Northern Tanzania Feb 23—Mar 11, 2010
Having traveled to 20 African countries (6 within the last year or so), I am increasingly aware of the reasons why I consider Tanzania to be the very finest wildlife safari destination in Africa—and the world. Several East and Southern African destinations offer superb birding and wildlife viewing, but unlike the others, in Tanzania there is virtually no time wasted in long, bumpy, or dusty travel from one location to the next. Arusha National Park is just half an hour from our lodge on arrival. The next day we fly into the vast Serengeti and spend eight days entirely surrounded by the most remarkable wildlife imaginable, as we gradually traverse from west to east nearly 200 miles through this unique ecosystem from Lake Victoria to the Ngorongoro Crater. From there, all travel is on smooth, newly-paved roads: a mere hour to Manyara National Park, then two more from there to reach our final destination of Tarangire, and two more back to Arusha at the end of our tour. The whole fortnight has only about five hours of "travel time"—and that's on good roads through fascinating countryside with no cities or traffic! I can't think of another tour anywhere in the world that gives so much quality time spent doing what you've come for—this is real value for money birding!
In Tanzania in recent years, the rains have been more erratic and may start late or early. It can be dry or lush and green when we visit, but it seems to make no difference to the fabulous tally of 400+ bird species and 40–50 mammal species we always see, and the remarkable wildlife spectacle we encounter. It is not so much, "will we see the wildebeest/lion/cheetah/leopard," but more, "where will they show up this year?" The rains were early this year, and the million wildebeest were calving and spoilt for choice, with lush new growth of grass on the southeast Serengeti plains. Several times we witnessed mass movements of many thousands in obsessive, single file stampedes, racing towards the next atmospheric rainstorm and green flush of new grazing across 20–30 miles of open savannah. It was the best year ever for leopards with 4 in total—2 on one day, and 1 attempting daytime stalking of impala. The hippos were enjoying the lush vegetation and offered us many opportunities to view them closely as they grazed in the open; watch sparring males in the mud, baring their huge teeth; and watch mothers supporting newborn calves in the water. The elephants, especially at Tarangire, put on an excellent show with large herds seen daily, often at arm's-length from our vehicles.
The birding in Tanzania is always mind-blowing, whether you are a beginner or world lister: everything from endemics and a myriad of fascinating identification conundrums posed by greenbuls, larks, pipits, warblers, and cisticolas (12 species of cisticolas this year was a record) to the bright and obvious—rollers, hornbills, parrots, bee-eaters, and barbets right up to Ostrich, herons, storks, and those "over the top" Gray Crowned-Cranes. The total bird list for this tour (which I've led 19 times now!) stands at 598 species and still rising. We found White-headed Black Chat for the first time this year, as well as many other scarce and localized species. The spectacle of 6 vulture species just feet away at a lion's kill, or a huge Kori Bustard posturing in display, with tail over head and neck inflated, is always thrilling and memorable. With early rains breeding was in full swing, and the gaudy black and yellow weavers and jewel-like sunbirds and waxbills were active, as were large numbers of their brood parasites—many cuckoos and those extravagantly-tailed whydahs.
I check constantly for ways to improve the itinerary for this tour. It is gratifying to be told by our excellent specialist ground agents that they cannot think of any ways of bettering what we have devised: the best itinerary to see the finest of the world's wildlife in the friendliest, most stable, and most pleasant country in Africa.