We descended Ngorongoro in thick mist to a small town called Karatu, where I had the brakes fixed. Laila had a fright when a quick baboon leapt through the window and leant on her shoulder to grab some food in the front of the car at the park exit gate. We then descended the rift valley wall to Lake Manyara National Park. The roads were some of the smoothest we have encountered. The journey from one park to the next on this northern circuit is easy and of no distance. The altitude suddenly drops into Baobab woodland and the temperature increased.
Manyara is a gem of a park. It is small compared to many, but it has a large park feel about it nevertheless, perhaps because of its large number of elephants. The fig forests and giant trees are fed by spring waters that seep through the rift valley walls.
We drove towards the lake shore away from this thick forest to see a large female Crowned Eagle sitting low down in a thicket. We stopped and watched. Within the thicket was a number of vervet monkeys alarming. Laila started to take pictures, in the hope that the eagle would launch an attack and take a monkey. In this location the hunt would have to be in the open … a very rare event. Unfortunately she became nervous of the situation and flew to a distant perch. She was an unusual type. My first guess at looking at her legs, chest and underwing was that she was 3 years old. But her back and flight feathers proved her to be only about 1 to 1.5 years old. First year Crowned Eagles can be very variable and this is not widely known.
It is a shameful admission to admit that our eyes sought not only raptors in the trees, but big cats. Manyara is famous for its tree-climbing lions. The Tsetse flies drive them into the trees apparently. The woodland looked perfect for leopards with its low horizontal branches. We drove south to the hot springs, which have immediately behind them a series of cliffs. On these cliffs are some half dozen Rüppell’s Vulture nests. Not many, but enough to keep an eye upon in case anything changes. Three Lanner Falcons flew out of one of the cliffs. It looked like there would be many more falcons in this ridge.
The following day we were rewarded with lions dangling out of a tree above our heads. Four lionesses lay lazy and fat from a recent meal with hardly the energy to open their eyes. Luckily for us, one urinated after we moved away from being directly below her. A bunch of arrogant baboons strode towards us and we half feared a repeat of the attack experienced yesterday morning. One huge male threw an eye at us, then above our heads … saw a large group of lions and booted it at top speed in the opposite direction!
We spotted an Ovampo Sparrowhawk and Laila took some pictures of it framed in the branches. Lake Manyara National Park proved to have an enormous potential for raptors.
(Photos by Laila Bahaa-el-din)