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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 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 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)

Serengeti VII: lions, elephants, giraffes, zebra

From Serengeti to Ndutu


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

I slept well last night, but am awake at 4:30 this morning. As usual we set off before daybreak at around 6:00.

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With no rain overnight, the roads are slightly less muddy this morning, but there are some very deep ruts. Even when it dries up completely, it is going to take some major maintenance to get all these tracks back to 'normality'.

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Safari Ants

It is still pretty dark out, so this photograph is not going to be able to show you how the soldier ants stand to one side of the 'path' created by the workers, in order to protect them as they collect building materials and food.

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David recorded a couple of videos, however.


Sunrise

The sun is just starting to make its appearance over the horizon. We are hoping for another rainless day.

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Not only does the pond provide a great setting for the sunrise, there is quite a bit of wildlife around here too.

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Hippo

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Black Crake

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Marabou Stork

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Common Sandpiper

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Grey Heron

Elephant

We see a lone old chap in the green grass.

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And a hot air balloon on the horizon

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White Browed Coucal

Amethyst Sunbird

An exciting lifer.

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I am so busy photographing this bird, that I totally miss a hyena walking right by the car.

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Cape Teal

The newly formed puddles in the road provide a great place for various ducks to hang out.

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Elephants

Word has it there are elephants up on the hillside. We go to check it out.

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The tracks are not in a good state, however.

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The car ahead is abandoned, with the passengers rescued and taken off in another vehicle. It must be bad around here. Malisa goes off on foot to check out the conditions before continuing.

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Not even the grassy verges look solid enough to drive on. Malisa deems the risk of getting bogged down too great, and decides to turn around.

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As it is, the puddles are so deep, the water goes over the top of the bonnet of the car!

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Secretary Bird

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Lions

We see two male lions in the far, far distance, extremely well hidden by the long grass. They are watching a herd of wildebeest even further away.

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Topi

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Serengeti Visitors Centre

We stop at the picnic area for breakfast, and as usual the place is overrun with rock hyrax.

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And a pair of Marico Sunbirds – another nice little lifer.

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Lilac Breasted Rollers

We leave the picnic site and continue this morning's game drive.

Stuck Car

We see a car leaning dangerously to one side, stuck in the mud on the track. There are lots of people helping, with many hands making light work.

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They're out!

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They're a little bit muddy, but otherwise fine; and the clients are still smiling. It's all part of the fun.

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We rush through as I have some 'urgent business' to attend to. I do not understand what Malisa shouts out at the other drivers for them to move aside as you would for an ambulance; but I gather it is in the vein of “toilet emergency”. We are heading for the small airstrip at Seronera, and the same thing happens there: the gates magically open as Malisa calls out to the security guard. The toilets at the airstrip are clean, modern and there is thankfully no queue. Phew.

After my urgent visit, we are able to continue on our quest to “see what nature has to offer us”, along more muddy tracks and through more dirty puddles.

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Giraffes

I still think giraffes are my favourite animal, and seeing them close by like this is always special.

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Fan Tailed Widowbird

A colourful widowbird flits around, but never gets close enough, nor sits still long enough, to get a decent photo of him.

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Lions

As usual, a lion sighting has attracted quite a crowd, and there is a bit of a queue to get near enough to actually see these three males. While we wait for our turn, I amuse myself by taking photos of tourists taking photos of.... themselves (despite being in a prime viewing spot for the lions).

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While big cats have always been big draws, this is currently compounded by the fact that huge parts of the Serengeti is out of bounds as a result of flooding and inaccessible roads; concentrating safari traffic in a much smaller area.

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This guy decides to leave the cool shade under a tree to go and lie in the midday sun. Is he mad?

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His brother looks very old and scruffy – look at the state of his mane and the skin in folds across his torso. He seems to have lost the will to live!

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We leave the lions – and the crowds they've drawn – behind and head south towards the park gate at Naabi Hill. We had been hoping to drive down to Ndutu via Moru Kopjes, but that whole area is inaccessible at the moment, which only leaves us this one option.

Verreaux's Eagle Owl

He is one large owl!

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Look at those pink eyelids.

Zebra

As we get nearer the gate, we see lots of tiny specs on the landscape: literally thousands of zebra! I don't think I have ever seen so many in one place over such a large area before.

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Naabi Hill behind

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Dust baths seem popular.

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The other three zebra seem to be looking on with bemusement

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There are not as many babies as I expected to see.

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We enjoy our packed lunch while watching the zebra.

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I love these sweet little finger-sized bananas

We do, unfortunately, have to leave this stripey spectacle in order to get to our lodge at Ndutu before dark.

Thank you Calabash Adventures yet again for all the arrangements.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife elephant sunrise safari tanzania zebra birding lions hippo giraffes ants roller serengeti heron stork topi owl bird_watching game_drive sunbird teal calabash_adventures naabi_hill serengeti_visitors_centre rock_hyrax coucal secretary_bird guineafowl sandpiper naabi_gate wildlife_photography crake widowbird abandoned_car afroca toilet_emergency Comments (6)

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

It pays to be out early


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

Sunrise

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

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The chase

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

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We take off in hot pursuit.

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

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

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

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Lions

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

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

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Shaking the sleep away

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


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

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Marking his territory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Necked Spurfowl

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

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Leopard

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

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

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

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

A lone Cape Buffalo

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The buffalo comes complete with passengers: Red Billed Oxpeckers.

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Banded Mongoose

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

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Inspecting the suspension of another safari vehicle

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Peek-a-boo!

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"I want THAT blade of grass!"

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Nearby a Dwarf Mongoose is sunning himself on a rock.

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White Rumped Helmetshrike

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

Thank you Calabash for another exciting morning on safari.

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

Kilimamoja Lodge - Lake Natron

Exploring new ground


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

Despite having lots of strange and unpleasant dreams, I slept very, very well last night. I get up before dawn this morning to try and capture the sunrise.

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Breakfast

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A continental selection is available as a buffet, and Lilian comes to take our order for cooked food. As soon as I see Eggs Benedict on the menu, I know what I am having.

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We slide along the same muddy track back to the main road this morning. It hasn't improved any overnight!

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We are joining the sealed road only briefly today, as far as Mto Wa Mbu, where we turn off left towards Lake Natron

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My mum used to meet me with my bike and hers after school when I was eight, but I have never before seen someone cycling with THREE bikes before!

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There are always a lot of baboons near Mto Wa Mbu. This one looks somewhat philosophical!

The Road to Lake Natron

We are now entering new territory for us, this is the first time we have come this way. The track follows the Ngorongoro Escarpment on the left, with the flat plains of the Great Rift Valley on the right.

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Pale Tawny Eagle

Roadworks

Work started on repairing this road last year, with the rocks just having been arranged in place when the rain came and washed them all away. Now they have to start all over again.

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We can certainly see why they are having problems. I find it amazing that Malisa can manage to negotiate these sort of tracks. He has brand new chunky tyres, four-wheel drive and is an excellent driver, but even so.

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The track crosses a number of rivers on the way. Why does this make me think of a UB40 song?

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As we get nearer, I realise that the river is really rather fast flowing. "Are you sure you are going to drive across that Malisa?"

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So far so good...

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At this point I am getting a little concerned that we are going to wash away down the river. The water is so murky that it is impossible to see what is at the bottom, or how deep the river is.

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At least we'll have a good video for YouTube if we do!

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We make it, safe and sound (and dry) to the other side!

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The track doesn't get much better this side – I have seen smoother dried up river beds.

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This looks like another impossible crossing – a sheer drop of around a foot.

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A few little boulder the other side of the drop does the trick. We're fine!

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White Throated Bee Eaters

Abdim's Stork

A migrant from Europe, who comes to this area for winter; this is the first time we have seen the Abdim's Stork in Tanzania.

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Uh, uh.

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It is not as bad as it first looked; there is a slightly easier route to one side. But only slightly.

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Another river to cross, although this one is nowhere near as deep.

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We pass a few villages, with straw and mud huts.

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Ngaruka

We drive through the small settlement of Ngaruka Town, which has only recently had electricity installed.

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Of course, not everyone has power.

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Gotta love the petrol station, where fuel is sold in plastic water bottles.

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This may look primitive to us, but it is also pretty eco-friendly: true basic upcycling.

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Blue Naped Mousebird

Another river to cross. We're getting good at this!

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Traffic Jam

We encounter an unexpected traffic jam.

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Affectionately known as 'Maasai Landrovers', donkeys are much sought after within the agricultural community and are generally well looked after.

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I have never before noticed that donkeys have a stripe along their backs and down their necks.

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Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano

Meaning 'Mountain of God' in the local Maasai language, Ol Doinyo Lengai is an active volcano that last erupted in 2008, although in 2017 scientists confirmed it was quietly rumbling, showing signs that an eruption may be imminent.

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From a scientific point of view, it is extremely fascinating: it is the only active volcano known to erupt carbonatite lava. This thin, silvery lava melts at a lower temperature (around 600 °C), and more importantly, it can flow faster than a person can run. This sensational discovery was not made until as recently as in the 1960s.

More bad road surface.

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Layers of lava clearly showing.

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Augur Buzzard

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Ostrich

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Brown Snake Eagle

Giraffe

I don't think I will even get used to seeing exotic wild animals such as the giraffe, roaming free. In the national parks, yes, but here we are just driving across the country, not actually in a designated animal park. There are no physical barriers and the animals don't know where the borders are of course.

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The youngster is about a year old.

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Broken Down Bus

Up until this moment, it has felt like we are pioneering travellers in a land that time forgot. Knowing that this is a bus route ruins all that in a flash.

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I am not at all surprised that it has broken down, I am more amazed that it managed to get this far in the first place!

When we realise that there are people working underneath the vehicle, we stop and give them some of our water. They are delighted, and even more so when they find that the bottles are cold out of the fridge!

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Kori Bustard

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Booted Eagle - a dreadful photo, but it is a lifer.

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We have no idea what this boy was doing under the tree miles from anywhere, but I think he makes an interesting silhouette.

The original sheep contraception. Sometimes simple solutions work better than chemicals.

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Yellow Fronted Sandgrouse

From a distance we can see tonight's accommodation, so I will finish this blog entry here. Thank you Calabash Adventures for making this trip possible.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:30 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife volcano bus sunrise breakfast safari eagle birding lava donkeys petrol giraffe baboons ostrich goat electricity ford gas_station kori_bustard bird_watching buzzard roadworks great_rift_valley broken_down_bus calabash_adventures eruption mto_wa_mbu snake_eagle tawny_eagle traffic_jam mousebird augur_buzzard bee_eaters sandgrouse wildlife_photography petrol_station kilimamoja_lodge muddy_tracks lake_natron river_crossing abdim's_stork ngaruka fuel_station maasai_landrovers ol_doynio_lengai mountain_of_god volcanic_eruption broken_down goat_contraception Comments (4)

Austvågøya - Vestvågøya

My birthday!


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This morning we are moving on to another place and another apartment. Along the way, of course, we stop frequently to take photos.

But first, a last goodbye to Laukvik, which has been our home for the last couple of nights.

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Sunrise over Vestpollen

Vatterfjorden

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Tjelbergvika

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Lyn at Tjelbergvika

I am loving the patterns created by the frost on the puddles in the car park.

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Hopspollen

Henningsvær

Our last landlady suggested Henningvær would be a worthwhile diversion from a photographer's point of view; so we turn off south just before leaving Austvågøya. The road there along the coast is very pretty in itself.

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Sometimes dramatic with deep oranges and silhouetted islands, while other times showing delicate pastels, the sunrise is still waiting to fight it out with the upcoming sunset for our attention.

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The bridge across to Henningsvær

This is as high as the sun will rise above the horizon - it's just before midday, so soon the sun will starts its journey back down again and sunrise will become sunset.

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We find somewhere to park and go off for a walk around the small town. Today being my birthday, Lyn has promised to treat me to waffles and hot chocolate. We feel sure that Henningsvær – being a well known and somewhat touristy place – will have somewhere suitable.

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The gallery / souvenir shop / café is, like everything else in these parts, closed for winter. No waffles for me today then.

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Henningsvær is a quaint little town, and like so many others in this area, it is nestled between steep sided craggy mountains and the sea.

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How's that for a stone wall!

We leave Henningsvær behind and carry on our journey today, past ever-changing stunning scenery.

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It has been a lot milder the last couple of days, hovering around freezing most of the time, which means much of the snow has melted.

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The bridge to Gimsøya

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The sun has now turned and is on its way down again.

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Gimsøya

Vestvågøya

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Just above the horizon, strange cloud formations gather, merging in with the mountains below.

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The light is failing now, even though it is only 13:45!

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We have been through some amazing tunnels on this trip, some several miles long. There is a bit of a joke about the tunnels in this area: “Go to Northern Norway to see the mountains – from the inside!”

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We check out a few places for possible northern lights photography before continuing to our overnight accommodation.

Ure Rorbuutleie

There is some confusion when we arrive at the apartment. We try to ring the number provided, but no reply. Reception is closed, with a sign on the door suggesting that we ring them.

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After several attempts, we eventually get through and are given the secret location of the key!

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For a number of years I have wanted to stay in a rorbu. Traditionally a type of seasonal house used by fishermen, the buildings are built on land, but with the one end on poles in the water, allowing easy access to vessels. These days they are mostly rented out to tourists.

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Having checked the aurora forecast and found it to be some good activity this evening, we grab an early dinner and head out in search of Northern Lights.

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For my birthday dinner I chose to cook a traditional Norwegian meal of reindeer balls with boiled potatoes.

Utakleiv

We found this place earlier and decided it would make a good location for capturing the aurora borealis. It seems we are not the only ones. It's a large car park here, and several other people out with their tripods.

There is some light cloud cover, but you can still quite clearly see the green streaks in the sky.

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As the evening wears on, however, the cloud cover thickens.

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After a while it becomes increasingly difficult to see the northern lights with the naked eye. The camera, however, is still able to capture it.

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More and more people arrive, unfortunately for them it is too late to see the best part of the light show, and their torches shine brightly across my photos.

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When the sky is completely covered in a thick cloud, we decide to call it a day and go back to the apartment for a drink to celebrate my birthday.

Cheers!

Posted by Grete Howard 14:32 Archived in Norway Tagged sunset travel lights sunrise birthday northern norway lofoten aurora northern_lights nordland rorbu norge ure aurora_borealis northern_norway nordnorge austvågøya laukvik gimsøya vestpollen vestvågøya vatterfjorden tjelbergvika hopspollen henningsvær rorbuutleie utakleiv Comments (2)

Austvågøya

In search of the lights


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Laukvik

We take a quick look at the small settlement of Laukvik (where we are staying) this morning before setting out to explore the rest of Austvågøy Island.

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Misty mountains at Delp

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Right at the start of the planning stages for this trip, I did an internet search for “Northern Lights Lofoten” and images. Looking at the ones I really liked, I then tried to establish where they were taken. Photographing the northern lights requires a lot of planning, as it is not just a question of pointing the camera at the sky and pressing the shutter. I wanted a decent foreground / background, and as the lights generally appear to the north, it had to be carefully worked out. Not only do I need find a suitable scene, but also somewhere where we can stop the car and ideally for us to be able to get off the road with the tripods. Another consideration was whether or not we wanted the moon to be present – I chose half and half: present in the early evening for the first few days, while for the remainder of the trip it won't doesn't rise until later in the night. The aurora most commonly makes an appearance between 22:00 and 02:00, but of course that can vary a lot.

What we are doing today, is to physically drive around to recce the sites I have made a note of on my map. It is so much easier to check them out in daylight, then we bookmark them on the SatNav for later.

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Fiskebøll

This looks like a good place to observe and photograph the aurora from, with the beach in the foreground, sea in the middle and mountains at the back. We'll make a note of that for later.

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The further north you go, the more time the sun takes to rise (and set). As you can see, the sun hasn't made it very far up the horizon in the hour-and-a-half since the last sunrise photo I took.

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Driving towards Vestpollen

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Near Osen

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The roads in both Vesterålen and Lofoten consists of many, many tunnels and bridges, linking the numerous islands that make up this archipelago.

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The bridge at Lyngvær

We cross another bridge on to Gimsøya Island.

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Sunrise has now turned into sunset. Just like that.

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I wasn't prepared for just how grandiose and awe-inspiring the scenery would be.

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We return to base and have some dinner and chill before popping out again later to look for the lights. The forecast is good.

Northern Lights

While out for a cigarette, Lyn spots some lights in the sky and we all go and investigate. By the time we get out there, those 'lights' have turned to bright green sheets of colour swirling around the sky. Frantically grabbing our camera gear, we take a few shots right by the accommodation as we Fear that they are not going to hang around for long.

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The aurora show no signs of fading, so we move on to Morfjorden, one of the sites we bookmarked earlier in the day.

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The last stop this evening is near Fiskebøll, the beach we visited earlier. Here we have the lights in three directions with ample opportunities for different foregrounds.

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After three hours of spectacular light displays, the aurora borealis once again goes back to sleep, and we return to base to do the same. What an amazing day!

Posted by Grete Howard 15:30 Archived in Norway Tagged mountains sunset landscape beach scenery sunrise mist lofoten aurora northern_lights nordland norge arctic_circle aurora_borealis nord_norge astro_photography northern_norway nordnorge austvågøya laukvik norwsay gimsøya delp fiskebøll vestpollen osen lyngvær morfjorden Comments (4)

Hovden - Laukvik

Moving on to Lofoten today


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday was dull and grey, whereas when we wake up this morning the harbour is bathed in a glorious light!

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View from Frugga Feriehus in one direction...

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...and in the other

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View of the harbour at the end of 'our' road

Some beautiful – albeit almost monochromatic – reflections in the still fjords as we make our way south.

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While I love the scenery, I really don't think I could live here, it is far too remote for me. This, I presume, is a holiday cabin (hytte); and only accessible by boat by the looks of it.

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Vågen

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Drift Ice

The fjords have obviously been previously frozen and now that the weather is milder, the ice is cracking up and moving with the sea, creating interesting 3D patterns.

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Bjørndalen

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We stop in Sortland, the first town we have seen since Andenes, to stock up on provisions and diesel.

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Sortland

We are now leaving Langøya Island and crossing the bridge to Hinnøya. I love the tall curved bridges around here – made that way to allow for Hurtigruten to pass under.

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Hurtigruten at Ånstadsjøen. The coastal ship has supplied goods and moved people between Bergen and Kirkenes in the far north for over 120 years.

Stormy skies

What started with a glorious light this morning has now turned into dramatic storm clouds.

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LivLand Lofoten

As we get nearer tonight's accommodation, I ring the number given to us by Booking.com. A man answers. I am assuming he is speaking Norwegian, so I do so myself too. He replies in 'nordlandsk', the local dialect. After asking him to repeat what he said half a dozen times, I apologise and explain that I have lived abroad for 45 years and my Norwegian is very rusty. I try to repeat everything I 'think' he says, so that at least if I have got it wrong, he will realise that!

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The conversation put me in mind of the Barclaycard advert with Rowan Adkinson some 20 years ago: “We are both fluent; sadly in different languages".

The way I understand it, his wife is going to meet us at the house, and she is 15 minutes away. So are we. After waiting around for a while when we get there, David offers to ring up again and speak to him. I listen in and decide that this chap is way easier to understand in English than he is in Norwegian!

He tells David where to find the key, and we let ourselves in. We are now in Lofoton, where we are staying in a small settlement called Laukvik. The accommodation looks out over a pretty little bay.

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Our part of the building

Yet again the stairs are steep and winding. Is that a local speciality? The main problem with these stairs, however, is not just the gradient, but also the fact that each step is so shallow – around half the size of my foot! It is not so bad going up, but I already have recurring nightmares about falling down stairs (and other precipices) without the thought of trying to (carefully) negotiate these each time I want to use the loo in the night!

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The bedrooms and bathroom are downstairs (with the latter having lovely underfloor heating beneath the tiles). Upstairs is the open plan lounge-diner and kitchen.

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The landlady turns up soon after we've settled in and she is thankfully very much easier to understand than her husband. We chat for a while about local conditions, snowfall, avalanches and such like. Before she leaves, she warns us that the old house can be quite noisy in the wind.

We are all finding it quite hard to adjust to the limited daylight hours, and feel somewhat confused that even though it is only 4pm, it is pitch black outside.

I am looking forward to having a shower this afternoon. I strip off and tip toe across the cold floor and into the lovely large bathroom, where the underfloor heating immediately warms my feet. The nearer the shower I get, the hotter the floor becomes. The heater appears to be right underneath where the shower is, and I soon hot-foot it (literally) back out again. It is unbearably hot, like walking on tropical sand in the heat of the day! Ouch! No shower for me tonight, as I didn't bring any flip-flops with me to protect my feet! We turn the heating down a little and hope it will be better tomorrow.

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With no aurora activity this evening (the sky is full of dark clouds), we have a few drinks before retiring for the night. The storm is raging out there now, and we are looking forward to a cosy evening listening to it from the comfort of our beds.

The first thing that strikes us about the wind is that it seems to be coming up through the floorboards! I have never experienced that before, and I don't understand how it can happen, as the house is not on stilts!

Once we settle into bed, we certainly understand what the landlady meant when she said the house is noisy! Wow! I have never known a building to make a racket like that before! While it isn't scary, I cannot describe the sounds, they are like something you'd hear in a horror film: whistling, groaning, squeaking, knocking, whining, howling, and almost barking. By morning we think we're the ones that are barking!

Good night. Not. Beds are comfy though.

Posted by Grete Howard 14:34 Archived in Norway Tagged harbour landscape storm scenery ice sunrise steps stairs norway windy wind lofoten norge hurtigruten sortland nord_norge langøya northern_norway vesteralen hinnøya frugga_feriehus hovden austvågøya laukvik vågen frozen_fjord drift_ice bjørndalen ånstadsjøen sormy_skies storm_clouds nordlandsk livland_lofoten narrow_steps underfloor_heating noisy_house døgnvill Comments (2)

Langøya

Island explorations


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

We are disappointed to find the thermometer showing around zero today, and once we leave the house we can see that the mild weather is already beginning to melt the snow.

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View from Frugga Feriehus across the harbour at Hovden.

The plan today is just to explore Langøya Island and bookmark a few possible sites for photographing the Northern Lights later should we have the opportunity. As soon as we have finished breakfast, we head off in an anticlockwise direction.

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Sandvika

A beautiful sandy bay (which is in fact the direct translation of its name) with a gorgeous beach – I bet this place gets busy in summer!

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White Tailed Sea Eagle

The excitement in the car soars when we spot an eagle sitting on some rocks. I get my camera ready and wait for him to fly off. He is a long way away, but I still want to try and capture him with my camera and long lens (plus some serious cropping when I get home).

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Eventually he flaps his wings and takes off, and only then do we realise that there are in fact two of them.

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Quarry high on the hillside

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The small settlement of Gustad - every dramatic scenery should have a red cabin or two

I am fascinated by the ice on the frozen fjord and how it cracks up with the movement of the sea.

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Sunrise

Today has been mostly grey, albeit with some dramatic clouds.

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A brief moment of sun

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And it's gone again!

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Straumsnes

Some places have more snow than others.

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In order to save money, we make sandwiches every day for lunch. That was always the plan, which is just as well, as it seems every café and restaurant in this area is closed for winter, so we would really struggle to find somewhere to eat if we didn't have our own packed lunch.

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Guvåg

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Is this Vesterålen's very own Loch Ness Monster?

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Verhalsen

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By 14:00 it is already quite dark – adding an extra layer of drama to the already impressive scenery.

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Icicles

We see more enormous icicles today, and we still find them quite extraordinary.

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I really should have included a person for scale, but these rocks are around eight feet tall.

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Avalanche Risk

With steep-sided mountains tumbling almost into the sea and just a small strip of land available for habitation, it stands to reason that these islands are at risk of avalanche during times of heavy snowfall.

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Fisheries

With such a long coastline it is only natural that this area is known for its fish and seafood. Some are wild caught and others are farmed, such as here. The last couple of days we have sampled the local delicacies with prawn and crayfish on the menu.

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It is really quite dark now, and we are making our way back to base, but we still manage to find a couple of places to pull off the road so that Lyn and I can get our tripods out and take a few last photos of the day.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:44 Archived in Norway Tagged snow beach sunrise eagle europe norway europa icicles norge loch_ness_monster nord_norge langøya northern_norway vesteralen nordnorge frugga_feriehus hovden sandvika sea_eagle gustad straumsnes guvåg verhalsen avalanche_risk fisheries Comments (3)

Andøya

Lyn is reunited with her luggage


View Northern Lights in Lofoten 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I received a text late last night saying that Lyn's case has made it to Andenes Airport, and to contact them to arrange delivery. We are going to Andenes for shopping today anyway, so it seems a much better idea for us to collect the bag from the airport, rather than having to arrange a time for delivery, which means we have to make sure we are in the house when they arrive.

This morning promises some nice, albeit cold, weather, and Lyn and I wander down to the coast while David scrapes the ice off the car.

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Risøyhamn Bridge

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Mountains reflecting in the still waters

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Everything looks better with a sprinkling of snow

Andøya

We are heading across the rather impressive 750 metre long Andøy Bridge, which takes us from Hinnøya to Andøya – two of the islands that make up the Vesterålen archipelago.

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The bridge is pretty impressive from whichever way you look at it, and approaching it by road from our end, it looks impossibly steep.

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It is, in fact, 30 metres high to allow for ships to pass under, such as Hurtigruten, the coastal voyage ship which historically provided a lifeline to the people living in isolated village, and these days also ferries tourists along this coast.

There are not many roads on the island, so the plan is to drive up to the top on the west coast, and back down on the east coast.

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The scenery is breathtaking, with steep, craggy cliffs and the sunrise reflected in the inlet with its broken up ice.

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With short daylight hours (the sun rises at 8:30 and sets at 14:00), the light is wonderful for most of that time, changing between a delicate pastel pink and a shocking orange. And all the shades between.

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At one of our stops we see a Sea Eagle flying overhead, but he is way too quick for me to photograph. The ground is icy, and walking is quite precarious.

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Andenes Airport

Small and very unassuming, the airport is deserted when we arrive. I spot a security guard in the back room and call out. He saunters across and tells me the staff member we want (the only one there apparently) is outside “seeing the plane off”. After a few minutes the man we apparently need comes back in again, looks at us and states: “you're here to collect the bag”. Moments later he brings Lyn's case out from the back room and hands it over, shrugging his shoulders at my suggestion that he might want to see the paperwork. That's laid back.

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An emotional reunion

Andenes is a 'big town' and we do a little drive-through sightseeing before stopping for a food shop as well as petrol.

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Andenes Harbour

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REMA 1000. Although a 'discount store', prices are still about double what we are used to from the UK

While we were enjoying the sunrise earlier, it has now evolved into sunset.

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Risøyhamn

We stop at the small village just short of the bridge to take in the last half an hour of the setting sun.

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Icicles

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That bridge again

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Cormorants on the bridge legs

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Red Breasted Merganesers taking off (a new bird for us - yay!)

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Flying into the sunset

Sunsets and light are strange bedfellows: standing facing the sunset, I get this dramatic view...

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… while immediately turning 180° with my back to the sun the light is altogether more delicate.

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Before the light disappears completely, we make a recce of possible places to photograph the northern lights tonight should it decide to play ball.

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From here maybe...?

Northern Lights

Despite not being able to see anything interesting in the sky, we make a trip out after dinner and head for the place identified earlier. The night view is nice, but the very feint lights are not really in a good position. We are also disappointed that the bridge is not lit at night

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David spots a small arc at 90° angle to the bridge, just over the hill at the end of the road.

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Nothing spectacular, and the foreground is dull, so we move on.

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Interesting foreground, but the lights are still rather pale and the moon somewhat dominates the picture

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On a private road near a farm we have a good view, but the street lights are a nuisance.

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Fearing the aurora is not going to do much more this evening we head towards home, but on a whim I suggest we take a road not yet explored.

Bingo!

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For the next hour we watch as the lights glow, fade and pulse; varying from an intense flash to a gentle glow and an amazing radiance over the entire sky. At times they appear to dance across the sky with greenish swathes of light moving in waves and creating dramatic patterns of illumination. What a wonderful experience.

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We move on to one last location before calling it a night, sated with the delights of what we came here for: The Aurora Borealis.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:49 Archived in Norway Tagged sea sunset harbour airport bridge sunrise eagle norway archipelago aurora northern_lights lost_luggage hurtigruten grocery_shopping arctic_circle aurora_borealis andenes risøyhamn vesteralen andøya inside_the_arctic_circle nordnorge andenes_airport andøy_bridge hinnøya rema_1000 merganeser Comments (5)

Morning Boat Trip at Mandina Lodges

Such variety of bird life


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

I get up early this morning to catch the sunrise – there is a beautiful mist rising over the river.

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Sensing some movement out of the corner of my eye, I spot a new bird (to me) in amongst the foliage: a Mangrove Sunbird.

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Speckled Pigeon

Catching the sunrise was not the only reason I got up early today; we are off on a boat trip through the mangroves this morning.

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It's a glorious sunrise.

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An old boat lies moored near the lodge.

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The water is very still, creating beautiful reflections.

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Guinea Baboons

Just around the corner from the lodge, where our tributary meets a wider river, the trees are full of baboons. There are five different species of baboons worldwide, and the Guinea Baboons found here in The Gambia are the smallest.

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These are a new (sub)species for us, and I am very excited to see and photograph them at such close quarters.

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It looks like there may be more baboons here in the future.

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I am so in love with their facial expressions.

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African Darter drying out his wings.

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Great White Egret

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Green Backed Heron

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Blue Breasted Kingfisher

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Pied Kingfisher

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

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African Darter

A crocodile sunbathes on the bank of the river.

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He doesn't look too friendly.

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I hope he didn't hear me and is coming for his revenge!

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I am very excited to see this elegant and flamboyant Violet Turaco fly over – another new one for me.

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One of the birds on my wish list when I came over here, was the Western Plantain Eater. Here they are two-a-penny!

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Oyster Factory

Oysters are big business around here, with the meat being eaten, and the shells burnt to make lime which is mixed with water to make house paint, and with sand to make cement. There are no wasted elements as anything left is used for chicken feed.

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Oysters growing on the mangroves

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Pied Crows mobbing a Harrier Hawk

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Greenshank

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Spur Winged Plover

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Senegal Thick Knee

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Common Sandpiper

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Whimbrel taking off

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Long Tailed Cormorant drying his wings out

And so the morning's boat trip is over, and we are back at the lodge in time for lunch.

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I am absolutely fascinated by the bats in the ceiling of the restaurant.

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Isn't he cute?

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Look at him yawn! ♥

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Today there is also a Speckled Pigeon in the rafters.

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Mr Heron is back in position in amongst the mangroves as usual.

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He is after the crabs, of course.

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I am not sure what is happening here – it looks like the big crab is stalking the little one.

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We return to the room for a little siesta, but find we are not alone.

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This girl is looking down on us from the rafters.

It looks like she is raising a family.

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I know every mother thinks their babies are the most beautiful in the world; but, I'm sorry, there is nothing remotely attractive about these chicks.

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I drift into a light snooze, knowing that I am being looked over by the pigeon family.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:36 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds wildlife river sunrise africa crocodile hawk lunch forest birding pigeon dawn crabs baboons bats heron parakeet croc west_africa kingfisher cormorant oysters siesta gambia boat_trip bird_watching crows sunbird darter thick_knee plover sandpiper river_trip the_gambia the_gambia_experience greenshank plantain_eater wild_birds mandina_lodges makasutu mandina makasutu_forest guinea_baboons turaco oyster_factory Comments (6)

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