This is the fourth post describing our wonderful trip to the Serengeti. ExplorePlus put the trip together. Their arrangements were well structured and worked like clockwork. The accommodation was ideal. The trip was eight days with 2 full days of travelling getting there and back. If your are passionate about your photography, there is so much photographic potential that you need to spend more than just a few days in the 25,000 square kilometre Serengeti National Park – which is why we will be going back.
Our third day in the Serengeti was spent exploring the central area around Seronera. This is a transition zone where the southern area is mostly grassland and the northern area is woodland savanna. As usual we left the lodge around 6h00. It was dark, the chatter was animated and our expectations were sky high. As we got onto the main road we drove south toward Lake Magadi. Mother nature again started to magically paint the sky. At first light her palette had muted soft subtle pinks, apricots and gentle yellows.
“Wake! For the Sun, who scatter’d into flight The Stars before him from the Field of Night, Drives Night along with them from Heav’n, and strikes The Sultan’s Turret with a Shaft of Light”
― Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
This is magical time of the day for me. The air is still and crisp. The bush is quiet and has a mystical sense about it. The drama of the night is over and the new colours in the sky offer promises for the day ahead. While colour was being infused into the sky, the full moon hung large in the morning sky as a guardian watching over the last of the nocturnal creatures making their way back to their places of rest. Instead of facing the sunrise, we looked west to watch the beautifully soft, subtle light.
Just before sunrise when colours start to flood the sky, the bush has a sense of that ‘in between time’. It is neither dark nor light. The colours at this time of the day are unimaginable in the full light of the day. You get a feeling that we are witnessing something very special which instills a sense of wonder and anticipation whilst being bathed in this ‘other worldly’ light.
After watching the sunrise, we bid the moon good day and turned right off the main road to follow the Seronera river for a few kilometres. The side road followed the river lined with fever trees and had open sandbanks which provided access for the game to come down to drink.
“We must begin thinking like a river if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life for future generations.”
Just a short way along the river it opened up into a Hippo pool which was boiling with Hippos, perhaps thirty or forty. There was not much going on but it smelt ripe so we moved along.
We moved on further up the river and stopped where a low drift crossed the river. Our timing was perfect because all the Sandgrouse were flying in to drink. We caught the start of the air show. Their call has a distinctive squeaking sound a bit like a rubber duck being squeezed. Squadron after squadron flew in to drink. Some flew straight down to the water ‘s edge while others flew to within twenty metres of the water and watched to see what was going on before waddling down to have a drink. It was such fun trying to photograph them flying in and landing. The first couple of tries you will be too slow but you soon get the hang of it.
The next image is of female Yellow-throated Sandgrouse coming in to land.
The next image of a male Yellow-throated Sandgrouse with landing gear down, air brakes on, alula extended with full flaps as he was coming into land. These birds are sleek and beautiful fliers.
We were lucky enough to also see a few Namaqua Sandgrouse coming in to drink.
After having had a drink of water this female Yellow-throated Sandgrouse did a little dance. I am not sure why, maybe she was displaying to the other members of the flock or just ‘chuffed’ to have had a drink.
After having watched the Sandgrouse for about an hour, we crossed the river and not fifty metres up the road we came across a small pride of Lion. This Lioness, in peak and lean condition, was lounging on a fallen tree trunk.
She had a cub with her who was lying in a fork of the fallen tree trunk. The Lioness was wide awake and attentively watching a large herd of Impala wandering around behind us.
Lying in the long grass some thirty metres away was a large but young male Lion, who every now and then raised his head to check out the lie of the land. The Impala were too tempting and eventually the Lioness got up to lie on the tree trunk in a position where she could face the Impala.
After watching and waiting for a while we decided to move back across the river and continue exploring. As we crossed the river we saw two male Cheetah who looked to be coming down to drink. They suddenly stopped. We thought it might have been some of the vehicles which had put them off. Joseph, our ranger, assured us it was not the vehicles but, being down wind, they probably got scent of the Lions. The Cheetah alliance immediately turned around and walked back into the long grass and that was the last we saw of them.
“Wilderness gave us knowledge. Wilderness made us human. We came from here. Perhaps that is why so many of us feel a strong bond to this land called Serengeti; it is the land of our youth.” ― Boyd Norton, Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning
A little further down the road the hot air aviators were playing. Carried by the prevailing wind, at times they flew at tree top-level to give their passengers a thrill. These balloons are dead quiet until they fire up their burners. When they are low, the sound of those burners usually mean they are heading for a row of trees and need some height.
After watching the ballooners for a few minutes we wandered back down the Seronera river. Next to the main road there was a grove of large fever trees and his lordship was lounging on a bough of one of these large fever trees. This male Leopard looked to have not a care in the world.
What is amazing about this area south of Seronera is that in the midst of these vast grasslands you will come across a river course bordered with verdant vegetation. It extends for miles, suggesting a perpetual spring is supplying the water. The source of the Seronera river is right up near the Maasai Hills.
The Seronera river is home to much bird life and provides water for a wide range of game from Buffalo to Elephant, Hippo, Rhino, Lion , Leopard, Wildebeest, Warthogs and Zebra. You may even find a Cheetah hiding in the reeds along the river. We were not sure what was going on but this young Cheetah had decided this was a good place to park, away from any unwanted attention. It was also not a bad place from which to ambush passing ‘Tommies’.
After watching this Cheetah doing not much, we decided he was not about to hunt and was likely to park there for most of the day, so we wandered further up the river course. On our way, Joseph got a message that there was a Lioness with three cubs in an grassed over old quarry not far from the headwaters of the Seronera river.
Knowledge is like a lion; it cannot be gently embraced. –South African Proverb
When we got there, one cub was lying in an old tyre, needless to say we did not take a shot of him. Much more intriguing was this cub inside the bush. He was lying in a contorted orthopedic slumber but seemed quite content. Despite his contortions we wondered why he would even try to get up into the bush and could only assume that he was up there to catch any passing breezes to keep himself cool.
We had our lunch watching this sleepy family. After lunch decided to drive down out of the quarry to continue our exploring. Not 100 metres down below the Lion family was this Wildebeest calf wandering directly toward to the Lions, oblivious of them. We immediately turned around to watch the inevitable. The lost calf wandered behind the Lions but the Lioness immediately picked up on the calf and started tracking it. We tried to get a better view but is was not two minutes later when she wandered back towards her cubs with the erstwhile calf in her jaws.
Every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest Lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle… when the syn comes up, you had better start running. – Unknown
That calf did not stand a chance. It was in the wrong place at the wrong time and so continued the circle of life. With mixed feelings after watching this hapless calf being despatched, we drove back down along the river. Grazing alongside the river were three large Buffalo bulls. They had all the making of ‘dagga boys’ but with no ‘dagga’ on their bosses. You always get the feeling that they are looking at you and saying “what the hell are you looking at!!”. The Buffalo bull had his grooming flock along for the ride. You don’t often see Yellow-billed Oxpeckers, the Red-bills are much more common.
Close to the Buffalo bulls we stopped at an open patch of water where the river had been partially dammed. There were Red-billed Teal and Egyptian Geese and this lone Black-winged Stilt tending her nest. At first glance it looked like she had made her nest on a crocodile’s head. It was a flat rock but the flimsy nest showed just how fragile this preparation for new life was in a dangerous world.
Further down the river we saw our first adult tree climbing Lion. This Lioness was perched up in this Sausage tree. It was a great lookout point. The rest of the pride was doing what Lions do best during the middle of the day.
“There is language going on out there- the language of the wild. Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops, and chirps all have meaning derived over eons of expression… We have yet to become fluent in the language -and music- of the wild.” ― Boyd Norton, Serengeti: The Eternal Beginning
The river course attracts all sorts. This one lone large bull Elephant was causally making his way down the river without a care in the world. He stopped occasionally to nibble on tasty grasses and leaves.
Down the Seronera river closer to the main road we got back to the fever tree grove. In one of the large fever trees about 30 metres off the road was what looked to be the same male leopard who had by now changed position probably because of the sun. This large male Leopard was in a classic Leopard pose sprawled out along this horizontal fever tree bough.
I had been a warm day so his aerial lounge must have been perfect to catch any passing breezes.
The evening was coming and it was clear the Leopard had no intention of coming down from his lofty perch anytime soon so we decided to head back toward the lodge. On the way we came upon a group of Reticulated Giraffe. One in particular caught our eye mainly because of the Red-billed Oxpeckers hard at work on his hide.
We saw plenty of Lions during the day and a great array of bird and other animals sightings. The Lioness killing that Wildebeest calf was dramatic but we were privileged to see all sort of intimate animal and bird behaviour. It was a totally absorbing day.
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away-– unknown
Seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and then let it be.