Into the Crater we drove..READ ON..

Into the Crater we drove..READ ON..

We left at around 0715am this morning without Jane, regrettably, as she was feeling rather poorly. We collected some great images on the way down, and in fact disturbed a Gymnogene or Banded Harrier in the process of pulling some tree mice from their nest. He unfortunately dropped them as he flew out of the tree, possibly surprised by the vehicle noise. They were a mustard brown colour with a broad dark brown stripe down the centre of their backs.  I hoped he would collect them after we had passed by.  A male Variable sunbird sat briefly in the morning light, and I collected his likeness with great glee!

The air was wonderfully clear, and we collected some creditable images of the crater through the spreading branches of the Acacia abyssinica trees. The cloud on the southern rim resting lightly like a ruff on the dark green of the cloud forest, in contrast to the clear blue sky above it.  A herd of zebra, diminutive in the distance descended in an orderly line down a grassy slope, another cameo that remains in my mind.  Buffalo bulls, dour and solid grazed the slopes in scattered groups, whilst the larger breeding herds preferred the level plains. A  river stood out as a dark line punctuated with tall crowns of fig trees across the plain, and we headed towards it. Water is the currency of life, and therefore attracts wildlife. We crossed the shallow flow, where a small flock of helemeted guineafowl scratched and preened on the short grassy bank.

A herd of zebra, diminutive in the distance..

A herd of zebra, diminutive in the distance..

 

A male Variable sunbird...

A male Variable sunbird…

 

 

 

Grant’s gazelle lay and ruminated in the grass, the horns of the rams proud above the calf-high grass, in a ‘V’ shape.  A pair of mating lions had been found the day before and we located them by spotting two other vehicles motionless not far away. The cats did not stir, being so used to vehicles and camera clicking humans. The female was completely stretched out, with the male a legs’ length away from her, similarly comatose. Mating does sap ones’ strength and energy, particularly lions’ style!

Gustav pointed to a group of vehicles in the distance, and we stopped and ‘glassed’ the area in the marsh. I was looking for rhino, but apart from a huge mixed herd of zebra, buffalo, wildebeest and gazelles with an elephant standing out above this mix, I could not see anything that should attract such attention. Just then Gustav pointed to a large fig tree.  There was a lioness, just visible on our side of the branches about 30 feet up, in a patch of sunlight. She was staring at something intently.  I followed her gaze and saw a sow warthog and two yearling piglets trotting towards the river.

About 30 feet up was a lioness watching three warthogs

About 30 feet up was a lioness watching three warthog

The lioness turned and descended. HUGE excitement in the car.

The lioness trotted towards the river, watching as she did so. Gustav backed the car up past two other vehicles behind us, and I followed the big cat telling everybody where she was and what was going on.

She crossed the river, and was now on the same side as the pigs, but had disappeared from view.

(YOU WILL HAVE TO READ MY NEXT BUSH INSCRIPTION TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED)

 

A buffalo cow with a grotesque disease of her ears was found. The poor thing looked really sad, and it seemed kinder to have a vet come in and sort it out by excision.   We saw Northern Gray Crowned cranes and marveled at their colours and grace, and we managed to photograph a group flying across our front, albeit from a distance.

A group of spotted hyenas were finishing off some scraps near the lake Magadi, and behind them were flocks of Greater and Lesser flamingos….such a contrast in appeal…..but a great image to have.  A lone Golden jackal was dodging ugly stares on the periphery of this group, waiting to glean some food bits.

There were four male lions lying up near the hippo pool, and three were on a grassy slope in front of a large herd of buffalo. Two of these were in full view of an adoring score of vehicles, and we inched our way in a queue for a window of opportunity to see and photograph the scene. Not ideal, but Barbara collected some fun images. I managed a few as well, as this was a pretty unusual sighting.  They had killed a buffalo the day before and had full tummies.  A group if hyenas (out of frame left) were finishing off the carcase.

Two were in full view...

Two were in full view…

 

 

 

 

We drove through the Lerai Forest in search of leopard and anything else there. I photographed a black morph of Slender mongoose in June this year there. The tall yellow Fever trees are badly scarred by elephant tusks, and we found a small breeding herd in there feeding carefully on the young trees which were full of long thorns. Superb starlings glowed in the sunlight as the iridescence on their feathers caught the sunlight. We stopped briefly for a visit to the public toilet, and then carried on to see a very, very distant rhino lying down on the plains. Its large bulk and points on its head being the only recognisable features of its’ identification.

A picnic lunch at the lake with everybody else, plus starlings and rufous tailed weavers, and we gently started home.

It had been a priceless morning!  That afternoon we did a short 2 hour walk up through the forest, on to the top of the hill above camp, and back a different route. A national parks scout had lead us up there, with a local guide too. We gratefully descended to camp, and after a hot shower and a cocktail around the fire were ready for our last dinner together, for this trip.

We left the next morning for various destinations. Jane and Barbara to Kigali to trek for Mountain gorillas, Linda and Carline for Texas and home.  Me, well, I was destined for Nairobi and a days catching up on e-mails, news of home and a little comfort at Emakoko Camp. A gem of a camp outside Nairobi.

 

 

 

Ngorongoro experience.

The flight took us over the greater part of the Serengeti, and it’s patchwork of rivers and bush became drier and drier as we flew south. Eventually the distant scar of the Oldupai river showed against the dusty landscape and I knew the crater rim was not far. Empakai and Lengai (the crown hidden in the clouds) were on our left, and suddenly a green, forest clothed the slopes of the western crater rim.  We traversed the centre at 6000 feet and the crater unfolded below us, with lake Magadi white and drying stark below us. A few dusty tracks like veins showed against the brown grasslands, and the swamps were green swatches against the dryness.  The forest was a relief after the stark bottom of the crater, and then settlements and fields indicated human habitation again. In the distance the edge of the Rift showed, and lake Manyara beyond that. We circled and lined up for landing.   The airstrip is right on the edge of the Rift it is a bit disconcerting when nothing shows beyond the runway during the taxi landing!

We flew right over the crater..

We flew right over the crater

 

 

 

 

Gustav, our driver/guide was there, and soon we were on our way. Karatu was en route and we found a bank to draw cash again, before the long trek up the ‘hill’ and eventually to camp. We stopped a moment at the viewing point for a photo and look-see.

Lemala Tented camp is located in the Acacia forest north of the crater itself, just inside the gate to the reserve.  Ebenezer greeted us and after a short introduction to the camp, we had a very good lunch and settled in for a quiet afternoon.  The tents are set in a line, beneath a stand of very old Acacia abyssinica, facing the forested slopes towards Empakai volcano.

It had been a long day.

Our new address is: Tents 5,6,7,& 8, Acacia Close, Lemala Tented camp, Ngorongoro.

 

The endless plains..in search of wildlife….

We drove for 12 hours today…Stephen, our driver/guide did, that is. We set off east to the distant escarpment, then turned north to the Kenya border, then west by south.  We disturbed a male Black backed jackal not far from camp with the remains of a young common duiker.  he trotted off with his trophy looking very pleased with himself. Along the ‘way’ we found a male cheetah just resting under a thorn tree, quite content, his long clubbed tail made wide sweeps over his spotted form reaching his cheek, effectively chasing the small flies that bothered him. We left him after a few minutes to his solitude.

Several herds of elephants and a goodly herd of buffalo were added to the ‘list’ before we came upon a significant herd of wildebeest. Possibly three thousand animals in all, a generous estimate but at least it was something representing the species as there was nothing else to be seen of the migration! We watched the animals doing what they have always done and then moved on towards the hills. Although we drove over many lovely plains and low rolling ridges, not a single wildebeest showed itself. Read more…

Absent minded hyena who lost his head!

I was driving through the Ngorongoro Crater on my last safari, when we chanced upon nine Spotted hyenas sleeping in the open near a large natural pan.  We paused to observe their comatose forms and I chatted a little about hyena behavior and biology…  Eventually one male hyena (they are generally noticeably smaller than the females) stood up and deliberately walked straight into the pan, head slightly lowered, ears forward.  I told my guests,” He is looking for something…”

The hyena paused and looked straight down into the water. He seemed to think about something, and then plunged his head straight into the water, over his ears!  He shook his head, walked a bit and tried again.and came up with a pair of wildebeest horns!   He walked into deeper water and disaster…he dropped them.   Nonplussed he stuck his head under the water again, and again…even using his paw to try and find them.

He had cached these under the water to hide the scent. No other hyena would then find and steal them.

He had cached these under the water to hide the scent. No other hyena would then find and steal them.

 

 

Trying to locate the horns

Trying to locate the horns

 

 

 

 

I know it's here somewhere?

I know it’s here somewhere?

 

 

 

 

I believe we may have distracted him with our burst of amused laughter….he looked our way for a minute or so…and then bent down to find his grisly trophy.  His whole head was under the water for about five seconds or so. He lifted his head….water cascading down his face. What a sight!     Another hyena walked into the water, and stood just looking at him, a quizzical expression on its’ face. It was just too much not to imagine what was being said… The ‘searcher’ tried again, an again…….used his paw…….stood for a moment looking deep into the water and walked away.

Tan and Pang Family Safari

First stop, Serengeti!

The Caravan banked and turned at last, curving down towards the tiny strip, a smudge on the sketchy green of the plains, just inside the sinuous curves of the Grumeti river silver and smooth, that winds its’ way across this part of the Serengeti.  The two Singaporean families who were my guests on this trip chattered excitedly in Hokin and English as I pointed out animals, and suddenly the dark ‘dots’ took form. ‘Gavin, Gavin….THESE are wildebeest??………….’  A dark mass of animals walked  along the edge of the river, some of the herd rested amongst the scattered flat topped acacias, like carelessly scattered toys.  The dark ‘cloud’ of moving creatures represented for me one of the earth’s most unique and wonderful spectacles.

They had traveled across half the world to see this…the annual migration in the Serengeti.

A tiny percentage of the population feeding quietly in northern Serengeti

A tiny percentage of the population feeding quietly in northern Serengeti

The bulk of the herd had moved on ten days previously, but there were still A LOT of White-bearded gnu, as they are correctly named.  Thousands upon thousands of these bovids still remained…the vanguard of the million or so that perennially make this trek across the plains. The pilot grinned to himself. He had heard this excitement many times as flew travellers in to the bush strips at various points of entry in the Serengeti, and still he smiled…excitement of this nature is infectious! Read more…