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MIKE AND MARGARET IN MALAWI

Posted on the 3rd November 2013

MIKE AND MARGARET IN MALAWI
Malawi was a new destination for us and as a highly under-rated birding area was worthy of a visit.
Our flights from Cape Town to Lilongwe took us via an overnight stop in Joburg as we don’t get up at 2.30am any more to get to airports for the “Red-eye” flight at 0530!!!!!! 
On arrival at Lilongwe at lunchtime, we were met by our guide Abasi, who was doing the second leg of our travels, and he conveyed us to Heuglin’s Lodge, our B and B for the night before a light aircraft transfer to Nyika Plateau. Heuglin’s is a very nice place with a large garden. Species here included Heuglin’s Robin, Kurrichane Thrush, Schalow’s Turaco, Spectacled and Village Weavers, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Arrow-marked Babblers. Whilst photographing the Turaco I stumbled across an African Hoopoe nest in the garden. The adults had utilised and old ant’s nest in the ground. The owners of the B and B didn’t know it was there, so they marked it to prevent gardeners and guests disturbing it.

Golden Weaver
Black-lored Cisticola

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Abasi took us to the Nature Reserve during the afternoon. Small but varying habitats offer up good birds, like Red-throated Twinspot, Bearded Woodpecker, Golden Weaver, African Black Duck at the river (no sign of the resident Finfoot though), African Broadbill, a Juvenile African Hawk-Eagle in a nest and Mountain Wagtail. In all 27 species in an hour. Worth a longer visit I reckon.
Day 1 - 5th October
Our light aircraft transfer was delayed just over 3 hours as there was low cloud at the plateau, so we eventually took off at 1230. It is a 2 hour flight to the Chelinda Airstrip. Nyika lies in the North of the country at 2700m above sea level. The landscape is rolling plains and swathes of bracken with many small woods and larger Montane Forests. Predators are few and antelope, such as Reed Buck, Bush Buck and Eland do well. There are also Zebra and Duikers. There are some 200 species of mammals here.
We were met by our guide, White, who would look after us for 4 days, Where can you get out of a plane and see so many Blue Swallows as your first sighting. It is thought that there are 200-300 pairs here. We set off for Chelinda Lodge, our home for 5 nights, with a picnic lunch en-route. We notice how cold it is.
Cameras out, binoculars out, bird books out and head out of the roof. Despite the cold the birds are plentiful. Black-lored Cisticola, Dusky Dove, Montane Marsh Widowbird, Augur Buzzard. Even Common Fiscal and Common Waxbill plus Red-necked Spurfowl.
Our log cabin is set on a Western slope below a Pine Forest, just as well with a cold wind blowing. Three log fires in the dining/bar areas and a log fire in our cabin with hot-water bottles in the bed!!!

Augur Buzzard
Montane Marsh Widowbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 2 – 6th October
White and I go out at 6.00am for a walk around the wood below the Lodge site. It’s cold but the birds are busy. African Yellow White-eye, Evergreen Forest Warbler, African Olive Pigeon (many), Yellow-crowned Canary, Churring Cisticola, and Malawi Batis (endemic to here only) and Baglafecht Weaver. Not bad for an hour.
After breakfast we head out for the bracken and rolling plains. Common Quail, Red-winged Francolin, Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk. The bracken is difficult birding as once LBJ’s dive in there it is ‘Goodbye Vienna’. We head for Chelinda Hill, the only known area for Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird. There are several mingled with Malachite Sunbirds and you need to ensure that you can see the scarlet tufts to get a positive ID. They feed on the few Proteas that grow here,
Rufous-naped Lark is the only Lark here on the plateau.
Back for a light lunch.
Our evening drive is quiet, we see Nightjars but no calls and they don’t look like Pennant-wing. Plenty of Scrub Hares and it is freezing cold.

Churring Cisticola
Bar-tailed Trogon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 3 – 7th October
After breakfast we head out for ‘Abasi’s Forest’, a Montane extravaganza. Hildebrandt’s Spurfowl and Waller’s Starling on the way. It is hard work in the forest and we could do with a Machete in places but we manage to get through the tangles of long grass, vines and scrub. We were promised good birds and that is what we got – Green Moustached Tinkerbird, White-starred Robin, Fulleborne’s Boubou, Bar-tailed Trogon (great photo), Olive-flanked Robin-Chat, Forest Double-collared Sunbird and Evergreen Forest Warbler. Got to be many we missed as well, particularly those that stayed quiet.
Back for lunch.
Our evening expedition was to find Slender-billed Starling at the Riverine Forest near the rapids. Martial Eagle and 2 Denham’s Bustards on the way there. No Slender-billed in sight but we did get a pair of Fawn-breasted Waxbills, never seen here before but had been seen 1500m lower at Lake Malawi. Spotted Eagle and Marsh Owl on the way back plus a close encounter with a Cervil.
Day 4 – 8th October
During breakfast we were pleased to see 4 Amur Falcons in transit South. They remained near the Dam for about 10 minutes and then moved on. We have an all-day trip with packed lunch to-day across to the Miombo Forest. Bronzy Sunbird at the roadside feeding on Honeysuckle and at the fringe of Chowo Forest a White-headed Saw-wing, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, Red-billed Hornbill, Eastern Greater Double-collared and Variable Sunbirds. The Miombo is at a lower altitude and Mountain Widowbird changes to Long-tailed Widowbird. Grey-rumped Swallow, Little Bee-eater and Willow Warblers. Farther down the dirt road a Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Spotted Flycatcher and Plum-coloured Starling. Where there were a few Acacia trees the Brown Parisoma resides along with White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Ashy Flycatcher, Red-billed Firefinch and Tambourine Dove. At the small dam an African Black Duck and a Scarce Swift (easily confused with Palm Swift).
No evening out to-day as we have been away from the Lodge all day.
Day 5 – 9th October
Back out to the plains this morning and then to Chowo Forest.
A Yellow-billed Oxpecker on a Zebra brings us to Chowo Forest, another Sub-Montane Forest of specials. Just as difficult to negotiate but just as rewarding with White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Chapin’s Apalis, White-chested Alethe, Evergreen Mountain and Mountain Yellow Warbler and an Olive Woodpecker to finish off the walk under the canopy. Taking photos varied from the impossible to the extremely difficult with them being canopy birds so I was shooting into the dark with the sun above.
We also try Zovo Chipola Forest as well but come out empty handed.
Our last evening out saw a drop in the wind and a lift in the temperature and we actually saw and heard Rwenzori Nightjars but still they refuse to sit for pictures.
Chelinda has a Lodge, Campsite and Self-catering Chalets covering a range of prices making Nyika Plateau is a superb destination. A must for the Montane specials. Whilst the bird count was not high, 84 species over 4 days, the life-list increased by 29!!!!

Scaly-throated Honeyguide
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 6 – 10th October
We shift destinations to-day as we head South towards Liwonde NP via Lake Malawi for an overnight stop.
Abasi, our guide, has driven up from Liwonde, doing camp shopping on the way, a journey of 10 hours. Now, after breakfast, he makes the same journey back but with at least an overnight stop for a rest.
The road out of the park is quiet but we do see a few Red-rumped Swallows. After leaving the park we head for the Miombo Forest on the road to Vwaza Marshes as a small diversion on our journey. With no rain for months the forest looks dead but it holds some great sightings – Rufous-bellied Tit, Brubru, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Miombo Bearded Scrub-Robin, Black-crowned Tchagra, Pale-billed Hornbill, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Eurasian Bee-eater, Yellow-throated Petronia, Striped Pipit and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver (a specific area endemic) to name but a few. We don’t go into the Marshes but get permission from the village chief to walk around the village to see what is there – African Golden Oriole, Reichard’s Seed-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, White-crested Helmet Shrike and Golden-breasted Bunting.
Definitely worth a visit this road, quite incredible.
From here we head towards Lake Malawi and our overnight stop at Chintheche Inn on the lake shore. We go through Rumphi, Mzuzu and Nkata Bay. I love these little villages and small towns, they keep you interested with all the funny-named shops and market stalls. There is a place called ‘The Hangover Clinic’, right next door to a bar/disco. The tarred roads are a constant source of travelling Malawians either on bicycles or on foot going shopping, fetching water, etc. I am most impressed with the cleanliness and that everyone lives in a brick house, no wooden shacks here. We have lunch at a filling station in Mzuzu and move on. Plenty of Feral Pigeons!! We pass through the huge rubber plantations and stop at the southern edge where it meets the evergreen forest. Abasi has some birds lined up here. Arican Broadbill calling along with Blue-spotted Wood-Dove. East Coast Akalat and Little Greenbul don’t disappoint. After 7 hours we arrive at the lake shore and a bed for the night. Chintheche Inn is very comfortable and whilst waiting for dinner we see a pair of African Cuckoo-Hawks on the lawn and Grey-hooded Gulls passing by.

Gull-billed Terns with Grey-headed Gulls
African Skimmers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 7 – 11th October
After a nights rest and breakfast we check out the area. Bronze and Red-backed Mannikins, Wire-tailed Swallow, African Green Pigeon, Purple-crested Turaco, Yellow-fronted Canary, Purple-banded Sunbird and Greater Blue-eared Starling. More Blue-spotted Wood-Doves too.
It is another 7 hours to Liwonde via Salima and Monkey Bay so we need to get comfortable for the journey. Even driving at 100kph Abasi sees everything – Fish Eagle, Little Swift, Eastern Saw-wing, Pin-tailed Whydah, Lanner Falcon, Brown Snake Eagle and a Lizard Buzzard. Many more besides these nice sightings.
The jetty for our crossing of the Shire River is 16km from the tarred road through tiny villages preparing their land for the maize crop once the rain arrives. It is hot here, 20C warmer than the plateau.
Justin, a guide but our spotter/boat captain meets us. It is only a 5 minute crossing. Around the jetty we have Black Crake and a nesting roost of White-breasted Cormorant and the obligatory Fish Eagle (lots of them).
A nice shower won’t go amiss after 7 hours in the twin-cab bakkie but we still have to partake of afternoon tea before we head out for a river safari and sundowners
Mvuu Lodge is set on the banks of the Shire River with a campsite and chalets as well. All the luxury tents surround the lagoon that lies off the river.
If you need Collared Palm-Thrush then look no farther, they are as common as House Sparrows here. The first bird we see as we leave the jetty is White-backed Night Heron – 5 pairs and a Juvenile. There are more opposite our tent adjacent to the Black-crowned Night Heron colony. There is a nesting colonies here. You can get close too. Woodland, Pied, Malachite and Brown-hooded Kingfishers abound. Brown-throated Weaver and Striated Heron. Grey-hooded Gulls head South for the evening roost. The river is wide and slow flowing, full of crocodiles and hippos. Water birds and waders are plentiful – Wattled, Blacksmith and Spur-winged Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Goliath Heron, Common Greenshank, Great, Intermediate, Cattle and Little Egrets. Gull-billed Terns head South as well. As the light fades on our journey back we see Pel’s Fishing Owl and Burchell’s Coucal. Not a bad day.

Broad-billed Rollers
Brown-throated Barbet
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 8 – 12th October
Absolutely no chance of a lie-in when the roosting Hadedas lift off at 4.40am and wake the entire camp. They are quickly followed by Heuglin’s Robin-Chat, Grey and Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, Tropical Boubou and Southern Black Tits greeting the day.
Coffee arrives at 5.30am as I am doing a bush walk at 6.00am. I make Margaret a cup of tea, quickly spot a Hamerkop and Giant Kingfisher and head out with Abasi and an armed escort.
Sombre Greenbul, Terrestial Brownbul, White-bellied Sunbird, Green Wood-hoopoe and Wattled Starlings. Lillian’s Lovebirds out in their numbers, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Chinspot Batis, Scimitarbill and Long-billed Crombec. The circular walk is a little over an hour through thickets and open areas, keeping a sharp eye for predators (supposedly securely contained in the Sanctuary) and Rhino. The best birds were a Livingstone’s Flycatcher in it’s beautiful yellow plumage, Red-necked Falcon, Dickinson’s Kestrel and a Bohm’s Bee-eater.
After Breakfast we head out by boat going North this time. A Tawny Eagle passes by overhead. The falling river level (controlled through the sluices lower down and being prepared for the coming rains) at least reveals some nice mud flats. Wood Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff and Spoonbill but a lone Green Sandpiper as well. Kittlitz and 3-banded Plovers plus a Pied Avocet flying North. A few White-faced Whistling Ducks and 2 Red-winged Pratincoles. Large numbers of Grey-hooded Gulls and Gull-billed Terns.
There are some big crocs here, 4-5 metre specimens. Not the river to fall into!!!!!!
Back for lunch, a relaxing afternoon in a hammock, tea and out in the safari vehicle for the evening drive at 4.00pm.
Our first Bateleur circles on the thermals, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Red-necked Francolin, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Southern Black Tit and Black Flycatcher. A Striped Kingfisher brings their total to 7 varieties. We head to the river bank for sundowners and see Bat Hawk harassing the Insect bats. Square-tailed and Fiery-necked Nightjar call. Another good day, back for dinner at 8.00pm

White-backed Night-Heron
Dusky Turtle-Dove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 9 - 13th October
The Hadeda’s herald the dawn again!!!!!!!!!!! Wouldn’t mind if they sang nicely. Another bush walk at 6.00am, so coffee at 5.30am.Tea in bed for Margaret.
Klaas’s Cuckoo, only Cuckoo I’ve heard yet alone seen.
Greater Honeyguide seems to be following us into the bush. Bearded Scrub Robin, Dark-backed Weaver, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Red-headed Weaver with a brief glimpse of Green-winged Pytillia.
Darter and Saddle-billed Stork seen as we eat breakfast. We are on the road this morning. It is nice to alternate river and bush, mornings and afternoons.
The bush always offers something different each day, especially as routes change.
Arnot’s Chat this morning, Haven’t seen one of these for a couple of years. After Stierling’s Wren Warbler we do well for raptors – African Harrier Hawk, African Hawk Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Western Banded Snake Eagle and Black-chested Snake Eagle. Some Retz’s Helmet Shrikes to round off the morning.
Lunch and a rest before afternoon tea, a river safari and sundowners.
This evening we head South on the river but leave a little earlier than normal as we need to travel a bit farther than usual to see the African Skimmers. A lone Ground Hornbill on the way and when we get to the Skimmers roost we count in excess of 260 birds!!!!!! I have never seen more than 8 at one time. Some sight with all the red bills glinting in the setting sun. A Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, a Shikra, 2 Western Ospreys and a Curlew Sandpiper make up our count for the day.

Hoopoes at underground nest
White-winged Apalis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Day 10 – 14th October
To-day we have a 2 hour drive to Zomba and a Sub-Montane Forest. A good start with 2 Pel’s Fishing Owls calling at the jetty where we land and whilst watching them we get a pair Brown-breasted Barbets.
We get held up en route by the Lady President’s Entourage coming from Zomba, with Police closing the road, so our journey takes nearly 3 hours. Zomba is about 1700m ASL, so not a high as Nyika but promises to offer much.
As we climb out of the town to the forest we get Puffback, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Dusky Flycatcher and then the specials begin to come as we arrive at the Forest. White-winged Apalis, White-eared Barbet, Olive-headed Greenbul, Black-headed Apalis building a nest, Livingstone’s Turaco, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Red-backed Mannikin, Cholo Alethe, Bertrand’s Weaver, Yellow-throated Apalis and a Crowned Eagle. Blue Monkeys are also there.
What a great place, so many lifers in a few hundred metres. We have lunch at the waterfall and then head back with Singing Cisticola on the way down to Zomba town.
The journey back is a little quicker. A good day out.
Day 11 – 15th October
This is our last full day so we opt for a game drive in the morning and a sundowner on the river for the evening, Margaret’s favourite.
I have an early morning walk from 6.00am until breakfast. Outside our tent there are lion prints. It passed through the camp around 4.00am and was seen by a security guard. He said it had no mane but the only known lion in the sanctuary is a young male WITH a mane. Is it an even younger male or a female???
We find where it had layed down but tracks led away into the bush.
We were hoping for Wood Owl this morning but it had flown the coop. No sign anywhere. Not to be down-hearted we still find a Grey-headed Parrot and a Grey-headed Bush Shrike. Breakfast and then ‘track the lion’.
We followed the lion tracks to the sanctuary electric fence. It had got out by going under the wires and went back in by jumping the wires. Obviously smart. The camp will monitor the area.
We head North for the Mopane Forest, home to the Racket-tailed Roller. A Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Winding and Rattling Cisticola and a Flappet Lark. After many attempts at getting a proper sighting at last we see Speckle-throated Woodpecker. We cover every road in the Mopane, Broad-billed and Lilac-breasted but no Racket-tailed. Disappointing as this was to be the final lifer. We head to the river where we saw all the Gulls and Gull-billed Terns a few days before. 3 Comb-Ducks – better than nothing. Across the other side we see a dead elephant at the edge of the Shire River. It has no face and no tusks. This is the first poaching of tusks Abasi has seen here. We will investigate this evening from the river but it must be reported to the Rangers. A sad note to end our morning on.
After the afternoon tea we head out to photograph the elephant and guess what, 2 Racket-tailed Rollers cross the river above our boat. Gotcha!!!!!

White-headed Sawwing
Malawi Batis with nesting material

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The stench from the elephant is overpowering and 9 huge crocs in the 4m to 5m range rest close to the carcass. I take photographs but we can’t tell if it was shot or died naturally and the tusks were poached by opportunistic fishermen.
Some White-winged Terns head South to the roost. We stop for sundowners in a creek and are lucky to see Great Painted Snipe and African Snipe within 10 metres of each other.
That’s it. We head back to Lilongwe and Heuglin’s Lodge tomorrow. Two weeks gone too quickly as always.
Day 12 – 16th October
We head for Liliongwe after breakfast, checking out a known Cabanis’s Bunting site en-route. No-one home but a Brimstone Canary adds to the already huge list.
The journey is 4 hours and no visit to a town is complete without trying out the sewerage works settling ponds. Red-billed Teal, Brown-throated Martin, White-rumped Swift and White-fronted Plover.
At Heuglin’s Lodge the Hoopoe is still feeding young at the nest site.
Day 13 – 17th October
Our early afternoon flight to JHB and connection to Cape Town gets us home at 11.30pm.
The eventual tally was 310 species and 51 ‘Lifers’ for me, exceptional birding. Malawi is a must, so under-rated as a birding destination. We shall return, probably March 2015 when the rains have finished and before the migrants move away.
Next trip is not until September 2014 when we head to Uganda and the Lowland Gorillas at Odzala. Margaret’s 65th birthday took priority in April 2014 over any birding trips!!!!!!!!!

COMMENTS

1645
ANTON (posted: 2013-11-07 09:04:29)
I agree with Carin: these trip reports are much appreciated. Maybe for a talk to BLO some time in 2014?
CARIN MALAN (posted: 2013-11-06 21:40:35)
... and you got your White-backed Night-Heron and what a beautiful photo !!! What a wonderful trip. Thank you for always sharing ! LOL Carin