Welcome to Birdquest
Friday 7th March - Thursday 20th March 2014
The great migrations of the Serengeti Plains are widely regarded as the great wildlife spectacle on earth. Every year around 1.5 million Wildebeest and several hundred thousand Zebra and Gazelles follow a circular route across an area greater than the size of Belgium (or Maryland for a US comparison) in pursuit of the rich high nutrient grasses which develop shortly after the seasonal rains. For attendant predators this is also a bounty and Lions, Leopards, Cheetahs and Spotted Hyenas all take advantage of the staggering number animals which pass through their territories, hunting regularly to support their own youngsters. Birds too take advantage of the rains. An explosion of activity occurs when every group of grassland species from elusive Quails and Courser to gaudy Paradise-whydahs and Bishops begin courting and breeding within just hours after the rainfall.
Our trip this year was perfectly timed to coincide this the migration spectacle and upsurge in bird activity. We found ourselves watching Wildebeest herds spaced only a few meters apart from one another and extending in every direction for as far as the eye could see. As well as over a million of these slightly comical looking creatures we also counted Zebra, Thompson’s Gazelle’s and Grant’s Gazelle’s into the tens of thousands. Lions were seen almost daily and we had three separate encounters with Leopards and five with Cheetahs, including watching a mother and cubs share a kill! Added to this were hundreds of Giraffe, Eland, Elephants, Buffalo, Warthogs and Kudu meant there was almost always something to look at.
As well as the incredible mammal and bird spectacle the landscapes in which we saw of these species was also an important part of the experience. Each biome, came with it’s own set of bird species, which meant we continued to encounter new species until the final day of the tour. Beginning in Arusha National Park we visited the impressive montane forests where Greenbuls and White-starred Robins picked quietly through the understory and both Bar-tailed and Narina Trogons perched sentry-like by the roadsides. Moving west we spent a morning on the incredible arid plains to the North-west of Kilimanjaro. Here we found larks in abundance and spent our time getting to grips with the differences in songs and subtle looks of these cryptic creatures. Moving further West we reached the open Baobab-studded scrublands of Tarangire N.P. Ele-phants were the stars of the show here - clearly demonstrating how they had engineered the entire habitat! Next we moved to the strange Ground-water forests of Lake Manyara where African Crowned Eagles hunted in open clearings and our first Hippos wallowed in the thick mud on the fringes of the drying lake. Gaining elevation we soon found ourselves passing through the highlands with amazing vistas down into the Ngo-rongoro Crater passing by the windows. A plethora of mammals inhabited the short grass plains of the crater and birds included regal-looking Kori Bustards and Grey-crowned Cranes (the latter voted bird of the trip). The central Serengeti held several new and exciting birds as well as wonderful close encounters with Leop-ards. Finally our last three days were spent around Ndutu were we found the largest numbers and concen-trations of mammals which we could scarcely believe to be real!
Although we focussed on the whole experience and wildlife in general we did do spectacularly well for birds. Not only did we record an incredible 457 species (including of 400 lifers for some members of the group), but we also found all the most localised birds of the region. As well as the easier Serengeti endemics of Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Fischer’s Lovebird, Usambiro Barbet and Rufous-tailed Weaver we managed to track down the often difficult Grey-crested Helmet-shrike and, for the first time on this itinerary, even succeeded in locating the extremely restricted Karamoja Apalis. In Tarangire we found good numbers of Ashy Starling (endemic to Tanzania) and our visit to the plains North of Arusha paid dividends with good numbers of the ultra-rare and endemic Beesley’s Lark. Lake Duluti also remains a reliable site for the near-endemic Taveta Golden Weaver, which we found in good numbers this year. Such an amazing ‘clean sweep’ was due in no small part to a combination of a very knowledgeable driver and some rather sharp-eyed group members.