Kaleidoscope of Tanzania, East Africa (October/November 2006) : a safari holiday through the Serengeti, Ngorongoro highlands, Tarangire and Ruaha
Day 17: Mwagusi Safari Camp (Sunday 12 November 2006)
Our tea and coffee was late again this morning but thankfully we still had enough time to get ready for our morning game drive. On the way to the vehicles we saw that the young male elephant was back in camp. Our driver and guide didn’t introduce themselves nor did they eat with us for breakfast but we found out the two couples that joined us were expats living in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.
Our game drive this morning was mostly around the Mwagusi River. We travelled upstream to start with. We saw a lilac-breasted roller at the top of a low tree; impalas were still near the sandbed as we came out of the camp, and giraffe were nearby. We passed some large wallowing holes; some were very wide and there was a lot of elephant dung about. We headed into some thick bush and along the dry riverbed passing by a large fallen tree on which sat another lilac-breasted roller. We saw two female Kudu under the shade of a sausage tree and hidden further back was a male.
We saw a tawny eagle high at the top of a tree and lots of impala disappearing into the thicket on our right. We saw a fork-tailed drongo, and another soon after, yellow collared lovebirds, two red-billed hornbills together and lots of helmeted guineafowl.
We stopped for a while and listened to the birds’ chorus. We saw some palm swifts in flight and Egyptian geese. There was a marabou stork on the edge of the riverbed and some baboons in the riverbed. We saw an African fish eagle – when the rivers are dry and there are no fish they will eat mice and even other water birds such as herons. We watched as two Rüppels Griffin vultures flew into the top of the palm tree. Some of the baboons were busy climbing up the trunks of the palm trees.
We saw a saddle billed stork in the distance and a large group of white breasted go-away birds in two trees making a lot of noise. Hidden in the middle of a large tree we saw a giant eagle owl (the one with pink eyelids), a second one flew out and then the other followed. At the tops of the trees we saw white-backed vultures. They perch at the top because they are heavy birds and the height helps them to fly.
We saw a breeding herd of impala wandering through the bush and some bush hyraxes. They are smaller and paler then the rock hyrax. Also the bush hyrax is a browser whereas the rock hyrax is a grazer. We moved through a fairly open area and could see a lot of palm trees along the riverline. We saw blacksmith plovers in flight, the baboons and impalas were out and about and we could see zebra on the other side of the sandbed. There was no breeze so we couldn’t hear the gentle rustling of the palm leaves.
At the top of one palm tree we could see a hooded vulture; they normally follow lions and eat their dung. Some white backed vultures were in a nearby tree. We saw a white-crowned plover on the ground. Still following the Mwagusi River there were so many palm trees so there must be water down there somewhere. We spotted a pair of dik dik hiding in the bush, one was in the sun watching us for a short time before it ran off, and then the second one appeared when it followed the first.
We saw some red-billed hornbills in flight; they are so smooth as they glide through the air. We saw a group of impala and some warthogs in the shade of some sausage trees and could see lots of young palms springing up all over. At the other side of the riverbed we could see giraffe – they are always in large groups here. Where you see one on its own, there are always some more not far away. We saw red-billed buffalo weavers and saw an Agama lizard resting on a tree. We saw banded ibis in flight making a loud squaw squaw noise.
As we crossed Mwagusi River we could see lots of impressions where the elephants have tried to reach the water. On the other side there were dozens of red-billed hornbills all together. We turned to go back down river and saw a large breeding herd of impala, and lots of helmeted guineafowl all spread out wandering like little bush soldiers.
The bush began to get quite thick and it was difficult to see through. We managed to spot some kudu but they were quite hidden. The bush began to open up a bit and we saw a few groups of impala. From the opposite side of the riverbed a large male lion with a full stomach walked across to our side of the riverbed as we watched and waited. When he lay down we moved closer and watched his brother following in his footsteps from the other side. They were quite large with big manes, about eight years old probably. Heiko used his camera for only the second time this morning (the first time being at the sighting of the dik dik).
In the distance we saw elephants. We quickened up the pace a bit and saw a few warthogs, then at 8.45 we stopped for breakfast in the shade of some trees.
Our driver and guide set up a table and laid everything out while we watched a marabou stork high up in a tree. I still find it very odd that the driver and guide don’t join us for breakfast and this morning they stayed in the vehicle. We had the chance to chat with the other guests though. As we ate breakfast we watched giraffe and zebra crossing the riverbed and saw some warthogs out and about as well.
We were soon back in the vehicle and again passed through some very dense bush for a short time picking up glimpses of a dik dik pair trying to hide beneath a thicket. Giraffe were also cleverly camouflaged. Back where the bush was a little more open we saw a group of giraffe in the shade. The males have a very heavy head so they tend to reach up when they feed whereas the female tends to bend over lower bushes. We saw more giraffe, again in the shade. We saw a group of male kudu with long twisty horns walking through the bush in the same direction we were travelling; they were probably about five years old. At six years their horns are full size. They stopped their walk and huddled round in the shade of a tree so we moved on.
We saw more wandering impala and some elephants hiding the thick bush. We drove through what seemed like another baobab forest, some bare, some bare but with white flowers, and some with green foliage. Quite magical and with so many large baobabs close together the scenery was beautiful.
We crossed another riverbed and saw a dwarf mongoose on a fallen tree and a bush hyrax was there too. We saw a broad-billed roller in flight as we crossed another riverbed. We heard the sound of a brown snake eagle and travelled again through a baobab forest. I never tire of looking at the baobabs, they are fascinating trees.
We heard a noisy brown parrot and then saw a large number of giraffe together. We counted sixteen; one was sitting and there were probably more hidden in the bush behind them, which was quite thick. Driving along the riverbed we saw eleven nomadic lions lazing in the bank of the Mwagusi River not far from our camp. At least four of them were male but most were fairly young, and all of them seemed healthy and well fed. Their nose apparently turns from a shade of pink to a darker brown at the age of six years. I didn’t know that! The mother of these lions has young cubs at the moment but they have not been seen for a while.
We set off again with sightings of impala and very close to camp we came across a pair of giraffe “honeymooning”. The male was clearly excited but the graceful female kept wandering away – maybe she didn’t like an audience. As we drove off we saw another giraffe that looked like she was hiding in the bush – a peeping tom!
* * * *
At lunch some of the other guests excitedly told us they had seen the lion with the black mane watching over the lionesses and cubs feeding on a buffalo. Sounded much more interesting than our morning – we had been hoping to see lion cubs! We found out that a vehicle from another camp had spotted two cheetahs and so Mwagusi Camp had sent out a vehicle to locate them and stay with them until our afternoon game drive so that we might have a chance to see them.
* * * *
At 16.30 we headed out, our guide was Haeibu again and Yona was our driver. We went straight to the location of the cheetahs but had a difficult time getting close to them – the two other vehicles from Mwagusi managed to get a good vantage point, there was a third car which did not belong to Mwagusi I think. We managed eventually to get a glimpse of them but there was a lot of bush in the way. As I moved in the vehicle the metal under my feet made a noise and one of the cheetahs moved away and was soon followed by the other. All the vehicles shifted positions but ours had to drive back up the hill and around to the other side of the thick bush before we could get a clear view of them. They were lazing beneath a thick bush in the shade. Both had their bellies very full so they must have fed earlier this morning.
The cheetahs looked to be adult size but actually were still cubs and still with their mother, although the mother was nowhere around. Cubs stay with their mother for two years. A cheetah normally prefers the open plains and has large territories. Even our guide’s sighting of a slender mongoose nearby didn’t distract us from the two cubs. We watched them laze about for almost and hour before heading off for the rest of our game drive.
Heading off we drove through clusters of baobab trees and took the same route as this morning only in reverse – so our sightings were few. We saw a group of red-billed buffalo weavers and some giraffe all walking down the riverbed. There was a very small giraffe laden with red-billed oxpeckers looking a little lost and out of place, but very cute!
The lions had moved from their earlier resting place but we did see them when we were travelling on the other side of the river but by then the light was far too dark to take any photographs. They were still lazing about with their bellies full. We saw lots of impala, a huge number of giraffe, some zebra, and we passed through an area where the majority of baobabs have had their bark eaten by the elephants (they have lots of moisture in the bark).
We saw some ground hornbills, on the ground this time. We were told they live for 85 years, but even more amazing is that they only have young every 15 years (we found that quite incredible so wanted to check it later – we found out they live for approx. 45 years and nothing was mentioned about their young, surely something that significant would be mentioned in a book, I wonder where they got their information from or actually which bird they were referring to!) Ground Hornbills normally sleep at the top of trees during the night and fly for short periods only, perhaps up to 2km at most.
We also saw bush hyrax in a tangle of bushes and a family of elephants were checking us out with their trunks in the air. We also saw two more families of elephants, more impala and of course more giraffes.
We had our last dinner in the riverbed and swapped contact details with Myra and Wil, and a couple that we found out were on honeymoon also asked for my card. Myra had shown them the picture of the tiger’s eye that was on it! We watched the stars for a little while and then headed off to our banda to pack our bags.