Our Northern Tanzania – Birds & Big Game birding tour explores the bird, and wildlife, rich reserves and forests of the northern parts of this brilliant African destination, including targeting a wonderful assortment of Tanzania’s endemic bird species. Not that birds are the only focus of this Tanzania birding tour since we will find ourselves also marvelling at some of the highest concentrations of wildlife to be found anywhere on our planet, and all this amidst spectacular scenery in one of Africa’s wildest, most stable and least spoilt destinations!
Some of the many regional specials and endemic birds that we will target on this Tanzania birding tour are the beautiful Fischer’s and Yellow-collared Lovebirds, Ashy Starling, Grey-breasted Spurfowl and Rufous-tailed Weaver. With Mt. Kilimanjaro as a backdrop we will search for the highly localised Beesley’s Lark, one the world’s rarest lark species with numbers of no more than 250 birds and is a Tanzania birding dream come true! The tour also ventures out to the Usambara Mountains, part of Tanzania’s endemic-rich Eastern Arc range. Here we will explore both the east and west Usambaras where possibilities include Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbird, Green-headed Oriole, Fischer’s Turaco, Kretschmer’s Longbill, Usambara Akalat and Usambara Weaver, together with a huge variety of stunningly beautiful and often very confiding African gems – not to mention the fabulous “Big 5”!
Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Yellow-collared & Fischer’s Lovebird, Meyer’s and Red-bellied Parrot, several species of Turaco, White-headed Mousebird, Narina Trogon, Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill, Southern Ground Hornbill, Green Tinkerbird, White-headed Barbet, Pallid Honeyguide, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Green-headed Oriole, Red-throated Tit, Beesley’s Lark, Karamoja Apalis, Red-capped Forest & Long-billed Warbler, Spot-throat, Usambara Hyliota, Kretschmer’s Longbill, Golden-breasted & Ashy Starling, White-chested Alethe, Usambara & Sharpe’s Akalat, Dappled Mountain Robin, Uluguru Violet-backed, Banded Green & Golden-winged Sunbird, Bertram’s, Taveta & Usambara Weaver, Red-throated Twinspot, Steel-blue Whydah
Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, African Elephant, Black Rhinoceros, African Buffalo, Eland, Honey Badger, Serval, Kirk’s Dik-dik
montane forests, savanna, grasslands, broad-leaved woodland, lakes, dams and rivers
cool in the highlands, warm in the lowlands
medium pace in the mountains with a few walks, easy in the game reserves
Ngorongoro crater, the fabulous Serengeti, afro-montane forest in the Usambaras, Oldupai Prehistoric site, Kilimanjaro, Maasai and other tribes, African curios, spectacular sunsets and landscapes
Day 1: Arrival in Arusha
Today is set aside as an arrival day in order for us to make an early start the following morning. Upon arrival at Kilimanjaro International Airport near the town of Arusha, you will be met and transferred to our accommodations for the night. You will have the opportunity to meet your Rockjumper tour leader and fellow participants to discuss our forthcoming adventures over a scrumptious welcoming dinner this evening.
Day 2: Arusha to Amani (East Usambaras)
This morning on our Tanzania birding tour, we begin our East African safari with a transfer east towards the East Usambaras, which hold a number of special and unique species. The forest in this area have sadly been severely reduced by vast tea estates and are now mostly restricted to the tops of the mountains. Fortunately, however, the remaining area has been declared a nature reserve and this is the area that we will focus our efforts on. Bird life still abounds here and we will spend the following two days exploring this wonderful part of Tanzania.
Days 3 & 4: Amani (East Usambaras)
Our days will be spent birding the various forested habitats through the East Usambaras in search of some of the extremely localized species that lurk here. The highly endangered Long-billed Forest Warbler will be one of our biggest targets as this is one of the last remaining areas where the bird can be found with some regularity. The Amani Sunbird, which is known and named from the area, is ironically rather scarce here, especially when compared to its relative abundance in coastal Kenya. There are a number of other localized and range-restricted birds that we will be on the lookout for which include Kretschmer’s Longbill, Green-headed Oriole, Fischer’s Turaco, Uluguru Violet-backed and Banded Green Sunbirds, Dappled Mountain Robin, Sharpe’s Akalat and the rare and little-known Usambara Hyliota. We will also make a couple of night excursions in order to have a shot at locating the scarce Usambara Eagle-Owl. A large assortment of other great birds could easily add to the spectacle and include Mottled Spinetail, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Green Barbet, Scaly-throated and Pallid Honeyguides, African Broadbill, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Tiny Greenbul, Little Yellow Flycatcher, the distinctive distans race of Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Black-bellied Starling, Red-tailed Rufous Thrush, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Plain-backed Sunbird and Red-throated Twinspot. The scenery here is fantastic and while enjoying the views of the surrounding landscape we will watch out for a number of raptors that could include Black Sparrowhawk, Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, African Goshawk and even the majestic Crowned Eagle could come cruising past.
Day 5: Amani to Lushoto (West Usambaras)
The West Usambaras rise a fair bit higher than the mountains in the east, and with this resultant altitudinal change we can expect some different species. Our accommodation is comfortable and we will enjoy a two-night stay in this wonderful part of the Eastern Arc Mountains. En route to Lushoto we’ll have a final chance to search for some species we may not have seen thus far on our Tanzania birding tour and these include the elusive Green Tinkerbird. Other species we will search for include Mottled Swift, Zanzibar Boubou, Eastern Nicator, Sombre and Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, Red-rumped Swallow, Coastal Cisticola, Kurrichane Thrush, Collared Palm Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Amethyst Sunbird, Yellow Weaver and Red-backed Mannikin.
Day 6: Lushoto (West Usambara)
The West Usambaras are also home to some similar species found on the East Usambaras; however, certain other specials are also present. We will spend the day birding in the lush forests above Lushoto. One of the best areas to search for the West Usambara specials is the famous Magamba Sawmill Road. Topping the list of specialties is the rare Usambara Weaver and the rather non-descript Usambara Akalat. The weaver tends to associate with mixed species flocks while the akalat spends much of the time hiding in dark spots among the leaf litter. We will put in a fair amount of effort in attempting to track down these two rare birds. While birding for the specials we will also be on a constant lookout for any signs of activity and hope to locate other tricky forest species including Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Stripe-faced and Mountain Greenbuls (the latter sub-species usambarae), Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, endemic Red-capped Forest Warbler, shy Spot-throat, Kenrick’s Starling, Olive Thrush (sometimes split as Usambara Thrush), White-chested Alethe, Usambara Double-collared Sunbird and smart Oriole Finch.
Day 7: Lushoto to Same
Today on our Tanzania birding tour, we leave the forests behind and drive into the drier lowlands. Birding stops off the Usambaras can be interesting and we could find Eastern Chanting Goshawk, Black-throated Barbet, Pygmy Batis, Pringle’s Puffback, Pink-breasted Lark, Dodson’s Bulbul, Mosque Swallow, Tiny Cisticola, Red-fronted Apalis, Grey Wren-Warbler, Somali Crombec, elusive Scaly Chatterer, Golden-breasted and Fischer’s Starlings, Bare-eyed Thrush, Eastern Violet-backed, Hunter’s and Tsavo Sunbirds, Yellow-spotted Petronia, Black-necked and Vitelline Masked Weavers, Green-winged Pytilia, Purple Grenadier, White-bellied Canary and Somali Bunting.
Our lunch stop near the Pangani River may produce African Pygmy Kingfisher, Northern Brownbul, the rare Black-bellied Sunbird and beautiful Taveta Weaver. Before reaching Same we will make a detour in order to track down the local endemic South Pare White-eye, which is only found on these mountains. The road to reach the habitat can be rather difficult going, but once in the area we should find our target amongst some other interesting species including Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, White-bellied Tit, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Bar-throated Apalis, Abyssinian White-eye, White-starred Robin, African Firefinch, Reichenow’s Seedeater and Southern Grosbeak Canary.
Day 8: Same to Arusha
The morning will be spent birding the extremely productive bush country around Same. Many of the species in this habitat are very conspicuous and confiding, especially when compared to the tough forest birding that we have become accustomed to. Purple Roller, Von der decken’s Hornbill and Red-bellied Parrot are often seen perched on prominent, exposed branches. A number of real specials are also found in this habitat and we hope to encounter White-headed Mousebird, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Mouse-colored Penduline-Tit and Acacia Tit. An optional excursion to a nearby reservoir may produce numerous waterbird species along with surrounding dry country species. Interesting species seen in the area include Black-faced Sandgrouse, Northern Crombec, Parrot-billed Sparrow and Black-faced Waxbill.
In the late afternoon we will travel to Arusha National Park. The forests here hold very similar species to those that we may have encountered earlier on the trip, but Arusha will give us another chance to catch up with any that we may have missed. These may include Lesser Jacana, African Olive Pigeon, Narina Trogon, Lesser Honeyguide, Montane White-eye, Sharpe’s Starling and Green Twinspot.
Day 9: Arusha to Tarangire National Park
This morning on our Tanzania birding tour, we make an early start in order to be in prime habitat at the optimum time for observing the rare Beesley’s Lark. This small population is often considered a race of Spike-heeled Lark, a species confined to the western part of Southern Africa; however, it is much smaller and comparatively scarcer. Other lark species that we hope to encounter include the localized Athi Short-toed and Short-tailed Larks. At mid-morning we will leave the plains and continue towards Tarangire National Park enjoying the birding en route. The roadside birding is always good and we can expect to see many of the typical and more widespread bird species associated with this area that include Blue-naped Mousebird, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu, Long-tailed Fiscal, African Grey Flycatcher and Spotted Palm Thrush. We expect to arrive at Tarangire in the afternoon. Here our lodge is perched atop a high river bank overlooking the meandering Tarangire River and the scenic national park.
Day 10: Tarangire National Park
The Tarangire ecosystem is the third largest in Tanzania, sprawling over a vast 20 000km² (over 7 700mi²). Seasonally, the park supports the second largest concentration of wildlife in Tanzania surpassed only by the Serengeti during peak migration! However, Tarangire is most famous for its huge numbers of African Elephant that congregate along the meandering Tarangire River. We will take time to observe these massive pachyderms and will be amazed at their tender family interactions. Other mammals likely to be seen here on our Tanzania birding tour include the stately Waterbuck, Impala, comical Warthog and Giraffe.
The Acacia woodland and Baobab studded grasslands also provide a home for a large number of birds, with the park total well over 500 species! During our time here we have the opportunity to find African Hawk-Eagle, Pygmy Falcon, Double-banded Courser, Red-necked and Yellow-necked Spurfowl, Black-faced Sandgrouse, White-bellied Bustard, Meyer’s and Red-bellied Parrots, Bare-faced Go-away-bird, Red-and-yellow and D’Arnaud’s Barbets, Mottled Spinetail, Spotted Palm Thrush, Banded Warbler and flocks of Northern Pied Babbler. Two major targets for the area are the Tanzanian endemic Ashy Starling and East African endemic Yellow-collared Lovebird. We will also visit the vast Silale Swamp which is excellent for waterfowl. Species to look out for here will be African Openbill, Goliath Heron, Southern Pochard, Fulvous Whistling Duck, African Jacana and Long-toed Lapwing. If we are fortunate we may spot a Black Coucal or flush an African Crake! Night birding around our lodge can also be fruitful and we will look for Slender-tailed and Freckled Nightjars and the diminutive African Scops Owl.
Day 11: Tarangire National Park to Lake Manyara
After breakfast we leave Tarangire and strike out to Lake Manyara National Park. This reserve has a diverse range of habitats, including dense forest, Acacia woodlands, grasslands, floodplains and, of course, the actual lake. This diversity results in an impressive number of bird species (almost 400) in the relatively small national park. The fig forest at the entrance gate holds some good forest species and should produce Purple-crested Turaco, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Crowned Eagle, Baglafecht Weaver, Grey-olive Greenbul and Crested Guineafowl. The Acacia woodlands are especially good for birds. Apart from the ubiquitous Superb Starlings and Lilac-breasted Rollers, we should be rewarded with the following East African specials: Von der Decken’s Hornbill, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Bare-faced Go-away-bird and White-headed Buffalo Weaver. Blue-capped Cordonbleu and Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird may also be found in the dry woodland. Raptors are readily available in these parts and we should find Augur Buzzard, Gabar Goshawk, Grey Kestrel and Tawny and Martial Eagles.
Lake Manyara’s main attraction, however, are the vast numbers of Greater and Lesser Flamingos (depending on water conditions at the time). The lake regularly holds some of the largest concentrations of these birds of any of the East African Rift Valley lakes. There are also numerous pools on the outskirts of the lake and birding these is definitely a highlight. An abundance of waterbirds are found here, including typical African families such as pelicans, spoonbills, ducks, herons, storks, egrets, cormorants, kingfishers, jacanas, plovers and lapwings.
Day 12: Lake Manyara to Ngorongoro Crater
This morning after some final birding we will depart Lake Manyara for the vast Ngorongoro Conservation Area. On the drive we will keep a sharp eye out for the localized Schalow’s Wheatear, which can be seen on this route.
The vast 8,300km² (3,200mi²) Ngorongoro World Heritage Site protects Earth’s largest intact volcanic caldera (260km² / 100mi²) and one of the world’s most scenically breath-taking natural areas. What’s more, the crater is also home to one of the planet’s densest populations of large mammals. Our wonderful lodge is nestled on the edge of the crater rim with spectacular views of the crater itself.
The fantastic forests that cloak the rim of this iconic site are home to a feast of Afro-montane forest birds. Hildebrandt’s Francolin, Schalow’s Turaco, the elusive Brown-backed Woodpecker, beautiful Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Mountain Greenbul, Brown-headed Apalis, Brown Parisoma, skulking Cinnamon Bracken Warbler, busy flocks of Montane White-eye and dazzling Tacazze, Golden-winged and Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds can be found. From the lodge we are able to gaze down at the Ngorongoro Crater below and watch distant elephants and herds of antelope and buffalo moving over the plains.
Day 13: Ngorongoro Crater
After an early breakfast this morning on our Tanzania birding tour, we will descend 600m (1,970ft) to the Ngorongoro Crater floor itself. The crater is deluxe “Big Five” territory and a photographer’s dream. Most of the animals are extremely relaxed and habituated to the presence of human admirers and the high crater walls, usually cloaked in a pure white frosting of clouds, make for dramatic back-drops to animal photographs. In addition, the crater floor provides a mini-example of a complete African ecosystem with forests, lakes, grasslands, swamps and rivers. Between 25,000 and 30,000 large animals reside in the crater and great concentrations of Blue Wildebeest and Common Zebra are supplemented by smaller numbers of African Elephant (we hope to find some of the crater’s famous Tuskers), African Buffalo, the highly sought-after Black Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, Eland and Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelles. The crater reputably boasts the world’s highest concentration of predators and these include Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Serval, Bat-eared Fox, Spotted Hyena and Golden and Black-backed Jackals.
The birding is equally rewarding and we can expect to find many of the picture-book species which make Africa so famous. Pink rafts of Greater and Lesser Flamingos on Lake Magadi, Common Ostrich striding over the grasslands, regal Kori Bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird), the elegant Grey Crowned Crane and good numbers of raptors including the unique Secretarybird, Bateleur and Martial Eagle could all be found. Amongst the many other species that we may encounter, we hope to see the uncommon Shelley’s Francolin, Black-bellied Bustard, Dusky Turtle Dove, White-headed Barbet, Pectoral-patch Cisticola, comical Anteater Chat, Black-crowned Tchagra, the striking Rosy-throated Longclaw, Fan-tailed Widowbird and the skittish Quailfinch, the latter probably more easily seen here than anywhere else! In the evening, we ascend to our lodge on the scenic crater rim and at dusk will attempt to track down Montane Nightjar.
Day 14: Ngorongoro Crater to the Serengeti via Oldupai Gorge
This morning on our Tanzania birding tour, we make our way to the world famous Serengeti National Park. En route we pass through an area which is home to the Maasai people. These tall, proud nomadic warriors are famous for their legendary prowess in battle and single-handed acts of bravery in fights with wild animals. Here, we have the opportunity for an optional (non-inclusive) excursion to a traditional Maasai village. A local guide will explain their unique culture as you watch the people busy about their daily chores. You will also be treated to a display of the famous Maasai dancing and will have unlimited photographic opportunities.
Our lunch venue will be the well-known Oldupai Gorge, so named after the wild Sisal plant that grows in the gorge. As a result of massive geological activities over the eons, Oldupai provides a unique record of countless years of fossilized creatures and plants in a series of stratified rock-layers. Most famous of all discoveries, which revolutionized thinking on hominid evolution, have been those of Australopithecine hominid remains found by the Leakey family. After an introductory lecture we have time to explore the very informative museum at the site which exhibits replicas of the hominid fossils and extinct animals that used to inhabit the region, ranging from River Elephant and Giant Swine to Short-necked Giraffe!
A bird walk around the site may yield a variety of arid-country species such as the vocal Slate-coloured Boubou, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Rufous Chatterer, Kenya Sparrow, Vitelline Masked Weaver, White-belied Canary, Southern Grosbeak-Canary and the beautiful Purple Grenadier. Thereafter, we continue our travels westward on the rutted dirt track across the vast, flat and seemingly endless Serengeti Plains, to spend three nights in one of the world’s most renowned game reserves.
Days 15 & 16: Serengeti National Park
Extending for an incredible 15 000km² (5,790 mi²), the Serengeti is one of the world’s largest natural sanctuaries. Despite the vast space, the numbers of game that we can expect to see is still astounding. The Serengeti, literally meaning “Endless Plain” in Maasai, consists mostly of grasslands interspersed with Acacia woodlands and rocky outcrops. There is little permanent water in the park and this fact, combined with a fairly regular rainfall pattern, has resulted in the world-famous Wildebeest migration, when up to two million large ungulates move between the Serengeti in Tanzania and Maasai Mara in Kenya. Our visit is timed so that we might bear witness to unbelievable numbers of wildebeest, zebra and antelope, an unrivalled and primeval wonder of the natural world!
During our visit to the Serengeti we will explore the southern and central areas. Once again we have the chance of finding the full complement of African mega fauna. We hope to see lazing prides of Lion, Leopard draped over large trees, aloof Cheetah resting on or near vantage points, skulking Spotted Hyaena, jackals and, if we are fortunate, the bizarre Bat-eared Fox. Several species of smaller cats such as Caracal, Serval or African Wild Cat may also be seen. Besides the wildebeest, the Serengeti supports huge populations of Common Zebra, African Buffalo, Maasai Giraffe, Warthog, Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelles, Impala, Topi, Kongoni, Bohor Reedbuck, Eland and smaller numbers of African Elephant, Hippopotamus, rubber-nosed Kirk’s Dik-dik, Oribi and Defassa Waterbuck.
Additionally, there will certainly be a veritable feast of superb birds to keep us very busy for the time spent exploring the park. Star birds include the East African endemics Grey-crested Helmetshrike, and Red-throated Tit, the striking Steel-blue Whydah and the highly localised Karamoja Apalis. Other specials are Grey-breasted Spurfowl, Fischer’s Lovebird, Rufous-tailed Weaver, the localised race of D’Arnaud’s Barbet (sometimes split as Usambiro Barbet) and Athi Short-toed Lark. These birds can be found together with a host of other species such as the magnificent Saddle-billed Stork, up to six species of vulture, the grotesque Marabou Stork, stately Secretarybird, Bateleur, Chestnut-bellied and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, Kori and White-bellied Bustards, coveys of Coqui Francolin, Temminck’s Courser, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Red-fronted Barbet, Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill, the whimsical Southern Ground Hornbill, Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Black-lored Babbler, Taita and Grey-backed Fiscals, Magpie Shrike, Hildebrandt’s Starling, both species of oxpecker, Silverbird, the cute Buff-bellied Warbler, aptly named Beautiful Sunbird, Grey-capped Social Weaver, Blue-capped Cordon-bleu, Black-faced Waxbill and, if we are fortunate, Grey-headed Silverbill.
Not only is this a great place in which to find game and birds, but the wide green-gold savannas, dotted with thorn trees, also make it ideal for photography. The Serengeti is ravishingly beautiful and offers undisturbed views and utterly dramatic panoramas.
Day 17: Serengeti National Park to Arusha
After breakfast we start the long journey back to Arusha. Driving our way out of the Serengeti gives us further chances of finding Cheetah, Seral, Mocking Cliff-Chat and Lappet-faced Vultures.
The road back to Arusha takes us through Acacia woodland, where we may find Red-throated Tit, Eastern Violet-backed Sunbird, Red-faced Crombec, African Penduline Tit, Golden-breasted Bunting, African Grey Flycatcher and Reichenow’s Seedeater. The more arid, drier woodland may turn up Chestnut Sparrow, Rosy-patched Bushshrike, Spotted Palm Thrush, Northern Pied Babbler, Pygmy Falcon and Blue-naped Mousebird.
We arrive at our lodge this afternoon where a few hours will be spent traversing the montane gardens for Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, White-eared Barbet, Stripe-faced & Grey-olive Greenbul, Red-throated Twinspot, Black-throated Wattle-eye, African Emerald Cuckoo, Red-winged and Violet-backed Starlings, Retz’s Helmetshrike, African Black Duck, Giant Kingfisher, Taveta Weaver, African Pygmy and Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Pallid Honeyguide, Mountain Oriole, Montane White-eye, Red-backed Mannikin, shy Rueppel’s Robin-Chat and with a little luck, Mountain Wagtail along the stream.
Mammals we may see here include the white-throated sub-species of Blue Monkey (Zanzibar Syke’s), Guereza (Eastern Black-and-white Colobus) and Ochre Bush Squirrel. A short night walk could produce African Wood Owl and Thick-tailed Greater Galago.
Day 18: Arusha and depart
After some early morning birding and breakfast around our lodge, we shall head to Arusha airport for our final departures.