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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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