Wandering along the Mwagusi river

This is the second post from our trip to Ruaha, Tanzania’s second largest National Park after Selous. It is located in the centre of Tanzania and is a photographic gem which is still not well known.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”~Mary Oliver

There are two main rivers flowing through Ruaha, the Great Ruaha river and the Mwagusi river. At this time of the year, mid-November, the Mwagusi river course, although dry, was a particularly beautiful and productive part of the park.

“Along the dry river bed the wildlife gathers seeking life giving water. Be careful not to slaunter. The scene is benign and picturesque but the situation deadly. For tawny killers lie in ambush camouflaged in the grass and sand.”~ Mike Haworth

It was early in the morning on our second day, and we were driving along the Mwagusi river which for most sections was just sand. Early in the morning it is still too cool for raptors to look for thermals to get elevation so they can search for productive hunting areas. This tawny eagle was perched quietly, patiently surveying the area from the bough of a large fallen tree. It was dead quiet, the colours soft and the scene serene.

A bough to change the perspective!!

We found many giraffe on our travels around the park. This mature male was enjoying himself foraging in the tree and his long tongue was grabbing all the most nutritious buds and leaves. Other than the overall size, the ossicones are what distinguishes the male and female from one another. The female giraffe has tufts of hair on the top of her horns, while the males are bald on top, mainly due to fighting. Some males develop calcium deposits on top of their heads, which creates the  illusion of the him having a third horn. The extra weight helps in the head bashing competitions.

The bush is full of surprises. Driving along the river’s edge we found this beehive in the fold of the trunk of a fig tree. You can see the layers of honeycomb. There intriguing realisation is that the wild is bountiful but everything comes at a price.

This pair of yellow baboons were “chilling” in a warm glow of the early morning sun. The lady of the house looked like she had had a busy night!

There is much bird life along the Mwagusi river even though the water was patchy. This little bee-eater was very busy hawking insects around 9h30 in the morning. Needless to say it was warm around 37 degrees centigrade.

Along the river is a bounty of Lala palms. The yellow baboons love playing on them and they serve as a quick escape route from most predators.

At the top of one of the Lala palms was a grey kestrel surveying the surrounding scene.

I like all birds but a have a penchant for raptors, born from my schooldays. We disturbed this grey kestrel which was perched on a palm frond. This kestrel is grey all over with yellow legs and feet and a yellow eye ring and cere.

We found several agamas, all red-headed rock agamas with their colourful bodies and red head displaying to nearby females.

Along the Mwagusi river we were expecting to see lions. Of course, usually the only time we see the lions doing anything is first thing in the morning or at dusk. We were not travelling around the park at night when they are most active. Needless to say this pride of females was lounging on the cool sand of the river bed when we found them. When I see them sleeping like this it makes me wonder what they were doing the night before?! It was only when a few giraffe came down to drink did they pay any attention to their surroundings. There is always one lioness awake and looking around while the others are resting.

These giraffe caught the lions’ attention but nothing came of it. Giraffe appear to be very deliberate animals. They actively use their height to assess their surroundings.

I liked the texture and colour contrast between this red-headed rock agama and the tree bark. Little gems in the bush!

A red-necked spurfowl rumaging around in the underground for nibbles.

A crested francolin rumaging in old elephant dung for seeds.

It was late afternoon and we found a big male leopard in a figtree sprawled out on a large horizontal bough. Not too far away in the same tree we saw this bush hyrax who put its head out of a hollowed out knot in the tree to see what was going on. Needless to say with a leopard close by this hyrax was not going anywhere.

The camp’s logo on the side of our game vehicle – impressive.

Back at camp, while we were downloading our images, we were visited by this collared palm-thrush.

Later that afternoon, further down the river we found several giraffe drinking at one of the few pools of open water. It is clear that the water table is not too far below the surface of the sand even this late in the dry season.

“Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven.” ~Rabindranath Tagore

A simple scene crossing a broad sand river bed. Not so fast, there is nothing simple about it. There was a multitude of life. Elephants to the left and giraffe to the right. In front of us were a small group of Black faced sandgrouse. Along the edge of the water were hammerkops and sandpipers. And in the impressions in the sand, were printed all the tales of the night’s events.

In winter, the Tamboti tree gets red leaves so I was intrigued to see the Tamarind tree does the same at the end of the dry season.

For the life of me I can not remember the name of this tree which blossomed in late spring. It was a beautiful contrast to the surrounding area. Our guide, Justin told me the name but I cannot remember it.

One of the characteristics of Ruaha is its groves of baobab trees. This creates a magical environment for a myriad of wildlife.

One of the iconic images we were trying to get was a leopard lying in the fork of one of the branches of a baobab. We never found one but did find this male leopard in a well-leafed figtree.

“Whatever you do, look and be quiet. There is much to see. There is even more to understand.”~ Mike Haworth

A large adult male leopard lying comfortably sprawled out on the bough of a large figtree. He was in deep shade and high enough to catch any passing breeze to keep him cool. We spent around an hour waiting for him to come down which we knew he would do as the sun set.

Wildlife photography always has an element of chance in it. We were waiting for this male leopard to descend from the tree but it was getting darker and darker and our camera’s shutter speeds were falling despite pushing up our ISOs. Eventually it got to a point where we were not going to get a pin sharp image of this male if he moved. Sure enough as it was getting dark he got up and began to walk down the bough of the figtree. By now there was no option but to play with slow shutter speeds. We hoped he would descend the tree trunk on our side but he decided to go down the other side of the trunk. So is the way of wildlife photography!

“To photograph is to hold one’s breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It’s at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy.” ~Henri Cartier-Bresson

That evening back at camp, we gathered down on the riverbed for dinner. The camp staff had created a bonfire and there were lamplights all around. It looked beautiful. The food was warmed on coals buried in the sand. The staff were so hospitable, the food was scrumptious and spiced with animated chatter about our days’ sightings. The evening was cool, the fire was crackling and there was a Scops owl serenading in the background – bliss!!

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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