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Marrakissa

Another heavenly place


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

I slept surprisingly well last night, despite the upset tummy yesterday afternoon and several rather unpleasant dreams overnight.

We are meeting Abdoulie first thing, who will be our birding guide for the morning. He is early, and so are we.

Brikama

Heading for Marrakissa, we drive through Brikama, which is the second largest town in The Gambia, and absolute pandemonium. I try some of my usual drive-by shooting (photographically speaking) as we are stuck in the traffic jam. The following images are photographed through the window glass of the car, so apologies for the somewhat inferior quality.

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Waiting for the school bus

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Bread delivery

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Coffee on the go

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Hitching a ride

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Heading for the Laundry

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Donkey Cart

Likky Bom

The sign on the rear bumper of a bright yellow car puzzles me greatly and I ask Abdoulie what it means. He is as bemused as we are, and to our surprise pulls over the driver to ask him. “It's my nickname” says the mystified kid in charge of the adorned car “nothing more than that”. I do wonder if he realises what sort of connotations the sign has, albeit with a slightly different spelling.

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Marakissa

First we stop on a bridge to check out the birdlife along the wetlands area.

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Senegal Coucal

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Wire Tailed Swallow

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Great Egret

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Double Spurred Francolin

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Cashew fruit with the nut hanging down below

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Red Eyed Doves

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Squacco Heron

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Western Plantain Eater

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Purple Glossy Starling

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Senegal Parrot

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Yellow Fronted Tinkerbird, doing its best to hide

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Common Bulbul nest building

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Piapiac

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Lizard Buzzard

Ants

Abdoulie warns us to be careful when stepping over the marching ants. Too late, David has already been invaded. Lots of jumping, shouting and a few choice words later, he drops his trousers in the middle of the field to get rid of the ants. Thankfully I am too busy laughing to photograph it.

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White Faced Whistling Ducks

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African Jacana

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Fine Spotted Woodpecker

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Woodland Kingfisher

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African Golden Oriole

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White Billed Buffalo Weavers

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

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Blue Bellied Roller

Black Faced Quail Finch

We see a number of these little birds fly out of bushes without warning, but trying to photograph them proves extremely difficult.

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Eventually Abdoulie takes my camera and goes off stalking them.

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After a lot of time and effort, he manages to creep up on one of the quail finches on the ground to grab a quick shot. Good man – I have to say I admire his patience.

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Grey Heron

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Village Weaver

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Pin Tailed Whydah

What an amazing place this is turning out to be. I shall leave you here now and continue in another blog entry. Ciao.

Posted by Grete Howard 04:37 Archived in Gambia Tagged ants roller woodpecker heron starling weaver oriole bulbul gambia jacana swallow coucal francolin cashew_nut the_gambia piapiac whistling_ducks glossy_starling plantain_eater firefinch abdoulie brikama bread_delivery licky_bom bumper_sticker marakissa tinkerbird leaflove buffalo_weavers quail_finch whydah Comments (4)

Marakissa River Camp

Another Birdie Heaven


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

Marakissa River Camp

Abdoulie takes us to this delightful camp for refreshments and bird watching. The camp is set on the riverside (there is a hint in the name), and features many different species. We spend a couple of delightful hours here, nipping between the covered terrace overlooking man made water pools, and the river below.

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Abyssinian Roller

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Yellow Billed Shrike

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Beautiful Sunbird, preening

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Purple Glossy Starling

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Lesser Honeyguide

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Piapiac (AKA Black Magpie)

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Scruffy Looking Village Weaver

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Western Plantain Eater

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Black Crake

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Giant Kingfisher

Kingfisher Diving

While we are down at the river's edge, I spot a Pied Kingfisher in the corner of my eye, just about to dive into the water. I swing my camera around and manage to grab a quick shot as he carries his lunch away.

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Having devoured the fresh snack, he comes back, sitting on a nearby branch, contemplating his next move.

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Feeling hungry again, he hovers over the river, hoping to spot a fish.

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Bingo! Not only did he manage to catch one (just – he is barely holding on to it by the tip of its head), but he also speared a dead leaf.

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Which is now stuck on his beak.

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Speckled Pigeon

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Western Reef Heron

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African Black Kite

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Great White Egret

Back up at the terrace we are joined by the two Dutch ladies we met at Brufut and Tanji. It seems that we are all doing a very similar birding circuit.

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African Thrush

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Blue Bellied Roller

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Beautiful Sunbird

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The female sunbird is nowhere near as colourful as the male

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Orange Cheeked Waxbill

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Red Billed Firefinch

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A squirrel joins in the fun

Having had our fill of birdies this morning, we head back to the lodge, getting stuck in a very hot car as we hit a traffic jam along the way.

Lunch

It is lovely to see lots of people have come for lunch here at Tanji today – a big birding party plus a few other couples. We get a very warm welcome from our favourite waitress Awa, who throws her arms out and shouts our names as soon as she sees us. She has drastically changed her appearance from yesterday by going from long, black hair to extremely short, pillarbox red! It suits her. Mind you, she is such a pretty girl she'd look good in anything.

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Butter fish in a delicious spicy sauce, served with chips.

We are watched during lunch by a troupe of the local Green Vervet Monkeys, as well as a couple of birds

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Grey Backed Camaroptera

After a delightful siesta, we spend the rest of the afternoon chatting to Haddy, the owner of Tanji Eco Bird Lodge, hearing all about her plans for the property as well as solving all the world's problems. As you do.

Dinner

Dinner is a low key affair again as usual, with just the two of us and staff.

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Chicken Yassa

After dinner we retire to our room to let the staff go home while David and I share a few drinks on the balcony, going over the delights of the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 03:45 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds monkeys wildlife kite wild africa birding squirrel roller heron vulture west_africa kingfisher starling shrike finch gambia bird_watching sunbird eco_lodge vervet_monkeys thrush cordon_bleu wildlife_photography the_gambia tanji the_gambia_experience cordon_blue piapiac crake plantain_eater firefinch waxbill tanji_bird_eco_lodge abdoulie marakissa leaflove marakissa_river_camp wild_birds kingfisher_diving camaroptera siest haddy chicken_yassa Comments (2)

Abuko

Big day today: Lifer # 1000


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

I spent most of the night tossing and turning, trying to find a position that didn't hurt my arm. That'll teach me for spending so long at the waterhole photographing the birds. Not. I even struggle to bring my hand up to my face this morning, affecting washing, brushing my teeth and hair, and eating. Photographer's elbow. A bit like a tennis player having played in an all day tournament after normally just having a game once or twice a week. The pain won't stop me going out taking photos of birds though.

Abuko

This morning Malick is taking us to Abuko. He's decided that we are going to be better off walking along the plantations just on the outskirts of the woods, rather than inside the thick forest itself, where the conditions will be rather difficult in terms of photography: dark and too many branches in the way. Sounds good to me.

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Onions

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Bitter Tomato

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Sweet Potato

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Mango

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Tapping the palm toddy

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Scarecrow. Or should that be scaredog?

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I don't think the strips of cloth hung from this pole to keep the birds away from the crops are working too well.

We almost immediately spot birds in the trees and on the ground. As before, any lifers (new species to me) will be denoted with *

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Sacred Ibis

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African Grey Hornbill

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Hooded Vulture

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Blue Breasted Kingfisher*

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Grey Woodpecker*

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Woodland Kingfisher

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Spur Winged Plover

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Striated Heron

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Black Crake

Malick warns us to be careful as we step over the ants who are making their way along a well-defined path.

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African Jacana

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Senegal Coucal

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White Billed Buffalo Weavers*

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Two different species of Egrets - Intermediate and Cattle

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Squacco Heron

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Black Heron

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David testing out his directional microphone, hoping to cut out some of the "click click click" he normally gets on his videos from my photography.

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Blue Bellied Roller*

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Giant Kingfisher with a Tilapia in his beak

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

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Pied Crow

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Gull Billed Tern*

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Red Eyed Dove

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Senegal Thick Knee*

This is a very special and important moment in my birdwatching mission – my 1000th lifer!

Ta da!

While I have been interested in seeing and photographing birds for a very long time, it is only in the last 13 years or so that I have taken it to the next level and making a point of identifying and recording the birds I see. I would not consider myself a serious birder, but I am an ardent list-maker, so to make 1000 different species makes me jubilant and proud.

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Little Bee Eater

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Hammerkop

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Broad Billed Roller

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Hooded Vulture

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Reef Heron

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Purple Heron

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Great White Egret

I came to The Gambia with a very short wish list, consisting of only three species that I really wanted to see: Western Bluebill, Western Plantain Eater and the Abyssinian Roller. Having ticked off the first two yesterday, Malick promised me the roller today. He succeeded in spotting it, and the bird put on a delightful display for us.

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The perfect finish to a perfect morning's birdwatching. Thank you Malick.

Posted by Grete Howard 06:36 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds crow birding mango ants roller woodpecker heron egret vulture ibis parakeet dove west_africa kingfisher plantations garlic cormorant sweet_potato tilapia gambia bird_watching hornbill hammerkop thick_knee coucal tern the_gambia malick_suso crake afraica abuko bitter_tomato palm_toddy scarecrow 1000th_lifer lifer life_tick Comments (3)

Serengeti Day 4 Part 2 - ele herd, lion cubs v/whirlwind

Plenty of elephants


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

After a very nice packed lunch, a stroll around the Visitors Centre, a use of the facilities and a tank full of petrol, we set off for some more explorations of the Seronera area of Serengeti.

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Baby Thomson's Gazelle

This little youngster, here seen with his older brother, is less than two weeks old. All together now: “Awwww”.

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Elephants

If we thought yesterday's herd was big at 75 animals, today we count 83 elephants. They are, however, technically two large herds in close proximity. Not just to each other, but also to us, walking right by all the cars gathered.

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Two males are bonding with a spot of play-fighting, or is it a bromance?

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The herd, or memory as a group of elephants is also known, consists of several cute youngsters.

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We stay with the elephants for a long time, just watching them make their way across the savanna, heading for an area with palm trees and water.

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Cheetah

Under this tree in the far distance is a big male cheetah. Honestly.

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He is keeping a close eye on a warthog in the even further distance.

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The cheetah gets up, walks around a bit, then lies down again. Too much excitement for one day.

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I don't think he fancies his chances against the elephants on the horizon.

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We let him carry on with his siesta and continue on our way to “see what nature has to offer us”.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Grey Backed Fiscal Shrike

We see a couple of these birds within minutes of each other, or maybe it is the same one following us.

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Different bush, different light

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Spotted Hyena

Malisa tells us that a campaign has been in place to thin out the numbers of hyenas in the Ngorongoro crater as there were too many in such a small space. A number of them were tranquillised, marked and moved to the Serengeti; however, within sixteen hours they were back in the crater. I guess it is easier to eat your food in a bowl such as Ngorongoro rather than trying to chase your peas around a large dinner plate like the Serengeti.

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Thomson's Gazelles

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Two males fight for control of the large harem. The following conversation then occurs in the vehicle:

Malisa: “Thomson's Gazelles are polyandrous, females mate with several males”

Grete: “Lucky girls”.

Chris: “I'd call them sluts”

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Secretary Bird and Roadkill

She is eating a hedgehog, although it is unlikely that she killed it herself, it was most likely the victim of a road accident.

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Whirlwind

This mini dust tornado barges its way across the savanna with no regard for man or beast in its way.

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Giraffe

Just out for an afternoon stroll

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He stops off for a snack along the way.

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White Browed Coucal

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"You looking at me"?

Sausage Tree

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You can see why these sponge-like fruits are used as loofahs.

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Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

As soon as we stop the car, it is like the dust suddenly catches up with us, and for a while the animals are enveloped in a cloud of brown 'smog'.

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It takes a minute or so for the dust to settle. Thankfully on this occasion the monkey didn't make a run for it before the air had cleared.

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Thomson's Gazelles

As is often the case when you see Vervet Monkeys, we find Thomson's Gazelles nearby. They have a symbiotic relationship based on commensalism, where the gazelles benefit from fruits dropped from the trees by the monkeys and their early warning signals of impending danger.

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Pond Life

Waterholes are always a hive of activity, especially at this time of year when much of the savannah has completely dried out.

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Secretary Bird

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Bohor Reedbuck

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Three Banded Plover

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Ruff

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Bohor Reedbuck

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Secretary Bird

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Blacksmith Plover

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Three Banded Plover

Lions

Shade created by a tall tree shelters four lions from the midday sun. These are three cubs from two different mothers. One of the females has gone off, leaving the other in charge of the babies. She may be hunting or she may have 'sacrificed herself' by going off to mate with a strange male to stop him from coming into the pride and killing the cubs.

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Whirlwind

We hear it long before we see it. It's a strange sound, a bit like tires on gravel or ice, but without the engine noise. The cubs can hear it too, and it seems to really spook them.

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One the dust devil has passed, they all gather together and peace is yet again restored to this small lion family.

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Troop of Olive Baboons

Young and old baboons are all around us – on the ground, climbing the trees and eating the flowers, riding on their parents' backs or bellies...

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Thank you Calabash, the best safari company by far, for another terrific morning in Serengeti.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:40 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds monkeys elephants tree africa safari tanzania cheetah petrol lions giraffe baboons lion_cubs roller serengeti dust hyena shrike bird_watching hedgehog game_drive water_hole lilac_breasted_roller whirlwind calabash_adventures olive_baboons vervet_monkeys seronera spotted_hyena plover secretary_bird game_viewing sausage_tree ruff mini_tornado thomson's_gazelle reedbuck visitors_centre seregeti_visitors_centre grey_backed_fiscal_shrike dust_devil white_browed_coucal black_faced_vervet_monkets pond_life three_banded_plover blacksmith_plover Comments (1)

Serengeti Day 3 Part 3 - steenbok, eles, breaking into tent

A varied afternoon with an adventurous ending


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

Lunch

While we are having our picnic lunch, the leopard (the reason we are eating inside the car) jumps down from the tree and disappears in the long grass. Good for him, getting away from the baying crowd.

Hippo

A small pond is home to a handful of hippos, including a couple of youngsters.

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Yellow Billed Stork

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Black Winged Stilt

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Those legs are impossibly tall!

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It must seem like a long way down.

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Cape Buffalo

Including some cute little babies.

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The public transport of choice in the Serengeti.

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Wattled Starling

Lion Cubs

Three young babies, around two months old, have been left home alone while mum goes off shopping (AKA as hunting for food); and chances are that she will stay out all night. In the UK she would have Social Services on her back.

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Being under strict instructions from mum to stay put (we actually saw this in action on our last safari, the way a lioness 'barked' orders to her offspring – very impressive) doesn't seem to deter the naughty youngsters who boldly leave the safety of their hideaway in the long grass to explore the world around them, oblivious to dangers.

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Saddle Billed Stork

Although not a lifer, it is a very unusual bird to see and the first time I have been able to take a decent photo of one.

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Steenbok

Startled by our vehicle, these steenbok make some impressive jumps trying to get away.

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Olive Baboons

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Pale Tawny Eagle

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White Bellied Bustard

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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Spotted Hyena

I love the long shadows created by the late afternoon sun.

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He's out looking for love by the looks of it.

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Reedbuck

Hiding in the bushes

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Another roller, this time captured by Big Bertha, bathed in the delightful golden hour.

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Elephants

Backlit elephants + dust + setting sun = happy photographer

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With side-light, the mood changes drastically.

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Banded Mongoose

Plural of mongoose is mongooses, not mongeese, and a group of these animals is called a band.

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They are looking for termites.

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Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse

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Reedbuck

Doing what reedbucks do best: hiding in the reeds.

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Sanderling

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The light is fading fast now.

More elephants

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Lions

Lots of cars are gathered around these four lions, three of which are sleeping.

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The large rasta, however, is walking near, and later on, the road. One of the drivers gets so close to the animal that I fear he is going to run the poor guy over.

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White Headed Vulture

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Black Backed Jackal

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Sunset

As we yet again rush back to reach camp before dark, we are following several other vehicles. I love it when this happens as the cars kick up lots of dust which add wonderful atmosphere to my photos.

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Leopard

Just before we turn off towards the lodge, a leopard crosses the road just in front of us. He has gone long before Malisa manages to stop, let alone us getting cameras out. How exciting, though.

Evening at Ole Serai

At dinner this evening Rashid, the manager of Ole Serai Luxury Camp, spends a lot of time chatting with us. Even chef Raymond comes out from duties in the kitchen to say hello.

Lyn and Chris join us in our tent for a drink after dinner. From very close proximity we can hear the roar of a lion, as well as the loud American group who arrived today. Go lion, go!

I have my first walkie-talkie experience this evening as I call for the askari (Maasai escort) to take the others back to their tent. Hearing the lion so close by, they are naturally nervous. It is very dark out there, the cat could be anywhere.

Trying to get in, Lyn and Chris find the padlock on their tent stuck. The askari tries everything, including the master key, but to no avail. The lion is still very vocal, very near. Eventually they use a rock to break open the padlock and our friends can let out a sigh of relief as they return to the safety of their room. An added adventure they could probably have done without.

Thank you yet again to Calabash Adventures for arranging such an amazing safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 13:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunset elephants safari tanzania eagle lunch picnic buffalo lion hippo baboons lion_cubs roller serengeti hyena stork vulture mongoose bustard game_drive tented_camp lilac_breasted_roller padlock calabash_adventures olive_baboons cape_buffalo spotted_hyena brown_snake_eagle sanderling wattled_starling game_viewing ole_serai sandgrouse lunch_picnic white_bellied_bustard packed_lunch yellow_billed-stork black_winged_stilt saddle_billed_stork steenbok reedbuck ole_serai_luxury_camp luxury_tented_camp Comments (3)

Serengeti Day 3 Part 1 - Tommy porn, jackal w/rabbit, croc

Elephants galore


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

Even before we are dressed and getting ready to go out on today's safari, at the unearthly hour of 05:15, we can hear the roar of a lion. It sounds terribly close by.

Giraffe

Our 'breakfast this morning' (as in the first animal we see today) is a giraffe, just sauntering past the camp. The sun is still considering its next move while painting the sky with purples and pinks.

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Topi

A few metres further along, we see a mother topi with her very young baby, the kid being maybe a day or so old.

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Spotted Hyena

Hyenas are Malisa's favourite animals. While at certain angles and in a certain light, they can look kinda cute (I suppose); at other times the hyena's sloping back gives it a rather menacing demeanour.

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Dik Dik

These, the smallest of Tanzania's antelopes, mate for life and are often found in family units of three such as this.

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Tommy Porn

Avert your eyes as a couple of Thomson's Gazelles put on an energetic display of early morning sex for us.

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When I say “energetic”, I mean that he is putting a lot of effort in, while she is so not interested (preferring to continue eating), resulting in a number of aborted attempts.

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This must be particularly frustrating as Thomson's Gazelles only mate twice a year to coincide with babies being born at the end of the rainy season after a gestation period of 5-6 months.

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Success at last! Although you may notice she is still eating.

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Pygmy Falcon

This bundle of fluff is just about the cutest thing we'll see this morning.

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Black Breasted Snake Eagle

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Black Backed Jackal

We come across this jackal having his breakfast and stay with him for a while as he (unsuccessfully) tries to get the last leg of a hare down his throat.

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Balloons

A few hot air balloons glide effortlessly by.

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Marabou Stork

While Pygmy Falcons score highly on the cuteness scale, the Marabou Stork has to have been hiding behind a bush when looks were given out. There is nothing remotely attractive about this scavenger bird.

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They seem to be 'everywhere'.

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Nile Crocodile

The pond is also home to a rather large crocodile, sunning himself on the bank. Crocodiles are often found with their mouths wide open like this, hoping that any rotting food leftover in their teeth will attract insects and the insects in turn will draw birds to enter the cavity... and wham!

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Also hippo wallowing in the mud. As they do.

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Suddenly an almighty racket occurs as the Egyptian Geese on the shore start urgent and deafening honking.

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We soon discover the reason for their panic: Mr Crocodile is on the move. How exciting, it is something we have very, very rarely seen, if at all.

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He soon settles down and the geese seem to be almost mocking him by getting dangerously close.

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Meanwhile, the hot air balloon has finished its morning flight and landed safely. As safely as you can while surrounded by wild animals.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

No blog entry from Tanzania is complete with at least one roller picture.

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Sausage Tree

The original vegetarian sausages anyone? These elongated fruits are much loved by a variety of animals, and, although poisonous in their raw state, humans have been known to use them for medicinal purposes to treat fungal infections, eczema, psoriasis, boils, diabetes, pneumonia. More importantly, the fruit can also be used to ferment beer!

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Lions

Lazing in the shade, the four lions are nonetheless very aware of the Thomson's Gazelle not terribly far away behind them. The Tommy, however, is totally oblivious to the danger lurking underneath the tree.

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With a jolt, he realises that he could so easily become breakfast and runs for his life. Good move Tommy, good move.

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Yellow Throated Sandgrouse

Often found in large flocks, these noisy birds seem to just keep coming and coming until there are sandgrouse everywhere.

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Immature Silverbird

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Cape Buffalo

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Elephants

This is by far the largest herd of elephants I have ever seen. Just as we think we have counted them all, more appear. And then some. There are at least 75 of them, with elephants as far as the eye can see in two directions. Wow, wow and wow.

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Giraffe

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Lion Crowd

Nestled in the shade of a tree, three lionesses with two cubs seem to have drawn quite a crowd with more coming all the time.

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Having had the luxury so far of generally being on our own at sightings (or at most, a couple of other vehicles), seeing so many trucks in one place comes as a bit of a shock. It doesn't take long, however, before photographing the lions seems to take second place for these people as their attention is drawn away from the cats to our vehicle. Big Bertha is now the main attraction and 'everyone' wants to take her photo. For those who have not been following this blog, Big Bertha is my newly acquired, and impressively massive, 600mm lens.

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Banded Mongoose

On a small mound just behind the lions, is a band mongooses, with their sentries keeping a close eye on the big cats and other dangers.

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Leaving the lions behind, we make our way to one of our favourite picnic sites for breakfast.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for yet another fantastic morning in the bush.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:27 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds elephants africa safari tanzania crocodile buffalo balloons lions giraffe hippo roller hyena stork geese topi mongoose hot_air_balloon jackal bird_watching game_drive calabash_adventures marabou_stork banded_mongoose spotted_hyena dik_dik thomson't_gazelle tommy_porn pygmy_falcon lilca_breasted_roller sausage_tree sandgrouse silverbird large_herd_of_elephants Comments (1)

Serengeti Day 2 Part 2 - lion cubs, cheetah, eles on kopje

Cuteness overload with a lioness and her three cubs


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

Having had a lovely relaxing breakfast, it is time to go out and see "what nature has to offer us" today.

Hyena

Presumably injured in a fight for food, this hyena is limping badly.

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Coqui Francolin

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Rattling Cisticola

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Short Toed Snake Eagle (I think)

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Magpie Shrike

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Black Shouldered Kite

Lioness with cubs

Perched on the edge of a kopje (rocky outcrop), a lioness tries to sleep as her three cubs mill around, suckling and wanting to play and explore their surroundings.

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One of the cubs appears to have an eye infection.

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Why so melancholy, young man?

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Over the time we spend observing these little cats, the different personalities of each of the cubs begins to shine through.

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"Mum, I'm bored!"

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This guy has a bit of a 'gormless' character, he looks like he is blissfully happy but doesn't know why.

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I take over 1,000 photos of the young family, and make no apologies for the cuteness overload to follow.

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I would love to get a picture of the lion cubs on my mobile that I can upload to Facebook when we get back to the lodge tonight, and after lamenting that I am unable to zoom in enough to get a decent shot, Malisa takes my phone and tries to take a photo through the binoculars.

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While it works reasonably well, the lions have other ideas and by the time Malisa has managed to line everything up and focus both binos and phone, the cubs have moved out of sight. Doh.

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Not a bad picture considering it was taken with a mobile phone through binoculars

LBB

The world is full of LBBs (Little Brown Bird), also known as SUBBs (Small Unidentified Brown Bird). On closer inspection this one turns out to be a Rattling Cisticola.

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Spotted Hyena

We follow this lone hyena down the road for a while.

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Common Morning Glory

Unlike our two previous visits when we have travelled at the end of the rainy season and everything is green with an abundance of flowers; at this time of year seeing flowering plants is a bit of a novelty. Malisa never ceases to amaze me with his knowledge: not only can he identify animals and birds, he also knows the names of the plants we see.

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White Bellied Bustards

Doing their best to hide in the long grass.

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Black Backed Jackals

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There are two of them.

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Cheetah

We spot a cheetah mum with two five-month old cubs.

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She appears to be a good mum as both she and her cubs look healthy and well fed. This morning she starts to stalk a Thomson's Gazelle for their breakfast.

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Unfortunately the Tommy spots the hunter and makes a dash for it; so no breakfast for the beautiful cats this morning.

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Instead she leads her family to find some shade – a single tree next to a low kopje.

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Mum has a good sniff around to make sure they are not settling down on the patch of a rival cheetah family or other obvious danger.

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The cats are quite some distance away (the photos are taken with a 600mm lens and significantly cropped in the post processing stage), but here in the Serengeti off-road driving is not permitted so we can't get any closer. We are therefore rather dismayed to see several cars blatantly flout this law. Shame on them.

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When the cats settle down under the tree we leave them to it and move on.

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Eurasian Roller

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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Ficher's Sparrow Lark

Elephants

So far on this trip we haven't seen many elephants, but that is about to change as a herd - or memory as they are also called - of 15 elephants walk past.

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They have some very small babies too. Aww.

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Having a herd of elephants just strolling by your car as if you are not there is a magical experience, making you feel like you are part of some wildlife documentary.

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Mwanza Flat Headed Rock Agama

You'd be forgiven for thinking these are two totally separate species of lizards, seeing the flashy and vibrant male against the terribly drab female.

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Little Bee Eater

More Elephants

Colourful as they are, it is not the lizards that are the star attraction here at this kopje – there are nine elephants dotted around, between and on top of this rocky outcrop. I have to say that it is the first time I have seen rock climbing elephants!

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These enormous creatures are surprisingly quiet as they walk – the soles of their feet have built in 'sponges', which not just makes them 'light' on their feet, but they also use their feet to communicate. One elephant will 'talk' with his trunk on the ground, which others can pick up by putting more pressure on one leg than the other. When you see elephants leaning to one side, they are basically having a chat with their mates. Pretty cool eh?

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Copying the older elephants, the five-month old baby tries to pick up smaller stones from the kopje in order to get to the essential minerals.

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A couple of other trucks have gathered here too, including one containing an overexcited Asian female, squealing in an infuriatingly high pitched voice “OMG OMG OMG, those red things” when she sees the rock agama, followed by “OMG OMG OMG he's smiling” and “OMG OMG OMG he's peeing” referring to the elephants. Thank goodness she is not in our vehicle.

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Nothing can mar the magical experience, however, of having a herd of nine wild elephants walk right around the car, a mere ten feet away.

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It seems everywhere we look there are elephants.

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One of the youngsters squeezes through a gap between the rocks, but when his older sister tries, she gets stuck for a while before wriggling herself loose.

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The youngster is still suckling.

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We stay with them for one-and-a-half hours (taking hundreds of photos) until they walk off into the distance. What a special time that was!

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Tawny Eagle

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Two Banded Courser

Lappet Faced Vulture

Amazingly, this is the first vulture we have seen on this trip, when we came before we encountered so many kills left on the ground with the remains being devoured by a variety of scavengers. Not so this time.

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Lesser Kestrel

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Time to stop for lunch after yet again spending an exciting morning in the Serengeti. Thank you to Calabash Adventures for another terrific safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds food flowers elephants flag breakfast cute kite anniversary africa safari tanzania eagle celebrations lizard birding cheetah picnic eating lions wind lion_cubs lioness roller hyena vulture eggs starling shrike agama jackal pastries bird_watching bacon suckling bustard sausages omg game_drive kestrel hamper lark limping calabash_adventures cuteness_overload kopje wedding_anniversary francolin breakfast_picnic bee_eater cisticola game_viewing breakfast_box 40_years packed_breakfast ole_serai tiffin posh_food cuteness lbb subb morning_glory purple_flowers helmetshrike rock_agama Comments (3)

Serengeti Day 2 Part 1 - Anniversary Breakfast

Lyn & Chris' 40th Wedding Anniversary


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

The morning greets us with the promise of a beautiful day while sporting an orange glow over the horizon blending through hues of pink into a deep purple sky.

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We can still hear the lion roar this morning, presumably the same one that was calling out last night.

Cape Buffalo

Each morning we go out with Malisa as our wonderful guide, we discuss what our 'breakfast' is going to be, referring to the first animal spotted that day. Today it is a herd of buffalo just a few minutes after leaving the camp.

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I do find their stare rather unsettling.

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Topi

A small herd of Topi enjoy their breakfast near the road this morning, including several young babies.

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Sunrise

The sun fully emerges from its daily hibernation, casting a golden glow over everything in its wake.

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Including this giraffe

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And a magnificent impala

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White Bellied Bustard

Mr and Mrs Bustard are both rather well camouflaged.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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A couple of Bat Eared Foxes in the far distance

Topi

This little baby is less than one month old; they don't start getting their distinctive 'stocking' markings until they reach three months.

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Here you can quite clearly see how the youngsters get darker as they age.

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Mum looks rather thin.

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Brown Parrot

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And he's off...

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Rattling Cisticola

Lion

Just like smaller pussycats, lions eat grass when they have a bad tummy, as this old male does. He is terribly thin and probably around eleven or twelve years old. Lions live for around 12-15 years, so this guy is an old chap who is most likely on his last legs. He will have been kicked out of the pride when he was no longer able to provide for the females, with another younger male coming along to replace him. No longer having a pride to depend on for food has meant he has been starved of regular fresh meat and judging by the matted mane he is unable to look after himself properly too.

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Spotted Hyena

I wonder if this scavenger is hoping for the old lion's immediate demise?

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He assesses the situation and decides it is probably not worth the wait. Any Monty Python fans may, like me, be thinking about the "I'm not dead yet" sketch.

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We follow the old lion for a while, as he staggers around looking food.

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Having lost sight of the lion, we stop nearby at a mobile camp site (now empty) for breakfast. Is that wise? We may be upwind from the lion, but even so...

Anniversary Breakfast Picnic

On this day forty years ago, Lyn and Chris said “I do” and became husband and wife. I feel so honoured that they chose to spend their special day in Tanzania with us. Back home we have a 'community flagpole' where we hoist various different flags for various different celebrations ~ and of course we (secretly) packed one of those flags for this trip.

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The Ole Serai has not just provided the customary breakfast boxes, they have given us a posh food hamper today, containing little tiffin containers with sausages, bacon, and pancakes in an attempt at keeping the food hot.

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Plus eggs and pastries – we are certainly not going to go hungry this morning.

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What a way to start the 40th wedding celebrations!

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This Superb Starling is hoping we'll leave some food behind for her.

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She's having a bad hair day as a result of the very strong wind today.

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More in the next blog entry.

Safari organised by Calabash Adventures, the best safari company by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:08 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds sunrise safari tanzania parrot animal birding fox buffalo lion giraffe roller serengeti hyena impala topi bird_watching bustard game_drive bat_eared_fox cisticola game_viewing ole_serai lion_roaring calbash_adventures scavenger Comments (2)

Tadoba National Park - Part III

No tigers this morning


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

Black Ibis
Considering it was only yesterday that we saw our very first Black Ibis, today the first thing we see is a whole flock of them flying.

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Another first: Muntjack AKA Barking Deer

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Gaur

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Black Headed Ibis

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Lesser Adjutant - another new one for my list.

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Crested Serpent Eagle

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Green Bee Eater

The park is looking really pretty this morning, with rising mist and rays from the emerging sun seeping through the trees.

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Sambar in the sunrise

Wild Boar

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Sambar

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Vehicle Check
We are most surprised to find ourselves being stopped by the traffic cops in the middle of the park. Do they get danger money for being surrounded by wild animals at work?

Black Drongo

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Rose Ringed Parakeets

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Green Bee Eater

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White Throated Kingfisher

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Gaur

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We turn off the main road onto a smaller lane, and the next three cars coming the other way flash their lights at us. With high hopes for a tiger sighting, we set off at great speed!

Down by the waterhole there is a large gathering of Gypsy safari vehicles, all waiting for the tigress and her cubs to re-appear from the woods where they were spotted earlier.

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We sit around for ages, some 45 minutes or so, with no sighting of even a stripy tail!

A couple of birds appear to help us pass the time.

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Green Bee Eater

All too soon it is time to make our way out of the park and back to the lodge for lunch.

On the way we spot a gorgeous Indian Roller sitting on the telephone wire.

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And a couple of women carrying her stuff for the day in a bowl on their heads.

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Back at the lodge I discover just how dirty this game driving lark is, after wiping my face on a white cloth.

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Time for a rest and some food before this afternoon's safari – the last one of our trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 04:37 Archived in India Tagged animals birds travel india sunrise safari eagle birding travelling roller ibis parakeet kingfisher gaur barking_deer tadoba sambar drongo bird_watching lapwing indian_bison adjutant bee_eater muntjack sambar_deer Comments (3)

Pench National Park - Part I

A very rare and endangered sighting this afternoon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rufous Treepie

Jungle Fowl

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

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Yellow Footed Green Pigeon

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Spotted Dove

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Indian Peafowl

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Indian Pond Heron

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Indian Pond Heron

Changeable Hawk Eagle

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Another Peacock sunning himself

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

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

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Golden Jackals in the far distance

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Indian Roller

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

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

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

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

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Indian Cormorant

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Bonelli's Eagle

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Green Sandpiper

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Little Ringed Plovers

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Painted Storks

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White Rumped Vulture

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Indian Pond Heron having a bad hair day

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Great Egret

There are also a couple of jackals around.

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

Hanuman Langurs

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Red Wattled Lapwing

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Hoopoe

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Chital

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

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Jungle Owlet

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Black Drongo

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned for the next entry.

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

Serengeti Day II Part II - Research Ponds

A smorgasbord of animals


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

Making our way across the savannah, I am surprised to see how dry the grass is already considering we are still in the wet season, albeit towards the end.

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Parched from the hot sun, the surface of the earth has cracked, forming a thin crust easily disturbed by passing animals.

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With the gentle movement of the car, the warm sun and the number of tablets I am taking for my chest infection; I go into a deep sleep. Only when the car slows to a standstill nearly an hour later, do I wake up.

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Our reason for stopping soon becomes obvious.

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On a nearby rock, another lioness is sunning herself.

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While we are busy photographing the cats, my Facebook friend Jim and his family / friends turn up. Serengeti is a large place, so the chances of seeing him here today is very small. We have already seen them once in Ndutu. It really is a small world.

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Bored with sunbathing, the lioness jumps down and takes a stroll in morning heat.

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The Red Headed Rock Agama doesn't seem the least bit bothered about a lioness walking past his rock.

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Nor does the Black Backed Jackal.

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Resting peacefully in the shade of a tree, two 'Rasta Lions' momentarily sit up, barely opening their eyes to check us out, then lie down to sleep again. Oh, it is such a hard life to be a lion here.

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This picture shows the difference between the Superb and the Hildebrand Starlings.

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The Superb in the foreground has a white band on his chest and a white eye; whereas the Hildebrand (singing his little heart out) has no marking between the orange and blue, and the eye is black.

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This guy has obviously lost a horn while fighting for a female. I hope she was worth it!

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A very similar antelope to the topi, but as you can see, the colouring is not the same (the topi has very dark markings on the head and legs), and the horns are different shapes.

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The name 'Serengeti' comes from a local Maa word 'sirenget' (the language spoken by the Maasai tribe) meaning 'endless plains'. Driving for what seems like an eternity (in reality probably no more than around half an hour) across the flat, parched landscape, seemingly devoid of all life, I can certainly see that the name is very fitting.

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Arriving at a series of waterholes known as Research Ponds, we stay for a while to watch the goings on at the water's edge. Although initially appearing somewhat uninspiring, with just a couple of buffalo and some Grant's gazelle grazing in the background, this place proves to be rather fruitful in terms of animal sightings and interactions.

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A dazzle of zebra (other collective nouns for zebra include zeal and cohort) make their way to the ponds.

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More and more animals arrive as we sit by the ponds in the oppressive midday heat.

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It's like Happy Hour at our local bar!

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Additional animals are constantly appearing, their hooves throwing up clouds of dust that hang heavily in the hot air.

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The zebra, like the buffalo before them, immerse themselves in the still water, drinking, bathing and cooling down.

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On the horizon a herd of eland nervously make their way towards the waterhole. Normally extremely shy (as a result of being endlessly hunted for their delicious meat), we wonder if – or more likely when – they will start running in the opposite direction.

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So far so good as they cautiously move nearer and nearer the water.

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I am so excited to see them drinking – this is definitely a first for us!

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The other elands are looking at us apprehensively, as they consider whether it is safe enough to quench that thirst.

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The zebra, on the other hand, do not seem to have a worry in the world.

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Another eland has braved it to the water's edge.

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But will he drink?

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Yes, he will. They are getting very brave now.

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The zebra look on with amazement (or is that my overactive imagination again?) as a band on mongooses make their way down to the water for a drink.

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They are loving the water, rolling around in the mud at the shoreline.

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From a quiet waterhole with just a couple of sleepy buffalo, the place has now come alive with activity and several different animal species. This is awesome!

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There is even a couple of amorous Egyptian Geese on the water.

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Having all these newcomers disturbing his hitherto peaceful morning siesta, Mr Buffalo gets up and moves on to pastures new.

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He looks thoroughly pissed off.

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The mongoose have had enough too.

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Even the zebra are on the move.

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I have never noticed before that zebras vary so much in colouration. Look at how dark the one on the left is compared to the zebra behind him.

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Just as we decide to leave, a European White Stork arrives. They are not native to the African continent (the clue is in the name), rather a migrant. A bit like us then.

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Another stork arrives, much to the bemusement of the eland.

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And another.

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The moment Malisa starts the car engine, the shy elands scatter. As expected. I am surprised they stayed this long.

As we travel towards Ogol Kopjes, we see a few animals on our way.

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A spotted hyena who barely raises his head from the puddle he was sleeping in when we pass.

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Common Praticole - a nice little lifer (a new bird species for us)!

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Another lifer, the European Roller. This one has been on my wish list for a while now, so I am particularly excited to see him. Or her. I really can't ell from this distance.

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A couple of topi on a mound looking out for predators.

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A cute little zebra foal, grazing with his mummy.

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And some eland - running away from us of course.

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Eland are pretty huge animals (around the size of an average horse), and create quite a considerable amount of dust as they gallop across the dry savannah.

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We leave Ogol Kopjes behind and search for some shade for our lunch picnic.

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Be sure to check out my next blog entry for the rest of this afternoon's safari experiences with Calabash Adventures, the best safari operator by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:56 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel africa safari tanzania zebra lizard birding dry buffalo lions roller serengeti hyena stork starlings topi mongoose jackal bird_watching eland calabash_adventures hartebeest cape_buffalo kopjes grant's_gazelle endless_plains research_ponds cracked_earth parched pratincole eurasian_roller agama_lizard ogola_kopjes Comments (2)

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