Tanzania Day 6 – The Central Serengeti and Kubu Kubu Tented Lodge – Birds and Cats

This is how Kubu Kubu Tented Lodge was described in the VENT materials for our Northern Tanzania Tour: “our luxurious home for the next three nights…Situated on a hilltop overlooking the vast plains of the central Serengeti this recently opened (Summer 2016) luxury tented camp is a delightful base of operations for our time in the Serengeti. The tents are incredibly spacious and well-appointed and are placed on permanent platforms, each with its own private balcony. In-suite, private bathrooms feature open air showers with abundant hot water (dubbed “the world’s best shower” by more than one participant) and flush toilets, and the entire camp is solar powered, with backup generators providing 24-hour electricity. The camp is full board (including all drinks), and WI-FI is available in the central area.” Right on all accounts, with my only slight challenge being why the accommodations were called tents as they in no way resembled my picture of such. The walls were so sturdy and solid that I would have considered them buildings – and that is not a complaint. The showers – one outside (private adjoining our indoor bathroom) and one inside really were awesome. The water was solar heated, plentiful and very forceful. There was a beautiful pool – of no interest – and a fine main lodge with good food and a good bar. Best of all the people were terrific.

Some photos of Kubu Kubu – hardly roughing it.

View from the Balcony of Our Tent
Our View from the Main Building Balcony at Kubu Kubu
Definitely Not Roughing it at Kubu Kubu
Cindy and Priscilla at Kubu Kubu – She Made Our Stay Even Better
Our “Tent” Was the First One on the Left – Blair Carrying a Lunch for the Road

Kubu Kubu was another place where we had to be escorted to and from our rooms at dawn and after dusk. Our escorts were local Masai tribesmen dressed in their beautiful red Shuka cloths and their beaded necklaces and bracelets and always accompanied by an iron rod/spear just in case the hyenas or lions (which we could hear at night) were on the prowl. Cindy asked one of her protectors if he had ever used his spear. “Why yes…on both lions and hyenas.” This is a good place to interject how much we were enamored with everyone we met in Tanzania. Incredibly friendly and always with a smile. It always seemed genuine and always welcoming. The standard greeting every time you pass someone was “Jambo”, Swahili for “hello” but there was so much more to it as it was always followed by “How are you?” (Habari) and it was often more than a platitude. Not too long after our arrival we found ourselves using these same words every time and we usually got a response of at least “very good” or even “wonderful”.

Our Masai Escorts/Protectors

On Monday February 20th, our actual Day 6, we started the morning with breakfast and then birded around the lodge until 8:30 a.m. We had 27 species including many new for the trip (Note once again that the Ebird lists did not always correspond to bird lists reviewed at night, but it all came out right in the end). The following is just a sampling of birds that morning.

Afterwards, we loaded up onto the safari vehicles and drove the Kubu Kubu entrance road to the park. It was excellent birding with 39 species of which 8 were new for the trip and a Greater Kestrel which was a lifer for me.

Greater Kestrel (Lifer)
Swahili Sparrow – Lifer

It was 9:30 a.m. and we were now in the park where we would bird and animal gaze for the next 3+ hours before lunch on the road in the Seronera area. Of our 61 bird species, half were new for the trip and 8 were lifers for me getting me within two of my self-important target of 3000 species in the world. Photos of 6 of those lifers are below.

I did not include a photo of one of the lifers that was really high on my list both to see and hopefully to get a good photo. That is the Collared Pratincole which is a shorebird but looks something like a swallow. We saw them several times during the trip – always next to water and always pretty distant and in poor light. So I got some photos, but all were disappointing as it is a really cool looking bird. I have added an internet photo that really shows it off to my own rather poor one.

There would be more birds later in the day and there were always lots of mammals – more views of species previously seen, but everyone was a wonderful experience – just so different from life in the US of A. But this day added some new mammals and lots of excitement. As I have mentioned in an earlier post, there are LOTS of safari operators and thus lots of safari vehicles in the parks at the same time. Maybe its not true for all of them, but there is a community of guides/drivers/operators that seem to be constantly in touch with one another over their radios. Like information posted real time on our WhatsApp groups, there is a constant flow of sightings over the radios. Of particular interest are any sightings of Big Cats – Lions, Cheetahs and Leopards. Over the course of our tour we would have many such sightings usually following some shared radio information and then maybe followed by a race to the place, less for the lions which were pretty much sleeping and resting and remaining for a long while, but definitely the case for the cheetahs and any leopard. I don’t recall if our first lions were found on our own or were tipped off by the radio community, but there is something very special about any lion sighting and not much compares to your first one.

This Gives an Idea of the Number of Safari Vehicles (from a lunch stop in the Ngorongoro Crater – a later post)

I had seen only two lions, both females, on my Kenya trip in 2007. That was disappointing, especially without a male, but it was somewhat made up for by their proximity – as in literally on the hood of our vehicle – an open vehicle. They had been resting very close and then one decided to check the comfort level on the hood. That got the adrenalin going. There were more lions on my trip to South Africa in 2014, maybe a dozen or so including a couple of fully maned males. The Serengeti has more lions than probably anywhere else. During our tour we saw almost 100 lions, including many males, mostly in the Serengeti. We never saw any hunting activity, which occurs mostly at night, but we had great looks. The photos below are from several days in the Serengeti – a great collection of beautiful and very impressive animals.

Our First Male Lion – A Fitting Look for the King of the Beasts
Probably Two Brothers Resting in the Open – They Were Unmoved for Well Over an Hour

Most of the groups of lions we saw had a single Alpha Male and maybe 8 lionesses and a few cubs. We saw two or three lionesses that had radio tracking collars. Many of the lions (and other animals) in the Serengeti have been studied for many years. (See photo above.) Many of the lions, and many of the other animals we saw, were covered with flies – a fact of life on the plains. We had our own intersections with the flies but mostly in wooded/forested areas. With few exceptions, we never had a group of lions to ourselves as there would either be other vehicles there when we arrived or would join us while we watched. We heard stories of major traffic jams and skirmishes at some sightings, but all went smoothly for us. The photo below taken on Cindy’s iPad is typical of how we saw most of the lions – sleeping in the shade under a tree. There were probably at least 4 other safari vehicles around this group when we were there.

Five of maybe 10 Sleeping Lions – Our First of the Trip

When we were around the lions, we completely forgot about the birds and kept hoping for some action – it never happened – just lions at rest. After maybe 20 minutes or so it was back to birding. We had lunch at a safe stop where we could get out of the vehicles – and like every other meal in Africa, there was too much food. Somehow that did not stop us from eating all of it, burying any guilt feelings. An interesting part about birding in Africa, and animal watching, too, is that even though there is mostly grassy plains, there is water and both mammals and birds are drawn to it. As an example, over the course of the trip we saw 75 species of “water birds” including waders, shorebirds, gulls and terns, waterfowl and such. Except for some of the large waders, none of the species were new for my world list, but how cool to get great looks at species that are mega rarities when seen in the US – shorebirds like Marsh, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Common Greenshanks and 11 species of Plovers/Lapwings. There will be a big section of the next blog dedicated to shorebirds, but it was particularly fun to see them and then a few minutes on the plains seeing species like Common Ostrich, Secretarybird and Guineafowl or one of the four species of bustard or one of the 8 species of gallinaceous birds that were often feeding on the dirt roads.

Common Ostrich
Helmeted Guineafowl

We were told that vulture populations seemed to be down and this matched our experience and it also seemed that there were not as many raptors seen as we expected. That said during the trip we found more than 40 raptor species even if not in great numbers of some. Without question the Secretarybird was my favorite – as it had been on my first African trip in 2007. Altogether we probably had more than a dozen sightings of this species. They were not new life birds, but on this day I was happy to add photos of 4 kestrel species to my world photo list, the Greater, Eurasian and Gray Kestrels shown above as well as a Lesser Kestrel. The most common raptor was Tawny Eagle.

Lesser Kestrel
Tawny Eagle

Birders in the vehicles could not hear the conversations over the radio, but every once in a while, a word would be heard. As we were driving along one of the dirt tracks, we thought we heard a word that brings instant excitement, “Leopard”. Shortly thereafter there seemed to be a lot less attention to bird sightings and a quickened pace of the vehicle. Maybe 15 minutes later we could see a group of safari vehicles surrounding a tree in the middle of the savannah. Guide and driver confirmed that we had our first leopard of the trip. We did not know it then, but it would also be our last one as well. Lions are awesome, and cheetahs are beautiful and elegant, but most people on safari would agree that leopards are special. Part of it is their beauty, part their rarity and part that they are so often seen up in trees, usually with the partially eaten carcass of a prey animal hung over a nearby branch and it seems impossible that not only could such a large animal climb up into the tree but that it could carry a heavy animal up with it. They are amazingly strong and powerful animals. And yes they are quite beautiful. I had seen only a single leopard in Kenya and only two adults and 4 cubs in South Africa. Each was breath-taking. This one was as well even though it almost looked like you could pet it with its sleepy lazy look as people in maybe 8 vehicles looked on.

Leopard Balancing Act

Unlike lions and to a lesser extent cheetahs, leopards are solitary animals with defined territories. Males which are larger than females, can weigh up to 200 pounds and measure 28 inches at the shoulder and over 8 feet in length (tail included). They are the smallest of the “Big Cats” – lions, tigers and jaguars all being larger and cheetahs not included in the group. Smallest, yes but pound for pound also the strongest being able to carry prey weighing more than it does up a tree. Leopards are still found in Africa, India, China and Southeast Asia. Snow Leopards of the Himalayas are a different species. Like lions, they hunt mostly at night and rest during the day. Our leopard definitely had mastered the resting thing. We did find an antelope stashed on a lower branch, but we could not identify it. When I was in South Africa, I saw a huge male leopard carrying a Steenbok up a tree. We watched the leopard for maybe 30 minutes, maneuvering for different positions as one or another of the safari vehicles would finally leave.

We birded some more on the way back to Kubu Kubu. What a great day, familiar mammals again adding lions and our leopard, more than 100 species of birds including 45 that were new for the tour and 13 new lifers and many photos. Many would later consider the leopard the best sighting of the trip. Cindy thought it was the giraffes, until there was a close up elephant and then the lions and then the leopard. Africa is a smorgasbord of delights. It was February 20th – less than a week into the trip with anther 12 days ahead.

One thought on “Tanzania Day 6 – The Central Serengeti and Kubu Kubu Tented Lodge – Birds and Cats

  1. Your leopard shot is amazing what a dream to see these big cats and the lion a dream of mine i hope one day to afford
    I have to say all those trucks lined up is a bit upsetting I worry about the human pressure on the animals but I guess the tourism dollars help preserve them and better to watch from many vehicles than to shoot them for trophy hunting


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s