A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about birds

Itatiaia - birding around the lodge

Such colourful birds!


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I did not have a good sleep last night, the bed is hard and much more narrow than we are used to. So far all the hotels have had king or even super-king sized beds, this is just a standard double. I could not find a position that was comfortable, and I had some pretty awful dreams. One good thing, though, is it was actually quite cool in the night. We are right up in the hills here, so the average daytime temperature is very comfortable, an absolute delight after the Amazon heat!

We meet Ricardo for some early morning birding by the swimming pool, which is one level up from the restaurant and has good views over the surrounding trees and bushes where the birds congregate at first light.

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Velvety Black Tyrant

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White Eyed Parakeets

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Saffron Finch

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Piazuru Pigeons

Maroon Bellied Parakeets
I watch the parakeets as they flit from tree to tree, grabbing a bite to eat on the way.

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I love the human-like way they hold their food - I have never seen that before

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Red Breasted Toucan

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Rufous Collared Sparrow

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Dusky Legged Guan

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Rufous Bellied Thrush

We break briefly for breakfast, before continuing to look for birds. Ricardo is passionate about what he does, and it rubs off on me.

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Brown Capuchin monkeys on the balcony while we are having breakfast

Mr & Mrs Chestnut Bellied Euphonia

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Male

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Female

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Saffron Finch

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Female Blue Dacnis

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Male Blue Dacnis

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Plain Parakeet

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Golden Chevroned Tanager

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Green Headed Tanager

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Black Googled Tanager

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Golden Winged Cacique

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Brazilian Ruby

We drive down to an abandoned hotel, which is obviously one of “the” places to go bird watching, as we see three other birding groups here. Most people trek into the forest, whereas we just stay in and around the car park as my knee is not up to any serious walking, and see absolutely nothing.

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When we get back to the lodge, Ricardo dismantles part of the hummingbird feeder, wipes the flower with antiseptic gel, dips it in sugar water, and suggests I hold it in my mouth.

It doesn't take long before the first visitor arrives. Wow! It is totally mind-blowing to feel her little wings on my chin.

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Red Rumped Cacique

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Ruby Crowned Tanager

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Brazilian Tanager

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Velvety Black Tyrant

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Olive Green Tanager

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Saffron Finch

Lunch
As usual, the lunch consists of a buffet. We are joined by Ricardo, who asks for a link to my website. He spends some time looking through my wildlife photos on there and exclaims: “You're good!”, “You're one of the best I've ever seen!” I float on a little cloud for the rest of the day after that compliment!

After lunch, I go back to the hummingbird feeders and try and get some better pictures.

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Brazilian Ruby

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Planalto Hermit

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Brazilian Ruby

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Some interesting effects using a flash with a slow shutter speed

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Violet Capped Woodnymph

David gets fed up and goes back to the room to chill on the balcony, while I continue taking photos of the birds around the feeders.

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Female Black Goggled Tanager

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Saffron Finch

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Screaming Cowbird

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Double Collared Seedeater

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Not only do they feed the birds, but the squirrels are well looked after too

After a while, I go to join David and spot a few birds from our own balcony as well.

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Red Breasted Toucan

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Scaled Woodcreeper

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Magpie Tanager

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Saffron Toucanet

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White Spotted Woodpecker

David takes the chilling to the extreme!


Great use of an upcycled pandemic mask!

I decide to go to bed for a siesta instead, as I am feeling quite cold.

As we did yesterday, we go up to the restaurant before dinner to use the internet. The same group of American birders are there again tonight, with the guide going through, bird by bird, what they saw today. The same woman is making inane comments and correcting the guide's English, to the point he snaps at her: “You do realise English is my second language don't you”, and with a groan adds: “it's only the second day, this is going to be a very long week!” I feel his pain.

Back in the room, we grab the spare blanket for the bed, as we both felt cold last night.

Goodnight from Itatiaia, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 21:08 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife monkey pigeons guide hammock brazil lunch forest balcony birding brasil toucan website squirrel sparrow tanager woodpecker blanket guan hermit capuchin americans siesta finch adventure_travel hummingbirds pandemic bird_watching snoring knee ruby itatiaia undiscovered_destinations thrush snooze face_mask parakeets wild_birds painful_knee tyrant cacique euphonia dacnis bad_knee knee_pain hummingbird_feeder woodnymph cowbird woodcreeper toucanet eye_mask feeling_cold Comments (0)

Amazon Day One - chasing swallows and otters mating

Such a privilege


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

The room finally cooled enough for me to put the covers on at 01:00. The alarm is set for 05:00, but I am awake from 03:00 anyway.

Boat Safari
Like Araras, the activities here at Cristalino revolve mostly around trekking, but because of my bad knee, Gui has arranged boat safaris instead.

It is still dark when we go out at 07:00, so not good for photography.

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Amazon Kingfisher

The sun soon comes up, though, giving me more light to work with.

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Red Throated Piping Guan

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Green Kingfisher

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Great Black Hawk

The guests that are staying here at Cristalino Lodge are mostly a combination of families looking for adventure, and avid bird watchers. Not sure where we fit into that.

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Long Nosed Bats
With clever camouflage, these bats attach themselves to the bark of a tree, hiding from the Bat Falcon.

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This caiman is also very well camouflaged amongst the logs and rocks in the river.

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Sunbittern

White Winged Swallow
I spend ages trying to make this little chap fly, but he is not very cooperative, and when he finally does take off, I am not ready with my camera.

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I follow him to his next perch.

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After hanging around for ages, I yet again miss him taking off. I give up for now.

Until I see a couple of a rock, that is!

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Green Ibis

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White Banded Swallow

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Swallow Winged Puffbird

We are now at the beginning of the dry season here in the Southern Amazon, so the level of the river is slowly going down. You can see just how much lower the water is already.

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These rocks are completely submerged in the rainy season.

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It certainly makes for challenging navigation and heightens my admiration for our skilled captain.

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Blue and Yellow Macaws

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Rufescent Tiger Heron

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Spectacled Caiman

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Anhinga

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Scarlet Macaws

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Capped Heron

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Plumbeous Kite

We spend most of our time motoring gently along the shady side of the river. David and I agree how incredibly privileged we are to be here, doing this.

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Amazon Taricaya Turtle

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Green Ibis

A dragonfly lands on the boat, and I try – not altogether successfully – to capture it before it flies off.

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Neotropic River Otters
We see a couple of otters mating.

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It looks like this one is in the throes of passion.

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Rapids
Where the water level has gone down, and rocks have become exposed, a number of rapids have developed.

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Look at how that water glistens in the sun!

The moving water attracts birds and is fun to navigate – for us. Again I admire the captain and his experience and knowledge as he steers us safely up the river.


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Capped Heron

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Southern Rough Winged Swallow

Back to Cristalino Lodge
We return to the lodge mid-morning, where Gui has arranged for me to have a ride back to the room in the electric luggage buggy in order to save my knee. I sit on the flatbed at the back, while David joins the driver in the front.

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We chill in the room and later on the patio before lunch

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An unusual rocking chair


Lunch
This oppressive 38 °C heat is making me feel lethargic, and I struggle to muster up the energy to walk to the restaurant for lunch.

Cristalino Cream of Tartar: with tomatoes, red onions and green herbal oil, plantains, Dijon mustard, capers, and ginger. Served with banana chips.

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Very refreshing, quite sweet, tastes predominately of banana

Regional spaghetti dish with cured beef, tomatoes, and orange sauce

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Very nice

Banana Crumble
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Yum! Must try this at home!

We opt out of taking an excursion this afternoon due to the heat, my knee, and David's sore throat; instead, we snooze for the afternoon before I drag myself to dinner. It doesn't feel any cooler after the sun has gone down. This heat is really getting to me.

Dinner
We start with a drink, while we wait for the food to arrive.

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Passion Fruit Caipirinha

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David's beer even has its own small ice bucket

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Courgette hash with a poached egg - dry and tasteless

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Cristalino salad: seasonal leaves, pickled red onion with mustard seeds, cherry tomato confit, cucumbers, pickled palm heart, olives, red cabbage, served with savoury granola. The dish is overly salty (which is saying something as I love a bit of food with my salt), the crunchy topping is nice though

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Savoury Granola

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Tucupi risotto and smoked catfish: rice, tucupi (cassava broth), jambu (paracress), Grana Padano cheese, and catfish smoked in cashew and blackberry leaves.

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Brazil nut mousse - I am not at all keen on this dish

And so to bed. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 18:39 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife kite hammock dinner safari hawk brazil lunch birding luxury amazon bats turtle caiman heron anhinga ibis rapids guan kingfisher macaw dragonfly bird_watching otter boat_safari dry_season undiscovered_destinations swallow wildlife_photography river_safari puffbird cristalino sunbittern water_level Comments (5)

Araras Day Three - Bridge 3, swimming pool, anteaters

A great finish to our stay in Araras


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Another early start this morning: up at 04:15 for a 05:00 safari.

We stop at the statue of São Francisco, the protector of ecology, to photograph the sunrise, before continuing to Ponte 3, our favourite bridge (I never thought I'd end up with a favourite bridge on the Transpantaneira).

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Bridge # 3
There are way more birds flying this morning than yesterday, and in greater quantities.

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Most birds roost near water at night, as the sun heats the water during the day, which helps keep the birds warm during the night. In the morning they fly off in search of food.

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It is mesmerising to watch.

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Flash Gun
After the problems I had with low light necessitating high ISO (= noisy/grainy images) yesterday, I brought my Speedlight with me this morning, plus my Better Beamer.

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Ringed Kingfisher

The Better Beamer is basically a fresnel lens on a frame. Its main purpose is to extend the range of the flash, although it will also reduce the possibility of the lens hood casting a shadow.

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Green Kingfisher

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Caiman

I am impressed that it seems to work all the way across the other side of the pond!

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As well as into the sky above.

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Large Billed Tern

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Black Vulture

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Black Bellied Whistling Ducks

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Orange Winged Parrots

After a while, I abandon the flash.

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Caiman

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Wood Stork

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Jabiru

Black Skimmers
I love watching the way these birds fish by skimming the water with their beaks open. The lower mandible is larger than the top one, allowing them to more easily hook up some breakfast.

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This one's got a fish!

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Large Billed Terns having a bit of a domestic

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Yellow Billed Cardinal with a colouration issue

This is what he is supposed to look like:

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Southern Caracara

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Black Capped Night Heron

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Maguari Stork

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Peach Fronted Parakeet

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Unicoloured Blackbird

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Striated Heron

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Great Egret

Reluctantly we move on from the pond at Bridge # 3, and slowly make our way back towards the lodge.

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Maguari Stork

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Savanna Hawk

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Southern Lapwing coming in to land

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Black Stilt

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Wood Stork

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Wattled Jacana

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Monk Parakeets

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Roseate Spoonbill

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Rufous Cachalote

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Bared Faced Ibis

We see a Southern Caracara have a wrestling match with a stick.

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Guira Cuckoo

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Lesser Yellow Headed Vulture

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Black Vulture

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Snail Kite

Breakfast
By the time we get back to the hotel, we are too late for the breakfast buffet, but the lodge has laid our usual table in the shade of a tree on the patio, and they bring us a number of different dishes.

It seems the chachalaca have got to the butter, however, before we can.

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Caught red-handed - or is that red-beaked - with a large knob of butter in his mouth.

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I bet the butter does melt in his mouth, though!

This is the most we've eaten for any breakfast so far. Disclaimer: we didn't eat everything served! We do feel obliged to eat more than we normally do, however, as they've brought us all this food.

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Chill time
Mid-afternoon we spend some time in the pool cooling down. We are the only ones around, so have the pool to ourselves. I guess everyone else has gone out for a strenuous walk or horse-riding.

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This is not a sign you really want to see right next to the pool

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Afternoon safari
At 16:00 we set off for our very last safari in the Pantanal, as tomorrow we are moving on to pastures new.

The first thing we spot is another armadillo.

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Agouti
He is a long way away, there is lots of dust in the air, and I am shooting into the sun, so unfortunately I don't get any good pictures of the agouti.

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A Crab-Eating Fox rushes past us.

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Blue Crowned Parakeets

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Yellow Collared Macaws

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Collared Anteaters
Leaving the best until last, Roberto slams on the brakes and reverses the car back a few yards before jumping out with his binoculars. Soon he beckons us over: he has seen an anteater in a tree.

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Wow!

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Not just one, but there is another one in a nearby tree, which is quite surprising, as they are normally solitary creatures.

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Once the sun's gone down, leaving the anteaters in very low light, we reluctantly return to the lodge for a shower, dinner and packing before bed.

Goodnight and goodbye from Araras. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 19:30 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife breakfast kite safari parrots pool hawk brazil birding brasil ducks fox swimming_pool south_america caiman swimmingpool heron egret stilt stork vulture ibis armadillo cardinal caracara blackbird kingfisher pantanal butter cuckoo bird_watching transpantaneira anteater jacana undiscovered_destinations tern lapwing parakeets bird_photography wild_birds flying_birds speedlight flash_gun skimmer araras sao_francisco bridge_three roosting_birds better_beamer cachalote chachalaca butter_wouldn't_melt_in_his_mou chill_time agouti Comments (0)

Araras Day One - walking tour and Jeep safari

A bird-watcher's paradise


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Another slightly later start this morning: up at 05:30, breakfast at 06:30, leave at 07:00 for a wee walk around the hotel grounds to check out what's about.

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Red Breasted Cardinal

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Little Woodpecker, hiding

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Roseate Spoonbill and Wood Stork

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One in, one out!

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Wattled Jacana

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We see Mr & Mrs Hornero, and this is their somewhat unusual nest.

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Greater Kiskadee

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Ringed Kingfisher

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Chopi Blackbirds

The grounds are surrounded by ponds covered in vegetation, amongst which caimans hide, waiting for an unsuspecting breakfast.

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We hear several loud grunts and look around expecting to see wild boar or something similar. “It's the mating call of the caiman” explains Roberto.

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Monk Parakeets

Black Collared Hawk
The hawk has caught something, although at first, I cannot make out what it is.

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On closer inspection, I can see it's a fish, and he is having quite the feast!

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Cattle Tyrant - it is the first time we have seen that red crest on the top of its head

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Yellow Rumped Cacique

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Rufous Bellied Thrush

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Rufous Cachalote. That is one very ambitious nest builder!

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Boat Billed Heron

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She is feeding her young

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Black Vulture

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Thrush Like Wren

The property owns a lot of land surrounding the lodge, and several boardwalks lead out across the marshland into the jungle beyond. There is also an observation tower, but neither of us feels up to climbing it.

On one of the boardwalks, we see a couple of spoonbills. I suggest Roberto walks onto the bridge so that I can catch the moment they fly away.

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Unfortunately, they both fly in the opposite direction from what I wanted them to do.

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A caiman looks as if he is heading to the swimming pool.

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Another is making a beeline for David.

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This one makes me laugh - I don't think the camouflage is working!

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They are awfully close to the hotel in my opinion.

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Roberto assures me that no attacks on guests have been recorded. “They are more afraid of you than you are of them”

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Amazon Kingfisher

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Savanna Hawk

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Purple Gallinule, hiding

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Black Capped Donacobius

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Plumbeous Ibis

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South American Ground Lizard

This place really is a birdwatcher's paradise. On a three-hour walk, during which we strayed no more than a few hundred metres from the lodgings, we have seen 34 different bird species, 22 of which are new to us on this trip.

Very satisfied, we return to the room for a few hours in the air conditioning before lunch. David is feeling only slightly better from his throat infection, and I still have the runs, so it is nice to chill for a bit.

Lunch
We make sure we go down to the restaurant as soon as the food is ready when they ring the bell at 11:30. I dislike buffets, and I dislike buffets that have been left out for an hour or two even more.

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Chicken stew, rice, and beans

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Caramelised payaya - very nice!

We have it on good authority that the large tree in the courtyard of the lodge attracts macaws most afternoons, so after a post-lunch siesta, I wander out there to see if I can spot any.

Hyacinth Macaw

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This is the largest parrot in the world, and I hear them before I see them. They are loud, very active, and quite humorous to watch.

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They are not so easy to photograph, however, and for the best part of an hour, they play hide and seek with me.

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I swear they are laughing at me.

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Mind you, chasing them around the tree with a walking stick in one hand and a chair in the other must have looked quite amusing. My balance is pretty awful (David would say I am 'unstable'), hence the chair for when I want to look straight upwards holding a long lens up to my face.

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Jeep Safari
Here at Araras, a number of activities are included in the package, such as trekking, climbing the observation tower, horseriding and canoeing. Obviously, I am unable to partake in any of those, so Roberto is taking us out on a Jeep Safari this afternoon.

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The safari vehicles are converted pick-ups, where the tiered seating on the back can be removed if the Jeep is needed for something else, like transporting luggage.

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David sits on the back, while I sit inside the back seat – I choose the back rather than the front, as I then have unobstructed views out both sides.

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Ringed Kingfisher

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Whistling Heron

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Thrush-Like Wren

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Purpleish Jay

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Black Collared Hawk

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Southern Lapwing

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Orange Backed Troupial

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Great Black Hawk

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Green Ibis Eating a Frog

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Grey Necked Wood-Rail

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Marsh Deer

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Before dinner, a group of guests have gathered around the camp fire, singing songs and playing the guitar.

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After the meal, David and I wander down to the boardwalk for some light painting.

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I also try my hand at some more astrophotography. I do think that I need heaps more practice!

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Goodnight from Araras, and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 22:46 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds wildlife safari hawk brazil lunch lizard birding brasil deer jay caiman woodpecker heron stork vulture ibis cardinal spoonbill blackbird kingfisher macaw pantanal astro bird_watching eco_lodge camp_fire milky_way jacana undiscovered_destinations lapwing astro_photography light_painting thrush after_dark wildlife_photography parakeets kiskadee araras jeep_safari hornero pousada_araras_eco_lodge tyrant cacique chachalote troupial wood_rail marsh_deer wild-birds wren galinule caramelised_papaya rice_and_beans Comments (2)

Porto Jofre Afternoon Safari Day Two

A delightful surprise


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After lunch, I take a quick walk around the hotel grounds to see what birds are around, then retire to the air-conditioned room for a much-welcome snooze.

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Southern Caracara

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Cattle Tyrant

I am so tempted not to go this afternoon, as I feel completely knocked out, but I don't want to miss anything, so I join David for anotehr safari.

The Boat
While there is plenty of space to spread out my gear (I carry two cameras, one with the 100-400mm plus a 1.4 extender, and the other with either the 24-105mm or a fish eye), legroom is at a premium as a result of the raised shelf at the bow of the boat. I can, of course, stretch out by placing my leg on this higher 'platform', but by doing so, my back ends up hurting. Every day I have been eating painkillers as if they are sweets in order to enjoy the boat trips.

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Dinio, our trusty captain

Jaguar
I am so glad I did come out this afternoon as we are just motoring along at some speed when the captain stops the boat and quietly shouts: “Jaguar!” Roberto doesn't believe him at first but then spots the cat in amongst the tall grass.

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Walking along the riverbank, he meanders in and out of the tall grass, emerging out into the open at regular intervals.

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Initially, there is only us here, but after Dinio radioes the other boat captains, other photographers turn up.

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Depending on where they were when they received the message, quite a few miss the sighting; or they just see his head sticking up from above the long grass.

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Just like he appeared out of nowhere, 14 minutes later he is gone into the undergrowth.

We go off to see what else nature has to offer us today.

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Jabiru

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Peach Fronted Parakeets

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Great Egret

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Cocoi Heron

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Black Vulture feasting on a capybara carcass

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Lesser Kiskadee

Neotropic Cormorant
Watching a cormorant attempting to take off from the river, I am fascinated by the number of flaps and how long a runway he needs.

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Finally airborne!

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Large Billed Tern

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Caracara with an interesting growth on its chest

Giant River Otters
We come across a couple of otters, fishing.

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While we are watching the otters, drifting slowly along the river, a couple of little fish jump in the boat. To get away from the otters, maybe?

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Ruddy Pigeon

As we make our way back to the lodge, I amuse myself by trying to be creative using a slow shutter speed on a moving boat.

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David, meanwhile, is not feeling at all well.

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It gets surprisingly cold in the boat when it is moving at speed. In the heat of the day it gives a welcome relief, but first thing in the morning and last thing at night it is good to have some extra layers.

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Tonight is our last night here at Porto Jofre. We celebrate by having an early night (as we have done every day so far on this trip). David's throat feels raw, and he spends most of the night coughing.

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Goodnight from Porto Jofre, and thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 21:55 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds boat wildlife safari brazil birding brasil pigeon speedboat heron egret vulture parakeet caracara jaguar cormorant pantanal bird_watching otter cough boat_safari porto_jofre undiscovered_destinations coughing tern wildlife_photography bird_photography wild_birds slow_shutter_speed kiskadee sore_throat giant_river_otter tyreant speeding_boat throat_infection Comments (4)

Iguaçu - day trip to Argentina

A new day, a new country, a new viewpoint


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This morning at breakfast, we pick up an extra cookie, which we break up on our table hoping to attract some of the colourful birds. You could say “that's the way the cookie crumbles”. We don't have to wait long before the first visitor arrives.

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Saffron Finch

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Plush Crested Jay

We deliberately sit at the table nearest the one that staff use as a bird feeding station, despite the seats being outside the covered roof, thus damp from the spray of the falls overnight.

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Melissa comes along, puts some crumbs in her hand, and a jay almost immediately lands and stuffs its face while perched on her fingers. Apparently, only one bird will eat from the hands, and they have affectionately named it Philhelmina.

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David tries to do the same, holding his arm out at a right angle for so long it begins to hurt, but he only gets one very quick grab-and-go visit.

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While we wait for Carini to pick us up for today's excursion, we do some more bird watching out the front of the hotel.

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Black-fronted piping guan, colloquially known as Jungle Turkey. I can see why.

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Southern Lapwing

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Scaly headed parrot

We make a quick stop at another viewing platform on the Brazilian side of the falls before continuing.

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Unlike yesterday, which had a reasonably thick cloud cover all, day, today the sun is shining; creating beautiful rainbows over the falls.

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Since the start of the Covid Pandemic, the park is closed for cleaning every Monday, so the only people we see today are those who are staying in the Belmond Hotel.

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Argentina
From the viewing platform, we continue out of the park and the short distance to the Argentine border. 80% of the falls are in Argentina, and while Brazil has the best views for that very reason, there are some interesting boardwalks on the Argentine side, including one that goes right up to the edge of the most impressive of all the falls, The Devil's Throat.

But first, we have to get into the country.

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Getting out of Brazil is reasonably quick, but the official at the Argentine immigration claims that we should have filled in and printed out an online application before we arrived. Carini is confused about this, as she came through here last week with British tourists and was not asked for this paper then. “They can be so bureaucratic,” she says. We are sent to a 'special immigration office', but to get there we have to make a U-turn and join the original queue again. Carini is having none of that and opens up a new line by moving some bollards.

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Carini is gone for ages, and we can see the official typing away on his keyboard, completing the online forms for us, and we are each issued with a number, which we then take back to the original immigration booth for them to access our online form.

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The official studies us intently (David and I have been in the car all this time, letting Carini sort out all the paperwork – that is one of the many reasons we like to have a guide!), before declaring that David's date of birth has been typed in wrong. Sigh.

Being sent back to the 'special immigration office', Carini is at her wit's end, and states that she is prepared to use tears to get what she wants. David and I both burst into song: “Don't cry for me Argentina...”

After one hour and lots of frustration, we are finally in!

The last time we came to the Argentine side of the falls, some 32 years ago, we parked up at the then Sheraton Hotel (now the Grand Meliá) and walked down from there. These days it is very commercialised, very modern, very well organised.

The entrance is huge and the distances great, so Carini arranges a buggy to take me to the train station. Despite there being plenty of room in the buggy, Carini, as a local guide, is not allowed to travel with us, but has to walk.

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Train tickets are timed, and at the station, there is a large waiting area with a souvenir shop and cafeteria.

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The announcer is a perfect character for the job, and obviously very funny, as he creates a lot of laughter. It's a shame I can't understand what he is saying. He comes over to me and explains that despite having tickets for the following train, he will not only get me on the next one, but ushers me onto the platform to ensure I get to board first!

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At least Carini is allowed to travel with us on the train!

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The train makes one stop at the start of the falls, before continuing to the end station and the trail leading to The Devil's Throat.

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On the map below, you can see the route from the car park, through the Visitors Centre and Entrance, then the train track down to the station at the end.

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Last time we only walked the yellow trail along the top of the different cataracts nearest the hotel, so this is an all-new experience for us.

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David and I make a slow start on the boardwalk, while Carini goes off to get a wheelchair for me.

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The trail is around a mile in each direction, so theoretically I should be able to do it under my own steam. I don't want to completely ruin my already painful knee at this early stage of the trip, however, so the wheelchair is very welcome when it arrives.

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Along the way, we cross little islands while turtles and birds rest on rocks jutting out of the river.

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Arriving at the end of the boardwalk, there are many people and a kind of one-way roundabout system to relieve congestion. It works very well.

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From a distance, the cascade looks impressive, but that is nothing to how overwhelming the view is once you are literally on the precipice of the falls.

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Devil's Throat
The horse-shoe-shaped cataract gets its name from an old legend in which an indigenous chief's daughter, named Naipi, was considered so beautiful that she was able to stop the waters of the Iguaçu River. Learning that her father had offered her to the god M'Boy, she escapes across the river in a canoe with her young warrior lover called Tarobá. M'boy was furious, and in retaliation, opened up a huge chasm in the river, turned Naipi into a rock, and Tarobá into a palm tree at the edge of a nearby abyss. It is said that M'boy stands at this spot to guard over the two young lovers to this day.

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Devils Throat is made up of 14 separate powerful waterfalls and at 82 metres, has the highest drop of any of the cataracts in the entire waterfall system; and is also the most photographed.

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The sheer power of the water tumbling over the edge of the river is mind-blowing, and the spray gets everywhere, as you can see from the video below.


I am forever cleaning my lens!

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The image below, taken from a helicopter, shows just how close to the edge of the waterfall that viewing platform is!

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The whole experience is totally breathtaking, and I am so mesmerised by the fast-moving water that I don't want to leave!

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The time has come to return to Brazil, however, and we head back to the train station, where there are as many coati as there are passengers.

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I rename the station Coati Central.

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One of them manages to get into the pushchair storage area of the train, making a passenger in our compartment completely freak out.

The same lovely buggy driver takes us back to the entrance area where we grab a quick burger before returning to the border.

Getting out of Argentina is way easier than getting in! The officials on the Brazilian side want to see our Covid Vaccination certificates – we do have hard copies but didn't think to take them with us today. Doh! We can show digital versions on our phones though, which is good enough for the officers. While David goes with Carini to the office, I stay in the car. They come back for me to find my document on my phone, but by the time they get back to the office with my phone, the screen has blanked and the image 'disappeared'. Thankfully David is able to find it again after some searching.

Insect bites
Both David and I seem to have suffered quite a few insect bites since we've been here at Iguaçu.

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With David, it is his legs that have been attacked, for me, it is my arms.

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The Belmond Tower
I politely decline when David suggests he wants to climb the tower at the hotel, which offers great views over the grounds and the falls beyond. I give him my camera with a fish-eye lens attached and send him on his way.

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David gets creative while photographing the staircase, and I apply a creative edit

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Sunset
As we are getting ready for dinner, we notice that there is a beautiful sunset this evening.

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Dinner
Forgetting that Brazilians eat their evening meal much later than we do in the UK, we arrive at the restaurant at 19:00, only to be told that the à la carte dinner is not served until 19:30. We are offered some nachos while we wait.

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Tonight's waitress Ana, is delightful, and we have many laughs. She later comes back to apologise for a joke she told about 'musical condoms', which she feared may have been inappropriate. She obviously does not know our sense of humour.

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We order a small pepperoni pizza each, which, when it comes, really is small.

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At least it means that we have room for dessert.

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David's lemon pie

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My meringue with berries - I love the design of the plate!

Ana persuades us to try a glass of dessert wine – she suggests two different ones, so we try one each and swap.

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With coffee and liqueurs to follow (Baileys and Cointreau), we are not surprised when the bill for the evening comes to around £200.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu and thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Brazil Tagged birds sunset tower waterfall dinner rainbow argentina brazil birding pizza iguazu jay south_america cascade helicopter turtle dessert bureaucracy anhinga boardwalk coati immigration iguacu devils_throat wheelchair guan finch spray baileys devil's_throat cataracts fish_eye undiscovered_destinations nachos belmond lapwing insect_bites belmond_hotel_das_cataratas feeding_the-birds lemon_pie meringue cointreau ecological_train torn_ligament lens_cleaning fish_eye_lens dessert_wine Comments (2)

Iguaçu - Parque das Aves, and the falls from the hotel

A taste of things to come


View Pantanal and Amazon 2022 on Grete Howard's travel map.

After a good night's sleep, we wander down to the pool area for breakfast in Restaurant Ipé. The pool looks quite inviting, as the pool boy removes the POOL CLOSED sign, turns all the mattresses down, opens up the parasols, and turns on a coule of fountains.

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At the restaurant, Melissa (the maître d' from yesterday lunchtime) greets us: “Good morning Mrs Howard, did you sleep well?”

The buffet is massive, with 20 different breads, cold meats, cheeses, cereals, and a counter where chefs to cook items to your liking.

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At Melissa's suggestion, we order a tapioca pancake – a first for us. It is quite pleasant, and nowhere near as dry as it looks.

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We are joined outside on the terrace by some gorgeous colourful birds.

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Green Headed Tanager

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Mr and Mrs Saffron Finch

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Plush Crested Jay

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Greater Kiskadee

Parque das Aves
This bird park came recommended, not just by Trip Advisor writers, but also the hotel staff. Set within the 40 acres of sub-tropical rain forest, the park provides shelter for around a thousand birds (150 species) from all over South America. The privately owned park focuses on reversing the conservation crisis that these birds and the Atlantic Rainforest are experiencing.

Our first impression is not the best: being Sunday, the entrance is heaving with groups and families on a day out. It seems they have lost our reservation, so we face a long wait just to get in.

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To be fair, as a result of the sprawling grounds, it does not feel all that crowded once we get inside.

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Some of the birds are within reasonably-sized cages, but there are also some enormous walk-through aviaries where the birds fly freely all around you.

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Scarlet Ibis

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King Vulture

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Chestnut-Bellied Seed-Finch

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Black Fronted Piping Guan

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Buff Necked Ibis

This area used to hold flamingos until a couple of months ago when a jaguar managed to get into the enclosure. I remember reading about it in the news at the time.

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As well as birds, the park is home to reptiles, turtles, snakes, and butterflies.

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Black Bellied Sliders

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Broad Snouted Caiman

At the halfway mark is a nice little café where we sit down to rest my weary knee. David has been carrying a foldable stool for me, although there have been plenty of benches around too. While we are drinking our cool orange juices, David notices that his shoes are coming apart.

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The large enclosure housing parrots and macaws, is definitely my favourite part of the park. I desperately try – totally unsuccessfully – to capture these brightly coloured birds in flight as they whizz past me with their wings-tips almost touching my face.

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Red and Green Macaw

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Chestnut Fronted Macaw

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Jandaya Parakeet

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Blue and Yellow Macaw

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Blue Winged Macaw

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An unidentified bird in the park

By the time we reach the exit, David is completely sole-less on one foot, so we stop in the gift shop at the national park entrance. Carini arranges a Personal Shopper for him, and he comes out, not only with a new pair of walking shoes but also with a long-sleeved top for the jungle.

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David wearing his new shoes and carrying his heavy (?) shopping bags.

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New shoes

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Getting ready to keep the insects at bay in the jungle with a long-sleeved top

Lunch
We head back to the hotel for lunch by the pool. We don't want a proper meal as such, just a little snack, so we order from the pool menu: fried potatoes with a tasty dip and Brazilian pastels (savoury pastry squares) to share.

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Notice how my bag has yet again got its own chair?

The potatoes and dip are so good we order another portion.

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Out of the corner of my eye, I see something moving on the hill behind the patio: coatis. Lots of them running down towards the pool.

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They seem to be attracted by a particular bush, or rather the yellow fruits dropped on the ground underneath the bush.

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Its flexible, pointed, pig-like snout, used for sniffing out food under leaf litter and in crevices, has earned it the nickname “hog-nosed raccoon.”

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Meanwhile, up by our table, hummingbirds flit in and out of the climbing flower, so fast, and severely backlit, that I really struggle to be able to capture them with my camera. With a fair amount of help from Photoshop and Topaz later, I manage a semi-decent picture of the Panalto Hermit.

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We take a bag of ice back to the room with us for my poorly knee.

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Unfortunately, it doesn't remain on my knee for very long, after a few minutes, an ice cube landslide occurs, and they all end up on the floor.

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Iguaçu Falls
After resting my knee for a while, we wander down to the falls. That's the beauty of staying in the Belmond Hotel, you can visit the falls any time of day or night. When we arrived back from the bird park earlier, there were dozens of people at the viewing platform, now there are only a handful. I find a lonely abandoned chair and sit myself down, put up my tripod, and spend the next couple of hours photographing and watching this magnificent spectacle.

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Iguaçu Falls (spelled Iguazu in Spanish) is a series of 275 cataracts on the border between Brazil and Argentina, and together they become the biggest waterfall in the world. 80% of the falls are in Argentina, but the best views are from Brazil.

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On both sides of the border, a number of different walkways lead out to vantage points where you can get incredibly close to the cascades (often getting very wet in the process)!

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Queueing up for selfies

Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have exclaimed on first seeing these falls: "Poor Niagara! This makes Niagara look like a kitchen faucet."

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Photographs cannot do this natural wonder justice, in fact, not even a video can convey that feeling of power and magnitude!


By the time the light fades and I decide I have enough photos of the waterfalls to last me a lifetime – or at least until tomorrow – there is only me left at the falls. I go back to the room for a shower and get changed for dinner.

Dinner
I start with a Caipirinha, naturally, when in Brazil and all that! We order a bread basket while we wait. The selection of five different types of bread comes with a trio of dips: spiced butter, whipped cream cheese, and a red wine reduction. It is so good!

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The waiter then brings some thin flatbread with garlic and Parmesan cheese.

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For mains we both choose filet mignon on a bed of Gorgonzola ravioli. The waiter asks if we want side vegetables, but having gorged ourselves on bread, we decide not to. Just as well, as the portion is enormous: one fillet would have been plenty. I struggle to finish it, but it is so superb that I battle on until the end.

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David still has room for dessert, whereas I settle for another drink instead.

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Apple crumble brûlée with pistachio ice cream

When we return to the room, housekeeping has yet again been in for turndown service, and in addition to a chocolate on the pillow, they have given each of the items I left on the little table each own face cloth to rest on. How sweet.

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Goodnight from Iguaçu. Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for organising this trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 20:57 Archived in Brazil Tagged waterfalls birds wildlife shopping ice breakfast dinner parrots argentina lunch birding brasil iguazu jay south_america caiman tanager ibis coati iguacu iguassu finch bird_watching hummingbird macaws parque_das_aves bird_park undiscovered_destinations parakeets tapioca_pancake kiskadee sliders broken_shoes new_shoes elanor_roosevelt filet_mignon turnback_servce Comments (6)

Isle of May & Bass Rock

Well worth the hassle to finally get here!


View Scotland & Lake District 2021 on Grete Howard's travel map.

These is a long story behind my gannet workshop to Bass Rock off the Scottish east coast, starting with one of our very first  first motorhome trips; during which we got as far as Sheffield before the van broke down. Instead of going to Scotland, we travelled back home on a recovery trailer. 

On the second attempt we managed to get the motorhome as far as Seahouses, only to be told the workshop was cancelled because of bad weather. 

The following year (2020), a photographer friend from the USA, Freddy, was planning to come over to visit us with his wife, so I booked TWO places for the gannet diving workshop. Of course Freddy never did come over, and the workshop was called off because of the Covid 19 pandemic.

After rebooking the workshop (again) this year (2021) for myself and Freddy, it becomes clear that visitors from the US are still not allowed to enter the UK, so our friend Paul from Scotland agrees to take over Freddy's place on the boat trip. A couple of weeks before the trip, Paul had a stroke so sadly will not be coming with me out on the boat (post note: Paul is recovering well). I suggest David takes his place instead, even if he is not really interested in photography.

Unfortunately the fishing boat we are supposed to be going out on, does not manage to get its certificate allowing it to carry passengers in time, so the workshop is yet again cancelled. I am now beginning to think we are jinxed.

Spending some time on the internet looking for a replacement boat trip, I come across BlueWild and arrange for them to take me - and David - out on a privately chartered trip to Isle of May and Bass Rock. 

The day before we are due to go out, their boat breaks down, so our trip is yet again cancelled (are the gods trying to tell us something?). Thankfully, they are able to get the repairs done in a day, and re-schedule us for a couple of days later.

On the sixth attempt, we finally manage to get out on a boat! All I will say at this point, is that it is so worth the wait!

This is the boat that will take us out, with skipper Alan, and crew Philip. It really does make a huge difference to have the boat to ourselves - we have given up group tours some time ago, as we prefer the flexibility of being just the two of us, so this is perfect from that point of view. Alan does everything he can to make sure we see what we want to see, and that I get the shots I want.

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After a quick, but thorough safety briefing, we leave Dunbar Harbour and head straight across the Firth of Forth shipping channel to Isle of May.

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Dunbar Harbour

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BlueWild is one of the few companies that have a licence to land on Isle of May, and we are offered the opportunity to so so should we wish. As my main purpose of this trip is to see the gannets at Bass Rock, we decide to forego the landing on this occasion.

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Isle of May

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There seem to be plenty of people on the island on well defined paths

Until I spoke to Alan on the phone about this trip a few days ago, I had no idea that puffins make their home on the island. Alan explains that sometimes you see whole rafts of them on the surface of the water, but so far this year there have only be a few around.

The first birds we see, however, are kittiwakes - there is a colony of them roosting at the entrance to Dunbar harbour.

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I get very excited when I see a small flock of gannets flying low over the water. Alan assures me that I will see plenty more later on. That has to be the understatement of the year!

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I still get a bit carried away taking photos of them.

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Alan does warn us that we are likely to get 'blessed' at some stage during this trip - he is right!

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Being a great fan of puffins, I am delighted to just spot one single one.

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They are so comical the way they run across the water when they take off!

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We soon start seeing more and more of them floating in rafts too. Alan shuts the engine to an idle as we drift through them. Some take fright and fly off as soon as they spot us, others totally ignore us, and let us float right on by.

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The experience of just sliding past a whole raft of puffins, is truly magical!

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I get some really good close-up photos too!

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Photography is challenging to say the very least. The birds are bobbing up and down on the swell, and so is the boat, but seemingly to a different rhythm. I manage focus on the puffin, but the next minute all I can see in the viewfinder is sky, followed by the bird being being 'swallowed up' by the waves.

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My hit rate is appalling!

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The area also has a great number of guillemots, and they remind me so much of penguins when they take off, the way they skim across the surface on their bellies, much like the stones we threw as kids!

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Except, of course, penguins never do take off, unlike guillemots!

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Guillemots create rafts too!

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We continue to the craggy shores of Isle of May.

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Steep cliffs and basalt pillars greet us, with thousands of guillemots crowding into every available space.

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In many places, the rocks are white with guano.

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This would make an amazing jigsaw. For someone you don't like.

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As we make make our way around the island, the odd puffin appears on shore too.

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A couple of seals bask on the rocks, and a few heads pop out of the water to see what is going on.

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The Isle of May is home to an incredible array of wildlife, with up to 200,000 seabirds nesting here.

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Kittiwakes

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Razorbill

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Shag

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Cormorants and Herring Gulls

The steep cliffs hide beguiling grottos, with tales of smugglers and pirates.

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In a secluded bay stands the solitary rock pillar, known as 'The Bishop'.

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From Isle of May we make our way to Bass Rock, the home of 150,000 gannets. From a distance the flying gannets look like a swarm of mosquitoes around a light – they seem to be completely surrounding the rock.

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We can hear them long before we can make out each bird clearly: the racket is quite simply unbelievable! As we get nearer we can clearly see that the white dots on the top of the rock are in fact birds on nests. Wow!

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These large, striking-looking birds are everywhere: on the rocks, on the water and in the air.

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Launching themselves off the rock, they hang on the thermals before diving into the depths of the sea to gather seaweed for their nest building.

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The dots you see are not water droplets on my camera lens, they are in fact other flying birds!

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I spend the rest of my time at sea shooting anything that moves. Only with my camera, of course. Here are a few of my favourite shots:

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Can you believe that each one of those dots is in fact a gannet!

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One of my favourite moments of the trip is just sitting in the boat, gazing up at thousands of gannets effortlessly hovering overhead.

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One of my main photography aims of this excursion, is to capture a flying gannet with nesting materials in its beak. I take literally thousands of photographs to try and get a good one. As I said earlier, the extremely difficult conditions means my hit rate is dreadful! I do have some success, however.

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Another Surprise appearance – an Eider Duck

We finally have to say goodbye to Bass Rock and return to shore. I glance back and sigh with contentment, delighted that I finally managed to see and experience this wildlife extravaganza.

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The circling gannets appear to be following us for a while, although I am pretty sure they are more interested in what is under the water than they are in us.

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On our way back to Dunbar Harbour, Alan points out the ruins of the 14th century Tantallon Castle.

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By the time we get back to solid land, I am soaked to the skin, slightly sunburnt, very cold, and covered in white spots from bird dropping; but I feel like I am floating on air with blissful excitement at what I have just witnessed. In all our travels I have never seen or experienced anything like it!

Posted by Grete Howard 11:18 Archived in Scotland Tagged birds cliffs scotland boat wildlife wild pirates seal seaweed gannets puffins cormorant smugglers boat_trip birds_nest bird_watching guano shag wildlife_photography flying_birds isle_of_may firth_of_forth dunbar dunbar_harbour guillemots bass_rock bluewild blue_wild eider kittiwake razorbill herring_gull smuggler_cove tantallon tantallon_castle Comments (2)

Ndutu: lion in a tree - Lake Eyasi

Goodbye Ndutu, hello Lake Eyasi


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Having enjoyed our picnic breakfast, we set off again for more game viewing.

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Dik Dik

We are heading back to Ndutu Lodge to use the facilities before we leave the area, but the route Malisa wants to take is impassable. “There used to be a road here” he explains.

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A Greater Spotted Thick Knee doing her best to hide from us

Malisa drops us off at the lodge while he goes off to get fuel for the car.

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Meanwhile, we spend our time walking around the grounds, looking for birds and taking it all in for the last time.

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Northern Grey Headed Sparrow

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Great White Pelicans flying in formation

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I can't believe how overgrown the gardens are at Ndutu Lodge, after all the recent rains.

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Hildebrand Starling

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I am really impressed with the individual terry towels in the 'public' toilets at Ndutu!

Malisa returns and we make our way towards the gate that takes us out of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, of which Ndutu is a small part.

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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Lesser Flamingo

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Southern Red Bishop

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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They weave the most exquisite nests!

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Strange horizontal rainbow

Lions

Malisa hears on the radio that a lioness has been spotted in a tree near the lake – it sounds like our lady from earlier this morning. We go to check it out.

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The lioness looks most uncomfortable and keeps shifting her position.

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Under the tree is a male lion, who is periodically sniffing the air, hoping for his mate to come back down.

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Meanwhile tourists are busy taking selfies with the lions – I wonder if you can actually see the big cat in that photo, or just the outline of a tree?

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Much as we'd love to stay and see what happens with our two kitties, we have to leave in order to get to the gate. Permits are strictly timed and any overstay faces a heavy fine.

There is still quite a lot of flooding in Ndutu.

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Zebra

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Just less than an hour ago we travelled through heavy flooding, now the roads are annoyingly dusty!

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The dust covers everything in a thin layer of dirt – look at the state of my camera!

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The dirt being thrown up by passing vehicles also plays havoc with the windscreen of our Landcruiser. A crack developed earlier on the trip, and now, every time we meet a car travelling at speed, Malisa has to hold on to the glass in fear that it would shatter if a stone was to hit it.

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We join up with the main road through Serengeti, where a new gate post has been erected since we first started coming here, with tourists lining up to have their photos taken, and vendors hoping to sell them some souvenirs.

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The original gate

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The new sign

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Ndutu Lodge also has a new sign, with the new brand created since the lodge changed ownership.

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Sculpture advertising the Museum of Mankind at Oldupai - also new

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A would-be vendor heading for the tourists

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Lots of giraffes - we count twenty of them!

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We stop at Seneto Descent Road (the entrance to Ngorongoro Crater) for a picnic lunch, as are several other people. This is the most crowded I have ever seen this spot. It seems it is not just the camera that is covered in dust – my face was pretty dirty too!

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The cloth after wiping my face

Baboons

We see a small baby playing, but as soon as we stop, the parents gather him up and leave.

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There are more baboons at Lodoare Gate (the exit from Ngorongoro Conservation Area), including one that jumps on the bonnet of the car while I am in the loo. David tries to quickly grab a shot with my camera.

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Once we're through the gate, we hit the sealed road – the first time for eleven days! Not for long though, a mere five kilometres down the road, we turn off right, onto another fairly rough dirt track. This is all new and unexplored territory for us now.

We later turn off the dirt track to an even smaller and narrower lane, winding its way through small hamlets and into the wilderness. This is real off-the-beaten-path stuff, and a completely different type of vegetation – thick and verdant, more jungle-like - to anything we've seen in Tanzania before.

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Kisima Ngeda Lodge

As we pull up in the lodge car park, an army of helpers appear out of nowhere. Unless we really want to, there is no need to carry any of our own luggage. After a welcome drink while signing in at the reception, we are shown to our room.

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Our room is, in fact, a large tent on a wooden base with a thatched roof. The room is well furnished and there is an en suite western style toilet and shower at the rear of the tent.

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The local guide, who will be with us tomorrow for our excursions, arrives to give us a briefing. As he walks up onto our balcony, I get an instant feeling of recognition. He looks familiar. As he introduces himself as Alex, my mind starts ticking. I am not even sure what I am trying to think of, but suddenly it hits me. “Alex” I ask, “what is your surname?” As soon as he replies “Puwale”, I smile – we are already friends on Facebook! What a small, small world!

Alex's Facebook page

After a quick shower and change, we pop down to the bar for a drink, delighted that we can walk about freely without having to call an askari (a Maasai security guard armed with a spear) to protect us from any potential wild animals. It's the first time on this trip that we've had some time to spare before dinner, and Malisa soon joins us.

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There is one other group of tourists staying tonight, six people from from the US. I am horrified when I overhear them asking their guide if hunting is allowed, as they'd really like to be able to kill something. Malisa's face is a picture, and I really feel for their guide having to explain to such misinformed and misguided visitors. They are also querying the availability of public conveniences during their trip to see a hunter-gatherer tribe tomorrow. What do they think this is? Disneyland?

As they start to discuss US politics (they are all ardent Trump supporters – there's a surprise!), we try our best to ignore their conversation, which proves rather difficult due to the volume at which they speak. We have a good laugh with Malisa, however, joking about the overheard comments by Whatsapping each other across the table. Little things for little minds.

Dinner

Tomato soup for starters, followed by pork medallions with creamed potato and vegetables, and finished off with a passion fruit mousse.

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As always, I am impressed with the arrangements Calabash Adventures have made for us – they really are the best in their field.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds pelicans wildlife africa safari rainbow tanzania zebra birding lions baboons flooding sparrow flamingo giraffes trump ngorongoro dust starling weaver diesel bird_watching ndutu calabash calabash_adventures seneto seneto_descent_road ngorongoro_conservation_area oldupai thick_knee lions_in_a_tree sandgrouse wildlife_photography windscreen lake_eyasi red_bishop american_tourists ndutu_lodge african_animals african_birds alex_puwale animals_of_africa birds_of_africa cracked_windscreen serengeti_gate lodoare lodoare_gare museum_of_mankind kisima_ngeda trump_supporters Comments (2)

Ndtutu XIII - drowned wildebeest, jackals, lions

What a stench!


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Today we are leaving Ndutu and heading to pastures new. A pretty sunrise sees us on our way.

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Vultures at Lake Masek

Initially we cannot fathom out why so many vultures are descending on the shores of the lake.

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There are vultures (and Marabou Stork) everywhere: on the ground, in the trees, flying in! I think all Ndutu's vultures are here in this spot!

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The sound of their huge wings flapping as the come in to land is really quite something to hear.

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Then we see it: Floating wildebeest carcasses – animals who drowned trying to cross the river.

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Not just one, but dozens of bloated, putrid decomposing bodies. The stench of the rotting flesh is heinous.

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For some light relief I turn my head towards the heavens, where the dark sky has now opened up a small window to let the sunrise through.

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I spend some time watching the large flocks of egrets making their way across other parts of the sky while I wait patiently for a bird or two to fly past the sunrise window.

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Meanwhile, the hole in the cloud is rapidly changing shape, and finally I get lucky!

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Not being able to stand the atrocious stink any longer, we move on to see what else nature has to offer us today.

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Grey Capped Social Weaver

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Vitelline Masked Weaver

Black Backed Jackals

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Temmincks Stint

Avocets

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Gull Billed Tern

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Giraffe

Lion

As we are following the contour of the lake, Malisa is busy looking around as always. I feel sure, however, that he has seen the lion whose paw is across the track we are driving on. He makes no attempt at slowing down, so I start to alert him to the big cat, without wanting to shout and scare the lion away. My warning comes out a little meek and feeble: “erm..... stop...?” Of course, for the rest of the trip, the boys tease me mercilessly about it.

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By the time Malisa swerves out of the way onto the grass alongside the track and stops, the lion is most certainly not happy.

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We move a little further away for our safety and the lions comfort. He obviously realises that lying in the road is not a good ideas, and gets up, sniffs the air and marks his territory before moving off.

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We follow him down to the lakeside, where he sees one of the many dead wildebeest floating in the lake. You can tell that he so wants it, but it is just that too far away for him too reach.

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We hang around, hoping he is going to go for a swim, but he obviously doesn't want to get his hair wet, and makes a rapid beeline for the thicket further inland instead, walking with a definite purpose.

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He wanders into the bush. We follow. There is a delicious smell of mint wafting across the savannah as we bulldoze our way through the undergrowth to follow the lion – such a pleasant change after the grim odour from the wildebeest carcasses earlier.

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So that's what he is heading for!

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She's coming down!

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She most likely sought refuge in the tree as a respite from her mate's sexual advances, and now she's ready for some more action.

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We watch as she disappears into the ever-thickening shrubs. The terrain where she is going is too dense for us to follow, we are already in a place outside our normal comfort zone.

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“How do we get out of here?” I ask Malisa. “I have no idea” he replies as he creates a new 'track' through the bush.

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We return to the area where the lion was watching the wildebeest carcass for our breakfast in the car (too dangerous to get out with the predators around), hoping he'll come back.


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He doesn't, so we continue on our way to see what else nature has to offer us.

Thank you to Calabash Adventures for this amazing safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:51 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunrise africa safari tanzania birding lion vultures avocet weaver bird_watching ndutu calabash_adventures lake_masek marabou_stork jackals african_animals wildebeest_carcasses social_weaver masked_weaver black_backed_jackals lion_in_a-tree erm_stop Comments (2)

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 X - lion, 1000 wildebeest, dung beetles, cheetah cubs

A perfect end to a perfect day


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

We set off after lunch to see what nature has to offer us here in Ndutu, and hopefully find a wildebeest herd where we can witness a birth.

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African Hoopoe

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Juvenile Red Billed Buffalo Weaver

Lion

Under a tree we see a magnificent male lion. Initially just resting, he soon sits up surveying the tourists arriving.

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Big yawn. And other funny facial expressions.

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He licks his chops and walks straight towards us.

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Too close for comfort, or at least for photography!

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It's only when we drive away that we realise that Dickson (our driver during our first three safaris in Tanzania) and his clients are right behind us.

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Two Banded Courser

Eurasian Avocet

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"What are you looking at?"

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Blacksmith Plover

Wildebeest Migration

Continuing on our way, we drive alongside thousands of wildebeest, running in an (almost) single file.

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The line seems to go on forever, then group into a HUGE herd, surrounding us on every side, and they just keep on coming.

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More and more and more arrive, a never ending stream of wildebeest join the mêlée, until there is just a sea of horns.

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We see very few babies in amongst this crowd though. A few of the females look like they are ready – they are fat, their nipples have developed and they are struggling to walk – but none are just about to drop. Oh well, we'll keep searching.

Zebra

A few zebras have joined the wildebeest, and we see a few babies too. Our hearts stop as we spot what appears to be a dead baby zebra in the grass.

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We hold our breath when the mother appears and starts nudging her little foal. Is he alive?

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Yes, he is, and he soon runs off with his mother. Phew.

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Dung Beetles

So many wildebeest in one place means two things: 1. we are eaten alive by pesky flies, and 2. it is a dung beetle's paradise.

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Within a few minutes, large piles of dung are turned into neat little balls and rolled away.

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With my love of dung beetles, I am totally in my element here, and before I know it I have taken over a thousand photos of... basically a pile of shit - plus these fascinating insects, of course.

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It is now several hours since we last saw any other cars or human activity. This may be the height of the season in Ndutu, but it is still possible to have large areas all to yourself. Most people go back to the lodge for lunch, preferring to stay out of the sun in the midday heat. I can see why, as we are being cooked to perfection even in the shade of the car. I wouldn't want to miss an animal experience though!

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Greater Spotted Thick Knee

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Light Tawny Eagle

European White Stork

A number of storks return to roost for the night, gliding effortlessly across the savannah.

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Not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands! They just keep on coming.

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And I just keep on photographing them.

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And the wildebeest just keep on walking.

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The storks are followed by a large flock of Cattle Egrets.

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Even a small chattering of Wattled Starlings join in. (chattering is the collective noun for starlings)

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Cheetah

A mum and her two cubs are very active in the late afternoon sun, running around and playing and for the next 30 minutes or so we delight in their antics. The dozen or so photos you will see here, are whittled down from a massive 1200 images – that amounts to around one picture a second!

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I have nothing more to say about this encounter, I think the note I made in my journal at the time sums it up!

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Much as we'd love to stay and watch these adorable little animals for longer, we really have to go. We are still quite some distance away from the lodge, and have to be back by 19:00.

Sunset

As we approach Lake Ndutu, I gasp. I don't think I have ever seen such a spectacular sunset here in Tanzania before.

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I make poor Malisa stop time after time as a new vista comes into view.

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Thankfully sunsets are over rather rapidly this close to the Equator, and we can continue on our way back to the lodge as originally planned.

Until we get to the Marsh.

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The light is really poor now, too dark for photography, so I don't feel bad that we don't stop long.

We do, however, stop to help out this vehicle which is well and truly bogged down.

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Not sure I'd like to be out of the vehicle this close to two lions.

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And they're out!

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Having to rush along the basic tracks that make up Ndutu's 'road system', we dislodge an enormous amount of dust. It seems almost incongruous that a few days ago there was heavy rain and every track was a mud bath.

Ndutu Lodge

We finally make it back to the lodge by 19:30, and after a quick shower and change we are the last to dinner. Again.

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Apple, feta and walnut stack with home made dressing

Somehow I forget to take a photo of the main course, which was lamb tagine with couscous, green beans and courgettes. I do, however, snap a picture of a large moth enjoying what's left on David's plate.

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A very tasty Malva Pudding for dessert

The excellent arrangements for this safari was made by Calabash Adventures, the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunset wildlife africa safari tanzania zebra eagle birding cheetah lion stork egrets avocet starlings migration wildebeest courser bird_watching hoopoe wild_animals dung_beetles ndutu calabash_adventures lake_ndutu thick_knee wildebeest_migration tawny_eagle plover lapwing game_viewing blacksmith_plover annual_migration wildlife_photography big_marsh wild_birds cheetah_cubs ndutu_lodge the_great_migration african_birds cattle_egrets africa_safari aniams african-animals thickknee Comments (2)

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