Monday, 25 February 2013

Tanzania Dreaming - Part 6: Into the Serengeti

Photo's don't do justice to the migration.
Moving from Ndutu to the Serengeti  presents another irritating ‘rule’. With fees valid for 24 hours, you need to check in to the Serengeti 2 hours before you actually get there! The drive to the Serengeti however, makes up the for irritating rules. 
Typical Serengeti scenery - flat short grass plains with a line tree. 
It’s flat and devoid of any vegetation but short grasses due to the lava crust from ancient volcanic activities. Naabi hill marks the entrance to the Serengeti national park and a walk up the hill gives way to great views of the Serengeti plains and on this occasion, with the migration on it.  

Red-billed buffalo weaver make are common at the Naabi hill entrance gate. 

The Superb starling is another common resident at the Naabi hill gate. 
If you haven’t already been awestruck by the  driven in Naabi hill by the amazing flat treeless plains, you will be when you drive down the hill from Naabi hill to the Serengeti plains. It’s flat as far as the eye can see and not a tree in sight with short grass due to shrubs and trees unable to take root due to the hard volcanic crust. The first change in scene are the rocks of Simba kopjes. With a permanent water source and rock islands with large shade trees, it’s the first chance to check out for game
Rich in minerals from the volcanic crust, the short grasses of the Serengeti makes the perfect calving grounds.
We took an alternative route heading east from Naabi hill towards Barafu kopjes on route to Sereonera in the central Serengeti and our base for the next 3 days.  The route has a few hills overlooking the plains below and we stopped on one of these hills for lunch. 

Made our way to bunch of cars with a pride of lions – perfect start! We were excited to see the pride walking around in the afternoon sun and it was soon apparent they were spreading out in the plains targeting a small herd of Zebra. 

Active lions in the midday sun, great start. 

Big pride with adults and cubs in the short grass plains. 
The lead lioness was way ahead of the rest of the pride with adults taking up spots in the grass and the cubs at the end, the trap was set. Cars started going all over the place attempting to get the best views of the hunt. Soon a lioness was at full speed on the heels of a Zebra who managed to outrun the lioness. Just as we thought it was a missed opportunity we noted what looked like legs up in the air. One of the lionesses in the velt had got Zebra on its back by the throat – the hunt had paid off. 

Zebra on its back with a lioness at its throat - all over for the Zeb one would have thought.
The Zebra was all but gone but amazingly it got to its feet the lioness still hanging on the neck. An almighty struggle followed and the Zebra somehow managed to shake off the lioness cheating certain death and ran off in to the velt. It was an amazing sight and the sound of the claws on skin as the struggle set off shivers inside. Going through the photos, it was apparent just what how brave and lucky the Zebra was.
Getting up from certain the death the Zebra is up for a fight

It's still the lioness but the Zebra is making a move. 
Lioness necklace!
The lioness is losing its grip and is just hanging on. 

Later! The Zebra breaks free.
With that awesome introduction to the Serengeti we were off to explore other parts of the park. The park ranks as one of the top wildlife destinations for a variety of reasons. The migration obviously is a highlight  and  the cats of Seronera are special but there is so much more with great birding and scenery and so much more.

Banded mongoose
Our accommodation was at Seronera Wildlife lodge which is located in the central Seronera and closest to the river and built around huge rocks, surely the best place to stay. The lodge is old and creaky but makes up with great views and being closed to the main game viewing areas. We arrived at the lodge and checked in to our rooms to find a huge bull elephant outside out room and he hung around for the rest of the day entertaining the guests.

Welcome to our room!

Seronera Wildlife Lodge - the views don't get much better
The next couple of days was spent cruising around Southern Serengeti checking out what was on offer. The visitors centre sounds an unlikely spot from everything on offer but it does have a huge clan of rather tame Rock Dassie’s hanging around along with some nice birds due to the shade and water around.
Usambura barbet

Speckle fronted weaver

Purple grenadier
One the great things about the game in the Serengeti is it’s well used to vehicles offering great shooting opportunities. On previous occasions, we have seen both leopard and lion taking shelter under game driver vehicles. We have heard of Cheetah doing the same. On this occasion a whole lot of cubs took shelter under the vehicle in front of us while the bigger females sat next to cars on the road getting shelter from the sun.

I lioness uses the shade of vehicles as shelter. 
Considering the short grass terrain without many trees, it’s surprising the amount of elephants in the Central Serengeti. It’s an odd sight to see a group of elephants in the open plans with no trees in sight. All elephants need to get to the Seronera river for a drink and you can see them coming for hours and catch good up close sightings. 

Young elephants at play

up close and personal 

Very chilled around vehicles

There are many types of plans game around and often ignored which is why despite seeing several Topi’s around we can’t find a single photo of them.  It’s always worth paying some attention to these plains game which make up and play a critical role in managing the ecosystem.

Cape buffalo are surprisingly abundant in numbers on the plains.
Impala are only seen around the central Seronera wildlife village probably due to the shade trees 
An odd looking chap, the Coke's heartebeest
Sleeping lions are not much fun to watch but this is probably the most common lion sighting. With all the space of the Serengeti we were surprised to come across a big pride of lions of fast asleep on the side of the road. What was surprising was the whole pride was barely a couple of yards from the main road from Seronera to Masaai kopjes, probably one of the most used routes in the central Serengeti.
Someone switch the lights off
Need a hug to sleep
Need a pillow to sleep
Hippos is another creature I didn't expect to see much of in the Serengeti but like elephants, there are a surprising lot of hippos around. The Seronera river has plenty of hippos around but to get a really good sighting head to the ‘hippo pools’. 

Not the most photogenic creature on earth
A bend in the river where there are always heaps of hippos which you can get out of your car and view from the steep bank right on top of the hippos. This is also the area we found the most amount of tsetse flies but it’s worth a look. You can never slap a tsetse dead, it’s simply too tough for that. You literally need to catch it and pop it which sounds disgusting but once your bitten you will be happy to pop every tsetse on site.

Those are pretty nasty teeth
Hippo's seem to do nothing for hours but suddenly will give you a chance to shoot something
When we saw our first Giraffes outside the park I boldly announced there was no need to stop as there were plenty Giraffes in the park. After 4 days we finally came across 3 Giraffes, our first in the park. Lesson with wildlife it to shoot what you see when you see it. Giraffes are probably the most photogenic creature mainly due to their size and tendency to gaze at the camera. 
Giraffes are most obliging for the camera
Giraffes seldom run away and always seem to move in slow motion. 
After 3 days were ready to head back out with some great sightings all except for leopards. Although we had a few sightings, none really offered any great photo opportunities. Heading back out the Serengeti had one last prize at Naabi hill - huge columns of migrating Wildebeest running in single file across the road.
The long single file columns of migrating wildebeest.
Following in the steps of the one in front.
The migrations has many moods and this was another one, columns of wildebeest one move from taller grass to the shorter grass areas where the risk from predators is lower. The reason for the single file columns we are told it, if it’s safe for the guy in front it’s safe for me.

They will keep running until the perceived danger is over. 
The documentaries will tell you that the wildebeest baby will get up in a few minutes and will run with the herd within minutes. Actually seeing this is rather amazing, these little new born calves running and keeping up with the herd.  We saw several young babies running with the herd but and saw this one calf who was literally a few minutes old with the umbilical cord still wet and bloody running across the road with the heard.
Note the bloody umbilical code on the mother and baby
On the way back on the most corrugated road in the world on which you pay $50 to drive on, we had a breakdown.  From nowhere in what looked list the last place you would see people, a bunch of Masaai showed up. We had an offer to take one of the Masaai kids with us! What? To do what? Soon we had flagged down a passing empty tourist vehicle and reached Moshi before dusk.

The Masaai man with the child who he wanted us to take with us!
<< Part 5: Lake Ndutu                                Part 7: Back to Dar via Lushoto >>

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