Friday, December 31, 2010

Enduimet Mammals

Since it is now -6 with a light wind and a couple of feet of snow on the ground here at home, I think it is time to go back to Tanzania again.

Most of my time spent in Tanzania was at the Enduimet Wildlife Management Area (WMA) on the northwest flanks of Kilimanjaro. Enduimet is a southern extension of the Amboseli region in Kenya and much of the WMA is a broad plain between Mount Meru to the south, Kilimanjaro to the east southeast, and Longido to the northwest. This plain gently slopes towards Kenya and is mostly an acacia savanna landscape. The WMA functions as a connection for wildlife moving between the Amboseli system and Kilimanjaro National Park, Arusha National Park and other protected areas to the southwest. I was fortunate to take a couple of trips into the heart of the WMA and I was able to observe a wide range of African wildlife. In future posts I will describe other wildlife I encountered in the WMA, the history of the WMA and what exactly I was doing there but for right now I am going to begin with the large mammals we found during our explorations.

Near the border with Kenya, at the lowest elevation of the WMA, the water table is closer to the surface and supports larger trees than much of the rest of the WMA. There is also an old meerschaum (a magnesium rich clay often used to make smoking pipe bowls) mine near the border where old mine pits now have surface water. Most of the wildlife in the WMA is found near these old pits during the dry season since it is the only source of reliable water in the area. Particularly since much of the water that comes from the mountain slopes is now diverted for human use before it ever reaches the upper stretches of the WMA.

We found lots of zebras (punda milia in Swahili). I love the stripes and could have spent a lot of time just watching these guys.

We also had a small bunch of zebras near the lodge that would come to water at the small concrete lined pond at the main lodge.

I also enjoying seeing the Masai giraffes (ok I really enjoyed all the animals I was able to observe!) We saw many twigas throughout the WMA.

The pattern on this bull giraffe was a bit different than most of the others I saw, with the centers of the brown patches becoming quite dark.

The was another gnu species for me. We saw many Wildebeast (Nyumbu), again mostly at the lower end of the WMA towards Kenya.

We didn't see any elephants (Tembo) during the first trip through the WMA, but on the second tour through we found a couple foraging in the trees.

We saw a small group of Bat-eared Foxes but they were quite shy and didn't allow for a very close approach.

One afternoon I has some free time and went for a short hike around the lodge. I wound up sitting on a small outcrop above the next drainage to the north and watched for a bit. After I had been there for a short while I saw a female Lesser Kudu emerge from the bush and slowly make her way up the drainage towards me. She was soon followed by a few other female and young as well as this bull.

I managed to sneak up pretty close to the group and got this photo of one of the females. When I tried to shift a bit to get a clearer view she spotted me and was gone.

There were lots of Grant's Gazelles, Thompson's Gazelles, and Impala in the WMA. This male Grant's Gazelle sported one of the largest sets of horns that we saw in the WMA.

I couldn't let this post go without at least one bird photo but it is pretty close to a large mammal. We found a few Kori Bustards in the WMA. These are purportedly the heaviest flying bird in the world and although I never saw one fly, the certainly did look quite hefty on the ground.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Polar Bears

No, not here, although looking outside you might be forgiven to think that you saw one in the snow. Certainly looks like the right habitat out there right now.
Just a couple of great "trail" camera videos on the BBC website. Watch this one first then this one.
Then this one of a bear hunting a Bearded Seal. I don't want to give it totally away, but one shot of the seal laying on the ice floe with the polar bear's head emerging from the water's edge just behind the unaware seal is chilling (particularly having been on a similar ice floe in the Canadian arctic a number of years ago with the job of looking out for these guys).
These are a apparently from a new BBC show "Polar Bears: Spy on the Ice".

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays

As close as I could come to a partridge in a pear tree is a Sharptail Grouse on a Rocky Mountain Juniper..

or in a Plains Cottonwood...

or just getting tired of the whole thing and flying away.

I hope everyone has a great holiday season.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fort Peck CBC

On Saturday I participated in the Fort Peck CBC for the ??th (??rd?) time. I have been doing this bird count on and off since I was about 12 so I am not sure how many times I have actually participated. We had about twelve participants and observed 38 species. We also had to deal with the most snow we have had in a number of years and we were unable to reach a few areas along the river that are usually the more productive areas.

The highlight for me was the four Rusty Blackbirds we found below the dam. There have been Rusty Blackbirds wintering here for the last few years and it was nice to find them again for the CBC. We also had a quick observation of a Goshawk, another rather uncommon bird for the area but one that we usually manage to find on bird count day. It was somewhat cold which made the river rather foggy and we probably missed a few birds but probably not many species. We certainly didn't miss the lunch and dinner my Mom put on again this year. Far better than the burger and fries I used to get at the now-defunct local diner when we first started!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Into the Heart of East Africa

Reminiscing about Africa in a blizzard in Montana -

We departed Dar es Salaam in the morning on a flight bound for the Arusha airport, a small facility southwest of the city. Kilimanjaro rose above the clouds to the north as we approached our destination. When we arrived at the airport we wound up waiting for our driver Eric and the vehicle (who had departed from Dar the night before - about an eight hour drive. The logistics of the trip were sometimes difficult to figure out). While we were waiting Steve and I managed to get out in the parking area near the small terminal for arrivals and found a Pied Crow, Lilac-breasted Roller, and African Pied Wagtail. I am sure there were more birds to be found but once again we were thwarted by security. Apparently the wooded area next to the airport was a prison and we were asked not to use our binoculars and camera in the area.
After our drivers arrived we headed in our separate directions. We had originally thought we would spend the night in Arusha, but plans had changed and we were instructed to proceed to the tented camp we were to call home for the next couple of weeks.
Driving is Africa was an experience. It was my first experience driving on the left side of the road and on top of that it was my first experience with the sharing the road free-for-all with pedestrians, donkey carts, motorcycles, large trucks and anything else that wanted to use the road to get from one place to another. First we had to get through Arusha, a rather sprawling mass of structures and people with apparently only one road to get from one side of the city to the other. After traversing the city we spent another hour or so on a fairly well paved road as we skirted the west side of Kilimanjaro heading north towards the border with Kenya before we hit the unpaved section.
We arrived in Tanzania at the end of the dry season and it was dry. The roads were very dusty and bumpy and I felt sorry for the people walking along the road as we went by in a cloud of dust. Even going through small villages we barely slowed down as everyone (and everything) scrambled to get out of the roadway.
It was also a birders hell. A brand new county, new landscape, new birds, and I was flying through it help bent to get to our destination. I knew that I would need to keep my "lets stop and look at that bird" credits for later so I tried to identify what I could and gritted my teeth as unknown bird after bird passed by in a cloud of dust.
I did manage to identify a few larger species though. There was a Augur Buzzard perched in a low bush next to the road, a flock of Cattle Egrets in a field along the road, Yellow-necked Spurfowl scattering off the road edges, and Helmeted Guineafowl in nearby fields. The countryside was brown and dry except for the remaining forests on the slopes of Kilimanjaro that I could see up-slope from the road.

Augur Buzzard

Helmeted Guineafowl

We arrived at the Elerai Tented Camp, also known as Kambi Ya Tembo (Elephant Camp) in the afternoon. Elerai is the Maasai name for a type of yellow bark Acacia tree which are found in the area.

The camp is situated at the crest of a long ridge (my tent was the small tent to the right of the main lodge).

The main lodge, where all the meals were served, is a large open structure with a steep thatched roof.

There are couches for relaxing and tables where we dined. Most nights I was entertained by the bats snagging insects from around the lamps and the toads calling in the pond.

Turning around and looking east at the entrance to the main lodge often produced good views of Mount Kilimanjaro.

The back of the main lodge looks out over the plains of West Kilimanjaro.

The main lodge is perched at the edge of the ridge and perched just below the main floor is a shallow concrete lined pool.

When we arrived I was greeting by the wonderful staff and a small group of White-bellied Go-away-bird.

The most common birds at the camp were a variety of finches and pigeons.

There was a pair of Specked Pigeons living in the rafters under the main lodge.

Ring-necked Doves,

African Mourning Doves,

Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves (above) and Laughing Doves were common, usually perched in the trees near the shallow pool, waiting tor their turn at the water.

The most common bird around the lodge though were the Red-billed Quealeas. There were hundreds of birds coming to the water each evening. They all perched in the nearby trees and when the time was right they descended en mass to the water.

The leading edge of descending birds would rush to the waters edge, grab a quick drink, then return to the trees, followed in quick order by the next wave of birds. This continued until the birds were disturbed or all the birds had gotten their fill.

Other finches around the lodge included African Silverbills.

Chestnut Finches

Crimson-rumped Waxbills

Gray-headed Silverbills

Cut-throat Finches

Since it was the end of the dry season, many of the birds were in their non-breeding plumage, which led to some identification problems.

This species was interspersed with the Red-billed Queleas. I believe that is it a Cardinal Quelea.

The same species as above.

I think that this is a House Sparrow

Another House Sparrow?

And then there is this waxbill. I am not sure exactly what it is but as near as I can figure it is a variation of a Crimson-rumped Waxbill?

This was the scene most nights at camp. A beautiful sunset with the trees filled with queleas and pigeons.