Tuesday, August 14, 2012

July 2--Tarangire NP

Some more background on why we did this trip to E. Africa.  In my case, I had gone to Uganda in August of 1972 after graduating from college to work in a public health project.  Unfortunately, Idi Amin was the dictator at the time, and as my older readers may remember, he was killing quite a few people.  After 10 weeks of trying to get our project underway, including being arrested at one point and driven 3 hours back to Kampala in the back of an army jeep with 2 soldiers holding rifles, we finally had to abandon the project.

I had gotten a new camera before going to Uganda, but had waited to buy film there.  I was only being paid $80/mth, and when I found out how expensive film was in Uganda, I decided to have my girlfriend bring film when she came to join me.  Because of the problems in Uganda, she was never able to get a visa, and thus never arrived.  So I ended up with no pictures of my time there.  With the new age of digital cameras, this was not a problem this time around as I ended up taking over a 1000 pictures with my Nikon point and shoot, and Bob took over 10,000 with his much better telephoto lens.  I will always indicate which photos are his to confirm his copyright for 2012.

I also was not a birdwatcher back in 1972, so I have little memory of seeing birds while in Uganda.  Unlike our N. American birds, E. Africa's birds are generally much more colorful, and diverse.  The ABA area (N. America north of Mexico) has about 675 breeding birds, and a total of 970 different bird species have ever been recorded in an area covering 7.6 million sq. mi.  The countries of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda have recorded almost 1400 different bird species in an area that is 1/10th the size of the United States and Canada.  When you consider my abbreviated visit 40 years ago, add in the wild animals, and the opportunity to go sit with a gorilla family, well I think you can see the allure of such a trip.

We had arrived at the Tarangire Safari Lodge in the dark, so we did not realize until the next morning what an awesome view we had looking out from the lodge area.  Sleeping in our big tents was most restful even though we heard lions growling nearby during the night.  Brian also heard an African scops owl calling.  Before eating breakfast, we checked out the bush behind our tents, and found a gray headed kingfisher (photo below), one of the many woodland kingfishers in E. Africa.

Over by the lodge we looked up in the sky to find 100's of alpine swifts zipping thru the air, with a a few African black swifts mixed in with them.  We also found an eastern violet backed sunbird (photo just below taken by Bob).  For me, the sunbird family, which numbers over 50 different species in E. Africa, and range is size from 3.5 to 6.5 inches, is like a cross between our hummers and wood warblers.  We saw at least one species of sunbird, and often several, each day of our trip.

While eating a buffet breakfast with an omelet station, we saw the Spanish family wander in, bleary eyed from staying up late to watch Spain crush Italy 4-0.  The Spanish soccer team has now won the EUFA championship in both 2008 and 2012, and in between won the World Cup in 2010.  It is now considered one of the great sports dynasties.  Needless to say, the Spanish family was thrilled to have won.

We loaded up our landcruiser, and headed out for a long day of bird and animal watching.  The landcruiser has a pop up top so that as you slowly drive the very dusty dirt roads in the park, you can stand up and look out taking in the full scene.  For a good part of the day we were near the river that runs thru the preserve, and at one point we found a hamerkop apparently taking advantage of the banded mongoose group stirring up the water which scared food out for the bird (photo above taken by Bob)

At another point along the river we found a pair of saddle billed storks hiding in the reeds (photo above taken by Bob)--what an amazing bird visually!  Our first owl sighting of the trip was the pearl spotted owlet (photo below).  We found a second one later in the day. 

Mid morning we came across our first sighting of a lioness whose red face meant she had just been feasting on a kill that we could not see from our vehicle.  Because of the wild game, when you are in the national parks, you have to stay in your vehicle at all times other than to jump out to take a quick piss.

One of the bird families that I found quite interesting is the mousebirds of which we saw 3 of the 4 species that reside in E. Africa.  You almost always see them in small groups like the blue-napeds in the photo just below.

As we were driving down to the park the day before, we saw gray crowned cranes perched in a distant tree, so we were pleased to be able to see a pair much closer feeding on the ground while touring Tarangire (photo taken by Bob).  This is E. Africa's main resident crane.  Also, like on day 1, we saw quite a few chestnut-bellied, yellow-throated and black-faced sandgrouse usually flying over us as we drove along.

We were constantly on the look out for birds hiding down in the grass.  We saw 4 different members of the francolin family at Tarangire, including the yellow-necked (photo just below) and red necked spurfowl, and the coqui and crested francolins.

The are many birds of prey in E. Africa--eagles, hawk eagles, snake eagles, kites, kestrels, falcons, harriers, hawks, goshawks, sparrowhawks, buzzards, and vultures.  During our trip, we saw many fish eagles which are similar to our bald eagle.

One of the most unusual bird families in E. Africa is the hornbills.  We saw many different species including at Tarangire African gray, red-billed, Von der Decken's and southern ground-hornbill (photo just below taken by Bob).  These are large birds that seemingly have few enemies to threaten them.  They all have huge curved bills--thus the name hornbill--with the males' bills being often twice the size of the females'.

As we traversed the park, we crossed paths with many common zebras who are related to donkeys.  In the photo below (taken by Bob), you can see several wattled starlings standing on the zebra's back.  It is very common to see birds perched on zebras, giraffes, cape buffalo, rhinos, and a large number of different ungulates, eating whatever bugs they can find on the skin.

E. Africa does not have anywhere near the number of parrots that S. America, or New Guinea and Australia have, but they have a few like the orange-bellied parrot (photo taken by Bob).

Each day of our trip we would have a box lunch prepared by the lodge/hotel we were staying at.  We would either eat lunch while driving to our next destination, or stop to watch birds while eating.  We usually ate breakfast anytime between 6:30 and 7:30, and lunch would happen as early as 12:30 and as late as 2:30 depending on the birding.  By the second day of the trip, we already began to sense that our box lunch was never going to be very appealing.  As the blog proceeds, I will provide more details.  At Tarangire we stopped at a small water hole where many small birds were coming in for a drink including a green winged pytilia (photo taken by Bob).

Our time in Tarangire seemed to fly by, and before we knew it we needed to begin driving back north to Arusha to spend the night.  On our way out we did see a mother elephant with 2 offspring taking a dust bath after having taken a mud bath.  We saw elephants often on our trip, but like all the big game in E. Africa, you never get tired of spending time near them in their natural habitat.

The drive back to Arusha was bumpy and seemingly endless, especially when we hit rush hour traffic in town.  While in E. Africa I took very few pictures of the people and town scenes because I did not want to "intrude" on their lives.  Plus, the masai, which are the dominant people of NE Tanzania, and much of Kenya, will not let you take their picture without paying them.  So I will instead describe images that have stuck with me.  One of them is the mini-vans that serve as taxi's all over E. Africa.  These are specially modified to seat 12-15 passengers, and they are always full!  They are everywhere in the towns and cities, and you also see them driving between towns and villages.

Fortunately, our driver, Abdul, knew Arusha well, and he took us on a very bumpy back road to avoid the traffic.  We arrived at our lodging, the Korona Hotel, about 8:30.  The rooms were pretty nice, and the dinner we would discover in hindsight was better than many we would have.  We met a young woman who was in Arusha on a Fullbright scholarship to observe the work of the Rwanda genocide tribunal that is based in Arusha.  After such a long day, we were very ready to hit the sack.  Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. I have to admit I like the elephant picture the best so far but love reading about your trip!