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Honde Valley, one of the premier birding destinations in Zimbabwe, offers a wide range of species difficult to find in most other parts of the region, other than in neighbouring Mozambique. This fertile valley lies 850m above sea level and is one of the major tea producing areas of Zimbabwe.

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Specials

Anchieta's Tchagra, Moustached Grass-Warbler, Red-winged Warbler, Black-winged Bishop, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Lesser Seedcracker, Singing Cisticola, Twinspot Indigobird which parasitizes the Red-throated Twinspot, Scarce Swift, Pallid Honeyguide, Green-backed Woodpecker, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, White-eared Barbet, Pale Batis, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Variable Sunbird, Bronzy Sunbird, Olive Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Grey Waxbill, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike.

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Habitats

Lowland and riverine forest, marsh, miombo woodland, tea estate, maize lands.

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Birding

There are four main birding areas in the valley, the area around Aberfoyle Club; Gleneagles Nature Reserve above the Club, eastern Highland Tea Estate; and Katiyo Tea Estate some 25km from Aberfoyle.

1. Aberfoyle Club. Aberfoyle is literally 'at the end of the road' as you travel down the Honde Valley. Comfortable self-catering accommodation is available at the Club (a cook will prepare your meals), including a restaurant and bar.

Some of the best birding is from the lawns right outside the rooms that overlook the golf course and vegetable garden. Eastern Saw-wing is extremely common and groups perch in the trees right next to the rooms. Listen out for the metallic clicking of Scarce Swift which often fly overhead. A dead tree at the corner of the clubhouse is a favourite early morning perch for Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon and up to 10 can be seen at one time whilst enjoying a pre-breakfast cup of tea. Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo has been recorded here on several occasions (mainly in February/March), and other species which can be seen on the "corner' include Pallid Honeyguide, Green-backed Woodpecker, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, White-eared Barbet, Square-tailed Drongo and Dark-backed Weaver. Variable Sunbird, Bronzy Sunbird and Olive Sunbird feed alongside Yellow-bellied Waxbill and Grey Waxbill in the flowerbeds in front of the dining room and Blue-spotted Wood-Dove is often spotted feeding on the road in front of the Clubhouse

A walk along the golf course can be very rewarding. Green Twinspot feed in the tea bushes on the edge of the golf course and two Palm-nut Vulture have resident for the past two years, feeding regularly on the fruits of the exotic palms planted on the edge of the course. Mountain Wagtail and Giant Kingfisher are common along the streams. African Crowned Eagle and Long-crested Eagle and Augur Buzzard are seen regularly flying over the forest above the Clubhouse. A bird guide is usually available.

2. Gleneagles Estate. There is excellent evergreen forest above the Clubhouse. Ask the Aberfoyle manager for directions. There is a small entry fee payable into this Gleneagles Forest Reserve. In recent years recorded species include African Pitta breeding, Chestnut-fronted Helmet-Shrike and even Black-and-white Flycatcher. The road into the Reserve is not good and 4x4 is recommended. The grassland above the Gleneagles forest holds Striped Flufftail.

3. Eastern Highlands Tea Estate. One of the main attractions of this area is the Anchieta's Tchagra which lives in the marsh just below the Eastern Highlands Tea Factory close to the entrance to Aberfoyle. Follow the tar road from the Aberfoyle gate towards the Weamba Tea Factory and take the gravel road that loops behind the factory and follow it down to the new dam. Park on the side of the road and walk up the hill looking for birds in the dense undergrowth running down to the dam. This is where both Anchieta's Tchagra and Moustached Grass-Warbler occur. The other side of the dam is the place to look for Red-winged Warbler. Watch out for the creeping Buffalo Bean Mucuna coriacea which covers much of the vegetation here. The hairs on the red pods are highly irritating and dangerous to touch. The Anchieta's Tchagra, on the other hand, seems to dive through these thickets with impunity. Also keep an eye out for Black-winged Bishop in this area. The bird guide at Aberfoyle will be of assistance here.

4. Katiyo Tea Estate. The Katiyo Club is an economical alternative to Aberfoyle. The club house is situated overlooking the Pungwe River and into Mozambique. Birding is perhaps not as varied as at Aberfoyle, but species such as Moustached Grass-Warbler (at the palm tree vlei), Short-winged Cisticola (on the airfield), and Lesser Seedcracker (in the tea) occur. The turn-off to Katiyo is before the Pungwe River crossing on the way to Aberfoyle. Magpie Mannikin can be seen at the school near the tea estate.

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General

The Honde Valley is about 130km from Mutare, or 110km from Nyanga. The road into the valley is full width tar but allow plenty of time to drive down into this low lying valley as the road twists and turns steeply as it drops 800 meters in about 20km. Approaching from Mutare, the turn-off is at about 50km on the road towards Nyanga. Proceed down the steep winding road, passing the Ruda Police Station. At about 46km you will pass the turn-off to Katiyo on your right. Shortly afterwards you cross the Pungwe River and a degraded forest on your left. Then bear right towards eastern Highlands and Aberfoyle, crossing another bridge. About 10km further on is the Womba Tea Factory, behind which is the Anchieta's Tchagra vlei. Aberfoyle Club is some 10km beyond this point.

Contact details: Aberfoyle Club tel +263-28-384/5/7 or fax 240. E-mail

Ken Solomon 2007.
Derek Solomon 1997.



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