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2019 Trip on the northern circuit

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Dick

Tanzania 2019 Trip Report

Report for our April 24-May 6, 2019, trip on the northern circuit. We relish watching wildlife with a special but not exclusive interest in birds. As every game drive, every day, every safari is different we enjoy revisiting areas seen on previous trips.  In some aspects this report may be a bit on the detail side but is intended to give maybe would-be safari-goer ideas for a trip.  We usually travel in April/May as prices are usually lower, fewer travelers, and scenery is great given recent rains. We have yet to be significantly impacted with rains even though considered the rainy season as often rains are at night, of short duration or the pattern is changing due to climate changes. And, the wildebeest migration is underway with major concentrations still in the Ndutu area and moving into the Serengeti proper.

 

Our itinerary was as follows:

1 nite—The African Tulip, Arusha

3 nites—Tarangire Safari Lodge, Tarangire National Park

1 nite—Lake Manyara KirurumuTented Lodge overlooking Lake Manyara National Park

2 nites—Lake Masek Camp, Ndutu area, NCA

3 nites—Serengeti Sopa Lodge, Serengeti National Park

2 nites—Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, Ngorongoro Crater rim

 

Normally we would have used Africa Serendipity to arrange the safari with Roy Safaris but sadly we learned owner Sandi Spindel was hospitalized from complications from falls and unavailable for business (later we learned she passed away in Feb).  So, we dealt directly with Sanjay, owner of Roy Safaris. I was surprised at the cost of the safari given what we paid in 2015. I learned an 18 percent VAT tax had been added to previously untaxed lodging and other related parts of safaris! We pursued getting airline tickets first so we could adjust the safari accordingly. Susan of the State College (PA) AAA made flight arrangements flying out of Dulles International Airport. Also, we purchased Allianz Travel Insurance.

 

Packing was relatively easy given experience from previous trips to East Africa. Standard items included “Birds of East Africa” by Stevenson and Fanshawe, two pairs of binocs,  a Canon Rebel T1i with a 100-400 mm lens and a 18-55 mm one,  Power Shot  S3 camera for general use, an extra rechargeable battery and cards for the Rebel and a pack of regular batteries for the S3, power converter/adapter, charger,  flashlights, toiletry items, meds,  “wet ones”,  bug spray, a small alarm clock, and wash cloth (critical) .  Clothing included hats, light jackets (and rain jackets). Luggage was soft-sided multi-zippered units with back packs for carry-on items. We also took a bag of individual size Pay Day candy bars, note books, gum, breath mints and reading material.  Darla wore a “money” pouch around her neck for passports and some currency. I kept currency and select credit cards in a waist pouch which I then carried in my pocket once in Tanzania. Took Malerone after breakfast before, during, and after the trip.

 

We drove to Herndon, VA for Hilton Washington parking and shuttle service to Dulles airport for the evening KLM flight to Amsterdam, a short layover and then onward to Kilimanjaro International Airport. Flights were uneventful.

 

The visa purchasing process was a slow, slow process at the airport! After that we moved onto passport control and then to baggage claim. The entire process took an hour before we moved outside and met our driver for the 50-minute ride to the African Tulip on Serengeti Road, Arusha.

 

We enjoyed staying at the Tulip as it is as nice as any hotel/motel in the states. Staff were friendly and personable. The place was very quiet and the bathroom was with shampoo, conditioner, body wash, slippers, bathrobes and plenty of hot water. Breakfast was a varied and plentiful buffet with personalized omelets and pancakes. Afterwards we enjoyed birding the bushes and trees on the property.

 

Nicholas, our guide for the previous 4 safaris took us to Barclays Bank a short distance down the street to exchange dollars for Tz schillings (1 $: 2,259 TZS). The process was more complicated then previously as new procedures required paperwork as I did not have an account there. $300 in US currency produced quite a wad of 10,000 tzs bills! We usually get local currency not only to study pictures on the bills but also for flexibility in paying bar tabs, other local purchases and tips. Any remaining local currency at trip’s end was corporated into the tip for our guide. We had already check with him and he had no preference for local or US currency.

 

Traffic was not too bad given time of the day. Arusha is growing and has a very new road to Nairobi. We noted how dry the area was. Seasonal rains have not been forthcoming as usual. Noted bee ”boxes” in nearby trees, various birds, and even wildebeests near the road as we motored to Makuyuni. There instead of turning right towards Lake Manyara and other parts of the northern circuit we continued straight. At the Tarangire NP turn-off we noted newly made fishing boats for a nearby lake.

 

Soon we reached the parking lot at the park gate. Saw more safari cars than ever before. Some were for day trips out of Arusha.  Much drier than a normal spring at this time of the year. The drive to Tarangire Safari Lodge was quite interesting. On and around an old termite mound we spotted cordon bleu, red-cheeked cordon bleu, red bishop, dusty flycatcher, slate-colored boubou and most of all, a green-winged pytilia! Mammals included wildebeest, dik-dik, impala, black-backed jackals, Grant’s gazelle, and dwarf mongoose. Darla was kept busy noting various sightings particularly birds. Arriving at the lodge we saw the river was quite low but several zebra were in the vicinity.

 

Entering Tarangire Safari Lodge felt like coming home as we were quite familiar with our favorite African lodge. Plus, two employees remembered us from our 2015 stay. One, a server, had named me Pepsi as I was very pleased to find Pepsi products there. The second, Stella, remembered the picture I sent of her from that trip and the post card she sent thanking me. Not much had changed except workers were replacing the thatch on the tall, spiral roof above the reception/lounge area. Only a handful of other guests were to be expected.

We stayed in tent #22 furthest from the main building for our three nites. Other than no wash cloth the tent was great. Plenty of hot water for showers, ample storage room, clean shower room, and even a large bottle of “mineral” water for drinking and brushing teeth. We saw jackal, impala, waterbuck, and dik-dik in the immediate vicinity of the tent, numerous zebras in the river area below and learned of lions passing between the tented area and motor pool one night. We heard zebra, hyena and lions during the night. Staff mentioned a leopard was sighted just downhill of the patio area one morning. And, lions had killed a wildebeest less than 200 yards of the lodge’s water tower. We saw lions and the carcass on a game drive.

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Dick

That first day we identified 50 different species of birds.

 

The first two nights rain and a gentle breeze made the tent comfy for a good night’s sleep. The third night we should have sprayed before untying the mosquito netting as the bugs (not mosquitos) were incredible! Besides being warm, insects made it near impossible to enjoy reading. Great chorus of frog/toad calls.

We enjoyed every meal at TSL. Most were buffet style with great variety with soups being some of our favorites. Snacks during “sun downers” on the patio included popcorn, Spanish peanuts and two types of chips.  Variety of drinks were available with soda at $1.00, beer (Safari and Kilimanjaro) at $3.00 and wine at $5 a glass.  A typical evening meal: butternut (squash) soup, mango/avocado salad, beet root, spanish rice, stir-fried veggies, beef moussaka, and rhubarb pudding (or bread pudding with sauce).

Laundry prices seemed reasonable (trousers $3, t-shirt/shirts $2 and blouses $2). But, not underwear.

 

Battery charging was available at the reception desk during the daytime and then at the bar during the night.

 

Early afternoon “down” time in camp provided a nice opportunity to bird along the walkway in front of the tents. There, we saw our first sulphur-breasted bush-shrike, a male African paradise flycatcher in breeding plumage, and other species including red-faced crombec and violet-backed sunbird.

 

We enjoyed a 2-hour night game drive by Brendon, the owner’s son. The cost was $85 per person plus a $24 fee for the armed escort. We saw numerous mammals (zebra, impala, wildebeest, jackal, bat-eared fox, spring hare, African hare, white-tail mongoose, genet cat), and birds (Verreaux’s eagle-owl, slender-tail nightjar, and even a Ruppel’s-griffon vulture. To me, for less than a full 2-hour activity the price seemed a bit steep but hey, we enjoyed it.

 

Otherwise, day game drives were quite productive and enjoyable. Tse-tse flies were everywhere and unquestionably the worst we have ever encountered. Bug spray seem more like a marinade than a repellant. At one-point Darla and I were swatting and squashing left and right while Nicholas was driving like a drunken sailor swinging his towel at those on the windows and himself!

 

Interesting observations: saw a regular orange-white house cat near the one airfield, a shiny spitting black cobra crossing the road, a striped snake too fast to be identified, the large lizard living under the tent slab, and the truck full of soldiers for the visit of the prime minister. Got to watch two sparring male waterbuck whick triggered a third to join in and then two nearby male impala started locking horns! Saw relatively few elephants except near the main gate. Seems the dry conditions encouraged migration to areas outside the park. Photo taking was wonderful getting excellent shots of numerous species including purple grenadier, woodpeckers, and the green-winger pytilia. Witnessed a “herd” of over 3 dozen adult ostriches! All-in-all had a great 3 days in Tarangire NP.  I still think this park is way, way underrated especially compared to the more famous Serengeti.

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Dick

 

Leaving Tarangire we motored towards Makuguni noting a road kill. Seems a hyena was struck by a vehicle. Several pied crows were feasting on the remains. At Makuguni we turned left towards Mto wa Bu and Lake Manyara NP. Near the site of the bus wreck from the flash flood in 2015 we encountered several large elephants crossing the road on their way thru the Manyara wildlife corridor. Interesting to witness reactions of drivers (vans, lorries, safari cars and buses) to these large animals moving across the macadam road.

 

The town of Mto wa Bu seemed to be growing. Thought more tuk tuks (3 wheeled taxis) were present than before. Saw numerous pelicans, yellow-billed and marabou storks nesting in trees along the main street and the entrance to Lake Manyara NP. Being a Sunday, numerous people, particularly ladies in colorful attire, were headed to church.

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By mid-morning we entered the park. Right away we spotted silver-cheeked hornbills close to the road. Some stretches of road were quite challenging for Nicholas due to flooded conditions from recent rains. Saw the normal mammalian community we have come to expect at Lake Manyara except lions. They seem to be having a problem perhaps due to inbreeding. For us, the park is a great place for birding especially for water-related ones. And, of course we hoped to spot a Peter’s twinspot like we did on a trip years ago.

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We noted the former elevated observation walkway at the hippo pool is basically worthless given the height of reeds obstructing view of the lake. We added numerous birds to our list including white-winged tern, moorhen, long-toed plover, green wood hoopoe, crowned hornbill, and gray kingfisher. Our picnic spot was a good one as bird life abounded. But numerous persons there made photographing difficult. Several species scrambled for tidbits. We traveled far into the park seeing numerous giraffes, cape buffalo, the occasional elephant, and few safari goers. No Peter’s twinspot but no tsetse flies either!

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Exiting the park, we drove the paved road up the escarpment past the restrooms to the gravel road to Kirurumu Tented Lodge. The road was as bumpy as before maybe worse. We arrived to a warm greeting with glasses of fresh juice. We were to be the only guests overnight (other than lodge owner and wife). He owns Hoopoe Safaris and some aspect of a Tanzanite mine. We had tent # 24 (Kilimanjaro) with a plate of fresh fruit and overlooking Lake Manyara. Room was quite spacious with maybe a king size bed and a twin size, double bowls in the bathroom, concrete floor, and mosquito netting. The nite was quiet with a nice breeze. Our supper was excellent with personal service by the restaurant manager. Soda was $2 a bottle. After breakfast we birded with several species to be seen with a female sunbird entering and leaving her nest just outside the reception room door.408934198_5cIMG_3159.JPG.6b7d465d046dfd1e556d10100050a14e.JPG

 

Laundry services were available and staff would do underwear (1,500 Tzs). T-shirts/polos (1,500), blouse (1,500), trousers (2,000), and socks (1,000 per pair).

The owner personally thanked us for staying. He did however wore a sweatshirt with an offensive message. I now wish I had shared my opinion with him.

Onward to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area stopping for fuel in Karatu. There, a couple of venders tried and tried to sell us trinkets. Nicholas pointed the sign to The Retreat, Sanjay’s new lodge. Some 60 lodges are in the immediate vicinity maybe saturating the area. Also, he showed us the memorial to the some 30-plus children, teachers, and bus driver killed in an accident recently. Nothing much else had changed. Lots of people around, loads of motorcycles, lots of trash, etc. A bit later, Nicholas stopped for a to-go coffee. Seems he likes his coffee!

 

Then, after a short drive we arrived at the NCA gate where the paved road ends. We noted as we went higher the countryside got greener. It was rather exciting to see mud-splattered cars coming back from safari and those like ours getting ready to enter the Ngorongoro Conservation Area! The mud/gravel road was like we remembered with game trails crossings and where elephants gouged for mineral laden clay. Saw the occasional cape buffalo along the road. Stopped at a picnic area near the Crater Lodge for lunch. A few birds but numerous buffalo “paddies”.   The lunch from the Kirumuru Lodge was tasty and varied. Had chips, chicken leg/thigh, mango juice, peanuts, biscuits (cookies), hard-boiled egg, yogurt, apple, banana and bread. Along the big curve coming down from the crater rim was a large temporary lake from all the recent rains. Shorebirds added to the scene. A few zebra and wildebeest were in the vicinity of Maasai cattle. We noted loads of yellow flowers on the hillsides. Long-tailed Tacazze sunbirds were feeding on juices from the yellow flowers. A grey cuckoo had a large caterpillar or millipede in its bill.

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As we continued the countryside became more arid. Besides seeing Maasai bomas, herds of cattle and flocks of goats and sheep we began seeing Thomson’s gazelle, the occasional wildebeest, Grant’s gazelle and now and then a kori bustard. Recalled the giraffe family from the 2015 trip. A broken-down truck awaiting help from Karatu. Dust, dust, dust. Oncoming traffic brought clouds of dust.   Finally turned off onto the Ndutu road. Saw a bulldozer. Nicholas said a road was being built to expedite travel to the Ndutu air strip. Many reaches of the new route were simply mud holes with major ruts. We came upon a mom cheetah and juvenile son simply laying alongside the road.

 

 

 

 

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Entering the acacia woodland, we soon encountered tsetse flies although not as abundant as in Tarangire NP. We continued to add to our bird list noting water birds around the lake, eland on the hillside, and just how dry things were. At Lake Masek Tented Camp the main pavilion had been expanded as well as the deck. Also, a pool and patio for the fire bowl had been added. We enjoyed pleasant greetings with staff before settling into tent Kongoni (hartebeest) one of the ten new ones.

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Before enjoying “sun downers” on the deck I was able to use the office computer to send a quick email to family. Then we sat on the deck enjoying red wine and a cold soda. Snacks included popcorn, peanuts, chips, cassava and banana chips. Our package at the lodge included free drinks except mixed ones. Staff was quick to keep glasses filled. Nicholas was able to eat with us and that made for enjoyable conversations across numerous topics. Our first supper was vegetable soup, veggies for a salad, beef and pork ribs, rice, mac and cheese, more veggies, peas and a jelly roll for dessert. Nicholas had a glass of wine which I think was the first time I have seen him drink alcohol in 5 safaris. Were escorted back to the tent around 8:30 PM.

 

Our unit, was something like glamorous tenting, or “glamping” as sometimes referred to as in the states. Besides the large comfy netted tent, the room was nicely furnished with writing stand, lg wardrobe, chest of drawers, long bench, luggage stand, and a screened-in porch. Plus, the entire tent was screened with side panels which could be opened for evening air yet arranged for privacy. The bathroom was spacious with tub, twin wash bowls, a separate commode room, an external walled shower “open to the stars” and a hair dryer. Plus, an umbrella, fire detector, electric torch, phone to reception, a floor fan, a charging bar, and a water cooler for hot, cold, and room temp drink. Sleep was great with the occasional sounds of hippos’ noise at night.

 

Breakfast was a treat with a varied buffet and of course made-to-order omelets and thin pancakes.

 

No two game drives in the Ndutu were the same. We visited different areas taking in various habitats over the two days. We came upon the Marsh Pride seeing some 16 or 18 lions, lionesses and cubs. Members seemed to be in great condition. We found the carcass of a recently killed wildebeest that was only partially eaten. Beside the numerous flies one usually sees at a carcass a great number of honey bees were present and several moved into the safari car! Bird life abounded with dozens added to our list. Saw a couple pair of Verreaux’s eagle-owls, numerous eagles included one of my favorites, the long-crested eagle, and 3 cuckoo species (red-chested, great spotted, and Diedrick). Near our tent we spotted red-faced crombec, waxbills, weavers and even a female sunbird peeking out of a nest near the main pavilion.

Noisy crowned lapwings greeted us in several areas. Besides the two cheetah seen on the drive into Ndutu we saw at least one more. She had an abundance of ticks. Numerous wildebeest and zebra were moving into the area. In short grass areas tommies and grants were seen. We tried to drive past one lone, large-tusked bull elephant when it whirled around towards us with a mock charge trumpeting loudly! Reed buck and dik-dik were seen and we watched a steen bok with anticipation of a kill as a cheetah was nearby! The occasional leopard tortoise was seen as well as a tree agama, a first for us.

 

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Then, the final morning in Ndutu. We back-tracked out of the acacia woodlands to the short grass area past the parked bulldozer for the new road onto the track to the main road towards the Naabii Hill gate. Saw numerous tommies and related plains wildlife on the drive. Many wildebeest were seen grazing. As we neared the hill, I had flashbacks of the cheetah we saw in 2015 as we drove the last half mile to the rest area. The area was being renovated. The old parking area was closed off, much of the former picnic area had been razed and debris was everywhere. A bus from Arusha stopped and passengers disembarked for a break using rest rooms and purchasing snacks in the little shop. A short distance away in a small grove of trees a mother elephant stood with her young calf. It was very dusty here and a major breeze kept dust swirling around.

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Once underway we noticed the plains were quite dry. Miles and miles of tall but rather brown grass. Darla and Nicholas saw a harlequin quail fly across the road but I missed seeing it. We ate our boxed lunch in the shade of a tall kopje. In the upper reaches of a small water course we began seeing more wildlife starting with a small herd of elephants and then hartebeest, occasional wildebeest, hyena, zebra, bustards, red-billed teal, and saddle-billed stork. Then, two leopards in a distant tree. Further along, reedbuck, black crake, and numerous other birds.   We had been paralleling a long tall hill ridge for several miles. As we turned more to the right down a valley we noted another very steep hill with ugly buildings on the hillside. Nicholas said those were dwellings for the construction workers and staff for a new lodge. The lodge was more visible on the other side of the hill but at least blended in better with the natural surroundings. That hill became a great reference for me during subsequent game drives. As we got more into acacia woods and thickets the presence of tsetse became readily apparent. When standing in the car I could look back and see “squadrons” of flies following the safari car and every so often a few would speed up and enter. We experienced bites thru clothing and Darla even had one bite through her shoe!  But at least the area was a bit greener than the plains just left. And, we were seeing more zebra, wildebeest, cape buffalo and topi.

 

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Entering the Sopa we were greeted by friendly staff with refreshing towels and fresh juice. After registering we were taken to room 29 on the second floor and to the left of the main lodge. The room was like what we had come to expect and was very adequate for our stay. We noted various birds and vervet monkeys were present in close proximity to our balcony and the nearby pool/patio area. Our room was spacious with a large, clean bathroom and shower. But room lighting was poor for reading while in bed.  I appreciated the floor fan to keep the room cooler especially at night.

 

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We learned the floor in the open hallway greatly amplified human voices and made for considerable noise particularly when wheeled luggage was moved. Plus, heavy wooden doors made a loud “bang” when closed. These were especially noticed late at night or in the morning with extra early departures. Then, the two fellows in the room next door were extremely noisy in what seemed like a normal conversation. We tried the floor fan to provide background noise but found it did not work right. The next nite with a different person in the room next door we thought the noise issue was over. But when opening our balcony door to get fresh air via the screened door cigarette smoke filled our room. She was smoking on her balcony just a couple feet away and smoke simply wafted into our room. I learned from the reception staff that smoking was permitted on balconies.  I expressed my frustration in that we could not have any air movement due to an inoperable fan. Management was quick to provide one that worked and all was well.

 

We enjoyed our stay at the Serengeti Sopa. Staff were always friendly and attentive. The food was very good and portions were generous. I always enjoyed breakfast specially to have made-to-order omelets. Bacon, maybe potatoes, various fruits and oh, yes baked beans with a piece of pastry made for a good day’s start. The one morning a vervet monkey got into the dinning room and it took staff considerable effort to shoo the little rascal out before they could close doors to the balcony eating area.

 

For the one lunch we were one of the few guests present and ate on the dining room balcony. While we enjoyed the multi-course mean we watched for birds in nearby trees. Besides seeing sunbirds and another sulphur-breasted bush-shrike we watched a male red-headed weaver work on a nest. Was the only red-headed weaver we saw on the trip.

 

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Game drives were always interesting and varied. We agree with Nicholas to leave the vehicle top down until we came out of the acacia woodlands onto the plains. It was rather amusing to watch tsetse flies trying to get through the side windows! Was not unusual to see 3 or 4 on each one.

 

Groups of impalas, zebra, cape buffalo and even a lonely cheetah plus a flock or two of helmeted guineafowl, hornbills, woodpeckers, green wood-hoopoes and the like were to be seen on the road from the Sopa to the bridge. Baboons were sitting on the bridge railing almost like toll collectors. On one morning drive along a watercourse on the plains just past the steep hill with the new lodge we came upon a pool filled with hippos many of which had sores either from fighting or infection from skin issues stemming from low water levels and too much sun. Nicholas liked this little stream with ponded water as various shorebirds were there including pied avocets, one of his favorites.

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We spotted a serval cat hunting for mice and birds in tufts of grass near the stream. This beautiful cat did not seem bothered by our presence providing we kept a certain distance. Then, while attempting to cross a particularly muddy area our safari car got stuck and I mean stuck! No matter how Nicholas shifted, no matter how much rocking back and forth he did we were really stuck. Fortunately, another safari car was a short distance away near a pride of lions and the driver saw our situation. Nicholas drug out a chain and the car pulled us out. Seeing the spot, the next day we estimated the rut was at least 30” deep!27h.JPG.04420992dd7a31ccca3d508052722b26.JPG

 

At least nine lions were engaged in devouring a wildebeest killed hours before. We were close enough to hear bones being crunched and various vocalizations as young and old vied for choice pieces.  Looking around we saw a Nile monitor (lizard) basking atop an old termite mound, an immature red-breasted longclaw and grey herons. Nearby were two lionesses with 3 cubs each. Was comical to see one female jump across the small stream followed by the three cubs. More than one fell a bit short and got a bath.

 

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We continued to be amazed at how dry the plains were. Yes, the grass was tall but quite brown and very little green anywhere. And, we did not see the huge concentrations of wildebeest we normally would have as rains were delayed and the migration was late.

 

Further on in a tree near the junction of two gravel roads we spotted a leopard with prey carcass in a tree. Shortly, there were 20-plus safari vehicles there somewhat a function of other lodges nearby and maybe limited sightings of other wildlife in the general area due to dry conditions. Had there been any rangers nearby they would have chastised the drivers as park regulations limit such to five vehicles at a time.

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Moving down the road at a pretty good clip, Nicholas hit the brakes as the car slid a few feet! I just happened to look up to see a snake crossing the road. Both he and Darla got a better look. Seems the snake had a mouse in its mouth only to drop it. We figured the mouse was a “goner” anyway.

 

Along another stretch Nicholas pointed to a couple small birds on the road saying” a new species” for him. Harsh, mid-day sun light made it impossible to really see the vivid colors let alone take decent pictures. But we saw enough to identify them as African quail-finches, a new species to us also. We were hoping to see this bird again. Sure enough, the next day we saw them also along a roadside puddle.  They spooked but he suggested we wait a bit. Soon, a couple came back. While we waited 4 wart hogs approached the same large puddle maybe to wallow in the mud to cool off but seemed reluctant maybe due to our presence. It was a stand-off. Finally, I was abler to get a reasonably decent pic of this beautiful little bird. And, as we drove off the wart hogs moved to the puddle buy only one submersed itself!

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On a morning drive with a boxed lunch we spotted a female cheetah lying atop a flattened termite mound with nary another animal to be seen. We waited there for maybe an hour to see what she would do. Meanwhile, Nicholas alerted some of his fellow-safari guides as to the sighting and before long another car or two showed up. We finally moved on only to learn later she killed a ¾ grown wildebeest shortly after we left and such was witnessed by those there!

 

On that same drive while headed to the Serengeti Visitor’s Center we noted rain clouds on the horizon. We pulled into the parking lot just as a major cloudburst let loose. The center had recently been expanded so we were able to eat under roof. While Nicholas went in pursuit of coffee at the nearby snack bar we looked around and visited the tented tanzanite shop. There was some mighty nice jewelry for sale but Darla restrained herself. Staff there were not pushy and thanked us for stopping in. We wanted to walk the stone walkway up and around the interpretative trail (as to the wildebeest migration) but our shoes were simply too slippery on the wet stones for a safe walk.

Took the road towards the Mbuzi Mawe Tented Lodge. I remembered that road from a trip years ago. Ventured onto a couple of side roads, one along a small stream and saw numerous wildebeest, zebra, elephants in the distance, more lions, several cape buffalo and of course birds everywhere. We even saw a rather large croc running thru the grass near a ponded area. Seemed like a very long ride back to the lodge but wildlife popped up every so often, a white-browed coucal here, a pair of black-sided jackals there, a cuckoo over there, white-bellied bustards, and so forth. Nearing the acacia woodlands, we lowered the top and enjoyed seeing game from the side windows w/o tse-tse flies.

 

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On another drive we visited the area on the reverse side of the new lodge hill. Took the road up to Lake Magadi, a natural alkaline lake. Saw both lesser and greater flamingos there. Cape buffalo, a hippo or two, zebra and other game kept us on our toes as did woodpeckers, larks, plovers and the like. Spotted more lions most likely from the group seen a day or so earlier. Nicholas continued to amaze us with his keen eyes and of course his knowledge of life histories, ecology and history of the area. Even though the wildebeest migration had yet to hit the area due to lack of rain, every now and then we would come across freshly used trails across the road made by smaller groups of gnu maybe a couple hundred strong. Fresh hoof prints were easily discernable.

 

Towards the end of our last supper at the Serengeti Sopa we noticed the dining room lights got dim and a line of cook staff and servers came singing and clapping carrying a heavy burning torch. They stopped at our table handing Darla the torch. As they sang, they gave us an iced cake with burning candles and two packages! Then the group stood in front of the buffet tables singing songs from the Serengeti Sopa Choir cd we also purchased. The celebration was because of us staying three nights. The one gift was kind of a woven wrap-around and the other were two round trinket boxes with lids. What a special surprise!

 

 

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Dick

The next morning after a buffet breakfast, we settled our bill (soda at $1.10 and a glass of wine about $8) , took a few pictures of staff and began the drive across the Serengeti to the Naabi Hill Gate. Nearer to the plains saw the collared lioness from a few days ago. Further on somehow Nicholas spotted the tail of a leopard resting in a tree a good 100 yards away. A beautiful animal that jumped down into the brush just as another safari car approached. Continued to see more plains wildlife including secretary birds, kori bustards, jackals, zebra, and quite a few wildebeest as we got closer to Naabi Hill. Crested francolins, tawny eagles, ostrich, sandgrouse, rollers and a hoopoe kept us entertained. We had just about finished the climb to the parking lot near the gate when we spotted a male golden-winged sunbird, only the second one we have ever seen!

 

We ate our lunches in the picnic area near the ranger office. Plenty of mice and they were very bold in moving around despite our presence. Same for birds particularly starlings. Nicholas yelled at a couple safari-goers not to feed the birds! Saw oxpeckers on a tree trunk at what appeared to be a cavity nest. While he processed papers, we looked around. Not as dusty as the other day. Various traffic came and went. Felt bad for the guys working to repair brakes or something related to the front wheel of a lorry. Then, began the drive towards the crater. Uneventful, less wildlife and more Maasai with sheep, goats, donkeys even a couple of camels which they use for transporting stuff and producing milk. On a hill top near the road into the crater saw a female choir (from a church in Karatu) being filmed for a cd they were making. Great singing! We had pulled into the little pull-off and when the ladies were getting into their vehicles Nicholas greeted one as he met her while at the new lodge Sanjay built in Karatu.

 

We stopped at the formal  Crater overlook to take pics and visit the restrooms. Several travelers were there including nuns and others from a church group. Spotted an elephant part way down the hillside. Then the 14-mile drive to the N. Crater Sopa. Undoubtedly, the worst road I have ever traveled--extremely bumpy, full of deep ruts with several major “ponds” the width of the road! Nicholas said we were half way there. I said it would have been better if he had said ¾ way! A duiker crossed the road too fast for picturing taking!

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Got the usual wet towel and glass of juice as soon as we walked into the lodge lobby. Dedan, the manager thought he recalled us from another visit and yes, we remembered him. Ushered to room 38 just to the left of the main lodge and maybe second room down. The short gal as part of the porter team could have been my favorite aunt with a wonderful personality which made me feel right at home!

 

Awoke to fog and mist. Could barely see the pool from the main lodge. Glad Nicholas did not want to leave earlier for the game drive as visibility was nil. Once past the ranger station we began to see birds right away. It was a bit on the chilly side with a light breeze. Jackets felt great! Yellow bishops, widowbirds, finches, and weavers popped up here and there as we descended into the crater. A couple African quail-finches, the new birds from the Serengeti now seemed rather common. A pair of grey-rumped swallows were perched in a nearby shrub. Cape buffalo were quite abundant with small bachelor groups here and there. Saw a black cuckoo and then a white-headed barbet in a tree along a small stream. Observed what we thought was a lappet-faced vulture struggling in a short tree and then realized it was trying to break off dead branches for a nest elsewhere. Loads of zebra with one rolling on its back. Made the mistake of letting Nicholas use the camera and later wondered why I had so many pictures of zebra, closeups, head shots, foals, and so forth! Moving towards the center of the crater we saw a farm tractor with a mower unit. Seems an attempt is underway to convert major areas of mostly those yellow-flowering “weeds” to grasses. Nearby, was a fenced off area maybe for studying plant succession without the impact of grazing. Three black-shouldered kites were perched on fence posts there. I wondered how elephants regarded the little flimsy fencing.

I was looking forward to driving over to the small hippo pond as we have always seen something interesting there. I was not disappointed as birdlife at the isolated pond was amazing with black-crowned night-heron, sacred ibis, common squacco, black crake, grey heron, moorhen, black-winged stilt and a red bishop. Near the large alkaline lake, a jackal was chasing flamingos. 

 

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To the right a small pride of lions apparently having finished a kill was heading to drink from a small freshwater stream to the alkaline lake. Their path took them across the road in and among several safari cars. One by one, including maned males, they crossed within a stone’s throw of our car. Then further down the road were two lionesses lying in the shade provided by a parked safari car. The driver was careful when he finally moved on. The one lioness then simply moved a couple feet to the shade from the next car.

 

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On we drove seeing tommies, grant’s gazelle, more wildebeest, zebra, eland, wart hog, golden jackal, and hyena. Saw a solitary maned lion sleeping in reeds and a single elephant in the Lerai Forest. We ate our lunch in the rest area at the edge of the forest. Leftovers were left in an open box on the car seat. Neither Nicholas nor us thought anything about closing up the car a common practice when exiting the vehicle in the bush. While conversing with Darla I noticed a vervet monkey heading towards the car. I ran over and opened the door just as the little rascal jumped in thru the open roof, grabbed a wrapped sandwich and candy bar and jumped out. Then, it had the nerve to sit on a limb and devour the candy bar!

 

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Moving on we spotted two adult and one youngster black rhino maybe 200 yards away. Passing by the freshwater lake we saw a couple of grazing hippos, glossy ibis and yellow-billed storks. Then, a beautiful male rosy-breasted longclaw posed for pictures perched atop a roadside rock. On a dusty roadbed we saw the only namaqua dove of the trip.

 

Heading onward I wondered why Nicholas seemed to be taking his time given we supposedly had a 6-hour time limit in the crater. So, I asked. Nicholas said in the low season the rangers were very lenient as to time in the crater. So, we were in the crater close to 10 hrs.  As we neared the ranger hut, we saw an unknown bird (later determined to be a female violet-backed starling), a pair of bushbucks, and a beautiful red-eyed black mongoose, another first for us!

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Darla took photos of the outstanding sunset while I enjoyed a coke and peanut/popcorn nibbles. Supper was excellent! Celery and potato soup, chicken leg/thigh, little baked potatoes, seasonal vegetables, rolls, bread, and cake. Then, staff sang and clapped as they gave us an iced cake for being repeat guests! Daud, our server said he would box it for us to take with us for Nickolas and his family. When the security fellow escorted us to room, I asked him if cape buffalo still grazed on grassy areas near the walkways during the night. He said, yes and in fact one was near room 50 right then! Rearranged luggage and had a good night’s sleep. Rained all nite and area was quite misty.

 

A tropical boubou was on the stone wall outside our room. Had nice breakfast, settled bar bill and Nicholas took photos of Daud, Pello, Daniel (#1) and us. Road was exceptionally muddy, full of ponded water and just plain awful ‘til we got to the turn-off at the overlook. In route to NCA gate saw baboons

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Dick

Rain tapered off towards Karatu. Pied crows more common and last sighting of LBR. Arusha traffic quite busy. Nicholas took back streets to get to the African Tulip about 12:45 PM. Said goodbye to him after giving tip, can of bug spray, the cake and a bag of candy (rest of payday bars and some juicy snacks). Had day room for cleaning up and at 5:15 began drive to Kilimanjaro Int. Airport. Quite a bit of traffic but no incidents arriving at 6:30.

 

The airport has been nicely renovated since our visit in 2015. A very smooth process once we walked in the door. Very efficient. The waiting room was comfy with restrooms nearby as well as shops. An hour flight to DAR where we stayed onboard while the plane was readied for more passengers. An hour later we were off to Amsterdam. Slept some. At Schiphol Int. airport we had something like a 4-hr plus wait. Nice airport with all sorts of shops and eateries. Charged two bottles of soda and a small bag of chips for something like $6.50. Then, an uneventful flight to Dulles. Took about an hour to get thru immigration and get luggage. Distance to p/u point for hotel shuttles was much, much longer than I remembered but an airport employee with a wheel chair took pity on us and took our luggage there. Well worth a tip!

 

A great trip, one that we have no regrets about. Had a great time. Saw areas different than previous trips due to lateness of seasonal rains. Saw some new (to us) mammals, a spitting cobra and well over 200 species of birds including 18 new ones.  Took well over 1400 pictures (including ones by Nicholas). Often, particularly for birds, took ones not necessarily of print quality but for id purposes once the bird flew away. Seemed to be a great asset for Nicholas and us as we checked the bird book. What would we change for a repeat visit? Not much, maybe a different lodge in the Manyara area simply for variety or perhaps a revisit to parks in southern Tanzania.

To view more pictures go to

 

 https://snydertravelpictures.shutterfly.com/pictures

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Atravelynn
Posted (edited)

For a birding enthusiast, you went at the right time, and probably benefited from low season pricing to boot.  And more time in the crater as another low season bonus.  One of your photos showed several vehicles around lions.  I would think that was not common, as you'd be there with fewer vehicles around.  You mention more vehicles than ever at one point, but this was a location where Arusha daytrippers could reach.  I'm trying to figure out if a rainy time April-May trip might be a good option to reduce # of vehicles, save on costs, and have a different experience (likely more birdy) without downpours that cancel many outings.

 

I wanted to ask you about rain and weather, but was surprised to read this:

Once underway we noticed the plains were quite dry. Miles and miles of tall but rather brown grass. 

 

Was Lake Manyara full?

 

This must have been unusual.  You mention late seasonal rains.  Your photos don't show excessive mud or torrents of rain, at least not the ones in the report.  Have not yet checked the shutterflys.

 

You saw my fav bird early in the trip--African Hoopoe.  Black mongoose--what a find.  Love the leaping lion.  18 new birds had to be exciting.  1400 photos is really quite reasonable.

 

I see your avatar name and then the name in your shutterfly account and when I put those together I am having a flashback.  Perhaps we were "acquainted" on Fodors in the past?  Like way in the past.  Good for you that you're still at it!

 

 

Edited by Atravelynn

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BRACQUENE

@Dick

 

Liked a lot to  read your report even if the car congestion around the lions is not exactly what I am looking for ( who would ? ) but the close up from the Kori bustard and those fabulous eland pictures made up for it ; I didn't visit the north yet but southern Tanzania ( wild Ruaha in particular ) has my preference and if I understand you well you are tempted to go there in the future ?

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elefromoz

@Dick, lovely revisiting the Northern Circuit and some familiar places. I know the Crater gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes, but I just love the unique sight of the wildlife at the base of those huge Crater walls. 

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Biko

@Dick thanks for the informative TR, I like your detailed style. I agree with you that Tarangire NP is a great park. One day I would love to go to one of the camps in the southern part. 

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janzin

thanks for the great and detailed trip report. It brought back very fond memories of our first East Africa trip in 2013, which was very similar to yours, and also booked by Roy Safaris!

I am glad to see Sanjay is still active--he personally worked with us as well, because we wanted an excellent birding guide. He even met us at the end of our safari at the African Tulip.

 

And we stayed at many of the same lodgings, I fondly remember Tarangire Safari Lodge.  It was our first experience in a safari tent!  And we stayed at the Ngorongoro Sopa as well.

 

The one thing I didn't like about your report was all the tse-tse flies!! I wonder if it was just because of the season. We went in February and only had a few flies in the Serengeti, I don't recall them anywhere else.

 

Anyway thanks for the memories and all the great photos.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dick

Thanks all for the nice comments.

 

Janzin, as to the tse-tse flies could have been a seasonal difference or related to rainfall or lack there of in certain areas.  I recall trips with them before but often limited to certain brushy woodlots but not like we had in 2019.

 

Bracquene, yes would like to return to southern parks. Have fond memories of trips to Mikumi/Ruaha and the one to Selous particularly boat rides on the river.

 

ATRAVELYNN, yes, your flashback was right on. We have "traveled" before on this forum and maybe even TripAdvisor.  The surprising number of vehicles at the entrance gate to Tarangire NP might have been due to daytrippers or just by chance all arriving at same time as we saw relatively few in the park or maybe greatly dispersed at lodges/camps within and outside the park. 

 

For the 2019 trip most areas on the circuit except the crater and Lake Manyara NP were rather dry. The river was the lowest I recall for an April/May visit. The Serengeti for the most part was dry but a few areas were greener than others with some mud puddles here and there. Lake Manyara had lots of water with some roads closer tto the lake and small tribs barely passable. What I call the "causeway" traversing some wetland was partially inundated here and there. Made for close viewing of birds given the dense stands of reeds.  We had no trouble getting around the Ndutu areas along and across the lakes but the main road where involved with the construction work was interesting given the tendancy of recent rain to collect in ruts and low areas.

 

We are "bouncing around" the idea of returning to the northern circuit maybe next April/May with our daughter and hubby (never been to Africa) with maybe a trip to Amani , Mkomazi and West Kilimanjaro especially for birding for just the two of us. All depends on the covid virus situation.

 

 

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Atravelynn
Posted (edited)
9 hours ago, Dick said:

 All depends on the covid virus situation.

 

 

So true.  And if my recollections continue to be right, you have traveled before in this April-May timeframe.  It has intrigued me for a long time, so I was probably asking you about it way back when.  Thanks for all of your replies.

 

In your shutterfly album, I'm glad you labeled the interesting hairdo.  I would have wondered.  April-May was a great time to go based on your photos.

Edited by Atravelynn

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Caracal

I have not visited Tarangirie NP but it obviously has much to offer.

Found the waterbuck trotting nonchalantly through the lodge grounds quite appealing.

Many nice sightings including the serval, blackbacked jackals and black mongoose.

Unfortunately those lions looked to be habituated to many vehicles.

I have fond memories of Manyara and the crater from many years back.

Thanks for this informative report.

 

PS Don't recall a TR on Mikumi/Ruaha/Selous @Dick - it's never too late for one?!

 

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Dick

Caracal,  nice avatar!  Trips to southern parks were ten years or so ago.  But, I will look in our files and if I find one will see it is made known.

 

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