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Scouting Trip Report:

Northern Serengeti and Tarangeri
Tanzania, December 2012


For almost as long as we've been visiting Kenya's Masai Mara we have looked across the border into Tanzania, wondering if this, the northern Serengeti, was any different. At the end of our Kenya and Rwanda trips this year we finally took the time to find out, visiting two different locations in the northern Serengeti and a third, in Tarangire National Park.

We were quite surprised, as just a few miles south of the Mara River the landscape changes radically, with some of, if not the most, beautiful kopjes of the Serengeti. In the Mara there are no kopjis, and just one rocky outcrop that is analogous. Here Klipspringers, a unique little antelope that lives in rocky areas, were common, while it was just this fall that one of our Kenya guides found two scattered populations of klipspringers in the lower Mara.

One of the truly unexpected highlights of the scouting trip were the night drives we did in the northeastern Serengeti, just outside the park boundaries. To have a male lion roaring, in the dark, while we sit in an open vehicle just yards away, was truly memorable.

Although we've visited Tarangire many times we haven't been to this picturesque park since we've started shooting digital. We had the opportunity to scout out two locations for our groups, and we found the areas especially worthwhile. The following is the complete report.

What follows is the complete report.

Day 1.

Day 1. We left Nairobi at 8 for a rather effortless drive south to Namanga, the border town straddling Kenya and Tanzania. Apparently we were early because our transfer vehicle that would take us through Tanzania to Arusha wasn’t there. We spent the next 40 minutes or so attempting to make a phone connection with their home office, and about the time Mary reached the boss I also found the driver, who had just arrived. Customs through both Kenya and Tanzania went easily, and the road south to Arusha was smooth and fast, although neither of us saw very much, with only a few hours sleep the night before we slept much of the way.
We over-nighted in Arusha, although we did not get much sleep as Mary was busy setting up the trip rotation for our February Tiger trip and I was updating the web site with images and text from our 71st through 75th gorilla trek. We didn’t get to bed until after midnight.

klipspringerDay 2. Dawn was dreary and it had rained through much of the night. We left for the Arusha airport at 7, and had a bit of a crisis there. As we brought in our two duffels, long lens bags stuffed full with beanbags filled with buckwheat hulls, and our Kiboko camera backpacks, and two carry-on laptop cases, we were told we had too much! The weight limit was 15 kilos, and any one of our several items weighed that!
Our company representative (for the Tanzania outfitter) said we’d have to leave things behind, and we told him, and the air people that that was not an option. We were willing to pay extra, but it was too late to try to make a decision on culling gear. Eventually we got everything sorted out, as the carrier we were booked with wasn’t flying and we were being switched to a different plane with a passenger capacity of 12, with only 8 people booked. We got everything on without an extra fee.
We flew first to Lake Manyara to drop off some passengers, landing above the national park at the very edge of the Rift Valley. We reversed this route when we took off, with our plane leaving the runway and suddenly high over the valley below, a rather novel take-off. We circled Lake Manyara, once quite famous for its elephants and for tree-climbing lions, but as we flew overhead Mary spotted just one small group of elephants. The lake itself has receded quite a bit, with large stretches of shoreline and a large divide between the two halves of the lake.
As we turned and flew into the Ngorongoro Highlands we entered thick clouds, and our view of the famous crater was obscured. As we cleared the western slope the clouds parted and we were treated to the entire Ngorongoro Conservation Area spread before us, extending into the distance where, somewhere, this landscape merged with the Serengeti. As we flew to the northwest we crossed scattered Maasai manyattas, the first few with the odd tin roof covering a hut but as we moved on the round donut-shaped settlements were traditional, and undoubtedly isolated.
The name Serengeti is a derivative of a Maasai word for endless plains, and as our flight continued one could not help but be struck by the absolute vastness, the true endlessness of the wilderness below us. Our flight from Manyara to our new destination was 40 minutes, and what would appear to take mere minutes to cross in Kenya’s Masai Mara seemed to take hours here. Below us, snaking river courses and dry washes, or luggas, isolated or clumped rock piles of kopjes, dry grasslands suddenly and rather abruptly transitioned to a green swath of new grass growth, and finally, as we began our descent, to forested land that extended to the southern shores of the Mara River.
kopjeUpon landing we met our safari guide who had a packed lunch prepared for an all day game-drive. Although we were less than five miles from the border of Kenya, quite close to areas where we drive along the Tanzanian border and, in fact, had just done so two weeks earlier on our Kenya safari, the landscape here was virtually unrecognizable from any area in the Mara that we knew. Although mostly grassland, the landscape now was laced and dotted by trees or shrubby woodland. In the southern Mara we visit an area we call the Sand River Kopjes, granite extrusions with the same geology and origins as the Serengeti kopjes far to the south. Here, just south of the river that isolated Mara kopje is replaced by hundreds of similar outcroppings, and multiple true kopjes as well, with picturesque and uniquely shaped rock landscapes of boulders and towering sheets and cliffs of granite and gneiss.
Klipspringers are unique in standing on the very tip of their hooves,
allowing them to catch the tiniest crevices, grooves, and ledges.

treeMary soon spotted a Klipspringer, the unique rock and mountain dwelling antelope that stands on the tips of its hooves, and before the day was out we’d seen and photographed several. On our last Kenya trip one of our guides discovered a small population of klipspringers in the southern Mara but here, just a few miles south of the border, they are common and tame. We had several opportunities for portraits and for challenging shots as one, or several, bounded across, up, or down steep rock faces.
The herds of gnus are long gone, and aside from the Oribi, another small antelope, notable game was quite scarce. Shortly after starting our game drive we came upon eleven African Lions lying in the shade but alert, looking for game. As our day continued we commented often on how difficult it must be for a lion pride to thrive here once the herds are gone.
We spotted a small African Elephant herd and we noticed that the smallest baby in the group had a limp. As we drove closer we saw why – the baby’s right foreleg was swollen and thick, with a raw, deep wound from a poacher’s snare. The entire herd was shy and we pitied the baby as it limped badly to keep up with the herd. Although we’d love to have documented this atrocity, we felt too much pity for the baby to tax it into moving harder to avoid us.
eleAlthough the gnus are gone we traveled along the Mara River to see some of the crossing points that, from our Kenya vantage, we never experience. The river is quite different here, braided at times into channels and streams that circle around small islands.

We spotted Rock Hyraxes, marmot-looking small mammals that are distant relatives to elephants, on several kopjes and once, surprising one in the grasses far from rocks, we saw the fleeing hyrax dive into a burrow. I often wondered how a hyrax survives when traveling to a new and distant kopje or rocky habitat and now we knew – they’ll take shelter in a warthog, aardvark, or mongoose burrow whenever necessary.

bushtopsBy 5:40 we started heading back to our new camp, Serengeti Bushtops, and we arrived over an hour later, just as darkness began to threaten our travels on unfamiliar roads. This lodge is like nothing I’ve ever seen in Kenya or Tanzania, and Botswana, too, for that matter, and rivals in appearance the most luxurious lodges in the private camps in South Africa. The staff greeted us as we arrived, and that first warm welcome was simply reinforced from that moment on. For dinner I ordered pepper steak, from an incredible menu choice for us, the only two guests in the lodge, and the meat was as good as I’ve had anywhere, any time. Since this is our first time alone in weeks, and we’re considering this as something of a vacation, we were already planning on returning early tomorrow afternoon to take advantage of the camp, our private hot tub, and to photograph the lodge, the tents, and the area.

Day 3. Serengeti Bushtops Camp, Northern Serengeti
kopjeWe left shortly after 6AM with, once again, too little sleep. By the time we had checked in last night, then visited at the bush camp fire, and had an extremely good meal it was after 10 pm, and by the time we prepared for today it was 11 pm, so at dawn we were bone tired.
The morning started crystal clear and we drove around some of the kopjes looking for leopard. Although we had several Klipspringers none presented anything new and we passed on most shots. At one large balseria tree we found a group of hyraxes high in the branches. One jumped to a lower branch and, seeing this, I tried getting a shot as another one followed. I succeeded with the third, a funny image of a hyrax rocket, feet extended fully, in mid-air. It is amazing to see that this portly, roundish animal with short, rounded toes is as agile as it is, but we’ve seen them elsewhere balanced on the thinnest twigs, browsing on leaves. We continued down to the Mara River, stopping to shoot a Lioness that was annoyed by flies and frequently snapped its jaws in a futile attempt to rid herself of her tormentors.
Mara riverAfter breakfast we followed the Mara River up to its intersection with Bologonja River, which we crossed at a well-constructed cement bridge. Piles of debris on the top of the bridge on the upriver side indicated how high this river flows during the wet season, an easy eight feet greater in depth. Now it was a shallow stream only a meter or two across.
We continued, paralleling the Mara River until we were within a kilometer or so of the Mara River Bridge, which we cross when in Kenya as we go from the Lower Mara to the Mara Triangle. It was fun to be exploring a stretch of river we’d only seen before disappearing out of sight around a bend. A small group of gnus were gathered at an obvious crossing point but except for a few milling about most simply laid down, and a river crossing did not seem likely. Our vantage, had there been a crossing, was spectacular, and would have been one of the better views of a river crossing on the Mara.
We headed east, and from the Tanzania side we spotted the boundary marker where, on our Kenya trips, most people get out and pose next to the cement monument. Further along we met the Sand River, a frequent destination from the Kenya side. Mary spotted the four-toed hoof prints of a Rhino in the wet sand, and we hoped to find its owner.
We headed south, following a lugga where we encountered a small pride of lions. At an acacia  forest we were swamped by tsetse flies, and although we made our escape we were plagued by these tough biting flies for several minutes. At our lunch stop we miraculously missed running over a small Leopard Tortoise we discovered as we finished lunch. I left it a broken up banana in hopes it would at least get a meal out of its scare. Earlier, we’d seen a pair of huge Leopard Tortoises mating. The female moved and the male fell off, landing on his back and appearing to be stuck. Worried that the tortoise might be suffering under the sun, I got out and flipped him back upon his belly.
rhinoPeter, our guide, wanted us to see a Black Rhino and, from a truly incredible distance, he spotted a large male beneath a tree. The rhino proved skittish and, once it registered our presence, it trotted off. We followed at a distance and circled around for another view. It was humorous to watch the rhino as it stopped and did nearly a complete circle looking for the cause of its disturbance. We were still and after a few minutes the rhino relaxed and began to browse. Not wishing to disturb it we continued on our way.
Along one of the tracks I spotted the grayish black coils of a snake lying around the open holes of a termite colony. We stopped and watched as the snake’s head reappeared out of a hole, but as we photographed it the Black Spitting Cobra saw our movement, hooded for a brief moment, and disappeared into another hole. I was a bit concerned that the snake might continue to crawl towards our vehicle instead of going into another termite hole. Years ago that did happen and we ended up with a spitting cobra sequestered away inside the wheel well of our landrover. The snake wouldn’t leave and we ended up returning to our camp with the snake still riding underneath our vehicle. Later that afternoon Mary and I rescued the snake (had it crawled out in camp it would have been kill by the camp staff, who fear and hate snakes) but in the process I was hit twice by the spitting cobra’s venom, in the eyes. Although I suffered no long term damage from that incident I did have get an eye infection from the venom and, for several weeks, I worried that the infection would go from a topical to an internal aliment, pass into my optic nerve and to my brain, and I’d be finished. It didn’t, and I’m here to write about it, but I wouldn’t want to go through that experience again.
campWe finished our afternoon game drive searching for leopards around the kopjes. Two days ago a mating pair was seen but we didn’t have any luck. Instead, we returned to Serengeti Bushtops around 5:30 where we relaxed, for the first time in nearly eight weeks, by a soak in our private hot tub on the porch of our tent. At the campfire that evening we learned the massages are included with our stay, and had we known that Mary, at least, would have further indulged ourselves.

Day 4. Serengeti Bushtops to Buffalo Luxury Camp, Lobo Area
After a lengthy 6AM breakfast we left Bushtops, in the northern Serengeti, to head east and southeast towards the Lobo area, the far northeastern section of the Serengeti. The drive is ‘only’ about 45 kilometers but on the game track roads even going fast the trip takes about 3 hours. Incredibly, we learned that tourists staying in the Lobo area regularly do this drive during the gnu migration, traveling the 90 km each day, and spending at least 6 hours simply riding in their vehicle! If you have this option, ever, don’t even consider it.
We hadn’t traveled far from camp when we met a Little Bee-eater that we’d seen every time we passed along the track. The bird was tame and although it flew off as we approached for a shot the bird returned after a few minutes, doing the usual of visiting several favorite perches en route.  When it finally flew off we drove through the extensive set of kopjes hoping to find the leopards we were still missing, and they remained so. We did have another good session with Klipspringers, once again finding them grazing several yards from the kopje rocks. These small antelope, unique in their habit of standing on the tip of their hooves, really do prefer moving on the rocks. Whenever one moved, either out of alarm or simply to join some others, the antelope almost always bounded from one rock to the next, quite fast and incredibly agile.

As we skirted the Mara River we spotted a large herd of Elephants moving along the base of a kopje, and, much closer, a young elephant with an extremely abbreviated trunk. Yesterday, in addition to the baby with the badly maimed foreleg from a poacher’s snare we’d seen an adult female with the bottom third of her trunk missing. That elephant could still function fairly normally, but today’s elephant was truly handicapped, having to kneel down on its forelegs to graze. As we watched, it spent most of its time feeding along the top edge of the luggas where, from a standing position, it could reach the overhanging grasses.
Seeing this elephant reminded me of various fossil elephants, many of which, it is theorized, had short trunks. Those elephants must have been browsers, much like the black rhino is today, or fed like warthogs, kneeling to graze on short grasses. One fossil ancestor had its tusks on its lower jaw, which was long and scoop-like, and I suspect that species fed extensively on water plants floating along the surface. Our trunk-shortened elephant looked fat and healthy, and the tip of its trunk, while pink colored, looked completely healed, so for at least since its injury it has managed well.
goshawkOur route followed some of yesterday’s and again we passed within sight of the border marker for Kenya near the Mara Bridge. Continuing, we followed the Sand River and from one vantage could see what we call the Sand River Kopjes which, at this distance, look like a bald hunk of rock in the grasslands, without a difference in habitat. Compared to the kopjes we just left, these were, truly, just bare rocks although when seen up close, with a lion perched on top, one can’t tell the difference in a photo between it and a ‘true’ kopje.
We found one Lioness along a swampland, the only cat we would see on the entire game drive. From there we could see the Sand River Gate where, years past, one could enter Kenya. That border crossing is now closed, requiring an extremely inconvenient journey east or west to make a border crossing.
Our route took us through acacia thickets that were rich with tsetse flies and we suffered through it, sometimes foregoing watching for game for simply slapping at these pesky biting insects. Tsetse flies are tough, and a hard slap may knock them to the floor but after a second or two of buzzing they right themselves and fly off. To truly dispatch one, you must slap, press, and grind until you feel or hear their hard exoskeleton crack. Only when you actually squish one do you stop them, and believe me, after being bitten a few times you relish each kill.
campWe arrived at Buffalo Luxury Camp in mid-afternoon, passing out of the Park into Maasai land that was thick with cattle and goats. It was discouraging, as it seemed as if game would be scarce, and the acacia forest was thick, making the chances of spotting game slim. Our long uphill route took us, however, to a surprisingly luxurious camp – the name wasn’t misleading – where we were greeted by the staff. The camp is located halfway up a mountain slope and offers a great view of the valley and the Serengeti to the south, and when we arrived black storm clouds filled much of that horizon.
At 5:30 we took the camp’s vehicle for a night game drive, and to be honest I didn’t expect much, as the description we’d heard painted a poor picture. Instead, we quickly drove through the acacia woodland into a broad valley following several stream courses, with a mix of grasslands, forest, and scattered brush. Our expected drive, just around the forests near the camp, never occurred.
Only one other vehicle was in the valley, filled with camp staff from a neighboring camp. When no guests are in camp the staff themselves finally have an opportunity to view game, and this vehicle was filled with happy faces.
giraffeWe spotted that vehicle later, and behind it saw the swinging head of a giraffe. It was getting dark and we thought that the giraffe was fighting lions but as we drove up we discovered this large male giraffe completely mired in a black mud swamp. We’d just pulled up when the giraffe lunged out, motivated by one of the camp staff personnel that got out, hoping to frighten the giraffe enough to make it move. We missed an incredible shot, but had the giraffe not been ‘pushed’ it would have stayed there, mired, either to be discovered and killed by lions or, if undiscovered, eventually to die of hypothermia or starvation.
The now-black giraffe galloped away, and we followed, shooting this strangely colored giraffe as best we could in the very low light. Other giraffes approached, but ran off, either frightened by its appearance or its muddy smell. When we left it, the black giraffe glistened brightly as the last light of the sky bounced off its slick hide.
lionIn this valley dark came quickly, and we’d just started our night drive when we found a nice male African Lion lying cross-wise on the track. Even after dark lions sleep a lot, we discovered, but eventually it sat up and, when an elephant trumpeted, the lion began to roar. We were in an open vehicle with a Maasai guide sitting in a jump seat bolted to the front bumper of our RangeRover and the lion was sometimes as close as five yards away. When it roared, that close, the huu-ahh, huu-ahh grunts seem to pound against you. Another lion answered, and periodically over the next 40 minutes or so we had a roaring duet.
We shot the lion both with flash and with the powerful red-lensed spotlight, which gave a weird, unique look since the light fall-off, visible to our eyes, was not detected by the camera. I tried several very slow exposures where I shot flash but hoped that the lightning periodically flashing in the background would show, but no great bolts occurred during any exposure. I worried about our Maasai spot-lighter, sitting there in the dark, so we only did this a few times.

Leaving the lion we started back to camp, stopping for a pair of White-tailed hyenaMongoose that met up and jogged off together. Bushbuck, a shy Bat-eared Fox, two shy Striped Hyenas, and a pair of Spotted Hyenas that were oblivious to our vehicle or lights, rounded out a very successful and productive night game drive. We reached camp at 9:30, exhausted, with a full dinner awaiting us. We ate lightly, and stumbled into bed by 11.


Day 5. Buffalo Luxury Camp, Lobo Area
We left shortly after 6 and Mary was dead-tired, with her knee and shin in pain from yesterday’s long drives and little sleep. We barely entered the Serengeti park boundaries when Mary spotted a pair of Lions in the distance. We drove up, finding a ‘honeymoon’ couple, a small lioness and a golden-maned male. The cats didn’t mate, but the lioness was testy and snarled repeatedly, swatting once when the male moved close.
We continued on to Lobo and the kopjes vulturethere where, in past trips, we’d photographed Klipspringers. We found several and shot a few, but after our success in the northwestern Mara we were not too motivated.
We were both tired, and planning on returning to camp by 11 to rest and to do an afternoon hike with a Maasai guide to learn the plants, and to follow that with a night game drive. We just finished breakfast by 11 and decided to push on, exploring some new spots that would add about 2 hours to our trip. This proved to be a great decision.
We drove down into the Lobo valley where our guide hoped to spot a leopard. Since yesterday was a rather slow day, and this morning not too much better, I commented that being on safari is like playing the lottery: you can waste a lot of money buying lottery tickets but only those that do, win. On safari, if you’re not out there, and not prepared to have slow days, your chance of hitting a good day grows slim. I had just finished that comment, and Mary was replying when Peter, our guide, stopped the vehicle and pointed out a Leopard!

leopardIt was a large male lying in the open on an acacia limb and we took some shots from the road. The cat seemed relaxed and we moved closer, again without any reaction from the leopard. We moved still closer, and the cat stayed calmly in position. Then I moved a beanbag while Peter swatted at some tsetse flies and the cat responded, changing positions on the tree limb and staring intently at us. A few times over the next ten minutes the leopard would give a grimacing snarl, but most of the time it simply looked about, often higher, as if contemplating a different resting spot. We finished up our shots and slowly moved off, and the leopard remained on his limb.
We hadn’t driven far when we saw only the second tourist vehicle of the morning, parked along a track with the occupants intently staring into some trees. The driver told us that a leopard had been hunting a warthog but the hunt failed and the cat disappeared. We drove to a different spot and found the Leopard, perched low on a yellow barked acacia tree. This female was relaxed and after a few minutes jumped down from her position and walked across the sandbar towards us. We followed, as the leopard acted almost like a jaguar, stalking along the banks of a lugga and moving through tall papyrus. She finally settled in the shade of a thick bush, just below the edge of the lugga’s bank.
That’s when three orphaned Warthog piglets came trotting by, walking past her position and to the sandbar where they took a drink. The piglets were out of sight and they drank and trotted back uphill without the leopard ever knowing they were there. A few minutes later the leopard changed positions and climbed out of the lugga to lie beneath another tree where she had a great view of her surroundings, and where she would have easily seen the warthogs.
More warthogs moved by but never came close. A string of Common Zebras materialized out of the distant woods and approached, and amongst the herd was a tiny newborn. The leopard saw it and began the first few paces of a stalk, but with the entire herd nearby, and undoubtedly the mother zebra, she wisely chose to let the zebras pass.
More warthogs appeared and the leopard saw them and began a stalk, dropping back into the lugga and moving back to her original position. She climbed the bank and settled by a tree, but the wind was to her back and directly to the warthogs, which sensed her and trotted off. The leopard was now in a perfect ambush position and with potential game appearing every twenty minutes we figured she, and we, would have some luck.
A herd of Impala appeared on our side of the lugga, with the wind to their backs so that the leopard’s scent would never reach the prey. Unfortunately a few Olive Baboons appeared as well, and although they originally kept their distance they caught the leopard’s attention. The impala moved closer and we wondered whether the cat would risk slipping into the lugga and making a kill, while spooking the other impalas which might alert the baboons to the leopard’s presence. Baboons will kill a leopard if they have a chance, and there is great risk for a leopard to potentially reveal itself to these big, aggressive primates. Some of the baboons changed course, and began to follow the impalas. More baboons appeared, until there were thirty or more in view.
Faced with so many baboon eyes, the leopard wisely decided not to risk a kill, but instead, with her gaze riveted upon the baboons she belly-crawled through a slight depression until she disappeared from the possible view of the baboons. Once in the lugga the leopard visibly relaxed and resumed her normal walking posture as she moved up the lugga, sniffing at vegetation and investigating thickets. In the twisted turns of the lugga she disappeared from our view, too, and after a brief search we left her.
owlIt was now after 2 and we still had an hour’s drive to camp. En route I spotted a baby zebra carcass up on a horizontal limb close to a game track. This kill was quite near the infamous Arab hunting camp that lies outside the park and for a few minutes we worried that the zebra was actually a hunting bait. A closer look, through binoculars, of the carcass revealed some blood and matted fur at the zebra’s throat, confirming a real kill. We suspect, however, that so close to the hunting concession that the leopard was smart and shy, and dropped from the tree when it heard the approach of a vehicle.
We arrived back at camp at 3, and after a huge lunch we decided to skip our walk and go directly to the night game drive at 5:30. Tonight’s drive was a bit less active, although we did some nice photos with mixed sky and flash of a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl perched on a dead snag, saw 18 sleeping lions, and several Masai Giraffe that were sitting on the ground. I was surprised to see that even after dark well-fed lions, despite the coolness of night, are still quite lethargic. Supposedly lions sleep 20 hours a day, and I often wondered if they really were that inactive, especially at night. They are.

giraffeOur game drive concluded with some shots of the night-drive vehicle, with spotlight and headlights on, while Mary held a slave flash to bounce light from the roof canopy to illuminate the interior. We didn’t arrive back to camp until after 9, for another late dinner – wisely, though, we preordered a very light and simple meal before bed. As we returned to our tent a rain shower began, perfect timing for the evening.

Day 6. Lobo to Tarangire National Park
We left at 6 for what we expected to be a three hour drive to the Seronera, where we would catch a 40 minute flight to Lake Manyara where we’d meet our driver for the drive to Tarangire. With three hours we had allotted extra time to enable us to shoot but paranoia ruled and we did very little.
Soon after reentering the park we spotted a big maned Lion lying along the side of the track. Not far off the honeymoon couple from yesterday were again out in the open, but after a few portraits of the first lion we passed on waiting for the couple and started the long drive to Seronera. We slept most of the way, exhausted from too many all-day game drives and night drives and late dinners. Our guide reassured us that we had missed nothing.
We arrived early at the airstrip and had plenty of time to break down gear for the flight, which passed over a clear Ngorongoro Crater today. Cresting the rim of the crater is always stunning, and today was no exception. The clouds shrouding the western rim stopped abruptly at the rim and we had a great view as we passed the width of the caldera. The lake inside was almost dry, a continuing trend over the years. On our first trips the lake covered its entire basin, and flamingos were common. Not today.
We landed, met our driver guide, and continued on to Tarangire. At the park entrance the birds were exceptionally tame, and although we didn’t photograph we had a good opportunity for Ashy Starling, Black-lored Babblers, and several other species.
eleTarangire is notable for its picturesque Baobab Trees, the famous upside down tree since, when leafless, the branches resemble the roots of a tree, as if the plant was stuck in the ground backwards. We had a great opportunity for a herd of Elephants alongside the road with several baobabs in the background, creating a classic park shot, complete with puffy white clouds. We caught the tail-end of a dust-filled Zebra fight, and passed on numerous species that we felt we had already covered well. This park is somewhat arid, and the fauna is, in many ways, quite similar to Samburu in Kenya. Large herds of Common Waterbuck are, in fact, common, and we had one of the best portrait sessions ever with one bull, showing both its head and distinctive white ‘toilet seat ring’ rump.
Our lodge is located outside the park and waterbucksince our guide hadn’t been there for seven years we had a bit of a worry that we wouldn’t find the camp during the remaining daylight. We arrived fine, still tired from the day of travel.

Day 7. Tarangire National Park
We left at 5:47, late by 17 minutes since our breakfast and lunch picnic boxes weren’t quite ready, but we still arrived at the park gate by 6:30. This section of the park is near a vast swamp, now nearly dry because of the season but where, in the past, we’ve seen several Rock Pythons coiled in balls high in bordering acacia trees. Our guide said he doesn’t see large pythons too frequently these days, and wonders if the park’s controlled burning may have impacted on these huge snakes.
Along the track we spotted two Red and Yellow Barbets, very colorful ground-nesting song birds, sitting atop the termite mound that may have been their previous nest site. While we watched three others joined them, popping out of the vertical chambers of the termite mound. At one point two birds cocked their tails high and began a singing duet which I’d have loved to video, but my Canon DX camera’s LCD screen is not functional and I couldn’t access the menu to activate video. I contented myself with stills. While we shot a Yellow-necked Spurfowl hopped up on the termite mound, displacing the barbets while presenting great portraits for us.

We had a very tolerant subadult Martial Eagle, old enough to look mature except for the black streaks marking its breast. Later, near the end of the game drive, our driver, going fast to avoid some troublesome tsetse flies, spotted a White-Faced Scops Owl perched near the road. I’ve only seen two or three of these birds ever, and our guide never had, and the bird cooperated wonderfully, standing thinly termite mounderect, ear tufts high, trying to look like an out-of-place stump on a thin branch.
Although we were in the territory of both Greater and Less Kudu, we were lucky enough to at least see several Greater Kudu in the brush. The females cooperated but the male was shy and bounded into cover when we drew near. In the southern section of the park we encountered a new type of termite mound, one that rose like a skyscraper high above the grasses. One normally just thinks of termites as a single species of 'bug' but in truth the group is quite diverse, and different species make different termite mounds. These tall, sometimes skinny, mounds reminded me most of termite mounds I'd seen in Australia and these were quite unlike anything I've previously seen.
Severe thunderstorms ringed much of the park as we drove through the afternoon, but we managed to avoid the rains. To the east the horizon was black, covered by storm, and we learned that the herds would soon be leaving Tarangire to graze outside the park in the new growth generated by these short rains.
We arrived back at camp before the rains arrived, giving us a bit of down time to relax, enjoy the lightning storm in the distance, and to pack in preparation for a much needed bit of R and R on an island off of the island of Zanzibar

Our time in northern Tanzania went too quickly but we learned a lot, and we hope to do a Photo Tour to this area, covering the northern Serengeti, the Lobo Area, the Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangeri National Park in October of 2014. If interested, get on our First Alert List by contacting our office.



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