BIRDING AROUND THE WORLD

Subtitle

KENYA AND TANZANIA 2001

INTRODUCTION

I spent 12 days in Kenya and 16 in Tanzania after a birding trip to Uganda.  The objective was to catch up with a few key species missed in central Kenya on my earlier trip (1990), clean up in the coastal region which I had not birded before, and then do the Eastern Arc mountains in Tanzania.  This was fairly successful except for failure to bird the Udzungwas (see later).  Highlights were stellar views of a pair of Sokoke Scops Owl at a daytime roost, prolonged observation of a flock of the scarce Grey-crested Helmet-Shrike, the Taita trio of endemic taxa, Uluguru Bush-shrike, both tailorbirds, Spot-throat and the rare Usambara Weaver.  Disappointments were failure to see Dapple-throat and Taita Falcon.

Trip participation varied with Dave Pitman the only constant companion.  In Kenya Rob Hunt was with us from Uganda and we were joined by Sandra and Simon Pitman, while Neil Bostock and Brendan Sloane were present for the last few days.  We crossed into Uganda with MB and BS but the latter left at Mikumi.

SUMMARY

Kenya

We drove through western Kenya from Uganda without birding in order to rendezvous with Sandra and Simon at Lake Naivasha.  The target Grey-crested Helmet-Shrike was found at nearby Crater Lake Sanctuary.  Then drove to the Limuru Plateau for Sharpe’s Longclaw and on to Kieni Forest where I had hoped to see Olive Ibis and Abbott’s Starling but failed to find either of these difficult species.  Further east we stopped at Blue Posts Hotel, Thika, for Grey-olive Greenbul, then drove north to Kianyaga for Hinde’s and Northern Pied-babblers, before heading south to Nairobi.

Next stop was Tsavo West NP where we spent 24 hours, then the dry acacia bush south of Voi before heading for the Taita Hills.  A morning in the Taitas was sufficient to see the three endemic taxa, so we ended the day at Watamu on the coast.  The next week was spent covering Sokoke Forest, Mida Creek, Sabaki River mouth and the arid northern coast.

Tanzania

We crossed the border near the coast south of Mombasa, then drove to Tanga and on to the East Usambaras.  Here we saw most of the specialities quickly but stopped longer than intended to try to see the elusive Dapple-throat and Hyliota.  Next stop was Morogoro where, with Thomas Lehman’s help, we quickly obtained a permit for the Ulugurus and located John at Konole village. He guided us here for the next two and a half days. 

We lost most of the day in Mikumi due to vehicle problems before reaching Ifakara where the two undescribed Cisticolas and Kilombero Weaver were soon seen.  We were able to reach Udekwa that night but were shocked to be told by the village chief that we could not visit the Udzundwa Forest without a permit from Iringa, four hours away.  As the next day was a Sunday and the permit office was closed we had little choice but to kiss goodbye to Udzungwa Patridge, Dapple-throat, Red-winged Sunbird and Udzungwa Akalat.  We did spot Ulehe Fiscal on the drive back to Mikumi where late afternoon in the miombo was rewarding.  The following morning in the NP was disappointing as we failed to find Reichenow’s Woodpecker and Dickinson’s Kestrel.  The rest of the day was spent on the long but straight-forward drive to Lushoto, the gateway to the West Usambaras.  The day and a half at the latter was successful, giving us time for a last shot at Dapple-throat and the Hyliota in the East Usambaras.  The final point of call was Neil and Liz Baker’s farm near Moshi, south of Kilimanjaro.  We had a fine day out with them, although failed to see the hoped for Taita Falcon.  The final morning produced a good crop including Fischer’s Lovebird, Rufous-tailed Weaver and the rare isolated race of Spike-heeled Lark, before we crossed the border back into Kenya and on to Nairobi for the flight home.

In retrospect, it would have been better to have proceeded straight to Iringa for the Udzungwas, and then worked back through the other localities. If coming from Kenya, I would recommend crossing at Arusha (eg after the Taitas), then either doing the north or driving straight down to Iringa, possibly stopping off at the West Usambaras, Mikumi and/ or Ifakara, before going to the Ulugurus, East Usambaras and possibly Pemba Island.

TRANSPORT

Dave and I had flown to Kampala for the 4 week Uganda tour, then took a Landcruiser from there, booked again through [email protected], and driven by our Ugandan driver Hassan Mutebi. We paid $120 a day for this (including full insurance, driver’s expenses but not petrol or border tax), the logic being that it was the most convenient method and it would have cost us a lot to have flown from Kampala to Nairobi. The cost of taking a 4-wheel drive vehicle from Kenya into Tanzania would have been at least as much if hired in Nairobi. The cheapest way would have been to have taken the bus to Nairobi (12 hours?) and hired a standard car there (OK except possibly in Tsavo and a long walk needed in the Taitas), then bussed across to Tanzania and hired the essential 4-wheel drive in Arusha, say, if available (although the daily rate might well have been even more). Neil and Brendan flew to Mombasa, via Nairobi, where Hassan picked them up and took them to the Taitas and on to meet us in Watamu. We all flew home from Nairobi and paid for the extra day for Hassan to drive back to Kampala. In Kenya the best companies I found were Budget, Concorde ([email protected] and  Sun Trek Safaris (www.suntreksafaris.com).

ACCOMMODATION, FOOD and COST

We camped some of the time and stayed in reasonable accommodation the rest, the best being with Liz and Neil Baker at Kifufu. The food was generally good – we had to buy provisions to take with us when we camped.

Petrol was considerably cheaper than in Britain. Admission charges to the National Parks were high at $15 per day ($25 to the major N Tanzania parks and the same for camping), but only $5 to the reserves, plus a charge for the vehicle and guide.

Crossing the border was straightforward and free except for a $20 charge for the “foreign” vehicle entering Kenya at both borders and $25 for Tanzania.

We used ATMs in various towns in Kenya but in Tanzania the only one we found was in Arusha. US$ cash is the best currency, exchangeable in large towns.

MISCELLANEOUS

We had no security problems but did not walk around in Nairobi or Mombasa. There was a road block in NE Kenya, due to trouble further north, and there were tales of armed bandits in Tanzania but this did not appear to be a high risk.

Visas are required for both countries, costing £35 for a single entry and £70 for multi-entry. We obtained the Kenyan one in Kampala and Tanzanian in London, but both are available at the border, in theory anyway.

The weather was quite good, with temperatures varying from cool at night in the mountains to hot in the lower regions. It only really rained on one day on the Kenyan coast and to a lesser extent on 3 days in the Tanzanian mountains.

I had no health problems and took Larium throughout. 

The best time to visit is during the dry season, ie June-Oct, unless you want to see African Pitta in SE Tanzania, in which case it is better to go in the breeding season, ie April-May. It is possible to bird at other times too.

English is spoken quite widely but by no means by everybody.

Internet facilities were readily available in Nairobi and could probably be found in Mombasa, Watamu, Tanga and Arusha.

REFERENCES

Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania, 1996, by Dale Zimmerman, Don Turner, et al – excellent.

Field Guide to the birds of East Africa, 2001, by Terry Stevenson and John Fanshawe – very good, but only published after we returned home.

The birds of Africa, by Urban, E. K., Fry, C. H. and Keith, S. Vol.s 1-6 Academic Press – excellent reference when at home.

Various articles on eastern Tanzania fieldwork in Bull. ABC, eg vol 3, pp 91-98 and vol 4, pp 119-129 for East Usambaras, and a good one on the Kenyan coast in vol 1 pp 79-89.

The following trip reports were the most useful:-

Kenya, Feb-March 1995, by Mike Hunter, with detailed site guide including 10 maps, etc.

East Usambaras, Jan-Feb 1996 by Eddie Williams

Tanzania, June-July 1997 by Valery Schollaert

It is worth obtaining recordings of skulkers like Spot-throat and the Kretschmar’s Longbill but I am not sure whether any are commercially available (ask Wildsounds).

Good websites are:-

http://home.no.net/stenil1/TZbirdatlas/tzatlas.htm

www.africanconservation.com/uluguru

www.usambara.com

www.easternarc.org

www.bugwood.caes.uga.edu

 

 

CONTACTS

Neil Baker         [email protected] - runs the Tanzanian atlas

Colin Jackson  [email protected] - the ABC’s Kenya rep., living in Watamu.

Thomas Lehmberg  [email protected]

Veli Pohjonen    [email protected] or Nobby Cordeiro [email protected] or [email protected]

David Moyer     [email protected]

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I am very grateful for the assistance given me by the following: Zul Bhatia, Richard Bishop, Nik Borrow, Clide Carter, Callan Cohen, Nobby Cordeiro, Peter Kaestner, Colin Jackson, Thomas Lehmberg, Ian Lewis, David Moyer, Veli Pohjonen, Ed Smith, Eddie Williams and most of all Neil and Liz Baker who were exceptionally helpful and hospitable. The members of the group were all good company. Local guides were knowledgeable and helpful. We owe a special thanks to Hassan who was an excellent driver, cook and mechanic.  

ITINERARY

Aug      18         Drive from Uganda to Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Fish Eagle Lodge bandas.

              19         Crater Lake Game Reserve. Fish Eagle Lodge bandas.

              20         Drive to Kinangop Plateau, then Kieni Forest. Camp in forest.

              21         06.00-10.00 Kieni Forest. Drive to Blue Pools Hotel, Thika, then to Kianyaga, then Nairobi,

                           arriving   18.30. YMCA, Nairobi.

             22         Drive to Mtito Andei gate, Tsavo West. Day in NP including Mzima Springs, evening at Kilaguni    Lodge. Camp at Chyulu Gate.

23                     Tsavo West till 13.50, then Ndala Ranch, Voi, till 18.00 when drive to Wundanyi. Hills View Lodge.

24                     Taita Hills a.m., then to Watamu via Ndala Ranch and Mombasa. Mrs Simpson's Guesthouse.

25-28 & 30        Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek, with Sabaki River mouth on 28th p.m. Mrs Simpson's Guesthouse.

29                     North to Karawa, then Sabaki River mouth, an inland lake and Mida Creek.

31                    Drive to Amani, Tanzania, via Tanga. IUCN guesthouse, Amani.

Sept     1          Amani area, E Usambaras: Monga Road and Turaco Bird Trail with Martin. IUCN.

2                      Ngua tea plantation forest a.m., Amani Bot. Gardens p.m., then Ngua. IUCN.

3                       Ngua forest a.m. Drive Amani to Sigi p.m., then back to Ngua. IUCN.

4                       Walk to Sigi. Drive to Morogoro p.m. Mama Pierina’s guesthouse.

5                      Drive to Konole, northern Ulugurus, then Tegetero a.m. Walk to forest camp at 1540m.

6                       Day in Ulugurus forest. Camp.

7                       Walk down to Tegetero, 14.15. Slow drive to Morogoro. Mama Pierina’s.

8                      Mikumi, main road and town, having vehicle repaired. 17.30-19.15 drive 45km to Udzungwa Mountain View Hotel, near NP office.

9   05.55-07.35   drive to Ifakara, bird till 09.00, drive to Mikumi, then Udekwa (Udzungwas), via Ilula, arriving 18.30. Night in village church.

10    06.30-14.00    drive to Mikumi with stops, birded Kilosa road miombo till dusk. Kilimanjaro Village Inn, Mikumi.

11    07.00-11.00    Mikumi NP. Drive to Lushoto till 18.00. Kimonyu Guesthouse.

12                        Sawmill track, West Usambaras. Camp at sawmill.

13                      Sawmill track till 10.00. 11.00-16.15 drive to Amani via Lushoto, then to Ndua. Camp.

14                  Ndua till 10.15. Drive to Sigi, bird roadside forest. Drive to Moshi p.m. Night at the Bakers’ farm, Kifufu.

15                  Day trip with the Bakers south to Naberera (for Taita Falcon). Kifufu farm.

16                  Bird near Kifufu till 10.00, then drive to Arusha and 30km towards Tarangire gate. Back to Arusha p.m. then to Nairobi, with stops, reaching airport at 20.15. Fly home.

TOUR DIARY

Navaisha was reached at 16.45 after leaving the Uganda border at 11.30. We found Sandra and Simon at the pleasant Fish Eagle Lodge (for their Pitman Experience family holiday) and rented bandas for only £4 each. The restaurant was good and cheap too, if you weren’t in a hurry. The next day’s task was to find the rare Grey-crested Helmet-Shrike, which was eventually achieved at Crater Lake Sanctuary, following a chance tip-off by the owner’s daughter who had kindly offered us a lift while returning home from an all-night party. We spent most of the day there, seeing Little Rock-Thrush, nesting Nyanza Swifts, Augur Buzzards and Tawny Eagles, and many Dusky Turtle-Doves drinking at a water-hole. Returned to Fish Eagle Lodge after a fine meal at Crater Lake Lodge, and taped out a calling Pearl-spotted Owlet.

After a slow start the following morning, drove to Kinangop Plateau, seeing Sharpe’s Longclaw, Quail and Long-billed Pipit in the about the only patch of pastureland left. Continued to Kieni Forest and did Mike Hunter’s Trail A, one of the best, seeing Hartlaub’s Turaco, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike and E Mt Greenbul. Camped in the forest on a track near the eastern edge. Early morning along the road then back down Trail A gave Abyssinian Ground-Thrush, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Black-collared Apalis, Brown-capped Weaver, and, strangely, a male Montagu’s Harrier overhead. Drove to Blue Pools Hotel, Thika, where eventually located Grey-olive Greenbul by the river before continuing north to Kianyaga. Here, the two pied-babblers were found, with difficulty, along with Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, before the 2 hour drive south to Nairobi YMCA.

An uneventful 4 hour drive to Mtito Andei gate, Tsavo West, where an hour’s birding on foot was fruitful. The drive through to Chyulu gate was quiet, except for a Martial Eagle with a francolin in its talons. We pitched tents at the deserted campsite 1km beyond the gate, then drove to Mzima Springs for Black-bellied Sunbird. Night drive with ranger to Kilaguni Lodge where we ate a fine dinner while watching nightjars and mammals at the floodlit waterhole. A 3h 30m game drive the following morning failed to produce any cats, but Fire-fronted Bishop was a tick. After breakfast back at the camp - birds there included Pringle’s Puffback, Black-bellied Sunbird and Straw-tailed Whydah – took 2h 20m to reach Tsavo gate, via Ndulia Lodge, just missing a Cheetah at kill (disturbed by tourist bus). Continued to Ndala Ranch (£50 a double, full board) where a long walk in the acacias gave Tsavo and E Violet-backed Sunbirds and White-crested Helmet-shrike. Reached Wundanyi after an hour’s drive and reluctantly checked into Hills View Lodge as noisy celebrations were in progress at the better hotel. Unable to find a restaurant, so obliged to eat a poor meal at our “hotel”.

An hour’s drive for the 7km to Ngrangao Forest, Taita Hills where we were escorted by the ranger, soon seeing the white-eye and apalis, but had to drive to a less-disturbed area of forest to find the shy thrush, 3 of which were feeding on the ground. Saw Striped Pipit and Lanner on the way out, then drove back to Ndala Ranch for an hour’s birding, followed by 4 hours to Watamu via Mombasa. Mrs Simpson's Guesthouse (plot 28) was fine except that I had to share a room with a high decibel snoring machine, no joke for a light sleeper like me.

The next six days were spent in Sokoke Forest, with several brief excursions to Mida Creek, 2 to Sabaki River mouth, one early visit to Gede Ruins and a day trip north to Karawa. Albert and Willy proved very capable in assisting us to find all the target species in Sokoke, including a superb pair of different coloured Scops-Owls roosting together, as well as a roosting Wood-Owl one day and a Caracal walking on the track. On 29th we made an early start to the Nature Trail but as it was raining heavily, we headed north beyond Malindi, stopping to search the grassland south of Gongoni for Malindi Pipit – not found but there were 100s of Madagascar Pratincoles and some Zanzibar Red Bishops. We did locate a single pipit on the football pitch further north. Continuing to Karawa for Violet-breasted Sunbird, we were stopped at an army road block and told we would have to have an armed escort to proceed any further, so we checked the roadside scrub and flowers and, fortunately, found the sunbird there, along with Mangrove Kingfisher. Returned to Sabaki River mouth (Saunder’s Tern, Sooty Gull), Malindi, and after a curry we turned inland to a lake where we saw Black Heron, Scaly Babbler and Purple-banded and Mouse-coloured Sunbirds.

On 31st Sandra, Simon and Rob left by bus from Malindi direct to Nairobi (10 hours, £5). We drove to Mombasa with a stop at Kifili (first left after the Club on the left) for Brown-headed Parrot in the baobabs, then crossed the river by ferry to the Tanzania border. It took 1h 15m for the vehicle to be allowed through. At 15.45 we reached Tanga, on a mostly rough road, and were relieved to find a bank open to change cash. Found the Usambara Project office to book accommodation at Amani. Continued to Muheza where turned off the good road for a slow drive to the IUCN guesthouse at Amani, arriving at 19.15 in time for a basic dinner.

Early morning in the forest was almost birdless, but after breakfast Martin arrived to guide us, at Nobby’s request (in response to my emails). We spent the next 3 days in the Amani area, East Usambaras, with Martin, around the guesthouse and along the Monga road (two left turns from the guesthouse) – Long-billed Tailorbird, Banded and Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbirds, Cabanis Greenbul, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Green-headed Oriole; Turaco Bird Trail; Ngua tea plantation forest – an hour’s tough drive, Sharpe’s Akalat, White-tailed Crested-Flycatcher, Shelley’s Greenbul, but Dapplethroat and Spot-throat elusive; Amani Botanical Gardens – Cuckoo-Falcon, Lanner, Green-backed  Honeyguide. One afternoon we drove to another tea estate on the Monga road for Kretschmar’s Longbill, which was tape-responsive but difficult to see well, and on another afternoon down to Sigi, to look for Usambara Hyliota in roadside trees, without success.

On the last morning I had a pleasant walk on trails and road to Sigi while the others birded near the guesthouse and drove down – plenty of birds but only Red-tailed Ant-Thrush was new. After another search for Hyliota, did 5 hour drive to Morogoro where we eventually located Thomas Lehmberg who was very helpful. Visited Forest Officer’s house with letter from Thomas requesting permit for Ulugurus. Good red snapper and chips at Mama Pierina’s guesthouse. After collecting the permit early morning, drove to Konole village, at the base of the northern Ulugurus, where we found John, who was running the Uluguru Bush-Shrike project and agreed to be our guide. After breakfast, bought provisions and drove short distance to Tegetero (400m to 800m) on a rough road. Engaged 5 porters (20K) and walked for 5 hours to 1540m where we camped in a forest clearing. An understorey flock at the start of the forest (1100m) held Lesser Seedcracker, Peter’s Twinspot and Shelley’s and E Mt Greenbuls, while Loveridge’s Sunbird, Livingstone’s Turaco and Uluguru Bush-shrike (which I missed) were higher up.

The next day was spent in the forest, mainly on the trail above camp and just below it: Bar-tailed Trogon, Spot-throat, Olive-flanked Robin-Chat, Chapin’s and Bar-throated Apalises, Yellow-throated Woodland- and Mrs Moreau’s Warbler, Fulleborn’s Black Boubou and the splendid Bush-Shrike (high in the canopy below and around the camp) – a red-letter day. A few early hours the following morning allowed me to catch up with African Tailorbird and Orange-headed Ground-Thrush, before a slow walk down to Tegetero added Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Grey-olive Greenbul, Forest Batis, Evergreen Forest-Warbler and Yellow Bishop (below the forest). The drive back to Morogoro was interrupted several times by ignition problems.

An early departure allowed us to reach Mikumi New Lodge ($72 a day), situated in a fine position overlooking the eastern side of the NP, but birds were surprisingly scarce. Back on the main road, the car limped along then stopped altogether and eventually a mechanic had to be fetched from the town, costing us 4h 30min before the vehicle was repaired. Then at Mikumi town we waited another 3 hours for the torsion bar to be welded, before departing for Ifakara. Two hours later we stopped at Udzungwa Mountain View Hotel, near the NP office, as Twiga Hotel was full. Reached Ifakara at 07.30 the following morning, saw the 3 endemics by the causeway, then returned to Mikumi where food was purchased for our next camping exploit in the Udzungwas. A fast 2 hour drive on the good Iringa road took us to Ilula, with a short stop for Ashy Starling and Pale-billed Hornbill. Then a rough road through the hills for 2h 30m to Udekwa in the Udzungwas, where we soon located a guide and set off to drive to the camp site on the forest edge. Unfortunately, the guide then decided we should have checked in with the village headman, so insisted we return to the village. This lead to an unpleasant scene when the drunken headman refused to allow us to go to the forest as we did not have a written permit, or even stay at the village. Eventually, we were allowed to spend the night in the village church, but even the African gods could not budge the stubborn headman in the morning, so we had to leave. The option of going to Iringa for a permit was considered but rejected as it was a Sunday and so we were very unlikely to be able to get it and return before Monday afternoon, thereby losing 2 precious days. The only consolation was a sighting of Uhehe Fiscal, plus Small Buttonquail and Miombo Rock-Thrush, as we drove back to the main road. Continuing to Mikumi, with stops at several areas of dry woodland, we saw a good selection such as Yellow-collared Lovebird. Spent the afternoon on the Kilosa dirt road, starting 7.5km from Mikumi, observing miombo birds including Racket-tailed Roller, Arnott’s Chat, Bearded and Bennett’s Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Rufous-bellied Tit and Miombo Wren-Warbler.

The next morning was spent in Mikumi NP, for the princely sum of $30 each (after paying for vehicle and driver). Drove to Hippo Pools, then north towards the floodplain and back to Mkata Drive where a good range of mammals was seen. We debated trying a 24 hour twitch to Pemba but decided it was too risky to expect to get the flights from/to Tanga at such short notice. Reached Lushoto (1350m) after a long but easy drive, booked into basic hotel and ate one of worst meals of the trip at Green Valley restaurant (recommended by Eddie Williams). An hour’s drive to Magambo on a rocky road the following morning, missing the Oaklands turn first time because it was 7 not 11km as stated in the gen, saw us on the Sawmill Track in the West Usambaras. Soon found a pair of attractive Usambara Weavers, probing branches like a nuthatch, with Grey Cuckoo-Shrike and Black-fronted Bush-Shrike. Obtained permission to camp at the deserted sawmill, though the ground was hard; tried the track beyond the mill but no access to forest so spent the day back along the driveable track and inside the forest: Spot-throat, Red-chested Cuckoo, African Tailorbird, Shelley’s, Tiny, Yellow-streaked and Whiskered Greenbuls, Sharpe’s Starling, with African Black Duck on the pond at the mill. At dusk, Usambara Nightjar and Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo called from the conifers but a night drive was unproductive. At first light along the main track Orange Ground-thrush and up to 10 Spot-throat sang and a Great Sparrowhawk hunted. Inside the forest I had a brief view of Usambara Akalat, which the others had seen previously. As we had recorded all the specialities, decided to return to Amani for a final shot at Dapple-throat and Hyliota but thanks to a slow departure, did not leave Lushoto till 12.30 so only reached Ndua Forest at dusk. Camped in the tea plantation where Hassan prepared a good meal.

From my tent heard Usambara Eagle-Owl calling for a few mins around 04.00, but not pre-dawn when I returned to the forest: Sharpe’s Akalat, Pale-breasted Illadopsis and Scaly-throated Honeyguide but no Dapplethroat! Departed for Sigi at 10.15, arriving 11.30, and birded along the road, seeing little. Drove to Moshi, with a stop for the exhaust to be rewelded while we had a chip omelette meal, arriving at dusk. Finally reached Kifufu farm, where we received a warm welcome from Liz and Neil Baker and their 3 dogs.

Spent the final full day with Liz and Neil, driving south for 5 hours through acacia scrub to their Naberera breeding site for Taita Falcon. Unfortunately, the falcon family had departed but we did stop to see many birds on the journey, including Pringle’s Puffback, Tsavo Sunbird, Banded Parisoma, Bush Pipit and Taveta Golden Weaver, before returning to Kifufu farm.            

Birded near Kifufu (Hartlaub’s Turaco), at wader pools (Chestnut-banded Plover, Short-tailed Lark) and an irrigated valley (Fischer’s Lovebird, Buff-bellied Warbler) untill 10.00, then drove to 30km beyond Arusha towards Tarangire gate for Rufous-tailed Weaver. Back to Arusha for lunch then north to the border, stopping at the first ravine for Schalow’s Wheatear. Beyond Meru, we drove over the short grassland looking for Spike-heeled Lark but only seeing nesting Senegal Plover and other larks. In the second large grassland we did find the lark, and photogenic Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse with 4 chicks, just after I had finished my last film! We crossed the Magamba border easily but it was more troublesome for the vehicle. Nairobi airport was reached at 20.15, in the first heavy traffic since Mombasa, for the flight home.

SITES

KENYA

There is no need for much detail about sites in Kenya as they are well documented in various reports, most notably Mike Hunter’s, except for CRATER LAKE SANCTUARY on the southwest edge of Lake Navaisha: drive west past Fisherman’s Camp and after the main road turns north, take a left to Crater Lake as signed. Grey-crested Helmetshrike is the star attraction; a resident flock is being monitored by the local guides. There is a very pleasant lodge, serving excellent food, with a wild Genet eating the leftovers at night. Leopards are also a possibility.

KIENI FOREST is well-covered by Nick Gardner in Bull ABC 3 pp 51-52. We camped along one of the trails here, and saw Bar-tailed Trogon, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Eastern Mountain and Cabanis Greenbuls, Abyssinian Ground-Thrush and Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, but failed to find Olive Ibis or Abbott’s Starling, the two birds I had come for.

Continuing east beyond Kieni, the main road north from Nairobi is reached, and a left turn soon brings you to Thika. The Blue Pools Hotel by the main road is a good place for a break: Grey-olive Greenbul occurs in the scrub by the river beyond the Craft Village. Further north is KIANYAGA, the site for Hinde’s Pied Babbler. We struggled to see this as there appeared to be no suitable habitat, the valley being full of coffee plantations and new housing. However at the end of the track on the right hand arm above the valley, the sound of the tape did attract both this species (quite shy) and N Pied Babbler. The locals indicated that there was a river valley some 2 miles down the road which might have been better but we had no time to investigate.

I had thought of doing a loop round from here to the Aberdares (Ruhuruni gate) for Aberdare Cisticola and Jackson’s Francolin, stopping at Mweiga for Cape Eagle-Owl (on the road from Nyeri to Nyahururu), staying at the cheap fishing camp on top, which holds the cisticola. However, the high expense of NP entry fees and shortage of time ruled this out. In Nairobi we stayed at the excellent YMCA (£11-30 for a double) – highly recommended. 

We diverted through TSAVO WEST for 24 hours on the way to Mombasa, entering through the Mtito Andei gate, which was quite birdy (including Slate-coloured Boubou and Tiny Cisticola); visiting Mzima Springs for Black-bellied Sunbird; camping just outside the park at Chyulu Gate (Pringle’s Puffback); eating at Kilaguni Lodge in order to watch the nocturnal spectacle at the water-hole, and leaving through Tsavo Gate, after  driving around near Ngulia.

TAITA HILLS

There are 3 endemic taxa here, all of which have been split by BirdLife but not Clements: Taita Thrush, Apalis and White-eye. All seem good candidates, especially the Apalis. Head west from Voi towards Taveta, then north to Wundanyi, a 3 hour drive from Mombasa. The best hotel in Wundanyi is on the north side of town, not the doss-house where we stayed (Hills View Hotel) or the even worse one recommended by Lonely Planet. It’s a steep 7km drive up a rough road to Ngangao Forest Station where the ranger lives (you can camp here). The white-eye is common but the others need some wheedling out, although one morning should be enough, with the assistance of the knowledgeable local ranger Jonam Mwandoe.  

15 km towards Mombasa from Voi there is a westward turn to Ndara Ranch, a slightly rundown, quiet hotel set in excellent acacia scrubland where you can walk and bird all day, unlike in Tsavo where walking is only allowed at a few spots, but beware of getting lost in the featureless terrain. Tsavo (Purple-banded) Sunbird, Scaly Babbler, Golden-breasted Starling and Straw-tailed Whydah occur.

THE COAST

We stayed at Mrs Simpson’s Guesthouse, Watamu (tel 122 32023), not the cheapest place but pleasant, quiet and near the beach. [Mrs Simpson died in early 2002 so things may change here.]

ARABUKO-SOKOKE FOREST is the key area. There is a Guides Association that can be contacted through [email protected], and it is well worth taking Alex Mwalimu or Willy to help find some of the tricky birds. Key species are Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Sokoke Scops-Owl (daytime roosts are known to the guides), Fischer’s Turaco, Eastern Green Tinkerbird, Green Barbet, Pallid Honeyguide (only in the tall eucalypts south of the HQ), Mombasa Woodpecker, Sokoke Pipit, East Coast Akalat, Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin, Fischer’s and Tiny Greenbuls, Yellow Flycatcher, Pale and Forest Batises, Amani Sunbird, Retz’s and Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrikes, and Clarke’s Weaver. We found the weaver, tinkerbird and scrub-robin the most difficult, but some struggle to see the pipit. The Nature Trail and lower Mida Trail were the most productive. The two birds we did not see were Four-coloured Bush-Shrike, and Thick-billed Cuckoo - rarely seen unless calling (not at this time of year) or in flight. A few Boehm’s Spinetail flew over the forest occasionally. Mangrove Kingfisher is another skulking inhabitant of the forest but we only saw it in bushes halfway to Mida Creek, along with Scaly Babbler, and at the Violet-breasted Sunbird site in the north. Mida Creek itself was not very rewarding, although waders included Crab Plover and many Tereks.

Gede ruins at Watamu are worth one visit: we saw Giant Eagle-Owl and Palmnut Vulture there but African Pitta is occasionally seen.

Further north the Sabaki River mouth near MALINDI is good for waders, including White-fronted Sandpiper and Madagascar Pratincole, gulls and a few passerines, such as Zanzibar Bishop, Rufous Chatterer and possibly Malindi Pipit. The pipit is more readily seen further north on the short grass football pitch north of Gongoni, east of the road. Violet-breasted Sunbird is the most northerly bird, occurring not much further south than Karawa – we saw it in roadside scrub 10km S, the furthest north we were allowed to go. Good sites are the saltworks at Karawa, east of the main road, detailed in Mike Hunter’s report, and the TARDA guesthouse, beyond Garsen on the Lamu road c.5 km after crossing a river – Collared Palm-Thrush is also here. Note that the sunbird is common on Pemba, so can be skipped in Kenya if going there. 

Tanzania

Tanzania is poorly served by reports, except for the popular northern national parks which are of little birding interest to world-listers who have been to Kenya. The only bird here that cannot be seen elsewhere is Grey-breasted Francolin. The strategy used by the few groups who have birded the Eastern Arc mountains is to hire Elia Mlungu, who is based at Iringa and works for David Moyer. We considered this for the Udzungwas but baulked at the asking price of $150 a day, although would have paid a reasonable sum in retrospect, given the problems we had there. Elia knows the Udzungwas and its birds particularly well, and would be able to arrange the permits. A few bird tour groups, eg Naturetrek and BirdQuest, do offer trips here but they only touch the edge of the Ulugurus and Udzungwas, so do not see the Bush-Shrike and Dapplethroat for example.

There are other interesting Eastern Arc mountains which have been explored ornithologically in recent years but no birders have visited to my knowledge, most notably the Rubehos and Ukagurus. The Udzungwa Partridge has been found at Mafwemiro in the Rubeho Mts (06*-50S, 36*30E). According to Neil Baker (pers. comm.), “access is not at all easy and the birds took a long time to track down after one of Jon Fjeldsa's

assistants found a feather. This is the area for the new Akalat (much easier in the Ukagurus) and the new sunbird. Hopefully all this will be published this year. It's also a spit away from where we had that unidentifiable serinus in 94 so perhaps a serious expedition is required.”

A lot of good research and conservation work has been and continues to be, carried out in these mountains in recent years. Details can be found from the websites listed in the Reference section. 

EAST USAMBARAS

“The East Usambara range is a steeply scared plateau with the main ridges running north to south. They cover less than 130,000 ha and are one of the smallest ranges in Tanzania. They are separated from the much larger West Usambara Mts. to the northwest by the wide valley of the Lwengera River which flows southwards to join the Pangani River. The mountains themselves are drained internally by the catchment of the Sigi River, entering the sea at Tanga, the principle town in the region. The forests became fragmented long ago. The early German colonists created coffee plantations which have been replaced by an ever expanding tea industry. Some of the better quality lowland forest has been replaced with plantations of teak Tectis grandis. The 19 main forest reserves are in the process of being reorganised into larger blocks with the inclusion of important lowland forest that has survived on public land. The establishment of the Amani Nature Forest Reserve (Hakkinen and Wambura 1992), gazetted in May 1997 to offer both better protection and public access is to be welcomed, with some reservations that core areas are large enough and access is limited.

The altitudinal range of the mountains is only 150 m to 1,506 m but being within 35 km of the coast they receive significant rainfall (typically 2,000 mm/annum) in all months and are cloaked in rich forest. While there are no endemic bird species (the Usambara Hyliota Hyliota (australis) usambarae has recently been elevated to specific status (Urban et al. 1997) but this is not yet universally recognised) endemism in other forms is high. Montane forest exists at lower altitudes in the East Usambara than any other comparable mountain block in Tanzania. To the north of the highland block there are extensive areas of Brachylaena woodland which are of some ornithological importance.” 

Well covered in Eddie Williams’ report, the main reserve is Amani Nature Reserve c.35 km from Muheza on a road very rough in places. There are two pleasant resthouses, the lower, nicer one at Sigi and the higher, the so-called IUCN guesthouse, at the reserve HQ on the edge of Amani town. Around Sigi is the area for Usambara Hyliota – good luck! Everything else is best accessed from the HQ, with Billy or Martin as guides – request their services from Veli or Nobby (see contacts). If they are not available, there is another guide based there who seemed to be quite knowledgeable. There is a birdlist on www.usambara.com and a Checklist of Amani NR by Veli and Nobby available at the reserve HQ.

Long-billed Apalis/ Tailorbird, Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird, Banded Sunbird and Green-headed Oriole can all be seen in walking distance of the HQ. There is a site for Dapplethroat too, though we did not hear it on our one visit. Usambara Eagle-Owl can sometimes be heard, and possibly seen, at the Botanical Gardens (where we did see Cuckoo-Falcon), but Kretschmar’s Longbill requires a drive through tea estates on the Monga road. We spent most time at Ngua tea plantation forest where we saw some of the specialities such as Sharpe’s Akalat and Pale-breasted Illadopsis, but only untickable views of Spot-throat and Dapplethroat, despite much effort (they are both rare in these mountains). Southern Banded Snake-Eagle displayed over the forest and Usambara Eagle-Owl called briefly at dusk. Turaco Bird Trail, on the way, is supposed to be good but we didn’t see much, although did hear the accursed Dapplethroat, near the entrance.

WEST USAMBARAS

This is the place for Spot-throat, Usambara Akalat and Usambara Weaver – all a bit tricky but viewable with luck and patience. A pair of weavers was quite high in the trees by the road just before the Magambo sawmill, on both mornings, but we had to creep about inside the forest below the road for the others – also had African Tailorbird/ Red-capped Forest-Warbler in there. There is little option but to camp at the deserted sawmill now, where Usambara Nightjar (a proposed split from Ruwenzori or Montane Nightjar) occurs.

IFAKARA

This town on the Kilombero floodplain, a left turn at Mikumi en route to Iringa, is the base for seeing three endemics, all easy – Kilombero and White-tailed Cisticolas (only described in Stevenson and Fanshawe) and Kilombero Weaver. The short-tailed weavers often feed on the ground. The large coucal here is Coppery-tailed. Turn left in the town and go a few km to the causeway through the marsh before the Kivukoni ferry. Half-collared Kingfisher was seen at one of the small river crossings on the way from Mikumi.

ULUGURUS

Obtain a permit for Uluguru North FR from Mazengo at the forestry office in Morogoro. Thomas Lehmberg, who is in charge of the Uluguru Mountain Biodiversity Conservation Project ([email protected]), is  willing to help. Drive to Konole, show permit and find guide, preferably Martin, buy provisions, then drive to Tegetero and park at the mission. Engage porters and walk to the  forest and on to the campsite at 1540m. Olive-flanked Robin-Chat, Chapin’s Apalis, African Tailorbird, Mrs Moreau’s Warbler, Spot-throat, Loveridge’s Sunbird, and, best of all, Uluguru Bush-shrike, await you. I saw Lesser Seedcracker and Peter’s Twinspot at the start of the forest.

UDZUNGWAS

Go to the regional Catchment Forestry Office in Iringa and see Gideon Anyamike for a permit; he may insist that you take a forest guard, with associated costs. It used to be possible to talk your way in without a permit but not when we were there. Then drive back for 30-40km to just beyond Ilula village and turn right to Udekwa. The road soon deteriorates, and is very rocky in places, so it will take at least 2.5 hours (in the dry season) to drive the 75km. Having gained permission from the local headman, drive to the campsite on the edge of Ndundulu forest, with your guide (preferably Mzee Malindi, Janus Mundanga or Guido Mhando, all of whom have worked on bird surveys there). Iringa Akalat, Rufous-winged Sunbird, Spot-throat, Dapplethroat, and possibly White-winged Apalis and Usambara Weaver, are in the nearby forest. Udzungwa Partridge and Moreau’s Sunbird are a 5+ hour walk away, so it is probably better to plan on a second camp in this area.

White-winged Apalis and Dapplethroat are said to be common at Uhafiwa FR in a different part of the Udzungwas.

Yellow-browed Seedeater, a form or split off Streaky Seedeater, Serinus whytii is found in the Udzungwas but is not at all easy towards the north end (Udekwa area) and so it is worth going south of Iringa. Kipengere Seedeater is in the same general area, along with Black-lored Cisticola, Blue Swallow, Montane Marsh Widowbird and the black-mantled race of Rufous-naped Lark that will probably be elevated within the next couple of years (N. Baker in litt.).

MIKUMI NP

Mikumi National Park covers an area of 3230 km sq. and is the third largest park in Tanzania. It is named after the village just beyond its western border on the road to Iringa. The best area for birding is the road along the western boundary, outside the park, a right turn as you come into Mikumi village from the north. After some 7 km it passes though good miombo which holds many of the specialities of this habitat, eg Racket-tailed Roller and Rufous-bellied Tit. Reichenow’s/ Speckle-throated Woodpecker prefers open woodland to riverine or miombo, so it is best to go inside the park - there is a good chance of Dickinson’s Kestrel too, but we missed both on our single morning visit.

There was more good miombo by the main road south to Iringa – here we saw Yellow-collared Lovebird, Pale-billed Hornbill, Ashy Starling and Western Violet-backed Sunbird, to name a few.

NORTH TANZANIA

Yellow-collared Lovebird, Ashy Starling, Rufous-tailed Weaver and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse were seen along the road from Makuyuni to Tarangire gate, southwest of Arusha on the Serengeti road. A day trip from Moshi to Naberera with the Bakers was rewarding, although Taita Falcon was not on its breeding cliff (present Feb-Aug). Genuine Fischer’s Lovebirds (not escapes or hybrids as at Navaisha) were seen in an irrigated valley 10km west of the road north of Moshi, while Chestnut-banded Plover and Short-tailed Lark were at nearby wader pools. Kretchmer's Longbill can be seen near Kifufu farm, if missed in the Usambaras. The rare, distinctive race of Spike-heeled Lark is worth hunting for north of Meru as it is being described as a full species. The locality is the second extensive short grass plain, before the Magamba border post.

Olive Ibis and Abbott’s Starling can be found on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjiro above Moshi, but it is a fair trek to get to the habitat.

PEMBA

Surprisingly, for a relatively small island only 50 km offshore, largely covered in plantations and crops, Pemba holds 4 endemics: a Scops-owl, Green-Pigeon, White-eye and Sunbird. All of these may be seen at Ngejo Forest in the NW, a 1h taxi ride from the airport. Manta Reef resort in the NW has the white-eye and sunbird in the garden and mangroves, the green pigeon was seen in flight halfway from here to the dock, and the owl was commonly heard in a big patch of forest bisected by the road to the resort but only seen 100m beyond the forest (towards the resort) in a palm tree at a village (in response to tape) – P Kaestner (in litt.). Violet-breasted Sunbird is said to be common.

Coastal Aviation had just resumed daily afternoon flights to and from Tanga while we were in the country, but we had insufficient time to go. Ferries from Mombasa appeared to be defunct, the only ferries being from Dar.

 

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