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Serengeti IV: hyena chase, 3 old lions, leopard, mongooses

It pays to be out early


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

Sunrise

We are greeted by a somewhat unusual and intriguing sunrise this morning, with crepuscular rays appearing to radiate from the glow of the sun on the horizon. Very dramatic.

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The chase

Our 'breakfast' this morning (Malisa's expression for the first animal / bird we see of the day) is a pack of hyenas chasing a herd of impala.

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We take off in hot pursuit.

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The hyena is no match for the super-quick antelopes, and they all get to live another day.

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The hyenas wander off in search of something else for breakfast.

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The sun is just making an appearance over the horizon, colouring the sky with a promise of a beautiful day.

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Lions

In the distance we see three lions, they are brothers, aged around ten years, which is considered old as far as lions go (they generally live for 12-15 years in the wild).

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One by one they wake up, making the most of the early morning sunlight.

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Shaking the sleep away

Strolling along the road, they walk straight past our car, one after the other.


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He's looking up at David as he passes. "Is that a Sony camcorder you are using?"

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Marking his territory

Looking bedraggled and grumpy, his fur still damp from the morning dew; the second lion doesn't look to amused to be confronted by the paparazzi just after waking up.

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I'd say he's got more problems than a few eager photographers: just look at his left eye!

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He too marks his territory in the same place as his brother.

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The last one to walk past us looks a much healthier specimen.

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They leave the road and soon disappear into the long grass.

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We move on to “see what else nature has to offer us today”.

Red Necked Spurfowl

He is trying his very best to impress her, but she is having none of it!

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Leopard

He may be far, far away, but this is the fifth leopard we have seen in three days. Quite unbelievable.

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I can't even make out what it is with the naked eye, but using my 600mm with a 1.4x extender on a crop factor camera (making it an effective focal lens of 1344mm) and cropping in Photoshop, I can definitely see it's a leopard!

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The distance is making photography unsatisfactory as the atmospheric distortion creates soft images; so we don't hang around for very long.

Last night we were chatting with the Swedish couple during dinner, and they were not leaving the camp until eight this morning. It is now coming up for eight o'clock, and we've already seen a pack of hyenas chase a herd of impala, had three lions walk right by our car, and seen a leopard in the tree. I cannot understand people who come on safari and don't take advantage of the first couple of hours of daylight, which is when the animals are usually most active.

A lone Cape Buffalo

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The buffalo comes complete with passengers: Red Billed Oxpeckers.

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Banded Mongoose

A band of curious little mongooses check out the parking area near a picnic site.

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Inspecting the suspension of another safari vehicle

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Peek-a-boo!

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"I want THAT blade of grass!"

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Nearby a Dwarf Mongoose is sunning himself on a rock.

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

It's time for us to go and have our picnic box in a designated area, and for me to finish this blog entry. Stay tuned.

Thank you Calabash for another exciting morning on safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:32 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife sunrise africa safari tanzania birding buffalo lions serengeti leopard hyena impala mongoose bird_watching calabash_adventures banded_mongoose spurfowl dwarf_mongoose helmetshrike wildlife_photography matawi matawi_serengeti_camp matawi_camp oxpecker matawi_serengeti hyena_chase three_old_lions old_lions male_lions marking_his_territory Comments (6)

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

What an amazing afternoon!


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

Serengeti Visitors Centre

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

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

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Grey Headed Social Weaver

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Rock Hyrax

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Hildebrand Starling

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Mwanza Flat Headed Rock Agama

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

Warthog

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He looks like he is smiling

Impala

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

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

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Pond Life

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

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Grey Heron

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

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

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Spur Wing Plover

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Marabou Stork

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"Look into my eyes..."

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Another Grey Heron

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Three Banded Plover

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

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

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Black Crake

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Marabou Stork

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Nile Crocodile

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Blacksmith Plover

Olive Baboons

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

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

Banded Mongoose

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A young giraffe

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

Dik Dik

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

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Lion Cub

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

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

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Maybe she went this way?

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Maybe not...

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

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

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

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Rain Storm

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

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Followed by a rainbow.

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Nile Crocodile

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

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African Hoopoe

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

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Two Banded Courser

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Nubian Woodpecker

Giraffe

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

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

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Augur Buzzard spreading his wings to dry after the rain

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Fischer's Lovebird

Leopard

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

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This guy is posing beautifully for us.

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

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He is soon on the move.

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

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

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There he is! He's coming down!

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

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

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

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

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Could we be lucky?

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There he goes, between the cars!

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

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

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

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

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Looks like rain in the distance

Sunburn

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

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Insect Bites

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

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Dinner

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

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

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

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Peach cobbler to finish

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

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

Serengeti Part II - Cheetah and Leopard

The ethical conundrum of visiting, conservation versus interference


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

Tumbili Picnic Site

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

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Von der Decken's Hornbill

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

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

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

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Cheetah

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

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

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It looks like she might be going for it.

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Nope, just having a stretch.

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

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The cub follows.

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For a while they stroll through the long grass together.

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

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Mum climbs atop another rock and they are soon reunited.

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

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

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Where mother goes, son follows.

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She's off again.

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And so is the youngster.

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

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

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

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And the cub follows.

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Junior has spotted something. Is it suitable for lunch?

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

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Olive baboons

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

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

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Time to move on.

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Three Banded Plover

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Pin Tailed Whydah

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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Silverbird

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Striated Heron

Road Repairs

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

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Steel Blue Whydah

Leopard

Would you believe we see another leopard in a tree?

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

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

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

Giraffe

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

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Malisa estimates that this youngster is less than three months old

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

Thank you Calabash Adventures for another amazing safari.

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

Serengeti Part I - Lions and Leopards

Lions on a rock, leopard in a tree


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

Every morning Malisa starts the day with “Let's go and see what nature has to offer us today”.

Yes, let's.

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It looks like it could be a nice day.

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Another daily ritual on safari is naming our 'breakfast' – ie. the first animal we see of the day. Today it is a Black Backed Jackal.

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk

Lion

Fast asleep under a tree, all we can see of the cat is his stomach covered in flies.

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He has been feasting on a nearby buffalo kill, and a putrid smell still hangs in the air.

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In the trees vultures wait for their turn to finish off what little is left of the buffalo.

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In the distance, a hyena sniffs the air as he heads for the carcass.

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The road is like a quagmire; any more rain we are going to need a boat!

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Of course, a lion sighting attracts a huge crowd, which certainly doesn't help.

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More and more people are arriving.

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We leave them to it and carry on to “see what else nature has to offer us”.

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Black Breasted Snake Eagle

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Grey Backed Fiscal Shrike

They seem to be everywhere!

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Fork Tailed Drongo

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Close-up using Big Bertha (my 600mm lens + 1.4 converter + 1.6 cropped body = 1344mm)

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Fischer's Lovebirds

A whole tree full of them!

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That's a whole lotta loving

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Rock Hyrax

Lions

Two lions on top of a rock, not doing much.

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They both fidget a little, and occasionally put their heads up, but never at the same time.

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We move along a little to try and get a better view of them.

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We notice one of the females is collared for tracking purposes, but we still can't see them properly, so we move on.

Leopard

Another traffic jam very close by indicates that there is something else about, and Malisa hears on the radio that there is a leopard in a tree.

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I have no idea what this guy is doing, but I have to admit that I would not be walking about like that knowing that there is a leopard in the vicinity.

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As some of the other vehicles move off, we can get nearer to be able to see the big pussy cat.

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When I say “a bit nearer”, this guy is still quite some distance away, but with my long telephoto lenses I can manage to get some semi-decent images. As with most other places, there is some considerable atmospheric distortions when photographing close-ups of objects that far away.

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She is most definitely not settled on that branch and keeps moving around.

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It looks like she is going to jump down from the tree!

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Not so much 'jump' as gingerly making her way down the trunk like a scared y-cat!

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She's gone, lost in the long grass. We head back to the lions for another look.

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Time for our breakfast, and as we make our way to the picnic site, we stop for a couple of little birds.

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Willow Warbler

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Stout Cisticola - another lifer.

And some giraffes.

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Thank you Calabash Adventures for making this safari happen.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:31 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife africa safari tanzania eagle birding lion giraffe flooding leopard weaver shrike hyrax jackal drongo bird_watching african_safari calabash_adventures rock_hyrax snake_eagle safari_in_africa cisticola goshawk wildlife_photography fiscal_shrike quagmire lovebirds leopard_in_a_tree warbler Comments (2)

Lake Manyara: Tree Climbing Lion, Leopard -Treetop Walkway

Some great sightings in a park without high expectations


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

Breakfast Picnic, Lake Manyara National Park

We find ourselves at a large picnic site overlooking the valley below, with several picnic tables dotted about, and thankfully no other tourists.

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Last night the chef asked us what we wanted for our packed breakfast for today, and he suggested that we might like some croissants with bacon. It didn't expect three of them, plus boiled eggs and bacon, two yogurts and three bananas. We are certainly not going to starve on this trip. The croissants are, as you'd expect from an establishment such as the Kilimamoja Lodge, freshly made this morning, and were still warm when Malisa collected the boxes at 6am.

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We are joined by an army of ants.

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Later three cars with American tourists turn up. They are not the least bit interested in the view or other surroundings, they all want to see, feel, lift and have their photos taken with Big Bertha (my 600mm f/4 lens). It's a bit like having a puppy that everyone wants to stroke – she is certainly a talking point and a way of meeting people.

I use Bertha hand held to take this picture of elephants in the river way, way below us. With the 1.4x converter and the 7DII body, it makes an effective focal length of 1344mm. Bertha is really a bit too heavy to hand hold, so I used a 1/4000 second exposure, resulting in an ISO of 1000. Unfortunately the 7DII doesn't fare well with high ISO and the image is rather grainy as a result.

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Detour

Not even Malisa and his super-skilled driving can manage to get us across this ravine where the road has been washed away as a result of recent heavy rain.

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We, and the three cars behind us, have a bit of a job trying to reverse back to a place suitable for turning.

Tree-Climbing Lions

Lake Manyara National Park is supposedly famous for its tree-climbing lions. On neither of our two previous visits to the park did we see a lion, let alone one aloft any branches. Malisa hears on the radio that one has been spotted not far away, so sets off in hot pursuit.

We are not alone, and initially we can't get anywhere near the cats!

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With a bit of skilful manoeuvring, however, and the goodwill of others drivers, we do eventually get to see one of the famous tree-lions of Manyara!

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Under the tree we pick out two more. No, three. Actually, there are FOUR!

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She doesn't look comfortable in her tree, and fidgets a lot, trying out different positions.

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Neither are we. The pesky tsetse flies are irksome to say the least, and I feel like I am being eaten alive.

Leopard

So, do we hang around here, hoping the lioness will jump down, or do we follow the news on the radio that there is a leopard in a tree too? We opt for the latter.

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She is some distance away from the road (and my camera), and very well hidden in amongst the tree branches, making it very hard to focus. She too is unsettled.

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Not long after we arrive, she starts to make her way down from the tree. We are very lucky to have got here just in time. She didn't hang around for me to get a clear photo of her.

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Blue Monkey

On our way out of the park, we spot the Blue Monkey, a species that we have seen rarely on our previous safaris.

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Treetop Walkway

A new treetop walkway has opened up, just a five-minute drive from the main gate, and we stop there on our way.

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First we take a short walk through the woods, and our guide explain a few things along the way.

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Mahogany Pod

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So this is what the baboons were picking up from the floor and eating earlier.

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Golden Orb Spider; a common insect in the forest

A gentle slope leads up to the first of ten platforms, and the start of the hanging rope bridges.

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I start off nonchalantly, almost cocky, on the first bridge. Until it starts to sway. Considerably! Fear grips my like an iron glove and I feel myself starting to panic. Concentrating on breathing heavily, I stop and let the bridge settle down before continuing, this time much more gingerly and much less confidently.

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I made it! Still shaking, only eight more bridges to go.

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Even Malisa wavers a little at the swaying. To be fair, he is carrying my big camera in one hand, David's video camera in the other and his own over his shoulder.


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It is the first treetop walkway in Tanzania and with a total of 370 metre,s one of the longest in Africa!

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There are nine bridges and ten platforms.

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By the time I get to the end of bridge number four, I have regained my confidence, and am beginning to enjoy it.

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Having been on several of these in the past, I have no expectations of seeing any animals or even birds from it; I am just here to 'enjoy' the experience. I am therefore very surprised to see a couple of Blue Monkeys.

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Look at the length of that tail!

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The walkway’s highest point is 18 metres above the ground.

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It's all downhill from now on.

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Just a short walk through the woods back to the car and we'll be on our way for the third part of today's adventures. Stay tuned!

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Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging all this for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:12 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife elephants breakfast africa safari spider birding picnic lions flooding ants manyara leopard fear blue_monkey detour bird_watching panic lake_manyara big_bertha calabash_adventures tse_tse_flies big_cats breakfast_picnic ravine breakfast_box wildlife_photography picnic_site kilimamoja_lodge canon_600mm american_tourists tree_climbing_lions treetop_walkway canopy_walkway hanging_bridges rope_bridges manyara_treetops_walkway mahogany_pod Comments (2)

Serengeti Day 4 Part 3 to Lobo Lodge - leopard

Leaving the best until last


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

Impala

This common antelope is affectionately known as McDonalds because of the black M marking on its rump.

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The black spots seen on the back of its hind legs are glands that emits a scent when the impala lands after a jump, thus marking its territory in the process. Isn't nature clever?

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Martial eagle

Boma Pride

These are the cubs we saw last year, all grown up now.

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Fourteen lions in total are spread around this area, some near to the road, others much further away.

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Nile Crocodile

Unusually, we have seen a number of crocodiles on this trip, and not just sunning themselves on a bank, they have actually been doing things.

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Other Animals at the Waterhole

With this elephant heading towards the water, Malisa positions the car so that we can get a better view.

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Constantly on the lookout for predators, a lone zebra nervously edges his way down to the pond.

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He is still easily spooked though.

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Spotted Hyena

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It's a hard life being a hyena.

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Eland

I'm not sure whether it is a coincidence or not, but previously we have generally only seen elands in any numbers the further north we go. Today is no exception - we are currently heading away from the central part of the park and towards the north-east area of Lobo.

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Eland are the largest antelope in the Serengeti, and you can see just how large they are compared with the Thomson's Gazelles in this picture.

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Orangi River

Traversing the Serengeti from north west to south east, the Orangi River is a huge draw for animals, especially now in the dry season when there is very little surface water in the park.

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Cape Buffalo coming down to drink

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A young Crocodile in a small pool created by the low water level

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Hippo

Cape Buffalo

The thick forest hides a huge herd – or obstinacy – of buffalo. The downside of the combination of trees and buffalo is that it also attracts tse tse flies. They are pesky little things, and although Avon Skin So Soft does help to keep them away, I still get bitten a few times. It hurts when they get you and stings like hell after.

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Southern Ground Hornbill

A large bird, usually found feeding on the ground as the name suggests.

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He is looking all around this tree trunk for termites.

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Eland

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Normally these large antelopes are very shy and timid – their meat is delicious and they are slower moving due to their size, making them a favourite prey of hunters and poachers. This guy, however, seems to be as curious about us as we are about him.

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After giving us a cursory glance, he just carries on eating.

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Mbuzi Mawe

We pass the lovely lodge we stayed at a couple of years ago when we last came with Lyn and Chris.

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Pallid Flycatcher

Togoro Plains

Always a good place to see a range of animals, Togoro is no different today:

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Elephants

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Zebra

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Female Steenbok

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Lobo

As time is getting on now, and we still have quite some way to go to reach our overnight lodge, we make our way towards Lobo where we are to spend the night. This part of Tanzania is new territory for us, we previously just briefly skirted past Lobo in 2014 on our way to Kogatende.

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We see very little traffic on these tracks, but one vehicle travelling in the opposite direction stops and the driver has a very animated conversation with Malisa In Swahili. While I do not understand most of what is said, I get the gist that there is an exciting sighting ahead. Malisa drives on with increased purpose.

Suddenly he stops the vehicle. It is not easy to spot at first, but then we see it: a leopard in a tree.

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She is restlessly moving from branch to branch and turning to look in every direction.

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As we can hear some laughing hyenas in the distance, Malisa surmises that they stole her kill. I guess that is why they are laughing.

For a brief moment in time – less than one minute - the low sun comes out, bathing the tree and cat in a beautiful golden light; before disappearing below the horizon for another day.

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We really should be hitting the road to reach the lodge before dark, but Malisa is convinced that the leopard will leave the confines of the tree and head off to do some hunting now that the sun has gone down.

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"Are you waiting for me?"

She fidgets. A lot. Yawns, stretches and moves.

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Has she seen something?

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We get ready with our cameras, just in case. And yes, Malisa is right. She makes her way along the branch to the centre of the tree, and not so much 'jumps' as 'runs' down the trunk and disappears behind it.

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Slowly, stopping regularly to look around, she makes her way across the grassy plains.

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She walks right past us, then sits down close to the car.

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Finally she joins the dirt track behind us, sashaying along, looking here, then there, sniffing the air and taking a rest.

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Now what has she spotted?

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Nothing exciting apparently. She continues on her way, crosses the road and lays down in the ditch rolling around like a kitten.

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Lobo Wildlife Lodge

Finally we tear ourselves away from this most amazing leopard sighting. We are late now, of course, and by the time we reach the lodge, it is pitch black. The approach is interesting, driving through a narrow, natural cutting between two towering rocks alive with vervet monkeys, olive baboons and rock hyraxes. The uninviting large metal gate is unlocked by a reluctant guard, revealing an open courtyard surrounded by a reasonably well lit two-storey building. The accommodation is much larger than we are used to, with 74 rooms.

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A warm welcome awaits us in the cosy natural stone and wood-pannelled reception, with a serious concern for our well-being when we didn't arrive at the expected time (ie before dark).

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The lodge is reminiscent of an old fashioned ski cabin, with the basic rooms leading off outside walkways and every surface covered in dark wood: floor, walls, ceiling and furniture. The bath is interesting with a huge step into the tub. The floor creaks ominously. Lyn and Chris are particularly unimpressed with their accommodation and ask to be moved, but find that the second room is no better than the first.

When our luggage fails to arrive, we go to check out what is going on. The lock on the back door of the car is stuck and has drawn quite a crowd of helpers. Eventually Malisa manages to break it open and we can get to our change of clothes. Broken locks seem to be a theme of this trip.

In the restaurant we encounter the other guests, consisting of a large group of American birders, but the lodge is far from full. As is to be expected from such a large hotel, dinner is buffet style. Not feeling particularly hungry, nor a fan of buffets, I just have a bowl full of lentils for dinner. They are delicious. Since we left Central Serengeti we have not had any phone signal, but they do have wifi in the restaurant here, which means I can at least send an message to my dad and catch up on my emails.

Back in the room, the bed is very hard and before I even have a chance to fall asleep my back is hurting badly. This does not bode well. At this point I would like to mention that Lobo Wildlife Lodge was not our choice of accommodation, but the nearby mobile tented camp that we were initially booked to stay in, more than lived up to its name and moved on to a different location a couple of weeks ago. In this area it is Hobson's Choice when it comes to accommodation, with this being the only one, at least within our price range. Tillya was extremely apologetic when he told us, and offered us the option of staying here or changing the itinerary to spend time elsewhere. While I obviously have a preference when it comes to the style of accommodation, such a short amount of time spent in the lodge (especially this evening) means the accommodation it is of very low importance to me – exploring somewhere new takes preference.

As always, we thank Calabash African Adventures for all the work they do to ensure we have a fantastic time on every safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:06 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds elephant river africa safari tanzania crocodile zebra eagle birding buffalo lions serengeti leopard hyena lobo impala waterhole bird_watching hornbill eland termites calabash_adventures mbuzi_mawe cape_buffalo martial_eagle southern_ground_hornbill steenbok orangi_river togoro_plains lobo_wildlife_lodge Comments (2)

Serengeti Day 3 Part 2 - Infrared, leopard in a tree

We finally 'bag' the BIG FIVE


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

Mawe Meupe Picnic Site

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As we are getting the food out of the car and start setting the table, I ask Malisa what all those cars are gathered around at the bottom of the hill.

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“Oh it's a lion” he says nonchalantly. Really? And we are getting out of the car and sitting at a picnic table? And even worse, actually walking down to the toilets, which are even nearer to the lions? Yeah, right.

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And he's coming this way....

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We also see more lions in the distance, under a tree. Malisa assures us it is perfectly safe, to have our picnic here, so we've got to trust him. We are not alone by any stretch of the imagination, so maybe it is safety in numbers.

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Mawe Meupe is one of the more commercialised picnic sites in Serengeti, with a decent toilet block and a food truck selling snacks and drinks. As we are running low on Diet Coke to go with the Duty Free rum, we saunter over to take a look at what they are selling.

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Expecting there to be full-fat Coke and Fanta only, imagine our surprise when we discover they not only have cold Diet Coke; but there is also Savanna Cider for sale, much to David's delight. Result!

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This is just too surreal at a picnic site in the wilds of Africa.

The birdlife on this site is usually very good, although there are fewer birds here today than we've seen on previous visits.

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Superb Starling

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Silverbird

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

Infrared

As a bit of an afterthought at the last minute (encouraged by David), I packed my Infrared Camera for this trip, not really expecting to use it very much. I was wrong. I have been having a lot of fun, although it has also been a very steep learning curve, both in the field when photographing, and during the post processing afterwards. Here is a small selection of the images I have taken so far:

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Lions

Moving on, we go and see the lions we spotted from the picnic site. One female is resting in the shade of a tree, her belly replete from a recent feast.

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This is where we were a few minutes ago, as seen from the lions' perspective.

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Under another tree lies the male with the leftovers of breakfast. Most likely the females did the kill and the male came along and just took it from them. Charming.

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Two more females can be seen under another tree.

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If you look very closely, you can see a large male lion hiding inside this bush. OK, so this is perhaps not our best lion sighting...

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I am not even sure this Coqui Francolin has spotted the lion hiding in the thicket right behind him.

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Yellow Throated Longclaw

This, however, is an excellent sighting: a lifer and a colourful one at that.

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Thomson's Gazelles

A herd of Tommies are heading directly for the lions.

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A few tense moments for the safari-goers before some tense moments for the antelopes as they discover the predators and make a run for it.

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Green Grass

In the distance we see fresh, green grass, which is unusual for this time of year. We are now right at the end of the dry season, which means after months of no rain, the vegetation mostly consists of dead, brown straws, made even more dull by a covering of dust. This bit of fresh pasture is the result of deliberate burning to encourage new growth.

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Topi with a bad leg

Walking with a limp renders this antelope an easy prey for any of the cats or even a hyena. He's just waiting to be lunch.

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Kori Bustard

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White Bellied Bustard

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Spotted Hyenas

We spook a cackle of hyenas resting in a bush close to the road.

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After the initial alarm, they hang around for a bit.

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Hyenas are born black, and develop their tell-tale spots at around two weeks old. The darker the spots, the younger the pups.

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Warthogs

Lazing under a tree in the midday sun. Only mad dogs and Englishmen and all that...

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Thomson's Gazelles

Although not part of the Great Migration as such, these Tommy do follow the rain in a similar manner.

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Leopard

A substantial collection of vehicles ahead indicates there must be something of some great importance around. Everyone is looking at a tree, and Malisa assures me there is a leopard in there. Really? I point Big Bertha at the place where the leopard is said to be, but it is challenging to make it out, even with my 600mm lens.

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Oh, wait, I think I can spot some rosettes in amongst the foliage when I zoom in.

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Malisa moves the car a bit to get a better view.

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So does the leopard, apparently spooked higher and higher into the tree by the vehicles below. This is the ugly face of safari tourism in Africa.

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Wishing some of the other tourists would show some consideration for the wildlife by at least keeping noise to a minimum; we let the leopard be and move on to have our lunch picnic.

I am very grateful that Calabash Adventures's excellent ethics are shown through all the veneers of the company, from the owner to the drivers: RESPECT NATURE. This is one of the many reasons we choose Calabash again and again for our safaris in Tanzania.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:13 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife breakfast africa safari tanzania picnic antelope lions ethics serengeti leopard hyena gazelle topi warthog kori_bustard bird_watching infrared bustard ir birdlife picnic_breakfast superb_starling infrared_photography game_viewing packed_breakfast silverbird thomson's_gazelle mawe_meupe game_drivecalabash_adventures savanna_cider white_headed_buffalo_weaver yellow_throated_longclaw longclaw white_bellied_bustard cackle_of_hyenas respect_wildlife Comments (1)

Serengeti Day I Part III - Birds, Mongoose, Topi & Warthogs

A day cut short


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

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.

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We either sit down to view and photograph the animals...

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... or stand up for a 360° view of the savannah around us.

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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....

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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.

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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.

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The hippo aren't much better – all we can see is the top of their backs. We can certainly smell them though!

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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.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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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.

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Ashy Starling

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Superb Starling

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!

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Our path is blocked by a giraffe as we leave the picnic site to continue our afternoon game viewing.

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A group of banded mongoose is called a band of mongoose of course.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A very pale baby giraffe with his mummy - they get darker as they age.

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Look at that hairstyle!

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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!

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Dik diks are monogamous, so you will almost always see them in pairs (or three, with their single offspring).

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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.

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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.

With thanks to Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:47 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds travel africa safari tanzania crocodile birding picnic lion giraffe experience hippo serengeti leopard waterbuck topi starling mongoose warthog courser bird_watching calabash_adventures dik_dik lion-roaring Comments (4)

Naabi Hill - Kubu Kubu

The BIG FIVE are in the bag!


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

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So called because they were the five most dangerous (and desired) animals for hunters to capture. These days of course 'hunters' are replaced by 'photographers'.

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At the entrance gate to the Serengeti National Park, we take our lunch picnic overlooking a small bird bath for entertainment.

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Superb starling partaking in their daily ablutions

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Laughing Dove

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Speckled Pigeon

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Ashy Starling

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Superb Starling

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Superb Starling having a wardrobe malfunction.

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Red Billed Buffalo Weaver

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Hildebrand Starling

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Wattled Starling

With all those breadcrumbs flying around, it is not just birds who are attracted to this picnic area.

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Field mouse?

We also watch a small herd of elephants walk past. As you do.

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Having failed miserably to get his beloved Savannah Cider in Arusha, David is delighted to find that the small grocery store at Naabi Hill sells it.

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The UNESCO Heritage ecosystem of Serengeti is one of the oldest and most diverse in the world, and has barely changed in the past million years or so.

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It is, however, the annual migration that the Serengeti is most famous for, consisting of over a million wildebeest and some 200,000 zebra making their way from the north to south and back to the north continuously every year following the rain in search of greener pastures.

Below is a map of the Serengeti showing approximately where the migration usually is during the month of May. This morning we left Lake Masek Tented Camp at the bottom right of the map and later we entered the park through Naabi Hill Gate. We are heading for the Seronera area tonight.

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Soon after we enter the park, we encounter a few thousand of the migrating animals. It is hard to get my head around the fact that all those little dots in the distance are animals

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Serengeti has to be one of my favourite places in the world, but today I seem to be sleeping my way through the wilderness. I guess those antibiotics must be working. I feel totally knocked out. Fortunately David and Malisa do wake me up when they see something of interest.

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Such as this leopard with her kill in a tree, resting on a branch right above the road.

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There are already a few cars at the scene – we have been so spoilt in Ndutu by mostly being completely on our own at animal sightings, that having company takes a bit of getting used to.

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Malisa points out the bad form by this driver – he has a full vehicle, yet he positions himself face on to the sighting, which means his passengers (seated in three rows) have to try and dodge each other to be able to photograph the leopard.

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Looking around at the other cars, we seem to be the only ones that are not taking selfies with the leopard. It's not just youngsters either, it seems 'everyone' is doing it, even people our age. I just don't get it....

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Our leopard is most definitely not comfortable, and keeps fidgeting and moving to a different position.

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Feeling sure she is going to jump down from the tree and head off for a drink shortly, we stand around in the vehicle, waiting, waiting, waiting, while all the leopard does is shuffle around some more. I am feeling rather fatigued by it all, but I don't want to miss any action by sitting down.

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Malisa believes that if the leopard yawns three times in a quick succession, it is an indication she will leave the tree and go for a drink.

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One.... two...

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Three.... four....

Bang goes that theory.

Or does it? Maybe she was particularly tired and just wanted an extra yawn today? We all get very excited when she stands up.

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Excitement over. It seems she is just hungry.

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She then proceeds to pull off the tuft on the baby wildebeest's tail with her teeth, getting quite distressed when she gets a mouthful of hair, trying desperately to spit it out.

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Obviously feeling hungry - again - from all that effort required to de-tail the wildebeest, she tucks into some juicy leg meat.

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Right! She has finished eating, maybe she will now go for a drink?

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Apparently not, although we hope she may just move the kill to a better and safer position, then jump down to look for a drink.

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Ooops! Almost dropped it!

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With some serious effort, she manages to haul her trophy back onto the branch again.

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She puts her dinner back in the fork of the tree where it was before. Well, that was really worth the effort wasn't it?

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Determined to find a better place to store the kill (to safeguard it while she leaves the tree for a drink hopefully), she has another go at moving it.

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Sigh. She has another feed. Doesn't look like she is going anywhere for a while.

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Suddenly her ears prick up and she sits bolt upright looking to our right. With eyesight and hearing five times as good as humans, our leopard has sensed something in the long grass.

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She goes off on another branch to investigate.

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It takes a couple of minutes before us humans can make out what she is looking at: a hyena.

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Being able to smell the much coveted fresh kill, the hyena makes his way towards the tree.

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Under the watchful eye of the leopard at all times of course.

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The hyena finds a few small morsels of meat that dropped onto the ground when the leopard moved the prey earlier.

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The light is fading fast (it was never very good for this whole encounter to be fair, it is just as well my Canon EOS 5D IV performs so well under low light / high ISO), and it is getting very late, so we have to leave the leopard and hyena to make our way to our lodge for the night.

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Despite the fact that she never actually did leave the tree while we were here, it is still the best leopard sighting we have ever had in Tanzania (or anywhere else for that matter, we've been lucky enough to see them in Kenya, South Africa, Sri Lanka and India as well), so it is two very happy campers who drive away into the sunset.

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I offer no apologies for the number of sunset pictures I have included in this blog.

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Before we left home, Tillya told us he had a surprise for us for our wedding anniversary, and this evening's accommodation is it.

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Spectacularly situated on the slope of an escarpment, we can see the lodge from a distance as we approach.

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We arrive at the lodge and are helped with our luggage by the local porters. One of them promptly grabs my camera and proceeds to take several photos.

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As I try to get it off him again, he is full of apologies, but all I want is to change the settings on the camera so the pictures won't be so grainy (It is pretty dark by now). Then I give it back for him to play with again.

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At first glance the lodge looks very much like so many other tented camps in Tanzania, but this one is rather special.

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We are shown down into the main building which houses the reception, bar and restaurant, plus a large open atrium in the middle. Outside is a lovely wooden deck with far-reaching views of the Serengeti plains and a swimming pool on a lower level.

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Our room – named Swala, which means gazelle in Swahili – is about half way down the path. In all the hotels I have been trying to ask for a room as close to the reception as possible, as I am still feeling pretty awful and struggle to breathe, making walking a real effort, especially uphill.

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Our tent is beautifully furnished, with a large four poster bed, a seating area, a writing desk, a water cooler / heater and an outside terrace on stilts with a table and chairs.

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A large dressing area leads to the separate toilet and outside shower room – which has amazing views.

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Views from the outdoor shower

Hot water is plentiful, heated by large solar panels during the day.

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After a refreshing shower, we go for dinner – the best meal so far on this trip, with a BBQ chef cooking steaks to our liking and other dishes (lamb, chicken, okra curry, crispy spinach and macaroni) brought to our table. If ever proof was needed that I am quite ill, it is this: I didn't take any photos of our dinner!

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Making our way slowly back to our room accompanied by an askari (Maasai guard), we see the eyes of three hyenas in the long grass on the slope between the tents. As we walk along, so do they, constantly following us with their eyes. Although hyenas are not generally known for attacking people, I still find it a little disconcerting and I am pleased when we make it to the safety of our room.

This blog was made possible thanks to Calabash Adventures – the best safari operator by far!

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:50 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds adventure africa safari tanzania birding serengeti leopard hyena bird_watching african_safari tented_camp calabash_adventures naabi_hill seronera african_bush kubu_kubu kubu_kubu_tented_camp Comments (6)

Serengeti Part II

Finally! The BIG FIVE!


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

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As we arrive at our lunch stop, a memory of 29 elephants wander past in the distance. As they do.

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We are the only humans here and have a choice of tables – we pick a couple in the shade.

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What a delightful picnic area – there are so many birds here I am too busy photographing to eat!

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Superb Starling

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Silverbird

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Grey Headed Sparrow

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Rufous Tailed Weaver

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Magpie Shrike

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Superb Starling

White Headed Buffalo Weavers

A family of White Headed Buffalo Weavers amuses me for quite some time with their antics.

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Giraffe

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.

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With full bellies we continue our afternoon game drive.

Leopard

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.

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On closer inspection, we can see that she is trying to pull the fur off some skin, most likely from a baby wildebeest.

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On a branch the other side of the tree is her cub, a one-year old male, fast asleep.

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Mum is making sure nothing is wasted, pulling and tugging at the hide.

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When nothing edible is left, she takes the skin off to a hiding place for safekeeping.

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Making her way down the tree, she calls out to her son, then jumps down to the ground.

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The cub wakes up and follows his mum down into the long grass where they disappear from our view.

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How exciting! Being nocturnal hunters and solitary animals, leopards are the most difficult of the cats to see on safari.

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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!

Olive Baboons

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More Elephants

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And a couple of giraffes

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Vultures

Spotting a tree full of vultures, my first thought is “what’s died?”

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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.

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Hippo

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.

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This guy cannot stop yawning – he is obviously dazed and confused. Maybe he just flew in from Europe and is jet-lagged?

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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.

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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.

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Brown Snake Eagle

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‘White’ Giraffe

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.

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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.

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More Hippos

We see more hippos as we cross the river again making our way back to camp.

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Kimasi Kopje

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The sun is getting low now, painting the sky with yellows, pinks and purples.

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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.

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Mbuzi Mawe

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!

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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.

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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.

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That's magic!

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Starter of garlic salami, Waldorf salad and balsamic reduction.

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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.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:13 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys restaurant travel views hotel elephants adventure roads scenery holiday africa tanzania lodge lunch birding tourists giraffe hippo baboons roadtrip serengeti leopard heron memory gourmet glamping impala good_food spicy stunning bird_watching sundowners game_drive tented_camp road-trip african_food canon_eos_5d_iii calabash calabash_adventures the_best_safari_operators which_safari_company best_safari_company vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys mbuzi_mawe serena_hotels central_serengeti kopje retima_hippo_pool leucism Comments (1)

Samburu

Animals and people of the Samburu region

sunny 35 °C
View The Journey to the Jade Sea - Northern Kenya 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Day two of our private Journey to the Jade Sea with Undiscovered Destinations

Having taken our weekly dose of Lariam yesterday (malaria prophylaxis), I had a number of horrible dreams in the night. At one stage I woke up screaming for David to release me from a fishing net which was dragged me under water and I was convinced I was drowning. In reality my foot was tangled up in the mosquito net. Panic over, but after being mostly awake through yet another night (I've only had around six hours sleep in total over the last three nights), I am feeling a little weary this morning when the alarm goes off at 05:30.

We are greeted by the sun gently creating a warm glow reflecting in the river as we go for a coffee before an early game drive. The air is already warm and the sun is not yet above the horizon.

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I ask the askari (tribal security guard) about the noise I heard in the night which sounded like a cat. “That is a cat” he replies with a wry grin. There was I hoping for some exotic animal. Oh well.

Setting off on a game drive before the day has completely broken, we head straight to the place where we saw the dead donkey last night – the kill has been moved, but there is still no sign of the predator. We also return to the spot we supposedly saw a leopard yesterday, but still nothing.

Beisa Oryx
The third of our Samburu Special Five appears this morning - the East African oryx, also known as the beisa, a species of antelope similar to the gemsbok, which lives in this arid semi-desert area. One of the more unusual attributes of the beisa is its ability to store water by raising its body temperatures in order to avoid perspiration.

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In the distance we can see a number of vultures and eagles circling above a bush, and guessing there has been a kill, John heads that way.

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Tawny Eagle

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African White Backed Vulture

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Tawny Eagle

He is right. A young male cheetah saunters out from the undergrowth as we approach, then joins his two brothers in the shade for a bonding session.

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If you look carefully, you can see the blood on the side of his face and forelegs from having just eaten.

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"Let me clean that up for you"

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With the big cats out of the way, the birds of prey feast on the remains of the kill.

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Tawny Eagle

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African White Backed Vulture

We have the cheetahs to ourselves for a good 20 minutes, but after John has radioed the other drivers, up to 25 vehicles turn up, so we leave them to it and move on in search of the next animal encounter.

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Vulturine Guineafowl

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Vulturine Guineafowl

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Warthogs

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Warthogs

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We startle a hare

Somali Ostrich
The Somali ostrich is native to south-eastern Ethiopia, across most of Somalia, Djibouti and northern Kenya. Though generally similar to other ostriches, the skin of the neck and thighs of the Somali ostrich is grey-blue (rather than pinkish), becoming bright blue on the male during the mating season. The neck lacks a typical broad white ring, and the tail feathers are white.

I am not sure I could tell the difference without seeing them side by side, so I take the experts' word for it.

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Somali Ostrich - number four of the Samburu Special Five

Another congregation of safari vehicles draws us to the side of an escarpment. Facing into the sun, with the hillside being in the shade and a lot of dust hanging in the air, it is hard to pick anything out. For a while I am just looking at stones.

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Then I see it: a leopard! (with thanks to Photoshop for helping to make it a much clearer picture post-processing)

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She jumps up on a rock, then slopes off into the undergrowth.

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For ages all I can see is rock (again), with the occasional movement of a tail behind the shrubs. Then she re-appears – or maybe she was there all along and I just didn't see her.

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As she moves in and out of our sight, I become aware that there is not just one leopard, but TWO.

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After playing with her cub for a while, they both settle down, curled up on the rocky hillside.

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They remain out of sight for quite some time, and we are just starting to drive off when they re-appear and begin to climb up the rock-face.

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We stay and watch them until they have climbed all the way to the top and disappear into the bush once more. What an amazing encounter! This really is the best leopard sighting ever for us! With all the excitement, I offer no apologies for the number of photos of these cute little kitties I have posted here.

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Time for some other animals:

Grévy's Zebra - the last of the Samburu Special Five
Now considered endangered, it is believed that a mere 2,500 specimens of the Grévy's zebra remain in the wild; against some 750,000 of their most widespread zebra cousins, the Plains Zebra.

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Named after Jules Grévy, then president of France, who was given one by the government of Abyssinia in the 1880s, the Grévy inhabits just parts of Northern Kenya with some isolated populations in Ethiopia.

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From Wikipedia

If you thought a zebra was a zebra (or a horse in pyjamas as my friend Lyn calls them), you'd be wrong. The three species (there is a Mountain Zebra as well) are very different: while the Plains and Mountain zebras resemble horses, the Grévy’s zebra is much more like its close relative, the 'wild ass'. Compared with the other zebras, the Grévy is taller and has larger ears. The main difference, however, is in the stripes as shown below:

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(This illustrative poster was seen (and photographed) in the grounds of Marwell Wildlife)

On the subject of stripes – each zebra's pattern is unique, in much the same way our fingerprints are. While zebra stripes are dazzlingly striking to the human eye (and camera – I love photographing zebras!), the big cat predators view the world in black and white only, so those stripes are excellent camouflage in the tall grass!

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So, the eternal question – are zebras white with black stripes or black with white stripes? The answer to this question comes down to perspective. Many zoologists would say that a zebra is white because its stripes end towards the belly and the belly is mostly white. Others would say that a zebra is black because if you shaved all the fur off a zebra the skin is mostly black. Not that I have any intention of shaving a zebra...

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So, we have now managed to see the Samburu Special Five: the Beisa Oryx, the long necked Gerenuk, Reticulated Giraffe, Somali Ostrich and Grévy's Zebra. Result!

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There is much more to Samburu National Reserve than just the Special Five of course.

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Let sleeping lions be

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Impala

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White Browed Sparrow Weaver

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Red Billed Hornbill

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk with kill

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Elephants

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Reichard's Seedeater

Suddenly a grinding noise starts to appear from underneath the car, sounding like sand caught in the brake drums. We stop and John gets out, checking all around the car. There is nothing obvious. What is obvious is that being outside the car while surrounded by wild animals (I can still see the elephants nearby) is risky business. David and I keep a close eye out for any predators.

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I somehow don't think this Lilac Breasted Roller posts any threat to John's safety though.

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David gets in the driver's seat and revs the engine while John listens out for the sound from the back, front, left side, right side, underneath.....

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Not being able to find anything particularly amiss, we continue on our way, keeping an ear out for the disturbing sound, which worryingly appears and disappears intermittently. Not a good sign for the off-the beaten-path thousand-mile-journey ahead.

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I am surprised about the relative small size of the oryx: for some reason I imagined it to be bigger than the zebra, more like the size of an eland.

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Crowned Lapwing

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The tiny Dik Dik

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

Surrounded by birds and animals of the African bush, we stop for a while and enjoy a late breakfast which we brought with us as a picnic box from the lodge.

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Superb Starling

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

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Warthogs

I love the way these guys hold their tails straight up when they run. So cute! That is if you can actually call a warthog cute. I have to admit they have the sort of face only a mother can love.

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White Browed Sparrow Weaver

Dust
The dry season may be good for watching the animals, but it is bad for the dust, which gets into everything: the car, my nose, eyes, mouth, the camera, my clothes, skin, bags... maybe even the drum brakes?

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Gerenuk

I would dearly love to see a gerenuk stretching its long neck and eating from the top of one of these bushes, as they do, but this one doesn't seem to want oblige, however long we hang around.

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Baby Oryx

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

Ethnic Groups

One of the primary focuses of this tour is ethnology, concentrating on the minority groups who live in the north west region of Kenya: learning about their lifestyle, their customs, their culture, their modus vivendi.

The people of Kenya are an eclectic mix, with some 70 or so different tribes, each with its own unique culture. Which ethnic group you belong is still the most important factor in social, work, business and political life. Political parties, for example, are largely based on tribe and less on ideology.

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Samburu

In this region, the main group we encounter is the Samburu, who inhabit a large area in the north of the country. Leaving the national park behind, we head for a small manyatta (village) near Archer's Post. John negotiates a price for us to visit their village, which also includes being able to take photographs. I am particularly interested in that aspect as sneaking covert shots of the locals is a definite no-no in this region, and I have been itching to take pictures of the colourful people I have seen as we have been driving through the villages.

The Samburu, also known as the 'Butterfly Tribe' for the bright colours they adorn themselves with, are enchantingly distinctive and mysteriously remote, having maintained the authenticity of their culture by guarding their ancient customs and traditional existence proudly, largely defying modern trends. Migrating from Sudan in the 15th century and settling in this area, the Samburu were not particularly affected by British colonial rule as the British did not find their land useful or attractive.

We are assigned a guide called Lende, although he says we can call him Simon. Lende speaks good English after having studied at university in Nairobi - paid for by Pontac Productions after he starred in the German movie 'The White Masai' which was set and filmed in this area. However, he didn't like the bright lights of the city, preferring to come back here to Samburu country and live with his family in their manyatta.

The Samburu are semi-nomadic pastoralists who herd mainly cattle but also keep sheep, goats and camels; moving them from one place to another in search of fresh pasture and water. Each time they move, they build temporary huts from tree branches, mud, cow dung and grass in compounds called manyattas, in which they live; keeping their cattle in corrals fenced by thorny branches as can be seen on the right in the picture below.

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The entire compound is surrounded by a barrier made from thorny bushes. The number of entrance gates in this fence denotes the number of married couples who reside within the manyatta: each family have their own gate through which they bring their cattle back each night to keep safe from predators.

When the rainy season comes (it has not rained for four months now), they have bits of plastic which they weave in to the roof over the top of the huts to keep them dry inside. The interior consists of three rooms: a bedroom for the parents and another in which the children sleep; with cow skins used as mattresses. The third room is the kitchen. I really can't imagine how hot and claustrophobic that would be: some of the smaller huts are barely five feet tall, and the temperature outside is 35 °C. Crouching over a fire in such a tiny room at those sorts of temperatures, not to mention all the smoke...

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Clothing
Brightly coloured traditional cloths, called shukas, wrapped loosely around their bodies, are worn by both men and women. The most colourful costumes are reserved for the moran – the warriors – who also keep their long hair in braids. Not sure where the warriors are today as all the men we see wear their hair short, or tied up in a kind of hairnet - or maybe that is their braided hair in the nets?

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Jewellery
While the elaborate beaded necklaces and intricate jewellery the women wear may look beautiful, they are much more than mere decoration - the colours and patterns indicate the girl's status and wealth: red necklaces for unmarried women which is changed to multicoloured once they have wed. The shape and colour of the necklaces are deeply symbolic too: the rise of the concentric circle is indicative of the volcanic cones in Samburu country, green represents fresh grass for the cattle, blue denotes the desert skies, red is an emblem of life giving blood, and black is illustrative of the colour of their skin.

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Single young men also adorn themselves with necklaces, but once they marry the jewellery is passed down to a younger brother or cousin.

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The first part of the initiation rite of passage for a young boy - “first pain” as Lende calls it – is the extraction of the bottom middle tooth. The boy must not cry, flinch or even blink; if he does he will bring shame on himself and his family, become ostracised from the village or possibly even stoned to death.

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Mancala
Said to date back to 1400BC, this board game is found in towns and villages all over Africa, the Middle East and beyond. The rules of mancala are complex and vary from region to region and sometimes even game to game, but the aim is to 'steal' all your opponents pieces.

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Dances
In true tourist style, the people of the village perform a couple of short (thankfully) dances for us, including the traditional 'jumping' by the men. Kenya's iconic image of a jumping warrior is not only part of the dance, but also illustrates to all how gifted each man is. The jumps, known as adumu, are part of a number of rituals that make up the the ceremony in which the junior warriors, or morani, graduate to the ranks of manhood.

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Children
The village care for a number of orphaned children whose parents have been killed by lions and other predators while out in the bush tending to their animals. The children perform for us by reciting the alphabet and numbers in English; followed by the ubiquitous request for sponsorship. David performs for the children (and confuses them) by reeling off the alphabet backwards.

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Fire
To me, the most interesting part of the whole experience at the manyatta, is the demonstration of how they make fire. Here is how to do it in case you want to have a go at home:

First take a stick with small dents hollowed out. Fill one of the dents with some sand for friction and a very small amount of dry grass.

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Find some zebra or elephant dung as this is better than cow droppings for dryness and ease of burning. Separate the dung by hand into fine particles.

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Using a long stick with a rounded end, rub your hands together as rapidly as you can.

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Keep going until you see smoke. Where there is smoke, there is fire.

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Empty the glowing embers onto your dung and carefully blow on it. Pile up more dung and grass to create a proper flame.

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Voilà! You now have fire!

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In this short video you can see the whole process:

The Samburu make fire twice a day, morning and evening, and usually just one person will start the fire and others will come here to collect some for their own kitchen.

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Saying goodbye to the Samburu villagers, we make our way back towards the park again, only to find the road completely blocked by a carefully placed roll of barbed wire. Fearing it to be a trap by some of the renowned 'bandits' of the area , John is not willing to take a chance so goes back for reinforcements.

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Making sure the local car complete with an armed guard goes in front of us to investigate, John cautiously keeps well back when they get out of the vehicle to remove the road block. I sneak a couple of photos covertly from the back seat of the moving car hoping no-one will notice, but as you can see, they are pretty blurry and of low quality. I am sure they help convey the jittery atmosphere though.

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A tense few minutes for sure, but no 'bandits' appear; we breathe a large sigh of relief and go on our way for more game viewing.

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A 'Tower of Giraffes' - yes, that is the collective noun for giraffes.

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Beisa Oryx

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Elephants

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Check out those ears!

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Grévy's Zebra

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African harrier Hawk

Having now seen all the Samburu Special Five, I have set John another challenge: I want to see the gerenuk in its typical pose on its hind legs eating leaves from the top of a bush. This is the best he could do, as the antelope jumps down as soon as we move in for a better view.

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We return to the lodge with the rest of the day at unexpected leisure – John needs to go back to Archer's Post to get a mechanic to investigate the noise coming from the car before the long, remote journey over the next few days. Sounds a very good plan to me.

After a lovely lunch of fish in sauce and beef casserole, we chill with a drink in the grounds of the lodge. Yesterday we were six people for dinner in the restaurant but this morning two people moved on, leaving just us and two German birdwatching gents as the remaining guests.

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We have the swimming pool all to ourselves this afternoon apart from a red headed agama lizard sunning himself on the stone wall.

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Our free afternoon goes something like this:
Eat
Drink
Swim
Drink
Sleep
Bird watching
Drink
Pack
Shower
Drink
Eat
Drink
Sleep

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Superb Starlings

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African Silverbill

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David looking for birds - of the feathered variety

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Yellow Spotted Petronia

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Red Winged Starling

The black faced vervet monkeys amuse us for ages with their shenanigans: running around on the roof of the chalet next door (I heard them on our roof in the night too), balancing on the bannisters and jumping into the hammock, swinging around for a while, then repeating the whole thing. They seem to be having such a lot of fun!

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As we are enjoying a pre-dinner drink (in the dark) on our little balcony, one of the askari guards – armed with a spear – comes to tell us not to walk alone to dinner as there is an elephant in the camp. Although the lodge is surrounded by an electric fence, it is still possible to enter the grounds from the river front. Providing the elephant is peaceful and not causing any problems, they would rather let it go about its business than upset it. Makes sense.

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John joins us for dinner and explains how the noise we heard from the car was the prop shaft bearing. Unfortunately they didn't have the required part in the small town of Archer's Post, so he had to go all the way back to Isiolo to make sure the car is in tip top condition and ready for the journey across the northern wasteland of Kenya. He has only just got back!

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As a treat, we enjoy a very nice South African wine with dinner tonight, and just as I have taken a photo of David with the bottle, my flash gun gives out an angry sizzling sound, a puff of smoke and a strong smell of burning. Oh dear.That's the end of my flash photography on this trip.

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The firepit has been stoked up this evening in order to keep the rogue elephant away from the restaurant.

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After dinner we toast marshmallows while we finish off the wine. Everyone packs toasting forks and marshmallows when they go on holiday, right?

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Photo using my mobile phone

Ever since our visit visit to the continent in 1986, I have been captivated by the African sky. Rarely do you see so many stars anywhere, largely as a result of very little light pollution. The sky appears to me so much bigger in Africa than it does back home, and I can sit and gaze at it for hours. I make a feeble attempt at astrophotography tonight, but there is too much light in the camp, and too many trees around for it to be successful.

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Purely for medicinal reasons: to help me sleep through the terrible nightmares (believe that and you believe anything), I pour myself a Captain and Coke before bed.

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Cheers and welcome (back) to Samburu.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:05 Archived in Kenya Tagged animals birds village africa safari zebra cheetah kenya lions leopard samburu manyatta barsaloi beisa Comments (1)

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