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Lake Manyara - Serengeti - Mating Hyena, Serval

Not just one serval, but two! And a surprise camp.


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Ngorongoro Crater Viewpoint

This is one of my most favourite places on this earth. I will never tire of seeing this view of the Ngorongoro Crater from above.

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When we came to Tanzania with our friends Lyn and Chris in 2016 for their very first safari, Chris was totally overwhelmed when we arrived at this point, and for the first time on the trip exclaimed: “WOW”. He is not normally a 'wow-man', so that was saying something.

Lyn and Chris we unable to accompany us on this trip, but we did manage to sort out a second best – having brought large photographs of them with us to recreate this 'wow-moment' in this place.

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Nyati Picnic Site

We stop for lunch at a designated site overlooking the crater. Hoping guests will leave a few crumbs behind, there are always a lot of birds to be found here.

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Black Kite

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Red Collared Widowbird - an exciting lifer!

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Baglafecht Weaver

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Common Bulbul and Baglafecht Weaver

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White Necked Raven - another lifer

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Black Kite circling above

As we are eating, the temperatures suddenly falls considerably, and soon we feel the arrival of large, heavy rain drops. Getting a little wet along the way, we hurriedly return to the car to continue on our journey. We still have a couple of hours' drive before we even reach Serengeti National Park at Naabi Hill Gate, and then there is a further half an hour drive to our camp.

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When the heavens open and we get a torrential rain shower, Malisa starts to worry about a certain river we have to cross on the way. As we are on the only road to Serengeti in this area, it would be a major problem if we were to be unable to get across.

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When the rain stops, the road becomes steamy in the oppressive heat.

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Zebra

Here in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we often see wild animals intermingling with domestic sheep, goats or cattle; or even humans, such as here.

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Zebra mum with her three day old baby

We are initially concerned when we see this tiny baby lying motionless next to his mother, but much to our relief, he eventually sits up.

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It looks like the ink ran out during the printing process of this one.

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This sculpture is new since we were here last, some fifteen months ago – advertising Oldupai Gorge, AKA The Cradle of Mankind, where hominid footprints were found and a new museum has opened up.

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The skulls are not life sized

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As we make our way across the area known as the Short Grass Plains, we see the tail end of the migration – the horizon is dotted with the black outlines of wildebeest making their way to the Ndutu area for the birth of their babies.

We have now arrived at the river crossing that Malisa was worried about previously. He gingerly makes his way through the flooded river, and thankfully we make it to the other side without incident. Phew!

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Vultures on a carcass

A number of various vultures have descended on a predator's leftovers, and have now eaten so much they are unable to fly for the moment.

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Look at this guy at the front: he is so full he can't even move, let alone fly!

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Ostriches

This family consists of seven babies who are around two-three months old. Unusually, we only see one female adult: male ostriches have been known to take a harem of up to fifteen concubines!

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To think how wet and muddy everything was earlier – look at the dust generated here by the other car!

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Migratory Abdim's Storks flying in from Europe

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Hyenas

We see a couple of hyenas strutting their stuff, before 'getting intimate'.

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Jealousy is not a pretty emotion – a third hyena takes great interest in what they are doing, but gets chased off by the initial suitor.

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A Golden Jackal comes over to investigate. This confuses me: why would a jackal be interested in a couple of mating hyenas? Malisa explains that the growling sound made by the male seeing off his rival, is like the noise they make when squabbling over food.

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The jackal shakes his head and makes a dozen or more tsetse flies homeless.

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He realises that food is the last thing on the hyenas mind, and slopes off, disappointedly.

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Meanwhile, our hyena ménage à trois are back at it.

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And the interloper is still not welcome.

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Neither of them are prepared to give in, and they go round in circles for a while.

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Quite literally.

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Eventually he manages to get rid of his rival for good.

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We too move on as we still have quite a long way to go.

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Gabar Goshawk

There are several of these on the ground and in the trees.

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More Hyenas

A few miles later two males are in a dispute over a female. Again.

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Naabi Gate

The entrance gate to Serengeti National Park at Naabi Hill is one giant building site at the moment, and the lovely little pool which always used to attract such a great variety of birds, has all gone; as have the birds. David is also disappointed that the grocery store doesn't stock any of his favourite Savanna Cider; so we both sit and sulk in the car until Malisa comes back from registering us into the park.

Death by Poison

It is hard to see from this photo, but there is a carcass of a wildebeest, with a dead hyena next to it. Malisa believes that the wildebeest died from eating poison grass, which was so toxic that the hyena died almost as soon as he tucked into the meat! Now the two bodies lie there decomposing as a stark warning to other animals not to get anywhere near it for fear of death! Instinct tells animals to leave well alone - isn't nature grand?

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Immature Steppe Eagle

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Black Backed Jackal

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Tawny Eagle

There is so much water about after the rains, with flooding everywhere, and the Short Grass Plains will have to be renamed, as the grass is no longer short.

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Serval

Suddenly Malisa spots something altogether more interesting. This timid cat doesn't hang around long enough for us to photograph him properly and with the aforementioned 'short grass' being so long, it makes it all too easy for him to hide.

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All we can see is a couple of black stripes in amongst the vegetation.

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He turns around briefly, but is still very obscured by the greenery.

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Wandamu River

“You cannot be serious Malisa?”

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The crossing looks completely and utterly impossible. I cannot believe that Malisa would even think of attempting this! I hold my breath as he gingerly moves the car along the 'road', hidden somewhere under an unknown depth of water cleverly disguised as a river.

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We are surely going to get washed away?

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This image is not taken from the safety of a bridge, it is looking straight down out of the car window.

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Phew! I breathe a huge sigh of relief as we get to the other side without incident. I am not a nervous passenger by any stretch of the imagination, but I have to admit even I had serious concerns about our safety here. Thankfully Malisa really knows what he is doing and I should have realised that he would never attempt it if he's had any doubts. Sorry Malisa.

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Geese

Meanwhile, on the dam by the ford, there is a family of Egyptian Geese with several babies. My racing heart has still not settled down from the river crossing as I try to enjoy looking at the chicks.

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There are also hippos in the water

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Giraffes in the distance

Serval

Would you believe it! Servals are such rare cats to spot, and here we see two different ones within an hour of each other!

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This one is also almost completely hidden by the tall grass though.

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Helmeted Guineafowl

More babies!

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Sunset

It is getting late now and the daylight is fading fast. Here, so near the equator, the twilight is short and darkness descends quickly.

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Matawi Serengeti Camp

We knew earlier today that we wouldn't be staying at the 'advertised' accommodation, but Malisa would not tell us where Tillya had (yet again) upgraded us to.

The approach road to the camp is no more than a couple of tyre tracks in the grass, and the reception area is extremely low key. With only six luxury tents, this camp is very exclusive and private, with exceptionally friendly service.

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The communal tent where the reception, lounge, bar and restaurant are found

We are asked if we'd prefer a double or a twin room, and on confirming the latter, we are taken to our tent by an askari (Maasai guard).

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The tent is large, with one double and one single mosquito-screened bed; two armchairs and a small coffee table, a little fridge (great for keeping the Coke and cider cold), a writing desk and chair, free standing claw-feet bath, and a separate shower and toilet.

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What a strange idea to put spiky branches in a vase on the coffee table!

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Dinner

As the only guests staying we are greeted warmly when we arrive in the restaurant. I try out my little bit of Swahili, much to the delight of the staff.

“Habari za jioni?” (good evening, how are you)
“Nzuri, asante, ne wewe?” (well, thank you, and you?)
“Nzuri sana, asante” (very well, thank you)
“Samahani, ongeza pilpili tafadhali” (excuse me, I'd like some more hot sauce please)
“Chakula nikitamu, asante” (the food was delicious, thank you)
“Usiku mwema” (goodnight)
“Lala salama” (sleep well)
“Tutaonana kesho” (see you tomorrow)

It may be just a greeting and a few pleasantries, but everyone joins in and one guy whispers to Malisa: “Does she speak Swahili? We have to be careful what we say...”

The food is delicious, with a very peppery butternut squash soup to start, followed by what they describe as “ram meat”, which turns out to be a goat curry.

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The chocolate dessert is very creamy with a hint of coffee.

As the askari walks us back to the tent after dinner, we can hear the hyenas very close by. Thank goodness he has a big stick to protect us! We can still hear them from the inside of the tent, and the sound of hyenas mating carries on most of the night. I struggle to sleep, not just because of the hyena porn going on outside; but I have not so much 'restless legs', as 'restless body'. I am twitching and itching and unable to find a comfortable position.

At 23:30 I hear vehicles arrive and people chatting. Malisa was telling us earlier that a group of Korean tourists (three cars) were unable to reach their accommodation further north this evening because of the bad state of the roads and the amount of flooding (large parts of the Serengeti are completely inaccessible at the moment for that reason); and they were heading to our camp. They have obviously arrived.

In addition to the sex-mad hyenas and lost tourists, I am kept awake by the rain; as well as dust on my lungs, resulting in wheezing and squeaking when I breathe. When I finally manage to drop off, I suffer a terrible nightmare in which I fall off a high walkway! Thanks Lariam!

This safari was arranged by Calabash Adventures, the best safari operator by far!

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds rain wildlife raven tent africa dinner safari animal zebra eagle hawk birding adventures picnic national_park hippo flooding serengeti ngorongoro hyena stork vultures geese ford glamping weaver olduvai jackal poison swahili ngorongoro_crater bird_watching african_safari wild_animals ostriches serval serengeti_national_park fording calabash oldupai tse_tse_flies askari guineafowl golden_jackal picnic_lunch goshawk naabi_gate wildlife_photography steppe_eagle black_kite river_crossing abdim's_stork ngorongo_conservation_area nyati_picnic_site lunch_box widowbird baabi_hill wildebest short-grass_plains vultures_on_kill menage_a_trois gabar_goshawk wandamu_river matawi matawi_serengeti_camp matawi_camp permenent_tented_camp Comments (2)

Lake Manyara National Park - Olive Baboon Troupe

Precious moments of animal behaviour


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

Lake Manyara National Park

Not being one of the major parks, we have only visited here twice before in our six previous safaris, the last time being in 2011, so it will make a nice change to see what it is like now.

Common Waterbuck

Every day on safari, we call the first animal we see “our breakfast”, and today it is a waterbuck.

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Southern Ground Hornbill

I am just telling Malisa that the very first park we visited on our very first safari in Tanzania, was Lake Manyara; and the very first wildlife we saw was a couple of Southern Ground Hornbills; when the very same species of bird appears!

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Grey Hornbill

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Lilac Breasted Roller - one of my favourite African birds

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Grey Crowned Crane

We see fresh elephant poo on the road – so fresh we can smell it – and follow it for a while before the trail goes cold.

Malisa is not sure if it will be possible to cross this river, but he gives it a go.

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Easy peasy lemon squeezy, as Malisa says.

Zebra

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Impala

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

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Common Fiscal Shrike

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Grey Backed Fiscal Shrike

The road is certainly impassable at this point, and we end up having to turn around and try a different route!

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

We stay with a troupe of monkeys for a while, as they try to teach youngsters how to climb.

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The baby gets very nervous when going out on a branch on his own.

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Mountain Buzzard

Another lifer!

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Red Billed Hornbill

Bushbuck

Mum and her three-month old offspring.

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Olive Baboons

We first spot the baby clinging to mum. Malisa estimates that he is less than two hours old.

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He is not always graceful in his actions.

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After falling straight off on his previous attempt, he seems to have mastered the hanging on now; although he does look absolutely terrified!

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That's better!

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Holding on tight.

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A mother's love.

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A male baboon turns up and mum feels threatened.

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It's tiring being a new mum.

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A friend comes around for a cuddle.

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They stay and chat for a while, comparing notes on babies and sharing secrets.

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Constantly caressing each other's babies.

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Such a privilege to be allowed to watch their heart-warming interactions.

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The bushbuck wanders over to where the baboons are, but neither party take any notice of the other as they go about their business as usual.

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There are now baboons all around us, and we feel as if we have been accepted as part of their troupe. Such an honour!

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The children are getting to know each other and learning to play together.

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And riding on mum's back.

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Even at just a few hours, baby baboons have an old man's face.

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Other times they look like something out of a horror film.

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As they get older they become cuter.

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Daddy is always watching.

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Big brother.

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When another car turns up, breaking the magical spell, we reluctantly leave the baboon troupe behind and go to “see what else nature has to offer us” (Malisa's favourite saying).

Southern Ground Hornbill

As is suggested by its name, this, the largest species of hornbill worldwide, spends over 70% of its time on the ground.

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At up to four feet tall, it's a big bird, and very striking with its black and red colours!

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Yellow Billed Stork

It's time for breakfast, and time to close off this blog entry. Thank you to Calabash Adventures for organising this safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:24 Archived in Tanzania Tagged monkeys wildlife africa safari tanzania zebra national_park baboons flooding roller stork impala waterbuck bushbuck shrike barbet hornbill lake_manyara buzzard game_drive lilac_breasted_roller calabash_adventures vervet_monkeys crowned_crane wildlife_photography fiscal_shrike lake_manyara_national_park Comments (3)

Arusha - Ngorongoro Crater Day 1 Part 1

Worth the early start


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

Lyn and Chris are nearly always up before us and are such sticklers for time-keeping that we are very surprised when they don't arrive at the agreed time for breakfast.

They finally show up some 20 minutes later – it turns out they had set the alarm time but not turned the alarm on. No harm done, thankfully, and we are all ready to go when Malisa arrives.

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Augur Buzzard

A mere 100 metres down the road from the hotel we spot our first wildlife of the day: the regal Augur Buzzard.

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Not so welcome this morning are the police checks on our way to Ngorongoro, we get stopped at two of them for Malisa to show them his paperwork – which is all in order, of course - so we are soon on our way to “see what nature has to offer us today” (one of Malisa's favourite sayings).

Lodoare Gate

While Malisa waits for the paperwork at the entrance gate to Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we make use of the facilities and free wifi. We notice they have painted the gate a different colour to how it was when we came here last (it was a safari-beige, it is now a jade-green).

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Crater View Point

Even here, miles from anywhere, free wifi is being advertised. I guess it is good for a brief 'boast post' on social media, but I do feel somewhat sad that being surrounded by wonderful nature and amazing wildlife is no longer enough.

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Malisa assures us that the small blob we see in the far, far distance is in fact a rhino.

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Porcupine

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry, I usually bring along a 'wish list' on my safaris, and porcupine is on this year's list. The next best thing to a live animal is seeing these porcupine spines. The meat has gone, of course, as it would most likely have been killed by a leopard for its dinner last night.

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Chameleon

My wish list is going really well and so early on in the safari, with another item being ticked off when Malisa spots this Flap Necked Chameleon by the side of the road. I don't know just how he manages to spot it; as you can see it blends perfectly with its surroundings. I am excited about this small reptile as it is the first time I have ever seen a chameleon in Tanzania.

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Ngorongoro Crater

We take a different route down into the crater today than the one we normally do: this time using the Lemala Descent Road. We have come down this track once before, a few years ago, and I love the way the track makes its way underneath the majestic Flat Topped Acacia Trees.

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The trees, with their characteristic flat tops (hence the name), act as umbrellas and protect the soil from erosion during heavy rains.

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Look at how dense that canopy is ~ isn't nature wonderful?

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Sodom's Apple

Although this fruit belongs to the tomato family, you won’t find it in any salads. Known as Sodom’s Apple as it is said to be the first plant to grow again after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the small, yellow fruit is used as a medicine for stomach ache, diarrhoea and to treat external wounds. When you see this plant growing, you know that the soil in the area is not of high quality as it grows best in poor soil.

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Olive Baboons

A large troupe of baboons crosses our path.

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The little one who almost got left behind.

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It is so sad to see empty water bottles littering the crater floor. Malisa explains that the Maasai tribesmen who come this way are guilty of this.

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Love the human-like expression on the face of this baboon as he ponders his next move

This little guy appears to be trying to get some sleep while being carried on his mother's back.

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Speckled Mousebirds

Sociable creatures, Speckled Mousebirds often huddle together for warmth and company. It was only when they moved apart that I realised this was in fact TWO birds, they were so close together initially.

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Cape Buffalo

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He is right beside the car

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Unpredictable and highly dangerous, these guys have the most impressive horns. They reportedly charge thousands of people a year, and gore over 200. They can attack and cause serious injury with the tips of their huge, curved horns, or by head butting with their "boss" which is the solid shield of horn that covers the skull where the horns emerge.

Got to scratch that itch!

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Northern Wheatear (non-breeding female)

Warthogs

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The sort of face only a mother could love

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Uncharacteristically, these warthogs do not run away as we stop to take photos – they are usually such skittish creatures and these are remarkably close to the vehicle. They just lift their head and make a cursory glance in our direction before resuming their grazing.

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Ostrich

You can tell from the pink colouration to the neck and legs that this huge bird is on heat and ready to fertilise those all-important eggs.

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Augur Buzzard, apparently in a 'strop', stamping his feet: "I don't want to fly off!"

Zebra

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Grant's Gazelle

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Crested Lark

Black Backed Jackal

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Secretary Bird

We are rather bemused by this secretary bird performing his mating ritual. We are not quite sure who it is aimed at, as there are no other birds in sight. Maybe he is just practising for the real thing.

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Lion

We initially wonder why this lioness is not chasing the warthogs, as they look to us that they could be an easy lunch, but then we discover that she is heavily pregnant and thus would be concerned that any exertion could make her lose the baby.

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She's just a big pussycat really

Is she going for it? They are pretty close to her now and would make an easy target.

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Big baby belly

Too late, they've discovered her.

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Instead she saunters off to try and find a safe place to give birth. I wish we could stay around for that.

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By the time the lioness has disappeared, David admits that he is absolutely desperate to pee. We are just about to make a 'bush stop' when another vehicle turns up. A lot of heavy breathing and jumping from foot to foot ensues until Malisa can find a safe place for David to get out of the car. Getting back in again he lets out the largest sigh of relief you can imagine, much to everyone else's amusement.

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Little Bee Eater

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Levaillant's Cisticola

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Singing his little heart out

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Tawny Eagle

Hippos

It is fairly unusual to find them out on land, normally all you can see is the top of their backs as they wallow in shallow water. Hippos cannot swim, so they will always find areas where the water is no deeper than they are able to stand at the bottom while still having their heads above the water. Here we can only just see the top of their backs as the rest is hidden by vegetation. Makes a change from water I guess.

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Just as we are about to leave the hippos and head to the picnic site, they get up and start to move, so we stay for a little longer, watching them splash into the small pond.

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Ostrich Porn

On our way to lunch we get side tracked by another ostrich, and this one has found himself a likely suitor. Initially he pretends to be totally disinterested although it doesn't take long before he is doing his very best to impress her with a dramatic dance routine.

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She is bowled over by his sexy moves and capitulates to his charms.

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David caught it all on video, with narration provided by Chris

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As soon as he's had his wicked way with her, he just gets up and walks away, leaving her apparently frustrated and still flapping her wings for attention, wondering what all the fuss was about. Sheesh. What a lothario!

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Zebras

We almost end up with a T-bone steak when a zebra without road sense decides to dart out in front of us. Thankfully no harm done.

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European White Stork - not a permanent resident in Tanzania, the stork is a seasonal migrant visitor from Europe

Waterhole

Last time we came to Tanzania (2017) was at the end of the rainy season, a green and verdant time. Now we are here at the end of the dry season, and everything is arid, dusty and brown, which makes this waterhole even more visually striking and of course a great temptation to the animals.

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I love the way Big Bertha seems to have picked out the personality of these buffalo.

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African Fish Eagle

Red Billed Quelea

Popularly referred to as 'feathered locusts', the Red Billed Quelea is Africa's most hated bird. For generations this small but voracious bird has gathered in huge numbers to decimate subsistence farmers' fields across the continent. With some colonies numbering into the millions, the quelea is the most abundant bird in the world, and sadly also the most destructive. With an estimated adult breeding population of at least 1.5 billion, it is believed that the agricultural losses attributable to the quelea is in excess of US$50 million annually which would be totally devastating to those already barely getting by.

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We finally make it to the picnic site for our lunch stop, and this is also where I will finish this blog post. Be sure to read the next entry for stories about the rest of our afternoon in the crater.

As usual, our thanks go to Tillya of Calabash Adventures and Malisa our driver, without whom this fabulous safari would never have happened.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:17 Archived in Tanzania Tagged trees animals africa safari tanzania zebra national_park buffalo lion rhino baboons ostrich lioness ngorongoro acacia warthog chameleon arusha jackal hippos viewpoint porcupine big_bertha lark calabash_adventures which_safari_company best_safari_company tawny_eagle mousebird grant's_gazelle lodoare_gate red_billed_quelea quelea bee_eater africa_animals augur_buzzard safari_permit flat_topped_acacia acacia_trees umbrella_trees sodom's_apple pregnant_lioness cisticola Comments (3)

Obo Nat. Park, then Accra - Lisbon - London - Home

Homeward bound


View São Tomé and Príncipe 2018 - the Lost Islands in the Centre of the World on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having set the alarm last night for 6 o'clock this morning, I get up in order to do some bird watching before breakfast.

The first thing I notice, however, is what looks like a rat's tail under the patio door.

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I try poking it with a stick. Nothing. I try again. Still nothing. It is obviously not alive. I shove it along a bit so that I can examine it, and it does indeed look like a tail from a rat. Not sure how I feel about that. Where is the rat? How did it get its tail stuck under the door? Did it chew its own tail off in order to survive (or have I been watching too many horror movies)? Did we do the damage when we closed the door last night? Was the rat in the room?

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I open the door and tentatively walk out onto the balcony and look around. At first glance I can't see any evidence of a dead rat or one without a tail but with massive gnashers dripping with blood.

I feel a little foolish when I do spot the owner of the tail: an innocent, harmless lizard. Awww.

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Although being without his appendage doesn't seem to impede him, I do hope I wasn't instrumental in him losing his tail, poor thing.

Anyway, back to the bird watching.

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Village Weavers

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Vitelline Masked Weaver

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São Tomé Prinia

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Village Weaver with its impressive nest

After breakfast we arrange for a late check out and then head for the hills.

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Hotel reception

Nova Roça Coffee Plantation

We stop to look at the rows and rows of coffee plants. These are the berries of the Robusta coffee, one of two beans grown here – the other is Arabica.

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Obo National park

Our destination for today is São Tomé's only national park, Obo.

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Covering 290 km² (nearly 30% of the land area), the park is characterised by a wide range of biotypes, from lowland and mountain forests to mangroves and savannah areas. The park spans parts of both islands. This area, the high altitude rainforest, is popular with hikers. There is even a walker's café at the start of the trail.

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David and Agostinho are setting off on a serious trek, to Lake Amelia. I stay in the extensive botanical gardens and the shade of an old plantation house, now used as the park headquarters.

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Botanical Gardens

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David comes back, several hours later, absolutely exhausted. That was some serious hike Agostinho took him on!

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The disappointingly dried out Lake Amelie

After a well deserved rest and a packed lunch, we set off again to explore a little more of the national park.

Cascata São Nicolau

With a drop of around 30m, this is São Tomé's highest waterfall.

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It's in a lovely setting, a horse-shoe=shaped cove, covered in vegetation, and a set of steps lead down to the wooden bridge crossing the river just below the falls.

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The area all around is full of the gorgeous flame trees too.

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The beginning of the end

It's back to base for us, have a shower and change, check out of the room and wait in the lobby for Nino to pick us up for the last journey here in São Tomé: to the airport for our flight home.

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São Tomé Airport

I am not sure why we are picked up at 16:30 for a 20:35 flight, especially as the airport is a mere 15 minutes or so away from the hotel.

We spend a lot of time sitting on a low wall as there are no seats outside, and the terminal building is not open yet. A self-appointed airport official (methinks there are some mental issues...) takes our passports and tickets and goes in to talk to the staff on the security desk just inside the door. Nothing happens. Some 20 minutes or so later he shouts “Go! Go! Go!”, but we only get as far as the door opening anyway. We chat to a couple from Austria/Germany while we wait, as more and more people arrive and join the queue behind us.

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Our 'facilitator' keeps holding his outstretched palm up towards us and saying “wait”. As if we are going to storm the building or something. More and more staff stroll in, and eventually, after about an hour of waiting outside in the heat , we are allowed through. Our passports are checked on the door and the check-in is very smooth and easy. One step nearer.

Security, however, is not ready to accept passengers, so we join another queue and wait for them to open. Immigration on the other hand is manned and ready and they show us straight through.

Departure Gate

We are pleasantly surprised to find the lounge complete with comfy seats, efficient A/C, free wifi and a bar selling beer!

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The journey home via Accra and Lisbon is uneventful, apart from the fact we are delayed in Ghana as two passengers 'forget' to get off in Accra.

The End

And that brings our São Tomé adventure to an end. We have thoroughly enjoyed this small, laid back country, with a reasonable infrastructure, beautiful scenery and friendly people.

Not so much a 'lost world', São Tomé is just slightly mislaid. Or as someone said: “STP has not been forgotten, it has never actually been discovered by mainstream tourism”.

Thank you so much to Undiscovered Destinations for bringing us here, and looking forward to arranging another adventure through this great little tour operator in the future.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:14 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged birds gardens flowers trek plants walk hike tail trail lizard birding path coffee national_park botanical_gardens plantations bird_watching sao_tome miramar_hotel missing_tail nova_roca robusta coffee_plantations obo obo_national_park Comments (1)

The Empty Quarter

Rub' Al Khali


View Oh! Man! Oman. 2018 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It looks to be another nice day out there. No chance of rain.

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Today we are leaving civilisation behind and travelling out to the fabled Empty Quarter, or Rub' Al Khali, the largest contiguous sand desert in the world and one of the driest regions; virtually uninhabited, and largely unexplored. I have high expectations for today as we set off with a different guide, also called Issa, heading north.

Once we have climbed over the mountains surrounding Salalah, the road is straight and flat, with very little interest either side. This road carries on for 650kms to Nizwa, through vast expanses of nothing.

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At the edge of the desert Issa lowers the tyre pressure to cope with the soft sand. The vehicle has been specially modified with roll over bars fitted for safety. I am hoping for some exhilarating 'dune bashing' today.

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Camel Farm

Our first stop of the day is a camel farm to see the rare, and much sought-after black camels who are only found here, Saudi Arabia and in Yemen. Another first for us.

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The baby is only two or three days old

The place is swarming with flies.

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Rub Al Khali

We are now entering the Empty Quarter and soon the gravel road turns to sand and we start to see some dunes.

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I am surprised at how many small shrubs grow in the sand dunes. So far it doesn't have a particularly 'empty' feel to it.

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Despite a number of strategically placed rubbish bins along the side of the track, trash gets caught on vegetation as it blows around in the wind.

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The scenery is dominated by long, linear dunes running parallel to the prevailing winds. Between these are crescent-shaped barchan dunes, and large, firm salt flats called sabkahs, which is what we are driving on.

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The dunes are getting slightly higher now as we drive deeper into the wilderness.

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Issa takes a couple of attempts to drive up a steep-sided sand dune and then swings around and follows the ridge before heading directly back down again. After a couple more swirls on the dunes, he stops the car so that we can get out and stretch our legs. Walking in the soft sand is hard going though.

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We are only just touching on the very edge of this enormous desert, the world's largest erg (sand sea) at 583,000 km². That's about the size of France. To me it is totally incomprehensible to imagine an area the size of France covered in sand.

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Just like Wahiba Sands, Rub' Al Khali is popular with young lads and families on the weekend, coming out here to have a BBQ and maybe try their hand at some serious desert driving. You can see several failed attempts at driving up this sand dune.

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As we make our way back to civilisation, I am left with a feeling of “Is that it?” The dunes are all very nice, but I don't feel any of the mystery and romance that I expected. It all feels like it is just a 'tourist day trip into the desert', which of course, is exactly what it is.

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The ever-present tyre tracks don't help, and neither do the several other tourist vehicles we meet.

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Wubar Archeaological Site

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At the edge of the desert, near Wadi Thumrait and a small settlement of the same name, is the UNESCO Heritage Site of Wubar (AKA Shisr), believed to be the remains of the Lost City of Ubar, often referred to as the Atlantis of the Desert.

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Wubar was the 'door to the desert' in the heyday of the frankincense trade, a prosperous and wealthy caravan oasis; until the desert once more swallowed it up and it remained hidden for centuries.

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A 180° Audio Vision display in the newly built visitor centre shows the fascinating and moralistic story of how man's greed once again ruined the environment by overuse of water.

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The site, however, is way older than that, and evidence found here suggests it dates back to 5000 BC.

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Thumrait Palace Restaurant

We stop for lunch near the site, and enjoy some chicken nuggets, chicken fried rice, vegetables in a sauce, bread and salad along with some delicious fresh mint juice. It makes a nice change not to have the typical Indian fare for once.

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Wadi Dokah

On the way back to Salalah, we swing by Wadi Dokah to see the frankincense plantations. This national park is a stony semi-desert valley and a perfect habitat for the 1,257 frankincense trees found here.

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Issa shows us the proper tool for shaving the tree to get the sap flowing, although we don't actually use it, of course.

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As we make our way over the Dhofar Mountains and on to Salalah, I can but notice that Issa has a most unusual driving position, with his left leg tucked under his body.

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Pool / Beach time

We dump our stuff in the room and head for the beach. As we make our way through the reception, a young man appears from one side, making a beeline for me with his arms outstretched. “Baby, hello, I love you, you are beautiful...” Reaching out towards me he gently caresses my camera. We get chatting and it turns out he is the in-house photographer and does indeed have camera-envy.

We leave the photographer behind and spend the rest of the afternoon / evening walking along the beach, around the pool and in the little café.

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The hotel has a beautiful private beach that stretches around the bay in a crescent shape, with plenty of activities laid on if you are into that sort of thing. We're not.

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At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I have to admit that this five-star luxury and fabulous mini-suite is all well and good; but give me a small, rustic hotel or lodge any day. This place is much too big for my liking, there are too many people, and I hate buffets with a passion. I prefer a small privately-owned place, where maybe the owner is the chef and you eat what they have that day. Something more personal where you get to know the staff and there are just a handful of guests. I don't need luxury, I want authenticity. In a large fancy hotel like this you could be anywhere in the world.

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It is not really a complaint though, just a personal preference. I understand that there are no such hotels in this region, the middle market is sadly lacking accommodation. The rest of this trip has been fault-less, and I yet again Undiscovered Destinations have done us proud. Thank you for organising this trip (and several more in the past and in the future).

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:13 Archived in Oman Tagged desert beach hotel sunrise sand pool unesco luxury camels dunes national_park sand_dunes erg unesco_heritage_site frankincense salalah camel_farm empty_quarter rub_al_khali wadi_dawkah thumrait deser archaeological_park anicent_city wubar ubar shisr al-fanar five_star Comments (2)

Tadoba National Park - Part I

Yay! Tigers!


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Before we left home, our agent in India contacted me and said the lodge were really concerned about the lack of English speaking guides in Tadoba. I assured him that as long as the guide could find us the birds and animals, we are not too worried about the amount of English he speaks.

I am therefore very surprised when our allocated guide greets us in English at the park gate this morning. In fact, he speaks a lot of (what I assume is) English, most of which I can't understand. He is enthusiastic and gregarious, chattering away non-stop.

There is a queue at the gate as usual

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I am interested to see that there is an equipment hire place right by the gate. What a great idea!

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Soon after we get inside the park, we see a number of vehicles parked up, looking across a pond to the bank the other side. Apparently we just missed a tigress with her two cubs. A girl in one of the other cars shows me the preview on her camera. What a shame, just a couple of minutes too late.

We do see our first crocodile on this trip, however.

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The lake is home to lots of birds too:

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Intermediate Egret

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Pond Herons

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Little Egrets

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Spotted Dove

We move on to another pond.

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Chital

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Open Billed Stork

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Common Sandpiper

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Pond heron - I love the reflections in the lake

Something spooked this chital.

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Our guide, whose name I didn't manage to catch despite asking three times, tells us there is a 50% change the mother and cub will come here to drink, so we sit and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

So are a few other vehicles.

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While we wait (some more), we watch a Pied Kingfisher in the far, far distance, doing what kingfishers do best: fishing.

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Indian Peafowl

When a group of chital turn up to drink, there is a fairly sure thing that there isn't a tiger in the vicinity – the early warning system is pretty good in these parts. So we move on.

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Tadoba is very different to the other two parks we have visited on this trip, in that the main road leading through the park is actually tarmaced. I know it means you can travel faster, with less dust, but I can't help but to feel that it somewhat detracts from the 'jungle experience'.

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This road used to be the main thoroughfare to Nagpur from Tadoba and was used by the local king in the 17th century, who constructed a number of pillars to show the way.

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Tiger

I am not complaining though; we see a few vehicles gathered on the side of the road, and just as we pull up, a young tiger appears in a clearing in the forest.

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Then we spot another one behind. These are two youngsters, probably brother and sister, around two years old.

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They stand there, looking at us for a while; and it does appear that they are going to be coming across the open plains and hopefully cross the road in front of us.

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Unfortunately, the children in the next vehicle get a little overexcited and noisy, and the tigers turn around and disappear into the forest from whence they came.

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We can see the occasional orange flash moving around behind the trees, but they do not come out again.

We move on.

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Hanuman Langur

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Brown Fish Owl

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Indian Roller

Sambar
We see a gypsy ahead with everyone pointing their weapons (cameras) into the bush. It is unusual to see a sambar this close to the road. He seems quite unperturbed by our presence, even briefly looking up from his breakfast.

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Yet again it is time to leave the park and head back to camp.

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Irai Safari Retreat welcomes us back with a full buffet breakfast: puri and sambal, mashed potato, spicy beans and a masala omelette with chilli.

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Time to chill for a few hours before this afternoon's safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:14 Archived in India Tagged india holiday safari trip national_park journey tadoba tiger_park tadoba_national_park Comments (3)

Pench National Park - Part II

A very exciting afternoon Safari


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After a lovely rest this lunchtime (apparently I missed a fabulous lunch by having a siesta instead of eating), I feel ready to take on more adventures on this afternoon's safari.

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The Gypsy arriving at the lodge for the afternoon safari. I love the misspelling of the word 'seat'.

We drive through a couple of villages to get to the park, with the usual daily activities

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Gaur
The first animals we see this afternoon are the gaur, AKA Indian bison, the world's biggest wild cow.

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Giant Wood Spider
These things are enormous! They measure about the size of your palm with even more gigantic webs. Every arachnophobe's worst nightmare.

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Pench is a pretty park, with some beautiful scenery and attractive features.

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Rose Ringed Parakeets

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Indian Grey Hornbill from underneath

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Hanuman Langur

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Indian Pond Heron

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Red Wattled Lapwing

Back at the same wetlands we visited this morning, we see some sambar deer lying down.

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And in the background a White Throated Kingfisher.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Chital Chase

On our right we see a few spotted deer sprinting along at great speed, followed behind by a huge herd of them, all looking like they are running for their lives.

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They just keep on coming, more and more and more.

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Something must have really spooked them.

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Then we see the reason for their panic: a couple of wild dogs! How exciting!

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As the hounds close in on the chital, I begin to fear for this little girl's life – I really do think she is going to become dinner.

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But she gets away and joins her friend. Phew.

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The two dogs soon become seven as other dholes (Indian wild dogs) join the pack.

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Then a Golden jackal turns up.

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To be joined by two others.

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I am hoping for an angry stand-off with the Wild Dogs.

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But nothing happens unfortunately. The spotted deer survives for another day; and the dhole and jackal go hungry for a bit longer. We eventually and reluctantly move on.

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Hanuman Langurs
We arrive back at the wetlands area where we were before; and the light there now is fabulous.

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The shoreline is also full of langurs, drinking, preening and playing.

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We spend some time watching their antics

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As we are sitting on the only dry ground that leads from one side of the lake to the other, the langurs are having to jump across the water, providing us with a perfect photo opportunity.

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The little one doesn't quite make it all the way across.

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It's getting late, so we start to make our way towards the gate again, grabbing what wildlife sightings we can on the way.

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Indian Grey Hornbill

Tigger woz 'ere
Just like domestic cats, tigers like their scratching posts too – this one has been used by a male tiger fairly recently.

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Banyan Tree
This single tree, part of the fig family, began its life as an epiphyte (a plant that grows on another plant, where a seed has germinated in a crack or crevice its host). The Banyan Tree is the national tree of India.

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Keelback Water Snake
We see a dead snake in the road, all shrivelled up, and I lean out of the car to try and get a better picture of it, when it suddenly raises its head, hisses furiously at me and slithers off. OK then...

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What an exciting afternoon we've had, we the chase and then the backlit jumping langurs!

The moon
As we leave the park and drive back to the lodge, I notice the moon is very bright tonight. It is full moon in a couple of day's time, so that makes sense.

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Dinner
Tonight's dinner is interesting, unusual and probably best described as a little staccato. First we are served a plate with fish fingers, pappad pakora and chick pea patties.

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Then a soup, followed by a plate of sprouted beans.

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When the waiter brings out bowls of roast potatoes, we assume it is as an accompaniment to the main course. It is not; it's a course in its own right. Oh well, I like roast potatoes.

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By the time the main course of grilled chicken, vegetables and garlic rice arrives, I am full up!

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I do manage to make room for the delicious strawberry delight dessert though.

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We linger with a drink after dinner as we don't have an early start tomorrow. Stay tuned for the next instalment as we move on to Tadoba.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:19 Archived in India Tagged national_park pench tiger_park pench_tree_lodge pench_tiger_park pench_national_park Comments (1)

Pench National Park - Part I

A very rare and endangered sighting this afternoon


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

There appears to be some sort of confusion about our park tickets for today. It seems our agent booked them for the wrong gate, some 60km away. Hence the very early start of 04:30. Rakesh (the driver who brought us down from Jabalpur) is picking us up and driving us to the gate in his car, where we will change into the open top safari vehicle (known as a 'gypsy'), so that we won't get frozen solid by taking the long journey in an open top car. Wise move.

4:30 comes and goes. No Rakesh. At 05:00 I ask the young receptionist what is happening. He wanders off to check with the manager. After a few minutes, he comes running back and continues on to the car park.

A short while later a Gypsy arrives for us. There has been a change of plan. We are going to the nearest gate just a few kilometres away after all; and will pay for a new ticket instead, saving all the hassle of the long journey. That sounds good to me, as it would take well in excess of an hour to travel 60 km on these roads.

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We also have to pay for a (compulsory) park guide who will accompany us on this morning's safari. Once that is all in order, we can enter the park.

The first thing we spot, is an Oriental Honey Buzzard, another new tick on our life list.

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Seeing very fresh tiger pug marks is promising for a sighting this morning.

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The sun is just beginning to break through the mist as we make our way deeper into the forest.

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Dhole
We are very excited when our guide spots a rare and endangered dhole (Indian wild dog) in between the trees. Our very first sighting of this species in the wild.

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There are thought to be fewer than 2500 of these animals left in the wild, so it is in fact even more rare than the tiger.

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We follow him as he makes his way through the forest.

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Indian Ghost Trees
Found all throughout the park (as well as being quite common elsewhere on the subcontinent), the bark of this very distinctive tree (Sterculia urens) exudes a gum that is used for laxatives.

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Rufous Treepie

Jungle Fowl

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The sun is slowly warming up the air, but the mist is still hanging over the lower ground, creating a mystical and eerie atmosphere.

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Yellow Footed Green Pigeon

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Spotted Dove

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Indian Peafowl

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Indian Pond Heron

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Indian Pond Heron

Changeable Hawk Eagle

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Another Peacock sunning himself

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Brown Fish Owl
The guide keeps telling us the name of this bird, but I just can't get what he is trying to say. It sounds something like 'ground peace owl'. It is not until very much later that I realise he is saying 'Brown Fish Owl'.

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We pass a flooded area with a Green Sandpiper feeding in the shallows.

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Golden Jackals in the far distance

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Indian Roller

Breakfast
We stop for breakfast in a dedicated picnic area. A structure has been created to provide shade or shelter you from the rain, but as the temperature this morning is still very much on the cool side, everyone remains outside to catch some warmth from the sun's rays.

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The breakfast box is rather disappointing this morning, especially considering how superior the food was at the lodge yesterday.

A rather hideous plastic Mowgli adorns the site, which is appropriately called Mowgli Picnic Area.

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We continue to a large wetlands area that is teeming with birds, and spend some time with binoculars picking out various species, many of which are new to us. It is all rather exciting.

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Indian Cormorant

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Bonelli's Eagle

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Green Sandpiper

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Little Ringed Plovers

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Painted Storks

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White Rumped Vulture

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Indian Pond Heron having a bad hair day

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Great Egret

There are also a couple of jackals around.

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We reluctantly leave the pond area behind to go in search of more wildlife.

Hanuman Langurs

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Hoopoe

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Chital

Nilgai
This is the first nilgai we see on this trip, and then only for a few seconds as she disappears into the forest.

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Jungle Owlet

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Black Drongo

Upon hearing loud warning calls, the driver stops the car and we sit and wait. There is obviously a predator in the vicinity, and a lot of very distressed langurs. We wait. And wait. And wait. As time is now getting on, we eventually have to move, despite not having seen any tigers.

It is time to leave the park and return to the Lodge as the park rules have very strict timings for just morning and evening safaris rather than the whole day as we are used to from Africa.

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On the way we spot these two gorgeous Indian Rollers, one with his lunch.

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As we were up so early this morning (plus I didn't sleep well last night), I decide to forego lunch and spend the time snoozing instead.

Stay tuned for the next entry.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:37 Archived in India Tagged animals birds india sunrise breakfast safari eagle mist birding picnic national_park pigeon peacock roller heron egret stork vulture dove langur gypsy owl cormorant jackal chital drongo bird_watching pench nilgai buzzard early_morning hanuman_langur owlet plover tiger_park breakfast_picnic pench_tiger_park pench-tree-lodge pench_national_park tiger_pug_marks dhole indian_wild_dog wild_dog ghost_tree indian_ghost_tree treepie jungle_fowl early_morning_mist mowgli sandpiper hoppoe snooze Comments (3)

Kanha National Park Part II - Suri Zone

Another tiger?


View Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright - India 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

When we arrive back at Kipling Camp after our morning safari drive, we are greeted with the very welcome wet flannels (a custom I like very much – here in India it happens after every game drive and is very much a necessity because of all the dust. In Africa, despite the same amount of dirt generated, the flannels are generally just offered on your very first arrival at a lodge, not usually thereafter)

Tara

One of the main reasons I chose Kipling Camp when I was in the planning stages of this trip, was Tara, the resident elephant. Featured in the book Travels on my Elephant by Mark Shand, Tara was gifted to Kipling Camp in 1989 (you can read the full story of how Tara came to live at Kipling Camp here)

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Lunch

A lunch table is laid out in the shady courtyard under the trees, and we have a refreshing nimbu soda (fresh lime soda) while we wait for the food to arrive.

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Lamb curry, okra, chillies, dhal, yogurt, chutney, poppadom and puri

All around the grounds there are signs of wildlife, from butterflies to frogs and birds.

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Greater Coucal

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Orange Headed Ground Thrush

Afternoon Game Drive

This afternoon we have been allocated the Suri Zone of Kanha National Park and we head off to see what this area has to offer.

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King Vulture, a very rare bird and a first for us

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Hanuman langurs

Sambar Deer

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Porcupine
There is much excitement when a porcupine is spotted; it's an extremely unusual rare sighting indeed and a first for us. Absolutely rubbish photo, as by the time I'd turned and pointed my camera, he was well on his way into the undergrowth. But trust me: this reallys is a porcupine.

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Jungle Owlet

Gaur (Indian Bison) - the laregst wild cow in the world

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Jackals

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Hanuman Langur

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This guy is also a new one to us: Lesser Adjutant

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And then he was gone

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Indian Roller

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Cheetal with a Black Drongo passenger

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Cheetal with a Common Myna on its back

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Cheetal

Barashinga
This particular genus of Barashinga, the Southern Swamp Deer, is only found here in Kanha National park, so it is obviously our first sighting in the wild, thus generating considerable excitement.

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We ford the river in a beautifully serene area, where we also spot a Common Kingfisher.

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Common Kingfisher

Bees Nest
The action of the bees moving in unison on this nest reminds me of a Mexican Wave.

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.

Barashinga in the water
As the sun becomes lower in the sky, we spot a small herd of barashinga in the water. As we stop they look up and across at us, water dripping from their heads, backlit by the evening sun. Another magical moment.

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More animals backlit by the low sun, this time cheetal

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More barashinga

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The last rays of the sun are seeping through the trees.

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

Sambar
The light is faded fast and it is getting dark quickly.

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Tiger
As we make our way back towards the exit gate to leave the park for the evening, I comment to Lyn that as we haven't seen a tiger, at least we don't have to tip the guide quite as much this afternoon. Then we turn a corner and see a number of vehicles all looking into the bushes.

Just as we pull up alongside them, we spot a tiger disappearing into the undergrowth. Wow! It is brief, but at least I manage to shoot off a couple of frames.

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“Hold on!” shouts Rahim, as he reverses the Gypsy at great speed, around sharp bends, on a badly potholed road, uphill; with some of the most admirable driving skills I have ever been party to. Experience and knowledge means he knows exactly where the tiger will be coming out of the bushes.

And he is right, of course. Again.

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Great excitement ensues as we are joined by the other vehicles (whose drivers were not as on-the-ball, or maybe not as capable, as Rahim, and thus much slower off the mark), to watch the tiger saunter down the road.

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It is getting quite dark now and I am having to push my ISO right up to 8,000 in order to get a decent shot.

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ISO 10,000 now, despite Rahim having moved the vehicle nearer the tiger for a closer shot.

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ISO 16,000 - gotta love the Canon 5D IV's low light capabilities!

Sadly we have to say “goodbye” to our new-found friend, as we have a deadline time to be out of the gate.

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There is now a mad rush to get to the gate so as not to be fined for overstaying our welcome.

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It's impossible to avoid the dust generated by the other vehicles.

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We do make a couple of stops though, one for a Sambar crossing the road...

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… and some wild boar.

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Including some little baby piglets.

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We make it out of the park without penalty and return to the lodge for a shower, change, drink and dinner.

What an amazing day we've had!

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:50 Archived in India Tagged india elephant lunch tiger tara national_park deer butterfly kanha bison bees vulture parakeet langur kingfisher jackal gaur chital sambar myna drongo indian_food swamp_deer porcupine coucal kipling_camp cheetal wild_cow travels_on_my_elephant mark_shand nimbu_soda thrush indian_bison adjutant barashinga spotted_deer wild-boar piglets Comments (6)

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