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Ndutu XI: buffalo, jackals, fox cubs, birth of a wildebeest

What an emotionally charged morning!


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Setting off as usual in the pre-dawn darkness, we are excited to spot four lions in the far distance down on the Marsh.

“Hold on tight” Malisa instructs us as he sets off towards the big cats at quite some speed.

As we get nearer, our excitement turns to amusement: they are not lions, but hartebeest. Oh. At least it proves that even the best guide can make a mistake in the dark.

Soon afterwards Malisa briefly spots a honey badger before it disappears into the long grass. The verdant vegetation has its ups and down: there is plenty of food for the animals, but makes it more difficult for carnivores to hunt as the prey can hide so much easier. It also makes it trickier for them so spot a potential mating partner (hence why we have seen several male lions in trees on this trip). From our perspective, the tall vegetation means animals are more difficult to see, and when we do, many of them are only visible from half way up. We've been told by several people that they've not had so much rain / flood here since 1995.

Sunrise

The sunrise this morning is almost as spectacular as the sunset last night.

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As a photographer, you need to be ready as soon the sun appears – from the moment the first bright sliver peeks above the horizon until the entire sun is visible, is pretty exactly two minutes. No time to waste.

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Cape Buffalo

We haven't seen many buffalo on this trip.

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Black Backed Jackals

The buffalo have a stare-down with a couple of jackals, but they decide to go their separate ways. I am sure the much-smaller jackals would be no match for the aggressive buffalo.

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Tawny Eagles

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Coqui Francolin

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Crested Lark

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Grey Breasted Francolin

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Blacksmith Plover

Southern Ground Hornbill

There are a couple of hornbills on the ground, both of which have managed to grab themselves some breakfast.

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Ooh, this guy's got not just one lizard, but two!

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And then he's off with his take-away breakfast.

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Bat Eared Fox

As we are busy watching the hornbills, I spot a couple of fox cubs out of the corner of my eye.

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Whispering sweet nothing in my ear

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There are not just two cubs, a third one appears.

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Now there are four!

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When they start playing, all you can hear in the van is “aww” and “ahh”.

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Dik Dik

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Red Necked Spurfowl

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Harlequin Quails

Malisa spotted a Harlequin Quail earlier, but I only got a very brief glimpse of it, which was rather disappointing as it is a new one on us!

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Here, however, there are several of them. Admittedly they are running along the deeply furrowed, and massively overgrown car tracks, so not only are they difficult to see, they are extremely hard to photograph as they are in and out of blazingly bright sun and deep shadows.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

Pale Tawny Eagle

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Long Tailed Mongoose

We get a brief glimpse of this rarely-seen mongoose, just as it runs away.

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Looking for the maternity ward

For the last three days we have been on the lookout for a wildebeest mama who is just about to give birth, and today is no exception. We head down to what we jokingly call the “maternity ward” - an area full of wildebeest, many heavily pregnant.

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Soon we spot a young female (we can tell she is young because of the shape of the horns, hers are not yet fully developed) who has a pair of legs sticking out from her behind.

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We follow her as she goes about her business, seemingly without a care in the world. Before long, however, she sits down, and we are disappointed to think that we are probably going to miss the birth having seen through our binoculars how she is trying to push.

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When she stands up again, the birthing process is no further on. We worry for her. Generally the calving takes no more than around fifteen minutes for wildebeest, but this young mother-to-be appears to be really struggling.

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She walks, she tries to push, she sits down, she eats some more. Other wildebeest come up to her, seemingly to offer encouragement; but despite heavy pushing, she gets no further. After more walking, more pushing and more eating, she is finally exhausted and collapses on the ground, motionless. Is she dying? Is the baby still alive inside her? Has she lost the will to live? Will she be strong enough to finally push the baby out and look after it when it is born? We are getting distressed and seriously concerned for her safety now.

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This is way better than any documentary I ever saw – I am not just watching from the comfort of the sofa in our living room; I am here, with her, her family. I am that wildebeest.

When she finally stands up, we all breathe a sigh of relief, then hold our breath again as she starts to push once more, this time in earnest; and within a few minutes we can see the head appearing. The adrenaline in our car soars - I never expected to feel such thrill and intoxication at an animal giving birth. Willing her on, we shout words of encouragement: “Push!” “Push” “You can do it” “Come on girl” "Push".

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Then it's all over. I whoop with excitement and elation: “Yay! We're grandparents” “Good job!” Then emotion overtakes me and I cry.

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As a first-time mother, the calving was anything but easy for her. 49 minutes elapsed from we first spotted her until the baby was out. Within minutes, however, the youngster is on his feet, instinctively trying to feed while the mother licks him clean.

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Never mind the wildebeest, I am completely exhausted with all the emotions of just watching. We leave them to get to know each other and to continue on their never ending journey in the quest for greener pastures. This is the Circle of Life”

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This amazing experience would not have been possible without the excellent arrangements of Calabash Adventures, and of course our trusted guide and good friend Malisa.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:55 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunrise africa safari tanzania eagle birding fox buffalo vulture quail mongoose wildebeest bird_watching hornbill african_safari honey_badger ndutu calabash_adventures hartebeest bat_eared_fox jackals tawny_eagle plover dik_dik spurfowl francolin big_marsh wildebeest_baby african_birds african_animal fox_cubs long_tailed_mongoose wildebeest_calving wildebeest_birth Comments (2)

Ndutu VII - bat eared foxes, cheetah with cubs, mating lions

Some unusual sightings this afternoon


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

After our picnic lunch overlooking the marsh, we continue our drive to see what nature has to offer us.

Pratincole

Not a bird we've seen a lot on our safaris, so I am therefore really surprised to find a pond absolutely full of them! They are, of course, a northern migrant, so the time of year will have an influence.

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Eurasian Avocet

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African Cuckoo

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Dickson

Near the marsh we bump into Dickson, our guide from our safaris in Tanzania in 2007, 2011, and 2014, who now has his own safari company and was out with clients. It is great to see him again, and we chat for ages with him, as well as his passengers, before moving on.

Zebra

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We follow the zebra and wildebeest into the forest, but soon come out of there, as the flies are just too bothersome!

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Tortoise

It isn't often we see a tortoise in Tanzania, and even less often we see one run! In fact he was so quick he managed to get into the bushes before I had a chance to photograph him.

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Bat Eared Fox

It is rare to see a fox so near, they are usually really skittish.

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There appears to be at least six of them!

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The are obviously chasing something, and suddenly Malisa spots what it is: a black mamba! Wow! David and I just get a brief glimpse of it as it slithers into the bushes, and I am way too slow to get a photo.

One brave little soldier decides to go after it!

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Some of the others follow at a safe distance.

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Suddenly the snake raises his head as if to attack, and they all scamper. Not such brave little soldiers now.

They all gather on a sandy patch to chill out.

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Crested Lark

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Secretary Bird

She is probably looking for that Black Mamba!

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Cheetah

We see a cheetah in the bushes, and it looks like she has a cub.

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No, there are two cubs!

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Mum wanders off to find another place to rest.

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The cubs follow.

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I fire off shot after shot using the high speed continuous function on the Canon 1DXII, which can shoot at up to 16 frames per second. The shutter is also quite loud, and for a while my camera is getting more attention from people in the other cars than the cheetah!

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The cubs are seriously cute, and we would love to stay and watch their antics, but if we are to be back at the lodge before dark (as is a requirement in the parks), we need to get going.

Cattle Egrets

The egrets are heading home too.

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Impala

Down at the marsh, three impala are crossing the water, keeping a watchful eye on a hyena in the distance.

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The zebra take the more aggressive approach, and chase away the unwanted predator.

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The impala are much more relaxed now

Giraffe

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Seeing a giraffe drink from a puddle on the ground is always a treat. Mostly they get their moisture from the leaves they eat, as drinking like this is uncomfortable and risky business. They have been known to fall and break their bones, and with their heads down and their legs splayed like that, they are much more vulnerable to predators.

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Stuck - again

As we make our way down towards Lake Ndutu, we get stuck in a deep hole in the road. Thankfully, this time there are three of Malisa's friends nearby, who help to push us out, using their powerful vehicles to nudge us along.

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Wildebeest

As we wait for Malisa and his friends to catch up on news and gossip, I entertain myself with taking photos of backlit wildebeest.

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Lions
Just the other side of the lake, we see a couple of lions. It looks like our male from earlier blog entries has finally found his long lost love!

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And love seems to be on their mind tonight.

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Until she growls at him.

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It's a strange light tonight, with the clouds appearing like crepuscular rays.

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Ndutu Lodge

We make it back to the lodge just as it is getting dark, with enough time for a quick shower and change before dinner.

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Butternut squash tart

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Chicken pasta

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Ginger, walnut and toffee tart

Stars

The African sky seems to be bigger than anywhere else we've been, mainly down to the lack of light pollution here in the bush. I try my hand at some photos this evening; as I cannot wander away from the lodge because of wild animals, I decide to include the camp fire in my photo. Today's lesson (which I did know from previous experience): do not try your hand at astrophotography after a few drinks.

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I soon realise my mistake and opt to go to bed instead. Thank you Calabash Adventures for all the arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals wildlife kite africa dinner safari tanzania zebra snake birding cheetah fox lions giraffe stars egrets avocet tortoise impala stuck wildebeest astro cuckoo game_drives ndutu lark calabash_adventures bat_eared_fox dickson secretary_bird pratincole astrophotography wildlife_photography black_shouldered_kite ndutu_lodge african_animals bird_wacthing black_mamba crested_lark lions_mating Comments (2)

Ndutu - Arusha Part 1 - sunrise, lion, foxes, buzzing picnic

African wildlife can be a real pain in the ass


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I wake early, on this, our last day on safari in Tanzania, to a glorious sunrise over Lake Masek, giving the sky and everything in its wake a lovely orange glow.

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The swimming pool at Lake Masek Tented Camp

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Breakfast Box

The food is always good here in Lake Masek Tented Camp, and this morning's breakfast spread is no exception. As well as the usual selection of pastries, meats, yogurts, cheeses etc, there is a chef making fresh sandwiches for us using what appears to be leftovers from last night's dinner with lots of choices of fillings and relishes/salads. I love it when we can select what goes in our packed breakfast and lunch boxes as not only does it mean that we get our own choice of food, it also saves on any waste.

Dik Dik

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Secretary Bird

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Getting ready for another day with some gentle bending, stretching and preening.

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Nubian Woodpecker

At first glance he is hiding his beautiful red cap, but as soon as he bends forward we can see it clearly.

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Augur Buzzard

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Giraffe

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Cheetah prints

When Malisa spots the prints of a cheetah adult and cub in the dirt track, the excitement in the car soars.

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We follow the tracks for a while, hoping they will lead us to the cats; but the prints soon disappear into the long grass.

White Browed Coucal

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Aardvark

This elusive animal is right at the very top of my wish list each time I come on safari, and the joke is that I have to keep coming back to Tanzania until I see one. This morning we see an aardvark hole in which these nocturnal animals live, and a fresh footprint. I get terribly excited, but as usual, that is all we see.

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Lion

Desperately looking for food to fill his empty belly, this painfully thin male lion is presumably feeling rather vulnerable, as he is determined to hide from us. I have to say that the camouflage is excellent.

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After a while hunger wins over the fear of us, and he starts to wander across the plains, hoping to find a little something for breakfast. There does not appear to be much around these parts though, for him to eat or us to photograph.

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The breakfast buffet is not looking too promising

Kori Bustard

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Ostrich

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Bat Eared Fox Den

The parents of these cute little two-month-old babies are tenacious in their effort to lure us away from the den in order to keep their babies safe.

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The pups are curious but shy and have obviously been trained not to speak to strangers.

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Breakfast Picnic

One of the beauties of a game drive in the Ndutu area is that off-road driving is permitted. In an open area with good visibility to ensure we are safe from predators, we get our picnic stuff out and enjoy the lovingly prepared breakfast boxes, while surrounded by wild nature. And five dozen wasps. Attracted by our food they appear out of nowhere and quickly become our 'public enemy number one' as they irritatingly whirr around our plates, hands and faces, making for a miserable experience. When I said “safe from predators”, I didn't consider the buzzing kind.

We promptly eat up to get away from the wicked flying beasts, and Lyn and I go for our 'call of nature' behind the car while the boys clear away the tables and chairs.

When we are all back in the vehicle and Malia starts up the car to continue on our journey, I feel a sharp smarting sensation on my bum. “Ouch”. Just as I am thinking that I must somehow have managed to pick up a prickly leaf when pulling my knickers back up after peeing, it happens again. And again. A painful stabbing sensation in an out-of-reach area. After a recurring onslaught of three or four more stings, I have had enough, and in some considerable distress whip down my trousers and knickers while pleading with David to discover the culprit of my torment and eliminate it.

By now my shrieks have attracted the attention of the others, who look on with great concern, then look away with great embarrassment as I unashamedly undress in their midst. As soon as my knickers have been lowered to thigh level, the evil perpetrator makes a mad dash for freedom: an enraged and terrified wasp leaving behind a trail of destruction and a humiliated Grete. Job done!

The whole episode causes much amusement to everyone else; who of course, do not let me hear the end of it for the rest of the day/trip, and still haven't to this day.

You will be pleased to know that there is no photographic evidence of the episode.

On that note I will leave you for now – thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this amazing safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:55 Archived in Tanzania Tagged lake sunrise breakfast kite africa safari tanzania eagle picnic lion giraffe ostrich woodpecker wasp kori_bustard bustard buzzard game_drive tented_camp ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area bat_eared_fox lake_masek coucal brown_snake_eagle snake_eagle secretary_bird lake_masek_tented_camp dik_dik breakfast_picnic augur_buzzard breakfast_box aardvark white_browed_coucal masek pink_sky nubian_woodpecker cheetah_prints black_shouldered_kite Comments (2)

Serengeti Day 2 Part 1 - Anniversary Breakfast

Lyn & Chris' 40th Wedding Anniversary


View Tanzania for Lyn and Chris' 40th Anniversary 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The morning greets us with the promise of a beautiful day while sporting an orange glow over the horizon blending through hues of pink into a deep purple sky.

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We can still hear the lion roar this morning, presumably the same one that was calling out last night.

Cape Buffalo

Each morning we go out with Malisa as our wonderful guide, we discuss what our 'breakfast' is going to be, referring to the first animal spotted that day. Today it is a herd of buffalo just a few minutes after leaving the camp.

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I do find their stare rather unsettling.

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Topi

A small herd of Topi enjoy their breakfast near the road this morning, including several young babies.

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Sunrise

The sun fully emerges from its daily hibernation, casting a golden glow over everything in its wake.

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Including this giraffe

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And a magnificent impala

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White Bellied Bustard

Mr and Mrs Bustard are both rather well camouflaged.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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A couple of Bat Eared Foxes in the far distance

Topi

This little baby is less than one month old; they don't start getting their distinctive 'stocking' markings until they reach three months.

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Here you can quite clearly see how the youngsters get darker as they age.

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Mum looks rather thin.

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Brown Parrot

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And he's off...

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Rattling Cisticola

Lion

Just like smaller pussycats, lions eat grass when they have a bad tummy, as this old male does. He is terribly thin and probably around eleven or twelve years old. Lions live for around 12-15 years, so this guy is an old chap who is most likely on his last legs. He will have been kicked out of the pride when he was no longer able to provide for the females, with another younger male coming along to replace him. No longer having a pride to depend on for food has meant he has been starved of regular fresh meat and judging by the matted mane he is unable to look after himself properly too.

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Spotted Hyena

I wonder if this scavenger is hoping for the old lion's immediate demise?

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He assesses the situation and decides it is probably not worth the wait. Any Monty Python fans may, like me, be thinking about the "I'm not dead yet" sketch.

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We follow the old lion for a while, as he staggers around looking food.

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Having lost sight of the lion, we stop nearby at a mobile camp site (now empty) for breakfast. Is that wise? We may be upwind from the lion, but even so...

Anniversary Breakfast Picnic

On this day forty years ago, Lyn and Chris said “I do” and became husband and wife. I feel so honoured that they chose to spend their special day in Tanzania with us. Back home we have a 'community flagpole' where we hoist various different flags for various different celebrations ~ and of course we (secretly) packed one of those flags for this trip.

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The Ole Serai has not just provided the customary breakfast boxes, they have given us a posh food hamper today, containing little tiffin containers with sausages, bacon, and pancakes in an attempt at keeping the food hot.

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Plus eggs and pastries – we are certainly not going to go hungry this morning.

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What a way to start the 40th wedding celebrations!

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This Superb Starling is hoping we'll leave some food behind for her.

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She's having a bad hair day as a result of the very strong wind today.

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More in the next blog entry.

Safari organised by Calabash Adventures, the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:08 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunrise safari tanzania parrot animal birding fox buffalo lion giraffe roller serengeti hyena impala topi bird_watching bustard game_drive bat_eared_fox cisticola game_viewing ole_serai lion_roaring calbash_adventures scavenger Comments (2)

Ndutu - Part I

More cuteness overload


View The Gowler African Adventure - Kenya & Tanzania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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Bat Eared Fox

We leave the lodge while it is still dark this morning, and as dawn breaks we spot a couple of Bat Eared Foxes.

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Having previously only seen the top of their ears in the distance, I get very excited at this sighting.

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They in turn get excited at the sight of a White Bellied Bustard with a couple of chicks.

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This is a chase they have little chance of winning, but they have a go at it anyway.

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Still hungry and with the bustards half way across the savannah by now, the fox is left sniffing the air.

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Lake Ndutu Sunrise

We turn our attention to the lake, where a dazzling sunrise marks the beginning of another day filled with thrilling wilderness experiences.

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Verreaux's Eagle Owl

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Black Backed Jackal

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Having stalked a guinea fowl which then flies up into a tree, the jackal spends ages just staring at it while it makes loud warning calls to its mates.

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Eventually the jackal comes to accept that neither tree climbing nor flying are part of his repertoire; and he wanders into the sunrise, posing for some great rim-lit shots.

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Broken Down Vehicle

In the distance we see a car with its bonnet open, so Malisa goes over to check if they need any help. Between the three of them they manage to get the Jeep going, albeit coughing and spluttering in a plume of smoke.

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This is not really the place to break down – roadside recovery service is somewhat limited and cheetahs are plentiful.

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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Coqui Francolin

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Grey Breasted Francolin

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Cheetah

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“What’s that?” With his binoculars glued to his eyes, Chris spots something in the long grass and exclaims excitedly: “it’s a cheetah!”

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Bringing the car to a halt, Malisa takes a look: “There’s two… no, it’s a female with cubs!” There are four of them, about two months old.

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Desperate for some breakfast, mum is constantly on the move, and wherever she goes, the cubs follow.

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As is the unwritten rule, once we have had the kitties to ourselves for a while, Malisa radios the other couple of cars in the area to let them know about the sighting.

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Painfully thin, mum really needs to eat soon, as her suckling babies have taken all her energy.

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We spend the next hour or so following this family as they move across the plains, always on the look-out, always on the prowl.

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Not a true cat in that it does not have retractable claws like those in the panthera genus (lions, leopards, jaguars and tigers); the cheetah belongs to the genus acinonyx, as it cannot roar.

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Who knew that baby cheetah chirp like a bird?

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As the cheetah make their way towards the woodland, we reluctantly move on to see what else the Ndutu area has to offer today.

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

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Bat Eared Fox

After the excitement of seeing a Bat Eared Fox up close early this morning, I am doubly surprised to see another one!

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Lions

Down at The Big Marsh, two brothers – around seven years old - are trying to sleep off last night’s big meal.

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Two Banded Plover

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Coke's Hartebeest

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This is what happens when you fight - you lose a horn! Let that be a lesson!

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Fischer's Lovebirds

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Breakfast

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We set up a picnic on the plains in the shade of a tree.

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Ndutu Lodge has done us proud with their picnic box – there is egg, bacon, pancake, fruit, yogurt, cake, banana and juice.

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Caterpillar

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A large, hairy caterpillar is attracted to our picnic basket, and David is attracted to its fluffiness.

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Only after David lets it crawl all over his hands for quite some time, does Malisa warn: “You’ll get a rash”.

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More Lions

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While the large male lion in Ngorongoro Crater was a real Rasta Lion, these ‘teenage boys’ (around 1½-2 years old) have more of a punk style.

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It’s a hard life being a teenager.

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Hooded Vulture

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If the vulture is hanging around hoping the lions will provide him with breakfast in the shape of a kill, I think he might have a long wait – these boys do not look like they are going anywhere soon.

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He might as well make himself comfortable…

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Oh, wait… there might be some action here…?

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Or maybe not.

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Spotted Hyena

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They like lying down in the mud to cool off, which is why you so often see hyenas with dirty bottoms.

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Empty Plains

For a while we drive across never ending plains, seemingly devoid of any wildlife.

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Malisa spots leopard footprints in the sand and later rescues a dung beetle who has fallen upside down and cannot get back up. Our handsome guide is all heart, for sure – not just a good driver / guide but caring too!

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Hidden valley

A shallow depression in the endless landscape unseen from the distance – hence its name – hides several small waterholes and an overwhelming number of animals.

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What can I say? Apart from another “wow”, it is hard to find words to describe the spectacle of 200,000 or so zebra (plus around another 100,000 wildebeest) drinking, cavorting, taking a cooling dip, running, play fighting, and whatever else these ungulates do.

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Never before have I seen so many zebra in one place, the area around the waterhole is a veritable sea of stripes.

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Lots of very young babies, some just a few days old.

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With a thunder of hooves and a cloud of dust, a few more thousand wildebeest arrive.

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They just keep on coming...

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Imagine the dust and the noise when a stampede ensues – what an extraordinary location and unforgettable experience this is!

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A small limping wildebeest baby causes us great concern – he is unlikely to last long if f he can’t keep up with the herd and his vulnerability will make him an easy target for predators.

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All around us, in every direction, whichever way you look, as far as the eye can see, there are zebra and wildebeest. No other animals. The spectacle is surreal and immense.

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Time to move on.

With smooth ‘roads’, no animals in sight and a hot day, both David and I find ourselves nodding off.

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Lesser Masked Weaver Birds

After a short ‘snoozette’, I wake when we stop for a tree full of weaver bird nests – all created on the western (leeward) side of the tree at the end of the branches to protect the eggs from their main predators: snakes.

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And here is the architect herself.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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A chirpy little D'Arnaud's Barbet

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And his mate

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Lions

This is the pride belonging to the two daddies we saw earlier on this morning – three females with six cubs between them.

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There is not much activity going on in the midday heat – they occasionally lift their heads, look at us as if you say “why are you sitting there staring at us instead of taking a nap in the shade” and go back to sleep.

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Malisa explains that he first saw the growth on the side of this young male back in January, and that it doesn’t seem to bother the animal at all. It still doesn’t make comfortable viewing though.

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The daddies are still resting under the trees on the other side of the marsh, their whole bodies swaying when they pant. It makes me think of a salsa dancer.

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One of the females gets up and starts to walk across to where we – and her partner – are. Perhaps she is jealous? She spends a long time just staring at us before giving up and lying down.

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And how! A giraffe was the first large animal I saw on my very first African safari back in 1986 and I was mesmerised. I still feel that same way now, 30 years, eleven safaris, twenty-five game parks and countless giraffes later.

With thanks to Ndutu Safari Lodge for hose words.

Giraffe

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Did you know that each time a giraffe lifts up its neck, it lifts more than 550 pounds?

Tawny Eagle

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We return to the lodge for lunch, a siesta or some bird watching before resuming today’s game drive. For fear of overload, I shall leave you here and create a new blog entry for this afternoon’s excursion.

As always, thanks to Calabash Adventures and their expert guide Malisa.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds road_trip travel adventure sunrise cute holiday africa safari tanzania zebra birding cheetah picnic lions giraffe roadtrip ngorongoro hyena wildebeest jackal bird_watching game_drive road-trip adorable dung_beetle safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company cuteness_overload ngorongoro_conservation_area hartebeest hidden_valley lake_ndutu bat_eared_fox Comments (0)

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