Working for birds in Africa


Fri, 01/25/2013 - 23:44 -- abc_admin

Male Pygmy Falcon Polihierax semitorquatus, Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

Image Credit: 
Stein Nilsen

There are so many places in Tanzania to find interesting birds that it is hard to know where to begin. Many birders will visit the northern National Parks and Game Reserves. Others may be tempted to try and find the specialist birds of the Usambara, Uluguru and Udzungwa mountains. Then there is the possibility of combining a holiday on Zanzibar with some birdwatching and perhaps a visit to Pemba Island to try and locate the endemic species. All we can hope to do here is mention a few of our favourite locations and stimulate the interest of our readers. Wherever you go, remember to take your binoculars with you because you will find interesting birds.

The first visit to Tanzania for many people is to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. There is a steady stream of tourists many of whom fly to Nairobi and continue by bus to Marangu via Arusha and Moshi. Marangu is one of the main entry points to the National Park. The path from here to the Mandara Hut at about 3,000 m above sea level goes through forest. Hartlaub's Turaco Tauraco hartlaubi and primates can be seen from this path but in order to see and identify many of the smaller forest species such as greenbuls and warblers, it is necessary to sit quietly away from the busy main track. The Mandara hut is above the dense forest and birdwatching becomes a little easier with the possibility of Abbott's Starling Pholia femoralis,  Hunter's Cisticola Cisticola hunteri and Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird Nectarinia johnstoni whilst higher still Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba can be found above the giant heather zone and in the Alpine zone Hill Chat Cercomela sordida can be found. Red-fronted Parrot Poicephalus gulielmi is possible on the western and northern slopes of the mountain.

Arusha is the gateway to the northern National Parks and Game Reserves and independent travellers should be able to join a trip here although it is likely to focus on mammals rather than birds. However, within a 1.5 hr drive of Arusha is Arusha National Park, where diversity of habitats allows observations of a plethora of birds (over 400 species recorded), including water birds, forest dwellers, savannah species and grassland specialists. Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor, Maccoa Duck Oxyura maccoa, Scarce Swift Schoutedenapus myoptilus, Nyanza Swift Apus niansae, Horus Swift A. horus, Hunter's Cisticola Cisticola hunteri, Kenrick's Starling Poeoptera kenricki, Abbott's Starling Pholia femoralis and Sharpe's Starling P. sharpii are all possible.

Tarangire National Park is often the first stop to the west of Arusha and is well known for its large herds of elephants. Ashy Starling Lamprotornis unicolor, a Tanzanian endemic can be surprisingly easy to see around the campsite and White-headed Buffalo-Weaver Dinemellia dinemelli and Red-and-yellow Barbet Trachyphonus erythrocephalus are common at picnic spots. Areas of grassland are good for Red-necked Spurfowl Francolinus afer and Yellow-necked Spurfowl F. leucoscepus and there are ponds and streams which hold herons, spoonbills and ibis.

Lake Manyara is en route to the Ngorongoro and Serengeti and although less well known than its more famous neighbours, is well worth a visit and has a list of over 450 species because of its range of habitats. Birding is good around the campsite where Square-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus fossii has been found roosting in ground-water forest. The Reserve itself holds a good selection of pelicans, storks, waders, ducks, kingfishers, hornbills and raptor and vulture density is extremely high. The number of water birds seen is dependent on the water level in the lake and when the levels are high, good birdwatching spots such as the hippo pool can be flooded and not accessible. It is well worth spending time birdwatching in the ground-water forest, where if lucky, Crested Guineafowl Guttera pucherani may run across the road. The Acacia woodland from Msasa River to the extreme southern end of the park offers numerous raptors and open-country species.

The Ngorongoro Crater is one of the best places to see huge herds of Zebra and Wildebeeste as well as Black Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus and Elephants. Birding is excellent and the endemic Rufous-tailed Weaver Histurgops ruficauda is easy to find. The lakes within the crater hold Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber and Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor as well as a good selection of waders and ducks. There are many species of vultures, raptors and storks. Forest birds along the crater rim include some montane specialities like Hartlaub's Turaco Tauraco hartlaubi and Eastern Double-collared Sunbird Cinnyris mediocris. With a list of over 500 species, even the most discerning birder should be well satisfied.

The Serengeti is a vast area with a chance of spotting Lion and Cheetah and a host of other mammal species. There is a good chance of finding the endemic Grey-breasted Spurfowl Francolinus rufopictus, the near endemic Hildebrandt's Starling Lamprotornis hildebrandti, Fischer's Lovebird Agapornis fischeri, as well as Yellow-throated Sandgrouse Pterocles gutturalis, Silverbird Empidornis semipartitus, Grey-backed Fiscal Lanius excubitoroides and a variety of other species. See the article, Birds of a Grumeti River forest in Serengeti National Park in ABC Bulletin, Vol 9 No 2 2002 pp 153 ­ 158 by Thomas Gottschalk or at Serengeti Grumeti River.

Many visitors to Tanzania will enter at Dar es Salaam and with over 400 species recorded in the vicinity, birding can start right here. The Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania has its offices in a spot that is both convenient for hotels and for the coast and runs a regular birdwatching walk around Dar early on Saturday mornings (check with WCST for latest information). A walk along the seafront should produce a good selection of wader species such as Crab-plover Dromas ardeola, Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola, Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea and Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus, and as well as Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis, Dimorphic Egret Egretta dimorpha, Little Egret Egretta garzetta, Purple Heron Ardea purpurea, Grey Heron A. cinerea, Black-headed Heron A. melanocephala, Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus and Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus. Pugu Forest Reserve is only about an hour's drive from the city and harbours some unique coastal forest species like Southern Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus fasciolatus, Crested Guineafowl Guttera pucherani, African Broadbill Smithornis capensis, East Coast Akalat Sheppardia gunningi, and Red-capped Robin-Chat Cossypha natalensis.

Tanga is the second largest town in Tanzania situated in the north-east of the country and on a fast bus route from Dar to Mombasa in Kenya. Tanga itself and the coastal area from there south to Pangani is surprisingly underwatched and holds much of interest as well as some good hotels and campsites away from the main tourist trails. Birding can start along the coastal road in Tanga itself with African Openbill Stork Anastomus lamelligerus, Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus, Yellowbill Ceuthmochares aereus, Green Wood-hoopoe Phoeniculus purpureus, Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul Andropadus importunus and Winding Cisticola Cisticola galactotes. The coastal area near Peponi Beach with mudflats and mangrove swamps is good for Green-backed Heron Butorides striata, African Fish Eagle Haliaaetus vocifer, Palm-nut Vulture Gypohierax angolensis, Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia. Shikra Accipiter badius, Lizard Buzzard Kaupifalco monogrammicus, Madagascar Pratincole Glareola ocularis, Madagascar Bee-eater Merops superciliosus, Northern Carmine Bee-eater M. nubicus, Common Scimitarbill Rhinopomastus cyanomelas, Yellow-throated Longclaw Macronyx croceus and Kurrichane Thrush Turdus libonyanus may be seen in the fields in the surrounding areas and along the road itself. Towards Pangani, there are some coastal swamps where Madagascar Pond Heron Ardeola idae, African Jacana Actophilornis africanus, Fischer's Greenbul Phyllastrephus fischeri and Zanzibar Bishop Euplectes nigroventris can be found.

The East Usambara mountains are accessible from Tanga and the area to aim for is around Amani Reserve and higher up the mountains. The town of Amani itself has good birds and it is possible to see the following from the centre of town ­ the area near the medical centre gives good views over the surrounding countryside ­ Wahlberg's Eagle Aquila wahlbergi, Long-crested Eagle Lophaetus occipitalis, Mottled Spinetail Telacanthura ussheri, Green-backed Honeybird Prodotiscus zambesiae, the endemic Banded Sunbird Anthreptes rubritorques and Magpie Mannikin Spermestes fringilloides.

The forested areas hold Southern Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus fasciolatus, African Goshawk Accipiter tachiro, Lemon Dove Columba larvata, Fischer's Turaco Tauraco fischeri, Usambara Eagle Owl Bubo vosseleri, Trumpeter Hornbill Bycanistes bucinator, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill B. brevis, Green Barbet Stactolaema olivacea, at least 6 greenbul species, White-chested Alethe Alethe fuelleborni, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher Elminia albonotata, Green-headed Oriole Oriolus chlorocephalus and Red-headed Bluebill Spermophaga ruficapilla. Long-billed Tailorbird Orthotomus moreaui is difficult but possible to find at the forest edge in the Amani area, the only known place for this species in Tanzania.

See the following article in the ABC Bulletin Vol 8 No 2 2001 pp 91 - 94 Is the endangered Long-billed Tailorbird Orthotomus moreaui safe in the East Usambaras? By Norbert J Cordeiro, Veli M. Pohjonen and Elia Mulungu or at Long-billed Tailorbird. See also Birding in the Usambara Mountains, Tanzania by Eddie Williams in ABC Bulletin Vol 4 No 2 1997 pp 111 ­ 115 and Birding in and around the East Usambaras, north-east Tanzania by Tom Evans, Alan Tye, Norbert J Cordeiro and Nathalie Seddon in ABC Bulletin Vol 4 No 2 1997 pp 116 ­ 129.

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