Saturday, February 23, 2013

Doing the baby elephant walk

[This post was written before "baptism by fire//trust fall". It is about the one-day safari we did during our visit to Pete and Charlotte O'Neal's on Saturday, Feb. 16. Because it has so many photos, it will be easier to upload when I've got the fat bandwith of our home wi-fi.]

Tarangire National Park is a three hour drive from Pete and Charlotte's place. We aimed to leave at 6 am but what with dawdling and all, got off to a slightly late start. I took - 536 pictures - well, more, if you count the ones I took with my phone. So I've been procrastinating about posting!

Here are some highlights, then!

Mr. Ostrich admiring Mrs. Ostrich's caboose:

Masai giraffe, the first of several - this one was a youngster, judging by his size.

The only cape buffalo we saw:

I'd like to spend more time around cape buffalo. I'm a little leery of them, though - they strike me as potentially ornery.

Lioness just starting to go into stalk mode:

She was one of three, lying in the shade near a watering hole that had also attracted a family of warthogs. They were on to her, and moved away. She seemed philosophic about the lost opportunity and flopped down under a tree.

We then came to a river along which several bands of elephants had gathered. Up on the hillside facing us were impala and baboons. While we were all admiring them, our driver was checking things out on the other side of the car. He spotted what he thought was a cheetah - a spotted cat, walking calmly through the grass. We all swiveled around. We couldn't see it very well - often, just the curl of a tail was visible - but we were all super excited (particularly since cheetah are a a rare sighting in this park and we hadn't dared hope to see any) and I shot away like mad, hoping the pictures would turn out.

It was only after we got back and I downloaded the pictures to the iPad that I saw that our buddy was actually a leopard - a VERY rare thing to see, particularly in the middle of the day. A more typical sighting would be of one draped over a tree branch at dusk.

Good lord, is that not heavenly? Also, those beige circles to the left are bird nests, hanging from branches. I don't remember what kind of bird.

As for the elephants, there were so many elephants, it is hard to pick what pictures to show. I had recently been reading horrific accounts of elephant poaching in Chad, and my whole motivation for going on this visit to Tarangire was to see elephants and somehow communicate through my presence that I'm rooting for them.

There were solo elephants:

And elephants in pairs:

But most often, it was whole families together:

And the babies! My god, the babies! There was one group that was coming down to the water from a spot just off camera to the left of the shot above. Kevin saw him (we'll just go with "him") holding his mother's tail, and I tried to capture it, but baby kept finding other interesting things to focus on - sniffing things, slowing down, racing to catch up, looking around...

They got to the river's edge. Baby tried drinking like his aunts, but couldn't quite reach.

This family wound up cruising to a spot where there was no embankment, so baby got in and splashed around. As did another baby, closer to hand:

Are you not just wanting a baby elephant to call your own at this point? I know I am!

We saw and heard a juvenile elephant trumpeting and waving his trunk around and generally causing a scene, but for no immediately apparent reason. Our driver thought it might have gotten a stinging insect up its trunk and was trying to discharge it. Ouch!

We saw other beasties: impala - this one, a young male:

Is it just me, or does he look like Julia Roberts? This is not meant as an insult to either impala, or Ms Roberts - she's always struck me as half deer.

An older male, with the horns spiraled a bit:

All the females were across the road from the males. And the male above was the boss of the whole scene. That's how they arrange things.

A hyrax, related to the elephant I am told. I'd never seen one before. Apparently they eat termites, which reminds me, I have no pictures of termite mounds to show you. They dot the landscape with some frequency and get to maybe at least six feet tall. I asked our driver if mounds were always sited on former stumps and he said yes.

Yet more pachyderms:

Some waterbucks:

Some zebras, with girlie impalas in the background (no horns). This was right as we were leaving the park.

Pete's incredible kitchen staff had packed us a lunch, so we took a break at a picnic area partway through and had grilled chicken, mini vegetable pizzas, freshly sliced mango, corn muffins, and a bottle of red wine.

We had company:

I don't know who these are, but they had plenty of personality. And they were gorgeously iridescent, check this out:

The birds in general were awesome - with the exception of the ones above, who made things easy by being right next to our picnic table, I didn't attempt to photograph the songbirds. They were all over, though - some a brilliant green, some black and white, some the color of rainbows. The birdsong was amazing - liquid sunshine transformed into burbling cascades.

If you are a regular reader, you'll know that typically I photograph the naughty bits of flowers. So I have a macro lens for a Nikon I didn't bring with me on this trip. I don't currently own a telephoto lens. These pictures are all from my trusty Lumix point-and-shoot, which can zoom up to 30x. Just about all these shots are zoomed in to the max. That takes a toll on the battery and I started to run out of juice with another hour or hour and a half to go. So I started taking shots with my camera, instead.

Since by this point, we had seen (or so we thought) four out of the "big five" (lion, elephant, giraffe, cape buffalo, and leopard - remember, we thought we'd seen a cheetah), I was adamant that we find a leopard. So we started paying attention to the trees, hoping to find one with leopards dripping from every branch. Fortunately, general tree shots are something my camera phone can easily accommodate.


Here's an aptly named sausage tree, formerly called kigelia. See the big pale hanging things? They're the fruit.

Leopards apparently love these trees, which reminded me of live oaks in the southeastern U.S.

No leopards manifested, so we bombed around randomly, just drinking up the scenery. Here's another section of river, dry in this case.

The clouds were marvelous, as you can see.

There were at a minimum, four kinds of trees: acacias (what the giraffe like to eat - they've got lacy little leaves and nasty thorns), the sausage trees shown above, palm trees (you can see some above in that dry riverbed shot), and perhaps the most impressive, the baobabs:

See how the trunk looks damaged? That's elephants' doing.

This madness ensued for hours. It was a great, great day. We were wiped at the end of it.

Next up: Riding in an ambulance going the wrong way down a highway.

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