We’re halfway there! To Tanzania that is… We had a fun day in Amsterdam before exhaustion set in early this afternoon. The bike paths around the airport were surprisingly birdy. Many Black-headed Gulls and Jackdaws, Great and Blue Tits, Pochards and Tufted Ducks, Gray Herons, Great Cormorants, Coots and Moorhens. We easily navigated the train system to the downtown Central Station where we walked ~30 min. to the Botanical Garden. Was not expecting trees full of Rose-ringed Parakeets! Many E. Blackbirds, E. Robin, E. Wood Pigeon, Treecreepers and Chaffinch. We were happy with our list of 25 species in a few hours of city birding. Many interesting little hole-in-the-wall restaurants of varied cuisines are packed into the funky architecture lining the maze of canals in the Center. We chose Lebanese. CitizenM hotel is quiet and comfy. Another 9hr flight to Arusha, TZ leaves in the morning.
We’re Here! Had an excellent first day in Tanzania! An hour’s drive from Kilimanjaro Airport, we arrived at Korona House before midnight last night. Fisher’s Lovebirds, Scarlet-chested and Variable Sunbirds added flashes of bright colors to the hotel grounds before breakfast. Shortly after breakfast we met our guide Anthony and driver Gietan and the four of us headed out for the day in Arusha National Park. It was exciting to see our first Zebra, Giraffe, Cape Buffalo, Warthog, Bushbuck, Waterbuck and Olive Baboons on the savannah at the base of the park’s 4500 meter Mt. Meru. A large troop of Black and White Colobus Monkey accompanied by several Blue Monkeys were seen in the mountain forest along with a pair of secretive Red Duiker. Our introduction to African wildlife also included 70 species of birds, but the highlight of the day was watching a Serval hunt for rodents in tall grass. Listening with its over-sized ears to pinpoint the exact location of its prey, the cat leaps above the grass, coming down front feet first, pinning its unsuspecting prey to the ground. The trip is off to a great start!
We started off the morning with a sharp looking pair of Black Bishops from the Arusha House balcony before breakfast. Arusha is a busy place. Once we got out of the congestion of the city, I think we added about thirty species to our list during the two and a half hour drive to Tarangire National Park. One particularly notable sighting was a guy on a motorcycle zipping in and out of traffic, balancing a large stack of cardboard on his head while talking on a cell phone! Incredibly striking, vivid scarlet and black Black-winged Bishops popping in and out of the vegetation along the highway was more the type of highlight we were looking for! Elephants and herds of Impala gathered along the Tarangire River cutting through the Baobab Tree-covered hills rolling out for miles in front of us is the iconic African view from our bungalow for the next two nights. White-rumped Shrikes, White-headed Buffalo Weavers, Ashy Starlings and Red-billed Hornbills are abundant along the paths here. Most of the eighty species encountered at the lodge and on our afternoon game drive were new for the trip. While stopped for an approaching White-bellied Bustard that eventually walked within feet of our vehicle, four Double-banded Coursers flew in, landing next to the truck, a Lialac-breasted Rollers perched in a nearby Rufous-tailed Weaver nest tree and an Elephant walked within 30 yards of us. A beautiful little Green-winged Pytilia perching nicely for us was one from Laura’s most wanted list. Hard to believe we’re here!
Red-chested Cuckoo‘s sing “it will rain, it will rain!” El Niño is to blame for the excessive rains here recently. Muddy roads and full rivers have caused us to take a few detours in the park. We awoke to a booming clap of thunder early this morning, but so far no rain has fallen directly on us. Hopefully this trend will continue. Trilling, Winding, Rattling and Zitting Cisticolas all look nearly identical – little brown jobs. But they can easily be identified by voice. It’s going to take more time than we have here in TZ to learn the calls of over a dozen that we could encounter on this trip! We’ve had good luck with small owls so far. An African Scops-Owl has been roosting during the day above the porch of tent 31 a few doors down. Two Pearl-spotted Owlets and two Southern White-faced Owls were seen on our game drives today. We ran into a Giraffe research team today. One of its members graduated from Oregon State University! Small World! The demographic study of the declining species is now in its fifth year. They have software that can identify individuals by their patterns like fingerprints and have about 4000 individuals in their database. They are working with local communities to secure important corridors between parks in Northern Tanzania. Baby Warthogs, Baboons, Vervet Monkeys, and Dik Diks are all pretty adorable.
African Black-headed Orioles singing near our bungalow this morning were a new species for the trip. Minutes later we were fooled by a Slate-colored Boubou with a spot-on Oriole impersonation! Driving west after an early morning game drive, we climbed over the Great Rift Valley West Escarpment onto the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. A Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, much larger than the Red-billed, Von der Decken’s and African Gray Hornbills that we have been seeing, flew through the campgrounds at our lunch stop near Lake Manyara National Park. African Pied Wagtails bobbed over the lawn during lunch while African Palm Swifts jetted by overhead.
It’s hard to imagine Elephants inhabiting dense vegetation on the very steep, rugged slopes of the Ngorongoro Crater Rim, but they are here. Looking down into the one-hundred-square-mile crater floor from the rim, herds of Wildebeest, Hippopotamus and Elephants look like specs. The Masai people, always dressed in bright colors, usually red, graze their cattle alongside the herds of wild animals throughout the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Wildebeest as far as the eye can see in every direction was the scene for dozens of miles as we made our way along a two track dirt path to Ndutu Safari Lodge in the Northwest corner of the Conservation Area. Thompson’s Gazelles, Grant’s Gazelles, Zebra, a couple dozen Ostrich and a pride of a dozen sleepy Lions also joined the Wildebeest migration spectacle. As we approached the lodge, a Zebra kill was being cleaned up by dozen squabbling White-backed Vultures, two enormous Lappet-faced Vultures, a Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, Steppe and Tawny Eagles. At dinner several sleek, cat-like Common Genet patrolled the rafters in the dining area. This is gonna be good!
Ndutu is well known for its big cats. Two-million plus Wildebeest on their annual migration though the area this time of year attracts predators. Lions are pretty lazy during the day. Two full-maned males and two lioness were seen loafing in acacia tree shade this morning. They are quite impressive beasts even when barely moving. One of three Cheetah sightings provided us with a little action, briefly chasing a pair of Thompson’s Gazelle not far from our vehicle.
It took over an hour for several hundred thousand Wildebeest to cross two hundred yards of a shallow arm of Lake Ndutu in front of us this afternoon! Sometimes crossing at a leisurely pace, sometimes in a panic, this was an unbelievably awesome spectacle!
No fence around the lodge allowed hundreds of Wildebeest and Zebra to graze their way across the grounds, yards from our front door this afternoon!
A brief shower made the dirt roads in the park slick as snot this morning. Anthony warned us that we have about a 99% chance of getting stuck if it rains. Today, we beat the odds. Cloud cover and cooler temperatures, low to mid-seventies, prompted a little more Lion activity this morning. Five minutes into our morning drive we encountered a pride of two Lioness and seven cubs feeding on a Wildebeest kill. Having had their fill by the time we arrived, the adults were ready for a cat nap, but the Cubs were still feeling rambunctious.
Other highlights of the morning were a stately pair of Secretary Birds, marching across the savannah on stilt-like legs, immobilizing their prey by bashing it into the ground with rapid strikes from their club-like feet, foraged near our vehicle. Five Bat-eared Fox winding their way down a grassy hillside, eventually passing nearby were the mammal sighting highlight of the morning. Anthony sees them an average of once every ten trips. Two impressive male Lions in the company of a single lioness attracted the attention of many Safari vehicles. One of the large males showed his appreciation of the crowd by backing up and peeing Our first Spotted Hyena of the trip was seen this morning, though we heard their whooping calls on our first night here. Making our way back through the acacia woodland to the lodge for lunch, a single female Cheetah feeding on a Thompson’s Gazelle was encountered, her belly so full it appeared difficult to stand! Laura had asked if there were any Chameleons around the grounds on the day we arrived. One of the staff found a Flap-necked Chameleon and brought it to us at lunch today.
Morning drives are for cats, afternoon drives are for the birds. This afternoon we saw some good ones! We had stunning looks at a group of five Heuglin’s Coursers! Great-spotted Cuckoo, a jet black Abyssinian Scimitarbill with a long, bright orange decurved bill, Pin-tailed and Steel-blue Whydahs both with impossibly long tail streamers, a flock of thirty Yellow-throated Sandgrouse and Golden-tailed Woodpecker were a few of the highlights of the afternoon.
No internet the last couple days….
Three Bat-eared Fox were out in the same area as yesterday again this morning. There must be a den nearby. Six White-bellied Bustards in the same field of view as the fox was an additional bonus! Three Cheetah were also seen on the move this morning. Two of them were hanging out in the Ndutu Marsh area. Several Egyptian Goose families with half grow chicks seemed like might make tasty Cheetah snacks, but apparently only the Jackals try for the geese, usually ending up with only flamingos. A gorgeous pair of Gray Crowned-Cranes were possibly nesting in the marsh. Black-winged Stilts, Blacksmith and Crowned Lapwings, Kittlitz’s, Common Ringed and Three-banded Plovers, Marsh and Wood Sandpipers, Ruff, Common Snipe, Double-banded Courser, Collared Pratincole and White-winged Terns were all in attendance. Also a single yellow-legged peep with the abundant Little Stints turned out to be a Temminck’s Stint! Rare in Northern Tanzania.
Siringet is the Masai word for Endless Plains. The first Europeans to arrive got the translation wrong, but Serengeti is the spelling that was perpetuated. After lunch we headed Northwest into the Central Serengeti. Dozens of Harriers, mostly Montegue’s and a few Pallid, Tawny and Steppe Eagles, European Common, Lesser and Greater Kestrels with striking pearly-white eyes hunted over the plains. Rain has been falling over the plains so the grasses are tall, green and lush. A Cheetah perched on a grassy knoll overlooking the vast landscape was number eight for the trip! Four adult lions were having a mid-day siesta on top of a granite outcropping called a kopje. Another lion sleeping in a tree was an unusual sighting. Lions, like Grizzlies are not built for climbing trees! We passed about fifty Elephants, many Giraffe, Warthogs, Cape Buffalo and Impala on our trek across the plains.
We are staying in ridiculously over-the-top deluxe accommodations at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge for the next two nights. Our room has a spiral staircase leading up to the bedroom with a balcony overlooking the Serengeti. A Pearl-spotted Owlet was heard from the balcony just before sunset and a Freckled Nightjar heard calling just after dark. There are Hyenas calling from the plains below as I write. We might be too excited to sleep!
Our Pearl-spotted Owlet was at our balcony to greet us at first light this morning. Topi are cool looking antelope, chestnut colored with chocolate brown shoulder and flank patches and S-shaped horns. We saw several of them as we headed out onto the Central Serengeti for the day. A family of a dozen Banded Mongoose hurried to the shelter of their termite mound burrows as we approached. We stopped for a pair of Black-backed Jackals trotting down the road towards us that eventually came within feet of our vehicle. Birding was excellent as we made our way across the plains towards a stand of Whistling Acacia, the preferred habitat of the rare and endangered East African endemic Karamojo Apalis. We easily found a pair of the small gray and white birds feeding a fledgling when we arrived at the spot. Very cool. Black-breasted and Brown Snake-Eagle, Martial and Tawny Eagles, Dark Chanting and Gabar Goshawks, African Fish-Eagle, loads of Montegu’s Harriers, Black-shouldered Kite, Eurasian Common, Lesser, Greater and Gray Kestrels made the list of Raptors seen today.
The grounds of the Serengeti Visitors Center where we stopped for lunch today was teaming with both Bush And Rock Hyrax and Pygmy Mongoose. A bright green Klaas’s Cuckoo, duetting pair of Usambiro Barbets and a dazzling Scarlet-chested Sunbird were the highlights of the stop.
Fifty Hippopotamus submerged to the tops of their backs and crammed tightly together in a muddy stream made a perfect platform for Black Crakes to forage insects from. As we approached a large Bull Elephant close to the road, Anthony told us to be very quite. He barely paused before going back to grazing when we rolled up beside him. Before long, another vehicle pulled in behind us. Apparently their driver did not issue the same instructions and the loud, excited voices coming from the rover were clearly agitating the massive bull. He began grumbling, shaking his head and stamping his feet towards the noise. It was an incredibly intimidating display. Everyone was relieved he decided not to charge! Two adult Lioness and three half-grown Cubs were seen lounging together in a large acacia tree late this afternoon.
The most unexpected bird of the day / trip was a Corncrake seen well and photographed as we finished the day on the plains.
Red-headed Weavers were busy feeding their noisy chicks in the garden at the entrance to the Serengeti Sopa Lodge this morning. Both parents carrying food into the pendulous nest through the hanging cylindrical entrance. Most of the Baboon troops we’ve seen have been on the ground. This morning a troop of thirty or so were high in the canopy of a tall Acacia Tree. A call came over the radio and after a half-hour bumpy ride, we arrived on the scene with about twenty other Land Cruisers to find a big spotted cat in a tree. Leopard! We watched for a few minutes before it jumped down out of the tree and wandered away through the tall grass. We’re happy to see the tall grass, which is great for wildlife, but can make it difficult to see what’s happening on the ground. Lucky for us, a pair of Southern Ground Hornbills decided to fly up into a tree! Black Coucal and Rosy-breasted Longclaw had also been concealed by the tall grass before this morning.
Displaying male Red-headed Agama lizards with crazy pinkish-red front halves and purplish-blue legs and back half, bobbed their heads and directed push-ups towards rival males while chasing female Agamas over the rocks during our lunch stop. An African Cuckoo showed uncharacteristic behavior by sitting out in the open while eating a caterpillar. Banded Parisomas are one of our favorite and most recognizable singers. Their attractive loud rolling and rattling song begins with a reeling fluid trill and continues chip-chit-wurr-chewy-chewy-chewy.
We left the plains this afternoon and climbed up into the cool and lush Ngorongoro Highlands of the crater rim. Winding our way up a steep, narrow dirt road through dense montane forest, we encountered our second Leopard of the day! It was a brief look as we rounded a corner and saw the cat jump from the road up into the forest and was gone. One other vehicle in front of us got an even better look, but it was still an awesome sighting, especially since the cat wasn’t being followed by the paparazzi. African Stonechats, Tropical Boubou, White-eyed Slaty Flycatchers, Mountain Greenbuls, Montane White-eyes and Hildebrant’s Francolin on the lawn greeted us at the luxurious NgorongoroSopa Lodge where we’ll be staying the next two nights.
White-necked Ravens making various interesting vocalizations greeted us at fist light this morning outside our room. Cape Robin-chats and Streaky Seedeaters hopped along the stone walkway to the lodge. After breakfast we wound our way down from the crater rim through the lush, dense Montane Forest to spend the entire day on the Crater Floor. Bronze and Golden-winged Sunbirds were feeding in the flowering trees on the slope above the floor. Slate black Northern Anteater-Chats with flashy white wing patches perched on roadside rocks as we passed. Flocks of Western Yellow Wagtails fed on insects kicked up by the herds of Buffalo, Zebra and Wildebeest. Three Spotted Hyenas had a disagreement over who should get to chew on an old Buffalo skull. Eleven lions were passed out around a pond with a recent Wildebeest kill nearby. Displaying Kori Bustards with necks puffed up like huge balloons strutted and boomed across the grassland. Several Hippopotamus adults and babies grazing out of the water and many more mostly submerged were entertaining to see and hear. Dozens of Wildebeest nursing newborn calves were seen scattered across the plains. Most of the Elephants on the crater floor are old Bulls. These Big Tuskers are very impressive animals. Black Rhinoceros are critically endangered. The crater is one of the few places in Tanzania where they still exist. There are less than thirty left there. We saw five today. Sad. Ngorongoro Crater is spectacular like no place else on Earth.
Excellent morning bird walk at NgorongoroSopa Lodge turned up two emerald green Schalow’s Turacos with long pointed crests and bright rufous wing flashes that sat calling high in the canopy above the forest. Careful searching of the canopy also revealed a calling African Emerald Cuckoo, stunning metallic green with a bright yellow breast. African Green-Pigeons sat on an exposed branch too. Tacazze, Golden-winged and Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds flashed through the bushes like sparkling jewels. A colorful pair of Yellow-bellied Waxbills flitted through the roadside vegetation and a fierce looking Long-crested Eagle perched in the canopy shade on the rim road drive out. Emerald-spotted Wood Doves called from the forest while we watched a sharp looking Gray-capped Warbler constructing a nest in a vertical hanging vine.
We arrived at Gibbs Farm for lunch. Many acres of flowering plants around the shade-grown coffee plantation and vegetable gardens were hopping with birds. I could easily spend a whole day trying to photograph the seven different dazzling Sunbird species we saw feeding in the flowers. African Paradise and White-tailed Blue-Flycatchers were not hard to look at either. We watched a Holub’s Golden Weaver working on its tidy woven ball of a nest at the tip of a Banana leaf. Rueppell’s Robin-Chats, Black-backed Puffbacks, Lesser and Scaly-throated Honeyguides were a few other goodies seen this afternoon.
We’re staying at the Tloma Mountain Lodge tonight. Not much daylight left to bird once we arrived, but Red Bishops in the garden in the fading light and Montane Nightjars calling and flying overhead are good indications that this is our kind of place!
We’re getting familiar with a few calls and are able to recognize some of the more common species, but we often have no idea who’s voice it is that we’re hearing. Tracking down a unfamiliar variety of raucous crackling and nasal whining on our morning walk at Tloma Mountain Lodge, Laura and I were happy to find an Arrow-marked Babbler. It’s fun to find and identify a new species for the trip on our own. We thought we did recognize another unique voice and after seeing several brown and white, rufous-winged bullets zip through the coffee plantation forest, we finally got good looks at a perched Tamborine Dove. Schalow’s Wheatear is a Rift Valley endemic. Black with a brown cap, white belly and rufous under tail coverts, one was perched on a rocky hillside as we descended the West Rift Escarpment.
Beesley’s Lark is one of the most endangered birds in the world. The entire population of about forty, exists in an arid shortgrass plain in the rain shadow of Mt. Meru. After sifting through several Rufous-naped, Short-tailed, Red-capped and Foxy Larks, we found our target. A single Beesley’s Lark is most likely the rarest bird that Laura and I have ever seen. Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Red-faced Crombec, Green-backed Camaroptera, Black-throated Barbet, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Gray Wren-Warbler, White-bellied Canary and Yellow-spotted Petronia were some of the birds found in the dry thorn scrub adjacent to the Lark Plains.
We arrived at Arusha House with enough light to take a walk around the neighborhood before dark. It was pretty obvious that white people are not seen walking here very often. Everyone was super friendly. We enjoyed everyone waving and greeting us with the Swahili word for hello – “Jambo” One group of four boys riding donkeys, herding their goats and cattle, were
especially bold yelling “Take my photo!”, but we weren’t carrying our cameras. After stocking up on supplies for the second leg of the trip, we’re looking forward to heading to the mountain ranges East of here tomorrow.
Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain dominated the landscape with its snow-capped peak as we drove east from Arusha this morning towards the Eastern Arc Mountains. Millions of white butterflies from a recent hatch filled the air like blowing confetti all day today. An Eastern Paradise-Whydah seemed to struggle to stay airborne, dragging around its impossibly long, bulky tail feathers. Aptly named Cut-throat Finches, Blue-naped Mousebirds and Purple Grenadier were seen in the thorn-scub habitat near Lake NyumbaYaMungu. Three Madagascar Bee-eaters were early intra-African migrants not expected in this area until April. Over a hundred African Black Skimmers took flight from a gravel bar on the lake when a fisherman rowed past. Great and Long-tailed Cormorants, Pink-backed Pelicans, Little, Intermediate and Great Egrets lined the shoreline while Pied Kingfishers hovered over the reservoir.
Lunch at the Elephant Hotel in Same (Sah-meh) town included Trumpeter Hornbills bugling from the canopy, Vervet Monkey troop aged from adult to nursing babies, Hadada Ibis probing the leaf litter, Pied Crows constantly calling, White Fish Fillet and Roasted Eggplant.
After twelve days of Safari in the Land Cruiser, it was great to get out for a walk this afternoon in the South Pare (Parry) Mountains. Black-headed Batis, cute little black and whites, black breast-banded male and rufous banded female hopped through the branches. Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrikepresent a bright flash of yellow-orange in the dry scrub forest. If Zanzibar SombreGreenbul were named after its song, it could have been named Vibrant Greenbul. Eastern Kenya Violet-backed Sunbirds glow with iridescent purple in the sun. Hunter’s Sunbirds, jet black with a long decurved bill and bright scarlet chest sang from exposed perches. Parrot-billed Sparrows, dark gray and brown with a white shoulder patch are not the flashiest, but a new species for the trip. A slightly different pattern separates Black-necked Weavers from other black and yellow weavers in the area. A small bird with a blue-black sheen and bright white bill would be Village Indigobird. Two frog species, one sounding like a tiny hammer striking an anvil, the other sounding something like a snore are singing us to sleep tonight.
Mkomazi is a southern extension of West Tsavo National Park in Kenya. All of the big game exists in Mkomazi, but most have migrated north this time of year. Hunting before the reserve became a National Park a few years ago has left the animals here noticeably more skittish than the ones we’ve encountered in other parks recently. We did see a couple dozen Giraffe and a herd of Coke’s Hartebeest that were not curious about why we had stopped. A troop of a dozen Yellow (Savannah) Baboons, more slender and lanky than the Olive Baboons we had seen previously throughout the trip crossed the road in front of us. Bare-eyed Thrush were abundant near the park headquarters while Southern Black-Flycatchers regularly sallied out for flying insects from the surrounding trees. A flock of twenty-five European Bee-eaters in a single tree was an awesome sight, but four Northern Carmine Bee-eaters, elegantly long and slender maroon birds with turquoise-blue heads were even more stunning. Powder blue and chestnut European Rollers were abundant in the park, flashing bright blue wings in flight. A pair of Rosy-patched Bush-shrikes duetted from an exposed perch at the top of an Umbrella Acacia.Numerous Pin-tailed Whydah trailing ribbon-like tail streamers were seen hovering over selected females. A Long-crested Eagle, black with piercing gold eyes and long crest waving in the breeze scanned the ground below a bare snag for potential prey.
A couple roadside stops as we continued east towards the Usambara Mountains turned up a few more goodies this afternoon. African Open-billed Stork is a medium-sized black stork that has a bizarre bill specially adapted for its specific diet of snails and bivalves. The upper and lower mandibles are curved apart creating a gap when the bill is closed. A minuscule pair of Malachite Kingfishers, rufous and blue, one holding a small fish in its bright red bill, perched together in a tree near a stream. Zanzibar Red Bishops with incredibly vivid scarlet and black plumage were puffed up in courtship display for several nearby females. A Black-bellied Sunbird hovered and dipped into the water while African Silverbills, Crimson-rumped and Common Waxbills fed on the seeds of stream side grasses.
UsambaraGaligos (Bush Babies) were heard calling from the grounds at Mullers Lodge in the Usambara Mountains before dinner tonight. Traditional African Dancers and Drummers performed on the lodge lawn for after dinner entertainment!
Angola Colobus Monkeys with long, flowing black and white fur and extremely long white-tipped tails were in the trees at the start of our walk in the Magamba Forest Reserve. It was tough birding in the dense vegetation of the Usambara Mountains. Laura, Anthony and I walked for five hours along a dirt road through the high elevation forest this morning. We worked hard for every skulker, eventually getting on most, but a couple remained heard only. A few of our targets that we did get looks at were Usambara Boubou, Usambara Greenbul, Usambara Drongo and Usambara Double-banded Sunbird. An Usambara Two-horned Chameleon moving slowly in the roadside vegetation also caught our attention. Green Barbet, Moustached Tinkerbird, Black-fronted Bushshrike, African Tailorbird, White-starred Robin and Black and White Mannikins were also seen. An African Cuckoo-hawk passed through an opening in the forest for an all-too-brief look and an African Hawk-Eagle soaring overhead caused a frantic commotion from a flock of Silvery-cheeked Hornbills. Twenty of the thirty-two species seen this morning were new for the trip. Another Long-crested Eagle was perched in the sun close to the road on our way back to the lodge for lunch. We’ve seen several now, but it would take many more before we got tired of looking them.
In the Usambara Mountains it’s quality over quantity. Another couple hours in a different section of the Magamba Forest this afternoon turned up a few more super skulkers. Our hard won trophies for the afternoon were Short-tailed Batis, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, African Hill Babbler, Red-faced Crimson-wing and the grand prize of the afternoon was an incredibly secretive Spot-throat which took about thirty minutes of staring through the dense understory at the dark forest floor before getting a satisfactory look!
Great Sparrowhawk aka Black Goshawk was the first new bird of the day as it flew over Mullers Lodge shortly after first light. Silvery-cheeked Hornbills calling from the ridge above the lodge eventually took flight and glided down the mountain side. A fruiting fig tree at the beginning of our morning walk in the upper Mkuzi Forest was busy with birds and kept us occupied for over an hour. Subtle differences in plumage and behavior between Yellow-streaked, Striped-cheeked and Shelley’s Greenbuls could eventually be appreciated. Usambara Thrush, very similar to American Robin in plumage and voice, fed on the ripe pea-sized figs. White-tailed Crested-Flycatchers flit around the canopy with fan-shaped tails spread. An East African endemic Hartlaub’s Turaco, green, blue and red glided into view, perching briefly before continuing out of sight. An incessantly calling Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, very near but hidden in the dense foliage, was eventually spotted for the prize bird of the morning.
Silvery-cheeked Hornbills again started off our last afternoon in the Usambaras with twenty or more birds descending the ridge line on the horizon as we walked a trail paralleling a stream through the lush forest of the lower Mkuzi Forest. Another close look at a Spot-throat was unexpected after struggling to see the bird yesterday. A nondescript Olive Sunbird was new for the trip and came in singing its musical tune for a close look. The Grand Finale of the day was a gorgeous pair of Bar-tailed Trogons perched in full view making occasional sallies over the stream to snatch caterpillars from hanging vines.
Mullers lodge is one of the few places where it was possible walk around the grounds after dark, but only until 11:00pm when the guard dogs were released. Spotlighting for Bush Babies, which we could hear but never did see, we found two not-so-cryptic Tree Frogs, bright orange with yellow spots. Probably wouldn’t want to eat them.
With just a little over an hour to bird before we have to start the drive back west to Arusha for our flight out tonight, we headed for the same productive Mkuzi Forest Fig Tree as yesterday. Hartlaub’s Turaco was the first bird seen as we stepped out of the Land Cruiser. Not a bad way to start the day! Many of the same birds were taking part in the fig feast plus an additional pair of Olive Woodpeckers hitching their way up the branches. A pair of White-browed Barbet perched on exposed limbs nearby along with a single Gray Cuckoo-Shrike. A Black Goshawk passing overhead caused widespread panic and sent everyone diving for cover!
Below the winding Usambara Mountain road, a rocky canyon stream cascades over large boulders. Dozens of African Golden-Weavers were busy building their intricately woven nests in the stream-side reeds. A pair of Mocking Cliff-Chats posed on the top of a tall cactus in the cliffs above the stream. A pair of Blue-spotted Wood-Doves landed in a branch above the road and a sharp looking Brown-breasted Barbet with red head and bulky, jagged beak posed on an exposed limb over the canyon. Rice paddies and Sisal plantations dominate the landscape at the base of the mountains. Zanzibar Red Bishops were seen perched on the roadside vegetation.
Greeted by a cacophony of Pied Crows and bugling Trumpeter Hornbills we arrived for lunch at the Elephant Lodge in Same (Sah-meh) Town. We walked through The thorn scrub at one last stop between Same and Arusha this afternoon adding the last few new birds for the trip. An adult Somali Golden-breasted Bunting was accompanied by a food begging juvenile. A pair of Somali Crombec were seen in a thorn bush. Nearly identical to and just as tail-less as the other two Crombec species seen on the trip. Range and subtle color difference are the best ways to separate the three species. Mouse-colored Penduline-Tit is a tiny, mouse-sized critter, at three inches long is one of the smallest birds in Africa and definitely the smallest bird seen by us on the trip. A surprising number of flowering plants in bloom attracted many scarlet-chested Hunter’s Sunbirds and warbler-like Kenya Violet-backed Sunbirds.
We’re now in the Kilimanjaro airport awaiting our flight out. Darn. It was an incredible adventure! We could have easily stayed another few weeks!
Bird Species Total: 434
Mammals : 48