15 Dec 2017

Local guide looks after his stars

A lot of young people who live in and around Zimbabwe’s Bvumba Highlands IBA know a lot more about birds, because of local guide and BirdLife Nature's Hero Peter Magosvongwe.

Peter Magosvongwe , BirdLife Nature's Hero 2017
Peter Magosvongwe—BirdLife Nature's Hero 2017—Awarded by BirdLife Zimbabwe
By Nick Langley

“Watch the White-starred Robin flash that star! Listen to the Crowing Crested Cobra!” says the publicity leaflet which introduces bird guide Peter Magosvongwe, nominated by BirdLife Zimbabwe as one of 2017's Nature's Heroes. The crowing call of the cobra, said by British settlers to be over 20 feet long and ornamented with the comb and wattles of a chicken, was eventually found to be the mating cry of the small and unobtrusive Buff-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura elegans, one of the birds which Peter Magosvongwe can help you find.

As the leaflet continues, Peter knows the special birds, and he knows their calls, and he can take you to the right places at the right time to see and hear them. And, he modestly adds, he does not know everything, and you can help him too.

In the dark forest undergrowth is Peter's star bird, Swynnerton's Robin (image Pete Morris/Birdquest)

A lot of young people who live in and around Zimbabwe's Bvumba Highlands IBA know a lot more about birds, because Peter Magosvongwe visits their schools to talk to them and their teachers. He has helped establish bird clubs in the schools, and also led or organised birding activities with school children. His awareness-raising work includes taking visitors on walks in the IBA. He is an active member of the Bvumba Site Support Group, and for more than ten years has been mobilising community members to support bird conservation in the area. He does all this on a voluntary basis, in the time he has to spare from his work as a guide.

Among the 242 species recorded at the Bvumba IBA are three restricted-range species, and three of global conservation concern. The globally Vulnerable Swynnerton's Robin (Swynnertonia swynnertoni) fits both categories. Peter Magosvongwe has been actively involved in monitoring Swynnerton's Robin at the site, and his work to protect the forest and to remove invasive plants from the site has helped ensure that the Bvumba Forest Reserves remain the easiest place to see this bird, which occurs only at a few mountain sites in eastern Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania.

“Peter's work has contributed to the conservation of the Swynnerton's Robin and other forest birds found in the Bvumba, and he is directly involved in monitoring of birds and their habitats in Bvumba Highlands” says BLZ's Togarasei Fakarayi, who nominated Peter for the Nature's Heroes award. “Peter's education and awareness activities have contributed to changes of behaviour among some local people, especially children, who grow up with positive thinking towards bird and habitat conservation. He has taken a leading role in this community in protecting the forest.”

At present, Peter Magosvongwe is chairman of the Bvumba Site Support Group, and in addition to organising conservation activities, he teaches the members bird identification skills.

As Peter's leaflet says, the Bvumba Highlands “is an area of beautiful birds, rare birds, and strange birds, to be found in magnificent surroundings, easily accessible and amongst friendly people”. If you intend to visit, you know who to ask for. And if you want to hear the Crowing Crested Cobra, there really is only one guide you could choose.