BIRDING IN ZIMBABWE
Gonarezhou National Park
Gonarezhou National Park is a well-known, remote and largely unspoilt area of some 5,000 square kilometres in the southeast lowveld of Zimbabwe with its long south-eastern border forming the international border with Mozambique. Camps and commercial lodges in this arid region are clustered along the Mwenezi River in the south and the Save and Runde rivers in the north, shaded by large, green riverine trees. Naturally, these watered sanctuaries attract the wildlife of the park to their banks, where hippos rest the days away in pools and large crocodiles sun on the sandbanks. The central, southern and western areas are sandy with deciduous woodlands, miombo and pans, whilst the north has more broken basalt country with some mopane woodlands and acacia in other areas through the park.
The rivers attract many waterbirds from herons, storks and egrets to waders, African Skimmers and nesting Southern Carmine Bee-eaters. Purple-crested Turacos flash crimson through the denser riverine and Grey-headed, Brown-headed and Meyer’s Parrots squawk and shriek. The Mangrove Kingfisher is new to Zimbabwe and may be found in the rains around the Save-Runde confluence, the country’s lowest point. Bat Hawks and Pel’s Fishing-owl sit unnoticed in thick trees and the spectacular Chilojo Cliffs can be checked for Verreaux’s Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, Black Storks, swifts and other raptors. The Save has produced interesting birds – Eastern Nicator and African Emerald Cuckoos call in summer, Green Malkoha and Gorgeous Bush-shrike have been seen and Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo is likely here. Check thickets around Chipinda Pools for Green Twinspot and the Pombadzi Wilderness Area for Orange-winged Pytilia. The Pink-throated Twinspot is a recent addition to the Zimbabwe checklist and can be found at Swimuwini camp. Tamboharta Pan is often good for many birds including Senegal Lapwings and Plain-backed Sunbird has been seen here as well as in several other places, including the Mwenezi section. Also check the baobabs as the Mottled Spinetail nests here.
A special for the area is the Lemon-breasted Canary so check Ilala palm savannah and over-grazed areas; large flocks have been recorded in the Chikwarakwara area in the south. Check drier thickets around the Runde for the small savensis race of the Southern Boubou; who knows, it may yet be made a new species! Raptors abound but especially look out for the Southern Banded Snake-eagle, sometimes perched in the open on a tree top. All the common vultures breed in the park with the Cape as a visitor, and alarm calls of small birds often reveal a smaller raptor on the hunt.
Image credits: Gonarezhou by Mitch Riley; Brown-headed Parrot by Roger MacDonald; Green Malkoha by Adam Riley; Senegal Lapwing by Celesta von Chamier