Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Migrating herds, Vultures and Crocodiles at Serengeti Kirawira

Being the second half of May, the migrating herds were likely to be in the Western part of Serengeti, as they wandered in a giant circle following rain clouds, looking for food and water. Amos spoke to several drivers, and came to know that the herds were scattered over the Western plains near Kirawira. Being on a camping safari, we had the flexibility of moving home at very short notice. However, we learnt that the Western part of the Serengeti hosts special Tented Camps, but does not have Public Campsites. Therefore we would need to drive about 125 km to the Kirawira region near the Grumeti river. We set out at 07:00 AM down bumpy tracks to which we had become habituated by now and had come to love. 

We passed large tracts of grass that had been mowed down by the natural lawn mowers, i.e.,the herds. And large tracts that had not been affected because the herds had not passed that way. After about an hour we crossed the last of the herds walking quietly towards the west. It looked like we were headed in the right direction. We reached the Kirawira Airstrip by about 09:00 AM. 

Along the way we stopped at a point along the river that was home to large groups of Hippos, doing what they do best. Wallowing, snorting, blowing bubbles and so on.

Large crocodiles basked on the bank nearby, partly submerged  in the water to stay cool and partly outside to catch the sun. 

Grim reminders of the Migration season floated by. Bloated, decomposed, smelly bodies of Wildebeest. Part of the food chain. Food for crocs and  other carnivorous creatures.

A large Hamerkop surveyed the scene perched along the banks of the river. 

A bird of prey with a hooked beak looked on. The Eastern Chanting Goshawk. Once again, got the names thanks to crowd-sourcing.

A Ruppell's Griffon Vulture with the white ring. Several species of Vultures were spotted around Kirawira and Grumeti.  

Herds of Wildebeest, Zebra and Antelope were scattered all over the Western plains. 

Tired from marching for months, herds would congregate under a tree, catching whatever shade they could manage to. The bleating sound goes on non-stop, coming at you from 360 degrees. 

Panoramic view of the plains. There were many, many thousands of Wilderbeest scattered, and some other types, as well. 

The 'Adopt a tree' movement is faithfully followed by the herds. 

The Wilderbeest start running away as the vehicle approaches.

It's time to pause and glance back as soon as the distance is considered safe. 

Three Ruppell's Griffon Vultures seem to have sufficient carcasses to feed on. No chance of going hungry these days.

A White-backed Vulture close-up

Several White-backed Vultures.

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture.

A darker feathered Lappet-faced Vulture shares the spoils with a group of White-backed Vultures.

A decomposed body of a Wildebeest has not found any takers. A sure indication of plenty!

Two extremely well fed Hyenas, covered completely with black-brown muck from a swamp they just emerged from, saunter away without a care in the world. I don't think they need to work too hard to feed themselves these days.

An adult Wildebeest seems to look relieved, yet maintains a safe distance, as the Hyenas disappear in the distance.

This season is a time of plenty for the predators. The herds can get confused very easily, running helter skelter in absolute confusion.

A young Wildebeest, probably born in the South-Central Serengeti plains during the months of February-March closely follows the adults as they walk, pause and walk again over hundreds of kilometres.

Wary adults look on.

It's hard to decide which way to look. The herds are everywhere, all around!

A lone Wildebeest shares a tree with Weaver bird nests.

Impalas join Wildebeest as they look for shady spots.

It's time for a quick picnic lunch at the Kirawira Airstrip. No security personnel, no arms. Hundreds of Wildebeest and Zebras graze all around the airstrip. The ubiquitous bleating sounds go on and on and on, audible across the airstrip. 

Time to stretch a bit near the Airstrip. It's a cool spot, with a river flowing by.

Hippos play in the Grumeti river nearby.

A rare Leopard Tortoise does its own migration. 

A well fed Lioness rests under a tree near the Grumeti river. 

Her paws are still bloody.

Vultures wait for left overs as they patiently survey the scene from high up. Several species are seen together here, two Hooded Vultures (extreme left and right), two White-backed Vultures and a Ruppell's Vulture. Anyone recalls the novel "The Vulture is a Patient Bird"?

We come across a very large herd of Cape Buffalo.

Meanwhile, near the Grumeti river, not too far from Kirawira Airstrip, herds of Wildebeest run at a furious pace, trying to cross the river safely.

Wildebeest and Zebras are thirsty. They desperately need a drink of water. However, Crocodiles lie in wait, well submerged in the Grumeti River. A leader inspects the scene, decides to risk it, and other members of the herd follow. In a moment they suddenly reverse their direction and bolt up the slope.

The back and forth motion goes on and on and on. Finally, they find a spot protected by boulders that form a pool cut off from the rest of the river. This barrier prevents the Crocodiles from appearing there. Large numbers drink water from that spot.

Several birds are seen perched on the rocks. A Yellow-billed Stork. And an Egyptian Goose in the background. 

Slightly downstream from the water-drinking spot, a Crocodile emerges from the water, the carcass of a Wildebeest in its mouth. It tries to move to solid ground to devour its catch. 

The other crocodiles follow. They are not going to let go that easily!

Several Crocodiles converge on the one that has the Wildebeest in its mouth. A massive tussle goes on.  While several attack, one of the Crocodiles tries to capture the prey and even turns its body around in an effort to wrest it away from its original owner.

The original owner manages to hang on to a part of the carcass. 

It's quiet after the wild thrashing that lasted a minute or two. This Croc, once the happy owner of a Wildebeest carcass, appears to say: "Look Ma, no Wildebeest."

Time to rest a while at the Kirawira Picnic Area. Amos has done an excellent job, once again. It's been a busy day, starting at 07:00 AM, and driving to the Western plains over the beautiful, bumpy tracks snaking over the grassy plains. 

We've experienced large Wildebeest and Zebra herds scattered all over the plains. Crocodiles lying in wait. Decomposed, bloated, smelly bodies of Wildebeest that no scavenger wants to eat. Not even Hyenas. For food supply is in plenty. A Lioness resting after a meal, paws still bloody. Several species of Vultures waiting patiently overhead, some vultures pecking at carcasses. Hippos blowing bubbles. Cape buffaloes staring. Wildebeest running in disarray. Zebras and Gazelles slightly more composed. A Leopard Tortoise ambling on in its own migration.

The drive back to Central Serengeti was relaxed. It rained a bit, only a little drizzle. We did not mind getting slightly soaked. The plains, clouds and trees were a lovely sight. The evening breeze was really cool. The dust had settled.

Tomorrow would be another full day in the Serengeti. And tonight we would be sitting outside our little tent, gazing at millions of stars that fill the sky. 


Please click below for posts in this series:

Namanga Border Crossing

The Gentle Giants of Tarangire

Tarangire revisited

Endless Serengeti Plains

Migrating herds, Crocodiles and Vultures at Kirawira

Big Cats of Central Serengeti

Camping under African skies

Flamingos at Empakai Crater Lake

Ngorongoro Crater - Wildlife, Maasais and Flowers

Campsite food and Nyama Choma in Mto Wa Mbu

From green to gray, the stark beauty of Lake Natron

Videos - Tarangire, Central Serengeti

Videos - Central Serengeti, Western Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Natron

Two nights in Arusha


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