We finally find the elephants we went out looking for this morning – or rather: they find us, crossing the road all around us.
This giraffe is being pestered by Yellow Billed Oxpeckers, and keeps trying to shake them off.
White Headed Vulture
Black Faced Vervet Monkeys
Egyptian Geese with chicks
A little less flooding
Hopefully this is a sign that the surface water is receding and some sort of normality can be restored on the roads here in the Serengeti. Providing we don't get more rain, of course.
Or maybe not.
On the far bank of a small lake, a huge crocodile exposes his predator teeth. The reason crocodiles lie around with the mouths open, is to catch birds. The food left in the teeth attracts insects, and the insects in turn attract birds: the lazy approach to hunting.
A Cape Hare unintentionally wanders into the proximity of the crocodile, and freezes to the spot when she realises.
Meanwhile, another crocodile is coming our way.
They are such prehistoric looking creatures.
A third croc fancies his chances with a Black Crake.
He is way too slow for the birds (yet too fast for the camera, or rather my reactions)
Black Headed Heron
Black Faced Vervet Monkeys
I am forever fascinated by their blue balls.
She looks almost human here
White Bellied Busard
We'd heard on the grapevine that there was a lion close to our lodge, and there, in the fading light, just before we turn the corner into the lodge's parking area, is a big cat under a tree.
Here you can see our tent from where the lion is.
You can see where numerous cars have driven around this tree earlier today. Now we have the lioness to ourselves.
She's on the move.
She joins two others under another tree.
We leave them to it and drive the few metres to our camp, feeling a little nervous as we get out of the car.
I don't think tonight is the night to have sundowners around the camp fire outside, sitting between the tent and the lions.
There are three lions under one of those trees in the distance
The grass is so long beside the path to the tents that a lion could easily hide in there for later on when we go to dinner...
Tsetse Fly Bites
I have been itching like mad all afternoon, and when I get undressed for the shower, I find my shoulder and back are covered in bites, some of which have turned into large blisters.
Tonight's dinner is pumpkin soup, followed by beef and pork kebabs with ugali (stodgy grits-like local dish), pilau rice, spinach, pilipili (hot sauce) and salad; followed by rhubarb tart.
We are unable to get into the actual picnic site as the ground is too sodden and muddy, so we set up our table and chairs on the side of the road instead. We are the only people here, so it doesn't really matter.
New for this year, are the posh chairs, with little foldable tables attached, complete with cup holder.
Another great breakfast provided by Matawi Serengeti Camp
What a great idea to have a shape cut out to include the cup handle.
We may be the only humans here, but a couple of lions have walked right through the site this morning.
On the other side of our table are fresh hyena prints. We are definitely out in the wild here.
We have seen more butterflies on this trip than any other safari in the past, with some places featuring literally hundreds of them. They are very difficult to photograph as they rarely hang around for very long, although I managed to catch this one as it landed for a few seconds.
Swallows dart around, pausing briefly to pick up crumbs left on the ground.
Lesser Striped Swallow
White Rumped Swift
In the distance we see a car being helped out of the mud by several other drivers.
This huge eagle is easily recognisable by its relatively short tail. Such a powerful bird, it has been known to just fly down and pick up baby antelopes. Farmers fear it as it will attack livestock, which in turn makes it one of the most persecuted eagle in Africa. It is classed as 'vulnerable', heading towards extinction as a result.
Here you can better see the short tail without the confusion of the branch behind
These really are such ugly birds.
Lilac Breasted Roller
He's found a bug
He briefly lands on the road
Then takes off again
The roads are still very muddy
Named for the huge sausage-like fruits hanging down, which in fact are poisonous when raw. They can, however, be dried, roasted or fermented to make an alcoholic beverage.
Eastern Chanting Goshawk
Malisa suggests we head north towards Lobo, partly to get away from all the crowds in Seronera, and also in the hope of seeing some elephants. I have been very surprised at the lack of pachyderms on this trip.
We need to get out of this mess
Another flooded river crossing
The first thing we see is a large herd of buffalo; although all we can really see is the top of their backs sticking up over the long grass.
A large troupe of baboons walk past our car on the road.
Little Bee Eater
Pin Tailed Whydah
Fan Tailed Widowbird
Orangi River crossing
Apparently this was full and overflowing yesterday. It's amazing how quickly it dries out in this heat.
Red Billed Hornbill
Lilac Breasted Roller
The landscape is very different up here.
Eastern Chanting Goshawk
Malisa spots the tiniest little turtle, his shell not much bigger than my thumbnail, trying to climb the mountainous (to him) tyre track in the road. We stop and make sure he gets out of the way before we carry on. He's heading for a small pond at the side of the road.
As soon as we stop, we get eaten alive by the &*%@# tsetse flies!
White Headed Vulture
The rare and endangered White Headed Vulture beaming down on us.
It seems the only animals around here are the tsetse flies. We take a joint decision to return to Central Serengeti
Yet another Lilac Breasted Roller
Little Bee Eater
He's not happy with us!
Another turtle – the water here is incredibly clear!
We meet a ranger who tells us there elephants the other side of the kopje. We check it out, but they are so far away that I don't even bother to try and take a photograph. Instead we stop for our lunch picnic. More in the next blog entry.
Always busy at lunchtime, we get the last free picnic table in the grounds. The place may be commercialised, but it has a very decent toilet block these days, and there are always lots of birds, rock hyraxes and lizards around to amuse us.
Grey Headed Social Weaver
Speckled Fronted Weaver
Mwanza Flat Headed Rock Agama
Once we have finished eating, we move on “to see what else nature has to offer us” - Malisa's favourite saying.
He looks like he is smiling
This poor guy has a bad limp and barely gets out of the way of the passing car.
I fear he will come a cropper sooner rather than later.
We spend a long time watching the comings and goings at a small pond.
A baby baboon has found a bottle top that someone has dropped. He hope he doesn't choke on it.
Big Bertha* tries to get inside the nostrils of a hippo (*my 600mm lens)
Spur Wing Plover
"Look into my eyes..."
Another Grey Heron
Three Banded Plover
A Rueppell's Long Tailed Glossy Starling shows off his beautiful feathers
He later also shows off his singing voice – he's a bit of an extrovert, this one.
Nearby a family of baboons eat their way through the vegetation.
We reluctantly tear ourselves away from all the activities that are going on here by the water's edge, and move on to pastures new.
A young giraffe
The sky is dark and foreboding and a sudden gust of wind blows across the savannah. Are we in for a storm?
I love how names in Swahili are very often repeated, such as Dik Dik. These, the smallest of Tanzania's antelopes, mate for life, and when you see one of them, there is usually another one nearby - here you can see his mate in the bushes behind.
When a lioness with young goes off hunting, she will leave her cubs behind, with strict instructions to stay where they are (we have seen this in action previously – fascinating!). This little cub obviously did not do as he was told, and wandered off. Now he can't find his siblings, nor his mum.
He walks out onto the road, but is unsure of which way to go.
Maybe she went this way?
He strikes a lonesome, forlorn figure. We follow him for a while as he makes his way along the road, aimlessly darting into the grass on the left, only to pop over to the right hand side soon after.
Eventually he changes his mind completely, and walks back the way he came, right by our car.
Providing he doesn't deviate too far from where she left him, there is every chance that they will be reunited. When the mum gets back, she will call out for him.
I was right earlier when I surmised we'd get a bit of a storm – after some huge lightning bolts and deafening thunder, the heavens open.
Followed by a rainbow.
This one is very much bigger than the one we saw earlier.
It is still raining, and the poor hoopoe is looking somewhat bedraggled.
Two Banded Courser
An old male giraffe is being greatly bothered by the Oxpeckers all up his spine. His tail cannot reach that far so he shakes his neck violently to try and rid himself of the birds.
Unusually, he is feeding on the ground rather than from a tree.
Augur Buzzard spreading his wings to dry after the rain
Seeing a leopard on safari is always rewarding, as they are the most difficult of the three big cats to spot. Seeing two leopards is lucky! Seeing THREE leopards in the same day is just greedy! (we saw two others earlier in the day at two different sightings)
This guy is posing beautifully for us.
He's a big male, and judging by his restlessness, he's about to jump down from the tree.
He is soon on the move.
Is he going to jump or just rearrange himself in a different branch?
As he disappears the other side of the trunk, I expect he will be gone without a sight now.
There he is! He's coming down!
All around me I can hear the high speed clicking of cameras. Unlike everywhere else we've been at any time in Tanzania, this sighting has attracted a number of serious photographers, including half a dozen other Big Berthas.
Having a high frame rate certainly increases the odds of capturing the animal just at the right time.
Soon all we can see is the top of his tail. I can't believe just how long the grass is!
It looks like he is making his way towards the road.
Could we be lucky?
There he goes, between the cars!
He re-emerges briefly the other side of the road, and disappears into the bush for the night.
We really need to get going anyway, as the day draws to a close.
We make a brief stop at a very exciting lifer - the Green Winged Pytillia
There is not much of a sunset tonight, but Malisa does stop a couple of times for me to photograph some dramatic cloud formations.
Looks like rain in the distance
My lips feel very sore this evening when I get back to the tent. After a couple of incidents over the years, my bottom lip in particular has developed photosensitive dermatitis, and I am quite paranoid that they have become sunburnt. Three years ago an innocent sunburn turned into a secondary infection covering my entire mouth is open sores, something I really don't want a repeat of.
My arms are itching like mad and I soon discover why – the bites from those horrible little tsetse flies have turned into blisters and angry red patches. I smother them in antihistamine cream and hope they get better overnight.
We have company this evening in the restaurant: a Swedish couple and their driver.
After another delicious dinner, starting with green banana soup (which tastes much better than it sounds); we retire to bed to the sounds of a not-so-distant lion.
Main course: tender steak with croquette potatoes, vegetables and a fruity salad
I get up early this morning to catch the sunrise – there is a beautiful mist rising over the river.
Sensing some movement out of the corner of my eye, I spot a new bird (to me) in amongst the foliage: a Mangrove Sunbird.
Catching the sunrise was not the only reason I got up early today; we are off on a boat trip through the mangroves this morning.
It's a glorious sunrise.
An old boat lies moored near the lodge.
The water is very still, creating beautiful reflections.
Just around the corner from the lodge, where our tributary meets a wider river, the trees are full of baboons. There are five different species of baboons worldwide, and the Guinea Baboons found here in The Gambia are the smallest.
These are a new (sub)species for us, and I am very excited to see and photograph them at such close quarters.
It looks like there may be more baboons here in the future.
I am so in love with their facial expressions.
African Darter drying out his wings.
Great White Egret
Green Backed Heron
Blue Breasted Kingfisher
Rose Ringed Parakeet
A crocodile sunbathes on the bank of the river.
He doesn't look too friendly.
I hope he didn't hear me and is coming for his revenge!
I am very excited to see this elegant and flamboyant Violet Turaco fly over – another new one for me.
One of the birds on my wish list when I came over here, was the Western Plantain Eater. Here they are two-a-penny!
Oysters are big business around here, with the meat being eaten, and the shells burnt to make lime which is mixed with water to make house paint, and with sand to make cement. There are no wasted elements as anything left is used for chicken feed.
Oysters growing on the mangroves
Pied Crows mobbing a Harrier Hawk
Spur Winged Plover
Senegal Thick Knee
Whimbrel taking off
Long Tailed Cormorant drying his wings out
And so the morning's boat trip is over, and we are back at the lodge in time for lunch.
I am absolutely fascinated by the bats in the ceiling of the restaurant.
Isn't he cute?
Look at him yawn! ♥
Today there is also a Speckled Pigeon in the rafters.
Mr Heron is back in position in amongst the mangroves as usual.
He is after the crabs, of course.
I am not sure what is happening here – it looks like the big crab is stalking the little one.
We return to the room for a little siesta, but find we are not alone.
This girl is looking down on us from the rafters.
It looks like she is raising a family.
I know every mother thinks their babies are the most beautiful in the world; but, I'm sorry, there is nothing remotely attractive about these chicks.
I drift into a light snooze, knowing that I am being looked over by the pigeon family.
Because we are moving on from Lobo to Ndutu today, we load up the car with all our luggage this morning. A troupe of Vervet Monkeys takes that as an opportunity to check out our car to see if we have any easily accessible food. We don't, and they are shooed away empty-handed.
I see an elephant close to the road in front of us, but find myself dismayed and terribly embarrassed when it turns out to be a tree. Doh. For the rest of the day I am teased mercilessly about it.
Zebra in the Sunrise
Hyena in the Sunrise
Having had some good sightings here a couple of years ago, we take a detour to Togoro Plains to “see what nature has to offer us today” (one of Malisa's favourite sayings).
On the top of a rock at Togoro Kopjes, two mamas with their seven babies are sunning themselves.
They are a fair distance away, so we move to try and get a closer view, but that means the sun is in the wrong direction for good photos.
After a short while they leave their original rock and head to another. First one of the adult females, then the rest of them, one by one.
Their destination is another kopje nearby, and while the mums easily make it to the top, many of the cubs are struggling to climb the rocks.
"Are you coming kids?"
"Mum? Where are you?"
"I think she went this way guys"
"Wait for me!"
They get so far, then hang around exploring the rock while they try to work out their route from there to the top.
Meanwhile, mum wonders where her babies are.
“It's obviously not this way lads, I've had a look”.
Watching their different personalities as they try to follow their mamas up the steep slopes of the rocky outcrop is such a delight.
Yay! The first cub has made it to the top to join his mum.
He is soon joined by the next little lion to brave it all the way. Mum doesn't look too pleased to see them, however.
"What took you so long boys?"
And then there were three.
Meanwhile, back on the lower rock...
One particularly timid little scaredycat is really unsure and has to be coaxed from the top by the adult female. It never ceases to amaze me how these cats communicate – we have seen it in so many ways and incidents now.
"But, but, it is slippery...?"
"C'mon, you can do it. Be brave!"
“I guess that just leaves us then, bruv”
As soon as all the little ones make it to the top of the second kopje, one of the lionesses goes off to see about getting the large brood some lunch. We surmise the hartebeest we see in the distance are on today's menu.
Meanwhile, the kids explore their new playground.
Spooked by the lions, these small antelopes prance from one rock to another. Their hooves have a rubber-like coating to give them a better grip on rocky surfaces.
The lions seems to have spotted them too but appear too lazy to do anything about it. Not that they would stand much a chance of catching the fast-moving klipspringers, not would they provide much food for nine hungry lions.
This has been such a heart-warming and entertaining encounter, one of the highlights of our trip so far.
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Lappet Faced Vulture
These three cheetahs under a tree in the distance flatly refuse to do anything other than chilling in the shade, however long we hang around. Don't they know who we are?
Crocodile in the Orangi River
Retima Hippo Pool
Retima Hippo Pool is a bend in the river where numerous hippo gather together for safety in protecting their young.
There is a lot of yawning, grunting, belching, farting, pooping, bickering and splashing going on. But mostly just sleeping.
A crocodile does some sunbathing while he is waiting for the opportunity to grab a snack of baby hippo.
That is why the hippo snuggle close together around their youngststers.
The spot has been created into a rudimentary but popular viewing area over the years, with picnic tables and a toilet block.
While we have visited here a few times in the past, this is the first time we have stopped here for a picnic.
Blue Eared Glossy Starling
As is usual in an area where humans gather for food, a few opportunist birds hang around; this time the large and colourful Blue Eared Glossy Starling.
Thank you to Calabash for yet another amazing morning of safari.
This common antelope is affectionately known as McDonalds because of the black M marking on its rump.
The black spots seen on the back of its hind legs are glands that emits a scent when the impala lands after a jump, thus marking its territory in the process. Isn't nature clever?
These are the cubs we saw last year, all grown up now.
Fourteen lions in total are spread around this area, some near to the road, others much further away.
Unusually, we have seen a number of crocodiles on this trip, and not just sunning themselves on a bank, they have actually been doing things.
Other Animals at the Waterhole
With this elephant heading towards the water, Malisa positions the car so that we can get a better view.
Constantly on the lookout for predators, a lone zebra nervously edges his way down to the pond.
He is still easily spooked though.
It's a hard life being a hyena.
I'm not sure whether it is a coincidence or not, but previously we have generally only seen elands in any numbers the further north we go. Today is no exception - we are currently heading away from the central part of the park and towards the north-east area of Lobo.
Eland are the largest antelope in the Serengeti, and you can see just how large they are compared with the Thomson's Gazelles in this picture.
Traversing the Serengeti from north west to south east, the Orangi River is a huge draw for animals, especially now in the dry season when there is very little surface water in the park.
Cape Buffalo coming down to drink
A young Crocodile in a small pool created by the low water level
The thick forest hides a huge herd – or obstinacy – of buffalo. The downside of the combination of trees and buffalo is that it also attracts tse tse flies. They are pesky little things, and although Avon Skin So Soft does help to keep them away, I still get bitten a few times. It hurts when they get you and stings like hell after.
Southern Ground Hornbill
A large bird, usually found feeding on the ground as the name suggests.
He is looking all around this tree trunk for termites.
Normally these large antelopes are very shy and timid – their meat is delicious and they are slower moving due to their size, making them a favourite prey of hunters and poachers. This guy, however, seems to be as curious about us as we are about him.
After giving us a cursory glance, he just carries on eating.
We pass the lovely lodge we stayed at a couple of years ago when we last came with Lyn and Chris.
Always a good place to see a range of animals, Togoro is no different today:
As time is getting on now, and we still have quite some way to go to reach our overnight lodge, we make our way towards Lobo where we are to spend the night. This part of Tanzania is new territory for us, we previously just briefly skirted past Lobo in 2014 on our way to Kogatende.
We see very little traffic on these tracks, but one vehicle travelling in the opposite direction stops and the driver has a very animated conversation with Malisa In Swahili. While I do not understand most of what is said, I get the gist that there is an exciting sighting ahead. Malisa drives on with increased purpose.
Suddenly he stops the vehicle. It is not easy to spot at first, but then we see it: a leopard in a tree.
She is restlessly moving from branch to branch and turning to look in every direction.
As we can hear some laughing hyenas in the distance, Malisa surmises that they stole her kill. I guess that is why they are laughing.
For a brief moment in time – less than one minute - the low sun comes out, bathing the tree and cat in a beautiful golden light; before disappearing below the horizon for another day.
We really should be hitting the road to reach the lodge before dark, but Malisa is convinced that the leopard will leave the confines of the tree and head off to do some hunting now that the sun has gone down.
"Are you waiting for me?"
She fidgets. A lot. Yawns, stretches and moves.
Has she seen something?
We get ready with our cameras, just in case. And yes, Malisa is right. She makes her way along the branch to the centre of the tree, and not so much 'jumps' as 'runs' down the trunk and disappears behind it.
Slowly, stopping regularly to look around, she makes her way across the grassy plains.
She walks right past us, then sits down close to the car.
Finally she joins the dirt track behind us, sashaying along, looking here, then there, sniffing the air and taking a rest.
Now what has she spotted?
Nothing exciting apparently. She continues on her way, crosses the road and lays down in the ditch rolling around like a kitten.
Lobo Wildlife Lodge
Finally we tear ourselves away from this most amazing leopard sighting. We are late now, of course, and by the time we reach the lodge, it is pitch black. The approach is interesting, driving through a narrow, natural cutting between two towering rocks alive with vervet monkeys, olive baboons and rock hyraxes. The uninviting large metal gate is unlocked by a reluctant guard, revealing an open courtyard surrounded by a reasonably well lit two-storey building. The accommodation is much larger than we are used to, with 74 rooms.
A warm welcome awaits us in the cosy natural stone and wood-pannelled reception, with a serious concern for our well-being when we didn't arrive at the expected time (ie before dark).
The lodge is reminiscent of an old fashioned ski cabin, with the basic rooms leading off outside walkways and every surface covered in dark wood: floor, walls, ceiling and furniture. The bath is interesting with a huge step into the tub. The floor creaks ominously. Lyn and Chris are particularly unimpressed with their accommodation and ask to be moved, but find that the second room is no better than the first.
When our luggage fails to arrive, we go to check out what is going on. The lock on the back door of the car is stuck and has drawn quite a crowd of helpers. Eventually Malisa manages to break it open and we can get to our change of clothes. Broken locks seem to be a theme of this trip.
In the restaurant we encounter the other guests, consisting of a large group of American birders, but the lodge is far from full. As is to be expected from such a large hotel, dinner is buffet style. Not feeling particularly hungry, nor a fan of buffets, I just have a bowl full of lentils for dinner. They are delicious. Since we left Central Serengeti we have not had any phone signal, but they do have wifi in the restaurant here, which means I can at least send an message to my dad and catch up on my emails.
Back in the room, the bed is very hard and before I even have a chance to fall asleep my back is hurting badly. This does not bode well. At this point I would like to mention that Lobo Wildlife Lodge was not our choice of accommodation, but the nearby mobile tented camp that we were initially booked to stay in, more than lived up to its name and moved on to a different location a couple of weeks ago. In this area it is Hobson's Choice when it comes to accommodation, with this being the only one, at least within our price range. Tillya was extremely apologetic when he told us, and offered us the option of staying here or changing the itinerary to spend time elsewhere. While I obviously have a preference when it comes to the style of accommodation, such a short amount of time spent in the lodge (especially this evening) means the accommodation it is of very low importance to me – exploring somewhere new takes preference.
Even before we are dressed and getting ready to go out on today's safari, at the unearthly hour of 05:15, we can hear the roar of a lion. It sounds terribly close by.
Our 'breakfast this morning' (as in the first animal we see today) is a giraffe, just sauntering past the camp. The sun is still considering its next move while painting the sky with purples and pinks.
A few metres further along, we see a mother topi with her very young baby, the kid being maybe a day or so old.
Hyenas are Malisa's favourite animals. While at certain angles and in a certain light, they can look kinda cute (I suppose); at other times the hyena's sloping back gives it a rather menacing demeanour.
These, the smallest of Tanzania's antelopes, mate for life and are often found in family units of three such as this.
Avert your eyes as a couple of Thomson's Gazelles put on an energetic display of early morning sex for us.
When I say “energetic”, I mean that he is putting a lot of effort in, while she is so not interested (preferring to continue eating), resulting in a number of aborted attempts.
This must be particularly frustrating as Thomson's Gazelles only mate twice a year to coincide with babies being born at the end of the rainy season after a gestation period of 5-6 months.
Success at last! Although you may notice she is still eating.
This bundle of fluff is just about the cutest thing we'll see this morning.
Black Breasted Snake Eagle
Black Backed Jackal
We come across this jackal having his breakfast and stay with him for a while as he (unsuccessfully) tries to get the last leg of a hare down his throat.
A few hot air balloons glide effortlessly by.
While Pygmy Falcons score highly on the cuteness scale, the Marabou Stork has to have been hiding behind a bush when looks were given out. There is nothing remotely attractive about this scavenger bird.
They seem to be 'everywhere'.
The pond is also home to a rather large crocodile, sunning himself on the bank. Crocodiles are often found with their mouths wide open like this, hoping that any rotting food leftover in their teeth will attract insects and the insects in turn will draw birds to enter the cavity... and wham!
Also hippo wallowing in the mud. As they do.
Suddenly an almighty racket occurs as the Egyptian Geese on the shore start urgent and deafening honking.
We soon discover the reason for their panic: Mr Crocodile is on the move. How exciting, it is something we have very, very rarely seen, if at all.
He soon settles down and the geese seem to be almost mocking him by getting dangerously close.
Meanwhile, the hot air balloon has finished its morning flight and landed safely. As safely as you can while surrounded by wild animals.
Lilac Breasted Roller
No blog entry from Tanzania is complete with at least one roller picture.
The original vegetarian sausages anyone? These elongated fruits are much loved by a variety of animals, and, although poisonous in their raw state, humans have been known to use them for medicinal purposes to treat fungal infections, eczema, psoriasis, boils, diabetes, pneumonia. More importantly, the fruit can also be used to ferment beer!
Lazing in the shade, the four lions are nonetheless very aware of the Thomson's Gazelle not terribly far away behind them. The Tommy, however, is totally oblivious to the danger lurking underneath the tree.
With a jolt, he realises that he could so easily become breakfast and runs for his life. Good move Tommy, good move.
Yellow Throated Sandgrouse
Often found in large flocks, these noisy birds seem to just keep coming and coming until there are sandgrouse everywhere.
White Rumped Helmetshrike
This is by far the largest herd of elephants I have ever seen. Just as we think we have counted them all, more appear. And then some. There are at least 75 of them, with elephants as far as the eye can see in two directions. Wow, wow and wow.
Nestled in the shade of a tree, three lionesses with two cubs seem to have drawn quite a crowd with more coming all the time.
Having had the luxury so far of generally being on our own at sightings (or at most, a couple of other vehicles), seeing so many trucks in one place comes as a bit of a shock. It doesn't take long, however, before photographing the lions seems to take second place for these people as their attention is drawn away from the cats to our vehicle. Big Bertha is now the main attraction and 'everyone' wants to take her photo. For those who have not been following this blog, Big Bertha is my newly acquired, and impressively massive, 600mm lens.
On a small mound just behind the lions, is a band mongooses, with their sentries keeping a close eye on the big cats and other dangers.
Leaving the lions behind, we make our way to one of our favourite picnic sites for breakfast.
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.
We either sit down to view and photograph the animals...
... or stand up for a 360° view of the savannah around us.
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....
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.
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.
The hippo aren't much better – all we can see is the top of their backs. We can certainly smell them though!
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.
Lilac Breasted Roller
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.
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!
Our path is blocked by a giraffe as we leave the picnic site to continue our afternoon game viewing.
A group of banded mongoose is called a band of mongoose of course.
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.
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.
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.
A very pale baby giraffe with his mummy - they get darker as they age.
Look at that hairstyle!
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!
Dik diks are monogamous, so you will almost always see them in pairs (or three, with their single offspring).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Rueppell's Long Tailed Starling
Grey Backed Shrike
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.
This is an enormous family!
A buffalo tries – unsuccessfully – to hide in the long grass.
A male ostrich shows off his typical breeding plumage: bright pink legs and neck.
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.
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.
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.
I am intrigued by the bicycle.
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.
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
Serengeti Rhino Project Visitors Centre
Half an hour later, we reach the Rhino Information Centre, where the toilets are indeed very good.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For some reason that reminds me of this Youtube clip.
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.
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!
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
Rain can also be a blessing for photographers, creating some lovely moody shots.
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.
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.
Two mums and three cubs (around 1½ - 2 months old) gather around the carcass.
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.
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.
One of the mums has had enough, and goes off, growling.
She then lies down in the short grass to tidy herself up from the eating and the rain.
Followed by a quick roll on the ground.
Before continuing her stroll.
The other mum watches her girlfriend with interest.
And decides that she too would like a roll in the long grass. Copy cat!
Obviously her tummy is not quite full yet: she goes back to the wildebeest for another bite or two.
The cubs try to emulate mum, tugging at their dinner.
I have to say that the normal cuteness associated with lion cubs is not very evident in the wet!
Eating is boring when you’re a young lion cub, playing with mum is much more fun!
Mum, on the other hand, is not impressed. “Will you stop that for goodness sake, I am trying to eat!”
Meanwhile, the sun is trying to come out.
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.
She stops to sniff the air; her face still bloody from dinner.
Aha! So, that is what she could smell!
Dad settles down for a rest – or at least that’s what he thinks. The cubs have other ideas.
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.
The playful kitties go back to annoying mum for a while.
She is still having none of it.
I am sure this is an expression mothers throughout the world can relate to: the sheer frustration of pleading young eyes.
Eventually they realise it is less hassle to just play amongst themselves.
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!
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.
Shooting straight into the setting sun makes for some spectacular backlit images.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
Lyn and Chris' room.
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.