Common Scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus cyanomelas)

The Common Scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus cyanomelas) is a species of bird in the family Phoeniculidae. It’s pretty obvious how they got their name!

Their range covers a large chunk of Africa including in Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  I saw them at the Machile IBA which is near Livingstone, Zambia.

LEARN MORE ABOUT COMMON SCIMITARBILLS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Biodiversity Explorer

VIDEO

This nesting pair is busy feeding some chicks inside.

 

Zambezi River Sunset Cruise – Lady Livingstone

A must for any tourist in Zambia is a sunset river cruise whether you are a birder or not.  But birders can take full advantage of being in the middle of the river with excellent views over both Zambian and Zimbabwean sides of the river to spot some cool birds!  There are several cruise boat operators in Livingstone, I suggest checking with the reception of your lodge for any current specials they may have.  Fawlty Towers had a $10 off deal on the posh Lady Livingstone and we were able to book it with a few hours notice!

They picked us up about half an hour before the cruise and brought us to the luxury David Livingstone Lodge where we paid for the cruise and waited to board.  This is where we made a mistake, you have to sign in before they let you board and we almost didn’t get seats on the top tier of the boat (best for birders) but luckily I managed to drag a chair over to the rear for stunning views.

Welcome aboard with wine.

Birders want to be on that 3rd deck at the rear.  If you are lucky, one of the crew may know something about birds and join you but I am not sure of crew staffing.  It’s not designed to be a birding cruise.  It’s a sunset cruise with snacks and drinks included.  There is live music on the bottom deck. 

While waiting you can watch other tourists flying overhead in helicopters and light aircraft.

Off we go!

I will try to identify the birds we saw, I do have a check list but can’t match them all to the photos (my bad photography).  I have tons of shots that are even blurrier than these, some of which were Hail Mary’s at the Grey-headed Parrots but no luck!

We saw lots of other boats passing by, none as nice as ours though!  Drinks and snacks are brought around and you can have all you want.  I stopped drinking when it began to affect my ability to hold the camera somewhat straight!  These sunset cruises can also be referred to as “booze cruises” with good reason!

I did one of these ultralight trips back in the mid 90’s from the Zimbabwe side, they have gone way up in price since then!

Sun is beginning to set.

Musicians on the bottom deck, even this shot was blurry but I didn’t have the flash out.

After the cruise, they returned us to Fawlty Towers.  Although it’s not a dinner cruise per se, I found the snacks were filling enough that we weren’t hungry and didn’t need to eat dinner afterwards, more savings!

Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis)

The Blue Waxbill (Uraeginthus angolensis), also called Southern Blue Waxbill, Blue-breasted Waxbill, Southern Cordon-bleu, Blue-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Blue-breasted Cordon-bleu and Angola Cordon-bleu, is a common species of estrildid finch found in Southern Africa.

They have a very large range all over Southern Africa so you are quite likely to see them.  I’ve seen them at Mosi-oa-Tunya NP in Zambia and Kruger NP in South Africa.

LEARN MORE ABOUT BLUE WAXBILLS

Wikipedia

Birdlife

Biodiversity Explorer

SA Venues

VIDEOS

Getting up close and personal with this little cutie!

I don’t know if this one is tired or just bored.

 

Foraging on the ground.

 

Visiting Victoria Falls & Mosi-oa-Tunya NP, Zambia

You can choose to see the magnificent Victoria Falls from either Zambia, Zimbabwe or both.  If you want to visit both sides, be sure to get the KAZA visa which is $50 at the point of entry.  Most accommodations have shuttle buses to get you to the park entrance but in our case, we had to go to the National Art Gallery first to pay for our birding trip so we had to hire a taxi from Fawlty Towers to the gallery, then to the park.  We settled a time for the driver to come back and pick us up again.  I forget the actual cost but it was very reasonable.

There is a view point on the Mosi-oa-Tunya Road to see the mist rising above the falls.

You enter the grounds and the taxi will drop you at the place you pay your entrance fee, $10 USD or the equivalent in Kwacha.

You have been warned!

Car park and shopping area, some people choose to have their taxis wait here.

All the trails are very well marked.  Most people will go direct to the falls, get drenched, then walk around the park while they dry off.  That’s what we did!

The closer you get, the wetter you get.  If you don’t have rain ponchos, you can rent or buy them at several kiosks.

The falls are very powerful from this angle.  You can walk across the bridge but I only went as far as the entrance because I was worried about my camera gear.  Even with the ponchos, we were hard pressed to protect the cameras……………and take pictures!

I think these are Egyptian Geese but I only saw them from the rear.

You have to look twice to see which restroom to use!

Nice butterflies!

Signs point the way to the various trails.

Baboons are everywhere so don’t even carry food, they will steal it!

Cordon-blue Waxbill

Helicopters were frequent, birds less frequent but we were there around mid-day so that was probably the reason.

This trail looked interesting but too steep for us.

Beaded bird, I already have one like this from a previous trip.

There are several souvenir shops near the entrance, good place to kill time while waiting for your taxi or shuttle back to town.

This was a pretty brief visit to the falls and there are so many other ways to experience Mosi-oa-Tunya NP such as helicopers, light aircraft, rafting and the traditional Zambezi River cruise………………more on that coming soon!

Livingstone National Art Gallery

This was a lucky coincidence as I hadn’t been researching galleries or museums thinking we wouldn’t have time to visit either.  But I needed to pay for the birding trip with Savannah Southern Safaris (wait for the separate post) and they happen to be located in the lobby of the National Art Gallery.

We had taken a taxi out there and the driver was waiting as I thought it would be a quick run in, put the credit card through the machine and back off to the Victoria Falls waterfall area.  It actually took quite awhile as the girl tried again and again to process the credit card and couldn’t get a connection.  This gave me plenty of time to look around the art gallery.  They have an amazing variety of artwork for sale and I highly recommend coming out here both to see the art and book Savannah Southern Safaris!

Here’s some of what you can expect!

I was quite tempted by that one with the birds in the trees but it was over my budget and too big for the backpack.

Happily the credit card finally went through and I not only paid for my birding trip but bought these two bird drawings by Alec Lishandu which are now on my living room wall!

Lodge Review: Fawlty Towers, Livingstone

Although Fawlty Towers is better known as a backpackers lodge, they do have nice private rooms available and this is the product I will be reviewing.  I chose to stay here because we basically only needed a place to lay our heads at night, the 2 full days we planned in Livingstone were jam-packed with activities so no time to enjoy luxury facilities.  The location can’t be beat, right in the middle of town with a shopping centre across the street.

We arrived around 8am after the bus ride from Lusaka with a stop in Monze and as one would expect it was too early to check in.  We went to the restaurant upstairs for breakfast (paid separately, not included in rate) and I checked my emails.  The wifi is not great but not bad, it may be due to having several people on all at once, some of them were Skype-ing.

There is a security guard on duty round the clock which was really good for us as we had a 3am pick up for Machile IBA.

Taxis congregate just outside and the security guard will help you if needed.

Courtyard with places to sit and use wifi or eat & drink.

Breakfast is paid downstairs, they have a menu to choose from and they give you a ticket to bring to the kitchen.  You can help yourself to coffee and tea. 

 

The receptionist can book any tours you want and they have a wide variety of things to do.   Everyone is catered for whether adrenaline enthusiasts or relaxing cruises down the Zambezi.  Although I had originally inquired about the budget Booze Cruise, it wasn’t running and they booked us on the Lady Livingstone.  This turned out to be a great cruise which will be covered in a separate post. 

This section has the private rooms which are a fantastic deal, especially if you can get some portal points or airline miles or cashback.  After using a coupon on Orbitz, I got it for around $36 a night!

Our room was on the end.

Very comfortable beds and plenty of room to spread out.

The shopping centre across the street has most of what travelers need – ATMs, souvenirs, a supermarket and a couple small restaurants & fast food places.

Hungry Lion is like a KFC, good for cheap fast food.

Honestly you can spend hundreds of $$ in Livingstone and stay at some stunning eco-lodges in the bush but if you aren’t going to be around during the day, why bother?  There is just so much to do in Livingstone & Victoria Falls area that unless you have lots of time to spare, you won’t be at your accommodation all that much.  Fawlty Towers was a great little budget place, very well-run and the staff are very nice and helpful.

The Zambian Bus Experience Part 1 – Lusaka To Livingstone

While researching this trip, I had already determined that flying was going to be out of our budget and car hire also too expensive due to the high per kilometer fees (no unlimited rates).  So it would have to be buses to get from Lusaka to Livingstone and Mfuwe.  The flight was due to arrive around 12:30pm so theoretically we should have been able to get a bus that would reach Livingstone in the late evening or get an overnight bus so we wouldn’t waste too much time in transit.

The plan went all to hell even before we arrived.  I had booked the flights with miles around May & June 2016.  In Nov 2016, the Zambian gov’t banned buses from traveling at night hoping to prevent accidents.  It seems the drivers were being careless and over-speeding and using their mobile phones while driving. One bus company which had been the favourite amongst travelers – Mazhandu Family buses had even been totally shut down leaving Shalom as the sole bus provider on the Lusaka-Livingstone route.

Our flight was an hour late getting in which ruined any plan of getting to Livingstone that same evening.  We took a taxi from the airport to the Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminus with the plan to get the first available bus.  The bus terminus is a huge place with individual kiosks for all the bus companies, food stalls, shops, a left luggage office and pay toilets.

 

Here is the Shalom ticket office with the bus timings to Livingstone posted outside.  We barely missed the 14:30 bus, if the plane had been on time, we would have made it.  SO we ended up on the 16:30 bus which we knew would make a stopover some place enroute for the mandatory off-road time between 9pm-5am.  This did turn out to be good as it gave us time to buy tickets for the Lusaka-Mfuwe bus in advance so we would be assured of these seats.  I should point out that there are no online tickets, you must book your bus tickets in person at the ticket office.

The fare was 140 Kwacha each.

Cargo awaiting the bus to be loaded on board.

The bus had a 2 x 3 configuration which when full makes most economy airline seats look luxurious.  We had a 2 seat row.  I should have booked 3 seats for the 2 of us to get us more room.

Once considered a good bus company, Mazhandu has been shut down due to poor driver behaviour causing accidents.

On the way out, we saw these smaller buses.  I was told they leave when full and don’t have fixed times.

Scenes of Lusaka as we were leaving.

The countryside was more interesting.

The bus made slow progress southwards.  I had been hoping to reach Choma that night as there were good birding areas nearby but we only made it as far as Monze.  The bus parked outside this small restaurant. 

Some people spent the night on the bus, a few others camped on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. 

A few of us including the driver, some German tourists and Ina & me made a beeline to this small hotel.  At least we would have a safe, comfortable place to stretch out for the night.  It was really cheap, something like 200 kwacha for a double room.

Gaudy decor but who cares, we slept well!

The next morning we were up at 4:30 am to re-board the bus for a 5am departure.  I used my iPhone alarm.

We made a few stops along the way, one at this lay-by where a beautful Lilac-breasted Roller greeted us.

Market

Arriving at Livingstone bus station where we got a taxi to Fawlty Towers, around 50 Kwacha-ish.

RETURN TRIP

This is the Shalom bus office in Livingstone where we bought tickets for a 10:30am bus.  We hadn’t booked in advance, in retrospect we should have as the 9:30 bus was fully booked.  Below you can see the full timetable from Livingstone to Lusaka and the fares.

We got some breakfast here, just sandwiches and fruit.

This time the bus was a more comfortable 2 x 2 configuration.  I had been prepared to pay 3 seats but it wasn’t necessary.

The journey back to Lusaka was pretty normal, took around 7 hours-ish.  We arrived around 5:30pm.  The Shalom people helped us find a good taxi driver to take us to the nearby hotel.

I must admit I was a bit nervous about taking buses in Zambia as Trip Advisor had several people say how they would never use them and how dangerous it was.  However we felt safe on the Shalom bus, if somewhat annoyed at the 9pm stop but it did all work out in the end!

Grey-headed Parrot (Poicephalus fuscicollis suahelicus)

It seems every time I turn around this bird has a new taxonomy, my head is spinning!  The Brown-necked Parrot (Poicephalus fuscicollis) is a large Poicephalus parrot species endemic to Africa consisting of the savanna-dwelling brown-necked parrot (P. fuscicollis fuscicollis) and grey-headed parrot (P. f. suahelicus) subspecies. It formerly included the Cape parrot (now Poicephalus robustus) as a subspecies before the Cape parrot was re-classified as a distinct species.  Birdlife has the most recent explanation.

These guys are hard to find but if you are lucky you may get a glimpse of them flying overhead to their roosting sites on a Zambezi River cruise.  I did see a couple in the distance but didn’t get a photo so here’s Wikipedia’s pic.

The Birdlife distribution map has all 3 Poicephalus species – Cape, Brown-necked and Grey-headed Parrots.  The Grey-headed Parrots (suahelicus) are in the yellow shaded area with the Zambezi River indicated by the dot.  The easiest access is from Livingstone, Zambia.  We did the Lady Livingstone cruise and birders tend to congregate in the top level near the rear.  One of the staff is an experienced birder (I didn’t get his name but he will notice your camera and binoculars and offer to help) so just ask him to help you find these parrots.  He knows them by their calls.

LEARN MORE ABOUT GREY-HEADED PARROTS

Wikipedia

World Parrot Trust

Birdlife

Avibase

The Flacks Photography (nice photos of wild birds)

VIDEO

You think it’s hard to get a photo of these guys in the wild, try looking for videos!