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Birding and Tour News: Tanzania 12-26 August 2000

By Etienne Marais


This was a tour which I led for Sarus Bird Tours in the UK ( The tour was conducted in conjunction with Anthony Wankiya who operates a local specialist bird tour operation, and is contracted by Sarus to make all the local arrangements. The cost of the trip was £2100-00

Tanzania offers a stupendous range of birding, with considerably more species than the whole of Southern Africa. This trip took in the "northern circuit", which includes the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. We then spent a few days exploring the endemic rich Usambara's mountains in the extreme North-east of the country. We then headed south - to sample more forest birding in the Udzundwa's as well as searching for the three newly discovered species in the Kilombero Swamp to the West of the vast Selous Game Reserve.

11/8 Johannesburg to Nairobi

Birding started on the way in from the airport, were the locally common Superb Starling and Metropolitan (marabou) Stork are a feature. Nairobi is full of Black Kites, but a mix-up with my hotel booking limited any plans I had of birding in the Nairobi area.

Day 0: 12 August Nairobi to Arusha

The Devana shuttle was scheduled to take about four hours to get to Arusha, and I quickly took the spot in front, next to the driver, in order to maximise birding along the way. The first notable birds were Yellow-throated Sandgrouse shooting past - just on the outskirts of Nairobi. Raptors were plentiful and I saw Tawny Eagle, Black Shouldered Kite, Gymnogene and the very common Augur Buzzard without the aid of Binoculars. The country is dry and barren, and game such as Thomson's Gazelle and Zebra appeared every now and then near the road. Interesting "east african" birds seen on the drive included White-bellied Go-away bird, Von der Decken's Hornbill, Grey Flycatcher, Long-tailed Fiscal and Chestnut Sparrow. On the drive in to Arusha we passed first the distant Kilimanjaro snow-cap, and then the much closer Mt Meru. After a short drive up a terrible road in slummy surroundings, I arrived at the Hotel at about 2, and met three of the group: John, Karen and Graham. We spent the rest of the afternoon birding in the small but interesting garden, and recorded some forest birds like Hartlaub's Turaco, Moustached Green Tinkerbird and Brown-breasted Barbet. Late that evening we were joined by the last two members of the group.

Day 1: 13 August. Arusha National Park

The "tour" proper, started. Pre-breakfast birding in the hotel grounds was profitable as we saw a pair of Little Sparrowhawk, and a flock of Sharpe's Starling. Rather later than I had hoped, we eventually got going up towards the dry country, and I knew this was going to be a slow day, as Arnold driving at about 40 km per hour, supposedly looking for "White-fronted Bee-eater", which I assumed would be a common bird throughout the tour. As it turned out we did not find the bee-eaters, but saw plenty of the local Schalow's Wheatear, before getting into the dry country. The birding was good, although far later than I would have liked, and we had to head back towards Arusha, before having the chance to really explore what looks like an excellent area. We left the dry country at about 11:45, and stopped to look at a "canary" in the shadow of the imposing Mount Meru - small next to Kilimanjaro - but significantly higher than the Drakensberg nevertherless. The stop produced a host of new birds including two superb Lammergeier - the closeness to the villages being reminiscent of those in Nepal, rather than our own Drakensberg Lammergeiers.

On into Arusha National Park, which offers a Mosaic of habitats, from Forest, Savannah, grassy highlands, soda lakes and freshwater lakes. Bronze naped Pigeons called above our picnic spot, and Moustached Warblers were common in the rugged country. Around the Pans we found a host of bushveld birds, including Buff-bellied Warbler, Superb Starling and Variable Sunbird. One freshwater lake provided a unique spectacle of literally hundreds of Maccoa duck, while another offered both species of Flamingo and waders such as Red Knot. Swifts are numerous and varied in this area - Nyanza, Mottled, Black and Alpine being joined by an early flock of (European) Sand Martin

Day 2: 14 August Arusha to Tarangire

A pre-breakfast walk around the lodge grounds added several new birds, although walking was rather restricted. After breakfast and after a long wait while the walking permits were sorted out, we headed into the woodland and forest close to Mt Meru. Apart from close encounters with some very tame looking Cape Buffalo , the walk produced Dusky Turtle Dove, Rueppell's Robin-chat - which is rather similar to Heuglin's Robin, and one of the races of the Montane White-eye were where to encounter. It also provided superb views of Hartlaub's Turaco, Mountain Greenbul and several raptors, including the dark phase Augur Buzzard, which turned up fairly often on this trip. After an early lunch back at the Lodge, we headed South into the dry country. The barren dry plains to the South of Arusha gave way to more mature, but still dry woodland around Tarangire. In dry thornveld just off the main road we encountered a host of where a host of waxbills and other dry country birds were seen - including Red cheeked Cordon-bleu, Spotted Morning Thrush, Grey Wren Warbler and the Endemic Ashy Starling. A stop further on amidst more mature marula trees to look at some starlings produced a magic moments as first Red and Yellow Barbet, Orange-bellied Parrot and Yellow-collared Lovebird showed themselves. We arrived just in time for sundowners at the Porini Tented Camp, where we treated to superb service in a spot which oozed with the "true" african" ambience.

Day 3: 15 August Tarangire to Manyara

Next morning the area produced a whole lot more birds including Rosy-patch Bush-shrike, Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse, White bellied Go-away bird and Magpie Shrike.

We then headed out to private land called Manyara ranch to the north-east of Tarangire National Park. Here the birding was excellent with Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Crested Bustard, White-tailed Lark and plenty of the endemic: the Rufous-tailed Weaver.

On to Lake Manyara National Park, where a saline lake is fringed by a swathe of gallery forest created by the escarpment to the West. Here we recorded dozens of Silvery cheeked Hornbills, Nicator, Abbysinian Scimitarbill, Ground Hornbill, Klaas's Cuckoo, Saddlebill Stork, Spot-flanked Barbet and Grey Woodpecker.

Once again it was getting dark as we arrived at our evening stop, Mugunga Forest Lodge, set in tall dense acacia woodland.

Day 4: 16 August Manyara to Serengeti

Early morning birding produced good views of Trilling Cisticola, Verraux's Eagle Owl and African Cuckoo. Then we started the long drive towards the Serengeti. The winding and mostly bumpy road took us up through the Ngorongoro Conservation area, were we recorded Brownheaded Apalis, Montane White-eye, Mountain Buzzard and Thick-billed Seedeater. A scenic spot allowed to look over the stupendous vista that is Ngorongoro, and only Claudius saw the Greyheaded Negrofinch which briefly showed themselves. On the way down we saw distant vultures - probably Ruppell's Griffon, and the race The plains near Olduvai Gorge provided the first east African Gazelles, as well as Two banded and Temminck's Coursers. The picnic spot at Olduvai was crammed with tourists, but this did not deter the local Slate-colored Boubou, Rufous Chatterer's, Redfonted Barbet and Specklfronted Weavers from joining a melee to grap bits of the standard East African picnic lunches.

The Serengeti proper was dry and dusty, but immediately rewarded with a host of Bustards (Korhaans) including Hartlaub's and White Bellied - the latter being remarkably common and conspicuous in comaparison to those in South Africa. We arrived late at the dusty

Day 5: 17 August - all day in the Serengeti

One of only two days on which we did not move lodgings. We did an early drive before breakfast which provided superb birding as well as a chance viewing of a Lion kill right in front of the vehicle! The first birding surprise was a lone Rednecked Stint, in partial plumage, at a small waterhole near the Lodge. We also saw Blackfaced Sandgrouse, Redthroated Tit, Fischers Sparrowlark, Black Lored babbler and Heuglin's (three-banded) Courser.

After breakfast we made our way out onto the plains to the South-east. Here we saw plenty of big game, dozens of lions, elephants and Cape Buffalo, as well as birds such as Grey Kestrel, Von der Deckens Hornbill, Whiteheaded Vulture, Martial and Black-breasted Snake eagle as well as the endemic Grey-breasted Spurfowl and Fischers Lovebird. Lunchtime birding around the lodge produced African Penduline Tit and Yellow-spotted Petronia. In the afternoon we headed into well wooded country to the west, were we saw Redrumped Swallow, Bare-faced Go-away bird and Pearl spotted Owlet, as well as more and more lions.

Day 6: 18 August Serengeti to Ngorongoro

Another "too-leisurely" start saw us going back eastwards over the Serengeti plains. More Kori Bustards, Bateleurs and Black-bellied Bustards. A stop at the "gate" produced Black-cheeked Waxbill, Usambiro Barbet Then we descended into the Crater. Southern Africa has nothing to match this as a wildlife spectacle and scenic wonder rolled into one. The crater floor teemed with game, and we were to see yet more lions, Rhino, Elephant, Wildebeest and Buffalo at every turn. The Crater is host to large flocks of Crowned Crane, and Gull-billed Terns patrol the Soda lake, while Chestnut Banded Plover scuttle below. The lake also held Maccoa Duck and Eared Grebe. We encountered a large group of vultures at a preening station, including about 20 Ruppell's Griffon. Soon afterwards we stopped to look at a lone Egyptian Vulture. On the plains we saw Northern Ant-eater Chat, Capped Wheatear. Wetlands and marshes attract a large numbers of birds and Rosy Breasted Longclaw, Madagascar Squacco, House Martin and Long-toed Plover were complemented by a small flocks of Rufous-tailed Weavers hanging about the picnic area.. On the crater rim, we chanced upon Schalow's Turaco, and encountered our first Wallers Chestnut-Winged Starling, before sundowners on the Lodge balcony, which must have one of the finest views in Africa.

Day 7: 19 August Ngorongoro to Kilimanjaro

This was a travel day - to get to the North-east of the country. Nevertherless we had a chance to bird in the forests of Ngorongoro Crater which produced Thickbilled Seedeater and Long-creasted eagle among others. We also added a few new birds on a stop in the dry country east of the rift including "southern cordon-blue" (our Blue Waxbill) and Nubian Woodpecker. Here we got the only really good views of Blackfaced Sandgrouse. After a very slow lunch in Arusha, we eventually arrived in Kibo, on the lowers slopes of Kilimanjaro, where unfortunately little natural vegetation remains. The hotel seemed deserted, and it emerged that we were not expected at all.

Day 8: 20 August Kibo to the West Usambara's

We were awoken by a pre-dawn wood owl and before climbing aboard the vehicle, had a superb few minutes of birding - including Tambourine Dove, Green Pigeon and a pair of the "slight" Kenrick's Starling arguing with a Brown-breasted Barbet over the nesting hole. Then it was on towards the East again. The long drive was broken by an exploration of the dry country, which brings a host of species from dry SE Kenya into Tanzania. Here we recorded Black-bellied and Hunter's Sunbird, Taveta Golden Weaver, Blackheaded Batis and Grey Wren Warbler.

We got to the West Usambara's in time for some birding, and headed straight up the famous "saw-mill" track where we saw Redfaced Crimsonwing, Bar-tailed Trogon, Hartlaub's Turaco Cinnamon Bracken Warbler and Grey Cuckoo-shrike. As we moved higher, away from the exotic plantations, the birding seemed to improve, and I felt slightly frustrated that we had spent so much time in the lower exotics. But we had a schedule to keep and headed back to our lodging's - at the impressive and stylish Muller's Mountain Lodge.

Day 9: 21 August West Usambara's to East Usambara's

After negotiating an early than usual start via the reticent Anthony, we spent the morning birding higher up on the Sawmill track, This session was probably the most frustrating of the trip, as we got into the forest too late for optimal birding - which was as quiet as forests sometime go. Nevertherless we did see the very common Green Barbet as well as Redcapped Forest Warbler, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Yellow-streaked, Shelley's and Mountain Greenbul (Usambarae race), White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Kenrick's and Sharpe's Starling. We had good views of Starred Robin, but none of the very common Moustached Green Tinkerbird, nor a glimpse of any of the other local specials, which I suspect require somewhat more patience than that exhibited by our local guide.

After a too-long lunch it was on to the East Usambara's. This requires that one exit the mountain range completely and do a circuitous route. It did however afford an opportunity to stop to look at the Bishop birds in the low country - Blackwinged and Zanzibar Red Bishop being in full breeding plumage. A further stop at a weaver colony, where we recorded the Golden Palm Weaver at the edge of it's range, as well as the much more common Village or Black-headed Weaver. Once into the East Usambara forest reserve, we stopped to do some birding close to a stream, and the Greenheaded Oriole made it's presence known as we saw three birds, as well as Little Yellow Flycatcher. We stopped for our overnight lodgings at the base of the infamous road up to Amani, and an evening walk up the road, yielded a full 45 minute of birding without more than two species being recorded!

Day 10: 22 August Amani

After negotiating the hair raising road up to Amani, we spent the morning birding in the area. Thankfully the road was being properly surfaced which should make things easier in future. Around Amani we found Fischer's Turaco, Little Greenbul, East Coast (pale) Batis, Crowned Eagle and White Chested Alethe. Blackheaded Apalis and a host of other birds were seen around the Amani Guest house, where we had lunch. One particular flowering tree produced the sunbird goods: Amani, Banded Green Sunbird, Uluguru Violet Backed and Purple Banded Sunbird were watched as a Palm-nut Vulture glided past in the background. An excursion up to a tea estate produced Cabanis's Bunting and probably the most elusive of the birds recorded on the trip: Long-billed Apalis (Tailorbird), which was seen seen moving through low bracken alongside a river. We arrived back at the base of the mountain pretty late and had the added bonus of calling up a pair of African Wood Owl, which flew past in the darkness, but evaded attempts to get a proper view.

Day 11: 23 August East Usambara's to Morogoro

An early start for the early risers, yielded Broadbill calling from the forest near the river, and African Goshawk chipping overhead. Both eluded attempts to see them! A slow descent through the lowland forest did not produce much except a part of Retz's Helmet Shrike.

The trip south to Morogoro was pretty good as far as birding was concerned - a stop produced Blue-spotted Wood Dove, the coastal race of Winding Cisticola and several other good birds.

After a long drive, we stopped for lunch at the Wami, which produced several new birds, including Redwinged Warbler, Madagascar Bee-eater, Peregrine and Cuckoo Hawk. A further stop produced more southern birds, including Greencapped Eremomela and Grey-headed Bush Shrike. Once again we saw Blue-naped Mousebird. Morogoro was notable only for the House Crows, which compete with both White-necked Ravens and Pied Crows on the streets of this dusty town, some 200 km from the Ocean, but this dusty dirty town was undoubtedly the least pleasant stop of the whole trip.

Day 12: 24 August Morogoro to the Udzungwa's and Ifakara

The plan for today was to drive through Mikumi National park and then head South for Ifakara, where we were to bird around the floodplain.

We travelled slowly through Mikumi National Park, birding as we went. The Park was good for raptors - and Pale-billed Hornbill. We headed straight for Ifakara, stopping only for a Southern Banded Snake Eagle, and to look for Rock Pratincoles on the Ruaha river. We arrived at Ifakara at about 13H40. This is the site for three new species, two of which are still to be named. The Kilombero floodplain near the ferry, provided comic relief as a local volunteered his services as a bird guide - but his prize attraction - the Kilombero Weaver had already been seen hopping in the dust near some local fish stalls. Here we also encountered several "Melodious" Cisticola's, but were not able to find the other common Cisticola -the "Kilombero Cisticola". Other birds seen included Coppery-tailed Coucal, White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Common Pratincoles and a range of Heron's and Stork's. At 17H20 we departed the area, re-traced our steps - arriving fairly late at our hotel in the shadow of the Udzungwa's.

Day 13: 25 August Udzungwa's to Mikumi

This morning we walked to the gates of the Udzungwa National Park, and were told after 45 minutes of walking that we would not be able to get to Sanje as this was a 5 hour round walk. We thus ended up birding around the base of the mountains, in what is essentially a lowland forest, quite different from the Montane area the Udzungwa's are well known for. We did however manage to mop up a couple of nice birds on the fringes of the park, including a whole lot more Greenheaded Oriole's, Pied Mannikin, a pair of Plainbacked Sunbird, Green Coucal, Stripe-cheeked Bulbul and Vanga Flycatcher. For the first time on this trip, tape playback really produced the goods as we had superb views of first Crested Flycatcher, and then Golden Rumped Tinkerbird - remarkably our first for the trip. We then drove through to Mikumi town where we had lunch, before heading out for an afternoon in the park itself.

Apart from several elephant and a flock of quail finch, which eluded all attempts to get a decent view, we saw more Gullbilled Tern at a small waterhole, as well as Rednecked Falcon, Northern Pied Babbler and Brownheaded Parrot. Once again the birding had to be cut short by Anthonies inane schedule and mythical park regulations, which were contradicted by the notices on the gates.

Day 14: 26 August Mikumi Miombo to Dar es Salaam

We made an early start towards some superb Miombo woodland to the north of Mikumi (just outside the park). Our first stop - for a cisticola - showed the way to a superb bird party, and a few hours of great birding. Despite a long trip, the last day yielded the highest number of unique bird of any on the trip. The most productive area was near a pipeline, which allowed us to walk freely through the woodland. Birds included our first Black-collared Barbet, Redthroated Wryneck and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. We also saw Stierling's Barred Warbler, Southern Hyliota, White-breasted Cuckoo Shrike, Arnot's Chat, Redfonted Parrot, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird and what seemed to be two different races of the Rufous-bellied Tit.

Then we went back to Mikumi for a brunch, which turned into a long lazy session as Anthony repeatedly re-assured us that we would get to Dar es Salaam in plenty of time for the much awaited session of seashore birding. Somehow however, the time was frittered away, and after a crazy rush through peak hour traffic, we got to the beach at sunset. There was enough light to identify Pacific Golden Plover's, Grey Plover and to enjoy the Crab Plover, and a flock of Dimorphic Egret.

Overall the trip produced 465 species in 14 days.

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