Bird Weekly: Long Legs

Lisa Coleman of Our Eyes Open‘s Bird Weekly photo challenge this week asks us to post long-legged birds.

Heron, Arlington Heights, IL, USA
White heron, Aswan, Egypt
Blacksmith plover, Arusha NP, Tanzania
Congregation of egrets, Tarangire NP, Tanzania
Marabou stork with carcass & vultures, Ndutu-Serengeti, Tanzania
A pair of ostriches, Serengeti NP, Tanzania
Flamingos at Amsterdam Zoo, the Netherlands

Serengeti NP: Topis, Kopjes and Hippos, Oh My!

Feb. 12, 2018

Our last day at Serengeti National Park, and our last safari day, was spent looking for kopjes and spotting some new animals. We also spend some time observing hippos.

Once again, we were up at dawn.
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Our first animal of the day joined us during our breakfast – a praying mantis!
2-12 praying mantis-Ang'ata Camp in SerengetiThe tall grass in this area of the Serengeti at times made it difficult at times to spot animals or observe their behavior on our first game drive. We came upon a troop of baboons, and saw this male possibly mating with the baboon underneath him, but she was barely visible so we couldn’t be sure.  He could just be grooming his companion, male or female.
1141We also saw mongoose roaming through the grass. I was lucky to get this shot before they were completely hidden in the grass.SONY DSC
We spotted several species of birds that we had not seen before, including the martial eagle,SONY DSC
a barn swallow,
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and a grey-breasted spurfowl.
SONY DSCIn this area of tall grass, we saw many herbivores, including elephants, DSC04670.JPGbuffalo, DSC04553.JPGostriches, DSC04694.JPG
impalas and species of antelope we hadn’t seen before, including the topi. Topis have a very distinctive coloring, with large gray areas on their thighs and black faces.

Their calves are hard to distinguish from the calves of other species, because they are light brown at birth and when they are very young.1202.JPG
Both males and females have ribbed, gently curved horns.
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Another antelope we saw for the first time was the hartebeest.
SONY DSCDavid (our guide) had told us we were going to find kopjes today – a Dutch word referring to outcrops of rocks scattered over a section of the Serengeti. DSC04695.JPGThese rocky piles constitute a different ecosystem and one can spot different species there, as well as leopards and lizards, that bask on the rocks. Most prevalent is the hyrax, a small mammal that looks something like a guinea pig, but with a more pointed face and that is in fact related to the elephant!  They can be hard to see at first, because they hide between the rock layers and their fur camouflages against the rocks.

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There are two hyraxes in this picture. Can you spot them?

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Even if you don’t spot them right away, you can tell the presence of hyraxes by long white streaks on some of the rocks. Their urine is very acidic and causes these white streaks to form on the rock!SONY DSC
We saw no leopards at the kopjes, but did spot interesting birds hidden among the acacia branches.

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Usambiro barbets

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Long-crested eagle

 

Nearby, a giraffe family was grazing.DSC04682.JPGIn addition, there are some adaptable plant species found growing in the kopjes.

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Candelabra cactus

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Fig tree

We then spent quite a long time observing hippos at a pond where they gather. There must have been 40 or more of them submerged in the water there!

 

A sign informs us about the pool and its inhabitants.
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A nearby crocodile co-exists with the hippos – they present no danger to each other.
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Hippos spend as much of their time as possible submerged in water. However, they must go ashore to forage. Notice their feet which seem a little webbed.
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On land, they seem unwieldy and clumsy, but they can be formidable opponents.1169
One hippo was hesitant to go back into the pool, because another hippo was giving him the evil eye.
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When he finally ventured in, the aggressor lunged at him.
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Soon things settled down.
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A baby swam contentedly alongside its mother.
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Meanwhile, a black-headed heron stood vigilant at the water’s edge.
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A family of geese played in the water.
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SONY DSCThroughout this safari, I’ve noticed this is a good time to see animals with their young. On our way back to Ang’ata Camp, we spotted a mother baboon with a baby on her back.SONY DSC
Another baboon came up behind and looked as though it was going to grab the baby off her back! I don’t know why, and our baboon expert was in the other vehicle! The consensus in our vehicle was that it was a playful gesture.SONY DSCThat evening, being our last night in Tanzania, we had a little celebration and the staff surprised us with a special cake, which they brought out – including the chef! – singing! We also played charades (strict rule: NO PHOTOS!) and recited haiku poetry about the animals of Tanzania.

Asante sana, Ang’ata Camp staff!

 

2-12 sunset behind our lodgings at Ang'ata Camp Serengeti

Sunset at Ang’ata Serengeti Safari Camp

 

This is what a hippopotamus sounds like!

 

 

 

 

Day 1 at Serengeti National Park: Awesome Day!

Feb. 11, 2018

Although we’ve been on the Serengeti Plain since we arrived in Ndutu, we were officially in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Today we would enter Serengeti National Park. A song has been going through my head since we got to Tanzania, one that I like from several years ago. The “one hit wonder” band, Toto made no. 1 on the charts with their song Africa. It has this line: “I miss the rains down in Africa.” It also says, “Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti.” I’m a bit disappointed in the song now because Kilimanjaro DOESN’T rise above the Serengeti. You can’t see the mountain from anywhere in the Serengeti. Have those guys ever even been in Africa?? (On the other hand, maybe if you are on Kilimanjaro, you CAN see the Serengeti, even if the reverse is not the case.)

Today was special, however, for a couple of reasons. First, we had the opportunity to go on a hike with an (armed) guide, just like at Arusha. This walk, however, was shorter and more leisurely. It gave us the opportunity to notice little things, like a giraffe footprint,
1063flowers close up,
2-11 hibiscus flowers-on hike
bones,

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Buffalo skull

birds,

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Lilac breasted roller

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A superb starling staring down at me!

 

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Stork in a tree

SONY DSCand dung beetles busily carrying out the amazing feat of rolling balls of dung much larger than themselves to holes they have dug, where they lay their eggs in them. SONY DSC

We also got to examine weavers’ nests close up.
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We stopped for gas and paperwork shortly after entering the national park. 2-11 entrance to Serengeti NPApparently it’s also a bus stop, because there were a couple of buses there loading and unloading passengers, and there were many local people milling around. 1083

 

 

 

1080There was also a café and well-kept toilets. I headed for the latter, carrying my camera case, which had become like a purse – I used it every day and keep a lot of things in it. There was a slab of cement to create a bit of a ramp for the step up to the sidewalk that led to the bathroom. I don’t know why – I didn’t trip on anything, even my own feet – but suddenly I lost my equilibrium and fell backward onto the cement of the parking lot – on my tailbone! My camera case also hit the ground, but fortunately due to the padding around the camera and the extra lens, there was no damage.

I was mentally checking myself for injuries when finally two people from our group came over and reached out hands to help me up. I stood, with their help, but with difficulty and tremendous pain in my buttocks. I figured there would be a huge bruise but it didn’t seem as though I had any fractures.  They asked me how I was and I lied, saying, “Fine” – I didn’t want anyone else to worry about me. I felt like a klutz and an idiot.

We continued on, along bumpy roads and I was in pain – I’d fallen on my tailbone. I was not about to complain, however, even though I winced at every major jolt and when I stood up or sat down.

However, I wasn’t going to let this spoil the day for me.  I nearly forgot my pain when we spotted animals close to our vehicle.

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Male and female ostriches

 

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Grant’s gazelle

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Male baboon with group of female impalas behind

 

 

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Male impala

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Mongooses

 

But the most special animal that we saw today was the elusive leopard! Actually, we saw two! The safari drivers communicate with each other in Swahili, but also in code. They call a leopard “spots above” (because it’s usually spotted in trees).

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Leopard #1

Not much later, we saw Leopard #2.
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After the people in our vehicle had spent all the time we needed taking photos and looking through binoculars, Elias started the engine again and we went on searching for other wildlife.

Not long after that, Elias got a message over his radio:  “Spots above” (Leopard #2) had come down from the tree! He turned the vehicle around and we went back to the tree where we had first spotted the second leopard. There must have been 10 or more vehicles, including Livingstone’s with the rest of our group, stopped there! Some drivers were rude: One began to honk at another truck and then wormed its way in between two others, obstructing the view of those who’d been there first.

The leopard was sitting at the base of the tree, a little intimidated by so many vehicles around her. We were told that as soon as she came down from the tree, she urinated around it to claim it as her territory. Now she sat looking around and waiting. In spite of so many people watching her, everyone was totally quiet.
SONY DSCFinally she chose her safest path. She got up and started walking toward us, DSC04450.JPGpassing within five feet of our vehicle! SONY DSC
It was quiet enough to hear the sound of camera shutters clicking like at a politician’s press conference. It was amazing how close that leopard was to us – not more than a few feet from where we were leaning out of the top of our Land Cruiser!SONY DSC
In addition, we saw lots of impalas as well as vervet monkeys in a tree. SONY DSCSome of them scampered down the tree trunk to have a look at the impalas. SONY DSC

 

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SONY DSCOne young impala had a tête-a-tête with a monkey perched on a mound of twigs next to a small tree!  When they were practically nose to nose, the monkey jumped up and scampered away, but was soon back again. I think both of them were ready to play together!

In this area of the Serengeti, for the first time since Arusha, there were palm trees scattered here and there. The grass here is tall, good for hiding. We saw herds of elephants (including very small babies),SONY DSC

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an African hare (the first one we’d seen),
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One of the hippos seemed to be giving me the evil eye.
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We watched the hippos for quite awhile, then headed back to our camp, Ang’ata Safari Camp, where we had already checked in earlier. Ang’ata was our last lodgings on the safari.

On the way back, we saw beautiful sunsets and animals in trees silhouetted against the sky.SONY DSC
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Ang’ata was not only our last lodgings, but also the smallest. There was only one other guest there besides us, a Danish man from Copenhagen, and the camp was full!

At dinner, we had a long table (actually, several tables pushed together to make one, including a round table at the end), while at the only other table, set for two, was the Danish man, Lars, and his driver. Our drivers also sat with us at our table. Our group occupied all the tents except two – one for Lars and the other for the drivers, I suppose. We were truly out in the middle of nowhere!

That night, I heard animals passing by our tent. At least one was a hyena – the first sound he made I didn’t recognize and thought was a monkey, but then he made a series of other sounds including the “laughing” sound hyenas make. It creeped me out. I’m not fond of hyenas.