The next day brought another cool morning and our final full day of touring from Jongomero. Reed is back in the jeep with us for the morning, as is Donna. We haven’t yet seen zebra so they are on the request list for the day. Our first find is a baobab tree with a hollow opening where bats have made a home. Of course the only picture where I captured a bat coming out includes the hand of one of my fellow jeep mates. Frank told us that the large opening is also a common place for poachers to hide and sleep during the day, coming out at night to get the ivory tusks. A park ranger driving by during the day would never even know they were there. The rangers have gotten wise to this practice and now look for signs of human life near the trees during their rounds.
There is a particular area where Frank usually finds zebras so we went next in that direction. We found both vervet (blue ball) monkeys and baboons, although not together, before hitting the jackpot with a dazzle of zebra (yes, a large grouping is a dazzle, not a herd). They were quite skittish around us and we couldn’t get as close as I had hoped. Frank carefully maneuvered the jeep so that we had a good view and the zebra were in the sun for better pictures. Zebra are often found near giraffes whose long necks afford them a better view. The zebra react when the giraffes do.
I had a lot of questions for Reed, particularly how to photograph the tall giraffes with the bright sun in the background. I feel like my skills have begun to improve under his directions and I am certainly learning a lot more about my camera. It is fun to have him back in the jeep again. We did more practicing capturing the birds in flight under his direction and followed another herd of elephants that we found breaking through the bush. We saw a lot of the burned out areas, where controlled burns take place in as much as 1/3 of the bush lands to encourage new growth.
Another request we had had for Frank was a male lion with a full mane (having seen the lionesses and a young male the previous day). He delivered on that as well when we found a 5-year old male in the shade of the bush. While we maneuvered around for the best shots, the lion remained in the shade and a fabulous picture eluded us. We found his pregnant mate further down the road and she posed for us before taking a position near the water bank to wait for prey.
Heading back, we found a herd of giraffe posing for us near the wonderful (and iconic) baobab and acacia trees. I like to think of the acacia as canopy or umbrella trees because of their shape. Reed was full of ideas for these shots, reminding us that we need pictures wide enough for people to know we were in Africa and not shooting close-ups at a zoo.
Our last sighting before lunch was another herd of elephants literally knocking over trees in the bush. When they had enough of our close proximity to them, a large male pushed down a tree and pulled it across the road so we could not pass. The elephants were on either side of the road and I kept wondering what the ones out of sight were doing. Of course the joke was on them, we had already passed through and were able to head back to the camp with no problem. The other jeeps…well they were on their own.
For our last outing at Jongomero this afternoon I was sure Frank could not top our morning and indeed it did start out slow. Well, only slow because we had already seen so much. First was a family of elephants exhibiting what was now familiar behavior. We saw some unusual birds, lots of impala, lounging hippos-in and out of the water, and a family of warthogs.
Near the water, we came across a new herd of elephants we hadn’t seen before. We watched them for a while and then rounded the corner to find even more…and then more still. Suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a herd of 120 elephants split up into smaller family groups. Frank knew just what to do. He positioned himself near the riverbank where the elephants cross down to the water, but not so close as to keep them away.
What followed was nothing less than spectacular. Entering and leaving in family groups (they wait for one family to leave before the next family enters), we saw this herd cross the river. Apparently what we saw yesterday was just a teaser, for the sight of all these elephants crossing the river, playing and spraying water, rendered us speechless and we watched as the sun began to set. Just when I thought nothing could beat our morning, we witnessed this marvelous ritual.
We rode back to camp, knowing nothing could have topped this day. Each evening just before reaching camp we always saw a jackal that was always too quick for me to catch a photo. Tonight he obliged and I got my photo. He seemed to say that just when you think you have seen it all, more of life’s adventures wait around the corner.