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Ndutu: lion in a tree - Lake Eyasi

Goodbye Ndutu, hello Lake Eyasi


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Having enjoyed our picnic breakfast, we set off again for more game viewing.

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Dik Dik

We are heading back to Ndutu Lodge to use the facilities before we leave the area, but the route Malisa wants to take is impassable. “There used to be a road here” he explains.

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A Greater Spotted Thick Knee doing her best to hide from us

Malisa drops us off at the lodge while he goes off to get fuel for the car.

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Meanwhile, we spend our time walking around the grounds, looking for birds and taking it all in for the last time.

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Northern Grey Headed Sparrow

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Great White Pelicans flying in formation

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I can't believe how overgrown the gardens are at Ndutu Lodge, after all the recent rains.

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Hildebrand Starling

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I am really impressed with the individual terry towels in the 'public' toilets at Ndutu!

Malisa returns and we make our way towards the gate that takes us out of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, of which Ndutu is a small part.

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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Lesser Flamingo

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Southern Red Bishop

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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They weave the most exquisite nests!

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Strange horizontal rainbow

Lions

Malisa hears on the radio that a lioness has been spotted in a tree near the lake – it sounds like our lady from earlier this morning. We go to check it out.

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The lioness looks most uncomfortable and keeps shifting her position.

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Under the tree is a male lion, who is periodically sniffing the air, hoping for his mate to come back down.

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Meanwhile tourists are busy taking selfies with the lions – I wonder if you can actually see the big cat in that photo, or just the outline of a tree?

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Much as we'd love to stay and see what happens with our two kitties, we have to leave in order to get to the gate. Permits are strictly timed and any overstay faces a heavy fine.

There is still quite a lot of flooding in Ndutu.

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Zebra

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Just less than an hour ago we travelled through heavy flooding, now the roads are annoyingly dusty!

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The dust covers everything in a thin layer of dirt – look at the state of my camera!

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The dirt being thrown up by passing vehicles also plays havoc with the windscreen of our Landcruiser. A crack developed earlier on the trip, and now, every time we meet a car travelling at speed, Malisa has to hold on to the glass in fear that it would shatter if a stone was to hit it.

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We join up with the main road through Serengeti, where a new gate post has been erected since we first started coming here, with tourists lining up to have their photos taken, and vendors hoping to sell them some souvenirs.

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The original gate

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The new sign

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Ndutu Lodge also has a new sign, with the new brand created since the lodge changed ownership.

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Sculpture advertising the Museum of Mankind at Oldupai - also new

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A would-be vendor heading for the tourists

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Lots of giraffes - we count twenty of them!

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We stop at Seneto Descent Road (the entrance to Ngorongoro Crater) for a picnic lunch, as are several other people. This is the most crowded I have ever seen this spot. It seems it is not just the camera that is covered in dust – my face was pretty dirty too!

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The cloth after wiping my face

Baboons

We see a small baby playing, but as soon as we stop, the parents gather him up and leave.

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There are more baboons at Lodoare Gate (the exit from Ngorongoro Conservation Area), including one that jumps on the bonnet of the car while I am in the loo. David tries to quickly grab a shot with my camera.

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Once we're through the gate, we hit the sealed road – the first time for eleven days! Not for long though, a mere five kilometres down the road, we turn off right, onto another fairly rough dirt track. This is all new and unexplored territory for us now.

We later turn off the dirt track to an even smaller and narrower lane, winding its way through small hamlets and into the wilderness. This is real off-the-beaten-path stuff, and a completely different type of vegetation – thick and verdant, more jungle-like - to anything we've seen in Tanzania before.

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Kisima Ngeda Lodge

As we pull up in the lodge car park, an army of helpers appear out of nowhere. Unless we really want to, there is no need to carry any of our own luggage. After a welcome drink while signing in at the reception, we are shown to our room.

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Our room is, in fact, a large tent on a wooden base with a thatched roof. The room is well furnished and there is an en suite western style toilet and shower at the rear of the tent.

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The local guide, who will be with us tomorrow for our excursions, arrives to give us a briefing. As he walks up onto our balcony, I get an instant feeling of recognition. He looks familiar. As he introduces himself as Alex, my mind starts ticking. I am not even sure what I am trying to think of, but suddenly it hits me. “Alex” I ask, “what is your surname?” As soon as he replies “Puwale”, I smile – we are already friends on Facebook! What a small, small world!

Alex's Facebook page

After a quick shower and change, we pop down to the bar for a drink, delighted that we can walk about freely without having to call an askari (a Maasai security guard armed with a spear) to protect us from any potential wild animals. It's the first time on this trip that we've had some time to spare before dinner, and Malisa soon joins us.

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There is one other group of tourists staying tonight, six people from from the US. I am horrified when I overhear them asking their guide if hunting is allowed, as they'd really like to be able to kill something. Malisa's face is a picture, and I really feel for their guide having to explain to such misinformed and misguided visitors. They are also querying the availability of public conveniences during their trip to see a hunter-gatherer tribe tomorrow. What do they think this is? Disneyland?

As they start to discuss US politics (they are all ardent Trump supporters – there's a surprise!), we try our best to ignore their conversation, which proves rather difficult due to the volume at which they speak. We have a good laugh with Malisa, however, joking about the overheard comments by Whatsapping each other across the table. Little things for little minds.

Dinner

Tomato soup for starters, followed by pork medallions with creamed potato and vegetables, and finished off with a passion fruit mousse.

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As always, I am impressed with the arrangements Calabash Adventures have made for us – they really are the best in their field.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds pelicans wildlife africa safari rainbow tanzania zebra birding lions baboons flooding sparrow flamingo giraffes trump ngorongoro dust starling weaver diesel bird_watching ndutu calabash calabash_adventures seneto seneto_descent_road ngorongoro_conservation_area oldupai thick_knee lions_in_a_tree sandgrouse wildlife_photography windscreen lake_eyasi red_bishop american_tourists ndutu_lodge african_animals african_birds alex_puwale animals_of_africa birds_of_africa cracked_windscreen serengeti_gate lodoare lodoare_gare museum_of_mankind kisima_ngeda trump_supporters Comments (2)

Ndtutu XIII - drowned wildebeest, jackals, lions

What a stench!


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Today we are leaving Ndutu and heading to pastures new. A pretty sunrise sees us on our way.

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Vultures at Lake Masek

Initially we cannot fathom out why so many vultures are descending on the shores of the lake.

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There are vultures (and Marabou Stork) everywhere: on the ground, in the trees, flying in! I think all Ndutu's vultures are here in this spot!

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The sound of their huge wings flapping as the come in to land is really quite something to hear.

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Then we see it: Floating wildebeest carcasses – animals who drowned trying to cross the river.

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Not just one, but dozens of bloated, putrid decomposing bodies. The stench of the rotting flesh is heinous.

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For some light relief I turn my head towards the heavens, where the dark sky has now opened up a small window to let the sunrise through.

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I spend some time watching the large flocks of egrets making their way across other parts of the sky while I wait patiently for a bird or two to fly past the sunrise window.

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Meanwhile, the hole in the cloud is rapidly changing shape, and finally I get lucky!

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Not being able to stand the atrocious stink any longer, we move on to see what else nature has to offer us today.

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Grey Capped Social Weaver

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Vitelline Masked Weaver

Black Backed Jackals

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Temmincks Stint

Avocets

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Gull Billed Tern

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Giraffe

Lion

As we are following the contour of the lake, Malisa is busy looking around as always. I feel sure, however, that he has seen the lion whose paw is across the track we are driving on. He makes no attempt at slowing down, so I start to alert him to the big cat, without wanting to shout and scare the lion away. My warning comes out a little meek and feeble: “erm..... stop...?” Of course, for the rest of the trip, the boys tease me mercilessly about it.

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By the time Malisa swerves out of the way onto the grass alongside the track and stops, the lion is most certainly not happy.

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We move a little further away for our safety and the lions comfort. He obviously realises that lying in the road is not a good ideas, and gets up, sniffs the air and marks his territory before moving off.

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We follow him down to the lakeside, where he sees one of the many dead wildebeest floating in the lake. You can tell that he so wants it, but it is just that too far away for him too reach.

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We hang around, hoping he is going to go for a swim, but he obviously doesn't want to get his hair wet, and makes a rapid beeline for the thicket further inland instead, walking with a definite purpose.

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He wanders into the bush. We follow. There is a delicious smell of mint wafting across the savannah as we bulldoze our way through the undergrowth to follow the lion – such a pleasant change after the grim odour from the wildebeest carcasses earlier.

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So that's what he is heading for!

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She's coming down!

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She most likely sought refuge in the tree as a respite from her mate's sexual advances, and now she's ready for some more action.

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We watch as she disappears into the ever-thickening shrubs. The terrain where she is going is too dense for us to follow, we are already in a place outside our normal comfort zone.

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“How do we get out of here?” I ask Malisa. “I have no idea” he replies as he creates a new 'track' through the bush.

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We return to the area where the lion was watching the wildebeest carcass for our breakfast in the car (too dangerous to get out with the predators around), hoping he'll come back.


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He doesn't, so we continue on our way to see what else nature has to offer us.

Thank you to Calabash Adventures for this amazing safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:51 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunrise africa safari tanzania birding lion vultures avocet weaver bird_watching ndutu calabash_adventures lake_masek marabou_stork jackals african_animals wildebeest_carcasses social_weaver masked_weaver black_backed_jackals lion_in_a-tree erm_stop Comments (2)

Ndutu XII - David unwell, pond life, lion, cheetah

Just me and Malisa against the world. Well, not quite the world, but at least the wildlife of Ndutu.


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We have our picnic breakfast in the car on the plains, completely surrounded by the enormous herd of wildebeest.

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We are thrilled when we spot 'our' baby in amongst the crowd – his mum is instantly recognisable by the manner in which her afterbirth is hanging. It's a relief to know that our grandchild survived the first critically vulnerable period of his life.

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Zebra

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This guys is missing his tail – probably a close brush with a lion or hyena!

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Tawny Eagle

Marabou Stork

He's on the lookout for wildebeest placentas for lunch!

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Pregnant Hyena

David is not feeling at all well, and asks Malisa to take him back to the lodge. He must be poorly, that's the first time I have heard him ask that in our seven safaris here. Hopefully it is nothing serious.

Once David is safely delivered at the lodge, where we take the opportunity to use the facilities, Malisa and I continue our safari “to see what nature has to offer us” as he always says.

White Backed Vulture

I'm intrigued as to how the vulture became so wet. It seems to me that he might have had an involuntary dip in the lake. He is looking quite bedraggled!

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He is certainly busy trying to dry off, waving his huge wings around in the hot, still air.

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Giraffe skeleton

Wildebeest crossing Lake Ndutu

With all the recent rains and subsequent flooding, Lake Ndutu has extended its shores considerably across the flat landscape, with shallow pools being creating where the usual path of the wildebeest was.

I think this much deeper section has taken the small group – or confusion, the collective noun of wildebeest – by surprise.

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Oh my! There is a tiny baby in the group!

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There seems to be some consternation, with the adults agitated and the baby nowhere to be seen. I hold my breath as I am terrified he may have drowned.

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He is only tiny, likely to have been born earlier this morning. After a few tense seconds, he re-appears and all is well.

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Thankfully, they soon reach shallower waters.

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We can all breathe again now.

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Speckled Weaver

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Red Bishop

Pond Life

Lots of birds – and a few animals – gather down at the lake shore.

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Greater and Lesser Flamingo

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The lesser flamingo is the more colourful of the two species

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Avocet

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I had no idea that Avocet use the same principle for fishing as spoonbills – sweeping the bottom of the shallow water from side to side to disturb any living organisms that they can then scoop up and eat.

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Greenshank

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Kittlitz Plover

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Marabou Stork

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Common Sandpiper

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Giraffe

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Giraffe and Wildebeest

In places the earth appears to be dried out, with huge cracks. It is very deceptive, however, as the ground underneath is still very soggy, and as soon as you drive out onto it, the car sinks deep into the mud.

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Ndutu Lodge have issued stark warnings to all its drivers and visitors, and will charge 300,000 Tanzanian Shillings to rescue you (ca £100 / US$130).

Oxpeckers

Feasting on a dazzle of zebras (the collective noun for a group of zebras)

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Long Crested Eagle

She off hunting for lunch.

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Lion

A lazy male lion relaxes in the shade. It's amazing how we've predominantly seen male lions on this trip, no large prides with females and cubs as we have on previous visits.

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We let sleeping lions be, and go off to see what else nature has to offer us today.

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Tawny Eagle. "You looking at me?"

Wattled Starling

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Cheetah

Malisa thinks we should return to see what the cheetah cubs are doing. We find them not far from where they were yesterday, and today they are mostly sleeping in the shade, occasionally turning over.

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After a while the other clients get bored, and one by one the cars leave until eventually it is only us and a car with two serious German photographers left. Our patience pays off when the cheetahs get up from their slumber and start to play!

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A few more cars arrive in time to see the cubs trying to climb a tree stub, somewhat precariously!

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At one stage one of the cubs walks straight towards our car, and I am sure (hoping) she is going to jump on the bonnet of the Landcruiser!

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She veers off last minutes and heads for another car, but doesn't climb on board that one either.

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After nearly three hours (and 2,500 photos) of watching this gorgeous family, we have to reluctantly leave and make our way back to the lodge in order to get there before dark.

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Also watching the cheetahs playing is a Northern Double Collared Sunbird - another lifer!

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Storks

Down by Lake Ndutu, Abdim and Marabou Storks are gathering for the night.

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Baby Wildebeest

This young guy is wandering all alone, and Malisa surmises that his mama has been killed. He won't last long on his own, unfortunately.

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White Bellied Bustard

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By the time we get back to Ndutu Lodge, David is up and about, feeling very much better after a long sleep, plenty of water and a shower.

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Dinner

Tonight's gastronomic offerings consists of

Chef's Salad

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Fennel Soup (which we decline)

Beef Lasagne

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Chocolate Brownie with home made Toffee Swirl Brownie Ice Cream

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While we are eating, there is a terrific electric storm going on in the distance. I try to capture it on my phone, but it really isn't very successful. By the time we have finished dinner, the storm has passed.


And so we go to bed on the last evening here in Ndutu. As always, our thanks go to Calabash Adventures for such terrific arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:22 Archived in Tanzania Tagged wildlife africa safari tanzania zebra eagle cheetah lion giraffe flamingo stork vulture avocet birdwatching starling weaver wildebeest ndutu calabash calabash_adventures marabou_stork wildebeest_migration tawny_eagle best_safari_operator plover wattled_starling sandpiper pond_life great_migration wildlife_photography greenshank red_bishop oxpeckers ndutu_lodge african_animals david_unwell giraffe_skeleton Comments (2)

Ndutu XI: buffalo, jackals, fox cubs, birth of a wildebeest

What an emotionally charged morning!


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

Setting off as usual in the pre-dawn darkness, we are excited to spot four lions in the far distance down on the Marsh.

“Hold on tight” Malisa instructs us as he sets off towards the big cats at quite some speed.

As we get nearer, our excitement turns to amusement: they are not lions, but hartebeest. Oh. At least it proves that even the best guide can make a mistake in the dark.

Soon afterwards Malisa briefly spots a honey badger before it disappears into the long grass. The verdant vegetation has its ups and down: there is plenty of food for the animals, but makes it more difficult for carnivores to hunt as the prey can hide so much easier. It also makes it trickier for them so spot a potential mating partner (hence why we have seen several male lions in trees on this trip). From our perspective, the tall vegetation means animals are more difficult to see, and when we do, many of them are only visible from half way up. We've been told by several people that they've not had so much rain / flood here since 1995.

Sunrise

The sunrise this morning is almost as spectacular as the sunset last night.

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As a photographer, you need to be ready as soon the sun appears – from the moment the first bright sliver peeks above the horizon until the entire sun is visible, is pretty exactly two minutes. No time to waste.

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Cape Buffalo

We haven't seen many buffalo on this trip.

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Black Backed Jackals

The buffalo have a stare-down with a couple of jackals, but they decide to go their separate ways. I am sure the much-smaller jackals would be no match for the aggressive buffalo.

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Tawny Eagles

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Coqui Francolin

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Crested Lark

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Grey Breasted Francolin

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Blacksmith Plover

Southern Ground Hornbill

There are a couple of hornbills on the ground, both of which have managed to grab themselves some breakfast.

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Ooh, this guy's got not just one lizard, but two!

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And then he's off with his take-away breakfast.

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Bat Eared Fox

As we are busy watching the hornbills, I spot a couple of fox cubs out of the corner of my eye.

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Whispering sweet nothing in my ear

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There are not just two cubs, a third one appears.

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Now there are four!

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When they start playing, all you can hear in the van is “aww” and “ahh”.

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Dik Dik

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Red Necked Spurfowl

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Harlequin Quails

Malisa spotted a Harlequin Quail earlier, but I only got a very brief glimpse of it, which was rather disappointing as it is a new one on us!

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Here, however, there are several of them. Admittedly they are running along the deeply furrowed, and massively overgrown car tracks, so not only are they difficult to see, they are extremely hard to photograph as they are in and out of blazingly bright sun and deep shadows.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

Pale Tawny Eagle

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Long Tailed Mongoose

We get a brief glimpse of this rarely-seen mongoose, just as it runs away.

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Looking for the maternity ward

For the last three days we have been on the lookout for a wildebeest mama who is just about to give birth, and today is no exception. We head down to what we jokingly call the “maternity ward” - an area full of wildebeest, many heavily pregnant.

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Soon we spot a young female (we can tell she is young because of the shape of the horns, hers are not yet fully developed) who has a pair of legs sticking out from her behind.

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We follow her as she goes about her business, seemingly without a care in the world. Before long, however, she sits down, and we are disappointed to think that we are probably going to miss the birth having seen through our binoculars how she is trying to push.

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When she stands up again, the birthing process is no further on. We worry for her. Generally the calving takes no more than around fifteen minutes for wildebeest, but this young mother-to-be appears to be really struggling.

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She walks, she tries to push, she sits down, she eats some more. Other wildebeest come up to her, seemingly to offer encouragement; but despite heavy pushing, she gets no further. After more walking, more pushing and more eating, she is finally exhausted and collapses on the ground, motionless. Is she dying? Is the baby still alive inside her? Has she lost the will to live? Will she be strong enough to finally push the baby out and look after it when it is born? We are getting distressed and seriously concerned for her safety now.

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This is way better than any documentary I ever saw – I am not just watching from the comfort of the sofa in our living room; I am here, with her, her family. I am that wildebeest.

When she finally stands up, we all breathe a sigh of relief, then hold our breath again as she starts to push once more, this time in earnest; and within a few minutes we can see the head appearing. The adrenaline in our car soars - I never expected to feel such thrill and intoxication at an animal giving birth. Willing her on, we shout words of encouragement: “Push!” “Push” “You can do it” “Come on girl” "Push".

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Then it's all over. I whoop with excitement and elation: “Yay! We're grandparents” “Good job!” Then emotion overtakes me and I cry.

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As a first-time mother, the calving was anything but easy for her. 49 minutes elapsed from we first spotted her until the baby was out. Within minutes, however, the youngster is on his feet, instinctively trying to feed while the mother licks him clean.

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Never mind the wildebeest, I am completely exhausted with all the emotions of just watching. We leave them to get to know each other and to continue on their never ending journey in the quest for greener pastures. This is the Circle of Life”

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This amazing experience would not have been possible without the excellent arrangements of Calabash Adventures, and of course our trusted guide and good friend Malisa.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:55 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunrise africa safari tanzania eagle birding fox buffalo vulture quail mongoose wildebeest bird_watching hornbill african_safari honey_badger ndutu calabash_adventures hartebeest bat_eared_fox jackals tawny_eagle plover dik_dik spurfowl francolin big_marsh wildebeest_baby african_birds african_animal fox_cubs long_tailed_mongoose wildebeest_calving wildebeest_birth Comments (2)

Ndutu X - lion, 1000 wildebeest, dung beetles, cheetah cubs

A perfect end to a perfect day


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

We set off after lunch to see what nature has to offer us here in Ndutu, and hopefully find a wildebeest herd where we can witness a birth.

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African Hoopoe

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Juvenile Red Billed Buffalo Weaver

Lion

Under a tree we see a magnificent male lion. Initially just resting, he soon sits up surveying the tourists arriving.

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Big yawn. And other funny facial expressions.

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He licks his chops and walks straight towards us.

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Too close for comfort, or at least for photography!

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It's only when we drive away that we realise that Dickson (our driver during our first three safaris in Tanzania) and his clients are right behind us.

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Two Banded Courser

Eurasian Avocet

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"What are you looking at?"

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Blacksmith Plover

Wildebeest Migration

Continuing on our way, we drive alongside thousands of wildebeest, running in an (almost) single file.

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The line seems to go on forever, then group into a HUGE herd, surrounding us on every side, and they just keep on coming.

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More and more and more arrive, a never ending stream of wildebeest join the mêlée, until there is just a sea of horns.

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We see very few babies in amongst this crowd though. A few of the females look like they are ready – they are fat, their nipples have developed and they are struggling to walk – but none are just about to drop. Oh well, we'll keep searching.

Zebra

A few zebras have joined the wildebeest, and we see a few babies too. Our hearts stop as we spot what appears to be a dead baby zebra in the grass.

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We hold our breath when the mother appears and starts nudging her little foal. Is he alive?

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Yes, he is, and he soon runs off with his mother. Phew.

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Dung Beetles

So many wildebeest in one place means two things: 1. we are eaten alive by pesky flies, and 2. it is a dung beetle's paradise.

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Within a few minutes, large piles of dung are turned into neat little balls and rolled away.

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With my love of dung beetles, I am totally in my element here, and before I know it I have taken over a thousand photos of... basically a pile of shit - plus these fascinating insects, of course.

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It is now several hours since we last saw any other cars or human activity. This may be the height of the season in Ndutu, but it is still possible to have large areas all to yourself. Most people go back to the lodge for lunch, preferring to stay out of the sun in the midday heat. I can see why, as we are being cooked to perfection even in the shade of the car. I wouldn't want to miss an animal experience though!

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Greater Spotted Thick Knee

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Light Tawny Eagle

European White Stork

A number of storks return to roost for the night, gliding effortlessly across the savannah.

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Not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands! They just keep on coming.

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And I just keep on photographing them.

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And the wildebeest just keep on walking.

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The storks are followed by a large flock of Cattle Egrets.

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Even a small chattering of Wattled Starlings join in. (chattering is the collective noun for starlings)

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Cheetah

A mum and her two cubs are very active in the late afternoon sun, running around and playing and for the next 30 minutes or so we delight in their antics. The dozen or so photos you will see here, are whittled down from a massive 1200 images – that amounts to around one picture a second!

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I have nothing more to say about this encounter, I think the note I made in my journal at the time sums it up!

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Much as we'd love to stay and watch these adorable little animals for longer, we really have to go. We are still quite some distance away from the lodge, and have to be back by 19:00.

Sunset

As we approach Lake Ndutu, I gasp. I don't think I have ever seen such a spectacular sunset here in Tanzania before.

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I make poor Malisa stop time after time as a new vista comes into view.

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Thankfully sunsets are over rather rapidly this close to the Equator, and we can continue on our way back to the lodge as originally planned.

Until we get to the Marsh.

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The light is really poor now, too dark for photography, so I don't feel bad that we don't stop long.

We do, however, stop to help out this vehicle which is well and truly bogged down.

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Not sure I'd like to be out of the vehicle this close to two lions.

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And they're out!

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Having to rush along the basic tracks that make up Ndutu's 'road system', we dislodge an enormous amount of dust. It seems almost incongruous that a few days ago there was heavy rain and every track was a mud bath.

Ndutu Lodge

We finally make it back to the lodge by 19:30, and after a quick shower and change we are the last to dinner. Again.

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Apple, feta and walnut stack with home made dressing

Somehow I forget to take a photo of the main course, which was lamb tagine with couscous, green beans and courgettes. I do, however, snap a picture of a large moth enjoying what's left on David's plate.

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A very tasty Malva Pudding for dessert

The excellent arrangements for this safari was made by Calabash Adventures, the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:59 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunset wildlife africa safari tanzania zebra eagle birding cheetah lion stork egrets avocet starlings migration wildebeest courser bird_watching hoopoe wild_animals dung_beetles ndutu calabash_adventures lake_ndutu thick_knee wildebeest_migration tawny_eagle plover lapwing game_viewing blacksmith_plover annual_migration wildlife_photography big_marsh wild_birds cheetah_cubs ndutu_lodge the_great_migration african_birds cattle_egrets africa_safari aniams african-animals thickknee Comments (2)

Ndutu IX - migration, cheetah, walkabout lion, hyena, hare

Still no 'Maternity Ward'


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

We stop somewhere suitable to have our picnic breakfast. It is always nice to be able to get out of the car and stretch our legs – we spend over twelve hours each day cooped up inside the car.

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Of course, we can't just stop and get out anywhere, this is, after all, an area full of dangerous wild animals. Malisa chooses his spot carefully, and although he takes every precaution to keep us safe, I think part of the excitement is that you never know...

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Thankfully we can stand up and walk about within the car, with it being just the two of us in the back.

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From the front seat we have everything we need within reach: camera, camcorder, binoculars, notebook and chargers.

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Big Bertha lives on the back seat when not in use.

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But when I need her, she has her own bean bag to rest on at the roof bars. Perfect!

Black Shouldered Kite

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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White Browed Coucal

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Crowned Lapwing

The Great Migration

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Although Ndutu and surrounding areas are considered to be the start of the migration (as this is where the babies are born), the migration is in fact a never ending trek driven by the rains and available fresh grass. The location of the enormous herds are rarely ever the same each year in terms of precise timing and direction, as local conditions influence grass growth, but we have been very lucky on this trip to see so many of them.

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Although previous trips have involved areas where the migration herds have been present in large numbers, they have always been fairly spread out, grazing peacefully. Here we are seeing them walking in a single file or 2-3 abreast on slightly wider paths, always on the move. The fabled migration consists in excess of three million wildebeest, several hundred thousand zebra and a few hangers on such as gazelles and eland. Over the course of the year, they move from where we are now to the north of Tanzania and into Kenya, then back to this area again for more babies to be born - a journey of some 500+ kilometres.

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This is just how you see them in wildlife programmes on TV, and I feel so incredibly honoured to be here witnessing this.

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Cattle Egrets

As always, when a great number of wildebeest are present, so are the egrets, who feed on the small insects that make the fur of the animals their home.

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Helping fellow game watchers

Another day, another car stuck in the mud. This time it is Leopard Tours, Tanzania's biggest safari operators. While the vast majority of their drivers are excellent, a few are not quite so well liked, which has given them a bit of a reputation in the industry.

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Other drivers still help out, of course, even if it is just for the sake of the clients.

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Here they go!

Cheetah

Tucked into some undergrowth, we see a cheetah mum and her seven moths old youngster.

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Many cars gather around the sighting, and soon the two cats are on the move.

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They are heading for the shade and safety of the tall grasses again.

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We all follow, of course, keeping a respectful distance from the wild animals. Except one vehicle, whose driver seemed to think that the animals are here for his clients' entertainment and is not happy that the cats want some peace and shade. He heads straight for them inside the undergrowth, driving them out into the open.

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We are all absolutely shocked and horrified – we have never seen such totally unacceptable behaviour in Tanzania before.

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I am sure the cheetah are not impressed either, and they head for another similar place to hide.

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Lo and behold, the rogue driver does it again! I am speechless at his sheer ignorance and attitude! His clients must be equally obtuse and insensitive to allow him to do it, or perhaps they are just plain selfish! Looking into the car, it even looks like one of his passengers is asleep. It am totally aghast by this abhorrent behaviour and vow to report him! Not that I want him to lose his job, but he certainly needs educating!

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In the distance we see a lion, and the cheetah mum has spotted him too and they disappear completely into the grasses. Thankfully the offending driver decides to move off now, as do we.

Lion

This guy is certainly on a mission as he strides across the savannah.

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Much to Malisa's surprise, he just keeps on walking, walking, and walking. We follow – at a respectful distance, of course. You can see he is feeling the heat of the midday sun.

It is very unusual to see a lion walking like this in the middle of the day. I wonder if he has a female somewhere or perhaps he is heading for the wildebeest we saw earlier.

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If you look closely, you can see he is collared. A few of the cats are, just for rangers and researchers to keep a track on their movement.

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We finally figure it out – he is heading for the one and only tree for miles around, where he tries to find a shady spot for his afternoon siesta.

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We have been following him for forty minutes now as he strolled across the grassy flats, and it is obvious that he is suffering badly from the heat and exhaustion – his panting sounds like a steam train!

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That moment when you look into his eyes and swear you can see the soul of the beast!

Wildebeest

We head for a large group of wildebeests in the distance, hoping to find the maternity ward, only to discover it is a bachelor herd.

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We see plenty of Cattle Egrets, however.

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Hyena

Thomson's Gazelle

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Cape Hare

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Lunch
We find a suitable tree to have our picnic under as usual.

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A little too late we discover the tree is full of ants, which are 'dripping' onto David. And there were we just thinking he was being fussy when he claims the “coffee tastes like ants' piss”.

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On that note I shall close this blog off. Once again, thank you Calabash Adventures for all the arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:31 Archived in Tanzania Tagged breakfast kite africa safari tanzania lunch cheetah lion hyena egrets migration gazelle wildebeest hare african_safari wild_animals ndutu big_bertha calabash_adventures coucal lapwing spurfowl picnic_breakfast game_viewing picnic_lunch thomson's_gazelle great_migration wildlife_photography black_shouldered_kite african_animals stuck_in_mud african_birds wildebest_migration cattle_egrets Comments (2)

Ndutu VIII - lions, sunrise, wildebeest, flying eagle

A glorious start to the day


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

There are dik diks in the grounds of Ndutu Lodge as we make our way from he room this morning, but it is still silly o'clock and pitch black so no point in trying to take a photo.

Lions

It is still dark when we reach the lake and encounter the lions we saw mating last night. The lack of light really pushes my camera to the limit, but I figure grainy photos is better than no photos.

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They get up and start walking, but soon disappear into the thick undergrowth, probably to mate.

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We are hoping they'll come out from the bushes, as the female needs space to be able to roll around after copulation, in order to distribute the sperm. We hang around for a while.

Moon

The moon seems to be particularly bright this morning.

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Sunrise

For a few minutes the colours are glorious, with a heavy dew hanging over the water.

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That moment does not last long, although the mist lingers for a while longer.

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More Marabou Storks

They make great foregrounds for sunrise photos.

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We even get a couple of hot air balloons thrown in for good measure.

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Bearded Woodpecker

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It doesn't look like the lions are coming back out again, so we move off to try and find the 'maternity ward' and see if the midwife is on duty (ie a place where the wildebeest are ready to drop their babies).

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Red Bishop

Augur Buzzard

From his lofty position atop a tree, he is busy doing his ablutions and morning exercises.

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Wildebeest

Such fickle animals, they run along at speed, stop and then walk back the way they came.

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While Malisa and David are busy looking our for pregnant mamas who may honour us with the spectacle of their birthing; I spend the time photographing the birds that make wildebeest their home, or at least their dining table.

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Wattled Starlings

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I love to watch them as they try to stay upright while the wildebeest is walking, often with very comical results. The birds, I mean, not Malisa and David.

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Cattle Egret

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Secretary Bird

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Long Crested Eagle

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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Singing his little heart out!

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African Hoopoe

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Pale Tawny Eagle

Dark Tawny Eagle

We hang around for ages waiting for this eagle to fly. Well worth the wait!

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African Hoopoe

We see two more hoopoe on the road – it is a bird we rarely see, let alone in any great numbers, but this morning alone they have been around in double figures.

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Augur Buzzard

It is time for us to stop for a picnic breakfast and me to finish this blog entry. Stay tuned for more.

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

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:19 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds wildlife sunrise africa safari tanzania eagle moon birding lions serengeti woodpecker storks egrets starling wildebeest bird_watching hoopoe buzzard wild_animals ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area wildebeest_migration tawny_eagle secretary_bird dik_dik wattled_starling spurfowl augur_buzzard game_viewing cattle_egret annual_migration dark_chanting_goshawk goshawk wildlife_photography red_bishop bird_photography wild_birds african_animals the_great_migration marabou_storks crested_eagle Comments (2)

Ndutu VII - bat eared foxes, cheetah with cubs, mating lions

Some unusual sightings this afternoon


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

After our picnic lunch overlooking the marsh, we continue our drive to see what nature has to offer us.

Pratincole

Not a bird we've seen a lot on our safaris, so I am therefore really surprised to find a pond absolutely full of them! They are, of course, a northern migrant, so the time of year will have an influence.

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Eurasian Avocet

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African Cuckoo

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Dickson

Near the marsh we bump into Dickson, our guide from our safaris in Tanzania in 2007, 2011, and 2014, who now has his own safari company and was out with clients. It is great to see him again, and we chat for ages with him, as well as his passengers, before moving on.

Zebra

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We follow the zebra and wildebeest into the forest, but soon come out of there, as the flies are just too bothersome!

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Tortoise

It isn't often we see a tortoise in Tanzania, and even less often we see one run! In fact he was so quick he managed to get into the bushes before I had a chance to photograph him.

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Bat Eared Fox

It is rare to see a fox so near, they are usually really skittish.

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There appears to be at least six of them!

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The are obviously chasing something, and suddenly Malisa spots what it is: a black mamba! Wow! David and I just get a brief glimpse of it as it slithers into the bushes, and I am way too slow to get a photo.

One brave little soldier decides to go after it!

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Some of the others follow at a safe distance.

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Suddenly the snake raises his head as if to attack, and they all scamper. Not such brave little soldiers now.

They all gather on a sandy patch to chill out.

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Crested Lark

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Black Shouldered Kite

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Secretary Bird

She is probably looking for that Black Mamba!

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Cheetah

We see a cheetah in the bushes, and it looks like she has a cub.

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No, there are two cubs!

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Mum wanders off to find another place to rest.

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The cubs follow.

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I fire off shot after shot using the high speed continuous function on the Canon 1DXII, which can shoot at up to 16 frames per second. The shutter is also quite loud, and for a while my camera is getting more attention from people in the other cars than the cheetah!

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The cubs are seriously cute, and we would love to stay and watch their antics, but if we are to be back at the lodge before dark (as is a requirement in the parks), we need to get going.

Cattle Egrets

The egrets are heading home too.

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Impala

Down at the marsh, three impala are crossing the water, keeping a watchful eye on a hyena in the distance.

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The zebra take the more aggressive approach, and chase away the unwanted predator.

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The impala are much more relaxed now

Giraffe

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Seeing a giraffe drink from a puddle on the ground is always a treat. Mostly they get their moisture from the leaves they eat, as drinking like this is uncomfortable and risky business. They have been known to fall and break their bones, and with their heads down and their legs splayed like that, they are much more vulnerable to predators.

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Stuck - again

As we make our way down towards Lake Ndutu, we get stuck in a deep hole in the road. Thankfully, this time there are three of Malisa's friends nearby, who help to push us out, using their powerful vehicles to nudge us along.

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Wildebeest

As we wait for Malisa and his friends to catch up on news and gossip, I entertain myself with taking photos of backlit wildebeest.

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Lions
Just the other side of the lake, we see a couple of lions. It looks like our male from earlier blog entries has finally found his long lost love!

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And love seems to be on their mind tonight.

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Until she growls at him.

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It's a strange light tonight, with the clouds appearing like crepuscular rays.

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Ndutu Lodge

We make it back to the lodge just as it is getting dark, with enough time for a quick shower and change before dinner.

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Butternut squash tart

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Chicken pasta

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Ginger, walnut and toffee tart

Stars

The African sky seems to be bigger than anywhere else we've been, mainly down to the lack of light pollution here in the bush. I try my hand at some photos this evening; as I cannot wander away from the lodge because of wild animals, I decide to include the camp fire in my photo. Today's lesson (which I did know from previous experience): do not try your hand at astrophotography after a few drinks.

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I soon realise my mistake and opt to go to bed instead. Thank you Calabash Adventures for all the arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals wildlife kite africa dinner safari tanzania zebra snake birding cheetah fox lions giraffe stars egrets avocet tortoise impala stuck wildebeest astro cuckoo game_drives ndutu lark calabash_adventures bat_eared_fox dickson secretary_bird pratincole astrophotography wildlife_photography black_shouldered_kite ndutu_lodge african_animals bird_wacthing black_mamba crested_lark lions_mating Comments (2)

Ndutu VI - vultures, hartebeest, elephants, jackals, lions

A lovely morning on the savannah


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

Zebra

Looks like we have us some zebra love here.

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It's pretty obvious that this liaison isn't going to result in any zebra babies!

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It looks like a kinky threesome to me.

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Cattle Egret

Wildebeest Buffet

Marabou Stork and a variety of Vultures feast on a wildebeest carcass left behind by a much larger predator. These scavenging raptors are the hyenas of the skies, playing a vital ecological clean-up role by disposing of decomposing carcasses.

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There is always a strict pecking order at such buffets, with the Lapped Faced Vulture being the first, as with their powerful hooked beaks they are the only raptor able to open up the carcass to allow other, smaller vultures to access the innards.

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These huge and aggressive birds stand more than a metre tall with wingspans of around three metres. They are also, however, known for being particularly affectionate and mate for life, which in the wild can be up to thirty years.

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I have to say that he doesn't look very 'affectionate'.

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Their heads are free of feathers to avoid blood clinging to it as they bury themselves deep into the carcass to get at the sinew, their preferred food. Potent stomach acids help them deal with the most putrid carcass.

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Vultures can store up to one kilo of consumed flesh in the distensible section of their oesophagus, called a crop. They have been known to eat so much that they become too heavy to physically take off; although should they sense danger, they are able to empty the crop for a quick get-away.

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Different species of vultures have different shaped beaks, which means they eat different parts of a carcass, hence they should - theoretically - all be able to eat peacefully at the 'dinner table'.

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Hartebeest

A large antelope, standing at around 1 metre at the shoulders (3 feet), hartebeest are gregarious animals that are usually found in herds, such as here.

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Now let's go back to what I said about the size of the Lapped Faced Vulture: should the bird be standing next to the Hartebeest, this is what it would look like.

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Giraffe

A lonesome giraffe eats his way across the savannah.

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Golden Jackal

She is sniffing around, looking for something, maybe food or a scent.

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She finds a hole and disappears into it.

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Elephants

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It's interesting to see the different lengths and angles of the tusks of these two elephants.

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Kori Bustard

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Eurasian Avocet

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Common Pratincole

Lions

At first the only evidence of the lions sleeping under this tree, is a paw sticking up.

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Later we a head appears, then drops down again.

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We let sleeping lions be, and carry on exploring.

Another Lion

A young male lion is surveying the landscape from a hillock overlooking Big Marsh.

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We can tell he is young – less than seven years old – from the fact that his nose is still pink. As they get older, their nose becomes black all over.

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He gets up and walks down onto the flat area.

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We move down to the flats too, and at one stage he comes up and lies under our car for the shade!

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Eventually he seems to settle down and go to sleep – in the middle of the sun – so we drive off to find somewhere to have our lunch.

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Picnic at Big Marsh

Malisa finds a great lunch spot overlooking a sea of wildebeest on Big Marsh.

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There is something really special about getting the picnic chairs out, in the company of wild animals.

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There are literally thousands of wildebeest down on the marsh.

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Judging by the number of Superb Starlings who join us, I would guess this is a popular picnic spot.

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"Got any food for me?"

I might just accidentally drop a piece of cake on the ground while I was eating; it is so easily done.

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Just as we are packing up, we hear a commotion down on the marsh, with thousands of hooves beating the ground as the whole herd – or confusion as a group of wildebeest are known as – make a run for it. Soon there are none.

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Just a couple of minutes ago, this was heaving with animals

I have no idea what spooked them, so we pop down to find out.

This safari was arranged by Calabash Adventures, the best safari operators by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 07:10 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals wildlife elephants bird africa safari tanzania zebra birding african picnic start lions giraffe egret vultures avocet starlings wildebeest jackal kori_bustard bustard ndutu calabash_adventures hartebeest marabou_stork pratincole golden_jackal picnic_lunch picnic_box wildlife_photography big_marsh wildebeest_carcass feeding_the_birds superb-starling Comments (2)

Ndutu V: wildebeest, wildebeest and more wildebeest

In the midst of the migration


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

The day does not start well. I have a dreadful night, wheezing and squeaking, and constantly waking up in a panic thinking I can't breathe. This is too much like our trip here in 2017, when I was suffering from pneumonia, and I feel very concerned this morning.

Trying to get out of bed, I drop my mobile phone on the floor, and it lands on the charging lead, which promptly bends. Thankfully I always carry a spare, but when I get that out of my bag, I discover that I have picked up a wrong cable and it doesn't fit! Doh!

Finally making it to the bathroom, I find the toilet full of excrement and blocked. In his sleepy state, David flushed the toilet during his night time visit, but didn't hang around to ensure the flush worked – which obviously it hadn't.

Bleary eyed, I look in the mirror. Last night as I got back to the room, my lips felt sore, and this morning I wake up to a large blister on my bottom lip. I suffer from photo-sensitive dermatitis, and am quite freaked out by this – last time I sun-burnt my lips, I ended up with a secondary infection and three lots of antibiotics. I do not want a repeat of that, so I cover the blister with a couple of Compeed cold sore plasters. They are great for helping to heal cold sores as well as keeping dust out of the wounds and make the sores almost invisible.

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As we open the front door, we see that the safari has come to us this morning, in the form of a herd of impala right outside the room.

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We have the last room in a row of 12, so we look out onto the bush. I do love this place.

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As we walk to the restaurant, we also see some birds along the path. I particularly requested to stay here at Ndutu Lodge for this safari, partly because the grounds usually attract a number of feathered friends to its lovely bird bath near the restaurant. Unfortunately, as a result of the recent heavy rains, the bird bath is completely overgrown and even if there were birds in it you wouldn't be able to see them!

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Superb Starling

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Fischer's Lovebird

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I'm sure there's a bird bath in there somewhere!

With Malisa getting back so late last night from his adventures stuck in the mud, we suggested he slept in this morning. We are therefore having breakfast in the lodge before heading out today – an absolute rarity for us.

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We finally leave around 08:00 to “see what nature has to offer us today” as Malisa likes to say.

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Red Necked Spurfowl

Elephant

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We notice that this guy only has one short tusk. Not sure what happened but he could have damaged them while trying to bring down a tree.

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We thought we were in trouble yesterday getting stuck, but this water tanker really is well and truly bogged down. It will take quite some effort to get that out again!

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Hippo

It is unusual – and always exciting – to see hippo out of the water. This guy is going for a little stroll in the shallows.

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It looks like he is going for a roll!

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Ruff

Red Bishop

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The Great Migration

The annual movement of wildebeest and other grazing herbivores across the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem is one of the greatest spectacles in the natural world.

Today we watch the wildebeest – and a few zebra - running and jumping, then turning back the way they came from, fickle creatures that they are.

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A few zebra join them

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Maternity Ward

We head for the lakeside where a lot of expectant mothers are gathered, plus a few with newborn babies. Again we are hoping to witness a birth.

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Looking at the way this young lady is lying down and the shape of her rear, we feel sure she is going to drop a baby any minute, and we spend the next fifteen minutes or so watching her stand up, sit down, walk a few steps, then sit down again. Is she going to give birth?

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No such luck. We do see a number discarded placentas around though, but we seem to be either too early or too late to witness the birth itself. We do see a couple of wildebeest sparring, however.

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Crowned Lapwing

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A pair of Lilac Breasted Rollers

The wildebeest all start moving en masse towards the water, and soon they are crossing the shallow lake, one by one in a single file.

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First it is just adults, then the odd youngster appears too.

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There is a gap in proceedings, which the zebras take advantage of. They are much more nervous than the wildebeest.

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The second wave of wildebeest cross in a slightly different place, where the water is considerably deeper. There is a lot of jumping and splashing going on.

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We worry for the youngsters, as they can barely hold their heads above water.

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We move along the shore a little to get a different view of the animals as they cross.

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As soon as we see this little baby set off across the lake, we hold our breath – the water is way too deep for him.

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Thankfully mum realises the dangers and turns around.

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Flamingos

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More and more birds arrive at the lake.

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It's a miracle that they don't collide when they land!

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It looks like we missed a birth over at the Maternity Ward – this baby is just a few minutes old, and mum still has the afterbirth attached.

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And a slightly older one – maybe one or two days.

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He still doesn't look too steady on his feet.

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Another new-born, still wet with and the afterbirth still attached to the mother.

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We move on to have out picnic breakfast and to see what else nature has to offer us. Stay tuned.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this amazing safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:08 Archived in Tanzania Tagged wildlife elephant africa safari tanzania zebra birding hippo flamingos roller migration impala starling wildebeest bird_watching ndutu blister maternity_ward calabash_adventures wildebeest_migration spurfowl game_viewing nightmares red_bishop wild_birds dermatitis lovebirds ndutu_lodge ndutu_lake bad_sleep blocked_toilet lip_sore compeed bird_bath wilflife_photography water_tanker the_great_migration placenta Comments (4)

Ndutu IV: zebra, stuck in mud, lion in a tree

What an adventurous afternoon!


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

Picnic Lunch

We find the only tree for miles around, under which to have our picnic this lunchtime. There is something very special about eating our lunch in the wild.

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After lunch we go on our way again to see what else nature has to offer us today.

Zebra

The first wildlife we see is a few zebra.

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One month old baby

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Two month old baby suckling

This Grant's gazelle is all on its own, miles from anywhere and any other animals. Most odd.

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Bogged Down

There are not many animals in this area, so we decide to move on elsewhere. Although there is a track, it is very muddy and pot-holed, so Malisa drives off-road; heading towards a forested area we can see in the distance. While the plains look fine on the surface, the ground is sodden underneath, hidden by the long grass; so Malisa speeds up to try and avoid sinking in to the soft soil. It makes for a very bouncy ride, and poor Bertha (my 600mm lens) falls off the seat onto the floor and gets detached from the camera body. Hoping she has not suffered any damage, I put her back together again and leave her on the floor - at least then she can't fall anywhere!

The ground gets wetter and wetter, but Malisa manages to stay afloat so to speak, by turning on the four wheel drive and some skilful driving skimming across the surface. Until we hit a hole created by termites. We come to an abrupt halt, and no amount of revving the engine or turning the wheels makes any difference. We're stuck. Well and truly bogged down.

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Malisa gets out the spade and tries to dig us out, while David and I make sure we are facing opposite directions as we scan the horizon for wild animals. In areas with lots of plains game such as wildebeest, antelopes or zebra, you know you are reasonably safe from predators; whereas here there are no signs of life, human or animal for as far as the eye can see. I stare so intently at the surrounding area that every bush and tree becomes a cheetah or a lion. This is not good for my blood pressure! Five minutes later the same bush again looks like a big cat - I soon become paranoid and start seeing signs of danger with every small movement of the vegetation. David admits to his imagination playing havoc with him in the same way too.

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David on the look-out

Having worked up a sweat trying to shift the heavy wet soil and make a sold path for the wheels, Malisa gets back in the car and tries to drive off again. The wheels just spin and spin. It's no good, we are still stuck.

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Time to radio for help. All morning the radio has been going, with the occasional message about an exciting cat sighting, but mostly calls for help to get out of a sticky situation like this. Malisa grabs the microphone. Nothing. Completely dead. We can hear others, but they can't hear us. He keeps trying but it is obvious the microphone is faulty. Kaput.

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Plan C: Modern technology to the rescue, Malisa whips out his mobile phone to call for help. No signal. I try mine. Also no signal. David, who is on a different network to me, has a very weak signal, so Malisa uses it to make a call to the lodge. After initially having to explain to the confused receptionist why he is calling from a British phone, Malisa is able to let them know what has happened, explain where we are as best as he can, and ask for assistance.

Meanwhile continues to try and dig us out, using a spade and a mud board. David and I go back to scan the horizon, not just for predators, but also for any other cars that may be able to help us out of this mess.

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In the far, far distance, we spot three cars heading from right to left. They are too far away to see us, we can only just make them out using binoculars. How to attract their attention? Malisa tries using his torch, and David waves his mobile phone around with the light on. Both are way too weak to be seen, and anyway, the others will probably just think it is a reflection of the sun.

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I have a bright idea. Taking the speedlight flash gun from my camera bag, I set it on full power and use the TEST button to fire it. Again and again and again. It seems to work, as the vehicles change direction and appear to be heading towards us, coming closer and closer. What a relief! When they are within shouting distance, Malisa tells them not to come any nearer, as there is no point for them to get stuck in the mud as well. Protecting himself with a stick against any potential wild animals, he walks over to the other cars.

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All three drivers come back over with Malisa – these are the same guys who we helped rescue earlier this morning down by Lake Ndutu – and discuss a plan of action. A few more attempts at digging us out are made, then the decision is taken that David and I should go with the others, who will take us back to the lodge. Meanwhile Malisa will stay with the car and wait for help. I argue. I don't want to leave Malisa on his own, but I am talking to deaf ears. I guess he is right when he says that we would be more of a hindrance than a help to the rescuers.

We quickly grab all our stuff and walk across to the other cars. Or at least try to. On my third step I sink knee deep in the mud. I manage to get my left leg out, but in the struggle to free the other one, my shoe gets left behind. Malisa ends up having to use his spade to dig it out. Someone mentions: “all that brown stuff is not just mud, you know...” Thanks a lot for that thought!

The passengers in the other cars are very welcoming, cheering as we arrive and offering us welcome drinks (cartons of juice) and cakes when we get inside the car. Thank goodness they have some spare seats! Only when we drive away do we realise that Malisa is stuck in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by wild animals (potentially) and without any form of communication. We should have left David's phone with him, the only one that worked! I feel really bad about that, but he is too far away to hear me shout, and anyway, none of us feel like traipsing through that mud (!) to go back to where he and the car is.

Douglas, our hero rescue driver, explains that we need to go back to close to the point where we had lunch (they had lunch not far away too - we could see them when we were picnicking) before trying to find the road that will take us back to the lodge. Like Malisa did, he drives at great speed over the boggy landscape, resulting in the windscreen being splattered with mud!

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As we carefully make our way towards the area where we can safely meet up with the track again, we chat to the other passengers. They are on their last day of a five day safari, and are disappointed that they haven't seen a cheetah yet. We try to explain to them where we saw the mother and cubs yesterday.

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Being in a full car (seven passengers plus driver), also makes me realise how spoilt we are for space with just the two of us. Plus Malisa, of course. Having a private safari is the only way to go in my opinion!

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Beautiful late afternoon light over Lake Ndutu

Wildebeest

We drive through large areas dotted with hundreds – no thousands – of wildebeest, some with young babies. Like us, the passengers in this car are on the lookout for a wildebeest-mama just about to give birth. They have not been lucky enough to witness that either, and of course, this afternoon is their last chance. We all frantically scan the herds to look for large bellies.

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We also see a couple of Black Backed Jackals running away. I am sitting in the front seat next to the driver, where photography is not so easy as standing up is difficult because the roof hatch doesn't line up with the footwell, and there is no 'aisle' to stand in like there is at the back. With all my camera gear on my lap, it is hard to manoeuvre myself in any direction.

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Giraffe

Stuck. Again.

Making our way back to Ndutu and the lodges, we have to cross the same boggy area near Lake Ndutu where we helped the car out of the mud earlier this morning. Guess what? Maggie, one of the other drivers in our convoy, gets stuck in the mud.

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Douglas drives our car as close as he dares, then gets out and attaches a tow rope to Maggie's car.

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Here we go:


Easy peasy!

The plains are bathed in a glorious warm glow from the setting sun.

Zebra

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Grant's Gazelle

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Lappet Faced Vulture

Someone in the car complains that they haven't seen anything 'interesting' this afternoon. Another good reason why I am so grateful we are not travelling in a group - to me every wild animal we see is interesting in its own right, it is not just about the big cats and other 'popular' animals. He does take a bit of stick for his comments from the others in the car, to be fair.

Lions

Back by the lake, our three lions are still hanging around. I hope our whinger from earlier is happy now. We notice a vehicle from the KOPE Lion Conservation Project is here too. They have followed these particular lions making their way from Ngorongoro Crater to Ndutu. I later find out that these are the same lions we saw as tiny cubs in the crater back in May 2016 - how cool is that!?!

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Being in a convoy of three cars means that the lead car (which on this occasion is us) can't just find the best position at a sighting, he has to make sure the other two cars can get a good view too.

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We move along to give the other two cars access.

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It looks like the lions have been asleep all afternoon, and are now just waking up.

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He's on the move!

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His brother follows.

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OMG! He's climbed the tree again!

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“I might not make it, but I am going to try. Hold on tight!” says Douglas as he drives straight for the bushes. Not just into undergrowth, but shrubs the height of the car. He cuts through them as if they are just tall grasses. These cars – and their drivers – are amazing!

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The King looks magnificent as his surveys his domain. What light! What colours!

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He doesn't look all that comfortable.

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That's better!

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Definitely not comfortable!

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Unfortunately we have to leave as Douglas is dropping us off, and then taking his original passengers to another camp further away. When we arrive at Ndutu Lodge, he gives the manager the co-ordinates of Malisa's position from his GPS. We are relieved to later hear that help has gone out and have located Malisa; and they promise to let us know when Malisa and his rescuers arrive back safe and sound.

Shower

My feet and legs are filthy dirty after this afternoon's wallow in the mud, and I take my shoes and sock with me into the shower. There is mud everywhere and I feel guilty for using so much water to wash off. I am normally very conscious of my water usage when we travel, so it goes against the grain to stay in the shower for a long time.

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Dinner

The first thing we do when we get to the main building, is to ask the manager if Malisa is back. He is not. It is dark outside now and I am really concerned, but I am reassured to know that he is no longer on his own and they are working hard to rescue him.

There are not so many people in the restaurant tonight, two if the large groups from last night have moved on.

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Starter of Greek Quesadilla drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

Followed by a very nice tomato soup which I did not photograph

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Peppered beef - tender and tasty. One of the many things I like about Ndutu Lodge is that they serve extra vegetables on the side. We eat a lot of veggies at home and I so miss them when travelling, as I find most restaurants merely plonk a bit of greenery on the plate for visual impact (if you're lucky).

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The dessert – described as After Dinner Chocolate Slice – is served too cold for my liking. I dislike any cold food straight out of the fridge! I even take ice cream out 10-15 minutes before serving it, or put it in the microwave at home. OK, so I'm weird, we all know that.

Small Spotted Genets

Ndutu Lodge is famous for its resident population of genets – small cat-like creatures who live in the rafters of the lodge. They are wild, but have become habituated to people (and flash guns). The kitchen staff tempt them into the lounge after dinner with leftovers, but they are free to come and go as they like. We later see them roaming the ground and climbing bushes when we go back to our room.

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I refuse to go to bed until Malisa is back, even if it means staying in the reception area half the night! We position ourselves in the bar so that we can see up the pathway leading to the car park, hoping that Malisa will come down this way before going to the drivers' quarters. Thankfully we don't have to wait too long, and when he arrives at around 21:30, we give him the biggest hug ever.

Malisa explains how his rescuers were unable to drive right up to where he was stuck, but like we did, they walked across and helped him dig out the car and place mud boards underneath the wheels. While waiting for them to turn up, Malisa also managed to fix the radio to get the microphone working again. He is such a star! We can go to bed happy and relieved now.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari, and Malisa for looking after us so well. We love you guys!

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:05 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset wildlife adventure phone dinner mud safari tanzania zebra flash dirty birding dirt radio picnic shower lions giraffe mobile_phone gazelle stuck wildebeest douglas bird_watching maggie ndutu calabash_adventures jackals game_viewing picnic_lunch wildlife_photography malisa tree_climbing_lions ndutu_lodge lion_in_a_tree stuck_in_mud bogged_down rescued cell_phone no_phone_signal mud_board speedlight flash_gun camera_flash kope genets Comments (2)

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

In the midst of the action


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

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

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

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

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Marabou Stork

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Grant's Gazelles

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Thomson's Gazelle

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

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

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Dung Beetles

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

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

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

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Things don't always go to plan.

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

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

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

I just love these little animals!

Hyena

A pregnant hyena eyes up a zebra.

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

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

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Marabou Stork

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

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And an Abdim Stork

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Kori Bustard

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

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Zebra with Young

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This guy seems to have a lot of passengers.

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Wattled Starlinsg

Black Headed Heron

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

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

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

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

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

Knob Billed Duck

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

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Wildebeests

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

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

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Zebra Dust Bath

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Zebra on Heat

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

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

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

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Car stuck in the Mud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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There's an enormous amount of surface water about!

Hyenas

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

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

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Eland

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

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

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Abdim Stork

Pee break

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

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

Thomson's Gazelle

A mother and her ten day old baby.

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

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

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

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