Packages & Info
Dear Birding and Beyond,
We booked our next Tour to Uganda with Birding and beyond, No doubt, all went as planned, great birding and excellent planning and guides.!
Roger and Andrew Foxal
2005, Tanzania Birding Trip Reports
VICTOR EMANUEL NATURE TOURS
“The Greatest Wildlife Spectacle on Earth”
FEBRUARY 23 - March 11, 2005
TOUR LEADER: PETER ROBERTS
TOUR REPORT COMPILED BY PETER ROBERTS
Geitan & Arnold
David & Judy Brenner
Mary Cay Burger
Bill & Rosalie Crouch
23rd February: Departure from home: Official departure date from USA, though most had arrived in Amsterdam at least a day early to avoid the jetlag and break the long journey, while Deborah and Ricky had arrived into Arusha ahead of us.
24th February: Amsterdam to Arusha: Nine of us met up at and departed from Amsterdam, though sadly the plane was a couple of hours late leaving (in part due to icy, snowy weather in Holland). We arrived in Arusha at about 11.30pm, were quickly through immigration and customs to meet Anthony Raphael our local guide and Geitan and Arnold the safari drivers. We were whisked off in the dark to Ilboru Safari Lodge, not getting to our rooms before gone midnight, having agreed on a 7.30am breakfast. It was too late to contact Ricky and Deborah who had arrived ahead of us.
25th February: Arusha National Park: Despite not really having had a full night’s sleep we were away after breakfast at about 8am towards Kingerete on the main road towards Kenya from Arusha. Here, out on dry, short grass plains we hoped to find the newly created Beesley’s Lark – a split from Spike-heeled. Anthony had not seen it since November as the rains had just about failed and birds have presumably moved to pastures new. We had plenty of other good sightings in this area to keep us happy and start the bird list off. The best sighting was a phenomenal roadside view of Lammergeier. This was the first I’d ever seen in East Africa – after 25 years of regular visits! The bird was stunningly white-bodied, not the usual reddish-brown hue: it clearly had not had a chance to rub its feathers in soils and stain them with red oxides. We wandered out across the open plains trying for the lark, but finding others: Red-capped, Rufous-naped, Fischer’s Sparrow-lark and (briefly) Somali Short-toed Lark. Here and in the adjacent acacia scrub were localised species such as Gray-capped Social-Weaver and more widespread species – Cape Robin-Chat, White-browed (Red-backed) Scrub-Robin, Isabelline, Capped & Northern Wheatears, plus Red-billed and Von Der Decken’s Hornbills. After a bit of a set-to with local Maasai who thought our binoculars and telescopes were cameras taking pictures of them, we left the area by late morning to visit the Arusha National Park. We arrived in time to the Park entrance for our substantial picnic, then drove up to overlook Ngurdoto Crater in amongst the lovely deciduous forests. Here we pulled out flashy Hartlaub’s Turacos, African Paradise-Flycatcher and Narina Trogon plus smaller goodies such as Yellow-bellied Greenbul, White-headed Barbet and Dusky Flycatcher. Apart from the special birds of this forest we were keen to find some of the mammals too. There were plenty of Blue (Syke’s) Monkeys and Colobus Monkeys (one with an almost all-white baby). Also here were Bushbuck and Red (Harvey’s) Duikers. Our final birding was overlooking one of the lakes where White-backed Ducks, African Fish Eagles, African Jacanas and an African Yellow Warbler were found amongst much else. Departing the Park just before “throwing out time” at 6pm we managed to rustle up the only Cisticola of the day – a dandy little Singing Cisticola – unstreaked and uninspiring for some, but a good little tick for others. After supper I tried briefly for African Wood-Owl to no effect, but we did find a cute little African Hedgehog – a new mammal for the Tanzania Tour and a “lifer” for me!
26th February: To Lake Manyara: Did some pre-breakfast birding in the Lodge grounds and was delighted to find the Moustached Green Tinkerbird that some of the group had seen yesterday. After that we were packed up, unwanted luggage stowed at the lodge, and away into Arusha to get some local currency before heading off directly for Lake Manyara National Park. We were there by about 10,45am and spent until gone 4pm wandering a small part of the Park. First we birded in the lush fig forest at the base of the Rift Valley escarpments with the lovely freshwater springs, then out into the open lake edge and finally into the acacia scrub – three excellent birding habitats deserving many more hours of exploration than we could allow. However, we did our best and came up with some first-rate sightings. As soon as we arrived at the entrance the group’s interest and opinion of Baboons plummeted as a huge male leapt into the van through the opened roof to grab our picnics. He was scared off empty-handed, but the incident greatly reduced the “cutesy” factor of the huge troops we later saw, complete with babies riding on ma’s back. We tried hard for Purple-crested Turaco in the fig forest, but couldn’t get the bird to show. The massive Silvery-cheeked Hornbills were a fine compensation, as were the nice looks at Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves and our first ever Ovampo Sparrowhawk. Out into the acacia scrub the first Elephants showed up which understandably diverted attention away from any thoughts of the first views of the Rattling Cisticolas that we were simultaneously watching. Down at the lake edge there was almost too much to view and take in at once. A couple of great stops with scopes up had us some wonderful close views of a great range of shorebirds, ducks and herons, storks, pelicans and more. The Yellow-billed Storks and Pink-backed Pelicans were in vast numbers and in fantastic pink-tinged breeding plumage. Amidst them were several brilliant little Black Herons – only the 2nd time seen on this tour, and doing the full “umbrella-bit” with their wings. Amongst the Hottentot and Red-billed Teals, White-faced Whistling Ducks and Spur-winged Geese were full breeding-plumaged male Garganeys looking dapper in the lovely light. Unusually, Collared Pratincoles were everywhere and a special treat. We dragged ourselves away from here to a late picnic. Some good birds were found while stretching our legs, eating and looking down from our lofty viewpoint out to the distant shimmering soda lake with uncountably huge numbers (tens of thousands) of Lesser Flamingos appearing like a shimmering pink ribbon in the haze. Red and Yellow Barbets put on a colorful and noisy show. The flowering acacias were attracting Red-faced Crombecs, Buff-bellied Warblers, Yellow-spotted Petronias and Gray Flycatchers, while Spotted Morning Thrush pecked about for crumbs with the Superb Starlings below the tables. A high and spectacular aerial display from a male Eastern Paradise Whydah portends well for finding birds in breeding season plumage – this impression supported by great looks at Black Bishop in full red and black dress and a bright male Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird. Time as always ran away with us. We retraced our steps to the entrance, stopping only occasionally for special birds such as Gray-headed Kingfisher. Then back to our lodge – a newly opened one called Eunoto Retreat. Apparently set up by a wealthy Texan who has hired the land in return for providing local Masai with a school and soon a medical dispensary. It was in a fine location right up against the impressive massif of the Rift Valley cliffs amongst good open acacia forest. A slight drawback were the lovely cabins stretching for a quarter mile up a steep incline: I had the furthest of all and reckoned it was a major trek to and from the lovely open dining hall overlooking a swimming pool and wide vistas onto the plains below. We fitted in a little birding just to check the place out. Best find by far being African Silverbills in a pretty little flock.
27th February: Flying to Lake Victoria: Up at 5.30am for a 6am breakfast after hearing Freckled Nightjar outside my cabin a little earlier. I had quickly put a few clothes on and cued the player, but the playback just seemed to stop the bird calling entirely and it disappeared without trace. Nevertheless it was a very good (and first) record for this tour. We were away to the Manyara airstrip by 6.30am, driving up the brand new Japanese-built road over the Rift Valley escarpment to the little airstrip. We arrived in good time to found that the little 20-seat plane was about half an hour late. Putting the time to good use we birded just outside the terminal building and found several good and new birds for the trip list: Bronze Mannikins and Bronze Sunbirds, Cutthroats, Yellow-rumped Seedeater, Winding Cisticolas, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Pin-tailed Whydah and Speke’s Weaver all giving good views. The flight was 45 minutes direct to Grumeti. In clear conditions and it was fun to over-fly the Ngorongoro, Olduvai Gorge and Serengeti to see where we’d be in the next week or so.
On arrival at Grumeti we met Arnold & Geitan who quickly loaded the vehicles and set off on a bit of a game drive in the Grumeti area. It was a very full day until we reached Speke’s Bay Lodge by 5.20pm with so many birds and big game to watch over such a wonderfully large area in so little time. The 7 hours were full of new sights and experiences; from encounters with our first Lion pride (7 in an extended family all typically lazing and idle) to masses of new birds all the way along. We tried for specials such as Eastern Plantain-Eater with great success and coaxed Gray-headed Bushshrike out at the same riverside spot. The River Grumeti with its thick brown, soup-like water held some sizeable lurking Crocodiles. New raptors included Wahlberg’s and Long-crested Eagles. Rueppell’s and Hildebrandt’s Starlings were all over the place. Everyone seemed keen and enthusiastic to keep watching and sharp eyes produced great roadside finds such as White-bellied Bustards, Double-banded Coursers, Senegal Plovers and Spotted Thick-knees. Zebra were everywhere, and mixed in were Wildebeest, Giraffes, Topi, Buffalo and our first scavengers: Spotted Hyenas and Black-backed Jackals. Endemic birds included Gray-breasted Spurfowl and Rufous-tailed Weavers – all to be seen more closely and more leisurely later. It was a rushed day but full of great finds culminating in a final short watch at lovely Speke’s Bay. Apart from our first local specialties, the most exciting find was a pair of Blue-headed Coucals (first time ever for this tour) and an extraordinary mass of many thousands of Whiskered (and probably White-winged) Terns in a single vast distant flock over the immensity of Lake Victoria.
28th February: Return to the Western Serengeti: We had the morning to wander the large and productive grounds of Speke’s Bay Lodge with its excellent waterfront birding made even better with the drought which has reduced the water level in the Lake to produce a good muddy shoreline. Here were several distinctive Wattled Lapwings amongst the commoner birds, plus African Open-billed Storks overhead. The grounds did us proud in a cool cloudy morning. The reed and papyrus edge and adjacent scrub held the hoped-for LBJs: Sedge, Eurasian Reed and Great Reed Warblers, plus a bonus Grosbeak Weaver. The acacia bushes and scrub patches between the large expanses of open, mown grass produced the expected flashy duetting Black-headed Gonoleks plus Dideric and Red-chested Cuckoos, Black-winged Bishops, brilliant little Red-chested Sunbirds and others. The special weavers were on good form too, with several active nesting trees full off partially built creations of woven grass from Village, Slender-billed and Yellow-backed Weavers. The Northern Brown-throated only appeared at the very last moment before lunch in front of the restaurant! Immediately outside my tent was a trio of roosting Slender-tailed Nightjars sat amongst the leaf litter. They gave some stunning close-ups in broad daylight through our scopes. Nearby we flushed a pair of brilliant little Heuglin’s Coursers – always a real and rare treat to see.
After an early lunch we had to tear ourselves away from this truly pleasant spot and lovely little lodge for our long drive back into the Serengeti. Having been “bumped out” of our intended accommodation we had to make a longer journey of 125 miles to Lobo Lodge in the northern Serengeti. We left at 1.10pm and arrived 5 and a half hours later having set a good pace with stops only for exceptional stuff. “Exceptional” included a roadside pair of Saddle-billed Storks with unreal bills: false papier-mache’ creations crudely painted in bright primary colors! Various raptors caused a few stops too – Brown Snake-Eagle, Martial, Bateleur & Tawny Eagles, Dark-chanting Goshawk and a melanistic Gabar Goshawk. For me, a particularly exciting find was a flock of 170 Caspian Plovers, some in full breeding plumage. All were sat quietly by the roadside offering remarkable views of a species that few could ever see on their breeding grounds of Central Asia. It was a long but inspiring drive giving us the opportunity to experience the full enormous scale and size of the Serengeti ecosystem. After a full afternoon’s drive we had still only covered less than a half of the place! We paused for photo opportunities to take in passing Giraffe groups and “African scenes” of bright sky, landscapes and finally glowering rainstorms. The heavens opened into heavy rain, thunder and lightning as we arrived at Lobo, and it continued raining into the evening, making plans for tomorrow only tentative.
1st March: Exploring the Western Serengeti: Most of us were up pre-breakfast to see what the unique setting of Lobo Lodge had to offer for birders. We took a viewpoint path to the top of one of the immense granite kopjes around which the lodge is built and stood in the early morning light, letting the birds come to us. A splendid pair of Verraux’s Eagles was awakening and perched on the crown of an opposite kopje for ages – perhaps eyeing the tasty little Rock Hyraxes scurrying around us. Some good quality birds were located in this short period by peering down into the fig and acacia canopy below. Red-fronted Tinkerbird and White-headed Barbet, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Cliffchat, Rock Martin and Yellow White-eye were a fine start to the day. By 8.30am we set out in the buses in cool partially cloudy weather to take a gentle “look-see” around the nearby roads here in the northern Serengeti just 20 miles from the Kenya border and the Masai Mara. The area is predominantly undulating grassland with varying densities of open acacia scrubby forest – and of course kopjes erupting from the ground here and there. Big game was sparse, though there were scattered Grant’s Gazelles, Zebra, Topi and Coke’s Hartebeest, plus large herds of menacing-looking Cape Buffalo. Birds were prolific and it was delightful to have time to start and stop at will with no specific place to reach or goals to aim for. The subtle differences between Croaking, Zitting and Rattling Cisticolas, Rufous-naped Lark, Long-billed, Grassland and Tree Pipits were all taken in with due, but subdued reverence between explosions of “oohs” and “aahs” as brilliant Yellow-throated and Rosy-throated Longclaws, Pied Wheatear, Pied and Great Spotted Cuckoos, Red-rumped Swallow, Striped Kingfisher, Golden-breasted Bunting, White-winged Widowbirds, Lilac-breasted and European Rollers burst into view. We returned for a civilised lunch break by 12.30pm, with down time until our afternoon excursion at 3.30pm.
As we departed for a game drive in the late afternoon the storm clouds were gathering north of us over Kenya. Thunder, lightning and winds blew a storm south, making for a cool afternoon, but luckily raining far to the east. We just pottered about exploring side tracks and finding various items of interest. Close-ups of the herds of huge male Cape Buffalo attracted our attention. The bizarre gentle popping sound of the display calls of a roadside Black-bellied Bustard had us captivated for a while. Patricia called my attention to a small bird she didn’t recognise with a reddish head which turned out to be a cisticola. We couldn’t quite work it out until it turned towards us, showing a long prinia-like tail – our first ever Tabora Cisticola recorded on this tour! A short burst of Pearl-spotted Owlet playback produced only a few birds to mob the sound, but amongst them was the owl itself. A request to stop and admire a fine group of rutting Topi was interesting, but all the more so for suddenly noticing that in their midst was a little den of four Bat-eared Foxes: another wonderfully serendipitous event to round off the day.
2nd March: Through the Serengeti to Ndutu: The night had been typical of the onset of the rainy season, with towering clouds, lightning, thunder and some heavy rain, clearing by dawn to leave a cool cloudy morning for the start of our travel to Ndutu. Before breakfast some of us watched a Spotted Hyena dragging a huge chunk of unspecified carcass off below the lodge; two others were seen close to the lodge as we left at 8am. This was another day of travel, though not as far as to reach Lobo. We proceeded fairly quickly towards Seronera in the central Serengeti stopping only for major sightings such as displaying Kori Bustard, large herds of Zebra and roadside Giraffes. At the Seronera Visitor Center by about 10am, I’d intended to walk the interesting little interpretive trail and do some birding as we went. A family of Lions thought otherwise! The Manager was very apologetic as he informed us the trail was temporarily closed and then showed us two cubs asleep on the wooden footbridge part of the trail, saying their mother was in there somewhere, just yards away! We turned to birding elsewhere in the grounds, but Anthony, Arnold and Geitan soon came back from refuelling the vehicles with news of possible Leopards, so it took little persuasion for us to abandon birding and quickly set off on a minor detour. Luck was with us, and we were shortly viewing two fine Leopards – probably a mother and well-grown young - up two separate trees. They were reasonable views of these gorgeous languid creatures through binocs, but even better with the help of my and Danny’s ‘scopes. In this area were our first large and very close mixed herds of Zebra and Wildebeest, seemingly with intentions of migrating from “A to B”. We paused to admire this spectacle for a good length of time before making another brief diversion to see a large female Lion asleep in a dead tree. Then we put the foot on the pedal and zipped down the main track towards Naabi Gate and the exit out of the National Park. Again, stops were made only for “essentials” – excellent looks at Greater Kestrels and another two roadside Lions – before reaching Naabi by just after 1pm. We ate lunch here, used the loos and I bumped into a friend from UK with a private group on tour setting off in the opposite direction: the Serengeti may be huge, but it is still a small world! We did a short walk around the trail for some exercise and birds, using the owlet playback to elicit response from anything skulking in the undergrowth. We produced a few old familiars in this way, plus Red-headed Barbet and Yellow-breasted Apalis both new for the trip. We’d done much of the journey and now only had to wander the 20-25 miles on through the vast open, flat expanse of the short grass plains of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area down to Ndutu. We ambled along stopping to admire Kori Bustards, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse and Pallid Harriers on the way. It was also fascinating to watch Giraffes tucking into yummy acacia leaves; stripping them off the lethally spiky trees with their padded palate, long tongue and delicately manipulative lips in a feeding method turned into art-form. Close to the lodge as we crossed between Lakes Masek and Ndutu was our last halt – for a pride of 7 Lions. Two were adults of opposite sex, discreetly apart from the others. After I’d read from Richard Estes’ marvellous Animal Behavior book about the mating habits of Lions, most folks were keen to stop and wait to see if Lions really do mate every 27 minutes! We waited, but they were obviously shy. Arrival at Ndutu by 5.30pm gave plenty of time to settle in, relax and wind down after the day’s travels and travails. Before the evening meal the Common Genets made their usual appearance to take food from the feeding platform in the lounge. .
3rd March: At Ndutu: Away after a lovely breakfast at 8am to wander at will in the vicinity of Ndutu with no specific targets in mind. The cool of the morning produced a little bird activity as we drove slowly down to the edge of the two lakes where we turned onto the sand flats to see if the resident Lion pride (seen yesterday evening) was about. They were, and we watched them lounging in the low bushes and shade at the lake edge for a while. Here too, on the far side of the lake were wandering groups and lines of Wildebeest coming down to drink and playing “follow the leader”. We then set off into the hinterland of acacia scrub for more birding and chance mammal encounters. The birding was nice but nothing particularly new or startling and we did chance upon a pair of Steenbuck – always a good find. Then Arnold & Geitan heard over the radio that the Lions we’d just left were active! The Wildebeest near them had decided to paddle through the shallow soda lake and then take a short cut up through the bushes. This happened to be right into the path of the Lions who did not look a gift-horse in the mouth and quickly took one hapless beast. We returned to witness the feast and stayed for much of the time until lunch as they eviscerated, gnawed, snarled and growled their way through this unexpected snack. The sated males, then one of the females with blood-stained faces left the meal and wandered directly past the vans, while the cubs continued cracking bones and having fun.
After a very pleasant lunch we were able to take some time off to relax, look at the shop, write notes or whatever. We had a short stroll in the grounds before the afternoon game drive and found a few old favorites – Grey-backed Camaroptera, Dideric Cuckoo, Rock Martins, and various warblers before a quick cuppa and cookie. Once again planned activities (to drive along the lake edges this afternoon) were changed as better, unplanned opportunities arose. Anthony and our drivers had heard of Cheetahs being seen this morning out on the open grasslands, so we were very happy to go off in pursuit. We set off through the open acacia woodland to our South-west, then on to the vast flat grassy expanse extending all the way to Maswa Game Reserve where the bulk of the Wildebeest have gone this year. On the way there we found several lovely little Temminck’s Coursers before going off-road across the plains. This is a huge and fairly featureless area to cover. How the drivers manage to drive, avoid holes dug by aardvarks and Warthogs, and find the cheetahs, I’ll never know. We must have driven a couple of miles, the two buses spread out to cover more ground before all of a sudden, there they were – three superb, sleek and elegant Cheetahs resting in the short grass and herbage. We spent a good while of the remainder of our time out here admiring these super animals. The plains around were dotted with substantial herds of Thompson’s Gazelles and smaller counts of Grant’s: plenty of food for the Cheetahs all around them. Also here, away on further horizons were black lines of Wildebeest, perhaps slowly making their way back to where they should be, out on the nutritious short-grass plains of Ndutu? (Apparently they were here in the Ndutu area, but due to unseasonably dry weather, they wandered back west, but are really better off calving on the open plains safer from predators). We returned to the lodge by 6.30pm, very content with our short trip out.
4th March: More time at Ndutu: The Swamp beckoned and we spent the morning game drive on a journey there and back via some of the acacia woodland and shoreline of Lake Ndutu. We followed the flat sandy bed of the flood-plain stream from the lake up to the swamp stopping for anything that took our fancy. This “fancy” ranged from photo opportunities for the lowly, mundane and much maligned Helmeted Guineafowl, through “catch-up” looks for others at species not seen so well previously, up to some fine studies of really good birds. We had further Temminck’s and Double-banded Coursers, excellent looks at Chestnut-bellied and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, various shorebirds and other sundry good stuff. A particular “attraction” was a recent Zebra corpse with our first good looks at vultures doing what only they can do best. Great views were had of squabbling, feeding White-backed, Rueppell’s Griffon, Hooded and Lappet-faced Vultures plus attendant Tawny Eagles and Black Kites. Their crops were full and when a National Parks helicopter flew over and spooked them, one did the classic vulture trick as it attempted to flee – vomiting up half its meal to lighten the load and get airborne! Close to the swamp the Tsetse flies became abundant and persistently vicious. Our pain was rewarded: one bus had great looks at a pair of Greater Painted Snipe, the other spied a Serval out in the rushes. Here too was Western Marsh-Harrier but not a lot else. We exited the fly-ridden swamp and made tracks back to the lake where small numbers of close inshore Greater Flamingos danced their strange foot-stamping flamencos to disturb the brine shrimps from the mud as the pumped them up into their Barby-doll pink bills. Throughout the morning other nice mammals came and went. Some perfectly framed Zebras reflected in a waterhole, Giraffes stripping acacia leaves, small distant groups of Bat-eared Foxes and finally, as we neared home for lunch, the same lolling pride of Lions that we’d seen feasting on Wildebeest yesterday, lounging on the saltbush sand-flats.
After some free time and a little birding in the grounds, we drove out to see what the smaller Lake Masek had to offer this afternoon. With the rains so far poor, the water levels here too were exceptionally low and there was not as much birdlife as I’ve seen on previous visits. However, we did have some very close views of our main target – Chestnut-banded Plover – plus a small variety of other good birds including Saddle-billed Stork, distant Pied Avocets, excellent looks at Beautiful Sunbirds, Lesser Masked Weavers, Pale Chanting Goshawk and (on the way back) White-headed Vulture. There was nothing startling seen in the way of mammals, but it was a pleasant leisurely afternoon in cool temperatures and good company.
5th March: To Ngorongoro via Olduvai: It is always sad to leave Ndutu, but after breakfast we were packed and away to spend the day wandering eastwards across the short-grass plains of the Serengeti to Olduvai, then on to Ngorongoro. As we left Ndutu and headed to Naabi Gate to obtain National Park permits we noticed the first small trails and groups of Wildebeest emerging from their unusually far west location. A pair of Golden Jackals lazed in the morning sun on the plains dotted with hundreds of Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelles, Zebras and also Ostriches and Kori Bustards. The Rufous-naped Larks called their nonchalant “tlee-tloo” song as if all was well with the world (which in their case I suppose it was?). We had a little time to stop and look at passing birds and mammals, finding excellent Green Woodhoopoes, Black-faced and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse. At Naabi we had time to quickly do the circular trail, finding many of the usual species before heading along the main road towards Olduvai. En route some of the group stopped to visit a traditional Maasai village, while others of us did a little extra birding. We all met up at the Museum at Olduvai overlooking the famous Gorge where early hominids dating back 3.6 million years had been found, along with a wonderful collection of now extinct early mammals including giant buffalo, hippo, giraffe and rhino. After a good picnic lunch overlooking the gorge and accompanied by Black Bishops, Purple Grenadiers, Vitelline Masked Weavers, Rufous Sparrows, and Red-billed Firefinches, we delved into the museum before driving east again to the Crater. Some heavy rain as we ascended into the lush grassy highlands at over 6,000′ put pay to much birding in this habitat, but it ceased by the time we reached the descent road to go down into the Crater, across, and out the other side to the Sopa Lodge. We were all excited by the stunning view down and across the 10 mile expanse of Ngorongoro. At the top Mottled and Common Swifts sped by. On the descent were families of Schalow’s Wheatears. At the crater floor was another seemingly idyllic world full of birds and quietly grazing wildlife. On any Tanzania trip, the Ngorongoro visit focuses strongly on finding the Black Rhinos protected within. As we were traversing the crater floor to get to our lodge this gave us a “bonus” visit in addition to our full day tomorrow. We used this bonus well as we detoured to find an amazing 7 different Black Rhinoceroses, each one being a closer and better view. While these antediluvian beasts were the centerpiece there was much else to catch our attention. There were masses of very close gazelles, Buffaloes and Wildebeest with calves. Birds were everywhere, with over 100 Crowned Cranes, countless Abdim’s Storks and Western Marsh-Harriers circling low over the grasslands. The inevitable cisticolas were politely ignored for more obvious delights. We turned up the track out of the crater to Sopa Lodge and exited the Park by 6pm, driving fast through the glorious thick forest of the crater rim to our very swish lodge (which is not 2000′ above the rim, but firmly on the rim – with fantastic views – 2000′ above the crater floor!)
6th March: Full day in the Ngorongoro Crater: Some brief pre-breakfast birding caught folks up with much of what Danny had found last night: lovely looks at Tacazze, Golden-winged and Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds. We also added a few more odds and ends such as frenetic little Hunter’s Cisticolas in crazed duets, Broad-ringed White-eyes, Cape Robin-chats and several families of White-eyed Slaty-flycatchers. A good buffet breakfast at 7.20am and we were away towards the Crater floor for a full day of wildlife by 8.15am. Whereas most buses of “regular” tourists zip down past all that wonderful thick forest dripping with mosses and full of flowering plants and shrubs, we spent a good hour slowly driving, stopping and watching before we got onto the open plains below. This high altitude forest at 5-7’000 feet holds plenty of special birds. Birding from the vehicles with their tops popped isn’t ideal, but the only way allowed. We managed to find a good selection of hoped for birds here – Red-faced Cisticola, Red-collared Widowbird (thanks to Mary), Olive Pigeon, Schalow’s Turaco, Mountain Greenbul, Abyssinian Crimsonwing and more. Down on the crater floor by mid-morning, our aim was to be fairly aimless! Just a pleasant meander via particularly good spots to the picnic site by 1pm. Spotted Hyenas lolled in muddy puddles in the middle of the track giving phenomenal photo-ops. The herds of Wildebeest, Zebra, gazelles and Buffaloes all went lazily about their day as we paused and stopped for photos – our best chances on the tour. At the Hippos Pools about 10 or more vast Hippos were partially submerged, one doing a complete 360′ roll at times to keep its back cool and mud-covered, exposing its fat pink underbelly as it went. Plenty of good waterbirds here included a Black-headed Heron catching and eventually eating a small snake. Further on, the soda lake edge was slightly disappointing as water levels were very low. For the first time on any of my visits here, the flamingos weren’t right up close to the shore, but way out into the hazy center of the muddy lake. However, a good selection of shorebirds, egrets, and associated species were showing well. Many Blacksmith and Kittlitz’s Plovers were very much “in-your-face” as were hundreds of Ruff and amongst them 5 Spotted Redshanks.
The picnic site by the lake and papyrus bed was of course full of other vehicles – the only place to stop and the only time during the day when the crater seemed full of other people. Fan-tailed Widowbirds sported in the lake-fringe like Red-winged Blackbirds and Patricia was the “sacrificial lamb”, losing her chicken leg to a rapacious Black Kite in split-seconds of deft manoeuvring.
In the afternoon we split into “amblers” wanting the option of longer to ponder the wildlife and “travellers” wanting to keep moving to see what was around the next corner. Both groups reported a brilliant time and came back satisfied. The bright afternoon light and “drive-by” mixed herds made photography a must and a pleasure for all. One group found the rare Hartlaub’s Bustard, the other saw a Cheetah and African Black Ducks, both saw more Black Rhinos and a group of typically idle Lions flat out asleep on their backs.
7th March: To Gibbs Farm: We had plenty of time early this morning to do some more birding in the Sopa Lodge grounds where all the regular species seen yesterday morning appeared on cue again. In addition was a fly-by of two White-necked Ravens seen by only a few of us. On our departure we asked to be escorted to the lodge garbage dump in hopes of finding them there. No luck with that, but no doubt it amused the perplexed staff that rich westerners would travel all the way to Africa to see such places!
With only a short distance to Gibbs Farm, we idled around the start of the Crater Rim road through thick and luxuriant forest hoping to find a few more birds en route. At a bend in the road with a small roadside pool we got lucky and found birds continually coming down to drink. We ended up burning all our “spare” time here as it was so productive. Although awkward to have to bird from the vehicles with their tops off, we managed some good sightings. Best of all was White-starred Robin, with African Hill-Babbler a close second. Other good stuff was brief Brown Woodland Warbler, a pair of Blackcaps, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Thick-billed and Streaky Seedeaters, African Citril, Mountain Greenbul and others. After a brief pause at the overlook to wave our fond farewells to the remarkable Ngorongoro Crater (spying a very distant Rhino in the process), we joined the main road, now paved since last year all the way to the start of the Conservation Area. We were at the delightful Gibb’s Farm by 12.20pm, just in time for a lunch rated “best in Tanzania” and a little down time for folks to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the gardens so brimful of sunny exotic flowers, shrubs, butterflies and ambience.
We took the walk to the Elephant Caves and waterfall in the afternoon, setting off at 2.30pm and returning just after 3 hours later. We managed to find a few of the tricky forest-dwelling species that inhabit the area, and of course missing others, but between this morning’s session along the crater rim road and this afternoon, we didn’t do too badly with a good representation. Black-throated Wattle-eyes were seen well and a couple of female/young Black Cuckoo-shrikes were a less common find. A pair of Common Bulbuls lumbered with a fledged Klaas Cuckoo chick foster-child was a unique sighting. Up at the caves we intended to stop and take a break, but a very large, tusked Elephant in the undergrowth just 50 yards from the caves deterred us! We were ushered away by our local escort on the basis of “better safe than sorry”. At the waterfalls we had some glimpses of Mountain Wagtail before setting back with thoughts of tea on the lawn spurring us onwards. As we assembled in the cool evening darkness on the patio outside the dining room for supper, a Montane Nightjar came by and landed on a snag by us giving everyone some great looks at another new and elusive bird to finish off the day.
8th March: Gibbs Farm to Tarangire: Birding in the gardens of Gibb’s before breakfast produced our greatest prize – several displaying White-tailed Blue Flycatchers – a Tanzanian endemic that I’ve only ever seen here at Gibb’s. The birds were up in light canopy flashing their tails and wings in and out for several minutes before fading into the background of another African day. We left for Tarangire by 8.30am and made fairly steady progress along the beautifully smooth new paved road passing Manyara where we’d flown off to the Serengeti seemingly ages ago. Apart from a brief stop for our first Taita Fiscal Shrike and a Brown Snake-Eagle we were non-stop to the entrance to Tarangire National Park, reaching there by about 10.45am. The displays and observation tower (and loos) made for a welcome break from the vehicles where we found a good array of classic hot, dry acacia scrub birds. Blue-capped Cordonbleus were vivid in the sunlight, consorting with Red-billed Firefinches, Chestnut Weavers and Chestnut Sparrows. Our first White-bellied Go-away Birds were here along with endemic Yellow-collared Lovebirds and Ashy Starlings.
Setting off towards Sopa Lodge we had 2 hours or so to travel the 20+ miles, allowing time to stop once or twice for the first Elephant groups we hope to study in more depth later. There were plenty scattered along the Tarangire River with its Borassus Palms and the hillsides dotted with obese Baobabs. A couple of Lions were spotted lazing by an Elephant group, and looking distinctly interested in a tiny calf – I trust they have more sense than to try hunting it, as the adult Elephants all round were very vigilant. A fine sub-adult African Hawk-Eagle was watched before we arrived at the lodge by just after 1pm. A poolside buffet lunch and lots of cold drinks were welcome in the 100+degree shade!
At last -Elephants! Out in the afternoon by 4pm with the intention of locating and watching Elephants. We had a few stops here and there for birds, but managed a wonderfully long time with a matriarchal group with young from a few months up to a few years. These were contentedly feeding by the roadside and we simply cruised in, stopped engines and joined them as they peacefully pulled up hanks of grass and ate. The younger ones played a little and the very smallest suckled occasionally: a very peaceful and timeless scene. Birds of note during our time out included further Woodland Kingfisher, Namaqua Dove, Rufous-crowned Roller, Crested Francolin, Brown Snake-Eagle, Red-billed Hornbill at a nest in a huge baobab (the nest all cemented up into a narrow feeding slot).
9th March: Exploring Tarangire: A number of folks were up doing their own short bit of birding before a 7am breakfast and I heard Freckled Nightjar and Pearl-spotted Owlet just pre-dawn from my bed! We made our way this morning to the eastern edge of the National Park at Silale Swamp, taking over two hours to reach the area due to the many birds. It was a slightly cooler and pleasant temperature today and birds were fairly active as were the birders, forming friendly rivalries between buses. We had some great looks at perched Red-bellied Parrots (and of course many Yellow-collared Lovebirds). Lots of additional looks at regular species and revisiting with birds not seen since early on the tour such as Foxy (Fawn-colored) and Flappet Larks, Eurasian Hoopoe, Black-headed Oriole and more. Everyone caught up with great looks at the dapper Woodland Kingfisher and some of us glimpsed a much scarcer Brown-hooded. A flurry of tiny balls of feathers from the roadside indicated African Quailfinches and we stopped to see one perched on the roadside – a young or female bird looking about as obscure and non-descript as a bird can get – (including cisticolas!). At the huge expanse of marsh grass and papyrus of Silale Swamp we paused at a picnic site for loos and tea/coffee. A yellowish-green warbler burbling away from acacia canopy turned out to be a nice little migrant Icterine Warbler. Working our way in the buses along the swamp edge road we realised there were not going to be the huge numbers of wetland birds that sometimes occur. However a few good things popped up to keep us happy and push the birdlist clearly over 400 species for this tour. In amongst the many Long-toed Plovers, Sacred and Glossy Ibis were Saddle-billed and African Open-billed Storks, passing Western Marsh-Harriers and groups of delightful feeding Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters. Anthony’s sharp eyes picked out a rare Rufous-bellied Heron in a swamp-edge acacia, but the bird gave only poor silhouette views. Anthony also spotted one of the undoubted favorite birds of the morning in another acacia and giving stunning close looks – a huge Verraux’s Eagle-Owl, pink eye-lids blinking in the sunlight as it peered down at us. Mammals were few this morning, though a pack of Black-backed Jackals were seen soon after leaving, and a pleasant extended family group of Elephants were munching soft, lush grasses in the swamp. A quick dash back for lunch was punctuated by few stops, though a bit of call playback for Black-headed Oriole caught us all up with great looks at this bright little bird. Down time around the lodge until 3.45pm was a welcome rest as the heat of the day cranked up and brief wanderings around the grounds produced nest-building Red-headed Weavers, Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling and a Cliffchat – the latter in the strange subterranean part of this weird piece of architecture.
The afternoon drive took us down to the fairly dry Tarangire River, partly in search of Thick-knees (which we didn’t see). A slowish start warmed up a little with the sighting of a couple of Lions ogling passing Zebra. Down by the river there was a fine fly in by a pair of Saddle-billed Storks who quickly displaced a loitering Marabou. Further meanderings eventually took us towards some small groups of Elephants, which we ended up watching in detail by popular request for a good long time. Time now to about turn and head back towards the lodge, after a cool, peaceful late afternoon contemplating our last close and gentle encounter with the elephants. This was a fine finish – but it wasn’t the end! Further along we drew to a halt for our second Verraux’s Eagle-Owl of the day (and trip). It sat peering down with a superior gaze and when I played some of its call another bird came into view and stared equally disdainfully. This was the icing on the cake and we began to speed back to the lodge already technically out of time for a 6.30pm return. Closer still and very suddenly our two buses veered away from the lodge down another track; clearly something good afoot! The most impossibly perfect finale’ to a trip awaited us. A gorgeous Leopard was posed, lain out on an exposed bare arch of a dead tree backlit by the setting sun and pink and blue skies. “Totally awesome” was the most popular spontaneous verdict! We watched in disbelief as it yawned and stretched then arched its back as it stood, posing in a display of powerful superiority before quietly scrambling down from the tree to slink away into the tall grass for its evening’s hunt. An unbelievably magical moment; we all returned to the lodge by 7.15pm high on the experience and speechless with the broadest grins on our faces. Our final supper was a very pleasant occasion with good food and some lovely singing from a group of the staff as we ate.
10th March: Return to Arusha and flights homeward: Up pre-dawn to try and catch nocturnal stuff such as the African Scops-Owl and Freckled Nightjar heard here earlier in our stay. No luck there, and all generally quite quiet, so most went in for breakfast by 7am, while others caught up with Red-headed Weaver and Danny found himself an African Golden Oriole – surprisingly the first time the species has, ever been recorded on this tour. We departed the Sopa Lodge and headed for the main exit gate by 8.15am, with plenty of time to stop for anything that might come by. It was sad to think that the same large herds of Elephant we passed would be happily munching their way through life oblivious of the fact that we’d no longer be there to appreciate them. A small pack of Black-backed Jackals escorted us away from the lodge and a little group of Bat-eared Foxes was a bonus later on down the road. At the exit by 10.30am we had a good birding session around the information trail. A dripping water tanker produced a small pool that was a magnet for local birds. Whilst watching here we had stunning final looks at many bright little birds that had grown to be familiar friends: both Cordonbleus, Chestnut Sparrows, Cut-throat, Red-billed Firefinches and Green-winged Pytilia. Abyssinian Scimitarbills were amongst a good haul of species attracted in by the final playing of owl playback and the final new bird of the trip popped into view about now – a great look at a fairly drab and aptly named Grey Wren Warbler.
It was a fast and uneventful return from here to Arusha where we’d set out 2 weeks back. The Cultural Heritage emporium provided lunch (where we all toasted Patricia’s birthday) and a fairly substantial final bout of shopping for many. From here it was back to Ilboru Lodge for day-rooms, wash and change, re-packing and away after a light meal by 7pm. I tried one last time for Moustached Tinkerbird for David who’d missed it previously. The bird called, came in, but gave only the briefest of views. We said our final farewells to Anthony, Geitan and Arnold who had been such easy-going, helpful and interesting local travelling companions, drivers and guides. Check-in was smooth, the plane early and the flight back a long one!
11th March: Home: Into Amsterdam on time we all went our separate ways to connect with onward travel arrangements.
Postscript: Despite not quite meeting up with the main herds of calving Wildebeest due to unusually dry weather (the first time this has happened in 12 visits), I think the trip was hugely successful and enjoyable. We recorded 418 species (411 seen + 7 heard only) which is just about best ever. We added 8 species to the cumulative bird list – species never recorded on this tour previously. The bird sightings were plentiful, with good prolonged views of many – always a bonus of birding in East Africa where so much is spectacular and easily seen out in the open. Mammal sightings were just about as good as it gets – missing a few thousand wildebeest maybe, but the variety was all there and the long studies of Elephants, multiple Lion sightings, those beautiful Cheetahs and the wonderful Leopard to finish the tour were all memorable in my books. Again, although due to excessive demand on accommodations, we’d been moved about from one lodge to another, I don’t think it made any material difference to the quality of the tour – popping up to Lobo lodge added a few rarely seen birds, and we never felt overcrowded or marginalised. Our local guide Anthony and his two drivers Arnold & Geitan were very pleasant and added greatly to our tour with their insights into Tanzanian life, their sharp eyes finding wildlife for us and fantastic driving abilities.
The following checklist is fairly self-explanatory: Dates are along the top, approximate numbers in the columns below. * = seen, usually commonly, but not counted. H = heard only. Names in ( ) are alternatives found in field guides, otherwise everything follows a fully up to date Clement’s taxonomy. (Remember – Foxy Lark is the split from Fawn-colored!). Reptiles are named from the recent (2002) “Reptiles of East Africa” by Spawls, Howell, Drewes & Ashe. Mammal names are those found in Kingdon’s African Mammals.
Participants: Jack Stephens
I wake up and go outside to explore the garden.
A flock of warblers is moving through the flowers, except they aren’t
warblers, they are AFRICAN YELLOW WHITE-EYES. A flock of crows call
in the distance. They sound odd, probably because they aren’t crows,
but HADADA IBIS. The flycatcher in the tree looks familiar in silhouette,
but when the light changes, it is a bird I have never seen before, AFRICAN
This is the first day of our 17-day tour through
northern Tanzania. My wife Ellen is still sleeping in our room, next
door to our good friends Dan and Carol. In an hour our driver Geitan
and our bird guide Anthony will arrive to take us out and start our
safari. They are part of the core team of Birding and Beyond out of
Arusha. Incredibly, while this is scheduled as a birding trip, I am
the only birder in our group. Ellen, Dan, and Carol go months without
even touching a pair of binoculars in the states. However, they have
shown an incredible ability to rise to the avian challenge on previous
trips. They are great at spotting birds, and get exited about the flashier
species. They even convinced me to look at an occasional mammal.
We decided to do the standard “northern circuit”
of Tanzania: Arusha National Park, Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara,
Ngorongoro Crater, and the Serengeti. One option that Birding and Beyond
offers is an extension to Speke Bay Lodge on Lake Victoria, where we
picked up several species .at the eastern edge of their range. We also
got to see the lake fly eruption on Lake Victoria, but more about that
It was quite dry while we were there, which made for easy viewing of
game. We probably would not have seen some of the predator hunts that
we saw in the wet season. There was no concern about roads being impassable
due to rain or mud. On the other hand, the birds were not singing, and
the whydahs and widowbirds were in non-breeding plumage.
Sept. 12: Arrive Arusha, Maasai Safari Lodge
Sept. 13: Arusha National Park
Sept. 14: Drive to Tarangire National Park, night in Tarangire Safari
Sept. 15-16: Tarangire NP, Tarangire Sopa Lodge
Sept. 17-18: Lake Manyara, E Unoto Retreat
Sept. 19-20: Gibbs Farm
Sept. 21: Ngorongoro Crater, Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge
Sept. 22-23: Serengeti National Park, Ndutu Lodge
Sept. 24-25: Speke Bay Lodge
Sept. 26: Serengeti National Park, Ndutu Lodge
Sept. 27: Leave from Arusha
We fly British Airways from Seattle direct to
London. It is an overnight flight; eyeshades and Ambien work better
for Ellen than for me. Our seats are in the back next to the lavatories,
which have a regular stream of patrons, including a few that strike
up conversations. I make a mental note to avoid those seats in the future.
After an easy pass through immigration and customs
in Heathrow, we connect onto KLM to Amsterdam. KLM proves to be very
picky about carry-on weight. They balk at my carry-on that has my scope
and camera in it; it exceeds their limit of 10 kg. I pull the scope
and camera out, check the bag, and carry them loose with my small bag
which has my binocs. A short 45 minute flight has us into Amsterdam
by 5PM. We make our way via the train into downtown, and then flag a
cab that takes us to our B&B.
KLM is the only airlines that flies direct from
Europe to Arusha. Since the flights are so long, and since Dan has never
been to Europe, we scheduled a full day in Amsterdam on the way over.
We have a great day walking the city, and take in the Rijksmuseum, the
Van Gogh museum, the Anne Frank House, and the red light district in
a day. Amsterdam is a great city for the casual American visitor; everyone
speaks English, the city is accessible by foot, prices are reasonable,
and there is a lot to see. Our host is an expatriate American who has
lived there for years. I can see why.
We catch the morning flight to Arusha. I think
that the weight restriction on carry-on that I ran into was due to the
small size of the plane from London to Amsterdam, but no, they still
have the 10 kg limit. So once again I re-shuffle my optics and check
the rest. The flight is long, but anticipation grows as we cross the
Mediterranean and cross over the coast in Libya. Night has fallen by
the time we land in Arusha, and after negotiating our visas, immigration
and picking up our bags, we quickly find our guides Anthony and Geitan
and head off.
We have booked with Birding and Beyond, a company
based in Arusha that specializes in birding tours. They are a smaller
company, and don’t have the name recognition of some of the bigger operators.
They offer custom, personalized service however, and I don’t see how
we could have done better.
On the drive in from the airport Dan is chatting
with Anthony and Geitan. Dan is a bit “out there”, and once he determined
that they had all three been raised Roman Catholic, they were soon singing
hymns in Latin and trading Sister Gertrude stories. I sigh that this
is going to be a long trip.
The first two nights we stay at Maasai Safari
Lodge in Arusha. This is very small place, tucked behind a residential
area on the outskirts of town. The electricity and hot water are iffy,
but the rooms are pleasant and large, and there is small garden that
attracts a nice variety of birds. After that first morning walk and
breakfast, Anthony and Geitan arrive to take us on our first full day.
We tick off VARIABLE SUNBIRD, AMYTHEST SUNDBIRD, COMMON BULBUL, and
AFRICAN BLACK SWIFT, and then head off to Arusha National Park, just
an hour away from town.
Many of the standard tours skip this park, which
is a shame. It has a mixture of montane forest, grassland and lakes,
and proved a great kick-off location for our trip. After a short drive,
we enter the park and within minutes come to a clearing loaded with
Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, and Warthog. It seems like
a scene from the Garden of Eden. Even though we will see these species
many times again, that first view is magical.
While we are watching the mammals, the birds are
coming fast, including fly-by LIZARD BUZZARD and SILVERY-CHEEKED HORNBILL.
Arusha is the only park we will visit that allows
walks with an armed ranger. So for $20 Roger accompanies us for the
next two hours in his green fatigue uniform and AK-47. I think that
the AK is a bit much, until we spook a Cape Buffalo just 30 yards away
hunkered done in some brush. Roger says that they usually run away like
this one did, but at least once he has had one run at the group. A few
rounds in the air and it turned tail, but suddenly I am happy Roger
and his gun are there.
We see our first AUGER BUZZARD soaring overhead,
and get great views of a BROAD-BILLED ROLLER in the scope. After a visit
to a waterfall and a walk through the woods, we return to the car, thank
Roger, and head off. We score some good mammals, including Red Duiker,
Sykes Monkey and Black-and-White Colobus Monkey. A visit to two lakes
yields SOUTHERN POCHARD, HOTTENTOT TEAL (don’t you just love that name?),
INTERMEDIATE EGRET, LITTLE GREBE, LONG-TAILED COMORANT, and GREAT CORMORANT.
At the end of the day we stopped by an orphanage
for a visit. We had asked Anthony ahead of our trip how we could best
give back to the people of Tanzania, and he had suggested this orphanage,
and an elementary school that we would visit later. We brought some
school supplies, soccer balls, vitamins, and candy with us, and expected
to just drop it off and then leave. It turned out that they had a much
more formal visit in mind. We sat down and heard about the history of
the orphanage from the director, met with the assistant director, the
staff member who keeps their books, and then toured the facility. It
is basically a three room building with 40 children in two bedrooms,
about 6 children to a double-sized bunk bed. We then sat down as the
older children performed several songs and synchronized dances. There
were some great singers in the group, and the songs were real toe-tappers.
I was quite surprised to learn from Anthony that all the songs warned
of the dangers of AIDS. After the performance it was time for us to
distribute the treats, as well as some impromptu soccer practice with
Dan and the children.
That evening we enjoyed an authentic African meal
at Maasai Safari Lodge with our host Cornelius. He is a retired veterinarian
who worked for 15 years with the game animals on the Serengeti, mainly
doing research. It is hard to imagine treadmill tests on elephants,
but he assures us that it can be done. You do need a really big treadmill,
Best Bird of the Day (as defined by my non-birding
WHITE-FRONTED BEE-EATER. We had stunning scope looks on our walk in
Hardest to Find Bird of the Day (as defined by
Anthony, based on location and time of the year) BLACK-THROATED WATTLE-EYE.
Seen on our walk in the forest.
Biggest Miss of the Day (as defined by me, usually the ones Anthony
saw and I didn’t) HARTLAUB’S TURACO. Anthony saw one in trees during
our walk and one run across the road in Arusha NP, they were gone by
the time I looked. Highlights of the day (as defined by us all) The
first view of wildlife in Arusha NP. The visit to the orphanage.
We left Cornelius and drove to Tarangire National
Park. The road down was good tarmac, with occasional villages and lots
of bicycle traffic. On the way down Anthony spotted our only PYGMY FALCON
perched along the side of the road, trying his best to look mean despite
his size. We also started to see the beautiful SUPERB STARLINGS. “You
will soon be tired of them” Geitan said, and his was almost right.
The entrance to Tarangire proved very birdy, with first views of ASHY
STARLING, SPECKLE-FRONTED WEAVER, GREEN-WINGED PYTILIA, and RED-CHEEKED
CORDON-BLEU. Anthony heard and we eventually found a PEARL-SPOTTED OWLET
in a tree behind the entrance gate.
Driving in we saw our first lions, two females
lounging underneath a tree just off the side of the road. After appropriate
looks and photos, we started off and then realized why they appeared
so satisfied. There was a freshly killed zebra just behind the tree.
Since this was just off the main road, we would visit this kill several
more times during our stay.
The first night we stayed in the wonderful Tarangire
Safari Lodge. It is situated on a bluff overlooking the Tarangire River.
When we pulled in there were herds of elephant, zebra, wildebeest, troops
of baboon, along with TAWNY EAGLE, WHITE-BACKED VULTURE, RUPPELL’S GRIFFON
VULTURE, and SECRETARY BIRD all soaring at eye level. We have another
Garden of Eden moment.
At the end of the day we pass the zebra kill. There is a rib cage and
parts of hindquarters left, but no vultures to my surprise.
That night we sleep in a tent with a permanent
roof, queen-sized bed, and our own toilet and shower. We loved the experience
of feeling closer to the bush, and loved our stay at Tarangire Safari
Lodge. The food was great, the staff friendly and the views superb.
That night I am awakened to the sound of warthogs outside our tent.
Best Bird YELLOW-COLLARED LOVEBIRD. “They look
like little jewels.”
Hardest Bird CUT-THROAT FINCH. Two found at Tarangire entrance.
Highlight: Lions at the kill
We spend the day driving around the park. The
zebra kill now has a large group of WHITE-BACKED and LAPPET-FACED VULTURES.
New birds come fast and furious, including the common VON DER DEKEN’S
HORNBILL, RED-BILLED HORNBILL, AFRICAN PIED WAGTAIL, YELLOW-THROATED
SPURFOWL, RED-THROATED SPURFOWL, RUFOUS-TAILED WEAVER, and LITTLE BEE-EATER.
A visit to a river bed with some standing water yields BLACK CRAKE,
PIED KINGFISHER, ARROW-MARKED BABBLER and a BEARDED WOODPECKER.
We see many elephants. At one point a herd walks
right by our parked car, and a juvenile reaches up with its trunk and
almost touches the tourists in the car behind us. A female with a baby
stops to scratch against a tree, so close we can hear the scratching.
Geitan says that sometimes they scratch and the tree falls down.
Anthony finds a spot for MADAGASCAR BEE-EATER. Soon we find SULPHUR-BREASTED
BUSHSHRIKE, SPOTTED MORNING-THRUSH and our first HILDEBRAND’S STARLING.
We pass a Vervet Monkey spread-eagle in a tree,
revealing sky-blue scrotum and a cherry-red phallus. Very amusing. We
also find a group of Pygmy Mongoose in their termite mound nest, extremely
cute little guys.
That night we move to the Tarangire Sopa Lodge.
As we drive in we see our only RED-HEADED WEAVER, while SPECKLED PIGEONS
coo from the rooftops.
Best Bird: RED-AND-YELLOW BARBET.
Just a stunning bird. It rightfully belongs on the cover of the Stevenson
Hardest Bird: OVAMBO SPARROWHAWK. One flew in a perched
overhead, a lucky find.
Missed Bird: ABYSSINIAN SCIMITARBILL. One was perched
in dense scrub near our car. Anthony and I have one of those “It is
right THERE” moments when in flies off.
Highlight: “Blue-balled Monkey”
Another day in Tarangire. We head to a marsh,
and pick up or first views
HAMMERKOP, COLLARD PRATINCOLE, AND COMB DUCK. Over 80 elephants are
out in the marsh feeding. RED-BILLED BUFFALO-WEAVERS and PALM SWIFTS
are common, along with a few WHITE-HEADED BUFFALO-WEAVER and SLATE-COLORED
BOUBOUS. Raptors are everywhere, including EASTERN CHANTING-GOSHAWK,
BATLEUR EAGLES, BROWN SNAKE-EAGLE and BLACK-THROATED SNAKE-EAGLE. This
day is somewhat quieter than the day before, and we come to appreciate
the peacefulness as well as the excitement of the bush.
Best Bird: MARTIAL EAGLE. An
impressive raptor, seen both soaring and perched
Hardest Bird: LESSER KESTRAL. Declining and endangered,
one seen perched.
Missed Bird: RED-FRONTED TINKERBIRD. Seen by Anthony
briefly, then flew.
Highlight: AFRICAN HAWK-EAGLE. A pair was chasing a
francolin. One hit it, the feathers flew, but the francolin escaped.
We drive today from Tarangire to Lake Manyara.
On the way we pass the zebra kill,
and there is now little left but a backbone and some scraps. We also
see our second set of lions, this time a group of three with a wildebeest
kill in the bushes. We stop at the Tarangire Safari Lodge for lunch
on the way out. The food is great (Mexican, no less), and we pick up
YELLOW-BELLIED GREENBUL and COQUI FRONCOLIN for good measure.
The road to Arusha leads us to the turnoff to
Lake Manyara, and Anthony says this used to be one of the worst roads
in the country. Then the Japanese came in, and now there is glass smooth
blacktop all the way to the entrance gate to Ngorongoro Crater. The
Japanese offered to continue on all the way to Lake Victoria, but the
Tanzanians thought that such a road across the Serengeti would only
bring more people, faster driving, and more disruption to the animals.
They consciously choose less development, even when someone else was
paying the tab. Interesting. The contrast was stark as we left the Japanese
road and headed in on the rough dirt track to E Unoto Retreat, just
outside of Lake Manyara NP. We passed through some of the most desolate
terrain we would see on the whole trip, bare dirt and rock with hardly
any vegetation. We started to kid that someone should put a model Mars
rover out there, it looked that barren. We did pick up some good birds
however, including FISHER’S SPARROW-LARK and SOMALI SHORT-TOED LARK.
I was starting to worry, but just as we got to the lodge the landscape
turned green. The E Unoto Retreat is nestled up against the Rift Valley
escarpment. It is owned by an American, but managed by the Maasai.
We spend the remainder of the day looking around
the environs of the lodge, picking up VIOLET-BACKED STARLING, BRONZE
MANNIKIN and LESSER STRIPED-SWALLOW.
Best Bird: SADDLE-BILLED STORK.
Killer views in Tarangire just as we were leaving
Hardest Bird: GRAY KESTRAL. Seen perched in Tarangire.
Biggest Miss: RED-FRONTED BARBET. Seen by Anthony as
we drove up to E Unoto and not relocated
BLUE-NAPED MOUSEBIRD. Seen by Anthony several times on our walk, but
always as fly-bys at a distance.
We spend the day in Lake Manyara National Park.
Because of the ground water here, it is relatively lush forest, the
habitat is much closer to Arusha NP than Tarangire. As we toured the
visitor’s center while Geitan handled the paperwork for entry, we were
shocked by what we read in the guestbook at the visitor’s center. Several
tourists who had exchanged their currency for Tanzania shillings were
denied entry to the park; they take only US dollars!
Manyara offered our first view of hippos, with
first views of BLACK-WINGED STILT, GREY-CROWNED CRANE and our only view
of PALM-NUT VULTURE and BLACK HERON. At a picnic spot, a tame RED-AND-YELLOW
BARBET kept us company, while CLIFF CHAT pairs worked the surrounding
Best Birds: SILVERY-CHEEKED HORNBILL.
The casque on the bill is quite impressive
RED-AND-YELLOW BARBET. A bird that never disappoints.
Hardest Birds: CRESTED GUINEAFOWL. A pair was located
near the entrance to the park
PETER’S TWINSPOT. A single male off the side of the road in Manyara
Highlight: Manyara’s famous tree lions. Two females
were found in a tree, affording good looks and photos.
We leave E Unoto Retreat and stop at a Maasai
primary school for the distribution of our remaining supplies. Again
we are received by the director and have a tour of the school before
we distribute our gifts. The children seemed so happy with their new
pencils; we reflected on this moment when we stopped by the toy department
in Harrod’s in London on the way back. Our society seems like wretched
excess in comparison.
We stop in town for a spot where Anthony has previously
seen VERREAUX’S EAGLE-OWL. We walk through yellow acacia woodland, and
get good looks at AFRICAN GOSHAWK and OPEN-BILLED STORK, but no owl.
We spend about an hour, and I am ready to throw in the towel, when the
owl flies right by us and lands in a tree. I get good photos with my
camera, but I now wish I had gone back to the car for the scope for
and digiscoping camera and gotten a shot that way. We then drove to
Gibbs Farm on the slope of the Ngorongoro crater. The farm has been
there for decades and has wonderful gardens, great staff and fabulous
views of the valley below.
The parking lot had a tree filled with BRONZE
SUNBIRDS and occasional COLLARED SUNBIRDS. SPECKLED MOUSEBIRDS were
plentiful, as were BAGLAFECHT’S WEAVERS (two races). We loved Gibbs
Best Bird: VERREAUX’S EAGLE-OWL
Hardest Bird: AFRICAN GOSHAWK
Highlight: All the children in the school holding up
their pencils and cheering.
We took a walk into the Ngorongoro Conversation
Area behind Gibb’s Farm large organic vegetable garden. We could not
go in early, because the elephants and buffalo come down from elevation
to the surrounding forest in the night, and it is not safe to bump into
one in dense forest.
The walk was somewhat quiet. We did have soaring
a MOUNTAIN BUZZARD and BAT HAWK, along with a GREY-CAPPED WARBLER. Finally
we saw what Anthony was looking for, a brief but stunning view of SCHLOW’S
TURACO. It is emerald green above and deep scarlet below, and it just
stopped me in my tracks.
Best Bird: SCHLOW’S TURACO
Missed Bird: MOUSTACHED TINKERBIRD, heard by Anthony
but not seen.
Highlight: Gibbs Farm gardens, food, and staff.
That morning Anthony and I met early to bird the
gardens. We had numerous OLIVE THRUSHES at ground level, and in the
canopy were CARDINAL WOODPECKER, BLACKCAP and WHITE-TAILED BLUE-FLYCATCHER.
Moving down to the gardens we found migrating EURASIAN BEE-EATERS along
with TAMBORINE DOVE, BLUE-SPOTTED WOOD-DOVE, and a flock of AFRICAN
We then gathered ourselves together and left Gibbs Farm for the Ngorongoro
Sopa Lodge. As we gained elevation we encountered CINNAMON-CHESTED BEE-EATERS,
a specialty of the area. After checking into the Sopa lodge we descended
into the crater. Ngorongoro crater is a wonderful area, but it is heavily
visited and at times we felt like we were in an animal park. We picked
up some good birds including YELLOW-BILLED KITE at a picnic spot. The
lake in the crater was almost dry, but a small stream of water was enough
to bring in PIED AVOCET, GREATER FLAMINGO, CAPE TEAL and YELLOW-BILLED
DUCK. We also got to see COMMON OSTRICH mating, which involves quite
a bit of wing waving and neck gyrations on the male’s part.
After calling it a day, we left the lake and headed
back to the lodge. We soon came across a group of cars by the side of
the road, usually a good sign. Sure enough, there was a Cheetah with
a kill. We had been warned that too many cars could stress the animal
and put it off its kill, so we just looked briefly and then headed off.
Anthony spotted something in the distance, and urged Geitan to hurry
up. After a kilometer or more, we find that he had spotted a pair of
Rhinoceros, mother and baby, who gave us somewhat distant but satisfying
views. We were lucky, in that rhinos had not been seen in the crater
in four days. Flushed with success, we continued back, saw a small group
of cars around a tree, and got a good look at our only Leopard of the
trip. Ngorongoro lives up to its reputation!
Best Bird: GRAY-CROWNED CRANE,
close in and in good light.
Hardest Bird: YELLOW-BILLED DUCK
Highlight: Cheetah, Rhino, Leopard, 1-2-3, all in 40
Anthony and I birded the Sopa lodge grounds that
morning, and picked up some good birds including GOLDEN-WINGED SUNBIRD,
TACAZZE SUNBIRD, WHITE-NAPED RAVEN, and STREAKY SEEDEATER. We left the
Sopa Lodge after breakfast for one last tour through the crater. We
watched a pride of 11 Lions try unsuccessfully to stalk a mixed heard
of Zebra and Wildebeest. Most appeared to be juveniles, and didn’t seem
to know quite what to do. After lunch in the crater, we pressed on for
the long, dusty, bumpy, hot drive to Ndutu Lodge on the eastern fringe
of the Serengeti. Did I mention it was dusty? More than once I wished
for Japanese engineers that afternoon.
Best Bird: AFRICAN WOOD-HOOPOE,
at a picnic spot in the crater
Hardest Birds: CINNAMON BRACHEN-WARBLER, on the grounds
of Sopa Lodge. A notorious skulker.
CHESTNUT-BANDED PLOVER, with chicks on the lake in the crater on our
Biggest Miss: AFRICAN QUAILFINCH, seen by Anthony as
we drove by in the crater.
After settling into Ndutu Lodge the night before,
we enjoyed looks at the FISHCER’S LOVEBIRD and GREY-BREASTED SPURFOWL
that would come to their water pool outside the dining room. The drive
that day was somewhat quiet bird-wise; the lake behind Ndutu Lodge was
dry, but we still managed good looks at SECRETARY BIRD and EASTERN CHANTING
Unlike Ngorongoro, we were entirely alone near
Ndutu when we spotted a Cheetah stalking a lone immature Impala. The
cat and the antelope stared at each other while the cat moved very slowly
forward. When he finally charged, the Impala ran towards us, into trees
and away. The Cheetah walked over to the road, plopped down in front
of us to recover from the chase. After awhile he moved off the road
so we could continue, allowing very close views. Two kilometers later
we spotted a second Cheetah stalking a head of Grant’s Gazelle. She
was able to hide and let them approach her. After an hour when she finally
charged, she was on one gazelle in literally 2-3 seconds. She dragged
her kill to some clumps of grass where she started to feed, all the
while keeping a watchful eye for any predators that might come to take
her prize away. Watching this hunt was one of the most memorable parts
of the trip. It occurred to me later that an all-out birding group probably
would have not stopped and spent the time to watch the drama.
Best Bird: BLACK-LORED BABBLER,
my 300th bird of the trip
Memorable Moment: Cheetah hunt.
This day we had a gruelling drive across the Serengeti
to Speke Bay Lodge, a total of 10 hours in the van. The western Serengeti
was more scenic than the eastern half, with more trees, hills and rivers.
Anthony and Geitan managed to find a WATER THICK-KNEE and STRIATED HERON
along the river edge. Anthony’s sharp eyes picked up a YELLOW-THROATED
LONGCLAW hidden in the grass as we bounced along. We were happy to reach
the western entrance to the park, pull onto tarmac road and make our
way to Speke Bay Lodge on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Best Bird: YELLOW-BILLED STORK.
One fishing in the Grumeti River
Most Difficult Bird: AFRICAN GOLDEN WEAVER. One perched,
Biggest Miss: Probable African Cuckoo, seen flying
dead away from us in the car, but not a good enough view to identify
Highlight: Two female lion with four cubs and kill,
just off the road in the Serengeti
I was starting to question the wisdom of the long
drive to Speke Bay after the previous day’s drive. Getting up the next
day however, the new birds just started rolling in, and then it seemed
like a capital idea. Anthony and I quickly had both RED-CHESTED and
SCARLET- CHESTED SUNBIRDS, along with BLACK-HEADED GONOLEKS, SLENDER-BILLED
WEAVER, and SWAMP FLYCATCHER. On the shore of the lake were numerous
GLOSSY ISIS, HADADA IBIS, RUFF, PIED KINGFISHER and WATTLED LAPWING.
I managed to find one TEMMICK’S STINT in a group of LITTLE STINTS, while
GREY-HEADED GULLS could be seen with the scope in the distance. I managed
to find a few GULL-BILLED TERNS and WHITE-WINGED TERNS amongst the flocks
of WHISKERED TERNS. Anthony is surprised to learn that we have Gull-billed
Tern in the US.
Anthony and I bird the grounds of the lodge and
in addition to SPOTTED THICK-KNEE he is pleased to pick up a HEULGIN’S
COURSER. The courser hunkers down and allows me to approach if I move
very slowly (“Like a cheetah” Anthony jokes) and I get great photos.
That afternoon Anthony comes to get me, he says
we are going out looking for nightjars. “But it is daylight, shouldn’t
we wait for dusk?” I ask. “No, we look for them on the ground” Anthony
replies. So we stand under some trees, looking at the leaf-litter not
20 feet away with our binoculars. Apparently this makes them easier
to see. Within a few minutes we pick up both SQUARE-TAILED and SLENDER-TAILED
NIGHTJARS, and I learn a new birding technique.
We happen to be at Lake Victoria during the five
days a year that the lake flies are mating. Within 100 yard of the shore,
the bushes are literally covered with mosquito-sized flies. They don’t
bite, but as you walk by they swarm and fly into your eyes, ears, and
nose. Clouds of them look like dense fog in the distance. We are there
on day 2 and 3 of the flies, and as some die there are piles of dead
flies underneath the walkway lights at Speke Bay. The ANGOLA SWALLOWS
are working as hard as they can to take their toll on the flies, but
there are so many that it hardly makes a dent.
The flies are an annoyance, but also quite a spectacle
of nature. I try to imagine the number of flies if they are covering
the whole of Lake Victoria, and my brain can’t handle numbers that quickly
Best Bird: SCARLET-CHESTED SUNBIRD
Hardest Bird: HEUGLIN’S COURSER
Memorable Moment: Lake Victoria lake fly eruption.
Originally we were going to spend this day in
Speke Bay and then fly back to Arusha on the 27th for the evening KLM
flight back. Speke Bay was full however, so we drive back to Ndutu Lodge
and spend the night there. On the way out I was concerned about all
the driving, but it turned out wonderfully. For those two days we got
to relive parts of our safari as a perfect ending to a great trip.
The drive back to Ndutu Lodge was not as long
as on the way out, probably because we were birding a bit less. We still
managed to pick up good species, including early migrant EURASIAN SWIFTS
and a BLACK-BILLED BARBET at riverside that Anthony was quite pleased
to find. We find WHITE-HEADED VULTURE perched and soaring.
That night at Ndutu Lodge, I hear an owl hooting
at dusk. I try to find it, but it stops, and I decide to respect the
signs warning guests of the lodge not to go wandering into the bush.
Best Birds: SOUTHERN GROUND-HORNBILL.
A small group just off the road
AFRICAN HOOPOE. Very impressive, even for non-birders
Hardest Bird: BLACK-BILLED BARBET. Riverside in the
Our last day in Africa. We are ready to go home
to our families, but sad to leave. We pass our last lion of the trip,
a lone female surveying the Serengeti from a kopje. We drive back via
the Ngorongoro crater rim, and have a lovely lunch at Gibbs Farm. Our
last baobab tree is on the descent of the rift valley escarpment down
to Lake Manyara, and my last lifer is a MOTTLED SWIFT flying nearby.
Anthony and Geitan have thoughtfully arranged for us to have a shower
and changed of clothes in a tented camp in Manyara before the long trip
home. I still have the image of the camp with its manicured lawn, the
yellow acacia trees with AFRICAN GREY HORNBILLS flying through the branches,
and Vervet Monkeys foraging below. There is no place quite like Africa.
It is dark by the time by the time we reach Arusha,
and on the way to the airport we have to pull over for a police motorcade
with lights flashing. It is the defendants in the Rwanda genocide trials
Geitan tells us, being escorted from the courtroom where the trials
are taking place to their quarters. We reach the airport, and after
an emotional farewell with Anthony and Geitan we are off.
TIPS FOR BIRDING AND TRAVEL
BIRDING AND BEYOND
It is hard to say enough complimentary things
about Birding and Beyond. Anthony and Geitan became our friends during
the time we were there. They are both phenomenal in picking out wildlife,
both avian and otherwise. While Geitan was driving, Anthony was ALWAYS
scanning for the next sighting, even when we were tired and nodding
off. Anthony knows his birds (Geitan isn’t any slouch in this department
either). Geitan knows the mammals and history of Tanzania, both have
the ability to make you feel well cared for. While we did not have a
chance to meet Tina, who makes the arrangements back in Arusha, she
did a great job in getting us the best rooms at each lodge. (best views,
double vs. single beds, etc.)
Anthony is now a co-leader for one of the major
US birding tour companies when they come to Tanzania. They do the same
tour that we were on, with 16 people instead of 4, stay in the same
lodges, same number of days, for twice the price. It is good to be smug.
I took Stevenson and Fanshawe’s “Guide to the
Birds of East Africa”, as well as Sinclair and Ryan’s Birds of “Africa
South of the Sahara” (Ian Sinclair guides for Birding and Beyond on
occasion, by the way). Anthony had a copy of Stevenson and a copy of
Zimmerman’s Birds of “Kenya and Northern Tanzania.” While we had three
field guides, we basically used Stevenson 99% of the time, and I think
you would be fine to use it as your only reference. I have made up a
quick-reference index for the Stevenson book in Excel format, which
I will happily share if you e-mail me the request.
Having said the above about the field guides,
they do have their own strengths, and I used all three to get ready
for the trip. The most helpful thing I did was to buy a copy of the
VHS tape “A Nature Safari to Kenya and Northern Tanzania” from the ABA,
and watch it with the sound off. As each new bird would come into view,
I would pause the tape, try to identify it, and then write down my ID.
I then went through and saw how I did. I would get most, and miss some,
but it allowed me to hit the ground running once we got to Tanzania.
I almost didn’t bring my scope, since I thought
it wouldn’t work well in the car, and we would be outside of the car
so little. What a mistake that would have been. We used it daily, propped
inside of the car, and when we were outside at the lodges, at lunch
sites, and when we were outside of the parks.
I used a Nikon 8800 8 megapixel point-and shoot
with a 10X optical zoom, and a 1.7X converter. It was great to have
that degree of magnification, and I got some great pictures with it.
On the down side, it is somewhat slow, both with time between hitting
the shutter and exposure, and the time it takes to process the image
before you are ready to shoot again. I also found the auto-focus would
get confused with vegetation between me and the subject, and the manual
focus mechanism is cumbersome. If I had it to do over again I would
look into a digital SLR. However, since I am not really a photographer,
I would have a hard time spending more on my camera than I did on my
I also used an Epson P-2000 digital storage device.
It performed flawlessly, and allowed my to take an essentially unlimited
number of pictures stored on the 40 gb hard drive. It is also handy
for showing pictures on our TV when we returned.
When you see close to 100 species a day, day after
day, with most lifers, it is hard to keep track of what you have seen
(what a great problem to have!). I used the Birds of the World add-on
to Avisys to generate a hard copy list of all Tanzanian species, added
in some blank pages for notes and mammals list, and had it bound at
Kinkos. I used a pocket digital voice recorder in the field, then I
would check off what I had seen that night on the bound checklist. It
makes this trip report much, much easier to write.
The preferred currency for everything except minor
purchases is US dollars. Make sure you bring crisp, new bills. One lodge
would not accept the older “small head” US bills in large denominations,
because of the concerns of counterfeit bills coming in from Europe.
On the flight into Arusha, try to sit near the
front or the back of the plane, so you can get off quickly. Then head
immediately for the window where you purchase your visas. This line
gets quite long, and it is good to be at the front.
We took only nylon travel clothes, and there is
no other way to go. They wash out in the sink, and are dry by the next
day. It allows you to pack light. Many lodges do have laundry service
however, at E Unoto Lodge it was free.
Tanzanians are very polite and gracious people.
Every conversation must start with an exchange of something like “How
are you today?”, “Very well thank you, and you?” “Quite well, thank
you”. While essentially everyone speaks English, they are obviously
pleased with any Swahili that we learned. They will be even more pleased
if you acknowledge that their language is actually named Kiswahili;
Swahili is a misnomer used by foreigners. A dozen words go a long way,
learn these before you go and then build from there:
How are you? Habari?
How are you today? Habari ya leo?
How are you this morning? Habari ya asubuhi?
How are you this afternoon? Habari ya mchana?
How are you this evening? Habari ya jioni?
Well, good Nzuri
Very well, excellent Nzuri-sana
Thank you Asanti
Thank you very much Asanti-sana
You are welcome Karibu
You are very welcome Karibu-sana
Very sorry Pole-sana
We decided to spend two nights in Europe both
going and coming. While is cut down some on our Africa time, it did
provide a nice European “book-end” to the Africa experience. We stayed
in Amsterdam on the way over and London on the way back. Between the
two I preferred Amsterdam. It is more exotic with its canals and bicycles,
very accessible, and cheaper than London.
GIVING BACK TO TANZANIA
We wanted to give back in some way to the people
of Tanzania. Many tours will hand out treats to children as they drive
by, and we did do some of this. The downside is that it encourages the
children to beg for treats with each car that passes. Much better I
think to visit a school or orphanage and give supplies to them. Pens
and pencils are in high demand, along with some items unique to their
situation (the orphanage needed mosquito nets). We also made a cash
donation to both places, but this is entirely at your discretion. Ask
your tour operator what they would suggest. Don’t pass up this opportunity,
it is a great way to connect to the people, and gave us some of the
best memories of the trip.
TANZANIA BIRDING TRIP REPORT
Tanzania February 12 – 26th 2005
By Keith Riding
Saturday, February 12th, 2005.
We had travelled from Uganda to Dar es Salaam and booked into a hotel
the previous day, that Anthony had arranged for us. Anthony met us whilst
we were eating breakfast. I had been out at dawn and returned to pick
up Mog for breakfast at 0700 hrs. We quickly checked out and met Gaitan,
our driver. We drove out of Dar, chatting earnestly. We didn’t really
see much until we reached Mikumi National Park. Gaitan drove slowly
though the park. We saw some interesting birds, but we weren’t allowed
out of the bus. Yes, it was a small bus that we had all to ourselves.
We stopped for lunch at the Mikumi Genesis Hotel. Anthony and Gaitan
ate elsewhere. After lunch, we drove out of the park and at the town
of Mikumi; we turned right up a dirt track into a Miombo forest, which
was lovely. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed out of the bus here either
as the army was around, but we saw some nice birds anyway. We carried
on to Udzungwa National forest for about an hour, arriving at a very
basic hotel, the Udzungwa Mountain View Hotel, in the middle of the
forest, where we had a wonderful cooked supper of Impala, with soup
for starters and crepes for dessert. There was even an air-conditioner
in the room if we wanted it.
N.B. I entered the bird sightings
into the software program “BirdBase” and the output is in this format.
The ones in red are ‘lifers’ and the comments are in blue, just to make
it easier to read.
Dar es Salaam; Sea Cliff Hotel at dawn.
Trip Date: 12-2-05
Species Seen: 7
|House CrowHouse SparrowSomali BuntingF Brown-breasted Barbet
|Corvus splendensPasser domesticusEmberiza poliopleuraLybius melanopterus
Morogoro to Mikumi National Park;
Trip Date: 12-2-05
Species Seen: 28
|African Palm-SwiftBarn SwallowSacred IbisBlack Kite
|Cypsiurus parvusHirundo rusticaThreskiornis aethiopicusMilvus migrans
Several were seen throughout the day.
|Helmeted GuineafowlSpotted FlycatcherLilac-breasted RollerRattling Cisticola
F Pale-billed Hornbill
|Numida meleagrisMuscicapa striataCoracias caudataCisticola chiniana
About a dozen birds were seen throughout
|European RollerF Zanzibar Bishop||Coracias garrulusEuplectes nigroventris|
Several males and females were seen washing
themselves in a pond.
|F Bertram’s Weaver||Ploceus bertrandi|
Several males and females were seen washing
in a pond.
|Long-tailed FiscalFan-tailed WidowbirdRed-faced Cisticola||Lanius cabanisiEuplectes axillarisCisticola erythrops|
Anthony recognized the song and we saw
one fly up from the grass into a tree.
|White-backed VultureBrown-crowned TchagraSpotted Morning-Thrush||Gyps africanusTchagra australisCichladusa guttata|
Anthony heard these
|Southern Ground-HornbillStriped Kingfisher||Bucorvus leadbeateriHalcyon chelicuti|
A couple were seen.
|European Bee-eaterMarabou StorkYellow-billed OxpeckerCommon Bulbul
|Merops apiasterLeptoptilos crumeniferusBuphagus africanusPycnonotus barbatus
Near Udzungwa just after Mikumi; A Miombo
Trip Date: 12-2-05
Species Seen: 11
|Red-eyed DoveEuropean Bee-eaterFan-tailed WidowbirdEmerald-spotted Wood-Dove
|Streptopelia semitorquataMerops apiasterEuplectes axillarisTurtur chalcospilos
Several were seen foraging in a tall tree.
|Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird||Pogoniulus bilineatus|
One was heard.
|White-headed Black-Chat||Myrmecocichla arnotti|
Two pairs were seen.
|Fork-tailed DrongoBlack-crowned Tchagra||Dicrurus adsimilisTchagra senegala|
We saw the Brown-crowned Tchagra earlier.
|Yellow BishopAfrican Pied Wagtail||Euplectes capensisMotacilla aguimp|
En route to Udzungwa; from Mikumi.
Trip Date: 12-2-05
Species Seen: 5
|Brown-hooded KingfisherRed BishopWire-tailed SwallowLesser Striped-Swallow
|Halcyon albiventrisEuplectes orixHirundo smithiiHirundo abyssinica
Sunday, February 13, 2005.
Anthony and Gaitan were due to call for us at
0630 hrs for breakfast, so I got up a little earlier to see if there
were any Owls in the garden. There were not, but I did hear one calling
in the night. The four of us had a nice breakfast together and we left
at 0700 hrs. We gave them a nice tip because they gave us a great supper
and Mog took a picture of Teddy.
We drove for about two hours on a terrible road, (it should have taken
one and a half hours), to Kilombero Marsh, a vast expanse of marsh alongside
the Kilombero River. We got out of the bus about a quarter of a mile
from the river and walked to it. Almost immediately, Anthony found the
White-tailed Cisticola, a recently discovered bird (about 1999, I think)
and then the Coucal and the special Kilombero Weaver. A little later
he found the Kilombero Cisticola. At the river he found the Lapwing.
On the way back I found a lifer for him, the Fulleborn’s Longclaw. We
had a good morning! Back at the hotel, we had lunch together and then
quickly packed and took off again.
On the road we got stopped by a policeman wanting a bribe, but Gaitan
refused to pay and paid the full penalty of 60,000 shillings, which
made the policeman write out a ticket with his number on it. Gaitan
will contest the ticket later. We stopped in the Miombo forest again,
and this time, I managed to get Anthony out of the bus and keep him
out, although he wouldn’t walk, ostensibly because of the army being
in the forest. ( This very excellent birding area has been occupied
by the Tanzanian army,walking and use of Cameras by foreigners is prohibited
) We saw a few more species than if we had stayed in the bus, I believe.
It was a long drive in the wonderful hours between 1700 and 1900 when
everything cools down and the light is great. When we arrived at the
Morogoro Kola Hills Hotel, Anthony settled us in and then took off promising
to call for us about 0900 hrs in the morning.
Udzungwa Mountain View Hotel & journey
to Kilombero Marsh;
Trip Date: 13-2-05
Species Seen: 20
|Common BulbulBlack KitePied CrowAfrican Wood-Owl||Pycnonotus barbatusMilvus migransCorvus albusStrix woodfordii|
One was heard in the early hours. I described
the call to Anthony and he told me.
|Trumpeter Hornbill||Ceratogymna bucinator|
Several were crying in the dawn light
and one was seen.
|Village Weaver||Ploceus cucullatus|
A medium sized colony was in some Palm
Several were seen again today.
Southern Brown-throated Weaver
Three or four small colonies were seen
en route. Anthony said that he discovered them last year.
|F Bat-like Spinetail||Neafrapus boehmi|
I spotted two of these birds whilst we
were at the Southern Brown-throated Weaver site.
|Pin-tailed WhydahRed-eyed DoveFork-tailed DrongoWhite-fronted Bee-eater||Vidua macrouraStreptopelia semitorquataDicrurus adsimilisMerops bullockoides|
Kilombero Marshes; It was a vast area,
Trip Date: 13-2-05
Species Seen: 29
|Coppery-tailed Coucal||Centropus cupreicaudus|
Several were sitting up high on clumps
of grass and calling.
One was seen almost right away and later
others were seen.
|African OpenbillFan-tailed WidowbirdRed-headed Quelea||Anastomus lamelligerusEuplectes axillarisQuelea erythrops|
Small flocks of these birds swirled over
|Pied KingfisherF Kilombero Weaver||Ceryle rudisPloceus burnieri|
A small colony was found and then others
were seen later as we walked to the river.
|Gray-headed Sparrow||Passer griseus|
The southern variety was seen.
|Palm-nut Vulture||Gypohierax angolensis|
Several flew over.
|Jameson’s FirefinchRufous-tailed Shrike||Lagonosticta rhodopareiaLanius isabellinus|
I saw this bird in Greece.
|F Kilombero Cisticola||Cisticola sp.|
This was the most difficult to find today,
but it had a characteristic call or song.
|Spur-winged GooseAfrican Marsh-HarrierLong-tailed CormorantEuropean Bee-eater
|Plectropterus gambensisCircus ranivorusPhalacrocorax africanusMerops apiaster
Three were perched on separate wires.
|Zebra WaxbillBlack-headed HeronGray HeronSpotted Sandpiper
|Sporaeginthus subflavusArdea melanocephalaArdea cinereaActitis macularia
One was seen through the telescope on
the far bank of the river.
|African Fish-EagleF Racket-tailed Roller||Haliaeetus vociferCoracias spatulata|
One was sitting on a telephone pole.
|F Dickinson’s Kestrel||Falco dickinsoni|
A gray Kestrel with a white head was
on a telephone pole.
|F Fasciated Snake-Eagle||Circaetus fasciolatus|
One was seen flying.
|Red-collared WidowbirdF Fuelleborn’s Longclaw||Euplectes ardensMacronyx fuellebornii|
I heard the two note song of this bird
and searched for it, finding it high up on top of a bush. I pointed
it out to Anthony. It was a lifer for him.
|Long-crested Eagle||Lophaetus occipitalis|
Kilombero to Miombo Forest at Mikumi;
Trip Date: 13-2-05
Species Seen: 4
|Gabar GoshawkLilac-breasted RollerWhite-winged WidowbirdHamerkop||Micronisus gabarCoracias caudataEuplectes albonotatusScopus umbretta|
Mikumi Miombo Forest; A second visit.
Trip Date: 13-2-05
Species Seen: 9
|Eastern Chanting-GoshawkF Variable Indigobird||Melierax poliopterusVidua funerea|
This was right next to the Chanting Goshawk.
|African Gray FlycatcherFork-tailed DrongoF Pale Batis||Bradornis microrhynchusDicrurus adsimilisBatis soror|
Both male & female were seen.
|White-headed Black-ChatRufous-bellied TitWhite-winged Black-TitRetz’s Helmetshrike||Myrmecocichla arnottiMelaniparus rufiventrisMelaniparus leucomelasPrionops retzii|
Mikumi to Morogoro; The Morogoro Kola
Trip Date: 13-2-05
Species Seen: 15
|White Helmetshrike||Prionops plumatus|
A few were together.
|Sulphur-breasted BushshrikeHelmeted GuineafowlGreen Woodhoopoe||Telophorus sulfureopectusNumida meleagrisPhoeniculus purpureus|
A very good view was had of two birds.
|Marabou StorkRed-billed OxpeckerWhite-bellied BustardRed-faced Cisticola
|Leptoptilos crumeniferusBuphagus erythrorhynchusEupodotis senegalensisCisticola erythrops
One flew over the road.
|Abdim’s StorkLesser Striped-SwallowDark Chanting-GoshawkCattle Egret
F Miombo Blue-eared Starling
|Ciconia abdimiiHirundo abyssinicaMelierax metabatesBubulcus ibis
One was seen.
Monday, February 14th, 2005.
I was up at 0640 hrs for a quick look around before breakfast at 0730
hrs. This was a buffet with local doctors attending a conference. At
0900 hrs. Gaitan and Anthony came for us and we set off right away to
drive to Amani, hardly stopping on the way. We did stop off for lunch
at a nice place by a road junction. We turned right to Amani and to
the left pointed Arusha, so we’ll likely pass that way again. Once in
the Amani Park, we arrived at 1600 hrs and walked the lower forest.
We walked up the mountain a fine distance and saw a few birds. After
a while we drove up the rest of the way and had a short walk before
dark. After dark at 1930 hrs we had supper with Anthony & Gaitan.
Morogoro Kola Hill Hotel; A quick look-see
Trip Date: 14-2-05
Species Seen: 5
|Collared Palm-Thrush||Cichladusa arquata|
Three birds were calling.
|House Sparrow||Passer domesticus|
There were many around the grounds.
|Pied CrowCommon BulbulBlue-breasted Cordonbleu||Corvus albusPycnonotus barbatusUraeginthus angolensis|
On the road to Amani; We only stopped
for pit stops.
Trip Date: 14-2-05
Species Seen: 6
|Red-collared WidowbirdF Black Bishop||Euplectes ardensEuplectes gierowii|
This bird has more red on the front.
|Yellow BishopZanzibar BishopLilac-breasted RollerRed-faced Cisticola||Euplectes capensisEuplectes nigroventrisCoracias caudataCisticola erythrops|
This has a very loud call for such a small
Eastern Usambara lower mountain; We walked
Trip Date: 14-2-05
Species Seen: 13
|Little GreenbulF Green-headed Oriole||Andropadus virensOriolus chlorocephalus|
We saw a young bird and heard the mother calling.
|F Half-collared Kingfisher||Alcedo semitorquata|
We saw two of these beautiful birds in
|Mountain Wagtail||Motacilla clara|
Two were also in the stream.
|Eastern Mountain-Greenbul||Andropadus nigriceps|
Anthony heard one.
|Square-tailed DrongoSombre GreenbulAfrican Paradise-FlycatcherForest Weaver||Dicrurus ludwigiiAndropadus importunusTerpsiphone viridisPloceus bicolor|
Two were seen.
|White-eared BarbetTrumpeter HornbillWestern Olive-SunbirdEastern Olivaceous Warbler||Stactolaema leucotisCeratogymna bucinatorCyanomitra obscuraHippolais pallida|
East Usambara high altitude; Around the
Trip Date: 14-2-05
Species Seen: 7
|Black-bellied Glossy-Starling||Lamprotornis corruscus|
Two were high in a tree.
|Waller’s StarlingWestern Olive-SunbirdF Amani Sunbird||Onychognathus walleriCyanomitra obscuraHedydipna pallidigaster|
A brilliant bird!
|Collared Sunbird||Hedydipna collaris|
This was in the same tree as the other
|F Uluguru Violet-backed
This was another brilliance in the same
|African Pied Wagtail||Motacilla aguimp|
Tuesday, February 15, 2005.
Anthony & I birded from 0630 – 0815 hrs and we had a wonderful time,
finding a really good spot where there were lots of birds. After breakfast,
the three of us (Gaitan had a morning off) hiked up to the peak where
there was a great lookout, over the forest and several tea plantations.
Lunch was at 1300 hrs and we ate together. At 1530 hrs Gaitan drove
us down the mountain and around the tea plantations which produced more
birds. We arrived back about 1900 hrs. just at dark and then ate together
at 1930 hrs. Anthony and Geitan told us some very nice stories about
their travel experiences with different birders they have taken out.It
was interesting how their kind of Job lets them exposed to people of
Amani National Park; E. Usambara Mountains
Trip Date: 15-2-05
Species Seen: 30
|Common BulbulTrumpeter HornbillWestern Olive-SunbirdGreen Barbet||Pycnonotus barbatusCeratogymna bucinatorCyanomitra obscuraStactolaema olivacea|
We heard this before we saw it.
|Scarce Swift||Schoutedenapus myoptilus|
Two flew overhead.
|Yellow-bellied GreenbulWhite-eared BarbetWhite-browed Robin-Chat||Chlorocichla flaviventrisStactolaema leucotisCossypha heuglini|
Two were singing and where they were
was an excellent site for birds in general.
|F Broad-ringed White-eye||Zosterops poliogaster|
Several were seen throughout the morning.
|Black SawwingAfrican Green-PigeonGreen-headed Oriole||Psalidoprocne holomelasTreron calvaOriolus chlorocephalus|
We saw this well and it was calling a
|Eastern Mountain-GreenbulAmani SunbirdGray Cuckoo-shrikeBlack-bellied Glossy-Starling
F Short-tailed Batis
|Andropadus nigricepsHedydipna pallidigasterCoracina caesiaLamprotornis corruscus
Anthony calls this “Forest Batis”.
|Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird||Pogoniulus bilineatus|
We saw this, whereas usually we hear it
and never see it!
|African Gray FlycatcherF Pallid Honeyguide||Bradornis microrhynchusIndicator meliphilus|
I spotted this, but Anthony confirmed
|F Cabanis’ Greenbul African Dusky FlycatcherCameroon Scrub-WarblerAfrican Palm-Swift
F Yellow-crowned Canary
|Phyllastrephus cabanisiMuscicapa adustaBradypterus lopeziCypsiurus parvus
One was in the scope.
A small flock flew by.
|Black-and-white Mannikin||Spermestes bicolor|
An other flock was this species.
|Tawny-flanked PriniaF Cabanis’ Bunting||Prinia subflavaEmberiza cabanisi|
Two birds were perched in front of us
for a while.
Amani National Park; E. Usambara Mtns.
Trip Date: 15-2-05
Species Seen: 13
|Trumpeter HornbillLong-crested EagleAfrican Paradise-FlycatcherAfrican Dusky Flycatcher
F Fischer’s Greenbul
|Ceratogymna bucinatorLophaetus occipitalisTerpsiphone viridisMuscicapa adusta
This was probably the dullest bird with
Fischer’s name attached to it.
|F Crowned Hawk-Eagle||Stephanoaetus coronatus|
This was a first.
|Square-tailed DrongoForest Weaver||Dicrurus ludwigiiPloceus bicolor|
There were three in a mixed flock of birds
around the Drongo.
|Green BarbetYellow-bellied GreenbulAfrican SwiftF Mountain Buzzard||Stactolaema olivaceaChlorocichla flaviventrisApus barbatusButeo oreophilus|
One flew over.
Amani National Park; E. Usambara Mtns.
Tea Plantation 3-7 pm
Trip Date: 15-2-05
Species Seen: 30
|Lesser Striped-SwallowCommon FiscalSpectacled WeaverBroad-ringed White-eye
|Hirundo abyssinicaLanius collarisPloceus ocularisZosterops poliogaster
One was perched high up on a tree.
Other Tanzania Trip Reports arranged by years.