The Selous Game Reserve and Arusha National Park

February 2009

Continuing on from our 10 day Katavi birding safari myself and two regular ‘birding’ guests flew to the Selous Game Reserve in early February. This enormous area of over 52,000 square kilometers is Africa’s premier elephant reserve of which 90% of is set aside for trophy hunting (nothing to do with Manchester United). The only hunting we would be doing would be for rare bird species! We spent five wonderful days exploring a relatively small area, compared to the explorations we did in Katavi, but it was a varied and fascinating trip.

Based at the ultra luxurious Sand Rivers lodge (OTT for our humble needs) we headed out to find new species for some of us and species I hadn’t seen for a few years. It was quite dry when we landed but on our second day some rain did fall, thankfully as the heat and humidity in the Selous at this time of year can melt a biro pen! On our third day more rain arrived to cool things down and migrant bird species arrived in their thousands! Sheer joy I must say. We saw over a thousand Northern Carmine bee-eaters together in one flock and thousands of swifts, swallows and some notable birds of prey arrived which included my first two Eleonora’s Falcons. His bird breeds at coastal cliffs in North Africa from the Canary Islands east to Cyprus and travels south to Madagascar for the Mediterranean Winter. We suspect some over winter in southern Tanzania and these two birds, if they had just come from Madagascar were a little early if heading north! More likely these birds over winter in Tanzania, we love all these mysteries!

The lake shores were packed with crocodiles and birdsThe lake shores were packed with crocodiles and birds

Another breakfast in the bushAnother breakfast in the bush

The lakes (which are in fact old oxbows of the main Rufiji River-left stranded when this mighty flow changed course many moons ago) were impressive places to sit and watch birds and wildlife and we spent many hours doing just that. Thousands of water birds and hundreds of Nile crocodiles were packed along the lake shores and with a scope we checked out every tiny wader we could. We set off on a quest one bright day to try and find a very rare bird, A few weeks ago a photograph of a strange heron arrived at our bird atlas e mail group and Neil and Liz Baker identified it as a Malagasy Heron. Now this species is rare in Madagascar and had never before been recorded on the African Continent! One of the lakes in the Selous to the East of Sand Rivers was the site it had been photographed at and we had the GPS co ordinates of that site. It is slow going in the Selous, the roads are basic and rough the vehicles are old style land rovers that I gave up driving ten years ago and they are great in rough terrain but a little noisy and somehow slower over bad roads than the more modern ones. It seemed to take for ever to cover even 10 miles and as we headed east we found that the rain showers of the previous days had swollen the gullies. Elephants and hippos love these spots and had turned all the crossing points into death traps for any 4WD vehicle. So to cut a short story even shorter we just couldn’t get across to the area that the heron had been sighted in. So frustratingly only 5 miles from our destination, we had to turn back. Pity that! Another pity is the development going on along the River and in general in the Northern Selous. We explored the river by boat a few times and I must say that the new lodge with I don’t know how many air conditioned rooms and a Presidential Suite could have been sited away from the river so as not to spoil the boat ride to the gorge. The sense of wilderness is shattered and I’m afraid this will put me off recommending Sand Rivers, or anywhere on this mighty river, again to wilderness loving guests!

The Stigler's Gorge was impressiveThe Stigler's Gorge was impressive

The new lodge on the Rufiji is just one of the many new developments thereThe new lodge on the Rufiji is just one of the many new developments there

Nile monitors are everywhere along the riverNile monitors are everywhere along the river

Our five days there were full of detailed record taking and we had a few serious questions to answer. Some of the records for these squares were strange and we set about to prove or disprove these probable mistakes. But the politics of observer records submitted is complex and being 100% objective is of course what we strive for but egos and genuine mistakes do get in the way of good science. Similar species with limited distributions and only subtle difference when in non breeding or full breeding dress can, depending on the season those record are taken, confuse even the most expert of observers. Only years of field work and endless hours of wading through reference books in addition to expeditions with the ‘experts’ can bring you to any level of real objectiveness-practice doesn’t make you perfect it just makes you better.

And now for my next trick babyAnd now for my next trick baby

Grave of the manGrave of the man

Name that snakeName that snake

After the Selous we flew up to Arusha to stay at the relaxing Ngare Sero Mountain Lodge - great garden for birds- and made a day trip out to Arusha National Park where we saw some wonderful species in this Park which sits in our Arusha 3603 B square (that’s 36 degrees East and 03 degrees south and section B, one quarter, of that 100 kilometer X 100 kilometer part of Tanzania) an area of 2500 square kilometers where over 600 hundred species of birds have been recorded- now that is a special square indeed!

Spot the people watch flamingos in Arusha National ParkSpot the people watch flamingos in Arusha National Park

A dotting mum and dad in Arusha National ParkA dotting mum and dad in Arusha National Park

Business is slowing up for the rainy season and I have no other visitors booked until May. Time to get out and ‘go birding’ more and as the migrant species are all heading north to breed, returning to the northern spring time, millions of birds are passing through Northern Tanzania at present (and my wife is heading to Europe for a family reunion). Neil and Liz Baker are out on the Maasai Steppe for a six week long capturing and ringing (banding) marathon (9000 birds ringed to date-16th March) with visiting ornithologists from Poland. So time to learn more and enjoy the experts once again. I will write an account of the visit to Neil and Liz. I also love photographing birds and take real pleasure in trying to take not only portraits but an image that captures the essence of a particular species and I get a great deal of inspiration from Arthur Morris and his regular Birds as Art Newsletters. Check out his website

Some of the bird photographs I took on this safari can be viewed on this separate page. When visiting East Africa, or anywhere else for that matter - enjoy the birds!