Category Archives: Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving

Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: A Close Encounter …

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Brendon’s Bulletin from Serengeti:

We were on our vehicles, aiming to reach the Masai Koppies at first light.

We discovered a mating pair of lions, lying in an open area, and managed to capture quite a collection of mating shots. We remained with them until the day started to warm up and the amorous activities started to slow down as the thermometer rose.

Our goal for today was to wander around and see as much as possible, and as we departed from the lion pair we spotted another lioness lying on a rock not far away. She posed beautifully for us until the sun started to bother her and she moved to a cooler, but obstructed spot. So we put our cameras down and continued on our way …

We headed north towards Research Koppies. On the way we saw a Caracal. It was great to see the cat, but didn’t manage to get great photographs before it slunk away.

When we spotted a vehicle or two we headed that way to see what the attraction could be. There were two large, typical East African Serengeti male lions with massive manes lying in a clear area. They were very full and didn’t move too much, except for one that got up for a drink in a puddle before flopping down to rest again next to his brother.

3 Lion Male Wim van den Heever-049

Research Koppies were about a half kilometer away so we drove behind the rocks to stretch our legs and enjoy a hearty breakfast and steaming coffee.

We had not quite finished our repast when cars came rushing around to tell us that the lions were headed our way. We peeped around the corner, and sure enough – there they came! But ooohhh! Not only the two males. The huge boys had been joined by two lionesses and as they marched doggedly towards us they seemed bigger than ever. The guides had told us that the lions like to lie on the rocks at Research Koppies, but the two males seemed so settled a few minutes back!

A frantic scene ensued! Frantic grabbing of everything we had needed for breakfast as articles were flung hurriedly and haphazardly back into the vehicles before we scrambled up to our seats seconds before the faces of the two lionesses appeared above a rock that would have been too close for comfort. The males settled on another rock close by. We had great photo opps and took full advantage.

At the same time we looked across the open plain and spotted four cheetahs. The area around Research Koppies is very open and flat – wide open, treeless plains. We made our way to the cheetahs, and found that they had recently eaten.

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Tell-tale signs like very full bellies and blood on their faces told the whole story. One of the cheetahs jumped up onto one of the vehicles to use it as a vantage point to look around and scrutinise the area, but when it saw nothing of interest it jumped down again.

Next we bumped into four lionesses. They seemed a bit out of sorts and it appeared that they had been chased off a wildebeest kill. Three hyenas and a bunch of vultures were devouring the wildebeest kill with plenty of tearing, ripping, yipping, and flapping around, while the lionesses watched disconsolately from a short distance away.

Further on we saw a few Black-backed Jackals, and then a large herd of buffalo, and of course there are wildebeest everywhere. The migration herds are making their way through this area at the moment.

And then yet another pair of male lions. Two young adults – not quite as huge as they will become, but certainly quite imposing even at this almost grown stage. This photo is from the day before in the rain:

3 Serengeti Lion Brendon

Finally, we found another male cheetah seeking shelter from the hot sun under a tree.

This afternoon we returned to the mating lions and found them right on top of the koppie. We spent the entire afternoon with them, collecting fabulous images of the two mating up there on the rocks. We worked the scene from every angle, and taking advantage of every opportunity as they lay down, mated, looked around, growled, and moved around to find the most comfortable spots to lie down again. The lighting was spectacular. We even practiced high key photography, back-lighting, silhouette shots – actually, every approach that can be imagined.

Tomorrow is our final morning here and we all hope that it will prove to be as amazing as all our other days have been …

 

 

Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: Wet Cats in the Welcome Rains

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Brendon’s Bulletin from Serengeti:

We left our Serengeti Camp in the early darkness, planning to visit some of the rocky outcrops (koppies) that are dotted around the area.

Along the way we saw elephants looming in the grey light that heralded the dawn. Buffalo, Red Hartebeest, wildebeest, zebra and gazelles.

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In addition, vultures lurked around hopefully and Rock Hyrax started to move into the rocks in the koppies to catch the early rays of the sun. Then a few Dik-diks caught our attention looking really tiny in the vast expanses around.

It rained a lot – not heavy, but very constant. Wow, the area sure needs the water.

Then as we approached a koppie we saw a cloud of vultures taking off. And as we rounded the rocks we saw a large pride of lions. Ten lions of all ages including one large male, a few 6 month old cubs and a couple of lionesses were feeding on the scraps of what appeared to be a wildebeest kill. Now and then one or other of the pride took a break from feeding to chase the vultures that amassed around them, stepping daringly closer and closer until they were chased again and again.

The cubs played around, chased each other, tumbled over the others and the adults, and occasionally used the carcass as a handy springboard. They chased the vultures, worried the adults, and behaved in the typical way of children everywhere in the pouring rain.

Now and again one of the lions stood up for a vigorous shake to get rid of the accumulating rain in their sodden fur, giving us even more opportunities to add to our growing collection of cat images. The big spray of water that forms a halo around the lions as they shake always looks fantastic. In addition, the male was in an unobstructed, east to photograph position, making our photography even easier!

We left the lions when the rain started to bucket down and they moved into the rocks in search of some shelter under the handy bushes there.

Checking other koppies revealed two more male lions walking along, shaking the water from time to time until they also decided to seek shelter in some bushes on a nearby rocky outcrop.

After a great brunch at one of the picnic spots we continued our game drive through wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, hartebeest and buffalo.

We turned towards the camp to take a slow, meandering drive back and as we crossed the Seronera River we saw large pods of hippo and a variety of water birds, as well as a Pygmy Falcon.

We drove past the tree where we saw the leopard yesterday, and found him just climbing back into the tree as we drove up. We spent a long time with the handsome fellow, and again filled our cameras with fabulous images.

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This afternoon the sun came out and we headed straight to the koppies, hoping that the lions would be sunning themselves and drying out in the rocks. At the first pile of rocks that is exactly what we found, but they were partially obscured by a large fig tree so we carried on to the two male lions. When we arrived we found that a lioness had joined the males and she was lying on a large rock. She is either pregnant or has very recently given birth – as she lay there we could not quite determine which? She lay around for a long time before she jumped down and disappeared from view.

Moving on to another rocky outcrop we found yet another male lion. This one lay right on top of a large boulder and we spent the remainder of our time photographing the very handsome young man. He peered at us, yawned, looked around, and posed beautifully for us. No model could have done better!

So after another very full day we are back at our camp, looking at more rain rolling in and looking forward to a snug rest and another day in this wonderful place …

 

 

Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: Wild Cat, Serval, Cheetah, Lions, Leopard from Ndutu to Serengeti …

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Wim Reports from Serengeti:

We arrived in Serengeti after leaving Ndutu in the early afternoon.

But first let us start at the beginning of this incredible day …

We left the camp early and headed straight to the Ndutu Plains where we found a pride of lions near the marsh – two large males with a couple of lionesses and the remains of a young wildebeest.

Because the lions were quite full and unlikely to move again for quite some time we decided to go straight onto the marsh in an attempt to find cheetahs that we believed were there. It took some time, but we were successful – actually more than successful! There were two groups of three cheetahs in one place as well as another pride of ten lions in very close proximity. The lions had caught a zebra during the night and were still feeding hungrily. So, in a space of less than 2 KmSquared there were 6 cheetahs and ten lions, all visible to each other.

In addition, many hyenas could be seen milling around, just waiting for a chance at the zebra carcass, and jackals, not to be outdone, ran hither and thither, looking for any small opportunity to dash in and grab a morsel from the remains.

Back to the cheetahs – the first group of three consisted of two males following a female, hoping to mate with her at some stage. But while we followed them we noticed that the second trio were lining up in preparation for a hunt. We dashed over to them where a huge standoff between the stalking cheetahs and some Thomson’s Gazelles culminated in a magnificent chase scene. They chased one of the gazelles in a thrilling encounter and as we held our breath we saw that the quarry managed to get away – literally by a hair! We thought the cheetahs had caught it, but no! How the Tommy managed to get away I just don’t know, but there it went, to live another day.

From there we headed to the Ndutu Lake. On the way we encountered a cheetah family that we had not seen since our arrival here. A mother with five two month old small cubs. They had a kill, and were resting after feeding, so we photographed them and then left to return to the camp to pack up for our journey to Serengeti after lunch.

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As we left Ndutu we spotted an African Wild Cat. Wonderful!

On route to Serengeti we passed the migration herds. There were hundreds of thousands of wildebeest as far as the eye can see, accompanied by zebras and gazelles. Being smack-bang in the middle of the calving season, it was exciting to see thousands of newborns and even some wildebeest mothers giving birth. With 8000 births daily, it really is a spectacle to behold! Excitement mounted in our vehicle by the minute!

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We also saw lions – three large males with a female. They had caught a wildebeest not long before we arrived.

At Seronera we found two Servals, about four Km from each other, and late this afternoon we found a huge leopard. He was in a flat topped acacia tree, and with the dark, menacing storm clouds behind him together with the low, setting sun, he looked fabulous and we have photographs to emphasise this.

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So here we are at the Serengeti Wilderness Camp now, after a long, ultra successful day and cameras filled with wonderful images.

Whew! How can any day top the experiences we have enjoyed so far. Let’s just see what tomorrow brings …

 

 

Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: Exciting Chases …

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Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: Exciting Chases …

Brendon’s Bulletin from Ndutu:

Headed out as always in the pre-dawn darkness to catch up with the cheetah and the two sub-adult cubs. We found the three quite easily not far from camp just as the black sky changed to grey. They were sitting on a small mound, peering carefully in all directions, and checking anything that moved.

We spent a wonderful morning with them, amassing wonderful photographs as they stalked, hunted, checked around and then stalked and hunted again and again. There were two very exciting chases and each time we all held our breath in anticipation. Aaahh, so close! It was exhilarating beyond excitement to watch the mother running at full tilt –

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– as she tried with all her might to catch the Thomson’s Gazelles. But although each chase left us with adrenalin pumping through our bodies, they were unsuccessful – for the cheetahs, that is.

The youngsters, meanwhile, were very entertaining … their interaction as they jumped on each other and chased each other around between hunts also kept our cameras ultra busy.

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There were two lionesses with a zebra kill not far away. The lionesses had been feeding for some time and were taking a fat, over-fed and lazy rest with a couple of Golden Jackals as hopeful onlookers. The jackals had two pups with the mom, and they eyed the kill with their parent, maybe also wondering if and when they could venture closer.

All in all it was a wonderful morning and we returned to the camp for lunch as thick, heavy, dark clouds rolled in with plenty of lightning and thunder.

It started to rain as we left for our afternoon drive, and soon it was pelting down.

We found another cheetah mother, also with two young pups. They had recently had a kill as their bellies were fully distended.

We rather tried to find the mother with four cubs that we have not seen for a couple of days. While searching for them we photographed Lesser Kestrels. They were flying around and sitting around on the ground in a valley (Hidden Valley). They were seeking shelter from the wind and rain in the little valley, and it was interesting to see so many just sitting there, waiting for the storm to pass over.

We headed back to the cheetah with two cubs so that we could photograph them in the rain. We found them and captured their images with the rain pelting down, and with dark, threatening skies looming behind them. It looked awesome! They walked along close together, licked each other repeatedly, and gave us many different and interesting shots.

We are back at the camp now, enjoying indoor sundowners, as we speculate about the effect the welcome rain will have. Our final drive here in the morning before we depart for Serengeti at lunch time …

 

Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: Three Cheetah Kills and a Cheetah Game of Skittles with Jackals …

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Wim Reports from Ndutu:

Sunrise found us out on the plains searching for the mother cheetah with her cubs. We had thought that there were five cubs, but our photos show that there are four. We caught up with them again on the Serengeti border, but on the way we first found a large male cheetah.

The male cheetah was hunting, so we decided to stick with him for a while. He was so hungry that he was literally running after any gazelle, without bothering to stalk. They all spotted him easily and dashed to safety with ease. There were a few futile and very unsuccessful chases.

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While we sat watching the poor hapless fellow, we spotted the mother with her four cubs also starting to hunt. So we lined ourselves up with a Tommy (Thomson’s Gazelle) that she was stalking. Slowly, carefully, she took her time and after about an hour there was a full, flat-out burst and the Tommy ran towards us with the cheetah fast and furious behind her. Closer – closer – full speed – one more meter, a leap, … and she had him! Right next to us. We were so adrenalin-filled, focussed, and absorbed in the action that many almost forgot to press their shutter buttons. ‘Shoot’ I managed to croak, and almost by reflex the shutter buttons ensured that the action was captured!

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Whew! That was exhilaring beyond words!

As the four cubs ran up to join her, they flushed out a Scrub Hare and immediately diverted to chase the hare. Up and down they ran, zig-zagging this way, then that, then veering away from us, then directly towards us. The cat and mouse game with the hare continued as the hare ran back and forth with four inept cheetahs behind it. Their agility was amazing, and finally they caught it, but again did not know what to do with it. Clearly unsure what to do next, they went over to join mom when she called and started to feed with her.

On the way back to the camp we saw a pregnant female cheetah, also hunting. So we gave up thoughts of camp and elected to remain with the cat as she was hunting in earnest. We saw a herd of Tommies not far away, and circled around and waited. Sure enough, she came running in. One Tommy had a young calf that made no attempt to run away. It lay there, hoping that the scant grass was sufficient to hide it. But the cheetah ran straight in and within seconds we witnessed our third kill for the morning.

After lunch we tried in vain to find the mother with four cheetahs again. On our way to Matiti Hills we came across the six lions we had seen on day one here. They were playing, and as we photographed them we received a report that the cheetah mother with two cubs was hunting, so we made our way to that area.

7 Cheetah with Subadult Cubs

The two youngsters played together in the late afternoon sun before they crossed a large open expanse and started to stalk some Golden Jackals. They surprised them by running into their midst at full force! The two subadults then ran back and forth, knocking the jackals over at high speed, and with incredible flexibility and spryness. It was like a complicated, ultra-fast game of skittles. To add to this, the screaming of the jackals, the dust, the late afternoon sun, the turmoil, the sounds … it was overwhelming! Again and again the cheetahs backed away, only to come storming back at the jackals to knock them flying and then retreat and repeat yet again.

Finally the cheetahs lost interest and sat back to watch fast disappearing tail-between-legs jackal rear-ends! We could do nothing but sit back and laugh and laugh! But we all have great photographs and amazing memories of another incredible day …

Tomorrow is our final full day here in Ndutu before we move on to Serengeti …

 

Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: Cheetah Cub Catches a Liitle Gazelle – But Then? …

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Wim Reports from Ndutu:

We were out as always in the early darkness. Within 10 minutes we found a subadult cheetah, but it was still so dark that we couldn’t actually see what it was doing. Besides, we wanted to get onto the plains before daybreak because we knew that the cheetahs and other predators would most likely be active.

So off we went and first checked on a pride of lions with cubs that we have seen previously. As we drove up two lionesses were walking along to the den site. As they walked they played, jumped on one another, ran around and just enjoyed the morning.

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From there we moved on along the Serengeti border in search of a female cheetah with five cubs that we knew was there, and today we believed that she would be hunting as she seems to have to do so frequently with such a large family to raise!

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We found the cheetah with her cubs and just as we parked she jumped up with her five cubs in tow and lo and behold!, she caught a Grant’s Gazelle close to us – not more that about thirty meters away!

We remained there watching and photographing the family interactions and feeding until it was time to start thinking of returning to the camp. Suddenly – in fact in the moment that we voiced this thought and turned to depart, one of the young subadult male cheetah cubs …

8 Subadult Cheetah

… leaped up and ran off with great determination. Then we saw that the gazelle that had been killed had a young faun, and it took seconds for the cub to catch the little one. However, having caught it, the cub had no idea what to do next. He stood there, puzzled, and proceeded to play with the faun. He played for about 15 minutes until the cheetah gave up and strolled away to rejoin his resting family.

On the way to the camp for lunch we found another male cheetah. He was hunting, but gave up fairly soon because the day was becoming increasingly warm – far too hot to hunt. We decided to return to him again when the day starts to cool.

So after lunch we headed back to the cheetah but he had moved away. Not far, however, we found another cheetah with two cubs and a kill from a few hours earlier. We hung around with them for much of the afternoon, waiting for that magical evening light and backdrops that the sunset hours provide. We captured some great images as the sun approached the horizon.

A magnificent sunset kept our cameras busy all the way bac to Wilderness Camp, and right now we are sitting around a lovely fire, under the stars, sharing anecdotes and jokes, before we adjourn for dinner, and hope that tomorrow will prove to be as amazing as today …

 

Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: A Caracal and a Serval In One Sighting …

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Brendon’s Bulletin from Ndutu:

It was with mixed feelings that we said farewell to Sopa Lodge and the Ngorongoro Crater this morning after breakfast for our departure to Ndutu. Sad because of the amazing time we spent at Ngorongoro but excited to move on to Ndutu to catch up with the action there.

We drove South through a slightly different route because it is so dry and we could travel directly without detouring for running rivers. The road was good, the drive was comfortable, and we made good time. We passed the Matiti Hills, and saw plenty of zebra and wildebeest. It was also interesting to drive through a number of Masai villages.

As we entered Ndutu, the first animal we saw was a caracal, setting the scene for a wonderful time here. It was extra special to see this one going about his business – a rare, and very welcome sighting. We took advantage of each moment and our cameras filled quickly. We followed the cat as it walked through the plains. Then to our total amazement the caracal bumped into a serval! A serval and a caracal in one sighting – who could ask for more?! Two little cats that are difficult enough to spot individually, but together the sighting really blew us away! Incredible.

We stopped for lunch and a short rest at Ndutu Wilderness Camp before we set out again. Ndutu is so dry at present that although the short sprinkling of rain that fell while we were at camp was very welcome, it will take quite a few downpours to alleviate the situation. However, it is a little less dusty since the rain shower.

We saw large numbers of wildebeest and zebra, although most of the migration is still at Serengeti, clearly waiting for the rain to fall here. We saw the first giraffe that we have seen on this trip. In fact we saw quite a number of them.

Then we found a cheetah with two subadult year old cubs. They were stalking some Grant’s Gazelle, but they were clearly not hungry enough as they soon gave up and went to lie down.

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We found a pride of five lions resting under a tree, but because they were lying very flat and sleeping we moved on to another lion sighting when we heard that they were not far from us, and that a lioness had tiny cubs.

On the way we found a python in a tree – another great sighting!

The lioness had four little cubs – not more than three or four days old! They are still very wobbly, spend most of their time suckling, dozing, and rolling around with each other. We watched and photographed them for a long time. They are just the cutest ever little bundles of fur!

Then another lioness came to join the little family, and when a few zebra strolled nearby, the two adults started to stalk them.

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But after a while the zebras realised that they were being watched, and they disappeared, leaving the lionesses to return to the cubs.

We moved on them and to our delight we bumped into another Serval!

Now we are heading back to the Camp, watching a dark bank of clouds on the horizon and hoping for some showers maybe tonight or tomorrow …

 

 

Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: Lions and more …

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News from Wim:

After leaving Sopa Lodge again in the pre-dawn darkness we were in the Ngorongoro crater as the first shards of light started to brighten the day. It was just beautiful!

We went straight to the stream where we found the first pride of lions that we spotted yesterday. We searched for the lions and we heading towards them when we came across a Serval sitting on a bank almost next to us. It was sitting on a mound, and was almost at eye level with us. We captured some really beautiful images of the lovely cat.

Meanwhile, behind the Serval a large herd of buffalo headed steadily towards the stream for an early drink. And right behind the buffalo we could see a lion following close to them. When the Serval looked up and noticed the approaching group it jumped down and slunk right past our vehicle – right next to us, from where it disappeared into a nearby thicket. What a fabulous way to start the morning!

We moved on to the pride of lions and found that with the rising sun they were quite active. The cubs played around, cavorting and climbing around the adults, and chasing each other, leaping clumsily in all directions.

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We were with the lions when we received a call that just a kilometer further on were four large males. They were lying flat, clearly not intending to move for some time.

Yesterday some rhino were on the drying lake bed in the Ngorongoro and we thought it would be great to see if they were still there. We found them but they were way in the distance.

After photographing more elephants we stopped for a very welcome breakfast. (Amazing what the fresh air does to one’s appetite).

This afternoon wind and the first rain blew in, giving us the chance to capture shots of zebra and wildebeest in the dust storm, –

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– with rain visible in the background, creating a stunning backdrop.

Anticipating that the lions would be wet and shaking their manes we returned to find very dry lions. No rain fell just where they were!

Back at the Lodge in time for another magnificent sunset.

9 Ndutu Sunset Brendon Feb 2017

Tomorrow we move to Ndutu – right into the thick of the wildebeest calving action …

 

Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: Jackals Taunt Lion Cubs …

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Brendon’s Daily Bulletin:

In order to catch all the early morning and daybreak activity we left the Lodge before dawn – at 6am in the darkness, and made our way down the escarpment into the crater. It was just getting light as we arrived in the centre of the crater and what unfolded during the day was simply astounding.

The were hundreds of wildebeest and zebra milling around everywhere, herds of elephants, and birds all around.

We noticed a large herd of buffalo looking particularly nervous, and we made our way closer to them and not far from them we found a small pride of lions feeding on a buffalo they had killed under cover of darkness during the very early hours of the morning. We spent ages with the four lionesses and eight cubs. The cubs were around 5 months old, and were thoroughly enjoying themselves.

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Their favourite game of the morning was to chase some of the many Black-backed Jackals that were present in the area – possibly hoping to get a chance at the kill at some stage. The photography we managed of the interaction between the cubs and the jackals was great and the entertainment was priceless! The jackals seemed to taunt the cubs, allowing them to within a meter or so before darting away. They seemed to be as amused as we were as they repeated this again and again.

We spent the whole day out and photographed some huge tuskers, –

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– the aforementioned zebra and wildebeest with tiny calves. We actually saw one still very wet little newborn calf – so new that it had not managed to stand yet, so we watched as it stood, fell over, stood again, fell again, until finally it mastered the art of standing and walking.

Breakfast and lunch were both served out in the crater for us.

A dusty breeze came up at midday, creating some fabulous effects with different animals in the foreground or background.

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Then we saw Golden Jackal, and lots of Grant’s Gazelles and Thomson’s Gazelles.

This afternoon we found another pride of 6 adult lions just lying around, draped across termite mounds, dozing and not particularly interested in their surroundings.

There were Black Rhinos and more huge buffalo herds, and before returning to the Lodge we found 2 more male lions lying next to the almost dry crater lake.

Finally we passed the lions we had seen in the morning. The buffalo carcass was almost completely eaten, and the pride members all lay around, fat-bellied and dozy.

We arrived back at Sopa Lodge to see a glorious sunset and our cameras were out again – one last time before sundowners and dinner. We are hoping that tomorrow will be as successful …

 

Ndutu Serengeti Wildebeest Calving Safari: Arrival!

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News from Wim:

 

We have arrived safely at out Lodge after quite a long, but exciting journey to get here.

After traveling through most of the night we arrived at Nairobi Airport just after dawn. From there we caught our connection flight to Kilimanjaro Airport. We flew past Mount Kilimanjaro, and were surprised to see very little ice and snow topping the mountain, but it was truly beautiful to see it.

We left Kilimanjaro Airport around mid morning to slowly make our way past Lake Manyara and the up the Rift Valley, and then up onto the crater.

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Now we are at Sopa Lodge, with a most glorious view. Everyone is travel weary, but super – excited about being here. After Sundowners …

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… it will be time for dinner and then a very welcome sleep, as we wait with anticipation for what the morning may hold for us …