Mozambique, Gorongosa - Africa's Lost Eden - 19th - 26th November 2011

Published by Lawson's Birding (leon AT lawsons-africa.co.za)

Participants: Leon, Terry, Philippa and Clive.

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Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Red-necked Spurfowl
Red-necked Spurfowl
Moustached Grass-Warbler
Moustached Grass-Warbler
Collared Palm-Thrush
Collared Palm-Thrush

Lawson’s Birding, Wildlife and Custom Safaris
P O Box 16849
West Acres, Nelspruit
Mpumalanga, South Africa 1211
Tel : +27 13 741 2458
Email : info@lawsons-africa.co.za
Web : www.lawsons-africa.co.za

Tour Summary

Tour Participants: Terry Boss, Clive and Philippa Manvell
Photo acknowledgements: Leon Marais
Temperature Range: 16 – 39°C
Total Birds Seen: 211
Total Birds Heard Only: 5
Total Mammals Seen: 23
Bird of the Trip: Green-headed Oriole
Note: The species mentioned in the report are only some of the species seen at each locality. Please refer to detailed checklists at end of the report for all species seen on this specific tour.

Trip Breakdown

Day 1: Saturday, 19th November 2011 ~ Arrival

After a slight delay at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg we departed for Beira, a large town on the Mozambique coastline close to the Pungwe River estuary. Procedures at the 1960’s style airport were fairly simple and we boarded our passenger van for the three hour drive to Gorongosa National Park in Sofala Province. Our driver dropped us off at Chitengo Camp, where Rob from Explore Gorongosa met us. We then had a 20 minute drive to our small 'eco-camp' on the banks of the Rio Mussicadzi. We arrived at dusk and immediately settled in around the fire for a welcome drink after the long journey. We then had dinner to the sounds of a Square-tailed Nightjar before heading to bed in our safari tents in anticipation of an exciting day to come.

Route: Johannesburg to Beira; Beira to Gorongosa.
Weather: hot and humid.
Temperature range: 16 – 34 °C.
Birds seen: 9

Day 2: Sunday, 20th November 2011 ~ Gorongosa National Park

It’s pretty hard to sleep in with a strident dawn chorus beginning at 04h30, and not long after 05h00 we met up for a pastry and cup of coffee before departure on a morning excursion, though being so far east we should have been within a different time zone and could thus mentally switch our clocks by an hour at least. The morning drive in a Land-Cruise Game Viewer took us out onto the vast Lake Urema flood plain, a flat, green expanse ringed by striking yellow Fever Trees and teeming with Common Waterbuck, Common Reedbuck, Oribi and Warthogs, and past the Casa dos Leões, the ruin of a restaurant built by the Portuguese in the early 1960’s (but soon deserted due to the seasonal flooding regime of the area). We also saw a single Bushpig, while troops of Yellow Baboon were common in the surrounding Borassus palm savannah and out in the open on the floodplain. The general idea for the morning was to have an introductory drive, just to give us an idea of the park and its myriad micro-habitats and spectacular aesthetic components. Birds seen included Grey Crowned Crane (above), Saddle-billed Stork, Blacksmith Lapwing, Black-bellied Korhaan, Burchell's Coucal, African Marsh Harrier, White-headed Vulture, Bateleur, African Fish-Eagle, Green Sandpiper, Blue-cheeked, Southern Carmine, Little and European Bee-eaters, Red-throated Twinspot, Orange-bellied Waxbill, Pale Batis and many others. With the temperatures rising steadily we headed back to camp for breakfast and relaxation through the heat of the day. During the day we gathered at a shady spot along the dry Mussicadzi riverbed, enjoying the breeze and looking at those birds active through the midday heat. In the afternoon we had tea and cake and then set off on another drive, circling around the floodplain in the opposite direction, ending off with a walk before a superb sundowner stop with four Grey Crowned Cranes flying over to alight in a tree close by and an overflight by four Openbill Storks while we had our Dois M beers and cashew nut snacks. New species on the mammal side included Lichtenstein's Hartebeest and the peculiar Large Grey Mongoose. After dark we cut a path straight across the floodplain, heading for our camp somewhere on the other side, much like a boat crossing a featureless sea. Our guide Robbie knew exactly where we were going however, and on cue we popped out near the Casa dos Leões and headed on back to camp. We then had some drinks and a fine fillet steal dinner before retiring on another warm, still savannah night.

Route: Lake Urema floodplain drives.
Weather: Hot and humid.
Temperature range: 20 – 37 °C.
Birds seen: 95.
Birds of the day: Grey Crowned Crane.

Day 3: Monday, 21st November 2011 ~ Gorongosa National Park

After another perfectly still and warm night we met up for coffee and then headed off on a long birding walk along the Rio Mussicadzi with game scout Jinga, guide Geoff and assistant Rui. The birding was a bit quiet, but we recorded Red-faced Crombec and Wood Owl as lifers for at least some of the group. We narrowly missed Narina Trogon and Green Malkoha, but saw plenty of Warthogs, and Jinga was nearly bowled over by at least four which we surprised on a path leading into a thicket. We also came across a large Nile Crocodile, large specimens living in vegetation-covered pools in the riverbed which seem impossibly small and shallow to house large crocodiles. With the day warming up considerably we got back to camp at around 09h00 for breakfast and relaxation through the heat of the day. After high tea at 15h00 we departed on a long afternoon drive, making for a spot known as 'Paradise Pan'. We saw quite a bit on the way, including three separate herds of Elephants (left), which ultimately kept us from reaching our destination. The Elephants in the park have survived through decades of war and heavy poaching, so they are understandably wary of humans and can be very aggressive if approached too closely, hence us not trying to push past them to get to the pan. With a large herd of around 60 individuals blocking the road we turned around for a sundowner stop before continuing back to camp after darkness. The afternoon and evening produced a few new birds, such as Bronze-winged Courser, Senegal Lapwing and African Spoonbill, as well as five new mammal species: African Civet, Large-spotted Genet, Elephant and Scrub Hare and a single Cheetah. The two Cheetahs currently living in the park are recent reintroductions, having been translocated from South Africa a few months ago. Originally there were four, but one died during transit and another was found dead alongside a Bushbuck ram. Bushbuck can be quite tenacious fighters, and it was assumed that the Cheetah had not had previous experience with Bushbuck and took on more than it could handle, resulting in the death of both animals. The habitat and conditions look perfect for Cheetah, with plenty of small antelope living on the edge of the floodplain where Cheetah are in their element as far as hunting conditions go, so it is hoped that a viable population of this endangered cat will be established in the future. Back at camp we settled in for a drink around the fire before another wonderful evening meal.

Route: Morning birding walk along the Mussicadzi River; afternoon drive towards Paradise Pan.
Weather: Hot and humid.
Temperature range: 19 – 37 °C.
Birds seen: 66.
Birds of the day: African Wood Owl.

Day 4: Tuesday, 22nd November 2011~ Mount Gorongosa

Again we opted for a morning walk, and after coffee in camp we headed out with guide Geoff and game scout Perreira. Our saunter took us out through a fantastic Fever Tree forest, out onto the edge of the floodplain and back along the Musssicadsi River, which held several semi-permanent pools which teemed with birds such as Saddle-billed Stork, Goliath Heron, African Jacana, Water Thick-knee, Hamerkop and Great White Heron. We searched for Pel’s Fishing-Owl at a known nesting site, but couldn't find any trace of the birds. We then headed back to camp for breakfast and some time to pack for our excursion to Mount Gorongosa. It was quite a lengthy drive, with a little bit of birding on the way, as well as a lunch stop at Chitenga Camp on the way through. We eventually arrived at our fly camp (right) at Niyankuku in the late afternoon, and after a cup of tea and some cake headed off on a short birding walk of the area, seeing Variable Sunbird, Bronze Mannikin, Jameson’s Firefinch, Yellow-fronted Canary and others before returning to camp for drinks and a barbequed Peri Peri chicken dinner.

Route: morning walk along the Mussicadzi River; drive to Mount Gorongosa.
Weather: hot and humid.
Temperature range: 20 – 34 °C.
Birds seen: 71.
Birds of the day: Red-throated Twinspot

Day 5: Wednesday, 23rd November 2011 ~ Mount Gorongosa

The Oriole Quest… After a hot previous day we awoke to cool and cloudy conditions on the lower slopes of the mountain. After getting ready and having some tea and pastries we began our Green-headed Oriole quest. The path took us ever upwards through the degraded lower slopes of subsistence villages before we reached the first few patches of forest higher up on the slopes. Soon we heard an oriole calling and, with a bit of patience, had some spectacular views of one of Southern Africa's most range-restricted birds, the speculifer race of Green-headed Oriole, which is endemic to Mount Gorongosa. We were fortunate in that they were on the edge of the forest, so we weren’t looking up at small silhouettes 50 feet above our heads but had good, prolonged views. Other new birds recorded included Singing Cisticola, Eastern Saw-wing, Livingstone’s Turaco, White-eared Barbet, Grey Cuckooshrike, Moustached Grass-Warbler, Mountain Wagtail, Red-winged Starling, Variable Sunbird, Red-collared Widow, Grey Waxbill, Broad-tailed Warbler and many others. After a session in the spectacular gallery forest high up on the mountain, where birds were heard rather than seen, we made our way down, with a lunch and swim stop at the cascading Murombodzi Waterfall (left) before heading back to the base camp to board the vehicle for the long drive back to the reserve. We arrived at 17h00 for some ice cold beers before having a very welcome hot shower before dinner.

Route: birding walks / hikes on the mountain.
Weather: Overcast and warm.
Temperature range: 17 – 27 °C.
Birds seen: 44.
Birds of the day: Green-headed Oriole.

Day 6: Thursday, 24th November 2011 ~ Gorongosa National Park

With an early departure at 05h00 we had a long morning drive, heading along the edge of the floodplain and on to the shallow Sungue Lagoon, which was humming with waterbirds and raptors. We had a great coffee stop alongside the lagoon, recording Pallid Harrier, Red-necked Falcon, Long-toed Lapwing, Malachite Kingfisher, Purple Heron, Rufous-winged Cisticola, African Fish Eagle, Saddle-billed Stork, Goliath, Grey and Purple Herons, African Jacana and plenty of others before continuing. At a shallow pan on the way back we spent some time watching birds such as Grey Crowned Crane, Marabou and Saddle-billed Storks, White-headed Vulture, Spur-winged Goose and others feeding in among Common Reedbuck, Bushbuck, Warthog and Yellow Baboons. After a rest period in camp through the heat of the day we took a drive to Chitengo Rest Camp and the Pungwe River for some forest birding with game scout Perreria and guide Rob. New birds recorded included Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Narina Trogon (brief views), African Golden Oriole, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, White-crowned Lapwing seen in addition to other species already seen, including African Wood-Owl. The sought-after Black-and-white Flycatcher eluded us however and at dusk we headed on for a sundowner stop and night drive back to camp for another wonderful dinner (produced somewhat miraculously by Chef Kim in a very simple kitchen).

Route: Morning drive to Sungue Lagoon; afternoon walk along the Pungwe River.
Weather: Hot and humid.
Temperature range: 21 – 39 °C.
Birds seen: 106.
Birds of the day: Pallid Harrier and Red-necked Falcon.

Day 7: Friday, 25th November 2011 ~ Gorongosa National Park

At around 01h00 in the morning we were woken by a huge thunderstorm rolling across the Gorongosa plains. Fortunately the wind wasn't too bad, though a lot of much-needed rain fell during the night. We set off a bit behind schedule at 05h30 as the staff were tidying up camp after the storm. It wasn't raining initially, but at 07h00 it began, and didn't stop for about four hours, making our drive out to the Hippo House (right) on the current edge of Lake Urema rather interesting indeed. Birds seen included Moustached Grass-Warbler, African Openbill, over 15 Saddle-billed Storks, Comb Ducks (good duck and waterbird weather!), European Honey-Buzzard, Martial Eagle, Dickinson's Kestrel, Purple-crested Turaco, Red-chested Cuckoo, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Lesser Honeyguide, Flappet Lark and many others. We also had a second Serval sighting on the mammal side. By about 11h30 the rain stopped, leaving the roads through the clay floodplain in a terrible state. We made it back to camp for lunch and a short rest before a final afternoon expedition to the Sungue Lagoon. Here we set up the scope and mobile bar, enjoying sundowners under an awesome cloudscape while tracking large numbers of water-associated birds moving to and from the lake and floodplain, such as Black-crowned Night-Herons, Purple Herons, Glossy Ibises, Black Herons and the full range of egrets (Cattle, Yellow-billed, Little and Great White), while on the water we had Lesser Jacana as a new record and Marsh Owls hawking insects on the wing in the twilight as we made our way back to camp. We also had a Water Mongoose as a new mammal record (and only the second time I've seen this species). All in all a fantastic afternoon and a fitting end to an unbelievable recce tour.

Route: Morning drive to the Hippo House; afternoon drive to Sungue Lagoon.
Weather: Rain AM; cloudy and warm PM.
Temperature range: 15 – 30 °C.
Birds seen: 107.
Birds of the day: Dickinson’s Kestrel.

Day 8: Saturday, 26th November 2011 ~ Departure

Most of the day was taken up by travelling, though we got in a bit of birding along the Pungwe River in the early morning, which was a bit quiet but did produce a humble Green-backed Cameroptera as a new record. Just after 07h00 we met our driver at Chitengo camp for the drive back to Beira, where we did our final list before the flight back to Johannesburg.

Route: Explore Gorongosa Camp to Beira; Beira to Johannesburg.
Weather: hot and humid.
Temperature range: 18 – 26 °C.

To see more photos visit the Lawson’s Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/leonmars/sets/72157628233223551/

Species Lists

African Darter
Grey Heron
Black-headed Heron
Goliath Heron
Purple Heron
Great Egret
Little Egret
Yellow-billed Egret
Black Heron
Cattle Egret
Squacco Heron
Green-backed Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Hamerkop
White Stork
Woolly-necked Stork
African Openbill
Saddle-billed Stork
Marabou Stork
Yellow-billed Stork
African Sacred Ibis
Glossy Ibis
Hadeda Ibis
African Spoonbill
White-faced Duck
Egyptian Goose
Comb Duck
Spur-winged Goose
White-backed Vulture
Lappet-faced Vulture
White-headed Vulture
Yellow-billed Kite
Black-shouldered Kite
European Honey-Buzzard
Lesser Spotted Eagle
Wahlberg’s Eagle
African Hawk-Eagle
Long-crested Eagle
Martial Eagle
Brown Snake-Eagle
Black-chested Snake-Eagle
Bateleur
African Fish Eagle
Steppe Buzzard
African Marsh-Harrier
Pallid Harrier
African Harrier-Hawk
Red-necked Falcon
Dickinson’s Kestrel
Red-necked Spurfowl
Helmeted Guineafowl
Crested Guineafowl
Grey Crowned Crane
Black Crake
Black-bellied Bustard
African Jacana
Lesser Jacana
Three-banded Plover
Senegal Lapwing
Blacksmith Lapwing
White-crowned Lapwing
African Wattled Lapwing
Long-toed Lapwing
Common Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper
Wood Sandpiper
Common Greenshank
Water Thick-Knee
Bronze-winged Courser
Collared Pratincole
Whiskered Tern
Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon
Red-eyed Dove
Cape Turtle-Dove
Laughing Dove
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove
Tambourine Dove
Brown-headed Parrot
Livingstone's Turaco
Purple-crested Turaco
Grey Go-away-bird
Red-chested Cuckoo
Black Cuckoo
Jacobin Cuckoo
Diderick Cuckoo
Green Malkoha
Burchell’s Coucal (NE)
African Wood-Owl
Marsh Owl
Square-tailed Nightjar
Little Swift
African Palm Swift
Speckled Mousebird
Red-faced Mousebird
Narina Trogon
Pied Kingfisher
Malachite Kingfisher
Woodland Kingfisher
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Grey-headed Kingfisher
Striped Kingfisher
European Bee-eater
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater
Southern Carmine Bee-eater
Little Bee-eater
Lilac-breasted Roller
Broad-billed Roller
Green Wood-Hoopoe
Common Scimitarbill
Trumpeter Hornbill
African Grey Hornbill
Crowned Hornbill
Southern Ground-Hornbill
White-eared Barbet
Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird
Scaly-throated Honeyguide
Lesser Honeyguide
Golden-tailed Woodpecker
Cardinal Woodpecker
Flappet Lark
Barn Swallow
Wire-tailed Swallow
Lesser Striped Swallow
Common House Martin
Grey-rumped Swallow
Sand Martin
Black Saw-wing
Eastern Saw-wing
Black Cuckooshrike
Grey Cuckooshrike
Fork-tailed Drongo
Square-tailed Drongo
African Golden Oriole
Green-headed Oriole
Pied Crow
Grey Penduline Tit
Arrow-marked Babbler
Dark-capped Bulbul
Terrestrial Brownbul
Sombre Greenbul
Yellow-bellied Greenbul
Eastern Nicator
Kurrichane Thrush
Orange Ground-Thrush
White-browed Robin-Chat
Collared Palm Thrush
White-browed Scrub-Robin
Bearded Scrub-Robin
Broad-tailed Warbler
Yellow-breasted Apalis
Red-faced Crombec
Green-backed Camaroptera
Moustached Grass-Warbler
Zitting Cisticola
Rattling Cisticola
Singing Cisticola
Rufous-winged Cisticola
Croaking Cisticola
Neddicky
Tawny-flanked Prinia
Spotted Flycatcher
Ashy Flycatcher
Southern Black Flycatcher
Cape Batis (E)
Pale Batis
Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher
African Paradise Flycatcher
Mountain Wagtail
African Pipit
Yellow-throated Longclaw
Red-backed Shrike
Southern Boubou
Tropical Boubou
Black-backed Puffback
Brubru
Black-crowned Tchagra
Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike
Grey-headed Bush-Shrike
White-crested Helmet-Shrike
Wattled Starling
Violet-backed Starling
Black-bellied Starling
Red-winged Starling
Purple-banded Sunbird
Variable Sunbird
Scarlet-chested Sunbird
Collared Sunbird
House Sparrow
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow
Yellow-throated Petronia
Dark-backed Weaver
Spectacled Weaver
Village Weaver
Lesser Masked-Weaver
Golden Weaver
Southern Brown-throated Weaver
Red-headed Weaver
Red-billed Quelea
Southern Red Bishop
Fan-tailed Widowbird
White-winged Widowbird
Red-collared Widowbird
Green-winged Pytilia
Red-throated Twinspot
African Firefinch
Jameson’s Firefinch
Red-billed Firefinch
Blue Waxbill
Common Waxbill
Grey Waxbill
African Quail Finch
Orange-breasted Waxbill
Bronze Mannikin
Red-backed Mannikin
Pin-tailed Whydah
Yellow-fronted Canary