Travel & Nature

Eastern highlands portion of my trip

by Anton Schultz

Day 12

Late morning departure for the Machipanda border post which actually went smoother than expected. Augur buzzard on the way up (It’s weird to think about how freaked out about this bird I was in Namibia and how many I’ve seen in the highlands now) Also a small raptor, a very small raptor, with very pointy wings that looked reddish…Unfortunately that’s all it will be remembered as for now.

Got to Seldomseem just after midday where I was greeted by a bunch of Robert’s warblers as well as Bulawesi the charismatic bird guide. Who even in our greeting conversation would occasionally poke an ear out and call out a chirinda apalis or the likes.

We went out birding for the afternoon and it was just incredible. For starters. Singing cisticola and broad tailed warbler in the grasslands nearby seldomseem. Both of which calling their lungs out.

The next target proved to be an elusive bugger. The severely range restricted swynerton’s Robin. Not to be said that there weren’t plenty of forest birds to entertain while looking for the Robin though. Without even trying we got white tailed crested flycatcher, chirinda apalis, stripe cheeked greenbul and even red faced crimsonwing amongst the more widespread forest birds. After multiple halfglances of the Robin leaving me uncomfortable. I eventually managed to get my binoculars on one for a full 2 seconds of bliss before it flew off, little crescent and all.

We ended the day at Bulawesi’s mottled Swift spot where after a bit of a wait we had a flock fly fairly close to us. Also an African hobby to finish a great day.

Day 13:

A very difficult sleep due to my air mattress popping. But a lack of deep sleep didn’t do much to waver my excitement for the day to come. Burma valley awaited. (That being said. It didn’t wait with arms outstretched) the drive out of the forest in the dark yielded about 10 orange ground thrushes. I love this place.

A very tough half day passed with lots of intermittent rain where we were ultimately unsuccessful in picking up an orange winged pytilia. That certainly didn’t stop Bulawesi from trying though. He pushed and pushed with a tired me dragging behind. Eventually we salvaged the day with a short winged cisticola which we had to work surprisingly hard for.

Not to say that birds like silvery cheeked Hornbill, red throated twinspot and even more mottled Swift weren’t cool though. Perhaps I should redefine my definition of a tough day! Lots of blue spotted wood doves on the way back to camp just added to the sweetness.

Spent the next half of the day going back to that spot where I saw the small raptor with the pointy wings. Vigilant scanning revealed about 5000 white necked ravens. For my own sanity, I stopped thinking about Eleanora’s falcon. Let it go.

Day 14:

Said my goodbyes to Bulawesi and headed down the mountain road back to Mutare. Stopped for a “short” detour to look for blue swallow on some hills in the area. Well a small walk turned into a massive hike (and quite an awesome one at that) lots of singing cisticolas, dark capped yellow warblers and more Augur buzzards but no blue swallow. Who was I to care though, it was stunning.

Decided to give an old gentleman wearing a fancy suit a lift down to Mutare. What an amazing guy he turned out to be. A farmer from the area. He very quickly offered me a bed to sleep in on his farm next time I was in the area, I offered the same for Joburg (and it looked like he was seriously considering it)

He then made my day by telling me about the “fluffytails” (buff spotted flufftail) he had around his old house and how he saw them every day skulking around. Then about the one time the little black chicks wandered into his house and he had to pick them up and put them back outside where the parents were hooting. (Using onomatopoeia to tell me this) I probably would’ve been a little jealous were I not smiling from ear to ear at his descriptions.

Got some black market petrol and some food on the way through Mutare and up Christmas pass. Headed into Honde Valley and eventually to Aberfoyle lodge where I was greeted by my kind English hosts. Walked past a TV screen to see the bokke kissing the World Cup. “WE WON!” I exclaimed, next to the only English people for miles.

Met Morgan Sanyeti who would be guiding me the following day. Showed him my target list and he smiled. “Easy!”

Day 15

Morgan wasn’t lying. At 4:30 we were off to katiyo tea estate where the lifers just came rolling in. Black winged bishop, red winged warbler, a stunning pair of marsh tchagras and some very loud and proud moustached grass warblers.

We then went off to the green backed woodpecker patch which actually turned out to be the only target too tough for the day. A Flat tire meant a little birding time sacrificed, but this wasn’t disastrous.

We returned back to the lodge where Morgan showed me his pallid honeyguide at his particular spot in a particular part of a tree only seen from one particular angle. I let Morgan off for the rest of the day since he got me my targets so quickly.

Basked in the warm glow of Aberfoyle’s wifi for a little while. Visited a feeder with some confiding red faced crimsonwings and pushed and pushed for a green backed woodpecker which never showed.

Ended the day with Morgan back at my side looking at flocks of Swift’s flying overhead. Basically the palm swifts would be flying lower down. The scarce swifts further up. But in all honesty I couldn’t see a difference between the two, despite Morgan’s insistence that “that one over there” was a scarce swift.

I lay on my back looking at the swifts with my hands cupped around my ears listening. Eventually to my relief, two scarce swifts came flying lower down. One chased the other and “tik tik tik tik” YESSS! What a silly way to tick a bird. Lying down, with your hands cupped around your ears, listening for a distinctive metallic “tik” which means you’ve got a scarce swift. 6 birds in 1 day. Not too shabby.

Day 16

Tried for green backed woodpecker one more time with Morgan before heading off. Still nothing. Quite odd considering that these are supposedly plentiful in the area.

Due to Morgan’s awesome target hitting. I decided to leave the eastern highlands a little earlier to give myself more Mozambique time. Said my goodbyes to Aberfoyle and with a speck of petrol. Made my way to Mutare.

Crossed the border back Into Mozambique and headed to Casa Msika lodge a tired but content man. What a great offbranch to a trip.

Total birds at this point in the trip:

Total yearbirds now: #786 (so close guys! Updates to come)

P.S-To anyone going to the area as inexperienced and with as little time as I had. I’d heavily suggest you use both Bulawesi and Morgan as guides in the area. They both have a real passion for birds and they both know their stuff.

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