Though I am safely home in the US now, I will continue to blog, not only to share the adventure with you, but to document it for myself, as my memory certainly is not improving as I get older. Many of you know that, though I love all nature and sports photography, my absolute favorite subjects to photograph are birds, preferably in flight or doing something cool that is specific to each one. I will not talk about all of the ones I saw, though I had fun researching, but I will talk about how the ecosystem is impacted by birds, or the lack thereof. The birds in Tanzania ranged from the more common (sparrows just like ours) to birds seen only there, and in sizes ranging from tiny to huge.
The most common, yet one of the prettiest birds we saw is the Superb Starling, which is iridescent blue with an orange underside. They are everywhere, especially in areas where people have food. Much prettier than the common starling we have in the US, and prettier than the less-common Ashy Starling.
Another food-monger is the Marabou Stork, which is huge and intimidating, as well as butt-ugly. It was fun to watch unsuspecting tourists eating as the stork walked up behind them and they turned abound to find a 4′ bird right there!
Tanzania is home to a number of raptors, including vultures, eagles and kites. Vultures are being targeted for poisoning by poachers, who do not like them circling around a kill, giving wildlife officers their location.
Though vultures do not get much sympathy from people, they are such a necessary part of the ecosystem, cleaning up the remains of dead animals. With as many carcasses and skeletons as we saw, I was surprised at the small number of vultures, and that may be why.
A variety of birds are seen in close proximity to the wildlife, as both benefit. Cape buffalo herds, as well as hippos usually have egrets and the aptly-named red-billed oxpeckers in great numbers.
Both are feeding on bugs; both on the animals, and in the grass, which the buffalo crush down, making it easier for the egrets to find insects.
There are a variety of waterfowl in Tanzania, including various species of geese, ducks, egrets, herons, kingfishers and plovers. We saw many of these, but though some are the same ones as are found in the US, there were quite a few unique water birds.
Many small, colorful birds are often seen in all areas we visited, including Finches, Rollers,
Weavers and Barbets. Weavers are named for their tightly woven, gourd-shaped nests that hang from acacia trees in great numbers. The Red-and-Yellow Barbet is most often seen digging for termites on the huge termite mounds that abound in Tanzania.
Many large ground birds are to be found on the grassy plains, including the Ibises, Cranes, Red-Necked Spur Fowl, Guinea Fowl, and the vain-looking Kori Bustard, a pompous fellow that puffs up his tail trying to attract a mate.
And, of course there is the Common Ostrich, which is one of the fastest and meanest birds around. They easily outran our Jeep.
I could go on and on, but I think it’s best to just speak with pictures about the variety of bird life that abounds in Tanzania. Enjoy!
The next morning we are up again early for a look at hippos, more of the big cats, but most importantly, the Great Migration. We start the day at the Hippo Pool, so named because it is a gathering place for hundreds of the beasts.They are the goofiest looking creatures I have ever seen, with faces and ears a bit like Shrek’s, and every bit as stinky.
I think they are wallowing in a big puddle of their own poop, and it smells every bit like that.We are both hoping to catch the classic wide-open-mouth shot, but they really do nothing more than wallow, snort,grunt, occasionally angrily nudge each other, and make fart bubbles, except for one small snap from one annoyed hippo to another.
However, there are babies, and their faces are so comical that it is fun to photograph them.
I was not aware that they are one of the fastest and most dangerous animals in Africa, which one would not imagine while looking at them. They are basically land animals, typically grazing during the cool part of the day, but preferring to submerge in cool water during the heat. They are extremely territorial, and will attack anything that encroaches on their territory.
The day continues to go well, with sightings of a leopard in a tree, then a cheetah pair in the grass, alternately lying down and rolling around and getting up to stalk potential prey. They are such beautiful animals; we hear them purring, see them rolling on their backs, cleaning themselves, etc and forget they are dangerous wild animals and not just big kitty cats.
We saw all three big cats on several occasions, and in many different habitats. The one thing I was really hoping to see was a kill, but George said that’s a pretty lucky occurrence. Oh well, next time!
We continue on thru Ndutu, the land just outside of the Serengeti, where George thinks there are migrating animals.The Great Migration occurs annually, when wildebeest (aka gnu) and zebras migrate to follow the rains and wet season.They bear young in the Ndutu area, as it is comprised of volcanic ash that is rich in minerals that the animals must have to bear strong and healthy young.
We saw babies of almost every type of animal at some point, as you can see from the photos, and the gnus and zebras had many.After driving around for awhile, George spots clouds of dust on the horizon, and drives towards it.Yes, it’s the migrating zebras and wildebeest!They have come back through this area, heading back north to follow the rain. Suddenly, zebras and gnus begin streaming across the road in front of us; the herd stretches on as far as we can see.
George drives slowly off the road, and we are surrounded by them!It is absolutely incredible to see this many animals instinctively moving together.Occasionally, some are spooked or playful, and they begin to gallop through or around the herd, occasionally colliding or falling. The zebras play and/or fight frequently, and the gnus just walk or run along, all moving in the same direction.
They are truly one of the ugliest animals I’ve seen; it’s said that God created pretty animals, then made the gnus out of the leftover parts!
There are many young ones, skittish and playful, and absolutely adorable, even the gnu babies (heheh). I’m snapping pictures, but often just stopping to look around in awe of what is happening.It is one of the highlights of my adventure here, actually seeing what I only imagined.Photos cannot do the breadth of it justice, and my attempts at video failed miserably.But it was spectacular.
The herd continues to move, and George takes us close to Lake Masek, thelarge body of water in the Ndutu area.Even in the dry season it has water, though it has receded now and we are able to drive along the dried up bed which is covered by water during the rainy season.George points out the evidence of the sadder side of the migration, and what we see paints quite a picture of the cycle (and circle) of life here.
We have come across bones and skulls at times, but along the shore of this lake there are many bones, evidence of those who did not make it: a giraffe that likely died of old age, or perhaps a cat attack, though they do not typically go after giraffes.There is the carcass of a zebra with scraps of skin still attached, and one of wildebeest with its coarse hair still in evidence. One that really saddens me is a dead baby gnu floating in the water. We are told that due to the volcanic ash/mud floor of the lake, that often unsuspecting animals go in too far to drink, become stuck in the mud, and drown.
Fortunately, there are many other gnu babies who do make it, as we saw in the migrating herd.So the cycle of life continues, and I am touched to be able to see such evidence of it.Can I tell you that I just love this place?
After our time in Ndutu, it is time to head over to lake Manarya, to get ready for a last relaxing day in Africa. We end the day at a lodge on Lake Manyara, where we will rest up before our last day.That evening, I get to hear a local church choir perform at the lodge. The singers range from teens to much older people, and I am absolutely entranced by their zeal, their movements, and their harmoniesas they sing traditional African and Christian hymns. I will post a clip on Facebook or YouTube when I can.We will tour some local farms and experience more of the culture of Tanzania, which I have grown to love and appreciate. Until then, hope you are continuing to enjoy this adventure as much as I am writing about it.
I will continue to blog and post pictures to make sure I remember and share the wonderful sights here.More to come:babies, birds, more culture, accommodations, and scenery.
I am going to combine two days, as they were spent in the Serengeti. We are staying in a beautiful lodge in the bush of Serengeti, which is not fenced in at all. Once again, we must call for an escort to move around after dark, as the animals come into the lodge area at any time. Some of the escorts are Maasai and carry an actual spear. We definitely feel safe when walking at night!
Our day began at 4:30 am to be taken to the balloon launch area. Let me say that I was extremely apprehensive about this, as I really have a problem with heights, not to mention that I’m not an early riser! Upon arriving at the launch site, we watched them inflate the balloons, and received a briefing on how to hook in for takeoff, which was done with the basket on its side. Our pilot was Shawn from Canada, and he was funny and reassuring, so I felt better, even lying in a small basket on my back in a small cubicle with 15 other people.
Shawn fired up the propane, the basket tilted to upright, and slowly we lifted off. It was very quiet, smooth and non-threatening to me. We watched a beautiful sunrise as we sailed quietly over the Serengeti, which means “endless plain”.
And indeed it appeared to be endless when viewed from up there. Unfortunately, the migration has moved farther south, so we did not witness that, though we saw elephants, assorted gazelles, hippos, and even flew right over a vulture nest.
After about an hour, we landed to champagne and a traditional English breakfast set up in the middle of the Serengeti. Great experience overall. And another “height” experience that I’m pleased to say that I completed! I felt that the champagne was appropriate.
George met us with our home sweet homeLand Rover for a game drive to look for the big cats.He is very knowledgable about the animals, their habits, and their territories, so we were immensely successful in seeing all three at different times, in different settings, and doing different activities.Our first experience was a pride that was moving in the grass, with adults play-fighting with each other and three babies running along.
They crossed the road right in front of us!
The next spotting was two lions resting in a tree, with several more resting below it, as well as on the ground.
The next spotting was two lions resting in a tree, with several more resting below it. We came upon a leopard sleeping in a tree on several occasions, which is where they prefer to sleep. They are hard to spot, as their fur makes a perfect camoflage.
We saw a female cheetah walking and running in the grass with three babies trailing along, and cheeta pairs and families on several other occasions. K was very happy about that, as the cheetah is her favorite animal. Sightings are not that common, as they are solitary cats.We found a spot with several lions resting on a large rock, and more below in the lower bushes, and had a nice “lunch with the lions”, quietly eating our food not more than 50’ away from them.Most animals are used to the vehicles, and don’t react badly.George did caution us not to go out to “check the tires”, his term for relieving yourselfat that particular spot!Returning to the lodge, we spotted a female cheetah with two absolutely precious babies resting under a tree, not 50’ from us.The babies were not quite sure of us, so they looked at us frequently with curious faces, giving great opportunities for photos.
Of course we also saw many types of gazelles and antelopes,
warthogs and giraffes, though not in great numbers as George took us to areas primarily inhabited by cats.
Having seen and taken many pictures of most of the animals in Ngorogoro and Taranguire, we are at the point now where we just observe in passing rather than stop to photograph them again.As a matter of fact, I am typing this blog in the Land Rover (“jeep”) instead of looking around.K is very good at letting me know when something worthwhile is seen.
I didn’t feel well, so I did not go to dinner that night, but K came back very excited to tell me that a cape buffalo was chasing a leopard through the grounds as people ate and watched.Guess they weren’t kidding when they said that dangerous animals came around!The next night, as we were eating at an outside table, two cape buffalo wandered through.It was a little disconcerting to us; our server asked us to get out of our seats and move back until they passed. Always an adventure here!
Until next time, hope you’re enjoying sharing our adventure.
Hope you’ve enjoyed learning about the culture of Africa; I certainly have,and it’s fun to document it through photography.However, the reason we came here was for the wildlife, so that’s what you’ll be reading and seeing through photographs from here on out.
In Africa, the rhino, lion, leopard, cape buffalo, and elephant are known as “The Big Five” because they are the hardest to kill.It becomes a goal of tourists to try to see all of them. We were no different, so we set out to find them (and more!). The two most difficult to see are the black rhino, which is solitary and few in number, and the leopard, which are also few in number and very shy.The Cape Buffalo is the most dangerous, and the lion is the only one that can kill all the others. Today we saw four of the five, and We are hopeful that we will see the leopard as well.
Our first game drive on day 1 of safari was through Taranguire National park, renowned for its elephant population. and we certainly found that out. By the second day, at one point, when an elephant herd came near the car, we were more interested in trying to photograph a bird in flight on the other side of the car! However, one of our initial encounters involved a herd passing very close to the car; so close that I could have reached out and touched the elephant’s eye.It was exhilarating to be so close, and to hear them breathe, grunt, fart, etc. They ignore vehicles as long as you are quiet, though one mother trumpeted angrily at us as we drove away after photographing her with her baby.
The elephants are wonderful to watch in the water; they roll, wallow, spray themselves and each other, and just have a big old time playing and cooling off from the heat. Then they get out, and blow huge clouds of dust on themselves with their trunks.
The giraffes are tall and gangly, yet graceful. They eat the leaves of the Acacia tree, which is the common tree in Africa, even though it has 2 inch thorns on it.
Along with the elephants, we saw herds of giraffe, jackals, ostrich, wart hogs (which George calls “lion chocolate”), gazelles,. impalas, and many beautiful birds, which are probably my favorite creatures to photograph no matter where I am. You probablyknow as much about them as we do, so just enjoy the photos.Taranguire was really about the elephants and giraffe.
And of course, no African safari would be complete without the mention of the dreaded tse tse fly.Pre-trip research indicated that they were almost everywhere, they bite unmercifully, and no insect repellant was effective. They are attracted to the colors blue and black, so we did not wear those colors.Sure enough, the little bastards were constantly with us, andeven got in a couple of bites on my hand, but all in all, they weren’t as bad as we had feared, ‘and we had dressed appropriately, wearing lightweight long sleeve shirts and pants.
After Taranguire, we headed to the mountainous area, which is lush and cool. Aswe got into the highlands, we saw cape buffalo and baboons.
Ngorogoro crater is there, and has one of the most diverse, yet beautifully interconnected ecosystems imaginable in one contained space. Our lodge was situated right on the rim of the crater, affording us a stunning sunrise and sunrise over the crater.
We were up early, anticipating the sighting of the black rhino and maybe the big cats, which become less active in the heat of the afternoon. Upon arriving at the bottom of the crater, we immediately spotted hippos cooling off in the water, though they refused to do anything other than snort bubbles once in awhile. All around us everywhere in the crater were zebras, wildebeest, gazelles, and herds of Cape Buffalo, all peacefully coexisting.
Many had babies, and occasionally ran or turned to look at us if we got close. George is incredible at spotting wildlife, and soon pointed out two rhino far away.Fortunately, we were able to capture them with our long lenses, and felt lucky to have even seen them.
Even from a distance they look large and menacing. We spotted several male lions napping quite near the side of the road. Eventually one rolled over, presenting us briefly with his face, but overall they were quite unconcerned and not active. Just being that close to them was exciting. We observed jackals and hyenas skulking or running around the animals, checking out herds for the weak, the sick or babies.
It was so fascinating to see all this occurring within one area, seeing so many parts of an ecosystem functioning right before our eyes. It was very cool.
As we exited the crater, the views were breathtaking.
We were very pleased to spotted four of the big five so far (Cape Buffalo, lion, elephant, and rhino).We are now on our way to the Serengeti, where George assures us that our chances are fairly good for seeing the leopard.
Most of the photography up to this point has been of slow-moving or stationary animals, and what excites me most about photography is capturing action and motion; capturing what is happening rather than just what things look like.George says we should see much more of that in the Serengeti, where there are many more animals, and they are migrating, so I’m hopeful.We are taking a balloon ride over the Serengeti early tomorrow morning, and I am terrified at the thought ( I really HATE heights) but very excited at the same time.The thought of looking down and seeing the Serengeti in all its splendor is exhilarating.I should have brought some Depends, as I do worry a bit about pissing myself when we go up.But we only live once, and I can clean myself up if needed.Hopefully, it will be worth it.
Jambo, jambo and karibu, blog followers! (Swahili for hello, hello and welcome!)
Due to sketchy internet, we are a day behind, and the adventure continues to become more incredible each day. To continue the adventure:
After leaving Arusha to begin our safari, we drove through dry, dusty land inhabited by the Maasai Tribe, As explained in the last blog, the Maasai are the largest tribe in Africa. They are trying to hold on to their traditions in an ever changing world, and are succeeding quite well from what we observed. They are primarily nomadic herders, having a strong bond with their cows, and they move with the seasons, of which Africa has two: wet and dry. They live in small villages made up of small mud and stick huts and an occasional block buildings with a tin roof.
We passed many small villages, saw herds of cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, and even a few camels that were tended by men, women and children. Some were friendly when we wanted to take pictures, some became angry, and some asked for money in order to be photographed. Knowing that many are poor, we gladly accommodated them. We stopped at a Maasai village, which allows tourists to see the village for a fee of $60 per vehicle.
This particular village was small and poor; however, the chief’s son greeted us and gave us a tour of the village, which consisted of a few small huts (one of which was a school for about five girls), a corral built from sticks and branches, and an array of crafts made by the women to raise money for the school.
The villagers greeted us with a traditional Maasai greeting dance, which consisted of singing and jumping by all, and high jumping by the men.
We watched for awhile, then were “encouraged to join in. The men demonstrated the skill of starting a fire with only a stick and a machete, The chief’s son demonstrated their way of living by taking us into a very small hut (about 10’x10′ round) that had a fire pit and two separate sleeping beds, one for the father and sons, and the other for mother and daughters.
Polygamy is the norm, so each wife builds her own hut, which usually takes about 20 days. We stopped in the school hut, and distributed items such as pads, pencils, crayons, markers, candy, and gum to the children, for which the chief’s son thanked us.
We were then encouraged to buy crafts made by the women, with the chief’s son translating while we negotiated a price. While it was a show for tourists, it was also a true glimpse of the Maasai way of life, as well as a way for a poor village to make some money.
It’s very hard to wrap my head around the fact that this culture continues to endure, and live much as they have for centuries. The next day, we saw some teenaged boys dressed in black with painted faces walking along the road.
Our guide George explained that they were preparing to go through the ritual to become a warrior, which (among other things) involves being circumcised without crying. If a boy cries, his father must pay 5 cows to the chief; if he does not, his father gets a cow. High price for crying! I could go on, as this culture facinates me, but the photos say it all. I’m developing a new passion for travel photography!
Our first game drive was through Taranguire National Park, where we saw elephants, giraffe, jackals, wart hogs (known as lion’s chocolate), more elephants that I can even count, ostriches, impalas, dic dics, mongoose, water bucks, cape buffalo, baboons, gazelles, and a myriad of beautiful birds. I have taken over 1000 pictures (at least) so far, and will be editing for the next few years, I’m sure. We stayed in a tented lodge last night, and had breakfast looking out over a plain that had zebras, wildabeests, and warthogs to entertain us! Back to Taranguire for another game drive, then on to the mountains, which are cool and lush. We are in a beautiful lodge perched on the rim of Ngorogoro Crater, which we will explore tomorrow, in the hope ot photographing black rhino, lions, leopards, cape buffalo, and cheetas, in addition to the animals we have already seen. In the interest of time (it’s 11:00 and we have to get up at 6:00 tomorrow) we will leave descriptions and more photos of the wildlife for our next blog. I can’t even begin to describe how incredible that has been. A teaser: can you imagine a bull elephant 3 feet from the vehicle, with the rest of the herd milling around?
Thanks for following. Tune in for our wildlife adventure!
Very long flights starting in Tampa, 1 1/2 hours to Atlanta, 8 hours to Amsterdam, 8 hours to Kilimanjaro Airport in Tanzania. I am not going to bore you with details; suffice to say it was long and tiring. We arrived safely and were transported to Planet Lodge in Arusha for two days of rest and exploration before beginning safari.
Our first day here was spent exploring the “city” of Arusha. Our guide, Emmanuel was a wealth of information on the local culture. We began with a stop at the Cultural Heritage center, which you can check out at http://www.culturalheritage.co.tz/. The center has displays of artwork by local and well known artists which includes sculptures, carvings, artwork, jewelry and gem stones, etc. and so much information on the culture of the people of Tanzania. A few tidbits: Tanzanite is a beautiful blue precious stone found only in Tanzania.
The carvings and exhibits included depictions of everything from slavery and Maasai tribal history to renderings of the wildlife that Tanzania is famous for.
The next stop was a drive through Arusha to the “downtown” area, to the people’s market, where Tanzanians get food and goods. Along the way, Emmanuel explained much about the culture, and I have included some pictures illustrating this (many shot out of the window of our vehicle. so forgive the quality). Most Tanzanians are of the Maasai tribe, which maintains many of its unique customs in a rapidly changing world. There is an incredible mix of old and new; modern vehicles share the road with motorcycles, bicycles, carts, and pedestrians. The mix creates a traffic dynamic that rivals New York City in its own way! Cows, goats, sheep and chickens are plentiful along the side of the roads. Approximately 40% of adults in Arusha are unemployed, as many Maasai migrate to the city from rural areas. Emmanuel explained that a few wealthy people or companies hold most of the land and wealth, and the majority of the people are poor. On dusty roads, we passed many men who were hanging out along the roads waiting for day labor, or hoping that their motorcycles might be hired as a taxi.
Men pulled carts with goods as varied as grass, flip flops, animal feed, etc. The women wore traditional Maasai garments, and carried loads carefully balanced on their heads without difficulty. I found it interesting that most of our guides have Christian names (Emmanuel, Patrick, James), as 60%of the people are Christians, and only 40% Muslims, with many churches around, but few mosques. Not what I expected, and just so reflective of the diversity and surpassing uniqueness of Tanzania culture.
Next, we headed through “downtown” Arusha to the people’s market, which is where most Tanzanians get their goods. Again, a fascinating experience of Tanzanian culture. Available items included every possible edible fruit and vegetable, herb, spice, textile, dried fish (many sardines from Lake Victoria), meat (carcasses hanging up in plain sight) that you could imagine was available in the market. There was a separate women’s market, in which all goods were placed low and the women sat, and the men’s market, where goods were placed higher up and only men sold goods; I could not quite understand Emmanuel’s explanation for this. Most interesting was the medicine stand, which contained a huge number of roots and powders, and was operated by two older Maasai medicine men. Most Tanzanians do not trust modern medicine, doctors and hospitals, and still rely on natural Maasai medicine. The medicine men did not want their pictures taken, but were gracious in explaining what many of the herbs and powders were for.
Almost all the vendors offered us samples, and answered questions through our local boys. We were the only tourists there, and thanks to Emmanuel and several local boys, we were able to experience this firsthand. on the way back to the car, we saw two blind women and their children sitting by the side of the road, playing music for money, which really moved me. All in all, Arusha is a blend (or clash) of traditional and modern that makes it such a fascinating culture. Emmanuel cautioned us against eating local food, and took us back to the hotel for lunch.
After arriving back at the hotel it was a dip in the pool, then a shower and dinner.Then back to the room to look at and edit photos (DUH, of course) for the next few hours. It was a great first day in Africa, and was a wonderful introduction to the people who make it possible for us to see what I think will be one of the most amazing places in the world. We embark on safari tomorrow, and hope to be able to bring youwhat we really came here for. A tidbit to look forward to: One of the GoodEarth guides advised us to eat a good breakfast tomorrow so that we could provide a good meal for the tse tse flies.Great….. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!
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Tomorrow I am starting on an adventure that is another bucket list item that I hope to cross off during my retirement. Along with my friend, fellow photographer, and travel buddy Kathy (aka K) I am off on an African Photo Safari to Tanzania, where the Great Migration is going on in the Serengeti. I will try to blog daily (or whenever possible) with words and photos, to share my adventures with my friends and families. Please do not call or text me, as my phone will be basically useless, or very expensive if I use it. However, through this blog and Facebook, I hope to stay in touch, so feel free to comment.
Joan will be helping to share this blog at home, as she would rather stab her eyeballs out with an icepick than go on a photography trip with me, which is very understandable for a non-photographer.