Sunday, 13 December 2015

Tarangire National Park - December 2015

Home of the elephants, Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
2015 was a disaster for us in terms of bush time as a result of work in Kenya for 6 months and then car trouble! Car trouble has finally caught up with us and I guess in hindsight, if there was ever a good time to cop it, may as well be the year that has already been a bad one in terms of bush time.

Car trouble at Mombo
After a long time and plenty of car trouble we finally packed up and left for the Serengeti despite all the expected rain. However, a little past Mombo we had our first problem with the dash board light indicating there was moisture in the fuel filter. While pulled over and trying to work out things we noted a huge oil slick splashed on the back differential as a result of a lose oil drainage plug.

Car trouble at Mkomazi
Our limited Swahili meant a frantic call for translation to a mate in Dar with instructions given to the road side mechanic to sort us out (thank you Arif). While at the road side mechanic our brand new front tyre was going flat! The signs were ominous but thankfully we were still on the tarmac.

All sorted, the new tyre turned out to be a faulty valve, and we were on the road again debating if we should continue to the bush or pull in to a work shop in Moshi to get a proper inspection done.  That discussion was put to rest when the temperature gauge started rising and this was now a new and unknown issue. 

A quick inspection showed nothing untoward expect a broken link from the accelerator to the air conditioning unit which didn’t necessarily explain the increase in temperature. We called ahead and cancelled Arusha accommodation and made arrangements for a mechanic in Moshi and overnight (thanks Selma and Ngomi).
Nubian woodpeckers at the Tarangire gate 
Serengeti was looking doubtful and all depended on what the mechanic found on Sunday but he never showed up and too much time was lost and Serengeti was cancelled. The following day the mechanic announced it was a faulty temperature gauge which was a quick fix and we were back on track for the bush but new destination was Tarangire National Park. 

Having only visited this park once on our way in to Tanzania 5 years ago, we were always keen to check out Tarangire but never had the time on our travels up north to the Serengeti.

Ashy starling is a common sighting in Tarangire
After getting the thermostat fixed and the leaking oil level checked, we left Moshi around mid morning headed to Tarangire. Besides a massive storm it was an uneventful drive to the park gate. Our main mission in the park was fringed eared Oryx and Gerenuk, both hard to find but occur in the park. 

Inquiries in the park revealed both were spotted regularly but in the center of the park and recent rains had made the roads tricky in that part of the park.
Perfect first shot - lion sighting 
After checking out the camp site and noting a new toilet block (always good to see), we headed down the river circuit to check out the park. It’s rare that your first shots in a park would be lions but it was to be a great start with a couple of females resting by the side of the road. 

The park was green and lush but the river was surprisingly low for this time of the year. What was also noticeable was the droves of game drive vehicles usually associated with the northern parks.
Kirk's Dik Dik was a common sighting
We received a tip of another lion sighting on the main road which turned out to a lioness eating a warthog with 3 small cubs by the side of the road in long grass. The cubs were active but barely visible due to the long grass but it was a great sighting with all 4 cats full of life. 

Claws in to Mum
What’s more, the mother picked up the warthog head and repositioned herself right next to our car. One of the cubs was most inquisitive and came right up to the car to check us out. Soon all 4 went for a drink and then crossed the road.

Always great to see an active family of lions
It was a great start with lions and this park calls itself the home of the elephants of which there were heaps all over the place. We checked out the main picnic site to get a bearing of where all the traffic was but it was getting late already and time to get back to the campsite. 

Warthog snack done
We lost our bearings on the way back to the camp but it led to the sighting of a lifetime, a pangolin walking about with still some light left to shoot.
Once in a lifetime sighting of a Pangolin
 We could hardly believe our eyes at seeing such an elusive creature all on our own and close to the road. It hardly reacted to our presence and went about sniffing for a meal. 

We knew this was once in a lifetime sighting and yet to meet many if any who has seen a pangolin in the wild. Even experience tour guides and rangers have never seen one despite spending all their time in the bush.

Shuffles about on hind legs
It’s an extraordinary creature with scales that appear to be carved from steel and claws that put a lions claws to shame. It also walks on its hind legs which is not obvious when you see it shuffling around. We were also later informed that it’s a totally docile creature and seldom runs away but finding one is once in a lifetime event. 
Pangolin off the wish list!
Finally it decided to wander off as did we headed to our camp site only to find no other campers but a herd of elephants around the camp ground. It’s always special to have animals in the campsite but a herd of elephants browsing on the edge is always a tad nerve wracking. With rain clouds in the distance we decided to set up camp and get set for the night despite the elephants who hardly took any notice of us.
An elephant keeps an eye on us setting up camp
That night a mighty storm hit us and for long, hardly giving us much sleep. It was raining early morning so we slept in waiting for a break to bring down the roof tent. We left camp expecting the worst which is what we got with water absolutely everywhere. 

Black stork, first time sighting just outside the campsite
We engaged the 4x4 minutes from the camp for what looked like a manageable water crossing but the water was over the bonnet and we barely made it across. While the first crossing was deep but smooth at the bottom the second was not as deep but with a deep deceptive rut at the bottom. We needed to get to the main road soon without too many more hassles.
Even in the pouring rain, a cheetah made an appearance 
Suddenly in the pouring rain just minutes from the camp there was a cheetah walking around and we didn’t even expect to see a cheetah here. We stuck around with the cheetah hoping it would wander closer to the car and it looked like it was either looking for something. 

Then it went in to hunting mode and we spotted a couple of impala heading towards the cheetah who has now disappeared from sight presumably waiting to pounce. The impala caught wind of the cat and ran off and with cheetah we headed for the main road and away from the flooded side tracks.

Black backed jackal seemed to like the road
The main road was a lot friendlier despite the huge storm but it was obvious that we would struggle to leave get off the main road till the sun came out and dried out the roads. Today we decided to head towards the centre of the park in the hope of tracking the Gerenuk and Oryx. 

White-browed sparrow weaver dominated the camp site
We hit a snag on the East Bank road where the cars couldn’t get through due to a washout. This only left the West bank road which was uninteresting and badly rutted but not badly affect from the storm.
Scratching post for a big boy
We had to wait for a car to arrive to check the depth of the river crossing as there was no way we were crossing blindly or checking on foot. Soon a vehicle arrived and showed the crossing to be only a couple of feet deep. Crossing over to the South side of the river we decided to follow the river back to check out the park. Besides a large herd of elephants there was nothing much on offer.
Grey crowned cranes
On the opposite side of the crossing there were more elephants and after a bit of driving we decided turn around to have lunch under a sausage tree on the river bank and then head back. The tsetse flies by now were unbearable and we decided to break from them and travel the afternoon with the shutters up and air-conditioned comfort.
Yellow necked spurfowl
Back in the top end of the park we followed repots of a lioness with a kill but found it fast asleep. We had some ice bird sightings in the evening including a family of Ostriches and a first time sighting of an African Painted Snipe. 

African painted snipe
The rest of the evening was more elephants before arriving at the camp expecting elephants but none to be seen. Huge storms were gathering in the distance once again which was a major concern as the park couldn’t not take any more rain as the side roads would become a serious challenge.
One of the small five - leopard tortoise?
The next morning the route was to stick to the main road and checking out the gate area close to the village. As with all villages near the parks, there is always a large concentration of game about. 

Von den Decken's hornbill

We got news of lions sighted on the West bank road and soon found 2 males sleeping close to the road. 2 females were also reported to be moving about but out of sight. We abandoned the search in the hope of catching them in the evening.
One of the two laziest lions we have seen
The plan for the day was to check out the plains area including the little Serengeti but as expected the roads were barely passable. The highlight was finding a huge herd of buffalo who seemed awfully skittish but in great numbers. 
Vervet Monkeys

After a dodgy road which soon turned out to be flooded we turned around and decided to spend some time at the campsite birding and drying out the tent and mattress.
Buffalo looked skittish
One of our targets for the trip was the Love Birds and a few decided the camp site was a suitable feeding area while we were having lunch. Irritatingly an Ashy Starling took a dislike to the Love Birds and kept chasing them away denying us what would have been great shooting opportunities. We had a minor scare when Cheryl managed to get bitten by wasp but besides a nasty bite mark all seemed well.  
Yellow collared love birds
Hit the road mid afternoon with the plan to chase the lions in the evening. We found the two females but the males had vanished. Elephants were all over the place and we picked a couple of herds to get some elephant shots. The elephants here are very chilled and mostly in large family groups with a few large bulls in attendance. 

Elephants crossing over to the other side

Baby elephants fooling around the road
We came upon two large bulls in an almighty fight. While you see a lot of bulls play fighting a lot, this was the real thing and we found them and left them fighting half an hour later. In all the time they didn’t stop and were tusks locked, head to head pushing each other around. 

Big boys fight
The sound of the tusks clashing was probably one of the signs this was the ears and look of intensity. It’s a remarkable show of strength but the big boys and we left them to sort out their differences and headed for the campsite. 

Stay well clear of a big boys fight. 
There was a road block in the form of a herd of elephants just outside the campsite which we had to wait for. Once they moved off we arrived at the camp site to more elephants in the camp. Once again we went about our business of setting up camp with the elephants around. 

Tarangire elephants are very relaxed around cars

The herd that blocked the road also arrived at the camp site and got rather close to us. A couple of flashes with the torch and they moved away thankfully and we settled in for the night.
Eyes all around - Dwarf Mongoose
The plan for the next day was to have a look around in the morning and leave the park and spend the next two days checking out some of the other parks in the northern circuit. 

Busy - banded mongoose

We found the two females in the exact same spot as the previous evening. They had spent a whole 24 hours without moving an inch. The tsetse flies were now unbearable and we were happy to be leaving Tarangire which had delivered some great sightings and birding.
Pearl spotted owlet


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