August 24, 2015, West Usambara Mountains, Tanzania — This is the dry season in northern Tanzania: warm (but not particularly hot or humid), brown, dusty, and parched. August sees less rainfall here, on average, than any other month. The baobabs have lost their leaves; the waterholes are cracked mud; the birds are in dull nonbreeding plumage; and the fields of planted corn and sunflowers are dried and yellowed. In November, they say, the rains will come again.

This morning Anthony, Harv, Kelle, David, and I walked a patch of dry forest along the edge of Mkomazi National Park and picked up a few new birds: Hildebrandt’s Francolin, Black-headed Batis, Black-bellied Sunbird, and Eastern Paradise-Whydah. It was very dry, but the birds seemed to find sustenance in the dust. One of today’s most interesting sightings had fur, not feathers: We had great views of a lesser elephant shrew before it scurried away under a shrub.  My first elephant shrew! This means I’ve now seen the big five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhino) multiple times over, as well as four of the so-called little five (ant lion, leopard tortoise, buffalo-weaver, elephant shrew, and rhinoceros beetle). I’m just missing the beetle—can I find one before I leave Africa to complete the “big and little ten?” 

We hit the road again after lunch, following a wide highway toward the coast. I won’t quite see the ocean in Tanzania as we’ll spend the next three days exploring various mountain ranges between here and there. Last week I hit some of the same habitats on the Kenyan side of the border, so at this point we’re cleaning up misses—which means I won’t accumulate big numbers of new birds on this leg. Almost everything I add in Tanzania will be unique, though—and I’ll take a good endemic over 10 widespread birds any day.

New birds today: 6

Year list: 4055

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