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This excellent birding venue lies north of Bulawayo and includes irrigated pastures, croplands, a stretch of acacia woodland, small eucalyptus stands and two dams including the large Upper Mgusa. Aisleby supports a large variety of birds, numbering in excess of 400 species. The best time to visit Aisleby is in summer, particularly after rain.

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Birding

1. Umgusa Dam - Recreation Club. The tarred entrance road passes through pastures and during summer hundreds of African Sacred Ibis and Cattle Egret can be seen feeding amongst the cattle together with one or two African Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail and Cape Wagtail. Other species here may include African Pipit, Buffy Pipit, Red-capped Lark, African Wattled Lapwing and Temminck's Courser. Various species of wader including Ruff, Common Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper feed in the irrigation channels. In winter Egyptian Goose in their thousands graze in pastures throughout the farm together with smaller numbers of Spur-winged Goose.

The road leads you straight into the Umgusa Recreation Club situated on the shore of Umgusa Dam. As you pass through the housing near the dam, look out for Meves’s Starling now well established as a breeding species, and Woodland Kingfisher, a newly recorded species.

On the dam there are generally 3-4 thousand duck, geese and waders, including Maccoa Duck, Cape Teal, Southern Pochard, White-backed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Hottentot Teal, Fulvous Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, African Jacana, Little Grebe, Pied Avocet and the occasional Yellow-billed Duck. Great Egret and Yellow-billed Egret are present on the shoreline, whilst overhead African Fish-eagle, Whiskered Tern, White-winged Tern and at times Osprey are seen. Great White Pelican, Pink-backed Pelican, Greater Flamingo and Lesser Flamingo occasionally drop in, and Squacco Heron and Green-backed Heron occur in the weedy shoreline. Look out for the antics of the Grey Heron which have been seen diving like cormorants into the deeper water, and swimming around apparently imitating flamingos!

2. Bird Dam. Back up the road, turn right into the first small gravel track which runs between a house and pasture, and carry on for a short way till you see a dam on your right, surrounded by dense phragmites. Park next to the pasture gate and walk through to the dam shoreline. Here occur African Purple Swamphen, Black Crake, African Jacana, Common Moorhen, White-faced Duck, Blacksmith Lapwing and in summer Lesser Moorhen, Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Jacana, Spotted Crake and Baillon’s Crake. In the inundated grassland look for Greater Painted Snipe and African Snipe, and in the pasture Kittlitz’s Plover.

Return to the tarred road, turn right and take the next gravel road to the right. Check the pastures on each side where often are thirty or forty Kittlitzs’ Plover, each ‘parked’ next to a cowpat! Look here also for Yellow Wagtail and Wood Sandpiper near the water troughs.

3. The Lands. Continue on this road, past a cattle feedlot and down to a causeway over the Umgusa River. Pause here to check for Malachite Kingfisher and Green-backed Heron. As you travel up the hill towards an avenue of huge eucalyptus trees look out for Neddicky, Namaqua Dove and Violet-eared Waxbill, Black-faced Waxbill and Blue Waxbill as well as Green-winged Pytilia, Orange-breasted Waxbill, White-browed Scrub-robin, Jameson’s Firefinch and Red-billed Firefinch. Here in the trees you may see Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Little Bee-eater and Southern Carmine Bee-eater. Proceed on up the road which leads to the gate into “the Lands”.

As you approach, look for Capped Wheatear and Namaqua Dove on the fenceline and Crowned Plover in the pastures. Black-shouldered Kite, adult and immature Black-chested Snake-eagle, Brown Snake eagle, African Marsh-Harrier, Tawny Eagle and Martial Eagle hunt over the lands, and summer visitors include Western Marsh-Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Montagu’s Harrier, Steppe Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Black Kite, Yellow-billed Kite and good numbers of Lesser Kestrel and Amur Falcon. On the ground are White Stork, occasionally Grey Crowned Crane, Temminck’s Courser, Grey-backed Sparrowlark and Red-capped Lark, and on the roadside Zitting Cisticola and Red-billed Quelea.

4. Umgusa Dam – back shoreline. When driving back, if time permits pause to visit the other shore of Umgusa Dam. Cross over the crossroads (near the housing) park your vehicle on the left next to the gate and walk through the pasture towards a small depression (a pan in the rains) and into acacia woodland. Walk along any of the cattle tracks keeping the pan close on your left, and follow the fenceline on your left until you reach the small pumphouse and boundary track. Turn right and follow this track through a gate, and up to a fence ahead of you through which you should climb. Here you will reach the reeded shoreline of Umgusa Dam, looking towards the Recreation area. In the acacia you will see Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, African Hoopoe, Greater Honeyguide, Lesser Honeyguide, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Grey-headed Kingfisher, African Pygm-kingfisher (in summer), Crested Barbet, and Chinspot Batis, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Black-crowned Tchagra and Crimson-breasted Shrike. To exit, Return to the entrance boom taking the same route on which you drove to the Lands.

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General

Directions From Bulawayo take the main road to Victoria Falls for 10 km. Turn right into the road that runs alongside the Falls Road Garage - signposted Umgusa (Mgusa) Recreation Club (may be marked Stirling Road) - and follow the road round a sharp corner, downhill to cross the river, up the other side and turn left to the entry boom.

There is no charge to go into Aisleby Farm but visitors must register with the guard at the entry boom. There may be a small charge to enter the Umgusa Recreation Club premises, particularly at weekends.

Julia Duprée & Sandy McAdam 2008



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