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Atravelynn

Our 2020 Zimbabwe adventure with Doug Macdonald's Safaris to Africa finally happened in Oct-Nov of 2022 for Michael, Andreas, and me. 

 

The Quote of the Trip

An email exchange between Doug and me that became the Quote of the Trip recognizes Doug Macdonald’s fine photography skills along with a major geological feature and draw of Gonarezhou.  Doug won the award for Zimbabwe Professional Guides Association, Best Wildlife Photographer for 2021 and Best Wildlife Photograph of 2021. (See the Dec 7 and Dec 9 of 2021 posts on Doug’s FB page (https://www.facebook.com/DougMacSafaris/ )

 

So, I emailed Doug with the message, "I just found out we will be guided by the Best Wildlife Photographer of 2021!  How lucky can we get!  The winning photos were spectacular.  Congratulations, what an honor!  I'm sure such talent will be able to fulfill my safari goal on the upcoming trip—a picture of a cliff.

 

 

To which Doug replied:  Thanks so much Lynn, I will do my best to get you in the best possible Cliff picture spots, the rest is up to you.

 

 

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Chilojo Cliffs just before sundown from viewing point

 

 

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Chilojo Cliffs just before sundown from viewing point and an elephant

 

Cliff goal fulfilled!

 

While Michael and Andreas were in Mana Pools with Doug MacDonald the last days of October, I spent the first two nights in Harare’s charming Malcolm Lodge, owned and operated by Paulette and Malcolm Jarvis.  (https://malcolmlodgezimbabwe.com/about-us/)

 

Interestingly, Malcolm Lodge is not named for the husband, but for the street where it is located.  Their hospitality, meals and two dogs and three cats were excellent during my two days.  At one point both dogs and one cat joined me in my room.  Another time one of the cats took a nap with me!

 

With the uncertainty now surrounding air travel, I built in a spare day at the front end of the trip in Harare, which allowed me to visit Mukuvisi, a local park filled with wildlife such as giraffe, zebra and antelope. Transport was arranged by Paulette of Malcolm Lodge.

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 At Mukuvisi Park in Harare

 

There are four hiking paths of different lengths at Mukuvisi and I picked the 8 km one on scenic trails that were well-marked—until they weren’t, or maybe I just misinterpreted the signs or missed something, which would not be the first time I got turned around and became unsure of my whereabouts.  Anyway, I ended up in the middle of a herd of eland.  Not that I infiltrated their herd, but they saw me and became very chummy. The eland joined me and off we all went together as I tried to figure out how to get back to the starting point.  I think the eland were expecting me to produce some bales of hay. The herd and I passed a giraffe and several zebras in our short travels together.  All in all, it was an invigorating and very pleasant morning.

 

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Some members of the eland herd that joined me at Mukuvisi Park in Harare

 

Itinerary for the safari that Michael, Andreas, Lynn and Guide Doug Macdonald shared:

 

Day 1 Oct 31  Depart Mugabe International Airport, 9:15 am by vehicle.  Arrive Seldomseen Holiday Cottages in Vumba Mountains, 2:15 pm. O/nt Seldomseen Holiday Cottages. (https://www.seldomseen.co.zw)

 

Day 2 Nov 1  Birding in Vumba Mountains with Bird Guide Buluwesi. O/nt Seldomseen Holiday Cottages.

 

Day 3 Nov 2  Birding in Vumba Mountains with Bird Guide Buluwesi. Birthday Lunch at Tony’s Coffee Shop. O/nt Seldomseen.

 

Day 4 Nov 3 Depart Seldomseen 7:00 am, arrive at the first Gonarezhou Gate 12:30 pm.  Stop at Chipinda Pools, 1:00 pm-3:00 pm for lunch, paper work by Doug, photos.  Arrive Chilojo Cliffs viewpoint, 5:45 pm. O/nt Chilojo Cliffs Campsite.

 

Day 5 Nov 4  AM & PM Game drives and walks. O/nt Chilojo Cliffs Campsite.

 

Day 6 Nov 5  AM & PM Game drives and walks. O/nt Chilojo Cliffs Campsite.

 

Day 7 Nov 6  AM & Pm Game drives and walks. O/nt Chilojo Cliffs Campsite.

 

Day 8 Nov 7 Game Drive from Chilojo Cliffs Campsite to Massasanya Camp, 5:15 am to 11:45 am.  Afternoon at camp waterhole. O/nt Massasanya Camp.

 

Day 9 Nov 8  AM & PM Game drives and walks. O/nt Massasanya Camp.

 

Day 10 Nov 9  Game Drive from Massasanya Camp to Chilo Gorge, 5:15 am to noon-ish.  Afternoon game drive. O/nt Nhambo Cottages, Chilo Gorge (http://chilogorge.com).

 

Day 11 Nov 10 AM & PM Game drives and walks. O/nt Nhambo Cottages, Chilo Gorge.

 

Day 12 Nov 11 Chilo Gorge to Mahenye Airstrip, 10 minutes.  Flight from Mahenye Airstrip to Mugabe International Airport,1 pm-3pm, in time for our flights home.

 

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Chilojo Cliffs behind flowers before sunset at viewpoint

 

 

I’ll turn this over to Michael to describe our time in the Vumba with this observation:  It was surprising how enjoyable a birding venture in mountains named for the blankets of mist that enveloped them, covered in dense forests where birds could disappear, undertaken during the start of the rains that pre-empted a couple of outings, and drizzled during others, our accommodation named Seldomseen because the birds are actually seldom seen, could be.

 

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Misty Mountains of the Vumba

 

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Forests of the hillside in Vumba Mountains

 

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On the lush grounds of Seldomseen Holiday Cottages, receiving ample precipitation from rain and mist.

 

 

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Trails through the lush grounds of Seldomseen.

 

 

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Literally on the ground at Seldomseen, lush carpet of petals.

 

If you were scouring these Vumba shots for seldom seen, hard-to-find birds, there were none.  Only landscapes, so far...

 

Edited by Atravelynn
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madaboutcheetah

Looking forward to this report, guys .......

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Kitsafari
3 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

Looking forward to this report, guys .......

 

x2

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@AtravelynnThe arrival of this report, has just reminded me of how time flies, I went on something of a grand tour of Zim back in Aug/Sept 2013 so coming up 10 years ago, I visited both the Chilojo Cliffs and Seldomseen, amongst other places,  so this is sure to bring back good memories. Good to know that Buluwesi is still guiding birders through the Misty Mountains, I will look forward to reading what @michael-ibkhas to say about your time there and seeing what you saw. I never wrote a trip report, so it’s good to now have one that includes  Seldomseen and the Bvumba Mountains.

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4 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

 

x2

x3!

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3 hours ago, PT123 said:

x3!

x4!!

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michael-ibk
On 1/23/2023 at 1:41 PM, inyathi said:

I never wrote a trip report, so it’s good to now have one that includes  Seldomseen and the Bvumba Mountains.

 

It seems indeed that nobody here ever described a stay there so I´ll try to be a bit more detailed than I had actually planned. Dont´worry, we´ll be getting to proper safari stuff soon enough, and I´m not gonna dump all the birds seen in mist and rain into this report. Since they are seldom seen not that many of them anyway. B)

 

We were connecting with Lynn after four very enjoyable days in Mana Pools (TR here) at Harare Airport. I had last travelled with Lynn just one year before (for a few days in the Mara). For Andreas it had been longer, some years ago during our trip to the Kafue. Great to join up again!

 

This was a trip long in the making - initially the plan had been to do Gonarezhou and Gorongosa in Mozambique. Back in 2020! We all know what happened then. And when it was time to establish dates again we all agreed it would be better to just do one country, and avoid as much potential COVID hassle as possible.

 

So let the road trip begin:

 

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The very smooth main road connecting Harare with Mutare in the East, the border crossing point to Mozambique. As during my previous trips to Zimbabwe it was hard to combine the perception of a ravaged, impoverished and totally desolate country one would get when reading our news with the country we were actually seeing: A pretty tidy capital, friendly people, and good infrastructure - this road for example is in a way better condition than many main connections in Kenya for example. Not that I´m suggesting things are hunky dory in Zimabwe of course - but it certainly is in a much better state than most "Westerners" think it is.

 

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A short snack stop produced the first bird:

 

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Orange- or Sulphur-Breasted Bushshrike

 

The landscape was reminiscent of our European autumn  - many different hues of Green and Orange.

 

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We made quick progress, and reached Mutare about noon.

 

Then we quickly gained altitude - we were coming into the Misty Mountains now. That´s what "Vumba" means - mist. Rightly so, as you will soon see.

 

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That´s Mozambique down there - Mutare´s border twin city Manica.

 

And there we were:

 

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Edited by michael-ibk
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michael-ibk

So why were we coming here at all? Well, the Vumba is right in the middle between Harare and Gonarezhou, so it´s a perfect place to break up the long drive down there. (Of course you could fly to Gona as well, that´s what we did on the way back.) The other thing is it´s quite a famous birding destination in Zim, and I, uhm, as some of you might have heard, am *cough* a tiny little bit of a birder. *running away now*

 

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Seldomseen is a self-styled "Bird Watcher´s paradise". A very comfortable, quaint place with a definite colonial atmosphere.

 

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Bedroom

 

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Bathroom

 

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Living Room

 

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Dining Room

 

A lot of rooms? Indeed, we had booked the main house. There are several cottages available as well, but none of them had three bedrooms. So we had a lot of space!

 

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The very nice garden. Unfortunately we never could make use of the brai - this was the most sun we would see here before the Misty Mountains thoroughly lived up to their name.

 

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We definitely needed that fireplace to warm up!

 

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Bronzy and Olive Sunbirds were always around to entertain.

 

Seldomsee is a self-catering place. Doug took care of everything, and we found out he´s not only a great guide but a super cook as well. He did all the cooking and cleaning up, and would stubbornly reject each and every try to give him a hand.

 

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Our short stroll in the late afternoon around the premises was nice but also showed us "Seldomseen" is a well deserved name. Lots of birdcalls around but we saw very few of them. And none of the special ones (due to the specific habitat) which make this place so popular with birders.

 

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The very nice garden pond - do appreciate the last sunrays you will see in the Misty part of this report!

 

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Black Saw-Wing

 

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Cape Robin-Chat

 

But the birding bonanza would only seriously start next day anyway.

Edited by michael-ibk
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michael-ibk

In order to actually see something we had booked the services of Seldomseen´s birding guide Buluwesi.

 

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His reputation is well deserved - a very kind and friendly man who knows every little squeak and squok he hears in the thick forest and how to attract its shy inhabitants.

 

Our morning did not start out great - we drove down the road and tried some spots but had to give up soon. It was raining heavily, and we decided to wait until it cleared up just a bit. Late morning the heavy rain had turned into drizzle at least, and we decided to explore the immediate surroundings at least.

 

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And found quite a bit actually! Photography was difficult in these conditions, but I was happy enough with some of the results. And got a good number of lifers.

 

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Cape Batis

 

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Bar-Throated Apalis

 

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Stripe-Cheeked Greenbul, one of the more common birds here.

 

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Misty Rain Goshawk.

 

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I was quite delighted to get an African Emerald Cuckoo. A stunning bird often heard but - literally! - seldom seen.

 

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Olive Bushshrike, one of this area´s many specialties.

 

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Eastern Miombo Sunbird, another lifer for me.

 

During lunch break the mist cleared up just a bit - it was nice to actually see what was around us. :)

 

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Protea Flowers - a huge plant.

 

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In the afternoon we drove around a bit and tried some key spots. And Buluwesi delivered again.

 

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Swynnerton´s Robin is a very localised species and one of the key targets for most birders coming here.

 

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Gorgeous Bushshrike, probably the bird I had wanted to see the most. A stunning species but unfortunately it absolutely refused to cooperate for a proper photo.

 

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Tambourine Dove

 

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Cape Grassbird

 

We found much more of course but I won´t go overboard with all my "conquests". We saw some Samango (Blue) Monkeys as well but I´m afraid I did not bother. Hopefully Lynn can help with them.

Edited by michael-ibk
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michael-ibk

Surprisingly Lynn and Andreas were still on speaking terms with me next morning after all this heavy birding. And were even prepared to venture out again for more feathery stuff even though it - of course - was raining again. We decided to move down from the mountains a bit, try to get out of the mist. Which was just as well since Buluwesi had a good place in mind for Miombo type birds.

 

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Misty, drizzling but doable here. Up in the Vumba visibility had been basically zero.

 

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I was positively elated when Buluwesi quickly found an African Spotted Creeper. (I know, birders are very weird people.) Not sure why, ever since I started flicking through African bird books I had wanted to see this one. And it even was with a chick - very nice.

 

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Cabanis´s Bunting - a bycatch of a desperate (and futile) "Running up that Hill" exercise to get a Miombo Rock Thrush (which we did see later).

 

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Whyte´s Barbet, another lifer.

 

I´ll let Lynn cover our quite magic lunch this day - it was a Trip Highlight! Later on it cleared up a bit, and of course we kept on "working".

 

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Rural Zimbabwe.

 

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Dideric Cuckoo, always nice to see.

 

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Red-Capped Robin-Chat

 

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White-Starred Robin.

 

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Red-Necked Spurfowl, looking totally different up here in the Mountains. I will never get why some birds with no notable differences are split up in countless different species, and others with really strikingly different appearances remain one species.

Edited by michael-ibk
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Great start guys, looking forward to this report. What a wonderful start to the birding- I particularly like the Bar-throated apalis amongst the blooms and the Emerald Cuckoo. 

 

The bushshrike family must be amongst the most colourful of the African birds.

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BRACQUENE

You can imagine I was eagerly waiting for this double TR after my own fabulous experience with Doug in Gonarezhou and this time as a cook which is adding another dimension to his outstanding reputation; 

Vumba mountains is a new area to me even if I saw already Michaels incredible photos in his BY 2022 and Lynn’s pictures of the Chilojo Cliffs are stellar 

Seldomseen looks amazing and that African Emerald Cuckoo is simply stunning !!

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Wow @Atravelynn, those are pretty spectacular cliff shots! ;) As per usual, a great start, both highly informative and entertaining.  Great bird photos @michael-ibk, also as per usual.

Heather

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Excellent start, with the two voices working well.

Great photos from both!

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offshorebirder
6 hours ago, michael-ibk said:

I was positively elated when Buluwesi quickly found an African Spotted Creeper.

 

You have made me so jealous @michael-ibk!

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Atravelynn

I will describe our lunch at Tony's Coffee Shop tomorrow, but first the Birdmen of Seldomseen.

 

Birdmen.jpg.d8dc9955a672b81ce5516337a5d16730.jpg

Left to right:  Michael, Buluwesi, Doug, Andreas

Edited by Atravelynn
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Seniortraveller

Really enjoying this report, especially seeing what we missed! We originally were including the Eastern Highlands in our September trip, but changed that to Save Valley Conservancy. Next time!

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I have been looking forward to reading your report @Atravelynn and @michael-ibk.  

Such a shame we couldn't join you on the new dates last year, so very interested to see what we missed.  Beautiful pictures of the Chilojo cliffs and the lush scenery of the Vumba mountains.

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Towlersonsafari

wonderful photo's, but surely @michael-ibk"running up that hill" was "no problem?"

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On 1/23/2023 at 6:41 AM, inyathi said:

@AtravelynnThe arrival of this report, has just reminded me of how time flies, I went on something of a grand tour of Zim back in Aug/Sept 2013 so coming up 10 years ago, I visited both the Chilojo Cliffs and Seldomseen, amongst other places,  so this is sure to bring back good memories.

Why am I not surprised you have been to these remote places--and a whole decade ago!? :D

On 1/23/2023 at 2:05 PM, Treepol said:

Great start guys, looking forward to this report. What a wonderful start to the birding- I particularly like the Bar-throated apalis amongst the blooms and the Emerald Cuckoo. 

 

The bushshrike family must be amongst the most colourful of the African birds.

Even through the mist and foliage we found it!  I'm glad we got to see and photograph it and even I did.  That red color is not pumped up in post-processing. 

 

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On 1/23/2023 at 2:13 PM, BRACQUENE said:

You can imagine I was eagerly waiting for this double TR after my own fabulous experience with Doug in Gonarezhou and this time as a cook which is adding another dimension to his outstanding reputation; And a fine one at that!  Don't those food photos look scrumptious?  Tasty indeed.  We discussed this culinary "dimension" with Doug and he said he actually enjoyed the cooking.  He must have loved the cleanup too because, as Michael stated, he refused any of our help and hogged all the dirty dishes to himself for every single meal.

Vumba mountains is a new area to me even if I saw already Michaels incredible photos in his BY 2022 and Lynn’s pictures of the Chilojo Cliffs are stellar 

Seldomseen looks amazing and that African Emerald Cuckoo is simply stunning !!

There were several times on the trip when Doug mentioned your recent visit and the abundance of what you saw.

 

 

On 1/23/2023 at 4:16 PM, MMMim said:

Wow @Atravelynn, those are pretty spectacular cliff shots! ;) As per usual, a great start, both highly informative and entertaining.  Great bird photos @michael-ibk, also as per usual.

Heather  Thank you.  "A picture of a cliff" was my goal from the start.  Then I got greedy and wanted an animal in it too or some nice foliage.  We managed that as well.

 

On 1/23/2023 at 4:26 PM, TonyQ said:

Excellent start, with the two voices working well.

Great photos from both!  Thank you. And the third "voice" gave us the title.  Thank you Andreas @AndMic!

 

22 hours ago, offshorebirder said:

 

You have made me so jealous @michael-ibkBuluwesi is awaiting your booking.  He'll find you an African Spotted Creeper.

 

17 hours ago, Seniortraveller said:

Really enjoying this report, especially seeing what we missed! We originally were including the Eastern Highlands in our September trip, but changed that to Save Valley Conservancy. Next time!  Thanks, Save Valley is fantastic too. So many wonderful places to return to.  We could see the Save Valley terrain in the distance a few times.

 

11 hours ago, Zim Girl said:

I have been looking forward to reading your report @Atravelynn and @michael-ibk.  

Such a shame we couldn't join you on the new dates last year, so very interested to see what we missed.  Beautiful pictures of the Chilojo cliffs and the lush scenery of the Vumba mountains.  I know we had planned to share this adventure.  Hopefully there is another one out there for us all.

 

11 hours ago, Towlersonsafari said:

wonderful photo's, but surely @michael-ibk"running up that hill" was "no problem?"

I can attest to the fact it was not a problem!

Edited by Atravelynn
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Protea on grounds of Seldomseen

 

 

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Water lily on grounds of Seldomseen

 

On our Vumba bird walks we were accompanied by Doug and the local birding expert, Buluwesi, to find the elusive species.  There also were two cats who reside at Seldomseen who enthusiastically joined us on one bird walk.  Doug soon discouraged their participation firmly but kindly, acceptable to this cat lover.

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Gray cat at Seldomseen, checking the departure time for the bird walk.

 

 

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Doug and the gray cat who joined us on the bird walk, until Doug encouraged it to seek out other activities.

 

 

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Misty view from grounds at Seldomseen

 

 

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Emerald Cuckoo on bird walk from Seldomseen, found after ditching the cats.

 

 

As mentioned, rain, not only mist, affected our time in the Vumba Mountains.  Fortunately, Buluwesi was flexible and we could make changes to our plans at a moment’s notice as the bird watching conditions improved or worsened.  Buluwesi also had a good feel for where we’d have the best chance of evading the mist and rain. That feeling resulted in the African Spotted Creeper chick that thrilled us all.

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African Spotted Creeper chick.  It took a drive down the mountain to escape fog and rain to find it.

 

One of our last bird sightings at Seldomseen was quite endearing—a Dusky Flycatchers feeding its chick.

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Dusky Flycatchers

 

 

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In addition to his role as safari guide, chef & kitchen staff, and cat shoo-er, Doug was the Firemaker.  Fireplace at Seldomseen.

Edited by Atravelynn
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Andreas’s birthday fell during our time at Seldomseen.  Doug and Michael arranged for a surprise celebration for him at Tony’s Coffee Shop, a short 2.5 km drive down the mountain from Seldomseen.  This outing turned out to be a surprise and a hit of the safari for all of us!

 

Oh my goodness, I just want to rave about this place—Tony himself, the chocolate birthday cake, the coffees & hot chocolate, the atmosphere, the piano, the cats (one with 3 working legs who was well taken care of and getting around just fine). Wow oh wow!

We thought this birthday interlude would be enjoyable, but we had no idea it would be a highlight of the whole safari—and we are serious nature lovers who focus on wildlife and birds and are not given to gushing about the dining aspect of a trip. But this was exceptional!


Andreas, the birthday boy, and I are chocolate connoisseurs and we both agreed that Tony’s was the Best Chocolate Experience of our Lives!!! That’s over 120 years of chocolate indulging.  The pièce de résistance, the chocolate cake, was made with a chocolate and cherry filling and some strawberries on top.

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Tony lighting a candle on his culinary creation for Birthday Boy Andreas.


Tony’s outgoing personality is perfectly suited for this business and for making all guests, not only the birthday boy, feel special. And he certainly knows how to bake a cake!  We had a variety of coffees and hot chocolates, even a lemonade and all were superb and memorable.

 

This multi-sensory experience extended to auditory delights because Michael sat down at the piano and provided us a concert.  I knew Michael was a classically trained pianist who had performed in the past with orchestras, but I had never heard him play.  Outstanding!  The music was such a delightful addition to the party.

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Michael on piano with Tony looking on.  Notice Michael is wearing his binoculars just in case a bird flies by.

 

 

That’s one birthday Andreas will never forget! Nor will the rest of us.

 

In the photo below, note the uneaten piece of cake on the left.  That’s Michael’s.  He was so enthralled with playing the piano that he did not eat his cake, or drink his hot chocolate, until the very end.  With two chocolate lovers around, that was a risky move. Also note the uneaten piece of cake on the serving platter.  That left with us.  Andreas was kind enough to offer me a slice at breakfast the next day!


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The Party’s Over

 

The grounds of Tony’s Coffee Shop were quite lovely but the thick mist and drizzle prevented us from enjoying them. This snail shot is the only photo of the outside surroundings and view.

 

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Edited by Atravelynn
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What a perfect surprise treat for Andrea on his birthday.

I didn’t know Michael was a pianist- a man of many talents!

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2 hours ago, TonyQ said:

What a perfect surprise treat for Andrea on his birthday.

I didn’t know Michael was a pianist- a man of many talents!

Yes and I wonder how many concerts have ever been given in gaiters.

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Thoroughly enjoying this twin report so far, looking forward to following along!

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