On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
We are world travelers again this week! This week are treated to one day in Tanzania with Albatrossity and the rest of the week in Namibia with lashonharangue.
WaterGirl mentioned in the comments last week that she would be fine with just looking at the landscape images from Tanzania, even if there were no birds or animals. So I will try to include some, although you all need to know that it is well-nigh impossible to aim a camera anywhere in Ngorongoro Crater and not find an animal somewhere in the picture. The next few weeks will be images from our first full day in the crater. I took over 1100 pictures that day, reprocessed over 100 of them, and now have to whittle those down to a number that won’t numb you all in the next weeks. Here goes!
As previously mentioned, the crater floor (at 6000 ft above sea level) is a grassy plain (with a couple of lakes) of about 100 sq miles. The crater wall (the blue band at the top of this image, rises up 2000 ft from the floor, and will be in every landscape picture taken there. Here are a few critters as well as the landscape: Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer caffer) and a male Ostrich (Struthio camelus). One of the buffalo, as seems to be typical for this species, seems to be taking offense at the presence of our vehicle. As you probably know from watching Marlin Perkins on Wild Kingdom in your misspent youth, this is a dangerous and short-fused creature, and kills several hundred people each year. Click here for larger image.
Another Cape Buffalo whom we encountered on the road down into the crater that morning, giving us the evil eye. Note the characteristic feature of this species; the horns are fused at the base, making this thick-skulled creature even more cranially robust. This bone shield across the top of the head is referred to as a “boss”. In a just world this bone-headed, paranoid, and ill-tempered creature would be the mascot of the GOP, rather than the intelligent and empathetic elephant. Click here for larger image.
Also seen on our way down the crater wall was a species that I did not expect to see, and which even confounded our guide, who gave me another (incorrect) ID for these guys. These are Hildebrandt’s Francolins (Pternistis hildebrandti, aka Hildebrandt’s Spurfowl). Lifer #1 for the day! Click here for larger image.
We saw this bird both on our way down and on our way back up in the later afternoon. It is an Augur Buzzard (Buteo augur), a very common but non-migratory raptor in sub-Saharan Africa. We regularly saw them soaring above the grasslands of Tanzania, and their resemblance to Red-tailed Hawks in flight only served to reinforce my feeling that this was home. Click here for larger image.
Another homey feel came from this bird. Rufous-naped Larks (Mirafra africana) were everywhere, and their song resembled that of the familiar Eastern Meadowlarks of my home corner of Flyover Country. This is another bird named for a feature that you can only see if you have the bird in your hand (which early shotgun-toting ornithologists did quite regularly). The rufous bases to the feathers on the nape (the back of the neck) are typically invisible otherwise. Click here for larger image.
The weaver birds are a large family (Ploceidae, with 15 genera and 126 species) of Old World passerines, not found in the New World. So this was another lifer – Baglafecht Weaver (Ploceus baglafecht), and it is not even the typical subspecies found in Tanzania, which I discovered only after I returned home. It is Stuhlmann’s Weaver (P. b. stuhlmanni). If you are wondering about all of these German names (Hildebrandt, Baglafecht, Stuhlmann), that would be one of the many residues of colonialism, since the Germans held this part of East Africa and did a lot of exploration and trading here (when it was known as German East Africa). Click here for larger image.
Another weaver, and a colorful one. A weaver was my first lifer in Tanzania, since a few were flitting around the open-air breakfast veranda at our hotel in Arusha the morning after we landed. At the time, poring over the field guide, I IDed one of those as a Lesser Masked Weaver (Ploceus intermedius), and I assumed that this very similar bird in the crater was the same species. How silly of me! Nope, this one has a yellow eye and a yellow forehead, and is Speke’s Weaver (P. spekei). Interestingly, our guide simply referred to this bird as a Masked Weaver. Now I wish I had gotten pictures on the one on the veranda! Click here for larger image.
Time for another mammal? Sure thing, and here is one of the abundant grazers in the crater, the Thomson’s Gazelle (Eudorcas thomsonii), aka tommie, also aka cheetah fast food lunch). This is an East African endemic, found only in Kenya and Tanzania, so you won’t see these if you go to Botswana or South Africa. Click here for larger image.
I know you all have been waiting for this one, ever since I mentioned it a few weeks back. This nondescript creature goes by the amazing nym of Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis). This is a female; I’ll have a pic of the male (photographed while he was zitting!) in an upcoming post. Click here for larger image.
The final bird of the day was a delight to see, since I had ogled it in the field guide on the long flight from Amsterdam to Arusha. This handsome long-tailed fellow is Jackson’s Widowbird (Euplectes jacksoni), and he was displaying from his fancy dance floor near one of the roads through the crater. This courtship display has to be seen to be believed! And we saw it! Click here for larger image.
Marlin was never in danger from the water buffalo though.
Marlin(hiding behind a bush): Jim, go see if you can get closer to that ostrich.
Do animals have to climb over the edge of the volcano to get in there or is there a path through?
Absolutely beautiful pictures. Thank you.
And is a main feature of the Planet Earth series. (I think the Plains episode)
Great pics as always, thanx.
Thank you for these pictures. I’ll never get there, except for these.
I want to go.
Beautiful as always, and the widowbird is spectacular!
ETA: I’m glad my courtship display didn’t have to tire out an NBA player!
Perfect! I have long had a little sad at the noble elephant being sullied by association with the evil Rethugs. The elephant leads a life completely in opposition to what the Rs espouse.
“Cranially robust” is my new favorite phrase. Great pics as usual!
Thank you for the photos. Neat birds!
@patrick II: Just like we did, the animals have to climb up to the crater rim and then head down into the crater. Of course, we had vehicles, which made it a bit easier.
The birds, of course, just fly up and over.
It is hard to pick a favorite among these. The quality of light in almost all is very soothing.
@Albatrossity: 1100 pictures in one day. I thought I took a lot of photos in my trip to Africa. Once again you prove to be the professional to my amateur efforts. The crater was one of the highlights of our trip. Great photos as always. Thanks
@lashonharangue: I’m looking forward to seeing your images of Africa. It is a stunning place, absolutely. And when you see something photogenic in every direction, it’s hard to avoid taking a lot of pictures. Pixels and disk space are cheap, and I think that after many years of using film, I feel truly liberated by the ability to take as many pictures as I want!
The Augur Buzzard is kind of doing a Napoleon pose… nice.
Lovely photos, as always!
Ostrich and Buffalo – is that like dogs and cats living together?
The Augur Buzzard is flooffy!
I don’t comment on all of your posts but I do find them appealing and even educational!
Don’t mind me. I’m just here for the birbs. And wow Africa must have been a treasure trove for you!
I can’t take those buffalo seriously. They look so doofy with the hard center part of their “hair” and then coiffed up into those curls. But like a lot of large doofuses (doofi?), I’ll give them a wide berth.
So true. Thanks again for all your great photos and descriptions.
@MelissaM: Indeed. I have always thought that Sean Hannity looked like one of these buffalo….
Great pictures, as always. Water buffalo were one of my favorite animals in Africa; I don’t know if I’ll ever get back there to see them again, but I loved how they alternated between looking threatening and goofy. Here’s a baby in Botswana.
J R in WV
Amazing place, great photos of it. My cousin had a rack of Cape Buffalo horns on her bedroom dresser, it was inherited from the previous prospector/cowboy owner — I was a little jealous, frankly. And cranially
That Augur Buzzard — its bill looks to me more lake a raptor than a scavenger… but who am I to argue with the ornithologists? Nobody, that’s for sure.
Thanks for sharing, great work as always!
These are all wonderful pictures and your narration, as always, adds considerably to the images.
To be Frank
The animals have ingress/egress, and quite a few wander in and out. The locals do not let the lions wander in and out, so inbreeding is a problem.
@J R in WV: The Augur is a raptor, in the same genus as our redtails. Buzzard is an Old World term for hawk.
Thanks for including the video link; I grew up loving the wildlife shows and still do. The information provide (and photos) is always top notch!
@patrick II: I recollect it basically going, “As Jim subdued the anaconda, I checked our provisions to see whether we had a proper lunch in the Land Rover.”
The Crater has quite the variety of critters, winged and earthbound. We have a lot of crows–enough that perhaps even Cole would like it here.
@To be Frank: Wow, I did not know that the lions were subject to immigration restrictions there. Is that for the whole Ngorongoro Conservation Area, or just the crater? And how do they keep them from wandering into there? We did see one lioness on the crater rim road on our way to the lodge the first day; I wonder if she was trying to get in or get out!
Thank you! As usual, it takes awhile to find my voice once viewing your pictures of these so very fine beings.
Arrieve, the baby is endearing!
My best friend was charged by a water buffalo in Kenya and managed to avoid being killed by retreating into a river full of crocodiles. She made the front page of the Nairobi newspaper by surviving.
Love the fluffy feathers on the Augur Buzzard!