With less than a month left in Tanzania, my trip to Mikumi National Park last weekend will probably be my final safari in East Africa. Considering how traumatic my recent experiences have been in the savanna due to sand flies, ticks, mosquitoes, and tsetse flies, I'm actually relieved to be leaving and to no longer have any prospects for further travel. Similar to my last trip to Tarangire National Park, I suffered a crippling allergic reaction to a tsetse fly bite that rendered my left arm swollen over twice its normal size. The severity of these reactions has increased dramatically over the year, and my doctor advised me to take an EpiPen on safari in addition to regular doses of Claritine, an antihistmaine, and Prednisone, a steroid. As my colleagues like to jokingly point out, if I had been one of the early European explorers in the region, like Stanley or Livingstone, I certainly would have died within days upon arrival.
Typically a safari to a national park during the rainy season is a dodgy prospect, but Mikumi is a reasonably short drive from Dar (it's less than 5 hours on a tarmac road), and the main roads in the park are well constructed and maintained. Plus, this trip was the annual "Mankumi" weekend, a legendary event for male IST faculty, who camp out in the wilderness for two nights sharing space with the lions and elephants. I'm generally wary of large congregations of men unless there are referees involved, but the prospect of camping and birding for an entire weekend seemed too good to pass up. Also being just a few birds short of four hundred on my country list, I simply had to man up and join the rowdy crew.
Despite the ridiculous antics that ensued during the weekend, I managed to do some productive birding, highlighted by a few new birds, including the gorgeous Zanzibar Red Bishop and the odd Woolly Necked Stork. Around camp, I regularly noted a Brown Snake-Eagle perched watchfully in a tree and a number of Flappet Larks displaying in flight over the surrounding grasslands. Other good savanna birds included Black-Bellied Bustard, Grey Kestrel, Brown-Headed Parrot, Beautiful Sunbird, and Broad-Tailed Paradise-Whydah. I expected to take some good-natured ribbing from the guys about wearing my binoculars around camp and scanning constantly on game drives, but everyone seemed appreciative of my identifications and would linger an extra moment on an unusually colorful bird.
Mikumi is a great park for lion sightings, and we eventually found a group of young males in the tall grass near the airstrip on our Saturday morning game drive. One lion had a large, fresh head wound that was probably the result of a defensive hoof to the head during an attack. It stalked the car unabashedly as some of the guys scrambled down from the roof. Later in the afternoon, we found the same lions closer to camp, one of which had climbed five meters high in a tree, perhaps to take shelter from the rainy weather; we found it in a classic feline pose, head resting on one paw as the other swung freely from the branch it was sprawled out on (I guess the tree-climbing lions of Lake Manyara National Park aren't that unique after all). Despite these excellent observations, I'm still hesitant to ever go on a similar type of safari again, and were I to stay another year, I would almost certainly focus solely on birding montane forests of the Eastern Arc Mountains instead of further exploring the classic East African savanna.
Notable birds seen: Hamerkop, Saddle-Billed Stork, Open-Billed Stork, Woolly-Necked Stork, Bateleur, Brown Snake-Eagle, Black-Headed Heron, Grey Heron, Black-Bellied Bustard, Red-Necked Spurfowl, Long-Tailed Fiscal, Southern Cordon-Bleu, Egyptian Goose, White-Faced Whistling Duck, African Grey Hornbill, Southern Ground Hornbill, Grey Kestrel, Grey-Headed Kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher, Crowned Lapwing, Blacksmith Lapwing, Flappet Lark, Yellow-Throated Longclaw, Red-Billed Oxpecker, Yellow-Billed Oxpecker, Brown-Headed Parrot, Three-Banded Plover, Green-Winged Pytilia, Lilac-Breasted Roller, Fischer's Sparrow-Lark, White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver, Greater Blue-Eared Starling, Superb Starling, Marabou Stork, Beautiful Sunbird, Scarlet-Chested Sunbird, Water Thick-Knee, Crimson-Rumped Waxbill, African White-Backed Vulture, Broad-Tailed Paradise-Whydah, Pin-Tailed Whydah, Fan-Tailed Widowbird, Green Wood-Hoopoe, White-Winged Widowbird, Zanzibar Red-Bishop.