Birding Without Borders

Day 231: Show Stoppers

Non-birdy creatures fill up Noah's first day in the Serengeti.

August 19, 2015: Serengeti National Park, Tanzania — We’ve all seen the Serengeti on TV: Classic wide-open savannas, sunset-perfect acacia trees, and big animals meandering around. This is the place where the wildebeest migrate and get eaten by crocodiles at river crossings; it’s where the movie, “The Lion King” was set; it’s Tanzania’s oldest national park and the home of Maasai warriors. For me, after various safaris all over Africa in the past two months, this is it—the megasafari of megasafaris. Nothing says “Africa” more than the Serengeti.

Getting to Serengeti National Park required a seven-hour drive today from Tarangire. Most of it was on dirt roads so washboarded that, when we arrived at our accommodation this evening, the greeter asked “How was your African massage?” Dust and smoke from grassland fires covered everything inside and out.

We did have time to stop and watch a lioness stalk some wildebeest this morning before we left Tarangire. The whole encounter played out no more than a hundred yards from us—wildebeest blissfully grazing, lioness in full crouch and stalk mode with just the tips of her ears visible above the grass. It happened slowly, without the fast-forward effect of a nature documentary, and eventually fizzled. The wildebeest, by design or by chance, lingered just out of reach and finally wandered off to safety, but for a few minutes it was heart-pounding stuff.

Lions stole the show this afternoon, too, when we arrived at the Serengeti. A pair of them were lounging next to a waterhole, then Anthony spotted a lion in a tree… then, a kilometer after that, he spotted three more lions in another tree! (These cats, unlike leopards, are not very good at climbing trees, so this was fun to see.)

Meanwhile, it’s getting more difficult to find new birds. I added just four today: Brown-headed Apalis, Black-lored Babbler, Ruff, and Gray-breasted Francolin. It was fun to watch hundreds of Lesser Flamingos at a soda lake in late afternoon even if I’d already seen them in other places. This week, I’ve noted the return of Arctic-nesting shorebirds (Ruff, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper), too—which reminds me that, even when I’m looking at lions, time is ticking ....

New birds today: 4

Year list: 4,022

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