I knew three things about the Tanzanian city of Mwanza before coming here: one, that it’s the second-largest city in the country after Dar es Salaam. Two, it’s a major port on Lake Victoria. Three, it was the setting for the documentary Darwin’s Nightmare. Even if you haven’t seen the film, the name should tell you something – it put Mwanza on the map for the environmental destruction and social ills including arms trading, drugs and prostitution tied to exports of the infamous Nile perch. Nominated for an Oscar, it wasn’t so well-received in Tanzania (to put it lightly).
I won’t be here nearly long enough to poke around and confirm or refute any nightmarish consequences of the fish industry, but now that I’m sitting in Mwanza I can confirm three things: one, it is definitely on Lake Victoria, as I’m looking right at it. Two, fish is very important to people and the economy, first and foremost the revered tilapia. Three, the birding is incredible.
I first noticed this while a large brown eagle of some sort sternly inspected me having coffee on the hotel terrace this morning (right), as other birds swirled around making a quite a racket. Having a little free time after work today, I went for a long walk up a big hill around Capri Point on the outskirts of town, which, like much of Mwanza’s hilly terrain, is formed of big boulders that houses and shacks build around rather than blast away. It was late in the day, prime birding hour, and my walk felt more like a bird-watching geek-out in the bush rather than a walk in a port city with over a million inhabitants.
Because I happen to enjoy urban biodiversity and found an abundance of information about fish but very little celebrating Mwanza’s birdlife, below is my attempt to do so with a collection of photos from my sunset peri-urban bird safari (and a feeble stab at taxonomy).
All photos by author.