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Published: June 28th 2017
The night previously, before going to bed, I had packed my rucksack with all that I needed for two days and one night in the bush. Then, on Monday (16th Feb) morning I woke up at 5:30 ready for the safari. It was still dark, so with the light of my head-torch, I packed the last couple of bits that I needed for the two days on safari. This of course involved rolling up and re-packing my sleeping bag which is possibly the most challenging activity of the whole trip :p. The bag that the sleeping bag is supposed to fit in is of course impossibly small and once you’ve spent ten minutes squashing the sleeping bag down, it soon goes back to exactly the same as it was before you did all your work. Eventually though, I somehow defied physics and got my sleeping bag packed away and I had enough time to have a quick shower (of course with cold water only) and be up at the tent for breakfast with my rucksack and sleeping bag by 6.
The group was then divided into safari jeeps to head off for the safari in Tarangire National Park. The drive was about 2 and a half hours, but I greatly enjoyed the journey. Initially, the drive passed through settlement and farms. It was quite lush and green with many plantations of fruit such as bananas and a few coffees. There were also quite a few streams that ran along slight gorges downhill surrounded by beautifully lush, thick vegetation. This very green environment came as a stark contrast to the Polish winter that I had been having. All of this lush environment was towered over by the beautiful and breath-taking view of Mount Meru which provided a gorgeous backdrop to the initial hour or so of driving. The human environment that I was travelling through was also very interesting. Huge lorries piled high green with bananas still on the bunch thundered past, leaving little twirling clouds of dust and old, broken vehicles shared the road, travelling at speed. There were even donkey-driven carts travelling along the dirt paths by the tarmac carrying their loads past the small shacks which were the homes and businesses of the locals. I even managed to identify a few birds on this part of the drive through fairly densely populated areas. This included an African pied wagtail on the roof of a petrol station and a beautifully coloured augur buzzard flying above.
Soon, the amount of settlement started to decrease and fade into sparsely wooded and bushed savannah, being grazed by cattle. The bird sightings soon began to increase and the superb starlings, which were ever-present throughout the safari, began to show up. Soon, various people needed the toilet and the safari trucks needed some fuel so we stopped in a little service station. I didn’t need to go so I had a look through binoculars to see what birds were in the trees surrounding the car park. Here, much to my delight, I saw quite a few interesting species. These were pied crows, a couple of species of swallow and swift, southern red bishops, surprisingly the first sacred ibis of the trip and much to my delight, a pair of white-necked ravens! Bird sightings continued to increase as I got nearer to Tarangire National Park. There were quite a few little water holes which cattle were drinking from; these cattle were closely followed by cattle egrets, pecking in the little clouds of dust that they kicked up. These cattle had that huge horns so typical of African cattle and were very nice looking animals, though most were skinny to varying degrees. The water holes also provided some refuge for many little egrets that were sitting behind the ponds, but the most surprising species that made use of the apparently mushy clay-like mud surrounding these ponds and the more lush grass beyond were very large numbers of Abdim’s storks. There must have been at least five around each of these ponds and a lower density of the species in the area in between. The high speeds of the vehicles weren’t optimal for photography or identifying the smaller birds, but watching the many Abdim’s storks which I had always thought of as rare birds was fantastic.
Soon, the vehicles passed into a military training area. Here I was told not to use binoculars or take pictures, though one of the teachers supervising the trip who were obsessed with group photos seemed not to take notice or hear. The military training area was fairly natural looking bushland and in it, I saw many birds, including a couple of von-der-decken’s hornbills flying across the road less than a metre from the front of the vehicle. In terms of the military, there were quite a few young-looking men in military uniform going about their business with a few slightly battered looking military trucks. My guide said that this area was where he spent his mandatory Tanzanian military service after finishing school.
After quite a bit of driving, we reached the turn-off onto a dirt track leading to Tarangire National Park. There was the chance to stop at a little souvenir shop, and here I popped around the back to a little toilet-in-a-shed facility. Back in the safari truck waiting for the others, I spotted a white-throated bee-eater, mottled swift and a bird that was later identified as an African grey flycatcher. Here there were also some Masai tribesmen who seemed to be just watching over proceedings whilst minding some cattle. At least, they didn’t seem to be trying to sell anything, beg or anything like that. Soon the safari vehicles started to head along the dirt track and towards the entrance to the National park. Soon we reached the car-park by the entrance, and while the group leaders went to sort out entrance fees and tickets I had the chance to see if I could spot anything from the car-park. I had a look in the large baobab with an absolutely massive trunk for a pearl-spotted owlet that Hix had advised me to look for but I didn’t manage to spot it (nor did I manage to spot it on the way out). My guide said that he saw the bird in question about half the time. Missing the owlet didn’t leave me very disappointed however because there were plenty of other things around. In the same baobab tree, I saw a pair of white-rumped helmetshrikes chattering away and a short while later, an ashy starling landed on a branch. Though a very drab bird, I was very pleased to see this nice interesting species. There was also a superb starling hopping around on the floor of the car park, along with a few white-headed buffalo weavers. And even a rufous-tailed weaver. All four of these species ended up being reasonably common in the National Park, but I still enjoyed the sightings of them before entering. Near the entrance there were also a couple of zebras hanging around amongst the grasses and acacia plants.
Soon the entrance tickets had been sorted out and the vehicles were able to head into the National Park. The roof was popped up and standing on the seats, I was able to get a brilliant 360 degree view of my surroundings. The park had a typical African savannah feel with redish-brown dirt tracks tracing along open grassy plains with a few gorgeous acacia trees filled with the shimmery blue and orange of superb starlings and weavers darting amongst woven twiggy nests. It was very hot, and I sweated under the cloudless blue sky but the wind blowing across the grass provided a slight cooling relief from the heat. The rains had been slightly early causing the grass to be quite long, but the aridness of the area still showed through the more lush grass. There were also a few spectacular baobab trees dotted around, dominating the landscape with the huge fat trunks spreading into odd, yet beautiful leafy twigs sprouting out from the top. In the distance I could see a herd of elephants, the animals for which the park was most famous, and I was very excited as we drove along a dirt track and into the heart of the savannah. I very soon saw my first antelope species of the safari, these being the first of many bachelor herds of impala and little groups of two or three waterbuck. There was also a group of ostrich strutting around over the grass, made up of a mixture of males and females which looked great amongst the acacias and backed by vast rolling grasslands and blue sky.
I very soon also saw African elephants and giraffe which were great to watch in their natural settings and one particular encounter with a group of elephants quite soon after I arrived in the part stands out because as I watched them under an acacia tree near to a large stream, I noticed an African open-billed stork flying low along the water behind, an African drongo in the tree above the elephants and even a woodland kingfisher in a tree nearby. I was driven along the track, and I had a great time spotting the mammals and birds. I spotted things such as warthogs, vervets, oxpeckers and various birds of prey and weavers, amongst others. The number of elephants was really spectacular, and although I had seen wild African elephants before, Tarangire had the greatest numbers and density of anywhere I had seen wild elephants.
By about 11:30, everyone was hungry due to an early breakfast so we headed to make camp for lunch. In terms of camping in Tarangire, I expected to be in an official tented camp with various facilities but the camp turned out to be not what I expected. The safari vehicles headed along a smaller dirt track at the side towards the campsite. This seemed to not be anything official, but rather just a random area of bush in the middle of the national park. There was no fence of anything like that and seemingly nothing to stop animals from coming in and this was later confirmed by vervets and impala coming into the camp. I was assured by the guide that no dangerous animals would show up at the camp as long as no food or water was left out. But in the end, there was nothing to stop a lion from appearing. I wasn’t worried however, due to the fact that there was no way that we would be allowed to comp somewhere where there was a threat of attacks from animals and there were some guards that had come with us. There were quite a few local workers who had come with us as well and they set up tents and a toilet which consisted of a hole in the ground with a wooden seat sat on top surrounded by a curtain. Then there was the chance to have some lunch and after that it was back into the safari vehicles for the rest of the day on safari.
As we drove out of the camp on a dirt track, there was a dead honey badger lying on the road. It didn’t look like road kill though because the body wasn’t damaged at all. I then noticed that it had a porcupine quill sticking out of its body just above the tail and I suspect that that must have had something to do with this animal’s death. The rest of the day was on safari and I really enjoyed driving around the national park for quite a few hours. Some of the particularly good sightings were a small pond with a pair of knob-billed ducks on it, a big baobab tree with several lappet-faced vultures sitting on top and at all of the places were huge numbers of rollers, both European and lilac-breasted. At one point we stopped to look at a herd of elephants by a waterhole and also by the waterhole was a hamerkop. I enjoyed watching this bird hunt by the side of the pond and a short while later I spotted an Egyptian goose in a clump of grass. I pointed this out and the guide replied “No, It’s a hamerkop.” I didn’t feel like arguing but a short time later, just before moving on, the guide pointed out the same Egyptian goose to me as if I hadn’t seen it! I saw many, many more birds on the safari, some of which such as wattled starlings (really cool looking birds!), yellow-collared lovebirds and two-banded coursers were species that I was particularly hoping to see, the birds didn’t disappoint in the slightest and I got lots of great bird photos (to be uploaded over the coming weeks!). On the other hand though, I saw relatively few (in terms of density) mammals (compared to how it should have been and other places that I’d been on safari). This was due to the fact that the rains had some early and this had caused much of the hoofstock to migrate out of Tarangire. According to my guide, the rains had caused the sandy soil of Tarangire to become bad for the animals hooves and could cause them to rot. The rains also caused the grass to grow very long, and this meant that it was much easier for predators such as lions to sneak up on prey animals. These two effects combined to cause the majority of hoofstock to leave the park so I didn’t see a single wildebeest when I should have seen hundreds and I only saw one herd of coke’s hartebeest and only three individual zebras. This was somewhat disappointing, however the huge variety and number of birds made up for the lack of mammals for me (though the birds didn’t have this effect on the rest of the group and many of them went to sleep! Literally!) and luckily, the safari guide was happy to stop the jeep to allow for looking at and photographing birds. After several hours, the passengers in one of the jeeps had to get out and be split between the others. The jeep that they had been in then left, only to return to the temporary camp that had been set up that evening. I later discovered that the cutlery for dinner had been left behind so a car had been sent all the way from Arusha with the cutlery (almost three hours drive there and three hours back) and had to be met by the entrance gate. How ridiculous and unnecessary.
The safari continued for quite a bit longer and I saw many more interesting things. This included a group of four ground hornbills sitting on a slight hillock. I wanted to see ground hornbills and seeing these huge magnificent birds in the wild was really a treat. As we started to head back to the campsite, about an hour before sunset, huge storm clouds rolled in and made the sky go very dark. Off in the distance I regularly saw flashes of lightning and the roaring of thunder. This was spectacular over the plains of Tarangire National Park and some of the animals were obviously quite disturbed by the noise. Especially the many family groups of elephants with tiny calves where the adults were clearly agitated, raising their trunks, rumbling and trumpeting. This was really spectacular, but due to the risk of the roads becoming flooded and the jeeps getting stranded if it rained and the possibility of lightning, we had to head back to the camp. On the way however, I saw many more interesting birds including crested francolin, yellow-necked spurfowl and verreux’s eagles.
We soon got back to the camp and luckily it didn’t rain (though it did in other areas of the park). Some of the workers that came with us were cooking dinner over an open fire so there was some time to explore. We got back a short time before sunset and I managed to see a few animals including brown snake-eagle, woodland kingfisher and a vervet monkey. There was also a sausage tree above the camp and I enjoyed looking at the mousebirds that were amongst the branches and the strange fruit dangling down. After dinner, I went to bed quite early in preparation for getting up for breakfast the next day at sunrise and another day of safari.
I’ll be uploading photos gradually so as not to overwhelm anyone over the next few days.
A full list of species from my trip can be found here on another internet site where I post stuff: http://www.zoochat.com/65/2015-big-year-396741/index17.html
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