Published on 19 August 2013
Written by Etienne Marais/Indicator Birding

PANDA WOODLANDS, INHAMBANE PROVINCE:

 

Near to the small remote town of Panda, south-west of Inhambane, lies a significant tract of unique Brachystegia (Miombo) habitat. This vegetation type has been significantly reduced, but is substantial enough to support significant populations of Miombo specials, some of which are not found elsewhere in the region. The area has no conservation status and is at present under threat from slash and burn agriculture. The most significant bird found in the area is the Olive-headed Weaver – which is not found anywhere else in Southern Africa.

 

The miombo woodland is most accessible from a gravel road running south-west from Panda and the focus on Panda's miombo woodland has led to the discovery of other good birding gems in the area. Other birding attractions include substantial wetlands and lakes between Inharrime and Panda, as well as remnant Lebombo Ironwood forests further to the south-west. The latter is less well-known than the miombo woodland, but holds regionally rare species such as Chestnut-fronted Helmet-Shrike and Plain-backed Sunbird.

 

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Male Southern Hyliota.

Bird Specials

The star special of the area is the Olive-headed Weaver. This species is dependent on mature Brachystegia woodland, which in this area is adorned with "usnia" ('old man's beard') lichen in which the weavers feed and nest.

The miombo woodland areas are also well known for several specials which are largely restricted to this habitat. These include Southern Hyliota, Green-backed Honeybird, Racket-tailed Roller, Pale Batis, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Black-eared Seed-eater, Stierling's Wren-warbler and Red-faced Crombec. Other species which may occur, but are not restricted to Miombo woodland, are African Scops Owl, African Barred Owlet, Red-necked Spurfowl, Dark-chanting Goshawk and Retz's Helmet-Shrike. Species more typical of adjacent mixed woodland include Neergaard's Sunbird, Pink-throated Twinspot, Fawn-coloured Lark, Shelley's Francolin, Bateleur and African Cuckoo-Hawk. Above watch for Black-saw-Wing and Grey-rumped Swallow. In the winter months, Mascarene Martin also occurs.

Wetlands and grasslands between Inharrime and Panda hold species such as Rufous-bellied Heron, African Pygmy-Goose, Lesser Jacana, Allen's Gallinule, Black Coucal, Swamp Nightjar, Rufous-bellied Heron and other wetland species. Great Bittern breeds in the area when conditions are good and both Black-rumped Buttonquail and Blue Quail are suspected to occur. Malagasy Pond-heron has been recorded in the winter months. Moist grassland around the wetlands is habitat for Grey-rumped Swallow, Rosy-throated Longclaw and Pale-crowned Cisticola. Adjacent open lightly wooded country is good for Flappet Lark, Lizard Buzzard, Dickinson's Kestrel and Lemon-breasted Canary – the latter in association with Hyphynae Palms. Dense wood thickets and associated Palm clumps hold Gorgeous Bush-Shrike and Collared Palm-thrush.

 

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Male Pale Batis.

Directions

Miombo Woodland Birding - The town of Panda is reached by turning inland off the main coastal road (En1) from Maputo at Inharrime. (GPS: M14-01). From Inharrime, drive 59 km north-west to Panda. At Panda one reaches a T-junction (GPS: M14-02 ) Turn left here and proceed along this minor dirt road for 13km. At this point (GPS: M14-03), 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 5 km of road (up to GPS point: M14-04) can be productive, particularly if one walks into the remnant patches of miombo woodland. Another option for visitors with more time is to look for a colourful shop 13 km from Panda on the right-hand side of the road. Just after this (GPS: M14-05) a track can be seen to the left. Take this track and proceed for 1 km, looking out for Fawn-coloured Lark and Pale Flycatcher in the open areas. At that point (GPS: M14-06), one enters a tract of mature miombo woodland and the birding can be excellent. Look for bird parties that will usually hold several miombo specials, including the possibility of Olive-headed Weaver. The birding is good for a further 2.3km (GPS: M14-07). Birding here can easily occupy several hours and will produce an excellent list of Miombo specials.

 

Female Bateleur

 

Female Bateleur.

Lebombo Ironwood Forest

These fast disappearing woodlands constitute a unique habitat type and offer a very different suite of birds to those of the Miombo woodlands. The can be reached along the same road as described in section 2 above. Proceed along the road from Panda for 77 km to the small village of Mawaiela, and then take a right turn (GPS: M14-08). You will then be on a new road built to transport timber from the area. This road provides a mosaic of open savannah (good for Fawn-coloured Lark and Dark-chanting Goshawk), lakes and seasonal pans, Miombo woodland and palm-savannah. Continue northwards on this road for 21.7 km and then look for an obscure track to the right (GPS: M14-09). Follow this track for a further 4 km into prime Lebombo Ironwood forest. This very unique forest type holds Chestnut-fronted Helmet-Shrike, Woodward's Batis, Eastern Nicator, African Barred Owlet, Plain-backed Sunbird and Dark-backed Weaver. The birds are usually best found by locating bird parties. The area is also refuge to a population of African Elephant – perhaps the original wild elephants of Mozambique. Continuing further on, you reach a tract of sand forest type scrub, where Rudd's Apalis and Neergaard's Sunbird occur. The track eventually leads to a private concession and access is by prior arrangement only.

 

Malagasy Pond Heron

 

Malagasy Pond Heron.

Chacane Wetlands

A number of lakes and wetlands can be seen along the road between Inharrime and Panda. 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. There are however two very good wetland areas along the road between Inharrime and Panda, which can offer excellent birding. The first is 20km from the EN1 at Inharrime. As you approach this point, you will see some old buildings on the left. Stop after these buildings (GPS: M14-10) and walk around these buildings to the large wetland area south 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. Another excellent wetland is located beyond the village of Chacane on the same road. Chacane lies towards Panda – and the wetland is 18.3km from Chacane towards Panda. The wetland can be seen from GPS: M14-11. A small track to the left may provide closer access to this pan which usually holds African Pygmy-Goose, Lesser Jacana and other waterbirds. In the wet season, Rufous-bellied Heron, Allen's Gallinule and other specials may be present.

 

Purple-Banded Sunbird

 

Male Purple-Banded Sunbird.

Further information

Panda may be visited as a long day trip from Xai-xai or Zavora Lodge.

Many birding groups use Caju Afrique as a base – as this is the closest established accommodation. It is situated on the edge of the lake-like Rio Inharrime south of the town of Inharrime, some 65km from Panda. Accommodation includes three furnished, fully equipped self-catering facilities, and two campsites. Coastal thickets in the area offer good birding including Rudd's Apalis and Plain-backed Sunbird. It is only possible to stay there by prior arrangement. Contact tel. +27 832512079; +27 837844393; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; www.cajuafrique.com.

There is a rudimentary campsite called Olive Weaver Campsite about 23km from Panda just beyond the Miombo woodland. This is about 300m off the road and is reached from GPS: M14-12. Note that the track to the camp is sandy and a 4x4 is required to reach it. The camp has basic toilet facilities and offers safe camping. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information and bookings.

 

Usnia Lichen

Usnia - Old Mans Lichen that is used by the Olive-Headed Weavers for nest building.


If self-sufficient, it is possible to bush-camp in the woodland outside Panda. If doing this, it is best to first obtain permission from local villagers in the area.

For the adventurous birder, the area can also be accessed from the south via Chibuto. This is a good route if coming into Mozambique via Giriyondo and the Limpopo Transfrontier Park. From Massingir head towards the coast on the main Xai-Xai/Chokwe road for 124km. At Chokwe cross the Limpopo river and proceed to Chibuto (66km from Chokwe). At Chibuto continue straight on and after 16,6km take a left turn towards Mandlakaze. Continue towards Mandlakaze and proceed through town to the large circle – this is the trickiest point of the trip, you need to head northwest out of town at GPS: M14-14 (Towards Mawaiela). Once on this road it is 55km to Mawaiela, and the most important decision points are at 30.5km (From Mandlakaze) GPS: M14-15 , where one takes the left turn and at 36km where one takes the right hand fork. At Mawaiela one can link up with the road going north towards the Lebombo Ironwood forests (M14-08), or continue straight on towards the Panda woodlands (77km beyond Mawaiela). The latter route takes on through a superb mosaic of different habitats and is good for raptors, Lemon-breasted Canary and Temminck's Courser.

 

White-Breasted Cuckoo-Shrike

 

White-Breasted Cuckoo Shrike.

GPS Points

M14-02: Panda T-Junction GPS: S24 03 45.9 E34 43 40.4
M14-03: Start of Miombo Woodland GPS: S24 06.922 E34 37.137
M14-04: End Miombo Woodland GPS: S24 07 01.2 E34 36 56.5
M14-05: Left turn onto small track. GPS: S24 07 01.2 E34 36 56.5
M14-06:Good birding start GPS: S24 07 31.5 E34 37 10.2
M14-07:Good birding end GPS: S24 08 37.0 E34 37 38.9
M14-08:Turn north towards Ironwood forest GPS: S24 21 14.8 E34 06 43.6
M14-09:Turn right on track. GPS: S24 10 17.9 E34 07 40.1
M14-10:Wetland Stop GPS: S24 20 34.6 E34 55 42.5
M14-11: Northern Pan GPS: S24 10 58.0 E34 46 52.5
M14-12: Turn to Olive Weaver Camp GPS: S24 11 26.5 E34 34 02.1
M14-13: Turn to Mandlakaze GPS: S24 43 52.1 E33 40 15.1
M14-14: Exit from Mandlakaze GPS: S24 42 29.3 E33 53 00.3
M14-15: Go left 30,5km north of Mandlakaze GPS: S24 29 20.2 E33 57 44.4
M14-16: Keep right 36km north of Mandlakaze GPS: S24 26 32.7 E33 57 47.6

 

Miombo Woodlands

 

Miombo Woodlands around Panda.