Itinerary - part 1: Journey to Malawi, Lake Chilwa and Zomba Plateau
We left Gatwick on Friday evening, 13th May, on a comfortable overnight flight with South African Airways. Johannesburg Airport yielded my first new bird of the trip - not an African endemic but an introduced species from Asia: Common Myna.
The plane to Malawi was smaller and fuller - it seems that they were less attentive to hand luggage restrictions on this flight judging from the things people were trying to fit into the overhead luggage compartments! We arrived at Chilega International Airport at Blantyre where we were met by Susannah, the friend we were visiting who has been running a St Luke's Hospital in Malosa for the last three years or so. The first night was spent at Susannah's house at Malosa.
Last time we were in Malawi we had a very fruitful boat trip on Lake Chilwa and Susannah had arranged a repeat of this for our first morning. She had agreed with the boatman to meet bright and early as this was best for the birds but when we arrived at the water's edge we found that the boat had been borrowed for fishing and we had to wait for an hour. In fact this didn't matter as we saw all sorts of good birds while we were waiting, including a few lifers like Black Coucal and Dideric Cuckoo.
Eventually the boat returned, a dug-out which held water slightly better than the one we were on in 2008.
This lake provides some fantastic birding and getting through the shallows on a dug-out like this provides some great photographic opportunities. Among the many highlights were this Lesser Jacana and its tiny chick.
Next stop was John Wilson's garden in Zomba - a site for the rare White-winged Apalis. No success with that, but it was nice to meet John and have him show me round his amazing garden (complete with goodies like White-tailed Crested Flycatcher).
We then headed up to Zomba Plateau where we spent the next two nights at Waterboard Cottage, just up from Ku Chawe trout farm. This area is one of the best areas for birding in Malawi and the forest around Ku Chawe holds loads of speciality species like White-eared Barblet, Malawi Batis, Olive-headed Greenbul, Forest Double-collared Sunbird, Olive Bush-Shrike, White-starred Robin, all of which were seen, and much more besides.
The full day we had here was spent driving round the plateau along the circular route (glad we had Susannah's 4x4!). Lots of good birds and scenery here - from the north side we could see all the way to Lake Malombe!
Of the good birds seen up the best was the one I was most hoping to see: Yellow-throated Apalis. Although often treated as a race of the more widespread Bar-throated Apalis, when it has full species status it is the only bird species that is completely endemic to Malawi. But it's an elusive species that spends most of its time in the canopy so can be hard to find - making it all the more satisfying when I was confronted by one at ground level.
Susannah has some friends living on the plateau and we visited them while we were here. Brian and Maggie had an amazing home with a mouthwatering view from their conservatory:
Brian and Maggie's hospitality was as amazing as the view and we were made to feel very welcome. Their garden was full of birds, providing more excellent photo opportunities.
Or here to jump to details of all the birds and animals seen, sumptuously illustrated with photos of the majority of species.