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Abuko

Big day today: Lifer # 1000


View Galavanting in The Gambia 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I spent most of the night tossing and turning, trying to find a position that didn't hurt my arm. That'll teach me for spending so long at the waterhole photographing the birds. Not. I even struggle to bring my hand up to my face this morning, affecting washing, brushing my teeth and hair, and eating. Photographer's elbow. A bit like a tennis player having played in an all day tournament after normally just having a game once or twice a week. The pain won't stop me going out taking photos of birds though.

Abuko

This morning Malick is taking us to Abuko. He's decided that we are going to be better off walking along the plantations just on the outskirts of the woods, rather than inside the thick forest itself, where the conditions will be rather difficult in terms of photography: dark and too many branches in the way. Sounds good to me.

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Onions

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Bitter Tomato

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Sweet Potato

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Mango

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Tapping the palm toddy

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Scarecrow. Or should that be scaredog?

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I don't think the strips of cloth hung from this pole to keep the birds away from the crops are working too well.

We almost immediately spot birds in the trees and on the ground. As before, any lifers (new species to me) will be denoted with *

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Sacred Ibis

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African Grey Hornbill

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Hooded Vulture

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Blue Breasted Kingfisher*

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Grey Woodpecker*

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Woodland Kingfisher

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Spur Winged Plover

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Striated Heron

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Black Crake

Malick warns us to be careful as we step over the ants who are making their way along a well-defined path.

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African Jacana

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Senegal Coucal

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White Billed Buffalo Weavers*

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Two different species of Egrets - Intermediate and Cattle

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Squacco Heron

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Black Heron

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David testing out his directional microphone, hoping to cut out some of the "click click click" he normally gets on his videos from my photography.

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Blue Bellied Roller*

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Giant Kingfisher with a Tilapia in his beak

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

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Pied Crow

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Gull Billed Tern*

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Red Eyed Dove

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Senegal Thick Knee*

This is a very special and important moment in my birdwatching mission – my 1000th lifer!

Ta da!

While I have been interested in seeing and photographing birds for a very long time, it is only in the last 13 years or so that I have taken it to the next level and making a point of identifying and recording the birds I see. I would not consider myself a serious birder, but I am an ardent list-maker, so to make 1000 different species makes me jubilant and proud.

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Little Bee Eater

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Hammerkop

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Broad Billed Roller

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Hooded Vulture

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Reef Heron

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Purple Heron

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Great White Egret

I came to The Gambia with a very short wish list, consisting of only three species that I really wanted to see: Western Bluebill, Western Plantain Eater and the Abyssinian Roller. Having ticked off the first two yesterday, Malick promised me the roller today. He succeeded in spotting it, and the bird put on a delightful display for us.

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The perfect finish to a perfect morning's birdwatching. Thank you Malick.

Posted by Grete Howard 06:36 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds crow birding mango ants roller woodpecker heron egret vulture ibis parakeet dove west_africa kingfisher plantations garlic cormorant sweet_potato tilapia gambia bird_watching hornbill hammerkop thick_knee coucal tern the_gambia malick_suso crake afraica abuko bitter_tomato palm_toddy scarecrow 1000th_lifer lifer life_tick Comments (3)

Serengeti Day 5 Part 2 - Ngare Naironya Springs

The Stripes are the Stars


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

The Gang

All ready to go to see more wildlife this morning:

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Ngare Naironya Springs

After breakfast we return to the waterhole, which is now full of zebras coming and going, splashing about, drinking and generally being zebras.

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Clouds of dust swirl around in the air as the zebra are spooked by our car or each other at different times.

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A hyena appearing on the horizon sends the skittish zebras into a mass exodus.

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Warthog

Once the zebra have vacated the bar, a couple of warthogs saunter down to take a drink.

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Hammerkop

A couple of Hammerkops also make the most of the fresh water.

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We move a short distance to another part of the springs where a steep-sided natural depression with water in the bottom is surrounded by trees. I guess this could be a bit of a death trap if a predator or two were to appear, as there is no easy escape route. The zebra seem acutely aware of the potential danger too – even just the shadows of a hammerkop flying above is enough to spook them.

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With the zebra safely out of the way, a couple of Olive Baboons brave the waterhole.

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This amazing place is a wildlife-watcher's paradise, and at times it is difficult to know which direction to look – and point the cameras – as there is something exciting going on all around us at all times.

Frisky Impala

Male impala are territorial, although usually only during the rutting season. You can tell these are two guys, as only males have horns. Impala are extremely agile and can jump up to three metres in height, covering a distance of 10 metres.

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Meanwhile, the zebra think it is very much a laughing matter.

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Topi

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Zebra

As I said in the title, here on these plains the stripes really are the stars. There are zebra everywhere, thousands of them, including some very young foals. Mummy zebras are fiercely protective of their offspring and will fight off any other strange adult who gets too close to her baby.

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There is also some love in the air.

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These zebra are part of the Great Migration – they tend to be out the front, before the other ungulates, as they will chomp on the taller grass that the wildebeest are unable eat, leaving the shorter grass for them. Easily spooked, thy are constantly on the move, and once one zebra runs, lots of zebra run. I spend ages and take hundreds of photos practising my panning skills, with varying success.

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The heavily pregnant zebra on the right looks like she might give birth any moment.

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Cape Buffalo

Cape buffalo doing what cape buffalo do best: stare! I do find their gaze rather unnerving.

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The buffalo will migrate too, but they don't do the complete circuit as they are unable to cross the biggest rivers.

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Being slightly short-sighted, the buffalo are often spooked by warthogs as they confuse them for lions. I can see how the outline, size and colour of the two animals can appear slightly similar if your eyesight is not good. Try squinting at the picture below and you may be able to see what I mean.

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Warthog

Hooded Vulture

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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Tse Tse Flies

Despite smothering ourselves with Avon's Skin so Soft lotion, which greatly reduces the number of insect bites, we are hugely bothered by the tse tse flies here in this forest. This is the worst swarm of these pesky flies we've ever encountered, and when we stop the car, we can hear them as a constant buzz.

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Ostriches

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Swollen Ankles

My ankles feel sore and tight, and I soon discover why – the top of my socks have really been digging in to my legs. Oops.

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Buffalo lying down

You can see their horns are starting to wear down. Unlike antlers, bovine horns are permanent and do not fall off and regrow.

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Rough Track

Malisa goes off the 'main road' along a track that can only be described as 'basic'.

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Warthog

Initially their short stature makes the baby piglets invisible in the long grass (which is why they run with their tails in the air, so that all the members of the family can see each other), it is only when they cross the dirt track behind us that we spot the cute little family.

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Spot the Elephant

It is astonishing how easy it is to lose such an enormous animal.

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There he is: a large bull elephant appears from behind the bushes.

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He is eyeing us with suspicion as he walks along, grabbing some grass to eat as he goes.

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Maybe suspicion wasn't his perspective, as he seems to be rather more excited to see us now.

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Such an amazing organ, the elephant's trunk (you thought I was talking about something else there, didn't you?) has 150,000 muscles, helping it to eat, pick things up and communicate among other things.

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Cheetah siesta

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. It seems this cheetah most definitely got that memo and has no intention of moving from his shady comfort zone.

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The Affectionate Tree

I love the way the trunk of this tree appears to caress the round shapes of the rocky outcrop, bringing a whole new aspect to the expression 'tree hugging'.

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His mate was a slow developer and only discovered the appeal of rocks in later life, resulting in a swift U-turn in his growth pattern. Not so much a hug as a desperate grab.

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I will leave you with that rocky embrace for this time. Thank you Calabash Adventures, you're the best!

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:08 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals springs monkey elephant africa safari tanzania zebra cheetah buffalo baboons ostrich serengeti dust hyena vulture lobo impala topi waterhole warthogs game_drive calabash_adventures hammerkop tse_tse_flies hamerkop cape_buffalo panning vervet_monkey ngare_naironya_springs zebra_fighting zebra_running hooded_vulture black_faced_vervet_monkey swollen_ankles Comments (2)

Ngorongoro Crater Day 2 Part 2 - kingfisher, baby zebra

From breakfast until lunch


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

Picnic Breakfast

We stop at the now very familiar Lerai Picnic Site for breakfast. On most of our previous visits to the crater we have stopped here, either to have a picnic or simply to make use of the facilities. The first time we came, in 2007, the toilets were pretty horrendous, but these days they are very much improved, with an attendant looking after cleanliness and stocking up on soap and paper.

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David is ready to get going "to see what nature has to offer us" (one of Malisa's favourite sayings)

We share our picnic this morning with a cheeky little monkey and a Hildebrand Starling.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkey

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Defassa Waterbuck

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You can easily tell the Defassa from the Common Waterbuck, providing you see them from behind: the Defassa has a circular white spot on its rear, while the Common Waterbuck features a much more prominent 'toilet-seat-shaped' white mark on its bum.

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Bird Pond

Initially attracted by a Hammerkop, we stop at a marshy area and soon discover the site is teeming with colourful birdlife.

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Hammerkop

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Sacred Ibis

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Egyptian Goose

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Black Headed Heron

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Immature Yellow Billed Stork

Malachite Kingfisher

I spot something colourful out of the corner of my eye, and ask Malisa to reverse to a different view, where I am delighted to see a Malachite Kingfisher sitting on some reeds.

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I grab Big Bertha (my 600mm lens) and wait for him to go fishing. He does, but he misses and so do I. He does fly around a bit and offers me a few different poses though.

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Bad hair day!

Finally he settles on a reed nearer to us, without a distracting background. Yay!

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Rasta Lion

That lump you see under the tree is a sleeping lion. Honestly.

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Hildebrand Starling

Ring Necked Dove

I get really excited about seeing this dove until I realise it is the same ones as we have in abundance back home in the garden. Doh.

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African Hoopoe

Lions

These are the same lions we saw yesterday devouring their kill. Having filled their bellies with zebra, they do not need to eat again for three days or so, rather they will now spend the time resting in the shade while they are digesting their food.

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Hippo and Zebra

Thomson's Gazelles

Cute little Tommy babies (Thomson's Gazelle). The good news is they are the second fastest animal in Tanzania. The bad news is, the cheetah is faster.

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Wildebeest

These odd-looking ungulates are renowned for being incredibly stupid with a dangerously short memory. Here they prove that theory by suddenly forgetting why they are fighting.

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Kori Bustard

Bateleur Eagle

These striking raptors have no tail to steady them in flight, instead they use their wings and body weight.

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Lions

These three lions are brothers, and while the one at the front is older, the other two hail from the same litter.

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Male lion

Yet another lion just lazing around, sleeping the day away, not realising that he should be performing for the camera-wielding tourists.

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Augur Buzzard

Zebra

Less than one week old, this baby zebra is torn between exploring the world and sticking close to his mum. When he is spooked by another zebra, mum jumps to his defence and sees the intruder off.

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Golden Jackal

Rhino

Malisa assures us that the blurry blob we see in the far distance is in fact a rhino. We have to take his word for it. Heat haze, dust, and atmospheric distortions make it impossible to take a decent photo, or even verifying his claim.

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Eurasian Hobby

Cape Buffalo

With a baby just a few days old, the mother looks painfully and alarmingly thin.

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Thomson's Gazelle

Although in some ways, and certainly from a photographer's point of view, it is great that the animals in Tanzania's national parks have become so accustomed to tourists that they no longer see the vehicles as a threat; the danger lies when they don't even bother to get out of the way – we almost run this little Thomson's Gazelle over as he isn't the least bothered about moving from our path as we approach.

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Hippo Pool

Some years ago when we came to the Crater, we had our picnic in this spot, and the pond was teeming with hippos (the aroma of 50 hippos belching, farting and crapping is not a good accompaniment to a tasty packed lunch), but today there are only a few of them around.

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Great White Pelican

There are, however, quite a number of Great White Pelicans showing off their breeding plumage.

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This is what a pelican looks like when it's yawning:

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Cattle Egret

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Hyena

Through all the distortions it is impossible to make out what this hyena is carrying in its mouth, even with powerful binoculars or Big Bertha. Could it be a baby Tommy? Or maybe a Kori Bustard?

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Windy

The wind has really blown up today, creating havoc with any dust kicked up by moving vehicles and blowing my hair in all directions (especially in front of my eyes as I am trying to take a photo)

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Grey Crowned Cranes

It seems I am not the only one having a bad hair day.

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In particularly arid areas where there is no vegetation to hold on to the soil, the sand gets blown into the car and we end up quite literally eating grit.

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Warthogs

Looking like they are praying, warthogs eat by kneeling on specially adapted pads on their front legs. This is because their short necks and relativity long legs make it difficult for their mouth to reach the ground in a conventional feeding position.

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Golden Jackal

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Kori Bustard

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Flamingos

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Yellow Billed Stork

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Secretary Bird

The same bird we spotted last night is still busy on her nest. I am not sure if she is still building it or just rearranging the furniture.

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It is time to leave the Ngorongoro Crater – one of my favourite places in the world - for this time. We will be back.

Thank you Tillya of Calabash Adventures for arranging this superb safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:48 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel breakfast sand africa safari tanzania pool zebra birding picnic buffalo lion windy rhino hippo wind crane hobby dust hyena heron egret stork ibis pelican waterbuck gazelle kingfisher warthog goose kori_bustard grip big_bertha calabash_adventures hammerkop secretary_bird picnic_breakfast augur_buzzard breakfast_box lerai_picnic_site malachite_kingfisher rasta_lion crowned_crane cattle_egret thomason's_gazelle golden_jackal baby_zebra Comments (2)

Tarangire Part II - Arusha - Istanbul - Birmingham - Bristol

More elephants


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

Fully fed and watered after a delicious picnic breakfast, we are soon on our way to “see what nature brings us this afternoon”.

Despite the rainy season being upon us, there doesn't seem to be much water in the Tarangire River at the moment.

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A family of Lesser Striped Swallows dig in the dried riverbed for worms.

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The normally shy impala stay by the side of the road looking at us as if transfixed. It makes a great change from them running away as soon as the car pulls up alongside them.

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Like the elephants, they are so close I can almost touch them.

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They are such elegant creatures.

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Impala are affectionately known as “McDonalds”. Not because they make great burgers, but because of their rump markings resemble the “M” on the famous fast food chain's logo.

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Another large herd – or memory – of elephants appears as if out of nowhere.

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There are 16 family members in total, including a tiny infant, no more than 10 days old at the most. You can just about see him here (below), immediately behind the leading matriarch, being protected by his older sister with her trunk slung affectionately over his back.

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The rest of the family follow behind.

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It is fascinating to watch: when the matriarch at the front stops, everyone else stops, even those at the back. When she moves, the rest move.

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We get really excited when we realise they are all going to cross the road. We might even get to see that baby properly.

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Sixteen large animals crossing the road and the only sound we can hear is that of the grass rustling as they walk through. Elephants move in almost total silence, thanks to their spongy hooves that make for a soft step.

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The elephants just keep coming and coming. One after another, all in a straight line. Just like Jungle Book.

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One of them deviates from the line and walks right by our car.

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This little guy seems to have lost his tail, poor thing.

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The elephants continue on their journey through the park, and so do we.

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At around eight feet tall, these large flowering plants make me think of a horror film for some reason, where ordinary small plants grow to enormous proportions and take over the world. Yes, I know, I have an over-active imagination.

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At the other end of the scale, the Namaqua Dove is surprisingly small.

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The elephants of Tarangire are known for their aggression and dislike of people, and one of these makes it quite clear what he thinks of humans as he feels the car is too close to his domain.

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The male is energetically performing a courtship ritual by jumping from branch to branch like a lunatic. The female looks totally unimpressed.

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It doesn't take us many minutes after getting out of the car before we decide that this is most definitely not the place to have lunch. The area is absolutely full of pesky tse tse flies.

The black and blue flag you can see on the picture, is supposed to help keep the population of these horrible little insects down, as the tse tse are particularly attracted to those two colours. The flags are impregnated with a substance which make them infertile, thus the number of flies should become reduced. Sorry guys, it doesn't seem to be working.

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We quickly get back in the car again and head back to Matete where we had breakfast this morning, game viewing on the way.

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Popularly referred to as 'feathered locusts', the Red Billed Quelea is Africa's most hated bird. For generations this small but voracious bird has gathered in huge numbers to decimate subsistence farmers' fields across the continent.

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They look such cute little things, but with some colonies numbering into the millions, the quelea is the most abundant bird in the world, and sadly also the most destructive.

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With an estimated adult breeding population of at least 1.5 billion, it is believed that the agricultural losses attributable to the quelea is in excess of US$50 million annually which would be totally devestating to those already barely getting by.

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From our point of view, however, it is amazing to see and hear them take off en masse – the whoosh sound they make as they all fly from tree to tree is quite something.

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Looking on the bright side, I suppose while they are here in the national park eating wild grasses, they are not causing destruction to farmers.

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Some months ago I answered a question on Trip Advisor from someone who wanted suggestions for a safari company in Tanzania. Having recommended Calabash, the original poster and I continued to talk from time to time, right up until we left for Africa, and soon realising we'd be in Tanzania at the same time. We knew the only opportunity we had to be able to actually meet in person, would be today in Tarangire. I spot their car from quite a distance, thanks to the Calabash logo on the side.

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It is great to finally be able to put a face to the name, and Agata is every bit as lovely in real life as she is on line. Her partner Dom is a really sweet guy too; and of course it is nice for Malisa that gets to chat with John, their guide, and catch up on news.

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Today seems to be full of animals and bird that come really close to the car. Unlike most impala, who run away as soon as the vehicle pulls up next to them, these stay right by the side of the road as we stop to admire their graceful appearance.

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We have a youngster with an itch that appears hard to scratch.

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“I just can't quite reach...”

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A family of mongooses who are milling around in a clearing stop and briefly look at us before carrying on with their lives.

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Today really is a day full of close encounters! Crossing the road right in front of us makes this my closest sighting ever of these small furry mammals.

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Eggs are one of their favourite foods, and this guy has got a large one. (Excuse the very bad photo, it's the only one I managed to get)

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Another one of Tarangire's claims to fame is the number, size and age of its baobab trees. Popular with elephants for the ability to store water in their trunks, baobabs are often left with battle scars from the encounters.

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Malisa explains that providing this tree does not receive any further assaults from elephants, it should be able to re-grow and continue to live. Any more battering will surely be the end of it though as it will collapse and die.

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As we are talking about baobabs, a lion appears 'out of nowhere', leisurely walking along the road in front of us, before taking a rest.

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After a short break, he continues on his way, slipping into the long grass beside the road. It is all over in a few minutes, and we are the only people who saw him. Right time, right place I guess.

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Lions are said to be hard to spot in Tarangire, but we have had some luck over the years with a sighting on all but one of our visits (and on the one visit we did miss, we saw a lioness and two cubs outside the park boundaries)

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Unlike earlier when we stopped here for breakfast, now the picnic site is full of tourists enjoying a break and having lunch.

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The presence of lots of people also attracts these scavengers to the picnic site.

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They may look cute, but they are scheming little thieves, who hang around the picnic tables, waiting for an opportunity to nab any unprotected food.

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If the opportunities are slow at materialising, these intelligent creatures create their own opportunities. The have learned that if they make a lot of loud noise, imitating their warning calls, down at the railings overlooking the valley, curios tourists will flock to see what is making the monkeys so agitated. This then gives their mates a chance to snatch any food left behind on the picnic tables. We see several people falling for this trick today.

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It's not just the picnic tables that get the once over from these cheeky guys, here you can see one of them checking out our car for the slightest chance of some food. Fortunately we made doubly sure we closed and locked all windows, doors and roof.

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Fed up with the opportunist thieves, a group of French tourists shout “allez, allez” at the monkeys. The would-be robbers take absolutely no notice of course, continuing to approach the table from every angle. Laughter ensues when an Englishman on the next table informs them that the monkeys "only speak English you know”.

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One of the most remarkable things about the Black Faced Vervet Monkey, is its bright blue testicles. When I say “bright blue”, I mean iridescent, almost glow-in-the-dark blue.

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Even a Superb Starling tries to muscle in on the action, looking for crumbs dropped by tourists.

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We have to leave the picnic area, and in fact Tarangire National park, to make our way back to Arusha and later our flight home. We will of course “see what nature has to offer us” on the way to the park gate.

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This enormous bird (it stands at 130cm / 4'3”) is the largest of all the hornbill species, and as the name suggests is usually found on the ground.

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This female is doing what girls all over the world do every day: preening herself.

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It looks like this year's elephant fashion includes pierced ears.

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Another mongoose family. These, however, take fright as soon as they see us.

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Stopping occasionally to check if we are still following them.

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And so this ends our 2017 safari in Tanzania. Despite being awfully poorly, I have enjoyed myself very much, thanks to being so extremely well looked after by David, Malisa and all the lodge staff along the way. Not to mention Tillya of Calabash Adventures of course, who made sure I was still OK and coping every day.

Being able to carry on as 'normal' as possible on the trip has been mostly down to adrenalin and as soon as we leave the last park and start the long journey home, I relax and it hits me big time. Everything from then on is a blur: the visit to Tillya's beautiful new office; trying to find a toilet in a leisure centre when I suddenly have a bout of diarrhoea; the emotional moment we have to say goodbye to Malisa; the check in to Kia Lodge in Arusha for a shower, change and dinner; the moving to a different room because the A/C is not working and there is no drinking water in the room; the transfer bus to Kilimanjaro Airport; the panic upon being asked for my UK visa at the check-in desk and having to explain that as an EEA national I don't need one despite the Brexit; the flights from Kilimanjaro – Istanbul – Birmingham; being transported from the plane in a wheelchair; and the drive home where I can finally collapse in bed.

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Writing this blog and editing the photos back home has been great for me, as there is so much of the trip that I don't remember. So many of the notes I made at the time (thank goodness I did) where I have had to ask David: “what did I mean by this?”. This time, instead of re-living the trip as I usually do when I publish my blog after our return home; I have really just 'lived it' as I missed so much the first time round.

Here's to the next safari (this time hopefully in perfect health!) with Calabash Adventures, the best safari operators by far!

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:02 Archived in Tanzania Tagged elephants africa safari tanzania site lion baobab tarangire wheelchair impala mongoose hyrax hornbill lilac_breasted_roller swallows calabash_adventures hammerkop black_faced_vervet_monkeys tse_tse_flies banded_mongoose birmingham_airport grant's_gazelle go_away_bird dwarf_mongoose matete_picnic giant_morning_glory namaqua_dove red_billed_quelea africa's_most_hated_bird quelea mpingo_picnic_site francolin magpie_shrike superb_starling southern_ground_hornbill Comments (9)

Ngorongoro Crater

The Eighth Wonder of the the World?


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

At 02:00 I wake in a mad panic with a feeling of being unable to breathe. My head is spinning, the floor is moving like ocean waves and my heart is beating so fast it feels like I have just run a marathon (not that I am ever likely to know what that feels like).

I walk to the bathroom, having to hold on to the furniture along the way so as not to stumble, and by the time I return to bed I feel exhausted. As soon as I lie back down again, I start coughing. Thanks David for giving me your cold. Having spent the first three months of the year being very ill / hospitalised with pneumonia, and having to cancel a holiday in February, I was so looking forward to this trip. I really don't want to be sick!

A large group of tourists are leaving the lodge at the same time as us this morning (06:00), but Malisa has conveniently placed himself in the car park rather than just outside the door, so we get away before they do, which means we enter the Crater as the very fist vehicle this morning.

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Ngorongoro crater as seen from the rim

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Like an African safari in miniature, the Ngorongoro Crater is an iconic soup bowl filled with animals and wrapped in superlatives. As the largest un-filled, un-broken caldera in the world, the crater boasts a number of 'records', including the densest animal population in Africa. No wonder it is dubbed as the 8th Wonder of the World. Created some three million years ago when a large volcano exploded, the caldera is ca 20 km across and 610 metres deep; and contains all the 'Big Five' as well as a number of other plains game. Only the giraffe is absent, as the caldera walls are too steep for them to climb.

Also absent these days is the Maasai cattle, having recently been banned from the caldera. When we first started coming to Tanzania some ten years ago, the cattle were only permitted on the caldera walls, but over the years they have been spreading themselves further and further down, and last year we were quite surprised to see them on the crater floor itself. No more. They are not permitted into the caldera at all now.

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Instead of Maasai cattle, we see a number of Cape Buffalo on the crater walls this morning. Considered one of the Big Five, this is an aggressive and dangerous animal, responsible for a number of human deaths each year.

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We spot our very first lions about half way down the descent road, and we follow the two females all the way to the bottom, where they move off the road in their continued quest for breakfast.

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In the distance we – and the lionesses – have spotted a warthog. He too is very aware of the predators approaching.

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What to do now? The clever hog finds himself a hole in the ground and goes into hiding by 'reversing' into the crevice.

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We hold our breaths as the lionesses arrive in the area the warthog is lurking, looking in a few of the small ravines for the breakfast they know is hiding somewhere close by.

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Unfortunately for the lionesses, but fortunately for the warthog, they never do discover his hiding place. Well played Mr Hogg, well played!

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We follow the lionesses for a little while longer, hoping they might lead us to their babies.

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No such luck, and we join the baboons in looking at the lions disappear into the forest.

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Wise advice

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When Malisa spots a lone lioness in the distance, we stay a while watching to see if the gazelles spot her before she spots them as potential breakfast.

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Again nothing happens, another lion foregoes breakfast and we - and the gazelles - move on the pastures new.

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Endemic to the open grasslands in sub-Saharan Africa, the Secretary Bird stands around four feet tall and is so named because of the quill-like crest on the backs of its heads that resemble 18th century clerks with pens tucked into their wigs.

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Unlike most birds of prey, the Secretary Bird doesn't swoop down to catch its prey, rather he hunts on foot, jumping up and down to flush out his intended breakfast (snakes and lizards mainly) and then kills them with a force five times his own weight.

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When we met up with Tillya yesterday, her told me I have to take some award-winning photos on this trip; and I asked him if there was anything in particular he had in mind. “Zebras fighting” was his reply.

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Fortunately, these two very cooperative zebras do seem to have received the memo and put on an obliging display for me.

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More zebras down by Lake Magadi.

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As well as wildebeest and a hyena.

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And a very cute baby Thomson's Gazelle.

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The lake is also home to a number of Lesser Flamingos.

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To say the weather is changeable today is an understatement; the lifting roof has come down and gone up more times than a hooker's undergarments this morning already. Each rain shower lasts only a few minutes and is not heavy, but the wind makes sure that everything inside the car gets soaked.

It does make for some dramatic skies though.

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As Africa's heaviest flying birds, the Kori Bustard can weigh up to 19kg and stands at around 120cm tall. During courtship displays, the male inflates his neck and dances for the female, although this guy is obviously a little confused, as we cannot see any females around. Perhaps he is just practising.

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On all our previous visits to Ngorongoro, we have only ever seen the rhino from a great distance, so when Malisa asked me about my wish list this year, seeing a rhino up close was mentioned.

And there he is!

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Black rhino are on the Critically Endangered conservation status list, so I feel quite honoured to see one of the 30 or so rhinos that inhabit the caldera.

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We see eight lions in the distance, mainly sleeping.

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This old male of around 55-60 years old (it is mostly males who live in the crater) likes to stay close to the swamp as he has lost his last molars so favours the soft grass found here. Look at those impressive tusks though! I think they are the longest tusks I have ever seen!

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Mum is accompanied by her baby, who is around 3½-4 months old.

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May is considered part of the 'Green Season' (otherwise known as the 'Rainy Season', but obviously tour operators feel that 'Green' sounds better than 'Rainy'), and as such the prices are lower and there are fewer people around.

We love it. Not only do we often have the animal sightings completely to ourselves, we also enjoy all the flowers and lush vegetation around at this time of year.

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This area beside a spring of the same name is popular with tourists, and we too stop here for breakfast.

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It's times like these that I am glad we are travelling on a private safari.

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We have company, eyeing up the leftover breakfast.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Superb Starling

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Sacred Ibis

Meaning “water coming from the ground”, the spring is favoured by hippos as well as tourists.

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Warthogs have to be some of the ugliest animals around, but look at those legs: they look like an elegant lady's with stiletto heels!

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The male puts on an impressive display for his intended female, with some elegant dance moves.

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I love the way it looks as if these baboons are picking up the flowers to take in the wonderful aroma.

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And everyone should have an elephant or two in their flower bed!

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This one is even wearing flowers in his hair!

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We encounter a large breeding herd of Cape Buffalo.

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I do find their menacing stare somewhat intimidating.

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Although some do look more like country yokels than inner city thugs.

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But the babies are cute. As most babies are. This one is very young, just one or two days old.

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Look at the flies!

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The buffalo are joined by an elephant.

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My camera seems to be malfunctioning at this stage, refusing to focus or fire and the viewfinder becoming very dark. I feel a growing sense of panic until I remove the battery grip and find it works fine again. Phew.

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Wherever the buffalo go, the Yellow Billed Oxpeckers follow.

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The birds enjoy a symbiotic relationship with the buffalo (as well as other animals here); where the animal provides a 'home' for the birds, while the oxpeckers assist the buffalo by removing the ticks and flies.

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And in the trees, the Barn Swallows gather.

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So called because they like to live in close proximity to each other, these small birds have filled this tree to beyond recognition with their elaborate nests!

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This enormous bird stands around 1.5m (5 ft) tall and can weigh up to 19kg (42 lbs).

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The pool doesn't just attract hippos, we also see a few birds here:

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Cattle Egret

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African Spoonbills hiding those beautiful beaks of theirs

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Egyptian Goose

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Blacksmith Plover

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Red Bishop

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Hammerkop

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Sacred Ibis

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This is one seriously big antelope, standing at around 180cm (6 feet) tall at the shoulders. It is also one of the most skittish of the plains game; mainly as a result of being extensively hunted for their delicious meat.

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As a result they are therefore usually seen running away as soon as we approach, so it makes a very pleasant change to be able to photograph them actually standing still.

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The older they get, the greyer they become (just like humans) and the larger the dewlap grows. This guy is a seriously old dude by the looks of it. Notice how all the youngsters stare at us while the old man carries on eating, totally oblivious.

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We become a little concerned when we see a baby zebra lying in the middle of the road with no apparent urge to move as we get closer.

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Mum soon arrives on the scene to 'rescue' her little darling...

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... who promptly throws a tantrum. "I don't wanna move!"

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But mum's having none of it and marches him out of harm's way.

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Less than a week old, he is just too adorable!

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In these pictures you can easily see the facial warts that have given this animal its name.

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As we say goodbye to Ngorongoro Crater, I can easily appreciate why it is often dubbed the 8th Wonder of the World.

Once back up on the rim, I can yet again feel the effect of the altitude on my chest. I did have some temporary relief down in the crater, which is over 600m lower than the surrounding area.

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Coughing madly and struggling to breathe, I curse David for bringing a cold with him on this trip.

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We take one last look at the crater below before we make our way to our next destination and new adventures.

This amazing experience was made a reality by the wonderful staff at Calabash African Adventures.

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged elephant africa safari tanzania zebra buffalo lion rhino black_rhino ngorongoro hyena warthog ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard bustard rhinocerous calabash calabash_adventures hammerkop cape_buffalo secretary_bird zebras_fighting giant_tusk long_tusked_elephant Comments (7)

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)

Tarangire National Park

Elephants, elephants and more elephants. Oh, and did I mention cute baby elephants?


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

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I am awake before the alarm goes off this morning, being abruptly dragged out of my slumber by the not-so-distant roar of a lion.

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It’s another early start today, leaving the lodge at 05:45 to get to Tarangire National park entrance for opening time at 06:15. Bleary eyed, we set off in the pitch black with humble expectations.

We don’t have to wait long for our first sighting. Just a couple of hundred yards from the lodge, we spot something in the car headlights.

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Two lionesses with two cubs!

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It is so dark out there we can only make them out with a torch or the car headlights, so I am surprised that the camera has picked anything up at all. (For those of you with an interest in the technical aspects, these photos were taken with a Canon EOS 6D with a 24-105mm f/4 at ISO 25,600 at 1/50 sec. Some of them have been cropped in the post processing stage, but no editing beyond the RAW conversion.)

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Now it makes perfect sense why we are not permitted to walk around the lodge grounds after dark without an escort!

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Mum is on the look-out for food, while the cubs just want to play.

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Before we left England, Lyn was concerned “what if we don’t see any lions?”, and here we are, before 06:00 on our first day of safari, before we have even left the grounds of the lodge, let alone reached the national park; and we have four lions within feet of the car! Talk about beginners’ luck!

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By 06:15 we are still here, and the sun starts to rise. We never did make it to the gate for opening time.

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While it is still quite dark, at least it does mean we can actually see the lions now without resorting to shining a bright light on them.

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It also means that I can bring the ISO down to a more manageable 6400-8000.

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We stay with the lions until they move out of sight in their quest for breakfast.

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This bachelor impala has been kicked out of his herd and will stay on his own for a while before creating his own harem and herd. He seems to have a growth on the side of his neck.

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Impala bachelor herd

Progress is slow for us this morning as we encounter animals after animals within the lodge grounds.

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Giraffe family consisting of eight members, young and old.

Including some very cute babies, thought to be around three months old.

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As far as male giraffes go, females believe that the darker markings the better, as these are thought to be the stronger animals. Definitely a case of wanting their mates to be tall, dark and handsome!

Having read that the giraffes in Tarangire are darker than usual with deeper marking, I am keen to inspect the difference for myself. As the national animal of Tanzania, the killing of giraffes is illegal. Unfortunately, bush meat poaching is still big business in the rural areas, and illegal market hunting for meat is well known to be rampant around Tarangire.

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We reluctantly tear ourselves away from the giraffes and move on to the next animal sighting – Olive Baboons.

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There is a lot of squealing going on as a mother punishes her babies and they run to hide under our car.

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There is playing, mating, grooming and fighting going on, with the old males just sitting around doing nothing – much like our local pub on a Friday night.

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There’s another animal that seems to have a growth on its side.

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Two males chase one ready-to-mate female. After a loud fight, the winner takes it all.

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A warthog looks on with amusement.

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Lilac Breasted Roller – apparently they got their name from the way they roll when they mate. I had no idea…

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Blue Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Yellow Crowned Canary

Marula

This is the marula tree – the fruit that makes the delicious liqueur Amarula. Apparently the elephants have been known to eat the fruit and then get drunk – the thought of meeting a drunk elephant in a dark alley is a frightening one…

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Baobab Tree

It is unusual to see a young baobab tree such as this one – believed to be about sixty years old – as the elephants destroy them. A Baby Baobab tree looks very different from its adult form and this is why some Bushmen believe that it doesn't grow in the same way as other trees. They think it suddenly crashes to the ground with a thump, fully grown, and then one day simply disappears.

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We have finally left the grounds of the lodge and are now heading towards Tarangire National Park – just about two hours later than planned.

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We are still not actually inside the park yet, and we make a few more stops before we are. That’s the beauty of a safari – you never know what nature is going to offer you.

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Red Bishop

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Fischer's Lovebird

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Ashy Starling

Tarangire National Park

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Our arrival at the Tarangire National Park Entrance Gate could not be any more different to the last time we were here – this time we are the only car waiting; last time the car park was full!

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September 2014

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May 2016

Last time it took 3/4 hour for Dickson, our guide, to get our permits. This time Malisa has the necessary paperwork in no time at all!

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The queues for the permits in 2014

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The queue in 2016

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Permit in hand – we’re ready to roll!

Tse Tse Flies

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One of the main problems with travelling to Tanzania in the Green Season is the prevalence of tse tse flies. These pesky insects are very attracted to the colours black and navy, so large flags have been hung from trees throughout the parks to encourage the insects to land on them. The material has been impregnated with poison, so that any unsuspecting flies which come into contact with them become sterile.

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There have apparently been a few cases reported recently about tourists having contracted sleeping sickness after being bitten by the tse tse fly in Tarangire, although Malisa and the other guides get bitten all the time and they haven't contracted the illness. It's probably a case of the media making a mountain out of a mole hill. It is certainly one animal that I really would rather NOT see while we are here, but unfortunately they are present in all the parks we are visiting, and are said to be particularly bothersome in Tarangire during the wet season.

These pesky flies have a painful bite, and when I was bitten on our last visit to Tanzania, the bite became quite red and swollen, but the fly thankfully did not carry the sleeping sickness disease. This time.

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Von der Decken's Hornbill

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Red Necked Francolin

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White Crowned Fiscal Shrike

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Common Waterbuck. They excrete a bad taste which predators find unpleasant, so are not generally found on the menu of the local lions and leopards.

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

Dwarf Mongoose

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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Senegal Coucal

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Crowned Lapwing

A large troupe of banded mongooses stare at us in disbelief before scampering; stopping occasionally to check if we are following them.

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Superb Starling. Chris soon gets the hang of differentiating between Superb and Hildebrand Starling – it’s all in the white band on its chest and the colour of the eyes!

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Magpie Shrike

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Crowned Lapwing

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Giraffe with passengers

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Yellow Billed Oxpecker

African Green Pigeon

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The long grass almost completely hides a pair of Southern Ground Hornbill, and they are pretty large birds!

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Elephants

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Tarangire National park is best known for its concentration of elephants – the densest anywhere in Africa – so I am therefore rather surprised that we don’t see any for quite a while after entering the park. In fact, some two hours pass before we come across the first herd – or memory as they are called – of eleven elephants, which includes this cute one-week old baby.

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We have a delightful close encounter for Lyn and Chris’ first wild elephants, as the family group saunters past our car.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

Mr and Mrs Ostrich

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Rattling Cisticola

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Little Bee Eaters - one of my favourite birds!

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Two Banded Courser

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Dwarf Mongoose

Malisa spots some fresh lion footprints on the main track. They are heading towards the same picnic site as we are.

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Matete Picnic Site

With great views over the valley below, Tarangire River, elephants and with a tree hyrax in the railings, Matete Picnic Site is not a bad place to stop for breakfast.

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Elephants in Tarangire River

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Tree Hyrax

The facilities here have improved immensely since our last visit, with clean and modern attended toilets. A few other vans stop here too while we have our breakfast, including a group of American college student we saw on the flight from Nairobi. I am quite chuffed when – after a quick exchange of pleasantries with their driver in this native tongue – he asks: “where did you learn Swahili?”

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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Pygmy Falcon - the fastest bird in the park!

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Grant's Gazelle

Sausage Tree

– Kigela Africana
Named after its large sausage-shaped fruit (that is in fact a wood berry, not a fruit), which can grow up to a metre long! It's a useful tree in that monkeys eat the seeds and elephants chew on it for water. Humans make brushes from the dried fruit and even brew beer from it. Sausage Tree Beer – it has a certain ring to it, don't you think? It's all the rage these days to drink randomly-named designer beers from micro-breweries. Like so many African plants, it is thought to have a range of medicinal benefits, including curing syphilis. I shall have to remember that. The fresh fruit, however, is poisonous. The other danger from the tree is fallen fruit – being so big, they can cause some serious damage to anyone (or anything) underneath at the time!

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More Elephants

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This 40-year old male is in musth – as can be seen by the 'tear' secreted from his temporal gland. Musth is an annual cycle when the male is primed to mate, and is indicated by a heightened sense of aggression. Elephants in musth are known to attack and fight other males, and even destroy inanimate objects that get in their way. Such as safari vehicles.

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In order to get some relief from the heat, elephants wave their ears about; they are able to cool down an impressive 12 litres of blood at a time this way.

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The grass here is so long at this time of year that the baby elephants are almost hidden in the meadow. The play around like babies of every species do, wrapping their trunks around each other, and mock sparring.

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Infrasound
Elephants use this low frequency sound to communicate over great distances – vibrations are passed through the ground by their lowered trunks and can be picked up from up to 5 kilometres away by another elephant through the feet. Absolutely amazing stuff!

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The elephants are unbelievably close now, as they go about their daily business, wandering right by our vehicle; occasionally looking up to gawk at the humans in a tin can.

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In the photo below you can see just how close these elephants are to the car – that is the ledge of the car you can see in the bottom left! They are literally just feet away!

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The adults are extremely protective of their youngest, most vulnerable family members, doing their best to hide them from prying eyes by placing them in the middle of the herd; but occasionally we get a brief glimpse of one of the babies through the foliage from between mum's legs.

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Isn't he just simply adorable? I love the way he looks so young and innocent while his skin looks so wrinkly and weathered!

This is, without question, one of those unforgettable, magical moments.

Elephants eat around 300kg of vegetation a day; but only 60% of that is digested – the rest goes straight through. They spend a large part of the day eating, some 80% apparently! I know some people like that too.

It also means their droppings are still full of nutrients. The elephant's that is, not my acquaintances'.

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We reluctantly bid the elephants goodbye and carry on to see what else nature has to offer us today.

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Hammerkop

Much excitement ensues when we spot a Savannah Monitor on the banks of the river. A very rare beast indeed, this is a first for us. Good job Malisa!

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There is in fact not just one monitor, there are three of them!

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A Southern Ground Hornbill preens itself in a tree. As the name suggests, this is an unusual bird to find on a tree branch.

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So much greenery this time of year!

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Fischer's Lovebirds

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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It's at this point that I have to admit that it took me 29 years of safaris in Africa (last year to be precise) before I actually noticed that vervet monkeys have blue testicles. And I don't mean just slightly bluey-grey; these balls are as bright as they can be!

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Baobab Trees – the Tree of Life

Regarded as the largest succulent plant in the world, the iconic baobab tree grows across 32 countries in Africa where it is often known as the ‘Tree of Life’. Found at the heart of local folklore, the baobab tree is steeped in a wealth of mystique, legend and superstition.

To me, this curious-looking ‘upside-down’ tree is synonymous with the African bush – its uniqueness in terms of geographical distribution, shape and size makes it one of the most impressive symbols of the African Savannah.

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The story of how the baobab got his looks

An old bushman tale explains that the baobab was one of the first trees that were created. It was short and stocky, and when the slim, graceful palm tree appeared, the baobab was jealous of its elegance and insisted that he should be created taller like the palm. Then the glorious flowering flame tree came along and again the baobab was dissatisfied, crying out that he wanted a mass of beautiful red flowers! The magnificent fig tree also aroused great envy, as the baobab was desperate to have sweet, tasty fruits growing from his branches. Eventually God got so fed up with the baobab’s selfish, demanding ways, and in one swift motion uprooted him and stuck him back down again upside down, hoping to shut him up once and for all.

And that, my friends, is how the baobab got his peculiar upside-down appearance.

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Water storage
Of course, there is a very good reason for the thick trunk and spindly branches: The tree has adapted to life in seasonally arid areas. In the wet months water is stored in its thick, spongy, fire-resistant trunk in readiness for the nine dry months ahead. A large baobab can store up to 120,000 litres of water in its trunk and can withstand long periods of drought; in fact it has been known to survive for ten years with no rain. Many animals take advantage of this - they survive drought by accessing the water within the tree, including elephants who cause a lot of damage to these ancient trees in Tarangire. Baboons and warthogs also enjoy feasting on the seed pods.

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Home, sweet home
A lot of birds make baobab trees their home, such as barn owls, spinetails, hornbills and weavers, making nests in the branches or clefts. The creased trunks and hollowed interiors also provide homes to countless reptiles, insects and bats, and in some cases even large cats have been known to take refuge inside the trees.

Humans too utilise the enormous trunks (the largest circumference on record is 47m) and baobab trees have been used as jail, water tank, post office, shop, toilet ( apparently complete with a flushing system), bus stop and pubs, amongst other things.

The baobab is a prehistoric species, predating both mankind and the splitting of the continents over 200 million years ago. In Tarangire there are some pretty ancient trees, with most of the larger specimens exceeding one thousand years old. The baobabs can have a lifespan of up to 5000 years.

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This tree is believed to be some 1,800 years old and the huge vault was created when an elephant broke down a branch.

Leaves
Having only ever seen the trees naked (“oh err missus!”) - as the branches are leaf-less most of the year - I am very excited to find leaves on them today!

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Flowers
Once it reaches the age of 20 or so, the baobab produces large, sweetly scented flowers on long drooping stalks. Having never seen them flower, I was hoping that the rainy season might bring them out, but no such luck. The flowers bloom at night only and bushmen believe that the flowers are home to spirits and that anyone picking the flowers will be torn apart by lions. The flowers only last 24 hours after which they turn brown and give off an unpleasant aroma. Pollination by fruit bats also takes place at night.

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Fruit
Six months after flowing, large, egg-shaped fruits – known as monkey-breads – are produced. These have a hard outer shell and a white powdery interior, which was previously used to produce cream of tartar. Rich in ascorbic acid, drinks made from baobab fruits are used to treat fever. It doesn’t really taste of much – we tried it last time we were in Tanzania.

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The baobab fruit is said to have an amazing amount of health benefits, however, and is reputed to be one of the most nutrient-dense fruits in the world.

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A good all-round plant
Almost every part of the baobab tree is utilised; in addition to nutritious drinks, porridge is also made from the pulp, seeds are used as thickener for soups, the pollen can be used as glue, and the leaves are eaten as a vegetable. Fibres from the bark are used for string and ropes, and the roots produce dye.

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Medicinal uses
Traditionally the baobab is thought to have a wide range of medicinal benefits, and various parts of the tree are used to treat a number of ailments: kidney and bladder disease, asthma, insect bites. Maybe that is something worth trying for tse tse bites?

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Superstition and folklore
As well as the story of the origin of the ‘upside down tree’ above and the one about evil spirits in the flowers punishing anyone who picks them by being ripped apart by a lion, there are a number of traditional beliefs surrounding the baobabs. I love legends, so here are a few others I have heard over the years or found during my research:

In some part of Africa the tree is worshipped as a symbol of fertility, and shrines are built at the base of the tree, such as this one we saw in Taberma in Togo in 2006. There is some scientific truth behind this superstition, however, as eating plenty of baobab leaves has been proven to increase a woman’s fertility rate.

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In Zambia, one particularly large baobab tree is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a python, who inhabited the tree long before the arrival of the white man. Locals worshipped the python, who in turn answered their prayers for good luck on their hunting expeditions, rain for their crops, or a good harvest. When the white hunters arrived and shot the python, the consequences were disastrous. It is said that you can still hear a loud hissing noise from the tree on a still night.

Drinking the water in which baobab pips have been soaked is believed to protect you from crocodiles, whereas sucking or eating the seeds will attract crocs.

Bathing a baby boy in a bark infusion will make him strong, but if you leave him in the water for too long, he will become obese; and should the water touch his head, it could cause this to swell.

Again in Zambia, there is a tree known as ‘Kondanamwali’ – the tree that eats maidens. Legend tells that the tree fell in love with four beautiful young girls, but when they grew up and got married, the tree opened up its huge trunk during a raging thunderstorm and swallowed up the girls in a fit of jealousy. To this day you can hear the pitiful cries of the imprisoned maidens on a stormy night.

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The Big Screen
Does the tree look familiar to you? There could be a reason for that. Baobabs played an important role in Disney’s Lion King – Rafiki (the baboon) lived in one. It has also featured in Avatar (The Tree of Souls), Madagascar and The Little Prince.

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Termite mounds

The park is also famous for the termite mounds that dot the landscape. Those that have been abandoned are often seen to be home to dwarf mongoose or snakes as we saw earlier.

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Tarangire Tango
We slide and slither along the sandy tracks, from one side to the other, doing the Tarangire Tango, as we make our way along the unmade roads that criss-cross the park.

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Red Billed Hornbill (male)

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Red Billed Hornbill (female)

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Common Waterbuck

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

We come across another cartload of vervet monkeys, including some young babies.

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This little kid looks so blissful during the mother-child bonding session (AKA picking-nits-out-of-the-little-bugger’s-fur)

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Lilac Breasted Roller - another of my favourite birds

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Ashy Starling

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Red Billed Hornbill

Another large memory of elephants grazing merrily under the trees in the far distance.

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Three Banded Plover

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Another Hammerkop – one of Malisa’s favourite birds

Lunch

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Tillya has another surprise for us today – in honour of our wedding anniversary yesterday, he has arranged for us to take lunch at the Tarangire River Lodge, which is inside the actual park; rather than having the usual lunch box.

After all our animals and bird sightings this morning, we are running a little late, so the lodge calls us up on the radio "Calabash, Calabash, are you there?", to make sure we are still coming. I guess it is getting towards the end of the lunchtime session and they want to finish serving soon.

When we enter the lodge, we are welcomed with the greeting: “At last you arrive”. It’s nice to feel welcome… All joking apart, everywhere we go on this trip, we are made to feel like we are extremely welcome and much anticipated VIPs.

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A large-ish lodge, it has great views over the plains and river below from its expansive terrace.

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Although the usual lunch boxes provided by the lodges are more than adequate, it is very nice to be able to choose hot food from a buffet and eat with proper knives and forks. And very tasty the food is too.

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Chicken enchilada, beef meatballs, spicy beans, pilau and chapati

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Pancakes with mango

We make friends with some of the local inhabitants.

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Bat

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Stick Insect

Soon we are on our way again, checking out some more of the critters in the park.

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We seem to go ages, however, without seeing anything this afternoon. It is hot, the sun is beaming down on me, I had quite a big lunch..... I find myself starting to nod off. Game viewing is nearly always best first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In the middle of the day, the birds and animals don't tend to do much. Probably because they feel just like I do now...

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We eventually come across a couple more elephants – perhaps not surprising, as that is what Tarangire is most famous for. Some 3000+ of them live in the park year round.

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It was just what I needed to drag myself out of the land of slumber.

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Crowned Plover

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Green Wood Hoopoe

We come to a stop as the road is ‘blocked’ by some impala.

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And an African Ground Squirrel.

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For a while there is a most peculiar staring match between them.

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After a while both parties get bored and wander off in their different directions.

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I know impala are two-a-penny in the Tanzanian parks, but I still very much enjoy seeing them, and still find them rather cute – especially the youngsters.

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Grey Breasted Francolin

We are being bitten to smithereens this afternoon by those pesky tse tse flies. Their appearance – and bite – is somewhat similar to the horse fly, equally painful when they get you. They are quite slow in their reactions, however, so we manage to swat quite a few before they know what’s hit them! Reducing the population doesn’t seem to have any effect though; I get around 15 bites in a short time. There has to be something that repels them?

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This is thankfully not life sized!

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Grey Kestrel

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Bare Faced Go Away Bird

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White Rumped Helmet Shrike

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Dik Dik – this normally shy and very skittish antelope stands completely still right by our vehicle. This is almost unheard of and we discuss possible reasons for its lack of fear These tiny animals mate for life, but there is no sign of his wife anywhere, so maybe a leopard has taken her and he has lost the will to live?

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Whatever the reason, he does not seem to care at all about our presence and goes about his daily activities regardless, even when we start the engine and drive off. Most bizarre.

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Lost the will to live?

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These little Red Necked Spurfowl chicks cause us a bit of concern as one of them appears spread-eagled and totally motionless on the track, while the others tip toe around.

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Chris is ready to get out and give the little fellah a helping hand, but thankfully no intervention is necessary – he is obviously just warming himself up in the sun and as soon as we start the engine he plods along with his brothers. We all breathe a sigh of relief.

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Egyptian Cobra - another item I can cross off my wish list this afternoon! In all the years I have been coming to Kenya and Tanzania on safari – this is the first time I have seen one.

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Further along the track we see a few of these Red and Yellow Barbets – one of which is not only considerably larger than the others; it also has no tail! Chris theorises that with no tail he is unable to exercise (fly), hence he has put on weight. Hmmm

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Looking at the pictures on my computer screen back home, I think that the smaller one is possibly a Crested Barbet rather than a Red and Yellow, or maybe a juvenile; which would account for the size difference.

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Oh, and our tail-less wonder does fly, so no need to get a personal trainer involved.

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Giraffe. There is something so prehistoric about this animal; so graceful yet so awkward looking. I don’t think I will ever tire of seeing them in the wild. It was the very first wild animal I saw on our very fist safari in Kenya in 1986, and I was captivated. I still am.

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Impala

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Fresh lion paw prints, but no lions.

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

A lone elephant kicks up dust as he walks along the track in front of us. We follow him for a while despite that we are now in a little bit of a rush – we have to be out of the park by 18:30.

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Elephants are fickle creatures, and right now this particular one has changed his mind. He turns round to walk in the opposite direction.
Malisa starts to back off, as Tarangire’s elephants are not known for their friendliness. Best to play safe, so we keep our distance.

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He really is not happy now, so Malisa speeds up (going backwards) and eventually reverses into the bushes, leaving the track free for the elephant to pass. Does the animal not know we are on a tight schedule?

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Did I mention that our elephant friend is fickle? Instead of making his way down the track past out vehicle, he eventually – after a few tense moments – wanders off into the bush again.

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Phew. We can continue on our way towards the gate as the sun gets lower on the horizon.

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Egrets flying home to roost for the night

A flock of Red and Yellow Billed Oxpeckers congregate on a giraffe. They have a symbiotic relationship – the giraffe provide the oxpeckers with a dining table while the birds remove insects from the larger animal.

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As with our last two previous visits to Tarangire, we have been 'side tracked' by the animals and are in a mad rush to get out of the gate. And this time too, I stand in the vehicle, trying to hold on for dear life with one hand and photograph the sunset with the other.

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While the sunset is not overly spectacular as sunsets go, it is still worth the effort.

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Tarangire has to be one of my all time favourite places to photograph the sunset – those awesome baobab trees make for striking foregrounds.

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A large herd (obstinacy) of buffalo hinders our progress towards the gate.

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I do find their stare rather unnerving.

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One of the photos I took while travelling at speed to reach the gate before the official closing time in 2014 has somehow become my most popular image on Flickr, with 36,000 views and over 500 ‘favourites’. This picture is in the back of my mind as I am hanging on to the rattling car for dear life and shooting wildly towards the sunset this evening.

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And there it is! My tree! The others don’t believe me when I tell them I recognise the tree from 20 months ago (Chris suggests that maybe I need to get out more), but here is the proof!

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Same tree, different sunset!

We make it to the gate at 18:35, and Malisa does not get fined when he checks out. Phew.

The lodge is busy tonight with lots of people coming down from Arusha for the weekend. We take a quick shower and sort out our luggage as we are moving on to another park and another lodge tomorrow; then go for dinner.

I love the the Maramboi Tented Camp, their grounds are like a safari park in its own right – as soon as we enter through the gate this evening, we pick out a giraffe in the headlights of the car!

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Lit almost entirely by candlelight, the open air dining area is very dark at night. Even at ISO 25,600, my camera struggles to pick up much of the surroundings here.

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Another thing I like very much about Maramboi is that, unlike most other lodges, the guides eat with the guests. During dinner Malisa asks us, one by one, what our highlight of the day has been. It is hard to choose – the lions in the lodge grounds before sunrise, or the elephants that came so close to our car? Maybe the little one peeking out from behind mum’s legs? Even the savanna monitor gets an honorary mention. It was all go good – how can we possibly top that?

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I huge thank you must go to Tillya and his team at Calabash Adventures for yet again organising a superb safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises trees animals birds monkeys sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation views elephants adventure roads scenery folklore holiday fun africa tanzania birding photography lions giraffe baboons roadtrip monitor night_time waterbuck cobra stunning bird_watching game_drive tented_camp road-trip african_food safari_vehicle night_photography canon_eos_5d_iii testicles calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company maramboi hammerkop savannah_monitor sname egyptian_cobra olive_baboons vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys blue_balls tarangire_river_lodge Comments (0)

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