Report from East Africa: Lake Tanganyika

Our African Odyssey continued in Tanzania as we ventured by small plane south and west to the shores of Lake Tanganyika and the Mahale National Park. Our friends at Africa Easy http://www.africaeasy.com/ had suggested we make this visit off the usual safari path to Greystoke Mahale Camp on the shores of this crystal clear African Great Lake. Lake Tanganyika is the second largest fresh water lake in the world by volume, and the second deepest, in both cases, after only Lake Baikal in Siberia and it is also the world’s longest freshwater lake.  The lake is divided among four countries – Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Zambia. In truth, most of the Lake, because it is long and skinny, borders  Tanzania  and the DRC which was clearly visible from the Tanzania side.  The water flows out of the Lake into the Congo River system and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean. This jewel of fresh water in the middle of the Albertine Rift Valley is remarkably pristine and home to more than 325 fish species many of which are endemic to the area. Visitors who like to fish or even snorkel will not be disappointed however when we asked about the snorkeling opportunities we were presented with a formidable release of all liabilities form due to the presence of crocodiles! We decided to stay out of the water this time.

Upon landing at the airstrip on the lake’s edge we linked up with our guides from Greystoke Mahale who trundled us aboard a basic dhow called Wolfe for the 90 minute ride south to the camp. We spent the next four amazing days in this special hideaway. And because we were traveling off season we had the camp practically to ourselves.

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Mahale Wolfe

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Mahale NP

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Palm Vultures over the Mahale Mountains

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As we arrived at Greystoke Mahale we were greeted by a gregarious white pelican who is known locally as “Big bird”. It was only later that we learned he is a big internet star having been “retained” by the folks that make GoPro cameras to be a celebrity “stuntbird”. You may have seen Big bird during the holiday season at stores that carry GoPros. His Learning to Fly video was featured on YouTube and every department store kiosk in the world. You can check it out here if you haven’t seen it.

Mahale Big Bird

“Big bird” meets “The Gorilla guy”.

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We spotted this vessel on the second day of our stay. Wow what a story. The M/V Liemba is an affectionately known icon of Lake Tanganyika. She has been chugging up and down its waters for over eighty years. The ferry departs from Tanzania’s border town of Kigoma on the north of the lake each Wednesday afternoon. She stops in at a number of small Tanzanian lakeside villages before reaching Zambia’s Mpulungu town two days later where she turns around and heads back up.  Originally known as the Graf von Gotzen, the old steamship was built in Papenburg, Germany in 1913. She was disassembled in Germany and shipped to Dar es Salaam. From there she was transported in pieces by rail to the Kigoma shipyard. At that stage the Dar es Salaam– Kigoma railway had not yet been completed and so the Liemba was carried in pieces by porters on the final stretch to Kigoma. Yikes!

She was used to transport cargo and armed troops for the German army until 1916. That year, following the British take over of the Central Line Railway, she was sunk by her German crew who would rather have her at the bottom of the lake than fall to the victorious British army.AND THEN she remained underwater for eight years until 1924 when the British retrieved her from the lake floor, rechristened her the M/V Liemba and reinstated her as a cargo and passenger vessel. Today she transports some 600 passengers and their goods up and down the length of the lake, providing a vital life-line along its route. Amazing but true!

Mahale Primus

“Primus”, the alpha male of the Chimpanzee troop at Mahale

The main attraction at Mahale is the opportunity to track and spend time with a group of chimpanzees that have been habituated to the presence of humans. Meet “Primus”, the alpha male of the troop of 264 chimpanzees that live in the Mahale Mts. above the camp. If his demeanor looks tough that is because he is a brute. Primus rules this troop of chimps like a tyrant – with fear and intimidation. We learned from the local guide that this is not unknown in chimpanzee culture. According to the local naturalists Primus took over the colony just a few years ago by assassinating his predecessor in a bloody coup d’etat with the aid of some co-conspirators. And Primus must defend his supremacy every single day including the right to breed with all of the mature females by constantly harassing and physically abusing potential challenging males with force. Hence his scarred face and attitude that radiates “I am a bully”. He is a dictator and feared by all. The pattern repeats itself down the line of successor dominant males who each know where they are in the troops’ pecking order. We were surprised to observe this kind of behavior from our closest living primate relatives…but then again after thinking about this a bit…we understood more clearly.

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Male chimp known as Darwin

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Mahale Pels Fishing Owl

Very rare sighting of Pels Fishing Owl!

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Collared Sunbird

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This beautiful fish became dinner

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African Fish Eagle on the hunt

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Sunset over the DRC

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Greystoke Mahale Camp

Greystoke Mahale Camp (owned by Nomad) is a true gem and away from the usual safari destinations. Flights arrive just a couple times a week so stays are for a minimum of 4 nights. Chimpanzee trekking,  can take much of the day as with guides visitors search in the Mahale Mts to find chimps. We were very fortunate and in three days of trekking we never had to walk longer than 90 minutes to catch up with the chimp trackers. Once found we spent the 1 hour (regulation controlled) observing troop behavior and then still had lots of opportunities to observe and experience the beautiful lakefront forest and the birds and animals that live there. Cam and Kate, Camp Managers were delightful and fun. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and highly recommend a visit if you are considering remote destinations in East Africa.

 

Read more.. Thursday, February 12th, 2015

African Odyssey Unfolds

We have just wrapped up our field work on Cape Cod working with the Massachusetts White Shark Team as the cold winds of winter start to blow and the leaves are falling. Our boats are now stored for the North American winter. Just in time to launch into our next wild adventure which will take us back to Africa for the 7th time since 2009. And believe it or not we are barely past scratching the surface in exploring this amazing continent. Our focus once again is on wild life and wild places, most of which will be new territory. We will plunge into the onset of equatorial summer on our first stop in The Seychelles with a particular interest in diving in the southwestern portion of the archipelago , a world heritage site called Aldabra Atoll. From Wikipedia we learn that, “Sir David Attenborough called the south western atoll of Aldabra “one of the wonders of the world”, and it is also known as one of “crown jewels” of the Indian Ocean. Aside from its vast population of tortoises, it is also the largest raised coral reef in the world with an elevation of 26 feet (7.9 m);  a habitat for the biggest crab, the cocunut crab; and habitat for the Indian Ocean’s Aldabra rail, the only surviving flightless bird species of its kind in the world.” We are particularly excited because Aldabra is uninhabited, extremely isolated,  and is virtually untouched by humans. Not many places in the world so fortunate. Quite ironically it has been months since we have actually been in the water so we are looking forward to being a fish again in warm clear water.

Armed with tons of camera gear for above and below the water we hope we can capture the spirit of the place. Here are some beautiful images from other explorers.

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Destination Aldabra

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Our journey will continue with a visit to Zanzibar where we will begin our first encounters in Tanzania. We are extremely excited to travel all the way west into a remote area on Lake Tanganyika where we will spend time with a wild troop of chimpanzees. This region is where Dr. Jane Goodall did her field work. We will then venture into the Serengeti for our first visit into this savannah to discover the summer activity of the great wildebeest migration. Should be pretty green as it is still part of the rainy season. This region is now being seriously threatened by Government plans to put a major paved road into the area which, according to friends, would destroy the Serengeti as we know it forever. Will hope to better understand what is happening here. Ever since I read Peter Matthiessen’s Sand Rivers, I have wanted to see this. From here we will camp (comfortably) in the Ngorogoro Crater before we re-load and proceed to our second home in Cape Town, South Africa to be with many friends and get the chance to view this beautiful country in their summer and yes we be diving with hopes of glimpses of apex predators. So pleased to be spending a warm Christmas among friends there. After several weeks in the Western Cape of South Africa we will again re-load and venture northeast to the Horn of Africa for some exploration of Djibouti on the Red Sea (back in the water) and finally we will spend nearly three weeks exploring Ethiopia, an area so rich in unique culture and fantastic wildlife I will leave the description to a later post.

We will be traveling for 9 weeks. Yikes!! But we are sure the time will pass quickly. It usually does when you are in the wild. And we will try our very best to post reports as internet access allows.

 

 

Read more.. Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Down East at the Autumnal Equinox

We took a few days off from our work with the Massachusetts White Shark Research team to travel to Down East Maine and embrace the onset of Autumn in the New England north country. We were eager to explore a new destination in the mid coast region well known to birders especially in the fall migration. Our target was Monhegan Island , a tiny wooded rock pile about ten miles off the Maine coast. The island is well visited in the fall as it is a famous stop-over for southbound migrants that get blown off the coast in certain weather conditions. Among these visitors are various warblers, other song birds and the raptors who feast on them in these confined island habitats. The island was settled some 400 years ago by English colonists and has been home to fishing families ever since. In the early Twentieth Century a private land trust was set up by a generous benefactor to set aside most of the island as natural woodlands with maintained trails. The result is a beautifully wooded natural preserve of conifers and deciduous trees which at the fall time can harbor some exotic migrant birds who found there way to Monhegan as the last refuge before getting blown out over the Atlantic Ocean. While we were on the island we observed Merlins and Peregrine Falcons constantly in pursuit of the visiting song birds. Warbler highlights included a Cape May warbler, Nashville warbler, Black throated Green warbler, Black throated Blue warbler and many Myrtles. Pam spotted a Scarlet Tanager male and the star bird of the few days was a Yellow headed Blackbird that was way out of its range usually seen west of the Rockies… Pretty amazing sight, though no photos were acquired of this bird.

Meanwhile the islanders were busy getting lobster traps rigged for the big October 1st opening. They were very friendly and knowledgeable about the birding that was going on all around them. We were privileged to join a group of experienced birders which included ornithologist Dr. Trevor Lloyd-Evans from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. The weather was magnificent and Monhegan is truly a magical place at this time of year and we look forward to returning!

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Nashville Warbler Fall 2014

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Raven in the lower foreground

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Monhegan Harbormaster – Shermie Stanley receives his surprise gift. The photograph is of a school of Blue-fin tuna “Giants” taken by legendary spotter pilot and photographer Wayne Davis in celebration of their time fishing together years ago.

Read more.. Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Pacific Northwest Signs of Spring

Our time in the Pacific Northwest has been heavy with family and the brand new babies as our previous posts will attest. However we have managed an outing with our old friend and fellow birder Paula Johnson who lives in the area. Paula was kind enough to guide us to a couple of birding hotspots in the region one day this past week. They are the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in southern Washington near the Columbia River and also the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia.

We got on the road long before dawn, were blessed with some decent spring weather (read no rain) and were rewarded with some excellent sightings of the areas wildlife feeling the urgings of spring.

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Bald Eagle

 

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Tree Swallows were in abundance on their way north to breed

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A pair of river otters frolic

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A Pair of Cinnamon Teals

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Newly fledged Bald Eagle watching

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Hooded Merganser pair

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Hooded Merganser pair

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A family of raccoons

Dowitchers yellowlegs

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A pair of Wood Ducks

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A Yellow -rumped warbler migrant just showing up at NIsqually NWR on its way north

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Cinnamon Teal Drake preening

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Red winged Blackbird displaying his colors proudly hoping to attract a mate

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A pair of Northern Shovelers

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Read more.. Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Forest Observations: Costa Rica

Flower piercer in Savegre

Scintillant hummingbird - Savegre

We manged to take time out of enjoying the Cape Cod winter to perform a surgical strike into two distinct wild areas of Costa Rica over a short ten day window. Long a preferred destination by Eco-adventure travelers all over the world we had never taken the time to visit and were keen to get in on the experience. Our primary goal in this exploratory trip was to explore two significant  and different areas in the country – the magical lowland rainforest on the Osa Peninsula in the south and the spectacular cloud forest near San Gerardo de Gota and the headwaters of the Rio Savegre in the Talamanca Mts. What we found with the help of excellent local guides were some of the most beautiful bird life we have witnessed anywhere in the world. In fact we were successful in identifying more than 200 different species while on the ground in Costa Rica. 75% of which were birds we had never seen before anywhere..known as “life birds” among the active birding community. Here are a few of the images we recorded.

Yellow thighed Finch - Savegre

Silver throated Tanager

Golden Winged Warbler - A Rare Beauty, Osa Peninsula

Long tailed Silky Flycatcher

Black mandibled toucan, Osa Peninsula

Violet eared hummingbird

Collared Redstart

Incredible Scarlet Macaw

King Vulture

Mangrove Black Hawk

White Hawk and Scarlet Macaw share space but have different interests

Magnificent Quetzal (female)

Black chested Trogon

Magnificent Quetzal (male)

Tiny Hawk - Rare and hard to see in Central America

Sunrise Osa Peninnsula

Read more.. Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Travel Advisory

Apex Expeditions specializes in one-of-a-kind adventures to explore the world’s most fascinating places.

“Many of you might recognize Jonathan Rossouw here, a close friend, supreme wildlife guide and extraordinary tour leader specializing in remote destinations all around the world. We have traveled with Jonathan on many adventures including the now well known Ugandan Mountain Gorilla encounter which changed us both forever. We are wonderfully pleased to learn that a new venture has surfaced called Apex Expeditions and from examining their sneak peek website http://www.apex-expeditions.com/ looks like they will be visiting some of the most interesting and bio-diverse regions in the world. We also have learned that Jonathan has been involved in the design of most of the itineraries for the new venture and has been invited to also lead many of them beginning in 2015. This is terrific news for adventure eco-tourists, especially those who have followed our own adventures and wondered who, where and when to travel to the earth’s remote places. Do check these guys out. The groups will be intimate and trips will fill quickly. We might see you on one!”

Again their web address is  http://www.apex-expeditions.com/

Read more.. Saturday, January 25th, 2014

Transitions of the Season

Aleutian Dream at Cow Yard landing

It is that time of year when the NE Gales start to become more frequent and the temperatures drop toward the freezing mark. Our boat  Aleutian Dream has been in the water here on Cape Cod for over 6 months and the time has come to haul it for the winter season. It is always hard to give up the chance to be on the water in a moments notice. Here are some additional unforgettable images from our last adventure a week ago out with the humpbacks off Chatham Inlet.

But even as the seasons change there are still wild adventures to enjoy on land with the onset of the “off-season” quiet time on Cape Cod. Just check out these images Pam made from our porch the past few days.

Read more.. Thursday, November 14th, 2013

Wild Cape Cod Notebook: North Country

Took a day trip to the lower Cape this week – which means if you live in Chatham, as  we do, one travels to the north toward the unique and beautiful landscapes of the Cape Cod National Seashore  and the sprawling sand spit that is the Provincelands. The deciduous forests here are at their peak in fall foliage color and when one observes these surroundings in the incredible autumn light at this time of year ……well…..see what you think. Also lovely to study the magnificent Northern Harrier hunting rodents amongst our stunning natural environments. Other notable bird life observed were a sharp shinned hawk , 2 pairs of hooded mergansers , several golden crowned kinglets, a ruby crowned kinglet, a blue headed vireo, a black throated blue warbler and a magnificent blue winged teal which was foraging among the cat tails.  Note that some of the images are made of the same vistas as lighting conditions changed in the warm late afternoon offering changes in the mood.

All part of the “septober” magic we have been blessed with again this fall on Cape Cod..

Harrier hunts in the Provincelands

Harrier hunts

Harrier hunts

Fort Hill, Eastham - looking toward Coast Guard station

Fort Hill, Eastham

Northern Harrier hunting

Pilgrim Heights, Provincelands

White Cedar Swamp, Wellfleet

Race Point, Provincelands

Race Point, Provincelands

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Hooded Mergansers and a Blue winged teal

Blue headed vireo, Cedar Swamp

Mallard at the Beech Forest, Provincelands

Read more.. Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Flight & Pursuit: Autumn Migrations

Autumn Sky - South Beach, Chatham

Beautiful fall weather continues here on the outer edge of Cape Cod and a continuing flow of returning raptors are visible in our open spaces and barrier beaches….but you have to look for them. Had a brilliant encounter with a pair of red tailed hawks in Chatham today. See below. Also as previously reported – sightings of Marbled Godwits are rare – anywhere. This fall we were blessed with sightings and images in three different areas. Mount Desert Island, ME, Tern Island, Chatham, MA and Del Mar, CA. shown in our previous post on our visit to Maine in late September.

In addition we decided to include some similar images of raptors and shorebirds we recorded while we were in California observing the west coast migration a month ago. So much is similar as many bird species pass from the Arctic nesting areas south using the Pacific flyway on their annual migrations to warmer climates for the north American winter just as we see in the Atlantic corridor here on Cape Cod. Do not miss our first ever sighting of a Long billed curlew – found in an estuary near Del Mar, CA.

Marbled Godwits - Mt. Desert Island, Maine

Turkey Vulture heading south, Mt Desert Island, Maine

Hunter Moonrise - Chatham, MA

Black bellied plover and a short-billed dowitcher, Tern Island

Marbled Godwits in Chatham

Snake River, Chatham

Marbled Godwit in Chatham

Pair of Red Tailed Hawks, Chatham

Northern Harrier - Stage Harbor, Chatham

Set up for watching waterfowl at the Powderhole, MNWR

Yellow rumped warbler, MNWR

Red shouldered hawk, near San Diego

Marbled Godwits near Del Mar, CA

Long billed Curlew lands near Del Mar, CA

Godwits and Pacific Willets near Del Mar, CA

American Kestrel hovers near Del Mar, CA

Osprey hunts near Del Mar, CA

Shooting shorebirds near Del Mar, CA

Beautiful Point Loma, CA

Marbled Godwits on Tern Island - Chatham, MA

Read more.. Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Wild Cape Cod Notebook – Spring

Stunning Common Eider Drake

We are happy to back home on Cape Cod and over the past week have started to get back out in the field to see how the slow warming trends of spring here are signaling the changes and new wild visitors. Here are a few images we captured.

American Widgeon (male) in Ryders Cove

Eastern Bluebird returns! - Chatham

Common Eiders getting up and heading North

Very rare vagrant visits - a King Eider

Male Woodcock set to perform his amazing mating dance at dusk - Long Pasture Sanctuary

Northern Bobwhite pops out after a brief rain shower - Falmouth

Yellow Crowned Night Heron - looking for lunch - Sandwich

Read more.. Saturday, March 30th, 2013