A backpacker birding report on:
a report about a birding trip
15 June - 22 July 1996
with sites for Cholo Alethe
and White-winged Apalis
by: Michiel de Boer
Malawi is a small narrow country between East Africa and South Africa. The land is known as the "warm heart of Africa". This is absolutely true if you compare it with East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) when it is referring to the people. This country is not at all spoiled by tourism and the people are more hospitable and less thinking about money when they see a white face. The hype is not true when it is referring to the climate, particularly not in the period I was there (winter). Lying well below the equator the country has a moderate climate. In winter it can grow cold up to freezing temperatures at night and early morning. Average daytime temperatures do rarely exceed 26 ļC in the hottest areas. When you want to see the highlands of Malawi (recommended) the best time to travel is during the dry season: from May to October. Most of the land is around 500 metres above sea-level. The country has a few mountanous areas: Nyika plateau; Zomba plateau and Mulanje Mountain, which have surprisingly different habitat on top and unbelievable views. The large lake in the east of the country has created a habitat along it, that has similarities with coastal habitat, a lot of birdspecies of coastal East Africa can be found here. In the south west of the country there are vast stretches of Miombo woodland which hold a wide variety of typical species. The small country holds around 600 species, though only one endemic (Cholo Alethe) due to it small size and shape it is a very attractive and exciting birding country.
Another interesting feature is Lake Malawi. The lake holds a unique variety of beautiful tropical fish of the Chiclid-family many of them are popular Aquaria-fish. The clearness of the lake makes it possible to admire them by diving or snorkelling (in fresh water for a change (Cape Maclear)). Cape Maclear also offers the cheapest diving-courses in the world. The lake is however infected by Bilharzia (do not believe travelguides or local people who contradict this, Iíve spoken to quite a few long-term travellers and expatriates who caught it without any doubt from this lake). Although Bilharzia is potentially dangerous it is easy to cure. If you develop the symptoms usually after 6 months or so get yourself the necessary pills. I swam in the lake and so far I have not got it.
Since dictator Banda has been forced to leave his presidency the country is growing more popular for travellers. Although not as rich in mammals as East-African countries it has the interesting opportunity to walk in between the wildlife (Nyika plateau) because no dangerous animals are there. Some parks still hold a few lions and elephants (Liwonde NP. this park also seems to be quite rich in other mammals).
The country is relatively safe (comparable to East Africa). Do take care and try to avoid arriving at night-time in Lilongwe busstation and avoid carrying valuables when you walk from busstation to town at night in Blantyre. I also heard some rumours of muggings at some of the touristic sites along the lake. Remember that beaches always are favorite sites for robbers and thieves. I had nothing but pleasant encounters with the local people who generally seem to be even more friendly then the East Africans.
Birdfamilies who are very well represented are: Shrikes, Sunbirds, Beeeaters, Starlings, Hornbills and Weavers. This report is written for the same purpose as I use similar reports of other people. The main use is meant to be an information source for birders to determine their itinerary by choosing the sites that seem to be attractive because of probability to see attractive birdspecies and the accessibility of the site particularly for the low-budget backpacker without a car and with limited time of travelling.
Getting there and away
To get there I crossed the Tanzanian border close to Kyela (near Mbeya). If you have to return to Tanzania it is better to get a visa for Tanzania before you get to Malawi. As in a lot of other African countries border officials of Tanzania can be a nuisance if they smell the possibility of getting money out of people for one reason or the other (Africans included). Malawi does not have a good political relationship with Tanzania. This is probably an inheritance of Bandaís politics and Malawiís close relations with South Africa from the time that apartheid was more serious. Things are loosening up a bit, but by the time I went there, there was still no Tanzanian Embassy or High Consulate in Malawi. There is no way you can get a Tanzanian visa in Malawi. Tanzanian officials in Dar Es Salaam and border officials at the Kyela border assured me before I entered Malawi that there would be no problem when I would return. When I returned however I received the expected unwillingness to let me through at first ("go to Lusaka (Zambia) to get yourself a visa"). They where obviously trying me to get them bribed. After some discussions (fortunately I was together with Kenyan friends who helped me a bit) they let me through with a comment in my passport to pay for a visa at departure. Malawian officials are not as corrupt as Tanzanian officials I found out later when my visa expired (I forgot to prolong it). I managed to get it prolonged with some help of Malawian friends. Standard procedure is that on your arrival youíll get a four week visa which can be prolonged without problems at immigration offices throughout the country.
As always I had very useful help from local people.
I have to thank the Marianist Community in Karonga for a very Hospitable stay on two occasions for several days. They also helped me to get my expired visa prolonged without having to pay a bribe which could have been necessary without the help. I was very grateful for the hospitality that exceeded even Malawian standards of Eliud Khyela director of the ranch in the Dzalanyama for the very pleasant company and the gracious offer of accommodation and several nice meals in his own house without accepting any payments in return. Also Iíd like to thank David Critchlow a parks and wildlife officer in Nyika Plateau NP, for a lot of very useful information about the local birds. Thanks also to Mr. George of the Safari Lodge in Malingunde for giving directions and advise how to get to and stay in the Dzalanyama range. And finally Nik Borrow of Birdquest for his talent displayed in the picture on the frontcover.
Public Transport and Accommodation
Public transport is not that frequent as in Kenya Tanzania and Uganda. The roads seem to be good especially when compared to East-African standards. Express buses to and from Lilongwe can be booked. It is better to book them the day before.
To me it seemed that the drivers of buses are a lot more sensible than the madmen in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda where travelling by bus, minibus or (speed)taxi is among one of the more dangerous things Iíve done in my life.
Travelling by public means is still fairly cheap. Breakdowns of minibuses and buses are very common. As a result I would say that because of this the birder without a car needs quite some time.
Accommodation is not so common and quite expensive compared to East Africa although standards are a lot better. Lilongwe is expensive, the best place here is the smallest campground Iíve seen ever (in the backyard of Annieís Restaurant). In a lot of the places I camped (Nyika plateau; Zomba plateau; near Liwonde NP.; near Dzalanyama; Blantyre). The best backpacker place in the country is Wayfarerís or Doogles near the busstation of Blantyre. On the two plateaux it is below zero at night and there were no facilities to get food. I bought myself a simple frying and cooking pan and carried some food that I cooked on a woodfire (lucky it wasnít raining most of the time).
In most small villages there is at least a cheap but scrappy place to stay. Meals can be obtained for 2 US$ and I found the food basic but OK and clean. Chips (or actually fried potatoes) is very popular in Malawi. Even small villages have a stand on a market with a metal plate heated by woodfire where they fry potatoes. If you want you can also eat rats, locusts, termites and other Malawian delicacies.
Useful information, books etc.
Some remarks on these books:
The South African Birdguide is excellent and maybe even among the best birdingguides of the world. Though when looking at the plates of sunbirds and weavers I would prefer Newmans Birds of South Africa. There is a supplement of Birds of Malawi belonging to eithet of these guides I found out when I was there. It has tear-jerking illustrations of birds but it has the essential information how to tell look-a-likes apart.
Some of the illustrations on the plates of van Perlo are completely wrong and some plates, although the birds look neat, are at least confusing if you want to identify them. Cisticolaís and Greenbuls will be wrongly identified when one uses the illustrations only. Other wrong illustrations are: Eastern Double Collared Sunbird; Stierlings barred warbler.
When one is determined to visit some national parks. There is a nice bookstore in the new centre of Lilongwe where you can buy bird-checklists of the national parks.
The public library in the new centre of Lilongwe has some information about birds in Malawi. They have a good service and at least a copy of the Sasol supplement on Malawi.
The map I used was:
Roadmap Kenya; Tanzanie; Ouganda; 1:2 000 000; Freytag & Berndt
While I was in Lilongwe I bought a topographical map of Malawi in the main shopping complex in the new centre of Lilongwe.
Travel information for the backpacker was rather scarce by the time I went there but things are changing fast as far as tourism in Malawi is concerned. The best information I could find was:
the short section of the Lonely Planet Africa (on a shoestring) guide, I copied it from another traveller when I was there (Lilongwe has copy-shops).
The LP guide (2) is useful when you want to hike around on Nyika Plateau; Zomba Plateau and Mulanje Mountain. Book 1 can be bought very cheaply at Doogles Backpackers accommodation (also known as Wayfarerís) close to the busstation in Blantyre. It can also be bought at bookshops in Blantyre.
Zomba Plateau 23-25/6/96
Mulanje Mountain 29/6-1/7/96
Ulongwe (Liwonde NP.) 4/7/96
Cape Maclear 5-8/7/96
Lilongwe Bird Sanctuary 9/7/96+14/7/96
Nyika Plateau NP. 17-19/7/96
To name a few that can not be missed when the right habitat is visited:
Black-headed Heron, Cattle Egret, Sacred Ibis, Marabou, Hadada, Long-crested Eagle, Black Kite, Black-winged Kite, Crested Coot, African Jacana, Blacksmith Plover, Crowned Plover, Spur-winged Plover, Speckled Pigeon, White-browed Coucal, Little Swift, African Palm Swift, Speckled Mousebird, Lilac-breasted Roller, Little Bee-eater, Pied Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Lesser Striped Swallow, Richard's Pipit, African Pied Wagtail, Common Bulbul, Stonechat, Tawny-Flanked Prinia, Common Camaroptera, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow White-eye, Variable Sunbird, Common Fiscal, African Drongo, Grey-headed Sparrow Red-billed Firefinch, Bronze Mannikin.
Good birds and specialities for the site are marked in bold font, when a not very common or hard to spot bird is recorded the number of individuals of the total occasions the bird is spotted are behind the name between brackets.
This is not a birding site. I had a quick look around here to while I was staying with some Kenyan and Malawian friends. To get an impression what a piece of degraded, and dried out woodland along the close to the lake can produce:
Trumpeter Hornbill, White-bellied Sunbird (this could be Angola White-bellied Sunbird), Cinnamon Breasted Rockbunting, African Golden Oriole, African Drongo, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Red-tailed Antthrush, Green Winged Pytilia, Paradise Wydah.
Somewhere on the road from Karonga to Mzuzu I saw a Broad-tailed Paradise Wydah.
The place is reached by bus from Lilongwe (3.5 hr.) or from Zomba. Just before you cross the Shire River (if you come from Lilongwe) there is a dirt road to the left, passing some stands that sell woodcarvings and then continues parallel to the river. It leads to the Kudya Discovery Lodge on the right (huge sign). Here it is possible to camp for 2 US$. There are Hippoís around after dusk so be careful! I and an Australian were sitting near a fire when we found ourselves between a Hippo and the water (they can be very dangerous as every Africa-traveller knows).
On the 21-st I tried a walk on the other side of the Shire river (this is actually the side where the National Park is situated). I found it quite a walk to get to the park. You may not enter without a vehicle or a guide, which I found not worth the money considering it was already in the afternoon. The habitat on the east side of the Shire river is quite different. From the following list of birds I saw, the birds only sighted on the east side are marked with e.s.:
African Palm Swift, (Western) Banded Snake-Eagle (1), African Fish-Eagle, Lanner, African Hobby, Shikra, Dickinson's Kestrel (1; e.s.), Purple Heron, Open-billed Stork, White-faced Whistling Duck, Long-toed Plover (subspecies crassirostris), Red-faced Mousebird, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Carmine Bee-eater (flock flying over), Boehm's Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, Purple-crested Turaco (1, e.s. near the gate), Senegal Coucal, Levaillantís Cuckoo, Crowned Hornbill, Brown-headed Parrot, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Chestnut-backed Finchlark, Flappet Lark, Wire-tailed Swallow, Grassveld Pipit, Sombre Greenbul, Collared Morning-thrush, Kurrichane Thrush, Siffling Cisticola, Neddicky Cisticola, African Reedwarbler, Black-backed Puffback, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Three-streaked Tchagra, Greater Blue-eared Glossy-starling, Lesser Blue-eared Glossy-starling, Long-tailed Starling (e.s.), Wattled Starling, White-bellied Sunbird, Purple Banded Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Scarlet Breasted Sunbird, Spectacled Weaver, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Large Golden Weaver, Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah (2; e.s.), Orange-winged Pytilia (1), Blue-cheeked Cordon-blue, Southern Rock Bunting (e.s.)
The old town of Zomba has probably one of the best sites in the world to see White-winged Apalis. This rare and very localised bird is to be found on the Golf-course of Zomba Town (find hole 7 or the T of hole 8, See Map 1). The old town is also one of the best places to buy nice woodcarvings if youíre interested.
Other birds in the area:
Southern Black Tit (1), White-eared Barbet, African Yellow Warbler, African Golden Oriole, Black-backed Puffback, Cardinal Woodpecker, Yellow fronted Serin, Heuglinís Robinchat, Kurrichane Thrush, Ashy Flycatcher, Spectacled Weaver, Southern Brown-throated Weaver.
Zomba Plateau 23-25/6/96
This is a tough walk up from the old town of Zomba (see Map 1). You may want to catch a ride (as I did). The alternative is the hell of a lot steeper "Potato-path". This is a right turn on a very narrow and extremely steep path straight up the mountain, preferred by the local people to carry firewood down. I tried this path down when I went back but with a lot of gear on your back you spend so much time not sliding down that it doesnít spare you the expected time and effort. About half way down it crosses the main road again and you can choose again. On top there is a campsite which has hot showers (almost essential in this cold climate at this time of the year). It can be rainy but if you ask in advance the observer can sell you dry firewood to cook your own dinner. There is no facility on top of this mountain except for a very expensive lodge (at least not when I was there). So take enough food for the days you want to spend up here.
The Birdquest catalogue (1996) mentions Wattled Crane on this plateau. I received reliable information from David Critchlow that this rare bird does not occur on Zomba Plateau (at least not in the last 20 years). It is a breeding resident on Nyika Plateau. I saw most birds on the main road from the campsite to the Mlunguzi Dam and particularly around the Chagwa Dam.
Bat-Hawk (1 from the campsite just before dusk), Livingstoneís Turaco, White-eared Barbet, Black Sawwing, Mountain Wagtail, Grassveld Pipit, Sombre Greenbul, Olive Mountain Greenbul, Stonechat, Common Robinchat, Orange Ground-Thrush (1 near the Chagwa Dam), African Yellow-throated Warbler, Wailing Cisticola, Cape Batis, Black-headed Apalis, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Olive Sunbird, Olive Bush-Shrike, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Olive Sunbird, Bertram's Weaver, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, White-necked Raven.
Mulanje Mountain 29/6-1/7/96
This beautiful place is certainly worth the climb though for birds it has not too much to offer apart from the endemic for the twitcher. The forest on the escarpment offers the interesting birds. On top there is a peculiar park-like landscape to be admired. Grasslands with a lot of ferns and forested gullies which were even in early mornings very quiet (few birds). Some locations have stunning views (Iíve never seen more spectacular ones ever). The best view I saw was somewhere near the airstrip (ask the caretaker or porter for directions to "the swimming pool").
Accessis from Likhubula. This is a few km. (on a truck for 5 Kwatcha) from the village Chitakali 5 Km. before Mulanje town. So you should get off at Chitakali if you come by bus from Blantyre (a long bustrip). There is also a bus going a slightly different route which goes past Likhubula. You will probably get asked here by locals if you want to hire them as porters to climb the mountain. Likhubula has a small market where you can buy fruit, vegetables, rice, eggs etc. If you need other food the nearest PTC (supermarket) is in Chitakali so you might want to do some shopping before you go to Likhubula. In Likhubula you have to climb for half an hour to get to the forest office and the CCAP rest-house where you can spend the night before climbing. You need to book your stay in the huts on mountain in advance at the forest office except when you want to stay in the CCAP-hut. At the forest office you can also hire a porter for the one day climb up (certainly worth the money). I booked two nights in the hut of the CCAP on Lichenya plateau. For this you have to register at the CCAP which is most likely also accommodating you at Likhubula (locals will show you the way). You will find a caretaker in the CCAP hut who keeps a good Cedarwood fire going to keep warm and to cook on.
In Lukhubula village I saw a pair of Peregrines while I was waiting for a bus.
Site for Cholo Alethe:
I saw Cholo Alethe on the Lichenya Path on a height of approximately 1500 m. on a steep section where at that moment a lot of army ants were crossing the path. The exact location I saw this bird is about 50 m. below a dead tree trunk with hardly any bark which was broken off or sawn off close to the ground. The tree trunk on the right of the path was used as a sign to point out an almost untraceable steep path to Chilemba Peak. The tree trunk can be missed when you walk up but youíll hardly miss it when you walk down. I think the exact location is not too important. This bird (like other Alethes) likes to visit ant swarms. So you have better chances when you try to find an ant swarm anywhere at the sections of the escarpment that are richly forested. The bird was together with a White-starred Robin and a few Yellow-streaked Greenbuls.
Birds on the escarpment:
Crowned Eagle, Crowned Hornbill, Familiar Chat, Rock Martin, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-starred Robin (1), Cholo Alethe (1), Black-capped Apalis, Bar-throated Apalis (in the very last piece of forest before the plateau), Cape Batis, Ashy Flycatcher, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Orange-winged Pytilia, Cinnamon Breasted Rockbunting,
On top of the plateau the few birds I saw were:
Quail, Green Turaco, Mottled Swift, Wailing Cisticola, Evergreen-forest Warbler, Olive Bush-Shrike, White-necked Raven,
Ulongwe (Liwonde NP.) 4/7/96
I went to this village for another effort to see more of Liwonde NP. The village has a couple of overpriced dirty and bad rest-houses where you can spend a night. From the village you can get a ride on the back of a bicycle about 15 Km. to the Park gate (the price should be less then 1.5 US$ (15 Kw.), but they will try to get 8 US$ or so). At the gate you will have to pay 7 US$ entree (it was 75 Kw.). Here you can start birding the one kilometre to the river. At the river you can raise the flag to signal to the lodge on the other side (Mvuu camp) that there is a customer. A boat will take you across for free. The lodge is expensive 80-100 US$ a night but at least it allows you to hang around at the river side watching birds. Donít tell them in advance youíre not interested in a stay, they might not take you across. You may not walk outside the camp area parkrangers are very strict on this (there are a few lions and a lot of elephants in the park). If there are enough other guests interested you may join a safari in the park or a guided walk (not cheap but it may be worth the money). When I was there where not enough people for a safari or walk so I just watched some birds on the camp area.
Birds in the dry Boabab land to the park gate:
Birds close to the Shire river (Mvuu camp):
Palmnut Vulture, African Fish-eagle, (Western) Banded Snake-Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle, Gabar Goshawk (melanistic), African Marsh Harrier, Greater Cormorant, Green-backed Heron, Scuacco Heron, Yellow-billed Egret, Glossy Ibis, Marabou Stork, Woolly-necked Stork, Grey-headed Gull, Red-necked Spurfowl, Bearded Woodpecker, Cape Parrot (2), Green Woodhoopoe, African Hoopoe, Lilian's Lovebird, Red-faced Mousebird, Striped Kingfisher, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater (1), African Palm Swift, Wire-tailed Swallow, Terrestrial Brownbul, Collared Morning-thrush, Black-backed Puffback, Black Cuckooshrike, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Greater Blue-eared Starling, Long-tailed Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Green-winged Pytilia, Large Golden Weaver, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Spotted Backed Weaver.
Cape Maclear 5-8/7/96
I went to this place not to watch birds but to have a chat with other travellers and relax for a while. The place has some natural attraction. The lake is quite clear for fresh-water standards. Snorkelling and diving is a thrill here, where one can see a unique variety of wonderfully coloured fishes of the Cichlid family. Also the nearby Lake Malawi National Park holds a nice variety of birds. I have to say I was rather looking at the unfeathered birds for a while (after half a year of birding in East-Africa I donít feel guilty about it). The only birds I remember: A Black-breasted Snake-Eagle flying over and a pair of Southern Ground Hornbills close to Monkey Bay.
Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary 9/7/96+14/7/96
To reach this place you can take any of the taxis going from the old centre of Lilongwe to the new (actual) city centre. Tell the driver to drop you at the Nature Sanctuary. The entrance of this small park is situated on Kenyatta drive (road) near the turnoff of Youth road. The park is not artificial and because it is situated on the banks of the modest Lingadzi river holds quite a variety of birdspecies. I recorded 40 species on a morning walk which isnít too bad. The park is opened from 7.30 am - 5.00 pm, but I managed to sneak past the guard at 7.00 am. Entrance is free. You can buy a small map of the trails although this is not really necessary (just follow all trails along the river). On 14/7 I saw 13 Pied Mannakins in a bamboo-bush near the "Natural Hide" on the North Trail (this is on the map you can buy). Birds:
Black Sparrowhawk, African Darter (1), Black Crake, Blue-spotted Wooddove, Giant Kingfisher (2), (also Malachite and Pied Kingfisher), Grey-headed Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Livingstoneís Turaco, Little Bee-eater, Mountain wagtail, Terrestial Bulbul, Neddicky, African Golden Oriole, Heuglinís Robinchat, Long-billed Crombec, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Olive Sunbird, Black-backed Puffback, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Tropical Boubou, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Peter's Twinspot, Jameson's Firefinch, Blue Waxbill, Cutthroat, Pied Mannikin (13), White-necked Raven.
It took me some time to find out where this top birding site of Malawi was. This place should definitely not be missed when you visit Malawi. It is very hard to reach when you do not have a car though. The Dzalanyama is known as one of the best spots in Africa to see an impressive list of Miombo-species. It is known as the largest area of Miombo habitat (Brachystegia Woodland). Birds wander in flocks here so you can walk for quite a while without hearing or seeing a single bird, then all of a sudden you find yourself in the middle of a flock containing 10 or more different species.
The target area here is the valley on the Malawian side of the Dzalanyama Range in between Malawi and Zaire south west of Lilongwe. On the foot of this range there is a Ranch where people leave cattle grazing in between the trees which also support them with very high quality wood. The Ranch can be your base if you speak to the Director to ask permission you can camp in this area. The Director is a very friendly and hospitable man by the name of Eliud Khyela, who lives in the house which is situated highest on the slope of the Range.
To reach this place by public means is not possible. I took a minibus to Likuni from where there was a pickup going to Malingunde (Dam). There is a nice Lodge and Campsite in Malingunde (not cheap but pleasant). Here it is still 28 km. to the Ranch and usually there is no car or truck going in this direction. If youíre lucky you may get a ride on a truck of the forest-department which will probably save you the first 8 km walking. The area can be quite hot so it is best to start walking in the early morning. The last 10 km or so you will be walking in birding land.
Birds recorded during one day, one morning and one afternoon:
Bateleur, Brown Snake-eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Brown Parrot, Senegal Coucal, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater (one group of 10), Grey-headed Kingfisher, Green Woodhoopoe, Hoopoe, Trumpeter Hornbill, Whyte's Barbet, Black-collared Barbet, Yellow fronted Tinkerbird, Stierling's Woodpecker, Greater Honeyguide (1), Slender-billed Honeyguide, Flappet Lark, Striped Pipit, Yellow-throated Longclaw, White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Retzís Helmetshrike, White-crested Helmet-shrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, White-headed Black Chat, Miombo Rock Thrush (1), Miombo Bearded Scrub-robin (1), Boulder Chat (2, just before the house of the Director on a small rock out-crop), Familiar Chat, Heuglinís Robinchat, Kurrichane Thrush, Little Rush Warbler, Rock-loving Cisticola, Red-faced Crombec, Green-capped Eremomela, Stierlings Barred Warbler, Yellow-breasted Hyliota, Southern Hyliota, Rufous-bellied Tit, Spotted Creeper (1), Southern Black Flycatcher, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Violet Backed Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Miombo Double Collared Sunbird, Shelley's Sunbird (1), Anchieta's Sunbird, Brown-backed Fire-finch, Olive-headed Weaver (2), Southern Brown-throated Weaver, Red-headed Weaver, Cabanis's Bunting, Golden Breasted Rockbunting, Black-eared Serin.
Nyika Plateau NP. 17-19/7/96
This site is reached from Rumphi which lies on the main public route from north to south.
Transport from Rumphi to the park (28 km.) is a problem. If youíre lucky there is a vehicle going to Chelinda Camp. It took me one day to get to the gate, where it is allowed to put up your tent but there are no facilities. At the gate I had to camp since there was only one vehicle passing that day a British overlander which to my unpleasant surprise did not want to give a ride. It took me another day to get a (paid) ride to the Camp. On my way back I was also almost forced to spend the night somewhere in the park.
In Rumphi there is a building of the NPWS (National Park and Wildlife Service) from which there are sometimes vehicles going to the park. You can also speak to the Districts Commissioner to ask if there is a vehicle going. I tried both but found out more from local people which seemed to be waiting for transport as well. The plateau is not birdrich but has some exciting species. It is probably one of the best places in the world to see Wattled Crane (endangered) which is breeding and resident on the plateau with around 35 pairs which are not too difficult to spot almost all year round. I was very unlucky since this time of the year (winter) the wildlife management is burning almost all of the grasslands and all the breeding sites where burned and birds had fled to unknown locations on the plateau. This management policy is favouring the Roan Antilopes which like fresh grass growing after the burning. The burning is not controlled properly and the valuable and extraordinary small forest pockets in the small very local valleys are shrinking while they can not recover quickly enough in this temperate climate. Also resident field birds could suffer from it. The NPWS is unfortunately only considering mammals as touristic attractions.
Absence of lions and elephants in the park mean that it is allowed to walk in the park. You can get armed guidance if you want. I didnít think it necessary but I had a very interesting encounter with a Spotted Hyena at dusk. It was a lonely individual which looked starving and it was far from shy. In fact it was staring at me and waiting at close range (30 meters or so). It seemed to wait for me to make a decisive move in its direction. When I did make a move it took off quickly but I got the impression that when I would show fear it would have attacked (!).
Around the gate the habitat is more or less Miombo like. Birds at the gate:
Red-capped Crombec, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Lesser Blue-eared Starling, Black-eared Canary (Serin), Golden-breasted Rockbunting,
Birds on the plateau:
White-backed Vulture, Black-breasted Snake-eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Augar Buzzard, Common Quail, Yellow-billed Pochard, Dabchick, Denham's Bustard (7), Montane Nightjar, Mottled Swift, Rufous-naped Bushlark, Flappet Lark, Olive-mountain Greenbul, Grassveld Pipit, Cape Robin, Bar-throated Apalis (white form), Wing-snapping Cisticola, Churring Cisticola, Black-lored Cisticola, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Fuelleborn's Boubou, Olive Bush-Shrike, Montane Marsh Widowbird.
Grevyís Zebra; Spotted Hyena; Waterbuck; Roan Antilope; Red Duiker; Side-triped Jackal.