January 2022

A Birding Weekend

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A Birding Weekend

Tyme Mutema
By Tyme Mutema
Field Guide

I was allocated to be the safari guide to a couple who were the only guests in camp during the 22nd to the 25th of January 2022. They were a Zimbabwean couple from the Marondera farming area of Mashonaland East. Upon arrival they made it absolutely clear that they eat and drink birds. Big game was a bonus but birding was their main priority, and even though they appreciated seeing any birds they had a bucket list of five species in particular they looked forward to see - these being the pennant-winged nightjar, broad-billed roller, racket-tailed roller, eastern nicator and Narina trogon.

On the very first afternoon drive I headed east towards Nduna, an area I sometimes see three of the species namely the racket-tailed roller within the miombo woodland, the Narina trogon mostly seen in the indigenous forests as you enter Nduna from the western side, and the pennant-winged nightjar also seen within the miombo woodlands of the julbernardia species.

On our drive there we were fortunate to have our first tick in the box to view a broad-billed roller, in a baobab before the Nyamasikana crossing east of Nhanga Pan, to the delight of the guests. Other species of birds were recorded but then none from the bucket list were seen by the time we reached Nduna Dam and decided to stop for an epic sundowner. We heard calls from the freckled, fiery-necked and square-tailed nightjars, but non from the most wanted pennant-winged nightjar.

I was optimistic and kept my fingers crossed, and on the way back on Orphan Road, just before the Mulovelo Crossing, we were rewarded by what we were eagerly looking for - the rare and very good sighting of a pennant-winged nightjar caught in the headlights of the game viewer. As is the norm when you are birding you have to prove why it's whatsoever you are looking for which resulted in me switching off the headlights and rolling the game viewer forward, and with the help of the spotlight we saw the bird take off in full view, displaying the pennants on either side, much to the joy and amazement of the guests.

The next morning we set off early for a full day adventure into the Gonarezhou National Park, another untamed wilderness area, also rich in terms of bird species. We took a slow drive through Ultimate Drive in anticipation to see whether we could get our racket-tailed roller as it can also be seen in the Brachystegia woodland of mountain acacia. We didn’t see the roller but we did see the eastern nicator which was another tick in the box! Then heading from Ultimate Drive to the open plains of Banyini we saw the ostrich! The Gonarezhou National Park was as wild as ever with mock charges from the cow herds of elephants and the ever gorgeous Chilojo sandstone cliffs.

The next morning we headed east to Nduna again leaving the lodge at first light and arriving half an hour later in search of two species of birds - the Narina trogon and the racket-tailed roller. An hour went by without any success but on our third round through the rocky outcrops north of Nduna we spotted our racket-tailed roller nestled in a mnondo tree! Though jubilant we still had one more to go...

We then decided to enquire from the staff members working at Nduna camp by showing them a picture of the Narina trogon and, to our advantage, they said they normally see it flying into the thickets of the evergreen toad tree (Tabernaemontana elegans) just west of the entrance into Nduna camp, and we headed there in search of this beautiful bird. I started calling it using my bird calls from my iPad and within seconds there was a response from a jealous male some distance away. We froze in anticipation. I played the call again and we had a flash view of the bird as it made a sudden U-turn going back and settling in a tree about 60 meters away from us! It had its back facing us and was so well camouflaged, and it’s because of this concealing behaviour that we don’t get to see these birds on a regular basis.

The guests checked out the next morning having accomplished our mission, full of joy after recording 94 species of birds including all those on the bucket list. They promised to return again in the near future but this time only with three species on the bucket list: the Pel's fishing owl, blue-spotted wood dove, and the blue cheeked bee-eater. I am holding my breath!