Tanzania Travel Diary - p 2

Vitelline Masked Weaver

4 April 2008
In Africa, just about any direction you swing your binoculars reveals a weaver.  The prize for the most attractive nest goes to the Vitelline Masked Weaver, whose fresh green onion-shaped nest is quite pleasing.  The male builds most of it.  In my best shot, the female, having examined the interior, seems to be telling her prospective mate what she thinks of his effort.


Eastern Double-collared Sunbird5 April 2008
About 2.5 million years ago, a great volcanic mountain was raised up northwest of Lake Manyara.  But then the lava within drained away, causing the mountain to collapse and form what is now known as Ngorongoro Crater.  It is one of the wonders of nature, a caldera some 10 by 12 miles in size, whose forested rim sits at 7500 feet.
   We've moved to Ngorongoro Serena Lodge along the crater rim. If anything it is more luxurious than the one at Lake Manyara.  In the bar we have a Serengeti beer as we watch the Maasai dancers or perhaps the Acrobatic Boys.  Then comes dinner, sumptuous lamb and beef roasts, European-style desserts, a fine selection of cheeses.  Earnest Hemingway never had it so good.
    The dining room view is to die for, with the entire crater laid out before us.  Those black dots, depending on their size, are elephants, herds of cape buffalo, or wildebeest.  The crater is nearly all of East African wildlife in a microcosm. 
    The lodge grounds have a nice assortment of birds:  Eastern Double-collared Sunbirds, Montane White-eyes, Red-winged Starlings, Schalow's Turaco, Yellow-vented Bulbul, and Speke's Weaver.

Pride of lions6 April 2008
At last the crater.  There is some movement of animals in and out of the crater, but it has its own flavor:  there are no giraffes here, and all the elephants are males.  The lion population is about 40, spread among 5-6 prides.  There is quite a bit of inbreeding , but overall, it's an easy life.  The main problem at mid-day seems to be finding shade for a nap.  They plop down in the shade of a safari van, after marking it with their scent of course.  The cubs crawl under the vehicle; drivers must talk among themselves to be sure they don't run over a cub when they try to drive on.

Drama in the afternoon.  We come upon a cheetah, partly hidden in tall grass.  About 200 yards away grazes a small herd of Thompson's Gazelles.  We stop and watch, with Steven calling out what is to unfold as if he were a sportscaster.  When all the gazelles are resting in the grass, he says, the cheetah will act.  Eventually the last of them reclines on the ground, having forgotten the cheetah.
    But she has not forgotten them.  She rises, crouches, then launches herself across the plain, now faster, now almost a blur.  Who will live and who will die?

One gazelle darts to the right, a fatal mistake.  Within seconds it is over.  The nearby wildebeest are in a frenzy.  Instead of dashing away madly, they approach to a safe distance and watch intently. 
    The cheetah carries its prey nearby, rests for a while, then begins to eat.  This cheetah is lucky, Steven says.  We see several Spotted Hyenas in the distance, but they neither saw the action nor caught the scent.  She will keep her meal.
    We watch for two hours as the 75-pound cheetah consumes about 15 pounds of gazelle.  Then, her belly distended, she wanders off to a nearby hill to rest and sleep.  The gazelles are now safe for a couple of days.
    It is a stark reminder that none of the 20,000 grazing animals in the crater will die peacefully at a ripe old age.  All will eventually become a meal for lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena or even vulture.  Nature wastes nothing.


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