I figured there was no better way to spend my last weekend in Tanzania than to go birding, but finally making out to miombo woodland habitat gave me true cause for celebration. The word miombo is tossed around a lot in field guides and trip reports, but it’s difficult to get a sense of what the term actually means. Supposedly, miombo woodland is wherever trees of the Brachystegia genus are found, which is often in hilly areas in southern Tanzania and beyond to Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia. As I can’t identify trees taxonomically, I would characterize miombo woodland as being relatively dry and open, with large small-leafed trees interspersed with shorts bushes and grassland, sort of like a stand of old oak trees in central California. I would also say that miombo woodland is where the tsetse flies dwell en masse, as we were literally swarmed by them at times this weekend (I wore my thick rain jacket in protection but still got bit twice around the waist). Perhaps, you don’t really know you’re in miombo until you start seeing Pale-Billed Hornbills instead of African Grey Hornbills or Racket-Tailed Rollers instead of Lilac Breasted Rollers; that is, you don’t know you’re there until you know you’re there.
While there is miombo woodland in the Selous Game Reserve and Mikumi National Park, both at least five hour’s drive from Dar es Salaam, the Wami Mbiki Wildlife Management Area (Tsh 10,000 per person entrance fee) boasts an outstanding tract that stretches from the Morogoro Road outside of Chalinze north to the Wami River. While there’s not much big game to be readily found (we did briefly encounter a leopard on our night drive, though), the birding proved rewarding as in any national park, and I was thrilled to find half a dozen new birds, including several miombo specialties, such as the Racket-Tailed Roller, Pale-Billed Hornbill, Rufous-Bellied Tit, and Miombo Wren-Warbler. The roller was easily the bird of the trip: long, slender, and a lovely pale blue, two birds swooped through the trees around the road, perching finally in the distance, where their elegant tail streamers could be seen with delicate rackets at the end. If it weren’t for the tsetse flies, I would say the site makes for an easy and rewarding day trip from Dar, but the infrastructure appears unpredictable and the way is unclear, so I wouldn’t recommend trying to visit unless you’re in the company of someone who has been there before (special thanks to Tony Evans for organizing our weekend).
Notable birds seen: Black-Headed Heron, Hamerkop, Hadada Ibis, Bateleur, Allen’s Gallinule, African Jacana, Buff-Crested Bustard, Emerald-Spotted Wood-Dove, Ring-Necked Dove, Brown-Headed Parrot, White-Browed Coucal, Striped Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Swallow-Tailed Bee-Eater, Racket-Tailed Roller, Green Wood-Hoopoe, African Hoopoe, Pale-Billed Hornbill, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Black-Collared Barbet, Brown-Breasted Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, African Pied Wagtail, White-Headed Black Chat, Rattling Cisticola, Miombo Wren-Warbler, Pale Flycatcher, Pale Batis, Arrow-Marked Babbler, Rufous-Bellied Tit, African Penduline-Tit, Scarlet-Chested Sunbird, Black-Backed Puffback, Brown-Crowned Tchagra, Grey-Headed Bush-Shrike, White-Crested Helmet-Shrike, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike, Fork-Tailed Drongo, African Black-Headed Oriole, Yellow-Throated Petronia.