Birding in Tanzania – Days 1 – 4

Due to my GCSE exams, I had an especially long summer holiday this year and my family and I decided to take full advantage of this by going to Tanzania for three weeks, Madagascar for 4 weeks, and with a three week school trip to Kenya wedged between them.
We had booked our 22 day birding trip with Tanzania Birding and Beyond (www.tanzaniabirding.com/about-us.html). Tina in the office was very responsive and sorted queries out very quickly. It is a Tanzanian owned company which is also great. Our guide was Anthony Raphael who was excellent at digging out the target species for us, staying focussed and not giving up. Our driver Gaiten was also brilliant, having some very long journeys to do. Anthony is at the Bird Fair 2018, so go and talk to him.

Day 1 – 27 June 2018

We left Bristol by coach, after my sister Ayesha had given us  a lift into the coach station. We were there early, so had plenty of time for lunch before catching our Kenya Air flight to Kilimanjaro via Nairobi.  Our flight was early evening and overnight, so great for watching films (even one 1980’s teen movie with John Cusack, “Say Anything” – do you recognise the image?) and catching up on sleep.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Heathrow Airport
Taken by Helena Craig and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Do you recognise this 1980’s John Cusack film?

Day 2 – 28 June 2018

Our entire journey to Tanzania was almost suspiciously easy with no missing bags, delayed fights, or any other typical issue that you could face when flying a long distance. We arrived at Kilimanjaro airport mid morning of the 28th June  2018 after over 24 hours of traveling and was picked up by our hotel car in Arusha in North Tanzania, where we arrived by early afternoon. In a rather strange move for us, had an entire day off, most of which I spent napping.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig and Chris Craig at Nairobi Airport, Kenya
Taken by Helena Craig and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Day 3 – 29 June 2018

On the morning of Friday 29th June 2018 we were up bright and early for what was essentially another day of traveling, although this time we were driving. We were met by our bird guide, Anthony and driver Geiton from Tanzania Birding & Beyond in a standard issue huge beige Toyota Landcruiser with a push up opening roof. The difference today was that by midday we had reached the famous Ngorongoro Crater Rim, a reserve where the Tanzanian Masai now live. This is within the Eastern Rift Valley, where we had birded in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya a few years ago.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with Chris Craig at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Taken by Helena Craig and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

 

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with Tanzania Birding & Beyond
bird guide Anthony at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Taken by Helena Craig and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

 

Warthog Ngorongoro National Park, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

We  birded from the 4×4, to avoid run ins with wild animals. When we stopped for lunch at the reserve entrance, we immediately spotted lots of birds such as Eastern Double Banded Sunbird and Bagglefacht Weaver, which were not new but lovely to see. We were so concentrated on watching the weavers in fact, that we barely noticed the large grey rock in the background until it started ripping down trees and we realised it was not a rock but a huge elephant.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Taken by Helena Craig and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Bagglefacht Weaverl, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Elephant Ngorongoro National Park, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Taken by Helena Craig and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

After a few more hours of driving, we finally arrived in Serengeti National Park. This is its name in Tanzania whilst a much smaller section in Kenya is the Masai Mara. Whenever someone asks me to use a word to describe  places like this I usually say ‘big’ – big sun, big sky, big animals, big place. The Serengeti was vast, beautiful and full of huge numbers of wildlife and had amazing birds. We have birded in Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya in the summer of 2016 and so although we would be seeing lots of bird species, only a few targets would be new for our world list.

Black-throated Sandgrouse, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Blacksmith’s Plover, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Fischer’s Lovebird, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
giraffe, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Hartabeest, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

It was a very lax travel day, but we still managed to see five new bird species, including the endemic Rufous-tailed Weaver, Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill and also Swahili Sparrow. We were running so well on time, that we drove deep into the park and were really lucky to see Karamoja Apalis, as soon as we entered its habitat. This bird was one of two subspecies, one here and the other all the way at the South Sudan border in Uganda with nowhere in between.  This means that a split of the species seems suspiciously likely.

Endemic Rufous-tailed Weaverl, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Endemic Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbilll, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Karamoja Apalis, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

 

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by Helena Craig and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

We arrived at our camp lodge, ThornTree Camp (www.ThornTreeCamp.com) just as it was getting dark. It was a lovely camp with luxurious safari tents, friendly staff and brilliant food. Anthony warned us to keep both inside and outside tent doors carefully zipped closed to avoid anything getting in. I am petrified of spiders and mum is phobic about rodents, so needless to say that we kept our tent zipped shut!

The camp manager warned us to be careful after dark and to not go anywhere alone, as the camp grounds were not fenced in and animals wandered about at night. We were told to use their powerful torch (flashlight) and look for eye shine. Better still, to wait for one of the guards. I was inclined to wait for a guard, as I’d not done that at a camp lodge in Uganda and ended up petrified with hippos a few feet from the path.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at ThornTree Camp, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Chris Craig & Anthony from Tanzania
Birding & Beyond at ThornTree Camp, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Back in our room after dinner, we heard Hyenas calling nearby. My bed was right next to a mesh open window that was my only protection. At about midnight I woke up to a very loud chomping noise and the strong smell of grass, so I slowly turned around to see a Zebra and her baby standing & grazing in-between my window and a small tree only a metre away. They were so close that I could have touched them.  Astonished and relieved, I went back to sleep until I was woken by what sounded like cats fighting close to my room. This time I wasn’t so happy to have hyenas fighting so close by.

My bed at ThornTree Camp with the tree just outside my mesh window
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
ThornTree Camp – the tree just outside my mesh window above my bed
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Day 4 – 30 June 2018

The next day, Saturday 30th June 2018, we had an entire day in Serengeti NP but it was very relaxed because we had already seen most of our target species for the area and some.

It was a great morning with two new birds, White-tailed Lark and Grey-headed Silverbill. It was also good to see iconic birds again such as a Secretary Bird, which apparently are closely related to birds of prey.

Secretary Bird, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Grey-headed Silverbill, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by Helena Craig and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

We were driving around very casually just seeing what was around, but were also listening out on the radio for news of cheetah, as we had never seen one before and desperately wanted to. Geiton warned us that if news came over, we had to leave immediately, which of course we agreed to.

The savannah in Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Lioness, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Lioness twitch, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig in Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Taken by Helena Craig and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Then, late morning, whilst watching two stunning lionesses, we got the call and raced along the tracks to get to the spot; it was just like a twitch. When we got there, a cheetah was lounging by a pool and casually drinking as the tourists bustled about on the road to get a good spot. It was sitting in the same spot for ages, not caring the slightest about any of the tourists, but eventually slinked away into the grass but only after we had got some amazing views.
Cheetah, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Cheetah, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Cheetah, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig
Cheetah twitch, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig digiscoping using an iPhone and her Leica telescope
Photograph copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

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