Archive for the ‘Malawi’ Tag

December 2013 – the Nyika Plateau – Malawi   Leave a comment

Returning to the trip to Malawi in November/December 2013, we continue the saga on the Nyika Plateau in the far north of the country.


As we drove north we passed extensive rubber plantations. I was somewhat amused by this sign.

IMG_4773 Irridescence in cloud

As we ascended the plateau we encountered huge thunder clouds and were particularly taken by the iridescent fringes to the upper layers.

IMG_4770 irridescent cloud

Caused by refraction through ice crystals in the upper and outer layers of the cloud, this presented a spectacular sight through a telephoto lens or binoculars.

IMG_4968 Nyika Platea lodge

The accommodation on the plateau was at this lodge. During the British colonial administration an attempt was made to turn the entire plateau into a pine plantation but fortunately this failed as it was too costly to transport the timber to market. The pines themselves seem to have done little damage, Eland and other large mammals often shelter in them at night and they provide nest sites for many raptors but bracken spores arrived with the seedlings and are now taking over the natural grasslands at an alarming rate.


Although it was cool at night (about 7c) it wasn’t that cold, however the staff treated us as if we were in the Arctic with a roaring wood fire (from the pine plantation) in the cabins, hot water bottles in the beds and blankets for a night drive! The cabins were very spacious and comfortable Who says I rough it on foreign trips!

IMG_4959 Roans

Abundant game on the plateau included many Roan antelope. Here a dominant male is seeing off a young male. The chase lasted for five minutes or so and the older male would not leave the youngster in peace.

IMG_4931 Eland

Herds of enormous Eland were a regular site especially on night drives.

IMG_4919 Reedbuck

We saw many Zambian Reedbuck (above) as well as Cape Bushbuck and the occasional Common Duiker.

IMG_4912 Zebras

Herds of Common Zebra were seen on the grasslands but little game at all was seen in areas taken over by bracken. This herd approached but didn’t enter the bracken

IMG_4908 Zebra

….. this Zebra of course being the exception that proved the rule

IMG_4816 Klipsringer

Part of the National Park is in Zambia and we freely moved between there and Malawi, as did this group of Zambian Klipspringers which got added to the list for both countries.

IMG_4914 Montane Widowbird

There were many special birds on the plateau including this Montane Widowbird  ….

IMG_4933 White-naped Raven

…. the widespread White-naped Raven ….

IMG_4784 Cisticola to ID

.. and the diminutive Churring Cisticola, which like many of its genus is named after its vocalisations.

IMG_5000 BB Bustard

More spectacular species included this Black-bellied Bustard. Pictures of the same bird in display can be found on my first post about this trip.

IMG_5005 Denham's Bustard and chick

We were delighted to see a female Denham’s Bustard with a chick …..

IMG_4838 Denham's Bustard

… and later on to see daddy !

IMG_4978 Nyika Plateau

The rolling grasslands of the Nyika gave us species as diverse as Scarlet-tufted Sunbird, Blue Swallow and Pallid Harrier whilst the wooded patches provided Olive-flanked Bush-robin, Bar-tailed Trogon and various greenbuls.

IMG_4941 Jackson's Emperor

We were on the trail of a diminutive cisticola when this stunning moth was found (which was considerably bigger than the bird). All thoughts of chasing a small brown bird vanished as we gathered round to photograph this beauty, which apparently goes under the name of Jackson’s Emperor.


IMG_4865 Sunset

Each evening we stayed out late and enjoyed a sundowner before driving back in the dark. The best nocturnal sighting was probably a Side-stripe Jackal which was a new mammal for me. The various owls and nightjars seen have already been posted under the heading of ‘Malawi and Zimbabwe – the night birds’

IMG_4863 Sunset

Well that was that for Malawi. From the Nyika we returned to the miombo woodland area we visited on the way north before driving back to Lilongwe. Unfortunately the carrier who was to fly us to Zimbabwe had gone bust so we had to fly north overnight to Nairobi and then back south to Zimbabwe, so it was a tired and bedraggled group that arrived in Harare the following morning. More of that in the next post.

Posted January 24, 2014 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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28th – 30th November 2013 – Liwonde National Park, Malawi   Leave a comment

After an interval over Christmas and New Year I can return to the saga of the Malawi and Zimbabwe trip in November/December last year.

One of the highlights of the trip was time spent at Liwonde NP which lies just south of Lake Malawi. The Shire River that drains Lake Malawi flows to the Zambezi through the park. We traveled up the Shire River by boat and arrived at Mvuu camp about lunchtime. The area around the lodge was not fenced and you had to have a guard with you when you went to the chalets, especially at night as Elephants were often seen nearby. Pictures of the Liwonde chalets and of the Pel’s Fish Owl can be seen on earlier posts.


This African Fish Eagle was seen on our boat trip up the Shire River.


This Yellow Baboon seems to be surviving in spite of having a broken tail


Hippos aren’t just common along the Shire River, they are abundant.


Are we keeping you up?


As with my trip to Uganda earlier in the year, a large flock of African Skimmers was seen along the river.


The three species of Skimmer (one in the Americas, one in Africa and one in Asia) have a unique bill shape. The lower mandible is much longer than the upper and when feeding in flight, is dragged through the surface of the water (described as unzipping the pond), if it makes contact with a fish the  upper mandible snaps shut.


The view from the dining area. The grassy lawns on the banks of the river were favoured by Hippos in the early morning and Elephants and Waterbuck could also be seen whilst eating lunch.


Also visible from the dining area was a pair of Saddle-billed Storks. This bird can be sexed as a female on the account of its yellow eye.


After an early morning game drive we were astounded to find the lodge staff had prepared an alfresco breakfast for us out in the bush.


The surrounding mopane woodland was studded with giant Baobab trees, but many of their trunks had suffered from extensive elephant damage as the leviathans know that below the bark there is a supply of water.


There have been a lot of taxonomic changes among the antelope, for example there are now six species of Kudu., rather than two. This is a male Zambezi Kudu.


We only saw a single Sable Antelope, this magnificent male was in the mopane woodland.


Do Warthogs get sore wrists? I strikes me that having to shuffle along like this to feed is a bit of a design fault.


Eastern Bearded Scrub-robin


No wonder the Bohm’s Bee-eater on the left is looking away.


At the end of an afternoon’s birding we stopped by the river for a sundowner but we arrived a bit on the late side, so it was more of a ‘sungoner’


On the second day we took a boat upstream to try and find Rufous-bellied Heron but the river levels were too high and  they appeared to have moved on. These young male Elephants were having a scrap in the river ……


…. as our boat approached they took their flight onshore ……..


….. but they upset the Hippos in the process !


From the boat we were able to time our sundowner to perfection.


Ewan and I saw the rare Mellor’s Mongoose feeding in the creek at the back of our chalet. Also in the photo is a young Black-crowned Night Heron

Malawi – the Miombo woodlands   Leave a comment

From our lodge near the Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi we traveled to Dzamalyana, an extensive area of miombo woodland. This forest type, also known as Brachystega cuts a wide swathe across southern Africa. Later we visited some forest patches situated between extensive tea plantations for more specialties before heading north. In the north of Malawi we visited another miombio woodland where we caught up with many of the specialties we  had previously missed.


This Red-throated Twinspot was one of the first life birds of the trip, recorded on the very first afternoon.


Extensive miombo woodland at Dzalanyama reserve.


There were a few proteas in flower but not enough to attract the rarer hummingbirds.


Unfortunately I didn’t note the name of these amazing red flowers


Birding is hard work in miombo woodland due to its dense foliage and the low density of its avian inhabitants, which mainly occur in fast moving flocks. This is a Stierling’s Wren-warbler.


Rocky areas held good numbers of Striped Pipits, a species I had only seen briefly before, in South Africa in 1991


The Boulder Chat is a rare inhabitant of the rocky areas of the forest


Stierling’s Woodpecker is confined to miombo woodland


Afican Pygmy Kingfisher is associated more with woodland than wetland areas


This magnificent Crowned Eagle was seen well at Dzalanyama


Near a village we saw a flock of 50 Grey-headed Parrots


..and nearby I found another Ovambo Sparrowhawk, this one a juvenile


Overhead we saw the impressive, but largely vegetarian Palm-nut Vulture.


Although supposedly protected, much of the reserve is under threat from illegal logging. This is mainly from locals cutting down trees to make charcoal and large amounts of wood can be seen being transported on the backs of bicycles. Regrettably, as we left, we saw evidence of wood being removed by truck which will greatly accelerate the rate of forest loss. Even more alarming was the fact (according to our driver) that the guys on the truck were prisoners which mean that this illegal deforestation must have official approval at some level.


In the north of Malawi we visited another extensive miombo forest. For some reason the trees come into leaf later here. New leaves emerge with a red colouration giving the forest an autumnal feel even though its early spring.


One of the best bird seen was this White-winged Babbling Starling. Photo by Ewan Brodie


I was particularly pleased to see this Racket-tailed Roller, not only was it a much wanted miombo specialty but it was my last of the world’s eleven Roller species.


Another target was this Miombo Pied Barbet


Further south we stayed at this lovely lodge in the midst of an extensive tea plantation.


We were treated to a candlelit dinner out on the lawn.


A record shot of this Livingstone’s Turaco, one of several excellent birds in this area.


Lizzard Buzzard is a widespread bird through much of tropical Africa

Posted December 23, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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Malawi and Zimbabwe – 23rd November – 12th December.   Leave a comment

I returned on the 13th from an excellent three week trip to Malawi and Zimbabwe. Whilst not producing the huge numbers of birds and big game that you would associate with say, Kenya or Tanzania, the tour was most rewarding and I added 47 life birds to my life list.

The tour started in the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe where ever before we reached the hotel we had scored with a ‘mega’, the tiny but seldom observed Locustfinch. The following day we visited Dzalanyama forest, a wonderful area of miombo woodland that is slowly being destroyed for charcoal production. We missed a number of the key species here but were able to catch up with most of them later in the trip.


Miombo woodland, a habitat that dominates south central Africa from Mozambique to Angola. This is a difficult habitat to bird in, the trees all look the same making directions difficult, birds are scarce and only travel in fast moving parties and are easily lost in the dense foliage. Fortunately this pair of African Hawk-eagles were easy enough to see well.


As well as miombo specialties, visiting Malawi allowed me to catch up on a number of widespread, but scarce, species such as this Ovambo Sparrowhawk. I have done 13 trips within its extensive African range but this is the first time I have seen it.


Further south we birded the few remaining woodland patches in the Vomba area, most of the forest has been transformed into tea plantations.


These White-eared Barbets were eating figs at Vomba. Other good birds included Buff-spotted Flufftail, White-winged Apalis and Green-headed Oriole ,which we got by the skin of our teeth as we were leaving.


Travelling up river to Liwonde NP we saw many Elephants and Hippos from our boat.


Accommodation was at Mvuu camp within the park. We stayed in these nice chalets. Bushbuck and a range of waterbirds could be seen from the balcony and a guard had to pick you up to take you to the restaurant in case you ran into an Elephant  or a Hippo on route.


We broke to long journey to the north on the shores of Lake Malawi. This is the view at dawn. The lake occupies 20% of the country’s area and the fish it provides are a major source of protein.


We had another bash at miombo woodland on the way to and the way back from the Nyika Plateau. These look like autumnal colours but are in fact the colour of newly emerged leaves in the southern spring.


Rocky outcrops, wooded valleys and extensive grassy areas make up the Nyika Plateau. part of our birding was in Zambia which co-owns the Park.


Magnificent Roan along with Eland, Zebra and Reedbuck were a common sight at Nyika.


A displaying male Black-bellied Bustard. It would extend its neck, then lower it whilst making a gurgling sound, wait two seconds then open its wings and make a loud popping sound.


From Malawi’s capital Lilongwe we had to fly overnight all the way north to Nairobi to get a flight to Harare (a bit like flying from Edinburgh to Paris to get to Glasgow). We then had a long drive to the Vumba mountains on the Mozambique border. Unfortunately it rained for most of our stay. We got the birds but not the photos, we could have done with taking some of the rain with us to our next destination!


On the optional extension we drove from Harare eight hours north to the Zambezi valley. The river, a tributary of the Zambezi was dry as was this creek. We had some great birding but dipped on our primary goal, the mega-elusive African Pitta. It is only visible when the rains start and they were late this year. Hence we didn’t even hear one. Frustratingly as we were waiting at Harare airport to fly home, clouds built up and there was a rainstorm as we left.


Beautiful White-fronted Bee-eaters provided some compensation for the dip.

This is a brief summary of the trip. I will upload several more posts about the trip as I go through the 1500+ photos that I took.

Posted December 19, 2013 by gryllosblog in Uncategorized

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