Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Serengeti NP Day 3: A day of wrong decisions

Just chilling...
Before we had come to the Serengeti, we’d contacted the Serengeti Cheetah Project team to see if they would give us any information on the location of a cheetah mom and 5 cubs that they’d been tracking.  They’d been very helpful and had given us 2 different areas to keep an eye out for cheetah cubs, which we were hoping to catch on this trip.  So the plan was to focus on cheetahs for the day. 

Elephants in the early morning sunrise
We were up at 5.30 am with the hope of getting out earlier than the day before, which we felt was a bit late as the light was pretty good for shooting by the time we’d left.  Of course, we were ready by 6am (the park’s opening time) but then found it was a bit dark for shooting, so we had our muffins and bananas in the campsite before heading out. 

Coqui francolin
First stop was the lions with the kill and we found them up and close to where the carcass had been, along with the Japanese photographer who was in the same place as yesterday, which meant he again was not photographing the lions – a nesting bird perhaps?

Still full from the day before
The lions didn’t seem inclined to move much, with their bellies still nice and full, and sure enough, soon they were all lying in the shade of a tree, and didn’t look like they planned to move for the rest of the day.  Watching lions sleeping is not the most entertaining thing in the world, and soon we were wondering where to go next.  Our problem was solved by a tour guide telling us that there were a couple of cheetahs up and about just near our campsite.  What?  While we’d come out of the campsite and turned right, they had been to the left, just a case of an unfortunate decision.  We soon caught up with the cheetahs however – they weren’t hard to find considering that there were about half a dozen cars around them.

Nice and close but not really good photo potential
Unfortunately for us, they were right next to the road, but the road was too low for us to see them unless they stood up (the disadvantage of not being in a tour operator vehicle that has an open roof). We decided to have coffee with them and soon after they rose and started moving off into the veld with a slew of cars following in parallel to them, and the FZS research vehicle off road tracking them. 

Kori bustard - a speciality of the dry plains
They seemed to be disappearing away from us, so we decided to take the opportunity to have a toilet break since it was so close to the campsite.  Wrong decision… when we got back onto the road we found that the cheetahs had reversed direction and had crossed the road.  

Plenty of Thompson's gazelles around
With the amount of cars around, we may not have seen much as cheetahs tend to cross roads pretty quickly, but it was an opportunity lost.  By now they were just specks on the horizon, with only the FZS research vehicle having any good sighting of them, and soon enough the vehicles dispersed and we decided to carry on our morning drive.

We headed back to the lions we’d seen earlier, and found them in the same position passed out under trees.  They definitely didn’t look like they were going to move any time soon, so we carried on down the river. 

Kirk's dik-dik
Since we had information that a cheetah mother and 5 cubs had been seen in Mawe Meupe 2 days previously, we decided to head down “Leopard Alley” on our way to the Mawe Meupe picnic site with the idea of looking for the cheetahs.

We didn’t have to go far however, before we spotted a big clump of cars in the distance.  Judging by the amount of cars, we correctly assumed leopard.  (Leopards always attract the most cars) But we also assumed that it would be a sighting like the previous day – too far away from the road for any good photos.  That was not the case this time around, the leopard was resting in a tree so close to the road that the branches of the tree were almost overhanging on the road – awesome!!

Leopard in a tree - hoorah!
We got ourselves into a good position (not easy with the amount of cars around) and then settled in to get a few shots and hopefully get up at some stage.  But he was dead to the world with a full belly suggesting he’d eaten not too long ago.  He hardly stirred or opened his eyes in the 2 hours that we sat with him, but to have a leopard that close considering the number of times we’d seen them far away, we were very happy. 

A couple of Tawny eagles
Eventually though, as it was coming to lunchtime, we decided to leave him and go chase the cheetahs, hoping to catch sight of them (or cars around them) before stopping at the picnic site for our leftover mince and pasta.  

Unfortunately, there was no trace of cheetahs, and after a pretty boring drive, we got to the picnic site.  As it was a little early for lunch, there was only one other car there, and we settled at one of the tables to eat while the birds gathered around us hoping for scraps.  Just as well we’d got there early as by the time we were ready to leave the place was full of tourists and their packed lunches.
Red-cheeked cordon bleu looking for scraps
Still no sign of cheetahs in the drive after lunch, so we decided to investigate a different area of the park.  We’d stopped there the previous time we’d been there on Christmas day and it promised a good place to do some birding.  It was quite a long way to get there, and we had to go through some tsetse fly infested areas, but it was a nice way to while away the hottest hours of the day, even though we didn’t get any new bird sightings as we’d hoped.

Rufous-tailed weaver
After a bit of discussion of what to do for the afternoon, we headed back to the leopard expecting him not to have moved.  And he was in exactly the same place where we’d left him… except… with a dead Thompson’s gazelle right next to him!!! What on earth had happened here??  Not often that we’d drive up to a great leopard sighting and actually be pissed off, but we were.  After we’d left, he’d got down, hunted, killed, and dragged a gazelle up a tree! This was unbelievable.  The gazelle was still untouched so he hadn’t eaten it, just gone straight back to sleep after he’d pulled it up.

Wrong call to leave him...
We stayed with him to the last possible moment, until it was time to head back to camp.  Stopping only to photograph a secretary bird that was settling down to nest, we just made it in time to camp before sunset.

He got down around for a bit
Of course, there was no question as to what we’d be doing first thing in the morning – head for the leopard.  We spent the evening grumbling about bad decisions made and lost opportunities throughout the day, but at least we had something to look forward to tomorrow.

Secretary bird settling down for the night
<< Day 2: All about the lions

Day 4: A day of spots >>

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