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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 6 – Serengeti

Out into the cold and dark…   Breakfast was early as predicted. We finally got on the road at 7:30, and made our way out to where the game were. That’s a bit of a bad way of saying it, as game are all around us here. We pass through zebra, giraffe, and several kinds of antelope before we get very far.

But first I should comment on our lodgings. This is a tent place. All the buildings, of which there are about 15 are tents. 20150928-DSC_2403The main tent is about twice as large as the cabin tents, giving it room for a nice lounge on one side and dining tables on the other. There are chandeliers hanging from the ceiling providing light, and electricity for most of your needs. This is provided by sun power, which collects the electricity in batteries during the day, and then allows use at night. There is a generator which kicks in if the batteries get low. As with each of these individual-tent-cabin places in the middle of wild animals, one of the camp’s employees (ours is Sampson) accompanies you whenever you go out in the dark.  By the way, the curtain behind Gwen hides the bathroom facilities, so we didn’t have to go outside to relieve ourselves.

Our room cabin tent is very large, probably 40 feet by 24 feet, with a full stand-up bathroom at one end. The room centers around the double bed, enshrouded with netting to keep away the mosquitoes at night. The other aspect of living in a tent in the Serengeti are the noises in the night. Lots of animals sound off (we really couldn’t tell what we were listening to), and then there is the wind, which was loud last night.

So on to today. Each day seems to get better, and today was no exception.

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Vervet monkeys

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Zebra fight!

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Momma and baby Kongoni

Momma and baby Kongoni

Momma and baby

Momma and baby

The savannah in the Serengeti seems dryer than what we saw in Amboseli or in Ngorongoro.  I guess there is enough to eat, but our guide tells us that the rains have been sparse so far, so the fields are not as supportive of the large herds are they have been in the past.  Still we see lots of wildlife during the day.

20150928-DSC_2485Our most exciting leopard story starts when Philip or Everest spied a female leopard heading toward a stand of trees and rocks.  20150928-DSC_2501We stopped to watch, and then decided that she probably was going to move through to the other side, so we moved the vehicle to be able to see her if that is what she did. Sure enough, she shortly showed up there, heading out into a field on a path that paralleled the track the truck was on. 20150928-DSC_2552We saw that she had brought a friend (male, we think). 20150928-DSC_2561The two of them walked through the tall grass, moving unhurriedly, and we did our best to keep them in sight. Eventually, they decided they wanted to cross the road, and indeed on they came. They passed in front of our truck no more than 10 feet away. Great for pictures. 20150928-DSC_2574 20150928-DSC_2576

They continued on toward another rock 20150928-DSC_2595outcropping, 20150928-DSC_2604and once they got there, we thought we saw the female kill a small field animal that didn’t move quickly enough. I guess that was their goal, as we lost sight of them and shortly thereafter, we moved on.

As had become usual, we saw a number of the larger land animals.

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Impala

Impala

We also saw a number of birds.

Vulture, Cape (juv)

Vulture, Cape (juv)

Stork, Yellow-billed; Goose, Egyptian; Stilt, Black-winged; Plover, Blacksmith

Stork, Yellow-billed; Goose, Egyptian; Stilt, Black-winged; Plover, Blacksmith

Stilt, Black-winged

Stilt, Black-winged

Weavers' nests

Weavers’ nests

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Vulture, Lappet-faced

Vulture, Lappet-faced

We saw other leopards today, 20150928-DSC_2810both of the two we saw were up a tree, (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) which we watched for awhile.  The leopards were watching the animals in a large field beyond the tree each was in. We tried to see what each was seeing, but didn’t see anything that would excite them to do something dramatic. It was fun to watch for awhile, and then we moved on.  Can you see the one in the tree below?

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As for lions, we saw probably 30 all told. All were resting, and we saw only walking type movement from any of them. 20150928-DSC_2853 20150928-DSC_2898In one area were two females sitting under a tree, while across the path at the next tree, two males were lazing away their late morning. We watched the males for awhile, and then moved on. 20150928-DSC_3098 20150928-DSC_3113 20150928-DSC_3133The last sighting was the largest, Seven youngsters (less than a year) were sleeping under a tree under the oversight of two older females. Eventually, the two older ones and five of the youngsters cross and joined two more females and two more youngsters under a much larger tree. We watched them for awhile, then moved on.

We saw some more hippos sleeping in a pond, and quite a few birds. We saw eland, kongoni, dik-dik’s, and at least one other new-to-us antelopes, water bucks. It was quite a day.

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Kongoni

Heron, Great Blue

Heron, Great Blue

Weaver, White-headed Buffalo

Weaver, White-headed Buffalo

Hyrax trying to mooch some food from us humans

Hyrax trying to mooch some food from us humans

Shrike, Northern White-Crowned

Shrike, Northern White-Crowned

Dwarf Mongoose standing watch in an abandoned termite mound

Dwarf Mongoose standing watch in an abandoned termite mound

Vervet Monkey

Vervet Monkey

Water Bucks

Water Bucks

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Dik-diks

Topi compared to zebra

Topi compared to zebra

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 4 – Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Today is spent all in the caldera. As most all our days, this one starts early, with breakfast at 6:00 and on our way at 6:30.  Morning light breaking through the clouds that seem to hover around the volcano early was fascinating to see from our vehicle as it headed down the steep road from the lip to the floor.  The reflection of the light in the infrequent water helped us see what was below.

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We spent about seven hours in the caldera, and it was fun almost from the get-go. The first of the highlights were the black rhinos, one of which we saw almost right off, and then later on we saw two more. All were at a distance, but hopefully the camera was up to recording them. We later learned that these black rhinos are extremely rare, there being approximately 25 left in the wild.  So seeing 3 of the 25 was even more of a treasure than we realized at the time.

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There are four lions sleeping in this stone formation.

The second was a pride of lions all sleeping in and amongst some rocks on the side of a rise toward the middle of the caldera. Down below them we noticed a number of hyena, and a jackal or two.

Oh, no you don;t!

Oh, no you don’t!

Three of the hyena, sometimes joined by a fourth had a piece of a kill about 100 yards below them, and were busily taking hunks out of it. 20150926-DSC_1422One of the jackals tried several times to get a few bites, but was chased off by one of the hyenas each time. It was only as we climbed the rise behind the lions that we were able to see there were a number of hyena congregated in a depression below the ground level a bit farther away from the lions. We surmised that they were devouring what was left of a carcass that the lions had brought down and had sated themselves with last night. 20150926-DSC_1351There was a hyena that we had first noticed on our left as we were driving toward the area where we first saw the lions. He (or she) crossed our path between where we first stopped and where the lions slept and headed for the depression, but eventually stopped, watched what was going on for awhile, and after the appearance of a couple of other hyenas, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and came back across the road where he watched what was going on. We only really understood his actions after we spotted the hyena group as we drove above it. One of Gwen’s favorite aspects of the day was hearing the hyenas “talking” to each other during this episode.

We saw quite a variety of wildlife, most of which we had seen before, but I can never get enough of them, especially the birds.

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

Crane, Grey-Crowned

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Crake, Black

Crake, Black

Pelican, Great White

Pelican, Great White

Ibis, Sacred

Ibis, Sacred

Bustard, Kori

Bustard, Kori

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Eagle, Tawny or Eagle, Wahlberg's

Eagle, Tawny or Eagle, Wahlberg’s

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We managed to get very close to some warthogs as we drove along.

20150926-DSC_1534 20150926-DSC_1678One of the more amazing sights were the herds of wildebeest stretching out to the horizon, or coming over the hill toward us at a distance.

A wildebeest herd and flock of birds in the Ngorongoro caldera

A wildebeest herd off in the distance

The third amazing find were a family group of elephants we passed as we came onto the rise where the road started to climb out of the caldera. This rise is hilly, with a number of trees of various kinds forming a loosely packed forest, enabling easy movement by the elephants as well as shelter from the sun when desired (like it was as it was well after noon by this time). 20150926-DSC_1887At first, we saw three females and two youngsters (one very young, a second perhaps a juvenile) eating grass and leaves from a tree not too far off the road. As we watched, the five became seven, as there was another youngster behind the tree-eater, and another older juvenile with the first youngster. 20150926-DSC_1875 20150926-DSC_1858There were about a dozen zebra on the other side of the vehicle happily munching away at the shorter grass shaded by the trees as well. As we continued on, the road took a turn which took us in front of the elephants, and we discovered the rest of the group, with at least three more adult females, a couple more juveniles and yet another youngster. 20150926-DSC_1895We watched them continue to eat, and some decided we were too close, so they headed away from us while two or three headed to an area we couldn’t see ahead of us. 20150926-DSC_1924 20150926-DSC_1923We eventually moved in that direction, and found a stream where four elephants, including one youngster and at least one juvenile were enjoying playing with the water. The baby was having the most fun, kicking up water with his feet and trunk, while the others were enjoying spraying themselves with the water, and doing their own dance to keep their feet cool. It was delightful to watch, and was a really nice way to end our tour of the area.

This afternoon we have another talk by Philip. He talked about Kenya and Tanzania, and the relative size and populations of them. In response to questions, he focused more on the education systems in the two countries and how they have evolved.

Tomorrow it is on to Oldivai Gorge (rather the museum the Leakeys created near there) to hear about the finds there, and then the afternoon is a tour which should end us in the Serengeti.

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, Post 2 – Amboseli National Park

We got up early (5:45) and got to the park by 6:30. There were a plethora of animals, including all we had seen yesterday, as well as elephants in larger family groups, giraffes, gazelles and hyenas scaring all they came near.

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Amboseli Park, It is not uncommon for many different animals to share the forage. (7)

Amboseli Park, It is not uncommon for many different animals to share the forage. (7)

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We got close to the cape buffalo herds, as scary as they looked.   We drove by one old male who was wallowing in a mud puddle close to the road trying to get enough mud on himself to keep the flies off.

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An hippopotamus made its way across our view at one point, going from one watering hole to another presumably looking for better forage.  The wildebeest wandered all around us, and at one point there were a group of four lopping across the savannah headed toward an elephant male standing on his own.

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We did see a couple of lone baboons lopping across the savannah close to us.

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More birds showed up as well, even an example of one of the largest eagles, the largest of the flight-able birds, as well as an ostrich off in the distance.

Martial Eagle

Martial Eagle

Kori Bustard

Kori Bustard

Vulture, White-backed

Vulture, White-backed

Ibis, Hadeda

Ibis, Hadeda

Ibis, Glossy; Ibis, Sacred

Ibis, Glossy; Ibis, Sacred

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Lapwing, Long-Toed

Lapwing, Long-Toed

Goose, Egyptian

Goose, Egyptian

Ibis, Hadeda

Ibis, Hadeda

Jacana

Jacana

Duck, White-faced

Duck, White-faced

Ibis, Sacred

Ibis, Sacred

Spoonbill

Spoonbill

Teal, Red-Billed

Teal, Red-Billed

Heron, Great Blue; white bird unknown

Heron, Great Blue; white bird unknown

Duck, White-faced

Duck, White-faced

Bustard, Harlaub's

Bustard, Harlaub’s

We learned a lot about eastern Africa from our guide Philip Keter. He was joined after his talk by a Masai tribesman dressed in the traditional costume, and the two took us around the perimeter of the hotel compound and showed us some of the bones kept near the signs, and some of the plant life that grew within its confines.

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The Masai groups traditional occupation is livestock, which now means cattle, sheep, and goats.  As we travelled in the park, we saw a large such herd that had permission to forage in the park, overseen by younger boys who were off from school as the result of a teachers’ strike.

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Tomorrow promises to enable us to see even more animals!

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Fabulous Trip to Africa, 22 Sep to 4 Oct 2015, The Beginning

Off we go on another trip!  This time our goal was the Great Migration in the plains of Kenya and Tanzania.  Once again we were in the capable hands of Road Scholar, and with Gwen’s great aid in getting us ready (a much more complicated process than going to Europe, for example, what with visas, immunizations, and clothes requirements), we flew first to London (on 17 Sep) to see relatives and friends, a play (“Kinky Boots”), and to time-adjust partially.

On 22 Sep, we got on our British Airways flight, joined by Gwen’s great friend, Gretchen Hurlbert, and traveled the 8 hours to Nairobi.

It was a pleasant journey, and a nice introduction to business class on British Air. The food was great, the service as well. The two ladies each had seats next to the windows, and those turned out to be cold enough to where they commented on it, but the aisle seat I was in was “just right”. We got in as scheduled, late in the evening, and shortly met up with our tour guide, Philip Keter and the driver Charles after we got through the usual customs and passport control dance and picked up our bags from the carousel. We also met the other pair we are to tour with, Dee and Bruce Dwelley, from Northern California.  The group of us got along really well throughout, and so the tour was very successful in this way.  Philip and Charles took us to the Eka Hotel about half an hour away from the airport, and there is where we stayed the rest of the night.

Wed 23 Sep: Nairobi to Amboseli Park, and out on our first safari

In the morning, we arose and after a very pleasant breakfast buffet, packed ourselves into the van that was to be our safari ride for the next few days, and off we went. The trip to Amboseli Park took four hours, and had a variety of very interesting sights as we moved from Nairobi urban life through its gradually thinning suburbs, and finally out to the rural farm land and the small town markets that exist near Amboseli.

The Amboseli Park area is quite something, and we are glad we made it! (We learned that evening that the park is over 350 square kilometres.)

The trip to the park kept me interested most of the time (as opposed to sleeping, which is what I thought I would be doing). The buildings we passed through as we moved out of the hotel’s location on the outskirts of Nairobi proper are not high rise, getting to three or four floors only. The bottom floor fronted a number of businesses, not unlike those found all over Europe. These included car dealerships, grocery stores, bars, hotels, taverns, hardware markets, and a variety of specialty consumer shops including electronics and furniture, as well as the occasional lawyer’s office or something business-to-business.

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The business that Phillip said delineated the outside of town was the cement manufacturing plant. Indeed that took a lot of space, and was quite clear to see. Other manufacturing concerns filled in the area around and after it, however. I have to give him credit, things began to be more suburban after that. More housing, street markets, and so on.

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As we got further out, the space between the small towns expanded. The trip itself took all of the four hours, with the look-and-feel of the place not really fully changing until we took off on the side-road to Amboseli’s entrance and our hotel which is just outside the entrance.

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The markets were probably the most interesting. One of the first we saw was indeed market day for all the surrounding area. There were numerous stalls each selling something different (well, many stalls sold onions apples tomatoes and squash in one form or another). The market fronted more established shops which were housed in ramshackle rectangles often of tin or wood, with hand-panted signs indicating the goods to be found within. These shops continued for several city blocks in either direction from the market square, and appeared to fold back behind the front lines offering more than one street of these kinds of shops. As we continued on, the number and quantity of housing types decreased, as well as the actual number of houses of each type. The markets were to be found where the main drag used speed bumps to slow traffic to a stand still — just long enough to allow the potential customers in the vehicles to get a good eyeful of the merchandise on offer by the purveyors walking between the lanes and holding their wares up to the windows for those inside the vehicles to view.

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The last 10 to 15 kilometres were driven at breakneck speed by Charles along the corrugated dirt road from that turnoff through to Amboseli Park. He later explained that driving as fast as he could over the corduroy road forced the car to skate over the top of the corduroy strips essentially smoothing the ride out for the car and the passengers. It’s a good theory…

We arrived safe and sound, and disembarked from the van in front of the Kilima Hotel. After checking in, Phillip sent us off to our rooms to freshen up and gather as soon as we could at the lunch table. We did, and enjoyed our lunch with the group of us.

Philip Keter, our guide for the trip., Amboseli Safari Hotel

Superb Starling, Amboseli

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White-Headed Buffalo Weaver

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White-Browed Sparrow-Weaver

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Above the restaurant in the hotel is a look-out overseeing a small pond. Today, elephants were enjoying it.

Starting at 4:00, we got in the slightly reconfigured van (it’s top was up) and into the park we went.

That proved to be an excellent start to the adventures ahead, enabling us to see elephant, Grant’s Gazelle, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, warthogs, an eagle, and even a cheetah and a lion.

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Traffic jam in Amboseli Park.

Traffic jam in Amboseli Park.

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