Published: January 20th 2012January 20th 2012
The Dirt Airstrip Into Selous
The Rufiji River in the background
We flew to Selous Game Reserve on Monday morning (2012-01-16), on another Caravan 208B 12 seater. Only one pilot, this time, who was somewhat concerned about weather reports about a rain storm heading for Selous from the Indian Ocean. Rain in Tanzania in January is almost unheard of, but since the "dry season" was supposed to have begun in mid-December, parts of Tanzania have had more rain than the whole of the last "big rains" season. That is probably because last March to May East Africa was still in a severe drought. Thankfully that seems to be ending, even for hardest hit Somalia. Unfortunately a big storm in Dar es Salaam in late December caused flooding that killed 14 people in the poorer neighbourhoods we visited (see the "coffee" blog entry).
Luckily no rain came during our flight, or upon landing. The dirt airstrip, far from flat or entirely straight, would have been even trickier if it was muddy. We were met at the airstrip by our driver and our guide with fresh pineapple juice and a snack. This way we could go right into our first "game drive". It didn't take long for Ezra, our guide for the next
three days, to figure out that we are quite interested in birds. Thankfully he is an expert. By Tuesday night I would say we had easily doubled the number of "tick marks" for sightings in our East Africa bird guide.
I doubt Selous was primarily planned as a site to protect bird species. But thankfully the 50,000 square KM's will help in that regard. Neither Barbe nor I are serious birders, but we have gotten a lot better at sighting them. You kind of have to catch a glimpse of the bird with the naked eye before you can zoom in with your binocs. If they are in a thick foliage area, it can be very tricky. The bigger or more colourful the bird, the easier it is. The most colourful ones tend to be the smallest. Around here that's the weaver birds (who makes those spherical nests one blade of grass at a time, while in flight), the bright blue starlings, and the malachite kingfishers, who are mostly bright blue, but with a dash of red, green and white thrown in. Oh, and you can't forget the bee-eaters, of which there are several varieties.
One of the
greatest pressures on bird populations is loss of habitat. There seems litte danger of that around here, but many of the other national parks we've visited so far do have farms and villages lapping at their edges. Coincidentally, Barbe and I both read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom
, a novel, in the last two weeks. (Books are so heavy to carry we both have to read the same things... I know we could have carried a lot more reading material with an electronic reader, but for that you need easy access to electricity, which is scarce this week, in a facility reliant on a generator.) Carol was reading it when we were in Zanzibar, so we borrowed it.
The novel is situated within a political backdrop of an activist trying to find the most effective way to preserve a habitat for an endangered songbird species in West Virginia. I think he succeeds in making the issues of human development quite accessible.
Anyway, back to Selous... Tuesday we took our second boat safari, a fairly rare African treat, a feature of a camp situated on a large river. The Rufiji river, about 600 KM's long also opens into at least four
Carefully building its distinctive nest
lakes along the length accessible to this camp. Today we motored upstream to "Bird Island". We passed dozens of hippos mostly submerged in the water, and even saw one croccodile slither from its perch on the bank into the muddy depths. Bird island, vaguely round and not even a KM in diameter, is a refuge for the water birds that flock here. There are hundreds of herons (3 types), egrets, and others, stinking the place up with their droppings.
Just as we'd had about enough of their squauking, we looked over at the far shore to see a group of elephants and a group of giraffes drinking at the shore of the river. We zoomed over to get a closer look, which is a lot easier in a boat than a jeep on land, but both were much shyer creatures than we've seen in other parks, and quickly melted into the woods.
The Impala Camp where we are staying is definitely not "for the birds" as the saying goes. Although we are in tents, it is also quite luxurious. The tents are on platforms high over the river. Each tent has a dressing room with double vanity sinks,
running water, a toilet and a shower. There are staff to attend to all kinds of needs, including the ubiquitous Masai who escort you around the camp after dark so you don't get eaten by a lion or trampled by a hippo. We are drinking it all in because very soon we will be into the part of our trip that involves a very different type of camping.
(More photos below!)
There are more photos below