Day 8 - June 2nd
We got up early and got ready for our morning game drive. After singing happy birthday to mum who reached old age on this day (sorry mum) we realised that a Buffalo was happily munching grass about 20 metres away from where we were standing! Despite me showing no fear towards Lions and Hyenas around the campsite at Seronera I was rather scared about this Buffalo. I have always felt strange about cows and had previously thought of Buffalos as mindless killers. However this experience made me think differently and I now like Buffalo a lot more.
So we set off and after travelling down the crater descent road we arrived at the gate. We had to wait for a bit because the park doesn't open until 7am. The Ngorongoro Crater National Park is the largest caldera (volcanic crater) in the world covering an area of 256sq km. It is home to nearly all of the mammals of the African savannah but Topi, Giraffe and Impala are not present. Giraffe cannot be seen here because they do not have the ability to get to the bottom of the crater whilst Impala would not be able to find enough food. As for Topi the reason of their absence is not known although there are many theories. Surprisingly many animals do travel up and down the crater and the Wildebeest here are largely migratory. It is an excellent site for Lions and Hyenas as well as being the top stop for Black Rhino in Tanzania with a respectable population of 16 animals in the crater.
The first things we saw were some Buffalo round the edges of the crater. Then Wildebeest, Thompson's Gazelle and Zebra all appeared. Then we got our first sighting of a Hyena followed by a Side-striped Jackal on one side of the road and a Black-backed Jackal on the other.
Then we got to the edge of Lake Magadi, a soda lake similar to Lake Manyara and home to many flamingos. The flamingos were mainly Lesser although we could pick out at least 10 Greaters without looking too far away. Also a group of Grant's Gazelle were beside the lake whilst a few Blacksmith Plovers, Crowned Lapwings and Kittlitz's Plovers were the only waders.
Carrying on we got to a series of pools where we saw Hippo, Elephant, Grey Heron, Madagascar Squacco Heron, Black-headed Heron, Black-winged Stilt, Collared Pratincole, Great Egret, more Flamingos and a Kori Bustard. Then whilst driving around a grassy area we saw large herds of Buffalo and Wildebeest with Zebra, Warthog, Eland and Hartebeest amongst them.
Then more Kori Bustards began to show including one with a chick and a displaying male. At one point I could see 5 at once. Also at least 10 Yellow-throated Sandgrouse were beside the road whilst Kittlitz's and Chestnut-banded Plovers were running around on the road. Then we found a group of about 10 Hyenas in the grass sleeping and playing.
Our main target species then showed up, a Black Rhino. It was very distant although it completed the "Big 5" for us so we were happy. After watching it for a while we carried on and found a Cheetah in long grass. It was elusive and didn't show well so it was good luck when we found 2 more only 15 minutes later.
Then came my highlight of the drive, a Martial Eagle right beside the road with a dead Rabbit. Our next sighting, after careful scrutiny through the binoculars were 2 more distant Black Rhino. Then whilst leaving the park we saw a pair of Crowned Cranes, some Vervet Monkeys and another Black-backed Jackal. Then from the crater ascent road we saw a party of Defassa Waterbuck and another African Hawk-Eagle.
When we got back to camp I saw the Stonechat again as well as the usual White-naped Ravens and Marabous. After having brunch we took down the tents, packed our stuff and headed to the nearby town of Karatu where we were staying the night.
I didn't see any birds on the way to Karatu although as soon as we got there there were Pied Crows everywhere. When we got into the campsite we put up the tents and had a shower. We then went on a tour of Karatu. As well as being followed by an army of schoolchildren we saw a Long-tailed Fiscal and a Variable Sunbird.
That evening Arnold (the cook) cooked us African food. We all enjoyed the meal and at the end a surprise birthday cake was brought out for mum.