The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Tours that are mostly easy

ZAMBIA: AFRICAN PITTA SPECIAL

with Zimbabwe Extension

Thursday 5th December – Thursday 12th December 2019

Leader: Nik Borrow.

8 Days Group Size Limit 6
Zimbabwe Highlands Extension

Thursday 12th December – Monday 16th December 2019

5 Days Group Size Limit 6
Sunday 5th December – Sunday 12th December 2021

Leader: Nik Borrow.

8 Days Group Size Limit 6
Zimbabwe Highlands Extension

Sunday 12th December – Thursday 16th December 2021

5 Days Group Size Limit 6

ZAMBIA: AFRICAN PITTA SPECIAL: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Zambia: African Pitta Special birding tours have an unusual, largely single-species, primary focus on the much-sought-after African Pitta. This isa a very special bird, for which there is a short window of opportunity when it arrives back in its south-central African breeding grounds just before the onset of the rainy season, and starts to call. Our ‘African Pitta Special’ Zambia birding tour also includes Zambia’s two endemics, Black-cheeked Lovebird and Chaplin’s Barbet, many other great birds and the spectacular Victoria Falls. There is also a Zimbabwe birding tour extension in search of some very special birds in the Vumba Mountains.

Of all the wonderful birds of Africa, its two pittas stand out among the most sought-after species on the continent. Quite a lot of birders have seen the Green-breasted Pitta in Kibale Forest in Uganda, but far fewer have ever set eyes on the fabled African Pitta, a species that only becomes ’available’ for a short period around the onset of the southern tropical rainy season and for the rest of the year is effectively off the birding menu! The Zambezi valley in Zambia is currently the best place for seeing this avian gem, and this special Zambia birding tour is focussed on achieving exactly that.

As well as hosting a lot of breeding African Pittas, Zambia has a bird species list of over 750 that includes many exciting birds, including endemics and other localized specialities that are impossible or extremely difficult to see elsewhere on the continent. Zambia is a key country to visit in order to see some of Africa’s most restricted-range specialities.

Our Zambia birding adventure starts at Livingstone with a visit to the stupendous Victoria Falls. The southwestern region of Zambia, to the west of Livingstone, is the haunt of the endangered endemic Black-cheeked Lovebird. Needless to say, the Zambezi valley is rich in many other bird species, including African Finfoot, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Chirping Cisticola, and Burchell’s and Meves’s Starlings, so this rewarding tour will start with both a scenic wonder of the planet and some great birding.

Moving eastwards, we shall stay at one of the cattle ranches of the Kafue basin with its large, spreading fig trees that support the striking Chaplin’s Barbet, one of two species endemic to Zambia. Other good birds here include the spectacular Racket-tailed Roller, Stierling’s Barred Warbler, Souza’s Shrike and African Spotted Creeper.

Finally we return to the Zambezi valley at the shores of Lake Kariba, where we shall of course be concentrating on the stunning African Pitta. The breeding season should just be beginning with the onset of the rains, and the early rains stimulate the African Pittas to call and display.

During the optional extension we will visit Zimbabwe, the one-time Southern Rhodesia. Here, there will be an opportunity to visit the beautiful Vumba Highlands of Zimbabwe, home to Swynnerton’s Robin, Chirinda Apalis and Roberts’s Warbler, three near-endemic specialities (two of which are shared only with neighbouring Mozambique), as well as Buff-spotted Flufftail.

Birdquest has operated Zambia birding tours since 2004 and Zimbabwe birding tours since 1987.

In 2021 this tour can be taken together with: MALAWI

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels and lodges used in Zambia and Zimbabwe are of good standard throughout. We will be travelling in a 4×4 safari vehicle on a mixture of well-surfaced tarred roads and dirt roads. (In Zimbabwe we use a minibus on tarred roads.)

Walking: The walking effort is easy almost throughout our Zambia: African Pitta Special birding tour, only occasionally moderate.

Climate: The weather is normally hot with a mixture of sunny and overcast conditions at this season. Rain is likely, and when it occurs it can be heavy.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Zambia: African Pitta Special birding tour are good.


PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees. Our tour prices also include all flight costs and all tipping, including tips for local guides and drivers. Some bird tour operators do not do this, yet for participants these costs are an unavoidable part of the tour. The value of these inclusions on this Birdquest tour amounts to approximately US$350. Flight included is: Lusaka-Harare.

Deposit: Main Tour: £350, $460, €400. Zimbabwe Highlands Extension: £150, $200, €170.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2019: £3360, $4160, €3700. Livingstone/Lusaka.
Zimbabwe Highlands Extension: £1400, $1740, €1540. Lusaka/Harare.
2021: provisional £3390, $4190, €3720. Livingstone/Lusaka.
Zimbabwe Highlands Extension: £1440, $1790, €1590. Lusaka/Harare

Single Supplement: 2019: £350, $430, €380.
Zimbabwe Highlands Extension: £130, $160, €140.

Single Supplement: 2021: £360, $450, €400.
Zimbabwe Highlands Extension: £150, $190, €160.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

ZAMBIA: AFRICAN PITTA SPECIAL BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Zambia: African Pitta Special: Day 1  Our special tour begins around midday at Livingstone. The city of Livingstone is situated on the Zambian bank of the Zambezi River at the Victoria Falls. This spectacular and breathtaking place still has a stunning impact even after one has seen innumerable films or photographs. The falls themselves are magnificent and, as David Livingstone himself once declared, “On sights as beautiful as this, angels in their flight must have gazed”. Here the mighty Zambezi widens to nearly two kilometres broad before plunging vertically downwards. As we approach the falls, dense clouds of water vapour hang over the area and the sound of millions of tons of water dropping into chasms over 100m deep is awe-inspiring.

Rock Martins and Red-winged Starlings fly through rainbows that arch across the fine spray before vanishing into the gloom of the gorges. The area protected by the national park is not as extensive as on the Zimbabwean side and bird song is difficult to hear above the deafening rumble and pounding of cascading water. The falls were known as a regular haunt of the rare Taita Falcon, but these days, with increased disturbance, the birds have retreated to the inaccessible gorges downstream. Perhaps the most interesting birds that live here are the African Black Swifts of the paler race hollidayi that is endemic to Victoria Falls.

After our visit to the falls we shall head further west to our comfortable lodge, idyllically situated on the banks of the Zambezi, where we will stay for two nights. Around the lodge we should find White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver and Red-billed Firefinch. At night we may find Pearl-spotted Owlet, African Wood Owl and Square-tailed Nightjar.

Zambia: African Pitta Special: Day 2  Today we shall explore the mopane woodlands well to the west of Livingstone that are home to the Black-cheeked Lovebird. This delightful little parrot is now treated as a Zambian endemic, as any valid records outside the country are now thought to refer either to vagrants or else to feral birds. The species particularly favours mopane woodland and it has a patchy distribution in southwestern Zambia, being restricted to an area between the Zambezi and Kafue Rivers, with a total population numbering no more than 10,000 individuals.

The habitat here encompasses part of the Zambezi floodplain and shallow pools, thorny thickets and stands of mopane are characteristic of the area, so there will be much to distract us along the way. Restricted-range species to look out for during our travels include Coppery-tailed Coucal, and Meves’s and Burchell’s Starlings.

More widespread species include Great White Pelican, Marabou Stork, White-backed Vulture, Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles, Gabar Goshawk, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Martial and Tawny Eagles, Crested and Swainson’s Francolins, Crowned Lapwing, Double-banded Sandgrouse, African Mourning and Namaqua Doves, Grey Go-away-bird, Jacobin Cuckoo, White-browed Coucal, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Böhm’s Spinetail, Red-faced Mousebird, Woodland and Striped Kingfishers, Swallow-tailed and Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, Purple (or Rufous-crowned) and Lilac-breasted Rollers, Common Scimitarbill, Southern Ground Hornbill, and Southern Red-billed and African Grey Hornbills.

Passerines include Rattling Cisticola, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Arrow-marked Babbler, Southern Black Tit, Magpie Shrike, Yellow-billed and Red-billed Oxpeckers, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Lesser Masked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Yellow-crowned Bishop, White-winged Widowbird, Violet-eared Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia, Jameson’s Firefinch, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Village Indigobird and Black-throated Canary.

The area borders on the much drier country to the west, marking the beginning of a rather different avifauna, and so there is always the chance of a surprise.

We plan to take a boat trip along the river near our lodge in search of African Finfoot, Rock Pratincole, Half-collared Kingfisher and the restricted-range Chirping Cisticola, not to mention the fascinating Hippopotamus.

More widespread species along the Zambezi include Striated (or Green-backed), Black, Squacco and Purple Herons, Little and Intermediate Egrets, African Openbill, Glossy and African Sacred Ibises, Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, African Fish Eagle, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Water Thick-knee, White-headed Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Grey-headed Gull, White-winged Tern, Giant Kingfisher, Sand Martin (or Bank Swallow), Wire-tailed and Barn Swallows, and Lesser Swamp Warbler.

Zambia: African Pitta Special: Day 3  Today we return to Livingstone and continue eastwards to the Choma region of southern Zambia for a two nights stay in the Nkanga Conservation Area. We will be staying in stylish and very comfortable accommodation and join our hosts in the main house each evening for our meals, an experience that makes for a most welcoming and friendly stay. We may arrive at Nkanga in time for some initial exploration.

Zambia: African Pitta Special: Day 4  The Nkanga Conservation Area contains several cattle ranches and farms that have been actively protecting the local wildlife and are involved in mammal reintroduction schemes.

Our interest here lies primarily with the striking endemic Chaplin’s Barbet. This threatened barbet occurs only in a restricted area of Zambia that is probably as small as a few hundred square kilometres! The bird needs plenty of Ficus sycomorus fig trees for its source of food and it is threatened when these are cleared for cultivation. We shall be scanning the fig trees scattered across the open grasslands in search of bright white dots that could ultimately prove to be the bird itself.

The ranch house overlooks an attractive small dam surrounded by dense thickets and beautiful open miombo woodland, which is an excellent place to find the sparsely-distributed Racket-tailed Roller and Miombo Pied Barbet. Further special birds of Nkanga include Stierling’s Wren Warbler, Souza’s Shrike and African Spotted Creeper.

Other species that may well be found here include Little Bittern, African Spoonbill, White-backed Duck, African Black Duck, Red-billed and Hottentot Teals, African Cuckoo-Hawk, Long-crested Eagle, Hooded Vulture, Shelley’s and Natal Francolins, Red-necked Spurfowl, Black and Senegal Coucals, the spectacular Pennant-winged Nightjar, White-fronted Bee-eater, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Brown-backed Honeybird, Bearded Woodpecker, Rufous-naped Lark, Terrestrial Brownbul, Collared Palm Thrush, Zitting Cisticola, Neddicky, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Red-capped Crombec, Miombo Grey Tit, Grey Penduline Tit, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Spectacled Weaver, Southern Red and Yellow Bishops, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Cuckoo Finch (previously known as Parasitic Weaver) and Cabanis’s Bunting.

Zambia: African Pitta Special: Day 5  After some final birding at Nkanga we will continue eastwards to Siavonga, on the shores of Lake Kariba (a dammed section of the Zambezi that streaddles the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe), for a three nights stay.

Zambia: African Pitta Special: Days 6-7  The first hours of daylight will be key to our success as we seek out one of the most attractive and sought-after of all African birds, the glorious African Pitta. We will have to leave our lodge while it is still dark in order to arrive at the favoured area of dense thickets that hide this jewel of a bird so easily from sight. Our ears will be strained to catch the sound of the African Pitta’s frog-like display call and with persistence (and because we are spending enough time here) we have a very high chance of being able to track this fabulous bird down and watch as it leaps up from its perch with each and every note it utters. This part of Zambia is one of the most accessible places to see African Pitta, but even so we may have to keep trying for some time.

During our visit to Lake Kariba wee will also be looking for some of the other interesting birds of the area, and in particular the colourful Purple-crested Turaco, the strange, seemingly tail-less Böhm’s Spinetail, Bearded Scrub Robin and the delightful Livingstone’s Flycatcher.

Other species that occur in the area include Crested Guineafowl, African Emerald and Barred Long-tailed Cuckoos, Crowned Hornbill, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, African Broadbill, Lesser Striped Swallow, Sombre Greenbul, Eastern Nicator, Thrush Nightingale, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Garden Warbler, Purple-banded Sunbird, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Red-billed Quelea and Red-throated Twinspot.

Zambia: African Pitta Special: Day 8  We shall have another opportunity to look for the pitta this morning, if need be, before heading for Lusaka airport, where our tour ends this afternoon.

ZIMBABWE EXTENSION

Zimbabwe Extension: Day 1  We will overnight at Lusaka.

Zimbabwe Extension: Day 2  This morning we will take a flight from Zambia’s capital to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. From there we will transfer to the Vumba (or Bvumba) Mountains, part of the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, for a three nights stay. The drive passes through a mosaic of open grasslands, fertile agricultural areas, well wooded hills and valleys and attractive conglomerations of enormous, well-weathered rocks.

Zimbabwe Extension: Days 3-4  The Vumba (or Bvumba) Mountains rise to just over 1900m, astride the Mozambique border and are still partly covered in lush montane evergreen forest. Large areas have been transformed into banana, tea and tobacco plantations, but in these ‘mountains of the mist’ several large chunks of forest have been rigorously protected and here we will search for three near-endemics; Swynnerton’s Robin, Chirinda Apalis and Roberts’s Warbler (formerly Roberts’s Prinia), all of which are fairly easy to find. On the forest floor we may chance upon a shy Lemon Dove, while the skulking Barratt’s Warbler calls from the densest thickets. We even have a chance of seeing the secretive Buff-spotted Flufftail.

Other species we will hope to find in these woods and surrounding open areas include Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Cape Grassbird, Mouse-coloured Flycatcher, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Dark-backed Weaver, the secretive Red-faced Crimsonwing, the skulking Grey Waxbill and Black-throated Canary.

Zimbabwe Extension: Day 5  Today we return to Harare, where our tour ends this afternoon.

ZAMBIA: AFRICAN PITTA SPECIAL TOUR REPORT 2018

by Nik Borrow

View Report

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