Tag Archives: Safari

The Wildlife Capital of the World: Sunset on the Savannah (Part III)

Have you rested enough?  The sun is getting lower now, and we have so much more to see before night fall. So let’s climb back onboard our sturdy safari van.

acacia trees on the svannah 2 ud48On the savannah between the many small hills, we encounter more giraffes. They are further from our trail now, enjoying a variety of afternoon snacks. Did you know that no two giraffes have the same pattern? It’s just like our finger print, or a snow flake. The pattern is unique to each individual.

giraffe on savannah 2 ud48

giraffe 4 ud48Holding on to the bar while we bob and hop forward, we look at every tree and every bush. And suddenly something really big flies over our van! A surprisingly nice looking Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture settles on a tree a bit away from the trail.

Rüppell's Griffon Vulture ud47This is a remarkable bird. It holds the record as the highest flying bird, spotted at an altitude of over 37, 000 feet/11 kilometers. Like watching it fly alongside a jumbo jet. It also has lots of throttle. It can fly over three miles in six minutes from a standing start- a Ferrari of the skies – and can venture about 90 miles from its nest in search of food. That is quite amazing.

Not far from the vulture, but miles away on the beauty scale, we find a family with kids.  Beautiful Grey Crowned Cranes. The chicks travel safely between mom who leads the way, and dad who checks the surroundings for any dangers.

a family of Grey Crowned Cranes ud47This tall, colorful bird’s French name is Grue Royale, and they certainly look royal to me, with a golden crown and everything.Grey Crowned Crane ud47Our journey continues up and down the hills. And soon we spot some familiar looking birds. Actually they are the cousins of two salt marsh birds. The tall Black-faced Heron would get along great with our GBH, the Mayor, and the small Striated Heron could easily be mixed up with our Green Heron.

black-faced heron ud47

Striated heron ud47 also green backed heronNice to see some faces that look a bit familiar, isn’t it?

After a while we arrive into a grassland (phew, it’s flat and the ride gets a bit easier) where several different antelopes enjoy their afternoon. The first one we spot is the graceful Thomson Gazelle. He’s close to the trail and gets scared by our “zebra-van”. But he doesn’t show us how fast he can run…up to 40 miles/64 kilometers an hour. I guess that speed is reserved for real dangers, like lions and cheetahs.

Thomsons Gazelle ud48Then we notice a little head reaching up from the tall grass. A baby Bushbuck is observing us. She’s well camouflaged to stay safe. The Bushbuck calves don’t follow their mom until they are about four months old, so this little one must be younger than that. Stay safe baby, you mom will come back before nightfall.

a young bushbuck ud48The next sightings throw us directly into the “large department”. It’s aptly represented by the Eland, one of the largest antelopes. And the Cape Buffalo.

Eland ud48

African buffalo ud48These buffalos are quite surprising animals. They have an extraordinary memory – and they never forget. They’ve been known to approach people they like with great affection even after a long time. Similarly, they are known to ambush and kill hunters who wounded or hurt them many years earlier. And they are the strongmen of the bush, with four times the strength of an ox. We better be friendly.

We drive down a hill towards a small lake. We spot herds of antelopes and buffaloes on the other side. Down by the water, we find a couple of Egyptian Geese, and two other beautiful smaller birds: the Black-smith Plover and the colorful Crowned Lapwing.

egyptian geese couple ud47

Black-smith Plover ud47

crowned lapwing or crowned plover ud47This Lapwing has a black crown intersected by an annular white halo, and is really easy to spot in this short grass because of it’s bright red legs.

Much of this rough ride we’ve been standing up and looking out through the raised roof. I was hoping to spot a lion or a cheetah. You too? But in this vast park they could be anywhere.  My hope to find any of these cats is fading with the setting sun.

savannah sunset ud48But what is that? Looks like a bird running for her life. It’s a Yellow-necked Spur Fowl scooting across the trail from the tall grass to open land. She is obviously in a hurry.

yellow-necker spur fowl ud47Now look where she came from! Our fantastic driver/guide points to the other side of the trail. There’s a cat. Not one of the big ones, but a serval looking for dinner. No wonder the fowl was scurrying away, it has about 50/50 chance to escape.

Serval ud48While bigger cats on the savannah catch a prey in one of five to six tries, the serval only needs two chances. It’s sometimes referred to as small cheetah – because they look alike, but also because the serval is the next fastest runner of the cats on the savannah.

Just as we approach the east gate of the park at the end of our drive, we get company on the trail. A gorgeous young man comes to say hello and goodbye. A heart-warming send-off. A perfect expression of the savannah’s state of mind.

young giraffe 2 ud48I hope you enjoyed our afternoon in the wild. Nature is amazing. Let us take better care of it.

The Wildlife Capital of the World: Into the Safari Van and onto the Savannah (Part II)

Welcome into Vintage Africa’s zebra-striped safari van, our home for this afternoon’s adventure. No, don’t sit down! You’ll not see anything for the tall grass. Stand up, hold on to the leather-covered bar in front of your seat and look out through the raised roof. We might spot some animals and birds we’ve not seen in the wild before.

See what I’m talking about! Our first encounter is right after driving through the gates into Nairobi National Park. A Baboon family, mom, dad and a baby. Mom and dad are busy examining the grass, looking for something to eat. And the baby is trying to learn this useful skill.

baboon family ud48After a while his curiosity wins. He comes and sits in the middle of the road. Examines us in deep thought.

baboon baby 3 ud48

He looks confused. Not quite sure what to think about us. But then he smiles shyly and has it all figured out. Humans, right?

baboon baby ud48And so we begin our game drive on the curvy, bumpy, red soil trails. They lead us through many kinds of habitats, from forests to savannahs, uphill and downhill. We are lucky as the trails are mostly dry now after last week’s heavy rains.

trail through savannah ud48Soon we spot our first birds in the sky, the African Sacred Ibis. In ancient Egypt, the Sacred Ibis was worshipped as the god Thoth and was supposed to preserve the country from plagues and serpents. The birds were often mummified and buried with pharaohs. They are now extinct in Egypt, but we are lucky to observe their large nesting colony on an island nearby.

sacred ibis in flight ud47

sacred ibis colony ud47See, there are hundreds of birds. Some are building their nests, others just mingling and talking.

sacred ibis ud47And look out to the left! Our next bird is a big one. This male Ostrich walks slowly, but if need be he can sprint up to 45 miles/70 km per hour. The Ostrich’s eyes are large, but they still have a tendency to run into obstacles. Might it be because their brain is really tiny, about the size of the teaspoon?

ostrich UD47And there – three zebras with their striped butts turned our way. They stand up while sleeping so these guys may be taking a nap in the afternoon heat. At least two of them, while the third is standing guard.

three zebras ud48The Hartebeest have also gotten the memo and pose in the same manner. One is curious enough to look at us. Hello there!

hartebeest ud48We continue our journey and soon spot giraffes on both sides of our trail. They are such gracious creatures. And their eyelashes are just gorgeous, don’t you think?

giraffe 1 ud48

giraffe 16x9 ud48The one on the right seems to be sleeping. Amazingly, this world’s tallest animal only needs 10 minutes to two hours of sleep per day. We don’t want to disturb her, so we continue our bumpy journey.

Keeping an eye on the trees, we spot a bird with a spectacular bill. Our guide tells us it’s the African Grey Hornbill, a female. These birds build their nests in tree cavities and “lock the door” with a cement built of mud and fruit pulp while the female is incubating, just leaving a small “key hole” through which the male feeds her.

African grey hornbill 2 ud47When the nest gets too small for the female and the hatchlings, she breaks out and the door is “locked” again. Both parents feed the babies through the “key hole” until they are ready to fledge. Neat.

african grey hornbill ud47Next we spot a Mousebird flying across our trail.  Her long tail looks quite spectacular in flight. She settles down in a tree at quite a distance. Zoom out and you can see her.

mousebird 2 ud47Oh, look there, in the shade on a large tree branch!  A big bird.  Our knowledgeable guide tells us it’s a “dark morph” of a Tawny Eagle only found in Africa and Asia.

Dark morph tawny Eagle B ud47Just up the next hill we can see something shimmering in the sunshine.  A bird with jewel-like colors, a Superb Starling, jumps around in the grass.

superb starling ud47Oh, he gets scared of our rumbling approach and flies up onto a bush at a safe distance from the trail. He’s easy on the eye, isn’t he?

superb starling 3  ud47From the woods we come onto the open savannah. And there’s a Warthog! He’s looking straight at us for a second, decides he doesn’t like what he sees, and runs away into the high grass with his tail up in the air. Just like in the Lion King. Lol.

warthog ud48The antelopes are much braver. These Impalas are pretty close to the trail. The female examines us thoroughly, while the male decides it’s time to cross the trail to be with his lady. She might need some protection after all.

Impala female ud48

impala ud48And that’s when we arrive at our “rest stop”. The restrooms are here, in case you need to use them. I’m staying behind at the van. There are some animal skulls collected from the park on display around a little hut.

animal sculls ud48While we’re taking a break from all the shaking on the uneven trails, I finally spot an animal that doesn’t run away, at least not very fast, an African Spurred Tortoise.

african spurred tortoise ud48And a White-browed Sparrow Weaver approaches our van. She examines me from top to toe and judges me correctly. A harmless old lady.

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver ud47From here we will continue back onto the savannah. Please return to our safari van – in a couple of days. We don’t want to leave you here at the rest stop for too long.

Cheers from the savannah ~

acacia and bushes on the savannah ud48

Throwback Thursday: Lions out of Focus

Generally speaking, focus is the central point of attention or activity.  We may agree that it’s important to focus on whatever we want to get done. I’d like to add that how we focus on something may actually determine whether or not we’ll live to tell the story. Seriously.

I learned this lesson many years ago in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Before dinner on our first day at the safari lodge we opted for a sunset game drive. We climbed into a typical “safari jeep” ready for an adventure. Our guide drove us around the park and we saw many different types of antelopes, zebras and water buffaloes. Very exciting! But more excitement was to come.

antelope in Zambia Luangwa National Park
A large antelope in South Luangwa National Park

About an hour into the drive, our guide told us that before we’d return to the lodge for dinner, he would drive us down to the Luangwa River to see the sunset. It was spectacular, he said, and we might spot animals who come there to drink in the early evening hours.

A few minutes later we approached the river banks. Already from afar, we could see a herd of elephants crossing the river.  We stopped on the high river bank and the driver left the engine running (we were in the wild). My hubby, who sat in the front passenger seat, rigged his camcorder.

Elephants crossing Luangwa River Zambia safari
A herd of elephants crossing the Luangwa River (click to enlarge)

The view was magical. On the left side of the vehicle we could see elephants of all sizes: large adults, youngsters and adorable babies.  And on the right side a gorgeous African sunset. My hubby was recording for dear life.

Luangwa river Zambia sunset
Sunset on Luangwa River

That’s when we spotted a group of female lions. They were basking themselves in the last rays of the setting sun, probably strategizing about the upcoming hunt. They were very close and very calm.  We watched them breathlessly from the relative safety of our vehicle.

A lioness on the bank of Luangwa River

Suddenly my hubby moved. His eye still on the viewfinder he stepped down from the open jeep to get a better view. And landed right in front of the lions! He was so focused on capturing the sunset that he had not seen what all others saw, the lions. In an instant, he was the easy catch, a free meal, so to speak. I was about to scream, but the driver was faster. In a fraction of a second and without a word he grabbed my hubby’s arm and pulled him back into the vehicle. Then he backed out of there, slowly and calmly.

Luangwa River Zambia
Luangwa River at sunset

That was a close call. My tiny lesson was that how we focus on something matters. Of course we should focus on what needs to get done. But not so narrowly that we lose sight of what is going on around us. Things can change fast.

 

Why I Prefer an Elephant’s Butt to Her Belly

For weekend reading I thought I would tell you a short story, just a bit longer than my usual seventeen syllables. This is a true story about elephants and how they taught me a “tiny lesson”.

It was a nice December morning in Africa, more exactly in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. A good friend from Sweden had come to visit us and we decided to go on a safari over the weekend to show her the beauty of the wild. We used to drive ourselves in our sturdy SUV and usually I would be the “safari driver” – so also this morning.

little elephant near the lodge

After an early breakfast at the lodge, we set out into the wild to spot some animals. Our friend was particularly interested in seeing elephants. We knew they were plentiful in this particular park because big herds had moved in from neighboring Rwanda where a conflict was raging at the time.

We drove quite a while, from the south to the north of the park, first on a narrow gravel road and then followed a small trail hardly distinguishable in the tall grass. Suddenly we saw elephants crossing the trail in a distance. We got a bit closer, then stopped and idled. We watched in awe as a huge herd, probably 50-60 elephants crossed our path from a sparsely wooded meadow on the right to a grassy opening on the left. Everybody was there, from the huge elders to the small cuties. We watched and filmed the rare sight at a safe distance. Needless to say our friend was excited!

After about half an hour, we could see the heard had settled to eat at the far end of the grassy area. Only two adults were still on the right of our trail, busy eating from trees at the far end of the meadow. I quickly scanned the situation and decided it was time for us to continue our journey. I shifted to the first gear and slowly, quietly started moving towards the point where they had crossed the trail. Everyone continued to film and observe the herd. We were doing fine, none of the elephants had taken notice of us. Or so we thought.

Suddenly we heard a high-pitched alarm. I turned my head to the right and saw a huge elephant belly right next to our truck! A belly, not a butt or a head! The trunk making the noise was high above our vehicle, the front legs right above our heads! The matriarch had been managing the herd’s crossing from behind some tall and dense shrubbery next to the trail. And she had remained behind… waiting for the two latecomers to get their act together. That made sense. But for us my hasty decision resulted in a surprise that could easily have turned deadly.

As I am telling this story now, you already know the outcome. Metal to the pedal, everyone tumbled around in the truck, we all screamed, the video camera hit the roof…but we made it. We now have a reminder of this adventure – with the alarm sound, elephant belly, our screams and all – on DVD. But the truth to be told, I rather watch the latter part of this DVD filmed back at the lodge, where we met this charming young man.

I have thought about this small incident afterwards. I now know why I definitely prefer to see an elephant’s butt rather than her belly. I also learned a lesson, ever so tiny: I’ve got to get my facts right before leaping into a decision. Shooting from the hip might sometimes prove deadly.

Have a great weekend everyone – may your adventures be just a shade safer.

Have a Moment? Go on a Safari!

Transiting in Nairobi, Kenya and have a few hours to spare? Don’t like crowded airport lounges? Go on a mini- safari! That’s right. Nairobi is the only capital with its own National Park, 117 sq km of protected area situated only 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) by road from the city center. So if you are on a short visit or even in transit, you can still enjoy a short game drive!

Some years ago we were transiting in Nairobi for about a day or so and decided to check out the National Park. After having lived in Africa for many years and having enjoyed many “real” safaris in deep wilderness where one can totally relax into the embrace of nature, I did not have high expectations of such a small tour. In fact, I thought it would be more like a “large zoo”. But I didn’t get it quite right. You can see an amazingly large variety of mammals – there are about 100 species – and even more birds in a couple of hours! And the more time you have the more you can see…

Of course this national park is not large or far out in the wilderness, and you don’t feel that you have entered a domain that belongs entirely to the wild, but surprisingly you really don’t see or even sense the city that much. The landscape is hilly, and once you travel on the savannah and start spotting wildlife, your focus shifts completely. You enjoy what you see – and your mind transports you away from the city.

We saw giraffes, buffaloes and several groups of lions. We also saw a cheetah running really fast in the high grass. I guess she was in the middle of a chase, moving too fast for us to even snap a picture. The park also houses black rhinos, leopards, zebras, wildebeests and hyenas and many other smaller species.

Of all the birds, I was most fascinated by this large Secretary Bird. I had not spotted one before and this one was kind enough to calmly pose for us not far from the trail.

This park is connected to other, larger national parks in Kenya in the sense that it has an “orphanage” for the small ones left without parents and also functions as a major sanctuary for breeding black rhinos, an endangered species, for other parks.

All in all, I thought this mini-safari was a great experience, definitely worth doing if you visit Nairobi and have limited time available,  or even transit through with a few hours to spare. Refreshes you nicely, and beats the airport lounges hands down!

I enjoyed peaking in there again…even if virtually, I hope you did too…Have a good weekend – kuwa na wikendi njema!