Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Game Drive and Walking Safari in the Selous – Lions, Impala and Birds, Oh My!

We rose after our first night in our luxurious tent at the Serena Selous Luxury Camp.  Awaiting us at breakfast was this tableful of cereals and juices (note the little doilies, weighted down with beads, keeping the juices covered); we could also order eggs in whatever style, and breakfast meats.  


Surely “passion juice” was an appropriate concoction for such a  popular honeymoon venue


After breakfast, we left for a day long game drive.  The vehicles seated about six people plus driver and guide, who sat up front, and had windows all around – to get a completely clear view (and photograph), we had to stand up and peer through the opening created by raising the roof (which was done before we reached the vehicle); standing up quickly sometimes proved to be no mean feat when the vehicle was bumping along forward.  Although the shorter travelers among us could see over the edge, they could barely see. Perhaps, though, this sort of game vehicle was appropriate for a pair of vehicles traveling in tandem, considering the trail of dust left by the front vehicle



It was at least an hour of driving over the bumpy roads before we started to see interesting game, such as these warthogs


and a pair of water buck




We passed a tree with an eagle sitting on top; Francis said it was a tawny eagle, but Joe, having looked carefully through his binoculars and compared it to the Birds of East Africa that Francis passed back to us, thought that it was likely a crowned eagle (the light is wrong to get a good sense from this photo)


Then we saw a panorama of the Rufiji River, on which we had traveled the day before; today, though, we were going much further from our camp








 


Then we started seeing impala


Herds of impala come in three types:  a harem, consisting of several females and one dominant male;



a bachelor group, consisting of several males;


and a mixed group, which contain multiple males and several females

We started seeing small schools of zebra


as well as giraffe; here there were several, but usually we saw them in groups of two or three


We looked at the doum palm, which provides far more shade than the typical palm,


and several spectacularly large and thick baobab trees, although we were to see many more of them in the Ruaha Park later on
 

this baobab tree is nicely framed between two other trees

The baobab pictured here still had many of its fruits hanging down


Here is a species of  acacia plant, a major feeding point for giraffe, whose rough tongues are capable of grabbing the tender green leaves without being torn up by the very nasty-looking long thorns



The Birds of Lake Manze
 
We headed toward our first major destination of the day, Lake Manze, and oh, the profusion of birds as well as game.  Here is the white-browed sparrow weaver
                   

and the little bea-eater, which I had seen along the Rufiji River the day before without yet knowing its name



Here are  few African open-billed storks,



Southern ground hornbill,




here shown flying and landing



a grey heron,



and an less-colorful African version of a bird we saw frequently while boating in the Amazon basin, the African jackana




In the distance across a section of the lake, we could see egrets on the back of a cape buffalo,

     
as well as a hadada ibis peacefully eating within easy striking distance of a Nile crocodile: I suppose there just isn’t enough meat on the ibis’ bones to make it suitable prey for the croc?




Other birds we saw in this area included  a blacksmith plover,




African fish eagle



A fish eagle swooped into the water a plucked out a fish, right before our eyes; here is it consuming its prey.


Here is a yellow-billed stork:



This hippo was lumbering over the shore, with several others visible largely submerged in the lake behind it



Was this giraffe skeleton arranged for tourist viewing, we wondered?  We were told than when a giraffe bends down to drink, its legs splayed behind it, it is at its most vulnerable to predators, but would not lions and other predators to follow have dis-arranged the bones in the course of consuming the meat?


Back toward the game-- and the predators
 
At this point, our safari vehicles turned inland in search of mammals, and we were soon rewarded as a large herd of cape buffalo, maybe as many as several hundred, came thundering by



We drove a bit closer, trying to get a better look at these impressive beasts; I remembered being told by Walt and Frazier, the guides on our walking safari in South Africa, just how ornery, unpredictably aggressive and just plain mean these animals could be, so it was a bit intimidating when so many of them were staring back at us



As we drove along, we passed this delicate bird perched atop a roadside tree, the lilac breasted roller



Over the next few days, we often saw them flying across the road as we passed, brilliant green/blue wings extended (ad impossible for an amateur like me to photograph in flight).

We saw this lovely ground hornbill walking



We continued across the land, passing wildebeest


giraffe



and a school of zebra


As Chingchai remarked, it was one big table.  But, what of the predators that eat at that table?

Finally,  we saw what I assumed would be the highlight of the day, a pride of lions resting in the shade of a tree





Francis explained that the female lion is the principal hunter.  In fact, male lions are increasingly dysfunctional, because as their manes grow, the hair gets in their eyes and makes it harder for them to see the prey and so to participate effectively.

We are excited when one of the group stood and stared




in the direction of a wildebeest herd; but the herd moved away



and she sat back down; we drove on

There was a more interesting view of lions to come - about fifteen minutes later, we  came across a pair of male lions sitting under  a set of bushes



but it soon became clear that they were not simply lying around, but rather enjoying a recent kill that they had dragged to this shady spot.  They had a young wildebeest that they were biting, licking, then biting and chewing again


video



With this spectacle under our belts, we paused for a nice box lunch  prepared by the camp, consisting of wraps and sodas.

The Game Drive Continues

After lunch, our drive continued with this sighting of a troop of baboon up in a tree



down below were these lovely roots



We passed this greater kudu hanging about near a bachelor group of impala,


then about ten minutes later we found a medium-sized herd of elephants, including a fairly small baby elephant in their number






Next came another of the highlights of the safari, an animal we had never seen before in the wild.  When we visited the Cheetah Center in South Africa, we passed some wild dogs snarling and snapping in a caged area; but here a small group of wild dogs were resting in the shade






Nearby were a few wildebeest




and an African grey hornbill and longtailed fiscal shrike sitting in this same tree


We watched a few zebra gallop across and then along the road as Francis talked to us about how the pattern on each zebra is unique;


this discussion was an excellent lead-in to what we saw next – a pride of lions feasting on a recently-killed zebra,




while fending off a pair of lapped faced vultures and a grey hooded vulture that were horning in looking for their own scraps   



At this point, the afternoon was getting late and it was time for the long drive back to camp,

Along the way, we passed a tree with two hamerkop nests.

626


In a tree was this lovely southern blue starling

This southern ground hornbill was taking off


while here, we could see grass  that had recently been burned off, with a tall termite mound remaining

   
  

and even in the process of one of those controlled burns we had heard about -- but the process of control was not at all apparent to us.



That evening was our last night in Selous; the staff had a special surprise for my 64th birthday:  when it was time for the desserts we had all  I heard singing, and suddenly there was a parade of cooks and waiters, singing a song for me in Swahili and bearing a cake, with lit candles; after they arrived, the family burst into a round of the happy birthday song in English.   By the time we had eaten the cake, we were all too stuffed to have the ordered desserts. 

After dinner, we walked out to the parking area to get a view of the night sky.  There was little ambient light, and the clouds were gone; there was a plenitude of stars and the Milky Way, oh, the Milky Way was so bright and huge!

It was a fine end to a great day.

A Walking Safari Near Selous Luxury Camp

The following morning, we took a short hike near the camp.  Our guide was Victor, a park ranger who, like Walt and Frazier during our walking safari near Kruger National Park in South Africa four years before, was carrying a rifle as a safety precaution, just in case we had an unavoidable encounter with a large mammal; as in South Africa, Victor explained proudly that in nine years of guiding, he had yet t use his rifle on an animal



There were few animals to be seen, but other lessons to be learned.  For example, most game simply drop their dung as the walk along, such as the huge turds of the elephant and the small pellets of the impala.  The hippos that we had seen in the river segment just below the veranda two nights before, however, had deliberately scattered their dung, both to mark their path back to a larger daytime pool and to mark their territory.



This dung was white; it is the dung of a hyena, reflecting that hyenas gobble their prey bones and all.



Here, hippo and hyena tracks are mixed together




Finally, we reached the major destination of this short walk: a foam-topped pool in which the local hippo population spent the hot days of the dry season

Stepping down toward the pool got us closer than I had ever been before to hippos in the wild:



There were a hamerkop nest and a wasp’s nest in a “chestnut” tree standing high above the pool



The roots made a nice sight



On the way back, Victor paused to point out a wild basil plant growing at our feet




and this entrance to an aardvark’s den



After that, it was time to join the sleepy heads in our party who had opted out of the morning walk for breakfast, then to finish packing. It was a calm ending to an exciting two days in the Selous.  We had ahead of us a bumpy drive to the Stiegler’s air strip, followed by a flight to our second game park, the Ruaha National Park.

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