TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
7 - 19 February 2003
Roman & Raymond
Tanzanian Photographic Tours & Safaris
Tour Report Compiled By Peter Roberts
Friday,7th February, Day 1: Early departures from various UK airports for us all. We made the connection to the Kilimanjaro flight in Amsterdam in plenty of time and met up in the departure lounge or on the plane. An uneventful, but civilised flight had us into a hot (80+) and showery Arusha on time at about 9.30pm (6.30pm in UK). Our guides and a large transfer bus were there to meet us and we were all checked in to the Mountain Village Lodge by 10.45pm, ready to have a wash and get to bed for a leisurely start tomorrow.
Saturday 8th February: Many of us were up early to wander the grounds of our accommodation to see what it looked like in daylight. There were some fine panoramics across a valley of tall trees, plantations and coffee to Lake Duluti with hundreds of Cattle Egrets leaving their roost. Quite a few interesting birds were noted - rarest was Brown-breasted Barbet, but other good stuff included Northern Puffbacks, African Citrils, Baglafecht and Red-headed Weavers, Variable and Collared Sunbirds, Hadada Ibis and 3 monstrous Silvery-cheeked Hornbills: all common garden birds for this neck of the woods, but exciting starters to the trip. After breakfast our main baggage was taken off to await us at the Dik-Dik Lodge this evening, while we went off for the day into Arusha National Park, leaving at 9am and returning at 6pm.
We started off in the most important habitats of montane forest, where we were most likely to find birds and mammals we'd not see again. In the forest we had good looks at Hartlaub's Turaco and taped in a flashy Narina Trogon. The forest was pleasantly shady and had impressive numbers of large strangler figs. Black and White Colobus Monkeys put on great shows at intervals throughout the day, along with a few briefer looks at Blue Monkeys and legions of Baboons.
On the way in to the National Park some of us had good looks at Lizard Buzzard and Long-crested Eagles, and while driving along the forested crater rim of Ngurdoto we had stunning looks at an adult Crowned Eagle perched in a tree and causing serious consternation to the Colobus Monkeys! At the overviews to the crater we peered down on herds of untroubled Buffalo, Grey Crowned Cranes and splendid aerial displays from Augur Buzzards, whilst hopping at our feet were dozens of tiny frogs.
With more time than usual on this tour, due to the extra day we have in Arusha National Park, we were able to do a full circuit of the Momella Lakes, finding further good birds. A small range of typical waterbirds and waders were seen, while around the lake edge scrub were White-fronted and Little Bee-Eaters, Tropical Boubous, Common Fiscal Shrikes and our first Cisticolas - Rattling, Winding, Singing, Siffling and Groaning. (No - I made the last one up, it was us who were groaning!).
We were at the Dik Dik Lodge by 6pm - time for a swim and shower before a splendid 6-course meal and moderately early to bed.
Sunday 9th February: A little pre-breakfast preamble for some of us around the extensive and lovely grounds, full of flowers, shrubs and good bird habitat didn't produce many birds at all. The small lake at the bottom of the property had been cleared since last year, so the hoped for weaver colonies were gone. We were out for the day, back into Arusha National Park by 8.30am and took the rougher longer route in to go up the track on Mt. Meru itself. Here too, the hoped for, but always tricky, forest birds (especially when confined to vehicles) weren't very cooperative. We saw several nesting African Paradise Flycatchers, dull little Brown Woodland Warbler and lots of dull, but quite confidingly cute Dusky Flycatchers. The Bar-tailed Trogon was tried for ad nauseam but wouldn't show, despite hearing a reply and being in some superb thick moss and bromeliad clad forest. We ventured up to, passed and then picnicked at, the huge Strangler Fig with the hole cut through the centre for cars to drive through, seeing various Harvey's (Red) Duikers quite well and 4 monkey species. We opted for an early return to the lodge to enjoy some relaxation in the strong heat. On the way back numerous goodies showed up - particularly at one of the smaller roadside lakes where African Fish Eagle made a catch and ate it right in front of us, gorgeous Western Marsh Harriers flopped up and down, African Jacanas lily-trotted over the beautiful lilies and our first distant Hippos popped the tips of their noses out of the cool water. Spur-winged Geese, White-backed Ducks, Yellow-throated Apalis, displaying Pin-tailed Whydahs and a few Taveta Golden Weavers (missed this morning at Dik Dik because of pond-cleaning) were further interest, as were our best studies yet of Blue Monkeys. Final really good bird of the drive was a superb Giant Kingfisher spotted by Trevor and seen well by all as it perched over a small stream on the edge of the National Park.
We arrived back at Dik Dik by 4.30pm, with plenty of time to wind down and enjoy the place. Some additional birding by 1-2 of us produced a number of extras: Yellow-billed & Woolly-necked Stork, the Steppe race of Eurasian Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Red-winged Starlings included. After another lavish dinner, coffee, (and chocolates supplied by Ann) we went into the gardens to look for Bushbabies. No luck there except for calls, but an African Wood Owl started hooting and with a bit of tape playback did a brief fly-by for Chris and myself - unfortunately Shelagh was otherwise engaged extricating small but painful ants from her clothing!!
Monday 10th February:. We departed for Tarangire at 8.am, sped down the smooth tarmac road past the newly paved Manyara turn off, and were at the entrance to Tarangire National Park by 10.30am, having passed oodles of Abdim's and White Storks on the open grasslands en route. At the entrance was a substantial "hit" of new species - everything from brilliant Superb and Hildebrandt's Starlings, to obscure Pale Flycatchers and Grey-headed Sparrows, with Red-chested and Klaas's Cuckoos between.
The landcruiser roofs were popped open and we headed off towards Kikoti Tented Lodge by 11am. This is on the opposite side of Tarangire, so it meant a longish drive to reach the lodge in time for lunch at 1pm. We had to pass many tantalising birds that I felt sure we'd catch up on in due course - several hornbills, White-headed and Red-billed Buffalo Weavers, Lilac-breasted Rollers, three lovely little Pygmy Falcons, Red-necked and Yellow-necked Spurfowls and much more. The large numbers of Elephants - our first - couldn't be quite so easily ignored and dismissed. Several photo stops were made for cute babies and family groups mud-bathing in the middle of the road. Numerous other game animals were "firsts" - from Dwarf and Banded Mongooses (it really isn't mongeese!) to Impala and Coke's Hartebeests.
After settling in to our luxurious tents, we had a good lunch and took a couple of hours break, prior to a short game drive at 4.30pm - when the fierce midday heat had diminished a little. In fact the heat had turned into cool, cloudy and light rain, which meant slightly difficult game-viewing for a while until the rain abated and the birds re-emerged. Numerous parrots - Brown (Meyer's), Red-bellied and Yellow-collared Lovebirds were noisily in evidence, Flappet Larks were "flappeting" and a few other odds and ends kept us occupied until a return by 6.30pm for hot showers, drinks around the open fire, a good supper and an hour's night drive until 10.30pm! Apart from glimpses of White-tailed Mongoose, we didn't have much luck with nocturnal mammals, but did manage good looks at Dusky and European Nightjars.
Tuesday 11th February: After a substantial breakfast, we headed off into the National Park with a packed lunch, intending to return by about 3.30pm. It was a disappointingly cloudy drizzly start, but it cleared into a pleasantly cool, slightly overcast day full of birds and such a pleasant temperature that we eventually decided on staying out all day. Both vehicles saw masses of birds as we headed towards Silale Swamp. White-winged Widowbirds, Eastern Paradise Whydahs and Wattled Starlings were in breeding plumage and showed well plus huge numbers of Red-billed Queleas flocked on the bushes, where cisticolas, Rattling, Winding and Zitting were noted. Taita Fiscal Shrikes, gorgeous nest-building Golden-backed Weavers and Pangani Longclaw were new, a lovely Blue-cheeked Bee-eater was admired by all, as was a phenomenally close Dwarf Bittern in a track-side bush - thanks to Roman for making me look at it again after I'd dismissed it as a Striated Heron! The edge of Silale Swamp was chock-full of bird activity, from raptors fairly torpid in the cool, damp morning, to waterbirds and passerines darting about. We had wonderful looks at both young and adult Martial Eagles - the latter with Guineafowl prey being plucked. Close views of a dark Aquila eagle proved it to be Lesser Spotted as we admired its plumage and especially the diagnostic round nostrils! A very welcome coffee break and loo stop allowed a leg stretch and to scope the many Yellow-mantled Bishops and Fan-tailed Widowbirds out in the vastness of the wet reeds and swamp. Umpteen Western Marsh Harriers were accompanied by our first ring-tailed Montagu's Harriers. A little further along, where open water was found, produced many Glossy Ibis and Whiskered Terns, plus wintering Northern Shovelers, resident Fulvous and White-faced Whistling Ducks, an amazing two trees full of c.90 Knob-billed Ducks, plus African Jacanas, Squacoo Herons and so much more. Cuckoos were very evident today, with Great Spotted, African, Eurasian, Klaas's, Dideric and Pied seen. I played the call of Pearl-spotted Owlet, which brought in the owl quickly, but on this occasion, not much else to mob it. The Yellow-necked and Red-necked Spurfowl were being really "Kamikaze" today, running in front of the vehicles in the track, not wanting to get their feathers damp by taking cover in the grass.
We were doing well for birds, but in the morning, mammals were scarce, so after opting to stay out longer, we wound our way through the lovely open scrub and baobabs down to the river to see what might be about. Nothing was - until mid afternoon when we came upon an impressive pride of roadside Lions on a kill (a huge Buffalo, killed yesterday, and largely eaten by now). Despite there being no large males present, the pride was at least 24 animals strong: 4-5 adult Lionesses, 8+ juveniles a year or two old, then the rest, a large number of cubs 4-8 months. All were seemingly full-bellied and lounging around a convenient waterhole. The damp weather meant they were looking quite muddy, but very content, with the last few chewing on "spare ribs".
We were heading for home by now, with fewer stops for birds. One for a very fine blonde Tawny Eagle produced glimpses of Leopard for one bus, but it wandered off into the thick grass with Impalas watching and Helmeted Guineafowl going nuts in the trees. This was a shame for the bus that missed out, but the salt was rubbed well into the wound as the "chosen" bus saw another Leopard which we'd not noticed, up in a tree close to the road only half a mile from the first! They called us back, but by the time we returned it had gone. Such is life! We found nice groups of Elephants close to the camp, one pair in the ungainly process of mating!
During an al fresco campfire supper we were entertained by Maasai dancers, who had some of us jump about and make fools of ourselves. We tried a bit of owl-taping to no avail afterwards, but did hear Sombre Nightjars and the blood-curdling howls of Spotted Hyenas not far off, before retiring to bed for an early-ish start tomorrow.
Wednesday 12th February: We were being presented with bright Maasai wrap-arounds and saying cheerio to the staff at Kikoti by 8am, driving back through Tarangire National Park and onto Lake Manyara. We had to travel without too many stops - frustrating, but necessary if we were to have any time in Manyara National Park. We did have a quick leg stretch and loo stop at the Park entrance where Pale and Grey Flycatchers, Spotted Morning Thrush and Crimson-rumped Waxbills showed well.
We zoomed on along the newly-tarmaced road (it was a rough dirt track this time last year) towards Lake Manyara, reaching there by 11.30am to begin our all-too-short safari. First efforts were concentrated on the tall mahogany forest at the base of the Rift Cliffs. We tried calling out the very localised Purple-crested Turaco without success, so continued out into the lush lake edge scrub. The water level had been very high in recent years, but had subsided this year, leaving accessible new areas and a very green thick bush cover growing amidst the massed stands of tall dead trees killed off by earlier flood years. We reached the lake edge here at a point where one of the few feeder streams came in. It was crowded with literally thousands of Yellow-billed Storks, Pink-backed Pelicans and lesser numbers of Marabous, Great White Pelicans and African Spoonbills from the nearby treetop colony in Mto Wa Mbu. This was a fantastic spectacle and a good place for a lunch stop, giving us time to check out Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets all perched in size order in a dead tree and watch our first distant Wildebeest with calves on the lakeshore behind, where myriads of Lesser Flamingoes were a pink shimmering band in the heat-hazy distance.
Continuing after this, further into the park past Giraffes and Impala, we hoped to come across close Elephants. Whilst on this quest we certainly came upon many new birds: far too numerous to stop for every one. A couple of dozen Silvery-cheeked Hornbills were obvious and noisy in the canopy. At the very last bit of thicker forest clump I heard Purple-crested Turaco and quickly called it in to get some terrific views. Black Bishops and a gorgeous Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike gave us some great looks too, while raptors were, as usual, much in evidence; best being an African Hawk Eagle and Brown Snake Eagle.
We were also interested in watching the huge troupes of Baboons, but the best group we found were being coaxed in by vets armed with food and tranquilliser guns to study various baboon diseases - so we left them in peace to continue their studies. A small group of Elephants was located that allowed close approach, but by now it was time to turn about and meander back, passing D'Arnaud's Barbets, Cardinal Woodpeckers, Pied, Grey-headed and Woodland Kingfishers and so much more.
We reached Gibb's Farm by 4.45pm, just as the heavens opened and it poured with rain. The much-hyped afternoon tea on the lawns had to be taken inside, but was nonetheless very welcome. The rain abated and we made a quick foray around the beautiful gardens picking up many new birds and good views: Grosbeak and Holub's Golden Weavers nest-building and displaying, Bronze and Green-headed Sunbirds, Rüppell's Robin-Chats and the very local White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, before the light failed and we prepared for our evening meal. After a splendid supper in the delightful, colonial-style surrounds, we rounded the evening off by luring in an Abyssinian (Montane) Nightjar to a convenient treetop just outside the lounge.
Thursday 13th February: The planned brief pre-breakfast birding around the beautiful flowery grounds was thwarted by some rain overnight resulting in a cool, misty dawn. However, we compensated with a good breakfast and still set out at 8.30am for our morning hike into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area; misty, and cool, but clearing into a pleasant walking temperature. Bird activity was typically erratic in this forest environment and we found a good selection of additional species by our return at 12.30pm. Montane White-eyes, African Paradise Flycatchers, White-tailed Blue Flycatchers and, particularly Gray-backed Camaropteras were common. In amongst these we picked out Mountain Greenbuls, duetting Tropical Boubous, Collared Sunbirds, Bar-throated and Brown-headed Apalis, several Willow Warblers, and a good look at a Green-backed Honeyguide (Eastern Honeybird) - quite a rarity on these tours. We all reached the Elephant Caves - more a quarry really - where Elephants dig out mineral-rich soil with their tusks. Here were a couple of very spiffy Mountain Wagtails and Spectacled Weavers nest-building. We returned via the waterfalls and the numerous large, pure white slugs to bump into another good party of birds. Best of all were a pair of brilliant Peter's Twinspots, and with these were a family of Black-throated Wattle-eyes, a young Grey-headed Negrofinch and several African Hill Babblers.
Back at Gibb's Farm, a bit muddy, but with a good appetite, we had a lovely lunch, packed up and took a leisurely drive to the Wildlife Lodge at Ngorongoro Crater. We paused en route in the mist and still cool and cloudy weather to soak up our first view of the Crater, looking down 2000' below us to the diminutive Buffalo herds and bull Elephants!
After checking in we partook of afternoon tea on the veranda, again overlooking the Crater. From here, and in the limited area of the lodge grounds, we managed to rustle up numerous nesting Rock Martins, Little Swifts, Red-winged Starlings, Eastern Double-collared and gorgeous Tacazze Sunbirds. The evening was enlivened by a very impressive show of acrobatics, before an early night in anticipation of a full day of game-viewing in the Crater tomorrow.
Friday 14th February: A typically cool, misty morning with the Crater appearing misty below us. After breakfast we left at 8.am for a full day down in the Ngorongoro Crater. As we passed around the rim to the descent road we made 1-2 stops for Red-collared Widowbirds before making our way down through the moss-laden acacia forest past Hildebrandt's Francolins to the Crater floor where it was working up to a pleasantly warm and sunny day.
Once in the Crater our number one goal was to seek out Black Rhinoceros, as this would be the only place to find them. We set off to the likeliest area, via the tall Yellowbark Acacia forest in the hope that a Leopard may show, but instead were rewarded with several long looks at the huge, old bull Elephants that inhabit Ngorongoro. One was stripping bark off a felled acacia with its tusks and trunk - a delicate job it managed with great effect. Another blocked our way for 10-15 minutes as it sucked up its 100 litres of water (half its daily intake). Having done this it proceeded to splash liquid mud over itself in no hurry to get out of our way. Back on the open plains we did find two groups of Black Rhino, (a total of 6 animals) but all quite distant, so we eventually continued on our explorations. Birds were very plentiful! Gorgeous Rosy-throated Longclaw put on a roadside show. Kori Bustards were scattered across the grassy plains, displaying. Grey Crowned Cranes were abundant. We progressed north along the east side and came across many Grant's and Thompson's Gazelles; getting their ID sorted out for the forthcoming thousands in Serengeti. Golden Jackals were a "first". The freshwater lakes and edges held Hippopotami with Cattle Egrets on their backs and further masses of ducks, geese, waders, egrets, herons, ibises, spoonbills, storks and more. We opted for an early lunch at the "Kite picnic site" on the edge of a small lake and papyrus bed. Few other vehicles were about when we arrived, so Zebra and Wildebeest were milling about at the water's edge and many more birds were making themselves known - none more so than the Black Kites who managed to relieve several of our group of parts of their lunch! Speke's and Rufous-tailed Weavers were common, while on and around the water (apart from more Hippos) were masses of Black-crowned Night Herons, plus Fan-tailed Widowbirds, a single Purple Heron, several Long-tailed Cormorants, and other sundry goodies.
After lunch we continued north and spent a fine time milling amongst the large concentrations of Zebra and Wildebeest. We were told of the attempts to rid the crater floor of invasive introduced weeds - first by burning which didn't work, and now by cutting, which was ongoing during our day's visit today. It was a real pleasure just to quietly motor amongst these herds of unconcerned animals in such lovely conditions and ponder their totally different existence! Birds were popping up all the time - Yellow Wagtails, White, Black and Abdim's Storks feeding with the herbivores; endless cisticolas, larks and occasional Montagu's Harriers. We eventually made it to the Hippo Pools, where groups of these great blubbery beasts were spending the day wallowing, guffawing and snorting. We found a few Long-toed Plovers, and watched a very large Nile Monitor Lizard going about its business swimming across the pool. From here we made it to the soda lake via Black-backed Jackals. The Lesser Flamingos were flamboyant, and parading up and down in brilliant colours. Here at the shallow edge were Ruff, Cape Teal, Black-winged Stilts, Grey-headed Gulls, Gull-billed Terns and more. A short diversion from here found us a pair of very idle Lions lounging by the waterside with another male nearby. From here we headed back to where we hoped the Black Rhino might be closer to the track for some better final views. En route we came across our first scattered group of mangy looking Spotted Hyenas, lazing about in the open, caked in mud, with broad grins on their thick-set menacing faces. At the Rhino site, one Rhino was in view and distinctly closer than this morning. We waited for a long while as it meandered about browsing on this and that, not getting appreciably nearer. I set up my scope in our landcruiser for more detailed looks, then passed it over to the other vehicle for them to do the same before we gave up and wended our way towards home.
A last brief wander into the Fever Tree forest didn't turn up hoped for Leopards, but some extra birds included White-headed Barbet and Icterine Warbler, plus final huge old bull Elephant gently dismantling a bush for his supper.
Saturday 15th Feburary: Up and away by 8am in cool, drizzly, misty conditions - typical of early morning on the Crater rim at 7000 feet a.s.l. We dropped in to Serena Lodge to do a short walk in their grounds for the missing Schalow's Turaco and Golden-winged Sunbird, but the weather remained cool, misty and damp and everyone voted with their feet (well their backsides actually!) getting back in the Landcruisers suggesting that a descent into the potentially warmer weather of the Serengeti Plains might be preferred. This we duly did!
So, onwards to the Olduvai area, dropping down from the Crater rim into the beginnings of the Serengeti plains. We called into Olduvai Gorge for a mid-morning visit of the archaeological site, visitor centre and museum. A useful little introductory talk and a visit to the museum put all the palaeo-anthropology into perspective for us as we pondered Man's ancestors and beginnings nearly 4 million years back. We took a stroll in the dry heat through the open acacia grassland adjacent to the Visitor Centre for some interesting birding. It was very active and productive, with Northern and Isabelline Wheatears, Kenya Violet-backed and Beautiful Sunbirds, Chinspot Batis, Purple Grenadiers, Red-faced Crombec, Rufous-crowned Roller, and our first dung beetle rolling an albeit small dung ball. We had our picnic lunch here watching the hand tame Speckle-fronted and Lesser Masked Weavers, House and Rufous Sparrows, plus White-bellied and Brimstone Canaries.
Continuing on in the early afternoon, we crossed the short-grass plains of southern Serengeti. First down into the Gorge itself and out the other side to the Shifting Sands: an interesting single, quite small, but perfectly formed barchan sand dune made of volcanic ash from Ol Doinyo Lengai to the east. We passed small numbers of Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse and another Steinbok as we weaved our way across the sandy short grass plains - pleasantly dust-free due to recent dampening rains. As we ventured further west the numbers of Wildebeest, Zebra, Thomson's and Grant's Gazelles increased dramatically. Seemingly endless horizons covered with thousands upon thousands of Wildebeest were exactly what we'd come to witness - a phenomenally inspiring and impressive sight.
As we neared Ndutu we picked up various other goodies - both birds and mammals, but one of the Landcruisers bogged down in a wet patch (they'd had an exceptional nearly 2 inches of rain in the last day or so in this area) and we spent a novel hour or so with the help of various other vehicles, their drivers and incumbents, pulling us out of the mire. Just as we were about to give up, we got unstuck and arrived at the lovely Ndutu Lodge by 6.30pm, in time for a hot shower and change before a fine evening meal complete with resident Common Genets showing off in the dining room. They were much enjoyed and became a star-attraction over our stay.
Sunday 16th February: A full day based at Ndutu, with Cheetah the number one on the "want list". We started out by heading around nearby Lake Masek, and shortly into the drive 3 Lionesses were seen on the far side. Some of us turned around up the other side to take a closer look. They were full-grown, full-bellied and very idle, lazing out flat on the damp sand. After brief admiration we continued our circuit, noting a few new waders - Pied Avocet and Terek Sandpiper in particular. We had to choose our way fairly carefully as it was still treacherously slick mud in places, but we weaved our way through huge areas of open acacia grasslands passing high numbers of Tawny and Bateleur Eagles, groups of Elands and various small birds -Abyssinian Scimitarbill, Fischer's Lovebirds and Great Spotted Cuckoos included.
We eventually emerged onto totally open short grass plains and proceeded, off-road, across them, turning up Spotted Hyenas and Black-backed Jackals, but best of all a lone female Cheetah - our morning's goal achieved! We watched this beast for a while, but it was not planning to do anything very energetic, so we left it in peace and continued on our way (myself being totally lost as to where we were or what direction we were going in!). A group of grounded vultures gave us our first good close looks at Lappet-faced, Rüppell's Griffon and White-backed, sat out in the middle of the savanna in the fairly fierce heat and sun. Yellow-faced Sandgrouse appeared in small groups, Montagu's Harriers were common and a single male Pallid Harrier showed well before we managed a puncture. A quick wheel-change and we were on our way, arriving back at Ndutu Lodge by 12.15pm after a splendid excursion.
Lunch was lavish and excessive - but heck, we were on holiday! Post-prandial birding was very productive despite the midday heat. We managed to find numerous cuckoos: superb views of Great Spotted, African, Klaas and Didric. Buff-bellied Warbler and Banded Parisoma fed in the flowering flat-top acacias and Crimson-rumped Waxbills, Silverbird, Abyssinian Scimitarbills, Grey-breasted Francolin and nest-building Lesser Masked Weavers were good value.
We had afternoon tea at 3.45pm then went out for our evening game drive at 4pm. We went down to wetland areas with water and swamps adjacent to Lake Ndutu, passing White-bellied Bustards and coming across a minor plague of Tsetse flies at the swamp. Lots of common waders were present plus harriers and an adult Dark Chanting Goshawk. We found a lovely group of 3 Bat-eared Foxes (this is always a good area for them). They were over the other side to a small stream running through the swamp, and in trying to get across to them we travelled quite a way without being able to cross. However by doing this we noted a small gathering of vehicles, also on the other side further up. We turned about, got over the stream, caught up with the Foxes, then continued to the vehicles to find a wonderful group of 3 male Cheetahs lying out in the shade of small acacias. By the time we'd admired these for a while, we were running out of time and had to head back for home. We retraced our steps, finding further Bat-eared Foxes lounging in the beautiful evening sunlight, which illuminated many White Storks down at the water's edge to drink. All in all, a very pleasant afternoon out, returning at 7pm, in time for a quick shower, change and birdlist beneath the 5 glorious little Genets on the roof beams overhead. Then another excellent Ndutu supper!
Monday 17th February: We sadly left Ndutu after breakfast at 8am, setting out north and east in search of the main concentrations of Wildebeest again today, before turning west to Naabi Hill and into the Serengeti National Park (it is sobering to reflect that all the masses of wildlife and vast distances we'd experienced in the last couple of days hadn't even got us inside the National Park yet!). Shortly after setting out, along the edge of Lake Masek, as we'd done yesterday, we came across 4 large Lions - 2 females and 2 fine males on the far side of the lake. As we watched these we noted a lovely Serval walking towards them, see them and alter its course around them along the lake scrub. Thereafter, we were soon out on the open, flat, short grass plains stretched to every horizon; and when you reached that horizon, they stretched to the next! Everywhere were milling, grunting Wildebeest with masses of calves. A truly phenomenal sight - the more so for the knowledge it has continued for tens of thousands of years uninterrupted. Given the way the Western nations have decimated their own countries (think of the buffalo slaughter and eradication of the N. American prairies) it is a credit to Tanzania and other African nations that they have so much unspoilt wildlife remaining and protected - long may it continue.
The cute Disney-esque" scene of bambi-like calves frolicking with their moms over the verdant pastures abruptly turned into Hollywood Class A Horror when we noted a fat, lazing Spotted Hyena get up, amble over to a (presumably lost?) sleeping Wildebeest calf, turn on it before it had time to get up and protest, then eat it! We watched with a mix of fascination and distaste as the Hyena peered at us, head covered in blood as it fed from the underbelly of the still writhing Wildebeest. Happily I don't think the Wildebeest's final agonising moments went on too long - but neither did the Hyena's meal. It seemed in this time of plenty that it was a case of gratuitous violence on the part of the predator. A few mouthfuls were eaten, and the Hyena sloped off, leaving the remains to the quickly amassing vultures - another gory sight that we left on the horizon as we drove west to Naabi Gate.
At Naabi, the entrance to the National Park, we took a productive circular walk for birds and the viewpoint from the top of the hill. The Pearl-spotted Owlet tape produced a moderate attendance of scolding, mobbing followers at several junctures along the trail. Rattling Cisticolas were at the fore, doing their odd display flicking wings as if to take off, but holding tight to the branch, so bouncing up and down as if they'd forgotten to let go! Spotted Flycatchers, Buff-bellied and Olivaceous Warblers, Beautiful Sunbirds, Grey-headed Social Weavers, Yellow-fronted Canary and White-necked Raven all made for a productive hour or so. Also of interest were the absurdly bright purple, pink and blue, male Agamid lizards. From the hill we had a panoramic outlook south to Ndutu, east to Ngorongoro and north to Gol Kopjes. We ate our picnics here, then went fast westwards towards the central area of Serengeti at Seronera. We passed another pair of mating Lions by the roadside and took the opportunity to educate ourselves on the facts and figures of the Lion's sex life!
The later afternoon was spent driving the "scenic route" of various back trails along stretches of Sausage Trees and Yellow barked Acacia- ideal Leopard habitat - towards the Seronera Lodge. The whole day had been pleasantly bright, sunny and hot, and the two vehicles split up in our search for the number one quest of the day. We saw Topi and Bohor Reedbuck (both additions to the mammal list), but these taller grass plains seemed inexplicably under-utilised and almost devoid of plains game. Leopards sadly didn't show despite Raymond and Roman's very best efforts. Grand consolation were numerous good birds including a couple of Verreaux's Eagle-Owls for some of us, plus a Cheetah with two large cubs for us all before finally giving up after a long and fruitful day's drive. The last bit of daylight after check-in at Seronera Lodge, set amidst great granite kopjes were spent admiring the local star attractions - very approachable and "cute" Bush Hyraxes.
Tuesday 18 February: The flight arrangements had changed slightly, to become a private charter due to arrive/depart at 10am. So an 8am departure from the lodge was made to the nearby Seronera Wildlife Visitor Centre, itself only a Hyena's lope from the airstrip. We wandered the excellent outdoor exhibits telling the story of the Serengeti ecosystem (the giant metal sculptures of dung beetles doing their thing were especially pleasing!). Intermittent Pearl-spotted Owlet playback brought in a few final good birds including Slate-coloured Boubou, Beautiful Sunbird, White-browed Robin Chat, Olivaceous and Icterine Warblers, Grey-capped Social Weavers, Cardinal Woodpecker and Red-throated Tits, By 9.30am it was time to wander up to the airstrip and await our plane. It duly arrived, pretty much on time, and with just enough seats for everyone, with Chris in the front co-pilots position. We said final farewells to Roman and Raymond who had done such an excellent job for us and leapt aboard. It was another hot, sunny and clear day, so we had great fun flying back to Arusha, retracing our steps over the Serengeti, Olduvai Gorge, right over the Ngorongoro Crater, past Gibb's Farm and Lake Manyara and on to Arusha by 11.30am. A quick transfer had us doing our last shopping at the ever-enlarging Cultural Heritage Centre, where we had a good buffet lunch too. Purchases made, we continued to the Impala Hotel with its new wing of rooms for our day use. Time to relax, wash, change, repack and prepare for the night's "ordeal by flight" back to Europe. Sue and Scrap went off to see relatives and joined us on our transfer to the airport. I accompanied the group to the airport and awaited my fate!
Footnote: Tanzania is always great - I never tire of my visits here. With a good bunch of folks all getting along well, as on this tour, it is even more enjoyable; the enthusiasm and sharp eyes kept the momentum going.