Published on 28 May 2014
Written by Dylan Vasapolli/Birding Ecotours

CATAPU, SOFALA PROVINCE:

 

Catapu refers to a large forestry concession situated in the dry lowland forests north of Inhamitanga. This concession covers a mammoth 25,000 hectares which is devoted to forestry, and a further 9,960 hectare safari/wilderness area. The game that are present on the land are all nomadic, and pass through the area from time to time. These have included the likes of Elephant and Lion. Catapu concession is centred at M’phingwe Bush Camp, which is discussed further below. The primary habitat present is that of dry, lowland forest. This consist of large, well-developed ‘dry’ forests. As a result of these well-developed trees located within, the lowland forests are particularly targeted by foresters. This has seen large scale destruction of similar forest sites elsewhere, no better example than the once legendary Chinizua Forest – now virtually non-existent compared to its former grandeur.

 

The importance of the Catapu concession comes in here. They are present to manage the forestry in a sustainably manner, and are ultimately there to preserve the longevity of these forests. This bodes well for the prosperity of birds within these dry forests. Other habitats present on Catapu include mixed woodland, open lala-palm savannah, and scattered floodplains along the Zangue River. During summer, the area becomes very humid and temperatures reach above 50°C, not to mention the exceptional growth in the vegetation with the roadside grass often towering over 2m high. Winter and the dry season bring with a milder climate, and more stable weather conditions. The birding during both the summer and winter periods can be equally rewarding, although the winter birding does tend to be slow-going and slightly tougher than during the summer. Of course, the absolutely best time to visit is shortly after the first rains have fallen, which is usually around the last week of November/first week of December. Not only are many of the species vocal during this breeding period, but one of the main draw-cards of the area arrives and promptly begin displaying – the African Pitta.

 

Birdwatching around Catapu

Birdwatching around Catapu.

 

Red-Capped Robin Chat

Red-Capped Robin-Chat.

Birds

The primary birding habitat on the land is that of the lowland forests, and surrounding mixed woodland. The lowland forests harbour some truly brilliant species and the long list includes; Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Ayres’ Hawk-Eagle, African Cuckoo-Hawk, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Green Malkoha, Narina Trogon, African Broadbill, African Pitta, Mangrove Kingfisher, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, African Golden Oriole, Tiny and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Black-headed Apalis, Black-and-white Flycatcher (previously called Vanga Flycatcher), Woodward’s Batis, all three southern African Helmetshrikes (Chestnut-fronted, White-crested and Retz’s), and both Green and Red-throated Twinspot. East Coast Akalat and White-chested Alethe require very pristine and mature patches of lowland forest, and may be sought out in the deeper reaches of the concession – but these areas are difficult to access on Catapu.

 

The mixed woodland that immediately surrounds these lowland forest hold amongst others; the rovuma subspecies of Crested Francolin, Grey-headed Parrot, Thrush Nightingale (only in spiny, very dense tangles), Red-winged Warbler, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Red-faced Crombec, Pale Batis, Mosque Swallow, Orange-winged Pytilia and Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah. M’phingwe Bush Camp is situated on the convergence of relatively pristine dry forest, and the mixed woodland. Although the dry forest features more prominently and hence giving M’phingwe a far greater range of the typical forest species, some of the woodland species do sneak in. Birds to be found here include the likes of Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Narina Trogon, African Broadbill, African Pitta (regular), Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Tiny Greenbul and Red-throated Twinspot. African Wood-Owl and African Barred Owlet are resident in the camp.

 

The open lala-palm savannah found on the floodplain associated with the Zangue River in the north of the concession hosts Short-winged Cisticola, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Black-winged Bishop, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, White-headed Vulture and Red-necked Spurfowl. The actual floodplain verges when under water play host to Allen’s Gallinule, Long-toed Lapwing, Purple Heron and African Openbill. Basra Reed-Warbler occurs here at the southern limit of its range, and is present on the floodplain verges.

 

Male Tambourine Dove

Male Tambourine Dove.

 Directions

Catapu is located just off the EN1, some 200km north of Gorongosa town, and 30km south of Caia. A prominent sign advertises M’phingwe Camp and Catapu (C-03). Coming from the Gorongosa end on the EN1, pass the turnoff to Inhamitanga, and continue for roughly 10km. You will then see the large sign stating M’phingwe Camp and Catapu. Turn off to the right and drive slowly through the initial forest patches. A few hundred metres down the road, turn to the left and follow the road towards the reception. Virtually all birders base themselves here at M’phingwe during their stays to central Mozambique and it is a highly recommended venue.

 

Once checked in, the first birding area is some of the lowland forest that converges with the surrounding woodland (C-04). This is in the immediate vicinity of Mphingwe camp – you can walk/drive back towards the main EN1, and stop at Cabin 25 (C-05). You might need to ask reception how to get here. Park here, and check to see if there are guests staying, if there are, politely ask permission to quickly navigate around the Cabin to get into the forests that lie between the cabin and the EN1. There is a small footpath that can be followed into the forest, but it disappears quickly. Spend time slowly and stealthily walking through the forest. The chief special of this exact area is African Pitta. Listen for the scraping of the leaves and follow up on any soft ‘running’. Please note that small game do persist and snakes are a real possibility. It is also rather easy to get lost in these forest patches, no matter how small, so it is best to take a handheld GPS that can be used to get one to a meeting point/road. Narina Trogon, Livingstone’s Flycatcher and Chestnut-fronted Helmethshrike must also be sought here. Silvery-cheeked Hornbill often fly overhead. It might also be worth speaking to James ‘Ant’ White who runs the operation at M’phingwe. He is busy developing other routes to follow further south into the concession, and is very willing to help those explore new parts of the land – these include some parts of the lowland forest that hold White-chested Alethe and East Coast Akalat. Aside from the Pitta, the majority of the other species can be found by following up on bird parties. Listen for the soft, sweet melodies of Livingstone’s Flycatcher, and the distinct bill-clapping of the Helmetshrikes. These are two key species and often mean that a party is in the immediate vicinity. Spend time working through the party as a multitude of species are sure to be seen.

 

The following route leads up to the Zangue River Floodplain north of the camp, and is on the boundary of the concession. Head back towards the main EN1, and continue directly over it in a northerly direction (C-06). The northern side of the EN1 is littered with numerous spiny tangles and it is here where the reclusive Thrush Nightingale occurs (C-07). Although they can be very vocal, the nature of these spiny tangles does make them quite literally impossible to see. However, should one be found in a tangle that is not very dense, patience and stealth should become the order of the day as you attempt to get views of this reclusive bird. Continuing back to the track, the next 5km or so lead through differing patches of dry lowland forest. The open areas should be scoured for passers-by, and the high canopy should be sought for denizens such as Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill and Black-and-White Flycatcher. Listen out for Livingstone’s Flycathcer – their excited call normally signals a party moving through. Two good areas to get out and bird (with a wide road verge) are; (C-08; C-09). At both of these points, get out your vehicle and simply work the surrounding forest. African Broadbill and Narina Trogon call regularly. African Barred Owlet sometimes entices other birds to come for a closer look! As the forest is quite dense here, the best method is to slowly walk along the track, following up on all the various calls. There are small footpaths leading into the forest at points, and these can be followed, but birding within here is tough, due to the numerous low bushes that then actually block the canopy.

 

Yellow-Bellied Greenbul

Yellow-Bellied Greenbul.

 

The forest track can be remarkably narrow with the overgrown bushes and trees often sticking out into the road. A few more kilometres down the track an opening forms and a small ephemeral pan is visible (C-10). This signals the start of the traditional mixed woodland of central Mozambique, which comprises of a mix between Miombo and Broad-leaved woodlands. When inundated, the pan may hold exciting species, and the surrounding grassy areas may even deliver Blue Quail! It is worth spending some time birding around this pan, and the surrounding woodland harbours entirely different species to those encountered so far on the route. Roughly 1,5km further along, in a tongue of open woodland, stop your vehicle and work the woodland (C-11). The dense grassy understorey gives some additional life to the birds present. As an example, Red-winged Warbler are conspicuous! Lesser Seedcracker should be searched for, and perhaps the best method is to watch for birds feeding in the road, when the grass is seeding.

 

Nearing the Zangue River, you will start noticing small local huts start springing up. Black-and-white Flycatcher and Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah occurs in these areas where the cultivated lands border on the woodland. The Flycatcher is vocal, and always feeding in the canopy – look for their slow, fluttery flight as they move between trees resembling a butterfly. They Whydah only become conspicuous in January when the males moult into breeding plumage, and then adorn the tops of dead trees in small flocks – sometimes numbering 30 or more. Before long, you will come to a fork in the road (C-12). Heading left at the fork takes one through the outskirts of the village, and into more disturbed woodland. This track can be followed for a few kilometres until it open out on a portion of the Zangue River Floodplain (C-13). But please note that the track leading down here may be impassable at times, especially after rains. From (C-13), you can park your car and walk out onto the floodplain in front of you. Search for oxbow lakes, and other depressions in the floodplain where your typical wetland species may be seen. Head back towards the split in the road (C-12), and this time continue straight (as if approaching the fork from the route described above, turn right). Continue through the village (it can be quite awkward as you manoeuvre through the centre of the village), but aim for this point (C-14), which is the start of the track leading towards another portion of the floodplain. This track is also fairly rugged and it can be regularly discerned that virtually no vehicles travel here. This track can be followed up a few kilometres until you come to a clearing in the bush with some fever trees present (C-15). This offers more exciting woodland birding, although with a tropical feel. Search here for Broad-billed Roller, African Golden and Eurasian Golden Orioles and Bearded Scrub-Robin.

 

From this clearing back track towards the village (C-12), and very close to the village follow a small, inconspicuous track north towards the Zangue River (C-16). If coming from the (C-15) clearing, this will be to the right. Follow it briefly for a few hundred metres before it all but disappears and opens out into a maze of footpaths (C-17). Follow the ‘main’ footpath north towards the river, skirting the numerous fields located around here. Once out of the scrub, you will come out onto lala-palm plains, with the Zangue River Floodplain visible in the distance. Once again, an entirely different suite of birds can be expected here, first and foremost amongst them are the numerous Short-winged Cisticola’s. Raptors and various other large birds regularly move overhead, and watch out for Marabou Stork, White-headed Vulture, Southern and Western Banded Snake-Eagles and (African) Crowned Eagle. Continue walking along the footpath until you arrive at the Zangue River and its associated oxbow lakes (C-18). Here one can scan for Long-toed Lapwing, Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Jacana and many other exciting specials. If one can climb a vista here, the full extent of this floodplain can be seen, and the lure as to what is out there will hopefully force further exploration. The area to the north of this looks the most promising. You can return back to your vehicle and make your way back to M’phingwe camp.

 

Male Green-Winged Pytilia

Male Green-Winged Pytilia.

 Additional information

The route can be rather intricate, especially with the numerous small tracks that need to be followed. However, some pre-work before venturing to the area should come in very handy and with the co-ordinates provided you should never be far from the right track. When walking in the dry lowland forest, please be very aware and take note exactly where your vehicle is/or where your ‘meeting point’ is. It is very easy to get lost whilst birding in the thick forests. The area in general is not very populated, and only near the Zangue River in the north do you encounter the first of the villages. The people are friendly and can often help point one in the right direction. This area is considered safe. Be aware of wild animals whilst out. The closest town is Caia, which is located 30km further north along the EN1. Here fuel, food, ATMs and accommodation can be sought.

 

Scaly-Throated Honeyguide

Scaly-Throated Honeyguide.

 

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, especially when it comes to the latest conditions of the various roads mentioned in the route above. Please do not hesitate to ask them for further assistance on the directions to reach places, and perhaps even the possibility of additional exploration.
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

 

Female African Paradise Flycatcher

Female African Paradise Flycatcher.

 

GPS Positions

- C-01: Gorongosa Town. GPS: 18°40'57.4"S 34°04'14.3"E

- C-02: Caia Town. GPS: 17°50'01.5"S 35°20'33.0"E

- C-03: Turnoff towards M’phingwe Camp from EN1. GPS: 18°02'21.7"S 35°11'41.4"E

- C-04: General forest area of the above-mentioned route. GPS: 18°02'23.9"S 35°11'52.1"E

- C-05: Cabin 25 – where can start. GPS: 18°02'27.9"S 35°11'58.9"E

- C-06: Start of the track leading to Zangue River Floodplain. GPS: 18°02'21.3"S 35°11'40.6"E - C-07: Thrush Nightingale thickets. GPS: 18°02'50.8"S 35°10'59.6"E

- C-08: First productive point to stop and bird in forest. GPS: 18°01'20.3"S 35°10'21.5"E

- C-09: Second productive point to stop and bird. GPS: 18°01'03.2"S 35°09'42.8"E

- C-10: Ephemeral Pan. GPS: 18°00'06.2"S 35°09'09.6"E

- C-11: Good woodland patch. GPS: 17°59'09.1"S 35°09'03.2"E

- C-12: Fork in the road. GPS: 17°58'44.9"S 35°08'26.9"E

- C-13: Lower section of Zangue River Floodplain. GPS: 18°00'22.8"S 35°07'02.2"E

- C-14: Track leading from village to northern section of Zangue River Floodplain. GPS: 17°58'39.0"S 35°08'25.1"E

- C-15: Open clearing with fever trees. GPS: 17°58'01.0"S 35°09'09.4"E

- C-16: Track leading to upper Zangue River Floodplain section. GPS: 17°58'25.4"S 35°08'32.5"E

- C-17: Park here and walk further onto Floodplain. GPS: 17°58'15.6"S 35°08'26.3"E

- C-18: Zangue River, and oxbow lakes. GPS: 17°57'55.5"S 35°08'04.1"E

 

Mixed woodlands and grasslands around Catapu

Mixed woodlands and grasslands around Catapu.