ZAMBIA & ZIMBABWE BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Zambia: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Lusaka, from where we shall head northwards to the Kafue River near Mpongwe, where we will stay overnight in a comfortable lodge scenically placed amongst pristine miombo, grassy dambos and riverine forest. We will spend some time this afternoon exploring our new surroundings.
Our lodge is wonderfully situated on the banks of the Kafue River and we will be able to explore the surrounding countryside easily on foot or by taking a boat along the river. There is a very good chance of encountering the enormous marmalade-coloured Pel’s Fishing Owl here and we will be hoping that the staff will know where the birds are roosting so that we can find them during the day (but if not we will look for them by night).
There are of course plenty of other interesting birds to find around the lodge and the nearby habitats seem to encapsulate Zambia in miniature. The woodlands here will give us the chance to see miombo specialities such as the noisy Pale-billed Hornbill, the striking Black-backed Barbet, Bush Pipit, Miombo Scrub Robin, Arnott’s Chat, Long-tailed Cisticola, the pretty Black-necked Eremomela, the unassuming Böhm’s Flycatcher, Rufous-bellied and Miombo Tits, the handsome Chestnut-mantled Sparrow-Weaver, Black-eared Seedeater and, if we are lucky, the scarce Shelley’s Sunbird.
The open dambos usually hold a pair of enormous Saddle-billed Storks and other birds that we are likely to see in this habitat include Reed (or Long-tailed) Cormorant, African Darter, Black-crowned Night Heron, Rufous-bellied, Striated (or Green-backed) and Grey Herons, Western Cattle and Great Egrets, Hamerkop, Yellow-billed Stork, Yellow-billed Duck, Black Crake, Lesser Moorhen, African Jacana, Three-banded Plover, Blacksmith Lapwing and both Malachite and Pied Kingfishers.
At a mushitu a short drive away we have a very good chance of finding the localized Margaret’s Batis and the secretive Bocage’s Akalat. Evergreen Forest Warbler is also possible, although we are more likely to hear than see this skulking species. Other species that favour this habitat are Narina’s Trogon, Purple-throated Cuckooshrike, Cabanis’s Greenbul, the restricted-range Brown-headed Apalis, Black-fronted Bush-shrike and Square-tailed Drongo.
Other birds of the area which are of particular interest include the fairly restricted-range Grey-olive Greenbul, the distinctive, restricted-range stormsi form of the African Thrush, Luapula Cisticola and Grey Waxbill.
More widespread species that we may well see during our stay include Black-shouldered and Yellow-billed Kites, Bateleur, African Harrier-Hawk, African Goshawk, Shikra, Lizard Buzzard, Helmeted Guineafowl, African Green Pigeon, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Red-eyed and Cape Turtle (or Ring-necked) Doves, Schalow’s and Ross’s Turacos, Red-chested, Black, African, Klaas’s and Diderick (or Didric) Cuckoos, African Barred Owlet, African Wood Owl, Square-tailed and Fiery-necked Nightjars, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Green Wood-hoopoe, African Hoopoe, Crowned and Trumpeter Hornbills, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Black-collared Barbet, Green-backed Honeybird, Scaly-throated, Greater and Lesser Honeyguides, the ‘little spotted’ form of Green-backed Woodpecker, and Bennett’s, Golden-tailed and Cardinal Woodpeckers.
Passerines include African Broadbill, Grey-rumped and Lesser Striped Swallows, Cape and African Pied Wagtails, Woodland, Plain-backed and Buffy Pipits, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Dark-capped Bulbul, White-browed Robin-Chat, African Stonechat, Kurrichane Thrush, Red-faced, Trilling, Croaking and Short-winged Cisticolas, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Long-billed Crombec, Southern Black, Pale and Ashy Flycatchers, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Chinspot Batis, White-winged Black Tit, Amethyst, Scarlet-chested, Collared and White-bellied Sunbirds, African Yellow White-eye, Southern Fiscal, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bush-shrikes, Brown-crowned and Black-crowned Tchagras, Black-backed Puffback, Tropical Boubou, Brubru, White-crested and Retz’s Helmet-shrikes, Eastern Black-headed and African Golden Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Miombo (or Southern) Blue-eared and Violet-backed Starlings, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-headed, Golden, Village, Dark-backed and Thick-billed Weavers, Black-winged Bishop, Yellow-mantled and Red-collared Widowbirds, Fawn-breasted, Common and Blue Waxbills, Red-throated Twinspot, Orange-winged Pytilia, Brown and African Firefinches, Bronze and Red-backed Mannikins, Yellow-fronted Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting.
Zambia: Day 2 We will spend the morning at the Kafue River and then head northwestwards to Solwezi for an overnight stay. Our journey takes us through a sprawling area of industrial towns known as ‘The Copperbelt’. During the early part of the 20th century, Zambia was the main supplier of the world’s copper, and the area is still important for the mining industry.
Zambia: Day 3 This morning we continue our journey by road to Mwinilunga in the remote far northwest of the country, situated between Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where we will spend two nights. The road is reasonably good and we will soon find ourselves driving through large expanses of glorious woodland. We will make a few stops along the way and will surely have first encounters with a number of new birds, such as Wahlberg’s Eagle, Common, White-rumped and Little Swifts, Broad-billed Roller, Yellow-throated Leaflove and White-chinned Prinia.
The road crosses a few rivers along the way and at these we will be looking amongst the many Little Swifts for the Red-throated Cliff Swallows that can often be found in this part of Zambia at this season (although they are more numerous during the rains). The pretty Black-faced Canary is another good bird that can be found here and we will make stops at rivers where the mega-skulking Bamboo Warbler is to be found, although it can be a hard bird to see well.
Zambia: Day 4 This morning we will make a pre-dawn start, looking out for Spotted Eagle-Owl on the way, as we travel southwards into very remote country. Our destination is the area where the type specimen of the White-chested Tinkerbird was obtained on 6th September 1964. This species remains something of an enigma, as it has never been seen since! We have little hope of finding this mysterious bird in the thick, unspoilt and very beautiful Cryptosepalum or mavunda woodland where few paths penetrate and people are largely absent, but we should be able to find the gorgeous, restricted-range Perrin’s Bush-shrike and we have another chance of encountering the localized Margaret’s Batis. The vegetation here is thick and often impenetrable, and so we will be hoping for bird parties passing close by to the road. Most of the constituent species will be familiar to us by now, but we may also add a few more species, such as Grey-backed Camaroptera, White-browed Scrub Robin and White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, to our growing list.
Zambia: Day 5 This morning our destination is the Hillwood Farm Estate, some two and a half hours drive away from Mwinilunga, where we will spend three nights. However, we shall spend all day birding along this road, for as soon as we leave Mwinilunga we will pass through Luakera Forest, its tall trees dripping with lichens and moss and holding desirable species such as the restricted range and uncommon Anchieta’s Barbet, the localized Sharp-tailed Starling and the delightful Bar-winged Weaver. The weaver favours Usnea or ‘old man’s beard’ lichen and can be found creeping along the branches of trees that are festooned with it. For the barbet, we shall have to try to find a fruiting or flowering tree that the birds are favouring.
We shall also be on the lookout for Pale Wren Warbler and Red-capped Crombec, as well as Little Sparrowhawk, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Afep Pigeon, Grey-headed and Meyer’s Parrots, Thick-billed Cuckoo, the ngamiense form of African Barred Owlet, the reichenowi form of Black Saw-wing, Black Cuckooshrike, Groundscraper Thrush, Whistling Cisticola, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, and Western Violet-backed, Olive and Miombo Double-collared Sunbirds.
Further along the road, the trees become more stunted and eventually open out to expansive plains and marshy dambos that are home to some of the most interesting species of the tour. At the splendid dambo at the Chitunta and Luakera rivers, we shall don suitable footwear to walk through the boggy terrain in search of the rare Grimwood’s Longclaw that favours the wettest areas. During our time in this habitat we should also find the brightly-coloured Fülleborn’s and Rosy-breasted Longclaws that prefer slightly less waterlogged habitat and the sturdy Angola Lark that sings amongst the shorter grass punctuated by strange squat termite mounds. Best of all, this is a reliable locality for the beautiful and restricted-range Black-and-rufous Swallow, which occurs only in Zambia and Angola, departing from northwestern Zambia in October.
Specialities and other good birds in the grasslands include Dickinson’s Kestrel, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Short-tailed Pipit, Dambo Cisticola, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Black-chinned Quailfinch and Locust Finch. There is usually an active colony of Bocage’s Weavers to be found in the area and we have a good chance of finding this little-known species (which completely disappears outside the breeding season!).
Banded Martins hawk insects and African Marsh Harriers quarter the grasslands, clumps of trees and marshes that also hold such species as Little Grebe, Black-bellied Bustard, African Wattled Lapwing, Marsh Owl, Swamp Nightjar, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Rufous-breasted Wryneck, Flappet Lark, Mosque and Red-breasted Swallows, Sooty Chat, Fan-tailed Grassbird, Moustached Grass Warbler, Ayres’s, Tinkling and Stout Cisticolas, African Dusky Flycatcher, Anchieta’s (split from Marsh) Tchagra, Copper Sunbird, Red-headed Quelea, Hartlaub’s Marsh Widowbird or perhaps even an early migrant Great Snipe.
Zambia: Days 6-7 Nchila Wildlife Reserve lies on the Hillwood Farm Estate and comprises over 40 square kilometres of pristine countryside in which over 400 species of birds have been recorded.
Of the major specialities, the attractive Black-collared Bulbul is relatively easy to see here and we shall also be looking for Grey-winged Robin Chat, the charming Laura’s Woodland Warbler, Bates’s Sunbird and the localised Bannerman’s Sunbird. We will also have more opportunities to seen many of the specialities already mentioned for earlier in our journey.
In the thick forest patches we may well also find Black Sparrowhawk, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Olive Long-tailed Cuckoo, Blue Malkoha, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Least and Pallid Honeyguides, Little and Honeyguide Greenbuls, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Fraser’s Rufous Thrush, Buff-throated Apalis, Salvadori’s Eremomela, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher, Green-throated Sunbird, Splendid Glossy Starling and Black-bellied Seedcracker. Little Bee-eaters favour more open habitats.
Zambia: Day 8 After some final birding in the far northwest we will return to Solwezi for an overnight stay.
Zambia: Day 9 This morning we will return to our splendid lodge on the Kafue River for an overnight stay, resuming our exploration of this superb area.
Zambia: Day 10 After spending most of the morning at the Kafue River we will return to Lusaka for an overnight stay.
Zambia: Day 11 Today we will head southwestwards to the Choma region 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 will arrive at Nkanga in time to explore the area this afternoon.
Zambia: Day 12 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: Day 13 After some early morning birding at Nkanga we will continue southwestwards to Livingstone.
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. The lodge has a jetty affording views across the river, where Hippopotamuses sometimes wallow. 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: Day 14 Today we shall explore the mopane woodlands 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, while 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, Southern Red-billed and African Grey Hornbills, 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 will arrange a boat trip along the river in search of African Finfoot, Rock Pratincole, Half-collared Kingfisher and the restricted-range Chirping Cisticola.
More widespread species 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: Day 15 After some early morning birding we will head for Livingstone airport, where our Zambia birding tour ends in the late morning.
Zimbabwe: Day 1 From Livingstone we will cross the border to the adjacent city of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and take a flight to Harare, the capital of the country, for an overnight stay.
Zimbabwe: Day 2 Today 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. We should arrive in time for some initial birding.
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 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: Day 5 Today we return to Harare, where our Zimbabwe birding tour ends this afternoon.