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!!!

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