Whilst birding is good at all times the inclusion of migrant
species would be from September to late May. There is only one
rainy season, generally it begins in December and ends late
March early April. During the rains the Park is very lush and
green, with wonderful flowers and the river looks superb. This
is also the breeding season for many species to it is a vibrant
time for birding. From end of July the vegetation begins to
dry, so by September, it looks very grey with little greenery,
it is however a great time for game viewing and birding is also
rewarding. Most areas of the Park are accessible all year round,
however, some of the more remote Miombo areas are difficult
during the rainy season but are accessible from July to December.
located in south-central Tanzania, a location that until recently
has been difficult and expensive to get to. Due to its vast
size, thanks to a massive extension to incorporate the Usangu
wetlands, Ruaha has doubled its size from 10,200 to 20,220 sq.km.
In addition to this, Ruaha is fortunate to be surrounded, almost
360 degrees by Game Reserves, then west of these reserves are
yet more Forest reserves, so the whole ecosystem, is a vast,
virtually untouched, wilderness area of more that 45,000 sq.
The remote areas are difficult to access particularly during
the wet season, therefore, little ‘serious’ birding
has been done in these seldom visited places. Rob and I are
both artists, Rob a sculptor and I am a painter, and in our
spare time we are avid birders.
been extremely privileged to have lived in Ruaha National Park
for almost 17 years, during that time Rob compiled the official
Park Bird list which now stands at 574 species. In that time
we have managed to pull up some very interesting records, two
of them new species.
on the convergence zone of northern and southern flora and fauna,
hence we have a wide and unusual variety of plants and
animals. It follows then, that the birds should be as equally
diverse and interesting. With the altitude being generally low,
at between 750m to 1,000m, along the Great Ruaha River and the
Usangu wetlands, it then rises in the north and west up an escarpment
to an average of 1,400m. Then in the extreme western corner
of the park, the Isunkaviola Hills, reach an altitude of 1,868m.
The low altitude areas of the park, the Great Ruaha River basin,
once thought to be a finger of the Great Rift Valley, is in
fact an older fault than the
Great Rift Valley system.
ranges from open grassland to mixed Combretum woodland, areas
of Acacia and larger zones of Brachystegia woodland. The Isunkaviola
hills in the western portion of Ruaha, an ancient eroded plateau,
carry two areas of Drypetes forest, situated on high ridges
and one area of mixed, riverine forest in the Kilola Valley.
The expansion of Ruaha, comprises the Usangu plains and wetland.
This is a fabulous new resource for the Park, as it encompasses
a very large wetland area which is home to a vast array of waterbirds.
During the breeding season thousands arrive to breed and it
is spectacular. However, this is still very much in its infancy
and so accessibility is not possible at present. The Parks are
working on installing roads and other infrastructure. The most
exciting species we have here is the Wattled crane. This area
is a fabulous compliment to the rest of Ruaha, as it now will
offer a complete diversity of habitats, from Highland forest,
Miombo woodlands, lowland savannah with Acacia and mixed woodland,
and the vast Usangu wetland.
buy Robs annotated bird list at the gate which not only give
you a complete list of birds found in Ruaha but also descries
all 574 species and where you are most likely to find them.
in Ruaha National Park is extremely interesting and rewarding.
Ruaha is located in south-central Tanzania, a location that
until recently has been difficult and expensive to get to.
Due to its vast size, thanks to a massive extension to incorporate
the Usangu wetlands, Ruaha has doubled from 10,200 to 20,220
sq.km. In addition to this, Ruaha is fortunate to be surrounded
almost 360 degrees, by Game Reserves, plus west of these Reserves
are yet more Forest Reserves, so the whole ecosystem, is a
vast, virtually untouched, wilderness area of more than 45,000
remote areas are difficult to access particularly during the
wet season, therefore, little “serious” birding
has been done in these seldom visited places. Rob and I are
both artists, Rob a sculptor and I am a painter, and in our
spare time we are avid birders. We have been extremely privileged
to have lived in Ruaha National Park for 17 years, during that
time Rob compiled the official, Annotated Park Bird List, which
now stands at 572 species. We have managed to pull up some very
interesting records, two of them new species.
We first came to live in Ruaha National Park in June 1994. It
was about a year after this that I decided to do a large water-colour
painting of the Red-billed Hornbills that were so plentiful
in the Park. I always work from life, so I set off one morning
in search of these beautifully patterned birds, hoping to find
some willing to pose for me for more than a few seconds! Sure
enough, they were everywhere, and I stopped often to look carefully
at the facial details, as this is always the most important
part one needs to “get right”. I became rather bemused
as all the birds I stopped to look at had black grubby faces,
and pale eyes, nothing like the cleaner looking Red-billed hornbills
I had painted in Tarangire National Park, in northern Tanzania.
Those had pink skin, dark eyes and plenty of white on the face.
that time I was very much a “novice” birder, I thought
them to be young birds, so I decided to continue looking for
the appropriate subject. Over the course of several days I never
found what I was looking for, absolutely all the Hornbills I
had observed over more than 600 sq km had black faces and pale
eyes. On my return to camp I mentioned to Rob that there was
something funny about the Hornbills here. “ Oh nonsense”
he replied, “these are all Red-billed Hornbills”.
To cut a long story short, it didn’t take Rob long to
agree with me. There was something different about the Hornbills
in Ruaha. In the 1960s and early 1970s.
did extensive collecting for various American museums, of birds,
small mammals and bats all over Africa, so he was very familiar
with the scientific side of birding. Thus, he began the process
of collecting DNA samples, documenting the differences of our
bird, and sent the whole lot down to Alan Kemp in South Africa.
Alan, was by chance at that time, reviewing all the African
Hornbills. In due course, we were told that the DNA was indeed
different, and that this was a “new species”. We,
and the Park officials were thrilled and it was duly called,
Tockus ruahae, the Ruaha Red-billed Hornbill. The extent
and range of these birds is clearly indicated on the map, which
was kindly supplied by Neil and Liz Baker, from their Tanzania
Bird Atlas. (In Sinclair and Ryan, Birds of Africa, South of
the Sahara, Second Edition, 2010, this bird has been erroneously
named Tanzania Red-billed Hornbill, instead of the published
name, Ruaha Red-billed Hornbill.)
after the excitement of this had died down, Rob and I were enjoying
a trip in a remote and unexplored, relic, highland forest, in
the extreme western portion of the Ruaha Park. At 1,800 m this
small forested area has proved to be most interesting for birds,
which is another story altogether! However, in 2002, just as
we were leaving this highland forest, to head back home to the
lower Ruaha Valley, I spied a black and white bird that was
hopping around, it looked similar to Arnots White-headed Black
Chat, (Pentholaea arnotti), but this bird had a black
cap and a complete white collar, encircling the neck. It flew
off, and I couldn't locate it again to show Rob, I was very
excited about my find, but we had to leave. So it would have
to wait until we returned the following dry season.
2003, we returned, and set up our camp in a slightly different
location. We were surprised and thrilled to find that we were
right next to a nest that belonged to the black and white bird
with the cap and collar that I had seen the previous trip. We
were traveling with the Chief Park Warden, Mr Mtahiko and the
chief ecologist, Gladis Ng’umbe, so we got the go-ahead
to collect DNA samples. We also took loads of photos, and I
did several paintings too. We all became very fond of this brave
little bird who hopped around so happily, totally unfazed about
us camping in her space. The nest was in a hole at the top of
a 4 ft stump, which was located right amongst a busy area of
camp activities, so we had fabulous viewing of our new bird!
Again, Rob took charge of the scientific side of things and
sent all our information to Dr. Rauri Bowie, in South Africa.
Rauri was meticulous with his investigations and left no stone
unturned, so we were kept on our toes. We travelled extensively
in western Tanzania, looking to see the extent of this bird.
We also had the support of Neil and Liz Baker, who are currently
working on the Bird Atlas of Tanzania, and their support group
added to the sightings. In the end, we found that its range
began west of the Eastern Arc Mountains, south into Zambia and
as far west as eastern Congo and Rwanda.
the Eastern Arc Mountains provide the boundary between the Ruaha
Chat and the nominate, Arnots White-headed Black Chat, east
of these mountains you will only find Arnots White-headed Black
Chat. Information was flying backwards and forwards by email
and phone calls to Rauri, who had then moved to Berkeley University,
California, to take up a professorship, lecturing in ornithology.
Between us, we continued to compile more and more information.
Finally, some 7 and a half years after I first saw our “new”
Chat, the paper has been accepted and we have yet another “new”
species. They have been called Pentholaea collaris, or the Ruaha
Chat. The difference between this new bird and the Arnots white
headed black chat is in the plumage of the female. The male
however, is identical to Arnots Whiteheaded Black Chat. (If
anyone is looking up this bird in the second edition (2010)
of Ryan and Sinclair's Birds of Africa, South of the Sahara,
please note the Latin name therein is incorrect, also the picture
depicts the plumage of a young female, who has not yet matured
into the diagnostic, full white collar encircling the neck).
would like to thank all the people who helped us on this journey
of discovery, most of all we would like to thank the then, Chief
Park Warden of Ruaha, Mr Mtahiko, who’s enthusiasm and
co-operation never wavered, plus Godwell Meing’ataki the
Chief Park Ecologist and current acting Warden in Charge for
his invaluable help. Dr. Rauri Bowie was fantastic, and we are
really indebted to his hard work and enthusiasm for the project.
We were delighted when after 8 years of knowing Rauri only through
emails, we were able to meet face to face. We enjoyed very much
having dinner together in our nearest town, Iringa. Needless
to say, we had an awful lot to “chat” about! The
circle is now complete, but whose to say there aren’t
more surprises in store!
the western miombo area of Ruaha, we have noticed other exciting
differences which may represent new species. A Weaver, a Tit,
and seemingly a variation of the norm, in the Greencapped Eromomela.
We are confident that the White-tailed cisticola yet to be named
from Kilombero, in SE Tanzania, is also found here in isolated
marsh situations. Further more, a Crested Guineafowl in Ruaha,
which was originally thought to be Guttera p pucherani,
but on our investigation, transpires to be the same as the original
Guttera pucherani granti, named from one specimen collected
from Dodoma, in 1871 (Elliot ), to the north of Ruaha. Mysteriously
this race was dropped from all literature. This bird sports
red on the face, and red under the chin with a broad, plain
black collar. However, after our investigations, we found that
this bird is certainly much more widespread than previously
thought and is now known from Lake Manyara in the north, the
Harar Hills and Bwi Hills (Pienaar Heights) between Babati and
Kondoa, Ruaha National Park, the areas south of Ruaha, the Udzungwa
National Park, and Mikumi National Park. We are, together with
Don Turner, in the process of reinstating this bird to its original
lies on the convergence zone of northern and southern flora
and fauna, hence we have a wide and unusual variety of plants
and animals. It follows then, that the birds should be as equally
diverse and interesting.
recent expansion of Ruaha, comprises the Usangu plains and wetland.
This is a fabulous new resource for the Park, encompassing a
very large wetland area which is home to a vast array of waterbirds.
During the breeding season thousands arrive here to breed and
it is spectacular. The most exciting species in this location
is the Wattled crane. The wetland is a fabulous compliment to
the rest of Ruaha.
is a fascinating place to live, every day presents new excitements
great and small. I keep detailed records of the birds, animals,
weather and the vegetation, which are invaluable. Everyday we
learn new things about our fabulous environment and how the
birds, animals, trees, flowers, sunshine, rainfall, insects,
etc. all depend on what everything else is doing, or not doing.
Nothing can stand alone and nothing can be isolated from the
whole. In short the “big picture” is all important.
are extremely privileged to be living in this Paradise. We would
like to take this opportunity to thank Tanzania National Parks
for their help and support, and to congratulate them on the
excellent way they manage their Parks.
Information Whilst birding is good at all times the inclusion
of migrant species would be from September to late May.
is only one rainy season, generally it begins in December and
ends late March or mid April. During the rains the Park is very
lush and green, with wonderful flowers and breeding birds, the
Ruaha River looks superb too. In my view, April through to the
end of June is an extremely beautiful time of year, especially
for flowers and trees, though game viewing is not as rewarding
as it is later in the dry season. From end of July the vegetation
begins to dry, by September it looks very grey with little greenery,
these drier months are however, a great time for game viewing.
October and November tend to be very dry, and hot, but at all
times Ruaha holds its own charm, and every season has its own
particular magic. Most areas of the Park are accessible all
year round, however, some of the more remote Miombo areas are
difficult during the rainy season but are accessible from July
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