africa, birding, wildlife safari

The Best of Beasts with Brilliant Birding – That’s Northern Tanzania

TZ Oct 12 004 (Zul Bhatia)

Our tour commences of an evening at the relaxed and peaceful Kilimanjaro International Airport. That is when the daily KLM direct flight from Amsterdam Schiphol (and hence other capitals) arrives in Tanzania. Here you will be met by both James, your global-standard bird guide, and your Tanzanian driver-guide and taken, in a customised Toyota safari vehicle with pop-up roof hatches, the short distance to a spacious hotel in Moshi.

Moshi, which is remarkably clean and quiet for an African market town, sits at the foot of snow-capped Kilimanjaro, the world’s highest free-standing mountain. Here we will spend our first night.

After a reasonably early breakfast we will head off south eastwards, making birding stops en route, to our spectacular cliff girt ‘eco-lodge’ at Mambo View where we shall spend the second night. Today we will be travelling through dry lands, red-earth acacia country, alongside jagged and precipitous peaks of those ancient crystalline mountains – the North Pare and West Usambara – ranges that seem to vault straight out of the dry savanna. These beautiful partially forested mountains are home to very many endemic taxa.

During this first morning we will make brief sorties into the bush searching for specialities of the acacia-commiphora Maasailand habitats through which we pass. Above us we may see the magnificent black and white Verreaux’s Eagle soaring, whilst ‘down in the bush’ there should be highly localized White-headed Mousebirds, the anomalous, pipit-like Pink-breasted Lark, secretive shrike-like Pringle’s Puffbacks, and the unique, spectacular, scintillating Golden-breasted Starling. We may make time to visit Nyumba ya Mungu reservoir, if water levels are suitable, to get an early taste of the wetland avian riches of East Africa.

In the late afternoon-early evening we may be able to explore a cool montane forest, quite close to our mountain lodge, where many of the speciality birds of the West Usambaras are to be found including the endemic Usambara Nightjar, Usambara Sunbird, Tanzania’s near-endemic African Tailorbird and with luck the critically endangered, endemic Usambara Weaver.

Next morning we will travel early to Magamba forest to search for other birds of these mountains including the monkey-eating African Crowned Eagle, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Usambara Mountain and Stripe-faced Greenbul, Sharpe’s Starling, that cryptic, inveterate skulker the Spot-throat, the lovely White-starred Robin, the secretive and endemic Usambara Akalat (Ground Robin), bell-sounding Usambara (now split from Fulleborn’s) Black Boubou and another, as yet undescribed potential-split the Usambara Drongo, which will be hawking insects along the forest edge. After an early lunch in Lushoto, the capital of these mountains, we will descend to the plains and drive for four hours to our simple jungle lodge in the lusher, moist evergreen setting of Amani forest reserve deep within the East Usambaras where we will stay for the next two nights. Rare mammals encountered today could include the Angola Pied Colobus monkey and Lushoto Mountain Squirrel.

Naturetrek TZ Highlights trip 2008

At Amani there are so many important bird species to search for that we may be stumped for choice. Our primary aim will probably be to get good views of some of the more elusive species of these unique forests; birds such as the spectacular Fischer’s Turaco, Green-headed Oriole, gorgeous Red-tailed Ant-Thrush, modest-looking Usambara Thrush, secretive but noisy White-chested Alethe, Kretschmer’s Longbill, enigmatic and near-endemic Long-billed Tailorbird, here at its only accessible location, pretty Yellow-throated Woodland Warblers, the delightful black and white Vanga Flycatcher and the tiny Banded Green Sunbirds. In addition to birds there are, of course, several endemic reptiles – especially Chameleons, several amphibians, and an unknown number of endemic invertebrates. Next we head to the Indian Ocean – for two nights at Fish Eagle Point an idyllic spot 50 km north of Tanga.

Fish Eagle Point is easily the best place along the coast of Northern Tanzania for ‘diverse’ birding.This small strip of coral rag forest continues to support a very pleasing variety of coastal wildlife. There are observable medium-sized mammals here too – Blue Monkeys, Yellow Baboons, Galagos and even the diminutive and retiring Sunni antelope. The canopy community includes the nationally scarce Green Tinkerbird and on the forest floor there are such localised butterflies as the Gold-banded Forester. It appears that this elfin coastal woodland currently delineates the northern edge of the distribution of some southern bird species – such as the Kurrichane Thrush.  More conspicuous are the Black-bellied Starlings and Purple-banded Sunbirds present all day, all year, in the trees around the lodge.

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Over the Indian Ocean there are good numbers of terns with at least five species offshore at all seasons. Crab Plovers are the  stars of a nicely varied shorebird roost, especially evident at neap tides in the east-facing bay and during the northern winter. In less than an hour’s cruise offshore in the lodge’s motorised dhow, you are over the deep waters of the Pemba Channel. Here there’s often a good variety of southerly seabirds, plus northern hemisphere migrants, whilst presumed vagrant specials, such as Long-tailed Jaeger, occurring in the appropriate season. There are adrenalin-inducing cetaceans here too! Occasionally, just after sunrise, on calm mornings during the South-east Monsoon (August onwards) Humpback Whales may be observed, engaged in fluke-slapping courtship, less than a kilometre from land.

Turning around and travelling north westwards, via the eastern margins of the South Pare mountains, we visit Mkomazi reserve, a dry country environment where several species of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem may be found.  Here we will stay at Babu’s, a special camp near the edge of the reserve, where the habitats are most diverse. Mkomazi should be our Tanzanian introduction to many ‘essential African’ bird groups: the Hamerkop, Secretary Bird, the Gymnogene, two Guineafowl, two Thicknees, three Coursers, three members of the Musophagidae – the Turacos and Go-away Birds, three species of Mousebird, African Hoopoe, two Wood Hoopoes, three honeyguides, three savanna hornbills, four thorn-wood barbets, three bush-shrikes and at least one helmet-shrike.

These semi-arid bushland habitats are also home to some rare mammals such as the giraffe-necked gazelle, or Gerenuk, and the shy and beautiful Lesser Kudu who browse inconspicuously among the acacias. Of the beautiful birds found here some have very restricted ranges e.g. Friedmann’s Lark, Scaly Chatterer and Tsavo Sunbird. When migration southwards across the equator is in full flow, in November-December we should find numerous Palearctic ‘winter visitors’ who come to Africa from Scandinavia, the Middle East, Central Asia, the farthest corners of Russia and even from Arctic Canada. Some unusual, or rarely seen, ones that we will be watching-out for include: the delightful insectivorous and highly social Amur Falcon and the scythe-like Sooty Falcon that preys upon the migrating flocks of passerines, Iranias (White-throated Robin) skulking in the undergrowth, River and Basra Reed Warblers in the damper spots together with several other species of warbler. There are many wonderful resident birds here too; ranging in size from the antelope-killing Martial Eagle and trumpeting Buff-crested Bustards to the tiny tail-less Yellow-bellied Eremomela and dapper Mouse-coloured Penduline-Tit.

After a morning in the lowlands of Mkomazi we will return toward the highlands at Arusha (1500m) where we will stay for two nights in a quiet lodge set in well-timbered grounds, on the outskirts of this world-famous ‘safari city’, its bustling streets almost overshadowed by the dormant volcanic cone of mighty Mount Meru. Around the lodge itself we may see interesting and unusual birds such as the Brown-breasted Barbet, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Black-backed Puffback and Bronze Sunbird. We will rise extra early (0500hrs) today to make the hour long pilgrimage out to Lark Plains, in the arid rain-shadow of Meru, to see the rarest bird in all of East Africa – the critically endangered and especially hard-to-find Beesley’s Lark which has a tiny population of perhaps no more than fifty individuals. James Wolstencroft probably knows this bird better than anyone, and, so far has never failed to show them to visiting birders! These amazingly scenic plains, surrounded by great mountains, may be green and grassy at the time of our visit. We might find nine or even ten species of Alaudidae – including two other range restricted larks, Athi Short-toed and the so-called Foxy, (although this sizzle-song Calendulauda – alopex – intercedens would surely be better named the White-browed Lark), plus five species of pipit and five species of wheatear during our day in the “Arena of the Larks”.

Naturetrek TZ Highlights trip 2008

Graceful Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers, Eastern Chanting-Goshawk, Steppe Buzzards, Lanner Falcons and four kinds of kestrel quarter the plain in search of rodents (and baby larks!). Ostriches and Kori Bustards and three species of Sandgrouse (Yellow-throated, Chestnut-bellied and Black-faced) may make their first appearance on our birding journey, Lammergeiers (from their eyrie on Mount Meru), Bateleurs and other less-noble looking scavengers, such as Marabou storks, and six vultures that include Lappet-faced and White-headed Vulture, are at least possible overhead. Among a hundred other regular species we may find: acrobatic Abyssinian Scimitarbills investigating the acacia twigs in search of caterpillars and spiders, White-fronted Bee-eaters, smartly pied Northern White-crowned Shrikes and Taita Fiscals, migrant Red-tailed Shrikes, Long-tailed and gorgeous Rosy-patched Shrikes hunting bees and beetles in the dry and scrubby ravines, here they are called ‘korongos’. Around the periphery of this birding arena Long-billed Pipits and Cinnamon-breasted Rock Buntings sing from the buff-coloured boulders, the graceful Red-fronted Warbler tail-wags in groups in the thickets, and somewhat comical and nuthatch-like Red-faced Crombecs, ash-coloured Fischer’s Starlings, Grey-capped Social Weavers and Southern Grosbeak Canaries will hopefully perch-up obligingly on the thorn bushes.

Next day we will continue our safari westward into the moister Zambesian ecological zone where we will stay at a spectacular lodge in Tarangire National Park on the eastern slope of the Rift Valley. Giant baobab trees and hundreds of African Elephants and other ‘big game’ species are major attractions of this large protected area. Birdlife is diverse and, depending upon the scale of the recent rains, we will be looking, in particular areas, for yet more special migrant and localized resident birds.

Species of special interest here might be Black Storks and Steppe Eagles from Central Asia, Rufous-bellied Heron, two species of Snake-Eagle, Red-necked Spurfowl, Yellow-collared Lovebird, family parties of the incredible-looking grasshopper and beetle eating Southern Ground Hornbill, sleepy, pink eye-lidded Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls, Mottled Spinetail (a small swift), the localized Rufous-crowned Roller, highly social Magpie Shrikes, Ashy Starling – the brown and dowdy, yet highly range-restricted, endemic cousin of the Golden-breasted Starling, Swahili Sparrow, the endemic Rufous-tailed Weaver and the Black Bishop

After Tarangire we will head for the Crater Highlands stopping-off at freshwater swamps at the northern margin of Lake Manyara NP. In addition to the unforgettable antics of the hippos we will doubtless enjoy the thousands upon thousands of Lesser Flamingoes who create an intense broad pink margin to the lake that it is visible for miles. At the hippo pools there is a pair of Saddle-billed Storks, there are two species of Pelican, many species of herons, ducks, terns and migrant shorebirds galore together with Red-throated Pipits from the high Arctic tundra; all will be sorted-out and their identification explained by our specialist guide who has worked with these migrant birds for over forty years. After our fill of new species of palearctic shorebird and their ilk we will leave Lake Manyara and climb the switch back road out of the Rift Valley. The evening will be spent, hopefully listening to the evocative whistles of Montane Nightjars, at a homely and comfortable lodge, once again in the refreshingly cool highlands.

TZ Oct 12 057 (Zul Bhatia)

Gibbs Farm is a functioning organic farm and coffee estate on the very edge of the verdant mountain forests of the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. In the morning we will trek up a gentle, well-graded trail through the Croton forest looking for several forest bird species such as the rather scarce Ayres’ Hawk-Eagle, the shy and retiring Crested Guineafowl, the more widespread Hildebrandt’s Francolin, unobtrusive ground-haunting Lemon Doves, beautiful Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrikes, noisy Grey-capped Warblers and the marvellous Oriole Finch. In the late afternoon we will enter the ‘NCCAA’ by vehicle and climb to the rim of “the Crown” – and for the first time we will view the greatest jewel in all of Africa – the indescribable Ngorongoro Crater. Tonight will be spent at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge where numerous montane forest specials will be searched for including Schalow’s Turaco, several sunbirds including the Golden-winged and the scintillating Tacazze, and some somewhat more sombre greenbuls and seedeaters.

Next day we must once again rise early in order to make the most of our time in what is truly one of the greatest wonders of the world. Words cannot describe the uniqueness and value of this place for any naturalist. By entering the park early we should be able to admire the stupendous wildlife without feeling in any way pressured. Apart from some twenty species of large mammal, in healthy numbers, we will certainly encounter an abundance and diversity of bird life that is almost as rare in this modern world. Flocks of White and Abdim’s Storks, statuesque Grey Crowned Cranes, numerous herons, five species of egret, close views of the two flamingo species on Lake Magadi, many more shorebirds including the rare and delicate-looking Chestnut-banded Plover, Pied Avocets, Black-bellied Bustards, brilliant Rosy-breasted Longclaws, tiny Pectoral-patch Cisticolas, bouncing ‘lekking’ groups of the spectacular male Jackson’s Widowbird and no doubt many more besides. Reluctantly we will have to tear ourselves away from the marvels of the crater in the afternoon and drive to Ndutu which lies on the border between the NCA and “the Crown” itself – the mighty, world-renowned Serengeti – a Maasai word meaning an endless plain of grasses. We will spend the night at Ndutu, in either the lodge or a luxury tented camp nearby, under the infinity of a star-studded, unpolluted, utterly African sky.

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In the following days we will explore the eastern perimeter of the world famous Serengeti ecosystem making the most of local knowledge and climatic conditions to see as much as is possible in such a relatively short time. Everyone with an interest in wild animals has heard of the Wildebeest migrations of the Serengeti that move with the rains around this unique and almost unbelievably rich region. By late December the Wildebeest and Zebra should be massing in the south east toward Ndutu Lake; and the famous feline predators will be following them. In addition to seeking out our own families of Lion, gazelle-hunting Cheetah brothers and stealthy solo kopje-living (a kopje is an isolated rocky outcrop) Leopards, we will marvel at the circling storks, the packs of vultures (and hyenas and jackals), the harriers, various eagles, five kinds of falcon and the kites that at times so fill the skies, with so many varied forms of flight, that one does not know where to look. A further two endemic birds are to be found here in the Acacia tortilis woodland around Lake Ndutu – the Grey-breasted Spurfowl and Fischer’s Lovebird. The area is also especially good for migrants and itinerant cuckoos in particular come here for the caterpillars in the acacias; they include the Great Spotted and handsome Jacobin. These two nights will probably be spent at the same camp, to make the best and most comfortable use of our time here.

At about midday on day fifteen, reluctantly we must make our way to the nearby airstrip, in order to catch our plane to Arusha, and thereby transfer to Kilimanjaro airport where the principle safari will conclude.

A three night birding extension (with optional afternoon snorkeling) to the beautiful and unspoilt northern tip of Pemba Island (more Crab Plovers, four endemic Pemba birds – a Green Pigeon, a Scops Owl, a White-eye and a Sunbird – and fine shorebirds, terns and exciting seabirds along the coastline) is available by emailing a request to the author via ” gonolekATgmail.com “.

FEP.J&DH

As usual I offer my sincere thanks to the photographers : Zul Bhatia, Debbie Hilaire and Rob Tizard for sending me the lovely images captured during our delightful safaris together.

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Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti The Sunbird-Wings Safari March 2015

Zul Bhatia 2008

From three huge Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls, snoozing away the heat of the day in the shady canopy of a great fever tree, as we drove from our arrival at the airport toward “Hatari” our first lodge, hidden away at the foot of mighty Mount Meru; to the mother Cheetah who had been teaching her three cubs how to hunt, on the seemingly limitless short grass plains of the eastern Serengeti, this tour lived-up to its enviable reputation. A reputation for providing, in considerable comfort, some of the greatest and most intimate wildlife experiences available today. Certainly it ‘lived-up’ to what our group expected of the vast natural treasure trove of life that is Northern Tanzania.

We began by birding in the very compact, but incredibly diverse, National Park immediately to the east of the bustling safari portal that is Arusha. Here we easily found such range restricted species as the vociferous Red-throated Tit ‘twanging’ in the spiny acacias and striking Taveta Golden Weavers nest building in the rushes beside freshwater Lake Longil. In the cool of Meru’s evergreen forests we delighted at the squirrel-like bounding antics of Hartlaub’s Turaco and the sheer majesty of hirsute troupes of Black-and-White Colobus monkeys. One of those rare moments of profound tranquility was experienced by all when we visited the Maio waterfall in the Tolkein-esque Juniper and Podocarpus forest that clothes the middle elevations of this mountain. Naturally it was in Arusha Park that we were introduced to several of the avian families and genera that were to be our colourful companions throughout our safari.

In the largely verdant baobab savannas of Tarangire NP we were very lucky indeed to find a small herd of Oryx grazing in the yellowing grasslands just to the east of the safari lodge. Alongside the river and at Silale swamp we found a fabulous selection of birds ranging from Goliath Herons and Saddle-billed Storks to a shuffling variety of tiny Estrildid finches that were foraging in the savanna stubble, at the base of a sausage tree, under which the massive hulks of sprawling lions were disconcertingly well camouflaged.

Our day in the vastness of the Ngorongoro Crater was, as always, simply beyond mere human words. A huge number and diversity of birds was complemented, if not outshone, by a show of mammals, by beings such as two lumbering Black Rhinoceros, that looked as if they were from another time, if not quite yet another planet!

One of the benefits of this safari is that we undertake a double transect of the moist grasslands and bush of the legendary central Serengeti. First by heading from our sumptuous lodge at Seronera, near the hub of the park, west to Lake Victoria the first day, then by trekking back east to Lake Ndutu the next. Between these epic journeys, flanked by thousands of storks, by bustards, soaring vultures and sedately stomping Secretary Birds, journeys when hardly a soul is seen, we spent the night at Speke Bay Lodge where many ‘western’ birds (such as Swamp Flycatcher, Black-headed Gonolek, Red-chested Sunbird and several species of weaver) were added easily to our list.

Naturetrek TZ Highlights trip 2008

These ‘game drives’ delivered nearly all the hoped-for bird species as well as a Leopard and her cub at rest, high in a tree beside a stream, east of Seronera. Mammals abound of course. Our Toyota was forced to weave its way through huge herds of Wildebeest and Zebra, past chestnut and slate Topi, and the two abundant yet delightful gazelle species: Thomson’s and Grant’s, so that we might gaze at innumerable Hippopotamus in their pungent muddy pools. Small wetlands these, yet ones that really did teem with shorebirds of every shape and size, many were migrants in fine summer plumage, on their way back to the steppes, or the far northern tundra vastness of Africa’s greatest neighbour Asia.

Lake Masek was spectacular. Experiences here ranged from the macabre, when we watched an immense Nile Crocodile as it drowned a yearling Wildebeest under the bubbling brackish waters, to the comical, when we sought dapper migrant cuckoos and some retiring resident finches at a lush green soak-away, right behind the laundry block at the back of camp.

We returned east to the red-soils of Karatu via the Endulen road, through a quiet land that still belongs to the real Masai! Here in a broad-crowned croton tree, where Olive Pigeons, two species of oriole and Amethyst Starlings gorged on tiny globular fruit, a female Black Bishop was watched as it repeatedly fed a fledgling Diederik Cuckoo, the first sighting for our guide of brood-parasitism involving these two particular species.

For our last night in Tanzania we were upgraded to Kitela Lodge, a luxurious abode, on the edge of the Crater Highlands forest, just above Karatu. Next morning we walked up into these open forests, where great Elephants and African Buffalo roam, and all were rewarded with scope views of Narina Trogon, whilst fascinating passerines such as the delightfully acrobatic White-tailed Blue Flycatcher fluttered through the canopy over our heads. All too soon we had to turn our backs on wonder, for the last time here and, after a lovely lunch, make our way, with understandable reluctance, to Kilimanjaro International Airport, the broad tarmac strip between tall waving grasses, where our great adventure had begun, just less than two – utterly action-packed – weeks before.

TZ Oct 12 ruficrista (Zul Bhatia)These three photos were taken by my good friend Zul Bhatia on his wildlife safaris in Northern Tanzania – many thanks Zul !

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Tips for Better Birding – Tanzania – Some Safari Ideas

Try to arrive in Day Time and please bring a pair of binoculars with you – a pair for each participant!

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When (not if) you come on safari to safe, secure and often courteous Tanzania try to make sure that your chosen airline will, with well-planned foresight, deposit you at Kilimanjaro International Airport – JRO. And choose one that deposits you in daylight! If that happens then your introduction to the delights of African birding shall begin at once. Even before you’ve stepped down from the plane, heading toward the reassuringly relaxed airport buildings, there will be Long-tailed Fiscal shrikes, so smartly dressed in black white and grey, together with incredibly iridescent Superb Starlings waiting there to greet you in the tiny, tidy garden. Here as if they live simply to delight you, and to lift your weary step, as you walk the mercifully short distance from aeroplane to arrivals hall.

TZ Highlights 2007

The grand old shade trees that mark the grounds of the better lodges in Arusha often include great Cordia trees and majestic Sycamore figs; both of whom produce globular orange fruits that provide vital succour to a host of bird species. So here you will make your first acquaintance with three near-ubiquitous denizens of the Tanzanian bush, the Yellow-vented Bulbul, the wren-like Grey-backed Camaroptera and your first gang of the somewhat unruly ‘Colie punks’, better known as Speckled Mousebird. Yet there are rare birds here as well as common. For instance a Wahlberg’s Honeybird might be spied gleaning insects, high in the canopy. Or Brown-breasted Barbets, who frequently fly-in here for the fruit, feed together with Silvery-cheeked Hornbills and two lovely species of African pigeon – the delicate and retiring Olive, which comes down from the great mount Meru (that looms above the northern suburbs), and the portly African Green winging it from hillside forests closer to the lodge.

Beneath the tall trees family groups of rather ancient-looking Hadada Ibises strut purposefully across the verdant lawns of the lodge. Whilst on the floor in the shrubbery Arrow-marked Babblers and migrant Nightingales fossick among the dry leaves.

If we take a late afternoon guided walk with James, our bird expert, we should soon encounter representatives of other purely African bird families. With luck there will be family parties of two species of the somewhat clown-like Helmet-shrikes, the Retz’s and the White, members of a group of remarkable birds found only in Africa. Toward evening the glorious bell-like duetting of Tropical Boubous, and the snarls of the closely related Black-backed Puffback, may be heard as these pied shrike-like birds pass through the grounds and join a mixed feeding flock. Often together with the splendidly iridescent Green Wood-Hoopoes, which are also in an endemic family, who sidle up and down the gnarled and fissured trunks of the lofty shade trees in search of caterpillars.

TZ Oct 12 065 (Zul Bhatia)

Around dawn, from the shade of the shrubberies, and in the early evening that magnificent songster the Ruppell’s Robin-chat should be singing sweetly. During the day Brown-hooded Kingfishers and portly retiring Lizard Buzzards may be tracked down as they utter their plaintive piping calls from the quiet corners of the property.

After dark the African Wood-Owls and mighty Verreaux’s Eagle-Owls (see Paul Reed’s photo at top) call to one another, with mellow hoots and grumbly mutterings, from their perches among leafy boughs high above your rooms.

Here in the herbaceous borders you will also see your first sunbirds of the tour. Sunbirds are the old world counterpart of the dazzling hummingbirds of the Americas. There should be five sunbird species in the better lodge’s gardens, every day of the year. Namely the tiny emerald and gold Collared Sunbird, the exquisite green, yellow and turquoise Variable, the shining black and ruby Amethyst, the long-tailed Bronze and the decidedly dapper Scarlet-chested.

Please help Arusha National Park – demand a full day visit!

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If you have a day with nothing pressing to do, why not come go with James for a full day’s birding “on safari” in Arusha National Park where he will properly introduce you to the joys of African birding?

Typically he finds over one hundred and forty species here in a single day, at any time of the year, something that would be impossible in such a small area were you in Europe or North America. Arusha’s very own park protects a diverse array of habitats from vaulting cliffs that tower above cool montane heathland, surveyed by the magnificent Bearded Vulture (or Lammergeier), to humid tropical evergreen forest that shelters two species of resplendent scarlet and green Trogons.

There are several secret spots in the park that range from lush, reed-fringed freshwater pools, where chestnut African Jacanas (Lillytrotters) pick their way daintily between snoozing hippos; to crusty soda lakes whose alkaline waters are liberally sprinkled with Cape Teal, Pied Avocets, Ruff and huge flocks of two kinds of elegant flamingo – the rich pink Lesser and the lanky rose-red Greater.

Flamingos

Here you can be introduced, if you so wish, to your first of Africa’s many confusing ‘lbjs’, the brown passerines or “little brown jobs”, that are difficult for the beginner to name with certainty– birds such as several kinds of lark and pipit, and a bewildering selection of warblers. The warblers might include your first representatives of three delightful African songbird genera, which could become known as the ABC, the Apalises, the Batises and the Crombecs. You will also see your first of many types of aerial insectivores which are to be found in Tanzania—Africa’s swifts, swallows and martins—in fact we may see as many as six species of each today. Not to forget the truly fantastic Bee-eaters, of which we may find over five species in our single day’s safari.

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In the cool of the forest you will soon hear the guttural monkey-like calls of the gorgeous Hartlaub’s Turaco, watch dazzling African Paradise-Flycatchers, unobtrusive African Dusky and endearing White-eyed Slaty Flycatchers. You can search for White-starred Robins and both Cape and Ruppell’s Robin-chats all of whom should be singing from deep within the undergrowth. Whilst watching splendid black and white Colobus Monkeys, cavorting in the tree tops, we’ll be keeping a watchful eye for their nemesis, that arch predator the majestic and very powerful Crowned Eagle who is armed with two three-inch hind claws.

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At a secluded pool in a forest glade we may study families of Comb Ducks and Spur-winged Geese whilst stately Black and Saddle-billed Storks stand tall among the sedges, and dainty Common, Wood and Green Sandpipers, migrants from as far away as Finland, paddle delicately around the muddy margins. With luck there will even be a harlequin-patterned Painted Snipe lurking in the rushes close by. There’s so much to find in Arusha National Park it’s a shame, if not a crime, that more of us cannot go there to savour the avian riches almost literally on the safari city’s doorstep.

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James Wolstencroft – “the Birdman of Arusha” – has been a bird watcher for over 57 years. He says that from a very early age he was indeed fortunate, being able to travel far and wide, to meet as many of our 10,000 feathered friends as possible. Since 2005 James has been resident in Tanzania. Here he guides what he calls “Birding Insight” safaris ( = BINS !!) for a variety of regional and international safari operators. He is only too willing to comment, often at length, about our imperilled “Natural Earth” to any interested group, be it big or small, whether here in Africa or far afield. Thank You!

To contact James – just email him – gonolekATgmail.com

JW would like to thank three of his fine friends – Zul Bhatia, Martin Goodey and Paul Reed for granting him permission to use their excellent photos in this article.

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