Thursday, 17 December 2015

Lake Manyara NP & Amani Nature Reserve

The Maasia steps decent on to Lake Manyara
Our Christmas trip to the Serengeti had been put on hold thanks to car trouble on the way north from Dar es Salaam to Arusha.  So instead, after a delay in Moshi to get the car sorted, we'd changed plans and headed to Tarangire national park.

But now, the tsetse flies of Tarangire national park finally got the better of us and we decided to check out Lake Manyara national park which is about an hour away. 

The massive storm a few days ago meant attempting to enter Manyara using the new track connecting the two parks was out of the question so it was back along the main road towards Arusha and then turning north at Makunyi towards the Maasai steppes and the town of Mto wa Mbu, the entrance to the park.  

Silvery cheeked hornbill, one of few birds easily seen in the thick forest 
Things have definitely moved along as far as the park administration goes with a hive of activity at the park gate and a paved road. A tourist guide escorted me to the office for the formalities and pointed out a new visitors centre with free Wi-Fi. There was an office under canvas with officials behind computers, one of whom gave us a copy of the new glossy brochure. Also was noticeable was the computer generated entry permit – things have certainly changed at Manyara and TANAPA have taken strides.

Manyara's iconic ground water forest
The plan was of course to track down the famous tree climbing lions of Manyara. Ironically we have seen lions on trees in most parks except Manyara. Apparently the lions have favorite trees so its knowing which trees to keep an eye on and without a guide this means every tree. Without a doubt the highlight of Manyara is the ground water forest at the bottom of the Maasai Steppes and entrance to the park. Driving through this awesome forest gives one the idea of a lost Eden but the thick foliage is a major challenge to spot anything.

Fresh water streams in the groundwater forest
Ground hornbill
We made our way to the new hippo lookout, another new addition to the park, a viewing deck over the lake. The storm that hit us at Tarangire had been here but the authorities had done work to clear the roads. The viewing deck is a highlight for bird life, mainly water birds and the glossy ibis were the main highlight. We headed up to the new picnic site for lunch with other birds making their appearance, with the red and yellow barbet being the highlight.
The spectacular red and yellow Barbet
Grey crowned crane 
Next we headed to the old picnic site and ran in to some elephants in the forest. It was a surprisingly large herd going about daily foraging. There was a massive flock of flamingos on the lake but as always miles away and even with the binoculars, they were just ribbons of pink in the distance. Wildebeest, zebra and giraffe were plenty and scattered around the park.
Glossy Ibis
African Jacana
White faced whistling duck
Satisfied with the birding and great views it was back to the campsite in the ground water forest. We decided to get to the camp while there was still light to give ourselves a chance to catch anything. We had the campsite to ourselves which is always great and the highlight of the night was the two genets that visited the campsite.  
Lake Manyara campsite in the forest
We were up early the next morning keen to be the first in the forest to catch lions. After driving most of the ground water forest without a sign of lions, it was decided to have coffee at the viewing deck. The highlight of the morning was birds again with the crested guinea fowl coming out on top.
Crested Guinea fowl
Black winged stilt
A large gathering of Zebra kept us occupied for the rest of the morning. They were very relaxed around the car and appeared intent on staying in the open short grass plains with no chance for predators to sneak up. On our way back to the campsite a large troop of baboons kept us entertained at one of the bridges and another highlight of the forest, the blue monkey finally gave us an opportunity to get a decent shot in the thick canopy.
Blue monkey 
Baboon family
This big guy was already sleepy
We left Mayara heading for Arusha National Park but there was soon more car trouble in the form of overheating. We cut the air conditioner and dropped the speed to crawl into the outskirts of Arusha. A guy at a road side garage decided to open the overheated radiator cap and cool things down while we touched base with Kashmiri in Moshi who first offered to send the mechanic on a bus to sort us out. We decided to drive down to Moshi and it turned out be the fuel injector pump was set at the wrong setting. It’s been a trip of one thing or another but we were glad to be ready to hit the road again the next day, and headed towards home, but it was an opportunity to check out Amani nature reserve.
A buffalo keeps a close eye on us at Manyara 

Zebra horse about on the plains at Lake Manayara
We had read lots about this little bio diversity hot spot with a high rate of endemic species but couldn’t find the time on our trips up north to stop over, so this was the perfect opportunity. Heading towards Tanga from the Segera junction, the main road narrows to a winding and hairy road but thankfully less traffic. At Muheza we took the right to Amani and the gravel soon appeared along with the rural setting as the road winds itself up the mountain.
More car trouble on route to Arusha
Once we enter the Amani nature conservation area the vegetation is dense with small streams flowing with fresh water. The road itself is narrow with some challenging muddy patches but if small people movers with villagers packed in could make it, we were definitely making it through! At the gate, we did the formalities and were told the better camping spot was at the top of the mountain where the research centre was.
Muddy entrance to Amani Nature Reserve
We arrived at the research centre to be shown a grass patch which was perfect for camping, albeit surrounded by houses. The camp site apparently had no toilet so we decided to take a research chalet as well. The chalets are basic but well maintained with running water and flush toilets but we decided to sleep in the roof tent mainly because we weren’t sure how safe the car would be left unattended at night.

Amani Nature Reserve camp site
We could hear heaps of birds and took two walks in the forest but it was soon apparent that seeing anything in the thick forest was near impossible. The best thing to do was pull out the chairs and chill at the campsite with a beer.
Thick canopy is a challenge for birding
In the evening one of the researches joined us for a drink. He was researching invasive species in selected forest patches across the conservation area. He also confirmed that spotting birds in the forest was tough and the best chance was to get to the villages and cultivations on the edge of the forest where the forest was more open. We were fascinated to hear that the research team sent out GPS coordinates of the study area to commercial satellites to obtain aerial photos of the study area over a period of time to study the impact of invasive species. Amazingly the lanthana plant (a pest in Asia) had made its appearance in this pristine area and loomed as a threat.
Thick forest and fresh water streams
The next morning we finally spotted a bird, the smallest of them all, a sun bird and as luck would have it, the dullest of all sunbirds! We did manage to get some village eggs for breakfast and headed for home after a late breakfast. It was the end of our annual Serengeti mission that never happened due to car trouble but we had managed to visit 3 different parks and get some nice sightings and birding done.  

The road is fine but only just!

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