Ruaha day two, part 8
Last night after supper a portion of our group sat around the bon fire regaling one another about the events of our interesting day and helping Nyama and Ngruwe compile a list of events for their journal of the past two days. There is something rustling the leaves of the trees that we are sitting under and occasionally a bit of debris hits the ground or us, as an unknown creature feeds overhead. Brian shines his torch into the tree canopy and a shadow flits briefly into the light. Bats! Whatever is hiding in the trees these bats want it, as they appear to deliberately brush the leaves and branches with their wings. Ngruwe finds out that the bats are dropping more than crumbs as he is the recipient of a well-aimed bat poo bomb. The rest of us escape the bat droppings as far as we know. If I recall correctly, Ngruwe and Nyama discover in the morning that the bats were visiting the tree next to their tent last night and left bat crap all over the laundry that they had hanging on the line. I think they had to rewash all of their clothes!
When Paul and I return to our tent for the night, we have just started to get ready for bed when a shrill call splits the air. We look at each other and simultaneously say “what was that”? We sit for a few seconds waiting for a repeat call which doesn’t come. Paul wonders if this is a bush baby as it sounds similar to Brian’s mimicry of a bush baby. Yes, Brian can do a good imitation of many African animals, you should hear his Hadada Ibis (its a bird) call! Paul decides to step back out into the night and search the trees close to the tent for the small mammal, but he fails to find the owner of the night splitting shrieks.
Settling into our beds, I am just drifting off when I hear the sound rolling down the river channel like muted thunder. I whisper, Paul do you hear it, and he answers that he has been listening to the lion for a couple of minutes. We listen as the male lion harrumphs in short coughs, broadcasting to any would be usurpers, that they had better stay out of his territory or else. The lion finally falls silent and I go to sleep smiling because that is the best lullaby one can wish for when sleeping in a canvas tent in the African bush.
I am up early, too early for the hot water that the staff brings around to our tents in the morning for washing up. I don’t mind, since the briskness of the cold water I splash on my face, snaps my sleepy eyes to wide open status. I’m definitely ready to see what might be in the dry river bed a few yards from our tent. One of the camp crew is sitting by the fire, a red blanket, wrapped around his shoulders as he stares out into the breaking dawn, while a blackened, cast iron kettle simmers over the cook fire. Other staffers are setting tea bags and coffee on the small table by the dining tent along with silver thermos jugs of hot water. I pour steaming water into a cup containing a tea bag, and carry the beverage with me as I walk to the river channel. There are bushes and tall, yellow grass lining the edge of the sandy river bottom. Mindful of how a lion would blend into the dried grass, I step cautiously into the dry river bed. I stand still and peer into the nearby bushes and grass before I take another step. I follow this cautious pattern for a few steps, when Bacari suddenly appears. I guess he decides to scout for me since he walks with me until we are in a more open part of the river. After looking around, Bacari seems satisfied that it is safe and he leaves me in solitude in the early dawn.
Last night I watched the splendor of the full moon rising over Ruaha National Park. This morning I get to watch the full moon drop below the horizon and then I watch as a vivid red sun rises within minutes of the moon set. Talk about doubly dramatic.
As I am enjoying the colorful end of the night and the start of the day, I see a small creature hurrying through the golden grass not far from where I am standing. What is that animal? I set my teacup on the ground and ready my camera, in hopes for a photo. For a minute I think I am looking at a skunk because the animal is black with a lighter back, but it is too big bodied, plus the animal’s whole back is grey, and besides that I’m in Tanzania! I get so excited while trying to train my camera on the scurrying critter that I kick my teacup over, which scares the animal making it reverse course and run into heavier cover. Wow, some wildlife photographer I am! I did snap one photo of my mystery guest, but I moved my camera so the animal is an unidentifiable, blurry, blackish, blob. When I describe the animal and show the hopeless photo to Kevin, he doesn’t hesitate in identifying the animal as a honey badger. Super, I have never seen a honey badger before so what a great way to start the day! Brian informs me later that there is a superstition in Africa that if you see a honey badger you will have good luck. He also informs me that the Honey Badger is a vicious fighter if cornered! Thank goodness the badger had plenty of room to get away.
This morning our fearless leader, Brian, will be riding in our vehicle, which is great as he is a fountain of information on the wildlife and the bush, plus his spotting ability is terrific. As far as our regular group of six, when it comes to spotting wildlife we all do pretty well, but I will give the “eagle eye” award to Ngruwe. The man seems to be able to see animals near or far, moving or motionless, it’s uncanny, and I’m darned glad he is in our Rover. I admit that I will usually see an animal if it moves but I have a tougher time seeing a sedentary animal, which is why believe it or not, I can overlook giraffe. Giraffe often stand perfectly motionless under or next to a tree and I guess my eyes are fooled into thinking they are a tall tree with four trunks :).
It’s time to go and we women climb up on the seats, grab onto a part of the frame of the pop up roof, and hold on for dear life. It is rough riding on the roads of Ruaha and you better keep a firm grip or you might end up on the floor. The men hang on to the black piping too, even when they are standing on the floor because you can lose your balance quickly. Brian often sits on the flat platform at the back of the Rover and seems to get along just fine, but honestly, I don’t know how he does it.
We come upon a covey of Black-faced Sand grouse next to a dry creek, dusting themselves in the sand, which certainly accentuates the bird’s name! They are beautiful birds and seem to have little fear of us, although most of them take flight once we drive by them. Moving on through the park we see Vervet monkeys and graceful giraffe. We have a close-up view of Greater Kudu as they stand behind a screen of brush and the size of the antelope’s ears is astonishing. The better to hear you with indeed. It is easy to see how the dusky Kudu gained the name “grey ghosts” of Africa as they can quietly melt into the underbrush and become nearly impossible to see.
Kevin and Brian are unsure of the identity of a starling they find, and after searching and comparing the bird to plates in the bird guide, they come to the conclusion it is the Ashy Starling, a bird that should not be in this part of Tanzania. Alright. Finding a bird that has strayed out of its normal range is always exciting.
Soon after finding the Ashy Starling, we see a pair of golden-colored mongoose. As Brian and Kevin search through the mammal book, their first conclusion is that these are Yellow mongoose. Kevin isn’t comfortable with this identification because the Yellow mongoose shouldn’t be here either. Kevin gets his smart phone out and runs a google search on the Slender mongoose which does reside in Ruaha. Sure enough, there are photos on his phone showing various colors of the Slender mongoose including a yellowish one. I blow up the photo I took of these mongoose to compare it with the picture on google and unfortunately, it is almost a direct match. Phooey, I was hoping for two species in one day that normally aren’t found in Ruaha. Oh well, the blonde, Slender mongooses are strikingly pretty, and fun to watch as they scurry on their way. In this same area there is a pile of boulders where Rock Hyrax are sunning themselves on the jumble of grey rocks. Upon closer scrutiny, we also see lizards crawling around on the kopjes.
We have lost sight of our sister vehicles, but what else is new:). As we jounce down the road, I catch sight of something moving through the tall grass, on the left side of the road. I call out, “Stop Kevin, there is something moving out there”. Basically, the ears and the back of the creature are all that is visible, and at first I think it might be a jackal, but Brian soon identifies the animal as a Serval Cat! How lucky is that? Paul and I have seen Servals on just one other safari, so we are delighted to have another encounter with the spotted cat. We never get a clear look at the Serval although the small cat did stop once and peeked over the top of the grass at us before strolling on, eventually disappearing into a brushy area. Paul pats me on the shoulder, adding a “good job Nancy” while Brian congratulates me on a good spot, along with kudos from the rest of our companions. O.K., I admit that I am beaming a little bit:).
Kevin catches us up with the other two vehicles, where our friends are watching a lioness under a tree. There is supposedly a male lion too, but for the life of me I can’t see it. Oh how quickly one is humbled on safari! I get plenty of helpful directions from the others in our vehicle, but it is finally Ngruwe’s explanation that the big male is lying flat on his side and I must watch for his flanks rising and falling as the lion breaths. I stare into the space that has been pointed out to me, and finally I do see the slight movement of a flank as the Lion breathes, which helps me see the faint outline of the recumbent lion. There is more proof that this really is a lion when he shakes his head slightly and his fringe of dark mane rises above the grass. Good grief, I wonder who the person was that found the male lion in the lead vehicles? I forgot to ask them who the eagle eye was when we returned to camp. Talk about a terrific spot!
Our convoy has arrived at the Ruaha River and with water comes lots of bird life. We stop to watch two elegant Crowned Crane aptly named due to the feathery crest on their heads that is in the shape of a crown or an unfurled fan, golden no less . Among the many species we find on the river are Wooly-necked Stork, Little Bee-eaters, Yellow Wattled Plover and egrets.
As we continue our bumpy, dusty route near the river’s edge in this awesome National Park, Kevin halts the Rover so we can look at a Martial Eagle that is standing in a pool of water. As we are looking at the Eagle and the beautiful vista that is spread out in front of us, Brian asks us to closely look at the Martial Eagle. He points out that the Eagle appears to be missing part of its right leg as there is space between the water and the leg. Sure enough, there is a little gap and we all muse aloud saying things like, how can it survive because surely an Eagle couldn’t kill prey with only one leg. Suddenly the rest of the Eagles’ right leg appears emerging from his fluffy, belly feathers. Once the Eagle plops his feathered right leg into the water, he raises his left leg up and abracadabra he appears to have lost the bottom half of this leg! What can you do but laugh at yourself after being fooled by the “now you see it now you don’t” trick by the Eagle magician!
We encounter a pair of Ground Hornbills talking to each other as they stroll through a wooded area. Their deep booming sounds remind me somewhat of the oompah sounds of a tuba. However, maybe a better likeness of their call is when Ngruwe blows across the top of a glass bottle and comes close to the hollow sound the big birds were making. There is a giraffe standing nearby, looking curiously at the musical two bird band as they march by him. As I write this I can hear and see this scene in my mind’s eye as plain as if it were happening now. I don’t know why this had such an impact on me but it surely did.
Our vehicles stops to admire a group of baby impala that someone in our group (I’m sorry I can’t remember who) aptly dubs an impala preschool. The silky little ones are congregated near a dead tree and there are two lizards atop the tree, heads lifted high, as if they are the school monitors.
Continuing driving along the edge of the Ruaha River we watch Impala and Kudu cautiously approach the water to drink. Both antelope species warily eye the river’s edge and when they do lower their heads to the water, Kudu and impalas alike keep their legs stretched back in a position that will allow them to spring away from a lurking crocodile if one tries to attack the vulnerable animals while they drink.
Our vehicles stop on a bluff overlooking the Ruaha River and we watch a parade of elephant as they wade into the water, first drinking and then crossing to the other side. There is a group of hippopotamuses downstream from the elephants where the babies have crawled up on the adult’s backs in order to stay above water.
Moving on, the lead vehicles have come to a halt due to a trio of elephants standing alongside the road our drivers want to go down. The big female has fanned her ears in warning at our companions, due to the fact that one of the members of this trio is a tiny baby, which according to Kevin, is at most two or three weeks old. Kevin watches the elephants for a bit and evidently doesn’t think the stay away signal given by the mother is serious and drives within a few feet of the pachyderms. It appears that our excellent guide was correct in his assessment, as the three wrinkled animals walk placidly in front of our Rover and into the grassy plain on the other side. Gosh darn, a baby elephant looks so miniscule next to a full-grown elephant you wonder how they keep from getting stepped on or knocked over.
We cross the river after our elephant encounter and watch in amusement as two male giraffe chase a young female. The duo will dash after the uninterested female for a short distance but she always manages to stay a step ahead of them. The three will slow to a walk but once the two males get too close for comfort for the female, they are off and running again.
As the day draws to an end our last encounter is with a troop of baboon. The baboon scout is perched in the crotch of a tree high above where the members of his troop are sifting through elephant dung, searching for seeds that passed through the elephant’s digestive system intact. I know, not a pretty picture but at least nothing is going to waste (no pun intended) with this baboon tactic. The scout seems less than excited with his guard detail, and I swear when we begin to snap photos of him, he goes into model mode. The Yellow baboon gives us his left profile, than his right profile, the sultry over the shoulder look which does no good because we aren’t behind him. Something moves our primate model to lift his foot up and smell it, or maybe he is just showing off his dexterity. In addition to getting some excellent photos of our baboon subject he also makes us laugh.
As we prepare to leave the dung foraging baboons, a young male sneaks up behind a female who is scrutinizing a handful of elephant poop, and mates with her. The “what the hell” look on the poor females face along with the fact that the young male is looking guiltily about, makes us howl with laughter. I’m sure the young baboon is fearful about what the dominate male will do to him, if he catches his subordinate in this seditious act! The Big Guy would likely sink his large canine teeth into the insolent underling and banish him from the clan (I really don’t know that this would happen)! In defense of the little male, the female has announced her readiness for mating via a swollen pink bottom which you couldn’t miss if you wanted too! The females, I’m available advertisement, was obviously too tempting for the young baboon to ignore. I include the photo I took of the mating baboons so you can see for yourself the look of surprise on the unsuspecting females face, and note that the cheeky male appears to be looking about to see if trouble, in the form of a male twice his size, teeth bared, is heading his way. Hopefully this photo will make you laugh too (I hope not offend anyone).
So this wonderful day has come to an end. Somewhere in between all the wildlife encounters we went back to camp for lunch, and I note in my journal that we were an hour late. Oops, poor Christophe, I know I get irritated if Paul and Randall are a few minutes late for lunch and I have modern means to keep food warm. Christophe must try to keep lunch edible over hot coals or a wood fire. I also note in my journal that we dined on beef stew and macaroni and it was delicious.
Next blog, an all-day game drive in Ruaha. Nancy