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A Return to the Serengeti: Migration Season in the South (February 2017)


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The area had been in a pretty bad drought and we were aware of this ahead of time and we didn't know if we were going to be staying in a dusty abandoned wasteland for our first 4 days. Ha!  Our fears were unfounded.   While it got fairly hot every day and some of the tracks got dusty, and the bulk of the migration had already headed further south, there were still plenty of wildebeests still around and others such as impala that don't migrate from the area.   

 

One animal they said we shouldn't expect to see many of was elephant because of the lack of available water/mud that elephants rely on.  So when we left the lion kill to continue exploring we were ecstatic to find 3 elephant who were very clearly on a mission.  Masha thought they were likely just passing through on their way to water sources further south.  

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We recently returned from a 9 day/8 night trip to Tanzania in February 2017. We have had the pleasure and good fortune for this to be our 8th trip to the continent, starting with our honeymoon year

So after we ate, it was getting hotter and dusty but we decided to keep driving for a bit.  I'm not sure what we thought we could see that would top lions with a kill or a cheetah kill but you never k

So quickly why Alex Walker's Serian camps? On a previous trip (see trip report here http://safaritalk.net/topic/15748-september-2014-kenya-tanzania-safari-with-serian/)we had stayed at their Ngare Se

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We left the elephants and headed towards the Kusini plains that run all the way to Ndutu.  We saw some vehicles following two cheetah brothers, a different younger pair than the two from the night before.  They were on the move and on the lookout for a meal.  

 

There were a few vehicles as it appeared their could be a hunt but all of a sudden there was a commotion behind us.  We saw dust flying when we turned around and it was a..... HONEY BADGER in broad daylight in the middle of the wide open plains.

 

 

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we had seen honey badger before but very brief night time sightings. what a spectacular morning so far.  

 

BUT IT WAS ABOUT TO GET BETTER

 

The two cheetah continued to walk but then made their way to a lone tree in the middle of the plains.  The guides and other vehicles thought they would probably just lay in the shade and rest for a while and many vehicles left after watching them climb the tree and play for a bit.     The cheetah eventually walked off and many of the vehicles left thinking they would not hunt.   we contemplated using the tree shade to have our lunch, but then looking through the binoculars the cheetah suddenly seemed to be watching some impala, who were aware of them, intently. 

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The impala seemed to be too far off, and they were already aware of the brothers which made what happened next all the more improbable.  We watched as one brother took off and started to chase the impala.  Through the binoculars i watched as they zigged and zagged and took down a baby impala.   I think even the other brother doubted the success but he reaped the rewards.   since we were the only car who hadn't really given up we zoomed in and were the first on the scene to watch them catch their breath and then dive into their meal. 

 

Pics will be a tad gory

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After all that excitement we headed back and had a late breakfast out under the tree the cheetah had climbed earlier.  If offered we will always take the opportunity to eat breakfast and other meals out in the bush.  That way you get out earlier when the cats are more active and just get more out of your drives.  and you are eating in some of the most beautiful scenery on earth.   I have said it earlier but its worth repeating that we love Serian for the ability to have our own vehicle without paying an exorbitant supplement to our safari.  total flexibility allows more time on drives which is what we personally are there for at this stage and not being subject to either a set camp schedule or car mates who want to lie in and take their time.  we love meeting people on safari but there is always opportunity to do that in camp and as you will see later you can still join new friends on drives if that is what you decide

 

 

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So after we ate, it was getting hotter and dusty but we decided to keep driving for a bit.  I'm not sure what we thought we could see that would top lions with a kill or a cheetah kill but you never know.  After driving for a bit without seeing much Masha got a call on the radio and he hit the breaks.  He said it was a 'special' sighting but we would have to step on it to get there.  would we be up for it??

OF COURSE we were.  he hit the gas and we held on for the bumpy ride.

 

We looked at each other and tried to guess what special might mean but masha wasn't telling.  We finally saw two cars parked and made our way to them. 

 

Now there are two things we always joke when a guide asks us what we want to see..

 

One of those is PANGOLIN.  i didn't even consider that this might be what the 'special' sighting was.

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Let's just say we drove back with HUGE smiles on our faces and a few tuskers to celebrate an all-time lifer sighting.  Only one of the guides had ever seen one, and seeing how exciting and into it they were made it even more special.  

 

Reading about pangolin below to try to answer our many questions.  not one they've had to explain before!!

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All-time drive for us:  lions with a fresh kill, cheetah hunt (albeit from a distance), honey badger in broad daylight, and a pangolin.  I still am not sure i believe it myself.  

 

We returned to camp and tried not to be the people immediately telling all the others about what we had seen, but word spread as it does for a sighting like this.  Even Alex asked to see pictures for this one which was kind of neat.

 

Remember when i said we would find out later what the commotion was in camp the night before?  well it wasn't for that lion kill a few minutes outside of camp.   Some of the cleaning folks noticed a baby wildebeest stashed in a tree above one of the tents.  A leopard had made a kill the prior night directly above a guest tent

 

The other pics are of a beautiful woodpecker i saw while walking back to our tent after lunch

 

 

 

 

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Edited by sek07
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Zubbie15

Wow, honey badger, lions on a kill, a cheetah hunt and a pangolin. That's hard to top...

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 Post siesta we headed out on a drive into the forested behind camp.  It is amazing how different this ecosystem was than the dry/dusty plains.  It was much greener and thick, unfortunately also thick with some tse tse flies.  With the help of some vultures we located a day old kill cleaned to the bone but not the perpetrators.  

 

We spent several hours cruising around and saw zebra, wildebeests and impala and eland that were very shy in a big green open area.  Finally we located two huge male lions on the top of a kopje (rocky outcrop).  A third brother eventually moved into sight as well.  After taking some beautiful pics from down below we headed back towards camp as the sun was starting to set.  Along the way we passed a vehicle stopped looking intently into a thick tree.   We stopped for a few mins and played the "i think i can see spots" game trying to find the leopard but i'm not sure we'll count it as a sighting. 

 

can you spot all 3 brothers in the last picture?

 

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Wow, what a morning it was!  You were blessed by the safari gods!  

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michael-ibk

Really awesome - many of us do those Pangolin jokes, but few of us ever see one! You were very lucky, what  a great safari.

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Returning to camp to a roaring fire and drinks before dinner.  When it gets dark you are accompanied to and from your room by an askari.   And we really found out why tonight.  One couple was stuck in their room because the leopard had returned to finish its baby wildebeest kill!  Alex and the other security guys accompanied us (with our drinks) to see the leopard from a safe distance.  Eventually it ran down the tree and scooted off and the couple joined us for dinner.   About an hour later i went to use the restroom behind the main tent and the askari was shining the flashlight and we saw it again back in the tree...

Our tent was surrounded by buffalo in the middle of the night munching away on the grass 

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We headed out on the 3rd morning and were able to find a different lion pride comprised of a female mother lioness with four 6-month old cubs.    The cubs were play fighting as the sun rose but we noticed the mother's front paw seemed to be wounded and she was badly limping.   We spent a ton of time watching the cubs play and eventually they walked up onto a kopje to warm up and get a better view.

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Maybe lion picture overkill but it was really nice morning light and they were engaging in such classic beautiful lion greeting, grooming and bonding.

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For the balance of the drive we headed out to the plains to try to find cheetah but it was very hot, dry, dusty and the flies were out because of the lack of wind.   

We were unsuccessful in the hunt for cheetah (which didn't happen often this trip!) but we came upon a clan of hyena returning to their den after the hunt.   I think the pictures capture how dry and barren the landscape seems but how much life it still supports is fascinating.

 

 

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Next a large relaxed colony of bat eared fox on the plains.  

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An african wildcat darted out in front of the car and posed just long enough for a photo or two before taking off and disappearing with her camouflage.  What a stunning cat..

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Atravelynn

We saw the same cheetah brother kill!  But YOU got the pangolin.  Holy Cow, what a sighting!  Wow!  The lions on the kopjes and playtime with the mother with the wounded paw is also very familiar!  Dry times still produced in Kusini.

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Alexander33

What a drive that second morning: the lions on a kill, the cheetahs nabbing an impala, a honey badger and the holy grail, a pangolin. Any of the latter three of those sightings alone on a given drive would have left me more than happy, but to have them all on the same drive?  Absolutely incredible!

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offshorebirder

I hope some time to have a "day of days" like you Did @sek07!    Thanks for this very enjoyable trip report.

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yes @Atravelynn so many overlaps with you that week!  wish we had said hi even if briefly...

 

thanks @offshorebirder and @Alexander33, @AmyT @michael-ibk, going back through the pictures and my notes from my timeline it is somewhat surreal and we are so thankful for it.  the area is prolific and beautiful and the guides just so terrific at what they do.  I would also like to point out the general level of respect ALL of the guides we encountered had during potential cheetah hunts was really heartening and clearly a reason the cats are doing so well in this area.   Almost without exception a respectful distance was kept if it seemed at all like they were interested in hunting. 

i know @Atravelynn may have had a different experience with selfie sticks and overzealous balloon operators on her trip though so its not all perfection out there

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@offshorebirder i have admired your pictures and reports and i wish you much luck on your future trips!

 

After seeing the wildcat we made our way to a spot to have brunch where we could find some shade.  The curious starling below was clearly used to humans as this is likely a frequently visited tree for lunch as there aren't that many spots with shade in the midst of the plains!  

I haven't focused on many of the other wonderful animals we saw as of yet but they are no less appreciated by us including the national animal of tanzania:  the giraffe!

 

 

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