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2–19 November 2024

This tour takes us to less-visited parts of Tanzania, where a long list of uncommon and sought-after birds occurs. We will visit the dry Maasai plains for Beesley’s Lark; the Eastern Arc Mountains (Rubeho/Uluguru/Usambaras) with their many endemic, near-endemic and highly-localised forest species; Mikumi National Park for some Miombo woodland species and the Udzungwa/Kilombero area for some of the more easily accessible recent discoveries.

Day 1 Early morning flight from London via Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro International Airport and transfer to the superb Ngaresero Mountain Lodge for a three-night stay.

Day 2 With a late arrival yesterday, we will have a leisurely breakfast before spending the day birding around the lodge grounds. Depending on the weather, we should enjoy superb views of both Mount Meru and the snow-capped dome of Kilimanjaro; at 5895m this great icon is the highest mountain on the continent of Africa. A walk in the lodge gardens could reveal the near-endemic Taveta Weaver, Brown-breasted Barbet, Little Grebe, Long-tailed Cormorant, Sacred Ibis, the noisy Hadada Ibis, Eurasian Moorhen, African Jacana, Red-eyed Dove, Red-chested Cuckoo, the superb African Emerald Cuckoo, African Palm Swift, Malachite and perhaps Giant Kingfishers, Speckled Mousebird, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, African Pied and Mountain Wagtails, possibly Dark-capped Bulbul, Rüppell’s and Cape Robin-chats, Trilling Cisticola, Black-backed Puffback, Northern Fiscal, Red-winged Starling, Collared Sunbird, the stout Grosbeak Weaver and Black-headed (Layard’s) and Baglafecht Weavers, as well as the attractive Sykes’s Monkey.

Day 3 This morning, with a packed lunch, we will travel north of Arusha to the dry Maasai steppe areas that stretch towards the Kenyan border. Here, amongst a wealth of typical eastern African bird species is a fine array of different and special birds to search for. Top of the list is the extremely range-restricted Beesley’s Lark, a recent split from the South African Spike-heeled Lark, and found only in this one tiny area. This is possibly the rarest bird in eastern Africa, with estimates of its population rarely going above one hundred individuals. The local Maasai are aware of this bird’s importance and will often have individuals located for us on arrival. Numerous other localised, dry-country, Maasai steppe species, such as Somali Short-toed and Pink-breasted Larks, are possible here. Later, we will continue through remote and wild Maasai steppe comprising acacia scrub and thorn bush interspersed with Euphorbia (a cactus lookalike) and Sansevieria (sisal) along with large patches of barren, bare ground. There will be further opportunities along the way to encounter some of the localised birds of this under-watched region; possibilities include Lanner and maybe Amur Falcons, Grey Wren-warbler, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Long-billed and Plain-backed Pipits, Ashy and Tiny Cisticolas, Short-tailed and Foxy Larks, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Red-throated Tit and Red-fronted Prinia. After an exciting day’s birding we will return to the lodge late afternoon.

Day 4 We will check out of the lodge and drive westwards to Tarangire National Park. The park is an evocative area of rolling grassland studded with huge old baobabs and other trees, and is typically a dry region subject to seasonal rains and drought. The giant baobab trees usefully store moisture for the Savanna Elephants during drier seasons so the trunks are scarred from generations of gouging by elephant tusks. Running through the centre of the park is the Tarangire River, with wide grassy floodplains dotted with acacia and palm trees along the banks. The park has a rich avifauna and the prime specialties here is the Tanzanian endemic Yellow-collared Lovebird, which is commonly seen. Groups of Common Ostriches stride across the open areas and noisy Helmeted Guineafowl are constantly calling. Five species of francolins include Crested Francolin, Red-necked and Yellow-necked Spurfowl and sometimes the Hildebrandt’s Francolin can be seen on roadside drives. Raptors are numerous and may well include Black-winged Kite, Rüppell’s Griffon, Lappet-faced and White-backed Vultures, Brown Snake Eagle, the tailless, acrobatic Bateleur, Gabar Goshawk, Tawny, Steppe and Long-crested Eagles, African Hawk-eagle and the small but fierce Pygmy Falcon. Double-banded Coursers tend to keep to the bare patches of soil whilst the colourful Lilac-breasted Roller and Magpie Shrike scan for insects from prominent perches. Northern Red-billed Hornbills fly conspicuously between the trees where both Brown and African Orange-bellied Parrots sit feeding on seed pods, Other birds may include Bare-faced Go-away-bird, wintering Common Cuckoo, White-browed Coucal, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Mottled Spinetail, Mottled and Little Swifts, Woodland, Grey-headed and Striped Kingfishers, Little Bee-eater, Rufous-crowned Roller, African Hoopoe, Green Wood Hoopoe, Red-and-yellow and D’Arnaud’s Barbets, Eastern Grey Woodpecker (split from African Grey). The park protects a huge swathe of acacia savanna and thorn bush country excellent for big game viewing. While Savanna Elephants still stand out, other game is less conspicuous, but we can expect to see Common Zebra, African Buffalo, Kirk’s Dik-Dik, Waterbuck, Grant’s Gazelle, the graceful Impala and Brindled Gnu (or Blue Wildebeest). Olive Baboons wander onto the tracks, confident that they have the right of way, and cheeky Vervet Monkeys can be a hazard at any of the viewpoints where visitors leave their vehicles, ever ready to leap down from the trees and run off with the best of the picnics. Our accommodation tonight is the comfortable Tarangire Safari Lodge with tented safari-camp-style ‘rooms’ and spectacular view over the meandering Tarangire River.

Day 5 Today, we will take an early breakfast and set off with a picnic lunch on a long drive along the Great North Road (Cape Town to Cairo) going through Tanzania’s political capital at Dodoma and meandering through plantations and ranches into Kongwa and Gairo Districts of Central Tanzania. Our accommodation tonight is remote and off the beaten path type, so not much luxury should be expected. We will however, stay at the best available guesthouse in the area with locally-sourced food near Rubeho.

Day 6 We will make an early start with picnic breakfast and lunches to drive into the Rubeho ranges located at over 2200m above sea level. The winding narrow road can be difficult to negotiate but as we are visiting during the start of the short rains it shouldn’t be too much of a problem at this time of year. The Rubeho Mountains are a range in central Tanzania southeast of the capital Dodoma that form a part of the Eastern Arc Mountains, home to a biodiverse community of avifauna with large numbers of endemic species. They form a dissected plateau in the centre of the chain that skirts the western edge of Mikumi National Park and the Mkata Plain whilst to the north, across the valley of the Mkondoa River lie the Ukaguru Mountains. The Rubeho/Ukaguru Mountains specialties and endemics include Mrs Moreau's (Rubeho) Warbler, Moreau's Sunbird, Rubeho Akalat, Dapple-throat, Dark Batis, Chapin's Apalis, Yellow-throated Greenbul and Livingstone's Turaco among others and these will be our targets this morning along with many other more widespread species. Late afternoon will see us driving to Mikumi via the Miombo woodlands of Kilosa District. Overnight at the Tan-Swiss Cottage in Mikumi.

Day 7 A very early start today will enable us to embark on our quest for the most sought-after Miombo woodland specialities and at dawn we may also come across Fiery-necked Nightjar, African Scops Owl and African Barred Owlet. Key birds we will be looking for amongst the many more common species include Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Black Coucal, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Miombo and Black-collared Barbets, Pale-billed Hornbill, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Bat-like Spinetail, Brown-necked Parrot, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Pale Batis, Arnot's Chat, Collared Palm Thrush, Miombo Wren-warbler, Greencap Eremomela, Rufous-bellied Tit, White-winged Black Tit, Moustached Grass Warbler, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Eastern Miombo and Hofmann’s Sunbirds, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Bertram’s Weaver, Cabanis’s Bunting, Jameson’s Firefinch and Orange-winged Pytilia. We will return to our cottages for a full breakfast, after which we will head back into the Miombo woods for some mid-morning birding to catch up with any species we may have missed earlier. In the heat of the day we will drive into the baobab valley along the Iringa/Zambia Highway, arriving in time for a late hot lunch. In the afternoon we will have a bird walk around the grounds of Crocodile Camp searching for the two Tanzanian endemics here, Ashy Starling and Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill. Other possible dry country birds may include the Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Bennet's Woodpecker and Pale White-eye among others. We will then drive back to Mikumi and head to the Udzungwa Mountains further south where we will spend the next two nights at the Udzungwa Twig Rest House.

Day 8 We will take a pre-breakfast walk along trails in the nearby Udzungwa Mountains National Park. The forest edge of the east side of the park holds such species as Narina Trogon, Grey Tit-flycatcher, Eastern Crested Guineafowl, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Little Greenbul, Green Malkoha, Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird and Forest Weaver. We should also catch up with Southern Citril, Black-bellied Starling, Peter's Twinspot, Holub's Golden Weaver, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Black-tailed and Zebra Waxbills and Trumpeter Hornbills. Once the forest goes quiet and the heat and humidity begins to rise, we will take a late breakfast and, with a picnic lunch, check out of the hotel for the two-hour drive on a new road to the Kilombero Valley. We will make frequent stops for birds (including a site for Southern Brown-throated Weaver) and spend much of the afternoon exploring the floodplain of the Kilombero River, where, in 1986, ornithologists followed up on a report that there were some unusual weavers breeding in the grasslands of the floodplain. Several of the birds were netted and have now been formally described as a new species, Kilombero Weaver. The weaver proved to be only the first of such discoveries from the region, which has also yielded two new species of cisticola, White-tailed Cisticola and Kilombero Cisticola. The presence of three recently-discovered endemics would be reason enough to visit the Kilombero floodplain, but it is also attractive to a number of marsh and open-country species of interest, including Squacco Heron, African Openbill, African Fish Eagle, Water Thick-knee, White-headed Lapwing, Pied Kingfisher, Coppery-tailed Coucal, Marsh (Anchieta’s) Tchagra, Parasitic Weaver, Fan-tailed and White-winged Widowbirds and Red-billed Firefinch. Late afternoon we will head back north though the Udzungwa Mountains to Mikumi where we will arrive late evening for dinner and spend the night at the Tan-Swiss Cottages again.

Day 9 We will spend the whole of today exploring Mikumi National Park in greater depth. Mikumi is home to more than 400 bird species, and we will explore a variety of habitats in order to see a good cross-section of both birds and mammals. The more open areas of the park feature grassy plains with occasional waterholes that inevitably attract birds and mammals, particularly in the dry season. Some of the possibilities here include African Darter, White-faced Whistling Duck, Marabou Stork, Black-headed Heron, Southern Ground Hornbill and the gaudy Superb Starling. The same waterholes often contain wallowing Hippopotamus, and it is not unusual to see Impala and other mammals coming to drink. The surrounding grasslands offer a wealth of cisticolas, including Croaking and Desert, as well as Secretarybird, Red-necked Spurfowl, Black-bellied Bustard, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Red-headed Quelea. In areas of more-developed bush and scrub, we will look out for Coqui Francolin, Crowned and Blacksmith Lapwings, Crested Barbet, African Penduline Tit, Black-crowned Tchagra, Violet-backed Starling, Southern Cordonbleu, Yellow-fronted Canary and Golden-breasted Bunting. We will also need to keep an eye on the sky for raptors in this habitat and we may well encounter Black-chested Snake Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Grasshopper Buzzard, Steppe, Wahlberg’s and Martial Eagles and Grey Kestrel. We will mostly be confined to vehicles inside the park but we will also visit some good woodland outside its borders where we will be free to bird on foot. In these more wooded habitats we could find Broad-billed Roller, roosting Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, Common Scimitarbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Greater Honeyguide, Bearded Woodpecker, Brubru, Black-headed Oriole, Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow and Red-headed Weaver. Other birds we hope to see during our stay at Mikumi include Saddle-billed Stork, Knob-billed Duck, Spotted Thick-knee, Levaillant’s, Black and African Cuckoos, Square-tailed Nightjar, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Flappet Lark, Mosque Swallow, Arrow-marked Babbler, Southern Black Flycatcher, Pale Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, White Helmetshrike, Red-backed Shrike, Grey-headed Bushshrike, Black Cuckooshrike, Red-billed and Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, Greater Blue-eared and Wattled Starlings, Pin-tailed Whydah and Beautiful, Amethyst, Western Violet-backed and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds. Mammals are also very much a feature of the area, and we should see Yellow Baboon, Common Zebra, Masai Giraffe, Spotted Hyena, Common Warthog, Savanna Elephant, Eland, African Buffalo, Bohor Reedbuck and Brindled Gnu (Blue Wildebeest). African Wild Dog does occur in the park, but we will be extremely lucky to see this rare animal during our visit. Feeding stations at Vuma Hills attract a number of smaller, mostly nocturnal mammals that are generally common but seldom seen in daylight, including Rusty-spotted Genet, African Civet, Honey Badger (Ratel), Greater Galago and the localised Bushy-tailed Mongoose. Overnight Vuma Hills Tented Lodge.

Day 10 After breakfast we will make the long drive north from the southern region of Tanzania to the northern region along the busy TANZAMA (Tanzania/Malawi/Zambia) highway. We will make comfort stops but there are limited opportunities for birding due to the traffic although we will keep our eyes open on roadside wires for Dickinson’s Kestrel, Long-tailed Fiscal and Racket-tailed Roller. Late evening we will arrive at the Amani Nature Reserve in the East Usambara Mountains. This reserve is an extraordinary place for birding, with many specialities and endemic bird species to find. The Usambaras are a little-known mountain range and one of the hidden gems of Tanzania. Lying northwest of the Indian Ocean coast, they are a relict patch of the great tropical forests that once spanned Africa from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and have more in common with the forests of western Africa than those of eastern Africa. They have formed islands of forest on the arc of high hills and, over many years, developed their own endemic species. The biodiversity is great, a treasure trove of botanical and ornithological species. Three nights in the simple but very adequate Amani Nature Reserve Conservation Centre Rest House.

Days 11–12 We have two full days to get to grips with the special birds of this area. We will be birding from good tracks and roads along the tea estates and on hikering trails that will give us some degree of access to the otherwise impenetrable forest under-storey. We will be in the forest early, looking for elusive species such as African Cuckoo-hawk, Green Barbet, White-starred Robin, East Coast Akalat, Kretschmer’s Longbill, Eastern Black-headed Batis, Usambara Hyliota, Spotted Ground Thrush and Black-throated Wattle-eye. Fischer’s Turaco will provide a stunning interlude between the understorey species such as Sharpe’s Akalat and Tanzanian Illadopsis. Also in this fascinating region are Amani, Banded and Purple-banded Sunbirds, Half-collared and Brown-hooded Kingfishers, the uncommon Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Crowned Hornbill, White-eared Barbet, Mombasa Woodpecker, Green Tinkerbird, Lesser Honeyguide, Eastern Nicator, Kurrichane Thrush, African and Mountain Yellow Warblers, Green-backed Camaroptera, Yellow and Livingstone’s Flycatchers, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Green-headed Oriole and Green-backed Twinspot. Some of these will show up quickly, others we may have to work hard for, or just be plain lucky – the forest doesn’t give up all its treasures easily! In the evenings we will spend time looking for Fraser's Eagle-owl, a large but elusive forest-dwelling owl.

Day 13 After an early breakfast, we will depart to bird the lower forest at Amani for some lowland species that we may still need including Usambara Greenbul, Zanzibar Boubou, Red-tailed Ant Thrush, Plain-backed Sunbird, Forest Batis and Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike. As we approach the West Usambara Mountains, from a distance, these low mountain ranges are a colourful mosaic of fine scenery, rising up steeply from the surrounding plains. On the fertile slopes around the towns of Soni and Lushoto, farmers cultivate small plots of food and cash crops. Because of its pleasant climate, these mountains were favoured by German and English colonialists, as illustrated by the numerous historic buildings from the past and the variety of exotic and indigenous fruits grown in the area. Two nights Müllers Mountain Lodge, an old residence of the German Colonial Chief.

Day 14 We will spend the whole day exploring some of the forest remnants in the area for the many rare and endemic species present. The mountains offer a variety of Tanzanian endemics and rarities including the yet-to-be-officially-named Usambara (Montane) Nightjar, Fülleborn’s Boubou, Usambara Weaver, African Golden-weaver, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Bar-tailed Trogon, Moustached Tinkerbird, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Red-cowled Widowbird, Southern Red Bishop, Red-faced Crimsonwing and a seemingly endless list of greenbuls such as Terrestrial Brownbul, Mountain Greenbul, Cabanis’s, Shelley’s, Stripe-cheeked, Montane Tiny and Yellow-streaked Greenbuls. African Tailorbird – a recently-discovered species – will be another bird to look out for here. Much of the natural forest in the West Usambaras has been cleared for cultivation, however, there remain some good spots for birding, including the areas directly behind Müllers Lodge. More widespread woodland birds could include a good range of doves and pigeons: Delegorgue’s and Rameron Pigeons, Blue-spotted Wood Dove and Lemon and Tambourine Doves. Some species here are notoriously secretive and difficult to see – Spot-throat, Usambara Akalat and White-chested Alethe are all forest-floor skulkers that we will try for but cannot guarantee.

Day 15 Today, we drop back down the West Usambara Mountains to the dry lowlands below Soni and Mombo Villages. On the way, we will make impromptu stops for the small Black-bellied Sunbird, Zanzibar Red Bishop and Coastal Cisticola. We are scheduled to arrive at the Elephant Motel in time for lunch following which we will drive high on to the Shengena Peak of the South Pare Mountains. A new species of white-eye, split from Broad-ringed White-eye, the endemic South Pare White-eye, can be found here together with other highland/high altitude species similar to the West Usambaras such as the African Hill Babbler, Kenrick’s, Sharpe’s, and Waller’s Starlings, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Usambara Double-collared Sunbird and Cinnamon Bracken Warbler. Late afternoon we will return to the Elephant Motel in Same for a two-night stay.

Day 16 Our destination today will be the dry, hot bush country of Mkomazi National Park. Here, the avifauna is more akin to that of Tsavo West National Park in Kenya, although, as we happily face no restrictions here on having to stay in our vehicles, looking for some species is distinctly easier. We will look for such species as African Bare-eyed Thrush, Pygmy Batis, the distinctive cathemagmenus form of Rosy-patched Bushshrike, the incredible Golden-breasted Starling, Southern Grosbeak-canary and Somali Bunting. If conditions are right, we may also see Straw-tailed and Steel-blue Whydahs in breeding plumage whilst we should also keep our eyes open for Fire-fronted Bishop, an irruptive and irregularly seen species that is occasionally found here. Other possible species may include Vulturine Guineafowl, Buff-crested and Hartlaub’s Bustards, Pangani Longclaw, Tsavo Sunbird and Parrot-billed Sparrow. The park also supports a number of species of mammals as well and may include Giraffe, Savanna Elephant, Gerenuk, Kudu, several species of gazelle and even sometimes Cheetah and African Lion.

Day 17 Sadly, today is our last day in Tanzania and after breakfast we will drive back to Arusha on the Maasai steppes for some final birding. In particular, we will be hoping to find the furtive Scaly Chatterer and Pringle’s Puffback as well as the amazing-looking but localised White-headed Mousebird whilst displaying Golden Pipits is a stunning spectacle in season. The thick acacia scrub should be alive with birds: comical-looking White-bellied Go-away-birds and African Grey and Von Der Decken’s Hornbills perch up prominently; glittering Eastern Violet-backed, Hunter’s and Variable Sunbirds should be easy to find as they flit from one flowering bush to another; Sombre Greenbul, Red-backed Scrub Robin and White-rumped Shrike may also be found perched in the larger bushes and small trees, while roving Abyssinian Scimitarbills regularly inspect the branches of the larger acacias. Spotted Palm Thrushes sing joyfully, the loud calls of Slate-coloured Boubous sound from the depths of the thickets, while Red-fronted Tinkerbirds ‘poop’ away through the heat of the day and beautiful Blue-capped Cordonbleus and Purple Grenadiers search for food beneath the same bushes. By late afternoon, we will arrive at KIA Lodge near Kilimanjaro International Airport, where we will have the use of day rooms to wash, change and re-pack before catching our overnight flight back home.

Day 18 Arrival back in London at the end of the tour.

General Information The climate is generally hot, although mornings can be cold at high altitude. Accommodation on the trip is mostly very good – clean, comfortable rooms with private bathrooms – and in lovely locations, often with excellent birding and wildlife on the doorstep. This tour includes some areas more “off the beaten track,” so some accommodation – particularly at Amani, Rubeho and Udzungwa – is a bit more basic, although it still offers reasonable amenities. The tented camp comprises delightful, large, permanently set-up walk-in tents with private bathrooms. Food is of European standard. Transport is by minibus or four-wheel drive and the road conditions are reasonable. There are special health requirements and you should consult your GP in this respect. Visas are required and cost £40 in advance. Only a moderate degree of fitness is needed. Photographic opportunities are excellent.

Group Size Maximum group size: 6 with 1 leader, 12 with 2 leaders.

Beesley's Lark

Beesley's Lark

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