Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rewarding June

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….

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Leopard, and more leopard, December 2011

       By Squack Evans

During the course of 12 days or so, we travelled through Manyara having some phenomenal elephant viewing at close quarters..... some of the best I have had in Manyara for some time.

Following on from there, we went to Ngorongoro and on to Moru kopjies.

We had a lot of rain so were a little bit constrained due to mud, in some areas. However, we had phenomenal sightings. The leopard viewing started here and we saw, in one morning, 3 leopards. One at a distance had just killed and climbed a tree with a dikdik. We managed to find one of the resident lion prides as well as a Black Rhino.

We moved on to the northern Serengeti and the leopard sightings continued in earnest! A mother and adolescent cub with an oribi kill giving us some amazing shows. The cub had attitude; with a snarl and a hiss almost on the end of my camera lens and then it hopped up on to the bull bar of the car.

The next day we found the mother again hunting and climbing trees in the heat of the afternoon. In the evening, she had moved some distance again and gave a phenomenal modelling shoot!

Lions were plentiful as was other game and, being slightly out of season, there were very few other cars out and about.

Our send off at the end was 4 Black Rhino and some interesting interaction as it appeared that a female in the group was in season. Great trip..... and the leopard stole the show.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Misty mornings, Ndutu, November 2011

By Squack Evans

A wonderful week-long safari with the Wilderness Mobile Camp in Ngorongoro and the southern Serengeti with guests who have become firm friends over the years.

The first few nights we spent on the Crater rim, the campsite is already some way down the descent road so you are set to be first in to the Crater, with a good head start. We had some quality game viewing in the golden morning hours, while the late afternoon on the Crater floor is equally magic; everyone had headed home and we enjoyed the last light in glorious isolation.  

 As we arrived in Ndutu so too did the wildebeest, a few weeks earlier than we expected! The beauty of having a lighter-weight mobile camp and  travelling out of season means you can change plans on the move. As the wildebeest had arrived so early, we decided to stay put for the rest of the week. What a great time! The morning mist was so thick we couldn't see further than 40 yards ahead and what a  rare treat to be drifting slowly through the mist and watching shapes slowly appear and begin to take form as you approach, and then drift back into nothingness as you pass. 

Being on the plains as the mist finally burnt off was great. Suddenly, huge vistas of grassland and wildebeest opened up to accompany our picnic breakfast and tea.

We also spent a lot of evening time with a Striped Hyena and her pup. So rare to get good views of them and even more rare to watch behaviour between mother and pup.  

We had a cheetah mother and her cubs having a standoff with a few opportunistic Spotted Hyena, a lioness taking advantage of the sudden abundance of food among many other fantastic memories. 
The short grass plains in southern Serengeti in early season were both tranquil and beautiful! Next November anyone?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Drama in the African Bush

By Halifa Suleiman

Clouds ! Mist ! Fog !

Halifa ! ARE WE GOING TO SEE ANY ANIMALS TODAY? this is the question from my guests. The Ngorongoro half day trip was the start of our safari and the fog was heavy. But down on the Crater floor it cleared up. At the first sighting, we saw four lioness hunting a buffalo. These girls took about 45min to bring down the buffalo bull, after breaking its front left leg, but it was not easy.

A good morning hunting with the Hadze at Lake Eyasi.  Breakfast is a male vervet monkey before they set off again hunting. The luck of the day was on their side. After a long walk, stopping to pick some cordia fruit and catch some mouse bird, they shot the egyptian goose with their bow and arrows .

It is hot and dusty in Tarangire but another wonderful day with elephant heading towards the river, zebra under the tree and wildebeest near the river bank. On the other side, a lion hiding in wait. In the three days of our stay, we saw orxy, kudu, eland, python, leopard , lion and many more. A martial eagle caught a dwarf mangoose and took it up to a tree branch, what a meal !

Three Safaris

Three Safaris and photographs  by Kennedy John

Lamai, Northern Serengeti, August 2011 - an extraordinary weather pattern of rains. Luckily, the burning on the Tanzanian side of the Mara/Serengeti boundary facilitated the return of lush green fields. Hence, the swing of the migratory herds to and fro was a key characteristic of the safari. We saw lots of the concentrations of wildebeest

..........and general game: a coalition of 3 brother cheetahs around Nyamalumbwa, killing yearlings and calves born in last March; rhinos along the Sandriver and the 2 main lions prides the Nyamalumbwa Pride and the Kopjes Pride.

Because the grass was short on the plains around the Mara River, we witnessed some good crossings though, as is more usual nowadays in peak season, a large number of other vehicles around these areas. It is something to worry about, as the park regulations seem to be pushing more towards crowding rather than spreading the tourist load and, as the a result, the exclusive experience is becoming more compromised.

September in Serengeti. A brand new lodge, still settling in to its place, but we were there at best time for the area. Fantastic sightings of lion,cheetah and leopard not to forget crocs and hippos.The grande finale of the safari - hours and hours of the great Mara River crossings, to and fro, within a span of just a few hours.

Then, into the wilderness of Western Tanzania: Chada Katavi. Thousands of hippos crowded together in small, muddy pools in the drying river beds. Hundreds of crocs piled together in the caves on the banks of the Katuma River, probably having slowed down their body metabolism to survive through the hard times with minimum energy required.

Mahale Mountains: beautiful lake, the spectacular Nkungwe Mountain ranges, were it is said the savannah and the tropical rain forests meet and hence, it is a haven for primates....But the most unusual thing was a coup d'etat when the then Alpha chimp male was deposed and brutally killed by the other chimps - a thing which has never been observed even by the Japanese researchers in their 40 plus years of research. For more than 3 days after the saga, it was like a curfew had been declared and it was difficult to spot a chimp anywhere. But, as usual, sanity came back and the Great Apes were around the camp on our last day.


A safari through the Serengeti in March 2012. Memorable sightings:the rocks between Sayari Camp near the Mara River and Lamai Serengeti camp  are probably one of the best cat habitats in the area. This time, we had the resident lion pride with their 8 cubs so close to a leopard with its cub to such an extent that we enjoyed a drama of the large pantherines chasing around their smaller spotted cousins around the rocks. It is worth noting that this area is now rich in rhinos and we were lucky to see 5 very close around the Sandriver. Southern Serengeti was dry, despite it being March and the migratory herds had moved out to around Simba Kopjes and Seronera, but, as usual, there were some nice suprises for us. A shy striped hyena and its cub and the usual large number of cheetahs made the day there very enjoyable..

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The.Maps.Edge Facebook Page is alive and kicking

We have just launched our facebook page amidst delighted giggles and excitement. It has taken us some time to get there but we are finally 'launched'

Friday, February 3, 2012

The emerald bush - Katavi and Mahale in the Green

By Richard Knocker

We had a very weird spell of weather in October and early November – tremendous rains, unusually early and heavy.  It was very patchy, so while everything at home was green and flourishing, and there was heavy flooding in parts of Serengeti, large swathes of Maasailand remained brown and parched.

So, November came around and with it a group of old friends from our days in Turkey.  We were headed out west, for a week in Katavi and Mahale.  Katavi will be at it’s best at this time, won’t it?  The long months of hot and dry mean that large numbers of game will be congregated near the few springs, so game viewing will be a cinch.  Except for that early rain (see above).  The whole park was freshly painted in luxuriant greens, the Katuma River was flowing and the air felt vibrant with life. 

Many of the hippos had moved out of the springs at Ikuu, their dry season refuge, and back into the newly formed pools on the Katuma.  The crocs were slowly coming back to life, although many were still more or less somnolent in their riverbank holes.

The downside to all this, of course, was that much of the game, released from the tyranny of the dry season, had scattered to the four winds 

It was gorgeous and we did find just about everything we wanted to see, so we had to earn out sightings with patience and good tracking!

We found a lovely pride of lion with cubs (the Chada Pride), and followed them for a couple of hours through the bush as they made their way to the river, presumably changing hunting grounds.  They were lean and hungry looking, but with a healthy glow.  We stayed with them for some time, hoping for a hunt (they were clearly ready for action), but nothing came of it.

It was the same story with elephant – when we finally caught up with a herd, we had a long visit with them, following slowly as they fed through the bush.  There was a tiny calf with them, but we only got brief glimpses as Mama kept her close by her side.

It was strange to see so few elephant, but the mystery was solved when some of our group spotted a large herd, several hundred they reckoned, waaaay out on Katisunga Plain.  Too far to go and see them, sadly, but nice to know they’re there.  And always nice to solve the puzzle!

This happens frequently: elephant clans are forced to break up into small family groups during the dry season, because of the lack of resources, but when the rains start and food and water are plentiful, they gather once more into large groups.

Not long after we left, a herd of several hundred was seen just in front of Chada Camp – very likely the same clan.

One of our Chada highlights was a large scorpion, found by one of the camp waiters.  Scorpions have this weird undead glow under ultraviolet light – perfect material for nightmares!

All too soon, our time was up and we upped sticks and moved on to Mahale Mountains. 

Again, the recent rain meant that the forest was bursting with new life.  Gorgeous butterflies flitting through the clearings and fresh new leaf everywhere.  The miombo woodland on the mountain slopes was resplendent in shades of copper, crimson and brilliant fresh greens.

We had high expectations of our time with the chimps: as you probably know, the Alpha male of Mahale’s ‘M’ community was killed by his own kind back in July (??).  Pimu was a thug who ruled by brute force and terror, and in the end his subjects rose up against him.  If only Gaddafi had taken heed of this sorry tale…

Anyway, we were intrigued to find out how the succession struggle was working out.  There are 2 contenders: Alofu, the former alpha, deposed by Pimu; and Primus, a young buck with his eye on the top spot. In the event, we had unexpectedly mellow viewing, consisting of peaceable group grooming sessions and youngsters endlessly at play. Endlessly watchable.

We are still waiting to hear who will take on Pimu’s mantle, but we can expect a great deal of manoeuvring and wheeling & dealing before the dust finally settles on this saga.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

By Squack Evans

This was a short safari in June, but we had an amazing experience: three days in Rwanda, trekking the Mountain Gorillas, a total of two treks, one with the Agashya group and the other with the Kwitonda group. There are very few Mountain Gorillas left in the world, experts tell us somewhere just over 800, so this is a very special safari.

Our first day out we bumped into a herd of buffalo on the way. This happens from time to time but you very rarely get a chance to actually see them. The normal state of affairs is the thundering of hooves, usually in the opposite direction. This time we had a good look at them; probably about 15 animals in total. Do these qualify as true Forest Buffalo, Syncerus caffer nanus?? Would love to hear the comments of an expert!

Both gorilla groups we visited have large numbers of individuals and both also have good number of babies which provides interesting interactions and play all the time. This youngster decided it was time to take a siesta on the Silverback, Agashya, he was very tolerant all told!

The Kwitonda group also has some very interesting dynamics with 3 silverbacks at the moment, which provides for some exciting viewing.

We managed on both days to get very close to the gorillas, on one occasion we were boxed in to the thick vegetation with a youngster sitting very close by watching with interest, and sometimes amusement, our attempts to maintain the required 7 metre distance. What a great trip, something every Africa-phile should do at least once!

Friday, January 27, 2012

June in Northern Tanzania

by Squack Evans

Having had a busy season this year, there has not been much time to post about our adventures (although I confess to a certain amount of procrastination too!). A subject of a delicate nature with those who have kept up  with their posts!

Starting our safari on the night of a full lunar eclipse, we made our way from Arusha leisurely north. Starting with an afternoon in Manyara National park with some amazing close up views of elephant. 

Overnighting in the wonderful Plantation lodge and taking in the Ngorongoro Crater the following day. Onward to the Serengeti, we found some amazing 'rock star' lions perched on the kopjies in central Serengeti on the way to our mobile camp, set up in the Western Corridor, specially to catch up with the migration. 
Scores of wildebeest and zebra with the cacophony of noise that goes with the wildebeest at this time of year; rutting season. 
A balloon flight, bush breakfasts and on to the northern Serengeti for the last few days of our safari.

What a pleasure to arrive there and experience untrammeled Africa without the crowds! Out of season is definitely the way to travel these days. 

Leopard, lion and cheetah in our time here not to mention wonderful vistas of seas of grass with zebra and topi navigating their way across the plains.