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“Birding the Udzungwas on a Bin-strap”

Udzungwa_peak

The Udzungwa forests viewed from Hondo-Hondo, Udzungwa Forest Lodge, probably the best place from which to commence your birding treks. Last week I was here watching endearing Lesser Seedcrackers ‘chacking’ in the rank grass of the foreground, whilst Red-necked Falcons circled overhead

A few years ago the Arusha Birdman (JW) was asked to assist several Canadian birders planning their birding trips through Tanzania. One individual’s mission was simply outstanding, both in scope and budget, he has come the closest to cleaning-up, so much so that he might, or might not, wish to remain anonymous! Nevertheless here’s an edited version of a brief trip report he sent me. Some few gleanings from five wonderful days so well spent, in the Udzungwa mountains, during October 2009. I have decided to post this gem of gen up on the Bird-Grid because this type of useful birding gen is, for Tanzania, to say the least, damned hard to find.

So here it is again, for the benefit of all humankind well, whomsoever it might concern!

Thanks for the gen Mr. W!”

Birding the Udzungwas on a Binstrap

.. The next morning we took the bus to Ilula and hired motorcycles for 30,000 Tsh per person (ca $20) to take us to Udekwa, this is not to be recommended as it is a very scary sixty five kilometre drive with maniac drivers, very dangerous.  We went first to the gate of the Udzungwa National Park where of course nobody spoke any English. Then we returned to Udekwa village and tried to track down a local hunter-poacher, someone who might be a good guide. If one of our boda (motorbike) drivers had not spoken some English we would have been ruined.  Eventually, that is after a few hours, a man was contacted by telephone, but he was far away, so he told us to go to the new forestry department office, responsible for Kilombero Nature Reserve within which the forests are located. Although he was far away he said definitely that he would be at our village by evening.  The ranger in charge at KNR was not around and the workers told us that we must get our (forestry) permits from the offices in Iringa. But then surprisingly they changed their minds and said okay they would help us out. Anyway they charged us $30 US per person per day for entry, plus a tent charge of $30 US per night for camping.

Note that anyone contemplating visiting here should definitely get the permit beforehand in Iringa.  They were also supposed to provide us with a forestry guide; and the national park staff were adamant that we take an armed guard; but after tortuous negotiations they relented and we were allowed to go with just a guide.  After two wasted days things were at last looking-up!

So we walked the six kilometres back to the National Park gate, seeing Black-lored Cisticola and some non breeding bishops that looked good for Mountain Marsh Widowbird.  The guys at the Udekwa gate let us sleep there (such amazing generosity from TANAPA staff!) and we were thrilled to discover thatUsambara Nightjar was common  thereabouts, including one sitting in the road.  the guide arrived as promised at 0600hrs and off we set, passing Chui Camp (which btw is as far as a vehicle can be driven).

We had been told to go to Ndumduru forest, but our guide told us that  “the partridge” did not occur there.

Therefore, on a whim, we went instead to Matumbo forest and spent the next five days camping there .

The walk in to Matumbo from Chui camp took us less than three hours, but would take most people over five hours.  The birding was brilliant on the way-in highlighted by two Kipengere Seedeaters, along with numerous Yellow-browed Seedeaters, Black-lored Cisticola, Eastern Saw-wing and Olive-flanked Robin Chat.  We arrived at the pleasant Matumbo camp which is situated on the edge of a pathetically small patch of steep hill/riparian forest.  Our guide had to go back to the village to find some food and didn’t return for over 24 hours, so we had the place all to ourselves – just brilliant!  The trail up to the camp is good, yet inside the forest there is no trail, just poachers trails and buffalo trails.  The first thing I did was familiarise myself with a network of trails that I could walk along quietly and then spent much of the next five days doing just that – creeping quietly along the trails. The guide was great for taking us deeper into the forest; but it was so thick and so dry that we were very noisy, and I saw far more alone than with him.  So the birding was very tough but brilliant!

Udzungwa Forest Partridge – for most global birders this will be the prime target of a trip to the Udzungwas. We got just a glimpse of one bird running through the undergrowth. Hence untickable!  This is a seriously tough bird one that is mostly trapped-out from the area immediately around camp, although the one I saw was only some 500 metres from the where we stayed.  Note that feeding scrapes became far more obvious about an hour and a half’s walk from camp. According to Barnabas they also occur in Moofa forest and Ruala forest; the latter is allegedly the best place to see them. I don’t know why he waited until the end to tell us that… or maybe I do … it’s a five hour walk beyond Matumbo so he probably did not want to go over there.  In his trapping days he used to cut a narrow trail and bait that with rice in order to snare the partridges; so this could be a strategy one could use when trying to see them.

Rufous-winged Sunbird – rarely seen in this forest; good views, a pair in a large marshy clearing adjacent to camp; another male higher, when we walked toward Moofa forest.

Usambara Eagle Owl – decent day light views of a roosting bird that we flushed

Iringa Akalat – seen three times, good views

Swynnerton’s Robin – seen twice, really great views

Dapplethroat – two sightings, both brief

Yellow-throated Greenbul – only one pair

Again there was no sign of White-winged Apalis; I think the forest is too low in elevation for Moreau’s Sunbird and for Mrs Moreau’s Warbler — I wish we had had time to check out the Ndumduru trail.

Other birds included lots of Sharpe’s Akalats and White-chested Alethes, Usambara Nightjar, African Cuckoo Hawk, many Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo  and the mammals were great – Iringa Red Colobus is easy to see here and I saw Abbott’s Duiker three times, plus a refreshingly large number of the large mammals – Harvey’s DuikerSuniBuffaloBushbuckBushpigElephant ShrewAngola Pied ColobusTree Hyrax*, heard Elephant and Spotted Hyaena and even saw fresh Leopard scat!

Regretfully we had to say goodbye to this forest, the one place in East Africa which I really didn’t want to leave.

We saw Anchieta’s Tchagra on the way out and our motorcycles met us at the Udekwa gate (they had been involved in an accident on the way up) and we pulled-out one last mega on the ride down – Uhehe Fiscal on the edge of Udekwa village – probably the best bird I’ve ever seen from a motorcycle!  We made it down from the mountain without incident.

In 2011 the Arusha Birdman (JW) was asked to assist several Canadian birders planning their birding trips through Tanzania. One individual was simply outstanding, so much so that he might, or might not, wish to remain anonymous! Nevertheless here’s an edited version of a brief trip report he sent me. Some few gleanings from five wonderful days so well spent, in the Udzungwa mountains, during October 2009. I have decided to post this gem of gen up on the Bird-Grid because this type of useful birding gen is, for Tanzania, to say the least, damned hard to find.

So here it is again for the benefit of all humankind!

Thanks for the gen Mr. WA!”

Birding the Udzungwas on a Binstrap

.. The next morning we took the bus to Ilula and hired motorcycles for 30,000 Tsh per person (ca $20) to take us to Udekwa, this is not to be recommended as it is a very scary sixty five kilometre drive with maniac drivers, very dangerous.  We went first to the gate of the Udzungwa National Parkwhere of course nobody spoke any English. Then we returned to Udekwa village and tried to track down a local hunter-poacher, someone who might be a good guide. If one of our boda drivers had not spoken some English we would have been ruined.  Eventually, that is after a few hours, a man was contacted by telephone, but he was far away, so he told us to go to the new forestry department office, responsible for Kilombero Nature Reserve within which the forests are located. Although he was far away he said definitely that he would be at our village by evening.  The ranger in charge at KNR was not around and the workers told us that we must get our (forestry) permits from the offices in Iringa. But then surprisingly they changed their minds and said okay they would help us out. Anyway they charged us $30 US per person per day for entry, plus a tent charge of $30 US per night for camping.

Note that anyone contemplating visiting here should definitely get the permit beforehand in Iringa.  They were also supposed to provide us with a forestry guide; and the national park staff were adamant that we take an armed guard; but after tortuous negotiations they relented and we were allowed to go with only a guide.  After two wasted days things were at last looking-up!

So we walked the six kilometres back to the National Park gate, seeing Black-lored Cisticola and some non-breeding bishops that looked good for Mountain Marsh Widowbird.  The guys at the Udekwa gate let us sleep there (such amazing generosity from TANAPA staff!) and we were thrilled to discover that Usambara Nightjar was common thereabouts, including one sitting in the road.  the guide arrived as promised at 0600hrs and off we set, passing Chui Camp (which, btw, is as far as a vehicle can be driven).

We had been told to go to Ndumduru forest, but our guide told us that “the partridge” did not occur there.

Therefore, on a whim, we went instead to Matumbo forest and spent the next five days camping there .

The walk in to Matumbo from Chui camp took us less than three hours, but would take most people over five hours.  The birding was brilliant on the way-in highlighted by two Kipengere Seedeaters, along with numerous Yellow-browed Seedeaters, Black-lored Cisticola, Eastern Saw-wing and Olive-flanked Robin Chat.  We arrived at the pleasant Matumbo camp which is situated on the edge of a pathetically small patch of steep hill/riparian forest.  Our guide had to go back to the village to find some food and didn’t return for over 24 hours, so we had the place all to ourselves – just brilliant!  The trail up to the camp is good, yet inside the forest there is no trail, just poachers trails and buffalo trails.  The first thing I did was familiarise myself with a network of trails that I could walk along quietly and then spent much of the next five days doing just that – creeping quietly along the trails. The guide was great for taking us deeper into the forest; but it was so thick and so dry that we were very noisy, and I saw far more alone than with him.  So the birding was very tough but brilliant!

Udzungwa Forest Partridge – for most global birders this will be the prime target of a trip to the Udzungwas. We got just a glimpse of one bird running through the undergrowth. Hence untickable!  This is a seriously tough bird one that is mostly trapped-out from the area immediately around the camp, although the one I saw was only some 500 metres from where we stayed.  One should note that feeding scrapes became far more obvious about an hour and a half’s walk from camp. According to Barnabas they also occur in Moofa forest and Ruala forest; the latter is allegedly the best place to see them. (So Ruala clearly is the place we need to access Ed.) I don’t know why Barnabas waited until the end to tell us that… or maybe I do … it’s a five hour walk beyond Matumbo so he probably did not want to go over there.  In his trapping days he used to cut a narrow trail and bait that with rice in order to snare the partridges; so this could be one strategy you could use when trying to see them.

Rufous-winged Sunbird – rarely seen in this forest; good views of a pair in a large marshy clearing adjacent to camp; another male higher up, when we walked toward the Moofa forest.

Usambara Eagle Owl – decent day light views of a roosting bird that we flushed

Iringa Akalat – seen three times, good views

Swynnerton’s Robin – seen twice, really great views

Dapplethroat – two sightings, both all too brief

Yellow-throated Greenbul – only one pair was seen

Again no sign of White-winged Apalis; I think the forest is too low in elevation for Moreau’s Sunbird and Mrs Moreau’s Warbler — wish we had had time to check out Ndumduru.

Other birds seen included lots of Sharpe’s Akalat and White-chested Alethe, Usambara Nightjar, African Cuckoo Hawk, many Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo and the mammals were great – Udzungwa Red Colobus is easy to see here and I saw Abbott’s Duiker three times, plus a refreshingly large number of the large mammals – Harvey’s Red DuikerSuni, African BuffaloBushbuckBushpigElephant Shrew (sp.), Angola Pied Colobus, Eastern Tree Hyrax, we heard Savanna Elephant and Spotted Hyaena and even saw fresh Leopard scat!

Regretfully we had to say goodbye to this forest, the one place in East Africa which I really didn’t want to leave.

We saw Anchieta’s Tchagra on the way out and our motorcycles met us at the Udekwa gate (they had been involved in an accident on the way up) and we pulled-out one last mega on the ride down – Uhehe Fiscal on the edge of Udekwa village – probably the best bird I’ve ever seen from a motorcycle!  We made it down from the mountain without incident.

Udzungwa_fence

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