A few days ago I went birding with Mr. James Wolstencroft. He is a birder, but also knows his mammals, plants, trees, well a true naturalist. I guess meeting James is like meeting a modern day Dr. Livingstone. Truely british but with a profound love for Africa.
We met in Arusha and the plan was to see the extremely rare Beesley’s Lark only found in a small area north of Arusha. After driving for about 30 minutes we reached the area and soon after a Nubian Woodpecker was seen.
The plains around Engikaret are also know as the Lark Plains. It is an area the size of quite a few soccer fields, but yet obviously limited in size. It is weird to know that this tiny area contains the whole worlds population of Beesley’s Lark.
As we started to look for larks the first species found was Fawn-coloured (or Foxy) Lark, which was quite common in the area. But is was only seen around bushes and shrubbery. Not out on the short-grassed fields.
The second lark was Fischer’s Sparrow-lark which was very common. It likes dry dusty areas and thus James called it a bird of the future – a future were specialists decrease and generalists will take over.
Soon after a Short-tailed Lark gave nice views. A cool lark with a very distinctive head pattern and an almost Dupontish bill.
It the more open areas Athi Short-toed Lark (split from Somali Short-toed Lark) was the most common lark. One bird was even seen nest-building.
Another common and colorful lark was the Red-capped Lark. It is striking with its red cap. A few Rufos-naped Larks were also seen on the plains, but after 2 hours we still hadn’t found any Beesley’s Larks.
Once the population had been estimated to 1000 pairs. Then a new assessment said 65. And even James got a bit worried – ‘cause we had checked a good chunk of the area without seeing any birds.
We did check and check and talk and talk – about used Land Rovers, Shetland vs the Faroes, African birds and ecology… And finally James in a calm voice stated: There is one here!
A few hundred meters away a bird was foraging and soon another one was located. They gave good views and their calls were also heard. And what a weird bird! Rather than flying away it just ran away if you got too close. But if you stood still it could walk very close to you. Buff breast, long bill, very short tail and an obvious supercilium. It somehow gave a Rosy-breasted Longclaw feel – except for the colours.
As we headed back to the car we stumbled upon another pair of Beesley’s. So at least there are four birds remaining. But with intense grazing, the spread of shrubbery and bushes and the birds very limited range it might not have a future – so now is the time to enjoy this little weird fellow. It might be too late next year.
On the plains we also saw two Lanner Falcons, more than 100 Chesnut-bellied Sandgrouses, a few Taita Fiscals, Speke’s weaver, lots of Capped Wheatears and two Greater Kestrels.
We then headed for the some wooded areas but that is material for another blog post.
James know his birds, but his love for nature is just as appealing. It felt like we could go on talking for days that is. So birding with him means not only good birds but also good company.
If you wish to get some inspiration on birding it Tanzania just read his blog post here:
or contact him directly on: email@example.com