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Lobo - Ndutu Part I - Lion Cubs on Togoro Kopjes

Our last full day in the bush


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

Because we are moving on from Lobo to Ndutu today, we load up the car with all our luggage this morning. A troupe of Vervet Monkeys takes that as an opportunity to check out our car to see if we have any easily accessible food. We don't, and they are shooed away empty-handed.

Hartebeest

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Elephant

I see an elephant close to the road in front of us, but find myself dismayed and terribly embarrassed when it turns out to be a tree. Doh. For the rest of the day I am teased mercilessly about it.

Zebra in the Sunrise

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Hyena in the Sunrise

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Togoro Plains

Having had some good sightings here a couple of years ago, we take a detour to Togoro Plains to “see what nature has to offer us today” (one of Malisa's favourite sayings).

Lions

On the top of a rock at Togoro Kopjes, two mamas with their seven babies are sunning themselves.

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They are a fair distance away, so we move to try and get a closer view, but that means the sun is in the wrong direction for good photos.

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After a short while they leave their original rock and head to another. First one of the adult females, then the rest of them, one by one.

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Their destination is another kopje nearby, and while the mums easily make it to the top, many of the cubs are struggling to climb the rocks.

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"Are you coming kids?"

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"Mum? Where are you?"

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"I think she went this way guys"

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"Wait for me!"

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They get so far, then hang around exploring the rock while they try to work out their route from there to the top.

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Meanwhile, mum wonders where her babies are.

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“It's obviously not this way lads, I've had a look”.

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Watching their different personalities as they try to follow their mamas up the steep slopes of the rocky outcrop is such a delight.

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Yay! The first cub has made it to the top to join his mum.

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He is soon joined by the next little lion to brave it all the way. Mum doesn't look too pleased to see them, however.

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"What took you so long boys?"

And then there were three.

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Meanwhile, back on the lower rock...

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One particularly timid little scaredycat is really unsure and has to be coaxed from the top by the adult female. It never ceases to amaze me how these cats communicate – we have seen it in so many ways and incidents now.

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"But, but, it is slippery...?"

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"C'mon, you can do it. Be brave!"

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“I guess that just leaves us then, bruv”

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As soon as all the little ones make it to the top of the second kopje, one of the lionesses goes off to see about getting the large brood some lunch. We surmise the hartebeest we see in the distance are on today's menu.

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Meanwhile, the kids explore their new playground.

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Klipspringers

Spooked by the lions, these small antelopes prance from one rock to another. Their hooves have a rubber-like coating to give them a better grip on rocky surfaces.

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The lions seems to have spotted them too but appear too lazy to do anything about it. Not that they would stand much a chance of catching the fast-moving klipspringers, not would they provide much food for nine hungry lions.

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This has been such a heart-warming and entertaining encounter, one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Pallid Flycatcher

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Cheetahs

These three cheetahs under a tree in the distance flatly refuse to do anything other than chilling in the shade, however long we hang around. Don't they know who we are?

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Crocodile in the Orangi River

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Retima Hippo Pool

Retima Hippo Pool is a bend in the river where numerous hippo gather together for safety in protecting their young.

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There is a lot of yawning, grunting, belching, farting, pooping, bickering and splashing going on. But mostly just sleeping.

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A crocodile does some sunbathing while he is waiting for the opportunity to grab a snack of baby hippo.

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That is why the hippo snuggle close together around their youngststers.

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The spot has been created into a rudimentary but popular viewing area over the years, with picnic tables and a toilet block.

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While we have visited here a few times in the past, this is the first time we have stopped here for a picnic.

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Blue Eared Glossy Starling

As is usual in an area where humans gather for food, a few opportunist birds hang around; this time the large and colourful Blue Eared Glossy Starling.

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Thank you to Calabash for yet another amazing morning of safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:59 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals monkeys elephant sunrise breakfast cute africa safari tanzania crocodile zebra birding cheetah picnic lions hippo lion_cubs serengeti hyena vulture lobo starling bird_watching calabash_adventures vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys cuteness_overload hartebeest retima_hippo_pool lappet_faced_vulture hippo_pool kopjes game_viewing cuteness orangi_river togoro_plains lobo_wildlife_lodge the_best_safari_company togoro togoro_kopjes lionesses klipspringers dark_chanting_goshawk goshawk retima blue_eared_glossy_starling Comments (2)

Serengeti Day 5 Part 1 Lion w/zebra kill, Ngare Naironya

This morning's highlight: Lion with Zebra kill


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

My back has not improved at all overnight, resulting in me feeling rather fragile and somewhat uncomfortable this morning. As is usual on our safaris, we leave the lodge before daybreak, setting out to 'see what nature has to offer us' as Malisa loves to tell us.

As we start our morning game drive, Malisa asks us whether we'd like to go off to find the migration today, or whether we'd prefer to search for cats. Four voices pipe up in unison: “Cats, please”. That's unanimous, then.

Hartebeest

This morning's breakfast (Malisa's expression for the first animal spotted that day) is a large group of hartebeest, including a number of youngsters.

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As it is still pre-dawn, the sun has yet to make it above the horizon, making for challenging photography and somewhat dull and grainy pictures.

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This guy has lost one of his horns, presumably in an altercation with another hartebeest over a possible mate.

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Or maybe she lost her horn while protecting her baby, as this is obviously a female hartebeest (my hartebeest gender identification skills are obviously sadly lacking).

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Buffalo in the sunrise

After a dull start, the light is now lovely as the sun rises and promises us another beautiful day.

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Zebra Kill

***** WARNING*****
Some people may find the following images disturbing

We haven't travelled far from the lodge before we see our first evidence of a big cat this morning: an abandoned zebra carcass. Probably the result of a leopard kill, and the cat vacating the dining table after being disturbed by our car approaching. With not many tourists venturing this way, the animals here are nowhere near as accustomed to cars as those in the much busier Central Serengeti region.

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The predators tend to start eating the 'soft' targets first, such as the eyes, ears, tail, genitals and other easily accessible bits.

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We hang around for a while, hoping the leopard will return to finish his breakfast. David spots him first, appearing in the distance behind the trees. It is not a leopard, however, but a beautiful male lion.

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As soon as he spots us, he stops in his tracks, unsure of whether to continue or not.

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The draw of the food is greater than the fear of us humans, however, and he ventures into the glorious light of the early morning sun.

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After initially settling down with his meal, he appears uncomfortable about having an audience while he is eating; and merely grabs a few half-hearted bites, then drags the carcass away with him.

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"What are you looking at? Can't a lion even eat breakfast in peace these days?"

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There is, of course, a much more logical reason for him moving his breakfast: the smell does not travel so well if the kill is positioned inside the bushes, thus less likely to attract other hungry predators (rival lions, leopards, and even hyena have been known to steal kills)

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Soon our lion is all but hidden by the trees and we realise that we are undoubtedly the only people to see the lion with his feast, as this road only leads to the lodge and the other guests were just arriving for breakfast when we set out earlier. By the time they'll drive past here later, they may not even spot the lion, let alone see the zebra carcass. Feeling smug for getting out and about early (and thrilled for having experienced this), we leave him be and continue on our way.

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Zebra

This youngster is around seven or eight months old and will suckle his mother for the first year or so of his life.

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They seem blissfully unaware of what happened to their cousin just a short distance away.

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Ngare Naironya Springs

There is lots of goings-on here at the pub (AKA waterhole), with hyenas and a few scattered birds crowding the bar, despite the spring being almost dry.

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I am loving the backlighting and the long shadows from the low morning sun.

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

Breakfast Picnic

On a hillside overlooking the waterhole, with 180 degree views, we set up our picnic chairs and table and get the breakfast boxes out.

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Amazingly, there is even a toilet block here, miles from anywhere.

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While we are enjoying our packed breakfasts, it seems that the zebra are arriving at the spring in their droves.

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After breakfast we too return to the waterhole and spend most of the morning there observing and photographing the goings on, but I will leave that for the next blog entry.

Calabash African Adventures, the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:47 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals springs sunrise breakfast africa safari tanzania zebra picnic buffalo lion serengeti hyena lobo waterhole prey bird_watching suckling game_drive lion_kill hartebeest cape_buffalo big_cats breakfast_picnic packed_breakfast calbash_adventures sandgrouse ngare_naironya_springs bad_back zebra_kill zebra_carcass birs breakfast_boxes toilet_block Comments (1)

Serengeti Day 4 Part 1 - 3 brothers, Visitor Centre

Leaving Turner Springs, the Three Brothers and Serengeti Visitors Centre


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

Despite being up and in the car by 05:40 this morning, we somehow don't seem to leave until 06:10. The good thing about this, of course, is that we actually get to see the Ole Serai Luxury camp in (almost) daylight.

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This is the view at 05:40

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It's getting lighter

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Almost daylight

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The lodge reception. It is sad to leave Ole Serai behind as we have thoroughly enjoyed our stay here, but it is time to move on to our next accommodation and more adventures. When we depart, all the staff come out to wave us goodbye.

The sun rises really quickly this close to the equator.

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The Three Brothers

Malisa explains that these three male lions are brothers, and that each of them has a distinct purpose: one is a fighter (we can distinguish him by the scars), one the lover (no physical scars visible, but he maybe has some mental ones?) and the last one acts as the lookout.

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Look at those scars!

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This must be the lover, he is very handsome

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Judging by their flat bellies, they are all hungry. Because of their large, heavy size, they are more likely to take the easy option, however, and steal another lion's kill as it uses much less energy than trying to make a kill themselves. They are not the least bit interested in the Thomson's Gazelle in nearby.

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The lions have drawn quite a crowd.

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The brothers settle down to enjoy the warmth of the early morning sun and we move on to “see what else nature has to offer us today”, one of Malisa's favourite sayings.

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Long Crested Eagle

Spotting something on the ground, he takes off, dives down, tries to grab whatever it was he saw, but returns to his lofty perch empty-handed. Or should that be empty-taloned?

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Coke's Hartebeest

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The long pointy ears make it look like the hartebeest has four horns.

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Serengeti Visitors Centre

This is always a good place to spot birds and small mammals, as many visitors have their picnic here leaving crumbs for the residents. We are stopping for breakfast today.

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Red and Yellow Barbet

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Hildebrand Starling

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African Paradise Monarch

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Female Mwanza Flat Headed Rock Agama

Rock Hyrax

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Tree Hyrax

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After our picnic we go for a stroll along the interactive boardwalk around the kopje while Malisa goes off to get petrol for the car. Last time we came with Lyn and Chris (in 2016) it was closed for renovation, and last year (2017) when it was just the two of us I was unable to partake in the walk because I was suffering badly from pneumonia, so it was good to be able to see what they had done to it.

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It's a fun walk, sympathetically created to blend in with nature, complete with lots of metal sculptures and explanation boards.

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Dung Beetles

Those of you who have followed my blogs for a while, may remember that I have a soft spot for dung beetles.

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Another good reason for stopping here is to use the very decent modern toilets.

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A great big “THANKS” goes out to Calabash Adventures for organising yet another fantastic safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:12 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds breakfast africa safari tanzania birding picnic petrol lions toilets serengeti monarch starling hyrax barbet bird_watching game_drive tented_camp dung_beetles calabash_adventures hartebeest kopje rock_hyrax tree_hyrax breakfast_picnic game_viewing ole_serai_luxury_camp ole_seari luxury_camp three_brothers long_crested_eagle serengeti_visitor_centre hildebrand_starling red_and_yellow_barbet african_paradise_monarch visitors_centre visitor_centre Comments (1)

Serengeti Day 2 Part 3 - rimlit lion, anniversary dinner

A lion's share of cats this afternoon


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

Lunch

Just like breakfast, Ole Serai (the luxury camp we stayed at last night) has provided us with a terribly posh lunch hamper, complete with 'hot' food in traditional tiffin containers.

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We are joined by a couple of Superb Starlings in a nearby tree.

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Moving on from our picnic site, we stop at a small pond area that reveals a hippo and a couple of birds.

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Ruff

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Three Banded Plover

Lions

Across the dry, grassy plains we barely see the tops of a pride of six lions, eating the remains of a warthog.

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The older animals patiently wait for the youngsters to finish their meal for deciding to go off for water.

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Whirlwind

A really strange sound, like rubber tyres on tarmac, reaches us, and we become aware that it is a 'mini-tornado'. Quickly covering up all electronic equipment, by the time the whirlwind reaches us we become sandblasted and totally engulfed in dust. For ages afterwards we feel as if we are eating grit.

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King of the Castle

A lot of the plains animals of Serengeti like to use termite mounds as look-out posts, surveying the surrounding landscape for any predators or prey depending on which end of the food chain they are.

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Thomson's Gazelle

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Hartebeest

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Black Bellied Bustard

Topi

At a dried-out waterhole near Ogol Kopjes, a herd of topi have gathered to lap up what little water there is left.

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Over their lifetime topi go through six set of teeth, the last of which grow when they are around 15 years old. When they lose those teeth, in what is their old age, they basically starve to death. Nature can be so cruel at times.

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Lioness

Not far away, in the shade of a tree, a healthy looking lioness is chilling.

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She certainly looks like she has a belly full of food.

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When, after a lot of fidgeting, rolling, yawning and several changes of plan, she finally stands up, the topi are on high alert.

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Our beautiful girl has other ideas, however, and walks off in a different direction, towards a warthog in the far, far distance.

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Then she changes her mind again – talk about fickle!

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When she has yet another change of plan and lies down in the long grass, we give up on her and move on to see what else “nature has to offer us” (one of Malisa's favourite sayings, which has now become mine too).

Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse

While spotting animals is theoretically easier during the dry season, the problem with coming this time of year is that everything is so brown; and birds, such as this Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse, are extremely well camouflaged. And photos look so...well, brown.

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Baby Black Backed Jackal

Another brown animal on the brown earth surrounded by brown grass.

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This one looks so much like a puppy dog, I just want to throw him a stick and shout "fetch!"

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It looks like he heard me, as he has picked up a small piece of wood.

Aardvark

For the last four or five (or maybe even more) safaris we have taken in Tanzania, my dream has been to see an aardvark. Imagine my excitement when Malisa points out a fresh aardvark hole. That is, however, all we see. A hole.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while, will probably remember that we have a saying “just a chicken” referring to an incident back in 2007 in Sikkim when David exclaimed excitedly “Oh look, a colourful bird!” The driver let out a loud exhalation of air while stating in a most disinterested and almost despairing voice: “It's just a chicken”. Malisa has the intonation down to a T, and won't let David hear the end of it, referring to all guinea-fowls as “just a chicken”.

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Baby Thomson's Gazelle

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Hartebeest

The Research Pride

In case you have ever wondered, this is what eighteen sleeping lions look like.

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There is some slow and gentle movement within the pride, but mostly it is all about that late afternoon siesta.

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Rimlit Lion

One of the (many) things I admire about Malisa, is the fact that he is very interested in photography himself and has an excellent eye for a great photo, knowing where to position the car for the best light for instance. When he sees a lion walking across the plains in the setting sun, Malisa has a plan...

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He keeps moving the car every minute or so, which means that we are shooting straight into the sun at all times as the lion continues walking with the occasional sit-down for a rest.

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I try out a number of different camera settings for various high key and low key effects, and play with some of the images further in post processing too.

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Of all the pictures I took, I think this is probably my favourite and is most like the image I had in mind when deliberately underexposing to get that rim-light effect.

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Reedbuck

Trying to remain inconspicuous by hiding in a tree, this reedbuck's camouflage tactics are no match for Malisa's eagle eye.

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Yet another lion

We have certainly seen more than our fair share of big cats today (31 lions at six different sightings and three cheetahs). Lyn spots this one, initially just seeing the lower parts of his legs as he rolls over in the long grass.

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The Golden Hour – every photographer's favourite time of day.

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Our young man is fighting a losing battle with the pesky tse tse flies.

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He's not a happy bunny.

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Sunset

We make Malisa stop for more photos as the setting sun peeks from behind a low cloud, creating some of my favourite crepuscular rays.

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I continue shooting as Malisa makes his way to the camp. As usual it is a mad dash to get back before darkness sets in (it is against the law to drive within the national parks in Tanzania after darkness).

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'Drive-by shooting' is never easy from a moving safari vehicle on a dusty, bumpy dirt track, but I don't think I am doing too badly with some of these photos.

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We make it back to base just as the last remnants of daylight leaves the African plains, all too soon followed by that all-encompassing darkness you only see in places with very little light pollution.

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Celebratory Dinner

After a quick shower and pre-dinner drink while we get ready, we meet up with the anniversary lovebirds for an evening of celebrations. The dining room looks very welcoming with soft lighting, period furniture and white tablecloths

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Tonight Malisa has been given permission to eat with us as we are celebrating Lyn and Chris' 40th Wedding Anniversary. It's a shame that he couldn't join us for dinner every night – that would make this place absolutely perfect!

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After dinner all the staff come out playing drums and singing the customary celebration song, just as they did at Ang'Ata Nyeti. Poles apart, the two lots of accommodation couldn't be more different, yet both extremely enjoyable and both places made us feel part of the family. Only two other people are staying here tonight, and I feel somewhat sorry for them as they are rather left out of all the fun!

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Once it is all over we go back to Lyn and Chris' tent for a couple of drinks before returning to our own tent and settling in to bed ready for another early start tomorrow morning.

Thank you yet again to Calabash Adventures for making this dream safari come true, and to Tillya for the fabulous surprise stay in Ole Serai.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:08 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset party dinner safari tanzania celebrations birding picnic lions serengeti topi starling jackal bustard game_drive whirlwind calabash_adventures hartebeest tse_tse_flies plover guineafowl superb_starling game_viewing 40th_anniversary 40_years ole_serai sandgrouse lunch_picnic ruff mini_tornado thomson's_gazelle aardvark research_pride rimlit Comments (2)

Serengeti Day II Part II - Research Ponds

A smorgasbord of animals


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

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

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

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

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Our reason for stopping soon becomes obvious.

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On a nearby rock, another lioness is sunning herself.

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

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

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

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Nor does the Black Backed Jackal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It's like Happy Hour at our local bar!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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But will he drink?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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He looks thoroughly pissed off.

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The mongoose have had enough too.

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Even the zebra are on the move.

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

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

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

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And another.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A cute little zebra foal, grazing with his mummy.

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And some eland - running away from us of course.

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

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

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

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

Ndutu - Mbuzi Mawe

The Legendary Serengeti


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

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I start the day with a spot of bird watching as the sun comes up.

White Rumped Helmetshrike

Dung beetle for breakfast anyone?

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Superb Starling

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Beautiful Sunbird

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Unusually, we take breakfast in the lodge this morning, before setting off for another day of game viewing.

When asked if he would like egg and bacon, David jokingly says – in a lowered voice as the waiter walks away – “mushrooms, baked beans…” Of course, that is exactly what he gets!

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Aardvark

On our last couple of safaris with Calabash, I bantered with our guide Dickson about wanting to see an aardvark, and that I will keep coming to Tanzania on safari until I do.

Today I finally get to see my aardvark, in the grounds of Ndutu Lodge. Shame it is made from metal – I guess I can’t quite tick it off my wish list yet.

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Oxpeckers

These birds have a symbiotic relationship with the giraffes. The giraffe provides a happy home for ticks, which the oxpeckers eat, relieving the giraffe of the annoyance the insects can cause.

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Giraffe

Today's host is an old male giraffe.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

As the leopard’s favourite food, the vervets go to great lengths to hide their whereabouts from their nocturnal predator, including smearing their poop on the branches at night, rather than letting it drop to the ground so that the leopard cannot easily detect where they are sleeping.

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He is showing off his bright blue testicles again.

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Dik Dik

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Secretary Bird

On the prowl across the grasslands, looking for snakes.

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Spotted Hyena

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Lions

These guys have not moved from the spot where we left them resting last night, although the missing ninth lion has rejoined them.

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A couple of them head our way, coming right up to the car, sniffing the tyres and eventually settling down in the shade of the vehicle. That’s pretty close!

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I think that means we have a symbiotic relationship with the lions – we provide them with shade, they give us some great photo opportunities.

This guy does not look too sure about Chris. It makes me wonder how high they can jump.

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Woolly Necked Vultures

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Engine Failure

Ten minutes after leaving the lions, the engine coughs, splutters and then dies. After a few tries, Malisa gets it going again, but not for long. We joke that he’s filled it with ‘jumpy diesel’, but eventually he cannot get it going again just by turning the key, and has to get out and under. Oh dear.

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An area filled with lions, cheetah, leopards and hyena is not the best place to lie down on the ground under a car, so I am relieved when Malisa gets the car going again reasonably quickly – a wire had broken from all the off-roading.

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Having a trained car mechanic as a driver-guide certainly has its advantages. Well done that man! I am surprised that breakdowns don't happen more often - this is the first one we've encountered in the four safaris we've had with Calabash.

Short Grass Plains

Heading for the entrance gate to Serengeti, the track runs across what is known as the Short Grass Plains, for obvious reasons. One of the great things about a safari on the Northern Circuit in Tanzania is that even as you drive from one place to another, there is always an opportunity to do some game viewing, and this morning we see a few animals along the way.

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Here we can see Naabi Hill in the distance, which is what we are aiming for - the official entrance to the Serengeti National Park.

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Grant's Gazelle

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Zebra

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Ostriches

As we approach, panic mode sets in and these enormous flightless birds start running around like headless chickens. “Don’t panic, don’t panic!”

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We leave the Ndutu area behind a join the main ‘road’ to the gate.

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Lions

Just before the entrance, we spot a lioness with two cubs resting in the shade of a kopje.

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Giraffe Drinking

It is fairly unusual to see a giraffe drinking from the ground like this, as being in that position makes him very vulnerable to predators.

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It is even more unusual to see a three-necked giraffe!

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Naabi Hill

Towering above the grassy plains of the Serengeti, Naabi Hill is the location of the main entrance gate to the park, and offers amazing views over the Endless Plains below.

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While Malisa goes off to get our tickets and sort out the registration, we take a short walk on the Kopje Trail that leads up the scenic observation point on top of the rocky outcrop behind the information centre.

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The kopje appears to ‘float in the sea of grass’ that is the Serengeti Plains.

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From the summit we can easily understand why the Maasai named this place Serengeti – 'a vast land that runs forever, where endless plains meet the sky' in the local language.

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It is said that the only way you will get a better view of Serengeti, is from a hot air balloon, and that is definitely not on the agenda for this trip, not at $539 per person!

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Naabi Hill is a haven for lizards, who lounge on the sun-baked rocks along the path, totally unperturbed by passing tourists.

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Exit is through the shop, as usual.

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While we wait for Malisa to finish up the paper work, we do a spot of bird watching.

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Rock Martin

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Juvenile Ashy Starling (I think)

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Juvenile Hildebrand Starling

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Hildebrand Starling

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Lappet Faced Vulture

After a while I comment that the entrance formalities seem to be taking a particularly long time today, which considering how quiet it is, I find a bit strange. It turns out that while we have been waiting for Malisa outside the information centre, he has been at the car, wondering where we are. Doh!

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Serengeti National park

This has to be the most renowned wildlife park in the entire world, and for good reason; with over 10,000 square miles of pristine wilderness, it’s like stepping in to a wildlife documentary. The variety and abundance of wildlife here is unmatched anywhere else in Africa. Serengeti is unparalleled in so many ways – not only does it have the world's largest herd of migrating ungulates, but also the largest concentration of predators in the world.

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Most people think of the Serengeti as being a vast endless grassy plain, as well as totally underestimating its size. In reality the park is comprised of a wide range of ecosystems, with some parts featuring areas of acacia forest, others granite mountains and soda lakes, each with its own different character and range of wildlife.

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Rather than taking the main road this morning, we head east towards Gol Kopjes, an area where we need a special permit to visit.

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Giraffe

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Warthogs

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Aren’t they just the cutest when they run with their tails straight up? They do that so that the babies can see their mums in the long grass.

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Mirage

A naturally occurring optical illusion, a mirage is caused by light bending rays, giving the impression of an oasis in the distance.

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Steppe Eagle

For one spine-tingling moment we believe he has picked up a snake; until we realise he is merely nest building.

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It is still pretty cool to see him carry it away in his beak though.

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Marabou Stork

This has to be one of the ugliest birds in existence, surely?

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Lions

In the distance we spot a couple of lions. We are becoming almost blasé to them now – there is not much point in hanging around when they are so far away. We have seen them nearer and better before…

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Gol Kopjes

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Nicknamed the ‘world’s largest Japanese rock garden’, this is a picturesque area, with a series of granite outcrops (kopjes) dotted on the otherwise flat short grass plains.

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This area is said to have the highest concentration of cheetah in Africa, but it is not a cheetah we spot sleeping on the rocks, but a lion.

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When we go closer, we see it is in fact a collared lioness. The head of the pride, she is an exceptional hunter, which is why the authorities want to monitor her.

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As this girl is a well-known matriarch, it’s a pretty good bet that there are more lions in the near vicinity; and we don’t have long to wait before another lioness appears on the top of the rock behind.

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With a full belly she walks slowly and lazily, settling down in the shade of a tree.

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A heaving brown lump in the long grass indicates a male lion panting heavily. The lions have obviously recently eaten and are all full to bursting.

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This one seems to have the right idea.

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Golden Jackal

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Committee Meeting

The collective noun for vultures is committee, and here we have Rueppell’s Griffon, Woolly Necked and White Backed Vultures, as well as a couple of Marabou Storks.

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Thomson’s Gazelle

It’s that time of year – two Tommy males spar for the attention of a female.

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Topi

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Tawny eagle

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Coke's Hartebeest

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Dung Beetle

This poor little beetle is trying to roll his ball of dung into a hole in the ground, but is finding the earth too hard. He eventually just rolls it into the grass cover.

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More Lions

Another kopje, another lion pride. Such is life in the Serengeti.

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The one ‘security guard’ left out on the sunny savannah looking after the remains of dinner (probably a baby wildebeest) gazes longingly at the other pride members resting in the shade.

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Tortoise

One of the animals on my wish list this year is a tortoise, and this morning one strolls right by as we are watching the lions.

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Steppe Eagle

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Judging by the droppings, I'd say this is a favourite perch of his.

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After finding a large pride of lions at each of the last three kopjes, Lyn is not at all happy about getting out of the car when we stop at another rocky outcrop for our picnic lunch. “Is it safe” she asks Malisa, but eventually - after plenty of reassurance - she reluctantly alights the vehicle.

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Malisa teases her about it, and even takes a photo of her still in the van to send to Tillya.

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As we drive away from the picnic site, Lyn jokingly shouts out “Oh, look: simba!” pointing to a non-existent lion near the kopje we had just been sitting next to. Much to our amusement, Chris falls for it!

Grant’s Gazelle

A bachelor herd full of young wannabes.

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Topi

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After one quick look at us, he takes off. Literally.

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White Stork

Non-resident, they are European migrants – just like us then.

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Wildebeest

We come across a small herd of migrating wildebeest.

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A few minutes later we see this lone youngster, probably left behind when the herd moved on. He seems to be rather dazed – no wonder they call a group of wildebeest a confusion.

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He looks suspiciously towards us, then misled by his very poor eyesight, runs off in the opposite direct to the group we saw earlier.

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Having eaten too much for lunch, I feel like the lazy lions we encountered this morning and all I want to do is go to sleep in the shade to digest the food. I have a little nap in the car and wake up when we stop.

Dead Wildebeest

Malisa surmises that this wildebeest mother fell during a stampede and got trampled on, and has now become food for the vultures and Marabou Stork. Each of the different vultures have beaks that are designed for different actions, so as not to cause competition at a kill. The only one who can open a carcass is the Woolly Neck; so that's who they are all waiting for.

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The saddest thing about this scene is the baby wildebeest just standing there, watching the scavengers eating her mum. That really breaks my heart.

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In the middle of the road there is another, much younger baby wildebeest. We are guessing that his mother has probably been taken by a predator; this guy is so weak he can hardly walk and way too young to make it on his own - he is literally just waiting to be someone’s dinner.

That’s the stark and sometimes cruel reality of the wilderness.

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Long Grass Plains

As we drive further into the Serengeti, we notice that the plains change from the short grass that is typical around Ndutu, through medium grass plains around Naabi Hill to the longer grasses in this area. The plains are framed by rocky hills and river courses, swelled by the recent rains.

So why is the length of the grass worthy of a mention?

It is not so much the grass – although length does matter dontcha know – it’s the fact that the change of grassland also brings a change in the balance of the species – for instance, we see many more hartebeest and topi here than anywhere else on this trip.

Another point - sometimes we can only just see the tops of the animals, one of the disadvantages of travelling in the Green Season.

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Muddy Tracks

One of the other downsides to coming here at this time of year is that often the tracks become just pure mud after a heavy rainfall.

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Some even turn into impromptu streams and become totally impassable.

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Malisa engages the 4WD to make sure we can get through OK – we don’t really want to have to get out and push unless absolutely necessary.

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It’s easy peasy when you have the right tool for the job.

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Cape Buffalo

A breeding herd – or obstinacy – of buffalo.

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Bateleur Eagle

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White Bellied Bustard

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Warthog

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Maasai Kopjes

Kopjes – an Afrikaans term referring to isolated rock hills that rise abruptly from the surrounding flat savannah – are remarkable in that they have their own little ecosystems with a range of vegetation and wildlife.

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Lions

Maasai Kopjes are home to a large pride of lions, who are the subject of numerous studies by the Serengeti Lion Project. We study them sleeping for a while this afternoon.

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Dik Dik

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White Headed Vulture

Malisa excitedly informs us this is a very rare sighting – it is certainly a new bird to us.

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Hippo

One lump or two?

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Greater Blue Eared Starling

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Pin Tailed Swallow

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Defassa Waterbuck

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Zebra

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It seems that stripes are in this year.

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Wildebeest Migration

The rains being a month late arriving this year has confused the wildebeest, and instead of being up in the Western Corridor now, they are found in great numbers here in Central Serengeti.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Coqui Francolin

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He makes the most peculiar sound – as if he is laughing.

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Stormy Clouds

Some formidable dark clouds are building up and the light is extraordinarily intense with the low evening sun creating remarkably saturated colours! I think we might be in for some rain before long…

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Klipspringer

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And here comes the rain – bringing with it some even more bizzare conditions: the sunset reflecting in the water drops with a rainbow behind.

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We move on a bit further and are able to see the whole rainbow, with the dramatic light constantly changing.

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Mbuzi Mawe

By the time we reach our camp, it is dark and the rain has really set in – what was a gently drizzle, is now a heavy downpour. It’s the first ‘proper’ rain we’ve had on this trip, so we shouldn’t complain.

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A small army of porters with umbrellas meet us in the car park and take us to the reception. It seems a long walk.

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After the usual formalities, we are shown to our tent – which ironically is half way down to the car park again. Apologies for rubbish photos taken hand held in almost pitch black.

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The tents are very spacious, with two huge four-poster beds, a seating area and a writing desk. Attached to the back is a modern bathroom with double basins, shower, toilet and changing area. This is my sort of camping.

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This place is as much of a surprise to me as it is to Lyn and Chris. When he knew the wildebeest migration was changing route, Tillya changed our accommodation to a more convenient position – that is one of the numerous reasons we keep coming back to using Calabash Adventures – their customer care!

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I love it!

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Just after we get to the room, housekeeping arrives to carry out the ‘turn-back service’. A young girl is being trained and they seem to take forever - I know they prefer to come and do it while we are in the room so that we’ll tip them; but its a bit of an inconvenience as we have just a short time between arriving back from safari and going for dinner.

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So we have a drink instead of a shower. Shucks. Life is hard.

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The tents are all facing outwards on the edge of the camp, overlooking the kopje (or you would be looking at it if it wasn’t pitch black). Buffalo graze in the long grass the other side of the path.

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A gentle man with a big spear, little English and a contagious laugh escorts us from the tent to the restaurant.

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Rock Hyrax

On the way he shines his torch at the rocky outcrops, illuminating a huddle of rock hyrax.

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The dinner is impressive, arriving served under large silver domes, all four of which are removed at exactly the same time to reveal the piping hot food underneath.

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Both David and I have Kuku Wa Kupaka – a local dish of chicken cooked in a coconut cream with ‘coastal spices’.

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Lyn and I share a bottle of white wine, David and Chris have red.

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The dessert gateau is a disappointment apparently, as is my self-serve cheese and biscuits: there is next to nothing left.

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The servers and kitchen staff serenade an Australian couple celebrating their silver wedding anniversary, just as the staff did for us in Maramboi.

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We retire to our rooms after another spectacular day on safari with Calabash Adventures. Thanks again guys!

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:51 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes sunsets_and_sunrises animals birds sky night monkeys rain hills sunset road_trip restaurant travel vacation hotel adventure roads scenery sunrise clouds holiday fun party africa mud safari rainbow tanzania lodge zebra eagle wine beetle lizard birding chicken tourists picnic photography alcohol lions giraffe hippo roadtrip serengeti hyena vulture night_time glamping waterbuck starling wildebeest stunning bird_watching game_drive tented_camp road-trip ndutu african_food dung_beetle safari_vehicle night_photography canon_eos_5d_iii testicles calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys blue_balls ngorongoro_conservation_area tower_of_giraffe hartebeest nadutu_safari_lodge gol_kopjes maasai_kopjes mbuzi_mawe serena_hotels long_grass_plains short_grass_plains naabi_hill central_serengeti mussy_tracks kopje stormy_clouds Comments (0)

Ndutu - Part I

More cuteness overload


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

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Bat Eared Fox

We leave the lodge while it is still dark this morning, and as dawn breaks we spot a couple of Bat Eared Foxes.

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Having previously only seen the top of their ears in the distance, I get very excited at this sighting.

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They in turn get excited at the sight of a White Bellied Bustard with a couple of chicks.

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This is a chase they have little chance of winning, but they have a go at it anyway.

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Still hungry and with the bustards half way across the savannah by now, the fox is left sniffing the air.

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Lake Ndutu Sunrise

We turn our attention to the lake, where a dazzling sunrise marks the beginning of another day filled with thrilling wilderness experiences.

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Verreaux's Eagle Owl

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Black Backed Jackal

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Having stalked a guinea fowl which then flies up into a tree, the jackal spends ages just staring at it while it makes loud warning calls to its mates.

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Eventually the jackal comes to accept that neither tree climbing nor flying are part of his repertoire; and he wanders into the sunrise, posing for some great rim-lit shots.

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Broken Down Vehicle

In the distance we see a car with its bonnet open, so Malisa goes over to check if they need any help. Between the three of them they manage to get the Jeep going, albeit coughing and spluttering in a plume of smoke.

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This is not really the place to break down – roadside recovery service is somewhat limited and cheetahs are plentiful.

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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Coqui Francolin

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Grey Breasted Francolin

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Cheetah

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“What’s that?” With his binoculars glued to his eyes, Chris spots something in the long grass and exclaims excitedly: “it’s a cheetah!”

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Bringing the car to a halt, Malisa takes a look: “There’s two… no, it’s a female with cubs!” There are four of them, about two months old.

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Desperate for some breakfast, mum is constantly on the move, and wherever she goes, the cubs follow.

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As is the unwritten rule, once we have had the kitties to ourselves for a while, Malisa radios the other couple of cars in the area to let them know about the sighting.

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Painfully thin, mum really needs to eat soon, as her suckling babies have taken all her energy.

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We spend the next hour or so following this family as they move across the plains, always on the look-out, always on the prowl.

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Not a true cat in that it does not have retractable claws like those in the panthera genus (lions, leopards, jaguars and tigers); the cheetah belongs to the genus acinonyx, as it cannot roar.

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Who knew that baby cheetah chirp like a bird?

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As the cheetah make their way towards the woodland, we reluctantly move on to see what else the Ndutu area has to offer today.

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

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Bat Eared Fox

After the excitement of seeing a Bat Eared Fox up close early this morning, I am doubly surprised to see another one!

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Lions

Down at The Big Marsh, two brothers – around seven years old - are trying to sleep off last night’s big meal.

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Two Banded Plover

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Coke's Hartebeest

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This is what happens when you fight - you lose a horn! Let that be a lesson!

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Fischer's Lovebirds

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Grey Headed Kingfisher

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Breakfast

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We set up a picnic on the plains in the shade of a tree.

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Ndutu Lodge has done us proud with their picnic box – there is egg, bacon, pancake, fruit, yogurt, cake, banana and juice.

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Caterpillar

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A large, hairy caterpillar is attracted to our picnic basket, and David is attracted to its fluffiness.

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Only after David lets it crawl all over his hands for quite some time, does Malisa warn: “You’ll get a rash”.

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More Lions

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While the large male lion in Ngorongoro Crater was a real Rasta Lion, these ‘teenage boys’ (around 1½-2 years old) have more of a punk style.

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It’s a hard life being a teenager.

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Hooded Vulture

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If the vulture is hanging around hoping the lions will provide him with breakfast in the shape of a kill, I think he might have a long wait – these boys do not look like they are going anywhere soon.

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He might as well make himself comfortable…

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Oh, wait… there might be some action here…?

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Or maybe not.

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Spotted Hyena

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They like lying down in the mud to cool off, which is why you so often see hyenas with dirty bottoms.

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Empty Plains

For a while we drive across never ending plains, seemingly devoid of any wildlife.

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Malisa spots leopard footprints in the sand and later rescues a dung beetle who has fallen upside down and cannot get back up. Our handsome guide is all heart, for sure – not just a good driver / guide but caring too!

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Hidden valley

A shallow depression in the endless landscape unseen from the distance – hence its name – hides several small waterholes and an overwhelming number of animals.

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What can I say? Apart from another “wow”, it is hard to find words to describe the spectacle of 200,000 or so zebra (plus around another 100,000 wildebeest) drinking, cavorting, taking a cooling dip, running, play fighting, and whatever else these ungulates do.

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Never before have I seen so many zebra in one place, the area around the waterhole is a veritable sea of stripes.

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Lots of very young babies, some just a few days old.

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With a thunder of hooves and a cloud of dust, a few more thousand wildebeest arrive.

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They just keep on coming...

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Imagine the dust and the noise when a stampede ensues – what an extraordinary location and unforgettable experience this is!

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A small limping wildebeest baby causes us great concern – he is unlikely to last long if f he can’t keep up with the herd and his vulnerability will make him an easy target for predators.

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All around us, in every direction, whichever way you look, as far as the eye can see, there are zebra and wildebeest. No other animals. The spectacle is surreal and immense.

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Time to move on.

With smooth ‘roads’, no animals in sight and a hot day, both David and I find ourselves nodding off.

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Lesser Masked Weaver Birds

After a short ‘snoozette’, I wake when we stop for a tree full of weaver bird nests – all created on the western (leeward) side of the tree at the end of the branches to protect the eggs from their main predators: snakes.

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And here is the architect herself.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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A chirpy little D'Arnaud's Barbet

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And his mate

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Lions

This is the pride belonging to the two daddies we saw earlier on this morning – three females with six cubs between them.

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There is not much activity going on in the midday heat – they occasionally lift their heads, look at us as if you say “why are you sitting there staring at us instead of taking a nap in the shade” and go back to sleep.

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Malisa explains that he first saw the growth on the side of this young male back in January, and that it doesn’t seem to bother the animal at all. It still doesn’t make comfortable viewing though.

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The daddies are still resting under the trees on the other side of the marsh, their whole bodies swaying when they pant. It makes me think of a salsa dancer.

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One of the females gets up and starts to walk across to where we – and her partner – are. Perhaps she is jealous? She spends a long time just staring at us before giving up and lying down.

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And how! A giraffe was the first large animal I saw on my very first African safari back in 1986 and I was mesmerised. I still feel that same way now, 30 years, eleven safaris, twenty-five game parks and countless giraffes later.

With thanks to Ndutu Safari Lodge for hose words.

Giraffe

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Did you know that each time a giraffe lifts up its neck, it lifts more than 550 pounds?

Tawny Eagle

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We return to the lodge for lunch, a siesta or some bird watching before resuming today’s game drive. For fear of overload, I shall leave you here and create a new blog entry for this afternoon’s excursion.

As always, thanks to Calabash Adventures and their expert guide Malisa.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds road_trip travel adventure sunrise cute holiday africa safari tanzania zebra birding cheetah picnic lions giraffe roadtrip ngorongoro hyena wildebeest jackal bird_watching game_drive road-trip adorable dung_beetle safari_vehicle canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company cuteness_overload ngorongoro_conservation_area hartebeest hidden_valley lake_ndutu bat_eared_fox Comments (0)

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