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Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

Brooklyn, New York
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Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

After leaving Ndutu we had three nights scheduled at the Seronera Wildlife Lodge in the central Serengeti. Emmanuel was a bit surprised we'd taken three nights there, and warned us that it would be much more quiet than Ndutu, and that high grass would make it difficult to see the predators. In retrospect, I think we could have done four nights Ndutu/two nights Seronera, but on the other hand...we did have a few great sightings; and the beauty of the short grass plains are not to be missed.

Our first memorable sighting was before we even arrived at the gate....somewhere along the road from Ndutu to the Nabi gate we spotted a hyena on a zebra kill, with many vultures watching and waiting. This by itself was worthy of a stop (and many photos) but to add to the excitement, we soon noticed a Golden Jackal trying to get in on the action. It was fascinating--and entertaining--to watch the interaction of the jackal and the hyena. The jackal would slowly circle, trying to get a nose in...the hyena would posture....jackal would back off...this continued quite awhile, finally the jackal succeeded in grabbing a chunk...all this time the vultures were also patiently waiting for their chance. At one point the hyena dragged the carcass further away from the interlopers, dust flying...let me eat in peace! Reluctantly leaving this scene, we then came upon two more hyenas in a mud wallow right in the road. One was so totally caked with mud he was barely recognizable as a living animal, very comical.

A bit about the Seronera Wildlife Lodge. We read this lodge is not highly rated and it's all about the location--that's more or less true. The lodge really isn't all that bad; built around a kopje it is quite unique, and the resident hyraxes are a nice addition. The rooms were fine--we could live with the thin walls and squeaky floors (fortunately we were on the 2nd floor); but there were no mosquito nets, and this was the one place with a LOT of mosquitoes....open drains running through the property. We got many bites there. Also, to be there during the mid-day break was not comfortable, as there was no shade (no umbrellas around the pool) and the pool itself was murky and unappealing (built into the rocks, and no filtration during the day as the electricity is off mid-day. We saw baboons drinking from it...no, I don't really want to swim in that.) It would be fine for one or two nights, but three was a bit much. On the other hand...it was central. The food was good enough. And right around the bend was a great pond with lots of birds. And one morning there was a huge elephant munching on the tree in front of the hotel....not all bad.

Our other very special sighting in the Serengeti was a leopard mother with two small cubs. We first saw what seemed to be a lone leopard hunting...and with only one other vehicle present, a real treat. She was eyeing some Topi far afield. We watched in awe as sat up on her hind legs to peer over the tall grass--who knew leopards could even do that! But soon the Topi wandered too far off. She turned away and started walking up the road and that's when we saw she was with two small cubs. They trotted along the road right past our vehicle...at this point, of course, more vehicles were steadily arriving as word spread. (But still nowhere near the number of vehicles we had at the Ndutu leopard sighting.) The best was yet to come. Carefully and slowly following, we paused near some rutted tracks that were filled with water. The leopard cubs were winding their way among the vehicles..going directly under some...they came over to drink right beside us! We were perfectly positioned for wonderful views and photos.

On our 2nd day in Seronera we headed north through a more forested area. This area was unfortunately not all that productive, except for a vast number of tsetse flies. A displaying Red-billed Hornbill made for an interesting stop; and as always, a few new birds, including Yellow-throated Longclaw and Black Coucal; but not much else. We stopped at a very large hippo pool, with more hippos in one spot than I've ever seen, and spent quite awhile just watching, taking photos and videos of their antics.

Several times over the course of the two days we stopped by a large lion pride with a buffalo kill. Hard to photograph as they were in tall grass most of the time, and a bit far away. Lots of flies and the buffalo was looking rather rank by this time. Much sleeping, some eating, and more sleeping, with the occasional getting up and moving to a better sleeping spot. Oh those darn lions!

And of course, plenty of elephants, giraffe, new born gazelles....beautiful sunrises and sunsets (although I could never quite capture the photo I wanted.)

On our last morning we took the long, interior road back to the Nabi Gate (avoiding the fast, dusty road.) Again, fairly quiet but enough birds to keep us entertained. We were on our way to our last stop--and the last installment: Ngorongoro Crater.

(Note, as before, photos are being added--a couple a day--to my FB page. Eventually I will have full albums posted to my website but that's going to take awhile!)


Benson, Arizona
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1. Re: Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

nice post....when I saw the after kill of the vultures eating at a kill I was quite taken with the pecking order of which bird could go first to eat....it was fascinating....and we too saw a leopard with its cubs...but not quite as close as you....there were 3 of them...

Ottawa, Canada
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2. Re: Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

jczinn, thanks for the latest update. You are so optimistic in your reviews, that is nice. I am really looking forward to your 'formal' photo posts as these few examples are lovely. I was so captivated by the Serengeti skies regardless of time of day or night, but I agree that sometimes it is difficult to truly capture it. They are lasting memories for me though, and since my visits, I see my local skies just a little differently.

Madison, Wisconsin
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3. Re: Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

I LOVE your bird pictures! Looking forward to the full set. Yeah, must be the same leopard cubs I was about to abduct but left them, so you can thank me. :)

Somerville, New...
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4. Re: Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

You are a great photographer.

Nice report. I loved the Wildlife lodge also. Very cool that you saw so many babies and elephant infront of the lodge!

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5. Re: Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

Another entertaining instalment. It's good to read your honest description of the lodges. I liked your hyena, jackal and vulture event. A couple of years ago we had a fairly uninspiring visit to the crater apart from watching a similar piece of action. We watched 3 hyenas with a wildebeest kill. Also watching was a jackal who kept trying to get in on the action. Then there were also the vultures. Every time a vulture tried to get to the kill it was the jackal who chased them off. And every time the jackal tried to get to the kill the hyenas chased him off. Eventually the hyenas had had their fill and the jackal got his turn and then the vultures. I would say it only took about 20 minutes before everything was stripped down to the bones. Fascinating to watch the interplay between the these different creatures. To me its watching events like this that are the real highlights of a safari, not spotting the Big 5 , which is so often mentioned.

Thanks for writing and great photos

Brooklyn, New York
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6. Re: Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

ShepofBristol, yes that's exactly the sort of thing that's so fascinating--watching these dynamic behaviors. Surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly?) we were the only vehicle that stopped to watch for any length of time, although several others passed by (this was on the semi-major road from Ndutu to the main road to the Nabi gate.) They really missed something! I have some cool photos of this but haven't gone through them yet.

Thanks everyone for your comments. I posted a photo of that muddy hyena today ;) I really don't see how he'll ever get clean!

Nashville, Tennessee
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7. Re: Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

Wow- another great installment. Great pictures. The hyena was muddy, but my daughters didn't think it was too muddy. One even said, "that would be fun."

Thanks for sharing.

Isle of Man, United...
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8. Re: Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

Another good instalment to read . Thanks for taking us along with you. Those Leopard Cubs must be special.

And that Honey Badger is so like they are. Full of theat and agression. "Don't mess with me!"

So the next one is the last? Shame. Like your enthusiasm.

Hurry back.

Edited: 15 March 2013, 10:06
Nassau, New...
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9. Re: Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

The interplay between the jackal, hyena & vultures must indeed have been awesome, and the picture of the leopard standing on his hind legs is stunning. Only one more? Well, it will be next then, I guess! Thanks for the wonderful report :)

10. Re: Northern Circuit with a birding twist: part 6: Serengeti

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