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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Central Mozambique: 12 - 23 December 2002,
Areas visited: Gorongosa National Park area, Mount Gorongosa accessed from Vanduzi village, Catapu area, Road from Inhamitinga to Chupanga, Zambezi River from Chupanga to Marromeu, Chinizua Forest and surrounding area, Beira surrounds - road to Rio Savane on the Pungwe floodplain and the Vumba area in Zimbabwe.
Total number of species of recorded: 329
In December 2002 I was a member of the birding group on a birding trip to central Mozambique initiated and arranged by Faansie and Derek Peacock. A total of 4 vehicles and 13 people were on the trip. I was in a vehicle of 4 together with Erin Bohensky, Pieter van Zyl and Lukas Botha. The trip started and ended in Pretoria, South Africa. The bird names in this report follow primarily the SASOL Larger Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Southern Africa 1996 by Sinclair and Hockey.
Pretoria to the Casa Maseka Motel
We spent the first night (12 December) of our trip in Messina close to the Beit Bridge border post now open 24 hours a day. We arrived at the Beit Bridge borderpost at 04:30am and it took us 2 and a half hours to get through. From what I understand if you are planning to get through the border early morning - you need to be there by 4am, otherwise you run a high risk of encountering long queues of bus passengers at the border. The road from Beit Bridge to Mutare is 580km and the tarred road is in excellent condition. The other option is to travel via Triangle and Chiredzi to Mutare. This is 618km but may be slightly shorter in time as it carries less traffic. Getting through the Forbes Mutare borderpost from Zimbabwe into Mozambique took us 2 hours. The Casa Maseka motel is about 60km from the borderpost and offers good accommodation as well as excellent food at a lovely bar-restaurant overlooking the Chicamba Real dam at an affordable price. There was Bluemantled Flycatcher at the Casa Maseka camp as well as Great White Egret on the dam.
Gorongosa National Park Area
Early on the morning of the 14th of December we left Casa Maseka and travelled towards eastwards along the EM6 towards Beira. Between Gondola and Inchope a stop on the road provided Singing Cisticola, Firecrowned Bishop, Yellowspotted Nicator, Gorgeous Bush Shrike and Livingstone's Lourie. We turned left on the EM1 North at Inchope. This is a brand new tar road that has essentially now completed all the way from Inchope to Caia. A stop on the Pungwe River Bridge revealed Firecrowned Bishop, Brownthroated Weaver, Little Bittern and Pied and Malachite Kingfisher. The turnoff to the Gorongosa National Park is well signposted and there is excellent Miombo woodland on the road into the park. Along this stretch of road we recorded Cabanis's Bunting, Mozambique Batis, Yellowfronted Tinkerbird and Yellowbellied Bulbul. Shortwinged Cisticola. Redwinged Warbler was recorded in some lusher grassland areas just after an old rail-style bridge. From this bridge Senegal Coucal, Narina Trogon and Purplebanded Sunbird were also recorded. Other species included Mashona Hyliota, Grey Penduline Tit, Redbacked Mannikin and Greencapped Eremomela. On the track to the right just before the Park entrance gate Rackettailed Roller and Bronzewinged Courser were seen.
The track to Vanduzi village at the base of Mount Gorongosa
We explored Mount Gorongosa from Vanduzi village. The road from the EM1 to Vanduzi village is a bumpy, windy track which provides good birding but can be difficult to negotiate in wet periods. It is approximately 28km along this track upon which one reaches the small village of Vanduzi. The village consists primarily of reed huts - and 2 or 3 Portuguese ruins. The track from the main road produced Pied Mannikin at the T-junction with the EM1. Also recorded were numerous African Moustached and Redwinged Warblers in the damper areas. Bluespotted Dove was recorded close to Vanduzi village. Other species along this road included Redthroated Twinspot, Yellowbellied Sunbird, Singing Cisticola, Yellowspotted Nicator, Bluebilled Firefinch, Purplebanded Sunbird, Bohms Spinetail and Golden Weaver. Just before Vanduzi a group of Greyheaded Parrots were recorded.
To explore this part of Mount Gorongosa effectively, at least one nights stay at the Vanduzi village is necessary. There is a stream where one can wash and cool down. A borehole pump on the mountain side of the road just before Vanduzi village provides clean drinking water. Otherwise the facilities in the village are very limited. The local people are very friendly and the younger children in the village typically follow one around most places. We negotiated a price with the village administrator to camp in the village as well as for a guard to watch our things - although crime seems to be non-existent from our experience. We hired 2 guides (one called Luish could speak reasonable English) to take us up the mountain - this is necessary as finding the correct path up the mountain is a complicated matter. Depending on fitness and time spent birding allow at least 2 and a half to 5 hours to get to the summit of the mountain closest to the village (the actual summit is a number of days walk - but there are reports of landmines on the mountain). It is suggested that a minimum of 2 litres of water per person is taken.
Birds on the mountain included Wattle-eyed Flycatcher and Redthroated Twinspot in and around Vanduzi village. Silverycheeked and Trumpeter Hornbill were recorded on the lower and midslopes of the hill as was Grey Waxbill and Terrestrial and Yellowbellied Bulbul. A single Thrush Nightingale, Lesser Honeyguide and Redbilled or Retz's Helmetshrike was recorded on the lower slopes. Forest birds included Tambourine Dove and Livingstone's Lourie. Birds of prey included an excellent sighting of Ayre's Eagle as well as numerous Gymnogenes. Bohm's Spinetail was recorded in the mid to upper slopes as was Singing Cisticola. In the damp grassland of the upper slopes Shortwinged Cisticola, African Moustached Warbler and Croaking Cisticola were recorded. The main target bird the Greenheaded Oriole was seen on a number of occasions from an altitude of 700m upwards. The best sightings were obtained in montane forest on the left of the path close to the summit. This bird is absolutely worth the walk. Once you have found the Oriole, the summit is only 300 - 500m further and the view of the rest of Mt Gorongosa as well as the surrounding area is superb. The trip to Vanduzi village and the walk up Mount Gorongosa from the village provides for some excellent birding and really is an amazing experience. However if your objective is only to see the Oriole, a Mr Bundu Sparks from Durban South Africa working on the new tar road, mentioned a much easier place to see the species. Apparently there is a quarry 27km north of Gorongosa town on the right hand side of the road driving north at the base of Mount Gorongosa. According to Bundu, one need only drive to the quarry and ask one of the local workers to walk you a few kilometres up the mountain and the Oriole can be found.
EM1 from Gorongosa to Chapato
Along this newly constructed tar road we recorded Green Sandpiper (at a pool on the side of the road), Lesser Blue Eared Starling, Carmine Bee-eater, Openbilled Stork and Blackbreasted Snake Eagle. Little Spotted Woodpecker, Redfaced Crombec, Arnot's Chat and Mashona Hyliota were recorded in the well developed miombo woodland.
Bundu Sparks, kindly allowed us to camp at the camp that the road workers for the EM1 had set up. This campsite was right next to the Chapatu sawmill. In the surrounding woodland and forest we recorded Mangrove Kingfisher, Livingstone's Flycatcher, Bluethroated Sunbird, Green Coucal, Narina Trogon, Eastern Bearded Robin, Natal Robin and Trumpeter Hornbill.
Road from Inhamitinga to Chupanga on the Zambezi
The turnoff to this road is in Inhamitinga town to the left. The road runs through some spectacular woodland and lowland forest before joining the road from Caia to Chupanga. We spent two days exploring this little-known road and it definitely warrants further ornithological exploration as numerous species that occur north of the Zambezi may make it to these forests. A particularly well developed patch of Lowland forest is the few kilometres of road before and after 18 degrees 10' and 14.8" S and 35 degrees 23' and 49.0" E. In this area we recorded a number of Gunnings's Robins (East Coast Akalat) as well as a number of pairs of Vanga Flycatcher. Other specials included Chestnutfronted Helmetshrike (a number of groups were recorded along this road), African Broadbill (at an amazingly high density), Blackheaded Apalis, Slender Bulbul, Bluethroated Sunbird, a group of Greyheaded Parrots, Whitebreasted Alethe (calling only), Green Coucal and Narina Trogon. Other species of interest included Dickinson's Kestrel and Terrestrial Bulbul as well as a number of groups of Ground Hornbill (one group near Larcedonia at 18 degrees 03' 21.4" S and 35 degrees 30' 36.6" E.)
Zambezi River: Larcedonia and Chupanga to Marromeu
At Chupanga village a pair of Goldenbacked Pytilias were recorded. A small track leading down to the Zambezi through the ruins of Larcedonia leads to a vantage of the river where Bluecheeked Bee-eater and African Marsh Harrier was recorded. The road from Chupanga to Marromeu leads through a small patch of forest before going through fairly densely populated areas on the floodplain of the Zambezi. The floodplain was very dry on our visit and African Moustached Warbler, Firecrowned Bishop and large flocks of Openbilled Storks were among the relatively few species recorded.
From Inhamitinga we took the Gravel road (213) towards Beira. The turnoff to Chinizua forest is 11km north of Muanza and at the time of our visit was not signposted. The GPS coordinates of this turnoff are 18 degrees 49' 41.2" S and 34 degrees 50 minutes and 13.8" E. On the main road from Inhamitinga to this turnoff we recorded Honey Buzzard, Redwinged Warbler, Little Spotted Woodpecker and Retz's Helmetshrike in the well developed miombo woodland. We did not spend much time birding on this road but it is sure to provide some superb miombo woodland birds.
The road/track from the main road to Beira to Chinizua forest provides excellent woodland birding. 15.8km from the turnoff we found a Blackeared Canary nest. Also recorded along this road were Mashona Hyliota, Cabanis's Bunting, Violetbacked Sunbird and Rackettailed Roller as well as both White and Retz's Helmetshrike.
The turnoff to the left to Chinizua forest itself off this road is the first turnoff to the left on this road and is signposted with a small, round black sign which says Emalalol written in semi-circular writing. After following this road for a few kilometres, there is a turnoff to the left just before a stream where you enter the forest where there is a cleared area which is often used by visiting birders for camping. A few kilometres beyond the Emalalol sign one reaches a small village where you can enquire about a borehole nearby which provides clean drinking water.
Unfortunately the logging pressure on this area is very intense and the devastation of the forest is very obvious. In the remaining forest however the birding is still excellent. Angola Pitta was heard calling just across the road from the campsite. Numerous Barred Cuckoos were calling along the stream in the forest canopy forest but could not be seen. Gunning's Robin was very common in this forest. Numerous Whitebreasted Alethe's were heard calling but despite a lot of effort no views were obtained. Other species of interest in this forest included Narina Trogon, Livingstone's Lourie, Tambourine Dove, Yellowspotted Nicator, Blackheaded Apalis, African Barred Owl, Wood Owl and numerous Redthroated Twinspots.
Beira and Rio Savaan
As we arrived in Beira we bumped into Faansie Peacock and his group of birders, which started the trip with us but had to split off and get to Beira sooner because of health issues with some members in the group. Faansie informed us that Rio Savaan's accommodation was very expensive and the bulk of the good birding was on the road before the actual camp itself. We camped at Biques hotel in Beira on the beach - good value for money with an excellent restaurant.
Some birding along the coast near the Biques hotel produced Lesser Crested, Caspian and Common Terns
The road to Rio Savaan passes through some spectacular floodplain habitat. Birds recorded along here included numerous Rufousbellied Heron, Little Bittern, Wattled Crane and Saddlebilled Stork (in the floodplain just before the camp itself). Approximately 11.7km down this road there is a turn off to a new prawn factory and at a patch of coastal thicket near this turn off we recorded a pair of Coppery Sunbirds as well as large groups of Redheaded Quelea in the floodplain.
Interestingly we recorded many Quail Finches along this section of road and no Locust Finches (the SASOL guide indicates that only Locust Finches occur in this area.)
Although a walk into the floodplain to try and flush a potential Bittern or Great Snipe was very tempting, a sign warning of landmines as well as a warning from a man dressed in military uniform kept us to the roads. Faansie Peacock and his group a day before however walked into the floodplain with no problems and flushed both Great Snipe and Bittern.
The mudflats at Rio Savaan camp itself (where we stopped briefly in the car park and walked on to the mudflats) produced Sand Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Whitefronted Plover and Sanderling among a host of other waders and seabirds.
A brief one night stop with some quick morning birding at Casa Maseka on the way back to South Africa produced Goliath Heron and Mozambique Batis.
Eastern highlands of Zimbabwe: The Vumba mountains
On route back to South Africa we decided to stop over in the Vumba area for one night. At the Leopard Rock Hotel (which still seems to be doing well) we took a walk around the lovely golf course at about 14:30 and recorded Eastern Olive Sunbird, Olive Bush Shrike, Stripecheeked Bulbul, Eastern Sawwing Swallow, East African Swee, Yellowbellied Sunbird and Redthroated Twinspot. A brief stop in the Bunga Forest reserve Chiranda Apalis was recorded. An hours walk around the White Horse Inn produced little besides Eastern Sawwing Swallow in the late afternoon.
We stayed overnight at Seldomseen where the legendary local bird guide Peter resides. I had the pleasure of meeting him. An early morning walk in the forests around the guesthouse produced a calling Buffspotted Flufftail, Delegorgue's (Bronzenaped Pigeons) calling in the forest canopy (but unfortunately could not be seen) as well as Miombo Doublecollared, Yellowbellied and Eastern Olive Sunbird. We were also rewarded with Starred Robin, Robert's Prinia, Whitetailed Flycatcher, Stripecheeked Bulbul, Orange Ground Thrush and Olive Bush Shrike. We managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of a group of Redwinged Crimsonwings as they flew off but could not track them down again in the thick undergrowth.
General and other issues
Fuel in Zimbabwe at the time of our visit was hard to come by and required waiting in long to sometimes very long queues. It is suggested that for the time being extra fuel is taken on a trip through Zimbabwe. The issue of landmines in Mozambique is of serious concern to birders. There are widely differing reports, and it is best to enquire locally in this regard. Large areas have been cleared and the locals will know which these are. In this regard it is sensible to employ the precautionary principle though.
I would like to thank Claire Spottiswoode and Callen Cohen for providing detailed information on birding in this area in the form of preliminary information from the soon to be published Southern African Birdfinder. Further Selwyn Rautenbach provided us with invaluable information on where to find certain species and how to find our way around. I would also like to thank Pieter van Zyl and Lukas Botha for their company in the vehicle and making their vehicle available for the trip. I would also like to thank Erin Bohensky, Faansie Peacock, Derek Peacock and the rest of our group for their company in the field and for their efforts in planning the trip.