Tanzania – Day 2 – Arusha National Park

After the multi day/multi hour flight to Tanzania and the 11 hour time change, we had no idea how sleeping would go and how we would feel for our first morning in Tanzania. Breakfast was a civilized 7:00 a.m. and our trip to Arusha National Park would not start until after 8:00. Under the circumstances, sleeping went well and we made it to the generous breakfast on time and were ready to go, excited for the adventure. The basic set-up for the tour would be travel in two safari vehicles – Toyota Land Cruisers with 8 passengers each and a pop top. Each had the driver and guide in the front two seats and six tour members in back with three rows of two passengers each with a window. A good policy was that each day, passengers would rotate – the two in the back would move up to the middle, the middle would move to the front and the two in front would go to the other vehicle, replaced by two from that vehicle who had been in the front and now would go to the back. This completely removed some of the friction that has occurred on some tours where seats are literally fought over.

A bit more background: Our two guides were Kevin Zimmer from VENT and Anthony Raphael from Tanzania Birding Tours (tanzaniabirding.com), the local partner for VENT. Our two wonderful drivers were Godbless and Moses. Kevin has been leading this trip for VENT for many years but is probably even better known for his guiding excellence in Brazil. In addition to his formidable birding skills, Kevin is a great storyteller and all around good company. Just give him a Coke Zero and he is a happy guy. Anthony also has amazing birding skills, extremely knowledgeable with an uncanny knack for finding birds in dense foliage and high up in the trees. Anthony was also the go to guy for any administrative needs or help finding anything you needed. Godbless and Moses were excellent drivers and really fun to be with. If you are wondering about those names, in Tanzania, when you reach a certain age (maybe 18) you get to pick your own name. Those were their choices.

Our Safari Vehicles

After breakfast we boarded the vehicles and were off. In what would be a familiar pattern, we would head for a destination but might bird along the way once we got off city roads, stopping at likely places or where one of the guides spotted a bird of interest. Our main destination would be Arusha National Park, a small park of only 215 square miles. Being only 8 miles from our lodge, we went directly to the Entrance gate where we birded on foot for a while and then turned off the main park road onto the side track to the Fig Tree Arch. In just under 2 hours, we saw 28 species (no lifers yet). As tempting as it is to detail each species and include photos, if I want to get these blogs done, that is too large a task. Instead I am going to include a list of species as reported on Ebird, including just a few photos. We were now in mammal country so there will be lots of those photos as well.

Yellow Breasted Apalis
Spot Flanked Barbet
Cinnamon Chested Bee-Eater
Speckled Mousebird
Variable Sunbird

At the entrance gate, we also had our first “elephant” – an amazingly life-like creation. From the Momela Gate Entrance, we drove to Fig Tree Arch – a giant fig tree with an arch at the base large enough to drive through – truly an awesome tree. Along the way we observed 18 bird species – 12 new for the trip, including two spectacular birds: Hartlaub’s Turaco and Bar Tailed Trogon. In addition to the Trogon, I had 5 other lifers including Scaly Spurfowl. It seems like there is confusion or disagreement about using names “spurfowl” or “francolin”. We would see many on this tour.

Momela Entrance Gate “Elephant”
At the Fig Tree Arch
Scaly Spurfowl (Lifer)
Hartlaub’s Turaco
Bar Tailed Trogon – Lifer

We spent the rest of the afternoon birding in the Park along the Momela Lakes Circuit. Now our birding would be mixed with our first mammal watching including giraffes, elephants and zebras. And this is where it gets really hard to pick what to write and what pictures to include. with a variety of habitats we had forest birds, water birds, shorebirds, and birds of more open country – 56 species in all including 6 species of waterfowl, 6 species of swifts, and 8 species of shorebirds. The only lifer was a Moustached Grass Warbler – sadly no photo. Among the avian highlights were our first Greater and Lesser Flamingoes, Little and White Fronted Bee-eaters, 50 Ruffs and our first Gray Crowned Cranes.

Greater Flamingo
Lesser Flamingoes
White Fronted Bee-eater
Little Bee-eater
Gray Crowned Crane

All told we had 70 species for the day bringing our trip list so far to 116 species. This included 12 world lifers for me and many new photos (I did not keep a running account of these.) I expected that the parade of lifers would slow but I was feeling pretty good that I would get to my minimum target of 37 to get to my self-imposed important target of 3,000 species. Cindy was enjoying the birds but it was really the scenery and the mammals that got to her. She was hooked when we saw our first distant tableau of giraffes, impalas, wildebeests and zebras.

Later we had a herd of zebras very close including a mother and colt and then had a giraffe that was towering over us from maybe 25 feet away and lots of warthogs. The first elephant was also pretty close and knowing that it could charge and tip over the vehicle brought home that we were most definitely in Africa.

Zebra Colt
Warthog Boar
Giraffe Above Us
A Very Real Elephant

It was then back to Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge for another fine dinner and a celebratory Gin and Tonic, which soon became our favorite drink in Africa. It was a bit warm in our room which did not have a fan (turned out we should have asked for one), but we left the screened windows open and it got comfortable pretty soon. My best moment of the day was when Cindy called the trip “life changing”. You really have to see the animals in the wild yourself to understand; and we were just beginning.

Our Room at Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge

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