Sunday, 13 October 2013

Mikumi NP - Mikumi delivers again

Through the lion's eye
A long weekend in Tanzania, and so we planned to pack up and head off to Mikumi.  So early Saturday morning we left and headed from Dar via Bagamoyo to Mikumi NP.  

Giraffe heading to the mountains
 After a bit of a delay due to a recent truck strike that had just been called off (there were hundreds of trucks stuck at the weighbridge near Morogoro) we finally made it to the park gate in time for lunch.

Knob-billed duck
We knew that the bandas were fully booked (as it normally is when there's a long weekend) so had come prepared for camping, including extra water in case there was no water at the campsite.  Good thing we did, since we had no water by the second day...

Brown-headed parrot
We headed straight to the campsite to have lunch and were almost immediately rewarded with a first time bird sighting - a brown headed parrot in the tree above us.  We were confident that this was a sign of things to come and were expecting a jam-packed weekend of sightings.  This was soon realised when we spotted a lion sleeping near a dried river bed on our afternoon drive.

Male lion
What surprised us though was how much water was around.  The previous year we'd gone during the same long weekend, at the height of the dry season and it was had been extremely barren.  

European bee-eaters drinking from the dam
Water had been confined to the couple of waterholes in the park, so it was just a matter of sitting and waiting for the animals to come.  Which is what the lions did as well, giving us one of our most thrilling action encounters in the bush.  

Baby elephant
But this time around, it looked like the rainy season had been longer, and we think it had rained heavily in the week (just like in Dar) so there was water along the roads, and plenty of natural waterholes.  Which of course meant the animals could roam around freely and not be restricted to areas with water.  

Lioness doing the flehmen response
And on our drive, it was immediately apparent - the herds of antelope were a lot more spread out than normal and we saw less than we've seen previously in the dry season.  What would that mean for the predators we wondered...  Still, we were confident - in our experience, Mikumi always delivers ;)  

Saddle-billed stork
We decided to spend the last of the daylight in our campsite, hoping to catch a really good sunset and enjoying the surrounding bush, but unfortunately that was not to be.  Because we knew that other people had been inquiring about camping,  we figured that it may be busy, so we had deliberately brought our little ground tent with us.  After selecting our site for camping at lunchtime we put up our little tent so that people would logically know that it was reserved by someone, and they would select another site.  

Chilling out near the campsite
Mmm... apparently logic doesn't always work... We got back to find 4 women not only had parked at the same site, but had set up their 2 tents right next to ours - virtually on top of our tent!  What would make them think that someone out camping in the bush would want to camp right on top of someone else?  

Zebras lining up for a photo
Apparently our logic doesn't extend to everyone ;) Nice as they seemed, we didn't want to spend our long weekend socialising with them, so we ended up moving our campsite to the next site over. So much for planning ahead...

Temminck's courser
Though we hadn't seen any other predators except for the solitary lion, we were delighted when we heard the lions roaring pretty close to the campsite that night.  Things were looking promising for the next day...

Another first time sighting - Black-chested snake eagle
Well, lions can be pretty sneaky and we spent the whole of the next day driving around looking for them with no luck.  We weren't the only ones though as none of the guides had seen the lions either.  Thank goodness - it's always better when no one is seeing things as opposed to you being the only unlucky ones!

Lioness chilling out
Finally we got news of a sighting - the 4 women that had been camping at the next campsite (which they effectively stole from us) had spotted a lion far away near the other campsite.  It was a long shot, but we were starting to get desperate - for once, was Mikumi not going to deliver??

Superb starling with a snack
We shouldn't have doubted her... After driving around for a good 2 hours first thing in the morning, we stopped to photograph some buffalo when a game drive vehicle stopped next to us.  Dru was just about to admonish the driver for parking in our way of viewing the buffalo (you can't photograph buffalo when there's a car in the way!) when he told us of a pride of 4 lions - what? where? 

This male seemed obsessed with eating grass
It was at the dam that we had planned to go after the buffaloes anyway, so in the end we wouldn't have missed them, but at least there was a bit of excitement as we quickly drove there, hoping that they hadn't headed off into the bush and out of sight.

She was not happy with him at all!
But we needn't have worried - 4 lions, 3 females and 1 magnificent black maned male, were relaxing right on the bank of the dam, giving us an unusual angle - shooting almost at eye level with them.  Actually, when we arrived the male was slightly down eating the grass right next to a minibus, at one stage looking straight at the passenger in the front seat - who was too terrified to take a photo with his phone ;) so would I have been!

A little too close for comfort!
We sat with the lions for a couple of hours and they thrilled us with being totally relaxed amongst the cars (of course news quickly spread of the sighting and all those lion deprived tourists were just like us - smiling happily at seeing the king of the jungle).  

Scarlet-chested sunbird
We had parked a bit away from the lions and all the other vehicles to take advantage of a better camera position, but at one stage we had a lioness head towards our car, circle round it, and come out righ next to our door before climbing onto the bank and stared in at us.  When we need to pull your cameras in from shooting, we know it's a bit too close for comfort ;) 

She walked right passed our open window before settling on the bank
Finally, it got a bit hot for them, and they slowly headed to the shade of a tree and lay down.  We knew we wouldn't get any better shots that we had when they were active and time was getting on, so after a final goodbye we stopped at the campsite to have a quick bite to eat (where we came across the same brown headed parrot again) before tackling the 6 hour drive back to Dar.  Mikumi delivers again!

Male and female lion

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