Birding Ecotours News – May 2015
Greetings to you and a special welcome to those we met only recently, at the Biggest Week in American Birding! What a fabulous time our guides had there in Ohio!
Dylan captured this Kirtland’s Warbler which showed very well for most of a day at the Biggest Week!
Our Tanzania trips in April and May were awesome, and a sample trip report from the April one is shown at the end of this newsletter. The May report, which includes Pemba and Zanzibar islands, should be online within a month or so. We’re constantly adding trip reports to our website and for example a Namibia one for March should soon be added, along with Madagascar ones. The blog on our website is also (as usual) full of activity – the latest addition is “what camera to buy for birding photography”. And, please find us on all the social media such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
Out of the myriad tours on our website, the following ones specifically need urgent action if you still want to book (all 2015 unless otherwise stated) – this time we’ve actually chosen to focus on Africa, Asia and Australia – but please ask about the Americas (we do have upcoming Brazil and Peru tours, for example), Europe and Antarctica, most but not all of which are too late to book for 2015 though – do look at 2016 on our website for those parts of the world, if you don’t mind:
Cape, South Africa, Oct 9-16 – 1 place left – http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-south-africa-western-cape-october-2015 . We might add another departure though.
The amazingly long-tailed Cape Sugarbird on a Pincushion Protea (photo, John Tinkler)
Subtropical South Africa, Oct 16-31 – 3 places left – http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-south-africa-16-day-birding-adventure-october
Black Crake (photo, Maans Booysen)
Best of Madagascar – birds and wildlife, Oct 17-31 (plus Masoala pre-trip) – 3 places left – http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-madagascar-14-day-birding-and-wildlife-tour-plus-optional-4-day-masoala-extension-2015
Australia, Oct 29 – Nov 14 (plus Tasmania pre-trip) – 4 places left – http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-australia-cairns-to-sydney-plus-extensions-to-tasmania-and-uluru
Superb Fairy-wren (photo, Andy Walker)
The very best of New Guinea: West Papua, Nov 16-27 – 2 places left – http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-indonesia-waigeo-and-arfak-birding-expedition
Birding the Himalayas of Bhutan, Nov 1-12 (plus extension into Assam, India) – 2 places left –http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-himalayas-of-bhutan-in-november-white-bellied-heron-black-necked-crane-and-awe-inspiring-vistas-2015
Namibia, Okavango and Victoria Falls birding safari, Nov 20 – Dec 7 – 1st departure full, 2nd departure has 5 places left – http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-namibia-okavango-and-victoria-falls-18-day-2015-reverse
Cheetah (photo, Martin Benadie)
Highland Zimbabwe to coastal Mozambique birding spectacular, Nov 21 – Dec 5 – 2 places left – http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-zimbabwe-and-central-mozambique-2015
India – birds, tigers and the Himalayas, Jan 3-17, 2016 – 4 places left – http://birdingecotours.com/tour/birding-tour-india-northern-india-tigers-birds-and-himalayas-2016
The magnificent Long-tailed Hawk (photo, Niall Perrins)
And there are stacks more trips – please see www.birdingecotours.com or reply to this e-mail. Brazil and Peru in particular may have places left even for this year. And, now for the promised trip report:
Trip Report Tanzania: 19-day Birding Safari – Savanna Birds, Wildebeest Migration, and Eastern Arc Mountains
Trip Report April 2015
By Jason Boyce
Tanzania is quintessential Africa – a tour that we highly recommend for every type of nature lover and birder. This exciting birding safari, which began in coastal Dar es Salaam and ended in the breathtaking Serengeti National Park, was most certainly enjoyed by our participants. I was fortunate enough to oversee this tour and ensure that birding was to be A-grade! We enjoyed fantastic weather throughout this tour and were spoiled with some outstanding bird and mammal sightings on each and every single day of the tour.
Day 1, 4 April. Dar es Salaam to Mikumi National Park
A 6:00 a.m. start to the first day of the trip after the tedious flights, connections, and delays was exactly what was needed to get our adrenaline rushing! The beach-side hotel in Dar es Salaam gave us a few excellent sightings before breakfast and before our departure for Mikumi National Park. Both Dimorphic and Little Egrets were on display on the shore as well as Common, Lesser Crested, and the diminutive Saunders’s Tern. The gardens held the gorgeous White-browed Robin-Chat, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Blue Waxbill, and Striped Kingfisher.
So with a couple of species under the belt we met up with our excellent local guide and driver and started the journey. Our first stop was alongside the road at a marshy floodplain area. Here we got our first looks at Zanzibar Red Bishop, Coastal Cisticola, and Eastern Golden Weaver.
After lunch we arrived at Mikumi and managed visuals of Black-bellied Bustard, the stunning Beautiful Sunbird, Eurasian Hobby, and Pale-billed Hornbill. After a fairly long day’s travel we were happy to arrive at our accommodation for the evening and prepare for the next day’s birding.
Day 2, 5 April. Mikumi National Park
Our second day of the tour was spent birding in a Miombo woodland area as well as in the open woodland and plains of Mikumi National Park. The Miombo woodland was the first destination on the itinerary, which meant an early start to get the morning activity in full song! Miombo woodland birding can offer many species at one time, often in large ‘bird parties’ – we weren’t disappointed! Our morning’s birds included Yellow-fronted Canary, Arnot’s Chat, Cinnamon-breasted Tit, Grey Penduline Tit, the ever-active Green-capped Eremomela, White-crested Helmetshrike, Short-winged Cisticola, Common Scimitarbill, Green Wood Hoopoe, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, and Black Cuckoo. Some also managed visuals of Crimson-rumped Waxbill and Cardinal Woodpecker. A very productive morning, with some bird-parties numbering nine species!
On the way back to the hotel for breakfast we managed to see Dark Chanting Goshawk, Broad-tailed Paradise and Pin-tailed Whydahs, and Dusky Indigobird.
Mikumi National Park delivered some fantastic birding for the rest of the day – we got our first looks at the starling of the trip no doubt, Superb Starling! Other species that greeted us at the entrance were White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, another glimpse ay Beautiful Sunbird, and some oxpeckers flying overhead searching out large game. It didn’t take long before we were in the midst of that large game; African elephant, common eland, Masai giraffe, and African buffalo were all in close proximity in the open plains. What was very noticeable were the numbers of larger non-passerine bird species too; these included Marabou Stork, White-backed and Palm-nut Vultures, and the impressive Martial Eagle. The last treat for the day was the terrestrial passerine Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark. As are most sparrow-larks, this bird is sexually dimorphic, with the male showing a black line right down the breast and belly and a rich rufous coloration to the crown and nape.
Day 3, 6 April, Mikumi National Park to Kilombero Floodplain and Udzungwa Mountain National Park
Today we managed to see the Kilombero Floodplain endemics. A long morning’s drive towards the Udzungwa Mountains meant we didn’t have much time for stopping. We did, however, stop at one point after noticing some aerial activity. There was an insect emergence, and this had attracted some of the smaller falcons and hobbies. Species here included Eurasian Hobby, Amur Falcon, and Dickinson’s and Lesser Kestrels. Our “honorary raptor“ was a Crowned Hornbill that also decided to join in on the fun.
We stopped again later in the morning as we were nearing the Kilombero Floodplain to try for Marsh Tchagra as well as Moustached Grass Warbler. We were successful and got excellent views of both species.
We had lunch as we arrived at the floodplain and soon afterwards we had connected with the endemic Kilombero Weaver. The current status of both ‘White-tailed’ and ‘Kilombero’ Cisticolas is that they are not officially good species yet, and therefore are both Cisticola sp. at the moment. Nevertheless, good views of both were had by the whole group. Some other good species seen at the floodplain included African Openbill, Giant Kingfisher, Orange-breasted Waxbill, and African Marsh Harrier.
Our day ended on a high with the first colobus monkey of the trip in the form of the endemic Udzungwa red colobus.
Day 4, 7 April. Udzungwa Mountain National Park
Day four was spent birding the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, our first taste of Eastern Arc Mountains forest birding. Before entering the reserve we managed to notch up a good number of species on a short walk from the hotel to the reserve gate. These included the likes of Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Red-rumped Swallow, Tropical Boubou, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Speckled Mousebird, Black-backed Puffback, Magpie Mannikin, and Little Bee-eater. As we arrived at the gate the heavens opened, but this luckily only delayed our birding for about 45 minutes.
Dark-backed Weaver was the first species to greet us after the rain delay, followed soon afterwards by an amazing sighting of the sought-after Green Malkoha. We worked hard in the afternoon session and managed decent looks at Red-capped Robin-Chat, Collared Sunbird, and Black Sparrowhawk, while Scarce Swift and Mottled Spinetail came cruising by overhead. This national park is definitely worth seeing; it has some beautiful scenery, Udzungwa red colobus and blue monkey are not uncommon, the forest trails are beautiful, and some of them lead towards scenic waterfall spots!
The reserve also has more than 400 species of butterflies, some of which are absolutely gorgeous. Many an hour can be spent wandering the forests here in the Udzungwa Mountain National Park.
Forest glade nymph, one of many extraordinary butterfly species seen during our two days in the park.
Day 5, 8 April. Udzungwa Mountain National Park to Morogoro
We spent another morning’s birding in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park before we started a long trip to Morogoro. After breakfast, as we were loading the vehicle, we noticed movement in the tree alongside us; a Lizard Buzzard with its breakfast was sitting watching us – a great way to start the day!
In the park the birding was once again fairly slow, but the call of Livingstone’s Turaco in the distance drove us onward. Some of the morning’s top birds included Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird, Thick-billed Seedeater, Olive Sunbird, Retz’s Helmetshrike, and Crested Guineafowl. Some of the group managed decent visuals of the small, beautiful, and hyperactive Livingstone’s Flycatcher. Unfortunately none of the group managed to see the stunning Livingstone’s Turaco, and we had to settle for a heard only.
Our lunch stop en route to Morogoro added a few species, not the least of which were Emerald-spotted Wood Dove and Collared Palm Thrush. Only one stop was made after lunch, which produced a few species. These were a majestic female Bateleur, Brown Snake Eagle, Bronze Mannikin, and Pin-tailed Whydah.
Both today and tomorrow would largely be travel days; we would cover about 550km in the two days to get from Udzungwa Mountains National Park to Amani Nature Reserve in the East Usambara Mountains.
Day 6, 9 April. Morogoro to Amani Nature Reserve, East Usambara Mountains
This was a travel day from Morogoro to Amani in the East Usambaras that would include a couple stops closer to Amani. The vegetation along the drive changed from lush green woodland to a drier open country with many sisal plantations. It changed once again as we started to gain altitude towards Amani – true forest patches started to become apparent, and soon we were driving in the lower forest of the East Usambaras.
We stopped here to try for a couple of lower forest species and found Black-headed Apalis, Green Barbet, and Green-headed Oriole. We were also successful with two mammal species at this stop, Angola colobus and black and red bush squirrel, which both gave excellent views. The day ended with the call of an African Wood Owl when we were sauntering back to our cabins. Needless to say, the dawn wouldn’t come quickly enough as the excitement of the next morning’s birding was drawing closer!
Day 7, 10 April. Amani Nature Reserve, East Usambara Mountains
Birding started early with a walk on some of the roads in Amani, both forest and birdsong were all-encompassing! The first few species that made it onto our day list were Cabanis’s Bunting, Kenrick’s Starling, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Speckled Mousebird, Southern Citril, Rock Martin, and Green Barbet. A couple of minutes later and only 100 meters down the path we were in the middle of another large bird party, this time the species included the endemic Banded Green Sunbird, Moustached Tinkerbird, Red-tailed Ant Thrush, Black-and-white Mannikin, a family of Montane White-eyes, Mombasa Woodpecker, and both Shelley’s and Grey-olive Greenbuls. What a treat, and this was all before breakfast!
An hour later we were on the go again with some more greenbul species, this time we managed to get Montane Tiny, Fischer’s, and Mountain Greenbuls. Other species we picked up in the midday session included Mottled Spinetail, Common Waxbill, Black-throated Wattle-eye, and the extraordinary Fischer’s Turaco! This is the only turaco species in the East Usambara Mountains: an all-green turaco with a brilliantly red crest and bill.
The last birding session for the day was largely frustrating – while we did manage to get good sightings of quite a number of birds, such as Baglafecht Weaver, Plain-backed Sunbird, and Stripe-faced Greenbul, our main target, the Amani Sunbird, wasn’t playing along. All we could manage was hearing the call and seeing the bird fly past us into the distance, never to be seen again. At least we knew the bird was around, and we had a hope for it in the morning.
The forests surrounding Amani here in the East Usambaras are also home to a number of absolutely fascinating endemic chameleons. A very productive walk into the forest at night, specifically looking for chameleons and Usambara Eagle-Owl, was enjoyed by some. Whilst we did not find the owl, we did manage to find a few fascinating chameleons.
Usambara three-horned chameleon
West Usambara blade-horned chameleon
Usambara spiny pygmy chameleon
Day 8, 11 April. Amani, East Usambara Mountains to Lushoto, West Usambara Mountains
Today we drove from Amani to Lushoto in the West Usambara Mountains. The difference between the two mountain chains is remarkably different, even though the distance between the two – as the turaco flies – is really not too far. Compared to the East Usambaras Lushoto is cold and misty, with a fair amount of drizzle in the mornings. The birding also differs greatly, and both sites have species that the other does not have – spending a couple of nights at both locations is crucial.
We started off the morning with a quick walk into the deep forest, targeting Long-billed Forest Warbler as well as a few other forest species we had missed up until this point. White-chested Alethe calling in the distance kicked things off, while Red-tailed Ant Thrush showed off over the trail in front of us. A fair distance on and after seeing both Square-tailed Drongo and the smart little Forest Batis we could hear Long-billed Forest Warbler call. Unfortunately, just the call up the hillside and a possible glimpse of movement were all we could muster. The drive down the mountain was productive, with both Mountain Wagtail as well as the beautiful forest stream species, Half-collared Kingfisher, showing very well. The road leading up to Lushoto was built by the German colonialists in about 1913 and makes the steep drive very comfortable. The roadside birding here also offered us Augur as well as Mountain Buzzards, Red-throated Twinspot, and Mocking Cliff Chat.
In the afternoon the rain came down and left us to settle into our rooms at the fantastic Mullers Mountain Lodge.
Day 9, 12 April. Lushoto, West Usambara Mountains
The morning started off with some Red-winged Starlings and Baglafecht Weavers around the cabins, as well as a family of Silvery-cheeked Hornbills muttering among themselves as they flew overhead. We took a short drive to a nearby forest patch called Magamba Forest, and as we stepped out of the car we could hear birdsong all around us. We knew we were in for an excellent morning. The first few species at this spot included White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Red-capped Forest Warbler, Black-headed Apalis, and Fülleborn’s Boubou, as well as six Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeons perched on the top of a dead tree. We ambled along the quiet track to another productive area; this time we were pleased to see Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, the usambarae subspecies of Mountain Greenbul, Montane White-eye, and a glimpse of Cinnamon Bracken Warbler clambering through the undergrowth.
After lunch we headed to a different forest patch and had great views of the endemic Usambara Thrush. Other highlights here included Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Terrestrial Brownbul, Stripe-faced Greenbul, and a Flash of Hartlaub’s Turaco. Unfortunately, both White-chested Alethe and Spot-throat were happy staying hidden and calling away in the thickets – our luck had run out for the day, no visuals were had.
Red-capped Forest Warbler
Day 10, 13 April. Lushoto, West Usambara Mountains to Same
Before we packed up and headed onward to the Elephant Motel in Same, we snuck in about an hour’s forest birding near the lodge. Once again there was a lot going on in terms of activity, and, in addition to White-tailed Crested Flycatcher and Black Saw-wing nipping by, we had good visuals of Black Sparrowhawk, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, and the ever-elusive African Hill Babbler. Some of us also had a quick look at a fairly rare forest Mammal, a mall elephant shrew – black and rufous sengi – as it clambered across the path.
After a good breakfast at Mullers Mountain Lodge we transferred to the properly dry area of Same town.
The first few dry-country indicator species for us were D’Arnaud’s and Spot-flanked Barbets as well as the fantastic Rosy-patched Bushshrike. A little further on, just before we arrived at the Elephant Motel in Same, we managed very good visuals of Slate-colored Boubou and an Eastern Chanting Goshawk perched nicely on a telephone pole.
The bombardment of new trip birds didn’t stop there for the day, though, as directly after lunch we headed out to the north of town to find a few more. The vegetation here is dominated by low acacia scrub about head-high, mixed in with some larger trees, and the soil is reddish brown and quite rocky. A quick passing shower delayed progress slightly, but it also meant that everything became very active in the last two hours of the day. Highlights included the sexually dimorphic Purple Grenadier male and female, Nubian Woodpecker, the prinia-like Red-fronted Warbler, Black-necked Weaver, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Eastern Black-headed Batis, and the absolutely stunning Red-and-yellow Barbet.
A day worth celebrating with a good meal and a local beverage!
Day 11, 14 April. Same to Arusha
We had a couple of stops planned for the morning before heading on to our destination for the evening, the bustling town of Arusha.
The first stop certainly didn’t disappoint us, and at one stage we were in such a horde of activity it left us wondering where we should look first. This spot really produced; the species we saw included White-headed Mousebird, Hunter’s Sunbird, Somali Bunting, Pygmy Batis, our first looks at Red-bellied Parrot, and a lovely Grey Wren-Warbler display. The calls of Pink-breasted Lark were ringing in the background – we managed excellent views of it. A short walk slightly further into the bush yielded an interesting surprise, a family of Fiery-necked Nightjars blending in really nicely with the soil color. Other highlights for the morning included Blue-naped Mousebird, Blue-capped Cordon-bleu, Chestnut Weaver, Pale Prinia, Vitelline Masked Weaver, White-bellied Canary, Southern Grosbeak-Canary, and a flock of Fischer’s Starlings – which were a fantastic surprise!
Our second stop of the morning was at the Nyumba ya Mungu Reservoir, where we were able to add some waterfowl and shorebirds to our species list. The dam was extensive, and we were only able to bird one productive area due to our time constraints. This site produced African Skimmer, African Darter, Reed and White-breasted Cormorants, Grey-headed Gull, White-winged and Gull-billed Terns, and a distant Western Osprey that was enjoyed through scope views, as well as a couple of shorebirds such as Spur-winged Lapwing, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, and Water Thick-knee.
Our day had one more surprise in store for us; the incredible Straw-tailed Whydah perched up on the side of the dirt track as we were making our way back to the main road. With our tails up we headed on to Arusha and settled into our guest house.
Day 12, 15 April. Arusha to Tarangire National Park
Today included a quick search for Brown-breasted Barbet before heading on to Tarangire National Park, a much anticipated park for the whole group! We seemed to have run out of Brown-breasted Barbet luck, however, as the morning’s search in the northern parts of Arusha only yielded Red-fronted Barbet.
On the outskirts of town we managed a ‘hit-and-run’ sighting of Pangani Longclaw just after the airport area to the west of Arusha.
The scenery started to change as we approached the park; the trees were bigger, the bush was incredibly green and lush, and the birding was hoped to be wonderful.
We found out as soon as we stepped out of the vehicle that the birding was to be great, as we were greeted by Northern White-crowned Shrike, Ashy Starling, Yellow-collared Lovebird, White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Swahili and Chestnut Sparrows, and Bearded Woodpecker clambering up and down some of the acacia trees at the entrance gate. A few hundred meters into the park, and we had already had awesome visuals of White-bellied Go-away-bird, the near-endemic Rufous-tailed Weaver, African Cuckoo, Silverbird, and many, many, many Superb Starlings – an amazing treat!
Day 13, 16 April. Tarangire National Park
A full day’s birding and game viewing in Tarangire National Park was just what we needed. One of the day’s highlights came really early on, a gorgeous male Pygmy Falcon that was perched at eye level alongside the track. The falcon sat in the open and wasn’t too perturbed by our presence, allowing us to get saturation looks at him. Some of the other species that we found today included a couple of families of Southern Ground Hornbill, Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Grey Kestrel – one of my personal favorites, Northern Pied Babbler, Foxy Lark, and the cute Pearl-spotted Owlet.
Today we also found one of the biggest African elephant herds that the whole group had ever experienced, well over one hundred elephants, from really young calves all the way up to big, old, male tuskers. While enjoying the elephants we also noticed both Red-necked and Yellow-necked Spurfowls running around among the herd. Freckled Nightjar was heard calling at the lodge, and a quick burst of playback allowed us to see this fantastic little creature as it came in, perched on a nearby rock, and sang for us – a special way to end the day!
There is surely incredible avian diversity in Tarangire National Park, but it also offers incredible scenery! One of my personal favorite scenes was experiencing the magical baobab trees. These trees are literally littered all over the park – some of them truly gigantic!
Von der Decken’s Hornbill
Day 14, 17 April. Tarangire National Park to Ngorongoro Crater
Today was to be a truly fantastic day with too many highlights to even recall – an early start in Tarangire National Park and then traveling through to the must-see Ngorongoro Crater.
The game drive in the park started off with finally getting a visual of Coqui Francolin; a small francolin that had been calling non-stop for the past two days. After catching up with this species we just knew it was going to be a good day! It was a beautiful morning after some rain the night before, and the birds were out in force. We found the likes of Hildebrandt’s Starling, Jacobin Cuckoo, Gabar Goshawk, breeding-plumaged flocks of Wattled Starling, a perched juvenile Martial Eagle that was clearly soaked to the bone after the rain, Double-banded Courser, and a pair of Knob-billed Ducks flying by.
Some of the mammal highlights during our time at Tarangire National Park were olive baboon, Kirk’s dik-dik, banded and common dwarf mongooses, and Coke’s hartebeest.
At the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area we managed to get a Brown-headed Apalis into the open and then started our drive up to the lookout point – what an extraordinary view!
The drive down into the crater after lunch offered us a few decent birds, including White-eyed Slaty-flycatcher, Purple Grenadier, Hildebrandt’s Francolin, the east-African endemic Mourning Wheatear, Augur Buzzard, Kenya Sparrow, and Wailing Cisticola.
The spectacle inside the crater is one of those things that just needs to be experienced, no words or even photographs can do it justice. The amount of animals including large game, large birds, small game, small birds, waterfowl, and of course thousands of Flamingos, both Lesser and Greater, that span the shallow water body in the center is just magnificent.
The mammals that we encountered while in the crater were Grant’s and Thomson’s gazelles, plains zebra, black rhinoceros, common warthog, blue wildebeest, hippopotamus, common eland, lion, and both black-backed and golden jackals.
Some of the bird species we encountered were Common Ostrich, Grey Crowned Crane, Kori and Black-bellied Bustards, Lappet-faced Vulture, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Red-capped Lark, Rosy-throated Longclaw, and African Pipit. The waterbirds were also in full swing around the pan; these included African Sacred and Glossy Ibis, three Teal species, Cape, Hottentot, and Red-billed, Pied Avocet, Ruff, Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese, and a large flock of Great White Pelicans overhead.
The day ended sooner that we wanted it to, but we still managed to sneak in some amazing sightings of Golden-winged and Tacazze Sunbirds as well as a Montane Nightjar around the lodge just after dark – almost the perfect day!
Grey Crowned Crane
Day 15, 18 April. Ngorongoro Crater to Serengeti National Park
We left the Ngorongoro Crater this morning for the Serengeti National Park, with the hope and an anticipation of seeing the spectacle of the great wildebeest migration. We had heard some news that the rains were late, but the migration was on the go in the area we were passing through – the best news we could have hoped for.
We made sure to quickly pick up one or two species for the day before we left the lodge. Hunter’s Cisticola, Speckled Pigeon, and Golden-winged Sunbird made it onto the list, and before we knew it we were on the road again. Before getting to the migration area we made sure to add a few more plains species to our lists, which included Temminck’s Courser, Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, and Taita Fiscal.
As we moved on towards the start of the Serengeti National Park the numbers of plains game started to increase slowly but surely, and before we could say ‘brindled gnu’ five times we could see tens of thousands of blue wildebeest in the distance. We made our way towards them and witnessed parts of the migration – how incredible! Some of them grazing, some of them running in single-file lines with dust all around, many young were in this area, and we were told that these are the calving plains. Two things were for sure, though, they were all moving in the same direction, and estimating their numbers was nearly impossible.
After spending some time with the wildebeest and taking as many photos as possible to somehow try and capture the spectacle, we headed on to the main Serengeti National Park entrance for lunch. The lunch stop was very birdy and produced Black-lored Babbler, Buff-bellied Warbler, Rufous-tailed Weaver, Black-faxed Waxbill, Banded Parisoma, both Rüppell’s Vulture and Marabou Stork cruising overhead, and some great looks at Speckle-fronted Weaver. The east-African endemic Fischer’s Lovebird and the two Tanzanian endemics, Grey-breasted Spurfowl and Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill, followed soon after driving into the park; we also were to have excellent sightings of all three of these species in the days to follow.
Day 16, 19 April. Serengeti National Park
A very relaxed day with some local Serengeti game viewing and birding was enjoyed by everyone today. We did have one main target for the day, though, the sought-after Grey-crested Helmetshrike. We spent a good part of the morning birding suitable habitat for the helmetshrike, but we did not have any luck finding it during the morning birding session. We did see Red-throated Tit, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Chinspot Batis, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Grey Kestrel, Grey Wren-Warbler, Rufous-tailed Weaver, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, and a few waders at one of the close-by pans.
Two of the best birds for the day came much later in the afternoon. Having spent much of the day trying for the helmetshrike, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that this species wasn’t around and we might just have to try again tomorrow, but we were so pleasantly surprised when our vehicle hit the brakes and cries of “There they are” rung throughout the Serengeti. Three Grey-crested Helmetshrikes, clambering low down in a small tree, gave decent views for about a minute before heading off deeper into the bush – a real cracker of a species for us.
We arrived back at the lodge and spent a few moments outside looking over the plains as a couple of localized storms approached. These storms also sent the swifts, swallows, and martins into a frenzy, and some of the group were able to pick out a Nyanza Swift cruising by among the usual suspects.
Day 17, 20 April. Central Serengeti National Park
An early start allowed us to travel to the central parts of the Serengeti in search of a couple of trip species and with the hope of coming home with a few more big cats in the bag. The morning got underway with a few Fischer’s Lovebirds as well as a smart little Silverbird perched a couple of meters from our vehicle. Soon after that in the taller grassland plains we picked up the likes of Black-bellied and White-bellied Bustards, Quailfinch, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, and White-tailed Lark in full display song above us.
The whole group was hoping to get either a leopard or a cheetah today and, boy oh boy, were we spoiled! Not only did we get a leopard lazing about with a full stomach in a nearby tree, but we were also treated to a pair of cheetah, which walked right by the leopard and further up past one of the joining roads. We rushed around in order to get the best looks possible – what an incredible sighting!
And so after that amazing experience of both leopard and cheetah our birding venture to the central Serengeti continued. A couple-hours drive through some very scenic areas led us to an area in which we picked out the sought-after Karamoja Apalis as well as Grey-capped Social Weaver, the usambiro subspecies of D’Arnaud’s Barbet, Three-banded and Temminck’s Coursers, Kenya Sparrow, and Blue-capped Cordon-bleu. A leisurely drive back to our lodge was just what we needed to process the last two days spent in the Serengeti paradise.
Cheetah in the Serengeti’s “endless plains”
Grey-capped Social Weaver
Day 18, 21 April. Serengeti National Park to Arusha/Kilimanjaro International Airport
A slow drive from the lodge allowed us to take in the beauty of Serengeti National Park one more time, as we headed back to Arusha and, for some, a flight from Kilimanjaro International Airport to start their journey home from there.
The travel day was interrupted, very pleasantly I might add, by a wonderful lunch stop at the famous Gibbs Farm, which offered us some fantastic birds both before and after lunch, such as White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Grey-capped Warbler, Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, which we only heard and caught glimpses of, Bronzy Sunbird, Thick-billed and Streaky Seedeaters, Usambara Thrush, and Mottled Swift.
We arrived safely in Arusha and after a few goodbyes’ here and there we made our way to the airport for an evening departure. A big thanks to everyone who was on the tour, and I trust it was one of the best tours you have experienced.