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Central Mozambique & African Pitta (1 Viewer)


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If anyone wants some extra details on birding in Central Mozambique and in particular, on searching for African Pitta, please take a look at this trip report:


Highlights included the following species over a week:

Red-chested Flufftail, Lesser Jacana, Greater Painted Snipe, Long-toed & White-crowned Lapwings, White-backed Duck, Blue Quail, Kirk’s Francolin, Southern Banded Snake-eagle, Ayer’s Hawk-eagle, African Wood Owl, Spotted Eagle-owl, Barred Owlet, Square-tailed & European Nightjars, Eastern Saw-wing, Banded Martin, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Bronze-naped Pigeon, Miombo Rock-thrush, Collared Palm-thrush, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Green-headed Oriole, Pallid Honeyguide, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Red-winged Warbler, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Black-headed Apalis, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Moustached Grass-warbler, Chirinda Apalis, Anchieta’s Tchagra, Eastern Nicator, Speckle-throated Woodpecker, African Broadbill, Narina Trogon, Mangrove Kingfisher, African Pitta, Tiny Greenbul, Chestnut-fronted & Retz’s Helmetshrikes, White-chested Alethe, East Coast Akalat, Eastern Bearded Scrub-robin, Purple-crested Turaco, Livingstone’s Turaco, Blue-cheeked & Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Red-throated Twinspot, Locust & Quail Finches, Southern Hyliota and Cabanis’s Bunting.

It also includes details of birding parts of Eastern Zimbabwe.
Great report Andy. A friend of mine, who I was in Zambia with a number of years ago, has been warning me to save some time over December in the next couple of years to try for African Pitta either in Zambia or Zimbabwe; and also Lillian's Lovebird. Ill be passing on this trip report link, it should come in very useful. Looks like the Pittas were relatively straightforward, especially compared to (what little i've read of) the main Zambian site. Timing sounds a bit touch and go though!

Cheers, Gareth - and you've just reminded me - I was tempted to suggest that one improvement would be to incorporate more flexibility. You could go armed with Mphingwe Lodge's phone number and only head there once they have displaying birds or rain. I did ask Errol which of the accommodations we used needed advanced booking and some do but I can't quite remember which. You'd just have to look into this carefully beforehand. It should be reasonably easy to contact most or all via web links and Chris Lotz' ABC bulletin, or ask Errol or Etienne direct.
The following gives some extra African Pitta thoughts from a friend of mine:

The Masoka Camp site (http://markalisha.blogspot.com/2013/12/zimbabwe-ocd-like-compendium-of-delights.html) is probably a touch more reliable [than Moz], particularly in the early season (mid-December). The birds are more confiding than they are in the coutadas generally. Access to Masoka is perhaps a touch more difficult given the remoteness of the Zambezi Valley. It’s also Big 5 country. You will bump into elephants. Birders normally fly in to Harare and trek the 300km or so north west (half by tarmac; the rest gravel – the last 30 miles or so the most difficult). Once you’re at Masoka the resident guide usually has 3 or 4 staked-out spots for the pitta.... I heard that a group had excellent views of displaying birds in the camp, a week after our trip & also within spitting distance, so to speak. At that time of the year it’s hot, blistering hot – 43+ deg C in the shade. It’s hard hard work but very rewarding. The coutadas offer a little more variety and that’s possibly why most people venture there in the hope of finding pitta but in the knowledge that other specials are readily accessible eg: Alethe, Akalat etc. The Masoka spot is relatively new; under-birded in my opinion and possibly because of that fact, more reliable but that’s for pitta only. Accommodation at Masoka is rudimentary at best. It’s also self-catering. Notwithstanding, the local village is usually happy to cater, in need. We always take our own supplies. Mphingwe on the other hand is less difficult logistically and has food & beer on tap.

Masoka’s hard-core, bloody hot & dusty and very remote. It’s old Africa but not for newbies. It’s also the best spot for pitta in the sub-region, particularly if your timing’s off and you get here too early. The coutadas on the other hand are easier to bird, more comfortable to travel in and logistically easy. You might want to include the rising conflict between the govn. of Mozambique & Renamo in your deliberations. Regardless of what we’re usually told by tour companies & guides the conflict is real & Gorongosa is central to that conflict.

For what it’s worth if you want to see Africa as it once was, then Mana Pools and Masoka en route, is the way to go.

[Last note: a good gauge of local conflict in Mo' is the owner at Mphingwe, potential visitors might want to ask his opinion re safety etc]
Just a brief note for those intending on heading to Masoka Village, Zimbabwe this winter for African Pitta:

Jon Gallagher and myself did this trip in December 2013. We camped at Small World Backpackers in Avondale, Harare http://smallworldlodge.com/ (walking distance to Monavale Vlei – though this site may have succumbed to development now). Staff at the backpackers arranged a taxi to take us to a roadside stop ($5) for minibuses to Guruve ($5 pp). From Guruve another minibus took us to Mushumbi Pools ($5 pp), and from here one to Masoka Village, then onto the lodge ($8 pp) a few km's away. The whole route can be done in a day. We did this trip on 'speck' (the only info I had at the time was from the South African Birdfinder) and were pretty surprised when we arrived at the village and told there was a guide called Mackenzie: [email protected] mobile number +26377980726, and a lodge. The next surprise was that Birdquest were there. As they had booked all the rooms we just camped in the kitchen area ($10 pp/night including some meals & coffee). We saw African Pitta briefly the evening we arrived and again the following morning. Mackenzie will help arrange transport from the village back to Mushumbi Pools (vehicle, or by motorbike). He can also make travel arrangements from Harare if you need it.
Hi All,

First off please note that this thread has morphed from 'Central Mozambique' to 'Zimbabwe'. The target species however remains the same...

I want to give this thread a 'bump' as I made the pilgrimage to Masoka just last month, and would like to report back on all the positives which will hopefully encourage others to follow suite. The route to Masoka is now fairly well established amongst Southern African birders, and also by a few tour companies, but the project itself at Masoka certainly needs a continuing flow of cash to remain viable!

As reported up-thread, Small World Backpackers in Avondale, Harare http://smallworldlodge.com/ is a great starting-point for this trip. They can provide invaluable assistance with all logistics, including public transport or appropriate private vehicle hire, updates on road conditions, and can probably find a driver / fixer too.

Mackenzie Zirota is still The Man on the ground - he set up the business and still runs the lodge at Masoka. He's very active in the field, pinning down multiple African Pitta nests and territories amongst other things, but responds to emails and WhatsApp messages quite promptly - [email protected] (as given above, still correct), mobile number +263779807261 (not quite as stated above!). He too can assist with stuff like transport - e.g. can send a 4x4 from Masoka to Harare to collect birders. He can also arrange all meals on site if desired.

Key logistical considerations are still:

1) timing - mid-Dec onwards, provided that the necessary rains have prompted the Pittas to arrive for the breeding season. This might however not be as critical as previously thought: I visited during a drought period, (there had been a couple of heavy showers that week, but the vleis and river-beds were pretty dry), yet we visited at least 5 active territories at Masoka, and the birds were displaying.
2) state of the roads - build in some flexibility as certain sections of road are inundated and washed out during the heavy rains, and indeed Masoka will be cut off occasionally.
3) allow a bit of extra time for the other specialities in the area (e.g. Lilian's Lovebird, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot's Chat, Bohm's Spinetail, Livingstone's Flycatcher, Red-throated Twinspot; plus African Wild Dog is there also!). Mackenzie has excellent knowledge of these birds.

Minor considerations include cashflow / liquidity in Zim (arrive with lots of USD), fuel availability in Zim (if self-driving), and SIM cards (google maps will take you all the way to Masoka village if self-driving; ask the villagers for directions for the last 3-4km!). The Backpackers can assist in resolving all these problems and more. Other possible concerns such as safety, food availability, standard of accommodation etc really don't factor into the equation at all - I felt that Zim was an extremely safe and friendly country - insert the usual caveats here!

In summary I had an excellent adventure on that trip, combining the Pitta mission with some birding around Harare in the two key biomes of vleis and miombo woodland. African Pitta is often regarded as the most highly desired target species on the continent, and yet connecting with this bird seems to be relatively straightforward at present!

Good luck if you go!

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