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Trip Report – September 2010

Marico Sunbird

Day 1: You can start birding the second you arrive at Kilimanjaro airport. Walking from the airplane there are lawns and trees that hold a fair number of species such us Superb Starling, Wattled Starling, Common Fiscal, African Pied Wagtail. Once you leave the airport building there are bushes ( by the little cafe) that are great for sunbirds – Collared, Scarlet-chested, Marico are all possible. Stay at KIA Lodge which is 5 minutes from the airport and has great grounds.

Day 2: Bird the grounds of the lodge before breakfast. They are wonderful and the list of possibility is endless – Spotted Morning-thrush, Emerald-spotted Wood-dove, Blue-naped Mousebird, White-bellied Go-away-bird and so much more.

After breakfast start your trip, via Arusha to Tarangire National Park. Arusha isn’t worth stopping in but we had asked our guide ahead of time to arrange a stop at a local orphanage so that we could deliver school supplies.You should also take a break about 2 hours passed Arusha at the market beside the road where you turn off the main road to Tarangire Park.

There is fabulous birding at the entrance to Tarangire Park – you will have to stop for your guide to gain entrance so take the time to walk around. Check out the water tower behind the park entrance as there is often water on the ground, attracting great birds. Because there are so few opportunities to get out of your vehicle once inside the park, make the most of this time.

Driving through the park will be your first introduction to the wonderful mammals of the area – elephant, zebra and so many species of

Black-faced Sandgrouse

antelopes you will get confused by them all!! But don’t forget the birds – White-headed Buffalo-weaver, Helmeted Guineafowl, Crested Francolin, Black-faced Sandgrouse, Common Scimitarbill, Green Woodhoopoe and Purple-breasted Roller everywhere.

The Tarangire Lodge has a fabulous main building with views to die for – the accommodation is also very good – basic but good – very ‘safari’. We stayed one night here but I would have like to stay for 2 nights – so this will assume you have 2 nights here.

Day 3: Head out on safari before breakfast to enjoy the mammals and the birds down by the river. Three-banded Plover, Blacksmith Plover, Ruppell’s Vulture, White-browed Coucal, Speckled Pigeon, Tawny Eagle, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse will all be up.

After a late breakfast back at the lodge, another drive may bring African Orange-bellied Parrot, Arrow-marked Babbler, Red & Yellow-billed Oxpecker, African Palm Swift, Cut-throat Finch and several cisticolas.

Red-fronted Tinkerbird

A lazy afternoon by the pool or enjoying the fantastic view is a great way to spend some time – and there is also good birding round the lodge grounds – Red-fronted Tinkerbird should be here.

Day 4: An early breakfast and then a drive out of the park and on towards Lake Manyara. This trip will allow you further opportunities to see some of the birds ( and mammals) that were missed over the last couple of days in the park.

An afternoon at Lake Manyara will not only give you great views of hippos but some excellent birds. Hammerkop, Collared Pratincole, Sacred Ibis, Grey Crowned Crane, African Fish Eagle, Purple Grenadier, Black-chested Snake Eagle and Southern Ground-hornbill are in the park. And Yellow-billed Stork nest at the entrance.

We stayed at an interesting lodge ( very nice with great views) called the Kirurumu Lodge. It is a little of the beaten track but worth the drive.

There is a nature walk you can take with a local tribesman which is quite interesting as you go inside a village – you will need to be your own bird guide because they don’t really know the birds but we saw a dozen new species including Black-backed Puffbird, Fischer’s Lovebird,

Fischer’s Lovebird

Hildebrandt’s Starling and Eastern Nicator.

When you wake in the morning, don’t be alarmed by all the tribesmen sitting outside your tent – they are there to carry your bags!!!

Day 5: Have a leisurely breakfast and another wander around the grounds before heading on to Ngorogoro Crater. En route there is a major town (last spot to get gas before the crater – but I can’t remember the name of it!!) which as a fantastic market for local people which is worth spending an hour wandering around – we loved it!

The entrance to Ngorogoro Park has some interesting (although very old!) displays that are worth a stop before going into the park.

Accommodation at the crater can be a challenge – we stayed at the Rhino Lodge that was a little more basic than we had hoped (and the fire in the restaurant smoked so badly we couldn’t stay there for long!!) but it was more authentic than some of the luxury hotels. Having said that, if you want to stay 2 nights (which I would recommend) its probably worth staying somewhere with a few more facilities.

Senegal Lapwing

Day 6: Head into the crater as early as possible to avoid crowds, see the wonderful animals and also, of course, the birds. Flamingos, Grey Crowned-Crane, Northern Anteater Chat, Schalow’s Wheatear, Senegal Lapwing, Kori and Southern Black-bellied Bustard are all possible – plus of course lions, hyena, jackal, buffalo and more.

I would spend a whole day in the crater – which will be quite enough – and then have a relaxing evening at your hotel because tomorrow is a long drive!

Day 7: Setting out after breakfast, head to the north of the Serengeti today – this is about a 5 hour drive but there are stops along the way that are good for birding and for taking a break. First scheduled stop (any good bird requires a stop at any point!!!) would be the Southern gate of the Serengeti. Could be the first chance for Secretary bird (we only saw one pair in the month we were in Africa) and there are a few trees around for other species.

Second stop is the Main gate where you will be held up for a while your guide gets the paperwork done – good opportunity for birding in the trees – barbets and tinkerbirds can be found here and swallows can be found overhead.

After continuing right the way through the park we stayed at Ikoma Lodge – it is actually out the other side of the park and feels a little out of

Secretary Bird

the way but we loved it. The set up is very ‘out of Africa’ and the restaurant area is a great place to relax.

The grounds are fantastic for birding ( we watched Black-backed Weaver make their nests) so when you arrive after your long drive, enjoy all the birds that are visible in the evening.

Day 8: Arrange a nature walk with a guide from the lodge, you do have to pay extra – which annoyed us – but it is the only way you can wander too far from the lodge and the birds were excellent. Once again you will need to be your own bird guide but we had good views of the things we saw so it wasn’t hard to identify them. Temmink’s and Two-banded Coursers, White-browed scrub-robin, Red-fronted and Usambiro Barbet, African Golden-breasted bunting were all easy to see – and it was great to be able to walk around after so much time birding from vehicles.

This is a great location for a lazy afternoon.The only challenge is that , like all lodges, there is no electricity during the day – but in this location all the water is pumped by electricity so there is no water during the day! Stay here again tonight and enjoy the grounds for birding. Our guide also arranged for us to visit a local village – which was great because it was very ‘untouristy’

D’Arnauds Barbet

Day 9: Leave early for a full day in the Serengeti. We had great views of Cheetah in the park, which is likely the main focus of your guide so the birds tend to come second until this has been achieved. Also an excellent spot for hippo. The crowds at the picnic spot are a real turn-off but it is a great spot to get D’Arnauds Barbet and we also saw White-bellied Bustard and Pygmy Falcon. Lots of vultures, Arrow Marked Babblers and any pond may offer Goliath Heron or Yellow-billed Duck..

After lunch take a route through the park that will end up at tonight’s accommodation – Mblalgeti Luxury Lodge. This is in the area where the huge Wildebeest migration takes place in March- so if you are there at that tine of year it will be great. Even without that, though, the lodge is worth the drive. Get there for mid-afternoon to make the most of it.

Day 10: Bird the grounds in the morning, although we didn’t find it that ‘birdy’ but the lodge was so nice we were happy to just enjoy.

Driving back through the Serengeti to the air strip can provide the opportunity for any of the local species to be viewed – at the airstrip we found a colony of Rock Martins while waiting for our flight back down to Arusha.

We were heading to Cape Town the next day and made the mistake of staying at the Ngodurto Mountain Lodge which is a very expensive

White-browed Coucal

dump!!!!! Unless you want to walk around the town of Arusha – not advised – then I would stay back at the KIA Lodge for your last evening.

Don’t forget to check out the sunbirds again at the airport while you are waiting for your flight home.

General Comments: Birding here can be a little frustrating because you cannot leave your vehicle in any of the national parks. In addition to that, the guides, despite what they tell you are not really bird guides. they are general guides that can identify the big, colorful birds (sometimes!). Having said that, if this is your first trip to the Northern Circuit there are so many other wonderful things to see that, as long as you have the correct expectations, it will be a trip to remember.

I wouldn’t recommend the tour company we used, but they will all follow the same route so it doesn’t really matter. Be warned, this route is very touristy!!! a bit disappointing at times but I guess you have to do it once!


Kilimanjaro – Kia Lodge 
Tarangire – Tarangire Safari Lodge
nr Lake Manyara- Kirurumu Lodge
Ngorogoro – Rhino Lodge
Serengeti – Ikoma Tented Lodge
Serengeti – Mbalageti 
Arusha – Ngurdoto Mountain Lodge

Guides & Resources

You cannot go to these areas without a guide. See General Comments above.

Field Guide: We used the Birds of East Africa by Terry Stevenson & John Fanshawe. It is a good guide but I would have preferred one that focused only on Tanzania as it is a bit overwhelming in the field.

Maps: Even if you are going with a guide, it is worth purchasing the Roodt maps for the national parks as they cover the relevant birds, plants and animals in each area ( except the Ngorogoro crater map which isn’t great.)

Bird song – Bird Song of Kenya and Tanzania which has 99 species. We also took South African Bird Sounds by Guy Gibbon that had some overlap – try to avoid the CD version of this set as it has 15 calls on each track which is useless in the field..

Lonely Planet Guides for Tanzania is the best – we couldn’t find it and bought the Rough Guide but we were disappointed.

Bird List