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Tuesday, February 9, 1999
Tarangire National Park, Tanzania

6 AM came early. It was hard to get motivated after the dreadful nights' sleep. But, I was soon quite awake as the excitement of a full day of game drives began.

This day, I chose to wear the sweatshirt I had brought. It might help keep the tsetse flies from biting. Although I had insect repellent, I didn't want to use it until I needed it, as it formed a wretched combination with the sunblock.

The sun was still not fully up when we hit the road. So, the first notable thing I saw was the sunrise. I got two nice pictures of it. (1:2,1) Although I tried to hand-bracket exposures on these sunrise/sunset shots, in the end it didn't do much good. The camera's chosen exposure was pretty much just right.

This game drive explored some of the routes in the Northern end of the park.

The first animal encountered when the sun was up enough to allow photography was a dik-dik. The smallest of the antelope, it is about the size of a medium dog. Unlike the larger antelope that live in herds, the dik-dik lives in pairs that mate for life. You will almost always see two together. In this particular instance, we didn't. Dik-diks turned out to be quite troublesome for the others in our group to photograph. I don't know why, but I rarely had a problem getting a good shot. I am now rewarded with a glut of good dik-dik photos! I got three in this instance. (2:36-34)

As we approached a sharp turn in the road, we ran into baboons. They were everywhere. In the trees, on the ground, everywhere! Young ones and old ones. We spent quite some time watching them. They are fascinating to observe. (2:32,31,30,29)

We made the turn, and immediately ran into a vervet monkey. Although I thought I got a picture before he had turned, I didn't. I did get him running off, though. I think I was the only person who even got a picture in this instance. (2:28)

Njau is an expert on birds. He took every opportunity to teach us about them. It added much enrichment to the trip. He told us that it also was very helpful when he got a group of serious birdwatchers. One of the first good bird sightings we made was this tree full of vultures. (2:27) No, there was no dead animal nearby. Most every very time we saw vultures, they were resting.

A bit later, we ran into several bull elephant near and on the road. We stopped for a half hour and just observed them. A couple of them had one tusk missing. (2:26-23) The last picture shows an interesting behavior that we often observed: A male elephant would drag his penis on the ground. They apparently do this to leave some sort of scent mark.

In our many crossings of the Tarangire River that day, we saw lots of interesting birds. Here is a tawny eagle by the water. (2:22) These common raptors are effective, adaptable hunters that will even hang out around livestock herds.

This bull giraffe was an imposing animal that almost literally posed for us. Too bad the light wasn't better. (2:21,20)

Njau stopped us by a bush called the toothbrush tree. It was used by the local tribes as a bush toothbrush. He demonstrated how to do it: Break off a twig of the plant and fray the end. The fibers form a kind of brush. Then, work it over your teeth. Not only does it function as a toothbrush, but it has a refreshing taste.

We also saw zebra and waterbuck on this drive, but not in great numbers.

We returned to camp for breakfast. I took this opportunity to get some group and camp pictures. The first was our group at breakfast. (2:19) From left to right: Teri Cleeland, Larry Lesko, Peter Njau our guide, Joe Eddington and Joyce Eddington. Breakfast invariably consisted of a fruit course, followed by a porridge course, followed by a meat and eggs course. I always just had bacon and sausage, just as I do at home. After a while, I came to really like the African seasonings in both the bacon and the sausage.

In the middle of our camp was a monstrous fig tree. (2:18) It was fascinating to examine. It had been through a lot but it continues to thrive. Many of the bones I found in the camp were at the base of this tree.

The three guest tents were lined up in a row. (2:17) My tent (2:14) was always the farthest from camp center; I liked it that way.

Across the dry river from camp, there were many huge baobab trees. (2:16,15) They survive in dry climates by storing water in their large trunks. We were lucky to be in Tarangire at the time of the year when these trees have leaves. They only have leaves for a few months each year. These trees can be as much as 3,000 years old. Their only real enemy is elephants. Tarangire National Park is famous for it's baobab forests.

Here is another view of the riverbed.(2:13) The depth of the bank cuts suggest that there must be quite a bit of water flowing here at some times.

For the late morning game drive, it was only Larry, myeslf and Njau. As a result, I had the whole rear roof hatch to myself. I quickly learned how comfortable I had it when riding in the front seat! In any case, it was much easier to initially spot game. It also offered a slightly different view from a photographic standpoint.

On this drive, we mainly explored the gallery forests along the Tarangire River. Here, we saw vast numbers of elephant, along with abundant birdlife. The first birds we stopped to observe was a flock of ostriches. (2:12-9) Although it's no longer hard to find ostriches in the US on farms, and there is some ostrich in my freezer, it is much different to see them in the wild. The males are easy to tell from the females-- they're darker. Male ostriches also spend a lot of time incubating eggs, a job usually done by female birds.

One of the prettiest birds to be found in Tarangire is the lilac-breasted roller. This colorful bird is also very common. I got an absolutely superb photo of one in an acacia tree (2:7). These birds are called rollers because they will sometimes climb up high, and tumble in midair. We never did see one do this.

The Tanzania National Parks Service has constructed a number of bridges across the Tarangire River. Although these are substantial structures, they have no guard rail, etc. to obstruct your view. This bridge (2:6), which wasn't too far from the airstrip, was a good spot to see water birds. Much of the year, the river doesn't have a lot of water, but there is always some. (2:5 Looking East, 2:1 Looking West) However, there is ample evidence that this river can be a torrent at times. A grey heron we spotted was giving us an almost comical expression! (2:4,3,2) We saw a blacksmith lapwing here, as well (2:0) We also spotted a tawny eagle here, on the water's edge.

We then continued South on the West Bank Road. This road first crossed a large plains area. There we saw frequent signs of past predator activity, in the form of bones. Eventually, we caught up with the Tarangire river again, and began seeing more (live) wildlife.

A giraffe observed us at length while we observed it! (3:36) This was a treat, as they tended to be rather shy, and usually maintained a respectable flight distance. A pair of oxpeckers searched for ticks on the giraffe's neck.

We came across a bunch of vultures on the shore of a small waterhole. They were sunning themselves, and probably getting a drink. (3:35) We always seemed to see vultures in groups. These appear to be hooded vultures. Vultures are animals that tend to be shunned by humans, as they eat thoroughly dead animals. They are actually intelligent birds superbly adapted to their role of cleaning up dead animals. They come in all sizes, and feed in order on a carcass. The largest vultures have enough strength to open the thickest-skinned carcasses. Others have very long necks so they can eat deep inside the carcass through a small hole. Other vultures have very small beaks, enabling them to get the last little morsels of meat between bones.

Elephant were everywhere along the river course. Although we would often come across whole herds of them, there were almost always some in view somewhere. Tarangire truly is a great spot for observing elephant! (3:34,33)

Even though this isn't the Serengeti (Tarangire is on the floor of the rift valley), it is still mostly, even incredibly flat. This picture (3:32) gives you an idea of how flat it really is.

One other thing we came across was a stand of date palm trees. Although we saw these here and there, there was an impressive stand of about 26 trees along the West Bank Road. Both elephants and baboons like the dates. Baboons can climb the trees to get the dates. In the process, many dates fall to the ground. Elephants will wait for the dates to fall and eat them. Thus, baboons help the elephants get a favorite treat.

We returned to camp for a late lunch. After that, there ws a few hours to relax. I took this opportunity to photograph the inside of my tent (3:31). I also explored the area where I had found the bones the night before. I found most of a skull of a large ungulate, quite possibly a zebra. It was also evident that there were the remains of at least two different animals here, as I found some much older bones. One of these was the end of a horn, quite possibly that of a wildebeest.

Late afternoon found us back on the road for a game drive. I was back 'riding shotgun'. By now, it was quite warm, and I had the uncomfortable combination of sunblock+insect repellent on. As it turns out, this was one of the few days I had to use a lot of insect repellent.

We spent much of this drive in the Northern part of the park, not straying too far from camp.

We came across a nice harem herd of impala grazing in the shade of a baobab tree. (3:30) We saw a lot of impala that afternoon. (3:26,25)

As usual, we saw guinea fowl almost everywhere. In one spot, we saw them both on the ground (3:29,28) and in a tree. (3:27) In one of these pictures, I also captured a yellow-necked spurfowl. (3:28) These were very common birds. Somehow, this is the only picture I got of one.

Weaver birds of various sorts are common throughout East Africa. They build very conspicuous nests that hang in trees. (3:24)

Got an excellent photo of a giraffe grazing on the top of a small acacia tree. (3:23) The giraffe has a long hard tongue that can strip the small leaves off of a thorn-covered acacia twig without sustaining injury. They are one of the few animals that can do this.

There were a lot of zebra on the move that afternoon, and we got to observe them doing various behaviors. As usual, they were moving single-file in long lines. (3:22) We also got to observe two zebra pushing against each other in a dominance struggle in the dramatic light of the late afternoon. (3:21)

We saw two big black birds that I cannot now identify. They were stork-like and very pretty. (3:20,19)

I managed to get another really nice picture of a lilac-breasted roller. (3:18)

Warthogs were always a challenge to observe. Very shy, they would run off if a vehicle approached. But, every now and then, we were rewarded with a nice warthog observing opportunity. We had one of these this afternoon. (3:17,16)

We came across a zebra that hadn't had a good day. It was laying dead in the grass, just a few yards off the road. (3:15) The hindquarters had been pretty much eaten, and the big bones were intact. This is the textbook eating pattern of lions, who, after feasting on the entrails of it's prey, starts eating the body itself from the hindquarters. They also don't chew up the large bones, but instead lick them clean. This kill was very fresh, probably from the previous night. I redoubled my efforts to spot lion!

Now onto something that is somewhat more resistant to being killed than a zebra. This something is a baobab tree. They can live to be 3,000 years old. The thing that tends to shorten their life is elephants. They will peel off the bark with their tusks and eat it. Most of the time, the tree will grow back new bark. But, sometimes elephants will keep damaging a tree to the point where they dig a hole right through it! (3:14,13) This tree is healthy now, but the large opening makes the tree vulnerable to disease. It will probably die in a few years. Meanwhile, it's something you don't see anywhere else!

The dying light of the afternoon gave me an opportunity to get a few nice photos of a small herd of impala. (3:12,11,10,9) This was a harem herd, and it's male was a young one. It just had spikes for horns. There was also a very young fawn with this herd, perhaps a few weeks old. The mothers of many of the antelope have a curious habit. They will eat the feces of their very young fawns. They do this by putting their mouth right up to the anus of the fawn and eating the feces as they defecate. When we observed this behavior, the fawn was usually suckling. Instinct has taught the fawn to always relieve itself at this time, and the mother to expect this. In this particular instance, the fawn was not suckling (3:10). The reason the mothers do this is that the feces of suckling fawns had a particular odor that the predators recognize. If the feces were left on the ground, a predator would figure out that a easy-to-catch fawn ws nearby and redouble it's efforts to get the easy meal. Instead, the fawn leaves no trace of it's existence for predators to discover.

The last notable thing seen that afternoon was a tawny eagle in the top of a dead tree. It was very picturesque. (3:8)

We returned to camp for a shower and dinner. This was my first opportunity to try a bush shower. I was concerned that there wouldn't be enough water. In truth, there was enough water provided to take two showers! I soon got to enjoy this particular ritual of camp life.

That night at dinner, we decided to start out later the next day, and drive down to the swamps in the East Central part of the park, specifically Siliae Swamp. There, we would have a picnic lunch. Then, we would game-drive our way out of the park, and drive to the Lake Manyara area. We would end up at our next stopping place, Kirurumu Tented Lodge, in late afternoon.

After looking at the stars, and doing a guided tour of the night sky for Larry, I hit the sack. It was a much better night's sleep. However, I had a strange dream that one of the radio announcers at the radio/TV station I work for was instructing me on how to fix an ancient TV transmitter we had (But only in the dream. Our transmitter is much newer.)! I began to wonder if the anti-malarial drug I was taking was making me wacky. It wasn't. This was the only strange dream I had while in Africa.

Heard most of the same animal sounds I had heard the night before. The lions were much farther off, even though the kill we found was only about 5 miles away. At least the animal sounds didn't keep me awake all night, like the night before!

Next: Rare wild dogs and our first lion sightings!

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