A report by Jan Vermeulen
Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary
Dzalanyama Forest Reserve
Nyika National Park
Nkhata Bay area
Liwonde National Park
Lengwe National Park
South Luangwa National Park
Systematic List of Birds
Systematic List of Mammals
In July 1999 I spent more than three weeks in Malawi and the Luangwa Valley in Zambia with Staf & Jos Elzermans, Vital & Riet van Gorp, Wilfred Sterk and Eric Wille.
The main objective of the trip was to see as many birds as possible. The two major habitats we covered during our visit were (Brachystegia) woodland and montane forests.
We recorded 367 species during this time, including Bronze-winged Courser, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Ruwenzori Nightjar, Boehm’s Bee-eater, Brown-breasted Barbet, Pallid Honeyguide, White-chested & Cholo Alethe, East Coast Akalat, White‑winged Apalis, Brown Warbler (Parisoma), Green‑backed Twinspot, Striped Pipit and a host of miombo species such as Pale-billed Hornbill, Racket-tailed Roller, Stierling’s Woodpecker, Souza’s Shrike and Boehm’s Flycatcher.
Malawi, formerly known as the Nyasaland Protectorate, is a small narrow country bordered by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia and is best known for Lake Malawi, the third largest lake of Africa. Malawi does not support as many species as Kenya or South Africa, but its relatively modern infrastructure, short distances, fine landscapes and excellent avifauna, including quite a few birds which are hard elsewhere to see, make it a worthy destination. Combined with a visit to South Luangwa National Park of adjacent Zambia, a trip to this part of Africa should produce a fine selection of birds and mammals.
Malawi is densely populated, but the Malawi government seems keen to protect the country’s natural resources.
They have designed nine national parks and many forest reserves, which may help the threatened birds occurring in Malawi. However forest sites such as Soche Mountain and the Thyolo Mountains are probably living on borrowed time.
FLIGHT AND VISA
We travelled to Malawi via Brussels, London and Harare (Zimbabwe). Our return-ticket (British Airways) for the air journey cost us about 850 US$. You do not need a visa for Malawi, but you definitely need one for Zambia. A yellow fever inoculation certificate is compulsory and must be submitted with your visa application.
We applied for one at the embassy at Brussels and the visa cost us 25 US$. When you're leaving Malawi, you have to pay 20 US$ departure tax.
The official currency of Malawi is the Malawi Kwacha (MK). The Kwacha fluctuated between 42 - 45 to the Dollar. The unit of currency in Zambia is the Zambian Kwacha. The exchange rate was about 2400 Zambian Kwacha to the Dollar.
All major credit cards and traveller cheques are accepted. Changing money at any of the commercial banks is usually easy and often, but not always, quick.
There are expensive first-class hotels in the main towns, cheaper resthouses in all urban centres. All wildlife reserves and larger forest reserves have accommodation of varying standard.
Prices of accommodation:
Dzalanyama Forest Resthouse
(1080 MK - double room)
Tiyeseho (Try) Hotel, Mchinji (200 MK - double room)
Kasungu Inn, Kasungu (1260 MK - double room)
Chalet, Nyika NP (100 US$ - 2 double rooms)
Camping at Nyika NP (5 US$ - per person)
Chikale Beach Resort, Nkhata Bay (850 MK - double room)
Camping at Liwonde NP (8 US$ - per person)
Chalet at Liwonde NP (38 US$ - per person)
Grace Bandawe Conference Centre, Blantyre (500 MK - double room)
Chalet, Lengwe NP (270 MK - double room)
Hotel Capital, Lilongwe (plush!)(216 US$ - double room)
Wildlife Camp (chalet),
South Luangwa NP (60 US$- 2 double rooms)
FOOD AND DRINK
Generally quite good. Stay away from uncooked fruits and vegetables that you haven't peeled yourself, and don't use ice.
It is best to avoid drinking the water unless you know it is boiled.
Restaurants are available in towns and some national parks (South Luangwa, Nyika and Liwonde).
During our stay at the other reserves we bought food for a few days. Most of the towns have small supermarkets where you can buy most of your supplies. We also bought mineral water, fanta, sprite and beer (Carlsberg). Fresh vegetables can easily be purchased at local markets.
We did not experience any serious stomach upsets despite regularly eating local food.
ENTRANCE FEES NATIONALPARKS
The entrance fees of national parks in Malawi are 5 US$ p.p. per day and a car cost 2 US$ per day.
Park fees in Zambia are considerably higher and the entrance fee of South Luangwa National Park was 20 US$ p.p. per day and a car cost 15 US$ per day!
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Theft is really not a problem in Malawi unless you are careless. Malawians are very friendly and helpful and the country is very safe and the worst that the traveller is likely to encounter is a pickpocket in Blantyre or Lilongwe.
For vaccinations consult your own doctor for up to date advice. Malaria is a major risk so all precautions against malaria are a must. Lake Malawi is generally free from bilharzia at the main beaches but don’t paddle in still water or around reeds.
A Yellow Fever Inoculation Certificate is required to enter and leave Malawi and Zambia!
Lock your car at all times, never leave valuables in open sight.
TAKE CARE: Many of the animals local to the camps in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia are very used to humans - and their food and litter! Baboons, elephants, hyenas and even lions can cause major problems for visitors - don't leave anything outside at night and never sleep even partially outside a tent. Make sure that your tent is fully zipped up.
Elephants in Liwonde National Park are unpredictable and can be dangerous, so give them a wide berth.
Never approach elephants, hippos, lions or other large animals too closely.
English is the official language in Malawi and Zambia and is widely spoken nearly everywhere.
The weather was generally pleasant, sometimes warm and sunny. Humidity was only really high at Nkhata Bay. In the early morning at Nyika NP it was really cold.
Since this is the Southern Hemisphere, mid‑winter is June/July and mid‑summer is December/January. The best time of the year to visit Malawi is at the start of the wet season (October to November) and January to February, when the birds are breeding. For cooler, more pleasant weather, try April – September, when birdwatching is still excellent.
A small tape recorder and the excellent bird call sets of South African birds by Guy Gibbon is quite useful for drawing in birds. Guy Gibbon's comprehensive set of pre‑recorded southern African birdcalls is available at approximately $60 for a set of 6 cassettes.
The set may be ordered from Wild Sounds, Cross Street, Salthouse, Norfolk NR25 7XH, England, telefax: 44‑1263‑741100.
A good torch is a must. A telescope is useful at lakes and very useful for viewing canopy species especially from roadsides. Photography is NOT difficult, as birds are easy to approach and light conditions are good.
Clothing can be T‑shirt
and short anywhere (during the daytime) except at Nyika National Park.
TRANSPORT AND ROADS
Road conditions in Malawi vary, but are generally good by African standards, make getting around easy. The main roads are sealed, but elsewhere are poor‑quality dirt, where a 4‑wheel drive would be a distinct advantage.
WARNING: If you haven't a high clearance 4WD vehicle in Nyika NP, don't even consider visiting this reserve, or you will certainly get some big problems!
It is very difficult to get around in Malawi without personal transport, as public transport is not recommended.
In Malawi, it's best to hire a car if you can afford it. For car rental, you will need a major credit card and a valid international driver's license
Car hire was pre‑booked in Belgium with Wilfred Sterk. Wilfred, a Belgian, living eight months a year in Zimbabwe, has a few Landrovers and can be contacted at the following address: Wilfred Sterk, Rekai Tangwena Avenue 5, Marondera, telephone 79/23087. We had to pay Wilfred 75 US$ per Landrover per day.
It is forbidden to alight from one's car away from specified areas in South Luangwa National Park and Liwonde National Park.
This is no great disadvantage as we found most of the birds and animals most confiding and the car provided a superb hide.
NOMENCLATURE & TAXONOMY
In Africa there is much confusion regarding the English names for birds, and often each author, having their own preferences which results in the same species having up to 3 or 4 different names.
Pycnonotus barbatus: Blackeyed Bulbul (Newman and Roberts), Garden Bulbul (Howard & Moore), Common Bulbul (Clements), Yellow-vented Bulbul (Williams/Arlott)....ridiculous!
I have decided to follow the English names of James F. Clements (July 1991, Birds of the World, A Check List).
The following list of birds we saw frequently and if you spend any sort of time in the right habitats you will too:
Long‑tailed Cormorant, Black-headed Heron, Cattle Egret, Hamerkop, Hadada Ibis, African Openbill, African Fish-Eagle, Bateleur, Helmeted Guineafowl, Ring-necked (Cape Turtle) Dove, Red‑eyed Dove, Emerald-Spotted Wood-Dove (Greenspotted Dove), Speckled Mousebird, African Palm‑Swift, Pied Kingfisher, Little Bee‑eater, Lilac‑breasted Roller, Red‑billed Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, Fork‑tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Common Fiscal, Black‑backed Puffback, Greater Blue‑eared Glossy‑Starling, Meve's Glossy‑Starling, Wire‑tailed Swallow, Lesser Striped‑Swallow, Common (Blackeyed) Bulbul, African Yellow White-eye, Tawny‑flanked Prinia, Green-backed Camaroptera (Bleating Warbler), Grey-headed Sparrow, Blue‑breasted Cordonblue (Blue Waxbill), Bronze Mannikin, African Pied Wagtail, White‑browed Sparrow‑Weaver, Red‑billed Quelea, Variable (Yellowbellied) Sunbird, Yellow-fronted (Yelloweyed) Canary.
For a detailed report of
species and numbers please refer to the systematic list at the end of this report.
- James F. Clements. Birds of the World. A Check List.
- Jonathan Kingdon. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals.
- Gordon Lindsay Maclean. Robert's Birds of Southern Africa.
- KENNETH NEWMAN. BIRDS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA, EXPANDED EDITION.
- KENNETH NEWMAN, NIGEL JOHNSTON-STEWART & BOB MEDLAND. BIRDS OF MALAWI, A SUPPLEMENT TO NEWMAN’S BIRDS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA.
- IAN SINCLAIR, PHIL HOCKEY & WARWICK TARBOTON, ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA.
- E.K. Urban, L.H. Brown, K.B. Newman. The Birds of Africa, volume I. Ostriches to Falcons.
- E.K. Urban, C.H. Fry, S. Keith. The Birds of Africa, volume II (Gamebirds to Pigeons), volume III (Parrots to Woodpeckers), volume IV (Broadbills to Chats) and volume V (Thrushes to Puffback Flycatchers).
- Michael Walters. Complete Checklist. Vogels van de Wereld.
- Nigel Wheatley. Where to watch birds in Africa.
Nigel Wheatley's " Where to watch birds in Africa" is useful at the planning stage.
- Andrew Dobson. Malawi and the Luangwa Valley 27th July – 2nd September 1988
- Valéry Schollaert. Malawi from 5th to 25th June 1996, an ornithological report.
- Jon Hornbuckle. Report on a Birding Trip to Malawi 5 – 15th March 1997.
- Henk Hendriks. Malawi , A Birder’s Guide to Malawi, Southern Africa, based on a trip from 13-07-1997 until 25‑08‑1997
- Robert Langhendries. Malawi. Report on a birding trip, 27th September – 18th October 1997.
- Birdwatching in Malawi. Bob Medland. An article in the Bulletin of the African Bird Club, Volume 2 No 2 August 1995.
I found the detailed notes by Henk Hendriks most useful, with additional information from the report by Jon Hornbuckle.
I use this software to keep track of the birds I have seen and to make lists of any country, labelling endemics and birds previously seen in that country, outside it, or both. BirdArea can produce checklists of the birds of any country of Clements’ world birds.
Many thanks to Mark van
Beirs and Henk Hendriks for help and advice and particularly to Jos and Staf
Elzermans for driving the Landrovers with Wilfred from Zimbabwe (Harare) to
Malawi and back to Zimbabwe.
July 10 Chaam
* Brussels * London
July 11 Harare * Lilongwe * Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary * Dzalanyama Forest Reserve
July 12 Dzalanyama Forest Reserve
July 13 Dzalanyama Forest Reserve * Mchinji
July 14 Mchinji
* Chipata * South Luangwa National Park
July 15 South Luangwa National Park
July 16 South Luangwa National Park
July 17 South Luangwa National Park * Chipata * Mchinji* Kasungu
July 18 Kasungu
* Mzuzu * Rumphi * Nyika National Park
July 19 Nyika National Park
July 20 Nyika National Park
July 21 Nyika National Park * Rumphi * Mzuzu * Nkhata Bay
July 22 Nkhata Bay - Kalwe Forest Reserve * Nkwadzi Forest Reserve * Nkhata Bay
July 23 Nkhata Bay * Salima * Liwonde National Park
July 24 Liwonde National Park
July 25 Liwonde National Park
July 26 Liwonde National Park * Zomba * Blantyre
July 27 Blantyre * Thyolo Mountains * Blantyre
July 28 Soche Mountain * Lengwe National Park
July 29 Lengwe National Park
July 30 Lengwe National Park * Blantyre
July 31 Blantyre * Soche Mountain * Blantyre * Lilongwe
August 1/2 Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary * Harare * London * Brussels * Chaam
Most of the sites are detailed in the trip reports, so I will restrict to a brief description and mention the species we have seen.
LILONGWE NATURE SANCTUARY
Accommodation: a hotel in Lilongwe.
Lilongwe NR situated in the middle of the capital in Central Malawi, may be your first introduction to the common species of Central Malawi. It is a good place to bird, when you have a free afternoon after arriving or the last morning of your trip to Malawi before taking your plane.
The thick bush, gallery forest, bamboo thickets and woodland supports White‑backed Night‑Heron, African Finfoot, Half‑collared Kingfisher and Magpie Mannikin, to name a few.
Long-tailed (Reed) Cormorant,Yellow‑billed Duck, Black‑headed Heron, Hamerkop, Black Kite, Helmeted Guineafowl, Ring-necked Dove (Cape Turtle Dove), Red‑eyed Dove, Emerald-Spotted Wood-Dove (Greenspotted Dove), Speckled Mousebird, Livingstone’s, Half‑collared Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Brown‑hooded Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Green (Redbilled) Woodhoopoe, Yellow‑fronted Tinkerbird, Black-collared Barbet, Bearded Woodpecker, Fork‑tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Tropical Boubou, (Orange-) Sulphur‑breasted Bushshrike, Chinspot Batis, Black‑throated Wattle‑eye (Wattle‑eyed Flycatcher), Greater Blue‑eared Glossy‑Starling, African Dusky Flycatcher, Ashy (Bluegrey) Flycatcher, White‑browed Robin‑Chat (Heuglin’s Robin), Wire‑tailed Swallow, Common Bulbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, African Yellow White‑eye, Tawny‑flanked Prinia, Grey‑backed Camaroptera, Yellow‑breasted Apalis, Greencap Eremomela, Peters’ (Redthroated) Twinspot, Red‑billed Firefinch, Blue‑breasted Cordonblue (Blue Waxbill), Bronze Mannikin, Magpie (Pied) Mannikin, African Pied Wagtail, Mountain (Long‑tailed) Wagtail, Golden Weaver, Spectacled Weaver, Village (Spottedbacked) Weaver, Red‑billed Quelea, Collared Sunbird, Scarlet‑chested Sunbird, Variable (Yellowbellied) Sunbird, Yellow-fronted (Yelloweyed) Canary.
Birds we did not see:
Black Goshawk, White‑backed Night‑Heron, African Finfoot, White‑faced Scops‑Owl, Narina Trogon, African Broadbill.
DZALANYAMA FOREST RESERVE
Accommodation: Dzalanyama Forest Resthouse in the reserve. You have to make reservations. We did not make reservations, but we managed to get rooms at the resthouse. You have to bring your own food and drink.
Southwest of Lilongwe (two hours driving to the resthouse) towards the Zambian border, lies an impressive expanse of pristine miombo woodland at Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, an excellent site for the miombo specialities.
Miombo bird-watching is a pretty easy-going affair, you just drive slowly along the forest, until you come across a bird party, stop and get out, don’t panic and you may well pick up twenty or more species in ten minutes.
(Western) Banded Snake‑Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, African Hawk‑Eagle, Coqui Francolin, Ring-necked Dove (Cape Turtle Dove), Red‑eyed Dove, Emerald Spotted Wood‑Dove, Speckled Mousebird, Schalow’s Turaco, Swallow‑tailed Bee‑eater, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Pale-billed Hornbill, Trumpeter Hornbill, Whyte's Barbet, Miombo Barbet, Stierling’s Woodpecker, Fork-tailed Drongo, African Black‑headed Oriole, White‑breasted Cuckoo‑Shrike, Souza’s Shrike, Brubru, Black‑backed Puffback, Black‑crowned Tchagra, White Helmetshrike, Retz's (Redbilled) Helmetshrike, Chinspot Batis, Miombo Rock‑Thrush, Kurrichane Thrush, Pale (Mousecoloured) Flycatcher, Boehm’s Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Ashy (Bluegrey) Flycatcher, Miombo (Central Bearded) Scrub‑Robin, Common Stonechat, Familiar Chat, Wire-tailed Swallow, Eastern Sawwing, Common Bulbul, African Yellow White‑eye, Tawny‑flanked Prinia, Green‑backed Camaroptera, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Greencap Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Southern (Mashona) Hyliota, Rufous‑bellied Tit, Yellow‑throated Petronia, Orange‑winged (Goldenbacked) Pytilia, Green‑winged Pytilia (Melba Finch), Peters’ (Redthroated) Twinspot, Blue‑breasted Cordonblue (Blue Waxbill), Bronze Mannikin, Broad‑tailed Paradise‑Whydah, Mountain (Longtailed) Wagtail, Yellow‑throated Longclaw, Olive‑headed Weaver, Anchieta’s (Red and Blue) Sunbird, Amethyst (Black) Sunbird, Variable (Yellowbellied) Sunbird, Miombo Sunbird, Shelley’s Sunbird, Black‑eared Seedeater, Cinnamon‑breasted (Rock) Bunting, Golden‑breasted Bunting, Cabanis’ Bunting.
Birds we did not see:
(absent during this time of the year), Red‑capped Crombec, Stierling’s
Wren‑Warbler, Lesser (Nyasa) Seedcracker.
Accommodation: It is possible to camp or to hire a chalet at Chelinda Camp. The campsite is 2 km from the main accommodation. There is a restaurant at Chelinda.
At the northern end of Lake Malawi is the Nyika Plateau (3135 km2), an almost tundra‑like area of upland dotted with montane rainforest patches, marshes and small lakes that is part of the western rim of the Great Rift Valley, surrounded by Brachystegia covered foothills.
This is the premier birdwatching destination in Malawi or for anyone wishing to escape the summer heat of the valleys below. Due to the high altitude, night temperatures some times drop below freezing from May - September as we noticed.
The road across the plateau and until the junction towards the Chelinda Camp area forms the international border with Zambia with free access between Malawi and Zambia. The park is quite well covered in Bob Medland’s ABC article, but the recommended Zambian resthouse has been closed.
To get the most out of your visit it is necessary to visit two rainforest patches: Zovo Chipolo Forest and Chowo Forest, the latter is actually in Zambia.
Allow some time entering and leaving the park to bird the Brachystegia woodland on either side of Thazima gate for bird parties.
Little Grebe (Dabchick), Yellow‑billed Duck, Black‑headed Heron, White‑backed Vulture, Rufous‑chested Sparrowhawk, Augur Buzzard, Red‑winged Francolin, Common Quail, Knobbed Coot, Stanley Bustard, Common Sandpiper, African (Rameron) Pigeon, Dusky (Pinkbreasted) Turtle Dove, Ring-necked Dove (Cape Turtle Dove), Speckled Mousebird, Schalow’s Turaco, Grey Go‑away‑bird, Spotted Eagle‑Owl, Ruwenzori Nightjar, Freckled Nightjar, Bar‑tailed Trogon, Pied Kingfisher, Common (Greater) Scimitar-bill, Crowned Hornbill, Moustached Green‑Tinkerbird, Black‑collared Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Olive Woodpecker, White‑tailed Blue‑Flycatcher, White‑tailed Crested‑Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Drongo, White‑necked Raven, African Black‑headed Oriole, White‑breasted Cuckoo‑Shrike, Brubru, Black‑backed Puffback, Black‑crowned Tchagra, Fuelleborn’s Boubou, Grey‑headed Bushshrike, Malawi Batis, Miombo Rock‑Thrush, Kurrrichane Thrush, White‑chested Alethe, Waller’s Starling, White‑eyed Slaty‑Flycatcher, Southern Black‑Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, White‑starred Robin, Sharpe’s Akalat, Olive‑flanked Robin‑Chat, Cape Robin‑Chat, Common Stonechat, Familiar Chat, White‑headed Black‑Chat (Arnot’s Chat), Spotted Creeper, Wire-tailed Swallow, Common Bulbul, (Olivebreasted) Mountain Greenbul, Sharpe’s Greenbul, African Yellow White‑eye, Tawny‑flanked Prinia, Trilling Cisticola, (Mountain) Black‑lored Cisticola, Lazy Cisticola, Churring Cisticola, Wing‑snapping (Ayres’) Cisticola, Bar‑throated Apalis, Brown‑headed Apalis, Mountain Warbler, Greencap Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Brown Warbler (Parisoma), Mountain Illadopsis, Abyssinian Hill‑Babbler (Mountain Babbler), Rufous‑bellied, Miombo (Northern Grey) Tit, African (Grey) Penduline‑Tit, Rufous‑naped Lark, Black‑tailed (Grey) Waxbill, Yellow‑bellied Waxbill (East African Swee), Common Waxbill, Variable-Indigobird (Black Widowfinch), African Pied Wagtail, Buffy Pipit, Jackson’s Pipit, Spectacled Weaver, Buff‑shouldered Widowbird (Mountain Marsh Widow), Anchieta’s (Red and Blue) Sunbird, Green‑headed Sunbird, Amethyst (Black) Sunbird, Scarlet‑chested Sunbird, Variable (Yellowbellied) Sunbird, Miombo Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Red‑tufted Sunbird, Miombo Sunbird, Cape Canary, African Citril, Southern Yellow‑rumped Seedeater (Blackthroated Canary), Yellow-fronted (Yelloweyed) Canary, Reichard’s (Stripebreasted) Seedeater, Yellow‑browed Seedeater, Cabanis’Bunting.
Birds we did not see:
Wattled Crane (we were one month too early), Pennant‑winged Nightjar (absent this time of year), Blue Quail, Black‑backed Barbet, Orange Ground‑Thrush, Chapin’s Apalis, Chestnut‑throated Apalis, Evergreen Forest Warbler (luckily we did see this bird near Blantyre), Blue Swallow (absent this time of year), Angola Swallow, Baglafecht Weaver, Oriole Finch.
Sparrow‑Weaver and Babbling Starling are said to be easy at
Kawyia Camp at Vwaza Marsh, a large reserve just south of Nyika NP, a place
we did not visit.
Accommodation: Chikale Beach Resort at Nkhata Bay or plenty of other accommodation.
Close to Nkhata Bay are the lakeshore reserves: Kalwe Forest Reserve and Nkwadzi Forest Reserve.
Both remnant patches of rainforest are the best locations for the elusive East Coast Akalat (Gunning’s Robin), difficult to see at its better known haunts along the Kenyan Coast.
Kalwe Forest Reserve:
Go inland on the main road to Mzuzu. A few kilometres west of the Nkhata Bay/Mzuzu/Chinteche junction is a remnant patch of rainforest. The forest is signposted on the left-hand side of the road coming from Nkhata Bay.
There is a fairly good road into the forest. Park your car a few hundred metres up this road and play the tape.
Nkwadzi Forest Reserve:
This forest is situated en route from Nkhata Bay to Chinteche, approximately 15 kilometres from the Nkhata Bay/Mzuzu/Chinteche junction.
After the second stretch of rubber plantation (Vizarra Estate), there is nice patch of rainforest: Nkwadzi Forest.
At the southern side of the forest there is a small village. Park your car here and ask for the park guards.
They will gladly accompany you on the difficult to find track on the other side of the main road.
In both forests East Coast Akalat was easy to find, but otherwise both forests were rather lifeless.
Green‑backed (Little Spotted) Woodpecker, African Golden‑Oriole, Black Cuckoo‑Shrike, Chinspot Batis, Green‑backed Camaroptera, East Coast Akalat (Gunning’s Robin), Lemon‑breasted Seedeater (near Kalwe FR at a marshy area along a river on the Mzuzu road), Purple‑banded Sunbird.
Birds we did not see:
Broad‑billed Roller, Yellowbill, Narina Trogon, Black‑bellied Gloss-Starling,
Accommodation: the campsite or a chalet at Mvuu Camp, but I recommend camping.
Liwonde encompasses part of the Shire River and some marshes and mopane woodland in the Shire Valley.
The dominant vegetation is Mopane woodland.
Birdlife is abundant in Liwonde with over 500 species having been recorded. Mvuu Camp on the banks of the Shire River, is a very attractive birding spot and here we spent most of our time. Around the campsite we saw amongst many others: African Cuckoo‑Falcon, Red‑necked Falcon, African Barred Owlet, Boehm’s Bee‑eater, Brown‑breasted Barbet, Livingstone’s Flycatcher and Collared Palm‑Thrush.
A serious problem at the camp is that you are not allowed to go birding on your own (walking). The nest site of the Brown‑breasted Barbet is only 400 metres from the camp, but you are not allowed to walk to this place.
The local guide is now Benjamin (Ben), since Robert Nyirenda has left the place. Ben is knowledgeable and sharp‑eyed, although we did surprise him when we identified a melanistic form of the Gabar Goshawk within 5 seconds. He did not believe us and after consulting his book he reluctantly admitted that we were right.
Make a bird walk with Ben in the early morning with an armed ranger, although this is very expensive (18 US$ p.p.), but it is the only way to see the barbet.
Great (Whitebreasted) Cormorant, African Darter, White‑faced Whistling‑Duck, Spur‑winged Goose, Comb Duck, Intermediate Egret, Grey Heron, Black‑headed Heron, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron, Goliath Heron, Striated (Greenbacked) Heron, Hamerkop, Glossy Ibis, Hadada Ibis, African Spoonbill, African Openbill, Marabou Stork, African Cuckoo‑Falcon, African Fish‑Eagle, White‑headed Vulture, (Western) Banded Snake‑Eagle, Bateleur, African Marsh‑Harrier, African Harrier‑Hawk (Gymnogene), Gabar Goshawk, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Ayres’ Hawk‑Eagle, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Red‑necked Falcon, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red‑necked Spurfowl, African Jacana, Common Sandpiper, Black‑winged Stilt, Bronze‑winged Courser, Temminck’s Courser, Long‑toed Lapwing, Blacksmith Plover, White‑headed Lapwing, Senegal Lapwing (Lesser Blackwinged Plover), Gray‑headed Gull, Laughing Dove, Ring-necked Dove (Cape Turtle Dove), Red‑eyed Dove, Emerald-Spotted Wood-Dove (Greenspotted Dove), Tambourine Dove, Namaqua Dove, Brown‑headed Parrot, Lilian’s Lovebird, Red‑faced Mousebird, Purple‑crested Turaco, Grey Go‑away‑bird, African Emerald Cuckoo, Burchell's Coucal, Fiery‑necked Nightjar, African Barred Owlet, African Palm‑Swift, Malachite Kingfisher, Brown‑hooded Kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Swallow‑tailed Bee‑eater, Boehm’s Bee‑eater, Lilac‑breasted Roller, African Hoopoe, Green (Redbilled) Woodhoopoe, Common (Greater) Scimitar-bill, Red‑billed Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, Southern Ground‑Hornbill, Brown‑breasted Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, Lesser Honeyguide, Green‑backed (Slenderbilled) Honeyguide, Cardinal woodpecker, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, African Paradise‑Flycatcher, Fork‑tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, African Golden‑Oriole, Black Cuckoo‑Shrike, Brubru, Black‑backed Puffback, Brown‑crowned (Threestreaked) Tchagra, Tropical Boubou, (Orange-) Sulphur‑breasted Bushshrike, Grey‑headed Bushshrike, Chinspot Batis, Black‑throated Wattle‑eye (Wattle‑eyed Flycatcher), Greater Blue‑eared Glossy‑Starling, Southern Blue‑eared Glossy‑Starling, (Longtailed) Meves’ Glossy‑Starling, Red‑billed Oxpecker, African Dusky Flycatcher, White‑browed Robin‑Chat (Heuglin’s Robin), Red‑capped Robin‑Chat, Collared Palm‑Thrush, White‑headed Black‑Chat (Arnot's Chat), Grey‑rumped Swallow, Wire‑tailed Swallow, Pearl‑breasted Swallow, Common Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Yellow‑bellied Greenbul, Placid Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, African Yellow White‑eye, Tawny‑flanked Prinia, Yellow‑breasted Apalis, Grey‑backed Camaroptera, Cape (Longbilled) Crombec, Arrow‑marked Babbler, Southern Black‑Tit, Cinnamon‑breasted Tit, Flappet Lark, Grey‑headed Sparrow, Green‑winged Pytilia (Melba Finch), Red‑billed Firefinch, Jameson’s Firefinch, Blue‑breasted Cordonblue (Blue Waxbill), Bronze Mannikin, Cutthroat, Village Indigobird (Steelblue Widowfinch), Eastern Paradise‑Whydah, African Pied Wagtail, Yellow‑throated Longclaw, White‑browed Sparrow‑Weaver, Spectacled Weaver, Southern Brown‑throated Weaver, Red‑billed Quelea, Collared Sunbird, Scarlet‑chested Sunbird, Variable (Yellowbellied) Sunbird, Eastern Double‑collared Sunbird, Yellow-fronted (Yelloweyed) Canary, Cinnamon‑breasted (Rock) Bunting.
Birds we did not see:
White‑backed Night‑Heron, Bat Hawk, Lesser Jacana, Pel’s Fishing‑Owl,
Boehm’s Spinetail, Racket‑tailed Roller, Black‑winged Bishop.
Accommodation: A hotel in Blantyre: Grace Bandawe Conference Centre.
Amongst the many tea plantations on the Thyolo Mountains to the south of Blantyre, remnant montane forest patches support some rare African species.
This site, just south of Blantyre is supposedly the easiest site to observe the Cholo Alethe, Malawi’s (well almost) only endemic.
From Blantyre take Victoria Road and Kapemi Road to the top of hill with the satellite disk on your left. Turn right at the satellite (crossroads) and drive into a small dirty village. Park your car at the PHC-church (50 m before the transformer mast) on the right side of the road and walk along the church to the mountain.
Follow the main path into the forest. Key birds we did see were: Pallid Honeyguide, Green‑backed Honeyguide, Black‑fronted Bushshrike, Malawi Batis, Pale Batis, Black‑throated Wattle‑eye, Cholo Alethe, Placid Greenbul, Black‑headed Apalis, White‑winged Apalis, Striped Pipit,
The Thyolo Mountains, an hour’s drive from Blantyre, hold almost the same birds as Soche Mountain. Green‑headed Oriole is said to be easy here, but we dipped miserably.
Drive from Blantyre to Limbe and then take the very bad road to Thyolo (a new road was almost finished!). It is almost 30 km from Blantyre to the Satemwa Tea Estate. The Tea Estate is signposted along the main road.
Birds seen in both areas:
African Fish‑Eagle, Shikra (Little Banded Goshawk), Ovampo Sparrowhawk, Verreaux's (Black) Eagle, Martial Eagle, Eurasian Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Ring-necked Dove (Cape Turtle Dove), Tambourine Dove, African Palm‑Swift, Livingstone’s Turaco, White‑eared Barbet, Green Barbet, Yellow‑rumped Tinkerbird, Pallid (Eastern) Honeyguide, Green‑backed (Slenderbilled) Honeyguide, Square‑tailed Drongo, African Golden‑Oriole, African Black‑headed Oriole, Grey Cuckoo‑Shrike, Brubru, Black‑backed Puffback, Black‑fronted Bushshrike, Malawi Batis, Pale (Mozambique) Batis, Black‑throated Wattle‑eye, Olive Thrush, Cholo Alethe, Ashy (Bluegrey) Flycatcher, White‑starred Robin, (Eastern) Bearded Scrub‑Robin, Common Stonechat, Familiar Chat, Eastern Sawwing, Common Bulbul, Little Greenbul, Stripe‑cheeked Bulbul, Yellow‑bellied Greenbul, Placid Greenbul, Grey‑olive Greenbul, Yellow‑streaked Greenbul, African Yellow White‑eye, Tawny‑flanked Prinia, White‑winged Apalis, Black‑headed Apalis, Green‑backed Camaroptera, Evergreen Forest Warbler, Greencap Eremomela, Yellow‑throated Woodland‑Warbler, Southern (Mashona) Hyliota, Yellow‑throated Petronia, Green‑backed Twinspot, Peters’ (Redthroated) Twinspot, Blue‑breasted Cordonblue (Blue Waxbill), Black‑and‑white (Redbacked) Mannikin, Mountain (Longtailed) Wagtail, Striped Pipit, Wood Pipit, Bertrand’s Weaver, Southern Masked‑Weaver, Forest Weaver, Yellow Bishop (Yellowrumped Widow), Olive Sunbird, Amethyst (Black) Sunbird, Variable (Yellowbellied) Sunbird, African Citril.
Birds we did not see:
Bar‑tailed Trogon, Spotted Ground‑Thrush, Orange Ground‑Thrush,
Green‑headed Oriole, Red‑faced Crimsonwing.
LENGWE NATIONAL PARK
Accommodation: a chalet at the entrance of the park. You have to bring your own food and drink .The very friendly people at the main gate have an excellent cook.
Lengwe NP is a dense deciduous thicket park in the lower Shire Valley and is quite different from the other parks. It is a hot and dusty park, but you can find a wide variety of species here scarcely found elsewhere. During the time we were there, there was no water in the park, except in the four artificial waterholes.
Only the hide near the entrance was in excellent condition, the other hides were in a very bad shape.
Intermediate Egret, Grey Heron, Black‑headed Heron, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Hamerkop, Hadada Ibis, African Openbill, Woolly‑necked Stork, Marabou Stork, Black‑shouldered Kite, African Fish‑Eagle, Hooded Vulture, White‑backed Vulture, (Western) Banded Snake‑Eagle, Bateleur, African Harrier‑Hawk (Gymnogene), Lizard Buzzard, African Goshawk, Tawny Eagle, Long‑crested Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Helmeted Guineafowl, Bronze‑winged Courser, Laughing Dove, Ring-necked Dove (Cape Turtle Dove), Red‑eyed Dove, Emerald-Spotted Wood-Dove (Greenspotted Dove), Tambourine Dove, Brown‑headed Parrot, Lilian’s Lovebird, Speckled Mousebird, Grey Go‑away‑bird, Barred Long‑tailed Cuckoo, Burchell's Coucal, Fiery‑necked Nightjar, Square‑tailed (Mozambique) Nightjar, African Palm‑Swift, Malachite Kingbird, Brown‑hooded Kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Little Bee‑eater, Boehm’s Bee‑eater, Lilac‑breasted Roller, African Hoopoe, Green (Redbilled) Woodhoopoe, Common (Greater) Scimitar-bill, Red‑billed Hornbill, Southern Yellow‑billed Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, Trumpeter Hornbill, Southern Ground‑Hornbill, Crested Barbet, Golden‑tailed Woodpecker, Green‑backed (Little Spotted) Woodpecker, Cardinal woodpecker, Bearded Woodpecker, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, African Paradise‑Flycatcher, Square‑tailed Drongo, Fork‑tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, African Golden‑Oriole, White‑breasted Cuckoo‑Shrike, Black Cuckoo‑Shrike, Common Fiscal, Brubru, Black‑backed Puffback, Tropical Boubou, (Orange-) Sulphur‑breasted Bushshrike, White Helmetshrike, Retz’s (Redbilled) Helmetshrike, Chinspot Batis, Southern Blue‑eared Glossy‑Starling, Southern Black‑Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Red‑capped Robin‑Chat, Wire‑tailed Swallow, Common Bulbul, Yellow‑bellied Greenbul, Placid Greenbul, Grey‑olive Greenbul, Eastern (Yellowspotted) Nicator, African Yellow White‑eye, Rattling Cisticola, Tawny‑flanked Prinia, Yellow‑breasted Apalis, Grey‑backed Camaroptera, Southern Black‑Tit, Grey‑headed Sparrow, Yellow‑throated Petronia, Green‑winged Pytilia (Melba Finch), Blue‑breasted Cordonblue (Blue Waxbill), Bronze Mannikin, African Pied Wagtail, White‑browed Sparrow‑Weaver, Forest Weaver, Red‑headed Weaver, Red‑billed Quelea, Collared Sunbird, Amethyst (Black) Sunbird, Variable (Yellowbellied) Sunbird, White‑breasted Sunbird, Yellow-fronted (Yelloweyed) Canary, Cabanis’ Bunting.
Birds we did not see:
Black‑and‑white Shrike‑Flycatcher, Ruwenzori Batis.
SOUTH LUANGWA NATIONAL PARK
Accommodation: close to the entrance are a few camps. I recommend staying at the Wildlife Camp along the Luangwa River.
You can either camp here or hire a chalet. In the park are some VERY expensive lodges.
This national park is accessible on good roads from Malawi (six hours from Lilongwe). The main camp, Mfuwe, is 130 km north-west of Chipata on the Zambia/Malawi border.
The natural beauty, variety and concentration of wildlife make this huge park one of the last great wildlife strongholds on earth.
Game is so prolific Luangwa is called “The Crowded Valley”. The park has one of the highest concentrations of Elephant on the continent.
We spent three days in this superb wilderness. South Luangwa is renowned for its animals, rather than its birds. You will not find any real specialities in this park and most of the species are birds commonly found in southern Africa. The advantage of this reserve, compared to other famous parks in Africa is the fact that this park combines plenty of wildlife with few visitors, the main reason for us to visit this park.
There is no better park in Africa for night game drives than South Luangwa and you will almost certainly see a Leopard.
Long-tailed (Reed) Cormorant,
African Darter, Egyptian Goose, Intermediate Egret, Grey Heron, Goliath Heron,
Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Squacco Heron, Striated (Greenbacked) Heron, Hamerkop,
Hadada Ibis, Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill, Yellow‑billed Stork, African
Openbill, Saddle‑billed Stork, Marabou Stork, African Fish‑Eagle,
Hooded Vulture, White‑backed Vulture, Lappet‑faced Vulture, White‑headed
Vulture, Brown Snake‑eagle, (Western) Banded Snake‑Eagle, Bateleur,
African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene), Lizard Buzzard, Shikra (Little Banded Goshawk),
Tawny Eagle, Martial Eagle, Dickinson's Kestrel, Helmeted Guineafowl,
Red‑necked Spurfowl, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Grey (Southern) Crowned‑Crane,
African Jacana, Common Sandpiper, Water Thick‑Knee, Three‑banded
Plover, White‑fronted Plover, Blacksmith Plover, White‑headed Lapwing,
Senegal Lapwing, African Skimmer, Double‑banded Sandgrouse, Laughing
Dove, Ring-necked Dove (Cape Turtle Dove), Red‑eyed Dove, Emerald-Spotted
Wood-Dove (Greenspotted Dove), Lilian’s Lovebird, Speckled Mousebird,
Grey Go‑away‑bird, Senegal Coucal, Burchell’s Coucal, Verreaux’s
(Giant) Eagle‑Owl, Square‑tailed (Mozambique) Nightjar, African
Palm‑Swift, Little Swift, Malachite Kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher, Giant
Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, White‑fronted Bee‑eater, Little Bee‑eater,
Swallow‑tailed Bee‑eater, Southern Carmine Bee‑eater, Lilac‑breasted
Roller, Rufous‑crowned (Purple) Roller, Common (Greater) Scimitar-bill,
Red‑billed Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, African Grey Hornbill, Trumpeter
Hornbill, Southern Ground‑Hornbill, Crested Barbet, Lesser Honeyguide,
Bennett’s Woodpecker, Golden‑tailed Woodpecker, Fork‑tailed
Drongo, Pied Crow, African Golden‑Oriole, Brubru, Black‑backed Puffback,
Black‑crowned Tchagra, Brown‑crowned (Threestreaked) Tchagra, Tropical
Boubou, Chinspot Batis, White Helmetshrike, Greater Blue‑eared Glossy‑Starling,
(Longtailed) Meves’ Glossy‑Starling, Wattled Starling, Yellow‑billed
Oxpecker, Red‑billed Oxpecker, White‑browed Robin‑Chat (Heuglin’s
Robin), Plain (Brownthroated) Martin, Wire‑tailed Swallow, Lesser Striped‑Swallow,
Common Bulbul, African Yellow White‑eye, Rattling Cisticola, Piping Cisticola
(Neddicky), Tawny‑flanked Prinia, Green‑backed Camaroptera, Arrow‑marked
Babbler, Yellow‑throated Petronia, Green‑winged Pytilia (Melba Finch),
Red‑billed Firefinch, African (Bluebilled) Firefinch, Jameson's Firefinch,
Blue‑breasted Cordonblue (Blue Waxbill), Bronze Mannikin, Village Indigobird
(Steelblue Widowfinch), Purple Indigobird (Purple Widowfinch), Pin‑tailed
Whydah, Eastern Paradise‑Whydah, African Pied Wagtail, Red‑billed
Buffalo‑Weaver, White‑browed Sparrow‑Weaver, Lesser Masked‑Weaver,
Red‑billed Quelea, Variable (Yellowbellied) Sunbird, White‑breasted
Sunbird, Brimstone (Bully) Canary, Cinnamon‑breasted (Rock) Bunting.
Saturday/Sunday 10/11th July
Our trip started with a British Airways flight from Brussels to London and via Harare to Lilongwe. The flight touched down at Lilongwe at 11.15 a.m. local time (no time difference with the Netherlands).
Wilfred, Jos and Staf were waiting for us at the airport with the two Landrovers.
From the airport we drove straight to Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary, an area of riverine forest and mixed miombo woodland, were we had a first flavouring of Malawian birds. We only spent two hours here and amongst the birds we noted were Green Woodhoopoe, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black‑throated Wattle‑eye and Peters’ Twinspot.
The rest of the afternoon day we spent driving to the nearby Dzalanyama Forest Reserve. It was a two hours drive and it was already dark when we arrived at the forest resthouse. It took some time before we got rooms, because we did not have a voucher, but after a while we got permission to sleep in the resthouse.Monday 12th July
After a good night’s sleep we started early on our second day making a stroll in the large pristine miombo woodland. The forest provided a fine selection of difficult species amongst them Miombo Barbet, Stierling’s Woodpecker, Souza’s Shrike, Miombo Rock‑Thrush, Boehm’s Flycatcher, Miombo Scrub‑Robin, Orange‑winged Pytilia, Olive‑headed Weaver, Shelley’s Sunbird and perhaps best of all the beautiful Anchieta’s Sunbird.
Our cook had made a fine meal at the resthouse while he had also taken care of an ample supply of Carlsberg.
Tuesday 13th July
We spent all morning in the forest and amongst the additions to our trip list were Pale‑billed Hornbill, Rufous‑bellied Tit, Southern Hyliota and Broad‑tailed Paradise‑Whydah.
At midday we left Dzalanyama and headed for Mchinji on the Zambian border. We made a few stops, but the best stop was at a large river, 20 kilometres before we arrived in Mchinji. We had marvellous looks of more than 10 Lesser Jacanas, a bird I had seen only once in Cameroon.
In the late afternoon we arrived at Mchinji, a rather dusty village on the Zambian border, where we checked into the very dirty Tiyeseho Try Hotel. We had to wait two hours for our dinner and when I got impatient and visited the kitchen I wished I had not done that. The others ate their chips and chicken, but I refused to eat and went to bed, hungry and chagrined.
Wednesday 14th July
After a ”comfortable” night in the hotel we drove to the border. We had to wait at the Malawi/Zambia border, but soon the inevitable paperwork was complete. We made a stop at Chipata to stock up on food and to change money, before driving to South Luangwa National Park.
It was a hot and dusty ride on the 130 km long unmettaled road to Luangwa and at midday we arrived at Wildlife Camp, an idyllic accommodation on the banks of the Luangwa River. Four of us hired a chalet and three decided to camp and were very much aware of the thieving monkeys.
In the afternoon we made a short stroll around our camp along the Luangwa River. Hippos and crocs abounded in the muddy river, a tributary of the Zambesi. A couple of interesting sightings included White‑fronted Plover, White‑headed Lapwing, Lilian’s Lovebird, Giant Kingfisher and dozens of Red‑necked & Swainson’s Spurfowls coming to drink just before dusk.
We spent the evening on the terrace along the Luangwa River, sipping from our Mosi lager.
Thursday 15th July
The wild yelp of the fish eagle was our daily alarm clock along the Luangwa River. We eagerly set off early to the nearby Mfuwe Gate of Luangwa National Park. We spent all day in Luangwa.
A wealth of species quickly expanded our list and most noteworthy of these birds were Lappet‑faced Vulture, White‑headed Vulture, Martial Eagle, African Skimmer, Double‑banded Sandgrouse, Southern Ground‑Hornbill, Crested Barbet and Eastern Paradise‑Whydah.
In addition to the birding, which was good, Luangwa was also great for game‑viewing. This was 'classic' Africa with large concentrations of game, many Elephants, several large herds of Buffaloes, Thornicroft’s Giraffes, a dozing pride of Lions, ever alert Pukus and Impalas and wallowing Hippos.
Our night game drive started out slowly until we noted two Giant Eagle‑Owls and a pride of Lions. Square‑tailed Nightjars were fairly common and we then followed a leopard at close range, which all but ignored our presence. We had quite a shrill when the leopard attacked a group of impalas. A close miss, lucky for the impalas.
Other sightings on the night
game drive included Spotted Hyena and a number of mongoose and genet.
Friday 16th July
After a “comfortable night” with the hippos of the Luangwa River we again headed to the national park. The birdlife here was similar to the birds seen the previous days. Amongst the “new” birds we encountered were Hooded Vulture, African Harrier‑Hawk, Southern Carmine Bee‑eater, Lesser Honeyguide, Bennet’s Woodpecker, Sulphur‑breasted Bushshrike, Piping Cisticola, Jameson’s Firefinch and Red‑billed Buffalo‑Weaver.
The night game drive was not very successful, but we did see Honey Badger and African Civet.
During the night we were awakened by an elephant, silhouetted in the moonlight and standing next to our chalet.
Saturday 17th July
After a night in the 'camp', we were prepared for the next leg of the trip, which would take us north en route to Nyika National Park. As we left the camp we did see a pair of Grey‑crowned Cranes, the only ones of the trip.
The journey was straightforward on the fairly good dirt road all the way to Chipata. Some birding stops along the road turned up Augur Buzzard, Dickinson’s Kestrel and a group of six Racket-tailed Rollers, a species I had not seen as the only member of our group on a birding trip two years ago in Zimbabwe.
We made a short stop at Chipata to buy some drinks and food. Hereafter we headed to Mchinji and then onwards to Kasungu.
Near Kasungu we stopped at a marshy area and some of the more notable species here included Red‑billed Duck, Black‑shouldered Kite, Capped Wheatear, Red‑capped Lark and African Pipit.
We checked into the Kasungu Inn, a good hotel, where I made a very expensive phone-call to Holland
Sunday 18th July
Today was largely a travelling day as we set out to drive to Nyika National Park in north-western Malawi. We made a stop at Rumphi , the last town to stock up on food and drinks, before we drove to Nyika.
The dirt road was at some places very bad, but the drive proved less of an ordeal than we thought it would be.
When we arrived at the gate the birding started and the highlands produced a whole new set of birds including Red‑winged Francolin, Common Quail, Stanley (Denham’s) Bustard, White‑tailed Blue‑Flycatcher, Malawi Batis, Churring Cisticola, Abyssinian Hill‑Babbler, Jackson’s Pipit (for the non Sibley & Monroe birders) and Buff‑shouldered Widowbird.
The last part of the road was diabolical, but we arrived at Chelinda Camp before dark and hired a comfortable self‑catering bungalow, overlooking a small lake where Bushbuck were coming down to drink.
Monday 19th July
It was very cold next morning, when we headed to the fine Chowo forest on the Zambian side of the border. It was hard work in the forest and after a few hundred metres the trail was hardly visible. Our efforts were not very successful but our stroll produced amongst others Mountain Illadopsis, Sharpe’s Akalat, White‑tailed Crested‑Flycatcher, Waller’s Starling, Mountain Greenbul and White-eyed Slaty‑Flycatcher.
The rest of the day we explored the montane grassland. We were disappointed to find that large areas had been burned out.
We spent all day here and the prize birds gradually gave themselves up:
Rufous‑chested Sparrowhawk, Trilling Cisticola, Black‑lored Cisticola, Black‑tailed Waxbill, Green‑headed Sunbird, Red‑tufted Sunbird and Yellow‑browed Seedeater.
The 'game' element of birding on these grasslands was not absent and we did see Side‑striped Jackal, Bushbuck, Common Zebra, Eland, Southern Reedbuck and Roan Antelope.
Tuesday 20th July
The following day involved an early start as we visited Zovo Chipolo Forest. We spent three hours in the deadly quiet forest, but we managed to see Olive Woodpecker, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Brown‑headed Apalis and Mountain Illadopsis.
Hereafter we again explored the narrow trails in Chowo Forest and amongst the highlights were Bar‑tailed Trogon, White‑starred Robin, Fuelleborne’s Boubou, Olive‑flanked Robin‑Chat and White‑chested Alethe.
In the afternoon we headed to Chosi View Point and visited both dams. Highlights included Yellow‑billed Duck, Red‑knobbed Coot, Dusky Turtle‑Dove, Buff‑shouldered Widowbird, Reichard’s Seedeater and Yellow‑browed Seedeater.
From our bungalow two Ruwenzori
Nightjars performed little sallies and called persistently and during the night
drive we added Spotted Eagle‑Owl and Freckled Nightjar to our triplist.
We had supper at the restaurant, a rather expensive meal.
Wednesday 21st July
Not having completely achieved our objectives at Nyika we set off for the gate. En route to the gate we had great views of a group of more than 20 Stanley Bustards. We made a few roadside stops in the miombo woodland in the Thazima Gate area.
While exploring the forest we encountered a few very large flocks. In one flock I counted 23 birdspecies.
The flocks held amongst others Black‑collared Barbet, Grey‑headed Bushshrike, Miombo Rock‑Thrush, Southern Black Flycatcher, White‑headed Black‑Chat (Arnot’s Chat), Spotted Creeper, Brown Warbler, Cinnamon-breasted Tit, Miombo Tit, African Penduline‑Tit, Peters’ Twinspot, Anchieta’s Sunbird, Southern Yellow‑rumped Seedeater and Cabanis’ Bunting.
In the late afternoon we arrived at the small town of Nkhata Bay and we checked in at the Chikale Beach Resort along the shore of famous Lake Malawi.
Thursday 22nd July
At dawn the following day we set off to drive to nearby Kalwe Forest. Our stroll in the forest proved once again that birding in African lowland rainforest can be the most frustrating branch of the hobby. I still have nightmares about my walk in Sokoke Forest in Kenya so many years ago. Kalwe Forest was as lifeless as Sokoke Forest and we had to work very hard with the tape before we seduced our target bird, the East Coast Akalat into view. We had excellent views of this elusive species.
Then we explored a small marshy area near the forest and goodies seen here included White‑winged Widowbird, Lemon‑breasted Seedeater and Purple‑banded Sunbird.
An afternoon visit to the Nkwadzi Forest was almost as frustrating as our morning visit to Kalwe Forest. In the company of two rangers we made a walk in this rainforest. East Coast Akalat was again seen very well, but the only other birds we noted were Green‑backed Woodpecker, Black Cuckoo‑Shrike, Chinspot Batis and Green‑backed Camaroptera.
Friday 23rd July
We spent all day travelling by the shores of Lake Malawi to Liwonde NP. After a long and tiring drive we arrived at the gate of the park. En route to Mvuu Camp we made a few roadside stops and the open woodland held Dickinson’s Kestrel, Southern Ground‑Hornbill and Scarlet‑chested Sunbird, to name but a few.
It was almost dark when we put up our tents along the Shire River, but the Hippo’s did not wake me.
Saturday 24th July
Before breakfast we spent some time birding along the edge of the Shire River. Mvuu Camp was a hive of activity and birding in this area produced a variety of birds: the very tame Boehm’s Bee‑eaters were everywhere, Collared Palm‑Thrushes were very approachable and amongst the other highlights we did see were Lilian’s Lovebird, Giant Kingfisher, Yellow‑bellied Greenbul, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, African Paradise‑Flycatcher and Green‑winged Pytilia (Melba Finch).
The rest of the day we spent driving around Liwonde. Our huge bird list in this park included African Cuckoo‑Hawk, Banded Snake‑Eagle, Ayres’ Hawk‑Eagle, Red‑necked Falcon, Temminck’s Courser, Senegal Lapwing, Purple‑crested Turaco, Brown‑hooded Kingfisher, Greater Honeyguide and Sulphur‑breasted Bushshrike.
Game animals of course were conspicuous and included Elephant, Impala, Bushbuck and good numbers of Waterbuck.
Sunday 25th July
In the early morning Eric and I made a bird walk with Benjamin and we soon added Brown‑breasted Barbet to our birdlist, a bird we most likely not would have seen without the guide.
We had very good views of a mystery-bird (Ben did not identify the bird either) and after consulting my sketch of this bird in my diary and lots of literature at home I still don’t know what bird we did see!!
We again spent most of the day driving around in Liwonde. Most birds we did see where the same ones as the previous day, but we added Long‑toed Lapwing, Barred Owlet, Green‑backed Honeyguide, Red‑capped Robin‑Chat, Terrestrial Brownbul, Cape Crombec, Flappet Lark and Cut‑throat to our list.
Our nightdrive was successful, because we had amazingly close encounters with a Bronze‑winged (Violet‑tipped) Courser, a bird I had dipped on all my African trips. The courser was watched at length and we were able to photograph the bird at less than three meters.
Monday 26th July
Much of the morning was
spent at Mvuu Camp and amongst the birds we saw were Spur‑winged Goose,
Comb Duck, Brown‑hooded Kingfisher, Sombre Greenbul and Terrestrial Brownbul.
We then left the miombo woodland and reed fringed Shire River of Liwonde and
set off for the old town of Zomba. Unfortunately, the time we spent here was
marred with rain. We explored the wooded gardens and secondary growth above
the parliament building and although we did hear the very localised White‑winged
Apalis, we were not able to find the bird. Demoralised and wet we left Zomba
and headed to Blantyre and checked into the Grace Bandawe Conference Centre.
Tuesday 27th July
We set off very early the following morning for the Thyolo Mountains. An hour later we arrived at the Satemwa Tea estate and had no trouble in getting permission from the manager’s wife to enter the estate.
We had hardly started our birding when we had great views of the astonishing White‑winged Apalis, Black‑headed Apalis, Green Barbet and Yellow‑throated Woodland‑Warbler.
We birded all day at this remaining patch of upland forest. An array of greenbuls included good looks at Little Greenbul, Mountain Greenbul, Stripe‑cheeked Greenbul, Placid Greenbul, Grey‑olive Greenbul and Yellow‑streaked Greenbul, whilst above our heads Black‑headed Apalis and White‑winged Apalis flitted through the canopy.
Other interesting birds encountered here were Verreaux’s Eagle, White‑eared Barbet, Grey Cuckoo‑Shrike, Black‑fronted Bushshrike, Pale Batis, Evergreen Forest‑Warbler, Green‑backed Twinspot and Bertrand’s Weaver.
We did hear the Cholo Alethe, but were very disappointed to dip the Green‑headed Oriole, a bird every birder sees here.
Why is it that on every trip I dip an important species?
Wednesday 28th July
This morning we spent a few hours at the nearby Soche Mountain. The start was rather frustrating, as we were unable to find the right track to the mountain. Eventually we reached via a different (steep) route the mountain and spent enough time in the right habitat to find a few goodies, amongst them Pallid Honeyguide, White‑starred Robin, Familiar Chat, Malawi Batis, Black‑and‑white Mannikin and Olive Sunbird. During the climb Jos and I were attacked by red ants and when the ants got up in our long trousers our birdwatching composure had had it. Much later we did see the elusive Cholo Alethe, which unfortunately only gave us a tantalisingly brief glimpse.
The next stage of our trip involved a short drive to Lengwe National Park, where we spent the night in a chalet.
Thursday 29th July
We spent all day in this hot and dusty park. The time spent at the artificial waterholes was not too exciting, however we could make excellent pictures of drinking birds. After so many days in Malawi we did not see many new birds, but amongst the birds we noted were Marabou, African Goshawk, Barred Long‑tailed Cuckoo a very pleasant surprise, African Harrier‑Hawk, our only Southern Yellow‑billed Hornbill, Little Spotted Woodpecker, Grey‑olive Greenbul, Eastern Nicator and Red‑headed Weaver.
Friday 30th July
After a comfortable night at our chalet we had a pre‑breakfast stroll near the camp. A dawn watch at the main waterhole should be a magical experience, but I spent two hours in the blind and saw nothing, nada, rien. When Tsetse flies hit with a vengeance I had my only “magical” experience.
Hereafter we tried to locate Elephant Marsh, but it was impossible to find the marsh in the large sugarcane fields along the Shire River. With the help of a friendly employee of the sugarcane‑company we were able to make a morning boat trip on the Shire River. The trip was more memorable for spectacular scenery than birds, although we did see Black‑crowned Night‑Heron, Kittlitz’s Plover, thousands of Plain Martins, Wire‑tailed Swallows & Lesser Striped‑Swallows and Tinkling Cisticola.
Hereafter we returned to Blantyre and again checked into Grace Bandawe Conference Centre. We celebrated Vital’s birthday with a dinner at the luxurious Soche Mountain Hotel.Saturday 31st July
Next morning found us on the right track at Soche Mountain. We spent a few hours here and again had excellent views of White‑winged Apalis and also did see Square‑tailed Drongo, Bearded Scrub‑Robin, Yellow‑breasted Apalis, Southern Hyliota, Striped Pipit, Forest Weaver and Cabanis’ Bunting.
At midday we said goodbye
to Jos, Staf and Wilfred and wished them ‘bon voyage’on their journey in Mozambique
to Zimbabwe. The final part of the trip took us back to the capital as we drove
by stagecoach to Lilongwe. In the late afternoon we arrived at the plush Capital
Hotel, where we checked in.
Sunday/Monday 1st/2nd August
The final morning once again saw us back in Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary. We concentrated our efforts on the trail along the river, hoping to find Half‑collared Kingfisher. We split our efforts and eventually Eric located the bird, but by the time Vital and I arrived at the spot, the bird had been gone. … some birds I will never see (Murphy’s Law).
This was my eleventh trip to Africa, but it seems I will have to make another trip (October 1999, Ethiopia), to see the Half‑collared Kingfisher (Yes, we did see the kingfisher).
Three hours delayed we left Lilongwe at 21.00 p.m. which meant that we missed our luggage on the connecting flight to Brussels and at 13.30 p.m. the next day I was back in the Netherlands.
The final total for the three weeks trip was 367 species of birds. I finished the trip with 58 lifers, mostly of birds found elsewhere only in Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. In addition to all these birds 38 species of mammal were seen on the trip
My ten best birds of the trip? Bronze-winged Courser, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Boehm’s Bee-eater, Brown-breasted Barbet, Souza’s Shrike, East Coast Akalat, White-winged Apalis, Brown Warbler, Green-backed Twinspot and Striped Pipit, lifers all of course.
Chaam, 16 November 1999,
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