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ZAMBIA EXPEDITION

Saturday 11th December - Sunday 9th January 2005

Nik Borrow

This expedition started out life as a way to fill in a few gaping holes in Birdquest’s and indeed Nik’s own already pretty comprehensive African lists. Perhaps not too surprisingly we found a number of other people were also after the same select few birds and so our first tour to Zambia came into being. Our objective was for quality over quantity and particularly targeting some most desirable species but even so, we amassed an impressive list with 483 species recorded during our 28 days in the country. We began with a big bang in the form of a magnificent displaying African Pitta in the Zambezi valley and ended with the rather less impressive and somewhat cryptic Zambezi Indigobird on the outskirts of Lusaka. In between, we travelled over 8,000 kilometres into the far corners of this sprawling country in order to gather the specials that are not seen on our other tours. These included the endemic Chaplin’s Barbet and virtual-endemic Black-cheeked Lovebird as well as Chestnut-headed Flufftail (alas a ‘heard only’), Anchieta’s Barbet, Angola Lark, Fülleborn’s and Grimwood’s Longclaws, Bocage’s Akalat, Bamboo Warbler, Papyrus Yellow Warbler, Black-necked Eremomela, Laura’s Woodland Warbler, Margaret’s Batis, Bannerman’s and Oustalet’s Sunbirds and Katanga Masked and Bar-winged Weavers. Supporting these superstars was a mouth-watering cast that featured Forbes’s Plover, an adult and juvenile Pel’s Fishing Owl in broad daylight, Racket-tailed Roller, Whyte’s, Miombo Pied and Black-backed Barbets, Bushveld Pipit, Black-collared Bulbul, Miombo Rock Thrush, Dambo Cisticola, Salvadori’s Eremomela, Red-capped Crombec, Böhm’s and Livingstone’s Flycatchers, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Rufous-bellied Tit, Anchieta’s Sunbird, Souza’s Shrike, Perrin’s Bush-shrike, Anchieta’s Tchagra, Sharp-tailed Starling, Grey Waxbill, Black-chinned Quailfinch, Locust Finch and Black-faced Canary. Perhaps the most irritating thing about Zambia is that its treasures are so widely scattered that a lot of our time was actually taken up travelling from one end of the country to another through so many ‘MMBM’ (miles and miles of bloody miombo!) that often seemed devoid of birdlife. To be honest this made the whole trip into little more than a glorified twitch. However, these long journeys were punctuated not only by the aforementioned rarities and occasional bustling bird parties but also by some marvellous scenery. Indeed, who could fail to be amazed by the incredible sight of the cascading waters of the mighty Zambezi at Victoria Falls? This visit was to be such a different experience from our later visit to its source way up near the Congo border where the same waters were no more than a pool under a fallen tree in some dark, liana tangled forest. As we travelled past neat and tidy villages made up of attractively decorated buildings, and not to be forgotten were the wide panoramic skies and cloudscapes that stretched over beautiful endless woodlands, broad dambos and moist evergreen mushitus that typify the landscape. However perhaps most stunning of all were the marvellous domed granitic inselbergs of Mutinondo. Our trip was timed to coincide with the start of the rains partly because of the pitta but also in the hope that we might find some flufftails or crakes. However, as it transpired the rallidae were far more difficult to find than hoped for and in this respect perhaps the trip was something of a disappointment. In fact, perhaps we had bitten off a little more than we could chew but in amongst the gristle were some very succulent morsels and this is the story of how we came to find them.