Entries in game drive (5)

Sunday
May182014

Tanzania Holiday 19: Serengeti Game Drives Day 1 - Morning

So we finally arrive to the final day of the safari portion of our honeymoon.  Like yesterday, we spent the entire day on game drives in central Serengeti National Park.  We have a morning drive, lunch, and then an afternoon drive.

We started at our camp in the Moru Kopjes, wandered the various roads up to Seronera, then turned back.
We trust our guide Prim to make the right choices/guesses as to where we will find wildlife to see.
He is also active on the radio, to hear from (and share with) other drivers, when & where things are found. 

Source: www.tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

The start:  on a nearby kopje, not far from our campsite, we saw two hyenas sleeping the morning away.
These might have been some of the ones we heard during the night in our tent: 

Like the big cats, they use elevated places to try and avoid the insects as much as possible.

In a nearby tree, a pair of lovebirds were active.  The lighting was a bit harsh, but you get the picture:

A giraffe was eating quite near the roadside:

He became more cautious when we stopped to photograph him:

The road wandered through the rolling hills.  At one point, we had to wait for another jeep to pass...

... but it didn't seem to be moving.  Then we saw why - its passenger was photographing something:

This is the view from the Land Cruiser:

It was cloudy that day, but blue sky was poking through here and there:

In the grass to one side we spotted a mongoose:

Further along, there were vervet monkeys.  This one's breakfast was flowers:

Another was sitting up to dine on the right part of the favored plants:

A pair of the younger ones were just playing:

We got a good view of a secretary bird in the grass:

Sometimes the road got so bumpy that the guide vehicles started forging a new path across the plain:

To the delight of Frau A, our guide Prim spotted a leopard lounging in a tree:

Here's a cropped version to simulate a "close-up" shot:

Prim said that he/she looked young - and most likely mom was not far away on the ground, but hidden:

He wasn't really active, but at least would look left & right to give us different views of his/her face:

It stayed still enough that we could experiment with single-shots...

... and exposure bracketing/merging.  This gave a little more definition & contrast to the sky:

Note: above photo was bracketed and merged with HDR Expose

We took a lot of photos... we were excited to finally get some good looks at a leopard:

We took pictures with different framing... and are still not sure which one to hang on the wall at home...

... but some of the close-crops are especially nice to us:

We also took the bracketd shots and experimented with more artistic HDR:

Note: above photo was bracketed and merged/tonemapped with HDR Expose

Note: above photo was bracketed and merged/tonemapped with HDR Expose

Eventually we moved on.  We eventually left the hills behind and drove across the plain:

We could gauge our location because of the aircraft around the Seronera airstrip.  We were a little sad, because this was our last day in Serengeti National Park, and we knew we'd be coming here the next day to leave!

We soon got another present for Christmas Day - this time, a lion lounging in a tree:

Like the leopard, Prim said this was a young one.  It was very much in the shade, making shots harder:

We brightened up some of the photos to get a better look at him/her.  Notice the collar?
He/she is part of the tracking program in the park. 

This lion was much more sleepy than the leopard:

We also used exposure bracketing and photo-merging to try and pull more details:

Note: above photo was bracketed and merged/tonemapped with HDR Expose

One of the drawbacks of a popular find (lion in a tree) was that there was soon a traffic jam of jeeps, all with people watching the lion.  You certainly lose your sense of being "in the wild" with so many vehicles around:

Ironically, Prim said that since this was the low-season (December), this was NOT a big pack of jeeps.  He said that in the busy season, the pile-ups get much bigger.  Many cars get aggressive in trying to position their riders for the best view, and don't share/move after a while.  The tension can cause conflicts at times.

After a little while, we moved to a different position to give a newly-arriving tour our "spot".
The new angle could have been great... IF the lion would have posed differenty! 

So we just took some final photos of his backside and moved on.

Next up - we had seen vultures before, but finally got one that was closer to the road:

Now we could see much more detail on his face and feathers:

Prim drove us back towards the edge of some hills to try and find our next animals:

On the less-traveled roads, we didn't see as much big game, but did spot many more birds.
This is a lilac-breasted roller

We did get some reminders the of big hunters, though.  Probably last night's kill:

We again saw some lovebirds, foraging near small wildflowers:

Young impala were keeping low, and staying in the shade:

One female warthog was out feeding:

A pair of young baboons were playing in a tree:

We drove by a water hole, with hippos hanging out in the far end.

You might have seen this in the photo above, but here is a closer look.  A dead hippo was floating in the water in a nearer section of the pond (right side).  Prim could not be sure of the cause of death, but most likely from another hippo:

In another section of the pond, we saw crocodiles sunning themselves on the bank.  In the background, you can see the road going past the water on the far side:

They were completely inactive, as one would expect approaching midday:

We found another impala close enough to the road for a quick photo:

After that impala, we kept stopping for more and more birds.  This is an African gray hornbill:

Right away we spotted more bird species - this is a pair of red-billed hornbills:

It was starting to rain lightly, but they stayed put for some nice photos!

Prim's skills proved themselves again - he found a pearl spotted owlet.  These are rarely seen!

It is an "owlet" because it is so small!  (You can see the rain coming down harder here too.):

A close crop, although a bit blurry:

Amazingly, the owlet perched on the same dead tree as a red-billed hornbill, for a nice photo:

Despite the light rain, we saw yet another kind of bird - this time, a woodland kingfisher:

On the ground, a gray woodpecker was working near an old log:

Finally, Prim pointed out a white-headed buffalo weaver:

The last bird of the morning was the red-billed oxpecker.  They groom larger animals for food:

This impala was getting the royal treatment - two servicing him at the same time:

Here is a shot of the oxpecker in action:

This close crop is not very well defined - and the yellow eyes make the oxpecker look crazy!

Lastly, just an HDR image of one of the water holes along the game drive this morning:

 

That was it for the morning game drive - we felt like we got great Christmas presents from the Serengeti!

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:

   -  Ronald M, for the overnights in the game-drive camp.  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the overnights in the game-drive camp.  THANK YOU!
   -  Erin and Kevin O, for one of these game drives.  THANK YOU!
   -  Seery M, for one of these game drives.  THANK YOU!
   -  Greta M, for one of these game drives.  THANK YOU!
   -  Steve A and Claire P, for one of these game drives.  THANK YOU!

Friday
Apr252014

Tanzania Holiday 17: Serengeti Game Drives Day 1 - Morning

So we arrived finally at the core of the "safari" experience -- two full days of game drives in the Serengeti.  We would depart around 08:00, stop an hour for lunch somewhere, and return to camp around 18:00.

Unfortunately, we didn't ask our guide Prim where exactly we were going and can't give a "map" of our routes like our other posts... we were too busy taking photos.  But we do know that we stayed in the area of the Moru Kopjes:

Source: www.tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

At the time of morning we departed, it was a bit foggy - the clouds low on the hills: 

The water buffalo had already started grazing, but most animals are pretty quiet and inactive. 

As we drove by kopjes closer to the road, we spotted hyrax (rock hyrax, we think).  It was a little cool in the morning, so they were huddled together on one of the rocks.  Interesting facts:  they are found only in Africa, and they are the elephant's closest living relative in the animal kingdom!  (no, they're not rodents!)

Here is a closer crop to see the hyrax (a bit blurry, unfortunately):

When we got closer, they ran for cover:

Prim next spotted a lion high up on the next kopjes -- making for a nice first hour on the game drive!

Obviously "she" is just relaxing.  They like to be elevated because there are fewer insects up there to bug them:

She was still quite far away, even with the 600mm (full frame equivalent) lens on the camera:

We wanted to drive closer, and get a different angle on the lion.  In this brief break, we shot more buffalo:

The buffalo were standng so still, that we bracketed shots to see what they look like tonemapped:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

We think this is a cattle egret that was perched on one of the buffalo:

Back to the lion... still just hanging out, so a few more photos before driving on:

We spotted some baboons working their way through the taller grass...

... this one was carrying a baby:

 

We did have one destination this morning, aside from "looking for animals".  On one of the Moru Kopjes, Masai rock paintings can be found.

The Masai used this land for their cattle, but were forced to leave once the Serengeti National Park was created (1951).  We were interested to see remnants of their life here.

This is what the kopje looked like from the jeep:

We first climbed some stairs...

... and then wound our way through a path in the brush.  (Out guide Prim is there on the right side.)

To get a perspective of scale, this is Prim at the rock paintings, the photo taken from the path:

These are not ancient drawings - there appears to be a man on a bicycle (in orange).  The repeated pattern seems to represent their shields.  What makes this special is that it is authentic - not a tourist stop.

Here is the view from the crevice under the rock, looking over the Serengeti plain:

From here you can circle aroung the large boulder, and on to the massive rock foundation (with another boulder perched on top).  Frau A and Prim are walking up here:

If you look carefully at the "small" rock to the right of the boulder, you see more Masai impact:

Off to the right you find the "gong rock", also called Ngong Rock.  This rock has unique properties, for when it is stuck with another stone, it produces sounds (a different pitch in each indentation).

Looking closer, you see that some stones are still there, resting in indentations.  We tried striking the rock, and you get an almost metallic, but dull sound.  We have read different interpretations - that this was used either for communication, or music:

Here's a view from the other side of the kopje's top.  You can see more white "dots" also inscribed by Masai.  Most believe it was the young warriors that did this, before they "settled down" in a village.

Frau A and I asked Prim to take a couple photos of us:

These are panoramas below - they are large files, so beware clicking on them for the full version:

Panorama #2:

Finally, a few HDR shots to try and exaggerate the textures and view:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

We finally headed back down the path and steps to the jeep, to continue on the game drive:

The only residents that bade us farewell were the agama lizards:

We drove on for a while, stopping next at a small lake.  Flamingos were the dominant animal here:

There were not-so-subtle reminders of other wildlife - here lies an elephant skull:

Other neighbors of the flamingo included the black-winged stilt:

A duck also called this water home:

Here, an artistic/HDR view of the wetland:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

From here Prim drive us back to the woods and plains:

Prim has incredible eyes for spotting animals:  he found a bearded woodpecker (female)...

... and nearby another bearded woodpeaker (male), probable the second half of a pair:

Not far away we also identified a southern white crowned shrike:

It was getting on towards midday, so this water buck and others were laying low:

We also happened by a giraffe, quite close to the roadside (good photos!):

As with the water buffalo, you really see how many insects pester these animals:

She/he gave us some great poses:

An impala also came into a clearing, so we snapped a couple of pics:

Again, there are insects all over:

On the way to our lunch stop, we saw a lounging leopard:

Like the lions, they like to find elevated perches (trees or rocks) to try and escape the insects:

She/he was not being very active, so we grabbed the photos and moved on through the kopjes:

In the last event before lunch, we saw some elephants in the shade.  The little one on the left was using the tree as a scratching post.  It looked like mom had a baby on her far side:

We zoomed in on the young elephant scratching away:

And zoomed in on mom too:

The adult started getting active...

... which was when we noticed that many others were headed to join them.  With more babies!

The adult continued to throw dirt on her back to fight the insects:

The rest of the herd slowly arrived...

... and took position in the shade:

One final photo:  we found this caterpillar at the lunch site.   From elephants to caterpillars, a good morning:

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:
   -  Ronald M, for the overnights in this great location.  It made a camper out of Frau A!  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the nights in this special camp.  We absolutely loved it.  THANK YOU!
   -  Erin and Kevin O, for the game drive, the resulting photos we treasure.  THANK YOU!
   -  Seery M, for the game drive.  It was such a special experience.  THANK YOU!
   -  Greta M, for the game drive.  We got perfect weather too!  THANK YOU!
   -  Steve A and Claire P, for the game drive.  It was just perfect, as you can see.  THANK YOU! 

Friday
Dec272013

Tanzania Holiday 16: "Mobile Camp" For The Serengeti Safari Game Drives

For our "walking safari", we wrote a blog post about the "mobile camp" that was our base for exploration.
Now that we've finished that portion of the trip, we want to show the "mobile camp" for the safari game drives.

We stayed at one of the Moru "Special Campsites", located throughout the Moru Kopjes in Central Serengeti:

Source: www.tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

There are a number of different overnighting options in Serengeti National Park.
The Serengeti National Park General Management Plan defines facility types as a:

  • "Lodge"
  • "Permanent Tented Camp"
  • "Premium Campsite"
  • "Public Campsite"
  • and "Special Campsite"

(There is also one youth hostel and one "rest house", but most facilities fall into the above categories.)

There are five "lodges" in the park.  The lodges are upscale, almost like mini-resorts.  Expensive, naturally.
They are also large, with around 150 beds each.  Here is an example -- the Lobo lodge, with nice rooms and a pool:

Source: www.hotelsandlodges-tanzania.comPermanent tented camps don't look like a hotel/motel building (as do lodges), but are no less decked out.  There are ten of them, all significantly smaller at 30-50 beds each.  Like lodges, they are more expensive, but unlike lodges they give a more secluded feel to your adventure - something like the classic British safaris (full service, but a sense of in-the-wilderness).  Here is an example, the "Grumeti River Camp" (notice the "camp" has a small pool!):

Source: www.andbeyond.com

There are ten Premium Campsites in the park.  Technically they can be broken down... but they are there effectively permanently.  Yes, the sleeping tents and dining areas are "tents", but definitely not a Boy Scout feel.  These are significantly smaller, with usually a capacity of 12 beds.  Here is one example, the Simiyu premium campsite:

Source: www.safariandbeach.com

Next, we have the Public Campsites.  These are similar to the high volume, basic services style found in the U.S. national parks - true camping tents, but with central facilities for bathrooms, running water, picnic tables, etc.  There are 8+ in the Park, with capacities between 20-60 beds.  Here is an example, the Tumbili Public Campsite:

Source: www.tripadvisor.com

These various facilities all are spread throughout the Park, and depending on the time of year, some are more convenient to animal viewing than others.  However, at any of them you have the chance to have surprises --
this Public Campsite had a lion kill during the night, and they awoke to the lions eating their buffalo victim:

There is one more category of lodging in the Park:  "Special Campsites".  These are truly temporary setups.
No permanent buildings, no facilities of any kind (toilets, running water, etc.)  The idea is that you are truly camping in the wild.  However, full disclosure it required here:  the tour guides set up the tents, bathroom tents with pit toilet and shower, meal tents, and do the cooking, etc.  So no Grizzly Adams here.

We stayed at the Moru Special Campsite #6.  Moru Special Campsites are located around the Moru Kopjes (see map at top of page), and are known for a large lion pride in the area (that's foreshadowing for a future post...):

Source: Serengeti National Park General Management Plan

For this time of year (late December), our location in the Park was fine.  The wildebeest herd is not moving actively -- they're spread throughout the park, with a large portion of them just a bit south, preparing for the birthing month not far away in February.  In fact, we saw them on the way into the Park:

Source: www.tanzania-safaris.com

BTW:  if you want to know where wildebeest are each month, this is a neat web page showing the migration:

Source: www.eyesonafrica.net

The defining feature of the Moru Special Camping sites are obviously the Moru Kopjes - largest set in the Park.
On the map below, the blue dots are kopjes, and the Moru campsites labeled towards the bottom of the picture: 

Source: www.tanzania-safaris.com

As you approach "our" kopje, for Moru Special Campsite #6, this is the view:

It's a classic kopje.  Large rocks, trees and bushes.  We kept the photo to 640px across for fast loading on the Web,
but did you happen to see anything of our campsite?  Here is a cropped area of the above photo for a better look:

Nestled behind the small rock is our sleeping tent!  Our camp was tucked in, almost up against the large rocks.
The dining tent was hidden from view altogether, behind some trees/bushes and an even larger rock.
You can see it here, and also the bathroom tent just peeking out from the far right in the photo:

Our guide Prim & the other camp staff (2-3 for setup, cooking, etc) had their own area ~35m straight back from us.

Here is a view from the sheltered camping area, looking out from our tents onto the Central Serengeti.
Because it's a "special" (isolated) campsite, you really get the feeling of being alone and small in the wild: 

When we step a few feet out through the gap, the view opens up to the plain and another of the kopjes far ahead:

Our guide would have to walk that way, out towards the road to/from camp, to get mobile phone reception:

This was our leader Prim talking to his family on the phone.  He led our entire safari (all Parks).  Mark and Daniel, from the walking safari, departed after the walking portion and we only needed Prim for the upcoming game drives:

We would see him there early in the morning, and then in the evening, talking to his wife and baby.  After all, this was December 23, and he would be spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us rather than with his family:

At the end of each day, when we got out of the Land Cruiser, we looked back at the road to camp and Moru Kopjes - before heading into the campsite to wash up, have some dinner, and look and the photos we captured that day:

The meal tent, as on the walking safari, was a simple open canopy with a staging table and a dining table for two:

Our cook would walk from the guides' area carrying the food and drink, and leave it on the table for us:

Overall the food was great -- rice or potatoes, vegetables, and different variety of main dish every evening:

We had some electric hanging lamps to give some illumination (this photo with flash, though):

Notice that the camera is always nearby, either in case we can shoot something, or just to enjoy the day's photos:

There was not much wildlife around at dinnertime (that we could see, anyway).  Breakfast, however, was a different story.  Baboons would actively patrol the nearby trees.  We were warned that they could try to steal something, so if they came close we were assertively to drive them off.  They never made a move, just being content to feed there:

If we looked closely, there was often movement further out on the plain.  See anything from this breakfast photograph?

Let's zoom a little closer (with our bowl of breakfast bread on the table for perspective)...

Yes, a family of giraffes with a young one!  (These were a nice treat, because it was usually water buffalo.)

For pre-meal washing / the pit toilet / showers, the bathroom tent was just like the walking safari mobile camp:

It was certainly an unusual experience to stick your head above the canvas wall and see the Serengeti:

In the evening, we could look up from the bathroom area and see the moon through the overhead tree:

We were fortunate to get almost a full moon for this part of the trip.  (It's good hunting light for the lions, BTW...)

There were a couple of times when we couldn't sleep right away because of the excitement of the day, so we messed around with light painting -- a longer exposure time, and using a handheld flashlight to illuminate the scene:

The view from camp also held some AMAZING surprises in store for us... more on these in our future blog posts!

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:
   -  Ronald M, for the overnights in this great location.  It made a camper out of Frau A!  THANK YOU!
   -  Amie and Kevin H, for the nights in this special camp.  We absolutely loved it.  THANK YOU!

Sunday
Sep292013

Tanzania Holiday 15: Drive to Camp for Serengeti Game Drives

The morning after our final day in walking safari camp, we loaded the Land Cruiser and headed toward the next camp.
This time we would be in a similar mobile tent camp, but further south in Central Serengeti for a series of game drives.
We would drive today from our site on the Orangi river, past the Seronera airstrip, then head west into the kopjes: 

Source: www.tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

Not long after starting out, we got a photo of one of the "Little Five" - the leopard tortoise!

30 minutes later, we pulled off to a well-known hippo pool.  There was already one jeep in the prime viewing spot:

We took some photos from our "on deck" position, and then pulled forward when the first Land Cruiser left.

We had seen hippos from afar in prior parks, but this was our first relatively-close look at the "river horses":

Most of the herd (or pod) were clustered together, with one large male noisily keeping order.  A few others were a bit apart, on the far bank or further up the pond, but all eventually waded down and joined the main group:

On this one's hide, you can see the scars from fighting/mating or other interactions with fellow hippos:

Hippos can't keep themselves cool, so they stay in the water and splash themselves using their ears.  Some float up and down to breathe, but others like the one below prefer the technique of resting their head on someone else:

This baby had mom nearby to rest on.  Mom would give her a lift every once in a while:

Yes, this was cute!

Every once in a while, one hippo would emerge farther out of the water for a nice photo:

After maybe 30 minutes at the hippo pool, we got back on the main road:

We stopped briefly at the Seronera air strip to drop off our secondary guides.  We would head back here in a few days, after the game drives, to end the safari but continue on to the Tanzanian coast part of our honeymoon!

We soon started seeing a lot of impala, many grazing very close to the road:

We spotted a giraffe moving through the trees and feeding...

... and it led us to a little giraffe, on the ground.  We were hoping the little one would get up, but no luck.

Small water holes, similar to the hippo pond, were scattered throughout the landscape:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

One of the water holes offered us our first glimpse of crocodiles!

Throughout the trip, we never got a better look than this -- they were just lying in the sun and resting.
(We heard if you're here for the Great Migration, you can really see the crocs in action in the right places.) 

Continuing south through the Park, were were seeing more and more impala:

They were skittish, but stayed so close to the road that we could basically get portait photographs of them:

Our guide Prim was an amazing spotter.  Here, he found a silverbird for us to photograph:

We also found a rufous-tailed weaver in the trees...

... and a southern masked weaver, in the process of weaving its nest!  (entering the nest from the bottom):

And one more bird that we'd seen before, the superb starling:

As we left the wilderness area ("low use area") and approached high-use areas, we saw many more Land Cruisers:

Then, finally!  A coupled of stopped jeeps with lots of people staring indicated something interesting was ahead...
It was a young leopard, resting in a tree: 

Here is a zoom.  Nice!

He/she eventually got down, and in the tall grasses we could not see him/her anymore, so everyone moved on:

We took another brief pause to photograph a pair of white-backed vultures:

As with the crocodiles, this ironically was the best view we ever got of vultures.  They were quite far away, and we needed all of the 600mm equivalent zoom lens to get a shot (therefore a bit fuzzy and non-contrasty, but OK):

We took a break for lunch in a small area with a few picnic tables.  We finished lunch in the jeep due to the rain:

Not long after we again got going, the results of the rain hit us -- this road was underwater!
Prim drove us slowly and carefully across, without incident: 

Despite what was now a slight drizzle, this mongoose family was foraging about:

Those babies are sticking close to mom, and are really sweet!  Look at that face!!

We had stopped a bit too long photographing them, so they got nervous and headed back into the den:

This water buffalo was grazing near the roadside, and decided to stick his tongue out at us...

... so we thought he deserved a "headshot".  A handsome dude:

In a little while, we entered the area with the Moru Kopjes:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

Each one was a little different.  There was certainly tons of wildlife in there, but hidden from cars & cameras:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

On one of the outcroppings, we spied a lion resting:

She was lying in the sun to get warm, plus at that height the insects are much less of a nuisance:

Our last view was as the sun was setting, looking out from our new campsite near one of the kopjes.
You can see others of the Moru Kopjes sticking out from the plain in the distance:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

We'll give a complete look at the campsite in the next blog post, then we're on to the full-day game drives!

Friday
May172013

Tanzania Holiday 7: Ngorongoro Crater - afternoon drive and Rhotia Valley

Our morning game drive in the Ngorongoro Crater was absolutely packed with animals.
But around 13:00 we left those grassy & wooded areas where we had just seen elephants and lions.
It's time for lunch. 

Our guide drove us to the common rest & picnic area, on the edge of the crater's Lake Magadi:

The Land Cruisers lined up in the parking area - Prim (our guide) said it is packed end-to-end in high season!

Some people stayed near the cars, while others found shade under the large tree on the lakeshore.

In Arusha National Park's eating areas, we had to be mindful of blue monkeys who had become scavengers.
At this site in the Crater, the yellow-billed kites were the animals to watch out for- and far more aggressive.

The kites kept soaring overhead, and would often swoop down very fast by anyone near their car.
They were looking for any open food, and we saw them dive and snatch unguarded items with incredible speed. 

The one advantage:  we got more practice trying to photograph birds-in-flight!
(We stayed inside the Land Cruiser to eat, disappointing these aerial acrobats I'm sure.) 

In a smaller tree near the parking lot lived a number of rufous-tailed weavers:

A trio of pelicans kept soaring -- much higher than the kites (they weren't looking to scavenge).
They circled the lake perhaps 15 times before heading to the far side, to land and settle down. 

Another frequent (but lovely) scavenger here is the southern-masked weaver.  They don't have the size or athleticism of the kites, but since they're small, they hang around nearby and try to snatch up crumbs.

This one would perch on each car in turn, eyeing the people to weigh the likelihood of getting a meal.

At the far end of the lake were hippos.  As usual, one was closest to the people and keeping watch on us.

After our meal and the bird photography, we started out on the afternoon game drive.  A short time after getting underway again, we saw another lone (and, um... well endowed) elephant walking along the grassy beds.

Also on the plain, small groups of water buffalo were mostly still, trying to keep cool in the afternoon sun.

We saw some lions near a cluster of trees.  One had just emerged from the undergrowth coming towards us:

More accurately, the lion was walking towards two others lying in front of us.  They watched his approach:

As the lion drew near to the others, his head dropped and tail swished - initiating a friendly reunion perhaps?

The newcomer nuzzled the other lions for a second before plopping right down to rest beside them.

A fourth lion (looks like a male), kept to himself - his spot was farther away along the same cluster of trees.

Further along the road, we found a pair of ostriches in a mating dance -- circling and bobbing heads up & down.

Almost on the other side of the road from the ostriches was another female warthog with young:

They didn't run away as fast as the others we'd seen, so we took the chance to shoot a brief video:

These two are obviously old enough to feed themselves, rather than relying solely on milk.

As the sun began slowly to drop, we headed back across the plains of the crater's floor.

We were going back to the road that would take us up the crater rim, and back around to the park gate.

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

While waiting to pass another jeep, we pointed cameras out the window to capture the high crater wall.

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

We headed back up the road, ascending to the top of the crater...

...and once at the top, followed the road as it curved around the rim, back towards the entrance gate.

It wasn't long before we were back in Rhotia Valley, driving past the farms and scattered homes.

Before dinner on the second evening, our hosts at the lodge walked us across to the children's home.
This is an orphanage for children from the surrounding area, founded by a Dutch couple around 2008.
As we arrived, the kids were just wrapping up an all-ages soccer game (one of their favorite activities). 

We were shown around the grounds and buildings of the home.  There are three houses (for different age groups, plus two "mothers" in each house ) around a courtyard.  This is one of the houses and the playground:

Our host also showed us their classroom.  Notice that the writing on the blackboard says "Learning English"!

One thing we loved:  each child is asked to say what they want to do when they grow up and leave the home.
The "List of Life Dreams" stays posted on the bulletin board as inspiration and encouragement to the kids.
We were told some have recently, successfully, landed jobs in tourism trades like cook, clerk, or guide/driver.

The hosts are trying to make this home as self-sufficient as possible.  Part of the childrens' chores are to tend a patch in the garden, where they grow food to eat, or sell/trade in the village.  There is one challenge:  the lodge and children's home are right on the edge of the Ngorongoro forest!  Every once in a while, elephants come out and raid the garden.  The kids know to stay indoors when this happens, but the fence suffers damage and must be repaired.
Not much is going to keep an African elephant from getting a fresh meal!

For further self-sufficiency, the home raises chickens also - using the eggs or selling them to the community.

In addition, a German man donated a new, simple, inexpensive system for collecting methane from manure decomposition - it was installed recently.  The children contribute to gathering and depositing animal waste into the "well".  A gas line runs directly to a stove, meeting some of their cooking needs (remember, 24 growing kids!)

Speaking of manure... as we walked back to the lodge, we observed this dung beetle, rolling, rolling...

Before dinner, we tried to capture the last moments of daylight:

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

I'm not sure if I like the "regular" photo (above) better, or the bracketed/HDR-processed version (below).

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

From the "lobby" we looked back on the children's home, and relaxed with some drinks on our last night here.

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

We ate at one of the tables behind the sofa.  They had a fire going too (barely see the fireplace, right):

Once last chance to stand on the deck, overlooking the valley, before turning in for the night.

Note: above photo was bracketed and HDR/tonemapped using Photomatix

The Ngorongoro Crater was incredible.  We had high hopes, but still couldn't believe the density of animals!
From here, we will head into Serengeti National Park for both a walking safari, and multiple days of game drives. 

And finally... this was our honeymoon.  For the wedding, instead of registering for physical gifts (e.g., china, silverware, etc.), we registered different parts of this Tanzanian safari.  For this blog post, we wish to heartfully thank:

   -  Mrs J (Herr J's mom), for the game drive.  Ngorongoro was truly one of the highlights of the trip.  THANK YOU!
   -  Karen J, for the picnic lunch today.  We didn't let the birds get any of it!  THANK YOU!
   -  Landrea R, for the overnight at Rhotia Valley Lodge.  It was lovely and inspiring.  THANK YOU! 

In addition, the following guests from our wedding made a donation to the Children's Home:

   -  Martha M
   -  Brett A
   -  Mrs J (Herr J's mom)
   -  Ronald M
   -  Jaclyn F
   -  Karen J
   -  Mr. A (Frau A's dad)
   -  Teri K

Thank you all. 

We hope our friends and family enjoy the pictures and story as much as we did living it.