The Serengeti: Varied Landscapes

The first impression of the Serengeti was of vast plain. Indeed, the name itself is Masai for “endless plains”. In some places, it seemed as if the world was as flat as what some of our distant ancestors must have thought. But as we travelled through the Serengeti, we found it surprisingly varied. Our camp was on the side of a series of hills separating the Serengeti from the Lake Victoria area. It afforded us beautiful dawns and dusks with the tops of the acacia trees artfully silhouetted against the purple-mauves brightening to red then yellow.

IMG_2977

The slopes were filled with scrub. There weren’t any roads up the hills (no reason since the Serengeti is an uninhabited reserve). Sadly, we weren’t able to enjoy the privilege of views from the hilltop. But we did chance across some dusty brown female ostriches picking their way through the low grass of the shrubland…

IMGP4190

… seemingly shunning the more prettily plumed male. His black and white feathers were a waste on them.

IMGP4185

Away from the hills, there were some primeval-looking landscapes. Shrubs gave way to water and in the form of a pool surrounded by tall, large-fronded palms. It seemed like something straight out from a dinosaur movie, just that the animals in the pool were large hippos enjoying a good wallow. They hid themselves well from the heat of the noon-time sun.

IMGP3825

Some hippos strayed out of the water and in groups, they were quite happy to snooze on dry ground in the afternoon. Still, they stayed fairly close to the water…

IMGP4239

… even when a crocodile perched, motionless, in the pool.

IMGP3753

And the shrub started moving back towards open plains, but not without first allowing the acacia trees their time to stand tall in the sun. Cape buffaloes enjoyed the intermittent shade from the small leaves…

IMGP3838

… while the littler creatures preferred to stay in the scrubland where the low bushes came together to form a thick growth where it was hard for a big cat to pounce. This was where we spied the very shy dik-dik, the smallest antelope in the African savannah. It was impossible to spot on our own and only after detailed instructions from our guide Muba on where to look did we finally spot it.

IMGP4468

When talking about the Serengeti, one talks first about the plains and then about the strange rocky outcrops seemingly appearing out of nowhere. These granite outcrops are the result of ancient magma bubbling through fissures in the softer bedrock and later being exposed through weathering. They give shelter to plants and animals and there is generally something interesting to see on a kopje. We saw hyraxes (think giant hamsters), monkeys and even a leopard on them.

IMGP4038

A Quick Trip to Redang: Mourning the Coral

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

DC  and I went back to Redang to look up some friends for diving. We were there just as the coral bleaching broke out and were incredibly sad at the poor state of the coral. Global warming had taken its toll and the seas were unseasonably warm this time of the year. To upside was only for me as it was warm enough that I didn’t need to wear a wetsuit, the wuss that I am.

Our first dive was a bit of a shock. Whole patches of the coral had gone ghostly white and the patches stretched far and wide across the coralscape as far as the viz allowed us to see. It didn’t help that the water was a bit murky and the usually brightly coloured coral was completely washed out.

IMG_2154

A lot of the hard coral was affected,, including the staghorn that was bleached from its usual tan to sickly yellow to dead white. It was an incredibly sad sight.

IMG_2159

At some places, it wasn’t too bad, but we could already see the bleaching taking its toll on the outer edges. It was so depressing that the yellow sunflower coral that the other divers liked so much did nothing for me, looking to me as if they were pus-filled fungal colonies taking over the reef.

IMG_2171

Yet, not all dive sites were affected. Only some areas hit by the worst conditions of warm water and unfavourable currents suffered badly. On other reefs, it seemed like life went on as normal, with only minimal bleaching that was hardly noticeable.

IMG_2322

At some areas, I pretty much forgot that the bleaching situation was really bad – there was so much coral and fish life.

IMG_2324

But the diving wasn’t always great. Somehow we ran into a lot of poor visibility, especially in the sandy areas where we saw this blue spotted stingray.

IMG_2291

And this crocodile flathead, also in the sand.

IMG_2193

Things got a little better on the coral itself where there were bigger fish like this grouper.

IMG_2267

And on the coral were the pretty brown-banded pipefish that came in pairs, skittering over the reef with cautious movements.

IMG_2285

The soft coral didn’t seem to be very much affected. It was healthy enough that this lionfish took refuge in it, peering placidly out from its sloe-eyes.

IMG_2275

So all wasn’t quite lost as the reef didn’t seem to be all that dead. It appeared to be rebounding despite the dead patches. We were cheered as we continued our diving.

September in Bali: A Mucky Secret

Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

The other highlight of being in Permuteran was diving at Secret Bay. I don’t think it’s that big a secret anymore, but not as many divers go there. It’s a muck diving place, meaning that less of the casual divers and more of the serious divers go there. Why? Because muck diving is all about diving in places with less than white sand and very little coral. The atmosphere can be very depressing because of the low light and poor visibility conditions. Nonetheless, there are plenty of weird and wonderful creatures to see.

I strongly suspect this to be the Kodipungi lionfish, with its separated pectoral fin rays. It’s so beautiful and flamboyant against the dull grey sand.

DSCF1566

What surprised me next was the Banggai cardinalfish, something that is supposed to be very rare. When I’d last dived in Manado, I was told that these fish were only found at Banggai Island and the Lembeh Strait. Balderdash!

DSCF1572

Their blue-black colouration with the almost fluorescent white spots was mesmerising.

DSCF1573

There were also plenty of razorfish among the sea urchins. They were funny creatures that seemed to stand upside down on their noses to hunt for food.

DSCF1628

When pursued, they’d turn ninety degrees so they could make a quick getaway, but were otherwise always nose to the ground.

DSCF1633

Another rare find was the hispid frogfish. It was hilarious how each had a disarmingly charming white pompom on its forehead. This pompom acted like a lure to bring in prey. In a gulp, the poor fish would be gone.

DSCF1624

Another odd fish was the cockatoo waspfish that liked to pretend to be a leaf swaying in the water. Very strange.

DSCF1717

Less strange was this octopus that (for good reason) refused to budge from its hole. The best I could do was to take a blurred shot of its tentacles. Pity.

DSCF1671

Other inhabitants of this freakish side show include the striped puffer with its dark blotch around the base of its pectoral fins making it look recessed and mutated.

DSCF1646

Reflecting the green seaweed was this unidentified goby. It would’ve been difficult to spot if it was just a few inches into the seaweed.

DSCF1597

Easier to identify was the spotted shrimpgoby with its distinctive white iris and black markings. It was surprisingly how I managed to get close enough without startling the shrimpgoby.

DSCF1498

Almost completely camouflaged until it started moving was this peacock flounder with its weirdly asymmetrical eyes.

DSCF1677

Another well-camouflaged fish was this orange and black dragonet, its only giveaway the orange lips.

DSCF1584

There were more – this crocodile flathead, if left alone, would soon change colour to blend in with the sand below.

DSCF1578

There was also this really ugly pipefish that looked like a piece of random trash in the water. No wonder it’s called muck diving.

DSCF1579

Secret Bay was one of the few places where I saw full-sized seahorses, like this thorny seahorse. I was so thrilled by this find! Even though we’re told that pygmy seahorses are very rare, somehow I feel that full-sized ones are even more so because guides tend not to look out for them. What a great find.

DSCF1711

Another unexpected find was this whole pile of schooling catfish in the wreck of a little rowboat.

DSCF1637

Even more surprising was this ornate ghost pipefish floating along obliviously above the seething mass of catfish.

DSCF1641

Other than that, there was a truly horrifying sea centipede, another first for me (and hopefully last).

DSCF1607

And then there were the ubiquitous nudibranchs, though this time nothing I’ve seen before again.

DSCF1603

Check out this scrum of beautiful blue and yellow ones too. Lovely huh.

DSCF1662

And rounding things off, here’s a video of something not seen that often – a white-eye moray eel out of its hole in search of prey. Enjoy.