Location: Nyika National Park, Malawi
Date: March 2010
Observer and Photographer: Dana Allen
Although the montane grasslands of Nyika showcase many special bird species, the forested pockets are akin to avian oases in their own right - havens to equally impressive range-restricted bird diversity, albeit a little harder to find at times through the lush foliage...
September through to November is probably the prime period for birding Nyika's forests as the birds are actively breeding, more vocal and thus easier to find. However, even though our visit was in late summer we were still impressed with our sightings.
Forest pockets can be explored on foot, the most productive and accessible being Zovo-Chipolo and Chowo. As one moves down into the depths of these forest patches in the early morning, incessant bird song surrounded us. Ancient trees, bedecked in epiphytic orchids, towered around us while the undergrowth was replete with lush greenery.
In no time we saw our first incredibly eye-catching Bar-tailed Trogon, Moustached Tinkerbird, Forest Double-collared Sunbird, Schalow's Turaco and Fülleborn's Boubou skulking through the thickets in the canopy. Other, rarer and more secretive undergrowth specialists such as the White-chested Alethe, Evergreen Forest Warbler and Olive-flanked Robin-Chat required slightly more focussed searching.
Targeting our binoculars on some brief movement in the dark understorey revealed a quick sighting of an African Hill Babbler while Little and Southern Mountain Greenbul were seen moving above us. The endemic Malawi Batis put in a good showing, as did White-tailed Elminia, Mountain Thrush and Chapin's Apalis.
Forest birding is sometimes an exercise of patience and dogged determination but the beauty of exploring the interior of these forests, and the birds we succeeded in spotting, all made up for it. Nyika is one of the best areas to find several Southern Rift forest endemics that are much harder to see elsewhere, thus a must visit on any birder's global itinerary.
Pictured left are: Bar-tailed Trogon, Malawi Batis, Schalow's Turaco and Fülleborn's Boubou.