September 24th: We left Ndutu Safari Lodge after breakfast and continued our birding/wildlife safari in the Ngorongoro Conservation District and the Southeastern Serengeti. This was our worst day for birds so far but that statement only means that it was great but not as great as other days. We saw some wonderful birds and some wonderful animals. There would only be 64 species seen this day and only three were new for the trip – Temminck’s Courser (a lifer), Steppe Eagle and Pygmy Falcon. On many occasions earlier we had tried to make a Tawny Eagle into a Steppe Eagle and either did not have a good enough view to be certain or fairly quickly concluded it was “just another Tawny Eagle“. I had seen many of both species in earlier visits, so I didn’t “need” one, but it was great to finally get a good look where we could clearly see a key differentiating feature – the gape extending to and past the eye.
I never got the photo I wanted of the Temminck’s Courser but any photo of a new life bird is a prize so I was happy with it (included in a previous blog post and again here). I was also very happy to get photos of the Pygmy Falcon, my first ever for the species.
The other species may not have been new but especially with continuing photo ops interspersed with more mammals it was constant fun and there was a continuing need to “be ready” as we never knew what would come next. The configuration in the safari vehicles with each person having his/her own window seat. Windows for the first two seats would roll down halfway and for the others, the windows would slide – so never fully open but with enough room to get decent camera angles. Alternatively, we could stand up either on the floor or on the seats and get great views without obstruction in the space below the pop top roofs. Ok, pretty good, but then there as the challenge of the bird being on the opposite side of the vehicle to where you were sitting. If the bird was perched or at least moving in a particular tree, there was generally time to stand up and get over to the other side of the vehicle and find a view angle. For me it was less of a problem than probably anyone else, because I always sat across from Cindy who was very accommodating in making room for my camera. As every birder knows, however, birds have wings and they know how to use them, so they do move around and although many of the African trees are much less densely leafed than our forest trees or the rainforest, it was still often challenging to “find the bird” and even if you did to find it without branches in the way of a clear shot photo. That’s another way of excusing my missing photos or getting pretty poor ones. Fortunately, that happened less often than might have been the case.
One of my favorite birds from previous Africa trips was the Eurasian Hoopoe. It is also seen in Europe and I had seen it in Kenya, South Africa and India. There has been some talk of it being split into two species, so our notation on our Ebird lists was “Eurasian Hoopoe (African)“. I had great unobstructed views in those other countries and hoped for the same in Tanzania for Cindy, but our only looks were either really distant or mostly obstructed. It is really a cool and unique bird. The first photo is from Tanzania, and the second is from India.
Randomly adding some other photos from the day, here are a Pied Cuckoo, a Fork Tailed Drongo, a Rufous Tailed Weaver and a Brown Snake Eagle. Photos of almost all of the other species seen have been included in earlier blog posts.
Okay, so much for the birds. How about lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Right – sorry, we were still in Africa so no tigers or bears, but this would be another good day for lions and most importantly Cindy would get her first cheetah and later yet more. Our first treat was something we had not only not expected but did not know even existed. Just as we had had “rock lions” earlier, now we would have a “tree lion”. We knew that leopards were tree climbers but even large ones are smaller than lions. Maybe it is only females and not the big males but it was clear that this lion was an accomplished climber as she was at least 15 feet up in a tree.
Not long afterward we found a group of lions including a young male with as many bugs on his face as any we had seen. We, too, were starting to have some flies around us in the van – not particularly enjoyable for us and probably not so for him either although it just seemed to be part of the daily existence.
There was lots of game animals around – zebras, wildebeests, and antelopes, but as had been the situation earlier, the grazers grazed and the predators – rested. In fact we only had a couple of occasions where we even saw the cats move – one was the tree climber coming down from the tree. A second happened shortly after out fly covered lion visit when we saw a large cheetah walking through the grass. Its belly appeared quite full, either recently well fed or possibly pregnant. Cindy had her cheetah and all cameras were busy capturing this beautiful animal.
So another great morning and with our beautiful cheetah, the pressure was off to find one for Cindy. Looking back it is easy to focus on the special animals like the cheetahs and lions, but the reality was that all of them were amazing and beautiful and it was such a privilege to be in their wild environment and not in a zoo. That morning we had one of our best close-ups of a hyena, a much-maligned predator/scavenger on the plains and a really good look at a herd of impalas, animals that are commonplace and thus overlooked, but well worth a close study to appreciate their beauty. Even the wildebeests or Brindled Gnus, were awesome to see up close.
We had checked out of the Ndutu Safari Lodge and were heading to the Ngorongoro Crater where we would stay at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge for two nights. On our last afternoon in the Serengeti as we headed towards our new accommodations, we had what was probably my favorite wildlife encounter of the trip. Our weather had been wonderful, with rain only at night and temperatures mostly very pleasant. As we traversed the plains, a light rain began to fall. Word arrived through the driver grapevine that a group of cheetahs had been seen not far ahead. We arrived on the scene in lightly falling rain and under darkened skies. Four cheetahs, a mother and three of her almost fully grown cubs were huddled together completely in the open, the nearest tree a couple hundred yards away. We had to share the view with two other safari vehicles, but in the vastness of the Serengeti, it was as if we were invisible, and we were captivated and mesmerized by the cheetahs as if they were the only things that existed. We watched for maybe 30 minutes as they shifted positions only slightly, always tightly together as if they were a single being, a beautiful fabric woven against the grass. The rain increased a bit and finally the mother decided it was time to seek the shelter of the lone tree and they went off single file to take cover, such as it was. These are some of my favorite photos of the trip.