The last area in our project (Ntchisi and Dzalaynyama arethe two others) is the IBA Kasungu National Park. Wednesday 22nd. was used for travel and a few community visits.
Kasungu is famous for its Elephants, and the population in Kasungu counted about 2000 animals 20 years ago. Poaching has decimated the numbers a lot, and now there are only about 70 left. Poaching is still a major issue in Kasungu, both from the Malawian and Zambian side of the border.
One of the communities had previously been bothered by Elephants. Elephants were both a nuisance for people’s crops, but were also a hazard to the people themselves. This community lives on the border of the park, but has been innovative in their work to lessen the Elephant issue. By mounting bee-hives in the trees every tenth meter along the park-border, combined with a thick wire between them, thay actually managed to “stop” the large mammals from entering their village. Elephans are not very fond of bees, and avoid them as far as possible. When an Elephant walks into the line, the bee-hives will be disturbed. The bees wil fly out and find the intruder. Elephants then pull back, and return to the reserve.
This community produce quite a bit of honey because of this effort, making them able to earn some money. The area covered with hives and metal lines was a few kilometers, but the leader of the community hoped for assistance to prolong this to cover a larger area.
Just before sunset we arrived at the nights’ accommodation, the Lifupa forest lodge inside the National park. A fantastic place close to a dammed part of the river passing by. A handful Hippos were bathing on the shore, and hundreds of Swallows and Swifts were feeding above the surface. The soundscape during the night was totally awesome, and there were a dozen nice moths to look at as well.
Before the sun broke the following morning we went for a hike around the lake to do some birdwatching. Joined by an armed forest ranger we had a veru nice walk. It was actually the best hours of birdwatching on my Malawi trip. More than 30 new bird species for the trip was registered, with Dickinson's Kestrel, Levaillant's Cuckoo, Purple-crested Turaco and Amethyst Sunbird as the highlights.
During the day we did some more community visits before heading back to Lilongwe. In the evening we had a great goodbye-dinner at a Chinese restaurant downtown. Tomorrow I am off to Norway after a visit to the Royal Norwegian Embassy. Can’t wait to visit Malawi again.
We left Lilongwe early in the morning yesterday, to visit the second IBA we run the project. Communities surrounding the Ntchisi forest reserve. Ntchisi hold the only rainforest in Malawi, but the area has experienced hard pressure from the livelihoods nearby for years. Today the forest reserve is protected, and a group of local rangers patrol the forest on a daily basis. Locals communities are allowed to collect firewood from the forest, but only dry dead wood. Earlier poaching was a problem, but today it is not. Anyway, there aren’t many large mammals to hunt anymore.
Visiting a handful of communities today was great. Local leaders and village people greeted us warmly as elsewhere on out trip. Their efforts in planting trees for community forests were good, and they seemed to have a lot of focus on using the available resouces sustainably. The awareness of the importance of woodlands like the Nitchisi forest did also seem good.
We spent the night at the Ntchisi forest lodge. A beautiful place close to the border of the rainforest. The view from the lodge was spectacular, with Lake Malawi towards the east and the mountains of Mozambique making out the lake's background. Today we managed to do a three-hour hike in the area, spotting about 30 bird species. My personal highlights were a party of Cabanis's Bunting and the enchanting Crowned Horbills. The latter seemed to be quite common in the area. Judging by all the sounds in the forest, many birds were unfortunately not identified. I suppose a local bird guide would have been good to improve the species list. We also got great views of a dozen Blue (Diademed) Monkeys inside the rainforest – the first for the trip.
It was an early start to Friday 17th as well, and we went back to the Dzalanyama area to visit more communities. After a handful of visits, we drove back to Lilongwe to spend the weekend there. Saturday was the only “urban” day of my visit, and was spent walking streetwise, playing pool, going to a traditional dance and eating local food. The latter sadly made my stomach a bit upset, but it was over during the next day.
On Sunday the 19th I walked from the lodge to visit the Wildlife reserve of Lilongwe. Unfortunately a flood last week had made the trail along the river inaccessible, so many of the expected birds were not seen. A handful new bird species for the trip was found, and the reserve was packed with different stunning butterflies.
Tomorrow a new field trip is coming up, and we are going to the Ntchisi forest reserve. This is the only rainforest of Malawi. Despite being rather restricted in range, it is a very important bird area in the country.
Beacuse I went to sleep at 18:30 last night, I was more than awake at 05:15 this morning! The insect choir was really intense, but when a little before the sun appeared bird calls again dominated. It was rather frustrating actually, hearing lots of fascinating sounds, but not being able to see any of them. I had a nice breakfast, and was again picked up by Vincent, the WESM driver.
On our trip towards the flats below the forest reserve of Dzalanyama, we picked up a few guys that accompanied us during the day. The aim of the day was to visit five different communities that Birdlife Norway support in the project. These communities are all into planting trees, mainly Senna spectabilis and siamea, as well as Acacia polyacantha. The leaders of the communities showed us the results of their effort, and their plans in the future. In addition we are encouraging the communities to build and use Rocket Stoves for cooking. These stoves are many times more efficient than the traditional ways of cooking.
There were lots of impressions to consume during the day, and I was impressed by their enthusiasm and efforts. Tomorrow we will visit more communities closer, and probably inside the forest reserve. People of these communities traditionally travel into the forest reserve to collect wood for fire. The combination of producing their own wood, as well as starting to use efficient stoves is far more sustainable and efficient than the traditional routines. It was very nice to see this work having an effect on both people and nature.
Birdingwise the day was naturally less productive, We did however see a few good species, and a total of about 35 identified during the day. One of the most numerous was wintering European Bee-eaters. I summed up a total of 80 of them during the day. An adult Martial Eagle (picture above) gave great views, and an adult African Marsh Harrier and a Rock Kestrel were a new raptor species for me. Other noteworthy (new species for me) birds were a couple of Crested Guineafowls, African Pied Wagtail, a party of African Openbills, Southern Red (very common) and Yellow Bishop, the impressive Pin-tailed Whydah, Lilac-breasted Roller and quite a few Southern Fiscals.
Bergen – London- Johannesburg – Lilongwe was my travel initerary. I left Bergen in the afternoon on the 14th and landed at Lilongwe airport 24 hours later. After a couple of hours in the immigrant zone of the airport, getting visas and other stuff, I was picked up by WESM’s driver Vincent. Roadside birding during the 30 minutes’ drive from the airport, produced nice birds such as Black-winged Kite, Lilac-breasted and European Rollers and Pied Crows. We carried on to the site where I am going to be based the next ten days, at the lovely Woodland Lilongwe Lodge, where I was accommodated in a cabin of my own.
After dinner at the lodge we visited the WESM office, and I met up with a handfugl of the administration, including the CEO Vincent Kaitano. We planned the coming days, including the visitis to the IBA’s we currently are working in. Already tomorrow we’ll visit the forest reserve in Dzalanyama.
Having had only a little sleep at the flights, I only managed a little birding around the lodge and WESM’s office before going to sleep at 18:30! The afternoon birding was rather frustration with lots of birds around, but most of them only heard (and not identified). Anyway, I got great views of species like Helmeted Guineafowls, Little and African Palm Swifts, a few Swallow species, Red-throated Twinspot, Black-backed Puffback, African Paradise Flycatcher, Common Waxbill and a few more.
A few mammal species were also seen in the lodge-area, including a Bush Duiker Sylvicapra grimmia just outside my cabin, some 30 Vervet Monkeys Cercopithecus pygerythrus and a roaring Lion was heard. It was apparently in a cage not far away...