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Dawn Chorus - Tanzania

This recording brings you an extraordinary morning of birdsong from East Africa.

In the darkness before dawn, Nightjars and an African Scops Owl call quietly, before groups of Spotted Morning-thrushes break the stillness with pure, melodious song.

Over the next hour, the birdsong builds in waves, with Bulbuls, Doves, Bru-Brus, Hornbills, Go-Away-Birds, Spurfowl, Long-crested Eagle, Francolins, Puffbacks and Orioles all joining the growing dawn chorus.

This is a vibrant recording, rich with the diversity of birdlife to be encountered in the African dry tropics.

"The location of this recording, in Mkomazi National Park northeast Tanzania, felt very remote. Sarah and I were at the beginning of our field trip to Africa, and travelling with our guide and driver Roger, and cook Ali, both of whom would become firm friends over the coming weeks of our journey.

"We entered Mkomazi, and drove for several hours along dirt tracks through gently undulating bushland, eventually arriving at a small riperian area to camp under spreading acacias. It was one of our first nights out in Africa. I had little idea of what to expect, but a head full of images of prowling nocturnal carnivores. Roger informed us that this was not likely however, as the area had been extensively poached out before being declared a national park, and wildlife numbers were only slowly recovering.

"Nevertheless, it was with some trepidation that I emerged from my tent in the predawn darkness, having been hearing distant elephants throughout the night. Gathering my gear, I set off on foot to place my microphones some short distance away, where I thought the habitat would be ideal - among thick bushes facing that riperian treeline. At one point I disturbed a small roosting bird, which startled the bejeezus out of me. It was with some relief that I hurried back to camp, leaving the microphones to capture the dawn.

"This dawn chorus turned out to be one of the richest we experienced in Tanzania. It is so gloriously vibrant and diverse. I love the way that small birds moving through the bushes close by contrast with larger-voiced species further distant, creating a good sonic balance. And for once, the pervasive cooing of pigeons that we were to find overwhelming in dry country elsewhere, seemed to be less omnipresent.

"The download version of this album contains a bonus track, recorded the previous afternoon at the same spot."

These notes are no doubt incomplete, as my knowledge of the extraordinary diversity of east African birdlife is somewhat superficial.

Slender-tailed Nightjar: rapid, almost mechanical 'chopping' call (from 0:00)
African Scops Owl: 'kroou' call repeated every few seconds (beginning 1:05 - 7:25)
Olive Baboons: distantly to the right (2:21)
Insectivorous bat: there were numerous bats present, this one giving engagement echolocation calls to hone in on a target (2:38, 5:02)
Spotted Morning-thrush: several family groups have territories along riperian habitat in front of the microphones (first bout of singing 3:15, frequently thereafter)
A mixture of doves begin calling, including Ring-necked Doves (one on its own 9:52), and lower-toned Red-eyed Doves (several from 10:38), and Emerald-spotted Wood Doves (one in background, descending "poo-poo-poo…", 10:38)

The dawn chorus builds between 20:00 - 30:00. With all this songbird activity, I don't know what half of it is! The Morning-thrushes are continuing in fine and prominent voice, but there are several smaller bird species heard here too.

Emerald-Spotted Wood Dove (a few nearby and clear, 34:03)
Yellow-necked Spurfowl: loud, cyclic, grating calls (eg; 37:50, 40:53)
Two different species of Bulbuls, possibly a (Little?) Greenbul (39:02, 39:05, 39:09…, and later from 46:09...) and a Common Bulbul (more melodic song, 39:07)
Love to know what the very distinctive nasal 'sneeze' is! (40:10)
The birds fluttering around the microphones and uttering quick 'chip's (from 40:52, moving away by about 42:15) may be (Variable?) Sunbirds. It may be the same pair returning shortly after with higher frequency chittering (44:37 - 46:04)
A high-pitched melodic song is heard every few seconds (from 46:50 - around 48:28) - no idea what it is, a weaver?

Morning-thrush again (47:17)
An African Black-headed Oriole begins calling off to the right (47:38)
Not sure… (49:10 - 49:17)
A Long-crested Eagle flies in calling, perches (49:09 - 49:17), and begins giving wheezy calls later (50:19). You can hear it fly off eventually (56:04)
A Black-backed Puffback begins giving a series of upward whistles that goes on for several minutes (around 52:46 - stopping at 56:28)
Three Woolly-necked Storks, which have been perched nearby, take off and fly past on heavy wingbeats (54:39 - 55:10)
The unusual 'quacking' calls of White-bellied Go-Away-Birds are heard to left and right (56:28, and for the next minute or so)
The unidentified 'sneezing' bird returns (59:25, 59:57). The oriole is calling repeatedly here.

A White-bellied Go-Away-Bird calls close by (61:30, 62:05), and the Puffback also returns (67:07)
Another mystery call; a loud and distinctive upward rising series of notes then quick downslurs (a large cuckoo?) (67:50 - 68:20)

Several small bird species come around with zitting or chipping high-pitched calls. With Spurfowl and others, its pretty busy from around 68:00 - 73:00
Crested Francolins are mixed in with the Spurfowl, with similarly cyclical and harsh calling, although lighter in tone (eg: 73:27 - 73:37)
Slaty-coloured Boubous have been around, calling unobtrusively for a while, but can now be heard more clearly (rich toneful calls 73:54, … and more throaty variations (female in response?) 74:16…)
White-bellied Go-Away-Bird close by (76:08)

The morning birdsong, though still rich, begins thinning out a little from around 78:00 on. I'm not recognising any new voices except this last unidentified one (the Puffback again?) (88:43…)

Mkomazi National Park protects a vast land area, made larger by bordering onto extensive reserves in neighbouring Kenya.

Reading the tourism literature, one would imagine Mkomazi to be less touristed than parks such as the Serengeti, but equally packed with big wildlife. Certainly we encountered few other visitors, however we also only sighting a handful of distant elephant, zebra and impala during the several days we were there. The landscape itself, while generally dry and sometimes sparsely vegetated (it is at the southern limit of the Sahel), nevertheless seemed healthy, and certainly capable of hosting wildlife in large numbers. So Roger's claim of overpoaching in previous decades seemed plausible.

Mkomazi seems to be a classic case of whether to celebrate the success of conservation measures, or decry the social cost of how they were achieved at the expense of local peoples, who were using the region to graze tens of thousands of cattle, and at an increasing rate, before being evicted during the 1980s.

Certainly the park is famous for breeding programs for rare African wild dogs and black rhinoceros, and this has bought international funding to support rangers and local programs. As an Australian, I know the damage that massed cattle can inflict on the country, and we witnessed serious land degradation that results from it elsewhere in Tanzania. And as a visitor, we found the country to be so rich with birdlife that it was ridiculous - we spent our days just ambling along tracks observing new species at every turn.

If this diversity, and the return of native wildlife, are outcomes of the national park's management, then it is to be supported. Meanwhile the history of the park's establishment should offer lessons about how to include local peoples into the decision making process, so they benefit and feel it is their park too.

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Also links to photo gallery for this album


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