ZAMBIA BIRDING TOUR WITH ZIMBABWE EXTENSION: DETAILED ITINERARY
Zambia: Day 1 Our tour starts this morning at Lusaka, from where we will head northeast until we reach Mutinondo Wilderness, a vast private reserve with a comfortable safari lodge, where we will spend two nights.
This afternoon we will commence our exploration of the reserve.
Zambia: Day 2 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 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.
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 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, 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: Day 3 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 4 After some early morning birding at the Forest Inn, we head northwestwards to Mutanda, situated not far from Solwezi, where we will spend the night.
Zambia: Day 5 This morning we continue our journey by road to the Mwinilunga area in the remote far northwest of the country, situated between Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where we will spend four 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 regularly to be found. Indeed, this is one of the best areas in its range for seeing this secretive species.
Zambia: Days 6-8 The Hillwood Farm Estate is situated in the Mwinilunga area. We shall spend plenty of time birding along the road to the estate, 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 and the localized Sharp-tailed Starling. We even have another chance for Bar-winged Weaver.
We shall also be on the lookout for special birds such as Pale Wren-Warbler, Red-capped Crombec and Western Miombo Sunbird, 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 and Olive 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, a species largely restricted to remote eastern Angola that favours the wettest areas. During our time in this habitat, we should also find the brightly-coloured, restricted-range Fülleborn’s Longclaw and the more widespread Rosy-breasted Longclaws that prefer slightly less waterlogged habitat, and also the sturdy, restricted-range Angolan Lark that sings amongst the shorter grass punctuated by strange squat termite mounds. This is also a known locality for the restricted-range Black-and-rufous Swallow, which occurs only in Zambia and Angola, but as this species often departs from northwestern Zambia in October we will probably not have an encounter.
Specialities and other good birds in the grasslands include Dickinson’s Kestrel, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Short-tailed Pipit, Dambo Cisticola, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Quaifinch 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 Tchagra, Copper Sunbird, Red-headed Quelea, Hartlaub’s Marsh Widowbird or perhaps even a migrant Great Snipe.
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 see 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.
During our stay in the area, we will make a pre-dawn start, looking out for Spotted Eagle-Owl on the way, as we travel into some remote country. In the thick, unspoilt and very beautiful Cryptosepalum or mavunda woodland, where few paths penetrate and people are largely absent, we should be able to find the gorgeous, restricted-range Perrin’s Bush-shrike and we have a good 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 9 Today we will return southeastwards to Chingola for an overnight stay.
Zambia: Day 10 This morning we will return to Lusaka and take a flight to the city of Livingstone, situated on the Zambezi river in southwestern Zambia.
Here, we will first 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 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: Day 11 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 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: Day 12 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: Day 13 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 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: Day 14 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: Days 15-16 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, which is why we have allowed three nights in the area.
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: Day 17 We have another opportunity to look for the pitta this morning, if need be, before heading for Lusaka airport, where the main section of our tour ends this afternoon.
NORTHEAST ZAMBIA PRE-TOUR EXTENSION
Zambia Extension: Day 1 The tour commences this morning at Lusaka, from where we have a long drive northeastwards to the Lake Bangweulu area for an overnight stay.
We should arrive at the edge of the vast Bangweulu marsh complex (which consists of a series of large lakes and marsh systems) in time for a little exploratory birding before sunset. Our main target here is the restricted-range Tanzania Masked Weaver. 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. It is still a common sight at Bangweulu.
Zambia Extension: Day 2 We can expect to find Katanga Masked Weaver this morning, as well as many other wetland birds, before we head northwards to Nchelenge on Lake Meru for an overnight stay.
Zambia Extension: Day 3 A visit to Lake Mweru not only provides a backup locality for Katanga Masked Weaver but also the opportunity to see Zambian Yellow Warbler, a likely split from Papyrus Yellow Warbler (the isolated form bensoni here is smaller and has a pale eye). Another papyrus speciality of the area is White-winged Warbler.
Afterwards, we will head northeastwards to Mbala, a small town near the Tanzanian border, where we will spend the night.
Zambia Extension: Day 4 Another visit to a marshy area this morning should turn up the restricted-range Tanzanian Masked Weaver.
After finding our second speciality weaver of the tour, we will head south to Shiwa Ng’andu for an overnight stay.
The Shiwa Ng’andu area has some nice ‘dambo’; (short, wet grassland habitat) where, if we are really lucky, we will flush a Chestnut-headed Flufftail. More likely to be encountered in the dambo habitat is the increasingly uncommon Great Snipe, a migrant from Eastern Europe.
Zambia Extension: Day 5 After some final birding at Shiwa Ng’andu we will head southwards to Mutinondo Wilderness, where we meet up with those arriving for the main tour.
ZIMBABWE EXTENSION ITINERARY
Zimbabwe Extension: Day 1 Our tour begins with a short flight from Lusaka to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, where we will spend the night.
Zimbabwe Extension: Day 2 From Harare we will head for the Vumba (or Bvumba) Mountains, part of the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, for a two 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. Eventually, we will climb up into the Vumba Mountains.
We will arrive in time for some initial exploration this afternoon.
Zimbabwe Extension: Day 3 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 Cuckooshrike, Dark-backed Weaver, the secretive Red-faced Crimsonwing, the skulking Grey Waxbill and Black-throated Canary.
Zimbabwe Extension: Day 4 This morning we return to Harare airport, where our tour ends in the late morning.