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

NCOMATI RIVER FLOODPLAIN, MAPUTO PROVINCE:

 

The Rio Ncomati meanders down to the coast and then north of Maputo, it  spreads out into a vast floodplain that extends for over 100km in length. The floodplain plays host to large concentrations of waterbirds in the region, including many specials not regularly seen elsewhere. In seasons of good rains, the floodplain becomes a vast tract of waterways, flooded dambos and extensive lush grasslands in amongst patches of cultivation. Substantial parts of the floodplain are cultivated and irrigation systems in the central part around the towns of Manhica and Maragra have reduced the extent of the natural habitat available. Access to the best parts of the floodplain is by boat only and in terms of birding, such access on an organised basis is still to be developed.

The floodplain runs from north to south and provides a buffer for a magnificent tract of country towards the coast. Rolling hills, forest patches and string of coastal lakes make for one of the most beautiful areas in Southern Africa. This area enjoys high botanical diversity and many endemic species. Often referred to as the Lagoon Coast, this area will appeal to adventurous birders, but at present access is limited and there are few facilities in the area. Macaneta lies close to the estuary mouth in the south and is 80km from Bilene. In the intervening area there is only the small isolated settlement at Calanga and a few isolated villages – mostly concentrated close to Marracuene. Most of the lakes and lagoons contain salt-water and are rather poor in birds. Freshwater wetlands and lakes inland are usually more productive with a range of aquatic species. Inland from the lakes is a beautiful tract of hilly country with remarkable rolling hills and grasslands, with scattered patches of dense woodland and forest.

 

purple crested turaco portrait

 

Purple-Crested Turaco.

Birds

The floodplains hold large numbers of Herons, including fair numbers of Rufous-bellied Heron when flooded, as well as African Openbill, Pink-backed Pelican, African Pygmy-goose and African Marsh-Harrier. Adjacent grasslands provide habitat for Yellow-throated and Rosy-throated Longclaw, Croaking and Pale-crowned Cisticola and Collared Pratincole. Flooded grasslands may hold Black Coucal, African and Striped Crake and Allen's Gallinule while overhead  an array of aerial feeders may be viewed including Grey-rumped Swallow, Black Saw-wing and Horus Swift, while Banded Martin is a winter visitor. Forests along the coast contain Purple-crested Turaco, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Brown Scrub-Robin, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird and Grey Sunbird. Magpie Mannikin occurs in woodland patches on the floodplain edge. Lightly wooded rolling hills lying inland from the lakes hold Lizard Buzzard, Flappet Lark, Shelley's Francolin, Croaking Cisticola, Brown-headed Parrot, European and Lilac-breasted Roller, Amur Falcon. Senegal Lapwing, African Cuckoo-Hawk and Red-necked Spurfowl also occur. In summer the area is visited by an array of migrants which include Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Blue-cheeked Bee-ater, European Roller and Amur Falcon.

 

African Openbill

 

African Openbill.

Directions

Much of the vast Ncomati Floodplain is difficult to access and floodplain depth varies with season and is dependent on flooding. The area under discussion can be accessed in a number of different ways:

1. From Maputo travel north to Marracuene on the EN1. From the interchange with the EN4 it is 34km to the turn into Marracuene. Just beyond the Millenium Bim Bank on the right, turn left into Town on a tar road. (M10-01). After 300m turn left at the T-junction and take the first right (gravel) down to the ferry launch area (M10-02). There is an extensive wetland to the left along the river, with some cultivation and numerous tracks and paths. The Ferry is operational during daylight hours and crossing over the river provides access to a usually more productive and larger area of wetland, shoreline and grassland. Collared Pratincole, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Senegal Lapwing and Rosy-throated Longclaw are some of the species which may be seen. Continuing with this road, eventually brings one Macanate - which is primarily known as a beach holiday destination.

2. As one travels north from Maputo on the EN1, you will cross the bridge over the Rio Incomati at M10-03 (99km north of Marracuene). Travel a further 6km and you will see a small track to your left (M10-04). This track passes through a small village, providing a view over the floodplain. Go past the bluegums on the left and towards the floodplain. As the track reaches the floodplain proper, you can walk either left or right. On the right there is a high wall-like structure. This is an old canal, and provides a good vantage point over the floodplain. The area also has Pale-crowned Cisticola, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Rufous-bellied Heron, Pink-backed Pelican and on land, Shelley's Francolin. When inundated many more species can be found including African and Striped Crake and Allen's Gallinule. From this road, heading northwards, some 4 km before Magul, there are is a patchwork of enticing looking 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 M10-05, 7.4km from the bridge.)

 

European Roller

 

European Roller.

 

3. A less-well travelled route down to the coast from Macia, will provide adventurous birders with an excellent slice of beauty, and some potentially good birding. This road eventually leads to Bilene, but should only be attempted if you are reasonably self-sufficient and equipped with GPS and a good sense of adventure. From the town of Macia take the main tar road to the right which goes to Bilene. After just 500m take a major looking road to the right (at point M10-08). From this point you will continue straight along this main road for about 15km at which point there are no signs of human habitation and you are now in an interesting area with diverse habitats including lilly covered pans and forest patches. The area is vast and one is restricted by the limited nature of the tracks in the area. A particularly good area of habitat can be found between (M10-10) and (M10-11), where a track leading to the west passes through good quality forest, where Brown Scrub-Robin and Woodward's Batis occur. When wet this area follows a narrow depression which runs north-south and small pans offer Rufous-winged Cisticola, Fan-tailed Widowbird and various waterbirds. African Cuckoo-Hawk breeds in the area. The forest is fairly extensive in this area but continuing south the countryside opens out and typical open woodland species occur including Brown-headed Parrot, Flappet Lark, Croaking Cisticola, Bearded Woodpecker and Purple-crested Turaco. At M10- 12 (32 km from the turn off in Macia), there is a very prominent fork in the road. The right hand fork leads one down to the coast at Calanga. Go right at this fork and after 5.5km you reach a T junction (M10-13). Go left here to return to Bilene via the back road – which is fairly straightforward except at M10-14, where one needs to keep right, and at M10-15 where the left fork is the correct one.

4. The best way to reach the remote interior between the coast and the Floodplain is to go via Maragra, but this must be done by prior arrangement with one of the beach lodges at Calanga (see Additional Information).

5. From Bilene you can take the coast road to the south-west. This is a track which provides access to some more remote lodges further down the coast and 4x4 is essential. From Bilene proceed to the south west along the main road which runs parallel with the lagoon. At point M10-16 turn right and then left again at the first opportunity. At point M10-17 keep left and stay left again at point M10-18. The track (which may be seasonally impassable) crosses the edge of the lagoon and a steel bridge at M10-19. Follow this track to do route 14 in reverse.

 

Amur Falcon

 

Amur Falcon.

Additional Information

The coast here is an important nesting area for loggerhead and leatherback turtles that visit the coast in the summer months to breed. Most of the coastal destinations can organise guided turtle watching excursions.

There are many accommodation establishments in Bilene and also at Macaneta.

 

Juvenile Carmine Bee-eater

 

Juvenile Carmine Bee-Eater.

Accommodation

  • Blue Anchor Inn. This small lodges is 19km north of Marracuene, just off the EN1 and is a popular stop-over among birding groups and Shelley's Francolin and Senegal Lapwing occur in the area around the lodges/camp-sites. Blue Anchor Inn: http://www.blueanchorinn.com/ Tel: +258 82 325 3050 (Moz Cell) +258 21 900 559 (GPS: M10-20)
  • Casa Lisa Lodge and Camping. Adjacent to Blue Anchor Inn and built in the same style. Contact Bruce or Michelle on +258 82 304 1990 (GPS: M10-21)
  • Jay's Beach Lodge – set at the northern end of Macaneta, this is also a beach resort, but with some good coastal forest in the area. Website http://www.jaysbeachlodge.co.za, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. +258 8486 30714 (GPS: M10-22)

It is possible to travel up the coast towards Calanga which is situated in a more remote and unspoilt area, but access is better via the town of Maragra. However access is controlled and you need to contact the accommodation establishments before heading that way

  • Calanga Beach Resort. At Calanga in the heart of the Key Biodiversity area, Calanga Beach Resort offers fishing, boating and hiking/birding walks in coastal forest and around some of the freshwater lakes close by. http://www.mozambiquecalanga.co.za/ Phone+27 73 793 5922 Moz tel:(+258) 84 638 3023 Reservations:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (GPS: M10-23)
  • Campismo Da Cuna. A smaller camp at Calanga, which is mainly a camp-site but also has permanent tents under thatched roofs to rent. http://www.campismodacuna.co.za Contact: Christelle: 076 779 5283 or Francois: 082 450 4089 (GPS: M10-24)

 

Blue-Mantled Crested Flycatcher

 

Blue-Mantled Crested-Flycatcher.

GPS Coordinates

M10-01: Turn off EN1 to Marracuene GPS: S25 44 22.5 E32 40 32.9
M10-02: Ferry launch area. GPS: S25 43 59.7 E32 40 54.4
M10-03: Bridge over Rio Ncomati GPS: S25 04 00.7 E32 55 17.8
M10-04: Track to Floodplain edge GPS: S25 04 00.9 E32 58 49.6
M10-05: Rosy-throated Longclaw Stake-out GPS: S25 03 48.0 E32 59 40.0
M10-07: Turn right to Bilene GPS: S25 01 37.5 E33 05 45.6
M10-08: Turn right towards coast. GPS: S25 01 46.6 E33 06 01.0
M10-09: Keep Left GPS: S25 09 56.9 E33 04 46.3
M10-10: Birding area - forest-wetlands GPS: S25 12 51.6 E33 05 17.4
M10-11: Birding area - track to west. GPS: S25 13 13.8 E33 05 23.7
M10-12: Keep left at fork GPS: S25 17 38.8 E33 05 27.4
M10-13: T-Junction - go left (East) to Bilene GPS: S25 20 16.3 E33 06 52.2
M10-14: Keep right at fork GPS: S25 20 13.3 E33 07 27.8
M10-15: Keep left at fork GPS: S25 19 27.6 E33 08 24.6
M10-16: Turn right in town (take next left) GPS: S25 17 31.2 E33 13 32.7
M10-17: Keep left (1) GPS: S25 17 35.7 E33 13 12.6
M10-18: Keep left (2) GPS: S25 17 40.0 E33 13 09.6
M10-19: Steel Bridge GPS: S25 18 09.7 E33 12 46.6
M10-20: Blue Anchor Inn GPS: S25 35 10.4 E32 39 24.0
M10-21: Casa Lisa Lodge and camping GPS: S25 35 02.2 E32 39 19.8
M10-22: Jay's Beach Lodge GPS: S25 42 30.4 E32 45 19.2
M10-23: Calanga Beach Resort GPS: S25 28 07.3 E32 58 10.4
M10-24: Campismo da Cuna GPS: S25 28 11.0 E32 58 20.0