Tanzania Day 5 – Speke Bay and the Serengeti

I did not keep Ebird lists during the trip relying on Kevin Zimmer for that. We did, as usual on most tours, do group bird lists each evening before dinner checking off each species seen that day. Kevin shared a few lists early but as the tour pressed on, it became an overwhelming task to keep current and most lists were not entered on Ebird until well after we returned and as might be expected, there was not always a full correlation between the Ebird lists and our checklists as we recounted them each day. In this post I have pretty accurate information for the morning of Day 5 at Speke Bay and then our drive to the Serengeti after lunch, but it falls apart a bit after that. The following details the morning of the 19th and the drive to the Park, but thereafter I am combining all of the sightings for our days in the Serengeti – one of many highlights of the trip.

Sunday morning at Speke Bay got off to a great start. One of the staff at Speke Bay had located a roosting Barn Owl and two Three Banded Coursers on the property. It was a bit of a walk especially stumbling over the Hippopotamus tracks, but some really great birds. Like the Osprey, Barn Owls are found on every continent except Antartica. I had seen them in Australia and of course North America, but this would be the first one in Africa. I had seen Three Banded Coursers in Kenya at Lake Baringo in 2007 and even had photos, but they are a very cool looking bird and I was very happy to see it and photograph it again. We birded for several hours at the Lodge before heading to Serengeti National Park in the afternoon. The first set of photos are all from Speke Bay.

Barn Owl – A Very Tough Photo
Three Banded Courser
Chinspot Batis
Klaas’s Cuckoo
Red-billed Firefinch
Buff-bellied Warbler
Swamp Flycatcher

These next photos are not necessarily in sequence as explained above regarding Ebird lists. Some sightings that can be specifically linked to a place are photos of Bare Faced Go-Away Bird, Hamerkops, Pin-tailed Whydah and Eastern Plantain Eater that were taken at the Grumenti River in the Serengeti. This was also where we had one of my favorite experiences of the trip. We saw at first one and then several large white birds in a field. They were White Storks. I had seen some in Pecs, Hungary in 2002 but had no photo. They are the birds that “delivered babies” in some European folklore. I got my photo and then we saw more and more including a group perched on an open branched tree. They are gorgeous, magnificent birds and seeing them flocked and then perched was very special. The Plantain-eater was a lifer and earlier we had a Karamoja Apalis, the only other lifer among the many dozens of birds seen.

Karamoja Apalis (Lifer)
Bare-faced Go Away Bird
Eastern Plantain-eater (Lifer)
Yellow-billed Stork
Pin-tailed Whydah
White Stork
White Storks
Village Indigobird

Not at the river, but some other great birds seen that day in Serengeti National Park were our first Secretarybirds, Southern Ground, African Gray and Von der Decken’s Hornbills, Kori Bustards, Gray Capped Warbler, and our first of what would be many Lilac Breasted and European Rollers.

Southern Ground Hornbill
Von der Decken’s Hornbill – Female
African Gray Hornbill
Gray Capped Warbler
Kori Bustard
Lilac Breasted Roller
European Roller

It was at the river that we also saw our first Hippopotamuses and our first Nile Crocodiles. We would see hippos many times later always in large groups. The Crocs were less abundant and neither looked very friendly.

Our First Hippos
Our First Nile Crocodile

These photos provide a great transition from birds to mammals for it was at the Serengeti that we experienced the great diversity of African mammals. Some would be on this first day in the park and then others each day later we would see Elephants, Hippos, Impalas, Zebras, Baboons, Hyenas, Lions, Jackals, Warthogs, Giraffes, Wildebeest, Cape Buffaloes, Waterbucks, Topi, Gazelle’s and Kongoni (Hartebeest) and our only Leopard. These photos were from that first day – many more will be added later in this post which combines the following days. The Serengeti may well be the most famous of the African National Parks. It was both a very favorite place and a huge disappointment on the trip. The disappointment had nothing to do with the place itself – only the timing of our visit. VENT had scheduled this trip when it did to be able to see the great migration of wildebeests and zebras (among others) that occurs annually. Unfortunately this year the rains came late so the migration of a million animals was delayed. We saw maybe the start but instead of hundreds of thousands of animals, we saw “only” thousands – still amazing but how awesome to have been able to see “the real thing”.

The Serengeti is a vast grassland plain of more than 11,500 square miles (about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined) of which about 5,700 square miles are in the National Park, a World Heritage site that was established as a park in 1951. The Entrance to the park is $60.00 ($70.00 in peak season) per person per day with additional costs per vehicle and per person for each night stay (part of the accommodation cost). This generates a lot of money which is used for maintenance etc. As an aside the restroom facilities in the park were spotless!! Only 4-wheel drive vehicles are permitted in the Park and driving is allowed only on existing tracks – no cross-country exploration. Tourism is big business with many levels of accommodation ranging from basic to super-luxury. It is estimated that more than 350,000 people visit the park each year!!

A Sampling of Mammals of the Serengeti (Saving the Cats for Later)

African or Cape Buffalo
Serengeti Elephant
Spotted Hyena
Silver Backed Jackal
Blue Wildebeest or Brindled Gnu
African Zebra
Thompson’s Gazelle
Grant’s Gazelle
Kongoni (Hartebeest)

Since I was only using a telescopic lens (100-500 mm with a 1.4 extender) I could not really get any wide-angle photos showing the scale of the migration that we did see – often hundreds or even thousands of animals of numerous species at one time. This photo gives some sense of the mixed herds with some birds mixed in. By far the largest groups were of Wildebeest followed by Zebras and then Buffalo. There were often small herds of Impala – usually a single male with his harem of females or maybe a small group of non-dominant bachelor males together.

Life on the Plains

This post has largely been a collection of photos and there is just no way they can give anything but a snapshot of what really has to be experienced in person capturing the diversity of life, the immensity of the plains, the gatherings at waterholes and the constant moving and grazing of the animals with amazing birds in every niche of the Serengeti. I have included most of the mammals seen in the Serengeti here except for the Big Cats – always favorites of every visit, even those by list building birders. We would leave Speke Bay Lodge and move on to Kubu Kubu Tented Lodge from which we would continue to explore the Serengeti. And in the next post, there will again be lots of birds and there will also be Cats!!

2 thoughts on “Tanzania Day 5 – Speke Bay and the Serengeti

  1. I always enjoy your wonderful photos of birds but it was great to see all these great African animals in this post.. thank you 😊 😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t get over how amazing this is your storytelling the amazing photos of the birds and mammals have me in total awe! Dream trip! Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

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