Just back from amazing Tanzanian safari!


Dec 12th, 2005, 02:58 AM
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Great report - I cant wait to get there in a few weeks time. One question, where did you come across Tsetsi flies? I was led to believe that there are very few in the northern parks. I dont fancy being bitten by these if I can help it.
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Dec 12th, 2005, 03:02 AM
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bat -- We brought a book with us called Wildlife of East Africa by Withers & Hosking. It is not the most comprehensive but it has photos, descriptions, is very portable, and includes the most common birds, mammals, reptiles, insects, etc. of the region. When something wasn't in that book, our guide Saidi had a much more comprehensive field guide to birds that had everything in it and then some. So we would try to identify things on the spot and if we couldn't, we'd take a digital photo or a little video and then try to identify them later. I kept a list which I updated as we saw new things and identified them...a little notebook with me in the vehicle or in my backpack at all times to jot down sightings, impressions, etc. There were a few things we saw that we could not identify at all, including one bizarre plant growing outside of our room at Serengeti Serena which even our guide had never seen before. I think my husband got a picture of it so maybe someone here will be able to help us identify it when we finally post our photos.

My journal entry for Day 6 begins, "The Serengeti is littered with bones."

We checked out of Mbuzi Mawe that morning. Leading up to reception a gorgeous green snake over 2 meters long was sunning itself on the stone steps. By the time I saw it and got out my camera it was up a tree. When I told the women at reception they were alarmed and asked the naturalist what he thought it was. Without even looking up he said "Green mamba. Very poisonous." I looked it up in my book and that's exactly what it was. It was so beautiful!

After checking out we did another full-day game drive around central Serengeti which was one sighting after another -- just amazing.

We stopped for picnic lunch again at the Seronera Visitor's Center and saw even more birds, including the lovely purple grenadier.

At dusk we checked into Serengeti Serena which we liked very much. We specifically requested one of the "upper" rooms and ours had a great sweeping view. From our balcony we watched the Cape Buffalos and lots of birds. The open-air vestibule at Serengeti Serena has a water feature with lots of frogs you can hear at night -- and a Defassa waterbuck came right up and drank from it about 10 feet away from me!

Meals at Serengeti Serena were very good. They have internet access upstairs for $5 per 15 minutes (although if you sing a few bars of "Jambo, jambo, jambo bwana" you may get some extra time!).

NEW SIGHTINGS, DAY 6 (new sightings scarcer now as we've seen so much):
Grey-headed shrike
African Hare
Common sandpiper
Kittlitz plover
Green Mamba
House sparrow
Purple grenadier
Speckled mousebird
Red-backed shrike
Some kind of red grasshopper
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Dec 12th, 2005, 03:06 AM
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50something -- There were no tsetse flies around Ndutu nor any at Ngorongoro. In northern Serengeti we encountered them daily for brief periods of time wherever there were these certain kinds of acacia shrubs; one area happened to be just outside of Migration Camp. We also encountered them in parts of central Serengeti, and in Tarangire. They were a minor annoyance, not a huge problem.
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Dec 12th, 2005, 06:14 AM
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Great trip report, Lisa! I'm really enjoying it.
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Dec 12th, 2005, 08:30 AM
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Thanks for the advice Lisa.
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Dec 12th, 2005, 01:38 PM
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Lisa, Iím impressed by your journal keeping. I almost managed to do that the first day on my first safari, but no more. And Iím so envious of the serval and snake sightings.
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Dec 13th, 2005, 07:41 AM
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Woke up the next morning and sat out on our balcony to enjoy the sunrise and watch all the birds over coffee. Our "downstairs neighbors" then came out on their balcony to smoke, and the husband yelled at the top of his lungs "Goot Morning Ahfreekah!!" which sent all the birds flying away. Harumph.

We went for a nature walk after breakfast with the hotel's naturalist which was very nice. Again, not a lot of game (it was very dry around Serengeti Serena) but good to get some exercise, as we walked to the top of a nearby hill. We did see some nightjars on the ground (nearly stepped on them), lots of pretty butterflies, and some other things. On the walk back to our room we came across a boomslang snake (small but beautiful -- interesting to learn their fangs are in the back of their mouth rather than the front, and yes, they are poisonous), some brown parrots (prettier than they sound, with green and yellow), and the coolest agama lizard we have ever seen, with very different coloration and a much larger head than the ones we've seen previously.

After our nature walk we took a dip in the pool which was lovely, and empty, as everyone else was out on game drives so we had it to ourselves.

After lunch Said picked us up for our afternoon/evening game drive which was again wonderful -- saw cheetahs, lions, leopards, lots of elephants, big herds of wildebeest and zebras, etc.

African Paradise flycatcher
Black-headed heron
African Marsh Harrier
White stork
Christmas butterfly
Slender-tailed nightjar
Brown parrot
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Dec 13th, 2005, 07:52 AM
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On Day 8 we went on a full-day game drive all over the central Seronera area and nearby kopjes. The highlight, without a doubt, was seeing elephants mating! Saidi has been guiding for over 6 years and said he had only seen elephants mate two other times, so we felt pretty lucky.

Around the kopjes it was pretty dry and there was less game, but we did get a wonderful sighting very close of a pair of dik dik (which by then we had seen numerous times, but they had always been very shy, whereas this time they stood very still and remained within 10-20 feet of our vehicle right in the open) and we even got to hear the whistling noise they make which was really cool.

Also saw numerous lion prides, more leopards, some hyenas, etc. Even saw Cape Buffalo and jackals near our room when we were walking back from dinner!

Striped skink
Goldenbreasted starling
Red-billed hornbill
Laughing dove
Striped kingfisher
Red-billed buffalo weaver
Northern white-crowned shrike
Some kind of bats
Common kestrel
Red-billed teal/duck
Black-winged stilt
Saddle-billed stork
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Dec 13th, 2005, 08:06 AM
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On Day 9 we checked out of Serengeti Serena, did a morning game drive all around the central Seronera area along the rivers, and slowly made our way to Naabi Gate and on to Ndutu.

After all the usual amazing sightings along the Seronera river we were sad to be leaving that area. We stopped at Naabi Gate and had our second sighting of a gorgeous serval there!

The land got increasingly dry as we got closer to Ndutu. Lake Ndutu was completely dry and bone-white. We got to Ndutu at dusk and were shown to our room which was really nice, number 12, on the end. The rustic-looking furniture in the room is made of wood reclaimed from an old dhow -- it has a lot of character. We like this room because it is larger than the others and more private. There are very few guests at Ndutu since it is the low season. This is one of few places that allows guides to eat their meals with the guests, and it is nice to share an excellent dinner with Said. The food at Ndutu is very good and they have a lovely open air bar/restaurant area. Genet cats come and sit in the rafters at dinnertime which is neat to see. Rooms are fairly simple, but very comfortable. One note: they provide soap but no shampoo or conditioner or lotion, so it is helpful to bring some from one of the other stops on the trip.

New sightings, day 9:
Shining sunbird
Red-necked spurfowl
Nubian woodpecker
Black-bellied bustard
Crowned crane
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Dec 13th, 2005, 08:13 AM
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Such variety from snakes to servals. Mating eles to resident jackals to dik diks.
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Dec 13th, 2005, 08:58 AM
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Lisa, I, too, am impressed with how meticulous you've been with your sightings list, especially considering how MANY different species you encountered.

Still really enjoying this, and looking forward to more.
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Dec 13th, 2005, 09:50 AM
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This has been great Lisa! Thanks. Keep it coming.

Glad to see you noting all your bird species as well. The birds were among the favorite things on our first African safari early this year. Ahh, the agony of trying to get a photo of a lilac breasted roller before it flew!
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Dec 13th, 2005, 11:17 AM
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Your info has been really great. Some questions (I'm going this spring).
1. How much 'stuff' did you bring and how did you carry it (suitcases, duffels, backpacks?
2. How many changes of clothing (days)?
3. Mosquito netting, repellent, or ???
4. What elseshould you have brought?
5. Were you (and husband) happy with the lens size - or wished for a longer lens?

Thanks much for taking the time.

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Dec 13th, 2005, 02:23 PM
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Peter -- How much stuff -- we brought very little and it was still too much! We always travel with carryon luggage only & never check bags. We each have a 22-inch rolling bag from Eagle Creek which fits into overhead bins, and then we each also carry a backpack which fits under the seat in front of us. We have always found this to be more than enough. Every trip we make a list of the things we brought that we didn't wear or need. You really only need 3 changes of clothes because you can have laundry done pretty much everyplace. I brought 5 changes of clothes, and there were 2 long-sleeved shirts and 2 pairs of pants that I never wore. It is good to have layers. Dress is very casual even at dinner.

I brought bug repellant that was 25% deet, in the form of the towelettes/wipes, and did feel it helped prevent tsetse fly bites when I wore it (although I still got a bite or two almost every day -- but my husband didn't use the bug stuff and he got bitten more than I did). Mosquitoes weren't really an issue when we were there, largely because it was so dry. Pretty much everyplace had mosquito netting and at some places we used it and at others we didn't. We did take the malarone.

The only two things I wish I'd brought more of: antibacterial hand wipes and twice as much film!

And yes, must confess to one or two instances of lens envy. Overall though I feel I made the right choice for me -- I just don't want to lug around anything bigger & heavier than a 300 mm zoom.

Nelson -- yes, the lilac breasted rollers were a challenge! But we did finally get some good shots I think...we still haven't made it through all of our photos yet -- there are 2,990 images altogether plus 9 hours of video -- ay yi yi, isn't that preposterous? (I can hear our family members groaning now at the thought of being subjected to our Africa video & photos over the holidays -- yes, we have some major editing to do!).
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Dec 14th, 2005, 07:07 AM
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Your story here has prompted me to get out my notes and FINALLY enter the birds we saw into a bird tracking software program that I own. Thanks for the inspiration.

So far I have only done Kilimanjaro and Tarangire but am already up to 50 species. I have to fall back on Latin genus/species sometimes since the common names don't always line up with the software. But it's been great fun to go through the book and look at the birds once again, reliving the experience.

I did wind up with an "OK" shot of a roller, but got some I am very pleased with of Northern Masked Weaver, Malachite Kingfisher, Fischer's Lovebird, and quite a few others.

My wife has a pet Fischer's, and seeing them in the wild was great fun!
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Dec 14th, 2005, 10:49 AM
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Day 10. Woke up to a great breakfast at Ndutu. Our breakfast table was directly in front of a little birdbath where lots of beautiful birds came to drink.

After breakfast we started our drive to Olduvai Gorge and then on to Ngorongoro.

Shortly after leaving Ndutu we saw a beautiful male cheetah, and a few minutes later saw a female with 5 little cubs, very close! They crossed the road near us and they were so cute. What a privilege to see.

We stopped at Olduvai (Oldupai) Gorge to tour the museum and have lunch. I did not know very much about the Leakeys and found the museum very interesting.

Before we got to Ngorongoro Serena we stopped at a Maasai village on the crater rim. It was fascinating. We got to go inside one of the huts, see some dances, look at their crafts (I bought a beaded bracelet), and take lots of photos. A couple of the villagers spoke very good English and we got to ask a lot of questions and learn a little about their life. The maasai man who showed us around has two wives and told us he hopes to have another one in 5 years! The red cloth the maasai wear is so striking -- just brilliant against the landscape.

We checked into Ngorongoro Serena just before dusk. It is a beautiful hotel with lovely views of the crater and a great bar area with enormous picture windows. Our room had a balcony with a really nice view of the crater -- I think it was room number 9. The food here was very good and the room comfortable.

New sightings, Day 10:
Amethyst sunbird
Northern double-collared sunbird
Tacazza sunbird
Golden jackal
Rufous-tailed weaver
Beautiful sunbird
Speckle-fronted weaver
Black mongoose
White-naped raven
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Dec 14th, 2005, 11:08 AM
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The next morning we got up really early because we wanted to be the first ones in the crater so we could enjoy it without too many vehicles around. We were at the gate right at 6am and were the very first ones. We headed to the Lerai Forest first, where we at our breakfast and saw some elephants and lots of baboons and monkeys, plus two rhinos and a distant cheetah. Then we drove to a waterhole where a big pack of hyenas was devouring a wildebeest in the water. Saidi said he had never seen the hyenas feeding like that in the water before. They were clearly not relishing being in the water, as they were very hesitant to jump in, and only put their feet in gingerly at first. But eventually their desire for the food got the better of them. By the end the hyenas were all coated heavily in dark brown mud and even less appealing looking than usual!

Then we saw a pride of female lions and cubs eating a hartebeest. When the pride tried to leave the kill briefly for a drink of water, the vultures landed nearby, so the lions returned to defend the kill. It was very dry in the crater and there was hardly any water at all in the lake.

We drove to the main picnic area for lunch and enjoyed getting out to stretch our legs. There were lots of hippos and birds in the water. As we were leaving the picnic area we saw a huge rock python on the bank. He had great big lumps in his body like he had just eaten. He was absolutely enormous.

Throughout the day we saw 7 different rhinos at various different parts of the crater, including one with a calf that was suckling.

At the very end of the day as we were heading for the ascent road, we saw a family of bat-eared foxes playing on top of the den which was very close to the road. They were really fun to watch but we finally had to leave because the sun was setting. On the ascent road back to our hotel a bushbuck ran across the road right in front of us.

New sightings, Day 11:
Rufous bush chat
Striped seedeater
Spotted morning thrush
African marshall eagle
Glossy ibis
Black rhino
Long-toed lapwing (plover)
Lesser flamingo
Hottentot teal
Cape Teal
Northern Shoveler
African rock python
Pied avocet
Mountain buzzard
Petral patch cisticola
Yellow wagtail
Bat-eared fox
Red-eyed pigeon
Black kite
Fan-tailed widowbird
Great bittern
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Dec 14th, 2005, 11:24 AM
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ongoing thanks Lisa:
You have convinced me to get to the crater gate by 6am even though I am not an early morning person. BTW, does the Serena have 2 stories and you were on the 2nd story? I could not quite tell from the pictures but it looked as though there were 2 floors with the lower one having a kind of shared terrace and the upper floor having private balconies.
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Dec 14th, 2005, 11:39 AM
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The next day I decided I needed to sleep in, so Mark and Said did a morning game drive in the Crater without me. Apparently I didn't miss too much except for a big male lion who had taken over the hartebeest kill from the pride we had seen the day before. I slept until almost 10am! (Too many 5am wakeups got the better of me I guess.) When I finally woke up I went out on the balcony to enjoy that great view, and a maasai was herding cattle right in front of our hotel room and singing! The singing and the cowbells sounded so fantastic. I did not take a picture because I didn't want to offend. Finally I ventured out of the room and did a little damage in the hotel gift shop before Mark and Said picked me up at noon. We checked out of the hotel and headed for Gibbs Farm.

With a stop for lunch, we arrived at Gibbs Farm about 4pm. The gardens and setting here are amazingly gorgeous and there are birds everywhere! Once settled into our room we decided to hike to some elephant caves and a nearby waterfall. We saw lots of new birds along the way and a different kind of dik dik that has shorter legs than the kind we've been seeing up until now. Standing at the top of the waterfall we can feel a bit of the spray and it feels cold and wonderful.

After the hike (which took about 2 hours total) we clean up for dinner and then proceed to the dining room. We are the only guests so they serve all of our courses at our table which has been decorated with candles. The food was spectacular, as was the wine and the service! They have an impressive wine list which is also very reasonably priced. Our room is simple but very comfortable. I think it was number 15.

New sightings, day 12:
Cardinal woodpecker
Grey wagtail
Bar-throated apalis
Dusky flycatcher
Black-throated wattle-eye
Paradise flycatcher
White-tailed blue flycatcher
Bush-tailed squirrel
Cinnamon-chested bee eater
Bronze sunbird
Green-headed sunbird
Chin-spot batis
Black-backed puffback
Grey-headed sparrow
Augur buzzard
Blue-naped mousebird
African mourning dove
Common swift
Little swift
Sunni dik dik
Grey-headed bush shrike
Bare-eyed thrush
Speke's weaver
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Dec 16th, 2005, 01:28 AM
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Day 13 -- Woke up to a glorious morning at Gibbs with birds everywhere. Had a very good breakfast looking out the window and watching the birds feasting on fresh fruit. Checked out and drove to Lake Manyara. We met a nice Egyptian family at Lake Manyara gate. Throughout the trip it was so nice to meet people from so many different places.

We only did a half-day game drive at Lake Manyara. The vegetation there was so much more lush and green, it was amazing -- almost like a jungle. We had several sightings of Sykes (blue) monkeys which we had not seen before. We saw 2 enormous groups of baboons which were incredibly fun to watch. They were doing absolutely everything, everywhere surrounding our vehicle -- eating, mating, fighting, playing. Fascinating to watch their behaviors. We also saw many species of birds that we had not seen elsewhere. Other than that though, we did not see too much in the way of game at Lake Manyara.

After eating our picnic lunches from Gibbs Farm (which were delicious), we left Lake Manyara and drove on to Tarangire. It was so cool to see so many large baobabs! We saw common waterbuck which we had not seen elsewhere in Tanzania (they have a white ring on their backside, as opposed to the Defassa waterbuck which have a solid white circle). We also saw a striped hyena just before getting to Swala, which we had not seen before. Swala Camp is quite a long drive south through the park and by the time we finally pulled up at the camp it was pretty dark. When our car drove up we were surprised that the managers and several staff were all waiting for us outside with flashlights and cold towels and fruit juice with sparkling wine. We were immediately made to feel absolutely welcome by Maryna and Steve who run the camp and by all of the staff. Drinks are included at Swala and their wine is wonderful.

We were given a brief "orientation" and shown to our tent, number 6, which was very nice. After cleaning up for dinner we stepped outside our tent and were met by a maasai askari who walked us to the dining tent because there are many animals in camp at night. They are all around you and it is fantastic. We could see elephants at the waterhole and all kinds of little eyes peering back at us when we had our flashlights on.

Dinner was absolutely amazing, multiple courses with wine, fantastic service -- really perfect. There was only one other couple in camp so it was very quiet. When we returned to our tent after dinner, a poem about Africa had been placed on our pillows and the bed had been turned down. It was a really nice touch. In the night we were treated to the sound of lions roaring, which we had also heard at Migration Camp -- a wonderful experience.

New sightings, Day 13:
European bee-eater
Silver-cheeked hornbill
Emerald spotted wood dove
Malachite kingfisher
Spur-winged lapwing
Eurasian bee-eater
Pink-backed pelican
Blue (Sykes) monkey
Spur-winged goose
White-faced whistling duck
African spoonbill
Great egret
Common Squacco heron
Common waterbuck
Lanner falcon
Green-winged pytilla
Yellow-necked spurfowl
Striped hyena
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