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18 November–3 December 2019
Extension to 6 December 2019
18 November–3 December 2020
Extension to 6 December 2020

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 (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 Overnight flight from London via Nairobi to Dar es Salaam, where we will spend the night.

Day 2 Late-morning flight from Dar es Salaam to Arusha and transfer to the Ngaresero Mountain Lodge for two nights.

Day 3 This morning we will travel a short distance 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: 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 the excitement of the lark plains we will return to our lodge for a late lunch. After lunch 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 Golden-weaver, Brown-breasted Barbet, Little Grebe, Long-tailed Cormorant, Sacred Ibis, the noisy Hadada Ibis, Common 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 Common (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 4 Our destination today will be the dry, hot bush country of the Pare Mountains. 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. 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 and Tsavo Sunbird. The thick acacia scrub should be alive with birds: comical-looking White-bellied Go-away-birds and Northern Red-billed, Von Der Decken’s and African Grey Hornbills perch up prominently; glittering Hunter’s, Variable and Eastern Violet-backed 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 Morning-thrushes sing joyfully and 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. If we are fortunate, we may also find such desirable species as the striking African Bare-eyed Thrush, Pygmy Batis, the distinctive cathemagmena 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. We should also keep an eye open for Fire-fronted Bishop, an irruptive and irregularly seen species that is occasionally found here. Overnight at the Elephant Motel, Same.

Day 5 After breakfast we will drive high on to the Shengena Peak of the South Pare Mountains to find a distinctive type of Broad-ringed White-eye that some authorities split as South Pare White-eye. We should also encounter highland/high-altitude species similar to those in the West Usambaras, such as African Hill-babbler, Sharpe’s, Kenrick’s and Waller’s Starlings, Black-fronted Bushshrike and Usambara Double-collared Sunbird. We will head down to the lower elevations for lunch and then set off towards the town of Lushoto in the West Usambara Mountains. On the way, we will make impromptu stops for the small Black-bellied Sunbird, Zanzibar Red Bishop and Winding (Coastal) Cisticola. From a distance, the West Usambara Mountains form a colourful mosaic of fine scenery, rising 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 at Mullers Mountain Lodge, an old residence of the German Colonial Chief.

Day 6 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, Cinnamon Bracken-warbler, Red-collared Widowbird, Southern Red Bishop, Red-faced Crimsonwing and a seemingly endless list of greenbuls such as Terrestrial Brownbul, Eastern Mountain-greenbul, Tiny, Shelley’s, Yellow-streaked, Cabanis’s and Stripe-cheeked 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 Mullers Lodge. More widespread woodland birds could include a good range of doves and pigeons: Delegorgue’s and Rameron Pigeons, Blue-spotted Wood-dove and Tambourine and Lemon 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 7 After breakfast we will drive out of the West Usambaras and head towards the Amani Nature Reserve in the East Usambaras. 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, zoological and ornithological species. Most of the day will be spent traveling but, it will be worth it as there are many special birds here. Three nights in the simple but very adequate Amani Nature Reserve Information Centre Rest House.

Days 8–9 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 hikers’ 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, Black-headed Batis, Usambara Hyliota, Spotted Ground-thrush, Red-tailed Ant-thrush, Usambara Eagle-owl and Black-throated Wattle-eye. Fischer’s Turaco will provide a stunning interlude between the LBJs such as Sharpe’s Akalat and Pale-breasted Illadopsis. Also in this fascinating region are Uluguru Violet-backed, Banded, Amani and Purple-banded Sunbirds, Half-collared and Brown-hooded Kingfishers, the uncommon Fasciated Snake-eagle, Mottled Spinetail, 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, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Square-tailed Drongo, Green-headed Oriole, Black-bellied Starling and Green-backed and Peters’s Twinspots. 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!

Day 10 This morning we will leave the East Usambara Mountains and descend in a southerly direction to the plains, heading for Mikumi National Park, the fourth largest National Park of Tanzania. This is a long drive, linking the northern and southern regions of the country. Most of the day will be spent on the road, although we will make a few bush stops and take lunch on the highway en route to Mikumi. Our birding for the restricted, southerly, dry-country species begins when we reach the dry steppe of the Mikumi area. On the highway that traverses the park, we should be able to pick up some introductory Miombo woodland species including Dickinson’s Kestrel, Pale-billed Hornbill, Long-tailed Fiscal and Racket-tailed Roller. We should arrive at our overnight accommodation – a group of lovely Swiss-run cottages – in time for dinner.

Day 11 A dawn start today will enable us to embark on our quest for the most sought-after Miombo woodland specialities. 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, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Bat-like Spinetail, Brown-necked Parrot, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Lesser Blue-eared Starling, Pale Batis, White-headed Black-chat, Collared Palm-thrush, Miombo Wren-warbler, Greencap Eremomela, Rufous-bellied Tit, White-winged Black-tit, Moustached Grass-warbler, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, Miombo and Shelley’s Sunbirds, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Bertram’s Weaver, Cabanis’s Bunting, Jameson’s Firefinch and Orange-winged Pytilia. At dawn we may also come across Fiery-necked Nightjar, African Scops-owl and African Barred Owlet. 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. After a leisurely lunch during the heat of the day we will drive to the eastern Udzungwa Mountains. Two nights at Udzungwa Twig Rest House.

Day 12 Today will involve a three-hour drive on rough dirt roads, but we will make frequent stops for birds (including a site for Southern Brown-throated Weaver) en route to the Kilombero Valley. We will spend much of the day 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 different species of cisticola. These are now known to represent as-yet-undescribed species and, pending their formal description, they are informally known as “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.

Day 13 The whole of this morning will be devoted to birding the forest trails and forest edge within the Udzungwa Mountains National Park. Species we should encounter here include Livingstone’s Turaco, Grey Tit-flycatcher, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Narina Trogon, Crested Guineafowl, Retz’s Helmetshrike, Little Greenbul, Green Malkoha (Yellowbill) and Forest Weaver. We should also catch up with Southern Citril, Black-tailed and Zebra Waxbills and Trumpeter Hornbill. In the afternoon we will return to the Mikumi area, where we will spend two nights at Vuma Hills Tented Lodge, a small and personalised lodge perched above the trees and stretching over seemingly endless wilderness southwest of Mikumi National Park.

Day 14 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 Hippos, 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 Francolin, Helmeted Guineafowl, Black-bellied Bustard, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Red-headed Quelea. In areas of more-developed bush and scrub, we will look out for Coqui and Crested Francolins, 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; we may well encounter Black-breasted 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; however, 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, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Common Scimitarbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Greater Honeyguide, Bearded Woodpecker, Piping Cisticola, Brubru, African Black-headed Oriole, Yellow-throated Petronia 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, Eurasian (African) Hoopoe, 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, Giraffe, Spotted Hyena, Common Warthog, African 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.

Day 15 We will return north today, birding en route at sites which, hopefully, will produce one or two last special and localised staked-out species. By the evening we will be in Dar es Salaam where we will have the use of day rooms to wash, change and re-pack before catching our overnight flight back to London. Those opting to take the Pemba Island extension will stay overnight in the same hotel in Dar es Salaam.

Day 16 Arrival back in London at the end of the tour or, for those taking the extension, morning flight to Pemba Island.

Pemba Extension

Days 16–17 A morning flight on Day 16 will take us to the small Indian Ocean island of Pemba via Zanzibar. This gives us an opportunity to bird a very different suite of habitats including extensive clove plantations, mangroves, forests and sandy beaches. Pemba lies about 50 kilometres off the Tanzanian coast and is particularly well known for its superb diving. We will have part of Day 16 and all of Day 17 to discover the birds of this idyllic island. On arrival we will transfer to the far north of the island to our accommodation – a secluded, peaceful wilderness resort with comfortable en-suite cabins. The lodge is situated close to the Ngezi Forest – home to the endemic Pemba Scops-owl and Pemba Green-pigeon. We will make an after-dark excursion (two if necessary) to find the owl and should find the pigeon on one of our daytime visits. The other two Pemba endemics are Pemba Sunbird and Pemba White-eye, both often easily found in the lodge gardens. Other interesting birds to be found along the coast and in its forests may include Crab Plover, Sooty Gull, Saunders’s Tern, African Pygmy-goose, Terek Sandpiper, Palm-nut Vulture, Brown-headed Parrot, Mangrove Kingfisher and Black-winged Bishop. We will make excursions to find the important bird species and have the opportunity to relax at the resort in the heat of the day, with options for superb swimming and snorkelling – a pleasant and relaxing way to finish a very varied African birding experience. Two nights at Manta Ray Resort.

Day 18 An afternoon flight back to Dar es Salaam will give us time to visit a large roost of the endemic Pemba Flying Fox en route to the airport. Once back in Dar es Salaam we will retire to day rooms to wash, change and re-pack for our overnight flight to London, arriving on Day 19.

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 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 Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 9; maximum group size: 11 with 3 leaders.

Von Der Decken’s Hornbill

Von Der Decken’s Hornbill

Recommended books available from NHBS