Trip Report: Southwestern Zimbabwe, November 30 - December 8, 1999

Mike Pope (author) and Grant Langton, Gauteng, South Africa;


Zimbabwe, land of crimson sunsets, the smoke that thunders and great tracts of wilderness areas - in fact 13% of Zimbabwe's land is preserved as a wildlife estate. Man added a wonder to this natural paradise in the form of the magnificent 300km long Lake Kariba, an incredible inland sea raised from the waters of the mighty Zambezi River that flow from the unforgettable Victoria Falls.

For Grant, a non-birder, this was to be an introduction to Africa, camping and exposure to the fauna and flora in the many reserves in Zimbabwe. For me, it would one of many trips to Zimbabwe, but the first in many, many years to the southwestern side of the country. We had a basic itinerary and did not make any prior bookings for any of the National Parks.

My 4 x 4 had all the comforts to ensure that we would be self-sufficient, plus we had stocked up on food and liquid refreshments for the long hot trip ahead. We had no real problems in travelling in one vehicle, but should one travel to more remote areas, two vehicles would be advisable.

A comprehensive list of birds seen at each locality is at the end of this report, not all sightings are recorded in the body of the trip report, as it would make it too lengthy and repetitive. The report is intended to give an insight into the various areas and to anyone who might consider travelling to Zimbabwe.


Monday 29 November. Johannesburg

Time of year meant that clothing needs were minimal, some extra kit in case it got wet and rain gear. Got the vehicle packed with provisions and camping equipment, stocked the fridge and took my malaria tablets (Doxycyclin - to be taken daily) with trepidation. Larium (taken weekly) did not agree with me on a trip to Mozambique last year, so was trying this new prophylactic on the market.

Tuesday 30 November. Johannesburg - Maleme Dam, Matopo National Park

No weird dreams or side affects from the malaria tabs, good start. Up at 4am to collect Grant. He just needed to throw his personal effects into the back of the double cab and we were on the road by 5am, heading north from Johannesburg. Weather was overcast and cool, which was great for travelling. Stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn monument to discover that there were more "I love you" sentiments spray painted on the monument and surrounds than you would find in the classifieds on Valentines Day - the people responsible for this destruction really piss me off with their thoughtlessness. We stopped on the northern side of Pietersburg to try and call up the Short-clawed Lark in some suitable habitat, unfortunately the wind and traffic noise was too loud and we were unsuccessful. However, a stop at the Pietersburg Nature Reserve would probably produce this Lark.

Once you have crossed over the Soutpansberg and are heading toward Messina, you start seeing some of the giants of the plains - those great tree's of Africa, the Baobab. There are some magnificent examples on the way to Beit Bridge and beyond. Fortunately the traffic at the border was fairly light and the South African side was a breeze. The Zimbabwe side was a different story for two reasons, one was the complete apathy and rudeness of the customs officials... who also just upped for an hour lunch break without warning or any relief - and just left a lot of frustrated locals and tourists waiting in the queue. The second was plain stupidity on my part in leaving my vehicles registration papers on the dining room table at home. So, after the lunch break we were informed to re-cross the border and head back to Messina for police clearance. This would have delayed our trip by a complete day - fortunately/unfortunately on the way back to the car we were again 'accosted' by helpers who wanted to know what the problem was. On explaining we were informed by one of them of his friends on the inside who would resolve our 'problem'. R 300-00 later for the custom official and R 100-00 for the 'helpers' all our papers got the correct stamps and we were eventually on our way after spending 3 hours at Beit Bridge.

By now the planned alternate route to Matopo National Park was out of the question and we headed straight for Matopo's via Bulawayo (approx. 350 km). There was not much time for any birding on route - we just wanted to get to our site, pitch the tent and get down a few cold beers. The road north was in good condition so we were able to make fair time in between the low cloud, wind and rain.

The road in to Matopo's was good and the scenery changed accordingly. Matopo's National Park covers an area of 43 299 hectares and has a bird list of 332 species and also has a historical interest. World's View is the site of the Cecil John Rhodes grave, the Shangani Memorial and other graves. From the top of the Matopo Hills the eye scans across a world in tortured disarray. Granite masses - split, seamed, sculpted and shaped by time and weather - form an array of whalebacks and castle kopjes. The hills encompass a number of habitats, which include seasonally wet vleis, well-wooded valleys and large open expanses of granite. 32 species of raptors breed in the Matopo Hills. Most important is the Black Eagle where around 45 occupied territories are monitored annually.

Entrance Fees have changed in the last year and it cost us US $ 20-00 each, Zim $ 100-00 for the car and Zim $ 300-00 to camp (this is for 1 or 5 days). However the bonus was that we were the only people camping at Maleme Dam, and we didn't see any other people while we were there. We got the tent up at the base of a huge granite outcrop, mattresses pumped, chairs out and relaxed with a few G&T's. The weather was dubious, so we started the fire to get an early supper. I did a quick recce around the dam, but it was already too dark. Got an early night, for an early start.

Wednesday 1 December. Maleme Dam, Matopo National Park - Kennedy 1 Camp, Hwange National Park

Slept like the dead, but I woken by the dawn chorus and also needed to release some processed beer. Grant slept in; he still needed to get used to the routine. Walked the road of the campsite, which included the dam. It was still overcast and a bit drizzly, but I found Whiten-ecked Raven raiding the dustbin, Grey Heron, Cattle Egret, Egyptian Goose, Natal Francolin, Wattled Plover, Rock Pigeon, Red-eyed Dove, Cape Turtle Dove, Laughing Dove, Green-spotted Dove, Purple-crested Lourie, Grey Loerie and the ever calling Red-chested Cuckoo. In the surrounding grass, woodlands and granite outcrops also found Yellow-eyed Canary, Pin-tailed Whydah, Blue Waxbill, Yellow-rumped Widow, Grey-headed Sparrow, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Red-winged Starling (their profile on the granite outcrops had me going a few times, whilst searching for Boulder Chat), Glossy Starling, Paradise Flycatcher, Cape Batis (of which there is a small population), the ever present Rattling Cisticola and Willow Warblers, Kurrichane Thrush, Mocking Chat and Black-eyed Bulbul.

A few Warthogs had wondered in to the camp area and tried to climb into the tent, which woke Grant fairly swiftly, they also tried to see what was available inside the car. Had a quick breakfast and then headed out into the Park by car, didn't see too much game, but the weather also started improving. Around one of the corners heard Grant make some comment and looked to see him covered in goosebumps - just in front of us was one of the biggest Black Mamba's that I have ever seen sunning itself across the road. We estimated it to be between 9 and 10 foot long, after a few minutes it leisurely glided off into the bush. Not many mammals around but we did see Sable, Klipspringer Impala, Rock Rabbit, Blue Wildebeest, Kudu, Zebra and the ever-present monkeys and Baboons. With the weather improving so did the raptors with Yellow-billed Kite, Black Eagle, Whalberg's Eagle, a stunning pair of African Hawk Eagle atop a large granite outcrop, Little Swifts overhead, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, European and Little Bee-eater, Grey and Yellow-billed Hornbill, Black-collared Barbet, Yellow-fronted Tinker Barbet, Fork-tailed Drongo, Sothern Black Tit and Arrowmarked Babbler. At one point I saw a silhoette on top of a huge rock that had potential and got out of the car to investigate. After 10 minutes it flew off showing its red wings - the possible Boulder Chat had just evaporated, it was only on the way back to the car that I saw the fresh Leopard track - so they are also definitely in the area.

On the way out decided to stop at World's View, only to discover that on top of al the entry fees, you still had to pay US $2.00, to have the privilege of seeing the view and the graves - on principle we decided to boycott that idea. In the mornings birding we saw 67 species before heading back to Bulawayo and North toward Hwange.

The bird of this Park - the pair of African Hawk Eagles

The dip of this Park - Boulder Chat

The road north was really pretty and lined with large trees for as far as the eye could see. Again, not much birding en route as we had decided to rather get to our destination and then begin in a more relaxed fashion. After 265 km, we reached the turnoff to Hwange Main Camp, and by now it was really hot and humid. The 10 km to the gate had magnificent Miombo woodland, but time of day was against us, and we did not find any Miombo specials like Racket-tailed Roller, White-breasted Cuckoo Shrike, Northern Grey Tit, Miombo Rock Thrush, Mashona Hyliota and Red-faced Crombec. We dipped on all of the miombo specials.

Hwange National Park, one of the worlds last great elephant sanctuaries, at 14,651 is the largest National Park in Zimbabwe and holds some of the greatest populations of wildlife in the country. It has more animals and a greater variety of species (107) than any other park in the country. There are two distinct geographic zones, neither able to support viable agriculture (yes!!). The flora of the well-drained northern area, part of the Zambezi watershed, is dominated by mopane and mixed terminalia, which is distinctly different to the rest. Elsewhere the Kalahari scrublands, covered with stunted, scattered woodlands of teak and umtshibi trees, drain into Botswana's Makgadkadi Depression. This habitat is charaterised by many marshy depressions, vleis and fragile open grasslands on shallow soils. A total of 420 species have been recorded in this Park

At the gate Spotted-backed Weavers, Red-billed Francolins and White-browed Sparrow Weavers made their presence known. We opted not to stay at the Main Camp, but booked Kennedy 1 Picnic Site, and this cost us R303.00 for entrance, car and 1 night camping. The really nice thing about the Zimbabwe Parks is that the picnic spots have amenities, and you are allowed to camp there in restricted numbers. This puts you much closer to the bush and gives you a far better experience. The drive from the Main Camp gate to Kennedy 1 was pretty much on the eastern boundary of the Park. This area of the park is dominated by acacia scrub and Zimbabwe Teak woodlands. The drive to the picnic spot was through fairly dense bush, and we were told that heavy rains had fallen 4 days before, which proved to be detrimental to both birding and wildlife as water was now available in small pools throughout the Park. We picked an old bull elephant that was grazing peacefully next to the road as well some antelope.

Halfway to the camp, we picked up a whole lot of raptors soaring above the trees, when I put my glasses on them saw them to be Yellow-billed Kites, but at least 100. This I had never seen before. As we got closer, we came to a short grass area with some waterholes and many termite mounds (Makwa Pans). There were many raptors on the ground as well. That's when we discovered that it was a termite eruption, like I have never seen. Interestingly, the Kites were all feeding on the wing and the Lesser Spotted Eagles (these were by far the majority) and a Tawny Eagle with a bulging crop were chasing and feeding on the ground. This was a spectacle that I had only read about. Even a Grey Heron and Egyptian Geese were feeding on this source of protein. Also saw jackal and baboons eat some off the floor. I didn't notice any other of the smaller insect eaters or even swallows feeding, maybe this was because of the sheer number of raptors chasing the termites. Once we got closer, saw many Black Kites in amongst the Yellow-billed Kites, but they were definitely in the minority. Lying unperturbed in the shade was also a herd of about 30 Buffalo.

Eventually we had to leave this great sight and head for camp; again we were the only people in the campsite. Set up camp and got a fire going ready for the fillet steak (marinated in whiskey, hot mustard, peppercorns and a hint of garlic!) and beers - watched a Lesser Bushbaby jump around in the tree above us. The nocturnal birds were very disappointing - besides the Pearl-spotted Owl, but did have baboon, jackal and hyena calling in the night.

Bird(s) of the day - Raptors at the termite eruption

Thursday 2 December. Kennedy 1 Camp - Sinamatella Camp, Hwange National Park

The dawn chorus was a little subdued this morning. A walk around the picnic spot revealed some Red-billed Wood Hoopoe, Hoopoe, Swainson's and Natal Francolin, the usual array of Doves, Jacobin, Klass and Diederick Cuckoo, European Bee-eater, Grey Hornbill, Crested Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Arrow-marked Babbler, Black-eyed Bulbul, Willow Warbler and Broad-billed Roller. We managed to get going earlier this morning and were packed and gone by 6:30. We drove south for awhile along a bare depression and saw Crowned Crane, Marabou Stork looking like a lost undertaker, European Hobby's bombing Banded Mongoose, Guineafowl and a few Plovers,

We then turned around and headed back toward Makwa Pans and Main Camp and were lucky enough to come across 3 lionesses on the side of the road. Just after that flushed 2 medium sized raptors from a small waterhole along with a Black Kite and Steppe Buzzard. They were uniform pale tawny in colour with a pale throat and pale unmarked tail. Bare yellow legs with a pale eye. They landed in the road 50 m from us, and each time we moved closer they flew off and landed in the road again. They seemed quite reluctant to move off the road and also chased and caught a few termites. With the reference books (and comparing them to the Steppe Buzzard and Black Kite) and the 20 minutes we had to observe them we could only deduce that they were Long-legged Buzzards!! I have submitted my description and poor pictures to a few local experts who can hopefully confirm this rare southern African sighting. We turned off this road and headed toward Dopi Pan and saw Red-breasted and Mosque Swallows, Red-crested and Black-bellied Korhaan, Hooded, White-backed, White-headed and Lappet-faced Vultures.

We then made our way to Nyamandhlovu Platform - which is a platform overlooking a waterhole and picked up some Blacksmith Plovers. Guvalala Platform was next, and here we picked up more Crowned Cranes, 3 Wildebeest that had just given birth, Knob-billed Duck, Bateleur, Dabchick, Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt, Cape Turtle Dove, Lilac-breasted Roller. On the way headed toward Shumba Picnic Site we found Red and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on some grazing Zebra, the Yellow-billed being the more stunning of the two. This site was quite disappointing, so we decided to press on to Masuma Dam Picnic Site. This had a great thatch boma overlooking a large waterhole. Saw the first Long-tailed Starlings, Water Dikkop, and a Hippo with 3 Terrapins sunning themselves on its back. Also had a little siesta. This would have been a great place to overnight, but the guard insisted that we had to drive a round trip of over 50 km to Sinamatella to pay for the night's accommodation. He was smoking his socks (I know rules are rules, but these defied logic - we tried to pay for Masuma at Main Camp but we couldn't as it falls under Sinamatella).

By now it was really hot so we headed for Sinamatella via the Lukose River Loop and Baobab Pan. Picked up a Cheetah with a freshly killed Warthog - this kill done in the heat of the day. The Cheetah was very skittish as this is the time when the generally lose their prey to other predators, so we didn't stay long. Also in the heat we were also starting to leak a bit and needed to replenish lost body fluid. Sinamatella Camp is situated on top of a hill with a magnificent vista looking north of the plains below. We vegetated on the patio of the Elephant and Dassie Restaurant with some toasted sandwiches and a few Zambezi's (the local beer). We then set up camp in the campsite (Zim$ 300.00) with a great view and guess what - we were the only people camping again and were treated to a magnificent sunset.

Tonight was a treat with, you guessed it, marinated fillet, Jamiesons and Soda and a fine 10 year bottle of red wine. We were speaking quite eloquent Swahili by the end of the evening. Amazing how much bigger the words get as you start to fall through your own ring. Hyaenas gave us a wide berth, I don't think they knew what was snoring in the only tent.

Bird of the day - Red-billed Helmet Shrike

Friday 3 December. Sinamatella Camp, Hwange National Park - Victoria Falls

The early morning walk through the camp was great, especially with the stunning vista from the top of the hill. Natal Francolin, an array of Doves, Red-chested, Emerald and Jacobin Cuckoo, Yellow-fronted Tinker Barbet, Bearded Woodpecker, African Golden Oriole, Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Familiar Chat, Grey-backed Bleating Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Red-billed Helmetshrike, Plum-coloured Starling, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Grey-headed Sparrow, Red-headed Weaver and Black-cheeked Waxbill.

After breakfast we consulted the map and chatted to the Rangers and decided to head straight for Victoria Falls (150 km away), instead of going via Robins Camp. The Rangers said that as a result of the rains, game viewing in that area would be poor, and it was a long drive. We agreed and decided to spend the day at the Falls. We were on the main road north by 7am, picking up an old kill with White-backed, White-headed and Lappet-faced Vultures looking for scraps. Today was going to be a scorcher, clear sky and beautiful. We drove through the town and straight to the Falls to do the two hour walk.

Just a few paces from the stunted scrub bush of the scorched, dry Kalahari sands that stretch from Botswana to the banks of the Zambezi in north-west Zimbabwe, an ancient miracle continues to slake its thirst from the unceasing benediction that has sustained it for thousands of years. Night and day the solid veil of mist that rises from the chasm of the Victoria Falls pours down on the thick canopy of tangled trees and lianas that cloaks the top of the facing cliffs. As you step into the cathedral-like gloom, with its drenched forest floor and rotting underbrush, the sharp African sunlight is suddenly dimmed. There is none of the still silence usually associated with rainforests, only the continuous thunder of the Falls and the perpetual patter of falling rain, ranging in intensity from gentle drizzle to torrential downpour.

By now it was heating up, and the cicada's were in full swing. We bought a bottle of mineral water each for the walk. Much of the walk to and around the falls is in the dry scrub bush, but as you get closer to the spray it slowly changes. Picked up Terrestrial Bulbul foraging in the undergrowth on the way to Livingstone's statue. From here it is into the lush cool forest and the spectacle of the Zambezi plunging 116 m to the river below. Heuglin's Robin was enjoying the spray and preening away quite contentedly, Blue Waxbills and Tawny-flanked Prinias scurrying along the footpath and Rock Martins wheeling along the cliff faces below. Once out of the forest, it is back toward the bungi bridge that is the Zimbabwe/Zambian border; here we saw a Peregrine Falcon taking to the wing and disappearing into the blue, always a spectacular sight.

By now it was almost lunch, so we headed toward the magnificent Victoria Falls Hotel for some G&T's and a Monte Christo sandwich on the patio of this grand hotel - felt quite decadent. Even the Banded Mongoose family that was stretched out on the lawn was fast asleep in the shade of a large tree. A swim would have topped off the lunch, but it was only for residents. We needed to find a place to camp, so drove out past the Big Tree (yes, a Baobab) toward Zambezi River Lodge, did not find anything suitable. On the way back decided to see what the Elephant Hills hotel looked like. We made ourselves at home at the Pool Bar that overlooked the golf course (should have brought the clubs). This hotel was a little more relaxed, so we were able to have that long awaited swim and some service from the pool-side waiters - damn Africa is so demanding. Eventually we dragged ourselves away from this decadence and headed to the noisy overlander campsite called Nyathi Rest Camp, which also had a pool.

On signing in, we read the visitors book with a smile, a comment from the previous night complained about the people in the entertainment area making too much noise, because they were drunk until 4am, we knew we were in the right place. We booked a river cruise for later and made camp before relaxing at the pool for the rest of the afternoon. The camp was actually very tame and quiet in hindsight.

We were collected at 4pm and taken down the boat, it was quite huge and about 15 other people soon joined us. The cruise went upstream (good idea) and included as much as you could consume with bar snacks. Unfortunately we were not the only boat on the river, it actually looked like rush hour. The water and river birds were however rewarding: White-breasted and Reed Cormorant, Great White Egret, Green-backed Heron, White-faced and Knob-billed Duck, Egyptian and Spur-winged Goose, African Jacana, Blacksmith and White-crowned Plover, Whiskered Tern, European and Little Bee-eater and Trumpeter Hornbill. My target bird was seen right at the end of the cruise when on request the captain went further downstream to a sandbank that had two roosting African Skimmers (eventually). It was a great afternoon, but had some thunder clouds building up. By the time we reached camp, it was belting down - so decided to have supper at the Wimpy in town (I still preferred my cooking), back to the camp for a last skinny dip in the drizzle and some night caps to the end of another lovely day.

Bird of the day: African Skimmer

Saturday 4 December. Victoria Falls - Journey's End - Binga, Lake Kariba

Rained all night, with no signs of abating during the day. Broke camp in the rain and back to the Wimpy for breakfast in the dry. Had last night's soggy oily chips with fried eggs - the coffee was novel. Picked up some more supplies, filled up and headed south back toward Bulawayo. We had gone as far north as we had planned, but the weather cleared the more south we traveled. By the time we turned east to Milibizi and Binga it was hot and humid again. Milibizi is where the overnight ferry from Kariba town docks after a 24 hour trip across the length of the Lake. I believe this is a great way to see the Lake - next time! Inland from the Lake the countryside was parched and dry. On the way up we had bought a local fishing magazine with an article about affordable Tiger fishing on the Lake. It talked about a few places to stay in Binga, one Bed and Breakfast place was at Journeys End - coincidentally just where we were headed. It is run by Des van Jaarsveld, a Zimbabwean and ex Springbok rugby captain for the 1960 team. The cottage in Binga (white population is 40 people) was fantastic, right on the Lake with its own pool and braai and it was available at R 150 per person (same price as camping in the Parks - damn!). We took it for two nights, we each had our own rooms with double beds so could snore at will and in peace. The houseboat was due back in the afternoon, and we could have access to the tender boat for a spot of Tiger fishing as well - things just fell nicely into place. We unpacked and relaxed in the pool until 4 pm, watching Plam Swifts in the sky, Heuglin's Robin, Bronze Mannikins, Yellow-eyed Canary, Spotted-backed Weaver and House Sparrow in the gardens with Woodland Kingfisher calling from down the road.

Though awesome to all those who behold it close up, the Kariba Dam seems all too puny for the task of containing the world's second largest man-made inland sea. It covers more than 5,000 square kilometers and is 281 km long and 40 km at its widest point. Its jade coloured waters are studded with islands and fringed by mountains and forests.

We rigged up our light tackle and headed to Binga Harbour, Foxy 1 is the auspicious houseboat that belongs to the van Jaarsvelds and sleeps 10 people. We met Cuthbert, the skipper of the houseboat and the tender boats. In the harbour picked up Fish Eagle, Reed and White-breasted Cormorants, Wire-tailed Swallows, Wood Sandpiper, Black Crake, Ringed and Three-banded Plovers and White-rumped Swifts. We headed out the harbour and east down the Lake stopping in different place close to islands. Here we used our spinners to lure the mighty Tigerfish. I was the first to hook a small one that jumped a good few times in an effort to shake the hook - it really is an impressive display of speed and power. It was about 1.2 kg, and we kept it for bait the next morning. Both Grant and Cuthbert missed the strikes that they had. On the small island were a variety of cormorants, plovers and some Water Dikkops. We moved on and tried where a Hippo was relaxing in amongst the weeds. No bites, but when a Hippo disappears for more than a few minutes and walks on the floor underwater - you tend to get a little worried, so we moved on. We then fished in between two islands, which was a lovely setting and then decided to head back and were treated to one of the African sunsets that only Kariba is famous for. By then the wind had died down, and the Lake was like glass. Standing in the front of the boat with arms outstretched it was Titanic all over again. We arranged with Cuthbert to go out again early in the morning. At the cottage our fire was already going, and yes, while the fillet was cooking we stayed safely submerged in the pool avoiding the mosquitoes and reflecting on the great day - yes the beers were also still cold.

Sleeping in a bed was a treat, especially with the sounds of the lake, wind and frogs outside the window. I think we passed out before we could fall asleep.

Bird of the day: None, but the splendour of the Lake and sunset was much to behold

Sunday 5 December. Journey's End -Binga, Lake Kariba

Rained in the night - didn't hear a thing. Up at 5 am, quick fruit breakfast and down to the harbour. Cuthbert was waiting, and this time there wasn't a problem with the big boat (it was like a limo compared to yesterday's flat-bottomed boat). Picked up a Squacco and Green-backed Heron in the reedbeds, the swallows were out, and there were a few Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters on the overhead lines as well as some Little Bee-eaters hawking in the grass.

The water was flat, and we headed east again for 40 minutes to a lovely little cove near one of the bigger islands, where we anchored to one of the submerged trees. Cuthbert had caught a 3kg Tigerfish here two days ago. The cove was very quiet some noisy White-crowned Plovers and Reed Cormorants as well as a Giant Kingfisher and Fish Eagle watching us from a distance. We then set about spinning away - both Cuthbert and I caught again, with Grant missing a few. It got progressively quieter so I changed to drift bait and missed two takes as they took the bait very softly - not what I was expecting. However, the next one to try that trick wasn't so lucky and when I struck it took off like a train - this was definitely bigger than the others, but when it jumped out of the water and flopped back in we got an idea of the size. Both Grant and Cuthbert quickly reeled in to ensure that I didn't get tangled in their lines, and the fight was on - along with shouts and whoops of encouragement. My small rod was bent double and as quick as I retrieved, the fish made run after run - after about 15 minutes I managed to get it to the boat, and Cuthbert swiftly brought it on board - it was a beauty and weighed 5 kg. It turned out to be one of the bigger fish caught in this area for about 6 months, so I was well pleased. This was definitely one for the wall at home - lucky I have a fridge in my 4 x 4! After catching the big one, there was no activity whatsoever, so we gave it another hour before heading back to the harbour.

Relaxed in the pool and watched a huge crocodile cruise the bay in front of us, then a little siesta. I decided to go for a walk back to the harbour, where I found a wader bigger than a Wood Sandpiper, very yellow legs and a distinctly short supercilium - the books confirmed that it was indeed a Lesser Yellowlegs - a great lifer for me. A walk along a short path in the bush gave me Orange-brested Bush Shrike, Puffback, Tropical Boubou, Spotted Flycatcher, Grey-backed Bleating Warbler, Kurrichane Thrush and Cardinal Woodpecker. The weather deteriorated, so back to the bungalow and just for a change - pasta for supper (with fillet and sauce - only kidding). Oh yes, the cottage also has satellite TV, so we took in the late night movie.

Bird of the day: Lesser Yellowlegs

Monday 6 December. Journey's End - Binga, Lake Kariba - Mucheni View, Chizarira

We decided to take advantage of the cooked breakfast, and this was prepared while we packed the truck. Good old English breakfast - bacon, eggs, sausage and all the extras. We enjoyed the sit down breakfast, settled the bill, and to our horror discovered that part of the service was having the truck washed - all the attitude was washed off in one foul swoop - in fact it looked brand new!

Stopped at the harbour to fetch my now frozen fish and to try and get a picture of the Yellowlegs - it was still there but proved rather elusive. It was also quite a mission to bend the frozen fish so that it would fit in the fridge - eventually when I did get it in, looked a little like a trussed up Houdini. We headed south and then turned east, back onto the sand road to Chizarira. Although it had rained, the road wasn't bad - picked up a few Knob-billed Duck in the roadside puddles, as the vegetation slowly became greener.

The 196 000 hectare Chizarira National Park is 780 meters above sea level and was only opened to the public in 1981. It lies in the hills of the eastern escarpment above the lake. To the east it is bordered by the Sengwa River, Mountain Acacia grows on the escarpment, which is also the home of a pendent form of dwarf aloe. The woodland in the north of the Park is predominantly miombo which, due to the heavy elephant damage in the 60's, has resulted in dwarf Mfuti Brachystegia boehmii. To the southeast, heavy cotton soils favour mopane woodland. The thickness of the vegetation and state of the roads in many parts of the Park reduces visibility and makes game viewing more arduous.

The Park, which is the 4th largest in the country has a range of wildlife is dominated in the northeast by the 1371 m Mount Tundazi. As an 'island' of rivers, perennial springs and natural springs, the Chizarira, in fact has extended the westerly range of several bird species including the rarely seen Taita Falcon (present in some gorges), Angola Pitta, Livingstone's Flycatcher - none of which we saw. For these you need an extended stay and prior arrangements with the game rangers. Few visit this park because of its remoteness and the fact that you need a 4-wheel drive, especially in summer.

From the entrance gate it was a steep climb up the escarpment to the plateau passing through some lovely riverine forest in the gorge before the plateau. Drove straight to headquarters, the rates were the same as the previous US$20.00 entry each, Zim$100.00 for car and Zim$300.00 each to camp - firewood was free! The main sites with ablutions were apparently booked, so we opted for the Mucheni View picnic site for the first night and Busi River the second. It was still overcast when we headed for our site - it was spectacular. We pitched the tent under a thatch lapa on the edge of the cliff looking north through a gorge to Lake Kariba 40 km away. There were no fences around our site, which gave one a sense of freedom. We could not get over how breathtaking the panorama was with the gorge, the lake and the river and riverine vegetation below us.

It was fantastic to watch the Black Eagles, Augur Buzzards, Peregrine Falcons rising up on the thermals to eventually almost make eye-to-eye contact with us. There were European Swifts and Rock Martins above us and Crested Guineafowl, Trumpeter Hornbills, Emerald Cuckoo, Narina Trogon and Yellow-spotted Nicator calling from the riverine vegetation below us.

We had an afternoon siesta and took a game drive toward the 'booked' Kasvishi Camp. A Grey-hooded Kingfisher was a treat in the deserted camp. We took the opportunity to have a cold shower (no hot water here, but it wasn't necessary). Blue Waxbill, Black Sunbird, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Spotted Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Arrow-marked Babbler were present around this quaint camp. We then headed to the platform at Mabola and a bachelor herd of 4 old elephants who were already making their way back into the bush from the waterhole. Helmeted Guineafowl were in amongst the Waterbuck with a Greater Honeyguide calling from the trees. We found some Double-banded Sangrouse, Little and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Broad-billed Rollers, plenty of Hoopoes and Pygmy Kingfisher on the road back to camp.

Since our camp was on the edge of the cliff, we had a cool breeze all night whilst we cooked our chops.

Bird of the Day: Grey-hooded Kingfisher

Tuesday 7 December. Mucheni View - Busi River, Chizarira

Was raining gently when we woke to calling Shelley's Francolin, at least our tent didn't get wet under the lapa. Took a drive back down the gorge to check out the Chizarira Lodge. It was closed for alterations and renovations, but we were shown around. It was here that I found out about the Pitta - we were too early and even at the right time need to plan to spend at least one day in the riverine forest with a guide - patiently waiting (now I know). Back to Kavishi for a last shower, found Whitefronted Bee-eaters and flushed a Dark Chanting Goshawk. Also drove back to the platform and found a Black Crake, Common Sandpiper and Wattled Plover - but no ele's today. We headed southwest toward the Busi River an at long last found Lesser Blue-eared Starling. It was an interesting 20 km drive to one of the more remote areas of the Park. Not the kind of place you would want to break down in - this area is known as a concentrated Lion country! The camp was situated on the other side of the river, which was dry. It was recommended that we didn't cross the river, as it is prone to flash floods (as some of the pictures in HQ showed us). We made camp in a small clearing, and for the first time felt a little vulnerable in terms of our exposure - as the bush around us was very thick - again no fences whatsoever!

During the heat of the day I watched the overhead birds and soon picked up White-backed, and Lappet-faced Vulture, Brown Snake Eagle, Bateleur, African Fish Eagle and Steppe Buzzard. In the surrounding bush the Arrow-marked Babblers, Chinspot Batis, Broad-billed Rollers, Black, Red-chested, Klaas and Diederick Cuckoo's, Green-spotted Dove, Purple-crested Lourie and Black-collared Barbet. We saw a herd of about 20 elephants cross the dry river above us which were quite oblivious to our presence. Later in the day we headed back up the road looking for Coursers as the sun started to set - no luck, but we did find Senegal Coucal, Black-brested Snake Eagle as well as Duiker, Zebra, Impala and Warthog. We got back to our camp before dark to get a decent fire going and had Scops Owl calling from across the river. When it got dark, we felt a lot more exposed as we could only see within our circle of light - it was then that we heard the start of many angry snarls and growls from somewhere on the other side of the river. Our dinner didn't take long to cook or eat, and in getting into the tent we let in plenty of insects as well. There was no wind, lots of humidity and the insects bugging us. An insect of some sort 'stung' both Grant and I, and it took almost 2 weeks to heal. It was a restless night, but soon the bush was quiet and so were we.

Bird of the day: Lesser Blue-eared Starling

Wednesday 8 December. Busi River, Chizarira - Home

Set the alarm for 4am to get a real early start, the bush was still quiet, and we packed quickly. It was only when we clunked the tent poles together that we woke that angry male Lion - this time he was on our side of the river and much, much closer than last night. After he snarled at us for waking him, packing the car in the early light certainly took the lead out of our legs.

We headed out of the Park by 5am, through the southern gate and toward the main road. The map showed one road that intersected the main Bulawayo road - that was not to be - there were many junctions and crossings, and it was during this time that the GPS was really useful - especially since it was overcast. The road was not too bad, some bad sections and lots of water, and we went through Lusulu and Lubimbi before the main road at 8am. Did find White Stork, Lanner Falcon, and the one and only Martial Eagle of the trip (I found that quite distressing).

It was then south and home - didn't spare the horses. Beit Brige border took us all of 15 minutes, but not so for those going north - the queue was a least a kilometer long. At Messina tucked into a large Nando's chicken burger to quell the appetite, swapped drivers and breezed home.

It was a fantastic trip, and Grant thoroughly enjoyed his first camping trip and venture into Africa. We had great fun, lots of laughs, and good diversity for such a short trip. Despite the failing economy, Zimbabwe is still a great country. We had no problems whatsoever and generally found the people to be really friendly - funny that we didn't meet one local that had anything good or decent to say about Mugabe, besides that he is raping the country. Lets hope the next election changes that

GPS Points

Beit Bridge22°13.107029°59.190
Matopo - Maleme Dam20°32.554028°30.103
Kennedy 1 - Hwange18°52.154027°08.517
3 Lionesses - Hwange18°48.590027°03.530
Sinametella - Hwange18°35.067026°19.045
Cheetah Kill - Hwange18°37.110026°20.705
Victoria Falls17°55.512025°50.785
Nyathi Rest Camp - Vic Falls17°55.094025°50.294
Journey's End - Binga17°35.111027°21.583
Mucheni View - Chizarira17°38.731027°52.611
Busi River - Chizarira17°51.760028°01.044


Journey's End - Binga, Lake Kariba. Contact: Des or Kathleen van Jaarsveld, Journey's End, P O Box 18, Binga, Zimbabwe. Tel (015) 338, Fax (015) 338


Species List

R NoSpecies Seen En RouteMatopo'sHwangeVic Falls BingaChizariraTotal
1Ostrich   X   X
8Dabchick   X   X
55White-breasted Cormorant     X  X
58Reed Cormorant    XX X
60Darter     X X
62Grey Heron X X  XX
64Goliath Heron    X  X
65Purple Heron     X X
66Great White Egret    XX X
71Cattle EgretXX XXX X
72Squacco Heron     X X
74Green-backed Heron    XX X
81Hamerkop   X   X
83White StorkX      X
85Abdim's StorkX  X   X
86Wooly-necked Stork   X   X
99White-faced Duck    XX X
102Egyptian Goose  XXXXXX
108Red-billed Teal   X    X
115Knob-billed Duck X XX   X
116Spur-winged Goose    X   X
121Hooded Vulture   X    X
123White-backed Vulture X X  X X
124Lappet-faced Vulture X X   XX
125White-headed Vulture   X    X
126aYellow-billed Kite XXXXXXX
126Black Kite   X    X
131Black Eagle  X   XX
132Tawny Eagle   X    X
134Lesser Spotted Eagle   X    X
135Wahlberg's Eagle  X    X
137African Hawk Eagle  X    X
140Martial Eagle X      X
142Brown Snake Eagle       XX
143Black-breasted Snake Eagle       XX
146BateleurX  X XXX
148African Fish Eagle      XXX
149Steppe Buzzard   X   XX
151Long-legged Buzzard   X    X
153Augur Buzzard       XX
156Ovambo Sparrowhawk   X    X
163Dark Chanting Goshawk       XX
171Peregrine Falcon    X  XX
172Lanner Falcon X      X
173Hobby Falcon   X    X
188Coqui Francolin       XX
191Shellys Francolin       XX
194Red-billed Francolin   X    X
196Natal Francolin  XX  XX
199Swainson's Francolin  XX  XX
203Helmeted GuineafowlX  X  XX
204Crested Guineafowl       XX
209Crowned Crane    X   X
213Black Crake      XXX
237Red-crested Korhaan    X   X
238Black-bellied Korhaan    X   X
240African Jacana    XX  X
245Ringed Plover     X  X
249Three-banded Plover   X X  X
258Blacksmith Plover   XX   X
259White-crowned Plover    XX  X
260Wattled Plover  X    XX
264Common Sandpiper   X XXX
266Wood Sandpiper   X X X
270Greenshank   X X  X
281Sanderling   X   X
295Black-winged Stilt   XX   X
298Water Dikkop   X X X
338Whiskered Tern    XX X
343African Skimmer    X   X
347Double-banded Sandgrouse       XX
349Rock Pigeon  X    X
352Red-eyed Dove  X  XXX
354Cape Turtle Dove  XXXXXX
355Laughing Dove  XXXXXX
356Namaqua Dove X    X X
358Green-spotted Dove  XX XXX
371Purple-crested Lourie  X   XX
373Grey Lourie  XX XXX
377Red-chested CuckooXX X XXX
378 Black Cuckoo       XX
382Jacobin Cuckoo   XXXXX
384Emerald Cuckoo   X   XX
385Klaas's Cuckoo   X XX X
386Diederick Cuckoo   X XX X
390Senegal Coucal     XX X
391White-browed Coucal      X X
396Scops Owl       XX
398Pearl-spotted Owl   X  X X
411European Swift       XX
415White-rumped Swift   X X  X
417Little Swift  X    X
421Palm Swift   XXX X
426Red-faced Mousebird     X  X
427Narina Trogon       XX
428Pied Kingfisher     XX X
429Giant Kingisher      X X
432Pygmy Kingfisher       XX
433Woodland Kingfisher      X X
435Brown-hooded Kingfisher  XX    X
436Grey-hooded Kingfisher       XX
438European Bee-eater  XXXXXX
440Blue-cheeked Bee-eater      XXX
441Carmine Bee-eater       XX
443White-fronted Bee-eater       XX
444Little Bee-eater  XXXXXX
445Swallow-tailed Bee-eater   X   XX
447Lilac-breasted Roller X X XXX
449Purple Roller X X    X
450Broad-billed Roller    X  XX
451Hoopoe   X   XX
452Red-billed Woodhoopoe   X   XX
455Trumpeter Hornbill    X  XX
457Grey Hornbill  XX   XX
458Red-billed Hornbill   X   XX
459Yellow-billed Hornbill XXX    X
460Crowned Hornbill       XX
463Ground Hornbill   X   XX
464Black-collared Barbet  X   XXX
470Yellow-fronted Tinker Barbet  XX X  X
473Crested Barbet   X  X X
474Greater Honeyguide       XX
486Cardinal Woodpecker  XX XXX
487Bearded Woodpecker    X   X
494Rufous-naped Lark  XX   X
518European Swallow XXXXXXX
522Wire-tailed Swallow      X X
524Red-breasted Swallow X X    X
525Mosque Swallow   X  XXX
526Greater Striped Swallow X      X
527Lesser Striped Swallow  XX XXX
529Rock Martin     XX X
531Grey-rumped Swallow X  X   X
538Black Cuckooshrike       XX
541Fork-tailed Drongo  XX  XX
544African Golden Oriole   X   XX
548Pied Crow X  X   X
550White-necked Raven  X    X
554Southern Black Tit  X   XX
560Arrow-marked Babbler  XX  XX
568Black-eyed Bulbul  XXXXXX
569Terrestrial Bulbul     X XX
574Yellow-bellied Bulbul    X    X
575Yellow-spotted Nicator       XX
576Kurrichane Thrush  X  X X
580Groundscraper Thrush   X    X
589Familiar Chat  XX   X
593Mocking Chat  X    X
596Stonechat  X    X
599Heuglin's Robin     XXXX
613White-browed Robin    X   X
617Beared Robin     X  X
635Cape Reed Warbler     X  X
643Willow Warbler XXXXXXX
648Yellow-breasted Apalis       XX
651Long-billed Crombec  X    X
655Green-backed Eremomela       XX
657Grey-backed Bleating Warbler   XXXXX
659Stierling's Barred Warbler       XX
672Rattling Cisticola XXXX XX
681Neddicky  X   XX
683Tawny-flanked Prinia  X X  X
689Spotted Flycatcher  XXXXXX
694Black Flycatcher  X    X
700Cape Batis  X    X
701Chinspot Batis   X   XX
710Paradise Flycatcher XXXXXXX
711African Pied Wagtail    XX  X
716Grassveld Pipit      X X
732Fiscal Shrike  X    X
733Red-backed Shrike   X    X
735Long-tailed Shrike    X   X
737Tropical Boubou  XXXXXX
740Puffback  XXXXXX
743Three-streaked Tchagra  X     X
744Black-crowned Tchagra  X   XX
748Orange-breasted Bush Shrike  X XXXX
751Grey-headed Bush Shrike       XX
753White Helmetshrike   X    X
754Red-billed Helmetshrike    X   X
756White-crowned Shrike   X    X
761Plum-coloured Starling  XX   X
763Long-tailed Starling   X   XX
764Glossy Starling  XX   X
765Greater Blue-eared Starling    X   X
766Lesser Blue-eared Starling       XX
769Red-winged Starling  X  XXX
771Yellow-billed Oxpecker   X    X
772Red-billed Oxpecker    X  XX
787White-bellied Sunbird      XXX
791Scarlet-chested Sunbird  XXX  X
792Black Sunbird       XX
797Yellow White-eye    XX  X
798Red-billed Buffalo Weaver    X   X
799White-browed Sparrow Weaver   XXX X
801House Sparrow    XX  X
804Grey-headed Sparrow  XX XXX
805Yellow-throated Sparrow  X     X
810Spectacled Weaver       XX
811Spotted-backed Weaver   XXXXX
814Masked Weaver    X   X
819Red-headed Weaver    X   X
827Yellow-rumped Widow  X    X
834Melba Finch       XX
841Jameson's Firefinch   XX  XX
844Blue Waxbill  X XXXX
847Black-cheeked Waxbill   X    X
852Quail Finch    X   X
857Bronze Mannikin      X X
860Pin-tailed Whydah  X    X
862Paradise Whydah       XX
869Yellow-eyed Canary  X  X X
870Black-throated Canary  X    X
881Streaky-headed Canary  X    X
884Golden-breasted Bunting       XX
886Rock Bunting  X    X
902Lesser Yellowlegs      X X
 TOTALS24 671105078101217

Return to trip reports.

This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; February 4, 2000