A birding trip to Iringa via the Maasai Steppe

June 2010

When not on an organized safari I take every opportunity to have a few days out and about exploring. Colin Beale (an English ornithologist currently based in Arusha) invited me to join him on a back road safari to visit Neil and Liz Baker in Iringa. Neil and Liz co ordinate the Tanzania Bird Atlas project .

We planned to travel light and packed likewise with frozen food and small tents so as to maximize our birding hours during this 2500 km round trip which was often on remote tracks that neither of us had travelled before. June is dry but the as the rains of April and May had been reasonable conditions were not dusty.

Our main aims, a part from getting to know each other,  were to explore the Eastern Maasai Steppe, experience the dramatic change from Acacia/grassland habitat to Miombo woodlands and see as many bird species - some hopefully new to us both- as we could over the 3-4 days drive south. Colin’s studies are focused on the perceived spread of dry country bird species that seem to be expanding their ranges due perhaps to global warming and the destruction of dry range habitats throughout Eastern Africa. Projecting Extinction rates of less hardy bird species as they are replaced by expanding types  and documenting habitat trends are very important in any conservation field. As I had spent years out and about in the dry back quarters of Tanzania, Colin was interested to listen to my thoughts.

Here are a few links for Colin’s previous work in Lebanon.

Apart from all the science a good old birding trip with someone I could learn from was well over due!

Beests and flowers june 10.jpg L M JUV.jpg
The Maasai Steppe near Terat was covered in wild flowers and this immature lesser moorhen was a delight in a road side pond.

Over our days we saw many dry country specialists birds as well as Colin’s first Miombo species and our list grew and grew as our food got less and less. One memoral day, having woken up in dry thorn bush and then setting camp,that same evening in thick mature miombo woodlands, we both commented on how extraordinary Tanzania is and how lucky we were to be experiencing such dramatic habitat change in the same day. The bird list that day showed that change and I’ve never seen Golden Breasted Starlings and Rachet Tailed Rollers in a single days drive before.

We puhed on to Iringa and spent a few days birding around there with Neil and Liz. What a joy it is to be out with these real experts and leaning so much.

But can't we enter.jpg That silver billed Bishop.jpg Desert Rose - love em.jpg
This Yellow bishop was fun to stalk and photograph and in the Ruaha Gorge desert roses were everywhere.
Colin and Leo flushing Losust Finch.jpg Quail Finch 1.jpg
Colin and Leo try to flush locust finch which we eventually saw and this quail finch was most obliging

Both Colin and I saw a number of new species and a full on bird feast like this one is always a treat to share.
Not with everyone, granted, but hey that’s one way to get to know Tanzania better!
Cheers Colin, Neil and Liz ! We must do it again and soon.