Strathspey Wildlife  
Africa 2006
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Thursday 2nd February 2006

Up at 6am this morning - in preparation for our foot safari. We were picked up by the park's safari vehicle and taken for a quick cup of tea at the dining banda before being driven out for 4.5 km, and walking back through the bush and along the banks of the Ruaha River. 11 of us had elected to take this optional ($25) early morning safari. We were given a quick briefing - to ensure safety on the walk, and to maintain position between our two armed guides, Martin and Fajara. It was wonderful to be out in the relative cool of the morning, with our guides seeking out evidence of anynight-time activity. Before too long our guides identified fresh lion tracks in the sand. That, however, was as close as we got to seeing them - I think the roar of a nearby lion whilst out on foot might have been a bit too much for some of us.


We sighted many new birds to add to our list. Hippos were crossing the river, baboons were feeding around the river banks and we came across a lone hippo close to our path, hiding within the bushes. We gave him a wide berth - This often-looking lumbering beast is the most dangerous in Africa, responsible for more deaths than any other. We paused to look at the damage inflicted by elephants, as they chew upon the bark of the trees, with huge slivers being torn off. The trees however seem no worse for the damage however, as they all appear strong and healthy with, to this layman at least, just cosmetic damage. Here, at  Ruaha, is the only "National Park" in Tanzania where you can take a foot safari - although we were able to do so again later in the trip at the Selous Game Reserve. At 9.30 am  it was time to return to our dining banda for a well-earned breakfast of fruit, cinnamon bread and a "full English." Copious cups of tea followed by  toast and marmalade, all taken at a leisurely pace on this occasion.


As we had a "free morning" With time on our hands, we took a short walk along the river bank to the prime riverside position of the bandas of Robin and Heather, with next-door neighbours Mel and Ann. Here, there was a section of the river that allowed the hippos to wallow in pools. I had changed my footwear - from sandals to trainers - in the event I had to make a sharp exit. The hippos however seemed quite relaxed in the water, and those that were moving up the banks were doing so on the far side of the river. I set myself up with my camera and monopod on top of a large rock (snakes were also prominent in my mind amongst the boulders on the riverside) I was hoping to take a shot of a yawning hippo, and was set for a bit of a wait. As I set up, I scanned the waterline - to find a crocodile lying motionless about 50 metres away at the water's edge. Nancy was with me fortunately, to keep watch for any movement of the croc, as I panned amongst the wallowing hippos. Also at the waters edge was a pair of striped swallows - really attractive little birds.Before too long, I had snapped a yawning hippo - not too much of a wait, but we remained, watching the hippos settling down for a morning sleep, with a family of mother, father and youngsters snuggling up to each other in contented sleep. We ordered 2 x cream teas from Robin and Heather, then tried Chrissie and Maggie - but sadly, the service was lacking!!  and as the nearby croc was now on the move,  we headed back for lunch - and for dessert we had rhubarb crumble and custard !! (They must have known I was coming).


Time for a quick shower after lunch, and to relax a little before our game drive at 3pm. Lions were the priority on this drive - but we were to be disappointed.  Unlike the plains of the Masai Mara, lions here appeared to  prefer the cover of the bushes, and consequently were very hard to spot. We saw plenty of wildlife however - including our first close-up encounter with a fish eagle - a grey kestrel also gave us some wonderful views. Along with the plentiful giraffes we had zebra, impala, mongoose - and a tortoise !! The highlight of the drive was an encounter with a group of 5 elephants - who protectively circled the baby of the herd. We returned for dinner at 6.45 pm - Red onion soup, sesame bread, roast lamb & potatoes, peas & leeks - followed by banana cheesecake - excellent!! A couple of cool "Kilis" once again, and as this was our last evening here, we settled our bar bill - 26,000 Tz.shillings  - around £13 - not bad considering all the soft drinks during the 3 days we had been at Ruaha. Today had been hot and sticky at the peak of the day - with a temperature of 38°C - 100°F. Thus far the daily temperatures had been around the 34-35°C mark - not too bad providing we had a bit of a breeze. Time for bed, though we had to wait for our Masai escort back to the banda.