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Tanzania Take Three - Time for an Intervention


Zubbie15
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So it was now already after lunchtime, and we hadn't hit the road for the North yet, so it was time to get going.  Now's probably a good time to show the map from my camera, to give an idea of our progress.

 

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You can see here we took the main "road" up to the North - it's the same as all the other roads, essentially, and surprisingly was almost devoid of traffic.  We only saw a couple of other trucks going in the other direction.  It took us a couple of hours to do the portion on the main road, with really only minimal stops for tire pressure checks and for a couple of sightings.  The first was for a decent size herd of buffalo, obligingly standing by the road for us.

 

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It was a challenge to get much separation of the animals, but we did what we could.

 

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The other stop we made was for a small gathering of Topi and Hartebeest.  These animals were, along with zebra, the main animals that were seen as we traveled along the main road (interestingly, to me at least, zebra were present pretty much all the way from Seronera to Bulogonja area, but essentially none were around Kogatende.  Meanwhile, there were no wildebeest until we got much closer to the river.  Along those lines, we did not see a single zebra at a river crossing).  I have yet to take a photo of these animals that I'm happy with, and I can't say these are great contenders either, but we did what we could with only a couple of minutes available to stop, and crappy light.  

 

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The landscape where the buffalo are is my favorite, brings back memories of my trip in 2008.

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Thanks @Biko!

 

We eventually got off the main road, taking a side road who's name I don't remember.  The landscape had, by this time, drastically changed, which was reinforced by our need to quickly close all the windows when we got stuck in a downpour.  It definitely wasn't the dusty central anymore! But the storm quickly passed, and we were able to pop the top and enjoy the rolling hills of the area.

 

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There are a few wildebeest in the above photo, and it wasn't much later that we started to hit the bigger herds.

 

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We went in and out of clouds along the drive - here's a more moody interpretation.

 

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I didn't take too many photos here, there wasn't much going on but wildebeest wandering around and munching on the grasses, and I thought it would be better to just appreciate the environment without the camera. I do regret, now, not having asked to stop at one of the many skeletons that littered the landscape, I think it would have made a nice counterpoint to the living herds.  

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We'd definitely taken our time getting to the area of the Mara River, and had pretty much decided we'd slowly make our way to camp. However, Mussa turned on his radio as we got to the area, and turned to us at one point and said "Guys, there's a crossing about to start nearby, do you want to go?"  Well, of course we would, at a minimum we'd be able to break any possible jinx and ensure we had seen a crossing.  It ended up not being a great crossing to see - they crossed in a very heavily vegetated area, and we showed up late. Those factors, combined with new rules that TANAPA has implemented (I'll talk about those later) meant we didn't have a great view.  And the location wasn't super great either, I had to remove a bunch of garbage from the river banks in these photos.  But still, we did what we could with the opportunity.

 

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The whole crossing lasted only about 6 minutes, once this crocodile started cruising by with a baby the wildebeest decided to take their chances elsewhere.

 

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Once they stopped crossing, we continued along.  Eventually we came across a kopje where several vehicles were looking up into the trees, which pretty much guarantees there's a cat there.  As expected, there was a leopard in the tree. 

 

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He seemed to be sleeping well, and to be well-fed (with a carcass in the tree with him) so we decided not to spend too much time there, as it was getting later and Mussa hadn't been to Kuria Hills in a while and so he wanted a bit of a buffer in case things had changed.  Well, it's good that we left, as they had completely changed the access route since Mussa's last time there - we ended up arriving via a back road that they didn't really use anymore.  The sunset was really beautiful that evening, although because of how late we were we didn't have time to set up proper photos (there is a ranger station right by Kuria Hills, so you don't have as much leniency with the time back to camp as you might otherwise).  These two photos give a (poor) feel for how the sunset was that evening.

 

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campsafari2015

I am really enjoying this trip report and your information! Our biggest hope is to be fortunate enough to get a good sighting of a serval! Can you share your tripadvisor review(s)? 

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Thanks for following along @campsafari2015, and welcome to the site.  I'll message you the TA link. Clearly, finding a serval is a lot of luck, although in my experience if you let your guide know you really want to see a serval they will let the other guides know, and if someone else finds one they can try to radio you.  The first serval we saw, in 2016, was in the Ngorongoro Crater (which is a relatively good for them), and on that day there were 4 different vehicles searching for one, which helped cover more ground. 

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Thanks for a wonderful TR @Zubbie15 - the sunset photo is stunning, along with the Wildebeest river crossing shots.

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offshorebirder

I am late finding this  excellent trip report @Zubbie15 - but wow!    Reading it in reverse - you have some great cat portraits (too many to comment on individually), stunning landscapes, and I particularly like the closeup of the  Hippo completely covered in mud except his reddish eyeballs.

 

Thanks for  taking  the time to do all the  photo editing and posting.

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Thanks @offshorebirder and @Hads for reading along. :)

 

The next morning dawned early and beautiful.  Our plan for the day, and indeed for our time in the area, was generally to search the kopjes and areas away from the river at the beginning and end of the day, and toward the middle of the day we were going to the river.  This idea had been planted in my mind reading one of the excellent trip reports from @Atravelynn, who had followed a similar plan to great effect during her visit to the area.  

 

First, let's start with the map for the day.   We clearly covered a fair amount of land, and managed to sneak into Kenya for a couple of minutes while across the river in the Lamai Wedge.

 

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Setting off, we first came across a small group of dagga boys.  They clearly didn't enjoy us watching them, and as always we respect buffaloes so only a couple of snaps.

 

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Next stop was a tree that was full of vultures (hmmm, it seems somehow we didn't take any pictures) with a dead wildebeest on the ground underneath.  None of the birds were going to the ground, so we assumed the cat that made the kill was still around, but try as we might we couldn't find it.  Later on we would hear from another guide that it had been a cheetah that made the kill (the only even hint of a cheetah we'd have during our time in the area, in contrast to our last trip to the Northern Serengeti where we'd had some great sightings).  

 

So we moved on, scanning kopjes.  No luck with cats, but we did get a nice klipspringer family on one kopje.

 

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Moving on, we saw a large number of vultures circling in the air, and thought that looked promising so we headed off in that direction.

 

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What did the vultures lead us to?  Well, a female lioness and a young male cub.  They had taken down a young wildebeest a little before, and were finishing up eating.

 

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The female didn't seem like she'd eaten too much, but she was very relaxed and let the male take the lead in eating what remained.  She actually spent more time trying to chase off the vultures.

 

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While the male took charge of the carcass... the male lions learn young! 

 

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@Zubbie15

 

This TR goes from strenght to strenght : I have seen so far an incredible number of antilope species  in Zambia  ( especially Kafue ) and Tanzania ( Ruaha ) but never a klipspringer and those almost " raw"  lion photos are very impressive indeed  !

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Thanks for the kind words @BRACQUENE, I'm surprised you haven't seen a klipspringer.  I'll have more to come... 

 

The male lion didn't spend too long with the wildebeest, before retreating to the cover of a nearby bush.  There had been 4 or 5 vehicles at this sighting, but at this point all but one other left. Interestingly (to me, at least), this vehicle had one of the few occupants that also had a super-telephoto lens like we did.  Apart from what was clearly a photo tour that we'd see later, there really weren't a lot of other large cameras around.  The car with us was distinctive, as they had little shelves outside the windows to allow for easy beanbag use from a lower angle.  I have to admit I was a little jealous, I'm always contorting myself on the floor to get the lower shot.  

 

In any case, the people that left probably should have stayed...  Rather than rest there, the male quickly got up and headed to a nearby kopje.  The female watched him, and then with a sigh (total anthropomorphization) she got up and started to drag the carcass in that direction.

 

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It was clearly tough work, and she'd regularly stop and survey her surroundings.

 

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But no help was coming, so she had to persevere. 

 

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I really enjoyed this sighting, and in fact the general time we had here, as the light changed quite drastically from one moment to the next due to all of the clouds.  

 

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She finally made it to the kopje, and presumably to other members of her pride, so we scanned around to see if we could find any others.  The male had actually taken up a spot on top of a rock, that allowed for some nice photos.

 

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A sibling of his then came out, and they posed briefly for us.  

 

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But not long after that they crept back further into the rocks, where we couldn't follow, and so we decided it was time to head toward the river.

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Spectacular shots. Enjoying your report very much. 

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On 6/10/2020 at 1:50 AM, Zubbie15 said:

I'm surprised you haven't seen a klipspringer.  I'll have more to come...

 

The more the merrier! I'm particularly fond of the smaller antelopes and so far I'm doing a little better than @BRACQUENE in the klipspringer stakes I recall seeing one in Shaba in 1996!

Great photos of your sighting @Zubbie15 and to see one lying down and relaxing is very impressive.

Looking forward to more of this excellent report.

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Thanks @AKR1 and @Caracal for the kind words.

 

I'm going to use this post to vent a little, and get things out of the way rather the disrupt the flow later.  Kuria Hill has a very nice common area, and while eating you are able to look out over the park.  I was surprised on our first night to see just how many lights we could see from our table - in fact, I asked the camp manager, when they came over to see us, if we were actually looking outside the park because of how many lights there were.  He laughed, and said they were actually other camps.  He then asked if we'd been in the area previously, and when I said we'd been there in 2013, he mentioned we'd see a big difference, it was much busier now in the Kogatende area.  

 

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When we reached the river, we observed some of the changes that have occurred.  At crossing locations, TANAPA has now installed signs - one indicates the closest location where vehicles should park while waiting for a herd to cross. This was perfectly reasonable, and generally (based on our previous experience) where vehicles would have parked otherwise.  The second set of signs showed the closest the drivers should go once the crossing started and they drove to the river to get close.  This is almost certainly a good thing for the wildebeest, to ensure they can get up from the river.  It does make it hard to get a good angle on the river itself though, for photographs.  The problem with this was that of course many of the guides ignored the signs unless the rangers were nearby, which meant that even those of us who would be fine to stick to where you were supposed to be had to also go closer or risk being behind several vehicles.  So everyone would still jockey to get as close to the river as possible.  Of course, you can imagine what happened - for one crossing everyone was near the river when it came over the radio that the rangers were on their way, and so midway through the crossing everyone had to move into a near (legal) position, missing a major part of the crossing. Another time the rangers were parked with us waiting, and so once the crossing started the drivers parked appropriately.  Well, except for a couple of drivers who hadn't seen the rangers, who parked in front of everyone else.  Which led to yelling by the drivers who were in the correct position, telling them to move back, and by some guests, to get them out of the way.  Certainly neither situation was great. 

 

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We drove along the river, seeing these signs, but only seeing hippos in the river.  This was one of the areas where having the radio was (potentially) a good thing, it was possible to monitor what was happening along the river from what the other guides were saying.  We eventually heard of a small group of wildebeest that looked like they were going to cross, and headed over there, just stopping quickly for a small herd of Eland.

 

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According to the radio, and what Mussa told us, this was the only potential crossing along the river, so as time went on more vehicles arrived.  Ultimately, when the wildebeest started crossing, I had stopped counting at 40 vehicles parked, and I'm sure there were some I missed, so the Northern Serengeti definitely does seem to be getting closer to the horror stories that I've heard from the Mara, unfortunately.  In any case, when the crossing started, by the time we got near the river edge the wildebeest had already stopped crossing, with only 25-30 animals crossing.  It definitely wasn't the situation I'd hoped for, with more jeeps than wildebeest at a crossing, and so we told Mussa to head off and find something a little quieter to enjoy.  

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But let's not dwell on any negatives.  Mussa decided that we should head over to the Lamai Wedge, which involves crossing a "bridge" across the Mara River.  This is probably more accurately described as a mini-dam that drivers can cross when the water isn't especially high. In 2013 when we'd been in the area, a jeep had been swept off the road and into the river the day we arrived, so we hadn't been able to cross.  Mussa thought this time would be fine, despite recent rains, and I think we were just at the borderline as the road was submerged, and it was an interesting experience to cross with no road visible and not a lot of extra space on either side.  But we made it across, and were happy to spend a few hours here, where we only saw a couple of other vehicles the entire time.  We'd certainly seen wildebeest on "our" side of the river, but the masses of wildebeest were clearly on this side of the river.

 

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We came across one area where for about a 100 meter radius there were no wildebeest.  That made it pretty obvious where to look, and sure enough right in the middle of the circle was a lioness with a wildebeest kill, hiding under a bush.  So we continued along, and as mentioned stopped briefly on the Kenyan side of the border.  Clearly someone didn't like the sign... 

 

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Reaching this spot, we started to head back, scanning for cheetah but not having much luck.  On the positive side, however, the view in front of this looked like this:

 

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It was raining back on the other side of the river, and knowing that the wildebeest "chase" the rain, we were certainly hopeful that we'd see more crossing activity in the next day or two.

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madaboutcheetah

@Zubbie15 - Glad to catch up with the thread again ...... Wonderful stuff

 

That looks like cheetah poo on the boundary sign! 

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5 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

That looks like cheetah poo on the boundary sign! 

 

Thanks @madaboutcheetah - it makes sense that would be cheetah poo, there really wasn't much else in the area to get an elevated view.  Hopefully it had the authority to enter Tanzania... ;)

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After admiring the wildebeest for a while, we decided there wasn't much action in the area, and we should head back across the river.  We traveled along the river, making occasional detours in to check out various kopjes.  It was encouraging to see that the rain continued, at least in some areas.

 

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The kopjes were fairly quiet, although we did have another nice view of a family of klipspringers.

 

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Leaving the klipspringers, we continued along, passing through a storm that made it get very dark for a while.  As it cleared, we were treated to a nice double rainbow - unfortunately it was fleeting, and we weren't in a particularly photogenic location.

 

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You may notice in the foreground something wandering about - it had gotten dark enough that a lone hippo had decided to come up out of the river.  We made our way, somewhat carefully, closer to him.

 

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Unfortunately the road was between him and the river, so he wasn't too happy with us and we got some very unhappy looks.

 

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Gradually he decided on the route he wanted to take, and so made his way quickly past us.

 

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Once he got back in the river, he was much more confident, and turned around to stare us down. 

 

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@Zubbie15

 

Stunning landscapes and we are spoiled "again" with one of my my personal favorites the photogenic ( and they know it ! )  klipspringers  : don't stop !

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Thanks @BRACQUENE for the kind words.  There'll be a couple of more klipspringer pictures toward the end of this report...

 

Leaving the hippo behind, we continued along. We had started checking out all the crossing points in this area, hoping that we'd be lucky and find a group that was ready to cross and that we'd have to ourselves.  Unfortunately, no such luck, but as we looped around we did enjoy some other general game, including this big croc.

 

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As I'm sure anyone who's read this report will realize, we aren't really bird photographers, but you've always got to have one picture of an LBR during a trip.

 

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We also came across a small group of elephants in this area - we definitely saw a lot less elephants around here compared to the last time, in 2013.  And, unlike when we were in the area in 2013, there were no rhinos around (Mussa said it had been several years since he'd seen any rhinos in the area, unfortunately).

 

But there were a couple of cute youngsters in this group of elephants, so we enjoyed their company for a little while.

 

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But they moved off, and so we decided to start heading back to camp, enjoying the storms on the way.

 

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8 hours ago, Zubbie15 said:

As I'm sure anyone who's read this report will realize, we aren't really bird photographers, but you've always got to have one picture of an LBR during a trip.

 

 

Seems to me @Zubbie15 that your LBR photo proves that you really are a bird photographer. 

Loving the landscapes with those stunning skies and vast plains - making me want to be back in Africa.

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I just don't take many @Caracal.  I was supposed to have just come back from a trip that was going to have a bunch of bird photographers on it (hopefully it'll be a go next year), and I was hoping/expecting it would put me more in the bird frame of mind.  We are definitely mammal-focused on our safaris!

 

Our route back took us in the area of the kopje where the leopard had been the previous evening, so we couldn't pass that up. Our hope was that, given he had a kill in the tree, he might still be around.  The presence of a couple of parked vehicles made it seem like we'd be lucky, and indeed he was much more visible when we arrived.  He was particularly focused on a part of the kopje, and started to insert on of his paws into a gap between some rocks.  Our view was somewhat obscured, and the photos aren't really worth much, but eventually he managed to snag a rock hyrax and drag it out of the hole.  He then proceeded to play with it, like a house cat with a mouse, and it was impressive to see how quickly he moved about. Eventually, he came out into the open, and we assumed he had finally killed it.

 

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But not long after that, he leaped up, and started chasing the poor thing around again. The hyrax would make quite the squeals whenever he pounced on it, it was kind of hard to hear.  

 

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After watching this for a while, and really failing to get any photos (he would pup up at random in one spot, only to disappear before we'd get him in focus) we realized we probably needed to move on. However, he was nice enough to pose for us one final time before we left.

 

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