MALAWI - A BIRDING SAFARI
Best time of year April - August
Malawi’s topography is dominated by the Great Rift Valley that creates Lake Malawi and the lowland areas, as well as the numerous highland regions. Although the country is small, it is rich in natural diversity which is also reflected in its avifauna of about 650 species of birds.
Lake Malawi, lying at the southern end of the Great Rift Valley, is the third largest lake in Africa, whist Malawi itself is one of the smallest countries, but one that nevertheless holds a remarkable variety of habitats from miombo and mopane forest through palm savannah, grasslands, floodplain and, of course, the wonderful wetlands of the famous lake and Shire River. All of this combined in such a relatively small area means that, without travelling great distances, we are in easy reach of a great number and variety of birds and other wildlife.
This tour takes us through some beautiful and classically African scenery and includes day and night game drives as well as having the opportunity to explore the bush on foot as we marvel at the abundant wildlife and see how close we can get to seeing 400 species of birds!
Accommodation: Simple but comfortable hotels and reserve lodges, some with en-suite facilities.
Participants: Maximum 8 plus tour leader
Focus: Birds are the focus of this safari, though we should also expect to see a good variety of mammals.
Grading: Generally easy going
Day 1 Depart London arrive Lilongwe
Our guide will meet us at the airport and take us to our comfortable lodge in Malawi's capital Lilongwe. There are several good birding sites within the city with the Nature Sanctuary being the most popular. White-backed Night Heron, Magpie Mannikin and African Broadbill are not uncommon here. Dambos may produce Rosy-breasted Longclaw and Locustfinch. Dinner is served at the lodge's excellent restaurant where your guide will happily discuss any aspects of the tour.
Days 2 & 3 Dzalanyama Forest Reserve
The Dzalanyama Forest Reserve is situated roughly 50 km south-west of Lilongwe. This reserve is Malawi`s premier site for miombo birding and the most sought after birds here include Stierling`s Woodpecker, Souza´s Shrike, Shelley`s Sunbird, Olive-headed Weaver, Spotted Creeper and Boulder Chat. Most of the miombo species that have been recorded in Malawi can be seen in this excellent reserve.
Day 4 Luwawa Forest
We spend a night at the Luwawa Forest Lodge located in the rugged Vyphia Mountains. Situated at an altitude of 1,600m the area is home to various habitats such as: miombo, bracken and briar and evergreen forest as well as a nature re-claimed dam. Birding is surprisingly good here with Anchieta´s Tchagra, Bertrand´s Weaver, African Broadbill, Whyte´s Barbet and Blue Swallow all having been recorded on our safaris. After a hot shower to remove the African dust from your skin come join the group in the lodge's spacious dining room for an excellent dinner in front of a crackling log fire.
Day 5 Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve
Today we make our way northwards via the highland grasslands of the Viphya Mountains. Chances here are good for spotting an endemic subspecies of Scaly Francolin, which is frequently seen on the tracks of dirt roads. Wattled Crane and Denham´s Bustard have also been recorded here. By the afternoon we reach Lake Kazuni Camp in the picturesque Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve. We spend the afternoon on a game drive along the pristine shore of Lake Kazuni. Waterbirds, needless to say along the lakeshore are plentiful; specials here include Black Stork, Black-bellied Korhan, Lesser Black-winged Plover and the commonly seen Yellow-billed Oxpecker. Raptors are numerous. Lying at 1100m above sea level the nights are never hot and rarely that cold.
Day 6 Vwaza to Nyika National Park
In the morning will either go on a walking safari escorted by an armed ranger, or make an early start to Thazima Gate, the entrance to Nyika National Park. A mere two kilometres or so from the park entrance is the best place in Malawi to see the Black-backed Barbet. From the gate we pass through 20 kilometres of rich miombo woodland where our driver always keeps a ready eye open for any passing birds. Reaching the beautiful plateau we soon arrive at a small patch of Acacia abyssinica forest where Brown Parisoma and White-headed Saw-wing can often be spotted. You will also enjoy the remaining 40 kilometres to the lodge with many grassland and bracken and briar species crossing the road frequently. Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird might be seen perched among the Protea bushes. A short stop at the Zambian Resthouse will reveal Angola Swallows nesting under its roof. After lunch at the camp you spend the afternoon on a game-drive in the unique montane grasslands with its stunning viewpoints. Denham`s Bustard and Wattled Cranes are frequently seen. Secretarybirds have even been spotted in recent years. Pallid Harrier and Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk are also common. Interesting mammals include Leopard and Serval Cat (best seen on night game drives, which should also produce Ruwenzori Nightjar). After the night game drive we will enjoy the evening in the dining room of the lodge in front of an open fire with an excellent dinner.
Days 7 & 8 Nyika National Park
After an early breakfast we take you to another highlight of Nyika National Park: its montane evergreen forests. Bar-tailed Trogon is particularly common here. Other specials include White-chested Alethe, African Hill Babbler, Chapin`s Apalis, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Fülleborn´s Boubou, Green Moustached Tinkerbird and Olive-flanked Robin. Interesting mammals inside the forests include Tanganyika Mountain Squirrel, Blue Monkey, Red and Blue Duiker and the rare Chequered Elephant Shrew. After lunch we take you on another game drive taking one of the various tracks winding through the rolling grasslands
Day 9 Nyika NP to Nkhata Bay
We leave the lodge early in the morning for warm and friendly Nkhata Bay where your stay will be in our comfortable Safari Cottage. If time allows we can make a trip into the lowland evergreen forest already in the afternoon. Near the actual town Bat Hawk, Red-headed Quelea and Green Twinspot have been seen.
Day 10 Nhkata Bay to Liwonde NP
East Coast Akalat is the speciality of the lake shore. Even though we are in a lowland rainforest it's not too difficult to find the bird. Other birds of interest include Green Coucal, the very common African Broadbill and Narina Trogon. If there is still time we take you to a place where we see Lesser Seedcracker frequently, as well as African Finfoot, Palm-nut Vulture and other riverine specials. From the lake shore forest we continue on to delightful Liwonde National Park On our way to the cozy lodge there we pass through mopane woodland where Racket-tailed Roller, Lillian´s Lovebird and Southern Ground Hornbill might be seen. When you arrive at the camp you will be welcomed by abundant Böhm´s Bee-eater and perhaps even Livingstone´s Flycatcher.
Days 11 Liwonde NP
Our early morning walk is undertaken especially in search of either Pel's Fishing Owl or Brown-breasted Barbet. After a hearty breakfast we take a drive along the Shire River, where many water species can be found. Both thicket and shorebirds are well-represented here. Raptors are numerous and include Red-necked Falcon and Western-banded Snake Eagle. After lunch, there is time to relax at the pool before afternoon tea is served followed by a combined afternoon and night game drive.
Day 12 Zomba Plateau
After a morning's guided walk and a good hearty breakfast we take another meandering boat safari on the Shire River. Thereafter we leave the camp for the Zomba Plateau. At an altitude of up to 2,000 metres the plateau is dominated by grasslands, indigenous evergreen forest and exotic pine plantations. There are a good number of montane forest species available including Thyolo Alethe, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Yellow-throated Apalis and Black-fronted Bush-shrike. White-winged Apalis is one of the most sought after birds in Malawi and will be searched for in the Botanical Garden in Zomba town.
Day 13 Thyolo Mountain
Our journey to the Thyolo Mountain does not take us far. Accommodation is in a colonial style bungalow on a tea plantation. Even when sitting on the veranda with a cup of tea or coffee birding within the beautiful garden is impressive. The main habitat here is mid-altitude rain forest where Green-headed Oriole, Thyolo Alethe, Green Barbet, Bar-tailed Trogon and Black-fronted Bush Shrike have all been recorded.
Day 14 Thyolo to Lengwe National Park
We bypass Blantyre and descend to the lowland area at Lengwe National Park. This park holds a number of thicket specials, such as the Crested Guineafowl and Thick-billed Cuckoo as well as Böhms and Mottled Spinetails, Black-and-white-Flycatcher and Thrush Nightingale.
A special feature of Lengwe National Park are the hides next to the waterholes where you sit and watch the animals come to drink, which is best done in morning hours. We can make a detour via the Majete Game Reserve to see Rock Pratincole, where this bird is frequently seen on rocks at a dam near the entrance gate of the reserve. We then make our way back to Lilongwe where if time permits we pay a visit to one of the various birding spots around the city that hold a surprising number of interesting species.
Day 15 Lilongwe
Day 16 Depart Malawi for evening arrival in London
After making a last visit to the Nature Sanctuary or one of the dambos in the morning we take you to the airport where the journey ends with our flight back to London.