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MIKE & MARGARET IN FOUR ZIMBABWEAN NATIONAL PARKS

Posted on the 20th June 2012

ZIMBABWE – 4 NATIONAL PARKS (1/6 TO 14/6)

After attending the Moody Blues/10 CC Concert at Grand West on 30th May, Margaret and I overnighted there and flew the following afternoon to Joburg before connecting with our Victoria Falls flight in the morning of 1st June.

Melanistic Gabar Goshawk!

Day 1 to 4 -June 1st-June 5th

We arrived at Vic Falls just after 1.00pm and then went by road (sighting 6 Ground Hornbill on the way) to the Kazangula Border Post, a 1 hour journey, to link with our guide for the 5 minute trip into Imbabala Camp which lies just a few kilometres from where Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet on the Zambezi River.

Imbabala Camp sits just above the flood plain and on the edge of the Mopane forest.

This is a particularly good area for water birds and our first afternoon excursion didn’t disappoint. White Stork, White-faced Duck, Giant, Pied, Brown-hooded and Malachite Kingfishers, White-crowned Plover, Squacco Heron and Rufous-bellied Heron to name but a few. With +/- 43,000 Elephants sharing Imbabala and Chobe Parks, the Zambezi attracts many to drink during the afternoon.

The camp is small and very comfortable with a large walking area where birds like Red-headed Weaver, Greater Honeyguide, White-browed Robin Chat, Barred Owlet, Ashy Flycatcher, Kurrichane Thrush, Yellow White-eye, Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Blue Waxbill are all present.

Three-banded Courser

We were very lucky to see Painted Dog (their name for Wild Dog) which are very elusive, but Lion and Leopard managed to elude us.

Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle and African Harrier-Hawk are there in numbers, as are White-back Vultures which breed there and were busy nesting.

There are good “towers” of Giraffe, and large numbers of Kudu and Impala. We were also lucky to see Sable, only the second one I have seen.

Night drives are also productive for birds with Fiery-necked Nightjar, Bronze-winged and Three-banded Courser (lifer) and Pearl-spotted Owlet, Water and Spotted Thick Knee.

We were very fortunate to see Melanistic Gabar Goshawk on the flood plain, quite a rare sighting and the first I have seen. Lanner Falcon, Little and Black Sparrowhawkstoo.

Bradfield's Hornbill was a bit elusive but did show up eventually which left me with 1 last bird to find. A 10km journey by speed-boat downriver was essential to get the correct habitat for the elusive Finfoot. We spent around an hour scouring the overhanging vegetation where my guide had seen 2 pairs recently. I never realised how hard they are to see, let alone find despite being large. With a submerged body and a neck moving like a snake my eyes stared hard. We even backed off so as to re-focus as one sees nothing when the eyes stare locked. However, we eventually found a single female skulking right where the water touches the land. No chance of photos but it was a lifer so I was more than pleased after 6 years of searching.

Bradfield's Hornbill

Day 5 to 8 – June 5th-June 8th

After 3 good days at Imbabala it was time to move on South to Hwange NP. This was a road journey of some 250km, starting at Kazungula Border Post at 9.15am with a vehicle change at Victoria Falls around 10.30am and arriving at Hwange Main Camp at 1.15pm. An interesting drive passing the huge coal dust tips which are being converted to coal rocks for export to the DRC by the Chinese in lieu of payment of loans. So Zimbabwe gets no money from the exports and labour is mainly Chinese as well.

Hwange Main Camp is quite large with self-catering and tenting facilities including a restaurant. Our camp, Little Makalolo was some 70km deep in the park, so we didn’t arrive there until 5.45pm. You know me, birding en route is a slow process!!!

We were looking for Racket-tailed Roller en route but no luck. Did start off with Black and Marico Flycatchers, Long-billed Crombecs, Violet-eared Waxbill, Crimson-breasted Shrike (there are a pair of Yellow Morphs at the Main Camp apparently), Neddicky, Southern Black Tit.

Check out Kennedy 1 Picnic Site for birds here.

Little Makalolo is a small Bush Camp deep within the Hwange NP. It has a large water hole where many of the +/- 45,000 elephants drink daily. A hide allows extremely close encounter with the animals. Only disadvantage at Hwange this time of year is the COLD. With night temperatures plummeting to low single figures, beds were provided with hot water bottles and so were the safari vehicles at 7.00am. By 9.00am it felt quite warm. Yet we still dined under the stars at night.

Fiery-necked Nightjar

The landscape is Mopane forest with open plains. Here you can find Kurrichane Buttonquail, Dickinson’s and Lesser Kestrels, Shikra, Groundscraper Thrush and Secretarybird (we saw a nesting pair). There are Canaries and Seed-eaters, Larks, Swainson’s Spurfowl and Coqui Francolin.

Game viewing is good and we saw a pride of 9 lions and 17 Sable in one herd. We were entertained by a Bull Elephant one evening that had an attitude problem and took a dislike to one of the vehicles, actually brandishing a large tree branch and then chasing it for nearly a kilometre.

Day 9 to 11 – June 8th-June 11th

To-day we flew on private air charter from Davison’s Airstrip to Starvation Island on Lake Kariba. This is the home of Musango Camp, a private camp built and owned by Steve Edwards, a most likeable character and good birder. The island is very small and activities centre round the water or on the mainland for animals. Bumi Hills airstrip is some 45 minutes from the camp.

Our 3 night stay gave us the opportunity to do some fishing for Red-breasted Bream and Tiger Fish. Margaret did well with a 4kg Tiger Fish and we all caught Bream which are delicious to eat. The Tiger Fish became Fish Cakes and were also “scrummy”. The day before we arrived lions were seen to kill a Crocodile, something I have never heard about. Birding with Steve one morning was very rewarding. Plain-backed Pipits, Kittlitz’s Plover, Black-crowned Tchagra, Eastern Nicator, Spectacled Weaver, African Golden Oriole and some Cisticolas. There is an interesting Fossil site containing Petrified Forest, some 250 million years old. The camp hosts White-bellied Sunbird and Scrub-Robin and some large Water Monitors. Feeding the giant catfish at night is fun.

African Golden Oriole

 

I did get some revenge on our second fishing trip with a 1.5kg Tiger Fish and hooking a hippo which had swam under our boat!!!

A great relaxing camp, so much so we are hoping to spend Xmas there with a couple of days birding at Vic Falls beforehand.

Always amazes me how these small camps prepare such wonderful food with limited resources.

Day 11 to 14 – June 11th-June 14th

Cardinal Woodpecker

An hour or so by air from Bumi Hills Airstrip to Ruchomechi Camp (near Mana Pools) saw an early arrival by 10.00am. Ruckomechi lies on the bank of the Zambezi below Kariba Dam and is home to many hippo. Water levels vary depending on how much is released from Lake Kariba via the dam. Levels were rising when we were there. This camp is slightly larger with 10 tents.

Again, water birds/waders are abundant. We saw the first African Skimmers which come to breed here on the sand banks, African Openbill, Black-winged Stilt and 1 lonely Wood Sandpiper. Game watching is good with Elephants and Hippo wandering the camp.

Cheetah and Leopard are here plus Lion of course. Birding is good and includes many of the birds previously seen plus Crowned Hornbill, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar. Within the camp there are Scarlet-chested Nightjar, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Paradise Flycatcher, Blue Waxbill and Red-billed Firefinch. Livingstone’s Flycatcher eluded me despite being seen there 2 days previously. Thought I saw a pair but not convinced so no tick as a lifer. Best sighting, 3 times, was Collared Palm Thrush (lifer), the best being on our way to the airstrip for our departure back to Cape Town via Harare/Joburg, where it was singing from Acacia scrub.

Collared Palm Thrush

Zimbabwe is now much more stable than a few years ago but has a long way to go. I have to say the people were very friendly despite everything and tourism is picking up. Well worth a return visit as costs here re far less than Botswana.

All in all it was a good trip. Not as many lifers as I would have liked but an impressive 210 species over the 2 weeks despite some long journeys and air travel reducing the overall birding time.

Next trip, Zambia in September after Margaret recovers from her operation and Malawi scheduled for 10/2013.

 

 

 

COMMENTS

1442
STEVE EDWARDS (posted: 2012-06-21)
Great to have shared our little Paradise with you Mike & Margaret. So happy that Margaret's operation went well. Thank you for your kind words, your knowledge and humour. We certainly hope to see you and fellow birders here at Musango Safari Camp soon ! Warm regards.