ZAMBIA & ZIMBABWE BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe. From there we will transfer to the town of Mutare for an overnight stay. Mutare is situated at the base of the Vumba (or Bvumba) Mountains, part of the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. 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.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Day 2 This morning we will visit a reliable site for the near-endemic Boulder Chat.
Afterwards, we will climb up into the Vumba Mountains for a three nights stay. We will arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: 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.
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 also have a good chance of seeing the secretive Buff-spotted Flufftail.
Other species we may well find in the woods and surrounding open areas include Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Cape Grassbird, Mouse-coloured Flycatcher, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Dark-backed Weaver, the secretive Red-faced Crimsonwing, the skulking Grey Waxbill and Black-throated Canary.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Day 5 Today we return to Harare and catch a flight to Victoria Falls, where we will overnight.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Day 6 This morning we will visit the world-famous Victoria Falls (which are far more impressive on the Zimbabwe side at this season). 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 cross the Zambezi to the Zambian side and the city of Livingstone. From there we head a short distance 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 Bee-eater, 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, African Yellow White-eye, Collared and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Holub’s Golden, Village and Thick-billed Weavers, and Red-billed Firefinch.
At night we may find 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.
More widespread species along the Zambezi include Reed (or Long-tailed) Cormorant, African Darter, Striated (or Green-backed), Black, Squacco and Purple Herons, Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets, African Openbill, Yellow-billed Stork (uncommon), Glossy and African Sacred Ibises, Hamerkop, Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, African Fish Eagle, Western Banded Snake Eagle, Black Crake, Lesser Moorhen (uncommon), African Jacana, Water Thick-knee, White-headed 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 & Zimbabwe: Day 7 Today we shall explore the mopane woodlands well to the northwest 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 Helmeted Guineafowl, Great White Pelican, Marabou Stork, Western Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, 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, Böhm’s Spinetail, White-rumped and Little Swifts, 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 Black-collared Barbet.
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 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, Blue and Violet-eared Waxbills, 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.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Day 8 After some final birding in the Livingstone region we head 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 & Zimbabwe: Day 9 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 Grebe, Little Bittern, Rufous-bellied Heron, African Spoonbill, White-backed and African Black Ducks, Red-billed and Hottentot Teals, Black-winged Kite, African Cuckoo-Hawk, Long-crested Eagle, Hooded Vulture, Shelley’s and Natal Francolins, Red-necked Spurfowl, 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, White-fronted Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Trumpeter Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Brown-backed Honeybird, Greater and Lesser Honeyguides, and Bennett’s, 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, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, 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, Cuckoo-finch (previously known as Parasitic Weaver), Yellow-fronted Canary and Cabanis’s Bunting.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Day 10 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 straddles the borders of Zambia and Zimbabwe), for a three nights stay.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Days 11-12 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, Southern Masked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Red-throated Twinspot, African Firefinch and Bronze Mannikin.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Day 13 We have another opportunity to look for the pitta this morning, if need be, before heading for Lusaka and then continuing north to the pleasant Forest Inn near Mkushi. We may arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Day 14 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. We will also encounter a number of other woodland species.
Afterwards, we will head northeast until we reach the huge Mutinondo Wilderness, a vast private reserve with a comfortable safari lodge, where we will spend three nights in the heart of the African bush. This afternoon we will commence our exploration of the reserve.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Days 15-16 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 targets here are going to include 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.
Tall trees dripping with lichens and moss holding two very desirable restricted-range but fairly uncommon species; 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.
Expansive grassy plains and marshy dambos are home to some exciting birds. Star attraction here, but sadly a bird that is much easier to hear than see, is the sought-after Chestnut-headed (or Long-toed) Flufftail.
Other specialities of these habitats include Dickinson’s Kestrel, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Blue Quail (uncommon), the brightly-coloured Fülleborn’s Longclaw, Hartlaub’s Babbler and Locust Finch.
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 Black-chinned 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 Grey-headed 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, Southern 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 & Zimbabwe: Day 17 After a last morning at Mutinondo Wilderness we will start our journey back to Lusaka, stopping overnight at the Forest Inn.
Zambia & Zimbabwe: Day 18 There will be some time for birding at the Forest Inn this morning. Afterwards we head for Lusaka airport, where our tour will end this afternoon.