Day 19 DAY TWO at the MARA RIVER

We go back to the riverbank and see the zebra stallion did not make it.  When we arrive, hyenas, secondary predators. are there. 

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Shortly, Rupple’s Griffin Vultures move in and actually chase the hyenas off the carcass.  

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One gives us the Darth Vade stance.

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They are a moving clean-up machine.  Although not pretty, these birds are extremely important the well-being of the African wild.

The Maribou storks squabble as they join in.

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Back to the river, today we see the massive herds cross.  Wildebeest mass,

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Then swim across.

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It’s not pretty on the other side as they desperately climb over each other trying to find a way up the bank.

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Zebras mass and cross.

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We see the hippos are still in the water.

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In the panic to get to the other side, not all animals make it out of the water. 

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And the vultures wait.

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At the top of the cliff a mother zebra calls out for her baby.

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Finally the little one makes it to the top.

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Driving by the zebra carcass at mid-day only bones remain.  The circle of life can be quick.

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Back to the lodge, we pass our Twiga “gatekeeper.”  The big giraffe is usually on the hill when we leave or return. 

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He is a great example of the hard callouses males develop on their heads for fighting. 

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After lunch, we start down to the river and meet the three twiga brothers! He’s brought his friends.

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Back to river, more huge crossings.

As we move off, we find beautiful male waterbuck in the marsh.

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And a twiga family amble by as the sun lowers.

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As we head back to camp—a real find.  Hyena mother and tiny babies.

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This is a rare sighting!   And we have one more day here!

We end the day with another lovely sunset…

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Day 18 THE MARA RIVER in the MARA TRIANGLE

In the early morning we head for the Mara Serena Safari Lodge on the banks of the Mara River.  We are at the Tanzanian border so we are hoping to see herds crossing.  We’ll be at this lodge for three glorious days so we will be able to go on drives and come back to rest, as we choose.

We pass T/K Rock, marking the Tanzania/Kenya border on the plains.

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As we enter the Mara Triangle, we enter the part of the Maasi Mara reserve, regulated by the Trans-Mara District. The district has only one local authority, Trans Mara County Council.  As we enter the Trans-Mara area, a Mwanza Flat Headed Agama greets us.  This beautiful lizard is probably the dominant male.

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Along the way, we see the ferocity of vultures in action. 

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Here they posture and fight for prime positions on a Cape Buffalo carcass.   They puff themselves up and walk like Dart Vader to secure the best position.

We immediately head for the river and find a croc waiting on the shore.

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We are lucky to see a zebra crossing.  Yea!  

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Although not a huge number of zebras cross, it is eventful.  The stallion leads his herd across.  But there is a hippo under the water in his path.  All we see are huge splashes mid-stream and his difficult water exit,

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When the stallion gets to the top of the bank he just stands still, while all the other animals are in a constatnt state of motion.  Odd.  On closer look we can see why.

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The hippo has gored his belly and he is in serious trouble. That’s an example of why hippos are considered the most dangerous animal in Africa.  We’d thought we might see crock attacks, but not this.  He rolls in the dirt–maybe trying to get away from the pain?

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It doesn’t look good for him.  We head back to the lodge for our night drive.  We’ll check on him tomorrow.

After dinner, we head off in open trucks.  Our drivers have huge spotlight for our late night game drive.  We see some small hares, then suddenly…two female lionesses.  This is just below our fensed camp!

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One of the ladies gives us a grand show.  “Roar” does not adequately express the noise she makes.  We can feel the power of her vocalization as it sends shock waves through us!  To me, it was louder than being beside a BIG motorcycle gunning the engine.  And here we sit in this open car.  Amazing experience.

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They seem fairly oblivious to us and our lights–except for the roaring.  Was she letting us know we were not welcome?  Or just announcing this is their territory?  

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On the way back to the lodge we see hippos on land for their nightly foraging.  Just as long as we’re not between them and the river!

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Fantastic night!

 

Day 17 OUR SECOND DAY in the MAASAI MARA

Day two and the Mara is good to us again.  We are surrounded!  We got wildebeest to the left, zebra to the right, and we’re the only car around.  Whee!  (Jimmy Buffett can borrow that if he’d like….)

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I do love the zebra.  This nursing mother and young colt could have a difficult time when they get to the river. 

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Next we come across a matriarch herd of elephants.  Since their gestation period is 22 months, this mother has three young ones from atleast the last 6 years.  They develop such close bonds and only the males tend to leave the groups as they mature.  Often several females will stay together.  They take turns caring for the young ones.

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Researchers believe elephants grieve a loss and will even “pay their respects” when returning to a place where one died.  Babies are particularly affected when they loose their mother.  Although most countries are working to reduce poaching, habitat loss also is reducing their numbers.  

If you ever travel to this area, try to save a day or two in Nairobi to travel to the Elephant Orphanage.  We didn’t scedule enough slack time, but other members of our party said it is truly a life-changing experience.  (Guess we’ll just have to come back.)

Day closes with another spectacular African sunset–this one on the open Mara plains.

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Back at the lodge, Maasai tribal dancers perform before dinner.

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 These are men, chanting with their traditional jumping.

 

Tomorrow we’re headed for a camp on the Mara River!

 

Day 16 The MAASAI MARA GAME RESERVE

We leave Arusha with our Rhino Safari Kenya game drivers, heading out to the southeast Mara.  We’re hoping to see herds of Wildebeests and Burchell’s Zebras.  If we’re lucky we’ll even see some of the famed crossings of the crocodile-infested Mara River along the way.

Out on the Mara we first see some gentle Twiga brothers—Swahili for giraffe.

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They begin play-fighting.  Their “necking” goes on for quite a while…

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Swinging heads and bumping shoulders.  They are acting like adolescent boys.
Suddenly a mature male appears and it seems both youngsters are put on notice. 

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As he walks over to them, the adolescents lower their heads and act “contrite”…behavior much like that of a scolded dog…until he finally walks off.   Then it all begins again.  Adult giraffe use their heads like mallets, swinging their neck to explode their head on a competitor.  The one on the right is practicing his moves as he harasses his brother.  Ah, children!

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Continuing into the Mara, we are seeing huge herds of zebra and wildebeest moving across the savanna.  A very good sign a river crossing may be in the cards.  

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There are many predators and prey on the Mara now.  This tree, filled with White-backed Vultures, is testament to the constant cycle of life and death here.   They mass, waiting for their next opportunity.

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As a quiet  prelude to the mayhem to come, a giraffe calmly chews an acacia branch. 

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Rupple’s Griffon Vultures also mass in tree tops.

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As we wait, hot air balloons materialize over the horizon and move toward us.  A full compliment of early morning sights and sounds.

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We pass cheetahs waiting in the shade

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And find three lions stalking a mixed herd of wildebeest and zebra.

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Suddenly, on the back side of the brush, we hear an animal’s heart-wrenching bleat and a lion’s roar.   Rushing around the thicket, we find a magnificent male lion and his zebra kill. 

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We are first on the site but other cars soon arrive.  The lion is very near the road and he is not happy to have people nearby.  He proceeds to drag the kill across the road, between the cars, to the protection of the bush.

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This is hard work even for the massive lion. 

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In his hurry, the zebra entrails fall out,  Leaving a feast for the waiting vultures.  Something for everyone.

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We pass a large herd of elan as we head back to camp.

Our tented lodge is at the Sarova Mara Game Camp.

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These are “tents” because they have canvas sides.  They have a full roof, wood floor, large bed, furniture and a complete bath.  (Picture “Out of Africa.” )  Plus we again have safe, excellent food where we can eat salads, vegetables, and order drinks with ice. This is luxurious camping!

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We will stay here another day and see what the Mara offers us tomorrow.

 

Day 15 TANZANIA TO KENYA

We leave Tanzania today to contnue our safari in Kenya.  We have a beautiful drive through wetlands as we leave Tarangire.  Male and female Saddlebill storks search for food a marsh. (The male has the yellow on his beak.)

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We spook a herd of reed impala as we left.

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On our exit from the park we stopped to watch a fish eagle devour his fresh catch from the stream below.

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While a young elephant is busy harassing a flock of Maribou stork resting near the water.  Young adolescents!

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Baobabs line a dusty ride out of Tarangire. 

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We drive through busy, colorful Arusha.

Then load a small bus—with AC—to go to the Kenya border crossing. Along the way we get a great view of Killy, complete with a halo of clouds.

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What a jumble at the border—cars, trucks, tourists, natives, all vying for a place in line.  And women jam all our windows, trying to sell cheap native crafts.  No real queue line…our large group takes a bit of time to make it through even though we already have our visas.

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We arrive at our Nairobi hotel in the evening and scrambled for a quick dinner.  The Mayfair is lovely but we have no time to enjoy it.  We are continuing on the Kenya-half of our safari as a back-to-back trip with Tanzania.  Our group will meet a few new people for an early morning breakfast start, beore beginning our Kenya adventure into the Maasai Mara.  Luckily, we’ll slow the pace in Kenya.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 14 TARANGIRE NATIONAL PARK WILD DOGS

Leaving SOPA Lodge at daybreak our guides go the last known location of the latest wild dog sightings.  WOW!  We immediately see the pack on the hillside.

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They walk down to cross the road.   

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One even lays down between the cars—maybe an expression of dominance? 

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They continue to hang out and watch us for several hours.  It’s amazing how they can blend into the hillside, almost ghost-like.

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Even big elephants tend not to turn their back on these guys.

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Another lilac breasted roller perches on an old tree as we pass.  These are beautiful birds with their 7 colors.  The state bird of Swaziland, I think they are my favorite.  Plus, they tend to pose for us. OK.  They’re just hunting, but it works for a great picture!

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A zebra crosses our path in front of a giant termite mound.

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Here the red dirt makes the mounds really beautiful.  Some are thousands of years old and they are hard as rock.  The spring rains tend to wash some of the external dirt off.  This is a signal for the outside termites to swarm.  They take off in search of new places to start colonies.   In Zimbabwe we saw this event and the camp hosts came to sweep up the termites who fell at the night lights.  The locals picked off their wings, fried them and said their were delicious.  (We weren’t as adventurous then so we were perfectly happy when they didn’t offer any.  We now have awakened a bit of the Anthony Bourdain in us so we wish we could say, “Yup, they really did taste nutty.”)

A mother and baby Maasai giraffe wander not too far from the dog pack.  Even though everything must eat, we hope they are aware.

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We find a black-faced grouse family,

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As we drive under a water python curled in an acacia tree.  We pass underneath the big snake and he didn’t flex a muscle.  Huge, fellow.  And how many have we missed?

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As we pass through the woodlands our car is engulfed by tsetse flies.  These are nasty biting flies that feed on vertebrate blood.  That would be bad enough but they are also vectors for human sleeping sickness.  Our guides warned us they were in the park and we should not wear the Maasai colors—red or blue.  These colors seem to particularly attract them.  Anyhow, we were able to corral and kill the ones in the car.  One met his end on a window and made a good picture….

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As we leave the woodlands we see a Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl.  Pink eye lids!  This is the largest African owl and the third heaviest owl in the world.  It has a wingspan of almost five feet.  This is an apex avian predator and hunts mostly in the evening.

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We end the day with what else- a baobab at sunset.  Beautiful.

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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!