Massive Range Expansion: Yellow-throated Leafloves arrive in Namibia and decide to breed!

At the start of 2016, something almost unbelievable happened in the southern African listing region. Yellow-throated Leafloves (plural) were discovered 125 km south of their previously known range, just within the southern African listing region (which includes seven countries south of the Zambezi River: Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, the southern half of Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland). This crazy pair of leafloves actually decided not only to wander into our listing region, but to actually build a nest here, within the leafy grounds of the Caprivi Houseboat Cabins (http://www.zambezisafaris.com/). This lodge, which can also be a good place to see Pel’s Fishing Owl, the elusive African Finfoot, White-backed Night-heron, African Skimmer, African Hobby Falcon, African Pygmy Goose, Southern Carmine Bee-eater and other desirables, is on the southern bank of the mighty Zambezi River. This basically means that regional birders can tick anything they see here on their southern African lists (unless of course it’s more than half way across the river on the Zambian side). While of course not as popular as the ABA listing region, the southern African listing region nevertheless does have a massive (and growing) following. To date, 576 birders are recorded as having seen 700 or more bird species in southern Africa, as per http://zestforbirds.co.za/ . Only four birders have seen 900 or more species.

The first Namibian record of Yellow-throated Leaflove (photo by lodge owner Curt-Ingo Sagell). This is a noisy but sometimes coy member of the greenbul/bulbul family

The first Namibian record of Yellow-throated Leaflove (photo by lodge owner Curt-Ingo Sagell). This is a noisy but sometimes coy member of the greenbul/bulbul family

This pair of leafloves that decided to make Namibia their home was actually near a meeting point of four different countries, in a very remote part of extreme north-eastern Namibia. The lodge they bred at this year is just across the Zambezi River from Zambia, and Botswana is immediately to the south. Shortly to the east (less than three hours by road), the Zambezi plummets over the humongous Victoria Falls, there forming the border between Zambia and yet another country, Zimbabwe. Caprivi Houseboat lodge is just outside Katima Mulilo, a small border town where one can cross over a new (2004) road bridge that spans 3000 feet across the Zambezi (one of Africa’s greatest rivers) – and then one can drive along the excellent paved road just north of the river from here through to Victoria Falls in about three hours.

Despite the remote location of these leafloves, at least 100 birders (mainly from South Africa) have been to see them. The fastest route (by road) for the big birding community based in Johannesburg and Pretoria, is to travel northwards through Botswana and then to enter the finger-like Caprivi Strip of Namibia from there. It’s tough to do that long drive in just a day, and one has to contend with a high density of elephants as one drives through Botswana: it’s never good to hit one of those. So many birders also flew into Kasane airport in Botswana and then drove the short distance to the Namibian border and then to Katima Mulilo from there.  John Neville and I had a whole five days available so we did things slightly differently and flew into and out of Windhoek, which means 1500 miles from Namibia’s capital city to Katima Mulilo and back. The fact is that we had other birds to “get” as well. As it turned out, a very rare vagrant in the form of Garganey (a diminutive duck), was also present in Namibia, so I was able to find not one, but two, life-birds on this trip! During the five days, my top ten birds, more or less in order, were as follows:

1) Yellow-throated Leaflove (southern African lifer)

2) Garganey female (southern African lifer)
3) Sharp-tailed Starling – seven of them
4) excellent views of Striped Crake female
5) Souza’s Shrike
6) Rufous-bellied Tit
7) Burchell’s Sandgrouse
8) Dusky Lark
9) Close-up African Cuckoo-Hawk (adult and juvenile)
10) good numbers of Red-footed Falcon (which of course is reliable in Namibia at this time of year)

What an unbelievably successful trip, as most of those top ten birds shown above are very tough to find. More details of this five day “twitching” trip are at http://birdingecotours.com/a-5-day-twitch-to-namibia/ .

Chris Lotz at southernmost point of Africa

Chris Lotz

Chris is the founder of Birding Ecotours and since childhood has been an incredibly enthusiastic birder. He particularly loves tracking down owls, but other favorite birds of his are falcons, harriers, pittas and, well, all Read More