Entries in superb starling (2)


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!


Tanzania Holiday 9: Drive to Camp for Serengeti Walking Safari

In the first half of our travel day into Serengeti NP, we were incredibly lucky to see lions mating - a great start!
On the map below:  we had entered the park on the southeast main road, but not yet reached Naabi Hill Gate.

In this blog post, we'll complete the travel day into Serengeti NP:  starting at Naabi Hill Gate where we register with the park and pause for lunch.  Then, we continue north along the main road, take the right fork at Banagi, and finally go completely off-road into a "wilderness zone" and our "light mobile camp" on the banks of the Orangi River.

Source: tanzaniawildlifesafaris.com

We pulled off at Naabi hill to register in the park and take a lunch break.  The land cruisers were already lined up:

Naabi Hill has picnic tables and the park office, but the most appealing aspect is the kopje.
From the parking lot there is a walking path to the top (only a few minutes -- it's not exceedingly tall):

It's not that tall, but because the Serengeti is so flat, the Naabi Hill kopje has an impressive view.
We are looking south from here -- on the photo's left is the main road, on which we just drove into the park:

It was nice to stretch our legs, and Frau A was having fun taking photographs.

Here's a better picture of the road, looking back from where we came, disappearing across the "endless plain".

Next shot:  a panorama will open if you click on it, but beware -- it's 14+ MB in size.

If you remember the prior blog post, we drove through the wildebeest herd.  This is just the far edge of it!

Again, to try and show the sheer scale of the herd (at least what we could see from here) we took video.
I twisted as far as I could to do a pan from left to right across the horizon... black dots as far as the eye can see. 

Zooming far into the scene we found vultures perched on top of a tree:

But we didn't need telephoto for everything.  Agama lizards were very active on the rocks at our feet:

It's the males that develop these flashy colors.  (Females and juveniles stay with a brownish color.)

Another eyecatcher here was the superb starling.  There were many of them around the picnic tables... or anywhere that scraps of food could be found.  Signs prohibit feeding animals, and trash can lids are extra solid.
Regardless, humans always create free meals.  These birds won't go hungry unless they overpopulate.  

Their coloring is quite remarkable.  They are not too afraid of people and would come relatively close.

A trucker was eating in his cab to avoid harassment.  This starling was just waiting beneath his window:

Another scavenger was much larger... and as ugly as the superb starling is pretty.  This is a marabou stork.
It is technically a wading bird, but has adapted to live near humans (or, more precisely, near human waste). 

This is a large bird!  Wikipedia says that marabou storks can get up to 150 cm (60 in) tall and 9 kg (20 lb).
This particular one was probably one meter tall (three+ feet).  He wandered around the parking lot all day. 

The marabou stork is sometimes called the "undertaker bird" because of its "deathly" appearance. 

We spent more than an hour at Naabi Hill, then got back on the road, heading north again.
From the wide open plains, the terrain changed a bit - with trees and hills more commonplace. 

At some point, probably around Banagi and the turnoff right going northeast, we stopped at a small village.
Here, we picked up two more people:  our park ranger Daniel, and a guide-in-training Mark.  So Frau A and I had our guide Prim, plus two other Serengeti experts - all with a rifle (the back of the Land Cruiser looked Texas-like)!

In order to camp in a wilderness zone and tour the Serengeti on foot, it is required to have a park ranger with you. That was Daniel.  Mark was a recent graduate of one of Tanzania's wildlife management colleges, and recently joined the same tour company as Prim.  It was a great mix of people - we were happy to have them along!

From left to right: Prim (our guide), Frau A, Mark (guide trainee), and Daniel (Serengeti NP park ranger)

But we're getting ahead our ourselves... that photo is already at the camp site.  We're not there quite yet...
After we took the right turn at Banagi, trees really started to have a stronger impact on the landscape. 

Perhaps an hour after picking up Mark and Daniel, we turned off the main road completely - just tire tracks.
This was leading us into the designated "wilderness area", where walking safaris are permitted
(although only around 3 companies are licensed to do this, of the 150+ that give driving safaris).

The trees are primarily acacia... which unfortunately is the favorite home of the tsetse fly.  Swarms of them.
The tsetse bite -- living off the blood of animals.  They are also the main carriers of African sleeping sickness.
The odds of contracting the disease were very low.  It was mostly trying to avoid getting bitten!
Bug sprays don't have much effect, but we stayed covered up and it wasn't a real problem in the end. 

Prim wound the Land Cruiser through field and trees, arriving at the edge of the Orangi River (see map).
The river only fills it's potential in the high wet season, but did have some water from the December light rains.

Did you notice the animal tracks in the sand?   We'll get to those not far down the page...

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

We'll try to give you a sense of what the camp was like.  This is a "light mobile camp", and not a permanent camp like most places in the Serengeti.  It gets pulled down and, ideally, traces of human habitation disappear.

Here's what happening in the video below:  I'm standing in the field where the camp is centered.  To my left, about 15 meters away, is the Orangi River.  This is the central landmark, and the basis for our daily hikes.
     - The video begins looking upriver, and you'll see the tent where we eat, not far from the river bank.
     - The video pans left-to-right across the field.  At the 20-second mark you see a walking path
       leading to the tents where Prim, Daniel, Mark, and two other guide staff are staying.
     - At the 30-second point, you can see the tent where we sleep, with an open "bathroom" behind it.

Here's a photo of our sleeping tent, underneath a tree with a small rocky mound nearby.  Right on the Serengeti!

The first thing we did was to drop off our backpacks inside the tent, and splash our faces with water:

Looking out from our tent, we could see the eating area by the river.  That's our guide Prim, standing nearby:

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

After dropping off our backpacks, we went to the eating area where we could sit down:

From those seats, we had a nice view of the Orangi River (looking westward, or, downstream):

We walked from the eating area down into the mostly-dry river.  It rained one evening while we were here, and the water rose enough to cover most of the area within the riverbed.  This pic is looking back at the table:

Did you notice the animal tracks in the soft dirt?  Prim came down and explained that he thought of the damp earth as "the daily newspaper".  It could tell you what animals had been here, and how recently they passed through.

We were especially impressed with large, relatively fresh hippo tracks Prim identified for us! (photo below)
The hippos passed by about 30-40 meters away from where our sleeping and eating tents are located! 

Prim explained that most animals will avoid humans as much as possible.  At night, some wander through camp.

We walked over to where the guides' tents were.  In the neighboring field, seen from their tents, was a group of wildebeest!  They were gathering together, because dusk was approaching and night = predators hunting.
In the brief video, you can also hear the clank of pots & pans as the camp staff were starting to make dinner: 

While dinner was in the works, they brought potato chips and beer to snack on.  Just perfect!

At this point, the sun was setting in earnest.  We had a nice view, across the river, of the changing colors.
Two things to notice in the photo:  first, a water buffalo skull at the foot of the tree.  That's "decoration".
Second, there is a small table (look far right in the picture) closer to the edge of the river bank... 

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

...our guides made a small fire, so we moved our chairs, chips, and beer out from the tent to the riverside:

Now we were right on the river bank -- you can see the hippo tracks again in the background behind Frau A!

We were told to listen for animals coming to the water hole to drink during the night:

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

After dinner we returned to our tent, and zipped up for the night (photo: looking back at the eating area):

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

For "just a travel day" we got to see a lot.  And now we were tent camping in the Serengeti wilderness!

We will spend a few days in this camp, taking a 3-4 hour guided walk each morning and afternoon.
The guides all told us to expect fewer close-up encounters on foot - animals accept a jeep, but they will stay hundreds of meters away otherwise.  However, that doesn't mean the next blog posts will be boring... just wait.

Until then, we can say:  that evening, we heard hyenas and lions calling not too far away.  Awesome!