Just on the east edge of the city, there is a great place to visit.
Whether your focus is birding, animals, nature in general or just for a change of scenery and a picnic, Haka Park may be somewhere you haven’t been before that’s right on your doorstep. Head out of the city on the Mutare Road and just under half a kilometre after the traffic circle at Harare Drive, take a left to Cleveland Dam and follow the sign to Haka Game Park. Alternatively, you can also enter along Harare Drive 2kms south of Arcturus Road – hint: this is also a good gate to exit the park and avoid the traffic on the Mutare Road, especially at peak traffic times; just get there before it closes at 5:30 p.m.!
Some 930 hectares of land is fenced here and most of it is leased by Haka and stocked with plains game. You can spot zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, impala, and eland, and then there are the little things you rarely see like civet, mongoose and genet, whose spoor you often find. There is a big belt of miombo woodland of about 160 hectares to explore on the west side of the area, separated from the more open east side by a grassland/wetland and the dam. This is the patch I usually walk around looking for birds. In this sort of miombo, a birder looks for bird parties, i.e. many species that come together into a group for the purposes of feeding.
Miombo birding can be quite slow without a bird party. They vary in composition but include Fork-tailed Drongos, Dark-capped Bulbuls, weavers, White-crested Helmet-shrikes, Yellow-throated Petronia, African Grey Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and miombo “specials” such as Green-capped Eremomela, Whyte’s Barbet, Grey Penduline-tit, Miombo Tit, African Spotted Creeper, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Black Cuckooshrike and others. You can get over 25 species all at once in a productive party. Then it’s all go and quite hectic!
The grassland/wetland area is also worth a walk and one can find Marsh Owl in the taller grass and African Snipe close to the stream. Some years have even produced the Great Snipe, a rare migrant from Europe! During the rains, our widowbirds come into breeding plumage, making it easy to identify the otherwise rather drab Yellow-mantled and Red-collared Widowbirds, along with the common Yellow and Southern Red Bishops.
The call of the Yellow-throated Longclaw is often heard and closer to the dam you can also find the Rosy-throated and Cape Longclaws; flocks of beautiful Orange-breasted Waxbills are nearly always around, flying up and down the stream in twittering groups. If they alight close by, you can admire the gorgeous males. Another special and
uncommon bird here is the Locust Finch, which is hard to find and see before they take flight from the edges of pools. Of course, during good rainy seasons, other birds that international birders come to see are the Streaky-breasted Flufftails, who are more often heard than seen and sometimes hard to flush from the flooded grass. Corn Crakes are another migrant you might flush from taller grass, as well as the more frequent African Crakes.
Take the time to cross the stream at the bridge close to the dam or via the upper grassland/wetland and explore the more open woodland and granite outcrops on the other side. Do take care in the rains – the tracks might look fine but they can get waterlogged and if you don’t have a 4-wheel drive or a strong car, like a bakkie, you can easily get stuck! In the outcrops you might be able to find the “bushmen paintings” and could well flush a Spotted Eagle-owl from dense trees clumped around the boulders.
Crossing the grassland/wetland formed by the eastern arm of the dam the bush is quite different. It used to be under cultivation but under protection, the roots of chopped out trees are slowly regenerating to form miombo scrub that one day – we hope – will become woodland again. Tracks here will lead you to the upper parts of the dam and
amongst the sedges, it is always nice to spot the African Purple Swamphens and other waterbirds.
If you are just enjoying a day out with the family, why not bring along your lunch and have a picnic at one of the many picnic spots that have been developed? Bring along some meat and have a braai! Please, though, don’t litter and spoil this beautiful park for others. Harare residents are really fortunate to have this facility so close at hand. Make use of it and many thanks to Haka and City of Harare for preserving this wonderful spot for all of us.
NB Haka Park is a protected area and Ramsar Site (The Convention on Wetlands, called the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation of wetlands and their resources. Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention)