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Ndutu III: migration, dung beetles, hyena, heron with snake

In the midst of the action


View Baby Boomers - Tanzania 2020 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After breakfast we continue on our quest to see the wildebeest migration and maybe even a female giving birth.

The first thing we come across, is a less-than-a-day-old baby suckling his mum.

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Large herds of wildebeests attract a number of followers as they cut across the savannah, in the form of flies, which again entice birds, in this case Cattle Egrets, who ride along, hoping for a tasty snack.

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Marabou Stork

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Grant's Gazelles

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Thomson's Gazelle

The difference between Grant's and Thomson's (affectionately known as Tommies), is not just that the latter is much small (which of course isn't easy to see in a photograph), but also the shape of the horns, and the dark stripe along the side.

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Here you can see them together – Grant's in the front with the paler body and the curved horns, and Thomson's at the back: smaller with a distinctive dark stripe.

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Dung Beetles

Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest in one place naturally produces a lot of waste, with the waste again attracting dung beetles. Lots of them. Malisa knows what a fascination I have with these cool little recyclers, and stops for me to take some photos as they roll away their prized balls of shit.

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So, why do they do it?
While there are different types of dung beetles, these little critters we see here, start by converging on a fresh pile of dung and rolling it into a ball. Sometimes you see several beetles on a pile of dung, and they can transform a huge mount of manure into perfect balls in minutes.

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Usually it is the male doing most of the rolling – they can roll up to 50 times their own weight – with the female simply hitching a ride.

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Things don't always go to plan.

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When a spot with soft soil is found, they stop and bury the ball.

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After mating under ground, the female lays eggs inside the dung. Once the new brood has hatched, they eat their way out of the ball, thus the dung doubles up as housing as well as food.

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By burying and consuming dung, they improve nutrient recycling and soil structure; as well as the dispersal of seeds found in the animal waste. Additionally, by removing the manure, they decrease the number of flies that would otherwise be attracted to the wildebeest.

I just love these little animals!

Hyena

A pregnant hyena eyes up a zebra.

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While they are known to be opportunist predators, hyenas generally go after abandoned kills. In this case, our female is looking for placentas left on the ground after animals have given birth.

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The zebra nearest us is limping badly, and we momentarily get quite concerned for safety, but either the hyena doesn't notice, or she has not got the energy in her at her current state to pursue a potential prey. There is less chance of losing her baby by foraging for leftovers than chasing a large animal.

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Marabou Stork

Meanwhile, a Marabou Stork circles above. They too are carrion eaters, so probably looking for placentas too.

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And an Abdim Stork

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Kori Bustard

Judging by his flamboyant courtship display, this guy doesn't have food on his mind, he is looking to attract a female.

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Zebra with Young

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This guy seems to have a lot of passengers.

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Wattled Starlinsg

Black Headed Heron

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Far in the distance we see him stalking something on the ground, then dip down and reappear with a snake in his beak!

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For the next ten minutes we watch the battle of wits between the still-live snake and the hungry bird.

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It is a tough flight. The snake keeps trying to slither out of the heron's mouth but obviously the heron gets the better of it.

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While trying to re-arrange the snake within his beak, he drops it at one stage, but is very quick at picking it up again.

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We are fascinated by the spectacle unfolding before us - this surely has to be today's highlight!

Knob Billed Duck

As we are watching the heron, Malisa calls out to alert us to a Knob Billed Duck flying overhead. I grab my other camera (I have been using Big Bertha for the heron, but find that too heavy and cumbersome for birds in flight), but by the time I get myself sorted, it has almost passed us over.

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Wildebeests

As we continue our journey across the flat meadows near Ndutu, we find ourselves surrounded on all sides by wildebeest. There are literally thousands of them, everywhere we look, as far as we can see into the distance.

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Today's challenge is to find a wildebeest – or zebra – just about to give birth so that we can witness the beginning of a new life. It seems, however, that we are too early for the wildebeest, and too late for the zebra.

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Zebra Dust Bath

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Zebra on Heat

Someone ought to tell this female zebra on heat that mounting another female zebra is not going to satisfy her sexual urges, nor is it going to produce baby zebra.

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“Stop it! You're scaring the children!”

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The other female is obviously not in the mood for lesbian love, and kicks out before making her escape.

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Car stuck in the Mud

In the distance we see a car at an odd angle; obviously unable to get out of a bit of a hole, quite literally.

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The ground is so deceptive here: the savannah looks its normal grassy self on the surface, yet – in some place – as soon as you drive on it, it is all boggy underneath.

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There are already other people helping the female driver of the grounded vehicle. A few years ago there were no female drivers here in th Northern Circuit, but that is slowly changing as the lodges prepare accommodation to support both genders. On this trip we see two lady drivers.

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It rather concerns me seeing the vultures circle above – what do they know that we don't? The presence of a number of wildebeest, however, indicates that we are reasonably safe from predators.

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At the beginning of this trip, Malisa mentioned about making sure he had a couple of tow ropes in the car, now I am beginning to understand why, as a rope is attached to the stuck car, with another vehicle ready to pull them out. They are travelling together in a group of three cars, with the passengers being a bunch of very friendly Americans.

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The lead car goes full whack in top speed and makes it all look very easy. One of the passengers, however, makes the mistake of standing up in the vehicle as they are being pulled out, and ends up completely airborne. I am pretty sure she must have hit her head on the roof – that's gotta have hurt!

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Malisa tells us to hold on for dear life as he drives across the boggy area at full speed too, creating some serious bounce, resulting in painful jarring of my back. We stop the other side of the bog to make sure all the vehicles get across. The atmosphere here is like that of a party, with everyone treating it as an adventure. There is lots of clapping and cheering going on.

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There's an enormous amount of surface water about!

Hyenas

We see four hyenas scattered in different places, in amongst the zebra. Neither species seem that bothered by the other.

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As we move to get closer, we almost run over this fifth one in a den.

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Eland

A small herd of eland appear on the horizon. Traditionally hunted for their delicious meat, these large antelopes are usually very skittish.

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For that reason there is no point in trying to get any closer to get a better shot, so I grab Big Bertha instead (my 600mm lens). Because of how far away these critters are, there is a lot of atmospheric distortion in the air, making the images quite soft.

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Abdim Stork

Pee break

Unlike the Serengeti where there are a number of organised picnic areas with modern toilets, here at Ndutu it's au naturel. You'd think that after all these years I would have learned to face into the wind when 'marking my territory', especially on a gusty day like today. Not a chance. The only casualty is my knickers, my jeans remain unscathed, and thankfully there are no other tourist vehicles around as I take them off. The wildebeest don't seem to mind.

You - and I - will be pleased to know there are no pictures.

Thomson's Gazelle

A mother and her ten day old baby.

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We race across the savanna – not because we're in a hurry, but in order to prevent ourselves getting bogged down in the marshes - to reach a tree which will provide shade for our picnic lunch.

More to follow in the next blog entry. Thanks to Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife mud safari tanzania zebra birding duck hyena heron egret stork starling wildebeest kori_bustard bird_watching bustard wild_animals eland ndutu dung_beetle calabash_adventures marabou_stork grant's_gazelle game_viewing thomson's_gazelle wildlife_photography wild_birds abdim_stork stuck_in_mud baby_animal wildebeest_baby heron_with_snake knob_billed_duck dust_bath zebra_on_heat car_stuck pee_break Comments (2)

Ndutu I: chameleon, lions, migration, cheetah

Goodbye Serengeti, hello Ndutu


View Baby Boomers - Tanzania 2020 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It's late afternoon as we leave Serengeti National park behind and head for pastures new, with five nights in the Ndutu region of Ngorongoro Conservation Area.

There are just as many zebras here as there were the other side of the park border. Of course the animals don't have to check in and out of the parks as we do, and there are no physical borders.

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Wattled Starling

A tree by the side of the road is alive with these colourful and impressive-looking birds.

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They get their name from the long wattles found on the throat of breeding male birds, who also display unfeathered yellow skin and a black forehead (the rest of the year they are a dull grey)

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Female

Jackson's Chameleon

Without warning, Malisa comes to a screeching halt on the apparently empty road. Except it is not so empty. Malisa's eyes never cease to amaze me – he has spotted a chameleon crossing the road!

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They are seriously bizarre in the way they walk.


Having safely crossed the road, our little friend disappears up the bank and into the undergrowth. What an exciting sighting!

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European White Stork, a seasonal migrant

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The dark line you see just before the horizon is thousands upon thousands of zebra and wildebeest making their annual migration through the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem. Some 3-4 million animals in total are part of this spectacle.

Lions

Also watching this amazing phenomenon is a pride of seven lions, but not for the same reasons as us: they see it as a line-up of prospective lunch choices.

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Although this one seems to be watching us.

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Wildebeest

We soon find ourselves in the midst of the hoofed melee, surrounded by wildebeest on all sides.

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There are a few zebra amongst them too, but nowhere near the numbers we saw just a little bit further north in Serengeti.

At this time of the year, the plains of Ndutu are descended on by what is known as the 'Great Migration', and the animals are here to give birth to their babies before continuing on their never-ending quest for greener pastures. It is in the hope of seeing the young animals or even babies being born that we have chosen to come here now; we are therefore a little disappointed to see that there do not appear to be any little ones around, at least not in this herd.

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We finally see this one single youngster in amongst all the adults.

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He's full of life as he explores his new world.

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At just a couple of days old, he doesn't know what to make of this egret.

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“I think I'll go back to mum.”

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Mum, meanwhile, has a non-fare-paying passenger in the form of a wattled starling.

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The fare-dodger is soon evicted, however.

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Cheetah

In he distance we see a few cars gathered and go off to investigate.

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Initially we can't see what they are all looking at, but then we spot a little head in the long grass.

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There is a mum and two young cubs, somewhere in the region of 5-7 months old, and they have a kill that they are feeding on. Their dinner, however, it completely overrun with flies!

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Mum tries to move the carcass, but it proves too heavy for her.

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Having had enough to eat, they all join together and roll in the grass in an attempt to rid themselves of those pesky flies.

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It's getting late and we need to be at the lodge before dark; and as we don't know what we might see on the way to delay us, Malisa wants to get going.

Great White Egrets and Abdim Storks

We are not the only ones heading for home – a great number of egrets and storks fly low on the way to their roosting sites for the night.

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Road Block

More and more ungulates are joining the migration this point, with the road being blocked in several places by wildebeest and zebra.

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Uh uh. It looks like there may be a road block of a different kind here; I hope we can manage to get through the puddles.

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The cars in front of us have made it, so we should be OK. It probably looks worse than it actually is.

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We're through!

Great White Egrets
As we cross the narrow strip of land between Lake Masek and Lake Ndutu, we see hundreds and hundreds of egrets fly low over the water as they are coming home to roost. The light is gorgeous with the setting sun giving the whole scene a warm, yellow glow.

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It's a spectacular sight, and we stay as long as we can before having to make the journey to the lodge for the night.

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Ndutu Lodge

This is the third time we have stayed here at Ndutu Lodge, and as yet we've never arrived early enough to be able to have the time to sit around the camp fire before dinner.

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Today is no different. By the time we have a shower and change, we are the last to arrive in the restaurant. The food here has always been excellent, but as they are under new management, we are a little concerned that this may have changed. We needn't have worried, it every bit as good as it always was.

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Another good thing about Ndutu Lodge which hasn't changed, is that they serve Savanna Cider.

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Mini tomato tart

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Chicken curry with coconut and banana, mango chutney, rice and poppadum; with vegetables on the side

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Chocolate mousse

Thank you so much to Calabash Adventures for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:58 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset wildlife africa cats safari tanzania big zebra birding flies cheetah lions egret stork migration starling wildebeest chameleon bird_watching african_safari ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area lake_ndutu lake_masek wildebeest_migration game_viewing great_migration wildlife_photography flying_birds wildlife_viewing cheetah_cubs abdim_stork ndutu_lodge Comments (4)

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