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Marrakissa

Another heavenly place


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

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)

Brufut

So many lifers


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

Yet again Lariam (malaria prophylaxis) upsets my sleep with a series of bad dreams: while faced with a plethora of colourful birds, my camera refuses to operate despite repeatedly and frustratingly pressing the shutter. I wake up agitated and distressed, realise it is thankfully just a dream and return to sleep. And the dream. The same horrid dream. This repeats itself time and time again and by the time the alarm goes off at 6am, I am exhausted.

Birding Pool

Knowing we are too early for the breakfast, and will be out for most of the morning, we grab some snacks from our bags and head to the bird pool to wait for the guide to arrive.

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As it is still fairly dark, photography is almost impossible, so we just sit and enjoy until Malick turns up.

Police Check Point

We pre-booked Malick – Chris Packham's birding guide of choice - through The Gambia Experience before we left home, just to make sure we had a couple of days of serious birding organised. Having someone who knows where to go and the transport to take us there is half the battle.

As with so many African countries, The Gambia has its fair share of Police Road Blocks where they check the drivers' paperwork. It also acts as an opportunity to investigate the birds that hang around here, feeling on rubbish left behind.

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Yellow Crowned Gonolek

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Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

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Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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Brown Babbler

Brufut

Our destination for today, however, is Brufut, a community-organised bird sanctuary protected by the West African Birds Study Association.

Before we reach the woods themselves, we stop near some habitation at the edge of a few plantations and take a short walk to see what species can be found around here. We are very excited to spot so many 'lifers' (species new to us, indicated by * below) in such a small area.

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Yellow Billed Shrike*

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Stone Partridge*

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Piapiac*

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White Crowned Robin Chat*

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White Faced Whistling Ducks

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Greater Honeyguide*

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Village Weaver

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Blue Bellied Roller*

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Senegal Wattled Plover*

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Black Crake

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

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Fine Spotted Woodpecker*

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African Jacana

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Pied Crow

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White Billed Buffalo Weaver*

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Greenshank

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Spur Winged Plover

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Beautiful Sunbird (female)

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Bearded Barbet

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Splendid Sunbird (female)

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Copper Sunbird*

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Intermediate Egret

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Northern Red Bishop in non-breeding colours*

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Variable Sunbird (female) The female sunbirds all look very similar.

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Common Sandpiper

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Pied Kingfisher

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Black Headed Heron

The plantations include such crops as cashew nuts and mango trees.

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Unripe cashew fruits with the nuts not yet having developed - they will be hanging down below when ripe

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Mango fruits

Brufut Woodland Bar

We continue to an area known as Brufut Woods, where there is even a bar serving drinks. Fearing that they may not be open this late in the season, Malick had already contacted them by phone earlier, to make sure they put the kettle on.

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A number of benches are set out, overlooking an area with several bird baths in the trees and on the ground. I notice that rather than putting out food for the birds so that they become dependent on humans for feeding, only water is provided. I like that.

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This is the civilised way of photographing the birds.

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We spend the next couple of hours watching, photographing, and listening to the birds, seeing their family squabbles, how they interact with each other and some obvious pecking orders.

As before, any lifers are denoted with *

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Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Senegal Coucal

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Black Billed Wood Dove*

I usually have a wish list of birds (or animals) I wish to see when we travel, and this is one of only three on my list this time:

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Western Plantain Eater*

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Bronze Mannikin

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Yellow Throated Leaflove*

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Laughing Doves

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Common Bulbul

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Red Billed Firefinch (female)

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Black Necked Weaver*

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Greater Honeyguide*

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Lavender Waxbill*

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Orange Cheeked Waxbill*

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African Thrush*

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Splendid Sunbird

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Hooded Vulture

We employ the services of a local guide to help us go in to the woods to look for the Long Tailed Nightjar which is often found in this area. After a short moment of concern when the bird is not where he saw it half an hour earlier (as nocturnal birds, nightjars don't tend to move far during the day unless they are spooked), he spots it on the ground, very well camouflaged.

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We start making our way back to the main road, along dirt tracks frequented by more animal carts than vehicles.

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But first, Malick wants to check out some palms on the way.

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Grey Woodpecker*

Having seen them here in the last couple of days, this is what he was looking for:

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Red Necked Falcons*

And so ends a very productive morning's birdwatching. Now back to the lodge for the rest of the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:41 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds crow africa birding coffee mango woodpecker heron egret vulture dove malaria west_africa kingfisher starling plantations weaver falcon shrike bulbul dreams finch barbet gambia lariam nightjar bird_watching hornbill sunbird jacana cashews coucal plover thrush sandpiper life_list robin_chat mefloquine malaria_prophelaxis malaria_tablets nightmares disturbed_sleep police_check_point chris_packham malick_suso the_gambia_experience gonolek cordon_blue brufut brufut_woods piapiac whistling_ducks honeyguide crake glossy_starling greenshank red_bishop mango_trees cashew_nuts cashew_trees plantain_eater mannikin firefinch waxbill Comments (4)

Arusha National Park

An underrated little park


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

Fast forward a few hours and a lot of miles, and we have flown via Istanbul and Zanzibar and have now arrived at Kilimanjaro, the international airport that services Arusha and Tanzania's Northern Safari Circuit.

There is no Malisa (our trusty driver) waiting for us. All the other passengers are met and carted off to their hotels and/or safaris. There is only us left at the airport. We landed at 06:00 and it is now nearly an hour later. I think it is time to ring Tillya at Calabash Adventures (who we have booked through) to find out what is happening. The number I have for them is unavailable. I guess it is an old number from when we first used them in 2007, so I check the paperwork we were sent for a more up-to-date number. There isn't one; but I do notice that they have our arrival time down as 08:30. Oops. No idea how that happened (I take full responsibility for the error), but at least we know why Malisa isn't here. David wanders back into the airport terminal to use the wifi and contact Malisa via Facebook. He is on his way and less than ten minutes drive from the airport. Phew.

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Mount Kilimanjaro

On the way from the airport we are very excited to see the snowy top of Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance. All the other times we have been here it has been well and truly smothered in mist, so this is actually our first time to see it from this road. A dormant volcano, Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa at 4,900 metres (16,000 feet).

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We also have a good view of Mount Meru

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Arusha National Park

After a warm reunion with plenty of big hugs (this is sixth time we have arranged a safari through Calabash, and the third time Malisa has been our driver), we head straight for our first safari. Arusha National Park is one of the smallest reserves in Tanzania and a good stop-off point between the airport and Arusha Town.

Sykes Monkey

Arusha National Park is not the place to go for the big cats, but it does have a couple of species that are not found in the larger parks here in the north, such as this Blue Sykes Monkey.

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A troop of Olive Baboons hang out in a tree and walk by the car

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Zebra

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Sacred Ibis

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Cape Buffalo

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Great White Egret

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Woolly Necked Stork

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Grey Crowned Crane with baby - look at its head-dress just starting to grow

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Black Headed Heron

Narina Trogon

A new species to us, this colourful bird isn't very co-operative as far as photography goes, doing his very best to hide deeper and deeper into the woods.

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But at least it means that I do get to see both the front and the back of it.

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Black and White Colobus Monkey

Every time we go on safari, I have a wish list of animals that I would like to see, that I hand over to the driver. This year it contains the Black and White Colobus Monkey which I have only seen – briefly – a couple of times before: once in Mount Kenya National Park in 1986 and more recently here in this park in 2014 when I saw its tail as it disappeared into the forest. I have no clear photos of them and am keen to rectify that. No sooner has Malisa joked that they are going to come and dance for me on the bonnet of the car, than we see a couple of them lounging on the branches of a tree almost directly above the road. Very cool!

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African Grey Flycatcher

We make our way to Ngordoto Crater for a photo stop before continuing to explore the park.

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African Jacana

Baby Warthogs, referred to as piglets.

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Helmeted Guineafowl ~ also known (to us) as “just a chicken” from an incident many years ago when David got very excited thinking he'd seen a “colourful bird”.

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It is unusual to see a giraffe sitting down

Bushbucks

Down on a marshy area we see several bushbuck, which in itself is very unusual as they are normally solitary. Two males are vying for the attention of a female, and after an initial staring contest they half-heartedly fight.

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They both run after her across the marsh and into the hills beyond where she manages to shake them off.

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Apparently bushbucks are rather short-sighted, and one of the males gets somewhat confused and starts chasing a warthog instead.

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Female bushbucks are said to prefer darker partners as they are thought to be stronger and more mature (the antelope's colouration gets darker as they grow older).

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White fronted bee eater

Only once before I have I laid eyes on this small, colourful bird, and then only briefly: here in Arusha National Park four years ago. I am therefore delighted to see a large number of birds just beside the road. These bee eaters live in colonies of between ten and thirty birds, creating nests on soft mud banks such as these.

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Their homes are more like a commune, with all the birds sharing the parenting, feeding each others' chicks. They live in a close-knit community though, and fight fiercely to repel other colonies.

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Dik dik

These, the smallest of Tanzania's antelopes, mate for life, and raise their offspring together.

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Picnic

Malisa came prepared with a packed breakfast and lunch when he collected us from the airport this morning, and we stop at a picnic area overlooking Small Momella Lake to eat. It's a popular place, with several tourist vehicles here already.

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As we wander down to the parking lot when we have finished, one of the other drivers is busy rearranging his clothing, having undone his trousers to tuck his shirt in. I shout out: “Do you need any help?”, to which he replies “No, it's fine, thanks”. My reply of “So everything is in the right place then...?” elicits a lot of laughter from everyone else. Thankfully the recipient finds it amusing too.

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Little Bee Eater

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Egyptian Goose

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Blacksmith Plover

Big Momella Lake

When we last visited Arusha National Park, the lake was home to some 20,000 flamingos. I knew that at this time of year many will have made the migration to Lake Natron, so I am pleased to see a few still feeding in the water.

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Greater Flamingo

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Hippos

Big Bertha, star of the show

There are a number of people out of their cars here (it is a dedicated picnic area), and when they spot me in the vehicle with Big Bertha (my massive 600mm lens), all attention is drawn away from the lake and the hippos and everyone photographs us instead.

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Reedbuck

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Augur Buzzard

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African Hoopoe

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Waterbuck

Albino Baboon

This pigment-free monkey is very conspicuous in the environment, but his lack of colouration doesn't seem to hamper him as he goes about his day to day business.

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Brown Snake Eagle

Once we leave the park and head out on to the smooth tarmaced main road leading to Arusha, I promptly fall asleep in the car.

Upon reaching town, our first stop is to find an optician as Chris lost one of the little plastic nose protections from his glasses on the flight.

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We continue to one of the newer supermarkets, but David is disappointed to find that they don't stock his favourite South African cider, Savanna. Malisa comes to the rescue yet again and takes him to a local bar to get his supplies.

A1 Hotel and Resort

By the time we arrive at our hotel for the night (where we briefly meet up with Tillya, the owner of Calabash Adventures), we have been travelling for some 31 or so hours, and in our rush and tiredness we forget to bring the duty free alcohol in from the car. As do Lyn and Chris. Room service to the rescue and once we've had a much longed-for shower, we enjoy a couple of drinks and some snacks in our rather large but sparsely furnished room before going for dinner.

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Reception

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Lobby

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Our 'living room' with the bedroom behind

Although we did see another chap checking in to the hotel at the same time as we did, we are the only people at dinner tonight, which means they wanted us to pre-order our food as soon as we arrived. We all have chicken in a rich mushroom sauce which is absolutely delicious.

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After a quick glass of Amarula in the room, we are all safely tucked into bed by 21:00, after a gentle, but good, start to our 2018 safari.

Our thanks go to Calabash Adventures who yet again have done us proud when arranging our safari in Tanzania

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Posted by Grete Howard 08:41 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals monkeys mountain airport bird africa safari tanzania zebra birding crater buffalo watching baboons kilimanjaro heron egret stork ibis flycatcher bushbuck warthog jacana calabash_adventures best_safari_company cape_buffalo guineafowl bee_eater mount_meru sykes_monkey black_and_white_colobus_monkey ngordoto Comments (3)

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