For over a month I’ve been getting the garden ready. Our wilding wedge beneath the steel grey pyramid of Meru. A rented hectare outside Arusha in East Africa, at a kilometre and a half above the sea. It’s an ever-changing tangled patchwork of exotic, alien hard-browsed Lantana camara in glade-thicket-and-brake. An experiment in non-racist eco-gardening, style ZooBotany-C21. An experiment by the Woolly Rhinoceros himself. A garden of vines, creepers and rank meadow flowers sheltering soft shaded fungi and an impressive annual increment of often noisy mini-beasts.
Below all it’s a life amongst and under trees. Exotics, aliens and, for the past seven years since we moved-in, the “Indigenous Pioneers” protected by guerrilla units of the IVF – the Indigenous Vegetation Front. There’s Croton of two species, the stately large-leaved Cordia africana, many little babies of the toweringly exquisite, formerly revered Newtonia. A tree of spirits revered around WaArusha and WaMeru farmsteads prior to the conquest of East Africa by the Middle Eastern God, and those godless Mammonites who followed Him. And more recently there’s been lots of hazel-like Sandpaper Bush springing up around the plot. Yes I’ve been getting it ready. Readying a garden fit for Nightingales.
So we’re now officially ready to help those sweet thrush-voiced grey-breasted nightingales, here for the duration, from the Baltic states and Russia Luscinia luscinia, and the cleaner looking, fawn-topped Mongolian nightingales L. – megarhynchos – golzii. As they help me. And to help those passing eye-browed blue Irania, out of some desert ‘stan, as they help me. Or gentle grey striata flycatchers, who’ve flown here from the as yet relatively healthy eastern edges of EU-trophia. I imagine the places. Places not unlike those I recall from a mixed-farming youth, where milk cows amble up and down the lanes, browsing the hedges as they go, where cattle generally are still allowed to host the occasional gut parasite, such that their dung is no longer toxic to all those fly and beetle species who were (formerly) tasked with recycling it. Semi-organic land, of farms where BIGPharma has yet to squeeze the living countryside. Land not yet hollowed-out, or enclosed and then constricted, in the hallowed name of Growth for Profit. Yes, here’s some blasphemy, as we prepare Farmageddon.
I’m here to help skulking lbj warblers, migrants who still eek out a living amongst Eurasia’s mercantilist confusion. And to help vociferous glittering gems, Afrotropical cuckoos, that fly here to parasitise our breeding birds, after a dry season spent bashing caterpillars against twigs in the leafy heart of the great Congo forest. Just as they help me! All of them. Let’s not forget the flitting swallows, the scything swifts and ethereal floating nightjars, all of them, these migrant birds. Feathered lives from far away, hatched in nests they’ve hidden where only the geotrackers go!
Just as they help me. Yep! It’s been a Birden of Love.
Since November started, most days it rains. And my avian rewards they are dropping in. The original Manna from Heaven. Just today, on November 6 in the morning, not half an hour ago, when the dark rains eased, as I was snapping spindly Lantana shoots beside the puddled green cement of the basketball court, there was a sharp flutter of wings – right against my ear. And there on the bough just ahead of me, at eye level, was the perfect eyebrowed fawn-and-tan form of a “chucking” Eastern Nightingale. I watched entranced as that out-of-the-sky golzii bounded along the grey lichened bough.
A gorgeous bundle of energy. A small bird, relieved, a bird who might have been singing late last May along a briar bedecked stream next to a Mongol yurt.
That’s why I so love these long distance migrant birds. In an instant they can fix us in the living, utterly interconnected, planet. So I can’t help but think. Where was that Nightingale skulking at Halloween, or on Midsummer’s afternoon, where was this lovely nightingale on passage last May Day? Yes, what was the world like, where this little brown bird was then? The same but a different world – somewhere – out there. Out there far beyond this garden hedge. Way beyond my ken, but still sheltering in my heart. If I can help birds like these I will. I’ve got no further cash to fund yet more research. No more money for endless meetings between the good and the bad. I’m in no way content, not any longer, to entrust their future to a salaried caste of bureaucrats. Woefully corrupt or otherwise fallen. That’s why I do my biggest bit in the garden. Wherever that garden might be. Staggering, sweating, kneeling before the Mother of God. Until the last breath I take. Until that day when I can no longer raise my Faroffskis, nor hold these Mammoth secateurs.
For Wonder, like Biodiversity, begins at home.
As a lover of nature, with even the mildest interest in birds, you will definitely fall in love with Tanzania. It’s truly a superb destination with well over 1,100 bird species to look for. Of the ten endemic bird families known in Africa, eight can be found here. This safari has been carefully designed for those who want to concentrate upon birds, yet you will have countless opportunities to savour a host of other animals – from the small to the very large indeed! Our special nature walks will give you the chance to enjoy a break from being in the 4×4 vehicles and to observe nature at your own rhythm. In the company of our senior safari guide and lifelong naturalist James Wolstencroft, you will learn a great deal about the birds, and you’ll also be undertaking a humanistic journey. A safari where all your senses will be called into action, to appreciate not only the wildlife itself, but also the spectacular ecological landscapes that these ‘mega-faunas’ create. Landscapes which will soon imbue you with their unique and subtle magic.
· Safari designed for birders, bird-watchers or bird-lovers of all ages and abilities
· Safari on a full board accommodation basis
· Lodges/Tented Camps selected for charm, surrounding birdlife, level of comfort and high standard of hospitality
· Itinerary focused upon the best birding locations
· Professional driver/safari guide (with first aid certificate) for each vehicle
· “All-Sizes Nature Guide” and Expert Birding Tutor: James Wolstencroft
Arusha National Park
Tarangire National Park
Crater Highland Forests and Endoro Falls
Eastern Serengeti at Ndutu – short grass plains, woodlands and marshes – the wish of every naturalist
Central Serengeti ecosystem
Ngorongoro Conservation Area including a full day safari down in the fabled Ngorongoro Crater
Lake Eyasi – and the Hadzabwe
with as much walking as possible “In the Nature'”
Price: USD 3,710 per person sharing (single supplement USD850)
Group Size: Maximum of 11 participants
Outfitter: Tropical Trails Safaris – Arusha, Tanzania
+255 732 972 045
PLEASE NOTE: this wonderful safari experience, and at an “excellent price”, will be available, again with Tropical Trails and myself, over Easter 2015.
Please just scroll down, or up, to find it!
January 4 Arrival in Arusha
One of our drivers will be meeting you upon arrival at Kilimanjaro International Airport or Arusha Airport.
Please advise us about your arrival details.
You will be taken to your accommodation just outside the busy town of Arusha. Situated at an altitude of 1390m, the town is surrounded by fertile farmsteads that yield coffee, wheat and maize to the people of the Waarusha and Wameru tribes. Here you will meet James your specialised birds and nature guide plus your fellow travelers for this trip. A short briefing will give you all the practical information necessary regarding your tour. Overnight stay at Karama Lodge – on a bed and breakfast basis.
Arusha National Park
After an early breakfast, you will head off, in a four wheel drive safari vehicle (with a picnic lunch) to Arusha National Park for a day’s bird watching. Your specialist nature guide will tell you all there is to know about this small but very diverse park. Relatively few safari-goers visit Arusha National Park. The main reason for this may be that the park doesn’t offer as much big game as the other parks of the Northern circuit. Cats, for example, are rarely observed, and you can’t see the Big Five – nowadays there are no rhinos, nor lions. There are big mammals however, including forest-living Elephants, lots of Giraffe, and species such as African Buffalo, Plains Zebra, Bushbuck, Waterbuck, Common Warthog, both Blue Mitis and Vervet Monkeys, Olive Baboons and of course Guereza Colobus monkey, the emblem of a quiet park which has so much beauty to offer.
Arusha National Park has three main areas, each one providing a special kind of nature. The Ngurdoto Crater is the remains of a now extinct volcano, and has steep crater sides covered in dense forest. The Momella Lakes are a mix of soda lakes and freshwater lakes, set in mainly open bush land. Thirdy, Mount Meru, the sixth highest mountain in Africa reaching 4566m, constitutes the western half of the park, and offers several altitudinal zones, from montane forest and heath to alpine desert. Several observation points and picnic sites are scattered across the park.
The bird life is always remarkably rich, yet the greatest variety is present between October and April, when many Palearctic migrants are present or passing through. More than 400 bird species have been recorded here. Out of these, the gorgeous Hartlaub’s Turaco and both Narina and Bar-tailed Trogon merit special mention. Finding these beauties these takes both time and effort, but they can be seen. Careful scanning over the evergreen forest canopy should produce views of exciting birds of prey such as Ayres’s Hawk-eagle, African Crowned Eagle, African Goshawk, Augur Buzzard, African Hobby and Lanner Falcon.
Other impressive large birds, found especially around the numerous wetlands include Scaly Francolin, Spur-winged Goose, ducks such as Hottentot, Red-billed and Cape Teal, both Greater and Lesser Flamingos and both Black and Saddle-billed Storks; whilst overhead we’ll hear ‘yodelling’ African Fish Eagles; stalking through the shallows we shall see Black-headed Heron, Intermediate Egret, Sacred and Hadada Ibis, hopefully the uniquely endearing Hamerkop, devoted pairs of graceful Grey Crowned Cranes, lily-trotting African Jacanas, Pied Avocet, skulking Greater Painted Snipe and the two-tone Blacksmith Lapwing. In the fringing trees there should be African Green and Olive Pigeons, White-browed Coucals and perhaps an African Emerald Cuckoo. Well look aloft for six kinds of swift, Wire-tailed and other swallows and numerous kinds of martin. Along the forest edge there will be Brown-hooded Kingfisher, White-fronted Bee-eater, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Red-and-Yellow Barbet, Moustached Tinker-bird, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Ruppell’s Robin-chat and Montane White-eye. In the grasslands we’ll see Pangani Longclaws, some dun-coloured larks and streaky pipits. Other species should include Red-winged and Waller’s Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Variable, Bronze and Amethyst Sunbird, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Tropical Boubou, African Paradise-flycatcher and we will get our first taste of East Africa’s bewildering array of smaller birds: from black-and-white batises and puff-backs to confusing warblers and those very hard to identify cisticolas, from brilliantly marked bishops and whydahs to the seed-eating sparrows and weavers, canaries, waxbills and buntings!
In the early evening we will return, our minds replete with wonderful observations, to Karama Lodge for dinner and overnight.
Arusha to Tarangire National Park
After breakfast today, we’ll transfer our attentions to one of Tanzania’s most interesting national parks, Tarangire. Established in 1970, it takes its name from the Tarangire River, a permanent watercourse that flows through the middle of the park creating spectacular views along its route. On approaching the park however, the most eye-catching aspect is a vista of ancient baobabs rising above the yellowing plain. These trees are instantly recognizable by their swollen trunks and often leafless branches – almost as if they were the roots of a tree planted upside down. The scars on their trunks bear witness to the presence of the large herds of Elephant that Tarangire supports. This is a well-wooded region with tall grasses that makes game viewing harder than out on the short grass plains of the eastern Serengeti. However as well as elephant it’s usually possible to find Lions, in the dry season there are many thousands of Wildebeest, Buffalo, Zebra, countless Impala, Grant’s Gazelle, Eland and Coke’s Hartebeest, as well as Leopard – if we’re exceptionally lucky. We will spend the whole day in the park (with a picnic lunch) and have many opportunities for wildlife viewing and of course, plenty of enjoyable bird watching.
Tarangire is in a boundary zone between different floral environments and thus provides a great variety of habitats for different birds. More than 500 species have been recorded in the park. With the bulk of the migrant birds present between October and April we will be here at the right time to find a fine cross-section of the park’s avifauna. Species such as Yellow-necked and Red-necked Spurfowl, Helmeted Guineafowl, Martial Eagle, Grey Kestrel, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, White-bellied Go-away bird, Southern Ground Hornbill and Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Greater Honeyguide, raucous Orange-bellied Parrots, the endemic Yellow-collared Lovebird, breath-taking Lilac-breasted Rollers, Green Wood-hoopoe, Nubian Woodpecker, Magpie Shrike, Long-tailed Fiscal, African Grey Flycatcher, Superb, Hildebrandt’s and Ashy Starling – yet another of Tanzania’s endemic birds, Slate-coloured Boubou, White-browed Scrub-Robin and the waxbills – Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Purple Grenadier and Green-winged Pytilia.
Dinner and overnight stay at the delightful Maramboi Tented Camp nearby.
Tarangire National Park and Karatu area
The whole morning will be dedicated to further bird watching in Tarangire National Park, where we will take our picnic lunch. In the early afternoon hours we will drive the short distance to Karatu town above which we will be able to enjoy a pleasant hike to Endoro Falls within the Crater Highlands forest. We will then descend to our accommodation for the night. Dinner and overnight at Endoro Lodge.
Karatu to Ndutu Area
This morning, after an early breakfast, we’ll be driven higher into the beautiful mountain forests of the NCCAA, passing the world-renowned Ngorongoro Crater on our right hand side before commencing our descent to Ndutu Safari Lodge at the edge of the Serengeti – an ‘endless plain’ of grasses. Our destination, the Ndutu area, is within the eastern Serengeti short-grass ecosystem, yet lies outside the eastern boundary of the National Park. This allows our drivers to take us “off-road” and get as close as possible to the animals, yet without disturbing them unduly (within the park limits one must remain on the marked tracks, which can be frustrating at times). We will be able to savour the immense open plains and a very lovely marshland area within woodlands where many new bird species may be found. Ndutu is an amazing place to visit all year round. There is an abundance of resident game animals in this area apart from the annual circuit of the wildebeest migration which passes here at the end of the year. All six species of cat can be found, year round, at Ndutu: Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, Caracal, Serval and African Wildcat, although some are easier to find than others! Other resident mammal species include Savanna Elephant, both Spotted and the far less common Striped Hyena, Bat-eared Fox, Ratel, two species of hare, plus various antelope and gazelles. Such a diversity of ecosystems within the Ndutu area, ranging from lofty acacia woodlands through open plains to soda lakes and marshes ensures that it is yet another of Tanzania’s several exceptional birding locations.
We will have a picnic lunch here and spend several hours dedicated to studying the birds. Some that we will hope to see include: Southern Ground Hornbill, Kori and White-bellied Bustard, Little Bee-eater, Woodland and Striped Kingfisher, Usambiro Barbet, Rufous Chatterer, Silverbird and the endemic Rufous-tailed Weaver. Species like Crowned Lapwing, Rufous-naped Lark, White-crowned Shrike, Vitelline Masked and Red-billed and White-headed Buffalo Weavers are species which should be seen on every safari in northern Tanzania. However Ndutu has many fine specialities. In a landscape with so many big mammals the birds of prey are wonderfully common and soon make themselves apparent. Species seen on our safaris include Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, Secretarybird, Black-shouldered Kite and both Eastern and Dark Chanting Goshawks as well as migrant Lesser Kestrels all the way from Central Asia. Not as common, but regularly seen, are Martial Eagle, Long-crested Eagle and White-eyed Kestrel. African White-backed, Ruppell’s Griffon, Lappet-faced and Hooded Vultures remain widespread in this seemingly pristine and ancient ecosystem, and we will certainly keep an eye out for that most endangered and extravagant-looking White-headed Vulture, an ornate species which thankfully still breeds here around Ndutu.
We will arrive late afternoon at the Ndutu Safari Lodge, home of wildlife lovers for decades. Do not be surprised if wildlife such as Genets come to our door step, this is part of the charm of the place where we will share our wildlife adventures around the camp-fire under the brilliant stars of an inky black African sky. Dinner and overnight at Ndutu Safari Lodge.
We will have the entire day to further explore this marvellous area and will organise our birding activity accordingly. As a group, we might collectively decide if we want to come back to the Lodge for lunch or if we would rather spend the entire day ‘out in the wilds’. A short walking safari (as an option) is also possible here. Dinner and overnight stay at Ndutu Safari Lodge.
Ndutu to Central Serengeti
After an early breakfast we will leave the Ndutu area and drive via a short walk around Naabi Hill to Seronera which lies at the hub of the Serengeti National Park. We will take a picnic lunch and enjoy a full day in the bush before reaching our comfortable permanent camp in the late afternoon. Here we will spend the next two nights. The Serengeti is justly famous for its mammals yet also undoubtedly a delight for any bird-watcher. More then 600 species have been recorded here, as many as are seen in all of Europe. Among these are species with intriguing names such as: Bare faced Go-away Bird, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, Fischer’s Lovebird, Brown Parrot, Secretary Bird, Diederik and Jacobin Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Black-headed Gonolek, Karamoja Apalis, Grey-backed Fiscal, Ruppell’s Long-tailed Starling, Red-faced Crombec, Banded Parisoma, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Siffling Cisticola, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Grey-headed Social Weaver to mention only a few.
Dinner and overnight at Kati Kati Camp
The entire day today will be dedicated to exploring the central heartland of the Serengeti National Park. We will choose whether to take a picnic lunch or to return to the camp for lunch. We should get a chance to see two endemics – the Grey-breasted Spurfowl and the Tanzanian, or Ruaha, Hornbill. There will be more raptors such as Bateleur, Black-chested and Brown Snake-eagles, Martial, Tawny and Steppe Eagles, Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers plus Pygmy Falcons and various kestrels. Yellow-throated and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse come to the pools to drink, near which there will be Plain-backed Pipits, Grey-crested Helmet-shrike in the Acacia gerrardi trees, there are several nightjar species here, and many other birds will likely be added to what should by now be an impressive list, even for this, a specifically bird-orientated, wildlife safari.
Dinner and overnight at Kati Kati Camp.
Seronera to Ngorongoro Crater
Today we will leave the Serengeti and drive back eastwards to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area enjoying a full day of game-viewing along the way. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area spans a vast expanse of highland plains, savanna, savanna woodlands and forests. Established in 1959 as a multiple land use area, where the wildlife coexists with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practicing traditional livestock grazing, it includes the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, the world’s largest caldera. The entire area is of priceless global importance for biodiversity due partly to the presence of several globally threatened species, yet also to the density of wildlife inhabiting the area, plus the annual migration of wildebeest, zebra, gazelles and other animals around the entire Serengeti ecosystem. Extensive archaeological research has also yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, including early hominid footprints dating back 3.6 million years.
Once we arrive at the crater, we can enjoy a naturalist’s walk along the rim. The mixture of forest, canyons, grassland plains, lakes and marshes provide habitats for a wide range of bird life. The short rains before Christmas herald the arrival of Eurasian bird migrants at the pools. White Storks, Yellow Wagtails and Barn Swallows mingle with the local inhabitants: stilts, Saddle-billed Storks, Sacred Ibis, Collared Pratincoles, Chestnut-banded Plovers and various species of duck. Lesser Flamingos fly-in (and out) overnight, from their breeding grounds at Lake Natron, to spend days feeding here. Impressive and iconic grassland birds – Maasai Ostrich, Abdim’s and White Storks, Kori and Black-bellied Bustard, Grey Crowned Cranes, Rose-throated Longclaws and others – abound.
Dinner and overnight at Rhino Lodge
Today, we will experience the unforgettable Crater of Ngorongoro, one of the most picturesque settings for observing wildlife in the whole world. With around 30,000 resident animals, game viewing here is excellent all year round and the photographic opportunities unrivalled!
Encounters with animals are very frequent in this “Garden of Eden”, and there is a great variety to see. As mentioned Lake Magadi, a soda lake on the floor of the Crater, supports thousands of flamingos and other waterbirds. This is also one of the best places to see the endangered Black Rhino. We will spend the entire day in the crater (with picnic lunch) before heading to Karatu for dinner and an overnight stay at Ngorongoro Farm House.
Karatu to Lake Eyasi
After an early breakfast, we will head out to Lake Eyasi (2h drive) and bird watch along the lake shores in a dramatic landscape, home to a multitude of migratory birds. The north-eastern edge of the lake lies in the shadow of Ol Doinyo Mountain on the border of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Lake Eyasi occupies one of the oldest sections of the Eastern Rift Valley, where it runs northeast- southwest for a distance of about fifty miles below an impressive three thousand foot escarpment that forms the south-eastern boundary of the Serengeti National Park and Maswa Game Reserve. To the southeast of the lake is the Yaida valley, home to the Hadzabe people, a tribe of hunter-gatherers.
Eyasi is not somewhere to visit in search of Big Game, but it is a very interesting part of Tanzania if you’re prepared to take things more slowly. All year flamingos, pelicans, herons and egrets frequent this shallow soda lake. And in season the lake attracts vast numbers of migrant waterbirds of all shapes and colours, from the larger species such as: Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Yellow-billed and African Open-billed Storks, African Spoonbills, the two species of flamingo, Grey-headed Gull, Pied Avocet and so forth to what, for some, might be, at first, a bewildering array of smaller waders and shorebirds, many from breeding areas as far away as the tundra of arctic Siberia. ‘Fear not though!’ for James will patiently guide you through them all! His Swarovski 80 HD telescope at hand, so that you will get the closest views possible.
Lunch, dinner and overnight at Lake Eyasi Safari Lodge.
For some this whole day can be dedicated to bird watching alongside the lake. Alternatively, for those people interested, a bush walk with Hadzabe hunters is an option. This is unique experience since the Hadzabe represent the last surviving group of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania.
Lunch, Dinner and overnight at Lake Eyasi Safari Lodge.
Lake Eyasi to Arusha
After a late breakfast and time to enjoy the birds in the grounds of our lodge, we must leave Lake Eyasi and drive back to Arusha, either to catch an international flight, or to commence an extension to the safari, such as a beach holiday in Zanzibar.
If you need to spend an extra night in Arusha, Tropical Trails can arrange for you to stay at Karama Lodge (option).
Price of this tour: $3,775 per person sharing for a group of 11 participants
The Price includes:
First night at Karama Lodge previous to the safari
All National Park Fees
Safari in 4‐wheel drive vehicle with professional driver/naturalist guide, maximum 3 persons per vehicle Bottle of Mineral water (1.5L per day)
Accommodation in the selected Lodges and tented Camps in full board (except the first and last days on BB)
Professional guiding by James Wolstencroft
The Price does not include:
Accommodation in Arusha on the day 13
Discretionary tipping, alcoholic drinks cigarettes, laundry, items of a personal nature, visas, personal Travel Insurance, or anything not mentioned above
Prices quoted in US Dollars per person.
For terms and conditions of payment please refer to our booking conditions.
Please note prices may be subject to change in the event of any change of Government Taxes and National Park Fees.
Tropical Trails reserves the right to adjust these rates accordingly.
About your principal guide and tutor: James Wolstencroft
“It seems that I’ve been a naturalist, a bird-watcher, a conservationist and a ‘birder’ for almost all my fifty-eight years. Definitely my first BIG love was BIRDS. Over the years I’ve grown to greatly admire, if not exactly envy, all flying creatures no matter their size, more especially those who undertake epic migrations across this globe. And I’ve been guiding nature holidays across Asia and Africa since 1988. On New Year’s Eve 2004 with my young family (and Pie the dog) I decided to move from Europe, our little cottage overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar, in southern Spain, to Arusha on the slopes of Mount Meru in Tanzania. We settled here so that we could live as close as possible to some of the last great refuges of Africa’s fabled mega-fauna. In the decade that has passed I have become an “All Sizes Safari Guide” looking at everything from insects to Elephants, from Aardvarks to Zorillas. It is a privilege and real delight to share with others the great wonders with which we may be blessed by being in Africa’s Nature. The joy and awe revealed once we’re quietly observing up close the smallest and the largest of our companions, in the here and now, still wild, in a truly indescribable part of this, our beautiful, beautiful world.”
Nearly 650 bird species have been recorded in an area only slightly wider than that covered by this green satellite photograph of Mount Meru in Northern Tanzania. The long axis of the photograph amounts to barely 30 km. And since June 2005 this area, within a radius of about 20 km from the summit ridge of Mount Meru, has become the core of my home range. Not bad for a “birder’s local patch”. Although I do miss the ocean badly!
BIRDING MOUNT MERU – A FIVE DAY BIRDING ITINERARY
Night One: An evening arrival from Europe into Tanzania is highly recommended, ideally on board KLM’s direct flight from Amsterdam Schiphol to Kilimanjaro International Airport.
There will follow an hour’s transfer by 4WD safari vehicle, with that all-important pop-up roof, either into Arusha town (economy options), or to Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge or Hatari Lodge (the high convenience options – hco), to arrive in time for some ‘owling’ or a perhaps little ‘jarring’ over a delicious evening snack under the stars of Africa.
If you choose the higher convenience option, your accommodation will be at either Hatari Lodge or Ngare Sero Lodge – both of which are family-run and extremely well situated by being on the edge of the national park.
Nights Two & Three: Two full days exploring Arusha National Park
After a breakfast, inevitably interrupted by birds, we’ll drive to the undisturbed evergreen forest surrounding Ngurdoto crater (see green photo above – rhs), an outlier of Mount Meru which is such a majestic feature of this landscape. The outer walls of Ngurdoto, a small and secluded basin in the jungle, are clothed with luxuriant submontane forest. On the drive we will enter dense and beautiful stands of African olive Olea africana and O. hochstetteri and a variety of strangling figs Ficus thonningii that form a canopy over the narrow road up to the crater rim. The cliff girt sides of the crater itself are clad with sprawling ferns and Mikindu date palms which support nesting pairs of both African Hobby and the resident race minor of Peregrine. We should be able to walk along broad footpaths near the crater rim that provide excellent vantage points and a superlative view over the forest canopy. Looking out across the swampy floor of the crater one can admire a forested mountain ridge that leads the eye to the shimmering snows of Mount Kilimanjaro, only forty kilometres distant. From our elevated position Cape Buffalo, Bushbuck and family parties of Common Warthog can be observed foraging on the improbably green crater floor. These ungulates often share their Typha and Cyperus papyrus swamps with an array of wetland birds.
We may see both Black and Yellow-billed Storks, perhaps even Saddle-billed (has bred) together with various herons and egrets. Periodically the trees around the viewpoints bustle with bird activity as a mixed species foraging-wave ripples through. We should be able to enjoy much of the varied bird community here which includes both widespread and local elements. For example we might find regionally scarce species such as African Cuckoo Hawk and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon; and will almost certainly see Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, White-eared Barbet, Black Rough-wing Swallow, African Hill Babbler, Placid Greenbul, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Kenrick’s and Waller’s Starlings, Montane White-eye, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Collared Sunbird and several equally attractive migrant bird species.
After a picnic lunch at Mikindu vantage point we shall continue our exploration of Arusha National Park. Likely our next stop will be at “Serengeti Ndogo’” a spacious glade where iconic large mammals, such as Maasai Giraffe and Plains Zebra are usually accompanied by various water birds around the shallow pools and wallows. Then we will travel through forest at a lower altitude, entering a distinctly different environment. The tiny Sunni Antelope is often seen here as is the near-endemic duiker of the form harveyi a potential split from Natal Red Duiker. We shall scan the treetops for Mitis Monkey and troupes of ornate Guereza Black and White Colobus. Birds here might include African Emerald Cuckoo, perhaps a roosting African Wood-Owl, the lowland Narina Trogon, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Black-backed Puffback, Forest Batis, Black-headed Apalis and Black-headed Oriole. A stop at a small marsh in the forest might yield brief views of a Buff-spotted Flufftail or the slightly less skulking African Waterail particularly if the weather conditions are conducive. After our first day’s birding (back) in the Afrotropics, our minds will have been exposed to many sensations from the great forests and marshes of Africa’s past. So we shall return to our lodge in the late afternoon in plenty of time for a relaxing dinner. Night at Ngare Sero or Hatari Lodge or in accommodation of a similar standard nearer to Arusha.
Arusha National Park – the forested slopes and alti-montane shrublands of Mount Meru
Today we will explore vegetation zones on the eastern slopes of Mount Meru both by vehicle and on foot with an emphasis on the montane evergreen forest. Our 4WD vehicle will enable us to ascend with relative ease through the different floral zones of the mountain. We will pass through areas characterised by African olives and groves of gnarled Wild Mango Tabernaemontana usambarensis climbing into areas dominated by stately pencil cedars (Juniperus procera) and towering African Yellow-beam Podocarpus gracilior. The trunks and branches of the forest trees are festooned with a great variety of epiphytes whilst the pendulous garlands of old man’s beard (Usnea) contribute to a feeling of other-worldly enchantment. Accompanied by an armed forest ranger (for there are misanthropic old buffalo in these mountain woods!) we shall enter secret forest glades and walk the banks of mountain streams lined with flowering red hot pokers Kniphofia thompsoni and scarlet fireball lilies Scadoxus multiflorus. The tropical montane forests of Africa are excellent places in which to observe a variety of impressive butterflies. Mount Meru is particularly well-endowed with richly colourful and charismatic species such as the Gold-Banded Forester, Gaudy Commodore, Green-veined Charaxes, Green-banded and Mocker Swallowtail and the Forest Mother of Pearl.
We will walk through the shrubby heather belt Erica arborea at Kitoto on the Miriakamba trail above the taller forest, into the exploded crater of Meru itself and toward the foot of the dramatic ash cone within it. Here one may find the scat of Leopard and see droppings of forest-dwelling Elephant, whilst the grubbing and rooting disturbance of Bush pigs can be found almost everywhere. Sometimes smaller animals such as the endemic Three-horned Chameleon can be seen beside the trails. Amongst many new bird species which should be seen today African Black Duck, Mountain Buzzard, African Crowned Eagle, Red-fronted Parrot, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Bar-tailed Trogon, Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, Brown Woodland Warbler, both Striped-faced Greenbul and Black-headed Mountain Greenbul, Sharpe’s Starling and Red-faced Crimsonwing are some of my particular favourites! In the Meru crater flocks of Alpine and Nyanza Swift wheel above you and if lucky a Lammergeier might be picked-out soaring along the truly spectacular rust-coloured cliff face.
Once again, if on “hco“, our evening meal and accommodation will be at one or other of the equally charming Hatari Lodge or Ngare Sero Lodge; both of which are family-run and strategically located at the edge of the national park.
Arusha National Park – the Momella Lakes
During our days in Arusha National Park we will also focus attention at the foot of Mount Meru, around the Momella lakes. This area of gently rounded hills, open grassland, scrubby Dodonaea sand-bush and small highland lakes offers a marvellous variety of habitats that support a great variety of animals and birds. Some of the Momella lakes are fed by underwater springs and nurture large population of aquatic wildlife throughout the year. Others are more seasonal and their fluctuating water levels attract a quite different selection of species. Touring this lake-studded landscape we will be keeping an eye-out specifically for big mammals such as Common Waterbuck, Bohor Reedbuck, Cape Buffalo and Hippopotamus. After periods of rain Helmeted Terrapins disperse from the lakes to seasonal pools whilst amphibians such as Platana frogs can be found in many of the puddles and pools. Large concentrations of water birds may include scarce species such as Southern Pochard and occasionally Maccoa Duck. Cape Teal are usually common at the more brackish lakes and large flocks of Lesser Flamingo and a few Greater Flamingos often can be studied at very close range. A variety of beautiful bee-eaters and hundreds of Hirundines skim for dragonflies, stoneflies and chironomid midges across the open water. White-backed Ducks frequent the well-vegetated fringes of freshwater Lake Longil as do Common and Lesser Moorhens, Black Crakes and African Jacanas. There are cormorants, occasionally African Darters, and sometimes one can see both species of ‘afro-tropical’ pelican here. Spur-winged Geese and Hottentot Teal are resident, whilst migrant plovers and sandpipers (e.g. Blacksmith Lapwing and Three-banded Plover as against Marsh Sandpiper and Ruff respectively) abound and of course there are many active passerines in the surrounding vegetation to ponder (Cisticolas) or to savour (shrikes).
The grassland and bush near to the lakes supports interesting and local species such as the attractive Pangani Longclaw, the contentious Nairobi Pipit and many voluble cisticolas together with the African Moustached Warbler. Flocks of Helmeted Guineafowl, Hildebrandt’s and Scaly Francolin and occasionally other galliformes can be found along the tracks. In the evening we will return once again to the home comforts of either Ngare Sero or Hatari Lodge.
Night Four: Into the evergreen woodlands of Kilimanjaro and the acacia-commiphora country of the “West Kilimanjaro ranches”
After breakfast we shall load our Toyotas with soft-bags and provisions and drive across the Maasai plains to the ranches of Kilimanjaro where we will encounter for the first time dry zone birds that occur in the rain shadow west of Mount Kilimanjaro. Our route passes through one area where some lower elevation forests of Mount Kilimanjaro remain in good condition. Here we will search for various East African specialties including some species more typical of the coastal zone, birds such as Northern Brownbul, the ultra-skulking Kretschmer’s Longbill, Red-capped Robin-chat, the ‘gorgeous’ Four-coloured Bush-shrike, and some australo-papuan representatives such as Blue-mantled Trochocercus. We will take our picnic lunch in the vicinity of the National Park gate at Londorossi and then explore some highland forest before driving onward to the plateau for some enchanting scenery and yet more new birds. Notable ‘wish-list’ species here might include the Near-Threatened piebald Abbott’s Starling, parties of the crepuscular, and often sought after, Olive Ibis and commoner species such as the noisily duetting Hunter’s Cisticola. As we gain altitude we should find Malachite Sunbird as well as the extraordinarily burnished Golden-winged Sunbird, while on the open-land of the Shira plateau itself one can occasionally find some of the really high altitude species, birds such as Alpine Chat and the wispy-tailed, scintillatingly green, truly ‘afro-alpine’ Scarlet-tufted Sunbird.
We will descend from the forests of Kilimanjaro in the late afternoon. Today’s experiences culminate in the beautiful acacia woodland of Sinya and Olmolog. Lying in the rain shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro these privately managed areas remain in good condition by virtue of “easement agreements” with the local Maasai. Here we shall stay at either Hatari Lodge’s tented camp, known as Shu’mata Camp or at Ndarakwai Ranch, both are accessible, well managed parcels of the once so vast East African wilderness. After our evening meal a nocturnal game drive should be very rewarding. Night drives usually provide participants with excellent views of some of the more secretive nocturnal representatives of the area’s unique fauna, birds like Bronze-winged and Three-banded Courser, a few owl species and undoubtedly we will hear the manic whip-lash-ing of many Slender-tailed Nightjars. Animals here include the rare Maasai Clawed Gecko, both Striped and Spotted Hyaena, Northern Lesser Galago, SpringHare and both the local lagomorphs African Savanna Hare and Cape Hare. Common Genet, African Civet, African Wild Cat, Bat-eared Fox, five Mongoose species, Black-backed and Golden Jackal provide the essential carnivores and if we are blessed, we will find not just an Aardvark but also a Zorilla. So there we have it, on a short bird tour, very much the A to Z of African Mammals!
Night Five: A day in the desertic steppe of the “Volcano’s Rain Shadow”
We will drive westwards to further explore the complex habitat mosaics typical of East Africa’s grazed Acacia-Commiphora woodlands. Principal tree species include the umbrella thorns Acacia abyssinica and A. nilotica, the Yellow-barked Acacia Acacia xanthophloea and also Acacia mellifera. They combine to support an astonishingly rich assemblage of birds and animals. Extensive grassy glades, seasonally-inundated areas, narrow wadis and boulder outcrops further diversify the landscape. This area is very important for numerous Palearctic migrants amongst which we might want to concentrate upon finding Caspian Plover, Irania, Rufous Scrub-Robin and Upcher’s and Barred Warblers. During migration many northern raptors pass through this wide funnel between the huge mountains of Meru and Kilimanjaro. They include substantial numbers of Steppe Eagle, Steppe Buzzard, Pallid and Montagu’s Harrier and falcons; Eurasian Hobby and Lesser Kestrel being especially numerous during passage periods. This dry zone always strikes the visitor from temperate lands as being unusually rich in bird species and those characteristic of the Somali-Maasai zone are of course well represented. Priorities for us should include Black-faced and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, the in essentially endemic Fischer’s Lovebird, African Grey and Von der Decken’s Hornbill, White-bellied Go-away-bird, both Blue-naped and the sought-after White-headed Mousebird, Pink-breasted Lark, Scaly and Rufous Chatterer, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit, Spotted Morning Thrush, Northern and Red-faced Crombec, Hildebrandt’s and Fischer’s Starling, Red-fronted Warbler, Pygmy Batis, Rosy-patched Shrike and Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrikes, Beautiful and Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Steel-blue, Eastern Paradise, Pin-tailed and Straw-tailed Whydahs, White-headed Buffalo-weaver, Purple Grenadier, Black-faced Waxbill, Blue-capped Cordon-bleu and Somali Golden-breasted Bunting.
This area used to provide a rare opportunity to observe a healthy and balanced elephant community. Nowadays one never knows what to expect! Nevertheless the long-necked Gerenuk, an acacia-browsing gazelle, is locally common and family herds of Lesser Kudu may still be found in this bushland.
Day Six: “Lark Plains”
After breakfast we will descend farther to the Ang’yata Osugat plains, the grazing lands of the Engikaret Maasai. This near-circular expanse of semi-arid steppe is the number one site in Tanzania for the Alaudidae – for finding larks. Likely we will begin by searching for the localised, long-billed and very distinctive Short-tailed Lark together with our local speciality Calandrella the Athi Short-toed Lark. Relict riparian woodland along the Ngare Nanyuki water course should provide yet more classic afrotropical birds, species from groups as diverse as wood–hoopoes and scimitarbills, set against bush-shrikes, batises and helmet-shrikes. There should also be Cardinal and Nubian Woodpeckers, endearing Red-fronted Tinkerbirds, smart Long-tailed and the super-smart Taita Fiscals to the tiny in the shape of Yellow-bellied Eremomela and Buff-bellied Warbler amongst an array of others gems.
The plains continue to support populations of both Kori Bustard and Secretarybird though Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelles and other savanna mammals should be more plentiful here. We will pass through stunted acacia-commiphora woodland where we should add yet more birds to our list, including restricted-range species such as Tiny and Ashy Cisticola and the near endemic Red-throated Tit. However today’s birding highlight for most undoubtedly will be “lark plains”, where up to nine species of lark can be seen in a morning! The plains are full of other grassland species such as resident and migrant wheatears and up to four species of pipit. This heavily-grazed plain supports the world’s last few score Beesley’s Larks. This Critically Endangered endemic can be found only here in the rain shadow of the two great volcanos and is likely the rarest bird on mainland Africa. Being highly terrestrial, relatively confiding with a slightly curved bill, (for digging), a scaly mantle, a buffy-rufous breast and characteristic rodent-like scurrying gait it is a very endearing rarity indeed.
Leaving the plains we will climb slightly onto the partially cultivated western slopes of Mount Meru. Here we will pause to examine the bird-life of a rocky korongo (ravine or wadi) where yet more species can be added to our by-now lengthy list, birds such as Horus Swift, that notoriously clown-like Red-and-Yellow Barbet (after all “you’ve got to get the cover bird”), Schalow’s Wheatear, Kenya Rufous Sparrow and Southern Grosbeak Canary. Lanner Falcons and White-eyed Kestrels are usually soaring somewhere overhead and on some days Lammergeiers, from their mountain fastness, deign to join the Tawny Eagles, Pied Crows and White-necked Ravens in the jostle for discarded bones at the edge of Oldonyo Sambu a small traditional Maasai market alongside the Nairobi highway.
After fifty minutes, stopping only to admire a breeding pair of rufescens Mountain Kestrels (until recently ‘lost’ within Falco tinnunculus) we will reach the western outskirts of the bustling ‘new city’ of Arusha. A late afternoon visit to a tiny area of tall riparian woodland and shady pools, ‘ground-water forest’, secreted within a quiet coffee estate, near to where I’m writing this piece, could add yet more scarce and local species. Eventually though, we must come to the end of this five day birding-extravaganza. Although Madagascar (Malagasy) Pond-Heron, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Pallid Honeyguide, Wahlberg’s Honeybird, Grey-olive Greenbul, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Brown-throated Wattle-eye and Peters’s Twinspot may remain to be found … in here.
Eventually we must tear ourselves away from our delightful birding, either to return to the mercifully relaxed international airport at JRO (in order to catch our return KLM flight to Amsterdam), or to join an onward safari with the rest of our group or family (for likely as not they’re yet to be birders!) onward to Tarangire, Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater or even the overly-fabled Serengeti National Park.
A five day Nature Tour similar to the one described briefly here, a circumnavigation of mighty Mount Meru, especially if it takes place between early November and late April, i.e. during the Boreal Winter, and includes at least two full days within the 542 sq. km. of Arusha National Park should produce a bird list of nearly 500 species.
If you are interested in such a short, but highly productive tour, which we can schedule at any-time of the year, and which certainly provides the perfect orientation for any birder prior to your longer wildlife safari, with family and friends, please let us know, as early as possible, whether you would want the economy option, or the higher convenience option (HCO), as mentioned above, because these two small lodges get booked-up very quickly.
As always I would like to thank my birding friends, who have very kindly provided some really lovely photos to grace this post :
Charles Davies (Abbott’s Starling), Martin Goodey (as indicated), Anabel Harries (Maasai Giraffe, Lammergeier and some of the ‘scenics’) and especially Martin Hale for the charming Beesley’s Lark pair and the ‘dapper’ Taita Fiscal; some of the photos are even my own! Thanks also to Hagai Zvulun for pushing the original innovation.