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A more complete distribution of the Cinnamon-breasted Tit in Southern Africa

Honeyguide (2014) 60(1)
Anthony F. Cizek
In Zimbabwe, the Cinnamon-breasted Tit
Melaniparus pallidiventris is the rarest of the
species typical of well-developed miombo
woodland, and is of conservation concern
owing to deforestation and because it is
poorly represented in the conservation estate
(Cizek et al. 2013). It is patchily distributed
within miombo and the most recently
compiled distribution data show that it is
absent from large areas of well-developed
miombo (Harrison et al. (1997) where other
miombo “specialists” are known to occur. An
example is the miombo on the Kalahari
Sands of the Mafungautsi Plateau where the
Miombo Grey Tit Parus griseiventris occurs.
The reasons for this are unclear but there is a
great deal of variation in the structure,
composition and functioning of miombo
which influences the suitability of different
kinds of miombo as bird habitats (Cizek
2011). It is therefore important to understand
what determines the suitability of miombo
habitats for the tit, both natural and
transformed environments on the
Zimbabwean Plateau.
A more complete and detailed
understanding of the distribution of the
Cinnamon-breasted Tit is required if the
well-defined population south of the
Zambezi valley is to be managed effectively.
In particular, the areas of woodland in which
it occurs need to be identified precisely, at
the level of the stand, as does their
distribution in relation to each other. As a
first step in this process all available
distribution records were assembled in order
to improve our knowledge of its distribution
in Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
A search was made for all distribution
data reported before and since the
publication of the Southern African Bird
Atlas (Harrison et al. 1997) and the atlas for
central Mozambique (Parker 2005). Records
were also extracted from the Field and Nest
Record Cards submitted by members of
BirdLife Zimbabwe, and in the journal
Honeyguide. A general enquiry was sent out
to the Zimbabwean and South African
birding communities, and additional records
were obtained from the large collection in the
Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe,
Bulawayo. All records were plotted by
quarter-degree squares, as in Harrison et al.
1997). The SABAP(1) cards (stored at
NHMZ) which recorded the tit were also
All available records from Zimbabwe
and Mozambique south of the Zambezi river
other than those in Harrison et al. (1997) and
Parker (2005), which were mapped in
Hockey et al. (2005), were assembled (Table
1). The distribution of this tit in Zimbabwe,
incorporating both data-sets, was then
mapped (Figure 1) to give the most
comprehensive picture to date of the range of
the Cinnamon-breasted Tit in Zimbabwe.
This allows interpretation of the tit’s
distribution at relatively fine scales, which is
discussed in relation to sub-regions as
Honeyguide (2014) 60(1)
Fig. 1. The known distribution of the Cinnamon-breasted Tit in Zimbabwe and adjacent areas of
Mozambique. The grey area is the Bikita Communal Land and the QDS with a question mark
denotes a possibly questionable record. Localities are indicated as follows: Buhera (B), Bikita (Bi),
Bromley (Br), Bulawayo (Bu), Concession (C), Camacha (Ca),Centenary (Ce), Catandica (Ct ),
Chipinge (Cp), Daramombe Mission (D), Dombe (Db), Felixburg (F), Gorongosa Town (G),
Garuso (Ga), Gutu (Gu), Headlands (H), Harare (Ha), Juliasdale (J), Mutare (M), Masvingo
(Ma), Marondera (Md), Mhangura (Mg), Makuti (Mk), Manica Town (Mn), Mutoko (Mo),
Mutepatepa (Mp), Murambinda (Mu), Murewa (Mr), Matanda (Mt), Mvuma (Mv), Mvurwi
(Mw), Norton (N), Ndanga (Nd), Nyanga (Ny), Rusape (R), Regina Coeli Mission (RC),
Sussundenga (S), Shamva (Sa), Shurugwi (Sh), Sola (So), Wilton (W), Wedza (We), Zvishavane
Table 1. Sources of distribution data for the Cinnamon-breasted Tit in Zimbabwe and Mozambique south
of the Zambezi river additional to those in Harrison et al. (1997) and Parker (2005). [NMZB =
Natural History Museum of Zimbabwe].
Location within QDS
1629 A3
Unpublished SABAP record, atlas card
1422171; K.Hustler for D.Aspinwall April
1630 D4
P. and I. MacLachlan: Field Cards 3773
(Apr 1969), 4017 (Jan 1968), 4339 (Mar
1968), 4687 (Feb 1968), 5067 (Jan 1970),
5281 (Apr 1970), 6011 (Aug 1971), 6308
(Apr 1972)
Sulugulu Farm
Honeyguide (2014) 60(1)
Location within QDS
1730 D4
(b) J. Campbell, Field Cards 4363 and
4364 (Apr-May 1963)
(a) Lake Chivero;
(b) Rest camp area in Robert McIlwaine
Recreational Park
1731 C2
Near Mermaid’s Pool
1731 C3
(b) Blencowe (1975);
(c) Tree (1981)
(a) Shawasha Hill, nr Chishawasha;
(b) “Ruwa”, likely this QDS;
1731 D2
Hurungwe Hill, Murewa
1831 D1
Mt Dangamvuri, Hwedza Mtns
1832 B4
(b) Rockingham-Gill (2000)
(a) “Lower Pungwe Basin” which extends
into 1833;
(b) Gleneagles
1832 C1
1832 C2
Castle Zonga Farm, Nyazura
1832 C4
Mt Mwenje
1832 D2
Nyamkwarara valley 18º41’S, 32º55’E
1932 B2
(b) G. Douglas in litt. (2012)
(a) Acacia abyssinica at Leopard Rock
(b) Burma Valley
1932 B4
Banti Forest Reserve
1932 D2
(b) E. Marais in litt. (2013)
(a) Musapa Mountain, Zimbabwe;
(b) Several records in adjacent Mozambique
2033 A1
(b) A Cizek, pers.obs (June 1998)
(a) Makurupini R. 20º02’S, 33º03’E
(b) Close to confluence of Haroni and
Timbiri rivers
could not
to a
(ii) J. Varden (in litt. 2012), Mvuradona
Wilderness Area
Honeyguide (2014) 60(1)
Eastern Highlands, Eastern Districts
of Zimbabwe and Manica Plateau,
The updated data-set confirms the tit’s
general distribution across the Eastern
Highlands of Zimbabwe and adjacent areas of
Mozambique. Although so far unrecorded
from the poorly sampled Serra Choa in
Mozambique it probably occurs in the suitable
habitat on its moist, seaward-facing eastern
and south-eastern slopes (Cizek 2009). The
situation in the Gairezi valley, which lies in
the rain shadow of the Serra Choa, remains to
be determined. It might be expected along the
west bank of the Gairezi in Zimbabwe,
notably the moister, east-facing slopes of the
northern Nyangui Highlands where they
emerge out of the Serra Choa rain shadow (to
the northwest of Regina Coeli Mission). Its
occurrence in the rain shadow of the Nyanga
Highlands also needs to be confirmed, but the
lower altitudes are likely too dry and the
stunted miombo at higher altitudes is
unsuitable too. Neil Baker (in litt.) has
confirmed the lack of suitability of stunted
“dwarf” miombo in the Southern Highlands of
Tanzania too, and although recorded in
“sparse”, stunted miombo at 1700 m (Baker
2003), this must be exceptional, likely of an
itinerant group or individual moving between
patches of more suitable habitat (see Cizek
It possibly occurs at medium altitudes in
the Nyanga Highlands rain shadow, for
example, around Juliasdale where the
vegetation is very complex, but where taller
miombo occurs, for example, in the Ruparara
valley of the Forestry Commission’s York
Estate, and where the Miombo Grey Tit
occurs (Cizek 2001a). However, if it does
occur on the rain shadow slopes of the Nyanga
Highlands it is certainly much less common
than in the moister miombo of the windward
slopes. It is known from the Bundi Plain in the
Chimanimani Mountains at c. 1600 m
(Vernon 1971), at the approximate altitudinal
limit for taller miombo: the unsuitable “dwarf
miombo occurs above this.
Clearer rain shadow gradient patterns
emerge in the south, where the Chimanimani
Highlands form a single block of high
ground in contrast to the regional
topographic complexity of the well-separated
Nyanga and Choa highlands, and where the
Nyanga Highlands are contiguous with the
Mashonaland Plateau. In the rain shadow of
the Chimanimanis the tit occurs on western
slopes within the highlands, for example the
Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management
Authority Base Camp in the National Park
and at nearby Dead Cow Camp (Beasley
1995; pers. obs.). The Chimanimani
Mountains are distinct from the
Chimanimani Highlands which also
encompass inter alia the Sawerombi and
Gwendingwe highland areas. The rain
shadow slopes of the whole massif
(Mountains and Highlands) in the Mutema
and Muwushu Communal Lands (CLs) are
almost certainly too dry for this bird. In
contrast, the tit seems to be common in the
rain shadow of the Vumba Mountains (Baker
2012) which are a much smaller topographic
feature than the highlands to the north and
south and impede the moist airflow much
less than they do.
Nonetheless, Google Earth imagery
shows moister vegetation types on the
southern parts of the western edge of the
Chimanimani Massif in the Chipinge Safari
Area, where I recall that the tit was reported
in conversation by Peter Caldwell-Barr (the
details cannot be traced now). Its presence
there remains to be put on record. The
Chipinge Uplands, the southern part of the
Chimanimani Massif, are generally grassy
with groves of the muhacha Parinari
curatellifolia (at least historically) and are
unsuitable for the tit. In contrast to the
Chimanimani Highlands which interrupt the
airflow, moist air from the south-east may
cross the Chipinge Uplands to reach its
western slopes. The lower slopes along the
southern edge of the Chimanimani
Highlands, much higher and separated from
the Chipinge Uplands by the Rusitu valley,
Honeyguide (2014) 60(1)
should also support patches of suitable
habitat, although these are much
transformed. The south-western edge
(including Tradouw Farm) c. 20 km north of
Chipinge seems to support the last ‘witness’
stands of relatively undisturbed habitat.
The large inselbergs west of Mutare such
as Mt Mwenje (Irwin 1981; Table 1) support
suitable habitat and elsewhere in the Mutare
District suitable habitat seems to occur in the
Rora, Murowa and Marange Communal
Lands. An example is the inselberg
Nyaruhwe, close to Matanda. Although they
lie “behind” the highlands, the Mutare Gap
could allow moist air to flow through to
them. Furthermore, water flows off the bare
rock of these granite inselbergs to create
localised moist patches in which these tits
might be expected to occur. These inselbergs
are potentially important biogeographic
features as they form a link between the
Eastern Highlands around and across the
Odzi and upper Save valleys. Further west,
the Mavangwe Hills (east of Murambinda)
could have provided a further “stepping
stone” to the southern edge of the
Zimbabwean Plateau.
The tit should occur right across the
lower windward slopes of the Eastern
Highlands from north to south, including the
much less prominent ancillary range to the
east in Mozambique that runs parallel with
the larger highlands. Suitable habitat would
therefore be expected, for example, along the
range which includes Nhaungoe (just to the
northwest of Garuso), Serra Mancota close to
Manica town and associated with the Serra
Macuta (west of Sussundenga). It is
noteworthy that it has not been reported from
Mt Gorongosa which could reflect its general
absence from the Manica Platform and thus
the isolation of potentially suitable habitat on
the mountain. Although there has been
extensive deforestation across the Manica
Platform, the tit’s absence seems to be “real”,
i.e. caused by the absence of suitable habitat.
However, its presence in miombo at 500 m at
the Haroni-Rusitu confluence (Irwin 1981;
Vernon et al 1990; pers. obs.) but not in
woodland at similar altitudes on the Manica
Plateau has still to be explained.
Mashonaland Plateau
The updated data-set confirms the tit’s
general distribution across the highest parts
of the Mashonaland Plateau east of the Great
Dyke. It seems to occur along the central
watershed from close to Juliasdale west to
Headlands, where it is expected in the
“empty” QDS 1832 A3 north of Rusape,
north to Virginia and Murehwa on the
Murehwa extension of the central watershed,
and on to Marondera, Harare and the
Chinamora extension. Its absence from the
central watershed around Bromley is
probably explained by the flatter landscape
that favours the development of open
grasslands. Indeed, it may be more accurate
to describe the tit as occurring at the edge of
the central watershed, where erosion around
harder geological formations created
complex granite and greenstone topography,
allowing woodland to develop in fire and
frost refuges within the hills. Thus, it is
uncommon in the gently sloping terrain west
of Harare, where the only records are from
Imbwa Farm in July 1987 (Tree 1987) and a
few records from around Lake Chivero
(Table 1), where it must be rare as it was not
listed in the Couto & Couto (1999) checklist.
It occurs in the broken landscapes of the
Nyagui Basin around the Bromley
escarpment hills and in the Chishawasha and
Arcturus hills and kopjes as well as in the
inselbergs of the Chinamora batholith (Cizek
2001b) and at its edges (NHMZ specimen
from near Mermaid’s Pool; Table 1). It could
have been overlooked in the broken eastern
edge of the watershed north of Harare which
arcs from the Tatagura kopjes north of
Harare through the Barwick Intensive
Conservation Area (ICA) east of Concession
on to Mvurwi and Centenary.
It is worth emphasizing that it is only
known from the highest parts of the
Mazowe-Ruenya basin (excluding the
Honeyguide (2014) 60(1)
Nyanga Highlands), with no records, for
example, from the massive granite
landscapes of Mutoko which occur at
generally lower altitudes than the central
watershed escarpments and adjacent
inselberg and hill landscapes. This is a
poorly sampled area, however, and it is
worth looking for the tit in the Nyahunure
Ward which lies at higher altitudes to the
east of Mutoko. It is also important to
determine the presence or absence of the tit
in the Bindura-Bushu hills at the highest
points of the watershed separating the
Mazowe and Ruya catchments south of
Mutepatepa. Although not mapped because
the record could not be assigned to a specific
QDS, James Varden (in litt.) reports it from
the Mvuradonha Wilderness Area, north of
Centenary, and it may occur along the
Zambezi Escarpment east of the Great Dyke.
Gary Douglas (in litt.) reported it from the
Great Dyke, although its occurrence on the
dyke itself must be very restricted because
much of the dyke lacks woody vegetation
because of heavy metals in the soil.
There is a stark contrast in its occurrence
on either side of the Great Dyke: it is absent
from the Mashonaland Plateau west of the
Dyke, except for some places on the
Zambezi Escarpment. Although more records
are required, it is likely that it occurs in
highly localised patches across the Zambezi
Escarpment, which intercepts moist airflow
from the Mozambique Channel up the
Zambezi valley. Kit Hustler (in litt.) added
Dylan Aspinwall’s record (from “a lay-bye
near Makuti”) to the atlas data in light of his
sighting during the 1987 Birdwatch. Initially,
this record was left out but was added by
Hustler in 1992 “after examining skins at
(NHMZ) and discussions with D.
Aspinwall”. Hustler also notes on the Field
Card (1414736) that it was well seen being a
“black tit with greyish back and washed out
brown belly and vent.” These are important
records since they show that the southern
African distribution of the pale-bellied, dark-
eyed pallidiventris comes relatively close to
the dark-bellied, pale-eyed Rufous-bellied
Tit M. rufiventris in Zambia.
The southern edge of the Zimbabwean
The Cinnamon-breasted Tit occurs along
the southern edge of the central watershed
around Wilton, connecting to the inselbergs
in the Mutare District through those around
Rusape and it might be expected south of
Marondera in the hills of the Svosve
escarpment. There is a series of mountains,
inselbergs and platforms which run from a
hill called Naramba at the southern edge of
the watershed south of Headlands across the
upper Save basin to the Hwedza Mountains,
where this tit is known to occur (Brooke
1981). It might be expected to occur on all of
these, especially the large Devedzo Hills
platform south of Wilton and east of Wedza.
South of here it becomes even more highly
localised along the southern edge of the
Zimbabwean Plateau. Suitable habitat
appears to occur along the edge of the
Chikomba Platform, for example on the
Daramombe Hills close to Daramombe
Mission. Smaller patches may also occur on
the hills of the platform just north of Buhera,
including the Mharabwe peak. Records from
these areas would extend the tit’s distribution
appreciably south along the southern edge of
the Zimbabwean Plateau. A range of granite
rwaris runs west from Buhera almost to
Felixburg, but the remaining woodland in
this area seems to be drier, perhaps being in a
rain shadow in the lee of inselbergs and
mountains to the south, running from south-
west of Mberengwa to north-east of Bikita.
The higher altitude granite rwaris closer to
Felixburg appear to support moister
woodland and finding the tit here would be
noteworthy because they are relatively close
to the unique woodlands on Kalahari Sands
south of Mvuma. Trees here are laden with
pendant lichens, including the Grandfather’s
Beard Usnea spp. (pers.obs.), that seem to be
an important component of this tit’s habitat
(Ginn 1997). One record included in the
Honeyguide (2014) 60(1)
Atlas from north of Mvuma (1930 B1
Orton’s Drift) is questionable because there
appears to be little suitable habitat (Google
Earth imagery) and the card includes other
species unlikely to occur there, e.g. the
Malachite Sunbird Nectarinia famosa.
The Kalahari Sands woodland at Mvuma
is not too distant from the moist woodlands
in the hills around Shurugwi, where the tit
was recorded during the atlas period. There
could therefore be a series of patches of
suitable habitat “stepping stones” that
support tit sub-populations right across the
southern edge of the Zimbabwean Plateau
from Wedza to Shurugwi. Although there are
no records, this species can be highly
localised and it is easily overlooked; for
example, it was not recorded during a 3-day
visit to Wedza Mountain in 1975 (Talbot
1980), but was found there during a 2-day
visit in 1966 (Brooke (1981). Many of these
patches may be too small and isolated from
each other to support a tit population. These
birds appear to be especially sensitive to the
quality of the habitat surrounding suitable
patches and are hesitant to fly across
unsuitable habitats. Since the southern half of
the Zimbabwean Plateau is drier than the
Mashonaland plateau to the north patches of
moist woodland are highly localised within a
drier landscape. This makes it even less
likely that the tits would move from one
patch to another. Furthermore, the
environment has been degraded by intensive
subsistence agriculture leaving the moist
patches even more isolated within the highly
transformed landscapes. Thus, the tit
population around Shurugwi seems to be
well isolated from the populations on the
Mashonaland Plateau.
Moister patches of vegetation complete
with the Uapaca kirkiana and pendant
lichens favoured by the tit (Irwin 1981, Ginn
1997) occur in other areas of inselbergs.
These include those extending from Wedza-
Shurugwi and on to the Matobo Hills, as well
as those of the “middleveld’ from Gwanda in
the west through the Bubiana-Mwenezi
watershed, the Mweza Range, Zvishavane
(including Mt Mberengwa), Mt Buchwa,
Chivi, Masvingo and Bikita in the east. Many
of these inselbergs are larger than those to
the north but the surrounding landscapes are
lower and drier, and thus even more unlikely
to allow tits to move between habitat
patches. Even if present, they are too small to
support a population of these birds; an
example can be seen close to Munene
Mission (Goldthorp 1957; pers.obs.).
This area includes the well-worked
Masvingo landscapes, where Carl Vernon
lived in the 1970s and produced a
comprehensive work on the miombo
avifauna; he never recorded the Cinnamon-
breasted Tit although he suggested it might
occur there (Vernon 1977). However, it was
listed under species found in acacia savannah
and he subsequently confirmed (in litt.) that
this was a typographical error for the Acacia
Grey Tit P. cinerascens. Thus, the atlas
records from around Bikita are of
considerable interest as they seem to be
closest to the eastern districts. However,
there may have been no connection between
them as it is highly unlikely the tit could
cross the hot, dry, low-lying Save valley. The
original atlas cards stated that the record
from 1931 D2 was only “suspected” and it
was included after submission on the basis of
a record in the adjacent QDS. That record
(from QDS 1931 D4 to the south) is also
problematic. I inspected the Google Earth
imagery and selected the most likely
vegetation (the largest and seemingly
moistest) for inspection in April 2012, but
the area was too dry for the development of
suitable habitat, with kopjes usually
supporting deciduous Kirkia acuminata
emergent trees over a deciduous thicket.
There were a few groves of Brachystegia
glaucescens trees, but these were small and
dry: the leaves were folded closed with water
stress even in April at the end of the wet
season. The flats in between were heavily
impacted by human activity, but the few
large remaining trees were typical of riverine
Honeyguide (2014) 60(1)
vegetation at low altitudes (e.g. Kigelia
africana, Xanthocercis zambesiaca,
Lonchocarpus capassa). The vegetation of
the north-eastern Bikita Communal Land
seemed most unsuitable for this tit.
It could occur elsewhere in the Bikita
area, notably the batholith east of Bikita and
the Chisiyana batholith to the west which
appear to support moister vegetation and
cover a large area (>500 km2) that has been
poorly sampled. The inselbergs of these
batholiths are appreciably higher (some
>1500 m) than those in the north-eastern
parts of the communal lands. Very large B.
spiciformis specimens were noted around
Bikita town and there are groves of Uapaca
kirkiana that have been preserved for their
fruit harvest. Otherwise, these communal
lands have been heavily degraded and there
is little remaining woodland on relatively flat
ground - where tall Brachystegia spiciformis
may once have occurred.
The data centralised during the first
SABAP period added significantly to our
understanding of the tit’s distribution,
notably by identifying its highly localised
occurrence along the Zambezi Escarpment
and the southern edge of the Zimbabwean
Plateau. However, the addition of data
collected before this project gives a much
fuller picture of its distribution across the
Mashonaland Plateau east of the Great Dyke
and in the eastern districts. Many of the gaps
in the SABAP map have been filled and the
number of QDS squares mapped by Hockey
et al. (2005) has been almost doubled.
Several localities where the tit could occur
are detailed for exploration.
This investigation has also highlighted the
importance of referring to the original data
(SABAP, and Field and Nest Record Cards) to
re-assess them in light of more information.
This is critical if false presences are not to
enter the standard texts (which now include
online products) and become accepted, thus
muddying our understanding of a species’
landscape ecology (Cizek 2012).
For uncommon, highly localised species
like the Cinnamon-breasted Tit, as much
information as possible regarding the
identification of the bird and the habitat in
which it was seen (description and specific
location) should be provided. Only then will
a full picture of its landscape ecology
emerge, something crucial to its
conservation. In particular, the nature of the
landscapes in which it occurs needs to be
defined at fine resolutions: how important is
the structure and functioning of the matrix
surrounding habitat patches?; how much
suitable habitat occurs along the Zambezi
Escarpment and southern edge of the
Zimbabwean Plateau?; how close do the
habitat patches need to be to allow gene flow
between them to contribute to the survival of
the whole population?
I am grateful to the regional director, Moira Fitzpatrick, for access to the data held at the
NHMZ, Bulawayo, and to Julia Duprée for all her help and kind hospitality; to Tony Wood
and Kit Hustler for sending the lists of the relevant atlas cards at short notice; to Chip Chirara
for pulling the relevant cards from BirdLife Zimbabwe’s Nest Record and Field Card
Schemes, carefully archived over half a century by David Rockingham-Gill and his
predecessors; to Dave Allan for sending details of specimens stored in the Durban Natural
History Museum; and to Sue Childes, Gary Douglas, Etienne Marais and James Varden for
their unpublished records.
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Avian Demography Unit, Cape Town.
ROCKINGHAM-GILL, D.V. 2000. Recent reports. Honeyguide 46: 43-49.
TALBOT, J. 1980. A visit to the Wedza Mountains. Honeyguide No. 103/104: 18-21.
TREE, A.J. 1981. Recent reports. Honeyguide No. 107/108: 25-31.
TREE, A.J. 1987. Recent reports. Honeyguide 33: 105-111.
VERNON, C.J. 1971. Traveller’s notes - a day in the Chimanimani Mountains. Honeyguide No. 68: 23-24, 31.
VERNON, C.J. 1977. Birds of the Zimbabwe Ruins Area, Rhodesia. Southern Birds 4. Witwatersrand Bird
Club, Johannesburg.
VERNON, C.J., MACDONALD, I.A.W. & DEAN, W.R.J. 1990. The birds of the Haroni-Lusitu. Honeyguide
36: 14-35
... The 20 cards or 200 species baseline identified by Harrison et al. (1997) is acceptable for common or conspicuous species, but the distribution maps in the atlas are less useful for uncommon, cryptic species and those with localised, patchy distributions. An example was the distribution of the Cinnamon-breasted Tit, where little more than half of the QDSs in which it is known to occur were mapped by the SABAP1 data (Cizek 2014). ...
Full-text available
The Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1) from 1987-1991 was a major effort to map bird species distributions in Zimbabwe. Almost 12,500 atlas cards were submitted by 1,228 different observers resulting in almost 100,000 distribution records. Collective understanding of distributions was much improved, but there were gaps in geographical coverage which have not been properly documented and explained. In general, the large-scale commercial farming areas were well-covered, whereas large parts of the communal lands were under-sampled. Coverage of the conservation estate favoured areas close to the tourist infrastructure, and large areas of the national parks remain to be sampled ornithologically. The Mashonaland Plateau was relatively well-sampled, whereas there remain large gaps in coverage of other major topographical regions. The Mashonaland Plateau must be amongst the best-known parts of Africa, but is now largely devoid of observers as a result of land resettlement. Knowledge of distributions is required to better understand the biogeography and landscape ecology of birds, which are both fundamental to conservation management. Therefore, alternative sampling strategies are required to monitor bird populations on the Mashonaland Plateau, as well as to better sample the less well-known parts of the country.
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The Serra Choa/ Choa Highlands, Mozambique form part of the Eastern Highlands (or Manica Highlands) of Zimbabwe and Mozambique, a centre of bird endemism. They are poorly known ornithologically - and it is possible they have never been surveyed. Here, bird records from a short trip in March 2008 are presented, together with impressions of the vegetation-habitats, which include pristine montane grasslands throughout - which is noteworthy because similar grasslands in neighbouring Zimbabwe are much impacted by exotic pine and wattle invasives.
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A relatively simple method was used by a large number of observers to count tits of all species in 300 ha of a miombo wooded interfluve in Gosho Park, Marondera. Although there are inherent limitations to counts of this kind, there is confidence in the values measured for the number of breeding pairs or territories in the interfluve. The method is useful for counting relatively conspicuous species where a large number of reasonably experienced observers can be mobilised allowing a large area to be censused in a short period. Most importantly, the complex variation in the quality of the wooded habitat, which occurs naturally across the interfluve, can be sampled. The numbers of the Rufous-bellied Tit were particularly low with about one pair per 100 ha, which means that sub-populations require large areas which are susceptible to fragmentation by human activity. This is a major challenge for the conservation of miombo ecosystems on the Mashonaland Plateau where miombo is already highly fragmented. More woodland needs to be added to the conservation estate to ensure persistence of the Rufous-bellied Tit as 1000 pairs require 100,000 ha. Much data on pattern and process at fine resolutions are required before specific locations could be recommended.
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Habitat selection by Hyliota australis in southern Africa is assessed using newly collated habitat and hyliota distribution data. This is done hierarchically, assessing its occurrence in different types of moist-dystrophic savanna, different types of stands of miombo, as well as in different types of landscape mosaics in which miombo occurs. The considerable variation in miombo ecosystem composition, physiognomy and functioning influence its occurrence at all scales. While available data over such a vast area have proved useful—for example, in identifying the importance of ecosystems dominated by Brachystegia spiciformis-there is a dire shortage of data describing the diversity of miombo ecosystems, which hinders a fuller understanding. There is a need for: (1) a hierarchical classification and (2) relatively fine-resolution mapping of the ecosystems of south-central Africa - together ‘an ecosystem inventory’. This is now urgent given the escalating losses of woody cover. All species that rely on undisturbed, ‘old-growth’ canopy miombo are at risk in southern Africa because of high rates of habitat loss on the Mashonaland Plateau, <1% of which occurs in the conservation estate.
The birds of the Chimanimani mountains
  • A J Beasley
  • J Blencowe
BEASLEY, A.J. 1995. The birds of the Chimanimani mountains. Honeyguide 41 (Supplement 1): 1-64 BLENCOWE, J. 1975. Mashonaland Bird Club. Honeyguide No. 81:7-8.
Habitat selection by Rufous-bellied Tit
  • A Cizek
CIZEK, A. 2001b. Habitat selection by Rufous-bellied Tit. Honeyguide 47: 22-24.
Checklist of the birds of the Robert McIlwaine Recreational Park
  • J Couto
  • F M Couto
COUTO, J.T & COUTO, F.M. 1999. Checklist of the birds of the Robert McIlwaine Recreational Park. Harare Safari Lodge, Harare.
The birds of Zambia: an atlas and handbook
  • R J Dowsett
  • D R Aspinwall
  • F Dowsett-Lemaire
DOWSETT, R.J., ASPINWALL, D.R. & DOWSETT-LEMAIRE, F. 2008. The birds of Zambia: an atlas and handbook. Tauraco Press, Liège, Belgium.
Rufous-bellied Tit Parus rufiventris
  • P J Ginn
GINN, P.J. 1997. Rufous-bellied Tit Parus rufiventris. In: Harrison et al. (eds) The atlas of southern African birds. Vol 2: Passerines. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg: p. 118.