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Ndutu VI - vultures, hartebeest, elephants, jackals, lions

A lovely morning on the savannah


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

Zebra

Looks like we have us some zebra love here.

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It's pretty obvious that this liaison isn't going to result in any zebra babies!

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It looks like a kinky threesome to me.

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Cattle Egret

Wildebeest Buffet

Marabou Stork and a variety of Vultures feast on a wildebeest carcass left behind by a much larger predator. These scavenging raptors are the hyenas of the skies, playing a vital ecological clean-up role by disposing of decomposing carcasses.

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There is always a strict pecking order at such buffets, with the Lapped Faced Vulture being the first, as with their powerful hooked beaks they are the only raptor able to open up the carcass to allow other, smaller vultures to access the innards.

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These huge and aggressive birds stand more than a metre tall with wingspans of around three metres. They are also, however, known for being particularly affectionate and mate for life, which in the wild can be up to thirty years.

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I have to say that he doesn't look very 'affectionate'.

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Their heads are free of feathers to avoid blood clinging to it as they bury themselves deep into the carcass to get at the sinew, their preferred food. Potent stomach acids help them deal with the most putrid carcass.

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Vultures can store up to one kilo of consumed flesh in the distensible section of their oesophagus, called a crop. They have been known to eat so much that they become too heavy to physically take off; although should they sense danger, they are able to empty the crop for a quick get-away.

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Different species of vultures have different shaped beaks, which means they eat different parts of a carcass, hence they should - theoretically - all be able to eat peacefully at the 'dinner table'.

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Hartebeest

A large antelope, standing at around 1 metre at the shoulders (3 feet), hartebeest are gregarious animals that are usually found in herds, such as here.

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Now let's go back to what I said about the size of the Lapped Faced Vulture: should the bird be standing next to the Hartebeest, this is what it would look like.

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Giraffe

A lonesome giraffe eats his way across the savannah.

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Golden Jackal

She is sniffing around, looking for something, maybe food or a scent.

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She finds a hole and disappears into it.

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Elephants

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It's interesting to see the different lengths and angles of the tusks of these two elephants.

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Kori Bustard

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Eurasian Avocet

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Common Pratincole

Lions

At first the only evidence of the lions sleeping under this tree, is a paw sticking up.

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Later we a head appears, then drops down again.

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We let sleeping lions be, and carry on exploring.

Another Lion

A young male lion is surveying the landscape from a hillock overlooking Big Marsh.

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We can tell he is young – less than seven years old – from the fact that his nose is still pink. As they get older, their nose becomes black all over.

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He gets up and walks down onto the flat area.

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We move down to the flats too, and at one stage he comes up and lies under our car for the shade!

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Eventually he seems to settle down and go to sleep – in the middle of the sun – so we drive off to find somewhere to have our lunch.

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Picnic at Big Marsh

Malisa finds a great lunch spot overlooking a sea of wildebeest on Big Marsh.

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There is something really special about getting the picnic chairs out, in the company of wild animals.

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There are literally thousands of wildebeest down on the marsh.

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Judging by the number of Superb Starlings who join us, I would guess this is a popular picnic spot.

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"Got any food for me?"

I might just accidentally drop a piece of cake on the ground while I was eating; it is so easily done.

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Just as we are packing up, we hear a commotion down on the marsh, with thousands of hooves beating the ground as the whole herd – or confusion as a group of wildebeest are known as – make a run for it. Soon there are none.

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Just a couple of minutes ago, this was heaving with animals

I have no idea what spooked them, so we pop down to find out.

This safari was arranged by Calabash Adventures, the best safari operators by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:10 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals wildlife elephants bird africa safari tanzania zebra birding african picnic start lions giraffe egret vultures avocet starlings wildebeest jackal kori_bustard bustard ndutu calabash_adventures hartebeest marabou_stork pratincole golden_jackal picnic_lunch picnic_box wildlife_photography big_marsh wildebeest_carcass feeding_the_birds superb-starling Comments (2)

Serengeti VI: elephants, crocodile, lions

Too close for comfort


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

Elephants

We finally find the elephants we went out looking for this morning – or rather: they find us, crossing the road all around us.

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Giraffe

This giraffe is being pestered by Yellow Billed Oxpeckers, and keeps trying to shake them off.

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White Headed Vulture

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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Egyptian Geese with chicks

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A little less flooding

Hopefully this is a sign that the surface water is receding and some sort of normality can be restored on the roads here in the Serengeti. Providing we don't get more rain, of course.

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Or maybe not.

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Nile Crocodile

On the far bank of a small lake, a huge crocodile exposes his predator teeth. The reason crocodiles lie around with the mouths open, is to catch birds. The food left in the teeth attracts insects, and the insects in turn attract birds: the lazy approach to hunting.

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A Cape Hare unintentionally wanders into the proximity of the crocodile, and freezes to the spot when she realises.

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Meanwhile, another crocodile is coming our way.

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They are such prehistoric looking creatures.

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A third croc fancies his chances with a Black Crake.

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He is way too slow for the birds (yet too fast for the camera, or rather my reactions)

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Black Headed Heron

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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I am forever fascinated by their blue balls.

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She looks almost human here

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White Bellied Busard

Lions

We'd heard on the grapevine that there was a lion close to our lodge, and there, in the fading light, just before we turn the corner into the lodge's parking area, is a big cat under a tree.


Here you can see our tent from where the lion is.

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You can see where numerous cars have driven around this tree earlier today. Now we have the lioness to ourselves.

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She's on the move.

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She joins two others under another tree.

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We leave them to it and drive the few metres to our camp, feeling a little nervous as we get out of the car.

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I don't think tonight is the night to have sundowners around the camp fire outside, sitting between the tent and the lions.

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There are three lions under one of those trees in the distance

The grass is so long beside the path to the tents that a lion could easily hide in there for later on when we go to dinner...

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Tsetse Fly Bites

I have been itching like mad all afternoon, and when I get undressed for the shower, I find my shoulder and back are covered in bites, some of which have turned into large blisters.

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Dinner

Tonight's dinner is pumpkin soup, followed by beef and pork kebabs with ugali (stodgy grits-like local dish), pilau rice, spinach, pilipili (hot sauce) and salad; followed by rhubarb tart.

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Yet again I offer my thanks to Calabash Adventures for this fabulous safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:34 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals monkeys wildlife elephants bird africa dinner safari tanzania crocodile birding lions giraffe flooding serengeti heron vulture geese goose hare ugali bird_watching calabash_adventures game_viewing vervet_monkey crake oxpeckers matawi_serengeti_camp matawi_camp insect_bites wilflide_photography egyptian_geese lions_close_to_camptsetse_flies tsetse_fly_bites Comments (4)

Pool time at Mandina Lodges - swimming with Bee Eaters

A new experience for us


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After lunch we retire to the swimming pool, relaxing, reading, swimming, birdwatching. The pool area is full of at least two dozen little White Throated Bee Eater, swooping down into the water, to catch bugs on the surface, or just for a cooling dip.

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They are so fast, and never dive in the same place twice, making it impossible to catch them on the camera. This is the nearest I got:

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After little success using my small waterproof camera, I risk the SLR with my long lens into the pool.

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I don't do much better with the 'proper' camera.

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Looking rather bedraggled after his dip in the pool

A Fanti Saw Tail joins in – a new species to us, but sadly another rubbish photograph.

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Swimming with dolphins is so yesteryear – to be really hip in 2019, you've got to have been swimming with bee eaters. It really is quite something to have them splashing all around us in the pool!

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David in the pool

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We return to our own private balcony for the rest of the afternoon.

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Strange elongated fish in the river - trumpet fish?

The river is teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes.

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At times there appears to be a feeding frenzy, with the surface of the water covered in ripples.

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Palm Nut Vulture flying overhead

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Common Redshank

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Pied Kingfisher

Tourist boat – everything around here is very low key.

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Black Headed Heron

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Hooded Vulture

The kingfisher keeps returning, and hovering above the river for quite some time before diving in after a fish. Again and again and again he does this, providing us with endless amusement.

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We watch as Angela and Keane set off for their sunset cruise.

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Malin, the chef, comes to our room to ask what we would like for dinner, and stays chatting. And chatting. And chatting. He explains he is just about to embark on a hotel management course in Camberley, UK, and says he wants to come and stay with us while he is studying. I don't think he quite realises the distances involved in England, Camberley is well over two hours' drive away from us, each way, even without traffic. Not that I have any intention whatsoever to invite him to stay with us. Sorry Malin, it ain't 'appenin'.

The lights is fading now, but I stay on the balcony taking (bad quality) photographs of the birds flying around.

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Abyssinian Roller

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The Pied Kingfisher is still here, skimming the surface now.

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Common Sandpiper

Dinner

Soon it is time to tear myself away from the birds (which I can hardly see any more anyway, in the quickly fading light), and have a shower before wandering down to the restaurant for dinner.

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Tuna Salad

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Cottage Pie

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Chicken Curry

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Chocolate Ice Cream

The ceiling above the restaurant is home to a large colony of bats. Every evening we see them flying around.

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When we first arrived, I wondered why the dining tables were not positioned under the domed roofs - I have since come to realise that they are strategically placed to avoid any droppings.

The end of another lovely day - the stars twinkle over Mandina Lodges.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:03 Archived in Gambia Tagged fish bird africa dinner pool birding swimming_pool bats roller heron vulture kingfisher gambia bird_watching waterproof_camera sandpiper bee_eaters the_gambia the_gambia_experience swimming_with_bee_eaters saw_tail redshank Comments (7)

Arusha National Park

An underrated little park


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

Fast forward a few hours and a lot of miles, and we have flown via Istanbul and Zanzibar and have now arrived at Kilimanjaro, the international airport that services Arusha and Tanzania's Northern Safari Circuit.

There is no Malisa (our trusty driver) waiting for us. All the other passengers are met and carted off to their hotels and/or safaris. There is only us left at the airport. We landed at 06:00 and it is now nearly an hour later. I think it is time to ring Tillya at Calabash Adventures (who we have booked through) to find out what is happening. The number I have for them is unavailable. I guess it is an old number from when we first used them in 2007, so I check the paperwork we were sent for a more up-to-date number. There isn't one; but I do notice that they have our arrival time down as 08:30. Oops. No idea how that happened (I take full responsibility for the error), but at least we know why Malisa isn't here. David wanders back into the airport terminal to use the wifi and contact Malisa via Facebook. He is on his way and less than ten minutes drive from the airport. Phew.

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Mount Kilimanjaro

On the way from the airport we are very excited to see the snowy top of Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. All the other times we have been here it has been well and truly smothered in mist, so this is actually our first time to see it from this road. A dormant volcano, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa at 4,900 metres (16,000 feet).

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We also have a good view of Mount Meru

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Arusha National Park

After a warm reunion with plenty of big hugs (this is sixth time we have arranged a safari through Calabash, and the third time Malisa has been our driver), we head straight for our first safari. Arusha National Park is one of the smallest reserves in Tanzania and a good stop-off point between the airport and Arusha Town.

Sykes Monkey

Arusha National Park is not the place to go for the big cats, but it does have a couple of species that are not found in the larger parks here in the north, such as this Blue Sykes Monkey.

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A troop of Olive Baboons hang out in a tree and walk by the car

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Zebra

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Sacred Ibis

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Cape Buffalo

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Great White Egret

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Woolly Necked Stork

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Grey Crowned Crane with baby - look at its head-dress just starting to grow

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Black Headed Heron

Narina Trogon

A new species to us, this colourful bird isn't very co-operative as far as photography goes, doing his very best to hide deeper and deeper into the woods.

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But at least it means that I do get to see both the front and the back of it.

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Black and White Colobus Monkey

Every time we go on safari, I have a wish list of animals that I would like to see, that I hand over to the driver. This year it contains the Black and White Colobus Monkey which I have only seen – briefly – a couple of times before: once in Mount Kenya National Park in 1986 and more recently here in this park in 2014 when I saw its tail as it disappeared into the forest. I have no clear photos of them and am keen to rectify that. No sooner has Malisa joked that they are going to come and dance for me on the bonnet of the car, than we see a couple of them lounging on the branches of a tree almost directly above the road. Very cool!

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African Grey Flycatcher

We make our way to Ngordoto Crater for a photo stop before continuing to explore the park.

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African Jacana

Baby Warthogs, referred to as piglets.

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Helmeted Guineafowl ~ also known (to us) as “just a chicken” from an incident many years ago when David got very excited thinking he'd seen a “colourful bird”.

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It is unusual to see a giraffe sitting down

Bushbucks

Down on a marshy area we see several bushbuck, which in itself is very unusual as they are normally solitary. Two males are vying for the attention of a female, and after an initial staring contest they half-heartedly fight.

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They both run after her across the marsh and into the hills beyond where she manages to shake them off.

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Apparently bushbucks are rather short-sighted, and one of the males gets somewhat confused and starts chasing a warthog instead.

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Female bushbucks are said to prefer darker partners as they are thought to be stronger and more mature (the antelope's colouration gets darker as they grow older).

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White fronted bee eater

Only once before I have I laid eyes on this small, colourful bird, and then only briefly: here in Arusha National Park four years ago. I am therefore delighted to see a large number of birds just beside the road. These bee eaters live in colonies of between ten and thirty birds, creating nests on soft mud banks such as these.

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Their homes are more like a commune, with all the birds sharing the parenting, feeding each others' chicks. They live in a close-knit community though, and fight fiercely to repel other colonies.

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Dik dik

These, the smallest of Tanzania's antelopes, mate for life, and raise their offspring together.

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Picnic

Malisa came prepared with a packed breakfast and lunch when he collected us from the airport this morning, and we stop at a picnic area overlooking Small Momella Lake to eat. It's a popular place, with several tourist vehicles here already.

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As we wander down to the parking lot when we have finished, one of the other drivers is busy rearranging his clothing, having undone his trousers to tuck his shirt in. I shout out: “Do you need any help?”, to which he replies “No, it's fine, thanks”. My reply of “So everything is in the right place then...?” elicits a lot of laughter from everyone else. Thankfully the recipient finds it amusing too.

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Little Bee Eater

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Egyptian Goose

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Blacksmith Plover

Big Momella Lake

When we last visited Arusha National Park, the lake was home to some 20,000 flamingos. I knew that at this time of year many will have made the migration to Lake Natron, so I am pleased to see a few still feeding in the water.

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Greater Flamingo

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Hippos

Big Bertha, star of the show

There are a number of people out of their cars here (it is a dedicated picnic area), and when they spot me in the vehicle with Big Bertha (my massive 600mm lens), all attention is drawn away from the lake and the hippos and everyone photographs us instead.

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Reedbuck

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Augur Buzzard

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African Hoopoe

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Waterbuck

Albino Baboon

This pigment-free monkey is very conspicuous in the environment, but his lack of colouration doesn't seem to hamper him as he goes about his day to day business.

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Brown Snake Eagle

Once we leave the park and head out on to the smooth tarmaced main road leading to Arusha, I promptly fall asleep in the car.

Upon reaching town, our first stop is to find an optician as Chris lost one of the little plastic nose protections from his glasses on the flight.

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We continue to one of the newer supermarkets, but David is disappointed to find that they don't stock his favourite South African cider, Savanna. Malisa comes to the rescue yet again and takes him to a local bar to get his supplies.

A1 Hotel and Resort

By the time we arrive at our hotel for the night (where we briefly meet up with Tillya, the owner of Calabash Adventures), we have been travelling for some 31 or so hours, and in our rush and tiredness we forget to bring the duty free alcohol in from the car. As do Lyn and Chris. Room service to the rescue and once we've had a much longed-for shower, we enjoy a couple of drinks and some snacks in our rather large but sparsely furnished room before going for dinner.

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Reception

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Lobby

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Our 'living room' with the bedroom behind

Although we did see another chap checking in to the hotel at the same time as we did, we are the only people at dinner tonight, which means they wanted us to pre-order our food as soon as we arrived. We all have chicken in a rich mushroom sauce which is absolutely delicious.

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After a quick glass of Amarula in the room, we are all safely tucked into bed by 21:00, after a gentle, but good, start to our 2018 safari.

Our thanks go to Calabash Adventures who yet again have done us proud when arranging our safari in Tanzania

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:41 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals monkeys mountain airport bird africa safari tanzania zebra birding crater buffalo watching baboons kilimanjaro heron egret stork ibis flycatcher bushbuck warthog jacana calabash_adventures best_safari_company cape_buffalo guineafowl bee_eater mount_meru sykes_monkey black_and_white_colobus_monkey ngordoto Comments (3)

Serengeti Day II Part I - Hyenas, Lions and more

Never a dull moment on safari


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 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)

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