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Zambezi clients Mike and Margaret discover a birders’ paradise

at Linyanti (Botswana) and Hwange (Zimbabwe).

Here’s their trip diary…

Day 1 – 15th Nov. The trip got off to a bad start when our flight from Joburg to Maun was delayed nearly 6 hours due a major engine fault on the Avro Liner. We had to wait for a replacement aircraft. Sitting on a hard airport seat for 8 hours isn’t what I call fun!!! The delay meant no transfer to the Bush Camp that evening, so we were accommodated in Maun overnight.

Day 2 – 16th Nov. Early rise and out of the airport at 0700 up to Linyanti, arriving at 0800 where we joined a safari vehicle near the airstrip. The 3 ladies from UK who shared our vehicle were also birders so that made it simple for us, no conflict with those only interested in Big 5.

Green Woodhoopoe, Meyer’s Parrots, Rufous-naped Larks, the inevitable Lilac-breasted Rollers, Red-crested Korhaan, Little Bee-eaters, Rattling Cisticola, Bearded and Bennett’s Woodpecker, Lesser Grey Shrikes, Red-breasted Swallow and Pearl-spotted Owlet was a good start plus all the usual Starling’s, Hornbills, Sparrow-weavers, etc.

The Kwando Lagoon camp lies on the banks of a river so always riverine forest birds and water birds to keep an eye on. Black-collared Barbet, Tawny-flanked Prinias (lots), Long-billed Crombec, Golden Weaver, Red-billed Firefinch, Swamp Boubou and Grey-backed Camaroptera. A first for the camp (spotted by Margaret) was a Lesser Jacana. This bird normally associated with the delta itself. Senegal Coucal, Sedge and Greater Swamp Warbler (lifer) and Puffback all at the Camp.

Our afternoon drive was through mixed habitat of plains, forest and water. Broad-billed Roller, Marico Sunbird and Marico Flycatcher, Coqui Francolin and Ground Hornbill with Juvenile. African Scops Owl calling at dinner. 68 decent species for a few hours’ work.

Day 3 – 17th Nov. No rest for the wicked at these camps at this time of year. Knock-knock is 0500, coffee and porridge at 0530 and on the road at 0600 latest. Pied Kingfisher, Flappet Lark, Jacobin Cuckoo, Collared Pratincole, and Orange-breasted Bushshrike. We visited the Carmine Bee-eater nest site, unusually on the ground rather than the river bank. Saddle-billed Stork, Slaty Egret, Black Heron, White-browed Scrub-Robin.

The usual summer visitors of Barn Swallows, Common Swifts. This is the last day at Lagoon Camp as we missed 1 night due to the flight delay. Fan-tailed Widowbird, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Red-capped and Monotonous Lark (well named by its call). The afternoon took the format of a river trip. Chirping and Zitting Cisticola.African and Black Crake, Ruff, the usual Sandpipers, Peregrine Falcon was a nice sighting. Double-banded Sandgrouse, Water Thick-knee, Diederik’s Cuckoo and Red-shouldered Widow. 119 species for the 2 days.

Day 4 – 18th Nov. This morning we transfer by safari vehicle to Lebala Camp with birding on the way. Yellow-billed Stork, Black-shouldered Kite, Southern Black Tit, Chin-spot Batis, Icterine Warbler (long debate over this one as it resembles Willow Warbler), European Roller. Lebala Camp is situated beside a stream. When we were there many years ago there was a small pond at the camp entrance. The floods of 2012 changed all that and the pond is now part of the stream.

From our tent we see Golden-tailed Woodpecker, African Marsh-Harrier and White-rumped Swifts. Red Lechwe graze the flood plain. This area of Linyanti is more open, plains rather than forest. We pick up on a group of Painted Dogs – 8 x adults and 11 x 5-month old puppies. Great to see so many of these beautiful animals and to watch them as they track their quarry. Red-backed Shrike, Red-necked Falcon, Painted Snipe, Hottentot and Red-billed Teal, Spoonbill.

Day 5 – 19th Nov. We find a lioness and her 2 cubs this morning. They are obviously hungry as they attempt to break open the shell of 2 x Leopard Tortoises. No such luck, even a Hyena can’t do that. They try licking them to death and eventually give up.

Coppery-tailed Coucal, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Great White Pelican, Kori Bustard Dickinson’s Kestrel, Woolly-necked Stork. Southern Brown-throated Weavers come looking for lunch scraps along with Dark-capped Bulbul.

In the afternoon some Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, a Steppe Buzzard, Scaly-feathered Finch and Southern Masked Weaver. The Painted Dogs we saw at Lagoon have travelled 60km since yesterday and they are at Leballa. We follow the puppies who are following the adults on a hunt. They attack a Tsesebe without success, a Warthog proves a tougher target and a Zebra kicks out to avoid being taken down. They latch onto a lone Impala and after a chase drive it into a water-hole. The Impala has 2 options – die of hypothermia or drowning in the water-hole or try to get out and run away. Whichever it chooses it becomes a nil win situation. The dogs wait and after dark the Impala tries to escape. Bad decision as it is ripped apart.

Day 6 – 20th Nov. It is hotter here than at Lagoon, so early out is essential to see anything before they go and hide. Nice to see Secretary bird (which had recently nested), Comb Duck, Crested Francolin, White-browed Coucal, Wahlberg’s, Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagle. A Pallid Harrier (lifer), Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and Sabota Lark.

Later in the day we see the lioness and cubs again at a hippo carcass. Unfortunately for them it is just a rib cage, skull and 4 feet. The hyenas and vultures have been busy. In total, 166 species over 5 days but 2 lifers, which for me now is pretty good. Interesting that some species not seen – Bateleur, Yellow-billed Kite, Common Fiscal, Red-knobbed Coot.

Day 7 – 21st Nov. This morning we transfer by light aircraft from Lebala to Kasane at 1000. Same pilot as brought us up from Maun. I wondered why during the flight that the GPS had gone off, the fuel gauges showed zero and he was doing a lot of talking to Moremi Air base and throwing switches continuously on the BusBar. Turns out when we land that he had no electrical generator and we ran on the battery so all non-essential services were shut down (like GPS and fuel gauges). Still these guys know what flying small aircraft is all about and I always have every confidence in them.

From Kasane we transit the border post at Kazungula and then a road transfer via Victoria Falls to Hwange National Park, Sinamantella Gate. It takes almost 4 hours to Hwange, at least in an air-conditioned vehicle. A little bird watching on the way in. Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Yellow-billed Kite, Meves Starling.

We stop at Mandavu Dam. Goliath and Grey Heron, Common Greenshank, Black-winged Stilt and Ruff. Plenty of crocodiles and Hippos. Camp Hwange overlooks a water-hole which is kept filled from a bore-hole. It is an Eco-friendly camp, everything done via Solar Power. No Wi-Fi, no phones. Great, just as the bush should be.

Around the water-hole we have Red-winged Starlings, Crowned Cranes, Lesser-striped Swallows, Swainson’sSpurfowl and the occasional Bateleur. Bad news here though. We have seen at least 3 breeding pairs on Myna Birds. If they get a hold on the area it spells a disaster.

Day 8 – 22nd Nov. Change of birds at the water-hole. Spurwing Goose, Woodland Kingfisher, Red-eyed Dove and Magpie Shrike. Out on the plains and in the Mopane Forest we see Rufous-naped Lark, Red-crested Korhaan doing its famous suicide dive, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Puffback, Crested Barbet, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Levaillant’s Cuckoo and Ground Hornbills. Black-crowned and Brown-crowned Tchagra, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Abdim’s Stork, Blue Waxbills, Southern White-crowned Shrike and Mocking Cliff-Chat and Capped Wheatear.

There is another change of birds at the water-hole in early afternoon. Common Moorhen, Red-billed Teal, Comb Duck, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and a Pearl-spotted Owlet. Bird of the afternoon for me was 2 Juvenile Black-winged Pratincole’s (lifer). Out on the safari some Yellow-bishops and Long-tailed Paradise Whydahs together. A Pale Flycatcher, Broad-billed and European Roller and Namaqua Dove.

Day 9 – 23rd Nov. We have a change of guide today as Steve goes on personnel transfer duty and we get Spike, a veteran of Zimbabwe Parks with 27 years experience which comes to the fore.

This morning we will explore the Teak Forest. Wattled Starling, African Hawk Eagle, Lesser Kestrel, Purple and Racket-tailed Rollers, Spotted Flycatcher, Steppe Eagle, Arnot’s Chat, Brubru, Shikra, Gabar Goshawk (Melanistic). At the Mansuma Dam, considerably smaller than Manduvu there is Red-headed Weaver, Jamieson’s Firefinch, African Paradise Flycatcher.

No change at the water-hole with the Juvenile Black-winged Pratincole’s still there. We flush them to check the under-wing colour – definitely BWP’s. In the late afternoon we sneak into Nehimba’s concession to see what is there. Grassveld Pipit, African Golden Oriole, Bradfield’s Hornbill, Quailfinch and Amur Falcons, Eurasion Hobbies and Lesser Kestrels all feeding on locusts and eventually roosting. Rufous-cheeked Nightjar on our return for dinner.

Day 10 – 24th Nov. Our last full day here. Before sunrise I hear African Scops Owl and White-faced Scops Owl. We head across to Manduvu Dam. The Mopane Forest isn’t the best of habitats for birds. At the Dam there is African Fish Eagle, African Skimmer, and Little Stint. Returning via a circuitous route Tropical Boubou, Lesser Honeyguide, Black Cuckooshrike, Scimitarbill, Martial Eagle, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike. It is extremely hot in the afternoon, 40C in the shade!!!!!!

Game is at a premium. 2 weeks ago the area was awash and now nothing. Where have they gone as food and water is plentiful. Just 9 elephants. Whiskered Tern in breeding plumage at the water-hole. Cardinal Woodpecker, Village Weaver, Retz’s and White-crested Helmet Shrikes, Golden-breasted Bunting and Secretary Bird whilst we are out.

Considering the heat here, 145 species wasn’t a bad number.

The total species for Linyanti and Hwange was 228 and 3 lifers to add to my list which now stands at 738.

We did see some nice small animals, like – Civet, Serval, White-tailed and Selous’ Mongoose, Lesser Bushbaby.

My next trip is to the Eastern Highlands in Zimbabwe in February where there are 77 lifers on offer over 9 days.

Thanks to Mike and Margaret for sharing their trip with us. We look forward to receiving your diary of your next trip to Zimbabwe!

Photo credit to Michael Graham.

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