Day 12- MORNING in the CRATER, THEN OFF to TARANGIRE

Immediately after we hit the crater floor we find the “Lion King” resting in the grass.

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Around the corner we see why he’s taking a siesta.  During the night the pride made a zebra kill.  The females and playful cubs are still milling around, all with BIG full tummies.

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And now the second tier scavengers arrive.  A white-necked raven is on the kill.

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While hyenas wait in th weeds, biding their time until the lions move off.

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We drive a bit farther and have an amazing treat—watching a cheetah emerge from the grass.

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 Take off on a high-speed chase,

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And take down a Tommy (Thompson’s gazelle).

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She drags it away to protect her prey.

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Then she must gobble what she can as fast as she can.  Cheetahs are (70 mph) fast but are not top predators.  Lions, leopards and even hyenas can take the prey they have worked so hard to get.  This can make raising a family very difficult when mom has 4-5 mouths to feed.

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Back on the plain, we come across more herds.  They migrate to the water in the daytime then reverse the route at night.  

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A line of wildebeest head for the main herd.

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Catching the sun behind them, their mane positively glows.

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The zebras also migrate to water.  But these stopped for a “dust bath.” They roll around with all four feet in the air.  The dirt helps keep them free of insects.

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At the end of the morning we head toward the wetlands and the birds.  

 The little bee eater is beautiful.

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 We see trees decorated with hanging baskets—African Christmas Trees.  These are weaver nests.

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At the lake, we see the Rufous-tailed weaver pausing for a quick photo.

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And several little birds invade our car looking for goodies—they’re on the floor, the seats, the roof. 

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We pass a flock of crested cranes in the field. 

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And an Auger Buzzard (red-tailed hawk) by the side of the road as we leave.

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We exit the crater and head for the Sopa Lodge at Tarangire National Park.  This should be an awesome place.  Known for its elephants, it is also a chance to see the African Wild Dogs/Painted Wolves.  We’ll cross our fingers.

Our first stop is Mto Wa Mbu Kijiji – Swahili for Mosquito Creek.  As the name implies, mosquitos—and malaria—have reeked havoc here.  The Tanzania government brought in mosquito nets and the problem is now in hand.  The women walking to the shops are colorful.

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Their banking is unique.

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Roadside stands are full of life

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And color.

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Plus we are in town on the day of the monthly Maasai Open-Air Market.  Our guide quickly drove us through this event, but we needed to stay “in the shadows.”

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Leaving Mosquito Village, we passed more adolescent Maasai warriors in paint. 

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And a man transporting firewood on his bike.  Bicycles are used to transport huge quantities of goods.  This was a fairly small load.

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At last we reach Tarangire and take a quick drive at dusk, passing Marabou Stork with their “air bags.”  In adults, this reddish “balloon” hangs on the throat. It’s an air sack used for buoyancy during flight and an extension of it’s digestion system.  They are sometimes called “Undertaker Birds” because of their somber demeanor.

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We pass more African Christmas Trees, full of weaver nests hanging like decorations.

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And a waterbuck shows us the tell-take “toilet seat” markings on her backside.

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We also pass a herd of impala with a nursing calf.

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We are able to see the interactions of an elephant group.  First the group goes after a young male and forces him to leave—obviously an interloper.

Then another young male came up to the group.;  This one was welcomes with obvious joy–probably a recent member of he group.

This young male went on to “formally” greet the matriarch.  

The baobabs are beautiful in Tarangire. 

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Their shape make a sunset even more spectacular.

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The sunset stretches brilliantly over the plains.  

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Tomorrow we’ll set out early in search of the elusive wild dogs!

 

 

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Day 11- NGORONGORO CRATER

At last we are at Ngorongoro Crater. Not that we haven’t seen some amazing things along the way, but this is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Center.  The crater is a giant caldera resulting from the collapse of an approximately 15,000 foot volcano two-three million years ago.

It is considered a “natural enclosure,” 100 square miles with almost all the African species interacting in one place. It should be amazing.    

We start off at 6 AM with a wonderful sunrise over the crater.

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As we descend 2000 feet to the floor, morning rays break through the clouds again creating “god light.”

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And the clouds form a fluffy marshmellow mass spilling over the edge of the crater.

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On the floor of the crater a Maasai herds his goats. Under new laws they can once again graze their animals in the crater, but must remove them at the end of each day.

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We immediately find one of the famed black-maned lions.  

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On the plain, a female and male ferociously stalk a young wildebeest.  The jackly tags along, hoping for some scraps while an adult wildebeest looks on.

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Later, these apex predators remind us they still have some traits that remind us of a household kitty.  Well, maybe just a little.

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We also see a hyena family with babies.

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And the hyena mother, bringing the remains of the young wildebeest for her young.  More of the circle of life on the plains.

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We enjoy more zebra geometrics in the grassland.

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Times five!

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Driving through the woodlands we stop to admire the beautiful yellow-barked acacias up close and personal.

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 And we see birds galore…

A woodland kingfisher,

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We finally catch a female and male ostrich performing their courtship dancing-and mating,

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A guinea fowl with its fluorescent blue markings,

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A kori bustard, puffed in display,

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Along with the center of his attention,

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And the magnificent crested crane.

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We end the day with a wildebeest herd–even in the crater they migrate.  Just not as far as the ones on the Mara.

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Ngorongoro has lived up to its reputation.  We’re coming back to the crater tomorrow–can’t wait to see what this magical place will share with us then! 

Day 10 SAROI in the SERENGETI to the NGORONGORO CRATER

A bright ball of light greets us in the morning.

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Breakfast is a spectacular view of the Serengeti below.

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They only put place settings on one side of the table for a reason.  What a view.

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Driving through the Serengeti, we come across two amorous Maasai ostrich.  Sally Rand would have done well to study the female’s moves…almost a contortionist, she slings her great feathered wings around and dips her neck so she practically turns herself inside out. 

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The male, with a bright pink neck, goes through complimentary gyrations.  When they move off, we move on.

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Our next stop is to examine a unique tree in this area—the whistling thorn acacia.  (Be sure you clearly say all three words.)  This is a specific acacia species that protects itself with three-inch thorns. 

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However, this must not have provided enough safety, because it made another adaptation.  It has other thorns that form a bulbous swelling at the branch.  The trick is cocktail ants make these swollen thorns their home by burrowing holes to the inside.  (So when the wind blows, the trees whistle.) 

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The cool thing is the ants provide the tree a second layer of defense.  If there is the slightest movement, like an animal eating the leaves (or us shaking the tree to see the little critters), the ants swarm stinging the intruder with formic acid.  Animals learn this is a tree to avoid.

As we leave the Mara we look back and see how the area got its name…this is the Maasai’s ancestral home and when they looked over the plains they called the area “Mara.”  In their language this means spotted.  This is a fitting description of the collective composition of trees, scrub, savanna, and animals we see when we take a wide view of the landscape.

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Back in the wide-branched trees, we catch a glimpse of another leopard keeping watch in the crook of a tree.  He’s not close to the road, but we can see this one’s eyes.

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We reach another beautiful kopje where we’ll have lunch. 

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This is Ngong Rock.  At the top of the kopje is the special rock. The rock is made of completely different material from the others in the area.  Standing beside it we have a wide-open view of the Mara.  

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Is it a meteorite?  The Maasai have used it as a musical instrument for generations.  When we hit it with a stone, it sounds hollow and the indentations give off a metallic tone, like a gong.  The Maasai made the indentations by making music over the centuries. 

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On a rock wall at the back of the kopje we also find Maasai pictographs.  Some are hundreds of years old,

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but others are obviously quite new.

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Leaving Ngong Rock, we have a really dusty drive out of the Mara.

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We stop at at Naabi Hill and walk to the top of the kopje at the edge of the Serengeti.  A sign explains the Maasai called the great plain the siringet and the name of the park was born.    We can see the dust as cars head out on the road to the edge of the park.

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On the way to the Serengeti Sopa Lodge we pass another Maasai manyatta. 

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The Maasai have moved from their warrior ways to Nomadic cattle herders.  They believe their rain god, “Enkai,” made them sole owners of cattle.  Cattle are their form of currency and are vital to their lives, providing wealth, milk and blood for nourishment, dung to build their houses.  They are also a part of their spiritual rituals.

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At Sopa Lodge we’re spending the night on the edge of the Ngorongoro Crater.  This evening we are treated to Maasai dancing.  The women wear their traditional beaded collars and move so the collars dance around their necks. 

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The men perform their traditional jumping, each trying to outdo the other.

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Tomorrow, we’ll spend the day on the crater floor!

 

Day 9 The SERONERA AREA of SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK

Sawa Sawa  (Let’s go!) A tiny bit of Swahili….we begin with another ho-hum African sunrise.

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Leaving Lobo at daybreak, we pass more kopjes.  The wind and rain has weathered this one leaving a hanging rock perched on top.  An African Hoodoo—of sorts.

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And the wildlife just keeps on coming.  We see a regal Egyptian Goose in a tree.  Not birders, we are learning more about our feathered friends.  At least this one we’ve met before…we saw it soaring over the Taj Mahal this spring.

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We stop again at the hippo pool by the Seronera River on the way back.  

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Ugh! That water is filthy!  As I mentioned before, they stay in the water most of the day, usually coming out only in the evening. 

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We hear an unusual bird as we drive.  Our guide explains this is the African Hoopoe bird.  And in a few minutes we hear another answer back from a nearby acacia tree.  A monogamous bird, the pair treat us to a delightful serenade.

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Under a clear blue sky, a lone elephant wakes up by using an isolated acacia tree to scratch its backside.  This is so Africa.

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A pack of banded mongoose pose for us in the brush.  These are carnivores, eating mostly birds, snakes and rats.  They will eat the deadly mambas and spitting cobras.  Working together to protect the group, they develop a close relationship.  The troop eventually decided all the attention—and camera clicking– was too much and they moved away.

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Into the Seronera Valley we stopped at a way station and had a chance for hands-on with Cape Buffalo skulls.  Big respect for how massive those animals are.  The horns are really heavy.  There is also a collection of Hippo and giraffe skulls.

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Back on the savanna we find another herd of elephants, with a nursing calf. 

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This is older than the ones we saw at Ndutu.  Our guides tell us the baby is usually over a year old if they are too big to walk under the mother.

Elephants have such strong relationships.  Groups of mothers often have several years of children with them.  Only older adolescent males head off on their own. Majestic creatures. 

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Lunch at another kopje gives us a few surprises.  First we find ant lion larvae traps in the sand.  Adults are sometimes called “doodlebugs” because they leave winding trails in the sand when looking for a place to build its trap—it looks like someone doodled on the ground.

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The larvae have strong jaws and dig traps, like this one.  Larvae attack its prey when it falls into the funnel-shaped hollow culminating at the trap.  We can’t get this one to pop its head out.

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Right after we leave our lunch we spot lions in the tall grass. There are so many of us and we’re not quiet, but sheesh.  They were right there!

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Moving on we are still in an area with water.  We find another herd of hippo in wetlands.  One is crying—well, maybe just shedding salt.

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And some are covered with yellow-billed oxpeckers.  The little birds eat ticks on the hippo’s skin.  The hippo is a moving buffet.

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A bit farther we find an interesting slice of life—an gazelle carcass in a tree about 30 feet above ground.  How did our guide ever find this?  Proof there are active leopards in this area. 

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These cats are incredibly strong and carry their kill high up in a tree so they are not bothered by others trying to poach.  No hyenas, other cats or even vultures can drop in to claim a share.   Here’s a close-up.  

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These big trees with wide horizontal branches are prime leopard territory.  Wish we could find one watching us!

An African Marsh Harrier takes off from a nearby tree.  You can see the talons and beautiful wing feathers that make this a top bird of prey.  It lives in wetlands  and mostly feeds on mice, frogs, etc.  Mature adults have yellow eyes.  The brown eyes mark this one as a juvenile.

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As we leave the area a family of elephants wander through the wetlands.

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Then we take a break—a flat tire.  A rare occurrence, but it does happen.  Our guides would do Indy proud.  They change tires and fix all manner of problems on the fly.  Traveling in a group, we often have another car nearby, and another person to lend a hand.  This stop was only about 15 minutes.

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We’re passing through maasai territory and we come upon more adolescents in the middle of their coming-of-age ceremony.  Since they must live on their own for several months, they agree to pose with us for a small fee.  Good will all around.

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We arrive at Saroi Serengeti Lodge just in time to clean up before dinner—this is a “tented” camp but not like one you might expect.  The walls are canvas, but we have a fantastic indoor bath.

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Never the less, we take advantage of the outdoor shower, overlooking the Serengeti.

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Although we use them, I think the mosquito nets on the bed are mostly for the charming effect.

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Tomorrow we’ll have breakfast overlooking the Serengeti before we head to Ngorongoro Crater!

Day 8 MIGRATION IN THE MAASAI MARA

We day-trip from Lobo heading to the Mara River.  The day starts with another spectacular sunrise.  We call rays of sun filtering through clouds “god-light.”  A good description this morning.  

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Leaving at dawn, again, we head down the mountain and catch an amazing sight on a hilltop that is right out of The Lion King.  A male and female lion are silhouetted in the morning light.  It just keeps getting better!

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Heading into the plains, we come across a male Maasai ostrich with a bright pink neck.We know it is a male because he has black feathers.  The females are brown because they sit on the nest in the day and brown feathers blend into the grass.  The male will sit the nest at night so his black feathers help him hide in the dark.  The pink neck is significant…it shows he is courting a female.  

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In a tree we find our first Rupple’s Griffon Vulture with a (large) chick.  These are magnificent creatures and we’ll see a lot more of them in the next few weeks.

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On the way to the Mara River, we hit huge migrating herds of wildebeest.

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Driving along the trail–since we’re not in Ndutu anymore, we must stay on the roads–we are in the middle of the herd!

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We follow the wildebeest to the tributaries of the river.

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But there is no crossing while we watch.  On the bank we can see some huge crocodiles.   This may be the reason the wildebeest aren’t moving into the river.  A little later we’ll see this is a smart move.  The crossings can be extremely dangerous.

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We are a long way from Lobo so we must head back without seeing a crossing.  Regretfully, we leave.  But Africa doesn’t let us down.  We find two young cubs playing on a fallen tree on the way back. 

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What a joy. 

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We make it back to Lobo after sunset.  Another long day.  At daybreak, we’ll head for the Seronera River area of the Serengeti National Park.  The schedule is hectic right now but we can’t believe what we’re seeing.

 

 

Day 7 SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK, KOPJES AND CHEETAH BABIES

As we say good bye to Ndutu we realize these days been jam packed!  We’ll miss this place.

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Along with the amazing animals we’ve seen on the game drives, we have the Fisher’s Lovebirds that filled the waterhole outside the lodge’s dining area.

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Our our own private chameleon living in the euphorbia at the main entrance,

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And leaf bats kind enought to hide under a roof eve each day so we can watch them sleep…..

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We are leaving the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and moving to the Serengeti National Park—the original Big Sky country and a whole lot of open range.  

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We head to our next camp at Lobo Wildlife Lodge, near the Maasai Mara in northern Tanzania.  This is near the Kenya border. We hope to catch up with the migration there.  

Dotting the open plains, we come upon kopjes (coppies).  These are ancient lumps of volcanic rock—granite or another outcroppings substantially harder than the rocks around it—pushed up from the earth’s core millions of years ago.  As the land eroded, they became exposed and began to split and erode to form beautiful “stacks” of rock in the middle of the open range.  Their name is derived from the Dutch word for “little head.”

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We circle a beautiful kopje and find a mother with two baby cheetahs barely visible in the grass.

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Cheetah cubs are gorgeous!

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A bit farther we find a lovely lioness in the grassland as she stalks a herd of Cape Buffalo.  By herself, this will not be easy pickings.

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As we enter an area with some streams, we find two lion cubss perched in a tree.  One posed and one slept, oblivious to us.

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In the same area, one of our guides spots a tell-tale sign in a tree: a sleeping leopard.  They are almost impossible to see.  He saw the long straight tail hanging down as it slept.  Pretty cool!

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All this before our lunch on the road.

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Toward the end of the day we take a short detour to a hippo pool with 50-60 hippos.  One male submerges a female during mating.  (Most activities take place in the water.  Although they can run very fast, they are a semi-aquatic animal.  Their closest living relatives are cetaceans–whales and porpoises.)  

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However, another male decides to object and a fight erupts. 

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Their mouths, and teeth, are huge.  Hippos are known as the most dangerous animal in Africa and we can see why.  One big fellow backed away and the ruckus ended quickly.

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We arrive at Lobo very late in the afternoon. What a place. 

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Built into one of the most beautiful kopjes in the Serengeti, it was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright to merge with the surroundings.  The setting is magnificent.  

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They had all sorts of interesting artifacts.  I had some fun with a giraffe skull in the bar.

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Hydax are all over the rocks.  These are small, shy herbivores.  They are not rodents. They are closely related to elephants.  These are the same creatures we called dassies in South Africa.

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Tomorrow we hope to find the herds of wildebeest and zebra migrating across the Serengeti.

Day 6–WOW! A GIRAFFE KILL AT NDUTU

Our second day at Ndutu we have another magnificent African sunrise. 

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We heard lion roars around camp all night long.  Some seemed just beyond the lighted area outside our huts!  As we begin our daybreak drive, we see why.  A large pride on males, females and cubs has taken down a young giraffe. 

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For an animal this size, our guides say a male leaps on its back and is able to bring its neck down.  Then the pride takes over.

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We watch the animal interactions at the kill site and get some group portraits. 

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It’s a big prde.  We count 3 males, four females and five or six cubs.  And the males definitely are in charge.

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The cubs are allowed to feed last and they are a grubby mess.

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Moving on, we finally find a bat-eared fox posing out in the open.

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And an “African cocktail,” a name we use when mixed species gather together.  Here an elephant herd wanders through Grant’s gazelle and a Coke’s Hartebeast.

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If I was painting a geometric, I couldn’t come up with anything better than a zebra.

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On the savanna we find a warthog family at breakfast.

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Several hyena are stalking leftovers at the Cape Buffalo kill.  They must wait until the lions cler the area.

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The ubiquitous—and beautiful—superb starling lights on an acacia bush.  How’d they get so lucky to get the pretty one while ours is such a drab black?

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A Tawny Eagle leaves a tree and flies overhead as we head back to the lodge.

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In another clearing we stop to watch a herd of elephants strip bark from trees to eat.  Elephants can do a good bit of damage as they move across an area decimating trees.

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In another tree we find a wild bees’ nest. 

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We aren’t walking in the area, but tribesmen on foot sometimes come upon a honey-guide bird.  This bird will sing to lead walkers to a hive.  As a reward, the tribesmen leave the bird a honeycomb.  Tribesmen get a sweet treat and the bird gets a reward he couldn’t obtain without help.  This developed from man watching the long-standing practice of the bird leading the honey badger to bee nests.  The bird cannot access the honey by itseld and the badger has trouble finding nests.  The bird can eat its fill once the badger is done.  A great example of a modern-day symbiotic relationship called mutualism.

We pass by a group of banded mongoose looking over the plains at dusk as we end our last full day at Ndutu.  

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Ndutu has certainly lived up to its reputation.  I can’t get any better than this.