Posts Tagged ‘African birds’

Double-toothed barbet, yet another of Africa's flamboyant birds. -- Wikipedia photo

“Don’t be over self-confident with your first impressions of people.” – Chinese proverb

African Safari: Bird-Watching Guard

Before Dave Richards had left us after lunch, he introduced us to David, the tall, muscular guard who had been the one to walk Kim and I from the lodge compound down to the river for our game drives.

“He’s a birder,” Dave said, causing me to finally notice the pair of binoculars around his neck. “If you see that barbet again,” he told Dave, “tell Pat here.”

David, who had been quiet and stoic during our walks, smiled and promised to come get me if he saw it. Later, as Kim and I were watching a large elephant on the outer edge of our marsh, he did just that.

It was a double-toothed barbet that had built a nest near one of the tents. It was shy, but finally I got half a decent look at it. Enough to see why it was so named. Its bill has two jagged points.

Elephant watching was always fun. Note the giraffe in the background behind this one. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

David was more talkative with us after that, stopping along the way to point out a bird for me, and discussing other wildlife habits with Kim She particularly wanted to know how often hippos visited our tent area.

I didn’t hear the answer because I had come across a little blue and white bird perched beside the trail, and I was madly flipping through Dave’s book to identify it. It kind of looked like a mountain blue bird. I finally saw that it was an African blue flycatcher.

Meanwhile, as some days we made three trips back and forth across the river (before breakfast, after breakfast, and after lunch game drives with Joseph), we slowly got to know David a little better.

African blue flycatcher

For having such a tough-looking exterior, I found him to be a gentle soul. It gave me pause to wonder why my first impression of him had misidentified his nature so much that I had totally missed seeing the binoculars hanging around his neck.

It seems I needed to try harder not to let outer appearances play mind games with reality. Africa was teaching me a lot.

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 “We all have our time machines. Some take us back. They’re called memories. Some take us forward. They’re called dreams.” – Jeremy Irons

Elephants on the move in Amboseli -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: Amboselli

The next morning we were up early for breakfast, served family style in open air tent, and eagerly ready for a day in Amboseli National Park, which was about an hour away from our Porini camp. Our driver was Emanuel, whom I was delighted to discover was more interested in birds than Bilal. I never once had to ask him to stop when one was in sight.

Emanuel, our driver/guide for Amboseli. He was a real birder. Yea! -- Photo by Pat Bean

In fact, even before we left the camp he had pointed out a blue-naped mousebird that I had missed seeing. I knew then it was going to be a great day, like every other day I’d so far spent in Africa.

We were accompanied in the Land Rover by a husband and wife couple, whom I barely remember except that they were pleasant. Kim remembered, when I asked, that he had a lot of expensive cameras and was heavily into photography.

The other person who also accompanied us was Jackson, who was nearing the end of a five-year internship to become a guide. Jackson was a Maasai, and would be one of the very first of his tribe to become a guide.

From a distance hippos looked like big gray rocks, especially since sometimes only their backs were visible in the sunken swamps that dotted the Amboseli landscape. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

While it was an hour’s drive to the park from our Porini camp site, there was plenty to see along the way, including two, then three, cheetahs stalking a gerenuk, which escaped all of them once the pursuit race began.

Our first sighting in the park was a large herd of female elephants migrating across the landscape with a lot of young ones in tow. Following behind was one huge male with a huge desire to sire yet another one.

Amboseli is a Maasai word for salty dust, and refers to the volcanic ash from past Mount Kilmanjaro eruptions. Snow melt flowing down into the landscape here from the mountain makes it an excellent habitat for wildlife, and rarely were we out of sight of the four-legged and winged creatures that call Amboseli home.

Saddle-billed stork catching a fish -- Wikipedia photo

Looking across the savannah, we often saw what at first glance were big gray rocks. In reality they were hippos lazing in the swamp areas of the park. 

Among our more fun bird-watching experiences was watching a saddle-backed stork fight with a snake. The stork won.

We also saw an African jacana walking on lily pads, a jewel colored malachite kingfisher and a squacco heron, which looked an awfully lot like our American bittern.

 Lots of memories were made this day.

Bird Log of new lifers: Lizard buzzard, red-billed hornbill, August 28, 2007,  during the drive to Porini; crested francolin, blue-naped mousebird, crested bustard, black-faced sandgrouse, Fischer’s starling, plain-backed pipit, Fischer’s sparrow -lark, grassland pipit, saddle-billed stork, long-toed plover, common greenshank, malachite kingfisher, African jacana, squacco heron, eastern pale chanting goshawk, pied kingfisher. August 29, 2011, Amboseli National Park. We also saw a sandwich tern, which is a common bird along the Texas Gulf Coast.

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 “Be grateful for luck. Pay the thunder no mind – listen to the birds. And don’t hate nobody.” – Eubie Blake

Verreaux eagle owl -- Photo by Kim Perrin

African Safari: “Stop, Stop!”

As we drove out of Arusha, leaving Bilal and Tanzania behind for Kenya, I touted up my number of new life birds. Adding the ones I had seen in Tarangire National Park yesterday afternoon and this morning’s wildlife drive, the total was 135.

Some like the more exotic hoopoe, grey-crowned herons and noisy go-away-birds had been easy to identify, and Bilal had stopped the Land Rover for closer looks automatically. But most of the time, and especially for the smaller, less flamboyant birds along the way, it was me who was always hollering “Stop, stop!”

Lilac-breasted roller -- Photo by Pat Bean

I could see I was annoying Bilal, and Kim said stopping the big Land Rover with all its gears took time. I tried, honestly I did, to curb my actions, but my enthusiasm for a potentially new lifer simply couldn’t be contained.

I truly did get as big a high from spotting a lilac-breasted roller or even a plain black sooty chat as I did from seeing an elephant or a lion, which I’m sure only another addicted birder will understand. And while Bilal never missed stopping for any big cat in our vicinity, he often seemed blind when it came to many of the birds.

White-bellied go-away-bird. They're quite noisy and everybody usually ends up telling them to go away. -- Wikipedia photo

So it was with great delight that on one of our wildlife drives it was Kim hollering to Bilal to stop – and if anything she did it more commandingly and every bit as loud as my frequent calls for halts.

Almost jumping up and down, she ordered Bilal to back up to a spot beneath a tree we had just passed. The bird she had seen, and which I had totally missed, was a magnificent Verreaux eagle owl.

Silvery-cheeked hornbill -- Wikipedia photo

Unlike most of my calls for halts, Bilal didn’t roll his eyes this time. He was as impressed as we both were.

Like so many of the owls I’ve seen sleeping high in American trees, it stayed put and simply blinked its sleepy eyes at us a few times. Slightly bigger than a great-horned owl, this African species had a ruffled white feather collar and pink eyelids.

Since it was the only one we would see during our Safari, I owed Kim big time.

Bird Log of New Lifers: White-bellied go-away-bird, ashy starling, lesser grey shrike, green-winged pytilia, hammerkop, cardinal quelea, yellow-bellied greenbul,. Tarangire National Park, August 27.

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 “It’s pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness. Poverty and wealth have both failed.” – Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard 

Baboons were a frequent sight on the outskirts of towns. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

African Safari: Ngorongoro to Tarangire

 Our morning drive with Bilal took us on a paved road for a change. It seemed, what with no apparent traffic rules, more dangerous than driving among the lions and other wild beasts. Our destination was Tarangire National Park.

 On the way we passed an overloaded bus – I never saw one that wasn’t – with a rhino painted on its rear and the message: “More money, more problems.” It started another one of those enlightening conversations with Bilal. I mentioned that while so many of the Africans we had seen had so very little, they seemed happy.

 “Why do you say that,” he asked.

 “Because they seem so cheerful and always have big smiles on their faces,” I replied.

 “Just because they smile a lot doesn’t mean happiness,” he said. His words gave me a lot to think about, and has changed the way I look at people.

I think of bananas as coming from South America, but Tanzania, Kim and I learned, has its share, too. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

 A bit later, in one of the small towns we passed through, Bilal stopped and bought some bananas from a roadside business run by women. “I like to support the women,” he said, “because they are often mistreated by men.”

 The bananas were good, and Bilal’s words had yet again endeared him to Kim and I.

 Then our attention was drawn to a couple of baboons making it in the middle of the road. We all laughed.

As I’ve aged, I’ve begun to think of laughter as a great indicator of happiness, especially the ability to laugh at oneself. But even today, four years after my conversation with Bilal, his words about smiles and happiness not meaning the same thing still lingers with me.

A yellow-collared lovebird photographed in Tanzania. -- Wikipedia photo

We stopped for lunch at a small tented lodge, where I had time to do a bit of birdwatching. The morning turned up four new life birds, including a yellow-collared lovebird that kept us company while we ate in a rustic dining room open to the outdoors.

 Bilal then picked us up for an afternoon game drive in Tarangire National Park, where we would have our most frightening encounter with wildlife of our entire safari. Stay tuned and I’ll tell you all about it next.

Bird Log of New Lifers: White-naped raven, pygmy falcon, white-bellied canary, blue=spotted wood dove, yellow=collared lovebird, Aug. 27, 2007, drive from the Ngorongoro Crater to Tarangire National Park.

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 “A journey is best measured in friends than in miles.” Tim Cahill

Morning pickup at the large Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge was somewhat of a traffic jam. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

African Safari

Our morning started early, supposedly with a packed breakfast. We thought Bilal would provide it, and he thought we were supposed to pick it up at the lodge before we left, which is the most likely.

Anyway, it was a day without breakfast, although thanks to another guide whom we met up with during a wildlife watching stop we did get coffee. He had brought some along for his two safari clients and was kind enough to share.

Zebras enjoying a patch of green grass in the crater. -- Photo by Pat Bean

His passengers were a delightful Irish couple, Des and Karen. Des had bought an African spear souvenir, and joked that he wanted to be able to protect his own woman and not have to depend on the guide.

The remark jogged my memory about Bilal’s comment about women guides, and so I asked his fellow guide what he thought about the idea.

Mom and young wildebeest. We would see a lot more in Kenya where most of the wildebeest had already migrated for the season. -- Photo by Pat Bean

“Oh they would be too scared,” he replied, echoing Bilal’s comment.

Karen, meanwhile, commented that Des actually bought the spear “to protect his beer from me.”

After we parted from our friendly interlude with the other safari team, Bilal began seriously searching for the rhinos that supposedly make their home in the Ngorongoro crater. I say supposedly because we never saw any.

Sacred ibis -- Photo by Steve Garvie

The crater is one of the very few places left in Africa where one can see black rhino, and the fact that we couldn’t find any brought home the fact that this species has been dwindling significantly in recent years.

Bilal, who kept muttering “no rhino” all morning seemed more disappointed than we were. He was on the radio frequently quizzing fellow guides in the area, but everyone it seemed no one was seeing any rhino .

One of the black rhinos in the Ngorongoro Crater that we didn't see. -- Wikipedia photo

But what we did see this morning included wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, elephants, hyenas, lions, buffalo and jackals. The latter always came in pairs with one leading and one following. Bilal said the female is always in front.

“She leads the male.”

The morning’s drive also turned up another nine life birds for me, as well as a lot of those I had already seen. Some of my new birds were now becoming old friends that I recognized on sight without the help of my bird field guide. That make me feel good.

Ruppell's griffin vulture -- Photo by Rob Schoenmaker

Bilal, however, was still bemoaning the lack of any rhino sighting when he dropped us off for lunch back at the lodge. I don’t remember what we had, except that it was good and Kim and I ate enough to make up for our skipped breakfast.

Bird Log of New Lifers: Rufous-tailed weaver, grey-crowned crane, black-bellied bustard, chestnut-bellied sandgrouse, Ruppel’s griffin vulture, sacred ibis, black-headed heron, wattled starling, and common stonechat. Aug. 26, 2007, Ngorongoro Crater.

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Coke from the bottle is how we were always served it in Africa, and it tasted so much better than it ever did in America. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.” – Paul Fussell

Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge's main building. Our suite was at the end of a long row of rooms barely visible on the right. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

African Safari:

Besides having a marvelous morning visiting the site where human life may have begun, and dancing with the Maasai women in the afternoon, I still had time to watch for birds – and to add another dozen birds to my life list.

Bilal was happy because I had seen more than the 100 new life birds that he had promised he would find for me. Of course I was pleased, but I kept telling him I wanted 200.

“No, no,” he said. “I only promised 100.”

Kim hamming it up in front of a mile-marker on the lawn of the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge that overlooks the Ngorongoro Crater and its vast herds of wildlife. -- Photo by Pat Bean

. We ended our day at the Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge, which sat on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater, with each of its suites having a glass-enclosed porch for wildlife watching.

We were told when we arrived at the lodge that buffalo were in the area and that we shouldn’t wander. As an extra precaution, a guard walked us to and from our rooms. His weapon, however, was just a thick night stick. Kim and I saw only two guns our entire stay in Africa.

As we did each night, we dressed for dinner, and had a nice rum and Coke to go with it. The Cokes, which came in bottles, were much better tasting than the ones we get in America. While we never had more than a couple of selections of meal choices, I was never served anything I didn’t like.

Cardinal woodpecker

 Of course we were not eating standard African fare. The five-star luxury lodges that were part of our arranged safari had gourmet cooks I’m sure. Dinners always began with a delicious soup, then a main entree that was often beef, and usually something chocolate for dessert.

It was a far cry from the bologna sandwiches, faded canvas tent and quilt sleeping bags that were part of my very first traveling adventures.

Bird Log of New Lifers: Northern anteater chat, yellow-rumped seedeater, black-lored babbler, Kendrick’s starling, common drongo, cardinal woodpecker, grey-headed sparrow, Speke’s weaver, green-capped eremomela, white-throated robin shining sunbird, cape robin chat, Aug. 24, 2007, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.

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 “Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins

Bilal always had our Land Rover swept and washed when he picked up us each day for our wildlife adventures. Above are Kim and I in our regular wildlife-watching positions. -- Photo by Bilal

African Safari: Afternoon in the Serengeti

Mating lions -- Photo by Kim Perrin

Bilal picked us up after lunch for an afternoon game drive in Serengeti National Park, one of the largest wildlife refuges in the world.

Meaning endless plain, the Serengeti is spread out over 5,700 square miles and ranges in elevation from 3,120 to 6,070 feet. The park provides habitat for over 500 birds and hundreds of mammal species. USA Today lists it as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

A Coqui francolin posed for us beside the road. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

A Coqui francolin posed for us beside the road. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

It was with great anticipation that Kim and I looked forward to seeing it. And Bilal, with his knowledge of where to find animals didn’t disappoint us.

Our list of mammal sightings included Thompson’s and Grant gazelles, hartebeests, topi, waterbuck, elephants, giraffe, cheetahs, baboons, zebras, lion, and of course lots of birds, including many of those already one my life list and new ones to add to it.

Because I often saw birds before other wildlife, the running joke soon became "Oh, there's an animal beneath that bird." In this case it's a water buffalo with an yellow-billed oxpecker on its back. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

One of our stops was even at a small lake where we saw quite a few water birds, including a family of cute red-billed teal.

On the grasslands, we watched a secretary bird stomp across the plains, then stop to wrestle with a snake of some kind, its favorite meal.

One voyeur viewing was of a pair of lions mating, which Bilal said they would do every 15 minutes or so for about three days. There was a lot of quiet ignoring in between the love sessions, and a lot of snarling during it.

Lion dads, while sometimes aloof around young cubs, do stick around to help protect them after they are born. Cheetah dads, meanwhile, go AWOL and leave all the raising of his offspring, to mom. Most of the cheetahs we saw this day, and for the remainder of our safari, had three or four young ones in tow.

Red-billed teal -- Wikipedia photo

Meanwhile, it continued to amaze me at how the animals acted as if our Land Rover was no threat. Of course we weren’t. Bilal said they just considered us a metal beast that wasn’t good to eat – thankfully.

Way too soon it was time to head back to our lodge for the night, where after dinner in the main lodge, we were walked back to our rooms by a guard. He told us to sure and keep our balcony doors closed against a baboon invasion.

Sleep that night, beneath mosquito netting in our luxurious two-bed suite, was accompanied by a hyena chorus, while our morning wake-up call was served up by howling baboons. It was all awesomely different from our regular routines – and we loved it.

Bird Log of New Lifers: Ruppell’s long-tailed starling, red-necked spurfowl, African white-backed vulture, Coqui francolin, red-billed teal, three-banded plover, Kttlitz’s plover, four-banded sandgrouse, little stint and little grebe, Aug. 23, afternoon drive in the Serengeti.

Next: A feminist conversation with Bilal.

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A colorful lizard roaming around the lodge swimming pool. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

The view of the Serengeti landscape from a Sopa Lodge patio was awesome.

Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.” Stewart Udall

African Safari: Serengeti Sopa Lodge

Kim in the pool in front of the Serengeti Sopa Lodge. -- Photo by Pat Bean

The wildlife viewing didn’t stop when we reached the Serengeti Sopa Lodge, another five-star hotel compound in the middle of nowhere, and again where we were treated like the royalty we were not. This was quite a new experience for this budget traveler. I loved every minute of it.

Meanwhile, not only did the lodge prove cliff-top views of the surrounding Serengeti landscape, but it also overlooked a man-made waterhole where we watched everything from monkeys to hyenas come in for a drink.

There was also smaller, quite colorful wildlife running all about the lodge compound.

Von der Decken's hornbill -- Wikipedia photo

After yet another delicious lunch, including a pumpkin soup that I came home and tried to duplicate in my tiny RV kitchen, Kim wandered out to the pool for a swim so I could take a picture of her with the Serengeti landscape in the background.

Afterward, she chased a red and purple lizard around to take its photo.

I, meanwhile went back to looking for birds. My best find was an strikingly handsome yellow-eyed fellow that I finally identified as an arrow-marked babbler. It would be the only one of its kind I would see on the trip, although I did see other babbler species and understand why they are so named. These birds are quite boisterous vocalizers.

And was being quite successful at it. By the time we met up again with Bilal for our afternoon game drive, my list of new lifers had grown to 67. Below are the ones I added to the list so far this day.

Front of the Sopa Lodge that sits in the middle of nowehere in the Serengeti. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

Bird Log of New Lifers: Common ostrich, common fiscal, white-browed sparrow weaver, kori bustard, red-billed buffalo weaver, yellow wagtail, Rufous sparrow, banded parisoma, lappet-faced vulture, secretary bird ( Aug. 23, drive from Lake Manyara’s Serena Lodge to the Serengeti’s Sopa Lodge), Von der Decken’s hornbill, rock martin and arrow-marked babbler (Aug. 23, at the lodge.).

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 “The very idea of a bird is a symbol and a suggestion to the poet. A bird seems to be at the top of the scale, so vehement and intense his life … the beautiful vagabonds, endowed with every grace, masters of all climes, and knowing no bounds – how many human aspirations are realised in their free, holiday lives – and how many suggestions to the poet in their flight and song.” – John Burroughs

They say ostriches stick their heads in the sand. Maybe so. But the ones we saw in the Serengeti preferred to stretched out their legs and run. It made for a glorious parade. -- Photo by Pat Bean

African Safari: Colorful Birds

Kori bustard -- Photo by Kim Perrin

The drive from Lake Manyara to the Serengeti was one of the most exciting bird-watching days in my life. I saw my first free roaming ostriches. Much bigger than I imagined, and boy could they run.

We passed a Kori bustard, which strutted across the grasslands like it owned them. We were close enough for Kim to even get a great photograph. This was a big bird, standing over three-feet tall.

There was this great big red-faced fellow, a lappet-faced vulture. he made ugly look beautiful, well at least to the addicted birder.

A flock of Ruppell's griffin vulture, with a lone lappet-faced vulture on the far left. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

A face only a mother could love, or not. -- Photo by Kim Perrin

And then there were the secretary birds,  so named because someone thought the stiff neck feathers looked like the quill pens secretaries used to stick behind their ears. it hunts its prey — small mammals, snakes, lizards, young birds, on the ground.

Secretary bird: Do you think this bird's neck feathers look like quill pens? -- Wikipedia photo

Like the bustard, the secretary bird we saw was strutting across the savannah as if it owned it.  

Next : the Serengeti’s Sopa Lodge

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Overview of Lake Manyara -- Wikipedia photo

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson.

African Safari: A Morning of Firsts

These tall fellows that eat leaves shape the acacia trees so they look like umbrellas. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Our morning agenda, according to the carefully arranged plans detailed in the booklet of our journey prepared by the African Adventure Company, was a two-hour drive to the Serena Lodge at Lake Manyara for lunch.

Such a terse description now seems obscene.

On our way there, we saw our first lions, a mating pair, which made the sighting more special, even if it also made us voyeurs. We also got our first view of giraffes and cheetahs, the later being a mom with three youngsters.

New life birds, meanwhile, were coming into view so fast that I truly couldn’t keep

The Serena Lodge as viewed from the compound's pool. -- Photo by Pat Bean

up with identifying them. Bilal helped, but I later realized that while he was great at putting a name to the larger and more common birds, he was not quite as good at the smaller, obscure birds of interest only to crazily addicted birders like myself.

Lake Manyara, located along an escarpment of the great rift, and called “the loveliest … setting in Africa” by Ernest Hemingway, provides habitat to over 400 bird species, including marabou storks, which when I saw a flock of them in some overhead trees thought were the ugliest birds I had ever seen.

White-headed buffalo weaver -- Wikipedia photo

They were hanging about an outdoor market just outside the Serena Lodge compound. As we passed it, my attention was taken away from the birds to an exhibit of colorful African paintings. When I expressed interest in them, Bilal quickly cautioned us not to visit the market unescorted.

As we passed through a fence and guards to get to our accommodations, I realized that our safety was important not just to Bilal, but the country’s entire tourist interests. Harm to any one safari participant would mean bad publicity for business.

As beautiful as this superb starling is, it soon list its glamour because it was so common. We saw them everywhere. -- Wikipedia photo

The Serena Lodge, where we were to spend the night, was owned by India businessmen and staffed by local natives – as were most of the places we stayed at during our trip. It was a grandiose eye-popper.

Our rooms were circular, situated in tall, white-washed roundavels with thatched roofs. The structures sat on a cliff that provided panoramic views of the landscapes and wildlife below. A large swimming pool went right up to the edge of the escarpment.

Taita fiscal -- Wikipedia photo

Lunch was served in an outdoor setting, with birds frequently flittering about. It made for very distracted eating, but a perfect meal, especially with the bottled Coke we ordered to go with it. It was so much tastier than the ones we get in America.

Everything about the Serena Lodge was delightful, and everyone catered to our slightest needs. But the real Africa, both Kim and I knew, lay outside this guarded sanctuary where Bilal didn’t want us to go without him.

I had that decadent feeling again – but I was enjoying every minute of it.

Bird log of New Lifers: Augur buzzard, gray heron, yellow-necked spurfowl, black-shouldered kite, white-headed buffalo weaver, African gray hornbill, superb starling, northern white-crowned shrike, taita fiscal and marabou stork. (August 22, drive from Arusha Coffee Lodge to Serena Lodge near the main entrance to Lake Manyara National Park).

We also saw lots of cattle egrets, is a bird now common in North America, having first migrated to the United States from Africa in the 1940s. I would see many more of them on our wildlife outings while in Africa.

Next: An Afternoon in Lake Manyara National Park.

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