Published on 05 June 2014
Written by Dylan Vasapolli/Birding Ecotours

ZAMBEZI RIVER DELTA, SOFALA PROVINCE:

 

The Zambezi River Floodplain refers to the area in the immediate vicinity of Caia, where numerous pans and oxbow lakes branch off from the Zambezi River, along with the grassy plains located between Caia, and Villa de Sena (to the north). An exciting new destination, slightly to the north of Villa de Sena, GEZL, is also included, which comprises good access to the Zambezi River, some productive riverine woodland, and vast tracts of open woodland. The birding within this area is always productive, and holds many great specials. The entire area is rather populated, and one must just be aware when out birding of the surroundings, but in general the people are friendly and willing to assist should a problem arise.

 

Please note that the road between Caia and Villa de Sena is in a bad condition, and it takes some time to drive the 70-odd km’s between the two places. The area can be completed in a day, but from a birding perspective, it would be more productive to spend two days birding the area. Not much birding has been done between Caia and Villa de Sena, and many other possibilities may still be out there, and if time permits, it will be worth exploring some new areas, not mentioned in the route below. The birding is mainly done from the roadside, including short walks off the road to access various pans and grassy areas, while at GEZL you can bird entirely on foot. The birding is good throughout the year, although the Weavers and Bishops are generally only in breeding plumage in summer, with Basra Reed-Warbler being present in late summer. During winter, bird activity does die down, and early summer (late November, December) is best.

 

Zambezi River Floodplain

View of the Zambezi River Floodplain from Caia. 

 

Birds:

In Caia, a small section of the Zambezi River can be accessed, as can numerous small, lily-covered pans, and dense bush on the outskirts of Caia. The Zambezi River and its immediate vicinity holds African Skimmer for the lucky, along with numerous nesting Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Basra Reed-Warbler, Black-winged Bishop, Anchieta’s Tchagra, Moustached Grass-Warbler, Dark-capped Yellow-Warbler, Yellow-billed Stork, Pink-backed Pelican, African Openbill, Comb Duck and Purple Heron. The numerous scattered oxbow lakes and pans, hold White-backed Duck, African Pygmy-Goose, Lesser Jacana (be sure not to confuse it for the more common African), Long-toed Lapwing and Allen’s Gallinule. In the winter months, Malagasy Pond-Heron has also been seen, but care should be taken not to confuse it with the more common Squacco Heron. The thick bush that is present both on the edge of these pans, and on the outskirts of Caia plays host to Blue-spotted Wood-Dove (common), Red-throated Twinspot, Magpie Mannikin, African Mourning Dove and Copper Sunbird (which is also sometimes present in open areas near the pans).

 

African Mourning Dove

 African Mourning Dove.

 

The grassy areas between Caia and Villa de Sena host a similar suite of specials, including Rufous-winged, Croaking and Short-winged Cisticolas, Moustached Grass, Dark-capped Yellow and Red-winged Warblers, Copper Sunbird, Black-winged Bishop, Yellow-throated Longclaw, and African Marsh-Harrier, while the more open wooded areas play host to Martial Eagle, White-headed Vulture and Mosque Swallow. At GEZL, the major draw-card is the population of Bohm’s Bee-eater’s that have recently been discovered (representing the first discovered population of Bohm’s south of the Zambezi River and is of particular interest to the southern African birder)! Other specials are a host of bee-eaters including Southern Carmine, Blue-cheeked, Little and White-fronted, Black-throated Wattle-eye, African Skimmer and numerous Kingfishers ranging from the dainty African Pygmy- to the large and boisterous Giant. Western Yellow Wagtail is present where patches of open ground persist in summer. The first and only record of Red-tailed Shrike in southern Africa is also from this site.

 

Sqaucco Heron

 Squacco Heron Hunting.

Directions:

The route will start from the town of Caia (Z-01). Head north through Caia on the EN1 (the town is largely bypassed by the highway and hence it appears very small), and some 2km out of Caia, just before you come to the toll booth for the crossing over the bridge (it is a large, prominent structure), bear left on a small tarred side road (Z-02). From here, follow this road, as it runs parallel with the main EN1, before the road turns to the left and comes to the old pont crossing (with a viewpoint – which is actually an old bridge structure – over the Zambezi River present as well). Park your car here (Z-03), and start birding the immediate area. Sections of the Zambezi River can be seen (but perhaps best scanned from atop the viewpoint with a scope). The first area that needs to be searched lies between the viewpoint and the Zambezi River (Z-04), and is host to such mouth-watering specials such as Moustached Grass-Warbler, Dark-capped Yellow-Warbler, Anchieta’s Tchagra, Southern Brown-throated Weaver and Basra Reed-Warbler (late summer). Search the thick vegetation, scrub and reeds for these species. Listen for the calls of the various species, especially the scratchy, harsh notes of the Basra Reed-Warbler. Scan the tops of bushes, and use playback sparingly as the species are present, and are responsive. The Weavers have a large colony in the reeds next to the road, and are very conspicuous. A small pan is present here as well (Z-05), and should be scanned, although less fished and more productive pans exist elsewhere. Follow a small footpath (Z-06) skirting the outside of this pan, parallel to the Zambezi River, as it meanders through thick and rank grass. These areas are again good for the above mentioned specials along with Black-winged Bishop, although the Basra Reed-Warbler is present only in the immediate vicinity of the river and is not common. This footpath can be followed for some distance as it bends to the left and heads towards Caia before arriving on the outskirts of large oxbow pond (Z-07). The edges of the oxbow lake should be searched for Allen’s Gallinule, and when the pan has lilies, Long-toed Lapwing and Lesser Jacana. Blue-spotted Wood-Dove is surprisingly common in this area, and is present wherever there are scattered bushes (such as at the base of the viewpoint), and sometimes can even be seen walking in the tarred road.

 

Zambezi River Boatman

 Zambezi River Boatsman.

The above-mentioned spots should give one a good introduction into the birding around Caia. The next spot involves heading back into Caia, and birding around a very productive pan. Follow the side road back to the EN1, and head south-west back towards Caia (opposite direction from which you came). Turn right (Z-08) on the main road into Caia (just before a new petrol station), and follow this road for a few hundred metres, until a prominent road comes out from the left (just after you cross after a railway line). Turn left here (Z-09). Follow this road south-westerly until you arrive at Hotel Caia (Z-10), opposite a large pan. Park off the road here, and start scanning the pan. Long-toed Lapwing, African Pygmy-Goose, Allen’s Gallinule (summer) and Lesser Jacana are regular. African Openbill and Pink-backed Pelican hunt over the open parts of the water, and various herons lurk in the reeds. Black-winged Bishop buzz over the edges, as do numerous small seed-eaters such as Red-billed Firefinch, Magpie Mannikin and Brimstone Canary. Watch for Blue-spotted Wood-Dove dashing from the road verges. Red-throated Twinspot can be found where thick bush and cover is present. The road can be followed for a few hundred metres further, where another section of this pan can be accessed from. At (Z-11), turn off to the left, into a thick clump of bush, towards the pan, and navigate your way down to the edge of the bush. Park your car within sight, and get out and walk along the edge of the pan, scanning for the above-mentioned species. Lesser Jacana is perhaps more regular on this section of the pan, while the Lapwing not so. Blue-spotted Wood-Dove is regularly present in this thicket, as is Red-throated Twinspot. It may also be worth watching for species such as Baillon’s Crake as well.

 

Pink-Backed Pelican

 Pink-Backed Pelican.

 

Another area that could be searched for some of the specials (if missed in above locations), is further back along then EN1, at the Zangue River Bridge. Head back towards the EN1 to the point (Z-08), where you will turn right and follow the road for 2.7km until you reach the Zangue River Bridge (Z-12). Park as far off the road as possible, and perhaps before you get on the actual bridge. Walk cautiously, keeping a vigilant lookout for passing motorists, and search the rank grassy areas here for Moustached Grass-Warbler. Short-winged Cisticola are also present, and scanning the tops of bushes, trees, and especially dead branches increases your chance for success. The Warbler requires a keen and knowledge of its liquid call, after which playback can be used. The true special of this area is, however, Basra Reed-Warbler (late summer). This is a rare species this far south, but in recent years, small numbers have been found reliably suggesting that it may be regular in these areas. Search especially reed-beds, and associated thickets for the Basra.

 

African Pygmy Kingfisher

 African Pygmy Kingfisher.

 

We will now make our way up to Villa de Sena, and GEZL (north of Sena). From the Zangue River Bridge, you will head up north to Caia, and turn left into Caia at point (Z-08). Follow the road straight for just under 300m and turn right at a prominent split in road (Z-13). You will then follow this road for 60km until you reach Villa de Sena (Z-17). The birding en-route is quite good, but hosts similar species as to those that can be encountered around Caia. These include Moustached Grass-Warbler, Copper Sunbird, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, African Mourning Dove, Comb Duck, Allen’s Gallinule (at small inundated pans) and various Cisticola’s (Short-winged, Rufous-winged and Croaking). A large difference is present in the raptors, with this road playing host to numerous raptors. Species that must be searched for (by watching the sky, and scanning the tops of roadside poles and tall trees) include both Southern and Western Banded Snake-Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Bateleur, Martial Eagle, White-headed and Hooded Vulture, Dark-chanting Goshawk, Dickinson’s Kestrel and African Marsh-Harrier. Should time permit, various sites are listed below that warrant further exploring: Z-14 – Open pasture – for species such as Yellow-throated Longclaw, Croaking Cisticola Z-15 – Good rank grassland/floodplain birding - for species such as Moustached Grass-Warbler. Z-16 – Interesting oxbow lakes (on the left) – for species such as Allen’s Gallinule.

 

emerald spotted dove

 Emerald-Spotted Wood-Dove.

 

On reaching Villa de Sena, keep on straight through the town (on the EN213) and drive for just over 10km, where you will come to a split in the road (Z-18) – keep right through the split. Travel just over 2km, and as the road turns to the left, keep straight on a small road with a signboard Tata Chemicals, that branches off to the right (Z-19). This is now GEZL property, and permission must be sought to be on the property. This can be done in advance via email/telephone contact (see details below). Follow this small track straight to the cane fields, and through them to the workshop (on the banks of the Zambezi River). You will need to have arranged access beforehand before being allowed in. After you have checked in, the managers will point in the right direction for the Bohm’s Bee-eaters, and other birding spots on the property. However, you can continue on the small track running parallel to the river, and park when you reach the last house (Z-20). Search the woodland between the cane fields and the Zambezi River for the Bohm’s Bee-eaters (Z-21). There are also a wealth of other bee-eater species present here, and seeing some of the other species often gets your heart racing. The Bee-eaters are very conspicuous as they fly overhead, calling loudly and regularly – you may just have to spend enough time in the woodland and you are sure to find them. There are also good riverine thickets around, and should be searched for Black-throated Wattle-eye, Collared Sunbird, Yellow-breasted Apalis, African Pygmy-Kingfisher and Red-billed Firefinch, amongst others. African Skimmer should be searched for along the sandy bars present on the river, and an eye must be kept open for raptors moving overhead – regulars include Martial Eagle, White-headed Vulture, African Fish-Eagle and Brown Snake-Eagle. Mosque Swallow are also regular overhead. This is the site where southern Africa’s only Red-tailed Shrike record comes from – the bird was present on the edge of the woodland and the cane fields, and was seen near where the pivots are located further on the property. Western Yellow Wagtail occur in summer on open patches of ground. It might be worth asking the managers if you can visit the pan located further up the property (Z-22). The floodplain associated with this pan may hold interesting species and may even include the likes of Blue Quail and various rallids. Not much birding has been done in this general area, and further exploration is bound to turn up many other interesting species.

 

pied kingfisher on perch

 Pied Kingfisher.

 

Additional information:
This route makes for some very exciting birding, as wetland birding generally is. The plethora of birds (and raptors) within the area is quite astonishing and the area does host some true specials, including the likes of Anchieta’s Tchagra, Moustached Grass-Warbler, Long-toed Lapwing, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, Basra Reed-Warbler and Bohm’s Bee-eater. The area is heavily populated, with the only signs of open ground occurring north of Villa de Sena. Caution is advised when out of your vehicle, and it is wise to keep your vehicle in your sight at all times, although crime is not an issue in these parts. The locals are friendly however, and willing to help should a problem arise.

 

Virtually no wild animals remain in the area (except Hippo and Crocodile in the Zambezi), but snakes do still occur. The nearest main town is Caia and it holds all the basic amenities one can need – from fuel to food and accommodation. Villa de Sena is a small town, and has some of the basic amenities. Before heading up north to Villa de Sena (from Caia) it is advised that you stock up on all necessary previsions (including fuel) as they can be tough to come by in these remote parts. If you wish to visit GEZL (for Bohm’s Bee-eater), you must make arrangements in advance – see details below. If heading up for the Bohm’s, it is worth overnighting with GEZL as it is a long drive from Caia.

 

Friendly mozambicans

Friendly Mozambican ladies crossing the bridge over the Zambezi.

 

Recommended accommodation:

M’phingwe Camp Bush Lodge A well-kept lodge that offers comfortable accommodation, and great meals seemingly in the middle of nowhere. M’phingwe camp is a supplementary section of the greater Catapu Forestry Concession. The staff compliment here are excellent, and most helpful. Please do not hesitate to ask them for further assistance on the directions to reach places, and any other current situation information. M’phingwe is a good base if one is birding just around Caia, and not heading up for the Bohm’s Bee-eaters.
Tel: +258 82 301 6436
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Website: http://www.mphingwe-catapu.com/
GPS: 18°02'24.8"S 35°12'07.9"E

 

GEZL – Grown Energy Zambeze Limitada
This is a private property, sugar cane farm, and permission must be sought beforehand to gain access to the property. They can offer accommodation to small groups, and will even prepare meals as well. Day visitors will have to pay a fee to gain access, and arrangements still need to be made beforehand. The managers are great, and most helpful! They will answer any questions you may have, and are also willing to point you in the direction of other potential good birding areas. This remote area is bound to host many other interesting species!
Tel: +258 82 5684590; +258 86 8189681
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
GPS: 17°19'56.2"S 34°58'42.0"E

 

Hotel Caia
This well-kept hotel is present on the western edge of Caia, and is on the edge of one of the very productive pans in the area – where Long-toed Lapwing and others can be seen from the front step. Due to all the water present in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, malaria is very likely here.
Tel: +258 23 710028
GPS: 17°50'22.1"S 35°19'42.0"E

 

african jacana

 African Jacana.

 

GPS Postitions:
- Z-01: Caia town. GPS: 17°49'44.2"S 35°20'17.9"E
- Z-02: Bear left off EN1. GPS: 17°49'25.1"S 35°22'32.2"E
- Z-03: Park your car here. GPS: 17°49'05.8"S 35°22'57.4"E
- Z-04: First area to search – grassy scrub. GPS: 17°49'08.3"S 35°22'59.1"E
- Z-05: Small pan. GPS: 17°49'05.9"S 35°22'53.8"E
- Z-06: Footpath. GPS: 17°49'05.0"S 35°22'57.2"E
- Z-07: Oxbow pond. GPS: 17°49'09.1"S 35°21'43.4"E
- Z-08: Turn right into Caia. GPS: 17°50'02.2"S 35°20'32.9"E
- Z-09: Turn left to pan (after railway crossing). GPS: 17°49'57.0"S 35°20'21.4"E
- Z-10: Hotel Caia – view of pan. GPS: 17°50'22.2"S 35°19'42.6"E
- Z-11: Turn left towards different section of pan. GPS: 17°50'45.5"S 35°19'21.4"E
- Z-12: Zangue River Bridge. GPS: 17°51'18.2"S 35°20'02.4"E
- Z-13: Turn right in Caia. GPS: 17°49'57.7"S 35°20'25.2"E
- Z-14: Open pasture. GPS: 17°39'12.8"S 35°09'18.2"E
- Z-15: Good floodplain birding. GPS: 17°33'09.7"S 35°05'00.3"E
- Z-16: Interesting oxbow lakes. GPS: 17°30'36.7"S 35°03'59.1"E
- Z-17: Villa de Sena. GPS: 17°26'48.3"S 35°01'50.5"E
- Z-18: Split in road – keep right. GPS: 17°22'10.4"S 34°58'38.7"E
- Z-19: GEZL entrance road – keep right. GPS: 17°20'50.1"S 34°58'20.4"E
- Z-20: Park your car here. GPS: 17°19'42.4"S 34°58'40.8"E
- Z-21: Bohm’s Bee-eater woodland. GPS: 17°19'40.1"S 34°58'41.6"E
- Z-22: Pan worth exploring. GPS: 17°19'44.0"S 34°58'18.3"E