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Tanzania 2016 February Photo Safari
Trip Report


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Day 1. Serengeti – Seronera- Semutu
Normally, this time of year the Serengeti plains is a vast plain of dull yellow, dried grasses waiting for the rains. This is an El Nino year, and as we’ve seen in several locations, El Nino has influenced the Serengeti’s weather as well. As we flew over the Ngorongoro highlands into the Conservation Area and across the border into the Park, everything below us was green.
We arrived at the Seronera airport around 10, and after dividing beanbags and getting our photo gear connected and ready we headed out, into a park unlike anything I’ve seen at this time of year. Although there are millions of animals here, and I mean this literally, the animals migrate, and as we drove through the park I was struck by how empty and barren these vast plains can be. Yet I didn’t despair, because I knew that animals were indeed here, resident lions and leopards, and roaming elephant and giraffes, and it is only the absence of the wildebeest that can make this area look so very, very empty.
bWe stopped for birds, simply savoring the little things that help make up this park, but we hadn’t traveled far when another driver told us a Leopard had been spotted at the picnic hill. We headed in that direction, the more westerly end of the Seronera river system, and we arrived just in time to see the Leopard drop down from a tree. Because of the rains the grasses were high, and the Leopard disappeared. We stopped at several spots, hoping to intersect with the Leopard, but the closest we came to success were the two times when the leopard uttered its call, a rasping, saw-like sound. Our stakeout didn’t work, but my driver suspected that the leopard had reached the game track – he probably had seen vehicles – and we headed in that direction.
lSure enough, a Leopard was moving through the grass. We drove on ahead, and by predicting where the Leopard would pass, we had three great shooting sessions where the Leopard either walked straight to us, or climbed onto a nearby termite mound. Eventually the Leopard strolled down the game track, crossed into the high grass, and climbed a tree, where, after a couple of shots, we left her and we headed on to lunch.
Our original intention was to arrive at camp early, between 4 and 5 PM to give us time to unpack and get organized while we still had light. As we drove in the general direction towards camp, Rick spotted, of all things, a tornado! The guides estimated that the funnel cloud was about 50 km away, and judging by the thickness of the funnel, I’d suspect that the funnel itself had to be a few hundred yards in diameter. The funnel touched down, remained, and eventually thinned and finally just broke up. Tornados are not known for East Africa, but what we saw, had it been in Oklahoma or Kansas, would have been unquestionably called a tornado. Much later in the afternoon we had another tornado develop, at the head of a storm, with the blackest clouds I’ve seen in Africa since the time, twenty-odd years ago, when we were marooned overnight at a flooded ravine.
bInstead of heading to camp we had word of another Leopard, this time with a cub, and supposedly treed by lions. We raced to the location, finding a small, less than 4 month old (more like -3) cub high in one tree and the mother seventy yards away in another. We waited until 4:30 for her to come down, but she remained in the tree and with a 45 minute drive to camp we decided to leave.
As we headed to camp the second storm arrived, and our last few hundred yards to camp was a slippery, sticky drive, with the potential of a funnel cloud developing. We arrived at camp in the rain, and we were greeted by our camp staff, who carried umbrellas and escorted us to the main tent. The storm passed before we headed to our tents, and after dinner the skies completely cleared, with the milky way, Orion, and the Seven Sisters shining brightly, while along the horizon thunderheads periodically glowed with the flashes of internal lighting.

Day 2, Sametu.
It rained, sporadically, throughout the night and we worried that the morning might be grim. Instead, although there was a slight bit of cloud cover, Venus shone brightly in the eastern sky and, before we left camp, we undid the roof for the game drive. The day ended up being one of the most spectacular and productive day we’ve had in the Serengeti.
lThe first 45 minutes or so was simply a commute through the grasslands, marred, perhaps, by a roadkill Slowworm, a legless lizard that one of our vehicles hit on the drive. The 15 inch long reptile resembles a worm, and only under close examination are the scales evident, and the tiny, beady eyes. Confirming that it indeed was a reptile, the lizard darted its forked tongue in and out, and once opened its tiny mouth.
Soon afterwards, my hat blew off as we were driving, and a second or two later I was aware that my glasses were gone, too. David was fairly sure that the glasses went sailing over the vehicle, but when we stopped to look we checked close to the vehicle, thinking the glasses were near. I was virtually blind without them, so it was somewhat silly for me to be looking, but Pokea, my driver, eventually found the glasses over 200 yards from the vehicle, 70 yards further than I suspected. That made my day right there.
We continued, and soon found a Cheetah lying on its side, with a herd of Thompson’s Gazelles in the background. Pokea noticed a baby in the herd, and so did the Cheetah, and we knew a hunt was imminent. We called back our two other vehicles, not knowing at that time that they were on a different cheetah, but luckily they arrived in time for the hunt.
Unlike most Cheetah hunts involving baby Tommies, this Cheetah hunted more like a leopard. She sat, Sphinx-like, with her hind legs tucked beneath her and frequently shifting, as if she were trying to get the best launch pad. The mother Gazelle and baby ambled closer, and then started jogging, which could have taken them out of range but instead the Cheetah started her run, and 12 seconds later had her take down. She carried the fawn a short distance, then seemed to almost play with the baby for a few minutes before finally killing it and beginning to eat. We left at that point.
Driving on, we came to Mary’s other Cheetah, that had captured her own baby Tommy in her absence. Just minutes probably separated us from having two Cheetah kills. Later in the morning, we found another mother Cheetah, with two nearly full grown cubs, also hunting, but with nothing in sight we drove on.
We encountered a collared Lioness with another adult and with one 12 week old cub. All were a bit shy, and as the mother and cub slinked off, we noticed that she had a bad injury on her leg, causing her to hold that limb up as she ran. I’m guessing that she has had trouble following the pride, and however many cubs she had, they eventually died off until there was only one, thin, like her, and probably doomed.
eLater, we had seven Lionesses and cubs at a beautiful hidden valley around Barafu. The half-grown cubs were carrying the skull of a Thompson’s Gazelle ram. As we entered the Gol Kopjes we found four Lionesses on a rock, with a very shy black-maned male, who avoided us. We left him be, and concentrated on the females.
Right before lunch we found three male Lions, perhaps five years old, still with a bit of color (pink) on their noses and, not far away, a dead male lion. We guessed that the dead male was a nomad, and these three males killed it, but after lunch, when Mary headed there to see the dead male, a Lioness and 4-5 week old cub ran down from the trees below the three males, passed her, and ran out onto the plains. We all followed, and the Lioness ran nearly a half mile before settling into a walk, where she continued for a total of 1.4 km, nearly a full mile, until she stopped in a the leafy plants that sometimes pocket the uniform grasslands.
lWe rethought the scenario, and we now wonder if the three males were invaders, and had killed the male (a throat hold, and scars on the back were evident), and the Lioness, concerned for her cubs safety, had bolted. She headed east, where there were no more kopjes to den up her cub, and we have no idea where she’d go. Sadly, if these males are doing a take-over, eventually they’ll find and kill that cub.
Appendum: Mary now thinks that the three lions were residents, and the dead lion was a nomad, and that in the adrenaline charged atmosphere that followed, the Lioness was afraid for her cubs – or perhaps several were killed – and was now running off to protect the cub. I disagree, and believe that the three were the nomads. However, the Lioness was so close to the three, that how she remained hidden, or retrieved the cub under their noses – really hard to tell.
oWe continued on, starting towards camp after 4. We had more Lions, a fairly good African Wild Cat, our third Spotted Eagle Owl (we had two in the morning) as we drove towards home. A storm developed, and a rainbow formed, but it wasn’t until we were nearly to camp that we found something to frame the rainbow with – an Elephant. With that, we headed to camp, completing a 13 hour day.




Day 3, Sametu.

During the night a Leopard made a kill somewhere near camp, and the guides heard the scream of what they suspect was a warthog. At 6AM, when we left, the skies were fairly clear, and we retraced our route from yesterday evening, passing through very wet country for the first hour. Surprisingly, in this near-marsh like environment we had three Cheetahs, but with the high grass we didn’t bother even trying to photograph them. Mary also had an African Wild Cat (she had one yesterday) walking on the game track ahead of their vehicle, but it was dark and the cat eventually slipped into the grasses.

vWe continued on to the Gol Kopjes, where I found a huge male Cheetah. He was hunting, but there was no game within sight, anywhere, so we left him, lying in high grasses. We continued to the ‘barn owl rock’ but no owls were present, and a short time later followed lines of vultures as they congregated at the dead Lion. Nearly a hundred vultures were present – hooded, white-back, Nubian, Ruppell’s, ad Tawny Eagles, too. It was sad to see a lion reduced to vulture food. A Maribu Stork pulled out intestines, and the long string stretched nearly thirty feet. We had some great shooting as more and more vultures descended to the trees and to the kill.
vWe headed out into the plains, looking unsuccessfully for more cheetahs, and eventually arrived at the Barafu kopjes where we encountered the Lion pride we filmed yesterday in the nearby valley. Yesterday, this entire area, and especially around the area where the dead lion lay, was filled with gnus, from horizon to horizon. Today they were gone, although we did see some miles long lines leading south, to our next destination near Ndutu.
aIn the Barafu kopje area we found what I suspect is an isolated color morph of the Mzima Flat-headed Agama Lizard. Normally this lizard has a reddish head and dorsal, usually stopping near the hips, which are blue, as are the legs. These Agamas were practically gold, or orange, and except for blue on their legs they were just one color. Perhaps, geographic isolation accounts for this, where a mutation for orange was spread through this rather isolated population. At both Gol, and more distant Barafu kopjes, the Agamas were the usual coloration.
lWe arrived in the camp area around 6, but instead of heading into camp we found a Leopard in a tree. The cat was a bit shy, dropping to the high grasses as we approached, but as soon as we left it climbed to the exact position in the tree. We returned, after my guide got stuck in a hidden hole and needed to be pushed out, and we managed some fairly decent shots of the Leopard, in the last light of our afternoon. As usual, we returned to camp in near dusk conditions.

Day 4. Sametu to Retima Hippo Pool
We left under clear, starry skies, with what promised to be a beautiful day but was, just almost, one of the most tragic and sickening days we’ve ever had in Africa. Fortunately, the turn of events ended up fine, but it was close.
cI’ll cover that event a bit later. Our morning started on a real positive, with a five-year-old male and a lioness, and another male lion, on or beside the game track. It was clear that the pair were a honey-moon couple, and while we waited for a mating nothing happened, except the lioness got up and moved, and the attending male double-timed it to keep up. The other male moved down the track where the rest of the pride had gathered, another male, a six year old (identified by an all-black nose), three 6 month old cubs, and three adult lionesses. The cubs and the lionesses were in the open, and one of the cubs lay beside a sleeping Lion, and the shooting was very good.

One male walked into the high grass where flies tormented him, and he, rather comically, snapped away, with the resulting images looking like a very toothy grin. Some of the lionesses and a male lion were well-hidden in the grass, making for perfect camouflage shots, with just the eyes aimed at us through the grasses.
Mary moved on first, and within a quarter mile found another Serval (yesterday morning we had our first) walking up the game track. She was calling for her cub, and eventually she must have found the cub, or parked it sin place, as she continued through the high grasses, her progress marked by cisticolas and weavers circling and calling above her. All of our vehicles tried for shots, but the Serval paralleled the road and stayed in the high grass, so my vehicle returned to the mating pair, while Susan, Rick, and Bill went to the lionesses and cubs. A few minutes later the Serval returned to the road, walking towards the lions before spotting the cats and turning and going to cover. The mating pair slept on, although they had mated, and with loud roars that seemed to indicate a nasty ending, twice while we were with the cubs.
We continued on, and Sue and I drove along a stream valley where our guide said he often had good leopards. None today, but the swamp-loving Black Coucals were common, and flying about. Several called from perches, a soft coo-coo note that was barely reminiscent of the similar species, the White-browed Coucal. The Coucals stayed far off, but one flew over the road which I tried following with a hand-held 800mm and a torn rotator cuff. As it landed I finally acquired focus and got a shot.


We drove on, planning on reaching the Retima Hippo Pool. Just after passing the park central area at Seronera, we were surprised to see several Cheetah babies playing on the road. We were not sure if there were four or five, and the mother wasn’t visible when a pickup truck, probably hauling supplies to a camp, barreled down the road towards the cubs. Our guides flashed their headlights, and we stood as high as we could, waving our arms, but the truck kept coming. The cubs scattered, and one cub in complete panic ran down the road. Incredibly, the driver actually sped up, and at one point was within five feet of the fleeing cub, no more than a kitten and still sporting the white cape and black body of a young cheetah. As the cub passed us it veered into the grasses and ran off, and the truck stopped beside us. Everyone was screaming at the driver, who looked at us blankly (or stupidly), and then gunned his engine and sped off. Anyone reading this, I hope posts this license plate on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, everywhere, saying that the driver of this vehicle should be fired and banned from the Serengeti Park. He nearly killed the cub outright by running over it, and as we watched, still in shock, we saw the mother Cheetah walk off into the woods. We thought she was leading her three other cubs away, not knowing that she had lost one. Here’s the license plate:
T 645 ARK
Fortunately the mother didn’t go far, and settled in acacia scrub about 70 yards off the road. We didn’t know this, and our guides made every phone call they could, trying to summon some help to either find the cub or to try to herd the cheetah mother in the direction of the stray cub. We waited nearly an hour, and no help came, but luckily another vehicle could see the female, so we had some hope. A short time later, the Cheetah mother, with three cubs running alongside, walked down in the direction where the cub had ran. How she knew which direction is beyond us, although I suspect the cub was chirping and she heard the lost calls. The mother called too, giving her bird-like chirp and a chirring call, one that was a lost-cub assembly call, the chirp, and the other, the chirr, apparently to keep the other cubs with her.
We drove down the road to follow (as did several vehicles before us) and incredibly the cub came out of the grass, on the opposite side of the road from where it disappeared. Although we weren’t sure if there had been four or five cubs, only one had been missing (the one running down the road), and she located that one. So, all ended well, and Mary actually cried in relief (I was close, too, I must admit) at the ending being a happy one.
We continued on to the Hippo pool where Bill, Rick, and Sue were waiting. They left as we arrived, after we filled them in on the story, and we spent kan hour or so at the pools. A pair of Hippos mated, with the male riding high on top of the hind end of the female, who was pressed down in the water with only her nostrils projecting above the surface.
It was now past 1PM, and our plan, today, was to do a long morning drive, have a late lunch, and have a restful afternoon. We reached camp at 2:15, had lunch, and did exactly that, and as the afternoon progressed it clouded up, with a storm advancing even as I write this.
Remember, let’s fry the driver of T 645 ARK.

Day 5. Sametu to Kisini

lIt rained during the night, but at dawn it was clear and we made it to the Barafu kopjes area easily. In Barafu, my guide spotted a four-five year old male lion, which we stopped for. We had nice portraits, but eventually the lion climbed off the rocks and picked up a long tree limb, which it carried about as if it was a kill. It was cute and amusing to watch and to photograph.
We continued, and had a group of 13 lions, all young males and lionesses, but they had eaten and were fairly lethargic. We continued. At the Gol Pool, where we’ve had herds of zebras drinking on previous trips, the mother Cheetah and two shy 1.5 year old cubs were sitting. By the pools, another male Cheetah was moving uphill, and further away, still another. That Cheetah eventually caught a young gazelle, but it was too far away and we only had shots of it holding its prey in a choke hold.
After lunch, we looked for more cheetahs, but at the barn owl kopje nine llionesses and young lions were lying on the rocks, some quite close to the game track. Good shots. We continued on to Naabi Hill, where several of us tried to cut our thirst with a beer, before we continued on towards our next camp at Kisini.
Gnus were in the short grass below Naabi Hill by the hundreds of thousands, but as we turned to the northwest we left the herds and entered a vast barren plain. For the next hour, as we headed towards a new lodge for us, we traveled a rather hair-raising route, a landscape that was mostly swamp. Thankfully, it wasn’t raining today, but the route was nearly impassable, and we had to make several detours to avoid vast swampy stretches, or deep streams.
sClose to sunset we reached our camp, an all-inclusive, luxury camp situated on the top of a large kopje. After the ordeal of travel, the camp was a welcome surprise, and we took advantage of all the amenities. In total, we traveled almost 90 miles today, from the heart of the park to the southern regions of the NCA, and the journey reinforced the absolute vastness of this land.

Day 6. Kisini

kWe had a 5:30 cooked breakfast, and departed the lodge under a starry sky. The Southern Cross glowed brightly and the Milky Way stretched across, nearly horizon to horizon. A ‘smiling’ near-new moon lined up with Venus and several planets, so the first minutes of our morning as we loaded were memorable, and beautiful.


By the time we traveled through the bumpy road onto the plains we had light, and almost immediately had a Kirk’s Dik-dik on a rock set against an amphitheater of kopjes. I thought it was a Klipspringer – I’d never seen a dik-dik perched on a rock like this, but soon the ram had his mate join him on the rocks. Mary’s vehicle discovered a Lioness with at least two tiny cubs, and Sue, Susan, and Mary were eventually rewarded with a nice portrait of the three week old cubs. My vehicle went on, and did well with Gray-breasted Spurfowl and White-winged Widowbirds, before we were called back to replenish batteries for Mary’s vehicle.
We continued on, and eventually had 16 lions, most of those being males between 2.5 and 3.5 years old. 10 of 13 in one scattered group were males, and we were told the pride was comprised of 30 lions. All had eaten, and two young males were at attendance of a zebra kill.
lAside from some portraiture and rather mediocre drinking shots, not much was happening with the lions. Our only other highlights was a Hyena with a zebra leg, at a pond, until we heard that a Leopard had been spotted. We drove to an acacia forest where we found a huge, fat-bellied male Leopard in a tree, with about 10 other vehicles also trying to get a view. We waited them out, and in moving into various positions ended up with great shots, with the Leopard completely unfazed. Had we known this, the other safari vehicles could have had good views and drove on, but everyone was courteous, and no one risked disturbing the Leopard by driving close. We didn’t, either, but in having full access we ended up with some great views, and left the leopard, still lounging on its limb high above the grasses.
We returned to camp around 2PM, and everyone took the afternoon off, either to rest, download, or photograph birds around camp. Mary and I did some videos, and tried to catch up on work, with everyone meeting on the Kisini kopje for a sundowner around 6:30PM.

Day 7. Kisini to Lake Masek
It rained during the night, so our anticipated early morning viewing of the alignment of five planets never happened. After a 6AM breakfast we lingered, as the sky was overcast and occasionally sprinkling, and when we left the lodge, luckily, we had light. The road to the airport took 55 minutes, characterized by side-ways sliding, where we worried constantly that we’d slip into a ditch, The one bad thing about this lodge (and truly the only bad thing) is in the wet season the road is nearly impassable.
lWhen we reached the flatlands we checked for the Lioness with the young cubs – unsuccessfully, then headed into the plains where we eventually had two different groups of lions, eight in one group, nine in the other, and all possibly from the same pride. Oddly, in this entire time we never saw the adult males that own this pride.

gWe continued on towards Ndutu and Lake Masek, spending time at an overlook where we filmed Gnus and Zebras coming to a waterhole to drink, and, for some, photographing a cheetah in the high marsh grasses. We had two Cheetahs, and the first one we saw jumped a small stream before walking down the game track, its focus intense and fixed on a distant object which we knew was a lion lying down. The Cheetah moved forward, finally settling into a sit, and in identifying the lion the Cheetah growled. We’ve never heard a Cheetah growl before, but it reminded us of our own House Cats at home who low growl when they see something upsetting. Eventually the Cheetah rose and walked off into the high grasses.

As we headed towards our lodge to check in, we had Gnus crossing Lake Ndutu in a shallow section, and rather frustratingly, the Gnus simply walked across the lake. Later, another group in the distance splashed into the lake, but the deep waters confused them, and the gnus made a whirlpool-like circle before returning to the shoreline. Shortly before we reached our lodge we had another long string of gnus, our second for the morning, racing by, giving us plenty of opportunities for panning running shots.

lPM. After check-in we had about an hour before we headed back out. My vehicle headed back to Lake Ndutu, but the Gnus had vanished and an advancing storm deterred us from going further west. Instead, we headed to where we’d seen lions earlier on the game drive, and I spotted three Lions up in a low tree. There were numerous shooting opportunities and so we circled the tree for different angles, and while were doing do, incredibly, an orphan, lost Gnu calf walked into view. The Lions, meanwhile, slept on, and potentially would miss this easy meal. At one point the Gnu calf went to a tree and looked as if it was trying to nurse from the branches, actually raising its head and seeming to climb up the trunk. The calf turned, and approached closer, and when it disappeared into high, leafy groundcover it began to bleat, and that call finally attracted the Lioness’s attention.


My vehicle circled around to be in a spot where action might be visible, and luckily the baby reversed directions and walked out of the undergrowth to appear completely in the open in front of us. The Lioness was close behind, and quickly captured the baby, swinging it about and disappearing into the cover.
gA few seconds later the baby Gnu reappeared, with the Lioness behind. She had released the calf and was now playing with it, and her cubs, about one year old, soon joined her. Again, they disappeared, and again we positioned ourselves, guessing where the action might be, when the Gnu calf reappeared, with one of the cubs cuffing and batting at it, and then chasing it when the calf ran towards us. The cub Lion caught the baby in the high, leafy vegetation, where it was joined by six Lions in total. Several times one of the two Lionesses in attendance would flop down upon the calf or the cub, prompting a surprisingly adult-sounding roar from an outraged cub. Eventually one of the older male cubs, perhaps 1.3 years old, rushed in with a roar, grabbed the calf, and ran beneath a fallen tree. The male cub, as young as he was, asserted himself, as he’d do frequently later in life.
lThis is only the second time I’ve seen ‘training’ with lions. The first time, in Ngorongoro, the Lioness caught a baby and held it, waiting for her cubs to join her. They didn’t, and began to play instead, so the Lioness gave up and killed the calf herself. This time, it was clear that she was letting the cubs learn to hunt, and the lioness did nothing to harm the calf. In fact, at one point, she was licking the calf’s back, while the cubs ineptly mauled the calf. It was, to be honest, rather gruesome, with the baby gnu constantly braying out its call, while the cubs mauled and chewed, and only when the male cub stole it was that ordeal over.
We left the lions as the sun was about to set, and encountered four cubs that played. In the low light I videoed their play, and we returned to camp after 7PM.

Day 8. Lake Masek and Matiti
We left the lodge shortly after 6AM and headed into the grasslands to look for Gnus giving birth. En route we had one Cheetah, our only cat of the day, and although the cat looked thin there were no prospective kills in sight and so we moved on.
We spotted relatively few baby Gnus, and the birthing period seems late this year. Finally, we found one female with the white hooves of her baby projecting from her backside. We followed her, and nearly 1 hour 55 minutes elapsed before she finally gave birth. The baby rose to its feet 2 minutes, 22 seconds later – usually it takes about 8 minutes, and the baby was firmly on its feet at 3 minutes, 22 seconds. The vigil occupied most of our morning, and although we looked for more births we were unsuccessful, and arrived back at the lodge at 1PM.

A serious thunderstorm moved through camp at 2 and lasted until around 4:10PM. The rain lightened enough for us to keep our scheduled departure of 4, but two people slept in, and we didn’t leave camp until nearly 4:30PM. No big deal, as it was still raining and we did the first 45 minutes of the game drive with the roof on. Mary’s vehicle, with Rick and Susan, left earlier, and had a brief encounter with a Lioness and three cubs, playing in the rain.
gOur other noteworthy highlights included a family of Masai Giraffes, with a few week old baby, and a subadult – who picked up a scapula, and later the lower jaw bone of what we guess was a gnu. Giraffes will sometimes seemingly ‘play’ with bones, perhaps chewing on them for the calcium. One of our guides said that Giraffes will ingest hyena scat for the same reason – thank goodness for vitamin pills!
Our other highlight involved dung. I spotted a fresh pile of zebra dung that was seething with about 12-18 Dung Beetles. These were larger than the normal species, and actively contesting and fighting over the dung, but in bthe course of our photographing and videoing the beetles, a pile of dung was reduced to nothing, as the beetles rolled away balls of dung in various directions.
We continued on into the plains, but the stormy atmosphere never left and by 6:30 it was quite dark. We called it a day, but still did not arrive into camp until 7PM, with a beautiful Yellow-winged Bat flying across our game trail as we drove in the growing gloom.

Day 9. Lake Masek-Ndutu Plains
fIt was dark and overcast when we started our game drive and the light was still low when we found a pair of mating Lions. When lions first honeymoon, a mating may occur, on average, every twenty minutes, and may continue at that pace for a day or two. This pair must have been very fresh, for barely 10 minutes elapsed between matings. Most were rather tame, with some snarling and swats, and I did video rather than still because of the low light. We stayed for three sessions, and were lucky enough that each time the lioness rose to change positions, as they almost always do before mating, she walked towards us and settled down facing our cameras.
We continued on, stopping at a partially white Nubian Vulture, whose back, breast, and shoulder feathers were white. At lunch we debated whether to call this a partial albino, or a leucistic coloration – in snakes the two are separate names, with pure white, pink-eyed snakes being albino, and those lacking black pigments, but otherwise somewhat traditionally colored, called leucistic.

We headed for the Ndutu flats, where there had been 11 lions, and 7 when we arrived, lounging beside a small waterway. Although the cats mainly slept, when they awoke and sat upright we had nice reflections in the water.
At the marsh a large flock of Fulvous Whistling Ducks sat is mirror-still water, a beautiful composition. We headed on into the plains to look for more gnu births, and although Bill and John saw one baby still wet and tottering, we saw no births. In fact, of the hundreds of thousands of Gnus we saw today, we saw less than 50 babies between all the vehicles. So en masse birthing is still to come.
dThe herds, however, stretched quite literally from horizon to horizon, and appeared to be at least a mile deep (1 x 20? Miles or more). Our guide told us that another large herd was north of the Ndutu forest, near Naabi Hill, and I wondered if even more were still further out, in the plains or the forests. As it was, the numbers were incomprehensible to attempt to count, and I suspect that either aerial photographic sampling, or perhaps an entire panorama with computer software to count the dots, would be the only way to get any true idea of their numbers. Estimate are put at 1.4-1.5 million, but our guides think there are even more. Our guide said the Lion numbers range between 500-1000, again an estimate.
We returned towards camp via the lake shores, where we photographed Black-winged Stilts, a Spotted Thick-knee pair, and a 100-strong herd of Gnus that swam across the lake to us. As we neared camp we found the same six-seven lions in the same tree they were hanging from two nights ago, and we once again shot them from all angles. We headed home from there, under murky skies, although the skies don’t look as threatening and perhaps we’ll miss an afternoon rain.
PM. It rained before our game drive, which we started with the roofs closed. As it was in the morning the light was even and without shadows, perfect conditions for shooting. I spotted a Masked Weaver building a nest close to the road, which Rick and I stopped for. The male returned to its hanging nest several times, giving us opportunities to shoot stills and videos. The male would insert a long grass blade, climb inside the nest chamber, then return to the outside where it would grab the blade that it had pushed through, pull it towards the top of the nest bulb, and then tuck it into place. b

bAfter several passes it appeared as if the nest was complete, and the bird spent the rest of its time singing from treetops in hopes of attracting a mate.
We moved on, and found another set of nests. This time, the male had three nests, with two still in some process of being constructed. Two females hung about, with one appropriating a nest chamber, while the other was driven off by the male. Periodically the male would hang from the nest and vibrate its wings, or perch on a branch and wag or vibrate its tail. A female might approach, and the male would try mounting – sometimes successfully, sometimes with the female flying off. I was hoping to find a nest just in the process of being built, and we finally found one, simply a round oval of grasses. The male came in once, we shot it with stills, and the bird flew off, not to return.
mWe continued on, and finally found two bull Elephants close to the lions that have been lingering in the trees. We headed to the lions, where we spent the last hour of the day. The lions periodically changed positions in the tree, but towards dark, when only video was possible, the lions played and wrestled.
Mary had continued on, and found a nice young Lioness in a tree which the group shot in golden light. On the way home, they spotted a pair of Honey Badgers. They were shy, and retreated as soon as they heard a camera click, but Mary and David did manage a few shots of the two – one cream colored, the other rather gray. As we returned to camp the skies cleared and we showered under the stars before joining the group for our final dinner at one of our favorite lodges in Tanzania.

Day 10. Lake Masek to Ngorongoro Crater
We had a 6AM breakfast and packed the vehicles by 7, missing nothing with the heavy overcast skies. We headed to the birthing plains, stopping along the way for a Bull Elephant (we’d seen two yesterday), and I spotted a Gnu female with baby legs protruding. We tried following her but she ran ahead and into swampy country, and assuming we’d see more, we left her go.
The birthing plains, where yesterday we’d suspect there were nearly a million gnus in sight, were empty. Overnight the herds had moved on. We stopped at the mating Lion pair, where yesterday they mated every ten minutes or so, and today, in the 25 minutes we waited, they slept soundly. With marginal light we decided to look further.

bOur first highlight was a dead Bat-eared Fox on the shoreline of Ndutu where a group of Maribu Storks were picking at the bones and flesh. While we photographed, a rare White-headed Vulture flew in, and immediately laid claim to the carcass. At least twice the Vulture jumped into the air, legs extended forward, driving the Storks away. A short time later another White-head Vulture joined the first, and they ate, circled by storks that reminded me of Indians circling a wagon trying to steal a bite.
We continued, and as we headed east we found at least some of the missing Gnu herds. We were well beyond the Ndutu Forest and the herds were heading north, towards bthe Gol Kopjes and perhaps Barafu beyond. The lions there would soon have a feast.
We arrived at the Ngorongoro Crater rim at 2, and headed across the 10 mile crater floor. We soon spotted a Black Rhino that appeared to be approaching the road. Since this was my last game drive on this trip, as is tradition, Mary rode with me, and hoping to scout out the crater for tomorrow’s possibilities, we left the rhino to explore. Our other two vehicles remained, and the Black Rhino continued walking, eventually crossing the road right next to John and Sue’s vehicle. Rick, Susan, and David were close by, and got nice shots as well.
Mary did some nice shots of Elephants with her infrared camera, but otherwise the crater floor was rather sparse. We did find a small group of Gnus with newborns, and we’re hoping that tomorrow those without babies would deliver. I’ll be leaving the group, flying on to India where I’ll be starting another Snow Leopard expedition. At dinner tonight, everyone was interested in knowing more about that trip, while I simply wanted to change the subject and talk about something warm! We did our highlights, and as usual it was amazing, and fun, to hear the various highlights and encounters, things that stood out for some and were forgotten by others. The Elephant and the rainbow, the Weaver nest-building, the Lioness carrying the cub, the dead Lion scenario, the Cheetah perched so close on the Gol kopje rock, the Lion in the grass, the Rhino, and on and on. It was a great way to end the trip for me, although the group will still have one final day in the Crater, and Mary and David will have another five and half days in the Crater and the Ndutu area, and her report will follow….

Mary's Report:
Day 12, February 11, 2016
Ngorongoro Crater:

Today was a sad day, at least for me, as Joe bid farewell to the group and headed on to India to start our snow leopard trip. He got up to have breakfast with the group at 5:30am and was on the road within a half hour of when we left the camp. True to form he radioed us from the Crater Rim as he and Bildad headed to Arusha. So even though he wasn’t with us in person, he was still with us in spirit and in communication.

Our goal today was to try and get a wildebeest birth. Yesterday we did a recce of part of the Crater to see what was going on and where we could locate animals. We found a group of female wildebeest, a few with babies and many pregnant, near the intersection of the main road and the side road going to Ngoitoktok Picnic area. So that is where we headed first thing despite the weather. At around 3:45am I heard the first thunder and by 4:30am, it was raining. And it continued to rain until nearly 10:00am forcing us to shoot from the windows for the first few hours of the day. But that didn’t interfere with the group having one of the best days ever in the Crater.

The first thing that we saw were two porcupines off to the side of the road. We didn’t get any shots but it was a great sighting. Shortly after we passed the intersection we found the first of the herds and true to our luck (because this has been a lucky group), we found a female wildebeest ‘pushing’: she was lying on her side with both legs outstretched, pushing with all of her might to get the baby out. This first birth was maybe 120 yards off the road but it was in the open amongst the herd so it was exciting to watch. Of course the rain and very dark conditions forced us to shoot at high ISO’s and slow shutter speeds. Because of those conditions, many of us shot video and after a few frustrating minutes trying to figure out how to work our cameras with video, we got some nice footage. An interesting side note was when two golden jackals decided to harass the herd and come near to the newborn wildebeest. It was amazing how the rest of the herd faced off against these small yet mighty predators keeping them at bay and away from the newest member of the herd.

The first birth was over by around 8:00am but before we continued our search for birthing wildebeest we went to look for the injured zebra from the day before with the arterial bleeding ear. We didn’t see the zebra but instead found 5 young lions in the vicinity of where we last saw the zebra so we figured that it had been killed over night by the lions.

gBack on the main road we headed toward the Lerai Forest after hearing that many of the herd was in that direction. The morning turned out to be an incredible morning from this point on as we photographed 7 births in total (a record for any safari) and missed countless of other births that were happening all around us. We would be watching in one direction and behind us, not more than 30 yards off the road, a wildebeest gave birth (of course we missed that one). At one point we had at least six wildebeest in the same area with either hooves sticking out of the back-end or a birth sac, filled with amniotic fluid and yellow in color, with hooves sticking out. We didn’t know where to look or who to follow. It was an incredible dilemma to be in.

To complicate the entire process we had male wildebeest running through the herds, chasing females and young in all directions. From what I remember from my reading, female herbivores after giving birth smell ‘fresh’, meaning that they are giving off pheromones that communicate to a male that they are ready to mate. So the males were just going crazy. But what it created was sheer chaos as females and newborns were separated leaving a few lost babies going from female to female looking for its mother. I think that maybe only one or two babies were left without mothers by the time we left the herds.

We finally took a bathroom break around 11:30am, heading to one of the bathroom facilities in the Crater. We almost ate lunch at this point since it was noon time but we decided to head to the picnic area at the hippo pool at Ngornoknok.

gAnd it was a good thing that we did since one of our best births occurred after the break and before lunch. As we left the Lerai Forest we found one last female with hooves and a ‘yellow balloon’ protruding from her back end. The great thing about it was that she was only 30 yards off of the main road and at our edge of the herd. So we set up for what was going to be our best birth sighting and photo op of the morning. Just as she had both hooves and the head pushed out a lone hyena appeared on the scene, which put the entire herd into alert mode. Naturally most of the mothers and babies moved away from this threat, including our female who was giving birth. For nearly 10 minutes she walked with the herd, and then through the herd, continually looking back to see where the hyena was. You could tell that she was ready to push that baby the rest of the way out just by the way that she was walking toward the end. Finally, she got far enough away from the threat, lay down in the grass about 60 yards out and delivered our final baby of the morning at 12:45pm; very late for a wildebeest birth.

Off we go to lunch but got stopped by first, one of the old bull elephants off to the side grazing. This bull has tusks that nearly reach the ground and curve inward in front so that they are nearly touching at the points. Then we ran in to three more bulls who were heading across the plains toward the marsh. We got some great shots of them from the window as they came near and crossed the road. After leaving our bathroom break at noon we finally got to lunch at 1:45pm. A good morning!

After lunch we headed toward the forest passing by the now sedate herds. In the Lerai Forest we saw several small herds of female and young elephants. This year Lake Malak (or Lake Magadi) has a large number of lesser flamingos and today, as the sun finally broke through the clouds, the concentration of pink was beautiful. We stopped to photograph some zebra in front of the pink mass. A herd of 40 male buffalos then stopped us as we photographed them grazing, fighting and scratching with several dozen cattle egrets mixed within the herd.

It turned out that our goal after the forest was a group of lions that had killed a wildebeest that had originally, as we first heard about it, was being chased from the kill by buffalo. When we arrived at the site there were no buffalos but we found 14 lions scattered around a small pond of water where the male wildebeest kill was in the middle of the water.
Throughout our time there we had several lions come in to feed from the carcass, giving us great reflections as they walked through the water. But one of the more memorable experiences is when one female walked from our side of the pond the entire way around the pond to the back side to try and get a little closer to the kill. She then proceeded to gingerly walk from one grass tussock to the next, trying to avoid the water. Finally she gave up and - walked as if she was on tippee toes, out into the water to feed with other lions on the kill. Several of the lions, as they walked from the shore to the kill, walked as if they really didn’t want to get their feet wet. It was a funny scene and fun to capture as well.

As we left the lions we had one final photo treat in store as we ran into some of the big old bull elephants coming out of the marsh and heading toward Table Hill to graze. What made this so special was the late afternoon light (finally) with the elephants in the lush green grass and subtle blues and grays as the backdrop. It was a special moment and one that made a lasting memory as our last in the Crater. We finished the trip with the group sitting around the campfire, toasting Joe for a safe trip and success with the snow leopards and congratulating each other for such a successful and great trip. Our final cat count was: Lions – 198; Cheetahs – 25; Leopards – 6; Wildcats – 3; and Servals – 2.

NOTE from Mary: Many people say that I am wordy and maybe I am, but there was just way too much to write about during my extra time in Tanzania. I hope you enjoy!

Day 1, February 12, 2016
Ngorongoro Crater

bWhat a difference 24 hours can make with the weather at this time of the year. Where we woke up with rain yesterday, this morning we awoke to clear skies and cold, foggy conditions. Our goal once again today was to try and photograph some more wildebeest births so we began our day by heading to the southeastern corner of the Crater.

We checked out the small herd past the road to the Ngoitoktok Picnic area but nothing was happening with the females so we continued to drive. We saw on our right a mother and calf black rhino who appeared to be heading toward one of the other roads that goes into the middle of the Crater. We headed to that road hoping that they would walk and cross the road. We were the only vehicle at this point and it would have been good. But they stopped in the middle of the two roads, the baby, which was around 1 ½ years old, began to nurse. Since the baby was so big, it lay down on its belly to nurse from the mother. They never did come to the road so we headed more in to the center of the Crater where we had heard of another rhino sighting. That rhino was even further from the road so back to the main loop road we went and headed toward the Lerai Forest and the mixed herds there.

Once again the wildebeest did not disappoint us. As we approached the first big herd of gnus, we saw one other vehicle parked by the side of the road with cameras pointed in to the herd. It was 8:15am and one baby had already been born on our right. Our female in labor was lying on her side, pushing hard, on our left. The light was muted but it was still a very good spot and by 8:35am we had our first photo op of a baby being born. This baby was barely on the ground when Angelbert said that there was another one pushing hard just ahead so we raced another 70 yards and photographed our second birth with the baby arriving by 8:39am. Over the past two days, we timed babies standing as quickly as 3 minutes. This baby followed more the routine of what we had experienced in the past, having some difficulty finding its legs and taking probably close to 10 minutes before it was standing with any confidence. But stand it did and we got some nice shots.

lOn this second day we missed some births as there were several going on at once. But after two days of observations, you knew what to look for: a canter-levered tail, small white hooves sticking out from the back end of a female underneath her tail and more obvious, yet a good sign, was the female lying down and pushing. Several things make the Crater one of the best places to photograph wildebeest giving birth: their close proximity to the road, their habituation to vehicles, the short grasses and their tendency to not be moving during the birthing time. With all of this said, we had a great morning!

Our third birth was a bet between Angelbert and myself. We had two females, one with a sac and feet sticking out and another with just a fluid-filled sac. I said that the one with the feet showing would go first and that ended up to be our third birth and what a birth it was. This one ended up to be around 30 meters from the road in great light. We had a perfect angle, could shoot out of the windows and captured some incredible shots of the baby as it lay on the ground and then tried to stand for the first time. The images of it searching for the mother’s teat and standing on all four legs, full frame and looking at the cameras, was priceless. Needless to say we were ecstatic. This birth occurred at 9:20am.

The fourth birth that wasn’t was the female that Angelbert had predicted would go first. This birth started out as going to be one of the best births yet; it was only 10 meters off of the road, in low grass and good light. She had the front feet out and we could see the muzzle and tongue of the baby when all chaos broke loose. There were wildebeest running toward us, and her, from back down the road and of course this caused the female to stand up and look back nervously. That is when we saw a lone hyena, the same one that has been lurking around the herd since yesterday, chasing a baby wildebeest. As the pregnant female took off with the rest of the herd, we focused our attention on the scene playing out behind us and then beside us for the hyena chased the baby right past our vehicle. As the hyena was about to grab the baby the mother, following closely behind, butted the hyena just enough to throw it off its stride and with a quick turn, the baby got away and kept on running. It ran back a good 200 meters, turned and ran again toward us on the other side of the road. The mother at this point had stopped. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it thought that the baby was doomed. But that little thing ran faster and longer than the hyena and after another big turn in the grass, it outran the hyena and caught up with its mother and survived. The total chase time was probably 15-20 seconds and the distance covered in total was a good ¼ mile or more. That baby literally ran for its life and survived. When we finally turned around again to look for the pregnant female, she had moved far away from the road. At that point we decided to head for a bathroom break.

Before getting to the rest area we encountered the group of vervet monkeys that normally hang around the picnic sight. This group had several babies and one female, with a nursing baby, was sitting on a fallen tree giving us some beautiful images. As she walked toward some acacia bushes we realized that other females were in these bushes feeding with their babies climbing through the branches as the females ate acacia thorns. We got some great images of babies on their own, moms carrying and nursing babies and feeding shots.

After the break we drove through the Lerai Forest, didn’t see anything and turned around to head back the way that we had come. I don’t know how we missed it but we saw a female lion lying on a fallen tree about 150 yards off of the road. It was not a shot after what we had photographed of lions in the trees in Ndutu. As we passed the Lerai Picnic area a troop of at least 100 baboons was walking in single file out of the bushes from behind the toilets, down the track and in to the grasses on the other side of the road. We thought that it looked like a line of army, or safari, ants walking in single file.

As we got to the area of the nursery herds we saw a few vehicles pulled off to the side of the road and we figured that another female was giving birth. Our fourth successful birth ended up to be one of the all-time best births. This one was once again about 30 meters from the road, in very low grass and wide open. The light was a little contrasty but still the experience was phenomenal. I decided to video this one and you can see some of the results for yourself. This birth happened at approx. 11:48am. As we left this final photographical birth, we passed yet another female giving birth but there were already too many vehicles in line and with the lighting situation, and after our last experience, we passed this one by.

Earlier in the morning we had passed a female lioness along the road near to the culvert and small bridge area. Now as we headed to lunch we saw lions off to the right of the side road with two females and a gorgeous black-maned lion separated from the others. The females were walking toward the main loop road so we waited for them at the spot where we had seen the single one this morning. We figured that the male would follow and he ldid giving us some great vertical shots as he walked toward us. The females, instead of crossing the road, went underneath the road through the culvert and emerged on the other side. The big male went in to the culvert and stayed there. Earlier this morning as well, when we were photographing some of the births, we had heard and then saw a big male lion on the side of the Crater coming down toward the small lake at the edge of the Crater. According to Angelbert, there are two males with this pride and the one we photographed was probably the brother of the one we saw from a distance. In total we saw 8 lions with this group (later we added another cub).

As we went down the road to the picnic area we found five additional lions lying right beside the road and underneath the only bush in that entire vicinity. This brought out total to 15 lions prior to lunch. After lunch, and with storms brewing all around us, we headed through the middle of the Crater toward the hippo pool. There were no hippos at the pool and we figured that will all of the rain they were scattered throughout the marsh area. As we left the hippo pool and headed along the lake shore we saw an additional five lions. This gave us sighting of four of the five prides in the Crater with only the Munge River pride missing. As we turned the corner and headed toward Round Table Hill a good thunderstorm was forming. We photographed some zebras fighting but then never made it to the hill as we turned and tried to outrun the storm. We didn’t completely outrun the storm but only had wind and rain from this point through the Lerai Forest.

After our last bathroom break we opened up the top of the vehicle once again and continued on our afternoon game drive. As we went passed the lions, the male and females had moved out in to the open plains leaving three cubs behind off the side of the road. In seeing this additional cub, that gave us 21 lions for the day. As we drove through the middle of the Crater on the way to the Munge River we saw a few more rhinos giving us a total of 13 rhinos for the day. None of them were photographable but it was good to see that many, including three sets of mothers and young. We never did see any lions along the River and ended the day with some male buffalos wallowing in the mud. Our highlights for the day were the great birthing sequences, the vervet monkeys and for David it was seeing that many rhinos. After hot showers we sat around the campfire with drinks and snacks and we came back to our tents under a starry night sky. Tomorrow it is back to the Serengeti and more wildlife adventures.

Day 2, February 13, 2016
Crater to Ndutu

Even though I heard thunder in the middle of the night we had no rain at the Crater so we woke up to a star-filled sky and rather chilly temperatures. We headed down in to the Crater a little later than normal since we were loading up to changed camps and locations. As we were almost to the bottom of the Crater we finally found of the lionesses from the Mungi River pride (this gave us all five prides known in the Crater). She was at the side of the hill where there is a marram pit on top and where we have seen lions many times before. We know from a year ago October, and from Angelbert l
more recently, that there are four big male lions with this pride. But this older female was with two young males of around 4 – 4 ½ years of age. One male was probably a little older based on the amount and color of the mane but not by much. The female went to the first male and mated with him. Then she came down to the second male closer to the road and mated with him. To me it was a display of pair bonding, as if these two males have just come in to the area and are taking over the pride territory. This almost seems unlikely since I can’t imagine all four of the older males disappearing at once but with the number of Maasai surrounding the Crater now, anything is possible. Anyway, these weren’t serious matings and it only happened once with one male and twice with the other. If the four resident males are still alive and they come back in to the Crater and to their territory, I believe there will be a pretty big battle similar to the one we missed two years ago (that we missed by one day).

We left the lions and headed toward the Mungi River to see if we could see any other lions and seeing nothing we headed in to the middle of the Crater toward the Hippo Pool. We stopped to check out two rhinos to our right when I spotted a honey badger trotting along in the grasses about 170 yards to our left. We have seen honey badgers in the past but only running away from us or darting in to their burrows. This one didn’t come close to the road but we were able to watch it hunting and that was a new behavior for us. It got in to some higher grass at a termite mound and began to pounce on prey. Now it wouldn’t leap up but would stand on its hind legs and then come down with its front ones. I have no idea what it was going for but I guess it would have been some kind of rodent. It was fun to watch.

As we were watching this behavior and pair of young bull elephants walked across the Crater floor toward us. With the cold morning, clear skies and rains of yesterday, there was fog throughout the bottom lands. The elephants walked right toward us with morning light hitting one side, soft green grasses and a foggy background. It was really pretty. As the elephants neared the two rhinos that we had seen earlier (and who had lay down), the one got up and charged the pair. The elephants ran from the rhino and then gave way as they walked around the other sitting rhino.

We decided to head across the Crater and along the lake toward the corner with all of the wildebeest herds. Along the way we found another male rhino lying about 130 yards in the open. We waited until it stood up and with the morning light hitting it, the green grass all around it, the grey lake lined with pink and the bluish gray hillside of the Crater, the image was stunning. Behind us and looking in to the sun we were able to capture the silhouette of a zebra with the glowing backlit grasses and foggy surroundings. It was a great stop.

We arrived at the birthing area a little later today, not hurrying since we had done so well yesterday. We got there around 9:00am. We had missed one or two births judging on the wet babies who were trying to walk for the first time. At 9:15am we watched our first birth of the day but this one was at least 100 yards or more off the road so as I said, we just watched. We drove slowly through the animals but saw nothing happening so we decided to take a bathroom break. Before the turn off into the Lerai Picnic area there was a flooded spot near to the road and we stopped there today for some bird photography. We got reflection shots of my favorite duck, the Hottentot teal, as well as two black crakes. We also got some nice images of white-browed coucals sunning themselves in a bush right beside the road and at eye level. I love to talk to these birds and true to form, when I called the one on the branch beside us answered back.

After a quick break we once again headed back to the herds and this time found a female with the yellow balloon-sac and feet showing out the backside. At first she lay down about 30 yards from the road but got up at one point and walked back another 20 yards. But she lay back down in a clear spot and we were able to photograph another birthing sequence. We hit it perfectly this year with the wildebeest giving birth and as we left there were still at least 30-40% of them still to deliver. We felt happy and satisfied with our extra days in the Crater and with a little less haze today, we had a beautiful drive up and out of the park.

After gas at the station on top we headed toward the Serengeti. We ran into several herds of giraffes, as usual, in the whistling acacia forest and also saw a small herd of wildebeest in the hills. On the flats near to Oldupai Gorge was a huge herd of wildebeest with some zebra mixed in. And as we entered the Serengeti Plains after crossing the river bed flowing from Ndutu to Oldupai we ran into massive numbers of wildebeest. But it was interesting to note that we saw very few babies in all of these herds. I would say that maybe 10-20% of the females had given birth so there are many, many pregnant females grazing on the short grasses. As we took the turn off of the main road and headed toward Ndutu, I looked back toward the Gol Mountains and with less haze today, I could see Nasera Rock. With Naabi Hill to our right, Matiti to our left and the Ngorongoro Highlands behind us, we headed west toward Ndutu. We had already eaten lunch on the way but since it was so hot, we decided to check in to camp early. Once again David and I are the only ones at camp so for the next four days, we have a private camp in the Serengeti. Not bad!

This afternoon we left at 4:30pm since it was so hot and sunny. The storm clouds that were building up as we came toward the Serengeti dissipated so it was a beautiful afternoon. We started out heading in to the marsh and saw the same male lion and four females that we photographed, with reflections, on the main safari. They were sleeping and very hot so we passed them by. We continued out of the forest and onto the plains. We drove up along the drainage system that comes in from the Kusini direction and ran in to a vehicle that had seen a cheetah walking. We found a place to cross the lugga but never saw the cheetah so we crossed back and headed toward the Makao area.

We saw vehicles in the distance and when we came up to them, they were waiting on a female cheetah that supposedly had very small cubs in the tall grasses in the open plains. We decided that it was worth waiting for and Angelbert actually knew one of the Tanzanians who was in another vehicle. He said that this female had small cubs and showed up images of her carrying small cubs 10 days ago as she was moving them. We decided to wait as long as we could to see if she would get up and lead us to the cubs. We eventually drove close to her to see if she was indeed a nursing female and she was. She was also very full and we learned that both she, and another cheetah, had both made a kill nearby on the plains earlier today. We didn’t see any cubs so we have decided to head back there first thing tomorrow morning. We got in to camp around 7:00pm and after a nice hot shower, and sitting around the campfire under the stars, we had a great meal in our private camp and its now bed time since a 5:30am breakfast means a very early wake up call.

Day 3, February 14, 2016

There was no rain overnight so we woke up to a clear and bright starry night. After breakfast we decided to drive through the marsh just to see what was happening since last night we heard lions roaring both toward the marsh and behind us on the plains. With the clear skies, and the rain from before, we had a very foggy morning so driving through the mudflats was a little tricky and we didn’t see much. As we exited the valley, so to speak, and went across the edge of the forest toward where we had left the cheetah, we encountered beautiful foggy scenes. We just couldn’t pass some of the silhouetted trees with the fog and growing light so we stopped several times to take some photos.

When we got to the cheetah the guy from before was already there. He had found the cheetah away from where we had left her last night. After maybe 10 minutes or so, she got up and started to walk slowly away from us. It was just our two vehicles and we stayed far enough away, figuring that she would take us to the cubs. At one point she stopped, sniffed and did a flehmen act and when we went to talk about that, taking our eyes off of her just for a second, she disappeared. After waiting for a few minutes, our two vehicles slowly approached where we had last seen her disappear in to the grass. We decided to drive slowly toward her and found her nursing two of the smallest cubs we have ever seen. When I say small, I mean maybe 12 inches in length, almost entirely a silver color with black beginning to show on their bottom where the spots were so tightly packed that they looked totally black. Their eyes were barely open so if cheetah cubs open their eyes at 10 days like other cats, we were looking at cubs that were maybe 12-14 days old at the most. Unbelievable!

It ended up that only one other vehicle came around this time. And as it turned out we had one of the best windows into her nursing and licking and grooming them. At one point the guy from the other vehicle crawled in to our vehicle and shot from the front seat position. Just a quick note about our fellow photographer; according to Angelbert, he is Swiss, his family owns one of the biggest coffee plantations at the edge of Arusha, his father started the Friends of the Serengeti and they have donated thousands of dollars to supplying the park rangers with housing facilities, vehicles and more. So when he said that he had spent 40 years in the bush and the other week was the first that he had seen a cheetah carrying this small of a cub, we knew that what we were photographing was special.

And special it was since the mother fed and groomed them for at least a half hour. She then went out and sat in the open grass calling them by softly chirping and then chirring to try and get them out of the taller grass. Of course they were too small, could barely see at that and they weren’t that coordinated with walking or crawling. They would sit or move around in their little hole in the grass, chirping and calling for mom while she chirped and chirred back. It was amazing.

At one point she came in after they had been calling and the morning was slowly progressing, licked them both and then picked up the one cub in her mouth and carried it about 45 yards away and into another clump of tall grass with a bush. The one left behind would chirp for her and we thought for the life of us that she would come back and move this one as well. But she never did. We moved off to the side to get another angle with better light if she did move the cub but instead she kept them separated and would go and lie in between the two cubs periodically calling and chirring to their chirps. But she never went to where either cub was hidden and when she did get up and move, she did it furtively so that no other predator would see her movement.

The cub that she never moved wandered around a little in the grasses where she had left it. Eventually it crawled into the higher grasses and out of the sun. Until this point, and we are talking to about 1130, it was relatively exposed in the grasses so that if an eagle would have flown over, it would have seen it and taken it. Luckily that never happened.

During our wait with the cheetahs we saw large herds of wildebeest moving from Hidden Valley and Kusini areas south and east toward Matiti and Makao. At one point a herd grazed within about 100 yards of the cheetahs. But there were tons of vehicles around these cats all day so eventually the vehicles spooked the herd away from the cheetahs. As the morning progressed we saw vehicles circling other cheetahs (two in total) and we heard about a shy leopard in the forest and the lions that we had heard last night. But we stayed for most of the day, helping to guard the lone cheetah cub (the mother ended up finding some shade close to the cub she had carried) and hoping that the mother would go to one of the cubs and reunite them. We eventually took a quick break, leaving at 1:30pm, and headed back to camp for a quick lunch and then back out. We were back on the scene by 2:50pm.

cThroughout the day the cubs would chirp at different times. She basically ignored their calls only looking up once or twice. But as the day wore down, and the light began to drop, the cubs became more vociferous in their calls. This was about 6:15pm or so. She sat up from her sleeping spot, slunk through the grass toward the one bush, stopping to scan the surroundings before moving. She sniffed at the bush but we knew that the cub she had carried (#1) was not at the bush. Just about that time the cub she didn’t move (cub #2) began to call. She started over to check that one out and then lay in the middle of the two just like she had earlier in the day. Around 6:50pm she went close to #2 and chirred and called softly to it. She went close to its position, sniffed and flehmed but never went to the cub. Then #1 began to chirp loudly and she went back to it, coming very close to the cub but still never going directly to it. By this time there were only us and another vehicle left.

As we totally lost light at 7:00pm we left. That made 11 hours that she kept the cubs separated and did not nurse or go to them. She was very fat last night from a kill yesterday but did not eat today. So she has got to hunt tomorrow. We hypothesized all day on why she kept the two cubs separated. She must have already lost at least 2 cubs so maybe her method of defense is to keep them separated in case a predator finds them. That way only one would be killed and not two. It’s a good guess but it is something we will have to try and find out the answer. As we left the mudflats below camp, we found a lioness lying in the open. On the track up to camp a wildcat crossed the road in front of us. Since it was nearly 7:30pm we decided to eat dinner directly and then take showers, download and write the journal. We didn’t get to enjoy the campfire or the beautiful evening but what a great morning we had. David’s patience was wonderful. Angelbert was great as usual. And our luck, or karma, continues as we experienced the smallest cubs that I have ever seen and got some incredible images for our experience.

Day 4, February 15, 2016
Ndutu to Makao

Oh my goodness, how do I begin? A little piece of heaven! Incredible! Humbling! Awe inspiring! One of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World! Inspirational! A quiet, peaceful and private paradise! All of these phrases and words describe our adventure today but let me start from the beginning.

We left camp at 5:45am to get to the cheetah and baby area early. We arrived on the open plains before sunrise and stopped short of where we thought we would find her so that we didn’t inadvertently run over her or the cubs. We were joined before sunrise by our fellow Swiss/Tanzanian photographer friend and we began to search for the cheetah. We found her at the same high grasses that we left her last night with both cubs.

cAs the sun rose we photographed her nursing and then grooming both cubs. Unfortunately, today we were joined shortly by at least 5 other vehicles so the experience wasn’t nearly as special. But our two vehicles had the best spot for filming. As the sun was rising she picked up the first cub. She only carried it a few feet and then brought it back to the same spot as more vehicles arrived. So we got her with Cub #1 in her mouth when the light was very low. After putting this cub back and licking both cubs another time, she once again picked up a cub in her mouth. At first she picked it up with her teeth and just a piece of the neck skin and then she picked it up with a full mouth hold. I’ll call this one Cub #1 once again. She began to carry it out of the tall grasses. The vehicles stayed put, luckily, as she moved this one. But she stopped and several vehicles moved for a better angle and light. She moved #1 nearly 150 meters, at least, stopping once in the move to call the other cub, before moving this one to the final destination. And this spot wasn’t exactly ideal.


As she put down #1 she would turn and chirp loudly calling for, or to, #2. We never heard this cub respond to her. She finally put #1 in just a tall bunch of grasses and walked back toward #1. She went half way first and returned to #2 and moved it into taller grasses. Then she once again walked the entire way back to where #1 was still in the high bushes/grasses. But she never picked it up and moved it. It was if she was checking on it, chirring or talking to it, and then left it like yesterday separated from #1. She walked back to near #2 after about 5 minutes in the vicinity of Cub #1. After witnessing this morning’s activities, I think that the cubs are only 12-13 days old judging on the knowledge that their eyes open at 10 days old. Because when she was only 10 feet from #2, it was chirping and calling like crazy, not seeing the mom nearby. And when the mom came to the cub and approached it, it was if the cub could see this large thing looming near it, and then heard her, that it quickly ambled or walked clumsily toward her. At this point she carried it into the taller grasses maybe another 10 feet, deposited it and then walked out into a clearing near to Cub #1 but in between the two cubs. At this point it was 7:40am and we figured that the activity was done for the day, based on yesterday, and with at least 10 vehicles around, we bid the female cheetah and her cubs farewell and best wishes.

Our goal for today, after checking on the female, was to head toward the Makao region of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) where we had a good report of wild dogs. In the past we have only made it to close to the Matiti area due to either rains and muddy roads or no herds. Today was a perfect day to explore since we haven’t had any rain for nearly 3 days now and the roads were drying up. While we were still riding alongside of the forest, we came across a group of wildebeest heading in to the woods to feed for the day. There were some females with babies and some pregnant ones. To show you how blasé we were about wildebeest births we actually had a female run past in front of us with the hooves sticking out of the back and we just let her go on by and didn’t follow her. How spoiled one can get after the Crater!

As we turned away from the Ndutu Forest area and headed southeast we began to encounter the herds. I have seen the migration in the past, I have been in an area where in looking 360° all you see are animals but I have never experienced the migration like we did today. It was unbelievable! Between the massive herds of wildebeest (and we are talking about at least a million animals in total throughout the day), herds of Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles, some zebra thrown in for good measure and large herds of eland, the numbers and concentrations of animals was staggering. Every rise, every turn, every way you looked, there were animals from horizon to horizon and from near to far. I hate to sound like a cliché but we really did see Nature in all of its glory, with Life and Death in close proximity. On one side of us we passed by dark and wet newborn wildebeest still struggling to stand while on the other side we passed by dry, bleached bones of old kills and carcasses. At least twice we came upon a female unexpectedly giving birth that with our approach, she stood up and broke the umbilical cord of the newborn. We quickly diverted so that the female would come back to the newborn, after running for a few meters, to lick and encourage the young to stand. And come back she did so that they bonded with smell and sound, ensuring the newborns chances of survival.


While driving across the plains we stopped many times to photograph the herds. Capturing a zebra, for contrast, in front of the wildebeest or a splash of brown from a herd of gazelles or elands, helped to give the image a sense of place and balance. On one of these stops I noticed some movement in the grasses ahead; it was a pair of honey badgers moving through the grass. As we quickly approached we realized that it wasn’t just two animals but a pair of adults with a half-grown young in tow. The baby couldn’t run as fast as the adults and would trot along at a constant speed and this provided several opportunities for us to get closer to capture some images of the trio.

mThe area the Angelbert took us today was an area where Joe or I had never been. We are talking about the area south of the Ngorongoro Highlands, south of Oldupai, just west of Laetoli and north of Makao. This area is known as the Makao Plains but it wasn’t flat, at all, like I would think of plains. Instead there were hidden valleys and waterholes. At one point we came across the top of a small plateau and looked down into a forest and dry wash area that was absolutely beautiful. The entire area was a basin, or valley, and it was full of animals. We had already come across the open plains with thousands of animals and here was a hidden area teeming with wildlife. We searched and searched for the wild dogs and didn’t actually take a picture but you know what? That was just OK with us because we ended up calling this entire area our Paradise Valley. For over four hours we only encountered one vehicle and that was a brief passing as they were doing our loop in reverse. Most of the time we were by ourselves, driving through an unparalleled splendor; a sight that 95% of the tourists who visit the Serengeti never see. We were on our own private safari in our own private game park. It was amazing!

cAs we turned back north and west I made the comment how few predators we had seen throughout our morning sojourn. Remember that where we are right now is in the heart of Maasai country and when the herds aren’t there, the Maasai are grazing their herds in the same area. We found evidence of countless abandoned bomas throughout the morning. In speaking with Angelbert, and from talking with the cheetah researcher in the Gol Kopjes, we know that the Maasai are poisoning cheetahs and lions in the NCA, and probably hyenas and vultures in the process, and if they aren’t killing them they are forcing them out of old haunts by their very presence. In seeing the richness of the wildlife in this area at this time of the year, and the lack of predators, it is disheartening and I don’t know the solution at this time. Luckily things would turn for the better.

We stopped for lunch under the only shade in the entire southern plains. This tree was near a series of waterholes formed by the rains flowing in to a huge drainage area. There must have been at least 5-6 large lakes, or ponds, surrounded by marshy areas where the herds were drinking. Another Hidden Valley for sure without the hillsides to look down into the watering places. As we were loading up the vehicle we noticed a lone hyena chasing a wildebeest baby. We quickly jumped in the car to follow. The hyena chased the baby for at least 15-20 seconds and at one point the baby fell behind the mother. The hyena was closing in when the baby made a turn to get away. At that point another wildebeest charged the hyena slowing it down. The mother came back and charged the hyena again, catching up with her lost baby. The hyena began the chase again and another wildebeest came in to act as interference. Finally, the hyena gave up as the mother and baby made an escape through the herds. What a way to get the juices flowing after a leisurely lunch!

As we continued through the herds we came across a single cheetah that was rather shy. We stayed clear of it so as not to spook it and then watched from a distance as a line of wildebeest passed very close to its hiding place. At the end of the line was a yearling and we thought for sure that the cheetah would go for it, but it didn’t. We never checked the sex of the cheetah and we didn’t know if it was full or not but either way, we continued on.

As we got closer to Matiti we saw a male Thompson’s Gazelle ahead of us. I then spotted two cheetahs nearby and as we pulled to a stop about 150 yards from the gazelle, one of the cheetah took off in a chase after the gazelle. I was able to get my gear up to follow the action. I just reviewed my images so I must explain the characters in the chase. The two cheetahs turned out to be a mother and full grown female cub. Here is what happened over the next 20 seconds.

cMother cheetah took off after the gazelle. As the gazelle made a turn, the cheetah reached out and either clipped the gazelle or the gazelle tripped, as often happens. But the cheetah missed the catch using her dewclaw. Then the chase went into full out stride. As the mother was chasing the gazelle, the female cub appeared into the frame. As the gazelle made a quick turn to the left, the mother overran the gazelle and looked like it would have missed it at that point since you can see her almost pulling up in her stride. But at this point the female cub had engaged and was in full chase mode. The cub was the one that eventually made the snag and tripped up the gazelle, flipping it as it finally brought it down for the throat hold. At that point the mother was right in the middle of the action as well so no matter what, the gazelle would not have escaped. The baby did the kill/throat hold and as the cub had the death hold, the mother picked it up by the hind quarters and together they carried it into the higher grass. What a chase! We stayed with them while they ate until they had satiated themselves. We were very happy for their success since they both looked hungry and no hyenas or vultures saw the kill.

As we left these two cheetahs we saw a bunch of vehicles circling something and we figured that it was another cheetah. We were very far away from the mother with two small cubs so we decided to go and check it out. We saw a single cheetah out from the vehicles with around 3 gazelles within about 100 yards or so from it. As we pulled in to position at the end of the line, didn’t that cheetah take off on the chase. We didn’t even have time to pull up our gear to shoot. The cheetah didn’t catch anything and pulled up by a bush. At that point we noticed that it was holding up its left front paw so we didn’t know if it had hurt itself in a hole during the chase or had stepped on to a thorn. As it turned to walk to the bush, it limped just a little, but not much, and then I did see it chewing its paw afterwards so we figured that it had stepped on a thorn.


We were just pulling away when we saw two other cheetahs approaching the bush and the first cheetah. At first I thought that maybe the first one had been a mother cheetah and that these were her two grown cubs coming in after the chase. But then I thought about the last chase when the grown cub had participated. As the two cheetahs got closer we saw that one was definitely larger than the other so then we thought that this was a mother cheetah and a cub coming in and that she had let a second cub attempt the chase. We were wrong on both counts!

As the two cheetahs circled the bush, the first cheetah began to chirp loudly as the pair approached it. It just sat there, chirping and sitting, not running away yet not going close to the two. We could see that the larger of the two was a female so we thought that maybe this was two female cheetahs meeting up and that the first one who had made the chase was talking to the second one, trying to identify itself as either the mother or sibling. But it chirped and chirred as the second female sniffed and circled it. The cub came in then and the first cheetah did the same thing. The second female went and lay down a little distance to its right and as the cub came in to smell a little closer, the first cheetah did some low growls at it. As this first cheetah got up and started to smell where the second cheetah had just been, I got to thinking that maybe this was a female cheetah and her cub and that that first cheetah was a male. And that is what was going on.

The first cheetah was a male and it appears that the female and cub came in to the bush, after watching the male make the chase, thinking that it had made a kill. We had heard about male cheetahs stealing kills from females but here was a female who was going to steal the kill from a male. We think it was because there were two of them that gave her the confidence. After she went and lay down, the cub kept doing small, mock charges at the male cheetah. It turned out that the cub was also a male so this was very interesting behavior. The male stopped chirping at the female after she initially went and lay down. The male would sit up to face it, would chirp and then growl at the cub as it charged at it. At point the mother came back to defend the cub, or at least stand up with it and the male chirped at her in reassurance. We saw the male sniff and do flehmen at least once and the female sniffed several times. The cub, in between charges, would flop and roll in front of the male. Eventually the cub went and greeted his mom, which was lying about 20 yards off at this point, and they lay down together. Quick note, the male cub was only about a year old so the female was not even close to being ready to breed again but the male cheetah was just making sure before things quieted down. We didn’t go to it but we did hear while with these three that there was a pair of mating cheetah. In fact, it seems that there were three brothers and a female. We decided to head on our own, in our own direction and course, and to stay away from the ruckus of the other vehicles.

We headed into the forest close to Matiti and drove toward Lake Masek. We came across a huge herd of eland with many babies, giraffe and a newborn Grant’s Gazelle with its mother. The baby was dry but could still barely stand. We headed in to Lake Masek Lodge to pick up a package that the office sent from home. We needed our wireless boosters for doing internet work at some of the lodges and I was surprised when I learned that Berni had sent it to Tanzania instead of India. Unique Safaris thought that I could use it out here but I don’t even have internet at camp. They sent it with the supply vehicle and they left it at Naabi Hill at the drop off point. Another Unique guide had picked it up and we were retrieving it from him at the lodge. We then drove past the lions in the tree area and found one cub up a tree with others in the flat areas between the two lakes.

Our final destination for day was the ranger post at Ndutu. We have decided to go to the Gol Kopjes tomorrow and we needed to buy our $10 permit. While Angelbert was in the post, David and I photographed the closest Fischer’s lovebirds ever as they were roosting and nesting in a dead tree limb right in the middle of the parking lot. We got back to camp around 6:40pm for once in good light. We had both enjoyed the day so much that we met by the campfire to drink some Scotch, to enjoy the end of the day and to toast our great success. One more full day in the bush! The generator is already off. I have been writing for an hour. There is just way too much to share!


Day 5, February 16, 2016
Gol Kopjes and Hidden Valley

gIt is bittersweet that I write my last trip report from the African bush. My safari extension is nearly over and tomorrow morning I head back to civilization. But enough waxing on the inevitable, let’s talk about today. We left camp before 6:00am with the Gol Kopjes as our morning destination. We greeted sunrise over the African savannah at 6:50am midway between Naabi Hill and the first of the Gol Kopjes. After passing the Devil Tree I searched for either aardwolf or caracal in places where we have encountered them before but we didn’t see them on this morning. I looked for the barn owl in the crack in the kopje rock but once again, no animal sighting. So onward we drove.

Our first objective for the morning was to head to the southernmost Gol Kopje area where we had the lion kill and the mother carrying the cub on the main safari. Yesterday another Unique guide had seen the lioness with the collar in the bushes at the same kopje where we had the male lion killed with at least two, of not three, cubs. Because they were so well hidden and they could only see motion and colors, they couldn’t count the number of cubs. So we headed there this morning first thing to try and find her to see how many cubs actually survived the lion ordeal from the first trip. Remember that we had seen this same female carrying one cub quickly away from this kopje and three males in their prime and away from the male lion that had been killed supposedly by these three males.

On the way as we passed by the kopje where we had seen and photographed a wildcat on the main safari we discovered a cheetah halfway up on the kopje amongst the tall grasses. The lighting on this cat was exquisite with a band of light hitting the face and surrounding area with a muted light. We were sure that the cat had spent the night here but we didn’t know whether it was a female or a male. It seemed very wary while sitting in the grass and surveying the plains in front of it as the winds were very strong this morning and hearing anything was an issue. We left the cheetah before it hunted and before we learned the sex.

Unfortunately, we didn’t see she or the cubs on this morning but we have to be satisfied that more than the one cub that we saw her carrying has survived another 12 days. What we didn’t find was any evidence of the young male that had been killed, supposedly, by the three big male lions. There wasn’t a bone or a piece of hide left in the spot where we photographed numerous vultures and eagles feeding on the carcass. In seeing a number of hyenas in the area we can only surmise that hyenas came in and ripped the carcass apart and carried the bones to various den sites. We did look for a lion skull on the plains surrounding this kopje but no evidence was found and this perpetuated a very interesting discussion on paleologists and their discovery of bones in one site (like a hyena den) in the future and their trying to figure out if the bones are from one species or another. In the past we were convinced that they would have come up with a new species of animal if bones from a lion, zebra and gnu would have been found at one place. But with today’s computer analysis and DNA coding, we were sure that they would have realized that the bones were from different species and come up with an incomplete skeleton of several different animals.

After we left this area of the kopjes we headed northeast toward the next set of kopjes. As we went by one of the main kopjes in the area where a huge fig tree is growing, and where there is usually water, we found a second cheetah. This cat looked lean and hungry and was definitely hunting. It turned out to be a male cheetah and instead of it stalking, it just walked with a purpose toward and through different gazelle herds trying to kick up a hidden baby. As we were following the cat from a distance we saw yet another honey badger. This year has been the Year of the Badger with more sightings, and photographs, than any previous year.

We tried to stay to the side and ahead of the hunting cheetah hoping to capture another chase and kill. As the cheetah seemed to be approaching one of the kopjes where we have had a field meal in the past, we inadvertently kicked up a young Thompson’s gazelle. The baby ran about 10 yards and was joined by the mother. Immediately I thought ‘Uh oh’ and yes, the cheetah from a quarter of a mile away saw this baby pop up out of the grasses and run to its mother. The male cheetah began to immediately trot and then run toward our position. As the mother saw the cheetah running fast from a distance, it too took off with the baby in tow. The male cheetah crossed the distance within seconds and very quickly caught up with the baby and took it down. I felt terrible that we had caused the death of this baby but then again, in all honesty, I am always for the predator knowing how hard it is to catch a meal. And today, as we drove from Ndutu Forest and throughout the Gol Kopje area, we must have seen between 5,000 to 10,000 Thompson’s and Grant’s gazelles. Joe wrote a magazine article several years back entitled ‘Fast Food of the Plains’ and in seeing the numbers today, I believe it.

We continued our search through the kopjes heading to the northern ones to finish our search. Since we hadn’t seen any lions up until this point we were hoping to see some of the ones from the northern pride. We weren’t disappointed as we found the two big black-maned lions with two females up on top of one of the kopjes. They were incredibly full and with zebras in the area we figured that they must have killed one of them earlier. The one lioness came down off of the rock heading toward a kopje with a water source so we went ahead of her to hopefully get a reflection shot of her drinking but she found some water in a tire track, drank there and then just proceeded to our kopje to lie down. After a nice tea and coffee break we headed out of the Gol Kopjes for the last time this season.

zWe ate lunch at Naabi Hill before heading to our next destination, Hidden Valley. We had heard that some zebras were there and we were hoping to get some action at the water ponds in the valley. Once again we weren’t disappointed. When the valley was still out of sight I thought that I picked up dust in the air. The dust in the air was from between 20,000-30,000 zebra in the area of Hidden Valley, both on the plains surrounding it and in the valley itself. With no rain for the past few days it was dusty but the concentration of animals was impressive. We went to the first of the big pools where we could have an elevated view and photographed the zebras coming in to drink, crossing the water and running and fighting in the water and on the shores.
We didn’t get that good of reflections but we had pattern shots, good IR shots and good action. We went down to the lake shore after a while and photographed from ground level and that was nice as well. Besides the zebra there were a few wildebeest mixed in but there were also hundreds of storks (yellow-billed, Abdim’s and European), gull-billed terns, cattle egrets and different shorebirds. Hidden Valley was a huge success and once again we were the only vehicle there to enjoy and absorb it all in.

For the last part of the day we headed toward Ndutu to search for cheetahs. We were hoping to find the mother cheetah one more time but we never saw her or any other cheetahs. We saw vehicles in the distance and we heard that they had a cheetah but we didn’t go down to check. We saw a semicircle of vehicles and we thought that they might have the cheetah since it was in the correct area but in investigating, we found they had a serval. We headed down toward the Lake Ndutu to try and find some bat-eared fox and we found some very lazy ones. At this point we were tired and dirty and were ready to head back to camp. We had already been on the road for over 12 hours so it was time for a hot shower and to get things packed up for the next day. Another campfire and a good dinner of lasagna, our favorite, and we were off to bed one last time in the African bush.

Day 6, February 17, 2016

We thought for our last morning we would check out the marsh and surrounding areas in the light so we had a late breakfast, 6:00am, packed up the vehicle one last time and headed out on a final game drive. We went through the marsh, checked on the bat-eared fox there, saw no lions and headed out onto the plains for one last search for the cheetah mother. After about an hour of driving we saw vehicles near to the edge of the woods. They had a few hyenas but more importantly, there was a lost gnu baby that was hanging out with the vehicles. The hyenas had not seen it yet and I think everybody was waiting to see a chase and kill. And in all honesty, that would be the quicker and better death for the baby than to starve to death. We didn’t wait around because we saw another vehicle out on the plains where we had just been following a walking cheetah. We went to check it out.

It turned out to be our mother cheetah. She was very fat and looking healthy. She must have made a kill earlier that morning and had a nice feast. We were happy to see that since we were always worried that with all of the vehicles around, she wouldn’t be able to make a kill. Plus, we didn’t see many prey items around so we knew that she would have to travel some distance to find food. When she was walking I thought that I saw her nipples with nursing rings around them but I couldn’t be sure since a cheetah’s belly hairs flair when they are nursing, making it hard to see the teats. She went in to the higher grass about 5 feet and lay down. There were already 4 other vehicles there and we all approached slowly. I didn’t see any cubs with her so I am hoping that she had nursed them and had left them hidden somewhere else. She was quite relaxed with everybody and didn’t slink into the high cover like we saw her do when the cubs were nearby so maybe she was away from the cubs (like the first afternoon we found her). A vehicle drove through the weed patch on the far side of her and Anglebert told the driver about the cubs. With more vehicles coming to see her, not seeing the cubs, and knowing that she had eaten we left her with a good feeling and a hope that her two cubs will survive.


We headed toward the lake to try and find the bat-eared fox but on the way we ran in to the marsh pride of lions. The one big male (the one we had photographed mating with the group) was watching a bunch of females and cubs (we had heard they had made a kill) and we saw him trot in their direction. As he approached the one female who was lying out in the open, the greeting wasn’t exactly friendly. He then went to check out the other female with five cubs in the bush but never entered the brushy area. Instead he lay down off to the side. There were cars up by where we had seen him at first so maybe the other male was up there, or maybe that was the kill. We didn’t go back to check it out but continued toward the lake.

We found three of the foxes lying in the grass. They weren’t sleeping but also weren’t that active. Still David got some shots of them standing, sitting up and yawning. For our last shoot of the safari we went down to the lakeshore to photograph greater flamingos with reflections. There are more flamingos now than a week ago and the morning side lighting, with the steel-grey water, was really pretty.

We got to the airstrip around 9:15am so that we could pack up our camera gear and get things ready for the plane. I ended up flying out as well. David had bought two tickets so that he could take his camera gear and checked luggage on the plane. That helped to cover my bags. And there was plenty of room on the plane for me. It was a beautiful, sunny day to fly out of the Serengeti. It was fun seeing Ndutu, Matiti and Makao from the air. We flew right over the middle of the Crater and for a brief moment I could see Ol Donyo Lengai. As we approached Arusha we could see the top part of Kilimanjaro, a fitting end to a perfect 20 days in the bush. David and I bid farewell to each other at the airport as he headed to join his friends on their safari. I went to the hotel and started to work. I learned of Joe’s travails at the Kilimanjaro airport when he went to check in so I upgraded to avoid the headaches (and ended up paying probably less than I would have for the extra weight). Then I had another e-mail from Joe relaying the snow leopard group’s flight woes to Leh. But I’m sure that he has covered that. So it is with a fond farewell that I finish my part of the trip report. Sorry for the length. I just couldn’t keep my fingers still when trying to describe all of the wonderful things that I had on safari. And I hope that you all choose to join us here in the future. You will love Tanzania!


I'll echo Mary's sentiments here, we can’t wait to return.