A Travellerspoint blog

Tarangire Part II - Arusha - Istanbul - Birmingham - Bristol

More elephants


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

Fully fed and watered after a delicious picnic breakfast, we are soon on our way to “see what nature brings us this afternoon”.

Despite the rainy season being upon us, there doesn't seem to be much water in the Tarangire River at the moment.

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A family of Lesser Striped Swallows dig in the dried riverbed for worms.

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The normally shy impala stay by the side of the road looking at us as if transfixed. It makes a great change from them running away as soon as the car pulls up alongside them.

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Like the elephants, they are so close I can almost touch them.

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They are such elegant creatures.

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Impala are affectionately known as “McDonalds”. Not because they make great burgers, but because of their rump markings resemble the “M” on the famous fast food chain's logo.

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Another large herd – or memory – of elephants appears as if out of nowhere.

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There are 16 family members in total, including a tiny infant, no more than 10 days old at the most. You can just about see him here (below), immediately behind the leading matriarch, being protected by his older sister with her trunk slung affectionately over his back.

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The rest of the family follow behind.

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It is fascinating to watch: when the matriarch at the front stops, everyone else stops, even those at the back. When she moves, the rest move.

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We get really excited when we realise they are all going to cross the road. We might even get to see that baby properly.

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Sixteen large animals crossing the road and the only sound we can hear is that of the grass rustling as they walk through. Elephants move in almost total silence, thanks to their spongy hooves that make for a soft step.

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The elephants just keep coming and coming. One after another, all in a straight line. Just like Jungle Book.

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One of them deviates from the line and walks right by our car.

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This little guy seems to have lost his tail, poor thing.

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The elephants continue on their journey through the park, and so do we.

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At around eight feet tall, these large flowering plants make me think of a horror film for some reason, where ordinary small plants grow to enormous proportions and take over the world. Yes, I know, I have an over-active imagination.

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At the other end of the scale, the Namaqua Dove is surprisingly small.

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The elephants of Tarangire are known for their aggression and dislike of people, and one of these makes it quite clear what he thinks of humans as he feels the car is too close to his domain.

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The male is energetically performing a courtship ritual by jumping from branch to branch like a lunatic. The female looks totally unimpressed.

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It doesn't take us many minutes after getting out of the car before we decide that this is most definitely not the place to have lunch. The area is absolutely full of pesky tse tse flies.

The black and blue flag you can see on the picture, is supposed to help keep the population of these horrible little insects down, as the tse tse are particularly attracted to those two colours. The flags are impregnated with a substance which make them infertile, thus the number of flies should become reduced. Sorry guys, it doesn't seem to be working.

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We quickly get back in the car again and head back to Matete where we had breakfast this morning, game viewing on the way.

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Popularly referred to as 'feathered locusts', the Red Billed Quelea is Africa's most hated bird. For generations this small but voracious bird has gathered in huge numbers to decimate subsistence farmers' fields across the continent.

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They look such cute little things, but with some colonies numbering into the millions, the quelea is the most abundant bird in the world, and sadly also the most destructive.

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With an estimated adult breeding population of at least 1.5 billion, it is believed that the agricultural losses attributable to the quelea is in excess of US$50 million annually which would be totally devestating to those already barely getting by.

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From our point of view, however, it is amazing to see and hear them take off en masse – the whoosh sound they make as they all fly from tree to tree is quite something.

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Looking on the bright side, I suppose while they are here in the national park eating wild grasses, they are not causing destruction to farmers.

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Some months ago I answered a question on Trip Advisor from someone who wanted suggestions for a safari company in Tanzania. Having recommended Calabash, the original poster and I continued to talk from time to time, right up until we left for Africa, and soon realising we'd be in Tanzania at the same time. We knew the only opportunity we had to be able to actually meet in person, would be today in Tarangire. I spot their car from quite a distance, thanks to the Calabash logo on the side.

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It is great to finally be able to put a face to the name, and Agata is every bit as lovely in real life as she is on line. Her partner Dom is a really sweet guy too; and of course it is nice for Malisa that gets to chat with John, their guide, and catch up on news.

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Today seems to be full of animals and bird that come really close to the car. Unlike most impala, who run away as soon as the vehicle pulls up next to them, these stay right by the side of the road as we stop to admire their graceful appearance.

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We have a youngster with an itch that appears hard to scratch.

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“I just can't quite reach...”

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A family of mongooses who are milling around in a clearing stop and briefly look at us before carrying on with their lives.

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Today really is a day full of close encounters! Crossing the road right in front of us makes this my closest sighting ever of these small furry mammals.

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Eggs are one of their favourite foods, and this guy has got a large one. (Excuse the very bad photo, it's the only one I managed to get)

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Another one of Tarangire's claims to fame is the number, size and age of its baobab trees. Popular with elephants for the ability to store water in their trunks, baobabs are often left with battle scars from the encounters.

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Malisa explains that providing this tree does not receive any further assaults from elephants, it should be able to re-grow and continue to live. Any more battering will surely be the end of it though as it will collapse and die.

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As we are talking about baobabs, a lion appears 'out of nowhere', leisurely walking along the road in front of us, before taking a rest.

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After a short break, he continues on his way, slipping into the long grass beside the road. It is all over in a few minutes, and we are the only people who saw him. Right time, right place I guess.

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Lions are said to be hard to spot in Tarangire, but we have had some luck over the years with a sighting on all but one of our visits (and on the one visit we did miss, we saw a lioness and two cubs outside the park boundaries)

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Unlike earlier when we stopped here for breakfast, now the picnic site is full of tourists enjoying a break and having lunch.

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The presence of lots of people also attracts these scavengers to the picnic site.

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They may look cute, but they are scheming little thieves, who hang around the picnic tables, waiting for an opportunity to nab any unprotected food.

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If the opportunities are slow at materialising, these intelligent creatures create their own opportunities. The have learned that if they make a lot of loud noise, imitating their warning calls, down at the railings overlooking the valley, curios tourists will flock to see what is making the monkeys so agitated. This then gives their mates a chance to snatch any food left behind on the picnic tables. We see several people falling for this trick today.

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It's not just the picnic tables that get the once over from these cheeky guys, here you can see one of them checking out our car for the slightest chance of some food. Fortunately we made doubly sure we closed and locked all windows, doors and roof.

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Fed up with the opportunist thieves, a group of French tourists shout “allez, allez” at the monkeys. The would-be robbers take absolutely no notice of course, continuing to approach the table from every angle. Laughter ensues when an Englishman on the next table informs them that the monkeys "only speak English you know”.

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One of the most remarkable things about the Black Faced Vervet Monkey, is its bright blue testicles. When I say “bright blue”, I mean iridescent, almost glow-in-the-dark blue.

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Even a Superb Starling tries to muscle in on the action, looking for crumbs dropped by tourists.

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We have to leave the picnic area, and in fact Tarangire National park, to make our way back to Arusha and later our flight home. We will of course “see what nature has to offer us” on the way to the park gate.

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This enormous bird (it stands at 130cm / 4'3”) is the largest of all the hornbill species, and as the name suggests is usually found on the ground.

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This female is doing what girls all over the world do every day: preening herself.

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It looks like this year's elephant fashion includes pierced ears.

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Another mongoose family. These, however, take fright as soon as they see us.

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Stopping occasionally to check if we are still following them.

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And so this ends our 2017 safari in Tanzania. Despite being awfully poorly, I have enjoyed myself very much, thanks to being so extremely well looked after by David, Malisa and all the lodge staff along the way. Not to mention Tillya of Calabash Adventures of course, who made sure I was still OK and coping every day.

Being able to carry on as 'normal' as possible on the trip has been mostly down to adrenalin and as soon as we leave the last park and start the long journey home, I relax and it hits me big time. Everything from then on is a blur: the visit to Tillya's beautiful new office; trying to find a toilet in a leisure centre when I suddenly have a bout of diarrhoea; the emotional moment we have to say goodbye to Malisa; the check in to Kia Lodge in Arusha for a shower, change and dinner; the moving to a different room because the A/C is not working and there is no drinking water in the room; the transfer bus to Kilimanjaro Airport; the panic upon being asked for my UK visa at the check-in desk and having to explain that as an EEA national I don't need one despite the Brexit; the flights from Kilimanjaro – Istanbul – Birmingham; being transported from the plane in a wheelchair; and the drive home where I can finally collapse in bed.

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Writing this blog and editing the photos back home has been great for me, as there is so much of the trip that I don't remember. So many of the notes I made at the time (thank goodness I did) where I have had to ask David: “what did I mean by this?”. This time, instead of re-living the trip as I usually do when I publish my blog after our return home; I have really just 'lived it' as I missed so much the first time round.

Here's to the next safari (this time hopefully in perfect health!) with Calabash Adventures, the best safari operators by far!

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:02 Archived in Tanzania Tagged elephants africa safari tanzania site lion baobab tarangire wheelchair impala mongoose hyrax hornbill lilac_breasted_roller swallows calabash_adventures hammerkop black_faced_vervet_monkeys tse_tse_flies banded_mongoose birmingham_airport grant's_gazelle go_away_bird dwarf_mongoose matete_picnic giant_morning_glory namaqua_dove red_billed_quelea africa's_most_hated_bird quelea mpingo_picnic_site francolin magpie_shrike superb_starling southern_ground_hornbill Comments (9)

Tarangire Part I

Elephants galore


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

It is still dark when we leave the lodge this morning, just as it has been every single morning since we arrived here. Today is our last day in Tanzania, so it won't be long before we are able to have a lie-in once we get home.

There is no sign of the lion from last night around the hotel grounds this morning, but we do see a lot of giraffe close to the lodge today, as well as a couple of waterbuck.

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The weather is still pretty murky by the time we reach the Tarangire National Park gates, hence the quality (graininess) of the first handful of photos.

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These girls belong to a harem. Male impala sometimes have as many as 50 or so females in his harem, here there are nowhere near that many. Where there is an impala harem, there is usually a bachelor herd nearby waiting for the polygamous husband to retire (or maybe just tire, with so many females to service) so that they can move in.

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Tarangire is famous for its incredible bird life, especially at this time of year, with nearly 500 species recorded in the park. We see quite a few this morning, including a few species that are new to us (known as a lifer - a new addition to the life list)

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Ashy Starling

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White Winged Widow Bird (a lifer)

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Brown Parrot

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Broad Tailed Paradise Whydah (another lifer)

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Lesser Masked Weaver (above) construct elaborate and fanciful hanging nests (below)

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Magpie Shrike

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A rather wet and bedraggled Wattled Starling

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We're having to put the roof up, down, up, down this morning as the showers come and go at various intervals. I think you could call the weather changeable.

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White Browed Coucal

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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While the mongooses we saw earlier were quite some distance away, these are really close by the road, where an abandoned termite mound has been converted into social housing for a family on mongooses.

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As we stay to observe them for a while, small, furry heads pop out of various orifices in the mound, including some cute babies.

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And angry little not-so-cute adults.

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You can distinguish the Common Waterbuck from the other species found here, the Defassa Waterbuck, by the white markings on its rump, commonly referred to as the toilet seat.

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Tarangire National Park is famous for its huge herds of elephants, so we are quite surprised to not have seen any yet this morning, just damage caused by these large animals as they passed through.

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Not long afterwards, when we are on on our way to the Matete Picnic Site for breakfast, we see a lone elephant, as if on cue.

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Then a large bachelor herd appears.

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Time for morning ablutions, in the form of a little dust bath.

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The mood suddenly turns nasty, with an unfriendly mob marching angrily towards us. Malisa proves that he is just as capable (and safe) a driver backwards, as he has to quickly reverse the car out of the way of the bullies. Never argue with an angry elephant.

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It's not all anger management issues this morning, however, there's a bit of bonding session going on here with two teenage brothers butting against each other.

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When they have finished showering each other with affection, they walk right past out car, so close I could reach out and touch them. I have to really restrain myself not to.

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I feel so incredibly privileged to be here so close to these majestic giants, watching them go about their daily lives and be party to their family interactions, I almost cry with happiness.

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All around us are elephants, in every direction we look. I have to pinch myself to make sure this is really happening. To think I was only complaining a couple of minutes ago that we hadn't seen any elephants yet.

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More family snuggles. This is like reality TV but with animals. Much more interesting.

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For some reason this next picture reminds me of Colonel Hathi in the Jungle Book cartoon.

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I have heard of 'pink elephants', but never 'red'. These eles have obviously been rolling in the mud. Or maybe it's the latest must-have face mask.

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She has a young baby with her, probably around four months old. We can only just see the top of his back over the long grass.

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In places the grass is shorter so we can see him better.

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On the other side of the car is an even younger baby, this one is less than 2 weeks old. All together now: “awwwww”

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Look at the difference in size!

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We leave the elephants behind (pun intended) and (yet again) try to make our way towards the picnic site. This could take a while, depending on what we see on the way.

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We finally make it for breakfast, to a completely empty picnic site. This place has changed beyond all recognition since we were first here ten years ago: back then there was one squalid long-drop toilet. Now there is a very modern facilities block with clean flushable toilets, lockable doors, water, soap and toilet paper.

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Check out my next blog entry for more animal encounters with Calabash Adventures, the best safari
operators by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:38 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds rain travel elephants africa safari tanzania parrot eagle picnic giraffe tarangire impala waterbuck starling weaver mongoose shrike barbet bird_watching hornbill lilac_breasted_roller mongooses calabash_adventures maramboi coucal best_safari_operator widow_bird impala_harem spurfowl guineafowl guinea_fowl go_away_bird dwarf_mongoose matete matete_picnic_site picnic_breakfast Comments (4)

Naabi Hill - Ngorongoro Crater - Maramboi

Ngorongoro revisited


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

As we approach the Ngorongoro Crater Descent Road, we see some Maasai with their donkeys collecting firewood. Unlike here in the Ngorongoro Conservation area, there are no human settlements within Serengeti, so these are the first locals we've seen for a while (other than staff involved in the tourist industry of course).

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There is a one-way system for entering and exiting the crater, and from the Seneto Descent Road we get a good view down over the crater floor. It doesn't look too busy this afternoon – in fact I can only see one car in this part of the crater. It looks like it is dusty though.

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The heavily forested crater walls rise steeply from the crater floor – 610 metres to be exact – with the descent road gently traversing the sides as shown in the photo below.

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I really don't know how he does it. “There's a Yellow Mantled Widow Bird”. Malisa stops the car and points to a mangled bush. At first glance all we can see is intertwining branches, leaves and the odd yellow flower. Well, one of those yellow flowers isn't a yellow flower, it's a patch on a black bird. Apparently.

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I zoom my lens right in (as seen above) and can just about make out an outline; it isn't until I get home on my PC and give the picture a severe crop that I can see the bird properly. Yet Malisa spots - and identifies - this while safely and comfortably negotiating a steep gravel track. Extremely admirable!

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This one is a little easier to spot, even I can see this one with the naked eye.

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Male (above) and female (below)

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There are now at least two other cars in the crater, and they are just about to meet on a dusty track.

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Heading for the long grass with a small pond for a spot of fishing.

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Another large bird on the hunt for some lunch

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About a week ago when we were here the first time on this trip, we saw a rhino reasonably up close and were thrilled to bits as on all previous visits they have been spotted in the far, far distance only. Imagine our surprise when we see one equally close again this afternoon!

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This one's on the move and heading directly towards us!

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He stops to sniff the air for a while. They do say we should all “make time to smell the flowers”.

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Unless they taste nice. Then you should just eat them. The flowers that is, not the rhinos.

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When he is just about 100 metres away from us, he changes his mind and turns the other direction.

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Still eating of course.

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It is time for us to have some lunch, and more importantly, to use the local facilities, so we head for the picnic site.

I wonder if the road workers get danger money working here in the crater?

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Compared with last week, Ngoitoktok picnic site is extremely quiet today.

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Many of the old bull elephants in the crater have enormous tusks such as this guy.

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We see three more elephants in the distance, plus a couple of lions.

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There are a lot of birds around in the crater this afternoon, a few of which are new to us. Being a 'list girl' I always enjoy adding a new species to my life list.

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Egyptian Geese

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Fan Tailed Widow Bird

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Several Grey Crowned Cranes flying around.

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Long Toed Lapwing

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Sacred Ibis

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Hadada Ibis

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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The Wattled Starling gets its name from the black wattles (there's a surprise) which are only found in breeding males.

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Red Knobbed Coot

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As we climb out of the crater, I can feel the altitude affecting my chest, and I star coughing uncontrollably to the point of almost blacking out.

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The crater walls are near vertical in places, with trees somehow still clinging on to the slope.

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The view from the top back over the crater is nothing short of spectacular!

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I sleep the entire journey onwards to the gate with sheer exhaustion from the incessant coughing. Thankfully, we are now going down to a lower altitude for the rest of the trip.

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While Malisa signs us out of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we amuse ourselves by watching the baboons. Unfortunately these cheeky animals have become used to stealing food stuff from the large trucks coming from the markets, and as a result are now very aggressive every time they see a vehicle.

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These little monkeys have found some spilt rice on the ground.

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I can't stop myself dropping off to sleep in the car for the next part of the journey either, but fortunately I wake up as the sun starts to set and we approach our accommodation for the night.

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As soon as we enter the large grounds of this super tented camp, we spot a few impala in the near-darkness.

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The low light capabilities of this camera (Canon EOS 5D IV), is phenomenal. For my photographer friends, this picture was taken at ISO 16,000 with no noise reduction applied.

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One of the things I really like about Maramboi, is all the animals found in its grounds at any time of day or night. This is our third time staying here, and we have not been disappointed yet.

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Banded Mongoose

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Impala with the rooms behind.

When we check in I ask for a room nearest the restaurant / reception / car park so that I don't have to walk any further than absolutely necessary. They oblige and give us the closest room. That will help my poor lungs tremendously.

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As I said earlier, the grounds of the Maramboi are full of wild animals, and you are strictly forbidden to walk around after dark on your own. We call an askari (Maasai guard) to escort us from the room to dinner. Acting fairly agitated, he shines his torch on the next but one room from us. Two eyes look back at us from the bushes just by the entrance to the room. "Lion" says the askari.

You can see an arrow pointing to the location of the lion below, on a picture taken last year. In fact that was our room last year.

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There is a buzz of nervousness at dinner, with our waitress admitting to being “very scared”. There is only us and one other couple staying, and I get the feeling the staff can't wait to get away.

As it is an almost clear night, I want to take some photos of the stars this evening. For safety reasons the manager is understandably not willing to switch any lights off for me apart from those far out by the swimming pool, so I have to made do with what I've got and embrace the floodlit of trees as part of my picture.

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So, so many stars, with a few clouds partly obscuring the Milky Way

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As you can see from the arrow in the picture below, the lion is not exactly far away. The guards are constantly shining their torches across the grass, making sure they know where the lion is at all times.

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While photographing the stars, I can hear a car starting up, and later the askari who walks us to the room tells us that they 'lost' the lion temporarily, but found him when they went out with the Land Rover. He's killed a warthog and is tucking into his supper, so we can all relax a little for a while.

At the end of another fabulous day on safari with Calabash Adventures, I want to say thank you to Malisa, our wonderful guide, for not just being a fantastic driver, but also for looking after me while I have been feeling so poorly on this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged night sunset travel africa safari tanzania zebra donkeys lion rhino maasai giraffe baboons crane stars serengeti black_rhino ngorongoro heron ibis impala starling weaver warthog astro ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard milky_way night_shots calabash_adventures best_safari_company maramboi seneto naabi_hill olive_baboon widow_bird wattled_starling lapwing lodoare_gate maramboi_tented_camp astro_photography Comments (6)

Seronera - Naabi Hill

Farewell to Serengeti


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

Almost immediately after leaving the lodge this morning, in the darkness before daybreak, we spot a male lion and his two females near a river. We stay with them until the sun comes up.

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And what a sunrise it is!

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The lions are joined by a black backed jackal, so I guess they have a kill around here somewhere.

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We stick around to find out.

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Meanwhile the sun is still painting the sky red on its quest to conquer the darkness of night.

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Barely visible through the long grass, our lion is moving his breakfast to a better place.

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There is not a lot of meat left on what was once a zebra; it hardly seems worth the effort of moving it.

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Oops. The thin sinew holding it all together has snapped and the ribs are left behind, something that hasn't gone unnoticed by the vultures waiting in the wings.

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The vultures are thwarted again in their quest for food.

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A Marabou Stork also tries to muscle in on the action.

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As well as a Tawny Eagle.

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A couple of other females, from another pride, are cautiously, and surreptitiously (they think) making their way towards the kill too, pretending that they are not the least bit interested in the food.

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The newcomers, however, have been spotted and are closely watched by our two original lionesses.

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As these latecomers have not helped out with the kill, they are not welcome at the dining table either, and are chased off with some gusto.

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Meanwhile the jackal sees an opportunity to get a morsel or two of meat and makes his move while the lionesses are busy chasing rivals.

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Time for us to move along too. The sun is now well above the horizon, painting everything in its wake a golden hue, contrasting beautifully with the long, dark shadows.

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A very noisy Rufous Tailed Weaver makes sure we are all awake and fully alert.

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Because they spend most of their day submerged in water, seeing a hippo on land always causes some excitement.

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As we leave the pond area, we see the first other vehicle of today. This is what I love about travelling in the Green Season: the lack of other tourists.

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Sitting in the middle of the road, the hyena gets up when we arrive, but she is in no hurry to let us pass as she has a good scratch and a shake before sauntering into the long grass.

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Of course, the downside of travelling in the green season is the fact that the grass is so long, making it harder to see – and photograph – the animals.

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The zebra are accompanied by wildebeest. Lots of them. This is part of the Great Annual Migration.

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As we are heading for the exit gate along the bumpy tracks of the Serengeti, David tries out the stabiliser on his new Osmo camera (similar to a GoPro but without the hefty price tag).

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Mounted on the end of a monopod and operated remotely by a mobile phone, he holds the camera out through the window and up above the roof, to get shots that would otherwise be difficult with a traditional camera.

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Bearing in mind that the gravel road has a perfect washboard effect, I think this small video clip is unbelievably smooth. Well done Osmo and David - you both performed brilliantly!
 
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At Simba Kopje, we encounter a small memory (collective noun) of elephants.

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This girl is trying to get rid of the flies by swatting herself with a tree branch.

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While another couple of them partake in a bonding session.

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Clinging to the near-vertical side of the precipitous kopje rock face, the baboons scramble and play. It all looks rather precarious to me.

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Once again our path is blocked by a cackle of hyenas.

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In the distance we spot a couple of lions.

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The 'couple of lions' turn out to be five – three male, two females. All youngsters. I guess this must be some sort of a youth club then.

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Look at all those pesky flies!

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Young sir is certainly not too impressed by them.

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Despite the nuisance of the flies, they can still enjoy a tender moment.

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“Please flies, go away!”

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We bid our lovely lions goodbye and head for the park gate.

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Serengeti (as well as the other parks in Tanzania) works on a strict 24 hour basis for the permits, so if you entered the park at 10:21 and buy a three day ticket, you have to be out of the park by 10:21 three days later. If you overstay your welcome, you get charged a penalty, usually the cost of another full day.

So here we are, Malisa has checked us out and we have breakfast with the birds, including a Superb Starling who sits on the back of the bench, hoping to get some crumbs from our picnic.

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While a Marabou Stork walks right on by without a care in the world.

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They are seriously big birds!

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Today is the 17th May, which to Norwegians is a very special day indeed. The day commemorates the signing of the constitution on that date in 1814. In Norway, the occasion is celebrated in a big way, and to many this is at least as big as (if not bigger than) Christmas. It's the day everyone wears their national costume, eats too much ice cream, and wave the Norwegian flag around. (You can read more about it here)

Naturally we packed a few flags, and create our own little celebration this morning, although I have to admit it is mostly in order to take a photo so that we can send it to my dad today to wish him “Happy 17th May”.

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And with that we leave Serengeti and head for pastures new. Thank you Calabash Adventures for putting together this awesome trip for us. Follow my blog for the next entry, with more animal pictures and stories.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals africa safari tanzania lion serengeti vulture jackal calabash_adventures lion_kill seronera safari_animals Comments (3)

Serengeti Day II Part III - The Maasai Pride

Lions, lions and more lions


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

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The Rasta Lions we saw this morning are still under the same tree several hours later, and still not doing anything. But they have moved to the other side of the tree (presumably as the sun moved around), and they do pop their heads up as we pull up alongside them. Briefly.

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They look kinda cute and soft when they're asleep, but not so much so when they open their eyes and stare right at me from close quarters like that!

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Look at those paws! They could do some serious damage!

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The antibiotics I have been taking completely knock me out and I go into a deep sleep while David and Malisa look out for animals. I wake up an hour or so later when it starts to rain and we have to put the roof down.

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Some of the delights about the ever-changing weather in Serengeti at this time of year, are the dramatic clouds and the number of beautiful rainbows that appear periodically.

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And a strategically-placed Grey Kestrel. I wanted a giraffe or an elephant silhouetted in the foreground, but I guess this kestrel will do.

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In the road we can see animals tracks, lion paw prints with one big and one little one. They were made before the recent rain shower by the looks of it, and they went the same way as we are going. Oh goody!

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The wet mud on top of compacted baked earth makes for an interesting drive, doing the 'Serengeti Samba' sliding our way along the track!

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We swing by the Maasai Kopjes on our way back to base, hoping to see a cat or two. We are not disappointed.

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A lioness and her cub sit in amongst the shrubbery. These is the same ones as we saw earlier so they don't count towards my total tally of lions seen on this trip (for the record, we finished at 118 individual lions).

A few minutes later we see several more lions almost hidden by the long grass.

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Trust me, those are lions.

We hear thunder in the distance and while I am busy looking all around me for possible lightning, the lions in the long grass have made their way down to the track along from us.

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There are eight cubs and two adults.

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We drive nearer to take a closer look at the action. We are not alone, but I can cope with just one other vehicle.

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If you can't find a pal, play with some elephant dung!

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The Maasai Pride often come down to the smooth track at this time of day, especially after a rain shower, in order to avoid the damp grass.

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The cubs head off into the undergrowth, with the adults in hot pursuit, trying to keep an eye of the mischievous youngsters.

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The cubs have found an interesting tree to explore and where they can test out their climbing skills.

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They may only be young, but I still wouldn't like to mess with those claws!

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And don't even think about getting on the wrong side of their mum... even the babies back off when confronted!

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Just a gentle tap with that giant paw and the cub is on the floor.

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"Hey bro, I found a stick!"

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“My stick is bigger than yours!”

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Only one small issue there Buster, it is still attached!

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It's getting crowded around the base of the tree, everyone wants to play in the same place at the same time.

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Mum shows the kiddies how it is done.

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Is she going to jump?

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It seems her courage fails her and she tries to (awkwardly) turn around on the small branch.

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One of the braver cubs tries it for himself.

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Like his mum before him, he too considers the option of jumping down.

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He is not sure about this...

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"Maybe I should try and walk down?"

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“I wonder what happens if I try and go this way.”

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“Or maybe I can jump down on this side?”

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“It's a long way down.”

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“Yikes, this is not as easy as it looks.”

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“Aargh, I think I am stuck. I'm scared! It looked so easy when mum did it.”

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“Phew! Nearly there.”

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“That's not the greeting I was expecting, I was kinda hoping for admiration for my bravery. You're only jealous!”

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“Ow! That's my paw!"

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"Get off!”

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“I'm out of here!”

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A couple more cubs decide to give it a go, some with more 'encouragement' than others.

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Just like they were this morning, the pride is spread out over several rocks and we see lions in almost every direction we look, such as this girl on top of a rock...

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… and these lions frolicking in the long grass.

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They are heading off to join the little group over by the tree root.

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The Maasai Pride consists of eleven cubs to five mothers, and we see all of them here this evening at various locations. It is not a question of looking for them, it's a question of deciding where to look: on the tree, the rocks, the root, the road...?

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Wanting to keep an eye on her offspring, mum joins them on the road. The cubs think she has come to play.

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“Mum! Don't go! Play with me...”

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“Will. You. Leave. Me. Alone!”

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“Sorry mum.”

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We have stayed far too long with the lion cubs and I have taken far too many photos of them, so now we have to rush to get back to the lodge before dark. As usual.

[Post note: I took 1600 photos of those cubs, of which I selected 300 to be edited as 'keepers'. It was extremely hard narrowing it down to 'just a few' to include here in the blog, so I make no apologies for the overload of cuteness photos.]

Alternatively, if you still haven't had enough of these adorable babies, check out my Flickr album.

The light is amazing this evening, with more rainbows, strangely localised rain showers, impressively moody clouds and a glorious sunset. I try my best to photograph it all from a fast moving car on a bumpy gravel track.

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Spot the lion on top of the rock!

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Back at the tent, as I am enjoying a shower under the stars (or rather the menacing clouds), the sky is lit up by nature's own fireworks. The perfect finish to a perfect day: thunder and lightning! Looking up at the flashes in the sky as the warm water washes off the dust from the mighty Serengeti after a wonderful day with magnificent animal encounters, I feel overcome with a multitude of emotions: happiness, gratitude, appreciation and it makes me feel incredibly small and insignificant. What a wonderful world we live in ♥

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All that is left to say about today is THANK YOU to Calabash Adventures for making this all possible.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:50 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel africa safari tanzania birding lions serengeti bird_watching calabash _adventures rasta_lions Comments (6)

Serengeti Day II Part II - Research Ponds

A smorgasbord of animals


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

Making our way across the savannah, I am surprised to see how dry the grass is already considering we are still in the wet season, albeit towards the end.

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Parched from the hot sun, the surface of the earth has cracked, forming a thin crust easily disturbed by passing animals.

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With the gentle movement of the car, the warm sun and the number of tablets I am taking for my chest infection; I go into a deep sleep. Only when the car slows to a standstill nearly an hour later, do I wake up.

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Our reason for stopping soon becomes obvious.

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On a nearby rock, another lioness is sunning herself.

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While we are busy photographing the cats, my Facebook friend Jim and his family / friends turn up. Serengeti is a large place, so the chances of seeing him here today is very small. We have already seen them once in Ndutu. It really is a small world.

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Bored with sunbathing, the lioness jumps down and takes a stroll in morning heat.

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The Red Headed Rock Agama doesn't seem the least bit bothered about a lioness walking past his rock.

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Nor does the Black Backed Jackal.

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Resting peacefully in the shade of a tree, two 'Rasta Lions' momentarily sit up, barely opening their eyes to check us out, then lie down to sleep again. Oh, it is such a hard life to be a lion here.

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This picture shows the difference between the Superb and the Hildebrand Starlings.

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The Superb in the foreground has a white band on his chest and a white eye; whereas the Hildebrand (singing his little heart out) has no marking between the orange and blue, and the eye is black.

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This guy has obviously lost a horn while fighting for a female. I hope she was worth it!

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A very similar antelope to the topi, but as you can see, the colouring is not the same (the topi has very dark markings on the head and legs), and the horns are different shapes.

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The name 'Serengeti' comes from a local Maa word 'sirenget' (the language spoken by the Maasai tribe) meaning 'endless plains'. Driving for what seems like an eternity (in reality probably no more than around half an hour) across the flat, parched landscape, seemingly devoid of all life, I can certainly see that the name is very fitting.

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Arriving at a series of waterholes known as Research Ponds, we stay for a while to watch the goings on at the water's edge. Although initially appearing somewhat uninspiring, with just a couple of buffalo and some Grant's gazelle grazing in the background, this place proves to be rather fruitful in terms of animal sightings and interactions.

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A dazzle of zebra (other collective nouns for zebra include zeal and cohort) make their way to the ponds.

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More and more animals arrive as we sit by the ponds in the oppressive midday heat.

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It's like Happy Hour at our local bar!

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Additional animals are constantly appearing, their hooves throwing up clouds of dust that hang heavily in the hot air.

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The zebra, like the buffalo before them, immerse themselves in the still water, drinking, bathing and cooling down.

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On the horizon a herd of eland nervously make their way towards the waterhole. Normally extremely shy (as a result of being endlessly hunted for their delicious meat), we wonder if – or more likely when – they will start running in the opposite direction.

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So far so good as they cautiously move nearer and nearer the water.

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I am so excited to see them drinking – this is definitely a first for us!

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The other elands are looking at us apprehensively, as they consider whether it is safe enough to quench that thirst.

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The zebra, on the other hand, do not seem to have a worry in the world.

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Another eland has braved it to the water's edge.

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But will he drink?

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Yes, he will. They are getting very brave now.

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The zebra look on with amazement (or is that my overactive imagination again?) as a band on mongooses make their way down to the water for a drink.

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They are loving the water, rolling around in the mud at the shoreline.

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From a quiet waterhole with just a couple of sleepy buffalo, the place has now come alive with activity and several different animal species. This is awesome!

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There is even a couple of amorous Egyptian Geese on the water.

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Having all these newcomers disturbing his hitherto peaceful morning siesta, Mr Buffalo gets up and moves on to pastures new.

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He looks thoroughly pissed off.

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The mongoose have had enough too.

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Even the zebra are on the move.

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I have never noticed before that zebras vary so much in colouration. Look at how dark the one on the left is compared to the zebra behind him.

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Just as we decide to leave, a European White Stork arrives. They are not native to the African continent (the clue is in the name), rather a migrant. A bit like us then.

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Another stork arrives, much to the bemusement of the eland.

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And another.

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The moment Malisa starts the car engine, the shy elands scatter. As expected. I am surprised they stayed this long.

As we travel towards Ogol Kopjes, we see a few animals on our way.

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A spotted hyena who barely raises his head from the puddle he was sleeping in when we pass.

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Common Praticole - a nice little lifer (a new bird species for us)!

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Another lifer, the European Roller. This one has been on my wish list for a while now, so I am particularly excited to see him. Or her. I really can't ell from this distance.

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A couple of topi on a mound looking out for predators.

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A cute little zebra foal, grazing with his mummy.

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And some eland - running away from us of course.

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Eland are pretty huge animals (around the size of an average horse), and create quite a considerable amount of dust as they gallop across the dry savannah.

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We leave Ogol Kopjes behind and search for some shade for our lunch picnic.

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Be sure to check out my next blog entry for the rest of this afternoon's safari experiences with Calabash Adventures, the best safari operator by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel africa safari tanzania zebra lizard birding dry buffalo lions roller serengeti hyena stork starlings topi mongoose jackal bird_watching eland calabash_adventures hartebeest cape_buffalo kopjes grant's_gazelle endless_plains research_ponds cracked_earth parched pratincole eurasian_roller agama_lizard ogola_kopjes Comments (2)

Serengeti Day II Part I - Hyenas, Lions and more

Never a dull moment on safari


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

I guess the lioness we heard calling out for her babies yesterday afternoon didn't find them, as she was roaring all night. Hearing nature in all its raw glory is always exciting, but not necessarily conducive to a good sleep. With that and my incessant coughing, I didn't get a lot of rest last night. I feel embarrassed and concerned about keeping other guests awake too, so I am grateful there are no other tourists around in the lodge when we leave this morning.

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The tables are laid out ready for breakfast, which starts from 06:00. I always find it strange that people don't want to make the most of their day on safari by getting out into the park at the earliest opportunity (06:00), which is also when the animals are at their most active. After all, a safari is not a cheap holiday, and for a number of people, a holiday of a lifetime. If you want to relax, build in some chill time at a beach resort afterwards.

Now getting off my soap box.

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We leave the lodge in darkness. As the light of day starts to brighten up the sky, the promise of a beautiful sunrise teases us with a warm yellow glow above the savannah and a blue sky sporting fluffy clouds edged with crimson.

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It is not long, however, before the sun sends its first rays of the day over the horizon, warming the cool morning air.

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A wobble of ostriches (I love discovering apt and humorous collective nouns of animals) enjoy the warm glow of the sun. One male can have a dozen or more females in his harem.

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He is in his breading colours as evidenced by his red neck and legs.

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Having recently been kicked out of the herd (or obstinacy, as I am on a roll with collective nouns), the bull buffalo has anger management issues, as can be seen from his sweaty nose.

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Having a 700 pound animal's stare directed right at me is more than a little intimidating, especially as he keeps walking closer and closer, while snorting angrily. Not that it seems to bother the oxpecker much.

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Time to make a move.

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Oh, to be in that basket floating effortlessly over the African plains in the early morning sun.

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If it wasn't for the price tag I'd be there like a shot! I do realise, however, that part of the reason for the high cost is the huge fee they pay to the park authorities to be able to drive off-road to retrieve the balloon and its passengers.

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Almost totally hidden by the tall grass, a lone hippo wanders towards a small pond. All we can see is the top of his back.

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It is hard to describe the feeling of awe I get when we drive along and encounter wildlife – such as these hyenas – in the road. Being part of, or rather guests in, their natural habitat is an experience I will never tire of. It is at times like this that I realise that it is me who is the stranger here; this is their home. I feel incredibly humbled to have the privilege of being included in their lives, even for a short while.

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There is some serious 'establishing of territory' going on here, with chasing, growling, barking and baring of teeth.

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A cackle of hyenas (♥collective nouns) can be enormously intimidating, especially when they are plotting gang warfare such as here. Or maybe I just have an over-zealous imagination.

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Although sometimes they can look almost cute.

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Three amigos saunter off down the road...

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… while another goes for a drink.

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And then lies down in it to cool off.

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The hyenas do not seem to bother this three banded plover though.

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Hippo flatulence gives off a powerful ammonia-like aroma, with the result that you can usually smell the hippos before you see them, especially when they are present in numbers such as these.

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Meanwhile, we head back to the Maasai Kopjes, where we immediately see a collared lioness atop a rock.

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It looks like she has a cub with her.

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As one cub walks off to the right, another one can be seen sitting up on the left.

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Mum goes off to join the youngster on the left, and we discover another cub in the shade of the tree.

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The Maasai Pride is huge, and rarely venture far from this collection of rocky outcrops known as the Maasai Kopjes (hence the name of the lion pride, of course).

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At the base of the rocks we see another lioness, hiding five young cubs in the long grass.

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The mum on top of the rock leaves her three cubs behind to go for a wander.

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Prompting her babies to explore too.

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Maasai kopjes is teeming with big cats this morning, spread out over a large area. Everywhere we look there is a lion; some seeking the cool shade of the shrubby undergrowth, others the warmth of the sunbaked rocks.

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The kopjes are also home to a number of other species, such as this Dark Chanting Goshawk.

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And the Crested Lark.

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The lark has a most beautiful song, as you can hear in David's video below.

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More lions to follow in the next instalment of my blog. Our safari was arranged by Calabash Adventures, the best safari operators by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel adventure hot_air_balloons bird sunrise africa safari tanzania animal birding buffalo balloons lion lions watching hippo ostrich hyena bird_watching hippopotamus ostriches calabash_adventures maasai_kopjes cape_buffalo spotted_hyena plover hippo_pool hyenas spotted_hyenas kopjes Comments (4)

Serengeti Day I Part III - Birds, Mongoose, Topi & Warthogs

A day cut short


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

When on safari, we spend all day every day in specially adapted Landcruisers, with a lifting roof and large opening side window for all-round viewing.

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We either sit down to view and photograph the animals...

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... or stand up for a 360° view of the savannah around us.

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We are also lucky to have our amazing guide Malisa with us, who is not just a great friend, but an exceptional spotter and extremely knowledgable about animals and birds, the environment, geology, ecology, history, culture, animal behaviour....

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More sleep in the car for me this afternoon, this chest infection sure is taking its toll on me. The boys make sure I am awake for any bird or animal sightings though, such as the wildlife we find when we stop at this small pond.

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A very uncooperative crocodile refuses to turn around and face the camera on request. Pfft. Doesn't he know who we are? So, it looks like a bum shot it is then.

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The hippo aren't much better – all we can see is the top of their backs. We can certainly smell them though!

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Every picnic site should have a giraffe in the distance...

Mawe Meupe, which means “The White Rocks”, is a small hillock dotted with picnic tables and a great place to spot birds.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

The birds are so used to people and quite unafraid. They come right up to our table hoping for a small offering from our lunch. I hold my hand out with a few crumbs and a starling lands on it and sits there while he is eating. I also get a severe telling off – quite rightly – by Malisa. The birds and animals in the Serengeti are wild and should remain so. They can find their own food and should not be encouraged to rely on humans. I consider myself properly chastised and promise not to do it again. Then feel guilty about it for the rest of the trip.

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Ashy Starling

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Superb Starling

As “Never pass a toilet without using it” is my travel motto, I make a point of visiting the facilities before we leave. They are nice and clean with a lock on the door, paper and running water. Although the walk is a very short distance, it totally wears me out and I get back to the car completely breathless and coughing wildly. Being ill on holiday sucks!

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Our path is blocked by a giraffe as we leave the picnic site to continue our afternoon game viewing.

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A group of banded mongoose is called a band of mongoose of course.

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The grass here is so long during the rainy season that it manages to almost completely lose the adult warthog. And that is why they run with their tails straight up, so that their babies can see them and follow.

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Judging by the number of cars (I counted eleven) parked by the tree, it is obvious that the leopard we saw last night is still there.

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And judging by the number of times she tosses and turns in the short time we are here, she obviously still hasn't found a comfortable position in that tree.

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A very pale baby giraffe with his mummy - they get darker as they age.

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Look at that hairstyle!

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And look at that nose! The dik dik has an elongated snout which is very mobile, constantly twitching, with bellows-like muscles through which blood is pumped to help prevent the animal from over-heating. The flow of air and subsequent evaporation cools the blood before it is recirculated to the body. How ingenious!

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Dik diks are monogamous, so you will almost always see them in pairs (or three, with their single offspring).

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The female is looking for her babies. She walks into the long grass and stops to let out an almighty roar, a sound that carries a long distance, hoping that her offspring will make their way to where she is. There is no sign of any cubs though.

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For the first time ever in our thirty years of safaris, I ask to be taken back to the lodge early. Malisa is so sweet, knowing that I would never want to return to base before sunset unless I am really ill, he is obviously concerned about me. He keeps offering me advice and suggestions, plus lots of sympathy. All I want right now is my bed though.

When I get back to the room I watch a couple of buffalo walk past the tent on the slope below, then go to bed. With some serious coughing fits and the lioness still roaring for her cubs, I struggle to stay asleep for more than a few minutes at a time. This is going to be a long night.

With thanks to Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:47 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds travel africa safari tanzania crocodile birding picnic lion giraffe experience hippo serengeti leopard waterbuck topi starling mongoose warthog courser bird_watching calabash_adventures dik_dik lion-roaring Comments (4)

Serengeti Day I Part II - Baboons, Maasai Pride and Cheetah

Cats galore


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

As we leave the visitors centre after breakfast, the first animals we come across is a small troop of Olive Baboons, including a tiny little baby less than a week old.

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As we watch the inquisitive youngster play, and then tumble down the slope to the road below while his concerned parents look on in 'horror', I can see so many similarities to humans with their offspring.

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Including the telling off the baby gets when he is back up at the top and joins his family again.

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Dad makes sure the youngster stays close and then takes him away from the dangerous slope.

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We move away too, and continue driving until one of the other safari vehicles calls us over to point out 14 lions sleeping under a tree.

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These lions are too lazy to do anything this morning, the only action we see is the occasional head being lifted and quickly laid down again.

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We let sleeping lions be, leaving them to their morning siesta while we continue our safari.

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The Serengeti is dotted with rocky outcrops such as these, referred to locally as kopjes. This particular area, known as Maasai Kopjes, is always a good place to spot members of the resident lion pride.

Today we see one male lion atop a rock, fast asleep.

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And that is what I do too as we continue on our way: go into a deep sleep complete with some strange and unpleasant dreams. This chest infection is depriving me of so much on this safari, but at least I wake up as we approach the next kopje, where we see a further three lions.

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These rocks are also home to several rock hyraxes, as well as a black mambo, but I am not quick enough to take a photo of that unfortunately.

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These lions are all part of a large tribe who have ten cubs between them, so we are hoping we might see some more cats around. The dad we saw earlier had obviously gone off to sleep on a different rock to get some peace and quiet away from the kids. I don't blame him.

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And there's a cub at the bottom of the rock.

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This poor female is limping – she is left handed and has hurt her paw while hunting. I do hope it doesn't hinder her looking after her family in the future.

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As I am feeling really quite unwell again now, I take some more tablets, then fall into another deep sleep as we leave the Maasai lions behind.

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The next time I wake up is when Malisa pulls up alongside a couple of other cars by a tree. After opening my eyes and feeling rather disorientated trying to get my bearings and figure out what is going on, I see a cheetah in the shade of the tree.

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I don't notice the baby at first. What a cutie!

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There's two!

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They are less than a month old and seriously cute.

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Over the back of mum a third little head pops up.

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I love the way the colouration of baby cheetah is designed to mimic that of the honey badger, in an attempt to keep them safe from predators.

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We stay with the cheetah mum and her three adorable babies for some time, watching their playful antics and tender moments as the youngsters explore the tree and the shady undergrowth.

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After more than 2½ hours it is time to leave our little kitties behind and move on to see what else nature has to offer us today. Stay tuned and read my next instalment for more safari stories and pictures.

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Thank you Calabash Adventures for another fantastic safari experience.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:32 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel adventure cute fun africa safari tanzania cheetah lion lions baboons lion_cubs serengeti adorable calabash_adventures excitemnt olive_baboon cheeta_cub Comments (8)

Serengeti Day I Part I - Lion Cubs and Topi Fighting

A beautiful morning. Again.


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

Although I slept well, I wake up feeling crap this morning, and struggle to walk from the room to the restaurant even at a snail's pace, having to stop several times to catch my breath. Thankfully Malisa very kindly brings the car half way down the slope enabling me to miss out on climbing most of the steep hill.

This morning starts with one of the strangest – and most spectacular – sunrises I have ever seen.

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Across a gully we see a large pride of eleven lions. I do miss Ndutu and being able to drive off-road. Here at Serengeti that is a definite no-no, so we remain at some distance from the cats

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While the adults mostly just lie around enjoying the early morning sunshine, some of the cubs captivate us with their play fighting and usual energetic antics.

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Making the most of the morning sunshine, this rare mongoose is in a difficult spot for photographing; but it is a thrilling sighting for us: only once before and only for a brief blink-and-you'd-miss-it moment have we seen one of these.

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We haven't travelled far before we spot three more lions.

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They are heading directly for the big cats.

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We had been planning to go for breakfast, but decide to hang around to see what pans out between the wildebeest and the lions.

So we wait. And wait. And wait. It all peters out and we head for the picnic site. That's the nature of safari – occasionally you are rewarded with something exciting, but mostly you spend a lot of time waiting for nothing.

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On our way we spot a couple of topi. They are so remarkably near that Malisa comments he has never seen any so close to the car before.

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They are presumably engrossed in the job in hand – fighting for a female.

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Although it seems all rather half-hearted to me – they clash, then stare each other out and them look all chilled out as if they are best of mates.

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The truce doesn't last long, however, and hostilities soon recommence.

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Topi fighting is scary stuff, especially if you are a topi. The guy on the left is so petrified he shits himself.

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Mind you, I would be frightened if I had a huge horned antelope coming towards me like this.

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The fighting gazelles are right by the car, and we can hear the loud clashing of the horns.

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By now they are so close I can't get them both in the picture, even at the widest setting on my lens.

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An uneasy ceasefire is declared for a spot of breakfast.

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Ding! Ding! Time for Round Three.

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Will this end only on the death of one of them as often happens?

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Thankfully not; one of the would-be suitors capitulates and runs off to lick his wounds, leaving the victor standing proud.

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Just like we did last year, we stop at the Visitors Centre to have our breakfast. Not only do they have a number of shaded picnic tables, there are also nice, modern toilet facilities.

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The breakfast supplied by Kubu Kubu is excellent: omelette, potatoes, sausage and bacon; plus several pastries, bread and cakes. We are certainly not going hungry on this trip. The only thing that rather amuses me, is seeing half a tomato in the fruit salad. It reminds me of the saying: "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad."

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The other good thing about the Visitor's Centre is all the local residents – a large number of Tree and Rock Hyraxes.

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Another great morning game viewing with much more to come in the next instalment of my blog. Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging it all.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:49 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel adventure sunrise breakfast fun tanzania lions serengeti topi mongoose calabash_adventures serengeti_visitors_centre wildebesst sasafari Comments (2)

Naabi Hill - Kubu Kubu

The BIG FIVE are in the bag!


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

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So called because they were the five most dangerous (and desired) animals for hunters to capture. These days of course 'hunters' are replaced by 'photographers'.

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At the entrance gate to the Serengeti National Park, we take our lunch picnic overlooking a small bird bath for entertainment.

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Superb starling partaking in their daily ablutions

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Laughing Dove

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Speckled Pigeon

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Ashy Starling

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Superb Starling

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Superb Starling having a wardrobe malfunction.

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Red Billed Buffalo Weaver

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Hildebrand Starling

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Wattled Starling

With all those breadcrumbs flying around, it is not just birds who are attracted to this picnic area.

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Field mouse?

We also watch a small herd of elephants walk past. As you do.

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Having failed miserably to get his beloved Savannah Cider in Arusha, David is delighted to find that the small grocery store at Naabi Hill sells it.

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The UNESCO Heritage ecosystem of Serengeti is one of the oldest and most diverse in the world, and has barely changed in the past million years or so.

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It is, however, the annual migration that the Serengeti is most famous for, consisting of over a million wildebeest and some 200,000 zebra making their way from the north to south and back to the north continuously every year following the rain in search of greener pastures.

Below is a map of the Serengeti showing approximately where the migration usually is during the month of May. This morning we left Lake Masek Tented Camp at the bottom right of the map and later we entered the park through Naabi Hill Gate. We are heading for the Seronera area tonight.

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Soon after we enter the park, we encounter a few thousand of the migrating animals. It is hard to get my head around the fact that all those little dots in the distance are animals

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Serengeti has to be one of my favourite places in the world, but today I seem to be sleeping my way through the wilderness. I guess those antibiotics must be working. I feel totally knocked out. Fortunately David and Malisa do wake me up when they see something of interest.

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Such as this leopard with her kill in a tree, resting on a branch right above the road.

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There are already a few cars at the scene – we have been so spoilt in Ndutu by mostly being completely on our own at animal sightings, that having company takes a bit of getting used to.

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Malisa points out the bad form by this driver – he has a full vehicle, yet he positions himself face on to the sighting, which means his passengers (seated in three rows) have to try and dodge each other to be able to photograph the leopard.

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Looking around at the other cars, we seem to be the only ones that are not taking selfies with the leopard. It's not just youngsters either, it seems 'everyone' is doing it, even people our age. I just don't get it....

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Our leopard is most definitely not comfortable, and keeps fidgeting and moving to a different position.

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Feeling sure she is going to jump down from the tree and head off for a drink shortly, we stand around in the vehicle, waiting, waiting, waiting, while all the leopard does is shuffle around some more. I am feeling rather fatigued by it all, but I don't want to miss any action by sitting down.

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Malisa believes that if the leopard yawns three times in a quick succession, it is an indication she will leave the tree and go for a drink.

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One.... two...

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Three.... four....

Bang goes that theory.

Or does it? Maybe she was particularly tired and just wanted an extra yawn today? We all get very excited when she stands up.

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Excitement over. It seems she is just hungry.

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She then proceeds to pull off the tuft on the baby wildebeest's tail with her teeth, getting quite distressed when she gets a mouthful of hair, trying desperately to spit it out.

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Obviously feeling hungry - again - from all that effort required to de-tail the wildebeest, she tucks into some juicy leg meat.

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Right! She has finished eating, maybe she will now go for a drink?

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Apparently not, although we hope she may just move the kill to a better and safer position, then jump down to look for a drink.

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Ooops! Almost dropped it!

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With some serious effort, she manages to haul her trophy back onto the branch again.

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She puts her dinner back in the fork of the tree where it was before. Well, that was really worth the effort wasn't it?

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Determined to find a better place to store the kill (to safeguard it while she leaves the tree for a drink hopefully), she has another go at moving it.

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Sigh. She has another feed. Doesn't look like she is going anywhere for a while.

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Suddenly her ears prick up and she sits bolt upright looking to our right. With eyesight and hearing five times as good as humans, our leopard has sensed something in the long grass.

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She goes off on another branch to investigate.

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It takes a couple of minutes before us humans can make out what she is looking at: a hyena.

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Being able to smell the much coveted fresh kill, the hyena makes his way towards the tree.

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Under the watchful eye of the leopard at all times of course.

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The hyena finds a few small morsels of meat that dropped onto the ground when the leopard moved the prey earlier.

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The light is fading fast (it was never very good for this whole encounter to be fair, it is just as well my Canon EOS 5D IV performs so well under low light / high ISO), and it is getting very late, so we have to leave the leopard and hyena to make our way to our lodge for the night.

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Despite the fact that she never actually did leave the tree while we were here, it is still the best leopard sighting we have ever had in Tanzania (or anywhere else for that matter, we've been lucky enough to see them in Kenya, South Africa, Sri Lanka and India as well), so it is two very happy campers who drive away into the sunset.

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I offer no apologies for the number of sunset pictures I have included in this blog.

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Before we left home, Tillya told us he had a surprise for us for our wedding anniversary, and this evening's accommodation is it.

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Spectacularly situated on the slope of an escarpment, we can see the lodge from a distance as we approach.

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We arrive at the lodge and are helped with our luggage by the local porters. One of them promptly grabs my camera and proceeds to take several photos.

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As I try to get it off him again, he is full of apologies, but all I want is to change the settings on the camera so the pictures won't be so grainy (It is pretty dark by now). Then I give it back for him to play with again.

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At first glance the lodge looks very much like so many other tented camps in Tanzania, but this one is rather special.

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We are shown down into the main building which houses the reception, bar and restaurant, plus a large open atrium in the middle. Outside is a lovely wooden deck with far-reaching views of the Serengeti plains and a swimming pool on a lower level.

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Our room – named Swala, which means gazelle in Swahili – is about half way down the path. In all the hotels I have been trying to ask for a room as close to the reception as possible, as I am still feeling pretty awful and struggle to breathe, making walking a real effort, especially uphill.

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Our tent is beautifully furnished, with a large four poster bed, a seating area, a writing desk, a water cooler / heater and an outside terrace on stilts with a table and chairs.

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A large dressing area leads to the separate toilet and outside shower room – which has amazing views.

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Views from the outdoor shower

Hot water is plentiful, heated by large solar panels during the day.

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After a refreshing shower, we go for dinner – the best meal so far on this trip, with a BBQ chef cooking steaks to our liking and other dishes (lamb, chicken, okra curry, crispy spinach and macaroni) brought to our table. If ever proof was needed that I am quite ill, it is this: I didn't take any photos of our dinner!

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Making our way slowly back to our room accompanied by an askari (Maasai guard), we see the eyes of three hyenas in the long grass on the slope between the tents. As we walk along, so do they, constantly following us with their eyes. Although hyenas are not generally known for attacking people, I still find it a little disconcerting and I am pleased when we make it to the safety of our room.

This blog was made possible thanks to Calabash Adventures – the best safari operator by far!

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:50 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds adventure africa safari tanzania birding serengeti leopard hyena bird_watching african_safari tented_camp calabash_adventures naabi_hill seronera african_bush kubu_kubu kubu_kubu_tented_camp Comments (6)

Ndutu - Naabi Hill

And now for a little light relief


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour on Grete Howard's travel map.

Those of you who read my previous blog entry, will be pleased to know that all that blood and gore is followed by a large dose of cuteness.

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Aren't these baby falcons cute?

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A nice little lifer for us this morning (a 'new' bird which we haven't seen before)

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Having spent nearly two hours with the lions, we head for Ndutu Airstrip to have our picnic.

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Malisa spots something moving in the grass and sets off across country.

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“It's only a chicken.”

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There's a bit of a story behind this saying: back in 2008, in Sikkim (India), David spotted something and shouted excitedly from the back of the car: “It's a colourful bird!”. With an obvious tone of despair and disinterest, the driver replied: “It's only a chicken”. Malisa has perfected that same tone and the expression has become synonymous with disappointment at seeing something not as exciting as expected.

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The black bellied bustard is followed very shortly by a couple of White Bellied Bustards.

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This place is full of bustards!

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Running away from us of course.

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Having not encountered any other cars since we've been here in the Ndutu area, we are almost startled by the vehicles down on the marsh watching the elephants.

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One of the cars carries a Facebook friend, Jim, his wife and their friends. I knew he was going to be in the area at the same time as us, but not exactly where or when, so it is quite a coincidence that he is the first person we see after three days of not seeing any other human activity outside the lodge.

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There are two groups of elephants here, this one on the right with 17 members...

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...and a similar sized herd coming in from the left.

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We speculate what will happen when they all meet in the middle. Are they fractions of the same herd, or will there be conflict?

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Apparently not. After some initial trumpeting (which we take to mean "hello, how are you doing, long time no see", they seem to just mingle and chill. I guess they are all the same family.

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Gotta love those little ones.

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They all meander as one down to the small pond, enjoying the green grass and fresh, cool water.

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The herd has yet again split up, which means that everywhere you look, all around us, are elephants.

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Some of the group decide to head for the trees rather than the water.

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Elephants are very protective of their little ones, and will usually try their best to hide them in the middle of the herd.

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But when you have an itch, you've got to scratch it! And trees make very good scratching posts.

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But mum soon appears to offer her baby protection from any would-be predators. Although it is unusual, lions have been known to attack young elephants.

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When the tree doesn't do the trick, our little fellah resorts to using his own legs to soothe that itch.

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Check out David's video for an extra dose of cuteness.

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We spend a considerable amount of time watching the elephants, taking great delight in their shenanigans and interactions with each other.

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We watch the elephants slowly make their way into the forest, before turning our attention to other attractions in the immediate surroundings.

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The pond is also home to a number of birds

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Grey Heron

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Black Headed Heron

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Laughing Doves

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Serrated Terrapin

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Augur Buzzard

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Another Black Headed Heron

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Leopard Tortoise

We also come across a lone elephant taking a shower.

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We say goodbye to the Ndutu area as we make our way towards Serengeti this morning, with a last look at Lake Ndutu and the animals it attracts.

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Lake Ndutu

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Giraffe

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Hartebeest and zebra

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Hartebeest

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Black Breasted Snake Eagle

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Grant's Gazelle

And here they are all together: Grant's Gazelle and Hartebeest with the snake eagle in the tree
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Two Banded Courser

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In order to save time at the Serengeti Gate, we sign out of Ngorongoro Conservation Area at the Ndutu Ranger Station.

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At Malisa's recommendation, I resist using the toilets here, preferring to wait until we get to the proper Serengeti gate at Naabi Hill, where I know the facilities are modern and clean.

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With the correct paperwork in hand, we leave Ndutu behind and make the journey across the Short Grass Plains to reach the official gate to enter the Serengeti for the next chapter of our adventure.

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On the way we meet up with James and his client in one of the other Calabash vehicles.

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Another drinking giraffe.

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And a huddle of zebras under a tree.

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This Long Crested Eagles takes off and we follow him - at the same speed and height - down the road for some time. A very cool experience.

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Much as I hate to say goodbye to Ndutu (it is one of my favourite places in Tanzania), I am looking forward to seeing what Serengeti has to offer us. Thank you Calabash Adventures for giving us this opportunity.

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:31 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds elephants africa safari tanzania terrapin buzzard ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area Comments (3)

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