"A Birding Safari: A Trip of a Lifetime" | Article and 12 Photos by Jeanette Larson

It's become something of a cliche to say that a vacation is "the trip of a lifetime," but my husband, Jim, and I just returned from a safari in Tanzania. This has been a dream for over 35 years and we finally did it and it really was the trip of a lifetime!

Red-and-yellow Barbet

Pink-backed Pelican
While we, of course, wanted to see the "Big Five" (African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros) and all of the other wonderful African animals, I specifically asked that we go to locations with lots of birds.

With more than 500 species of birds and large expanses of unspoiled wilderness comprised of several different ecosystems, it was actually difficult to avoid birds. Every time I put down my binoculars and camera, our guide pointed out another bird.

Most of the time we would see individual birds rather than flocks but almost every bird was a new bird, a lifer in the birding parlance. We started in the Northern Serengeti and worked our way through the Central Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Lake Manyara, ending up in Tarangire National Park over the course of eleven days. We covered more than 600 miles, looking each day for new animals and birds. I finally lost count of how many birds we'd seen.

African Spoonbill
Some birds were a bit familiar as they are in the same family as birds in Rockport. The African Spoonbill (left) is easily recognizable, as is the Pink-backed Pelican (see image above map). Other familiar birds include the Grey and the Black-headed Heron, Glossy Ibis, and various plovers and geese.

Tanzania has some of the most startlingly beautiful and colorful birds I've ever seen. The Lilac-breasted roller is an abundant bird that, like hummingbirds, seems to change color in different lighting. The Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu birds are friendly and generally seemed to gather in groups. Females and immature males lack the red cheeks that give the bird its name. Red-and-yellow Barbets hang around the ranger stations and picnic areas and will come very close to people, happily posing for photographs.

Some of the stranger birds, albeit no less beautiful or interesting, were the birds of prey, like the Bataleur, a common raptor throughout the region. The eagle's name comes from French for "tightrope walker" and it is an aerial acrobat. I also was fascinated by the White-bellied Go-away birds, who get their name from the call they make, which seems to be telling you to go away! The magnificent Grey Crowned Crane, the prehistoric looking Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, or the Secretarybird, an efficient raptor named for its quill-like feathers that look like a pen is tucked behind its ears...I could keep on sharing but want to leave a few birds for you to discover on your own.

There are so many birds that even leaving Arusha, a large city with a metro population approaching one million people, headed to the airport, I spotted a Red-winged Starling. I think that left my final count at about 140 birds. That's a lot of lifers for the trip of a lifetime!

Lilac-breasted  Roller

Black-headed Heron
Red-cheeked Cordon-Bleu
Red-and-yellow Barbet
White-bellied Go-away Bird
Grey-crowned Crane
Silvery-cheeked Hornbill
Red-winged Starling

Jeanette Larson is a retired librarian and author. She and her husband, retired architect and artist Jim Larson, moved to Rockport several years ago for the birds, the beach, and the coastal community.

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