Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
A few years ago after my grandmother passed on I received a check from my mother for a couple of thousand dollars with a note attached that read, “Have fun with this.” I squirreled that money away and added a bit to it now and then until I had amassed enough to attain my goal for my fiftieth year on the planet- a long dreamed trip to East Africa.
In addition to the money I endeavored to accrue enough frequent flyer miles using my American Airlines credit card so that we could make the long flight from California to Nairobi in business class. I had been hesitant to use up all my miles but my wife Laura made it clear that this was the way to go. Truth be told, for that long a flight it was the only way to fly.
In that the trip was not a clean up type trip that emphasized only birding I was still able to see 250 new species even though I bit my tongue many times rather than stopping the vehicle. Many birds went unseen in order to appease my traveling companions who were all good friends who had traveled together before but non birders. (Although I bet they’d dispute that claim!)
Besides the birds I had come to see the greatest accumulations of mammals to be seen on earth since the Pleistocene.
Feb. 4 Nairobi National Park
We arrived in Nairobi on the previous evening and were met at the airport by a car to take us to the Nairobi Hilton. I paid about $40 US each way per person for this service. Rumor had it that Nairobbery was a dangerous place with rampant crime, carjackings and awful traffic. After landing and clearing customs we were in a modest room in the Hilton within a half hour as the traffic at 10 pm was virtually non existent. (as for the crime we learned from our driver that a zero tolerance, shoot now, ask questions later policy by armed undercover police had been very successful in curbing crime in this city of 3 million).
We would be flying to Arusha, Tanzania later on this day so I made arrangements for a four hour tour of Nairobi National Park ($75 per person). I requested a guide that knew the birds and he did to a certain extent. I was surprised when he told me there weren’t all that many birds in the park as I had heard just the opposite from other birders. The park is remarkably near to the city of Nairobi and abuts the airport. I have photos of Giraffes with the skyline of Nairobi skyscrapers in the background.
Our four hour tour stretched into six and I ended up breaking my previous record for the most new birds seen in a single day by 3 amassing 50 ticks.
The list includes: COMMON OSTRICH, CARDINAL WOODPECKER, BLACK KITE, MALACHITE KINGFISHER, ABDIM’S STORK, HAMERKOP, LITTLE BEE-EATER, BLUE-NAPED MOUSEBIRD, AFRICAN BLACK SWIFT, EURASIAN MARSH HARRIER, BLACK-CHESTED SNAKE EAGLE, LESSER and GREY KESTREL, PYGMY FALCON, HADADA IBIS, MARABOU STORK, PIED CROW, BRUBRU, GREY BACKED, LONG-TAILED AND COMMON FISCAL SHRIKES, PIED and ISABELLINE WHEATERS, WHITE-BROWED SPARROW WEAVER, RED-CHEEKED CORDONBLEU, and PURPLE GRENADIER.
The highlight of Nairobi NP was a walk along a river with an armed ranger escort. We saw our first OLIVE BABOONS, BLACK-FACED VERVET MONKEYS and a single NILE CROCODILE.
From the mini-van safari vehicle we saw several types of antelopes: WILDEBEEST, HARTEBEEST, ELAND, TOPI, ORIBI, REEDBUCK, COMMON WATERBUCK and CAPE BUFFALO.
COMMON ZEBRAS were numerous as were MAASAI GIRAFFES. We got lucky and saw our first three AFRICAN LIONS napping in the shade.
We headed back to the Hilton for lunch and a brief nap before meeting our driver for the trip back to the airport. The flight from Nairobi to Arusha was brief albeit expensive ($ 375 round trip per person for a 40 minute flight) but the fantastic view of Mt. Kilimanjaro was nearly worth the price.
We were met at Kilimanjaro International Airport by a representative of African Dream Safaris vis a vis Tanganyika Expeditions and whisked through customs. A short 2k drive took us to the lovely and very comfortable Kia Lodge where we were made to feel very welcome by the gracious Maasai warriors employed there. It was good to find our friends had all arrived safely the previous day via KLM Airlines.
We are awake before dawn for an early departure from KIA Lodge. We breakfast as the sun rises and the dawn chorus of unfamiliar birds beckons. I am excited at the prospect of seeing new bird families on this trip. I’ve put together a list of 33 new families I have a solid chance at seeing. When it is finally light enough to begin birding I find my first new bird for the day; a BEAUTIFUL SUNBIRD. Next is a bird which we will see a thousand times over and thus give it the nickname of Superb Trash Bird, its real name is appropriate. The SUPERB STARLING is quite lovely albeit ubiquitous.
Our group is in the parking area ready to go and as we pile into the minivan I see a small flock of WHITE-BROWED COUCALS. Then it’s off to the Arusha airport for our morning flight to the Central Serengeti.
The flight is a memorable one; the sight of Maasai Bomas below, the flight over Ngorongoro and the Serengeti is spectacular. After a couple of landings to drop off and pick up passengers we arrive at the Seronera Airstrip where we are met by our guide for the next 9 days. Baltazari-John Lyakurwa or BJ.
Now I can begin birding in earnest, my small digital voice recorder is indispensable.
Say what you will about car birding but on safari you have no choice. To venture out of the vehicle you enter the food chain and risk being run over by a Cape Buffalo or perhaps eaten by a lion.
LILAC-BREASTED ROLLER, WATTLED STARLINGS, GREY-BACKED SHRIKE, RED-NECKED SPURFOWL, WHITE-BACKED VULTURE, AUGUR BUZZARD, MAGPIE SHRIKE, SCARLET-CHESTED SUNBIRD, YELLOW-THROATED LONGCLAW.
And then there are the mammals, we see many of the antelope we saw at Nairobi National Park but here in the Serengeti the number of animals is mind boggling. BJ gets word from another vehicle, of which there are many, about something interesting and he puts the pedal to the metal. “We are going to see something that is very difficult to find most of the time,” he tells us.
We pull up to a cluster of Land Rovers and Cruisers and there in a tree 200 yards away is a LEOPARD with a freshly killed Wildebeest calf. It pulls tufts of fur from its prey that suddenly falls out of the tree. We watch the big cat leap down from the tree, grab the calf by the neck and drag it back up into the tree. Wow!
Minutes later we drive up to a small tree with a pair of lions under it who appear to be in a post coitus state of exhaustion. BJ tells us about the frequency with which lions mate as many as 230 times a day for a few consecutive days. No wonder they look tired. I am surprised at just how close they allow our vehicle to approach who needs a long lense?
Our first two SECRETARYBIRDS go stomping by on their long legs and dreadlock head feathers.
GRANT’S GAZELLES are new for us as are WARTHOGS. While we are viewing these a skinny female lion passes in front of our vehicle and stalks the pigs. She looks as if she has been through an ordeal with a fresh open wound on her rear haunch. Close on her heels is a SPOTTED HYENA covered in a layer of mud. It is a thrill to watch the lion try to creep up on the Warthogs but they catch sight of her and are off and away much to the lion’s and hyena’s chagrin.
We have lunch at the lovely Seronera Lodge tucked into a granite outcropping called a kopje (Afrikaans for head). On the way to the dining room we see our first ROCK HYRAXES and DWARF MONGOOSE, a brilliant red and blue AGAMA LIZARD and a BLUE-CAPPED CORDONBLEU.
After our sumptuous lunch we repair to the lounge for a brief siesta before returning to our stretch Land Cruiser.
Just after leaving Seronera Lodge we pause at a small pool on the river and find a nice variety of shorebirds and waterfowl; BLACK-WINGED STILT, PIED AVOCET, SPOTTED REDSHANK, MARSH, WOOD, CURLEW, GREEN and COMMON SANDPIPERS, LITTLE STINT, RUFF, GREENSHANK, BLACK CRAKE, RED-KNOBBED COOT, RED-BILLED DUCK, EGYPTIAN GOOSE, AFRICAN PYGMY KINGFISHER, WHISKERED TERN and in the shrubs a RATTLING CISTICOLA.
Then we’re off to the Retina Hippo Pool and see HELMETED GUINEAFOWL, YELLOW and GREY BREASTED SPURFOWL, BROWN SNAKE EAGLE, BATELEUR, AUGUR BUZZARD, AFRICAN GREY HORNBILL, WHITE-BELLIED GO AWAY BIRD, RUEPPEL’S GRIFFON and WHITE-HEADED VULTURES, CROWNED and BLACKSMITH LAPWINGS. Our first pair of diminutive DIK-DIKS antelopes are seen near the roadside.
At the hippo pool we see a pod of HIPPOPATUMUS piled on top of each other in the green muddy muck. Given that we are on an elevated bank which they would be unable to scale we can get very close to these dangerous animals. Of all the African mammals it is the Hippo that is the most frequent killer of humans and here we are all of 15 feet from them! On the other side of the pool out of the water is a very large NILE CROCODILE.
There are birds here too; YELLOW-BILLED STORK, WATER THICK-KNEE and THREE BANDED PLOVER.
From the pools we head back to Seronera area were we will be camping for the night. En route we come across a CAPE BUFFALO hosting a flock of RED-BILLED OXPECKERS getting a bit of water out of his nostrils. A MAASAI GIRAFFE has YELLOW-BILLED OXPECKERS working their way up his neck. We see our first AFRICAN FISH EAGLE.
We arrive at camp where our tents and dining table are all set up and waiting. It has been a long and very fruitful day and the Tusker Beers are a welcome refreshment. We dine out in the open on some tasty African Beef Stew. I finally start to feel like I’m on safari.
Our tents are canvas dome tents with cots inside that prove to be comfortable and sturdy in the gale that ensues in the night. Lanterns are lit to discourage the wild animals from visiting. A pit toilet behind the tents has a canvas enclosure for privacy. There is also an enclosed bladder shower.
After dinner we gather briefly around a small campfire in camp chairs but soon we all repair to our tents. The wind howls in the night. My dad goes out to secure a flap on his tent that is keeping him awake. There is a tap on his shoulder and the camp cook informs him that there is a lion very nearby. There are no guns in camp.
As Ed Abby once wrote, “it ain’t really wilderness unless there’s something out there that can eat you.”
The winds that pummeled our tents all night have thankfully abated by dawn. When it finally gets light out I exit the tent and start ticking new birds about our camp; TROPICAL BOUBOU, SPOTTED FLYCATCHER, BARE-FACED GO AWAY BIRD, VITELLINE MASKED WEAVER, BROWN PARROT, GABAR GOSHAWK, SPECKLED PIGEON and PALE FLYCATCHER all before breakfast!
We depart camp and soon come upon our first AFRICAN ELEPHANTS grazing as they go. The group is comprised of females and calves. They are undisturbed by our presence and it is a treat to be able to hear them rip us the grass and snatch it with their trunk into their mouths. Any time we stop the car and the engine goes off we are struck by an awesome silence that is almost eery.
A BATELEUR flies overhead, as does a MONTAGU’S HARRIER, along the road we pass a STUHLMANN’S STARLING, MOURNING COLLARED DOVE, BLACK-HEADED HERON and WHITE-HEADED BUFFALO WEAVERS. We drive through the savannah passing lines of Wildebeest and Zebra that stretch to the horizon. We see some calves and learn that without new grass from the rains these will not likely survive. It is very dry and dusty at this time with no rain having fallen recently.
We come upon our first THOMSON’S GAZELLES and find some more Elephants working the acacia trees. Upon arriving at the Moru Kopjes we find a couple of small lion prides sleeping in the shady recesses of the rocks. We stop at the Maasai Gong Rock for lunch. The cave with the pictographs reeks of lion urine.
The gong rock in like a primitive xylophone. Hit it with a cobble in different, well worn holes and get a variety of notes that sound surprisingly metallic. The view of the Serengeti from here makes it seem endless. Of course there are birds here where the kopjes hide subsurface water creating lush green islands in the dry savannah;
AFRICAN PARADISE FLYCATCHER, CHIN-SPOT BATIS. On the rocks I find a striking CLIFF CHAT that tries to elude my camera but after some pursuit (keeping an eye out for lions) I manage a decent shot.
On the way back to camp we find a group of BANDED MONGOOSE residing in a termite mound and find our first BLACK-BACKED JACKAL. A TEMNICK’S COURSER and KORI BUSTARD are new families for me. A pair of TAWNY EAGLES allow close approach as they eat what looks like a placenta.
Back at camp the crew pulls Tusker Beers out of the African refrigerator (they’ve been buried in the ground all day) and we settle into our camp chairs taking turns in the warm bladder shower. Dinner is leek soup and pan fried chicken with snap peas. BJ and the camp crew bring out an almond cake and sing a lovely African birthday song for our friend Coni to celebrate her sixtieth.
Once again we gather around the campfire and relish our day together.
In the night I get up to pee. Exiting the tent I do my business next to one of the two kopjes our camp is nestled between. I am back in the tent for maybe three minutes before hearing a lion roar very near by. The sound comes from the same direction I had just been to. BJ has described the roar with a deep voice, “Who are you, who are you, I am lion, lion, lion.”
The sound is thrilling, curiously I am not frightened by it but rather awed. Laura, Coni and Cecille are happy they have Piddle Packs a.k.a Port a Johns in the tents so they don’t have to venture out of the tents at night to pee. These were thoughtful Christmas gifts from me, filled with polymers that gel so as not to spill.
In the morning we are standing around camp, drinking our tea or coffee and talking about the roaring lions in the night. Suddenly a male lion running by about 75 yards outside of camp. He looks intent and doesn’t even glance our way. We hear a series of loud growls and roars. BJ surmises that there are two male lions fighting over an in estrus female. The lions are close but uninterested in us, they have more pressing things on their minds.
Around camp before breakfast I find some new birds in the flat topped acacia that looms over our camp: GREY-BACKED CAMAREPTERA, SPECKLE-FRONTED and PARASITIC WEAVERS, GREY-HEADED SPARROW and a comical looking pair of D’ARNAUD’S BARBETS.
We get an early start on the day and proceed to drive into the southern Serengeti.
On the main road from Lake Victoria we pass slow, pungent trucks laden with fish on their way to Arusha. Turning onto a side track we come upon dense concentrations of Wildebeest and Zebra. We’re talking thousands of animals here. Herds stretch to the horizon. In the wet area are Hippos, Reedbuck and Warthogs. This must be like earth was like during the Pleistocene. Stopping at waterholes we watch the herds drink warily. The scene is right out of the National Geographic TV programs I watched as a kid and dreamed of seeing one day.
While the others in our group are gazing at the herds out of the top of the Land Cruiser I’m trying to get a decent look at some of these little brown jobs that have been flitting by the vehicle as we drive along. I finally manage a decent look at a RUFOUS SHORT-TOED LARK and FISCHER’S SPARROW LARK. WATTLED STARLINGS seem to be everywhere the herds of animals are.
TAWNY EAGLES soar over the plains but then a darker, larger bird stoops on one of them and I get the field marks down before finding it in the book. STEPPE EAGLE! In the short grass I manage to pick out a well camouflaged
YELLOW-THROATED SANDGROUSE for my thirteenth new family in 4 days.
On our way out of Serengeti National Park we pass three female Lions with a freshly killed Zebra right beside the road. We come to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and enter at the Naabi Hill Gate. While BJ goes to secure our permits I take the opportunity to do some out of the car birding. The birdlife is quite prolific here: BLACK-LORED BABBLER, GREY-HEADED SOCIAL WEAVER, RED-BILLED BUFFALO WEAVER, YELLOW-FRONTED CANARY, RED-BILLED FIREFINCH and HILDEBRANDT’S STARLING.
Back in the Land Cruiser we proceed to the area of the southern Serengeti known as the Gol Kopjes. The grass is short here and there are gazelles galore. In addition to the Thomson’s and Grant’s we find some SOEMMERING’S GAZELLES. We have a quarry here, BJ has declared that this area is our best bet for finding Cheetah. In the conservation area we are allowed to roam off the designated tracks. This is great fun driving cross country. We see a kopje and head for it, drive around and see what might be hiding in the rocks. We find more napping lions but try as we may we do not find any cheetahs.
We do have a memorable race with a male Ostrich. I’ll never forget seeing that giant bird pass the car and pull away! New birds seen in the Gol Kopjes and surrounding grasslands are; PIED WHEATEAR, SPOTTED THICK-KNEE, GREATER KESTREL, PALLID HARRIER, BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE, CAPE ROOK and CHESTNUT-BELLIED SANDGROUSE.
Back on the main road to Ngorongoro Crater we encounter the Maasai. With their vibrant red and cobalt shukas they leap out of the dry and dusty landscape like apparitions. We see small children tending the flocks of sheep and goats with the older ones tending the cattle.
We come to our accommodations for the next two nights at Olduvai Tented Lodge and are welcomed by Maasai warriors who help us with our bags. The tents are a step up from the last two nights. Thatched roofs cover the tents and behind them, inside a thatched enclosure are a bladder shower and pit toilet. See http://www.africadreamsafaris.com/lodges/olduvia.html
We are invited to join one of the warriors on a short walk while our showers are filled with warm water. Frances is very friendly, outgoing and self assured like most of the Maasai we will encounter. He has a quick smile, contagious laugh and firm handshake. He speaks English very well and a bit of French in addition to Maasai and Swahili. It’s nice to walk a bit after all the driving around.
We climb up to the top of the kopje the lodge is nestled into. Here we enjoy a spectacular vista of the Serengeti and look right down into a boma enclosure as Frances tells us about the life of the Maasai. As he tells us how they have no material possessions, just sheep, goats and cattle I detect a note of superiority in his tone. He is a proud warrior. He does tell us his father doesn’t approve of him leading tourists about. He wants to buy more cattle and perhaps with them another wife.
I have brought my bins but feel a little self conscious birding around Frances. I do see and hear a WHITE-BROWED SCRUB ROBIN and a dazzling MARICO SUNBIRD.
Back at the tent I enjoy my warm shower even though there are twenty Rock Hyraxes watching me from a boulder just uphill. At dinner we are joined in the dining room by a pair of COMMON GENETS.
At 2am we are awakened by what I assume is the alarm call of the Rock Hyrax. It’s cute at first and but after 20 minutes I’m outside tossing rocks in the direction of the sound. This works in getting them to shut up so we can get some sleep. At first light it sounds like someone’s car alarm is going off. It must be a bird but who knows?
I sit outside our tent watching the light come up on the mountains. Soon it is light enough to see birds; WHITE-THROATED ROBIN, TAITA FISCAL, TACAZZE and COLLARED SUNBIRDS, SOUTHERN RUFOUS SPARROW, GREEN WINGED PYTIILIA, a flyover of vultures includes a single EGYPTIAN VULTURE. At breakfast the dining room is invaded by COMMON ROCK THRUSHES.
We head for the Ndutu area and the now dry Lake Masek. There is very little game to be found in this acacia forest area and after the dense herds at Serengeti it seems very quiet. Driving through the lake bed we come upon a single KITTLITZ’S PLOVER and a flock of the noisy, endemic FISCHER’S LOVEBIRDS finally put in a performance. I start to hear a bit of grumbling and questions about what we’re looking for out here when BJ comes to a halt and says, “Cheetah, just here.”
After much hunting he has finally located a CHEETAH and furthermore it is right next to the road! We spend the next half hour with the cat.. Given some blood on the feet we surmise it has just eaten. We have it all to ourselves until a Land Rover pulls up all too quickly and frightens the Cheetah away from the road. It doesn’t venture far and settles under a tree for another grand photo opportunity.
The vehicle that has scared the Cheetah can’t be bothered and pulls away almost immediately. It drives a short distance and then stops so the couple inside can shoot photos of a Tawny Eagle, must be birders.
A parked safari vehicle reveals two male lions sleeping off the Cape Buffalo they’ve nearly finished eating. A small wetland area has a lovely SADDLE-BILLED STORK and a GLOSSY IBIS.
We find our group’s first herd of ELAND and are surprised to find that unlike the other animals these bolt and run. Being the size of cattle makes the Eland appeal to poachers so they have learned to keep away from vehicles. We also turn up another shy animal an AFRICAN HARE.
Out of the forest in the grasslands we find two WHITE STORKS. Then back in the trees driving cross country we find our first AFRICAN HOOPOE.
Overnight at Olduvai Tented Lodge.
Checking out of Olduvai I break out a pack of Bic pens I’ve brought along. In reading trip reports on the web prior to our trip I learned that pens can be nearly as good as currency for east Africans. When the workers at the lodge assemble to wish us goodbye I offer pens to a few who have been very helpful like the guy who filled our shower and the one who retrieved some cold beers from the bar and they are very appreciative. One of them tells me he is going to send it off to his grandson at school.
This morning we will take a break from the game drives and take the opportunity to get to know the locals. BJ has arranged for us to visit a nearby Maasai Boma. This is something I doubt many of the birding tour groups do but I must say it turns out to be one of the most memorable experiences of our trip.
The Maasai people we find very friendly, warm and outgoing. The headman thanks me for the $20 I give as a gift. The men of the village come dancing out of the thorny enclosure to welcome us and then the women do the same. Once inside we are then asked to join them in dancing and several of us do.
Jerry and I do some jumps with the encouragement of the Maasai men who hand us a club and spear for authenticity. I’m told I’m a good jumper. Our wives are given wide Maasai beaded necklaces and join the women in dance.
Once the dancing is done with the headman takes us into one of the simple huts that are constructed by the women of sticks and cow dung. A stone bowl of porridge simmers over a small fire. We all barely fit inside. He tells us about his people. I think we are all struck by how articulate and intelligent he is. His English is very good.
We stop in at the tiny bamboo hut that serves as the schoolhouse. There are about 20 kids in attendance. One of the little ones goes up to the blackboard and leads the class in counting up to thirty in English and then they sing the national anthem in Swahili. We sing them Mary had a Little Lamb and get a round of applause in return. Our group has brought some school supplies and these are given to the thankful teacher. (more pens!)
Then it’s off to the Maasai mall. Crafts have been spread out on the thorny boma barrier for purchase. Lots of fine beaded bracelets, necklaces and shields. We select some items and hand them over to the headman to work out the details of price. Jerry trades his $30 watch for a beaded club. I get several offers for mine but I’m hanging on to it.
Many of the Maasai men introduce themselves personally and shake my hand. They are very personable. I really enjoy the interaction with these beautiful people..
We then visit the small museum and attend the briefing at Olduvai Gorge. Notice I haven’t reported any sightings today. I haven’t seen anything new and am starting to sense listing withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately on the way to Ngorongoro I spot an EASTERN PALE CHANTING GOSHAWK in a roadside tree.
We climb up to the crater rim and pause at the overlook before driving along the rim. We stop at a picnic sight just past the cluster of lodges on the south side of the rim. I hear a familiar sound and am pleased to see our first WHITE-NECKED RAVENS. They sound just like the ones back home. While picnicking we watch Black Kites manage to steal food right out of the hands of other unsuspecting tourists.
Afterwards we continue on the road to Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge which sits all by itself on this side of the crater. Most of our group head for the pool from which there is an awesome view, but not me. This is a good opportunity to spot some montane species. An hour or so around the lodge forest turns up STREAKED SEEDEATER, BAGALFECHT & DARK-BACKED WEAVER, AFRICAN PIED WAGTAIL, MONTANE WHITE-EYE, BLUE SWALLOW, COMMON STONECHAT, RUEPPELL’S ROBIN-CHAT, CINNAMON-CHESTED BEE-EATER, TAMBOURINE DOVE, MOUNTAIN YELLOW WARBLER, ABYSSYNIAN BLACK WHEATEAR, EASTERN DOUBLE COLLARED SUNBIRD, SPECKLED MOUSEBIRD and ORIOLE FINCH.
The Sopa lodge feels fancy with its tiled shower and formal dining room compared to our last two nights under canvas.
Our guide BJ has managed to do a remarkable job of keeping us away from the throng of other safari vehicles for the most part. In order to do this once again he has proposed leaving at 6am. This way we will likely be the first party in the crater and we agree wholeheartedly.
Down the road from the Sopa lodge before it is light out. The headlights beam down on a single MONTANE NIGHTJAR in the middle of the road. Just as it is getting light enough to see we are on the crater floor. This is an incredible place to be and having all to ourselves is even better. The day starts with sightings of CAPE BUFFALO and an active pride of lions we watch cavort and play. ROSY-THROATED LONGCLAW, GRASSLAND PIPIT, LONG-LEGGED BUZZARD and RED-CAPPED LARK appear on the short grasslands YELLOW WAGTAILS of several subspecies are everywhere.
BJ is on a mission, driving about until he finds the last of the “Big Five” for us. He ends up finding a mother and calf BLACK RHINO. They are a ways off and unfortunately they are lying down but see them we do. We also find some other new mammals as well. A pack of BAT-EARED FOXES poking up out of their den are comical with their huge ears. We also get close looks at a GOLDEN JACKAL.
In one area near a swamp we see our first strikingly beautiful CROWNED CRANES but what we find truly amazing is the incredible diversity of wildlife in this part of the crater. There is a bit of everything here; Gazelles, Elephants, Hippos grazing, Ostriches, Zebras, Wildebeests, a veritable Garden of Eden.
We stop for lunch at a small lake replete with more Hippos, AFRICAN JACANA, FAN-TAILED WIDOWBIRD, COMMON BUZZARD and AFRICAN REED WARBLER. During our lunch we watch a pride of lions on an outcropping on the other side of the lake stalk a herd of Cape Buffalos but nothing comes of it.
After lunch we drive over to the saline lake in the crater and here we find a mixed flock of both GREATER and LESSER FLAMINGOES. We pass the Black Rhinos again but now there are 20 vehicles gathered there. Glad we got here when we did but now it is time to leave the crater behind. We make our way up the rough road back to the rim to the park entrance and an actual paved road that seems like a dream after all the game drive tracks of the past week.
Leaving the conservation area we travel past cultivated hillsides of red dirt and several small villages before turning off the main road and up the hill to Plantation Lodge. This is an elegant place to stay. The rooms are lovely and I am concerned we may have to drag the women kicking and screaming to leave this place.
I head for the pool to bird but end up napping instead. Afterwards I patrol the grounds repeatedly to add BLACKCAP, NAMAQUA DOVE, BLACK-FRONTED BUSHSHRIKE, SOUTHERN BLACK FLYCATCHER, BLACK-HEADED APALIS, MALACHITE SUNBIRD and VILLAGE INDIGOBIRD to the trip list.
We also enjoy perhaps the most elegant meal of our trip here at Plantation Lodge with fresh vegetables grown on the premises.
With some reluctance we leave the lodge and head for Lake Manyara stopping en route to purchase some wood carvings. Each of us has a clerk to assist us and then we work out a price, everything is negotiable. I can’t say I’m very good at bargaining but my Dad buys a piece that the original price was $380. He walks out of the shop driving a hard bargain and closes the deal in the parking lot for $100.
The new nature trail and facilities at the Lake Manyara National Park would put to shame most of the parks in the U.S. As BJ is securing permits a PINK-BACKED PELICAN lands in a tree overhead. With permits in hand we enter the spring fed forest and come upon a troop of OLIVE BABOONS and nearby a group of SYKES BLUE MONKEYS.
We watch a trio of MAASAI GIRAFFES do battle by swinging their heads into one another’s necks. We can hear the thud of the impact. On the other side of the vehicle I find a lovely EMERALD SPOTTED WOOD DOVE. Along the stream flowing to the lake is a GRAY-HEADED KINGFISHER, an impressive GOLIATH HERON and two SPUR-WINGED LAPWINGS. As we approach the edge of Lake Manyara we hit waterfowl pay dirt; WHITE-FACED WHISTLING DUCK, HOTTENTOT TEAL, SPUR-WINGED GOOSE, COMB DUCK along with BLACK and SQUACCO HERON and BLUE-CHEEKED BEEATER. Standing on the ground close by is a huge MARTIAL EAGLE. As we pull away from the shore we find our first SOUTHERN GROUND-HORNBILLS for my 24th new family of the trip.
Back in the forest we turn up a VAN DER DECKEN’S HORNBILL, COMMON DRONGO and soaring overhead are WAHLBERG’S and LONG-CRESTED EAGLES.
At the picnic area we find a stunning RED and YELLOW BARBET and UPCHER’S WARBLER. We leave Lake Manyara National Park for the drive to Tarangire National Park.
The road is paved most of the way but just outside the town of Kwa Kuchinga we are back on dirt and pass small villages of thatched huts. There are speed bumps along this stretch of road. This being a Saturday the kids are out of school. At many of the speed bumps they congregate to try and sell crafts. Some ask for a dollar and some just smile and wave. I toss pens out the window to the smilers and wavers and watch them retrieve them from the roadside behind us. This is the most fun I’ve ever had with $1.50.
We stop for a bird-a RED-BILLED HORNBILL and a small mob of kids is upon us. They ask for our empty water bottles and I have a stash of them accumulated in the back and the kids grab these in a mad rush as I pass them out the window.
Inside the park we find large herds of Elephants, more than we have seen anywhere else. At the lodge we are welcomed by the local endemic ASHY STARLINGS and some RED-WINGED STARLINGS too. It is a warm afternoon and after lunch the pool is very inviting.
It’s hard to believe that our safari is nearly over. The time has whipped by and only a few game drives are left. This morning we make the most of our remaining time.
An ABYSINNIAN ROLLER just after leaving the lodge grounds is followed by a EURASIAN BEE-EATER, and an AFRICAN ORANGE-BELLIED PARROT.
A stop along the nearly dry Tarangire River is very productive in turning up some new birds that are drawn to a pool; a pair of PIED KINGFISHERS, CHESTNUT SPARROW, RED-BILLED QUELEA, a lovely male PARADISE WHYDAH and CHESTNUT SPARROW. A GIANT MONGOOSE is a new mammal for us.
Of course there are other great birds like the African Fish Eagle and Goliath Heron but if I were to write of every single sighting this trip report would be endless.
Along the edge of Silale Swamp BJ finds a ROCK PYTHON balled up in a tree.
We return to Tarangire Sopa Lodge for lunch and a siesta before we head back out for an afternoon game drive. We spend some quality time with a group of Elephants. With the engine off we listen to them ripping at the vegetation and mumbling to one another. There are a few babies in the group which rate high on the scale of cuteness.
Just by luck I look up and see a VERRAUX’S EAGLE OWL snoozing in a tree. We also find a WOODLAND KINGFISHER and CRESTED FRANCOLIN.
We end the drive watching a sizable troop of OLIVE BABOONS with some newborns among them.
With heavy hearts we start the day with what will be our last game drive. Some of our group are ready to end the safari but I could go on for a few more days. They aren’t birders either.
Tarangire, with it’s many huge Baobab trees and forested areas, has been a very different safari experience than the Serengeti and the crater. With the exception of the elephants we have seen fewer animals here and no predators at all. It has proved to be quite birdy.
A COQUI FRANCOLIN crosses the track in front of the Land Cruiser. We get our best look yet at a SILVERBIRD. I happily find my first COLLARED PRATINCOLE and LESSER STRIPED SWALLOW. A MADAGASAR BEE-EATER is a surprise wintering bird.
We find our only Lions at Tarangire. The small pride is very wary of us and run away to hide behind some shrubs.
We make a rest stop at the entry to check out and here is a SPOTTED MORNING THRUSH and a DESERT CISTICOLA.
The time has come to head back to Arusha. I distribute the last of my pens along the way to waving kids. We stop at one last shop to do just that and after a few hours we arrive at our accommodations for the night. Ngae Sero Mountain Lodge is situated on the flanks of Mt. Meru on the outskirts of Arusha.
The place is lush and green in stark contrast to the barren plains and dry forests and of course here is a whole new cast of birds to be seen. While sitting on the back veranda I am surprised to see a BLACK & WHITE COLOBUS MONKEY watching us from the trees and right then a huge hornbill flies by. A flock of SILVERY-CHEEKED HORNBILLS turn out to be common yard birds here.
The lake near the lodge has a COMMON MOORHEN, LITTLE GREBE, LONG-TAILED CORMORANT, AFRICAN JACANA, FISH EAGLE and HADADA IBIS. In the gardens at the lodge are AFRICAN OLIVE PIGEON, KENRICK’S STARLING, CHESTNUT WEAVER and WHITE-EARED BARBET.
Overhead are swarms of both AFRICAN PALM and HORUS SWIFTS. One thing about our time in African that I find remarkable is the nearly constant presence of swifts and swallows veering about.
I can’t wait for the sun the come up. The night and early morning has been filled with sounds. The loud shrieks of the Hadada Ibises in the night, the intense downpour of rain, the loud howls of the Black and White Colubus monkeys and the call to prayer at 5:15 are all punctuated by the heartbeat pounding of the Ram pump that diverts water from the spring fed lake to the hillside.
On the information page for the lodge they boast of having a yard list of over 200 species. So I am chomping at the bit to get birding. Once the sun is out enough to see I head out and find the birding is surprisingly slow. I catch myself comparing this place to the dense forests in southeastern Brazil.
The birdiest spot seems to be near the pool where blooming heliconias attract sunbirds: AMETHYST, OLIVE and VARIABLE. Sizable flocks of AFRICAN YELLOW WHITE-EYE fly in too.
I end up spending quite a bit of time trying to get decent shots of the Colobus monkeys and the hornbills. In time these are joined by a troop of Blue Sykes Monkeys.
Shortly after lunch BJ returns for us and we are off the Kilimanjaro Airport and Nairobi where we spend another night at the Hilton before flying on to London for a few days.
EQUIPMENT: I brought my scope along and a window mount that fit on the roof rack. I should have left it at home. I only pulled it out about four times. My 10x30 Canon IS binoculars were all that I needed 99 percent of the time.
A digital voice recorder was a must for keeping track of daily sightings. Up to 100 entries can be made on several menus. I used and Olympus VN1800 and was very happy with it.
A pilot friend told me about piddle packs or Port-a-Johns which some of our group loved having on the camping nights to avoid having to go out of the tent. I ordered them online.
I used a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10 with a 12x optical zoom and image stabilizer.
It is only 4 megapixels but I am quite satisfied with the photos. They can be viewed online at http://www.rwolfe.photosite.com
PREPARATION: I did quite a bit of studying for this trip. Given that I would not have the luxury of a birding guide I wanted to be prepared. I managed to do this is several ways. I read a number of trip reports that visited the same areas we would and made a list of possible sightings that I then highlighted in my field guide and studied daily- I used Birds of Kenya by Zimmerman, Turner and Pearson and was very satisfied with it.
Two trip reports that I found very useful are on Surfbirds.
www.surfbirds.com/trip_report.php?id=784 by Jack Stephens and
www.naturalist.co.uk/reports2003/tanzania.php by Peter Roberts
Another website with good photos I studied like flash cards is:
www.birdingafrica.net/index.html photos by Ron Eggert
I also purchased the video A Nature Safari to Kenya and Tanzania from ABA sales and watched it several times.Very helpful.
Our guide was blown away that I had not been to Africa before. “How do you know all these birds?” he asked. I studied hard.
OPERATOR:I booked our trip with African Dream Safaris who use Tanganyika Expeditions out of Arusha. Our guide BJ was an excellent guide and driver with 15 years experience, he had a good working knowledge of most of the birds but was not a birding guide per se. The African Dream website has a wealth of information. Any questions I had were found there.
COST:We paid $2936 per person and kept the cost down with two nights of what they call “medium” as opposed to “luxury” camping. We saved more by having a group of 6 and thus our own private group. We were very satisfied with all of our accommodations.
CURRENCY: We carried US dollars in a variety of denominations. A bunch of $1 bills are handy for tipping and as noted above pens are nice to give away or bargain with, and much needed.
THOUGHTS: This was not a clean up type birding trip. I made the error in taking my non birding spouse on one of these to Brazil and learned NOT to do that again. In East Africa there is so much to see in the way of wildlife I did not want to restrict myself to solely birds. I surely could have seen more birds and added them to my list but in my humble opinion man does not live by birds alone. The sharing of the trip with friends and family made it more memorable. Besides, I have an excuse to go back. And I would, in a heartbeat.
HITS AND MISSES:I had high hopes based upon reading trip reports for seeing 33 new families of birds. I don’t have the resources to see every bird on earth but I just might be able to find every family. Of the 33 I missed seeing Painted Snipe, Cuckoo Shrikes, Honeyguide, and Wood-hoopoes/Scimitarbills for 29 new families. Surprisingly I did not see a single Cuckoo.
Common Ostrich Struthio camelus
Coqui Francolin Peliperdix coqui
Crested Francolin Peliperdix sephaena
Yellow-necked Spurfowl Pternistis leucoscepus
Grey-breasted Spurfowl Pternistis rufopictus
Red-necked Spurfowl Pternistis afer
Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris
White-faced Whistling-Duck Dendrocygna viduata
Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis
Comb Duck Sarkidiornis melanotos
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiacus
Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata
Red-billed Duck Anas erythrorhyncha
Hottentot Teal Anas hottentota
Green-backed Woodpecker Campethera cailliautii
Cardinal Woodpecker Dendropicos fuscescens
White-eared Barbet Stactolaema leucotis
Red-and-yellow Barbet Trachyphonus erythrocephalus
D'Arnaud's Barbet Trachyphonus darnaudii
Red-billed Hornbill Tockus erythrorhynchus
Von der Decken's Hornbill Tockus deckeni
Crowned Hornbill Tockus alboterminatus
African Grey Hornbill Tockus nasutus
Silvery-cheeked Hornbill Ceratogymna brevis
Southern Ground-Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri
African Hoopoe Upupa africana
Lilac-breasted Roller Coracias caudata
Malachite Kingfisher Alcedo cristata
African Pygmy-Kingfisher Ispidina picta
Grey-headed Kingfisher Halcyon leucocephala
Woodland Kingfisher Halcyon senegalensis
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
Little Bee-eater Merops pusillus
Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater Merops oreobates
Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops persicus
Madagascar Bee-eater Merops superciliosus
European Bee-eater Merops apiaster
Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus
Blue-naped Mousebird Urocolius macrourus
White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus
Meyer's Parrot Poicephalus meyeri
Red-bellied Parrot Poicephalus rufiventris
Fischer's Lovebird Agapornis fischeri
Yellow-collared Lovebird Agapornis personatus
African Palm-Swift Cypsiurus parvus
Mottled Swift Tachymarptis aequatorialis
African Swift Apus barbatus
Little Swift Apus affinis
Horus Swift Apus horus
White-rumped Swift Apus caffer
Bare-faced Go-away-bird Corythaixoides personatus
White-bellied Go-away-bird Corythaixoides leucogaster
Verreaux's Eagle-Owl Bubo lacteus
Long-eared Owl Asio otus
Montane Nightjar Caprimulgus poliocephalus
Rock Dove Columba livia
Speckled Pigeon Columba guinea
African Olive-Pigeon Columba arquatrix
Laughing Dove Streptopelia senegalensis
Mourning Collared-Dove Streptopelia decipiens
Ring-necked Dove Streptopelia capicola
Red-eyed Dove Streptopelia semitorquata
Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove Turtur chalcospilos
Tambourine Dove Turtur tympanistria
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis
Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori
White-bellied Bustard Eupodotis senegalensis
Black-bellied Bustard Eupodotis melanogaster
Grey Crowned-Crane Balearica regulorum
Black Crake Amaurornis flavirostra
Red-knobbed Coot Fulica cristata
Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse Pterocles exustus
Yellow-throated Sandgrouse Pterocles gutturalis
Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia
Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Common Sandpiper Tringa hypoleucos
Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea
Little Stint Calidris minuta
Ruff Philomachus pugnax
African Jacana Actophilornis africanus
Water Thick-knee Burhinus vermiculatus
Spotted Thick-knee Burhinus capensis
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Kittlitz's Plover Charadrius pecuarius
Three-banded Plover Charadrius tricollaris
Blacksmith Lapwing Vanellus armatus
Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus
Crowned Lapwing Vanellus coronatus
Temminck's Courser Cursorius temminckii
Collared Pratincole Glareola pratincola
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus
White-backed Vulture Gyps africanus
Rueppell's Griffon Gyps rueppellii
Lappet-faced Vulture Torgos tracheliotus
White-headed Vulture Trigonoceps occipitalis
Black-chested Snake-Eagle Circaetus pectoralis
Brown Snake-Eagle Circaetus cinereus
Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus
Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus
Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus
Pale Chanting-Goshawk Melierax canorus
Gabar Goshawk Melierax gabar
Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
Augur Buzzard Buteo augur
Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax
Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis
Wahlberg's Eagle Aquila wahlbergi
African Hawk-Eagle Hieraaetus spilogaster
Martial Eagle Polemaetus bellicosus
Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis
Secretarybird Sagittarius serpentarius
Pygmy Falcon Polihierax semitorquatus
Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni
Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
Greater Kestrel Falco rupicoloides
Grey Kestrel Falco ardosiaceus
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Long-tailed Cormorant Phalacrocorax africanus
Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
Black-crowned Night-Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala
Goliath Heron Ardea goliath
Great Egret Ardea alba
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides
Striated Heron Butorides striatus
Hamerkop Scopus umbretta
Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber
Lesser Flamingo Phoenicopterus minor
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash
Olive Ibis Bostrychia olivacea
Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus
Pink-backed Pelican Pelecanus rufescens
Yellow-billed Stork Mycteria ibis
Abdim's Stork Ciconia abdimii
White Stork Ciconia ciconia
Marabou Stork Leptoptilos crumeniferus
Cape Crow Corvus capensis
Pied Crow Corvus albus
White-necked Raven Corvus albicollis
Fork-tailed Drongo Dicrurus adsimilis
African Paradise-Flycatcher Terpsiphone viridis
Brubru Nilaus afer
Tropical Boubou Laniarius aethiopicus
Slate-colored Boubou Laniarius funebris
Black-fronted Bushshrike Telophorus nigrifrons
Chinspot Batis Batis molitor
Rufous-tailed Shrike Lanius isabellinus
Long-tailed Fiscal Lanius cabanisi
Taita Fiscal Lanius dorsalis
Common Fiscal Lanius collaris
Magpie Shrike Corvinella melanoleuca
African Reed-Warbler Acrocephalus baeticatus
Upcher's Warbler Hippolais languida
Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina
Mountain Flycatcher-Warbler Chloropeta similis
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Black-lored Babbler Turdoides melanops
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush Monticola saxatilis
Little Rock-Thrush Monticola rufocinereus
White-throated Thrush Turdus assimilis
Silverbird Empidornis semipartitus
Pale Flycatcher Bradornis pallidus
Southern Black-Flycatcher Melaenornis pammelaina
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
White-throated Robin Irania gutturalis
Rueppell's Robin-Chat Cossypha semirufa
White-browed Robin-Chat Cossypha heuglini
Spotted Morning-Thrush Cichladusa guttata
African Stonechat Saxicola axillaris
Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe
Schalow's Wheatear Oenanthe lugubris
Pied Wheatear Oenanthe pleschanka
Capped Wheatear Oenanthe pileata
Isabelline Wheatear Oenanthe isabellina
Sooty Chat Myrmecocichla nigra
Mocking Cliff-Chat Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris
Stuhlmann's Starling Poeoptera stuhlmanni
Kenrick's Starling Poeoptera kenricki
Greater Blue-eared Glossy-Starling Lamprotornis chalybaeus
Rueppell's Glossy-Starling Lamprotornis purpuropterus
Superb Starling Lamprotornis superbus
Hildebrandt's Starling Lamprotornis hildebrandti
Ashy Starling Cosmopsarus unicolor
Wattled Starling Creatophora cinerea
Yellow-billed Oxpecker Buphagus africanus
Red-billed Oxpecker Buphagus erythrorhynchus
Sand Martin Riparia riparia
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea
Lesser Striped-Swallow Hirundo abyssinica
Mosque Swallow Hirundo senegalensis
Northern House-Martin Delichon urbica
Garden Bulbul Pycnonotus barbatus
Rattling Cisticola Cisticola chiniana
Winding Cisticola Cisticola galactotes
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Desert Cisticola Cisticola aridulus
Black-headed Apalis Apalis melanocephala
Green-backed Camaroptera Camaroptera brachyura
African Yellow White-eye Zosterops senegalensis
Broad-ringed White-eye Zosterops poliogaster
Red-capped Lark Calandrella cinerea
Rufous Short-toed Lark Calandrella somalica
Collared Sunbird Anthreptes collaris
Olive Sunbird Nectarinia olivacea
Amethyst Sunbird Nectarinia amethystina
Scarlet-chested Sunbird Nectarinia senegalensis
Variable Sunbird Nectarinia venusta
Eastern Double-collared Sunbird Nectarinia mediocris
Tacazze Sunbird Nectarinia tacazze
Malachite Sunbird Nectarinia famosa
Marico Sunbird Nectarinia mariquensis
Beautiful Sunbird Nectarinia pulchella
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Southern Rufous-Sparrow Passer motitensis
Grey-headed Sparrow Passer griseus
Chestnut Sparrow Passer eminibey
African Pied Wagtail Motacilla aguimp
Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava
Yellow-throated Longclaw Macronyx croceus
Rosy-throated Longclaw Macronyx ameliae
Plain-backed Pipit Anthus leucophrys
Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver Bubalornis niger
White-headed Buffalo-Weaver Dinemellia dinemelli
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali
Grey-headed Social-Weaver Pseudonigrita arnaudi
Baglafecht Weaver Ploceus baglafecht
Black-necked Weaver Ploceus nigricollis
African Golden-Weaver Ploceus subaureus
Vitelline Masked-Weaver Ploceus vitellinus
Speke's Weaver Ploceus spekei
Chestnut Weaver Ploceus rubiginosus
Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea
Fan-tailed Widowbird Euplectes axillaris
Parasitic Weaver Anomalospiza imberbis
Grosbeak Weaver Amblyospiza albifrons
Green-winged Pytilia Pytilia melba
Red-billed Firefinch Lagonosticta senegala
Red-cheeked Cordonbleu Uraeginthus bengalus
Blue-capped Cordonbleu Uraeginthus cyanocephalus
Purple Grenadier Uraeginthus ianthinogaster
Black-cheeked Waxbill Estrilda erythronotos
Village Indigobird Vidua chalybeata
Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura
Eastern Paradise-Whydah Vidua paradisaea
Yellow-fronted Canary Serinus mozambicus
Oriole Finch Linurgus olivaceus