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Trip Report TRIP REPORT: Northern Tanzania with a Birding Twist 2/13

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Part 1: Overview

My husband and I and a female traveling companion just returned from a fabulous two-week Northern Circuit safari. While our itinerary was rather typical, in one sense our focus was a bit different than most--we are avid birders. I am also an advanced amateur photographer so was traveling with quite a bit of photo gear (8,470 photos (that's before culling!) and 205 GBs in 15 days!) I'll start with an overview of practical points and then later will continue with more details on specific parks/areas we visited and wildlife sightings.

3 nights Ngere Sero Mountain Lodge (Arusha)
2 nights Tarangire Safari Lodge
2 nights Lake Manyara Serena
3 nights Ndutu Safari Lodge
3 nights Seronera Wildlife Lodge (Serengeti)
2 nights Ngorongoro Sopa.

Our tour operator was Roy Safari and they were nothing short of perfect. When filling out the comment form "what could be improved", none of us could think of a thing, at least in terms of Roy's services. We had asked for a birding guide, or at least one who knew birds beyond the usual flashy ones. I was skeptical and had wondered up until departure if we had made a mistake in not booking with a specialty bird tour operator, but the cost differential was great. Well, my worrying was for naught. Emmanuel was promised as Roy's top birding guide and he was all we'd hoped for. He worked tirelessly and enthusiastically with us to identify each and every bird. Was he as expert as the "big guns" at the major birding tour companies? No, but he made up for it in enthusiasm and of course, he also had the incredible wildlife finding/tracking skills that they would not have. Not to mention being a generally nice guy, really fun to be with, always knowing the light and the best place to be at the right time. We had over 270 species of birds (I still am working on a final count.) And more incredible wildlife sightings than I could have hoped for, including of course thousands of migrating wildebeest and zebra, countless lions, at least 15 individual cheetah, leopards (with cubs!), and such hoped for species as hunting serval and hissing honeybadger (more on these later.)

Sanjay (owner of Roy Safari) called Emmanuel many times during the trip to check up on us and make sure we were happy. He provided rice for my bean bags (gratis) which was brought to us on our first day. He also wanted to come meet us before the trip but as I expressed desire not to waste time in Arusha, he came to meet us at the end. It seemed that all our accommodations were upgraded, as we seemed to have the best at each lodge (no doubt we paid for that, but didn't expect it.) We had zero problems (well, one minor lodge problem/misunderstanding.) More on lodges later.

Arrival: We opted to get visas on arrival--no problems, no photos required, took about 15 minutes. We got off the plane fast and were fourth in line at the visa line, but then had to also wait on the immigration line, which I hadn't expected. Still, it was fast. Yellow Fever certificates were in-hand but never requested (we arrived on KLM from AMS.) I must say security is nil at that airport. My husband, when in the parking lot, suddenly realized he had left his small bag which had our binoculars--and his medications--on the plane! A moment of panic as he rushed back into the airport and out onto the air field (no one stopped him at any point!) Luckily the plane was still there and the flight attendant retrieved his pack. First crisis averted :)

Money: We got $60 worth of shillings at the airport ATM (to the right as you exit; guarded, no issues using my Capitol One bank card.) We really could have done without the shillings and ended up bringing some home. Used them for some tips and to buy sodas for the vehicle. We used our Capitol One credit card (no exchange fees) to pay for our bills at most of the lodges. Yes, they charged a bit of a premium...but it only amounted to a few dollars on bills that were generally $20-40 dollars and it was worth the convenience. What's an extra $25 over the course of a trip that cost many thousands?

Vehicle: Our Roy Safari 6 passenger Land Cruiser was well maintained and Emmanuel informed us he was a mechanic before becoming a tour guide--nice to know ;) We never had any vehicle trouble, and E. was vigilant about checking the tires. Apparently we did have one flat which manifested overnight; E. changed the tire and we never were inconvenienced. The vehicle had a charging port which used a regular plug; my friend used it to charge her iPhone as she was doing GPS tracking of our route. There was also a powered cooler for drinks, which was fantastic to have.

Food: I'll talk about individual lodges later, but I have to say a word about food. We are (I hate the term) foodies and often travel to eat (Italy, Spain) but when on a wildlife or birding trip we don't expect that level of food. Well, we were quite happily surprised because we found all the food quite good, and some ranging into excellent! (Not talking about the boxed lunches and breakfasts, which varied from sad to adequate. But even these always had enough to eat.) There were many delicious Indian dishes at several lodges--the Lake Manyara Serena stands out in this regard. Curries, masalas, great Indian breads like nan, chapati, papadum...chutneys, raitas...we were really pleased! Other food was good as well, especially pork dishes. My husband and I were cautious and did not eat any salads or unpeeled fruit; nor did I eat the odd sausages or meat pies in our boxes. However my friend ate everything. None of us ever got sick.

Insects: Despite all our precautions, we all ended up with a LOT of mosquito bites. Let's hope the anti-malarials do their job. While we used the nets, where provided, one lodge (Seronera) did not provide nets, and that is also where we got the most bites. Even nets won't protect you in the bathroom, where mossies love to get your ankles in the middle of the night. I think we also got some bites that were not mosquitoes...maybe flies. Speaking of tse-tse flies...we encountered quite a lot, especially because as birders, we made a point to go into wooded areas; but I'm not sure what the fuss is all about. They are a nuisance but their bite is not really a big deal, our horseflies here in the USA are much worse, and our blackflies in Alaska and Maine make tse-tse look like wimps ;) Other little flies were as much of an annoyance as tse-tses.

Packing: In the "what did I bring that I didn't need" category, I'd say our fleeces. Aside from the fact that we left in USA winter, so needed them for the journey, we never took them out of our bags. Even at the crater rim, a light long-sleeved shirt was ample in the evenings and early mornings. We did laundry half-way through at problem doing underwear. It was expensive ($42 for two people's clothes!) but worth it. I wish I could fold as nicely as they did ;) Don't underestimate the dust--it permeates everything. I also hand-washed a few more things later on, cool-max shirts and nylon convertible pants dry in a flash.

In the "what did we wish we'd brought" category, we were well prepared and the only thing we missed was birding-related. We wished we'd brought a spotting scope, there were many, many opportunities to use it, even in the vehicle, especially for shorebirds and raptors. Next time we'll pack one.

Next up: Safari begins!

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    Part 2: Arusha

    We stayed three nights at the Ngare Sero Mountain lodge; our first day was set aside as a free day to recover from the long flight and allow for any missed connections. Luckily we arrived on time so we had a full day to relax before our safari began. Ngare Sero was the perfect place, with lush grounds and lots of birding opportunities; there is a river running through the property and an adjacent trout farm. In fact, we didn't really relax much because we were so busy with the birds! We were pleasantly surprised that Roy Safari had upgraded us to the Pineapple Cottage Suites, which were absurdly huge. We had great sightings there; our only Pygmy Kingfisher of the trip, and close-up views of the impressive Silvery-cheeked Hornbill. Lots of great frogs and insects too. Black and White Colobus monkeys and Blue (Sykes) monkeys exhibiting interesting behavior down by the river (pulling up aquatic plants...hanging from vines.) Heartily recommend this lodge, although the food was just adequate. Meals were family-style around communal tables (and we met some interesting people there--a paragliding group, for one!) But no trout!

    Our first safari day was spent in Arusha National Park. Our drive began fortuitously with a flash of a Hartlaub's Turaco flying across the road. Frustratingly, we could not relocate it--but better looks would come later. We drove in via a short side road through the forested area which, while it didn't produce many birds, gave us our first dik-diks and millions of beautiful butterflies fluttering through the forest. We would have loved to get out and get a closer look, but alas of course that's not allowed. At the ranger station we met up with a park ranger for the usual walk "to the waterfall." Emmanuel let the ranger know we were interested in birds...we didn't expect much, but the walk was great! We walked close to buffalo, saw and photographed running giraffe, warthogs, and more. The ranger brought us close to a forested area and immediately he found us a cuckoo, which we identified as Levaillant's--our only one of the trip! As we walked towards the waterfall area, the ranger heard a was Hartlaub's Turaco again. He led us off the trail and into the brush and we all got great views of it high in the tree (no photos, alas--too high.) This ranger earned a nice tip ;) Little Bee-eater and Speckled Mousebirds rounded it off. The waterfall was not really impressive but the spray was cooling and we were all happy.

    After the walk, and our boxed lunch at a spot I can't remember, we headed towards the Momella lakes. We stopped several times along the way at small pools, racking up several shorebirds and other small birds (I won't bore you with all the species.) We could already see that Emmanuel would be an enthusiastic and excellent guide--and more importantly--compatible with our style of travel. Finally, at Momella lakes we saw our first flamingos--closer than we'd find them at Manyara or in the crater. More shorebirds. Spent some time getting flight shots of flamingos (not too successfully.) Saw our first of many Augur Buzzards. Then sadly, time to leave--I was disappointed we never made it to the other side (Ngurdoto Crater) but we'd seen a lot--and only on day 1!

    Next up: Tarangire.

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    Part 3: Tarangire

    With an early start to Tarangire I expected we'd have a short game drive in the park before lunch, but that was not to be. Between traffic in Arusha, a brief stop at the Shoprite to buy sodas for the cooler, many stops along the way for birds, and road construction as we neared Tarangire (our first serious Tanzanian dust), we didn't arrive at the gate until close to noon. But that was okay because we'd seen so much along the way, not only our first Rollers (both Lilac-breasted and European), but many raptors as well as our first Maasai villages. We spent a long time birding at the Tarangire gate--Endemic Ashy Starling! Spotted Mourning Thrush, Red-cheeked Cordon-bleus, Firefinches, Slaty-colored Boubou, an African Cuckoo...we couldn't tear ourselves away.

    On arrival at Tarangire Safari Lodge we had our first--and really only--glitch of the trip. To my great dismay we had been booked for our two-night stay into bungalows instead of tents. My friend didn't mind but I was really heartbroken--as this was to be our only tented experience of the trip and I'd really looked forward to it. I am sure Roy thought they were "upgrading us", as the bungalows are considered "deluxe" but I was very upset. The manager (owner?) Annette clearly saw how disappointed I was and also saw that the rooms had been booked over six months ago. Although the lodge was full, she promised to try and find someone checking in and willing to take the free upgrade. I wasn't hopeful :( But during lunch she came over to us and said that she'd figured out she had a tour group coming in later and she could upgrade the leader to a bungalow, everyone would be happy! I almost hugged her :) She even told me to go out and choose which tent we wanted out of the six reserved for that group! We choose #28, in the shade of a large Baobab and with a wonderful view. Hat's off to Annette and the wonderful, personalized service at TSL.

    After lunch we headed out for our first real game drive. What can I say...birds, birds, birds and elephants, elephants, elephants! We saw our first--and only Tree Hyrax (and also many Rock Hyrax.) Towards the end of the day we parked near a river overlook for an hour or so watched the ellies come in to the river to drink and then dust bathe. A very brief view of a sleeping lion (our first) across the river and under a tree (not near any road, unfortunately) made for a very satisfying day!

    For the next day Emmanuel suggested going out early with a boxed breakfast and returning for lunch. Uh, no, I want to see as much of the park as possible. I asked if we could get to Silale swamp and he seemed to want to discourage me (not much there at this time of year, he said.) But I persisted and he relented and we set off with both boxed breakfast and lunch for a full day trip. Yes, he was correct the swamp did not have birds at this time but it was beautiful and on the trip down we saw many, many new birds we wouldn't have otherwise seen, and many different habitats. There was one short section of the drive (through a short-acacia forest) where we did not see much. And there were many tsetse flies! But it was still well worth it. We saw more elephants than I could have imagined...they were everywhere. A stop at the river to watch a large baboon troupe crossing was quite amusing, as they didn't really like the water, we watched them try to leap and jump (many photos and videos taken.) We spent much time with the various rollers, trying to get shots of them flipping their prey (with some success!) Late in the day, I spotted a vehicle parked by a tree across the river. What was that large brown lump next to the vehicle? Another lion! Alas, again we were on the wrong side of the river, and it was getting close to 6. Would lion have to wait for another day? Not with Emmanuel! Within minutes somehow we were across the other side and at the right spot...not just a lion, but a lioness with three cubs! And we were the only vehicle there (the other left just as we pulled up.) We spent as much time as we could with the playful cubs before we had to get back to the lodge. What a great first day!

    On our final morning, we had breakfast at the lodge before heading out for another game drive before heading to Lake Manyara. Before breakfast I birded around the lodge, walking down to the famed "tent 22". It seems they are constructing a "massage pavilion" at that end, so 22 may not be as isolated as it once was.

    We loved TSL and Tarangire and I could have had one more day. Alas, while I stayed up late at night listening for animals outside the tent, I didn't hear any. But just listening to the night sounds and being in the tent was a wonderful experience. Thanks Annette!

    Next up, Lake Manyara.

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    That's probably enough to read in one shot, so I'll continue tomorrow.

    I did want to thank some of the folks here who gave me advice way back when I was planning this trip over a year ago! Cary999, TZbirder, Atravelynn, Shaytay, sandi, and others! And soon I may be planning another ;)

    BTW, I will have photos eventually posted to my website, but in the meantime I am posting a few daily to my facebook photo page:

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    Hey you're welcome JCZ. Great report so far, I have not been to those areas (except Arusha) you first write above. But starting with Lake Manyara, been to it and the others. That was in Feb of 2011, also with Roy Safaris. Sanjay is a real good fellow, I had a long chat with him because I arrived Arusha a day early. And he offered a guide and vehicle to show me around Arusha which was interesting. For safari his three (3 vehicles) guides were excellent. FWIW to anyone, my Fodors trip report is at -

    And again, very much looking forward to more of your report!!

    regards - tom

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    Thanks Tom, it seems you may be the only one reading it ;) but here's another couple of installments! Your report and our correspondence was instrumental in my booking with Roy's, so thank you!

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    Part 4: Lake Manyara

    First, I forgot to add this in the Tarangire installment: The morning of our last day out of Tarangire, Emmanuel heard of a cheetah that had been killed by a leopard the day before. We drove to the tree where the dead cheetah was hanging--a rather gruesome sight. Not the way we'd envisioned seeing our first cheetah. But no sign of the leopard. Some vehicles were waiting for the leopard to come back but E. thought it doubtful it would--the cheetah was pretty much skin at that point. He thought we had a better chance of finding some live cheetah in the area, and sure enough, shortly we spotted two very much alive cheetah in the tall grass. (My friend actually was the first to spot them, they were well hidden!) They were pretty wary as their apparent littermate had just been killed, and they ran off into higher grass but at least we'd seen our first living cheetah :) so we could erase the gruesome sight of the dead, hanging one.

    On to Lake Manyara. But first, we passed through the town of Mto wa Mbu, the main street lined with tourist stalls. Emmanuel pointed out the "Hilary Clinton Shop" and the "Obama shop". Whenever we stopped the vehicle and we were rushed with young boys trying to sell us trinkets; they always asked where we were from and when we said America they replied with a resounding "Obama!" It was rather comical. Unfortunately for them, none in our group had any interest in shopping so they walked away empty-handed. As it was market day Emmanuel drove us into the market area where we took some candid photos (from the vehicle) of the colorful Maasai vegetable and animal market (Although I was wary of taking photos there, he assured us no would care, and no one seemed to.) We only stayed a few minutes before we were overwhelmed with the young trinket-sellers, so we left.

    The Lake Manyara Serena was up at the top of the escarpment; normally a 15 minute ride from the park gate but since we were birding, it took a bit longer! The agricultural fields from the main road to the hotel yielded many new birds, including the spectacular Cut-throat finch, Blue-naped Mousebird, and Pin-tailed Wydah. But soon we arrived at the Serena. From a purely comfort standpoint, this was by far the nicest hotel of the trip. The setting is beautiful with a sparkling clean infinity pool overlooking the valley and the lake. The rooms were large and luxurious (best shower of the trip!) and service was great; we had huge fruit baskets and fresh flowers in our rooms; and free wi-fi, which actually worked well. And last but not least...the food was great, the best of our trip, with really fantastic Indian dishes--not watered down for tourists but actually pretty spicy! Great Indian breads like Nan and Chapati, Papadam. All kinds of chutneys, Indian spiced pickles, etc. Of course there were non-Indian foods too, but I must say we didn't even try them--they looked good though. Lunch was a buffet but for dinner there were menu choices--everything we had was good to excellent. Well, we don't go on safari for food but this was a pleasant surprise.

    After lunch we headed out for our first foray into Lake Manyara National Park. Since we had the full day there tomorrow, we just concentrated on the north end; visiting a vast marshy section with numerous storks, waterbirds, and shorebirds. This is one area where I really wish we'd had a spotting scope...many birds were just too far away and small to ID. But we did get many lifers, including Collared Pratincole, a beautiful shorebird. Many zebra and baboons rounded out the day.

    The following day was a full one at Lake Manyara, with both breakfast and lunch boxes. We left the hotel at 5:30 a.m. to be first at the gate by opening at 6. Being first, we got several nightjars driving in---trying to ID these in the field is tough, and one of the few times a really experienced bird guide might have helped. Our best guess was Plain Nightjar. Anyway, the plan was to go quickly down as far as the Hot Springs and breakfast there; then work our way back. Of course, "quickly" is relative when you are birding. I'll only relay our best sighting; we stopped to look at a Hammerkop nest and suddenly saw a flash of green and...was that purple...? A Purple-crested Turaco...not one, but a pair! Foraging...we watched for quite awhile, trying to get some photos (they were fairly deep in dense branches.) A great sighting and it wasn't even breakfast yet....!

    The rest of the day was spent meandering back, another stop at the marsh for more shorebirds; kept scanning for the famed tree-climbing lions (Emmanuel laughed; said they climb trees in every park.) No lions in trees here but we did see one big male in the distance at one point. This day would mark the first day of an uninterrupted streak of daily lions until the very last day of the trip. Other good birds: Long-crested Eagle and Palm-Nut Vulture (only ones of the trip), D'arnaud's Barbet, and many more....

    Back to the hotel late afternoon in time for a swim in the beautiful pool and some wi-fi time. Next day, an early start to get to Ndutu!

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    Part 5: Ndutu

    We left Lake Manyara and headed towards Ndutu in the Ngorongoro Conservation area, where we would spend three nights at Ndutu Safari Lodge. We passed through Karatu, up to the crater rim; with a brief stop at an overlook for our first view of Ngorongoro crater--amazing but rather marred by construction going on at the viewpoint, which did not allow for an unobstructed view. Oh well, we'd get plenty of the crater a week from now. We headed towards the small village of Endulan, as the plan was to take the less-traveled road to the gate. Actually, calling this a "road" is a bit of a misnomer. It starts off as a road but shortly after Endulan it becomes more of a track, through the fields, often muddy, always rutted, and in some spots seemingly impossible to follow, but for the skilled and experienced eye of Emmanuel. I certainly would not want to venture on this route without a very experienced driver! We did not see another vehicle for the entire time after we left Endulan, and it would have been easy to get stuck in the mud. But the at times harrowing drive was well worth it. The route took us past many small Maasai villages; we were stopped several times by cattle herds crossing. Many new birds graced the grassy fields, including Red-collared and Jackson's Widowbird, which we would not see elsewhere. And, it was here that we got our first glimpses of the migrating herds of zebra and wildebeest; although a bit in the distance, we were already overwhelmed by the vast numbers. At one point, we crossed a rather bizarre "fence" made up of sticks adorned with strips of colorful Maasai cloth...the fence stretched across the fields as far as the eye could see. E. told us this was put up by the Maasai to keep the migrating herds from crossing into their pastures.

    We arrived at Ndutu Safari Lodge in time for lunch. (As an aside--we had read some negative things about the food at this lodge but we found it excellent--all served family style, but with no choice, so if you're picky you might not be pleased; but we enjoyed some very good home-style cooking, including pastas, plenty of vegetables, and curries. There was always way too much food at our table for three people!) The grounds are wonderful; small, isolated, and with a great birdbath visited by many birds even in the heat of the mid-day. Endemic Fisher's Lovebirds call this home; as do the well-photographed genets in the dining room. Several species of weavers nest right in the parking area, and many varieties of sunbirds abound. As birders, we were already happy. But really, Ndutu isn't about the birds...its about the cats, and the migration.

    Since we saw so much at Ndutu I can't possibly detail every sighting. But the highlights:

    --Countless lions. I have to say, that typical of lions, we never did see them doing much--mostly sleeping. Sometimes getting up, moving to another spot, and going back to sleep. The occasional yawn (excitement!) and a tussle or two (action!), which never lasted long. But that's a lion for you. We did once see a lion half-heartedly gaze longingly at a passing group of wildebeest...only to let them pass and then give up without making an attempt. It was our daily routine, at the end of the day, to find the lion pride to say goodnight as the sun went down (and made nice golden light on their fur.)

    ----At least 15 different individual cheetahs. A brother pair; a mom with two cubs; a mom with four cubs; another hunting trio; and at least a couple more. Cheetah in a tree (who knew?!) Cheetah cubs with bloody faces on a kill. Cheetah with a young zebra kill. And one sighting which, in some way, I would rather forget--

    One morning we came upon a group of four young cheetahs to whom mom had just, apparently, delivered a young, still very much alive wildebeest calf. The cubs, not yet skilled in killing, proceeded to "play" with the calf, making half-hearted attempts to kill it, not very successfully. This went on interminably long and was heartbreaking to watch; it is one thing to see a swift kill by a skilled predator, but this was essentially watching a young animal be tortured, clearly terrified and in pain. In fact, after a short while I burst into tears and had to turn away. My husband could not watch either. We started looking out the other side of the vehicle. (We would have left but my friend, stronger-stomached than us, wanted to stay. Also there were so many vehicles around us at that point I don't think we could have left.) At some point it seemed the calf was finally dead...the cubs dragged it up the I turned back, only to shortly see it start struggling again, trying to stand up. Momma cheetah was just sitting by, watching this training session. So I concentrated on taking photos of Mom and the occasional cub that would walk to her. Finally at some point we left. I don't know how much longer it went on. I have many photos of this encounter (at some point the guide took my camera and started shooting, so I'm not even sure which ones I took) but I don't even know if I can process them. I was prepared to see a kill--but not this way. By the way, my guide told me I am certainly not the first to burst out crying in such a situation, so I feel less embarrassed.

    --Leopard: Of course, leopard was on our most-wanted list. Rumors, but no real sign of one until our last day, when our guide got wind of one in tall grass under a tree, possibly with cubs. Well it was not hard to find this tree as there were already several vehicles camped out, just waiting for it to reappear. We waited too. This was the one time I was a little disturbed by the amount of vehicles in one spot. We waited...and waited...we left to have our box lunch, and came back....more vehicles...finally...after about two hours...the leopard made an appearance. Got up, picked its way through the vehicles, went to another tree and climbed. We stayed for quite awhile watching it in the tree, but the lighting was poor, and the crowds still growing, so we left. In fact, we would have much better leopard sightings in the Serengeti.

    --The Migration: the migration was in full swing in the Ndutu area and several times we encountered great herds...once an endless line of zebra and wildes running past us, dust flying, truly a thrill...took some video, can't capture it in a photo! We did see some calving or at least some just-born calves, mothers with placentas still hanging.

    --So much other wildlife: many hyenas; bat-eared foxes; jackals; and a fabulous honey badger sighting, in broad daylight. We first noticed a jackal following a honey badger and a cub and we started to follow...soon the jackal was chasing the badgers and at one point, mom badger turned and hissed (either at the jackal, or at us, I'm not quite sure.) Snap! A lucky photo of a difficult animal!

    Crowds: yes Ndutu is crowded, but there were just a few times it seemed disturbing or overwhelming. The leopard sighting was one. There was quite a crowd around that wildebeest/cheetah encounter but the animals did not seem to take a bit of notice. Most other times, we were often the first or only vehicle at a sighting. We had several cheetah sightings all to ourselves. The space is vast and it did seem most guides were respectful, keeping distance when an animal was hunting.

    When I return to Tanzania I will surely spend more time at Ndutu.....

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    Great report, Janet.

    The picture of the leopard standing on its hind legs while hunting Topi is a first for me as well.

    By the way, if you are not a member of Safaritalk at, please consider signing on and posting this trip report with your pictures there. There are some fabulous safari pictorial trip reports on that site and I am sure folks there would like to see your report and pictures.

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    Part 6: Serengeti

    After leaving Ndutu we had three nights scheduled at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge in the central Serengeti. Emmanuel was a bit surprised we'd taken three nights there, and warned us that it would be much more quiet than Ndutu, and that high grass would make it difficult to see the predators. In retrospect, I think we could have done four nights Ndutu/two nights Seronera, but on the other hand...we did have a few great sightings; and the beauty of the short grass plains are not to be missed.

    Our first memorable sighting was before we even arrived at the gate....somewhere along the road from Ndutu to the Nabi gate we spotted a hyena on a zebra kill, with many vultures watching and waiting. This by itself was worthy of a stop (and many photos) but to add to the excitement, we soon noticed a Golden Jackal trying to get in on the action. It was fascinating--and entertaining--to watch the interaction of the jackal and the hyena. The jackal would slowly circle, trying to get a nose in...the hyena would posture....jackal would back off...this continued quite awhile, finally the jackal succeeded in grabbing a chunk...all this time the vultures were also patiently waiting for their chance. At one point the hyena dragged the carcass further away from the interlopers, dust flying...let me eat in peace! Reluctantly leaving this scene, we then came upon two more hyenas in a mud wallow right in the road. One was so totally caked with mud he was barely recognizable as a living animal, very comical.

    A bit about the Seronera Wildlife Lodge. We read this lodge is not highly rated and it's all about the location--that's more or less true. The lodge really isn't all that bad; built around a kopje it is quite unique, and the resident hyraxes are a nice addition. The rooms were fine--we could live with the thin walls and squeaky floors (fortunately we were on the 2nd floor); but there were no mosquito nets, and this was the one place with a LOT of drains running through the property. We got many bites there. Also, to be there during the mid-day break was not comfortable, as there was no shade (no umbrellas around the pool) and the pool itself was murky and unappealing (built into the rocks, and no filtration during the day as the electricity is off mid-day. We saw baboons drinking from, I don't really want to swim in that.) It would be fine for one or two nights, but three was a bit much. On the other was central. The food was good enough. And right around the bend was a great pond with lots of birds. And one morning there was a huge elephant munching on the tree in front of the hotel....not all bad.

    Our other very special sighting in the Serengeti was a leopard mother with two small cubs. We first saw what seemed to be a lone leopard hunting...and with only one other vehicle present, a real treat. She was eyeing some Topi far afield. We watched in awe as sat up on her hind legs to peer over the tall grass--who knew leopards could even do that! But soon the Topi wandered too far off. She turned away and started walking up the road and that's when we saw she was with two small cubs. They trotted along the road right past our this point, of course, more vehicles were steadily arriving as word spread. (But still nowhere near the number of vehicles we had at the Ndutu leopard sighting.) The best was yet to come. Carefully and slowly following, we paused near some rutted tracks that were filled with water. The leopard cubs were winding their way among the vehicles..going directly under some...they came over to drink right beside us! We were perfectly positioned for wonderful views and photos.

    On our 2nd day in Seronera we headed north through a more forested area. This area was unfortunately not all that productive, except for a vast number of tsetse flies. A displaying Red-billed Hornbill made for an interesting stop; and as always, a few new birds, including Yellow-throated Longclaw and Black Coucal; but not much else. We stopped at a very large hippo pool, with more hippos in one spot than I've ever seen, and spent quite awhile just watching, taking photos and videos of their antics.

    Several times over the course of the two days we stopped by a large lion pride with a buffalo kill. Hard to photograph as they were in tall grass most of the time, and a bit far away. Lots of flies and the buffalo was looking rather rank by this time. Much sleeping, some eating, and more sleeping, with the occasional getting up and moving to a better sleeping spot. Oh those darn lions!

    And of course, plenty of elephants, giraffe, new born gazelles....beautiful sunrises and sunsets (although I could never quite capture the photo I wanted.)

    On our last morning we took the long, interior road back to the Nabi Gate (avoiding the fast, dusty road.) Again, fairly quiet but enough birds to keep us entertained. We were on our way to our last stop--and the last installment: Ngorongoro Crater.

    (Note, as before, photos are being added--a couple a day--to my FB page. Eventually I will have full albums posted to my website but that's going to take awhile!)

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    I also in Ndutu, 2011, saw a leopard tail, only tail, in a large tree and surrounded totally by vehicles. We drove around the scene and moved on. Although the Serengeti is iconic and with the Crater the two most known safari destinations, I would skip the Serengeti next time. The requirement that off-road is not permitted is too frustrating for me. Eager to hear about your Ngorongoro.

    regards - tom

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    jc, I am really enjoying your report! I'm just starting to research our first safari so I'm absorbing as much info as possible and love all the detail in your descriptions!

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    Grand Finale: Ngorongoro

    Our last stop on this amazing adventure was Ngorongoro Crater, with two nights at the Nogorongo Sopa, and two morning game drives into the crater. The Sopa, as repeatedly mentioned, has truly the best location for fast access to the crater. Both mornings we were the first car in--leaving the lodge a little before six, we were first at the gate (where we had to wait on the first morning as the gatekeeper wasn't even there yet!) Within 15-20 minutes we were on the floor of the crater. And yes, it does make a difference. I attribute our astounding first morning sighting to being first on the scene.

    From the very start of the trip we had told Emmanuel that one of our "most wanted" was serval. We always had our eyes open for one, but alas, no luck in Ndutu or Serengeti. But he told us the crater was our best bet. No guarantees, of course.... That first morning as we entered the crater (stopping only briefly to try to ID a couple of nightjars on the road) he was making a beeline...we knew not where. Well, it wasn't 5 minutes before we stopped dead and he said...look up the road. A gorgeous serval was sitting at attention in the road dead ahead of us! We couldn't believe it! It was uncanny, as if it had been planted there! And of course we were the only ones around. The light was almost too low for photography, but we snapped what we could. No worries, as the serval wasn't going anywhere. We soon realized the attraction of this particular spot; there were many Helmeted Guineafowl. We sat and watched him hunt as the sun came up higher, finally allowing for some photo ops. He lay in wait for the Guineafowl, but for some reason never made an attempt to catch one. In a bit we were joined by another Roy Safari vehicle (how did he know??) but no others came along. I can tell by my photo timestamps that we were with the serval for almost 50 minutes; eventually he moved across the road and ran off into some high grass. What an incredible way to start the day!

    But that wasn't our only fantastic sighting of the day. We of course hoped to see Black Rhino in the crater, but didn't have much expectation of any close views. Boy, were we wrong! Shortly after the serval sighting, Emmanuel spotted two rhino not too far off the road in the distance. A short drive and we arrived just in time to have them cross the road directly in front of us! Amazing!

    Of course, we saw many lion, mostly not doing anything (sigh) but many right on the road. So many animals everywhere, wherever you looked, there was barely an empty space without wildlife. Many birds, of course, including displaying Kori Bustards and Crowned Cranes. We had our picnic breakfast at a lovely spot where the birds perched on our vehicle looking for handouts, and a heron fishing from the back of a hippo--and another lifer, Fan-tailed Widowbird.

    The crater is immeasurably beautiful and it was one place I felt emotionally overwhelmed. It is beyond me how anyone can compare it to a zoo. Nor can I understand how folks can say that it can be done in six hours. The only way we could tear ourselves away was with the knowledge that we were returning the next morning. As an aside, we stayed until at least 1:30 so a bit over our six-hour limit. No one stopped us at the gate and our time was never checked. The crater was one place, however, that we saw many rangers patrolling, and the only place on the trip where the guides (including ours) actually seemed wary of the rangers. At one lion sighting the ranger was moving cars along after a few moments as too many were gathering on the road. Never saw this elsewhere.

    Later in the day, after a late (and excellent) lunch at the Sopa, we were scheduled to go for the "Crater Rim Walk" with a ranger. We had looked forward to this, but it was rather a disappointment, as it started out going through the area where the guides lodged; then proceeding up a rather weedy and un-birdy dirt track mostly lined with stinging nettles (and yes, they sting...don't ask how I know!) We were then supposed to head up into the forest, but it was not to we approached the edge, some workers told our guide (who spoke almost no English) that elephants were in the forest. So alas, we had to turn back (we did see the somewhat huge elephants on the hillside, so could totally understand that one would not want to be up there!) Oh well, we got a leg-stretch and it was only $20 for the full group. And we did get one new bird--decent looks at the Golden-winged Sunbird.

    Next day, back again at 6 to the crater. The plan was to hit sunrise by the flamingo lake. You can't really get too close to the water, but on the first morning we had noted that the dawn light on the flamingos was beautiful. Unfortunately, this morning had a few clouds, and the light wasn't as good! So photos were disappointing. But the experience certainly wasn't. We spent quite a while watching some jackals running out into the water, apparently hunting flamingo chicks. Wildebeest and zebra came in to was quiet, with no other vehicles nearby. After this we headed into a wooded area of the crater that we hadn't ventured into the day before. We hoped for some good birds in there and weren't disappointed. African Paradise Flycatcher, many sunbirds... Emmanuel told us that once, years ago, he had caracal in this area...but unfortunately it didn't appear for us. Of course we were checking every tree for leopard (Emmanuel laughed...I guess its unlikely here, but we could hope on our last day!) Just as we were about to leave the area, we spotted "just another Roller" high on a branch. But wait...this one looked different--was that a yellow bill?? I yelled at Emmanuel to stop and couldn't believe our luck as it was a Broad-billed Roller, a life bird and one we had really, really wanted to get. Icing on the cake!!

    Sadly it was soon time to leave the crater and head out to Gibbs Farm, where we were due for lunch. I could easily have spent the rest of the day in the crater. There is always something new to see, and no matter where you turn there is wildlife. Just a fantastic place.

    A word about Gibbs Farm...its very pretty and lovely, but stopping there for lunch isn't really anything special. The grounds where you could actually bird weren't that extensive. Some folks on another forum had advised us to skip it and stay longer in the crater. In retrospect, this was good advice which we didn't take. Although we did appreciate the break in the long drive back to Arusha, and we did actually get a new bird there (Black and White Mannakin) but I wouldn't stop there again. The most incredible thing about it were the guest bathrooms upstairs behind the main building...can't be described...but amazing!

    Finally, with a brief stop at the African Tulip for showers and repacking, we said good-bye to Emmanuel and the end of an amazing and memorable trip. We're already planning to return in 2014!

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    Thank you for your most enjoyable report. We made our first trip to Tanzania in Nov 2012, did a safari and a visit to Zanzibar. We are booked to go back again for another safari in Feb 2014. Going to almost the same places that you went. Now have to make the air bookings which seem to be at a high point right now.

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    I also found the Crater magical. If I had to choose only one safari in TZ it would be without hesitation the Crater. Also, the only safari location I'd go back to that does -not- allow off roading. We also spent two mornings there getting in from the Sopa road. Saw few other vehicles until about 9am. Our guide told us that during the busy part of the day there are 200-250 vehicles in the Crater. I know that is what he said because I had him repeat it. Of course he could be mistaken. I got maybe only two very good photos from the Crater, so although not very productive it was still magic.

    We did not go to Gibbs Farm but did go back to the African Tulip Hotel for a half day of cleanup and repacking. That was good use of a few hours before off to JRO airport to wait for our KLM 8:10pm flight out. That airport is so desolate of facilities, I wish I had a McDonalds there, I'd make a fortune!!!

    regards - tom

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    hah Tom, yes JRO is one of the worst airports I've been to in terms of services! After security you couldn't even get water, no snacks, nothing. And not much before security either. I couldn't even get my usual last-minute fridge magnet ;)

    We saw lots of vehicles in the crater but I can't believe it was anywhere near 200. Certainly we never saw more than a few in any one area, except at one lion sighting where maybe there were 15 or so but the ranger zoomed over to keep people moving.

    I don't have the same views as you concerning off-road driving; we had plenty of great sightings even sticking to roads--the big cats tend to like the clear-cuts and for example, that leopard we followed was in the road or right by it the entire time. Also, in the Serengeti especially we found that what we thought were just little tracks are actually considered "roads" and perfectly legal to drive on, we were on many tracks that looked little more than depressions in the grass. So we never felt that restricted.

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    I've posted the first batch of photos on my website: Arusha, Manyara, Tarangire. 2nd batch will come soon, I hope!

    Note that this page is not yet connected to my home page, so you can't get to it from there! You need to use this direct link. I want to wait till its complete before I connect it.

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    The next batch--Serengeti National Park--is now up. Highlights include a leopardess with cub and an interesting interaction between Golden Jackal, vultures, and a Spotted Hyena all vying for position on a kill. And of course, plenty of birds!

    Please use this link--they are not yet accessible from my home page.

    thanks for looking!

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    I am DYING over the leopard cub and baby gazelle photos! And your bird photos -- wow -- I am really starting to understand why people become birders -- the vivid colors and variety of sizes and shapes are so amazing. You may have mentioned this earlier in your report, but is there a "birds of Tanzania" book that you found for this trip?

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