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Serengeti Day II Part III - The Maasai Pride

Lions, lions and more lions


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trust me, those are lions.

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

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There are eight cubs and two adults.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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"Hey bro, I found a stick!"

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“My stick is bigger than yours!”

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

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

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Mum shows the kiddies how it is done.

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Is she going to jump?

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

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One of the braver cubs tries it for himself.

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

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He is not sure about this...

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"Maybe I should try and walk down?"

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

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

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“It's a long way down.”

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

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

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“Phew! Nearly there.”

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

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“Ow! That's my paw!"

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"Get off!”

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“I'm out of here!”

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

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

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… and these lions frolicking in the long grass.

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

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

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

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“Mum! Don't go! Play with me...”

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“Will. You. Leave. Me. Alone!”

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“Sorry mum.”

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

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

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

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

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Spot the lion on top of the rock!

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

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

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

Serengeti Day II Part II - Research Ponds

A smorgasbord of animals


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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

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

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

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Our reason for stopping soon becomes obvious.

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On a nearby rock, another lioness is sunning herself.

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

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

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

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Nor does the Black Backed Jackal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It's like Happy Hour at our local bar!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But will he drink?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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He looks thoroughly pissed off.

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The mongoose have had enough too.

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Even the zebra are on the move.

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

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

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

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And another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A cute little zebra foal, grazing with his mummy.

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And some eland - running away from us of course.

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

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

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

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

Serengeti Day II Part I - Hyenas, Lions and more

Never a dull moment on safari


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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

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

Now getting off my soap box.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time to make a move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Although sometimes they can look almost cute.

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Three amigos saunter off down the road...

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… while another goes for a drink.

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And then lies down in it to cool off.

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

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

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

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It looks like she has a cub with her.

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

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

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

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

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

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Prompting her babies to explore too.

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

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

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And the Crested Lark.

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

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

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

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

A day cut short


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

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

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Ashy Starling

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Superb Starling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Look at that hairstyle!

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

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

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

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

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

With thanks to Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari.

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

Naabi Hill - Kubu Kubu

The BIG FIVE are in the bag!


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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

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

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Superb starling partaking in their daily ablutions

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Laughing Dove

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Speckled Pigeon

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Ashy Starling

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Superb Starling

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Superb Starling having a wardrobe malfunction.

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Red Billed Buffalo Weaver

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Hildebrand Starling

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Wattled Starling

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

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Field mouse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One.... two...

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Three.... four....

Bang goes that theory.

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

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Excitement over. It seems she is just hungry.

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

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

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

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

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Ooops! Almost dropped it!

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

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

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

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

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

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She goes off on another branch to investigate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Views from the outdoor shower

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

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

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

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

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

Ndutu - Naabi Hill

And now for a little light relief


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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

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Aren't these baby falcons cute?

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

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

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

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“It's only a chicken.”

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

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

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This place is full of bustards!

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Running away from us of course.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gotta love those little ones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The pond is also home to a number of birds

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Grey Heron

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Black Headed Heron

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Laughing Doves

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Serrated Terrapin

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Augur Buzzard

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Another Black Headed Heron

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Leopard Tortoise

We also come across a lone elephant taking a shower.

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

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Lake Ndutu

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Giraffe

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Hartebeest and zebra

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Hartebeest

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Black Breasted Snake Eagle

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Grant's Gazelle

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

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

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

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

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

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Another drinking giraffe.

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And a huddle of zebras under a tree.

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

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

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

Ndutu Day II Part II (Wedding Anniversary)

Finally, some cats


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We're ready to roll for another afternoon of exciting adventures in the African wilderness.

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Dik diks mate for life, so more often than not you find two together or even three, like here with their offspring.

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“Sit down and close your window!” comes the urgent call from Malisa as we find ourselves right in the middle of a swarm of bees flying from one nest to another. Phew, that could have been nasty!

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We see three different vultures (Lappet Faced, African White backed and Hooded) sitting in a tree and wonder if there is a kill somewhere.

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It's mid-afternoon and we still haven't seen any cats today.

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Cute little baby, some 3-4 months old. Later we see an adult wildebeest, on his own, limping badly. I cannot help to think he will be someone's dinner tonight.

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There's a lot of dust around this afternoon and I am seriously worried about my lungs. They do not feel good. I am therefore grateful when the skies start getting darker and more threatening.

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With a strange light, dark clouds and rain on the horizon; it looks like we are in for some inclement weather.

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I am hoping for a dramatic thunder storm.

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No such luck though. The rain is somewhat localised, and fortunately not in our locale.

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But I guess it is best to start heading towards the camp.

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Before long, the skies are blue with pretty pink clouds. Talk about changeable!

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Time is getting on, the light is fading fast, and we have given up all hope of seeing any big cats today, which means these two lions are a real bonus.

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Not that they do much, but enough to get a few nice photos to round the day off nicely.

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She is greatly bothered by flies, and tries to wipe them off with her paw.

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It doesn't last long, however.

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Time is moving on, the lions are tired and we really should be getting back to camp.

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On the way we see a lone buffalo in the sunset.

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And then another.

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One of the things I love about a safari in Africa is that we get well away from any light pollution, making the stars all the more visible at night. I am very surprised, and delighted, that we are able to see any stars at all this evening after all the thick, dark clouds that covered the sky just a couple of hours ago.

The downside of being in the wilderness, of course, is the fact that we are surrounded by wild and dangerous animals, which means I can't stray far from the lodge and the armed askari guards.

Setting up my tripod just outside the entrance to the lodge means I do get some stray light from behind, but we can still see the milky way quite clearly.

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As I said in the very first blog post from this trip, the reason for being here in our favourite part of the world at this time, is to celebrate forty years of married bliss.

We brought with us a bottle of bubbly from the UK, which Nina, the waiter, kindly opens for us at dinner.

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I clear my throat, bring out a scroll tied with red ribbon, unroll it and begin to read:

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Ode to marriage

The year was 1974
In Wembley near London Town
A boy wooed a girl with flowers and more
He wanted to settle down

The girl was from Norway, her English not good
He loved her accent and eyes
Always a gentleman, just as he should
Much better than other guys

She was so young and impressed by his car
Just 16 years old, in her prime
He chatted her up in the Century bar
Into his Lotus she'd climb

Education finished, she left her school
To Norway she must return
If he let her go, he would be a fool
He knew he would always yearn

He told her he loved her and would she be his?
She said “yes” straight away
They must stay together, she surely agrees
“Let's get married, without delay”

Friday the 13th the engagement took place
But the very next day she left
He jacked in his job and took up the chase
To Norway, feeling bereft

Friday the 13th, such a special date
“Let's see when the next one is”
The following year was the estimate
To enter married bliss

By 1977 they wed
In Oslo Town Hall it was
From the bright lights of London to Bristol they fled
In a fancy car of course

They easily settled as husband and wife
Both working as hard as they could
To pay for their major passion in life
Exploring the neighbourhood

Their travels took them to near and far
A never-ending quest
From Antarctica, to China to Zanzibar
They were totally obsessed

The years quickly passed amid work and fun
And travels to faraway lands
A number of bucket list items were done
Scuba, canoeing, and boarding on sands

Work in IT and banking, a means to an end
For funding the thrill-seekers' aim
Rafting and driving a tank round the bend
Quite the daredevils they became

Zeppelin, bobsleigh and bamboo raft
Plus driving a Formula Ford
They sailed and quad-biked and often laughed
Even bungy, but never bored

DIY, cars and cycling too
Always busy, he loved to be
Participating in local voodoo
He even learned to ski

Her passions are cooking and photography
And travelling as much as she can
Sociable, smiling and very carefree
She idolises her man

Old age has crept up, with health not so great
But they're only as young as they feel
Troubles are easy when shared with your mate
Which was always part of the deal

To mark this occasion, where should they be?
A favourite haunt for sure
Tanzania of course, for a safari
Such a wonderful place to explore

As they sit here tonight, celebrating their love
Memories plenty to look back on
They thank their stars and heavens above
For the 40 years that have gone

It's 40 years since she gave him her heart
And she loves him more than ever
She said she's be with him “till death us do part”
And even then it's forever

By the time I am finished there is not a dry eye in the house, even the waiter has to wipe away a tear.

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As was the case at lunch, a selection of several dishes are brought to our table: stir fried chicken, curried vegetables, lentils, potatoes and rice, preceded by soup and followed by fresh fruit.

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Malisa also has a surprise up his sleeve: he has arranged for the lodge to make us a cake. The entire staff of the lodge accompany it is brought out, singing traditional Tanzanian songs and keeping the rhythm by banging kitchen utensils. Love it!

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Who would have thought, all those years ago, that this young couple would be here in the African wilderness forty years later, drinking champagne and eating celebration cake.

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Calabash Adventures really are the best, thank you so much for all the arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:09 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys rain elephants cake clouds africa safari tanzania celebrations birding lions vultures weaver wildebeest bird_watching bustard ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area lake_masek_tented_camp dik_dik wedding_anniversary champage mousebird stormy_weather Comments (4)

Ndutu Day II Part I (Mist, Dung Beetle and Elephant Mudbath)

From misty beginnings


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I drag myself out of our tent at 05:45 only to find that the world outside is enveloped in a thick mist this morning.

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It is not easy to spot any animals in the thick pea-soup surrounding us. These hartebeest are so close to the vehicle it would be hard to miss them, but goodness knows what else is hiding behind nature's grey cloak.

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The sun is trying its best to burn off the low cloud, which it manages eventually, but meanwhile it turns the mist a delicate shade of pink.

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The morning mist has also ensured that dew drops on the spider's webs glow delicately in the low sun.

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With cute little babies.

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Life is always more colourful with a Lilac Breasted Roller

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Another one. They're common as muck around here.

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We find a suitable place in the shade of a tree, with no obvious predators in the vicinity, to stop and have our breakfast.

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David doing his artistic bit

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We are soon on our way again “to see what nature has to offer us” out here on the Short Grass Plains.

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With a tiny baby, no more than than two weeks old.

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The wildebeest have scent glands in their hooves helping the others to follow the leader. The theory is: if their man (beast) at the front gets through, then it must be safe.

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That is why you often see them walking in a single file, keeping their heads down.

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As always, lots of dust being kicked up.

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It makes such a pleasant change to see these ungulates standing still rather than running away from us for dear life.

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Or rather, just her eggs. I have no idea how Malisa manages to spot these things as he is driving along, they are so well camouflaged!

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Those of you who followed my blog from Tanzania last year, will probably remember my fascination with dung beetles.

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This little stretch of land is Dung Beetle Central! Everywhere you look there is a beetle rolling its prized poo ball across the plains.

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So what's the collective noun for a gang of dung beetles? Shitload. Not sure if that is the official term, but it sure fits!

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As the original recyclers, dung beetles are probably the most industrious resident on the savannah, clearing up the mess left behind by other animals.

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Imagining the savannah knee-deep in excrement, makes you appreciate the importance of these tiny animals.

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“Let me whisper sweet nothings in your ear...”

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“Lean on me”

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We see a hyena hiding in the undergrowth and drive nearer to take a better look, by which time she has completely disappeared, so I guess she has a den hidden somewhere in the grass.

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Keen to locate a big cat of some sort, Malisa drives from tree to tree, copse to copse to check out what is hiding in the shade, but no luck.

We do see a few other birds and animals though.

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It is strange how the distribution of animals is so different from this same week last year – so far we have seen more steenbok in the first couple of days than we saw on the entire trip in 2016.

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Another Long Crested Eagle – this one is having a bad hair day.

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When eating, the flamingo shift their legs up and down to disturb the algae, a movement Malisa likens to a dance. To me it looks more like little kids hopping from leg to leg shouting: “Mum, I need to pee!” Malisa agrees with me and finds my analogy particularly amusing.

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The elephants love to cover themselves in mud as this helps to get rid of any ticks.

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The small herd look like they are really enjoying their wallow – I expect the mud is nice and cooling in the midday sun too.

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They are so ungainly when they try to get out of the water!

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This little one is rubbing her belly on the ground to ensure the mud sticks.

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In their breeding plumage. Here seen with a Blue Capped Cordon Bleu.

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To me, this is the quintessential African safari scene – zebra and giraffe grazing on a dry, flat savannah.

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Nothing worse than being photobombed by a giraffe.

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It always amuses me the way they have to kneel when they eat because their neck isn't long enough to reach the ground.

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Apart from this guy at the back who seems to have perfected the art of eating standing up.

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Another giraffe photobomb.

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Giraffe are at their most vulnerable when drinking. Despite their long necks, they have to get themselves into a very awkward yoga pose in order to reach the water. Not only do they then struggle to get up again, they are also not able to keep a close eye on any predators that may be approaching.

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Not that it looks like there is much water there.

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As soon as the giraffe stands up, a number of oxpeckers fly off.

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The oxpecker has a symbiotic relationship with many of the larger animals on the savannah, cleaning its host by feeding on the ticks, horsefly larvae and other parasites that make their home on the skin. The bird also acts as an early warning signal, alerting the other animals to danger by making loud chirping and hissing noises.

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It seems they are enjoying themselves.

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In Lake Masek

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Normally we like to stay out all day, taking a picnic box with us for both breakfast and lunch, but today I thought it would be nice to go back to the camp for a meal in the middle of the day as it is our wedding anniversary.

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There is only us staying here these last two nights, but they have made us an impressive spread with a choice of dishes: spaghetti with a bolognaise sauce, okra curry with rice and mixed vegetables. Soup to start and fresh fruit to finish.

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After another amazing morning's safari with Calabash Adventures, it is time for a short break before we go out exploring again.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel adventure africa safari tanzania zebra giraffe bird_watching african_safari ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area Comments (1)

Montrouis - Moulin sur Mer beach resort

More chill time

storm 36 °C
View Fet Gede - Haiti's Day of the Dead 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I am up early this morning for some bird watching in and around the hotel grounds.

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Yellow Faced Grassquit

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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Palmchat

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Hispaniolan Woodpecker

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White Necked Crow

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Bananaquit

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American Kestrel

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Grey Kingbird

The hotel also has domestic ducks and geese on its ponds; as well as a pigeon loft.

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Breakfast

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Lots of lovely fresh mango, and French toast with bacon - one of my favourite breakfasts!

Montrouis Beach

Apart from a conch shell salesman, and a sunbed stacker, we have the beach to ourselves this morning.

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It is blisteringly hot and suddenly my tummy doesn't feel good at all. In fact, it is so sudden that I don't make it back to the bathroom on time – a most unpleasant experience.

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You'll be glad to know that there are no photos of my little "accident".

Lunch

Today is Sunday, so lunch is a buffet.

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Chicken curry, national rice, fried plantains, creamed corn and tomato salad

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A delightfully tart passionfruit mousse

Rain? What rain?

The forecast for this weekend (and beyond) has consistently showed rain, rain and more rain, plus the odd thunder shower. There is certainly no sign of that this afternoon, the sea is sparkling in the sunshine.

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We sit for a while just gazing out to sea and those mesmerizing sparkles of sunshine dancing across the water like little luminous fairies. Life is good, until my tummy tells me that the lunch is an unwelcome guest and is about to be evicted, so we retire to the cool room. Next door is a lovely local family who are here for the weekend with their small child. I am unconcerned when I hear hear the key being turned in the connecting door as it is surely locked from both sides; but before I have had the chance to say “I'd better put some clothes on”, the girl and her father are in our room. I don't know who is most shocked: the kid or her dad! For the rest of their stay he avoids all eye contact with me.

I guess that is my cue to get dressed and head out to wait for the sunset.

There are a few more people down at the beach this afternoon; both in and out of the water.

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Tonight's sunset is not a patch on yesterday's, but the 'Bushwacker' cocktail more than makes up for it: Khalua, Amaretto, Baileys, cream and ice cream. Heaven in a glass!

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What the evening sky lacks in terms of colour, intensity and clouds, it more than makes up for in a passing lightning storm.

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Dinner

On the menu tonight is langoustine thermador – one of my favourite dishes. It certainly lives up to expectations.

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Thank you to Jacqui of Voyages Lumiere for yet another day here in Haiti.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:05 Archived in Haiti Tagged birds sea water sunset ocean beach storm caribbean sleep drinking birding photography lightning thunder woodpecker cocktail haiti lightning_storm langoustine bird_watching kestrel american_kestrel moulin_sur_mer montrouis voyages_lumier twitcher hispaniolan_woodpecker grassquit yellow_faced_grassquit bananaquit kingbird grey_kingbird waterskiing bushwalker_cocktail langoustine_thermador Comments (0)

Danube Delta

A day on the Delta

semi-overcast 31 °C
View The Undiscovered East (of Europe) - Moldova, Transdniestr & Romania 2016 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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After the wine and moonshine last night, we both slept well. A little too well I think, as David wakes up with a bad back this morning.

Breakfast consists of a typical continental selection, although I can’t say fish balls appeal this morning.

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Today we are fulfilling a long-time dream of mine; exploring the Danube Delta by small boat has been on my wish list for as long as I can remember.

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Although this is one of the most popular tourist areas in the Danube Delta, it never feels crowded. We do see other boats, of course, but for a lot of the time, it is just us and the awesome nature around us.

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The Danube Delta is not only the world’s largest wetlands; it is also a paradise for wildlife, with over 300 species of birds in its numerous lakes and marshes.

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Grey Heron

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Black Headed Gulls

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Hooded Crow

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Mallard

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Squacco Heron

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Whiskered tern

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Mute Swan Cygnets

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Herring Gull

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Common Tern

It is a struggle to get good pictures of the birds – as soon as we get anywhere near them; they fly off en masse. I am guessing the sound of the outboard engine is scaring them off.

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I try to capture the birds in flight, but my success rate is rather low.

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Pygmy Cormorant

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Marsh Harrier

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Mute Swans

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Hooded Crow

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Great Egret

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Purple Heron

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Great Cormorant

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Grey Heron

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Little Egret

The Danube Delta consists of an intricate network of waterways and lakes, and we transverse many of the tranquil canals this morning. Some are wider than a motorway, others so narrow that two boats cannot pass easily.

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Little Egret

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Floating hotel

The marshes are studded with glorious water lilies.

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After a while David’s back begins to really bother him on the bench-seat – which offers no back support – so he lies down across the boat instead. It’s a hard life here on the water.

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Our cheeky guide Andrei

Out on the lake, the sun glistens magically on the surface of the water.

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A great number of Egyptian White Pelicans arrive here every spring to raise their young, but are usually gone again by this time of year, so I am very excited to see a small flock of them flying in formation right above us.

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From time to time we stop for Pavet, our trusted captain, to remove reeds that have stuck in the propellers. The Delta has the largest reed beds in the world (625,000 acres), which provide ideal spawning and nesting grounds. The floating reed beds – known as plaur in Romanian - are a mixture of reeds, roots, soil, and grasses. Reed was intensively harvested, and large areas drained, during the Communist era; as the regime had plans to transform the Delta into a large agro-industrial zone. These days the reeds are slowly invading the water surface, extending the delta into the Black Sea at a rate of 24m a year!

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The tall reeds dwarf a Little Egret!

The Danube Delta is home to 60% of the world's population of Pygmy Cormorants.

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Squacco Heron

The serenity of these calm backwaters attracts fishermen, sightseers and people just wanting to get out into nature for a few hours.

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The floating hotels look rather cool, but are not as practical as they first appear – their size means they are unable to enter the smaller canals.

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Marsh Sandpiper

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Grey Heron and Great Egret

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Northern Lapwing

There is said to be a lot of wildlife – in addition to the birds – here at the Delta, but all we see this morning is a few horses and some cows.

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More waterlilies.

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Lunch

After a beautiful morning on the water, it is time to return to Crisan and our guest house for lunch.

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For lunch we have …. wait for it…. fish ball soup, followed by…. fish. This time Prussian carp (with the fetching name “crap” in Romanian), as well as the catfish we didn’t eat yesterday; served with the ever-present polenta.

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After a short walk to the local ‘supermarket’ to buy some wine for tonight, it is time for a siesta (and a cuddle with the resident cat) before this afternoon’s boat trip on the Danube Delta.

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This 5000 km² area of floating reed islands, forests, pastures and sand dunes is inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The still afternoon and lack of other boats on the smaller canals, makes for some gorgeous reflections.

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The Danube Delta is home to 70% of the world’s white pelican population.

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As well as other birds, of course

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Common Gull

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Squacco Heron

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Great Cormorant and Common Gull

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Coot

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Mallards

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Black Headed Gulls

The Danube River is the most international river in the world - its course runs through or alongside nine countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria and Ukraine.

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Unfortunately one of the fishing lines gets stuck in the propeller of the boat and we drag it along with us as we move on.

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Stormy clouds + low afternoon sun + glistening water = some awesome photo opportunities.

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The Danube Delta Reserve has the third largest biodiversity in the world, exceeded only by the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Galapagos Archipelago in Ecuador.

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Frogs on the lily leaves

As we make our way back towards Crișan, the low, pink sun shows some promise of a good sunset to come.

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Dinner

Concerned that as tourists we may not wish to eat fish for every single meal, our host serves us pork chops with rice and pickles for dinner today.

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We share the bottle of red wine we bought from the shop earlier, but David is the only one who enjoys it, so he finishes the bottle off.

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I stick to the double distilled plum moonshine. It goes well with the cake made from grapes grown in the guest-house garden.

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Yet another day – the last one in Romania – has come to an end. Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for this totally fascinating private tour of Moldova, Transdniestr and Romania.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:37 Archived in Romania Tagged birds fish boat travel marshes destinations photography soup delta boat_trip bird_watching danube_delta undiscovered_destinations crisan fishball_soup Comments (0)

Mbuzi Mawe - Seronera Part II

Rain doesn't stop play, it creates photo opportunities


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

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Lake Magadi

After leaving the ‘Lion Tree’, we try to find somewhere to stop for our picnic lunch. Malisa’s initial plan is to park down by Lake Magadi, but there is no shade whatsoever and the sun is relentless.

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Terns

On the shores of the lake, a number of terns are congregating: Whiskered, White Winged Black and Black.
As we get closer, they all take off en masse.

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Rueppell's Long Tailed Starling

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Grey Backed Shrike

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We finally find a tree to take our picnic under, listening to the grunting of hippo as we eat. When Lyn comments to Malisa that the sounds appear awfully near, his reply doesn’t exactly re-assure her: “This is leopard country…” Seeing the paw prints in the sand, Lyn makes a hasty retreat to the car.

Banded Mongoose

This is an enormous family!

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Cape Buffalo

A buffalo tries – unsuccessfully – to hide in the long grass.

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Ostrich

A male ostrich shows off his typical breeding plumage: bright pink legs and neck.

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Moru Kopjes

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Gong Rock

On top of one of the kopjes is a strategically placed, strange-shaped rock. This large rock with holes emits quite a gong when hit with a stone. In the old days – before the Maasai were relocated to make this an animal-only national park - it was used as a form of communication, to call together clan members to meetings. These days I guess they use mobile phones.

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Maasai paintings

The kopjes here at Moru also hide a number of rock paintings believed to be several hundred years old. The colours used are similar to those on the Maasai shields, so it is thought that they were painted by a band of young Maasai warriors who wandered this area for several years before settling down to their pastoral life.

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The colours used were created from plant matter: the black from volcanic ash, the white and yellow from different clay, and the red from the juice of the wild nightshade.

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I am intrigued by the bicycle.

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Rock Hyrax

The area around the kopjes is supposed to be home to Serengeti’s last remaining black rhino and is a favourite hangout of leopards apparently. But all we see are a few rock hyraxes.

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My tummy really is in a bad way now, causing me quite some concern; and I beg Malisa to find me a proper toilet. “We are very near” he tells me.

Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Serengeti Rhino Project Visitors Centre

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Half an hour later, we reach the Rhino Information Centre, where the toilets are indeed very good.

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Phew!

Mostly as a result of poaching, the black rhino population has declined to a critically endangered point, with an all time low of 2,300 individuals in the wild. Fewer than 700 eastern black rhinos survive in the wild, with Serengeti being home to around 30 of them.

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Named after the German conservationist Michael Grzimek who devoted his life to the Serengeti, the Visitors Centre has displays about the rhino and how the conservation strategies are being employed to ensure the continued survival of the rhino.

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The exact location of the park’s rhino population is a well kept secret, with a small army of rangers and wardens looking after the animals 24/7.

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One of the reasons the crocodile is often found with his mouth wide open, is to attract insects, who are drawn to bits of meat left in the croc’s teeth. The insects again attract birds, and as soon as an unsuspecting bird enters the mouth – slam! The bird is no more.

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For some reason that reminds me of this Youtube clip.

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Squacco Herons

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These enormous nests take the birds up to three months to build, and are the height of sophistication, with three rooms inside. The nests can weigh up to 90kg, measure 1.5 metres across, and are strong enough to support the weight of a man! These birds are compulsive nest builders, constructing three to five nests per year whether they are breeding or not. When the hamerkop abandons a nest, Egyptian Geese move in.

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Many local people believe the hamerkop to be a ‘witch bird’ because they collect all sorts of stuff for their nest building, including human hair!

More Ostriches

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Giraffe

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Rain

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In Africa, rain is a blessing, for humans, animals and the environment.

♪♫♪ I bless the rains down in Africa… ♪♫♪

"Africa" by Toto

I hear the drums echoing tonight
But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation
She's coming in twelve-thirty flight
Her moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation
I stopped an old man along the way
Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies
He turned to me as if to say: "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

The wild dogs cry out in the night
As they grow restless longing for some solitary company
I know that I must do what's right
Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti
I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

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Rain can also be a blessing for photographers, creating some lovely moody shots.

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Lions

Seeing a herd of Lancruisers in the distance, and knowing that they always hunt in packs, we surmise there must be a suitable prey around.

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We are not disappointed. Wet and bedraggled, there is a pride (or sawt) of lions in the long grass, with what’s left of a dead wildebeest.

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Two mums and three cubs (around 1½ - 2 months old) gather around the carcass.

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The rain is persistent now; so we put the roof down to stop everything in the car getting wet. Although, looking to the west, it does seem that it might clear up soon.

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Actually, almost as soon as we put the roof down, the rain eases off. Typical. We leave it down for a while to see what happens, but as the rain seems to hold off, we raise it again to allow for more movement and ease of photography.

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One of the mums has had enough, and goes off, growling.

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She then lies down in the short grass to tidy herself up from the eating and the rain.

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Followed by a quick roll on the ground.

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Before continuing her stroll.

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The other mum watches her girlfriend with interest.

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And decides that she too would like a roll in the long grass. Copy cat!

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Obviously her tummy is not quite full yet: she goes back to the wildebeest for another bite or two.

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The cubs try to emulate mum, tugging at their dinner.

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I have to say that the normal cuteness associated with lion cubs is not very evident in the wet!

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Eating is boring when you’re a young lion cub, playing with mum is much more fun!

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Mum, on the other hand, is not impressed. “Will you stop that for goodness sake, I am trying to eat!”

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"But muuuuum..."

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Sunshine

Meanwhile, the sun is trying to come out.

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It seems mum number two has also had her fill for the day, leaving the kill behind; licking her chops as she wanders off through the long grass.

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She stops to sniff the air; her face still bloody from dinner.

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Aha! So, that is what she could smell!

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Dad settles down for a rest – or at least that’s what he thinks. The cubs have other ideas.

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Just like mum, dad is not amused either and growls at the playing cubs, who have been jumping up and down on his back and rolling around all over him.

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The playful kitties go back to annoying mum for a while.

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She is still having none of it.

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I am sure this is an expression mothers throughout the world can relate to: the sheer frustration of pleading young eyes.

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Eventually they realise it is less hassle to just play amongst themselves.

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Time to get a move-on

We reluctantly leave the playing kitties to head for camp. It is already 18:15 and we have another 45 minutes drive from here. "Depending on what we see on the way", as Malisa always says when we ask him how long it will take to get somewhere.

The roads are wet and slippery and in his rush to get to camp before we get into trouble, Malisa starts to skid on the muddy track, then over-compensates. For a brief moment we are hurtling sideways at some speed before he manages to skilfully correct the car. Well done that man! Although I found the ‘Serengeti Drift’ quite exhilarating!

Hyenas

This weather seems to have really brought out the hyenas, as we see a dozen or more during one particular stretch of road. Or perhaps they just like this specific area.

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Shooting straight into the setting sun makes for some spectacular backlit images.

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Rainbow

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Seeing the rainbow, I ask Malisa to find me a giraffe for the foreground. Not too demanding then!

The nearest I get is an elephant and a tree. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

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Sunset

This evening’s stormy clouds have created one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen in Africa, with moody, threatening clouds and ever-changing colours.

I hang out of the window with my camera all the way to the lodge; constantly changing the settings (mainly exposure and white balance) to try and achieve different effects. You can see some of the end results below.

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Serengeti Serena Lodge

Just as we arrive at the lodge – in the dark – a long tailed mongoose crosses the road. A very rare animal to spot, it is a first for us. Even Malisa is exciting about it!

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The car park is full and very dark; and we have to negotiate lots of obstacles to get to reception. They are busy and check-in is the slowest we have experienced so far. Eventually we are taken to our rooms – it is a great shame that we cannot see them, as they look very unusual and rather fancy from the post card!

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The design of this hotel is based on traditional Maasai dwellings, with a number of thatched-roofed rondavels dotted around the ground. We give it the nickname of the ‘Nipple Hotel’ due to…. well, I am sure you can figure that out yourself.

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The restaurant is disappointing, with no available tables when we arrive, and most of the buffet food is finished. I am feeling quite weary this evening, and I can’t even finish my one bottle of beer. I must be tired!

As he walks us back to the room, the escort points out a bush baby in the trees.

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Lyn and Chris' room.

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The room is much too hot despite a fan, and I cannot bear to be surrounded by the mosquito net, so I remove it. I am covered in bites anyway, and they itch like mad in the heat this evening so I struggle to sleep.

Despite an unsatisfactory evening and night, we had an otherwise excellent day on safari. Again. Thank you Calabash Adventures and guide Malisa.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:15 Archived in Tanzania Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises trees birds sky rain beer sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation hotel roads museum cute holiday fun africa safari rainbow tanzania crocodile mist moon unesco birding tourists picnic wet photography buffalo lions giraffe hippo roadtrip lion_cubs ostrich conservation serengeti hyena heron terns starling misty mongoose hyrax jackal skidding rock_art stunning bird_watching hippopotamus game_drive backlit road-trip adorable safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company hammerkop lion_kill serena_hotels long_grass_plains central_serengeti kopje stormy_clouds rock_hyrax banded_mongoose moru bedraggled black_backed_jackal nile_crocodile squacco_heron lions_in_the_rain serena_serengeti seronera rhino_project muddy_roads mud_on_road controlled_skid lake_magadi hamerkop hamerkop_nest rhino_conservation cape_buffalo moru_kopjes gong_rock maasai_paintings mosquito_bites rim_lighting Comments (0)

Mbuzi Mawe - Seronera Part I

Zany zebras, baby baboons, eccentric elephants and lounging lions


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

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Another early start in the dark today, complete with luggage as we are moving on to pastures new. Leaving Mbuzi Mawe this morning, we are all feeling the cold.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Much as I really enjoy leaving at the crack of dawn to make the most of the day on the savannah, this first hour or so is not conducive to photography. Darkness = high ISO = grainy and dull images.

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Wildebeest

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This morning we appear to be in the heart of the migration, with wildebeest all around us. Unfortunately, with the animals come the tse tse flies. Nasty little buggers and they are particularly numerous and bothersome where there are trees, such as here.

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Hot Air Balloon

A hot air balloon glides gracefully over the savannah as we make our way through the park.

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Flooded River

I think it must have rained heavily during the night, as the river is flowing over the causeway this morning.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Zebras

Everywhere we look there are zebras. A huge herd – or dazzle – of zebras. Long lines of zebras. Adult zebras. Baby zebras. Lactating zebras. Mating zebras. Eating zebras. Zebra crossings. And more zebras. And then some.

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Cheetah

Two young brothers can barely be seen above the long grass. Having just eaten (we missed it), they saunter off into the distance.

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Olive Baboons

We follow a troop of baboons along the road for a while.

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The baby is very young - no more than two or three days old at the most.

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But I still think he looks like an old man.

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Such a tender family moment!

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That moment when your dad has got you by the scruff of the neck but mum is looking out for you.

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Giraffe

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Located in Seronera in Central Serengeti, the visitors centre is a good place to stop for several reasons:
1. they have new and very clean / modern toilets (I have a problem again today)
2. there is a nice picnic area with lots of semi-tame birds, hyraxes and mongooses
3. an intersting exhibition displays information about Serengeti in general and the wildebeest migration in particular
4. there is also a nice little nature walk on elevated wooden walkways.

Banded Mongoose

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Sadly the boardwalk is closed for crucial repairs today, but we are given a guided tour of the information centre.

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Hippo Jaw

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Buffalo Skulls

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Those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning, will know that I have a wish list, and that aardvark is on that list (and has been for the last four safaris here in Tanzania - it became a running joke with our previous driver Dickson). I still haven’t seen one, so I have to make do with a mural on the wall.

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Rock and Tree Hyrax

It is very hard to tell the difference between these two different animals – the tree hyrax has a lighter stripe down the back, but it is not always obvious.

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And I guess the Tree Hyrax is more often found in …. yes, you guessed it … trees.

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But not always.

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Although the hyrax, also called rock rabbit or dassie, are similar to the guinea pig in looks, its closest living relative is the elephant! They are present throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, and in some places they can become quite unafraid of humans and are considered a pest!

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A hyrax with ambition: pretending to be a wildebeest.

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Grey Capped Social Weaver

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The Gowler African Adventure

On previous holidays with Lyn and Chris (canal barge cruising) we have always had a themed day where we all dress up for a bit of fun, so this time I made these T-shirts for us all to wear, with the ‘team logo’. This safari has been in the planning stages for well over a year, and along the way we have had a lot of fun.

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After our usual packed breakfast at the picnic site here in the Visitors Centre, we continue our game drive, exploring more of the Serengeti.

Black Faced Vervet Monkey

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Hippo

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Although we can only just see the tops of their backs, we can certainly smell them!

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Black Headed Heron

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Spotted Flycatcher

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Wire Tailed Swallow

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Giraffes

Q: What do you call a group of giraffes?
A: A tower, journey, corps or herd.

There’s a bit of trivia for your next pub quiz.

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Suddenly they all turn to face the same direction and continue staring that way for quite some time. I wonder what they have spotted?

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We'll never know.

Olive Baboons

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Elephants

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They’re everywhere. So many of them – we count 31!

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One of the older ladies appear a little ‘eccentric’, carrying grass on the top of her back.

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Having a good scratch.

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You know the grass is long when you can lose a couple of baby elephants in it.

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For the next half an hour, the herd of elephants (also known as a memory or parade) slowly meander all around us – sometimes very close - as they munch their way across the savannah.

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Lion

A lone male lion tries to hide in a prickly bush.

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Giraffe

Earlier we saw an almost white giraffe, whereas this one is very dark. I had no idea giraffes vary so much in their colouration!

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White Browed Coucal

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Impala

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Tse Tse Flies

This area seems to be teeming with these pesky little flies, and I get bitten around fifteen times in as many minutes. They hurt when they bite you and itch like **** afterwards.

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Lions in a tree

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Just like I was complaining about the tse tse flies a few minutes ago, lions sometimes climb onto tree branches to get away from them, but as you can see from the photo below, it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

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On the other side is another lion in another tree.

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After a while, another car pulls up. As usual, we can hear the Americans before we see them. They take a few shots with their mobile phones and numerous more selfies before they move on again. They are not even here for three minutes.

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We, on the other hand, stick around to see what the lionesses might do, and are rewarded with a bit of action. If you can call it that – at least it is some movement rather than just photographing sleeping lions. Or photographing ourselves with sleeping lions in the background.

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The lone lioness from the other tree decides to join her mates.

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There is a lot of shuffling going on, they never seem to find a particularly comfortable position. I can see why you'll never see a male lion in a tree!

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Look at the number of flies on this poor girl's face! It's no wonder she is not comfortable.

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Well, that was certainly worth enduring the tse tse flies for!

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Time to stop for lunch, and a convenient time to break this blog entry. This afternoon’s game drive will feature in a new entry

Thank you so much to our guide Malisa and Calabash Adventures - the best safari company by a long shot.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes trees animals birds monkeys road_trip travel elephants roads scenery cute holiday africa safari tanzania unesco birding cheetah photography lions giraffe hippo baboons roadtrip ballooning serengeti vulture memory flycatcher impala kingfisher mongoose wildebeest shrike hot_air_balloon hyrax bird_watching hippopotamus game_drive tented_camp lilac_breasted_roller road-trip adorable safari_vehicle calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys tower_of_giraffe serena_hotels central_serengeti tse_tse_flies lions_in_a_tree mbuzi mawe grey_headed_kingfisher lappet_faced_vulture serengeti_visitors_centre wildebeest_migration rock_hyrax tree_hyrax banded_mongoose swallow barn_swallow coucal grey_backed_shrike moru Comments (0)

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