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TANZANIA – Nov - 2005

478 Bird Species recorded

Leaders   Steve Bird, James Wolstencroft & Martin James

Photo: Amur Falcon
Amur Falcon

Day 1 – 21st November  

Everyone met on time at Heathrow Airport for our flight to Amsterdam, connecting to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania where we eventually arrived in the evening and met our local guide James. Just a couple of minutes had us arriving at our lodge where we enjoyed an evening meal and a good nights rest.

Day 2 – 22nd November 

his morning we met for an hour’s birding prior to breakfast. From the swimming pool of our lodge which was sited on top of a small hill we scanned the gardens and surrounding habitat. We soon found several obliging Variable Sunbirds plus Pied Crow and the ever present Yellow-vented Bulbuls. Overhead flew small groups of Little Swifts and amongst them a couple of White-rumped Swifts were spotted. Speckled Mousebirds appeared in the close bushes and then an Abyssinian White-Eye and some distant Common Fiscals, Little Bee-eater and White-browed Coucal. A group of four Black-backed Jackals were seen together and then we found a gorgeous male Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, plus two Reichenow’s Seedeaters (a recent split from Yellow-rumped Seedeater), along with a distant Black-shouldered Kite and some Marabou Storks. An amazing looking Mantis was found and photographed before it started to drizzle with rain sending us off in a hurry for our breakfast. Afterwards we packed our luggage into our three 4x4 landcruisers and set off east towards Mkomazi. As we left the lodge we came across perched Red-rumped Swallow and several Pangani Longclaws, while a wet looking Gabar Goshawk watched us from a tree top. As our journey continued a variety of species were seen from each of the separate vehicles including a male Pallid Harrier, several perched European Rollers, Black shouldered Kite and for one vehicle, good views of a Crowned Hornbill sat on a telegraph wire. We then made a few unscheduled roadside stops when interesting species were spotted. Our first stop found three Verreaux’s Eagles circling around together, and as we searched the scrub we found a Pink- breasted Lark, Yellow-breasted Apalis, African Grey Flycatchers, Northern White-crowned Shrike, Red-fronted Cricket Warbler, d’Arnaud’s Barbet, several Blue-naped Mousebirds and some gorgeous Golden-breasted Starlings. Across the other side of the road we re-found the Pink-breasted Lark and also found Rufous-tailed (Isabelline) Shrike, Grey Wren-Warbler and a Black-chested Snake-Eagle. Back near the vehicles a skulking bird under a bush turned out to be a Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin and just before we left we managed to find a Von der Decken’s Hornbill and a fabulous couple of Martial Eagles perched in some small trees. Our second proper stop beside a Sisal plantation found us a perched Steppe Buzzard as well as a Grasshopper Buzzard and two circling Augur Buzzards. A couple of Woolly-necked Storks flew over and a flock of swallows included Lesser-striped, Wire-tailed, and some Barn Swallows. Hidden under some shady plants we finally added a pair of Fisher’s Sparrow-Larks. Moving on our next stop was for a pale phase Wahlberg’s Eagle which after giving excellent flight views landed on a Palm Tree beside a typical dark phase bird. A Bateleur and several Trumpeter Hornbills were spotted and then we got superb views of a male Tsavo Sunbird as well as female Hunter’s Sunbird. Eventually we arrived at our lodge in Mkomazi where a Silvery-cheeked Hornbill watched us unpack. After lunch we then drove a short distance and birded parts of the approach road to the nearby park. It wasn’t long before Crested Francolins put in brief appearances to two of the vehicles and then we stopped and saw Spotted Morning Thrush, White-browed Robin-Chat, Dodson’s Bulbul, Black-throated Barbet, Rufous-tailed Shrike, Lesser Masked Weaver, Yellow-spotted Petronia and Hildebrandt’s Starlings, followed by Purple Grenadier and Red-billed Firefinches, Red-cheeked Cordon Bleus and African Orange-bellied Parrot.

Grey-breasted Francolin
Grey-breasted Francolin

Our last stop got us Black-necked Weaver near to its hanging nest, while underneath a thick bush we found an Irania, and Common Nightingale. A fruitless search for nightjars after a heavy shower of rain only got us some distant calling African Scops-Owls.

Day 3 – 23rd November

This morning we had an early breakfast after which we set off towards the Mkomazi Game Reserve. Along the way a Peregrine Falcon was seen and we got excellent close views of Common Fiscal and some White-browed Sparrow-Weavers. We also found Lesser Masked Weavers, Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu and a pair of Purple Grenadiers. As we drove towards the entrance gate we found a flock of Wattled Starlings perched in a tree and several Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves flew across the road. Once at the park entrance we spotted a couple of Wahlberg’s Eagles sat in a large Baobab, which later was seen to attract a male Amethyst Sunbird to its many flowers. In the lower bushes were Red-winged Starlings while around us flew lots of Lesser-striped Swallows.

Red-and-yellow Barbet
Red-and-yellow Barbet

There were plenty of birds in this area and as we slowly walked up towards a grassy airstrip we found Spotted Morning-Thrush, Grey Woodpecker, a stunning Red-and-yellow Barbet, and a pair of Crested Francolins, while overhead flew Little and White-rumped Swifts. A Common Whitethroat put in an appearance and a close Von der Decken’s Hornbill showed very well. As I attempted my whistled version of Pearl-spotted Owlet we heard a response and then found one in a small tree where it was attracting a lot of attention from the many small birds in the area. As we watched the owlet it got mobbed by a pair of Eastern Violet-backed Sunbirds and then a smart looking male Black-bellied Sunbird, plus a Red-fronted Tinkerbird, while a Gabar Goshawk watched from a nearby tree. As we neared the airstrip a Grey Wren-Warbler was spotted as were three Rattling Cisticolas. We then got very good views of a Grey-headed Bushshrike while back towards our vehicles we found Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul and an amazing looking Secretarybird flew over. A small area with water in a disused tyre found us Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Greater Blue-eared Glossy-Starling, Red-billed Firefinches and Purple Grenadier. Beside the vehicles we saw a Parrot-billed Sparrow its subtle differences from the Grey-headed Sparrow complex being easily studied. We set off into the park soon finding an Abyssinian Scimitar-Bill and a Rufous-tailed Rock-Thrush plus Red-and-yellow Barbet, some Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Bush Duiker and tiny Kirk’s Dik-Dik. A few Common Cuckoos were spotted and one vehicle saw an African Cuckoo. A huge movement of  swifts appeared overhead and amongst these we saw Common, White-rumped and two large Mottled Swifts. Lots of Abyssinian Rollers flew past, and a little further on we got excellent views of several Madagascar Bee-eaters and a Tsavo Sunbird. Our picnic stop had us looking at a bush full of butterflies and then we found a group of Chestnut Weavers with one or two males in pretty good colours. Further on we stopped for a Buff-crested Bustard which soon disappeared and then a couple of Scaly Chatterers were spotted and with patience were seen by all.

Things were rather quiet as we headed towards another grass strip airfield. Here we found some distant Fisher’s Starlings, a few White-crowned Plovers and a good sighting of a Gerenuk. As we headed back a Sooty Falcon was spotted flying towards us and later we found two African Hawk-Eagles perched in a tree top. Finally a second year Steppe Eagle showed well before we drove out of the park and into a rain storm, and then back to our dry accommodation.

Day 4 – 24th November 

In grounds of the hotel we had Silvery-cheeked Hornbills plus an African Paradise-Flycatcher before setting off on the long winding road to the top of the South Pare Mountains. A few species were noted on the way up including Brown-hooded and African Pygmy Kingfisher. Once at the top having negotiated an area of deep mud we got out and soon realised that the mist had come down hampering viewing. Looking up into the misty trees we first located a couple of Hartlaub’s Turacos, while above us the endemic South Pare White-Eye flitted around the tree tops. Moving on an Evergreen Woodland-Warbler called loudly but failed to be lured into view, and then as the rain started we found an African Stonechat and a group of Common Waxbills. Behind us a Red-chested Cuckoo could be heard calling while below us in the low thick scrub we had brief views of a Tropical Boubou, several Southern Citrils, another South Pare White-Eye and a single Black Sawwing that flew back and forth. The Red-chested Cuckoo then gave excellent views while a Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater was slightly obscured by the mist. As we walked slowly back to the vehicles we found a showy Black-headed Apalis and a Brown Woodland-Warbler. Further along a Stripe-faced Greenbul showed well and we got excellent views of two Peter’s Twinspots before they flew across the track and disappeared. In the same spot we also found an African Dusky Flycatcher, Eastern Double-banded Sunbirds and then a Northern Mountain Greenbul which kept returning to feed a young bird which hung around a thicket. A White-starred Robin was heard and then showed briefly to a few, while in the same spot a Rueppell’s Robin-Chat also showed to just a few of us. Leaving the mountain we set off downhill, through the thick mud again and on our way towards the Usambaras and our final destination of Amani. Along the way several Yellow-billed Kites, an Augur Buzzard and some huge White-necked Ravens were spotted. We made a stop off for lunch at the Pangani River Camp and here while we ate our picnic we soon notched up good views of Taveta Golden-Weaver, as well as Spectacled Weaver, an African Reed Warbler, some Grosbeak Weavers, and a pair of Cardinal Woodpeckers. Leaving this little oasis we had a long drive before arriving in the dark at our lodgings in the Usambara Mountains at Amani.

Day 5 – 25th November

Today we had look around our lodge grounds prior to breakfast. We soon located the endemic Banded Green Sunbird as well as Eastern Olive Sunbirds and a White-eared Barbet. A Southern-banded Snake-Eagle flew over, and we also found Purple-banded Sunbird, Southern Citril, and a couple of Black-bellied Starlings and some Grey-cuckoo Shrikes. A Black-backed Puffback was then found but we all missed out on Red-tailed Ant-Thrush which flew past and dived into thick cover. Further along the track two Green Barbets showed well, and we also found Little Greenbuls, while Silvery-cheeked Hornbills were simply everywhere. Before going to breakfast we finished off with superb views of a Green-headed Oriole and even better views of a male Purple-banded Sunbird. We still had a little time spare so we attempted to find the rare Long-billed Tailorbird, and it wasn’t very long before we got stunning close views of this very localised bird. After breakfast while waiting for everyone to gather together we saw a Banded Green Sunbird again as well as a circling Long-crested Eagle. A Vanga Flycatcher was heard calling and we tracked this little beauty down and got wonderful views of a male sat on a wire. We then walked to another area and found a couple of drongos which seemed to be the newly described and un-officially named Usambara Drongo. A pair of Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbirds fed around the flowers on a tree top and in a stand of trees we got very good views of two Olive Thrushes. Walking into a more open trail we found a group of Kenrick’s Starlings as well as Yellow White-Eye and some Red-backed Mannikins. In a deeper section of forest a Square-tailed Drongo was seen but a White-chested Alethe was only seen perched by a few of us, although everyone got several good flight views of it. We returned for lunch after which we set of in the vehicles to another area of forest. Stopping beside a small river we found a pair of Mountain and a Grey Wagtail while further on we got to see Yellow-streaked Greenbul, some Forest Weavers and then a very nice Fisher’s Turaco. Moving on to another area our vehicles had to drive through some thick mud so we left them to it and birded the track on foot. It was really hard going with several birds being heard but not showing themselves. The vehicles caught us up and further on we got out and watched as one vehicle got stuck in another section of mud and had to be dragged out by the other jeep. While they were doing this we tried to see a calling White-chested Alethe but with no luck. James was following up a group of agitated greenbuls, so we all joined him deciding they must be mobbing something, possibly an owl! Nigel then spotted an owl sat staring straight at us. Huge ears sat neatly atop this rarely seen Usambara Eagle Owl

and through the scopes we got fantastic views – what a coup! And what an elated group we were, able to head back to the lodge very delighted with ourselves. Just before leaving we did hear the amazing call of an African Broadbill. Back at the lodge the electricity was out so we needed to eat our dinner and do the checklists by candle light.

Day 6 – 26th November 

An early breakfast had been arranged, which may have sounded simple but the staff never came in before 7am normally. Amazing what a little bribe will do! A few birds were seen prior to breakfast including more views of the endemic Banded Green Sunbird and several Eastern Olive Sunbirds, plus a Cabanis’s Bunting. After breakfast we drove to the entrance gate into Amani at a place known as Ziggy’s. Martin knew an area which could produce good roadside birding so after a short drive we got out and walked this forested road. Little Yellow Flycatchers were plentiful but getting a view of these tiny almost warbler like flycatchers proved very difficult for a lot of the group. The birding actually proved quite difficult so we were going to need patience today if we were to catch up with some of the forest specialities. A Red-tailed Ant-Thrush was spotted flying up into a large tree over the road but it soon disappeared with just a few of us getting onto it in time. Three Forest Batis showed very well but a nearby Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher was again only seen by a few. The next bird heard calling was our main target endemic bird of this morning’s walk – but hearing a Kretschmer’s Longbill proved much easier than seeing it. We spent over an hour trying to entice this little bird into showing itself, and eventually with perseverance and a change of tactics we succeeded and had excellent prolonged views as a bird worked its way into a tree and started singing to us. Continuing on we found a nest of what was probably an accipiter which had a young bird half obscured in it. Unable to identify the chick we carried on seeing very little, bar some very attractive butterflies. Just before we turned around and headed back I spotted a Rufous Elephant Shrew amongst the leaf litter deep under a bush. Unfortunately not everyone could see it before it ran off. Back near the vehicles we stepped into the forest on a side track and here we managed to see Yellow-streaked Greenbul, a Black-backed Puffback, Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird, Green Barbet and a Green-headed Oriole. An Eastern Nicator was heard singing and we searched a long time for it unsuccessfully until the singing stopped. It was nearly lunchtime so we drove back towards our lodgings with a brief stop on a river bridge which only produced Mountain Wagtail. Just over the bridge however a couple of showy Collared Sunbirds drew us out of the vehicles and while watching these dainty birds feeding in a small bush we also found an Eastern Green Tinkerbird which after a while was seen by everyone. Back at Amani we had lunch and a short siesta before heading out for our afternoon excursion. We drove into an area of tea plantations and while passing alongside a small river I spotted an interesting looking kingfisher sat on a rock. This had us all out and walking up and down trying to relocate it. After some long walks and some patient stake-outs most of us got to see this Half-collared Kingfisher quite well. Well, that set us a bit behind schedule but after some further driving through the tracks within the tea plantations, we arrived at the edge of a forest. A hidden trail took us deep into the forest where we soon found a Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler with some attendant young. An uphill hike got us to an area where we had just two very difficult target birds to try and see, although the sighting of a Bar-tailed Trogon actually proved to be most people’s only observation. We sat in the forest for hours and despite judicious taping and full concentration it was only myself and Nigel that got to see the very difficult Sharpe’s Akalat, while Dappled Mountain Robin was a complete no show. On our last attempt in failing light a bird did fly in and perch for half a second just a few feet away, but no colour or detail was noted so it could have been either of these two sought after species! That’s birding, and all you can do is give it your best shot!        

Day 7 – 27th November 

This morning we had an early breakfast and then after loading our luggage into the vehicles we set off towards our next destination in the Western Usambaras. Our first stop was in an area of forest we had visited yesterday. Once out of the vehicles we soon heard a Pale-breasted Illadopsis which then gave us a tremendous battle of wits as it moved foliage and zipped from cover to cover. Eventually it showed briefly to those looking in right direction. Nearby a Green-backed Cameroptera again only showed briefly. A Cardinal Woodpecker was spotted and then several of the group saw a Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and we had exceptional views of a Peters’s Twinspot. Moving to a trail within the forest both Little Yellow Flycatcher and Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird were seen and then we had incredible views of a pair of Green-backed Twinspots hopping around in full view on the track in front of us. A distinctive call led us to a Scaly-breasted Honeyeater sat high in a tree above us and then as we returned we found a group of showy Chestnut-fronted Helmet-Shrikes, a Red-tailed Ant-Thrush as well as a Red-capped Robin –Chat and a fly by Tambourine Dove. A Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher was spotted alongside Green Barbet and Little Greenbuls, before we left and set off out of the forest. A quick stop beside a pond found us a Striated Heron while another stop later beside a small reed bed found us half a dozen Zanzibar Red Bishops and a Grosbeak Weaver. A few birds were seen from the vehicles as we headed to the Western Usambaras and included Yellow-billed Kites, Augur Buzzards, Black-headed Herons, a Bateleur and some Village Weavers in the town of Mombo where we picked up more drinking water and some fruit. A Hamerkop flew past as we ascended the winding road to the lodge where we arrived at lunch time. After settling in and having a late lunch we met up ready for the afternoon’s birding. A Lanner Falcon flew past as we waited for everyone to arrive and a small group of Village Weavers were seen. We then drove up into the nearby forested mountains. Once here we walked the road and first located a Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, several African Dusky Flycatchers flitted around and then we got to see a Bar-throated Apalis, two Hartlaub’s Turaco, Shelley’s and Northern Greenbul, and an amazing display by a pair of Eastern Double-banded Sunbirds. A Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo was calling but our attempts at seeing a Spot-Throat scored a duck, although we were close with the bird heard running around the leaf litter just out of sight. Angolan Pied Colobus Monkeys were also found but to finish off we waited as the sun set and soon spotted a nightjar flying around and landing on a dead branch quite high up on a tree. We put our torch light and scope onto it, and all got great views of this the Usambara Nightjar. Not quite over, we then spot-lighted a rarely seen African Palm Civet feeding and running around in a tree top.

Day 8 – 28th November

This morning we had a pre dawn breakfast and then set off to an area of Montane forest. Along the way we saw a couple of Hadada on the track and then shortly after dawn we arrived at our site. Walking the road we soon found a couple of Mosque Swallows and a Waller’s Starling perched high so as to collect the first sunlight of the day. Our next find was the critically endangered Usambara Weaver and we enjoyed prolonged views of a bird as fed in the tree tops. Moving slowly along we found Hartlaub’s Turacos, a motionless Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Shelley’s Greenbul, a fly-by Tambourine Dove and a Fullerborne’s Boubou. Both Usambara Thrush and a pair of Cinnamon Bracken Warblers were all too brief, but perseverance paid off with everyone seeing a White-Starred Robin and an African Tailorbird. Further on we got to see Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler and a Scaly-throated Honeyguide. Next we drove a few kilometres to an area near to an old saw-mill. A short walk here soon found us a couple of Streaky Seedeaters and better views of Hartlaub’s Turaco, while on top of a dead tree we obtained excellent scope views of a Sharpe’s Starling. In some close bushes we scrutinised a group of Yellow White-Eyes and nearby struggled to see a very active and vocal White-tailed Crested-Flycatcher, before turning around and heading in the opposite direction. A couple of Mottled Spinetails flew back and forth along the valley and a distant Mountain Buzzard was identified. We entered an area of forest via a steep trail and soon found an Olive Woodpecker and a family of White-tailed Crested Flycatchers. On a small bush in front of us a female Oriole Finch fed quietly and then the male was spotted flying off. Our target bird the Spot-Throat was however a real skulker and even though we had several chances with some very close birds, because of its habits of only walking in thick undergrowth, not everyone got to see this sought after species. We did get excellent views of Fullerborne’s Boubou and some calling Cabanis’s Greenbuls zipped past so quickly that they never made it to our checklist. It was now lunch-time so we returned to our gorgeous lodge where a little rest time was also taken. As most of the group relaxed in the gardens an obvious Montane White-Eye was seen, along with a brief Moustached Green Tinkerbird and then a fabulous photogenic Usambara Two-horned Chameleon. Our afternoon drive was to take us to a Montane road where we slowly walked back to see what we could find. A short stop along the way found us a group of very showy Yellow-bellied Waxbills, while a Cinnamon Bracken Warbler was not only scoped it was also seen by most of the group even though it refused to come out of a lone bush. Unfortunately our walk was rather quiet with afternoon highlights including excellent views of a nesting Usambara Thrush, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, a White-chested Alethe if you were stood in the right spot, an endemic Swynnerton’s Bush Squirrel and a Cape Robin-Chat which showed well on the side of the road. A noisy group of Angolan Pied Colobus Monkeys saw us depart and head back to our lodge. 

Day 9 – 29th November 

After breakfast we left Muller’s lodge and set off on the long drive towards Arusha. A few White-necked Ravens and Rock Martins were seen before we made a roadside stop overlooking a river valley with rock faces on either side. We soon found perched Red-eyed Doves and an Auger Buzzard, Grey-backed Cameroptera and glowing like a light bulb on a distant tall plant was a male Hunter’s Sunbird. We were then quickly distracted from an African Golden Weaver as our target bird was found, a pair of Cliff-Chats which gave excellent views as they moved from rock to rock opposite us. As we enjoyed these we also spotted a couple of Tropical Boubous and then a pair of Black-throated Wattle-Eyes. We then continued our journey through Mombo and later arrived at a reservoir. Many birds were seen along the way from our three vehicles including Yellow-billed Kites, Tawny Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle, three Lanner Falcons, Lilac-breasted Rollers, Red-rumped Swallows, Red-tailed Shrikes, Northern White-crowned Shrikes, and during a drink stop we saw a fabulous Orange-headed Agama. At the reservoir we visited the dam area and overlooking part of the huge lake we soon found lots of Whiskered Terns, Gull-billed Tern, a White-winged Tern several African Fish Eagles, a Striated Heron, Sacred Ibis, Long-tailed Cormorants and a few commoner waders. We drove down to a nearby area of river and soon found a Giant Kingfisher, followed by several Squacco Herons, Black-crowned Night Herons and two more Striated Herons. In the scrub and small trees we saw Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Eastern Olivaceous Warblers and a very showy pair of Diederek Cuckoos, European Golden Oriole, Spotted Flycatchers and some nice looking Beautiful Sunbirds. We moved on to the shade of a tree beside a small village to have our picnic lunch and here we saw Chestnut Sparrows, Long-tailed Fiscals, two Eastern Violet-backed Sunbirds, Pink-breasted Lark and both Speckled and Blue-naped Mousebirds. After lunch we drove to an open area of the huge lake and stopping on an overlook we scanned and found many birds including Streaked Seedeaters, African Jacanas, Black-winged Stilts, White-winged Terns, fly over Marabou Stork, Pink-backed Pelican and waders including Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Greenshank and under a bush three very distant Double-banded Coursers. We decided to try and drive to the area near the coursers and after twenty minutes or so of winding through almost invisible sandy tracks we came out to an open area that allowed us to drive right down to the water’s edge. Along the way we found a nice black morph Gabar Goshawk. Overlooking the lake we found a tern roost which not only held Gull-billed and Whiskered Terns there were also eleven superb African Skimmers. Further searches revealed a Knob-billed Duck sat alone on a sand spit, and then Grey-headed Gulls flew past while lots of Kittlitz’s Plovers and Fisher’s Sparrow-Larks ran around. Close by were a few Double-banded Coursers and we spotted three Water Thick-Knees on a small island. Amongst the waders running around were Little Stints, Curlew Sandpiper, Greenshank and two Marsh Sandpipers. The only Osprey of our tour flew overhead and across the lake while much closer on the ground we identified three non breeding Southern Red-Bishops. Leaving this fabulous area to continue our drive we made our way out towards the main road through some dry thornscrub where we located two groups of White-headed Mousebirds. On then to the city of Arusha and our very pleasant secluded lodge.

Day 10 – 30th November 

This morning we took a packed breakfast and set off towards an area known as the lark fields. Along the way we saw Pied Crows plus several Common Kestrels and Capped Wheatears. Driving out onto the open plains we soon spotted a male Montagu’s Harrier, some small groups of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse flying over and then the first of many Grassland (African) Pipits plus some attractive Red-capped Larks. A close pair of Short-tailed Larks were then scrutinised and a falcon that initially looked like a back view of a Hobby, turned out to be a very confiding Amur Falcon. Continuing our search we came across several Crowned Plovers and then a Foxy Lark. Near an area of scrub we found a few Red-naped Larks and sat on top of the bushes was a Taita Fiscal, a Rosy-patched Bush-Shrike and African Grey Flycatcher. We drove slowly towards a distant kestrel and our suspicions were then confirmed when we got close enough to see not one but two Greater Kestrels. Deciding to check another seemingly barren looking area we passed a few Fisher’s Sparrow-Larks and three very close Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse. Also seen very close were two larks which after been well watched, turned out to be Athi Short-toed Larks. A very nice male Pallid Harrier then flew past. We stopped beside an area of short grasses and after looking at a group of young Jackals we tucked into our picnic lunch. Those that continued to bird and eat at the same time found a Montagu’s Harrier, a Lanner Falcon and David spotted a Scrub Hare. Changing our tactics we set off on a walk through these short grasses where many Red-capped Larks were found before a signal from Nigel indicated the finding of our main target species. Once we had all converged beside Nigel we slowly set about relocating the group of five Beesley’s Larks, a rare and very localised endemic which was formally thought to be remnant population of Spike-heeled Lark. Happy with our excellent views we left the plains passing an Eastern Chanting Goshawk along the way until we got to the main road and its surrounding Acacias. Here we soon found a Brubru, and then driving onto a small roadside gorge we got to see some very colourful White-fronted Bee-eaters and several Schalow’s Wheatears. We returned to our lodge for lunch and as we waited to leave, and while our two-way radio was being repaired in one of the Landcruisers we watched a group of Marabou and Scared Ibis sat in a tree top.

Leaving the hustle and bustle of Arusha we set off on our drive to Tarangire National Park. A few roadside birds were seen along our journey but it wasn’t until we turned off the main road and headed along dusty tracks towards our lodge that a few brief stops produced Green-winged Pytilia, Speckle-fronted Weavers and Blue-capped Cordon-Bleus. In the taller trees closer to our cliff top lodge we found the endemic Ashy Starling, several Magpie Shrikes, Northern Pied Babblers, Swahili Sparrow and White-bellied Canary. A Red-necked Spurfowl was spotted running along while a Brown-crowned Tchagra disappeared into a thick bush and several Namaqua Doves flew off, before we saw a perched Wahlberg’s Eagle. At the lodge while we awaited our room allocation we enjoyed seeing a group of Bare-faced Go-away-Birds and even a distant Giraffe.

Day 11– 1st December 

We had an early breakfast and as we enjoyed this there were several birds to see from the dining area. A large group of endemic Yellow-collared Lovebirds came into food that was put out, along with Chestnut Sparrows, Red-billed Quelea, African Morning Doves, Swahili Sparrows and a single female type bishop which turned out to be a Black Bishop. After this we headed out towards the park entrance seeing plenty of the endemic Ashy Starlings along the way. Brown-crowned Tchagras regularly disappeared into thick bushes never to be seen again, while Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, Rattling Cisticolas, Black-shouldered Kite and a Pygmy Falcon showed better. A Banded Parisoma showed briefly and then we found a White-bellied Bustard plus several Impala, African Buffalo and a Lappet-faced Vulture. At the park entrance while waiting for our entrance passes we enjoyed a Red-faced Crombec. We then drove in convoy into the park soon finding a very close Ostrich and then a Brown Snake-Eagle perched in a tree top, while mammals picked up with, Grant’s Gazelle, Warthog and some Common Zebra. The next tree top bird was a Grey Kestrel soon followed by seven superb Southern Ground Hornbills which showed fantastically walking around in an open area together. Moving on birds came thick and fast starting with two Spotted Thick-Knees sat under a bush where a group of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse walked past and drew our attention to some Yellow-throated Sandgrouse. Unbelievably we then found a group of three Black-faced Sandgrouse not bad in just a few minutes! Continuing on we reached a bridge over a small river where a group of Elephants were busily feeding. After a good look at these we scanned the river and soon found Egyptian Geese, Green, Wood and Marsh Sandpiper plus two Tawny Eagles, a Steppe Eagle that flew up into a distant tree and two high flying Amur Falcons. Moving off we saw some Green Woodhoopoes before spotting a distant Lion which meant we had to turn around and follow a different track if we were to get closer. This we did passing Rock Hyrax, Dwarf Mongoose and a troop of Olive Baboons along the way. Then we found two Lions that ran along a river bed before disappearing around a corner. We carried on until Dick spotted a pair of Heuglin’s Coursers sat under a bush. We enjoyed excellent views of these beautiful birds and even spotted their chicks crouching in cover beside their parents. Several Eland ran across in front of us and then down beside a river a Spotted Hyaena was watched cooling off by being half submerged in a small pool. Our next stop found us both Grey and Bearded Woodpeckers while an unseen carcass seemed to be attracting a hoard of vultures including African White-backed, Rueppell’s and Lappet-faced, later joined by two Tawny Eagles. Tiny little Kirk’s Dik-Diks were quite common but not always easy to see as they kept hidden in thickets and small bushes. As the two rear vehicles tried to view an obscured Lion, my vehicle arrived at a small stream crossing where we suddenly found ourselves watching a Greater Painted Snipe right beside us. As we waited for everyone else to arrive, a Malachite Kingfisher was spotted and while still engrossed in the snipe, Malcolm spotted a heron skulking through the reeds. A few minutes later and we were all enjoying super views of fabulous Rufous-bellied Heron. Eventually moving on we came to an area that overlooked a huge expanse of open grassy plains. In the trees we added Nubian and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Brubru and views of a flock of Fan-tailed Widowbirds, while an African Marsh Harrier sat in the grass. As we scanned the area we also found Green-winged Pytilia, Chestnut Sparrows, a Eurasian Hobby, both African and Western Marsh Harriers and then a nice Amur Falcon. We then had a good run on bustards with three or four White-bellieds and a Buff-crested being seen followed by Long-crested Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle and a Lion sat under a tree. Our next stop beside a waterhole produced Common Snipe and a Spur-winged Goose, whilst another water course got us views of Goliath Heron, Intermediate Heron, Three-banded Plover and a couple of Bohor Reedbuck, as well as a Winding Cisticola. An immature Martial Eagle was seen circling the hillside and after coming across a group of African Buffalo we picked out several Yellow-billed Oxpeckers and later a nice male Pallid Harrier. Now, it’s nice when a plan comes together and for nearly an hour I had looked at every tree we drove past in the hope of spotting a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl. Would you believe it, as we passed underneath a huge tree I looked up and looking down at us was

one of these spectacular owls! We reversed back and as the other two vehicles arrived we saw two other owls fly off into a nearby tree while the original bird was still above us looking down wondering what on earth we were doing. Our next find was a single Hildebrandt’s Francolin after which a decision was made to return to the lodge and have a little rest and some cool drinks. Our long dusty day had produced nearly 150 species of birds and some great mammals, so I think we deserved a rest. After our evening meal some of us decided to go on a short night drive to see what we could find. After driving many tracks and searching every tree, bush and open area we could, things were not looking good. By using spotlights we had found the eye-shine of Kirk’s Dik-Dik and little else. No nightjars or coursers and with everyone thinking “well this was a waste of time” I then spotted some more eye-shine. With the light on these eyes a shape slowly formed and would you believe it we were watching a Leopard just sat there looking back at us! What a thrill and an exciting new mammal for many of the group. We returned elated with our evening finale.

Day 12– 2nd December 

After an early breakfast we loaded up and set off towards our next exciting destination. On our way through the scrub several endemic Rufous-tailed Weavers flew across the track and landed, where we then got excellent views of them. We had a few hours drive to reach Monyara Lake Reserve seeing many species along the journey including a circling Black-chested Snake-Eagle. At the reserve we obtained our entrance permits and set off into the park. A Martial Eagle was seen and in the forest we got superb views of several Narina Trogons. Driving towards the lake edge we passed a couple of very close Hippos wallowing in a small pool. Getting out of our vehicles we could set up the scopes and search the huge expanse of wetland from the safety of our parking spot. Two huge Saddle-billed Storks were spotted along with African Spoonbills, Egyptian Geese, some White-faced Whistling Ducks, Red-billed and Hottentot Teal, African Jacanas, some nice Long-toed Plovers and a few Whiskered Terns. A group of Hippos further out were host to a couple of Red-billed Oxpeckers while in the distance we saw two Grey-crowned Cranes and both European Bee-eaters and Collared Pratincoles flew around. More thorough searching produced Northern Shoveler, Marsh and Green Sandpiper plus Ruff, Glossy Ibis and a few Squacco Herons. A White-winged Tern was then spotted and both Pink-backed Pelican and Marabou Stork circled low overhead. There was so many birds to see that we couldn’t help but keep adding new species, Black-tailed Godwit, African Fish Eagles, Malachite Kingfisher, an Amur Falcon sat on the ground, Palm-nut Vulture, Spur-winged Goose, several Yellow Wagtails and then a group of four Lions. We drove slowly back towards the forest stopping for a better look at the Lions and some perched European Bee-eaters and an Isabelline Wheatear. We continued on to an area of forest and with the help of our whistled imitation of Pearl-spotted Owlet the bushes and trees started to come alive, revealing Green-winged Pytilia, Spotted Morning-Thrush, Narina Trogon and prolonged views of a Thrush Nightingale. A little further on we pulled into a picnic spot and soon got stunning views of three Red-and-yellow Barbets plus a Marico Sunbird and a couple of White-headed Barbets. It was time to leave so we headed towards the park gate with a quick stop in the forest to try and find Purple-crested Turaco which we failed with, although good views of an African Green Pigeon and a group of Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeons were a little compensation. After leaving the park we drove to our next destination which was the fabulous Gibbs Farm set in beautiful bird rich, lush gardens. We had a very short time to settle into our very pleasant cabins and even see a few of the resident birds before our excellent lunch called us. A flavour of what was seen in just a few minutes included White-browed Robin-Chat, Bronze Sunbird, Golden-winged Sunbird, Baglafecht’s and Grosbeak Weavers, Tropical Boubou, Streaky Seedeater and African Paradise-Flycatcher. Later after lunch we met up for a walk into the nearby forest. It didn’t take long to find Arrow-marked Babblers and a showy Black-crowned Tchagra which hopped around on a path in front of us. Next to show was an Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle, Cape Robin-Chat and several White-eyed Slaty-Flycatchers, Willow Warbler and a group of Yellow-bellied Waxbills. In the same patch of forest we got fantastic views of a pair of Brown-headed Apalis, as well as Yellow-breasted Apalis and a Chinspot Batis, while a Harvey’s Duiker gave superb views. Amongst a thick tangle we watched a Red-faced Cisticola and then a Black-throated Wattle-Eye and on the track beside our feet was some Leopard scat, proof of what else lurked in this forest. A Klass’s Cuckoo was heard calling and eventually tracked down and seen well, while Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater posed nicely and a pair of Crested Guineafowl gave the briefest of views before disappearing into the forest. Down beside a small stream we had a perched Tambourine Dove followed by a pair of Purple-throated Cuckoo-Shrikes, Eastern Honeybird and a stunning close encounter with a Grey-capped Warbler. An excellent day came to an end and was justly complemented by a superb evening meal. Oh, I almost forgot to mention the Greater Galagos that came out and fed on fruit put out by the staff. For those that couldn’t sleep properly Montane Nightjars could be heard calling around the lodge at night and early next morning.  

Day 13 – 3rd December 

A pre-breakfast look around the lodge gardens saw a profusion of birds including excellent views of Golden-winged, Bronze and a male Green-headed Sunbird as well as Yellow-bellied Greenbul, African Black-headed Oriole, White-tailed Blue-Flycatchers, Speke’s and Holub’s Golden-Weavers, Klass’s Cuckoo and Grey-capped Warbler. After a sumptuous breakfast we loaded up and set off towards our next destination – the famous Ngorongoro Crater. As we neared the beginning of the forest we spotted a couple of Black-winged Plovers. After entering the park we wound our way up until we came to an overlook which gave us stunning views of this huge and spectacular crater. Continuing on we arrived at our lodge which was situated on the edge of the crater rim. No time was wasted and we put our luggage into a safe room and then with picnic lunches on board we drove down into the crater. As we neared the bottom we found a few Black-faced Waxbills along with Kenyan Rufous Sparrows, Schalow’s Wheatears and some Northern Anteater-Chats. Rufous-tailed Weavers appeared and under a tree we saw a group of Serengeti Rufous-eared Mice. At the edge of a small pool we found Kittlitz’s Plover and Little Stints as

well as a group of Thompson’s Gazelles. A pair of Grey-crowned Cranes showed well, as did a close Kori Bustard and beside a reedy pool we eventually got to see a glowing Rosy-breasted Longclaw. We passed through a small patch of forest and out onto the open plains where we were soon watching a close female Black-bellied Bustard.

Black-bellied Bustard
Black-bellied Bustard

More Kori Bustards were seen as well as Rufous-naped Lark and beside a reedy pool amongst the Sacred Ibis and Egrets we found a single Yellow-billed Stork much to the delight of Tony. Moving on to a designated picnic spot beside a lake with several Hippos present, we tucked into our picnic. Those of us that ate outside under a tree, did so at our own peril and both Noel and James soon found out how sharp the claws were on Yellow-billed Kites as their chicken pieces were taken right out of their fingers by these aerobatic pirates. Around the edges of the lake we saw a Purple Heron and a Squacco Heron, Little Grebe, lots of endemic Rufous-tailed Weavers and a group of Fan-tailed Widowbirds. After lunch we set off through a short rain storm and headed to the far side of the crater. A close Secretarybird, Montagu’s Harrier and displaying Kori Bustard were seen while further on we came across a group of Black-backed Jackals, a Black Stork and a count of 89 Grey-crowned Cranes. We then got great views of two Bat-eared Foxes, a Hyaena was spotted in the distance and an African Hobby showed well perched in a dead tree. Our next sighting was a superb Serval Cat and as we watched this a Martial Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier and Lanner Falcon were seen. Not far away we stopped beside a group of sleeping Lions and then had very close views of several Black-bellied Bustards before arriving at a damp almost dried up pool. Here we picked out Kittlitz’s and four Black-winged Plovers, Avocet and Bohor Reedbuck. Our next stop was beside a pool filled to the brim with Hippos. A little time spent here found us Long-toed Plover, a Black Crake, Lesser Swamp Warbler and a Winding Cisticola. Time was running out and we needed to be out of the park by 6.30 to prevent a fine! A final look along the edge of the main salt lake got us closer to a flock of Lesser Flamingos, and as the drivers kept looking at their watches, panicking, we found a couple of Chestnut-banded Plovers, a Temminck’s Stint and some Cape Teal. With these few extra birds under our belts we sped towards the exit gate passing a couple of Hildebrandt’s Francolins along the way and just about made it out, down to the second! Well satisfied with our day in the crater we drove back to the lodge in time for sunset.       

Day 14 – 4th December 

After breakfast we set off along the crater rim towards Ngorongoro plains and the Serengeti.

A few birds were seen along the way for which we made regular roadside stops. We soon spotted Yellow-billed Kite, White-necked Raven, Steppe Buzzard, Red-winged Starling and an Ostrich. A group of Jackson’s Widowbirds were found and slowly moving on we saw African Stonechats, Golden-winged Sunbird and a tree full of Dusky Turtle Doves. A Black-bellied Bustard then flew over the road and we found a lone Cape Rook and several Whinchats. Continuing on we found Zitting Cisticola, lots of Capped Wheatears and then in a grassy area beside the road we spotted a couple of Temminck’s Coursers. Ever on through Massai country wih stops for Pygmy Falcon, some Fisher’s Lovebirds and a Plain-backed Pipit we eventually arrived at a desert museum. While several people went inside, the rest of us searched the surrounding scrub. Montagu’s Harrier and Mottled Swift flew over and we soon found Purple Grenadier, Slate-coloured Boubou, Red-fronted Barbet and Buff-bellied Warbler. A couple of Rufous Chatterers played ‘hide n seek’ and further searching revealed Red-faced Crombec, Banded Parisoma, African Firefinch, White-browed Scrub-Robin, Kenya Rufous Sparrow and lastly a fine example of Southern Grosbeak Canary. Leaving the museum we headed out towards an area known as the shifting sands and as luck would have it one of our 4x4s got stuck in the sand! We pulled it out and continued on our way across open barren desert where larks, Kori Bustard, Secretarybird and a few Common Kestrels were seen. We needed to get going to get to Ndutu Lodge for lunch time. A very bumpy, dusty, long drive got us to within a short drive of our lunch stop, where Tony and Roz spotted our main target bird, a very showy endemic Grey-breasted Spurfowl. After consuming our picnic we went to the front of the lodge and got excellent views of more Fisher’s Lovebirds, Hildebrandt’s Starling, Rufous-tailed Weavers, Brubru, Scarlet-chested and Beautiful Sunbirds, a Greater Honeyguide, White-bellied Canary and a brief sighting of a Black-lored Babbler. Leaving here we drove to a nearby lake which on arrival we found to be almost completely dry. A couple of tiny pools on the far side were scoped and we found a Fulvous Whistling Duck, alongside Avocet and some unidentified small waders. A Saddle-billed Stork showed better and a Gabar Goshawk zipped past. A decision was made to drive around to the other side of the lake and as we set off, quite unbelievably one of the drivers, David, started to drive across the apparent dry looking lake. Just ten feet out and as you would expect, his vehicle got stuck in the mud. It took us nearly an hour to dig it out, put stones under the tyres and then tow it with another of the vehicles. Well this was the start of a very unplanned afternoon where we set off along a dusty track that was going to be a short cut back to Ngorongoro. Things looked fine and some people saw Spotted Thick-Knee, Double-banded Courser and a Coqui Francolin. Then it was noticed that water was flowing towards us on what was a dry dusty track. The track got wetter and slipperier and so we then drove off road alongside what now looked like a stream. There had been rains in the mountains a long way away and it had now flowed down the valley that our short cut followed. We slipped around on the mud, one vehicle got stuck in the ruts of the track, we had to cut a fallen tree out of the way, and then after a bad crossing of the even wetter grazing fields owned by the Massai we came across an area that was impassable. With safety in mind we then had to return all the way back to Ndutu lodge where we could connect with the main road back to Ngorongoro. So much for short cuts! Eventually and in the dark we arrived back at our lodge just in time for dinner. 

Day 15 – 5th December 

As normal some of the group were up early and on the public veranda to greet the sunrise over the spectacular crater. With herds of mammals below and a swirling cloud of Little Swifts above us it was another great start to the day. A few White-necked Ravens drifted past and several species seen out the front of the lodge included a Blackcap, White-eyed Slaty-Flycatcher, Streaky Seedeater and Mountain Greenbul. Once breakfast was over we waited for the vehicles to be loaded and cleaned from our previous days excursion. A nice Tacazze Sunbird showed well during the wait. We had a couple of hours to slowly make our way to the park exit gate, so this gave us the chance for some productive roadside birding. As we left the lodge a Bush Pig was seen to cross the road and disappear into the undergrowth. Some bird activity nearby had us scan the tree tops were we soon caught up with up to seven Schalow’s Turacos, Cape-Robin-Chat, Montane White-Eye and in several more stops within the next couple of hundred yards we also saw Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Hunter’s Cisticola, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, African Stonechat, a Mountain Thrush and fly over African Emerald Cuckoo. We then left the park and set off towards our lunchtime stop at a private riverside lodge. Stopping along the way for rest and refreshments, plus a little souvenir buying, one of the vehicles managed to see a group of Amur Falcons. Arriving at our lunch stop a quick walk down to the nearest lake found us a pair of the sought after African Black Duck, plus Moorhen, Striated Heron, Grosbeak Weaver and for those that ventured further a Peter’s Twinspot and Guervese Colobus Monkey. We then enjoyed a superb late lunch before setting off on the last leg of our journey back to Kia Lodge beside Kilimanjaro Airport. Here we had time to clean ourselves up, get changed and enjoy a drink before saying goodbye to our drivers, Khalid, David and Amini, and our local guide Martin who had helped us find many of Tanzania’s special birds. Our flight was then delayed so we had a few more drinks around the swimming pool which was then visited by a Slender-tailed Nightjar which was a pleasant surprise. Later at the airport we said goodbye to James and then set off on our journey back to cold Britain, ending a very off the cuff last minute tour that produced an amazing variety of superb birds and mammals.    

I would like to thank everyone involved in this tour for making it an unforgettable experience.

For a tour to come together in just a few days and for us to see so much, including seldom seen species at sites that few other birders visit, was simply fantastic.

I hope this report helps you relive some of those magical moments.

Steve Bird



birdseekers photos