February 18 – March 7 2017
Tour Leader – Peter Roberts
Local Bird Guide – Martin Joho
Driver/Guides – Vincent & Moses
Participants – Ian & Margaret Brooke; Ann & Tim Cleeves; Mike & Val Peacock; Alice Poinier; Caroline Wyatt
Mike, Val and myself set out from Islay on the 7am ferry, caught the bus to Glasgow from Kennacraig and were checking in at the airport by a little after 2pm for the flight to Amsterdam. Ian & Margaret and Ann & Tim were making their way to Amsterdam via Edinburgh and Newcastle respectively, while Alice and Caroline had much longer and more arduous journeys from the USA.
By mid-evening most of us had met up, and I knew that everyone was “in place” – either staying at the Ibis Budget hotel or the adjacent Ibis Hotel close to Schipol Airport.
All the group met up at the airport ready for the KLM #569 flight departing Amsterdam at 10.15am, direct to Arusha (Kilimanjaro) airport by the evening. On arrival we went through the usual rigmarole of immigration and customs, then met up with the transfer guys to take us to the KIA Lodge, just minutes from the airport for the night. Anthony phoned me to confirm we were all arrived safely and gave me the latest on the Wildebeest migration in the Serengeti, which, because of drought, is all over the place this year: none in the usual SE short-grass plains and most centred in the central Seronera area.
A bit of optional pre-breakfast birding produced a few common species to start the ball rolling – Variable and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Common Bulbul, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Mourning & Namaqua Doves included. While having breakfast I was asked to identify a bird one of the other guests had photographed. It was the Spotted Eagle-owl I’d been looking for earlier, and it was roosting by cabins 5 & 6!. We of course found time to quickly go and have a look before we headed off to the airport at 8.10am for our flight to Mwanza. The flight was very prompt, departing as scheduled at 9.40am and arriving on time a little after 11am, where our Drivers – Moses and Vincent and local bird guide Martin were awaiting us.
We sorted ourselves into the two landcruisers and set off directly to Speke’s Bay Lodge, taking us a little longer than usual (a good 1.5+ hours) due to increased police checks along the way. We had snacks in the vehicles and were given a substantial late lunch on arrival. We then took to our rooms for a while and reconvened by the bar, right on the shores of the lake for a gentle stroll around the grounds of the Lodge. It was very dry here too, though storm clouds were gathering. A pleasant breeze kept temperatures cool, but I was very surprised by the comparative lack of bird activity. Of course, with some folks never having been to Africa before, we were finding great birds left right and centre, but the special, target species I was hoping for were hard to come by. We did in the end see 1-2 of most of the birds that we would only encounter here – Red-chested Sunbird, Swamp Flycatcher, Northern Brown-throated and Yellow-backed Weavers and Black-headed Gonoleks, but some were certainly not showing well or in abundance. We also found a few other interesting birds to start us off, and at times things were popping up thick and fast, but many were “regular” finds that hopefully we’ll see on several occasions in our travels. Spotted and Water Thick-knees showed well, White-bellied Canaries were just one of several small seedeaters seen. Silverbird, Pale Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, and some rather tatty, moulting Southern Red Bishops all added interest and a bit of varied colour. Quite a few Palearctic migrants were noted; from the usual shorebirds to a range of races of Western Yellow Wagtails.
We returned at about 5pm, had a beer on the deck facing out over Speke Bay – a massive bay, but in reality a tiny fragment of the lake itself. Once refreshed I made further attempts to find Three-banded (Heuglin’s) Courser by asking the barman George! He now doubles up as a bird guide and quickly took us to a patch of shaded bush where they were skulking. Full frame scope views were very satisfactory; hopefully they will stay put to show everybody else who had already dropped out of the afternoon’s activities by this time.
We had a good supper enlivened by much conversation about the state of world politics, possibly engendered and enhanced by provision of a couple of bottles of “bubbly” to celebrate Tim & Ann’s 40th wedding anniversary today.
This morning we met up at 6.15am and went back to our cabins again for 15 minutes until it got light! Thereafter we took a short wander around the grounds concentrating on the lake edge until a breakfast at about 7.45am. We managed to catch up with just about all of the special birds of the area after such a slow start yesterday afternoon. The Slender-billed Weavers miraculously reappeared in decent numbers. Northern Brown-throated Weavers were found nest-building as were just 1-2 of the Black-headed (Yellow-backed) Weavers. African Reed Warblers showed well and convinced us that several others we were seeing in “odd” habitat were wintering Eurasian. Sedge Warblers too were seen well in the same reedy and bulrush fringes of the lake as resident Lesser Swamp Warblers. With water levels high and little rain there were a few locals at the lake edge filling 10 gallon containers with water and walking back to their villages – crazy that this should still be the norm in the 21st century. A few waterbirds were noted on the lake edge including African Openbills, Spur-winged Plovers, Black Crake, African Pygmy and Malachite Kingfishers. After breakfast there was a longer spell to go out again around the grounds until about 11.15 – 11.30am. This gave us the chance to revisit the highly secretive Three-banded Coursers seen yesterday afternoon, courtesy of George the barman. Wandering back through the lovely open acacias of the grounds we added a lot of new species. A Pearl-spotted Owlet was a good find – even better as it attracted in a horde of small birds mobbing it, including Buff-bellied Warblers, Red-faced Crombecs, Winding Cisticolas and Tawny-flanked Prinias. Dideric Cuckoos, White-browed Coucals, Grey-headed Kingfishers, Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Cardinal Woodpecker, Black-headed Gonolek, a group of Rufous Chatterers, plenty of lovely Red-chested Sunbirds and Isabelline Shrike. We also had our first good looks at Angola Swallows and relocated the Black-billed Barbet – all adding up to plenty of colour and pizazz.
We were ready for a quick and light lunch by midday and packed and away from this lovely first stop by 12.30pm. All agreed it was a smashing place that deserves longer time to do it justice – but we’ve a lot to see and do in just 16 days, so had to load up and head off the short distance to the Serengeti, arriving at the entrance gate at 1pm. Here we had a chance for a quick bit of birding while the drivers did the entry paperwork. A Pearl-spotted Owlet here provided a focus of attention for us and a lot of marauding birds, including new species such as first Brubru, Black-backecdPuffback and Mariqua Sunbird.
Then we set off through the Western Corridor of the Serengeti, all looking very dry and fairly deserted. Of course we began coming across our first big game animals – a handful of each of the common species we’d be seeing on a daily basis, such as Wildebeest, Zebra, Grant’s and Thomson’s Gazelles, Impala, Olive Baboons and Vervet Monkeys. But there was little time to stop for these this afternoon as we’d a long way to go and a couple of special “now or never” target species to try and find. First of these was Karamoja Apalis, only discovered in this area fairly recently. After 1-2 tries with playback we went to the spot where Martin and our drivers had succeeded before – and succeeded again, with three birds flying about and perching up to give us great looks at this distinctive and very localised bird. The other bird on our wanted list was Eastern Plantain-eater. This gave us the run-around, with no luck at the first stop along the lush riverine forest of the Grumeti River. Several other tries also failed and I’d given up and written it off for this tour. However, they drivers knew of one last spot and this turned up trumps with 4 seen, flying from one line of tall trees to another right over our vehicles.
Many other birds were seen along the way, but only looked at fairly cursorily because of time and knowing we’d have plenty of time to see them over and over again in the forthcoming days. We did stop for a family of Southern Ground Hornbills. Various good raptors were noted including first Bateleurs, a single African Harrier-hawk and a nice Little Sparrowhawk at the entrance gate. Although we’d see much more, I had to let folks indulge in some game-viewing and stopped for a beautifully lit Giraffe group along the way. Our first stop in the Serengeti turned out to be quite some place! We arrived at Kubu-Kubu Tented Lodge by about 6pm and were pleasantly surprised to find that it was much more swish and upmarket than anticipated and less than a year since it opened. A very pleasant permanent lodge under canvas, but beautifully appointed, lots of friendly well-trained staff and massive, tastefully furbished accommodations (can we really call them tents?) to luxuriate in. A lovely central dining area provided space for our bird list while we drank free beer and wine followed by a very fine 4 course meal – hardly the camping that any of us anticipated, but nobody was complaining!
The lodge is situated on a commanding overview on a slope looking across a huge area of the central Serengeti. There were scattered Wildebeest with calves below us – extremely unusual for this area, and in fact the first for me in 24 previous visitsat this time of year, as they’ve always been centred somewhere in the short-grass plains of the SE before. After dark the long-awaited rains appeared! There was an absolutely spectacular show of thunderstorms followed by substantial downpours across a wide horizon for hours while we ate supper. The whole vista of over 80 degrees was lit up with sheet lightning in stunning shows accompanied by bursts of deafening thunder. The rains have started – and in this year’s case, seem long-overdue. We hope it will liven things up tomorrow, but not be so wet that we can’t get anywhere in the mud!
The Serengeti is a vast preserve. At 5,675 square miles, it is larger than the entire state of Connecticut (or Yorkshire for us Brits!).With a further 3200 sq. miles protected in the surrounding Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the total is as large as Vermont or New Hampshire (or about the size of Wales). Our exploration began at 7am after breakfast with a morning drive into and around the central area of Seronera. With the dry weather making the bulk of the famous Wildebeest herd roam about in areas atypical for them, we were pleased to see long threads of hundreds, many with very newly born young, heading along eastwards perhaps towards the Ndutu area where we end up tomorrow afternoon. It was pleasantly cool to start with, and, as usual, this morning was given over to the main goal of finding Leopards, as this is the prime and easiest area to see them. We did very well, and were watching a splendid male Leopard up a tree by 9am. This animal, conveniently close to the track was not going anywhere as it had two Wildebeest calf carcasses up in the tree with it – enough food for a good few days. We watched and admired this beauty from as many angles as we could for a long while before heading off. We got only a short distance down the road when we were alerted to a Cheetah, lying almost totally hidden in longish grass. We parked up and waited and were rewarded with a few lovely looks as it sat up and peered about it before slumping down hidden from view again. After this excitement we continued along to the hippo pools on the main road where the Hippos were packed in tight in a fairly fetid looking pool, so close together that you could have walked across their backs from one side to the other – which is exactly what Wood and Common Sandpipers and Black Crakes were doing. With such good luck early on, we changed focus slightly to birding and began finding the first of a wide range of expected species. Everything form fine male Montagu’s Harriers, Black-shouldered Kites and Black-chested Snake-Eagles to displaying White-bellied Bustards, dainty Temminck’s Coursers and various passerines such as Rueppel’s Long-tailed Starlings, White-headed Buffalo-Weavers and Capped Wheatears.
We had a stop for a leg-stretch and the loos at one of the picnic sites out on the plains where an unexpected, but fascinating find was a smallish Rock Python up a tree full of Rufous-tailed Weaver’s nests. Needless to say, the weavers were not amused. Driving on from here we found our first Lions – a female with 3 cubs and a slightly separated adult pair. So, all three “Big Cats” in the first morning – what will we do for an encore in future days? We were back by a little before 1pm to a good sit-down lunch and a chance for a break in the heat of the day (and it was hot by now!).
We were out again at 4pm to take a run to Retima Hippo Pools. It was beginning to cloud over and look stormy, but the birding along the way was quite good. Tim spotted a Lesser Spotted Eagle – ID based on shape and upper wing pattern all very convincing. Other good raptors included several fine male Pallid Harriers and a Dark Chanting Goshawk. Some of us caught up with Coqui Francolin that we’d missed this morning, and at the same spot there were further White-bellied Bustards, Grey-headed Social-Weavers and Isabelline Wheatear. The track to Retima was definitely “off-road” and got quite mucky in places, but we eventually made it there at about 5.40pm. The Hippos were present in good numbers, and though the river levels were low, it looked a lot more sanitary than the pools we’d watched them in this morning. A first Yellow-billed Stork was present along with Hamerkop, but not much else. We played Flanders & Swann’s Hippopotamus Song and would like to think that the Hippos appreciated it, were interested and awakened from their slumbers. We headed back along a different route – longer in miles, but definitely on a better road, which was very well planned as the heavens opened on our return and instantly created floods pouring off the plains into substantial flows across the road in places. But by the later evening after supper and the bird list all the thunder and downpours had moved on, leaving a pleasant calm night.
We packed up and headed eastwards this morning at about 7.30am, about 50 miles out across the Serengeti Plains to the Ndutu region. However, we had time to play with in the morning and had a picnic lunch with us, so were fairly flexible about timing and where we went at first to look for birds and mammals. We made some circuits of the small rivers fringed with Yellowbark Acacia trees for a couple of hours before heading to the Seronera Visitor Centre for a leg-stretch and toilets while the vehicles filled up their tanks with fuel.
It was an extremely productive morning. We detoured at various times to include watching a large family of Lions – two females with 9 cubs, who were sauntering across the open grasslands oblivious of the attraction they caused with a large gathering of landcruisers. In fact some of them walked right through the middle of the parked vehicles, totally unconcerned that they were being watched and talked about loudly by 50 or more tourists! We also found another Cheetah, this one sat alone by large acacia surveying the wide horizons all around it. A quick check of yesterday’s Leopard tree was perfectly timed as the Leopard was climbing down from the tree to wander a few yards to go to the toilet! After this he wandered back through the vehicles, looked at us all with disdain and climbed part-way back up the tree giving some of those classic shots seen in safari documentaries. It finally, effortlessly, leapt further up into his tree to eat more of his stashed horde of succulent young Wildebeest – all quite exceptional. The birding was of course very good in pleasantly cool and partly cloudy, but dry weather. Once at the Seronera Visitor Centre we found the pleasant little walk/nature trail closed off because of Lions in the area, so had to make do with a bit of birding around the Centre itself. We found some good stuff here – best was an immature/female Irania, but also Vitelline and Lesser Masked Weavers, first Grey-capped Social-Weavers, Yellow-breasted Apalis, and Banded Parisoma. We now began our journey eastwards along the main, fast track to Naabi Gate, though took a few detours and dallied on a number of occasions as it was another very rewarding journey. Kori Bustards, flocks of Black-winged Plovers, Croaking and Stout Cisticolas, Montagu’s Harriers and more all made the birding quite exciting. Spotted Hyenas were scattered at regular intervals along the entire morning’s journey and at one point we halted to admire a group of 4 Lions right by the roadside, all crammed under a tiny bit of acacia for a bit of shade. Three of these were large and hugely impressive males with magnificent manes. They kindly got up and stretched at times to allow some decent photos, then promptly went back to sleep again as Lions so often do. As we progressed along the main road we began to encounter better numbers of Wildebeest and eventually came into some more meaningful numbers stretching across a 180′ arc out across the short grass plains that had finally began receiving some rain. This is always a very impressive sight, scanning with binoculars to witness dense herds as far as the eye could see; numbers must have been in tens of thousands?
At Naabi Gate we ate our picnic amongst various interesting species of birds intent on joining us – Rufous-tailed Weavers, Superb & Hildebrandt’s Starlings and Red-billed Buffalo-Weavers in particular. We did a little walk to the viewpoint on the top of Naabi Hill, though didn’t see much in the way of birds – but the view across further massive expanses of short grass plains towards Ngorongoro was impressive – though these, as yet are still devoid of Wildebeest, just the hardier Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelles managing to make a living out here in a very parched environment. We left Naabi at about 3.30pm and headed for Kenzan Tented Camp close to the edge of Lake Ndutu, reaching there about 5pm, via further Cheetah, Jackals, Hyenas and other good birds.
At the camp; a much more simple tented camp than where we’d just come from, we settled into our accommodation – all very adequate with private bathrooms and a man to bring us hot water for showers whenever required. Birds around the tents, in dry acacia scrub with some larger trees proved interesting. The Pearl-spotted Owlet call that had failed so miserably at Naabi, instantly bought in a deluge of birds – mostly sunbirds on this occasion. Scarlet-chested, Beautiful and Variable all came in to scold the imagined foe, as did first Black-faced Waxbill and odds and ends such as Grey-backed Camaroptera and Yellow-breasted Apalis. After a very good supper the staff of the camp gave us an impromptu, very jolly sing-song.
We awoke to stormy weather and a Slender-tailed Nightjar calling and briefly called in just before dawn proper. After our breakfast the heavens opened up and within minutes the ground was awash with water, which ran in torrents. This put paid to any thoughts of getting out for a game drive and we sat and watched the deluge until close to 9am before it ceased and it was deemed fit to go anywhere. We still had time paid in the National Park this morning so we made the best of it and at least managed to drive a little way along the edge of Lake Ndutu – though we could have gone a lot further with a full morning out. The lake edge provided further different habitats and a few birds and mammals of interest. As expected there were sightings of Kittlitz’s and Chestnut-banded Plovers and several catch-up Two-banded Coursers. Also here were a fine group of 4 Elephants, 3 of them substantial bulls.
We had to return to the camp for an early lunch before packing up and heading back to the National Park office at Ndutu to check out of the Park. This we duly did, in much better, dry, sunnier weather already quickly drying out the floods. While waiting here we usefully used the time to call in a Pearl-spotted Owlet with attendant scolding birds. Also here was a mating pair of Pygmy Falcons, a called in Dideric Cuckoo and nesting Fischer’s Lovebirds. Once formalities had been complete we headed off to the Angata Tented Camp which was very close by. Here we checked into our tents, had a short tea break and then went out for an afternoon/evening game drive. Our goal here was to watch over the large swamp areas out across the plains. There was still some ground water standing and making driving a little trickier for Moses and Vincent, but nothing that they hadn’t dealt with often before. First detour was for a call that a Leopard was close-by up a tree. We arrived just as it was leaving the tree – so nothing like yesterday’s views, but three days in a row is impressive. We saw masses of Two-banded Coursers, finally quashing Tim’s angst about dipping earlier. Around the swamp we managed to see a few of the usual shorebirds along with nice looks at first Black Coucal, eventually called in close for photos. A first pair of Grey Crowned Cranes is always a “crowd-pleaser” and in such lovely afternoon light was a super photo-shot. On our return the skies blackened again and threatened further rainstorms this evening. The Leopard was back up another tree and prior to that we’d seen our first very cute little group of Bat-eared Foxes extremely closely and confiding, out sunning themselves in the evening sunshine.
A shower in the very soda-rich local water was followed by a pleasant evening meal with power cuts from a dodgy generator towards the end. Bright starry skies tonight – maybe it will be bright and sunny tomorrow?
There were Slender-tailed Nightjars, Pearl-spotted Owlets and Verreaux’s Eagle-owls calling pre-dawn by the tents. Unfortunately with it being dark, even darker in the tents and having lost my only torch, none were seen, though I did try some playback as dawn broke.
After breakfast we headed out (minus Ann who stayed behind for a break and to write) onto the nearby short-grass plains via the various tributaries of the swampy valley. A few decent birds were seen as we went, driving in cool, fairly cloudy conditions to start with that cleared up into a bright, sunny day by lunchtime. One vehicle saw Taita Fiscal (and the first sightings of Golden Jackal), while all admired numerous Secretarybirds, and the “usual suspects”. Larks were few, but a lone Plain-backed Pipit was new. Once out on the plains we headed for a group of gathered safari vehicles to find a female Lion lying fairly deep and obscured in an isolated group of low, scrubby acacia trees. On closer inspection we could see that she had cubs – three in fact and all quite tiny – probably just weeks old. After some watching this “still life frieze” the mother rose, wandered out through the vehicles, just feet away and went to the toilet (just like the Leopard we’d seen a few days back – highly sanitary!). She then had a long drink from a mucky puddle and sauntered back to her hiding place, upon which the three cubs got lively and gave a lovely show of play. After watching this for a good while we drove further out into the vastness of the flat horizon, Once the distinctive shape of Naabi Hill disappeared off the horizon I was more totally lost than before; thank goodness the drivers are not only so skilled at driving out across today’s slick and muddy terrain, but also have an innate sense of direction – all this and they are finding birds and animals for us at the same time!
At some point in our further meandering we came across a small initial harbinger of the Wildebeest migration, with a small group of a few hundred animals rushing down onthe plains around the swamp. They then got nervous and raced back up to the acacia scrub – then decided it was alright after all and came rushing back again. A beast of limited brain? Later still into the morning we were alerted to a possible sighting of Cheetah and headed off directlytowards it. But directly wasn’t an option as the drivers knew that the perfectly innocuous land ahead was all too easy to get vehicles bogged down in. We took a major detour, but got there in the end and had the best experience of the morning, watching a superb female Cheetah with 4 well-grown cubs feasting on a freshly killed Grant’s Gazelle. Again we had long and uninterrupted viewing of the event at just about 30 yards distance; beautiful light and beautiful animals, the most prominent noise was the sound of camera shutters clicking!
We were speedily back by a bout 1pm for a substantial lunch with downtime until 3.30pm. At that time we nipped off to a more local area around Lake Masekand the dry thorn scrub that fringes it. The lake itself was quite full, but quite poor as far as birdlife went. A few submerged Hippos were the highlight. So we concentrated the remainder ofour time searching the acacia scrub for birds. Playing the call of Pearl-spotted Owlet worked very well at various randomly chosen points. Beautiful Sunbirds seem particularly susceptible and appeared in droves out of nowhere. They were accompanied by a few Variable and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds and a fine array of other followers. Red-faced Crombecs, Purple Grenadiers, Blue-capped Cordonbleus, Brubru, Yellow-bellied Eremomelas, Yellow-fronted Canaries, Red-fronted Barbet, Rattling Cisticolas, Slate-coloured Boubou, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Buff-bellied Warbler all came in to add their sentiments to the show. I was hoping throughout that one of the larger acacias would produce a Verreaux’s Eagle-owl and sure enough the drivers spotted a pair in a roadside tree. We had splendid views of these, pink eyelids flickering, before they really gave us a true impression of their size and flew across to another nearby tree. It was a pleasantly cool afternoon, back in time for a drink, showers and a beak before the bird log and supper.
There was some light rain again overnight, but nothing serious and our departure from Angata Camp at Ndutu at 7.30am was on schedule, the tracks not being too bad at all. Journeying east towards Olduvai there was much to see and look out for on the way. Although out of the National Park, we were still in the Conservation Area and driving the many miles across the “flat as a pancake”, open short grass plains we encountered a few of the first small herds of Wildebeest to arrive here this season and masses of Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelles and Common Zebra scattered across the 360′ vistas. As we drove, we were able to appreciate the huge scale of this ecosystem that we’d been travelling through west to east for several days by now — all the more remarkable for being preserved almost fully intact. A few of the hoped-for, more special birds appeared on cue. Red-capped Larks in small groups were much in evidence. The plains were scattered with Montagu’s Harriers, Fischer’s Sparrow-larks, Kori Bustards and Capped Wheatears. At the one large isolated tree on the plains we paused to watch Cape Rooks and Greater Kestrels making good use of this prominent landmark. Nearby on fresh swathes of budding grass were two separate groups – one of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, the other of the bigger Yellow-throated. Both allowed wonderfully close approaches for the photographers.
4 of the group had decided to visit a MaasaiBoma and diverted there before reaching Olduvai. The rest of us went directly to the Gorge and did half an hour’s birding before they arrived. The birding was a bit slow, but 1-2 interesting species popped up – notably a first Rufous-crowned Roller and a couple of lovely White-throated Bee-eaters. Once everyone was back together at Olduvai we had our picnic overlooking the layered rocks of the gorge. We were given a short, but very informative orientation talk and then wandered into the Museum with all its exhibits and artefacts of hominids and their world going back 3.6 million years. The Museum had not changed since my last visit, but I imagine it will by my next at this time next year as there were several new, partially built buildings destined to be a new museum, perhaps with more up to date ways of portraying this important site.
Those who had visited the Maasai, seemed to think it a worthwhile experience and learnt first-hand something of their unchanged way of life as open plain pastoralists. Their population has been (like much of the rest of the world) growing rapidly and on my last visit 15 months ago I had noticed a big increase in numbers of Maasai pushing further into the Conservation area around Ndutu with their livestock. Moses informed us that this has now been stopped, along with permission to descend into the Ngorongoro Crater as they had been illegally killing lions and other predators of their livestock. I hope it may mean that the wildlife flourishes a bit more and that the Maasai aren’t too put out by this new restriction – though it is difficult to imagine they won’t be.
From Olduvai we headed out at about 1.45 pm to travel directly up into the highlands towards the rim of the immense caldera of Ngorongoro. With the plains of the Serengeti now sadly behind we found ourselves in intermittent rain on the arrival at the Descent Road to the crater floor. However, some of the keener, hardier members stayed with me and had great views of Singing and Wailing Cisticolas after some playback. As we descended, the rain gave up and we were able to put the roof up again to do some productive birding on our descent. Yellow Bishop, several Schalow’s (Abyssinian) Wheatears and Northern Anteater-Chats plus a fine Yellow-fronted canary were great finds along with another Wailing Cisticola much further down than I’ve previously found them. The crater floor had received plenty of rain and there was a vibrant green flush of new grass. The huge numbers of varied ungulates all looked very content and it was a pleasure to make our way across the floor seemingly virtually the only vehicles down here this afternoon. While I normally go around the western tracks towards the ascent up to Sopa Lodge, Moses and Vincent had other (better) ideas and suggested a quick check for Black Rhinos. They must have heard something on the driver’s grapevine as they nipped along fairly quickly and had us watching a total of 5 of these prehistoric leviathans in short order. Two in particular were showing quite well – especially through the scope. While here’ we also came across a good array of new birds – Common (Steppe) Buzzard, plenty of Abdim’s Stork, Rueppell’s Robin-chat, Spur-winged Goose and a magnificent pair of Saddle-billed Storks – huge, colourful and impressive, especially when they made a couple of short flights.
We exited the Park as required, a little before 6pm and checked into the Sopa Lodge. I think everyone was pleasantly surprised, despite it being a large lodge with quite a lot of people. The comparative luxury after a few days “under canvas” was welcome.
Up at dawn to peer down into the crater on a pleasant clear, but chilly start to the day. The pre-breakfast birding session was fairly productive with, perhaps the best being Mountain Yellow Warbler called in. Other typical species were trios of singing Hunter’s Cisticolas, Eastern Mountain Greenbuls, Streaky Seedeaters, Cape Robin-chat, a quick fly-by of Kenrick’s Starlings and Rameron (Olive) Pigeons, plus a bit of a view of Schalow’s Turaco. Tropical Boubous were commonplace and 1-2 Dusky and White-eyed Slaty-Flycatchers also put in an appearance. We finished with a further look from the stunning viewpoint at the lodge where there were orange flowers in abundance on one nearby tree that held Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters, radiant in the morning sunshine, and, what I consider to be the “spiffiest” sunbird of all – Golden-winged. Less expected were a couple of startled Verreaux’s Eagle -owls seen at the very beginning of our birding as light was just coming up. We dragged ourselves away for a good breakfast atabout 7.30am and were ready to set off down into the Crater an hour later.
We were birding slowly on the way along to the entrance post, stopping to do some playback or for anything that looked interesting. We found further Golden-winged and 1-2 Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds, and better looks at Schalow’s Turaco. A bit of playback brought in the rather drab Brown Parisoma and slightly brighter Red-faced Cisticola while watching that 1-2 BlackSawwing Swallows made a welcome appearance. At the entrance post is always a traditional spot for Red-collared Widowbird and we did extremely well this year, with multiple great views without any need for playback – the bright red and black males being very prominent.
After that it was more directly down into the crater itself, where we spent much of the remainder of the day – one of the vehicles finding a second Serval of the trip along the way. The Crater, sometimes called “the eighth wonder of the world” didn’t disappoint today. A mainly resident population of Wildebeest, chunky Cape Buffalo, Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelles and Common Zebra were all over the place and this was the day to catch up on getting good photos of these and anything else that took our fancy. The crater also has a high concentration of predators – especially Lions and Hyenas, and we witnessed all sorts of fascinating action with these on this visit. In the morning we came across a Lioness lying against one of several parked landcruisers along the track, presumably enjoying the shade it offered. With her in the rea were two splendid male Lions that came and went at arms-length to us, the one chasing the less dominant male away when he got too close to the coveted female. Other prides of Lions were noted during the day and in the afternoon, as we headed back out of the crater we came across further really interesting interactions. A Male Lion was seen dragging a buffalo calf kill across the open grassland towards a female sitting by the side of the road close to the parked vehicles. He was making heavy going of it and despite presumably wanting to present it to the female (or at least, not lose it to a couple following Spotted and Hyenas and a Black-backed Jackal) did leave it to walk over to the waiting female. As soon as he left it the three hangers-on moved in. he got half way to the female and ran back to chase them off and dragged it some more. Then he got bored and the lure of the female became too much and he left the kill again. The hyenas took over and so it went on, several times back and forth – going to sit with the female, who was presumably going to mate with him – then dashing back to the kill to chase off the hyenas. A bit of action I’d never witnessed before in all my visits. I never saw the conclusion to the story as we had to leave the crater for a final birding foray, but the other vehicle stayed a little longer and confirmed the Lion did finally give up his food to the Spotted Hyenas in favour of the promise of mating!
After our success with finding Black Rhinoceros yesterday afternoon, the pressure was off today, but we did enjoy moderate looks a couple of times at two different Rhinos during our time out on the open, short-grass savannah. Birding in the Crater is always rewarding, with fresh and soda lakes, swamp, grassland and Yellowbark Acacia trees. We did fairly well today, finding a good representative selection of the many species possible. A fine breeding plumaged Pin-tailed Whydah was a nice find. Kori and Black-bellied Bustards showed well, the Kori seen doing its remarkable display where it flips it tail over its back and puffs the neck right out. The Black-bellied Bustard was doing its odd two-note burping call. Abdim’s Storks and elegant Gray Crowned-Cranes were everywhere, as were Pectoral-patch Cisticolas – though the latter were far harder to see as they sang their distinctive zip-zip songs in the sky. Speke’s Weavers and Black Kites attempted to steal our picnics at lunch, while Pangani and Rosy-throated Longclaws provided a bit of an ID puzzle as the field guide illustrations are so sadly lacking. Although Ngorongoro Crater is one of the “busiest” bits on the safari circuit, it was pleasant to be able to get to some areas where we seemed to be the only two vehicles present. But of course at the one of two picnic sites at lunchtime it was very different, with many parked landcruisers and plenty of people. But even here there were birds to be found – from Red-knobbed Coots to Fan-tailed Widowbirds – and also plenty of Hippos in the freshwater lake.
We visited further freshwater in the afternoon at the Hippo-pools – again being virtually the only vehicles there. A selection of waterbirds livened things up – Hottentot and Cape Teals, Northern Shoveler, Red-billed Duck, Long-toed Plovers and a called in Lesser Swamp Warbler, all amidst the submerged, splashing and guffawing Hippos. Other great mammal sightings today included a den of Common (Golden) Jackals – 12 or so animals in all and the first time I’ve ever come across a den of these attractive canids. Apart from the sheer numbers, tameness and variety of big game animals in the crater it was fascinating to come across odd bits of action such as the huge line of Cape Buffalo walking away from the marshy areas after having all had a drink. The line seemed to go on for miles as they slowly plodded their way to the areas of the crater floor grasslands where there is no vehicular access, and so wonderfully peaceful and quiet for them.
Once out of the Crater by about 4.30pm we headed out across the high, cool plateau grasslands now increasingly inhabited by more resident Maasai. Here I have found Jackson’s Widowbird in several previous visits, but the density of Maasai livestock may account for our failure today – the grasslands being grazed right down leaving no habitat for this specialised highland grassland species. However we did manage to find the drab Moorland Chat amongst many African Stonechats, Baglafecht Weavers and Northern (Common)Fiscal Shrikes.
It had been a long and fruitful day. Ann had taken the day off and enjoyed her time doing something that I’ve never had the chance to do at this pleasant lodge – relax and enjoy the place without rushing around trying to fit everything you want to do into too short a time. But she was far from idle, having finished off a short story started just a few days back. At supper I was treated to a “Thank-you” cake for my 25 years of visiting this lodge. They had done the same on my last visit 15 months ago and I wonder if I’ll get this somewhat “OTT”/“celebrity” treatment every time I return in the future? All a bit worrying as I should be here twice next February!
A 6.30am breakfast allowed the keener birders amongst us to do a further session around the Sopa Lodge grounds until about 8am for an 8.30am departure. A few further goodies were found, the best being a called in Brown-backed Woodpecker – this being the only place I ever see the species. The two melanistic Slender Mongoose appeared from the same huge fig tree and the Golden-winged Sunbirds put on a fantastic display for us close to hand.
The drive toour next stop was a fairly short one around the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater through lots of great high elevation forest and scrub, but very difficult to bird in as nobody is allowed out of the vehicles. We pulled up and watched at one of my favourite spots – a small roadside pool – where we called out African Hill Babbler and saw further interesting species such as Thick-billed Seedeater, Brown Woodland Warbler and Montane White-eyes, though our final try (of many) for Cinnamon Bracken Warbler still didn’t produce any results. We were at the check-out station for the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and back on smooth paved road by mid-morning after taking our final look over the crater itself a little earlier. A break here for loos, map buying and coffees, then off directly to the town of Karatu. Here I went in search of a decent torch – a vain hope, but I bought something that may just have to do. Then it was up the 5km of track to lovely Gibb’s Farm for lunch.
We arrived here in good time to slowly do some birding and wander the wonderful flower gardens in search of sunbirds. Bronze and Green-headed were both present in this lush setting and I was pleased to find a White-necked Raven overhead as we’d missed them at the Sopa Lodge in Ngorongoro. It was then time for, what I consider one of the best lunches in Tanzania, taken al fresco on the verandah with a first sighting of the very special White-tailed Blue Flycatcher while we were eating. After lunch the group split into the two: the birders heading off for an afternoon walk and others choosing to enjoy the lovely gardens and grounds around Gibbs Farm. It was a pleasant, fairly cool day, but black clouds loomed and threatened. Luckily for the walkers, the rain held off the entire time, despite thunder in the air.
The birding walk into the fringing forest was extremely rewarding. It is a fairly easy hike of about 4 hours covering about 2.5-3 miles intotal, into the Conservation Area to seek out more of the special highland forest species. We had with us Martin and a very competent and keen local bird guide called Charles. Between them they knew where all the wanted species might be found and pointed out many of the species on the “wish list”. Regular stuff such as Black-throated Wattle-eye, ChinspotBatis, Gray-capped and Brown Woodland Warblers, Abyssinian (Olive) Thrush, Brown-headed Apalis, Tambourine Dove, Mountain Wagtail, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater and Collared Sunbird all popped up alongside less often encountered birds such as Sharpe’s Starling, Purple-throated and Grey Cuckoo-shrikes, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Narina Trogon, Red-capped Robin-chat, Grey-headed Nigrita, Spectacled Weaver, MoustachedTinkerbird, several more White-tailed Blue Flycatchers and African Hill Babblers. However “Best Bird of the Walk” was undoubtedly an African Broadbill expertly picked up and pointed out by Charles and the first I’ve ever encountered on this Northern Circuit tour – so very exciting for me at least!
After our walk we transferred the very short distance to Tloma Lodge and met up with the others who had come over earlier after doing a tour of the extensive gardens at Gibbs. Just minutes after we arrived the heavens opened and it poured with rain for half an hour or more – so lucky not to have been caught out in this while walking! Lucky again, it stopped raining in time for us to pop outside at dusk and try to call in the Montane Nightjar by the pool. We saw a couple fly-by on two occasions, but nothing called back, which would have been better.After a reasonable supper we were all keen to get to our beds early.
The “keenies” were up pre-dawn to try for the Montane Nightjar again, but there was neither sight nor sound. We had our early breakfast and then had time to wander the extensive gardens, vegetable gardens and coffee plantation trying to find some birds of interest. It was really fairly quiet throughout, the best bird to start with being a poorly plumaged Black-winged Bishop. On our return to the restaurant balcony where the others were now having their more leisurely breakfast, Tim set off back to the room and came across the star bird we’d been looking for all along – a fine male Holub’s Golden Weaver. We were packed and heading off from Tloma Lodge by about 8.30am for the very short drive westwards, down the steep escarpment of the Great Rift Valley to Lake Manyara National Park. First port of call was the T-shirt Shack, where 1-2 folks made a few modest purchases and where Mike and I saw a first Black-crowned Tchagra thanks to Martin’s keen ear. We stopped at the overview high on the Rift overlooking the lake, then checked in to the National Park shortly afterwards, where we spent much of the remainder of the day until late afternoon.
Manyara is a small Park centered round the soda lake directly below some impressive Rift Valley cliffs. With the freshwater inlets to the huge soda lake and other distinctive habitats of tall, lush gallery forest, open forests of mature Yellowbark acacias and open areas of scrub there is usually an excellent variety of wildlife to be seen. Today it was, at first, quite slow going. On entering the Park we passed through the extensive forest fed by streams rising through the base of the Rift Valley cliffs above. This cool, shady area normally produces Silvery-cheeked Hornbills, but it wasn’t until our return this way as we exited in the afternoon that we came across any. Further along palm groves offer the chance to find the localised Collared Palm-Thrush and the more open, mature, mixed forest should have Purple-crested Turaco in residence. None of these did the decent thing and showed up on first attempt in the morning. The mammals were similarly hard to come across. No elephants were encountered at all, and Giraffes only in the afternoon, though there were many close encounters with large groups of Olive Baboons and the weird sight of a lone Black-backed Jackal making off with the head of a wildebeest calf!
However, despite this, it was a very good day, with much seen, on one of the hottest days of the tour so far. Soon after entering the Park, Martin alerted us to a singing Yellow-bellied Greenbul that we all saw well. It was a good day for raptors. There were the best numbers of vultures soaring in the thermals all day – White-backed and Rueppell’s. Other super raptor finds were perched up African Crowned Eagle and a couple of African Hawk-eagles, with a further splendid pair seen closely, flying around together in the early afternoon. Black Goshawk and African Marsh Harrier were new and other raptors included African Fish-Eagle, Bateleur and Common (Steppe) Buzzard (plus three huge Verreaux’s Eagle-owls roosting in a large acacia in the morning, where a fine Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike showed up).. The water levels out on the open lake edges fringed with vast areas of marsh vegetation, pools and muddy margins held huge concentrations of waterbirds – some of the best I’ve seen here in a while. Yellow-billed Storks were super-abundant and with them Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Sacred Ibis, masses of African Spoonbills, all the egrets, Squacco Herons, our first Purple Herons and exceptional numbers of Black Herons – 80 or more and some doing that distinctive fishing using their wings as umbrella shades. Other great birds were a good assortment of waterfowl including first White-faced Whistling Ducks; resident and wintering shorebirds – Black-winged Stilt, Marsh Sandpiper, Little Stint, loads of Collared Pratincoles, Water Thick-knees, Long-toed, Blacksmith and Spur-winged Plovers and African Jacanas. European Bee-eaters were much in evidence, with several trees out on the water’s edge acting as staging posts for hawking groups going back and forth.Best find for me however were a trio of African Swamphens – a first for this tour, having only come across them on the extensions into Mkomazi in the past. Of course these rich wetlands were also full of Hippos staying cool and submerged in the heat of the day.
By lunch time we were at one of the regular picnic sites where, as often is the case, the bright Red-and-Yellow Barbets showed up in hopes of spilt crumbs. Here too were an unexpected Mocking Cliff Chat and a pair of Bearded Woodpeckers. Shortly after leaving the picnic spot in mid-afternoon we got word of a Leopard up ahead and went to take a brief look. It was another fine and unusual sighting here but there was a bit of a traffic jam, so as we’d seen such good Leopards previously on the tour we spent only a short while here before heading back towards the entrance. There seemed at times a little more bird activity by now, with Common Scimitarbill found, several Crowned Hornbills, and a lovely called-in African Black-headed Oriole. The heat was getting to some of us and we decided that the Serena Lodge pool and bar might be a good aim by about 5pm! Thus we wended our way back into the thicker forest, continuing to try in vain for the wretched turaco, but at least finding the big hornbill. I asked for a quick diversion back to the Collared Palm Thrush site and this time we got the bird, though it was a long hard slog trying to get everyone (myself included) onto it.
We were at the lodge by 5.10pm, so not too late, and with plenty of time for showers, cold beers, a swim for some and relaxing generally before a very pleasant dinner. Some of us supping our beers managed to find a first White-headed Barbet – the last good bird of a very good day with many species added to the list.
There was some optional early morning birding after a 6.30am breakfast. We just wandered the grounds out to the Jogging Trails that included some more natural looking acacia scrub and found a nice array of birds including several unusual or new speciesfor our tour list. We noted first Southern Citrils and Spot-flanked Barbet, a lovely group of African Green Pigeons and a Red-headed Weaver. Tim spotted an Eastern Nicator singing loudly, and luckily seen by us all briefly – a first ever for this tour.
At about 8.30am we set off from this lovely lodge, driving back down the steep Rift Valley road, pausing at the entrance to the National Park to enjoy the spectacle of masses of Yellow-billed Storks and Pink-backed Pelicans adorning the trees all around. The excellent, smooth, paved roads sped us along towards Tarangire with time to stop at some fairly ordinary roadside open acacia scrub where I’d seen some special birds on my last tour 15 months ago. Luckily Moses knew the general area and we had a fruitful meander over this bare stony ground for about 45 minutes, Martin trying hard to find us our targets. These were Rosy-patched Shrike, seen very well in full view atop a tree through the scope in bright sunlit conditions – but only at the very end after a lot of searching. More quickly came an unexpected bonus in the form of White-browed Sparrow-weaver, seen only once before on this tour. I found target number two; African Bare-eyed Thrush and we all had reasonable looks at that, but we couldn’t find number 3 – Grey Wren-Warbler, despite lots of playback. A further bonus here was our first Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird and a called in Red-chested Cuckoo, though the latter was very flighty. We were accompanied part of the time by a local Maasai in full traditional clothing and a mobile phone (which is also becoming a traditional piece of kit for them nowadays). He seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing, fascinated by our binoculars and scope and OK that we were there traipsing over “his” land.
The roads in this part of Tanzania are now very good, so no longer do we spend hours on rutted dusty tracks between the National Parks, but slip speedily between destinations. We were at the entrance to Tarangire National Park by about 12 noon after stopping to watch the largest gathering of vultures (all White-backed and Rueppell’s Griffons) that we’d seen on the whole trip so far. Sadly, these were feeding on a dump of cattle carcasses, presumably dead due to the extended drought conditions experienced here (the whole area still seems very dry). We took a little time to stroll about at the entrance to the Park while Moses and Vincent did the paperwork. Apart from the first abundant flush of brilliantly colourful Yellow-Collared Lovebirds and a few Mottled Spinetails around the first of the huge Baobabs, there was not much doing.
We got to the Tarangire Safari Lodge, close to the entrance by about 12.45pm and had a good buffet lunch. There was no further great rush, so we had time for a coffee and a short break before wandering out to the fine viewpoint overlooking the TarangireRiver below, where a few elephants were drinking. Tim had a couple of White-headed Vultures – the first of the tour and seemingly becoming increasingly scarce year-on -year. On the way, we were guided to a lovely little roosting African Scops-owl by one of the local staff who seems to remember me each time I visit and who knows where to find these birds each day – all very useful and a quick-fix for us.
Then it was time to head on the final run to TarangireSopa Lodge, game-viewing as we went, but not aiming to stay out too late this afternoon. Despite that good intention we deviated almost as soon as we were in the landcruisers, as we went off to find a lone Cheetah, watched doing nothing much, but enjoying laying in long grass in the shade of a large tree. The habitats here reflect a drier region subject to seasonal rains and drought. Thornbush is studded with giant Baobab trees, which are useful stores of moisture for the large Elephant herds in drier times and whose gargantuan trunks are scarred through generations of gouging by Elephant tusks. Running through the Park’scentre is the Tarangire River with wide grassy palm-dotted flood plains. Our main interest this afternoon was viewing our first large Elephant groups and we were not disappointed. By the end of the day we’d counted a total of about 135 including our first very young animals. A few additional birds were seen along the way – Yellow-necked and Crested Francolins, Great Spotted Cuckoo, many endemic Ashy Starlings and White-bellied Go-away-birds, but nothing too different.
We arrived at the Sopa Lodge by about 4.30pm ahead of any other groups coming in today, giving me a chance to request that we be given the “nicer” rooms, rather than the dungeon-like ones beneath reception. This done, we took a short afternoon tea break and had a brief ramble about the grounds until 6pm, finding Red-necked Spurfowl, a pair of Grey Kestrels perched on the tall communications pylon and a few noisy Brown (Meyer’s) Parrots. We reconvened on the bar terrace at dusk and eventually, successful called in Freckled Nightjar, and were entertained by Val singing her “Ode to Tim Cleeves” before doing the log and getting to supper. It was a delight to see Lilian waiting at the tables again, but sad to hear of her current woes later on in the evening. The staff seem to have it in their mind that I am to be given some sort of special treatment every time I stay here these days and did the big sing-song bit and presented me with a “Thank-you and welcome back” cake at supper.
There was no pre-breakfast birding this morning – just an early breakfast at 6.30am then out for a game-drive at 7.15am. It was cool to start, hot later, dry and quite a good variety of wildlife noted. Our goal, as usual on this day of the itinerary was to run alongside the edge of Silale Swamp, but there was plenty to see and do on our journey there. Large numbers of Black-faced Sandgrouse were out on the open, sparse, grassy floodplains of the river as we motored along. Red-necked, Yellow-necked and Hildebrandt’s Francolins were all pecking away feeding and showing very well in lovely morning light. Vincent’s vehicle scored a few Orange-bellied Parrots and it was a decent morning for raptors with a lovely pair of Bateleurs perched up first, then Wahlberg’s Eagle, Black-chested and Brown Snake Eagles, Eurasian & African Marsh Harriers, Montagu’s Harrier, Common Buzzard and tiny Pygmy Falcon. Martin alerted us to our first Northern Pied Babblers which called in quite nicely. A small flock of Red-billed Queleas stopped to feed and we also notched up first Long-tailed Fiscals which were quite common out here. A stop to watch on the bridge over the Tarangire River provided Moses’s vehicle with an only sighting of Black Stork and where we all enjoyed 4 large NileMonitor Lizards lurking at the water’s edge. All the way out (and back) we were of course encountering groups of Elephants – a total of about 80 this morning. One encounter was extremely close as they crossed our path and fed just feet from the vehicles, making full-frame photos of an elephant’s eye a reality!
At the Silale Swamp there was plenty of water and a correspondingly good range of waterbirds. African Openbills in small groups along with Sacred Ibis, White-faced Whistling Ducks and other more usual stuff, plus a few, what I consider good finds – single White-backed Duck and Rufous-bellied Heron in particular. Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were everywhere. Moses’s vehicle had brief views of a fast-vanishing Serval hunting in the long emergent swamp vegetation, but the rest of us couldn’t re-locate it. Ian found us a snake – just a thin, bright green one, about 18 inches long – but it could have been a baby Mamba for all we knew. We were especially cautious as it was on the roof of the landcruiser, presumably having been brushed off an overhanging branch as we drove along. It was lucky that it had not fallen into the vehicle itself. I managed to gently flick it off the roof onto the bonnet, where it then disappeared under the engine cover – I hope it got away safely.
We were back at the Lodge to meet up with Ann (who’d taken a more leisurely approach to the morning) for a far too big buffet lunch by the pool, with time thereafter for a break in the heat of the day until 4pm, when we headed out again into the huge areas of Tarangire.
The idea for the afternoon was to take a gentle drive out in search of nothing in particular. That soon changed when Moses and Vincent got word of a pack of African Wild Dogs that had just been located near to SilaleSwamp, where we’d been in the morning. It took no persuasion on their part for us to agree to go as fast as possible to the area to see if they might be still visible. I’d never seen Wild dog in Tanzania in all the 25+ visits I’d made, and had made a special safari to Botswana a few years back just to see them, so I was especially excited. We zoomed along and after about 35 minutes arrived at a point along the edge of the swamp where the bushes and grass fizzled out. Luckily there were two other landcruisers parked up, which homed us in on the exact spot where we could pick out the occasional flick of a very large, rounded ear – the dogs were there! The other vehicles left and we were the only people in Tarangire privy to this extraordinarily special event. But we had to exercise a fair amount of patience – about 45 minutes in fact, as we waited, seeing virtually nothing, but watching the area of thick grass that we knew them to be laying in. Moses, Vincent and Martin all seemed as excited as we were, and all agreed that this was an extremely rare and lucky observation. By an amazing stroke of luck as we kept vigil, a Leopard Tortoise hove slowly into view and bumbled right past the resting dogs – what an absurd bit of serendipity. They all jumped up and curiously watched it, prodded and played with it, giving us a first fantastic view of many of the pack, with all their varied and intricate black, white and tan patterning. They took a further rest, got up played a little and rested again. But as predicted by Vincent and Moses, they became much more active as the cool of the evening fell – a time they traditionally set off hunting. Before we knew it they were all up and following one another along the way we were going to be heading back to the lodge. We followed at a discreet distance. They fanned out a bit, some going off more quickly, others in a tighter group. They came right by us and crossed the road, fairly unconcerned by our presence – absolute magic! They eventually worked their way off into the bush as we remained on the track and had to go fast back to the lodge to arrive a little after 7pm. After they had departed we were treated to a pass-by of an enormous heard of Cape Buffalo, sauntering along to a place to feed and sleep tonight, kicking up the dust in the sunset. The day had been pretty good before the Wild Dogs showed up; with them it must surely be a lasting memory?
A bit of optional early birding in the grounds continued to produce additional species. I heard the distinctive melancholy notes of a Grey-headed Bush-shrike and called it in very close – great looks even for the security/night-watchman with us. Mike caught up with Orange-bellied Parrot, albeit a more drab female – but still a “tick”! Also female was a fairly confiding Mocking Cliff-chat, still quite colourful in its own way. From the lodge verandah I spotted probably the same Wahlberg’s Eagle that was in the same tree nesting 15 months back. With everybody breakfasted, paid up, luggage loaded and keys in, we set off towards the exit/entrance gate with a little time for a few stops and deviations on the way. We called in to Mpingo Picnic Site – newly opened and where another birder had reported a few goodies just days back. We didn’t see any of the reported Verreaux’s Eagles, but came across a massive immature Martial Eagle and called in a first Lesser Honeyguide. A couple of the river circuits provided another grand pair of Saddle-billed Storks and some wonderful, final looks at many Elephants, some mud-wallowing and getting themselves into all sorts of odd poses as the kneeled, lazed side-ways, splashed in the liquid mud and then used the whole thing as a toilet!
We were at the exit to Tarangire National Park by about 11.15am, where we stretched legs and used the facilities before heading off directly to Arusha and a lunch stop at the Cultural Heritage Centre. The journey took us through some still very dry country, arriving at lunch by about 1.35pm. The Cultural Heritage Centre offers great opportunities for shopping – everything from inexpensive souvenirs to fine works of art. The Art Gallery, designed as a small version of the Guggenheim held even more amazing historical, cultural artefacts this time and is now built up to be one of the major exhibits on the continent of African artefacts as well as modern African painting. We were done here by about 3pm and drove through Arusha to NgareSero Lodge, the journey made slower by major roadwork improvements, but at least it gave everyone a chance to see the other side of everyday life for more urban Tanzanians. The approach to the lodge can be perplexing and worrying! Winding up narrow, very rough back alleys into the middle of nowhere, before coming upon a really nice old colonial style lodge set in its own lush, mature grounds. After checking in we reconvened for afternoon tea on the terrace, complete with several very dandy Black-and-white Colobus Monkeys, then did a very short meander along the lake edge in the grounds where further and final birding treats for the day awaited us. African Black Ducks were flying up and down showing well and the very local Taveta Golden Weaver gave several stunning scope views. A White-eared Barbet was seen briefly by some, but the Giant Kingfisher was playing hard to get and wouldn’t show. After several days of hot dry weather we noted skies blackening, thunder in the air and a strong breeze building up with obvious storms threatening.
We reconvened at 7pm for the bird list in the pleasant lounge complete with an open log fire just in case we were cold! A very good supper was followed by a quick try to call in the African Wood Owl. Happily it did exactly the same as it did 15 months back and came silently in to a nearby tree allowing me to set the scope onit. After we’d all had decent looks at it (thanks to my recently rediscovered, erstwhile lost torch), we went back to the lounge, the owl now calling back its distinctive high-pitched hooting call.
A short spell of birding just from standing in the centre of the lawns of the lodge before breakfast for half an hour was very rewarding for those up and about. The fairly persistent rain overnight had produced an emergence of winged termites and these were clearly attracting concentrations of feeding birds in the trees around including an African Black-headed Oriole and Red-headed Weaver amidst many Baglafecht Weavers and Common Bulbuls. Most unusual was a good number of White-eared Barbets – virtually flocks of them high in the canopy. Tim and Mike spotted a female Blackcap closer to hand and in far distant trees I noticed a lone Waller’s Starling and African Green Pigeon. A pair of Crowned Hornbills came through the garden, but whether they were intent on feeding on termites is debatable.
After breakfast we were away for the day into Arusha National Park, minus Ann who was enjoying a free day around this very pleasant, smaller and more personalised lodge. There is now a paved road right up to the entrance of Arusha National Park making things much smoother and quicker. Dominated by rugged Mt. Meru (14,979 ft.), this small jewel of a park is just 55 sq. miles in area, but well worth a visit and very diverse. While Vincent grappled with the paperwork we stretched our legs and tried to call in Trilling Cisticola and Moustached Grass-Warbler; neither obliged. We did however get a good close look at 1-2 Mosque Swallows amongst the Red-rumped and Lesser Striped all gathering mud from puddles to make their nests. Tim found us a distinctive African Harrier-hawk. Once on our way it was a slow, stop/start affair trying to reach the higher forest levels of Mahogany, Fig, Cedar, and Wild Mango on the slopes of Mt. Meru at the Fig Tree Arch. There was plenty to distract us as we went, with Martin ahead to pick out some of the more obscure and tricky forest birds. In this mode we variously picked out Cabanis’sGreenbul, a Short-tailed (Forest) Batis for some – only the second time I’d encountered this species here. I was also pleased to be able to see well and convincingly pick out several Horus Swifts amongst the Littles – only possible in the right light and when the birds are low enough and slow enough to see well. Silvery-cheeked Hornbills put on a great show, but best bird en route up was Hartlaub’s Turaco, with three seen and watched well, their bright scarlet wings catching everyone’s eye. On the way we passed numerous Blue (Sykes’s) Monkeys and Black-and-White Colobus Monkeys and had some good looks at several unusually confiding, deep orangey-brown Harvey’s Duikers. Once at the Fig Tree Arch we got out and stood around and began doing some playback to bring a few of the forest skulkers in to view. Top of the “want list” was Bar-tailed Trogon and this popped in and sat about overhead giving great views really quite quickly. Luckily, a few other species came in with no such persuasion, such as BrownWoodland Warbler and Eastern Mountain Greenbul. We tried harder for White-starred Robin, but thanks to Martin’s sharp eyes and ears we ended up seeing one of these very dapper little birds very well towards the end of our stay here.
Our descent back to the Ranger’s Post for our picnic was a little quicker having more or less “mopped up” most of what was available in these lovely rich moss and epiphyte-covered forests with many strangler figs and a pleasant open forest floor. The front vehicle caught sight of a migrant Grey Wagtail – never common, but our main halt was to photo some very close and beautifully posed Black-and-white Colobus Monkeys. On closer inspection as photos were being snapped away, we noticed (and photographed) one very obviously adult male in a state of unabashed priapism, causing much hilarity amongst us all.
After our lunch we then headed over to the east of the Park for a totally different set of habitats and birds. Firstly we drove through open, dry savanna with scrub, passing some fine groups of Giraffes. Some of the bachelor groups were practicing their neck and head-swinging dominance sparring. Further mammal interest came in finding a very distinctive albino or leucisticOlive Baboon, seeming quite unaffected physically or socially by his odd colouration. (In fact we found another albino later – a mother with a healthy youngster, so obviously acommon trait in this population).
We began trying in earnest for the two LBJs called for but not seen earlier. The Moustached Grass Warbler showed up very quickly and extremely well, singing from a bush just feet from us and becoming Tim’s “Bird of the Trip”. The Trilling Cisticola played very hard to get – lots of playback when singing birds were heard, but nothing responding. Later on we called in a couple of birds very well, and by the end of the day found others singing within arms-reach atop bushes with no coercionat all on our part. In this drier bush country we had further/better views of the lovely White-fronted Bee-eater. We reached our other main goal out here – the Momella Soda Lakes and did the usual clockwise circumnavigation. The rains had filled the lake and made it much fresher, resulting in very few flamingos, but other birds were of interest and included the usual large numbers of wintering Ruff, resident Cape Teal and Southern Pochard a lone Pied Avocet and a first for this tour, found by Tim – a fine male Tufted Duck. The dry forest around the lake produced close looks at a pair of Hildebrandt’s Francolins.
By now it was mid-late afternoon and time to think about working our back towards the exit. One last regular halt was the freshwater marsh and lake of Longil, so, with little time and little else to find in the forested areas, we went on our way fairly speedily. Despite the rains, this lake was at a very low level and seemed quiet compared to some previous visits. However, we stopped and watched and waited for a decent while and pulled in some reasonable birds. Taveta Golden Weavers and Grosbeak Weavers were both present in small numbers. A few Hippos lingered in the margins, while Tim caught sight of a Eurasian Hobby zipping past causing mayhem amongst the hirundines feeding over the lake. The best find here though was a remarkable 4th Serval for the tour. It lay low for a long while, but with patience and close watching we managed some pleasant looks from a distance of this most beautiful of small cats as it wandered through the tall, lush grasses at the lake edge.
We were back at NgareSero Lodge by about 6pm, most folks turning in for the day after a very successful trip out. Mike, Alice and I popped down to the lake edge in the grounds to try again for the missing Giant Kingfisher. Still it wouldn’t show, but the activity from nest-building Taveta Golden and Grosbeak Weavers was much increased from yesterday – they seem to react quickly to the onset of rains. The “usuals” were all in place – African Black Ducks showing very well and a gorgeous pair of Grey Crowned Cranes calling their melancholy song from the top of a large lakeside tree. We wandered further downstream from the lake past the Heath-Robinson Hydro -electric set-up and on to the trout hatchery where further stretches of open water finally got us our target – a lovely Giant Kingfisher found by Mike just as it plunged into the water and came out with a decent sized crayfish.
We did a bit of pre-breakfast birding, just by standing on the lawns and watching the large and varied trees around. Again it was very pleasant, easy and productive. One easy to watch fairly bare tree seemed to provide a lot of interest with various goodies coming and going. A non-breeding male Amethyst Sunbird popped in briefly, while a couple of male and one femaleBlack Cuckoo-shrikes were new for us. Several African Black-headed Orioles came and went plus a few White-eared Barbets and a great look at a Black-throated Wattle-eye and Black-backed Puffback. We had to drag ourselves away for breakfast and then pack up and leave the lodge, which many thought was the nicest place for accommodation on the tour. We wended our way down to the main road at Usa River then back through Arusha to turn north on the Namanga road towards the Kenya border. Fromhere it was a fairly short distance by paved road to the turn off to the so-called “Lark Plains” made famous by the discovery of what is now a full endemic and extremely scarce species – Beesley’s Lark. This is possibly the rarest bird in East Africa with estimates of its population rarely going above a hundred individuals (the local Maasaiguides this morning quoting numbers as only 30+). The local Maasai are aware of this bird’s importance (and potential financial benefits!) and are encouraged to keep heavy grazing away from potential breeding areas. The “Beesley Boys” were there to meet us this morning, standing out on the vast, flat, short-grass plains. There is, a wide range of additional birds possible in this dry region of scrubby plains and as we walked out following them to where they had the birds staked out we encountered two other good lark species – Short-tailed and Somali (Athi)Short-toed Larks. We spent an hour or so here walking up to the Beesley’s Larks and getting some decent looks at this quite distinctive bird (for a lark at least) before heading off cross-country towards Ndarakwai.
It was still very dry out here and they clearly needed some rain to start grass growing, but it meant that it was possible for us to take the more remote back-road to Ndarakwai crossing through the Maasai steppe and scrub, all very hot and dusty. Rosy-patched Bush-Shrikes showed up on several occasions and Martin, in the lead vehicle stopped a couple of times having heard Grey Wren-Warbler and Red-faced Warbler. We managed to call both in and gain great looks at these birds that I rarely find on this tour. The whole area was a wild mix of acacia scrub and thorn-bush interspersed with euphorbia (a cactus look-alike) and Sansevera (sisal) along with large patches of barren, bare ground that the Maasai and others call home in widely scattered very simple bomas and settlements, predominantly livestock farming, but with a few cultivated fields of corn here and there. We found some shady acacias to stop under for our picnic lunch en route, then continued on the fairly short distance to Ndarakwai arriving by about 2.20pm. Along the way we encountered another very localised bird of this under-watched dry, semi-desert region – the Fischer’s Starling. We had a group of 6 – the first I’d seen on the main tour, having first come across them only 15 months ago further east in Mkomazi.
Once settled in to our secluded tents at Ndarakwai Lodge – a private land area bordering close to Amboseli National Park in Kenya, we had afternoon tea and coffee in the open dining area. While relaxing here Mike spotted a really spiffy Brown-breasted Barbet close by – stunning looks at this gorgeous bird without having to even get up from the sofas! I arranged a walk from about 3.30pm for about 1.5 hours to finish up at the Tree Platform overlooking a waterhole, where the staff would drive out with drinks for sundowners before our return to the lodge. Martin and an armed Ranger accompanied us who was keen-eyed and helpful in finding birds. It was a hot, sunny afternoon with a few further good birds found – particularly Red-fronted Tinkerbird, which completed the “full set” of possible barbets for the tour. We also came across some very confusing, heavily streaked pipits seemingly too large for Tree, too streaked for Grassland, but possibly not enough for Striped; later ID from photos may be required. The route took us on a bit of circuit, skirting our final destination, but we arrived exactly as planned as Caroline came along being given a ride with the drinks wagon. A pleasant break with beers and G &Ts followed until it was time to walk or ride back to the lodge for a shower, bird-list and supper by 7.30pm. The start of supper was interrupted by the appearance of a virtually hand-tame Greater Galago (Thick-tailed Bush-baby) taking fruit from a close-by feeding platform.
We took a night drive after supper at about 8.40pm until just gone 10pm, giving us the best/only chance on the tour to find a few nocturnal species. We all squeezed into one open vehicle and the driver and spot-lighter did a great job in locating for us a few classy additions to the mammal list. First was a bizarre Spring Hare, bouncing about like a kangaroo, then trying to disappear down a hole too small for it. Next was a good close look at a White-tailed Mongoose which had just caught some small hapless rodent and was chomping away unperturbed by the spotlight focussed on it. Last was a very attractive Common (Small-spotted) Genet seen working over the ground between scrubby bushes. A pair of huge Verreaux’s Eagle-owls were seen early on and a Slender-tailed Nightjar heard but not attracted in.
We did alittle bit of birding in the grounds of the Camp before a 7am breakfast, finding a pair of Purple Grenadiers. Thereafter we had a morning game drive within the Reserve/Ranch. Because of the continuing near-drought conditions in this part of Tanzania there was precious little wild game to be seen – a few lingering Giraffe and Zebra, a very fine bull Eland and plenty of sleek Impala and warty Warthogs. What there wereplenty of was, presumably trespassing,Maasai livestock. The goats and sheep looked OK, but the cattle were very skinny as they wandered across a dusty plain desperate for the onset of the long rains.
We had a few birds of interest, with good studies of a few raptors – Tawny Eagles in various plumages from blond to brunette, and some displaying. White-backed Vultures sparring in mid-air and looking exceptionally pale. Black-breasted Snake Eagle came by and we found our first (and only) Lanner Falcon perched in a low tree. Fawn-coloured Larks and a range of Isabelline/Rufous-tailed Shrikes and Wheatears seemed to be thriving in this arid scene. The tracks around were very bumpy, the whole area being strewn with lumps of volcanic rock, but the obligatory accompanying Ranger guided us through. It was turning into another hot and very sunny day, with the rather uninspiring and anticlimactic flat top of Mt. Kilimnjaro showing itself at times. We returned to the Camp at about 11am – earlier than planned, but giving time for a coffee break, which nobody seemed to object to.
Our lunch at Ndarakwai was on time at 12.30pm and after group photos, taken by the staff, of us all including drivers and bird guide, we started out towards Kilimanjaro airport. The first section of the journey was through open acacia scrub, then open farmland where one stop was made when Martin in the lead vehicle found a few Cutthroats perched in a bush. Once on the tarmac road we nipped along fairly well and were turning into the KIA lodge at the airport by about 3.30pm. Now it was time to say cheerio to our excellent driver-guides, Moses and Vincent and equally helpful and pleasant bird-guide Martin. They’d done a fantastic job for us and were all well rewarded with a good tip from us all.
There was time for some of us before re-packing, cleaning-up and changing into travel clothes, to do a bit of birding in the grounds. It was a hot sunny afternoon and the place was alive with very active Variable Sunbirds. We checked out and found the Spotted Eagle-Owl roosting in the same tree as before, and at the Reception, one of the staff alerted us to a lovely close nightjar perched on a low horizontal branch. After much checking it was decided that it was a Plain Nightjar – new for this tour. Some of the group had snacks and relaxed while I had the chance to meet up with the owner of Tanzania birding, Anthony Raphael to catch up on news and sort out a few details for next year’s two short February tours. We were transferred to the very nearby airport at about 7pm and it was all fairly straightforward checking in and getting through the usual border formalities. The airport is still in a state of rebuilding/refurbishment, but the plane was on time and by 9.30pm we were aboard and heading off to Amsterdam via a stop-off in Dar.
We arrive into Amsterdam this morning with time for everyone to connect to onwards flights to the UK and USA, reaching home later in the day.
This was my 25th tour of Tanzania’s “Northern Circuit”. I’ve enjoyed every one of them, and each time I visit it seems “special”. This one was no exception and in terms of pure statistics could be regarded as just about the best ever. We recorded 447 species of birds (2 of them heard only), which is the highest tally so far, the previous best being 431. We saw 6 species I’d never encountered on this itinerary previously – Tufted Duck, African Swamphen, Plain Nightjar, African Broadbill, Eastern Nicator and Fischer’s Starling, bringing the cumulative total of species ever encountered on this tour to 622. We also found a good number of species that I’d only seen just 1 – 3 times previously. A few birds were missed – especially the breeding plumaged bishops, widowbirds and waxbills – presumably because of dry conditions in some areas. The mammal sightings were excellent! We did exceptionally well for numbers of sightings of all the cats; I’ve never before had 4 sightings of Serval, 5 of Leopard and 4 of Cheetah all on the one tour. More than that, it was particularly pleasing to see them “doing stuff” and not just lying down asleep. The amorous male Lion rushing back and forth between its prey and love interest, the Leopard sauntering down his tree and back up again after his toilet and the Cheetah with four grown cubs feeding on fresh prey were all memorable. And then of course there was the utterly brilliant sighting of those African Wild Dogs – so scarce and unpredictable – so beautiful and something I’d been waiting 30 years to find in Tanzania. The weather had been very strange prior to our visit – perhaps signs of global warming causing seasons to go awry? Who knows? But it meant that the formerly more predictable Wildebeest migration was even less predictable this year. However, we did get a taste of this world-class spectacle on one day as we scanned across a huge open vista of short grass plains to see wildebeest dotted thickly over the entire area as far as the eye could see in a massive arc to the horizon.
Doing these tours on an independent basis allows me to only travel with people I like! This tour was especially good fun for me as I was travelling with good friends. That, combined with such good company in the form of our local bird guide Martin and driver/guides Moses and Vincent, made for a very happy and pleasant tour throughout. Martin was an enormous boost to the tour with his great ear for bird calls and his expert local knowledge. Moses and Vincent were accomplished drivers and excellent, keen-eyed spotters and knowledgeable of their wildlife. But they were also such good travelling companions – friendly, easy-going, helpful and thoughtful in all respects. Between them, Anthony Raphael & Tina who owns/runs Tanzania Birding and myself I think we managed to do another tour where the logistics went smoothly, the vehicles, accommodations and food were good and all went much as hoped and planned.
People in Bird’s Names: Having a bird (or other organism) named after you occurred mostly in the great period of explorations between the 18th and 19th centuries. It happened either because you went out and found it yourself, or you gave the name to your scientific colleague, financial sponsor, mentor, wife, friend (probably in that order). Here are brief details of some we came across in the common and scientific names of birds seen:
Abdim(1780 – 1827) was a Turkish governor of Dongola in Sudan who assisted Rueppell on his expeditions. The type specimen of the Stork named for him was collected in Sudan in 1823.
Amelia was the wife of French explorer Marquis Leone De Tarragon who visited South Africa from 1840-41 and dedicated his wife’s name in the scientific binomial of the Rosy-throated Longclaw.
Beesley It is odd that this most recent of species named for a person is one I can find little about other than a John Beesley, who recognised this lark as “new” in 1965. Who he is, where he is, or what he does is still to be discovered!
Blanchoti (born in 1790) was the French Governor of Senegal. Why he was commemorated in the scientific namne of the Grey-headed Bushshrike is not clear.
Boehm (1854 – 1884) was a German traveler and zoologist working in Zaire and Tanzania before his early death from Malaria. He is remembered in the scientific name of the Banded Parisoma amongst others.
Buchanan (1886 – 1954) was Captain Angus, a Scottish explorer who is commemorated in the scientific name of the Southern Grosbeak Canary.
Bullock (1773 – 1849) was a British adventurer and amateur naturalist and goldsmith. He once had a travelling museum of 3,000 skins and 32,000 “curiosities”. He travelled mostly in Central America, but is remembered in Africa by the scientific name of White-fronted Bee-eater.
Burton (1821 – 1890) was Sir Richard Francis, a British explorer and author (Kama Sutra, The Perfumed Garden and Arabian Nights!) who is remembered in the scientific name of the Thick-billed Seedeater. He travelled in disguise to Mecca and is the Burton famed for searching for the source of the Nile with Speke.
Cabanis(1816 – 1906) was the most influential European ornithologist of his day. He never visited Africa, but many collectors sent him specimens to the Berlin Museum where he was curator. His son-in-law was Reichenow who named the bunting after him. He is also commemorated in the scientific name of the Long-tailed Fiscal.
D’Arnaud (19th century) was a French explorer and big-game hunter in Africa, who looked for the source of the White Nile. Others obviously thought highly of him as they gave his name to the Barbet and the scientific binomial of the Grey-headed Social-weaver.
Dinemelli Was a collector in Ethiopia in the 1840s, but whom little is known other than that his name is commemorated in the scientific name of White-headed Buffalo-weaver.
EminBey (1840 – 1892) was the adopted name of Eduard Schnitzler a German administrator in the Ottoman service in Egyptian Sudan. He later changed his named again to Emin Pasha (a higher status and title than Bey!). He was an amateur collector and his name is remembered in the scientific name of the Chestnut Sparrow. He lived an exciting and colourful life, abolishing slavery in his area of jurisdiction, but was, ironically, beheaded by slave traders near Lake Tanganyika.
Fischer (1848-86) (Gustav – not the other Fischer who had Spectacled Eider named after him) explored East and Central Africa for 10 years until he died of fever back in Germany. He was buddies with Reichenow who named 6 species after him – both common and scientific.
Foss was a 19th century German collector in the Gabon who has the scientific name of Square-tailed Nightjar in his honour.
Fremantle – Major Guy Fremantle was a British Army officer in Somaliland in the late 1800s. Presumably collecting in his spare time, he was commemorated in the scientific name of the Short-tailed Lark.
Hartlaub (1814-1900) was a German academic and East African explorer, originally trained as a doctor. He also received and described large numbers of specimens from other explorers.
Heuglin (1824-76) was a German explorer of Central Africa who was strongly opposed to evolutionary theory, but the rest of his science was obviously up to muster and the courser was named after him as well as the scientific name of White-browed Robin-chat.
Hildebrandt (1847-81) was a German collector who travelled in East Africa, Comores and Madagascar – like most of the others exploring Africa at this time, he didn’t live long, but lives on in the Starling and Francolin to name but two.
Holub (1847-1902) was a Czech naturalist, trained as a physician. He travelled extensively in Africa and collected over 30,000 specimens. He died from Malaria after a disastrous second African expedition.
Hunter(1861-1934) was a big-game hunter (presumably British) who (presumably) collected for museums too – though whether he actually collected the cisticola named after him is not clear.
Jackson (1859-1929) was a “Sir” who was explorer, Governor/Administrator of various bits of the British Empire in Africa and keen amateur naturalist – the birds named for him were probably in his honour, rather than his own discoveries?
Jardine (1800 – 1874) was Sir William Jardine of Applegarth; a Scottish ornithologist owning a very fine private museum. He wrote numerous ornithological books and is remembered in the scientific name of Arrow-marked Babbler amongst many other species.
Kenrick was a British Army officer in Kenya, who, in 1894 collected the type specimen of the Starling in the Usambara Mountains of Tanzania and presented it to the British Museum.
Kittlitz (1799-1874) Originally a Polish army officer, gave it all up to travel the world on wildlife expeditions. He made a major journey to the Americas and around the ring of fire in the Pacific. He did start an expedition in Africa with Rueppell but had to abandon it in Egypt due to ill-health – but not before he collected and illustrated the plover that now bears his name.
Klaas was Levaillant’s Hottentot manservant for whom he named the cuckoo.
Leadbeater (1760 – 1837) was a British taxidermist and dealer in natural objects as well as a good ornithologist. He supplied famous naturalists such as Gould with specimens and, amongst others, has the scientific name of Southern Ground Hornbill named for him.
Levaillant (1753 – 1824) was a French traveler, explorer, collector and naturalist, born in Dutch Guiana, the son of a French Consul. Fascinated by birds from an early age he traveled in Africa (sponsored and for work) and sent over 2000 specimens to Temminck. He gave the common name of Bateleur to that species of raptor (French for a tight-rope walker who balances using a long pole – reminiscent of the wobbly way the bird flies) and it is also rumoured he may have “concocted” species from bits of other specimens.
Meyer (1767-1836) was a German physician with an interest in ornithology. He never went to Africa, so it is not clear how/why the parrot was named after him. (Not to be confused with A B Meyer who travelled extensively in S E Asia).
Montagu (1753-1815) was an apparently eccentric British aristocrat, court-marshaled from the services, living with mistresses and squandering fortunes. His studies of birds were purely within Britain and he was the first to describe the Harrier now named for him. He died of tetanus after treading on a rusty nail.
Narina –the trogon was named by Stephens in 1815 after a beautiful Hottentot girl who was probably Levaillant’s mistress. The name means “flower” in the Hottentot language.
Naumann (1744 – 1826) was a German farmer and amateur naturalist. His son Johann (1780 – 1857) was regarded as a founder of scientific ornithology in Europe, but it is the elder of the two whose name is remembered in the scientific name of Lesser Kestrel.
Pelzeln (1825 – 1891) was an Austrian ornithologist in charge of the bird section of the Imperial Museum in Vienna for 40 years. He apparently didn’t travel, but received specimens from all over the world and described them. Apart from numerous S. American species named for him he is commemorated in the scientific name of the Slender-billed Weaver.
Reichenow (1847 – 1941) was the German son-in-law of Cabanis who dominated German ornithology for many years and a leading expert on African birds. He has a long list of species named for him including the Seedeater we saw and the scientific name of Golden-winged Sunbird. He wrote many books on African ornithology, but only visited Africa once – which probably accounts for his great age!
Rueppell (1794-1884) was a German collector who made two long expeditions to east and north Africa. He has numerous birds and mammals named for him in both common and scientific names. Abdim Bey helped him in Egypt and got a stork named after him as thanks.
Schalow (1852-1925) was a German banker and amateur ornithologist who worked with Cabanis and Reichenow, but possibly never travelled in Africa, though had a turaco and wheatear named for him.
Sharpe (1847 – 1909) was a British zoologist working at the British Museum. With a particular interest in classification and phylogeny he described over 200 bird species. He was a prolific writer and founded the British Ornithologist’s Club in 1892. He has many species named for him including the Starling we saw and the scientific name of Black-lored Babbler.
Smith (1797 – 1872) was Dr. Sir Andrew Smith who was a ship’s surgeon and Director of Medical Services in Crimea. He was also a scrupulously accurate zoologist who made several expeditions to Africa. Later he became a Member of Parliament and gave his collection to Edinburgh University. Two of the birds he has been commemorated in is the scientific name of Wire-tailed Swallow and African Broadbill, where the entire genus – Smithornis – was named for him.
Speke (1827-1864)is famous for proving that Lake Victoria was one of the Nile’s sources, though he was apparently more interested in big-game hunting. After surviving the trials and tribulations of exploring Africa, he died when his shotgun went off and killed him as he stumbled over a stile back in England. The Weaver (and the bay!) were both named after him.
Temminck (1778-1858) was a Dutch ornithologist, illustrator and collector, who seemingly didn’t go to Africa but just received large collections from others and studied them as a director of the Rijksmuseum. He has huge numbers of animals named for him.
Ussher (1836 – 80) was at various times Governor of the Gold Coast, Tobago and Consul-General in Borneo, sending specimens to the British Museum and writing numerous papers and books on African ornithology. Numerous species of fish, insects and other animals – not just the scientific name of the Mottled Spinetail – have been named after him.
Verreaux (1807-1873) was one of three French collector/naturalist brothers. The whole family traded in large numbers of specimens and were heavily involved in taxidermy. Their zeal for preserving specimens perhaps went a bit far with the stuffing a deceased local African chief who went on display in Barcelona!
Von Der Decken (1833-65) was a German explorer of Africa where he was killed by Somalis. He was the first European to climb Kilimanjaro.
Wahlberg (1810-1856) was a Swedish collector who explored southern Africa and was killed by an elephant near the Limpopo River.
Waller was an English naturalist collecting in East Africa in the late 1800s. Apart from having various animals named for him he was also a signatory when the Sultan of Zanzibar ceded his mainland territories to the British East Africa Company in 1888.
Woosnam(1880 – 1915) was a Game Ranger in East Africa. He didn’t live long, but got lucky by being remembered in the scientific name of the Trilling Cisticola.
Whyte (1834 – 1905) was a government naturalist in Nyasaland (now Malawi), where he collected extensively. The scientific name of Red-faced Crombec is given to him.
Woodford (1761 – 1835) was a Colonel in the British Army in Europe, probably fighting with distinction at Waterloo. He was also a collector who dealt in bird art. The scientific name of the Wood Owl is named for him.
Meanings of other bird names:
Vitelline relates to yolks of eggs – and the bright yellow colour. So Vitelline Masked Weaver simply refers to its bright yellow body colour.
Isabelline is a dingy yellowish-grey colour and possibly refers to the colour of dirty underwear! Apparently Isabella, daughter of Philip II didn’t change her underwear for 3 years while Ostend was being fought over – whether as a protest or because she didn’t have the option of washing is yet to be researched!
Books & Websites:
- The Book with all the fascinating information about large mammal behaviour that I had on tour is: Estes, Richard Despard. The Behavior Guide to African Mammals. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991. (Note: He has produced a “dumbed-down” version since, which, to my mind is nowhere near as good).
- This website is worth a look if you want to be amused by genuine, but humorous scientific names: http://www.curioustaxonomy.net/ I particularly like these found on the Etymology / Named after people page: Agathidiumbushi, A. cheneyi and A. rumsfeldi Miller and Wheeler, 2005 (slime mold beetles) Named after the U.S. president, vice president, and defence secretary.
The Checklist: In the following checklist of birds and other animals seen, an “x” in the column means seen but not counted. An “h” in a column means heard only. Numbers given are only very approximate.
“Cisticolas Forever” – Latest Clement’s Taxonomy: 45 species in bold
An African birder’s greatest prize,
Comes in one general shape and size.
Small and skulking and most elusive,
They chatter from bushes with calls abusive.
They’ve no feathers of blue, red or green,
A colourful cisticola would be obscene.
Most folks are blissfully unaware,
That the modest cisticola is even there.
Their interest fast turns to boredom,
Within minutes of the first time they saw them.
But the birding elite – the cognoscenti,
Crave to see these birds a-plenty.
“Siffling Cisticolas” may sound like a bad disease!
But “cisticologists” know they’re sure to please.
Being plain or streaky does not detract,
From the fun in finding the drab Black-backed.
The chunky Chubb’s, and Aberdare,
Both so obscure – are they really there?
Stunning Dorst’s, and fine Pale-crowned,
Lurk in thick cover where they’re seldom found.
Rarely seen, the exotic Chirping,
Makes a call like someone burping.
Bright Golden-headed and bold Carruther’s,
Look the same – just like twin brothers.
The endemic Madagascar and cute Red-faced,
Stay low to the ground when being chased.
The dingy, skulking, obscure Red-Pate –
With this on your list, you’ll feel just great!
As for Desert, Socotra or raucous Winding:
There’s no greater pleasure than in their finding.
Finding the Tabora or the Levaillant’s
Will complete your list of daily wants.
High in the sky is the odd Wing-snapping
See one of these and there’ll be cheers and clapping.
Oh the fun of locating a lowly Wailing:
Yes -Cisticola enjoyment is never failing!
The dinky Churring and the fine Black-lored,
With such a choice we’re never bored.
Want a Boran, Ashy, Tiny or Stout?
Yes please -do bring the whole genus out.
The duetting Hunter’s and Pectoral-patch,
Are my favorites of the batch.
While Rufous, Piping and gorgeous Trilling,
Are without question the most thrilling.
Red-headed, Foxy and Slender-tailed?
– my joy in their presence has never failed!
Mere thoughts of Rock-loving and the Tana River,
Sets my very heart a-quiver.
Tinkling, Singing, Whistling, Croaking –
Seen enough? – you must be joking!
Is your knowledge of Cisticolas just a smattering?
Unsure if you’ve just seen a Chattering?
Trying to decide if you’ve had a Bubbling
May become an irksome troubling.
And the challenge of all that ID battling,
May make you wish they were all just Rattling.
Don’t mix Cloud-scraping for the similarCloud,
Their identification will make you proud.
There’s no better satisfaction than finally fitting,
The correct call and features to a real, live Zitting.
See all 45 species and you’ll feel so clever,
That you’ll shout a heartfelt “Cisticolas Forever“!
The Silence of the Giraffe
The Giraffe is known for being tall
But did you ever hear one call?
Despite a neck that is 9 feet long
Did you ever hear one sing a song?
Wildebeests grunt and Hyenas laugh
But no sound comes from the poor Giraffe.
Elephants, Lions and lowly Jackals,
Have their trumpets, roars and cackles,
But though Giraffes are awfully cute
They will remain forever mute.