Because we are moving on from Lobo to Ndutu today, we load up the car with all our luggage this morning. A troupe of Vervet Monkeys takes that as an opportunity to check out our car to see if we have any easily accessible food. We don't, and they are shooed away empty-handed.
I see an elephant close to the road in front of us, but find myself dismayed and terribly embarrassed when it turns out to be a tree. Doh. For the rest of the day I am teased mercilessly about it.
Zebra in the Sunrise
Hyena in the Sunrise
Having had some good sightings here a couple of years ago, we take a detour to Togoro Plains to “see what nature has to offer us today” (one of Malisa's favourite sayings).
On the top of a rock at Togoro Kopjes, two mamas with their seven babies are sunning themselves.
They are a fair distance away, so we move to try and get a closer view, but that means the sun is in the wrong direction for good photos.
After a short while they leave their original rock and head to another. First one of the adult females, then the rest of them, one by one.
Their destination is another kopje nearby, and while the mums easily make it to the top, many of the cubs are struggling to climb the rocks.
"Are you coming kids?"
"Mum? Where are you?"
"I think she went this way guys"
"Wait for me!"
They get so far, then hang around exploring the rock while they try to work out their route from there to the top.
Meanwhile, mum wonders where her babies are.
“It's obviously not this way lads, I've had a look”.
Watching their different personalities as they try to follow their mamas up the steep slopes of the rocky outcrop is such a delight.
Yay! The first cub has made it to the top to join his mum.
He is soon joined by the next little lion to brave it all the way. Mum doesn't look too pleased to see them, however.
"What took you so long boys?"
And then there were three.
Meanwhile, back on the lower rock...
One particularly timid little scaredycat is really unsure and has to be coaxed from the top by the adult female. It never ceases to amaze me how these cats communicate – we have seen it in so many ways and incidents now.
"But, but, it is slippery...?"
"C'mon, you can do it. Be brave!"
“I guess that just leaves us then, bruv”
As soon as all the little ones make it to the top of the second kopje, one of the lionesses goes off to see about getting the large brood some lunch. We surmise the hartebeest we see in the distance are on today's menu.
Meanwhile, the kids explore their new playground.
Spooked by the lions, these small antelopes prance from one rock to another. Their hooves have a rubber-like coating to give them a better grip on rocky surfaces.
The lions seems to have spotted them too but appear too lazy to do anything about it. Not that they would stand much a chance of catching the fast-moving klipspringers, not would they provide much food for nine hungry lions.
This has been such a heart-warming and entertaining encounter, one of the highlights of our trip so far.
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Lappet Faced Vulture
These three cheetahs under a tree in the distance flatly refuse to do anything other than chilling in the shade, however long we hang around. Don't they know who we are?
Crocodile in the Orangi River
Retima Hippo Pool
Retima Hippo Pool is a bend in the river where numerous hippo gather together for safety in protecting their young.
There is a lot of yawning, grunting, belching, farting, pooping, bickering and splashing going on. But mostly just sleeping.
A crocodile does some sunbathing while he is waiting for the opportunity to grab a snack of baby hippo.
That is why the hippo snuggle close together around their youngststers.
The spot has been created into a rudimentary but popular viewing area over the years, with picnic tables and a toilet block.
While we have visited here a few times in the past, this is the first time we have stopped here for a picnic.
Blue Eared Glossy Starling
As is usual in an area where humans gather for food, a few opportunist birds hang around; this time the large and colourful Blue Eared Glossy Starling.
Thank you to Calabash for yet another amazing morning of safari.
While we are having our picnic lunch, the leopard (the reason we are eating inside the car) jumps down from the tree and disappears in the long grass. Good for him, getting away from the baying crowd.
A small pond is home to a handful of hippos, including a couple of youngsters.
Yellow Billed Stork
Black Winged Stilt
Those legs are impossibly tall!
It must seem like a long way down.
Including some cute little babies.
The public transport of choice in the Serengeti.
Three young babies, around two months old, have been left home alone while mum goes off shopping (AKA as hunting for food); and chances are that she will stay out all night. In the UK she would have Social Services on her back.
Being under strict instructions from mum to stay put (we actually saw this in action on our last safari, the way a lioness 'barked' orders to her offspring – very impressive) doesn't seem to deter the naughty youngsters who boldly leave the safety of their hideaway in the long grass to explore the world around them, oblivious to dangers.
Saddle Billed Stork
Although not a lifer, it is a very unusual bird to see and the first time I have been able to take a decent photo of one.
Startled by our vehicle, these steenbok make some impressive jumps trying to get away.
Pale Tawny Eagle
White Bellied Bustard
Lilac Breasted Roller
I love the long shadows created by the late afternoon sun.
He's out looking for love by the looks of it.
Brown Snake Eagle
Hiding in the bushes
Lilac Breasted Roller
Another roller, this time captured by Big Bertha, bathed in the delightful golden hour.
Backlit elephants + dust + setting sun = happy photographer
With side-light, the mood changes drastically.
Plural of mongoose is mongooses, not mongeese, and a group of these animals is called a band.
They are looking for termites.
Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse
Doing what reedbucks do best: hiding in the reeds.
The light is fading fast now.
Lots of cars are gathered around these four lions, three of which are sleeping.
The large rasta, however, is walking near, and later on, the road. One of the drivers gets so close to the animal that I fear he is going to run the poor guy over.
White Headed Vulture
Black Backed Jackal
As we yet again rush back to reach camp before dark, we are following several other vehicles. I love it when this happens as the cars kick up lots of dust which add wonderful atmosphere to my photos.
Just before we turn off towards the lodge, a leopard crosses the road just in front of us. He has gone long before Malisa manages to stop, let alone us getting cameras out. How exciting, though.
Evening at Ole Serai
At dinner this evening Rashid, the manager of Ole Serai Luxury Camp, spends a lot of time chatting with us. Even chef Raymond comes out from duties in the kitchen to say hello.
Lyn and Chris join us in our tent for a drink after dinner. From very close proximity we can hear the roar of a lion, as well as the loud American group who arrived today. Go lion, go!
I have my first walkie-talkie experience this evening as I call for the askari (Maasai escort) to take the others back to their tent. Hearing the lion so close by, they are naturally nervous. It is very dark out there, the cat could be anywhere.
Trying to get in, Lyn and Chris find the padlock on their tent stuck. The askari tries everything, including the master key, but to no avail. The lion is still very vocal, very near. Eventually they use a rock to break open the padlock and our friends can let out a sigh of relief as they return to the safety of their room. An added adventure they could probably have done without.
Even before we are dressed and getting ready to go out on today's safari, at the unearthly hour of 05:15, we can hear the roar of a lion. It sounds terribly close by.
Our 'breakfast this morning' (as in the first animal we see today) is a giraffe, just sauntering past the camp. The sun is still considering its next move while painting the sky with purples and pinks.
A few metres further along, we see a mother topi with her very young baby, the kid being maybe a day or so old.
Hyenas are Malisa's favourite animals. While at certain angles and in a certain light, they can look kinda cute (I suppose); at other times the hyena's sloping back gives it a rather menacing demeanour.
These, the smallest of Tanzania's antelopes, mate for life and are often found in family units of three such as this.
Avert your eyes as a couple of Thomson's Gazelles put on an energetic display of early morning sex for us.
When I say “energetic”, I mean that he is putting a lot of effort in, while she is so not interested (preferring to continue eating), resulting in a number of aborted attempts.
This must be particularly frustrating as Thomson's Gazelles only mate twice a year to coincide with babies being born at the end of the rainy season after a gestation period of 5-6 months.
Success at last! Although you may notice she is still eating.
This bundle of fluff is just about the cutest thing we'll see this morning.
Black Breasted Snake Eagle
Black Backed Jackal
We come across this jackal having his breakfast and stay with him for a while as he (unsuccessfully) tries to get the last leg of a hare down his throat.
A few hot air balloons glide effortlessly by.
While Pygmy Falcons score highly on the cuteness scale, the Marabou Stork has to have been hiding behind a bush when looks were given out. There is nothing remotely attractive about this scavenger bird.
They seem to be 'everywhere'.
The pond is also home to a rather large crocodile, sunning himself on the bank. Crocodiles are often found with their mouths wide open like this, hoping that any rotting food leftover in their teeth will attract insects and the insects in turn will draw birds to enter the cavity... and wham!
Also hippo wallowing in the mud. As they do.
Suddenly an almighty racket occurs as the Egyptian Geese on the shore start urgent and deafening honking.
We soon discover the reason for their panic: Mr Crocodile is on the move. How exciting, it is something we have very, very rarely seen, if at all.
He soon settles down and the geese seem to be almost mocking him by getting dangerously close.
Meanwhile, the hot air balloon has finished its morning flight and landed safely. As safely as you can while surrounded by wild animals.
Lilac Breasted Roller
No blog entry from Tanzania is complete with at least one roller picture.
The original vegetarian sausages anyone? These elongated fruits are much loved by a variety of animals, and, although poisonous in their raw state, humans have been known to use them for medicinal purposes to treat fungal infections, eczema, psoriasis, boils, diabetes, pneumonia. More importantly, the fruit can also be used to ferment beer!
Lazing in the shade, the four lions are nonetheless very aware of the Thomson's Gazelle not terribly far away behind them. The Tommy, however, is totally oblivious to the danger lurking underneath the tree.
With a jolt, he realises that he could so easily become breakfast and runs for his life. Good move Tommy, good move.
Yellow Throated Sandgrouse
Often found in large flocks, these noisy birds seem to just keep coming and coming until there are sandgrouse everywhere.
White Rumped Helmetshrike
This is by far the largest herd of elephants I have ever seen. Just as we think we have counted them all, more appear. And then some. There are at least 75 of them, with elephants as far as the eye can see in two directions. Wow, wow and wow.
Nestled in the shade of a tree, three lionesses with two cubs seem to have drawn quite a crowd with more coming all the time.
Having had the luxury so far of generally being on our own at sightings (or at most, a couple of other vehicles), seeing so many trucks in one place comes as a bit of a shock. It doesn't take long, however, before photographing the lions seems to take second place for these people as their attention is drawn away from the cats to our vehicle. Big Bertha is now the main attraction and 'everyone' wants to take her photo. For those who have not been following this blog, Big Bertha is my newly acquired, and impressively massive, 600mm lens.
On a small mound just behind the lions, is a band mongooses, with their sentries keeping a close eye on the big cats and other dangers.
Leaving the lions behind, we make our way to one of our favourite picnic sites for breakfast.
We stop at the now very familiar Lerai Picnic Site for breakfast. On most of our previous visits to the crater we have stopped here, either to have a picnic or simply to make use of the facilities. The first time we came, in 2007, the toilets were pretty horrendous, but these days they are very much improved, with an attendant looking after cleanliness and stocking up on soap and paper.
David is ready to get going "to see what nature has to offer us" (one of Malisa's favourite sayings)
We share our picnic this morning with a cheeky little monkey and a Hildebrand Starling.
Black Faced Vervet Monkey
You can easily tell the Defassa from the Common Waterbuck, providing you see them from behind: the Defassa has a circular white spot on its rear, while the Common Waterbuck features a much more prominent 'toilet-seat-shaped' white mark on its bum.
Initially attracted by a Hammerkop, we stop at a marshy area and soon discover the site is teeming with colourful birdlife.
Black Headed Heron
Immature Yellow Billed Stork
I spot something colourful out of the corner of my eye, and ask Malisa to reverse to a different view, where I am delighted to see a Malachite Kingfisher sitting on some reeds.
I grab Big Bertha (my 600mm lens) and wait for him to go fishing. He does, but he misses and so do I. He does fly around a bit and offers me a few different poses though.
Bad hair day!
Finally he settles on a reed nearer to us, without a distracting background. Yay!
That lump you see under the tree is a sleeping lion. Honestly.
Ring Necked Dove
I get really excited about seeing this dove until I realise it is the same ones as we have in abundance back home in the garden. Doh.
These are the same lions we saw yesterday devouring their kill. Having filled their bellies with zebra, they do not need to eat again for three days or so, rather they will now spend the time resting in the shade while they are digesting their food.
Hippo and Zebra
Cute little Tommy babies (Thomson's Gazelle). The good news is they are the second fastest animal in Tanzania. The bad news is, the cheetah is faster.
These odd-looking ungulates are renowned for being incredibly stupid with a dangerously short memory. Here they prove that theory by suddenly forgetting why they are fighting.
These striking raptors have no tail to steady them in flight, instead they use their wings and body weight.
These three lions are brothers, and while the one at the front is older, the other two hail from the same litter.
Yet another lion just lazing around, sleeping the day away, not realising that he should be performing for the camera-wielding tourists.
Less than one week old, this baby zebra is torn between exploring the world and sticking close to his mum. When he is spooked by another zebra, mum jumps to his defence and sees the intruder off.
Malisa assures us that the blurry blob we see in the far distance is in fact a rhino. We have to take his word for it. Heat haze, dust, and atmospheric distortions make it impossible to take a decent photo, or even verifying his claim.
With a baby just a few days old, the mother looks painfully and alarmingly thin.
Although in some ways, and certainly from a photographer's point of view, it is great that the animals in Tanzania's national parks have become so accustomed to tourists that they no longer see the vehicles as a threat; the danger lies when they don't even bother to get out of the way – we almost run this little Thomson's Gazelle over as he isn't the least bothered about moving from our path as we approach.
Some years ago when we came to the Crater, we had our picnic in this spot, and the pond was teeming with hippos (the aroma of 50 hippos belching, farting and crapping is not a good accompaniment to a tasty packed lunch), but today there are only a few of them around.
Great White Pelican
There are, however, quite a number of Great White Pelicans showing off their breeding plumage.
This is what a pelican looks like when it's yawning:
Through all the distortions it is impossible to make out what this hyena is carrying in its mouth, even with powerful binoculars or Big Bertha. Could it be a baby Tommy? Or maybe a Kori Bustard?
The wind has really blown up today, creating havoc with any dust kicked up by moving vehicles and blowing my hair in all directions (especially in front of my eyes as I am trying to take a photo)
Grey Crowned Cranes
It seems I am not the only one having a bad hair day.
In particularly arid areas where there is no vegetation to hold on to the soil, the sand gets blown into the car and we end up quite literally eating grit.
Looking like they are praying, warthogs eat by kneeling on specially adapted pads on their front legs. This is because their short necks and relativity long legs make it difficult for their mouth to reach the ground in a conventional feeding position.
Yellow Billed Stork
The same bird we spotted last night is still busy on her nest. I am not sure if she is still building it or just rearranging the furniture.
It is time to leave the Ngorongoro Crater – one of my favourite places in the world - for this time. We will be back.
Probably the most popular picnic area within the Ngorongororo Crater, there are always a lot of people here, but it is a large enough area to find a spot to get away from the crowds.
Here you can see the crowds
And here we are away from them all
Not only is this place popular with humans, but we also share our breakfast with a number of different birds, who come for the rich pickings where guests drop food on the ground. They have become quite tame and will perch on your car, or sit on the ground below your chair, looking up with pleading eyes.
Great White Pelicans
Rufous Tailed Weaver
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Masked Weaver
Litle Bee Eaters
I could stay here for ages, just watching life unfold around me – there is always something going on. We see zebra, elephants and wildebeest wandering through the outskirts of the site, and hippo frolic in the small lake, as well as numerous bird species as these pictures, all taken during our lunch stop, show.
An elephant saunters by
Wildebeest and Zebra
Hippo in the lake
Hippo poo floats to the surface of the water
I love seeing pelicans flying
Eventually we have to tear ourselves away from this beautiful place to explore some other parts of the crater.
A lone wildebeest
Grey Crowned Cranes
Common Fiscal Shrike
Malisa spots a few feathers sticking up from between the thorns on the top of the acacia tree and stops the car.
She looks like she has stuck her talons in an electric socket ~ or maybe she is just shocked to see us.
Initially there is not much to see, but we hang around just in case she decides she is going to fly away, or at least maybe stand up.
Our patience is rewarded as after a while she decides to rearrange her nest a little.
As well as the ones we see in the water, there are a few hippos out on land too.
I have never before noticed avocets eating the same way as spoonbills – pushing their long beak from side to side in the water.
We come across a small dinner party, with two females and four cubs feasting on the carcass of a young zebra.
We stay for a while (although not as invited guests, more like gatecrashers), watching their eating habits and interactions.
This little lad may have bitten more than he can chew.
He's not really getting anywhere with the zebra's head.
He tries a different tactic.
But eventually he gives up.
Gradually, one by one, they've had their fill of fresh meat and wander off for a siesta.
Or maybe just a poo.
Children are such messy eaters.
Mum needs cleaning too.
“Play with me mum!”
Time for us to move on and “see what else nature has to offer” (Malisa's favourite saying).
Hildebrand Starling, often confused with the Superb Starling. The difference is that the Superb has a white line between the blue and the orange areas on the chest and a yellow eye against the Hildebrand's red.
Yellow Billed Stork
When we leave the crater by the usual Lerai Ascent Road, but at the top turn left down a private road rather than right towards the hotel on our planned itinerary, we realise that this is another one of Tillya's surprises. Tillya, the owner of Calabash Adventures, is constantly trying to exceed his customers' expectations and we often find ourselves upgraded to a different lodge than the one we thought we were staying in. Today is obviously going to be one of those occasions.
View of the crater from near the top of the Lerai Ascent Road
Ang'Ata Nyati Camp
The whole team of staff appear to have come out to greet us as we arrive at a small clearing. One by one they introduce themselves by name, handing us a very welcome wet flannel and a soft drink. The complexities and rules of the camp are explained to us and we are shown to the tents. The camp is very similar to mobile camps we have stayed in previously, but I am told that this is a permanent tented camp (rather than a 'mobile' camp that moves every few months, following the annual migration of animals), having recently relocated to the Nyati Special Camp Site from the other side of the crater. A small and intimate affair, the camp has a mere eight tents and tonight we have the 'palace' to ourselves as we are the only guests staying.
A local 'askari' (security guard/escort) takes us to our 'room', a basic tent with a wooden floor, large double bed, hanging space and a rudimentary en suite bathroom. Hot water is brought to the shower by request, in a bucket. I understand from their website that you are given 25 litres of hot water plus the same amount of cold. Mixing the two, the water temperature is just right, and if used sparingly, ample for two people to shower. As always in an area where water is a scarce commodity, I wet my body, then turn off the water while I wash and apply shampoo. Water back on again, rinse and repeat with conditioner.
We meet up with Malisa in the cosy and comfortable lounge/dining room for dinner. The food is superb and the staff is wonderful.
40th wedding anniversary celebrations
There was no doubt in Lyn and Chris' mind where they wanted to celebrate their special milestone, and I feel very honoured that they asked us to share this celebration with them.
When David's phone rings in the middle of dinner, he is surprised that he has a signal and worried that it may be bad news from home. The concern soon turns to indignation when he realises it is just an advert!
The camp staff make such a fuss of us, and after dinner the whole crew come out, bringing a cake and a complimentary bottle of wine, while walking around the table singing and dancing. We don't have the heart to tell them that the anniversary is not for another couple of days.
Originally released as a record back in 1982 by a Kenyan band called Them Mushrooms, the Jambo Bwana song is now adopted all over East Africa and sung to tourists at every celebration. Each lodge have their own version incorporating local details (such as the name of the camp) and I am sure they make up some of it as they go along, especially as I distinctly hear Malisa's name being mentioned in the words. These are the lyrics ~ and translation ~ to the main part of the song.
Jambo, jambo bwana (Hello, hello boss) Habari gani (How are you) Nzuri Sana (Very good) Wageni, wakaribishwa (Welcome visitors) Ang'Ata Nyeti (Ang'Ata Nyeti ~ name of camp) Hakuna Matata (No worries) Okenda Serengeti (Going to Serengeti) Hakuna matata (No worries) Okenda Ngorongoro (Going to Ngorongoro) Hakuna matata (No worries) Okenda Tarangire (Going to Tarangire) Hakuna matata (No worries) ]Jambo, jambo bwana (Hello, hello boss) Habari gani (How are you) Nzuri Sana (Very good) Wageni, wakaribishwa (Welcome visitors) Ang'Ata Nyeti (Ang'Ata Nyeti ~ name of camp) Hakuna Matata (No worries)
After dinner we gather around the 'Bush TV' (the local expression for a camp fire), where we have a sing song, introduce the locals to the joys of toasting marshmallows, and attempt (very unsuccessfully – I blame the Duty Free rum and four bottles of wine) to photograph the awesome night sky. After a fabulous day in the crater, we have a phenomenal evening in an extraordinary setting.
When we get back to our tent we find the staff have been in for 'turn-back service' and there are a couple of much appreciated hot water bottles in our bed. At an altitude of 2310 metres, this area can get bitterly cold overnight. Still on a high from the earlier revelry (not to mention the copious amount of alcohol), I slip into a deep sleep, oblivious to the cold and any noises from the surrounding jungle.
I guess the lioness we heard calling out for her babies yesterday afternoon didn't find them, as she was roaring all night. Hearing nature in all its raw glory is always exciting, but not necessarily conducive to a good sleep. With that and my incessant coughing, I didn't get a lot of rest last night. I feel embarrassed and concerned about keeping other guests awake too, so I am grateful there are no other tourists around in the lodge when we leave this morning.
The tables are laid out ready for breakfast, which starts from 06:00. I always find it strange that people don't want to make the most of their day on safari by getting out into the park at the earliest opportunity (06:00), which is also when the animals are at their most active. After all, a safari is not a cheap holiday, and for a number of people, a holiday of a lifetime. If you want to relax, build in some chill time at a beach resort afterwards.
Now getting off my soap box.
We leave the lodge in darkness. As the light of day starts to brighten up the sky, the promise of a beautiful sunrise teases us with a warm yellow glow above the savannah and a blue sky sporting fluffy clouds edged with crimson.
It is not long, however, before the sun sends its first rays of the day over the horizon, warming the cool morning air.
A wobble of ostriches (I love discovering apt and humorous collective nouns of animals) enjoy the warm glow of the sun. One male can have a dozen or more females in his harem.
He is in his breading colours as evidenced by his red neck and legs.
Having recently been kicked out of the herd (or obstinacy, as I am on a roll with collective nouns), the bull buffalo has anger management issues, as can be seen from his sweaty nose.
Having a 700 pound animal's stare directed right at me is more than a little intimidating, especially as he keeps walking closer and closer, while snorting angrily. Not that it seems to bother the oxpecker much.
Time to make a move.
Oh, to be in that basket floating effortlessly over the African plains in the early morning sun.
If it wasn't for the price tag I'd be there like a shot! I do realise, however, that part of the reason for the high cost is the huge fee they pay to the park authorities to be able to drive off-road to retrieve the balloon and its passengers.
Almost totally hidden by the tall grass, a lone hippo wanders towards a small pond. All we can see is the top of his back.
It is hard to describe the feeling of awe I get when we drive along and encounter wildlife – such as these hyenas – in the road. Being part of, or rather guests in, their natural habitat is an experience I will never tire of. It is at times like this that I realise that it is me who is the stranger here; this is their home. I feel incredibly humbled to have the privilege of being included in their lives, even for a short while.
There is some serious 'establishing of territory' going on here, with chasing, growling, barking and baring of teeth.
A cackle of hyenas (♥collective nouns) can be enormously intimidating, especially when they are plotting gang warfare such as here. Or maybe I just have an over-zealous imagination.
Although sometimes they can look almost cute.
Three amigos saunter off down the road...
… while another goes for a drink.
And then lies down in it to cool off.
The hyenas do not seem to bother this three banded plover though.
Hippo flatulence gives off a powerful ammonia-like aroma, with the result that you can usually smell the hippos before you see them, especially when they are present in numbers such as these.
Meanwhile, we head back to the Maasai Kopjes, where we immediately see a collared lioness atop a rock.
It looks like she has a cub with her.
As one cub walks off to the right, another one can be seen sitting up on the left.
Mum goes off to join the youngster on the left, and we discover another cub in the shade of the tree.
The Maasai Pride is huge, and rarely venture far from this collection of rocky outcrops known as the Maasai Kopjes (hence the name of the lion pride, of course).
At the base of the rocks we see another lioness, hiding five young cubs in the long grass.
The mum on top of the rock leaves her three cubs behind to go for a wander.
Prompting her babies to explore too.
Maasai kopjes is teeming with big cats this morning, spread out over a large area. Everywhere we look there is a lion; some seeking the cool shade of the shrubby undergrowth, others the warmth of the sunbaked rocks.
The kopjes are also home to a number of other species, such as this Dark Chanting Goshawk.
And the Crested Lark.
The lark has a most beautiful song, as you can hear in David's video below.
More lions to follow in the next instalment of my blog. Our safari was arranged by Calabash Adventures, the best safari operators by far.
When on safari, we spend all day every day in specially adapted Landcruisers, with a lifting roof and large opening side window for all-round viewing.
We either sit down to view and photograph the animals...
... or stand up for a 360° view of the savannah around us.
We are also lucky to have our amazing guide Malisa with us, who is not just a great friend, but an exceptional spotter and extremely knowledgable about animals and birds, the environment, geology, ecology, history, culture, animal behaviour....
More sleep in the car for me this afternoon, this chest infection sure is taking its toll on me. The boys make sure I am awake for any bird or animal sightings though, such as the wildlife we find when we stop at this small pond.
A very uncooperative crocodile refuses to turn around and face the camera on request. Pfft. Doesn't he know who we are? So, it looks like a bum shot it is then.
The hippo aren't much better – all we can see is the top of their backs. We can certainly smell them though!
Every picnic site should have a giraffe in the distance...
Mawe Meupe, which means “The White Rocks”, is a small hillock dotted with picnic tables and a great place to spot birds.
Lilac Breasted Roller
White Headed Buffalo Weaver
The birds are so used to people and quite unafraid. They come right up to our table hoping for a small offering from our lunch. I hold my hand out with a few crumbs and a starling lands on it and sits there while he is eating. I also get a severe telling off – quite rightly – by Malisa. The birds and animals in the Serengeti are wild and should remain so. They can find their own food and should not be encouraged to rely on humans. I consider myself properly chastised and promise not to do it again. Then feel guilty about it for the rest of the trip.
As “Never pass a toilet without using it” is my travel motto, I make a point of visiting the facilities before we leave. They are nice and clean with a lock on the door, paper and running water. Although the walk is a very short distance, it totally wears me out and I get back to the car completely breathless and coughing wildly. Being ill on holiday sucks!
Our path is blocked by a giraffe as we leave the picnic site to continue our afternoon game viewing.
A group of banded mongoose is called a band of mongoose of course.
The grass here is so long during the rainy season that it manages to almost completely lose the adult warthog. And that is why they run with their tails straight up, so that their babies can see them and follow.
Judging by the number of cars (I counted eleven) parked by the tree, it is obvious that the leopard we saw last night is still there.
And judging by the number of times she tosses and turns in the short time we are here, she obviously still hasn't found a comfortable position in that tree.
A very pale baby giraffe with his mummy - they get darker as they age.
Look at that hairstyle!
And look at that nose! The dik dik has an elongated snout which is very mobile, constantly twitching, with bellows-like muscles through which blood is pumped to help prevent the animal from over-heating. The flow of air and subsequent evaporation cools the blood before it is recirculated to the body. How ingenious!
Dik diks are monogamous, so you will almost always see them in pairs (or three, with their single offspring).
The female is looking for her babies. She walks into the long grass and stops to let out an almighty roar, a sound that carries a long distance, hoping that her offspring will make their way to where she is. There is no sign of any cubs though.
For the first time ever in our thirty years of safaris, I ask to be taken back to the lodge early. Malisa is so sweet, knowing that I would never want to return to base before sunset unless I am really ill, he is obviously concerned about me. He keeps offering me advice and suggestions, plus lots of sympathy. All I want right now is my bed though.
When I get back to the room I watch a couple of buffalo walk past the tent on the slope below, then go to bed. With some serious coughing fits and the lioness still roaring for her cubs, I struggle to stay asleep for more than a few minutes at a time. This is going to be a long night.
Having been awake from 03:30 this morning scratching my insect bites, it's going to be a long day.
It is still dark when we leave the lodge at 06:00.
Brown Snake Eagle
A cackle of hyenas congregate on the road, and seem a lot less timid than the ones we have encountered previously, some are even bold enough to come right up to the car.
Not my favourite animal (sorry Malisa), but I will admit that this seven-month old juvenile is almost bordering on being cute.
A confusion of wildebeest are waiting to cross the Seronera River
A committee of vultures are waiting in a nearby tree for the wildebeest to get eaten by crocodiles while crossing the Seronera River.
I see no crocodiles…
The biggest eagle in Africa, the Martial Eagle can kill a baby antelope! He will grab it, lift it up and drop it until it is dead.
Hot Air Balloon
We are right in the flight path of the balloon as it glides across the savannah.
Watching the balloon
Usually hippos only come out at night to eat and go back to the water in the morning. During that one night, they can eat as much as 150kg of grass; followed by three days merely digesting the food: just lying around farting, burping, pooping.
”I know someone else like that” says David, just prior to being whacked around the head.
This hippo seems a little premature: although it is still eating, the smell of ammonia is so strong it makes Lyn gag, followed by a severe coughing fit.
White Browed Coucal
Close to the road, on a flat open area, we see two brothers with one female. It makes a nice change for them not to be half-hidden by the long grass.
The female is on heat, but the male isn’t the least bit interested at this stage. Dirty girl!
“Come and get me…”
“Not this morning dear, I have a headache”
Even threats don’t work!
Other than to make him back off further.
As she is obviously not going to get her wicked way with him this morning, she walks off in a huff.
It looks like she has had her nose put out of joint at some stage, and not just figuratively speaking. I am assuming that she got her deformity from a fight rather than a birth defect.
It seems the king has food - rather than sex - on his mind this morning.
Normally, the male lion will not let the female anywhere near his food until he has had his fill, as we have seen on a couple of occasions on this safari. When the female is on heat, however, it’s a different story: he will allow her to eat alongside him. Typical man! The only time he treats his woman to a meal is when he thinks there is something in it for him!
Why does this picture remind me of the spaghetti scene from Lady and the tramp cartoon?
Meanwhile, brother Leo comes to check out what all the fuss is about.
There’s no room for another diner, so Leo skulks off, complaining loudly.
Then goes for a drink instead.
Black Backed Jackal
A jackal waits nearby; ready to move in on the leftovers once the lions have had their fill. I think he'll have a long wait.
As we seem to be running out of time, we eat our boxed breakfast ‘on the hoof’ so to speak. We have to be out of the park by a certain time – the permits are purchased in blocks of 24 hours, and they are quite strict in enforcing the fines if you overstay.
A lone elephant is walking across the savannah, presumably to catch up with the large herd we can see in the distance.
Months of rain (we are right at the end of the rainy season now), tourist traffic, heavy trucks and the huge numbers of animals who also use the roads have taken their toll on the unsealed tracks.
By scraping off the top layer, the surface is smoothed out, getting rid of the washboard effect that is typical in this region.
Named after the Swahili word for ‘lion’, Simba Kopjes are the tallest kopjes (rocky outcrop) in Serengeti and as the name suggests, a good place to spot lions.
And guess what? There is the aforementioned simba!
We come across a breakaway crowd who have obviously been dawdling on their journey up north.
Look at that long line meandering in from somewhere beyond!
This marks the end of our safari in Serengeti, as we have now reached the entrance / exit gate at Naabi Hill. We have a coffee while Malisa completes the formalities.
While Chris goes off to use the facilities, I prank him by hiding his coffee, putting an empty cup in its place. With hindsight it was not a good move, as anyone who knows Chris can attest for his love of coffee. Unfortunately Lyn gets the blame as he accuses her of drinking it. Oops. Sorry Chris. Sorry Lyn.
On a positive note: they have upgraded their toilets since our first visit in 2007 (PS these are the old ones)
We’ll be back!
Just because we have left the Serengeti behind, does not mean our adventure is over. As soon as we enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Malisa drives off-road. Because he can.
Just like us, the White Stork is not a resident in Tanzania, he has flown in from Europe and is just here for his holidays.
The zebra died of natural causes, and now the vultures are having a banquet!
I love the red-necked vultures – no, they are not a new species, that is blood from where they have stuck their heads right inside the carcass.
It’s a chaotic and grotesque scene, yet morbidly fascinating.
You can’t hear it too well in this short video clip because of the wind noise, but the sound is deafening: like a huge mob of bleating sheep!
It is unusual to see a giraffe sitting down as it makes them extremely vulnerably to predators. Here it seems every tree has one.
As we rejoin the main ‘road’, we also meet up with traffic. And traffic means dust. Lots of it.
The road to Arusha takes us back up into the highlands, and at this altitude David soon starts to feel the cold.
This area is farming land, and we see many herders with their livestock and small stock along the side and even on the road.
Not the worst view I have seen from a toilet stop.
But David is still feeling the cold.
The Maasai have an ingenious way of temporarily stopping their goats from reproducing. It is uncomplicated, cheap, safe for the animal and easily reversible – a simple flap physically stops the goats mating! I love it!
Maasai Village Elders’ Weekly Meeting
Beats a day at the office any time.
We have our lunch in a picnic area within a camp ground between Ngorongoro and Arusha. We are all very sad that the safari part of our holiday is now over. Apart from maybe Malisa, as he now gets to see his family again and have a few days off.
Coming back into ‘civilisation’ again after eight days in the wilderness seems almost surreal – markets, shops, saloon cars, motorbikes, noise, traffic, and even a political rally!
We also experience the ugly side of ‘civilisation’: Malisa is pulled over for ‘speeding’. Being totally secure in the fact that he was most definitely NOT speeding, Malisa argues the case, asking them to prove where and how fast he was going. Knowing they haven’t got that sort of evidence, the police eventually back down and let him go! Cheeky! I bet they were looking for a bribe!
Back in the big town there is a hive of activity as usual.
Due to some political agenda, there is a temporary shortage of sugar and we see long queues at the few stores that have any left.
“Do you need anything from town?” asks Malisa, “if not, Tillya has a surprise for you”.
Avoiding the centre of Arusha, Malisa turns off the main road and weaves his way through the middle of Tenguru weekly market.
Lake Dulutu Lodge
Surprise! Our original itinerary had us staying at Kibo Palace in the centre of Arusha, but Tillya felt that we needed to finish the trip in style; and he was worried that we might not sleep well as the area around Kibo is very noisy. The service we get from Calabash Adventures never ceases to amaze me.
And neither does Lake Dulutu Lodge. Wow!
The entrance drive is long, with vegetation either side, and the car park is empty when we arrive. Nothing particularly awesome so far.
While the receptionist performs the registration formalities, we are invited to sit down in the lounge. This is where the wow-ness starts. The lobby is like something out of Harper’s Bazaar and I feel decidedly scruffy in my dirty safari gear.
Our room is an individual cottage in the grounds, which look nothing much from the outside.
Once we get through the front door, however, its opulence is evident.
And the moment I enter the bathroom I am extremely impressed: despite having been lucky enough to stay in some pretty luxurious properties over the years, I have never seen a bathroom like this before.
Only two other tables in the restaurant are taken, so I guess the hotel is pretty quiet at this time of year. The service, food and wine are all excellent.
Vegetable Spring Roll with Chilli Sauce
Chicken with Rosemary Sauce
Beef Medallions with Pepper sauce
Banana Tart with Chocolate sauce
After all that we should sleep well, especially knowing we don't have to get up for a 6am game drive tomorrow morning.
Thank you so much to Calabash Adventures for the last eight days of safari, and for Malisa's expertise, knowledge, sense of humour, excellent driving and caring nature.
After leaving the ‘Lion Tree’, we try to find somewhere to stop for our picnic lunch. Malisa’s initial plan is to park down by Lake Magadi, but there is no shade whatsoever and the sun is relentless.
On the shores of the lake, a number of terns are congregating: Whiskered, White Winged Black and Black. As we get closer, they all take off en masse.
Rueppell's Long Tailed Starling
Grey Backed Shrike
We finally find a tree to take our picnic under, listening to the grunting of hippo as we eat. When Lyn comments to Malisa that the sounds appear awfully near, his reply doesn’t exactly re-assure her: “This is leopard country…” Seeing the paw prints in the sand, Lyn makes a hasty retreat to the car.
This is an enormous family!
A buffalo tries – unsuccessfully – to hide in the long grass.
A male ostrich shows off his typical breeding plumage: bright pink legs and neck.
On top of one of the kopjes is a strategically placed, strange-shaped rock. This large rock with holes emits quite a gong when hit with a stone. In the old days – before the Maasai were relocated to make this an animal-only national park - it was used as a form of communication, to call together clan members to meetings. These days I guess they use mobile phones.
The kopjes here at Moru also hide a number of rock paintings believed to be several hundred years old. The colours used are similar to those on the Maasai shields, so it is thought that they were painted by a band of young Maasai warriors who wandered this area for several years before settling down to their pastoral life.
The colours used were created from plant matter: the black from volcanic ash, the white and yellow from different clay, and the red from the juice of the wild nightshade.
I am intrigued by the bicycle.
The area around the kopjes is supposed to be home to Serengeti’s last remaining black rhino and is a favourite hangout of leopards apparently. But all we see are a few rock hyraxes.
My tummy really is in a bad way now, causing me quite some concern; and I beg Malisa to find me a proper toilet. “We are very near” he tells me.
Dark Chanting Goshawk
Serengeti Rhino Project Visitors Centre
Half an hour later, we reach the Rhino Information Centre, where the toilets are indeed very good.
Mostly as a result of poaching, the black rhino population has declined to a critically endangered point, with an all time low of 2,300 individuals in the wild. Fewer than 700 eastern black rhinos survive in the wild, with Serengeti being home to around 30 of them.
Named after the German conservationist Michael Grzimek who devoted his life to the Serengeti, the Visitors Centre has displays about the rhino and how the conservation strategies are being employed to ensure the continued survival of the rhino.
The exact location of the park’s rhino population is a well kept secret, with a small army of rangers and wardens looking after the animals 24/7.
One of the reasons the crocodile is often found with his mouth wide open, is to attract insects, who are drawn to bits of meat left in the croc’s teeth. The insects again attract birds, and as soon as an unsuspecting bird enters the mouth – slam! The bird is no more.
For some reason that reminds me of this Youtube clip.
These enormous nests take the birds up to three months to build, and are the height of sophistication, with three rooms inside. The nests can weigh up to 90kg, measure 1.5 metres across, and are strong enough to support the weight of a man! These birds are compulsive nest builders, constructing three to five nests per year whether they are breeding or not. When the hamerkop abandons a nest, Egyptian Geese move in.
Many local people believe the hamerkop to be a ‘witch bird’ because they collect all sorts of stuff for their nest building, including human hair!
In Africa, rain is a blessing, for humans, animals and the environment.
♪♫♪ I bless the rains down in Africa… ♪♫♪
"Africa" by Toto
I hear the drums echoing tonight But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation She's coming in twelve-thirty flight Her moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation I stopped an old man along the way Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies He turned to me as if to say: "Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you"
It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do I bless the rains down in Africa Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
The wild dogs cry out in the night As they grow restless longing for some solitary company I know that I must do what's right Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti I seek to cure what's deep inside, frightened of this thing that I've become
It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do I bless the rains down in Africa Gonna take some time to do the things we never had
Rain can also be a blessing for photographers, creating some lovely moody shots.
Seeing a herd of Lancruisers in the distance, and knowing that they always hunt in packs, we surmise there must be a suitable prey around.
We are not disappointed. Wet and bedraggled, there is a pride (or sawt) of lions in the long grass, with what’s left of a dead wildebeest.
Two mums and three cubs (around 1½ - 2 months old) gather around the carcass.
The rain is persistent now; so we put the roof down to stop everything in the car getting wet. Although, looking to the west, it does seem that it might clear up soon.
Actually, almost as soon as we put the roof down, the rain eases off. Typical. We leave it down for a while to see what happens, but as the rain seems to hold off, we raise it again to allow for more movement and ease of photography.
One of the mums has had enough, and goes off, growling.
She then lies down in the short grass to tidy herself up from the eating and the rain.
Followed by a quick roll on the ground.
Before continuing her stroll.
The other mum watches her girlfriend with interest.
And decides that she too would like a roll in the long grass. Copy cat!
Obviously her tummy is not quite full yet: she goes back to the wildebeest for another bite or two.
The cubs try to emulate mum, tugging at their dinner.
I have to say that the normal cuteness associated with lion cubs is not very evident in the wet!
Eating is boring when you’re a young lion cub, playing with mum is much more fun!
Mum, on the other hand, is not impressed. “Will you stop that for goodness sake, I am trying to eat!”
Meanwhile, the sun is trying to come out.
It seems mum number two has also had her fill for the day, leaving the kill behind; licking her chops as she wanders off through the long grass.
She stops to sniff the air; her face still bloody from dinner.
Aha! So, that is what she could smell!
Dad settles down for a rest – or at least that’s what he thinks. The cubs have other ideas.
Just like mum, dad is not amused either and growls at the playing cubs, who have been jumping up and down on his back and rolling around all over him.
The playful kitties go back to annoying mum for a while.
She is still having none of it.
I am sure this is an expression mothers throughout the world can relate to: the sheer frustration of pleading young eyes.
Eventually they realise it is less hassle to just play amongst themselves.
Time to get a move-on
We reluctantly leave the playing kitties to head for camp. It is already 18:15 and we have another 45 minutes drive from here. "Depending on what we see on the way", as Malisa always says when we ask him how long it will take to get somewhere.
The roads are wet and slippery and in his rush to get to camp before we get into trouble, Malisa starts to skid on the muddy track, then over-compensates. For a brief moment we are hurtling sideways at some speed before he manages to skilfully correct the car. Well done that man! Although I found the ‘Serengeti Drift’ quite exhilarating!
This weather seems to have really brought out the hyenas, as we see a dozen or more during one particular stretch of road. Or perhaps they just like this specific area.
Shooting straight into the setting sun makes for some spectacular backlit images.
Seeing the rainbow, I ask Malisa to find me a giraffe for the foreground. Not too demanding then!
The nearest I get is an elephant and a tree. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.
This evening’s stormy clouds have created one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen in Africa, with moody, threatening clouds and ever-changing colours.
I hang out of the window with my camera all the way to the lodge; constantly changing the settings (mainly exposure and white balance) to try and achieve different effects. You can see some of the end results below.
Serengeti Serena Lodge
Just as we arrive at the lodge – in the dark – a long tailed mongoose crosses the road. A very rare animal to spot, it is a first for us. Even Malisa is exciting about it!
The car park is full and very dark; and we have to negotiate lots of obstacles to get to reception. They are busy and check-in is the slowest we have experienced so far. Eventually we are taken to our rooms – it is a great shame that we cannot see them, as they look very unusual and rather fancy from the post card!
The design of this hotel is based on traditional Maasai dwellings, with a number of thatched-roofed rondavels dotted around the ground. We give it the nickname of the ‘Nipple Hotel’ due to…. well, I am sure you can figure that out yourself.
The restaurant is disappointing, with no available tables when we arrive, and most of the buffet food is finished. I am feeling quite weary this evening, and I can’t even finish my one bottle of beer. I must be tired!
As he walks us back to the room, the escort points out a bush baby in the trees.
Lyn and Chris' room.
The room is much too hot despite a fan, and I cannot bear to be surrounded by the mosquito net, so I remove it. I am covered in bites anyway, and they itch like mad in the heat this evening so I struggle to sleep.
Despite an unsatisfactory evening and night, we had an otherwise excellent day on safari. Again. Thank you Calabash Adventures and guide Malisa.
Another early start in the dark today, complete with luggage as we are moving on to pastures new. Leaving Mbuzi Mawe this morning, we are all feeling the cold.
Lilac Breasted Roller
Much as I really enjoy leaving at the crack of dawn to make the most of the day on the savannah, this first hour or so is not conducive to photography. Darkness = high ISO = grainy and dull images.
This morning we appear to be in the heart of the migration, with wildebeest all around us. Unfortunately, with the animals come the tse tse flies. Nasty little buggers and they are particularly numerous and bothersome where there are trees, such as here.
Hot Air Balloon
A hot air balloon glides gracefully over the savannah as we make our way through the park.
Grey Headed Kingfisher
I think it must have rained heavily during the night, as the river is flowing over the causeway this morning.
Lappet Faced Vulture
Everywhere we look there are zebras. A huge herd – or dazzle – of zebras. Long lines of zebras. Adult zebras. Baby zebras. Lactating zebras. Mating zebras. Eating zebras. Zebra crossings. And more zebras. And then some.
Two young brothers can barely be seen above the long grass. Having just eaten (we missed it), they saunter off into the distance.
We follow a troop of baboons along the road for a while.
The baby is very young - no more than two or three days old at the most.
But I still think he looks like an old man.
Such a tender family moment!
That moment when your dad has got you by the scruff of the neck but mum is looking out for you.
Located in Seronera in Central Serengeti, the visitors centre is a good place to stop for several reasons: 1. they have new and very clean / modern toilets (I have a problem again today) 2. there is a nice picnic area with lots of semi-tame birds, hyraxes and mongooses 3. an intersting exhibition displays information about Serengeti in general and the wildebeest migration in particular 4. there is also a nice little nature walk on elevated wooden walkways.
Sadly the boardwalk is closed for crucial repairs today, but we are given a guided tour of the information centre.
Those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning, will know that I have a wish list, and that aardvark is on that list (and has been for the last four safaris here in Tanzania - it became a running joke with our previous driver Dickson). I still haven’t seen one, so I have to make do with a mural on the wall.
Rock and Tree Hyrax
It is very hard to tell the difference between these two different animals – the tree hyrax has a lighter stripe down the back, but it is not always obvious.
And I guess the Tree Hyrax is more often found in …. yes, you guessed it … trees.
But not always.
Although the hyrax, also called rock rabbit or dassie, are similar to the guinea pig in looks, its closest living relative is the elephant! They are present throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, and in some places they can become quite unafraid of humans and are considered a pest!
A hyrax with ambition: pretending to be a wildebeest.
Grey Capped Social Weaver
The Gowler African Adventure
On previous holidays with Lyn and Chris (canal barge cruising) we have always had a themed day where we all dress up for a bit of fun, so this time I made these T-shirts for us all to wear, with the ‘team logo’. This safari has been in the planning stages for well over a year, and along the way we have had a lot of fun.
After our usual packed breakfast at the picnic site here in the Visitors Centre, we continue our game drive, exploring more of the Serengeti.
Black Faced Vervet Monkey
Although we can only just see the tops of their backs, we can certainly smell them!
Black Headed Heron
Wire Tailed Swallow
Q: What do you call a group of giraffes? A: A tower, journey, corps or herd.
There’s a bit of trivia for your next pub quiz.
Suddenly they all turn to face the same direction and continue staring that way for quite some time. I wonder what they have spotted?
We'll never know.
They’re everywhere. So many of them – we count 31!
One of the older ladies appear a little ‘eccentric’, carrying grass on the top of her back.
Having a good scratch.
You know the grass is long when you can lose a couple of baby elephants in it.
For the next half an hour, the herd of elephants (also known as a memory or parade) slowly meander all around us – sometimes very close - as they munch their way across the savannah.
A lone male lion tries to hide in a prickly bush.
Earlier we saw an almost white giraffe, whereas this one is very dark. I had no idea giraffes vary so much in their colouration!
White Browed Coucal
Tse Tse Flies
This area seems to be teeming with these pesky little flies, and I get bitten around fifteen times in as many minutes. They hurt when they bite you and itch like **** afterwards.
Lions in a tree
Just like I was complaining about the tse tse flies a few minutes ago, lions sometimes climb onto tree branches to get away from them, but as you can see from the photo below, it doesn’t seem to make any difference.
On the other side is another lion in another tree.
After a while, another car pulls up. As usual, we can hear the Americans before we see them. They take a few shots with their mobile phones and numerous more selfies before they move on again. They are not even here for three minutes.
We, on the other hand, stick around to see what the lionesses might do, and are rewarded with a bit of action. If you can call it that – at least it is some movement rather than just photographing sleeping lions. Or photographing ourselves with sleeping lions in the background.
The lone lioness from the other tree decides to join her mates.
There is a lot of shuffling going on, they never seem to find a particularly comfortable position. I can see why you'll never see a male lion in a tree!
Look at the number of flies on this poor girl's face! It's no wonder she is not comfortable.
Well, that was certainly worth enduring the tse tse flies for!
Time to stop for lunch, and a convenient time to break this blog entry. This afternoon’s game drive will feature in a new entry
Thank you so much to our guide Malisa and Calabash Adventures - the best safari company by a long shot.
As we arrive at our lunch stop, a memory of 29 elephants wander past in the distance. As they do.
We are the only humans here and have a choice of tables – we pick a couple in the shade.
What a delightful picnic area – there are so many birds here I am too busy photographing to eat!
Speckled Fronted Weaver
Rufous Tailed Weaver
Grey Headed Sparrow
Rufous Tailed Weaver
White Headed Buffalo Weavers
A family of White Headed Buffalo Weavers amuses me for quite some time with their antics.
All the time we’ve been here the giraffe has been standing perfectly still, staring at something in the distance. However much we train our binoculars in that direction, we cannot fathom out what is grabbing his attention.
With full bellies we continue our afternoon game drive.
We see a couple of cars in the distance, near a tree, and go off to investigate. It’s a leopard and she has something up in the branches with her that she is eating.
On closer inspection, we can see that she is trying to pull the fur off some skin, most likely from a baby wildebeest.
On a branch the other side of the tree is her cub, a one-year old male, fast asleep.
Mum is making sure nothing is wasted, pulling and tugging at the hide.
When nothing edible is left, she takes the skin off to a hiding place for safekeeping.
Making her way down the tree, she calls out to her son, then jumps down to the ground.
The cub wakes up and follows his mum down into the long grass where they disappear from our view.
How exciting! Being nocturnal hunters and solitary animals, leopards are the most difficult of the cats to see on safari.
This now completes the BIG FIVE on this safari - a term coined by big-game hunters, referring to the five most difficult – and dangerous - animals in Africa to hunt on foot: elephant, lion, rhino, leopard and buffalo.
As I have said a couple of times before, Lyn and Chris are having such incredible luck out here – we’d been on several safaris before we saw all the Big Five on the same trip!
And a couple of giraffes
Spotting a tree full of vultures, my first thought is “what’s died?”
They are also circling above in great numbers, but however much we look on the horizon, straining our eyes through the binoculars, we cannot see anything of significance.
During the day hippos generally wallow in shallow water such as rivers and lakes, coming out at night to graze. It is therefore quite unusual to see them on land in the day.
This guy cannot stop yawning – he is obviously dazed and confused. Maybe he just flew in from Europe and is jet-lagged?
Formed at the meeting of three rivers, Retima Pool attracts a great number of hippos, who are believed to crowd here in order to protect their calves against crocodiles.
The noise of 200 hippos (the American guy next to me claims he counted them) belching, grunting, farting, pooping and splashing, is a sound I won’t forget in a hurry. I am just very grateful that videos don’t record aromas. Yet.
Brown Snake Eagle
Having read about a white giraffe (appropriately named Omo) that had been spotted a few months ago in Tarangire National Park, I added that to my wish list this year. We didn’t see it, but I am quite excited to see a rather pale baby giraffe this afternoon.
Not an albino, the giraffe is suffering from leucism, a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation resulting in pale or patchy colouration of the skin.
We see more hippos as we cross the river again making our way back to camp.
The sun is getting low now, painting the sky with yellows, pinks and purples.
Our tented camp is built in amongst the rocks that constitute the Kimasi Kopje, and we can just about make out the tents in the failing light.
Amazingly it is still not completely dark when we reach the camp – it’s the first day we have had some real chill time since we arrived in Tanzania: we actually have half an hour spare this evening!
When we go to into the bathroom, we discover that while we were out, squatters have moved in, clinging to dear life on our shower curtain.
Mbuzi Mawe is a super place, and the restaurant is intimate, friendly and relaxed, yet luxurious. The general manager walks around the tables this evening, making sure everyone is happy. Tonight they are celebrating a honeymoon couple, with more singing, clapping and cake!
Yet again the food comes out under shiny domes, but there is some confusion as to which plate is which. I guess it is not so easy to see when it is all under wrap like that.
Starter of garlic salami, Waldorf salad and balsamic reduction.
Main course: Rajma Masala - a 'curry' of red beans in s spicy sauce - absolutely delicious!
We retire to bed and a restful sleep after another amazing day in the mighty Serengeti! Calabash Adventures - and Malisa of course - have done us proud yet again.
As we wait for Malisa to come and collect us for today’s safari, Chris catches up on some sleep.
The sun has not yet made an appearance and darkness hangs over the camp when we leave, so I still have no idea what this place looks like: the layout, or the surroundings. Usually I do a lot of research of each accommodation before we leave home, but this lodge is a complete surprise for everyone - an alien concept to me.
It's quite exciting really, like a mystery tour!
Sunrises (and sunsets) are pretty speedy affairs this close to the equator, so we haven’t travelled far before we can start making out the outlines of the kopjes around the camp.
Initially just as a silhouette, but within a few minutes we can distinguish some features on the landscape.
So these are the guys we heard chomping last night, right outside our tent, and whose eyes the escort shone the torch into while (over) dramatically telling us how dangerous they are?
The temperature this morning is a little on the cool side.
It will soon warm up when the sun comes out.
Chris isn’t the only one who is feeling tired this morning it seems.
On a meadow of fluffy grasses, a lion pride made up of nine members, gathers around a kill. A wildebeest. Or rather an ex-wildebeest. It could even be the mother of the orphaned calf we saw yesterday.
The pecking order is very evident here as a couple of the youngsters try to join dad for breakfast. He tells them what he thinks of that in no uncertain terms, while mum looks on with resignation: “They’ll learn”.
The cubs are soon distracted. “We’ll have a play instead”
All around us, literally hundreds of thousands of wildebeest greet the rising sun. Individually their grunt sounds a little like a human groan, but in these numbers the noise they make becomes a hum, like an enormous swarm of bees!
Speaking of sounds – we can clearly hear the lion crunching the bones as he devours his prey.
Dad licks his plate, then moves his breakfast a few feet along the open plains. Erm… why?
In the crater we had a Rasta Lion and at Ndutu there was a Punk Lion. Here we have a Hippy Lion – just look at that hair… I mean mane. It is like a 70s rock star!
Well, kiss my ass!
“Do you think a fringe suits me? I’ve heard it is all the rage this year.”
The youngsters wait in the wings for dad to finish his meal.
On every bush and in every tree is a vulture hanging around until it is their turn too.
A long line of wildebeest is heading straight for the lions. Their poor eyesight is leading them into trouble again.
The young lionesses realise that there is a potentially earlier - maybe even easier - breakfast than having to wait for dad to finish eating.
The wildebeest have also spotted the lions and are running for their lives. Literally.
She’s closing in, aiming for that baby at the back. An easy prey…
She has to be quicker than that, it’s no good just sitting there looking at them; they’re not going to come to you.
The last of the wildebeest makes it alive past the lions. Phew! I can breathe again now.
Meanwhile dad continues to eat his breakfast.
While the rest of the family lie around licking their chops impatiently for when they will be allowed to have some.
“Let’s go and harass dad”
Dad, however, is totally unperturbed by the whole thing.
Has he finished?
It certainly looks that way, as with a full tummy he wanders off to find water.
Typical male: once he’s had his meal he goes off to the pub for a drink, leaving his wife to do the clearing up!
The rest of the family descend on the dining table like hungry… well, lions.
I notice dad hasn’t left much to be divided between the remaining eight. You could say he's had the lion's share. I can certainly see where that expression comes from.
This guy has managed to secure himself a tasty little morsel, however.
The vultures move in a little closer, and noisy plovers circle above screeching out distressed warning signals. “Yes, we know there are lions. Thanks anyway guys".
As we wonder how many lions you can fit around a scrawny wildebeest carcass, we leave them – and the constant wildebeest hum - to it and move on to our next wilderness experience.
Jackal versus Vultures
We come across another kill where the predators have moved on, leaving what little is left in the hands of the scavengers, in this case some White Backed Vultures and a couple of Marabou Storks.
All is reasonably calm until a couple of Black Backed Jackals arrive.
End of Round One: Vultures 1 Jackals 0
Round Two: the jackal seems to have managed to somehow get hold of a slither of meat, and the vultures go all out for the tackle. The ensuing squabble is reminiscent of the scenes I once witnessed in Tesco when the reduced items came out on a Saturday afternoon.
The vultures bring in the reserves.
Despite this somewhat unfair advantage, the score at the end of Round Two is Vultures 1 Jackals 1
The opposition team regroup to work out their next move.
It seems they don’t quite agree on tactics.
With all the internal politics, and no real action, the audience looks bored.
While not exactly bored, we leave the jackals and vultures to fight it out between them and drive a little further north.
Lion and Jackal Prints
More Lions + Another Kill = More Vultures
Further along we see seven lions on a kill (that’s the fourth kill we’ve seen this morning, and it's only 08:15) and another ‘Vulture Tree’ full of birds waiting to swoop on the carcass.
As soon as the lions move off, the vultures descend en masse.
The lions and a jackal look on with bemusement.
Does my bum look big in this?
Wildebeest Rutting Season
This time of the year is when the males compete for the attention of the females – they have been known to fight until death!
This morning, however, hunger wins and they go back to grazing. So do we.
When we made our choices last night for the breakfast box, Chris crossed everything out on the menu except the muffin. That was all he wanted for breakfast – a muffin. Fair enough. Imagine his disappointment when he opens his box this morning, and finds everything in there, EXCEPT the muffin!
All around us is the hum of the wildebeest.
It is very much cooler this morning than any previous days.
Although Malisa doesn’t seem to feel it as he wears his Rasta Lion T shirt and motorcycle-tyre sandals.
Grey Crowned Cranes
We go back to see our lions, who have their eye on another wildebeest.
They do some more half-hearted stalking, but they are obviously not that hungry.
The vultures hover expectantly above, but this time they are out of luck.
As we're driving along, David shouts out "Oh, look: wildebeest". We all fall for it, sitting bolt upright and looking for... wildebeest? Even Malisa stops. Doh... for the last hour or so, we have been surrounded by several thousand wildebeest - they are not exactly a novelty!
My tummy is not at all happy today, and when I let Malisa know, he suggests going back to the camp to use their facilities, as we are very near anyway. That sounds good to me – not just because there is a proper toilet, but it will also be nice to see the camp in daylight.
Today we can see just how close to our room the buffalo do graze. Gulp.
The camp is totally devoid of human life, but we do see a few four legged critters.
Emergency over, we continue our game drive, this time we head south.
One male can have a harem of up to 60 females.
Black Faced Vervet Monkeys
A couple of hippos wallow in the shallow Orangi River.
We hit the main road through Serengeti; and while there is not much traffic compared with the main dry season, the huge trucks still throw up masses of dust!
You can only just see the top of their backs in the long grass; which is exactly why they run with their tails straight up - so that their youngsters can see them!
African Fish Eagle
Bare Faced Go Away Bird
These noise birds get their name from the sound they make when disturbed: “kweh” “kweh”, which does sound a bit like “go way”.
Until this trip, we had never seen a snake in Tanzania, and it is one of the items on my wish list. Not only did we see a cobra in Tarangire, and a grass snake crossing the road earlier this morning; a couple of cars stopped with people staring at a tree alerts us to an enormous python.
At around two metres in length, this brute can swallow an antelope!
Black Chested Snake Eagle
Little Bee Eater
Black Headed Heron
This wild African cat is about half way in size between a domestic cat and a cheetah and it’s a fairly rare sighting. Lyn and Chris have been so incredibly lucky with their animal spotting on this safari, although we still haven’t seen a leopard to complete the BIG FIVE.
End of Part I
As today features quite a few more sightings, I have decided to publish it in two parts; so all that remains now is to say thank you to Calabash Adventures and Malisa for an exciting morning’s game drive.