Sunday, 29 May 2011

Training in Tarangire

Can't go to Tarangire and not photograph an elephant!

Well, much to Mama's relief I survived the trip and made it back on Friday afternoon, brining back one of the other trainer's for a night on his way back to Kenya. It was a lot of hard work, but great fun too! There were aroud 48 guides at the training event, with seven different people involved in training and a staff of eight running the camp (keeping us all fed and provided with warm water - great!). Most of the guides are either resident guides at the various Asilia camps and lodges around Tanzania and southern Kenya or drivers that take people between these locations, some fairly experienced, others newer to the business. My task together with one of the other trainers was to give four groups of 12 guides at a time some new knowledge about ecology and birds, whilst other trainers were dealing with guiding skills (from what to check on your car before you head out, to table manners for western guests!) and psychology, so a pretty wide set of skills being passed around. My groups were up for chai at 6 and out on a drive / walk at 6.30 for a couple of hours birding and learning stories about birds (one morning meeting a large buffalo at a waterhole while I had my back to the hole talking aout how doves drink - think that traumatised some of the newer guides who are only used to being in cars!), back for breakfast, then out again by 9.45 to cover over three days the main habitats within the savannah ecosystem: grasslands, acacia woodlands, combretrum woodlands, riverine forest, kopjes and swamps. Back for lunch around 1 - 2pm, then into the classroom at 3.30 for a couple of hours identifying the plants and beasties we found in the morning but didn't identify, then working through "10 things to talk about when there are no lions", a list of things that I think are interesting in the savannah and should give folk ideas about how to pass time on the off days... (FYI the titles are (1) grass - they're interesting, honest; (2) geology; (3) climate and weather (well, at least you have to talk to British tourists about the weather...); (4) Fire; (5) Thorns and why nothing seems to stop plants being eaten anyway; (6) Termites; (7) Birds - of course!; (8) Other invertebrates - butterflies and dragonflies in particular; (9) People and cultures and finally, (10) conservation issues.)

Lots of fun, lots of time in the field, and just great to be out and about in Tarangire, even exploring some areas I'd not been to before. Very pretty:
Hildebrandt's Francolin stumped a few as the bill is always black in the guide books...
We watched this puff-adder face down a black spitting cobra, before a boomslang shot past us in disgust!
Plenty of bees around too...
Cottonstainer - we were looking for much more than just lions!
These fringe-eared oryx were rather special, with the first returning zebra too.
Yellow-striped blind-snake was rather a nice find one morning - might well be new to Tarangire
Red-billed Quelea were quite a spectacle with the grasses all setting seed
This had a nest rather too close to the road methinks!
Saw four of these in various trees around the park - but amazingly my groups never encountered a lion!
All in all a great training session and lots of fun. But it's nice to be home for a bit now! Got to end with a sunset though...

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Gaining perspecive

Okay - thanks for the messages of support. I'm having a better day today!

Have agreed to rent a certain house form 15th June, so feeling better that that decision is made.

Have arranged for oven fundi to come at 10.00 this morning (Ha ha! It's now 10.05...think he'll come today?)

Spent an hour last night re-reading bits of my favourite child-raising book to date: "How to talk so Kids will listen and listen so kids will talk" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. If you have kids over 18 months and haven't got this book, get it. I gave it to a whole load of people for Christmas one year. My copy is dog-eared because I refer to it so often and have lent it to several friends.

Anyway, helped me get some perspective on my issues with Kitty, and start to see her as a 6 year old child with some issues she needs help dealing with, rather than seeing her as 'A PROBLEM' that's driving me nuts. Had a more peaceful start to the day today. It also helped that a friend picked her up from school and took her back for a playdate till 5pm yesterday, so I had a good long stretch with only one child.

Apologies, apparently I write much more humorously when I'm stressed out, so back to the mundane today. Don't worry Basia - I'm sure there'll be more stressed out posts coming soon!

p.s. am trying to plan some fun activities and themes for our 12 week break from school. Anyone know good websites for ideas, activity sheets etc?

p.p.s talking of gaining perspective, look at my sister-in-law's blog about the 5 year old girl she knows who has complex medical needs. Rania is about to be deported back to Algeria, away from the only family she knows and the medical interventions that keep her alive and enable her to attend mainstream school. Her family say that deporting her is the same as handing her a death sentence. The medical interventions she needs are not available in Algeria and epilepsy, one of her conditions, is there considered to be demonic posession. I have just signed this petition asking Theresa May, Home Secretary, to reconsider her decision. Will you?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Rapidly losing sanity

(patience disappeared days ago)

Okay, 3 weeks and a bit sans husband but avec kids is definitely proving too long. Counting the days (5) till his return. Fantasizing (unrealistically) about a weeks rest cure somewhere...

Today, went to see a house that's available to rent. Landlord said that tenants were leaving on Sunday so I could see inside this afternoon. Arrived. No sign of landlord. Guard says that yes, some tenants left this morning but there is another installed. Great.

Made bread with Kitty's class today. Didn't bake it because power went off at school and it's an electric oven. Offered to bring it home to bake. Arrived home to find that our oven has given up working.

Every time I pick Kitty up from school, some classmate or other bounds up to me to tell me that Kitty's been very naughty to day. This has been going on for 3 weeks now. Tried to talk it through with her. Turns out that she firmly believes that she knows far more than her teacher and that is why she has no interest in listening to her or doing what she says.

Realised that, with Kitty having to change schools and different schools following very different calendars, I am looking at having her home for 12 straight weeks of holiday.

Run out of tonic... however, straight gin starting to take on a new appeal.

Finished "House of Elliot" DVD series so started "Life on Mars" last night. Lay in bed terrified of serial killers and then dreamed about them. Might be watching Peppa Pig tonight.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Power, house and school... or the lack thereof

Apparently we have a week of major power cuts scheduled. Rumours vary as to the precise start and finish dates and precisely how few hours of power we'll have each day, but it sounds like it might start on thursday this week and allow us power between 11pm and 8am, maybe, or maybe only till 6am... or maybe none at all. One of the major power plants in Tanzania is being checked/overhauled or something so these cuts are for the whole country. I'm apprehensive interested to see how this affects things like shopping, getting petrol etc. (Hmm, perhaps I should stock up on non-perishables and canadles tomorrow??) We're busy eating everything out of the freezer at the moment, so samosas for dinner tonight with ice-cream for pudding. Kids aren't complaining....but they might when they can't watch DVDs because the computer battery has run out.

Anyway, if you don't hear much from us for a while it is because we are surviving a week long country-wide black-out.

Also, while I'm moaning, our landlord has just decided ( a week before our next 6 months of rent was due) to up the rent by almost 30%. Yes, we do have a big house, but the new amount would be way way more than almost any other house we know in the area. So it looks like we might be looking for a new house to the end of the month. Mr B's going to try to call and negotiate as our landlord appears to despise me and not listen to anything I say (might just be a gender thing) and has returned all my texts with biting remarks and no compromise.

And Kitty's school is only going to go up to age 6 from August, so I'm also in the process of trying to find her a place at a different school, again. Including pre-school it will be her 4th school by the age of 6.5. And then work out whether to keep the Mancub where he is (and where he is very happy and I like it very much but requiring two separate drop-offs and pick-ups and  where term dates might be very different) or move him as well.

Some continuity and stability would be really nice...please?

Monday, 16 May 2011

Flying visit by Mr B

Mr B arrived safely back from South Africa on Saturday night, after a hectic but fun 2 weeks! Lots of laundry, a few stories. a bit of sleep and two meals later, he headed off to Tarangire National Park for 12 days safari guide training, arriving safely in camp last night. Felt rather down when he left but headed to a friend's leaving do for a cold beer and some socialising to aid recovery. "The House of Elliot" DVD series is my evening companion these days - enjoying it lots!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Kruger adventures

After two days of non-stop talking about fire, I finally made my escape on Wednesday morning (after one last, long breakfast meeting with one of the key people I'd come to talk to), jumping into a hire car at 10, and then driving, driving, driving, until I finally made it to the Kruger gate at about 5pm, with just enough light left (it being winter, of course, and South Africa's time zone stretching from one side of the continent to the other!) to collect the key to my research house and find my way there. (I still enjoy being able to drive past no-entry signs in protected areas!) Having been assured that everyone doing research in Kruger is very friendly, I set out to meet my neighbours and within 10mins had managed to send a message via one of them to the people I'm here to see, and got an invitation to one of the student's leaving party, as he had a 5am departure after 3 months in the park. All very good.

Research accommodation is very fine!
Today started with a meeting with the person I'd come to see, and after an hour or two we decided the best thing for the rest of today would be to head out and see (a little bit of) Kruger for myself, before continuing the discussion tomorrow, once I actually had a better idea of the local context. So, armed with maps of fire frequency and biomes,I headed out to explore the key parts of this southern section of the park. As should probably not be a surprise to anyone who's been in the bush with me before, my driving times were rather slower than anticipated, so I only did what had been recommended as a usual morning drive (and I still only made it back with 10mins to spare!), but I did see lots of habitats, lots of places with different fire regimes, and lots of birds too.

Burchall's Coucal warming in the morning sun

Mind the crocs...

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, one of the new birds I enjoyed

Crested Barbet

Cape - or is it greater blue-eared - starling?!

Fighting giraffe for the giraffe fans out there!

Invasive aliens (and eles)

 The most striking thing about the place for me has been the managed nature of the place – big tarmac roads everywhere,

Kruger infrastructure is quite spectacular compared to TZ!
artificial waterholes, etc. But after that it's the lack of animals that hits – I drove most of the day and probably didn't see many more than 300 large mammals, tops – and probably 200 of them were impala! But the diversity was quite good – my first Nyala was waiting just outside the research camp, Greater Kudu, Elephant, White and Black Rhino
White Rhino
very dainty klippsringer on his tippy toes!

And black rhino too - rarely seen in Kruger apparently.
Somewhat smarter giraffe than we have, cheetah, etc., etc. But I drove much further than I would in a day in Tanzania, and saw far fewer than I'd have seen there. This is partly a consequence of the thicker bush here, but I think it's also down to deliberate removals of animals to sell them to private game reserves (and as meat to the local population) because there has been a perception that there were too many animals in the park. This is changing, and most of the removals have stopped now, but there are still far, far fewer animals than I'd have expected, which must have a huge influence on the vegetation. Hmmm. All interesting things...

Anyway, I'm writing this now in the evening with hyaenas howling and hippos harrumphing all around, but no internet connection. But I'm hoping I might get the chance in the morning to post this, or perhaps tomorrow evening when I'm back in Johannesburg for one last night before flying back to TZ on Saturday. We shall see... Either way, it will be nice to get back home at last!

Tuesday, 10 May 2011



The Mancub ate TWO mouthfuls of spinach at dinner!

And you thought that Mr B was hogging all the excitement this week....

Monday, 9 May 2011

Wildfire in Sun City...

And the elephants were all singing to us...

Well, I've conferenced in some odd places before, but this has to be one of the most bizarre ever! Africa meets Las Vegas I think. After three mini-bus taxis (where I took the opportunity to interview the locals about the upcoming local elections in SA – apparently the choice is still perceived to be between the ANC or apartheid (even though everyone I spoke to agrees that the ANC leaves a lot to be desired, and the major opposition hardly seems apartheid to me) I finally walked in to Sun (or Sin, if you ask most South Africans) – much to the surprise of those on the gate: what, you came on the local taxis? And walked the last bit? Are you mad?! Though again, there are seats on the minibuses, no chickens and no more people than seats – what a civilised country! And it's an odd place...

I'm just back from a happy evening at the welcome event getting to know various folk and interrogating some more about burning places – all good background for the burn Serengeti campaign later on!

Chinese whispers

Yesterday Kitty was pretending to be the Easter Bunny, with the ears she made at school and a basket with Easter pictures and an egg. She pranced round the house singing "Dash of Ears" repeatedly.

The next thing I know the Mancub is brumming his cars over the sofa (as usual) chanting "Stash of beers, stash of beers, we're going to the stash of beers". Hmmm

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Cape Town Capers

Nearly the view from my room!

So, finally I've found a place I can access the internet from properly! For all South Africa's sophistication and technology, there's something very odd about the way the internet works (or doesn't) at it's research facilities! This has caused a few complications, as I've been unable to organise the second half of my travels properly, but I'm now in Johannesburg and have a place to spend the night, plus (currently) access to the internet, so hopefully I can make the necessary arrangements... Nevertheless, as Mama B reported, I did have fun in Cape Town. It was a bit of a nightmare journey to get there, accompanying the rest of the family to Tanzania then rushing around the corner to check in again to head to Nairobi (a bit touch and go, with the plane in to Tanzania arriving about 1 1/2hrs late, and only a 3hr turn around planned), then on to Johannesburg, arriving there (late) at 1am and with the next flight to catch at 8. Happily, I was booked into a hotel at the airport and they let me in – but the 6am wake-up call failed to arrive and I didn't wake up until 7am! Mad rush down to the airport and I made it in time. From then on all has been smooth – I was picked up and taken to a beautiful guesthouse right next to Kirstenbosch Gardens and as soon as I was out of the shower was picked up by G for lunch. Walking back through the gardens after lunch I found my first new birds – some nice Cape specials – and loved the gardens.
Southern Double-collared Sunbird

Cape White-eye
African Penguin wondering if the storm is coming
In fact, as I was spending the week at the South African National Biodiversity Institute, with offices in the gardens, I enjoyed a morning walk through the gardens each day. As the Monday was a holiday I was then whisked off to see the penguins – though thunderstorms made it a wetter experience than we'd planned!

Yes, it is!

It was pretty hectic meeting lots of folk, trying to crack on with some analyses and actually get things done, so I didn't see as much of Cape Town as your average visitor, but did have lots of fun and enjoyed some lovely walks on the slopes of Table Mountain, and searching out the birds of Kirstenbosch on my way through each morning.
I know a few gardens where this would be appropriate...

Evening view from the Contour Path above Kirstenbosch

Snazzy Cape Franconlins

Yesterday I'd been invited by one of the folk who I took through Serengeti back in November in seach of grass to join a botanical foray into the Fynbos of Table Mountain National Park with a couple of other visiting academic types, which was great – not only to discuss fire and burning bushes with some absolute experts from SA and US, but also to find a few extra Fynbos special birds.
Can you see the same Prof still looking for grass?!

I even noticed the plants - this is the biggest protea, and beloved of...

Cape Sugarbird - it was a bit breezy up there!

And once that was over I was picked up by more folk for an evening birding trip to the local wetland, before heading (for the first time!) into the 'city bowl', or main centre of Cape Town to meet yet more folk and then head down to the Waterfront for a fancy (and yummy!) seafood supper. All in all, a very sociable time, and we did manage to get some interesting analyses started, looking at ways to model seasonal patterns and movements of birds across southern Africa, when the patterns vary considerably place to place. Watch this space to see how long it takes to develop a final model of African Paradise Flycatcher movements... It was great to work with lots of folk there though, and I'm sure opportunities for more things will flow from this. What fun!

Next stop, finding a way to gatecrash a big fire meeting happening about 2hrs away in the next week, and firming up Kruger visiting plans for the end of the week...

Saturday, 7 May 2011

All well

We're all well here. Mr B is enjoying his time in South Africa. Kitty now over the jet lag, a bit moany from the end of 3 weeks of chocolate, attention and fun and the return to the 'boring' routine of school. Mancub loving his 3 mornings at nursery. Had a nice sleepover with friends last night. Red wine, board games and junior cricket. What could be better?

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Arrived safely back in Tanzania

Children and I safely installed back home in Arusha. Mr B looked set to catch his flight to South Africa as we left Kili airport, so probably en route there right now. Immigration was far easier coming back than leaving fortunately!

Thank you to all of you who made our 3 weeks in Europe such a lovely time! And apologies to all those we didn't manage to visit this time. And especial thanks to Auntie T for donating her old laptop so that I have one here even while Mr B is traveling. Hurrah!