|Ruaha National Park|
|Bush times are good times|
|River Valley Lodge Iringa|
|The road that never ends, the final 60 KMS to the Ruaha gate|
|The Ruaha gate, no crowds, we are the only car!|
|Hippos at the bridge|
|Ruaha public camp site|
|Grey Crowned Cranes|
|Ruaha River drive|
Before long it was apparent it was a reasonably quick drive back and with time up our sleeve, we decided to check out some tracks going in-land. This park is remarkably well sign posted, probably the best in Tanzania on par with Mikumi which makes getting around pretty easy. We ended up at Kimilamatonge hill at dusk to try out luck at leopards, but time was running out and soon we headed back to our camp.
|All set for the night|
|These colorful lizards were everywhere|
Our plan was to get to Kamilamatonge at dawn to check our luck for leopard which is where we ended up. Kamilamatonge is a huge rocky hill with a million small rocky outcrops for a leopard to sit on. There was leopard spoor on the road confirming the presence of leopards, but we had no luck. We did spend time to identify the Buff-crested bustard which was another lifer for us. The day’s plan was to check out the park to get to know areas we hadn’t been to in our previous visit and work out where the game was. We were headed for the Mndonya Old River camp area which was a long drive from the center of the park which we hadn’t been to before.
|Bee-eater with bee!|
After a brief moment of loss of direction that saw us in the Mdonya camp itself, we were headed to Mbagi. The area around Mdonya was lush and full of life and we even spotted a Purple Crested Turaco in the trees and a herd of female Kudu on the road. There were ele’s around but things began to get quiet once we headed out of the Mdonya area. While the drive was interesting and the road in good condition the game was thin till we reached Mwayembe swamp which has a scattering of game including an Ostrich.
|Banded Mongoose on the run|
|Yellow Billed Oxpecker found a sweet spot on a Giraffe leg|
|A Baboon keeps watch|
Once we got to the Mwagusi river, the game activity increased and we finally came upon our first game drive vehicle who informed us of a lion sighting on the dry riverbed. Driving along the river we found a small pride of 3 females and 4 small cubs resting in the shade of a tree right next to the river crossing point offering great views. While were checking out the pride the vehicle that gave us the tip about the lions was back claiming there was a leopard seated under a tree! What’s more he was willing to drive us to the sighting which was apparently only around the corner. As luck would have it the leopard had moved within a few minutes of being spotted, so we missed it.
|Lion Mum's love|
|Ele's preferred to dig for water|
|One of many crossing points on the Mwagusi River|
|Imps follow the tracks across a crossing point|
We were back on the Ruaha river for the evening chasing another mating pair of lions. A sighting of Grant’s gazelle, the first outside the Serengeti for us, was a surprise but apparently Ruaha is the southern extend of their range. The mating pair were next to the river and close to the National Park Cottages but we left them to chase leopard at Kimilamatonge Hill. Another 5 km/h crawl around the rocks with eyes on the rocks and trees and ground and road but still nothing. Chasing leopards requires intense concentration and a keen eye and we were all focused but as always the leopard was elusive.
|Zeb photo bombing the Grants Gazelle family portrait|
|White Crowned Lapwing|
|Lioness in the morning light|
|Patience finally paid off|
In between the long wait, birds came and drank at the puddle and a whole flock of Helmeted guineafowls kept us occupied for a while before the remaining lioness finally got up and repaid our patience by drinking at the puddle, but unfortunately not at the angle we were hoping for. Happy with the show we headed down the river to explore this area of the park a bit as we hadn’t spent too much time here other than hanging with the lions. We turned in to check out the ‘breakfast picnic site’ which is probably one of the best picnic spots in Tanzania.
|While waiting for the Lions|
|Helmeted Guinea Fowl|
Set on the Mwagusi river, with a huge rock that slides down in to a water hole and with water seeping to the surface on both sides of the bend in the river, this was a spot worth spending some time. There were kudu, impala and giraffe on the river bed and it was too early for other tourists so we had the spot to ourselves for an early lunch and to check out the birds. After being entertained by a tree squirrel for quite a while, we decided to move as the others started to arrive for lunch.
|Breakfast point picnic site, probably one of the best in Tanzania's parks|
|A lone Giraffe readies for a drink in the remnants of the Mwaguis river|
|Most of the Zebs had left the river|
For the third day in a row the pride hadn’t moved and we spent a short time with them contemplating our next move. We had come across a cool spot for birding on the opposite bank where the sand river had a pool of water. En route we came across our first buffalo of the trip, a couple of dagga boys giving us the stares as we stopped for shots. As we got to our birding spot, a massive herd of buffalo broke through the bush heading for a drink in the sand river. It was a perfect set up for us as the pool was in the middle of the river and we could comfortably shoot from the opposite bank.
|Small strip of water for a huge herd|
After the drink the buffalo started heading down river in the direction of the lions and we got all excited about a possible interaction between the two even though it was blazing hot. The chatter in the car was where to position ourselves in the unlikely event of a hunt and we decided to wait on the opposite side to the lions in the hope the buffalo would run away from the lions across the river. The buffalo got close and the lions had a good look but just at the critical moment, the buffalo headed off the river and vanished in to the bush and lions stayed put.
|The pride didn't move for 3 days|
|The cubs were already comfortable with vehicles|
|Digging for water under the sand|
We headed for the breakfast picnic site to bird and shoot and it’s a pretty cool spot to hang out. Something always seems to be around for a drink and this time there were zebra, impala and giraffe. After having lunch and a spot of birding we crossed over to the Ruaha River for the afternoon. The park has plenty of Yellow-collared lovebirds but getting a clear shot of these beautiful birds eluded us until the afternoon. We were actually chasing a lifer in the Holub’s golden weaver when a couple of lovebirds settled obligingly on an open stalk.
|Holub's Golden Waver|
|Yellow Collared Lovebird|
|Ruaha Black Chat|
|The lions that we found|
We needed a toilet break which was only less than a kilometer up the road where there was a bull elephant with a collar having a drink at the water hole. There was other game about too and we felt there were possibilities but as luck would have it nothing transpired and the lions settled down and did what they do best during the day - sleep. A herd of elephants arrived and interesting they too opted to dig in the sand river water rather that the numerous water sources in the river including the sizable water hole the bull drank from.
|This squirrel kept us occupied at the picnic site|
|Violet tipped Courser|
|Ashy Starling is a common sight in the park|
|We seem to be seeing African Painted Snipe all over this year|
|Ruaha mascot - male Kudu|
The crew from previous night were there too but they had their meals in the village so disappeared soon. We had a hyena around the camp which was cool as we heard it at night but never saw it. He walked right up to the car and seemed really calm and we were surprised it wasn’t around before. The genet also made an appearance close to our car but otherwise it was a quiet night.
|A Vervet Monkey searches for grubs under Elephant dung|
|Piglets at play|
|African Hawk Eagle|
|Black Capped Night Heron|
|Grey Headed or Swahili sparrow|
|Rufiji River, Crocodile camp|
|Road to Kilembero|
|Hondo Hondo Camp Site|
At the Hondo-Hondo camp, the place to be was relaxing with a beer on the sun chair with an awesome view of the mountains. The birds are hard to pick as they are high up in the trees at a distance from where were sitting. The hornbills are easy to make out as are the Black and White Colobus Monkeys. Late evening the star of show, the Udzungwa Colobus Monkey showed up. They are similar to the Zanzibar Red Colobus except these don’t have red on their back but only the head.
|Hondo Hondo sundowners|
|Cooked brunch at Hondo|
|Udzungwa Colobus Monkey|
Blue Mantled Flycatcher, Dark Forest Weaver and the Square Tailed Drongo made up our list of lifers for the forest walk and we left with plans to return to track down the elusive African Pitta which is apparently a resident in the rainy months. We were informed of a New Year’s Eve party with a bonfire and traditional drummers from the village to take place that evening in the campsite. This was simply not our cup of tea and we decided to pack up and head towards Mikumi National Park looking for a quiet evening, which was highly unlikey but anything seemed better than what was at store at the camp site that evening.
|Black and White Colobus|
|Vultures waiting for an opportunity|
|Superb Starlings in a pitch battle|
|The culprit is pinned down|
|In a desperate move the culprit gets the attackers beak in its foot|
It was a perfect New Year’s party as far as we were concerned. The lions roared a few times and we were alone in the bush. We did have a visitor in the form of a honey badger in the camp site. This was a seriously rare sighting and to have one in the camp site was really special. Interestingly, we have only even seen one other honey badger in East Africa and that was also at Mikumi.
|The very loud Crowned Lapwing|
|First shot 1 January - Super Sub on the road with the pride|
It was time for coffee with the lions and the pride moved around the plains till suddenly from nowhere a herd of elephants started to charge through the bush trumpeting. Even the lions seemed stunned as were we and this is now probably the fifth time we have witnessed entire herds of elephants running on what we call “elephant running plains”. We still cannot work out why this would be the case but this keeps happening in this part of the park time and again. We are not talking about an odd elephant running around but entire herds running and trumpeting and it’s now too many times to be considered a coincidence and is now a mystery.
|The lions watch the ele's run on elephant running plain!|
|Members of the pride relaxing in the veltd|
|A distant Impala caught her attention|
|Yellow Billed Ox-Pecker|