Sunday, August 07, 2016

African Adventure - Part 5: Tarangire National Park

July 7, 2017
Tarangire National Park

Tarangire means "River of the Warthog," but that odd little creature is just one of the many animals found along the rivers and in the thick woods and grasslands of Tarangire National Park.  Less well known than Kenya's Masai Mara or its sister park in Tanzania, the great Serengeti,  Tarangire - the sixth largest of Tanzania's national parks - is described on The Official Site of the Tanzania National Parks as having the greatest concentration of wildlife outside of the Serengeti ecosystem, including an abundance of elephants.
One of the many elephants of Tarangire National Park
That sounded good to Rob and me!  After our day of tasting city life in Arusha, we were eager to get back into the bush and see what new wonders Africa had for us.  Our tour group boarded our three Land Cruisers right after breakfast and we departed for our three hour drive past Lake Manyara to the gates of Tarangire National Park.
Ginny and Lois join Ansi in his Land Cruiser
We were in Masai territory, and all along the route, we passed many small groups of Masai men and children herding cattle and sheep through the dry grasslands to better pastures.  Their bomas, the small family dwellings built in circles behind walls of thorny acacia, were scattered here and there, and women and children walked along the road carrying goods or waiting for the local buses to take them to the market towns.
Donkeys cross the highway
Masai youth bring their herd to a watering hole.
(The young man with the feathered cap has recently been circumcized - officially entering adulthood.)

A flock of sheep graze by the highway

A Masai boma near the road

Masai youth along the highway

Women carrying their goods.
We arrived at the main gate of Tarangire around noon, and Cosmas, our guide, provided us with a picnic lunch while he, Richie, and Ansi joined a large crowd of other tour guides and completed the lengthy paperwork needed before entering the park.  The animal sightings started immediately at lunch with visits from the gorgeous superb starlings and the striking white-headed buffalo weavers, as well as some monkeys that knew that picnickers mean food!
Superb starlings were brilliant - and found everywhere in large numbers.

White-headed buffalo weaver

A young monkey hopes for a hand-out

Black faced vervet

Black faced vervet in the picnic area outside of the park gates

The Legend of the Baobab
Finally it was time to go on safari!  We entered a landscape much different from Masai Mara.  Instead of broad open plains, the landscape was thick with trees and tall grass.  Tarangire National Park is famous for its many huge baobab trees.  Cosmas told us the legend of these trees.  God was enthusiastic about his newest creation and threw it down to earth so eagerly that it landed upside down with its roots in the air.  As we were there in the dry season, the legend seemed even more plausible, as the leaves that cover the tops of the trees during the wet season had fallen and the huge canopies of bare branches showed clearly against the sky.
One of the many huge and ancient baobab trees in Tarangire National Park



A Doubletree

Baobab with hole through the trunk
The other trees of the park were also beautiful - iconic umbrella acacias, a few candelabra trees, and even some palm trees that had apparently arrived with a huge storm many years ago.  I added a new word to my very small Swahili vocabulary, nzuri sana, or very beautiful.  (Speaking of Swahili lessons, Cosmas also added that it is important to say Jambo (hello), and not Jamba.  Jamba means fart.  Cosmas joked that Jamba Juice would not get much business here in Tanzania!)

Euphorbia Candelabra tree

Umbrella acacia

The beautiful woodlands of Tarangire

Because of the thick foliage here, the animals sightings were not as frequent as they had been in Masai Mara, and the numbers of animals in the herds were not as huge, but it was almost more exciting to suddenly spot a small herd of impalas or zebras hiding in the grass, or to turn a corner in the road and see a giraffe looking curiously at our little group.  

Small herd of impalas

Zebras in the woods

Zebra herd and warthogs


Mother and baby giraffe

That long tongue is great for pulling leaves off of the thorny acacia!
Part of the explanation for the number of animals in this small park is the Tarangire River, the only source of water in the area.  Elephants abound here and we saw many of them on our safari.

This giant walked right past us

Elephants grazing in the river valley

Herd of elephants below on the riverbank
And here is a short video of just a few of the many elephants we saw.  The last elephant in the video was a wee bit upset about our van on his road.  Elephants of Tarangire

We spotted some of the smaller residents of Tarangire as well.  I was fascinated by the huge termite mounds that dot the park, tall spires of dirt that create perfect "apartment buildings" for some of the burrowing animals like the dwarf mongoose, as well as lizards and snakes.
Termite mount

Dwarf mongooses use an old termite mound for their home

A termite skyscraper
Termite mound
Another of the most memorable and delightful aspects of Tarangire were the birds!  This is home to some 550 bird species, "the most breeding species in one habitat anywhere in the world," according to the official site of the Tanzania National Parks.  We didn't see anywhere near 550 of them, but the ones we saw were spectacular!   My camera got quite a workout, as it did on every day of this trip, trying to capture every animal, every bird, and every gorgeous landscape.  
White-bellied Go Away bird

Spoonbill with Egyptian geese

Black-headed heron

Red and yellow barbet..isn't he gorgeous?!

Lilac breasted roller

Female Vondee Hornbill

Marabou stork in flight

Grey-headed kingfisher

Crowned plover (lapwing)

Male Vondee Hornbill

Female Vondee Hornbill

Three banded plover

Doves over Lake Burunge

We had had a long busy day, so in spite of our love of the wildlife, we were ready to leave the park in the early evening and settle in at the Lake Burunge Tented Lodge, a lovely lodge with a large deck and pool overlooking Lake Burunge and a line of large, comfortable tents on permanent platforms.  Rob and I were very happy with our room and the large deck overlooking the woods and lake beyond.
The pool and deck of the Burunge Tented Camp Lodge

View of Lake Burunge from the lodge.  (The pinkish mass in the lake is a flock of flamingos.)

Rob is happy with our room.

Our deck overlooking the woodlands and lake

We organized our bags, cleaned up, and returned to the lodge for a buffet dinner where we met one more local animal, a large and gaudy praying mantis who objected to all of the unwanted attention and went into ninja attack mode!  
Praying mantis in the dining hall

"Don't tread on me!"

Our tent was at the far end of the row, so we were actually escorted back by a staff member who shone a light into the thick brush all around us, keeping a watch for the eyes of any predators who might be looking for an easy meal of unwary tourist.  

July 8, 2016 
Special Sightings in Tarangire

The twitters and tweets of hundreds of birds in the woods outside of our tent woke us bright and early for the morning safari drive.  We entered the Sangawei Gate of the park which brought us closer to the river.  The drive started as a repeat of yesterday's drive, with sights of impalas, zebras, and giraffes, but there were some special treats in store!
The Sangaiwe Gate of Tarangire National Park

Those odd fingers on the horn of this skull are the chrysalises of an African butterfly.
Giraffes in the woods

Ngire - the warthog - hides in the grass

The baby zebra is curious about our vehicle

And so is this baby

Mama giraffe with a very young baby

We drove down the washboard roads, enjoying our "African massage," and crossed the riverbed where we watched the elephants that come to the river to drink and saw some of the many birds that live along its banks.  
The Tarangire River is low in the dry season

Elephants and giraffe in the river valley

Tarangire supports many elephants
Tawny eagle in nest
Common Fiscal

Long tailed fiscal

Magpie shrike

White-backed vultures

White-browed sparrow weaver

Ashy starling

Grey heron

Immature Imperial Eagle

Namaqua dove

Lilac breasted roller
Male ostrich

Female ostrich

As we left the river, our sharp-eyed driver, Ansi, suddenly stopped and pointed at a tree far across the field.  There, at last, we saw our first leopard!  How he ever spotted it lying low on the branch I will never know, but we were grateful for his guide super-powers - and for our binoculars!  We stood in our vehicle for a long time snapping photos and just gazing in wonder at the gorgeous creature.
Can you see her?  I can't believe Ansi spotted her!

Getting closer!

There she is!  Gorgeous!  Our first leopard sighting - what a thrill.

We finally had to move on and dropped another river crossing over a small bridge.  Here were more exciting encounters including a couple of huge monitor lizards lounging on the cliffs over the river, more beautiful birds, and a family of mongooses playing in the sand on the far side of the river.  
Monitor lizard

Monitor lizard on the riverbank

The hamerkop looks like a cartoon bird to me.

Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfishers

Wire-tailed swallows

Striped mongooses

The mongoose stretches out on the sandy riverbank

The family searches for goodies in the rocks

I had been noticing road signs pointing to the "Poachers Tree," and that tree turned out to be the site of our snack break.  Some of the giant baobab trees are so old and so big that they have great holes in their trunks.  In the past, poachers had taken advantage of the deep hole in this tree to hide from the park rangers.  They could actually climb up into the interior of the tree trunk to stay hidden from the rangers until the park staff finally caught on to their game.  We enjoyed the chance to stretch our legs and explore the tree before moving on.
Ginny waves from the next car

Cosmas and Ansi tell us about the Poachers' Tree

Two happy explorers

Poachers used to climb right up into the tree trunk to stay out of sight.

Cosmas, Ansi, and Richie - our wonderful guides
On the way back to the gate, we had another treat - our first sight of the fascinating secretary bird, with his prominent quill feathers bristling out of the back of his head.  The large bird walked daintily past us, completely unconcerned about our presence.  
Secretary bird

Ring-necked dove

Heron landing on a tree top

We returned to Burunge Tent Camp for lunch, a nice nap, and a bit more bird-watching of the birds in the trees around our tent.
Burunge Tented Camp Lodge pool and deck overlooking Lake Burunge

A sunny afternoon on the deck

Lunch time in the dining room

I saw this bird in the woods below the lodge, but can't identify it.  If anyone can help, let me know!

Here's another view of the same bird...

And one more unidentified bird by Lake Burunge

The afternoon activity was an optional nature walk through the woods and down to Lake Burunge where we encountered a huge flock of pink flamingos wading in the shallow waters on the edge of the lake.  They waddled this way and that, and every once in a while, for no apparent reason, a large number of them would take off in a beautiful whirl and then settle down again in a different area of the lake.
The huge flock of flamingos on Lake Burunge


Wading near the shore...

...and flying to new grazing areas.

The blacksmith lapwing has a metallic call that sounds like a blacksmith pounding on an anvil.
Our walk to the lake was made even more delightful by the appearance of a small herd of zebras that came out of the brush to graze along the shore.  They kept their distance, but did not seem to mind our presence on the beach.
Zebras join us on the shores of Lake Burunge

The nature lovers on the shores of Lake Burunge
I spent so much of this trip enraptured by the animals, the surroundings, and the sounds of the birds.  These were sights I had thought for many years I would only see in nature films on television...but here we were, standing on a lakeside with absolutely no barriers between us and a herd of zebras!  Magical!

That evening, we stood on the deck of the main lodge building watching the many doves and other birds in the trees enjoying a bath in the cement watering holes provided by the lodge for the birds and other animals.  As the sun set, the zebras came out of the woods again to drink from the troughs.  

Tarangire National Park was a delight from the first moment to the last!

Stay tuned!  Coming up - a visit to a Masai village and rustic tent camping in the Serengeti!

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