Having made big plans next holiday weekend to visit Selous Game Reserve, the continent’s largest protected region, Aimee and I were hoping this weekend just to relax and perhaps get caught up on some work. On a whim, though, I responded to an offer in this week’s issue of Advertisement Dar offering guided birdwalks in the Dar area. Sunday morning, then, we spent in the company of Andrew Majembe, a Tanzanian conservationist and bird guide, who took us to several different habitats within the campus of the University of Dar es Salaam and greatly furthered our knowledge of east Africa’s spectacular avifauna.
The morning started off with a lot of excitement, as we got out of the car and Andrew immediately started rhapsodizing about a Brown-Breasted Barbet he spotted in a distant tree, calling it one of Dar’s Big Five birds. Indeed, it was a fine bird, but with all the commotion I forgot to make sure the doors of the car were all locked before we headed out on foot, a mistake that cost us our fancy Thermos travel mug, which was snatched later in the morning by an opportunistic passerby. Andrew continued his ebullient praise of the birds of the region as we passed into riparian woodland and birded along the dry riverbed. “Oh, my god!” he would shout as a Grey-Headed Kingfisher flew overhead or a Sulphur-Breasted Bush-Shrike would call in the distance, describing the particular histories of the birds instead of encouraging us to chase after them.
All the talking and birdcall imitations were starting to get on my nerves until the heat of the morning sapped away some of his enthusiasm, and the birds picked up their activity. The site’s specialty is d’Arnaud’s Barbet, a complex-patterned bird that is usually found much further from the coast. We had little trouble finding several individuals from this isolated population, and at one point we watched a pair duet nicely from some cover. Aimee and I also encountered several species that we had seen for the first time the previous weekend at Pugu Hills, such as the Green-Winged Pytilia, Yellow-Rumped Tinkerbird, Black-Throated Wattle-Eye, Narina Trogon, Red-Capped Robin-Chat, and Black Cuckoo-Shrike, which provided us with a sense of continuity. We also solved some puzzles from the previous weekend, including putting a face and name to the call of the vociferous Tropical Boubou.
Throughout the morning, Andrew’s guiding skills were impressive, and he helped greatly in the identification of the Lizard Buzzard, Terrestrial Brownbul, Red-Faced Cisticola, Tawny-Flanked Prinia, Black-Backed Puffback, and Black-Crowned Tchagra, all common enough but confusing birds that would have had me scratching my head in doubt as I flipped through the field guide all morning. His presence also added an edge to our excursion as he pointed out how many good birds we were narrowly missing, hearing the calls of the Four-Colored Bush-Shrike, Blue-Mantled Crested-Flycatcher, White-Browed Robin-Chat, and Peter’s Twinspot, although I did manage to glimpse the latter after he had given up, calling it almost impossible without playback. (It seems like I’m always spotting birds fortuitously like this, and I’ve often wondered whether my height doesn’t give me an advantage in woodland or forest birding. Then again, I imagine every birder feels he has got a quick and well-trained eye.)
Most importantly, Andrew’s presence alleviated the anxiety I would have felt if we were birding here on our own, as there is practically an entire village living on campus back in the area that we birded and a lot of people were continually walking around and eyeing us. Later in the morning, as we went to check on the artificial ponds on the other side of campus, I was especially grateful for his company as he warded off some guards in Swahili who were trying to extort us for taking photographs of the waterbirds, including the difficult Madagascar Squacco Heron. There were also a dozen delightful Hamerkop present, as well as a pair of Palm-Nut Vultures and a poor Black-Chested Snake Eagle that was driven off by a horde of House Crows. Despite losing our prized coffee mug, it was an excellent morning, and I would highly recommend Andrew’s guiding services to a variety of sites in the area (we paid $20 per person for a half day, and his contact information is 0784 490 399 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Notable birds seen: Long-Tailed Cormorant, Madagascar Squacco Heron, Black-Headed Heron, Grey Heron, Hamerkop, African Open-Billed Stork, Sacred Ibis, Palm-Nut Vulture, Black-Chested Snake-Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Black-Winged Stilt, Three-Banded Plover, Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, White-Browed Coucal, Little Swift, Speckled Mousebird, Narina Trogon, Striped Kingfisher, Brown-Hooded Kingfisher, Grey-Headed Kingfisher, Little Bee-Eater, Yellow-Rumped Tinkerbird, Red-Fronted Tinkerbird, Brown-Breasted Barbet, d’Arnaud’s Barbet, Lesser Striped Swallow, Grassland Pipit, Black Cuckoo-Shrike, Terrestrial Brownbul, Zanzibar Sombre Greenbul, Red-Capped Robin-Chat, Red-Faced Cisticola, Tawny-Flanked Prinia, Bar-Throated Apalis, Black-Throated Wattle-Eye, Amethyst Sunbird, Olive Sunbird, Purple-Banded Sunbird, Scarlet-Chested Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, Tropical Boubou, Black-Backed Puffback, Black-Crowned Tchagra, Black-Bellied Starling, Spectacled Weaver, Grosbeak Weaver, Green-Winged Pytilia, Peter’s Twinspot, Southern Cordon-Bleu, Red-Billed Firefinch, African Firefinch, Black-and-White Mannikin.