Monday, October 30, 2017

The Spectacular Serengeti Landscape

One of the joys of these trips is flying over interesting places. I had to give a lecture as we left Agra and could not look out the windows but it didn't matter as we were flying over the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. We finally saw land on the coast of Kenya in East Africa.

This is the port city of Mombasa in Kenya. I have yet to visit this pace but when I was in college a local band played a song in which the chorus repeated the word MOM-BA-SA. I've wanted to visit ever since.

This is Mt. Kilimanjaro with a giant thunderhead looming over it. You can see the small glacier on its summit. See my posting of our summit day on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro here.

Sunrise in Serengeti National Park on October 13, 2017. After landing in Arusha, we took a small aircraft for a one-hour flight to the landing strip at Serengeti. We got on the ground just in time too as a huge downpour lasting 2 or more hours inundated the northern part of the park. While driving one hour to the Four Seasons Lodge, hail pelleted our safari jeep. The runoff was spectacular. This was the sunrise that followed the deluge.

I was up for sunrise at 4:30 AM so that we could go ballooning over the landscape!

Note the glow of the burner in this photo of one of our five aircraft.

Reflections in the hippo pool. Note the dozens of hippo's in this pool.

Since the temperatures were so cool from the previous days rain, some of the hippos felt comfortable enough to emerge from the pool and we were able to see them from the unusual vantage from above.

A small stream lined with Seronera palm trees as seen from above.

Ballooning is much more fun than it might appear at first and is a very interesting craft. The elevation of the balloon controls the speed and direction of movement. Here our balloons are almost touching the ground as they catch a desired wind direction. At other times we rose to 1,500 feet or more to move faster and farther. This was my second time ballooning in Africa and you can see a post here from my first balloon experience in Namibia in 2013).

Skimming the umbrella acacia trees on the Serengeti, which in the local Masai language means "Endless Plain."

These passenger baskets are large and hold 16 people plus the pilot.

A high traverse over the Serengeti.

Every balloon ride ends in a Champaign breakfast somewhere out on the vast plain.

Next, it was time for a ground safari. It was a spectacular day with puffy clouds, perfect temperatures, and well-watered grass. This was the short rainy season and the 2 inches of rain the night before would have the grass looking green after our three day visit.

We saw more giraffes this time than I have ever seen before. The rains freed the animals from congregating around shrinking watering holes (it hadn't rained since April). This dispersed them to a certain degree but also made them more active. The giraffe (genus Giraffa with three species) is an amazing animal that is considered vulnerable in its conservation status, due to shrinking habitat. Farms and corn fields are often found right on the boundaries of these national parks.

We got excellent views of a cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) who had just finished a meal of impala. This is our planets fastest animal and in a sprint achieves 70 mph. It is one of the smaller large cats at an average weight of 100 to 125 lbs. I saw very few lions this time but other vehicles got better views.

This is the red-billed horn-bill (genus Tockus with five species who some consider only sub-species). The colorful and rich palette of birds in Africa are as varied and satisfying as the larger game.

Afternoon thunderstorm on the Serengeti.

We encountered a family of 11 elephants resting under a single tree on the plain.

If the young ones can still walk beneath their mother, then they are less than six months old. We saw three in this group with one only two months old.

Typical safari scene in Serengeti.

This one was eating the grass and would pluck at it with its trunk, then position the various strands while bringing it up higher. He would then place the loose bundle on the flattened underside of its trunk (using it like a table) to further arrange the grass with the end of its trunk. When everything was just right he picked up the bundle again and devoured it. It is said that there are 1,700 muscles in an elephants trunk. Read about their trunks in this link that also tells you anything you want to know about these amazing animals.

No trip to Serengeti is complete without a view of the leopard. Active at night, they usually can be found resting in the branches of an acacia tree during the day.

Next stop, Petra in the country of Jordan!

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