Strathspey Wildlife  
Africa 2006
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Thursday 9th February 2006

Needless to say - as we assembled for breakfast at 7am - all the talk was about our nocturnal visitors, who seemingly had paid everybody a call. Lucy was the only one to miss out on the experience - as she was accommodated in a different part of the camp. Refreshed from the long day before, we were eagerly looking forward to our trip by boat on the Rufiji River. We walked down to the jetty - where we joined our river guide - on - reassuringly - a wide steel-bottomed boat complete with a 40hp Yamaha outboard, and individual seats securely bolted to the steel floor of the boat. We were about to venture amongst pods of hippos - Africa's most dangerous animal - responsible for more deaths than anything - apart from the mosquito. We had seen numerous wildlife films in UK - usually on the Discovery Channel - depicting natives, wildlife cameramen and tourists being tipped out of their boats and being torn limb from limb!! We were told that the park held 3,000 hippos - so we were quite relieved to see the type of boat that we were going out in. We ventured out amongst the hippos - who frequently dived down ahead and towards the boat - and often we could feel a bump as we hit a glancing blow to a hippo beneath.

   

Our guide assured us that this did not cause any injury to the hippo - despite the 40hp outboard - and he was seemingly unalarmed. We also encountered several crocs on route to the far bank, where we were soon seeking out the wealth of colourful birds that inhibited the riverside. Our guide could not have been better at getting the boat into the banks to ensure the best views of the birds - and the occasional monitor lizard.  Our birds ranged from the mighty fish eagle - with a juvenile - and the giant Goliath heron - to the tiny Malachite kingfisher - one of 13  types of kingfisher here. I was particularly pleased to see this bird so close, only ever having had distant views previously. If you were to give a child a paintbrush and palette and asked them to create their most striking imaginative bird, it is doubtful that they could come up with anything better than the colourful spectacle of this little kimgfisher. Our guide managed to track one from perch to perch along the riverbank - giving us wonderful views. We paused to photograph a pied kingfisher, as he struggled to work out how he was going to manoeuvre his recent catch into position so that he could swallow it. We still don't know if he managed it. He flew off, no doubt for some serious logistical consideration!!
         


Our trip continued - amongst the hippos, crocs and numerous birds. We stopped off for a cool drink on the shore - carefully looking around the surrounding undergrowth - but I am sure that this particular section of the beach was frequently used. We stopped off later to watch an elephant carefully removing sections of grass and turf and rinsing them in the water with his trunk before eating. We returned back to the lodge at 12.20 - having been out since 8am - Excellent!! We went for a risotto - salad lunch, and relaxed for a while before our next event - which was a game drive at 4pm. For the park's game drives we were using their own Land Rovers, with open seating, and being a bit narrower and shorter than our Land Cruisers,  they were more manoeuvrable in the thick bush of the  park. Our  guide, Musa, had been a hunter in his youth, but had now worked  for the park for the past 30 years - an expert eye - expert tracker - and now - courtesy of Musa - I now know the fine difference between the droppings of a male and female giraffe!! I feel sure that I will be able to impress somebody somewhere on a future safari!! Before too long we were driving through dense undergrowth, with branches of trees enveloping both sides of the Land Rover - to find a pack of African hunting dogs - resting in the shade f the trees. We watched them for a while - discussing how their behaviour held so much in common with our own domestic pets. The beautiful markings of the  dogs was difficult to see - but we were to come across them later in the afternoon at the riverside. Later, we were to have our closest encounter with lions. First of   all we saw a lone female drinking at a waterhole. She was quite unalarmed at our presence, and appeared in fine condition, fit and well fed. She was joined by another lioness, and a short time later the male appeared walking towards us. He walked right alongside our Land Rover - As I leaned out to get some shots of him approaching - I was aware of Nancy pulling me back in !! This lion looked quite old - scarred face, with muscles seeming to be slightly wasted in comparison to the females. His short mane - at a distance - gave him the appearance of a younger lion - but this short mane,  or in some cases, complete absence of a mane is a feature of the Tanzanian lion - As I understand it, the reason is not known - with testosterone levels and the density of the Tanzanian bush being possible causes.

       

We had a close encounter with an elephant with her baby - which Musa told us was a little over a month old. As we had previously seen, she and the other elephants were very protective of the youngster, and tried to maintain cover in the bush, but eventually broke out to put some distance between us. We came across the hunting dogs again, having roused themselves from their afternoon sleep, and were now out in the open in preparation for the evening hunt. Though much smaller than the hyena, they still look like fierce beasts - not the sort that you would tickle on your lap anyway !!  This had been a tremendous drive in the company of Musa, and before too long  - it was time to return to the lodge. A little relaxation before a dinner of spaghetti Bolognese starter, followed by beef casserole and mashed potatoes and cabbage - deliciously prepared. Time to settle the bar bill again - and off to bed - What was in store for tonight ??


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