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MIKE AND MARGARET GRAHAM IN THE SERENGETI

Posted on the 24th August 2010

SERENGETI TRIP REPORT 19TH – 28TH JULY 2010

(Article and all images by Mike Graham).

There are several ways to fly into Tanzania and we chose to go via Nairobi such that we had a night’s sleep before heading via Kilimanjaro to Ngorogoro and the Serengeti itself. The original plan was to drive from Nairobi to Arusha during the night but we abandoned this idea as it involved a 7 hour trip in the dark. We opted instead for a short flight up to Kilimanjaro International Airport during the morning of the 20th and which would give us a good view of Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru on the way.

Day 1 - 20th July (Kilimanjaro to Arusha Mountain Lodge)

We were met at Kiliminanjaro by our guide for the week, Richard David, who had worked for Ranger Safaris for 10 years. We had exclusive use of a Safari vehicle which made spotting and filming so much easier. He turned out to be an excellent guide and host.

Superb Starling

The drive to Arusha Mountain Lodge takes only a couple of hours from the airport. The Lodge is situated on the edge of Lake Duluti which is some 700metres deep and an old volcanic crater. I took a local guide for a couple of hours to walk the lake edge. The depth of water is not conducive to duck life but there is still much to be seen. Black Kite, Superb Starling, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Northern Grey-headed Sparrow, Dark Chanting Goshawk and African Grey Flycatcher were all lifers in those few hours plus good sightings of Fish Eagle, White-eared Barbet, Tropical Boubou, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Bearded Woodpecker and Bronze Mannikin. In total 33 species without too much trouble. The grounds of the Lodge hold some surprises too and which I picked up on before breakfast on Day 2.

Day 2 – 21st July (Arusha Mountain Lodge to Ngorongoro)

From dawn until breakfast at 7.30 I walked the grounds and trails of the Lodge. I intended to cover as much as possible but as usual got side-tracked with 1 bird and that was the first one sighted, a Red-throated Twinspot. But not just one, 3 pairs in the thickets so a photo was important and that is what held me up. However, in less than an hour Black-headed Oriole, Red-chested Cuckoo, Black-necked Weaver, Puff-back Shrike, Yellow White-eye and Variable Sunbird had all been seen.

After breakfast we set off for Ngorongoro via Lake Manyara and Gibb’s Farm. The tarmac road is quite busy but birding is good. Lilac-breasted Roller, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Hildebrandt’s Starling, Kenya Rufous Sparrow, Van der Decken’s and Trumpeter Hornbills, Fischer’s Sparrowlark, Northern White-crowned Shrike, plus the usual Doves, Egrets and Herons. We stop at Lake Manyara to view the Heron, Stork and Pelican nesting site. These trees overhang the road and are chock-full of nesting birds and juveniles. There are hundreds of them and more are perching in trees nearer the lake itself. It is quite some sight and you can get good photos close-up. From here we go to Gibb’s Farm for lunch. The farm is a working coffee plantation (Arabika Coffee) and they grow vegetables and herbs, all organic. We have a walk around the vegetable/herb garden. Some 230 species have been recorded at the farm. We did get to see Pied Wagtail, Baglafecht’s Weaver, Yellow-breasted Greenbul, Collared and Northern Double-collared Sunbirds, Heugelin’s Robin and Black Saw-wing. After a superb lunch and visit to the gift shop we climb towards the rim of the crater. Two more specials on the way up – Streaky Seed-Eater and Augur Buzzard. It is cold at the rim, 2300m above sea-level. The Lodge commands great views over the Crater but at dawn it is usually in the clouds. 28 species for the day.

Banded Parisoma

Day 3 – 22nd July (Ngorongoro Crater)

We set off early through the thick fog to the entrance gate. There are many vehicles entering the park as it is an all-day venture to cover the different terrain and habitats. The road down to the crater bottom is a good birding area. Augur Buzzard graces the skies. This is high-altitude birding country, Black-crowned Tchagra, Pied Wheatear, Long-tailed Fiscal, Fawn-coloured Lark and the odd Dik-Dik. It takes us forever to get to the bottom. We stop at the toilets where Rock Martins have nested and are raising young. 5 Little Bee-eaters huddle together for warmth, a Paradise Fly-Catcher flits around the trees. The crater floor has a huge alkaline lake plus wetlands and is home to 23,000 animals. We see Black Rhino early in the day as we head to the lake. There are thousands of Lesser and Greater Flamingos, Pelicans, many ducks and a host of waders and shore birds, including Temminck’s Courser, Long-toed Lapwing, Wattled Lapwing, Spoonbill and Sandpipers. We see Blacksmith Lapwing at a nest with 1 egg and a flock of them harassing a Lesser-Spotted Eagle. Lions abound along with Zebra and Wildebeest. There are numerous hippo pools which host some nice birds too. Jackson’s Widowbird, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Black Crake plus Terns and Gulls. We come across a Sooty Falcon in a small coppice. Swallows and Martins swoop for insects whilst Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures wait for a meal. We come across a Cervil Cat beside the road, not bothered about all the vehicles that surround it. At the rest area there are many Black Kite, Rufous-tailed Weavers and Superb and Hildebrandt’s Starlings. A lone elephant wanders through looking for water. The road out of the crater takes a different route, so a chance to see Capped Wheatear, Stonechat, Shelley’s Francolin and Black-Shouldered Kite. You could spend 2 days or more in the Crater, 12 hours was not enough time. It is a great place, a magnificent spectacle. We get 59 new species in the crater, so a pretty good day.

White-browed Coucal

Day 4 – 23rd July (Ngorongoro to Ranger Camp)

We set off early so that we can be at the Ranger Camp for lunch. Progress is slow again, too many birds to stop for. White-bellied Canary, Nubian Woodpecker, Slaty Flycatcher and Northern Ant-Eater Chat. We break our journey at Oldupai Gorge, the “Cradle of Mankind”. A worthwhile visit to enjoy the museum and artefacts dating back some 2 million years. It was to be a short stop but I got side-tracked chasing a Rufous-Chatterer around a bush for 30 minutes to get a photo. Purple Grenadier also turned up along with Ruppell’s Starling and Green-backed Cameroptera.

Four hundred metres from the park gate we get a puncture so another delay. Richard throws rocks at a nearby bush to check for lions. All clear so I keep lookout whilst he changes a wheel. The park entrance area is full with vehicles and people but the picnic area is a good spot for birds. Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Brubru, Yellow-fronted Canary and White-headed Buffalo Weaver. A visit to the loo and off into the Serengeti and the Ranger Camp.

We can take it easier now and arrive for a late lunch at the mobile tented camp in the heart of the park. The camp is sort of “basic luxury”. Showers work by a hoisted bucket of hot water, lighting is from a 12 volt car battery but there are flush toilets, a communal lounge and a dining room. Staff are great and food is very nice.

We unpack and head out at 3.30 for an afternoon drive. The acacia scrub and arid grasslands are ideal bird habitats, especially for the small, hard to see/find LBJ’s!! However, do well with Green-winged Pytillia, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, Black-lored Babbler, Grey-backed Fiscal, Red & Yellow Barbet, Eastern Grey Plantain Eater, Slaty Boubou, Golden Oriole and Magpie Shrike. The run back to camp as the sun sets (we have to be back around 6.00) rewards us with Pearl-spotted Owlet and Northern White-faced Scops Owl. The area where the camp is situated is a clearing in a forest by the river and has a resident herd of Thompson’s Gazelle and 2 White-backed Vulture nests. The long days are excellent for a good night’s sleep!!!! 34 species to-day which was good considering that from Oldupai to the entrance gate is at speed to avoid the road corrugations.

Grey-capped Sociable Weaver

Day 5 – 24th July (Serengeti NP)

It’s 6.30 and time to get up for breakfast as we leave at 7.30 with picnic lunch and won’t be back until around 6.30. By 8.15 we have not gone further than 1000m from the camp. Olive Pigeon, Arrow-marked Babbler, Golden Palm Weaver, White-bellied Tit and a Spotted Hyena watching our every move from the long grass. Our guide is really enjoying himself as most clients are only there for the Big 5, so he is grateful for the chance to hone his skills on birds. The forest areas are rife with Tsetse flies. They bite through any thickness of clothing and they only attack when the vehicle stops. Insect repellent is useless. We haven’t seen a mosquito yet.

We take a lot of the back roads away from the major routes and this turns out to be worthwhile, despite the flies!!!! D’Arnaud’s Barbet, Striped and Grey-headed Kingfishers, Fischer’s Lovebird, Pygmy Falcon, Speckle-fronted Social Weaver, Meyer’s Parrot, Silverbird, Grey-headed Silverbill, Red-faced Crombec, Red-cheeked and Blue-capped Cordon-Bleu and Cardinal Woodpecker. We sight 1 grey Warbler-like bird that gives us grief. We can’t find it in the Bird List for Serengeti but we do get good photographs. Even the Ornothologist Guide at the camp is uncertain. We have a second unidentified bird that is also causing a problem with identification. We need to work on these 2.

On our way back in the afternoon we come across a Cheetah and 2 leopards and then a Martial Eagle, that has just killed a juvenile Thompson’s Gazelle, is stood at the roadside devouring the meat. The crop is full and sitting in a tree a short distance away is a juvenile waiting to be fed. We see the same bird the next day with a Helmeted Guinea Fowl that it has just killed. There are numerous lions and we watch 1 female attack a small group of Thompson’s Gazelle but without success. Nearby a Kori Bustard comes to drink at a pool. I never realised they are so big until you see it in relation to a Thompson’s Gazelle.

Martial Eagle with prey

A chat and drink with other tourists at the Boma and then dinner which is very welcome. We seem to have done the best although the others aren’t really birders.

Day 6 – 25th July (Serengeti)

Same schedule as yesterday and off out at 7.30. The weather has been good, not hot and cloud cover most of the day so birds are active. It becomes harder to find new species and the guide is a little frustrated but then we are at 190. We use a different route out this morning and get a very nice view of a Gabar Goshawk, much smaller than Dark Chanting. Desert and Rattling Cisticolas, Yellow-breasted Apalis and White-browed Scrub Robin are soon identified. We call in at the rest centre near Seronera Airstrip. There is an acacia tree with a euphorbia bush at the base and many small birds are frantic. Black-faced Waxbill, Green-winged Pytillia and Purple Grenadiers are extremely agitated. We eventually see why when a 2 metre long Spitting Cobra appears from the grass and heads at speed towards our vehicle. Richard moves the vehicle hastily a short distance as they are likely to attach themselves to the chassis. The snake returns to the grass. We move away and when we return the birds are gone and so is the snake. Once back on track again we find one of the birds that was giving us an identification crisis. We get better photos and a really good ID. It is a Banded Parisoma although the sketches in the field guide are not good with regards to colour and marking. We pick up on a couple of eagles this afternoon, Tawny and Brown Snake. It was interesting to see 2 Tawny Eagles nesting in the same tree only a few metres apart. Only 14 species to-day, getting harder by the minute.

Purple Grenadier

Day 7 – 26th July (Ranger Camp to Mbuzi Mawe Tented Camp)

We say goodbye this morning to the staff at the Ranger Camp as we head Northwest to Mbuzi Mawe. It is only 40km but at our rate of progress it could take all day!!!!!!!!!

The terrain is different to-day, more undulating with numerous koppies and grasslands. Larks are more prevalent with Rufous-naped and Flappet plus Plain-backed Pipit. A flock of Mosque Swallows and Spectacled, Yellow-backed and Masked Weavers. Black-chested Snake Eagle was a nice sighting. We have to leave the forest area because of Tsetse flies and the open grassland recently burned off reveals very little. Margaret decided that an afternoon massage was a better idea than being eaten by Tsetse flies!!!!

Only 11 new species to-day, disappointing but under the circumstances not too bad.

Blue-grey Flycatcher

Day 8 – 27th July (Northwest Serengeti to Kenya Border)

We head Northwards this morning to catch the tail-end of the “Migration”. The leading animals are in Kenya having crossed the Mara River and are turning to come South. The tail-end is still in Tanzania. The land is covered in carcasses and skeletons. Feeding was obviously good. The crocodiles are huge and have obviously done well too. We catch sight of a Cheetah stalking Thompson’s Gazelle but the animal has no cover for an attack, too much open space between where the animal was hiding and the Gazelle. We take a look around a koppie and see Golden-breasted Bunting, Wailing Cisticola, Sooty Chat, Marico Sunbird, Verreaux’s Eagle and Red-necked Spurfowl. There are still thousands of Zebra heading North and some Wildebeest too. Lions lurk patiently in the shade at watering holes. We get permission to go into “no-man’s land” between Kenya and Tanzania and pick up on Plum-coloured Starling, Violet Woodhoopoe and Woodland Kingfisher. 12 species to-day.

Day 9 – 28th July (Mbuzi Mawe to Seronera Airstrip)

Crowned Cranes in strange posture

Before we depart I have a walk around the camp prior to breakfast. Nice photos of Slaty Boubou and Klipspringer outside the tent. Heuglin’s Robin grace the dining area and Purple Grenadiers strip the grass of seed outside the kitchen area. We take our time to the airstrip as it is only 40km and pick up on 3 lions plus Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Reed Cormorant to make the species count 229 for the trip which included 16 lifers from the SA List and 49 Endemics from the Tanzania List.

The one bird that was unidentified looks like Karamoja Apalis, out of area but which has been sighted in Serengeti as its natural habitat destruction is forcing it away. It is a Red Data bird and rare. I am waiting for confirmation.

All in all this was a very good trip with some 1300 photos to edit now we are back. Serengeti is a busy park, especially during July/August but despite that we found it quiet if you keep away from the main route that runs from Arusha to Lake Victoria. I would like to go back and visit Tarangire and Masek next time.

NB!  Also read Mike's comfirmation of their sighting of an out of range Karamoja Apalis under "sightings" on this website, or go to http://www.westerncapebirding.co.za/overberg/birdlife-overberg.php?article=111&clubpage=news

 



 


 


 


 


 


 


 


 

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