ZAMBIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Zambia: Day 1 Our Zambia Specialities birding tour starts this morning at Lusaka, from where we have a long drive northeastwards to Kasanka National Park for an overnight stay.
At this season Kasanka hosts some 10 million African Straw-tailed Fruit Bats that come to feast on the local figs. The bats migrate great distances to Kasanka and this little-known movement represents the greatest mammalian migration on earth!
Zambia: Day 2 This morning we will reach the southern edge of the huge Bangweulu swamp complex (which consists of a series of large lakes, rivers and marsh systems). Our main target here is the restricted-range Katanga Masked Weaver. We can also expect to find Coppery-tailed Coucal and Chirping Cisticola this morning, as well as many other wetland birds. This is also one of the few places in the world where one can see the beautiful but threatened Black Lechwe, an antelope that prefers swampy grasslands. Away from the marshes, we will be keeping a lookout for the pretty and range-restricted Böhm’s Bee-eater.
Afterwards, we head southeastwards to Mutinondo Wilderness, a vast private reserve with a comfortable safari lodge, where we will spend three nights.
Zambia: Days 3-4 The huge, private Mutinondo Wilderness reserve is a beautiful area of woodland and scattered rocky inselbergs in north-central Zambia. Over 360 bird species have been recorded, including many specialities.
Large predators are thin on the ground, so walking can be done anywhere. Even so, a number of ungulates should be seen, including the splendid Sable and Roan Antelopes, Reedbuck, the shy, marsh-dwelling Sitatunga, Hartebeest and Bushbuck, as well as Common Warthog and Bush Pig. Giant Elephant Shrew may also be encountered.
The pride and joy of Mutinondo are its Brachystegia (miombo) woodlands, which hold a superb set of miombo specialists. Our major targets here are going to include Whyte’s Francolin, the noisy Pale-billed Hornbill, the striking Black-backed Barbet, Bushveld Pipit, Miombo Scrub Robin, Arnot’s Chat, Long-tailed Cisticola, the pretty Black-necked Eremomela, the unassuming Böhm’s Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied Tit and Black-eared Seedeater. We may also find Miombo Rock Thrush.
Tall trees dripping with lichens and moss holding two very desirable restricted-range but fairly uncommon miombo specialities; Anchieta’s Barbet and the delightful Bar-winged Weaver. The weaver, which is surely easier to find at Mutinondo than anywhere else in its range, favours Usnea or ‘old man’s beard’ lichens and can be found creeping along the branches of trees that are festooned with it, in nuthatch-style. For the barbet, we shall have to try to find a fruiting or flowering tree that the birds are favouring.
Other good birds we shall be on the lookout for include Miombo Wren-Warbler, Red-capped Crombec, the lovely Anchieta’s Sunbird and Western Miombo Sunbird.
Grassy plains and marshy dambos are home to some exciting birds, including Dickinson’s Kestrel, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Blue Quail (uncommon), the brightly-coloured Fülleborn’s Longclaw, Hartlaub’s Babbler and Locust Finch. If we are in luck we will encounter African Grass Owl here or in the northwest.
Banded Martins hawk insects and African Marsh Harriers quarter the damp grasslands, clumps of trees and marshy areas that also hold such species as Black-bellied Bustard, African Wattled Lapwing, Marsh Owl, Swamp Nightjar, Flappet Lark, Sooty Chat, Fan-tailed Grassbird, Moustached Grass Warbler, Stout Cisticola, African Dusky Flycatcher, Anchieta’s Tchagra, Copper Sunbird, Red-headed Quelea, Marsh Widowbird, Fawn-breasted Waxbill and Quailfinch.
Areas of dense evergreen forest, known as mushitus, hold two major specialities; the secretive Bocage’s Akalat and the charming Laura’s Woodland Warbler. Ross’s Turaco, Evergreen Forest Warbler, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher and Green Twinspot are also present.
Other species that favour this habitat are Narina’s Trogon, Pallid Honeyguide, Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Little and Cabanis’s Greenbuls, the restricted-range Brown-headed Apalis, Black-fronted Bushshrike and the handsome Black-bellied Seedcracker.
Additional birds of the area which are of particular interest include the spectacular Pennant-winged Nightjar, Brown-necked and Meyer’s Parrots, Thick-billed Cuckoo, the reichenowi form of Black Saw-wing, Striped Pipit, the fairly restricted-range Grey-olive Greenbul, the distinctive, restricted-range stormsi form of the African Thrush, Grey Waxbill and Reichard’s Seedeater.
More widespread species we may encounter during our visit to Mutinondo include Yellow-billed Duck, African Harrier-Hawk, African Goshawk, Shikra, Little and Black Sparrowhawks, Ross’s Turaco, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Common Swift, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, the ‘little spotted’ form of Green-backed Woodpecker, Grey-rumped Swallow, Buffy Pipit, Black Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Leaflove, Groundscraper Thrush, African Stonechat, Trilling Cisticola, Green-capped Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Black-throated Wattle-eye, White-winged Black Tit, Northern Fiscal, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Western Violet-backed and Olive Sunbirds, Red-collared Widowbird, Orange-winged Pytilia, Red-backed Mannikin and Golden-breasted Bunting.
Zambia: Day 5 After a final morning at Mutinondo Wilderness we will head westwards to the Mkushi area for an overnight stay at the pleasant Forest Inn.
The attractive miombo woodland at the Forest Inn is a good place to find three great birds; Southern Hyliota, African Spotted Creeper and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver.
Zambia: Day 6 After some early morning birding at Mkushi, we head southwards 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 accommodations 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: Day 7 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. Although its range extends to several thousand square kilometres, it is generally erratic at the periphery and the regularly inhabited areas may only amount to some hundreds of 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 Bennett’s Woodpecker, Luapula Cisticola, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Souza’s Shrike and African Spotted Creeper (but we will need some luck to find the last two). At this season migrant Amur Falcons are fairly regular visitors.
Other species that may well be found here include Little Grebe, Little Bittern, Rufous-bellied Heron, African Spoonbill, White-faced Whistling Duck, White-backed Duck, Red-billed and Hottentot Teals, Black-winged Kite, African Cuckoo-Hawk, Long-crested Eagle, Hooded Vulture, Coqui and Shelley’s Francolins, Natal and Red-necked Spurfowls, Common Moorhen, Three-banded Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing, Red-chested, African and perhaps Common Cuckoos, Black and Senegal Coucals, Fiery-necked Nightjar, the spectacular Pennant-winged Nightjar, Malachite Kingfisher, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Brown-backed Honeybird, Greater and Lesser Honeyguides, and Golden-tailed, Bearded and Cardinal Woodpeckers.
Passerines include Rufous-naped Lark, Red-breasted Swallow, Wood and Plain-backed Pipits, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, Kurrichane Thrush, Croaking, Short-winged and Zitting Cisticolas, Neddicky, Red-capped Crombec, Long-billed Crombec, Southern Black and Pale Flycatchers, Grey Tit-flycatcher, Chinspot Batis, Miombo Tit, Grey Penduline Tit, Greater Blue-eared, Miombo Blue-eared and Violet-backed Starlings, Amethyst and White-bellied Sunbirds, Yellow-throated Petronia, Spectacled and Red-headed Weavers, Southern Red and Yellow Bishops, Yellow-mantled Widowbird, Common and Orange-breasted Waxbills, Bronze Mannikin, Cuckoo-finch (previously known as Parasitic Weaver), Yellow-fronted Canary and Cabanis’s Bunting.
Zambia: Day 8 After some final birding at Nkanga we travel westwards to the city of Livingstone, situated on the Zambezi river in southwestern Zambia, where we will stay overnight.
Zambia: Day 9 First thing this morning we will visit the world-famous 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 once 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 westwards 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 Collared Palm Thrush and perhaps Green-backed Honeybird, as well as Red-eyed Dove, Schalow’s Turaco, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Little, European and White-fronted Bee-eaters, Eurasian Hobby, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Black-backed Puffback, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Dark-capped Bulbul, Red-faced Cisticola, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Ashy Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, White-browed Robin-Chat, Southern Yellow White-eye, Collared and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Thick-billed, Holub’s Golden and Village Weavers, and Red-billed Firefinch.
At night we may find Western Barn Owl, African Wood Owl and Square-tailed Nightjar.
At some point during our stay, we plan to take a boat trip along the Zambezi near our lodge in search of African Finfoot, Rock Pratincole and Half-collared Kingfisher, not to mention the fascinating Hippopotamus. There is even a slim chance of finding the rare, restricted-range Slaty Egret.
More widespread species along the Zambezi include Reed Cormorant, African Darter, Striated, Black (uncommon), Squacco and Purple Herons, Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets, African Openbill, Yellow-billed Stork (uncommon), Glossy, Hadada and African Sacred Ibises, Hamerkop, Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, Knob-billed Duck, Western Osprey, African Fish Eagle, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Black Crake, Lesser Moorhen (uncommon), African Jacana, Water Thick-knee, White-crowned Lapwing, Common Sandpiper, Grey-headed Gull, White-winged Tern, Pied and Giant Kingfishers, Sand Martin (or Bank Swallow), Wire-tailed and Barn Swallows, Lesser Swamp Warbler and African Pied Wagtail.
Zambia: Day 10 Today we shall explore mopane woodland well to the northwest of Livingstone that is 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 Helmeted Guineafowl, Great White Pelican, Marabou Stork, Western Cattle Egret, Grey and Black-headed Herons, Yellow-billed Kite, White-backed Vulture, Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles, Bateleur, Lizard Buzzard, Gabar and Dark Chanting Goshawks, Martial, Wahlberg’s and Tawny Eagles, Crested and Swainson’s Francolins, Crowned Lapwing, Double-banded Sandgrouse, African Mourning, Ring-necked and Namaqua Doves, African Green Pigeon, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Grey Go-away-bird, Jacobin, Black, Klaas’s and Diederik Cuckoos, White-browed Coucal, the huge Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, African Palm Swift, 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, African Hoopoe, Green Wood-hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Southern Ground, Southern Red-billed and African Grey Hornbills, and Crested and Black-collared Barbets.
Passerines include Mosque Swallow, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Tropical Boubou, Brubru, White-crested Helmetshrike, Black-headed and African Golden Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Rattling Cisticola, Burnt-necked Eremomela, White-browed Scrub Robin, Arrow-marked Babbler, Southern Black Tit, Magpie and Red-backed Shrikes, Yellow-billed and Red-billed Oxpeckers, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Lesser Masked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, White-winged Widowbird, Blue and Violet-eared Waxbills, Green-winged Pytilia, Jameson’s Firefinch, Long-tailed Paradise and Shaft-tailed Whydahs, 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 such as Red-billed Spurfowl or the nomadic Dusky Lark.
Zambia: Day 11 After some final birding in the Upper Zambezi region we will travel eastwards to Siavonga, on the shores of Lake Kariba (a dammed section of the Zambezi that straddles the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe, forming the world’s largest man-made lake), for a two nights stay.
Zambia: Day 12 During the first hours of daylight we will 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 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, we 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 Wooly-necked Stork, the shy Crested Guineafowl, Levaillant’s, African Emerald and Barred Long-tailed Cuckoos, Horus Swift, African Broadbill, Lesser Striped Swallow, Sombre Greenbul, Eastern Nicator, Marsh, Olive-tree and Garden Warblers, Common Whitethroat, Thrush Nightingale, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Purple-banded Sunbird, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Southern Masked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, African Firefinch and Red-throated Twinspot. With luck, we will encounter the attractive Three-banded Courser.
Zambia: Day 13 We have another opportunity to look for the pitta and other birds this morning before heading for Lusaka airport, where our Zambia birding tour ends this afternoon.