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Ndutu III: migration, dung beetles, hyena, heron with snake

In the midst of the action


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

After breakfast we continue on our quest to see the wildebeest migration and maybe even a female giving birth.

The first thing we come across, is a less-than-a-day-old baby suckling his mum.

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Large herds of wildebeests attract a number of followers as they cut across the savannah, in the form of flies, which again entice birds, in this case Cattle Egrets, who ride along, hoping for a tasty snack.

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Marabou Stork

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Grant's Gazelles

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Thomson's Gazelle

The difference between Grant's and Thomson's (affectionately known as Tommies), is not just that the latter is much small (which of course isn't easy to see in a photograph), but also the shape of the horns, and the dark stripe along the side.

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Here you can see them together – Grant's in the front with the paler body and the curved horns, and Thomson's at the back: smaller with a distinctive dark stripe.

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Dung Beetles

Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest in one place naturally produces a lot of waste, with the waste again attracting dung beetles. Lots of them. Malisa knows what a fascination I have with these cool little recyclers, and stops for me to take some photos as they roll away their prized balls of shit.

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So, why do they do it?
While there are different types of dung beetles, these little critters we see here, start by converging on a fresh pile of dung and rolling it into a ball. Sometimes you see several beetles on a pile of dung, and they can transform a huge mount of manure into perfect balls in minutes.

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Usually it is the male doing most of the rolling – they can roll up to 50 times their own weight – with the female simply hitching a ride.

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Things don't always go to plan.

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When a spot with soft soil is found, they stop and bury the ball.

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After mating under ground, the female lays eggs inside the dung. Once the new brood has hatched, they eat their way out of the ball, thus the dung doubles up as housing as well as food.

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By burying and consuming dung, they improve nutrient recycling and soil structure; as well as the dispersal of seeds found in the animal waste. Additionally, by removing the manure, they decrease the number of flies that would otherwise be attracted to the wildebeest.

I just love these little animals!

Hyena

A pregnant hyena eyes up a zebra.

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While they are known to be opportunist predators, hyenas generally go after abandoned kills. In this case, our female is looking for placentas left on the ground after animals have given birth.

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The zebra nearest us is limping badly, and we momentarily get quite concerned for safety, but either the hyena doesn't notice, or she has not got the energy in her at her current state to pursue a potential prey. There is less chance of losing her baby by foraging for leftovers than chasing a large animal.

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Marabou Stork

Meanwhile, a Marabou Stork circles above. They too are carrion eaters, so probably looking for placentas too.

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And an Abdim Stork

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Kori Bustard

Judging by his flamboyant courtship display, this guy doesn't have food on his mind, he is looking to attract a female.

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Zebra with Young

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This guy seems to have a lot of passengers.

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Wattled Starlinsg

Black Headed Heron

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Far in the distance we see him stalking something on the ground, then dip down and reappear with a snake in his beak!

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For the next ten minutes we watch the battle of wits between the still-live snake and the hungry bird.

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It is a tough flight. The snake keeps trying to slither out of the heron's mouth but obviously the heron gets the better of it.

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While trying to re-arrange the snake within his beak, he drops it at one stage, but is very quick at picking it up again.

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We are fascinated by the spectacle unfolding before us - this surely has to be today's highlight!

Knob Billed Duck

As we are watching the heron, Malisa calls out to alert us to a Knob Billed Duck flying overhead. I grab my other camera (I have been using Big Bertha for the heron, but find that too heavy and cumbersome for birds in flight), but by the time I get myself sorted, it has almost passed us over.

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Wildebeests

As we continue our journey across the flat meadows near Ndutu, we find ourselves surrounded on all sides by wildebeest. There are literally thousands of them, everywhere we look, as far as we can see into the distance.

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Today's challenge is to find a wildebeest – or zebra – just about to give birth so that we can witness the beginning of a new life. It seems, however, that we are too early for the wildebeest, and too late for the zebra.

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Zebra Dust Bath

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Zebra on Heat

Someone ought to tell this female zebra on heat that mounting another female zebra is not going to satisfy her sexual urges, nor is it going to produce baby zebra.

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“Stop it! You're scaring the children!”

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The other female is obviously not in the mood for lesbian love, and kicks out before making her escape.

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Car stuck in the Mud

In the distance we see a car at an odd angle; obviously unable to get out of a bit of a hole, quite literally.

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The ground is so deceptive here: the savannah looks its normal grassy self on the surface, yet – in some place – as soon as you drive on it, it is all boggy underneath.

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There are already other people helping the female driver of the grounded vehicle. A few years ago there were no female drivers here in th Northern Circuit, but that is slowly changing as the lodges prepare accommodation to support both genders. On this trip we see two lady drivers.

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It rather concerns me seeing the vultures circle above – what do they know that we don't? The presence of a number of wildebeest, however, indicates that we are reasonably safe from predators.

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At the beginning of this trip, Malisa mentioned about making sure he had a couple of tow ropes in the car, now I am beginning to understand why, as a rope is attached to the stuck car, with another vehicle ready to pull them out. They are travelling together in a group of three cars, with the passengers being a bunch of very friendly Americans.

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The lead car goes full whack in top speed and makes it all look very easy. One of the passengers, however, makes the mistake of standing up in the vehicle as they are being pulled out, and ends up completely airborne. I am pretty sure she must have hit her head on the roof – that's gotta have hurt!

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Malisa tells us to hold on for dear life as he drives across the boggy area at full speed too, creating some serious bounce, resulting in painful jarring of my back. We stop the other side of the bog to make sure all the vehicles get across. The atmosphere here is like that of a party, with everyone treating it as an adventure. There is lots of clapping and cheering going on.

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There's an enormous amount of surface water about!

Hyenas

We see four hyenas scattered in different places, in amongst the zebra. Neither species seem that bothered by the other.

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As we move to get closer, we almost run over this fifth one in a den.

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Eland

A small herd of eland appear on the horizon. Traditionally hunted for their delicious meat, these large antelopes are usually very skittish.

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For that reason there is no point in trying to get any closer to get a better shot, so I grab Big Bertha instead (my 600mm lens). Because of how far away these critters are, there is a lot of atmospheric distortion in the air, making the images quite soft.

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Abdim Stork

Pee break

Unlike the Serengeti where there are a number of organised picnic areas with modern toilets, here at Ndutu it's au naturel. You'd think that after all these years I would have learned to face into the wind when 'marking my territory', especially on a gusty day like today. Not a chance. The only casualty is my knickers, my jeans remain unscathed, and thankfully there are no other tourist vehicles around as I take them off. The wildebeest don't seem to mind.

You - and I - will be pleased to know there are no pictures.

Thomson's Gazelle

A mother and her ten day old baby.

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We race across the savanna – not because we're in a hurry, but in order to prevent ourselves getting bogged down in the marshes - to reach a tree which will provide shade for our picnic lunch.

More to follow in the next blog entry. Thanks to Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 06:42 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife mud safari tanzania zebra birding duck hyena heron egret stork starling wildebeest kori_bustard bird_watching bustard wild_animals eland ndutu dung_beetle calabash_adventures marabou_stork grant's_gazelle game_viewing thomson's_gazelle wildlife_photography wild_birds abdim_stork stuck_in_mud baby_animal wildebeest_baby heron_with_snake knob_billed_duck dust_bath zebra_on_heat car_stuck pee_break Comments (2)

Serengeti VII: lions, elephants, giraffes, zebra

From Serengeti to Ndutu


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

I slept well last night, but am awake at 4:30 this morning. As usual we set off before daybreak at around 6:00.

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With no rain overnight, the roads are slightly less muddy this morning, but there are some very deep ruts. Even when it dries up completely, it is going to take some major maintenance to get all these tracks back to 'normality'.

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Safari Ants

It is still pretty dark out, so this photograph is not going to be able to show you how the soldier ants stand to one side of the 'path' created by the workers, in order to protect them as they collect building materials and food.

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David recorded a couple of videos, however.


Sunrise

The sun is just starting to make its appearance over the horizon. We are hoping for another rainless day.

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Not only does the pond provide a great setting for the sunrise, there is quite a bit of wildlife around here too.

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Hippo

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Black Crake

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Marabou Stork

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Common Sandpiper

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Grey Heron

Elephant

We see a lone old chap in the green grass.

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And a hot air balloon on the horizon

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White Browed Coucal

Amethyst Sunbird

An exciting lifer.

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I am so busy photographing this bird, that I totally miss a hyena walking right by the car.

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Cape Teal

The newly formed puddles in the road provide a great place for various ducks to hang out.

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Elephants

Word has it there are elephants up on the hillside. We go to check it out.

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The tracks are not in a good state, however.

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The car ahead is abandoned, with the passengers rescued and taken off in another vehicle. It must be bad around here. Malisa goes off on foot to check out the conditions before continuing.

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Not even the grassy verges look solid enough to drive on. Malisa deems the risk of getting bogged down too great, and decides to turn around.

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As it is, the puddles are so deep, the water goes over the top of the bonnet of the car!

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Secretary Bird

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Lions

We see two male lions in the far, far distance, extremely well hidden by the long grass. They are watching a herd of wildebeest even further away.

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Topi

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Serengeti Visitors Centre

We stop at the picnic area for breakfast, and as usual the place is overrun with rock hyrax.

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And a pair of Marico Sunbirds – another nice little lifer.

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Lilac Breasted Rollers

We leave the picnic site and continue this morning's game drive.

Stuck Car

We see a car leaning dangerously to one side, stuck in the mud on the track. There are lots of people helping, with many hands making light work.

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They're out!

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They're a little bit muddy, but otherwise fine; and the clients are still smiling. It's all part of the fun.

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We rush through as I have some 'urgent business' to attend to. I do not understand what Malisa shouts out at the other drivers for them to move aside as you would for an ambulance; but I gather it is in the vein of “toilet emergency”. We are heading for the small airstrip at Seronera, and the same thing happens there: the gates magically open as Malisa calls out to the security guard. The toilets at the airstrip are clean, modern and there is thankfully no queue. Phew.

After my urgent visit, we are able to continue on our quest to “see what nature has to offer us”, along more muddy tracks and through more dirty puddles.

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Giraffes

I still think giraffes are my favourite animal, and seeing them close by like this is always special.

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Fan Tailed Widowbird

A colourful widowbird flits around, but never gets close enough, nor sits still long enough, to get a decent photo of him.

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Lions

As usual, a lion sighting has attracted quite a crowd, and there is a bit of a queue to get near enough to actually see these three males. While we wait for our turn, I amuse myself by taking photos of tourists taking photos of.... themselves (despite being in a prime viewing spot for the lions).

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While big cats have always been big draws, this is currently compounded by the fact that huge parts of the Serengeti is out of bounds as a result of flooding and inaccessible roads; concentrating safari traffic in a much smaller area.

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This guy decides to leave the cool shade under a tree to go and lie in the midday sun. Is he mad?

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His brother looks very old and scruffy – look at the state of his mane and the skin in folds across his torso. He seems to have lost the will to live!

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We leave the lions – and the crowds they've drawn – behind and head south towards the park gate at Naabi Hill. We had been hoping to drive down to Ndutu via Moru Kopjes, but that whole area is inaccessible at the moment, which only leaves us this one option.

Verreaux's Eagle Owl

He is one large owl!

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Look at those pink eyelids.

Zebra

As we get nearer the gate, we see lots of tiny specs on the landscape: literally thousands of zebra! I don't think I have ever seen so many in one place over such a large area before.

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Naabi Hill behind

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Dust baths seem popular.

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The other three zebra seem to be looking on with bemusement

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There are not as many babies as I expected to see.

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We enjoy our packed lunch while watching the zebra.

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I love these sweet little finger-sized bananas

We do, unfortunately, have to leave this stripey spectacle in order to get to our lodge at Ndutu before dark.

Thank you Calabash Adventures yet again for all the arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife elephant sunrise safari tanzania zebra birding lions hippo giraffes ants roller serengeti heron stork topi owl bird_watching game_drive sunbird teal calabash_adventures naabi_hill serengeti_visitors_centre rock_hyrax coucal secretary_bird guineafowl sandpiper naabi_gate wildlife_photography crake widowbird abandoned_car afroca toilet_emergency Comments (6)

Serengeti VI: elephants, crocodile, lions

Too close for comfort


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

Elephants

We finally find the elephants we went out looking for this morning – or rather: they find us, crossing the road all around us.

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Giraffe

This giraffe is being pestered by Yellow Billed Oxpeckers, and keeps trying to shake them off.

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White Headed Vulture

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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Egyptian Geese with chicks

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A little less flooding

Hopefully this is a sign that the surface water is receding and some sort of normality can be restored on the roads here in the Serengeti. Providing we don't get more rain, of course.

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Or maybe not.

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Nile Crocodile

On the far bank of a small lake, a huge crocodile exposes his predator teeth. The reason crocodiles lie around with the mouths open, is to catch birds. The food left in the teeth attracts insects, and the insects in turn attract birds: the lazy approach to hunting.

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A Cape Hare unintentionally wanders into the proximity of the crocodile, and freezes to the spot when she realises.

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Meanwhile, another crocodile is coming our way.

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They are such prehistoric looking creatures.

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A third croc fancies his chances with a Black Crake.

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He is way too slow for the birds (yet too fast for the camera, or rather my reactions)

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Black Headed Heron

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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I am forever fascinated by their blue balls.

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She looks almost human here

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White Bellied Busard

Lions

We'd heard on the grapevine that there was a lion close to our lodge, and there, in the fading light, just before we turn the corner into the lodge's parking area, is a big cat under a tree.


Here you can see our tent from where the lion is.

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You can see where numerous cars have driven around this tree earlier today. Now we have the lioness to ourselves.

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She's on the move.

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She joins two others under another tree.

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We leave them to it and drive the few metres to our camp, feeling a little nervous as we get out of the car.

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I don't think tonight is the night to have sundowners around the camp fire outside, sitting between the tent and the lions.

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There are three lions under one of those trees in the distance

The grass is so long beside the path to the tents that a lion could easily hide in there for later on when we go to dinner...

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Tsetse Fly Bites

I have been itching like mad all afternoon, and when I get undressed for the shower, I find my shoulder and back are covered in bites, some of which have turned into large blisters.

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Dinner

Tonight's dinner is pumpkin soup, followed by beef and pork kebabs with ugali (stodgy grits-like local dish), pilau rice, spinach, pilipili (hot sauce) and salad; followed by rhubarb tart.

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Yet again I offer my thanks to Calabash Adventures for this fabulous safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:34 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals monkeys wildlife elephants bird africa dinner safari tanzania crocodile birding lions giraffe flooding serengeti heron vulture geese goose hare ugali bird_watching calabash_adventures game_viewing vervet_monkey crake oxpeckers matawi_serengeti_camp matawi_camp insect_bites wilflide_photography egyptian_geese lions_close_to_camptsetse_flies tsetse_fly_bites Comments (4)

Serengeti III: lost lion cub, pond life, croc, leopard

What an amazing afternoon!


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

Serengeti Visitors Centre

Always busy at lunchtime, we get the last free picnic table in the grounds. The place may be commercialised, but it has a very decent toilet block these days, and there are always lots of birds, rock hyraxes and lizards around to amuse us.

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

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Grey Headed Social Weaver

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Rock Hyrax

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Hildebrand Starling

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Mwanza Flat Headed Rock Agama

Once we have finished eating, we move on “to see what else nature has to offer us” - Malisa's favourite saying.

Warthog

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He looks like he is smiling

Impala

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This poor guy has a bad limp and barely gets out of the way of the passing car.

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I fear he will come a cropper sooner rather than later.

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Pond Life

We spend a long time watching the comings and goings at a small pond.

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Grey Heron

A baby baboon has found a bottle top that someone has dropped. He hope he doesn't choke on it.

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Big Bertha* tries to get inside the nostrils of a hippo (*my 600mm lens)

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Spur Wing Plover

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Marabou Stork

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"Look into my eyes..."

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Another Grey Heron

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Three Banded Plover

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A Rueppell's Long Tailed Glossy Starling shows off his beautiful feathers

He later also shows off his singing voice – he's a bit of an extrovert, this one.

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Black Crake

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Marabou Stork

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Nile Crocodile

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Blacksmith Plover

Olive Baboons

Nearby a family of baboons eat their way through the vegetation.

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We reluctantly tear ourselves away from all the activities that are going on here by the water's edge, and move on to pastures new.

Banded Mongoose

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A young giraffe

The sky is dark and foreboding and a sudden gust of wind blows across the savannah. Are we in for a storm?

Dik Dik

I love how names in Swahili are very often repeated, such as Dik Dik. These, the smallest of Tanzania's antelopes, mate for life, and when you see one of them, there is usually another one nearby - here you can see his mate in the bushes behind.

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Lion Cub

When a lioness with young goes off hunting, she will leave her cubs behind, with strict instructions to stay where they are (we have seen this in action previously – fascinating!). This little cub obviously did not do as he was told, and wandered off. Now he can't find his siblings, nor his mum.

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He walks out onto the road, but is unsure of which way to go.

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Maybe she went this way?

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Maybe not...

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He strikes a lonesome, forlorn figure. We follow him for a while as he makes his way along the road, aimlessly darting into the grass on the left, only to pop over to the right hand side soon after.

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Eventually he changes his mind completely, and walks back the way he came, right by our car.

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Providing he doesn't deviate too far from where she left him, there is every chance that they will be reunited. When the mum gets back, she will call out for him.

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Rain Storm

I was right earlier when I surmised we'd get a bit of a storm – after some huge lightning bolts and deafening thunder, the heavens open.

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Followed by a rainbow.

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Nile Crocodile

This one is very much bigger than the one we saw earlier.

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African Hoopoe

It is still raining, and the poor hoopoe is looking somewhat bedraggled.

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Two Banded Courser

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Nubian Woodpecker

Giraffe

An old male giraffe is being greatly bothered by the Oxpeckers all up his spine. His tail cannot reach that far so he shakes his neck violently to try and rid himself of the birds.

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Unusually, he is feeding on the ground rather than from a tree.

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Augur Buzzard spreading his wings to dry after the rain

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Fischer's Lovebird

Leopard

Seeing a leopard on safari is always rewarding, as they are the most difficult of the three big cats to spot. Seeing two leopards is lucky! Seeing THREE leopards in the same day is just greedy! (we saw two others earlier in the day at two different sightings)

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This guy is posing beautifully for us.

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He's a big male, and judging by his restlessness, he's about to jump down from the tree.

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He is soon on the move.

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Is he going to jump or just rearrange himself in a different branch?

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As he disappears the other side of the trunk, I expect he will be gone without a sight now.

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There he is! He's coming down!

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All around me I can hear the high speed clicking of cameras. Unlike everywhere else we've been at any time in Tanzania, this sighting has attracted a number of serious photographers, including half a dozen other Big Berthas.

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Having a high frame rate certainly increases the odds of capturing the animal just at the right time.

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Soon all we can see is the top of his tail. I can't believe just how long the grass is!

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It looks like he is making his way towards the road.

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Could we be lucky?

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There he goes, between the cars!

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He re-emerges briefly the other side of the road, and disappears into the bush for the night.

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We really need to get going anyway, as the day draws to a close.

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We make a brief stop at a very exciting lifer - the Green Winged Pytillia

There is not much of a sunset tonight, but Malisa does stop a couple of times for me to photograph some dramatic cloud formations.

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Looks like rain in the distance

Sunburn

My lips feel very sore this evening when I get back to the tent. After a couple of incidents over the years, my bottom lip in particular has developed photosensitive dermatitis, and I am quite paranoid that they have become sunburnt. Three years ago an innocent sunburn turned into a secondary infection covering my entire mouth is open sores, something I really don't want a repeat of.

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Insect Bites

My arms are itching like mad and I soon discover why – the bites from those horrible little tsetse flies have turned into blisters and angry red patches. I smother them in antihistamine cream and hope they get better overnight.

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Dinner

We have company this evening in the restaurant: a Swedish couple and their driver.

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After another delicious dinner, starting with green banana soup (which tastes much better than it sounds); we retire to bed to the sounds of a not-so-distant lion.

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Main course: tender steak with croquette potatoes, vegetables and a fruity salad

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Peach cobbler to finish

Thank you Calabash Adventures for yet another amazing day on safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:06 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset wildlife africa dinner safari rainbow tanzania crocodile lizard birding picnic lion giraffe hippo baboon serengeti leopard woodpecker heron stork sunburn steak impala starling weaver mongoose warthog hyrax barbet courser bird_watching hoopoe big_bertha calabash_adventures serengeti_visitors_centre plover dik_dik agama_lizard picnic_lunch pond_life wildlife_photography crake lion_cub lost_lion_cub rain_storm oxpecker lovebird pytillia dermititis insect_bites tsetse_fly tse_tse_fly peach_cobbler green_banana_soup Comments (2)

Serengeti Part II - Cheetah and Leopard

The ethical conundrum of visiting, conservation versus interference


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

Tumbili Picnic Site

This site is part of a public camp ground, and quite large and well organised, with lots of tables and a clean, modern toilet. Oh how things have changed since our very first camping safari in The Serengeti 2007!

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Von der Decken's Hornbill

I get side tracked by a hornbill flitting in amongst the trees and the parked cars at the picnic site.

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They are funny looking things when they are taking a dust bath!

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A Rueppell's Long Tailed Glossy Starling has found a large piece of bread left behind by picnickers.

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Cheetah

A cheetah mum and her sub-adult cub survey the countryside from the top of a rock. The mum has a nasty gash on her chest, most likely caused by an antelope horn, and is looking very hungry.

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They've spotted some Hartebeest in the distance and are obviously considering their options for lunch.

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It looks like she might be going for it.

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Nope, just having a stretch.

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Oh yes, she is, she was obviously just limbering up.

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The cub follows.

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For a while they stroll through the long grass together.

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Mum moves on and somehow the cub gets left behind. Lost and confused, he starts to call out to his mum.

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Mum climbs atop another rock and they are soon reunited.

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He gets left behind again when mum continues her quest for food, ”You need to keep up son.”

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The cheetah still has her eye on those hartebeest, but cannot work out how to get to them – there are some 70 or so tourist vehicles between her and them. I know the wildlife is protected as a result of safari tourists coming here, with locals encouraged to conserve the animals rather than hunt them but it still feels all wrong, as if we are interfering with nature.

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Where mother goes, son follows.

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She's off again.

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And so is the youngster.

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We can hear mum calling him, and suddenly he breaks into a run, bouncing up and down in the long grass as he goes.

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Constantly on the move, here and there, back and forth. At one stage we find the cub trying to hide in the long grass right by the car.

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This rock looks like a good place to get a view over the plains.

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And the cub follows.

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Junior has spotted something. Is it suitable for lunch?

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Not at all – the cheetahs may be brave hunters, but a large baboon spooks them and they disappear into the long grass.

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Olive baboons

The cheetahs are not the only ones feeling concerned as the baboons walk between the vehicles and even jump on top of one of the cars looking for food.

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The can be quite aggressive and cause a lot of damage should they attack.

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Time to move on.

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Three Banded Plover

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Pin Tailed Whydah

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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Silverbird

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Striated Heron

Road Repairs

I know this is the main road through Serengeti, which is used not only by safari vehicles, but also by heavy goods trucks; but here the surface was pretty good in the first place! Wouldn't it be so much more sensible to try and sort out some of the smaller, muddier tracks we've been along, where in some places the road is not even passable?

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Steel Blue Whydah

Leopard

Would you believe we see another leopard in a tree?

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There are quite a few vehicles here already, but one by one they drive off as the cat just relaxes on a branch, licking herpaws and generally not doing a lot. When she starts to yawn, we know she will soon make a move, and after about half an hour, we are the only people left watching when she slowly makes her way across the tree branches. As always, patience sure pays off!

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Within five minutes, she has made her way down from the tree – unfortunately hidden by the vegetation so no photos.

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

Giraffe

I mentioned to Malisa earlier how surprised I was at the lack of 'plains game' such as giraffe, zebra and antelopes. With that, we come across a giraffe.

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Malisa estimates that this youngster is less than three months old

All this excitement has made us hungry, and we call into the Visitor's Centre Picnic Area for lunch.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for another amazing safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:10 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife breakfast africa safari tanzania birding cheetah picnic giraffe baboons roller serengeti leopard heron starling bird_watching hornbill african_safari lilac_breasted_roller calabash_adventures plover breakfast_picnic helmetshrike silverbird wildlife_photography whydah leopard_in_a_tree tumbili_picnic_site cheetah_cub road_repairs road_works Comments (3)

Morning Boat Trip at Mandina Lodges

Such variety of bird life


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

I get up early this morning to catch the sunrise – there is a beautiful mist rising over the river.

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Sensing some movement out of the corner of my eye, I spot a new bird (to me) in amongst the foliage: a Mangrove Sunbird.

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Speckled Pigeon

Catching the sunrise was not the only reason I got up early today; we are off on a boat trip through the mangroves this morning.

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It's a glorious sunrise.

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An old boat lies moored near the lodge.

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The water is very still, creating beautiful reflections.

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Guinea Baboons

Just around the corner from the lodge, where our tributary meets a wider river, the trees are full of baboons. There are five different species of baboons worldwide, and the Guinea Baboons found here in The Gambia are the smallest.

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These are a new (sub)species for us, and I am very excited to see and photograph them at such close quarters.

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It looks like there may be more baboons here in the future.

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I am so in love with their facial expressions.

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African Darter drying out his wings.

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Great White Egret

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Green Backed Heron

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Blue Breasted Kingfisher

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Pied Kingfisher

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

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African Darter

A crocodile sunbathes on the bank of the river.

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He doesn't look too friendly.

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I hope he didn't hear me and is coming for his revenge!

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I am very excited to see this elegant and flamboyant Violet Turaco fly over – another new one for me.

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One of the birds on my wish list when I came over here, was the Western Plantain Eater. Here they are two-a-penny!

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Oyster Factory

Oysters are big business around here, with the meat being eaten, and the shells burnt to make lime which is mixed with water to make house paint, and with sand to make cement. There are no wasted elements as anything left is used for chicken feed.

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Oysters growing on the mangroves

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Pied Crows mobbing a Harrier Hawk

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Greenshank

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Spur Winged Plover

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Senegal Thick Knee

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Common Sandpiper

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Whimbrel taking off

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Long Tailed Cormorant drying his wings out

And so the morning's boat trip is over, and we are back at the lodge in time for lunch.

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I am absolutely fascinated by the bats in the ceiling of the restaurant.

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Isn't he cute?

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Look at him yawn! ♥

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Today there is also a Speckled Pigeon in the rafters.

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Mr Heron is back in position in amongst the mangroves as usual.

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He is after the crabs, of course.

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I am not sure what is happening here – it looks like the big crab is stalking the little one.

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We return to the room for a little siesta, but find we are not alone.

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This girl is looking down on us from the rafters.

It looks like she is raising a family.

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I know every mother thinks their babies are the most beautiful in the world; but, I'm sorry, there is nothing remotely attractive about these chicks.

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I drift into a light snooze, knowing that I am being looked over by the pigeon family.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:36 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds wildlife river sunrise africa crocodile hawk lunch forest birding pigeon dawn crabs baboons bats heron parakeet croc west_africa kingfisher cormorant oysters siesta gambia boat_trip bird_watching crows sunbird darter thick_knee plover sandpiper river_trip the_gambia the_gambia_experience greenshank plantain_eater wild_birds mandina_lodges makasutu mandina makasutu_forest guinea_baboons turaco oyster_factory Comments (6)

Pool time at Mandina Lodges - swimming with Bee Eaters

A new experience for us


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After lunch we retire to the swimming pool, relaxing, reading, swimming, birdwatching. The pool area is full of at least two dozen little White Throated Bee Eater, swooping down into the water, to catch bugs on the surface, or just for a cooling dip.

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They are so fast, and never dive in the same place twice, making it impossible to catch them on the camera. This is the nearest I got:

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After little success using my small waterproof camera, I risk the SLR with my long lens into the pool.

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I don't do much better with the 'proper' camera.

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Looking rather bedraggled after his dip in the pool

A Fanti Saw Tail joins in – a new species to us, but sadly another rubbish photograph.

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Swimming with dolphins is so yesteryear – to be really hip in 2019, you've got to have been swimming with bee eaters. It really is quite something to have them splashing all around us in the pool!

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David in the pool

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We return to our own private balcony for the rest of the afternoon.

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Strange elongated fish in the river - trumpet fish?

The river is teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes.

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At times there appears to be a feeding frenzy, with the surface of the water covered in ripples.

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Palm Nut Vulture flying overhead

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Common Redshank

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Pied Kingfisher

Tourist boat – everything around here is very low key.

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Black Headed Heron

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Hooded Vulture

The kingfisher keeps returning, and hovering above the river for quite some time before diving in after a fish. Again and again and again he does this, providing us with endless amusement.

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We watch as Angela and Keane set off for their sunset cruise.

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Malin, the chef, comes to our room to ask what we would like for dinner, and stays chatting. And chatting. And chatting. He explains he is just about to embark on a hotel management course in Camberley, UK, and says he wants to come and stay with us while he is studying. I don't think he quite realises the distances involved in England, Camberley is well over two hours' drive away from us, each way, even without traffic. Not that I have any intention whatsoever to invite him to stay with us. Sorry Malin, it ain't 'appenin'.

The lights is fading now, but I stay on the balcony taking (bad quality) photographs of the birds flying around.

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Abyssinian Roller

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The Pied Kingfisher is still here, skimming the surface now.

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Common Sandpiper

Dinner

Soon it is time to tear myself away from the birds (which I can hardly see any more anyway, in the quickly fading light), and have a shower before wandering down to the restaurant for dinner.

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Tuna Salad

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Cottage Pie

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Chicken Curry

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Chocolate Ice Cream

The ceiling above the restaurant is home to a large colony of bats. Every evening we see them flying around.

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When we first arrived, I wondered why the dining tables were not positioned under the domed roofs - I have since come to realise that they are strategically placed to avoid any droppings.

The end of another lovely day - the stars twinkle over Mandina Lodges.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:03 Archived in Gambia Tagged fish bird africa dinner pool birding swimming_pool bats roller heron vulture kingfisher gambia bird_watching waterproof_camera sandpiper bee_eaters the_gambia the_gambia_experience swimming_with_bee_eaters saw_tail redshank Comments (7)

A lazy morning at Mandina Lodges

Taking it easy


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

Coffee is delivered to each room every morning, at a time of your choice. We have ours outside at 07:30 this morning, while watching the beautiful sunrise over the river.

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We're not the only ones enjoying the sunrise.

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The morning goes something like this:

Breakfast
Bird watching
Walk around the grounds
Bird watching
Back to room
Sit outside
Birdwatching
Snooze

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Cheese and chilli omelette, sausage and beans = a great breakfast

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Pied Kingfisher

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Black Headed Heron

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Another one of the fifteen cats at Mandina Lodges

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Village Weavers and Red Eyed Dove in a plant pot on the island in the middle of the pool

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Laughing Dove

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Bats in the ceiling of the restaurant

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The birds are fed every day

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Lovely bougainvillea in the grounds

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Village Weaver

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Black Kite - it looks like he has caught something - a mouse maybe?

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Black Necked Weaver

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Beautiful water reflections in the river

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Long Tailed Cormorants

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David at the poolside

Lunch

We eat our lunch in the shady bar, while watching a Whimbrel trying to catch a crab on the mud flats. The crab gets away several times before the bird finally managed to grab it.

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The crab has lost its claw.

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He still managed to escape though.

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But not for long.

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A Grey Heron wants to get in on the action.

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As well as a Western Plantain Eater.

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Time for another siesta.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:52 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds reflections dog river cat sunrise breakfast kite wild africa forest birding coffee bats crab heron dove whimbrel west_africa weaver gambia omelette bird_watching cormorants the_gambia the_gambia_experience plantain_eater wild_birds mandina_lodges makasutu mandina makasutu_forest water_reflections Comments (8)

Lazy afternoon at Mandina Lodges

Taking it easy in the shade


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After lunch we retire to the room, and I notice to my horror that my legs have come up in a dreadful rash with red skin and little blisters. It is burning, stinging and itching so much that I jump straight in the shower, hoping the cold water will relieve it. It doesn't. Smothering it in antihistamine, I take myself off to a shady spot on the terrace while David goes on a boat trip with Nicola and AJ, our guide.

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As a result of previous severe sunburn, I now have an area on my shins that suffer from photosensitive dermatitis, hence why I do not want to expose my legs to the sun this afternoon.

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I spend the time with my long lens pointing at the sky, trying to catch flying birds while keeping out of the sun. The wind has dropped and it is blisteringly hot. Literally in my case.

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Hooded Vulture

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Oyster collectors

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Black Headed Heron

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Some strange, elongated fish in the river.

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White Throated Bee Eater

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Collecting firewood

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Black Kite

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Western Plantain Eater

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Pied Crows

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Bearded Barbet

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They are funny looking birds when they fly

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A much bigger bird. Although we are fairly near the airport, the flights are so infrequent that they do not bother us.

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Whimbrel

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Common Swift

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Pied Crow

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More oyster collectors returning home

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Pied Crows into the setting sun

As soon as David returns, we have a shower and sit on our private deck with a drink before dinner. The chef came round to the room earlier to take our orders for this evening.

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Starter - Vegetable Spring Rolls

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Chicken and rice for main course

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Dessert is Banana Fritter and Ice Cream

When we return to the room, we find that the mosquito net over the bed has been lowered while we were eating, and the room is thankfully very much cooler now, which will hopefully aid sleep tonight.

Posted by Grete Howard 16:41 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds boat wildlife airport crow kite birding plane canoe heron vulture whimbrel west_africa cormorant barbet gambia boat_trip blisters bird_watching rash firewood swift spring_rolls itching bee_eater wildlife_photography plantain_eater dermatitis red_skin mandina_lodges makasutu rive floatinf_lodge oyster_collectors collecting_firewood dug_out_canoe banana_fritter mosquito_net Comments (4)

Baku Creek

Another lazy-ish day


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The plan this morning is to take the path from the Observation Deck, through the mangroves, onto the main road and down to the bridge.

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Village Weaver

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Hooded Vulture

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

The trail meanders along the edge of the creek and heads for the road, but ends in a builders yard, obviously private property. There is a gate, but it is locked, so there is no way for us to join the road here, so we end up having to walk all the way back to the observation deck and through the hotel again.

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In the hotel grounds we spot some Green Vervet Monkeys, including a very young baby clinging to his mum.

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Out on the road we are amused to see a sign for Tesco Mini Market – in reality a small shack selling bottled water, ice cream and a few essentials.

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Having spend the last four days almost exclusively in the company of birds, Kotu is proving a bit of a culture shock. Outdoor cafés are full of fat, middle aged cougars with tattoos, piercings, bleach blonde hair and the obligatory toyboy Gambian hanging on their arms. We hurry past to reach the bridge over Kotu Creek, a well known bird watching spot.

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Pink Backed Pelican

The place is teeming with the gorgeous little Long Tailed Cormorants:

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Pink Backed Pelicans, African Spoonbills, Long Tailed Cormorant and Great Egret

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Grey Heron, Sacred Ibis and Marsh Sandpiper

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African Spoonbills

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Common Redshank

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Pink Backed Pelican

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Sacred Ibis and Grey Headed Heron

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Senegal Thick Knee

We are approached by a couple of guides offering their services, but we are pleased to find they are much more likely to take “no” for an answer than the people we encountered during our visit to The Gambia 23 years ago.

Lunch

Back in the hotel, I request my food “extra spicy. Gambian spicy, not tourist spicy”. It still only arrives as a 2-3 on Grete's scale of 10.

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Cheese and chilli omelette

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Burger and chips

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Refreshing fruit juice - youki?

After having asked for our food “extra spicy” at lunch, we are amused when we return to the room to find this large pack of toilet rolls sitting on our patio table. Are they trying to tell us something?

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We are chilling in the room with a drink and some snacks when we overhear someone outside mentioning the name “Mandina Lodges”. Our ears prick up, as we are waiting to hear about what time our transfer to Mandina will be tomorrow. Yesterday we waited for 45 minutes for the rep to turn up (at the advertised time), but he didn't show. This afternoon, however, he is here, although he's knocking on our neighbour's door instead by mistake, so we go out and ask if he is looking for us. At least we now know that we are leaving here at 10:30 in the morning.

Dinner

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Chicken Saté

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Seafood mornay with crepe

We spend the rest of the evening chilling on our private patio with a few drinks.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:41 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds monkeys trail birding heron egret vulture ibis pelican spoonbill whimbrel mangroves west_africa starling weaver cormorant tesco spicy gambia bird_watching nature_trail thick_knee sandpiper vervet_monkey the_gambia gambia_experience bakotu bakotu_hotel kotu observation_deck kotu_creek tesco_mini_market toilet_rolls Comments (7)

Marrakissa

Another heavenly place


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I slept surprisingly well last night, despite the upset tummy yesterday afternoon and several rather unpleasant dreams overnight.

We are meeting Abdoulie first thing, who will be our birding guide for the morning. He is early, and so are we.

Brikama

Heading for Marrakissa, we drive through Brikama, which is the second largest town in The Gambia, and absolute pandemonium. I try some of my usual drive-by shooting (photographically speaking) as we are stuck in the traffic jam. The following images are photographed through the window glass of the car, so apologies for the somewhat inferior quality.

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Waiting for the school bus

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Bread delivery

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Coffee on the go

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Hitching a ride

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Heading for the Laundry

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Donkey Cart

Likky Bom

The sign on the rear bumper of a bright yellow car puzzles me greatly and I ask Abdoulie what it means. He is as bemused as we are, and to our surprise pulls over the driver to ask him. “It's my nickname” says the mystified kid in charge of the adorned car “nothing more than that”. I do wonder if he realises what sort of connotations the sign has, albeit with a slightly different spelling.

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Marakissa

First we stop on a bridge to check out the birdlife along the wetlands area.

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Senegal Coucal

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Wire Tailed Swallow

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Great Egret

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Double Spurred Francolin

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Cashew fruit with the nut hanging down below

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Red Eyed Doves

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Squacco Heron

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Western Plantain Eater

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Purple Glossy Starling

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Senegal Parrot

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Yellow Fronted Tinkerbird, doing its best to hide

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Common Bulbul nest building

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Piapiac

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Lizard Buzzard

Ants

Abdoulie warns us to be careful when stepping over the marching ants. Too late, David has already been invaded. Lots of jumping, shouting and a few choice words later, he drops his trousers in the middle of the field to get rid of the ants. Thankfully I am too busy laughing to photograph it.

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White Faced Whistling Ducks

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African Jacana

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Fine Spotted Woodpecker

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Woodland Kingfisher

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African Golden Oriole

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White Billed Buffalo Weavers

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

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Blue Bellied Roller

Black Faced Quail Finch

We see a number of these little birds fly out of bushes without warning, but trying to photograph them proves extremely difficult.

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Eventually Abdoulie takes my camera and goes off stalking them.

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After a lot of time and effort, he manages to creep up on one of the quail finches on the ground to grab a quick shot. Good man – I have to say I admire his patience.

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Grey Heron

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Village Weaver

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Pin Tailed Whydah

What an amazing place this is turning out to be. I shall leave you here now and continue in another blog entry. Ciao.

Posted by Grete Howard 04:37 Archived in Gambia Tagged ants roller woodpecker heron starling weaver oriole bulbul gambia jacana swallow coucal francolin cashew_nut the_gambia piapiac whistling_ducks glossy_starling plantain_eater firefinch abdoulie brikama bread_delivery licky_bom bumper_sticker marakissa tinkerbird leaflove buffalo_weavers quail_finch whydah Comments (4)

Marakissa River Camp

Another Birdie Heaven


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Marakissa River Camp

Abdoulie takes us to this delightful camp for refreshments and bird watching. The camp is set on the riverside (there is a hint in the name), and features many different species. We spend a couple of delightful hours here, nipping between the covered terrace overlooking man made water pools, and the river below.

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Abyssinian Roller

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Yellow Billed Shrike

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Beautiful Sunbird, preening

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Purple Glossy Starling

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Lesser Honeyguide

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Piapiac (AKA Black Magpie)

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Scruffy Looking Village Weaver

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Western Plantain Eater

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Black Crake

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Giant Kingfisher

Kingfisher Diving

While we are down at the river's edge, I spot a Pied Kingfisher in the corner of my eye, just about to dive into the water. I swing my camera around and manage to grab a quick shot as he carries his lunch away.

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Having devoured the fresh snack, he comes back, sitting on a nearby branch, contemplating his next move.

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Feeling hungry again, he hovers over the river, hoping to spot a fish.

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Bingo! Not only did he manage to catch one (just – he is barely holding on to it by the tip of its head), but he also speared a dead leaf.

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Which is now stuck on his beak.

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Speckled Pigeon

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Western Reef Heron

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African Black Kite

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Great White Egret

Back up at the terrace we are joined by the two Dutch ladies we met at Brufut and Tanji. It seems that we are all doing a very similar birding circuit.

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African Thrush

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Blue Bellied Roller

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Beautiful Sunbird

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The female sunbird is nowhere near as colourful as the male

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Orange Cheeked Waxbill

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Red Billed Firefinch

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A squirrel joins in the fun

Having had our fill of birdies this morning, we head back to the lodge, getting stuck in a very hot car as we hit a traffic jam along the way.

Lunch

It is lovely to see lots of people have come for lunch here at Tanji today – a big birding party plus a few other couples. We get a very warm welcome from our favourite waitress Awa, who throws her arms out and shouts our names as soon as she sees us. She has drastically changed her appearance from yesterday by going from long, black hair to extremely short, pillarbox red! It suits her. Mind you, she is such a pretty girl she'd look good in anything.

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Butter fish in a delicious spicy sauce, served with chips.

We are watched during lunch by a troupe of the local Green Vervet Monkeys, as well as a couple of birds

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Grey Backed Camaroptera

After a delightful siesta, we spend the rest of the afternoon chatting to Haddy, the owner of Tanji Eco Bird Lodge, hearing all about her plans for the property as well as solving all the world's problems. As you do.

Dinner

Dinner is a low key affair again as usual, with just the two of us and staff.

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Chicken Yassa

After dinner we retire to our room to let the staff go home while David and I share a few drinks on the balcony, going over the delights of the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 03:45 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds monkeys wildlife kite wild africa birding squirrel roller heron vulture west_africa kingfisher starling shrike finch gambia bird_watching sunbird eco_lodge vervet_monkeys thrush cordon_bleu wildlife_photography the_gambia tanji the_gambia_experience cordon_blue piapiac crake plantain_eater firefinch waxbill tanji_bird_eco_lodge abdoulie marakissa leaflove marakissa_river_camp wild_birds kingfisher_diving camaroptera siest haddy chicken_yassa Comments (2)

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