Welcome to Birdquest
Sunday 8th March - Friday 20th March 2015
This incredible tour through Arusha and Tarangire National Parks, the Ngorongoro Crater and finally over the seemingly endless plains of the Serengeti surely has to be the ultimate wildlife travel experience out of anywhere in Africa if not indeed the whole world! The journey is simply one of those ‘must-do’ pilgrimages that all ecotourists should make at least once in their lifetimes. During just thirteen days in the field we managed to record colourful endemics such as Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Fischer’s and Yellow-collared Lovebirds, Ashy Starling, Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill and regional specialities such as Taveta and Rufous-tailed Weavers, the little-known Karamoja Apalis and the elusive Grey-crested Helmetshrike. To add to the bonanza of birds there was a wealth of mammals with cats featuring prominently during our game drives and we also gained a remarkable insight into the workings of this huge and almost untouched ecosystem. Under the panoramic skies and across the expansive plains of the Ngorongoro and Serengeti, we were able to witness one of the greatest concentrations of large mammals on earth. After all the wildlife documentaries that have been made on the area the first time visitor feels a sort of familiarity with the place but no widescreen television or Imax cinema can ever recreate or replace the amazing jaw-dropping and absolutely astonishing experience of actually being there! The sheer spectacle of being surrounded by grunting gnus and hee-hawing zebra combined with the obvious pleasures of a rich and vibrant avifauna, makes this tour a marvellous and deeply moving experience. Despite the huge number of tourists passing through the region it is still possible in this enormous space to escape the gaggles of vehicles that gather around sleepy lions, stealthy cheetahs or secretive leopards and set out in order to discover ones own wonders. It is indeed exhilarating to head off into the wide blue yonder in search of the next wildlife encounter travelling over huge tracts of country where one never sees another car or human being apart from perhaps the occasional Masai warrior or cowherd draped in vivid red and striding purposefully across the apparently infinite landscape. Our adventure began at Lake Duluti where we found Brown-breasted Barbet and Taveta Golden Weaver in the grounds of our comfortable lodge overlooking the lake itself. In Arusha National Park we found our first big game whilst exploring the low-lying plains and lakes favoured by numerous Lesser Flamingos and we also wended our way up the slopes of the mountain and associated craters where we found forest species such as Hartlaub’s Turaco, Stripe-faced Greenbul and Black-fronted Bushshrike. A morning visit to the Lariboro Plains at Engikaret gave us the exceedingly rare Beesley’s Lark before moving onto Tarangire National Park dominated by its Baobabs, African Elephants and endemic Ashy Starlings and Yellow-collared Lovebirds. A night drive produced fantastic Spring Hares, Lions at a kill as well as Slender-tailed Nightjar and Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. Leaving Tarangire we drove through Lake Manyara National Park. The lake was virtually dry and there was little in the way of waterbirds but large numbers of Chestnut-banded Plovers were seen by the hot springs and there were Purple-crested Turacos in the woodlands. An overnight stop en route to the crater was productive as it gave us a Montane Nightjar and an early morning Bat Hawk. The Ngorongoro crater was quite simply amazing! In the forests we found Brown-headed Apalis and on the crater rim there were Jackson’s Widowbird, glittering Golden-winged Sunbirds and the unassuming Lynes’s Cisticola whilst down below we witnessed large numbers of Abdim’s Storks and the mass of herbivores and attendant Lions did not fail to impress. It was only reaching the Serengeti itself that we realised something was truly wrong for as the road led us down through stunted Whistling Thorn and spiky wild Sisal the region became drier and drier and clouds of dust billowed across the plains. The short rains had been insufficient and now the long rains had failed which meant that the enormous numbers of Serengeti White-bearded Wildebeest were not present in the south and had retreated to the Western Corridor where we discovered large numbers in the thicker bush still mixed with their fellow travellers – the Common Zebra searching for food. We did well for cats generally and had multiple encounters with Lion, Cheetah and Leopard. We also scored well with the special bird species and found a pair of Karamoja Apalis, a party of Grey-crested Helmetshrikes as well as endemic Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill and Fischer’s Lovebirds. Although the wildebeest had deserted the plains around Ndutu there were still large numbers of Grant’s and Serengeti Thomson’s Gazelles presumably feeling safer on the short grass plains and once again the big cats were prominent. We even found the less commonly seen Serval Cat and also managed sightings of Ratel for all and even a Striped Hyena for one car! Other noteworthy species seen included Hildebrandt’s Francolin, Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Hartlaub’s Bustard, Caspian Plover, Yellow-throated and Black-faced Sandgrouse, Nyanza Swift, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Spot-flanked, Black-throated, Red-and-yellow and D’Arnaud’s Barbets, Eastern Grey Woodpecker, Greater Kestrel, Red-bellied Parrot, Long-tailed and Taita Fiscals, Red-throated Tit, Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark, Foxy, White-tailed, Short-tailed and Athi Short-toed Larks, Mountain and Grey-olive Greenbuls, Trilling and Hunter’s Cisticolas, Bar-throated and Black-headed Apalises, Grey-capped Warbler (heard only), Grey Wren-Warbler, Rufous Chatterer, Black-lored and Northern Pied Babblers, Banded Parisoma, Abyssinian and Montane White-eyes, Hildebrandt’s and Kenrick’s Starlings, African Grey Flycatcher, Silverbird, Rüppell’s Robin-Chat, Schalow’s Wheatear, Tacazze and Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds, Grey-capped Social Weaver, Kenya, Swahili and Chestnut Sparrows, Speke’s, Layard’s and Golden-backed Weavers, Blue-capped Cordon-bleu, Straw-tailed Whydah, Southern Citril, Reichenow’s Seedeater and Southern Grosbeak-Canary.