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Lakes, Baobabs, Falls and Islands - Green Season in Southern Tanzania


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Oh, good, I was afraid you’d finished up your report and that I’d missed out completely. With all the craziness that we’ve been dealing with, I’ve been sadly neglectful of Safaritalk. You’ve had quite the adventure already, and we haven’t even reached Ruaha yet. Good!

Like you, I’m increasingly a fan of the Green Season. Even though you might have gotten a bit more rain than expected, you obviously dealt with it well and with a good attitude. 

I smiled at the photo of the Northern Carmine Bee-eater on the warthog.  Brought back fond memories of Savuti.  I think you need to make a goal — how many different species can you get photos of with Carmines riding on their backs?

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Great birds, I was too busy looking for the Sanje Mangabey on my last visit, to chase after the Kilombero specials, so you scored some birds that I’ve not seen. :) 


Interestingly on the subject of the kipunji, I’ve just watched the last episode of the new BBC wildlife documentary series Primates, which featured the world’s leading primate conservationist, Dr Russell Mittermeier (Chief Conservation Office, Global Wildlife Conservation, chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group) travelling to Tanzania to track down the Kipunji. There are 79 genera of primates around the world, he has now seen at least one of all 79 in the wild, the kipunji was the last one of the 79, he is apparently the first person ever, to have seen one of every primate genus in the wild. Although, he talked about the importance of ecotourism for primate conservation, and encouraged others to follow in his footsteps, he never actually said where in Tanzania they were, but he was with Tim Davenport the WCS scientist, who first found the kipunji on Mt Rungwe, so I’m guessing it was there.  With the aid of the researchers and trackers, he found the Kipunji without too much trouble, it should certainly be possible then, to set up an ecotourism project there and have tourists visit and see the Kipunjis. If you’ve not seen the Primates series, there is a short video clip on YouTube from the series of Dr Mittermeier’s search for the Kipunji, it should be easy enough to find, so I won't post it in your report.     

Edited by inyathi
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@michael-ibk - great trip report - I am sorry not to have commented sooner.   Your photography continues to improve and I appreciate your taking the time to do this TR.  You have put Udzungwa Mountains NP on my bucket list.


* Also - your photos of Tanzania Sykes Monkey may be important.   Especially if you got any of a male.


Not long ago, some primate researchers have asked for images of Cercopithecus mitis monoides.


Their contact info is in this thread:   https://www.safaritalk.net/topic/20594-seeking-images-of-tanzania-sykes’s-monkey-cercopithecus-mitis-monoides/





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  • 2 weeks later...

You may have had difficult conditions for birds on the Sanje Waterfalls hike, but you did manage that nice squirrel tail!


Seriously the gorgeous butterflies plus the Red Colobus and Sanje Mangabey families made the whole outing a success.  I’m sure you were as enthused about making it to the top as the ranger in that video clip.

I thought the serpents worst nightmare actually looked a little serpenty themselves.

Not only can you do butterfly shots but those low light "tablescapes" were impressive.

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Came back here after awhile thinking you'd probably finished Ruaha by now...but I see I didn't miss it :)


However very glad to see all those great birds (and butterflies too) at Udzungwa mountains, when I had looking into a southern TZ trip years ago I'd included a few nights at Hondo Hondo, but that trip never came to pass. Hope to make it some day!


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Dear Lynn, my love of the flexibility of the English language is confirmed by your coinage „tablescapes“. It is not only the unbelievable variety of species that commands awe, it is language too. I enjoyed your double TR with Michael very much.

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  • 1 month later...

I have an incredibly strong longing for Africa today - a feeling, I guess, many of us share right now. So a good incentive to add a chapter to this dormant report.


So on to Ruaha! No one will remember (understandably so after this long hiatus) but we actually went from Selous right to its more popular sister park in the West and only got to the (already covered) Udzungwa Mountains afterwards. It was a very enjoyable flight between the two parks, crossing a lush and green Tanzania, so unlike the often barren and brown landscapes we see during "High Season" safaris.




After a 90 minutes-flight we landed at Msembe airstrip in the East of the park, close to HQs.




Some Elephants were grazing in the distance. We were delighted, after the surprising lack of them in the Selous it was good to see a herd right away.






A Cut-Throat-Finch, one of the few birds with a really self-explanatory name.




The very stern-looking watchagama of the loo.




A Bateleur saying Hi.


After a while Jimmy and Ayoubou, our dynamic guide/guide duo picked us up for the way back to camp. The Dutch couple from the Selous was still with us, and we were told the four of us would share for our stay. But while that was fine for the pick-up of course we arranged for private vehicle for our stay. Not because we did not enjoy their company, quite the contrary, we had lots of fun in camp but given my birding interest felt it would work better to go out on our own.




I loved Ruaha from the very start. So different from the short vegetation and the palms of the Selous, here the Baobabs in full leaf and the swaying grass shaped the landscape.




It was also noticably cooler given the altitudinal difference - very pleasant.




European Rollers loved the area around the airstrip.






Three different Rollers in one hour - not bad.


We had quite some distance to cover - Mdonya Old River Camp is far West from the central area, and it took us almost three hours to get there. Of course we stopped a lot.




A handsome young Kudu enjoying the abundance.




The ubiquitous Ruaha Red-Billed Hornbill, kind of a signature bird for the park. More or less a Tanzanian endemic, only just about trespassing into the extreme North of Malawi and Zambia. If you think you have seen this bird a million times elsewhere you´d be kinda right, the Red-Billed Hornbill was split into no less than five different species - all of which more or less look the same.




Hooded Vulture. Not really visible here but it was eating the fluid rests of an Elephant placenta. Apparently one had given birth right on the road, only hours ago. Now that would have been something to see!




It was fitting we encountered a relaxed herd shortly afterwards. :)











Edited by michael-ibk
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Thank you Michael. I thought the trip reports had all run out. Great to have something to read, and lots of pictures to enjoy.

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Great to see Ruaha in green season, very different from when we were there. Looking forward to your review of Old Mdonya too.

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I missed those reports and Ruaha as you might know is one of my absolute favorites even  if I saw it at the end of  the dry season ; fabulous photos by the way ! 


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Yay!  Been waiting for this part. 

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:D glad to see your return. 

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Glad you picked this up again...I thought you were done. Now don't go leaving us for another two months without a new installment :) We are all missing Africa!


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5 hours ago, janzin said:

Glad you picked this up again...I thought you were done. Now don't go leaving us for another two months without a new installment :) We are all missing Africa!


hmmm, I feel like there are also some India reports that haven’t been had any new posts in a while... but agreed, glad you’re back with more for us @michael-ibk.

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Good to see your report back on track.

The rich green backgrounds are beautiful 

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Another one who is very appreciative of your resumed report and great photos - thank you 🙏 

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Thank you everbody, much appreciated. And sorry again for my snail-like pace - I have no idea how I used to manage to churn these reports out within weeks. I promise, I will conclude before this annus horribilis is over. :)


The rest of our drive to camp was very quiet - worryingly so in fact, for about two hours we were going without seeing a single mammal. Yes, it was midday when activity generally dies down but there was no denying it - the farther we got from the Ruaha River area the emptier everything became.


We arrived in camp shortly after 1400. Lovely premises, friendly managers, good food, perfect tents, we immediately felt at home.It had been a long day, and so we had a late start in the afternoon, about 1600 pm. We kept to the Mdonya area which was beautiful scenically - long swaying grass, ancient majestic trees.






It was a pretty gloomy afternoon, and there was not too much going on. Lots of birds for me, but there was little point taking photos given the bad light. A Giraffe now and then, the odd Zebra - thas was pretty much it. But we did enjoy the lovely breeze and the nice and cool temperature - much more pleasant than the humid heat of the Selous.








The only Bushbuck of the trip - poor guy panically bolted as soon as he saw us.




Good old Guineafowl - when there´s nothing else around you can always count on them.




Violet-Backed Starling






Our first Dik-Dik, a Ruaha staple - not an easy subject in the high grass though.




Three-Banded Courser. A lovely species I was delighted to see.


So all in all, not the most productive game drive we´ve ever done. But it was still a pleasant afternoon. We liked our new guide/driver combo a lot, enjoyed our G&Ts with our Dutch friends and given we had just arrived did not really "count" this outing.

Edited by michael-ibk
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If I´ve learnt anything from Quentin Tarantino it´s that linear storytelling is way overrated. So to give this report a kick in the arm let´s fast forward to day 3. We were on our way to the Great Ruaha river, and as usual and to the huge joy of @AndMic I had asked for a stop to photograph a Pigeon, a Lark or something similarly riveting. But then our driver Ayoubou commanded me to stop that nonsense immediately, hold tight and get ready for a wild ride - something exciting had come in on the radio. So we raced off in a breakneck pace, worrying we´d be too late. When we made a sharp bend Ayoubou had to hit the brakes hard. Our Dutch friends were waiting on the opposite side of our special targets and looked slightly shocked, eyes and mouth wide open, obviously having worrying that we´d ram them. Or worse, overrunning Ruaha´s Wild Dogs!




This was a very special sighting, and we were overjoyed! Unlike the Selous, Ruaha does not have much of a reputation for the Dogs, one has to be really really lucky to see them. (The Ruaha Carnivore project states that the park is home to the third-largest Dog population in Africa but if that´s indeed the case they seem to prefer areas away from the tourist areas.)




And lucky we were, our guide Jimmy told us the last sighting he knew of had been four months before!




It was a small pack of three, and they soon left, turning invisible in the high grass. The second vehicle left but we decided to stay on this stretch of the road, in the unlikely event they should come out again.




And again luck was on our side - after 15 minutes they approached the road again!







They even got curious enough about us that they openly approached us - fantastic!










As I have made clear in my previous reports I truly, truly love the Dogs, and it was a huge privilege spending some quality time with them alone, no other cars around.






We followed them for a while, they crisscrossed around between the road and the impenetrable vegetation. After a while though they decided they had performed enough for us and left to the old riverbed where we could not follow.






Probably our favourite Ruaha sighting!:)

Edited by michael-ibk
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Wow, awesome wild dog sighting!!!

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Great to have seen those dogs because you are absolutely right that sightings in Ruaha are far from common even if some guide books still see Ruaha as one of their strongholds and you indicate that as well ; I think chances to see them are much higher in the Selous ; we were not lucky in Ruaha at the time either ; one more question : we had a very dynamic Jimmy as guide in Mwagusi in 2017 but I felt that he would leave soon : could that be him ? 




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A bit about camp - Mdonya Old River Camp is pretty far away from the hotspots around the Ruaha river. The area is lovely - old Acacia woodland close the the previous riverbed of the Mdonya. Elephants, Giraffe and Zebras were often seen around the fringes of camp - a very idyllic setting.






Really liked the atmosphere - no wooden walkways, no fences, a nice distance between camps and everything kept basic enough that one feels totally immersed in the bush. But everything needed is there, including non-stop hot water in the shower.












The Camp guardian.






Ashy Starling








Breakfast and lunch area. Food was generally good to very good, though not excellent. As you can see by the number of chairs this is not a small camp. We had hoped that it would not be very busy in the Green Season, but to our surprise camp was fully booked. We did not really mind - it was nice chatting with other guests at meals, our tent was private enough, and since we had chosen private vehicle again the number of people really was no issue.




Iris and Kings, the mananger couple. Really doing a good job, lovely people to chat with.


A perfect camp? I almost feel a bit sorry but I´m a bit torn about what to say here.  Generally Mdonya is just my cup of tea, not too fancy, very much into trying to cater to everybody´s needs and gamedrives as long as you like. Full-Day drives are actually encouraged.And the guiding quality is just terrific, more on our dynamic duo later. But truth be told, the location is less than ideal. It´s a really long way to the Ruaha river where the real action is happening, and not too much is going on around Mdonya itself. Less of an issue for me given my birding craze (and birds are always around) but if you go for two hours without seeing an Impala that´s not exactly what one is hoping for on safari. Of course you can go to the more prolific areas but given the distance it´s impossible to enjoy golden light morning or evening action there.


Would I return to Mdonya? Actually yes, if I could get Jimmy and Ayoubou again. As mentioned before the pv options are very cool too. But it would have to be a longer Ruaha stay and I´d definitely add on another camp in the core area. For a classic three-night say I have to reluctantly concede that I cannot fullheartedly recommend it - the area is just a bit too marginal.


Edited by michael-ibk
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1 hour ago, michael-ibk said:

Three-Banded Courser. A lovely species I was delighted to see.

What an extraordinary suit these birds are wearing, I sure hope to see them one day.

I agree it is a pity Old Mdonya is so far from where the wildlife is, reason why we chose Mwagusi Safari camp. 

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What an excellent sighting of Wild Dogs, and beautiful photos!

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1 hour ago, BRACQUENE said:

one more question : we had a very dynamic Jimmy as guide in Mwagusi in 2017 but I felt that he would leave soon : could that be him ? 


Not impossible but I doubt it - Jimmy is a really young lad. I had the impression he was starting out as a guide at Mdonya but could be wrong.




But I can surely tell you he´s a great guy and excellent guide with (hopefully) a good career ahead of him.

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Map of Ruaha National Park | Tanzania | (c) Expert Africa


To give some perspective here´s the Expert Africa map for Ruaha - Msembe (between the Great Ruaha and the Mgawusi Sand River) is the most prolific game area.




For our first full day we chose not to race there though but progressed very leisurely to the East of the park.




There were many birds for me to see so we stopped every 100 metres or so! :)






Small animals are always difficult in the Green Season - I´m sure there must be many Mongoose around but we only saw them when one would cross the road - they did not linger. A Dwarf Mongoose here.








No matter which time of the day this Jackal (and his mate) were always present when we passed this spot.




We had great fun watching this Vitelline Weaver - the craftsmanship of these birds is always amazing.










Long-Crested Eagle, our only sighting.




White-Browed Coucal, very common in the park.




The further East we got more and more mammals appeared - a huge Baboon troop here.




Mdonya River:




The often neglected Impala:








D´Arnaud´s Barbet




And finally a DikDik which was not as timid as the others. Love these little Antelopes!


Edited by michael-ibk
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