Tanzania Days 17 and 17 and a Half – The Tour Ends Where It Began…

There will only be one more blog post after this one and it will be nothing like any of its precursors as it will not have anything to do with animals or birds or fancy lodges or wilderness preserves. It will focus entirely on the non-safari world in Tanzania, the day-to-day images of Tanzania as reflected in information from online sources and photos taken by Cindy Bailey from our vehicle as we traveled through towns and cities on our way to our far different privileged lodges and reserves. This post closes out that privileged visit to a magical place – as we returned to Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge, where our visit first began now two and a half weeks ago – preparing for our flights home to the “Western World”, far removed from Tanzania.

After breakfast on March 3rd, we loaded onto the two safari vehicles for the last time and we headed back to Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge, where it had all began seemingly ages ago. Day rooms had been reserved for everyone to spend their time before being taken to the Kilimanjaro Airport for early evening flights to Amsterdam and then “home”. Everyone that is except Cindy, me and Kevin Zimmer, our leader from VENT. Our flights would not leave until the next day with us going back through Doha, Qatar and on to Seattle. Kevin would be returning to his home in California for a well-deserved rest.

On the way back to Ngare Sero we stopped at the Arusha Cultural Center, a privately owned collection of shops and galleries that showcases arts from renowned artists around the African continent. It is one of the largest in east Africa and is located along the Arusha – Babati highway on the outskirts of the city of Arusha – Tanzania. This was a last chance to acquire souvenirs or remembrances from this amazing country. There had been shops at several of the lodges, but the things we liked the most were from Ngare Sero. Cindy and I try to bring some local art from each trip and we looked forward to the Cultural Center collection. We found what we thought was a perfect carving only to find out that it was from Gabon. There is an art style in Tanzania known as “tinga tinga” – a tourist art first created by Edward Tingatinga who started copying local animal paintings of animals seen on safaris and then depicting them in a whimsical and colorful style. Perhaps not a “high” art form, but very fun and the elephant painting we purchased would be welcomed back home.

Our Tinga Tinga Painting

We also made a few birding stops on the way from the Sopa Lodge to the Park exit gate – 68 species in just under two hours. Then it was along the highway through Arusha. None of the species were new for the trip so the final total was 432 species. Since none were new, the ones I have included here are of some species seen earlier but not included in earlier blog posts but which should have a place in this compilation of my memories.

African Fish Eagle
Cinnamon Breasted Bunting

Red Backed Shrike

Ruppell’s Robin Chat
Black-Lored Babbler

That afternoon we said our goodbyes and 10 of our group were off to the airport. I continued to look – without success – for the Peter’s Twinspot. Cindy and I joined Kevin for a last dinner and retired to our room – a huge suite atop the main lodge building. The next morning, I made a last sweep of the grounds at Ngare Sero and once again failed to find the Peter’s Twinspot, but as is often the case there was a consolation prize. When Cindy and I arrived at Ngare Sero way back on February 15th, the others had already gone on a morning bird walk and one of the birds found was an African Emerald Cuckoo. Another was not seen the next two days. This morning I was pretty sure I heard the Cuckoo’s distinctive call – described by some as “Hello, Geor-gie”. But where was it? It was across the creek high up in the canopy, barely visible through dense foliage, but unmistakable. I did not have a recording to try to lure it closer and after a few moments it flew off – silently. It was species #432 for my Tanzania list – oddly one more species than I have seen in 50 years of birding in my home state of Washington, where that number ranks high. But there are twice as many species in Tanzania as in Washington, so at best, just a good start. The Cuckoo is a gorgeous bird, even more so than the Klaas’s and Dideric Cuckoos which we saw often and photographed. It would have been nice to add that photo to my collection, but it was not to be. Judge for yourself which is the more striking.

Our trip back to Seattle was very long – again with a many hour stopover in Doha, Qatar and a complication on seat assignments as the airline changed my seat without notice and then I found someone else sitting in the new one anyhow. Fortunately, we persuaded one passenger to swap seats so at least Cindy and I sat together – in the center section as opposed to an aisle and window seat as we had selected originally. It took many hours after our return to go through the thousands of photos, trying to identify species, running them through processing programs and matching them to Ebird lists, complicated as mentioned in an earlier blog by Ebird reports coming in late and not always matching day lists. Those were very minor issues for a trip that essentially went off flawlessly – an excellent job by VENT, our drivers Moses and God Bless, local guide Anthony and especially our leader, Kevin Zimmer. I can recommend him to everyone and maybe someday will be able to join him in Brazil – his real area of birding expertise.

We had seen and photographed the “Big 5” and many more incredible mammals. We had seen even more bird species than expected and although some were missed, some were seen that were not really thought likely. I had seen 432 bird species in Tanzania, had photos of 340 of them, added 77 species to my world life list and more than 200 to my world photo list. We had seen some extraordinary places and met some extraordinary people. Weather had been great and with the exception of some intestinal discomfort early on, we had not health problems. Most importantly we had a great time and Cindy enjoyed it so much, she was ready to go back to Africa anytime. She was a trooper throughout the trip and was not at all hampered by the torn rotator cuff and corrective surgery that had us on pins and needles for the three months before we departed. We have been back almost 10 weeks now and she can hardly remember that injury but sure remembers Tanzania.

At the end of each trip, VENT asks the participants to name their top 5 birds and top animals seen. With so many extraordinary bird species, it really is impossible to choose. And how do you compare an elephant to a lion or rhinoceros or leopard or giraffe? For Cindy the animal choice was easy – she loved them all but really loved the giraffes the best. For me, it had to be the cheetahs, maybe in part because I had only poor interactions on earlier trips. As to the birds, well nothing will ever compare to a Secretarybird or a Lilac Breasted Roller, but I had seen and raved about them before, so for this trip I decided it would be something less striking, more obscure – a Double Banded Courser or a Straw Tailed Whydah – both lifers and both high on my want to see list. No better way to end this long line of blogs than with photos of those favorites.

Cindy’s Giraffe
Blair’s Cheetahs
Double Banded Courser
Straw-Tailed Whydah

Well maybe one better way – a last photo – Cindy and Blair at Lake Manyara – yes, very touristy – but that’s what we were – two extraordinarily fortunate guests in beautiful, life changing Tanzania!!

Tanzania Day 16 – Last Day in Tarangire – One Last Heron, One Last Sandgrouse

After breakfast at the Sopa Lodge we drove a loop through part of Tarangire National Park to Silale Marsh and back. Birding was once again very good and we continued to see many mammals including the Tarangire “Red” Elephants. A morning highlight was finding our third sandgrouse of the tour, Black Faced Sandgrouse. I had seen this species previously but did not have a picture. Our bird was very cooperative remaining on the road in good enough light to get a photo through the pop top roof.

When birding in Washington there are four possible doves/pigeons to be seen: Rock Pigeon (generally feral). Band Tailed Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove and Mourning Dove. A very rare occasional visitor is the White Winged Dove. There are also some records of African Collared Doves, most likely escapees. In Africa, doves and pigeons are commonplace, many species, many individuals and generally heard throughout each day. We had 12 species on the tour (nothing new for Africa) and there are 59 species on my world list, so they are obviously found in many other locations in Asia, South and Central America, and Australia. The one dove that was seen most often on the trip – and seemingly heard constantly – was the Ring Necked Dove. I am not sure why some doves are noted as having rings while others have collars as the general appearance of the ring or collar is very much the same. I am sure there were days with more and probably more this day as well, but our Ebird lists for the day show 170 Ring Necked Doves. The photos below might seemingly provide an answer with the ring being narrower than the collar, but the collar on the Eurasian Collared Dove is as least as narrow as the ring of the Ring Necked Dove – I give up.

Eurasian Collared Dove – or is that a ring?

The driver radio network kicked into life with the report of a group of lions. As we passed a marshy area on our rush to see them, I noted a small heron on the water which I thought had a good chance of being my main target for the day, a lifer Rufous Bellied Heron. Had I been driving or been in charge, I would have stopped immediately. This was one of only a few times when being with a group was a disadvantage as the chance to see more lions overrode the chance for the heron. My request for a stop was put off with, “we will try for it later”. I acknowledge the higher value of “group” compared to individual, but in this case, I think a stop was in order. First, there were other birders in the group for whom the heron would have been a lifer species. Second, we had already seen MANY lions and the reality was that there was a high probability that whatever lions were there were probably resting and would not move from he spot, thus would still be there after a 5-minute stop for the heron. I did not press any of these points, but admit, that I was saving them for a rejoinder if the heron was not relocated later. Fortunately there was a happy ending for everyone.

We quickly located the lions (now over 90 for the trip) and of course they were immobile, lazing in the heat of the day. Now, I acknowledge that after all they were LIONS – awesome animals and a prize on any safari. And yes, I did not let my vision of fleeing herons stop me from taking photos of the lions including a young male and a lioness with a tracking collar. But, please, please let’s not stay too long as birds have wings. know how to use them and I really wanted one more lifer.

After a v-e-r-y l-o-ng observation of the lions, we retraced our steps and looked for the heron. There were several connected ponds and none were really close to the road. As we approached, I saw a dark wader in flight going from one pond to – well hopefully the next one where it would land. I grabbed a flight shot and then fortunately it did land and we could confirm that it was the Rufous Bellied Heron. I never got a great photo of the back-lit bird or of a second one we found, but all was forgiven and my world list, Tanzania list and photo list had grown by one.

These are a little out of sequence time-wise but other new birds/photos for this penultimate day included Buff Crested Bustard, the Black Capped form of D’Arnauds Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, and Northern Pied Babbler.

Buff Crested Bustard
Greater Honeyguide
Northern Pied Babbler

I also got lifer photos of Mosque Swallow, Cut-throat and White-Headed Buffalo Weaver and Telling a story on myself – I am most definitely quite fallible, when I was originally going over and trying to identify photos, I identified the photo of the White-headed Barbet included in a previous blog as a White-Headed Buffalo Weaver. They do look a bit alike, and the names are similar at least to start, but that is the kind of thing that occurs when good notes are not taken in the field,

Mosque Swallow
Terrible Photo of Backlit Cut-throats

It was another great day with more than 80 species including the five new ones for the tour and one lifer. It also included a favorite photo of a giraffe reaching for a favorite food. They really are awesome creatures – and that tongue!!

Giraffe Stripping Leaves from a High Branch

Tanzania Day 15 – Tarangire National Park

Welcome to March in Tanzania – Day 15 of the tour. We departed Manyara Serena Lodge and headed to Tarangire National Park. This was another one of those days when the official Ebird lists compiled by the VENT guide was submitted long after the end of the trip and I had put together a list of my own as a placeholder. The trouble though was that the total species lists did not completely jibe as my list came from the pre-dinner end of day consolidated list and there were a few species that did not show up in the VENT lists that were on mine and vice versa. The bottom line is that all new species for the day I entered in Ebird (from the day list) included all new species for the tour, just some are not reflected in the right order sequentially. That is a long introduction to the fact that this blog post is not going to describe what was seen in what specific area – rather is a compendium of everything seen that day which includes travel from the Manyara Serena Lodge to the Tarangire Sopa Lodge.

All told we had 0ver 100 species for the day including 22 new for the tour – a pretty astonishing amount given that we had birded pretty hard for the previous 14 days and the habitat covered this day was only slightly different than on other days. It is a testament to the abundance and diversity of birdlife in Tanzania. Perhaps even more remarkable to me was that I added seven species to my world list and I was able to get photos of five of those species (along with other “lifer photos”) but missed a photo of a Freckled Nightjar which was spotlighted in flight at night at Sopa Lodge and also of a Pallid Honeyguide that was seen briefly and buried in foliage.

Mottled Spinetail – Lifer
Yellow Collared Lovebird – Lifer
Long Tailed Fiscal – Lifer
Ashy Starling
Pangani Longclaw

All new species and new photos are always welcomed but it was particularly nice to get to see and photograph the Longclaw, Ashy Starling and Fiscal as they are found only in a limited range including parts of Kenya and Tanzania. In the afternoon we added two spurfowls to our trip list, the aptly named Red Necked and Yellow Necked Spurfowl. These were in addition to Crested Francolins and Helmeted Guineafowl, the latter becoming a running joke as “prairie flounders” because of their distinctive flattened body shapes.

Helmeted Guineafowl – “Prairie Flounder”

On almost all days during the trip, there were water birds – either at a lake or at watering holes where the water birds shared space with mammals, crocodiles, monitor lizards and especially hippos. On this day we had our first⁸ looks at the also aptly named Knob Billed Duck with, yes, a knob on the bill of the male, akin to that on pelicans in breeding season. It is very much like the Comb Duck of South America. The Knob Billed appears with geese before other ducks in the species classification scheme. Is it a goose or a duck? The Knob Billed Duck was either only our 8th species of duck on the tour or our 3rd species of goose. How unlike birding in my native Washington where in February it is very possible to have more than a dozen species of duck and another 5 species of geese on a single day of birding.

White Faced Whistling Ducks – Lifer Photo

I know that there has been far more about birds than mammals in many of the most recent posts, but every day there were mammals to be seen. They were not always the Big Five and maybe not as important at the time as another new bird, but they were an important part of each day and the special awareness of being in such a special place. Each one was not necessarily seen each day, but on one day or another there would be a Dik Dik or a Hyrax or a Mongoose or a Warthog or a Chameleon to go along with the elephants and zebras and giraffes and antelopes and others. Here are photos of some of those animals.

African Hare
Banded Mongoose
Nile Monitor
Dwarf Mongoose

Before arriving at Tarangire National Park, we were told that it was famous for “Red Elephants”. The reference was to the many elephants in the Park that in fact appeared red as they were covered by the red soils they wallow in to provided protection from insects. We could understand this because of all the places we visited in Tanzania, this was the one with the most flies and also the most heat with temperatures in the 90’s but fortunately not terrible humidity. The insects were almost exclusively small flies with a few mosquitos. A small number of the flies were the infamous Tsetse flies – infamous because they are known as carriers of parasites that cause African sleeping sickness, African trypanosomiasis. The disease is extremely uncommon, but when I was bitten by one, a bite that feels like a quick sting, visions of a horrible future ran through my brain. Fortunately the disease is extremely rare and we were told that programs are in place that combat the carrying of the troublesome parasites.

Tsetse Fly – Ouch!!

Back to the elephants. They really did look red and there were lots of them. There was one elephant that the group paid more attention to and commented upon more than any other. It was not nearly as red as many others but it had one very large feature that was definitely noticeable – a gigantic erect penis. Seeing it was one thing, but learning more about this extraordinary organ was fascinating and not in a lurid way. When fully erect it can weigh over 65 pounds and exceed 4 feet in length. Most amazingly it is prehensile, which not only helps in what could be a challenging copulation but also in swatting flies, propping itself up and even scratching its stomach.

Tarangire “Red” Elephant
Elephant Erection – An Amazing Organ

I cannot end on that unusual but admittedly fascinating note. Have to end with some more birds – new for the trip and/or new for my blogs including our 5th owl for the trip

African Scops Owl
Red Bellied Parrot
Northern Red Billed Hornbill
White Headed Barbet
European Roller
Emerald Spotted Wood Dove – with Emerald Spots (on wing)

The next day would be the last official day of birding before heading back to Arusha for departure on the morning of March 3rd – for everyone that is except for Cindy Bailey and me and leader Kevin Zimmer. We would be spending another night at Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge before our flights home on March 4th. Our trip list was now at 426 species. There would not be many more but maybe there would be another lifer or two and of course many more photos.

Tanzania Day 14 – Lake Manyara

I was confused. In my head I thought I had visited Lake Manyara on my Kenya trip in 2007 and did not understand how it could be on a Tanzania trip. Maybe it was very large and both countries bordered on it. Nope. Its entire 125 sq. mis. are within Tanzania. Checking Kenya lists, I found Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Lake Baringo and going over those lists, found some overlap with species but our visit to the Lake and Manyara National Park although short was productive and a number of new species were added to our Tanzania list, to my photo list and to my World List. And this was despite the fact that the lake was very high and had flooded some of the roads that the tour had used in the past to access some excellent birding areas. We continued to see great animal wildlife including more lions and noted the large numbers of baboons, and the warnings to keep track of our food at any stops or we might be raided.

We would be moving from Tloma Lodge to Manyara Serena Lodge so we had a box lunch in the Park and birded there all day. Another word. With the exception of the Gibbs Farm lunch, food on the trip was not fancy, but it was always good, well served and in quantities that ranged from too much to even more than too much. And since there was not that much walking, I should not have been surprised to have gained weight on the tour – maybe the gin and tonic routine helped. In the park we had 70 species including 10 new ones for the tour, taking us over 400, and 5 of them were new lifers for me. We also had one of my favorite observations of the trip, a large group of Black Herons using their wings to form a canopy to aid their fishing. Our guides said they had seen this behavior on only a few occasions and only with a handful of birds. We were able to see more than 50 of these birds giving us quite the display – and it was a life bird for me as a topper!

The other world lifers at Lake Manyara were Yellow-spotted Bush Sparrow, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Collared Palm Thrush and Common Nightingale. The latter is known for its rich and powerful song and for being very plain. I never heard the song, got only a quick glimpse in the foliage and did not get a photo. It is “common” in Europe and I have two trips to Europe in the future and hope to hear and photograph it there.

Yellow Spotted Bush Sparrow – the Yellow Spot on the Throat Not Visible in this Photo
Yellow Bellied Greenbul with a VERY Visible Yellow Belly
Collared Palm Thrush

There were three other birds (and photos) of note for me at Lake Manyara. The first is the Verreaux’s Eagle Owl which we found at a known day roost. It is the largest of the African owls but somewhat smaller than our Great Horned Owl. We had excellent looks at its oddest and most notable feature, its pink eyelids!! The second was our first Red and Yellow Barbet – noted because I love barbets and like most of them is a very striking fellow.

Red and Yellow Barbet

In some respects the third bird and photo of note was the most important for me, since it was of a bird that I first saw without a photo in Kenya in 2007 and then almost exactly 7 years later as a mega-rarity in my home state of Washington in Neah Bay again without a photo. This time I got a photo – not the same as having one from that Neah Bay visitor, but very satisfying to plug that hole for Eurasian Hobby in my seen but not photographed list.

Eurasian Hobby

There was another raptor commonly found in Europe that cooperated for a photo. The previous day there had been several Common Buzzards in a kettle with other raptors. No photo. On this day one posed nicely and the photo was easy. On a good day for raptor photos we also had a cooperative Pearl Spotted Owlet. Similar to our Northern Pygmy Owl, it is perhaps the most common owl in Africa, seen earlier on the trip but this photo was much better.

Common Buzzard
Pearl Spotted Owlet

As we had been warned/advised, there were indeed many olive baboons in the park. None were able to sneak off with any of our lunches, but they were close by as we ate. For the most part I have not included photos of monkeys in earlier posts. Although we saw many and in several different places, they just did not compare in either numbers or perceived (misperceived?) importance to many other mammals. We saw 4 species in Tanzania: Olive Baboon, Sykes Monkey, Black and White Colobus (Mantled Guereza) and Vervet Monkey.

Olive Baboon Mother and Baby
Sykes Monkey
Vervet Monkey
Black and White Colobus Monkey with Young

The next day we would be leaving Manyara and birding in Tarangire National Park – counting down to the end of the trip but with more birds and mammals ahead.

Tanzania Day 13 – Leaving the Crater, Heading to Lake Manyara

February 27th marked our departure from Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge and it gave me one last present, a photo of a Tree Pipit. I had seen one in Kenya and another in India, but had no photo. One of the other birders on the trip thought he had seen one near the lodge. I was able to relocate it and get a quick photo before it disappeared. From Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge, we birded our way to our next destination, Tloma Lodge which would be a one-night stay near Lake Manyara. There would be several stops along the way including a wonderful visit at the beautiful Gibbs Farm for our best food of the trip, beautiful plants and some new birds.

Tree Pipit

Including on the grounds o Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge, on the way to Gibbs Fam, we had 41 species, of which 7 were new for the trip including Bearded and Brown Backed Woodpeckers and my only lifer for the morning a Brown Headed Apalis to go with our first Bar-throated Apalis. I got several good photos of the latter but was not able to get a picture of the lifer but uncooperative Brown-Backed Apalis. Both woodpeckers were more accomodating.

Bearded Woodpecker
Brown-Backed Woodpecker
Bar Throated Apalis

All would agree that the best bird of the morning was the Schalow’s Turaco. We had heard it the previous morning but could not coax it into the open. It appeared briefly in tough light in foliage, but everyone got a good look and my picture is at least OK. I had counted it on my world list earlier and noted “heard only. So much better with a visual and photo.

Schalow’s Turaco

On these tours, birder’s rely heavily on our guides for spotting birds, and especially for identifying birds, often hearing them first, knowing the calls/songs and then searching until they were located. The challenge then was to try to get everyone else to see them. Probably 80-90% of the birds were first found by our guides, but there were some good birders with keen eyes among our group, and it was always good to have many sets of eyes looking for birds. Fining birds in vegetation is not my strength but one bird I was the first to locate was a Gray-headed Nigrita, which looks almost like some of the antbirds of South America. New for the trip, I had seen it previously in Kenya, but this was my first photo.

Gray-headed Nigrita

As an example of keen eyes by other birders on the trip, one spied a nest in a tree where we were searching for a bird that had been heard. While we watched the nest, it’s creator, a White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher flew in. We had seen it before but any bird on a nest is a welcomed discovery.

Altogether on the trip we would see 14 species of Sunbirds. I had missed a photo of Bronze Sunbird earlier but was able to get one that morning. Later at Gibbs Farm, we added Green Headed Sunbird to the tour list. I had seen both in Kenya.

Bronze Sunbird
Green-Headed Sunbird

Yes, as pictured, the head of the Green Headed Sunbird looks very blue. All but one of the photos on Ebird for this species have the same very blue head. In only one does the head appear green. That is probably because colors are not always true in iridescence but it also could be because bird names are not always as logical as we might hope. Another way in which a name can be misleading is when the feature included in the name is only present in the male and not in the female. Such is definitely the case for the European Blackcap, a warbler that migrates from Africa to Europe. We saw the female – my photo below – but not the male with a photo I “borrowed” from the Internet.

The problem with going to Gibbs Farm is that we wanted to stay there. Originally founded as a coffee plantation in the 1920’s, this self described “idyllic retreat” is definitely that – idyllic. It is a luxury lodge and working farm of over 30 acres serving organic meals to those who stay and to those who like us make special arrangements. It is not cheap but is really quite unique, serene and beautiful. Many good birds too including the White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, a lifer, which I saw but could not photograph. At least I saw it but together with the Peter’s Twinspot missed entirely at Ngare Sero, it ranks near the top of the list of birds I wanted to photograph. I did get a photo of a Holub’s Golden Weaver, seen previously in Kenya but not photographed there. The food at Gibbs Farm was beautifully presented and tasted as good as it looked.

Gibbs Farm
Gibbs Farm
White-Tailed Blue Flycatcher – Ebird Photo
Holub’s Golden Weaver

It was a short drive from Gibbs Farm to Tloma Lodge and we arrived in time to check in, have a brief rest and then do some birding on the grounds. We added two new birds for the trip, Arrow Marked Babbler and Scaly Throated Honeyguide, the latter an unphotographed lifer. I also got a nice photo of a species seen earlier, African Paradise Flycatcher, an awesome bird with a tail that seems impossibly long.

Arrow Marked Babbler
African Paradise Flycatcher – Male

At the end of the day, our tour trip list was approaching 400 species, my World Life List was over 3025 and I have no idea what my life photo list was – something that would not be known until well after getting home, going over thousands of photos and trying to remember which was which and then reaching out to friends, Facebook, Merlin, iNaturalist for help.

Tanzania Day 12 – Rhinos in the Crater

The night before Day 12, we had a treat at the Lodge. One of the guests, not in our party, had a birthday. I don’t know how it was arranged but during dinner, many/most of the staff at the lodge came singing and dancing out and serenaded the birthday boy/girl and presented a cake. The singing was in Swahili and the dancing was a combination of local and international modern. It was very well done and enjoyable. We had a similar performance later at another lodge.

February 26th would take us back down into the crater for more birding and animal watching hopefully including some Black Rhinoceros. Different sources provide differing numbers but by one count (consistent with what our local guides said), there are perhaps 60 to 150 Black Rhinos in Tanzania, a drastic reduction in numbers from 50 years ago due to poaching, primarily for the rhino’s horn, and loss of habitat to human expansion. However, since there has been a crackdown in poaching after 2015 when the population was believed to be maybe 15 individuals, there has been a hopeful increase. We were told there were between 20 and 30 Black Rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater. Although we should expect distant views, with the short grass in the Crater, there was optimism we would see some. I had seen both Black and White Rhinos in Kenya 15 years ago. Cindy of course had never seen any.

Although with each passing day the number of possible new species of birds was decreasing, we continued to add new ones to our list. On the 26th, we added another 33 species, bringing us to 382 for the tour. Of these, another 4 were lifers for me – each one highly prized. Additionally, I was adding new photo lifers every day although I did not have an accurate sense of what was new as I had not compiled lists of photos from Kenya and South Africa, a project I would undertake (and spend MANY hours on) when I returned home. The 4 lifers were Common Quail, Schalow’s Turaco, Mbulu White-Eye and Senegal Lapwing. The Quail was seen on the road for a brief second and then for maybe another 5 seconds as it flew off – no photo. The Turaco teased us calling for several moments near the lodge but never made an appearance, so again no photo. Fortunately, the other two lifers were more cooperative. The Senegal Lapwing was especially welcome as was my first photo of a previously seen Long Toed Lapwing (both included in an earlier blog with other shorebirds).

Mbulu White-eye

New for the trip but seen and photographed previously in Kenya was a Tacazze Sunbird. Also new for the trip and new photos for me were two seedeaters, Streaky and Thick Billed. We birded along the lake and at various watering holes and had a really good day for waders, waterfowl and shorebirds. I posted pictures of all shorebird species in an earlier blog so will not do so agin, but I am adding some photos of some of the waders.

Tacazze Sunbird

Two other new birds for the trip and new life photos were Mountain Gray Woodpecker, and Fan-Tailed Widowbird. I also got a first ever photo of a Red-Cowled Widowbird which I had seen earlier.

Mountain Gray Woodpecker
Fan Tailed Widowbird
Red Cowled Widowbird

The birds enjoyed more than any others this day though were the Gray Crowned Cranes that were seen several times and at one spot but on a show as they would jump up into the air, spread their wings and land gracefully. Possibly some courtship behavior.

It took a while, but finally in the afternoon, we had our first rhino sighting. They were at least 1/4 mile away, perhaps twice that far. I was very pleased to get any photo at all. Later we would see some that were closer. We never had killer looks, but given the small population, any sighting was very exciting especially seeing ones with their horns intact – serious weapons for sure. We learned that although the rhinos have very poor eyesight, they have excellent hearing – not that I could imagine them being prey for any predator. Finally we saw a fifth rhino that was “relatively close” – maybe two hundred yards off.

First Black Rhinos
Closer Rhinos
Best Rhino

Just a few more bird photos of new species seen that day – new birds or photos for the trip: Yellow Bishop, Plain Backed Pipit and Baglafecht Weaver.

Yellow Bishop
Plain Backed Pipit
Baglafecht Weaver

The Baglafecht Weaver was the 17th Weaver species seen on the trip. We would add one more later. That total of 18 seemed large to me until I checked my Africa list and found that in all I had seen 35 species when the ones seen in Kenya and South Africa were added in. Actually, to clarify, that is only the ones with “weaver” in their names as bishops, quelea, widowbirds. malimbes, and fodys are considered weavers – 0ver 120 species altogether with two thirds having weaver in their names – wow!!!

Tanzania – Day 11 – The Ngorongoro Crater

We spent the night of February 24th at our new lodging at the Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge. Serena is a group of 36 luxury resorts, safari lodges, and hotels, which are located in East Africa and Central and South Asia. I had previously stayed in one in Kenya. Given some of the places we heard about in East Africa, we have to be careful using the word “luxury”. The word “luxury” has a different meaning to different folks in different places, but there was certainly no complaint about these accommodations – just more of a “touristy” feeling even if luxury touristy than some other places we stayed. Beautiful setting overlooking the Ngorongoro Crater and with lovely individual rooms. We have no idea what the charge was to our tour company for our rooms, but I also just looked up what a room would cost for two next month and see they start at $450/night. That may or may not seem pricey, but it is a steal compared to the suite price (only suites are available) at the Ngorongoro Crater Lodge where the starting price per night is a mere $1325 – per person that is. Of course, the website reminds you that there are “private butlers to take care of your every whim”. We took care of our own whims at our lodge, but they did a great job taking care of everything else.

Our Room at Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge
Ngorongoro Serena Safari Lodge Overlooking the Crater

The Ngorongoro Crater caldera in the Great Rift Valley is an incredible place. Created in an immense volcanic eruption more than 3 million years ago, it is the largest intact caldera in the world over 100 square miles and 2000 feet below the crater rim which itself rises to an elevation of over 7,000 feet. Lake Magadi in the crater adds to its beauty and is home to many water birds including thousands of Flamingos. We would spend two plus days in the area including a visit to Olduvai Gorge where the Leakey’s did their famous work. During our stay we added 48 species to the tour list and I added 7 species to my world list. Altogether we had 217 species in the crater and the rim area near the lodge, half of all the species we saw on the entire trip. Two of the new life birds were added on the 25th, a Short Tailed Lark and a White Throated Robin.

Short Tailed Lark
White Throated Robin

There are a lot of cuckoos in the world – ornithologically speaking here. I have seen 37 species in the world – only 6 of which were seen in the ABA Area. The rest are from Europe (1 species), Asia (5 species), Australia (6 species), South America (7 species/5 unique) and Africa with 12 (plus one overlap) species. Of the 13 species seen in Africa, 11 were seen on this trip. Although members of the cuckoo family are relatively large, it is not always easy to get good photos in heavy foliage. Two seen on the morning of February 25th were very cooperative.

White Browed Coucal
Great Spotted Cuckoo

It was also a good day for raptor photos. A sampling is below. Altogether on the trip we had 42 raptor species and my Africa raptor list is 63. Every time I go over those numbers, I am surprised at how many raptors there are in Africa, but that number compares fairly closely with the 54 raptor species seen in the ABA area and 49 species seen in South America. The difference, however, is that I have seen almost all of the ABA raptors and I know there are many more raptors in Africa that I have not seen – yet. Altogether there are more than 100 raptors in Africa.

Pallid Harrier
Dark Chanting Goshawk

Two other raptors seen earlier in our trip but not included in any blog posts were Augur Buzzard and Martial Eagle. The former was seen on a number of occasions including one where it looked like it was making an African Buffalo very unhappy. We had three encounters with a Martial Eagle, a very fierce looking and thus aptly named bird, it is the largest eagle in Africa. In the picture below, it was perched and appeared to have a very full crop. This is a good place to repeat that vultures, especially in American Westerns, are often called buzzards – an error as the latter are hawks with feathered heads and primarily hunt for and kill their own prey while vultures generally have no fathers on their heads and are almost exclusively scavengers. Unlike in the US where there are only two eagle species, Bald and Golden, there are many more in Africa. We saw 9 species on this trip and I have seen 5 others in Africa and more than two dozen worldwide.

Augur Buzzard and an Unhappy Buffalo
Augur Buzzard
Martial Eagle with a Full Crop

I am not going to catalog all of the species seen on our first day in the crater but want to include a set of photos of Wheatears. There seems to be some uncertainty as to how to classify this group of birds, previously thought to be closely related to thrushes. They are generally rather dull colored and found in drier environments. We saw 5 Wheatear species on our trip including the Northern Wheatear which I have seen as a mega rarity in my home state of Washington and also in Nome, Alaska where there is a breeding population. Normally it is a bird of the Eastern Hemisphere. The new addition to our Wheatear collection in the crater was the Abyssinian Wheatear, joining the previously seen Northern, Capped, Isabelline, and Pied Wheatears. We also had our first Northern Anteater Chat, which is a close relative. These species are generally found on or among rocks where they hunt insects.

We added three more species of Cisticolas on this day as well, Wailing, Hunter’s and Red Faced Cisticolas. This is a reminder to keep better track of photos as they are taken. Back home many days after the observations and without notes or sound recordings, and working off of single photos that do not necessarily include details of characteristics that distinguish species, it has been very difficult (impossible?) to identify this challenging group of similarly appearing birds. I am including photos of the species that I think are accurate but definitely open to input and willing to change or omit. Not shown are Singing, Desert, Trilling and Winding Cisticolas which were seen but not photographed or at least not knowingly photographed. I have seen six other cisticola species elsewhere in Africa and have little or no good photographic evidence of those observations – nasty little buggers!!

A highlight of the day was a visit to the Oldupai Gorge. Note that this is the correct name for the place made famous by the discovery of early skeletal remains believed to be of mankind’s earliest ancestors to walk the earth. It is more commonly known as the Olduvai Gorge and is thought of as the “Cradle of Mankind”. Pioneering work by Mary and Louis Leakey found early remains which they claimed as Homo habilis a direct pre-ancestor or Homo sapiens. There is a museum on site which includes a reconstruction of one of the early finds and there were birds around the museum which also caught our attention. The whole area of paleoanthropology is fraught with uncertainty but what is certain is that the Oldupai site remains as one of the most important in the search for our earliest human ancestors.

Early Hominid

A fun species seen at the museum was the Speckled Pigeon shown here with another similar and attractive pigeon species, Rameron Pigeon. Also including a new dove for the trip, Dusky Turtle Dove shown with a daintier Laughing Dove. Doves and pigeons belong to the same family of birds, Columbidae, and I think in general pigeons are larger and stockier. Altogether we had 12 dove or pigeon species on the tour. Near the museum we also had several species of Sunbirds – Variable, Beautiful, Scarlet Chested and Eastern Violet Backed.

Speckled Pigeon
Rameron Pigeon
Dusky Turtle Dove
Laughing Dove
The aptly named Beautiful Sunbird

Another new bird for the 25th was a Hildebrandt’s Spurfowl. We would see two additional species of spurfowl later (Red and Yellow Necked). I mentioned in an earlier blog that some of the species I had seen in earlier trips had been renamed from francolin to spurfowl. I am not sure these descriptions are authoritative, but one source suggests that: “Francolins have quail like upperparts while spurfowls have streaked or vermiculated back feathers. Francolins typically crouch and sit tight before flushing when disturbed, whereas spurfowls tend to run for cover.” (University of Capetown) Another says: “Francolins are smaller and have yellow legs whereas spurfowls are generally larger and have orange, red or black legs. Spurfowls have backwards-facing spurs on their heels which they use during their courtship dueling.” I checked my photos to see if the leg color suggestion held. Only a few of my photos included the legs, but where they did, the colors matched the suggestion. On the other hand, we saw two fighting Crested Francolins and there were backwards-facing spurs.

Hildebrandt’s Spurfowl (Note the orange legs)

Although I have not included any of their photos for this blog, there were as always lots of mammals this day, but we did not find the one we were most eagerly looking for – Black Rhinoceros. Spoiling the suspense, we did find them on the 26th and their story will be told there. We did have lions and antelope and warthogs and of course birds on the plains including some of our best looks at Common Ostrich. Weighing as much as 320 pounds, standing as tall as 9 feet and able to run up to 43 mph, they are really pretty awesome.

Common Ostrich

My last photo included for February 25th is a species that Cindy really liked – Egyptian Goose. Maybe they would have more appeal to me if I had not only seen them in Africa but also in Florida and Arkansas in the U.S. where they are ABA “countable” even though recognized as introduced. They were the waterfowl species seen most often on the tour, present at almost every waterhole and any other body of water.

Egyptian Goose

At the lodge that night we went through our usual routine of gathering before dinner to do “the list” for the day. The only negative for this was that there were a few occasions where a species was seen by one of the vehicles but not the other. Generally there was good communication but if there was one thing that I wish was done better was communication by our Tanzanian guide, Anthony. He was a terrific person and a great birder in addition to being the organizational glue for the tour. But he at times did not let the other vehicle know what he/they were seeing. It really happened seldomly, but with every bird being a potential lifer, I missed a couple that maybe I would have seen otherwise. A really good part of the routine was that we usually had a drink while going over the list. The drink of choice became tonic water over ice with a lime. Maybe half of the time, we added some gin. Somehow that just felt better than a glass of wine in this setting.

Tanzania Day 10 – Ndutu and on to the Ngorongoro Crater

September 24th: We left Ndutu Safari Lodge after breakfast and continued our birding/wildlife safari in the Ngorongoro Conservation District and the Southeastern Serengeti. This was our worst day for birds so far but that statement only means that it was great but not as great as other days. We saw some wonderful birds and some wonderful animals. There would only be 64 species seen this day and only three were new for the trip – Temminck’s Courser (a lifer), Steppe Eagle and Pygmy Falcon. On many occasions earlier we had tried to make a Tawny Eagle into a Steppe Eagle and either did not have a good enough view to be certain or fairly quickly concluded it was “just another Tawny Eagle“. I had seen many of both species in earlier visits, so I didn’t “need” one, but it was great to finally get a good look where we could clearly see a key differentiating feature – the gape extending to and past the eye.

Steppe Eagle

I never got the photo I wanted of the Temminck’s Courser but any photo of a new life bird is a prize so I was happy with it (included in a previous blog post and again here). I was also very happy to get photos of the Pygmy Falcon, my first ever for the species.

Temminck’s Courser
Pygmy Falcon

The other species may not have been new but especially with continuing photo ops interspersed with more mammals it was constant fun and there was a continuing need to “be ready” as we never knew what would come next. The configuration in the safari vehicles with each person having his/her own window seat. Windows for the first two seats would roll down halfway and for the others, the windows would slide – so never fully open but with enough room to get decent camera angles. Alternatively, we could stand up either on the floor or on the seats and get great views without obstruction in the space below the pop top roofs. Ok, pretty good, but then there as the challenge of the bird being on the opposite side of the vehicle to where you were sitting. If the bird was perched or at least moving in a particular tree, there was generally time to stand up and get over to the other side of the vehicle and find a view angle. For me it was less of a problem than probably anyone else, because I always sat across from Cindy who was very accommodating in making room for my camera. As every birder knows, however, birds have wings and they know how to use them, so they do move around and although many of the African trees are much less densely leafed than our forest trees or the rainforest, it was still often challenging to “find the bird” and even if you did to find it without branches in the way of a clear shot photo. That’s another way of excusing my missing photos or getting pretty poor ones. Fortunately, that happened less often than might have been the case.

This was how photos could be taken through the windows (front row). I preferred the pop top if more flexibility was needed.

One of my favorite birds from previous Africa trips was the Eurasian Hoopoe. It is also seen in Europe and I had seen it in Kenya, South Africa and India. There has been some talk of it being split into two species, so our notation on our Ebird lists was “Eurasian Hoopoe (African)“. I had great unobstructed views in those other countries and hoped for the same in Tanzania for Cindy, but our only looks were either really distant or mostly obstructed. It is really a cool and unique bird. The first photo is from Tanzania, and the second is from India.

Eurasian Hoopoe – African in Tanzania
Eurasian Hoopoe – India

Randomly adding some other photos from the day, here are a Pied Cuckoo, a Fork Tailed Drongo, a Rufous Tailed Weaver and a Brown Snake Eagle. Photos of almost all of the other species seen have been included in earlier blog posts.

Pied Cuckoo
Fork Tailed Drongo
Rufous Tailed Weaver (The Tail Really Is Rufous)
Brown Snake Eagle

Okay, so much for the birds. How about lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Right – sorry, we were still in Africa so no tigers or bears, but this would be another good day for lions and most importantly Cindy would get her first cheetah and later yet more. Our first treat was something we had not only not expected but did not know even existed. Just as we had had “rock lions” earlier, now we would have a “tree lion”. We knew that leopards were tree climbers but even large ones are smaller than lions. Maybe it is only females and not the big males but it was clear that this lion was an accomplished climber as she was at least 15 feet up in a tree.

Not long afterward we found a group of lions including a young male with as many bugs on his face as any we had seen. We, too, were starting to have some flies around us in the van – not particularly enjoyable for us and probably not so for him either although it just seemed to be part of the daily existence.

Young Male Lion with Flies

There was lots of game animals around – zebras, wildebeests, and antelopes, but as had been the situation earlier, the grazers grazed and the predators – rested. In fact we only had a couple of occasions where we even saw the cats move – one was the tree climber coming down from the tree. A second happened shortly after out fly covered lion visit when we saw a large cheetah walking through the grass. Its belly appeared quite full, either recently well fed or possibly pregnant. Cindy had her cheetah and all cameras were busy capturing this beautiful animal.

Cindy’s First Cheetah with Full Belly
Too Gorgeous for Words

So another great morning and with our beautiful cheetah, the pressure was off to find one for Cindy. Looking back it is easy to focus on the special animals like the cheetahs and lions, but the reality was that all of them were amazing and beautiful and it was such a privilege to be in their wild environment and not in a zoo. That morning we had one of our best close-ups of a hyena, a much-maligned predator/scavenger on the plains and a really good look at a herd of impalas, animals that are commonplace and thus overlooked, but well worth a close study to appreciate their beauty. Even the wildebeests or Brindled Gnus, were awesome to see up close.

Spotted Hyena
Female Impalas
Brindled Gnu – Wildebeest

We had checked out of the Ndutu Safari Lodge and were heading to the Ngorongoro Crater where we would stay at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge for two nights. On our last afternoon in the Serengeti as we headed towards our new accommodations, we had what was probably my favorite wildlife encounter of the trip. Our weather had been wonderful, with rain only at night and temperatures mostly very pleasant. As we traversed the plains, a light rain began to fall. Word arrived through the driver grapevine that a group of cheetahs had been seen not far ahead. We arrived on the scene in lightly falling rain and under darkened skies. Four cheetahs, a mother and three of her almost fully grown cubs were huddled together completely in the open, the nearest tree a couple hundred yards away. We had to share the view with two other safari vehicles, but in the vastness of the Serengeti, it was as if we were invisible, and we were captivated and mesmerized by the cheetahs as if they were the only things that existed. We watched for maybe 30 minutes as they shifted positions only slightly, always tightly together as if they were a single being, a beautiful fabric woven against the grass. The rain increased a bit and finally the mother decided it was time to seek the shelter of the lone tree and they went off single file to take cover, such as it was. These are some of my favorite photos of the trip.

Cheetahs in the Rain
Cheetahs in the Rain
Heading for Cover as the Rain Increased