Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Rhinos Below & Lions Above

Mar 6 - Rhinos Below & Lions Above

We got a very early start after a quick breakfast in the predawn darkness.  Our vehicles left camp just as the first light of day illuminated the few clouds on the horizon.  Our first sighting was two female lions on the edge of the river bank.  Their coats were tan and very healthy which indicates an excellent food supply in the area.  Next we spotted an endangered and rare black rhino.  It was well spotted by our guide after we made the river crossing.  It was browsing in the grasslands below the embankment we were on but it was pretty far off in the distance.  We then noticed a mother and calf black rhino in the vicinity. 

The black rhino is distinguished by its hooked lip, large front and rear horns, and not by it's color.  The white rhino is not really white at all rather it has a wide mouth with a shorter secondary horn and the word wide has been mistranslated to white. There are only about 26,000 rhino left on he planet and we are losing them to poaching at a rate of 1,000 a year or more. Fortunately they are well protected in this area where vehicles are not allowed to go offload so they have excellent habitat. Our next highlight was the classic make lion standing up on one of the rock kopjes in the morning sun.  Just a classic shot. He was joined by 2 brothers and they all set in a regal pose at the top of the 100 foot drop off to the plains below.  The light was magical.  Continuing on we went to an area that has Masaai paintings but we were not able to climb up onto the kopje to test our skills on the natural piano rock because it was already taken over by 2 female lions...oh well, they have priority!   We spotted another great male black rhino with magnificent horns shortly thereafter crossing a verdant field of short grass.  It is interesting to note that in some areas the grass has grown quite tall (maybe 3-4') which provides a very scenic landscape but does limit visibility so we avoided those areas mostly.  I have to say that it is pretty cool to see a huge cape buffalo through the grass as you can only see the top half of his body - great territory for predatory cats for sure.  We then set off in search of the elusive wild dogs but we turned back after meeting another vehicle that reported they had moved off and the tsetse flies were really bad in that area.
Good thing to general there have been very little bugs and almost no mosquitos but there are flies in some area which are not really annoying unless they bite like the Tsetse fly.  We did hit a couple of spots where the tsetse flies were bad so the trick is cover up and wear neutral colors because they are attracted to blue and black.  Luckily the camp seems pretty free of tsetse and our tents are all well screened so no worries there.  On our ride back to lunch at camp we encountered two groups of elephants with young ones under foot.  They approached our vehicles slowly and we got some great views and photos.  Then we saw two lions in a tree cooling off in the mid day heat - the temperatures here range from a high of 85 to 90 degrees to a very comfortable 70 degrees in the evening.  Just about perfect with a good cooling wind most of the day.  As I write this there are sounds of thunder in the distance and we had a brief shower while everyone was napping in their tents after lunch.  This is the rainy season or green season which is why the migration comes this way because the grasses immediately sprout up after the rains.  Despite being called the wet season our safari has been completely sunny with clear skies and just an occasional afternoon build up of fluffy white cotton ball type clouds.  Today is the first moisture we have seen and it feels kind of nice.  It does make the roads difficult to drive because of the black cotton soil which is like a slick mud when wet and provides no traction.  We briefly got stuck twice in the trip.  Once at the marsh where there was a deceptively dry crossing in appearance which actually sunk one tire straight down to the axle when we tried to cross.  Luckily we were able to make a quick extraction and keep on moving.  The second incident was also fortunately brief as we sank into a hole while crossing a shallow river but the second vehicle was able to push us back out.  These driver/guides are amazing and never tire of sharing their love of the wilderness with us.

Our afternoon drive started out just after a brief outburst of rain.  It was fun to sit and listen to the rolling thunder bellow across the Serengeti Plains.  Storm clouds were gathering all around and the sky grew darker as we made our way out past the cape buffalo and zebra at the edge of camp.  Some beautiful lilac breasted rollers flew by with their iridescent blue wings and orange of the favorite birds here along with the colorful superb starling.  We made our way down to the river where we came upon a large female lion perched about 20 feet up in a tree.  She looked so relaxed as her legs dangled down in either side of the main branch.  Such huge paws! Very fit and healthy.  We continued down the road towards Seronera and the great plains but were soon inundated with a heavy shower that had us scrambling to close all the roof hatches before we got soaked.  We decided to be safe and not try to tempt fate by continuing on because the black cotton soil could easily strand us in a bad spot and we would have to wait several hours or longer for a tractor to be dispatched to rescue us.  So we turned back towards camp and our timing was perfect because the female lion decided to sit up and pose for us before carefully making her way down the slippery trunk to the ground level.  We were perfectly positioned to see all this action as she slipped and almost fell to the ground from her perch.  Thankfully she made it safely down and everyone got good photos as she jumped the last bit to the ground.  We arrived back in camp just before another major outburst of rain preceded by a ground shaking roll of thunder...I love storms and since we have had a drought in California this storm is even more special for me.  As I write this I am listening to the rain pour down and the birds calling to each other as the light fades from the sky.  The hot water is being hoisted into the bucket behind my tent so that I can enjoy a nice hot shower safari style!  This is the life!

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