Game Drive to Serondella

On our Botswana safari, the next day we moved to another part of Chobe National Park, the Serondella area. Compared to the Savuti Channel, the Serondella area is closer to the Chobe River, with more elephants.

Yet another African fish eagle. We like fish eagles, which are similar to the American bald eagle.

African fish eagle
African fish eagle

Dwarf mongooses sunning themselves in the morning.

dwarf mongoose
dwarf mongoose

In the still waters of the early morning, the reflection of a tree with yellow-billed storks.

tree of yellow-billed storks
tree of yellow-billed storks

We visited a site with drawing of African animals, where our guide told us about the native San people and some of their customs.

200 years old
eland, elephant, gemsbok
200-year-old
 drawings of eland, elephant, gemsbok

A black-backed jackal approaching a large, bleached bone as big as the jackal.

black-backed jackal
black-backed jackal

The bushbuck is a mediums-sized antelope with sharp horns.

bushbuck
male bushbuck

In the afternoon we saw the Chobe River. A grey heron and sacred ibis.

grey heron, African sacred ibis
grey heron, African sacred ibis

The Chobe River is quite wide. Below, an elephant feeding on water plants.

elephant in Chobe River
elephant in Chobe River

The river provides water and supports much wildlife.

warthog
warthog

The cape buffalo has never been domesticated and kills or gores over 200 people a year. This cape buffalo looks quite stern. We quickly moved on.

cape buffalo
cape buffalo

Baboons are cute and fun to watch, especially the babies. Babies can hang on for a ride below or sit on top.

baby baboon holding on to ears
baby baboon holding on to ears
baby baboon clinging on below
baby baboon clinging on below

We encountered this elephant at sunset and kept rolling back to camp. This elephant approached us as we drove by, which is unusual.

ornery elephant
ornery elephant

Our last game drive

This would be the last game drive of our safari, from our camp in the Maswa Game Reserve to a lodge just past Ngorongoro Crater.

We drove through the acacia woodland and discovered the cheetah mother and four cubs at the edge of the acacia woodland.  We were happy that they had made it back to the woodland safely from the gazelle kill.  The mother was taking the cubs somewhere — alternately walking and waiting for the cubs to follow.

mother cheetah and four cubs walking
mother cheetah and four cubs walking

They walked past a downed tree, so of course the cubs had to climb it as the mother kept walking.

cheetah cubs climbing the tree
cheetah cubs climbing the tree
more climbing
more climbing

Now we’ve seen what herding cats means. 😉 The cheetahs continued walking. We saw this cheetah family on three different days. Amazing luck and skill of our guides.

We started a long game drive along the boundary of the the acacia woodland and the short-grass plains.

Some jackals were looking at Thomson’s gazelles, but the gazelles had spotted the jackals and were careful.

jackals looking at thomson's gazelles
jackals looking at thomson’s gazelles

Later these two thomson’s gazelles were fighting (butting heads).

gazelles fighting
gazelles fighting

A pregnant spotted hyena showing us her long, yellow teeth.

pregnant spotted hyena
pregnant spotted hyena

In the Ngorongoro highlands there are Maasai villages and tropical trees.  Looking at the vegetation, you can see that the highlands get a lot more rain than the Serengeti plains.

Maasai boma overlooking the Serengeti
Maasai boma overlooking the Serengeti
lush vegetation in the Ngorongoro highlands
lush vegetation in the Ngorongoro highlands

We arrived at the lodge in time for lunch.  The lodge felt somewhat antiseptic after 8 nights in camps, but we did savor the long showers, electricity in our rooms, flush toilets, and internet.

At dinner we each talked about our favorite experience on the safari.  Mine was the cheetah family before the thunderstorm and the harrowing drive back to camp on the flooded dirt road.

The next day two people left for gorilla tracking, four for Zanzibar, four for South Africa, and three for home.

We had a blast. The safari was a fabulous experience that we’ll always cherish. We had great guides who found a wide variety of animals and parked so that we’d have good light for photos. They told us about the animals. They patiently answered our questions and told us stories. They put a very positive face on Tanzania. We enjoyed traveling with our fellow safari clients. I appreciate everyone’s patience with me as I clicked away with my camera, or more frequently, waited for an animal to turn its head just so.

Day 1 at Serengeti camp – birds and cats, then raining cats and dogs

Our Serengeti camp is south of the Serengeti National Park, in the Maswa Game Reserve. The camp is in acacia woodland near alkaline lakes and grassland.  We could do game drives off-road, but we couldn’t do bush walks.

A game drive is like a treasure hunt.  You have better chances if you look around and know what to look for.  You don’t know what you’ll discover, and you appreciate what you find. This treasure hunt aspect contributes to the adventure and romance of the safari. Our guides knew this and fostered it, without talking about it.

At breakfast, one of our group asked the guide if he had heard hyenas and lions at night.  He did. As we started the morning game drive through the acacia woodland, we saw mostly birds.

Secretary birds are a meter tall  and have a striking appearance, resembling a British secretary — white top, black bottom, and a black crest that looks like a pencil in the ear. They walk fast, and they walk away when a vehicle pulls up, so they’re hard to photograph. We were fortunate to see two secretary birds in a tree.  The birds dipped their head, separately or together, before flying off.

pair of secretary birds in acacia tree
pair of secretary birds in acacia tree
secretary bird taking off
secretary bird taking off
secretary bird spreading wings
secretary bird spreading wings

We also saw a lappet-faced vulture, a long-crested eagle, and bat-eared foxes.

lappet-faced vulture
lappet-faced vulture
long-crested eagle
long-crested eagle
bat-eared fox
bat-eared fox

After the acacia woodland, we drove on the short-grass plains.  Under a tree we saw lions.  See my post lyin’ in the grass.

lion in the grass
lion in the grass

Returning for lunch, we saw 2 hyenas and a kill less than a mile from camp. The choice parts of wildebeest were already eaten. The closer hyena was guarding the kill from the second hyena, who was disappointed. Our guide thought that a lion had killed the wildebeest.

a hyena, a wildebeest, and a disappointed hyena
a hyena, a wildebeest, and a disappointed hyena

During the evening game drive, we found a cheetah family. See my post the family that preys together.

cheetah mother and sleeping cubs
cheetah mother and sleeping cubs

We watched the cheetahs past sunset, when it started raining cats and dogs.  We drove back to camp on flooded dirt roads in the dark.  When the lightning flashed, we could see that the ground was flooded as far as we could see.  It wasn’t a river out there; it was a lake. I was concerned that if our vehicle had to stop, it might get stuck in the mud. Fortunately, all three vehicles made it back without mishap.

On the last night of the safari, we each talked about our favorite experience.  The cheetah mother and cubs waking up and playing that evening was my favorite.  I thanked our guides for the experience and for letting us stay with the cheetahs until they woke up, despite the oncoming rain and difficult drive back to camp.

Bush walks

The Alamana camp is located on Maasai lands outside Serengeti National Park.  We may use open vehicles, go on bush walks, drive off-road, and do night game drives.  These activities are not permitted within the National Park.

The first morning we climbed into open vehicles to drive to a bush walk.  Lucas, a Maasai camp employee, is standing in front.  The open vehicle with three levels of seats facilitates game viewing and photography.

Alamana open truck with Lucas standing in front
Alamana open truck with Lucas standing in front

We did a game drive to a dry stream bed, where we did a bush walk. Noeli, a camp guide, led the the group and carried a loaded 416 caliber rifle. Lucas brought up the rear and carried a spear, the traditional Maasai weapon. We stayed close to Noeli, who carried the gun. He has used the rifle on bush walks, killing a charging hippo with a single shot from his bolt action rifle. No one asked if he would have had time for a second shot in case the first one only wounded the hippo. Remember, hippos kill more people than any other animal.

staying close to the guy with the rifle
staying close to the guy with the rifle

Noeli showed us a whistling thorn acacia, which has a symbiotic relationship with ants. Some thorns have a bulbous base where ants live, entering and exiting through a hole. Wind causes some acacia bulbs to whistle as the wind passes the hole. If the acacia is disturbed, the ants crawl out and bite the animal eating the acacia. Although this acacia has long thorns, evidently the thorns aren’t enough to protect it against herbivores!

whistling thorn acacia
whistling thorn acacia

Noeli cut open a bulb.  Ants crawled out of the bulb and are biting his hand as he holds the bulb for this picture.  Noeli is one tough dude.

whistling thron acacia and biting ants
whistling thorn acacia and biting ants

Here’s a leopard tortoise, which has spots like a leopard.

leopard tortoise
leopard tortoise

To our surprise, Lucas pulled all this from his backpack, so we enjoyed coffee and cookies in the shade.

coffee on the bush walk
coffee on the bush walk

Driving back to camp we saw a male impala and his harem.

male impala
male impala
female impalas
female impalas

Near the camp, we saw one of the three Maasai camp guards.  Each guard is stationed on a kopje, a granite outcropping.

kopje with Maasai guard
kopje with Maasai guard

We did an evening bush walk after a much-needed siesta, .  A troop of baboons watched us from a kopje.  Baboons are a favorite food of leopards, so baboons stay vigilant.

baboon on kopje
baboon on kopje

We did a night game drive after dinner, but we didn’t see much. Day 1 in Alamana.

We’re in Africa

From Ngorongoro we drove to Olduvai Gorge, then north to our camp in Alamana.  It would be a long day of driving starting at 8:30.

Driving west down the Ngorogoro highlands, giraffes browsed in the acacia woodland. Do you see six giraffes?  We played see and count the animals with our guide, and he always won.  The first person would say “I see a giraffe at 2:00!” “I see two!” Our guide would say “I see six”, and we’d eventually see the six.

six giraffes
six giraffes
Don't you think this is my better side?
Don’t you think this is my better side?

Almost every tree or shrub we saw was an acacia, all with thorns.  Giraffes browse on acacia buds and leaves despite the thorns.

Driving across the savannah, we saw some diagonal lines in the distance.

giraffes migrating across the Serengeti plains
giraffes migrating across the Serengeti plains

At first, I couldn’t tell whether these were animals.  Watching them longer, they moved, confirming they’re animals. The neck and legs are long and thin — giraffes.  The necks lean the same direction, so they’re walking or running together.  Traveling in a single file, they’re migrating.  Giraffes migrating across the Serengeti plains — we’re in Africa.

The plains are brown and dry.  Although we visited between the short rains and the long rains of the wet season, rainfall has been scant, so there’s no grass here for grazing wildebeests and zebras.

At Olduvai Gorge, streams cut through several geologic layers, exposing old formations.

Olduvai Gorge
Olduvai Gorge

From Wikipedia, “Olduvai Gorge is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the world and has been instrumental in furthering the understanding of early human evolution. This site was occupied by homo habilis approximately 1.9 million years ago, paranthropus boisei 1.8 million years ago, and homo erectus 1.2 million years ago. Homo sapiens are dated to have occupied the site 17,000 years ago.”

We listened to a talk, visited a small museum, and walked through the gorge to the excavation site.

After lunch, we drove north cross country across the short-grass plains, until the acacia woodland, where we turned to head for camp. Cross country means no roads. We drove off-road for three hours across the Serengeti, navigating by bearing and mountain landmarks. We saw no fences, no rivers, no walls, no roads. Africa is a vast land.

On a game drive, the three cars drive parallel and radio the others when they spot something interesting.

In the acacia woodland, another car spotted a cheetah and radioed us. As our car pulled up, the cheetah ran. Cheetahs are the world’s fastest land animal, accelerating to 60 mph in 3 seconds. I had time for only one picture before it disappeared into the brush.  (400 mm, 1/1600 sec, f/9) We searched for the cheetah, but it had vanished.

running cheetah
running cheetah

Here’s a higher resolution image cropped from the photo.

fleeting cheetah
fleeting cheetah close-up

We also saw a tawny eagle and Coke’s hartebeest.

tawny eagle
tawny eagle
Coke's Hartebeest
Coke’s Hartebeest

We pulled into camp at Alamana just before 6:00 pm — a long day on the Serengeti. But we would be at camp in Maasai lands for four nights before moving on.