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Bristol - London - Dubai - Dar es Salaam

First leg of the journey

30 °C
View Comores 2017 - Cloud Coup Coup Land or Secret Paradise? on Grete Howard's travel map.

Where do I begin? I know a lot of you have been anxiously looking forward to reading all about the challenges we faced on our trip to the Comoros, and I shall try my best to make sure this blog lives up to expectations.

So, stay tuned and follow along as we make our way to – and to a certain extent around – Comoros, also known as Cloud Coup Coup Land (explanations of this moniker to follow in the next instalment).

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Flight changes
Our (potential) problems start a few weeks before we lave home, when we receive the email below from Precisionair. All our flight tickets are booked through Budgetair, using Emirates from London to Dar es Salaam via Dubai, and onwards to Moroni (Comoros) on Precisionair.

"Dear Sir/Madam
Kindly be informed that your flight from DAR to HAH on 17th Aug is cancelled and you will depart with ATC departing at 08:00hrs same day. Kindly be at the airport 2hrs before departure time with your precision airline document."

As this really does not cause us a problem, I print the email ready to show at the check-in desk at the time and file according.

Fast forward to five days before departure, when we receive a phone call from Budgetair, our flight agent, offering us a refund on the flight from Dar es Salaam to Moroni which is cancelled. It seems Precisionair didn’t inform Budgetair that they rebooked us on the Air Tanzania flight. I explain the situation and forward them the above email and all is well: they are happy and we are happy.

Five minutes later they ring back. The timing has changed. The 08:00 Air Tanzania flight is now leaving at 06:00. I have to admit that I am impressed with the service from Budgetair, they do seem to be diligent and on the ball. Little do I know…

Check in on line
48 hours to go, and it is time to check in on line for our main Emirates flight. When inputting our details returns an “Unable to process your request” message, I open an on-line chat to find out what is happening. A very nice lady called Yasmin informs me that it is because we have two different airlines on the same booking but reassures me that the flight is confirmed and that we have seat numbers allocated. I am happy with that.

The next day (the day before departure) we receive a confirmation email from Emirates with all the above information as per my conversation with Yasmin, although it seems Precisionair haven’t informed Emirates of the cancellation and re-booking of their flight either, as we are still shown on today's itinerary from Emirates as being on the (non-existing) Precisionair flight from Dar es Salaam to Moroni, not the Air Tanzania one that we have been re-booked on.

I am still not concerned, I am sure it will all be fine when we get to the check in desk in Dar es Salaam. Then we notice the details for the return journey.

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According to the Emirates itinerary, we are now departing Comoros one day earlier on an Ethiopian Air flight. Where on earth did that come from? Having to travel a day early puts all sorts of spanners in the works: it means we will not just lose a day in Comoros, but we will have to rearrange the flight coming back to the main island from the smaller island for a day earlier; and we'll have to get a hotel, transfer and visa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in order to catch our Emirates flights the following day.

Panicking ever so slightly, I contact Budgetair, first by email and later by phone to try and find out what is going on. The guy on the other end of the phone (most likely in an Indian call centre) does not appear to understand my problem, and he “will get back to me within 48 hours”. Doh! After explaining the situation for the fifth time, I can feel my irritation rising: 48 hours will be too late, we leave in less that 24! He tries to pass me off and says I should contact Precisionair or Emirates, but I strongly remind him that my contract is with Budgetair and stress the importance of this. Eventually he reluctantly promises to get back to me as soon as he can. I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

Surprisingly enough, we do not hear from Budgetair before we have to leave for the airport the following day.

Check in at Heathrow
We start our journey at Heathrow Airport, where we encounter our next challenge at the check-in desk. We have a single ticket all the way through to Comoros, but are breaking the journey for 19 hours in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (it was the cheapest flight option and we are cheapskates), and the airline representative (or rather the system) wants to check our luggage all the way. Normally this is also what we would want, but as we have an overnight stop in Dar es Salaam, we would very much like to have access to our clothes and toiletries. The guy totally agrees with us, and eventually manages to get his supervisor to override the system.

Another spanner in the works, this one deflected, however.

Dinner
Whenever we have a long-haul flight, especially an overnight one such as this one today, we like to have a decent meal at the airport before we board so that we can sleep through food service on the plane.

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At Planet Restaurant I have Prawn and Chilli Pasta, which at first looks a little disappointing: I can only see a grand total of three prawns. There are, however, several more crustaceans lurking underneath the surface. As they do. The fresh pasta is nicely al dente, and the chilli carries a bit of a kick. David enjoys his fish and chips too, with a crispy coating and flaky fish.

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David’s only disappointment is that they have no ‘proper’ cider, only berry.

Bar
Naturally, the next stop then has to be the bar for David to get his fix. As we are only drinking, not dining, we are not permitted to sit down at a table, but have to perch on uncomfortable, high bar stools, so we don’t linger.

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Heathrow – Dubai – Dar es Salaam
The flights from London Heathrow to Dar es Salaam via Dubai go smoothly (we both sleep a lot of the time), but not totally without incident, as David manages to pour a cup of hot coffee all over his beige trousers. The crew helpfully provides him with a number of face cloths to mop it all up.

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Ready for an adventure

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Tanzania coastline from the air

Dar es Salaam
The Arrivals Hall at Tanzania’s biggest airport is absolute chaos. The so-called queue for immigration is just one massive throng of people, with no-one knowing what to do or where to go and several flights having arrived at the same time. Passengers with connecting flights struggle to get anywhere near the Transfer desk for the crowds, and there are no signs to advise visitors that there should be one queue for people who already have visas (us) and another for those wishing to obtain visa-on-arrival.

Eventually, after a lot of pushing, shoving and shuffling for nearly an hour in the stifling heat, we get through Passport Control to be faced with the next shambles: the luggage 'carousel'. Five deep with passengers and trolleys, we can’t get anywhere near the conveyor belt. We both hop around on tiptoe to try and spot our cases for a while, then decide to go and check the pile of luggage at the end of the belt. Sure enough, there, right in the middle of a huge mound of bags, is our luggage. With much back-straining, David manages to rescue our cases and we make it out of the terminal building, fighting our way through the traffic jam of luggage trolleys, prams with kids, cling-wrapped boxes, abandoned suitcases and people milling aimlessly around.

Although it is nice to be out in the fresh air, the temperature is no cooler. Having pre-booked an airport transfer with an included city tour on the way to the hotel, we look for someone holding a sign with our name on it. Nothing. We hang around for a while, fighting off the hoards of taxi touts and tour guides. Still nothing.

Checking tomorrow’s flights
While we wait we might as well take the opportunity to visit the Precisionair counter to check on tomorrow’s flight. I hand over the email we received from them and the girl looks at it without a word. With a dismissive wave of the hand, she points to the Air Tanzania counter and states: “Check with them”. Not surprisingly I get the same response (in reverse) from the girl at the Air Tanzania counter. At my insistence, she reluctantly saunters over to the Precisionair counter with the email and comes back stating word for word what is on the email: “Be at the airport 2hrs before departure time with your Precision Airline document.” I enquire if the tickets are definitely confirmed and am brushed off with a “Yes, yes”.

As there really isn’t much else we can do at this stage, we go and change some money and wait for our transfer. And wait. 45 minutes later and having been unable to contact the transfer company, we take a taxi directly to the hotel.

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Dar es Salaam street market

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Safari inspired street sculpture

The traffic through Dar es Salaam is horrendous. A new overpass is being constructed, and the police are directing the traffic. We sit in a queue, not moving an inch, for nearly 20 minutes while we watch the traffic crossing the junction from left to right and right to left. When will the police let our long line of waiting cars go? Eventually we move on.

We are so pleased to finally get to the hotel that David accidentally pays the driver in Pounds rather than US Dollars. Nice tip for the driver!

Golden Tulip Dar es Salaam City Centre
The hotel doesn’t look very welcoming from the outside. The entrance is down a dodgy looking side street and the armed security guard outside doesn’t exactly make me feel any better. The steps leading up from the road are very steep, making it difficult to haul the cases up. Eventually a porter arrives and takes over. That is better.

Reception is on the 20th floor and we travel up in a fabulous glass-sided outside lift, with great views of the city below.

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On checking in, we are delighted to find that not only are they expecting us, we have been upgraded to a suite!

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We have a comfortable living room, bedroom, the usual shower and toilet and a separate large double corner bath with Jacuzzi!

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On the 19th floor, we also have stunning views of the city as the sun is going down and the Muezzin calls the faithful to prayer at the local Mosque.

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Night Photography
After a quick shower and change (thank goodness we have our luggage!), we head for an outside seating area on the 20th floor to take some shots of Dar es Salaam at dusk.

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David, always the joker, thinks it is funny to point out the cladding following the Grenfell Tower disaster.

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Dinner
Not wishing to explore the dodgy-looking neighbourhood, we opt for dinner in the hotel at a restaurant named “Fire” which promises to serve “hot, tasty cuisine”.

What they don’t have, however, is alcohol. This is a dry hotel.

I order a Swahili style Miskaki chicken kebab that is advertised to come with a ‘spicy tamarind sauce’. I ask to have it extra spicy.

David chooses a Red Hot Pepper Beef Fillet, medium-rare.

After some time the waiter appears, full of apologies: the kitchen has cooked David’s steak well done. Can he bring it anyway?

When the food arrives, I am pretty sure they have mixed up the sauces, as David’s steak (or rather small pieces of fillet) comes with a dark, rich, sweet sticky sauce, very much reminiscent of tamarind, whereas my sauce is red and weak without any ‘fire’ at all. I am too tired to even be bothered to question it.

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My somewhat insipid chicken

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David's well done steak

After dinner we slope off to bed very early. Not only did we travel all through the night last night, we are also getting up very early tomorrow morning. With high hopes of tomorrow being a much better day, we drift into a nice deep sleep.

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel flight adventure tanzania trip dubai uae flights united_arab_emirates heathrow emirates suite problems dar_es_salaam upgrade comoros air_tanzania golden_tulip spanner cloud_coup_coup_land budgetair Comments (9)

Tarangire Part I

Elephants galore


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

It is still dark when we leave the lodge this morning, just as it has been every single morning since we arrived here. Today is our last day in Tanzania, so it won't be long before we are able to have a lie-in once we get home.

There is no sign of the lion from last night around the hotel grounds this morning, but we do see a lot of giraffe close to the lodge today, as well as a couple of waterbuck.

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The weather is still pretty murky by the time we reach the Tarangire National Park gates, hence the quality (graininess) of the first handful of photos.

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These girls belong to a harem. Male impala sometimes have as many as 50 or so females in his harem, here there are nowhere near that many. Where there is an impala harem, there is usually a bachelor herd nearby waiting for the polygamous husband to retire (or maybe just tire, with so many females to service) so that they can move in.

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Tarangire is famous for its incredible bird life, especially at this time of year, with nearly 500 species recorded in the park. We see quite a few this morning, including a few species that are new to us (known as a lifer - a new addition to the life list)

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Ashy Starling

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White Winged Widow Bird (a lifer)

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Brown Parrot

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

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Speckled Fronted Weaver

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Broad Tailed Paradise Whydah (another lifer)

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Lesser Masked Weaver (above) construct elaborate and fanciful hanging nests (below)

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Magpie Shrike

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A rather wet and bedraggled Wattled Starling

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We're having to put the roof up, down, up, down this morning as the showers come and go at various intervals. I think you could call the weather changeable.

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White Browed Coucal

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Black Faced Sandgrouse

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Brown Snake Eagle

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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Yellow Necked Spurfowl

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While the mongooses we saw earlier were quite some distance away, these are really close by the road, where an abandoned termite mound has been converted into social housing for a family on mongooses.

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As we stay to observe them for a while, small, furry heads pop out of various orifices in the mound, including some cute babies.

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And angry little not-so-cute adults.

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You can distinguish the Common Waterbuck from the other species found here, the Defassa Waterbuck, by the white markings on its rump, commonly referred to as the toilet seat.

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Tarangire National Park is famous for its huge herds of elephants, so we are quite surprised to not have seen any yet this morning, just damage caused by these large animals as they passed through.

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Not long afterwards, when we are on on our way to the Matete Picnic Site for breakfast, we see a lone elephant, as if on cue.

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Then a large bachelor herd appears.

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Time for morning ablutions, in the form of a little dust bath.

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The mood suddenly turns nasty, with an unfriendly mob marching angrily towards us. Malisa proves that he is just as capable (and safe) a driver backwards, as he has to quickly reverse the car out of the way of the bullies. Never argue with an angry elephant.

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It's not all anger management issues this morning, however, there's a bit of bonding session going on here with two teenage brothers butting against each other.

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When they have finished showering each other with affection, they walk right past out car, so close I could reach out and touch them. I have to really restrain myself not to.

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I feel so incredibly privileged to be here so close to these majestic giants, watching them go about their daily lives and be party to their family interactions, I almost cry with happiness.

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All around us are elephants, in every direction we look. I have to pinch myself to make sure this is really happening. To think I was only complaining a couple of minutes ago that we hadn't seen any elephants yet.

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More family snuggles. This is like reality TV but with animals. Much more interesting.

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For some reason this next picture reminds me of Colonel Hathi in the Jungle Book cartoon.

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I have heard of 'pink elephants', but never 'red'. These eles have obviously been rolling in the mud. Or maybe it's the latest must-have face mask.

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She has a young baby with her, probably around four months old. We can only just see the top of his back over the long grass.

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In places the grass is shorter so we can see him better.

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On the other side of the car is an even younger baby, this one is less than 2 weeks old. All together now: “awwwww”

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Look at the difference in size!

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We leave the elephants behind (pun intended) and (yet again) try to make our way towards the picnic site. This could take a while, depending on what we see on the way.

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We finally make it for breakfast, to a completely empty picnic site. This place has changed beyond all recognition since we were first here ten years ago: back then there was one squalid long-drop toilet. Now there is a very modern facilities block with clean flushable toilets, lockable doors, water, soap and toilet paper.

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Check out my next blog entry for more animal encounters with Calabash Adventures, the best safari
operators by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:38 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds rain travel elephants africa safari tanzania parrot eagle picnic giraffe tarangire impala waterbuck starling weaver mongoose shrike barbet bird_watching hornbill lilac_breasted_roller mongooses calabash_adventures maramboi coucal best_safari_operator widow_bird impala_harem spurfowl guineafowl guinea_fowl go_away_bird dwarf_mongoose matete matete_picnic_site picnic_breakfast Comments (4)

Naabi Hill - Ngorongoro Crater - Maramboi

Ngorongoro revisited


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

As we approach the Ngorongoro Crater Descent Road, we see some Maasai with their donkeys collecting firewood. Unlike here in the Ngorongoro Conservation area, there are no human settlements within Serengeti, so these are the first locals we've seen for a while (other than staff involved in the tourist industry of course).

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There is a one-way system for entering and exiting the crater, and from the Seneto Descent Road we get a good view down over the crater floor. It doesn't look too busy this afternoon – in fact I can only see one car in this part of the crater. It looks like it is dusty though.

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The heavily forested crater walls rise steeply from the crater floor – 610 metres to be exact – with the descent road gently traversing the sides as shown in the photo below.

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I really don't know how he does it. “There's a Yellow Mantled Widow Bird”. Malisa stops the car and points to a mangled bush. At first glance all we can see is intertwining branches, leaves and the odd yellow flower. Well, one of those yellow flowers isn't a yellow flower, it's a patch on a black bird. Apparently.

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I zoom my lens right in (as seen above) and can just about make out an outline; it isn't until I get home on my PC and give the picture a severe crop that I can see the bird properly. Yet Malisa spots - and identifies - this while safely and comfortably negotiating a steep gravel track. Extremely admirable!

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This one is a little easier to spot, even I can see this one with the naked eye.

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Male (above) and female (below)

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There are now at least two other cars in the crater, and they are just about to meet on a dusty track.

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Heading for the long grass with a small pond for a spot of fishing.

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Another large bird on the hunt for some lunch

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About a week ago when we were here the first time on this trip, we saw a rhino reasonably up close and were thrilled to bits as on all previous visits they have been spotted in the far, far distance only. Imagine our surprise when we see one equally close again this afternoon!

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This one's on the move and heading directly towards us!

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He stops to sniff the air for a while. They do say we should all “make time to smell the flowers”.

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Unless they taste nice. Then you should just eat them. The flowers that is, not the rhinos.

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When he is just about 100 metres away from us, he changes his mind and turns the other direction.

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Still eating of course.

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It is time for us to have some lunch, and more importantly, to use the local facilities, so we head for the picnic site.

I wonder if the road workers get danger money working here in the crater?

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Compared with last week, Ngoitoktok picnic site is extremely quiet today.

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Many of the old bull elephants in the crater have enormous tusks such as this guy.

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We see three more elephants in the distance, plus a couple of lions.

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There are a lot of birds around in the crater this afternoon, a few of which are new to us. Being a 'list girl' I always enjoy adding a new species to my life list.

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Egyptian Geese

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Fan Tailed Widow Bird

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Several Grey Crowned Cranes flying around.

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Long Toed Lapwing

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Sacred Ibis

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Hadada Ibis

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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The Wattled Starling gets its name from the black wattles (there's a surprise) which are only found in breeding males.

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Red Knobbed Coot

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As we climb out of the crater, I can feel the altitude affecting my chest, and I star coughing uncontrollably to the point of almost blacking out.

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The crater walls are near vertical in places, with trees somehow still clinging on to the slope.

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The view from the top back over the crater is nothing short of spectacular!

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I sleep the entire journey onwards to the gate with sheer exhaustion from the incessant coughing. Thankfully, we are now going down to a lower altitude for the rest of the trip.

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While Malisa signs us out of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, we amuse ourselves by watching the baboons. Unfortunately these cheeky animals have become used to stealing food stuff from the large trucks coming from the markets, and as a result are now very aggressive every time they see a vehicle.

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These little monkeys have found some spilt rice on the ground.

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I can't stop myself dropping off to sleep in the car for the next part of the journey either, but fortunately I wake up as the sun starts to set and we approach our accommodation for the night.

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As soon as we enter the large grounds of this super tented camp, we spot a few impala in the near-darkness.

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The low light capabilities of this camera (Canon EOS 5D IV), is phenomenal. For my photographer friends, this picture was taken at ISO 16,000 with no noise reduction applied.

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One of the things I really like about Maramboi, is all the animals found in its grounds at any time of day or night. This is our third time staying here, and we have not been disappointed yet.

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Banded Mongoose

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Impala with the rooms behind.

When we check in I ask for a room nearest the restaurant / reception / car park so that I don't have to walk any further than absolutely necessary. They oblige and give us the closest room. That will help my poor lungs tremendously.

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As I said earlier, the grounds of the Maramboi are full of wild animals, and you are strictly forbidden to walk around after dark on your own. We call an askari (Maasai guard) to escort us from the room to dinner. Acting fairly agitated, he shines his torch on the next but one room from us. Two eyes look back at us from the bushes just by the entrance to the room. "Lion" says the askari.

You can see an arrow pointing to the location of the lion below, on a picture taken last year. In fact that was our room last year.

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There is a buzz of nervousness at dinner, with our waitress admitting to being “very scared”. There is only us and one other couple staying, and I get the feeling the staff can't wait to get away.

As it is an almost clear night, I want to take some photos of the stars this evening. For safety reasons the manager is understandably not willing to switch any lights off for me apart from those far out by the swimming pool, so I have to made do with what I've got and embrace the floodlit of trees as part of my picture.

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So, so many stars, with a few clouds partly obscuring the Milky Way

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As you can see from the arrow in the picture below, the lion is not exactly far away. The guards are constantly shining their torches across the grass, making sure they know where the lion is at all times.

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While photographing the stars, I can hear a car starting up, and later the askari who walks us to the room tells us that they 'lost' the lion temporarily, but found him when they went out with the Land Rover. He's killed a warthog and is tucking into his supper, so we can all relax a little for a while.

At the end of another fabulous day on safari with Calabash Adventures, I want to say thank you to Malisa, our wonderful guide, for not just being a fantastic driver, but also for looking after me while I have been feeling so poorly on this trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged night sunset travel africa safari tanzania zebra donkeys lion rhino maasai giraffe baboons crane stars serengeti black_rhino ngorongoro heron ibis impala starling weaver warthog astro ngorongoro_crater kori_bustard milky_way night_shots calabash_adventures best_safari_company maramboi seneto naabi_hill olive_baboon widow_bird wattled_starling lapwing lodoare_gate maramboi_tented_camp astro_photography Comments (6)

Serengeti Day II Part III - The Maasai Pride

Lions, lions and more lions


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

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The Rasta Lions we saw this morning are still under the same tree several hours later, and still not doing anything. But they have moved to the other side of the tree (presumably as the sun moved around), and they do pop their heads up as we pull up alongside them. Briefly.

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They look kinda cute and soft when they're asleep, but not so much so when they open their eyes and stare right at me from close quarters like that!

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Look at those paws! They could do some serious damage!

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The antibiotics I have been taking completely knock me out and I go into a deep sleep while David and Malisa look out for animals. I wake up an hour or so later when it starts to rain and we have to put the roof down.

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Some of the delights about the ever-changing weather in Serengeti at this time of year, are the dramatic clouds and the number of beautiful rainbows that appear periodically.

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And a strategically-placed Grey Kestrel. I wanted a giraffe or an elephant silhouetted in the foreground, but I guess this kestrel will do.

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In the road we can see animals tracks, lion paw prints with one big and one little one. They were made before the recent rain shower by the looks of it, and they went the same way as we are going. Oh goody!

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The wet mud on top of compacted baked earth makes for an interesting drive, doing the 'Serengeti Samba' sliding our way along the track!

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We swing by the Maasai Kopjes on our way back to base, hoping to see a cat or two. We are not disappointed.

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A lioness and her cub sit in amongst the shrubbery. These is the same ones as we saw earlier so they don't count towards my total tally of lions seen on this trip (for the record, we finished at 118 individual lions).

A few minutes later we see several more lions almost hidden by the long grass.

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Trust me, those are lions.

We hear thunder in the distance and while I am busy looking all around me for possible lightning, the lions in the long grass have made their way down to the track along from us.

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There are eight cubs and two adults.

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We drive nearer to take a closer look at the action. We are not alone, but I can cope with just one other vehicle.

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If you can't find a pal, play with some elephant dung!

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The Maasai Pride often come down to the smooth track at this time of day, especially after a rain shower, in order to avoid the damp grass.

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The cubs head off into the undergrowth, with the adults in hot pursuit, trying to keep an eye of the mischievous youngsters.

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The cubs have found an interesting tree to explore and where they can test out their climbing skills.

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They may only be young, but I still wouldn't like to mess with those claws!

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And don't even think about getting on the wrong side of their mum... even the babies back off when confronted!

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Just a gentle tap with that giant paw and the cub is on the floor.

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"Hey bro, I found a stick!"

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“My stick is bigger than yours!”

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Only one small issue there Buster, it is still attached!

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It's getting crowded around the base of the tree, everyone wants to play in the same place at the same time.

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Mum shows the kiddies how it is done.

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Is she going to jump?

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It seems her courage fails her and she tries to (awkwardly) turn around on the small branch.

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One of the braver cubs tries it for himself.

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Like his mum before him, he too considers the option of jumping down.

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He is not sure about this...

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"Maybe I should try and walk down?"

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“I wonder what happens if I try and go this way.”

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“Or maybe I can jump down on this side?”

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“It's a long way down.”

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“Yikes, this is not as easy as it looks.”

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“Aargh, I think I am stuck. I'm scared! It looked so easy when mum did it.”

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“Phew! Nearly there.”

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“That's not the greeting I was expecting, I was kinda hoping for admiration for my bravery. You're only jealous!”

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“Ow! That's my paw!"

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"Get off!”

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“I'm out of here!”

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A couple more cubs decide to give it a go, some with more 'encouragement' than others.

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Just like they were this morning, the pride is spread out over several rocks and we see lions in almost every direction we look, such as this girl on top of a rock...

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… and these lions frolicking in the long grass.

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They are heading off to join the little group over by the tree root.

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The Maasai Pride consists of eleven cubs to five mothers, and we see all of them here this evening at various locations. It is not a question of looking for them, it's a question of deciding where to look: on the tree, the rocks, the root, the road...?

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Wanting to keep an eye on her offspring, mum joins them on the road. The cubs think she has come to play.

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“Mum! Don't go! Play with me...”

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“Will. You. Leave. Me. Alone!”

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“Sorry mum.”

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We have stayed far too long with the lion cubs and I have taken far too many photos of them, so now we have to rush to get back to the lodge before dark. As usual.

[Post note: I took 1600 photos of those cubs, of which I selected 300 to be edited as 'keepers'. It was extremely hard narrowing it down to 'just a few' to include here in the blog, so I make no apologies for the overload of cuteness photos.]

Alternatively, if you still haven't had enough of these adorable babies, check out my Flickr album.

The light is amazing this evening, with more rainbows, strangely localised rain showers, impressively moody clouds and a glorious sunset. I try my best to photograph it all from a fast moving car on a bumpy gravel track.

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Spot the lion on top of the rock!

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Back at the tent, as I am enjoying a shower under the stars (or rather the menacing clouds), the sky is lit up by nature's own fireworks. The perfect finish to a perfect day: thunder and lightning! Looking up at the flashes in the sky as the warm water washes off the dust from the mighty Serengeti after a wonderful day with magnificent animal encounters, I feel overcome with a multitude of emotions: happiness, gratitude, appreciation and it makes me feel incredibly small and insignificant. What a wonderful world we live in ♥

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All that is left to say about today is THANK YOU to Calabash Adventures for making this all possible.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:50 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel africa safari tanzania birding lions serengeti bird_watching calabash _adventures rasta_lions Comments (6)

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)

Serengeti Day II Part I - Hyenas, Lions and more

Never a dull moment on safari


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

I guess the lioness we heard calling out for her babies yesterday afternoon didn't find them, as she was roaring all night. Hearing nature in all its raw glory is always exciting, but not necessarily conducive to a good sleep. With that and my incessant coughing, I didn't get a lot of rest last night. I feel embarrassed and concerned about keeping other guests awake too, so I am grateful there are no other tourists around in the lodge when we leave this morning.

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The tables are laid out ready for breakfast, which starts from 06:00. I always find it strange that people don't want to make the most of their day on safari by getting out into the park at the earliest opportunity (06:00), which is also when the animals are at their most active. After all, a safari is not a cheap holiday, and for a number of people, a holiday of a lifetime. If you want to relax, build in some chill time at a beach resort afterwards.

Now getting off my soap box.

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We leave the lodge in darkness. As the light of day starts to brighten up the sky, the promise of a beautiful sunrise teases us with a warm yellow glow above the savannah and a blue sky sporting fluffy clouds edged with crimson.

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It is not long, however, before the sun sends its first rays of the day over the horizon, warming the cool morning air.

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A wobble of ostriches (I love discovering apt and humorous collective nouns of animals) enjoy the warm glow of the sun. One male can have a dozen or more females in his harem.

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He is in his breading colours as evidenced by his red neck and legs.

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Having recently been kicked out of the herd (or obstinacy, as I am on a roll with collective nouns), the bull buffalo has anger management issues, as can be seen from his sweaty nose.

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Having a 700 pound animal's stare directed right at me is more than a little intimidating, especially as he keeps walking closer and closer, while snorting angrily. Not that it seems to bother the oxpecker much.

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Time to make a move.

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Oh, to be in that basket floating effortlessly over the African plains in the early morning sun.

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If it wasn't for the price tag I'd be there like a shot! I do realise, however, that part of the reason for the high cost is the huge fee they pay to the park authorities to be able to drive off-road to retrieve the balloon and its passengers.

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Almost totally hidden by the tall grass, a lone hippo wanders towards a small pond. All we can see is the top of his back.

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It is hard to describe the feeling of awe I get when we drive along and encounter wildlife – such as these hyenas – in the road. Being part of, or rather guests in, their natural habitat is an experience I will never tire of. It is at times like this that I realise that it is me who is the stranger here; this is their home. I feel incredibly humbled to have the privilege of being included in their lives, even for a short while.

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There is some serious 'establishing of territory' going on here, with chasing, growling, barking and baring of teeth.

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A cackle of hyenas (♥collective nouns) can be enormously intimidating, especially when they are plotting gang warfare such as here. Or maybe I just have an over-zealous imagination.

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Although sometimes they can look almost cute.

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Three amigos saunter off down the road...

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… while another goes for a drink.

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And then lies down in it to cool off.

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The hyenas do not seem to bother this three banded plover though.

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Hippo flatulence gives off a powerful ammonia-like aroma, with the result that you can usually smell the hippos before you see them, especially when they are present in numbers such as these.

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Meanwhile, we head back to the Maasai Kopjes, where we immediately see a collared lioness atop a rock.

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It looks like she has a cub with her.

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As one cub walks off to the right, another one can be seen sitting up on the left.

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Mum goes off to join the youngster on the left, and we discover another cub in the shade of the tree.

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The Maasai Pride is huge, and rarely venture far from this collection of rocky outcrops known as the Maasai Kopjes (hence the name of the lion pride, of course).

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At the base of the rocks we see another lioness, hiding five young cubs in the long grass.

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The mum on top of the rock leaves her three cubs behind to go for a wander.

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Prompting her babies to explore too.

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Maasai kopjes is teeming with big cats this morning, spread out over a large area. Everywhere we look there is a lion; some seeking the cool shade of the shrubby undergrowth, others the warmth of the sunbaked rocks.

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The kopjes are also home to a number of other species, such as this Dark Chanting Goshawk.

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And the Crested Lark.

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The lark has a most beautiful song, as you can hear in David's video below.

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More lions to follow in the next instalment of my blog. Our safari was arranged by Calabash Adventures, the best safari operators by far.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:03 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel adventure hot_air_balloons bird sunrise africa safari tanzania animal birding buffalo balloons lion lions watching hippo ostrich hyena bird_watching hippopotamus ostriches calabash_adventures maasai_kopjes cape_buffalo spotted_hyena plover hippo_pool hyenas spotted_hyenas kopjes Comments (4)

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

A day cut short


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

When on safari, we spend all day every day in specially adapted Landcruisers, with a lifting roof and large opening side window for all-round viewing.

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

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

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We are also lucky to have our amazing guide Malisa with us, who is not just a great friend, but an exceptional spotter and extremely knowledgable about animals and birds, the environment, geology, ecology, history, culture, animal behaviour....

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More sleep in the car for me this afternoon, this chest infection sure is taking its toll on me. The boys make sure I am awake for any bird or animal sightings though, such as the wildlife we find when we stop at this small pond.

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A very uncooperative crocodile refuses to turn around and face the camera on request. Pfft. Doesn't he know who we are? So, it looks like a bum shot it is then.

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

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Every picnic site should have a giraffe in the distance...

Mawe Meupe, which means “The White Rocks”, is a small hillock dotted with picnic tables and a great place to spot birds.

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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White Headed Buffalo Weaver

The birds are so used to people and quite unafraid. They come right up to our table hoping for a small offering from our lunch. I hold my hand out with a few crumbs and a starling lands on it and sits there while he is eating. I also get a severe telling off – quite rightly – by Malisa. The birds and animals in the Serengeti are wild and should remain so. They can find their own food and should not be encouraged to rely on humans. I consider myself properly chastised and promise not to do it again. Then feel guilty about it for the rest of the trip.

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Ashy Starling

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Superb Starling

As “Never pass a toilet without using it” is my travel motto, I make a point of visiting the facilities before we leave. They are nice and clean with a lock on the door, paper and running water. Although the walk is a very short distance, it totally wears me out and I get back to the car completely breathless and coughing wildly. Being ill on holiday sucks!

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

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

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The grass here is so long during the rainy season that it manages to almost completely lose the adult warthog. And that is why they run with their tails straight up, so that their babies can see them and follow.

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Judging by the number of cars (I counted eleven) parked by the tree, it is obvious that the leopard we saw last night is still there.

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And judging by the number of times she tosses and turns in the short time we are here, she obviously still hasn't found a comfortable position in that tree.

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

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Look at that hairstyle!

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And look at that nose! The dik dik has an elongated snout which is very mobile, constantly twitching, with bellows-like muscles through which blood is pumped to help prevent the animal from over-heating. The flow of air and subsequent evaporation cools the blood before it is recirculated to the body. How ingenious!

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

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The female is looking for her babies. She walks into the long grass and stops to let out an almighty roar, a sound that carries a long distance, hoping that her offspring will make their way to where she is. There is no sign of any cubs though.

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For the first time ever in our thirty years of safaris, I ask to be taken back to the lodge early. Malisa is so sweet, knowing that I would never want to return to base before sunset unless I am really ill, he is obviously concerned about me. He keeps offering me advice and suggestions, plus lots of sympathy. All I want right now is my bed though.

When I get back to the room I watch a couple of buffalo walk past the tent on the slope below, then go to bed. With some serious coughing fits and the lioness still roaring for her cubs, I struggle to stay asleep for more than a few minutes at a time. This is going to be a long night.

With thanks to Calabash Adventures for arranging this safari.

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

Serengeti Day I Part II - Baboons, Maasai Pride and Cheetah

Cats galore


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

As we leave the visitors centre after breakfast, the first animals we come across is a small troop of Olive Baboons, including a tiny little baby less than a week old.

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As we watch the inquisitive youngster play, and then tumble down the slope to the road below while his concerned parents look on in 'horror', I can see so many similarities to humans with their offspring.

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Including the telling off the baby gets when he is back up at the top and joins his family again.

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Dad makes sure the youngster stays close and then takes him away from the dangerous slope.

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We move away too, and continue driving until one of the other safari vehicles calls us over to point out 14 lions sleeping under a tree.

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These lions are too lazy to do anything this morning, the only action we see is the occasional head being lifted and quickly laid down again.

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We let sleeping lions be, leaving them to their morning siesta while we continue our safari.

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The Serengeti is dotted with rocky outcrops such as these, referred to locally as kopjes. This particular area, known as Maasai Kopjes, is always a good place to spot members of the resident lion pride.

Today we see one male lion atop a rock, fast asleep.

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And that is what I do too as we continue on our way: go into a deep sleep complete with some strange and unpleasant dreams. This chest infection is depriving me of so much on this safari, but at least I wake up as we approach the next kopje, where we see a further three lions.

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These rocks are also home to several rock hyraxes, as well as a black mambo, but I am not quick enough to take a photo of that unfortunately.

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These lions are all part of a large tribe who have ten cubs between them, so we are hoping we might see some more cats around. The dad we saw earlier had obviously gone off to sleep on a different rock to get some peace and quiet away from the kids. I don't blame him.

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And there's a cub at the bottom of the rock.

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This poor female is limping – she is left handed and has hurt her paw while hunting. I do hope it doesn't hinder her looking after her family in the future.

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As I am feeling really quite unwell again now, I take some more tablets, then fall into another deep sleep as we leave the Maasai lions behind.

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The next time I wake up is when Malisa pulls up alongside a couple of other cars by a tree. After opening my eyes and feeling rather disorientated trying to get my bearings and figure out what is going on, I see a cheetah in the shade of the tree.

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I don't notice the baby at first. What a cutie!

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There's two!

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They are less than a month old and seriously cute.

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Over the back of mum a third little head pops up.

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I love the way the colouration of baby cheetah is designed to mimic that of the honey badger, in an attempt to keep them safe from predators.

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We stay with the cheetah mum and her three adorable babies for some time, watching their playful antics and tender moments as the youngsters explore the tree and the shady undergrowth.

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After more than 2½ hours it is time to leave our little kitties behind and move on to see what else nature has to offer us today. Stay tuned and read my next instalment for more safari stories and pictures.

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Thank you Calabash Adventures for another fantastic safari experience.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:32 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel adventure cute fun africa safari tanzania cheetah lion lions baboons lion_cubs serengeti adorable calabash_adventures excitemnt olive_baboon cheeta_cub Comments (8)

Serengeti Day I Part I - Lion Cubs and Topi Fighting

A beautiful morning. Again.


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

Although I slept well, I wake up feeling crap this morning, and struggle to walk from the room to the restaurant even at a snail's pace, having to stop several times to catch my breath. Thankfully Malisa very kindly brings the car half way down the slope enabling me to miss out on climbing most of the steep hill.

This morning starts with one of the strangest – and most spectacular – sunrises I have ever seen.

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Across a gully we see a large pride of eleven lions. I do miss Ndutu and being able to drive off-road. Here at Serengeti that is a definite no-no, so we remain at some distance from the cats

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While the adults mostly just lie around enjoying the early morning sunshine, some of the cubs captivate us with their play fighting and usual energetic antics.

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Making the most of the morning sunshine, this rare mongoose is in a difficult spot for photographing; but it is a thrilling sighting for us: only once before and only for a brief blink-and-you'd-miss-it moment have we seen one of these.

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We haven't travelled far before we spot three more lions.

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They are heading directly for the big cats.

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We had been planning to go for breakfast, but decide to hang around to see what pans out between the wildebeest and the lions.

So we wait. And wait. And wait. It all peters out and we head for the picnic site. That's the nature of safari – occasionally you are rewarded with something exciting, but mostly you spend a lot of time waiting for nothing.

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On our way we spot a couple of topi. They are so remarkably near that Malisa comments he has never seen any so close to the car before.

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They are presumably engrossed in the job in hand – fighting for a female.

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Although it seems all rather half-hearted to me – they clash, then stare each other out and them look all chilled out as if they are best of mates.

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The truce doesn't last long, however, and hostilities soon recommence.

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Topi fighting is scary stuff, especially if you are a topi. The guy on the left is so petrified he shits himself.

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Mind you, I would be frightened if I had a huge horned antelope coming towards me like this.

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The fighting gazelles are right by the car, and we can hear the loud clashing of the horns.

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By now they are so close I can't get them both in the picture, even at the widest setting on my lens.

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An uneasy ceasefire is declared for a spot of breakfast.

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Ding! Ding! Time for Round Three.

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Will this end only on the death of one of them as often happens?

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Thankfully not; one of the would-be suitors capitulates and runs off to lick his wounds, leaving the victor standing proud.

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Just like we did last year, we stop at the Visitors Centre to have our breakfast. Not only do they have a number of shaded picnic tables, there are also nice, modern toilet facilities.

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The breakfast supplied by Kubu Kubu is excellent: omelette, potatoes, sausage and bacon; plus several pastries, bread and cakes. We are certainly not going hungry on this trip. The only thing that rather amuses me, is seeing half a tomato in the fruit salad. It reminds me of the saying: "Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad."

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The other good thing about the Visitor's Centre is all the local residents – a large number of Tree and Rock Hyraxes.

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Another great morning game viewing with much more to come in the next instalment of my blog. Thank you Calabash Adventures for arranging it all.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:49 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel adventure sunrise breakfast fun tanzania lions serengeti topi mongoose calabash_adventures serengeti_visitors_centre wildebesst sasafari Comments (2)

Ndutu: Lions versus giraffe

Warning - this entry contains images that some people may find disturbing


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

I have a restless night, more awake and distressed than I am sleep. After around 15 minutes sleep, I wake up and have to sit upright to cough and blow my nose before lying down again trying to get some more rest. This cycle is repeated time and time and time again. By 02:00 I feel absolutely dreadful. So much so that I want to go home. Right now. As soon as it is daylight I shall have to tell Malisa to take us back to Arusha so that we can arrange a flight to the UK at the earliest opportunity. Later, as I am gasping for breath in the middle of a particularly severe coughing fit, a thought strikes me... I wonder if I am actually fit enough to fly? I guess they will have oxygen on the aircraft if I collapse during the flight. The thought continues to worry me as the rest of the night goes by through a haze of nasty dreams, waking up unable to breathe, panicking, sitting bolt upright, then coughing for England. Or is that Tanzania? I feel so ill I am not even sure where I am.

By 05:00 when it is time to get up I feel a little more 'with it' and decide that perhaps I won't go home just yet after all. Perhaps I will see how I feel after another day out here – hopefully by then the antibiotics will have had time to work and I can function a bit better. I am grateful that at least no-one else was staying in this camp last night so that I didn't keep anyone else awake all night. David slept through most of it thankfully.

The day immediately seems better when the sun comes up, painting the sky a beautiful crimson.

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The first animals we spot this morning are a couple of lions, and when they head off into the bush, we follow to see what they are up to. Unlike most other parks in Tanzania, here in the Ndutu area of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area off-road driving is permitted.

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Meanwhile the sun has just made it above the horizon.

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And there are more lions. Five in total.

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They're on the move.

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On the lookout for breakfast no doubt.

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“I'm so hungry I could turn vegetarian!”

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In the distance, behind the trees, we spot a giraffe. So do the lions.

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“Let's go and investigate”

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The giraffe is blissfully unaware as she enjoys her breakfast of acacia leaves.

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Manoeuvring silently through the undergrowth, the lions move nearer their intended prey.

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Continuing to be totally engrossed in her food, the giraffe is still completely oblivious to the dangerously close predators.

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Go! Go! Go! Afraid that the giraffe is going to spot them before their backup arrives, the two lions abruptly launch into a chase, using the element of surprise to gain a second or two advantage.

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Assessing the size of his opponent (it is extremely rare for lions to even attempt to take down a fully grown giraffe for that reason), the hungry lion looks to see which direction his leggy prey is going to be taking and tries to be one step ahead.

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It is not just to see which way the giraffe is heading that the lion keeps a very close eye on the legs – those six feet long limbs have been known to cause some serious damage, with giraffes using high kicks to fight off predators.

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Where they go, we follow, in hot pursuit.

“Hold on, watch out” shouts Malisa as we race underneath a prickly acacia tree. Too late. Unable to hold on and 'watch out' at the same time (I am holding on with one hand, having the camera in the other), the thorns catch my hand and arm. Nothing serious, but I am always concerned about such scratches after an incident in Kenya back in 1993 when a scratch turned into blood poisoning resulting a blister covering most of the top of my hand and down my fingers. After lancing the blister, the medical staff then had to cut my wedding ring off, and put me on antibiotics to stop the poison spreading. I could see it as a black line running up my arm, and it did rather scare me.

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This time the injuries are very mild

Meanwhile, the giraffe is not doing too well.

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Unfortunately, she cannot sustain a lengthy chase, something the lions are acutely aware of, and this becomes her downfall.

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The giraffe has run out of steam and our two lions have caught up with her. A third comes in from the right to help out.

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The lions momentarily let go of their grip and the giraffe makes a desperate attempt at escaping.

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But to no avail. She doesn't get very far before a renewed onslaught has her well and truly fighting for her life.

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The powerful jaws and claws of the big cats are too much for the weakened ungulate, and with an elegance and awkwardness that only a giraffe possesses (even in her death throes), she sinks to the ground.

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We move nearer to get a better look as the lions tuck into fresh giraffe for breakfast. We haven't had ours yet!

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One of them goes for the jugular to ensure the giraffe is dead before they start tearing the animal apart.

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The hardest part is breaking through the skin. Usually the lions go for the soft options first and try to start with the internal organs.

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Trying to turn the carcass over to get to the softer underbelly proves fruitless as the dead giraffe is too heavy and bulky for the lions to be able to manoeuvre.

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Having not had anything to do with the actual kill, the fifth lion strolls in very late and sits down at the dining table. Typical male.

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I do find it somewhat disconcerting when the lions look us straight in the eye, their chins dripping with blood.

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Absurdly, other inquisitive giraffes appear from behind the trees, curious about what is going on. Can they not see from the sad state of their cousin, that this is most definitely not a good idea?

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Thinking she might get an extra breakfast, one of the lionesses decides to check out the audience.

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The giraffes decides that the show isn't worth hanging around for and saunters back into the bush. "Wise move Buster, wise move!"

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Something else off to our left has caught the lions' attention and they all stare attentively in that direction.

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We can't work out what has startled them, but we do spot the Ndutu Lodge behind the trees. Gosh, this kill really was mighty close to the accommodation – no more than around 100 metres! This time last year we were staying there, and I guess this reinforces why you don't venture out on your own.

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Ndutu Lodge Restaurant seen through the trees

You really don't want to meet this young lady on your way to the bar!

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This young male is being a little bit ambitious in thinking that his breakfast is a movable feast. “Give up son, you're fighting a losing battle”

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LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU ARE PRONE TO FEELING QUEASY

Meanwhile, back at the rear end, the lions have found the intestines. It is not a pretty sight.

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As their sharp teeth break through the membrane, the content squirts out.

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I told you to look away!

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I think I will give my breakfast sausage a miss this morning.

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Once they have had their fill of giraffe-meat, the lions cover any spilt blood with earth to stop the smell attracting scavengers, then leave the carcass to search for a drink and take a much needed siesta. It must be hard work to have to run after your food, then make sure that it doesn't attack you before trying to bite through tough leather to get to it. Make my complaints about Tesco's packaging seem rather feeble.

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We continue on our way too.

If you still haven't had enough of blood and gore, check out David's video on youtube.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for bringing us this incredible experience.

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Posted by Grete Howard 00:12 Archived in Tanzania Tagged wildlife nature travel breakfast wild africa safari tanzania savannah lion lions giraffe kill intestines ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area lion_kill cruel_nature life_and_death african_bush Comments (2)

Ndutu Day II Part I (Mist, Dung Beetle and Elephant Mudbath)

From misty beginnings


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

I drag myself out of our tent at 05:45 only to find that the world outside is enveloped in a thick mist this morning.

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It is not easy to spot any animals in the thick pea-soup surrounding us. These hartebeest are so close to the vehicle it would be hard to miss them, but goodness knows what else is hiding behind nature's grey cloak.

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The sun is trying its best to burn off the low cloud, which it manages eventually, but meanwhile it turns the mist a delicate shade of pink.

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The morning mist has also ensured that dew drops on the spider's webs glow delicately in the low sun.

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With cute little babies.

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Life is always more colourful with a Lilac Breasted Roller

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Another one. They're common as muck around here.

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We find a suitable place in the shade of a tree, with no obvious predators in the vicinity, to stop and have our breakfast.

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David doing his artistic bit

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We are soon on our way again “to see what nature has to offer us” out here on the Short Grass Plains.

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With a tiny baby, no more than than two weeks old.

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The wildebeest have scent glands in their hooves helping the others to follow the leader. The theory is: if their man (beast) at the front gets through, then it must be safe.

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That is why you often see them walking in a single file, keeping their heads down.

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As always, lots of dust being kicked up.

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It makes such a pleasant change to see these ungulates standing still rather than running away from us for dear life.

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Or rather, just her eggs. I have no idea how Malisa manages to spot these things as he is driving along, they are so well camouflaged!

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Those of you who followed my blog from Tanzania last year, will probably remember my fascination with dung beetles.

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This little stretch of land is Dung Beetle Central! Everywhere you look there is a beetle rolling its prized poo ball across the plains.

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So what's the collective noun for a gang of dung beetles? Shitload. Not sure if that is the official term, but it sure fits!

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As the original recyclers, dung beetles are probably the most industrious resident on the savannah, clearing up the mess left behind by other animals.

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Imagining the savannah knee-deep in excrement, makes you appreciate the importance of these tiny animals.

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“Let me whisper sweet nothings in your ear...”

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“Lean on me”

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We see a hyena hiding in the undergrowth and drive nearer to take a better look, by which time she has completely disappeared, so I guess she has a den hidden somewhere in the grass.

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Keen to locate a big cat of some sort, Malisa drives from tree to tree, copse to copse to check out what is hiding in the shade, but no luck.

We do see a few other birds and animals though.

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It is strange how the distribution of animals is so different from this same week last year – so far we have seen more steenbok in the first couple of days than we saw on the entire trip in 2016.

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Another Long Crested Eagle – this one is having a bad hair day.

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When eating, the flamingo shift their legs up and down to disturb the algae, a movement Malisa likens to a dance. To me it looks more like little kids hopping from leg to leg shouting: “Mum, I need to pee!” Malisa agrees with me and finds my analogy particularly amusing.

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The elephants love to cover themselves in mud as this helps to get rid of any ticks.

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The small herd look like they are really enjoying their wallow – I expect the mud is nice and cooling in the midday sun too.

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They are so ungainly when they try to get out of the water!

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This little one is rubbing her belly on the ground to ensure the mud sticks.

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In their breeding plumage. Here seen with a Blue Capped Cordon Bleu.

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To me, this is the quintessential African safari scene – zebra and giraffe grazing on a dry, flat savannah.

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Nothing worse than being photobombed by a giraffe.

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It always amuses me the way they have to kneel when they eat because their neck isn't long enough to reach the ground.

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Apart from this guy at the back who seems to have perfected the art of eating standing up.

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Another giraffe photobomb.

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Giraffe are at their most vulnerable when drinking. Despite their long necks, they have to get themselves into a very awkward yoga pose in order to reach the water. Not only do they then struggle to get up again, they are also not able to keep a close eye on any predators that may be approaching.

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Not that it looks like there is much water there.

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As soon as the giraffe stands up, a number of oxpeckers fly off.

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The oxpecker has a symbiotic relationship with many of the larger animals on the savannah, cleaning its host by feeding on the ticks, horsefly larvae and other parasites that make their home on the skin. The bird also acts as an early warning signal, alerting the other animals to danger by making loud chirping and hissing noises.

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It seems they are enjoying themselves.

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In Lake Masek

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Normally we like to stay out all day, taking a picnic box with us for both breakfast and lunch, but today I thought it would be nice to go back to the camp for a meal in the middle of the day as it is our wedding anniversary.

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There is only us staying here these last two nights, but they have made us an impressive spread with a choice of dishes: spaghetti with a bolognaise sauce, okra curry with rice and mixed vegetables. Soup to start and fresh fruit to finish.

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After another amazing morning's safari with Calabash Adventures, it is time for a short break before we go out exploring again.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:11 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds travel adventure africa safari tanzania zebra giraffe bird_watching african_safari ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area Comments (1)

Ndutu - Day I Part III (Elephants, Vultures and Lion)

What a memory!

semi-overcast 27 °C
View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Having left the cheetah versus lion stand-off behind, we continue in our search of wildlife experiences. Our first encounter is a lone elephant with one tusk.

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Followed by an Egyptian Goose family.

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In the distance, in amongst the trees, we see a couple more elephants and go to investigate. It turns out to be a large memory (the collective noun for elephants) of at least 32 animals, including several youngsters and a randy old bull.

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We follow them as they work their way through the forest, decimating bushes and trees in their wake.

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When they are not eating, they try to keep in the shade as much as possible. I don't blame them, that sun is mighty hot!

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The elephants are so huge, yet so amazingly silent; mainly because the soles of their feet have built in shock absorbers so it is like they are walking on sponges.

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With this area being very much drier than normal (despite this being the wet season), the elephants stir up a great amount of dust, as they slowly meander amongst the trees.

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The dust is playing havoc with my already-suffering lungs, and I try to cover my mouth and nose with a bandana so as not to breathe in any more dirt particles than I have to.

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This little guy certainly isn't helping!

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Having spent a magical 40 minutes just observing these gentle giants as the go about their daily life, we leave them to their clouds of dust and go to “see what else nature has to offer us.”

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One of my favourite African birds!

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Feasting on the carcass of a zebra who died of natural causes, a plethora of vultures are accompanied by a few storks.

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Rueppell's Griffon

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Marabou Stork

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African White Backed Vulture

What a racket! They sound like a huge flock of sheep as they squabble over the meat.

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Check out the short video clip below to hear the commotion a few birds can make!

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There is a distinct pecking order, and some of the birds are very aggressive. This guy is beating a newcomer to a pulp.

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Meanwhile, other vultures move in on the dining table and take his place, which means he has to fight them off too before he can dine. And so it goes on.

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After a while it turns into massive free-for-all brawl. Like Bristol on a Saturday night.

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More and more birds arrive, hoping to get a small piece of the action. Failing that, some food.

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You can see who gets to eat.

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Further along, a much more peaceful scene, this gorgeous little bee eater just sitting around minding his own business.

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Warning – the following photographs contain gory images

In the shade of a tree, we find a lioness feasting on a baby wildebeest.

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By the looks of the flies on her dinner, the kill is probably not fresh, so we guess it was an opportunist grab from a cheetah.

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Fed up with having an audience while she eats, the lioness decides to move her dinner elsewhere.

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Heading for the long grass, she cleverly hides herself and her dinner.

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It is time for us to head back to camp as the light fades and evening draws in. Government rules state that we have to leave the park by sundown, which is around 18:30.

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As is common when the soil is parched like this, as soon as we stop the car, the dust from the wheels seems to catch up with us, hanging heavily in the air.

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Waiting a couple of minutes sees the dust clearing. Normally a very skittish antelope, it is extremely unusual to see one standing still, just looking at us.

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As soon as we get back to the camp I jump in the shower, then start to get ready for dinner. I feel totally knocked out by this chest infection with absolutely no energy: all I want to do is sleep. I don't physically have the energy to get dressed, so I make my excuses and send David down to meet Malisa for dinner on his own. I immediately fall into a restless sleep, punctuated by coughing fits and recurring bad dreams. Oh joy.

Yet another wonderful day on safari with Calabash Adventures.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:44 Archived in Tanzania Tagged travel elephants africa safari tanzania lion ngorongoro vultures geese goose lilac_breasted_roller ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area memory_of_elephants vulture_mayhem Comments (2)

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