Northern Tanzania Feb 08—24, 2007

Posted by Peter Roberts


Peter Roberts

Peter Roberts is based in Britain and lives on the island of Islay in the west of Scotland. He has been a keen naturalist since childhood in London. While birds remain his ...

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Our Tanzania tour was so popular this year that, again, I led two tours back-to-back, allowing me a whole month or more in this fantastic country. The two tours took us from the shores of vast Lake Victoria, steeped in history (and all sorts of special birds we'd find nowhere else on our tour), through the mythical and legendary Serengeti and Ngorongoro to the lesser-known gems of Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Parks. As always, the birding was wonderful. We tallied over 400 species on both tours, 500 species in total, and 14 species found for the first time, bringing the cumulative list of over 16 tours I?ve led here close to 600 species!

The birding and wildlife viewing is so easy, so prolific, and so varied, with different treats at every new destination. But it is not just "listing"?there is time to watch what all the wildlife is doing. I was heartened to hear participants comment on the fun of watching a lowly little Rattling Cisticola (one of a dozen "LBJs" in that group that are often overlooked for the many flashier birds we see) performing some bizarre displays of flapping wildly up and down on a branch, as if it were trying to take flight, but had forgotten to let go of its perch! Much hilarity was also gained from watching a "lek" of extraordinary Jackson's Widowbird males with their absurdly long bustle tails bouncing up and down in long grass as if on trampolines or bits of elastic?one of the simple pleasures of wildlife-watching. Another remarkable sight was finding Arrow-marked Babblers rearing a huge Levaillant's Cuckoo?the oversized foster child insistently food-begging from its undersized "parents."

In the forests of Arusha National Park a rarely witnessed piece of animal behavior was observed as a troop of olive baboons indulged in carnivory and were seen making off with a small red duiker antelope. Out on the endless grasslands of Serengeti, just being there is almost enough, and being there in the midst of tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra justifies the tour's "Greatest Wildlife Spectacle On Earth" epithet. None of us failed to be awed by the sheer numbers, throngs, noises, dramas, and panoply of life going on all around us. We watched lions attempt stalking a topi?sheer raw power and ingenuity as they operated a "pincer movement" on the unwary animal. In the Ngorongoro Crater we saw the flip side of lions as a huge male wandered over to our vehicle in the heat and bright sun of midday and slumped against its shady side to cool off! Then there is Olduvai Gorge, which sets everyone's imagination to thoughts of the hugely significant discoveries on early hominids and long-extinct beasts.

For many in our group this was their first time in Africa, and I was pleased (and reminded how true and important a factor it is) that they all commented on how enormously friendly and pleasant were the local Tanzanians we met. There were many comments, too, on how delightful and unexpectedly good were the accommodations and food; this is not a rough trip with hardships to be endured! We had a great mix of novices, keen naturalists, old and young, keen photographers, and others just pleased to be there. There was something for everyone, and everyone fitted in well to the daily pattern of safaris, optional birding, downtime in the heat of the day, and the excitement of moving on to the next new destination in our sturdy Landcruisers. Everyone gained a huge amount from their experiences, each in their own way, and, I hope, went home richer for it.