The sun couldn't have risen early enough for our last full day of adventure. We were all up just after dawn, and ready to go!
This morning, instead of just going around the lakes, we would go up into the marshes at the West end of Olduvai Gorge. This would be a change of pace from the lake driving we had been doing up to now.
Our first sighting of the young morning was the secretary bird just outside the camp. (19:34) We now saw this unusual raptor nearly everytime we left or returned to camp.
Olduvai Gorge terminates in three valleys at it's Western end. The land starts out fairly dry as you head into this area, but eventually grows swampy. We divided into two groups in the vehicle, one watching the left bank for leopards, and the other watching the right bank. We all took 'scanning breaks' from time to time to look for interesting wildlife on the gorge floor.
We saw a huge flock of guinea fowl on the gorge floor, the largest I had seen to that point. (19:33-30) Njau told us that these birds liked to congregate in large groups in the morning.
Teri was becoming especially frustrated at trying to get good dik-dik photos. We came upon one of these diminutive ungulates, and once again, I was lucky. I got three nice pictures. (19:29-27) This one didn't seem to want to run from us.
This part of the gorge is very pretty. Although the dust on the windshield made this picture less than optimum, I captured at least some of it's beauty. (19:26)
Speaking of dust, the strong winds were really kicking up a lot of dust. I found myself constantly cleaning dust from my camera and binoculars. Indeed, some of the knobs on the camera didn't work as smoothly as before because of the dust. Thankfully, it was not getting inside the camera!
We found an impressive male Grant's gazelle out in the middle of the gorge floor. This is not a place where you would usually find this species. (19:25-23)(This is impala country.) Njau told us that this gazelle may have recently been ousted from his herd. They will often go and be alone for a while after this happens. This was also a good spot to be alone; a predator would have a hard time finding enough cover to hunt this gazelle.
Teri's persistence in trying to photograph dik-diks finally paid off in the ultimate dik-dik sighting! We were coming down a small hill onto the gorge floor, when a dik-dik stepped into the road. Njau stopped, but I don't think he even bothered to turn off the engine this time (Which he usually did if we saw something interesting. One thing the land rover was not was quiet. It had a distinct staccato diesel sound to it.) Everyone who wanted a dik-dik photo was rewarded with an excellent opportunity. The other members of the group, who had access to the roof hatch were especially lucky this time. I had time to get three pictures with the short lens, (19:22-20) and then change to the long lens for three more. (19:19,18,17) The dik-dik then ran off into the bushes. We moved forward, only to stop again at the base of the bushes. The dik-dik was just around the corner in the shadows! (19:16,15) A few moments later, it was joined by it's mate. (Dik-diks mate for life.) I was able to photograph the pair together. (19:14,13) Praise God for wide-latitude film!
Nobody requested a stop to watch dik-dik after this sighting for the rest of the trip. I think everyone was finally happy with their dik-dik sightings!
We made our way into the terminal swamps in the gorge. Even though we explored these extensively, there was not a lot of really new things to see. Despite having plenty of film, I didn't even take a single picture!
No leopards sighted again!
As we left the swamps, we sighted a fairly good-sized herd of zebra crossing the gorge floor at the point where the three terminal valleys came together. As usual, they were moving in single-file. We stopped and watched them move for a while before returning to camp.
The drive back to camp was short because we were on the same side of Lake Ndutu as camp. We ate breakfast and talked about the plans for the rest of the day. Joe and Joyce had already decided not to join us for the rest-of-day game drive we had planned. The heat and dust were getting to them, and they had much packing to do for the next days' departure.
So, Larry and Teri and I set out for the last major game drive of the trip. After discussing various options with Njau, we decided that an exploration of the Central Serengeti was in order, perhaps along the Seronera river, or in and around the Masai Kopjes. The Seronera river gallery forests is some of the best lion country in the park. It is also outstanding leopard country. Researchers from all over the world concentrate their lion studies in this Central Seronera region.
With a picnic lunch in storage in the rear of the land rover, we set out for the Central Serengeti by way of Naabi Hill. Since much of this ground we had covered in previous drives, there was not much new to see. Nevertheless, the heat made Naabi Hill look like a mirage! (19:12)
I was concentrating on getting a picture of a mixed group of Thomson's and Grant's gazelles. It was hard to find a nice representative group. I finally found one that came very close and photographed it. Note the strong black band on the smaller Thomson's gazelles. There is also no white above the root of the tail. The larger Grant's gazelles had much lighter black stripes on their sides, and white above the tail. It looks like I got a male and female tommy in this picture, but both Grant's gazelles are males. (19:11)
A bit further down the road, we found two Grant's gazelles sparring over some matter, probably territory or herd rights. (19:10) Notice how this drew the attention of other Grant's gazelles.
We were nearly to Naabi Hill when Teri said to Njau, 'When we get to Naabi Hill Gate, please leave me there. I am not feeling well.' Indeed, Teri also had a bit of traveler's diarherrea, but she had it worse than me.
Larry was not about to leave her there all day, nor for that matter, would I. Larry said he would stay there with Teri while Njau and I went to points further North. As much as I knew this would seriously disrupt my last chance to really see the Serengeti, I wouldn't agree to this. Njau didn't like that idea, either. So, we turned around and headed back to camp.
Njau didn't mess around. He 'put the pedal to the metal' and drove as fast has he dared. There was a strict speed limit of 50 km/h in the park. We were well over that much of the time.
It was only then that I realized the land rover's engine was turbocharged. The turbocharger's distinct whine was now audible over all the other noise. This was the only time I heard it. This driving was the most demanding we did the whole trip.
Although we were more than an hour out of camp, we made it back in 40 minutes.
One thing we were all being bothered by was the dust. As we got close to the salt flats around Lake Ndutu, we could see great clouds of dust being kicked up by the strong winds. (19:9) Njau said that winds like this were quite unusual in the Serengeti. Chalk up another weird weather event to La Nina!
Once we were back in camp, Teri felt immediately better. Even so, Larry decided that it would be better if he stayed behind with his wife. The dust was also bothering him. So, it looked like Njau and I would would have the rest of the day to ourselves to chase lions on the Serengeti! Even so, I felt bad for everybody that stayed behind. We had all come a long way to see this wonderful place, and I'm sure it was hard to say 'no' to the last good chance!
Joe and Joyce had not been completely disappointed by staying behind. While sitting in the dining tent, they had a special visitor in camp. A leopard! Before either one could pick up their camera for a picture, the leopard went back into the brush. But, this was not all.
A few minutes later, one of the small African cats decided to visit the camp. There was a lot of debate later as to what it may have been, but it was most likely a serval or a caracal. It was reported to have large ears like a serval, but the coloration of a caracal. I guess we will never know, as it too ducked back into the brush before it could be photographed. In any case, the Eddingtons were very lucky to see a leopard, and were incredibly lucky to see one of the smaller cats. Many people have lived in Africa for years and never seen one of the smaller cats!
Njau and I talked about itineraries we could still accomplish in the shortened day. Unfortunately, the Seronera area (Where the heaviest concentration of lions is) was now out of the question. But, there was a little-known back way into the Moru Kopjes that went through some of the more remote parts of the park. We would then swing across the road that we had taken a few days before to get to Sopa Lodge, except this time, we would be headed East towards the Simba Kopjes. We would explore the Simba Kopjes and return home via Naabi Hill. This route would give opportunities to find lions, large herds, and sights that few visitors to the Serengeti ever got to see!
With only enough delay to use the bathroom, we were on our way! As usual, when I was alone with Njau, I rode in one of the roof hatches.
We left camp and headed back into Olduvai Gorge. We would head into the Western Serengeti plains via the Western end of the gorge. Soon after entering the marshes at the end of the gorge, we found a small pond with some wonderful birdlife. We saw a sacred ibis and an unidentified heron (Possibly a goliath heron?). (19:8)This was the best look we had of a sacred ibis, and the new heron species was an added treat. We also saw a small group of sacred ibises with a yellow-billed stork. (19:7)
When we neared the top edge of the gorge, we spotted some zebra. We followed these zebra for just a short distance, and came upon a whole herd of them moving through the forest. This is the largest group of hoofed animals that we had seen in the gorge lakes area. We spent a while observing them. This was a truly impressive herd! (19:6,5,4 The black object visible in the lower right corner of some of these pictures is the land rover's snorkel.)
When we were well out of the gorge, and into a park-like forest area, Njau and I stopped for lunch. This was truly a special experience, as we were in the open Serengeti here, and not in some public area or camp.
While we enjoyed cold chicken, meatloaf and crackers, we looked around. Like almost everywhere else in the Serengeti, there were bones all over. Underneath the tree where we had stopped was the nearly intact wing bones of a large bird, perhaps a vulture.
I took this opportunity to get a picture of Njau with the land rover. (19:3)
Njau has much better vision than I do. He saw numerous animals well to the North of us, through the trees and shrubs. With binoculars, we could make out a large herd of impala or gazelles. As soon as we were finished with lunch, we drove towards this herd. It turned out to be an impressive herd of Grant's gazelles, with a few tommies and zebra thrown in for good measure. We passed through it, and continued on towards the open plains. I got a couple of pictures of this herd, possibly the best collection of Grant's gazelles we had seen. (19:2-0)
We saw two large vultures in a tree, probably white-backed vultures. (20:35) These are the most common large vulture in Africa, and thousands of them may congregate on a dead elephant.
One bird we saw a lot of here was emerald-spotted wood doves. They were so named because of a tiny bright green spot on their otherwise brown wings. hese birds would be on the ground in flocks, nearly blending in. They would take off as soon as we got close, and were therefore a challenge to photograph. I wanted to get a shot of a flock on the ground. However, the 300 millisecond latency when pressing the shutter release on my camera made this difficult. I finally took one picture, but it wasn't quick enough. I ended up with a nice picture of these birds just starting to take off. (20:34)
We saw a kori bustard foraging amongst the bushes. There is also a white fallen tree trunk in the picture, along with a couple of other unidentified white objects. (20:33)
Eventually, we left the forest, and entered the Western Serengeti Plains. Very few people take the trouble to visit this part of the park. As a result, we basically had it to ourselves. For nearly two hours, we did not see another safari vehicle. In fact, we didn't see anyone until we were North of the Moru Kopjes!
The roads out here were virtually nonexistent. They were little more than worn paths on the ground. It was obvious that the park officials were trying to establish a road out here, but there were few takers. There were rusted oil drums placed every few miles to indicate where the road was supposed to be. (20:32 The black object to the right of the road almost on the horizon is one of these drums.) But other than this, there was hardly a sign here of Man's intrusion.
Njau pointed out to me that few people ventured out this way because the roads were so poorly defined. It ws a good place to get lost, as generally only the guides and rangers knew the correct spots to go to find these roads.
The wind, combined with the vehicle's motion made it tough to look straight ahead. There were no visual problems, but the wind noise on the ears was deafening. So, I had to hold my head at an angle to minimize wind noise.
There was some sort of a dust or smoke cloud off in the distance, to our Northwest. It was much further off than it looked, and only slowly grew closer.
We saw a lone jackal along the road. It cooperated with us, and I was able to take two fine pictures. (20:31,30)
Two Thomson's gazelles were fighting a battle royal, undoubtedly over harem rights. They went at for quite some time while we watched. (20:29,28,27,26) They finally paused, but were probably not done by the time we decided to move on!
Eventually, we came within a few miles of the dust cloud. It turned out to be a giant dust devil! This was by far the biggest dust devil I had ever seen. In fact, such a storm in the US would be classified as a F0 tornado. Although it was definitely rotating, the degree of rotation was very hard to judge. (20:25,24) It turned out to be a good moment to have photographed it, as it dissipated within 5 minutes after I took the pictures. (Very large dust devils like this one are fairly common in East Africa, I have recently learned.)
Some hills started to appear to our South. These may have been the Soito Kopjes. In any case, this marked the area where we would begin heading North to the Moru Kopjes. Indeed, it wasn't much further on that we found the road headed North. This road was better defined than the one we had been on.
We now started to see large herds of bigger animals, mostly zebra and wildebeest. These varied in size and composition as we drove through them. Some cattle egrets were also seen in amongst the large grazers. (20:23-19)
Our path paralleled a range of hills called Oldoinyo Olobaye. These hills had some impressive rock formations poking out of their forested covering. (20:18)
As we neared the Moru Kopjes, we saw more mixed herds, but not as heavy as we had seen further South. The kopjes made an interesting backdrop for observing them. (20:17,16,15,14,13) One group of wildebeest we encountered was accompanied by quite a number of young calves. (20:12)
We discovered another group of vultures resting on the ground. They were white-backed vultures. As usual when we found vultures on the ground, they were not feeding. (20:11,10)
As we got closer to the Moru Kopjes, the herds thinned out. Still, there were many animals around. I decided this would be a good spot to take 4 pictures, each looking a different direction.(20:9 looking East. The double hill in the middle of the picture is probably Naabi Hill even though were were a good 20 or more miles from it., 8 looking North, 7 looking West, 6 looking South.)
When we finally reached the Moru Kopjes, we took a path that would take us past a number of the larger kopjes. It would also take us through an open area that was in the middle of the Kopjes. We scanned the rocky hills carefully for signs of predators and other interesting things. We saw none. However, we did see beautiful rock formations, dotted with various types of vegetation. Especially notable on these kopjes were the numerous candelabra trees. (20:5) Boulders would jut out at odd angles, be balanced precariously on one another, be split in half, etc. These were definitely ancient rock formations! One kopje featured a rock projection distantly reminiscent of 'Pride Rock' of 'Lion King' fame! (20:4 I didn't notice this until I was writing this journal!)
In the clearing in the middle of the kopjes, we came upon our only confirmed-in-the-field sighting of vultures on a carcass. We found two small vultures feeding on the tiny remains of an obviously premature wildebeest calf. This was right on the edge of the road, and we were able to get a good look before the vultures flew off.
Njau drove in close to the base of one kopje, and stopped the vehicle. 'Follow me' he said as he started getting out. I followed Njau as he started to climb the kopje. It was a steep, tough climb, but a short one. I managed to make it without a problem.
What we found was a small cave. Around the entrance to the cave were paintings done by the Masai. (20:3,2, 21:36) You can clearly make out their distinctive shields, some cattle, and a couple of human figures. Although these paintings are by no means ancient (The Masai first arrived on the scene about 200 years ago.), they are interesting and unspoiled. I suspect that not everyone is shown these paintings, so I thoroughly relished the moment. Larry and Teri had talked about these, and had expressed some disappointment in not being able to see them. (They are archaeologists.) I will share my pictures of the artwork with them.
There was more to see here than just the paintings. There were some interesting birds' nests on the roof of the cave opening. (20:1) I forget what kind of birds made these nests.
The cave itself had apparently been sealed off at one time. (21:35) There is a row of stones together in the ground that spans the opening. The walls are also a different color past this point, suggesting the inside of the cave had been painted at one time. I didn't ask what the cave had been used for, and I knew better not to ask to explore it! (I did have a small flashlight with me.)
While we were up at the cave, I took some pictures of the surrounding area. (21:34-32) One can easily see how these tough old rocks are slowly breaking down into smaller rocks.
We climbed back down and continued our sightseeing tour of the Moru Kopjes. It is interesting to see the odd way that some boulders are piled on top of each other. It's hard to imagine that this is all natural. (21:30,22)
I forget the exact circumstances, but I unknowingly caught a magnificent picture of a lappet-faced vulture in flight. (This bird was incorrectly identified as a white-backed vulture on the CD-ROM's I have distributed containing this journal. Thanks, Bruce Patterson of the Field Museum of Natural History for pointing this out!) (21:31)
We stopped at another kopje, and embarked on a steeper and somewhat dangerous climb. Here, the climb was over relatively smooth rock, and very steep. I assumed the 'spider' position and walked up on all fours. The really tricky part was climbing under a candelabra tree that was just high enough to get under. No sap burns for this guy! This particular kopje had quite a number of these trees on it. (21:29,25)
It was a good thing this was not an easy climb and that it was in the middle of nowhere. We were greeted with a most unusual find. A musical stone!
There were actually two of them. The more notable one was crescent shaped, and rested upside down on it's curved surface. It was covered with dozens of depressions. It was 5 or 6 feet across at the top. A number of small stones were sitting on top of this stone, to be used for striking the big stone. (21:27,26) (Note the graffiti. It's sad to see this in such a pristine place.)
If you struck the stone, it yielded a clear, high-pitched note. Although I can no longer remember the pitch, it was much higher than a stone this size should ever make. Although you could get different timbres by hitting different depressions, the note was basically the same. Scientists are not sure why this stone is musical. Being hollow has been ruled out. My suspicion is that this is a volcanic rock, from lava that cooled very quickly. It cooled so quickly that internal stresses in the rock didn't have a chance to relieve themselves. Thus, the rock is under a great deal of internal stress, and thus has a high resonant frequency. It is possible that one day this rock will simply disintegrate, perhaps explosively, because of it's internal stresses.
Nearby is a second musical stone. (21:28, part of 26) This stone produces a clear tone as well, but is much lower-pitched and not as loud. Even so, a rock this size shouldn't have a resonant frequency anywhere near as high as it does. I kind of suspect that the smaller musical rock is a boulder that broke off of this larger rock many years ago. In any case, seeing this was one of the high points of the trip. Like the paintings, I suspect not everyone is shown this spot!
The musical stone was used by the Masai for important tribal meetings once held on this spot.
We were fairly high up here, and the view was breathtaking! I took a couple of nice scenery shots, one of them with the musical rock in the foreground. (21:24,23)
We carefully climbed down the rocky slope, careful to avoid contact with the poisonous candelabra tree that nearly blocked the path. Again, this required some careful climbing in 'spider' mode. Carrying a camera and binoculars didn't help matters, either.
Before leaving the Moru Kopjes, I got one more photograph of precariously-balanced large rocks! (21:22)
As we continued our trek Northward towards Lake Magadi, we came across a family of warthogs. Although they were not very cooperative, I did get a couple of nice pictures. There was a mother and three piglets. (21:21,20)
Just before we reached Lake Magadi, we saw two dead wildebeest, one on each side of the road. They looked like they had been partly eaten, and had been dead for perhaps a day or less. So, it was no surprise that we found a lioness guarding one of these carcasses, while resting in the shade. (21:19,18, the kill, 17. 21:17 Scanned at 600 d.p.i.) There, she could digest her feast, stay cool, and guard the rest for later. Praise the Lord!
While driving around the shore of Lake Magadi, we saw a new species of antelope, the reedbuck. (21:16,15. 21:16 scanned at 600 d.p.i.) Like the dik-dik, these antelope apparently live in pairs.
There was not a lot to be seen on the road that crossed from Lake Magadi to the area just North of the Simba Kopjes. This was probably the least interesting part of this particular drive. Yet, I am sure I was enjoying what could be seen!
Soon, the Simba Kopjes came into view. These are more run-down than the Moru Kopjes. They also have less stones balanced in odd positions.(21:14)
There were also some man-made hills in this area, as this is where stone is quarried for road maintenance. Near one of these hills, we found a bunch of safari vehicles, and for good reason. There was a family of cheetah on top of the hill, sunning themselves and searching the plains below! This was a magnificent sight that we sat and watched for a while.
The sun was not right here for good photography. Nevertheless, by bracketing exposures, and intentionally overexposing some shots, I obtained a couple of reasonably good pictures of this memorable scene. (21:13,12,11,10,9)
I asked Njau how many of the six cubs there would make it to adulthood. He told me there is a good chance that all will make it. There might not be as many cheetahs being born, but those that are born have very good survival prospects. Food is not a problem here, and they can outrun most danger.
We drove around the kopjes, but did not spend a lot of time there. It was starting to get late, and we needed to think about getting back to camp. I got a nice picture of one of the Simba Kopjes. (21:7)
The Simba kopjes ultimately lived up to their name! Just South of these kopjes, we found three lions. A male and two females, apparently resting. The two males had impressive, dark manes, which this part of Africa is famous for. These lions were active, and moved around a bit from time to time. As a result, I caught several different views of them on film. (21:6,5,4. 21:6 and 21:5 were scanned at 600 d.p.i.) For the last shot, one of the males turned to face me. Boy, I wish I had a longer lens! Praise the Lord!
As we continued towards Naabi Hill gate, we came across two dead gazelles in the road, apparently road kills from (apparently) carelessly-driven safari vehicles. Njau said there wouldn't be a trace of them by morning. The hyenas would take care of them. We would have a chance to test his theory, so I noted approximately where I had seen them.
As we headed for camp, I didn't try to take a lot of pictures. Most of what we saw had been thoroughly documented on film earlier; namely thousands of gazelles. There were occasional ostriches and kori bustards, and perhaps a zebra or two. I wanted to get a picture of ostriches and a kori bustard together. This never materialized. I was also still trying to get a definitive shot showing a male and female tommy, as well as a male and female Grant's gazelle, all together for comparison. Although I came close, I never got exactly what I wanted.
We crossed through Naabi Hill Gate, and continued back to our camp.
The final photo opportunity on this drive came when we were going around Lake Ndutu. A black-breasted snake eagle was sitting in a tree, and the light was just right. The result was a nice picture. (21:3)
Camp was tough to return to, as this was the conclusion of the final full game drive of the trip!
I wanted to use up the last two shots in this roll of film so I would have fast film for the morning drive to the airstrip. I got one picture of the camp staff's tents, showing all of their equipment. (21:2) No wonder this type of travel is expensive. All this stuff has to be hauled around between camps!
Teri took a picture of me in front of my tent. (21:1) This was before my shower, and my hair was all frizzy from the wind and dust. My face was also smudged with dust, as well. The sunscreen made sure this stuck fast to my face. You can also see the Masai bead bracelet on my right wrist. I was one dirty, but happy camper!
A shower felt especially good that evening, as I was probably dirtier than at any other time in the trip! (In retrospect, the showers always felt good!)
After the shower, I took time to carefully clean my camera and binoculars. They had really taken a beating that day. The main function knob on the camera had actually started to get stiff, and I had to work the dust out of the switch shaft.
Next, Larry, Teri, Joe and I worked out the tips for the camp staff and for Njau. I had already decided that Njau deserved a very generous tip because of the special times we had enjoyed together. Larry, who was somewhat the spokesman for our group, agreed, saying 'You are very justified giving such a generous tip. You two had a good time together.' Larry also suggested that I give my tip to Njau separately from the others. I had no problem with this. After figuring this all out, there were endless signatures to put on traveler's checks! This kept me busy until dinnertime.
Dinner that evening was roast lamb, something I had come to enjoy very much there. (One unusual meat I like is goat, and I have a good local source here in the 'states to get it. Goat is also one of the more common meats consumed in East Africa, so I figured that it would probably be on the menu at some time. I remember at one of the previous camps asking Thomas if we were going to have goat any night. He looked at me in horror! Apparently, the cooks in these camps figure that Americans are not used to eating goat!)
This was kind of a bittersweet time, as it was our last candlelight dinner together in the bush.
We discussed our plans for the next day. We would get up early for breakfast, and head for the airstrip. Although we would not have a lot of extra time, there would be enough to do a little game viewing on the way.
The camp staff forgot to put out water for our nocturnal visitor. Nevertheless, it visited us again just after everyone had retired. It looked around for the water. You could hear it nosing about. Then, it left. A short while later, we heard hyena calls not too far off. (We actually heard these quite a bit at night.)
It was a restless night. My diarrhea was a bit worse that night, and it frequently kept me awake. Also, the prospect of leaving this wonderful place, just as we were beginning to really know it troubled me!