Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tanzania Part 1 - Lake Manyara

Muddy Elephants at Lake Manyara. 6/3/09 (click to enlarge)

Since it has been two weeks since I returned from my Africa trip, I figure that it is past time for me to summarize the many highlights. My plan is to do this in several parts - but knowing my history of updating this blog, we'll see how that goes.

I departed Washington-Dulles at 6:00 pm on June 1st, arriving in Amsterdam at 8:00 am on June 2. It was there that I met up with the other 15 people on the trip, including my undergraduate mentor and trip organizer Vin Lawrence, my former undergraduate academic advisor Ed Sweet, and my roommate for the next 14 nights, Terrie Baranek. After an 8 hour flight from Amsterdam, we arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport at approximately 8:00 pm, and transferred to our lodging for the evening, The Outpost Lodge in Arusha. The Outpost was solely a brief stopover on our way to the true start of our safari in Lake Manyara National Park, but I was able to start my birdlist on the grounds of the lodge while awaiting our drivers the morning of June 3. Birds noted on the grounds were Common Bulbul, African Goshawk, Pied Crow, Variable Sunbird, Speckled Mousebird, and flyover Hadada Ibis. After visiting a Bureau de Change where I exchanged $80 US for 112,800 Tanzania Shilling, we departed on the 2.5 hour drive west to Lake Manyara. On the drive we stopped to look at a number of birds, including Brown Snake Eagle, Common Fiscal, Superb Starling, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Tawny Eagle, Northern White-crowned Shrike (perhaps the signature ubiquitous bird of Northern Tanzania), White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Von der Decken's Hornbill, Black-headed Heron, White-bellied Go-Away-Bird, Yellow-collared Lovebirds, and Easter Pale Chanting Goshawk.

White-headed Buffalo Weaver. 6/3/09 (click to enlarge)

Common Fiscal (click to enlarge)

After checking into Migunga Forest Camp, our lodging for the next two nights, we departed on an afternoon game drive in Lake Manyara National Park. The highlight of the afternoon drive was a pride of lions (adult females and cubs)sunning next to a waterhole, and a herd of elephants fresh from a mudbath. Other mammals seen well included Olive Baboons, Impala, Kirk's Dikdik, Banded Mongoose, Warthog, Wildebeest, Zebra, and two uncommon Klipspringer antelope perched high on a rocky hillside.

Lake Manyara Lions. 6/3/09 (click to enlarge)

Birds added during the afternoon drive were Hamerkop, Wooly-necked Stork (the only one of the trip), Marabou (one of the few species seen practically everyday of the trip), Egyptian Goose, Red-necked Spurfowl, Grey Crowned Crane, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Red-eyed Dove, White-browed Coucal, African Palm Swift, Pied Kingfisher, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Southern Ground Hornbill, Red & Yellow Barbet, Lesser Striped Swallow, Long-tailed Fiscal, Grey-headed Sparrow, Black Bishop, Eastern Paradise Whydah, and Village Indigobird.

Red & Yellow Barbet. 6/3/09 (click to enlarge)

Hamerkop. 6/3/09. (click to enlarge)

Grey-headed Kingfisher. 6/3/09 (click to enlarge)

Migunga Forest Camp, located in a beautiful yellow-bark acacia forest, was a great setting from which to explore the National Park. The accomodations, though a bit more rustic than the more upscale lodges, were more than serviceable. Each guest "room" was actually a large tent set up on a wooden foundation, with the back flaps of the tent opening into a permanent bathroom with flush toilet and shower. The whole set up was covered by a thatched roof. My tent contained two double beds, each with mosquito netting to protect the occupant from the notorious, malaria-laden mosquitos of East Africa's Rift Valley. The yellow-bark acacia is also referred to as "fever tree", and do to an incorrect combining of the two names, the forest type is often referred to as yellow-fever forest. The "fever" referred to in the name fever tree is actually malaria, not yellow fever, and the name fever tree arose due to the fact that yellow-bark acacia are associated with water and wet areas, where the malaria-vectoring Anopheles mosquito is prevalent.

My "room" at Migunga Forest Camp.

June 4, our 2nd full day in Tanzania, found us back in Lake Manyara for a morning game drive to the hot springs located about 35 kilometers south of the park's entrance at the market town of Mto wa Mbu (pronounced mmtwomboo), and an afternoon drive to the "Hippo Pool" area of the Lake. The morning drive provided us with our first good look at Maasai Giraffe, distinguished from other giraffes by their jagged-edged "snow-flake" spots. While many authors lump the various forms of giraffe together into a single species, recent genetic evidence suggests that there are in reality at least six species. Mitochondrial DNA evidence shows that the reticulated giraffe of Northern Kenya and the Maasai Giraffe of Southern Kenya/Tanzania separated genetically at least 130,000 years ago, and perhaps as long as 1.6 million years ago. We had good looks at many of the same mammals as seen the previous day, but added Bushbuck, Hippo, Thomson's Gazelle, and African Buffalo. A number of people in the group got looks at a Serval hunting in the reeds surrounding the hot springs, though I unfortunately missed that sighting.

Maasai Giraffe, Lake Manyara. 6/4/09 (click to enlarge)

Olive Baboon. 6/4/09. (click to enlarge)

Bushbuck. 6/4/09. (click to enlarge)

Impala. 6/4/09 (click to enlarge)

Many new bird species were added on the June 4 game drives. Hihhlights included the sight of Great White Pelicans comically perched in treetops over the main road through Mto wa Mbu, a plethora of water birds including tens of thousands of Lesser Flamingos, Grey Heron, Yellow-billed Stork, Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill, Augur Buzzard, Bateleur, Helmeted Guineafowl, Collared Pratincole, Blacksmith Plover, Spur-winged Plover, Kittlitz's Plover, Crowned Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Grey-headed Gull, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Narina Trogon, Striped Kingfisher, African Grey Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, Nubian Woodpecker, Grey Woodpecker, African Pied Wagtail, Spotted Morning-Thrush, Grey-backed Camaroptera, African Paradise Flycatcher, Slate-colored Boubou, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, Fork-tailed Drongo, African Black-headed Oriole, Red-billed Oxpecker, Wattled Starling, Spectacled Weaver, Purple Grenadier, and Red-billed Firefinch.

We finished up our Lake Manyara visit with a morning drive on June 5, before departing the Rift Valley for the Ngorogoro Conservation Area. New additions on the last Manyara visit were Peregrine Falcon, the elegant Namaqua Dove, Laughing Dove, Giant Kingfisher, d'Arnaud's Barbet, Fischer's Sparrow-Lark, Southern Black Flycatcher, Ruppell's Long-tailed Starling, Fan-tailed Widowbird, and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu.

Great White Pelican. 9/4/09

Crowned Plover. 6/4/09.

Giant Kingfisher. 6/4/09

Stay tuned for Part 2, Ngorogoro Crater!

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