Northern Tanzania Feb 19—Mar 07, 2017
Posted by Kevin Zimmer
As has become the routine, virtually the entire group arrived in Tanzania a day early to recover from the international flights and enjoy some relaxing birding on the lovely grounds of Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge, an old estate converted to an intimate tourist lodge. Here, amidst the spectacular gardens and remnant forest bordering a lily-covered pond and trout stream, we gained an introduction to African birds, including several species that we would not see elsewhere on the trip. Among our many prizes were such iconic African birds as African Fish-Eagle, Gray Crowned-Crane (we were treated to the thrilling site of the resident pair of cranes “tag-teaming” a 5’-long Nile Monitor lizard until the lizard finally gave up and retreated into the grass!), and Hamerkop, as well as a pair of African Black Ducks, Red-chested Cuckoo (singing “It will rain” repeatedly), a fruiting tree filled with African Green and Rameron pigeons and White-eared Barbets, impressive Giant Kingfishers, noisy Silvery-cheeked Hornbills, evening roosts of Sacred Ibis, dapper Mountain Wagtails, attractive male and female Black-throated Wattle-eyes, and actively nesting Taveta Golden-Weavers and Grosbeak Weavers. We topped it off with nice views of a lovely African Wood-Owl and some extended studies of two special primates—Guereza Colobus and Blue (Syke’s) Monkey.
Our first “official” day on safari took us to nearby Arusha National Park, lying in the shadow of Mt. Meru. This park is small, but has many different habitats and offers a wonderful variety of birds and big game. Topping the highlights here were lovely Bar-tailed and Narina trogons and less-than-cooperative Hartlaub’s Turacos (endemic to east Africa) in the highland forest, but we also picked off such gems as Cape Teal, White-browed Coucal, Brown-hooded and Striped kingfishers, Spot-flanked Barbet, Spectacled Weaver, Moustached Grass-Warbler, Stripe-cheeked Greenbul, Long-billed Pipit, Yellow Bishop, and many more (including no less than five species of cisticolas, destined to become a group favorite). Flamingo numbers were far below normal in the alkaline waters of the Momela Lakes, but we still managed to find both Greater and Lesser flamingos. Mammalian highlights were provided by grazing Hippos, troops of Olive Baboons, fabulous Guereza Colobus monkeys, rarely seen Harvey’s Duikers, and, loads of Bushbucks and Defassa Waterbucks, with a sprinkling of Giraffes, Common Zebras, and African Buffalo mixed in.
Early the next morning, we drove to the Kilimanjaro airport (in the process, picking up a Pied Wheatear along the entrance road), where we caught our commercial flight to Mwanza (Tanzania’s second largest city), in the Lake Victoria region of western Tanzania. There we found Gaitan and Rogers, our two excellent safari drivers for the remainder of the trip, awaiting us. From Mwanza, it was about a two-and-a-half-hour drive to our next lodge at Speke Bay, an attractive and intimate lodge nestled on the very shores of the inland sea that is Lake Victoria. After a late lunch of delicious fresh-caught Tilapia and a short break to settle in to our rooms, we ventured forth on a late afternoon bird walk around the lodge grounds. Highlights came with dizzying speed, from a cryptically plumaged day-roosting Slender-tailed Nightjar, to incandescent Black-headed Gonoleks and Red-chested Sunbirds, to at least a dozen Spotted Thick-knees, some of them ridiculously tame. The resident Pearl-spotted Owlet appeared right on cue, bringing with it a mob of smaller birds looking for a fight, most notable of which was a flashy Black-billed Barbet. Other passerines of note included obliging Swamp Flycatchers and attractive Silverbirds, but they were upstaged by a “Usambiro” Barbet excavating a nest burrow in the ground, and by a diminutive African Pygmy Kingfisher that perched long enough for everyone to get scope views. The real prize, and our primary afternoon target, finally showed when we walked close enough to a pair of crouched Three-banded (Heuglin’s) Coursers to get them to stand up and be noticed. These elegant shorebirds are active mainly at night, and spend their days resting quietly in the shade, relying on the cryptic complexity of their plumage, combined with near total inactivity, to keep them from potential predators. Once located, they offered up sensational prolonged studies, and we ended up walking away, leaving the coursers precisely where we found them.