Thursday, 30 July 2009

Tanzania - Part 4

Our last three nights in Tanzania were spent at the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, situated on the rim of the famous Ngorongoro Crater. Here we were at an altitude of 2,300 metres and at least two layers of clothing were essential; we were very glad of the hot water bottles that magically appeared in our beds each night! The view from our rooms was spectacular and the grounds of the lodge provided some worthwhile birding when time permitted.

We spent the best part of two days down in the crater. (Actually, it's not really a crater but it's probably too late now to start calling it 'Ngorongoro Caldera'.) It covers about 260 square kilometres and is reckoned to be home to about 30,000 animals. Because there is ample year-round food and a constant supply of water, there is very little seasonal movement of wildlife in and out and, of course, to some extent they are hemmed in by the crater walls.

A typical view across the crater

The road from the rim descends about 600 metres to the floor of the crater. Other safari vehicles intent on their quest for the 'Big Five' raced past us as we stopped to look at Hildebrandt's Francolins and Schalow's Wheatears on the way down!

Schalow's Wheatear - still treated by some as a race of Mourning Wheatear

Most of the mammal species that we had already seen elsewhere were down there on the vast expanse of grassland (Giraffes were a notable exception) and, in addition, we eventually got a distant look at one of the several Black Rhinos that still inhabit the crater. Unfortunately, apart from an occasional twitch of an ear, it barely moved. Once there were more than 100 of them but they were reduced by poaching to about 20 and although this has now stopped the population shows little sign of recovery. We saw even more Wildebeest here than we had found in the Serengeti, thousands of them in fact, coming to drink along with hundreds of Zebras. Thomson's and Grant's Gazelles were very common and we also found a few Eland and Kongoni.

Blue Wildebeest or Brindled Gnu - they never look happy!

Eland - the largest of the antelopes

As might be expected with all these prey species present, we saw quite a few Lions and there were carcasses attended by Spotted Hyaenas, White-backed Vultures and White-necked Ravens.

A young male Lion

We drove some considerable distance around the crater over our two visits, stopping regularly to look at and photograph the wildlife most of which seemed remarkably confiding. Large birds such as Kori Bustards, Grey Crowned Cranes and Ostriches made particularly easy subjects. Smaller grassland species such as Crowned Lapwings, Red-capped Lark and Grassland Pipit required just a little more effort.

Kori Bustard

Crowned Lapwing

Grassland Pipit

Grey Crowned Cranes

Tanzania definitely lived up to its reputation as one of the world's top wildlife tourism destinations. Thanks go to Sanjay and Peter at Roy Safaris for their contributions to making our birding safari the undoubted success that it was.

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