The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Africa

ZAMBIA – the Ultimate Zambian specialities itinerary, including African Pitta

Friday 18th November – Friday 9th December 2022

Leader: Pete Morris

22 Days Group Size Limit 6

ZAMBIA: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Zambia birding tours are unusual in that, as well as the regional endemics and near-endemics, their primary focus includes the much-sought-after African Pitta. This is 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 at the onset of the rainy season, and starts to call.

Our ultimate Zambia birding tour, which features an African country that is still off-the-beaten-track for the birdwatching fraternity, includes Zambia’s two strict endemics, Black-cheeked Lovebird and Chaplin’s Barbet, as well as numerous additional specialities such as Dickinson’s Kestrel, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Great Snipe, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Racket-tailed Roller, Pale-billed Hornbill, Anchieta’s and Miombo Pied Barbets, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Angolan Lark, Red-throated Cliff Swallow, Grimwood’s and Fülleborn’s Longclaws, Short-tailed Pipit, Black-collared Bulbul, Miombo Tit, Bamboo Warbler, ‘Benson’s’ (or Zambian) Papyrus Yellow Warbler, White-winged Swamp Warbler, Laura’s Woodland Warbler, Dambo and Chirping Cisticolas, Red-capped Crombec, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Böhm’s and Livingstone’s Flycatchers, Margaret’s Batis, Grey-winged Robin-Chat, Miombo Scrub Robin, Miombo Rock Thrush, Hartlaub’s Babbler, Sharp-tailed, Burchell’s and Meves’s Starlings, Souza’s Shrike, Perrin’s Bush-shrike, African Spotted Creeper, Anchieta’s, Bannerman’s, Bates’s, Oustalet’s and Western Miombo Sunbirds, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver, Bocage’s Weaver, the strange Bar-winged Weaver, Katanga and Tanzanian Masked Weavers, Red-throated Twinspot, Locust Finch and Reichard’s and Black-faced Seedeaters. There are even chances for Blue Quail and Chestnut-headed Flufftail. A major non-birding attraction is a visit to the awesome Victoria Falls.

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 focused on this very special bird.

Deep in the interior of southern Africa lies Zambia, a huge, stable and friendly country that straddles the ‘Spine of Africa’, the barely perceptible watershed separating the vast basins of the Zambezi and the Congo. 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.

Within the borders of this amazing country sprawls a sparsely inhabited landscape. This exciting trip will take us to several different regions of the country, taking in open mopane woodlands and dense, dark ‘mushitus’ (evergreen forests), spectacular miombo wilderness, wide lacustrine floodplains and ‘dambos’ (marshes), the mighty Zambezi and the incredible Victoria Falls.

From Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, we head off into the wilds en route to the far northeast of Zambia, with restricted-range targets including Benson’s (or Zambian) Papyrus Yellow Warbler, Chirping Cisticola, Oustalet’s Sunbird, Katangan Masked Weaver and Tanzanian Masked Weaver. We also have a good chance of finding the increasingly uncommon Great Snipe (a migrant from Eastern Europe) and a slim chance for the rare and elusive Chestnut-headed Flufftail.

The next part of our Zambian adventure takes us to the vast and remote Mutinondo Wilderness, a vast private reserve in north-central Zambia with a lovely safari lodge. Here we will be looking in the dambos, grasslands and mushitus for such special birds as Dickinson’s Kestrel, Blue Quail, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Fülleborn’s Longclaw, Red-capped Crombec, Hartlaub’s Babbler and Black-faced Seedeater. The miombo woodland harbours further specialities, including Anchieta’s Sunbird, the delightful Bar-winged Weaver (Mutinondo is surely the best site for this unusual, nuthatch-like speciality) and sometimes Miombo Rock Thrush.

In the Mwinilunga region, a remote area tucked well out of the way in the extreme north-west corner of the country (where we will divide our time between the area around Mwinilunga town and the pleasant Hillwood Farm Estate), lies an area of forest more typical of the huge rainforests of the Congo Basin. Here, near the source of the Zambezi, the water-logged dambos and rich, riparian forests (known locally as mushitus) hold such special birds as Angolan Lark, Red-throated Cliff Swallow, Grimwood’s Longclaw, Short-tailed Pipit, Black-collared Bulbul, Grey-winged Robin-Chat, Bamboo Warbler, Laura’s Woodland Warbler, Dambo Cisticola, Bannerman’s and Bates’s Sunbirds, Bocage’s Weaver, Locust Finch and Black-faced Canary. The miombo woodland harbours further specialities, including Anchieta’s Barbet and Sharp-tailed Starling. The beautiful Cryptosepalum or mavunda woodlands that lie a little to the south hold the beautiful Perrin’s Bush-shrike.

The next part of 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, Bradfield’s Hornbill and Burchell’s and Meves’s Starlings, so our rewarding journey through southwest Zambia will include 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 Wren-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. Another highlight is the perky little Livingstone’s Flycatcher.

Birdquest has operated Zambia birding tours since 2004.

In years when both are offered, this tour can be taken together with MALAWI

Zimbabwe Highlands Extension Option: The Vumba Mountains in eastern Zimbabwe hold two species, Chirinda Apalis and Roberts’s Warbler, found nowhere else but adjacent Mozambique. The pretty, restricted range. Swynnerton’s Robin is also found here and there is a good chance to see Buff-spotted Flufftail. If you would like to add these specialities to your life list we can arrange a short pre-tour or post-tour extension for you (there are daily Harare-Lusaka direct flights). Further details of the extension can be found in the Detailed Itinerary. This extension will be guided by the Birdquest leader or by a local guide if there are only one or two participants. The cost will depend on numbers. Please inform us at the time of booking if you would like to include Zimbabwe.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels and lodges are almost all of a good standard (there are three nights in simple hotels on the Northeast Zambia extension). We will be travelling in a 4×4 safari vehicle on a mixture of well-surfaced tarred roads and dirt roads.

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

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

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Zambia birding tour are quite good.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • A dedicated tour to find some of the most restricted-range birds in Africa
  • Watching Katanga Masked Weavers at Lake Bangweulu and Tanzanian Masked Weavers in the far northeast.
  • Finding Benson's (or Zambian) Papyrus Yellow Warbler at Lake Mweru.
  • The unusual Bar-winged Weaver and pretty Black-necked Eremomela in the forests of Mutinondo Wilderness
  • Hoping for a Chestnut-headed Flufftail at Shiwa Ng'andu or Mutinondo.
  • Birding the dark mushitu forest for the charming Laura’s Woodland Warbler and Bannerman's Sunbird
  • A visit to the Chitunta Plain where we watch Grimwood’s and Fülleborn’s Longclaws in a dambo where there is also the chance for Bocage’s Weaver
  • Flushing brilliant red and black Locust Finches from the dambos
  • Spotting the attractive Black-collared Bulbul in the open miombo scrub.
  • inding the restricted range Margaret’s Batis and dazzling Perrin’s Bushshrike in the Cryptosepalum forests
  • A visit to the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls
  • A journey into remote country to see the endangered endemic Black-cheeked Lovebird, which sometimes gather in their hundreds around the drying pools.
  • Endemic snowy Chaplin’s Barbets in the Sycamore Figs on the ranches of the Nkanga Conservation Area.
  • The hunt for the awesome, much sought-after African Pitta

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Lusaka. Drive to Lake Bangweulu area.
  • Day 2: Lake Bangweulu area, then drive to Lake Mweru area.
  • Day 3: Lake Mweru, then drive to Mbala.
  • Day 4: Mbala area, then drive to Shiwa Ng'andu.
  • Day 5: Shiwa Ng'andu, then drive to Mutinondo Wilderness.
  • Day 6: Mutinondo Wilderness.
  • Day 7: Mutinondo, then drive to Mkushi area.
  • Day 8: Drive to Mutanda near Solwezi.
  • Day 9: Drive to Mwinilunga in northwest Zambia.
  • Days 10-12: Exploring the Mwinilunga region.
  • Day 13: Drive to Chingola.
  • Day 14: Drive to Livingstone.
  • Day 15: Visit Victoria Falls. Drive westerwards to our lodge by the Zambezi river.
  • Day 16: Explore Upper Zambezi region for Black-cheeked Lovebird.
  • Day 17: Drive to Nkanga Conservation Area, Choma.
  • Day 18: Nkanga Conservation Area and Chaplin's Barbet.
  • Day 19: Drive to Siavonga at Lake Kariba.
  • Days 20-21: Siavonga/Lake Kariba area. African Pitta Quest.
  • Day 22: Siavonga, then drive to Lusaka airport for afternoon tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

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


2022: £6570, $9390, €7650, AUD12110. Lusaka/Lusaka.

Single Supplement: 2022: £760, $1090, €880, AUD1400.

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 BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Zambia: Day 1   Our tour starts 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 Katanga 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: Day 2  We can expect to find Katanga Masked Weaver, Coppery-tailed Coucal and Chirping Cisticola this morning, as well as many other wetland birds, before we head northwards to Nchelenge on Lake Meru for an overnight stay.

Zambia: Day 3  A visit to Lake Mweru not only provides a backup locality for Katanga Masked Weaver but also the opportunity to see Benson’s (or Zambian) Papyrus Yellow Warbler, a likely split from the nominate Papyrus Yellow Warbler (the isolated form bensoni here is smaller and has a pale eye). Another papyrus speciality of the area is White-winged Swamp Warbler.

Afterwards, we will head northeastwards to Mbala, a small town near the Tanzanian border, where we will spend the night.

Zambia: Day 4  Another visit to a marshy area this morning should turn up the restricted-range Tanzanian Masked Weaver, while another speciality to look out for is Oustalet’s Sunbird.

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.

Northeast Zambia: Day 5  After some final birding at Shiwa Ng’andu we will head southwards to 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 6  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. 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, 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 7  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 8  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 9  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 10-12  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 restricted-range 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 13  Today we will return southeastwards to Chingola for an overnight stay. We will keep a lookout for the attractive Böhm’s Bee-eater during the latter part of the journey.

Zambia: Day 14  Today we have a long drive to the city of Livingstone, situated on the Zambezi river in southwestern Zambia, where we will stay overnight.

Zambia: Day 15  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 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. There is even a slim but real chance of finding the rare, restricted-range Slaty Egret!

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 16  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 such as Red-billed Spurfowl or the nomadic Dusky Lark.

Zambia: Day 17  After some final birding in the Upper Zambezi 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 18  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. 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-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 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 19  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 20-21  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. With luck, we will encounter the attractive Three-banded Courser.

Zambia: Day 22  We 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  The extension begins this morning at Harare. From there, 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, where we will commence our exploration this afternoon.

Zimbabwe Extension: Day 2  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 two near-endemics (shared only with adjacent Mozambique), Chirinda Apalis and Roberts’s Warbler (formerly Roberts’s Prinia), as well as the restricted-range Swynnerton’s Robin. All three 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 3  This morning we will return to Harare.

ZAMBIA SPECIALITIES TOUR REPORT 2018

by Nik Borrow

View Report

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