RIO SAVANE FLOODPLAIN, SOFALA PROVINCE:
Situated on the outskirts of Beira, one of the largest cities in Mozambique, lies the dramatic Rio Savane floodplain. This floodplain is directly associated with the open flats surrounding the Savane River, which flood on almost an annual basis and may contain water throughout the entire year. This floodplain consists of numerous small pans, surrounded by seasonally flooded grasslands. Note that not all of the grassy areas flood, and many remain dry. The route described below is dotted with small remnants of the coastal bush that occurs throughout the area, and is prevalent around the houses/villages scattered along the entire length of the route.
Aside from these patches of coastal scrub, a small patch of coastal forest endures, as do the vast mangrove forests on the Savane River. Not to be ignored, the mudflats and associated beaches of the Savane River mouth provide for some spectacular shorebird watching. The state of the floodplain varies greatly and is almost entirely flooded, depending on the rains in Mozambique, and too much water present in the floodplain often forces the birdlife to drier sites elsewhere. The dry season (July to November) is generally the best time to visit due to the stable water levels. The summer period is supplemented by the arrival of both Intra-African and European migrants making a November/early December visit very appealing. Winter too, has its draw cards as some scarce Malagasy visitors move into the area. Whichever part of the year you decide to visit, the Rio Savane Floodplain is sure to provide some brilliant birding.
The extensive wetlands of Rio Savane.
The chief draw card of the area is the floodplain, associated pans and flooded grasslands. These areas hold more widespread species such as Great Egret, Woolly-necked Stork, Malachite Kingfisher, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Yellow-throated Longclaw. The specials of these flooded parts include such mouth-watering species as Great Bittern, Wattled Crane, Saddle-billed Stork, Rufous-bellied Heron, Malagasy Pond-Heron (in winter), Lesser Jacana and Great Snipe. The floodplain edges also play host to Great Snipe, along with Blue Quail, Locust Finch, African Quailfinch, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Black-bellied Bustard, Collared Pratincole, Flappet Lark, Short-tailed Pipit (largely in winter) and after dry season fires, Temminck’s Courer. The numerous, but small patches of coastal bush dotted throughout the route are host to Copper Sunbird, Red-headed Quelea (also sometimes out on the floodplain), Lesser Seedcracker, Parasitic Weaver (Cuckoo Finch), Red-backed Mannikin, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, Little Bee-eater and Black-crowned Tchagra amongst others. One must also keep a trained eye on the sky, as many raptors frequently hunt over the open areas including; Bateleur, African Marsh-Harrier, Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle and African Cuckoo-Hawk. Palmnut Vulture and African Fish-Eagle regularly adorn the telephone wires en-route, and dead trees often play to host other raptors. During winter (April to August), one must keep an eye out for Mascarene Martin.
The mangrove forest at the Savane River hosts numerous Mangrove Kingfishers, along with Black-throated Wattle-eye and Grey Sunbird. The mudflats around the estuary hold Greater Sand Plover, and small numbers of Lesser Sand Plovers and Terek Sandpipers. A large tern roost is normally present and holds Lesser Crested and Little Tern. Vagrants that have been recorded, and need to be scanned for are Crab Plover, Black-naped Tern, Brown Noddy and Greater Frigatebird. The Rio Savane resort is a reliable site for Green-backed Woodpecker. Lastly, the coastal forest patch holds some of the specials typical of the dry lowland forest further inland. These are Black-headed Apalis, East Coast Akalat, Tiny Greenbul, Woodward’s Batis and Bearded Scrub-Robin. Other species that may be seen include Eastern Nicator, Green Twinspot and Livingstone’s Turaco.
The site is located on the outskirts of Beira, off the EN6. There is only one road that accesses the floodplain, but once on the Rio Savane Floodplain road, others can be taken for further exploration into the floodplain. The turnoff to Rio Savane (R-02) is only accessible if travelling into Beira on the EN6 (ie. on the eastern side of the road, a dual-carriage way splits the traffic coming into and out of Beira and might cause a slight detour if coming from Beira). Take the turnoff onto Road 432 (signposted to Rio Savane Holiday Resort), and follow this rather slow going dirt track as it moves through a market initially, and then through a village before coming out onto the start of the floodplains.
Once out of the village, you will see the first of the floodplain-associated fields, although these that are close to the village are mainly rice (and other food) paddies. The floodplain close to the villages has been negatively affected by the local people as more and more are draining the floodplains in order to plant their various crops. For the prime birding, it is essential to get some distance from the outskirts of the village. You will notice that the floodplain in general is not uniform. There are many micro-habitats within the floodplain. Some sections contain deeper waters, with sedges and grass not as prominent, while other areas contain very shallow surface water and rather thick grass. It is worth exploring all these different parts of the floodplain as they all contain different species.
Once the village has been adequately passed, the first areas of prime floodplain birding are in the deeper parts of the floodplain (R-03). These deeper areas dominate this initial stretch of the floodplain up until the first patch of forest known as the Nhangau Forest. The deeper areas do not hold a very high species diversity, and Saddle-billed Stork should be searched for amongst the other common species (such as Great Egret). After a few kilometres of travel, you reach the Nhangau Forest (R-04). On the edge of this forest, patches of dry grassland surrounds the otherwise flooded areas, and hold a small selection of different species (such as Black-bellied Bustard and Flappet Lark). Traveling through the small forest patch, listen out for bird parties, often given away by the harsh grating calls of Tiny Greenbul. Nearly at the end of the forest, a small inconspicuous track breaks off to the left (R-05). You can park here, and walk up along the track for forest birding. An alternate way to get off the main route, is to follow a track that branches to the left just before the start of the Nhangau Forest (R-06). Follow this track as it skirts the forest patch, and comes out at the northern end. Park off the road here and then walk back into the forest along the track. Note that this track may become flooded in exceptional seasons. Eurasian Bittern frequent the surrounding floodplains and are often heard ‘booming’ whilst birding in the forest – seeing them however, is a rather tough feat and requires one to get out into the floodplain and walk towards their booming calls, in the hope of flushing one. If not booming, they are virtually impossible to find and you can walk for hours with no rewards. Areas of long inundated grass, generally flooded from ankle-height to knee-height is best for this species.
Just after the Nhangau Forest, a prominent road leads off to the right (R-07). This takes one to the prawn factory and its associated breeding/drying ponds (R-08). Of interest - sometimes a few shorebirds are present along with Mangrove Kingfishers that seems to take advantage of the easy pickings. Heading back onto the main 432/Rio Savane Floodplain road, continue to traverse the floodplain, and make a stop when you come to a small patch of coastal scrub, surrounded by a few houses (R-09). Spend some time birding in this (and similar scrub patches elsewhere on the route) as they host some different, equally as exciting species such as Lesser Seedcracker, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove and Red-headed Quelea. Watch for the dove flitting between trees, and listen for their slow “dooo-doo-doo-doo-do-do-do-do” calls. Red-headed Quelea are eruptive visitors, and if present they cover all bushes/trees within the area and cannot go unnoticed. The Seedcraker is notoriously tough, and it is generally sheer luck when one is found. However, scan through small passerines feeding on seeds that have collected in/near the road, and watch for them moving unobtrusively through the bushes. Pass through a small village shortly beyond this patch (where some good local food including some very tasty fruits can be bought) and do not veer off this road – ie. continue heading straight.
After you have exited the village, the deeper lying portions of the floodplain dissipate and you enter into an area with shallow waters, and scattered areas of dry ground. Watch the change in bird diversity and keep an eye out for Wattled Crane and Rufous-bellied Heron amongst others, the latter of which often perches on top of the bushes scattered throughout the floodplain. Slightly further on, you will notice a kink to the right in the road, and a small track leading up the left (R-10). Follow this track until you are adequately off the road, and then walk towards a small pan that lies just to the north-east of this (R-11). The grassy areas around this pan often host Blue Quail. Please feel free to stop and search any similar areas as the birds may/may not be present at any one site. The best method of seeing the Quail is by flushing it, and if a large group is present, one must form a line and walk through the grassy areas fringing this pan. They are often present on dry ground itself, but with water/flooded areas nearby.
Cattle herds are led daily to the grasslands by joyful youth that will often be keen to see what birders are doing.
After birding around this small pan, follow the track east and stop where you reach another wooded patch, with a chain-barred track leading to the right (R-12). Park here, and walk out onto the floodplain surrounding this wooded patch both to the south-east and south-west (R-13; R-14). These virtually dry grasslands (except after major rains when they become inundated) host many of the above-mentioned specials of the area; ranging from Locust Finch to Black-rumped Buttonquail, through to Red-headed Quelea, Black-bellied Bustard, Blue Quail and Wattled Crane. The Crane and even the bustard are conspicuous as they stride out over the floodplain. Black-rumped Buttonquail are best sought by flushing them – walking a line through the grasslands. But be aware that Blue Quail do occur as well, and getting good views can be tough given the unexpected nature of seeing these birds. Locust Finch do not have to be flushed, and staking out a water source will often provide great views. The nature of this floodplain does not allow for one particular site, however, a good bet is normally the drainage areas next to the road between (R-12) and (R-15). Watch for birds you flush next to the road whilst driving along, and then stake-out the area the bird was flushed from, obviously with either a water source or opening present for some ground views. An alternative may be to stop a few hundred metres further along and walk into the fields to the right for the species mentioned above (R-15).
Follow the road as it makes a sharp bend to the right, and then through another village before coming to an open portion of a small tributary of the Savane River (R-16). This is a regular feeding area for Mangrove Kingfisher. Continue another hundred metres or so until you arrive at the ferry point (R-17). Time permitting, you may want to ask if you can be ferried across the river to the Rio Savane Resort, if you are not staying there, as it gives much better access to the shorebirds than from the ferry point itself. Sift through the tern roost and waders present in the river estuary.
The route is fairly simple to follow, although the road may be bad and make the drive slow going. There is quite a large number of people who commute to and from the various villages on the road, and as a result there is a lot of human traffic. The people are friendly and willing to assist for those who get stuck when venturing further afield! Be aware, but the area is considered safe. The nearby city of Beira has a multitude of shops, fuel, accommodation and virtually everything else conceivable.
Recommended accommodation options
Rio Savane Eco Resort
An attractive resort situated away from the bustle of the city. Although fairly rustic, it is in the process of being upgraded. It provides good access to the riverine estuary, as well as the mangrove forests. A ferry is needed to get across the Savane River, as the resort is located on the opposite side. It can be tough to arrange the ferry to operate in the early morning hours’ birders often prefer, resulting occasionally in late starts to the morning. Green-backed Woodpecker is resident in the camp.
Tel: +258 23 324855 / 23 225405 / 23 322341
GPS: 19°40'56.9"S 35°08'18.3"E
Jardim Das Velas
This upmarket self-catering lodging is located within the environs of Beira, right next to the beach. It is safe and very comfortable. It is near the edge of the town, and provides easy access to the Rio Savane Floodplains. Numerous restaurants are located nearby.
Tel: +258 23 312 209
GPS: 19°50'45.6"S 34°53'40.6"E
African Fish Eagle.
- R-01: Beira city. GPS: 19°49'50.2"S 34°50'38.0"E
- R-02: Rio Savane Floodplain turnoff from EN6. GPS: 19°46'35.9"S 34°52'57.5"E
- R-03: First areas of prime floodplain birding. GPS: 19°45'33.1"S 34°54'56.6"E
- R-04: Nhangau Forest. GPS: 19°44'24.9"S 34°57'52.4"E
- R-05: Track leading into Nhangau Forest. GPS: 19°44'18.9"S 34°58'02.4"E
- R-06: Track on outside of Nhangau Forest - northern end. GPS: 19°44'27.6"S 34°57'45.9"E
- R-07: Road to prawn factory. GPS: 19°43'53.0"S 34°58'46.9"E
- R-08: Prawn Factory. GPS: 19°44'30.6"S 34°59'09.3"E
- R-09: Small coastal scrub patch. GPS: 19°43'30.1"S 34°59'32.7"E
- R-10: Track leading to small pan. GPS: 19°39'50.2"S 35°05'00.4"E
- R-11: Small pan. GPS: 19°39'39.8"S 35°05'07.6"E
- R-12: Wooded patch with chain-barred track. GPS: 19°39'46.6"S 35°06'01.0"E
- R-13: Area of floodplain to be walked (best viewed on GPS before setting out to walk). GPS: 19°40'03.9"S 35°06'19.4"E
- R-14: Area of floodplain to be walked (best viewed on GPS before setting out to walk). GPS: 19°40'08.0"S 35°05'45.5"E
- R-15: Alternate point. Walk into field opposite this. GPS: 19°39'39.9"S 35°06'31.4"E