Saturday, 29 December 2012

Mkomazi NP - New Year's 2012

Mkomazi NP
The decision to check out Mkomazi was made on the way back from Selous where we spent Christmas. We had to be back at work for two days before the new years eve long weekend offered another opportunity to get away. With 3 nights on the cards, the first option was to check out Tsavo West in Kenya. However, the crossing of the border presented a potential issue with Cheryl’s passport only having a few free pages.

Tree squirrel
Mkomazi makes up the Mkomazi-Tsavo eco-system, the second largest of the trans-frontier ecosystem in East Africa after the Serengeti- Mara ecosystem. The park lies in Western Tanzania straddling the Kenyan border’s Tsavo West Natitional park. 

The name of the park is derived from the ethnic Pare language Miko (traditional wooden spoon) and Mazi (water) signifying the lack of water in the area. The vegetation is semi-arid and is Tanzania’s newest National Park gazetted in 2008.

A history of poaching and lack of water has resulted in a scarcity of game and whatever little game there is being awfully skittish. While we were well aware of the game situation the main attraction was the Gerenuk which we are yet to see and what the park is known for. 
Orange-bellied parrot
Leaving Dar early via the new found Bagamoya-Msata shortcut, which bypasses the chaos of the Dar-Chalinze route, we arrived at the small town of Same around lunch time. Same lies 112 Kms from Moshi, 550Kms from Dar on the Arusha road. Same separates the Northern and Southern Pare mountains and is a blimp on the route to Arusha but for the Elephant Motel. Turning West in Same the roads winds through the village and the tarmac disappears and about 10Kms later we arrived at the game.

Yellow-necked spurfowl
Straight away we were impressed at the entrance with glossy brochures and maps and well informed staff who directed us to the campsite. The brand new toilet block was a huge surprise as was the large well maintained camp ground. There was no sign of people which wasn’t a surprise. There were a couple of birds and soon we had a first time sighting of the orange bellied parrot. After a quick lunch we were off to check out the park. 

Roads around the park
First impressions of the park is that it’s different to any other park in Tanzania we have been to. The mountains surrounding the flood plains gives the feeling of a ‘crater’ of sorts. The mountain sides are heavily wooded and with short rains in season and low cloud hanging over the mountains gives the impression of a hill country park. The most common creature around seemed to be the spectacular Yellow Necked Spurfowl which were by the side of the road in numbers. 

Fisher's starling
After a couple of kms the first decision in terms of a direction needed to be made. We decided to go towards the only lodge and towards the Kisima airstrip, which was the further part of the park. The first part of the route is on the edge of a flood plain surrounded by mountains making it a spectacular sight but for the obvious and total lack of any game! Soon the flood plain disappeared and it was closed bush and even smaller chance of seeing anything. 

White-bellied go-away bird

Soon we came to the first cross road with the exit to the Nijiro gate. We decided to head towards Kavateta and but soon realized the road was a slow slog and decided to turn back and head towards the Kisima airstrip. On the airstrip we caught something and quickly reversed to find a first sighting after a few hours of driving – Impala!

Finally - an animal that stood long enough to photograph!
You know it’s going to be a tough couple of days of game viewing when you find an Impala sighting exciting. Soon we were on the way back to camp wondering where the game was and the tourists having only seen a couple of cars the whole time. Heading back to camp we came across a vulturine guineafowl which was a pleasant surprise.

Arriving back at the camp site we had another very rare event – an empty campsite. There was no promised firewood either so we headed back to the game to get some from the huge pile at the gate.

For the record - proof we saw wild dogs :)
Despite there being no sign of any game, let alone cats, we decided to leave first thing in the morning as is our normal method. A couple of minutes from the camp site we were amazed to find a pack of 6 wild dogs on the road. We didn’t even realize there were dogs in the park even though there was a fenced off wild dog research project within the park. 

The dogs unfortunately ran on sight (without getting a good photo) and headed towards the village and we wondered what their fate would be. There were a couple of giraffes around and a lone wildebeest before we arrived at the folk on the road.

This time we took the left fork towards Dindara. The drive was a lot more spectacular on the flood plain with the mountains on all sides. Finally there was a herd of animals who were miles away but started running upon seeing us. It was a herd of wildebeest and soon we noted a few giraffes on the plain as well. We took a turn in to the flood plain and were soon back tracking due wet mud on the road. 

White-winged widowbird
The drive on the edge of the flood plain towards Dinara soon turned in to a birding mission with plenty of widow birds and bishops keeping us occupied. We decided to concentrate on birds given there was nothing else. Amongst the variety of birds around we soon noted a Chestnut Weaver which was a first time sighting.  The drive remained spectacular on the edge of the flood plain with the mountains on the sides until we reached the Dindara view point which offered spectacular views of the surrounding area.

We could see a small herd of Zebra and Waterbuck from the top of the view point and amazingly the animals seemed nervy even from miles away and we were on top of a hill! After checking out the Dindera waterhole to ensure nothing was hiding from us, we continued along the flood  plain circuit which was now going through woodland before turning right towards Kaveteta. 

Pin-tailed whydah
Soon a few dips and crossings appeared on the road and finally a big washout where a small river seemed to have gone over the river leaving behind muddy trail that was too messy to cross. We did have a first time sighting of a rosy-patched bush shrike which was the highlight of the day after the dogs.

Having now seen the part of the park that was closest to the gate and noting there was no sign of a Gerenuk or anything else it was decided we would head towards Maora on the Kenyan border where rangers said was the highest concentration of game. On route the car started to misbehave by cutting out unexpectedly. We decided that Kisima airstrip was as far as we would go with the cutting out car given there was hardly anyone around and we didn’t know what was going on with the car.

Our campsite at Mkomazi
Heading back towards the safety of the entrance area we stopped for lunch at a waterhole along the road in the hope of catching something. Looking at the edge of the waterhole it was obvious there was no game around or it was drinking elsewhere. The rest of the afternoon was spent between the airstrip, the lodge and rangers post on the Dindara road to ensure we had a good chance of getting help if we had car trouble. Cheryl managed to break a tooth while biting on a mentos of all things, to add further anxiety to the misbehaving car situation.

Vulturine guineafowl
Back at the camp site we had another couple in the campsite who were occupying our spot so we decided to move to the bottom of the camp ground. The discussion in front of the fire at night was if we should remain in the park given the car issues or head towards Dar for New Year’s eve. The final decision was that we would use up the 24 hour permit and head to Pangani River camp the next night.

Nubian woodpecker
We were up early the next morning hoping to catch the dogs again and headed towards Dindera. It was another pleasant morning and we finally met another vehicle with tourists who were observing a herd of giraffes. They were promptly informed of the wild dog sightings 24 hours ago and the resident Orange Bellied Parrots in the campsite.

Superb starling
Soon we turned the still cutting out car at the rangers’ post and headed to the camp site for brunch where we found the fellow tourists walking around.  Turns out they are a team of researches on a mission to photograph and record giraffe sightings in Northern Tanzania.

Black-bellied bustard
I couldn’t think of a better job than shooting giraffes who besides being awfully photogenic, are totally relaxed around vehicles and are day time creatures. We could not believe there would be such research as it was pointed out there is very little research done on Africa’s iconic creature. To date we really don’t know much about giraffes behaviour or movement and a lot of research is needed on these graceful creatures.

The orange-bellied parrots
After brunch we headed to Pangani River Camp and were pleased to find it unoccupied. The rest of the day was spent lazing around catching a few birds and were rewarded with a first time sighting Grosbeak Weaver. We took the rare free time on a trip to test or new temporary rain shelter. It was a windy evening and the rain shelter held up well.  It was a quiet and relaxed new years eve at Pangani River camp with another national park explored.

Sunset over Pangani River Camp

Birds seen on our trip

African orange bellied parrot*
Fisher’s starling*
Yellow-necked spurfowl*
Superb starling
African grey hornbill
Hilderbrand’s starling
White browed coucal
Red billed buffalo weaver
Lilac breasted roller
Pin-tailed whydah
Eastern paradise whydah
Helmeted guinea fowl
Von der Decken’s hornbill
Red and yellow hornbill
Vulturine guineafowl*
Secretary bird
Rosy-patched bushshrike*
White-bellied go-away bird
Red-headed weaver
Emerald-spotted wooddove
Black and white cuckoo
Red-billed hornbill
Long-tailed fiscal*
Northern wheatear
Little bee-eater
White-bellied bustard
Zanzibar red bishop
Lesser striped swallow
Barn swallow
Black shouldered kite
Chestnut weaver*
Diederik’s cuckoo
Speckled mousebird
Black-throated barbet*
Brown-breasted barbet
Common bulbul
White-winged widowbird*
Nubian woodpecker
White-headed buffalo weaver
Taveta golden weaver
Black-headed batis*
Grey-headed kingfisher
Malachite kingfisher
Cattle egret
Striated heron*
Grosbeak weaver*
Pied crow

Black-bellied bustard

*First time sighting

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