Tanzania – Days 7 and 8 – More Central Serengeti, More Birds

Our tour continued in the Central Serengeti area adding new bird species, grand vistas, increasing numbers of ungulates and more lions, Our trip list for bird species in Tanzania had grown to over 250 species and especially since we were in similar habitat to ones we had covered in the previous few days, it was getting harder to find new species, but we were in some drier country, and we did add 28 new species on February 21 and another 25 the following day. Birding in South American countries like Ecuador, Peru and Brazil (for me and certainly other places where I have not birded) it always seemed like there could be yet another species around every corner with even small changes in habitat leading to more species, and with species density being so great, even going back over the same places again and again, new species would be found that were previously missed. Especially on the plains in Africa, where there is neither the same density of species nor certainly the same density of supporting plant life, it did not seem that new species would so readily appear. However, what African birding lacked in density was made up for by coverage as we would travel through pretty large areas, always on the lookout for something new.

On the morning of February 21st we again traveled through the area from Kubu Kubu to the Seronera area in the Serengeti and then continued along the Seronera Circuit to the North Park Entrance. Pictures of many of the birds we found are grouped below. It was a good morning for photos including three new lifers and a photo of a lifer from the previous day that I had not photographed. Unfortunately I did not keep detailed lists along the way so I did not realize that with these three new lifers, I was now over 3000 species worldwide. Reconstructing the morning from photo data, I believe that in retrospect, the Isabelline Shrike was species number 3000.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that there were restrooms in the parks at entrance gates or sometimes at other places used for rest stops or picnic areas. There were also a few commercial enterprises at these areas for sundries, coffee, candy etc. These photos give a sense of these spots and the entrance gates themselves.

A Lovely Attendant at One of the Spotless Ladies Restrooms
Blair and Cindy at One of the Serengeti Entrances
Food Truck
Coffee Shop – Coffee is a Major Crop in Tanzania and the Coffee was Excellent
Speed Limit in the Park was 50 Kilometers per Hour (about 31 mph) and was generally followed, good advice on bumpy dusty tracks, except when racing off for Big Cats. Buffalo Skulls and horns were at most entrances.

As written previously, most of our animal encounters were hardly action scenes – mostly grazing or sleeping with little interaction. There were two notable exceptions on these days in the Serengeti. The first was a challenge for dominance at a waterhole filled with Hippopotamuses. While a couple dozen other hippos basically remained unmoved, swishing their tails, almost fully submerged and often grunting, two large bulls faced off and pushed each other around, gaping mouths open with long razor-sharp tusks. This continued for many minutes until one finally convinced the other that he was the boss. Neither suffered any visible damage, but we expect one at least suffered damage to his ego and standing in the community. When the tussle was done, both males acted as if nothing had happened with the loser only retreating a few yards and all was quiet again – grunting aside.

A Battle for Dominance – the Hippo on the Left Prevailed

The second action sequence was even briefer than the hippo battle but involved even larger animals as two elephants pushed each other around for a few moments as we watched not sure what was at stake or what would happen next. Then a third elephant joined the fray. There was some trumpeting and movement, but it did not last long, and we wondered if it was a family feud or maybe some kind of family bonding. After a few moments the elephants moved off as if nothing had happened.

The Initial Face Off
A Third Elephant Enters
Was It a Family Feud or Family Bonding?

We continued to see lions on both of these days in the Serengeti and hoped for another leopard or our first cheetahs. It was not to be. Hard to be disappointed with “just more lions”, but we had been spoiled. We had been told that there were some lions in the park that were rock climbers – often settling on top of kopjes (pronounced “copies”) either for the warmth of the rocks or perhaps a better lookout spot. It was always a surprise to see a rock outcropping as the rest of the grasslands were incredibly flat with only the rocks, mostly acacia trees, termite mounds and animals rising above the flat land. We expected that lions might be atop rocks that were maybe 5 or possibly ten feet high. When we finally saw “rock lions”, they were on boulders that were at least 20 feet high and did not seem to have clear paths up. Of course, we only saw them from the front, but it still seemed an impressive feat.

This Lioness Rocks
I Guess Pigeons are not Lion Food

In the previous blog post, I promised a big section on shorebirds seen on the trip. Reviewing lists and photos, though, I see that while many were seen on these two days and previously, my lifers were seen later, so I am putting off that writing until later in this blog. Instead, however, I am including a section on starlings, a much-maligned species in the US where we only have the introduced European Starling that is found almost everywhere. It has its moments when its iridescence is in full color and in good light, but it is an otherwise dim cousin of the many striking and even beautiful starlings of Africa. We saw 8 species on this tour and I was able to get ok photos of them all. I have seen 8 other species of starling elsewhere and hope there will be more to come.

The late birding on the 21st added two lifers and some really cool birds. The lifers were Tanzanian Red Billed Hornbill and Straw Tailed Whydah. The hornbill had only relatively recently been split from Northern Red Billed Hornbill as a new species, and the Whydah in addition to be a very neat bird also completed the Whydah Grand Slam with the previously seen Steel Blue, Eastern Paradise, Pin Tailed Whydahs and the Village Indigobird. These other Whydahs were new for the trip if not my life list but were great additions.

Tanzanian Red Billed Hornbill – Lifer
Straw Tailed Whydah – Lifer
Rufous Crowned Roller
White Bellied Bustard

February 22 (Day 8) would be a movement day leaving Kubu Kubu and ending up at Ndutu and the Southeastern Serengeti. Birding started again within the Central Serengeti later moving to the Ndutu area with over 100 species for the day – 25 new for the trip bringing us well over 300 species for the tour and I would add another 7 lifers. This was one of the days where there was no official Ebird lists so I lumped everything together on an eight-hour list of my own and I really cannot separate the list into parts of the areas we visited. I am not going to try to be specific and will just cover all the birding for that day – skipping over many of the mammals seen again – except for the Dik Dik, the third smallest of the African antelopes, which greeted us in the morning at Kubu Kubu. Weighing under 10 pounds, they are solitary grazers that are monogamous (rare for antelopes) and are decidedly “cute”.

Dik Dik

In no sequential time order here, I am going with some of the great birds, starting with two species of francolin and two species of sandgrouse that we saw, one of each of which were lifers for me. I was particularly keen to see and photograph the sandgrouse. Sandgrouse are visually like a cross between a dove and a grouse. I had seen one of the species, the Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse in Hawaii during my 50/50/50 project (where like most birds on the islands, it is an introduced species), but had not gotten a photo. How much better to see and photograph it on its native turf. The other sandgrouse was the Yellow Throated Sandgrouse – and a third species, Black Throated Sandgrouse, would be added later in the trip.

Chestnut Bellied Sandgrouse -Life Photo
Yellow Throated Sandgrouse – Lifer

The lifer francolin was the Coqui Francolin, one of 9 gallinaceous birds (francolins, quail, spurfowl and guineafowl) seen on the trip. The Coqui is smaller than the Crested Francolin (the other francolin seen that day) and the male is easily distinguished by its golden/rufous head. Altogether I have seen 16 species of gallinaceous birds in Africa with most seen on the side of roads as we drove through various habitats. On the roads they jump out, but in the grass, they are well camouflaged and can be nearly invisible.

Coqui Francolin – Lifer
Crested Francolin- Also Seen in Kenya

I mentioned earlier that vulture populations or at least their presence seemed to be much lower than expected. This was maybe the best day for seeing them, as we had a small group at a rotting carcass, some perched and many soaring in the air. On my previous visits to Africa there had been at least one scene where dozens of vultures were scavenging a carcass – a raucous and gory scene. On our trip we had six species of vulture, missing only the Palm Nut Vulture from my Africa list (seen in Kenya) but they were often distant or soaring high in bad light. The pictures below are from a number of different sightings/locations. I was not able to get photos of Hooded or White-Headed Vultures.

Ruppell’s Griffon
Lappet Faced Vulture
White Backed Vulture
Egyptian Vulture

As was often the case, dry savannah was intermixed with water holes or riverine areas or ponds so there was the chance to see shorebirds and other water-oriented species. OK, here it is the afore-promised collection of shorebirds. Twenty-eight species seen – 5 lifers in RED.

In the afternoon, we were in drier country and started seeing larks. By far the greatest number were Fischer’s Sparrow Larks, but we also had both Red-Naped and Red-Capped Larks. I got photos of these three species and would later add Short-Tailed Lark. If I had been the only person in the vehicle, I may have gotten photos of Fawn-Colored and Flappet Larks earlier but it was just too hard to stop the vehicle in time to get photos of birds that were both hard to see and also usually on the run. Later in the trip I would also miss a photo of a White Tailed Lark but at least I got a good view as it scurried off.

To close out this blog post I am adding some miscellaneous species that were seen this day and at other times as well.

Black Crakes
Pied Cuckoo
Purple Grenadier
Rock Martin

It has been another great day and we now left the Central Serengeti and would spend time in the Ndutu area with nights at Ndutu Lodge. Although we would not see the massive migration hoped for due to he late arriving rains, this would be the area where we saw it beginning and hopefully predators would follow prey.

One thought on “Tanzania – Days 7 and 8 – More Central Serengeti, More Birds

  1. Stunning photos what an amazing trip
    I also saw the chestnut-bellied sandgrouse in Hawaii how special to see them in their native habitat

    amazing pics glad you and Cindy had a blast with the animals, birds and people


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