|This sign greeted us at the start of the forest - not sure what it says...|
The forest is about 25,000 ha in size and consists of 3/4 seasonal swamp forest and 1/4 seasonally flooded grassland with Acacia woodland. It is fairly low-lying and flat and large areas are regularly inundated by the flooding of the Kagera River to the south.
|Leen, Terri and Jenny watching butterflies and birds.|
|A flock of butterflies|
The forest has been extensively logged for the large, valuable Podocarpus trees in the past and these are now scarce and small. Illegal logging on an unknown scale continues. The forest is continuous with the Malabigambo Forest Reserve in nearby Uganda border.
Minziro Forest is important because it is one of the largest forests in Tanzania. It is more important however because it represents a type of forest found nowhere else in the country and one which is more similar to the forests further west in the Congo and Guinea. It therefore contains plant and animal species that reach their eastern range limits here and occur nowhere else in Tanzania. 58 of the 245 bird species recorded in the reserve are not found outside Kagera in Tanzania and 56 of these have only been seen in Minziro. Minziro Forest also has over 600 butterfly species - more than any other forest in Africa.
|Terri searching for one of the few elephants left in the reserve|
So, with all these facts, we wanted to visit the forest. The local tour company will take us into the forest with a bird guide for about US$200 per person per day. There is supposed to be an access fee but they will never tell me who the fee is to be paid to. We decided to do it ourselves and, if nothing else, have a nice drive.
As it turned out the drive was an easy 90 minutes, the 20 km of gravel road was smooth and the few people we met on the road in the forest were friendly and demanded nothing but our greetings.
With Jenny and I were Terri (from Maryland, Texas and soon New Mexico) and Leen (from Belgium). Terri has been here for a year and a half working to empower women through micro-loans etc. She leaves us to resume her academic career in the USA on Wednesday morning. Leen has recently arrived and is working on developing the banana industry. She will be here for a year - possibly two. Both lovely young women, interested in the plants and animals of the forest.
"What about the birds?" you ask.
Since it was just a first reconnaissance visit I was very pleased with the birds we saw. Only 34 species for the forest (including adjacent grasslands) but several of the 56 forest specialists and 10 lifers for me in all. We basically parked the car on the side of the road in a few likely places and walked along the road or on some of the tiny paths that lead into the dense forest. The forest was quiet but the roadside edges were productive.
Highlights were Great Blue Turaco, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Western Nicator, Plain Greenbul, Whinchat, Moustached Grass Warbler, Black-throated Apalis, Isabelline Shrike and Western Oriole.
Now that we know how easy it is to get to we will make as many visits as we can over the next 6 months.
Sunday 5th December, Bukoba