A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 9 – Johannesburg to Pretoriuskop

Our journey from Johannesburg to Pretoriuskop in the Kruger Park, meant that we were back in our vehicle again and we missed having a guide and travelling companions. Now we had to do all the work by ourselves, including finding and identifying the birds. Suddenly things got more challenging!!

Our trip to KP was uneventful.  We were glad to be back on good roads again, but the opportunities to stop and wander around had diminished quite considerably.  We checked into our cottage at the Pretoriuskop Camp and settled down with a cold beer!

Early next morning we were out and drove to the Afsaal camp site where we met up with our friends the Rosses. They had invited us to join them for breakfast and they certainly prepared a feast.  Of course, we were joined by many Cape Glossy Starlings and Yellow-billed Hornbills, all vying for a treat.

We spent three nights at Pretoriuskop and were able to see a good variety of game and many birds.  I got a long desired lifer – the Cut-throat Finch – at last!!  The weather was balmy and we had a very comfortable stay with good birding within the camp.

To be continued….


A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 8 – Marondera to Johannesburg

We left Marondera with heavy hearts, knowing that our Zimbabwe trip was coming to an end. Our drive to The Lion and Elephant, a hotel on the way to Beit Bridge was fraught – the roads and traffic were terrible and we were all glad to arrive at our destination unharmed!  We did stop along the route to once again search for the Boulder Chat and on this occasion we were rewarded with a good sighting of around 4 birds.

The Lion and Elephant was comfortable and Alice stood us all to drinks to celebrate having achieved 700 birds on her life list.  In fact, she ended the trip with around 740, so she really did have an exciting time.  I had recorded 4 lifers, so was also well pleased.

Crossing the border at Beit Bridge was a whole lot easier on the way out than on the way in and we were soon back in SA and the phones started to react again!

With some time on our hands we decided to stop in at the Polokwane Game Reserve, on the edge of the city.  This afforded us the opportunity to add a few more species to our trip list, bringing the total for the outing with Grahame to 319!  Not bad for winter.  Alice got quite excited when we spotted a Short-clawed Lark and once again lost her favourite glasses!  After some considerable searching we eventually found them, but not before we had driven over them.  Miraculously they were unharmed and Alice was ecstatic!

We were soon back in Johannesburg and, despite the excellent roads, had to endure a traffic snarl-up as a result of an accident on the highway between Pretoria and Jhb.  We had had a fantastic trip and were sad to say goodbye to our travelling companions of the past two weeks.

To be continued….

A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 7 – Nyanga to Marondera

After leaving Nyanga, we traveled through some wonderful scenery and excellent Miombo woodland en route to our farm stay outside Marondera.  This gave us an opportunity to see Bronzy, and many other, sunbirds as well as Gurney’s Sugarbird and some typical Miombo residents.  A patch of flat-crowned Acacias proved particularly rich in bird species, however, photography was very difficult.

We arrived at the farm outside Marondera and were greeted by our charming hostess, Jen. The magnificent home is situated in a huge garden with acres of lawn leading down to a lake, which had many water birds.  The gardens abounded with sunbirds, waxbills, weavers and lapwings.  Right nearby is the Gosho Park, a preserved piece of Miombo woodland where we spent many hours amongst the boulders and Masasa trees, chasing elusive, but rewarding, bird parties.  A Wood Pipit was a lifer for me, and we saw many Miombo Tits, Bee-eaters, Puffbacks, Bush Shrikes and even some Black-eared Seedeaters.

We also visited a nearby wetland, where we walked in muddy water looking for flufftails, etc.  We managed to put up all three varieties of longclaw, including what was a lifer for most of us, the Rosy-throated Longclaw.  Also seen were Yellow-mantled Widowbirds, Pale-crowned Cisticola, African Snipe and the high point of the day for me, a Marsh Owl, which I nearly stepped on and which gave me a huge fright when it suddenly took flight!

Our accommodation was superb and Jen made sure that we never went hungry. Birding breakfasts can be very late, but she never complained!

To be continued….


A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 6 – Seldomseen to Nyanga

After leaving Seldomseen we stopped in Mutare to get some supplies – sad to see the decay in the once beautiful town of Umtali!  Shoppers at the tills offered to pay for our goods with their credit cards if we would re-imburse them in dollars – such is the extent of the cash shortage in the country!  ATMs run out of money by 9:00am and one may, in any event, not draw more than 20 bond notes (supposed to be equivalent to $20) at a time.

Our journey north took us down into the beautiful Honde Valley with spectacular mountain and forest scenery.  We were on our way to Aberfoyle Lodge, situated amidst the extensive Aberfoyle tea plantations. The lodge is a wonderful oasis with great accommodation and every sport imaginable available for its guests. Not only that, but there are birds galore and we wasted no time in settling down at the bench on the edge of the gardens to view the Red-faced Crimsonwings and Twinspots coming to feed.

The golf course offers an opportunity to stroll along the forest edge and cross clear sparkling streams, with birds, including the rare Palm Nut Vulture aplenty.  It was also fascinating to see the tea plantations, most of which are around 60 years old. The stems of these plants, which are kept to around 80cm in height are old and gnarled beyond belief – rather like an endless bonsai forest!

Our birding took us to a marshy area around a lake where we saw the elusive Marsh Tchagra and heard, but did not see, Red-chested Flufftails, despite calling and waiting motionless for ages.  We also saw Red-winged Warblers, Black-winged Red Bishops (out of breeding) Red-throated Twinspots, Green-backed Woodpeckers and Magpie Mannikins.  It was a great day!

From Aberfoyle, we climbed back up onto the highlands and travelled to Nyanga, where we stayed in the historic, but run down Rhodes Nyanga Hotel.  This was Rhodes’ residence in Rhodesia and it is full of artefacts reflecting his life.  The garden revealed Whyte’s Barbet, Livingstone’s Turaco and many Yellow-bellied Waxbills

A visit to Word’s View gave us the opportunity to see some spectacular scenery.

To be continued….

A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 5 – Chimanimani to Seldomseen

Anyone who is interested in birds and has been to Zimbabwe for that reason, must surely have visited Seldomseen.  This is an area famous not only for its birds and scenery, but also for the incredible enthusiasm of its local guides. First there was Peter, who first showed me Swynnerton’s Robin and my first Flufftail in 2011. He has  now retired and his place taken by the ever enthusiastic Bulawezi, known to his friends as Bully.

He was on hand to meet us when we arrived after an uneventful journey from Chimanimani.  He soon showed us round the gardens pointing out Collared, Olive and Bronzy Sunbirds, Chirinda Apalis, Purple Crested Turaco, Red-faced Crimsonwing, White-browed Robin Chat and Swynnerton’s Robin. Failure to see what he was pointing at would cause him to become highly frustrated and he would desperately encourage his audience to open their eyes and LOOK!

We visited some nearby cliffs in the evening to see the Scarce Swifts coming in to roost and were not disappointed.  They came and circled above us, accompanied by two Augur Buzzards – a great sight!  In her enjoyment, Alice lost her favourite glasses and despite many return trips to the site and detailed searching around, including in our vehicle, they could not be found. (It was a week later that Renee spotted something glistening under the front seat, and there they were!)

We encountered our first guti (thick mist) in the Bvumba, as the area is known, and we were grateful for warm fires in our accommodation, as it became quite cold.

To be continued….

A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 4 – Chilo Gorge to Chimanimani

The road from Chilo Gorge was awful!  En route to Chimanimani we were to spend two nights on a farm in the Chipinge district.  This would give us relatively easy access to the magnificent Chirinda Forest – type locality for the elusive Chirinda Apalis.  Our farm stay was comfortable and we were well looked after by our generous hostess, Hazel.  She is hanging on to what is left of her farm, most of it having been grabbed by the war vets, and runs a successful dairy herd under trying circumstances.

Walks around the farm revealed a wealth of interesting birds, but the highpoint was the visit to the forest.  How this remnant of forest has been preserved is anybody’s guess, but it is a wonderful place with trees that have to be seen to be believed. Birding under such a high canopy was not easy, but just being there was amazing. The ‘Big Tree’ was a high point – in every sense of the word – it is a truly magnificent example of what I thought is a Pod Mahogany.  High above, the Silvery-cheeked Hornbills kept us well entertained and there were many butterflies for Alice who seemed to know them all them all.

Our next stop was at The Frog and Fern, a self catering establishment on the outskirts of Chimanimani (it used to be Melsetter). Our accommodation consisted of three very comfortable cottages.  Whilst the birding was, as ever, good, the area is known for it’s spectacular scenery and we visited both the Bridal Veil Falls and the beautiful Tessa’s Pool at the base of the Chimanimani mountains.  A bird party on the track to the former produced my first lifer of the trip – a Cinnamon-breasted Tit! Amongst our sightings were Tree Pipit, Miombo Rock Thrush, Red-faced Crombec, Roberts’s Warbler, Southern Hyliota and a variety of Bush Shrikes..

It was sad to see the degradation and squalour that the town of Chimanimani has been reduced to. What was once a thriving community, now barely manages to keep its head above water.  The same can be said for much of the country, with the best parts where there are no people!

To be continued….


A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 3 – Gonarezhou National Park

We crossed the Save river to get into the northern portion of Gonarezhou and explored the region between the Save and Runde rivers.  We watched as an earlier group returned from the Park and they made it through the water without mishap. We were not so lucky and got stuck with the water covering the floor of our vehicle by around 15 cm.  A radio call brought a tractor from the camp and we were pulled out successfully, without encountering any hungry crocodiles!

Within the Park the tracks were barely visible.  We saw many elephants, impala and eland, as well as a good variety of birds, including Palm Thrush, Senegal Coucal, Vereaux’s Eagle Owl and Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters.  The baobabs were huge, especially one monster which was protected from the ellies by wire mesh.  It was hollow inside and occupied by a large swarm of bees. Our bird count for the day was 119!

To be continued….