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It’s been a while since I wrote the first edition of our newsletter, so here it is, a long overdue newsletter, and a fairly long one!!

Twitching!

Rarities continued to crop up. The Kirks found a very large and odd looking “Lesser Black-backed” type Gull at Mkhombo Dam – the jury is still out on this one, it has bounced from heuglini to barabensis subspecies of Lesser Black-backed through to suspected Caspian Gull. If the latter, it would be a first for Southern Africa – we hope the gull will return, progressing further into adulthood, and solve the mystery.

 

The Ruppell’s Vulture at Blouberg Nature Reserve returned and gave on and off views, high up on the cliff amongst the large breeding colony of Cape Vultures. All of the Bustards crew twitched this one, one of us had to do it twice, as the mist won on the first round, obscuring the cliff. The second batch of Ruppell’s twitchers, Allan, Kerry and a few friends, decided that they hadn’t had enough, and detoured home via Maputo, where Gary Allport had discovered a Red-necked Stint in a small temporary puddle on a soccer pitch. Niall had already done this twitch, otherwise would have been a little grumpy at having missed out!

Red-necked Stint in Maputo

The gull continued to perform at Mkhombo Dam, which was to turn up plenty of regional or national rarities in the form of Western Yellow Wagtails, a couple of Collared Pratincoles, some long staying Black-tailed Godwits and a small flock of Caspian Plovers, which stayed on and began to moult into fine breeding plumage. Come January, the dam produced a cracking Red Phalarope, which Niall dragged his clients to on the way home from Zimbabwe. (Well, that’s a bit rich, more like they dragged Niall there!)

 

A birding tour to Mozambique reported a Whinchat on Mount Gorongosa on 30th November– we were going there in mid December. Would the bird still be there?? The answer was yes, and we managed to lay eyes on this mega rarity for Southern Africa.

There was what could be described as an infestation of Spotted Crakes around the region, with birds pitching up, amongst others, at Marievale, Sappi Stanger, Gaborone, Rundu and  Otjiwarongo in Namibia, Ngico in the Eastern Cape, and the record setting most twitched bird ever in Southern Africa, the one at the busy intersection outside Waterfall Estate.

Another southerly record of Tree Pipit, well in reach of even the most laid back weekend birders, cropped up at Wonderboom, in northern Pretoria.

Yellow-throated Leaflove near Katima Mulilo

Not to be outdone by this flurry of rarities cropping up to the south, the Namibian birdlife decided to throw something out there, and did it in style! A pair of Yellow-throated Leafloves were found to be nesting in the gardens of Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge – a first for Southern Africa, some 200 kilometers south of their known range – this resulted in the anticipated scramble for flights, groans at the cost, and probably the biggest long distance twitch undertaken, the plane was over half full of crazy twitchers. Niall had a pelagic on, therefore with high stress levels had to hold off until the Wednesday afterwards – not to be disappointed I might add.

Remember there are a few of us Bustards who may be available to help you out getting to these twitches, drop us a line on info@bustardsbirding.co.za

The Tours

We have done a few trips since our last newsletter, Mozambique and the eastern highlands of Zimbabawe in December and January, Kerry led a trip up to the Harare wetlands, and Niall did an extended scouting trip to Vietnam – we will be putting on trips from 2017.

 

African Pitta in Coutada # 12

Mozambique & Zimbabwe December 2015

Our regular December trip set off in the early hours of 11th December 2015. We had some repeat customers, and some new ones too, all relishing the thought of birding the various habitats of the two countries, with some endemics and very range restricted species on offer. The trip was a great success, with the team of Kerry and Niall leading 6 guests having a lot of success, finding our very own sighting of African Pitta, which we returned to observe a few days later, getting cracking views of them collecting food and nesting material. Other fantastic sights included East Coast Akalat, a lot of Böhm’s Bee-eaters, Orange-winged Pytilia, nesting Swynnerton’s Robins, Collared Flycatcher at Christmas Pass.

 

For a change, due to the drier conditions, Gorongosa National Park closed later than usual, giving us the opportunity to go onto the access road to Chitengo camp and do a bit of birding, as well as see some fabulous mammals, including a lifer for Niall, in the form of Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest. Red-necked Falcons were pretty common here too and gave us great views.

Sooty Falcon

Some other memories from the trip:

 

• Getting onto Locustfinch mere meters from the vehicles

• The magical experience of swimming in the crystal clear streams on Mount Gorongosa

• Watching part of our group determined to get photos of the Mangrove Kingfishers, in the process sinking waist deep into mud!

• The following day screeching to a halt shouting "SOOTY FALCON!", and then photographing it whilst amazed local ladies looked on at these crazy birders

• The Pitta experience was something else, having heard it, followed the call, found it, and then seen the joy on people’s faces.

• This was followed up by a chance sighting of some Wild Dog in the road in the middle of the Coutadas.

• We were introduced to the fun of frogging in the bVumba, seeing the range restricted Swynnerton’s Reed Frog as a good starter.

• Niall rounded the trip off at Lion and Elephant by doing the bird list in Afrikaans, at the insistence of Merlin.

The trip ended up with a respectable total of 363 species, 16 of which were heard only.

Mozambique & Zimbabwe January 2016

Sundowners overlooking the Pungue River

Niall led the next trip, perhaps a little crazy to drive all that way again in such a small space of time. But what a place it is to visit, the amazing bird species, the magic scenery, not to be sneezed at! This time Niall drove and joined up in Louis Trichard with two other vehicles who were self driving. Beit Bridge was a breeze (In Beit Bridge terms!), and we got to Masvingo late afternoon, to celebrate seeing a pair of Boulder Chats en route. On this trip the Pitta was not a priority, so unless we bumped into it, we were not torn up about missing it, as everyone had seen it on prior trips. We therefore concentrated on some of the amazing species on offer, Black-headed Apalis, East Coast Akalat, Lowland Tiny Greenbul, Plain-backed Sunbird amongst others gave us fantastic views. Rio Maria was fantastic for waders, the small pans also gave us great views of the Lesser Jacanas.

Red-winged Warbler

The trip was great for raptors, producing stunning views of Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Dickinson’s Kestrel and African Goshawk. An immature Ayres’s Hawk Eagle had us guessing for a bit, in quite unusual plumage. We had to kick Western Yellow Wagtails off the road on the way to the Böhm’s Bee-eater site.

Dickinson's Kestrel

Doing trips later in summer gives you a far better chance for Orange-winged Pytilia, which breed later, and this of course brings in their brood parasite, Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (seen in December, but in non breeding plumage). The former almost gave everyone the slip, as a single bird amongst a group of Whydahs very quickly disappeared into the grass not to be seen again. We were however to get fantastic views of them on two subsequent occasions.

The trip ended up with a total of 377 species, 24 of which were heard only.

Harare Wetlands and Miombo February 2016

Locust Finch

The Bustards headed off to Zimbabwe in February on our Harare Wetlands and Miombo trip, led by Kerry Fairley and Justin Nicolau.  Although Harare had just received its first rains of the season, conditions were still extremely dry and it made for some tough birding.  Despite dedication and a brave effort to tolerate some “septic” conditions in the Harare wetlands, circumstances were too dry for Streaky-breasted Flufftails.  Our efforts were however rewarded with excellent views of African Spotted Creeper and Rosy-throated Longclaw at Haka Park.  Haka Park also delivered a rare sighting of a pair of Locust Finch sitting out in the open.  Other highlights were unexpected views of Orange-winged Pytilia along Lake Mutirikwe near Masvingo.  We ended the trip on a high note with photographic opportunities of Wood Pipit also near Masvingo.  Thanks to Rolf Wiesler for use of his fantastic photos taken during the trip.

African Spotted Creeper

 

Vietnam March 2016

Bar-bellied Pitta

Niall jetted off to Vietnam early in March, for a somewhat lengthy 3 and a bit week trip of Vietnam. (Our scheduled trips will be shorter, at 11 nights). The intention was to get a feel for the birding and work out which parts would be more productive for a birding tour. The birds did not disappoint, families such as Pittas, Babblers, Barbets, Broadbills, Laughingthrushes Woodpeckers and Flycatchers were fabulous to see.

 

The country is fairly cheap to visit, as their currency gets pummelled by the stronger dollar and European currencies, as our rand does. The food, although very much Asian for the most part, was very good – the rumours of having to eat cat, dog and snake are nonsense (unless of course you really want to eat that!)

 

Our planned itinerary will take in Southern and Centrel Vietnam, in March of 2017 – please email niall@bustardsbirding.co.za for pricing and a more detailed itinerary. We are looking at adding on a similar length trip to Cambodia, for those wanting to get the most out of the cost of their plane tickets.

 

Some of the delights the country had to offer, all seen in areas the 2017 trip will visit:

Vietnamese Cutia

Siamese Fireback

Orange-breasted Laughingthrush

Blue-rumped Pitta

Other upcoming trips

We are currently putting together trips, to the following destinations, with more to follow, please let us know if any of these destinations are on your bucket list:

• Uganda (mid year)

• Vietnam (March and April)

• Cambodia (February and March)

• Ethiopia (December through to April)

• Ghana (March through to May)

• Namibia - central and northern (year round)

• Caprivi & Okavango panhandle (October and November)

• Central Mozambique & Zimbabwe Highlands (December and January)

• Morocco (February and March)

Durban pelagic trips

Although more fund raising than Bustards Birding trips, the pelagic trips out of Durban have continued to be successful, with specials such as Flesh-footed Shearwaters, Black-bellied Storm Petrel, Barau’s Petrel, Antarctic Prion, Tropical Shearwater and not to forget, albeit a fleeting glimpse, the first record of Red Phalarope in KZN waters, being seen on our trips out since last July. Remember you can check booking schedules and availability here: http://www.niall.co.za/pelagic/KZNpelagictrips.htm

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