26 March 2024

Pitta Camp, here we come!

30 November 2023 - Harare to Pitta Camp in Lower Zambezi Valley; Day 5

We had all packed the night before and were up early for coffee waiting for Wouter. Once he arrived, it was all hands on deck to pack the trailer behind the people wagon and hit the road, just after 6am for the 3-hour drive north of Harare on the A11 and then A12 to the drop-off point. The trip has now really begun and there was palpable excitement with the whole gang on the bus.

We arrived at the drop-off (-16.244, 30.697) where the two Landcruiser's with Siras and Adam our guides were waiting, along with the returning guests who would jump into our people cruiser back to Harare. They looked sunburnt and complained about the intensity of the mopane flies at the camp due to the unrelenting heat - but were also very happy birders. 

We unpacked our trailer and packed all the gear into the two Cruisers for the slow drive to  Pitta Camp hosted by Derek Adam's of Birding Safari's Victoria Falls. Whilst waiting, we started our list for the next 3-days with a Miombo Glossy Starling in the trees on the side of the road. They can be ID'd in flight by the single row of wing covert spots (Cape Glossy and Greater Blue-eared both have 2 rows of wing covert spots)

Mike K, Rory and I jumped onto the back of one Cruiser, whilst the others got into the second and we were off - birding on the way to camp. We had a few stops for various birds, but a longish stop on a bridge over a fairly dry river where we added a few more species. I was able to photograph a few against a greyish sky; Southern Carmine Bee-eater

Southern Carmine Bee-eater (Merops nubicoides)

Lesser-striped Swallow

Lesser-striped Swallow (Cecropis abyssinica)

and a fast and erratic flying Böhm's Spinetail which was a great bird for most of our party

Böhm's Spinetail (Neafrapus boehmi)

We continued on our journey and finally, after another 3-hours, passed through the Mosoka Village, before arriving at the rustic Murara Camp in the Lower Zambezi Valley (-16.245, 30.234) where we were welcomed by Derek Adams and the other camp staff. We quickly unloaded the Cruisers and were shown to our respective chalets. Glynn and I bunked together and it didnt take us long to unpack and get back down to the main reception and meeting area. I logged on and got some work done, before we had a welcome thunderstorm to quench the parched earth, before lunch was served.

After lunch we explored the camp, finding a few great birds like this young Eastern Nicator

Eastern Nicator (Nicator gularis)

and the really cool Livingstone's Flycatcher up in the canopy of a large tree which was a bird I was really excited to see

Livingstone's Flycatcher (Erythrocercus livingstonei)

I had a really good spot for my bush 'office' overlooking a birdbath, whilst the others went to chill for the afternoon. We met up again in the late afternoon and split into two groups for the afternoon drive which was a little cooler following the earlier rain. Our Cruiser had the 'singles' (Mike K, Rory, Glynn and I) whilst the other took the two couples (Richard, Shirley, Billy and Gayleen). Not too much early on in the drive, but we made our way to a small waterhole for afternoon sundowners. As we stopped, we had a Eurasian Hobby flyby in the fading light

Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo)

A Saddle-billed Stork walking away from the waterhole

Saddle-billed Stork (Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis)

We setup our chairs, poured a G+T and waited and watched to see what would come to drink. There was a fairly big flock of Red-billed Quelea's that came down to drink en-masse and then would suddenly take off in a whirr of wings and then return again, frequently - it was an amazing sound. I tried to get creative with a slow shutter speed to try and capture the organised chaos of the flock

Red-billed Quelea (Quelea quelea)

Once the sun had set, we focused on the pool waiting for the Nightjar's to arrive. As it got dark, there was suddenly a vision of this mystical and magical bird with long white wing streamers (pennants) that appeared out of the darkness and then as quickly disappeared into the darkness - almost like a spirit. We had a single torch trying to track them and get decent views of this mega Pennant-winged Nightjar. 

Photographing them was a challenge on a different perspective completely, given we only used one torch - but I did manage to get a few record images of the large female Pennant-winged. 

Female Pennant-winged Nightjar (Caprimulgus vexillarius)

But the whole experience in the stillness of the night certainly was both magical and mystical - what a magnificent way to end the first day!

But tomorrow morning is the day on this trip we have all waited for and dreamed about - sleeping was going to be difficult....

25 March 2024

Back into the Miombo

29 November 2023 - Harare; Day 4

The gang opted for another visit to Gosha Park to try and pick up a few species they missed on their first visit and that they did - so, I was feeling a little green, as there were a few I also needed. Nevertheless, I was up early to see what was about in in the gardens at Guineafowl Lodge - certainly not as much as there was at Malcolm's. I had a flyby Gabar

Gabar Goshawk (Micronisus gabar)

a brief view of Grey-headed Bushshrike in the neighbours garden

Grey-headed Bushshrike (Malaconotus blanchoti)

plus a male Variable Sunbird that came in a few times

Variable Sunbird (Cinnyris venustus)

Late afternoon, Richard, Glynn and I decided to try another Miombo site called Haka Park on the outskirts of Harare. Unfortunately, it did not live up to our expectations and after 90-minutes, not a single Miombo species was seen or heard. In the Miombo habitat, there were a few flowering Flame Lilies. This was declared the national flower of Zimbabwe in 1980 and symbolises purity, beauty, renewal and rebirth

Flame Lily (Gloriosa superba)

Down at the dam, picked up a few new trip birds and also this striking Phantom Flutterer

Phantom Flutterer (Rhyothemis semihyalina)

Leaving the Park disappointed, a herd of Burchell's Zebra with Cattle Egrets in attendance

Burchell's Zebra (Equus q. burchelli) and Western Cattle Egret

Back at Guineafowl Lodge, we had a festive team dinner, before packing for our journey to the Zambezi Valley early tomorrow morning - the trip is getting real now!

Into the Miombo

28 November 2024 - Christon Banks, Harare; Day 3

It was an early start for the whole gang when Lionel arrived with the bus together with Ian. This morning we were exploring the Miombo habitat of Christon Banks a little further on from where we were yesterday afternoon.

The bus dropped off at the start of the trail, this morning was all about walking the habitat. First up was a female Eastern Miombo Sunbird in the top of a tree in the valley below us.

Female Eastern Miombo Sunbird (Cinnyris manoensis)

One of the target birds was Red-faced Crombec and we followed a calling bird for ages up and down the valley. At one stop, a Tropical Boubou put in a brief appearance

Tropical Boubou (Laniarius major)

It was a real hide-and-seek game with the Crombec that seemed to stay 3 or 4 trees ahead of us, no matter how quietly we walked and waited. Eventually, it just eluded us - but we did find a small bird party that had some of the wanted White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike's. Do you ever have one of those days when you cant get into the groove and nothing seems to fall into place - I was having one of those this morning

White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike (Ceblepyris pectoralis)

Concentrating on trying to get one decent image of the Cuckooshrike, I lost the group. It is unreal how thick bush can muffle sound, even when shouting or whistling, so it took some time for me to eventually relocate them and continue on our walk. At one stop, a Dragonfly provided some interest

Dragonfly sp.

Then a few butterflies

White sp.

Blue sp.

We continued walking to where we were going to meet the bus and in the process 'lost' Richard. Rory and I had started to walk down into the valley, when further up the hill we heard Ian shout 'Boulder Chat' a want bird for most of us. Rory and I continued down into the valley without luck and concluded Richard must have walked to the bus. Now we had the daunting and steep climb taking the tiger line directly up, to the top of the hill where the Boulder Chat's had moved to - of course! Finally, we arrived at the top, breathless and scratched to where the others had already had some good views. Once I got my breathe back I found a position where I could wait and observe, as they were continuously on the move around us, including some display interaction - but finally, I got some satisfying views and a few pics in challenging dappled light conditions

Boulder Chat (Pinarornis plumosus)

It was then all the way back down the hill to the road where Lionel, the bus (and Richard) were waiting for us. Back to Malcolm's Lodge by 9am where I could get some work done. Later in the day, we transferred to Guineafowl Lodge.

15 March 2024

Longclaw Hat Trick in the grasslands outside of Harare

27 November 2023 - Harare and Kampini Airstrip; Day 2

Unfortunately I couldn't join the gang who left before dark to bird Gosha Park, as I had to work. But I was up early, to enjoy the birds in the garden and before I needed to start work. There was a noisy group of Arrow-marked Babbler's foraging in the compost heap - I thought they could be a different ssp, but they are the same as we get in SA

Arrow-marked Babbler (Turdoides jardineii)

I was really hoping that the Miombo Sunbird seen briefly yesterday would visit the only flowering Aloe plant in the garden, but it was not to be. Instead, I had Scarlet-breasted Sunbird - both male and female

Female Scarlet-chested Sunbird (Chalcomitra senegalensis)

Male Scarlet-chested Sunbird (Chalcomitra senegalensis)

As well as a good few Variable Sunbird's, mostly female and immature's

Variable Sunbird (Cinnyris venustus)

I finally did managed to locate a male and he is a stunning bird

Male Variable Sunbird (Cinnyris venustus)

I had a Abdim Stork flyby

Abdim's Stork (Ciconia abdimii)

A few Willow Warbler's foraging in the one of the big trees

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

But the highlight before breakfast on the patio was a pair of Whyte's Barbet on a tall tree in the adjacent garden

Whyte's Barbet (Stactolaema whytii)

I photographed this butterfly in the gardens that I'm yet to ID

Butterfly sp.

The gang had a great time at Gosha and got many of the species I was hoping to photograph. Late afternoon, Lionel and Ian were back at the B&B in the bus and we all headed just out of town to the grassland/wetland at Kampini Airstrip. 

Since we had missed a few species at Monovale yesterday, we had another chance for them this afternoon. We spread out and walked slowly through the grasslands and it was here we flushed what initially looked like a Pipit with its white outer tail feathers, but it had a reddish throat - I went to go and check where it had landed and got better views - Rosy-throated Longclaw it was and a lot different in flight to our Cape Longclaw's.

Rosy-throated Longclaw (Macronyx ameliae)

We spent quite some time with this individual, not knowing that we would find a good few more as we continued walking down toward the moisture parts of the grasslands - what a stunning Longclaw, but I really struggled to get front on views

Rosy-throated Longclaw (Macronyx ameliae)

Another special in these grasslands was Pale-crowned Cisticola and we managed to get relatively close to one bird

Pale-crowned Cisticola (Cisticola cinnamomeus)

We did get Cape Longclaw and as the sun was setting found the Yellow-throated Longclaw to complete the hat trick

Yellow-throated Longclaw (Macronyx croceus)

As always, I check for invertebrates whilst birding and found these two Butterflies that I still need to ID

Bronze sp.

Blue sp.

A magnificent sunset, before climbing back on the bus to head back to Malcolm's Lodge

African sunsets!

River Warbler - Dip # 3

17 March 2024 - Zaagkuilsdrift It is that time of year - River Warbler! Again Richard Crawshaw, Selwyn Rautenbach, Marlina and I met early a...