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Birdquest’s Malawi birding tour explores one of the less-often birded countries in Southern Africa. Malawi is scenically attractive and has a rich avifauna, as well as some interesting mammals. Our tour produces a large bird list, including the country’s specialities.
Monday 1st October —
Sunday 14th October 2018
Leaders: Nik Borrow and a local bird guide
Group Size Limit: 7
Tour Category: Easy walking for the most part and mostly comfortable accommodations
Malawi, a small narrow country bordered by Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania is best known for its vast lake, the third largest in Africa, but from a birding viewpoint it remains one of Africa’s best kept secrets.
It is not Lake Malawi that draws the birder to this warm heart of Africa but the rich upland forests and extensive miombo woodlands. Within this small country habitat diversity is carried to an extreme and as a direct consequence Malawi boasts a bird list of over 600 species recorded from a comparatively small area. For anyone used to birding in the drier regions of Southern Africa, Malawi’s avifauna is very different. Due to its inland location and small size it only possesses one endemic, but this easy-going country does have many spectacular or fascinating species which are more readily found here than in any other part of Africa, some of which have quite restricted ranges.
The two major habitats we will cover during our visit are miombo and montane forest, and both of these provide exciting birding. Miombo (or Brachystegia) woodland must rate as one of Africa’s most interesting birding habitats. It can be very quiet at times, but once an active and noisy bird party is found moving through this open woodland the adrenalin will be working overtime on even the most seasoned birdwatcher. Here one finds drongos and tits leading the bird parties whilst cuckoos, woodhoopoes, woodpeckers, orioles, thrushes, warblers, flycatchers, creepers and weavers follow closely behind. The montane forest is no less exciting with tantalizingly exotic calls emanating from thick tangles where alethes, robins and thrushes are lurking.
Travel in Malawi is a constant pleasure as the roads are good, the highlands are bordered by forests or by grasslands sprinkled with a wide variety of alpine-like flowers and the views across the Great Rift Valley are stunningly beautiful with hazy blue mountain inselbergs looming above the distant horizon.
Our explorations in Malawi will take us initially from Lilongwe, the capital, to the miombo woodlands of Dzalanyama, where we will be looking in particular for Pale-billed Hornbill, Whyte’s Barbet, the rare Stierling’s Woodpecker, Miombo Grey and Rufous-bellied Tits, Miombo Rock Thrush, Central Bearded Robin, the restricted-range Boulder Chat, Red-capped Crombec, Stierling’s Barred Warbler, the strange Böhm’s Flycatcher, Souza’s Shrike, Red-and-blue (or Anchieta’s) Sunbird and even the uncommon Shelley’s Sunbird, and Stripe-breasted and Black-eared Canaries.
Next we will visit the highland forests of the far south. The Cholo (or Thyolo) Alethe, a near-endemic that also occurs just over the border in neighbouring Mozambique, occurs in this habitat where it is restricted to small isolated patches of montane forest: seeing this secretive species will present one of the challenges of the tour. We will also search for the gorgeous White-winged Apalis (perhaps Africa’s most beautiful warbler), the endemic Yellow-throated Apalis, Malawi Batis, Green-headed Oriole, and Orange Ground Thrush: all birds with restricted ranges.
As we return northwards we will explore the wide, meandering Shire River which drains Lake Malawi at its southern extremity and eventually joins up with the mighty Zambezi. The river cuts through expanses of mopane woodland and open palm savanna and creates wide floodplains rich in game and waterbirds. To drift downstream on a launch in the twilight listening to the night sounds taking over whilst searching the banks for a Pel’s Fishing Owl or White-backed Night heron is truly one of the delights of Africa – and all this with a sundowner in the other hand! Here too are such spectacular birds as Racket-tailed Roller and Böhm’s Bee-eater.
Heading still further north, we come to the enormous Lake Malawi where Narina Trogons and elusive East Coast Akalats inhabit the remnant patches of evergreen forest along the shoreline. At the northern end of the lake is the Nyika Plateau, an area of upland moorland dotted with forests, small lakes and marshes that is part of the western rim of the Great Rift Valley. The endangered Blue Swallow is easy to see here and we shall also be looking for Denham’s Bustard, Olive-headed Greenbul, Black-lored and Churring Cisticolas, the stunning Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird, Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbird, Mountain Widowbird and the restricted-range Yellow-browed Seedeater, as well as some skulking inhabitants of the forest such as Olive-flanked Robin, Sharpe’s Akalat, White-chested Alethe and Chapin’s Apalis.
To end up our travels through Malawi, a visit to the Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve offers a good chance of seeing the unique White-winged Babbling Starling and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver.
Birdquest has operated tours to Malawi since 1987.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/lodges are mostly of good or very good standard. Road transport is by minibus or 4x4s and roads are mostly good (dirt roads in some areas).
Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are a few moderate hikes.
Climate: Mostly hot, dry and sunny but overcast conditions are not uncommon and it may well rain at times. At higher altitudes it will be cool in the early mornings, although warm later in the day.
Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities are quite good.
Can be taken together with: ZAMBIA SPECIALITIES
These are provisional prices
Tour Price: £4490, €5300, $5880 Lilongwe/Lilongwe.
Price includes all transportation, all accommodations, all meals, bottled water, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Single Room Supplement: £585, €690, $766.
Deposit: £550, €650, $700.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.
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