Birding in Ruaha National Park is extremely interesting and rewarding. There are 574 species recorded within the Park to date.
The remote areas are difficult to access particularly during the wet season, therefore, little ‘serious’ birding has been done in these seldom visited places. This makes it even more exciting as one can never be sure what one will see.
Ruaha is located in south-central Tanzania. Due to its vast size, the whole ecosystem, is a vast, virtually untouched, wilderness area of more that 45,000 sq. km. Ruaha lies on the convergence zone of northern and southern flora and fauna, and as such has a wide and unusual variety of plants and animals. It follows then, that the birds should be as equally diverse and interesting. The altitude is 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, in the Isunkaviola Hills, it reaches an altitude of 1,868m.
Vegetation 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.
Ruaha Park has now been expanded to include 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, accessibility to this area is still very much in its infancy and so at present if one wants to visit this area, it needs to be planned in conjunction with National Park wardens. Park staff are currently working on installing roads and other infrastructure. This area is a fabulous compliment to the rest of Ruaha, as it now offers the visitor a complete diversity of habitats, from Highland forest and Miombo woodlands to lowland savannah with Acacia and mixed woodland as well as the vast Usangu wetland. The most exciting species we have seen in Usangu is the Wattled crane.
Violet-Backed starling | Magangwe
Birding in Ruaha
African crake | Magangwe
Green wood-hoopoe | Magangwe
Yellow-mantled widowbird | Magangwe
Marico sunbird | Magangwe
Irania | Magangwe
The life along the Ruaha River Valley is varied and very interesting. Here you can find many of the water related birds, such as White-crowned Plover, (Vanellus albiceps) Open-billed storks, (Anastomus lamelligerus) and African Skimmers, (Rynchops flavirostris). We have a very healthy population of raptors, including Black Eagles (Aquila verreauxii). There are also many other species, such as both the Bare-faced Go-away bird (Coythaixoides personatus) and the White bellied Go-away bird, (Criniferoides leucogaster). Bare-eyed thrush, (Turdus tephronotus). Yellow- collared lovebirds (Agapornis personatus), Speckle-fronted wavers (Sporopipes frontalis), Ashy starlings (Cosmopsarus unicolor), Superb starlings (Lamprotornis superbus), D’arnauds Barbet (Trachyphonus darnaudii), White-headed buffalo weaver (Dinemellia dinemelli) Blue-capped cordon-bleu (Uraeginthus cyanocephalus), and of course the Ruaha red-billed Hornbill (Tockus ruahae) to name just a few!
Many of the birds in the extensive miombo woodland areas are different species to the ones along the Ruaha Valley. These include various ‘miombo specialists' along with other interesting species. These include Racket-tailed roller (Coracias spatulatus), Spotted creeper (Salpornis spilonotus), Miombo grey tit (Parus griseiventris) Yellow-bellied hyliota (Hyliota flavigaster), Miombo scrub robin (Cercotrichas barbata), Thick-billed cuckoo (Pachycoccyx audeberti), Schalow’s turaco (Tauraco schalowi), Spot-flanked Barbet (Tricholaema lacrymosa). Green-headed sunbird (Cyanomitra verticalis). We have also turned up some new locality and breeding records such as Streaky-breasted Flufftail (Sarathrura boehmi), Pearl-breasted swallow (Hirundo dimibiata) and Yellow-mantled widowbird (Euplectes macrourus).
In addition there are an unusual forest species you may see in the highland areas many of which have not previously been recorded this far east. These include Black-backed Barbet (Lybius minor), Southern citril (Serinus hypostictus) and the African Hill-babbler (Pseudoalcippe abyssinica), which, interestingly, it is of the nominate race, as opposed to the race P. stierlingi which is found in the Mufindi Highlands of the Eastern Arc which lie 165 km to the SE of Isunkaviola. We also see the Pearl-breasted swallow (Hirundo dimibiata), in eastern Ruaha. This was previously known by only one record from Mbeya in southern Tanzania. We have since found the swallow is breeding here, so this represents a new breeding population for Tanzania. Our records of Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher (Trochocercus cyanomelas) are an extension of its known range. We have also recorded Western Violet-backed Sunbird (Anthreptes longuemarei) in the west of Ruaha. Whilst this species is recorded in southern Tanzania, it is of interest to note that the altitude and vegetational differences in Isunkaviola represent the divide between this and A. orientalis, which is present in the low altitude areas of Ruaha National Park. These records represent an interesting extension to known range.
We sometimes have great influxes of Blue Quails, that we suspect are breeding, and we often have Corn crakes spending the winter months with us at Magangwe. Contrary to what one reads in bird books, they are often vocal with their loud ‘Crek crek crek' when they are landing into the long grass.
Ruaha is also on one of the migration routes for eurasian and palearctic birds. Some years we witness hundreds upon hundreds of Hobbies and Amur falcons passing through. On one occasion they came in ‘en mass’ flying in front of a huge storm. It was late evening and they stopped for the night, roosting on the branches of the bare miombo trees. They looked completely exhausted, bedraggled from the weather and their arduous journey. It is humbling to observe such a feat of determination first hand. Most of them left by dawn.
It is a fascinating place to live and every day presents new excitements great and small. Everyday we learn new things about our fabulous environment and how the birds, animals, trees, flowers, sunshine, rainfall and insects all depend on what everything else is doing, or not doing. Nothing can stand alone and nothing can be isolated from the whole. The ‘big picture’ is all important. We are extremely privileged to be living in this Paradise.
Species you may see
Whilst birding is good at all times, the inclusion of migrant species would be from September to late May makes this period particularly appealing.
There is only one rainy season and generally it begins in December and ends late March to early April. During the rains the Park is very lush and green, with wonderful flowers and the River looks superb. From end of July, the vegetation begins to dry, so by September, it looks very grey with little greenery. This is, however, a great time for game viewing.
Some of the areas of the Park are accessible all year round, but many of the more remote areas are difficult to access during the rainy season. These parts can accessed from May to December during the dry season.
View more photos of Ruaha's birds here.