Ruaha- wild dog morning

This particular morning we were up and at the safari vehicle with our camera kit at 6h00. It was sunrise around 6h45 but we wanted to get going in the early morning light before sunrise. At this time it was cool and fresh, and a time when the latent heat change which releases perfumes from the tree’s flowers and grasses. It is a time when you feeling refreshed alive and excited to start the day’s adventures. there is always great expectations about what we could see.

“We have a genetic kinship with all of life on earth, an atomic kinship to all matter in the cosmos. So when I look at the universe, I feel large, because I remind myself that not only are we living in this universe, the universe is living within us.”~Neil DeGrasse Tyson

We had scarcely left the camp and were just across the Mwagusi river when Justin, our guide, who was a wonderful character with good humour, in depth knowledge of the bush and excellent eyesight, saw a flash of colour in the long grass on the left side of the road. Soon the flash of colour revealed itself, we had come across a pack of wild dogs which had just killed an impala. The sun had still not risen so the light was low. With a pack of dogs we also needed depth of field so it was a challenging scene on which to work photographically.

It is indescribably exciting to come across such a rare find in the bush. The Endangered Wildlife Trust estimates that between 3 000 and 5 000 individual wild dogs are left in Africa and these dogs are extinct in 23 African countries. Wild dogs are Africa’s most endangered mammal species.

Wild dogs are members of the dog family. Some think Hyaena are a species of dog but hyaenas are not members of the dog or cat families but have their own family, Hyaenidae. Male and female wild dogs are similar sizes. The wild dog has romantically been called the painted wolf because of its blotchy white, black, ochre and tan colouring. Its blotching pattern is unique for every animal making identification easier than for carnivores such as lions.

“Our quest, our earth walk, is to look within, to know who we are, to see that we are connected to all things, that there is no separation, only in the mid.”~Lakota

Wild dogs, like hyaenas, do not have retractable claws so cannot lock onto their prey with their claws and suffocate their prey like the big cats such as lions and leopards. They can only hang onto it with their mouths, so tend to attack on mass and start eating their prey when it is still alive.

Wild dogs eat their prey very quickly to reduce the losses from lion, leopard and hyaenas. The pack usually makes excited chirping sounds around a kill but on this occasion they were noticeably quiet. This was probably because they knew there were lions and hyaenas in the area and it was still early so these predators were possibly still on the move.

Wild dogs are cooperative hunters and feeders but there is an alpha pair which dominates the pack. Wild dogs are endurance hunters and are able as a pack to run down small prey ranging from baboons to impala and have been known to even take down adult wildebeest and zebras, though this is not common. The pack literally runs down its prey to exhaustion.

” We are all visitors to this time, to this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, learn, grow, love and then we return home.”~ Aboriginal proverb

While the rest of the pack is feeding there is always one member keeping guard so the pack is not surprised by a lion, leopard or hyaena.

This alpha male had already eaten judging from the blood on his throat and front legs, and while on guard picked up the scent or sight of something which caught his interest. It turned out to be a hyaena.

The hyaena came barreling into the kill scene to steal what was left of the impala carcass. The light was too low to get decent images of the intense scuffle which lasted a few seconds. The dogs tried vainly to nip the haunches of the hyaena but know only to well they do not want to get bitten by a hyaena. The hyaena prevailed and ran off with the remains of the carcass.

The wild dogs did not pursue the hyaena as they has mostly finished the part of the carcass they could eat easily. The hyaena was last seen crossing the sand river bed with the remains, probably to go and quietly munch on the bones in a secluded spot.

After the hyaena incident, the dogs relaxed on the sand bank and started to play among themselves. Wild dogs are highly social animals staying close together, playing often and will aggressively defend each other from external threats.

“Animals should not require our permission to live on earth. Animals were given the right to be here long before we arrived.”~Anthony Douglas Williams

After a brief play, the alpha male led the pack away from the kill scene probably because the noise and smell would eventually attract other unwelcome visitors. It was still early and the sun had not yet risen. The whole hunt scene lasted around 15 minutes.

Wild dogs are nomadic but tend to remain in one area when the alpha female has pups. As you see with jackals, wild dogs seem to naturally run rather than walk.

The alpha male led pack down onto the dry river bed and began moving downstream.

The dogs were always vigilant. At this time of the day, sunrise, there are still nocturnal predators on the move. Given their size these dogs are no match one-on-one with lion, leopard or hyaenas.

“Not a single creature on earth has more or less right to be here.”~ Anthony Douglas Williams

As the pack was wandering along the Mwagusi river bed, a troop of yellow baboons on the far bank further down river caught their interest. Out in the open sand bed they were easily spotted by the baboons which were foraging on the bank with the option of a quick get away to the trees nearby.

It is not everyday you get to see a alpha male wild dog on a granite boulder in a sand river bed.

“If all the beats were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected.”~Chief Seattle SuwAmish Tribe

It was not clear whether this pack was out hunting and whether there was a den with pups close by. Wild dogs are known to den for around three months a year while pups are being nurtured to the point when they can join the pack on a hunt. The alpha female gives birth to anything up to 16 pups at a time.

The pack remained in the sand river bed for about 15 minutes before retracing their steps and heading up a gravel road and off in the bush not to be seen again on our trip.

It is always special to see species which have become endangered.The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species. The African wild dogs is assessed to be endangered on the IUCN red list.

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”~ Rachel Carson

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

Have fun, Mike

Ruaha feathers

Africa is home to some 2 341 bird species, 67% or 1 561 of which are endemic to the continent. East Africa offers an incredible variety of non sea birds. Ruaha has 571 recorded species and that number includes migrants. In this post, I show a tiny selection of the birds which you could see in the Ruaha National Park.

“Cherish the natural world because you are part of it and depend on it.”~ Sir David Attenborough

Dawn along the Mwagusi river. A lone Tawny eagle surveys the scene for potential prey.

Too early for thermals, this Tawny has become a perch hunter.

A Little bee-eater came to visit at coffee time on our game drive along the Mwagusi river.

“Uniformity is not nature’s way; diversity is nature’s way.”~ Vandana Shiva

At the Mwagusi bush camp there were several bird baths. One, next to where we were editing our images, attracted several bird species. A frequent and inquisitive visitor was this Collared palm-thrush with its distinctive dark throat collar.

I am used to seeing Glossy starlings, Long tailed starlings and even Superb starlings but this was the first time I had ever seen an Ashy starling.

A male Nubian woodpecker waiting his turn for a drink at the bird bath in front of the dining area at Mwagusi camp. The Nubian looks similar to the Bennett’s woodpecker but has a black streaked ear coverts and a white throat.

The Collared palm-thrush was a daily visitor to the bird bath. Unlike the Grey -headed sparrows, this thrush was quiet. As the name suggests the Palm-thrush prefers palm like vegetation and can often be found rummaging around for insects in the fallen debris of a palm trees.

We found a Red-throated spurfowl searching in the leaf litter for edibles while we were waiting for a leopard cub to come down from the tree next to us.

“The diversity of the phenomena of natures is so great, and the treasures hidden in the heavens so rich, precisely in that order that the human mind shall never be lacking in fresh nourishment.”~Johannes Kepler

A Spur-winged lapwing was happily walking close to two lionesses lying in the sand next to the Great Ruaha river. This lapwing prefers marshes and fresh water habitats.

A juvenile Grey kestrel calling for food. Grey kestrels are able to hover like Black-shouldered kites.

This juvenile’s parents were close by but were not feeding it along the Mwagusi river. It seemed like it was time for a little independence.

A Jameson’s firefinch at the camp’s bird bath. It was very hot around midday so the birds came down to drink and bath. In Tanzania, there is a wonderful variety of firefinches, twinspots, pytilias, crimsonwings, cordon bleaus, silverbills, mannikins and waxbills which come in a dazzling array of colours.

A male Green winged pytilia came down for a drink at the bird bath in front of the dining area at the Mwagusi camp. The female Green-winged pytilia also came down to drink by they never drank together.

He looks like a Blue waxbill but for the red marking on its cheek. This is a male Red-cheeked cordon-bleu. The female does not have red cheeks.

It was hot around midday and it was the end of the dry season so there was little water around. The bird bath was a saving grace for many of the birds around the camp.

“Order without diversity can result in monotony and boredom, diversity without order can lead to chaos.”~ Francis D.K Ching

Down along the Great Ruaha river, we watched a Giant kingfisher hunting from a strategic perch with an excellent view of a stretch of water below it. We did not wait long enough to see him catch anything. From this angle it was difficult to tell whether it was a male or female but it looks like a male given the slight chestnut brown marking below his throat. The male has a broad chestnut brown breast band while the female has chestnut brown belly.

Along the Great Ruaha river not far from the Giant kingfisher we saw an adult Goliath heron tangling with a Fish eagle. We were too far away but presumed the Goliath had caught a fish which the Fish eagle stole.

“Burning a rain forest for economic gain… is like burning a Renaissance painting to cook a meal.”~ E.O Wilson

A hungry juvenile Verreaux eagle owl calling for food in the early morning light

An Ashy starling is only found in central Tanzania. It is a brownish grey colour with a distinctive pale creamy coloured eye.

The bird bath was a magnet for the red-necked spurfowl in the area.

The Red-throated spurfowl look quite similar to the Grey-breasted spurfowl but the former has a completely red bill, and redskin around its eyes. Its throat is same red skin colour as are its legs. The Grey-breasted spurfowl has grey legs and its bill is red but with a black tip and its belly feathers have chestnut brown streaks among the white and black streaked feathers. The Grey-breasted spurfowl are usually found in the western corridor of the Serengeti.

A male Yellow-throated sandgrouse searching for seeds in the sand close to a herd of buffalo. There were lots of tsetse flies around which loved the buffalo but they did not seem to bother the sandgrouse. We did not see large flocks of Yellow-throated sandgrouse like we have seen in the Serengeti, only one or two pairs at a time.

I am not too sure about this nightjar but I think it is a Eurasian nightjar by the markings on its wings. I managed to get off the game vehicle without disturbing the nightjar and got close enough to get a reasonable image lit by the vehicle’s headlights. I used a wide open aperture to get as much light as possible but it affected my depth of field.

“Look closely at nature. Every species is a masterpiece, exquisitely adapted to the particular environment in which it has survived. Who are we to destroy or even diminish biodiversity.”~E O Wilson

White headed buffalo weaver. It has a distinctive white head, breast and belly and an unmistakable orange-red rump and shoulders. You will find red-billed and white headed buffalo weavers in Ruaha. They both make untidy nests for a weaver and they build their nests on the west side of a tree.

Two different pairs of Oxpeckers grooming a Maasai Giraffe. The Yellow-billed oxpeckers have a bulbous bright red tip to their bill and the base is yellow, and they have a creamy-buff coloured rump and belly. By contrast the Red-billed oxpeckers have a pure red bill and a yellow eye ring around their red eyes. These two types of oxpecker feed differently, the Red-billed oxpecker combs or scissors through the host’s hair while the Yellow- billed oxpecker tends to peck at open wounds and insects on the animal such as ticks.

A Long crested eagle on a perfect perch in the late afternoon.

This Long crested eagle watched us for a short while and decided we were cramping his style and flew off to look for a more secluded perch from which to hunt.

There is an incredible variety of bird life in Tanzania and we only scratched the surface. South Africa holds its own in terms of variety of birds and it has a large variety of seabirds. Tanzania does not, but makes up its numbers with a dazzling array of hornbills, woodpeckers, turacos, seedeaters, barbets, bee-eaters, bush-shrikes, tchagras, flycatchers, lovebirds, parrots and list goes on. For anyone interested in birds this is a must, but you need time, a few days’ visit will not do it.

“The more you venture into nature, the more diversity and inter-connectedness you will discover. You will also realise there is complexity which only becomes fathomable with exploration and attention.”~ Mike Haworth

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

Have fun, Mike