBS for the chill. Three grown men trying to sleep in a rooftop tent was not easy (it was too wet and late to put up the second ground tent), but after 2 hours of practicing, we eventually looked like the new South African synchronised swimming team.
The rain had abated during the night, but not the drums - this time 04h30 could not have come quick enough. We also discovered we were not parked exactly level, which added to some of the dyslexic type movements during our sleep. The mystical Gorongosa Mountain was covered in mist, but 1300km later we were at last beginning our safari. Whilst packing up, there was brief excitement as a fairly large darkly streaked falcon swept over us, not giving any of us a change to get our glasses on it. I'm told that Elenora's has been recorded in this area - but we were not given a second chance. A walk down the road to the flooded river in the overcast gloom of pre-dawn showed us that the level had dropped. We also started finding a few more exciting birds - Black Cuckoo, Red-backed and Bronze Mannikin, Fire-crowned Bishop (still in non-breeding plumage, which I found unusual), Blue-spotted Dove and Red-faced Cisticola. We bypassed the missing bridge and crossed the river fairly easily (one has so much more confidence with 2 vehicles) and also tried to find the Pastor again; we had given up by the time we drove into Vunduzi. This was the second site for a guide to take us up the mountain (set up by Paul Dutton). We found a local (supposedly the son of a Minister in Maputo) who could speak English. Through his interpretation we arranged a guide to take us to the Warden who lived halfway up the slopes and sorted out the 'administration'. You need to agree payment terms with your guide and the minders of your vehicles before you depart to avoid any misunderstanding on your return. Local currency is better as there are no banks for them to exchange other currency (our guide took US $20, but I believe he would have been happier with Meticas).
The walk to the warden's village was the most direct, and it was in the first high canopy patch that we could hear the mystical and magical Oriole. It did not respond to the tape at all, quite unlike the one I had seen previously in Shimba Hills National Park - Kenya. However, with a bit of patience the stunning Green-headed Oriole eventually revealed itself to us. We could have turned back right there, but it would not have been right to come all this way and not experience the trail to the top and the real canopy forest. In this first patch we also pick up Yellow-spotted Nicator and Yellow-bellied Bulbul. What I really found quite amazing and most typical of Africa is that we arrived at the Warden's house about 09h30 on a Sunday morning - unannounced and without an appointment (unless the drums had forewarned him) and expected to be escourted to the top of the mountain. After this first climb we were already quite drenched from the intermittent rain and humidity (and some unfitness). Nevertheless this elderly gentleman after handshakes and greetings, excused himself to his hut and some 20 minutes later stepped out in polished boots and a clean pressed uniform ready to take us to his haven. I would love to see the same happen back in SA! There is only one route to the top and it is not on a contour path, it is straight up, fairly steep and very slippery in the rain (which played havoc with our binoc's). Augur Buzzard and a Striped Pipit were seen in the high altitude grassland before the final canopy forest. By now we were all completely drenched and itching to get into the forest. We accessed it from the top near the radio mast and once we were safely under these towering impressive trees - it was time for the warden to say a few words. He gave a lengthy prayer and blessing to the forest, its birds and the white faces that had come from far to look for his gem - it made our journey and the occasion so much more special. True to his blessing, we were treated to fine views of the very vocal Orioles (again no response to the tape from the Orioles or the Trogon). The Narina Trogon was seen briefly, but called more often as did the Trumpeter Hornbills, Livingstone's Lourie, Little Spotted Woodpecker and White-eared Barbet. Again the forest did not produce what we know it can, but we put it down to the inclement weather - singing in the rain is not for these forest birds. After the 2,5 hour walk up and the hour spent trying to dry off in the forest it was time to head back down. I think we all fell on our backsides more than once on the slippery surface. Back at the Warden's village we picked up Melba Finch, Yellow-bellied and Collared Sunbird. None of the other specials materialised unfortunately, but after our farewells we headed back to Vunduzi through groves of Mango trees whose fruit was ripe and quite delicious. My legs were shaking from the continuous braking on the long downhill back to the vehicles. I later heard from Paul Dutton and other people at the Gorongosa reserve that it is possible to access more remote areas of this mountain by taking the left hand fork outside Gorongosa town and climbing up from the western side. These guys had camped at the top for 3 days, which they said was a great experience.
It was now after lunch and we had to way up exploring the river just north of Vunduzi or trying to make it to Gorongosa Reserve before it got dark. We opted for the latter based on the previous day's experience; the falling rain also helped with this decision. So we dipped out on Marsh Tchagra and Moustached Warbler. Travelling south in daylight was much more relaxing, and a pair of Rednecked Falcons with the mountain as a backdrop was a fitting farewell as was a welcome swim in the river of the previous day. The road to the reserve (which was Renamo's Hedquarters during the war) passes through some magnificent habitat - which was again deceptively quiet. At this time of year a 4 x 4 is definitely a requirement for this magnificent but remote reserve. The soft clay road surface could be very tricky if it really gets wet, and in fact his reserve is closed during the wet season. A Bronze-winged Courser in the road on the 17km section to the main camp was a good sighting as was a large Cane Rat that scurried across the road. Being the lead vehicle had its disadvantage this time when we flushed a cuckoo that landed in a tree close to Grant and George. They identified it as a Barred Cuckoo (the only one of the trip). Even with the frantic call over the radio we weren't able to turn around in time to even get a glimpse - cant see them all I suppose. The main camp is in a sad state of repair, almost all of the infrastructure has been shot at or hit by rockets/mortars. However, plans are in place for the redevelopment of the infrastructure like roads and buildings - we were the only people visiting the reserve, which also makes it special. Some new ablutions have just been built, and the roads have been graded. The whole perimeter of the camp is still mined, so no walkabouts outside the camp.
Met Paul Dutton who has been contracted to do game counts to determine the devastating effect the war had on the wildlife of this reserve. Consider that in 1968 during the last count there were an estimated 80 000 elephant in this reserve; this is now down to a shockingly low number. It seemed that elephant and other game was decimated in an effort to fund the war. This was supported by both Zimbabwe and South Africa who bought the meat and ivory which in turn was used by Renamo to buy arms. I believe we almost have an obligation to support this reserve during its recovery period, and I further believe that it has the potential to become the finest Southern African reserve. It has magnificent habitat with the great floodplain and wetlands being the main attraction. We were told that the camp bird was Collared Palmthrush and Vanga Flycatcher, so we couldn't wait for dawn to break. Paul was also quite surprised that we hadn't picked up any Sooty Falcons which had been common during the previous week, it was however a lot drier the previous week.
It was the usual 04h30 start, which actually works well as one can get in 4 hours birding before breakfast and breaking camp. Two in the roof tent was far more comfortable this time although the snoring from both vehicles was still pretty consistent. Even at this time of the morning despite being overcast it was still warm and humid. We found the Palmthrush and despite trying for over an hour, could not entice the Vanga to respond to tape. The old story of you should have been here yesterday really pisses you off sometimes. We decided to do a morning drive out to the floodplains, which must have been spectacular in the park's heyday. You could just picture the lions on the fringes with antelope and ele's scattered as afar as the eye could see - I believe it could look deceptively like Ngorogoro Crater. On route we picked up Crowned Crane, Black-bellied Korhaan, Red-necked Francolin, Grey-hooded Kingfisher, Brown and Black-breasted Snake-Eagles. So far on the trip the most abundantly common bird was the Black-eyed Bulbul, and it stayed this way for the remainder of the trip.
After the drive we enquired from Paul and the guys in the camp about the shortcut through the reserve to Muanza. They thought our vehicles would be too heavy for the river crossing and suggested we head back the way we came to Enchope, Dondo and Muanza which would be a round trip of 150km as opposed to the 50km through the reserve. We had two vehicles so the choice was obvious. The 23km to the river (which is where the graded road ended) was on black cotton soil, and twice the Disco (which had the wrong tyres for these conditions) found itself facing the wrong way. One of these pirouettes could have put us on our side - but fortunately things went our way. The other saw us in large rut, which required the Cruiser to come to our assistance. At the river where the road ended we had to walk upstream to find a suitable place to cross, the under surface was fairly firm although the approach angle was quite steep. This would have been a problem if we had to turn around and return to the camp. Once safely across we had to pioneer through reeds and bush to find where the 'road' used to be and had to traverse quite a few soft and difficult dongas. The 'road' was completely overgrown (the guys in the camp said that it had been de-mined - but it was always a worry on the road edges). The road could only really be made out due to the lack of trees growing on its path, but I don't believe it had been used regularly in the last 10 years. What should have been a simple crossing over a small donga, turned out to be a nightmare after an hour of rain rendered it a stream of soft mud and clay. An hour and a half later we had managed to dig and winch our way out and used every accessory on the vehicle to do so. In this exercise another valuable lesson was learned, which was to test things like your winch before undertaking this trip. Whilst trying to winch, we discovered there was no pulling power and when we went for a further winch point the whole winch cable unwound from the winch (it was not properly secured to the drum). So now we had no winch, which puts added pressure when tackling obstacles. The rain had made the road treacherous, and there were many parts that suddenly went soft, and traction was minimal. You had to maintain concentration and momentum and there were many times when Richard and I had to jump out and push to maintain this momentum. It was heavy going with a little tension rising every now and then, and driving behind the Cruiser created its own difficulty because it was hard to stay out of their tracks, which diminished the traction. With the Cruiser pioneering we often had to pull it out of sticky situations, black cotton soil should not be underestimated. Eventually the road started improving as we climbed to higher ground, but now we were faced with new obstacles in the Brachystegia forest, which were large trees that had fallen across the road. This meant going through the bush around these (again the thought of mines was always in the back of the mind - did these trees fall over on their own or were they old intentional diversions?). Eventually we were able to relax a little and begin concentrating on the magnificent Miombo forest we were travelling through; according to the GPS we were still heading east and were due to bisect the Dondo/Muanza road. Our first real Miombo special was the Racket-tailed Roller, more spectacular than its southern cousin. We also had a highly excited Honeyguide flitting about the canopy in a great circular sweep, but were unable to identify it.
We eventually bisected the Muanza road, 7km south of the town at the alternate entrance to Gorongosa Reserve. I think the gate warden almost fell out of his chair when we explained the route we had come in sign language. The 55km had taken us 6 hours and we were both really low on gas, we drove to Muanza but only diesel was available. The bombed out trains and troop carriers along the railway line was an indication of the devastation of this war. We headed back to the entrance of the reserve and got quite excited at a very dark large dove feeding on the side of the road. It wasnt Delegorgue's, but the darkest Red-eyed Dove I have ever seen. We went past the warden's village and set up camp 300m down the road and considered our options: we were all dirty, sweaty and tired - this was the toughest day so far. A walk back toward the reserve along the road produced more Racket-tailed Rollers, Mozambique Batis, Red-faced Crombec, plenty Stierling's Barred Warblers and a female Violet-backed Sunbird which sat obligingly still for at least 15 minutes and caused quite a debate (until it was joined by the male). A fire, some flat chicken and ice cold G&T's rounded off the day which saw us agreeing that we had to head to Dondo to refuel. We would never have made it to Chinuizuia and back to Dondo.
I slept like a dog and felt like one had slept in my mouth too. There were very few night sounds besides a distant Scops Owl; again we found this odd in such perfect habitat. The dawn chorus at 04h30 was almost a no-show, but a group of Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrikes around our 'camp' was great. A 2-hour walk back down the road produced nothing, not a call nor a sighting, this was scary for such magnificent Miombo woodlands. We decided to pack up camp and then quickly did a walk to the main road where we picked up our first birding party of Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Black Cuckoo Shrike, Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow White-eye, Red-backed Mannikin, a lone White-breasted Cuckoo Shrike and a nesting Pygmy Kingfisher. To me this forest was quite reminiscent of the Arobe/Sokoke Forest in Kenya, and I'm sure if one had the time it would support Pitta around some of the mounds with the leaf litter - next time maybe.
The road south to Dondo seems to have the consistency of beach sand; it started off well and then slowly deteriorated. With all of the rain, the pools of water traversed the entire road, and there seemed to be a swimming pool every 50m. Each one varied in depth, and many had to be walked first to determine the best line through to avoid getting stuck. You have to bear in mind that this is the notorious road that is mined on the edges, so you can't wander off the road for a winch point (not that we had a winch anymore). Some of these pools were 20 or 30 m long and you had to hope that your wiring was well waterproofed. We did get stuck in one when the Disco bottomed out, even diff lock was hopeless. It was here that we discovered that jack points for the high lift jack would have been useful as we bent the back bumper trying to get logs under the rear wheels. Fortunately another vehicle arrived and pulled us out and we were soon on our way. We passed all sorts of vehicles stuck in these pools, some we pulled out others not. The worst thing is that they were stuck on the shallow side and it was these pools that were the more difficult to cross. A few logging trucks were stuck in some of them, which gave us great pleasure. This was also a long tiring road that took us 4 hours to reach Dondo. We battled to pay for fuel in Dondo without Mets, but one garage accepted US$ which gave us enough to get to Beira.
The Cruiser needed another fanbelt, and we decided that 5 hours back up that road to Chiniuzuia was now out of the question. With rain coming it would only worsen, and it isn't the kind of road you would want to do twice in 30 hours. Whilst driving around Beira which is really run down we found a restaurant called Johhny's Place, just near the harbour which Richard remembered as a child during his annual holidays to Beira. Naturally the thought of peri peri prawns and cold Manica's was just too alluring to turn down, and it was there we stopped for the rest of the day. Lunch was followed by expresso's, 1920 brandy and havanna cigarillo's - we all felt quite at home, and the street children with their home made instruments provided the afternoon entertainment. A walk to the harbour produced a Grey-headed Gull and more rusting hulks than ocean going vessels. We did see some trawlers come in with anything that they could catch, from the smallest of fish to the biggest ray I have ever seen - its tail was over 8 feet long. The 'officials' were not happy that we had our cameras whilst the fish were being offloaded - I can see why, they are raping the ocean. In fact all along the beach front there are locals with nets, those who don't have boats were walking 2x2 with nets between them in the surf - it is a real shame. Carlos, the proprietor of Johnny's, arranged for Toyota mechanics to come and replace the fanbelt in the street whilst we enjoyed his cuisine, now that's called being connected. We found a place called Biques on the beach where we could camp and took the opportunity to shower and change into clean clothes before enjoying a sundowner on the beach. Dinner was back at Johnny's before we called it a day. Earlier at the restaurant Grant had started itching and we laughed at him because we said his sleeping bag was flea infested from his previous trip - this backfired later when both Russell and I developed the same itch. We all had spots all over that began itching like hell. We could not work out what it might have caused this - a plant on Gorongosa, something in the river we swam in or the prawns. What we didn't consider was sand fleas that someone once mentioned on SABirdnet, all we knew was that it was damn uncomfortable and itched like mad.
The on-shore breeze blowing through the roof tent provided some relief from the humidity, didn't help the itching though. We filled up with petrol and in the process lost the Cruiser. We visited the lighthouse and the wreck and it was here that we discovered that the fuel tank was leaking and would have to be repaired and the back disc pads were worn down to the metal (they should have been replaced at the last service, but weren't). So we had to try and find the Landrover dealership in Beira, which we eventually did, and they were most obliging. It turned out that it was the auxiliary tank (the stabiliser bar had been knocking against the tank and pulled one of the supports off the tank), which we removed and put on the roofrack and then bypassed all the pipes that fed it, to use only the main tank. This took an hour and cost R 150, which was most reasonable, disc pads they did not have in stock so we had to scrape back to Zim. The Cruiser was probably well on its way to Zim by now, and we also headed in that direction. Crossing the Punge floodplain didn't produce too much other than Yellow-rumped Widows. We stopped at the Casa Misika on the Chicamba Dam for lunch. The lake is stunning but looked very sterile: a couple of Reed Cormorants and pair of Fish Eagles and some Pied Wagtails were all that we managed to see. This time the border crossing was a breeze, and we headed to Landrover in Mutare, but neither they nor the Harare dealership had spares. They sell the vehicles but cannot support them. We arranged with a brake and clutch company to have them re-bonded in the morning. Drove up to the Vumba and Seldomseen, but it was full. We booked the next night and stayed at the Ndundu Backpacker Lodge having secured the 3 last beds and cooked up a storm in the kitchen with some G&T's and Captains. It was definitely much cooler up in these mountains at 1800m above sea level, and no surprises it was misty and rainy.
Had a better sleep in a bed, did an early morning walk from the Lodge to a viewsite that overlooked the Chicamba Dam in Moz and the mountains of Zim to the south. We were treated to great sightings of Scarce Swift, observing them from above made identification that much easier with the Black Swifts they were flying with. Also picked up Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Wailing Cisticola, African Goshawk and Yellow-bellied Sunbird. The walk through the wet grass did not help the bites/rash on our legs and got us going all over again. Into Mutare, the brake and clutch guys had matching pads, but the discs had to be skimmed. We decided to go for a walk in the botanical gardens, and here we found the Black-cheeked Canary and eventually Whyte's Barbet. Although Africa is not for sissies, you don't have to be stupid either - Rus and I broke down and bought some anti-histamine tablets (this proved to be a waste, with the amount of bites we had we need 10 times that dosage). With the vehicle repaired and us being able to stop with confidence we headed back to Seldomseen in the mist and rain (what's new). We bumped into Grant and George on their way back from the Bunga Forest, they had found a few nice specials. We booked into one of the bungalows, booked Peter for an afternoon and morning walk and made lunch. A Stripe-cheeked Bulbul flitted past, I picked up Red-faced Crimsonwing and got a fleeting glimpse of an Orange Thrush. We did the 15h00 walk with the legendary Peter as the mist and rain rolled in (how unusual), he has unbelievable eyes and ears in his forest. In an hour's walk in the gloomy forest we found Starred Robin, Dusky Flycatcher, Olive Thrush, Stripe-cheeked and Yellow-streaked Bulbul, Square-tailed Drongo, Blue-mantled and White-tailed Flycatcher, Chiranda Apalis and Roberts Prinia. Peter saw a Flufftail, but we dipped on that, and I also missed the Orange Thrush again. The rain really started coming down so we had to cut the walk short, at this altitude it was really fresh, and it warranted track suits and rugby jerseys. Despite the rain, typical of Vaalies we still made a fire and had a great braai - OBS would have helped to keep out the chill.
Up early, the rain had not abated, and Peter decided that it wasn't worth the walk, so we did our own. I did however present him with the Shona Bibles we hd left, much to his delight. The highlight was finding an Orange Thrush nest and seeing the adult feed its young. We must have looked like gorillas in the mist on this walk, but at least we had rain gear to keep us dry. This is also a great forest and would be fantastic in the right weather; it will also give us an opportunity to come back for Swynnertons Robin. We headed out of the Vumba in, yes mist and rain - topped up with Zambezi's in Mutare and headed south to Chiredzi, the highlight being a large flock of Mottled Swifts hawking over the road. Filled up with beers and petrol in Chiredzi at an exchange rate of 6:1 and headed to the 2nd biggest reserve in Zim - Gonarazheu and the Chipinda Pools camp. We had to pay foreign rates (the 3-tier system), but it was still reasonable despite no maps. The Save River was flowing over the causeway so we were unable to cross. The roads in the reserve are really basic and very rough, but we took a drive to try and find the Chilojo Cliffs, but took a wrong turn. The weather started clearing for the first time this trip when we found Temminck's Courser with two chicks and then two Gabar Goshawks, one being melanistic. Again we were the only party booked into the reserve so we had our pick of the campsites at Chipanda Pools - we chose campsite No 1 at the bend in the river. The campsite was well maintained, and the ablutions spotlessly clean, we made camp, gathered wood and watched our first sunset with sundowners to ward off any insects. A full moon was rising with skies that were clearing so it was a great end to our last day in Zim. On the river we had Fish Eagles, Darter, Cormorants, Pied Kingfishers, White-fronted Plovers and Water Dikkops. This campsite almost equaled campsite No 1 in Ruaha National Park - Tanzania. We sat late into the night reminiscing about the trip and staring into the fire, as you can only do in the bush.
Up early to watch the sunrise over the river, quickly broke camp and went for a drive. Found a steaming sign of elephant that passed by earlier, but we didn't find them. Again the overall birding was poor, so decided to bid au revoir to the reserve and make our way to Beit Bridge and stay the final night in the Kruger Park at Punda Maria. We had to top up with a few more Zambezi's at Chiredzi and then found an alternate sand road route, which almost brought us out at the Bube River. We were on a roll and quite hysterical by the time we hit the main road south describing the antics and behavior of the Brown-throated Sphincter Barbet (see Appendix A). We then also described the weekday menu of George's new restaurant that specialised in avian cuisine (See Appendix B). [Editor's note: These appendices are not included on this website but are available from the author upon request.]
Again another dreary border crossing that saw us buying fresh supplies at Messina before heading East to Pafuri. We drove straight to the picnic spot and Crooks Corner, but it was already too hot to find any birds of significance. So it was back to Punda Maria camp where we treated us each to our own bungalow for the last night. We made a fire at the communal braai and finished the last of our provisions. We then headed to our air-conditioned bungalows and passed out before we could fall asleep.
Up early for an early morning drive, but again very disappointing - very little game and even less birds. Perhaps there is just too much water in the Park. We didn't find Arnot's Chat which is normally a given, but did pick up Mosque Swallow, Purple-crested Lourie, Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Trumpeter Hornbill, Ground Hornbill, African Golden Oriole, Chinspot Batis and Olive Bush Shrike. We were quite disappointed so decided to head to Pietersburg for breakfast and then slowly wind home after a 3600km round trip with 252 species in total and a great experience to remember.
|58||Reed Cormarant||X/TD>||X||487||Bearded Woodpecker||X|
|62||Grey Heron||X/TD>||X||496||Flappet Lark||X|
|63||Black-headed heron||X||515||Chestnut-backed Finchlark||X|
|64||Goliath Heron||X||518||European Swallow||X||X||X|
|66||Great White Egret||X||522||Wire-tailed Swallow||X|
|67||Little Egret||X||523||Pearl-breasted Swallow||X|
|69||Black Egret||X||524||Red-breasted Swallow||X|
|71||Cattle Egret||X||X||X||525||Mosque Swallow||X|
|74||Green-backed Heron||X||X||X||526||Greater Striped Swallow||X|
|76||Black-crowned Night Heron||X||627||Lesser Striped Swallow||X|
|90||Yellowbilled Stork||X||537||Eastern Saw-wing Swallow||X|
|93||Glossy Ibis||X||538||Black Cuckooshrike||X|
|94||Hadeda Ibis||X||539||White-breasted Cuckooshrike||X|
|95||African Spoonbill||X||541||Fork-tailed Drongo||X||X||X|
|99||White-faced Duck||X||542||Square-tailed Drongo||X||X|
|102||Egyptian Goose||X||X||544||African Golden Oriole||X||X||X|
|108||Red-billed Teal||X||545||Black-headed Oriole||X||X|
|116||Spurwinged Goose||X||546||Green-headed Oriole||X|
|123||White-backed Vulture||X||X||548||Pied Crow||X||X|
|124||Lappet-faced Vulture||X||550||White-necked Raven||X|
|126||Yellowbilled Kite||X||X||554||Southern Black Tit||X|
|127||Black-shoulderd Kite||X||X||560||Arrow-marked Babbler||X||X|
|133||Steppe Eagle||X||568||Blackeyed Bulbul||X||X||X|
|135||Whalberg's Eagle||X||570||Yellow-streaked Bulbul||X|
|137||African Hawk Eagle||X||573||Striped-cheeked Bulbul||X|
|139||Long-crested Eagle||X||574||Yellow-bellied Bulbul||X||X|
|140||Martial Eagle||X||575||Yellow-spotted Nicator||X|
|142||Brown Snake Eagle||X||X||576||Kurrichane Thrush||X||X|
|143||Black-breasted Snake Eagle||X||577||Olive Thrush||X|
|148||African Fish Eagle||X||589||Familiar Chat||X||X|
|153||Augur Buzzard||X||599||Heuglin's Robin||X|
|158||Black Sparrowhawk||X||600||Natal Robin||X||X|
|160||African Goshawk||X||X||601||Cape Robin||X|
|161||Gabar Goshawk||X||603||Collared Palm Thrush||X|
|178||Red-necked Falcon||X||613||White-browed Robin||X||X|
|189||Crested Francolin||X||643||Willow Warbler||X||X|
|196||Natal Francolin||X||X||645||Bar-throated Apalis||X|
|198||Red-necked Francolin||X||646||Chiranda Apalis||X|
|199||Swainsons Francolin||X||650||Red-faced Crombec||X|
|203||Helmeted Guineafowl||X||X||X||651||Long-billed Crombec||X||X|
|209||Crowned Crane||X||657||Grey-backed Bleating Warbler||X||X|
|213||Black Crake||X||659||Stierling's Barred Warbler||X||X|
|237||Red-crested Korhaan||X||X||664||Fan-tailed Cisticola||X|
|240||African Jacana||X||X||670||Wailing Cisticola||X|
|249||Three-banded Plover||X||672||Rattling Cisticola||X||X||X|
|259||White-crowned Plover||X||674||Red-faced Cisticola||X|
|297||Spotted Dikkop||X||684||Robert's Prinia||X|
|298||Water Dikkop||X||689||Spotted Flycatcher||X|
|300||Temminck's Courser||X||690||Dusky Flycatcher||X||X|
|303||Bronze-winged Courser||X||691||Blue-grey Flycatcher||X|
|315||Grey-headed Gull||X||694||Black Flycatcher||X||X|
|347||Double-banded Sandgrouse||X||696||Mouse-coloured Flycatcher||X|
|352||Red-eyed Dove||X||X||700||Cape Batis||X|
|354||Cape Turtle Dove||X||X||X||701||Chinspot Batis||X|
|355||Laughing Dove||X||X||X||702||Mozambique Batis||X|
|356||Namaqua Dove||X||X||X||708||Blue-mantled Flycatcher||X|
|357||Blue-spotted Dove||X||709||White-tailed Flycatcher||X|
|358||Green-spotted Dove||X||X||710||Paradise Flycatcher||X||X||X|
|361||Green Pigeon||X||711||African Pied Wagtail||X||X|
|363||Brown-headed Parrot||X||X||X||720||Striped Pipit||X|
|370||Livingstone's Lourie||X||X||728||Yellow-throated Longclaw||X|
|371||Purple-crested Lourie||X||X||733||Red-backed Shrike||X||X||X|
|373||Grey Lourie||X||X||X||735||Long-tailed Shrike||X|
|377||Red-chested Cuckoo||X||X||X||737||Tropical Boubou||X||X||X|
|381||Striped Cuckoo||X||744||Black-crowned Tchagra||X||X|
|382||Jacobin Cuckoo||X||X||X||747||Gorgeous Bush Shrike||X|
|384||Emerald Cuckoo||X||748||Orange-breasted Bush Shrike||X||X||X|
|385||Klaas Cuckoo||X||750||Olive Bush Shrike||X|
|386||Diederik Cuckoo||X||X||751||Grey-headed Bush Shrike||X||X|
|391||Burchell's Coucal||X||X||X||753||White Helmetshrike||X||X||X|
|396||Scops Owl||X||754||Red-billed Helmetshrike||X|
|397||White-faced Owl||X||755||Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike||X|
|401||Spotted Eagle Owl||X||756||White-crowned Shrike||X|
|402||Giant Eagle Owl||X||761||Plum-coloured Starling||X|
|406||Rufous-cheeked Nightjar||X||763||Long-tailed Starling||X||X|
|408||Freckled Nightjar||X||764||Glossy Starling||X||X|
|412||Black Swift||X||768||Black-bellied Starling||X|
|415||Whiterumped Swift||X||X||769||Red-winged Starling||X||X|
|417||Little Swift||X||X||X||772||Red-billed Oxpecker||X|
|419||Mottled Swift||X||780||Purple-banded Sunbird||X|
|420||Scarce Swift||X||784||Miombo Double-collared Sunbird||X|
|421||Palm Swift||X||X||X||786||Yellow-bellied Sunbird||X|
|424||Speckled Mousebird||X||X||787||White-bellied Sunbird||X||X|
|426||Red-faced Mousebird||X||X||X||790||Olive Sunbird||X|
|427||Narina Trogon||X||792||Black Sunbird||X|
|428||Pied Kingfisher||X||793||Collared Sunbird||X|
|431||Malachite Kingfisher||X||797||Yellow White-eye||X||X|
|432||Pygmy Kingfisher||X||X||X||799||White-browed Sparrow Weaver||X|
|433||Woodland Kingfisher||X||X||X||801||House Sparrow||X||X||X|
|435||Brown-hooded Kingfisher||X||X||804||Grey-headed Sparrow||X||X||X|
|436||Grey-hooded Kingfisher||X||805||Yellow-throated Sparrow||X|
|437||Striped Kingfisher||X||808||Forest Weaver||X|
|438||European Bee-eater||X||X||X||810||Spectacled Weaver||X|
|443||White-fronted Bee-eater||X||X||811||Spotted-backed Weaver||X|
|444||Little Bee-eater||X||815||Lesser Masked Weaver||X||X|
|447||Lilac-breasted Roller||X||X||818||Brown-throated Weaver||X|
|448||Racket-tailed Roller||X||819||Red-headed Weaver||X|
|449||Purple Roller||X||X||821||Red-billed Quelea||X||X|
|450||Broadbilled Roller||X||X||824||Red Bishop||X||X|
|452||Red-billed Hoopoe||X||X||827||Yellow-rumped Widow||X||X||X|
|454||Scimitar-billed Hoopoe||X||831||Red-collared Widow||X||X|
|455||Trumpeter Hornbill||X||X||834||Melba Finch||X|
|457||Grey Hornbill||X||X||836||Red-faced Crimsonwing||X|
|458||Red-billed Hornbill||X||841||Jameson's Firefinch||X|
|459||Yellow-billed Hornbill||X||X||X||842||Red-billed Firefinch||X|
|460||Crowned Hornbill||X||844||Blue Waxbill||X||X|
|463||Ground Hornbill||X||X||846||Common Waxbill||X||X|
|464||Black-collared Barbert||X||857||Bronze Mannikin||X||X|
|465||Pied Barbert||X||858||Red-backed Mannikin||X|
|466||White-eared Barbet||X||860||Pin-tailed Whydah||X||X|
|467||Whytes Barbert||X||862||Paradise Whydah||X||X|
|470||Yellow-fronted Tinker Barbet||X||X||869||Yellow-eyed Canary||X||X||X|
|471||Golden-rumped Tinker Barbert||X||877||Bully Canary||X|
|473||Crested Barbet||X||X||X||881||Streaky-headed Canary||X|
|485||Little Spotted Woodpecker||X||882||Black-eared Canary||X|
|486||Cardinal Woodpecker||X||886||Rock Bunting||X|
|Sub Total||82||76||39||Sub Total||80||77||31|
Total Species = 252
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