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Mike and Margaret visit Victoria Falls & Lake Kariba

Posted on the 2nd January 2013

As Hermanus gets way too crowded at Xmas we decided that we would spend time away in peace and quiet up in Zimbabwe.

We left home during the afternoon of 20th December to overnight in Johannesburg before the short hop to Victoria Falls the next morning with a pleasant surprise of an upgrade to Business Class.

Immigration at Victoria Falls isn’t the fastest in the world and when 2 aircraft arrive ex Johannesburg within 15 minutes of one another a wait of 45 minutes isn’t uncommon. But then this is Africa!!!!

We stayed at Lorrie’s Bed & Breakfast in Victoria Falls – basic but very homely and with good food and a bar.

21st December

Chris Worden, Director of Zambezi Travel and Safari, came around about 3.00pm to take us out birding for a couple of hours above the Falls and close to the river. Chris is a bird guide as well as a director and knows the area well.

There were significant numbers of Alpine Swift at the airport and the garden at Lorrie’s B & B supports Dark-capped Bulbul, Paradise Flycatcher, Grey-backed Cameroptera, Tropical Boubou, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and FT Drongo. Out and about with Chris we saw Black Kite, Blue Waxbill, Village Weaver, European, Little and White-fronted Bee-eaters, White-browed Robin-Chat, Diderik’s and Levaillant’s Cuckoo, Purple Roller, Amethyst Sunbird and Puffback.

The river above the Falls gave me my first lifer – Rock Pratincole, common in this vicinity. The river holds many species as we would find the following day. 36 species in a couple of hours.

Rock Pratincoles

 

Taita Falcon

 

 

 

 

 

 

22nd December

Chris had arranged for several hours on the river above the Falls with Tom Varley – photographer of note and a very good guide. He has recently finished filming for the BBC a full-length feature documentary in 3D for the cinema. Before that Chris took us to his garden to see Emerald Cuckoo, another lifer for me. Between his garden and the boat club we picked up on Jacobin Cuckoo, Black-headed Oriole, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Meve’s Starling and African Harrier-Hawk.

Our trip on the river was excellent. Apart from the usual water birds – Egrets, Herons, Storks, Thick-knees and Jacanas we saw Black Crake, White-crowned Lapwing, White-faced Duck, White-browed Coucal, Half-collared Kingfisher, Long-toed Plover, Finfoot, River Warbler (lifer) and African Skimmer.

After a quick lunch Chris and I walked the Rain Forest at the Gorge. This is a very exciting area with Red-faced Cisticola, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Horus and Little Swifts. Livingstone’s Turaco gave us the slip but we still have tomorrow morning. However, whilst having a proper afternoon tea at the Victoria Falls hotel (finger sandwiches, scones and cakes) a pair of Taita Falcons (lifer) came from the Gorge and gave us a wonderful display. So after around 8 hours of birding I was 4 lifers to the good.

 
 African Emerald Cuckoo

 

Southern Carmine Bee-Eater

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

23rd December

We had a few hours in the morning before our flight to Bumi Hills so Chris took us to Elephant Hills Golf Club where we walked the course. First up was Meyer’s Parrot, a small flock on the forage and Thick-billed Weaver and Lesser Swamp Warbler at one of the many small ponds that grace the course. There were several feeding parties with Bronze Mannikins and Common Waxbills and Tawny-Flanked Prinia and Croaking Cisticola in the scrub. Down towards where the golf course skirts the river we saw Lesser Honeyguide, Chin-spot Batis, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Bennett’s Woodpecker and Kurrichane Thrush with one Yellow-billed Oxpecker on an Impala. One could walk the course all day and get many good species.

We went back to the Victoria Falls Hotel for coffee and another chance to get Livingstone’s Turaco which finally turned up along with Peregrine Falcon, Green Woodhoopoe, Red-billed Francolin and a single over-flying Comb Duck.

Our short flight to Bumi Hills was undertaken in a Beechcraft Baron, capably flown by Ronnie, an ex-Zimbabwean Air Force MiG Fighter pilot!!! It is only 1 hour up to Bumi with a scenic flight along the southern shore of Lake Kariba.

We were met by Adam Jones, the guide at Musango Camp who is training under the supervision of Steve Edwards, the camp owner. He took us by dirt road, normally around 45 minutes, to the boat harbour and then a 15 minute boat trip to Musango Island.

Both the dirt road and the boat ride always give up some nice birds. The air-strip is known for Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark and the dirt road through the trees and scrub yielded Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Striped Kingfisher, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Black-bellied Bustard, Rattling Cisticola, Plum-coloured Starling, Coqui Francolin and Sabota Lark.

Musango is just a kilometre long and at its narrowest just 50 metres. The camp is at the narrowest part and can hold just 16 people under canvas and thatch.

Musango Camp takes just 16 people under canvas and thatch. Their food is always excellent and staff look after you extremely well.

Malachite Kingfisher

 

African Skimmers

 

 

 

 

 

 

24th December

Dawn arrives around 5.00am but the birds start an hour earlier. White-browed Robin Chat is very noisy along with Eastern Nicator. Freckled Nightjar can also be heard along with African Golden Oriole. White-browed Scrub-Robin and a Paradise Flycatcher are nesting at the camp. We decide on a trip up the one of the feeder rivers for the morning activity. We can still bird watch and see or hear White-headed Vulture, Bateleur, Grey-rumped Swallow, Black-crowned Tchagra, and White-bellied Sunbird. There are good numbers of Ruff, Grey-hooded Gulls, one Little Stint and a Red-chested Cuckoo calling in the distance. We get caught in a thunderstorm on the way back but got a good sighting of Osprey. The lake is some 7 metres down on the level we saw in June so it looks quite different.

Christmas Day

We decide on fishing this morning. Not a good idea as we get soaked in the process but did get some nice fish. There are some huge crocodiles here. Four metres seems to be the norm. Eleven local people had been killed by crocs in November. If it isn’t them then it is the hippos!!!!

The camp was busy for Xmas dinner with 15 of us at the table. Very nice fare of chicken, ham and beef.

Visit to local school (Mike & Margaret on the right)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26th December

The camp supports 2 Coucals, White-browed and Senegal plus Golden-breasted Bunting, the occasional visit by Golden-tailed Woodpecker. There are Terrestial Bulbuls and Spotted Flycatcher. Each accommodation tent has a small bird-bath which can offer up birds. Margaret and I brought a lot of presents up for the fishing village school, some 4km by boat from Musango. They were very appreciative of text books, pens, pencils and rubbers, wall-charts for basic arithmetic and some nice toys donated by a friend of ours. The school committee met us along with the village head-man and the kids of course. Their livelihood is solely from the sale of fish. Lovely people.

We went to the same feeder river of a few days previous. Mr Ugly (Maribou Stork) was there along with Greenshank and Flappet Lark. Too many hippos giving you the “beady eye” for safety.

I was determined to beat Margaret’s 4.5kg Tigerfish from June and my first run came up trumps with a 4.8kg fish. They make superb Fish Cakes. Another run resulted in half the live-bait being severed just behind the hook. We couldn’t go wrong catching Tigerfish and Tilapia on Flying Ant bodies.

27th December

As the weather was settled we headed for Starvation Island in the afternoon, some 30 minutes away. This island is home to many animals caught when Kariba was filled. There are 3 bull elephants and Impala and Water Buck. A slow cruise gave us Saddle-billed Stork, Painted Snipe, Collared Pratincole, Hoopoe and Marsh Sandpiper. But our “Ripper” was a Vagrant Royal Tern, seldom seen in Southern Africa (Namibia). The orange bill (rather than Red or Yellow) was the giveaway. Has to be one of my best.

African Finfoot

 

Little Stint

 

 

 

 

 

 

28th December

A massive overnight storm with 57mm of rain in 4 hours left us in doubt as to whether we would actually get off the island. Ronnie was at the airstrip but the runway was very wet and slippery. Eventually the rain cleared and we headed for the airstrip. A Melanistic Gabar Goshawk (my 3rd in 4 months), Bearded Scrub-Robin, Crested Francolin and Double-banded Sandgrouse completed our list for the 7 days. Some 164 species with 6 lifers was very acceptable. Already planning an African Pitta trip with the camp owner for November.

Next trip starts 7th Jan for 16 days up in KZN and Zululand. Watch this space.

 

 

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