We found a frog in the room late last night - cute little thing. David took it outside and let it go.
I shall want to have coffee and biscuits brought me every morning when I get home – but preferably not at 05:45!
Last night David half-jokingly said about having baked beans for breakfast this morning – and today this Pyrex bowl of beans turned up! Where on earth did they find those in the middle of the bush?
Guess what? Another stunning sunrise this morning.
When Dickson said about spending the day looking for cats and other animals, I was actually quite grateful. Much as I loved seeing the crossings, spending two whole days just waiting for a few minutes of excitement is enough.
Black Backed Jackal
Vultures on a Wildebeest carcass
Wildebeest migrations are closely followed by vultures, as wildebeest carcasses are an important source of food for these scavengers. The vultures consume about 70% of the wildebeest carcasses available.
The marabou stork always reminds me of chocolate. Why, I hear you ask? Growing up in Norway, one of the most popular chocolates used a marabou stork as its emblem.
Sweet childhood memories aside, the marabou is ugly as sin, and the fact that it is a carrion-eating scavenger doesn't really add to its appeal.
The marabou storks soars great heights and will descend on a carcass at high speed in a vulture-like fashion. In fact, it has been known to to drive away vultures when feeding on a carcass. The marabou also eats locusts, frogs and small birds.
African White Backed Vulture
As we were heading for the “bridge” to do our very own Mara River Crossing this morning, we came across a couple of lionesses sunning themselves on the opposite river bank.
On our side of the river a large lizard family were emerging from their crevice to enjoy the morning sun.
A dazzle of zebra
So, the eternal question – are they white with black stripes or black with white stripes? Some people think that a zebra is white because its stripes end towards the belly and the belly is mostly white. However, the zebra is actually black because if you shaved all the fur off a zebra the skin is mostly black. Not that I have ever tried shaving a zebra...
At first glance zebras in a herd might all look alike, but their stripe patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints in humans. Their shiny coats dissipate over 70 % of incoming heat, and helps the animals withstand intense solar radiation.
A tower of giraffe
The giraffe has no vocal cord, although the can cough, bellow and miauw , snort, moo, snore and hiss. Mostly they communicate with their tail though.
Giraffe have one of the shortest sleep requirements of any mammal, averaging only 1.9 hours per day
Unlike many animals, the giraffe sees in colour
A family of elephants
Elephants are found in matriarchal herds (or “memory” as a group of elephants are also known as) usually led by the oldest cow. Much like humans then. Closely knit families are made up of a number of related females and their dependent young. Female elephants stay with their mothers all their lives, whereas males leave the family unit upon reaching adolescence, usually around 12-13 years old.
During a recent survey (in May and June this year), 7,535 elephants were counted in the whole of the Mara Serengeti eco-system, which is an increasing trend from 2,058 in 1986.
Elephants are the largest land mammal in the world – they can weigh up to 6½ tons! Put in to context, the original mini weighed under 700kg and the average family car these days – our Toyota Prius for instance – weighs 1325kg. So these guys are basically five times the weight of a car and totally not worth messing with! The African elephant by the way is considerably bigger than the Asian one, with bigger ears.
At one stage we were completely surrounded by elephants, going about their daily life, eating breakfast.
The river is full of activity, with hippos....
…. Yellow Billed Stork ...
... and crocodile
In order to reach the area north of the Mara River known as Lamai Wedge, we have to cross a “bridge” - just a concrete causeway really, which gets flooded regularly after the rains.
In fact you can see what it what like when we drove past it on the way up through Serengeti the day we arrived.
Lamai is 300 square miles of open plains, similar to the landscape of the Masai Mara in Kenya which forms one of its borders. This sweeping vista of rolling grasslands, dotted with the occasional acacia tree, is of stark contrast to the rest of Northern Serengeti's dense woodlands south of the river, where the herds of wildebeest tend to split up and stay in amongst the trees. Here in Lamai you can really appreciate the full visual impact of the massive wildebeest herds – the vast landscape stretching endlessly beyond covered in a vast carpet of gnus.
In amongst the four legged animals we came across this Crowned Plover and her two cute little chicks, very well camouflaged in the grass.
As far as the eye can see, in all direction, are wildebeest. And more wildebeest. Dickson estimated there were around 150-200,000 of them, the numbers are just totally mind-blowing.
The shifting, grunting, grazing mass of animals is like a giant wasp's nest, buzzing with life and movement.
Everywhere you look there are wildebeest. And more wildebeest. Up to a million hooves pounding the open plains.
And the odd Thomson's Gazelle....
A lone concrete beacon marks the border between the Serengeti in Tanzania and Masai Mara in Kenya. No fences, no border posts, no passport control. Does this make us illegal immigrants?
After the frenzy of the Mara River crossings which unsurprisingly attracts a number of tourist cars (although apparently nowhere near the amount they get on the Kenyan side), the main draw here is the peace and tranquillity – we see no other vehicles for hours. Just wildebeest, wildebeest and more wildebeest.
Even in death, the wildebeest continues to be part of the eco-system, attracting a large number of vultures.
Different species of vultures have different beaks – they have evolved to feed from different parts of the carcass so they don't compete for food and can co-exist quite happily. Ain't nature grand?
Here you can see a Nubian Vulture at the back on the left, with the African White Backed in front of him. On the right is the Rueppell's Griffon and a Marabou Stork standing behind.
African White Backed Vulture
Sometimes the vultures eat so much they are physically incapable of flying – they then have to spend some time resting on the ground until the food is digested so they can manage to take off.
Photos cannot convey the enormousness of the landscape itself, let alone the experience of driving through the centre of a massive herd of wild animals with the surround sound of grunting wildebeest.
Reedbuck near a small stream
The stream was also home to a Pied Kingfisher.
Marabou Storks are one of the heaviest birds that can fly; with a wing span of up to 2.8 metres, they are enormous! Their toes and legs are hollow in a bid to make them lighter for flying.
The Marabou stork has a long, reddish pouch (gular sac) hanging from its neck which can be filled with air in hot weather in order to increase surface area for heat dissipation. This sack is also used in courtship rituals as it is directly connected to the left nostril and acts as a resonator allowing the bird to produce a guttural croaking.
Male ostriches have a harem of 3 to 5 females, all of which lay their eggs at a similar time in a nest made by the male. The social life of the ostrich is one of the most complex in the animal world. The male and his females all live together in small troops. Incubation is shared by both parents, only one hen being chosen for the job. Ostrich eggs weigh up to 1.5kg and have the same volume as over 20 hens eggs! The shell of the egg is so strong, it can hold the weight of a human standing on them. I know, we tried at an ostrich farm in South Africa.
White Bellied Bustard
Picnic with a view
While enjoying lunch, we noticed a herd of elephants coming our way. We were down-wind from them, so they hadn't spotted us yet, but we kept a really close eye on them.
It is estimated that about 500 people are killed each year by elephants, either where they live or in captive situations. Generally speaking though, elephants are peaceful animals and providing you don't upset them they won't upset you.
They seemed to be completely oblivious to our presence, however, and were in fact heading for a waterhole.
Before wandering off into the distance until they became mere dots on the huge landscape.
A baby Tommy, some 10 - 14 days old.
Grey Headed Kingfisher
As we have had showers and storms every afternoon we've been here, we decide it is a good idea to get back across the Mara River before any rain starts. We don't want to get stuck the other side, nor take the risk to drive across that causeway when it has flood water rushing across it.
(Footnote: I heard later that the day after we left, they'd had heavy rain causing terrible flooding, to the extent that not only was the causeway completely impassable, even the local airstrip was closed!)
Back on the Kogatende side we spent some time at a beautiful spot near the river, watching the different wild-life which were also taking advantage of this great place.
Red Headed Agama Lizard
Grey Headed Kingfisher
Green Bee Eater (in the rain)
More crocodiles - apparently this is where they go to lay their eggs
Sacred Ibis. It was raining really quite heavily by now – thank goodness my camera and lens are waterproof.
Water Thick-Knee - well camouflaged
Dickson got REALLY excited about spotting this, as it was one of the species on my wish list. Well done that man!
I still want to see an aardvark though.
Black Headed Heron
What great spot! Eventually we had to tear ourselves away, and headed for Wogakuria, an area dotted with kopjes and known for its cat population.
Banded Mongoose chasing a Spring Hare. I am not sure what they thought they were going to do with the hare if they caught it (they didn't) – he's bigger than them!
Can you see the hare?
Last time we came to Tanzania in 2007, I also had a wish list for Dickson, and he spent ages trying to find me an African Spoonbill. We did see one in the far distance – apparently – but this time he did a great job of finding one for me! Right close to the car too!
Yellow Billed Stork
A large impala family
On one of the many kopjes, we found our cats, seven of them in total, mostly hidden from view though!
The skies went all stormy on us again, and we even saw a rainbow! When the thunder started, Dickson decided to head back home as we still had some precarious stretches of track to negotiate. The thunder went on and on and on, with no let up. Quite close too.
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Steenbok - often confused with baby impala
What's that smell?
As we were driving through a lightly wooded area, David sarcastically commented on the “smell of fresh earth” as we passed through some foul smelling stuff. Dickson explained that certain types of acacia trees pass on an ‘alarm signal’ to other trees when they are attacked by animals such as the damage done here by elephants.
The leaves of the tree produces lethal quantities of tannin (have been known to kill antelopes in huge numbers in South Africa) and pungent ethylene into the air which can travel up to 50 metres, and acts as a warning to other trees, which almost immediately produce their own tannin in order to keep animals away. This stuff really had a most unpleasant odour!
We travelled through some areas with very heavy rain and subsequent flooding on the way back to the camp.
What do you get when you mix a stormy sky, the smoke from a (controlled) bush fire, an orange sunset and an elephant?
Even without the elephant, the sunset was not bad....
We spent the evening watching the fire flies around the camp – unfortunately any attempts at photographing them failed miserably! And there ends the last full day in Serengeti.
Thank you to Calabash Adventures for the safari arrangements.