NORTHERN TANZANIA BIRDING & WILDLIFE SAFARI – TRIP REPORT

Private Guided Birding & Wildlife Safari to Northern Tanzania: A medley of incredible wildlife experiences in an ancient arena of topographical wonders’; Tour for Danish clients Kim Frost and Sunneva Restorff, guided by Patrick Cardwell 9th to 21st February 2014

Beautiful Sunbird

Beautiful Sunbird: that is actually it’s name!

Top Highlights of the Trip

1.       Flying over snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro on a perfect day.
2.       350 bird and 40 mammal species in 13 days, including the mega ‘Big Five’, along with a host of other memorable wildlife and cultural experiences
3.       Visiting the unique and scenically spectacular Ngorogoro Crater.
4.       Exploring Tarangire on foot in search of the iconic Vulturine Guineafowl.
5.       Close up and sustained views of Serval as the feline sighting highlight.
6.       Enjoying the presence of the striking and charismatic Superb Starling throughout the trip.
7.        Driving out across the vast Serengeti Plains among thousands of migrating wildebeest.
8.       Experiencing the territorial roars of Lion and primordial ‘whoop’ of Hyena beyond the campfire at night.
9.       A feeding frenzy of thousands of birds gorging on emergent termites after a storm.
10.   The vibrant blue and scarlet colours of Maasai herders set against the green hills of Africa.
11.    Silhouettes of umbrella thorn trees against sunsets to die for such as only the dust of Africa can provide …

Introduction:

Considered opinion has it within wildlife circles that every dedicated naturalist must visit the Galapagos Islands in the footsteps of Charles Darwin at least once in their life to appreciate the wonders of evolution…

Equally so, the ancient peaks of volcanic origin towering up to the snow-line, surrounded by a tapestry of golden hued savannah plains dotted with the flat-crowned silhouettes of countless umbrella thorn trees, like the rosettes on a leopards coat, embody the very essence of the ‘Cradle of Mankind’, where the fossilized skull of an australopithecine was discovered deep in the limestone deposits of the Serengeti plain at Olduvai Gorge.

As such, Northern Tanzania represents a broad canvas on a grand scale of biodiversity that demands the attention of scientists and naturalists alike, as well as those in search of a unique environment  of  a relatively wild and unspoilt nature, representing  what little is left of the ‘Real Africa’.

As such it is recognised as one of the world’s ‘hotspots’ of wildlife diversity, and, quite rightly, as an essential destination offering an unsurpassed spectacle of millions of migrating mammals interacting instinctively with one another and the seasonal dictates within the largest remaining natural grazing system in Africa, the Serengeti.

View of Kilimanjaro from the air

View of Kilimanjaro from the air

Towering to nearly 6000m the snow-capped peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and fifth highest in the world, presides majestically over the surrounding plains and geological wonders of verdant calderas, including the impressive Ngorongoro Crater, the largest caldera in the world, and a natural ‘Eden’ for the wide diversity of graceful mega fauna resident within its mist shrouded forest rim.

Add to this a still active, and the highest living volcano, Oldoinyo Lengai  2878m, and the matrix of alkaline soda lakes of the Great Rift Valley, home to countless thousands of flamingo, within a relatively confined travel arena for eco-enthusiasts in search of a combination of wildlife variety and accommodation across the spectrum, from luxury lodges to traditional tented safari camps within the heart of the national parks.

Lesser Flamingos in Arusha

Lesser Flamingos in Arusha

Internal air and road networks in Northern Tanzania are good and getting better, all within a stable political environment sensitive to the needs and importance of ecotourists, with complementary  service and hospitality standards well-maintained throughout, in keeping with the friendly disposition of the many tribal groups likely to be encountered on the way while on safari.

Yet it is the allure and sheer enormity of it all that makes Northern Tanzania a ‘must do’ in one’s lifetime with our trip by way of an example generating over 350 bird and 40 mammal species in 13 days, including the mega ‘Big Five’, along with a host of other memorable wildlife and cultural experiences during the two week safari into the ‘Green Hills of Africa’ made iconic by Roosevelt and Hemmingway in the last century…

Lion cub

Lion cub

Trip Report

The prelude to the start of one’s Northern Tanzania ‘safari’ – the Kiswahili descriptive for an overland journey – commences with a spiralling descent to provide all on board an awesome view of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro to the north of the international airport of the same name.

Pop-top Safari Vehicle

Pop-top Safari Vehicle

This scenically located airport of few flights a day is efficiently run by African standards, with straightforward and speedy immigration and customs procedures to look forward to, before streaming out of the arrivals hall to connect with your dedicated driver/guide and customised ‘pop-top’ 4X4 safari vehicle for the duration of the trip.

All around the mood is friendly and inter-active as clients link-up with their respective tour operator contacts before streaming off for Arusha in the west ,as the eco-epicentre of the safari industry in Tanzania, while those set to summit Africa’s highest mountain depart for Moshe in the east for the base camp briefing ahead of the trudge to the top of Uhuru Peak.

Yet for us, it was the birding and photographic appeal of Northern Tanzania, along with the spectrum of other wildlife and cultural experiences on offer, that decided the destination for this tightly tailored yet relaxed safari embracing the star attractions of the northern tourist route.

A mass of White Storks circling above us

A mass of White Storks circling above us

From the time you leave the airport one is struck by the abundance of storks, as Marabou, Abdim’s and White Storks wheel about in mind boggling numbers above the open plains and cultivated fields, on the way to Arusha.

Variable Sunbird

Variable Sunbird

Accommodation for our two night stay was in an old colonial homestead reminiscent of Karen Blixen’s own home as depicted in the ‘Out of Africa’ movie starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. Wooden floors and ceilings with sash windows and sliding doors opening onto sprawling lawns and flower beds along a mountain stream supporting a mix of wild fig and yellow fever trees.

Add to this an impressive resident mix of ‘garden birds’ and sense-around all day bird song and you can appreciate the setting and the avian delights on offer. These included Brown-breasted and Spot-flanked Barbet, Variable and Collared Sunbird, Emerald and Tambourine Dove, Tropical Boubou, Little Sparrowhawk, Lizard Buzzard, Paradise Flycatcher, Speckled Mousebird, Red-backed Mannikin, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Red-headed Weaver and Amethyst Sunbird. Mammals were represented by Slender Mongoose in the garden and a family of Ochre Bush Squirrels in the sycamore fig trees.

Arusha National Park

Caldera in Northern Tanzania

Caldera in Northern Tanzania

Our first full day of birding was close by in the Arusha National Park located along the flanks of rugged Mount Meru of volcanic origin, to the west of Kilimanjaro, which rises to a height of 4500m as Tanzania’s second highest mountain . This impressive wildlife reserve of several distinctive habitat types dictated by altitude is bird and mammal rich in spite of its close proximity to the bustling town of Arusha itself.

Relatively small for a national park at 542 square kms equivalent to only 4% the size of the Serengeti N.P., it has much to offer in the way of biodiversity with an environmental composition embracing grazing plains for a variety of ungulates, swamps, shallow soda lakes, montane forests and volcanos, with the entrance gate only 35kilometres from the town centre.

Yet it is far from a ‘safari park’ with an intricate set of gravel tracks and hiking trails forming a complex maze along the contour lines embracing the different habitat types. Our carefully planned route taking time and distance into account effectively provided complete coverage, including the opportunity to stop for our picnic lunch on an exposed knoll, providing spectacular views of the soda lakes and the liberal pink sprinkling of thousands of Lesser Flamingos filter-feeding in the shallows.

Wildlife in various forms was well represented with good views of Cape Buffalo, Plains Zebra and Giraffe, grazing and browsing contentedly in this now lion free N.P, while Bushbuck and Red Duiker scampered away through the forest glades at higher elevations. On the primate side, Olive Baboon and Blue Monkey were well represented, with the added bonus of an excellent sighting of two stunning black and white Guereza Colobus Monkeys grooming one another in the forest canopy.

Blue Monkey

Blue Monkey

Birding was continuous and excellent throughout with the day’s highlights including Augur Buzzard, Southern Pochard, Ayre’s Hawk-Eagle, Martial Eagle, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Hidebrandt’s Francolin, Black Crake, African Jacana, Hartlaub’s Turaco, White-browed Coucal, Little and White-fronted Bee-eater, Red-rumped Swallow, Grey Wagtail, Pangani Longclaw, Red-winged Lark, Long-tailed Shrike, Mountain Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Olive Thrush, African Dusky Flycatcher, Bronze Sunbird, Baglafecht Weaver and Montane White-eye.

Wildlife aside, the scenery is spectacular with the Ndurdoto Crater and environs providing perfect grazing grounds lavishly fringed by montane forest habitat. Here one encounters spectacular examples of impressive strangler fig trees embracing the host tree in a deadly clutch of sturdy trunks that will eventually ‘strangle’ the supporting tree to death. Other notables in the forest biome include magnificent examples of giant  juniper of the  cypress family, as well as towering gymnosperms in the form of cone bearing yellow woods.

At lower elevations, around the Momela Lakes of varying alkalinity and thousands of filter feeding Lesser Flamingo, the vegetation is a mix of secondary growth and scattered flat-topped acacias and candelabra shaped euphorbia trees interspersed by open meadows and marshland.

Augur Buzzard

Magnificent Augur Buzzard

As such Arusha represents a fascinating national park of complex proportions encompassing a broad-based mix of biodiversity that demands attention for the sheer magnitude of interest it holds for any lover of nature in its broadest sense.

Arusha to Tarangire National Park

After a leisurely breakfast we set off through heavy town traffic for the open plains stretching westwards to the Great Rift Valley – Africa’s most significant topographical feature.

Once away from the moderating infaluence of Mount Meru, the rainfall gradient tapered off sharply, and, coupled to overgrazing by wandering Maasai pastoralists, transformed the surrounding countryside into arid-savannah.

This transformation ushered in sightings of Northern Wheatear, Superb and Hildebrandt’s Starling, African White-backed Vulture, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Crowned Lapwing, Namaqua Dove, White-bellied Go-away-bird, Rufous-crowned Roller, Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark and, most delightful of all, Yellow-collared Lovebirds in a stand of isolated acacia trees alongside the road.

Yellow-collared Lovebirds

Yellow-collared Lovebirds

Just ahead of the entrance to the national park we stopped to admire a particularly striking example of a Baobab tree (Andansonia digitata) with a small flock of Mottled Spinetail circling the crown as an unexpected highlight ahead of checking in. This sighting decided our lunch stop in spite of the unsolicited and persistent attention of a marauding troop of Vervet Monkeys working the picnic area to food advantage.

Blue-capped Cordon Bleu

Blue-capped Cordon Bleu

Other camp followers making up the regular crowd included Blue-capped Cordon-Bleu, Black-faced Waxbill, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Ashy Starling and a most endearing pair of Von Der Decken’s Hornbiils seemingly besotted by their own reflections in the side mirrors of a luxury 4X4…

Von der Decken's Hornbill

Von der Decken’s Hornbill, by Kim Frost

Tarangire N.P., within which we had booked tented accommodation for our three night stay in a special campsite set in the far south of the conservancy, is a classic savannah environment dotted about with giant baobabs and complemented by herds of equally magnificent African elephants in impressive numbers.

Towards the south of the park the sprawling savannah woodland gives way to permanent wetlands and seasonal floodplains supporting an exceptional variety of birdlife across the size spectrum.

Kori Bustard

Kori Bustard

With a ‘pop top’ safari vehicle at our disposal we were able to secure unrestricted  views of all the activity around us, as well as a great many photographic opportunities to go with it, as we wended our way slowly through the different habitat types.

One of the highlights was a mass emergence of flying termites, following a localised thunder storm, with literally thousands of birds converging on the centre point of activity with Kori Bustards, Abdim’s, White and Marabou Storks stalking purposely over the veld, while others of their kind descended in spiralling circles to participate in the feeding frenzy.

Eurasian Roller

Eurasian Roller

Add to this wave after wave of Common Pratincole feeding on the wing, along with a variety of smaller sized participants including Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Lilac-breasted and Eurasian Rollers swirling about in a feeding frenzy and you have some idea of the magnitude of this unique and very special viewing occasion.

Vulturine Guineafowl

Vulturine Guineafowl

By late afternoon we were well within the southern sector of the park at the tented camp specifically selected to give us access to the more remote parts of this highly diverse and wildlife rich reserve and the opportunity to bird on foot in search of some of the ‘special’ species found in the immediate area, such as the exquisitely plumed and striking Vulturine Guineafowl as a highly desirable target sighting…

Carnivores were well represented with prides of lion and solitary males with impressive manes encountered daily, followed by great vocals around the camp after dark, with Cheetah , Spotted Hyena and a single, but really great spotted Serval sighting adding to the list, along with smaller representatives of the category in the form of Bat-eared Fox, Dwarf and Banded Mongooses.

Serval

A magnificent Serval

Birding proved to be exceptional with highlights including Yellow-necked and Red-necked Spurfowl, Crested Francolin in the camp, White-backed Duck and Hottentot Teal on the flood plain, Rufous-bellied Heron and Great White Egret in the quieter backwaters, Openbill and Saddle-billed Stork, African and Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Montague’s Harrier in abundance, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Tawny and Steppe Eagles in centres of termite emergence, Black Stork, Bateleur, Buff-crested and White-bellied Bustard, Water Thick-knee, Long-toed Plover, Black-faced Sandgrouse, White-bellied and Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Le Vaillant’s Cuckoo, African CuckooTemminck’s and Two-banded Courser, Malachite Kingfisher, African Grey and Von Der Decken’s Hornbill, Southern Ground Hornbill in family groups, Flappet Lark, Mosque and Red-rumped Swallow, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Grey-backed Cameroptera, Flappet Lark, Grey-backed Fiscal, Magpie and Northern White-crowned Shrike, Red-billed Oxpecker, D’Arnaud’s Barbet, Wattled Starling in breeding dress, White-headed and Red-billed Buffalo Weaver and churring Slender-tailed Nightjars after dark.During our two day stay we traversed across a cross-section of habitat types in search of species totally new to us with the Vulturine Guineafowl at the head of the list of highly desirable sightings.

White-headed Buffalo Weaver

White-headed Buffalo Weaver

In this regard we were not to be disappointed, thanks to the efforts of our highly trained and bush competent field guide, who successfully brought us within photographic reach of a feeding flock of several birds after a two hour search, with an adrenaline touch thrown in, due to the presence of several ageing buffalo bulls seeing out their retirement in this secluded part of the reserve. Images obtained of this striking gamebird rank as the most memorable of our stay in Tarangire.

Red-and-yellow Barbet

Red-and-yellow Barbet

Tarangire N.P to the Manyara Ranch Conservancy

Our return to the exit of Tarangire N.P. was a scenic one specifically designed to take in the baobab studded hills and valleys frequented by the big herds of elephant and particularly wildebeest, as far as the eye could see, assembling in number ahead of the northbound migration in the autumn months.

Superb Starling

Superb Starling grappling with centipede

From here it was a relatively short journey across the dry and heavily eroded alluvial plains to Manyara Ranch situated in the crucial Kwakuchinja wildlife corridor connecting Lake Natron, Ngorogoro and Manyara wildlife areas to the Tarangire N.P.

Originally established as a cattle ranch in colonial times, it is today a working example of harmonious co-existence between the pastoralist Maasai community and the wildlife authorities, in managing the conservancy for mutual benefit.

Income derived from tourism goes into maintaining the environment in the most inter-active way with the local community with the added benefit as a safari destination of being able to explore the matrix of open savannah, acacia woodland and riverine forest in the company of a qualified field guide. Add to this the opportunity of being able to enjoy sundowners in the bush and night drives as added attractions rarely offered in the national parks.

Cheetah

Cheetah

This is what makes the conservancy so special from time of arrival overlooking the waterhole below the camp at dusk, with its regular exchange of Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Elephant and Lesser Kudu, to the night drive after dinner in search of Spotted and Striped Hyena, White-tailed Mongoose, kangaroo-like Springhares bouncing about , to nocturnal birds such as coursers, nightjars and thick-knees.

Elephant and calf

Elephant with long tusks and calf

Aside from the above Leopard, Cheetah and Lion are regular sightings providing an added touch of the wild within the mix of primordial night sounds audible within close proximity of the tented camp as an added dimension of excitement.

Yet it was the birdlife within this desiccated environment that made the stay so special from our point of view.  The camp with its feeding station and regular waterhole was alive with birds and photographic opportunities with Yellow-collared Lovebirds present in number and flocks of Chestnut Sparrow and Speckle-fronted Weavers in regular attendance.

Chestnut Sparrow

Chestnut Sparrow

Speckle-fronted Weaver

Speckle-fronted Weaver

Birds recorded during our two day stay included White-bellied Bustard, Yellow-billed Stork, African Fish Eagle, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Little Sparrowhawk, Wahlberg’s and Long-crested Eagle, Martial Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Spur-winged Plover, Spotted Thick-knee, Slender-tailed Nightjar, Two-banded Courser, African Mourning Dove, Red-chested and Diederik Cuckoo, Blue-naped Mousebird, Grey-headed and Woodland Kingfisher, White-headed and Red and Yellow Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, Cardinal and Bearded Woodpecker, Black Cuckoo Shrike, Spotted Morning Thrush, White-browed Scrub Robin, Red-faced Crombec, Banded Parisoma, Grey Wren Warbler, Chin-spot Batis, Beautiful Sunbird, Slate-coloured Boubou, Black-backed Puffback, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Grey-capped Social Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordon Bleu, Long-tailed Shrike, Vitteline and Black-necked Weaver  and a single Orange-bellied Parrot.

Yellow-necked Spurfowl

Yellow-necked Spurfowl

Last in the ‘specials’ list was a pair of Rosy-patched Bush Shrike found foraging in a stand of dry acacia scrub as a final highlight on our way out of the conservancy.

Manyara Ranch to Lake Manyara National Park

Heading north we cut across the floor of the Great Rift Valley to the rugged western wall rising above the open plains and lake shore and fringing evergreen forest fed by countless springs along the length of the western escarpment.

Klipspringer (male)

Klipspringer (male)

As such Manyara N.P. is a microcosm of Tanzania’s natural environment rich in fauna and flora with an abundance of bird species to look forward to within the mix of different habitat types.

Again our objective was to reach a secluded tented camp set deep in the more remote southern end of the national park close to the lake itself with easy access to the sprawling game-rich plains stretching to the far horizon.

The shallow alkaline lake itself is almost ‘tidal’ in appearance due to its shallow nature and exceptionally high evaporation rate following the seasonal rains that have on occasion led through failure to the lake drying up, while in other years excessive rain has given rise to severe flooding and a loss of essential grazing areas impacting massively on migratory routes in and out of the valley.

Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra, Buffalo, Wildebeest and comical Warthog are well represented as are the resident tree-climbing population of lions with leopard, caracal and spotted serval present but rarely seen due to thick fringing  habitat.

Crested Guineafowl

Crested Guineafowl

                   

Ashy Starling

Ashy Starling

         

Spotted Morning Thrush

Spotted Morning Thrush

Given the diverse variety of habitats it is not surprising that birds were well represented with over 500 species recorded over time. During the course of our two day stay we made a point of visiting as many habitat types as possible with the following highlights as a result: African Crowned Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, African Hobby, Crested Guineafowl, Hildebrandt’s Francolin, Green Sandpiper, Grey-headed Gull, Gull-billed Tern, White-browed Coucal, Blue-naped Mousebird, Little Bee-eater, Crowned Hornbill, Mocking Cliff Chat, Red and Yellow Barbet, Spotted Morning Thrush, Banded Parisoma, African Grey Flycatcher, Beautiful Sunbird, Isabeline Shrike, Brown-crowned Tchagra, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Superb and Hildebrandt’s Starling, Chestnut Weaver, Purple Grenadier and White-bellied Canary.

On our last day we came across a magnificent Martial Eagle with what appeared to be a Blue Monkey in its talons.

Martial Eagle with small prey item

Martial Eagle  by Kim Frost

Lake Manyara National Park to the Ngorogoro Crater National Park

Shortly after leaving the national park the road from the village of Mto wa Mbu winds its way up the rugged face of the escarpment to the high plateau leading on to the breath-taking lip of the  Ngorogoro Crater, one of the natural wonders of the world and sanctuary to almost all the large mammal species essential to the East African plains.

Yellow-billed Oxpecker

Yellow-billed Oxpecker, perched on a Zebra rump

Standing on the forested edge of the caldera, gazing out over the verdant plains 600m below, is an awesome sight reminiscent of seeing the Victoria Falls for the first time in the knowledge that what is before one is exactly as it was when the very first explorer was exposed to it a century or more ago.

Our accommodation set in a pristine montane forest environment, complete with a resident herd of Cape buffalo and a magnificent male lion on the approach road was sumptuous, to say the least, and we lacked for nothing during our two night stay.

What makes the Ngorongoro Crater experience so great is the diversity in habitat types as one spirals down the one-way track through a variety of unspoilt habitats to the floor of the crater some 19 kms across at its widest point.

Male Lion

Male Lion

This is a time of seasonal abundance with synchronised ungulate births taking place as a predator distraction ploy ahead of the seasonal rains in March. Even though mortality rates are as high as 25%, the absolute number of lambs and calves born during this vulnerable period  more than adequately ensures the survival of the species.

Mammal diversity, and the extent of harmonious intermingling between species on the open plain is impressive ,with wildebeest dominating the scene in association with wandering harems and delightfully entertaining nursery herds of Grant’s and Thomson’s Gazelle grazing within easy photographic distance. Rhino and elephant were self-evident as well as Lion, Cheetah and Spotted Hyena as we followed the circular route across the crater floor.

Thompson's Gazelle

Thompson’s Gazelle

Grant's Gazelle

Grant’s Gazelle

Birds in general were not particular numerous, with Abdim’s Storks in abundance the notable exception, and a good selection of waterbirds on the shallow salt lakes. These included Northern Shoveller as a waterfowl highlight. Other species recorded during our two consecutive visits to the crater were Lappet-faced Vulture, Yellow-billed Stork, Kori and Black-bellied Bustard, Secretary Bird, Grey Crowned Crane, Brown Snake Eagle, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, African Quail, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Broad-billed Roller,Olive Pigeon,  Dusky Turtle Dove, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Mottled Swift, Wahlberg’s Honeyguide, Brown-backed Woodpecker, Rufous-naped Lark, Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark, Banded Martin, Yellow Wagtail, Grassland and Long-billed Pipit, White-browed RobinChat, Common Rock Thrush, Northern Anteater Chat, Capped and Schalow’s as well as Northern Wheatear, Winding and Trilling Cisticola, Eastern Double-collared  and Tacazze Sunbird, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Rufous and Swahili Sparrow, Rufous-tailed Weaver, Baglefecht Weaver, Red-collared Widowbird, Yellow Bishop, Jameson’s Firefinch, African Citril, Grey-capped Warbler, Speckled Mousebird, Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eater and, highlight of the day at the exit gate, Golden-winged Sunbird ahead of the drive back to the lodge.

Yellow-billed Stork

Yellow-billed Stork, by Kim Frost

 

Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eater

Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eater

                           

Golden-winged Sunbird

Golden-winged Sunbird

Ngorogoro Crater National Park to Southern Serengeti National Park

After an early breakfast we set off through montane forest for the sprawling Serengeti Plains to the west of the crater, beyond the rolling green hills of Hemmingway fame, with Maasai  boma’s (corrals) scattered about and flocks of fat-tailed sheep and cattle, in an assortment of hide patterns, mingling in grazing contentment with zebra and wildebeest alongside the dusty track heading west to Oldupai Gorge – the archaeological site made famous by the Leakey’s on discovering early homanid fossil remains.

At this point the vegetation changed abruptly with stands of flat-topped acacia lining the non-perennial drainage lines with patches of wild-sisal ( Sansevieria ehrenbergiana) flanking  the dry river beds criss-crossing the arid plain lying within the rain shadow.

Yet this parched area proved to be unexpectedly rich in birdlife, with Superb and Hildebrandt’s Starling in conspicuous evidence, along with Red-fronted and Spot-flanked Barbet, Cardinal and Bearded Woodpecker, Red-faced Crombec, Fischer’s Lovebird, Namaqua and Green-spotted Dove,  Great Spotted Cuckoo, Pearl-spotted Owl, Little Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Lilac-breasted Roller, Common Rock Thrush, Schalow’s Wheatear, Banded Parisoma, African Grey Flycatcher, Slate-coloured Boubou and Beautiful Sunbird being ‘ticked’ off in quick succession…

Ruppel's Vulture

Ruppell’s Vulture

Shortly after we crossed the partly dry Ndutu River, we swung off the rugged and dusty track onto the expansive Serengeti plain, which appeared to stretch to infinity with countless wildebeest and thousands of newly born calves in conspicuous evidence as far as the eye could see.

Above us the ultimate beneficiaries of natural and predator induced mortality, in the form of Lappet-faced, Ruppell’s Griffon and White-backed Vulture spiralled  about us in number on the swirling updrafts and higher thermals.

Lappet-faced Vultures, due to their size and assertive attitude, dominated the carcass strewn veld, with Ruppell’s Griffon and White-backed Vultures represented in conspicuous number as they squealed and hissed their way in and out of the scavenging melee, while Marabou Storks, imbued with a repugnant air of self-importance,  stood about solemnly surveying the ghoulish scene…

Lappet-faced Vultures

Lappet-faced Vultures

Beyond, we had the good fortune to find an accommodating flock of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse in feeding association with numbers of Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark and Red-capped Lark on more open terrain.

On doubling back east we re-united upstream with the Ndutu River and followed its course westwards to the alkaline lake of the same name dotted in pink as far as the eye could see with Lesser Flamingo for stunning  effect along with an interesting mix of wintering waders in significant  numbers.

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse

                                        

Black-fronted Sandgrouse

Black-fronted Sandgrouse

Following the lake shore brought us round to the sister lake and then up into an extensive belt of mature acacia woodland to connect with the last in our series of tented lodges located in special camp sites booked for the safari.

Coqui Francolin

Coqui Francolin

Black Bishop

Black Bishop, Northern Tanzania

Highlight from here on was the freedom of exploring the extensive Serengeti Plains and fringing belts of acacia woodland at the best possible time of year for the start of the migration and the summer mix of resident and migrant bird species.

A vibrant Tiger (Flame) Lily

A vibrant Tiger (Flame) Lily

Magnitude is the operative word as one gazes across the last of the world’s natural grazing system  supporting over 2 million large mammals that participate in the annual migration north to the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

Viewed in numeric perspective, the Kruger National Park has 200,000 animals and Botswana only 700,000animals, compared to Tanzania as a whole with over 3 million animals, thanks to sound conservation practices that recognise the vital link between the need to preserve biodiversity and ecotourism in the long term wildlife interest.

Pygmy Falcon (female) with prey

Pygmy Falcon (female) with prey

Our arrival on the Serengeti coincided as planned with the ‘calving season’ with animals in every direction tending to the need of new borne young. The spectacle of so much activity on the go ahead off the start of the migration once the rainy season sets in, has simple to be seen to be believed, as no camera can adequately capture the grandeur and full extent of the scene of intermingling  wildebeest, zebra and gazelle.

Gambolling Wildebeest Calf

Gambolling Wildebeest Calf

Birdlife is abundantly apparent in every direction as vultures and marabou storks converge on the calving grounds, while bustards, secretarybirds, cranes and various stork species stride about the open plains. All around life is conspicuously engaged in the time immemorial struggle for existence between predator and prey with natural selection determining the pace within the circle of life…

It is an awesome spectacle and an experience not to be missed in one’s lifetime.

Secretarybird

Secretarybird, by Kim Frost

Birding Serengeti  was special with large raptors and storks in abundance, as well as a host of smaller species, including Brown and Short-toed Snake Eagle, Lesser and Common Kestrel, Eurasian Hobby, Red-necked and the highly localised Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Coqui Francolin, Grey Crowned Crane, White-bellied Bustard, Temminck’s Courser, Three-banded and Chestnut-banded Sand Plover, Black-faced and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Fischer’s Lovebird, African and Eurasian Cuckoo, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Woodland and Striped Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Little Bee-eater, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Bearded Woodpecker, Rufous-naped Lark, Capped and  Schalow’s Wheatear, Red-faced Crombec, Desert and Rattling Cisticola, Black-lored Babbler, Brubru, Wattled Starling, Rufous-tailed Weaver, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Red-cheeked and Blue-capped Cordon Bleu, Jameson’s Firefinch and Yellow-crowned Canary.

Grey Crowned Crane

Grey Crowned Crane

Slender Mongoose

Slender Mongoose

An unexpected wildlife highlight right at the end of the safari was the flash flooding of the Ndutu river, due to a massive thunderstorm that endured for several hours over the Serengeti plain. As a consequence of the excessive run-off the river transformed itself from a benign stream 20 yards across to a raging river over 100 yards wide.

Wildebeest river crossing

Wildebeest river crossing

Not to be put off by this relatively minor ‘inconvenience’ zebra and wildebeest with foals and calves in tow  set about fording the river in response to the migratory pull of hard wired instinct…

Quite an amazing sight to witness on top of which the river is ‘crocodile free’ so none of the drama and gruesome scenes associated with the Mara and Grumeti rivers to the north.

Serengeti National Park to Arusha Domestic Airport

After a leisurely game viewing drive along a scenic route to the Ndutu airstrip, with an unexpected  pride of lions and their ‘kill’ thrown as the grand finale, we boarded a scheduled flight back to Arusha taking in spectacular views of the Ngorongoro  Crater and Mount Meru before landing on time.

Street Market in Northern Tanzania, Maasai blankets for sale

Street Market in Northern Tanzania, Maasai blankets for sale

After an excellent lunch at a safari style restaurant in the town, we visited the Tanzanite centre and open craft market, ahead of freshening up in good time for the international flight out.

In summary, our Northern Tanzania safari was a multi-dimensional experience incorporating biodiversity at its best in recognition of the conservation work done by the German zoologist Professor Bernhard Grzimek in highlighting the plight of the Serengeti  worldwide in the 1960’s.

So, if you have the time and inspiration, include a two week trip to Northern Tanzania in your bucket list of ‘must do’ activities before mortality calls the shots…

You certainly won’t regret it!

Simply Serengeti

Simply Serengeti !!

Avian Leisure can arrange a similar trip for small groups and/or couples at varying levels of luxury.

For more information on this and for the Northern Tanzania image library and and/or a copy of the mammal and bird list for the trip contact us on info@avianleisure.com .

Patrick & Marie-Louise Cardwell  10th March 2014

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6 Responses to NORTHERN TANZANIA BIRDING & WILDLIFE SAFARI – TRIP REPORT

  1. Linda Sawyer says:

    How fortunate you were to see and photograph so many glorious birds! My travel companions when in Tanzania were not at all interested in birds so we just whizzed past them in search of another elephant. I need to go on a birding trip in TZ.

  2. Birds are exceptional indicator of ecological health. Their varying populations frequently give clues to the overall physical condition of their habitation.

    • avianleisure says:

      Fully agree! Found Tanzania well balanced across the spectrum of wildlife reserves visited. Clearly, the heavily degraded areas due to human and livestock pressures fall outside of this comment

  3. amazing so many species of birds, greatly mentioned , loved the blog.

  4. Groovy Mel says:

    Very nice photo of birds….and other animals…..best information about animals and birds……

  5. Groovy Mel says:

    Very nice photo of birds…….now i think what an absolutely wonderful idea for a Visit Tanzania safari.

    Northern Tanzania Safari

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