Day 3 at Serengeti camp – wildebeests and cheetahs

Near our camp in the Maswa Game Reserve, this group of wildebeests walked along the alkaline lake in the early morning. Our guides had told us that with the recent rain, the grass would grow quickly and the herds would return. On our drive the day before, we had seen columns of wildebeests migrating toward camp.

wildebeests returning after the rains
wildebeests returning after the rains

This group has six adults and one baby. I expected more babies — by late February, the calving was complete. Our guide said that about 80% of the newborn wildebeests don’t survive the first year: approximately a quarter die in the first few months, a quarter die crossing the rivers west of the Serengeti, and a quarter die in the Masai Mara. The west and Masai Mara both have rivers with crocodiles. The western Serengeti rivers have the first crocodiles encountered by the young wildebeests, and wildebeests aren’t prepared for the river crossing. The crocodiles get much of their annual food from the migration, so they gather and wait.

We noticed there were a lot more flies than before. Had a thousand flies hitched a ride with every new wildebeest that migrated here? Our guide explained that flies lay eggs in the dung. When the eggs are moistened by rain, baby flies emerge. So the wildebeests migrating into the area didn’t cause more flies.  The recent rain triggered both the new grass (causing wildebeests to migrate into the area) and newborn flies hatching.

Driving on the savanna, we saw three cheetahs: a mother and two 1-year-old cheetahs.

cheetah mother of two
cheetah mother of two
two one-year-old cheetahs
two one-year-old cheetahs

We waited to see if they would hunt the nearby wildebeests and gazelles.  But they only hid in the tall grass, so we drove on. In the photo below, there’s a cheetah head sticking up on each side of the photo.

two cheetahs hiding in the tall grass
two cheetahs hiding in the tall grass

At noon we found a cheetah mother and four cubs with a gazelle kill. It was the same cheetah family we had seen two days earlier. Our guide compared the two cheetah families.  One family has four month-old cubs ; the second family has the two year-old cheetahs.  The family with the older children has fewer children. Is this normal? Some cubs will not survive their first year, despite the best care of the mother. Yes, half the cheetah cubs surviving their first year is normal. 😦

Back at camp we saw this marabou stork.  They’re large (up to 1.5 m tall) and not pretty.

marabou stork at camp
marabou stork at camp

On the evening game drive we saw a mother and baby striped hyena.

striped hyena mother and baby
striped hyena mother and baby
striped hyena baby nursing
striped hyena baby nursing

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.

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.

Ngorongoro Crater

We spent an entire day in Ngorongoro Crater, rising early to be at the entrance gate before dawn, and staying until 6:00 pm. Here’s an Abdim’s stork on a candelabra tree, colored by the predawn light.

Abdim's stork on candelabra tree
Abdim’s stork on candelabra tree

Here’s the crater from the crater rim. The crater is large and flat, surrounded by steep rim walls. We would drive around the crater.

Ngorongoro Crater from entry gate
Ngorongoro Crater from entry gate

For some people, Ngorongoro Crater was the highlight of their safari.  We saw more kinds of animals that day, than we would see on any other day. Seeing an animal for the first time on safari is special, and the introduction gets you ready to see more.

Two previous posts cover a lion family and grey-crowned crane.

Zebras and more lions.  Zebras are smart and darling. The small brownish zebra is a baby. The brown fades away with age. Lion pictures include a lioness hunting in vain.

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A wildebeest mother and baby.

baby wildebeest nursing

Cape buffalo are part of the big five.

cape buffalo
cape buffalo

Africa has ostriches.  Females are brown.  When an ostrich drinks, it raises its head to drain the water down its throat.  See the drops of water dribbling from its mouth as it raises its head.  Ostriches have powerful kicks.

ostrich drinking
ostrich drinking

The critically endangered black rhino.  Indeed, we didn’t see black rhinos after leaving Ngorongoro Crater.

black rhino
critically endangered black rhino

This spotted hyena drank and then marked territory in the water, so that other animals knew it had been there. Other animals don’t associate closely with hyenas.

spotted hyena drinking
spotted hyena drinking