Ecuador Trip Report

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Ecuador is an amazing birding destination with a checklist of more than 1800 species and a variety of habitats. For this trip we would focus on the western and eastern slopes of the Andes, as we only had 12 days, so the Amazonian specials will have to wait for the next trip. Some of the highlights were Channel-billed and Choco Toucans, 5 species of Mountain-toucan and Toucanet’s, 7 species of Antpitta, various Antbird’s, Antwren, Antvireo, Antshrike and Antthrush. The Andean Condor is just such an iconic species and the main mammal highlight was a great Spectacled Bear sighting. We had 60 species of Hummingbird including highlights like Sword-billed and Giant Hummingbird, Tourmaline Sunangel and Lazuline Sabrewing and 53 species of Tanager. Our lodges all had feeders which made seeing these two colourful families a lot easier and we ended up with more than 450 species which is remarkable as we spend all of our time in forest habitats. Below is a daily report with only some of the highlights mentioned.

Arrival Day: Jerusalem dry forest and garden birds
Since most of the group arrived a day early we decided to visit the nearby dry forest of the Jerusalem Reserve. This habitat does not hold the number of birds that we will be seeing the rest of the trip but it did give us a chance to see this unique habitat and to pick up a few birds that we will not see elsewhere. On the way we stopped at a pond for Andean Teal, Andean coot, Yellow-billed Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe and a Greater Yellowlegs. The dry forest did produce some birds like Purple-collared Woodstar, Harris Hawk, Variable Hawk, American Kestrel, Vermillion Flycatcher, Azara Spinetail, House Wren, Giant Hummingbird, Ash-breasted Sierra-finch, Pale-banded Seedeater and White-collared Swift. For the rest of the afternoon we enjoyed the great garden birds at our Guesthouse and saw Sparkling Violetear, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Black-tailed Trainbearer, Saffron Finch, Scrub, Blue-grey and Blue and Yellow Tanager, Great Thrush, American Kestrel, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Golden Grosbeak, Rusty Flowerpiercer and Western Emerald. It was a great introduction into the more common birds found around Quito and got everyone excited about what was about to come – and we were in for a real treat.

Day 1: Yanacocha and the Tandayapa Valley
After an early breakfast we were off to Yanacocha Reserve, managed by the Jocotoco Foundation, protecting an amazing patch of cloud forest. After a quick stop for Andean Lapwing and Paramo Ground-tyrant and a visit to the feeders where we saw Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanager, Shining Sunbeam, Masked and Glossy Flowerpiercer we were off on one of the various trails. The first 45 minutes didn’t produce many new birds except for Tyrian Metaltail and a great sighting of Tawny Antpitta so we decided to venture further down into the forest. This proved to be a great decision as we quickly walked into a few feeding flocks. Some of the highlights were a big group of Blue and Black Tanager, Barred Fruiteater, Yellow-breasted Brush-finch, Blackish Tapaculo, Andean Guan, Striped Tuftedcheek, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Buff-winged Starfrontlet, Great Sapphirewing, Hooded Mountain-tanager, White-banded Tyrannulet, Rufous Wren, Spectacled Whitestart, Superciliaried Hemispingus and Blue-backed Conebill.
After a very enjoyable lunch we started making our way down into the Tandayapa Valley on the famous Nono-Mindo road and although we did not have as much time to explore as we would have liked we still managed to see Golden-headed Quetzal, Beautiful Jay, Choco Brush-finch, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Blue-winged Mountain and Golden Tanager, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Lesser Violetear, Brown-capped Vireo and White-tailed Tyrannulet.
We had a fantastic view of a White-capped Dipper and we heard Andean Cock-of-a-rock and with the knowledge that we will be visiting a lek in a few days we somehow resisted the temptation to explore. Next would be Rio Silanche and Milpe Reserve for what would end up as one of the highlights of the trip.

Day 2: Rio Silanche and Milpe Reserves
After a quick coffee we were off to the Rio Silanche Reserve where we wanted to spend the first few hours of the day at the famous viewing tower. After a quick stop for Common Pauraque, which also produced Collared Aracari, Rufous Motmot, Laughing Falcon and Lemon-rumped Tanager, we hurried to get to the platform as soon as possible. And what a fantastic few hours followed. We were treated to great views of Choco Toucan (one of the main targets for this trip), Pale-mandibled Aracari, Cinnamon Woodpecker, Orange-fronted Barbet, Southern Mealy and Bronze-winged Parrots, Dot-winged Antwren, Yellow-tufted Dacnis and Striped Flycatcher. We had several mixed flocks moving through which included Palm, Golden-hooded, Dusky-faced, Guira, Grey and Gold and Blue-necked Tanagers, Choco Tyrannulet, Northern Barred and Spotted Woodcreeper, Plain Xenops, Olivaceous Piculet, Yellow-tufted Dacnis, Buff-throated Saltator and White-whiskered Hermit.
After enjoying our packed breakfast we decided to take one of the trails through the forest and started off with a Chestnut-backed Antbird, Checker-throated and White-sided Antwren, White-tailed Trogon, White-bearded Manakin, Guayaquil Woodpecker, Black-streaked Woodcreeper and Red-faced Spinetail.
From here we spend a few hours at the Milpe Sanctuary and even with a few very light periods of rain we still managed to see both Choco and Yellow-throated Toucan, Red-headed Barbet, Silver-throated, Golden, Rufous-throated, Blue-grey Tanager, Green Flowerpiercer, Yellow-throated Bush-tanager, Ecuadorian Thrush, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Green Thorntail, White-necked Jacobin, Blue-chested Hummingbird, Crowned Woodnymph, Green-crowned Brilliant, Purple-crowned Fairy, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Scale-crested Pygmy-tyrant and Ornate Flycatcher.
As we got back to our lodge we were treated to a great spectacle at the feeders with White-booted Rackettail, Purple-throated Whitetip, Brown Violetear, Brown Inca, Velvet-purple Coronet, Purple-bibbed Whitetip, Purple-throated Woodstar, Flame-faced Tanager, Black-winged Saltator and a Black Agouti to add another mammal to our count.
Overall it was a spectacular day – the western slope of the Andes is a truly spectacular birding destination.
Choco Toucan (2)Velvet-purple CoronetYellow-throated Toucan

Day 3: Refuge Paz de la Aves
Today was always going to be a highlight and wow it did not disappoint!! After our customary early morning coffee and a short drive we were at the Cock-of-a-Rock spot at first light. Even as we approached we could hear the males calling and soon had more than 8 males in the area. We were treated to a wonderful display including a few perching less than 10 meters from us. While watching them we were distracted by a Golden-headed Quetzal, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk and Masked Trogon. As we made our way up the mountain our first stop produced Powerful Woodpecker, Common Potoo at a day roost, Sharpe’s Wren, Red-billed Parrot and then Angel managed to call out a Dark-backed Wood Quail. The way he had them habituated to his presence was impressive but what was about to follow was a truly unforgettable experience. First he called out a Moustached Antpitta and we just missed a Giant Antpitta. From here we moved a little higher where got excellent views of Rufous-crowned Antpitta and Yellow-breasted Antpitta. Toucan Barbet, Black-capped and Beryl-spangled Tanagers were a very welcome distraction.
And as we thought that was it we went for breakfast at Angel’s place (best breakfast of the trip) with Golden-naped, Black-capped, Flame-faced, Golden, Blue-grey, Black-chinned Mountain, Blue-winged Mountain Tanagers, Toucan and Red-headed Barbet, Andean Emerald, Sparkling and Brown Violetear, Brown Inca, Green-crowned Brilliant, Buff-tailed Coronet and a pair of Crimson-rumped Toucanets coming to the feeders. Not bad while enjoying a freshly brewed coffee.
We made a quick stop at Alami to witness an amazing display of Hummingbirds at the feeders. We had Booted Rackettail, Andean Emerald, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird, Brown Violetear, Purple-throated Woodstar, Fawn-breasted Brilliant, White-necked Jacobin, White-whiskered Hermit and Velvet-purple Coronet to mentioned a few. Ecuadorian Thrush, White-lined, Lemon-rumped, Brush Finch, Golden-bellied Euphonia, Ringed Kingfisher and Golden-olive Woodpecker were around as well.
We made our way back to our lodge and after a quick coffee we were in a new hide as we heard of recent sightings of Rufous-breasted Antthrush and were not disappointed. After 10 minutes we had wonderful views of a single bird coming to feed on the moths. From here we decided to try to find Lyre-tailed Nightjar. A quick stop en route produced Buff-fronted Warbler and Torrent Tyrannulet before we had incredible views, both perched close to us and displaying, of the nightjar. What an incredible bird and end to the day.
Crimson-rumped Toucanet (2)

Day 4: Bellavista Reserve
With an early start we were off to the Bellavista Reserve protecting a beautiful stretch of Cloud Forest. Forest birding is always most productive during the first few hours of the day but we decided to try a new hide where we heard good reports of insectivorous birds. And we were not disappointed for one second. As we arrived with the lights still on and plenty of moths around we saw Slaty-backed Nightingale-thrush – what a beautiful bird. The next couple of hours just kept on producing brilliant birds that included Uniform Antshrike, Spillman’s Tapaculo, Yellow-breasted Antpitta, Dusky Bush Tanager, Grey-breasted Wood-wren, Strong-billed, Montane, Wedge-billed and Plain-brown Woodcreepers, Western Woodhunter, Pearled Treerunner, Golden-crowned Flycatcher and Lineated Foliage-gleaner. These birds normally require a lot of effort to get a glimpse off never mind see so well. A quick stop at the Hummingbird feeders produced Tawny-bellied Hermit, Velvet-purple and Buff-tailed Coronet, Collared Inca, Sparkling Violetear, Spotted Hummingbird, Gorgeted Sunangel and White-sided Flowerpiercer. What a fantastic couple of hours.
It would have been great to stay a little longer but it was time to head up the mountain to the reserve. Our main target here was Plate-billed Mountain-toucan and we ended up with 3 different sightings. This was one of the main targets of the trip and we had a very happy group. That said I have yet to meet a birder that does not get excited when seeing a Mountain-toucan. Other great birds that we saw was Grass-green, Blue-winged Mountain, Flame-faced, Blue and Black Tanagers, Long-tailed Antbird, Sickle-winged Guan, Red-billed and Bronze-winged Parrot,
It was time to head of to our next destination but a bit of roadside birding produced Social Flycatcher, Pacific Hornero, Red-faced Spinetail, Southern Rough-winged Swallow, Roadside Hawk and Swallow Tanager.

Day 5: Mashpi Cloud Forest Area
Today was our last morning in the western slopes of the Andes and we were hoping to see a few more Choco endemics. It was extremely misty and although at some point we could not even make out birds a few meters from us, we still enjoyed these unusual conditions. Luckily this didn’t last long and we starting seeing some good birds. A roosting Lyre-tailed Nightjar was a good start to the day followed by a displaying Golden-winged Manakin. What an amazing sight to see this beautiful bird move up and down flicking its golden wings to attract the attention of a nearby female. There we several Becard’s around and we quickly saw Barred, Uniform, White-winged and Cinnamon. Tanagers were all over and we found Moss-backed, Golden, Flame-faced, Glistening Green (a truly amazing bird), Blue-grey, Rufous-throated and Blue-winged Mountain. Yellow-bellied Euphonia, Wedge-billed Woodcreeper, Bay Wren, Golden-headed Quetzal, Variable and Yellow-bellied Seedeater, Rosy-faced Parrot, Maroon-tailed Parakeet, White-tipped Sicklebill, Broad-billed and Rufous Motmot and Golden-collared Honeycreeper.
White-throated Quail-dove, Black Solitaire, Orange-breasted Fruiteater and Indigo Flowerpiercer were all big targets and were all seen this morning. From here it was time to head back to Quito but not without a quick stop for coffee and taking a group photo when crossing the equator. It was time to move to the Eastern slopes.
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Day 6: Papallacta and Wild Sumaco
With a slightly later start than what we have accustomed to over the last few days we set off for the Eastern slopes of the Andes. Our first target for today was a mammal and not a bird. After scanning for a lengthy period we found a male Spectacles Bear feeding against one of the steep slopes. They are the only Bears found in South America and we really enjoyed this sighting. Unfortunately the weather set in and we confronted with heavy rain, strong winds and sub-zero temperatures as we reach the top of the pass. This did not stop us from trying to find our next target, the Rufous-bellied Seed-snipe. After a lot of searching we had to give up as the weather was just too bad as can happen at 4200m above sea level. We did however see Stout-billed and Rufous-winged Cinclodes, Caranculated Caracara, Plumbeous Sierra-finch and Andean Tit-spinetail. Luckily we did work in an extra day to visit this altitude again so we will have another chance for the missing targets. From here we made our way to Wild Sumaco Lodge which will be our base for the next two nights. With a mixed habitat of Eastern Andes Slope and Amazon species this is a one of the more diverse birding areas in Ecuador. On the way we did find Long-tailed Sylph, Torrent Duck, Channel-billed Toucan, Rufous-backed and Crested Oropendola, White-lored Euphonia, Lined Antshrike, Cliff Flycatcher, Chestnut-bellied Seedeater, Fawn-breasted and Magpie Tanager, Violaceous Jay, Thrush-like Wren, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Green and Gold Tanager and Violet-headed Hummingbird.
Torrent Duck.jpg

Day 7: Wild Sumaco
Today we had a full day to explore this wonderful area. Our first target was the Ochre-breasted Antpitta and as we made our way down to where we were hoping to see the bird we ran into a nice mixed feeding flock. Blue-naped Chlorophonia was the main start with plenty of Paradise, Blue-grey, Palm, Golden, Golden-eared, Blue-necked, Spotted, Flame-faced, Bay-headed, Blue-browed, Swallow, Green and Gold and Orange-eared Tanagers, Black-faced Dacnis, Olive-backed, Olivaceous and Montane Woodcreeper and Golden-eyed Flowerpiercer around. We didn’t have to wait long to see the Antpitta and had the added bonus of seeing a White-crowned Tapaculo and Chestnut-crowned Gnateater as well. The Hummingbird feeders was very productive and we quickly saw Gould’s Jewelfront, Violet-fronted Brilliant, Collared Inca, Rufous-vented Whitetip, Peruvian Racket-tail, Long-tailed Sylph, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Many-spotted Hummingbird and Brown Violetear to name a few and most of this while enjoying a great breakfast or lunch. One of the great things about birding in Ecuador is that while taking a short break from walking or driving you can just wait at the feeders and continue to see fantastic birds. Collared Trogon was also found in the garden. As we left for the afternoon we found a Black Hawk-eagle flying overhead and Maroon-tailed Parakeet in the lodge gardens.
The afternoon was spend exploring deep in the forest looking for a few of the more difficult species. We did see a Amazonian Trogon as we started and by the end of the walk we had White-crested Tapaculo, Blue-rumped, Golden-winged and White-crested Manakin, Blackish Antbird, Black-faced Antwren and Russet Antshrike to name a few. We enjoyed a great night’s sleep with the constant soft rain.

Day 8: Wild Sumaco and off to San Isidro:
This was our final morning at Wild Sumaco and we were up early to make the most of it. We had a great start with White-chested and Black-streaked Puffbird, Short-tailed Antthrush, Lafresnaye’s Piculet, Lineated, Yellow-tufted and Spot-breasted Woodpecker, Plain-backed Antpitta, Gilded Barbet, Ornate, Yellow-breasted and Plain-winged Antwren. A beautiful male Andean Cock-of-the-Rock from the eastern race was a great sighting and we had Blackish Rail out in the open. We managed to find Red-crested Finch which according to distribution maps should not be in the area. We managed to see a few very special Hummingbirds like Black-eared Fairy, Lazuline and Napo Sabrewing, Black-throated Brilliant, Green Hermit and Green-fronted Lancebill.
A few other nice birds on the way out was Black-billed Treehunter, Streaked Xenops, Dark-breasted Spinetail, Crimson-crested Woodpecker, Cliff Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Large-headed Flatbill, Short-crested Flycatcher, Yellow-cheeked and White-winged Becard and Slaty-capped Shrike-vireo. We arrived in San Isidro by late afternoon and enjoyed a wonderful dinner.

Day 9: San Isidro
We woke up with constant rain as we woke up that continued until about 11h00 which made birding difficult but the local Hummingbird feeders did produce Bronzy and Collared Inca, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Speckled Hummingbird, Gorgeted Woodstar, Green-fronted Lancebill and Fawn-breasted Brilliant. Once the rain cleared we did manage to get a productive afternoon of birding in and did see Black-crested Warbler, Common and Yellow-throated Bush Tanager, Tropical and Solitary Cacique, Russet-baked Oropendola, Southern Lapwing, Lacrimose Mountain Tanager, Beryl-spangled, Blue-and-Black, Black-capped and Saffron-crowned Tanagers, Golden-eyed, Masked and Bluish Flowerpiercer, Olivaceous Siskin, Inca Jay, Mountain Wren, Rufous-crowned Tody-flycatcher and Handsome Flycatcher.
A late afternoon excursion did produce Sickle-winged and Andean Guan, White-chested and Chestnut-collared Swifts, Rufous-bellied Nighthawk and finally the famous San Isidro Owl. This mystery owl still remains unresolved with a subspecies of Black-banded Owl probably the closest known species. It sounds like if we will have an answer by the end of the year on whether this owl will be named as a full species or just a subspecies. Regardless we had fantastic views and a wonderful end to the day. We decided that for the following day we would try to catch up with a couple of missing species before heading further up the mountain for our final night on the slopes.
Chestnut-breasted Coronet.jpg

Day 10: San Isidro to Guango
We had a couple of hours to bird in the San Isidro area and although we were off to a fairly slow start we did mange to see Red-billed Parrot, Collared Forest-falcon, Montane and Strong-billed Woodcreeper, Lacrimose Mountain, Saffron-crowned, Blue and Black, Palm, Golden Blue-winged Mountain and Common Bush and Yellow-throated Bush Tanagers, Flavescent, Golden-crowned, Pale-edged, Streak-necked and Cinnamon Flycatcher, Mountain and Grey-breasted Mountain Wren, Collared and Bronzy Inca, Pale-eyed and Ecuadorian Thrush, Chestnut-breasted Coronet, Inca Jay, Black and Chestnut Eagle, Smoke-collared Pewee, Subtropical and Northern Mountain Caciques, Oleaginous and Black-headed Hemispingus and Black-crested Warbler. Long-tailed Tapaculo kept us busy for a while and on the way to Guangu we did see Torrent Tyrannulet, Spectacled Whitestart, Red-breasted Blackbird, Russet-backed Oropendola, Ash-browed Spinetail and Band-tailed Pigeon.
After settling in and enjoying the fantastic hummingbird feeders at Guango where we quickly picked up White-bellied Woodstar, Sword-billed Hummingbird and Tourmaline Sunangel we decided to try the mountain trail with the Grey-breasted Mountain-toucan our main target. We had a great start to the walk with Rufous Antpitta, Slaty-backed Chat-tyrant, Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Grey-hooded Bush Tanager, Black-eared Hemispingus (good day for Hemispingus), Russet-crowned and Black-crested Warbler, Slaty, Chestnut-capped and Pale-naped Brushfinch, Cinnamon Flycatcher and Bar-bellied Woodcreeper. As we decided to head back to the lodge we did a final scan and we found the Mountain-toucan. What a fantastic end to the day.

Day 11: Guango to Quito
We decided to try and find some missing birds found higher up the mountain early this morning to hopefully use the better weather conditions in the morning. We had a very successful start when we stopped for a great Black-chested Buzzard-eagle sighting and ran into a nice mixed flock with Buff-breasted Mountain Tanager, Shining Sunbeam, Purple-backed Thornbill, Cinerous Conebill, Black and Masked Flowerpiercer, the absolutely stunning Golden-crowned Tanager, Brown-backed Chat-tyrant, Plain-backed Hawk, Pale-naped Brushfinch, Red-crested Cotinga and Plain-coloured Seedeater. We did manage to lure a Rufous Antpitta out of its hiding place as well. We did try to find the Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes on top of the Papallacta Pass but again was faced with driving rain and strong winds so had to settle for a Tawny Antpitta, Plumbeous Sierra-finch, Rufous-winged and Stout-billed Cinclodes and Many-striped Canastero.
Before lunch we did a quick walk around Guango Lodge and had great views of Mountain Caciques, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Capped Conebill, Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrant, Smoky Bush Tyrant, Pearled Treerunner, Spectacled Whitestart, Turquoise Jay and Russet-crowned Warbler. After a much appreciated warm lunch (including a wonderful soup) we headed back up the mountain a final time a luckily quickly found out 3 targets: Black-backed Bush Tanager, White-throated Tyrannulet and the highlight a Masked Mountain Tanager. We arrived back in Quito by late afternoon with one more full day of birding left.
Shining Sunbeam.jpg

Day 12: Antisana
Most of the chat during breakfast was about seeing the Endean Condor as this was a big target for some in the group. After our drive up the Andes we had an excellent sighting of a Condor perching on a cliff (close to where it is nesting) and soon after moving on we encountered another two in flight. Caranculated Caracara’s were plentiful offering great close ups. An Aplomado Falcon was a nice surprise and soon after we had another of our targets – the Andean Hillstar. Regular stops produces Stout-billed and Rufous-winged Cinclodes, Black-winged Ground-dove, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Many-striped Canastero, Grass Wren and Brown Bellied Swallows. We saw our first White-tailed Deer and once we entered the open Paramo (offering great views of the Antisana Volcano) we saw more of our key targets in Andean Lapwing, Black-faced Ibis and Paramo Pipit. At Lake Mica we found Andean Duck, Andean Teal, Andean Gull and the main target the Silvery Grebe. We made our way back down to enjoy a wonderful lunch at Tambo Condor Restaurant overlooking the Condor cliff (at least one adult was present which was brilliant) with Giant Hummingbird around. We enjoyed a final dinner together in Quito before everyone left for the airport for the flights back home. It was a very successful and truly enjoyable trip.

Birding in and around Windhoek

Shaft-tailed-Whydah-(1)Many people find it strange that I love my hometown of Windhoek so much. They say it is dry and drab, but I see it completely differently. It sits at 1700 metres above sea level (12th highest capital in the world) in the Khomas Highland plateau area between the Auas and Eros mountain ranges. It is home to about 400 000 people at a low density of only 63 per square kilometre and has over 300 sunny days per year.

It is also very rich in avifauna, with over 300 species possible in and around Windhoek, many of them near-endemics of Namibia. There are a few key areas to visit to maximise your bird count here.

Daan Viljoen.jpg

The Daan Viljoen Game Park on the western side of the city provides excellent dry-country birding and could yield Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rockrunner, Carp’s Tit, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Orange River Francolin and Barred Wren-Warbler. The park also hosts gemsbok, eland, greater kudu, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, giraffe and other antelope.

East of the city is Avis Dam, a spot that should see you add Shaft-tailed Whydah, Violet-eared Waxbill, Rock Kestrel, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Desert Cisticola to your list. If there is water in the dam you could also see South African Shelduck, Red-billed Teal or other waders and warblers.

Sewage Works (1)

The sewage works in the city is, as always, a productive if somewhat strange spot to visit. Only a birder would understand! Here you should see Maccoa Duck, Purple Heron, Common Moorhen or even Black-necked Grebe and Baillon’s Crake if you are lucky.

Another must-visit spot is the area around the odd “ice cream cone” structure on the hill in the city centre. You can’t miss it! This is a good spot for White-tailed Shrike, Pririt Batis, Rosy-faced Lovebird and Chestnut Weaver.

Rosy-faced Lovebird

So you see, even in a supposedly dry and drab place like Windhoek, there is plenty of birding excitement to be had. That is why I love the city so much and am proud to call it home.

South Africa Birding trip report

We just completed a very successful South Africa birding safari with 2 clients from Canada. This was their 4th African birding safari with Nature Travel Birding and the main focus was on finding key endemic and range restricted species and species still missing from their African lists.

We started off at Magoebaskloof, a very attractive part of South Africa offering excellent forest and grassland birding. One of our main targets was the localised Short-clawed Lark which we found not far from our excellent lodge. In the forest our main targets were Cape Parrot, Olive and Black-fronted Bush-shrikes and we had great views of all three of them. Other specials we saw include Bat Hawk, Magpie Mannikin, Lazy Cisticola, Olive Woodpecker, Cape Batis, Lemon Dove, Long-billed Pipit, Brown Scrub-robin, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Knysna Turaco, Purple-crested Turaco, African Black Duck, African Emerald Cuckoo, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Swee Waxbill, Grey-rumped Swallow, Long-crested eagle, Jackal Buzzard and Barrat’s Warbler.

From here we moved onto Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s best game viewing parks offering excellent birding as well. Kruger is fantastic for raptors and we saw White-headed, White-backed, Lappet-faced, Cape and Hooded Vultures, Martial, Tawny, Lesser Spotted and Bateleur Eagles, Black-chested and Brown snake-eagles, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Black-winged Kite, Yellow-billed Kite, Amur Falcon and Secretarybird. Other interested birds include Kori Bustard, Red-chested Korhaan, Dusky Lark, Brown-headed Parrot, Bearded, Golden-tailed and Cardinal Woodpecker, Southern Ground, African Grey, Southern Yellow-billed and Red-billed Hornbills, Crested Francolin, Mocking Cliff-chat, Burchell’s Starling, Eurasian and African Golden Orioles, White-crested and Retz’s Helmet-shrikes, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Burchell’s Coucal, Southern Carmine Bee-eater and Yellow-billed Oxpecker to name a few. The game viewing did not disappoint (never does in this fantastic game reserve) and we had great sightings of African Wild dog (followed them on the hunt for 15 minutes), Cheetah, Leopard, Lion (including 3 different sightings in a 45 minute period), White Rhino, Cape Buffalo and off course hundreds of Elephant and Hippo.

Male Lion

From here we moved south to Wakkerstroom, an excellent place to see many of South Africa’s endemic birds and grassland specials. The key targets here for most birders are Botha’s and Rudd’s Larks and we had excellent views of both including Botha’s Lark on a nest! Other great birds we saw are White-bellied and Blue Korhaan, Southern Bald Ibis, Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat, African Rock and Yellow-breasted Pipit, Sentinel Rock-thrush, Denham’s Bustard, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Red-chested Flufftail, Eastern Long-billed and Spike-heeled Lark, Cloud, Zitting, Wing-snapping, Levailant’s and Croaking Cisticola, Cape Longclaw, Cape Weaver, Fan-tailed, Red-collared and Long-tailed Widowbird, Malachite Sunbird, South African Cliff Swallow, African Snipe, Grey-crowned and Blue Crane.

Our final stop was northern Kwazulu Natal visiting key sites such as Mkuze Game Reserve, Ongoye Forest, Amatigulu, Nkandla Forest, Mtunzini, Richard’s Bay, Dlinza Aerial Board and Eshowe Forest. This part of South Africa had a lot of rain over the last few weeks but this did not prevent us from finding Gorgeous Bushshrike, Rudd’s Apalis, Spotted Ground Thrush, Lesser Crested Tern, Allen’s Gallinule, Pink-backed Pelican, Common Quail, Common Buttonquail, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Green Barbet, Grey Cuckooshrike, Narina Trogon, Black-bellied Starling, Little Bittern, Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbill, Square-tailed Drongo, Chorister Robin-chat, Olive Sunbird, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Purple-banded Sunbird, Rufous-winged Cisticola, White-eared Barbet, African Pygmy Goose, Red-headed Quelea, Palm-nut Vulture, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Crested Guineafowl and African Cuckoo-hawk.

We ended up with an impressive 375 birds and 45 mammals and had great sightings of most of the key targets. This part of Africa is still one of my favourites and a must for any serious birder whether on a first African birding trip or having done several previous African trips. Extensions to the Drakensberg Mountains and Cape Town area should be considered to complete the South African endemics.

 

Windhoek Birding Day Trip Report

Even if one has very little time when visiting Windhoek, there is an option of a quick guided birding trip around the city. This morning I did a two hour birding walk with a client from the UK. Due to time constraints we decided to bird close to Windhoek and we had a very productive couple of hours. We had fantastic views of no fewer than 4 Rockrunner!! We were lucky with raptors and found Common Buzzard, Black-winged Kite, Rock Kestrel and Gabar Goshawk. Monteiro’s Hornbill is always a highlight being a near endemic.

With lots of flying insects we had lots of swifts and swallows with Greater Striped Swallow, Rock Martin, Little and White-rumped and African Palm Swift. In the grassy areas we found Zitting Cisticola, Southern Red Bishop, Lesser Grey Shrike, Red-backed Shrike, Black-chested Prinia, Helmeted Guineafowl, Red-billed Spurfowl and Scaly-feathered Weaver.

Other interesting scrub, rocky and woodland birds include Brubru, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Mountain Wheatear, Cape Bunting, Rattling Cisticola, Blue, Violet-eared and Black-cheeked Waxbill, Swallow-tailed and European Bee-eater, Diderick Cuckoo, Cardinal Woodpecker, Long-billed Crombec, Rosy-faced Lovebird, Green-winged Pytilia, Marico Flycatcher, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cape Wagtail, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Common Scimitarbill, Barred Wren-Warbler, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, White-backed Mousebird, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Black-throated Canary, Pririt Batis and Yellow-belled Eremomela.

We even managed to see a few mammals: Yellow Mongoose, Rock Hyrax and Dassie Rat. Very productive for a two hour walk and perfect for birders visiting Windhoek with limited time and can be combined with a full day or overnight trip to include more of the endemics.

Etosha NP

I am fortunate to have been able to visit al the big game parks in Africa but Etosha is still my favourite. My first memory of being in the bush was from this great place and most of my childhood holidays and weekends were spend exploring this unbelievable park.
Etosha needs no introduction and is synonymous with big game and wide open spaces. The name Etosha actually means “great white area” referring to the huge dry pan in the middle of the park. It is home to a staggering amount of wildlife, both common and rare. What makes the park unique is the floodlit waterholes at all the main camps. There is something magical about enjoying the spectacular sunset at either the Okaukuejo or Halali waterhole watching as hundreds of Double-banded Sandgrouse come to drink, landing between an Elephant herd or solitary Black Rhino.
Etosha also has a bird list of more than 350 species, and summer is definitely the best time to visit. The occasional rains then turn the dry pans into seasonal lakes, attracting migratory and wetland species in large numbers. The sight of thousands of bright pink flamingos in the Etosha pan is something one never forgets.
Etosha also has the odd record of having the smallest southern African bird, the Cape Penduline Tit, the world’s largest bird, the Common Ostrich, and the world’s largest flying bird, the Kori Bustard.
The park is furthermore home to more than 40 species of raptors and owls, and bushveld Namibian specials include Bare-cheeked Babbler, Violet Wood-hoopoe, Carp’s Tit, Monteiro’s Hornbill, Rockrunner and Rüppell’s Parrot.
It is also a hotspot for rarities, and it is the only place in the sub-region where Egyptian Vulture is seen with any regularity.
Naturally Etosha is a photographer’s dream, with the contrasts in light, colour and textures particularly dramatic. Many of my “lifer shots” of southern African bird species was taken in the park.
A variety of accommodation options are available, and include ultra-luxurious lodges, luxury bungalows, camping and caravan sites. The park is malaria free and accessible in a regular sedan car.
Whether from a birding or wildlife point of view Etosha is truly is one of the great parks of Africa.

 

Walvis Bay/ Swakopmund

I like contrasts. In nature, in photography and in my life in general. One of the most extreme examples in my home country of Namibia, is Walvis Bay where you have the contrast between the dry Namib Desert just outside Walvis Bay and the pink brilliance of over 50,000 Flamingos in the lagoon a few hundred yards away!
The two tourist towns of Walvis Bay and Swakopmund on the West Coast of Namibia are very important sanctuaries for hundreds of thousands of both resident and migrating water birds. The Walvis Bay lagoon and salt pans are regarded as the most important coastal wetland in southern Africa, as over 150,000 migrant birds spend the summer months in here, with non-breeding Palearctic and intra-African species dominating. The famous Mile 4 Saltworks just north of Swakopmund support similar species.
Over 150 different bird species have been recorded in this area. The usual suspects are Greater and Lesser Flamingos, South African Shelduck, African Black Oystercatcher, Hartlaub’s Gull, Damara Tern, Chestnut-banded Plover, Black-necked Grebe, Cape Gannet, Crowned Cormorant, Black-tailed Godwit and Red-necked Phalarope. The more rare vagrants include Broad-billed, Pectoral and Terek Sandpipers.

Although there are many rare and special species, it’s the sheer number and diversity of birds that is the major attraction of visiting the Walvis Bay/Swakopmund area. The best time for birders is between October and April when the visiting migrants are around.
For general naturalists like myself, there are also other attractions. 11 types of chameleons, lizards and geckos, and 13 species of mammal (including Pygmy Rock Mouse, Littledale’s Whistling Rat and Setzer’s Hairy-footed Gerbil) reside in the area.
I have never had birding friends or clients visit this area and leave disappointed. This area is a must stop both as a destination on its own or as part of a longer Namibia birding itinerary.

Beautiful Walvis Bay Sunset.jpg

Trip Report – Malawi

African Skimmer (4).jpg

Malawi (formerly known as Nyasaland)  is a landlocked country in southeast Africa . Lake Malawi is the ninth largest lake in the world and takes up around a third of Malawi’s area.

Visiting Malawi has exceeded all our expectations and more. The breathtaking scenery, friendly people and incredible birding makes this one of the top African destinations for any avid birding enthusiast.

Birding in Malawi is mostly centered around protected areas as there are little natural vegetation outside the national parks and protected pockets of forests. Malawi boasts a bird list of around 650 species, of which our trip ticked 326 off the list. On our short trip the main focus was the two big National Parks of Malawi (Liwonde and Nyika) as well as the Miombo Woodlands at Dzalanyama, the Viphya Plateau and the Zomba Plateau.

Starting off in Blantyre, we headed to the Zomba Plateau.  Excitement all around as we spotted our first birds; Grey-olive Greenbul , Southern Citril and an Olive-headed Greenbul. A troop of Yellow Baboon entertained us while we searched the trees for the Grey-olive Greenbul calling out loud.

Making our way to our overnight accommodation, we were treated to a beautiful sighting of red-throated twinspots, next to the road. Our early morning walk in the garden, delivered some Forest Double-collared Sunbirds as well as Samango monkeys, playing in the trees above us.

Exploring the Zomba Plateau further, we encountered  Red-rumped Swallow, Augur Buzzard, Evergreen Forest Warbler, the endemic  Yellow-throated Apalis, Malawi Batis, Little Greenbul, Placid Greenbul, Black-headed Apalis and the beautiful White-winged Apalis.

After enjoying our packed lunch we travelled to Liwonde National Park. The low-lying park stretches along the Shire River and offers excellent riverine and woodland birding. Arriving at Liwonde, our local guide was waiting for us with a big smile and lots of enthusiasm. As we alighted from the car, we only had to walk a few meters to spot our first bird in Liwonde NP – a breathtaking sighting of a Pel’s Fishing Owl flying across the Shire River. A beautiful Bohm’s Bee-eater rounded off our short walk before we started our river cruise on the Shire River. Another highlight was the Spur-winged Lapwings and trees full of Pied Kingfishers and Black-crowned Night Herons. A MGT (Malawi Gin&Tonic), lots of hippos, crocodiles and around 25 African Skimmers flying past the boat ended off another wonderful day of birding in Malawi.

During our two night stay in Liwonde, we were treated to  wonderful sightings of the localised Brown-breasted Barbet , Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Lilian’s Lovebird, White-backed Night-Heron, Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Racket tailed Roller, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Collared Palm-Thrush and Arnot’s Chat.

The late afternoon boat cruise treated us to a spectacular sighting of around 150 African Skimmers, roosting on a sandbank next to the Shire River. Other highlights included: Eurasian Hobby, Great White Pelican, Goliath Heron and Saddle-billed Stork. Early the next morning, before we made our way to the next destination, we stopped at Lake Malombe where we spotted several waders as well as flocks of Gull-billed Terns. A small group of elephants entertained us on our way back to the lodge.

Our next two night stay was in Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, which one of the prime miombo birding areas in Malawi. Whilst searching for the famous miombo “bird-parties” we were very lucky to see Stierling’s Woodpecker, Reichard’s Seedeater, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, and in the late afternoon light, an Anchieta’s Sunbird. A Side-striped Jackal and Small-eared dormouse topped off the day’s mammal list.

An early morning start walking through the miombo woodland treated us to sightings of Yellow-bellied and Southern Hyliotas, Rufous-bellied Tit, Red-capped Crombec, Boulder Chat, Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Spotted Creeper, White-breasted Cuckooshrike and African Golden Oriole.  During our afternoon walk we managed to find Bohm’s Flycather, Souza’s Shrike and Schalow’s Turaco.

Our next stop was the Viphya Plateau, where we were had great sightings of Chapin’s Apalis, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Southern Mountain Greenbul, Eurasian Blackcap, the aptly-named White-headed Saw-wing, Trilling Cisticola and an Elephant Shrew.

Our next stop was Nyika National Park, one of the most beautiful parks in the southern half of Africa. The park extends into Zambia and offers grassland and forest birding of note, most of it at an altitude of more than 2000m above sea level. The stunning rolling hills are dotted with herds of Eland, Roan Antelope, Reedbuck and Crawshay’s Zebra. Shortly after entering the park we had incredible views of Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbird, Yellow-crowned Canary, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Brown Parisoma, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Churring Cisticola and Yellow-browed Seedeater.  One of the many highlights of the day was a spectacular display of five Black-lored Cisticolas singing in a bush right next to our vehicle.

We decided to make the best of our time at Nyika and spent two full days exploring and searching for the special birds of the park. Highlights included: Dusky Turtle Dove, Montane Widowbird, Pallid Harrier, Waller’s Starling, Angola Swallow, Sharpe’s Greenbul, Bar-tailed Trogon, White-chested Alethe, Baglafecht Weaver, Moustached Tinkerbird, Slender billed Starling and Scarlet-tufted Sunbird. We had incredible sightings of two Fulleborn’s Boubou calling and interacting as well as Hildebrandt’s Francolin posing for some good photos.

We had an incredible time in Malawi, it is a country of friendly people, spectacular natural beauty and incredibly diverse birdlife. A must for the birding bucket list.