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Tanzania, Africa - Part 3 March 2019

SERENGETI NATIONAL PARK

This is the final installment of web pages covering our trip to Africa in March of 2019, and it has taken us about a year to finish it all. If this seems like a lot of time (and photographs) to you, then know that it seems like a lot to us too! But bear in mind that this might be the biggest photo adventure we will ever take. It is certainly the biggest photo trip we have taken so far. So we now wrap up our grand adventure with images and videos from the last stage of our photo safari -- Serengeti National Park.

The Serengeti is a really huge grassy plain, with little else except for the occasional tree or rocky outcropping (known as Kopjes). The Serengeti region is about 12,000 square miles -- almost 10 times the state of Rhode Island. The Serengeti National Park is only about 5700 square miles -- about 4.7 times the size of Rhode Island. It's a really really big grassy plain. In fact, the name is derived from the Maasai language and means "endless plains."

Hali snapped this phone picture at the park entrance. Fear not -- the scenic view point was not the toilet. However, the toilet was on the way to the scenic view point! (Hali | iPhone XR | 03/16/2019 12:29PM)

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Shade is a precious commodity, and King Fabio (as we called the lion on the left) was claiming this shady spot as his (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/16/2019 1:25 PM | ISO:400 | 1/640s | f/7 | 500mm).  On the right, a cheetah cub uses mom as a shady resource while mom uses this road-side pile of dirt to get a better view of her surroundings (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/16/2019 2:03 PM | ISO:400 | 1/1250s | f/7 | 240mm | +0.3).

Any cat in a tree was an instant draw, for us and any other passing jeep of tourists...

A tree in the Serengeti is valuable -- not only as a source of shade and to gain a better vantage point, but it's also a place to rest in relative safety. On left (Hali | Canon 5D 1V | 3/16/2019 2:54PM | ISO 800 | 1/2000s |f/7.1 |200mm | Canon 70-200 f/2.8L II). In middle (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/16/2019 2:54 PM | ISO:640 | 1/1000s | f/7 | 230mm | +0.7). On right (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/16/2019 2:58 PM | ISO:640 | 1/800s | f/6.3 | 500mm | +0.7).

The video above was the only non-phone video that Mike took during this leg of the trip. This was taken using the Nikon D850 and the 500mm lens.

A lion pride killed a zebra at a watering hole. While the lions took turns eating and watching the nearby herd of zebra, the zebra were also keeping a nervous eye on the pride of lions! On left a female lioness drags the carcass (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/16/2019 3:03 PM | ISO:640 | 1/2000s | f/7 | 500mm). On right a well-fed male cub can't help but to stare down the zebra herd (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/16/2019 3:28PM | ISO 400 | 1/500s | f/4 |500mm).

The kopjes are another big draw. They are beautiful and often have wildlife.

A Serengeti Kopje. A Kopje is defined as "a small usually rocky hill especially on the African veld" by Miriam Webster. Kopjes were formed millions of years ago when the soft volcanic rock and ash that covers Serengeti were eroded away to expose the metamorphic rock below. They are sanctuaries for many animals. Lions are the most visible, but lizards, insects, birds, and snakes also call them home. Trees and other plants grow with their roots sticking into the cracks in the rocks which hold soil and nutrients. The crevasses in the rocks also hold water after a rain, when the flat grasslands dry out quickly. Predators, such as lions, also use them to warm up in the mornings, hide in the shade in the afternoons, and as a good vantage point to look for prey. (Mike | iPhone XR | 3/16/2019 4:01 PM)

We came across a lioness with 2 small cubs and one older cub. She walked around the safari vehicle without a care, showing just how habituated they are to the vehicles. We were very careful not to make noise or distract her in any way.

After walking around the jeeps, the lioness and her cubs found a shady spot to rest (and nurse the cubs). A lone cub on left (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/16/2019 4:25 PM | ISO:800 | 1/640s | f/6.3 | 500mm | -0.3). In the middle, the resting mother enjoys some downtime (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/16/2019 4:32 PM | ISO:800 | 1/500s | f/6.3 | 500mm | -0.3). On the right a cute little male cub and his liter-mate (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/16/2019 4:36 PM | ISO:1000 | 1/640s | f/7 | 500mm | -0.3).

We stayed in tents.

Our gorgeous tent at the permanent camp site. It had hardwood floors, a comfortable couch and chairs, a small writing desk, and a walled-off bathroom area with 2 sinks, a standing closet and a glass-wall shower! Both are iPhone XR pictures from Mike taken around 6:10pm on 3/16. We rarely got back to our tents before dark, so this was an off day!
Our first morning in the Serengeti we came across this lioness limping in the grass. She had been gored just behind her front leg a while back according to our guide. (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/17/2019 6:45AM | ISO 2000 | 1/400s | f/4 | 500mm)
Shortly afterwards we came across a cheetah mom and her 3 sub adult cubs. Cheetah cubs stay with their mom for about 2 years during which she teaches them the skills they will need to survive. Cheetahs are solitary predators, although there are cases of them banding together, as we saw in Ndutu with the two brothers. On top left, one cub checks us out as we check them out (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/17/2019 7:05 AM | ISO:1250 | 1/1600s | f/6.3 | 500mm). On the right, two cubs (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/17/2019 7:06 AM | ISO:1250 | 1/1250s | f/7 | 500mm). On the bottom left, mom keeps a watchful eye in the opposite direction as all three cubs keep a watch on us (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/17/2019 7:05 AM | ISO:1250 | 1/1600s | f/6.3 | 500mm).
Hali's favorite kopje, in infrared. Some days we had beautiful afternoon clouds. (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/17/2019 7:16AM | ISO 400 | 1/500s | f/10 | 63mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6)
A well-fed lioness on the top of a kopje. On Left (Hali | 3/17/2019 7:50AM | ISO 500 | 1/1600s | f/7.1 | 80mm | Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L II). A closeup on the right (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/17/2019 7:51 AM | ISO:400 | 1/1250s | f/7 | 240mm | +0.3).

The video above was taken on Mike's iPhone just as we were wrapping up our breakfast stop for the day.

Some more infrared images of different kopjes. They were all very different but very photogenic. Left (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/17/2019 8:39 AM | ISO 400 | 1/800s | f/10 | 67mm |Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6) Middle (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/17/2019 10:43AM | ISO 400 | 1/800s | f/7.1 | 18mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6) Right (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/17/2019 10:45AM | ISO 400 | 1/1250s | f/7.1 | 25mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6)
Lone tree in the Serengeti with a Secretary Bird sitting in it, color infrared (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/17/2019 11:39AM | ISO 400 | 1/2000s | f/7.1 | 59mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6)
Some more zebra, part of the massive herds of zebra and wildebeest we saw in the Serengeti on their way to the Masi Mara. Left, Zebra in infrared (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/17/2019 12:12PM | ISO 400 | 1/2000s | f/7.1 | 135mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6) Right (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/17/2019 12:15 PM | ISO:400 | 1/1000s | f/9 | 185mm).
Another one of those unusual looking Hartebeest and an afternoon infrared shot on the plains. The mornings would often have clear skies but then as the day grew hot the clouds would build up and it would rain in the distance. We only had a few splashes of rain the entire time we were there, unusual for the time of year. Right (Hali | Canon 5D 1V | 3/17/2019 12:45AM | ISO 200 | 1/1250s | f/7.1 | 200mm | Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L II) Left (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/17/2019 12:57PM | ISO 400 | 1/1600s | f/8 | 18mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6)
We spent much of our time at the kopjes. If the first one we went to didn't have any lions on it, the second or third would. At this one (I call it dead wood kopje) there were a few lionesses, and a sub-adult male who would probably soon be on his own. We would alternate using our long lenses for close-ups of the lions, and our shorter telephoto lenses for more environmental shots. Sometimes those shots would include the two legged wildlife, wearing their lucky pink shower cap. Top left, sub-adult male and lioness (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/17/2019 2:18 PM | ISO:640 | 1/1000s | f/7 | 500mm | +1.0). Top right the sub-adult male looking behind while the lionesses sleep on the rock (Hali | Canon 5D 1V | 3/17/2019 2:24PM | ISO 800 | 1/800s | f/8 | 70mm | Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L II). Bottom right the storm washes the plains, but we stayed dry (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/17/2019 2:43PM | ISO 200 | 1/500s | f/11 | 24mm | Canon EF 24-105 f/4L II). Bottom left Jason modeling the "lucky" pink cap that Janet gave him (Canon 5D 1V | 3/17/2019 2:35PM | ISO 800 | 1/1000s | f/8 | 135mm | Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L II).
This male was very slowly walking towards the kopje where the lionesses and the sub adult male waited and watched him intently. Left (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/17/2019 3:08PM | ISO 800 | 1/640s | f/7.1 | Canon EF500mm f/4L). On right is one of Mike's favorite shots from the trip (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/17/2019 3:09 PM | ISO:640 | 1/800s | f/6.3 | 500mm).
Another shot of that beautiful male lion on his approach to the kopje (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/17/2019 3:16 PM | ISO:1000 | 1/1250s | f/7 | 500mm | +0.3).
Acacia trees and kopjes are the only features to relieve the vast grasslands. We would often take breakfast or lunch in the shade of such places. It was during one of those breaks that we spotted the little bee eater on the right. Left (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/17/2019 3:36 PM | ISO:640 | 1/1250s | f/13 | 165mm). Right (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/17/2019 4:20 PM | ISO:640 | 1/1600s | f/6.3 | 500mm).
Some more infrared images in the Serengeti. Left: two lionesses keep watch while two others sleep (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/17/2019 4:44PM | ISO 400 | 1/1600s | f/5.6 | 50mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6). Middle: Zebras keeping an eye out for lions in the grass (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/17/2019 5:29PM | ISO 400 | 1/1250s | f/5.6 | 135mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6). Right: As we head back to camp, another storm brews in the distance as a herd of wildebeest continue their trek across the plains (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/17/2019 5:35PM | ISO 400 | 1/1250s | f/5.6 | 18mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6)
An iphone panoramic view from the deck next to our tent (Hali | iPhone XR)

And a panoramic video (above) taken by Mike on his iPhone XR

The staff at the Elhane Plains Naisikia camp is helping a couple celebrate a special occasion, but seemed to include us a little in their celebration also (video above).

The next morning found us back out at the kopjes. Kopjes and lions on kopjes occupied a large percentage of our time in the Serengeti. Clockwise from top left (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/18/2019 7:58 AM | ISO:800 | 1/1250s | f/9 | 500mm | +0.7). Top right (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/18/2019 8:12 AM | ISO:800 | 1/1000s | f/9 | 400mm). Bottom right (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/18/2019 8:49 AM | ISO:400 | 1/1250s | f/5.6 | 500mm | -0.3). Bottom left (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/18/2019 8:25 AM | ISO:500 | 1/2000s | f/7 | 500mm).
After visiting a kopje and having breakfast we took a drive and found a water hole. There were some hyenas and very vigilant zebras there as well. Left ( Hali | Canon EOS R | 03/18/2019 10:00AM | ISO 250 | 1/500s | f/4.0 | Canon EF 500mm f/4L). On right with some art filters applied (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/18/2019 10:06 AM | ISO:400 | 1/1250s | f/9 | 500mm).
More infrared of the Serengeti plains and a kopje. Left: A hawk wings its way back to a tree (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/18/2019 11:02AM | ISO 400 | 1/2500s | f/5.6 | 56mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6) Right: Another kopje (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/18/2019 11:06AM | ISO 400 | 1/2500s | f/5.6 | 32mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6)
Some more wildlife in the Serengeti. Left: A spotted Hyena at the waterhole with the zebra ( Hali | Canon EOS R | 03/18/2019 10:21AM | ISO 250 | 1/400s | F/4.0 | Canon EF 500mm f/4L) Right: A female Warthog (Hali | 03/18/2019 11:27AM | ISO 250 | 1/400s | F/4.0 | Canon EF 500mm f/4L)

Lunch sitting down was a rare event.

We actually went back to camp for lunch this day, we still had our boxed lunches, but we ate in the dining tent instead of on the hood of our safari vehicles. Upper Left: the safari group having lunch (Mike | iPhone XR) Upper Right: the giraffe statue in front of the dining tent acquired a turban (Hali | iPhone XR) Bottom: the inside of the dining tent, like our rooms it had hardwood floors and was very nicely done (Mike | iPhone XR)
It was nice getting a few hours of rest in the middle of the day when the light was at it's harshest. Upper Left: Our tent (Mike | iPhone XR) Right: A rare picture of the two of us on this trip. And even more rare -- a selfie! (Hali | iPhone XR) Lower left: Hali in front of our tent (Mike | iPhone XR)
The tents were beautiful in infrared under the huge acacia trees (Hali | Sony A6000 720nm IR conversion | 3/18/2019 5:35PM | ISO 400 | 1/1000s | f/8 | 18mm | Sony E 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6)
That afternoon we drove back out to one of the kopjes where we had seen a male lion and some lionesses in the morning. The hope was to get some pictures of the lion and lionesses walking down the rock in the late afternoon light. It took a while but the male lion came out onto the rock and posed nicely for us with one of the lionesses. As the light was beginning to fade and we absolutely had to head back to the camp, the lionesses and the lion set off down the slope of the rock and headed out for the evening's hunt. Left: (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/18/2019 6:18 PM | ISO:1600 | 1/1000s | f/8 | 400mm | +0.7). Middle: That look love (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/18/2019 6:22PM | ISO 1000 | 1/320s | f/7.1 | Canon EF500mm f/4L). Right: they finally descend down the rock face (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/18/2019 6:23 PM | ISO:2500 | 1/1600s | f/8 | 80mm | +0.7).
On our way back to camp we drove by a single lioness by some water. We were running late, so we only stopped for a few seconds but Hali got this shot. Then we continued onward only to have a flat tire. Our drivers were efficient and quickly had the spare all set and ready to go. Clockwise from upper left (Hali | iPhone XR ), Top Right (Mike | iPhone XR). Bottom Right (Mike | iPhone XR). Bottom left: (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/18/2019 7:01PM | ISO 4000 | 1/60s | f/8 | Canon EF 240-105 f/4L IS II).
The beautiful, and quite comfortable, bed in our tent (Hali | iPhone XR). Right: Every night there would be a different bed time reading poem left in the room for us (Hali | iPhone XR).

The next morning we headed out before sunrise (again) to see what we could see...

Sunrise was beautiful, nearly every morning we would watch the sun crest over the horizon as we headed out to a Kopje. It was hard keeping the iPhone still on the bumpy road but the newer phone with the stabilization helped.

At home, we rarely see a kestrel. They are not very common where we live. Here in the Serengeti, there are clouds of them emerging from the trees every morning. We didn't spend much time photographing them, but I did manage to take a quick shot or two. On Left (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/19/2019 6:59 AM | ISO:1600 | 1/3200s | f/6.3 | 500mm). Just a few minutes later we came upon a Steenbok and snapped some quick photos before it took off. On Right (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/19/2019 7:04 AM | ISO:1600 | 1/640s | f/6.3 | 500mm | -0.3).
It was cold in the mornings, especially before the sun came up. Even at 9 AM it could still be cold when driving around. And it's difficult to sleep unless you're warm. On Left: (Mike | iPhone XR). At our breakfast stop we saw this Little Bee Eater also enjoying an early morning snack (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/19/2019 10:15AM | ISO 250 | 1/2500s | f/7.1 | Canon EF500mm f/4L).

I snagged this iPhone video of a group of Hartebeest as we drove by. If we stopped they would have quickly run off.

Mike also snapped some shots while at that breakfast stop. On top is the same little bee eater that Hali was shooting (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/19/2019 10:16 AM | ISO:250 | 1/1250s | f/7 | 500mm | +0.3). Another shot of the same bee eater is on the lower left (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/19/2019 10:16 AM | ISO:250 | 1/1250s | f/7 | 500mm | +0.3). Much later in the day we took a lunch break, and Mike shot the superb starling at lower right (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/19/2019 4:45 PM | ISO:640 | 1/400s | f/6.3 | 500mm).

We took some time out of the day to drive up to Seronera to get a new spare tire. We hoped to have a good sighting of a leopard in a tree along the way. We actually did spot one, but it wasn't a great shot and we couldn't hang around.

Before getting to "town", we came across this little elephant (above) that was getting his scratch on. Phone video from Mike.

On the way back from town we had a little stork escort. Phone video above from Mike.

One of the goals for a few of the people on the trip was to get a Cheetah on top of an old termite mound. This cheetah wasn't exactly on top of it, but it gave us a nice photo op anyhow. Left: (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/19/2019 5:50PM | ISO 500 | 1/650s | f/4 | Canon EF500mm f/4). A closer shot from Mike is on the right (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/19/2019 5:51 PM | ISO:400 | 1/2000s | f/7 | 500mm | -0.3).
Left: As our last full day came to a close we watched the moon rise with a lion and his lioness (Hali | Canon 5D 1V | 3/19/2019 6:17PM | ISO 1250 | 1/320s | f/7.1 | Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II) Top right: Lioness backlit in the grass (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/19/2019 6:23PM | ISO 800 | 1/800s | f/5.6 | Canon EF500mm f/4). On the bottom right, a male lion shows us what the Flehmen response looks like. It's almost like a yawn but not quite (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/19/2019 6:40 PM | ISO:2500 | 1/500s | f/6.3 | 220mm).

The Flehmen response takes place when one lion, of either sex, sniffs and smells the urine of another. ... Usually, after smelling the urine patch on the ground or vegetation, the cat that is doing the smelling will lift his or her head, and hold their lips back in a strong grimace for a period of several seconds (from GrantAtkinson.com).

Our last sunset in the Serengeti (sniffle). (Mike | Nikon D750 | 3/19/2019 6:38 PM | ISO:400 | HDR | f/14 | 56mm).
Just before sunrise on our last day. All was quiet in the breakfast tent after we packed up and got ready for our last game drive before heading to the really small local airport to fly back to Kilamanjaro via Arusha (Hali | 3/20/2019 6:16AM | iPhone XR).
And a couple more phone shots from Mike as we were driving out during sunrise...

You have to start early if you want to get in 100 sessions in the day...

A last visit with the lions. Left (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/20/2019 6:55AM | ISO 800 | 1/400s | f/7.1 | Canon EF500mm f/4). On right is a shot from Mike. You can see the paw of the lioness in the lower right part of the image. She had just rolled over onto her back after their little morning "romp". It's so typical -- the male is yawning and getting ready for another nap (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/20/2019 6:58 AM | ISO:2000 | 1/1250s | f/5.6 | 400mm).
A White stork walking through the grass. Left (Hali | 3/20/2019 7:14AM | Canon EOS R | ISO 800 | 1/250s | f/7.1 | Canon EF500mm f/4L). And on right (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/20/2019 7:17 AM | ISO:800 | 1/2500s | f/5.6 | 220mm).
A sub adult male lion, yawning (Mike | Nikon D850 | 3/20/2019 7:31 AM | ISO:800 | 1/500s | f/7 | 500mm).
We meandered our way through another large herd of zebra and wildebeest. Sometimes they would line up and just stare at us. Left (Hali | Canon EOS R | 3/20/2019 7:48AM | ISO 400 | 1/1600s | f/7.1 | Canon EF500mm f/4L). And on right (Mike | Nikon D810 | 3/20/2019 7:51 AM | ISO:500 | 1/1250s | f/7 | 350mm).

Wildebeest make such a funny noise as they walk along. This large mixed herd of zebra and wildebeest stopped for a drink at the waterhole and just kept moving. You can hear how windy it was as well.

Sadly, we had our last safari breakfast and then it was time to go to the airport. (Hali | 3/20/2019 8:43AM | iPhone XR)
A couple of parting phone camera shots at the Seronera air strip, where we boarded a little 12 seater for the first leg to Arusha. If that wasn't enough to make Hali motion sick, the next leg from Arusha to Kilamanjaro really tested her. When we took the 5 minute jeep ride from the airport to the KIA lodge, Hali was looking pretty bad. Fortunately we had 6 hours or so to rest and getting ready for the long flights home (iPhone XR pictures by Mike).
After 2 short but rather uncomfortable flights (for Hali, she didn't remember to take Bonine or put her accupressure bracelets on) we stopped back at the Kia Lodge to shower, repack and rest up. Once Hali was able to stand up again we took one last walk around the grounds and watched the sun set from the pool deck (Hali | 3/20/2019 5:45PM | iPhone XR)

The airport in Amsterdam has to be one of the most incredible airports we have traveled through. (Including a Starbucks that would put many stand-alone stores in the US to shame) One of the things that make it unique is this clock with the "guy inside" changing time and having a quick cup of coffee while he waits for the next minute to tick by.

All told, it was a grand adventure! Our first time to the African continent! We hope you all enjoyed sharing our memories of that time. Happy Trails! -Mike & Hali

Credits:

Jim & Hali Sowle