James J. Packer & Emma Mitchley
This report details the birding and mammal highlights of our trip during August 1999. The trip was not a 'hard-core' birding holiday. Time was spent birding and experiencing the fantastic culture and friendship of Zimbabwe and its residents.
We flew out from our local airport, Bristol, to Amsterdam on KLM. Here we changed planes, and flew to Nairobi on Kenyan Airways. We transferred again at Nairobi, and arrived at Harare 19 hours after leaving Bristol. Our return journey was slightly more convenient, flying KLM from Harare to Amsterdam, with only a brief stop at Johannesburg. The flight cost GBP576, expect to add on about GBP300 if you want to fly direct from London to Harare with BA. We booked the flight through Trailfinders.
We hired an AVIS Mazda 323, which we picked up at Harare airport, and left at Victoria Falls airport. At Victoria Falls, we caught a domestic flight back to Harare. The total cost of the hire car was GBP585, which included a single journey supplement. We travelled about 2500 km, and spent about GBP30 on fuel. The car was not insured if we took it into Mana Pools, Matusadona or further than 50km away from Main Camp in Hwange. You should check these restrictions, as the hire company did not volunteer them.
We avoided the luxury lodges, as you can expect to pay up from GBP80 per person per night to stay in these. There are quite a few cheaper hotels or B&B type places, which are superb and much cheaper. Food is usually excellent and you are very unlikely to get any ill effects from food in Zimbabwe. Most hotels have their own bore-hole water which is safe to drink, however, we drank bottled water just to be safe. We were very well throughout the whole trip.
We stayed at the following:
White Horse Inn, Bvumba, Tel. +263 (20) 60138 Fax. +263 (20) 60325.
Fantastic accommodation in the Vumba Mountains. Old colonial style hotel with glorious home cooked food. Creamy mushrooms on toast were a particular favourite. Good selection of vegetarian dishes.
Flamboyant Hotel, Masvingo, Tel.+263 (39) 53085 Fax.+263 (39) 52899
Fairly large hotel and motel. A bit characterless, but very comfortable with clean and large rooms. Food was average, but basic. The 'Blue Jays Cocktail Bar' was a bit dingy, and strangely didn't do any cocktails?
The Farmhouse Cottages, Matopos. Tel. & Fax. +263 (39) 65499 (or try 0970008)
Brilliant cottages with kitchen, bedroom, bathroom. The central bar and restaurant provided set meals, but we cooked for ourselves. Because the thatch roofs didn't quite meet the top of the walls, we spent the nights with several large Ghekkos, and some neighbours spent half the night chasing out a 'large Rat type mammal, which may well have been a Rock Hyrax! Don't leave food lying about in the kitchens.
National Park Main Camp Lodge. Write to: Dept of National Parks and Wildlife Management Central Booking Office, PO Box 8151, Causeway, Harare.
Booking can be a bit of a hassle, but ifs well worth if because we spent four nights in a main camp lodge and it cost us GBP10. There is absolutely no need to stay in any one of the luxury lodges around Hwange, when you can stay in National Park Accommodation. The lodges are fully equipped, with towels, bedding and cutlery. The chalets and cottages require that you bring your own cooking utensils. The lodges are a bit battered and worn, but spotlessly clean, and more than sufficient The Waterbuck's Head Restaurant did excellent meals with the added bonus of a colony of Little Swifts nesting under the thatch of the veranda.
Tour companies will not book you into National Park accommodation, probably because they don't make any money from if and it causes them hassle. Don't listen to them, and (simply?) book it up yourself. You will save yourself a lot of money, and stay inside the park, unlike lodges that are often some distance from park entrances.
Hunters Lodge, Victoria Falls. Tel +263 (13) 5977 Fax +263 (13) 5977/4614
Cheaper accommodation in Victoria Falls. Not the cleanest room we stayed in, but good breakfasts and complimentary beers in the fridge on arrival made up for this! A strange assortment of dead wildlife adorns the walls of Hunters Lodge, and two particularly grotesque foot stools in the dining room left us feeling sorry for the elephant with two less feet.
Malimi Bed & Breakfast, 9 Alfred Road, Greendale, Harare. Tel. & Fax. +263 (4) 495889
Great B&B in the posh bit of Harare. Need a car to stay here, as itís outside the centre. Good birding garden with pond, and extremely friendly hosts. We found the Where in Zimbabwe 1998-1999 published by the Zimbabwe Tourist Office very useful. Ifs got a very wide range of accommodation listed. We got our copy free from the Zimbabwe Tourist Office in London. When we visited, the government had recently raised the entry fee for foreign visitors to National Parks from US$2 to US$20. This is because of the desperate need for foreign investment into the Zimbabwe economy. The money goes to the government and unfortunately, the National Parks probably see little of this money. Zimbabwe residents pay Z$5, which is twenty times less than foreigners are expected to pay. It caused great hassle (and queues) at the pay desks, and was a significant expense that we were not expecting. Of course, foreigners should pay more for entrance to parks because residents pay taxes, which include a contribution for upkeep of National Parks, however, most visitors thought they were being ripped off. An afternoons birding around Kyle Game Park for 2 hours cost us about GBP25. To save repetition, this write-up only mentions species where we have seen them for the first time, unless they are particularly important species.
3 August 1999
On arrival at Harare we picked up the car and headed east for the highlands, having only noted Cattle Egrets and Pied Crows at the airport. Having already spent a day travelling, we didn't stop much on route to Mutare, but we couldn't miss the Common Fiscal Shrikes and Lilac-breasted Rollers on road-side wires. White-throated Monkeys (Samango's) were sitting on our balcony when we reached the White Horse Inn.
4 August 1999
A visit to the nearby Botanical Gardens in the morning provided us with our first real birding. Long-tailed Wagtail, Yellow-bellied and Collared Sunbirds, Black-eyed Bulbul, Stonechaf Kurrichane Thrush, Dusky Flycatcher, Heuglins Robin, White-necked Raven, Bar-throated Apalis, Eastern Saw-wing Swallow and Spectacled Weaver were in the gardens. The tea-room did good toasted sandwiches!
In the afternoon we got Peter Madziwana to accompany us around the areas of Seldomseen. We found East African Swee/ Yellow-throated Warbler, Chirinda Apalis, Olive Sunbird, Cape Batis, Black Cuckoo Shrike, Stripe- cheeked Bulbul,, Yellow-rumped Tinker Barbel Tambourine Dove, Barretts Warbler, Red-eyed Dove, Cinnamon Dove, Puff-backed Shrike, Square-tailed Drongo, Yellow-streaked Bulbul, Forest Weaver, White-tailed Flycatcher, Black-fronted Bush Shrike, Yellow White Eye, Uvingstones Lourie, Roberts Prinia, White-eared Barbel Black Sunbird/ Red-throated Twinspot, Cape Robin, Terrestrial Bulbul, Red-faced Crimsonwing. Peter only charged GBP2 each, which was a bargain, as were with him for three hours. We looked very hard for Swynnertons Robin, but didn't succeed! Listen for them turning over leaves on the forest floor, particularly in the Vumba Forest Reserve. Unfortunately, recent reports of muggings in the forest put us off a re-visit the following morning.
5 August 1999
The morning was spent walking around the Leopard Rock Hotels' impressive golf course. We very nearly got hit by a gotf ball, but saw Long-crested Eagle, Silvery-cheeked Hombfll, White-necked Raven, Rock Martin, Golden Weaver, Grey Heron, White-breasted Cormorant Mallard. Back at the White Horse Inn, the afternoon was spent in the forest and gardens around the inn, and we had more of what we saw at Seldonseen the previous day, including Roberts Prinia, Uvingstones Lourie and Stripe- cheeked Bulbul. New birds were Whytes Barbet, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Scarce Swift
6 August 1999
On route to Masvingo, the long drive gave us a couple of chances to stop, where we saw Fork-tailed Drongo, Black-headed Heron, Mottled Swift, Red-billed Hombiu, Southern Yellow-trilled Hombill, Meves Long-tailed Starling, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Red-billed Firefinch, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Palm Swift and Laughing Dove. At our destination, the Flamboyant Hotel gardens had Brubru, Bronze Mannkin, Streaky-headed Canary and Marico Flycatcher.
We visited Kyle Game Park in the afternoon where we saw Golden-breasted Bunting, Black-shouldered Kite, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Egyptian Geese, Secretary Bird, Blue Waxbill, Black-throated Canary, Swainsons Francolin, Helmeted Guineafowl, Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Crowned Plover, Grey Lourie, Sharp-hilled Honeyguide, African Darter. Mammals included Wildeesf Baboon, Common Duiker, Bush Pig, Warthog and African Buffalo.
7 August 1999
The day was largely taken up with a visit to Great Zimbabwe, where we mainly looked at the ruins, but did manage to see Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting, Yellow-eyed Canary, African Yellow-throated Sparrow, Red-winged Starling, Crested Barbel Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Greater-striped Swallow, African Black Sunbird, Familiar Chat
8 August 1999
The road to Bulawayo had Bataleur, Black-breasted Snake Eagle, White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Ground Hombill and Dark-chanting Goshawk. The Farmhouse Cottages are situated on the border of the Matopos Game Park. Within its large grounds are a small dam which had Saddle-billed Stork, and Tawny Eagle. Around the cottages we had Black-collared Barbet, Mocking Chat and some mammals, Klipspringer, Warthog, and Impala.
9 August 1999
The Matopos National Park is split into the recreational east side, and the game park on the western edge. We visited the recreational park, including several dams and rock paintings, in the morning, and the game park later in the day when mammals are more active: Violet Woodhoopoe, Black Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, African Spoonbill, Great White Egret, Blacksmiths Plover, Pied Kingfisher, Reed Cormorant Striated Heron, Groundscraper Thrush, Yellow-billed Teal, Little Grebe, Wattled Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Three-banded Plover, Spur-winged Goose, Knob-billed Duck, White-faced Duck, Red-billed Teal, Wood Sandpiper, African Long-tailed Shrike, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling, Greater Jacana, Red-breasted Swallow, Southern Black Tif Boulder Chat African Fish Eagle, African Grey Hombill, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Natal Francolin.
Mammals in the game park included superb views of White Rhinoceros, Rock Hyrax, Banded Mongoose, Giraffe, Common Duiker, Impala, Bushbuck, Sable and Hippo.
10 August 1999
The day was spent visiting the nearby Bambata Cave, where a Black Eagles nest is easily visible in the valley behind the cave. Around here and the Farmhouse, we saw Miombo Double-collared Sunbird, Green-spotted Pigeon, Lesser-striped Swallow, African Black-headed Oriole, Kurrichane Thrush, African White-throated Robin, Jamesons Firefinch, African Yellow-bellied Bulbul, Streaky-headed Canary, Grey-backed Bleating Warbler, Bearded Woodpecker, Martial Eagle and Striped Pipit. We found very fresh Leopard spore near the dam in the grounds of The Farmhouse. It had been drinking in the dam the previous night so I tried tracking it into the surrounding rocks. The owner of The Farmhouse thought I was mad, can't think why?
11-13 August 1999
We spent three whole days in Hwange. We were based at Main Camp, but went into the park each day. Very quickly we realised that the best way to see mammalian predators was to be the first into the park, and last out Staying at Main Camp helps cut down on early mornings driving to the entrance gate. The park opens at 06:30hrs and closes at 18:00hrs.
Mammals were spectacular in Hwange, and extremely easy to see as they were largely concentrated around waterholes. If you visit between November and April, you won't see nearly as much game (but the birding will be better!). The mammals we saw were Elephant White Rhino, Giraffe, Steenbok, Zebra, Wildebeest African Buffalo, Crocodile, Impala, Kudu, Baboon, Green Vervet Monkey, Cheetah, Sable, Waterbuck, Banded Mongoose, Lion, Spotted Hyena, Side-striped Jackal, Bat-eared Fox, Scrub Hare, Black-backed Jackal.
Birds were impressive too, and birding around Main Camp itself provided good views of otherwise difficult species. Red-billed Oxpecker, Little Swift (colony at Waterbucks Head), Long-billed Crombec, Brown Snake Eagle, Blackhreasted Snake Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Bateleur, Martial Eagle, Dark-vented Tit Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, Tropical Boubou, Red-billed Francolin, Hooded Vulture, House Martin, Kitflitz's Plover, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Hamerkop, Capped Wheatear, Booted Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Ground Hombill, Gymnogene, Cape Vulture, Ostrich, Cardinal Woodpecker, Bradfields Hombill, Black-chested Prinia, Wattled Starling, Swallow-tailed Beeater, Red-crested Korhaan, Southern Masked Weaver, Little Swift, Black-crowned Tchagra, Purple Roller, Brown Snake Eagle, Arrowmarked Babbler, Burchells Sandgrouse, African Morning Dove, Rock Pigeon, Rattling Cisticola, Marico Flycatcher.
15-16 August 1999
These two days were spent around Victoria Falls. The falls themselves are just far too impressive to do justice to in words. Elephants and Buffalo ventured into the town, and birding was supplemented by an evening boat trip which provided us with species on the Zambezi that we wouldn't have otherwise picked up, such as Goliath Heron, Rufous-bellied Heron, Black Egret Wire-tailed Swallow, Great White Egret Black-winged Stilt, African Skimmer, African Pied Wagtail, Water Dikkop, and White-crowned Plover. Elsewhere around the falls themselves, and in the town we saw Reed Cormorant African Darter, Maribou Stork, Black Stork, Dickinsons Kestrel, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Scarlet Chested Sunbird, Brown Firefinch, Yellow-billed Kite, Rock Martin.
The usual site at the second gorge for Taita Falcon, has apparently been abandoned. We still looked, but didn't succeed.
17 August 1999
An overnight in Harare provided us with Cattle Egret Red-faced Mousebird, Southern Black Flycatcher, Spotted-backed Weaver in the gardens of the B&B.