Saturday, 4 January 2014

Mikumi NP - 1st trip of the new year

Three days after returning from a 9 day camping trip to the Serengeti over Christmas, we were packing up again for Mikumi over the New Years Eve long weekend. Although we were ready to camp, the combination of 7 days camping the week before and the Mikumi camp site, which can get crowded and have dysfunctional toilets, we were hoping to get in to our favorite rest house.

Bush buck
After 30 minutes of telephone calls, scratching out existing bookings and many conversations between the officials behind the desk at the Mikumi gate, it was announced we could have Banda 9. After pointing out that the request was for the rest house, more telephone calls and more scratching on the bookings sheet, it was announced we could have the rest house. We pulled out the TANAPA card which had credit from it from the Serengeti and were told EXIM TANAPA card it not accepted but only a CRDB TANAPA card. Rather annoyed, we offered to pay in USD or Shillings and were told that cash is no longer accepted. Another 10 minutes of complaints at the complications of paying despite having a TANAPA card, US and local currency, we were informed that local currency is now acceptable!
Collared Pratincole
Mandatory inquiries on lion activity were that there have been no recent lion sightings and particular disappointing was that the hippo pools pride was nowhere to be seen. We decided to lunch at the water hole and then drive around aimlessly to pick up on a lead to follow. Both Millennium and Mkata dams were dry which was a surprise but soon we came across a first time sighting of a Black coucal on the way back to the Hippo Pools area.
Black Coucal
The game seems sparse with nothing of interest and more inquiries only revealed the desperate search for lions by all the game viewers in the park. On the way back to the rest house, we had our second first time sighting of the day, the African Green Pigeon, something we have been searching for a long time and a great thrill to finally see it. We also saw the Senegal Plover which is a drab bird except of an awkward white spot on its forehead.

Senegal Lapwing
The next morning we headed to the Hippo pools area followed by Millennium dam and still no signs of lions! The last sighting of a lion was on the back road from Hippo pools to Chamgore a few days back and it was decided to check out that area. Rain from the previous night had made the road messy as we watched the vehicle in front of us get stuck in the mud due to approaching it too slowly. After a bit of messing about he managed to get himself out and announced he was turning back but we stuck to our plan and kept going but still no sign of lions!

Look and smile
Knowing the road only got worse we turned back and headed back with the only notable sighting being a flock of violet starlings. A huge of buffalo had arrived at the Hippo pools velt but they didn’t drink, neither did they cross the ravine where the lions tend to rest, they simply all sat down and rested! Theh water hole had some impala offering some nice shooting opportunity after which we headed towards Mkata dam. Finally we were informed of a lioness near Mkata dam by another game viewer. However, we were unable to locate it and kept heading to Mwanambogo dam which was also dry with not much game around. After looking around we decided to check out Stanley’s kopje’s area which was also devoid of game.
Impala males fighting
On the way back at the 3rd drift was a pride of lions resting in the shade of a large tree. Finally, the lions were located and rather satisfying by us. The lions weren’t there on the way up this road so it was just luck they had chosen this tree when we returned. After all the lions appeared to have gone to sleep we decided to head to the Mkata picnic site for lunch with plans to return to the lions in the evening. Soon we informed another game drive vehicle and soon every vehicle in the park it seems was heading towards the lions.
Time for a drink
We headed back to the main area of the park to check for any other animal activity of note and noted nothing significant. After shooting what was available we headed back to the lions as the evening got cooler. There were three game drive vehicles waiting for the lions to get up and as expected they all lost patience and decided to drive up to the lions to get the shots and thankfully left. As the best time of the evening approached it was only us waiting patiently and finally one of the lionesses got up and sat in perfect sunlight, rewarding our patience. However, none of the other 5 lionesses got up and we left giving ourselves 30 minutes to get back to our accommodation. It was a wild speedy drive back and we got in just in time and satisfied that we had found lions and plans to follow up first thing the next morning.
Patience paid off with this lioness in perfect sun
With sound of lions overnight, the plan was to head towards the lions in no-man’s lands on the Mwanabogo dam road.  Unfortunately the lions were nowhere to be seen and after driving around and looking for signs of lions, we abandoned the search and headed back to the main area of Hippo pools.

Grey headed kingfisher
On way back Cheryl made the most amazing spot I have even seen anyone make, a tail of a sleeping leopard up a tree. Even after looking through the binoculars, I was convinced it was a branch but after careful viewing clearly a leopard was sleeping in the tree.  The amazement of the sighting was evident when we pointed it out to another game drive vehicle which could not see it all! The plan was the day would be keep a check on the leopard in the hope it would give us some shots at some stage.

Male Ele watches tourists
While keeping an eye on the leopard, we could see the buffalo has crossed the ravine to the opposite side and were now crossing back to the Hippo pools side. If the Hippo pool lions were around they would certainly have made an appearance or already made a kill. No signs of lions but the buffalo offered some shooting time and had a few red billed ox-peckers on them which is the rarer of the two ox-peckers we see around.

Impala are the commonest antelope in Mikumi

 On the way back to rest house, our lunch spot, we can across two giraffes in a fight. It’s probably the graceful of all animal fights but the blows are fierce. Each animal takes turn either attempting to hit the other’s lower neck and upper body with its horn or subtle back shots aimed at the back of the other’s head. The attempted mounting after a while probably was the signal to the end of the fight and both animals headed in the same direction as if nothing had happened

Giraffe fight
Approaching the rest house, it seems lots of animals had the same idea of seeking shelter in the village in the heat of the days. Herds of elephants and impala were already under trees and we took our spot under the two huge trees at the rest house. We soon discovered this was a great place for birding as there was shade and water and the trees were full of bird activity. One of the hardest things to shoot is probably small birds rushing around in the shade of a tree and as we found out from the results of our attempts to shoot sunbirds. However, we were rewarded with two first time sightings of a red faced crombec and yellow fronted canary.

Yellow throated long-claw
After lunch we headed for the leopard in the tree and noted it hadn’t moved and decided to that it would be the focus as the evening turned cooler. We ran in to the same game drive vehicle we pointed out the lions the previous day and informed them of the leopard. Soon we came upon a group of vehicles behind the camp site and a lioness resting under a tree. At long last the Hippo pools lions have returned but irritating it was our last night.

Ground hornbill with a mouthfull of grass hoppers
The game drive vehicle that we pointed out the leopard to, now at the lion sighting, informed us that the leopard was nowhere to be seen. Leopard being the prize sighting we decided to check it out and come back to the lions later. The leopard was still in the tree but the sun was now beginning to hit and we decided to stick with it as it was bound to move away from the sun. Sure enough after a short while, the leopard got up moved further up the tree and then down and out of the tree but as luck would have it, it moved further in to the velt. Again despite being pointed out other game drive vehicles failed to see it leading us to believe these guides in these vehicles are drivers and not actual guides.

Leopard climbing off a tree
Herd after herd of elephants were heading down the velt in the same direction and had to cross the road and we decided try and shoot some elephants as the sun was good and the leopard was still around. Amazingly two different herds that came from two different sides crossed the road at the same point at different times!

Ele crossing
We were back looking for the lioness and hopefully the rest of her pride. We bumped in to the campers who inquired about lions and we gave the news of the lion movement in the last couple of days including the lioness near to the camp site. Soon we noticed a lioness in hunting mode right next to the campsite. She had lined up some zebra and we drove ahead in the direction the zebra were heading hoping to catch any action but other than glimpses of the lioness at different times, nothing came of it. Satisfied of the days sightings and shooting we headed with renewed hope that the next morning was certain to offer a lion sighting of the Hippo pools pride.

Hippo pool male brothers
The last morning turned out to be as expected. We came expecting to see some lion by the water hole and as expected, they were there but not females, but three males sleeping by the side of the road. We had seen these three before and believe them to be the pride males of the Hippo pools pride. They had also been around the area from our very first visit to Mikumi. It was nice to see them but the two manned lions had inured paws and were limping badly. We can only hope they recover and continue to be the rulers of Hippo pools. The females were nowhere to be seen after a search for the rest of the morning it was time to pack up and leave Mikumi after another fruitful trip that rewarded us with a leopard sighting and 4 new birds.  
Hippo pool male brothers

Bird list (* first time sighting)

Southern ground hornbill
Lilac breasted roller
Long tailed fiscal
Collared pratincole
Blacksmith plover
Black headed heron
Cattle egret
Helmeted guineafowl
European bee-eater
Black bellied bustard
African grey hornbill
White stork
Broad billed roller
Bateluer eagle
Common bulbul
Montegu's harrier
Red necked spurfowl
Black coucal *
White browed spurfowl
African green pigeon *
Crowned lapwing
Wattled starling
Dickinson's kestrel
Little bee-eater
White browed sparrow weaver
Palmnut vulture
Water thick-knee
Egyptian goose
Speckled mousebird
Marabou stork
African hoopoo
Yellow billed oxpecker
Sengal lapwing
Grey headed kingfisher
Northern wheatear
Yellow throated longclaw
Blue naped mousebird
Superb starling
Violet backed starling
Lesser kestrel
Reb billed buffalo weaver
Northern pied babler
Northern carmine bee-eater
Green winged pytilia
Souther cordon bleu
European roller
Wooly necked stork
White backed vulture
Barn swallow
Fishers sparrow lark'
Striped kingfisher
Scarlet chested sunbird
Beautiful sunbird
Collared palm thrush
Red faced crumbec *
Yellow fronted canary *
Hadada ibis
Red billed oxpecker
Mikumi sunrise


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