Birding Without Borders

Day 232: Three Cats

A full day on safari in the Serengeti.

August 20, 2015: Serengeti National Park, Tanzania  “There’s a leopard in that tree,” said Anthony, sometime around mid-morning. Our safari vehiclea heavily modified Land Cruiser with an open roofsat 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 lionswere the lions admiring us, too? 

Leopards and cheetahs and lionsall 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 Tanzaniarepresenting a new subspecies and perhaps even a new speciesthough 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

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