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Tuesday, February 16, 1999
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

We slept a bit later that morning, as we did not have as aggressive a game drive plan as the previous day. But, We were still up before sunrise. As I learned how to better utilize the manual settings of my camera, I again attempted some sunrise shots. They turned out very nice. (16:10,9,8) These 'African sunrise ' pictures will bring back fond memories for many years to come.

As soon as the light was good enough, I went out to the water bucket to see what might have been drinking from it. I was quite elated to find pawprints! From their size, I concluded that they were hyena prints.

Breakfast here was no different from the previous camp crew. Fruit first, then porridge, then eggs/bacon/sausage. As we ate, we discussed the days plans. The overriding consensus is that we should make a maximal effort to find leopard. After all, this area with it's craggy acacia tree forests was prime leopard country. We would stick around the Lake Ndutu/Lake Masek area, as there was plenty of this forestland to explore around the lakes.

We were soon on our way. We crossed the salt flats between the two lakes several times as we explored promising bits of forestland. Again, I was the lucky one and got some more good dik-dik pictures.(16:7,6) The early morning light made these turn out especially nice. (I have also wondered if sitting in the low front seat had anything to do with getting all the good dik-dik pictures!)

The morning sun also caught an elephant out for an early morning snack. (16:5) Elephants do not have efficient digestive systems, and so have to eat enormous quantities of food to survive. Although we didn't see large herds of elephants here, we did see them frequently.

Flamingos were a source of endless fascination, especially to Larry and Teri. We spent a lot of time sitting on the shore of Lake Masek watching them. (16:4,3,2,1,0) We were at what I suspect was the Eastern end of the lake, which is quite a bit smaller than Lake Ndutu. Flamingos are not naturally pink. They get their coloring from substances in their food, which is mostly tiny organisms, like brine shrimp, insects, snail larvae and blue-green algae.

Along with the flamingos, we saw some shorebirds as well. Unfortunately, I could not re-identify the black and white bird with the black and white head we saw there. (17:35,34) However, I was able to identify a three-banded plover along with the other unidentifiable birds. Notice the flamingos with their heads underwater, feeding. They have filters in their mouths very much like whales for removing their tiny-bodied food from the water.

Everyone in our group was keen on getting a picture of the flamingos trying to fly. They run across the surface of the water for a long distance before they build up enough speed to become airborne. Once they do become airborne, they tend to fly low above the water. I got a nice shot of a single flamingo flying above the water. It turned out sort of neat in the early morning light. (17:33)

We saw numerous smaller birds as well, such as blacksmith lapwing (17:32) and Kittlitz's plover. (17:30)

After watching the flamingos from various places, we made our way back to the road above the lake. There, we could see the flamingos out on the lake. (17:29,28,27) We also saw the usual guinea fowl that seemed to be everywhere in East Africa. (17:26)

As we started to move to another spot, Larry suddenly shouted 'lion!' It took us a moment to see what he had seen. There was one, no, two male lions walking along the beach!

Njau took the nearest 'cross-country' route he could to get back on the beach. When we got down there, we found two really nice male lions out for a walk in the midmorning sun. (17:25,24,23,22, 21,20) We followed these animals as they walked along. They were fairly young animals, with their best years undoubtedly ahead of them. They appeared to be in good health and well-fed. There is no way to tell if these were leaders of a pride or just a pair of brothers. (They had a lot of similar features, suggesting they were from the same litter. Note, however, that one of the lions has a slightly darker mane.) Even at their young age, they carried plenty of battle-scars. Some of these would be from their dinner trying to get away. Others would be from rough play. Still others would be from real fighting. Males like this will often stay together for the rest of their lives, even after they have lost a pride.

The lions finally found a spot to lie down in the shade. We crept up to within about 20 feet or so of them, and just watched. Here, I had the very best seat! These two lions just laid there and 'looked regal' for us for about 15 minutes. The cameras (especially mine!) were quickly using up Kodak's finest as we observed and enjoyed this wonderful treat. (17:19,18,17,16,15,14,13, 12,11,10, 9,8,7,6, 5,4,3) For me, this was the finest moment so far of the entire trip. Without a doubt, these are my favorite photographs from the entire time I was in East Africa!

It is absolutely remarkable how laid-back these powerful animals are. They didn't mind our noise and presence one bit. When they finally got bored of us, they flopped over asleep. (17:2) Remember, lions sleep up to 20 hours a day. It's nice to be at the top of the food chain! Praise and glory to the Lord!

After an extended period of observation, we decided to move on. Others afari vehicles from all around the lake had spotted us, and were trying to figure out how to get where we were. The land rovers didn't have any problems, but minivans had to find a road down to the lakeshore. We left just as the first other vehicle was arriving.

We now had a bit of a problem ourselves. How did we get back to the road? We ended up driving for a considerable distance down the beach, looking for a suitable path back to the road. (We did not want to use the same route we had used to get to the beach to get back. That way, we minized the likliehood of making a new road.) While looking for this route. We stopped and did some more flamingo observing. (18:36) I also got another nice picture of flamingos taking off. (18:35)

We never did find a good route back to the road. We ended up having to go through the brush again. This is not a good thing to have to do, and Njau tried hard to avoid it. The ride through the bush was somewhat exciting as most everything has thorns on it! It's nice to be able to keep your elbows out of the windows, but they had to be frequently drawn back in while driving through the brush. Even with slow speeds and careful avoidance, I was contacted a couple of times (Without injury!) by passing brush.

When we finally did make our way back to the road, we stopped and Njau got out and cleared branches that had got hung up on the land rover's undercarriage.

The rest of that game drive was totally uneventful. We didn't see leopards or much of anything else. We finally made our way back to camp.

The first order of business when we got back was photographing what was left of the hyena footprints. The camp staff had partly obliterated them during their work routines. (18:34) Still, a reasonably clear pawprint or two is visible. (Note the lack of claw marks. This would prove significant later.)

Another photographic task I took care of in camp was to take a close-up photo of a branch of an acacia tree that was growing close to my tent. You can see the two features that characterize all species of acacia: thorns and very small leaves. (18:33) This was a surprisingly difficult picture to take.

It was decided that there would be no late morning game drive. Therefore, there would be nothing going on until late in the afternoon. I spent the late morning trying to take a nap. After lunch, we spent a long time exchanging addresses and postcards showing where we lived.

For me, this was an incredibly boring afternoon. One can nap for only so long! So, I read parts of my field guide and the travel handbook. I also spent a fair amount of time studying the Swahili phrasebook I had brought along. It was very interesting. In retrospect, I should have spent more time before the trip trying to get a grasp on Swahili. At least, language had never proved to be a real barrier anywhere we went. This is not true of much of the rest of the world.

I should have also brought a good, long book to read! (Larry had brought 'The Man-eaters of Tsavo', and we discussed that book on many occasions. I had planned to bring 'War and Peace', but I couldn't find my copy! Of course, it magically appeared shortly after I got back home!)

Late afternoon finally arrived, and we were back on the road. We did pretty much what we had done in the morning: Drove around Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek looking for leopard!

Just outside of camp, we found a secretary bird tending to it's nest. It was in the top of an acacia tree. It was feeding one of it's chicks, by regurgitating food stored in it's crop. (18:32,31,30. 18:30 scanned at 600 d.p.i.)

We came upon a nice harem herd of impala. (18:29,28) Although the plains sections of Serengeti National Park are dominated by gazelles, the woodlands are dominated by the larger impala. This was the most common mammal we spotted around the lakes.

Although there were no large herds here now, there was plenty of evidence of their having been here in the recent past. Everywhere you went, there were bones on the ground. On the shore of Lake Masek, we found a few more complete skeletons. (18:27,25,24) These bones and skeletons tell many a story of unlucky prey-- and happy predators and scavengers!

We now spent a lot of time watching flamingos. Although they aren't my favorites, the others thoroughly enjoyed observing them. There were plenty to be seen, with a couple of blacksmith lapwings thrown in for good measure. (18:26,23-21)

We now noticed a flamingo with a hopelessly broken leg. It would flip one of it's feet almost to it's neck as it walked in the water. It was hard to tell whether this was a new or old injury. It otherwise looked to be in good health, and could manage just fine in the water. (18:20,19,18,17 Frame 17 clearly shows the leg problem.) One thing this bird could not do was get up enough speed to take off in flight. Although it tried to join it's flock when it took off, it never succeeded, and was left behind with a few others that had decided not to fly off.

We moved a ways down the lake, and watched more flamingos. The light was now perfect for some take-off shots. (18:16,15) I also managed to 'bag' another safari vehicle across the lake!

After completing our exploration of the Lake Masek shore, we made our way back to the road above the lake. We hadn't gone far when we spotted a safari vehicle in the brush. We found an easy way to get to where it had been. (It was moving off.) When we got there, we found the two lions from earlier in the day!

These lions were even less interested in us than they had been earlier. They quickly looked at us and went promptly back to the business at hand-- sleeping! And this with us being less than 20 feet away! It must be the life to be a successful lion! (18:14,13,11, 10,9,8) Praise the Lord!

Leaving the sleeping cats behind, we soon discovered a pair of lion appetizers-- dik-diks! (18:7) This was a nice pair, and again, I got the great shot of them. (What will I ever do with all those dik-dik pictures?)

We found a hornbill in a tree. It had it's back to us, and I never was able to determine the exact species. (18:6) There are many different species of hornbills.

We found another dik-dik, who let us get some good photos. I think that everyone got some decent pictures this time. The ones I got are good enough for a biology textbook. Note the tiny horns. (18:5,4,3,2)

It was starting to get close to sunset, so we decided to end our game drive by exploring the shore of Lake Ndutu. The sun and the clouds and the lake combined to create some spectacular scenic shots. (18:1,19:36) It doesn't get any prettier than this!

Unlike Lake Masek, Lake Ndutu had a substantial quantity of mineral buildup around it's shore. It must be considerably more alkaline than Lake Masek. (19:35) There were also rings of stones, showing where the water's edge had previously been.

So ended our second exciting day of game driving in the Serengeti. The elusive leopard had evaded us once again!

Camp that night was pretty usual: a shower, optics maintenance, journal updates, and some time to relax before dinner. Of course, dinner was served to us in style!

At dinner, we planned our last full day of game driving. As it would be our last day, it would be a full one. The whole group would go for an early morning drive around the lakes. After returning for breakfast, Larry, Teri and I would set out for an extended drive, either down to the South, or up into the central Serengeti, perhaps along the Seronera River. We would take a picnic lunch and stay out until dusk!

I imagined the whole prides of lions we would see tomorrow as I crawled into bed that night! I quickly fell asleep. But, soon, I was wide awake! There were noises behind the tent again. Our hyena friend had returned! A few seconds later, it took a good, long drink out of the water pail. A moment later, it wandered off, not to be heard in camp again that night. A few minutes later, I heard a hyena call from not too far away. It was perhaps a half mile to a mile from us.

I heard a couple of other animals wander through the camp later in the night. Then, I heard an intermittent flapping. Elephant ears? It just had to be. The flapping sound persisted, and seemed to move around, accompanied by sounds in the grass. The flapping persisted, and persisted and persisted.... It couldn't be elephants. It had to be the wind. Indeed, the flapping grew worse as the night wore on and the wind increased. It looked like our last day in the Serengeti was to be a windy one!

I didn't sleep particularly well that night, as I had developed a mild case of traveler's diarrhea. It wasn't serious enough to warrant taking the antibiotics I had brought, but it still made me a bit uncomfortable. Although this persisted into the next morning, the excitement of the day soon made me soon forget about it!

Next: The mega-game drive and what became of it!

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