Zambia: Miombo and Mushitu Endemics
Massive miombo flocks in the magical heart of Africa.
Zambia has a long list of selling points: it has huge variety of habitats, many localized species, stable politics, very friendly people, and good infrastructure. Along with a very real chance to see the near-mythical African Pitta, the big attraction is birding the most productive and diverse miombo (tall evergreen woodland) in the world with pulse-quickening bird parties and opportunities to seek virtually all the species restricted to this fascinating habitat. Farther north are the moist evergreen forests known as mushitus, featuring species more typical of the Congolese rainforests. South of Lusaka lies a matrix of mopane woodland, savanna, and riparian forest, which contains the large fig trees favored by the Zambia’s only endemic, Chaplin’s Barbet, and the localized Black-collared Lovebird.
Day 1: Lusaka. After arriving in Lusaka, where we overnight, we’ll bird some nearby miombo woodland.
Days 2-3: Lusaka to Mkushi. We’ll spend two nights in the Mkushi area, which provides some of the best miombo birding on the tour. One of the most sought-after specialties here is the superb Black-collared Eremomela, which often occurs in small groups. The localized Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver can be remarkably inconspicuous, so is best located by its high-pitched, penetrating trills, while Sousa’s Shrikes often perch quietly on the smaller shrubs and trees. Both Yellow-breasted and Southern Hyliotas occur, providing a nice opportunity to compare these similar birds. Bird parties may include Red-capped Crombec, Rufous-bellied and Miombo Tit, Violet-backed Sunbird, Spotted Creeper, White-tailed Blue-Flycatcher, Miombo Barbet, Little Spotted Woodpecker, and Scaly-throated Honeyguide. Denser vegetation, such as that on termitaria, often holds Miombo Scrub-Robin. As we walk, we will keep watch at the edges of the path for feeding Orange-winged Pytilias and Cabanis’s Bunting.
Days 4-5: Mkushi to Kasanka NP. After a final morning near Mkushi, we’ll head towards Kasanka NP for a two-night stay. Kasanka is a jewel, with a variety of habitats ranging from mushitu to marsh and miombo, with all its subtle variations. Our accommodation is perched where we can enjoy beautiful sunrises over the marsh that teems with hippos, Coppery-tailed Coucals, and African Pygmy-Goose. The most fascinating and special areas of Kasanka are the mushitus – strips of moist woodland. The normally scarce Bohm’s Bee-eater is partial to the edge of these, and the beautiful Bocage’s Akalat thrives in their moist depths. Kasanka’s miombo is different from that of the Mkushi area, and gives us chances for Anchieta’s Sunbird, and Pale-billed Hornbill.
Days 6-8: Kasanka NP to Mutinondo. We will spend the morning birding Kasanka before departing for Mutinondo, where we spend two nights. Many birders who have been there agree that Mutinondo is the most beautiful place in Zambia, if not in all of Africa. Its singular landscape is dominated by huge granite inselbergs that preside over a picturesque arena of clear streams and lush woodlands. There is something otherworldly about this place, and it evokes a feeling of wilderness that harkens back to the days of Livingstone and Stanley. Despite its remote setting, the lodge here is remarkably comfortable. The food is excellent, and a fully stocked bar in a scenic spot stands ready to meet all of our sundowner needs. In addition to its great scenic value, Mutinondo is a superb birding venue. Reichard’s Seedeater is common, as are a variety of sunbirds. Our biggest avian target is Bar-winged Weaver, a tricky and strange nuthatch-like weaver. The miombo here holds the full range of specialty species including Steirling’s Barred Warbler, and Miombo Double-collared Sunbirds, Anchieta’s, Whyte’s, Black-backed, and Miombo Pied Barbets. If we are lucky, the seasonal swampy marshes (dambos) will be wet, and will give us a chance at a variety of difficult species including flufftails, Black-rumped Buttonquail, and Locustfinch.
Day 9: Mutinondo to Lusaka. This will largely be a travel day, returning to Lusaka to overnight, perhaps with opportunistic stops for roadside birds.
Days 10-11: Lusaka to Choma. This morning we will bird our way to Choma, where we’ll spend two nights. Choma is in the core of the tiny range of Chaplin’s Barbet, Zambia’s only endemic. The barbet is tied to large figs that occur in a savanna setting. Other possibilities of the area include Racket-tailed Roller, Parasitic Weaver, and Rosy-breasted Longclaw.
Days 12-13: Victoria Falls. For these two days, we’ll be based in Livingstone, a short way from the dramatic Victoria Falls, locally referred to as Mosi-a-tunya, meaning “the smoke that thunders!” Though we have all seen hundreds of photos of the falls, there is simply no substitute for seeing it for real. Birds here include African Crowned Eagle, Schalow’s Turaco, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Rock Pratincole, White-crowned Lapwing, and many others. We’ll make a special excursion out of Livingstone to an area of mopane woodland to search for the rare Black-collared Lovebird. A whole set of Okavango specialty species also occurs in this area, including Coppery-tailed Coucal, Swamp Boubou, Greater Swamp-Warbler, Bradfield’s Hornbill, Luapula and Chirping Cisticolas, and Hartlaub’s Babbler.
Day 14: Victoria Falls to the Zambezi valley. Our final destination is a portion of the Zambezi river valley favored by African Pitta, one of the most difficult and sought-after birds on the continent. Our base for this quest is the town of Siavonga, where we stay for two nights, in a beautiful setting on the shore of Lake Kariba.
Day 15: Zambezi Valley. An early start will maximize our chances of encountering the near-mythical African Pitta. This poorly-understood bird migrates large distances across tropical Africa, and has even been known to pop up in parking lots and other bizarre locations. The riparian woodland of the Zambezi valley is one of the few reliable places where they breed year after year, during a short window between December and January. We will have to be there early and listen for their strange “buuuuurrruuup” call, which we’ll chase down till we clamp eyes on this multi-colored jewel of the undergrowth. Other species we may find during our pitta hunt include African Broadbill, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Bohm’s and Mottled Spinetails, and Eastern Nicator.
Day 16: Zambezi Valley to Lusaka. If needed, we’ll try again for African Pitta, before driving back to the capital of Lusaka for the night.
Day 17: Departure. We transfer to Lusaka international airport for our flights home.
CLIMATE: Warm to hot, with afternoon thunderstorms likely.
DIFFICULTY: Moderate, most of our birding is on foot, and some long walks are necessary.
ACCOMMODATION: Good throughout.