SEVEN DAY SOUTHERN MOZAMBIQUE BIRDWATCHING ITINERARY:
Day 1 Komatipoort to Xai-Xai via Moame, Magude and the Ncomati Plains
Day 2 Xai-Xai, the Limpopo Floodplain and north to Caju Afrique
Day 3 Panda Woodlands and Caju Afrique
Day 4 Caju Afrique to Morrungulo via Chacane Wetlands
Day 5 Morrungulo to Ponta de Barra
Day 6 Ponta de Barra to Zona Braza
Day 7 Zona Braza to Komatipoort.
This seven day trip takes in the key sites of Southern Mozambique that produces sought after species including specials such as Olive-headed Weaver, Green Tinkerbird and Livingstone’s Flycatcher. Depending on the start-finish point, this tour may take longer. The timing assumes that one starts relatively early from the Komatipoort border post. However if the first and last days are amended it can also be done in eight days from Gauteng. The coastal mudflats at Ponta da Barra – are seasonal – best times for wader-watching are the summer months - between the end of September and the end of April.
Habitats: Mixed woodland, Riverine Forests, Wetlands, Floodplains, Miombo Woodland, Estuarine mudlfats, Coastal scrub Thicket
Bird Specials which may be seen on this route (note that those followed by (s) can only be seen in the summer months.)
Great Bittern, Rufous- bellied Heron, African Pygmy-Goose, Southern-banded Snake-Eagle, African Cuckoo Hawk, Honey Buzzard (s) Coqui Francolin, Sooty Falcon(s), Dickinson’s Kestrel, African Hobby(s), Shelley’s Francolin, Red-necked Spurfowl, Baillon’s Crake, Allen’s Gallinule(s), Lesser Jacana, Crab Plover, Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit, Broad-billed Roller(s), Black Coucal(s), African Wood-Owl, African Barred-Owlet, Racket-tailed Roller, Eastern Green Tinkerbird, Green-backed Honeybird, Livingstone’s Turaco, Green Malkoha, Mottled Spinetail, Bohm’s Spinetail, Horus Swift, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Collared Palm-Thrush, Mascarene Martin (W), Brown Scrub-Robin, Eastern Nicator, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Rudd’s Apalis, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Southern Hyliota, Pale Batis, Red-faced Crombec, Grey Penduline-Tit, Black- throated Wattle-eye, Neergaard's Sunbird, Grey Sunbird, Purple-banded Sunbird, Plain-backed Sunbird, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Olive-headed Weaver, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Red-headed Quelea, Grey Waxbill, Pink-throated Twinspot, Red-throated Twinspot, Black-headed Seed-eater, Lemon-breasted Canary
Duration: 6 nights (and additional night depending on starting point.)
Distance covered: 1 962 –2 300 km
Costs: Fuel – R2 200-R 2800 (estimated)
Accommodation – Variable – note that some locations require prior booking and in the holiday season this is advisable for the entire Itinerary.
Road Conditions and Navigation
Much of the route is on variable gravel roads and good tar roads. In places road conditions are poor and some tracks mentioned may be muddy or sandy – posing problems for ordinary vehicles in the wet season particularly. Birders should be equipped with GPS (SatNav) and be reasonably self-sufficient. Note that tides play a major role in the Ponta da Barra area and birders are advised to check high tide times before planning your trip. The distances provided are the minimum without following additional options which are provided in the narrative.
Day 1 Komatipoort to the Ncomati Plains and Magude (248 km)
From Mpumalanga, take the N4 to Komatipoort, and then proceed through the Border Post. Once through the border, continue for 45 km to a Tollgate (Toll fee payable). After the tollgate, continue for 3km until you see a turn-off to the left to Moamba. (R1_D1-01) Take this turn off and proceed along the road until you cross over a railway line. Once in the small town of Moambo, turn right on the main road at (R1_D1-02) and continue out of town. You will reach a fork in the road with the bridge over the Ncomati River visible on the left. (R1_D1-03). Turn left and over the bridge over the Ncomati River. The road becomes gravel and after 25km, you reach the small town of Sabie. Look out for Grey-rumped Swallow in the open fields in the area and proceed northwards through town. Along this road there are several good river crossings with excellent lowveld habitat where species include Purple-crested Turaco, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Eastern Nicator and many others. One such river crossing is at R1_D1-04. Another reasonably quiet crossing with good riverine forest is further on at R1_D1-05.
Southern-banded Snake-Eagle has been recorded in the area and Rudd’s Apalis also occurs in scrub thicket areas. The route traverses a beautiful array of habitats including open plains and dense euphorbia thickets. Roadside birding can be excellent and adventurous birders can also explore the many lakes and rivers in the area.
Proceed to Magude (R1_D1-06) and cross over the Ncomati River again. The area that follows is dominated by sugar cane fields, but open fields often hold Collared Pratincole and swallows and swifts (including Horus Swift) can be plentiful.
After joining the EN1 again, turn left and travel northwards. After 6 km, you will cross the bridge over the Rio Incomati at R1_D1-07 (99km north of Marracuene). From the main road, heading northwards, some 4 km before Magul, there are a patchwork of productive wetlands on either side of the road, however caution should be exercised when birding from the roadside. Rosy-throated Longclaw occurs in the area and has been seen wetlands on either side of the road (close to R1_D1-08, 7.4km from the bridge.) Depending on season, Black Coucal and Rufous-bellied Heron may also be common in the area.
From Magul, proceed for a further 46 km and look out for Honeypot Camp on your left. (R1_D1-09)
Website: http://www.honeypots.co.za GPS: S24 57 33.7 E33 30 54.0
Day 2 Limpopo Wetlands and northwards to Caju Afrique (295 km)
From Honeypot travel towards Maputo for 300 m and take the tar road to the right towards Muzingane (R1_D2-01).
Proceed for 14.5 km and you will see the first of several impressive looking oxbow lakes on your right-hand side. Continue for a further 4 km and you will cross a small river. Beyond the river one can see a large wetland on the left. This is a small in reality a section of Swamp which makes up just a small proportion of the whole Sacativa Lake complex. Baillon’s Crake has been seen from the road. You can park your car off the road and walk as far as is possible around the lake. Close to R1_D2-02 there is a raised walkway which provides access to a variety of good lakeshore habitats.
For adventurous birders (4x4 essential) you may want to access the eastern shoreline of the lake proper and this can be done by travelling through the villages to the east. The eastern shoreline of the lake is open and offers views over a spectacular expanse of lake and wetland. The area is good for African Pygmy-Goose, Lesser Jacana and many other wetland species. Conditions on the sandy tracks and roads change from time to time, but the best way to get there is to follow the following GPS co-ordinates: R1_D2-03 (Turn-off main road), R1_D2-04, R1_D2-05, R1_D2-06, R1_D2-07, and R1_D2-08 (track down to the lake). The lakeshore here can be excellent for shorebirds and Collared Pratincole is usually present in numbers.
It is suggested that one spend the morning birding this area, after which you can retrace your route back to the EN1 and head north to the town of Inharrime which will take 3 or 4 hours (175km).
Alternatively (for more floodplain birding and to see the Limpopo at at different point) proceed north-west from R1_D2-02 to a T-Junction where one turns right towards Chibuto, (R1_D2-09). Once in Chibuto turn left at the T-junction and proceed through town and down the hill. After crossing a channel you will see an extensive floodplain on your right. One can park off the road here and walk to the wettish grasslands where Rosy-throated Longclaw has been recorded. Other species which may be seen include African Openbill, Kittlitz Plover, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Collared Pratincole. Grey-rumped Swallow breed on these plains in the winter months. One can continue for 9 km and, depending on conditions, large wetlands and lakes are visible along this route. Once you have completed your birding turn back towards Chibuto. A shorter route to get back to the EN1, north of Xai-Xai, is to continue straight on along the tar road from Chibuto to the EN1 (52 km from Chibuto). You join the EN1 at R1_D2-12 and then follow the road northwards for 155 km to Inharrime.
Once in Inharrime, turn left towards Panda (R1_D2-13). After 4.7km take the left fork to Coguno (R1_D2-14) and continue for a further 11.3km along the road until you see a signposted track on the left (R1_D2-15) which leads down to the lakeshore and Caju Afrique (R1_D2-16).
/www.cajuafrique.com GP: SR:1_D2-16
Day 3 Panda Woodlands (179 km)
It is recommended that you leave early and retrace your route back towards Inharrime. At the fork 4.7 km from Inharrime (R1_D2-10), turn left and head towards Panda. A number of lakes and wetlands can be seen along the road between Inharrime and Panda. (It is perhaps a better idea to do these on the way back, or the following day, to enable one to get to the Miombo Woodland early rather than late. (see account for Day 2 for details)
Continue on to the town of Panda. At Panda, one reaches a T-junction (R1_D3-01). Turn left here and proceed along this minor dirt road for 13 km. Look out for a colourful shop on the right hand side of the road (R1_D3-02). At this point, the miombo woodland begins and the most productive birding can be had in areas with tall brachystegia trees adorned with “usnia” (old-man’s beard). The next five km of road (up to GPS point: R1_D3-04) can be productive, particularly if one walks into the remnant patches of miombo woodland. Look for clearings alongside taller patches of miombo trees where there is plenty of “Old Man’s Beard” (Usnia)
Just after the shop mentioned above, a track heads southwards from the road is also worth taking. Proceed along this track,looking out for Fawn-coloured Lark and Pale Flycatcher in the open areas. After about 1.5 km (R1_D3-03) the track passes through relatively mature miombo woodland and the birding can be excellent. Look for bird parties, which will usually hold several miombo specials, including the possibility of Olive-headed Weaver. Bird parties are not always very conspicuous. Watch for movement and you may pick up a party containing Pale Batis, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Red-faced Crombec, Southern Hyliota, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler and if you are lucky, Olive-headed Weaver and Green-backed Honeybird. Neergaard’s Sunbird and Pink-throated Twinspot also occur and the woodland also holds Lizard Buzzard, Brown-headed Parrot, African Scops-Owl and African Barred Owlet. In winter, watch for Mascarene Martin overhead. Retrace your route back towards Inharrime and Caju Afrique. About 1 km is a tract of coastal scrub thicket. This can be good for Rudd's Apalais, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Bearded Scrub-Robin and Plain-backed Sunbird amongst others. Shelley's Francolin occur in light woodland in the area.
Overnight Caju Afrique.
Day 4 Caju Afrique, Chacane Wetlands to Morrungulo (272 KM)
The short total drive today allows the opportunity to bird around Caju Afrique – or even better to bird the Chacane Wetlands. To reach the wetlands, proceed as for Panda. You will see a large lake on the right. The larger lakes are permanent and do not hold large numbers of birds, except for cormorants, kingfishers and occasionally African Pygmy-Goose on the lily adorned fringes of the lakes.
The first true wetland is 20 km from the EN1 at Inharrime. As you approach this point, you will see some old buildings on the left. Stop at these buildings (R1_D4-01) and walk around these buildings to the large wetland area south-west of the road. Depending on rainfall and season, the shallow flooded grassland may hold Great Bittern, while Lesser Jacana, Purple Swamphen, Rufous-bellied Heron and African Marsh Harrier may be seen. Malagasy Pond-Heron has been seen on these wetlands too. Keep a watch for Dickinson’s Kestrel and African Hobby which also occur in the area (the latter in summer).
Another excellent wetland is located beyond the village of Chacane on the same road. Chacane lies towards Panda – and the wetland is 18.3 km from Chacane towards Panda. The wetland can be seen from (R1_D4-02). A small track to the left may provide closer access to this pan which usually holds African Pygmy-Goose, Lesser Jacana, Rufous-winged Cisticola and African Marsh Harrier. In the wet season, Rufous-bellied Heron, Allen’s Gallinule and other specials may be present. Areas of palm savanna along this road also hold Collared Palm-Thrush and, in more open areas towards Panda, one may encounter Lemon-breasted Canary. Pale-crowned Cisticola and Swamp Nightjar have also been reported.
Once you have finished birding here retrace your route back to Inharrime and take the EN1 northwards. From Inharrime it is 170 km to the turn off to Morrungulo (R1_D4-03), (Note that some GPS map products will try to route you to Morrungulo 9km before the correct turn-off). Follow the sandy road for 13km down to the coast where you will find Morrungulo Beach Lodge. (R1_D4-04).
Lodge phone number: +258 293 70101
Day 5 Morrungulo and the Bobiane Thickets (309 km)
This area, known by birders as “The Bobiane thickets” was big news in January 2013 with the discovery of Eastern Green Tinkerbird after an absence of almost 60 years. This appears to be a rather unflattering area of coastal bush and remnant forest inland from the EN1 with woodland patches interspersed with villages and cultivated fields. On the maps the area is marked as Unguane.
The area is rich in birds typical of the Zululand coastal bush, such as Gorgous Bush-shrike, Grey Waxbill, Livingstone’s Turaco, Green Malkoa, Grey Sunbird, Eastern Nicator, Woodward’s Batis, Bearded Scrub-Robin and Rudd’s Apalis. However, it also offers a host of species at the southern limit of their range, such as Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Red-throated Twinspot and Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike. Tiny Greenbul and Black-headed Apalis have also been recorded. Other species which occur regularly in the area include Eurasian Honey-Buzzard (s), Bohm’s Spinetail, Mottled Spinetail, African Cuckoo-Hawk and Mosque Swallow, while raptors may include Sooty Falcon(s), Ayre’s Hawk-Eagle and African Hobby (s)
To reach the area from Morrungulo, travel to the main tarred EN1. From this point travel exactly 26.5 km and at point R1_D5-01, take a minor unmarked road to the left. This narrow road goes south-west for 7km to R1_D5-02, at which point one turns to the left (north-west direction). After a further 1.3 km one reaches R1_D5-03 – which is the eastern-most point at which the Green Tinkerbird has been recorded. One can park off the track, and walk in the area. Continue westwards passing through some good birding areas. 5.3 km from the easternmost Tinker waypoint, one reaches a number of quaint old shops at R1_D5-04. Turn right here and pass between the shops and soon afterwards take the first available track to the left. One can continue along this road for a further 3.2 km to point R1_D5-05 – which is also a good area for the Tinkerbird, The bird has not been recorded much further west than this point.
After completing your birding in the Unguane area, retrace your path back to the EN1 and then head south towards Maxixe and the Inhambane Peninsula. From the turn-off to Morrungulo the drive to Maxixe town is 75km.
Maxixe is a fairly large town which lies on the western shore of the bay of Inhambane, a vast estuary which provides excellent habitat for large numbers of shorebirds. Depending on the tides (receding tide is best) you can stop at the Ferry (R1_D5-06) and scan the shoreline for waders which may include Common Whimbrel, Terek Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover and Eurasian Curlew. Continue southwards for 28 km to the main road to Inhambane and Ponta da Barra. (R1_D5-07). The route to Ponta da Barra is reasonably well signposted through the old town of Inhambane, but if in doubt turn right at R1_D5-08 and right again at R1_D5-09.
From the town of Inhambane, it is 24 km to the beachfront at Ponta de Barra. Before reaching the beachfront, there is a sandy road (4x4 essential) on the right which takes one to the lighthouse which can be good for shorebirds. The turn is at R1_D5-10 and the sandy road to the lighthouse passes through a fairly built up areas with shops and restaurants en-route, before arriving at the lighthouse after 2.4 km.
From the same junction continue 1km to a T-junction (R1_D5-11), Turn left to reach Barra Lodge, Areia Branca and the end of the Barra peninsula. For details on birding suggestions, see Day 6.
Overnight: There are many options in the area. Two possibilities are Areia Branca or Barra Lodge
Areia Branca is perfectly situated for wader watching, and offers a more affordable option for those wishing to stay in the area. It has self-catering chalets. Barra Lodge is a large beachfront lodge with choice of accommodation and restaurants.
http://www.areiabranca-lodge.com/ Tel (Moz) +258 827 164820 Tel: (RSA) +27 (73) 255 4850
Note that Tides play a major role in the Ponta da Barra area and Areia Branca may not be accessible at some high tides!
Day 6 Ponta de Barra to Zona Braza (355 km)
It is suggested that the morning is spent birding the estuarine habitats around Ponta da Barra. Three areas are recommended for shorebirds although conditions are very variable and birders should be willing to explore.
1.) The end of the peninsula (the North-west corner) beyond White Sands holds large roosts of shorebirds at high tide. Please do not drive anywhere outside of the designated area as the estuarine and mangrove eco-systems are extremely sensitive to disturbance.
2.) The mudflats on the inside of the bay just south of Areia Branca/White Sands are excellent for shorebirds, particularly on a receding tide.
3.) The beaches of Ponta da Barra and particularly those around the Lighthouse. The lighthouse is also a good spot to scan out to sea, occasionally one may be lucky enough to see seabirds such as Greater Frigatebird or Sooty Tern.
Common species include large numbers of Terek Sandpipier , Curlew Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover and Whimbrel. Other less common specials may include Crab Plover, Sand Plover and Lesser Sand Plover, Lesser Crested Tern, Bar-tailed Godwit, Pacific Golden Plover and Common Redshank. Recent records include Sooty Falcon, African Hobby, Lesser Crested Tern and Great Knot.
In terms of land birds, the edge of the mangrove swamp near Barra Lodge can be productive for mangrove specials such as Mangrove Kingfisher and Black-throated Wattle-eye. There are also some pans in the area which may offer a variety of other species including African Pygmy-Goose, Allen’s Gallinule and Rufous-bellied Heron, while bush and swamp edge birding can include Pale Batis, Lemon-breasted Canary (among the Lala palms along the beachfront), Magpie Mannikin and Collared Palm-Thrush among others. The latter is resident within the grounds of Barra Lodge.
The drive to Zona Braza is about 253 km and will take about 3.5 hours, not accounting for stops. Given the interesting birding and wonderful scenery at Zona Braza, it is suggested that one leave at least 6 hours of daylight for this leg of the trip.
Retrace your route back to the EN1 at (R1_D5-07). From here the turn to Zona Braza is 196 km via the EN1 in a south-westerly direction. At R1_D6-03 you turn towards the coast and it is 10 km to the lodge. The road passes three lakes, the last of which is the most spectacular. The lodge is at R1_D6-04, and as you approach the high dunes on which it is built, the birding potential is obvious! Just before the last steep ascent up to the lodge, a magnificent lake stretches behind the dunes. You pass this lake on your right and just afterwards, look for a road to the right, which follows the shoreline of the lake. The lake can easily be birded on foot from the lodge and holds African Pygmy-Goose, Lesser jacana, White-backed Duck and many other waterbirds. Coastal bush around the lodge is excellent for Brown Scrub-Robin, Yellow-rumped TInkerbird, Grey Sunbird, Grey Waxbill, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Woodward’s Batis, Purple-banded Sunbird and many other species typical of coastal bush.
Accomodation Zona Braza
, Website: http://www.zonabraza.co.za
Day 7 Zona Braza to Komatipoort (Ressano Garcia) (368km)
The drive from Zona Braza to Komatipoort is 356 km via the EN1, and will take approx. five hours to complete. Crossing the Limpopo Floodplain again may provide another opportunity to search for Rosy-Throated Longclaw, Great Bittern or Rufous-bellied Heron. You can stop on the long crossing over the Limpopo floodplain – look for areas with dam grassland or inundated wetland and be sure to park well off the road – there are a couple of small tracks leading down onto the floodplain such as that at R1_D7-01 Rosy Throated Longclaw has been regular on the western end of the floodplain close to point R1_D7-02