We just wrapped up our first full week here in Tanzania. Our travels have been both fruitful and fulfilling. There are eight participants in our group, and we are divided into a ‘photography’ group in one safari vehicle and a ‘birder’ group in another safari vehicle. Each day we spend about 11 hours standing inside our safari vehicles as we travel slowly on rough, bumpy dirt roads. It is a workout!
Leaving Tarangire camp we traveled to the rim of Ngorongoro Crater where we lodged for two nights at Karibu Lion’s Paw Camp. The camp is located on the eastern rim of the Ngorongoro Crater at about 7,500 feet in elevation.
While we are only a few degrees south of the equator, the morning temperatures are cool — requiring several layers, gloves and a beanie. Who knew you could be cold in Africa? We spent an entire day inside the crater looking for mammals and birds. We were not disappointed in what we found.
If you are not familiar with Ngorongoro Crater, you should Google it. It is the world’s largest unbroken, unflooded caldera. Before the volcano blew off its top, the mountain was probably higher than Mount Kilimanjaro. The valley floor sits about 2,500 feet below the rim, and is a very diverse ecosystem including forests, swamps, grasslands and lakes.
The entire crater is filled with life. We saw a tremendous abundance of mammals, including black-backed jackals, Africa golden wolf, savannah elephants, warthogs, serval, spotted hyena, zebra, cape buffalo, hippopotamus, East African eland, Thomson’s gazelle, Grant’s gazelle, defassa waterbuck, Coke’s hartebeest, white-bearded wildebeests and, as you might imagine, an incredible number of birds.
I think our day in the crater was our ‘birdiest’ day of the trip so far. Some of the species we saw included ostrich, lesser and greater flamingo, Egyptian goose, spur-winged goose, hottentot teal, African black duck, cape teal and red-billed teal. Later in the day we happened upon a marshy area that captured our attention, and we ended up spending an entire hour in one spot as we kept discovering more and more species for our day and trip list.
That evening, as we returned to our lodge overlooking the rim, I experienced a ‘birders high.’ There is something about seeing new bird species for the first time. I never tire of it. In fact, it invigorates me and motivates me to keep going. Since arriving in Africa, I have seen as many bird species in the first nine days of our safari as I saw on my first trip to Africa12 years ago —which was a 25-day trip!
Much of our success can be attributed to our fantastic guides — Walt Anderson from Prescott, and our local guides, Augustine and David. Augustine and David are Tanzanian natives, and are amazing spotters. I am in awe of their ability to ‘see’ the unseen. They are so in tune with their natural surroundings, and are truly gifted and talented in their ability to find wildlife.
When we left the crater we started our journey towards the Serengeti — stopping at a lovely museum at Olduvai Gorge which is considered the ‘Cradle of Mankind.’ This is where Luis and Mary Leaky made many of their historic archeological discoveries. We enjoyed a wonderful presentation on the history of the area and the work that continues to take place.
Near the end of our first week, we slowly made our way towards Serengeti National Park, a vast area of endless plains filled with life. Next week I will share with you some of our experiences while in the Serengeti.
Until next week, Happy Birding!
Eric Moore is the owner of Jay’s Bird Barn in Prescott, Arizona. Eric has been an avid birder for over 50 years. If you have questions about wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.