Monday, February 06, 2017

African Adventure - Part 9: Safari Drive in the Serengeti

July 12, 2016
Serengeti National Park 

Our four days on the Serengeti followed the same daily pattern.  For the best game viewing, it was important to follow the animals' schedule, so there was no lazy lounging around in the morning.  We got the "wake-up call" from one of the staff members who would call through the tent door around 5:00 a.m.and rouse us from our cots   After a hearty breakfast in the dining tent, we would set out for a long morning of exploration, then return to our tent camp where we would eat lunch and join the animals in taking our afternoon snooze.  Late afternoon found us back in the Land Cruisers hunting for animals prowling in the cool of the dusky evening.

We woke today to a very chilly morning.  Rob discovered to his dismay that the camp staff was correct when they warned us not to leave any food lying about.  Sure enough, we had been invaded by wild animals.  Rob lifted his ziplock baggie of protein powder and the powder came pouring out of a little hole nibbled by the mighty African mouse!
The mighty African mouse was the only animal to invade our Serengeti tent.
Our tent camp sat high on the side of a hill, and we enjoyed views of a golden sunrise over the umbrella acacia trees as we drove down the hill onto the savannah.  Our first animal sighting was a quick glimpse of a caracal, the largest of the small cats of Africa, too hidden in the tall grass for me to get a photo.
Sunrise over the umbrella acacia tree
The Serengeti is roughly the size of Connecticut, so even with several hours of driving, we saw only some of what it had to offer. This morning's drive took us along the bumpy washboard trails that criss-crossed the plains.  (I laughed as I went back and tried to read the handwritten journal I was using to list the animal sightings and birds.)  We visited several distinct ecosystems, from dry, almost desert-like grasslands to watery bogs lined by lush bushes and tall palms.

Our second flat tire of the trip.  It's a miracle there weren't more!
Rob and Joan on the dry grasslands.

A small herd of "tommies" - Thompson's gazelles cross our path.
A tropical landscape in the middle of the Serengeti

Lush grasslands

The yellow acacia

Our driver, Richie, was a bird expert, so we were able to spot and identify dozens of the gorgeous birds that live on these plains.
Lapped faced vulture

Three banded plover

Grey herons

Herons guard their nest

Yellow-throated sun goose

A flock of herons

Yellow-billed stork in flight

Egyptian geese with their chicks
Sand goose

The blacksmith plover makes a sound like tapping on an anvil
Black - billed bustard
A gorgeous tiny yellow-throated bee eater
All the birds were beautiful, but I was most excited when we encountered a pair of secretary birds, their quill pens fanned across their heads like little crowns.  They walked through the grass selecting the best blades for building their nest, then flew into the acacia tree where they did a lovely dance, bobbing their head together and tucking the stalks into their nest.
Secretary birds in finding nesting materials

Building the nest

Such an interesting bird!

The mate brings more nesting materials

True love
Other than several new birds and the caracal, we didn't spot any "new" animals in the early morning, although any animal sighting was a thrill that never got old.  The Serengeti is not a zoo - in spite of the numerous safari vehicles - and we felt so privileged to see the animals in their natural setting, engaging in their normal behaviors:  antelopes grazing, hippos lounging in the river, mother elephants sheltering their babies beneath their huge legs, Cape buffalos scratching their backs against a convenient tree, lions stalking through the tall golden grass or napping in the shade of the trees, hairy baboons carrying their scrawny little babies on their backs, and towers of giraffes nibbling the tops of the thorny acacia trees.  We laughed at the sight of a Cape buffalo calf who tried hard to keep nursing as her mother crossed the road in front of us.
Male Thompson gazelle


Hippos in the pool and grazing on the riverbank

Marabou stork and hippo

Elephants are usually seen in family groups

A Cape buffalo enjoys a good scratch

Hey, Mom!  I'm not done with breakfast yet!

I'm pretty sure the elephant is aware of the lion...and not too concerned about it.

Can you see the small pride of lions under the tree?

Here they are up close

A baby baboon enjoys a ride

Spotted hyena

A tower of giraffes

How they can make a meal of thse VERY thorny acacias is a mystery to me!
And wow, did we get an eyeful of some natural behaviors in the most unique and jaw-dropping sight of the day - the "Hippo Pool."  Right in the center of the Serengeti (if there can be said to be a center in that irregularly shaped park), the Seronera River meets a couple of other rivers and widens to form a large pool that was filled with around a hundred huge dark grey bodies resting in the muddy, smelly pool. That is, most were resting, but one amorous fellow decided that our presence on the riverbanks was no reason for him not to have a nice romantic encounter with the female directly in front of him. (You can find the complete story of the Hippo Pool at  The Hippo Pool of the Serengeti)

Snack time by the Hippo Pool
Hippo Pool on the Seronera River

The muddy, smelly water was churned up by the river carp.

Looks just like the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland!

Just enjoying a little afternoon delight!

Apparently part of the reason the hippos crowd together is to keep safe from their river companion, the crocodile.

As we returned to our tent camp for our lunch and naptime, we encountered the one animal that actually caused us any problems on the entire trip...the pesky tsetse fly.  They flew in through the open pop-top of our vehicle as we drove into the hills and decided that we were a tasty bunch.  As they have quite a painful bite, our driver kindly stopped and lowered the lid.
Lunch time!
Our evening drive took us back to my favorite landscape in the Serengeti - the large granite outcroppings called kopjes.  You might know the kopjes from "The Lion King" scene in which Rafiki, the baboon, holds young Simba up atop a rocky promontory to meet his subjects on the plains below.  The granite boulders rise abruptly from the plains, often surrounded by the aptly named candelabra trees.  They form a nice warm lookout perch for the big cats, and we were very excited to see a pair of leopards resting on one rock quite near us, as well as another one dangling over the branch of a tree.

Every one was unique

Great hiding places for animals!

Candelabra trees and balancing rocks

Two leopards enjoy a nap on the warm rock...
...while another enjoys a nap in a tree.

This hyena also enjoys a nap on a kopje.
Here are a few more scenes from our evening drive.

A family of baboons

Mama and baby


Small herd of waterbucks

Black faced vervet monkey

And we spotted a few new birds in the evening...
A flock of blue- breasted cordon bleu

Male Jackson's hornbill

Flock of Fisher's Love Birds with a grey-headed fiscal shrike

Cape teal duck

We returned to our tent camp for a huge dinner and visiting time around the campfire sharing memories of another wonderful day, then went to bed with the sun, preparing for another exciting game drive the next day.
The evening campfire

The lanterns would light our way to our tent - second from the end.  I never got over being nervous
walking to our tent after dark.  There were occasionally animals walking right through the camp at night!


Joan Raymond said...

Love all the pictures and commentary. Once we were at the zoo and the elephants were a bit frisky. I wrote about it in one of my blog posts a few years ago. Nature at it's finest!

Kim Davison said...

Amazing photos! At first I thought, "Well, those are some nice bird shots." But you really got some of the big ones! What fun!

Anna K. Stewart said...

Great pictures. I'll admit I rather wanted a picture of your handwritten notes from the bumpy ride. I like the little touch of humor.

Joan Lindsay Kerr said...

Thanks, Joan and Anna, for your comments! Joan, the hippo's romantic encounter was pretty amusing. I'll describe it in a bit more detail in my upcoming post. Anna, I almost took a photo of the scribbling in my journal! Maybe I'll go back and insert it into the post. Thanks for the encouragement!

Joan Lindsay Kerr said...

Hi, Kim! Thanks for stopping by! Someday I'm going to explore the USA the way you are...but if you get a chance, go to Africa. It was everything I hoped for and more!

Donnee Patrese said...

Such amazing pictures. I must admit I am envious of the adventure you had. Great Post. I loved it.

Charlotte Crawford said...

A wonderful description of our safari days in the Serengeti. It is so interesting to see how we got such different pictures with only slightly different vantage points in our vehicle! And, of course many were quite similar! Thanks for identifying all the birds. Some I know, but most I don't. So, thanks for going to the effort of making your blog so complete. I don't know how you could write on those bumpy roads, but I'm glad you did.

Warm regards, Charlotte