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Ndutu II: lion in a tree, lots of birds, migration

A cool morning at Ndutu


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We go down to the lounge area early this morning to grab a coffee and check out the internet before we set off for the day; only to find the man with the key to the reception isn't there yet, so no internet.

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Moonlight over Ndutu Lodge

Lions

Our 'breakfast' this morning (Malisa's expression for the first sighting of the day), is a male lion purposefully striding through the undergrowth quite near to the lodge.

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He is taking a great interest in a couple of men working down by the lake.

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Each lodge in the area have their own borehole at the edge of the lake, and fill their water tankers from there to take back to the lodges.

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We are joined by another couple of vehicles.

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Even more safari vehicles arrive

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The lion disappears out of sight into the bushes.

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But there's another one!

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From behind us a third lion appears, walking right by the side of the car.

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He disappears too, but we hang around for a bit watching the flamingos on Lake Ndutu.

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Suddenly someone notices that one of the lions has climbed a tree, so we set off, literally driving through the dense thicket to get nearer.

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After a while of being settled on the branch, he starts to fidget. Is he going to jump down?

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No, he is just rearranging himself.

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Meanwhile, I am distracted by a Beautiful Sunbird.

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This time our lion is definitely on the move.

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He does not look overly confident here.

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“Should I go this way?”

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“Hmm, maybe not...”

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Here we go!

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He soon disappears into the bushes, probably looking for a female on heat. We continue on our way, “to see what nature has to offer us” as Malisa would say.

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Jacobin Cuckoo

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Southern Red Bishop

Lesser Flamingos

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Marsh Sandpiper

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Kitlitz' Plover

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Lots of them flying

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Crowned Lapwing

Mud

In a low-lying marshy area, we see a car stuck in the mud. A lot of helpers are milling around, assisting in towing the vehicle out.

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Fearful of suffering the same fate, Malisa drives across at great speed. It works, we are fine.

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Southern Red Bishop

Usually very timid, this small bird surprises us by staying put on his perch as we pull up alongside him. It's not until another car drives past that he flies off.

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Greater Spotted Thick Knee

Wattled Starlings

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Marabou Stork

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This baby wildebeest didn't make it

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Secretary Bird

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Steppe Eagle

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Eurasian Roller

White Backed Vulture

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Spotted Hyena

The Great Migration

We've seen the migration on our previous visits, including being right in the middle of huge herds of animals in Togoro; plus we have been lucky enough to witness the wildebeest and zebra cross the mighty Mara River in the far north of the country; but never before have we seen it like it is here: one single line. This is how I have always imagined the migration to look like. The reason they walk behind each other in this way, is a scent emitted from the hooves of the animals at the front, which leads other to follow in exactly the same pathway.

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This tiny little baby struggles to keep up with mum; he's two hours old at the most.

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There are a few more youngsters today than there were yesterday. The whole idea of coming this time of year was to see the babies, and hopefully even a birth.

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We stop to have our breakfast in the car this morning, as there is a cold wind out. More to follow in the next blog entry.

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Thank you Calabash Adventures forarranging this safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:21 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds wildlife well africa mud safari tanzania eagle birding moonlight lion flamingo roller internet stork vulture starlings wifi migration wildebeest cuckoo bird_watching wild_animals sunbird ndutu calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area wildebeest_migration plover lapwing sandpiper borehole game_viewing great_migration wildlife_photography red_bishop ndutu_lodge african_animals lion_in_a_tree ndutu_lake stuck_in_mud sead_wildebeest baby_wildebeest Comments (5)

Serengeti VI: elephants, crocodile, lions

Too close for comfort


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

Elephants

We finally find the elephants we went out looking for this morning – or rather: they find us, crossing the road all around us.

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Giraffe

This giraffe is being pestered by Yellow Billed Oxpeckers, and keeps trying to shake them off.

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White Headed Vulture

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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Egyptian Geese with chicks

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A little less flooding

Hopefully this is a sign that the surface water is receding and some sort of normality can be restored on the roads here in the Serengeti. Providing we don't get more rain, of course.

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Or maybe not.

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Nile Crocodile

On the far bank of a small lake, a huge crocodile exposes his predator teeth. The reason crocodiles lie around with the mouths open, is to catch birds. The food left in the teeth attracts insects, and the insects in turn attract birds: the lazy approach to hunting.

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A Cape Hare unintentionally wanders into the proximity of the crocodile, and freezes to the spot when she realises.

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Meanwhile, another crocodile is coming our way.

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They are such prehistoric looking creatures.

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A third croc fancies his chances with a Black Crake.

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He is way too slow for the birds (yet too fast for the camera, or rather my reactions)

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Black Headed Heron

Black Faced Vervet Monkeys

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I am forever fascinated by their blue balls.

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She looks almost human here

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White Bellied Busard

Lions

We'd heard on the grapevine that there was a lion close to our lodge, and there, in the fading light, just before we turn the corner into the lodge's parking area, is a big cat under a tree.


Here you can see our tent from where the lion is.

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You can see where numerous cars have driven around this tree earlier today. Now we have the lioness to ourselves.

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She's on the move.

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She joins two others under another tree.

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We leave them to it and drive the few metres to our camp, feeling a little nervous as we get out of the car.

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I don't think tonight is the night to have sundowners around the camp fire outside, sitting between the tent and the lions.

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There are three lions under one of those trees in the distance

The grass is so long beside the path to the tents that a lion could easily hide in there for later on when we go to dinner...

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Tsetse Fly Bites

I have been itching like mad all afternoon, and when I get undressed for the shower, I find my shoulder and back are covered in bites, some of which have turned into large blisters.

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Dinner

Tonight's dinner is pumpkin soup, followed by beef and pork kebabs with ugali (stodgy grits-like local dish), pilau rice, spinach, pilipili (hot sauce) and salad; followed by rhubarb tart.

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Yet again I offer my thanks to Calabash Adventures for this fabulous safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:34 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals monkeys wildlife elephants bird africa dinner safari tanzania crocodile birding lions giraffe flooding serengeti heron vulture geese goose hare ugali bird_watching calabash_adventures game_viewing vervet_monkey crake oxpeckers matawi_serengeti_camp matawi_camp insect_bites wilflide_photography egyptian_geese lions_close_to_camptsetse_flies tsetse_fly_bites Comments (4)

Serengeti V: mongoose, baboons, klipspringers, gazelles

North to Lobo. Or maybe not.


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

Breakfast Picnic

We are unable to get into the actual picnic site as the ground is too sodden and muddy, so we set up our table and chairs on the side of the road instead. We are the only people here, so it doesn't really matter.

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New for this year, are the posh chairs, with little foldable tables attached, complete with cup holder.

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Another great breakfast provided by Matawi Serengeti Camp

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What a great idea to have a shape cut out to include the cup handle.

We may be the only humans here, but a couple of lions have walked right through the site this morning.

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On the other side of our table are fresh hyena prints. We are definitely out in the wild here.

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Butterflies

We have seen more butterflies on this trip than any other safari in the past, with some places featuring literally hundreds of them. They are very difficult to photograph as they rarely hang around for very long, although I managed to catch this one as it landed for a few seconds.

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Tiger Butterfly

Swallows

Swallows dart around, pausing briefly to pick up crumbs left on the ground.

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Lesser Striped Swallow

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White Rumped Swift

In the distance we see a car being helped out of the mud by several other drivers.

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Martial Eagle

This huge eagle is easily recognisable by its relatively short tail. Such a powerful bird, it has been known to just fly down and pick up baby antelopes. Farmers fear it as it will attack livestock, which in turn makes it one of the most persecuted eagle in Africa. It is classed as 'vulnerable', heading towards extinction as a result.

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Here you can better see the short tail without the confusion of the branch behind

Marabou Stork

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These really are such ugly birds.

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Nile Crocodile

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Hippos

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Dwarf Mongoose

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Lilac Breasted Roller

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He's found a bug

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He briefly lands on the road

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Then takes off again

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The roads are still very muddy

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Sausage Tree

Named for the huge sausage-like fruits hanging down, which in fact are poisonous when raw. They can, however, be dried, roasted or fermented to make an alcoholic beverage.

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk

Lobo

Malisa suggests we head north towards Lobo, partly to get away from all the crowds in Seronera, and also in the hope of seeing some elephants. I have been very surprised at the lack of pachyderms on this trip.

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We need to get out of this mess

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Another flooded river crossing

Cape Buffalo

The first thing we see is a large herd of buffalo; although all we can really see is the top of their backs sticking up over the long grass.

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Olive Baboons

A large troupe of baboons walk past our car on the road.

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Little Bee Eater

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Pin Tailed Whydah

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Fan Tailed Widowbird

Orangi River crossing

Apparently this was full and overflowing yesterday. It's amazing how quickly it dries out in this heat.

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Red Billed Hornbill

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Lilac Breasted Roller

Topi

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The landscape is very different up here.

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Impala

Grant's Gazelles

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Eastern Chanting Goshawk

Turtle

Malisa spots the tiniest little turtle, his shell not much bigger than my thumbnail, trying to climb the mountainous (to him) tyre track in the road. We stop and make sure he gets out of the way before we carry on. He's heading for a small pond at the side of the road.

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As soon as we stop, we get eaten alive by the &*%@# tsetse flies!

White Headed Vulture

The rare and endangered White Headed Vulture beaming down on us.

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It seems the only animals around here are the tsetse flies. We take a joint decision to return to Central Serengeti

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Another turtle

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Topi

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Klipspringer

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Yet another Lilac Breasted Roller

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Pallid Flycatcher

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Little Bee Eater

More Klipspringers

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He's not happy with us!

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Another turtle – the water here is incredibly clear!

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We meet a ranger who tells us there elephants the other side of the kopje. We check it out, but they are so far away that I don't even bother to try and take a photograph. Instead we stop for our lunch picnic. More in the next blog entry.

Thank you Calabash Adventures for organising this safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 02:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged birds wildlife africa safari tanzania crocodile birding buffalo hippo baboons turtle roller serengeti butterflies stork vulture flycatcher lobo impala gazelle topi mongoose bird_watching hornbill lilac_breasted_roller swift calabash_adventures klipspringer swallow grant's_gazelle breakfast_picnic bee_eater game_viewing sausage_tree orangi_river togoro goshawk wildlife_photography whydah wildlife_viewing widowbird lion-prints hyena_prints picnic_chairs eacgle Comments (4)

Balkanabat - Yangikala - Gözli Ata - Turkmenbashi

One of our more surreal days: camel jam, bizarre rock formations, ancient pilgrimage site, agonising leg injury, restricted tourist zone, 5* yacht club, self-locking doors


View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Continuing the trials and tribulations of a cloth napkin this morning, the waitress surprises us by NOT removing it when she brings our breakfast out. She does, however, make a big point of giving us paper serviettes. We let sleeping napkins be, and stick with the paper ones.

Breakfast just appears this morning, and a very substantial affair it is too, with egg, sausage, bread, cheese, jam and pancakes. We are not going to starve on this trip, that's for sure.

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Picnic Lunch

Last night Meylis ordered a picnic lunch from the hotel restaurant for today's journey; to be ready for 09:00. When he goes to collect it, they say it will be another 25 minutes before it is ready, as it is “just cooking now”.

25 minutes later, and he is told “it has just cooked now, another 25 minutes for steaming”.

They were correct about the timing – 50 minutes late we pick up the food and can leave for the next part of the journey.

As we drive out of the town on Balkanabat, we spot some cool horse riders at the side of the road. They look so right here, like something out of a historical Silk Road movie. This is the first time we have seen anyone on horseback out here.

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Wild Horses

These are of course not the valuable and sought after Ahel Teke horses, but rather amore common breed known as Yomut.

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Eurasian Griffon

A large bird is circling quite low overhead, and Artem stops the car so that I can get out to take some photos.

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Camels

We share the road with a small herd of free-range camels. There are infinitely more camels than cars on this stretch.

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Sand

As I have said before, 80% of the country is covered in desert, and we soon see some classic dunes along the side of the road.

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And not just beside the road, it is blowing across it too.

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The sand is remarkably deep considering the wind apparently only started yesterday – if this is what it can do in a day, I dread to think what it will look like by the end of the week. It is obviously quite a common phenomenon, as we see a sign warning of SAND BLIZZARD.

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More camels

As we climb higher into the barren mountains, we come across a huge herd of camels. These are not free-range, however, they are being guided along the road by a camel herder on a motorbike.

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For the last few hours we have been driving along a flat stretch of land, with wide open spaces on either side, and no ditches or other obstructions on the side of the road. This section, however, has barriers either side of the road, so we end up having to travel at camel-speed until we can get past this jam.

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A few of the camels have somehow ended up on the wrong side of the barriers.

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Two of the animals clumsily try to cross to the road-side of the fence, and totally fail.

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It seems that the stray camels are somewhat stuck, as the embankment and part of the road have slipped down into ravine below. Not sure what they will do now if they can't cross the barrier – go back I guess.

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Footnote: I don't know what they did in the end, but when we drove past again a few hours later, there were no dead camels at the bottom - I checked.

Yangikala Canyon

Having passed the camels, we climb to the top of the cliffs with amazing views of the plateau below. This completely flat area that seems to stretch as far as the eye can see, was once the ocean bed of the pre-historical Parathetys Sea.

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It is not the empty and barren lowlands that are spread before us that we have come to see, and soon we catch a glimpse of a series of surreal rock formations rising mysteriously from the planes below: The 'Badlands of Turkmenistan'.

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I am fascinated by the crusty layer of rock on top, which has kept its shape and hardness while everything underneath it has been eroded away.

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I wish I knew more about geology and could identify the different rocks and their formation / age.

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Erosion, wind, weather, and tectonic shifts over the last 5.5 million years have all contributed to carving out the curious landscape we see today: Yangikala Canyon. Rose coloured rocks, tainted by the presence of iron, vie for attention with ribbed white limestone folds and alluvial fans in this extraordinary range of cliffs stretching some 15 miles across the desert to the Garabogazköl Basin.

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Crocodile’s Mouth

Continuing across the top of these rock formations seems almost like a sacrilege. There are no roads or tracks, we just drive along the flat surface, until we come to a formation known as the Crocodile's Mouth. From its gaping overhang, it is easy to see how it got its name.

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Both Meylis and David go to the top of the snout of the croc to have their photo taken, but as I am none too fond of heights, I flatly refuse. After a bit of persuasion I start walking out towards the edge, and find that it is not as terrifying from the top as it looks from across the small ravine.

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I am not as brave as Artem, however.

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The view in the opposite direction is much more picturesque, and not so terrifying.

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We decide that this is a great place to have our picnic. With the temperature being in the mid-thirties (centigrade) and no shade for miles around, it makes sense to sit in the air conditioned car to eat. Overlooking one of the most sensationally striking landscapes imaginable, we tuck into cold manty while the music is blaring out Ra Ra Rasputin by Boney M. Could life get any more surreal? This surely has to be one of the main highlights of our trip and a memory to cherish forever!

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Manty - traditional Turkmen beef dumplings

Adding to the bizarre feel of this place, peculiar spherical bushes, reminiscent of tumbleweed, dot the flat plateau as far as the eye can see.

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Taking one last glance back at the multicoloured cliffs and the place I overcame my fear to stand on the overhang, we leave Yangikala Canyon behind and turn back the way we came.

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Gözli Ata

The mausoleum of Gözli Ata, a respected Sufi teacher in the early 14th century, is now a popular place of pilgrimage.

You can read all about him here:

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Visiting pilgrims walk around the mausoleum three times, always anticlockwise.

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Surrounding the mausoleum a cemetery has sprung up, with some unusual grave markers.

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This, a somewhat more traditional grave stone, features Persian writing, evidence that worshippers come here from far and wide.

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Many of the graves have hollows cut out or a cup at the base such as this one. It is not for flowers as we would do here in the west, the containers are for collecting water to quench the thirst of the souls who are resting here. In reality, the water is used by wildlife, meaning that even in death you are still supporting life.

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And here is that wildlife:

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Not only do pilgrims come here to pay their respect to the revered sufi leader, they also use this site to create cairns, such as these modest collections of stones, which they believe will act as vehicles for their prayers.

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A much larger and more formal structure has been created for worshippers to pray for children, health and wealth.

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Items left at the site indicate what the families are wishing for, such as this comb which indicates they would like a daughter.

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It seems this family were desperate for the addition of a son.

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The small cot means that gender is unimportant to the hopeful couple as long as they are bestowed with a child.

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Keys suggest that a new home is on the wish list.

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Other visitors will make their wish in a more traditional way, such as tying a piece of cloth around a stick.

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Injury time

A large building housing a guest house as well as a covered picnic area has been constructed on the site to cater for the pilgrims who visit here. We therefore make a point of utilising the facilities before we leave. While making his way back to the car and stepping up onto a 'platform', David misjudges the height of the step and takes am awkward tumble. I know nothing of this until I see him hobbling at a snail's pace across the car park.

Finally making it back to the car, he tells us the story, and admits that he is in a great deal of pain, fearing that he has torn a muscle in his calf. Right here right now there is absolutely nothing we can do about it, so he just swallows some pain killers as we make our way to our final destination for today.

Waterhole

Huge crowds of sheep and goats signal the presence of a waterhole.

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I always struggle to tell the difference between sheep and goats in this part of the world, as they both look very similar, unlike the sheep in the UK.

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The little brown and white blighter who is looking at us is a sheep, whereas the black one with his back to us is a goat. I have always looked at the coat to tell them apart – sheep are fluffier with curly hair, whereas goat wool is straighter and courser. Meylis informs us that the goats are the ones with horns, although I am pretty sure that this is not always the case.

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Looks like the sheep and goats will soon have company, as we meet a number of camels making their way towards the waterhole.

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They seem to be as curious about us as we are about them.

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I can just hear the conversation over a drink later:

Camel 1: “Did you see those tourists earlier?”
Camel 2: “I know, the woman even had bright orange hair”
Camel 3: “You don't get many of those around here do you.”
Camel 4: “I wonder which waterhole they were going to?”

We pass more areas covered with sand dunes on our way to Turkmenbashi.

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Awaza Tourism Zone

Turkmenbashi is a town of two halves and one of the more peculiar set-ups we have ever encountered. The large modern town (it is the second city after Ashgabat) is much like any other port town, with oil storage facilities and a large passenger terminal, plus the normal residential / shopping areas.

Then there is Awasha Tourism Zone. This is the bit that has me scratching my head (and shaking it).

'Normal' cars are not permitted into the area, so Artem has to drop us off at a huge covered parking area, which houses around two thousand cars. We see less than two dozen.

From here we have to take government approved taxis to our accommodation, which is around two miles away.

It all happens in such a flurry of activity that I end up not taking a photo of the enormous, empty car park. To try and redeem myself, I snap this through the taxi window as we make our way to the hotel.

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Yelken Yacht Club

This five star tourist hotel is in beautiful, green sprawling grounds, such a contrast to the barren scenery earlier today. I shall post more about this hotel with lots of pictures in tomorrow's blog entry. It is so big in fact, that we are taken to our room by a golf buggy; despite Meylis arranging for us to be in the nearest room to the main building as David can hardly walk on his damaged leg now.

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Drinks on the Balcony

We have a large, well furnished balcony overlooking the extensive hotel gardens, so we make the most of the remaining sunshine with a drink outside.

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Thankfully we have wifi here, so I email our trusted chiropractor (and good friend) John, to see if he has any suggestions what David can do to alleviate the pain in his leg. John recommends elevating the leg, taking Ibuprofen, putting ice on the painful part; and he also suggests some exercises that David can do to speed up the healing. I do love my chiropractor for providing instant remote consultation.

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Meylis pops his head around the corner and we invite him to join us for a drink. Being young and fit, he simply jumps over the bannister and on to the balcony. When I try to get a glass from the bedroom for him, I am unable to open the door. David tries, Meylis tries. None of us can shift it, which is odd, because I went back in earlier. The door was a little stiff then, but not insurmountable.

Jumping back over the railings, Meylis goes to the reception to get a card key for the room. Being the sensible, security conscious person I am, I double locked the door to the room when we arrived, so the key does not work. Back to reception for plan B. I am so grateful Meylis happened to turn up at the right time, as we'd never be able to explain this to the receptionist in Russian / Turkmen / sign language.

When he returns, Meylis explains that the self-locking door is a safety feature, so that you cannot enter the room from the balcony once the door is closed. How absolutely ridiculous! There are no signs warning us not to close the door when we go out there, something we are obviously going to do in order to keep the room cool and the air conditioning working efficiently.

Reception send a maintenance worker, who has to use his electric drill to take the handle and lock off in order to let us in. By now I can see the funny side of this, and cannot stop giggling.

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Dinner

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Turkmenbashi is situated on the Caspian Sea, so it seems logical to order fish for dinner this evening. I choose the speciality dish called 'sturgeon on a tile'. This is a new fish to me, and while it is pleasant, it is nothing out of the ordinary. It comes with lovely rich mashed potato, however. Not sure where the 'tile' comes into it though.

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The fried meatballs that David ordered

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An unusual dessert of pumpkin with tahini sauce and walnut syrup

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David's apple and raisin tart with (a very white) ice cream

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Meylis just has ice cream. As you can see, even here in this posh restaurant, all we get is café-style cheap paper napkins. I'm afraid I am a bit of a napkin snob and I do judge an establishment on whether they offer paper or cloth for their diners to dab their lips with. There, I've said it!

After dinner we retire to the room, reflecting on what an fabulously adventurous day it has been.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this great private tour for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:23 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged horses canyon cemetery sheep sand balcony camels picnic dumplings sand_dunes rock_formations graves mausoleum badlands prayers vulture injury goats waterhole turkmenistan griffon turkmenbashi chiropractor sturgeon central_asia wild_horses manty yomut undiscovered_destinations yacht_club picnic_lunch ex_ussr caspian_sea paper_serviettes napkins horse_riders yangikala yangikala_canyon parathetys_sea garabogazköl_basin crocodile's_mouth bomey_m gözli_ata pilrgimage_site sufi_teacher grave+markers grave+stones persian_writing prayer_scarves prayer_cloths leg_injury awaza awaza_tourism_zone yelken yelken_yacht_club locked_out maintenance_man pre_dinner_drink Comments (6)

Sunset Cruise from Mandina Lodges

What an amazing amount of birds!


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

This afternoon we are taking another boat trip, this one with two added bonuses: a bottle of wine and the sunset! Hopefully. The sunset, that is, the bottle is most definitely present!

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My plan of action this evening is to take photos of birds just as they take off. I always like a challenge and to step outside my comfort zone. I start with this Long Tailed Cormorant.

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Fishing centre

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I have a soft spot for baobab trees

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Whimbrel

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Wattled Plover

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Black Kite taking off

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Great White Egret

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Preening

I think she's going to fly...

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Here she goes!

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It looks like she is having a blast!

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We see a tree full of Pink Backed Pelicans.

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Yellow Billed Stork

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African Spoonbill

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Goliath Heron

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Black Kite

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Blue Cheeked Bee Eater

The sun is getting low now, and depending which direction I point my camera, the sky glows a warm yellow, glistening in the ripples on the water surface.

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Great White Egret

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Common Sandpiper

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Sacred Ibis

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Sacred Ibis

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Whimbrels

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And they're gone

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African Darter

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Cattle Egret

The sun is only just above the horizon now, as we have entered an area enclosed on three sides by mangroves and an island in the middle.

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Max, the captain, explains we will wait here for the sun to go down and the birds to come back to roost.

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We see a few single birds flying around in the sunset, then coming in to the island to settle down for the night.

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The sun has painted the sky a deep orange now.

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Beautiful reflections on the water

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Where there were initially just one or two, they are now coming in thick and fast, it seems to be never ending, and they seem to appear from nowhere.

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More and more egrets are gathering in the trees, and when you think there is no room for any more birds, a whole lot of others arrive.

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It is hard to know where to look, the birds are coming from three out of four directions, and seem to suddenly appear out of nowhere from behind us with a whoosh. It is an air traffic control nightmare!

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When there is no more room at the inn and the light is fading rapidly, we start to make our way back to the lodge, stopping from time to time to take photos of the sunset. To say this evening's performance has been spectacular is an understatement!

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By the time we reach the hotel, darkness has all but enveloped Makasutu Forest and the twinkling lights of Mandina Lodge welcome us back.

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Dinner

As time is getting on, we go straight to dinner from the sunset cruise; the boat conveniently lands at the jetty right by the restaurant anyway.

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Pre-dinner drink of Pina Colada

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Prawn Cocktail

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Butter fish with Lyonnaise potatoes and a delicious home made tartare sauce

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David's Samosas

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Gambian Rice Pudding with ground peanuts - a very delicate flavour

We decline the offer of an early morning coffee in the room tomorrow, in favour of a lie in, and sneak off to bed after a magical day in Makasutu Forest.

Posted by Grete Howard 15:16 Archived in Gambia Tagged trees birds fishing reflections sunset pelicans kite africa dinner forest birding captain baobab stork vulture ibis egrets spoonbill birdwatching mangroves cocktail west_africa samosas cormorant gambia boat_trip fores sunset_cruise piña_colada darter roost plover bee_eater sandpiper the_gambia butter_fish mandina_lodges makasutu makasutu_forest whinbrel flying_birds birds_flying air_traffic_control prawn_cocktail rice_pudding Comments (5)

Pool time at Mandina Lodges - swimming with Bee Eaters

A new experience for us


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After lunch we retire to the swimming pool, relaxing, reading, swimming, birdwatching. The pool area is full of at least two dozen little White Throated Bee Eater, swooping down into the water, to catch bugs on the surface, or just for a cooling dip.

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They are so fast, and never dive in the same place twice, making it impossible to catch them on the camera. This is the nearest I got:

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After little success using my small waterproof camera, I risk the SLR with my long lens into the pool.

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I don't do much better with the 'proper' camera.

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Looking rather bedraggled after his dip in the pool

A Fanti Saw Tail joins in – a new species to us, but sadly another rubbish photograph.

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Swimming with dolphins is so yesteryear – to be really hip in 2019, you've got to have been swimming with bee eaters. It really is quite something to have them splashing all around us in the pool!

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David in the pool

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We return to our own private balcony for the rest of the afternoon.

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Strange elongated fish in the river - trumpet fish?

The river is teeming with fish of all shapes and sizes.

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At times there appears to be a feeding frenzy, with the surface of the water covered in ripples.

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Palm Nut Vulture flying overhead

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Common Redshank

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Pied Kingfisher

Tourist boat – everything around here is very low key.

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Black Headed Heron

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Hooded Vulture

The kingfisher keeps returning, and hovering above the river for quite some time before diving in after a fish. Again and again and again he does this, providing us with endless amusement.

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We watch as Angela and Keane set off for their sunset cruise.

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Malin, the chef, comes to our room to ask what we would like for dinner, and stays chatting. And chatting. And chatting. He explains he is just about to embark on a hotel management course in Camberley, UK, and says he wants to come and stay with us while he is studying. I don't think he quite realises the distances involved in England, Camberley is well over two hours' drive away from us, each way, even without traffic. Not that I have any intention whatsoever to invite him to stay with us. Sorry Malin, it ain't 'appenin'.

The lights is fading now, but I stay on the balcony taking (bad quality) photographs of the birds flying around.

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Abyssinian Roller

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The Pied Kingfisher is still here, skimming the surface now.

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Common Sandpiper

Dinner

Soon it is time to tear myself away from the birds (which I can hardly see any more anyway, in the quickly fading light), and have a shower before wandering down to the restaurant for dinner.

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Tuna Salad

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Cottage Pie

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Chicken Curry

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Chocolate Ice Cream

The ceiling above the restaurant is home to a large colony of bats. Every evening we see them flying around.

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.

When we first arrived, I wondered why the dining tables were not positioned under the domed roofs - I have since come to realise that they are strategically placed to avoid any droppings.

The end of another lovely day - the stars twinkle over Mandina Lodges.

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Posted by Grete Howard 15:03 Archived in Gambia Tagged fish bird africa dinner pool birding swimming_pool bats roller heron vulture kingfisher gambia bird_watching waterproof_camera sandpiper bee_eaters the_gambia the_gambia_experience swimming_with_bee_eaters saw_tail redshank Comments (7)

Lazy afternoon at Mandina Lodges

Taking it easy in the shade


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After lunch we retire to the room, and I notice to my horror that my legs have come up in a dreadful rash with red skin and little blisters. It is burning, stinging and itching so much that I jump straight in the shower, hoping the cold water will relieve it. It doesn't. Smothering it in antihistamine, I take myself off to a shady spot on the terrace while David goes on a boat trip with Nicola and AJ, our guide.

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As a result of previous severe sunburn, I now have an area on my shins that suffer from photosensitive dermatitis, hence why I do not want to expose my legs to the sun this afternoon.

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I spend the time with my long lens pointing at the sky, trying to catch flying birds while keeping out of the sun. The wind has dropped and it is blisteringly hot. Literally in my case.

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Hooded Vulture

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Oyster collectors

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Black Headed Heron

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Some strange, elongated fish in the river.

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White Throated Bee Eater

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Collecting firewood

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Black Kite

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Western Plantain Eater

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Pied Crows

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Bearded Barbet

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They are funny looking birds when they fly

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A much bigger bird. Although we are fairly near the airport, the flights are so infrequent that they do not bother us.

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Whimbrel

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Common Swift

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Pied Crow

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More oyster collectors returning home

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Pied Crows into the setting sun

As soon as David returns, we have a shower and sit on our private deck with a drink before dinner. The chef came round to the room earlier to take our orders for this evening.

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Starter - Vegetable Spring Rolls

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Chicken and rice for main course

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Dessert is Banana Fritter and Ice Cream

When we return to the room, we find that the mosquito net over the bed has been lowered while we were eating, and the room is thankfully very much cooler now, which will hopefully aid sleep tonight.

Posted by Grete Howard 16:41 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds boat wildlife airport crow kite birding plane canoe heron vulture whimbrel west_africa cormorant barbet gambia boat_trip blisters bird_watching rash firewood swift spring_rolls itching bee_eater wildlife_photography plantain_eater dermatitis red_skin mandina_lodges makasutu rive floatinf_lodge oyster_collectors collecting_firewood dug_out_canoe banana_fritter mosquito_net Comments (4)

Baku Creek

Another lazy-ish day


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The plan this morning is to take the path from the Observation Deck, through the mangroves, onto the main road and down to the bridge.

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Village Weaver

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Hooded Vulture

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

The trail meanders along the edge of the creek and heads for the road, but ends in a builders yard, obviously private property. There is a gate, but it is locked, so there is no way for us to join the road here, so we end up having to walk all the way back to the observation deck and through the hotel again.

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In the hotel grounds we spot some Green Vervet Monkeys, including a very young baby clinging to his mum.

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Out on the road we are amused to see a sign for Tesco Mini Market – in reality a small shack selling bottled water, ice cream and a few essentials.

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Having spend the last four days almost exclusively in the company of birds, Kotu is proving a bit of a culture shock. Outdoor cafés are full of fat, middle aged cougars with tattoos, piercings, bleach blonde hair and the obligatory toyboy Gambian hanging on their arms. We hurry past to reach the bridge over Kotu Creek, a well known bird watching spot.

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Pink Backed Pelican

The place is teeming with the gorgeous little Long Tailed Cormorants:

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Pink Backed Pelicans, African Spoonbills, Long Tailed Cormorant and Great Egret

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Grey Heron, Sacred Ibis and Marsh Sandpiper

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African Spoonbills

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Common Redshank

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Pink Backed Pelican

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Sacred Ibis and Grey Headed Heron

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Senegal Thick Knee

We are approached by a couple of guides offering their services, but we are pleased to find they are much more likely to take “no” for an answer than the people we encountered during our visit to The Gambia 23 years ago.

Lunch

Back in the hotel, I request my food “extra spicy. Gambian spicy, not tourist spicy”. It still only arrives as a 2-3 on Grete's scale of 10.

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Cheese and chilli omelette

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Burger and chips

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Refreshing fruit juice - youki?

After having asked for our food “extra spicy” at lunch, we are amused when we return to the room to find this large pack of toilet rolls sitting on our patio table. Are they trying to tell us something?

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We are chilling in the room with a drink and some snacks when we overhear someone outside mentioning the name “Mandina Lodges”. Our ears prick up, as we are waiting to hear about what time our transfer to Mandina will be tomorrow. Yesterday we waited for 45 minutes for the rep to turn up (at the advertised time), but he didn't show. This afternoon, however, he is here, although he's knocking on our neighbour's door instead by mistake, so we go out and ask if he is looking for us. At least we now know that we are leaving here at 10:30 in the morning.

Dinner

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Chicken Saté

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Seafood mornay with crepe

We spend the rest of the evening chilling on our private patio with a few drinks.

Posted by Grete Howard 05:41 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds monkeys trail birding heron egret vulture ibis pelican spoonbill whimbrel mangroves west_africa starling weaver cormorant tesco spicy gambia bird_watching nature_trail thick_knee sandpiper vervet_monkey the_gambia gambia_experience bakotu bakotu_hotel kotu observation_deck kotu_creek tesco_mini_market toilet_rolls Comments (7)

Marakissa River Camp

Another Birdie Heaven


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Marakissa River Camp

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

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Abyssinian Roller

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Yellow Billed Shrike

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Beautiful Sunbird, preening

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Purple Glossy Starling

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Yellow Throated Leaflove

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Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Lesser Honeyguide

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Piapiac (AKA Black Magpie)

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Scruffy Looking Village Weaver

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Western Plantain Eater

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Black Crake

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Giant Kingfisher

Kingfisher Diving

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

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

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

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

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Which is now stuck on his beak.

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Speckled Pigeon

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Palm Nut Vulture

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Western Reef Heron

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African Black Kite

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Great White Egret

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

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African Thrush

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Blue Bellied Roller

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Beautiful Sunbird

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The female sunbird is nowhere near as colourful as the male

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Orange Cheeked Waxbill

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Red Billed Firefinch

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A squirrel joins in the fun

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

Lunch

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

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

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

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Red Billed Firefinch

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Grey Backed Camaroptera

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

Dinner

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

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Chicken Yassa

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

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

Abuko

Big day today: Lifer # 1000


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

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

Abuko

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

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Onions

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Bitter Tomato

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Sweet Potato

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Mango

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Tapping the palm toddy

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Scarecrow. Or should that be scaredog?

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

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

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Sacred Ibis

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African Grey Hornbill

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Hooded Vulture

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Blue Breasted Kingfisher*

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Grey Woodpecker*

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Woodland Kingfisher

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Spur Winged Plover

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Striated Heron

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Black Crake

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

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African Jacana

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Senegal Coucal

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White Billed Buffalo Weavers*

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Two different species of Egrets - Intermediate and Cattle

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Squacco Heron

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Black Heron

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

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Blue Bellied Roller*

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Giant Kingfisher with a Tilapia in his beak

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Rose Ringed Parakeet

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Pied Crow

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Gull Billed Tern*

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Red Eyed Dove

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Senegal Thick Knee*

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

Ta da!

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

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Little Bee Eater

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Hammerkop

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Broad Billed Roller

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Hooded Vulture

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Reef Heron

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Purple Heron

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Long Tailed Cormorant

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Great White Egret

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

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

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

Brufut

So many lifers


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

Yet again Lariam (malaria prophylaxis) upsets my sleep with a series of bad dreams: while faced with a plethora of colourful birds, my camera refuses to operate despite repeatedly and frustratingly pressing the shutter. I wake up agitated and distressed, realise it is thankfully just a dream and return to sleep. And the dream. The same horrid dream. This repeats itself time and time again and by the time the alarm goes off at 6am, I am exhausted.

Birding Pool

Knowing we are too early for the breakfast, and will be out for most of the morning, we grab some snacks from our bags and head to the bird pool to wait for the guide to arrive.

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As it is still fairly dark, photography is almost impossible, so we just sit and enjoy until Malick turns up.

Police Check Point

We pre-booked Malick – Chris Packham's birding guide of choice - through The Gambia Experience before we left home, just to make sure we had a couple of days of serious birding organised. Having someone who knows where to go and the transport to take us there is half the battle.

As with so many African countries, The Gambia has its fair share of Police Road Blocks where they check the drivers' paperwork. It also acts as an opportunity to investigate the birds that hang around here, feeling on rubbish left behind.

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Yellow Crowned Gonolek

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Red Cheeked Cordon Blue

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Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher

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Western Red Billed Hornbill

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Brown Babbler

Brufut

Our destination for today, however, is Brufut, a community-organised bird sanctuary protected by the West African Birds Study Association.

Before we reach the woods themselves, we stop near some habitation at the edge of a few plantations and take a short walk to see what species can be found around here. We are very excited to spot so many 'lifers' (species new to us, indicated by * below) in such a small area.

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Yellow Billed Shrike*

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Stone Partridge*

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Piapiac*

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White Crowned Robin Chat*

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White Faced Whistling Ducks

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Greater Honeyguide*

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Village Weaver

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Blue Bellied Roller*

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Senegal Wattled Plover*

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Black Crake

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Long Tailed Glossy Starling

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Fine Spotted Woodpecker*

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African Jacana

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Pied Crow

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White Billed Buffalo Weaver*

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Greenshank

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Spur Winged Plover

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Beautiful Sunbird (female)

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Bearded Barbet

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Splendid Sunbird (female)

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Copper Sunbird*

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Intermediate Egret

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Northern Red Bishop in non-breeding colours*

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Variable Sunbird (female) The female sunbirds all look very similar.

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Common Sandpiper

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Pied Kingfisher

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Black Headed Heron

The plantations include such crops as cashew nuts and mango trees.

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Unripe cashew fruits with the nuts not yet having developed - they will be hanging down below when ripe

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Mango fruits

Brufut Woodland Bar

We continue to an area known as Brufut Woods, where there is even a bar serving drinks. Fearing that they may not be open this late in the season, Malick had already contacted them by phone earlier, to make sure they put the kettle on.

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A number of benches are set out, overlooking an area with several bird baths in the trees and on the ground. I notice that rather than putting out food for the birds so that they become dependent on humans for feeding, only water is provided. I like that.

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This is the civilised way of photographing the birds.

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We spend the next couple of hours watching, photographing, and listening to the birds, seeing their family squabbles, how they interact with each other and some obvious pecking orders.

As before, any lifers are denoted with *

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Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu

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Senegal Coucal

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Black Billed Wood Dove*

I usually have a wish list of birds (or animals) I wish to see when we travel, and this is one of only three on my list this time:

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Western Plantain Eater*

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Bronze Mannikin

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Yellow Throated Leaflove*

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Laughing Doves

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Common Bulbul

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Red Billed Firefinch (female)

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Black Necked Weaver*

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Greater Honeyguide*

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Lavender Waxbill*

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Orange Cheeked Waxbill*

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African Thrush*

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Splendid Sunbird

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Hooded Vulture

We employ the services of a local guide to help us go in to the woods to look for the Long Tailed Nightjar which is often found in this area. After a short moment of concern when the bird is not where he saw it half an hour earlier (as nocturnal birds, nightjars don't tend to move far during the day unless they are spooked), he spots it on the ground, very well camouflaged.

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We start making our way back to the main road, along dirt tracks frequented by more animal carts than vehicles.

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But first, Malick wants to check out some palms on the way.

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Grey Woodpecker*

Having seen them here in the last couple of days, this is what he was looking for:

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Red Necked Falcons*

And so ends a very productive morning's birdwatching. Now back to the lodge for the rest of the day.

Posted by Grete Howard 08:41 Archived in Gambia Tagged birds crow africa birding coffee mango woodpecker heron egret vulture dove malaria west_africa kingfisher starling plantations weaver falcon shrike bulbul dreams finch barbet gambia lariam nightjar bird_watching hornbill sunbird jacana cashews coucal plover thrush sandpiper life_list robin_chat mefloquine malaria_prophelaxis malaria_tablets nightmares disturbed_sleep police_check_point chris_packham malick_suso the_gambia_experience gonolek cordon_blue brufut brufut_woods piapiac whistling_ducks honeyguide crake glossy_starling greenshank red_bishop mango_trees cashew_nuts cashew_trees plantain_eater mannikin firefinch waxbill Comments (4)

Lobo - Ndutu Part I - Lion Cubs on Togoro Kopjes

Our last full day in the bush


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

Because we are moving on from Lobo to Ndutu today, we load up the car with all our luggage this morning. A troupe of Vervet Monkeys takes that as an opportunity to check out our car to see if we have any easily accessible food. We don't, and they are shooed away empty-handed.

Hartebeest

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Elephant

I see an elephant close to the road in front of us, but find myself dismayed and terribly embarrassed when it turns out to be a tree. Doh. For the rest of the day I am teased mercilessly about it.

Zebra in the Sunrise

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Hyena in the Sunrise

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Togoro Plains

Having had some good sightings here a couple of years ago, we take a detour to Togoro Plains to “see what nature has to offer us today” (one of Malisa's favourite sayings).

Lions

On the top of a rock at Togoro Kopjes, two mamas with their seven babies are sunning themselves.

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They are a fair distance away, so we move to try and get a closer view, but that means the sun is in the wrong direction for good photos.

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After a short while they leave their original rock and head to another. First one of the adult females, then the rest of them, one by one.

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Their destination is another kopje nearby, and while the mums easily make it to the top, many of the cubs are struggling to climb the rocks.

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"Are you coming kids?"

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"Mum? Where are you?"

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"I think she went this way guys"

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"Wait for me!"

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They get so far, then hang around exploring the rock while they try to work out their route from there to the top.

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Meanwhile, mum wonders where her babies are.

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“It's obviously not this way lads, I've had a look”.

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Watching their different personalities as they try to follow their mamas up the steep slopes of the rocky outcrop is such a delight.

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Yay! The first cub has made it to the top to join his mum.

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He is soon joined by the next little lion to brave it all the way. Mum doesn't look too pleased to see them, however.

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"What took you so long boys?"

And then there were three.

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Meanwhile, back on the lower rock...

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One particularly timid little scaredycat is really unsure and has to be coaxed from the top by the adult female. It never ceases to amaze me how these cats communicate – we have seen it in so many ways and incidents now.

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"But, but, it is slippery...?"

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"C'mon, you can do it. Be brave!"

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“I guess that just leaves us then, bruv”

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As soon as all the little ones make it to the top of the second kopje, one of the lionesses goes off to see about getting the large brood some lunch. We surmise the hartebeest we see in the distance are on today's menu.

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Meanwhile, the kids explore their new playground.

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Klipspringers

Spooked by the lions, these small antelopes prance from one rock to another. Their hooves have a rubber-like coating to give them a better grip on rocky surfaces.

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The lions seems to have spotted them too but appear too lazy to do anything about it. Not that they would stand much a chance of catching the fast-moving klipspringers, not would they provide much food for nine hungry lions.

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This has been such a heart-warming and entertaining encounter, one of the highlights of our trip so far.

Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Pallid Flycatcher

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Lappet Faced Vulture

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Cheetahs

These three cheetahs under a tree in the distance flatly refuse to do anything other than chilling in the shade, however long we hang around. Don't they know who we are?

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Crocodile in the Orangi River

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Retima Hippo Pool

Retima Hippo Pool is a bend in the river where numerous hippo gather together for safety in protecting their young.

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There is a lot of yawning, grunting, belching, farting, pooping, bickering and splashing going on. But mostly just sleeping.

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A crocodile does some sunbathing while he is waiting for the opportunity to grab a snack of baby hippo.

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That is why the hippo snuggle close together around their youngststers.

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The spot has been created into a rudimentary but popular viewing area over the years, with picnic tables and a toilet block.

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While we have visited here a few times in the past, this is the first time we have stopped here for a picnic.

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Blue Eared Glossy Starling

As is usual in an area where humans gather for food, a few opportunist birds hang around; this time the large and colourful Blue Eared Glossy Starling.

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Thank you to Calabash for yet another amazing morning of safari.

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Posted by Grete Howard 01:59 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals monkeys elephant sunrise breakfast cute africa safari tanzania crocodile zebra birding cheetah picnic lions hippo lion_cubs serengeti hyena vulture lobo starling bird_watching calabash_adventures vervet_monkeys black_faced_vervet_monkeys cuteness_overload hartebeest retima_hippo_pool lappet_faced_vulture hippo_pool kopjes game_viewing cuteness orangi_river togoro_plains lobo_wildlife_lodge the_best_safari_company togoro togoro_kopjes lionesses klipspringers dark_chanting_goshawk goshawk retima blue_eared_glossy_starling Comments (2)

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