Serondella – Drive Along the Chobe River

On our Botswana safari, we drove along the Chobe River on our first morning in Serondella area of the Chobe National Park. In April we saw a lot of wildlife along the river. Later in the dry season, the animals increase near the river as the surrounding land dries up and the game migrates to the waters of the Chobe River.

In the first light of dawn, these hippos have sunlight reflecting from their ears.

hippo ears in the Chobe River
hippo ears in the Chobe River

Seeking wildlife, we drove on a dirt road covered by the river. See the crocodiles in the river waiting for thirsty animals to drink in the morning.

crocodiles in river
crocodiles in river

And, of course, the obligatory African fish eagle and a lilac-breasted roller.

African fish eagle
African fish eagle
lilac-breasted roller
lilac-breasted roller

Giraffes are vulnerable when they bend over to lick salt or drink.

giraffe licking salt
giraffe licking salt

A large pod of hippos in the Chobe River.

hippos in the Chobe River
hippos in the Chobe River

Moremi, Day One – Babies and Rain

On the first day in the Moremi Game Reserve on our Botswana safari, it was cloudy and rainy.

In the early morning, this elephant extended its trunk toward us, to better sniff us.

elephant smelling
elephant smelling us

We saw two Burchell’s zebras nursing. Found in southern Africa, Burchell’s zebras have a light gray stripe between the black stripes on their flanks.

baby zebra nursing
baby zebra nursing
Burchell's zebra nursing
Burchell’s zebra nursing

And a baby giraffe.

baby giraffe
baby giraffe

Look at the closeup below to see a wound and scab on the left rear leg, and a bird hidden behind the tail.

baby giraffe wound
baby giraffe wound

A yellow-billed stork perched on a termite mound.

stork on termite mound
stork on termite mound

A female kudu.

female kudu
female kudu

At the end of the day, we headed back to camp early because we weren’t seeing much.

During heavy rain, low spots in the dirt roads fill with water. The game warden in the photo below tried to drive through the puddle and got stuck. He’s getting his bag from his truck before we give him a ride to the warden office. The next day our camp crew got his truck out. Dirt roads can become impassable in the wet season.

warden with stuck truck
warden with stuck truck

Kalahari, Day Two – Deception Pan and Lion in the Camp

At night we heard lions calling loudly. I tried recording the lion roar using our iPhone, but both Voice Memo recordings were silent.

To start our morning game drive we drove nearby, but our guide only spotted fresh lion tracks on the road. In the morning, cheetahs lay in wait for a springbok to wander close enough to give chase, but the springboks kept their distance. As it warmed up, the cheetahs gave up and walked to shade.

springbok looking at cheetahs
springbok looking at cheetahs

Jackals usually keep their distance, but this black-backed jackals paused briefly to pose for us.

black-backed jackal
black-backed jackal

Yet another pretty bird. Birds with such long tails need to be careful where they land, so that their tail doesn’t get caught in the thorns or leaves.

shaft-tailed whydah
shaft-tailed whydah

The steenbok is a small antelope.

steenbok
steenbok

In the afternoon we saw Deception Pan. It looks like a lake with water, but it’s actually dry. The vegetation helps sell the notion of a lake: a band of red vegetation near us, a band of green vegetation, and the dark patch that looks like water.

Deception Pan
Deception Pan

Below, a closer view looks less like a lake.

lanner falcon and gemsboks at Deception Pan
lanner falcon and gemsboks at Deception Pan

We watched a giraffe bend over carefully to graze on grass. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGe_4MkAkKs

At dusk, after we returned to camp and were cleaning up, we heard “Lion in the camp! Stay in your tents!”. I looked outside but didn’t see a lion.

Stanley, one of our guides, was cleaning his vehicle when he saw a lion walking next to the land cruiser. The lion had walked past the dining tent next to the vehicle, and one of our safari members was having a smoke in the dining tent.

lion walked past Stanley on this road
lion walked past our guide here

“Get in the truck!” said Stanley, and Elise climbed into the truck. Stanley yelled out the warning for the rest of the camp. As you can see, the road isn’t very wide. Our tents are within 50 m of the truck and dining tent. Eating dinner in the dining tent that night was more exciting. We still hadn’t see the black-maned lions of the Kalahari, and we would leave the Kalahari in the morning.

Day 2 at Serengeti camp – the great migration, at last

During our safari in late February, the great migration is normally in the southern Serengeti. But so far there has been little rain so the wildebeests and zebras came, ate the grass, and moved to the north, where there was more rain and grass. We had seen few wildebeests and no herds of wildebeests.

On our second day at Serengeti camp, we woke early for a long drive north to see herds of wildebeest and zebra. We would enter the Serengeti National Park, where we would have to stay on roads.

Early in the morning this giraffe was eating its favorite food, acacia leaves.  Acacias have long thorns.  We see how giraffes use their long, dexterous tongue to grab the leaves while avoiding the thorns. The giraffe’s tongue is wrapped around the branch to strip the leaves.

giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves
giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves

Here’s a closeup with more detail.  See the long thorns to the left and right of the giraffe tongue. The thorns are a lighter green than the leaves and branches. At 7:18 am, the light was dim.  Like the night before, the ISO was maxed out and the lens wide open, and there still wasn’t enough light. Learning my lesson, I increased the exposure from 1/400 to 1/250 second, while shooting at 400 mm. The rule of thumb is that the exposure time is less than or equal to the inverse of the focal length, or 1/400 second for a 400 mm focal length. The photo looks clear enough despite the longer exposure. See the giraffe’s eyelashes?

closeup of giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves
closeup of giraffe tongue grabbing acacia leaves

A half hour later we stopped to see this jackal.  We were far away — these photos were taken at 400 mm.

common jackal
common jackal

A couple minutes later we learned why our guide stopped and waited.

jackal eating a bird
jackal eating a bird

Here’s a closeup.  It looks like the jackal’s eating a bird with long black feathers, perhaps a secretary bird.  Breakfast before 8:00 am.

closeup of jackal eating a bird
closeup of jackal eating a bird

When we entered the Serengeti National Park, we stopped to file papers.  This superb starling was in the parking lot. The iridescent top feathers and orange breast are very pretty.

superb starling
superb starling

At noon we finally found herds of zebras and wildebeests. Not the million animals that we had read about, but many herds of animals.

zebras
zebras
zebra and wattled starlings
zebra and wattled starlings

We saw a leopard and its kill, shown in my post.

leopard in tree
leopard in tree

We were happy.  Our safari was nearing the end, and we had not seen a leopard.  The leopard completed our seeing the big five animals.  As it turned out, this was the only leopard we saw.  It was almost 2:00, and we headed for a late lunch.

But of course we had to stop to see these baboons on the side of the road.

baby baboon playing
baby baboon playing
baboons grooming
baboons grooming

After lunch we drove along a river and saw hippos. There was much more water here than at the Alamana hippo pool, so these hippos were more comfortable.

hippo approaching
hippo approaching
hippos humping
hippos humping
hippo yawning
hippo yawning

Here’s a closeup of the hippo jaws.  Note the hippo’s enormous mouth and sharp, ivory canine teeth.  Hippo teeth are sharpened during use, and the canines can reach 20″.

hippos jaws
hippos jaws

We saw lions mating.  See my post.

We started the long drive back to camp. We had started early, and we were all tired.

Our guide saw some vultures landing and taking off in the grass so he stopped to look where the vultures were landing.  No other vehicles were stopped.  We didn’t see anything where the vultures landed.  Finally he told us to look to the left, far away.  We finally saw some brown spots in the grass.  Still in the National Park, we couldn’t drive off-road to get closer.  The following photos are with a telephoto lens at 400 mm. Here’s the initial photo.

brown spots in the distance
brown spots in the distance

Soon there was some movement.

lion moving the kill
lion moving the kill
lion with wildebeest hoof and head
lion with wildebeest hoof and head

And a closeup of the lion.

closeup of lion with wildebeest hoof and head
closeup of lion with wildebeest hoof and head

Looks like a wildebeest.  Our guide told us that the lions had probably killed the wildebeest and dragged it away.  The vultures were landing at the spot of the kill. Our guide is amazing at finding animals.

At dusk we saw these storks roosting in a tree.

storks roosting
storks roosting

Back at camp, we heard a loud elephant trumpet as we got out of the vehicle.  A large elephant was walking between two tents, about a hundred meters away from us.  The elephant was taller than our tents.  The guide said to climb back in.  After the guides said it was clear, they drove us back to our tents.

We later learned that this adult elephant is a frequent visitor to the camp.  Our lead guide saw it and shined a flashlight into its eyes. The light in elephant’s eyes ruins its night vision, so it moved away.

To the Serengeti Camp

We drove all day from the Alamana Camp to the Serengeti Camp. In the morning we saw two kinds of antelope: a Coke’s hartebeest and a male impala.

Coke's hartebeest
Coke’s hartebeest
male impala
male impala

A group of giraffes were walking, and then they galloped past our parked trucks. These 3 photos were taken with a zoom lens at 135 mm, a short telephoto length. See the dust being kicked up in the third picture.

walking giraffes
walking giraffes
giraffes running
giraffes running
giraffes running with curved necks
giraffes running with curved necks

As we neared camp, a herd of elephants walked by.  Note that the baby is much smaller than the adult elephants.

elephant herd walking by
elephant herd walking by

Here’s a baby elephant nursing.

baby elephant nursing
baby elephant nursing

Close to sunset, we drove past an alkaline lake with various birds.

flamingos and 2 storks
flamingos and 2 storks
black-headed heron
black-headed heron
yellow-billed stork
yellow-billed stork

Day 2 at Alamana – in search of the klipspringer

We started the day with an game drive to find the elusive klipspringer, a mammal that lives on kopjes.  In another post, we saw a spotted hyena and a baby gazelle.  In the photo below, a male giraffe tastes the female giraffe’s urine to detect estrus. Note the baby giraffe with the darker spots.

male giraffe sniffing female
male giraffe sniffing female

We enjoyed a hippo pool.  We saw a martial eagle and the klipspringer.

martial eagle
martial eagle
klipspringers
klipspringers

Klipspringers are very shy, and they usually ran when we drove by.  They have pads on their feet, to better grip the granite kopje. We saw Maasai herding cattle and getting water.

Maasai herding cattle
Maasai herding cattle
Maasai women getting water
Maasai women getting water

In the evening we saw a Maasai ceremony.

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.