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Serengeti and Ndutu May 2015


kilopascal
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It starts off as usual. I go to Tanzania. We’re back a couple of days and I think, “I wonder what the air fare might be in __________ (fill in the month)”. Then instead of being productive I start looking. What! A promotional fare on Qatar from Philadelphia? Then I look to see how many American miles it would cost us to get a round trip to Phili. Only 25,000 each. It was meant to be. Now I just need to email the guide and see if he is available. Chances are yes, since it would be in May. And that’s how it happens.

We have never flown Qatar Airways but it sounds fun and exotic. Air fare from Philadelphia was $1150 and the connections were awesome. (Notice I say were.) The flight arrives at KIA at 3:20 in the afternoon which is kind of nice. We will drive to Karatu the same day and stay overnight. Excellent. Or not. Then you get the email that says there has been a change to your schedule. I tend not to get too worked up because it is usually a flight number schedule or just 5 minutes here or there. And such was the case until about 4 weeks before I left when there was another email. Fortunately I don’t ignore this, as this time my transit time in Doha on the outbound trip is down from an hour and 40 minutes to just 55 minutes and on the way back the transit time is now 10 minutes. Uh oh. The email reads “please contact us”. Yes, I should think so. There are not any real good options that don’t result in 8 hours plus in the Doha airport. So I leave the outbound the same. On the trip back, it would involve more than a 12 hour stay. I then ask if they could fly us directly to Chicago or Dallas. And indeed they can. Still an 8 hour wait but better and this means we only have 1 flight on American to get home instead of 2. Switching the American flight was very easy. The other down side to Qatar is the luggage restriction for those of us in the economy section. So that means a checked bag. But I have learned my lesson (see Mara River trip report) and will put appropriate clothing in my bag with the cameras.

The day finally arrives. George’s shoes are packed. If you are wondering what this is about see my Mara River trip 2014 report, post #21 (www.safaritalk.net/topic/14415-mara-river-september-2014/?hl=mara). We are flying out early to Philadelphia, having dinner with friends, and are staying overnight near the airport. We fly first to Chicago, then Phili and arrive at 1 in the afternoon or so we thought. We get into Chicago and immediately get a text which says the flight to PHL is cancelled. So off to the desk. Problem. Lots of flights to PHL cancelled. No other American flights. US airways has a flight that leaves at 11 but we will be on standby. So I ask about Delta. Yes. You will fly first to Minneapolis then to PHL. Good grief. But at least we can get seats. So we book this and get into PHL around 5 pm. A 12 hour day. My ‘fun and exotic’ plans for Qatar Airways aren’t looking so hot right now.

We leave the next morning on Qatar Airways and the flight, I must say, was excellent. Great service even though a very full aircraft. The 55 minute transfer time in Doha was a bit stressful. You get off the plane onto a little shuttle bus that takes you to an entrance and then you go to the transfer area where you have to go through security. We now have only 30 minutes (flight is already boarding) and the security lines are frighteningly long. We show our boarding passes to personnel and they direct us through the first class passenger line which is very short. Then to the gate. Security again and we’re on. Flight is not full. Leaves on time. Service okay. Not as good as the previous flight but certainly acceptable. The flight stops in Dar first then on to Kilimanjaro. One big advantage is that almost everyone gets off in Dar. So when you arrive at Kilimanjaro, there are very few people (only a couple of dozen or so) going through immigration. We don’t need new visas so it took us all of 10 minutes. And low and behold, despite the very short transfer in Doha, our checked bags are here!! As is George Mbwambo, our guide, and we are on our way to Karatu.

We arrive in Karatu around 7 pm at the Bourgainvillea Lodge, which we have used several times in the past and really liked, although our stays this time maybe not as much. We have previously stayed in the older rooms around the pool area and they are a bit larger and much quieter than the newer rooms which border a busy area near a petrol station. The dinner was excellent. Service was good. Rooms are lovely, very clean and very reasonably priced. We give George his shoes before we part for the night and he is genuinely delighted.

Up and out the next morning. Breakfast is great at this lodge. It’s been long enough now that I can’t remember anything of any significance on the way to the Serengeti except at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area gate. George is busy taking care of the paper work. We walk around a bit, then I go back to the car and I open the front passenger seat so I can get in and unlock the door to our seat. Then I get out and open the back door, but leave the front door open a bit. There is a bus full of school children parked fairly close to us. I sort of remember hearing them talk about the baboons. There are always a lot of them here and you have to make sure you don’t leave windows open. Then all of a sudden in absolute unison the bus full of children shout “Close the door. Baboon is coming” And sure enough, there is a large male baboon stealthily making his way to the open front door. I close it quick and bang on the side of the car. He responds by running up and giving the side mirror on the door a good hard whack. The students are all laughing and I go over to thank them and ask where they are going. They are on a school trip to Olduvai. No other adventures. We eat lunch at Naabi gate and proceed on. We are barely past the gate and see two immature male lions, and then a cheetah at a fair distance from the road consuming a young wildebeest.

We spent three days in the central Serengeti and about 3 days in Ndutu. In Seronera, we stayed at one of the Kati Kati camps run by Tanganyika Wilderness. I believe it was one in the Makoma campsite area. Basic but very well-run camp with great service and good to very good food. Seronera was not busy, being May, but actually busier than we expected. Of course, there are the May disadvantages. Very tall grass so a bit of work to see lions but I have never seen so many lions in trees. There were thousands of wildebeest still here and in Ndutu. We saw several leopards with cubs, one of which started to hunt some wildebeest that were passing by, only to have it ruined by vehicles that cut her off in their attempts to jockey for position. George was very annoyed. Something we don’t see often, and he said to one of the other drivers, “everyone needs to back off and wait and all of our clients will get to see something special”. That worked for about 3 minutes, then the melee ensued again. We left with the leopard having a trail of cars after her. We saw the leopard again that afternoon in the same tree she started from with her cubs, but no food. The next morning, however, there was an impala hanging from the tree. Okay, enough talk. On to some pictures from Seronera.

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George pronounced a count of 14 lions in this tree and after several recounts we finally agreed. There are only 13 visible in the picture and one you have to imagine way up in the foliage.

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Crested Lark

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Grey-backed Fiscal Shrike

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White-browed Coucal

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Bearded Woodpecker

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This cub and one other really wanted to be up in the tree but were kept away by the self-appointed 'guardian of the tree' seen in the next photo

 

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Success at last!

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As we are driving out on the day we are going to Ndutu, we are stopped and George is pointing out some bird to us, I can’t remember what now, and we are looking out the driver’s side of the vehicle. Then all of a sudden I sense there is something in the car with us and let out an embarrassingly girly squeal and George looks over to see a monkey stealing our cashews. George swats at it with some papers and it takes off with the bag of cashews. We start laughing uncontrollably, as do the people in the car behind us, and outside of the car a ruckus ensues over the bounty.

 

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As we are leaving the Serengeti, we find another leopard with cubs in a tree. The light is not good and they are a fair distance away, but the cubs are very “busy” and we spend a lot of time watching them torture their poor mother and climbing in and out of the tree. There are several other cars that come and go, but they are all very quiet and the time spent here was quite enjoyable.

 

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More later. I need to post this before I do something silly and hit the wrong button and delete everything. This is taking me longer than I remembered!

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Amazing I have never seen so many lions in a tree before! Really enjoyed this post and I can so relate to the long flights, 26 hours is my quickest and 43 hours from Harare to Winnipeg is still a nightmare for me.

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~ @@kilopascal

 

Are you kidding us? Is that incredible scene real?

AMAZING !!!!!!!!!

That ranks right up at the top with the most incredible safari shots I've ever seen.

All of your photos are so crisp and clear, which I admire.

Thank you for posting this.

Tom K.

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@@kilopascal after your fairly tortuous beginning the wildlife sights are coming thick and fast.

 

Really enjoying your TR and looking forward to more when you have time.

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How amazing is that lion tree and what wonderful sightings. Wildlife provides a quick way to forget the difficulties of travelling. Looking forward to more.

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Wow, love the 13 (or 14) lions in the tree, what a fantastic sighting. Great start overall. Totally sympathise with your flight problems, very irritating. Just happened to me yesterday that a "slight schedule change" resulted in a 7-hour delay on the last leg of our journey home.

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Oh my @@kilopascal - that has to be one of the most unusual sightings I've seen on ST. I bet you were completely amazed to see it and capture the scene.

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That photo of the lions in the tree is priceless!!!! I hope it was worth the stress with the flight schedules. Looking forward to reading more about this trip!

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Thanks everyone for you comments. Yes it was amazing to see all those lions in that tree. It is sad that there was not someone with more photographic capability with us. I think the tree itself is very attractive, then when you stick 14 lions in it, it's a National Geographic moment. But, alas, that's not who was in the car. Equally surprising was the frequency at which we would find several lions in a tree. I have been to Seronera in May before, but have never seen this. Okay. On to Ndutu.

 

George takes off again on a route to Ndutu that I don’t recall traveling before but hard to say. In the middle of vast openness are some Kopjes with several lions. We stop for lunch again at the gate and then off into Ndutu. As we are driving in Ndutu we go past a truly never ending, single file line of wildebeest.

 

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Numerous new birds, and on our drive to the camp, George hears a pearl spotted owlet. I have yet to see one of these and ask if he can find it. He says “ um, maybe, I wasn’t paying attention to which direction it came from”. But he obligingly starts driving into the trees and then he lets out this ‘owl call’ . We jokingly tell him that we didn’t think that sounded right and he just did it to make us think he knew what he was doing. But, shortly after this he says “there it is”, as a couple of doves go swooping by. We say, “those are doves” and he tells us they are chasing the owlet. Then he points to it on a tree branch and tells us to be quick taking pictures because the doves will be back. Fortunately the owlet sits long enough for photos but then, as George said would happen, it gets dive bombed by doves again. Nice one George! I guess this is why we always call you.

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We stayed at Lake Masek tented camp this time in Ndutu (also owned by Tanganyika). Normally, this would not be a camp in our price range, but at this time of year it was very reasonable. Many camps in this area, in fact, are not operational in May so you basically chose between this or Ndutu Lodge. We have stayed at Ndutu before so decided to give this a go. Now, while normally I like a simpler style of camp, I have to say that I loved this place. The tents, if you could call them that, are beautiful and the service was above and beyond. The waiters were extremely friendly and we enjoyed our fireside conversations with the manager very much. The camaraderie between management and all the staff was really pleasant here.

 

The next morning we are up early for breakfast around 6’ish or so and then out. I had told George that I’d like to see more bat-eared foxes as they are one of my favorites, so this morning he takes us up to where he knows there is a den and there are a couple out playing. They seem far less shy than many and we spent quite a bit of time with them.

 

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We rarely saw another car in Ndutu, Hidden Valley, and Namiri. It was glorious. A lower count of cheetah for us in Ndutu than we have seen before. Perhaps just the wrong place at the wrong time? On our hunt for cheetah, I finally (after how many years?) spot something in the tall grass that George has missed. I say stop, back up, and we find a side-striped jackal. Another species I have not seen yet. It is beautiful. George starts to turn the car a bit to get better lighting and tells us to be ready because they are very shy. I get the George praise of “well spotted” and feel all smug. This is unlikely to ever happen again.

 

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Other mammal sightings during our 3 days at Ndutu

 

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Steenbok (I believe). Not something I have seen very often here.

 

Non-mammal, Non-bird category:

 

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This is the snake on the path to my tent that I almost stepped on until one of the attendants grabbed me by my backpack and said snake. If anybody knows what kind it is, please comment.

 

The obligatory bird list for those who care. I never read these but I am still so stunned that I kept a list, that I felt compelled to do something with it. I’m sure there were many more birds that George just ticked off in his head as we went by, as common and not for comment to the nonbirders riding in his car.

Fischer’s sparrow lark, capped wheatear, greater kestrel, white-bellied bustard, superb starling,Hildebrandt’s starling, rufous-tailed weaver, masked weaver, two-banded plover, rufous-naped lark,white-winged widowbird, blacksmith plover, saddle-billed stork, red-necked spurfowl, ostrich, white-crowned shrike, augur buzzard, bateleur eagle, tawny eagle, Ring-necked dove, Grey heron, D’Arnaud’s barbet, red-billed buffalo weaver, bee-eater, black-lored babbler, Coqui francolin, lilac-breasted roller, lappet-faced vulture, southern ground hornbill, African guinea fowl, pygmy falcon, green spotted emerald dove, black crake, white-browed coucal, Eqyptian goose, Pangani longclaw, white-headed buffalo weaver, cape teal, Kittlitz’s plover, Klaas’s cuckoo, yellow-collared lovebird, quelea, wattled starlings, hooded vulture, dark chanting goshawk, secretarybird, silverbird,

grey-headed kingfisher, African fish eagle, bearded woodpecker, pale flycatcher, marabou stork, pearl spotted owlet, pin-tailed whydah, black-bellied bustard, oxpecker, white-headed vulture, zitting cisticola, Ruppell’s long-tailed starling, cordon bleu (I don’t know which one), martial eagle, sandgrouse, white stork, southern red bishop, black-winged stilt, laughing dove, Namaqua dove,

yellow-necked spurfowl, plain-backed pipit, long-crested eagle, steel-blue whydah, lesser kestrel, black-shouldered kite, mousebird, lesser flamingo, grey-backed fiscal shrike, crested lark

 

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Southern Red Bishop

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Long-crested Eagle

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Black-shouldered Kite

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Lesser Kestrel

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Southern Ground Hornbill

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Pygmy Falcon

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Grey-breasted Spurfowl

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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White Stork

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Lesser Masked Weaver

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Yellow-throated Sandgrouse

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Northern White-crowned Shrike

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Hildebrandt's Starling

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D'Arnaud's Barbet

It is entirely possible that I have misnamed some bird, so feel free to point it out.

 

On our last day here we spot a cheetah that is clearly on the hunt and we decide to spend however long it takes with her. She is lying in some grass waiting for some impala. Nothing much happening then one of the impala starts some crazy running action in our direction and we think great, this is it. The cheetah is crouched down and ready but then the impala reverses and goes wildly running in the opposite direction, stops, and starts to eat again. So we wait. And wait. Wait some more, which is fine, as we have learned that excellent safaris require patience.

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After about 3 hours, (with not a single car having come by) the impala have finally moved in range and she is watching them intently. They still are not really close enough but she has clearly grown impatient. And she makes her move. Unsuccessfully. Grrrr. She is quite disgruntled. So she wanders off and we start to drive away. Then another vehicle drives up and it turns out to be George’s neighbor with a couple of clients. We stop, and George turns off the car to chat for a bit. As we are talking the cheetah returns and promptly hops up on the spare tire then onto the roof to settle in for a look around. Well okay then. Guess we will chat a bit longer. After about 20 minutes she has seen enough and leaves and we head back.

 

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The following day we drive back to Karatu to spend a night. George wants to pick up a couple of bags of coal because it is better quality and cheaper here than in Arusha. We learn the intricacies of coal shopping and what wood is better and how to tell. So, he first stops a young man with a load of coal in a sack on a bicycle. But, alas, this batch has already been sold. So we take a couple of back streets to the corner “coal distributor”, which is basically just a little spot. The guys with sacks of coal on their bicycles try first to sell it themselves, if that doesn’t happen, they bring it to this “distribution center” and get paid, then it gets sold from there. We really enjoy this aspect of traveling with someone we’ve gotten to know so well. Then we stop at a shop to buy 4 different bottles of beer for a friend back home and eventually return to Bourgainvillea Lodge for the night in Karatu. The last day is a leisurely trip back to Arusha with a stop at Shanga Shangaa. This is a for profit enterprise that employs disabled people and they make beautiful jewelry from recycled glass. Then we head to the airport where we once again say goodbye to George, yet in our heads start planning our return. (Which just happened in January, so I’m still behind on trip reports.)

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Lovely trip report. How annoying about your flights. Airlines are doing this more and more often I think but you got there in the end and it seems to have been well worth the hassle.

 

The lions in the tree are absolutely stunning. Certainly not a sight one would expect to see; 3 or 4 yes, but a whole pride? Amazing. I wonder why? Is it to keep cool or simply to enable the pride to keep a view for potential prey as the grass is so high.

 

Love the bat eared foxes and the shot of the side striped jackal is really good. They are shy. Most of my pictures of them have been at a distance, in bad light amnd generally while they are trying to avoid me.

 

So much to enjoy in this; Thanks for uploading it all.

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I would happily sign up for a hellish 40-hour flight sequence, complete with cancellations, delays, rushes through security lines and a sleep hangover to see all those lions in a tree. Simply fantastic and awe-inspiring.

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@@kilopascal

 

Lovely trip report so far. Your photographs are beautiful- as others have said the iconic 13/14 lions in a tree shot is a classic. I also have never seen so many lions or for that matter, any cats, in a single tree.

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What a beautiful trip report, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.

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Thank you for your kind comments. I agree @@Alexander33, the flight hassle was a small price to pay. Interestingly it must have been the season of "serengeti lions in trees". I googled serengeti and lions in trees and found a picture online of 15 lions in the same sausage tree that I have posted about midway in my trip report that has the cubs playing at the base and others in the tree. Or at least it appears to me to be the same tree. It was posted by someone from Australia leading a photographic safari about the same time as we were there. Their guide suggested it was lions trying to escape insects in the tall grass. who knows. Maybe. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a more common sighting.

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@@kilopascal I wonder if it is the same pride? Perhaps we are looking at a behavior spreading through one pride of lions. Whatever the cause it is an amazing sight. Thanks for showing it to us!

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during my recent stay in the NCA we saw lions in trees on three out of nine nights - and we were not even looking for them, just came across them while returning to the lodge and they were certainly not the same pride as the one pictured above - I have also seen lions in tree at Lake Nakuru and in Kruger

Edited by ice
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@@kilopascal

Reports ... and photos .. likes yours keep adding new places onto our where-to-go-in-Africa list :) ! So May is off-season ... good to know as we are (also) "only economy class" travellers.

Now to the other report to learn about George's shoes :o .

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That tree should be falling over with all the lions in it!
Glad you persevered through those flight problems to have such a great safari. Can't wait to see your next report.

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How exciting to be going on another safari with George after just bidding him goodbye. Thank goodness Tanzania has provided you with a schoolbus full of children to look out for you and protect you from the baboon. Yikes! Close call.

 

Who cares about tall grass on the ground when the whole pride takes to the trees!? That is one amazing sighting. If George counted 14, then there were 14. By any chance did you ask if that was a record for him? My own record is 4. Not only did you get to see them in the tree but getting up and down. While Nat Geo may not have been in your vehicle with you to take prize winning photos, you did have a cashew-stealing monkey. Your lion in the tree photos are wowing us all, whatever equipment you were using. I would be girly screaming and maybe sailor swearing if I were startled by a wild monkey next to me in the vehicle. Messing with my cashews would elevate the offense to a much higher level worthy of violence.

 

Several leopards with cubs is most impressive. Glad there was an impala in the tree the next day for the car-hounded leopard.

 

Your backlog of trip reports makes me feel better about my one that needs completing.

 

Love the frisky bat eared foxes. Great bird shots too!

Edited by Atravelynn
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