Saturday, 27 April 2013

Mikumi NP - A serval surprise

The coalition of 3
Less than a month after our Easter trip to Mikumi, we decided to give it a go again, since it was a long weekend.  We'd considered other places, but quite frankly with all the rain around, Mikumi would be the best option.

Elephants sizing each other up
So we arrived once again at the Mikumi gate but unfortunately to the bad news that the camp site was available but there was no water, which meant that the toilets would be a mess. And more worryingly, no lion sightings for 4 days. A report of a leopard sighting was most welcome news as we decided to settle for the rest house over camping next to a smelly toilet. 

A quick lunch break at the rest house and we hit the park early afternoon heading towards Hippo pools. The first sighting of note was a group 40 odd giraffes by the camp site along with zebra and impala. We spent quite a bit of time photographing the giraffe, because we don't often see big herds (or "towers" as they're known) of giraffe together.

Southern ground hornbills
We concentrated most of our afternoon at the top of the park searching for signs of lions and a congregation of vultures past the old camp site was the closest clue that the lions were around that area. But no luck in the end, but we had plenty of plains game and a few elephants to keep us occupied before heading to the rest house for the night. 

As as it would of course happen, as soon as the sun goes down, we heard roars of lions.  They were in the general area of where they had last been seen, so at least we had a target for the next morning.  

Marabou storks fight over a little tree
Up early the next morning, but there was no sign of the lions so we decided to check the Mwanambogo Dam at the northern end of the park. Because there is so much water around, there is really no need for the animals to head to the dam to drink, but the drive is pretty nice.

Big buffalo boys
Luckily we had the forethought to close the windows on the way up - the area can be swarming with tsetse flies which really screws up your enjoyment of a game drive.  You spend more time looking inside the car trying to kill flies than looking outside for animals!

Violet-tipped courser
As suspected, there wasn't much at the dam, but on the way back we had a nice sighting of a violet-tipped courser - our first time we'd seen this bird.  Apparently it's nocturnal and shy, but we literally had to chase this one off the road - he didn't seem to want to get off!

With our plan of heading to the dam already done, we were just trying to figure out what to do and where to go, when we rounded a corner - and there, standing on the road, was a serval!  This was totally unexpected - 11.30 am in the morning, and there was an otherwise nocturnal cat standing very relaxed in the middle of the road!

Giraffe duo
The best bit was that he didn't bolt on sight, but sort off stood there and stared at us - allowing us to get some photos - before slowly heading into the grass next to the road.  We did try to look for him, but the grass was so tall, he just melted away, and we eventually had to give up.

The afternoon didn't yield any exciting sightings, but just as we were starting to think about heading back to the resthouse, one of the guides told us that there was a leopard in the area near the campsite.  

We had driven that same route in the afternoon and had seen nothing.  And to be honest, when we got to the sighting (of course depicted by the cluster of cars!) we could still hardly see him.  He was up a tree - extremely hard to spot - but soon after moved down into the scrub.  

We waited around for him for as long as we could, but he just slinked further into the bush, and finally it started to get too dark - we needed to get back to the rest house.  So no photos, but at least a sighting of a leopard at Mikumi.

The sun set and the lions started roaring again, like a game of hide and seek. We roar, you search for us, we disappear!  Only not this time...

Yellow-billed oxpecker on buffalo
Suddenly there was a roar from the opposite direction and close!  It was actually coming from the within the area where all the chalets and park headquarters are, and of course the rest house.  The roaring happened a few times, each time getting closer - the lion was on the move.  

The male that passed us in the night?
And then suddenly from the side of the house - a big male lion appeared!  We were about 4 meters away from it! Won't go into the detail of the words coming out of our mouths, but needless to say it wasn't pretty :)  But as the king of the jungle tends to do - he totally ignored us and carried on walking past and into the darkness... It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time!

Buffalo in early morning sun
With that bit of excitement done, it was off to bed.  Now we even knew which direction he was heading - hopefully we could find him and the other lions in the morning, and be safely in our car to take photos :)

One of the coalition of 3
The next morning we set off first to check for signs of the leopard and then to where we estimated the roars from the night. The herd of buffalo on perfect light was a worthy photo opportunity, followed by fresh lions tracks and almost immediately the lions.  It was the coalition of 3 males we had missed many times before, and the lions we most wanted to see at Mikumi.

The old one of the 3
It was like it had been planned perfectly!  We spotted them just past the buffaloes, a bit far away from the road, and seemed to be feeding on something.  Always patient when it comes to lions, we stopped the car and waited for them.  

The 3 big boys ignoring us

Sure enough, they soon became restless, and after about 15 minutes one of them started to move.  And almost directly towards us.  One by one, they headed to move towards us and crossed the road - 2 nice black mane lions, and 1 that seemed a lot older, already starting to lose his mane.

They each crossed the road and then proceeded to walk down it - just like they owned the road.  And strangely enough, all this time we'd had the lions all to ourselves! This is most unusual, considering how popular this circuit is.  Finally another car joined us while the lions were walking and then lying on the road.  

Yellow-throated longclaw
Eventually, they headed off into the bush, and lay in the bushes out of sight.  We decided to leave them and do a quick tour looking for the leopard again, but he had long disappeared. We couldn't resist checking out the lions again, but they were long gone, and so enjoyed the big herd of buffalo before heading home.  A perfect ending to our trip!

Buffaloes against the Udzungwa mountains
Birds seen on our trip:
(* first time sightings)

White browed sparrow weaver
Superb starling
Black-smith plover
Egyptian goose
Water thick-knee
White faced whistling duck
Ground hornbill
Red billed ox-pecker
Little bee-eater
Marabou stork
Fishers sparrow lark
Lilac breasted roller
Crowned plover
Red necked spur fowl
Zanzibar red bishop
Cattle egret
Red backed shrike
Hooded vulture
African grey hornbill
Green winged pytilia
Martial eagle
Wholly necked stork
Long tailed cormorant
Violet tipped courser*
Yellow throated long claw
White winged widowbird
Wire tailed swallow
White stork
Black headed heron
Malachite kingfisher
Collared palm thrush
Yellow billed ox-pecker
Long tailed fiscal
African jacana
Collared pratincole
Eastern parasite whydah
Northern pied roller*
Red billed qualea
White backed vulture
Common bulbul
Saddle billed stork
Helmeted guinea fowl
Pin tailed whydah

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