BLPN outing to Boston 25 January 2015

THE outing began at the Gramarye smallholding at 07h00 on a very hot day. The garden provided a good start with a number of birds and then about a dozen of us walked down to the river.

There was plenty of birding activity starting with a Red-throated Wryneck.

In the tall grass there were Fan-tailed and Red-collared Widowbirds flitting around, Levaillant’s Cisticolas and Common and Orange-breasted Waxbills. Along the stream there were Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, African Reed and Little Rush Warblers. Hadeda and Sacred Ibis, Burchell’s Coucal, Cattle Egret, Red-eyed and Cape Turtle-Dove, African Stonechat, Cape Grassbird, all contributed to make up the numbers.

Heard, but not seen, were African Rail and Red-chested Flufftail. The highlight for Hennie and Decklan Jordaan was catching a glimpse of a large bird disappearing in the trees, pursuing it across the river and finding a Barn Owl which Decklan photographed.

Barn Owl - Decklan
Barn Owl – Decklan

And another surprise – photographed by Decklan.

Cuckoo Finch- Decklan
Cuckoo Finch- Decklan

On the way back we saw one of the Grey Crowned Cranes currently nesting in a pan in the wetland feeding in a home paddock next to the garden.

Driving to the forest cottages on Boston View farm we saw several Amur Falcons, a pair of Lanner Falcons, a Rock Kestrel and a Steppe Buzzard.

At Boston View we parked at Bottom Cottage . From there we did a forest walk.

The forest walk provided a change of habitat and we had to focus on hearing birds as much as trying to see them. Bar-throated Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Sombre Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Cape Batis were amongst the birds marked as present, while another highlight was Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher.

Then it was lunch on the verandah of the cottage overlooking a dam, where an inexhaustible Decklan checked out the frogs as well.

And then it was time to leave Bottom Cottage.

The Moon
The Moon

On my SABAP2 atlas list I notched up over 60 species which included a pair of African Fish-Eagles circling Gramarye after we had returned home.

African Fish-Eagle - Decklan
African Fish-Eagle – Decklan

Crystelle Wilson

A Beach Holiday

Pomene, Mozambique 10 to 19 January 2015

Paul and Sally Bartho

* Please note that at the end of this report there is a full bird list for each area we visited.

** Click here to see a map of our route.

*** Click here to download our bird list for each area we visited.

My sister, Natasha asked us if we would come with her family (husband Dick and 2 no longer teenage children, Luke and Madi) to Pomene in Mozambique – almost 1200 kms from home. For them a beach holiday and for us another opportunity to try and find the Green Tinkerbird.

To get to Pomene we drove up the N2, into Swaziland at Golela and headed for Siteki and the border crossing into Mozambique at Goba. Before entering Mozambique we overnighted at Mabuda Farm 30 kms short of the border. The overnight stop enabled us to get up very early (03h00) to cross the 24 hour border and get through Maputo before the traffic became hectic. Definitely the way to go.

There was no-one else at the border so we were through within 15 minutes – too early for them to deal with entry fees and other expected payments. Maputo was a breeze – although my sister was stopped for a bribe but talked her way out of it. A good thing they did not check their tail lights as they were not working – fuse had blown.

From there it was Xai Xai then Inhambane, on to Maxixe and at 14h10. getting to Massinga. The last leg of the journey was off road for 56 kms. The first 30 kms on baked mud and the rest on thick sand. Definitely need a 4×4 to get through.

Sally and I led the way as Dick and Tasha were towing a boat on a trailer. Tyres down to 1.4 bar and high range engaged, we set off. At the start of the sand there is a gated entrance to Pomene “reserve”. Pomene 051Payment please! 400 meticash (R140) per person plus the same per vehicle and double for the boat – yikes not expecting that. Anyway we are through. Most of the sand tracks are comfortable until you reach the mangroves.

The track narrows to one lane and is quite rutted and bumpy – low range engaged in parts. After the mangroves you pass through Pomene “City” – basically a couple of rum and trinket “shops”.

From there the last few kms are done in low range passing through the beach casurinas and driving on thick fine sand.P1030040

 At last we arrive at 16h15 and choose the private 6 sleeper hut at the end.

Fortunately for Sally and I there was ample bird life. Much of the birding for waders is tidal dependant. At low tide, mud flats appear in the lagoon and extend from our mansion all the way back to the mangroves at Pomene “City” – almost 6 kms. It does mean walking through mangroves at times – shoes are important. Here we found most of the usuals:

Several waders stood out – Greater Flamingos, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers and 22 Crab Plovers (the latter appeared at the same place every day when the tide was low – we had also seen them here on previous visits).

On the sea side, the Terns roost when they are not out fishing. There were roosts extending down the sea side from our Mansion all the way to Pomeme “City”. Each roost appeared to have a majority of one species – Lesser Crested and/or Common Terns predominantly – with Little and Swift Terns among them. One roost at the end near Pomene “City” must have consisted of thousands of Common Terns.

There is also a variety of other birds to be seen in the surrounding areas – along the road into Pomene and up to the airport. The Purple-banded Sunbird has had us confused in the past and we saw it again in the same eclipse plumage.

Purple-banded Sunbird in eclipse plumage
Purple-banded Sunbird in eclipse plumage

However the most exciting of those seen was a pair of Sooty Falcons. We have seen them most times that we have been to Pomene.

Some of the other species seen and photographed include:

The Lilac-breasted Rollers were interesting in that there were about six or more of them together in one area. Usually we associate them as appearing on their own.

In all we identified 59 species while at Pomene. In the past we have recorded closer to 100 species – however we did take bird trips across the bay and were more adventurous in the mangroves. Our bird list can be seen at the start of this report.

Since we were so close to Unguana and the Green Tinkerbird – as the crow flies- we decided to make another effort at trying to find the bird. By chance Graham Snow (our guide on our previous trip in July) also happened to be in the area. We organised before we left to meet him and search together. The problem was confirming the arrangements when we got there – my roaming did not work and the hotel phones had run out of air time!

Sally and I left at 04h00 to drive back to the main road where we were to meet Graham. We got there just on 06h00 and reflated our tyres. Then we decided to drive down to Morrungulo (12 kms) to collect Graham as he was not yet at the meeting point. We got all the way to his accommodation to learn that he had left some time ago. Back we went – getting there a bit late but no Graham. It turned out that he also arrived there early and drove down our road to a wetland area where we had to pass – unfortunately he did not notice us beside the main road reflating our tyres!

Having missed each other we decided that as we had driven all this way that we would continue anyway. We managed to find the correct turn-off and drove down the dirt road until we found the place we had tried previously.

We found the path into the bush and spent quite some time looking and listening. The bush was very quiet and we hardly saw any birds but we kept on – recording only 21 species in the time we were there.

At one point we almost gave up but decided to persevere a little further. Then virtually at the end of the path I played the call to see if there was any point in continuing. It is quite a strident call on the Roberts program. Seconds later we had a reply – much softer. After chasing around trying to pinpoint the changing location of the call we eventually saw it fly overhead. Once located we kept our beady eyes on where it went and eventually it returned and landed quite close – giving us enough time to enjoy the sighting before moving on. No time for a photo. Then it re-appeared with a mate – again for too short a time to get a snap. After that they moved on. We had our Lifer.

And then the day came to leave Pomene. My sister and family decided to drive straight home so they left at 03h00 (eventually getting home near midnight). Sally and I decided to go to Inhambane for some more wader and shore birding. Getting there late morning.

Having not booked any accommodation we decided to see what was available right at the end beyond Barra Lodge and across the causeway. Areia Branca was our only choice and it was empty. So for R390 we stayed the night in a six sleeper self-catering chalet. When the tide came in the road dissapeared!

We had just missed a huge storm that they had had that morning blowing over one of the power lines in front of the camp. The wind was still blowing strong. Sparks were flying. Amazingly a power company crew arrived and had it all fixed in less than a couple of hours.

The mangroves were relatively quiet compared to Pomene, however we did see a Crab Plover and a Greater Flamingo at some distance. We also found a Tern roost sea side – mainly Lesser Crested Terns. Perhaps if we had stayed longer and the wind was quieter we might have had better birding. Altogether we only identified 36 different bird species.

Our next destination was the flood plain after Xai Xai – staying at Honey Pot – a useful overnight stop in surprisingly well wooded grounds beside the main road. Honey Pot is located at the town of “3 de Feveriero” 16 kms south of Xai Xai right next to a large cell phone tower.

Honey Pot Reception
Honey Pot Reception

On the way we stop in the town of Zandamela -about 84 kms north of Xai Xai. Here we search in vain all the dead trees for the elusive African Hobby which is resident there. We later learned from Graham that he saw it there the day before at mid morning – much the same time as we passed through. Grrrrr……

We check in at Honey Pot and get given a large air-conditioned self-catering chalet for R400 for the night. Very noisy cool air. The plan was to have a look around the grounds and then later on go to the floodplain.

As we started our walk around the grounds we heard a call of a raptor close-by. There were two – adult and juvenile together – Lizard Buzzards.

Lizard Buzzard
Lizard Buzzard

In all we only recorded 11 species in the short time birding. Other birds photographed in the grounds:

The Red-backed Mannikin was seen at its nest. As it entered its nest so it pulled a part of the nest material over the entrance hiding it completely.

Later in the afternoon we headed for the floodplain – a 15 km drive. Exit Honey Pot, drive to 3 de Feveriero turn right to get there. Unfortunately being a Sunday there were many people there enjoying the waters – kids playing around. The road disintegrated when we reached the floodplain with an interesting bridge which I did manage to cross – on foot.

A few photos of some of the 41 bird species that we identified:

The next day we headed back to South Africa. Leaving early we planned to use the new Maputo by-pass. At Marracuene, north of Maputo, the road changed into a double lane highway (as yet incomplete but the traffic was fast flowing). It was here that we were meant to find the start of the by-pass. In the end we entered Maputo at peak hour on a Monday morning. The main road has 2 lanes on each side – however they were using three lanes to enter Maputo and one to exit. A bit of organised madness. One and a half hours later we were through and on our way to the Swaziland border where we entered Mozambique.

We eventually got through Swaziland at mid-day. By now we were hungry so Sally suggested we pop into Pongola Reserve and picnic there. Great idea. We love this reserve. It is right at the northern end of Lake Jozini and has a wide variety of habitats. There is only camping available there – no power but an ablution block per site. There is also a hunting Lodge which can be rented out in the off season.

We decide to take a quick look around the side of the lake before heading on. However it was over two hours later that we left.

There were waterbirds all along the shore and many other interesting species. The first was a viewing of a pair of Peregrine Falcons flying high overhead. This was followed by numerous Amur Falcons; Lesser Grey Shrike; Red-backed Shrikes; European Roller (in washed out plumage); Yellow-billed, Marabou and White Storks; Grey, Purple and Goliath Herons; Pink-backed Pelican. We never got into the central thornbush area of the reserve but we saw 55 different bird species in the 2 hours there. (See bird list at start of report).

From Pongola we headed for St. Lucia to see family and then headed home the next day.

Hope you all enjoy the read.

Paul & Sally Bartho

Saturday 3 January Outing to Umbogavango

New Year’s outing to Umbogavango

Although we started early it was still very hot and humid and by 09:00 the birds were seeking shade as well as the birders!!

There were 25 of us and our bird count was 83 plus – not too shabby for such a hot day. Maybe nothing spectacular although we did hunt high and low for the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Fulvous Duck to no avail.

Various nests were found, Fork tailed Drongo high up in a Eucalyptus and in the same tree the White-eared Barbets were nesting and feeding chicks. Of course the weavers were busy; Village, Thick-billed, Yellow, Spectacled and Dark-backed.

Penny has taken some super pics of a Yellow Weaver starting out on his nest – let’s hope they meets with approval. Sunbirds were conspicuous by their absence – the one group heard was an Olive Sunbird and that was it.

Raptors: Long crested and African Fish Eagle – lots of YBK’s and a Common Buzzard.   A number of Egyptian Geese with chicks and a lone Spur-wing perched in a dead tree.

Otherwise the water birds were mainly Little Grebe, Yellow-billed Duck and Common Moorhen. Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers were mainly heard but we did manage to see a few as well.

We also found the most beautiful tree(?) frog – bright yellow (Sandi tells me that if the eyes are horizontal it is a painted reed frog but if the eyes are vertical then it is a tree frog).

Another unusual sighting was that of a pair of Red-billed Quelea.

Umbogavango is a lovely place, easy walking with various hides and masses of yellow and white arums in amongst the reeds. Waking back over the weir to the picnic site we surprised a Mountain Wagtail to end off a good morning’s birding. Here are some of the other photos taken:

Thanks to Sally for leading a group and thanks to all the photographers Rex, Mike, Paul & Penny and anybody else I might have left out for the superb pics!

Cheers & a Happy New Year


Zimbabwe and Mozambique

Early December for 2 weeks.

Cheryl King.

In the first two weeks of December I joined a group of Birders with Bustard Birding Tours on a trip to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Penny de Vries and Dave Rimmer were also part of the group led by Niall Perrins. This trip was a wonderful adventure for me and taught me what real birding was all about. Dave Bishop who was also part of the group kept reminding us that this was “intense birding”, I couldn’t agree with him more, but loved every minute of it.

There were 8 of us in the group, besides those mentioned above we had Richard Everett and his faithful landrover and Karen and Rolfe Weisler from Johannesburg. As a group we recorded 337 birds seen, a total of 349 if we include those we heard. My personal count was 216 with a spectacular list of 44 lifers. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop …………

My adventure started on Saturday when we left Johannesburg and headed for Norma Jeans on the edge of Kyle Dam. Needless to say we had massive issues at Beit Bridge which was chaotic. Queues of hundreds of people trying to get through in the blazing sun, and greedy touts making promises to short circuit the system delayed us by over four hours. Eventually at nightfall we arrived at our destination, tired, hungry and very thirsty for an ice cold Zambezi beer (or two!).

The next day started early (after a few days into my trip I questioned if birders ever sleep – 3.30 am is late for them!) and we birded around Kyle Dam. It was here I found my first lifer of the trip – a beautiful Miomba Double-Collared Sunbird singing his heart out at the top of a tree with Kyle Dam in the background. Birding around the dam was wonderful and I was able to record a further seven lifers.

Kyle Dam
Kyle Dam
Birding from the Road near Masivingo (Kyle Dam)
Birding from the Road near Masivingo (Kyle Dam)

Local Bicycle Shop Masivinga Area

After reluctantly leaving Kyle Dam we headed for Seldomseen near Mutare in the Eastern Highlands. It is magnificent birding here with all the forest birds, but oh so difficult. Due to thick mist in the morning we decided to head to Cecil Kop Nature Reserve which offers magnificent views of Mutare. Here we found the Tree Pipit which was exciting and another lifer on my list. On the way back to Seldomseen we did a detour via the Golf Course in Mutare where we saw Whyte’s Barbet eyeing us from his little hole above us. The easiest bit of birding I have ever done.

Whyte's Barbet
Whyte’s Barbet

Seldomseen offers magnificent birds but most certainly made us work hard to find them. The forests are thick, dark and offers these blighters lots of hiding places. It was then I was rudely reminded that this is the reason why I avoid forests if at all possible, far prefer to find such obliging birds like Whyte’s Barbet!! Saying that, we found some specials one of them being Swynnerton’s Robin.

Our next destination was Beira where we visited Rio Savanne and Rio Maria areas. It was very dry as the rains had not yet arrived so we missed out on a number of species we were targeting. After enjoying watching a pair of Copper Sunbirds in the company of some Little Bee-eaters Rich Everett declared this to be a “mighty fine day”.

Beira offered us a little bit of nightlife – the only bit we had the entire holiday unless you count Dave Rimmer chasing owls, bush babies and bugs in the middle of the night. On the way to dinner the one evening Niall and myself raced Dave and Rich in our tuk-tuks. Rich and Dave won the race, but at a price. We splashed a puddle of water drenching our opponents and filling Rich’s mouth with Beira Road flavoured mud! This was soon washed down with 2M beer so there were no hard feelings from either side.

Mphingwe Camp near the little town of Caia was our next stop. It was here that I was warned about the Coutadas – hot, humid, full of mosquitoes and horse flies, added to that when you ‘go in’ (to quote Niall), you fight with tree vines getting you all knotted up like the forest wants you there forever, merciless thorn trees and pits of ants that bite as if you are standing in a bush of nettles. I learned very quickly, if you want to see the East Coast Akalat, White Chested Alethe and the African Pitta this is what you are subjected to. Our efforts were rewarded with fine sightings of both the Akalat and Alethe, but sadly not the Pitta –not even a single ‘pleeup”. I think this was the Coutadas telling me I have to come back despite my moans.

It was here that Niall found a pair of Barred Long-Tailed Cuckoos which was a lifer for him. They really gave us the run-around but eventually displayed themselves briefly (so briefly I missed out) and not good enough for a photo.

We also had the priveldge of visiting Grown Farm near the town of Senna in the Chemba District where we met a friendly lady called Sharon. She allowed us to scour her farm which is on the Zambezi River for Bohm’s Bee-eater and yes we found it! Was truly thrilling.

Our final destination was none other than Gorongoza – a place I always dreamed of and has been on my bucket list forever. The park is closed for the wet season but our intention was to go up the mountain to find the Green Headed Oriole.

Another early morning saw us bumping up a long rocky road to Mount Gorongoza. Along the way everyone once again fell out their cars, this time to the call of the Marsh Tchagra. By now I was so sleep deprived I just could not join them as I was still battling to open my eyes and as a result dipped on this one.

Gerbre van Zyl led the pack, a very pleasant easy walk up to the fringes of the forest on the mountain. Not too far in we heard the Oriole and a few of us decided to plonk ourselves on the comfy rocks and wait for the birds to come to us rather than battle deeper into the forest. This paid off, not only did a pair of Orioles visit, we also had the pleasure of the company of the Pallid Honeyguide, Delegorgue’s Pigeon, African Harrier Hawk being harassed by a group of Drongos and the beautiful Red-Capped Robin Chat among many others.

Our trip was not without incident. We had Niall accusing us of walking through the bush “like a bunch of rhinos”, causing much mirth. Rich kept us entertained with first of all getting stuck in the mud while were trying to flush out the Great Snipe, and then getting lost in Mphingwe. We had Penny doing a flamingo dance while everyone was chasing the Speckle-Throated Woodpecker – cannot remember why she chose to imitate a flamingo when we were in the middle of the Coutadas, imitating a Pitta would have been more appropriate! We lost a number plate and had to be very innovative dodging the Zim police, Niall took out a pole and lost a running board in the process and Rich’s faithful Old Lady broke her fan belt.

Too soon it was time to face the journey home and be subjected to the dreaded border crossing at Beit Bridge. After travelling a total of 5800 km I can only say that this was a wonderful worthwhile experience and thank Niall Perrins and my fellow travellers for one of the most exciting trips I have ever done.

Cheryl King