August 20, 2015: Serengeti National Park, Tanzania — “There’s a leopard in that tree,” said Anthony, sometime around mid-morning. Our safari vehicle—a heavily modified Land Cruiser with an open roof—sat on the flat Serengeti Plain, and, sure enough, a leopard was lounging in the tree next to us. Safari never gets old!
A few minutes after checking out the leopard, we came upon a jam of other vehicles and quietly pulled into the line. The people ahead of us whispered back that they’d been watching a cheetah on a kill in the long grass alongside the road, but it was lying down and invisible at the moment. We waited, and after a short vigil, the cheetah stood up with blood-stained whiskers, looked at us, and plopped back down.
A short time later, a pack of 13 lions emerged from the grassland and walked under a shady tree right in front of our view. All of them laid down together and settled in for a midday siesta, looking relaxed. Word got out, and I soon counted 27 safari trucks parked along the dirt road to admire the lions—were the lions admiring us, too?
Leopards and cheetahs and lions—all three big African cats before lunch! I see why Serengeti safaris are so popular. This place really is like it appears on TV. Besides the big cats, we saw lots of the usual creatures today: elephants, zebras, giraffes, gazelles, impala, waterbuck, buffalo, and even the diminutive dikdik. Today was a day I will never forget.
The birding is great here, too. Today’s highlight was a little gnatcatcher-like bird called the Karamoja Apalis, a species which, until the early 2000s, was known only from northern Uganda. Anthony found a patch of similar habitat here in the Serengeti and the birds were subsequently discovered here in Tanzania—representing a new subspecies and perhaps even a new species—though they are thought to be critically endangered because of habitat loss. For me, seeing this thumb-size gray bird was as good as any lion sighting. It’s always fun to be a birder.
New birds today: 7
Year list: 4029