Thursday, August 16, 2012

July 3--Arusha to the West Usambara Mtns

A bit more background on why we took this trip.  Bob, who organized it, had told me ever since we reconnected in 2010 that he really wanted to bird more outside of the ABA area.  He still had as a goal to see at least 5000 different bird species from around the world, as well as see some more cultures.  He is about to turn 56 and has had skin cancer, so he really wanted to get this particular mega birding trip done sooner than later.  After I shared my interest in this kind of trip, plus having heard from Luddy Lamberton how great the trip had been for him, Bob decided that 2012 was the year to go.  Because Bob owns and manages a nursery, the summer was the only time for him to do this trip.

Stu, who recently moved to Sarasota, FL after living in Austin, TX for the past 25 years, has birded around the world a fair amount.  From 1996-2002 Stu helped organize adventure tours outside the U.S., mostly in New Zealand.  He had already been to S. Africa twice, and definitely wanted to see the E. African birds that did not make it to the tip of Africa.  The gorilla trekking day sealed the deal for him.

So the 3 of us were all set to go by early March, but we kept seeking out other possible birders to join us with a goal of having 6 of us to help reduce the trip costs.  Between the length of the trip, and the overall cost, we were unable to add any other birders to the group.  As it turned out, even though it meant we each paid $2-3,000 more than if we had 4-6 people in our group, it all worked out very well because traveling in the landcruiser was much more comfortable having just the 3 of us plus Brian and a driver.  The ideal number of birders would have been 4.

We were up early in Arusha to get a good start on our day.  Outside our hotel a lanner falcon flew over to get our birding day off on a high note.  We had to drive some distance to reach a large manmade lake which is called a dam in E. Africa--only natural lakes are called lakes.  We did not see all that many new birds in route, but since we had seen so many the day before at Tarangire, I decided to share a few of those photos to start this blog entry.  Above is a bearded woodpecker taken by Bob, and below is a male common ostrich (click on any photo to enlarge).

One of the hornbills we saw at Tarangire is the gray in the photo above, and below is the very sharp looking namaqua dove, both taken by Bob.

Two more birds from yesterday were the silverbird above and the lilac breasted roller below, both taken by Bob.

The dam/lake was huge, and the area around it was quite arid, which gave us a chance to see many other family groups than we had seen at Tarangire.  The little egret below is very similar to our snowy egret.

One of the bird families that I was looking forward to seeing in E. Africa is the barbets.  There are over 20 members of the family, and they generally have large bills relative to the size of the bird. Bob was able to get a nice photo of a black-throated barbet.  We also found D'Arnaud's barbet near the lake.

There were a large number of both white-winged and whiskered terns plus 1 gray-headed gull, 3 gull billed terns and about 100 skimmers.  We also saw a few black winged stilts.

We saw a few spur-winged lapwings (photo below) and blacksmith lapwings.  We found a few water thick-knees, another one of those unusual bird families found in E. Africa.  As we were eating lunch, a flock of 25-30 black-tailed godwits flew over, but frustratingly they did not land where we could look at them thru our scope.  They were one of the early returning palearctic shorebirds that we were able to see during the month.  We also saw at some distance a madagascar heron.  We saw lots of white faced whistling ducks, egyptian geese, great and long-tailed cormorants; some great and cattle egrets, gray and black headed herons, and sacred, glossy and hadada ibis.

A totally new plover for me was the Kittlitz's (photo below taken by Bob).  We have Kittlitz's murrelets in Alaska, but no Kittlitz's plovers in the U.S.

Another bird we saw in the scrub near the Kampi ya Mungu Dam was the rufous chatterer (photo above taken by Bob).  The new sunbird species for the trip was the black-bellied below also taken by Bob.

By mid afternoon we tore ourselves away from the dam to make the rest of our drive to the W. Usambara Mountains.  We would occasionally stop along the road to check out a bird that Brian had spied as we rolled along.  Often we would find other new species once we got out to walk around.

We wound our way up the mountain, arriving at the Muller Mountain Lodge at dusk.  The lodge was originally a private home that was turned into a lodge and has 22 rooms to let.  As we drove up the mountain we got good views of another lanner falcon.  As we walked into the main building for dinner, Stu found near the top of a very tall pine a spotted eagle-owl, and soon after we found an Usambara nightjar.  We walked into dinner feeling great after another very long day of birding and travel.  Dinner proved to be one of our better meals, and afterwards we did the bird list update.  After just 3 days of birding we had already passed 200 different species seen and/or heard.  Stay tuned!

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