Tanzania long ago realized the importance of its natural resources and has done a great deal to protect them. Today 25% of the country is given over to national parks and reserves, of which the most famous, in the north of the country, form the basis for this tour. Starting on the densely wooded slopes of Mount Meru in the shadow of the much larger Mount Kilimanjaro, we’ll wander among the giant baobab trees of Tarangire National Park before visiting two of the world’s most famous wildlife locations—Ngorongoro Crater and the vast Serengeti. We’ll end our safari on the shores of the mighty Lake Victoria.
Tanzania is a reminder that our earth is still a place of wonder, a place where mammals big and small can follow unmolested lives and where birds of every hue seem to queue right along the wayside.
Day 1: The tour begins this evening at Kilimanjaro International Airport in northern Tanzania. Night near Arusha.
This tour is one of our all-time favorites. James Wolstencroft is very knowledgeable about all aspects of Tanzania and Firoz, our driver/guide, was a valuable addition in making the tour the success it was. We would highly recommend this tour.
Arlan Bushman, December 2016
Days 2–3: Strange noises and calls will wake us early, and we’ll spend an hour birding around our lodge grounds, getting to know some of the commoner birds of the region. We’ll begin our safari proper by driving up to our next lodge, which is perched on the lower slopes of Mount Meru. We’ll walk around the lodge grounds, dotted with yellow-barked Acacias, in search of such birds as Hadada Ibis, Hamerkop, Blacksmith Lapwing, Crowned Hornbill, Olive Pigeon, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, White-fronted Bee-eater, Yellow-breasted Apalis, the scarce and elusive Red-throated Tit, Red-winged Starling, Tropical Boubou, Chin-spot Batis, and Variable, Scarlet-chested, Bronze, and Amethyst Sunbirds. Our first mammals are likely to be African Buffalo and Common Zebra grazing in the marsh below the lodge.
We’ll also venture out into Arusha National Park, where we’ll find ourselves among Masai Giraffe, Common Waterbuck, Bushbuck, Warthog, Guereza Colobus, Blue Monkey, and Olive Baboon. Hiding in the dappled shade of this magnificent evergreen hill forest we may also find a tiny woodland antelope, the secretive Suni, along with the bay-colored Harvey’s Red Duiker. If we are very lucky we may also catch sight of a Leopard or Serval.
There will be much to see and hear during our time here. Stopping in the lush forest that grows along the edge of the ancient volcanic crater, we’ll look for the massive African Crowned Eagle, as well as Mountain Buzzard, African Green Pigeon, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Bar-tailed Trogon, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, African Palm, Horus, Alpine, Mottled, Little, and Nyanza Swifts, Black Saw-wing, Olive Mountain (Placid), Stripe-faced, and Mountain Greenbuls, Waller’s, Kenrick’s, and with luck Abbott’s Starlings, and Eastern Double-collared Sunbird.
We’ll encounter a different set of birds in the more open areas of scrub and grassland, where Rufous-naped Lark, Pangani Longclaw, White-browed Scrub Robin, African Moustached and Cinnamon Bracken Warblers, Trilling and Siffling Cisticolas, and the very local Taveta Golden Weaver will all vie for our attention. The ancient volcanic craters have created wetlands that will be alive with Lesser Flamingos, and this is a reliable site for the normally elusive Greater Painted-snipe. Nights at a lodge on the slopes of Mount Arusha.
Day 4: Leaving early, we’ll skirt the edge of Arusha and head west. Our first stop will be the “Lark Plains,” a strange open area situated between Arusha and the border town of Namanga and home to one of Africa’s rarest birds, Beesley’s Lark. This isolated form of Spike-heeled Lark is critically endangered with a world population of probably no more than 50 individuals. These plains, in the rain shadow of Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro, are perfect habitat for larks, and as well as Beesley’s we’ll look for Pink-breasted, Athi Short-toed, Short-tailed, and Foxy Larks. The open landscape can be good for raptors, and we can expect to see migrant Montagu’s Harriers, Lesser Kestrels, and Amur Falcons joining the resident Greater and Common (Rock) Kestrels. In this distinctly dry habitat we’ll also find savannah species typical of the larger protected areas to the west, such as Eastern Chanting Goshawk, African Pygmy Falcon, Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, Double-banded Courser, Crowned Lapwing, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Red-fronted, Red-and-Yellow, and Spot-flanked Barbets, Ashy and Tiny Cisticolas, Purple Grenadier, Eastern Paradise and Straw-tailed Whydahs, and Somali Golden-breasted Bunting, while mammals could include Golden Jackal, the elegant Gerenuk, and, with great luck, Lesser Kudu.
Later we’ll continue westward to Tarangire National Park, arriving in time for lunch. As we enter the park, we’ll be greeted by a landscape dominated by majestic baobabs rising out of the acacia parkland, forming a perfect backdrop for the large herds of African Elephants wandering among them. Other mammals sharing this habitat range from Lion and Black-backed Jackal to Kirk’s Dik-Dik, Dwarf and Banded Mongoose, Impala, Beisa Oryx, Steinbok, and African Hare. The lodge grounds are bound to attract a good variety of birds, which could include roosting African Scops Owls and the endemic Ashy Starling. Night near Tarangire National Park.
Day 5: We’ll have all day to explore this extremely bird-rich habitat. Birds we may see include Maasai Ostrich, White-headed, Rüppell’s, and African White-backed Vultures, Red-necked Spurfowl, Bare-faced Go-away Bird, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Lilac-breasted Roller, Nubian Woodpecker, White-browed Coucal, African Hoopoe, Magpie Shrike, Northern White-crowned Shrike, and the endemic Yellow-collared Lovebird. This is good habitat for the handsome Bateleur Eagle, which will share the skies with numerous Tawny Eagles. Large Mosque Swallows will swoop around the baobabs, while in the dense scrub below we may find White-browed Scrub-Robin, Green-winged Pytilia, and, with luck, Bronze-winged Courser. The endemic Rufous-tailed Weaver is common here, and migrants from farther north could range from Sooty Falcon to Rock Thrush. Night in Tarangire National Park.
Day 6: We’ll begin our journey westward, stopping for the night close to the small town of Karatu. Our lodge is situated on the edge of the extensively forested Crater Highlands, and we’ll be able to explore these wooded environments on foot while we search for Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle, Narina Trogon, Grey and Purple-throated Cuckoo-shrikes, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, African Hill Babbler, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Grey-capped Warbler, Red-capped Robin-chat, and Holub’s Golden Weaver, among others. Night near Karatu.
Day 7: We’ll travel to what is possibly Africa’s greatest wildlife location—the mighty Ngorongoro Crater. The sides of this vast caldera are covered in a mosaic of highland grass and woodland, and as we begin to climb we’ll stop to look for some of the birds that have made this area their home. These may include the secretive African Snipe, showy Red-collared Widowbirds, the males resplendent in full breeding plumage, and perhaps Jackson’s Widowbirds. Striking male Yellow Bishops will be buzzing over the grass trying to impress the females, and smart African Stonechats will share the bush tops with stunning Malachite Sunbirds.
Our lodge overlooks the crater, and we should arrive in time for a walk along the rim, where we may find Schalow’s Turaco, Golden-winged and Tacazze Sunbirds, and the exuberant Hunter’s Cisticola. This is also a wonderful place to see various raptors, such as Augur Buzzards riding the updraft from the side of the crater, giving eye-level views as they hang motionless. Night at Sopa Lodge.
Day 8: The Ngorongoro Crater is one of those places that has to be seen—words alone cannot do it justice. Leaving our lodge, we’ll drive down into what was once, many eons ago, the fiery heart of a huge volcano. Today this natural amphitheater has a much more peaceful atmosphere as Wildebeest, Coke’s Hartebeest, Grant’s and Thomson’s Gazelles, and Common Zebra feed contentedly, or at least as contentedly as the ever-present Lions and Cheetahs will allow, although the Black Rhinoceros here will be less concerned about these predators. The bird life in the crater varies according to the season, but during our visit we should see Grey Crowned Crane, Shelley’s Francolin, Abdim’s and Black Storks, Lappet-faced Vulture, Black-bellied and Kori Bustards, Fischer’s Lovebird, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, and Northern Anteater Chat, among many others. Night at Sopa Lodge.
Day 9: Leaving Ngorongoro, we’ll drive west to the very edge of the vast Serengeti National Park and the area around Lakes Ndutu and Masek. In this part of Africa mammals are constantly on the move, and with luck we’ll intercept the large herds of Wildebeest and Common Zebra. There will be all kinds of other wildlife to look for as well, ranging from Bat-eared Foxes in the shorter grassland to Common Genets around the lodge at night. At Lake Ndutu we’ll watch both Greater and Lesser Flamingos feeding in the shallows while Cape Teal appear to drift between their legs. Along the lake edge we should find Chestnut-fronted Sandplover and Black-winged Lapwing, while away from the water Gull-billed Terns scour the plains from the air for grasshoppers and dung beetles, and Hooded and Egyptian Vultures patrol the skies. Night in the Ndutu/Masek area.
Day 10: We’ll spend all day in the short-grass plains and acacia woodland where the eastern Serengeti blends into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Taking a picnic lunch, we’ll wander this remote area, stopping to look at whatever grabs our attention. As well as more chances to study mammals and perhaps even to find some hunting Cheetahs, there is the distinct possibility of encounters with Lions and Leopards. We should also find lots of new birds: Spotted Eagle Owl, Usambiro Barbet, African, Didric, Klaas’s, Great Spotted, and Jacobin Cuckoos, Red-fronted and Black-throated Barbets, Silverbird, Schalow’s Wheatear, and Cliff Chat, among many others. Our stay here in such a classic African setting will be one of the tour’s highlights, an experience made even better by sitting around the campfire at night listening to the nearby strident calls of Spotted Hyena and Common Zebra. Night in the Ndutu/Masek area.
Days 11–12: There will be time for early morning birding close to the lodge before breakfast, and then we’ll travel westward across the southern part of the Serengeti to Mbalageti, in the western arm of this huge national park. Here we’ll enter the Africa of everyone’s imagination—a wide-open landscape of long grass punctuated by koppies (tall rocky outcrops), scattered acacia trees, and mammals and birds everywhere. We’ll explore the diverse surroundings of the perfectly situated Mbalageti Lodge, where endemic birds nest within the grounds. We’ll take game drives out into the wide valley of the river that gives this location its Maasai name. Here crakes and rails haunt secluded wetlands while kingfishers, orioles, and gonoleks call loudly from pristine riparian woodland alongside the River Mbalageti itself. We’ll be looking for a variety of birds, including Kori Bustard, Coqui Francolin, the endemic Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Brown Parrot, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Freckled Nightjar, Plain-backed Pipit, the endemic Tanzanian (Ruaha) Hornbill, Grey-crested Helmet-shrike, Rosy-patched Shrike, Karamoja Apalis, Buff-bellied Penduline-Tit, and Steel-blue Whydah. Among the many mammal species we hope to see are Cheetah, Leopard, and Topi, while Rock Hyrax and Klipspringer should be found in the koppies, and herds of Hippopotamus will be wallowing in muddy pools. At night the calls of various crickets will mingle with the strange sounds produced by Galagos with perhaps an owl or two creating a superb audio backdrop. Our time at Mbalageti will demonstrate why the Serengeti ecosystem arguably remains the greatest and richest wildlife destination left on earth. Nights at Mbalageti.
Day 13: We’ll head for the seclusion of Speke Bay Lodge for a one-night stay, traveling along the Grumeti River, where we’ll stop to look for giant Nile Crocodiles, relicts from a seemingly distant era, and of course there will be plenty of birds to see on the way as well. The quiet backwater of Speke’s Bay on the southeastern shore of Lake Victoria will provide us with an introduction to several more West African bird species, and once there we’ll spend the rest of the day on foot, birding in the lush grassland along the lake shore and in the fringing papyrus beds. Right within the grounds we’ll find Heuglin’s Courser and Square-tailed Nightjar roosting quietly in the shade, while brightly colored Slender-billed and Yellow-backed Weavers feed among the flowers as Angola Swallows and African Paradise and Swamp Flycatchers dart after insects. The lake shore attracts large numbers of African Open-bill Storks and huge flocks of Whiskered and White-winged Black Terns, while wintering Ruff, Little Stint, and Lesser Sandplover scurry along the beach. Night at Speke Bay Lodge.
Day 14: We’ll spend the first part of the morning exploring the lodge grounds and lake shore. New species may include Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Eurasian Nightjar, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Blue-headed Coucal, Black-headed Gonolek, Red-chested Sunbird, and Northern Brown-throated Weaver, and of course no visit to Africa would be complete without a selection of those puzzling cisticolas: today we may find time to sort out the Rattling from the Zitting, Croaking, Winding, and Red-faced. Later we’ll make the short journey to Mwanza for a local flight back to Arusha. Night in Arusha.
Day 15: On this last day of the safari we’ll explore some extensive dry Acacia-Commiphora bush-land that typifies what has become known as the Maasai steppe, a huge semi-arid plateau that constitutes the central zone of Tanzania.
Here we’ll skirt some seasonal wetlands that could easily produce a few new water-loving birds for our trip such as African Marsh Harrier and Purple Swamp Hen. After first checking these Shambala swamps we’ll drive in a wide arc back toward the Kilimanjaro airport, passing the small town of Naberera, and stopping wherever we wish in order to explore this intriguing savanna habitat on foot. With much of the tour being spent in National Parks where we needed to remain in the vehicle, being out and about in the habitat will be a novel experience.
As we wander through this dry habitat we’ll be looking for some special birds, many of them dry-country specialities that we may not have seen earlier in the tour. These will include birds such as Crested Bustard, the strikingly patterned White-headed Mousebird, the ‘red brick’ Donaldson-Smith’s Nightjar, or Scaly Chatterer, a scarce and skulking babbler. The soft-toned Fischer’s Starling will be in complete contrast to the utterly scintillating Golden-breasted Starling, surely the most stunning of the African starlings. Other special birds could include the diminutive Pringle’s Puffback, pairs of delightful Pygmy Batis, which usually are to be found foraging very near the ground, active colonies of Black-headed Social Weavers and the somewhat elusive Somali Golden-breasted Bunting.
We will also be hoping to see some species that are winter visitors or passage migrants to the Maasai steppe from their breeding grounds in the Middle East and distant Central Asia; birds such as the Pied Wheatear, Irania, Common Rock Thrush, Eastern Olivaceous, Upcher’s and Barred Warblers as well as the ‘phoenicuroides’ form of Isabelline Shrike. We will reach Arusha in time to wash and change before transferring to the airport in time for our flight evening flights home.