Monday, December 12, 2016

Heading home

On the final morning of our safari we drove slowly to the park gate to meet the driver who would take us to Dar.

As we crossed the river Greater Kudu were drinking and eating at a small waterhole:

Rufous-capped Rollers perched in the morning light:

A White-throated Bee-eater was one of the last species we saw on the trip:

We crossed the Ruaha river as we headed for the exit:.

It took around three hours to get to Iringa, and then another three hours to our stop-over hotel.  The following day another seven hours to Dar with a very frustrating 90 minutes spent in queueing traffic on the city ring-road, approaching the airport.  The car park barrier was broken so we had to wait ages for a manually produced ticket, then they had a power cut while we were checking in and so it went on.

We did however take off on time for Nairobi and our connection to London.

Altogether we identified 395 species of bird in Tanzania with photographic records of 392 of them, 141 were additions to our Africa list and 111 of them addition too to our life list, bringing the total of species we've now seen and identified to 2,490, or approaching halfway (2,575) of my life target of seeing half of the bird species of the world.

Tanzania lived up to my expectations in terms of the safari experience, the number of bird species we could see and the general holiday experience, although it's expensive, we think it's worth it.

Ruaha National Park

Having decided not to fly back to Dar, we asked the Manager of the lodge for help booking a vehicle to take us there, which she did indeed sort out for us.

It wasn't cheap and we needed a hotel on the way, meaning we'd miss a day of Safari but we really didn't want to fly again and our schedule showed a 4-hour flight on what we knew to be a 2 hour trip, which meant lots of stops on the trip.  We were very grateful for her help in booking the car and making the arrangements for us.

The previous afternoon's drive had had to be curtailed as one of the other guests was getting progressively more unwell.   We didn't object and had returned, our treat for being accommodating was our own team for the day, result!

Right away we saw Grey Kestrel:

Black-bellied Bustard:

Black-faced Sandgrouse:

We did in fact see a good number of species throughout the morning including a new one for us d'Arnaud's Barbet:

Perched on a bridge Lesser-Striped Swallow:

Crowned Hornbill:

An elephant having a thorough scratch on a Boabab tree, they really go to town on the trees and help maintain the habitat through their exertions and consumption:

We stopped for breakfast and enjoyed seeing Cut-throat Finches:

The views at various points along the river were stunning:

At one point we spied some lions shading in the morning heat:

Apparently they are all part of an extended pride of over 20 lions, we found another group asleep closer to the river:

Another bird that morning, the White-headed Buffalo-Weaver:

In the afternoon we were accompanied by the guide trainer, which made the drive more of an examination for our guide which in turn diminished what we covered, but we did still see some interesting things including Red-billed Hornbill:

Von der Decken's Hornbill:


and on our way back to the lodge, African Green Pigeon:

and our final life-species of the trip, Hildebrandt's Francolin:

Sunset in Ruaha was as beautiful as everywhere else we'd stayed:

Selous National Park to Ruaha National Park

On our last morning in Selous we had time for breakfast in the camp before saying our goodbyes and driving to the airstrip.

On the way we saw hundreds of these little red velvet beetles:

As well as Bohm's Bee-eater:

Black-backed Puffback:

Brown-hooded Kingfisher:

And a real treat, a young Leopard:

I'd been hoping to see one, so was chuffed we did get to see one.  

We also saw another of the large lizards, this one out in the open, briefly:

We waited for our plane to land, hoping it would be bigger than the previous aircraft, which it proved to be.  More passengers too.  On boarding we were told we'd be doing three flights, (1) 20 minutes along the river, (2) 40 minutes to Iringa and finally (3) 20 more minutes to Ruaha.

Our airfcraft had a group of young German ladies on board which no doubt the pilot was keen to impress, so we flew just above treetop height, banking at approaching 90 degree angles to follow the river before landing.  Take-off was started from the disembarkation position too not the runway.

The next flight there were just three of us on board, a Tanzanian gentleman, Helen and I.   We kept hearing an alarm at various points on the flight, at least that's what we assumed it was.   The pilot was nonchalant, checking his phone, taking pictures, and didn't attempt in anyway to check on us or indeed alter his course as we experienced a roller-coaster ride through rain storms, clouds, etc., i left my seat twice in sudden drops, meanwhile our fellow passenger was praying hard.  I decided there and then we weren't going to do this again, by the time we'd landed Helen agreed we'd try and get a car back from Ruaha.   Our last flight was non-stop clear-air turbulence and concluded with flying directly at a mountain while descending and then at seemingly the last minute turning 160 degrees to approach the landing strip.

We hated the flight and on arrival our driver wasn't there to meet us either, though it did give us time to unwind a bit before being collected.

We'd arrived in Ruaha National park:

We were collected and driven to the lodge for a lovely lunch and chance to unpack into our tent before the afternoon drive.

At this point we realised we didn't have our own team but rather were booked onto shared drives.   We were immediately concerned about this as we tend to be very bird centric and most other guests tend to be very 'big animal or cat' centric, 

Our drive was with a German couple who turned out to be lovely people who in fact we hope to meet again.  

At one point we stopped for a random common bird when I spotted another one fly across the path, drawing the guides attention to it he in turn spotted this, a Common Genet.  It used to be called a Genet Cat but it's not in fact a cat, being closer to a Mongoose:

We saw a Shikra eating a lizard:

And a huge herd of Buffalo:

One buffalo had a wound on its back, probably from a lion attack.   The Oxpeckers eat any infection, any insects, etc., and help the animal to heal, however their assistance must be painful and irritating judging by the vain attempts of the Buffalo to remove them form time to time:

We also saw the local variant of the Red-billed Hornbill which is also known as the Ruaha Hornbill:

The park hosts good numbers of Elephants, which is a good sign given their dramatic decline globally:

Back at camp Yellow-collared Lovebirds were bathing and drinking in a waterhole in the river bed:

That night we dined on the riverbank being escorted there and back again as Elephants were in the camp.   Indeed after we'd gone to bed and as i was dozing off, three walked right outside our tent, one of them was growling, a sign it knew we were there, and as a warning to us.  The following morning all you could smell was elephant and the local baboons were picking through their dung looking for tasty morsels (eww!).

Last day in Selous

Little did we know as we set out on the morning of our third day in Selous, that today was going to be a day of wildlife experiences.

Today's goal was to drive to one of the largest accessible water-bodies from the camp and explore around there.

On the way prominent African Fish Eagle was perched:

An African Openbill Stork was preening:

I think this one is a female Amethyst Sunbird:

Having seen birds of prey landing, we approached one spot to find an adult Bateleur Eagle perched:

together with a juvenile:

As we approached closer though we found out what had been attracting the birds as a Hyena quickly dragged an Impala carcass away from us into dense undergrowth.

We got to the edge of the lake and looked around, seeing a small brightly coloured bird, the Golden Pipit:

Ezra explained that these only really occur during the rainy season which meant seeing this was an unexpected bonus and certainly a treat for us.

Further round the lake edge a large swarm of crocodiles were tearing-up a Buffalo.   Given that crocodiles wouldn't normally attack something so big our guides speculated that the animal may have got stuck in deep wet mud, which made it vulnerable.  

Certainly the crocodiles were taking no time in dismembering it, including the barrel-roll we'd only previously seen on wildlife documentaries:

One of my favourite encounters of the day was seeing Black Egrets doing their dracula impression (ok it's not that but they sweep their wings about to create private cover in which they hunt, as you can see from this sequence:

I'd long wanted to see this and was very happy to have done so.

Another corner another experience, this a long-dead Giraffe being consumed by a multitude of carrion birds:

With those having taken their fill perched close-by:

Young buffalo were suitably nervous approaching the lake to drink:

On the road back to camp we stopped to watch a Black-chested Snake-Eagle consume a snake on the wing:

And a dung beetle doing its thing:

After lunch we set out again, seeing a number of more common species but in good light including this Greater Blue-eared Starling:

Lilac-breasted Roller:

Little Bee-eater:

We stopped at one pool to watch a mother hippo escorting her youngster through a horde of crocodiles all of whom were testing her to see if they could get to her offspring while it was so small and vulnerable.  The young hippo kept trying but failing to climb onto its mother's back.  All the while the crocodiles circled with more slipping into the water.   She had to attack forward to make space for them to move into as they crossed the waterbody:

We didn't think she'd get them both across but she did.

One species of bird that always catches the eye is the Northern Carmine Bee-eater, here with a bee being beaten on a branch to remove the sting:

At one point from the road we saw a pair of Red-necked Falcons:

Another Spotted Hyena this one had been wallowing in a shallow mud-pool:

A Greater Blue-eared Starling which fought on and off with a Nubian Woodpecker:

A Yellow-billed Oxpecker in a tree:

Yellow Baboon with young:

All around the park animals had young or were about to have young in anticipation of the short rain.  After one particularly abrupt outburst of rain, we sat drying off, trying to identify a species of bird, a group of which were calling from a shrub complex.   The odd one settled sufficiently long enough for me to grab some photographs.

The sense was Babbler but we needed to get the images onto a bigger screen back at camp, where we were able to identify them as Hartlaub's Babbler:

So ended another splendid day in Selous and thankfully back in camp there were no lions to be seen or indeed heard over dinner, though we did have some of our food taken by one of the resident bush babies, which by the way make the most amazing racket during the night when you;re trying to sleep.   They call and call and call, up to an hour at a time, very close, piercingly noisy too.  We didn't get much sleep as a consequence until after a couple of nights we were so tired we slept through anyway.