Northern Tanzania: West Usambaras & Dry Country Specialties Extension Mar 06—14, 2017
Posted by Kevin Zimmer
Following a typically successful Northern Tanzania tour, our first West Usambaras & Dry Country Specialties Extension began with a few hours of driving to the east of Ngare Sero. Along the way, we passed Kilimanjaro, but, on this day, the majestic mountain was invisible to us, obscured as it was by clouds and haze. Beyond Moshi, we turned off the highway onto a dirt road leading to the Nyuma Ya Mungu (House of God) Reservoir. That road traverses dry bush country that is excellent for a number of species not seen on the main tour. Almost immediately, we stopped for White-browed Sparrow-Weavers and a small group of Red-billed Quelea right beside the road. Other stops yielded singing Pink-breasted Larks, Rosy-patched Bushshrikes, Southern Grosbeak-Canary, and Blue-naped and White-headed mousebirds, among many others. A flock of bee-eaters turned out to be Madagascar (Olive) Bee-eaters, providing a nice pick-up of another species not seen on the main tour. With a long day of travel yet ahead of us, we had to push on to the reservoir. There, we found a decent selection of mostly distant waterbirds, but recent clearing/grazing of the near-shoreline vegetation along our arm of the reservoir had, at least temporarily, altered the habitat sufficiently that many of the wading birds were instead utilizing more distant, less disturbed parts of the lake. We ate our picnic lunch while scanning the reservoir, and then, braving some pretty oppressive heat, managed to pick up several “bush” birds in the dry acacia scrub, among them, a pair of dazzling Sulphur-breasted Bushshrikes, a Pygmy Batis, a tail-wagging pair of Red-fronted Warblers, a trio of sunbird species, and an elusive pair of Cut-throats.
Fleeing the heat, we backtracked to the main highway and continued south and east, past the North Pare and South Pare mountains, and eventually reaching Mombo, where we left the highway once again, and began winding our way up into the West Usambaras, toward Leshoto and beyond. We made it into Müller’s Mountain Lodge just before dusk, and there, to greet us, was Martin, who would assist us throughout our three days in the region.
The next two days were spent birding various tracts of the Magamba Forest Reserve. Deforestation in the region has been extreme, but the Magamba reserve protects over 9,000 hectares of native forest, including the largest intact stands in the West Usambaras. My personal favorite is the Sawmill Tract, which was oddly quiet on our first morning, but which produced all kinds of great birds on our return in the late afternoon. Topping everything was finding a pair of rare, Eastern-Arc endemic Usambara Weavers, a forest canopy inhabiting species that can be extremely hard to find. Everyone ended up with nice scope views of these birds. In the same area, but down at neck-friendlier eye level, we found a singing Usambara Akalat, a very furtive ground-dwelling species, and yet another prized endemic of the region. We had less success with another skulker, the Spot-throat, which, despite much collective patience and effort on our part, never sat long enough for soul-satisfying views. Instead, this phantom, represented by 2–3 different pairs, offered nothing more than glimpses here and there, a melodic songster that occasionally materialized at close range out of the dense undergrowth for a scant second or two, but seldom long enough for binoculars to be brought into play. Other birds were much more cooperative, and over the course of two days and a few hours on our last morning, we racked up such treats as Mountain Buzzard; Hartlaub’s Turaco; Silvery-cheeked and Trumpeter hornbills; Usambara Nightjar (a day-roosting bird that I found the morning after we had spent considerable effort trying to spotlight a calling bird at dusk); Delegorgue’s Pigeon; Levaillant’s (Striped) Cuckoo; Bar-tailed Trogon; Green Barbet; Moustached Tinkerbird; Olive Woodpecker; Fuelleborn’s Boubou; Black-fronted Bushshrike; “Usambara” Drongo; Black Sawwing; White-tailed Crested-Flycatcher; Stripe-cheeked, Eastern Mountain, Cabanis’s, and Shelley’s greenbuls (and Terrestrial Brownbul); Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler; Evergreen-forest Warbler; Cinnamon Bracken-Warbler; Bar-throated and Black-headed apalis; African Tailorbird (multiple crippling views); African Hill Babbler; “Usambara” Double-collared Sunbird (a pair of which was actively nest-building on the lodge grounds); Red-faced Crimsonwings and many more. We also netted nice studies of Angola Pied Colobus monkeys, and some in-hand looks at multiple bizarre Usambara Two-horned Chameleons. The lodge grounds produced some additional nice birds, including Tree Pipit, multiple displaying Pin-tailed Whydahs, and a Cabanis’s Bunting that Rachel found.