Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Out of Africa -February 16- "A Wildlife Wonderland, Ngorongoro Crater"

Saturday, February 16

The Itinerary called for an 8 a.m. departure this morning.  Steven suggested  6 a.m., we agreed!  The plan was to get down to the crater floor early, before the others.  He explained that the animals are most active early and we could have a box breakfast instead of lunch.  This way we would be leaving the crater floor during the heat of the day when the animals would also be seeking shade and we would have our afternoon to relax or begin packing for our return to the states.
This was our last full day in Ngorongoro Park and we had heard of the multitudes of wildlife that awaited us on the floor of the volcanic caldera 2,000 feet below the morning mist.  When we knocked on Sharon's door we knew when it opened that Sharon was not feeling well.  Not wanting to miss anything, she climbed into our vehicle and fought through waves of nausea most of the day. She at least looked like she felt a little better by breakfast time. Truthfully, I think she knew I was struggling to take both her video and my photos so she willed herself better.
The road to the bottom was dirt with many ruts and was extremely steep.  It was also very dark and it took nearly an hour to reach the crater floor.
Luckily the road down is one way, no oncoming traffic.
As we reached the lower level the sun was just beginning to peek above the rim of the crater.

Black-chested Snake Eagle

Black-crowned Tchagra

Gray Crowned Cranes

A dancing crane
Once on the floor of the volcano it felt like an early spring morning with birds flitting among the branches and filling the air with song.  The misty fog was just beginning to lift and for a while I had some difficulty getting my camera to focus.  But as the mist began to melt away we became aware of the enormity of the caldera.  Trees and lakes began to come into focus as they separated from the mist and then, quite magically, animal shapes began to appear right before us.  Steven spotted a lion in the distance followed by two spotted hyenas and that was just the trailer for the cinematic experience we were about to witness.  It felt as though I was sitting in the Ohio Theater and the curtain goes up and right before your eyes is a magical panorama, only unlike the play Lion King, each act was unrehearsed and we had no idea which scene would be playing out next.  I cannot put into words how incredibly small I felt while at the same time feeling so exhilarated at the sight of some of God's most creative works.  Completely encircling us was the rim of the crater being hugged by clouds of mists.  It looked as though ocean waves were breaking over the rim and would engulf us at any moment.  I am at a loss of words to adequately describe the scene before us.  I hope the photos below can at least give you a glimpse into the beauty we saw on this day.
The caldera floor with the volcano rim in the distance

Spotted Hyena

Notice the sun pouring onto the floor of Ngorongoro crater

Secretary Birds

Our first of many lions today

The expansive crater

A Thompson's gazelle in the foreground, Wildebeest in the back

The lake came into view as it separated from the misty fog

Black-headed Heron

Lesser and Greater Flamingos

Thousands of Flamingos skimming algae from the lake

One of my favorite "life" birds
Saddle-billed Stork


Emperor geese watching the Hippo do laps

Great White Pelican

More Hamerkop

Number 5 of our Big 5
Black Rhinoceros

Wart Hog

Abdim's Stork

Abdim's stork

A lone elephant
Steven said the Maasai believe there is an elephant graveyard in the caldera.
He also told us that the elephants here are old males.

This was one of the 2 species of jackal that we saw today

Black-backed Jackal

Grant's Gazelle
These were much smaller than the Thompson's Gazelle and lacked the
black "racing" stripe along their belly.

Sacred Ibis

Gray-crowned Crane

Steven set our breakfast up on the hood of our safarie vehichle

The Masked Weaver birds would swoop down and try to steal our muffins.
Sometimes right out of our hands.

Donna watching the hippos

A Black Kite that would also try to steal food.  Although, Steven said they preferred lunch
because the lunches included more meats, like chicken.

This was our "Home" on the road
Toyota Land Cruiser

The "Heart" tree

Our Dispatch Travel section photo
I tried to get Barb to go in and pose from her usual vantage point but she declined.

The Wash Room

The "Breakfast Club"!
The following photos are of a lion group post-kill.  Most of the lions will be covered in what Steven called their "lion make-up".  The photo above is the mother of 6 older juveniles who are still at the kill site.

Mom was trying to get her family away from the kill to follow her.  Like most teenagers, they weren't listening!

Waiting in the wings!  (a little play on words)
The vultures were also waiting for the lions to leave.

And so was this spotted hyena

Merely spectators

The group of vultures is growing in numbers

Mom continues to call

Finally 4 of the 6 head over to follow their mother

They cross the road, oblivious of the many gathering trucks filled with clicking cameras.

They cross a small stream in the valley below and disappear into a copse of trees

Finally #5

The jeep in this photo belongs to a researcher that has been doing lion research for many years here in the crater.
She is known as Momma Simba.  and is the only jeep allowed to drive out onto the savannah. 
Steven said the lions recognize her.
(Simba is Swahili for lion)

and lastly #6 has had his fill and follows the scent of his mother and siblings
who have long since disappeared into the trees.

The wildebeests are calving.  We saw one young one that Steven said had probably
been born early this morning!

Wildebeests have a light colored beard that is used to hide their calves from predators.
You will notice that the calves are much lighter than the adults.

Kori Bustard

Kori Bustard #2
This little guy not more than a day or two old, and appears to have
a very good appetite!

Obviously this is the crossing guard.  He stood in place for nearly 5 minutes.
Why, you ask?  Because he could!

Every zebra has stripes that are unique to them.
They are like finger prints in humans.  No two are alike!

Zebra socks

If you notice the scar on his right rear flank, Steven said it like came from a lion trying to pull him down.
He is a very lucky survivor.

We were fortunate to see two species of jackals.  This is a
Golden Jackal.
He was much smaller than the Black-backed Jackal.

Steppe Eagle
Juvenile on the left, adult on the right.

The zebras also had young.
Would they be colts and fillies?
Steven said a zebra's backbone is weak so they are not fit as beasts of burden
like horses or donkeys and burros.  They are also almost impossible
to domesticate.

The young zebra has stripes more brown than black.

Two more rhino sightings bringing our total to 4.

This cattle egret is catching a ride.  An African Uber!

The only rain on our trip occurred on our way out of the crater.  We drove for a while with the top up not wanting to admit that our trip was quickly coming to an end.
Eventually we relented and the top came down and we admitted to ourselves that our safari was indeed almost over.  Tomorrow morning Steven would be driving us back to Arusha where our journey began.  As they say, "all good things must end"!  We do have our wonderful memories and over 2,000 photos and 6 hours of video to fall back on should our memories fade in the distant future.  What a wonderful blessing it was, not just to experience Tanzania, but, to share it with two of my dearest friends.  Life is not just about the journey, it's about who we meet and share it with along the way.  I thank God every day for the wonderful people he has placed in my life and that includes all of you who have taken the time to read my blog.  I am indeed very fortunate!

Okay, enough of the sappy stuff.  The trip was almost over but I still have a few photos of this wonderful lodge where we last stayed .  Lion World Travel could not have put together a more wonderful tour.  It seemed that at the end of each day when we were thinking it could not get better but somehow it did.  Each park we visited offered different habitats and different animals and birds but I must admit that Ngorongoro Crater was the "creme de la creme"!  The lodging and food were all fantastic and the staff at each stop were so friendly and helpful that we instantly felt at home and among friends.
Our room at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

The view from our room balcony

Complete with birds.
Baglafecht Weaver (female)

Baglafecht Weaver

Tropical Boubou

Tropical Boubou

Baglafecht Weaver

Our rainbow at the end of our African adventure.

The Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

Breakfast view from the dining room

The backside of the lodge

Our Last Breakfast

And our O-H-I-O
With the help of our new friend Donna.
Our drive into Arusha took about 4 hours which included a shopping stop which again required som bar-gaining skills.  I felt I did a little better this time but I believe Andy would have done better.  We also took a bathroom break at The Africa Gallery where we had stopped for lunch earlier in the week.  This time we made the mistake of going into the Tanzanite room and walked away with earrings.  I like to think of it as an investment.  Tanzanite is a gem that is mined and only found in Tanzamia.  It is said to be more valuable than diamonds.  The reason being that it will soon all be mined.  Well that's the story I'm going with and we bargained for a good price, our last hurrah, so to speak!  Lunch was at the Coffee House Restaurant and had the best fish on the buffet of the entire trip but I couldn't eat too much, end of trip depression I think.  We would soon be transported to the Kilimanjaro Airport and in about 30 hours we would arrive in Columbus, Ohio.  Just in time for snow!  So, yes, I was a little saddened at the prospect of such a long flight and the dreary gray Ohio skies of February.  It is good to be back though and I have yet to tire of sharing our experience.
Asante sana (Thank you, very much)

Leaving you with the sounds of our last morning in Tanzania.  Turn up your volume!