Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mti Mkweo Simba

Click all pics to enlarge

Now that I'm finally back home after another 10 days on the road, I have started work on Part 3 of my Tanzanian adventure. However, as an interim post, I thought I'd share some photos of one of the more interesting and unusual behavioral traits we witnessed in Serengeti National Park. When I was preparing for the trip, I read that the lions of Lake Manyara National Park are one of the two known populations of tree-climbing lions in the world (the other located in Uganda). Alas, the lions we observed at Lake Manyara were all firmly planted on the ground. We were all surprised, however, to discover that someone neglected to tell the lions of Serengeti National Park that they do not climb trees. In the six and a half days we spent in Serengeti National Park, we observed lions resting in trees on at least five occasions. No one is sure exactly why lions sometimes climb trees, though the most popular hypotheses center around relief from biting flies, or to take advantage of cooling breezes. The title of this post is a literal Swahili translation of "tree climbing lions", though since I do not speak or write Swahili, it is probably not grammatically correct. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy the pics, however!

Friday, July 3, 2009


Seeing Jenny Lewis tonight at the National Theater in Richmond, then again Sunday night in Pittsburgh. Woohoo! Hopefully then she'll get back in the studio with Rilo Kiley.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tanzania Part 2 - Ngorongoro Crater

After leaving Lake Manyara on the afternoon of June 5, we climbed the Rift Valley escarpment heading toward the crater highlands of Northern Tanzania. Our destination, Ngorongoro Crater, is the largets unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera in the world. The crater floor sits 2000 feet below the crater rim, and covers an area of 102 square miles. Though zebra and wildebeest move in an out of the crater throughout the year, there is very little immigration/emmigration of the crater lion population, with the result that the crater lions have become severely inbred. The crater is home to about 25,000 large mammals, including the "Big 5" species of lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino, but there are no impala or giraffes in the crater. New bird species added enroute to the crater and on the grounds of Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge were Long-crested Eagle, Speckled Pigeon, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Red-rumped Swallow, Cape Robin-Chat, Common Stonechat, White-browed Scrub-Robin, White-eyed Slaty Flycatcher, Montane White-eye, Golden-winged Sunbird, Tacazze Sunbird, Scarlet-tufted Malachite Sunbird, Baglafecht Weaver, and Streaky Seedeater.

Long-crested Eagle. 6/5/09

We got an early start on June 6 and started our descent for a full day on the crater floor. We quickly encountered significant herds of wildebeest and zebra, and got reasonable views of three bull elands, the largest, and amongst the wariest, of antelope species. Shortly after the eland encounter, we found ourselved ideally positioned to watch a wildebeest nearly walk into a lioness crouching in ambush. The wildebeest finally detected the lioness when no more than 10 yards separated the two, and the wildebeest beat a hasty retreat before the lioness could pounce. The lioness retreated across the road to where the rest of the pride waited, giving the alpha male a swat on the nose before lying down for a nap.

Bull Eland in Ngorongoro Crater. 6/6/09. (click to enlarge)

Lioness Waiting in Ambush. 6/9/09. (click to enlarge)

Just a Love Tap. 6/6/09/ (click to enlarge)

The crater floor gave us our first views of Ostriches and Kori Bustards, and excellent views of at least four different black-backed jackals. A visit to one of the hippo pools found several of the big beasts lolling in the water as a variety of waders fed around them, including a trio of Black-headed Herons that one of our group insisted were western reef-herons. How he arrived at that erroneous conclusion I never did figure out. We ate our boxed lunches with the safari vehicles arranged around us like a fort, not for protection from lions or other mammalian predators, but rather to shield us from the marauding Black Kites who have learned that pre-made sandwiches can be easy pickings.

Black-backed Jackals. 6/6/09 (click to enlarge)

Grey Heron, Hippo, and Blacksmith Plover. 6/6/09.

Black-headed Heron. 6/6/09.

Black Kite Hunting Sandwiches. 6/6/09.

After lunch our goal was to find a Black Rhino. Ngorongoro Crater is one of the last places to find this animal in Northern Tanzania, and despite the fact that 27 rhinos currently inhabit the crater, they can be very difficult to find. We finally located three rhinos, though due to bad light and distance, photos were not possible. The highlight of the afternoon was watching a cheetah stalk and very nearly catch a Thomson's gazelle. As we started to depart the crater we had to stop for three ostriches who had decided to sit in the road like large, feathery speed bumps. As we ascended the road back to Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, we were graced with superb, albeit brief, views of a normally shy serval sitting next the road. These small, spotted cats are seen much less frequently that their larger cheetah, lion, and leopard cousins.

Cheetah in Pursuit of a Thomson's Gazelle. 6/6/09.

Resting After the Unsuccessful Hunt. 6/6/09.

Speed Bumps. 6/6/09.

New bird species recorded on this very productive day, beyond those mentioned above, were Little Grebe, Spur-winged Goose, Maccoa Duck, Red-billed Teal, Hottentot Teal, Cape Teal, White Stork, Black-shouldered Kite, African Marsh Harrier, African White-backed Vulture, Hildebrandt's Francolin, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-bellied Bustard, Three-banded Plover, White-winged Tern, Dusky Turtle-Dove, Rufous-naped Lark, Red-capped Lark, Banded Martin, Wire-tailed Swallow, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Eastern Double-collared Sunbird, Olive Sunbird, Tropical Boubou, White-naped Raven, Rufous-tailed Weaver (endemic to northern Tanzania), Lesser Masked Weaver, and Pin-tailed Whydah.

African Marsh-Harrier. 6/6/09

Coming in Part 3: Serengeti National Park.

Tanzania Part 1 - Lake Manyara

Muddy Elephants at Lake Manyara. 6/3/09 (click to enlarge)

Since it has been two weeks since I returned from my Africa trip, I figure that it is past time for me to summarize the many highlights. My plan is to do this in several parts - but knowing my history of updating this blog, we'll see how that goes.

I departed Washington-Dulles at 6:00 pm on June 1st, arriving in Amsterdam at 8:00 am on June 2. It was there that I met up with the other 15 people on the trip, including my undergraduate mentor and trip organizer Vin Lawrence, my former undergraduate academic advisor Ed Sweet, and my roommate for the next 14 nights, Terrie Baranek. After an 8 hour flight from Amsterdam, we arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport at approximately 8:00 pm, and transferred to our lodging for the evening, The Outpost Lodge in Arusha. The Outpost was solely a brief stopover on our way to the true start of our safari in Lake Manyara National Park, but I was able to start my birdlist on the grounds of the lodge while awaiting our drivers the morning of June 3. Birds noted on the grounds were Common Bulbul, African Goshawk, Pied Crow, Variable Sunbird, Speckled Mousebird, and flyover Hadada Ibis. After visiting a Bureau de Change where I exchanged $80 US for 112,800 Tanzania Shilling, we departed on the 2.5 hour drive west to Lake Manyara. On the drive we stopped to look at a number of birds, including Brown Snake Eagle, Common Fiscal, Superb Starling, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Tawny Eagle, Northern White-crowned Shrike (perhaps the signature ubiquitous bird of Northern Tanzania), White-headed Buffalo-Weaver, Von der Decken's Hornbill, Black-headed Heron, White-bellied Go-Away-Bird, Yellow-collared Lovebirds, and Easter Pale Chanting Goshawk.

White-headed Buffalo Weaver. 6/3/09 (click to enlarge)

Common Fiscal (click to enlarge)

After checking into Migunga Forest Camp, our lodging for the next two nights, we departed on an afternoon game drive in Lake Manyara National Park. The highlight of the afternoon drive was a pride of lions (adult females and cubs)sunning next to a waterhole, and a herd of elephants fresh from a mudbath. Other mammals seen well included Olive Baboons, Impala, Kirk's Dikdik, Banded Mongoose, Warthog, Wildebeest, Zebra, and two uncommon Klipspringer antelope perched high on a rocky hillside.

Lake Manyara Lions. 6/3/09 (click to enlarge)

Birds added during the afternoon drive were Hamerkop, Wooly-necked Stork (the only one of the trip), Marabou (one of the few species seen practically everyday of the trip), Egyptian Goose, Red-necked Spurfowl, Grey Crowned Crane, Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Red-eyed Dove, White-browed Coucal, African Palm Swift, Pied Kingfisher, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Southern Ground Hornbill, Red & Yellow Barbet, Lesser Striped Swallow, Long-tailed Fiscal, Grey-headed Sparrow, Black Bishop, Eastern Paradise Whydah, and Village Indigobird.

Red & Yellow Barbet. 6/3/09 (click to enlarge)

Hamerkop. 6/3/09. (click to enlarge)

Grey-headed Kingfisher. 6/3/09 (click to enlarge)

Migunga Forest Camp, located in a beautiful yellow-bark acacia forest, was a great setting from which to explore the National Park. The accomodations, though a bit more rustic than the more upscale lodges, were more than serviceable. Each guest "room" was actually a large tent set up on a wooden foundation, with the back flaps of the tent opening into a permanent bathroom with flush toilet and shower. The whole set up was covered by a thatched roof. My tent contained two double beds, each with mosquito netting to protect the occupant from the notorious, malaria-laden mosquitos of East Africa's Rift Valley. The yellow-bark acacia is also referred to as "fever tree", and do to an incorrect combining of the two names, the forest type is often referred to as yellow-fever forest. The "fever" referred to in the name fever tree is actually malaria, not yellow fever, and the name fever tree arose due to the fact that yellow-bark acacia are associated with water and wet areas, where the malaria-vectoring Anopheles mosquito is prevalent.

My "room" at Migunga Forest Camp.

June 4, our 2nd full day in Tanzania, found us back in Lake Manyara for a morning game drive to the hot springs located about 35 kilometers south of the park's entrance at the market town of Mto wa Mbu (pronounced mmtwomboo), and an afternoon drive to the "Hippo Pool" area of the Lake. The morning drive provided us with our first good look at Maasai Giraffe, distinguished from other giraffes by their jagged-edged "snow-flake" spots. While many authors lump the various forms of giraffe together into a single species, recent genetic evidence suggests that there are in reality at least six species. Mitochondrial DNA evidence shows that the reticulated giraffe of Northern Kenya and the Maasai Giraffe of Southern Kenya/Tanzania separated genetically at least 130,000 years ago, and perhaps as long as 1.6 million years ago. We had good looks at many of the same mammals as seen the previous day, but added Bushbuck, Hippo, Thomson's Gazelle, and African Buffalo. A number of people in the group got looks at a Serval hunting in the reeds surrounding the hot springs, though I unfortunately missed that sighting.

Maasai Giraffe, Lake Manyara. 6/4/09 (click to enlarge)

Olive Baboon. 6/4/09. (click to enlarge)

Bushbuck. 6/4/09. (click to enlarge)

Impala. 6/4/09 (click to enlarge)

Many new bird species were added on the June 4 game drives. Hihhlights included the sight of Great White Pelicans comically perched in treetops over the main road through Mto wa Mbu, a plethora of water birds including tens of thousands of Lesser Flamingos, Grey Heron, Yellow-billed Stork, Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill, Augur Buzzard, Bateleur, Helmeted Guineafowl, Collared Pratincole, Blacksmith Plover, Spur-winged Plover, Kittlitz's Plover, Crowned Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Grey-headed Gull, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Narina Trogon, Striped Kingfisher, African Grey Hornbill, Crowned Hornbill, Nubian Woodpecker, Grey Woodpecker, African Pied Wagtail, Spotted Morning-Thrush, Grey-backed Camaroptera, African Paradise Flycatcher, Slate-colored Boubou, Sulphur-breasted Bush-shrike, Fork-tailed Drongo, African Black-headed Oriole, Red-billed Oxpecker, Wattled Starling, Spectacled Weaver, Purple Grenadier, and Red-billed Firefinch.

We finished up our Lake Manyara visit with a morning drive on June 5, before departing the Rift Valley for the Ngorogoro Conservation Area. New additions on the last Manyara visit were Peregrine Falcon, the elegant Namaqua Dove, Laughing Dove, Giant Kingfisher, d'Arnaud's Barbet, Fischer's Sparrow-Lark, Southern Black Flycatcher, Ruppell's Long-tailed Starling, Fan-tailed Widowbird, and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu.

Great White Pelican. 9/4/09

Crowned Plover. 6/4/09.

Giant Kingfisher. 6/4/09

Stay tuned for Part 2, Ngorogoro Crater!