Malawi 2008

...with Richard Cruse

October 24th - November 8th

Overall a very successful trip for everyone. Although we had missed some specials, we saw 368 species including many sought-after African specials. The weather had in general been kind to us, although rather hot latterly. Malawi is a stunningly beautiful country with some wonderful flora on the Nyika. It gave us a great welcome, a country with very friendly and helpful people and some truly wonderful lodges …… not to mention English breakfast every day and Marmite on toast!

October 24th/25th: London - Lilongwe.

Weather: Cloudy 26 C.

We met at Heathrow in the late afternoon and boarded our flight to Nairobi where we changed aircraft and continued on to Lilongwe arriving a little after 10:45 on the 25th. We met our guide and driver, Abasi Jana, in the terminal before finding our first bird of the tour, Little Swift. Common Bulbul, Pied Crow and European Bee-eaters were seen as we drove to the Lodge. We checked in and went to the garden before lunch. Here, Kurrichane Thrush, Southern Cordon Blue, African Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, Fork-tailed Drongo, Puffback and Chinspot Batis all showed. After lunch another short walk in the garden gave us Black Flycatcher, Black-chested Barbet, a pair of Cardinal Woodpeckers, Large Golden Weaver and Heuglin’s Robin before we left for the Lilongwe Nature Reserve, a short drive away. A gentle walk around the reserve gave us several more new species. Red-throated Twinspot, Yellow-breasted Apalis and a pair of African Black Duck, a very good find, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Lesser Honeyguide and Schalow’s Turaco were all seen well and several of the more common species also were added to our lists for the day. A good day for us although we were all very tired after having had little sleep on the aircraft the night before, so an early night!

October 26th: Dzalanayma.

Weather: Cloudy and cool 25 C

A very early start this morning as we needed to be in the Dzalanyama reserve by dawn, which was at 04:45. The light came up on a very untypical cool and cloudy morning. The first two hours gave us virtually no birds but did give White-breasted Cuckoo-shrike and Plum-coloured starling. We decided to move on further into the miombo woodland and made another stop further on. Here things picked up for us and we found nearly thirty new species in an hour. Red-billed and White Helmet Shrikes, Cape Turtle Dove, Yellow-throated Petronia and good views of a Groundscraper Thrush started us off well. Miombo Double-collared Sunbird, Cape and Myers Parrots, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Little Spotted Woodpecker, Stierling’s Wren Warbler and Black Sunbird were soon found. Whyte's Barbet, Black-eared Seedeater, Rufous-bellied Tit and African Goshawk all showed as we kept finding new species. A Broad-billed Roller was seen and an Ayres Hawk Eagle circled overhead before we stopped to eat breakfast. Further on, Steppe Buzzard, Eastern Black Saw-wing and Striped Pipit were all seen. Golden Breasted Bunting, Olive Headed Weaver and Emerald-spotted Wood Doves were added before we arrived at the lodge where we were to stop for lunch and rest for a couple of hours. The grounds had Ashy Flycatcher and two Miombo Rock thrushes were in the area as well. We left again at about 14:00 and started to drive slowly back out of the park. We spent some time checking several sites for Boulder Chat but had no luck. The weather had been against us unfortunately. Pale-billed Hornbill was seen briefly before we left the park and, en route, White-throated Swallow, Rock Martin, Bronze Manakin, White-crowned Lapwings and African Firefinch were added before we arrived back at our hotel, tired but having had a very good day in spite of the weather of the early morning.

October 27th: Lilongwe - Luwawa Forest Lodge.

Weather: Sun/cloud, cooler at altitude 22 C

We left Heuglin’s lodge straight after breakfast and headed north out of Lilongwe. White-rumped Swift was our first new bird of the day, at a small bridge en route. A stop at Kasunga Lake proved worthwhile. Five Lesser Jacanas were in the edges of the lake and five Southern Pochards were seen on the lake and then flying slowly across the water. Yellow-billed Duck and Red-knobbed Coot were seen and a Lanner Falcon displayed, with its mate, over our heads before we continued onwards. Rufous-breasted Swallow and Speckled Mousebirds, among other more common species, were added as we drove north. A Black-breasted Snake Eagle flew slowly along a hill top ridge and we made our lunch stop in some brachystegia woodland. We were now at about 1500 metres in the North Viphya Mountains and several stops gave us many new and sought-after species. Malawi Batis, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Bronze Sunbird, several White-tailed Blue Flycatchers, African Citril and Olive Woodpecker were all added at our first stop. Red-billed and Jameson's Firefinches and Mountain Greenbul were found quickly a little later on and Swee and Dark-capped Yellow Warbler were seen well. Marsh Tchagra, Bertram's Weaver and a displaying Broad-tailed Warbler all showed very well indeed. Red-backed Manakins and Fan-tailed Flycatcher were seen before we arrived at the lodge. We went straight to the gardens and walked down to the lake. Here we soon saw Grey-rumped Swallow, White-headed Saw-wing and Thick-billed Weavers. A Long-crested Eagle gave great views perched in a nearby tree and a Cape Robin was seen briefly. Burchell's Coucal and Dusky Flycatcher finished off what had been a travelling day but in the end had produced a terrific birdlist with many sought-after species being seen.

October 28th: Luwawa Forest Lodge - Nyika Plateau.

Weather: Sun/cloud, hot but cooler on the Nyika 20 C

An early breakfast to enable us to get on our way as we had a long drive today. We left the lodge at 0645 and headed north. We made several stops en route noting many now familiar birds. A fuel stop at Mzuzu gave us Gabar Goshawk and Lizard Buzzard and we continued on our way. At Rumphi we had good views of Mocking Cliff Chat and a little further on two Bataleurs passed slowly by. Brown-crowned Tchagra was seen well and Familiar Chat and Rock Bunting were also seen. We spent a good deal of time searching the woodland on the edge of the Vwaza marsh reserve where two of the group saw White-Winged Babbling Starling. We entered the Nyika National Park and made a stop for a late lunch. Further on into the park another stop gave us Brown Parisoma and several other species new for the trip. Black-lored Cisticola and Mountain Yellow Warbler were both seen well. Yellow-rumped Bishop and Churring cisticola were seen and Mountain Marsh Widows showed very well. Several species of mammal were seen including Zebra, Reedbuck, Eland, Roan Antelope, Side-striped Jackal and Common Duiker. As we approached our camp, at 2300 metres, a very large group of White-necked Ravens took to the air and a Baglafecht Weaver was seen. Two Red-knobbed Coots greeted us on our arrival at the camp as the sun went down. A very good day for a travelling day with many new species and a good day-total.

October 29th: Nyika Plateau.

Weather: Sun/cloud 24 C

An early morning walk gave us several new species. Yellow-tufted Malachite Sunbird came first and the beautiful Blue Swallows started flying over our heads a short while afterwards. Angola Swallow was seen well and several Streaky Seedeaters were seen. Eastern Double-collared Sunbird was noted as well as Scarlet Tufted Malachite Sunbird. Cape Canary was in the area in small groups and a small group of Southern Long-tailed Starlings overflew as we went in for breakfast. After eating we headed out to a nearby forest area. Mountain Marsh Widows were in large numbers as we drove along and our first Ayres Cisticola was noted. The forest proved to be very productive for us. We spent at least a quarter of an hour watching a Bar-tailed Trogon, a sought after bird, before noting several other good species: Evergreen Forest Warbler, Chappin's Apalis, White-tailed Flycatcher, Waller’s Starling and Stared Robin were all seen. "Forest" Double-collared Sunbird, a possible future split from Eastern, was seen here also. A Moustached Green Tinkerbird was calling but failed to show. A Montague's Harrier overflew the forest before we left and we then took a short drive across the high plateau. A Brown Snake Eagle was over a ridge hunting and an Augur Buzzard flew past the vehicle. A Rufous-napped Lark showed briefly but well and our last new species before lunch was a small group of Pink-breasted Turtle Doves.

After lunch we headed out across the plateau towards the east. We soon found our first target as a pair of Wattled Cranes came into view. We watched these birds for a while before continuing on our way; the beauty of this amazing plateau was not lost on any of us. En route we saw two male Pallid Harriers before finding a male Denham's Bustard. There were many now-familiar birds seen throughout the afternoon before we found Red-napped Lark and, further on, a Long-billed Pipit. A group of five Red-winged Francolins were followed along the trail for a few minutes and then a pair of Common Quail flew off the track. We headed off to a different area as the sun set and we found several Montane Nightjars on the dirt track as night fell. We searched for a good while for owls and were eventually rewarded with a Spotted Eagle Owl sitting on the track. From here we headed back to the camp and dinner. A very good day for everyone with some terrific birds and a huge amount of much appreciated work from our local guide Abasi.

October 30th: Nyika Plateau.

Weather: Cloudy, 22 C.

An early start as usual this morning as we headed to the Zovo Chipolo forest. Our fist new species of the day was a large flock of Red-shouldered Widowbirds. A Spotted Flycatcher was seen and a Mosque Swallow overflew. The forest proved to be very quiet as we walked. White Starred Robin and Moustached Green Tinkerbird were heard but little else was around. We eventually found a Crowned Hornbill high in the canopy and after nearly two hours of searching a Fulleborn's Black Boubou was seen well by everyone. We left the area and moved on to Chowo Forest, not far away. A "Forest" Double-collared Sunbird was seen and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls were seen in the canopy. A Crowned Eagle was heard calling in the distance. Our guide then heard elephants in the forest below us and we were forced to leave the area. We took a long slow drive back to the camp and saw House Martin and Scarce Swift en route. A Yellow-mantled Widowbird was seen and a flying Denham's Bustard held our attention for a while. Two Slender-billed Starlings were found in a tree on the roadside before we returned to the camp for lunch.

We went out again onto the Nyika plateau in the early afternoon. We found no new birds this afternoon but simply touring around this magnificent plateau scenery with its abundant wildflowers and game was pure pleasure. We watched a melanistic Augur Buzzard for a while and watched a male Pallid Harrier quartering the ground as it hunted. An African Goshawk hunted along a ridge and a Red Tufted Malachite Sunbird was in the area. Red-napped Lark was seen and a Common Quail ran along the track in front of our vehicle. A Red Duiker was seen on a hillside, a very difficult animal to see, particularly in the open grasslands. We returned after dark, driving the trails slowly, and found several Montane Nightjars before we arrived at the camp in time for dinner.

October 31st: Nyika -Vwaza.

Weather: Sunny/light cloud 38 C.

We left our camp after breakfast at 05:45 and started the long drive down off the plateau. We noted many now-familiar species on our journey but our first new species of the day was a White-winged Black Tit. A Red-billed Helmet Shrike was seen, as well as another Denham's Bustard, sedately walking along a small ridge near to the track. As we descended, a Senegal Coucal was heard and a Red-chested Cuckoo was seen well as it flew past. We reached the park entrance at 0810 and started down the Katoro road. From here we were to search for a bird we all wanted to see well. Yellow-throated Tinkerbird was seen and Chinspot Batis showed well. We made several stops along this road. Mashona Hyliota, Brubru, Eastern Least Honeyguide, Black Cuckoo-shrike and Pearl Spotted Owlet were all noted and a Greater Honeyguide was heard at our next stop. Arnot's Chat came next and as the time was getting on we decided to stop for lunch in the brachystegia woodlands. After we had finished eating our guide walked a little way down the trail and an African Hoopoe flew up, then, at last, he found the species were had searched for all morning; we had wonderful views of White-winged Babbling Starling here. A pair was nesting in the trees near to us and we watched the bird for a long time before returning to the truck feeling very satisfied after a very long search. We continued on with our journey noting Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Black-crowned Tchagra and Martial Eagle. We reached the entrance to the Vwaza Marsh Reserve in mid-afternoon and were greeted by a herd of African Elephants. A complete change of habitat gave us many new species as we were now in marshland with a large lake in front of us. Among many species here, Knob-billed Duck, African Spoonbills, Yellow-billed Storks and Collared Pratincoles were all seen. Water Thick-knee, a lone Black-winged Stilt, many species of antelope, including Greater Kudu, were in the area and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers were seen. Palm-nut Vulture, Red-necked Francolins and Ashy Flycatcher were also seen. A small herd of Puku, a small antelope, was also found. Spur-winged Geese and a large group of Banded Mongoose finished off a very busy day. With 121 species today we all felt very satisfied and having found our target with the Babbling Starling we were all ready for cold drinks and dinner.

November 1st: Vwaza - Chinteche.

Weather: Sunny, 35 C

The lake at dawn was very much as the previous day although a juvenile Grey-headed Gull was seen. Two African Openbill Storks were found before we took our vehicle and headed into the bush. Grey Go-away Birds were added to our lists and an African Cuckoo Hawk was a good find. A juvenile Martial Eagle gave us a pause for thought for a while and we returned for breakfast after a ten-minute delay waiting for a herd of elephants to clear the trail. After breakfast a bit of time spent watching the lake gave us African Fish Eagle, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Lanner Falcon, a male Bataleur, White-winged Widows and Southern Masked Weavers before we left to start our drive down to the lakeshore of Lake Malawi. We arrived at Chinteche in time for a late lunch and then spent the last part of the afternoon wandering the immediate grounds. Wire-tailed Swallow, Striped Kingfisher and Purple Banded Sunbirds were added as we wandered around this lovely area, finishing a little earlier than usual to enable us to relax for a while before our drive tomorrow towards the south.

November 2nd: Chinteche - Salima.

Weather: Sun 35 C.

We left before dawn and went straight to the Mkuwazi Forest Reserve. We entered the forest and started to walk a trail. A Black Sparrowhawk was our first new bird and an African Broadbill was calling. We walked the trail for well over an hour before finding our target species, Gunning’s Akalat. Good views were had and we retraced our steps slowly, having brief views of Terrestrial Bulbul and Yellow-spotted Nicator on the way. As we left the forest a Pygmy Kingfisher flew by. After breakfast we loaded up our cases, seeing Brown-throated Weaver and Collared Palm Thrush in the grounds before we left to head south, arriving in Salima and our hotel in the mid-afternoon. The number of Barn Swallows seen en route was impressive - huge flocks hunting through the clouds of lake flies, the flies, in some places, being so dense as to appear as huge smoke clouds in the distance. A late afternoon visit to the Mpatsanjoka dambo gave us several new species and here we also met our new guide, Jim Katenga, who was to take over from Abasi for the southern part of our trip. Chestnut-backed Sparrow Larks, Purple, Intermediate, Great White, Rufous Bellied, Black and Goliath Herons were all seen. Two Lesser Jacanas were found and an African Marsh Harrier was hunting. An African Snipe was seen and several Croaking Cisticolas were in the reed beds. A Banded Martin overflew and we eventually returned to the hotel having had a very good day yet again with more new species under our belts.

November 3rd: Salima - Zomba.

Weather: Sun 40 C

An early search of some local woodland this morning got us off to a good start:. We saw Scarlet-chested Sunbirds and Black Collared Barbet before we arrived and the woodland gave us, almost immediately, a perched Narina Trogon. Rattling Cisticola and Redheaded Weavers came next and a Klaas’s Cuckoo perched for us. A few minutes later a Pennant-winged Nightjar was almost trodden on! We watched for a good time as this wonderful bird flew and landed and flew again, creating what is possibly one of the most fascinating sights in the birding world; for many, the bird of the trip. A Long-billed Crombec was seen before we arrived back at the hotel for breakfast – we saw Lesser Masked Weaver trying to feed at the breakfast tables as we ate. We said our goodbyes to Abasi here and headed off to the south. A short stop at Mua Mission gave us Sombre Greenbul and we made another stop for lunch en route. We arrived at our lodge and took a walk on the mountainside straight away. Eastern Bearded Scrub Robin and Bertram’s Weaver were seen among other species and an African Broadbill showed very well for us all, making its short circular flights as it called not twenty yards from us. Cinnamon Bracken Warbler and Livingstone’s Turaco came and a Tambourine Dove was noted as it flew by. The temperatures had been very high all day but here on Zomba Mountain the air was much cooler and sleep would be no problem.

November 4th: Zomba – Mvuu Wilderness Lodge, Liwonde National Park.

Weather: Sun 39 C

A walk this morning gave us Black-headed Apalis, further views of Livingstone’s Turaco, Evergreen Forest Warbler and Placid Bulbul. Olive Sunbird and African White-eye were found and a Pygmy Kingfisher was seen by some. A Square-tailed Drongo was seen well before we returned for breakfast. We checked out of the lodge and headed down the mountain. On the descent we stopped to admire a Horned Chameleon, a rare animal to see here. We made our next stop at a garden in Zomba renowned for its White–winged Apalis. We spent several hours here and added Black-eared Barbet and Silver-cheeked Hornbill but no Apalis sadly. A relatively short drive this morning brought us to the boat station where we would board and go upriver to Mvuu Lodge. We lunched first and then headed off in our boat for the one-hour river trip. Red-billed Queleas were on the riverbanks and a Pink-backed Pelican was seen on the river. African Darters now became evident and an Osprey was nearby. Long-toed Plovers and African Spoonbills were soon found and two Saddled-billed Storks were seen on the bank. An African Harrier Hawk was overhead for a while and then two large flocks of African Skimmers were found on the sandy foreshore. Spur-winged Lapwings, a relatively recent newcomer to Malawi, were seen and a Brown-chested Snake Eagle was hunting nearby. As we approached the lodge two White-backed Night Herons were seen roosting in a riverside tree and Bohm’s Bee-eater was in the grounds as we docked. We went up to the bar area, set overlooking a small lagoon, where Black-crowned Night Herons, Giant Kingfisher and Hadada Ibis were all seen. After checking into our rooms we left in a 4x4 and headed out into the park. The heat here was ferocious but this didn’t keep the birds out of sight. We soon logged White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Dickinson’s Kestrel and African Black Crake. Two Yellow-throated Longclaws were beside the vehicle for a short while and a pair of Greater Painted Snipe was seen very well. A single Terek Sandpiper showed for a while and Striated Heron was seen. Several Gull-billed Terns overflew the river and we slowly headed back to the lodge for cold drinks and dinner.

November 5th: Liwonde National Park.

Weather: Sunny, 40 C

This morning the dawn temperature hovered around 30º - we had spent a very hot night in our chalets! We went out into the park on foot with our armed guard, Laurence. The area was alive with birds and many species were in the area. Scimitarbill was our first new species of the day though. Southern Black Tit came next and Green-winged Pytilias were seen. Yellow-bellied Greenbul was seen passing us by before Lawrence called us to a tree where he had found Pel’s Fishing Owl roosting - a good find. Barred Owlet came next and then a group of Lilian’s Lovebirds were seen. A Crested Barbet called and was seen by some but this bird was found later in the trip as well, to the satisfaction of everyone. Striped Kingfisher was in the area and several Bataleurs were seen during the walk. Green Woodhoopoes and eventually a Brown-breasted Barbet showed well for everyone. Livingstone’s Flycatcher came next, a sought after species here, and was followed by another needed species, White-bellied Sunbird. We returned to the lodge for breakfast having seen some good birds and appreciating this wonderful park. Palm-nut Vultures were fairly common here as well as Openbill Stork. A further walk after breakfast produced little new except Ruff and our first views of Sable Antelope. During lunch at the lodge, Black-throated Wattle-eye was seen and as time moved on the cloud started to build up making the heat become somewhat oppressive. We went out for a drive in mid-afternoon, the temperature hovering around the 40º mark. Woodland Kingfisher was found and a group of doves held Laughing and Mourning Dove for us. Another roosting owl, this time Giant Eagle Owl, was seen well by all and African Grey Cuckoo was added to our lists. Little Sparrowhawk and Avocet were found and as night started to fall a flock of Grey-headed Gulls and a few Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew down river. We drove slowly back to camp and saw Red-necked Francolins on the track, also African Civet and White-tailed Mongoose. It was our day for owls as our last find of the day was African Scops Owl.

November 6th: Liwonde National Park.

Weather: Sunny, 38 C

Dawn this morning saw a slight drop in temperatures much to everyone’s relief. A dawn walk through the park gave us Red-necked Falcon and more Black-throated Wattle eyes. The grey headed sub-species of Cape Parrot was seen well, this bird possibly being a future split to Poicephalus fuscicollis. Black Cuckoo Shrike and Purple Crested Turacos were our last new species before we returned for our breakfast. A drive again after eating and this time saw us noting Black-backed Cisticola, Three-banded Plover and Western Banded Snake Eagle. A Namaqua Dove flew by and Saddle-billed Stork was seen again. A Greater Honeyguide was seen and a Bearded Woodpecker was in the area. After lunch we took the vehicle again and Southern Ground Hornbills came first, a group of at least four. During the afternoon we added Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Bearded Woodpecker for everyone and Bennett’s Woodpecker. Red-faced Mousebird was seen and during the drive back after dark two African Scops Owls, Common Genet and a Square-tailed Nightjar with a very young chick were seen on the roadsides. Two of the group had seen Half-collared Kingfisher from their veranda of their room.

November 7th/8th: Liwonde National Park – Lilongwe - London.

Weather: Sunny, 26 C

Giant Kingfisher and Sacred Ibis greeted us this morning as we gathered at dawn. The air was cooler again, about 25º C. We drove out into the park. Dickinson’s Kestrel and Palm-nut Vulture were flying and Collared and Variable Sunbirds were seen. An Ovambo Sparrowhawk was seen by all, including those who had missed it earlier in the trip, and a Bushpig was seen in the bush, appropriately. A Swallow-tailed Bee-eater was seen briefly and Steppe Buzzards were as usual in the area. Bataleur, Osprey, Martial Eagle and African Hawk Eagle were all noted and Brown-breasted Barbet again showed well. We returned for brunch and to pack and left the lodge behind us as we headed back across the river to our own vehicle and then on to Lilongwe. We made a stop in the Chongoni Forest on the way. Here Spotted Creeper was seen by some and a Village Indigobird and Southern Masked Weaver were noted. We continued on and left the heat of Mvuu behind us, seeing a Lanner Falcon en route, before we arrived at our lodge where we were to spend the night before flying out early the next morning and returning via Nairobi to London.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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