Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Mozambique trip

Quirimbas National Park, Mozambique Birding and Banding

22nd August to 9th September 2012
Berend van Baak and Sarah Hodges
This trip promised to be an exciting one, as it not only involved some ringing, but included exploring a new area of the park as well as a Dhow safari too.
First stop was the bush camp outside Pemba where I added a new one to the reserve list in the form of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl calling in the night. African Goshawks were very vocal in the morning, suggesting a breeding pair (I did catch a pair here one morning) and the lovely sound of an African Broadbill, making that peculiar sound with their wings during the display flight.
After getting supplies from town we set off into the bush with a few Lizard Buzzards and Dark-chanting Goshawks along the way, and arrived in time to get a nice walk in round the camp before sundown.
The setting here was just incredible, the camp was nestled in a patch of tall forest with a towering granite ‘Inselberg’ above us and towering cliffs above the canopy.
the Inselberg above the camp
First real bonus was finding a pair of Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbirds in the camp along with a huge fruiting fig tree full of Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills. Adding to the list we got Brown-backed Barbet, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Brown-necked Parrot and then a real treat, 4 Grey-headed Parrots.  During the night I could hear African Wood Owl, Freckled, Firey-necked and Square-tailed Nightjars.
Early next morning we hiked up into the forest and sat above a Crowned Eagles nest and watched the male displaying right over the camp. This is the only place I can think of where Africa’s three biggest Eagles, Verreaux’s, Martial and Crowned Eagles, all breed within sight of each other!
Bird parties provided some great excitement with mixed flocks including Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Red-faced Crombec, Grey Penduline Tit, Pale Batis and a flock of Retz’s Helmet-shrikes. A Bateleur cruised overhead.
Back in camp we checked the fruiting fig tree and among the dozen or so Trumpeter Hornbills was a pair of huge Silvery-cheeked Hornbills! Standing there watching these amazing birds we were rewarded with a pair of Livingstone’s Turacos coming in for a feed!
At first light the next day, I heard the unmistakeable crying of a flacon and thinking there may be a pair of Lanner Falcon, I went to try and find them.
After 20 mins I eventually pinpointed the sound which was coming from a recess high up in the cliff face. I noticed some white streaks and realised there was a nesting pair of whatever they were. After half an hour of watching I gave up and we set off for a bush walk.
We followed the base contour of the massif till we met a dried out riverbed which we followed for several kilometres. Our species tally was growing with Nesting Wahlberg’s Eagle, African Goshawk, Little Sparrowhawk, Black-throated Wattle-eye and along the forested paths were little flocks of firefinches including the occasional Red-throated Twinspot.

the trail through the forest

The trees along the river were spectacular, towering above us we were able to locate great bird parties and one included a pair of Woodward’s Batis, a new one for the reserve here. Other exciting finds included Bohm’s Spinetails, a pair of Martial Eagles, flocks of 50 plus large Swifts kept passing overhead which I suspected to be Common Swift returning south on passage. Many of the trees were in flower and the busy pollinators included Red-headed and Forest Weavers, Scarlet-chested, Uluguru Violet-backed, Purple-banded, Olive, Collared, White-bellied Sunbirds!
We found a Crowned Eagles nest with a sitting female in a huge Pod-Mahogony tree.
We arrived back at camp for lunch and a well-deserved cold beer! But I couldn’t get the falcon out of my mind and so got the scope set up in a better position. After a few moments of watching the recess, I glimpsed a head all too briefly, but it looked very interesting. Then just as I was just beginning to think about probable Lanner, all of a sudden a falcon came flying along the cliff face which drew out the bird inside the cavity. At first I couldn’t accept the possibility of what my instincts were telling me, but then what turned out to be the male, landed in clear view and I got it in the scope. TAITA FALCON!!!
Wow! What a turn up! The nearest distribution record of this small falcon to where we were was some few thousand kilometres away in Northern Tanzania and West of Lake Malawi, a huge range extension!!
The habitat was perfect and more encouragingly, it is possible that this bird is more common than we think given the amount of unexplored areas such as this. We watched the birds on and off during the afternoon, once the male bought in a Red-winged Starling it had caught.

IBO ISLAND spring tide

monkey hunters
After a last look at the Taita Falcons, we set off for Ibo Island. On the way we encountered a party of poachers who with a pack of dogs and their bows and arrows had killed several Samango Monkeys which they were wearing like shoulder bags. We were still in the park and so I took their photo which incensed them, but how blatant they were!


We settled into the very luxurious Ibo Lodge before taking the scope out along the waterfront to scan the flats for waders. There were good numbers of the usual suspects, Whimbrel, Terek Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Turnstone and Curlew Sandpiper. Two Osprey were over the mangroves.
We took a walk round the Old Cemetary, nice bush and lots of birds. Grey Sunbirds, Mangrove Kingfishers, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Pale Batis, Madagascar Bee-eaters and a pair of African Harrier Hawks displaying overhead.
Lunchtime was nothing short of spectacular! We sailed out to sea in an old Dhow, and after an hour came to the perfect desert island, all was missing was the palm tree in the middle! The crew set up a shade tent and prepared lunch whilst we went snorkelling.
There were some amazing sea life, thousands of brilliant coloured fish, Lionfish, Parrot Fish, Puffer Fish, Clownfish in their anemones, Octopus, huge Lobster, all sorts of amazing starfish and beautiful coral of every colour.
Whilst waiting for lunch (which was a feast of huge prawns) we drank a few cold beers and watched a distant Humpback Whale breaching beyond the reef.
We went to scan the high tide roost off the flats and got a few more birds, good numbers of Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling and 60 or so Yellow-billed and Woolly-necked Storks.
The next morning we loaded op the Dhow and set to sea on the first of a 4 day Safari. Watching the local crew manage the sails of the old dhow was fascinating, skills that are as old as sailing itself. We were very lucky to be escorted for a while by a family of Humpback Dolphins and overhead were the occasional Lesser and Greater Crested Terns.
We got to camp at the mouth of a huge channel which disappeared into the vast mangrove forest, and sat watching the waders arriving in on the high tide whilst the staff set up camp.
Hard work this whale watching...
Just before high tide, a wonderful sight of some 160 Crab Plovers arriving onto a rapidly diminishing sand spit across the channel from us. The other waders were really tightly packed on every available bit of sand and some even perched up on dead mangrove branches!
On the dhow were 2 kayaks which were a wonderful way of exploring the area. We managed to get so close to many different waders, including 9 Eurasian Curlew, Mongolian and Greater Sand Plovers and several Crab Plovers, one so close we could hear the ‘crack’ of a small crab as it succumbed to the formidable bill of the plover!
Explored the many intricate channels in the huge mangrove forest, there were Mangrove Kingfishers, Grey Sunbirds, Ospreys and a surprising Black-chested Snake Eagle.
After 2 days we set sail to the next camp, alternating from dhow to kayak. We stopped at a beautiful reef to snorkel for a while. We saw lots of fish, Maori Wrasse, Bat Fish, Trigger Fish, Blue-spotted Rays, Giant Clams and stunning coral.
The next camp was on a small island which you could walk around in 30 minutes! I decided to Kayak the last leg of 18 kilometres, seeing dolphin, turtles and flying fish, thoroughly enjoying riding the deep swells. After a couple of cold beers on arrival, we explored the island, the first thing which struck me were the dozens of African Reed Warblers all over the place. According to the distribution maps in the field guides, they were not listed for this part of the world, so it was an exciting find. I hastily erected a net and we were soon busy with a few of these Afro-tropical migrants.  
After a wonderful seafood supper we sat round the fire and were given an astronomy show by one of the guides, very good too.
Mangrove Kingfisher
We went on to catch a dozen birds including Grey Sunbirds, Sombre Greenbuls and a lovely Mangrove Kingfisher. Spent a lot of the day snorkelling and seeing so much life on the reefs around the island. Walked round the island and flushed a Black Sparrowhawk, and odd place to find one of these, and watched it fly all the way over to the mainland some 5 km away.
After two days on this island we returned to the mainland and were met by our driver to be taken to our next destination, a lodge set deep in the bush! On the way we saw plenty of Lizard Buzzard, Dark Chanting Goshawks and a single Western Banded Snake Eagle, another species whose range in the literature is far to the west from where we were.
Once settled in we took a drive to a waterhole where we noticed Buffalo prints in the mud alongside Elephant and Sable. A lone marabou Stork was at the waterhole and a pair of Grey-necked Parrots sat up in a tall tree scolding a Cuckoo Hawk! Black and Eastern Sawings were feeding over the water. A small group of Elephants surprised us by coming out of the forest and at one point got between us and the vehicle, but we were both aware of each other and showed appropriate respect.

That night we listened to the sounds of Lions roaring nearby and later a Hyena joined in the chorus of the African night.
a ground Pangolin, very lucky to see
Bohm's Bee-eater
First thing we walked 4 km to another waterhole in a streambed with tall riparian forest, where we watched a party of B√∂hm’s Bee-eaters, such beautiful little Bee-eaters. Livingstone’s Turacos were quite vocal here and we were treated to a fantastic view of an adult Ayre’s Hawk Eagle which flew over slowly. Bird parties here included Yellow-bellied Greenbul of the race ‘centralis’, Red-headed and Forest Weavers, Eastern Nicator, Red-throated Twinspot, Pied Mannakin, Red-backed Mannikin.
African Broadbill
Back in Pemba I set a few nets at a new site in thick bush and over the 3 days, caught some interesting birds. Red-capped Robinchat, Terrestrial Bulbul, Bearded Scrub-robin, Red-faced Cisticola, Pygmy Kingfisher, Tropical Boubou, Brown-hooded Kingfisher ‘orientalis’, Eastern Olive Sunbird and a real treat, an African Broadbill! Had an African Goshawk in the net at one point, but the bird got out before I could get to it!
In all we saw 190 species and some fantastic sights and scenes. Every time I come to Mozambique, I just think about planning the next trip!



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