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Tanzania 2011 Trip Report
Safari One

Caracal, one of the rarest cats to see ... we had 2, both trips!

Read our 2012 Trip Brochure for this exciting trip.
Day 1. To Arusha.

We left our hotel in Kigali, Rwanda, with the completion of a very successful mountain gorilla trek, marking our 56th through 60th trek, at the ungodly hour of 2AM, for a 4AM flight, arriving in Nairobi, Kenya shortly after 6. Although on the equator, where daylight lasts twelve hours, there is a shift in exactly when the sun rises, and it wasn’t until well after 6:30 until sunrise, in contrast to the 15 or 20 minute earlier sunrise in the fall.
We met our transit driver and started south, traveling about 45 minutes before we realized that two of the boxes we had in storage were not delivered to our driver. We made a quick call back to the outfitter’s courier, and hopefully the boxes will be shipped, safely, on a Nairobi-Arusha shuttle, to reach us this evening.
We hadn’t traveled this route often, but over the years the changes have been radical, and what was once game country and quite wild is now marked by fences, small towns, and settlements. We saw no game, yet vast stretches were acacia scrubland that should have had impala and other antelope at the least. It’s said that virtually all of Kenya’s wildlife now resides either in the national parks and game reserves, or on private game ranches, and this hours long trip certainly validated that assumption.
Our border crossing at the crossroads Kenya town of Namanga went very smoothly. Crowded with safari vehicles and large trucks, our customs departure office was not crowded and we proceeded through quickly. Driving across the border, we paid our $100 visa fee for entering Tanzania and were off.
The change, from country to country, was gradual, but soon the acacias dropped away and we came into a much drier landscape. While both regions share the same climate, rainfall is sporadic, and here, in Tanzania, there was near drought.
We arrived at our hotel, the Mt. Meru Hotel in Arusha by noon. The hotel is the newest, and largest, in Arusha, and is spectacular, although it was so new that the fitness room was still empty, with the equipment still on the docks, and the air conditioning a bit touchy, but still a great first impression, and safe. Unfortunately, we had had to change our locations over the years as some of the out-lying lodges had suffered arm robberies of late, including actual hold-ups in individual rooms. With the central location of Mt. Meru, and the high fences surrounding the grounds, a revolution would be required to jeopardize the security here.

Kopjes, rocky islands in the sea of the Serengeti grasslands, define portions of the lower section of the park, and these unique habitats are the homes and lookouts for lions, cheetahs, and birds of prey.
cheetah lion
Day 2. Arusha.

Bill and Tom arrived late last night, and headed out early for an all-day safari to Arusha National Park. Bill reported that it was pleasant, with some monkeys, baboons, and antelope, but nothing exceptional. Bill’s roommate didn’t arrive – at check-in on the flight to Arusha Kevin discovered his passport was missing and was denied entry to the plane. Carlo was on the same flight, escaping a major snowfall in Newark, NJ, which may have accounted for his luggage not arriving with him, while Cindy, rightly fearful of the east coast weather, changed to a Minneapolis flight, with only 20 minutes between connections, yet her luggage made it. Go figure…..
The day passed uneventfully, with Mary repacking for this leg of our trip, while I edited the remainder of my Rwanda gorilla images. I shot 100 gb on that trip, and edited down to 18.7 gb of keepers, but a further edit, at some later date, will reduce that to 15 gb or so, as there are a lot of redundant, but very sharp, images. As I write this, at 11PM, we’re waiting up for Kevin, Gay, and Mary, who will be arriving soon, and getting little rest for an early start tomorrow.

lionlion storm

Day 3. Arusha to Naabi Hill. Serengeti

rollerEveryone got in safely last evening, and after an early breakfast we headed to the airport, where two planes would carry us over the Serengeti to our Seronera, where we’d meet our guides. The flight was uneventful, except for an extremely sensitive stall alarm that beeped constantly as we gained altitude, as we traveled low enough to appreciate the contours, ridges, and drainage patterns. Not long after we left Arusha and passed over several oval clusters of traditional Maasai villages, we entered wilderness. Some of this area is part of the greater Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and some is a large game reserve where hunting is permitted, but between the two, there was a lot of empty country.  The Serengeti park boundary is virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding wild landscape, save for the straight trench that marked the boundary.
This is in sharp contrast to the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya, where agriculture, denuded landscapes, and villages cluster almost to the very edge. Indeed, in the east the over-grazed countryside extends into the park, as the Maasai graze along and within the park boundaries.  While opinions are often polarized when hunting is concerned, the fact remains that when Kenya outlawed hunting in the mid-1970s there was little economic incentive for preserving wild land. Consequently, land that had previously been patrolled and guarded against poaching, or had been preserved as a hunting reserve, were now open to poaching or agriculture. Game numbers plummeted, and today the wildlife of Kenya is restricted either to the national parks and reserves, or private game ranches managed for conservation and tourism.
Tanzania’s conservation has mixed endorsements, with critics citing that many hunting concessions are political rewards where lions and other trophy animals are poorly managed and, instead, are merely exploited for their trophy fees. Those critics claim, and probably accurately, that male lions as young as two or three years old, just sporting the peach-fuzz of their adult mane, are shot, although a mature male with a ‘trophy’ mane should be at least 5 years old, but more likely 6 or older. There are consequences to ‘harvesting’ these older lions, too, since males replacing those killed will probably kill any cubs younger than two they find in their new pride. Thus, not only adult males, but their male offspring are lost, and in these poorly managed areas lion numbers are said to have plummeted.
simbaWhile all this is undoubtedly true, I’d still take Tanzania’s system over Kenya’s, and here’s why. Kenya has lost its wild land, due to settlement and agriculture, and it takes a much bigger effort on the government to displace people now settling or utilizing an area. The habitat is lost, and all of the animals, not just those exploited for hunting, are lost, too. In contrast, while a poorly managed hunting reserve in Tanzania may lose its lions and other big game, the habitat is still intact, and those species not exploited still have a home.  And while it is true that surplus or wandering animals, like lions, outside the park may be killed, should policy or a more stringent and responsible hunting policy be enacted in the exploited hunting reserves, those lions, and other game, could again thrive. Contrast that to Kenya where, when a lion wanders out of the park and encounters man, it will probably be killed or poisoned.
On that note, Tanzania certainly isn’t without fault, as just last year 24 African wild dogs were poisoned by the Maasai. The theory is, dogs were killing their goats and sheep, so the Maasai retaliated and wiped out the dogs. The presence of those dogs was well-known, and undoubtedly the Tanzania wildlife authorities knew of their existence, and could have played an active role in compensating the Maasai for stock damage. Or, those tourist lodges servicing that area could have banned together with a compensation fund to do likewise, or in conjunction with the government. Instead, the dogs died, representing one of the few successful dens in the Serengeti/Mara ecosystem in the last twenty years. The economic value of those wild dogs, in terms of tourist revenue for those anxious to again see or photograph dogs in either country, had to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. What price were those goats or sheep?
Our flight grew bumpy as we neared Seronera and lost altitude, but we arrived with a smooth landing, met our guides, and endured almost 1.5 hours of bureaucracy  as we waited for our park tickets to be processed. Under a cloudless sky, we headed out, and almost immediately stopped for a very tame lilac-breasted roller perched along the road.
Soon after, my vehicle spotted a lioness and a male trotting through the grasses, the female leading, with a male intent upon mating in hot pursuit. We got some nice shots as the lions passed a hippo pool, but as we followed the lions down the road the male turned and snarled at us several times. We kept our distance. After one mating, the lioness rested on a small bridge that crossed one of Seronera’s streams, and vehicles clustered nearby, further annoying the male, who snarled and made half-feints as if to charge. He was not happy, and neither were we watching the harassment, and we drove off.
After a late lunch atop a hill, at one of the few official picnic sites where, along with stone tables and benches, there were upturned thatch umbrellas from curious elephants, we headed south towards camp. Following the Seronera River we spotted a leopard asleep in a distant tree. The cat was sprawled out on a thick sausage tree branch, with its head turned away from us, and, except for slight movements of its belly, it was stone still. Two of our vehicles left after fifteen minutes or so of waiting – understandable, since we hoped to reach camp while it was still light, but three others stayed, and about 25 minutes later the cat awoke, groomed, yawned, and eventually climbed/hopped out of the tree.
We arrived at camp at 6, almost an hour later than we’d hoped, but still with enough light to begin to get settled. While we’ve used this company, and tented camp many times in the past, we felt they were extremely disorganized when we arrived. The beanbags we had sent ahead had not been filled, and Mary’s rooming list, which was to accommodate folks with various walking problems, had been ignored, with people scattered at somewhat inconvenient locations. Our power strips were equipped with European, round plugs, and not the three-prong Tanzania or Kenya style, but their accessory strips, which were beautiful and that they had supplied, were equipped with the 3 prong style, so they didn’t fit their own strips! Fortunately their electrician changed the plugs for us fairly quickly and we got settled, with most tents equipped with their auxiliary power supply.


Day 4. Serengeti to Simba Kopjes

We assembled shortly before 6 to chaos. Several people didn’t remember their vehicle assignment, beanbags, that we expected to be filled, were not, and other beanbags were mixed up and missing, taking us nearly twenty minutes to finally sort everything out. We headed out, and stopped almost immediately for a vulture roosting against the dawn sky. Minutes later, when we reached the main road, I spotted a male lion trotting along the forest edge, and we followed it until passed sunrise as it scent-marked and, at its final resting place, gave a long series of roars.
We were hoping to reach Moru kopjes, but we were less than a mile from Naabi Hill when one of our vehicles spotted 5 cheetahs, a mother with four nearly full grown cubs.
cheetah That vehicle had some great shots as the family drank at a waterhole, but for the rest of us, we were treated to some chases, play, and wonderful poses against a slate-gray stormy western sky. Eventually the family settled upon a couple of low hills, where they watched the gameless plains for prey.
The word kopje means head in Africaans, and refers, vaguely, to their almost round, dome-like shape that indeed could resemble a head sticking up through the grasses. Kopjes are inselbergs, granite extrusions of magma that never reached volcano status that, over eons, as the earth above these now solidified fingers of once molten rock gradually eroded away. Throughout the Serengeti various collections of kopjes appear, with one of the largest being the Moru kopjes, although we’d be visiting several others during our stay, including a beautiful collection called Gol, and a sometimes leopard rich group called the Maasai kopjes.
elephantQuite accurately, kopjes are often described as islands in a sea of grass, for like an island in the sea these distinctive landmarks host an entirely different ecosystem from the surrounding grasslands. Shrubs, various herbaceous growth, and often strangler figs trees will be found here and nowhere else. As one nears a kopje the grass suddenly stops and is replaced by a mini-woodland, or a barren collection of boulders and sheeted, slipped granite junks that sun, wind, rain, and heat has dislodged and slowly moved across the slanted rocky surface.
It’s possible that the kopjes support their unique growth because of underlying rock, not yet exposed to erosion, may hold in whatever rainfall evaporation misses, so the water table here might be a bit moister than the surrounding grasses. It’s quite likely that these prominent rock outcrops are successfully fertilized as well, as these projecting are convenient perches for vultures, eagles, ravens, pigeons, and a variety of other birds, and look out points for lions, cheetahs, and hyenas scouring the grasslands for a glimpse of prey. Droppings, the dung or feces of any of these animals, are not immediately recycled by dung beetles as they may in the grasslands, where droppings quickly disappear. Instead, they often lay where they were deposited, drying and crumbling, with their component parts eventually drifting off, and depositing whatever nutrients or minerals that remain at the kopje’s base or crevices. Over time, these deposits would form a far richer soil than the surrounding grasslands, and any seed likely to land here has a chance at germinating, and, in losing leaves or dying, of furthering the richness of that soil.
Resulting, eventually, is the treed, brushy islands that often mark any kopje that sports relief. The only exceptions generally being those rocky outcrops that are simply too smooth for any vegetation to take hold.

We headed north, finding four lions at a kopje close to the road at Simba, and several more along one of the feeder streams that leads through the Simba kopjes. After a  late breakfast, we continued along the stream courses towards Moru, although by then we’d abandoned that plan. Great birds, a cooperative, huge bull elephant, and several species of antelope marked the morning.
We hoped to return by noon, to allow people to finally get their tent in order, but the lions had clustered along the Simba kopje at roadside, and one of our vehicles, returning to the cheetahs, watched as they successfully captured a reedbuck. The rest of us raced to the scene, but by then the kill was finished, and the cheetahs were far off, with only heads visible above the grasses. We headed back to camp, arriving around 1PM.

PM. Towards Ndutu.
We left shortly after 4, with a ring of virga and heavy rain around us, but except for a few drifting sprinkles from distant clouds we stayed dry. Nancy thought she’d seen a stork although I had dismissed it as a vulture, but we stopped to confirm the id. The bird in question was a vulture, but because we had stopped we saw, as it seemingly materialized from the low scrub growth, a caracal. This lynx-like cat, with prominent black ears made even bigger by long hairs that curve towards their tips, is extremely rare, and in 25 years of trips we’ve seen less than a dozen. In fact, when we arrived in the Serengeti I asked one of our drivers had he seen one this year, and he replied he hadn’t seen one for at least three.
caracalIt took me a long second to realize I was looking at a caracal and not a small, similarly colored antelope called a steenbok, which probably cost me the best shot as I was that second late in pulling out my big lens. By the time I had the lens in position the cat had slipped back into cover, but over the next hour or so it reappeared several times as it snaked its way through the low vegetation towards a small kopje. As we waited for another glimpse of the caracal as it neared the kopje, a caracal appeared much closer, and we quickly realized that there were two! Now, that’s rare!
While we watched, another fairly rare bird flew in, a Hartlaub’s bustard, and landed close to the kopje. Caracals are great bird hunters, and in the past were sometimes domesticated and used, much like falcons, for hunting ground-dwelling birds like sandgrouse and spurfowl. It’s said that in the mid-East royalty would place bets upon how many flushed birds a caracal could knock out of the air as it leaped in pursuit. I don’t know what that record is. Nonetheless, caracals are easily capable of leaping a dozen feet in the air in pursuit of a flying bird, and we hoped one of these two would go for the bustard.
It didn’t, and instead we were treated to several shots where both the caracal and the bustard appeared together. The bustard is large, and has a fairly substantial, long bill, and might prove a formidable prey item for a caracal, but I think neither cat tried because the bird knew they were there, and any effort would have been wasted in an attempt. We’re suspecting that the caracal sensed there was a nest nearby, as both wandered about the grasslands, with the bustard close at hand, as if acting as a decoy or potential defender of the hen on the nest. I am not sure what would happen – would the male bird defend the nest, flaring its wings and feinting a charge? Bustards, I suspect, are polygamous, and I wouldn’t think they’d defend a hen or nest, as a male might have many mates, but the behavior, putting itself in harm’s way to a bird-eating cat, was peculiar.
Eventually the cats wandered too far away to see and we headed towards the Ndutu forest, as the western skies cleared and offered great late light. Thompson gazelle males cracked noisily together in territorial contests, and a trio of Grant’s gazelles did a merry-go-round-like dance as the three made a continuous circle, pausing intermittently to spar for a few seconds before breaking off and continuing their circle. All three joined in the sparring, testing each other in a friendly contest that might ultimately determine a hierarchy and rank that might lead to the strongest having the strength and confidence to challenge a harem master.
We didn’t get far towards Ndutu before our time began to run out, but in the last good light, minutes before the low western clouds masked the dropping sun, a Kori bustard cooperated wonderfully. We had seen several, but our closest fed unconcernedly against the backlighted grasses, giving us wonderful rim-lighting and relief as it paralleled the road.
My vehicle was the last to start the return to Naabi, but we soon caught up with the others who had stopped to watch a small rock python that was stretched across the road. Mary was rightfully concerned that a passing safari vehicle or truck would smash it, so they had waited until I joined them to catch the snake and place it off the road. Rock pythons can be real fighters – I’ve only been bitten once, and that was with a three foot captive snake at home, but their rear-pointing rows of sharp teeth are like fish hooks, and the snake that bit me left long cuts as I reflexively withdrew my hand. I was more careful with this, much smaller snake and dropped my hat over its head and neck, then pinning it down beneath it with one hand as my other quickly moved up its length until I could secure its head. It never bit, and never seemed particularly upset. I couldn’t say as much for our guides, one of whom was convinced that the snake was a puff adder, a fatally dangerous, venomous viper much more common in this habitat, while the other guides were simply spooked of any snake. Citta, our head guide, quickly looked up the id and showed the others, confirming to them that I was not really an idiot – just crazy.

Day 5. Into the herds.


We headed south again towards Ndutu, and upon reaching the forest edge traveled southwest where the trailing edge of the migration had moved in. En route we were treated to a great, if somewhat distant, viewing of a Golden Jackal den, with four pups playing and two tolerant adults that often joined in and chased each other. European rollers had migrated in in some numbers and we saw several, and the birders had great views of black-chested snake eagles and tawny eagles.
The gnus were scattered, but the forerunner of the great migration, the common zebras, were in abundance, and we had some of our best shots at a water hole where, when the wind stilled, we had some wonderful reflections. Mary’s vehicle, and another, had a nice pair of zebras fighting, and with her 1.3X crop factor the zebras filled the frame nicely, while those shooting a 1.6X crop factor by necessity cut off the zebras’ legs.
One of the highlights of the morning was our very late breakfast, where we sat in our semi-circle on our folding camp chairs, overlooking a ring of common zebras that fed within a hundred yards of us, completely unconcerned. After breakfast we headed to Lake Ndutu, where we spotted our first bat-eared fox but in the late morning light it was shy and retired into a burrow. Scenics were beautiful from the hillside overlooking the lake, with one of the distant volcanoes of the Ngorongoro highlands partially masked by a towering cumulous cloud that resembled a volcanic ash plume. We arrived back at camp by 1PM, for a late lunch and a brief rest before the afternoon game drive.

PM. To Simba Kopjes
We headed north at 4, and shortly after cresting the summit of Naabi Hill we encountered a flap-necked chameleon crossing the main thoroughfare. Like all chameleons, this one did its rocking, leaf-branch swaying mimicking gait, as it crossed the open area and scrambled up the cut bank of the berm. We’d never seen a chameleon’s pattern like this one, as the lizard was lemon yellow with vivid black bars running down its side. When it reached the grasses, this pattern looked remarkably like a venomous puff adder’s, and I’m wondering if, instinctively, the lizard adopts this ‘stress’ pattern when crossing open areas, and in so doing, enjoys some protection as a puff adder mimic.
goshawkShortly, we encountered a Gabar goshawk feeding on the remains of a bird. This small, gray mantled, red-legged bird of prey is more common in woodlands than the open grasslands, and here, on the boundary, probably marked its hunting limit. After a few minutes it flew, and I caught one shot as it passed in flight before my lens hopelessly tracked the distant horizon.
A few minutes later a migrating flock of hundreds of Abdim’s storks came into view, with the group beginning to land upon the roadway before us before a speeding truck flushed them back into flight. They landed again behind us before being spooked again, where they took off and soared, in a long trailing group that extended at least a half mile, over Naabi Hill.
We checked the pond where, just yesterday, we had the cheetahs but they were gone, replaced, instead, by a big-headed terrapin, one of the side-necked turtles that often colonize isolated ponds. While we watched it, a Montague’s harrier soared overhead and landed, and after a few minutes hopped forward for several quick drinks. You could tell it wanted to bathe, and as it peered about you could practically see its indecision. Ultimately, caution won out and the bird flew off.
We headed to an isolated kopje that’s the easternmost of the Simba kopje chain, where we did some landscapes against a stormy sky where rain poured down on tomorrow’s destination, Moru Kopjes. A very cooperative white-browed coucal perched on the edge of a fallen acacia, and permitted close approaches, and there Mary enticed it into doing its rolling call by an imitation. The song, a rolling ululation, is produced as the bird cranes its neck forward and inflates its throat, and the call is said to herald rain, giving it, along with other birds like the hammerkop, the nickname ‘rain bird.’ In this case, aptly so, as in the west the sky was shrouded in veils of rain as we sped back towards the gate before park closure.

Day 6. Moru Kopjes.

Last night, it rained during dinner, hard, with lightning crackling to the south and, as the storm passed, a male lion began to roar. By then, we were back in our tents as the lion circled the camp, at one pointing so close, based on the reverberation of the roars, we figured it was less than fifty yards away. Gay said she peeked out of her tent and saw a lion pass within fifteen feet of her tent, but the night passed safely.
We left early, with a 4:45AM wake-up call and left camp just after 6. We were hoping to get to Moru in early light, and rightly assumed we’d make it at least to Simba kopjes, only 20 kilometers or so from camp, by first light. When we arrived, an elephant was standing atop the kopje, but front lit, in predawn light, the elephant was merely a study of gray on gray. My vehicle risked an angle, so drove past the kopje so that the outline of rock was now against the brightening dawn sky, and we hoped that an elephant would rise above the horizon line. Luck was with us and we had two, and then another, later, just before the sun broke the horizon line of the rocks. The elephants moved off of the rocks and onto the plains, where we again maneuvered to have the elephants silhouetted, but framed by a mushroom-like cap rock, a mini-kopje that jutted from the foreground.
hippoNot far off, three or four giraffes grazed close to the roadside and again, from an elevated position, we could frame some of the giraffes against the grasses and below one of the Simba kopjes. Continuing, as the morning light strengthened, we circled the largest of these kopjes, using foreground rocks as a leading edge and frame for the wonderful, angularly lit rocks.
We headed on to Moru, stopping for a fairly good opportunity to shoot both greater and lesser kestrels, small falcons migrating for Eurasia, and two male lions that fed upon a gnu, and later butted head and walked together for a short time. Lake Magahi, where we expected to find flamingos, was barren and we continued on, now well passed 9, to an old campsite where we had breakfast and a bit of on-foot kopje exploration.
We headed south, towards the woodlands, where streams of gnus were moving north, and we encountered our first gnu babies, first three, then 4, 5, 7, and as we watched, we  saw more and more. Still early in the cycle, nevertheless we saw plenty of babies and had some opportunities for fairly close-up shots of mothers and calves as they marched along with the herds. No births, however, although we did see some babies that were less than 15 minutes old.
Following gnus occupied us to lunch, where we rested and ate at the Rhino Ranger Station, where we enjoyed a shaded porch and escape from the afternoon heat. Afterwards, we slowly headed home, with some vehicles covering their roof hatch because of a light rain, and the threat of worse, while we filmed zebra and gnu herds bathed in light and set against black storm clouds to the south.
As we headed on the main road towards camp, the area around Naabi Hill appeared to be locked in a hard rain, and as we neared the hill puddles on the road confirmed a good storm, but the rain never crossed the hill, and our camp, and important birthing planes south of us towards Ndutu, were still dry. We arrived back in camp shortly after 6PM, after a 12 hour day, with the western sky shrouded in dark rain clouds. As I write this, an hour or so later, the western horizon is a palette of low purple clouds against a soft wash of orange, promising another bright start to tomorrow.

Day 7. Gol Kopjes

The day did indeed dawn clear, and cold, as we headed the several kilometer drive to the Gol Kopjes, probably our favorite and most picturesque of the kopjes we visit. We started with the first large kopje of the series, where we hoped to find, and did, an African grass owl, a barn-owl look-alike that belongs to the same genus, Tyto. We’ve seen the bird in a crevice in this kopje in previous years, and it was nice to see that either the same bird or a relative in the same location. In the predawn gloom, before we reached the kopjes, we had another owl, a group of three marsh owls, that flew passed. Marsh owls belong to the same genus as the short-eared owl, a North American species we’ve also seen, in subspecific form, in the Galapagos and Falkland Islands.
cheetahWe circled the kopje, doing so scenic in the golden early light, and proceeded to the next kopje where one of our other vehicles spotted two male cheetahs walking down the track. We headed to some rocks where we hoped they’d climb as a lookout, and the cats obliged, not climbing, but circling and scent-marking, making a great shot as one cheetah faced us, its shadow etched against the plane of the rock, while it marked. The cats continued on, eventually settling upon a long, flat kopje where they groomed, stretched, and surveyed the horizon, before finally dropping off and seeking shade beneath an acacia.
Two spotted stone curlews walked passed the cheetahs several times, and, interestingly, chased off any dove or francolin that climbed atop the rock. We headed on, as Mary’s vehicle had spotted hyenas on a kill. There was tugging and scrambling before the hyenas loped off, carrying a large hunk of carcass, and while Mary followed them for several kilometers, her vehicle gave up when the hyenas finally loped far off track.
cheetahTwo hyenas were still present when our other vehicles arrived, working on the remaining forequarters of the gnu. Vultures gathered, and when the hyenas left two or three dozen vultures dropped from the sky, flying into the wind, into the sun, and right into our view with great light. Four species gathered – Ruppell’s with ivory-tipped beaks, the similar looking white-backed, with dark beaks, the condor-like lappet-faced or Nubian vulture, and the chicken-like, thin-billed hooded vulture, that lurks along the side gathering whatever scraps it can. Cindy’s highlight were her vulture shots, and everyone, I suspect, got some great shots as the birds swooped in, often framed by one of the Gol kopjes in the background. Two more hyenas, obviously late-comers to the kill, charged in and scattered the birds, and soon made off with the remaining pieces of hide.
We headed to breakfast, in the shade of an acacia tree beside a kopje, then on to a water hole where we hoped to find zebras drinking. They were there, along with a pride of lions that lined the shoreline, resting in the damp mud or drinking. The bank, the air, everything was baking hot by late morning, but the lions stayed dry, in contrast to jaguars or tigers that would lie, like dogs or hyenas, in the cooling water. Our guide was terrific, anticipating what would look good, and, once the other vehicles left to shoot the zebras, positioning the vehicle close enough for some great wide-angle lion/scenics.
lionAfter exhausting all possibilities we headed on to the zebras, thickly gathered at the next pond just two hundred yards away. There, we did fast shutter speed and slow, as zebras milled about and occasionally exploded from the water hole. A kori bustard moved in, but a pair of blacksmith lapwings (plovers) assaulted the bird, swooping in repeatedly and eventually driving this, Africa’s largest flying bird, off. Our guide told me that he’d once seen a kori bustard drive off an elephant herd that was approaching its nest, flying and swooping at the elephants, and panicking them to flee. I’d have expected flaring and a raised wing display, and I was surprised to learn that their defense was in flight.
Two male lions rested in the only patch of shade near the shoreline, where the lionesses and cubs still gathered, and we did some portraits. One of the males moved out of the shade, and we circled the pond quickly expecting to get some shots of the male drinking, but after a toilet break, and some hounding by an attending cub, it settled back into the brush, and with that, we headed back to camp for another late lunch.
As we headed back to camp, close to the main road we shot a family of elephants that cropped grasses beside our track, and, with a polarizer, made great scenic, with the elephants looming huge in the frame.

PM. Gol Kopjes.
cheetahWhile the western sky threatened poor light with a distant storm, we enjoyed great light until shortly after 6. En route to the kopjes we passed a dead Thompson’s gazelle, with its belly ripped open and a portion of its hind quarters, and throat and face, eaten. We’d disturbed a golden jackal a few hundred yards earlier, which we suspect had fed upon the carcass, but we couldn’t discern how, or why, the antelope had died.
We intended to revisit the lions, hoping that in the cooler temperatures of the afternoon the cubs would be out and active, but at the first kopje, where we’d had the grass owl earlier, the two male cheetahs now lay sprawled upon a low boulder. Everyone got shots, and my vehicle worked the cheetahs from virtually every angle, literally circling the entire kopje for different views, before finally heading off to the next nearest kopje for some landscapes in the last good light of the afternoon.

Day 8. Barafu Kopjes.


We headed out at 6 and, for once, were not way-laid by a subject, allowing us to reach the easternmost Simba kopje at first light, for scenic and a gray-breasted spurfowl strutting upon the rocks. Continuing, we encountered our first huge herd of zebra, several thousand strong, and scores of lesser and greater kestrels in flocks, flying, perched in trees, or dotting the ground. Some of the zebras fought, and we watched some real wars as stallions attempted, or succeeded, in stealing mares from other herds. We had a few fights, but none lasted long, but the interaction was interesting and the show without end.
We headed on to the Barafu kopjes, where we had a bit more timely late breakfast, and then continued south, intending to skirt the eastern edge of the Serengeti along the boundary line with the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA). The plains were almost barren, although we stopped for one lone topi perched upon a low termite mound, and a female cheetah with a full belly, and perhaps young cubs, that walked across the plains towards the shade of a scattering of acacias.
As we continued south the trees increased, becoming a park-like grove similar to the landscape west of Kenya’s Mara Serena area in the Mara Triangle. One large, isolated kopje stood along the track, with an interesting tree jutting from the steep side and making a perfect frame for another acacia tree in the distance. This kopje, called Zebra Rock, was photogenic even in the late morning light, and our favorites shots of the morning, for many, was this kopje, shot from a backlit position or, in front, where the distance framing element, an acacia, now became the foreground, framing the kopje beneath it.
Our route took us in a south-southeasterly direction where we encountered the park boundary and headed west, across a flattish landscape of close-cropped grass, ideal for the herds of Thompson’s gazelles there. Mary’s vehicle was in the lead and spotted a honey badger, or ratel, that actually charged her vehicle when they approached, before turning and bounding across the flatlands. By the time my vehicle arrived, all we had of the show was a black, fast-moving dot that suddenly disappeared as the badger darted into a burrow.

It took well over an hour to reach camp from there, and the route was as dusty as we’ve ever had while in the Serengeti. Dust was everywhere, swirling in clouds that enveloped our vehicles as we drove, and by the time we reached camp, everything was covered in a layer of dust. All of our faces were black with dust, and our washcloths were, too, once we arrived back into camp, finally escaping the dust.

Another late lunch, but with clear skies, heat, and no hint of a storm that might relieve it, we decided to do an easy afternoon, heading to the Naabi Hill visitor center for books and info on the Serengeti. Everyone welcomed the break, our first, and a chance to clean the gear after a brutal game drive.

Day 9. To Seronera

We headed out early, but were delayed nearly 20 minutes at the locked gate, where the guard was absent. Eventually, after much scouring of the grounds, our guides found someone awake and we continued north. Fortunately, the drive north was fairly uneventful, with a bull elephant too low on the horizon at sunrise for a shot, and three lions at Simba Kopjes that stayed too far away and hidden in the grass.
We continued to trail 16, where my guide, Sylvester, spotted a kill in a distant acacia tree. A leopard lay further out on the same branch, and further glassing with our binocs revealed another, almost completely hidden leopard on the opposite side. While we watched, a 3 month old leopard cub appeared and darted up the tree, and for the next hour or more the leopards exchanged places in the tree. Eventually the two larger leopards, and finally the baby, dropped from the tree and disappeared into the grasses. One of our guides spotted one of the leopards about a quarter mile ahead, and we headed there, but that cat soon reversed course and returned to the kill.
elephantIt was now time for another late breakfast, and then we headed back to the leopards, although nothing new transpired. We headed on, and hadn’t traveled far when the elephant herd that had passed by the leopards came close to the road and began mud-bathing. In the only damp rut several elephants wallowed in the thick, black mud, including a comical baby that, after leaving the ditch, flopped on its side on the road and flailed, seemingly unable to regain its feet as its hind end was higher on the berm than its head, lying on the road. The churning, kicking legs and rubbing head were hilarious, and lasted a fair amount of time before the baby righted itself and rejoined the herds.
storkWe continued on to Seronera for lunch and a break, where we filmed bush hyrax in trees munching on acacia blossoms, dwarf mongooses, and gray-capped social weavers milling about the grounds. At 3:30 we headed back, with a long-term goal of reaching the leopards in the very late afternoon before we had to return on our long drive back to camp. The shooting was great, with a roadside pond filled with yellow-billed storks, and a hunting black-necked heron, and, at the pond where, on our first day we had the mating lions, a group of Marabou storks perched high in a fever tree, providing great scenic.
leopardWith a few more stops we finally headed towards the leopards, where I hoped to get a position where, if the leopards descended from their tree, we’d have good light and placement. Sylvester putted along as I nervously glanced at my watch, until, finally, I had to tell him to speed up or we’d be too late to even wait for any action.
Luckily, we got there in time and the leopard and her cub where still in a tree. A bull elephant was beneath them and while we watched, completely unprepared for any elephant shooting, the bull rose on his hind legs to try to grab a branch. Everyone in my vehicle missed it. The elephant moved on, and as our time for departure loomed near, the leopard cub suddenly darted from the tree and climbed down the sloping trunk. It paused, and almost all of us got shots before it jumped into the grasses and disappeared. Its mother stayed treed, and although it was awake it didn’t look as if it were about to move, and reluctantly we headed home, spotting our second serval of the day en route.
I was pretty frustrated with my driver, and concerned that the other guides may have been traveling too slowly to reach the leopard in time. I called a meeting, where I reviewed points, and, when my guide got defensive, I had the opportunity to expound. That evening, at the fire, we had another meeting with all of our participants in attendance, where, hopefully, some issues were ironed out, as some photographers were quite frustrated by the attitudes of others. All ended well.

Day 10. To Ndutu.


We headed to Ndutu Lake and, without interruption, arrived in time for sunrise where we framed lesser flamingos against the sky of the rising sun. Gull-billed terns periodically swooped into a massive flight display before resettling, and Marabou storks stalked the shallows, their grim-reaper silhouette ominous in the early light.
We didn’t need to travel far to reach a cooperative bat-eared fox den where three or four foxes periodically appeared. Most of their time was spent sleeping, but our long wait was rewarded when two adults got up and trotted a short distance for a toilet break before returning to the den.
We headed for breakfast at the marsh, and en route encountered a huge herd of zebras that were funneling down a trail to drink at the only stretch of wide, open water. From several vantages, including some powerful views from atop a hill, we were treated to a wonderful display of patterns and shapes as zebras came and went. A painted snipe, a fairly rare shorebird, walked into view and those closer to the water shot some birds.
After a very late breakfast we headed into the NCA where a few people saw 4 baby gnus, and, as we meandered back to camp, huge herds of Thompson’s gazelles and over 30 Masai Ostriches that now populated the plains below Naabi Hill.

PM. Ndutu

owlWe headed out at 3:45, reaching the Ndutu forest by 4:30. A very cooperative tawny eagle started our afternoon, followed by a pigmy falcon, and a pair of black-backed jackals that fed on an old gnu carcass, part of which they retrieved from the feeder stream. By early evening we headed to a lion pride where a 5-6 year old male, two lionesses, and three cubs rested in the shade. I was surprised, as the Ndutu pride was supposedly hit hard by the drought, and I didn’t expect to see three healthy, and well-fed cubs. One was active, and harassed the male for a few moments before moving on, and as 6:30 neared, the cub stepped into the open for a great last shot. We raced back to camp, stopping when we flushed a marsh owl that flew only a few yards before landing, and cooperating for a photo. We arrived back at camp at 7:15, with light still in the sky after a truly spectacular sunset.

Day 10. Gol Kopjes

short-eared owlWe loaded at 5:50 and were off by 6, and within two hundred yards we spotted two male lions and a lioness inside our headlights. An hour plus earlier, those two males woke most of the camp with their roaring duet, but now, as we watched, they rose and marched downhill, away from our lights and camp.
We arrived at the first kopje before dawn, but the grass owl was gone and everyone moved on, hoping to find some predator hunting in the early light. We hadn’t traveled far before one of our vehicles spotted a mother cheetah with year old cubs, which we followed for several kilometers as they played and began unsuccessful hunts. Once, a small group of Grant’s gazelles moved in, but the steady wind blew the cheetah’s scent their way and alerted the gazelles. Still, the cheetah charged, but that chase was unsuccessful.
We started exploring other kopjes, and my vehicle flushed up another owl that flew only a short distance before landing. Surprisingly, this one was a very rare vagrant from Europe, the short-eared owl, which can be distinguished from the marsh owl, in the same Asio genus, by yellow eyes, in contrast to the black, barred-owl like eyes of the marsh owl. We got a couple of quick shots off before it flew off, and Citta, our guide, with years of experience in the Serengeti, seeing this species for the first time.

We had a radio call that lions were spotted, and at a large, rounded kopje we found a pride resting on top, framed beautifully against a clear blue sky. The lionesses were taunt with empty bellies, but all of the lions looked very healthy, just hungry, with two one-year old cubs and three 6 month olds, and a great male – undoubtedly from the same pride we had earlier at the Gol water hole.
While we watched, the big male, which had been sleeping at the base of the rocks, awoke and climbed up the rock, where it was joined by a cub that played around its back. The male rounded a rise and disappeared, and I moved to a different location, hoping to get a front-on view of the lion if it would reappear. It did, and walked up the rocks where four of the cubs came, in turn, to visit, provoking a half-hearted snarl and swat from the male before he moved up to finally come to rest atop the kopje. I had thought I’d seen a second male resting in the brush, but after our first male left his rock to seek shade we drove to the location and found nothing, so we continued on to a very late, 10:30 breakfast. After breakfast, it was 11:30 and we headed back to camp, to get some rest and editing accomplished before our afternoon return.

PM. Gol Kopjes


We headed back to the lions, driving directly to the kopje where we had left the lions. Cumulous clouds were scattered across the skies, promising great landscapes, even if the lions had moved. They had not, and as we approached we found a cub nestled against a series of blocks atop the northern side of the kopje in the exact spot that last trip, or an earlier one, had a young lion resting as well.  While we filmed, another cub appeared over the rocks, and the lioness that shared the rock with our subject woke up. The cub nuzzled against its mother, trying to nurse, while the mother groomed the cub. Afterwards, the cub attempted to provoke the other cub into battle, but despite it gnawing upon the other, the cub did not respond.
Mary circled the rocks to check on the other lions, and we soon had a radio call that the big male was perched beautifully atop the rocks. We circled, too, and indeed it was, sitting regally atop the highest point of the kopjes like the king of a kingdom. I shot some quick 500mm shots before realizing the scene was a spectacular scenic, but as I switched lenses the lion flopped upon his side and slept. Fortunately, he did wake up and, in great light with a polarizer, we enjoyed some great lion/kopje/scenics.
lionWhile we shot, the other 10 lions in the pride, which were lying in the shade of a gulley near our vehicles, woke up, and a lioness trotted to the top of the kopje to weave, sinuously, around the male as if enticing him to mate. We suspect she’s coming into heat, but he was not responsive, and she lay down next to him, creating more opportunities.
Cubs, one by one, joined them, some nuzzling or harassing the tolerant black-maned male, before being snarled off with a warning. Lionesses came next, and finally the other male walked up and sat atop the kopje where a cub – probably the same one that tried to entice a battle with another, larger cub on the other side – pestered the male, who swatted at and bared its fangs at the little, unperturbed pest.
lionThe light, as 6 o’clock passed, grew intermittent, with clouds and golden light, but the lions seemed to settle in and, as a final cloud softened the scene, we headed back to Naabi Hill. En route, the western sky erupted in color, and we stopped, either at the Hell Tree, where a vulture perched, or further along, where acacias lined the horizon, for a final scenic. As dusk settled, and a dusty landscape created a fog-like atmosphere amongst the acacias, we rolled into camp at 7.

Day 11. Moru Kopjes, seeking the herds

usWe left camp rather promptly at 6, and drove without interruption passed Simba Kopjes, although Citta’s vehicle did have an aardwolf,  a fox-like termite eater that belongs, distantly, in the hyena family. Aardwolves eat termites, and consume at least 20,000 each night which they lap up with their tongues. The aardvark also eats termites, but this species belongs to a unique group of animals that are essentially toothless. While the aardwolf resembles a canine, the aardvark most closely resembles an anteater, although with its blunt, pig-like long snout it’s sometimes called an earth pig.
We arrived at the beginning of Moru Kopjes at sunrise, around 7AM, and, had we wished and left earlier, we could be in the heart of the kopjes for some silhouette sunrise shots by simply leaving earlier. A hippopotamus was late returning to water, and we followed it about a half mile until it finally crossed the road and entered the tall swamp grasses at Lake Magadi. Good shots.
A lion roared, and on the other side of the tiny feeder stream we spotted a lioness as it crossed the open grasslands. Later, another unseen lion roared as we drove on through the kopjes, and while the light was still rather low and angular we encountered a family of 9 lions, including 5 young cubs. Their mothers led them to a huge kopje which they climbed, casting long shadows across the rock face as they ascended, and finally settling almost at the kopje summit, where they could survey the surrounding grasslands for the wildebeest that have not come.
We searched also, driving along tracks that on our first drive through these kopjes we saw thousands, including many new born calves. Now, the grasslands were empty.
The morning was fairly uneventful, although several of us walked the short hike uphill to the Maasai paintings and cave, and a short time later, did the same at the Gong Rocks. This kopje is named for a huge, ringing boulder where, over the ages, Maasai pounding upon the rock like keys on a piano elicit different tones. The rock is lined with several rows of white divots from this use. The scenic were good, although the steepness of the first several yards of this kopje discouraged most of the group from climbing.
We headed back, slowly, towards camp after a 10:30 breakfast and visit to the Gong Rocks, and en route stopped at the flats where the hippo had passed at dawn. Large herds of zebra and a few dozen gnus were streaming to the water, creating a dust swirl that was fairly photogenic. As we retraced our road route the previously empty plains were now partially filled by zebra herds, as if they had suddenly simply sprouted from the land.
Close to Naabi Hill we intersected a herd of 32 elephants that marched across the grasses and the road passing within yards of us and presenting nice animal/habitat shots with a polarizer. We arrived back in camp at 2 for a very late lunch, as cumulous clouds gathered, promising rain some time in the near future which, we hope, will break this drought and bring back the wildebeest to the short grass birthing plains.
Because of our transit to the Ngorongoro Crater tomorrow, we passed on another game drive in the afternoon, reserving that time for packing and our first, and only, relaxing time at the campfire to enjoy a sunset and a final dinner with the camp staff.
The dinner was a real success, a meal of traditional African dishes, which included pork chops that tasted like great smoked ham, great chicken, and beef kabobs, followed by cake and champagne. Everyone enjoyed the meal, the songs by the staff, and Mary and Nancy’s rap skit – Nancy’s idea – that reviewed the participants in a fun, friendly way.
Mary and I carried a glass of champagne to finish off the evening in front of our tent, but as we prepared to sit down, Mary suddenly started hopping about, with ants biting her feet. A colony of ants was swarming about our tent, and we now had ants everywhere. Jonas, our steward, started spraying and, as we discovered more ants inside our tent as well, he ran from tent to tent to get more bug spray, and in all we used up three cans. Fortunately the ants didn’t return during the night and we slept soundly.

Day 12. Into Ngorongoro Crater.


We slept in, for a leisurely breakfast at 7:30 before packing the vehicles and heading out of camp. To our south, lines of wildebeest were visible through our binocs, although these may have been the same herds we’d seen several days earlier in the NCA. Still, it was promising, and perhaps with a change of weather the herds will come.
We reached Oldupai Gorge by late morning, where we went through the visitor center and listened to a Tanzania guide give a brief history of the excavations at the gorge. Oldupai, named for the Maasai name for the sisal plant, was discovered by a German entomologist/lepidopterist (a bug/butterfly guy) in the early 1900’s, where he discovered a plethora of ancient mammal fossils. Later, Louis Leakey visited this same location, hoping that among the mammal fossils he’d also find Hominid fossils, which he did, and sporadically do every few years hence.
We continued on to the Crater, where, at the rim, we reassembled our gear and where the local Maasai hounded us to buy trinkets. As we descended into the crater we saw, for the first time on any of these trips, Maasai herding sheep into the crater, and not the usual Maasai cattle. An unsettling change, considering the damage to a range that sheep are capable of.
We had a late lunch at one of the picnic spots, where a black kite swooped in and stole a chicken dinner from Gay, and pieces from Kevin, before, like hawks mantling prey, we hunkered over our food, protecting it from the unexpected swooping attacks of these pesky kites. After lunch, we headed across the Crater, where we soon encountered a serval cat lying half-hidden beside the track, seemingly unperturbed by the closeness of our vehicles. We waited over an hour for the serval to do something, and eventually it got up from its shelter and slunk towards some distant Abdim’s storks. My view was, unfortunately, a butt view, but the vehicles that, until now, had almost no view of the serval now had a spectacular side view as it passed cross-wise.
lionIt was getting late, so my vehicle swung around the Mungu creek to check on gnus, while the other vehicles headed on the straight road towards our lodge. The last vehicle in lion spotted a lioness carrying a new born gnu calf over the crest of the hill, and three of our other vehicles reached the spot before the cat crossed the road carrying its prey. The lioness stopped shortly after crossing, as she saw a male standing about 200 yards away and, we’re sure, she expected the male to steal the carcass. Unexpectedly, the male stopped and flopped onto his side to sleep, and the lioness, not pushing her luck, started on the carcass where she lay. We headed on to our lodge, arriving at around 6.

Day 13, Ngorongoro.

lionWe entered the crater at around 6:15, with no light in the sky and clouds obscuring the stars. By the time we reached the lower reaches of the crater there was sufficient light to see, but not to shoot, as we headed towards the Mungu lugga to look for gnus giving birth. We did a quick U-turn when we were called that the lioness we’d seen now had four cubs with her, and for the next 45 minutes we followed the family and another lioness as they paralleled the road, the cubs wrestling one another and their mother. Eventually they met up with the rest of the pride some distance from the road and wandered off.
About 35% of the gnus appear to have calves, and we spent much of the rest of the morning amongst a large herd where some of our group photographed the zebras and gnus at a waterhole while I worked on calves and behavior in the field. From both vantages the shooting was excellent.
Breakfast, as usual, was nearly lunchtime, and we spent over an hour at one of the picnic areas where we photographed birds and watched a black rhino approach closer than we’d seen while driving. After lunch, a juvenile, and a pair of adult golden jackals cooperated wonderfully, with the pair grooming one another and trotting beside the road. Vervet monkeys, hopping inside Tom’s vehicle, and feeding on roadside acacias, a false-alarm on a close black rhino, another serval – though poor, and the best pair of cooperative warthogs we’d had in several years, if ever, rounded out the day. As we left the crater at 5:40 the western half was shrouded in a veil of black rain storms, so we left without the usual aching regret of having to exit the crater while the light was still good.

Day 14. Ngorongoro

koriOur last day, and the best day in the Crater, and truly one of the best ever here. We arrived shortly before dawn at the lion pride where we’d had the cubs yesterday, but our vehicle suddenly had a flat tire requiring us to drive down to a safe area for changing. While we were waiting we heard the whoops of hyenas, which may have deserved checking but I radioed Mary to learn that the cubs were back out. We drove up, to find two lionesses, a great male, and the four cubs on the near side of the lugga, offering much better shooting. The sun had not yet climbed higher than the horizon but the light grew increasingly stronger, as the cubs teased the male – he snarled and was not too tolerant, and wrestled amongst themselves and the lionesses. Our position was almost directly facing the impending sunrise, but fortunately by the time the sun cleared the eastern rim it was high enough to not be a problem for flare. Now, backlighted in the early light, often framed by the still shadowed background, the images were beautiful.
We circled the Munga lugga, where 6 lions lounged and a clan of hyenas had gathered, but the cats were inactive and we moved on. Interestingly, during the morning, one of these lions approached the vehicle of a friend of ours where upon the lioness bit the tire, flattening it immediately.
rhinoWe received a radio call that a pair of black rhinos were close to the road and we headed in that direction, hopeful that this time ‘close’ wasn’t the usual near-mile. It wasn’t, they were close, and for the next half hour we followed the mother and nearly mature male calf in a variety of good lighting situations. At one point the juvenile half-heartedly charged some vehicles, but stopped his run after a couple of body lengths.
We were, again, late for a breakfast and we headed to the marsh where the black kites soared and circled overhead, looking for an unguarded piece of food. One swooped down on Chuck and made off with a morsel, and many in the group, deterred by these harpies, ate in the vehicles. Mary and I sat under our fully extended tripods, which acted as a barrier from any swooping kite, and here we ate unmolested. Bird shooting was good around the swamp, and some shot, while others just relaxed in whatever shade they could find.
baboonWe headed on towards our lunch location, intending to drive the fever tree acacia forest to look for leopards, when a building eastern storm swept over the eastern rim. Most  of us had stopped at the picnic area for a quick bathroom break when Mary called, saying she had a very tame serval. All of us jumped back in the vehicles and headed out, but by the time we reached her vehicle the serval was about 200 yards away. We turned back, now as intent on escaping the storm as anything, but a great family of olive baboons stopped us. Babies played, including two very young ones that climbed atop an adult male, and two juveniles of mixed ages that fought continuously, with the one sometimes dragging the other in its jaws as it clenched the scruff of the smaller baboon’s neck.
We returned to the picnic area just in front of the rains, and for the first time I needed to cover our roof hatch in a heavy rainfall. By the time we finished lunch the weather had cleared, and cooled, with a refreshing breeze that, for a short time, almost left a chill. We returned to the forest, futilely looking for leopards, and reentered the grasslands of the southwestern crater.
Gay was hoping to see a displaying kori bustard, Africa’s largest flying bird, which rarely flies, but exhibits a spectacular courtship visual. Males puff up their necks to nearly three times their normal size, with the gray-white feathers fluffed fully, while their tail jacks up to nearly reach its neck, thus displaying another prominent patch of white, their undertail coverts. From a distance, a stationary male looks like two thick white posts set close together, and when one moves, provided it’s not disturbed and drops its tail, the bird struts along maintaining the posture resembling a medieval king swathed in thick, flowing furs.
We were lucky, and spotted a kori in the distance. While Gay photographed, the bird slowly moved closer, until it presented a great side-view as it strutted along, paralleling the track and frequently passing by distant zebras that gave the image not only a sense of place but scale, too. On our side of the track, two hundred yards off, another kori walked along, occasionally looking up but otherwise showing no interest in the male. For a keen-eyed bird on the open plains, this display must be visible for miles, but our bird had no luck today and we finally left it as it wandered further from the road.
eleNot long after a secretary bird passed by, again with gnus in the background for a great, close, location shot. We continued, heading to the lookout hill that sets within the caldera where we had a sweeping view of the crater, and of a bull elephant in the distance that was working itself towards the track. We hurried down after some scenic shots, and intercepted the bull elephant before it crossed the track. While not one of the huge tuskers that Ngorongoro is noted for, the size of the elephant was huge, and as Mary later noted, it smelled as if he was in musth, the breeding condition of a male. Framed against the crater walls, with a towering thunderhead dominating the skyline, the elephant was the shot we were looking for inside the crater.
rhinoWe headed towards Munga lugga to look for the lions, but my guide spotted two black rhinos quite close to another track. We headed there, where we had a mother and her daughter in conditions as good, if not better, than the morning. Only one other vehicle passed us this late in the day, but this one disturbed the calf who charged a few feet before returning to her mother. After 30 minutes or so of shooting the pair wandered down the hill and we again headed towards the lugga.
We’d just started when a trio of common zebras started galloping, chasing a slender mongoose that darted about, attempting to neither be bitten or crushed. At one point the chase led the mongoose to the road where, on the other side, other zebras stood, and one could almost see the mongoose rethink that strategy as it reversed directions and headed back into the grass. Luckily, it made it to a burrow and disappeared, and the pursuing zebras settled back to grazing.
We arrived at the lodge shortly before 6, and the group emptied beanbags and assembled for a group photo overlooking the crater. After dinner we reviewed the highlights of the trip, both Ngorongoro’s and the entire trip, before saying goodbyes and everyone heading back to their rooms to pack. For Mary and me it was odd ending there and not returning to Arusha, but our next group will arrive here in two days, time we’ll use to edit, catch up on writing, and rest up. Hopefully the next group’s luck will be as good, as this trip went fast, and was as productive, or more so, than any Serengeti trip.

Day 15. Ngorongoro

storkThe group left at 7:20 for their drive back to Arusha, while Mary and I joined our guide for a morning in the Crater. Our intention was to be back out by 10, at the latest, to give us time to do office work, but African time prevailed, and we arrived back at the lodge at 11.
The cubs were out once again, with the lionesses moving into and out of the lugga, teasing us with the potential of another exciting morning. Instead, knowing we’d be doing the cubs with the group, we decided to move on to the Munga lugga to check for hunters. As we arrived, two lionesses sat at the edge of the lugga watching a distance column of zebras, and, minutes later, one of the two slunk off to what looked like a better ambush site. Nothing developed, however, and both lionesses returned to their three cubs lying in the grass, so we moved on.
zebraAt the crossroads where we’d had three young lions we assume were nomads, two big male lions were cantering across the grasses, in pursuit of another lion far ahead. We’re assuming these were the males we’d seen by the young cubs at the hill and the other pride at Munga, and now the two were defending their territory, trotting for at least a mile in pursuit of the other. These males are big, but the three we’d seen at the crossroads were a bit smaller, but had the number advantage, so perhaps it was fortunate that the three were not present for the two. At any rate, it was impressive and illuminating to see how far from their usual haunts, and with what vigor, the males went in defending territory.
We checked out the herds along the western rim but we saw no births, so our scouting was productive in suggesting we don’t waste the group’s time next trip in racing there for births. We stopped at the picnic area for a normal-time breakfast, then continued on towards the lodge, stopping by Munga to check on the lions – they didn’t kill, and the herds – no new gnu births.
The serenity of our rest day was shattered when we returned the call from a message left at the desk. One of our group, the sweetest, gentlest, nicest person on that trip, had suffered a stroke as they neared Arusha, and were being transferred on to Nairobi, Kenya via flying doctors. Mary spoke with our Tanzania office and, maddeningly, the connection broke off both times. As I write this late in the evening we were told our friend has arrived in Nairobi, and we hope all is as good as can be expected. Our thoughts were preoccupied throughout the day with our concern, and all we can do is pray for the best.