LIMPOPO RIVER FLOODPLAIN, INHAMBANE PROVINCE:
One of the great rivers of Africa, the Limpopo usually seems lazy or even dormant when seen at Beit Bridge or Pafuri. However once it leaves South Africa, the Limpopo swells and gathers momentum as a number of large rivers join it, most notably the Olifants, Letaba and Shingwedzi.As the river approaches the coast, it enters a wide floodplain and meanders lazily towards the town of Xai-Xai, capital of Gaza Province. From the air, spectacular oxbow lake formations dominate this vast floodplain, but these tend to be deep and not as rich in birdlife as the ephemeral pans and vast flooded grasslands, which occur on a seasonal basis.
Note that the floodplain is variable from season to season and much of it may be inaccessible in the summer months. The sites that are described here are generally applicable in the drier periods when the river is not in flood. Birders visiting the area should be willing to explore. Other habitats in the area include mangrove swamps, forest patches and extensive savanna woodland, which covers much of the area. Coastline habitats also provide opportunities for different bird communities. The state of the habitat is somewhat unpredictable as the floodplain is impacted upon by flooding which can arise in any part of the Limpopo Rivers very substantial catchment basin. The Limpopo flooded to unprecedented levels in 2000 followed by several smaller floods, which occurred erratically in the intervening years. The floods of early 2013 may have affected access and birding in some areas, but will no doubt lead to the creation of superb habitat over time.
Cattle-herder leading his cattle to the days grazing alongside the Limpopo River Floodplain.
The floodplains and associated lakes offer wetland species such as Pink-backed Pelican, Goliath Heron, Black Heron, Little Bittern, African Openbill, Rufous-bellied Heron, Senegal Lapwing, Collared Pratincole, Rufous-winged Cisticola, African Pygmy Goose, Lesser Jacana and, even at times, Great Bittern, which are thought to breed on the floodplain when conditions are good. Grassland and wetland edges offer Grey-rumped Swallow, African Marsh-Harrier, Fan-tailed Widowbird. Yellow-throated and Rosy-throated Longclaw occur with the former being by far the most common. Red-headed Quelea also occurs here but its movements are poorly understood. Mangrove swamps at the mouth of the Limpopo River offer Mangrove Kingfisher and Black-throated Wattle-eye. Woodland and forest patches host a diverse range of species including Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Purple-crested Turaco, Red-backed Mannikin, Grey Waxbill, Rudd's Apalis, Purple-banded Sunbird, Brimstone Canary, African Hobby and Dickinson's Kestrel.
From Maputo, the Limpopo River floodplain is 205 km north on the EN1. There are several areas to access good birding on the floodplain. Some 8 km south of Xai-Xai, the road drops down onto the floodplain and on both sides, wide open plains, dotted with small pans, may be visible. This can be accessed in two ways: At the southern end of the floodplain, just before the 'bridge' over the first channel, (M11_02 -01 ) a minor road leads off the highway. This can be followed in a car, preferably a 4x4, for some way. Park either at the start of the road, or if you have a 4x4, you can navigate the broken bridges and wash-aways and get some way off the road. From here, you can explore further on foot. Further across the floodplain (towards Xai-Xai itself), and adjacent to some of the other bridges, there are tracks which lead off of the main road You can park off the road at point M11-04)and explore further on foot. From here one can walk to the northern side of the road. GPS co-ordinates :
- M11-01: Xai-Xai Town. GPS: S25 02 28.3 E33 38 26.3
- M11-02: Track to floodplain on right hand side (if travelling north). GPS: S24 59 27.9 E33 33 18.5
- M11-03: Bridge on the floodplain (Maputo end). GPS: S24 59 44.2 E33 33 56.6
- M11-04: Alternative stopping point over floodplain. GPS: S25 00 26.8 E33 36 08.6
Black-Crowned Night Heron.
One of the most rewarding areas is around Sacativa Lake, situated adjacent to the floodplain. This lake is periodically flooded by the Limpopo River and is just 14 km from the EN1 on a good tar road. The road starts just 300 m west of Honeypot Camp to the Limpopo Floodplain and Chibuto. Travel from Honeypot towards Maputo for 300 m and take a new tar road to the right at point M11-05. 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 .(M11-12) Beyond the river one can see a large wetland on the left. This is 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. Adventurous birders may want to access the eastern shoreline of the lake, which can be done by travelling through the villages to the east. A 4x4 vehicle is essential for this. 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 use the following GPS co-ordinates:
- M11-06: Recommended turn off to Sacativa Lake (Adventure Route). GPS: S24 50 57.4 E33 30 00.2
- M11-07: Veer right towards M11-08. GPS: S24 50 57.9 E33 29 26.3
- M11-08: Turn left towards M11-09. GPS: S24 50 50.8 E33 29 19.6
- M11-09: Turn right towards M11-10. GPS: S24 51 18.9 E33 28 44.9
- M11-10: Continue straight on towards M11-11. GPS: S24 51 08.8 E33 28 33.9
- M11-11: Continue with track down to lakeshore. GPS: S24 51 5.10 E33 28 30.1
- M11-12: Bridge over river. . GPS: S24 50 20.3 E33 29 13.2
The road to the coast on the southern side of the Limpopo (up to Zongoene Lodge) offers some interesting wetlands and grassland areas. This road provides access to a very scenic road which runs southwards parallel to the coast. If travelling from Zongoene Lodge, keep left at M11-20, and follow this road for 9km to the first of the lakes on your left (M11-21). Look for Grey-rumped Swallow, Rufous-winged Cisticola and in the adjacent woodland, Brown-headed Parrot. This road eventually takes one thorugh to Bilene, and there are many very scenic lakes along the coast, but the birding is not as good as on the floodplain itself. To reach the mangrove swamp, go to the boat launch site on the Limpopo River banks near Zongoene Lodge (M11-18). From that point walk about 300m upstream and you will find yourself in the mangrove swamp. (M11-19)
- M11-17: Turn to Zongoene Lodge. GPS: S24 59 00.1 E33 33 03.2
- M11-18: Boat Launch area . GPS: S25 11 14.4 E33 31 12.7
- M11-19: Mangrove Swamps . GPS: S25 11 07.5 E33 31 08.3
- M11-20: Coast road from Zongoene towards Bilene. GPS: S25 10 28.7 E33 28 52.0
- M11-21: Lake - the first of many attractive lakes along this road.. GPS: S25 10 28.7 E33 28 52.0
African Reed Warbler.
Near Chibuto, a tributary floodplain creates interesting extra habitat. The best birding is on the road between Chibuto and Chokwe . From the Xai-xai area, tke one of two main roads to Chibuto (there are tar roads to Chibuto from the EN1 on both sides of Xai-Xai). At this point, continue westwards through the town of Chibuto, dropping down into the floodplain. There are a number of lakes in the area which may offer excellent birding too. At times, the moist grassy plains to the north of the road hold Rosy-throated Longclaw (M11-15) and this is the site where a single Northern Wheatear was photographed in the winter of 2009. There are many several good birding opportunities in the area, but are somewhat unpredicatable. GPS Points:
- M11-14: Chibuto Town. GPS: S24 50 10.4 E33 28 59.0
- M11-15: Chibuto Floodplain birding. GPS: S24 40 06.0 E33 30 11.4
- M11-16: Seasonal Lakes to South of Road. GPS: S24 40 02.6 E33 22 07.2
If approaching from Giriyondo, start to look out for lakes on the right hand side of the road from point M11-16 (where a good seasonal lake is sometimes visible)
This is a vast area, and much of the floodplain verges are quite densely inhabited. There are however few tourist facilities away from the main centres of Xai-Xai, with basic accommodation/shops and ATMs being available in Chibuto and Chokwe. The people here are generally very friendly and the area is considered safe. There is a variety of accommodation in Xai-Xai, which has fuel, supermarkets and various other services. Recommended accommodation options include:
Honeypot Camp is a popular stopover just off the EN1. It is situated just 5 km before the floodplain proper, on the left hand side of the road, and offers camping and accommodation in wooden cabins. Meals are available and African Wood-Owl is resident in the camp. Honeypot is 15 km from Xai-Xai towards Maputo.
Tel: +258 82 7813 460,
GPS: S 24°57.31.76 E 33° 31.00.29
Zongoene Lodge is an upmarket lodge option on the southern bank of the Limpopo River. The area has patches of good coastal thickets and offers the potential of interesting shorebirds as well. It also provides access to Mangrove swamps on the southern bank.
Tel: +27 15 295 9038
Cell: +258 82 402 6791
GPS: S25 11 48.5 E33 30 38.9
Shallow Wetlands of the Limpopo River Floodplain.
Zona Braza, at Praia de Chizavane, is some 40 km north of Xai-Xai. This lodge is close to several birding sites with extensive wetlands and remnants of coastal dune forest in the area. Self-catering accommodation is available.
Tel: +258 282 64016
Cell: +258 847 633-846
GPS: S25 00 48.2 E34 02 12.9
Paraise de Chidinguele Beach Lodge
A further accommodation option is Paraise de Chidinguele Beach Lodge, some 70 km from Xai-Xai, which is a particularly good option if you want to stop over in the area and are travelling southwards. This good value lodge is renowned for its seafood and African Hobby is often seen in the vicinity.
Tel: +27(0)13 750 2802
GPS: S24 57 20.4 E34 11 47.5.
Mozambican Fisher on the Limpopo River Floodplain.