Madagascar: An Island of Endemics

Lady-in-Rice-Paddy-

A 24 day birding tour with the option to extend for a further 5 days to include the fabulous Masoala Peninsula, with Adam & Vicki as your guide and host.

Main Tour – arriving A.M. into Antananarivo on the 27th September 2013 departing early hours of the 21st October 2013.

With Extension - arriving A.M. into Antananarivo on the 27th September 2013 departing early hours of the 26th October 2013.

The island of Madagascar is simply a world apart, with totally unique flora and fauna, it is a place where evolution has run wild and has such a high degree of endemism that it is truly like nowhere else on Earth. Situated 430km from the east coast of Africa it currently hold around 120 species of endemic birds including six completely endemic families. Nowhere else in the world can you see Ground-Rollers, Mesites, Vangas, Couas, Cuckoo-Roller and Asities. It is also famous for its remarkable selection of Lemurs and we are sure to see around 20 species ranging from the huge and noisy Indri to tiny Mouse-Lemurs. This is a thorough tour of the island taking in a wide variety of, often unique, habitats ranging from high rocky escarpments, vast grasslands, dry deciduous woodland, spiny Didierea forest, sandy off shore islands, mangrove and lush rich rainforest. With more and more pressure on the islands wildlife from intense farming and deforestation now is the time to visit.   Sadly, and literally, before it’s too late.

Tempted?  Download the full itinerary and cost by clicking Madagascar – The Island of Endemics!

I’m in!  Secure your place on this fabulous tour by clicking BOOK NOW!

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Lion in the house…

Mammal book cover

 

Following the publication of Birds of the Masai Mara last October, we were eagerly awaiting the arrival of Animals of the Masai Mara.  Well, we are absolutely delighted to announce that both books are now published and are available globally!

What a fabulous end to 2012!

Both of the books are available from numerous retailers and the prices do vary, check out a couple of the links here:

Natural History Book Service
Amazon UK
Sainsbury’s Entertainment

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The Crane has landed…now awaiting the Lion!

 

A very exciting day today as Adam’s book “Birds of the Masai Mara” starts hitting welcome mats all over the world. The first Amazon review is up, keep your fingers crossed for us as (hopefully) more start to come…

Don’t miss out order your copy here…

Amazon UK and Natural History Book Service.

 

 

 

 

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Back from the Birdfair

The Birdfair (http://www.birdfair.org.uk) this year was quite a success; what an event!  Adam has been several times previously, however, as a Birdfair virgin I have to confess I was very impressed!  It was a packed three days with a host of events and talks from the likes of Jonathan Scott, Mark Cawardine and Simon King.  There were hundreds of stands covering everything from guide books and clothing to bird seed; tour providers and artists; and all kinds of gadgetry! I learned quickly that this isn’t a fair for just birders but anyone with an interest in wildlife and travelling to see it.

One of our favourite stands was that of artist Rebecca Nason (pictured below left with her birders mug – which we couldn’t resist!), she has a wonderful eye for creative images, check out some of her beautiful work by clicking here.

Of course, there was also our publisher WildGuides/Princeton University Press and Zoothera, the company for which we are leading some of our upcoming tours.

Whilst we were hoping to actually see and hold our books they are now on a ship but UK bound – so whilst not quite here, we are getting closer!

For us, the main purpose was to promote our image library and tours, and our job was duly done!  We enjoyed a couple of meetings with our publisher and are delighted to hear that Animals of the Masai Mara and Birds of the Masai Mara have both been so well received that we’ve been asked to produce more!! So, now our days are filled plotting the next books. Sadly, that’s all we can say about them at this point but stay tuned…one of them is going to be an absolute corker!

After the Birdfair we jetted off for some well earned R&R on the Turkish coast, bliss.

We’ll be going quiet for a little while now as we’re in planning mode and firmly stuck to our desk chairs in the UK, our return to Kenya is immient and tales from the bush will continue… kwaheri!

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Kenya to UK and back again!

The time of travelling had come to an end but not for long you’ll be glad to hear!  We returned to the UK on Friday the 13th feeling rather shattered!  We spent a couple of months getting up to date with our many thousands of images, re-developing the website and finishing our book “Animals of the Masai Mara”.  We also spent some time putting together a couple of tours for next year (check them out on www.rawnaturephoto.com/safaris) and of course took a day or two to relax!

We found ourselves back on the plane to Nairobi on Monday the 11th of June heading once again to Naibor (www.naibor.com) for a three week relief management stint.  It was certainly good to be back, little had changed except for the fact that it had become even more beautiful (or maybe that was a side effect of 2 months in a very wet Ipswich!).  Anyway, we took some wonderful game drives and caught up with some old feline friends, t’was magic.  Then on the day that finished, we simply transferred to the beautifully located Sala’s Camp (http://www.thesafaricollection.com/properties/50-salas-camp) for a further 5 weeks of relief management.  Sala’s Camp is pretty much on the Tanzanian border on the junction of the Keekerok River and Sand River and is perfectly located for the onset of the Wildebeest migration. Sala’s Camp is indeed the first camp to see the beasts when they reach Kenyan soil.  After waiting a week or so longer than the previous two years, we were having a fabulous lunch on the ? and hearing a familiar chorus of grunts, we looked up to see a LONG line of zebra and wildebeest, they had arrived!  Since then, we have been treated to fabulous sightings of Wildebeest, Zebra, Buffalo, Giraffe and of course all the associated predators.  Yesterday morning within one 4 hour game drive guests had seen 23 different Lion and 3 different Leopard!!!  All around the camp there is a healthy larder of half eaten Wildebeest stashed up various trees, vultures cloud the skies and there is a feast on!  We are falling asleep each night to the sound of Lions roaring and Leopards grunting, we are still enjoying the familiar sound of elephants “rumbling” and see them on the river and plains next to and opposite camp enjoying a brief interlude when Wildebeest groups stagger their arrival, however, soon it will become too noisy and they will travel north for some peace and quiet.

The other morning I moved a table outside and as I wrote the blog I had an upriver view of baboons playing and taking refreshment from the Sand River and to my right extended the Serengeti Plains with a line of Wildebeest stretching as far as the eye can see, it was a sight to behold.  Sadly, we haven’t taken many drives in this area, as a busy camp doesn’t allow it but we did pop out the other afternoon and took tracks that nobody has used in a while…we felt like the only people on the planet, it was truly special.  Making it even more special was Adam’s beady eye on the sky where he snoticed a Blue Swallow dive down by the car.  Stopping to grab a quick record shot (as this really is something special), we switched off the engine and were soon surrounded by about 20-30!  This bird has never been recorded in the Mara before so it was like 10x Christmas mornings rolled into one for Adam!  So while I sat on top of the car revealing in the beauty and wilderness before me, with the sun slowly setting, Adam strolled off in to the tall grass plains and was happily snapping away.  We cracked open a beer and after an hour or so reluctantly headed back into camp.  A pretty special day at the office ;o).

The rest of our time at Sala’s Camp whizzed by and we did manage to pop out on a couple more drives to see the spectacular show that is the migration, a couple of favourite shots are below.  Also Leopard are reliably seen daily in the camp environs and whilst we didn’t manage to catch up with them again, there are 2 males and one female hanging around, so hopefully in a couple of months there will be some little Leopards to add to the count!  I can think of no finer excuse to come back and visit soon!

We’re now back in Nairobi and packing furiously before our flight heads out tonight; but it’s never goodbye, it’s only ever “until the next time”, which will hopefully be next month!  The next couple of weeks are going to be busy for us; we have the Birdfair in Rutland Water starting on Friday and we will hopefully be in procession of Adam’s bird book for the first time (!) and then we’re off to a wedding in Turkey!  That’s about it for now, it’s over and out from Nairobi, but only until the next time…

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From chimps to gorillas…

It has indeed been four months since we updated our blog, shocking behavior I know!  However, we have been very busy developing our company and website and we hope you can see the difference.  So, without further ado, here is the remaining account of our wonderful Ugandan tour. It was magical and we’ve already put together a birding itinerary for June next year based on our trip and experiences.  With regards to other tours and personalised trips we will not be putting out a “standard” itinerary as Uganda has so much to offer and we truly feel that anybody wishing to travel here would hugely benefit from a more personalised touch depending on priorities.  So if you fancy it (and we highly recommend it) drop us a line and tell us what you want to see and do, and we’d be delighted to design the ideal safari for you.

 Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) to Bwindi Impentrable National Park (BINP)

We were very pleasantly surprised by Mweya Safari Lodge; it’s situated in a spectacular location perched high on a peninsula overlooking the Kazinga Channel in one direction and Lake Edward in the other.  The birding was immediately appealing to Adam with several goodies, such as Black-headed Gonolek and a variety of weavers feeding in and around the grounds. The rooms are nicely done (with bath tubs, much to my delight!) and all overlook the channel.  After checking in, we booked an afternoon boat ride down the Kazinga Channel, and it didn’t disappoint.  On this short sundowner cruise we managed to see Cape Buffalo, Elephant, Hippo, Giant Forest Hog and Leopard within the first hour!  Not to mention a plethora of waterbirds.

Dinner was a sumptuous affair and after retiring and getting a fabulous night sleep we awoke to see Elephant drinking from the channel below us.  Eager to get going we ate a hasty breakfast and made our way south through the park to the Ishasha sector and the highly regarded Ishasha Wilderness Camp.  We did break our journey on route with a stop at a nearby swamp in the hope of finding Papyrus Gonolek and, after just 10 minutes, got very lucky!  We then had a quick detour to see Kyambura Gorge (pictured left), which is another location for chimp-trekking.  The gorge is a 30 minute detour off the main road and is a spectacular sight, however, anyone wishing to track chimps would be advised to do this at the much more reliable location of Kibale National Park, unless you are seriously strapped for time.

We soon side-stepped back into the main QENP boundary and encountered warthog, topi and buffalo.  This particular section of the park is well known for its tree-climbing lions and even the park map has the regular trees identified on it. Sadly during our trip we didn’t see any lions up trees but it is apparently a regular occurrence.  However, we did see a beautiful large male resting after taking down a buffalo, seemingly single-handed and the birding was good.  Ishasha Wilderness Camp lived up to the hype; it’s situated on a quiet riverbank and is a true haven of peace, great food and service.

On game drives we also saw Spotted Hyena trying it’s luck with Topi, many Impala, Hartebeest and Warthog.  The buffalo here are slightly different from the Cape Buffalo found further east/south; there appears to have been interbreeding between the forest species and plains species resulting in a rather brown animal with more curved horns (see below).

Now we’re getting close to the ultimate highlight of our trip – the Gorillas!  We departed Ishasha after 2 nights and made our way further south to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP), we stopped on the way to pick up our birding guide and then headed on a slow drive to Ruhija, passing through a patch of forest referred to as “The Neck” along the way. Upon arrival in Ruhija we found our little guest house (very basic but did the job) and I opted to relax for a couple of hours while Adam was ready to start birding!

He took a little track along the forest and spent several hours in the company of many endemic bird species, including Ruwenzori Hill Babbler, Ruwenzori Apalis, Mountain Masked Apalis and Ruwenzori (Collared) Apalis, plus White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Fine-banded (Tullberg’s) Woodpecker and Chestnut-throated Apalis. That evening we were very early to bed and up early for our trek down to Mabwindi Swamp.  It was a VERY good hike and at several points I started to doubt my participation, but I stuck with it and am very glad I did. We saw some great birds such as Archer’s Robin-Chat, Black-billed Turaco, Montane Oriole, Narrow-tailed, Sharpe’s and Waller’s Starlings and the Albertine Rift endemics, the Grauer’s Rush Warbler and Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher. Unfortunately, we missed the very special bird at this site, the African Green Broadbill, as it was not nesting but it will give a great excuse to return. We also found signs of gorillas and forest elephant that had passed that morning. In the afternoon I once again opted for the armchair next to the fireplace while Adam was out birding again.

The next morning we had to crack on with the journey further south to Mgahinga.  Of course, there were some bird-stops along the way with Adam finding the secretive Grauer’s Warbler among others. It’s a spectacular journey with great scenery and we passed through lots of villages and towns and even a large UN refugee camp, all before hitting Kisoro (our lunch stop).  We found a travellers inn with great gardens and yet more birds!  Here we found Grey-headed Nigrita and Mackinnon’s Fiscal Shrike, both being particularly approachable.

We finished the day driving along what is possibly the worst road in East Africa (and possibly the worst recorded road EVER anywhere!), at several points we had to stop and ask as we really weren’t sure that we were actually still on it!  Anyway, after a mere 20km and three and a half hours later (!) we arrived at Mount Gahinga Lodge.  Unfortunately, they hadn’t received our booking but it wasn’t a problem as they clearly hadn’t had guests in quite some time! This is a real shame as the lodge is beautiful and the only reason it lies empty is because the gorillas that frequently reside nearby have decided to move across the Rwandan border, and have been there for the last 2 years.  Mgahinga National Park sits at the border of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda and, as a result, the gorillas are obviously free to move as they wish. This group hasn’t come back to Uganda for over 2 years but they are due at some point in the next 5!  Anyway, thankfully we were here for birds and not gorillas.

We spent time relaxing in the lodge and recovering from the horrendous drive for the rest of the day.  The next day Adam was on a quest for the Ruwenzori Turaco and other range-restricted species which involved a lengthy hike halfway up Mgahinga itself.  As the weather was rather unpredictable (and the lodge so lovely!) I had a lie in!  Adam on the other hand was halfway up the mountain while I was tucking into breakfast!  As I sat admiring the view and eating my bacon sandwich, the weather started to turn and the rain came, and it rained very hard and heavy for 2 hours.  Feeling a little nervous about Adam being up the mountain I drove to the ranger station to check on his progress.  I was assured all was well so I sat in the car and waited for him to come down.  After an hour or so, I heard voices and then emerging from the forest track was the wettest, dirtiest husband I have EVER seen!  He was also a very happy husband; he’d worked his butt off and had an exhilarating experience walking through the bamboo forest during the storm with two armed rangers which he says felt like something from a scene from the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon movie. He found some fantastic birds such as Western Green Tinkerbird, Ruwenzori Double-collared Sunbird, Black-headed Waxbill and Archer’s Robin-Chat but the rare turaco remained elusive.

As the road was hellish coming in we decided to cut our stay a night short here and make our way back to Kisoro so the drive back to Bwindi wouldn’t be so eventful the next day (Ha! The laugh was on us, you’ll see why soon!).  So after Adam’s trek, we moved on and headed back up to Kisoro to the quirky Inn and spent the night there.

We were up with the lark the next day and spent some time on the shores of the beautiful Lake Mutanda (below) where we were extremely lucky to spend time with 9 Spot-necked Otters (and a load of bemused kids!).  We wanted to hire a boat to go on the lake and after several animated conversations and 3 unsuitable dhow canoes later, we gave up and enjoyed them from the shore instead. Adam was happy that he found a Papyrus Yellow Warbler here, a difficult bird to stumble across.

We then decided to consult the map for our journey north and could see there was a short cut via a dry weather only 4×4 track which would save us loads of time…you can see it coming I’m sure…we thought “hey, great, we’re in a 4×4, hasn’t rained here, shouldn’t be a problem, let’s go!”.  So off we set and after about 3 hours of driving on a pretty rough track we realized we weren’t seeing the forest, which considering the size of Bwindi we should have started seeing it about an hour ago (according to the map). We started to get a little concerned but then realized that we hadn’t missed any roads because there hadn’t been any to miss (except one about an hour ago, but it couldn’t have been that one, it was hardly a track at all…).  Eventually, we thought it prudent to stop and ask someone so, in our scrambled Swahili, we stopped to enquire. The first person didn’t understand so went to fetch a friend, who went to fetch a friend and eventually we found someone. “We’re looking for Bwindi Forest” to which he laughed, pointed behind us and said “oh, long way, long way”.  Oh. Then he went on to reassure us “but don’t worry you’re still in Uganda”. Adam and I exchanged a familiar “oh shit” look, before I enquired further “where else might we be?” Smiling broadly, he replied “the Congo! It’s here!” and pointed to a dip in the valley in which we were about to descend – great!  Pulling out the map we looked again to see exactly where we were and needless to say we were way off base!  Turning around we headed back in the same direction, now a bit concerned as to where we could get to before it became dark.  Driving all the way back wasn’t an option as there wasn’t time, and delaying overnight was not an option as we had purchased our gorilla permits for that next morning.

So, by hook or by crook, we had to get from the Congo border back to Bwindi before dark!  At the village where there was one turn off (the one we decided previously could not be the right road) we stopped to ask some women the way, as we wound down the window they ran off screaming…not a good start!  Then some old wise man came hobbling out unafraid and we managed to ascertain that we could use this road to get to the “big forest” (pictured left and hard to miss!) but there hasn’t been a car down there in his memory… hmmmm… feeling the pressure of time, we thought “sod it, let’s try”.  It was a road but trimmed down to a goat track many times. I had to get out at a bridge and jump up and down to “test” it before waiting across the other side for Adam to nervously drive across it; I had to exit the car again to “fix” the holes in a gulley with any nearby boulders so we could get the car across it and at other times I had to close my eyes as they valley to my left was so steep and we were riding the edge on numerous occasions!  Children ran away from the sound of the engine and old woman laughed at us as we crawled by.  It was a rather tense 3 hours, and tested our borrowed Prado time and time again but we kept our humour!  I have to say I would have NO hesitation in buying a 1998 Prado, they are superb!  After about 2 and a half hours, knowing we were at least headed east (which was the right direction) we started to see forested slopes, the relief was palpable, but the road still long!  After 5 hours, we eventually rolled into Nkuringo Lodge and Campsite on the southern boundary of Bwindi at 7.30pm, gone dark!  When we pulled into camp we were greeted by several worried staff and then had to explain that we took the short cut from Kisoro via the Congo!  They thought we were off our rocker, smiled benignly at us and handed us beers!

We slept well (needless to say!) and woke up ready to see some gorillas!  I had been really worried about this, having heard horror stories for the last 4 years about the trek that some people have to do, so it was with some trepidation that we drove to the ranger station for our briefing.  After waiting for half an hour it was clear that nobody else was coming to trek that day and we would have the gorilla’s all to ourselves, if we found them.  Well, find them we did!  We drove further around the rim of the forest and started trekking down for an hour and a half. It was incredibly steep but we were issued walking sticks and could take our time.  As we reached the bottom of the valley, we heard them.  I can’t begin to explain the feeling – it was pure adrenaline and joy.  We had to hack our way through the forest and cross through streams but then as I was coming out of the last stream, cursing that my boot had filled with ice cold water, I looked up into the eyes of a baby gorilla, suspended in the tree eyeing us curiously…  the moment had come!  We took five minutes to collect our thoughts and steady our breath and then scrambled into a clearing with 3 more, a mother and her toddler and an older black-back male.  The excitement was dizzying.  Then we heard a crashing through the bushes next to us, and the Silverback came into view. He was simply majestic.  I have never seen such power, strength and gentility combined before, it took my breath away.  We waited a short while before the rangers signaled us to move through to the next clearing where we sat with 14 gorillas eating, playing and watching us watching them for the next hour.  The young one would rush at us beating his chest and seemingly playing with us, while mothers chastised others for misbehaving. One Blackback looked distinctly hung-over and kept pinching his eyes before rolling over again and nursing his head.  I have never experienced anything like it and felt completely humbled by it all.  When our time was nearly up, I put down the camera and just watched, it was then that tears fell.  Tears of joy and happiness, it was overwhelming.  An experience both of us will ever forget and hope to repeat as soon as we possibly can.

 

On an absolute high we started trekking back up the hill, it was even steeper and our feet and boots sodden. However, we stopped for frequent breaks and, to be honest, after that experience we felt like we were floating.  The rest of the day was spent in a dreamy daze and recalling every precious moment through our images.

We spent another night at Nkuringo Campsite, and the next morning got up to explore the birds of the area.  There were some truly beautiful ones and after several attempts Adam managed to get great shots of one of his hit-list birds, Doherty’s Bushshrike. That afternoon, after an inspection of other properties in the area, we decided to abandon the simple life of the campsite for a night of luxury at the exquisite Clouds Lodge, also in Nkuringo.  We treated ourselves to a “couples massage” and relaxed by the open fire with the sun setting over the glorious forest with a gin & tonic in hand.

Sorry to leave Clouds Lodge but buoyed by more time in the forest, we headed round to the northern part called Buhoma, passing once again through The Neck.  This time Adam had his playtime and whilst I drove the car at a snails pace Adam was able to happily bird his way along.

We reached our lovely accommodation, Buhoma Lodge, in good time for Adam to continue birding and for me to take a glass of wine to our honeymoon suite (very nice too, thank you!) and lie back in the bathtub, still high from all of our experiences!  Dinner was excellent and we fell asleep replete and listening to rain falling on our canvas roof.

Adam had an early morning (birding again) while I gathered our things together and did a little shopping in the dukas (shops) that line the roadside and then it was onwards to Lake Mburo.  We had plenty of birding stops along the way and a great shopping/lunch stop at the equator.  The drive onwards was very pleasant and after five hours or so we reached our turn-off.  The track down to Lake Mburo leaves a lot to be desired but we saw lots of the famous Ankole cattle with the HUGE horns and, of course, we were always birding!  We got to Mahingo Lodge around 7pm, in perfect time to catch the sunset and eat another fabulous dinner!  Mahingo Lodge is another stunning creation, built high on a kopje overlooking Lake Mburo itself and the surrounding plains.  We had a fabulous game drive the next morning and saw lots of zebra, warthog, impala and baboons!  My afternoon was spent time relaxing and catching up on admin, whilst Adam moved like a Klipspringer over the rocks looking endlessly for Freckled Nightjars, which he’d heard the night before.  We arranged a boat ride on the lake for the next morning and had the best government employed guide we’ve ever met – he was brilliant!  He took us straight to a roost of White-backed Night Heron and then headed away to find the enigmatic African Finfoot, and we soon located a pair. Then with 10 minutes of our time left we decided to go back to the Night Herons as they were so beautiful.  On the way we could see a very distressed Pied Kingfisher, as we got closer we could see it was going mad and literally spinning around a branch obviously stuck in some way.  When the boat pulled up alongside it, it was clear that it had swallowed something that had caught a line and had literally wrapped itself around a branch and was hanging limply, clearly exhausted.  Adam quickly reached out and grabbed it and then while he held it secure we jointly held its bill open and I set about slowly pulling out the line.  It took us a good 10 minutes as it was well and truly caught up, but we managed it and as soon as the operation was completed Adam released a very relieved kingfisher!  That was undoubtedly my highlight of the day!

So we headed back to the lodge, on yet another high, ready for a hearty breakfast before making our way back to Kampala with, of course, a few birding stops here and there!

After a night in Kampala, we caught a taxi back to Entebbe, which was rather uneventful in itself but we noticed a sign to a snake farm.  Curious, and with 2 hours to spare, we decided to go back and take a look and it was brilliant!  The keepers were happy to take out some snakes for us to photograph and they had a fabulous Gaboon Viper (bottom left & right); it’s a close call between that and the Rhinoceros Viper (top right) for the most beautiful snake we’ve ever seen. The Gaboon Viper is one that I certainly wouldn’t want to come across when not in a confined environment – it quite literally growled at us, like a dog!  It was a fierce sight, no doubt about it!  They also had a smart collection of chameleons and a glorious Spitting Cobra (top right) which was fascinating.

So after a rather packed month we checked in at the Gately Inn and prepared ourselves for the early morning flight back to Nairobi.

We landed back in Nairobi on the 9th April, took a few days to have a good sort out and catch up with friends and in no time at all it was UK bound again…until the next time!

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We’re in Uganda!

Entebbe to Budongo Forest

By Vicki

Well, we promised to catch up with you in Murchison Falls but that feels like a lifetime ago as we’ve been having far too much of good a time to sit and stare at a computer screen! Our apologies for such a whimsical approach to our blogging and hope you’ll forgive us when you read about what we’ve been up to ;o)

We arrived in Entebbe after a rather delayed Fly540 flight fromNairobi. It was only a one hour flight, so still feeling fresh and energised from landing on “new turf” we emerged from the tiny airport and headed to our little guest house for the evening, Sunset Motel.

We discovered early on that Uganda suffers from patchy phone signal and regular power cuts – forewarned is forearmed! However, Entebbeis very chilled out and relaxed, nobody paid us any special attention and we didn’t hear the chorus of “wazungu” (meaning foreigner), for days!  Our motel was quaint and all meals (except breakfast) were a choice of chicken, beef or fish.  When I asked how the chicken was prepared I was told “it’s chicken”. I decided to try a different tack and asked about the fish. “It’s fish” was the reply, fair enough, I’m not sure what I was thinking requiring more information really so we tried the chicken for dinner, the fish for lunch the next day then opted to eat out after that for all remaining meals at the delightful Gately Inn!  On our first morning breakfast was rather light as, due to power cuts, the toaster didn’t work!  So, after a hearty banana and what we think was coffee, we headed straight off in our taxi for Mabamba Swamp.

Mabamba is one of the best locations for viewing the rather famous Shoebill (a peculiar stork) and we were both very excited at the prospect. It is a RAMSAR site and run by the local community who have a number of canoes that they paddle Shoebill-seeking guests in for a couple of hours.  It’s a beautiful area and very relaxing as soon as you turn off the main channel and start being serenely rowed through the waterways searching for your quarry and enjoying everything else along the way.  We did indeed manage to see 2 Shoebill but both of them were in flight. Adam pulled off a fine balancing act in the canoe and took the image below, while I enjoyed the sighting firmly rooted to my wooden plank!

 

After our morning endeavours we headed back into Entebbe, picked up our Gorilla Tracking permits (woohoo!) and had a couple of meetings with potential ground handlers (you see it IS work!).

 

Although we were off to Kampala on our second day, it is only a one hour drive from Entebbe, so we enjoyed an early morning walk around the Botanical Gardens, beautiful bordered by Lake Victoria and a brief visit to Entebbe Wildlife Centre to check out the views we could have had of the Shoebill (see left). The journey toKampalawas quick and uneventful and we had a relaxing evening with our friend and her daughters eating take-out pizza! This is also the very wonderful friend that has very kindly lent us her car for the entire month of our Uganda adventure!

Early the next day we set off north on our grand tour of Uganda. First stop -Murchison Falls National Park. It took us a couple of hours more than planned due to me misreading the map!  However, it was a pretty journey and soon passed as we pulled into Red Chilli Rest Camp on the south bank of the Nile just as the sun was setting. Red Chilli is a very chilled out place with a backpacker feel to it; we had a little banda with twin beds and shared facilities with others.  The service was excellent and the guys and gals there are seriously cool cookies.  The food was good and although the showers were cold water only, it was so hot outside that I couldn’t imagine anyone being crazy enough to need a hot one. After 4 years of living on this continent, we haven’t experienced heat like it – it was HOT!

 

 

We used our first morning to take the little ferry across the Nile and explore the plains and delta north of the Nile. We were blown away by the amount of game here and just hadn’t expected to see so much.  There were Oribi (pictured below), Giraffe, Jackson’s Hartebeest, Elephant, Ugandan Kob, Warthog, Northern Carmine Bee-eater (pictured below), Patas Monkey, Buffalo, Waterbuck, Hippo, Crocs, Baboon and Banded Mongoose – it was beautiful and all viewed in a golden morning light. We spent a long time driving around the circuit as there are few tracks and limited options if you wish to stick to new ground and not double back, but it was worth it. You drive along the edge of Lake Albert for a while and then complete the loop through the savannah at the end.

We decided to skip lunch and headed back on the mid-afternoon ferry. Whilst waiting for the ferry I was cocooned in our delightfully air conditioned car watching Adam walking along the river bank birding. Then, very excitedly, he came dashing back to the car telling me I had to come and see this bird. Intrigued, I followed and he’d found a lone Egyptian Plover sitting next to the jetty. For those of you in my camp that are marginally ignorant of such sightings – this is a MEGA bird! After 15 minutes, a delighted Adam returned to the car having captured the images below.

The next morning, we were up and out for a boat ride downriver to the Delta, hoping once again for views of the Shoebill. Again we had fleeting and distant views of 3 Shoebill but the trip was fab. We spent time with our cameras, the sunrise over the Nile and hundreds of African Skimmers. We got up close and personal to crocs and hippo, herons, egrets and spent some time on Lake Albert itself watching the locals and pelicans compete for the best fish against the back drop of the Congolese Blue Mountains. In the afternoon we packed some cold Tuskers in the car and headed up to the top of the falls themselves.  They are very narrow at the top but truly impressive and incredibly powerful. We found a nice secluded spot (which was not difficult), cracked open the beers and sat back taking it all in.  Perfect.

 

14th March

By Adam

Around 7am, we were ready to board our vessel for another cruise, this time upstream from the Paraa Ferry crossing towards the mighty MurchisonFalls. “Emma” (a strange abbreviation of Emmanuel!) was once again our pilot and navigator and as we cruised along the northern side of the river, we were knee-deep in good birds, plenty of crocs and hippos. One of our targets was the high cliff face that holds a breeding colony of Red-throated Bee-eater, a stunning bird that we were keen to get good views of. Upon arrival to the cliff, a fine Peregrine Falcon flew into view, perhaps fancying his chances of taking out a bee-eater for breakfast? He didn’t stay around for long though and we were soon surrounded by over 50 bee-eaters, all in stunning plumage that shone brightly in the morning light. The only downside to the encounter was that we were under the birds rather than next to them, which caused havoc with taking images. I resulted in getting flight shots while Vicki lay back in the boat and waited for them to come closer and lower. Another vessel came along just as they were getting comfortable with us there and they got the jitters before flying off, so we decided to motor off from the grassy bank and continue upstream. Another target species for the day was Pel’s Fishing Owl, a huge and stunning chestnut-brown owl that I had seen in the Okavango Delta but was still desperate to see in East Africa. Despite three pairs of eyes fixed to the trees along the well-wooded river line, we couldn’t locate the bird and continued to the falls which, by now, were in earshot. Turning our last bend, we were faced with a mighty wall of water pouring through the narrow passage that is the main falls. Images didn’t seem to do this amazing sight any justice so after a “record shot” we kicked back and enjoyed the scene, until a flock of Rock Pratincole came into view. These are among the most sought-after birds along fast-flowing rivers in sub-SaharanAfrica and although we saw them distantly from the top of the falls, I was keen to get some close-up views and images. We were in luck as Emma negotiated some tricky waters and boulders to get us up close to some small flocks, resulting in the image below. With the temperature rapidly rising in the humid steam bath at the bottom of the falls, it was time to open up the motor and head back to base, pausing briefly for Northern Carmine Bee-eaters and a few kingfishers along the way.

We took a short drive to Nile Safari Lodge where we carried out an inspection after a sumptuous lunch overlooking the Nile, before saying our farewells to the mighty river and heading south towards the pristine forest of Kaniyo Pabidi. Along the way, we stopped to photograph a well-hidden colony of Red-throated Bee-eater, this time at eye-level. The birds were a little alarmed by our car at first but as we kept our distance, they soon regained the confidence to fly back to their holes and feed the young that were noisily begging inside. It was interesting to watch how one of the adult birds played the role of “lookout” as the others flew in to feed their young and we managed to get some pleasing shots that were better than those from the morning. Soon after, we reached the beautiful forest and entered the site of Budongo Eco-lodge, where we quickly checked in, had great hot showers before taking dinner at the main facility then heading to the large comfortable bed for a great night’s sleep.

 

15th March

Today was first chance to encounter our closest relatives, Chimpanzees! Budongo Eco-lodge provides two options for meeting Chimps; the first and most affordable is the Chimp Tracking, where the lodge guides walk with you through the forest for a one-hour encounter. We chose to go with the second option, Chimp Habituation which is a bit more expensive but offers the prospect of anything up to seven hours with the Chimps, once they have been located. Our guide was Robert who has been tracking Chimps at Budongo for three years and not only was he was an excellent guide but he a really nice guy too. 45 minutes into our walk, we heard several groups of Chimps making a racket deep in the forest but we found it difficult to gauge exactly where they were calling from and in which direction they were heading. Unlike most other primates, Chimps tendto cover a great deal of ground in a day in their search for food and water, and they can also move very fast, as we found out. Trekking through the forest is made simpler than it should be by the configuration of the trails which have been cut in a grid system. Every 200m or so, you reach a crossroads and must then take the shortest route towards where you are hearing the Chimps. All well and good until your guide tells you they are in the middle of the forest block, surrounded by the grid, meaning some serious bush-bashing in order to get close to them! We made our way through the forest, off track, keeping a watchful eye on the multitude of vines, climbers, branches and obstacles ahead while also checking the ground for tripping hazards, holes and most importantly, to me anyway, the beautiful yet lethal Gaboon Vipers that lurk on the forest floor! Finally, we caught sight of the Chimps moving along the ground, just 5m in front of us. The thick vegetation had concealed them until we were almost on top of them. We counted three, four, six … more and more were walking ahead of us then quickly disappearing into the woody gloom. We tried our best to keep up but we had lost sight of them until Robert pointed out two males sat in the tree just above us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“They come here to feed” he said, “and these trees are not shaded by the tall forest so get they receive lots of sunlight. That’s why they are always the first to bear fruit.” The multitude of droppings, looking like piles of refried beans, that we navigated were testimony to the high-fibre content of the Msisi fruit they were feasting on. The serenity of the scene was punctuated by a ferocious scream, just a few metres a head of us. It was two males showing off to a female that was in oestrus and, by the sound of it, very ready to mate, and these two battlers were howling, beating their chests, and vigorously shaking the trees around us. I’m not afraid to say that it was more than a little intimidating! Eventually, they calmed down and peace resumed on the forest floor. Robert was expert at guiding us along small trails and slowly we began to find more Chimps feeding in the trees above, allowing us the chance to photograph these beautiful animals. We also came across two mature males that were very placid and allowed a close approach although they were reticent to face the cameras. A mother and her youngster fed together in a fruiting tree and Vicki was able to get some lovely images of the young Chimp misbehaving and learning the ropes of how to be a tree-swinging primate. After two and a half hours and several hundred images later, we decided to give the Chimps a break and headed away from the group so we could enjoy some lunch of our own without distracting the animals with the smell of our food. Around us, numerous noisy spats broke out between boisterous animals then quickly died down again. After lunch we headed off in search of the animals again, hoping to find them a little more relaxed and inclined to resting or grooming on the forest floor. Somehow we managed to get lost and then we lost the Chimps. Ultimately, we decided that it would be best to head back to the lodge for a well-earned rest, lots of liquids and a much-needed shower. An advisory note to anyone spending a day in the forest, take lots of water with you, preferably 2 litres each. Although we drank lots before setting out, and both took two ½ litre bottles with us, it was not nearly enough to keep us comfortable. We had a relaxing evening with dinner and some drinks before retiring to the very comfortable beds once again.

16th March

After breakfast, we were greeted by John who was to be our bird guide for the morning. By his own admission, John was not the best birder on the block but what he lacked in knowledge he more than made up for with enthusiasm and we thoroughly enjoyed his company. He was able to show us some new birds including Puvel’s Illadopsis (pictured below) this is the only place inEast Africait is found), Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo (pictured left) and Yellow Longbill while we found some neat birds too including a stunning male Narina Trogon, Grey-headed Sunbird and Grey-throated Tit-flycatcher. A family party of Blue Duiker (a forest antelope species) were the mammal highlights. Back to base for lunch and a relaxing afternoon and evening followed.

17th March

My early morning bird-walk was very enjoyable and I was especially taken with a feeding party of greenbuls feasting on a fruiting bush. These are among the most dowdy of all bird families I’ve encountered but I was fortunate enough to enjoy one of the smartest members of the family, the Honeyguide Greenbul. While it is not a brightly-coloured species, it looks very smart with “designer” tones of grey and brown set off with a bright white eye and white outer tail feathers that aid with identification as it flits through the forest and no doubt where it gets its name (honeyguides also show white in the outer tail). After breakfast, I took just a short a walk behind the lodge and was rewarded with some smart birds but best of all, a close view of a Chequered Elephant-shrew, or Sengi, but it was too dark on the forest floor for any photos.

After lunch, we passed through the main gate of the Murchison Falls National Park and headed to Masindi, where we stayed for a night before birding the “Royal Mile”, one of the top birding destinations in all of Africa!

Budongo Forest Reserve to Queen Elizabeth National Park

By Vicki

The Royal Mile (pictured below) didn’t disappoint. It’s a beautiful patch of forest and coming here at the best time of year (June to August) would be something else again. The ultimate highlight was a couple of Ituri Batis, which for the non-birders amongst us is a tiny black and white bird measuring 9cm head to tail, which Adam spotted about 100ft up in the forest canopy, unbelievable! Other, more accessible, highlights were African Dwarf Kingfisher (pictured below), Green-backed Twinspot, White-thighed Hornbill (pictured below left), Blue-throated Roller and hundreds if not thousands of stunning butterflies.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From there it was on to Fort Portal where we were winging it a bit and using it as a base to explore the relatively nearby Semliki National Park the next morning.  Having nothing to go on but the advice of Mr Philip Briggs (of Bradt Guides) we checked out several hotels and decided on the Rwenzori Travellers Inn, mainly due to the need to reign in the budget a little.  I have to say this gentleman’s advise has been nothing but gold to date but I would argue the case with this property. There is nothing “smart” about it and I find it very hard to believe it would be anyone’s “popular choice”, while the strategically placed mirrors would explain the staff’s surprise at us wanting the room for a whole night!  However, it did serve a purpose and surprisingly we actually slept well (sadly too well to enjoy the room’s additional facilities) and saved money!  Pier’s Restaurant is a winner and does indeed serve a great pizza and COLD beer!

We were up at the crack of dawn and very excited about seeing some of Semliki Forest.  The road from Fort Portal out to Semliki is undergoing a massive overhaul and makes the journey very quick, so we found ourselves a little time for car maintenance while waiting for the Park’s office to open at 8am.

After debating with the delightful UWA park staff for 10 minutes that we really didn’t want to walk the same trail through the park as birdwatchers for $200 but rather nature lovers for $100, we set off with our ranger called Justice who was brilliant.  This place is a little gem, the forest is beautiful and full of great trails from which you can explore.  In the first five minutes we had seen Red-tailed Monkey, Guereza Colobus and the beautiful Dent’s Mona Monkey (this one very rare and, to be honest, neither of us had actually heard of it!).  The birds were calling everywhere and after spending 5 minutes by a little swamp we managed to get great views of White-spotted Flufftail (even I got quite excited about this one!) and shortly after a Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Red-tailed Greenbul, Grant’s Bluebill and Western Nicator, among others.  We spent about 5 hours walking through the forest and saw many birds, and only two other people, it was bliss.

From here we drove back throughFort Portal and on to Ndali Lodge perched high on the rim of Nyinambuga Crater Lake  (below) and overlooking Mwamba Crater Lake to the south-west.  The view takes your breath away and you have it from wherever you stand, dine or relax and even, to my delight, from the exquisite bath tub! Ndali is owned and run by a lovely Brit called Aubrey.  The land was bought by his grandfather back in the 1950’s, the lodge built post-Amin by his father in the early 1990’s and after his father passed away in the late 1990’s Aubrey packed his bags and left the bright city lights of Edinburgh to continue running Ndali.  Together with his lovely wife, Claire, they have a wonderful life and home and a great property for you to spend some time in.  The neighbours are Aubrey’s cousin, Lou, and her partner, Glen – both of whom are great company.  Lou established and still runs a fair trade and organic vanilla farm which is a supplier to Waitrose and Tesco in the UK, and Ben & Jerry’s in the USA, while Glen spends his time designing and custom-making furniture – not bad, eh?!

We intended to walk all over the lakes and explore the area, however, 2 nights passed in a flash and all we seemed to have done is enjoy walks in the garden, swimming in the pool and lie-ins!  Such is the effect of Ndali Lodge on one’s soul and mind. Perfectly calming and wonderful.

Feeling fully restored (it’s tough this travelling/working business you know!) we made our way to Kibale National Park where we were trying our luck with the Chimps again.  We stayed at Primate Lodge which was previously run by UWA and hence is at the gate (Kanyanchu) from where you need to meet for Chimp tracking.  The initial check in was all rather strange with staff not at all confident to greet guests, however, as soon as you’re checked in, the staff are delightful and simply want to ensure you enjoy your stay.  We had a cottage, as opposed to a tent, but both are lovely options and all face a wall of pristine forest from which you can view birds and monkeys.

We decided to spend the morning driving up and down the main road and photographing monkeys and birds and bought our Chimp tracking permits for that afternoon.  The main road is one if the few locations where you can walk without an official guide and there is lots to be seen!  We found Black Bee-eater (pictured below left), Yellow-spotted Barbet and Cassin’s Flycather (pictured below right) along a river and spent time photographing Olive Baboon, Red-tailed Monkey (pictured below right) and Grey-cheeked Mangabey (pictured below left). 


Then themoment had come – another bite at the cherry with Chimp Tracking!  There was only 4 of us in the group along with our UWA ranger, so we set off without delay. We drove to the other side of the forest and had only been walking for 20 minutes when we heard them.  Unfortunately it was about the same time that it started pouring down with rain.  Undeterred, our pace quickened and after another 10 minutes we found three high up in a tree.  We settled down and waited for them to eat their fill, return to the ground and move on.  Well, minutes passed, we were surprised by the arrival of a fourth and expected others to join them, but that was it.  We sat in the rain staring up at 4 Chimp bottoms and feeling a little disappointed.  We’d seen so many photo’s of Chimps up close and couldn’t help but have high expectations of our encounter. There is no denying that we were very lucky to find them in the first place and so quickly…but still…  Our ranger kept trying to reassure us that if the rain stopped and the sun shone they would come down. It was now a wet waiting game.

 

 

However, after half an hour or so the rain did stop and the sun shone, but the chimps seemed quite happy 100ft up!  Feeling more disheartened by the minute, we heard movement and low and behold they were coming down.  I can’t describe the feeling as we quickly got ready for the race through the forest to keep up with them as they moved but as soon as they hit the ground they sat down and chilled out, we couldn’t believe it!    We were then treated to an hour of leisurely walking alongside 4 Chimps, watching them rest, show off and feed on figs (all at eye level) giving us some great photo opportunities. There was a moment when we followed 2 of them onwards only to discover a third one following us on the track!  We stopped and moved off a little to let it pass us, I dropped to my knees for better photos just to the left of Adam as moments later it decided to charge!  Adam was directly in it’s path and all I could hear was the ranger saying “he’s only charging, just keep very still, you can take photo’s but keep still”, a chimp charging (directly at Adam) is quite intimidating and the urge to take pictures was overwhelming, coupled with the instinct to stay very still. Luckily, it passed without incident but it was just awesome, a moment that neither of us will ever forget.

 

 

 

We reluctantly left all four of them happily feeding on figs and floated our way out of the forest, not even realising the pace we were keeping until sweat started dripping off us!  Back at Primate Lodge, we celebrated with hot showers, cold beers and photo previews.  The next morning we took a guided forest walk on a quest for the Green-breasted Pitta (a small, very colourful and rare bird).  It’s not the best time of year to try looking for it as it goes deep into the undergrowth and the best chance you have of seeing it is when it’s nicely displaying out in the open to attract a female (around June/July).  Sadly we didn’t see it, but we had another good stomp through the forest and managed to get a few good bird pics.  Later, we headed off to Chimp’s Nest, another camp on the edge of Kibale NP just north of Bigodi, and on the way there were treated to an amazing encounter with a family of L’Hoest’s Monkey (pictured left and below), the most scarce and difficult to see monkey in the Kibale area and also, in our opinion, the most beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

Chimp’s Nest does overlook the forest but you are in the middle of “people” surrounded by shamba (managed plots) and barking dogs.  They have a mixture of cottages and tree houses and we had one of the former. They are quite small with a veranda facing the forest and attached but external open air bathrooms, including the toilet. Needless to say if it’s pouring down with rain anything but a brief visit to the loo may be wet and uncomfortable!  While we were there the dining room was undergoing extensive renovation and by all accounts the tree house and cottages will follow suit. It’s run by a very pleasant Dutch guy but the service from the staff needs a bit more polish to say the least.

 

Anyway, we used this as a base to explore Bigodi Swamp (pictured left) and take a small night walk in the forest fringe.  The swamp is great and run as a very worthy community project, they have a small viewing platform on the circuit and a somewhat rickety boardwalk!  We saw lots of great birds and had fabulous views of a Great Blue Turaco from above on the platform.  We also saw Red-tailed Monkey and Grey-cheeked Mangabey.  However, the highlights of the walk came near the end when Adam found and photographed the elusive Red-tailed Bristlebill (pictured below right) and the very rarely seen White-collared Oliveback (pictured below left), a MEGA-bird! Adam was on another planet with excitement and must have taken over 100 shots of this bird! I have to say it was pretty and although usually very difficult to see, this one particular individual was feasting on buds and didn’t pay us any attention at all and two memory cards later we left very happy customers!

After our second night at Chimp’s Nest we headed off early and back to the edge of Bigodi Swamp to try and catch a glimpse of the, so far elusive, Shining Blue Kingfisher.  Now, I’m all for this one, at some point I seem to have developed a thing for kingfishers (I’m sure my sister will be rather distressed to hear me say that!).  Anyway we strolled past these three little streams and couldn’t see it, we strolled back the other way…couldn’t see it.  I had seen it here on our first day whizzing down a stream but Adam had missed it – bit of a sore point.  So we strolled back again, still not there, realising this may take some time, I got the coffee out and just as I’d poured I looked up at Adam and could see that he’d got it.  I dashed back for another look and there it was, on Adam’s fifth passing it had flown in for him. Many thanks to you Shining Blue!

So another “lifer” in the bag for Ads and off we set to Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP).  Now, we’d been told about a new road that was being built connecting Kibale to a town near to the north of QENP which should be a lot quicker than going via Fort Portal and actually takes you through the middle of where both parks – apparently – join.  The only trouble is nobody could tell us if it was finished or not and there are three bridges which needed to be fixed for it to be viable.  So after more than a little debating, we decided to just go for it, and I’m so glad we did. It was beautiful and although the road wasn’t far off done, there were a couple of patches where going above 5km/hr was pushing it, but the majority of it was just fine.  The scenery was amazing and we only saw two other vehicles the whole journey. Now it was around this point that I must confess a rather blonde moment. I was happily driving along with Adam scanning constantly for birds when he shouted “stop!”, so braking hard we came to a halt and Adam sat there looking perplexed.  It turns out he thought he saw a bird flying away which, according to the bird book, he really shouldn’t have seen.  So, in the hope that it might just stay in the area or fly around again we decided to have a coffee stop and hope for the best.  I’d poured the coffee when Adam said “here, quick, I can see it, it IS, quick”, so getting rather caught up in Adam’s excitement I dashed over and raised my binoculars to get a better look but I had momentarily forgotten that I was still holding my very full cup of coffee!  You’ve guessed it, I somehow used both my hands to raise my bins and poured the entire lot straight down myself, priceless! Both of us were in hysterics!  Anyway, the birds (there were now 2) that caused such a debacle were a pair of Thick-billed Cuckoo (pictured below) which, according to the bird book, has only been recorded once inUganda!  Adam played their call and we had them flying over us for about 5 minutes and Adam managed to get a few images. He was on a total high and once back in the car promptly chose Elvis to serenade us onwards with “Viva Las Vegas”! He felt like he’d won the jackpot!

 

We emerged at Rwimi, still playing the Elvis CD and having a good ole sing-song.  The road in to QENP was fairly uneventful and we reached Mweya Safari Lodge in time for a late lunch.

 

There’s much more to follow in our next instalment including our search for tree-climbing Lions of Ishahsha and our ultimate Uganda quest, to see the Mountain Gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.  Stay tuned.

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Our Tanzanian Odyssey comes to an end…for now

Lake Victoria – Lake Manyara – Arusha

Our last few days at Speke Bay Lodge went far too quickly.  Adam enjoyed many a walk with Mike (currently a waiter but definitely a birder in the making!) and Speke Bay’s resident birder, George.  Meanwhile, I relaxed and enjoyed whatever came my way, including one very exciting event!  Whilst sitting in the dining room quietly going through some pictures, my attention was drawn by a Fish Eagle that flew very close to the window before soaring out to just off the beach, I then saw it dive into the lake.  Dashing out with my camera thinking I may have already missed it catch a fish, I realised it had taken a heron out of mid-flight, but dropped it!  The rather dazed Black-headed Heron was floundering in the water, and then another Fish Eagle swooped in and took another pop at it!  This carried on for several minutes with 2 Fish Eagle working as a tag team to try and catch this, very traumatised, Heron!  I managed to catch the images below of the drama.  Amazingly, they didn’t manage to finish the job and actually gave up.  The poor Heron stumbled on to the shore and made its way unsteadily up the rocks before collapsing under a bush, and Adam captured the Heron feeling very sorry for itself indeed.  It appeared to have a broken wing and had received injuries to its legs.  We tried to find it after a couple of hours to see how it was doing but couldn’t, it probably went quite far under the bushes and in all likelihood may have died from shock.  For the rest of the day we watched the Fish Eagles quite closely, knowing now that they’re hungry, but they made no other attempts, until just approaching sunset…

As we blogged before, the partially submerged trees in front of the lodge fill with egrets and herons as the sun starts to go down, and these two Fish Eagles were just sitting on top biding their time.  Then all of a sudden the Egrets were up again and making lots of noise and we saw the Fish Eagles flying through them, before realising that they had actually caught one!  Unfortunately, we missed the “kill” itself but did manage to get this shot (below) as they took off to share their booty elsewhere.

These Fish Eagles are residents at Speke Bay Lodge and obviously have a good thing going.  To see wild birds like this hunting successfully is truly spectacular!  To top off the day nicely, I was in seventh heaven as I saw my very first Barn Owl!  I know this is probably normal to most people but after 34 years of trying I have never seen this beautiful bird before and Speke Bay Lodge provided!  Adam got the image below, aren’t they just beautiful?

After a further 2 nights at Speke Bay it was time to leave the breezy shores and head back to the bush.  With a long day ahead of us we set off early.  We decided to overnight in Karatu and be up early the next day to head into Manyara National Park.

The journey was just as lovely as the first time, going across the Serengeti and back through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and back around the rim of the crater, to drop down into Karatu.  However, we had a slight technical hitch on the journey when the back of the car fell off!  The road is quite possibly one of the worst roads we have ever been on, and at several points we looked at each other convinced that the car was quite literally going to fall apart.  It was just after we passed through the gate at NCA, we noticed a Maasai waving us down, as this happens a lot and I have all the necklaces I need, we waved back and carried on.  This happened again about five minutes later, again, we smiled, waved and sailed past.  The third time, this Maasai chap was looking a little agitated and jumping up and down so as we sailed past we looked in the mirrors to make sure he was ok, horrified to see our two spare tyres hanging off the back of the car!  Of course, we quickly pulled over only to find two spare tyres hanging from the spare tyre frame which had completely detached from the car and was hanging off a severely bent bumper!  Oops!  We had to totally unpack the car put the spare tyres inside and employ my knicker-washing line as a fix!  It was rather comical, and we learned that the Maasai are the masters at tying knots!  The gentleman with a name I can’t even pronounce never mind spell, was very chuffed with himself, and jumped in the car for a lift home, his work for the day done!

We checked into Kudu Lodge in Karatu rather weary and incredibly dirty and then crashed.  Waking the next day Adam was feeling a little off-colour, so we had a slow morning and drove a small distance to our next accommodation, Kirurumu Tented Lodge, Lake Manyara.  It’s perched up on the escarpment overlooking the lake and has breath-taking views.  We stayed in one of the new tents which is big and very nicely furnished, but the majority of the tents are older and smaller, however, equally comfortable and nicely done.  With Ads feeling progressively worse he took to bed and I pottered about.  Adam was quite sick the next day so we decided to stay another night, dosed him up on antibiotics, and I read a whole book – bliss!  I have to note that although he was ill, Adam still managed to admire Green-winged Pytillia, Viteline Masked Weaver, Black Bishop and Yellow-bellied Greenbul at this bird-friendly camp.

The following day we were up, with Adam much restored, and headed in to explore Lake Manyara National Park.  We were amazed at how beautiful it was.  Philip Briggs, from the Bradt Guides, remarks that you feel like you’re in Tarzan’s forest  and he’s spot on!  There were loads of great birds (which completed Adam’s restoration!) including Barred Warbler, Great Spotted Cuckoo (see photo top row left), Irania and Straw-tailed Whydah.  We also saw around 50 Black-crowned Night Heron roosting next to the road.  In terms of mammals we had great views of Vervet Monkey, Blue Monkey, Olive Baboon (including the young ones pictured top row right), Hippo, Giraffe, Elephant, Impala, Wildebeest, Buffalo and Zebra.  We tried in vain to find the famous tree-climbing lions of Manyara, however during our efforts came across a Klipspringer enjoyed a secluded rest (see bottom row), which was very cool!  We spent the whole day there and thoroughly enjoyed it.  The staff and facilities at the gate are the finest we have seen in any TANAPA building, even our remote picnic spot had two smiling stewards, so well done to all those guys!

Having left little time to drive far onwards, we headed back to Kudu Lodge for that night.  The highlight here was without doubt a European Nightjar pausing on migration on a horizontal branch and rather surprisingly being mobbed by mousebirds and weavers, who may have mistaken it for an owl.

The next morning we were heading to Manyara Ranch, and after driving through the little town of Mto wa Mbu, where there is a great photo on every corner (my favourite two are below), we arrived after an uneventful journey, in time for lunch.  Currently run by Chris Rodgers (although rumour has it he is soon to leave for new adventures), the camp is situated on a private conservancy covering 44,000ha.  It is vast and also stunning, the major benefit being that you encounter nobody – the Wilderness is exclusively yours to play in.  On the drive into camp, we saw Zebra, Wildebeest, Giraffe and again they were not short of birds! A couple of Cut-throats (a type of finch) were happily feeding and migrating Eurasian Rollers were everywhere. In the camp itself Adam found Black-throated Barbet, female Irania and another very obliging Great Spotted Cuckoo.

The game drives are flexible and it’s all very relaxed, you head out when you’ve finished your cup of tea and come back when you’re good and ready.  In our case this wasn’t until 9pm, as we are still, yes STILL on a quest to see Aardvark – I am starting to doubt their existence and think there is a global conspiracy to fool us!  Needless to say, we didn’t see one but had a great drive and quality time with a pride of 9 Lion with 2 tiny cubs (below), lots of Elephant and Adam was pleased with a beautiful Southern White-faced Owl (below) and obliging Spotted Thick-knees (not his!).  Another guest saw 3 Aardwolf on her drive!

The conservancy (and camp) is only in it’s second year and much of the game is still getting used to sharing the area with cars and people however, given another 3 or 4 years this conservancy has the potential to be absolutely awesome.  Manyara Ranch should also be proud to receive our vote for “Best Bed” of our entire northern TZ safari!  On our final morning, we headed out to try and locate the 3 Aardwolf, sadly we didn’t find them but we did see a family of Bat-eared Fox and photographed a nice Double-banded Courser (see below left) and very interesting fungi (see below right).  Whatever, you see or don’t see it is just being out there that is perfect.

The time had come to say “Kwaheri” and drive back up to Arusha once again and back to the now familiar Outpost Lodge.  We only intended to stay one night before heading back to Nairobi but after the ATM at Barclays Bank decided to keep our credit card on this fine Sunday morning, we are staying two nights, and will take the Riverside Shuttle back to Nairobi in the afternoon!  Right now we are without a cent, eating and drinking on credit and catching up!

We have 3 nights in Nairobi and then will fly to Entebbe (Uganda).  We’ll pick up again after the big smoke and catch you all again from Murchison Falls! Cheers!

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Finally a place to rest a little

Lake Eyasi to Lake Victoria

Sadly, we missed the Aardvark that night but on our final night we did succeed in our quest to see African White-bellied Hedgehog (pictured below).  Lawrence took us on an evening drive to a nearby village where he claimed they are fairly easy to find so, armed with torches and a gang of local kids, we took about 15 minutes to locate and photograph our new quarry! We also tried for Aardvark (in vain AGAIN) despite being surrounded by evidence of their presence. We will get it though, it’s just a matter of time!

It’s always good to have a reason to go back somewhere and in this case we don’t need much of an excuse. We shall be returning to Kisima Ngeda at the next available opportunity!  A HUGE thanks to Chris and Nani Schmelling for their warm and kind hospitality and for sharing their corner of paradise with us.

On our last morning I opted to do a cultural visit with the local WaHadzabe tribe which meant a 5.30am wake-up – this is definitely not a holiday – while Adam decided to try his luck again with Striped Hyena.  I have talked about my morning’s experience with these fascinating people at the end of this update.

Upon returning to camp I found Adam in the village very happily photographing a fine male Irania, or White-throated Robin (see photo below left), and although he enjoyed rather fleeting views of Striped Hyena he’d had an excellent morning birding on the lakeside.  His bird of the day was a Slender-billed Gull (see photo below right) which was only the fourth record for Tanzania!  He also had great views of Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Glossy Ibis, Fischer’s Lovebird, Pink-backed Pelican and numerous waders – a great morning for us both.

All too quickly it was time to move on again, this time heading for the world famous Ngorongoro Conservation Area and in particular the Crater.  If you’re heading in that direction, the small town of Karatu (just before entering the NCA) is the best place to stop and top up with fuel, buy basic supplies and it also has several good banks for changing money, should you need to.  Naturally we had very high expectations of the Ngorongoro Crater and the surrounding conservation area. Its reputation certainly precedes it and you pay a small fortune to enter!  We weren’t disappointed though and while the road is horrendous, as soon as you get to the top and start driving around the rim, the view into the crater is breathtaking!

We had decided to use one of the public campsites, Simba A, for a couple of nights and because dark rain clouds were looming we headed straight for it and set up camp.  Within the NCA there are quite a few Maasai Boma’s and the obvious place for the Maasai to hang out, and try to make a quick buck, is the campsites, so be prepared to be observed and offered all kinds of Maasai goods.  If you would rather avoid this then we’d suggest you stay in a lodge.

It did indeed rain but it was rather refreshing and we were so shattered that we soon passed out to the sound of the patter of rain drops on our canvas tent. The next morning was another early start but also exciting as we were heading into the crater itself.  We were very concerned about being forced to take a “guide” with us into the crater.  If a guide would be necessary and they were actually trained guides then fair enough BUT the reality is that it really is very difficult to get lost and the so-called “guides” are not trained or qualified guides but mostly a random Maasai guy that needs a little extra cash but with whom you can’t actually communicate with.  With some trepidation we approached the gate, admittedly with sugared palms, but our fears were unfounded as the guy at the gate was great. He was very pleasant, reasonable, and explained the benefits of having a guide with us but when we declined he let us pass through without any trouble and, more importantly, alone to enjoy our time there unhindered.  Below are a couple of images we took there.

 

It is wonderful as you drop down to the flat plains of the crater floor.  We saw lots of game including Warthog, Elephant, Thomson’s Gazelle, Plains Zebra, Grant’s Gazelle, Giraffe, Hippo, Black-backed Jackal, Cape Buffalo and Wildebeest.  We watched a pride of 9 Lion hunt Warthog, unsuccessfully, and had a wonderful encounter with 5 Golden Jackal (a first for both of us, and a picture below) playing together by Lake Magadi in the middle of the crater floor.  Abdim’s Stork were simply everywhere and there were lots of Rufous-tailed Weavers also.  We had great views of Yellow-billed Kite, White Stork, Kittlitz’s Plover and an extremely obliging Black-shouldered Kite posing by the road (see photo below). I think one of the best moments of the day was spotting 3 Serval within 10 minutes and watch one of them hunt. Unfortunately they were a little too far away for us to capture decent images but having them all to ourselves was magical. It is fair to say that Ngorongoro far exceeded our expectations; there was far less traffic than we feared and we regularly found ourselves to be the only car around.

 

 

After a successful day, we headed back to camp for a hearty pasta and pesto dinner (there’s a recurring theme here!) before crashing once again in to a dreamless sleep.

Packing up the car we headed onwards to the Serengeti National Park, with a little pit stop at Olduvai Gorge (see photo below). The latter is a great detour for anybody interested in archaeology, as this is where the first fossilised remains of Homo habilis, a direct ancestor of modern man, were found by the Leakey’s, back in the late 1950s, and it’s also a very impressive landscape here.  There is a little museum that houses interesting artefacts and of course, a nice little shop.

 

Driving out of the NCA, towards Ndutu, Adam spotted a buzzard flying above us and, after a quick check with his binoculars, dashed out of the car and started snapping away. He came back triumphant declaring that the small spot in the sky was indeed a Long-legged Buzzard, a very rare raptor with only a few scattered records in Tanzania! I don’t know how he does it, but he does and very well!

We entered the Serengeti mid-afternoon (after a lot of paperwork!) and had a leisurely drive to Dunia Camp.  This is a semi permanent camp owned and run by the Asilia Group which uses Tanzanian National Parks Authority’s (TANAPA) special campsite, Moru 2, in the southern half of the reserve.  We didn’t actually see that much game on the 2-3 hour drive in aside from a couple of Elephant, Warthog and the odd gazelle, which was a little surprising considering the reputation of the reserve.  Anyway, the camp itself was lovely, great staff and atmosphere, all run very well by Richard.  The only downer was that it’s in a tsetse fly area. Can anybody tell me the reason for their existence?!  Anyway, we used the afternoon’s thunderstorm as an excuse (and a good one at that, it bucketed it down!) to rest a while and catch up on emails and paperwork.

The following morning we were up early and, after a great breakfast, took off to explore more of the reserve on our way out to Lake Victoria.  We started to encounter much more game towards the Seronera area (central Serengeti) and again as we neared the exit of the park in the north-west at Ndabaka Gate, including the endemic Grey-breasted Spurfowl and plenty of Fischer’s Lovebirds (see image below).  It’s hard to pass more comment on the national park itself as in 24 hours you can only expect to see so much, but we do look forward to spending more time here with guests in the future.

 

Upon exiting the park, it’s a very short drive before you come to Lake Victoria and in particular our destination on the lakeshore – Speke Bay Lodge.  Like Kisima Ngeda on Lake Eyasi, as soon as you enter the lodge a sense of calm comes over you.  Within 30 minutes of arriving, Adam had clocked up 5 lifers (new birds) – the birds here are prolific! Have a look at Adam’s favourite pictures of the day below, a Heuglin’s Courser (below first) and a Square-tailed Nightjar (below second).


We are once again staying in a safari tent but one that we can stand up in, haven’t got to put up or take down! There are 12 on site, sharing very clean and well maintained shower and toilet facilities while facing the lake are 8 simple yet lovely round bandas (rooms), a nice dining room/bar and a terrace overlooking the little beach next to the lake. The food is nothing short of excellent, as are the staff, and manager, Astrid. Adam is in heaven with the birds and I’m right there too with the peace and quiet and constant breeze from the lake. We should be staying here for 2 nights, but after exchanging quick glances with each other upon arrival, we’ve upped it to 4 nights and are enjoying a well-earned break!  This is a little piece of heaven.

On our first night here, we sat enjoying a breath-taking sunset with hundreds of egrets coming to roost in the small trees in front of us, before snapping out of our beer-induced stupor and realising that we should be taking photos! So Adam dashed down to the beach and came back with the image below.  This has NOT been “photoshopped” in anyway whatsoever, it is shown to you exactly as he took it – can you even imagine such a sight? Feeling a bit stupid for not rushing out with my camera I dashed out too late and the moment had passed.  It’ll have to be one for my memory, and thanks to Adam, it will be one for our wall, just as soon as we have one! Superb shot!

This morning, I took the liberty of lying in bed until 7am!  I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you that Adam was up and out at the break of dawn – birding! Again, he was not disappointed he picked up great shots of Red-chested Sunbird (picture below) and Swamp Flycatcher and we were surrounded at breakfast by a variety of beautiful weavers. As I type, Adam is totally engrossed in his new collection of bird images (soon to be uploaded) and I am about to sit back and do absolutely nothing…perfect!

 

A morning with the WaHadzabe

 

The Hadzabe are a very interesting people and are the only remaining tribe (apart from the San Bushmen of the Kalahari) to still talk in “clicks”.   They are also the only people in Tanzania to be exempt from taxes and after several attempts by various governments over the years to make them conform to society norms they have been finally left alone to live as they choose.

 

It is a matriarchal hunter-gatherer society where the women are responsible for gathering fruits berries and roots, whilst the men hunt.  Traditionally the men will go on a solitary expedition, very occasionally with another male, and be away for as long as it takes to hunt a mammal(s) large enough to feed the tribe. Whilst the women look after the others on a daily diet of whatever they have managed to gather.

They are very much nomadic and move on depending on the availability of fruits, roots, berries and also on the success of the male hunters.  If a male had managed to kill a large mammal, such as Giraffe or Elephant, the tribe would move to the location of the kill.  They do not have permanent structures such as houses and the children do not attend school, instead they live in rocky outcrops or under large trees/bushes making shelter from whatever is available.  They have no need of money and live entirely off the land, clothed in the skins of their kills and simple cloth.

There are several communities within the environs of Lake Eyasi that still live very true to their traditions and beliefs and are left alone by the world to do so.  However, there are also many more communities with which tourists are welcome to visit, as I did.

Those that are “open” for visiting still keep the basic traditions and it is indeed a wonderful and fascinating experience, I loved it.  But as with any traditional culture that opens its doors to tourists it does change behaviours, attitudes and traditions and generally not positively.

Land is an increasingly valuable commodity and with populations growing exponentially, it is difficult for older cultures, especially those with a nomadic lifestyle, to maintain that way of life.  Land is sectioned off for conservation areas, national parks, development, housing and agriculture and the space in which to roam freely becomes less and less.  The Hadza compete for land with the Toga, a pastoral tribe similar in appearance to the Maasai, and the increasing number of livestock belonging to the Toga desecrates the land and is slowly driving out all of the game from the area, on which the Hadza rely heavily.   The Hadza are a minority tribe and are struggling to find a voice to fight for their rights and simple way of life, and as a result they are being confined to smaller and smaller areas where their way of life will soon become unsustainable.

As we neared the current location of the tribe, the bush became still; there was no birdsong, no furtive movement of secretive antelope dashing for cover, the area was totally devoid of life.   Everything has been hunted and what might have remained has long been scared off.  Traditionally, the WaHadzabe would move on regularly giving the land and mammal populations sufficient time to recover and thrive again, but the problem in today’s world is that there is no longer anywhere for them to move on to.

Also, as I mentioned before they are a matriarchal society.  The women bring in the majority of food and decide where and when they will move to and for how long, and are the “keepers” of the tribe.  The males, if lucky, will provide meat once or twice a week.  With more and more tourists visiting the balance of power is shifting.  One of the main attractions for tourists to visit the WaHadzabe is to accompany the males on a hunt.  Due to this the males are now hunting every day and on some days two or three times a day depending on the number of visitors.  This now means that the males are bringing in the “money”, there is even less life in the area and the people can no longer move within an already restricted range as guides need to be able to find them easily to please their guests.  Therefore, the males are becoming the leaders of the tribe, and women are struggling to gather when trees and bushes are no longer in fruit.

 

I walked with the WaHadzabe for an hour, maybe two, and the only thing they caught was one Nubian Woodpecker, not nearly enough to feed 40 people.  It wasn’t through lack of skill, for with their bows and poisoned tipped arrows they are highly skilled and practise daily, we neither saw nor heard anything else, with the exception of one spurfowl we startled which, to the disappointment of my disgruntled companions, made a successful hasty escape.

 

We returned to the tribe, where the “catch” was widely uncelebrated, and sat around chatting and roasting more of last nights kill, two bush pig.  I met with some of the women and female children and the Chief, a young man, who showed me his arrows and demonstrated his archery worthy of any Olympic standard.  I commented to my guide that the chief was so young and remarked on having not seen any elders, he laughed and replied “these are the elders, these traditional people do not last much beyond 25 to 30, it’s a very hard life”.

 

I learned that when a member of the tribe dies, a male will hunt and leave the kill untouched next to the body because if they wake up they will need to eat, the tribe must then move on as bad luck will visit them if they stay.  If their companion doesn’t wake up then a hyena will come to eat the offering before taking the body also.

 

There’s no doubt, a hard life indeed it is.

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New Adventures

Our night in Naboisho was as lovely as ever.  Jackson is the perfect host and always full of stories to keep you entertained around the campfire.  Upon returning to our tent, we heard a bush baby calling away right outside, so armed with torches and cameras we popped out to take a closer look.  It was a very obliging Lesser Galago, or Bushbaby, who had no objection to us snapping away, as you can see below!  As soon as we slipped into our incredibly comfortable bed we instantly fell asleep to the sound of the accompanying sound of hyena.

 

Waking up to the sound of zebra whilst the sun is creeping through the acacia scrub, we were greeted to another fabulous day and our last one in the Mara for while.  Our last night in the Mara was spent at the beautiful Naibor Camp, under the new management of Ivan!

We spent a couple of days in Nairobi making last minute preparations for our Tanzanian odyssey and enjoying the few spoils of “civilisation” i.e. eating really good pizza at Mediterraneaneo, and catching up with friends.  Nairobi is actually quite a pleasant city to explore if you have a couple of days but for us it’s more of a necessary pit-stop before heading back out on safari!  So we boarded the Riverside Shuttle in downtown Nairobi and did just that!  We arrived after a fairly long trip into Arusha (Tanzania) on Saturday night.   The scenery en route is spectacular; you pass through beautiful acacia scrub, can clearly see Mt Kilimanjaro and then skirt around Mt Meru before descending into Arusha.  The border crossings are always a test of patience, but thankfully it went without event.   We stayed at a fairly basic yet perfectly pleasant facility called The Outpost Lodge on the outskirts of Arusha Town.  It’s more of a backpackers lodge, but the rooms are adequate and clean (with mossie nets and fans) and it has a nice café attached to it with free wi-fi and a small swimming pool.  It was under renovation whilst we were there so a little noisy, if you require a more peaceful setting I would suggest staying a little outside central Arusha.

 

Northern Tanzania – Arusha to Tarangire NP

We started the following day at a leisurely pace and took a drive to Arusha National Park, 25 months after our last visit here. Passing through the gate and paying our dues was pain free and we headed straight up to the Ngurdoto Crater in search of primates and birds. We were in luck and quickly came upon a group of Syke’s Monkey right next to the track, which posed for us. Then we found a small troop of Guereza Colobus (left), with their beautiful white brush-like tails hanging down below them. These are one of our favourite monkeys and it’s always a pleasure watching them. Like other colobus monkeys, this species lacks thumbs but it still makes light work of the fresh green leaves, its favourite food. Further up the track we found a female Narina Trogon hidden in the foliage and stopped at one of the picnic sites at the crater rim to look down for big game. Although there was little to see down below, the birdlife nearby was good and we watched a Hartlaub’s Turaco feeding in a large fruiting tree, surrounded by numerous White-eared Barbet. We then drove to the Lokie Swamp in search of Taveta Golden Weaver, a scarce and localised species, but sadly the swamp was very dry and we couldn’t find them. On the nearby Lake Longil, we watched several Black Crake and African Jacaca feeding on the marsh and there were about 20 Hottentot Teal and 5 White-backed Duck on the open water.  In the woods nearby, Vicki spotted a Harvey’s Duiker hidden in the undergrowth and we stopped for a photo but it quickly skipped off before we got the shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heading onwards, we made it to the Momella lakes, where over 5000 flamingo roosted and preened. Most were Lesser Flamingo but about one-third were Greater Flamingo. At the corner to Small Momella Lake, we tried our luck for migrants as this was the site where we found a Eurasian Wryneck in 2010 which was the first, and only, record for Tanzania. The area was very dry and we didn’t find anything of note so headed back towards the main gate. Amazingly, the Duiker had returned to the same resting spot and this time Vicki managed to get a shot (above right) before it dashed into the forest again. A few minutes up the track, we spotted 3 Suni, a tiny forest antelope, but these were very shy and disappeared quickly too.  Then from the corner of our eyes we spotted a flash of white in the forest, after reversing for a closer look we saw a female Olive Baboon with two albino offspring.  One was slightly older and very shy but we managed to get a shot of the younger one riding with mum (above left).  This is very unusual and a sight seldom seen.  Returning to the Outpost Lodge, one of our neighbours pointed out a pair of African Wood Owl (below) roosting in the big palm in the garden and we managed to get some fine images of these. With a few phone calls in the evening, we hatched our plan for the following day – to find and photograph Beesley’s Lark, one of the rarest and most range-restricted birds on the planet!

 

Although we had planned this thrilling three-week adventure, we knew it was never going to be a holiday. Birding and wildlife photography requires an early start to catch the best light and to stand the best chance of find the birds and other animals we want to see. Departing Arusha just after 6am, we took the road back to Namanga (the border crossing) and arranged to meet with our local guide, Samweli. This young man knows the Beesley’s Lark as good as anyone as he lives nearby to the Lark Plains, the only place where they are found, and has guided experts and bird fanatics there for several years now. He didn’t disappoint us and after a 10 minute drive across one of the most barren places we’ve ever been, he told us to stop and we walked in search of our bounty. He pointed to several areas where he had seen a pair with young very recently and as we walked, we spotted our first (see below left). It was fairly timid and ran away from us repeatedly but after 15 minutes, it seemed to realise that we posed no threat and allowed a close approach. After 30 minutes and well over 100 images later, we left him alone and travelled back to Arusha to pack and shop before the next leg of our adventure. After picking up our camping gear and spot of lunch, we hit the road south to Tarangire National Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we arrived into the area, we were amazed at the number of weavers that were feeding and nesting along the roadside; tens of thousands of Red-billed Quelea (see above right), many thousands of Chestnut Sparrow and Chestnut Weaver and some Cardinal Quelea too. Vicki was the first to spot a very special Tanzanian bird, the Rufous-tailed Weaver. Until we found the first breeding colony in Kenya’s Masai Mara in April 2010, this was a Tanzanian “endemic” with just a few vagrants recorded in the Mara between 2000 and 2008. We found several nests next to the road before continuing to the main gate where we paid our fees and were fortunate to find an Upcher’s Warbler, a new bird for Adam!  We then headed to see our friends Ken and Michelle Dyball who manage the luxurious Oliver’s Camp in the south east of the reserve. With the sun getting lower, we didn’t spend much time viewing the game but made a bee-line to the camp where we arrived just in time for a sumptuous dinner and great company. As we retired to our stunning tent, we fell asleep to the sound of an African Scops Owl calling outside.

Waking to the sound of coffee being delivered, we reluctantly heaved ourselves out of bed to enjoy the view with a coffee in hand before heading for breakfast. The staff at this camp are wonderful and all is superbly run by Ken and Michelle who have the knack of making you feel very welcome and relaxed. We headed out to the Silale Swamp, finding three male Lion along the way, where we enjoyed the sight of hundreds of Elephants feeding in the long grass. Lots of Open-billed Storks waded in search of their favoured food, water snails, in the marshes and the entire area was awash with thousands of weavers and Wattled Starling. An African Pygmy Falcon was a good find but it was a little distant for any images to be taken. Along the 5 hour drive, we managed to photograph some other nice birds but the highlight of any visit to this park has to be the vast numbers of Elephants and at one point there was no choice but to stop and switch off the engine as we were surrounded by a herd of 100+ of these magnificent creatures.  It was back to camp for lunch followed by some image downloads and checking of emails and the chance to see our first Pearl-spotted Owlet of the trip, right next to our tent. Before dinner, we enjoyed a fabulous starry night with both Venus and Jupiter showing well and as we retired to bed, the sound of Lion calling could be heard from not too far away.

Tarangire NP to Lake Eyasi

It was time to move on again, so after our compulsory morning coffee on the veranda (whilst watching 16 Elephant on the swamp) we packed up and took a slow drive out of Tarangire NP heading for Gibb’s Farm, just shy of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.  On the way out, we were treated again to fabulous views and encounters with vast herds of Elephant and also to perfect views of a pair of Pygmy Falcon (see below left).  Adam spotted these gems on the top of a Fever Tree some way off and we decided to try calling them closer for a good photo.  We selected a fallen tree that would be perfect for pictures, parked up and armed with iPod and a recording of its call started to call them in.  Well, it took all of 5 seconds before both birds (male and female) landed exactly where we wanted them to and started displaying on front of us, it was indeed perfect and we managed to get some fantastic images.

Pleased with our stash, we drove to the Park Gate for our final bird fix and a very fruitful stop it was too. We got some images of Ashy Starling (including one that was feeding a fledgling Grey-headed Sparrow!), Yellow-collared Lovebird, Lesser Masked Weaver, African and Diederick Cuckoo, Banded Parisoma, Blue-capped Cordon Bleu, White-headed Buffalo Weaver, Speckle-fronted Weaver (below right) and White-bellied Go-away-bird.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The road from Tarangire to Karatu Village was very good, it’s all tarmac and in great condition, so in no time at all we made it to Gibb’s Farm, the track to which lies left on the brow of the hill before descending into Karatu Village itself.  Throughout our 4 years in East Africa we have heard so many great things about Gibb’s Farm that our expectations were very high and it did not disappoint – it is WONDERFUL!  Perched high up in the hills, it has been in operation for over 80 years and is an old coffee plantation. The relatively new management couple, Peter and Tracey Kerr, are from New Zealand and are extremely friendly, professional and run a great show.  Gibb’s is still a working farm and all the vegetables for your dinner will have been picked from the garden that very afternoon.  They have a dairy, pigs and still grow their own (very good) coffee.  The gardens are beautiful (see below left) and as it borders the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) it’s surrounded by beautiful forest (see below right).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent what little remained of the day relaxing (and downloading images) in our beautiful cottage overlooking the rather magnificent veggie “patch”, before heading up to the main house just in time for Bushbaby (Greater Galago) feeding (left) and a sumptuous 4-course dinner!

The next day we were up once again at the crack ofdawn, downed as much coffee as we could in 5 minutes, and off on a hike into the surrounding forest.  Although, it was a little quiet we did manage to see some good birds such as Striped Pipit, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher and Grosbeak Weaver (including a nesting pair with young), we also managed to disturb two separate herds of Buffalo.  Now that got the heart racing; all we were aware of, on both occasions, was sudden movement and then incredibly noisy stampeding through the forest, although our guide was rather unperturbed stating “oh, don’t worry, they’re just like cows round here”… coming from the Mara it was still difficult to completely relax after that!  We had a little catch up time back at the main house, enjoyed nothing short of a feast for lunch (mostly fresh produce from the farm) and departed but an extra day here would have done wonders for the soul!  Next stop – Lake Eyasi.

 

 

There is only a dirt track taking you from Karatu to Lake Eyasi and after hearing horror stories of the road from others we were dreading it.  Admittedly the first 10 minutes are a little hairy but after that it was absolutely fine and a beautiful, albeit rather dusty, journey.  Descending towards the lake, we knew we were in for a treat and we haven’t been proved wrong.  So far Lake Eyasi is the real hidden gem of the trip.  It is absolutely beautiful here; the lakeshore is surrounded by Doum Palms, Tamarinds and Yellow Fever Trees, a cool breeze constantly drifts past and all one’s worries are left firmly behind.  For the first two nights we are tenting-it-up at a campsite (#3) not far from the main lodge, Kisima Ngeda, owned and managed by Nani and Chris Schmelling. This is the first place we have camped on this trip, and setting up the rather odd kit from a backstreet tent-pimp in Arusha was rather comical!  The sleeping tent was all very easy, but then we had to try and work the shower tent – shouldn’t be too hard, eh?!  Well after a good 10 minutes we realised we didn’t have the right poles or a rope long enough to get the shower in any of the surrounding trees, hmm… so with the water strapped to the side of the car both of us helped the other shower in the open crouched underneath a pathetic flow and, quite frankly, looking and behaving like two chimps!  About 10 minutes after this we discovered the campsite’s real shower in the bushes – oh, how we laughed!

I set about cooking us dinner whilst Adam drove around to the main house to get more water.  I feel quite ashamed to say it but this is the first time in 4 years that we have actually “fended” for ourselves as we have always been catered for by a fabulous team of chefs in the camps we have managed over that time.  Although it was only pasta and pesto (yes, a slight cop out) it was the best pasta ever! Anyway, that night Adam came back rather excited after talking with Nani announcing “they have Striped Hyena here!” We arranged with Lawrence (who seems to be the head-man around here) to meet us at 6.30 the next morning (apparently the best time) to try and find us the, so far elusive, Striped Hyena.

 

Full of anticipation we arose from our small canvas tent after not a particularly great night sleep, thanks to a young Verreaux’s Eagle owl crying all night. I think going from the feather duvet of Gibb’s to the synthetic mattress in a tent was somewhat of a reality check!  However, we were ready for it and off we set on our quest.  We didn’t have to walk far to get the main area for spotting them, and started ascending a small kopje (rocky hill), checking underneath each bush as we went before reaching the top. I think we were both feeling a little doubtful when Lawrence urgently beckoned us over to the cliff edge (and I thought he liked us?!).  As we looked down below us, there were two Striped Hyena relaxing and playing in the sand beneath us – we could hardly catch our breath! They are stunning creatures, almost like somebody crossed a Wild Dog with a Zebra.  They have very distinctive black stripes against soft white fur, incredibly long legs, grizzled-grey flowing manes and very dog-like faces.  We must have been there for 30 minutes watching them whilst they continued to play and also relax, their manes flowing in the breeze.  One of them even tried its luck chasing a White-browed Coucal that landed nearby.  Both Adam and I were perched rather precariously on the overhead rocks, inching further out to get better and better photos but the hyena didn’t care and paid us no attention.  We couldn’t have dreamed we would ever have such prolonged views of these incredible creatures and to see them so active during daylight was something we will never forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We wandered back down the rocky outcrop, both of us floating from such a magical experience and ambled along the lakeshore, taking in the views and enjoying the hundreds of Great White Pelicans that had come to the water’s edge.  On the way Lawrence told us tales of “lots” of Aardvark wandering around here at night; he wasn’t wrong about the hyena so tonight at 7pm we’re game on – Aardvark please!

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