Thursday, 30 July 2009
We spent the best part of two days down in the crater. (Actually, it's not really a crater but it's probably too late now to start calling it 'Ngorongoro Caldera'.) It covers about 260 square kilometres and is reckoned to be home to about 30,000 animals. Because there is ample year-round food and a constant supply of water, there is very little seasonal movement of wildlife in and out and, of course, to some extent they are hemmed in by the crater walls.
As might be expected with all these prey species present, we saw quite a few Lions and there were carcasses attended by Spotted Hyaenas, White-backed Vultures and White-necked Ravens.
We drove some considerable distance around the crater over our two visits, stopping regularly to look at and photograph the wildlife most of which seemed remarkably confiding. Large birds such as Kori Bustards, Grey Crowned Cranes and Ostriches made particularly easy subjects. Smaller grassland species such as Crowned Lapwings, Red-capped Lark and Grassland Pipit required just a little more effort.
Tanzania definitely lived up to its reputation as one of the world's top wildlife tourism destinations. Thanks go to Sanjay and Peter at Roy Safaris for their contributions to making our birding safari the undoubted success that it was.
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
July isn't the time of year to witness the spectacular migration of Wildebeest and Zebras for which the Serengeti is best known but there was still more than enough to see and our stay provided a wonderful experience. Maybe we did see only a few thousand Wildebeest and Zebras rather than the million or two that are present at other times of the year but the variety of mammals and birds was truly impressive.
More to follow...
Monday, 27 July 2009
Manyara is actually a relatively small park - it covers 330 square kilometres, 200 square kilometres of which is lake when water levels are high. The road in to the park passes through some quite dense woodland where Silvery-cheeked Hornbills were the most notable birds. Numerous Olive Baboons lined the road and we also saw several Sykes's Monkeys. On the grassy floodplain, Zebras, Wildebeest, Giraffes and Impala were grazing.
We had seen from the lodge, situated high on a hillside above the lake, what must have been tens of thousands of Lesser Flamingos, from a distance just a mass of pink. Unfortunately, when we went to the lake we found there was no way that we could get anywhere near them which was rather frustrating. These are birds some of which breed at Lake Natron, a Ramsar Site that is currently threatened by the development of a soda ash plant on its shores. A world wide campaign is in progress to stop the planned construction of the soda ash factory by Tata Chemicals Ltd of Mumbai, India and National Development Corporation of Tanzania.
Although there were no close-up Flamingos we did get some excellent views of other birds at the edge of the lake. There were countless Great White Pelicans, at least 200 African Spoonbills and a similar number of Yellow-billed Storks, plus Grey Herons, Great Cormorants of the race lucidus, Collared Pratincoles, Spur-winged Lapwings, Cattle Egrets, Grey-headed Gulls and even a couple of Greenshanks. It was quite a sight. All of these were at the aptly-named Hippo Pool - apparently the collective noun for a group of Hippos is a bloat, which seemed quite appropriate!
More to follow...
After a night in Arusha on arrival, we began in Tarangire National Park and enjoyed a two-night stay at the very comfortable Tarangire Sopa Lodge. Birding began on the way there with roadside species such as White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Lilac-breasted Roller and Northern White-crowned Shrike providing a taste of things to come.
Sunday, 26 July 2009
On arrival on Dominica, we headed for the Indian River where much of the recent ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie was filmed. Here we met with David of Cobra Tours who took us on a splendid rowboat trip along the river. Plumbeous Warblers, Lesser Antillean Flycatchers, Black Swifts and Rufous-throated Solitaires (amongst many others) vied for our attention as we quietly made our way along the river. And what about this Frangipani Moth caterpillar!
For most of our stay, Bertrand Jno Baptiste, better known as ‘Birdy’, was our expert guide as we searched for the island’s special birds. A trip to the Emerald Pool area proved very productive – Blue-headed Hummingbird was probably the star but other hummers also featured along with Red-throated Solitaire, Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Broad-winged Hawk and Lesser Antillean Swift. We also saw the endemic tree lizard Anolis oculatus.
The Botanical Gardens produced our first views of an Imperial or Sisserou Parrot, a striking green-and-purple-plumaged member of the genus Amazona. Unfortunately it was in a cage! We went looking for a wild one in the Morne Diablotin National Park but without success although we did manage to hear one. The other endemic parrot, Red-necked or Jacquot, was much more obliging.
All in all this was a great visit to the Lesser Antilles. Thanks go to the Tourist Boards of the various islands for hosting us and to Joanna and Kylie of the Saltmarsh Partnership for including me on the trip. I hope to return next year with an Avian Adventures group.
Friday, 24 July 2009
Scriber took us to the best sites on the island to see the endemic and endangered Montserrat Oriole. The trails were sometimes challenging but we were rewarded with great views of Orioles, Forest Thrush, Bridled Quail-Dove, Brown Trembler, both Purple-throated and Green-throated Caribs, plus Scaly-breasted and Pearly-eyed Thrashers. From the cliff top at Lookout Point we could see distant Red-billed Tropicbirds, while Caribbean Martins flew above us.
A trip to the Botanical gardens was hosted by Lady Fergus, Director of the National Trust of Montserrat, who showed us a short film detailing some of the conservation work being undertaken in collaboration with the RSPB, Kew Gardens, London Zoo and the Durrell Foundation on Jersey. Work that seeks to protect the environment where endangered species such as the Montserrat Oriole and the Mountain Chicken Frog can be found.
Thursday, 23 July 2009
June, lucky ‘girl’, has had twelve days as a guest of the Tourist Boards of several very beautiful islands in the Caribbean: Antigua & Barbuda, Montserrat and Dominica. She was with a party of tour operators visiting the islands with a view to developing birdwatching tourism and she is now working hard on the details and arrangements for a tour there in 2010 for Avian Adventures.
During the course of a four-day stay on Antigua and Barbuda, the group visited various hotels, restaurants and bars but the majority of the trip was spent visiting birding sites with local guides, Joseph Prosper and Victor Joseph of The Environmental Awareness Group.
One of the main highlights was a day trip by catamaran to Bird Island. This small island has nesting colonies of Sooty and Bridled Terns, Red-billed Tropicbird, Laughing Gulls, Brown Boobies and Brown Noddies. While the rest of the boat’s passengers snorkeled, sunbathed or beach-combed, the birders headed for the cliffs.
Another day was spent on Barbuda, just a 20-minute flight from Antigua. On arrival, there was a sumptuous breakfast at the luxurious Lighthouse Hotel hosted by General Manager, Mr. Mohammed Sallah but soon it was back to business with the rest of the day spent seeking out birds. There was a visit to what is said to be the largest Frigatebird sanctuary in the Western Hemisphere with great opportunities for photography, but the climax of the trip was a sighting of the endemic Barbuda Warbler. Still considered a race of Adelaide’s Warbler in 1991 when this stamp was issued, it was given full species status in 2000.
At the end of the trip and after visits to Montserrat and Dominica, having checked in at the airport for the return flight to the UK, there was time for lunch at the Sticky Wicket restaurant adjacent to the (Sir Allen) Stanford Cricket Ground.
Montserrat and Dominica to follow...
Thursday, 2 July 2009
European Turtle DoveSo what's happened to them? Well, there's probably no one simple answer to that question but we're pleased to see that the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has launched a project to try and find out, species by species, just what is going wrong. Details of this and the Out of Africa Appeal for funds to finance it can be found on their website and this is surely a cause that everyone with any interest in birds should be willing to support.
The BTO is already well-placed to monitor bird populations through its Nest Record Scheme, Constant Effort ringing, the Breeding Bird Survey, BirdTrack and other studies. But these are concerned only with the UK and many of the problems faced by migrant birds are, of course, in their wintering areas and on their migration routes. The BTO plans now to get involved, jointly with RSPB and other organisations across Europe to support conservation in West Africa and to carry out survey work in countries such as Ghana where so many migrant birds spend the winter.
Climate change and shifting weather patterns and habitat loss both in the UK and Africa are no doubt major issues affecting most species; for some, hunting and trapping in southern Europe will be having an effect. However, it does seem to us that the catastrophic decline in insect food is the most obvious factor that presents a problem to all birds. It was five years ago that the RSPB organised its Big Bug Count to see how many insects crashed to their doom on vehicle number plates but there was no previous data with which to make a comparison. Maybe there are plans for a repeat survey. In the meantime, surely anyone who has been involved for any length of time in the study of insects, in moth trapping, for instance, will tell you that numbers of insects have declined dramatically, even over the past 20 years. Maybe the question we should be asking is: Where are our flies, butterflies, grasshoppers and moths?