Expect to be surprised both by the high diversity of species and the variety of localised specialities when birding in Malawi – the ‘warm heart of Africa’.
This land-locked country the size of Portugal has an astonishing bird list of 650 species. Many are widespread in southern Africa, but a mouth-watering array of endemic specials make a dedicated Malawi birding trip essential.
One key site is the forested inslbergs and tablelands of southern Malawi. Most are now denuded or covered in tea plantations, but a few accessible remnants support such rare gems as Green-headed Oriole, Thyolo Alethe, White-winged Apalis, Yellow-throated Apalis & Green Barbet.
The western border country with vast miombo woodlands, fed by crystal clear streams, clothe granite hills. The number of miombo endemics is overwhelming, and include Stierling’s Woodpecker, Whyte’s Barbet, Sousa’s Shrike, Miombo Pied Barbet, Pale-billed Hornbill, Olive-headed Weaver, Anchieta’s Sunbird, Red-capped Crombec, Miombo Scrub-Robin & Rufous-bellied Tit.
The far north is dominated by the mighty Nyika Plateau, a huge tableland cloaked in misty grasslands and dark rainforests. One of the highlights of any Malawi tour, it offers many birds and mammals not seen elsewhere in the country. Some can be seen elsewhere in East Africa, such as Scarlet-tufted Sunbird, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Baglafecht Weaver and Yellow-crowned Canary, but others are endemic to the Eastern Arc Mountains complex of Tanzania and northern Malawi, including Rwenzori Nightjar, Black-lored Cisticola, Olive-flanked Robin-Chat, Fülleborn’s Boubou, Forest Double-collared Sunbird, Yellow-browed Seed-eater & Montane Widowbird. And then there are one or two really range-restricted species we may see, such as Ludwig’s Double-collared Sunbird, White-winged Apalis & Babbling Starling.
The low lying region in the southern Rift Valley offers excellent riverine and woodland birding. Here we find the localized Brown-breasted Barbet and a host of other specials such as Böhm’s Bee-eater, Lillian’s Lovebird, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Racket-tailed Roller & Western Banded Snake-Eagle. Liwonde National Park is one of the more reliable spots for the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl & White-backed Night-Heron.
Malawi’s political stability and friendly inhabitants, combined with superb birds and scenery, make it a wonderful holiday destination and one of south-central Africa’s best-kept secrets.