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Return Birding: Tanzania in 1995 and 2023

Updated: Feb 5

Black-winged Kite (MkoMazi National Park) 23 November 2023 Deborah Allen

29 January 2024


Bird Notes: We are indeed in an El Nino year - much rain...We can't count how many of our walks have been lost to the weather since October 2023. So keep your eyes on the  Schedule Page (click) of our web site. We will post info there by 6:30am on Sunday morning if we have cancellations because of the weather. We are considering doing an evening owl walk on 18 February (Sunday night - next day is the Presidents' Day holiday - perhaps for Long-eared Owls in Central Park; perhaps for Eastern Screech-owls in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx).


In Dec 1995-Jan 1996 I first ventured to East Africa, spending a few weeks in Tanzania, with shorter adventures in Malawi and the Zambia. I went to see the many species of fish (the greatest diversity of freshwater species in the world) in Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi. It was quite an adventure on bus, tuk-tuks, ferry (traveling from the southern terminus of Lake Tanganyika in the Zambia to northwestern Tanzania), and occasionally hitch-hiking. I set out to have an experience of wildlife...but came back thinking Africa was an experience of people, so many poor people who would give you the shirt off their back if you were in need. What else? Seeing many Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls t-shirts...or thinking that Bob Marley must be a god because every cassette player (taxis, tuk-tuks and buses) was playing his songs. I remember staying in the "White House" hotel on the Zambian border with truck drivers...and having to go to dinner in the town accompanied by a man with a rifle (crime was rampant after dark). There was the "Hitler Bar" in Malawi - a country where everyone rode an old bicycle. Black "Benzees" were driven by a handful of rich people; camping along Lake Malawi and listening to hippos tip-toeing around my tent all night; the overwhelming smell of cloves upon arriving on the island of Zanzibar, and the most awful bathrooms in any bus stop one paused to make a transfer; watching people suffering from malaria and swatting tset-se flies out of the open back of pick-up trucks as we traveled the backroads. Mostly I remember the friendliness of people...the smiles...and how different people could look/speak village to village. People...with some birds, fish and big mammals thrown in for good measure.


(male) Usambara Double-collared Sunbird (West Usambara Mountains) 27 November 2023 Deborah Allen

In our HISTORICAL NOTES we send some observations on the Tanzania we met again in Nov-Dec 2023. We discuss some new things we liked (a good-sized middle class; Chinese Restaurants!), and some things we liked less: cost and reliability. We were surprised at the growing number of Air BnBs in the country - these were really good value. On the other hand, many other things were more expensive in Tanzania than the other countries we've visited in Africa including Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. A story I was fond of telling to Tanzanians about cost went something like this: in 1996 there was a wood-carving market on the outskirts of the coastal city of Dar-es-Salaam (God is Peace) where one could purchase carved elephants and tree-of-life sculptures, all in mahogany. I paid perhaps up to $30 USD for each of the items, one being two meters in length...and in one case I even traded a used pair of shoes (size 13 - that size was hard to find in East Africa in 1996) for a carving. In 2023 outside Arusha town, Deborah and I visited a different wood-workers market (the Cultural Heritage Center), and as we approached Deb noticed that one of the exhibit buildings was sponsored by the Jane Goodall foundation. We quickly concluded that prices were going to be high...as in $550 USD for a carved rhino, slightly larger than the elephant I had purchased in 1996 for $20 USD. However, it was great to see that a lot of tourists were shopping for art work. In 1996 hardly anyone was in the market, and the artists were pleading with me to take some of their carvings back to the USA...sell them and just send any amount of money back. Why? The government of Tanzania was not helping them export any of their work. It took the private sector (a family of Indian descent - whose oldest son went to University in Canada [we talked to him]) to set up an organized business - with some help from the government. Prices climbed a lot faster than inflation - I just hope the carvers are getting their fair share. One constant remains from 1996: the carvers still use KIWI shoe polish (black gloss). Indeed, the carvings I have from 40 years ago still have a perfect shine!

(male) Golden-winged Sunbird (near Lake Manyara) 17 November 2023 Deborah Allen


[below] (male) Variable Sunbird near Lake Manyara 17 November 2023 Deborah Allen


 [below] (male) Variable Sunbird (West Usambara Mountains) 17 November 2023 Deborah Allen

Bird Walks: 4 February 2024 to 18 February (2024)

All Walks @ $10/person


*For all our walks: no need to book ahead or pay in advance - just show up at the right time and place and away you go with us. Binoculars can be rented for $10 - let us know in advance if possible (one day's notice is fine).


1. Sunday, 4 February at 9:30am [ONLY!]. Meet at the the BOATHOUSE Restaurant/Cafe at approx. 74th st. and the East Drive. $10. Directions to the Boathouse: CLICK HERE.

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2. Sunday, 11 February at 9:30am [ONLY!]. Meet at the the BOATHOUSE Restaurant/Cafe at approx. 74th st. and the East Drive. $10. Directions to the Boathouse: CLICK HERE.

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3. Sunday, 18 February at 9:30am [ONLY!]. Meet at the the BOATHOUSE Restaurant/Cafe at approx. 74th st. and the East Drive. $10. Directions to the Boathouse: CLICK HERE.

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4. Sunday, 18 February at circa 5pm [exact time to be determined]. OWL WALK at NIGHT. LOCATION: Central Park (?); Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx (?) - to be determined. $10. Keep watching our web site.

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Call (718-828-8262) or Email us with questions: rdcny@earthlink.net


Keep an eye on the Schedule as we might be adding a few walks here and there such as an Owl walk at night. Any questions send them our way: rdcny@earthlink.net or call: 718-828-8262 (home)


White-bellied Go-Away Bird (MkoMazi National Park) 21 November 2023 Deborah Allen

(below) Grey-headed Kingfisher (Arusha National Park) 7 December 2023 Deborah Allen

The fine print: No need to reserve or pay in advance for our bird walks. Just show up at the right time and place and away you go with us. Please pay us at the end of the walk when we reach either Fifth Avenue or Central Park West, and not in the park as we begin.


Our walks on weekends meet on Sundays at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe. The meeting location is NOT nearby Conservatory Water with its small buildings and Boathouse for model boats...people make this mistake all the time! Here are directions to the Meeting Locations (CLICK HERE) page of our web site. Bathrooms open at about 7:45am at the Boathouse. The outdoor restaurant opens by about 8:00am, but do note that the prices have been raised considerably (think $6 for a cup of coffee), and the quality of the food has declined, but is still edible. The indoor area is still not open so be prepared to freeze while you drink your expensive (lousy) coffee.


Our home phone is 718-828-8262...and Deborah's cell is: 347-703-5554. Email is (rdcny@earthlink.net). If you are lost and trying to get to the bird walk, call Deborah's cell phone...but remember on weekends there will be 2-3 other people calling who are also lost - please be patient. If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not on the morning of the walk: check the "Schedule" page of our web site - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk. Walks last about 3 hrs (a bit less if cold or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we aim to please. We usually end Central Park walks at about noon at the Boathouse where we started.


White-browed Coucal (MkoMazi National Park) 21 November 2023 Deborah Allen 

Here is what we saw recently (brief highlights)


Sunday, 31 December 2023: We keep repeating that if you don't have extraordinary expectations, the winter bird walks are a lot of fun...and not crowded - and sometimes we witness some great stuff (birds usually). Today the fun highlight was the two groups (five total) of Golden-crowned Kinglets that came right into the calls from my speaker...following the sound back and forth in front of the group. Golden-crowneds are social birds (unlike Ruby-crowned Kinglets) and when they hear calls of conspecifics, they come over to see what is going on...probably because they think their "friends" are making sounds because they found food (and are "happy"). Happily for us, and I asked the group to observe closely...no birds were killed or even stunned. No kinglet fell dead from the sky or made its swan song. Indeed the kinglets kept following the sound from my speaker - and feeding as they did. We made sure to point this out to the group. As for other birds, the male Eastern Towhee came right to us in Shakespeare Garden (thanks calls!), and we turned up a Brown Thrasher on the west side of the Great Lawn. Some waterfowl at the Reservoir (a very good winter for Northern Shovelers), and a Peregrine atop the "Ghost Busters" (movie) building,otherwise known as the El Dorado.


Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 31 December 2023: CLICK HERE 

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Sunday, 7 January 2024: Rain Out as so many of our bird walks have been since about October 2023 in this El Nino year.


Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 7 January 2024: RAIN! No Bird Walk 

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Sunday, 14 January 2024: One of the ways we know this is a mild winter is through birds...Sandra Critelli found a Black-crowned Night Heron for us along the west drive (near Balcony Bridge on the lake). Also, American Robins are around, often seen running along the snow-less Great Lawn but more often feeding on remnant crab-apples and hawthorn fruits (check Shakespeare Garden)...and both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets persist into mid-January (usually both are out of NYC by early January). We also found two Northern Flickers on the Great Lawn - another half-hardy species that in cold winters would be in southern NJ and points south. Two species are missing this year...well off from their usual higher numbers: Common Grackles are around, but in the past we would see flocks of 200-300 feeding on pin oak acorns in the Great Lawn area. Also, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers (we found two males on the west side of the Great Lawn)...In normal years we would see 4-6 just at the pinetum (making holes in Siberian Elms), and scattered throughout the rest of the Ramble. This is puzzling because as Sapsuckers seem fairly common down in Madison Square Park (23rd street). We wonder what is happening with trees in Central Park - could some/many be under chemical treatment to prevent insect infestations? Just wild speculation, but we've never seen so few Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in winter in the Ramble to the Reservoir area.


Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 14 January 2024: CLICK HERE 

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Sunday, 21 January 2024: We had snow! And we still had the two Northern Flickers on the Great Lawn...feeding near tree bases through the snow (the base of trees after snowfall can be somewhat open - can see the grass)...and the two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were still in the same area. We found a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the Ramble, but most likely due to the very cold temperature, they paid no attention to the calls from my speaker and continued feeding. At the Reservoir, Deborah Allen stunned us all by finding a Common Loon, and we used sound to bring it fairly close to us...Even Russell was impressed.


Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 21 January 2024: CLICK HERE 

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Sunday, 28 January 2024: Rain Out as so many of our bird walks have been since about October 2023 in this El Nino year.


Deborah's List of Birds for Sunday, 28 January 2024: RAIN! No Bird Walk 


Ngorongoro Crater (Tanzania) 25 November 2023

(below) Baobab Tree (MkoMazi National Park) 23 November 2023 

HISTORICAL [Tanzania 2023] NOTEs


Tanzania was an enigma...we wanted to love it completely, and for the most part we almost did - but as independent travelers we encountered some problems. Without hesitation we say we loved the people we met. Tanzanians are some of the friendliest people we've met in our travels...they are quick to smile and ask if you need help? We loved being with Tanzanians, but would recommend anyone heading there to seriously consider hiring a guide for birds. Our favorite was Isaac Kilusu (click) who lives with his wife (about to have a baby!) near Arusha, but he will travel most anywhere to guide you. Isaac is a Maasai guy, meaning he grew up herding cattle in the Ngorongoro area, and will regale you with stories about interactions with lions, elephants, etc. Isaac lived the life, and if you notice his body (long and lean), it comes from generations of ancestors walking miles each day. After working with Isaac a bit, you will come away thinking the Maasai are really cool people (and 110% honest) - and very smart. You'll also learn why the Maasai believe they own all the cattle of the world...and how they came to be in East Africa. In the photo below, Isaac is on the right with his Zeiss binoculars and Nikon digital camera/ telephoto lens. Isaac (like us in Central Park) uses sound to bring birds in...and he can identify most any Tanzanian bird by its call. If you go to the Xeno-Canto web site, you'll see Isaac has contributed many recordings of Tanzanian birds. We hired Isaac for a couple of days to find for us the endemic Beesley's Lark on Maasai land. You can contact him via WhatsApp: +255 786 665 746 or his web site (click).


(below) Beesley's Lark (northern Tanzania) 11 November 2023 


If we were to do Tanzania again, we would hire a guide/driver (with their vehicle) for the entire trip. We found the logistics maddening at times. For example, I made sure to hire a great 4WD Toyota Land Cruiser several months before our trip, and would check in occasionally with the rental car company to make sure there would be no glitches. On the day the rental was supposed to begin, the car company called us to say there would be a delay of one or two days...and after two days they called again to say there would be another delay. At this point I made alternate arrangements...we ended up with a Toyota SUV made for the Chinese market...so the writing was a bit confusing, and the wiring was crazy (eg., if I tried to get the windshield wipers to work, the front headlights would also go on, etc.). Additional headaches came from trying to buy gas at service stations: most advertise they accept credit cards, but when we actually tried to use CCs, the phone/internet system was down...and we ended up paying with cash. It became a nuisance having to run to cash machines so often. Since we stayed at many Air BnBs, we visited supermarkets to get food to cook. In Arusha, food was expensive compared to other African countries we have been in. Outside of Arusha, there were no supermarkets, only smallish bodega-type places...we often had to buy bread in one place, eggs at a different store...and the only grain that was really common was Ugali which the Tanzanians can make really well, but for us was a pain to prepare. We ended up eating cookies a lot, and bananas. Mostly we ate out...which is not as healthy as one would like if doing this for 30-40 days at a time. Finally, the police drove us crazy on the roads - there were many stops to check our passports, and while the interactions were always friendly and smiling, we wondered if we would have had such frequent stops if someone else was doing the driving. All in all, we feel that South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana to a great degree, are very easy to navigate for independent travelers who are driving...Tanzania is doable, but not as easy.

Tanzanian Kids Arusha 5 December 2023

As for the birding and wildlife: if you open the field guide to the birds of Tanzania, you will find several pages of Sunbirds...Larks, Barbets, Weavers and others. Truly amazing. The difference we found here in Tanzania compared to South Africa or Namibia is that when we used sound to bring birds in, we would get 4-8 birds on average...in the southern Africa countries, when we used our owl call, it was not unusual to bring in 10-25 birds of various species. It seemed to us that species were common in Tanzania as we were close to the equator - and individuals less so. Further south, individuals of fewer species were more common. Animals also appeared more shy: elephants were further away (in South Africa they brushed against our vehicle as they walked by), and we were surprised to have Impala running away from us as we approached in our vehicle. In southern Africa herds of these grazers would simply move to the side of the road as we slowly drove through the herd.


Again, our experience was wonderful...we would go back tomorrow if we could. On the other hand, if you gave us a choice between South Africa and Tanzania, we would opt for the former. The food is better and more diverse in South Africa...the roads are better, and overall it is less expensive. But Tanzanian people have a way of working into your heart, and it made us so happy to find many black-owned small businesses. Indeed, we stayed at a lot of Air BnBs - a really good value in Tanzania. These were owned and operated by individuals we met when we arrived at their front door. These Air BnBs had air-con, ceiling fans, kitchens and indoor hot water showers - and it was nice to have an entire house to ourselves. At most we paid $30/night and were quite close to National Parks. In 1996 these amenities were mostly lacking as I traveled the country, and stayed in small hotels. Tanzania is also very safe and has a stable government. Indeed the office of the president alternates five-year terms from Christian to Islamic. The current president is an Islamic woman...the next president will be Christian.


If anyone would like more information on doing a self-drive safari in southern Africa (Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana or South Africa), feel free to contact us. It really is a lot of fun driving up on a herd of elephants (and learning how to recognize the signs when you should back away), or being chased down the road by a galloping rhino. It might seem intimidating and frightening...but we've managed to survive. For now we have no regrets not being on organized tours...we spend as much time as we wish at each site. And by shopping locally (groceries, gas, restaurants) we interact with local people - that is invaluable in learning about a culture, and a nation. In return we do our best to represent America and its values. From what we've experienced, people want to be American: not Russian nor Chinese.

Cape Robin-Chat (West Usambara Mountains) 27 November 2023 Deborah Allen 

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Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD

Follow our Bird Sightings on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC


male Van der Decken's Hornbill in MkoMazi National Park on 21 November 2023 Deborah Allen


Lesser Flamingos Arusha National Park 3 December 2023


Grey-headed Kingfisher MkoMazi National Park 15 November 2023


3 commentaires


Invité
30 janv.

All the trips we meant to take, all the birds we meant to watch...

Deb & Bob are doing it for us. Outstanding work. Mahalo mucho..!

Cheryl & Wolf.

J'aime

Invité
30 janv.

Bob and Deb, this is a wonderful down to earth account of your African travels. And we loved reading about your trip in the 1990's. Fantastic photographs. Thanks for sharing.

Patricia and Stephen

J'aime

Invité
29 janv.

It is heart-warming (and inspiring) to read about your adventures. Thanks for sharing.

- Dave

J'aime
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