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.

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