Monday, August 13, 2012

Here We Go--July 1

This trip of a life time was organized by Bob Wallace who I first met birding at Gambell, AK in May of 2006.  I ran into him again in April of 2010 during my lower 48 big year while looking for a bar tailed godwit in the Everglades.  He and his friend, Dex, became champions of my big year, encouraging me to go all out, and helping me in September to see the Cuban pewee that showed up in the Everglades by picking me up at the Miami airport on their way to see the bird.

He got the idea of the trip from a birder he knows, Luddy Lamberton, who did essentially our same trip with Ron Hoff and Dollyann Myers, using Brian Finch as their guide.  The main difference was that they did their birding mega-tour of E. Africa in February 2011 when they could also see many palearctic birds that we would not be able to see by doing our trip in July.  As a result, they saw over 900 bird species!  Using their trip as a reference point, we set a goal of seeing at least 700 bird species with the hope that we could even get over 800.  By the end of this series of posts on our trip you will know what our final total ended up being.

We began working on the details of our trip in December of last year.  In hindsight, we would recommend that anyone putting together a private birding trip like ours start on it 12 months in advance to insure you are able to get exactly the trip you desire.  This is particularly true if you want to have a gorilla trekking day as part of your itinerary since getting the trekking permit can be difficult.  Enough background for now.


I flew over night on AA from Raleigh/Durham to London, Heathrow on Friday June 29th.  I met Stu Wilson for the first time at the airport.  I had a light breakfast at Wagamama's while beginning to get to know him.  Bob arrived a couple of hours later.  We all flew on BA to Nairobi, arriving about 9 PM, which was less than 24 hours after leaving North Carolina.  We were in our hotel and asleep before midnight.

We were up early to eat the buffet breakfast which was quite extensive and included an omelet station.  We were all surprised how "white" our omelets were when they arrived at the table.  We discovered that African chicken eggs have very light yolks so the omelets and scrambled eggs look like they are made from egg whites only.

Brian Finch, our guide, joined us about 7 AM, and we all went outside the hotel to see what birds were around while waiting for some info to be delivered to Brian from our trip ground agent.  One of the highlights was the sunbird nest (photo above--click on any photo to enlarge) with a female bronze sunbird sitting in it.  We birded for about 30 minutes before getting into the Toyota landcruiser, and ticked over 20 species for the trip just on the hotel grounds.


Our day was spent driving from Nairobi to Tarangire National Park in northeast Tanzania, a distance of about 400 KM (250 miles).  The roads were mostly paved, but not up to the standards we have here in the U.S.  Brian was riding shotgun and occasionally he would ask our driver (Peter in Kenya and Abdul in Tanzania) to stop for birds like the Hartlaub's bustard above (photo by Bob Wallace), and the augur buzzard below.


After about 2 hours of driving we came to the Tanzania border where we had to fill out exit visas for leaving Kenya.  They also have electronic machines to record your finger and thumb prints as well as a camera to take your picture.  You then drive down the road 100 yards to the Tanzania border control, and fill out visa entry forms where they repeat the process.  This is where we changed vehicles and drivers also.


After getting thru the border crossing, we continued on our way, again stopping randomly to record new bird species like the paradise whydah and white-headed buffalo weavers just above, and the scarlet-chested sunbird below, both photos taken by Bob.



Our main goal for the afternoon was to get to a grassy area that has several species of lark, including the very rare Beesley's lark, a Tanzanian endemic.  Once arriving at the appropriate habitat (photo above of Stu and our landcruiser), we found rufous naped, red capped and athi short-toed larks, and Fischer's sparrow-larks.  After some tromping thru the brushy/grassy habitat we finally flushed 2 of the Beesley's (photo just below, taken by Bob).


We would have continued to look for other lark species, but once we found the Beesley's we needed to keep driving to make sure we made it to Tarangire NP before they closed the gates at 6:30.


Like many other tour groups, we all came rushing down the 8 KM of dirt road that takes you to the park entrance.  While our driver, Abdul, got us checked in, we were able to do some birding around the parking area.  In addition to seeing several new species like slate-colored boo bou and African orange bellied parrots, we also enjoyed the yellow collared lovebirds (photo above, taken by Bob) that were flying around.

Once all the paperwork was completed we had time to bird a bit more as we drove into the park to our lodge.  As the sun was setting we began to see some of the animals in the park including a family of masai giraffes.  It had been a very long day of travel, chock full of new images and bird species, that kept all of us exclaiming how amazing it all was.


We arrived at the lodge just at dusk where we were taken to our tents with full bathrooms to deposit our gear.  We headed to the bar and dining area about 8 PM to try the local beers--Safari, Serengeti, Kilimanjaro and Tusker.  Dinner was soup, salad, a choice of 3 entrees and dessert.  Nothing stood out as being particularly tasty, but it was all edible.  A Spanish family was staying at the lodge, and they were all fired up about watching their soccer team play the Italians in the EUFA championship.  The game was not due to begin until 11 PM, so we all headed for our tents to get some much needed sleep after going thru the list of birds seen for the day.  This became a daily ritual either just before or after dinner.  After day 1 we had seen over 120 different species of birds.  Stay tuned!

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