Monday, 24 May 2010

Weekend camping

So, Mama B is currently lying in bed clutching her stomach with hopefully nothing more serious than one of the various bugs some of our visitors have picked up on their stays, but so far we've happily avoided. And I'm left on my own in the evening. So far I've persuaded one set of friends to join us for a weekend at Lake Manyara this weekend, on our way to camping at Eyasi for some of Kitty's half term (and a bit of unofficial weaver spotting - should be good for Rufous-tailed over there methinks...). And I've been trying to recruit someone to accompany me on a longer safari down to visit the good folk from the Tanzania Bird Atlas who provide me with lots of data and useful ideas - but unfortunately live in Iringa, a good two days drive from Arusha. I've been meet them again since we arrived, but one thing or another has conspired against us and it's time to sort it. Should be a fun trip though - I've not ben so far south in Tanzania before, so there are lots of new birds too see en route as well, and since it's going to take so long Mama B has granted me extended leave from family duties to explore a little. Surely just the opportunity someone would be only to pleased to keep me company in? We'll see - but if anyone fancies a free trip starting Arusha and driving the back roads to Iringa via lots of birds and beasts in a couple of weeks time, let me know!

Still, the real post was to be about our camping trip 10 days ago now, but sadly neglected. Still no photos, I'm afraid - the friends we were with are pretty busy at the moment finishing off a book on the Wahadzabe. They'll have to come later. But it was a grand adventure, as as you'll have gathered from the fact we're off again this weekend enough of a success to be keen to try it again (and we definitely need to get our own camping stuff out here...). We picked up a rather excited Kitty from school at lunch on Friday, made a bried (but successful) stop at a shop en route for marshmallows (can't go camping without marshmallows), and wizzed on down to our friend's house on the edge of town. There we moved all our kit into their already rather full landrover and set off south on a road I'd explored in our first few weeks here. Much improved since November (and with Rufous-tailed Weavers in evidence on their nests this time), as soon as we left town two of us abandoned the cramped inside of the car (I'd had Kitty on my knee up to then...) and climbed onto the bench strapped to the pickup part at the back of the Landrover (simultaneously slapping on lots of suncream, as it was a rather exposed spot!). Very good way to travel through the bush. After a couple of hours on the dirt road, we hit a sand river (i.e. the course of a seasonal river that only flows during/shortly after heavy rain and headed off the track for a hour's beautiful drive down the river and onto the flood plain. The river was lined with fantastic riverine forest, great sand banks with barbet nest holes and lots of baboons and vervet monkeys. And we swapped so Mama B got to sit on the roof and I got to persuade D to driver under the nice low branches to keep her awake... We also located a great place to camp along the river there one time...

Eventually we came out at the bottom of the river and picked our way cross-country towards the swamp visible in the distance, passing a nice herd of impala and a very healthy group of c.60 Grant's gazelle en route. Pulling up near the water we were amazed at the densities of water birds - easily 20000 birds in view, a mixture of ducks, coots, herons, egrets, terns and all. Very beautiful. We scouted out a few sites on the far side before settling on a great campsite under an acacia right on the water's edge, trusting that the mozzies wouldn't bother us too much. No sooner had we started to unpack the landrover than the local Maasai arrived for the spectacle, and we slung up our tents (just the inner bit of course, so we could see the stars through the mesh at night...) and pottered about in the evening light for a bit. With the littlies getting a bit peckish, we were very impressed with the organisation of our friends who just pulled out boxes of pre-frozen meals and after a very short period on the fire dinner was ready. Amazingly, Kitty happily ate everything and the Mancub did some good duty to anything stolen from Mama... Needless to say we've been cooking extra in the last few days and sticking it in the freezer to repeat the experience we we go off on our own. After a little bit of the required camping bedtime silliness the littlies were asleep and we could enjoy our beer and chat around the fire. Only disturbed briefly by Mama spotting (somehow - there was no moon!) one of the nastier small scorpions crawling out of the log in the fire by our toes. Only about 3 or 4 cm long and a pale pinky/orange these are the nasty ones - but it dived back in the crack and no harm done... We did remember to tap out our shoes in the morning though...

Kitty and the Mancub were pleased to wake up at dawn the next morning all crowded together (actually, the Mancub had decided his sleeping mat wasn't up to scratch and had spent most of the nice sleeping on my legs anyway, but there you go), but it was a bit chilly really... Completely by chance and rather bizarrely, the old university of D had arranged an alumni big birding day for the Saturday, so we then spent the morning pottering around the camp notching up as many birds as possible. With a mixture of semi-arid bush to one side, and the swamp to the other we did really rather well - and concluded our day total would probably be rather better than the other alumni who had never left the US. I think we cleared 80 species before we finished breakfast and were well over 100 by lunch. After lunch (and quite a bit of 'when will we go in the boating' from Kitty) we inflated the inflatable canoe as well as possible with a leaky valve in one side, and D and I (with Kitty on my knee) headed off into the swamp, disturbing a rather smart dwarf bittern on the way (new bird for me - not often we get one of those nearby!). A short loop later I swapped D for Mama B and Kitty for the Mancub and off we headed again. It wasn't particularly deep - much of the time we were more punting than paddling, and a short expedition through the sedges convinced us that despite the huge volume of bird noises (mostly Purple Galinules I think, but probably some more interesting things too - I'm sure I heard Red-chested Flufftail during the night) the effort involved in moving through it and the sharpness of the leaves were going to prevent us from finding anything too exciting there. Still, great to see African Fish Eagle from the water, and a huge colony of ibis and egrets, and both Kitty and the Mancub thought it great to be on a little boat!

Once this was over we packed up and headed back for Arusha, stopping a few times en route to add to our day's haul of birds and getting back just before dark. Had we got there 1/2 an hour earlier I think we'd have managed another 20 or so species in the wetter woods of our friend's garden and surrounds, but when we totted up a day total of 166 bird species was pretty respectable I thought - and 95% of those were within 500m of the tents! I do love the diversity here - and love to be in a place where you can just roam around and spot things. It's so much easier to bird on foot than from a car and whilst seeing lions and iother scary beasts hasn't lost it's charm just yet (still got to find Mama her leopard...), there's little to beat the bush on foot when you don't have to worry too much about being eaten... So, we'll be heading back there I think - it must be truly amazing when all the palearctic migrants are there as well as the residents. And the camping experience will be repeated very soon! With more photos next time, I promise...

1 comment:

  1. Oops whose half term? Hope mummy B is better soon