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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Tanzania: Kilimanjaro to the Serengeti

2017 Narrative

We began our birding among the shade trees at our lodge hotel, although not the one we had expected to be in, which was closed due to a lack of water. In fact dry conditions were something of a theme for the safari owing to the virtual failure of the short rains.  Despite this went on to see most of the bird species we would have hoped for and some oddities besides as we followed a time-worn route across the acacia savannahs and rolling highland moors of northern Tanzania. And as James has come to expect, soil moisture, and hence the more verdant vegetation upon which many birds depend, was higher the farther west we went toward the vastness of Lake Victoria-Nyanza.

Everyday produced the something special - it is what one expects from a safari in Tanzania. The day in the Ngorongoro Crater was, as always, spectacular, providing a unique insight into a world that surrounded our distant ancestors as we encountered herds of gazelles, Wildebeest and Zebra.

Each participant will have their own very special memories but collectively there were some magical moments that must stand out forever in the kaleidoscope of bird tour memories. The fabled East African sunsets were of course stunning, especially those that all too briefly blazed across the gaunt acacia woodlands that define the dry and dusty landscape of the globally renowned Lake Ndutu. And the two Cheetah brothers striding across the steppe-like plain earlier that day, hungrily in search of game - two magnificent animals with whom a meeting may sow a seed of reverence, even in the hardest of hearts.

Even with a total cumulative list of around 560 bird species we still added four new species in the form of Booted Eagle, African Water Rail, Eurasian Hoopoe, and Grey-headed Bush-shrike. During the last morning, in the acacia-commiphora scrublands of the Simanjiro plains that extend southwards from Kilimanjaro airport, we were surprised by a spectacular flock of Vulturine Guineafowl foraging beside the road. We also found dainty Black-throated Barbets here, a singing Pink-breasted Lark, three delightful Mouse-coloured Penduline Tits and both of the two wished-for, range-restricted Sunbirds - Hunter’s and Tsavo. Interestingly half a dozen bird species are seen on almost every day of both out autumn and spring safaris - White-browed Coucal, Speckled Mousebird, Little Bee-eater, Barn Swallow (from Eurasia), Common Bulbul and the tailorbird-like Grey-backed Camaroptera.

If I had to pick an encounter with one bird, which I feel encapsulates the luck with which we were blessed on this safari, I would choose the African Broadbill that we watched displaying at very close range in the forest beside the footpath up to the Endoro elephant salt lick high above Karatu. In fact, the birding in the Ngorongoro highlands, and in the grounds of our delightful lodge at Lake Victoria, alongside Speke Bay, was as good as I have experienced it in over eleven years in the field in the ecological wonderland that is Northern Tanzania. – James Wolstencroft

Created: 11 January 2018