Saturday, August 18, 2012

Day 5--Travel Day to the East Usambara Mtns

Time to talk a bit more about Brian Finch, our bird guide.  Brian was born in Kenya in 1950, and went to England to attend school.  He made his way to Australia by age 20, beginning his serious birding in his travels to reach Australia.  After working and birding in Australia for 9 years, he then moved to New Guinea where he spent the next 9 years working, and birding.  He met the owners of Abercrombie and Kent in New Guinea, and they asked him to come back to Kenya to live at the Masai Mara and be a guide for the company.  He spent 9 years working for A&K, and then moved to Nairobi where he has resided ever since, working for several bird tour companies as a guide in E. and S. Africa.

Brian's E. Africa life list is at 1039 different species seen, and his world list is between 6-7,000 bird species.  He knows 3-4,000 bird songs/calls.  As I said earlier in the blog, without his ear to pick up birds first, we would have seen far fewer total bird species on our trip.  And since Stu only counts seen birds on his life list, and because we all prefer seen birds to heard only birds, we spent a fair amount of time in getting visual confirmation on as many of the heard first birds as we could.

One of Brian's distinctions beyond his vast birding skills and knowledge is that he is one of 1200 Kenyan citizens of European heritage.  There are 42 million people living in Kenya, 9 million in Nairobi alone.  Also, for all of you who have seen the movie, Out of Africa, some of the furniture including Meryl Streep's bed in the movie, were provided by Brian's family.  It turns out that there is a registry in E. Africa where people list the period furniture they are willing to rent to film companies.  His family's furniture has been used in several movies over the years, but back to birding.

We awoke to another nice morning at the Muller Mountain Lodge.  As we walked in to have breakfast we began our day with amethyst sunbird (photo just above--all photos in today's post were taken by Bob).  We also saw brown-backed mannikins just below.

One of the general images that I carry from our trip because we saw this every day was of E. Africans carrying objects on their heads including huge bundles of firewood.  Most of the bundles were riding on women's heads, but we also saw lots of children carrying loads, and the occasional man except for the Masai men who do very little work of any kind other than to tend their cows, sheep and goats, or dress up in their traditional garb in hopes that tourists will pay them for a photo.

As we worked our way back down the winding road from the Muller Mountain Lodge, we had the opportunity to bird along the stream that ran next to the road.  One of the bird species we saw several times was the cliff chat just above.  We also passed a "road crew" that was mowing the roadside using machetes that had the last 4 inches bent so they could be used like a sickle.

Once we got back to the lowlands, we made pretty good time driving to the East Usambaras, with a stop every now and then to check out a new bird species like the lizard buzzard just above, and the black-winged red bishop just below--remember to click on any photo to enlarge it.

At one river crossing we saw another common sight, women washing their clothes.  At one stop we saw our first African open-billed stork of the trip.

Our destination for the evening was the Malaria Research Center Resthouse in Amani which is high up in the East Usambaras.  So we spent the end of our day winding up another mountain road.  Between the curves, and the terribly rutted sections of some of the dirt roads, it was not unusual for us to travel only 20 KM/hr.  Along the way we found a few more birds including a yellow-throated wood warbler just below.

Once again we arrived at our evening's lodging at dusk, but tonite we discovered that there was no electricity--the power had been out for over 24 hours--and the lodge did not have its own backup generator.  Our evening was spent without the benefit of a hot shower, and we ate a simple meal by candlelight.  As a result, we all were in bed pretty early, sleeping under our mosquito netting.  Tomorrow was all about the unique forest birds of the East Usambaras.  Stay tuned!

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