This is the second post showing some of the images from our trip in Tanzania in May. The first post showed images from Lake Manyara and the bounty of wildlife and birdlife which can be seen there. Day two of our exploration took us into the Serengeti National Park.
Going to the Serengeti has been one of my childhood dreams ever since I saw the documentary “Serengeti shall not die” in Rhodesia in the early 60s.
Elana and I were determined to take in as much of the Serengeti as we possibly could. Each day we were ready to leave the lodge at 6h00 and only got back after 18h00 each evening. We spent each day bathed in beauty and wildness, inspired by what we were experiencing – what a privilege!!
We left early in the morning of day three from Serena Manyara lodge and travelled through the mist in the Ngorogoro Conservancy highlands to arrive at the edge of the Serengeti. The next image is a panorama taken from the side of the road looking north onto the plains of the Serengeti. Double click on the image to see the detail in it.
This vista stirred much excitement in us as we had just begun to taste what was in store for us for the day. That sense of expectation was such a buzz. This is one of the intangibles which make a photographic safari intoxicating with expectation, beauty and drama.
The word Serengeti is an approximation of the Maasai word “siringet” translated as “the place where the land runs on forever” or “endless plains”. The Maasai live a nomadic existence along the edge of the Serengeti tending their cattle herds.
As we descended from the Ngorogoro highlands from the south-east on to the Serengeti’s grass plains we passed the Olduvai Gorge, where Dr. and Mrs. Leakey found the 1.75 million-year-old remains of Australopithecus boisei (‘Zinjanthropus’) and Homo habilis . This is one of the most important paleoanthropological sites in the world and has been instrumental in furthering the understanding of early human evolution.
Driving through the the low grass southerly section of the Serengeti plains we saw mainly Thompson’s and Grant’s Gazelle and a few Spotted Hyaenas. During the day we only saw single Hyaenas as they bomb-shelled looking for scraps and opportunities.
As we travelled along the main dirt road in the Serengeti toward Naabi Hills, the numbers of gazelle scattered across the plains increased. The gazelles were predominately Grants and Thompsons. The Grant’s Gazelle are noticeably bigger than the Thompson’s Gazelle, nicknamed “Tommies”, and the white on their backsides extended right up to the tail and they do not have a dark brown stripe along their sides.
The actual entrance into the Serengeti is in the middle of the plain and is demarcated by a acacia tree and an iron pipe archway with no side fence. The actual park entrance office is located in the Naabi Hills which is quite a few kilometres to the north of the Serengeti-Ngorogoro boundary. The view from the top of the Naabi Hills is something special. The treeless grassland in the south of the park is the most emblematic scenery of the park. These grasslands cover almost a third of the park, about 5000 square kilometres. The base layer in this area comprises metamorphic rocks such as gneiss and schist. This base layer is covered with a layer of volcanic ash from long ago eruptions along the edge of the Rift Valley in the Ngorogoro Highlands. The volcanic ash on the plains produces a particular type of soil. The fine-grained ash contains many salts. During the rains a portion of these salts dissolve and are washed down in the soil. These salts are deposited less than a metre below the surface and form a hard, almost concrete like, hardpan. It is this hardpan which prevents the trees from pushing their roots down deep into the ground and so the southern Serengeti plains are virtually treeless.
In the parking area at the Naabi Hills entrance there were many Superb Starlings. These birds have stunning colours and are far too tempting for a photographer to resist. Needless to say Elana and I spent the next 45 minutes trying to capture decent images of these furtive birds.
I could not resist taking a shot of Elana trying to get an ever closer shot of these Superb Starlings.
Naabi Hills, like so many of the hills in the area are granite outcrops and boulders called “kopjies”. You will find the envitable Rock Agama’s warming themselves on the boulders in these kopjies.
Joseph was our guide in the Serengeti. He had a great sense of humour and was a fountain of knowledge. He was also very respectful of the wildlife and the park rules which impressed us. He was up and ready to show us around for 12 hours each day and was always cheerful and enthusiastic – what a great guy!!!.
Once we had signed into the Serengeti National Park, we were off to explore the grass plains and islands in the sea of grass. From Naabi we headed for the Simba Hills.
We turned off the main road down onto tracks which led to the Simba Hills and further down along the Mbalageti river. On the way down to the river, we saw two young male Lions lying in the grass on top of a mound which gave them a good visual of the surrounding area. The Serengeti National Park is believed to hold the largest population of Lions in Africa.
Close to the Lions, we saw a pair of Grey Crowned Cranes foraging in the grass for seeds and insects. These cranes are uncommon in SA but they are frequently seen in this part of the world.
We saw Superb Starlings all over the park.
Further down the river course, we came across another family of Lions with two females and a group of youngsters. The next image shows one youngster who was keeping cool in the long grass right next to the river. If we had not seen these Lions move into the long grass we would never have known they were there.
By early afternoon we had arrived at a grove of date palms with a reasonably large pool of water which accommodated a pod of Hippos. There were quite a few Hippos resting in the pool but surprisingly there were also a few lying out in the open in the sun.
The next image is not anything special as a photograph but I wanted to show the pink mucous which is the Hippo’s natural sunscreen. The skin secretes a thick red liquid sometimes called “hippo sweat” or “blood sweat”. The red liquid is an oily secretion made up of two unstable pigments – one red, the other orange. The red pigment acts as a sunscreen and also has antibacterial properties. It works to protect the Hippo’s hide from bacterial infections in all the scratches and bite marks and accelerate their recovery from flesh wounds.
After watching the Hippos for a while we decided to wander slowly back up to the main road to get to the Serena Lodge at Seronera by 18h00. On the way up to the main road we came upon this breeding herd of Elephants. They interrupted two young male Lions resting in the grass.
This breeding herd was on its way to the river to drink. There are two features about the Serengeti Elephants which are different to Elephants in Kruger Park. The breeding herds appear very relaxed and the adults have much longer and thinner tusks than their relatives in South Africa.
Down at the river, the scene was peaceful and the calves had great fun frolicking in the water. It was not very hot as it was cloudy that afternoon. In fact, every afternoon, the cumulus clouds built up making dramatic backdrops for our scenes.
The next image shows one of the kopjies which make up the Simba Hills. There is usually a good chance of seeing Lions lying on the boulders looking out over the grass plains. The Serengeti was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Lion King and I am suspect pride rock was modeled on one of these kopjies.
Once back on the main road, we stopped to get a few images of this Greater Kestrel. We saw quite a few on this trip.
The rangers are all in radio contact. As we were travelling on the road to Seronera, Joseph got a message that more Lions had been seen on the road toward the Maasai Hills so we turned off the Seronera road at the Magadi dam. A kilometre or two up the sand road we found a pride of four or five young Lions resting in the grass. It is always difficult to know just how many Lions there are lying in the grass as you will only see them if they lift their head to see what is going on.
After watching the lions for a while we headed back to the main road and were fortunate enough to see this Red-necked Francolin – a first for me.
We also saw White-headed Buffalo-weavers – also a first. These are much more picturesque than their red-billed black cousins.
The light on this Magpie Shrike was good. This is an old friend we often see in the Kruger park.
It was getting late and the light was not good and it had started to rain lightly and we were getting close to the turn off to the Serena Lodge. Suddenly by the side of the road we saw a Baleleur and Steppe Eagle tangling over a Guineafowl. There were a couple of revelations for me in this sighting. The first was the dominance of the Steppe Eagle.
This is a large, robust and aggressive Eagle. The Bateleur backed off in response to the aggressive advances of the Steppe Eagle.
No sooner had these two tangled when a Tawny Eagle flew in and landed on a fallen tree in the background. The Tawny was wise enough not to venture into the fray.
Another new insight for me was how the Bateleur’s face changed colour. When threatened it was a red colour. Some research reveals that the Bateleur’s legs and face change from orange-red to bright red depending on its level of excitement or emotion.
As soon as the Steppe Eagle had its fill, it flew off into a nearby tree to preen itself. The Bateleur came back to finish off the Guineafowl. I was amazed to see it face change from red to a yellow-orange tinge. Joseph indicated that, like a Harrier-hawk, the Bateleur’s face changes depending on its level of excitement. The white dots on the Bateleur’s back and wing feathers were rain drops.
The Steppe Eagle had its fill – just look at that bulging crop.
Our first full day in the Serengeti was everything I hoped it would be and much more.
“Did you know that 80 percent of the information we receive comes through our eyes? And if you compare light energy to musical scales, it would only be one octave that the naked eye could see, which is right in the middle?
And aren’t we grateful for our brains that can take this electrical impulse that comes from light energy to create images in order for us to explore our world?
And aren’t we grateful that we have hearts that can feel these vibrations in order for us to allow ourselves to feel the pleasure and the beauty of nature?”
– Louie Swartzberg
Seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and then let it be!
Hi Mike. What a great set of images and interesting facts from the Serengeti trip. I hope to get there soon to check it out as well.