Friday, August 2, 2013

Migration is On! - 05 Jul 2013

Charles arrived to pick us up for the morning game drive. The plan was to drive back to the bridge where we entered the park. This time we would head along the main road to avoid the muddy road crossings. Skies were clear and temps were in the low 50's so the open air van ride was a chilly one.


Yellow-throated Longclaw
We took a detour off the main road because Charles had news of a massive Wildebeast herd nearby. Taking a two-track we headed into the grasslands where we passed Elephants, a distant pair of White-backed Vultures, and the usual assortment of pipits, longclaws and Cisticolas. The track took us into hill country where the grass was just stubble. There we found Crowned Plovers, Sooty Chats, African Mourning Dove, Black Kites, and dozens of Thommy Gazelles, Topi and Wildebeest.

Sooty Chat
Black Kite
Thompson's Gazelle

As we came down the hill the country opened in front of with 100,000 Wildebeest scattered over the horizon. It hard to imagine that, in a couple of weeks, there will be 10x this number! We spent a better part of the morning driving among the herds looking for predators.


The Wildebeest were enjoying their new-found grazing lands after surviving the crossing of the Mara River and its reptilian death traps. The young ones were rambunctious, chasing each other and making mock battles. The older ones eyed us as we drove by and grunted their disapproval for having to move from the road.



Lappet-faced Vulture
We were hoping to find a Cheetah or Leopard, but a distant speck on the top of the hill behind us turned out to be a Klipspringer. We did pass a recent kill that most likely involved the three Hyenas that were resting after their meal. A dozen vultures were present, including Ruppel's Griffon Vulture (note the yellow bills and white-tipped feathering), White-backed Vultures (black bills and solid feathers), and my first Lappet-faced Vultures (pink head and massive bill, white fuzzy snow-pants) of the trip. They were joined by a pair of Black-backed Jackals that we had spotted earlier. Overhead we spotted a Black-shouldered Kite, Yellow-billed Stork, and a beautiful Black-chested Snake Eagle. The latter showed a dark head and white chest but was only the size of a large Red-tailed Hawk.
I also got a poor photograph of a possible Western Banded Snake Eagle, but the ID is tentative.
Black-chested Snake Eagle
composite


Driving through the tall, golden grass filled with the dark brown Widebeest was truly magical. Flocks of Plain Martins, with their thin brown necklace, dipped among the grasses while flocks of Wattled Starlings rode on the backs of the slower-moving animals.


Wattled Starlings on Wildebeest
Border of Tanzania and the Serengeti just meters away
We were trying to make our way toward the river, but each path turned us back because of soft ground or mud. At one point we had reached the border to Tanzania and didn't dare go further. We would've been arrested. So we decided to head back to the lodge early and drive to the river early this afternoon. On the way back, though, Charles got a call and we made another detour.

Near the Serena Picnic Area, the only spot in the park where we could get out of the van, a pair of Lions had been spotted. So we drove past the picnic area and found a clump of trees with a pair of Lions sleeping away their recent meal. A female was grooming while a big-maned male was sound asleep out of sight of my camera. A few pics later and we were heading back to the lodge. A herd of Eland were our first of the day. As we drove out a Lilac-breasted Roller popped out of the trees to our right. We also stopped long enough to grab a couple pics of a Black-headed Heron and a Spur-winged Plover that were foraging in a small pond next to the road.

Lilac-breasted Roller
It was at this point that Charles suggested driving by the zebra kill from last night to see what was left of the carcass. It was on the way, so as we verified the route I spotted a pair of suspected Bateleur Eagles soaring in the distance. A pair of school buses were heading in the same direction as the river, so we followed them.  Approaching the river we could see the first line of Zebra heading into the croc-infested waters.

A Deadly Crossing (see next blog post)

Overwhelmed by what we had just witnessed, we headed back to the lodge, hoping to spend a quiet afternoon without any more 'nature'.  Along the way we passed large numbers of zebra that had successfully crossed (and stayed), Wildebeest, and local herds of Impala and Topi.  We would drive by the same Topi atop his giant termite mount several times during the next two days.  A family of Giraffe were atop a distant hill and provided poor views, as did a few distant elephants.

Baglafecht Weaver
Back at the lodge we washed the dust from our faces and headed for lunch. The restaurant was open-air so it was easy to watch the Lesser-striped Swallows fly through the open veranda, while Baglafecht Weavers sang and foraged in the trees just outside the windows.  I grabbed the camera to photograph one juvenile bird while a Hyrax climbed along the tree branches just a few feet away.

Hyrax

Bushbuck
We would take the afternoon off and meet for an evening dinner.  Back in our rooms I spent a little time working on blogs, reviewing images, and photographing a family of Bushbuck right outside our back door.

With the scope setup I also took the opportunity to do a little bit of late-afternoon digiscoping.  A Common Fiscal provided the best subject, giving me the chance to photograph it about 30' away.  Common Bulbuls, and a White-browed Coucal also made an appearance, but lighting was too low to get anything other than a record shot.

With about an hour before dinner Robin and I walked out to the terrace next to the lobby to surf the web and look for birds.  A Fork-tailed Drongo was perched far out in a tree and did a little flycatching, while flocks of Common House Martins, Lesser-striped Swallows, and Speckled Mousebirds kept my camera busy.  I would manage a couple fly-by shots of Ring-necked Dove before putting the camera away for the night.  One last photo of the Masai Mara at sunset would have to do.



Tomorrow, a Hot-air Balloon Ride!

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