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Thanks @inyathi.    I suppose I am no "Henry Higgins" for having mistaken a Scandinavian accent from a Scottish one.   It sounded part-Scottish to me so I made a guess - poor one I suppose.


Weird that Rocket Greens are Arugala - since I despise Arugala when I have tasted it and it tastes like burnt car tires to me.   Perhaps it is completely different raw than cooked...




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@offshorebirder It may taste different when cooked, I'm not sure I've had it properly cooked, I've had it on pizza with ham, but it wasn't really cooked as such, I presume there are different varieties, so it could also be that. 

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Drat - I forgot to include this  video in my last Mutinondo post.    It is a Giant Millipede of some sort - I forgot to ask William which species.   


Did you happen to find out, @inyathi?



Edited by offshorebirder
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Quite right about the good food at Wright House Farm @inyathi - in thinking about it, that dinner served on the patio of our bungalow may have been the best meal of the trip.   


Nice to see them making  a good effort at agritourism.   


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I'm afraid I don’t know the name of the millipede, the common really big millipede is the African giant millipede Archispirostreptus gigas also known as a chongololo (this name applies to other giant millipedes as well) but I’m sure it’s not that, because none of the pictures I’ve looked at show yellow legs. So, I presume it might be a different species in the same genus, there are according to Wikipedia 26 species, but gigas is the only one that has an actual page. Searching for photos to try and find pictures of the other species hasn’t got me very far, I did find a couple of shots of the same beast taken at Mutinondo, but they weren’t labelled and the Mutinondo website only says  



and in the rainy season, a marvellous variety of chongololos (giant millipedes)


The best I can do is say that it is a chongololo


In the course of searching for that, I did come across a page on the mammals of Mutinondo and under primates it lists yellow baboon, so, unless this information is out of date or they don’t recognise the Kinda as a valid split, then I think this confirms that the baboons are yellow.

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@BRACQUENE I just looked that up and it's a North American species, so it can't be that, but thanks for trying to help. :)

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Well I saw that also ( North Carolina etc ) but it looked so similar I was eager to give it a go ! The search continues 

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After our brief but enjoyable stay at Wright House Farm, we set out early for our next destination - a lodge on the Zambezi River.  


@inyathi and I have promised to be circumspect about this stop on our tour in the near term, as it involves a rare and declining bird of significant conservation concern - namely African Pitta.  Until recently, as @inyathi mentioned in the introduction, African Pitta was considered something of a "Grail Bird"  due to its shy and skulking habits, limited breeding area and thick habitat that is difficult to access.  They are only reliably detectable during the breeding season when the males vocalize and do their hopping displays.  


Several years ago, Rory McDougall and the crew at Bedrock Africa made pioneering discoveries of breeding Pittas near Siavonga, in what has become known as the Mutulanganga IBA (important bird area).   A proposal in 2010 for a Chinese company to engage in clearcut logging here was defeated through a campaign of local and international pressure.


This site has become very well-known and subject to increasing pressure from birders driving from as far away as South Africa to see the birds.  Lots of birders overusing audio playback can be detrimental to limited-distribution species, particularly sensitive birds like Pitta angolensis.   Pittas have become harder to find at Mutulanganga in recent years - possibly in part due to birder pressure and overzealous playback.


Last year, safari guides that Rory has trained told him there were displaying Pittas near a lodge on the Zambezi.   Rory followed up on the reports and figured out the Pittas' habits, favored locations, and more.  The Pittas are breeding in riverine thickets owned by the lodge, as well as on adjacent communal land.  The lodge owner is very enthusiastic about protecting the Pitta habitat and hopefully persuading the local community to preserve the thickets on their land.  This is because the lodge stands to benefit from birder tours coming to see the Pitta - its breeding season begins at the end of fishing season when lodge bookings tend to decline.


We were the first birders to be brought to see the Pitta.  Just after us, Nik Borrow brought a BirdQuest tour to see them under Bedrock Africa's auspices.  I think Rockjumper Tours may be using Bedrock as their agent to bring a tour next year and it is looking like a regular stop on Bird Quest's Zambia tour.   Another well-known birding tour company used to hire Bedrock (and used them to learn the first Pitta site) but is now trying to cut Bedrock out of the equation.   I consider this to be bad behavior (bordering on treacherous).   So for multiple reasons, we committed to trying to keep specifics about the new site confidential.


* If you would like to see and photograph these African Pittas, the best and most responsible way to do so is to contact Bedrock Africa and they will arrange things - http://www.bedrockafrica.com/


As we drove through riverine thickets in the lodge's long driveway, we stopped to check out a nice bird party.   We got stunning views of a cooperative Eastern Nicator and other good birds since my camera was packed up in the car!   Roger got what would have been a great photo, except for the branch blocking 1/3 of the Nicator's body.  So it goes.  We were encouraged by the good birding and after checking in we went for a walk through the thickets with Kyle and Matt, the lodge manager.  The plan was to do some quick birding then relax a little and try for the Pitta in the afternoon once the oppressive heat began to dwindle.  We enjoyed great looks at Livingstone's Flycatcher - other birds included Grey-backed Cameroptera and four Cuckoo species - Black + Red-chested + Diederik + African, among others.  


Livingstone's Flycatcher



While we were waiting for lunch to be brought, I tried my hand at photographing some African Palm Swifts.


African Palm Swift







Pittas are so shy and easily disturbed that in order to get decent photos, Bedrock Africa asked Matt the lodge manager to build a simple photo hide just prior to our stay.  It was a low-impact hide of simple burlap walls, stakes holding them up and a few small leafy branches to obscure the outline.  Rob, Roger and I sat on the ground, shockingly close to one of the bird's favored display perches.  Due to the dark conditions in the thicket under the forest canopy, I had removed the 1.4x extender from my camera, but I would have anyway due to the short distance.  The walls of the hide were a little too short to hide us much from the Pitta but at least it obscured part of us.   Kyle, Matt and the lodge's head guide Reuben sat a short distance behind us, spotting and letting us know other things that were happening (like when Reuben remarked that a Four-toed Sengi was moving behind us when we were photographing the Pitta).   


Frankly we were too close to the Pitta and I could tell at times it left its perch early due to our movements.   But we were hesitant to change the blind setup 'midstream' since the Pitta had grown used to it prior to our arrival.  They are such shy and sensitive birds!


The light was also extremely challenging.  Besides the dim lighting under the canopy, the Pitta was severely backlit - both morning and evening - from different sides.  The Pitta was a low-contrast subject against a busy background - the worst scenario for autofocus systems.   Normally I would use a higher / more closed aperture setting to have a larger in-focus area but that was not really possible in the dim light.   I tried manually focusing for some of the opportunities the Pitta presented but that did not go very well.  


We did Pitta sessions the afternoon of November 30 and early morning of December 1.   The rest of December 1, Kyle took us on a spur-of-the-moment safari in the Chiawa Game Management Area that borders Lower Zambezi National Park along the Zambezi River.   It was one of the  best days of the safari (if not the best).

Here are a few photos and video clips of the Pitta (sorry for the shutter noise on the vids).
















Edited by offshorebirder
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Excellent to see the video of the hopping as well as the photos.

Well done both of you!

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On 1/7/2020 at 1:20 AM, inyathi said:

Thank you for the excellent Papio images and additional information from Mutinondo @inyathi! Sorry for my late reply, I have been travelling a lot. Do you happen to have photos of adult males? Those are the best for identification. Kinda baboons are quite a bit smaller than yellow baboons, what did you think of their size when you saw them? The baboons of Mutinondo are somewhat expected to have features of both yellow and kinda baboons as this is indeed a region were both taxa presumably meet. We observed this in other parts of East Africa as well in Papio but also other taxa including Cercopithecus mitis. Did you see a lot of variation in males within and among groups? Did you see any babies in the Mutinondo troops?

We are looking into phenotypic clines of baboons in Eastern Africa at the moment, great if you have good photos of adult males from Mutinondo and surrounding areas. Thank you!



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Oh just gorgeous! The light might not have been ideal but still...….  And what a great idea to video so we can see the little jump.

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Thank you, I don’t recall seeing any adult males or any other baboons after that encounter, I added the best of my shots from Mutinondo here and don’t have any more shots from there, I think all the baboons that came close were young animals, so I’ve no shots of adults. I don’t recall seeing any babies, all the very young Kindas we saw in Kasanka were I think old enough that they were no longer white and were much the same colour as the adults.

I don’t know if anyone has done any research looking at Mutinondo’s baboons, they evidently have researchers staying there on a fairly regular basis, looking at all kinds of thing,s so perhaps someone has, I found some research online about chequered sengis at Mutinondo but nothing about baboons thus far.  


I hope to have my next post up fairly shortly.  

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Roadside charcoal


This was a very depressing sight in this part of Zambia, all along the roadsides we would pass countless sacks of charcoal for sale, a depressing sight across Africa I'm afraid as I saw the same thing in northern Ghana, it is remarkable that there are any trees left, if this continues I fear there soon won't be.



Livingstone's flycatcher


Besides being perhaps a little too close to the pitta, the burlap screen was very low so that after poking my lens through the hole, I found it very difficult to sit myself in a comfortable position that would permit me to stay very still for a long period and see the bird properly. What also made it a challenge was that once I’d focused on the bird, I needed to switch off my autofocus, to ensure that the lens stayed focused, otherwise I’d just get the bird in focus only for it to immediately go out of focus. Then if it went away and came back to an entirely different position, I’d be struggling to see if I could move myself in to a position where I could achieve the necessary angle just to see it and then have to try and get it back into focus. Despite the challenges it was amazing to have this incredible of view of such a hard bird to see. Although I was very keen to take plenty of photos and even a short video, I also made a point of putting my camera down for brief moment so that I could lie on my back and view the bird through my binoculars, they provide a much better view than my 100-400mm lens does.    



 First African pitta at last:):):)















I replaced the soundtrack on my video, because all the camera clicking sounded like machine gun fire :lol:, the photos are from our afternoon and morning pitta viewing.



Common duiker


Thanks to our desire to see the great bat migration, the black lechwe and to visit Mutinondo this hadn’t so far been that much of a big game safari, this was also in part due to the time of year that had prevented us from including a visit to Kafue. We’d had a lucky sighting of elephants in Mosi-oa-tunya National Park at the beginning and then our slightly unfortunate elephant encounter in Kasanka, and yes we had seen some game, sitatunga, bushbuck, lechwe, puku, tsessebe, a single sable, a few oribi and southern reedbucks a handful of buffaloes and zebras and some hippos. Back in Mosi-oa-tunya we had also seen a few southern giraffes, it is one of the only places this species occurs in Zambia, giraffes are entirely absent from almost all of the rest of Zambia save for the Luangwa Valley, where there is a population of Masai giraffes formerly known as Thornicrofts giraffe. We did in fact see some giraffes on a Ranch on our way to Wright’s Farm, but these were introduced, some game ranchers keep giraffes, I think mainly just because they are beautiful animals and they like to have them.  Other than the size of the lechwe herds in Bangweulu it had in some ways been a little disappointing, a visit to Chiawa GMA would make up for this, since we had enjoyed two successful viewings of the pitta, we didn’t need to see the bird for a third time and we wouldn’t miss out on other birding opportunities because there would be plenty of good birds to look for in Chiawa. The Chiawa Game Management Area adjoins Lower Zambezi National Park and is therefore an extension of Kyle’s home patch, so he knows it much like the back of his hand and knows all of the people there, so we could get away with going pretty much where we wanted. Because Nate and Roger’s African birding had been confined to Kenya, they had never seen greater kudu, as this antelope is curiously uncommon in Kenya and not an animal that is normally seen on safari there. As you go south they get more and more common and in Southern Africa in some places they are like rabbits as far as the locals are concerned, but in Zambia clearly not so in the parts that we had visited thus far, I was somewhat amazed that we had seen none at all, particularly in the Nkanga River Conservation Area, at the time I would also have assumed that they would have them at Mutinondo, but I see from their website that they are listed as rarer/transient, so it’s no surprise then that we saw none there. It’s my understanding that they have poached out in Kasanka and also in Lochinvar, maybe then it’s no wonder we hadn’t seen any, it’s less of a surprise to me now I’m at home, than it was when we were in Zambia. Since this daytrip was an unexpected almost spur  of the moment addition resulting from our success with the pitta, and not in our original itinerary we were all looking forward to it and the opportunity to have a more typical big game safari experience.



Common African migrant butterflies, also called common vagrant



Blue-cheeked bee-eater


We had good views of some greater kudu bulls 







and a good few cows 





Another new antelope species for the trip 




Common waterbuck




We did also see a lot of impala but I didn't take any photos of them.


Plenty of elephants


















African buffaloes



As was also the case across the river in Zimbabwe, these buffaloes were being given hay to help them survive the drought




Although where we were the animals have plenty of water in the Zambezi and in some waterholes, there was very little food for grazers.






Common warthog



Chacma baboons


Having visited Lower Zambezi National Park just next door across the Chongwe River on my previous visit to Zambia, I’ve always been very slightly disparaging about the park at least when comparing it to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe, the wildlife is fantastic, but inevitably the camps are all down on the banks of Zambezi and that means that the view from your camp is across the river to Zimbabwe where the landscape is flat and boring, whereas if you are in Mana Pools, your view is across to Zambia where the Zambezi Escarpment provides a fantastic back drop. Both parks have great wildlife but the view across the river is certainly better from Mana Pools, most of Lower Zambezi NP is actually east of Mana Pools which is directly opposite Chiawa GMA where we were. Of course the view, from you tent when staying in LZNP is greatly enlivened by the sight of elephants crossing the river that can be very special and makes up for the viewing not being so scenic. I always upload reduced sized versions of my photos, so you will have to take my word for it when I say that there are at least a few elephants and grazing hippos and possibly a buffalo across the river in this first panorama, but even viewing the largest size on Flickr you can't see them, but they are visible in my original full sized version.



The Zambezi, Mana Pools as viewed from Chiawa GMA



View of Chiawa GMA from Mana Pools in Zimbabwe



Chiawa Landscape




Some birds




Double-banded sandgrouse






Three-banded coursers



Three-banded plover



Southern crested guineafowl



The Zambezi Escarpment


My opinion of Chiawa and LZNP as a scenic destination changed somewhat when we took a drive up to the base of the escarpment, the view across the Zambezi to Zimbabwe may not be that special, but the views from here are pretty spectacular with escarpment behind you and the view down over the Zambezi and you can actually see that there are some hills way in the distance in Zimbabwe at what I assume is the southern end of Mana Pools.







The Zambezi Escarpment







Although it would have been nice to have seen some lions and perhaps even a leopard, starting with our second pitta viewing this had been a fantastic day and certainly makes me think that going across the Chongwe River and revisiting Lower Zambezi National Park would be well worth doing, Chiawa GMA added an excellent high note to a safari that was sadly nearing it's end, leaving the GMA to return to our lodgings, we had just three nights left in Zambia. 


That took a bit longer than expected halfway through preparing my post, I had a problem with the browser and decided to close it, expecting that ST would have saved everything, however when I opened my browser again, ST produced my previous post, so I had enter everything again, a bit annoying but never mind, these things happen.

Edited by inyathi
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The  photo of the  leaping Pitta is outstanding and the panorama shots are much appreciated.

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Wonderful photos and videos of the Pitta @inyathi @offshorebirder - fascinating to see the hop and hear the call.

Great capture of the Palm Swift in flight @offshorebirder

Don't recall having seen such a huge stack of charcoal in my travels around Zambia. That is concerning if it's becoming commonplace.

I was interested to read the comments about Kudu in Kenya. Back in 1996 when entering the Shaba Reserve we stopped for a sighting and photos of a handsome Kudu beside the track. Our driver/guide was most excited saying what a rare sighting and adding that it had been 4 years since he'd seen one.


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@inyathi @offshorebirder


Your joint report and seeing even the most magic sightings like the double pitta view from the hide with that incredible sound and hopping from different angles is so rewarding in my point of view that coming nearly to its finish , I will miss the daily anticipation dearly when it stops ; to be honest I will miss also my son on my next safari who was doing most of the secretary work especially in the Kafue where the birding is so phenomenal as well ! The interesting comments about the views across the Zambezi according to being in LZNP , Chiawa GMA or Mana Pools face me with a dilemma for a future safari : doing both on the same safari  could be an option  



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wonderful pitta sighting-what a treat!

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Great views of the Pitta. This must be the first time I have heard National Parks rated by their scenic value. Call me a Phillistine but as long as the ellie or leopard is not scouring the local rubbish tip I am up for the shot.

But I do know what you mean about the escarpment making a nice backdrop.

Thanks for an interesting report.

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Thanks for the kind words @TonyQ, @Caracal, @BRACQUENE, @Towlersonsafari and @Galana.


@BRACQUENE - if you are considering Lower Zambezi National Park, I HIGHLY recommend visiting Kyle Branch at Tusk and Mane's camps.  Though we did not visit the camps, we saw many behind the scenes photos and heard all about them.   Kyle's high standards, attention to detail, fantastic guiding competence and top-to-bottom experience in the safari industry, as well as co-owner Luke Evans', are why Tusk and Mane is one of the rising stars of the industry.   The new camp they are opening near some springs away from the river sounds fantastic. 





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Had à look on the website and the ATR pages which are always a good indication and it looks absolutely fantastic ; our friends from London Judy and Ian went to Old Mondoro after we met for the first time in the Remote Africa   Safari Camps , spoke very highly of that camp and that was always an option for the future but this newer and more adventurous looking camp could be a very strong contender and a winner!

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We had hatched our plan to visit Chiawa GMA the previous day.  Kyle used WhatsApp on his smartphone to ask the owner of Royal Zambezi Lodge if we could visit their waterhole the next  day.  Kind permission was granted, and we agreed we would do a game drive in Chiawa if the Pitta cooperated again early on December 1.  It cooperated marvelously so we  put the plan in motion.  


I really enjoyed our time in Chiawa.  Some of the animals were looking gaunt and drought-stressed (lack of food more than water).  Some were looking normal.  The lease owners of the GMA had been putting out hay as an emergency food source for the herbivores.  I agree with interventions like that in non-vast wildlife preserves or those with limited interconnectivity.  I feel that if humans hem in wildlife and do not give them sufficiently large ranges, that it is incumbent upon us to provide relief in times of dire stress.   In so many cases, populations and their ranges are simply not large enough to recover after severe declines - especially with other human-introduced challenges like invasive species, climate change, etc.


On the ride into Chiawa, we saw birds  like Eurasian Hobby, Common Scimitarbill and Arrow-marked Babbler.  Now that we were in dry country, the default Hornbill changed to Red-billed.  Mammal sightings picked up once we got past the villages, including a Sharpe's Grysbok that played peekaboo from some roadside thickets.  




We also enjoyed regular sightings of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.



A scattered herd of Impalas welcomed us to the Royal Zambezi waterhole, which is maintained in the dry season by borehole pumps.   




We also enjoyed Plains Zebra, Common Warthog, Chacma Baboons (three Baboon species this safari) and a friendly bull Elephant.   He had come for some cooling  water / mud and then considered feeding on a somewhat torn up Boaobab tree.








Greater Kudu were also hanging around - but the bulls and cows stayed apart in different groups.  








On the way to the next waterhole (a natural one), we had more good birding including some Double-banded Sandgrouse that Rob spotted.



The next waterhole harbored more Chacma Baboons, Water Thick-knees, female Whydahs of some sort, Southern Grey-headed Sparrows and a herd of African Buffalo.








We rode around the GMA exploring main roads and side ones.  We intently scanned under bushes for coursers and Thick-knees, hoping for Bronze-winged Coursers, one of my most-wanted African bird species.   Though we did not find any Bronze-winged Coursers, I did spot a beautiful pair of Heuglin's Coursers under a bush and Rob spotted a nice group of Spotted Thick-knees.   This prompted a friendly competition between Kyle and Roger up front and Rob and me in the back, trying to out-spot each other.  


Heuglin's Courser






Then we drove down to the Zambezi to scan the river and far shoreline, as well as stretch our legs.   One the way we saw birds like Green-winged Pytilia, White-fronted Bee-eaters, Wire-tailed Swallows, Village Indigobirds, and more.


Riding northeast along the Zambezi, we made our way to the Chongwe River, which is the border between Chiawa GMA and Lower Zambezi National Park.   We had some nice game in a large Tamarind grove there and encountered multiple herds of elephant with tiny calves.    We saw calves nursing in two different groups.  









Sorry if this is Elephant overload...








Then we rode inland along the Chongwe River and had some very nice birding and mammal watching.


Common Waterbuck



White-headed Lapwing



This friendly Elephant lost most of his tail at some point in its life - Lions perhaps?






On the ride home we had more good birding and finally caught up with a nemesis bird of mine - Crested Guineafowl.   We saw two different groups of them.  




The next day we had a very nice aquatic game drive in a boat trip on the Zambezi River - it presented some excellent photo opportunities.

Edited by offshorebirder
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just awesome! I had been waiting for this sighting since you both started talking about this trip way back when. ever since I saw my first pitta - the malayan banded pitta - in thailand, I have decided that when I retire I have to see as many as I can. They are just so gorgeous - lurky, shy, but such stunning grounded birds. and so pleased for you guys to finally see the African pitta - which is just as beautiful as the other pittas. Love their little hops and displays!

Obviously too, I'm also enjoying all the other sightings, and as always, the breadth and depth of knowledge and information shared. 

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Thank you @Galago it was a treat so see and we are glad to share images and vids of the cute little Pitta.


And thank you @Kitsafari  for "pulling for us" to see the Pitta.   I agree with you that they are some of the most charming birds around.   Cute little no-tail profiles.   I love how African Pittas draw themselves up straight and look around - it shows off their little potbellies.  Do other Pittas do the "stand up straight and glare around" thing?



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