A fine introduction to African Birding



The Sunbird-Wings safari across northern Tanzania seems set to become a classic of nature tours. For it provides the most comfortable and condensed introduction possible to that source of limitless wonder which is the African wildlife experience.

The plentiful “short rains” of November-December 2015 ensured once again that we would not disappoint anyone.

This year we started our safari at dawn, one late November day, beside the peaceful Kilimanjaro international airport, within sight of that mighty cloud-shrouded mountain, and quickly began accumulating a bird list that by the end of day 13 was to stretch to over 420 species encountered by all participants.

A couple of hours into our sojourn and we were settled at Hatari Lodge in Arusha National Park. Here we encountered our first ‘mega-fauna’. Masai Giraffes peered down at us from beside the tracks and what was at first a bewildering variety of small, yet often very colourful, birds started to vie for our attention.

Despite the almost uninterrupted presence of
massive mammals, who reminded of us of our historic place in the scheme of things, it was often the diminutive beings who took our breath away. For example on the forested slopes of Mount Meru it was close views of a courting pair of Suni (one of the smallest antelopes in the world) and a female Abbott’s Starling that set several pulses racing.

Nevertheless it was quintessential savanna sights (and sounds, and smells) such as that of a closely perched Martial Eagle (the first of two of these confiding giants that we would see) watched at eye level, in the broad crown of an acacia, that really put us in our place.

Secretary-birds were admired by all in several locations. And their occasional companions, stalking alongside them through the waving grasses, the family groups of Southern Ground Hornbill, certainly were an additional delight.

In the montane forests of Mount Meru and in the Ngorongoro Crater Highlands we watched small passerines such as the different species of vivid green white-eyes (those East African Zosterops whose correct taxonomic relationships are yet to be made public!) in the same scan as Hartlaub’s or Schalow’s Turaco, beneath a diversity of tree-top starlings. Species subtly different in form and colour dependent upon their location, whether east or west of Africa’s Great Rift Valley.

Sunbird species also thrive in these cool protected highlands and this year perhaps it was the Golden-winged Sunbird that stole the show.

In the “granny baobab parkland” of Tarangire we were treated to our first of two intimate encounters with Savanna Elephants. Here a maternal herd struggled to pilot their infants through the lush greenery of Silale Swamp. And it was in Tarangire that we saw our first of over forty Lions. However it is the short grass plains of the eastern Serengeti that typically provide the undoubted highlight of this tour for most participants.

There the uninterrupted vastness of the rolling Serengeti savanna under an immense and active sky, a grassy plain salt and peppered’ as far as the eye can see, by tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra should not fail to deliver to any naturalist experiences that are in truth utterly awesome.

And yet, and yet for birders there are so many privileged experiences on this tour, such as watching a rare Chestnut-banded Plover, on the glistening mud flats of Lake Ndutu, bowing in “cooing” display to a female at a potential nest scrape; that rank ‘up-there’ with for example the female Cheetah whom we almost literally bumped into whilst searching the Ndutu acacia woodlands for strangely elusive francolins and other lesser fry .

We did well for the endemic ‘TZ birds’ seeing all of those for which we hoped. And easily we passed the bar of fifty mammal species seen. We had remarkable scope views of two nursing Black Rhinoceros, met giraffes galore and we were treated to close-up views of many kinds of charming rat and bat and bush-baby!

So in summing-up, if one, understandably enough, ever needs a reminder that our Earth is still a place of wonder; a place where mammals big and small still follow unmolested lives, and where birds of every hue seem to queue right along the wayside; then this is a safari waiting, it’s a holiday made for you!

As Always Folks – Remember the  Mantra :

ReView, ReWild, ReJoice.

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