Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tanzania - the heart of East Africa (Part 2)

Off the coast of Tanzania lies Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago consisting of two main islands and numerous smaller islets. The larger and more populated Unguja Island, informally known as Zanzibar, is a popular tourist destination offering white sandy beaches, shop browsing in Stone Town, and some of the best scuba diving off the coast of Africa. The smaller, less frequently visited Pemba Island to the north is less developed and more appealing to naturalists. If this wasn’t a bird/nature orientated blog, I would go on forever talking about the fascinating, rich Muslim culture of the islands but for the meantime, I will try to keep it bird related.

Stone Town
 From Dar es Salaam, I hopped on a ferry to Stone Town, the largest city in the archipelago where I spent three nights exploring the historical town and the rest of Unguja Island. Although bird-wise it’s not that exceptional, there are two endemic mammals – the endangered Zanzibar Red Colobus (Monkey) numbering around 1,000-1,500 individuals and the presumably extinct Zanzibar Leopard. The local belief that the leopards were kept by witches to wreck havoc on the villagers combined with habitat encroachment caused their decline. Unguja is also home to an endemic subspecies of the Servaline Genet.

Paja Beach
 Besides observing a few shorebirds on the beaches, the only real birding I did on the island was an hour at Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, particularly to see the Zanzibar Red Colobus, being at their stronghold in this 19 sq mile park. It took no effort to find them as they were hanging along the main road and around the parking lot. Birding was considerable slow but Black-bellied Starling, East Coast Boubou and Dark-backed Weaver made a showing.

Jozani Forest
Zanzibar Red Colobus
 On the fourth day I hopped on another ferry to Pemba, an island off the tourist route, which still holds on to its very traditional Muslim heritage. During my four night stay, I only saw 3-4 other ‘westerners’. Based out of Wete, the largest town on the island, my goal was to see all four endemics: Pemba Scops-owl, Pemba Green-Pigeon, Pemba White-eye and Pemba Sunbird as well as the incredibly massive Pemba Flying Fox – a species of bat that went nearly went extinct but now numbers around 20,000. To see what they look like, check out (

Upon arriving to Wete in the evening, I watched as thousands of the crow-sized Pemba Flying Foxes were leaving their roost to forage for fruit and later that night heard my first of the endemics – a Pemba Scops-owl. The following two days I easily picked up the more common of the endemics, the sunbird and white-eye just around town leaving the Pigeon – the most difficult of the four. North of Wete is the Ngezi Forest Reserve – one of the most reliable areas to find them. Due to the lack of a vehicle and dalla dallas (local transportation) I decided to chat to the locals instead as they usually know more about the local birdlife than anyone else. Shortly later I was watching three Pemba Green-Pigeons, or ninga as the locals call them, in a known roost tree. No need heading all the way to Ngezi when you have help from the locals! Other interesting birds I had on the island include Brown-headed Parrot, Mangrove Kingfisher, Broad-billed Roller and Palm-nut Vulture.

Mangroves on Pemba
 Before I knew it, I was on a flight back to the mainland ending my week on the Zanzibar archipelago. It was time to head to the endemic-rich East Usambara Mountains and Mt. Kilimanjaro! (End of part 2)

(Note: sorry for the lack of bird photos, after nearly 3 months, my photo taking became lazy)

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