Vumba – a birding paradise

By Norma Tsopo

The Vumba’s catalogue of birds is so impressive it makes it one of Africa’s premier birding hot spots.

And true to these mountains of mist and drizzle’s reputation, a leisurely tour of Leopard Rock Hotel estate rewarded us with a sighting of an African fish eagle – something we completely did not expect ahead of what are referred to as Vumba specials.

Swynnertons Robin Pic John Caddick

These are bird species that are found in this region only – some of them in near endemic status due to the patched and isolated state of their preferred habitat.

The graceful bird slide in and perched in an acacia tree ahead of us from where it had perfect vantage view of a small dam along the seven kilometre long 18-hole golf course.

The fish eagle not a resident though. Its however a frequent visitor, noted our guide Innocent Bode.

African fish eagle at Leopard Rock Hotel and Resort

“It’s a regular visitor from larger dams in the Vumba and also from Chicamba Dam (a monstrous water body at the foot of the escarpment on the Mozambican side),” Bode said.

The mountain supports a unique community of birds all packed within a relatively small area, making it one of the subcontinent’s premier birding regions.

Interesting the unique environment offers space for birds that enjoy drier environments which makes the mountain’s western side ideal for some while other species will be found on the eastern moist side. There are also altitudinal and seasonal migrants to look out for.

And its summer – perfect time for birding in these environs, Bonde explained.

To reflect its huge catalogue of bird species the list of birds that are considered Vumba specials is long and diverse. According to Derek Solomon (1997), Guy Gibbon and Sue Worsley (2008) these include:

Swynnerton’s Robin, Orange Ground-Thrush, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Chirinda Apalis, Bronzy Sunbird, Olive Sunbird, Variable Sunbird, Miombo Double-collared Sunbird, Roberts’s Warbler, Livingstone’s Turaco, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, Eastern Saw-wing, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Rufous-bellied Tit, Spotted Creeper, Cabanis’s Bunting, Augur Buzzard, Singing Cisticola, Whyte’s Barbet, and Red-throated Twinspot.

Peter’s Twinspot Pic John Caddick

Birdlife Zimbabwe places each of these special birds and others in their respective habitats as follows:

The montane forests and their edges are a favored birding habitat with like Swynnerton’s Robin, White-starred Robin, Red-capped Robin-chat, Orange Ground-thrush, Chirinda Apalis, Roberts’s Warbler, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler, Dark-backed Weaver, Yellow-streaked and Stripe-cheeked  Greenbuls, Grey Cuckooshrike, Square-tailed Drongo, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Livingstone’s Turaco, Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon, African Broadbill, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Green Twinspot, Red-faced Crimsonwing, African Firefinch and others. Gorgeous Bush-shrike can be found lower in thicket and is replaced higher up by the Black-fronted whilst Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher is an occasional lowland bird and is replaced higher up by the White-tailed Crested.

Barratt’s Warbler is found in tangles and bracken scrub and Cape Grassbird is in montane grassland but replaced at lower altitudes by Moustached Grass-warbler, whilst Red-winged Warbler is rare but occasionally creeps up from the lowlands. Pale Batis can be found around the Mozambique border area to the east (a round trip through the Burma Valley can give you Green Widowfinch and other lowland specials). Protea plantations have Gurney’s Sugarbird and gardens – such as the botanic garden – Malachite and Bronzy Sunbird.

Miombo Sunbird

Silvery-cheeked Hornbill fly about looking for fruit and visit woodlands too, and in the woodlands are Green-backed Woodpecker, Rufous-bellied Tit, Miombo Tit, Spotted Creeper, Miombo Rock-thrush, Western Violet-backed Sunbird and Cabanis’s Bunting with Bearded Scrub-robin coming up from the lowlands.

Blue Swallow fly the montane grasslands in summer and Common Quail can be found in related habitat. Overhead many habitats are Eastern Saw-wing and raptors include Long-crested Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, Augur Buzzard, Rufous-chested Sparrow hawk, Peregrine and Lanner Falcon, Rock Kestrel and others.