MIKE AND MARGARET GRAHAM VISIT THREE LOCATIONS IN ZIMBABWEPosted on the 6th February 2017
Our 18 day trip to Zimbabwe was to take in 3 locations of different habitats – Victoria Falls (2 nights), Hwange National Park (5 nights) and finally Musango Island (10 nights) set in the Matusadona National Park on Lake Kariba.
If you ignore the hustle and bustle that Victoria Falls is and take the time to get away from the main street and visit the quieter areas it is not a bad spot to start from. We stayed at Ilala Lodge and used that as a base for 2 nights to get the list started. We undertook a Sundowner Cruise on the Zambezi, a visit to Gorges Lodge above rapids 17-21 and a sit at the Siduli Hide below the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge.
Ilala Lodge had some good birds to offer early in the morning just after sunrise.
Black-collared Barbet, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Senegal Coucal, Long-billed Crombec, Southern Black Tit, Green Wood Hoopoe, Trumpeter Hornbill, Bronze Mannikin, Puffback, Blue Waxbill, Meve’s Starling, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Plum-coloured Starling and Village Weaver all within the confines of the Lodge and the forest below.
On the Zambezi there were the usual Cormorants, Giant and Cattle Egrets, Black-crowned Night Heron and Striated Heron, Rock Pratincole, Storks, Egyptian and Spurwing Geese plus the usual Storks, Cuckoos and Kingfishers.
Siduli Hide was worth a couple of hours of our time although not very rewarding for animals because the rains had caused them to disperse but we did see Eurasian Bee-eater, Tropical Boubou, Namaqua Dove, Jameson’s and Red-billed Firefinches, Darter, Red-backed Shrike, White-crowned Plover, Black-crowned Tchagra, White-backed Vulture, Red-faced Mousebird, Yellow-billed Kite and Water Thick-knee. Unfortunately no Taita Falcon or Schalow’s Touraco this time.
With the usual birds that one would expect to see here our total for Victoria Falls was 56 species mostly limited use of binoculars.
Hwange National Park.
Rather than drive all the way from Victoria Falls to Bomani Tented Lodge at Ngamo Pans via Hwange NP main gate we decided that we would use the “Elephant Express” tram from Dete Station to Ngamo. The tram travels for 70km on the railway line which is the border of Hwange NP. There is the occasional stop to let rail traffic come the other way. With lunch and a glass of wine it is a great way to travel and takes around 3 hours with game viewing and birding on the way. This is one of the longest stretches of straight railway line in the world.
Whilst there was nothing of note we did see Lilac-breasted and Broad-billed Rollers, Yellow-fronted and Black-throated Canaries, Steppe and Lesser-spotted Eagles, Red-billed Hornbills and Common Myna. We also passed the spot where Cecil the Lion was needlessly shot and which is now marked.
Bomani Tented Camp is around 30 minutes from the Ngamo Tram Siding within its own concession outside of Hwange NP. It has its own waterhole in front of the accommodation. Night drives are not allowed now in Hwange NP such that the anti-poaching teams can work at night but we could go out at night within the concession out of the park area.
With the Ant hatch in full swing the Ngamo Pans are the centre for Lesser-spotted and Steppe Eagles and Yellow-billed Kites. There are literally scores of these birds at this area and into the park itself. The day before we departed for Lake Kariba the Amur Falcons arrived in their hundreds for the same ant hatch and many of the dead trees provided an excellent perch from which to feed and roost.
Birding was excellent and the recent rains had filled the pans and provided food and water for many. We saw every specie of Stork, including a few Abdim’s, 4 species of Vulture, 4 species of Bee-eaters including Eurasian, Greenshank, Sandpipers, White-winged Terns, Ducks and Teals, Broad-billed, Lilac-breasted and Purple Rollers. Some of the more difficult birds were Pied Babblers, Dwarf Bittern, Golden-breasted Bunting, Lizard Buzzard, Black Cuckoo, Lanner and Peregrine Falcons, Scaly-feathered Finch, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Freckled Nightjar, Barn Owl, Black-chested Prinia, Crimson-breasted, Red-backed and White-crowned Helmet-Shrikes, Shaft-tailed Whydah. Sunbirds were just not around at all (no flowers out yet) and we only saw Purple-banded.
Despite missing out on several species we managed 139. Those that made the trip were Dusky Lark (photo as well) and which was a lifer for me, Dwarf Bittern and African Broadbill. This bird was nesting at Bomani Tented Lodge and was calling from the nest high above the dining area. Never seen unfortunately but there is also one at Camelthorn Camp, some 6km away which was also nesting but had been seen and heard by our guide Harris. Our 2 attempts to find it proved fruitless. It is outside the known area for the bird.
Musango Island, Lake Kariba
Musango Island has been our Xmas retreat for 5 years and New Year added on for the last 2 years so that we can have some peace and quiet away from the chaotic Hermanus that it is over the holiday period. Musango lies South East of Kariba and the area is full of riverine forest, islands, creeks and bush. Whilst it is not an area where one can expect rarities it does offer some good birding locally and on the island. At this time of year around the camp or close-by there are always White-fronted Bee-eaters along with Little and Southern Carmine, Tropical Boubou, Terrestial Brownbul, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, Eastern Nicator, African Paradise Flycatchers (have nested right at the dining area for years), Freckled Nightjar, Western Osprey, Yellow-throated Petronias, African Golden Oriole, White-bellied Sunbird, Grey-backed Camaroptera, and Puffbacks.
One characteristic of Western Ospreys here and which Steve Edwards (Camp Owner and Guide) has never seen anywhere else is that the birds fly low over the water and drag their feet through the water as if washing them. No mention of that fact in any books. I witnessed this strange action this time at Musango.
Out on the water or down at the flood plains near Bumi Hills Airstrip there are many species to view. All the white Egrets and most of the Herons, African Fish Eagle, Cormorants, Grey-headed Gull, White-winged Tern, Glossy Ibis, 4 species of Kingfisher, Plovers, Storks, Red-billed Teal, Sanderling, White-crowned Lapwing, Ruff and Sandpipers.
Away from the water and into the bush one can see Chinspot Batis, Golden-breasted and Cinnamon-breasted Bunting (maybe even Cabanis’s Bunting if you are lucky), Jacobin’s Cuckoo, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Scimitarbill, African Hawk Eagle hunting in pairs, Ground Hornbills, Red-billed Quelea, Meve’s Starling, White-backed and Hooded Vulture. On a trip to the airstrip, some 70 minutes slow drive we identified over 60 species.
Most of my days are spent fishing there so bird watching is a peripheral activity. However, I still managed 106 species.
The total species count for the trip was 203 which I think is pretty exceptional for up there at this time of year. Hwange Np is always worth a visit and the end of 2016 saw an Egyptian Vulture there for many weeks.