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Malawi Ornithology

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Bird watching in Malawi

Malawi is a popular birdwatching destination. Some 645 species have been recorded in the country, and about 530 species probably breed there. Those that don't breed are mainly long-distance migrants from Europe or Asia. Some of Malawi's breeding birds leave the region during the dry season, so probably the most productive time of the year for bird watching is November and December, but any time is still likely to be rewarding. Roughly 10% of the recorded species in Malawi are not found in southern Africa with several vagrants and rarities such as African skimmer, raquet-tailed roller, Boehm’s bee eater, wattled crane and green-headed oriole being seen. There are many good places for bird watching depending on the habitat; some of the best are the National Parks of Liwonde, Lengwe and the Nyika plateau/National Park, Dzalanyama Forest Reserve and Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary.


Liwonde National Park

There is a great variety of birds in this park and the birdlife along the river is spectacular. The combination of riverine, mopane and grassland habitats accounts for the diversity of species. There are guided walks organised from Mvuu Camp where there are several localised species.

Nyika

Nyika is probably the best place to see birds in Malawi that do not appear in southern Africa since many East African birds do not extend further south than Nyika and the Viphya Plateau. More than 400 species of birds have been recorded in the Park, the greatest diversity of birds found in Malawi. The area around Chelinda Camp offers good birding with the endangered wattled crane, yellow and black mountain marsh widow which is restricted to a few montane areas of Central Africa, Denham’s bustard and scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird all to be seen. The Chowo forest harbors Sharpe’s akalat, bar-tailed trogon, olive-flanked robin, white-breasted alethe and many robins and bulbuls. Four birds unique in Malawi to Nyika are yellow mountain warbler, churring cisticol, crackling cloud cisticola and mountain marsh widow, whilst the red-winged francolin, rufous naped lark, greater double-collared sunbird and Baglafecht weaver are endemic to the plateau.

Dzalanyama

Located on the Zambian border 58 km south of Lilongwe, this forest reserve is set in a range of hills which are covered with miombo forest.There are several good walking trails and the forest has one of the greatest diversity of brachystegia birds in Malawi.There is a resthouse in the reserve and camping is permitted, but there is no public transport.

Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary

The wetland areas are often visited by a number of migrating Eurasian shore birds between August and November.Lake Chilwa is the southernmost of Malawi’s lakes about 30km from Zomba. The marshy lakeshore is well vegetated and is excellent for birdwatching with a variety of herons, waders, ibis and other shorebirds. Another good area in the south is Elephant Marsh which forms the eastern floodplain of the Shire river. There is a great variety and number of birds here including African skimmer, pygmy goose, fish eagle, purple and goliath heron, glossy ibis, openbill and yellow-bill stork and malachite kingfisher. It is recommended to hire a boat from Mchacha James and take a relaxing trip around the marsh. Lake Kazuni in the Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve is a rich wetland habitat which supports a variety of waterfowl, waders and storks.

It is located along the Zambian border about 25km from Rumphi and is accessible by public transport. There is thick woodland around the camp which offers good birdwatching with trumpeter hornbill, Carp’s black tit, Hueglin’s robin and many small warblers.

Lake Malawi

The southern end of Lake Malawi is home to enormous numbers of the African fisheagle.The lake is also home to several large breeding colonies of white-breasted cormorant which nest offshore. Reedbeds along the shore support colonies of golden and brown-throated weavers. Other birds that are often seen include the palm swift and the collared palm thrush.

Mountains

The high open grasslands of the Nyika plateau are home to wattled crane, Denham's bustard and red-winged francolin. Besides, the flowering plants in the grasslands may attract sunbirds such as the greater double-collared sunbird and the red-tufted malachite sunbird. Thyolo Mountain to the east of Blantyre is home to several rare and threatened species such as the green-headed oriole, bronze and the Natal thrush.

Evergreen Forest

Evergreen forest is also very rich in bird habitat, and, unlike game reserves, many of Malawi's forest reserves can be explored on foot. Among the more accessible forest habitats in Malawi are the Viphya and Zomba plateau, Mulanje Massif, and Ntchisi, Chiradzulu and Thyolo Mountains.

Lake Shore Forest

The Kwale forest near Nkhata Bay provide excellent opportunities for seeing birds such as the green coucal, red- capped robin, blue-mantled crested flycatcher and the local specialty, cunning’s akalat.

Rocky Hills

Rocky hills are scattered throughout Malawi particularly in the area around Cape Maclear and near Dedza. They provide good vantage points from which to watch birds of prey such as lanner and peregrine falcons and black eagles. Other birds that may be seen in this type of habitat include the mocking chat, rock cisticola and large striped pipit.

Thickets

Dense deciduous thickets, most notably in Lengwe National Park, are yet another haven for ornithologists. Here you may find crested guineafowl, barred long-tailed cuckoo, black-and-white flycatcher and gorgeous bush-shrike, and birds unlikely to be seen elsewhere in Malawi.

Brachystegia woodland

This is the dominant vegetation type in Malawi and is home to several species of birdsunique to this type of woodland such as Stierling’s woodpecker, miombo pied barbet, white-winged starling, red and blue sunbird, pale-billed hornbill and chestnut mantled sparrow weaver.

Mixed Acacia Woodland

Two of the best areas for bird watching in this type of habitat are Lengwe National Park and Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary. The yellow-billed hornbill is confined to this habitat, and other birds that may be seen include the red-winged warbler and the spectacular giant eagle owl.

Last Updated on Thursday 26th November 2009

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