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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Malawi, November 2002,
A fairly comprehensive trip, covering most of Malawi's birding hotspots, was undertaken from 10 November to 1 December 2002. The trip was tailor-made for a group of fairly hardcore British birders, most of whom had birded quite extensively in Africa before. Thus, emphasis was placed on range-restricted species and miombo endemics, and little time was spent at Malawi's better-known wetlands. A total of 22 days were spent on tour and 434 species were seen, with an additional 13 species heard only. This total could have been at least 20 species higher had more time been spent in wetland habitats, but as mentioned above, that was not the focus of this trip.
Malawi is one of southern Africa's premier destinations for rare or range-restricted species. It also holds a number of mouthwatering new birds for those who have visited east and west Africa, but not the miombo belt of south-central Africa. From of a southern African perspective, Malawi is the only country where a number of northern birds are accessible (Mountain Buzzard, Scaly Francolin, Dusky Turtle Dove, Rwenzori/Usambara Nightjar, African Hill-Babbler, Fischer's Sparrow-Lark, Thyolo Alethe, Sharpe's Akalat, Olive-flanked Robin-Chat, Churring Cisticola, Black-lored Cisticola, White-winged Apalis, Jackson's Pipit, Fülleborn's Black Boubou, Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird, and others). For a small, land-locked country, its species total of around 650 species is most impressive and reflects a diversity of habitat. For a birder, there are three essential ecozones that must be accessed on a trip to Malawi: southern Rift Valley forests (Thyolo Alethe, Green-headed Oriole, White-winged Apalis, Green Barbet, Grey Cuckooshrike, Olive Bush Shrike), Brachystegia (miombo) woodlands (Pale-billed Hornbill, Miombo Pied Barbet, Stierling's Woodpecker, Miombo Bearded Scrub-Robin, Miombo Rock Thrush, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Red-capped Crombec, Böhm's Flycatcher, Souza's Shrike, Olive-headed Weaver, Miombo Double-collared Sunbird, Anchieta's Sunbird, Stripe-breasted Seed-eater, Cabanis' Bunting and others) and northern plateau grasslands/forests (Mountain Buzzard, Scaly Francolin, Dusky Turtle Dove, Rwenzori/Usambara Nightjar, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, White-headed Saw-wing, African Hill-Babbler, Mountain Greenbul, Sharpe's Greenbul, White-chested Alethe, Sharpe's Akalat, Olive-flanked Robin-Chat, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Chapin's Apalis, Churring Cisticola, Black-lored Cisticola, Fülleborn's Black Boubou, Mountain Marsh Widow and others). On this tour we ensured that all three of these areas were well covered, along with other interesting habitats such as the lowland woodlands, thickets and marshes of the Shire Valley, dense mixed Combretum woodland around Lilongwe and lowland rainforest along the northern lakeshore.
The group of ten birders were met at Lilongwe International Airport by Warren McCleland and Robert Nyirenda and headed straight to our hotel in Lilongwe. After checking in we ate lunch while watching an awesome storm threaten the afternoon's birding. The more hardcore among us were heading out into the open during brief breaks in the rain and ticking off common species such as Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Wire-tailed Swallow, African Palm Swift and Variable (Yellow-bellied) Sunbird. The rain finally abated and clouds lifted, giving us the break we were hoping for. We drove straight to the Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary, a fenced-off woodland reserve in the center of town. We had only just entered the reserve when a pair of Peters' (Red-throated) Twinspots were seen foraging in the open at the edge of a thicket. The walk down to the river was full of new birds and some highlights included a perched male Tambourine Dove, a juvenile African Marsh Harrier overhead through a gap in the woodland canopy, several good flight views of Schalow's Turaco and eventually a better look at a perched bird, a Black-collared Barbet pair duetting, a male Black Cuckooshrike, very confiding White-browed Robin-Chats, Grey-backed Camaroptera, two females and a pair of Black-throated Wattle-eyes, the stunning African Paradise Flycatcher, clear views of an Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, a male Scarlet-chested Sunbird and a single Golden Weaver foraging in a dense creeper-covered thicket. A total of twelve Peters' Twinspots were seen along the walk. The narrow Lingadzi River was carefully scanned for Half-collared Kingfisher and White-backed Night Heron, but neither could be found. We did see several Black-crowned Night Heron, Hamerkop, Senegal Coucal and an Intermediate Egret. Hildebrandt's Francolin were heard calling several times across the river, but could not be tracked down. With the sky threatening once more, we returned to the hotel, finding an interesting roost of at least 100 African Pied Wagtails along roofs in one of the main roads.
The group then headed south into the Rift Valley, heading for Liwonde National Park, one of Malawi's showcase protected areas. A short stop in some tall Borassus Palm groves yielded Böhm's Bee-eater, Collared Palm Thrush and Western Banded Snake Eagle. We crossed the Shire River by motorized boats to Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park. The lodge proved a popular choice, and a few days there pushed the trip list up considerably. The camp itself had at least 20 Böhm's Bee-eaters, several Livingstone's Flycatchers, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Collared Palm Thrush, White-browed Robin-chat, Giant Kingfishers, a mating pair of Broad-billed Roller, a single Grey-hooded Kingfisher, a pair of Grey-headed Bush Shrikes and several Black-throated Wattle-eyes. A walk along the Shire River one morning was one of the highlights of the trip. Good views were had of Yellowbill (Green Coucal), Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin, Cuckoo Hawk, Eastern (Yellow-spotted) Nicator, a small flock of six Mosque Swallows, a pair of Green-winged Pytilias (Melba Finch) foraging in the open, a Bat Hawk flying low overhead and a pair of African Wood Owls. While checking a dense mahogany tree for owls, Warren flushed a sub-adult Pel's Fishing Owl that flew to an adjacent wild mango tree and perched obligingly for about 15 minutes! It was a morning for owls and shortly afterwards a small party of birds was seen mobbing an African Barred Owlet. Walks and open-vehicle drives into the adjacent mopane woodlands were very productive and the many highlights included flocks of Lilian's Lovebird overhead and perched in stately candelabra trees, both Dickinson's Kestrel and Red-necked Falcon in Borassus Palm groves, large numbers of Meve's Long-tailed Starlings, several pairs of Racket-tailed Roller (including a displaying bird) in tall closed mopane woodland, at least 6 Speckle-throated Woodpeckers, a single European Honey Buzzard, at least six sightings of Palmnut Vultures, Western Banded Snake Eagle, our only African Mourning Dove of the trip, a single Grey-headed Parrot, great views of Purple-crested Turaco, a pair of Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, a group of four Southern Ground Hornbill, a number of White-headed Black (Arnott's) Chats, Retz's (Red-billed) Helmetshrike and the stunning Red-headed Weaver. One of the amusing moments of the tour was provided by a rogue Speckle-throated Woodpecker. The bird was seen disappearing behind a large mopane tree trunk and on investigation we found a woodpecker-sized hole on that side of the tree. Warren confidently predicted that he would get the bird out of the hole with a burst of pre-recorded Bennett's Woodpecker call. After only a few seconds of the call being played, out popped the head of a Pearl-spotted Owlet who glared at us indignantly! What happened to the woodpecker? An evening boat ride up the Shire River passed an impressive noisy roost of White-breasted Cormorants and soon afterwards produced the jackpot - a skulking White-backed Night Heron spotted by Robert in a riverside fig tree. Good views were had by all. Other highlights on boat rides along the river were a pair of Gull-billed Terns, several Spur-winged Lapwings, six Long-toed Lapwings, three foraging Black Egret, Greater Flamingo overhead, a lone Pink-backed Pelican and Winding (Black-backed) Cisticola.
After leaving Mvuu Lodge on 14 November, we transferred to our Land Cruisers on the opposite bank and headed south over the river again. The road climbed into the miombo-clad hills north of the Zomba Plateau and two brief stops in the quiet mid-day heat produced Pale (Mouse-coloured) Flycatcher, Miombo (Lesser) Blue-eared Starling, Yellow-throated Petronia, Orange-winged Pytilia, Golden-breasted Bunting and our main target - Pale (Mozambique) Batis. We then proceeded to the town of Zomba, having a stop for cold beers at Annie's Restaurant and then driving up to the house of John Wilson. John was not in, but had arranged that we could take a walk through the forest behind his garden. White-winged Apalises were not in evidence, although we did see Black-headed Apalis, Mountain Greenbul, and a flying Livingstone's Turaco. It was then time to continue to Thyolo Mountain via Blantyre. We arrived after dark and settled in at the tea estates.
The following two days were spent birding what remains of Thyolo Forest. The first walk in the top forest was hard work and birds were not being very responsive. Highlights were good views of a pair of Green-headed Orioles that responded well to playback and a pair of Bar-tailed Trogons. A pair of Placid Greenbuls showed well while perched in the mid-stratum, and were also watched in the understorey. While scanning flocks of Eurasian and African Black Swifts, a pair of large Mottled Swifts were spotted and well seen. The flocks of Barn Swallows held a few Eastern Saw-wings that eventually perched and afforded scope views. An afternoon walk in a lower section of forest proved far more productive and was some of the best forest birding of the trip. After a slow start, a Green Barbet was called in, and then a pair of obliging Thyolo Alethes! Great views for all and a massive relief for the leader! A mixed party moved through soon afterwards, bringing with it a pair of White-winged Apalises. Another sigh of relief from the leader, and these proved to be the only individuals seen on the trip. Several Livingstone's Turacos foraged on ripe fruit in the canopy, offering good scope views. Other forest highlights were White-eared Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Grey Cuckooshrike, both Yellow-streaked and Little Greenbuls, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Black-headed Apalis, a pair of Malawi (Cape) Batises and at least six Dark-backed Weavers. It was then time to head back to our base, but not before finding a superb African Emerald Cuckoo singing from an exposed branch above the forest canopy, and a pair of Mountain Wagtails at the vehicles. The following day, another morning walk produced Thyolo Alethe - at one stage feeding on an ant trail crossing the path only 30 yards away! Amazing video footage for Pete Colston. Other good birds included three different Black-fronted Bush Shrikes, Pallid (Eastern) Honeyguide, Bar-tailed Trogon, six Trumpeter Hornbills and a female Red-faced Crimsonwing for John and Jane Hopkins. The forest below Chawani Bungalow was as productive as ever. New birds were a perched African Broadbill, a noisy Grey-olive Greenbul threesome, at least 12 Blue-spotted Wood Doves and Square-tailed Drongo. A pair of White-eared Barbets were watched feeding chicks in a dead tree, and an adult African Emerald Cuckoo fed on hairy caterpillars only metres away, allowing for fantastic video footage. Another Pallid Honeyguide was found and several co-operative Peters' Twinspots fed in the path. We left Thyolo on 17 November in high spirits, adding African Citril on the way out.
Then it was the long drive north to Lilongwe and from there west to the vast Brachystegia woodlands of Dzalanyama Forest Reserve. The bulk of the day was spent traveling, but a brief stop at a termite alate emergence produced a few raptors, including a Tawny Eagle and a Lanner Falcon. We arrived at the rustic Dzalanyama Forest Lodge in the fading light and an evening rain shower put paid to our plans for a short birding walk. The following two days were spent birding the roads and tracks through the woodland on foot. The area to the south and east of the lodge proved most productive. An adult Böhm's Flycatcher was seen feeding two begging fledglings on several occasions, both juveniles showing remarkably dark ear-coverts (a feature not illustrated in field guides). On one of the walks we decided to sweep through a small dambo (grassy drainage line) and found a group of five Blue Quails, Croaking Cisticola, Black-winged Bishop, Red-collared Widowbird and two European Honey Buzzards. A fair number of raptors were seen, including Wahlberg's and Booted Eagles, Bateleur, African Hawk Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, African Harrier-Hawk (Gymnogene) and a pair of Lanner Falcons. The key to successful birding in miombo is finding mixed feeding parties, and this we did. Some of the birds seen in these parties include Miombo Rock Thrush, Green-backed (Little Spotted) Woodpecker, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, African Golden Oriole, Miombo (Northern Grey) and Rufous-bellied Tits, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Red-capped Crombec, Green-capped Eremomela, Stierling's Wren-Warbler, Red-winged Warbler, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Wood Pipit, Retz's (Red-billed) Helmetshrike, Violet-backed Starling, Miombo Double-collared and Western Violet-backed Sunbirds, Orange-winged Pytilia, Black-eared Seed-eater and Cabanis' Bunting. After much effort, we eventually tracked down a pair of Miombo Bearded Scrub-Robins that proved to be very co-operative and ended up singing vociferously above our heads. More great video footage and sound recordings. Three separate sightings of Stierling's Woodpecker were a major highlight for many, especially since this little woodpecker is quite difficult to find outside of Malawi. Another highlight was the opportunity to watch a pair of Souza's Shrikes feeding a fledgling. On the morning of 19 November, the group climbed a large wooded hill south of the lodge. After some hard work and initial frustration, we all eventually had good views of a pair of Boulder Chats, a rare and localized bird in Malawi. A lone Augur Buzzard and several Pale-billed Hornbills also went down well. That evening a drive down the road produced great views of a male Pennant-winged Nightjar with two females, a perched pair of Freckled Nightjars and a single Square-tailed (Mozambique) Nightjar. An afternoon walk to a waterfall where Lesser Seedcracker had previously been seen was unproductive, although we did see our first three Hildebrandt's Francolins and a Red-chested Cuckoo. On our way out, a small copse of riverine trees had an obliging pair of White-tailed Blue Flycatchers that saved the afternoon.
It was then time to leave once again and we drove back to Lilongwe. After stocking up with supplies (aka beer) we continued north on the M1 north and then drove north-east to Ntchisi Mountain. A short stop in some cultivated lands was surprisingly productive with both European Nightjar and Small (Kurrichane) Buttonquail being flushed, and good views obtained of over 20 Zebra (Orange-breasted) Waxbills. We arrived at Ntchisi in the late afternoon. After checking in at Ntchisi Forest Lodge we had just enough light to sit and admire the vista over the escarpment down to the lake. A large female Black Sparrowhawk was new for the list, as were a pair of Peregrine Falcon.
A full day was spent birding the habitats around the lodge. Early morning in the marvelous tract of tall rainforest on the mountain turned out to be hard work, with very few birds responding to playback. We had to be content with brief views of Mountain Greenbul, Chapin's Apalis, calling Mountain (Olive) Thrush and Yellow-bellied Waxbill (East African Swee). An afternoon walk through miombo woodland proved more exciting, with brief views of a Thick-billed Cuckoo just below the lodge, several African Pygmy Kingfishers, Wahlberg's (Sharp-billed) Honeybird, African (Grey) Penduline Tit, a single Garden Warbler, Red-capped Crombec, Southern Black and White-tailed Blue Flycatchers, a pair of Striped Pipits feeding among leaf litter, Miombo Double-collared Sunbird, Peters' Twinspot, Orange-winged Pytilia and Cabanis' Bunting.
Another early morning excursion into Ntchisi Forest provided our first brief glimpses of Moustached Green Tinkerbird, whose call was one of the most frequently heard sounds in the forest. Further views of Chapin's Apalis were had as a group of three foraged high up in the canopy. Orange Ground Thrush called but refused to come any closer, but all of us had good views of three White-starred Robins, one of which was seen remarkably high up in the sub-canopy. After leaving the forest, we spotted a pair of African Crowned Eagles circling with an immature above the mountain.
It was then time to leave. We headed back to the motorway and continued north towards to the Viphya Plateau. Our first birding stop was at a roadside dambo where an hour's birding produced four Blue Quails, eight Temminck's Coursers, several Grassveld Pipits, small groups of Yellow-back Widows and a large flock of over 100 Cuckoo Finches! After lunch in Kasungu and a delay while a puncture was being fixed, we headed further north, leaving the motorway and driving east to Luwawa in the afternoon. A short birding walk through some stunted miombo woodland proved successful and both Trilling Cisticola and Stripe-breasted Seed-eater were added to the list. And Dave Odell finally tracked down his first African (Grey) Penduline Tit. A pair of Pearl-breasted Swallows flew low overhead in a mixed flock of Barn Swallows and Eastern Saw-wings. Further down the road, a pair of Red-rumped Swallows were found among many Barn Swallows and we watched a group of Red-backed Mannikins carrying nesting material to and fro across the road. Just below Luwawa Forest Lodge we stopped in a marshy dambo and while searching through a flock of hirundines we were rewarded with our first White-headed Sawwings, including a cracking male, and four Grey-rumped Swallows. Both African Rail and Red-chested Flufftail called tantalizingly close, but refused to reveal themselves. Good views of Golden Weaver and African Citril were also obtained. The same dambo was quartered several times by a male and two female Eurasian Marsh Harriers, showing all pertinent features well. While checking in at the forest lodge, our first Bronze Sunbirds were seen feeding in the garden and a group of five African Black Duck on the dam below the lodge in fading light was the final new bird of the day.
The following morning we took a walk through some scrubby regenerating pine plantations to a small patch of stunted miombo woodland. The morning started off frustratingly with both Bertrand's Weaver and Evergreen Forest Warbler showing only very briefly. A cracking male Eastern Double-collared Sunbird in the garden lifted spirits somewhat. Once on the walk we found an Olive Woodpecker, the strange youngi race of Bar-throated Apalis, Black Sparrowhawk and an African Goshawk while still in the young pine plantation. The scrub/grass mosaic between plantations was full of birds and highlights included two displaying Broad-tailed Warblers, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, an African Marsh Harrier overhead, several Singing Cisticola, displaying Yellow-throated Longclaws, African (Blue-billed) Firefinch, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, African Citril and flocks of Red-collared Widowbirds.
As we entered the woodland, a mixed feeding party produced a single Whyte's Barbet, both Black and White-breasted Cuckooshrikes and a pair of attractive White-eyed Slaty Flycatchers. It was back to camp for breakfast, but a cracking pair of Bertrand's Weavers in the lodge garden disrupted breakfast plans somewhat. Another sigh of relief. We left Luwawa and drove north to Mzuzu. A tyre blowout en route ensured a longer stop in Mzuzu than planned, and then we were on our way north again. Thazima Gate was reached in the afternoon and we entered Nyika National Park with great expectations. The first hour was spent driving through magnificent tall Brachystegia woodlands, although with frustratingly little time to stop and find birds. Once on the plateau grasslands, birds became more visible and included a stunning male Pallid Harrier, another five Red-rumped Swallows, including a pair collecting mud at the roadside, White-necked Raven, Cape Robin-Chat and a beautiful female Isabelline Shrike perched on an exposed perch.
Nyika proved to be a great success and the luxury of Chelinda Lodge was much appreciated. Three full days were spent exploring the vast grasslands and montane forests of the central and western plateau. Two mornings in Chowo Forest provided views of White-chested Alethe, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Bar-tailed Trogon, African Hill-Babbler, Sharpe's Greenbul (often considered merely to be the alfredi race of Yellow-streaked Greenbul), Mountain Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Chapin's Apalis, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird and Waller's Red-winged Starling. White-headed Saw-wings proved quite common around forest edges. A morning in Manenjere Forest was partially successful, with Tony Smith getting onto a Sharpe's Akalat and several people seeing a male Red-faced Crimsonwing, although everybody had good views of an obliging Olive-flanked Robin-Chat in the forest undergrowth. Moustached Green Tinkerbirds proved ridiculously easy after all the hard work at Ntchisi and was soon downgraded to "trash bird" - to the leader's dismay! A grove of low Protea trees at the edge of the forest were buzzing with sunbirds, namely Malachite, Bronze and Montane (Greater) Double-collared. En route out from the forest, we found three Whinchats perched in low protea groves, several more Red-rumped Swallows and two separate sightings of Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk. Two night drives into the plateau grasslands produced a few good birds, especially a pair of Wattled Cranes, a single Rwenzori Nightjar (the guttifer race of Mountain Nightjar C.poliocephalus, in its broadest sense; also referred to as Usambara Nightjar C.guttifer in Stevenson & Fanshawe), and three African Marsh Owls. Two grassland drives past dams 1, 2 and 3 were the most productive for grassland birds. A scrubby drainage line adjacent dam 1 had a nesting pair of Baglafecht Weavers, a single Yellow-browed Seed-eater (also considered to be the whytii race of Streaky Seed-eater), several Cape Robin-chats, Montane (Greater) Double-collared Sunbird and a small loose flock of stunning Blue Swallows. A shallow seepage area near dam 2 had a magnificent displaying Mountain Marsh Widow and a very vocal pair of Black-lored Cisticolas. Distant views were had of Denham's (Stanley's) Bustard and Pallid Harrier proved to be one of the most common plateau raptors, with only one Montagu's Harrier being found. Eurasian Marsh Harriers were seen on four consecutive days on the plateau. A covey of the attractive endemic race of Red-winged Francolin was watched for some time at dam 2, twelve birds in all. Everyone had a chance to cut their teeth on cisticolas in the grasslands, including Churring, Wailing, Wing-snapping (Ayres') and Croaking Cisticolas. A flock of 30 Cape Canaries near Chelinda Lodge was a first for the list. On the final full day on Nyika we visited the Zambian Rest-house where five pairs of Angola Swallows showed really well at their nests in the roof eaves, and a White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher hawked insects from its perch in a dense thicket. A pair of Fülleborn's Black Boubou responded remarkably well to playback at the resthouse, in stark contrast to the hard work we had trying to lure these birds out in Chowo Forest.
Our final day on Nyika dawned. We packed our bags and headed out early for Thazima Gate. Our first new bird for the morning was White-winged Black Tit, a pair being seen in the scrubby grassland/woodland ecotone. A brunch stop at a large grove of Acacia abyssinica trees was productive, the highlights being a pair of Brown Parisomas (a bird that seems strongly linked to the presence of these attractive Acacia trees in Malawi) and superb scope views of a perched Dusky Turtle Dove. Of interest was a small passage of European Hobbies moving through, a total of six birds seen within two hours, and a flock of over 200 Eurasian Swifts. Shortly before arriving at Thazima Gate we stopped in the miombo woodland and found two first winter or female Collared Flycatchers, Miombo (Northern) Grey Tit, Miombo Rock Thrush and Cabanis' Bunting. From Nyika we drove to the remote northern gate of Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve and spent an hour searching for Chestnut-mantled Sparrowweaver and White-winged Babbling Starling, neither of which was in evidence. A vocal Miombo Bearded Scrub-Robin was some consolation in the stifling midday heat. We returned to the main Rumphi road and headed to the southern entrance gate. After checking in at Kazuni Safari Camp, we enjoyed a cold beer at the edge of Lake Kazuni. As is typical with the end of the dry season, the lake had receded to the center some way off, but scopes ensured good views of a number of common waterbirds, including African Open-billed Stork, Yellow-billed Stork, White-faced Duck, Red-billed Teal, Kittlitz's Plover, African Wattled Lapwing, Common Greenshank, Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Water Thick-knee, Collared (Red-winged) Pratincole, Whiskered Tern and African Pied Wagtail.
A full day was spent exploring the various habitats at Vwaza Marsh. Along the shore of Lake Kazuni we found a female Northern Wheatear, a solitary Goliath Heron, Little and Intermediate Egrets, African Spoonbill, Knob-billed Duck, Marsh Sandpiper and Little Stint. The surrounding mixed woodlands and thickets had a variety of raptors, including European Honey Buzzard, Tawny Eagle, Steppe Eagle, Martial Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Bateleur, Shikra, European Hobby and Red-necked Falcon. The morning was spent driving into the rocky miombo woodlands around Kawiya Gate. Once again, neither the Chestnut-mantled Sparrowweaver nor the White-winged Babbling Starling were seen, although an old sparrowweaver nest was found. New birds included a flock of four Senegal Lapwing (Lesser Black-winged Plover), four Meyer's Parrots, a stunning male Pennant-winged Nightjar in full regalia, Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Levaillant's (Striped) Cuckoo and Lazy Cisticola. A drive over the airstrip was worthwhile as we discovered our first Black-bellied Bustard for the trip. While relaxing at the camp after lunch, we found a Great Reed Warbler and a possible Olivaceous Warbler in tall Acacia trees in camp. If accepted, this will be the first record of Olivaceous Warbler for Malawi. Another new bird was Yellow-billed Oxpecker, with several birds seen on a herd of Greater Kudu. We then packed our luggage and headed back to Mzuzu, and then down the escarpment to the shore of Lake Malawi. Our destination was Makuzi Beach near Bandawe, a delightful group of cottages on the lake shore with a small secluded beach.
Our final full day in Malawi and we drove north to Mukhwazi Forest Reserve, one of the last patches of lowland rainforest in Malawi and the best chance for East Coast Akalat. The forest was very quiet and people were beginning to get that sinking feeling. After about an hour in the forest we gave it one more burst of pre-recorded song and finally were rewarded with an akalat calling back. With some patience we brought a pair in. They showed really well at close range and Pete Colston once again got video footage of this rarely seen bird. What a way to end a trip! We returned to the vehicles in high spirits and set off for a nearby rice-planting scheme. Water levels were disappointingly low however, and the only new birds were Red-shouldered Widow and Horus Swift. Some other interesting species seen included Common Squacco Heron, Little Bittern and Winding (Black-backed) Cisticola. We returned to Makuzi Beach around midday and had our first genuine rest of the trip. For some, much of the afternoon was spent relaxing at the beach and swimming in the lake, while others got some well-deserved sleep. A stunning new bird around camp was Purple-banded Sunbird, with a support cast of Yellow Weaver, Black-throated Wattle-eye and Variable (Yellow-bellied) Sunbird.
December 1 dawned and we headed south along the lake shore. The trip was fairly uneventful, with a short stop at Chia Lagoon producing our first White-winged Tern for the trip. The lunch stop was at a broad dambo between Salima and Senga Bay. A walk through the dambo was quite productive, including our first Fischer's Sparrowlarks, a single male Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Great White Egret and a few Collared Pratincoles. From there it was the winding road back up to the central plateau to Lilongwe, arriving at the airport with ample time to check in and say our goodbyes.