Posts tagged “Ngorongoro Crater

Above and Below


I’d never seen anything like this. High above Ngorongoro Crater the clouds were splitting the sunlight into rainbows that didn’t follow normal rainbow logic.


It only appeared for a few minutes but what a sight. I’m ok with the mystery. Yes I could suss it out and talk about refraction and light splitting into its constituent colors but I’d rather just sit quietly in my amazement.


From the crater rim the morning fog drifts in and out giving fleeting glimpses of Lake Magadi far below.


The King of Sleeps


Twenty hours of the day are spent resting or asleep. Another two hours dozing… and, oh yes, time to get up and preserve my reputation as an unfathomably powerful predator.


But first… just a little more sleep. Sorry if I’m shattering your notions of Lion behaviour. They do earn their prodigious rest with amazing displays of predatory prowess and general carnivorous intensity. It’s just that seeing those moments takes tremendous luck and once-in-a-lifetime timing. Most of the time they lay prone, breathing heavily, waiting out the heat, and biding their time.


Don’t think you should get out of the car though. It would be the equivalent of a warm blueberry muffin magically appearing next to you first thing in the morning… it wouldn’t stand a chance. The lions ignore the cars, basically treating them like big moving rocks, but a person hopping out of one would likely cause some excitement.

In the video below, you see that they often get up just to find a better place to get back down.


When the resting is over it is time for the hunt. Night is falling and these two lionesses and a young male are preparing to ruin a wildebeest’s night.


Stretching out those sleepy muscles in preparation.


The male stays behind to continue his rest but keeps a close eye on things.


Another preparation for hunting involves shedding excess weight. Not the sort of thing you normally see on nature shows but that’s exactly why I include it here. Ladies and Gentlemen, pooping lions.


Ngorongoro Picnic


Rufous-tailed Weavers like to hang out at the Ngorongoro Crater picnic area near the hippo pool. People lunching in strange circumstances are messy eaters and the birds take full advantage of it.


Keeping a watchful eye on the tourists, Hippos stay offshore but linger close enough to make you nervous.


This Great White Pelican takes a break from fishing with its friends to preen on the shore.


An African Jacana forages nearby, splaying its phenomenally large feet to stay out of the muck.


A Jacana pair tussle on their way across the pond.


The scourge of the picnic area are the brazen, bold, and fearless Black Kites. They will take a sandwich out of your hand or even your mouth provided it’s still open. They know exactly what lunch boxes look like and are on patrol every second of the day. Eat in the car or face the consequences.

If you don’t have food on you they are sublime and beautiful. If you are trying to gnaw on a dry roll or sort out how to open your juice box with one hand while shooing the birds away with the other, they can be downright scary. Enjoy some of the sublime moments below.


More from Ngorongoro


This male Montagu’s Harrier flew by so quickly and so close to the car that I barely managed to get it in the frame. It was in the middle of its molt cycle, as were many birds in December. For some birds, their disheveled appearance and strange color combinations made guessing age and ID a bit trickier than normal.


These Greater Flamingos in the shadow of the crater wall were easy to ID but sought refuge on the far side of Lake Magadi which made a close approach impossible.


Yellow-billed Oxpeckers are beautiful and gross. They live on the ticks and other insects roaming around on their free rides. They also have a habit of keeping small wounds open to they can drink the blood of their hosts… but they make up for it by performing another valuable service… eating earwax. See what I mean?


Warthogs on the other hand, like this one fresh from a mud bath, are all sweetness and light. Cuter than they seem once you watch them foraging for food and sprinting from danger with their tails held straight up. Some say you can use their tails as a speedometer with vertical indicating top speed.


Lilac-breasted Rollers are stunners. They can be found all over the country. Another example of common birds being uncommonly beautiful.


The heaviest bird in the world still capable of flight… the amazing Kori Bustard.


Crowned Plovers are gregarious birds often found near the roadside.


Blacksmith Plovers keep company with the Crowned Plovers and are equally sharp dressers. This one is busy preening, meticulously attending to those fine feathers.


An Augur Buzzard takes flight from a low perch. Much of the crater is treeless and any little gain in elevation means a much better vantage point. Like the Harrier above, this bird is molting too. Check out the dark fresh feathers visible on the wings. The older juvenal flight feathers are brownish and the new tail feathers (mid-tail) are red with no barring. It means this bird was just over a year old and was going through its first molt. This is Tanzania’s version of a Red-tailed Hawk.


Cat in the Crater


Well my internet connection has finally returned and I can start sharing the fruits of last month’s journey to Tanzania. It took me three trips before I ever got to see a Cheetah but thankfully they have been less elusive lately. This one was lounging on the crater floor waiting out the rain. It seemed to be considering whether it was worth the effort to amble toward a nearby herd of Thompson’s Gazelle.


Ngorongoro Crater is one of my favorite places to spend a day. Looking into it from the rim you might see a few specks which later turn out to be Elephants or Cape Buffalo, but only if you are looking hard for them. It just seems like a vast, beautiful, calm, cauldron of green and the animals don’t really appear until you take the long drive down the entrance road 2000 feet to the crater floor.


Once at the bottom you beging to see Zebra, Warthogs, Gazelle, Jackals, Flamingos, Kori Bustards, Lapwings, Falcons, Harriers, and in between wandering bundles of grazing Wildebeest you spy a slender tawny creature slinking through the grass and see the first big cat of your trip… a Cheetah.


It is a truly special feeling to visit them in their natural habitat.


That flexible spine is one of the keys to the tremendous speeds they can achieve. The vegetation is hiding a small pool of water and the Cheetah is slaking its thirst.


This guy has had a rough week. He sustained an injury to his snout. It might have been a confrontation with feisty prey or a tussle with a competitor for food. Their are plenty of Hyenas about and they seem happy to forego any social niceties. He looked like he was on the mend though. In the video below you might see him breathing heavily but it turns out that’s a feature of big cats, rapid, heavy, body-pulsing, respiration.



Dust devils parade across the distant shore of Lake Magadi and the rain clouds begin to darken the crater once more.


The Cheetah decides to move on and displays none of its reputed speed as it carefully and silently steps away.


Maasai still bring their cattle and goats to the crater floor to drink and are comfortable with the hard won mutual respect they have established with the big cats over the generations.


Meanwhile a Banded Martin takes a break near the crater wall.


On the fog lined crater rim a Common Buzzard surveys the whiteout below and waits for the sun to emerge.


Here is a view looking toward the Serengeti Plains from the crater rim.

There will be more photos from Ngorongoro Crater over the next few days and we’ll head toward the Serengeti after that.


Ngorongoro Preview


I’m going to start a multi-part series on the Ngorongoro Crater soon… but I’m working on another big project now and my internet is… you guessed it, down for the count. So in a few days, once the dust settles, I’ll start the series. For now here’s a snarling preview. A young male Cheetah.


Little Bee-eater


The Little Bee-eater is a bright, energetic, bundle of energy and is common throughout Tanzania.


This one has its sights set on a bee that wandered a bit too close for its own safety.


The bee never had a chance.


This guy was perched near the hippo pool at Lake Manyara National Park. Swarms of insects kept him busy.


I love that spectacular birds can be commonplace birds. I often take a second look at the my local birds and find them equally spectacular although my amazement is easily dulled by familiarity. Nevermore!