Birding in Mozambique - Part 1 - March 2013

I have just returned from a 9 day trip to Southern Mozambique with clients. We were a total of 11 in two Volkswagen Kombi vehicles.

We flew to Johannesburg and I drove the 2nd vehicle to Maputo via Komatipoort border post which was a dream, neat clean and efficient.

Target birds were Crab Plover, Eurasian Bittern, Olive-headed Weaver, African Hobby Falcon (not likely!!!!!!), Shorebirds and Sooty Falcon and many more.

But we also had the Green Tinker-bird in our sights as we would be close to the site where they had been re-found a few months ago after 50 years. This was due to the long war in Mozambique restricting access.

The weather was hot, max 33C and humid, at least 70%, but the sea was warmmmmmmmm………………

All accommodation had mosquito nets and aircon or fans and were well placed for birding the different habitats.  Being so far east meant starting your day at 4.00am was the norm, followed by a quick coffee and rusks. Well worth it as it was soon light at 5am.

Plenty of rain had already fallen and low lying grassy areas were well flooded with crystal clear water. The travelling was 90% on tarred roads which were excellent.  The balance was on sand roads, most of which were drivable despite some wash-aways alongside the roads. 

Maputo was dirty and required some clever driving!!  However the other towns were clean and neat, except that many old buildings were destroyed in the war.  The senior children went to school in the mornings and the juniors in the afternoon till late, the two shift system seems to work well for them.   Enough about the country - lets talk about some of the special birds, for me at least.

After travelling through the Komatipoort border post with ease, en route we stopped at the Limpopo River flood plain.  This area was huge and from the main road we saw many Purple Heron, Marabou & Yellow-billed Stork, and Spoonbill foraging in the flooded water grass.  Glossy Ibis & Open-billed Stork were flying across the main road looking for better feeding spots and a lone Rufous-bellied Heron tried to hide in the short reeds. A small group of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters hawked from the reed beds. 
North of Xai Xai we turned off towards the coastal dunes for our first 2 night stay. 

Waking up in a new area is always fun as all the bird calls are unfamiliar or maybe forgotten from a previous trip. The wooden Bungalows overlooked the sea and were neat and clean.  A quick coffee and walk from the camp in the coastal scrub/ forest was the first birding experience for the day.  
A pair of Black-throated Wattle-eye was inside the camp and gave great views and photo opportunities. Brown Scrub-robin called happily from the top of a tree with Yellow White-eye gleaning aphids off the leaves and Bar-throated Apalis not far behind.  Purple-crested Turaco was a nice change. The combination of purple, green and red was spectacular as they flew from tree to tree, from the normal green Knysna Turaco we see down south, even though their calls were similar. A tiny Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird was always on the move in the upper story of the larger tree. Of course the forest is full of unbelievably beautiful butterflies such as Blue Pansy, Green-banded Swallowtail, Citrus Swallowtail not to be confused with Constantine’s Swallowtail and fabulous blue Azure Hairstreak with its false head at the other end to fool predators!   Black Saw-winged Swallow was a welcome sight as they seem to have already left the Capeon their northern migration. Black-headed Oriole gave its liquid call from the high trees, really a beautiful call.

A few epiphytic orchids were seen which could have been Cytorchis arcuata and some unknown Polystachya.  At a large lake we scanned the water lilies and found only one Pygmy Goose and only a few African Jacana but no other waterbirds.  We were hoping for Lesser Jacana but no such luck this time.  At brunch we noticed a White-bellied Sunbird flying into the lapa where we were sitting.  She had a nest high up amongst the rafters which looked like as if it could have been some leaves and spider web tangled up!  She was also clever that she positioned her nest near to a wasp nest with 8 wasps in attendance for protection.  

On our way to the Limpopo floodplain, Yellow-throated Longclaw were in the open scrub/grasslands, quite different from our CapeLongclaw. Another raptor that was not yet on our raptor list for the trip was the Dickinson’s Kestrel that was seen roosting in a dead tree.  The whitish head and yellow eye ring was interesting. 
We spent the afternoon in the flood plain where we again saw many Purple Heron and Marabou Stork attending to the stranded barbel for easy meals. However it seems as if the plain will soon be cultivated as someone was in the process of levelling it and draining it!

Next morning we left for our next overnight stay overlooking a lagoon near Inharrime. On the way we saw Red-necked Spurfowl but var ”swynnertonii” which is quite different from the ones further south with its white face and black belly.

A small group of White-winged Terns flitted over the flooded areas looking for the abundant small fish that had been washed in.  A Lizard Buzzard adorned a dry tree in the morning light. 

At one of the flooded areas we heard a few booming calls of Great Bitterns.  They were close to the road and we waded into the ankle deep water and we had not walked more than 20m when I saw the Bittern’s head (lifer) a mere 3 metres away from me.  What a sight!! It then exploded out of the long water-grass and casually flew away from us to drop down in the water-grass about 100m away.  We proceeded to continue wading and soon flushed another one which flew back and landed in the long grass close to the road.  We decide to turn back and flushed another one …..Wow, this is great!  I did not expect to see this bird this easily and so many!  Most of us got some reasonable pics.  
There must have been at least 8 birds calling around the marsh but a Dwarf Bittern (lifer) was trying to steal the limelight with a number of flypasts, great bird again!

Further along the road we stopped in the shade near another pan when we heard a few scratchy notes from a Warbler. This turned out to be not African Reed Warbler, which was also there but its larger cousin Great Reed Warbler. Not an easy bird to see in its entirety but some were lucky and saw the whole bird. Missed this one but at least I heard it!  Another call from one of the group made us run to see a target bird for some, Pied Manikin.  Whist watching that another bird caught my attention.  This should not be here?  Collared Palm Thrush, what a find, maps don’t show this bird this far south.   

Down the road we went to the next village and wandered into the forest and there were the Olive-headed Weavers (lifer) in the lichen cover trees as they are supposed to be. A bird party included Fork-tailed Drongo, Village WeaverPale Batis, Barred OwlBearded WoodpeckerWhite-breasted Cuckooshrike, Grey Penduline Tits and Yellow-throated Petronia amongst others.   A group Retz’s Helmet-shrike flitted through the trees, always looking spectacular as they glided from tree to tree chattering.

Further down after having a pair of Shelley’s Francolin (lifer) with a chick halting our drive down the road, we again went into the forest and there we found one of my target Rollers, Racket-tailed (lifer).  We followed them around and they ended up at the vehicles on the telegraph wires!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Its amazing how often that happens!  

Many male Red-backed Shrikes and the stunning red Carmine Bee-eaters were seen alongside the road. It is aways interesting to see the red bee-eaters and not the normally greenish ones.  Emerald-spotted Wood-doves called from the deep forest but they are not often seen.  

On our way back to the lodge we had an exciting time watching an African Harrier-hawk demolish the side of a dead palm tree to get at something that when it eventually got it out it looked as if it could have been a queen ant or termite or grub, almost 10cm long and white!  I took a video for about 15min as it went through its actions, fascinating stuff.

Moving on to our next lodge we decide to try for the long lost Green Tinkerbird. We located the area where the Green Tinker-birds were relocated a few months ago and heard them calling as soon as we stopped. The area was quite dense and the road was very obscure and narrow.  The group split into two as there were a number of birds calling.  Once found they were rather skittish and it was difficult to find this white-eye sized bird in the canopy. The one group had good looks and even saw it puffing its yellow rump up but we unfortunately did not see the one we were chasing.  We had to leave so I will have to go back there soon to get this little guy.

Near Inhambane at Bara we found many waders having their last feeds before they departed and many were in nearly full breeding plumage.  Many Terek Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew Sandpiper, Turnstone and Grey Plover but the best were Greater and Lesser Sand-plover. They were probably already 80% into their breeding colours and theLesser Sandplover was a lifer for me. Some of the poles in the water were adorned with Swift, Sandwich and Lesser-crested Terns.There were 28 majestic Crab Plovers parading on the wet sand on the edge of the waves very near our accommodation. Even though I had seen one before, they were fascinating to watch in their crisp white plumage and black bill.  
At the bungalows we had a number of Blue-cheeked & White-throated Bee-eaters adorning the casuarinas like bells on a Christmas tree.  The photographic opportunities were great! 

On our way back to Johannesburg we passed another Lizard Buzzard, one of many and as we turned around to get a better pic, a Sooty Falcon surprised us on the opposite side of the road, Great sighting “but wait there is more!!!!!!!!!!!!”

In a village in a dead tree I spotted a small raptor, screeched to a halt and inspected the bird.  This was juv African Hobby Falcon (lifer), one which I had hoped for..  We were watching it in the tree when two Pied Crows decided to hassle it. Bad move as Dad came screaming in and attacked the one Crow at such speed.  Amazing to see this small bird accelerate into action.  After a few minutes Mum also flew in and the Crows departed.  All the birds remained in the dead tree with all the cameras and my video clicking madly. We left after watching them for at least a half hour. To wish for a lifer and then get 3 in action and calling was well worth it.

I saw 202 species of a 240 total heard or seen by the group.   
Another great combined trip with Grahame Snow.