Our 'Birds & Big Cats' tour to Tanzania begins with a KLM morning flight from London Heathrow to Amsterdam and onward connection to Kilimanjaro Airport (near the town of Arusha). Our guide Dalton will be waiting to welcome us on arrival there this evening. We transfer directly to our first lodge (about 45 minutes drive), which will be our base for two nights. Night Arusha
ARUSHA NATIONAL PARK
Arusha lies at the base of two of East Africa’s great peaks, Mounts Kilimanjaro and Meru. Our first full day in Tanzania will be spent exploring areas at the foot of these mountains, where dry acacia scrub gives way to luxuriant mist-belt forests as one drives further up the slopes. Small troops of attractive Guereza Colobus monkeys, with their distinctive long, drooping black and white coats, forage amongst branches draped in ‘Old Man’s Beard’ lichen.
Many of the birds here are completely different to those we will see later in the trip and we’ll hope to enjoy the likes of Narina Trogon and Hartlaub’s Turaco, while the sudden alarm calls of the monkeys might well betray a powerful Crowned Hawk-eagle hunting overhead. We’ll see our first large mammals today too, with African Buffalo and Giraffe to watch for in the more open areas and, if we’re lucky, the dainty Kirk’s Dikdik in the forest understorey.
At the border of the park, African plains mammals such as Thompson’s Gazelle and Common Zebra mingle freely with the local Maasai herds of cattle and goats, in a seemingly harmonious tolerance. Definitely food for thought while watching Meru’s abundant wildlife, with regal Maasai herdsmen tending their flocks, their striking red shawls rippling in the breeze - all presided over by the looming snowy peak of Kilimanjaro. Night Arusha
ARUSHA TO LAKE MANYARA
We head south today towards Tarangire National Park and settle into our next lodge, on the edge of Lake Manyara. The palm savannah grassland here offers a stark contrast to the lush forests of Mt Meru. Our luxury, tented camp is visited by curious zebras and Thomson’s Gazelles, and the expansive views make for a very scenic base.
From the deck of our restaurant, we can ‘scope for waders along the ever-moving lakeshore, and watch jackals foraging for prey. Secretarybirds, Black-bellied Bustards and a host of cisticolas patrol the grasslands, while the acacia scrub holds the rather vocal Spotted Palm Thrush and groups of ‘duetting’ D’Arnaud’s Barbets. Night Lake Manyara, near Tarangire National Park
TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK
Today we make an early start to nearby Tarangire National Park, a place synonymous that’s with the African Elephant. Indeed, there are few more scenic spots to view these jumbos than among that giant of African trees, the Baobab, which dominate this splendid reserve.
Tarangire is also home to some of the birds that are endemic to this part of Africa: the striking Yellow-collared Lovebird is common here, and Ashy Starlings and Rufous-tailed Weavers are plentiful, too. We will also encounter the tremendous diversity of hornbills, woodpeckers, rollers and weavers that make African savannah birding so rewarding – and, if we are very lucky, will perhaps see our first big cats!
There will also be time to savour close views of a rich variety of birds that frequent Tarangire’s picnic sites and the park headquarters, such as the colourful D’Arnaud’s Barbet. Night Lake Manyara, near Tarangire National Park
Days 5 - 6
LAKE MANYARA TO NDUTU, NGORONGORO CONSERVATION AREA
After some further birding and lunch at the lodge, we will head up into the vast Serengeti-Ngorongoro ecosystem. One of the world’s great natural amphitheatres, it really is impossible to convey in words the feeling of awe and privilege one experiences amidst these vast, timeless landscapes with their abundance of wildlife. We shall spend a total of six nights enjoying this extraordinary region.
First, we head up the Lake Manyara escarpment. The lake itself nestles beneath the dramatic cliffs of the East African Rift Valley and is rich in wildlife - but is perhaps most famous for its large concentrations of Greater and Lesser Flamingos.
Next, we’ll drive up the steep slopes of the Ngorongoro caldera - the crater of an ancient, collapsed volcano - that looms above the plains. The rim of the crater presents a quite different habitat to the grasslands down below, with fairy-tale forests of huge, gnarled trees with ‘Old Man’s Beard’ swirling in the morning mist. Since we will be spending two nights here at the end of the tour, today we will simply indulge in the impressive scenery, stopping for short scans and the chance to stretch our legs.
Looking westwards, the plains of the Serengeti stretch away to the horizon. We’ll head out of the crater and across the grasslands, hoping to encounter the migrating herds as they move towards central Serengeti at this time of year.
Our destination for these two nights lies to the southwest, at Ndutu. Renowned for its great concentrations of wildlife, Ndutu makes an excellent base from which to explore the southern ‘short-grass plains’, woodlands and lakes.
Endemic Serengeti birds are common around the lodge at Ndutu, with Fischer’s Lovebirds breeding in tree-cavities on the grounds and Grey-breasted Francolins displaying first thing out in front of the rooms. Kori and Hartlaub’s Bustards frequent the plains, and nearby Lake Masek is excellent for waterbirds.
We may well encounter a pride of engorged Lions, lazily scattered around the previous night’s kill; or watch as scavenging vultures, hyaenas and jackals wait patiently for an opportunity to snaffle some scraps. As we search for them, we might also see Bat-eared Foxes basking in the morning sun. With luck, we could even come across a Cheetah chasing Thomson’s and Grant’s Gazelles over the plains. Two nights Ndutu
Days 7 - 8
SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK
Leaving Ndutu this morning, we make our way northwards into the Serengeti National Park, where we shall spend the next two nights.
From our comfortable lodge, we will head out to explore the central Serengeti. There are more trees here, offering a larger diversity of birds – and our best chance of spotting a Leopard! Usambiro Barbet, Superb and Hildebrandt’s Starlings, Silverbird, Tanzanian Red-billed Hornbill and Grey-headed Silverbill are just some of those we should see as we explore the riverine loops, wildlife drives and rocky outcrops of this most rewarding area. If we’re lucky, we will also find the little-known Karamoja Apalis and possibly encounter family groups of Grey-crested Helmetshrikes - though the floppy crests of this latter species are definitely outdone by Long-crested Eagle, just one of several different species of eagle we should find.
The largest concentration of Wildebeest should be present in this area at this time of year. While their exact position can never be predicted, we are highly likely to see some huge migrating herds - indeed, some areas can literally teem with animals as far as the eye can see! It is impossible to describe the sense of energy that one gets when surrounded by these hordes of grunting animals - and the predators that accompany them. The herds are dominated by Blue Wildebeest (sometimes known as Brindled Gnu), but also contain vast numbers of Common Zebra and Thomson’s Gazelles.
With so many potential meals on the hoof, it will come as no surprise to discover that the vulture watching is excellent here, too! Star birds include the huge Lappet-faced Vulture and the scarcer Rüppell’s Vulture. Two nights Serengeti
SERENGETI TO NGORONGORO CRATER RIM
Leaving the Serengeti, we’ll retrace our steps through the southern plains. If time allows, we will stop en route at the Olduvai Gorge museum, a world-famous archaeological site where the Leakey family unearthed the remains of some of Man’s earliest ancestors. It adds a sense of time and respect to think that the great spectacle stretching-out in front of us has been going on for countless generations.
We should arrive late afternoon on the Ngorongoro crater rim. We’ll search for the lovely Schalow’s Turaco, with its distinctive long pointed crest, in the emergent tree canopies, while gorgeous Malachite Sunbirds forage for patches of upland flowers.
Perched on the crater rim, our lodge offers spectacular views across the full width of the immense caldera. At night we may hear the calls of Montane Nightjar, Tree Hyrax and hyaenas. And the next morning, before descending into the crater itself, we may wake to the resounding grunts of the Wildebeest grazing below. Night Ngorongoro Crater Rim
The Ngorongoro crater floor is justly famous as a natural sanctuary for the bountiful wildlife within. Nowadays, it is also the only reliable place in East Africa to see Black Rhinoceros - but the whole is like a microcosm of Africa, with a good population of large mammals present, including Lion. Small lakes inside the crater hold a selection of flamingos, storks and plovers - stalked by Golden Jackals. Augur Buzzard is among an array of raptors that may also be seen and there'll be no shortage of other bird and mammal excitements to keep us fully occupied here today!
As the day draws to a close, we will return to enjoy our last evening’s drinks over spectacular crater views and gaze back down at the unique sights we have experienced earlier in the day. Night Ngorongoro Crater Rim
LAKE MANYARA ESCARPMENT & KILIMANJARO, FLY LONDON
We travel westwards to our lunch stop overlooking beautiful Lake Manyara, the last stop on this wonderful tour. Our viewpoint will offer us final views of African raptors soaring above the escarpment.
After lunch, we make the three-hour drive back to Kilimanjaro Airport, where we say farewell to Dalton and catch our overnight flight home.
Morning arrival in Amsterdam and onward connection to London, where our birdwatching and wildlife tour to Tanzania tour concludes.