TANZANIA’S EASTERN ARC & PEMBA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Kilimanjaro airport, situated between the towns of Arusha and Moshi.
Providing the weather is clear, we should see the majestic peak of Mount Kilimanjaro rising high above the plain. From here we will drive southeastwards to Same for an overnight stay.
This afternoon we will explore the dry, hot, bush country of the Pare plains. Here the avifauna is akin to that of Tsavo West National Park in Kenya, although, as we happily face no restrictions here on having to stay in our vehicles, looking for some species is distinctly easier.
In particular, we shall be hoping to find the furtive Scaly Chatterer and Pringle’s Puffback, as well as the amazing-looking but localized White-headed Mousebird and Tsavo Purple-banded Sunbird.
The thick acacia scrub should be alive with birds this morning. Comical-looking White-bellied Go-away Birds and Northern Red-billed, Von Der Decken’s and African Grey Hornbills perch up prominently. Glittering Eastern Violet-backed, Hunter’s, Variable and Beautiful Sunbirds should be easy to find as they flit from one flowering bush to another. Pink-breasted Larks, Zanzibar Sombre Greenbuls, White-browed Scrub Robins and Northern White-crowned Shrikes may also be found perched in the larger bushes and small trees, while the branches of the larger acacias are regularly inspected by roving Abyssinian Scimitarbills. Spotted Morning Thrushes sing joyfully and the loud calls of Slate-coloured Boubous sound from the depths of the thickets, while Red-fronted Tinkerbirds ‘poop’ away through the heat of the day. Beautiful Blue-capped Cordon-bleus and Purple Grenadiers search for food beneath these same bushes.
If we are reasonably fortunate we will also find such desirable species as the striking African Bare-eyed Thrush, Pygmy Batis, the distinctive cathemagmena form of the Rosy-patched Shrike, the incredible Golden-breasted Starling, Southern Grosbeak-Canary and Somali Golden-breasted Bunting. If conditions are right then we may also see Straw-tailed and Steel-blue Whydahs in breeding plumage, and we will keep an eye open for Fire-fronted Bishop, an irruptive and irregularly seen species that is occasionally found here.
The presence of a large reservoir nearby adds diversity to the birdlife and additional species that we coulkd well find during our visit to the Same region include Pink-backed Pelican, Long-tailed and White-breasted Cormorants, Western Cattle, Little and Great Egrets, Black, Squacco, Striated (or Green-backed) and Grey Herons, Marabou, Yellow-billed and Woolly-necked Storks, Sacred and Glossy Ibises, African Spoonbill, White-faced and Fulvous Whistling Ducks, Egyptian Goose, Red-billed Teal, Osprey, Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Common and Augur Buzzards, African Fish Eagle, Tawny and Long-crested Eagles, Lanner Falcon, African Jacana, Water Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, Blacksmith and Spur-winged Lapwings, Kittlitz’s Plover, Common Greenshank, Ruff, Wood and Common Sandpipers, Grey-headed Gull, Gull-billed, White-winged and Whiskered Terns, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Namaqua, Red-eyed, Ring-necked and Laughing Doves, African Orange-bellied Parrot, White-browed Coucal, African Palm and Little Swifts, Blue-naped Mousebird, Grey-headed and Pied Kingfishers, European and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, European and Rufous-crowned Rollers, Green Wood Hoopoe, Black-throated, D’Arnaud’s and Red-and-yellow Barbets, and Nubian Woodpecker.
Passerines include African Pied and Western Yellow Wagtails, Grassland Pipit, Barn and Lesser Striped Swallows, Dark-capped Bulbul, Northern Brownbul, Northern and Isabelline Wheatears, Rufous-tailed Rock Thrush, Spotted and African Grey Flycatchers, Eastern Olivaceous and Upcher’s Warblers, Winding, Rattling and Ashy Cisticolas, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Grey Wren-Warbler, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Red-fronted Warbler, Northern and Red-faced Crombecs, Abyssinian White-eye, Mouse-coloured Penduline Tit, Isabelline Shrike, Long-tailed Fiscal, Sulphur-breasted Bush-Shrike, Common Drongo, Pied Crow, Superb and Wattled Starlings, the restricted-range Swahili Sparrow, Yellow-spotted Petronia, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Vitelline, Chestnut, Lesser Masked and Black-necked Weavers, Red-billed Quelea, Red-billed Firefinch, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Black-faced Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia, African Silverbill, Village Indigobird, Pin-tailed Whydah, Reichenow’s (or Yellow-rumped) Seedeater and White-bellied Canary.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Day 2 Now that South Pare White-eye is treated as a full species, we will ascend South Pare Mountain this morning until we find this highly localized Tanzanian endemic.
We will also have time to look for some more dry bush country birds before we head southeast until we reach the West Usambara Mountains.
Extensive cultivation and plantations surround the town of Lushoto, an old German settlement, and, as is only too often the case with African mountains, the natural forest has been reduced to just a few remnants on the tops. We will continue past the town to our comfortable, homely guesthouse, situated in a delightful valley somewhat reminiscent of alpine Europe, where we will stay for three nights.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Days 3-4 During our stay we will visit some very productive montane forest above Lushoto. Here, at around 1750m, we will find that the temperature is pleasantly mild compared with the hot plains.
We shall need plenty of time in order to find all six of the very special birds that live here. The notoriously shy Spot-throat, although numerous, prefers to stay inside the forest, under the cover of tangled vegetation, and thus requires much patience in order to see it well. A bird of ‘uncertain affinities’ as the taxonomists say, it has alternatively been classed as a thrush or a babbler, but is currently placed in its own family together with two close relatives!
These forests are also home to a plain, but nonetheless charismatic, West Usambara endemic, the Usambara Ground Robin (also a bit of a skulker, but one that has a rather sweet song), the endemic Usambara Thrush and the lovely endemic Usambara Double-collared Sunbird. We shall also be looking through the treetops and scouring the mixed bird parties in the hope of encountering the rare endemic Usambara Weaver, a species that only occurs at low densities and sadly appears to be heading for extinction. The secretive, restricted-range White-chested Alethe lives here too, but again will demand much patience if we are to see it well. At least one special bird is definitely easier to see here, and this is the Red-capped Forest Warbler – now considered to be an African species of tailorbird! Another good bird to look for is the near-endemic Stripe-faced Greenbul.
More widespread species we may well find here or in one of the other Eastern Arc ranges include Mountain and Augur Buzzards, Ayres’s Hawk Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, Eastern Bronze-naped and African Olive Pigeons, Blue-spotted Wood Dove, Tambourine and Lemon Doves, Dusky Turtle Dove, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Red-chested, Barred Long-tailed and Klaas’s Cuckoos, Speckled Mousebird, Common and Scarce Swifts, Bar-tailed Trogon, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Moustached Tinkerbird, Olive Woodpecker, Red-rumped Swallow, Black Saw-wing, Grey Wagtail, Black-headed Mountain, Shelley’s and Placid Greenbuls, White-starred Robin, African Stonechat, African Dusky and Ashy Flycatchers, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Evergreen Forest Warbler, Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, Bar-throated and Black-headed Apalises, White-bellied Tit, Southern Yellow White-eye, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Forest Batis, Southern Fiscal, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Fülleborn’s Boubou, Black-backed Puffback, African Hill Babbler, Grey Cuckooshrike, Fork-tailed Drongo, Kenrick’s, Waller’s, Red-winged and Sharpe’s Starlings, Olive Sunbird, the dazzling Malachite Sunbird, Baglafecht, Village (or Black-headed) and Dark-backed Weavers, Red-faced Crimsonwing, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Southern Citril, Streaky Seedeater and Oriole-Finch. An endangered endemic mammal, Lushoto Mountain Squirrel, may also be seen. At night we may find Usambara Nightjar around the lodge.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Day 5 Today we will leave the West Usambaras, retracing our steps down the Umba River valley to the main road which skirts the somewhat lower East Usambaras, separated from their neighbours by the wide Lwengera River valley. We will stop along the way and we may find Common Buzzard, Ring-necked Dove, White-browed Coucal, White-rumped and Little Swifts, Striped Pipit, Rock Martin, Grey-olive Greenbul, Dark-capped Bulbul, White-browed Robin-Chat, Cliff Chat, Red-faced Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Variable Sunbird, Spectacled Weaver, African Golden Weaver (the local form is sometimes split as Ruvu Weaver) and African Firefinch.
Eventually, we will take the dirt road that leads up to the Amani Nature Reserve for a three nights stay. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Days 6-7 In the East Usambaras some extensive forest patches still survive within and around a large tea estate, and during these two days we will explore this exciting part of Tanzania. The old government buildings around Amani, a reminder of colonial days gone by, are slowly crumbling away, along with the memory of the ‘great days’ of the British Empire.
The ‘town’ does, however, happen to be surrounded by beautiful forest and in the flowering and fruiting trees nearby we should see the endemic Banded Green Sunbird, the near-endemic Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird and, if we are lucky, Amani and Plain-backed Sunbirds. Despite its name, the former is a rather irregular visitor in the Usambaras. The endemic Usambara Hyliota also occurs here, but this active little bird can be remarkably elusive in the canopy and so we shall need to be very attentive to passing bird parties in order to find it.
The panoramic view over the nearby hills gives us an opportunity to look for raptors such as African Cuckoo-Hawk, African Goshawk and the uncommon Southern Banded Snake Eagle. We shall be birding from the tea-estate roads and also along a number of small trails cut specially for walkers and eco-tourists that will allow us to gain access to the otherwise impenetrable forest understorey.
Many special birds occur in this forest and we shall be making a concentrated effort to locate one of the rarest, the near-endemic Long-billed Apalis, at one of its few known localities. In the same area we shall be listening out for the distinctive bulbul-like calls of the skulking Kretschmer’s Longbill. This bird loves vine tangles, and coaxing one into view is never easy. Although the forest can often be quiet, the silence is sometimes broken by the raucous cries of the Fischer’s Turaco and we will enjoy seeing this stunning bird with its brilliant crimson wings and red crest. In the dense forest undergrowth, we may well encounter the pretty Sharpe’s Akalat as well as the distinctive local form of the Pale-breasted Illadopsis (which has such a different voice that it is surely a distinct species). At night we shall try to locate the endemic Usambara Eagle-Owl, although there is far more chance of finding African Wood Owl.
More widespread birds we are likely to encounter in the Amani area include Long-crested Eagle, African Green Pigeon, the gorgeous African Emerald Cuckoo, Green Yellowbill (or Green Malkoha), Mottled and Böhm’s Spinetails, Brown-hooded and Half-collared Kingfishers, Trumpeter Hornbill, Green Barbet, Mombasa Woodpecker, Green and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds, White-eared Barbet (the local form is sometimes split as White-lined Barbet), Scaly-throated and Lesser Honeyguides, Eastern Honeybird, Green-backed and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Lesser Striped Swallow, Little, Yellow-streaked and Tiny Greenbuls, Eastern Nicator, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Red-tailed Ant Thrush, Kurrichane Thrush, Lead-coloured Flycatcher, African Yellow and Little Rush Warblers, Green-backed Camaroptera, Little Yellow and Black-and-white Flycatchers, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, East Coast Boubou, Square-tailed Drongo, Green-headed Oriole, White-naped Raven, Collared and Purple-banded Sunbirds, Green-backed and Peters’s Twinspots, Common Waxbill, Pin-tailed Whydah and Cabanis’s Bunting. The only mammals we are likely to see are Gentle Monkey (the local form sometimes being split as White-throated Guenon) and Zanj Sun Squirrel.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Day 8 Today we will descend to the lowlands and then travel to the coastal town of Tanga.
From Tanga airport (where colonizing House Crows are everywhere), we will catch an morning flight across to the island of Pemba for an overnight stay at a comfortable resort. Pemba Island, with its extensive clove plantations, lies about 50 kilometres off the Tanzanian coast and is particularly well known for its superb coral reef diving.
For the birder the main interest of this Indian Ocean island lies in its four endemics – Pemba Green Pigeon, Pemba Scops Owl, Pemba White-eye and Pemba Sunbird. The white-eye and sunbird are both garden birds at our hotel, but the green pigeon may require a little more searching for at a beautifully cool patch of remnant forest, which is also home to the restricted-range Mangrove Kingfisher. This is also where we will be looking for the scops owl, which is quite common here but can take a bit of persistence.
During our stay on Pemba, we shall also be on the lookout for the strange Crab-plover, the sole member of its family, feeding on the sand flats in the company of a variety of shorebirds, while other specialities include the attractive Dickinson’s Kestrel, the restricted-range Sooty Gull and Saunders’s Tern. There is also a good chance here for the restricted-range White-cheeked Tern.
More widespread species we should also encounter include Little Grebe, Western Cattle, Dimorphic and Great Egrets, Striated Heron, African Sacred and Hadada Ibises, White-faced Whistling Duck, White-backed Duck (uncommon), African Pygmy Goose, Yellow-billed Kite, African Harrier-Hawk, Great Sparrowhawk, Palm-nut Vulture, Common Moorhen, African Jacana, Water Thick-knee, Grey (or Black-bellied) Plover, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Common Greenshank, Wood, Common, Curlew and Terek Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Stint, Eurasian Whimbrel, Greater Crested and Lesser Crested Terns, Red-eyed Dove, Brown-headed Parrot, African Palm Swift, African Pygmy and Pied Kingfishers, European Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Crowned Hornbill, Barn and Wire-tailed Swallows, Grassland Pipit, Zitting Cisticola, African Paradise Flycatcher, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Pied Crow, Black-bellied Starling, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, and Bronze and Red-backed Mannikins.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Day 9 After some final birding on Pemba we will take a flight to Dar-es-Salaam and then head westwards to Morogoro, a small town at the base of the Uluguru Mountains, where we will stay for two nights. We will stop along the way to look for Böhm’s Bee-eater, Coastal Cisticola and anything else of interest.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Day 10 The Ulugurus are a spectacular range rising steeply from the flat plains to about 2600m. On one of our two full days in the mountains a twisty dirt road takes us through open farmland where the localized Bertram’s Weaver can be found, as well as Mottled Swift, Angola Swallow, Trilling Cisticola and Yellow Bishop.
Our four-wheel-drive vehicles will only be able to get us so far and then we will be faced with a hike through farmland before we reach the forest. Although the lower slopes of the Ulugurus are largely deforested, there are still a few quite unspoilt patches on the tops which contain some very special birds. The original forest here is a sadly threatened remnant of what was once a more extensive forest dating back some 25 million years.
In particular, this marvellous place is home to the endangered Uluguru Bushshrike, a species not only endemic to the Ulugurus but with a population thought to number less than 1,000 individuals. The cool, moist forest offers shade as we begin our search for the bushshrike as well as such specialities as the beautiful endemic Loveridge’s Sunbird. More readily found are the attractive, restricted-range Olive-flanked Ground Robin, the gorgeous Orange Ground Thrush and the restricted-range Chapin’s Apalis.
More widespread species should include African Hawk-Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Livingstone’s Turaco, African Black Swift, Mountain Wagtail, Mountain Thrush, Cape Robin-Chat, Willow Warbler, Dark Batis and White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher. We may also encounter Spotted Eagle-Owl.
We will also visit another area of forest which is good for the distinctive endemic Uluguru (Mountain) Greenbul and the noisy endemic Winifred’s (or Mrs Moreau’s) Warbler.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Day 11 Today our journey will take us southwards through Mikumi National Park. The main road runs right through the park and we will certainly see some large mammals as we pass. We will stop for anything of particular interest en route, but we shall be returning to explore the park later.
Eventually, we will reach Sanje, situated not far from the border of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, where we will stay overnight.
This afternoon we will continue towards Ifakara and explore the flood plain of the Kilombero River. Here, in 1986, ornithologists surveying for a bird atlas followed up a report from a local doctor that there were some unusual weavers breeding in the inundated grasslands of the flood plain. The team were able to catch several of these birds, which have now been officially described as a new species, Kilombero Weaver.
The weaver was not the only discovery as two different types of cisticola were also trapped, neither of which could be identified at the time. As it turned out both of these proved to be new to science as well! However, they have still yet to be officially described and for the time being, they are known as White-tailed Cisticola and Kilombero Cisticola.
With three species new to science found in recent times, the Kilombero area obviously has great potential! We shall concentrate on seeing these three special birds during our visit, but we shall also search for some of the other swamp and open country birds of the area. Along the Kilombero River, we should find Coppery-tailed Coucals, here at the northernmost edge of their range, calling noisily from exposed perches. If we are lucky we will see the delicate Red-necked Falcon (which makes lightning dashes, skimming the reed tops, to surprise the abundant seed-eating birds on the open plains). Sand spits along the river provide convenient resting places for the stunning White-crowned Lapwing, and we may also see African Wattled Lapwing, Three-banded Plover and tiny Black Crakes (the latter creeping in and out of the reedy edges). Colourful White-fronted and Little Bee-eaters hawk from exposed perches, while overhead Hooded, White-headed and White-backed Vultures soar.
Depending on the water levels, other birds we could find here or in the surrounding area include Great White Pelican, Reed (or Long-tailed) Cormorant, African Darter, Grey, Purple, Black-headed and Squacco Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, Intermediate (or Yellow-billed) Egret, Hamerkop, African Open-billed Stork, Spur-winged Goose, Black-winged Kite, Brown Snake Eagle, Bateleur, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, African Fish Eagle, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole, Common Ringed Plover, Marsh and Green Sandpipers, Little Stint, African Skimmer, Black-and-white and Diederik (or Didric) Cuckoos, Striped, Malachite and Giant Kingfishers, Lilac-breasted Roller, Grey-rumped Swallow, Plain Martin, Arrow-marked Babbler, Sedge, Lesser Swamp and African Reed Warblers, Siffling Cisticola, Red-winged Warbler, Anchieta’s Tchagra, Grosbeak Weaver, Black-winged Red and Zanzibar Red Bishops, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Parasitic Weaver, Zebra Waxbill and Pin-tailed Whydah.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Day 12 After some final birding around Ifakara we will retrace our steps to Mikumi National Park for a two nights stay.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Day 13 Mikumi National Park, Tanzania’s fourth-largest park, is about 3230 square kilometres in extent and is made up of wooded hills, grassy plains along the Mkata River and areas of miombo woodland (characteristic of a vast swathe of Africa from central Tanzania to Zambia). We shall enjoy the comforts of a wonderfully situated luxury safari lodge overlooking an area of miombo.
Here the birding is in much more open habitat and decidedly easy compared with the montane forests. As we explore Mikumi we will begin to discover a totally different avifauna from the one that has gone before.
In particular, we will be looking for miombo specialists such as the endemic Hofmann’s Sunbird, Racket-tailed Roller, the localized Pale-billed Hornbill, Speckle-throated Woodpecker, Northern Pied Babbler, Arnott’s Chat, Collared Palm Thrush, Stierling’s Wren Warbler, Cinnamon-breasted Tit, Jameson’s Firefinch and Orange-winged Pytilia.
The more open areas of the park feature grassy plains with the occasional small waterhole that invariably attracts a variety of birds and mammals. Sometimes it will be a Hippopotamus wallowing, sometimes an Impala coming to drink or perhaps a huge Southern Ground Hornbill that strides by, and there are always the tame Long-tailed Fiscals and the gaudy Superb Starlings. The grasslands hold a wealth of cisticolas, including Croaking and Desert, as well as the aptly-named but bizarre-looking Secretary Bird, numerous Red-necked Spurfowl, Helmeted Guineafowl, Black-bellied Bustard, Black Coucal, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Moustached Grass Warbler, Red-headed Quelea and White-winged Widowbird.
Where the bush and scrub is more developed we will look out for Coqui and Crested Francolins, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Crested Barbet, African Penduline Tit, Eastern Black-headed Batis, Black-crowned Tchagra, Miombo Blue-eared and Violet-backed Starlings, Southern Cordon-bleu, Yellow-fronted Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting.
Raptors are also much in evidence in this habitat and we may well come across Black-chested Snake Eagle, Montagu’s Harrier, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Grasshopper Buzzard, Steppe, Wahlberg’s and Martial Eagles, and Eurasian Hobby.
Although we are confined to vehicles inside the park, we will visit some fine woodland outside its borders where we are free to walk at will. In these more wooded habitats, we could well find Purple-crested Turaco, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Scheffler’s Owlet, Common Scimitarbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Black-collared Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, Bearded Woodpecker, Neddicky, Pale Batis, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Brubru, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Black-headed Oriole, Yellow-throated Petronia and Red-headed Weaver.
Other birds we may well see during our stay at Mikumi include White, Saddle-billed Marabou and Yellow-billed Storks, African Spoonbill, Egyptian Goose, Knob-billed Duck, Spotted Thick-knee, Blacksmith and Crowned Lapwings, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Levaillant’s, Black, and African Cuckoos, African Hoopoe, Green Wood Hoopoe, African Grey Hornbill, Flappet Lark, Mosque Swallow, Common House Martin, Arrow-marked Babbler, Northern Wheatear, Spotted Morning Thrush, Southern Black, Pale and Spotted Flycatchers, Rattling Cisticola, Yellow-bellied and Green-capped Eremomelas, Red-faced Crombec, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, White-crested Helmetshrike, Red-backed Shrike, Tropical Boubou, Grey-headed and Sulphur-breasted Bushshrikes, Black Cuckooshrike, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, Amethyst, Scarlet-chested and Beautiful Sunbirds, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Lesser Masked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea and Red-billed Firefinch.
At dusk or dawn, we may come across Gabon and Fiery-necked Nightjars.
Mammals are very much in evidence here and we should encounter Yellow Baboon, Spotted Hyaena, African Elephant, Burchell’s Zebra, Common Warthog, Giraffe, African Buffalo, Eland, Bohor Reedbuck and Brindled Gnu (or Blue Wildebeest). Wild Dog occurs in the park, but we will need much luck if we are to see this rare animal during our stay. At night we could see Greater Galago, Ratel (Honey Badger), Common Genet and African Civet around our lodge.
Tanzania’s Eastern Arc & Pemba: Day 14 After some final birding at Mikumi, you will transfer (by air only if there is an available flight, otherwise by road) to Dar-es-Salaam international airport, where the main section of our Ultimate Tanzania birding tour ends this afternoon or evening.
UDZUNGWA & RUBEHO MOUNTAINS EXTENSION
Tanzania (Udzungwa & Rubeho): Day 1 Those taking the Udzungwa & Rubeho Mountains section of our tour will continue southwestwards from Mikumi to the Iringa area for an overnight stay.
Along the way we will visit some beautiful habitat in a valley draped in acacias and punctuated by bizarre-looking baobabs. Here we should find two localized Tanzanian endemics, Ashy Starling and Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill, as well as Grey Kestrel, Meyer’s (or Brown) Parrot, Spot-flanked Barbet, Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Western Violet-backed Sunbird. We may also get lucky and find a third endemic, Yellow-collared Lovebird.
Tanzania (Udzungwa & Rubeho): Days 2-7 During these six days we will explore the Udzungwa Mountains of eastern Tanzania, camping for a total of four or five nights in two different locations, with a night at a comfortable lodge in the Iringa area in between the two camping sessions.
The Udzungwa Mountains National Park covers an area of 1900 square kilometres (734 square miles), reaches an altitude of 2579m (8462ft) and supports a biologically diverse flora and fauna. No roads enter the park and the thick and tangled forests do not give their secrets up easily. In order to have a realistic chance of seeing some very special birds, we shall need to trek twice into the heart of the park where we shall set up camp.
The beautiful forested slopes of the Udzungwas hold a number of rare and little-known birds. In 1983 the very attractive endemic Rufous-winged Sunbird was first described from the park. The sunbird is reliant on certain trees being in flower and is usually to be found in different habitat to the partridge. To this day the species has been seen by relatively few people owing to its restricted distribution, hard-to-reach location and its little-understood movements, but we have a very good chance of seeing it during our visit.
Notoriously, on 4th June 1991 a new species of partridge was discovered in a cooking pot by some visiting ornithologists at the end of an exciting day in the field! They realized quite quickly that they could not identify what they were about to eat and the hunt was then on to find a live version of the ‘kwale ndogo’ (or ‘small partridge’) that the cooks had earlier caught by the camp and then prepared for the evening meal! It turned out that a local ornithologist was also aware of the existence of this new bird for science. Eventually, live birds were found and it has transpired that this endemic gamebird, now formally described and named Udzungwa Forest Partridge, is most closely related to the Southeast Asian hill-partridges. We shall, of course, be making considerable efforts to see this remarkable bird.
The near-endemic Dapple-throat (formerly Dappled Mountain Robin) is a retiring and skulking denizen of the undergrowth which will very likely demand much patience and determined searching. Nowadays it has a special interest as it has been placed in its own bird family alongside its relatives, Spot-throat and Grey-chested Babbler (formerly known as Grey-chested Illadopsis). It is one of those birds that can be very close while singing, yet very hard to spot, perhaps only dashing out from its hiding place with a whirr of wings before disappearing again.
Other special, restricted-range birds of this part of Tanzania include the endemic Yellow-throated Greenbul, the pretty Swynnerton’s Robin, Black-lored and Churring Cisticolas, the superb White-winged Apalis, Chapin’s Apalis of the race strausae, the rather sombre-coloured, endemic Iringa Akalat, the endemic Moreau’s Sunbird, Forest Double-collared Sunbird, Yellow-browed Seedeater, the uncommon endemic Kipengere Seedeater and scarce Lesser Seedcracker.
More widespread species we may encounter in the mountains or on their drier fringes include Cassin’s Hawk-Eagle, African Grass Owl, Square-tailed Nightjar, Narina’s Trogon and Green-backed Honeybird, although all these are rather uncommon. More reliable are African Broadbill, Singing Cisticola, Slender-billed Starling, Abyssinian Thrush and Yellow-crowned Canary. Areas of heathland are home to Brown Parisoma and Brown-headed Apalis.
The scarce Iringa Red Colobus, now thought to number no more than 450 individuals, occurs in these forests alongside Angola Pied Colobus, and we stand a reasonable chance of encountering both of these striking primates during our visit.
Tanzania (Udzungwa & Rubeho): Day 8 Today we leave the Udzungwas behind and travel to the equally remote Rubeho Mountains.
Tanzania (Udzungwa & Rubeho): Days 9-10: The second important focus of our explorations will be the Rubeho Mountains, situated to the northwest of the Udzungwas, where we will be particularly wanting to see three more endemic specialities of the Eastern Arc, Rubeho Forest Partridge, Rubeho Akalat and Rubeho Warbler.
The local Southern Fiscals here are of the form marwitzi, sometimes split as Uhehe Fiscal.
Tanzania (Udzungwa & Rubeho): Day 11 Today we will return to Dar-es-Salaam international airport, where our tour ends this evening.