Day 240: Not Quite Zero

A high-speed blowout punctuates a day that offers a single new bird.

August 28, 2015: Arusha, Tanzania — I’ve only been blanked twice so far this year: I added no new birds on January 3 (in Antarctica) and again on June 8 (stuck in New York airports). Otherwise, I’ve seen at least one new bird on every day of 2015. With today scheduled as a travel day back to Arusha, the challenge was to keep that streak alive.

Anthony calculated that we had time to spend one hour birding around the Amani Nature Reserve before rolling out this morning. At the break of dawn Anthony, Harv, Kelle, David, and I walked into deep forest behind the cabins at the research station. Almost immediately, Anthony spotted a displaying African Broadbill, and we watched the bird make its strange circular flights in the understory while whirring its wing feathers. Very cool, but not a new birdwe had the broadbills here yesterday. The hour passed without a new sighting and, facing a zero day, we began the long drive to Arusha.

A ways down the road, Anthony decided to make one last-ditch 10-minute stop at a lower-altitude patch of forest. We walked for nine minutes before something flitted into a treetop below the road. When I put up my binoculars, I was surprised to see an Usambara Hyliotaan ultra-endemic species found only between 300 and 400 meters in the Usambara Mountainsposing in full view! This bird, Anthony explained, is so little-studied that its vocalizations remain unknown and its exact distribution is unclear. It gave us great looks, remained silent, and flew off. Ka-ching!

We spent the rest of the day on the road. The only real excitement came just before lunch, on a stretch of featureless desert highway, when our Land Cruiser’s rear tire suddenly blew with a sound like cannon fire at full speed. As the vehicle shuddered and veered off the opposite shoulder, Harv said, “Hang on, buddy!” and we reflexively grabbed on to each other in our seats. It was a lively few seconds, but Roger held control and brought us to a clean stop in the dirt. He and Anthony had the spare on in no time flat, so to speak, and we were on our way.

David left us to continue to Pemba Island (just north of Zanzibar) for another couple of days, and we dropped Harv and Kelle at the airport for their homeward flight this evening. Without a break, Anthony caught a ride to Mount Kilimanjaro, where he will begin teaching a five-day ornithology course to some American study-abroad students tomorrow morning. After dropping me at a hotel, Roger returned to his family in Arusha.

It’s been a great 12 days in northern Tanzania: Our group found 387 species of birds and had the best safari session I’ve yet experienced in Africa. The birds overlapped a bit more than I’d hoped with Kenya, and I added just 80 new species here in Tanzania (an average of 6.67 birds/day, well below the 17.53 new birds/day I’ve managed to maintain over the rest of this year). That masks the number of endemics, though, and the new sightings in Tanzania have almost all been regional specialties.

New territory awaits tomorrow.

New birds today: 1

Year list: 4077

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