INHAMITANGA, SOFALA PROVINCE:
Inhamitanga is a small village located some 30km or so south of Caia. The birding route described as Inhamitanga includes a number of different areas, all located within the immediate vicinity of the village. These include the productive mixed woodlands and cultivated areas between the EN1 and Inhamitanga, along with the dry lowland forests lining the Inhamitanga to Marromeu road, and the famed Coutada 12 – which has a very complementary mixture of dry lowland forest, and grassy miombo woodland.
Situated near the southern boundary of the Catapu concession, these routes do offer similar pickings as to what can be found at Catapu (discussed in detail on a different site), but differ in that the lowland forest is more mature and pristine, hence giving easier access to prime White-chested Alethe and East Coast Akalat habitat. The area is rugged, and besides M’phingwe Camp and Caia, virtually no facilities and amenities exist. The area is open for animals to pass through at will, and is evident especially in Coutada 12 – which is actually a hunting concession. The hunting concession is generally ‘active’ during the dry season only, and it is worth speaking to James White at M’phingwe to gauge whether there is any activity currently on the go within the Coutada. As regards seasonality – early summer, just after the first rains which is normally around the end of November/beginning of December is the best time to visit. The birds are vocal, the forest is not too dense and African Pitta, amongst other European and Intra-African migrants, have arrived and are displaying. Winter too, has its blessings – one of which is the confiding nature the birds develop. The climate is milder and generally more stable, and less prone to excessive rains as happens during the summer.
The area around Inhamitanga is home to incredible hardwood trees.
Black-Bellied Glossy Starling.
The primary birding habitat throughout the greater Inhamitanga area is that of dry lowland forest. There are numerous specials here, and they include; Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, an assortment of cuckoos including Lesser, Madagascar and Barred Long-tailed, African Broadbill, African Pitta, Tiny Greenbul, an isolated pocket of Yellow-streaked Greenbuls, White-chested Alehte, East Coast Akalat, Black-headed Apalis, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Chestnut-fronted Helmethshrike, Plain-backed Sunbird and Green and Red-throated Twinpost’s. Of course, there are many more widespread species that occur as well, such as; Tambourine Dove, Narina Trogon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Livingstone’s Turaco, Green Malkoha, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Woodward’s Batis and Black-bellied Starling.
The well-developed miombo woodland located between patches of lowland forest is home to African Cuckoo-Hawk, Grey- and Brown-headed Parrots, Common Cuckoo, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, European Nightjar, Green-backed and Speckle-throated Woodpeckers, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Southern Hyliota, Red-winged Warbler (where the woodland has a grassy understorey), and Lesser Seedcracker. The undeniable and most ‘mouth-watering’ of the species however, goes to Yellow-bellied Hyliota. This highly prized denizen is very scattered south of the Zambezi River, and as a result is very sought after by southern African birders. The bird is by no means regular, but the only valid reports of it south of the Zambezi have been in these miombo pockets. The cultivated areas and surrounding mixed woodland play host to Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah, Orange-winged Pytilia, Zambezi Indigobird, Black-and-white Flycatcher, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Short-winged Cisticola and Southern Carmine Bee-eater (summer).
We will deal with this route in three sections:
1 – The EN1 to Inhamitanga
2 – The Inhamitanga to Marromeu road
3 – The Coutada 12 track
1: The EN1 to Inhamitanga Logically, as many use M’phingwe Camp (discussed further below) as a base, we begin the route here. Located some 30km south of Caia, and 200km north of Gorongosa, leave M’phingwe and travel down the EN1 south towards Gorongosa. The area around the radio mast that is just off the highway, a few kilometres south of M’phingwe signals the start of the better roadside birding here. A good area to begin is near the radio mast (I-03). The left (southern) side of the road is shrouded in thick lowland forest, and makes birding tough, but the right (northern) side is open for large portions, providing good birding. Broad-billed Roller, African Green-Pigeon, African Golden Oriole and both Common and African Cuckoos adorn the numerous exposed perches. Keep a beady eye (and ear) out for Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo traversing the road, and perched inconspicuously in the upper canopy of the trees. Silvery-cheeked Hornbills pass overhead regularly, and Zambezi Indigobird sing from the roadside wires at numerous points. The Indigobirds are tough to conclusively ID, but a combination of the call and plumage characteristics normally result in the correct ID. Raptors too make use of the large trees around with Southern Banded Snake-Eagle being regular; Dickingon’s Kestrel housing a nest (I-04) on the northern side of the road; and African Cuckoo-Hawk being a dead-cert. It is best to drive this section slowly, watch out for activity in the canopies, and when you do stop – be sure to pull off as far as possible and be aware of others on the highway.
Roughly 12km south of M’phingwe, you will come to a prominent sign indicating “Inhamitanga” (I-05). Turn left (to the south) and follow this dirt road through the mix of cultivated land and mixed woodland. A few hundred metres down (I-06) stop and scan the tops of the scattered trees in the cultivated fields for Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah. The birds are frequently seen in this area, as groups of males display over the fields. Watch out for their hosts, Orange-winged Pytilia which are never far from the Whydah’s. Southern Carmine Bee-eaters regularly hunt over the fields. Keep travelling down. If the Zambezi Indigobird is missed on the main highway, these open areas around the cultivated lands are another option. Travel down a few kilometres until you notice that the woodland becomes much denser, and takes on a more lowland forest feel. African Crowned Eagle breed in a large tree on the left (I-07), and this area is also favoured by Mangrove Kingfishers to breed. From here until the bridge crossing a few kilometres down the road (I-08), is a good area to search for Black-and-white Flycatcher. On the left in particular, you will note strange ‘baobab’-type trees – with a long, thick stem, and a sprout of branches at the top (which in turn have long thin stems and big round leaves). These trees are favoured by the Flycatchers, and it is worth listening for their piercing call from the tops of the trees. Also, take note of their flight pattern - a strange, slow-flying bird vaguely resembling a butterfly, as they regularly catch one’s attention floating over the road. Thickets in these areas should be search for Green Malkoha. This species’ loud, characteristic call is the surest way to find it.
From the bridge (I-08) until Inhamitanga marks the start of the open, mixed woodlands. The bridge itself is home to nesting Wire-tailed Swallows, and Red-winged Warbler are regular in the surrounding grass. Birding can be done anywhere along the road, and the best option is to drive slowly along listen for birds, and when some are encountered, stop and work the immediate area. White-crested and Retz’s Helmetshrikes regularly move through – their Chestnut-fronted counterpart not do often leave the lowland forests; and Red-faced Crombe, Pale Batis, Yellow-throated Petronia and White-breasted Cuckooshrike are frequent amongst bird parties. Watch for Mosque Swallow moving over the woodland. You soon reach the village of Inhamitanga (I-09). From here you can follow Route 2 described below.
2: Inhamitanga to Marromeu road From Inhamitanga (I-09), one must take road 213, in an easterly direction – towards the Zambezi River. In Inhamitanga, you will see a prominent road heading to the left signposted “Marromeu”. Sadly, this road has been blocked for a while now, and an alternative exists further down the track. At point (I-10) turn left, cross over the railway line, and then left again. Continue up here for a few hundred metres, and at (I-11) turn right. This is the start of the Inhamitanga-Marromeu road. The first few hundred metres pass through cultivated lands, and again, Broad-tailed Paradise-Whydah occurs and regularly adorn the tops of the trees left standing. Before long, you leave the cultivated lands behind and enter into the first of the mixed woodlands strips. It is worth putting some distance between Inhamitanga and where you intend to bird, as the locals are rapidly expanding the cultivated lands and more there is more disturbance in the area. One area it is worthwhile to get out and bird is in a mature section of the woodland, with a very grassy understorey (I-12). Here Helmetshrike’s are a typical species – flocks often containing all three southern African species, as are Grey- and Brown-headed Parrots and numerous cuckoos during summer. This must be one of the better places to get to grips with Common Cuckoo (which despite its name, is NOT common!). Crested Guineafowl regularly dash across the road.
Just beyond this woodland patch, the road makes a slow bend to the left, and on springing off to the right is a very small track heading to Coutada 12 (discussed further below). This signals the start of the first productive lowland forest patch (I-13). It continues for roughly 1,6km before it gives way to mixed woodland once more. Although some good species can be seen here, such as African Broadbill, this patch is the ‘southern leg’ of the greater lowland forest that is present on the road, and far more pristine stretches persist housing all of the specials. The road then continues through this mixed woodland, with varying degrees of density. The open areas house specials typical of your miombo woodland such as Pale Batis, White-breasted Cuckooshrike and Speckle-throated Woodpecker. One of the birds to watch out for is Yellow-breasted Hyliota, which is known from the area but is yet to be confirmed in recent years. Please note that its cousin, the more common Southern Hyliota does occur as well! Within the woodland, the birds are almost always restricted to bird parties. Helmetshrike’s (mainly Retz’s and White-crested) and Pale Batis are the two main indicators of a party. Listen for the bill-clapping of the Helmetshrikes, and the single notes of the Batis. The Speckle-throated Woodpecker is one of the other main specials of the woodland. Little is known about this species, but in general it is very similar to Bennett’s Woodpecker (in call, appearance and behaviour). Following up on the tapping of Woodpeckers is one of the ways to see this species, as is listening for its call, and sifting through all the members of the bird parties. In areas where the grass is seeding, watch out for Lesser Seedcrakcer. African Barred-Owlet regularly occur in these woodlands, particularly when the vegetation becomes denser. Two good areas to search for these woodland specials lie before the railway track (I-14) and just after crossing the railway track (I-15).
Birding around Inhamitanga also offers opportunities for unexpected wildlife sightings
A few kilometres after crossing the railway line, you will enter into a vast patch of lowland forest. This continues for many more kilometres, and houses the true Mozambique-restricted birds, including White-chested Alethe and East Coast Akalat. Sadly, the nature of this lowland is very dense, and makes the birding tough at times. The best method is to stop your vehicle regularly, and get out and walk sections of the road. The frog-like call of African Broadbill regularly resounds, as does the hooting of Narina Trogon. Silvery-cheeked Hornbills pass nosily through the canopies, with their ‘drumming’ calls carrying vast distances. The shrieks of Grey-headed Parrots signal groups that come dashing over. The insect-like trills resounding from the undergrowth belong to both Green and Red-throated Twinspot’s. These are just some examples of the species that can be encountered. Tiny Greenbul are fairly prolific, and sometimes join feeding groups of Yellow-streaked Greenbul – where the two can be nicely compared. The Akalat and Alethe require very dense tangles located in the undergrowth. The single best method to see these birds is by listening for the calls. The Alethe’s eerie “wooooooooo” is regularly heard, and enforces the general consensus that this forest is rife with them; whilst the Akalat’s soft, jumbled, call is much tougher to pick up on. Both these species are fairly prolific in the area, and generally take time to see. Some better areas to try are: White-chested Alethe (I-16), and East Coast Akalat (I-17). You can walk into the forest at any point, but please take note of where you entered/where your vehicle is parked with a GPS (have it with you) as it is very easy to get lost in these forests. Also be aware of small antelope and snakes whilst walking. Whilst walking, listening for the birds, others that you are likely to bump into include; Plain-backed Sunbird, Woodward’s Batis, Black-headed Apalis and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon. Both Bohm’s and Mottled Spinetail’s breed nearby and zoom over clearings regularly. Should you wish, you can continue straight on this road until (I-18) where if you bear left, you come out on the EN1 at Caia, and can then navigate your way back to M’phingwe Camp some 30km or so further south.
Male Green-Backed Woodpecker.
3: Coutada 12 This route begins further back along the 213, closer to Inhamitanga. At (I-19), a small one-way track breaks off the main road in a southerly direction – to the right if coming from Inhamitanga (as mentioned initially in Route 2. above). Coutada 12 is a hunting concession, and provides access to brilliant lowland forest, along with mixed woodlands – similar to Route 2. The difference however, lies in the fact that this small track takes one into the heart of the forest/woodland respectively and many of the above mentioned species are easier to see. In addition, African Pitta regularly display during early December in these patches of forest. The majority of birders traditionally bird up until 10km on this track, as further in takes one into the heart of the hunting concession and permission must be sought to bird in the area. The track has two patches of proper lowland forest; the first at 1km, and the second at 9km along the track. In between these forests is a band of mixed woodland.
Jumping back to the start of the route, take this turnoff above on the Inhamitanga-Marromeu road, and follow the track for roughly 1km. This puts you in the heart of the first lowland forest patch. Being actually within the heart of this forest, you will note the forest becomes alive – Eastern Nicator’s loud bubbling resounding from everywhere, African Broadbill’s displaying all round, Blue-mantled Crested and Livingstone’s Flycatchers flitting rapidly in the lower canopy and so on. The birding here is truly brilliant! The best method is to try and find a slight gap, where you can park just off the small track, and to then walk slowly up and down through the forest. In early December, this is a reliable African Pitta stakeout as individuals display in the taller trees. Their frog-like call is very distinct, and carries a far distance. If heard, slowly walk in the direction of the Pitta, and look for the bird hopping up and down on branch normally from 7-10m high. Watch for Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike and Livingstone’s Turaco moving through the canopy, and enjoy the plethora of Bush-Shrikes, Greenbuls and Woodpeckers that keep one busy.
Black-headed Apalis is another one of the Mozambique specials that can be tough to find. The best method with this species is to learn its call, which is soft and ‘whispy’. They are not uncommon, and with knowledge of their call, they can be tracked down. They sadly, normally feed higher up in the canopy and it is normally with persistent scanning (and a sore neck!) that one manages to lock onto the bird quickly hopping through tangles and leaves. Plain-backed Sunbird, also largely restricted to the Mozambican coastal plain, are quite tough to find. They widely move through the forests, but being aware of their call, and playing their call in the different areas of the forest you go to normally produce the bird. East Coast Akalat is best found near thick, vine tangles – which they frequent. They are especially numerous towards the end of this first forest patch, where a brief walk off of the road may be required to put one within the best possible habitat. One such area is (I-20). At roughly 1.3km from the beginning, you near the end of the forest. Park in this area and walk to the left (in a northerly direction). You only have to go about 200m in until you reach the first of the proper tangles. Spend time around here listening for the Akalat. White-chested Alethe is not regularly reported from this first forest patch, but is much more so in the second forest.
After roughly 1.5km you exist the forest patch and are thrown immediately into mixed woodland. The birding through here can be slow, but watch for parties that may include White-breasted Cuckooshrike and Speckle-throated Woodpecker. The Woodpecker is normally found in association with large, mature trees. Common Scimitarbill, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Red-winged Warbler and even Red-faced Cisticola (the latter two in the grassy understorey of the woodland). Watch out too for Lesser and Madagascar Cuckoos in this woodland. Southern Ground Hornbill breed in this woodland patch and are often heard giving their duet, booming calls. Seeing them, however, is quite tough, and require luck to bump into them close to the track. Follow this track, passing through varying degrees of the woodland scanning the open areas for raptors such as White-headed Vulture, Bateleur and African Cuckoo-Hawk, for roughly 9km until you arrive at the second patch of lowland forest. This patch holds much the same of the first patch of forest, but Black-headed Apalis are maybe more easily seen here, as is White-chested Alethe. Listen for the eerie call of the Alethe, and if you pick up on it, stop your vehicle and walk slowly into the forest, keeping an eye out for it. If the Alethe’s are quiet when passing through, one area where they turn up reliably is (I-21). Spend time birding around, and keeping an ear out for the call. Tiny Greenbuls’ harsh, grating call sound virtually constantly, but seeing these birds too requires stealth as they creep along in thick tangles near the canopy. Tambourine Dove move through the forest at break-neck speed, and Green Malkoha are only conspicuous by virtue of their loud call which they respond to very well. Other species likely to be encountered whilst birding in these forest patches are; Dark-backed Weaver, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Woodward’s Batis, Black-bellied Starling, Collared Sunbird, Chestnut-fronted Helmethshrike, Red-capped Robin-Chat and Terrestrial Brownbul.
You can continue birding further along this track, but it is then advised that you make prior contact with the hunting concession in order to gain access. You can turn around once you have had your fill of birding, and make your way back to Inhamitanga, and M’phingwe.
This is a very productive birding, incorporating some of the best lowland forest remaining in central Mozambique. However, caution is advised when walking off the main tracks in the area, as mines were once scattered throughout. A thorough ‘clean-up’ process was finished, but it is not exactly known whether mines still persist. Many birders do venture out into the forests, and as of yet, none have been harmed by mines. Dangerous game do occur in the area (especially in Coutada 12), and snakes are a real possibility. Please note that it is very easy to get lost when out walking, and it is advised that you mark where your car is/meeting point on a GPS, and that you carry this on your person. The area is not heavily inhabited, and the only signs of human life is around Inhamitanga. The closest town is Caia, roughly 40/45km to the north on the EN1. Virtually all use M’phingwe Camp as a base when birding these areas.
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.
Tel: +258 82 301 6436
GPS: 18°02'24.8"S 35°12'07.9"E
- I-01: Caia town. GPS: 17°49'44.2"S 35°20'17.9"E
- I-02: M’phingwe Bush Camp. GPS: 18°02'21.7"S 35°11'41.5"E
- I-03: Area near Radio Mast. GPS: 18°05'01.6"S 35°09'07.8"E
- I-04: Dickinson’s Kestrel nest. GPS: 18°05'16.3"S 35°08'53.6"E
- I-05: Inhamitanga sign. GPS: 18°06'45.2"S 35°07'00.2"E
- I-06: Cultivated field scan – BT Paradise-Whydah. GPS: 18°06'57.9"S 35°07'02.9"E
- I-07: African Crowned Eagle nest. GPS: 18°09'54.5"S 35°07'37.5"E
- I-08: Bridge crossing. GPS: 18°11'02.0"S 35°08'57.4"E
- I-09: Inhamitanga. GPS: 18°13'00.0"S 35°09'27.2"E
I-10: Alternate road – turn left. GPS: 18°13'17.0"S 35°09'17.2"E
- I-11: Start of route – turn right. GPS: 18°13'19.8"S 35°09'39.4"E
- I-12: Mature woodland #1. GPS: 18°14'34.0"S 35°11'46.8"E
- I-13: First patch of lowland forest. GPS: 18°14'43.5"S 35°12'23.7"E
- I-14: Woodland before railway crossing. GPS: 18°14'43.0"S 35°14'50.8"E
- I-15: Woodland after railway crossing. GPS: 18°13'53.0"S 35°17'06.8"E
- I-16: White-chested Alethe favoured forest. GPS: 18°12'11.5"S 35°20'14.7"E
- I-17: East Coast Akalat favoured forest. GPS: 18°12'48.0"S 35°19'08.7"E
- I-18: Bear left to head to Caia – complete loop. GPS: 18°03'45.8"S 35°27'41.0"E
- I-19: Start of Coutada 12 track. GPS: 18°14'43.5"S 35°12'07.7"E
- I-20: East Coast Akalat region. GPS: 18°15'04.2"S 35°12'43.4"E
- I-21: White-chested Alethe area. GPS: 18°16'15.3"S 35°14'29.4"E