Friday, 14 October 2016

Mikumi NP, October 2016

Dry season at Jacana pool.
A long weekend a couple of weeks after returning from the Serengeti saw us packed up and on the road early morning to Mikumi. We were still driving on standard shocks which was a concern but given we had driven from Moshi to Dar on them, it shouldn’t be an issue. 

We passed Christine and Jurgen on their way to Katavi on the way and arrived at the gate around mid-day to find it totally packed and we had to park outside the gate! We expected it to be busy but this looked way out of control. The checking in process at the gate had more changes with entering details in a book and then on a piece of paper and standing aside and waiting to be called. After 45 minutes our number was up and was asked where the vehicle registration papers were! It took up to an hour to get in to the park and we were not happy at all.

Senegal Plover, only see them in the dry.
The park as expected was dry and drab and it was a while since we came here in the dry. There was still some water at Jacana pool which was a surprise. A congregation of cars at Hippo pools signaled the first sighting of note, a lone lioness asleep under a tree just down the road from our camp site. This was a good sign and just what we were looking for, the pride close to the water hole when we arrived.

Grey back fiscal
First stop as always was the campsite and we were the only ones in which meant we had the best spot under the big tree with a view of the veld. We got the small beach tent so that we don’t lose our spot and had lunch under the tree before setting out to check out the park. Last time we were here, we had to flee the camp site after overnight rain saw the water flow over the bridge and threaten the camp site getting marooned. A few months on, it was dusty and brown with no sign of water.

The lioness had moved across the road towards the ravine which is where we assumed the rest of the pride were resting during the day and our mission for the evening. We headed towards Pratincole dam which was totally dry and were surprised by a black and white colobus monkey in the grass. This was most unusual and our first sighting of one in the park. We headed back towards the gate and checked out the village which had its usual share of game resting in the shade.

Black and white colobus - first time in Mikumi
Behind the second campsite we came up on a few elephants and an opportunity to shoot. After the Serengeti trip, it appears something was wrong with my camera where the images weren’t as clear so planned to take a lot of shots to test the camera. A problematic camera is a serious issue for us as any sort of camera work is an international trip away. My camera body is 10 years old while the lens newer but both have taken a beating in the bush. There is no easy way to look after camera on bumpy dusty bush tracks in a car that is overloaded with camping gear.

Good subject to test the camera with
It was time to check out the lioness again and as we got to Hippo pools she was on the move again with a few cars in tow. She looked like crossing to the opposite side of the ravine so we backed up and approached from the Jacana pool side to find her sitting in the open and a much better view. The gathering of cars close to the single lioness showed up the pride in the grass on the edge of the ravine. They were all still asleep but we knew our plan for the rest of the day.

The new pride male with shorty
After knocking around waiting for the sun to dip we were back to check out the pride. We spotted the pride male in the distance under a tree and was just waking up for the evening which was exciting as we hadn’t seen a male with this pride for a long time. Last time we saw males with this pride there were 3, of which 2 looked brothers with big blackish manes and another with a scraggy sandy mane. This male had a thick blonde male and appeared to be alone and the females had cubs with them. We know the females well, Milky, Shorty and Norma, who now had 2 other fully grown females with them making up a healthy pride. The only problem today was there were vehicles climbing over each other to get a view and pride didn’t look like it was about to move anytime soon except the single lioness who was separate from the pride and walking around.

Family argument I'd say
We decided to take a chance and position ourselves on the bund for the outside chance that female walking around or the pride may drink at Jacana pool. Hippo pools (right next to Jacana pool), is a first stop for all visitors so the traffic was hectic to get a look at the lions. Suddenly we realized the female was sitting right next to us on the bund with vehicles all around her. At the same time a vehicle trying to get up the bund got stuck and there was a moment of craziness with this car spinning its wheel and dust going all over the place. Needless to say the lioness walked off with whole park in tow except us as we decided to stay put.

Grey heron
The evening came to an end watching the sun go down at Jacana pool and a herd of vehicles on the opposite side trying to get one last look at the lioness who never drank. Back at the camp site, we had another bunch of campers who had taken the site behind us. Was great to be here in the dry season after a long time. The plan for was the morning was to pick up the pride again. We assessed that the pride could either head back towards to the village and main gate, or in the opposite direction to the wooded area which has few roads.
Next morning there was no sign of the lions near the waterhole so it was up to the village. We decided to do a short distance down the road that connects Hippo pools Millennium dam to check if the pride were around there but couldn’t find a spot to turn quickly. At this stage we decided it was an option to do Millennium dam first thing in the morning as opposed to turning round and chasing the pride. We hardly get to Millennium dam at a decent time, as it’s rather far from the top of the park, so it’s hard to get there first thing in to morning or hang around till late in the evening.

Prize sighting first thing in the morning
We were rewarded for the call when we came upon a lioness and her fully grown cub walking down the road. The mother appeared to be on a mission and headed in to the grass and we decided to turn around and follow her. She was definitely looking to hunt and seemed to be targeting a warthog family. For us the lioness stood no chance as the warthogs were a long way off and had spotted her but the lioness was making for them with purpose. Suddenly she broke in to a run and the warthogs panicked and scattered in all directions. At one stage it appeared the big warthog was chasing the lioness but in no time she had one of the warthogs in her mouth. The cub ran up and then after warthogs but caught none and Mum wasn’t willing to share. The classic case of survival in the wild, the mother must survive first in order to hunt another day and look after the cub.

Well what a sighting but all too fast and far for shots but we were rewarded for leaving the crowds and the main pride. We continued to Millennium dam and suddenly Cheryl spotted a leopard on the bund of the dam. We had recently seen a shot of a leopard in Mikumi and suspect this was the one but it was already moving off. By the time we got on the dam wall it was nowhere to be seen. Got off the bund and searched around without luck but there was more to check out in the drying water hole.

Yellow billed stork with breakfast
There was a buffalo that looked injured and stuck in the mud and we saw a shot on face book with a lioness next to it a few days later. The highlight was bunch of Marabou and Yellow billed stork picking off cat fish. The drying water hole gave the catfish no chance and we spent the along time just shooting the scene. We were hoping a herd of Zebra gathering nearby would drink but they simply refused so we decided to take a break at the nearby picnic site.

Tough time to be a cat fish in a drying waterhole
Next destination was to check out Mwanambogo dam which we hadn’t been to in ages as the last rains washed out the road. The previous road was now the dried up river while a new road had been hacked away next to it. Mwanambogo was full of life with large congregations of birds and game coming to drink from what must be the only source of water for miles.

White faced whistling duck
There were huge flocks of white faced ducks along the water’s edge with impala, giraffe, warthog, wildebeest, baboon and eland taking turns drinking. There were a couple of saddle billed storks which are always nice to see and open bills around and we must have spent half the day just sitting around checking out all the activity. The highlight was discovering a couple of Fulvous ducks amongst hundreds of white faced ducks. Pretty amazing how easy it is to miss a couple of birds within a large flock as we only picked this up after about 3 hours of being there.
Dry season water hole
The Giraffe drinking is a long drawn out affair and always worth checking out and today there were plenty of Giraffe at Mwanambogo to add to the scene. Other animals came and went and we decided to have lunch hoping one of the big ticket animals would arrive but there was no such luck. Finally, we decided it was time to leave and check out the back road which connects to Hippo pools. We don’t use this road as it’s full of Tsetse flies and impassable in the wet season with large areas of black cotton soil. But in the dry, it was an opportunity to check it out.
Sadle billed stock overseeing the drinking
The animal concentration in part of the park has always been sparse and today was no different and the road had deteriorated since we were last here. We had shutters up for the tsetse flies and were driving along when suddenly Cheryl made what I consider one of the best sightings. It was a Leopard seated under a tree but well camouflaged in the dry bush in dappled light. The Leopard got up and ran the moment we stopped and reversed and we hung around but it refused to show up. In a park we had only even had two poor sightings of Leopard, we had two in one day and unfortunately all were poor sightings.
It's all happening at Mwanambogo
It was nice to get a sighting of note in this corner of the park but we saw little else before arriving back to Hippo pools. First task was to find out where the pride had moved to this morning and news was they were resting near the airfield on route to the 2nd camp site. Upon checking out the spot it was apparent our chances of a sighting this evening was not looking good due to the number of cars trying for the same thing.
Even the rare Eland showed up for a drink
We spent the rest of the time shooting anything we could find and a Reed buck was responsible for pulling out my back in attempting to shoot it from an awkward angle and I had my first photographic injury! The lions never showed up but we did get a nice look at the Giant Eagle Owl, the same chap we presume we had seen a couple of times before in the same area.
Giant Eagle Owl
Back at the camp site much to our annoyance, 3 new arrivals were sharing our campsite despite there  being plenty of other empty camp sites around. We can never work this out, why people who come out camping, want to be on top of each other as opposed to spread out and enjoy the bush and most of all, stay out of other peoples camp site. We took down the pup tent and moved to one of the camp spots that were open. Our choice was a newly opened campsite closed up with bush so no view but the only site with a view had camping trailer and tents spoiling the view.

Late evening drink for the Zebs at Jacana Pool

It was time for showers and as I entered the toilets a bunch of mongoose ran in to my leg in a desperate run get away after presumably coming in for a drink. Cheryl mentioned later that she’s heard something like a roar, and couldn’t work it out what animal it was – turned out it was me scaring off mongooses ;) Does make you wonder what would happen if it was something more formidable like a warthog could end up being nasty.
Bush Buck
The next morning, we figured the lions were moving towards the gate from their day resting spot, so we were up early on the search. We checked out all the roads in the area we thought they would be before finally stumbling across them crossing the road next to the air strip. It was actually a speeding game drive vehicle that caught our attention that something was happening and it was nice to see the whole pride cross in front of the car but they were not willing to hang around.
Hippo Pools pride

The pride is growing with new cubs

The pride was looking good with 3 cubs and Norma is hard to spot as one of the cubs is not fully grown. Always a highlight to catch the pride together in the morning. They were off towards Pratincole dam after clawing at a tree and we off trying to catch them on the opposite but they never showed up. We did spot a Hyena who started bolting and kept running long in to the plains. Hyenas are also rare so it was nice to see one and hopefully it gets used to cars with time.
We think this is a fully grown cub of the Hippo Pools pride

Our final target was the large Buffalo herd that we had seen in the morning but had vanished from their overnight ironically almost next to the lion’s day spot. A quick drive around and we caught up with on route to Jacana pool for a drink. This is a great spot for shooting as the road runs 3 sides of the water hole so you can pick your spot provided it’s not too early in the morning as the sun gets in the way and as luck would have it, the sun was a problem. It was still a great scene to see this huge herd of Buffalo totally relaxed at t waterhole. We changed positions for better light but regardless of the shooting it was a pleasant way to end another trip to Mikumi. 

Enjoying the morning drink 
Ox peckers are a Buffalo's best friend

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