Tanzania and Kenya throwback – when I went exploring on the beach

It is almost four months since I returned from my expedition to Tanzania and Kenya… I definitely miss being there in the sun (and having to drink six – eight litres of water every day!)

Our first camp was near the city of Tanga and was situated right on the coast – we were pretty much camping on the beach. Every morning as I ate my breakfast I would sit in awe watching the sun rise over the Indian Ocean, and days working in the village often ended with a swim in the sea.

dsc_0181

One day we were given the afternoon off to relax, so while the tide was out I went for a walk with my camera. The beach was teeming with life and I had a fantastic time observing and photographing it.

dsc_0106

The beach was surrounded by mangroves which when the tide came in became submerged. Their roots are incredible structures – they grow like this to maximise oxygen absorption (the roots need oxygen but there is very little in the sand).

dsc_0108

dsc_0109

There were also these huge structures that at first glance just looked like rocks – it turned out that they were ancient coral reefs that had died and formed little islands of their own.

dsc_0161

Below are a few photos of interesting creatures/shells that I found on the beach…

Giant clam shell

dsc_0111

Interesting seashells (despite much searching, I have been unable to identify these)

dsc_0158

dsc_0160

Crabs (also very difficult to identify! The red-brown one may be a rock crab, but I’m not entirely sure)

dsc_0114

dsc_0177

Brittle star

dsc_0125

When I first came across the creature pictured below on the beach, I was completely mystified. It seemed like a strange shell structure sunk into the sand, but it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. However, recently when I was learning about the evolution of eyes as part of my zoology course, I saw a picture of it in an article that I was reading.

dsc_0163

It is the West Indian fuzzy chiton… the thing that surprised me the most is that the shell actually contains many tiny mineral eyes! This bizarre creature has eyes made of aragonite – the same material used for the rest of its body. The images produced will not be of the greatest quality, but they are enough for the chiton to be able to detect predators and respond by clamping themselves into the sand.

I cannot believe I was lucky enough to see such an incredible creature on my travels.

Advertisements

Wildlife in Tanzania and Kenya – reptiles

When I went to Tanzania and Kenya, I took with me a book for identifying mammals and a book for identifying birds. I felt quite well prepared but what I didn’t realise was that I had left a huge gap in my ideas of what animals I was going to see – I had completely overlooked reptiles!

It is since I have returned home that I have discovered that Tanzania has over two hundred species of lizard alone, not to mention the many snakes, chameleons and other reptiles lurking out there. This made identifying the species using my photographs (and occasionally my memory) tricky to say the least – I will apologise in advance for any mistakes!

There isn’t going to be a great amount of writing in this blog post; it will be more of a showcase of the reptiles I managed to photograph during my time abroad.

dsc_0148Common striped skink

dsc_0099Tropical house gecko

dsc_0182White headed dwarf gecko

dsc_0108Rainbow agama

dsc_0360Possibly a juvenile rock agama – and although I didn’t get a photo I think I saw an adult as well…

dsc_0165Wavy chameleon

Below are three species that I have been unable to identify; I have found pictures of vaguely similar reptiles but apart from that there seems to be very little information available (I need to buy myself a book!) If any of my readers can identify them then please let me know!

for-blog

dsc_0129

dsc_0152

I only saw one snake throughout the whole trip – a green mamba. It was an incredible bright green colour, but I didn’t have my camera on me at the time and did not see it again after that occasion.

This is the last of the ‘Tanzania and Kenya’ themed blog posts for now – I have something slightly different planned for my next series of blog posts so stay tuned!

 

Wildlife in Tanzania and Kenya – birds

Birds have always held a certain fascination for me, and on my journey around Tanzania and Kenya I saw an incredibly diverse range of them all coexisting in the same habitat.

(Below: ostriches grazing – male is black and female is brown)

dsc_0610

This blog post will introduce just a few of the feathered creatures that I came across – and I might just add in here that they are significantly harder to photograph than the mammals in my previous post!

These yellow-collared lovebirds (otherwise known as black-masked lovebirds) were perched at the top of this dead tree. Often with parrots and parakeets there is a notable difference between the males and females however with this particular species that is not the case, so I was unable to identify the genders of these birds.

dsc_0428

My first encounter with glossy starlings was when I was sat very quietly and one landed in a tree close by. It was minute, with iridescent green feathers – I was so annoyed that I didn’t have my camera with me! On safari we saw a different type of glossy starling – the superb starling. This species was much larger but still had that amazing metallic gleam to its feathers.

dsc_0471

The ‘barbet’ was not a bird I had ever heard of before I went to Tanzania – it bears some resemblance to a woodpecker and does chisel holes in trees to make its nest, but is in fact an entirely different species. The striking red and yellow barbets shown below were feeding from a termite mound.

dsc_0565

I had been hoping to see some larger birds on my adventure as well, and I was not disappointed. Marshall eagles swooped over us from time to time while we were on safari, and we were even lucky enough to see one perched in the top of a tree. The wing span of these birds was enormous: they even made the trees seem small!

dsc_0589

However, one of my favourite moments was seeing marabou storks. When I was younger I saw one of these birds in a conservation area at a nature reserve near to where I lived in Norfolk. I was in awe of the huge beak and the size of the bird itself – it was so unlike anything I had seen before, so of course I was absolutely thrilled when we stopped below a group of marabou storks that were circling, looking for a recent kill.

dsc_0545

Keep an eye out for my final blog post about Tanzania and Kenya – it should be posted within the next week.

Thanks for reading!

Wildlife in Tanzania and Kenya – mammals

While I was in Tanzania and Kenya I saw so many breathtaking sights, but one of the highlights of the trip for me was the incredible wildlife. Even just around camp we discovered some amazing creatures, but a day on safari in Tarangire National Park took it to another level!

Our guide for the day was really awesome; his name was Ben and he knew so much about everything we saw. There was another boy in my group who shared my interest for birds so it became a bit of a joke that we were calling for the truck to stop every few minutes for them, and nobody else was that bothered about them…

This blog post however will focus on mammals.

Some of the first creatures we saw on the day were mongooses – there were stripy-backed mongoose running around near the entrance and further along some dwarf mongoose perched on a mound of earth.

We then saw warthogs – Ben told us that the mongooses often follow the warthogs as the two species have a mutualistic relationship: when the warthogs lie down, the mongooses groom them and remove ticks and parasites which they then eat.

We saw several herds of zebra throughout the day; most of them seemed unphased by the safari trucks but some cantered away and then stood in pairs nose to tail – this is a defensive behaviour. It means that the two zebras have eyes in all directions (there are effectively no blind spots) and they are less vulnerable to attack when standing together with hind hooves at either end. Unfortunately I didn’t actually manage to snap any pictures of this behaviour.

dsc_0489

Where we stopped to eat lunch there were a few Vervet monkeys sat on the railings and tables – we were warned to be careful as they had sharp teeth and claws, but our poor team leader had her lunch snatched from her – before she had chance to react the monkey had torn open the box and run off with her sandwiches and banana. Everyone was very wary after that as the monkeys sat in a tree above our heads watching us carefully as we ate.

My personal favourite out of all of the mammals we saw was the elephants. On the safari day in Tanzania we did see some standing together quietly and also watched a group crossing a river, but nothing prepared me for what I was going to observe in Kenya.

On one of our rest days we visited a restaurant by a waterhole and to our amazement six herds of elephants passed through while we were there!

dsc_0968

This was a fantastic opportunity for me to actually watch for a decent length of time as previously we had had to move on fairly quickly. It was fascinating to see the elephants enjoying the water and interacting with each other.

One of the elephants went right into the middle of the water hole and actually lay down – I hadn’t realised how dusty the elephants were until this – this particular elephant came out a completely different colour!

dsc_0817

There was a huge female elephant (she looked to be one of the oldest there) with a calf following her, and when she walked underneath the platform we were standing on we realised that she was already pregnant again.

dsc_0903

When new herds arrived, some of them mingled and appeared to be greeting each other whereas others seemed to have staring matches before one group slowly moved away.

dsc_1022

This experience has definitely fuelled my interest for animal behaviour and I hope to travel to Africa again in the future.

On a side note, I have just moved to Manchester where I will be studying for a degree in zoology. This means that the focus of my blog posts may change slightly; there will be a couple more about Africa and then perhaps something slightly different to the usual write-ups – but fear not, it will still revolve around animals!

Community work in Africa

A couple of years ago I had an amazing opportunity presented to me: an organisation called Camps International came into my school to talk about their expeditions around the world. I was easily persuaded and set about raising the money I needed to go – this included having a part-time job, running a dog show and a Christmas themed coffee morning in aid of the cause.

Finally after months of building excitement and trepidation, I set off and spent a month in Tanzania and Kenya with nineteen other students from various schools in England.

One of the main aims of us going was to do voluntary work in the communities. It wasn’t until I was out there that I truly realised how important this work was – there were times when it really hit me how lucky I am and it changed my perspective on a lot of things.

Our first project was on the coast of Tanzania near Tanga – we spent three days working on a house for a lady who was living with her brother; her children had died and she had thought that the house would never be built. In the time that we were there we took down existing walls that were unstable and put up new ones. We made a framework with branches tied in a grid and then filled the spaces with mud – our team worked well together and we had some people mixing mud, some carrying it and some working on the walls.

The groups which worked there after us continued the project and it is now finished and ready for the lady to move in – she really appreciated this as living in her own house would give her a lot of independence.

Our next project was in Moshi, a town near to Mount Kilimanjaro. We went to a school and built some steps outside a classroom – it sounds like a fairly small task but it was actually more strenuous than the work on the house in my opinion! To make the cement we had to carry heavy buckets of sand, gravel and water and then shovel them constantly until they were thoroughly mixed. Then some people started to create the steps whilst the rest of us toiled to keep the cement from drying out in the heat.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the finished step but got some of it in progress…

We then moved to Kenya – our camp was in between Tsavo East National Park and Tsavo West National Park and while we were there we took part in a variety of different projects which Camps International were running in the area.

The first of these was de-worming goats in the communities – people brought them out to us and we had to catch them and stick a medicine-filled syringe in their mouths. I had actually done this before so I found it quite an easy task, and also de-wormed a calf while I was there as well!

DSC_1114

On the same day we built elephant deterrent fencing. The aim of this is to keep elephants away from the settlements and reduce human-wildlife conflict – therefore protecting the elephants and reducing the likelihood of them being killed. We cut up sheets of corrugated metal and strung the strips on wire, which was then suspended between wooden posts. The sound of the metal clattering in the wind and the way it reflects the sunlight (and moonlight too) frightens the elephants away.

In Kenya we also visited the Marungu Tree Nursery and helped to mix soil with animal manure, which we then placed into small black bags and planted seeds in. Our team was known for beating records previously set by other teams and this day was no exception – by the end of it we had planted around 1350 seeds!

When the trees are older they will be planted on the surrounding hills – they are a huge benefit to the farmers as many of them have nitrogen-fixing properties and they reduce soil erosion.

I will be posting more about my journey to Tanzania and Kenya, so stay tuned!