Discussion in 'Tanzania' started by LaughingDove, 22 Feb 2015.
Yes, Crowned Hornbills and a vervet.
I have now uploaded pictures of wildlife from the area of bushland that I did an orienteering exercise in (second half of the first day) to the Tanzania gallery: Tanzania - Wildlife Gallery
I am particularly pleased with these shots:
I will be posting a long description and review of my experiences in Tarangire National Park tomorrow
Safari in Tarangire National Park day 1:
(Hope I haven't scared anyone off with such a long post)
The night previously, before going to bed, I had packed my rucksack with all that I needed for two days and one night in the bush. Then, on Monday (16th Feb) morning I woke up at 5:30 ready for the safari. It was still dark, so with the light of my head-torch, I packed the last couple of bits that I needed for the two days on safari. This of course involved rolling up and re-packing my sleeping bag which is possibly the most challenging activity of the whole trip . The bag that the sleeping bag is supposed to fit in is of course impossibly small and once you’ve spent ten minutes squashing the sleeping bag down, it soon goes back to exactly the same as it was before you did all your work. Eventually though, I somehow defied physics and got my sleeping bag packed away and I had enough time to have a quick shower (of course with cold water only) and be up at the tent for breakfast with my rucksack and sleeping bag by 6.
The group was then divided into safari jeeps to head off for the safari in Tarangire National Park. The drive was about 2 and a half hours, but I greatly enjoyed the journey. Initially, the drive passed through settlement and farms. It was quite lush and green with many plantations of fruit such as bananas and a few coffees. There were also quite a few streams that ran along slight gorges downhill surrounded by beautifully lush, thick vegetation. This very green environment came as a stark contrast to the Polish winter that I had been having. All of this lush environment was towered over by the beautiful and breath-taking view of Mount Meru which provided a gorgeous backdrop to the initial hour or so of driving. The human environment that I was travelling through was also very interesting. Huge lorries piled high green with bananas still on the bunch thundered past, leaving little twirling clouds of dust and old, broken vehicles shared the road, travelling at speed. There were even donkey-driven carts travelling along the dirt paths by the tarmac carrying their loads past the small shacks which were the homes and businesses of the locals. I even managed to identify a few birds on this part of the drive through fairly densely populated areas. This included an African pied wagtail on the roof of a petrol station and a beautifully coloured augur buzzard flying above.
Soon, the amount of settlement started to decrease and fade into sparsely wooded and bushed savannah, being grazed by cattle. The bird sightings soon began to increase and the superb starlings, which were ever-present throughout the safari, began to show up. Soon, various people needed the toilet and the safari trucks needed some fuel so we stopped in a little service station. I didn’t need to go so I had a look through binoculars to see what birds were in the trees surrounding the car park. Here, much to my delight, I saw quite a few interesting species. These were pied crows, a couple of species of swallow and swift, southern red bishops, surprisingly the first sacred ibis of the trip and much to my delight, a pair of white-necked ravens! Bird sightings continued to increase as I got nearer to Tarangire National Park. There were quite a few little water holes which cattle were drinking from; these cattle were closely followed by cattle egrets, pecking in the little clouds of dust that they kicked up. These cattle had that huge horns so typical of African cattle and were very nice looking animals, though most were skinny to varying degrees. The water holes also provided some refuge for many little egrets that were sitting behind the ponds, but the most surprising species that made use of the apparently mushy clay-like mud surrounding these ponds and the more lush grass beyond were very large numbers of Abdim’s storks. There must have been at least five around each of these ponds and a lower density of the species in the area in between. The high speeds of the vehicles weren’t optimal for photography or identifying the smaller birds, but watching the many Abdim’s storks which I had always thought of as rare birds was fantastic.
Soon, the vehicles passed into a military training area. Here I was told not to use binoculars or take pictures, though one of the teachers supervising the trip who were obsessed with group photos seemed not to take notice or hear. The military training area was fairly natural looking bushland and in it, I saw many birds, including a couple of von-der-decken’s hornbills flying across the road less than a metre from the front of the vehicle. In terms of the military, there were quite a few young-looking men in military uniform going about their business with a few slightly battered looking military trucks. My guide said that this area was where he spent his mandatory Tanzanian military service after finishing school.
After quite a bit of driving, we reached the turn-off onto a dirt track leading to Tarangire National Park. There was the chance to stop at a little souvenir shop, and here I popped around the back to a little toilet-in-a-shed facility. Back in the safari truck waiting for the others, I spotted a white-throated bee-eater, mottled swift and a bird that was later identified as an African grey flycatcher. Here there were also some Masai tribesmen who seemed to be just watching over proceedings whilst minding some cattle. At least, they didn’t seem to be trying to sell anything, beg or anything like that. Soon the safari vehicles started to head along the dirt track and towards the entrance to the National park. Soon we reached the car-park by the entrance, and while the group leaders went to sort out entrance fees and tickets I had the chance to see if I could spot anything from the car-park. I had a look in the large baobab with an absolutely massive trunk for a pearl-spotted owlet that Hix had advised me to look for but I didn’t manage to spot it (nor did I manage to spot it on the way out). My guide said that he saw the bird in question about half the time. Missing the owlet didn’t leave me very disappointed however because there were plenty of other things around. In the same baobab tree, I saw a pair of white-rumped helmetshrikes chattering away and a short while later, an ashy starling landed on a branch. Though a very drab bird, I was very pleased to see this nice interesting species. There was also a superb starling hopping around on the floor of the car park, along with a few white-headed buffalo weavers. And even a rufous-tailed weaver. All four of these species ended up being reasonably common in the National Park, but I still enjoyed the sightings of them before entering. Near the entrance there were also a couple of zebras hanging around amongst the grasses and acacia plants.
Soon the entrance tickets had been sorted out and the vehicles were able to head into the National Park. The roof was popped up and standing on the seats, I was able to get a brilliant 360 degree view of my surroundings. The park had a typical African savannah feel with redish-brown dirt tracks tracing along open grassy plains with a few gorgeous acacia trees filled with the shimmery blue and orange of superb starlings and weavers darting amongst woven twiggy nests. It was very hot, and I sweated under the cloudless blue sky but the wind blowing across the grass provided a slight cooling relief from the heat. The rains had been slightly early causing the grass to be quite long, but the aridness of the area still showed through the more lush grass. There were also a few spectacular baobab trees dotted around, dominating the landscape with the huge fat trunks spreading into odd, yet beautiful leafy twigs sprouting out from the top. In the distance I could see a herd of elephants, the animals for which the park was most famous, and I was very excited as we drove along a dirt track and into the heart of the savannah. I very soon saw my first antelope species of the safari, these being the first of many bachelor herds of impala and little groups of two or three waterbuck. There was also a group of ostrich strutting around over the grass, made up of a mixture of males and females which looked great amongst the acacias and backed by vast rolling grasslands and blue sky.
I very soon also saw African elephants and giraffe which were great to watch in their natural settings and one particular encounter with a group of elephants quite soon after I arrived in the part stands out because as I watched them under an acacia tree near to a large stream, I noticed an African open-billed stork flying low along the water behind, an African drongo in the tree above the elephants and even a woodland kingfisher in a tree nearby. I was driven along the track, and I had a great time spotting the mammals and birds. I spotted things such as warthogs, vervets, oxpeckers and various birds of prey and weavers, amongst others. The number of elephants was really spectacular, and although I had seen wild African elephants before, Tarangire had the greatest numbers and density of anywhere I had seen wild elephants.
By about 11:30, everyone was hungry due to an early breakfast so we headed to make camp for lunch. In terms of camping in Tarangire, I expected to be in an official tented camp with various facilities but the camp turned out to be not what I expected. The safari vehicles headed along a smaller dirt track at the side towards the campsite. This seemed to not be anything official, but rather just a random area of bush in the middle of the national park. There was no fence of anything like that and seemingly nothing to stop animals from coming in and this was later confirmed by vervets and impala coming into the camp. I was assured by the guide that no dangerous animals would show up at the camp as long as no food or water was left out. But in the end, there was nothing to stop a lion from appearing. I wasn’t worried however, due to the fact that there was no way that we would be allowed to comp somewhere where there was a threat of attacks from animals and there were some guards that had come with us. There were quite a few local workers who had come with us as well and they set up tents and a toilet which consisted of a hole in the ground with a wooden seat sat on top surrounded by a curtain. Then there was the chance to have some lunch and after that it was back into the safari vehicles for the rest of the day on safari.
As we drove out of the camp on a dirt track, there was a dead honey badger lying on the road. It didn’t look like road kill though because the body wasn’t damaged at all. I then noticed that it had a porcupine quill sticking out of its body just above the tail and I suspect that that must have had something to do with this animal’s death. The rest of the day was on safari and I really enjoyed driving around the national park for quite a few hours. Some of the particularly good sightings were a small pond with a pair of knob-billed ducks on it, a big baobab tree with several lappet-faced vultures sitting on top and at all of the places were huge numbers of rollers, both European and lilac-breasted. At one point we stopped to look at a herd of elephants by a waterhole and also by the waterhole was a hamerkop. I enjoyed watching this bird hunt by the side of the pond and a short while later I spotted an Egyptian goose in a clump of grass. I pointed this out and the guide replied “No, It’s a hamerkop.” I didn’t feel like arguing but a short time later, just before moving on, the guide pointed out the same Egyptian goose to me as if I hadn’t seen it! I saw many, many more birds on the safari, some of which such as wattled starlings (really cool looking birds!), yellow-collared lovebirds and two-banded coursers were species that I was particularly hoping to see, the birds didn’t disappoint in the slightest and I got lots of great bird photos (to be uploaded over the coming weeks!). On the other hand though, I saw relatively few (in terms of density) mammals (compared to how it should have been and other places that I’d been on safari). This was due to the fact that the rains had some early and this had caused much of the hoofstock to migrate out of Tarangire. According to my guide, the rains had caused the sandy soil of Tarangire to become bad for the animals hooves and could cause them to rot. The rains also caused the grass to grow very long, and this meant that it was much easier for predators such as lions to sneak up on prey animals. These two effects combined to cause the majority of hoofstock to leave the park so I didn’t see a single wildebeest when I should have seen hundreds and I only saw one herd of coke’s hartebeest and only three individual zebras. This was somewhat disappointing, however the huge variety and number of birds made up for the lack of mammals for me (though the birds didn’t have this effect on the rest of the group and many of them went to sleep! Literally!) and luckily, the safari guide was happy to stop the jeep to allow for looking at and photographing birds. After several hours, the passengers in one of the jeeps had to get out and be split between the others. The jeep that they had been in then left, only to return to the temporary camp that had been set up that evening. I later discovered that the cutlery for dinner had been left behind so a car had been sent all the way from Arusha with the cutlery (almost three hours drive there and three hours back) and had to be met by the entrance gate. How ridiculous and unnecessary.
The safari continued for quite a bit longer and I saw many more interesting things. This included a group of four ground hornbills sitting on a slight hillock. I wanted to see ground hornbills and seeing these huge magnificent birds in the wild was really a treat. As we started to head back to the campsite, about an hour before sunset, huge storm clouds rolled in and made the sky go very dark. Off in the distance I regularly saw flashes of lightning and the roaring of thunder. This was spectacular over the plains of Tarangire National Park and some of the animals were obviously quite disturbed by the noise. Especially the many family groups of elephants with tiny calves where the adults were clearly agitated, raising their trunks, rumbling and trumpeting. This was really spectacular, but due to the risk of the roads becoming flooded and the jeeps getting stranded if it rained and the possibility of lightning, we had to head back to the camp. On the way however, I saw many more interesting birds including crested francolin, yellow-necked spurfowl and verreux’s eagles.
We soon got back to the camp and luckily it didn’t rain (though it did in other areas of the park). Some of the workers that came with us were cooking dinner over an open fire so there was some time to explore. We got back a short time before sunset and I managed to see a few animals including brown snake-eagle, woodland kingfisher and a vervet monkey. There was also a sausage tree above the camp and I enjoyed looking at the mousebirds that were amongst the branches and the strange fruit dangling down. After dinner, I went to bed quite early in preparation for getting up for breakfast the next day at sunrise and another day of safari.
I’ll be uploading photos gradually so as not to overwhelm anyone over the next few days.
A full list of species from my trip can be found in the big year thread: http://www.zoochat.com/65/2015-big-year-396741/index17.html
You're already turning me green with envy
Here are some pictures of the first day on safari, before the lunch stop (I will upload pictures from after lunch stop another day):
On the drive to the NP:
Birds spotted in the car park whilst waiting for entrance to be paid:
Birds and Animals in the Park:
http://www.zoochat.com/2258/european-roller-402529/ -particularly pleased with this photo
Dead Honey Badger:
Views of Tarangire:
Here are pictures from the second half of the first day of safari. I am in the process of writing about my second day of safari.
http://www.zoochat.com/2258/elephant-mud-pool-402741/ - I like this photo
http://www.zoochat.com/2258/kirk-s-dik-dik-402749/ - I'm pleased with this photo
http://www.zoochat.com/2258/roller-flight-402750/ - I wouldn't usually upload a photo like this but quite liked the effect
http://www.zoochat.com/2258/von-der-decken-s-hornbill-402757/ - Maybe the best picture that I took on the trip!
Safari Day 2 and drive back to Arusha:
(Sorry this post took so long to write, was really busy last week)
I got up early the next morning for a sunrise breakfast on a camp in the middle of Tarangire National Park. Breakfast was on some tables under a sausage tree and there were a few birds including white-backed vultures, bataleurs, tawny eagles and brown snake-eagles. There were also many ashy starlings. Watching the sunrise was amazing and there was a bushbuck (the only one of the trip) near to the camp in some woodlands by a stream that went next to the camp.
After breakfast there was more safari. Most people on the group were now bored of animals so would rather just sit down and chat. This, however, was great news for me due to the fact that the driver would stop at any point that I wanted him too and this allowed great opportunities for photographs of birds. For the first couple of hours of safari (until about 8) I saw and photographed many new bird species. These included white bellied bustards ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/white-bellied-bustards-403138/ ), Black-bellied bustards ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/black-bellied-bustard-403144/ ), coqui francolins ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/coqui-francolins-403161/ ), crested francolins, yellow-necked spurfowl ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/yellow-necked-spurfowl-403137/ ), black-faced sandgrouse, great views of a yellow-collared lovebird ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/yellow-collared-lovebird-403182/ ), white storks ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/white-storks-403160/ ), african drongo ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/african-drongo-403184/ ), common kestrel ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/common-kestrel-403159/ ), ostriches, ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/ostrich-front-view-403140/ ), grey-headed kingfisher ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/grey-headed-kingfisher-403166/ ), go-away birds ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/white-bellied-go-away-bird-403141/ ), brown parrots, white-browed coucal, blacksmith plovers ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/blacksmith-plover-403162/ ), African fishing-eagles ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/african-fishing-eagle-403164/ ), white-rumped helmetshrikes ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/white-rumped-helmetshrikes-403167/ ), and more. The best sighting for me though was of a pair of saddlebilled storks ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/saddlebilled-storks-403165/ )sitting next to the Tarangire River. They were truly magnificent birds; very regal looking sitting crouched down with knees bent as they do. I also saw many fantastic mammals. This included a group of Coke’s Hartebeest bounding across the plains but also, early in the morning, deep within the long golden grass, I saw a couple of small family groups of bat eared foxes bounding through the grass ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/bat-eared-foxes-deep-within-grass-403158/ ), only just visible as well as a few black-backed jackals ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/black-backed-jackal-403143/ ). I also spotted a group of dwarf mongooses sitting around a large termite mound. I won’t go through everything I did in chronological order because a lot of it was similar to the previous day but I will mention various highlight moments.
At one point while we were stopped to look at a small group of elephants drinking from a waterhole, I saw a group of around five banded mongooses running very quickly directly in front. There were also around three babies and then, couple of seconds later, another adult came and sat on its back legs for a couple of seconds and I managed to snap a photograph ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/banded-mongoose-403179/ ) which I was very pleased with. A lot of the time that I was driving that day was along the Tarangire River; in and around the river were many of the interesting birds that I mentioned above including saddle-billed storks, blacksmith plovers, sandpipers and black-winged stilts. Another thing I saw from the river was a family group of elephants ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/african-elephants-calf-403172/ http://www.zoochat.com/2258/elephant-herd-calf-403173/ ). This included one tiny youngster; probably only about a month old. It was very interesting to watch the herd being protective of its young, especially towards the vehicles which seemed to agitate the elephants a bit. The group was really interesting to watch as it travelled along the dry river valley.
On top of an acacia tree, I saw a pair of huge lappet-faced vultures ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/lappet-faced-vulture-nest-403139/ ). They were huge and magnificent looking, sitting on a nest looking over the plains. I could not see if there were young on the nest but the two parent birds were clearly guarding over something. I also at one point stopped next to a waterhole with giraffes, I was very pleased to see one of the giraffes bend over with the legs stretched out wide to drink from the waterhole ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/giraffe-drinking-403178/ ). I had seen footage of this behaviour before but never seen it in person so I found it very interesting to watch. At a nearby waterhole I also saw a group of vervets ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/vervet-monkeys-403174/ http://www.zoochat.com/2258/vervet-drinking-403175/ ) taking it in turns one or two at a time to bend down to drink.
Another very nice thing that I saw was a very large group of baboons ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/baboon-troop-403180/ ) travelling along part of a road. It was a really huge group, there were four or five big males and at least ten mothers with babies, often these babies were clinging on to the mother and being carried. This huge troop was walking along the road and then climbing up a small tree. I also saw the very nice scene of an elephant ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/elephant-under-baobab-403163/ ) walking slowly under a huge baobab tree, this was such a great view and I really enjoyed watching this majestic animal in its beautiful natural habitat. Fairly nearby to where I saw the elephant was where I saw a rock hyrax sitting on a large rocky cliff by the road. At first I only saw one lying stretched out in the sun on a relatively flat ledge of rock but I soon noticed one or two more sitting in some more shady areas and in some little patches of short, scrubby vegetation.
After about five hours of safari, it was time to head back to the temporary camp - that I had spent the last night - on for lunch. On the way back I saw a couple more very interesting things. I saw a white-browed coucal ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/white-browed-coucal-403176/ ) sitting in the branches of a bush by the side of the track. Actually, it’s a bit unfair to see that I had seen it, there is absolutely no way that I would have spotted it if my guide hadn’t seen it. I still have no idea how he saw it because it was quite deep within a bush and I couldn’t even see it properly without driving around a bit. However he managed to spot it, I really quite liked the bird; it was quietly very attractive looking and although I had seen the species once before in captivity, I think that – as with all animals - you only really see them properly once you have seen them in the natural environment acting completely naturally. An example of this aspect of seeing birds naturally is a behaviour that I saw quite often while on safari in Tanzania and that was birds ‘panting’ in the middle of the day. Though I had seen this behaviour before in Saudi Arabia it is still really cool to watch. I tend to see it most in bee-eaters and rollers but in the middle of the day they sit with their beaks open and wings held in but slightly away from their sides, they are obviously slightly uncomfortable from the heat. Another nice thing that I saw was an unstriped ground squirrel, it ran across the road in front of the jeep so I didn’t get as nice a view as I would have liked or a picture, but it was still nice to see. A surprising thing that I saw was a common zebra ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/common-zebra-403183/ ). This was not surprising that I did see it but surprising that this was only the third zebra that I had seen in the whole two days. The reason for this was the rains coming early (I went into more detail about this in my last post) so almost all of the large hoofstock had left. I wasn’t so disappointed as I would have been about the lack of ungulates because I have done other safaris in Kenya and South Africa in the past, but I was hoping to see zebras and it was nice to get a good prolonged view of one before leaving.
We got back to the camp by about 2 o clock for lunch. All of the tents had been taken down in preparation for going back to the main camp near Arusha, all that had been left out were tables and chairs for our lunch. After the lunch stop it was time to head out of Tarangire because the safaris had come to an end but there was time to go a longer route to the gate giving about one more hour of safari. On the way out I saw more nice views of elephants, giraffes and many more of the same mammals and birds that I had seen previously. This included a nice view of a brown snake-eagle ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/brown-snake-eagle-403185/ ) and a tawny eagle ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/tawny-eagle-403177/ ) and a nice view of a small group of three magnificent ground hornbills ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/ground-hornbills-403187/ ) that were very close to the edge of the road, only a few meters away. They were relaxing under a tree, foraging in the long grass that grew at its base, I also saw some silverbills in the tree; after a few minutes the birds decided that there was nothing of interest by the tree so flew off to one further away, they were really amazing in flight! The last thing of interest that I saw on the way out of the park was a fairly large group of grant’s gazelles grazing on a large open area of grass along with a family group of warthogs ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/grant-s-gazelles-warthogs-403186/ ); this really was a nice ending. After that, we had the long drive back to Arusha. I saw a few more of the same birds that I saw in the park and on the way to the park; including little egrets, superb starlings and abdim’s storks (though fewer than on the way there) but nothing new on the drive back.
We reached back to the main camp which is where I would be staying for the rest of my trip before six that evening, so I had time for a short bit of birding (didn’t see anything new or worthy of note) before dinner before going to bed quite early in preparation for my plan to get up an hour before I was supposed to the next morning so that I would get some time to see birds before a day of hard work. I plan to write reviews about the other days that I was in Tanzania even though they are not completely animal based, though there was some interesting birding on camp; they probably won’t be as extensive write-ups though.
I hope you liked my review and pictures and I look forward to any opinions or comments
Here are nine pictures from the day described above that I missed off uploading initially:
Service Day 1:
(Sorry about the lack of animals but I think this will be interesting to at least some people regardless)
I got up before six so that I was up and out of the tent by five past. I then went with binoculars, bird book and camera for some exploration around the camp to do a bit of before-breakfast birding. I had a look around the camp and settled on one site that was the best for birding; this was the pond that I talked about in the first part of my first post in Tanzania (post #13 of this thread). I decided on this area because it was absolutely fabulous for birds! There were three black crakes that were around the pond 24/7 along with six or seven pairs of taveta golden weavers, thick-billed weavers and black-headed weavers as well as red-eyed doves and common fiscals. These species were there all the time but there were a few species such as malachite kingfishers, speckled mousebirds and black-headed herons that were at the pond almost all the time and of course a few species that I only saw once. In fact, I saw at least three new species around the pond every day (this was with spending an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening every day). One very interesting thing that I saw that morning was the group of helmeted guinea fowl roosting in a tree. Thinking about it now, it must be obvious that they roost in trees, but I had never seen or heard of guinea fowls sitting in trees so I found this very interesting. The group of seven guinea fowls soon got up from the branches of the tree and got down to the ground with pathetic, ungainly flaps of their wings. The group which consisted of about seven birds then proceeded to walk onto the nearby football pitch and peck in the grass. After about ten minutes of looking around, taking pictures and looking through binoculars, one of the masai guards came over to see what I was doing.
The camp that I was staying in was guarded by apparently more than 20 Masai people. They all wore the traditional red robes and carried around a stick that they would stand on one leg and rest against while they were standing guard over the camp. I really did think that this was completely unnecessary due to the fact that there were two high voltage electric fences and gates but after living surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by soldiers with machine guns from the Saudi National Guard for eight years in Saudi Arabia, I didn’t find this as strange as I am sure other people from the group did. Anyway, as I was saying, one of the Masai guards came over to have a look at what I was doing. My Swahili hadn’t progressed much beyond the basic greeting of ‘jambo’ by this point so communication was somewhat difficult, but I later learnt that the Masai didn’t speak Swahili anyway but instead had their own Masai language so my lack of Swahili wouldn’t have made much difference. The guard was very friendly and interested in what I was doing. He seemed to like looking through the binoculars and was very interested in looking through my pictures. The guard then pointed out a pair of crowned hornbills in a tree, they were very nice looking birds which stayed in the tree for a few minutes then flew off. I thanked the guard in Swahili which took us both near to our Swahili limits and then he headed off to another part of the camp. I saw this guard again a few more times when I was around the pond in the mornings before leaving Tanzania.
At about ten to seven (breakfast being at seven), I went back to my tent to put my things in and have a very quick morning shower. There was no hot water (actually, to be fair, there was hot water but it was heated from a wood-fired boiler that was far, far too small for the number of people showering so it almost always had run out by the time I got there) so I didn’t take very long and I was up at breakfast with my rucksack with things that I would need for the day by the seven o’ clock breakfast. As with all of the meals that I would have on the camp, breakfast was fantastic, especially the fresh fruit and fresh fruit juices that were grown on the camp. After breakfast, the group gathered in the relaxation tent which was next to the dining tent (the whole camp was made up of very large permanent tents, though canvas they had electricity) for a briefing before heading out on the first of two days of a service project. Before coming to Tanzania (and on the day when we first arrived) we were told of the basics of the project. The large group was divided into groups of around six and each group was constructing a goat shed for a very poor family. All of the families were in a remote village and the similarities between them were that none of the families had any source of income and all of them were one parent or grandparent supporting multiple children by themselves. The idea of building this goat shed was that a goat shed was built and a milking goat put into each shed. We had raised all of the money needed to pay for the materials used to build the shed and to buy the female goat before going to Tanzania. The charity that was organising the project had a stud male goat that would be loaned to each of the families whom a goat shed was being built for and this would allow goats to be bred and the female goat to be milked. The whole idea of the project was to provide an income to the families that would hopefully be sustainable in the future with the milk and eventually the kid goats providing the family’s income.
After a brief run-through that morning of how to build the goat sheds we all piled into jeeps and headed to the village. The roads were not what you would call roads but more like places where the grass had been worn away by tyres skidding through the dirt. The village was very near to the camp so despite the snail’s pace that the cars had to travel at to get over the roads and two significant whacks of large, sharp rocks onto the bottom of the car, the drive only took about fifteen minutes. We drove to the place that would be the base of operations for the service projects and this was an orphanage that was run by a small charity that was hosting our service project. This was where we picked up the materials and importantly, the plans to build the goat sheds with the lengths that the wood would need to be cut to and holes need to be dug listed. We also saw our goats there but the ‘installation’ of the goats was not to be until the afternoon of the next day (this was a two day construction project). After going through the plans to make sure everyone was clear on the construction, each group was assigned with a local handyman to make sure we didn’t completely mess up the construction or kill ourselves with the machetes, hammers, saws and pick axes that we had been given. We then carried the tools and materials down to our goat shed construction site ready to start building. We were building on a slightly sloping patch of land next to the house of the family who we were building it for. The hut was small and bare bricks, it had two rooms and an outdoor wood fired oven and this was the entirety of it.
We then looked down at the plans and started. First we dug four holes to place the support poles in. This was quite difficult due to the depth that the poles had to be inserted to, but we soon got the hang of the machetes and pick axes and it was soon done. While some of the group was working on digging the holes, the other people started to cut the main support poles that would go into the holes down to size. Soon the four supporting posts were in their holes and packed down tightly with small rocks and dirt. Then a frame was put up around the poles for the floor and planks were put across the frame. Of course these all had to be cut and measured and nailed together in a manner that would hold up a goat, but by lunchtime we had done up to this point. We went back up to the orphanage for lunch which was beans with rice, although not the favourite dish of most people, everyone was very hungry after a morning sweating in the hot, hot sun. You cannot image how hot it is standing in the full sun doing manual labour for several hours, so the soft drink that we were able to have with lunch was appreciated by all.
After lunch we all went back down to the sheds to continue working. It was even hotter than the morning and I was drinking more than a litre of water every hour but sweating it all out. By the end of the first day of work, the walls and frame was done completely, this left the roof, ramp, food box and the door (this proved very complicated) for the next day. We were all exhausted so were pleased to get back to the camp after the hard, hot day of work. Everyone went straight for a shower and then we had an hour or so to relax before dinner. I went for a bit of a look around the pond where I got some nice views of the common birds such as taveta golden weavers along with malachite kingfishers and others. Then was dinner which was fantastic as with all of the meals and then had an early night. I had no problem getting to sleep even though it wasn’t even 9 o’ clock yet because I was exhausted and knew there was another day of hard work to come.
Attached are pictures of a bucket of tools, the progress reached on the goat shed construction by the end of day 1, and some of the materials
Enjoying this thread Laughingdove, its really interesting to hear about these kinds of experiences, and awesome that you were able to engage with and help the locals. I hope you got to do some more cultural things too, as well as more wildlife watching.
I think I can see your motivation for going on the trip, but what about the others with you? They don't seem to be that into the wildlife side of things. Did they do other things? Do you think they got much out of the experience?
I have also enjoyed this thread. Sounds like you were the lone person on the trip to be interested in the wildlife though!
That was pretty much the case. Most people were interested in the big game animals for the first day of safari but were bored by the second day and there was no one else (with the possible exception of one of the supervising teachers) who was interested in the birds.
I do have a few more cultural experiences to write about, hope to get them done within a couple of weeks (no faffing around for years like some other trip threads *cough cough* )
There were a few different reasons for people coming on this trip. Firstly, it counts as community service that many people who were in the last year of secondary school would want to do because it looks good for universities. It's also a fairly adventurous trip, I was one of the few people who had been to African before and there were some people who had never left Europe in their lives, and it's quite a fun thing to do as you can image!
There is also the aspect of the cost which was really very low. The only things that we had to pay for were flights to Kilimanjaro International Airport and the Tanzanian visa (50 USD for everyone who is not American and 100 USD for Americans). The food, accommodation, safari, transport and everything was paid for!
All this taken into account though, I really don't think that many people made the most of the trip.
Service day 2:
I woke up before the alarm that I had set for myself at six then next morning because despite having a hard day of work, I was excited to see what other birds I would find by the pond. I was quite sore from the hard labour yesterday but I got up, went for a quick shower (due to the fact that I was up early, I got some hot water this time) and then picked up my camera and binoculars and went to the pond, there I saw all of the usual species such as weavers, doves and black crakes. Despite having seen them a lot over the past couple of days, they were still fun to watch but I also saw many of the slightly less common species such as common bul buls and speckled mousebirds. I also saw quite a few rare and interesting species, this included a long-tailed cormorant (reed cormorant) which at first was flying around quite high up in circles but then came lower and lower and landed in a tree on the island of the pond. Also on this island was a group of very nice brown-breasted barbets. The pond was full to bursting with tilapia, including some very large ones which I think the cormorant was trying to fish. That morning I also saw three sqacco herons, they were there when I first arrived by the pond, sitting in a thick clump of weeds staring at the water with complete concentration trying to catch a fish. I managed to see one of them catch a fish which it swallowed hastily. They continued fishing until one of the black crakes became suddenly startled and rushed across the water scaring the squacco herons into the tree where the long-tailed cormorant and brown-breasted barbet that I mentioned above were sitting.
After the time for birding in the morning, it was breakfast which was fantastic as always and then it was time to head out for goat shed construction! We got back into the same vehicles and then headed off to the site of the construction along the same bumpy ‘roads’. Once we got to the orphanage but we didn’t have to spend too much time going over the plans but we picked up the goats to take them down to the goat sheds (so we wouldn’t have to go back up and get them). This was slightly more difficult then it seems due to the logistics of moving a goat the approximately 800 metres from the orphanage to the goat shed. The goat absolutely did not want to move anywhere and if it did decide to move then it was always the wrong way. Eventually though, we got it to move by using a branch of particularly delectable leaves with one person holding the goat’s leash and one person walking one pace ahead with the branch of leaves, this worked quite well despite how ridiculous it sounds at least until the goat found some leaves that were obviously more delicious than the ones were using initially. But by this point no one had any more patience for it so we just dragged it by the leash the rest of the way. The goat soon worked out that it was just going to have to walk so we eventually got it to the building site and tied it onto a nearby tree. We then picked up our tools and started to work.
The group divided up into a few different tasks, these were building a ramp for the goat, a food box, a door and also putting the roof on. The roof was corrugated iron and quite dangerous to put on so for this bit we did require the local handyman who was overseeing us to help. You may or may not know that corrugated iron has extremely sharp edges and is therefore very difficult to install without slitting your wrist; luckily though, the handyman knew what he was doing and had the correct gloves and the roof was soon up and we could then hammer it on. The ramp was quite a simple construction which was just a plank with bits of wood nailed on for grips so that the goat could get into its shed and the box was also quite simple as it was just a box, though this was quite difficult because there was a lot of sawing and nailing to get the box together and supports were needed to hold it up. The door on the other hand was trickier. It was made by first building a frame for it and then putting planks on top, this of course had to be the perfect size to fit in the doorframe that we had built into the shed. We had a set of hinges and a bolt with us to secure the door but this proved very difficult due to the uneven nature of the wood that we had used on the construction, nothing fitted! We put the hinges on properly but then the door wouldn’t close so we had to take them off and carefully cut the door frame and the post where we were mounting the hinges down bit by bit with machetes, then re-measuring it and then cutting it down a bit more. The seemingly simple task of attaching the door hinges took over half an hour and then after that, the same process had to be done for the bolt which also took quite a while. Whilst some people were working on this difficult task, a few people who were art students decided to decorate the goat shed with some white paint that was spare. The pattern that was decided were handprints and flowers (I think the flowers looked like dead starfish but oh well ) and a name plaque was carved into a piece of wood to go above the door. The name decided on was Sheila (stupid name for a goat in my opinion but I didn’t pick it) and this was carved nicely into a piece of wood and nailed above the door.
We managed to get all of this done before lunchtime so before going up for lunch we put the goat in and made it at home. After that, it was time to introduce the goat shed to the family who we had built it for. The woman who was a grandmother who had to look after her grandchildren with no source of income was really very pleased with her goat shed and the goat that we had given her. She seemed very confused as to the goat’s name of Sheila and thought it a bit nuts that a goat would be given a name but she was very thankful for what we had given her and her family (this was all told to us by the person who was organising the project who could translate from Swahili to English). We all put our handprints on the goat shed, said goodbye to the family and then left up to the orphanage for lunch. We had managed to finish the construction and everything before lunch so we had the chance to go and visit a local public school after lunch.
After we had all finished eating and played with some of the small children who lived in the orphanage, we got back into the vehicles and headed along a different dirt track to visit a public school. The dirt track headed up hill and away from the more lush green areas surrounding Arusha to a drier, more arid area. By the side of the road, sheltering under some shrubbery from the sun I saw some blue-capped cordon-bleus resting in the shade and at another time, I saw some grey-headed sparrows doing a very similar thing in resting under a bush. The drive to the school on slightly better roads (though still dirt tracks) took about half an hour then we got out of the vehicles and were able to have a look around. The classrooms were very small and bare, with three children to a desk that looked like it could hardly cope with one child. There was a blackboard and in a few classrooms there were some posters stuck to the walls. It was unbearably hot in the classrooms with very poor ventilation and they became even hotter with 40 or 50 children crammed into them. The surprising thing was that all of the children had to wear school jumpers for the uniform! I could hardly bear the heat wearing short sleeves but the children had to wear V-neck jumpers, shirts and ties. I had a bit of a look in some of the classrooms and in the library who people who had been on previous expeditions to Tanzania had built (this was the service project instead of the goat sheds that our group did), we also had a look at the football pitch which was just a mostly flat area of dirt with no goals but it was just ‘mob football’ with everyone chasing after a ball. After about half an hour walking around we got to take a tour around the facility with the headmaster who showed us some of the classrooms and some of the basic facilities and then the teaching accommodation. This was extremely basic and apparently they had major problems with recruiting teachers because no one wanted to work there, we then had a look at the kitchen and grain silos. This seems like a weird thing to have at a school but the school fees were paid with five buckets of maize and two buckets of beans, this was then used to make a cornmeal porridge dish for lunch for the students’ lunch. We were then told that one of the big problems at the school was water as there was none; this was due to the fact that the school was at quite a height on top of a hill. This meant that the nearest surface water was several miles away down in the valley floor towards Arusha National Park and would be extremely difficult to pump up the hill over farmland to the school, a well was also an impossibility because the groundwater was so far away we were told that a well would be over 100,000 US Dollars and that if of course far, far too expensive. We stayed in the school for about an hour and then headed back to the camp with a lot of food for though.
We got back to the camp at around 5 o’ clock, I then had to write up a reflection on the service project for school and then I could have a shower and do some birding. I went back over to the same pond area and also had a bit of a walk around the farm area. I didn’t see any new birds but I did see a few interesting things such as crowned hornbills and an ochre bush squirrel, I also had the chance to watch a very cute little group of four brown-breasted barbets who seemed to be newly fledged and were sitting on a branch over the pond with the last little tufts of downy feathers just remaining. I also saw the same Masai guard who I had seen yesterday morning and he just had another look at what I was doing and I managed to get some nice photos of bul buls, weavers and other birds that were common (I will hopefully post a few of these photos and do the next review this weekend). After the birding I had a great dinner and then had the briefing for the next day’s activities. I was told that we were going to be touring around a village to look at bio gas machines, farming methods, local houses and handicrafts and a bit of hiking. After the briefing I played a couple of games of cards and then had another early night’s sleep.
Attached are photos showing front and side views of the completed goat shed including the dead starfish... erm, I mean white flowers, Sheila that goat in side her shed and Sheila the goat making use of the food box.
Here are some pictures that I took while birding from the mornings and evenings of the service days:
http://www.zoochat.com/2258/common-bul-bul-bamboo-403721/ - particularly pleased with this picture
http://www.zoochat.com/2258/taveta-golden-weaver-403725/ - particularly pleased with this picture
http://www.zoochat.com/2258/taveta-golden-weaver-403733/ - particularly pleased with this picture
I got up at 6, the same time as I had done previously and went over to the same pond for some birding. New species that I hadn’t seen previously were an African harrier hawk soaring overhead and also a fairly large group of spur-winged geese flew over. I then had breakfast as usual and then was briefed of the plan for the day. This was to do a village tour to see various things such as farming, housing school etc. We then got into jeeps and got taken to a centre where the tour would be organised from. The village was near the foothills of Mount Meru and also fairly near to Arusha National park, in fact the road to Arusha National Park went through the village. This centre was run like a charity and it was trying to teach the locals better farming methods. This included how to farm the steeply sloping land without losing the fertility to erosion and also the centre had organised a small number of cows that produced high amounts of milk to be distributed to a few people with the agreement that every other calf born would be given to a neighbour so that all of the community would eventually get the cows. We were told about all of this in the centre and then we were assigned a guide to take us for a walk around. First we looked at the centre’s ‘model field’ which was one field that had been set up perfectly with the correct farming methods to show as an example. It was a fairly steep hillside so it had been terraced and then a type of grass was grown at the edge of each terrace to prevent soil loss through erosion. Then on each terrace a different crop was grown and there was a rotation so that the land could be used fully productively year round and a variety of different things could be grown for the family who owned the land. There were also some other farming practices such as leaving the roots of some plants in and not removing the plant completely so it could be used as fertiliser.
After having a look at this field we had a small hike up a hill. This was about 500 m up quite a steep slope and this was at an altitude of around 1700m so it was a bit challenging but doable. There were some really nice views over the surrounding landscape which were over small fields dotted with houses with Mount Meru and Arusha National Park nearby. Up the slope of the hill, it was dotted with pine trees which were being grown for wood along with the occasional coffee plantation. At the top of the hill was a huge fig tree which we were told was sacred to some locals who still had pagan/animism-like beliefs. It really was an impressive fig tree with the great view around making it an impressive site. After looking at the tree we headed back down the hill a different way, towards a village. This descent was along a much gentler slope and along the slope were lots of fields of corn, they were long thin rectangles in shape and each field (separated by a sparse line of trees marking the boundary) we were told was owned by a different family and the field would be split evenly between the sons of a family when they were married. There were very clearly some issues with sustainability here and some of the fields were already looking quite small due to being divided up so much. There were also a few traditional looking houses dotted around and with each house having a small patch of various vegetables.
After the walk up the hill, we visited a traditional healer. She had various bits of leaves, seeds and bark lying on the table along with plastic bottles containing funny liquids which were apparently boiled forms of the leaves. It was then explained what each one supposedly did, how it was prepared etc. and then we were able to try some of them. There was a spicy chilli which seemed to serve no purpose and some chewing leaves which were supposed to cure a blocked nose and according to someone who had a blocked nose, they somewhat worked (though how much of a placebo, I don’t know ). There was also a horrible smelling drink that was offered around that was supposed to cure diarrhoea, I didn’t try it but some did and apparently it tasted terrible as well. After looking at the traditional healer, we visited a school; it was very similar to the school talked about at the end of post #34 so I won’t go over it again.
After that, we went up for lunch back at the centre where this village tour was organised from, this was a mixture of traditional rice, vegetables and meats in a kind of buffet style thing. In the middle of lunch there was a small interruption due to the arrival of a Kilimanjaro two-horned chameleon being spotted in a tree. Various people picked it up and held it until it started acting threateningly and it was put back in the tree. After lunch we went to have a look at a traditional hut which was a circular building made out of a frame of branches plastered with a mixture of mud and cow dung and then with a corrugated iron roof on top (this would traditionally be grass but apparently the tin roofs are chosen because of durability). Inside the huts were very smelly due to the family cows being kept inside at night and very hot and smoky due to a fire inside and no ventilation at all. There were also some smaller buildings around which were built in the same way as the main house and some large sheets laid out where corn was being dried.
After looking at the house, we walked back up to the centre to have a look at a biogas generator that was installed to provide the gas for cooking. This was a machine that had cow dung and urine put in and converted this into enough gas for a stove to be on for a few hours a day. While we were looking at the system, a person with some overpriced beaded souvenirs was trying to sell them to us and despite the fact that prices ranged from 3-25 US dollars (this is 5500-46000 in the local currency of Tanzanian shillings so were really stupid prices) some people bought them. After that, we headed back to the main camp with the jeeps for the evening and when we got in, we found that some souvenir sellers had been allowed in and were selling things for much cheaper than the place by the biogas generator. There was a fair amount of free-time that evening so I had a shower and then went to look for some birds. I saw many of the species that I had seen previously but also saw a large group of red-billed quelea (though not huge like I have seen in pictures and videos) and also what I believe to be a cape crow. Afterwards I had dinner and then had another early night
Last Day in Tanzania:
(I will put these two days together in one post because neither is very long)
As usual, I got up some time before breakfast to do a little birding. I had also been told by someone that he saw a “big black and white eagle” over the camp and then he pointed at the palm nut vulture in my book as that looking the closest “but not exactly the same”. With that in mind, I had a look around and didn’t managed to find it but around the pond I did see a few giant kingfishers flying over which were nice to see again after seeing them once a couple of days ago but I also saw a beautiful male Nubian woodpecker on a tree which was very nice to see because I had always wanted to see a woodpecker outside of Europe and this was my first one. To be honest I think it is nicer looking than all of the European woodpecker species that I’ve seen. A little later (I had a late breakfast that day so had more time for birding), I saw a very large bird fly over and land on a tree that was on the border of the camp and a neighbouring property, I then realised that it was a grey crowned crane and then it held its wings out for a short while ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/grey-crowned-crane-tree-404278/ ) before flying off again ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/grey-crowned-crane-taking-off-404279/ ). I also managed to get some nice pictures of species that I had seen previously ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/black-crake-lotus-flower-404277/ ).
I then had breakfast and got in the vans for the short trip that we had that day. This was just visiting a small school and orphanage, the school provided a much higher standard of education at a cost but if the families couldn’t pay then this was reduced. We were given a tour around the place by some of the students and then had a look at the attached orphanage that was run by the same people as the school. The house was at a good standard (I would be happy to live in it) with fantastic views from the windows and had a small farm as well, this made it seem like quite a nice place for the dozen or so orphans in it. We then had to be taken back to the camp which we got back to at around three in the afternoon, leaving quite a bit of time to relax and to pack up, ready for leaving to go to the airport which we would be doing at 11 that night for a flight at 3 AM the next morning. I had a look at the pond where it was very still with almost no birds apart from a purple heron sitting in the grass panting ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/purple-heron-403605/ ), everything was hiding in the bushes. It was too hot for me to stay out so I just sat around the camp in the shade for a couple of hours.
A little later though, once it was slightly cooler, I went back down to have a look at what I could see. I got nice views of various species that I had seen at the pond previously and I saw a Nile monitor ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/young-nile-monitor-404281/ ) and a very large millipede ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/millipede-404282/ ) along with many speckled mousebirds. I was still having a look for the mystery bird that a person had seen on the camp that supposedly looked like a palm nut vulture and in the end I managed to see it! Though it wasn’t a palm nut vulture but instead was an African fishing eagle, it was sitting in a tree only about 10 metres away ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/african-fishing-eagle-404283/ ) and was really majestic, then it flew and at one point came extremely close to me before flying away ( http://www.zoochat.com/2258/african-fishing-eagle-flight-404284/ ), it was only around 5 metres away in the air and this made it really a fantastic experience. I also showed a picture to the person who saw what they thought was a palm nut vulture and they agreed that it was the same as the African fishing eagle that I had just seen. I then went up for dinner and then after dinner finished off packing my bag and then had quite a wait in the relaxation tent. It was dark so I couldn’t go and explore around the camp and we weren’t leaving until 11 so I read some of a zoo quest book by David Attenborough to pass the time. Eventually it was time to go so we took a bus to Kilimanjaro International Airport and went through the very long tedious queues passing by the stray cats to get to the gate. The plane came and once the departing passengers had walked off, we walked over the airport and up to the runway where the plane was parked.
The flight was Turkish airlines the same as on the way there. It stopped for an hour in Mombasa, Kenya on the way and then we changed for Warsaw in Istanbul. There were some very nice views on the way of the Sahara Desert and Nile River over Egypt and Sudan and also of mountains in central Turkey. I had really enjoyed the trip and it was a great experience.
This is the end of my trip report; thank you to all who took the time to read it and I hope you have enjoyed it
Attached are pictures of the view from the hill climbed for the village tour, the sacred fig tree from the village tour, the house visited in the village tour, one of the safari jeeps that took us around while in Tanzania (don't they look so cool?), a view of the Nile from the plane over Egypt and a view of snow-capped mountains from the plane over central Turkey.
wow, excellent review! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it
I agree - very nice write-up. It's been quite enjoyable reading your reports.
Thanks to you both for the compliments, pleased that my write-up was enjoyed.
Separate names with a comma.