GORONGOSA NATIONAL PARK, SOFALA PROVINCE:
This site incorporates both the actual Gorongosa National Park, along with the 12km entrance track, leading from the EN1 to the Park gates. This entrance track provides some of the best miombo birding possible in Mozambique, and due to it being out of the park, one is not restricted to the roads and your vehicle and you can go bounding away through miombo chasing the parties moving through – which is especially crucial in miombo birding. This entrance track plays host to some brilliant specials, and should be thoroughly birded in order to maximise the specials seen. For this site write-up, we will concentrate on the entrance track for the miombo woodland birding in the area. The National Park is very different to what is experienced on the entrance track, and consists of far greater degree of open woodland, and moist palm-savannah, along with obviously the large pan system of Urema.
This compliments the miombo woodland, and gives one a great birding experience. It must be noted that the park is closed during the wet season (usually mid-December to mid-April), and cannot be accessed during this period. Various game drives are offered by the Park, as well as various guided walks. These are also of obvious interest as they take visitors to areas not accessible to the general public, but do not hold much sway in terms of a unique birding environment. Please note that the entire area is host to large game (especially within the Park but also on the entrance track) and caution is advised when birding. The game also provides an added distraction for when the birding is slow! You are also not permitted to leave your vehicle except in designated areas once inside the Park. Besides a few summer visitors (such as Cuckoos, Nightjars, Rollers and Bee-eaters) the vast majority of the species are resident and can be sought throughout the year. Winter birding is generally tougher as the birds are not as vocal, but the influence of bird parties in the miombo is far greater as the majority of the species congregate within them. Early summer is the best in terms of birding, although late summer does have its rewards as well as species such as Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah have moulted into their breeding plumage, and many of the other birds are confiding. Regardless of when you plan on visiting, the birding is sure to be enjoyable!
Gorongosa National Park.
The miombo woodland along the entrance track is home to such specials as Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Green-backed Woodpecker, Arnot’s Chat, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Red-faced Crombec, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Green-capped Eremomela, Pale Batis, Grey Penduline-Tit, Retz’s Helmethshrike, Racket-tailed Roller, Red-winged Warbler, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Black-eared Seedeater and Cabanis’s Bunting. Raptors move both over the area, and through the woodland regularly and species that should be searched for include African Cuckoo-Hawk, Lesser Spotted Eagle (summer), Bateleur, White-headed Vulture, Martial Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, European Honey-Buzzard, Lizard Buzzard, Shikra, African Goshawk, Eurasian Hobby and Dickinson’s Kestrel. Brown-headed Parrot move speedily through the woodland, and Red-necked Spurfowl inhabit the grassy understorey. In summer the area is alive with cuckoos including, African Emerald, African, Thick-billed (present year-round), Jacobin and Common. Rollers are also well represented with Broad-billed being particularly conspicuous in summer. The road is adorned with Nightjars after dark (during summer) where the many European should be searched for the mythical Pennant-winged. All three Mannikina (Bronze, Red-backed and Magpie) occur where there is seeding grass, and the denser thickets (such as in the Gorongosa Adventures camp) harbour Red-throated Twinspot, Bearded Scrub-Robin and Eastern Nicator.
Once inside the park, the more open habitats harbour Red-necked Falcon and Dickinson’s Kestrel (in Lala-palm savannah), Senegal Lapwing, Red-necked Spurfowl, Short-winged Cisticola, Moustached Grass-Warbler (rank grassy areas) and Grey-rumped Swallow. Chitengo Camp within the Park is home to specifically Collared Palm-Thrush (also present in surrounding areas) and Black-and-White Flycatcher. The Urema Lake, and its associated flats and floodplains, and pans scattered throughout the Park hold some drastically different species, including Grey Crowned and Wattled Cranes, Collared Pratincoles, Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans, along with numerous Storks (including Saddle-billed), and then some smaller species such as Long-toed Lapwing, Greater Painted-Snipe, and various rallids. African Skimmer does occur as well. Lemon-breasted Canary occur on the outskirts of the floodplain, and Black Coucal occur in rank, grassy areas on the verge of the floodplain. The birding within the Park is very complimentary to the miombo birding experienced on the entrance track into the Park.
Coming from Gorongosa Town (G-01) travel just over 30km south of the EN1, until you see the turnoff to the Gorongosa National Park to the left (east) (G-02). Turn off onto the dirt road, and you are immediately swept into the first of the miombo woodland. As it goes with this habitat and birding style, the birds are wide ranging, and good birding can be had anywhere along the road, and so it pays to be aware of the birds and bird sounds around you at all times, and where there is a lot of activity, stop, and work the bird party moving through. This is definitely the best strategy to have (stopping wherever there are bouts of bird activity), but there are a few areas that seem to be slightly more reliable than others. In summer, the mature trees ring with the calls of African Emerald Cuckoos and Broad-billed Rollers, and one bird that is surprisingly (and rather thankfully) common throughout this entire area is Red-winged Warbler. This is a tough Mozambican special to get, but the grassy understorey to the miombo woodland in this area plays host to numerous individuals – and they can be sought virtually along the entire length of the road. Learn their call, and listen for it for they are rather common! The first initial section (800m) is good for Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah in late summer, when males sit atop the trees and display over clearing in the woodland. The first patch of normally productive woodland (G-03) is set amongst mature, large trees and species in this area often include White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Pale Batis, Southern Hyliota, Red-headed Weaver, African Cuckoo, Red-faced Crombec, African Golden Oriole, Retz’s Helmetshrike and Stierling’s Wren-Warbler. One species in particular that often signals a party moving through is Southern Black Tit. Listen for the typical grating call of the tits, and then move towards the call. It must also be noted that this birding can be tough and slow, and patience is the key to successfully birding this habitat.
Next off, we move to an area known as the ‘Quarry’. This particular area is home to very mature woodland, and houses an incredible selection of species – many of which are reliable in the area. Continuing along the track, take an inconspicuous turning off to the left (G-04), and follow it to a small clearing (G-05) – park your car in this clearing. You will note the quarry (G-06), or what remains of it on the left. You will also become aware of the incredible size of the trees in the area. This is probably the most productive spot for the miombo woodland birding, and spending enough time around this area, will definitely yield results. The main specials of this area is Arnot’s Chat, a few pairs of which lay scattered throughout the area. Listen for the high-pitched “seeeeeeeeeuuuuiii” call of this species, and look for them perching inconspicuously in the lower parts of the canopy. Also watch for flashes of white, as they change perches. Racket-tailed Roller is another special of this area, and listen for them giving their raucous dueting. They also sometimes perch on trees overhanging the main road, and then suddenly drop to the ground, only to move back up to their perch in the canopy.
Rank grasslands and palm woodlands.
The dead trees within the actual quarry (G-06) are used as perches for many species including Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Black-eared Seedeater and Cabanis’s Bunting. A resident pair of Southern Hyliota caress this area, and are often joined by Western Violet-backed Sunbird. A great trick for these two species in particular is to watch the canopy for movement, and then when picked up, latch onto the movement with your bino’s. Helmetshrikes are common in this area, and Retz’s and White-crested regularly feature in parties. Green-capped Eremomela is another regular member of bird parties, and along with Southern Black Tit, is one of the key indicator species that a party is moving through the area. The best way to bird in this patch of woodland is to walk slowly through the woodland (such as towards G-07), listening for any signs of bird activity, and when activity is detected, walk towards that activity, and spend time working through the various members of the party, before is all but dissipates, and you must begin the process over again. This is also a great spot to have a quick snack after an early morning birding session – take out the camping chairs, and relax in the shade of these mature trees and watch the birds come alive above you.
If the above mentioned area is slow, and there is not much bird activity, drive on a few hundred metres until (G-08). Stop well off the road, and walk into the woodland (G-09), and bird in these parts. This areas holds very similar species, and many of the same species can be sought here as well (although not as reliably as the ‘Quarry’). The other normally productive patch of woodland is at (G-10). You will note that the woodland has already started changing, and is now a more mixed woodland habitat. Still the large, mature trees attract White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Southern Hyliota, Pale Batis, Grey Penduline-Tit, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Cardinal, Bearded, Green-backed and what is probably the most sough-after special in these parts, Speckle-throated Woodpecker. The Woodpecker is still a largely unknown species, and many facets of its life are not fully understood – regardless, it is one of the primary specials of any Mozambican tour and should be carefully sought out. Following up on any Woodpecker tapping in the area will likely produce results, as will listening for its fast call, similar to the Bennett’s Woodpecker. Miombo Blue-eared Starling also occur in the area, but range far and wide and are very unpredictable. Search any seeding grassy areas for all three Mannikins (Bronze, Red-backed and Magpie), and other small seedeaters. Throughout this area, one can also expect your typical woodland species, such as Black-crowned Tchagra, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Kurrichane Thrush, Brubru, Eastern Nicator, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Crowned Hornbill, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Ashy Flycatcher, and various Kingfishers (such as Grey-headed, Striped and Woodland).
After 8km, you will see a prominent turnoff to the right (G-11), just before an old building. This track leads to Gorongosa Adventures camp, run by Sakkie Van Zyl. The camp is a brilliant spot to bird, and his knowledge of the area is impressive. It is a highly recommended accommodation option. If one is staying here, there are numerous resident owls within the camp, including African Wood-Owl, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Western Barn Owl, and African Scops-Owl (especially in the surrounding woodland). The camp also often has Green-backed Woodpecker in. In addition, dense thickets located in the camp (such as at G-12) are host to Red-throated Twinspot, Bearded Scrub-Robin and Eastern Nicator.
Heading on now towards to the Gorongosa National Park, a prominent grassy river is crossed (G-13). Search the rank growth for Red-faced Cisticola, and the surrounding woodland for Green-backed Woodpecker, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler and Trumpeter Hornbill. Just before the gates are reached, you will note a track leading off to the right (G-14). Follow this track for roughly 3.5km until you reach a view point over the Pungwe River (G-15). The view from here is magic, and makes for a very picturesque sundowner! Shikra and Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah are regular on this road to viewpoint. This is also a good place to observe raptors, and a keen eye will turn up several species. Scan the river for any signs of life, and species may include several herons/egrets/kingfishers. Make your way back towards the Park entrance gate.
Heading through the National Park’s gates (G-16), you will initially pass through similar miombo/mixed woodland as on the entrance track (with similar results as discussed above), and after roughly 4km you enter into more open areas, comprising of Lala-palm savannah, and open woodland. Chief species that need to be sought here are Red-necked Falcon, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Collared Palm-Thrush (only where there is sufficient woodland) and Moustached Grass-Warbler. Also watch out for seedeaters feeding in these open areas – species may include Magpie Mannikin, and numerous Firefinches and Waxbills. One such area to search for the Grass Warbler is in the rank grass present at point (G-17). Continuing further along, search the dense thickets located at (G-18; G-19) for the above mentioned Lala-palm specials (especially Collared Palm-Thrush). The Palm-Thrush can be surprisingly difficult to locate, and the best method is to perhaps watch for a dash of tawny which will signal it moving new perches. Playback usually works with limited results. Another good area to search for the Falcon/Kestrel is on the final stretch just before Chitengo Camp (G-20).
Upon arriving in Chitengo Camp (G-21), depending on whether you are staying the night (see details below), you can check in. If you are not staying the night, it is still probably worth checking in to reception, and finding out the conditions of the roads within the reserve, and which roads are open – the rainy season often results in the closing of the roads within the reserve. It is also worth spending time around the camp, as it too harbours some great species – most notably Black-and-White Flycatcher. This is a scarce Mozambican bird that is tough to find as the best of times, and a pair seem to be regular visitors (and perhaps even resident!). Listen for the sharp “whit-cheeu” call of this bird, and then search the upper reaches of the trees, for they favour the canopy and not the understorey as in many of the other Flycatchers. Also watch for their weak, butterfly-type flight over clearings and openings. If Collared Palm-Thrush is missed in the earlier areas, it can again be sought in the camp.
Fever Tree Acacias line a quite stream within the National Park.
The public network of tracks/roads within the park is not very extensive, and many of the routes can be closed. After checking in with reception, and finding out which roads are open, the next area that needs to be birded is the flats associated with the Urema floodplain, and the numerous waterholes scattered throughout the park. Once again, there are more Lala-palm areas, along with fever tree forests. Take the Picada 1 road north out of Chitengo (searching the airstrip just to the north of camp for Senegal Lapwing), and follow for 12,3km until the Picada 4 road is reached to the right (G-22). You will bypass 2 roads leading off to the right before reaching this road. Initially you will pass through similar open woodlands as seen before Chitengo, but soon the area opens out onto the flats and floodplains associated with the Urema Lake. Search the open areas for numerous Collared Pratincoles, various duck species, Grey Crowned and Wattled Cranes, and various Lapwings and the tall grassy areas for specials such as Moustached Grass-Warbler, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Red-faced Cisticola and even Anchieta’s Tchagra (often present where grassy areas and bush combine). The Tchagra is notoriously inconspicuous, and can be very difficult to find. The best option is to slowly drive along (scanning the surrounding vegetation regularly), watching for them perching within the grass, or on prominent grass stalks. Also watch for the typical Tchagra-like display flight where the bird flies up into the sky, and slowly bounds down, calling. Should thick, rank growth occur, Black Coucal should also be sought, and can often be seen flying lazily over the grassy areas, or perched conspicuously atop grass clumps. At the point (G-22), scan any open bodies of water for various waterfowl, herons, egrets, pelican and storks, before turning right.
After turning right, continue straight along the Picada 4 road (bypassing the Picada 6 road shortly after to the right), and continue working your way towards the Urema Lake. You will pass through areas of open bush, and then associated floodplains again, before reaching largely palm-dominated areas. Search these open parts for various game (many of which congregate around the floodplain edge) along with numerous raptors. The palms must be searched for small raptors (such as Red-necked Falcon), while keep an eye trained upwards for raptors flying overhead, which may include several vulture species, and numerous Eagles. It is also worth watching out for Western Banded Snake-Eagle, which has been reported several times from the immediate vicinity. Further along, bypass another road that goes to the right, and at (G-23) turn left towards the floodplain. Follow this road as it opens out with a view over the lark (G-24), and is one of the better spots to view the floodplain, although at times it can be quite distant. Scan for the above mentioned water-birds, including African Skimmer which occur on the Lake. Where patches of flooded grass occurs, Greater Painted-Snipe should be sought, as should various rallids such as Baillon’s and African Crakes, Lesser Moorhen and Allen’s Gallinule. Large rafts of Pelican (comprising both species) are often visible on the lake. The Lala-palm-savannah scattered throughout this area around the edges of the floodplain play host to Lemon-breasted Canary. They are often in flocks, and are normally very conspicuous, perching atop the palm fronds.
Great White Pelican.
After having birded around the Lake, and its associated floodplains, a few waterholes can be found en-route back to camp. These are at (G-25; G-26). The various waterfowl, herons, egrets and others can be expected here, and should conditions be suitable, so can various rallids (such as crakes, snipes, moorhens and gallinules). A fever tree forest can also be located just south of the floodplain (G-27), and plays hosts to Racket-tailed Roller during winter – this species moves into the more open areas during the winter months and are particularly tolerant of fever trees. Your typical subtropical species can also be expected, ranging from various Robins, to Helmetshrikes and all in between.
The Gorongosa area has been uprooted by political strife over recent years, and is often the cause of some tension with the locals. The area is considered safe, but the possibility of wild game does exist outside the Park, and when walking through the miombo woodland on the outside, one must be observant. The park is closed during certain periods of the year (mid-December, to mid-April), and your visit must be planned accordingly. One must be aware that certain roads within the National Park may be closed, and you must find out from reception which roads are open before setting off. The Park does offer guided walks and game drives, along with a restaurant and comfortable accommodation. The closest town is Gorongosa, some 30km to the north (from Gorongosa Adventures), or some 60km to the north (from Chitengo Camp), and here you can find food, fuel, ATMs amongst others.
Female Comb Duck.
Gorongosa Adventures This rustic campsite is set within productive miombo woodland, on the entrance track to Gorongosa National Park, some 50-odd km’s from the Gorongosa town. It is run by Sakkie Van Zyl (along with his family), and he has a partnership with the local Nhambita community that helps promote avitourism in the area, as well as educate the locals about the importance of conservation. They arrange trips into the National Park, and have much experience in birding in the general area. Pre-made meals, along with dinners can be arranged. The woodland in the immediate vicinity of their camp hosts some top birds, such as Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Southern Hyliota and White-breasted Cuckooshrike.
Tel: +258 82 994 4048
GPS: 18°58'48.0"S 34°10'36.3"E
Chitengo Camp, Gorongosa National Park:
Chitengo is the main camp located within the Gorongosa National park, slightly further along the track than Gorongosa Adventures. It is not as rustic as Gorongosa Adventures, and has numerous chalets and bungalows to choose from. A restaurant is available in the camp. The camp itself is host to many great species, such as Black-and-White Flycatcher and Collared Palm-Thrush.
Tel: +258 82 308 2252 or +258 235 30122
GPS: 18°58'46.4"S 34°21'04.4"E
- G-01: Gorongosa Town. GPS: 18°40'57.7"S 34°04'14.3"E
- G-02: Turn-off from EN1. GPS: 18°56'01.2"S 34°07'59.2"E
- G-03: First patch of productive woodland. GPS: 18°56'31.4"S 34°09'07.9"E
- G-04: Turn-off to ‘Quarry’. GPS: 18°56'40.2"S 34°09'40.3"E
- G-05: Park your car here. GPS: 18°56'38.5"S 34°09'41.6"E - G-06: Quarry. GPS: 18°56'37.8"S 34°09'39.8"E
- G-07: Good woodland to walk to. GPS: 18°56'32.0"S 34°09'51.0"E
- G-08: Additional patch of woodland – stop here. GPS: 18°56'54.8"S 34°09'54.9"E
- G-09: Walk towards here. GPS: 18°56'55.5"S 34°10'04.5"E
- G-10: Productive patch of mixed woodland. GPS: 18°57'57.8"S 34°10'09.7"E
- G-11: Turnoff to Gorongosa Adventures. GPS: 18°58'42.9"S 34°10'48.3"E
- G-12: Dense thickets in camp. GPS: 18°58'50.6"S 34°10'33.6"E
- G-13: Grassy river crossing. GPS: 18°58'49.2"S 34°11'00.2"E
- G-14: Track leading to River view. GPS: 18°59'59.6"S 34°12'02.2"E
- G-15: View point over Pungwe River. GPS: 19°01'22.5"S 34°10'50.2"E
- G-16: Gorongosa National Park entrance gate. GPS: 19°00'00.8"S 34°12'04.5"E
- G-17: Moustached Grass-Warbler – rank grass spots. GPS: 19°00'35.8"S 34°15'43.6"E
- G-18: Dense Thickets/Palm Savannah. GPS: 18°59'47.8"S 34°18'04.4"E
- G-19: Dense Thickets/Palm Savannah. GPS: 18°59'36.3"S 34°18'40.7"E
- G-20: Open palm savannah. GPS: 18°59'05.5"S 34°20'26.9"E
- G-21: Chitengo Camp. GPS: 18°58'46.4"S 34°21'04.4"E
- G-22: Picada 4 road turnoff. Turn right. GPS: 18°53'20.4"S 34°23'35.2"E
- G-23. Turn left for Lake View. GPS: 18°54'26.8"S 34°26'48.5"E
- G-24.View over Lake Urema. GPS: 18°54'18.6"S 34°27'26.4"E
- G-25. Waterhole 1. GPS: 18°55'16.9"S 34°25'59.5"E
- G-26. Waterhole 2. GPS: 18°56'39.3"S 34°26'35.6"E
- G-27. Fever tree forest. GPS: 18°54'42.2"S 34°26'05.4"E