Limpopo Trans-Frontier Park
Gonarezhou means ‘Place of Elephants’ in Shona but is probably most famed for having the rare king cheetah. It is also one of Zimbabwe’s top birding destinations. It is a rough-and-ready environment with minimal tourist infrastructure. Roads are generally horrendous and it’s easy to get stuck in either sand or mud.
Gonarezhou consists primarily of mopaneveld and mixed woodland with impressive sandstone koppies and riverine forests along the three major rivers that traverse it – the Save, Runde and Mwenezi. Kingfishers, rollers, hornbills, shrikes and bee-eaters are well represented along the rivers, where special birds to look out for include the Blue-cheeked and Southern Carmine Bee-eaters, Yellow-billed Oxpecker and the Broad-billed Roller. One of the rarities found here is the Black-winged Bishop*.
The Save/Runde Junction in the south-east is the prime birding location with over 400 species recorded. Mahenye Lodge is the recommended base from which to bird in the area. Pel’s Fishing-Owl and the Southern-banded Snake-Eagle are two of the area specials. The Eastern Nicator* and Yellow-breasted Apalis occupy the riverine thickets, while the forest fringes are good places to spot the Gorgeous Bush-Shrike and Green Malkoha. The Senegal Lapwing* is often seen when the veld is overgrazed. Other grassland birds of Gonarezhou include Kurrichane Buttonquail, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike* and the Black-throated Wattle-eye*.
Near the junction of the Save and Runde rivers is a broad wetland called Tambahata Pan which is very active with waterbirds in summer. The less common birds such as the Corn Crake, Lesser Jacana, Lesser Moorhen and Allen’s Gallinule* can sometimes be seen along the water’s edge, while the Brown-headed Parrot and Collared Palm-thrush are resident in the riverine bush around the pan. Resident raptors include the Augur Buzzard, Brown Snake-Eagle, the Lappet-faced Vulture, the Martial Eagle, the Tawny Eagle and the Bateleur. A less common sighting is the European Honey-Buzzard. For the dedicated and determined, there is the Rufous-winged Cisticola.
The renowned Chilojo Cliffs are a notable feature of the south-east. They tower above the Runde River valley. These red, sandstone koppies are a known breeding location for the Peregrine Falcon. There are many Southern Lala-palm groves along the river near Chilojo that are favoured by Dickinson’s Kestrel, while Böhms and the Mottled Spinetails nests in the Baobabs in the reserve. Gonarezhou is the most northerly location for the Natal Spurfowl*.
Gonarezhou is closed to the public during the rainy season. It is only open from 1 May - 31 October. The most available accomodation is Shimuwini camp in the south where there are thatched chalets, and at various camping sites at Chipinda Pools in the north. 4x4 vehicles are essential. Visitors must also carry their own food and petrol and take precautions against bilharzia and malaria.
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