By Richard Knocker
My season kicked off the other day with a 4-day trip to Lake Manyara and Ngorongoro.
Lake Manyara is looking great this early in the season, with plenty of water still, and lots of Lesser Flamingos too. Much of the lake is fringed with pink and flocks can be seen flying from point to point a lot of the time.
A herd of 19 giraffe comes thundering out onto the lakeshore, then turns to stare back into the woodland. We scan and scan for lion, but the bush is just too dense.
As we enter camp, we are surrounded by a herd of peacefully munching elephant, shattered trees lying all around.
During the night, the peace is broken by a troop of baboon, barking out in alarm as a leopard does the rounds.
We leave at first light for a leisurely morning in the southern part of the park. Breakfast is on the lakeshore with a dense wodge of flamingos barely 30m away. More keep flying in and, as we eat, there is a constant babble of goose-like honking.
Probably the highlight of our Manyara stay is a large tom leopard strolling along the road ahead of us. He disappears into the trees as we approach and we catch a glimpse of spotted coat in the bushes, before he melts into a thicket. We sit quietly for 20 minutes or so, hoping he will re-emerge or climb a tree, but no joy. Another group saw him later, and a female crossed the road nearby – most likely a mating pair.
A wonderful sight on the descent into the crater: a caracal, the most beautiful of all the African cats. She is carrying a mouse, and as we watch, a well-grown kitten comes out of hiding and proceeds to eat. They aren’t at all shy and we have a wonderful few minutes with them.
Up before 1st light so as to make the most of the early morning in the Crater. There is a thick fog and as we make our way around the rim, we almost run into a buffalo on the road. In the weird light, its dark body is almost invisible and we all but nudge its bottom before stopping.
On the descent, there is the caracal pair again. The kitten is once more feeding on a mouse, presumably caught by the mother. The light is very uncertain, but we get close-up views of the wonderful facial markings and long tufted ears that give this cat such an exotic look. Gorgeous…
On the Crater floor, a large bull elephant comes walking along the road towards us; we pull up and wait for him – he walks right by, pausing to glare and flare his ears at us, just in case we haven’t grasped quite how massive he is.
Not long after, a pair of hunting lions. They are in a good position, with plenty of game nearby. A wildebeest walks right towards them, oblivious. A short rush… and the lion stops dead. It turns out that he is a youngster, still short of his 2nd birthday, and probably lacks the confidence to take on a fully-grown bull wildebeest like that, with scary looking horns!
And to round it off – a magnificent Martial Eagle atop an acacia, plucking and eating what looks like an Egyptian Goose. What a fabulous bird….