This year’s end of the Dry Season seems to come gradually with light, localized, showers falling in August and beginning of September, followed at the end of that month by a good and much needed rainstorm, and again in the first days of October altogether bringing nearly 58 mm! As all our drinking and cooking water is collected at Ndutu Lodge, we are always so grateful for this fresh water!
The early rains continued off and on, bringing another 40 mm in October, so the grass was greening up, the leaves and flowers budding!
By November the aloes had followed suit in their bright orange-red colours and immediately – out of nowhere – sunbirds were seen fluttering from flower to flower.
Some wildebeest got as far as the Big Marsh after the first round of storms! Gazelles have flocked back to the Triangle and our tree line in large numbers nibbling the first grass shoots, zebras in thousands grazing along the woodland borders!
Prior to the Dry Season endings, we had some great entertaining days and nights with our Marsh and Masek Lion prides. Both prides were very keen on the resident buffaloes and altogether three buffalo kills happened right at the Lodge!
Starting August 22nd after dinner we were sitting around the fire with a cup of coffee when suddenly four lionesses walked past in the front of us, some 60 meters away. They walked silently and purposefully from west to east and disappeared between the last room no. 12 and my house in the back. Five minutes later we heard the sound of a buffalo in distress, we all rushed to the back of the Lodge and in the light of our torches saw the four lionesses and two males (Katavi and Selous from the Marsh Pride) on top of the buffalo… Luckily it was killed swiftly and for convenience sake they had brought it down right next to the track leading into the Lodge!
So we all piled in three cars (including a guest we woke up) and carefully drove a bit closer and watched them all gorging themselves! Next morning the males left early heading back towards the Big Marsh direction, leaving three females still eating, whilst a black-backed jackal hovered nearby and managed to steal several pieces for himself!
The horns to this day lie in the grass, a silent reminder of nightly happening in the African bush!
A week later there was more excitement when the same Masek pride caught another buffalo near our Laundry, so again our guests did not have far to drive to see a pride of lions on a kill!
On the third occasion, lions cornered a buffalo near the veranda of my house and chased it into the waterhole in front of the Lodge, then killed it there.
This provided more action with hyenas, jackals, even some vultures and of course lions coming and going, and the two following evenings, drinks and dinner service was accompanied with lion roars!
Unfortunately, there is also a very sad happening to report: end of October one of our well-known resident males, Puyol died not far from here near Lake Masek. Puyol was fitted with a radio collar several years ago and through the Lion Project, his movements were closely followed.
For over a month he seemed not well and progressively went down, and Ingela of the Lion Project kept seeing less and less activity… Her Maasai assistants kept as best an eye on him, but he was mostly hiding away in thick bush.
Eventually he was found dead, and sadly it appeared to be too late to do a post mortem to establish the cause of death. We shall miss him!
Then there was the very lucky American group staying two nights. They first found what we assume is our well-known Leopard ’Short Tail’ or her son, who is equally easy-going in habit somewhere near the Long Gulley.
Whilst they were watching, the leopard moved over to one of the vehicles and settled underneath and went to sleep… After one and a half hour and no sign of waking up, the driver then started the car and slowly the leopard then moved from under the car!
What a story to tell!
The next drive they did in the vicinity of the Big Marsh proved to be even more exciting! They saw a rhino!
What a treat, they watched it for a while and eventually it turned and seemed to head back to the general direction of Moru, from which no doubt it had meandered over!! But what a wonderful and lucky experience!
Our Newsletters also report on bits of “in-house” news as well.
We finally managed to get some of our ’one-year-ago-and-stuck-somewhere’ ordered kitchen equipment in… a story in itself, but the important thing is: it has arrived and with some additional new tiling our kitchen has undergone yet another transformation!
More electrical work, some more clear corrugated sheeting on the roof and we have a much nicer professional looking kitchen!
Then there is an “old soldiers never die” story to tell….
We finally decided it was no longer safe to leave the huge old dead Acacia tree in front of the dining room standing. If it could speak it would have relayed many a bush story, no doubt!
Some six years ago, it had started to “shrivel” and although it put out some leaf after the first rains, by July suddenly all the greens died off. Mushrooms were starting to grow all around its base, a very ominous sign!
After one year, and worrying about heavy branches falling down, so close to the path in front of the dining room, we gave the tree a massive ’haircut’, and there it stood for at least three years looking a bit like a modern Zadkine sculpture.
Very quickly the African ruin removers arrived. Bugs, wood boring beetles, ants, and of course woodpeckers started their building activities. These excelled themselves and after a first round of woodpecker baby-occupancy and fly out of the young, the Fisher’s Lovebirds would shoot in and take over’ Our Lovebirds may well be the most photographed on the entire Northern Tanzania circuit. Delightful to watch them cling around and in their holes, we ended up calling the tree “Fisher’s Tower block”, with at least six flats in residence!
One beautifully coloured Agama Lizard used the tree as its base, often displaying and running over to the big tree on the opposite side and then would rush back.
So recently a lot of wondering, discussing and thinking processes preceded the decision, not least because the various tree residents and their much appreciated daily entertainment provided the photographers especially with a great time! We made sure there were no occupied nests and then finally made the move…
This of course was no small job and in the end it took two mornings, some broken cables and ropes but we were very pleased as the old giant now lies exactly where we wanted it to be… in state… and we hope it can still continue to provide some shelter, food and activities for years to come.
The Lovebirds, mightily confused, kept flying past, and around to settle on the remaining young Boscia tree that snuggled up to the Acacia all these years and now provides the highest point, making me feel very guilty! A big PLUS was that the next day, the Agama Lizard was back, assessing the new rather horizontal angle of his home, and I was much relieved to see him!
Of course the lovebirds will have to roam further to look for new housing, but many were back at the bird bath the next morning!
Whilst Rob Barbour was here helping out as Relief manager, two Maasai Moranis dropped in to ask for help as one of their friends whilst asleep on the ground had been bitten by a snake!
Rob being a doctor, went out to their boma not far from the Lodge and found a young man in considerable pain, with clear bite marks on his leg. It was good that Rob could help with the necessary first aid. As NCA did not have transport at the Ranger Post, we took the young Morani to Endulen Hospital, and we were much relieved to hear one week later that he survived the scary experience and was on the mend!
On quite a different note in September we had an unusual tale to tell with a Eurasian Stork!
Through email I was contacted by researchers from the German Max Planck Institute. Shay Rotics, a PhD student from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem came with a request to help try and retrieve a transmitter of a white stork!
The young stork had been ringed and fitted with a transmitter in Germany and had been followed all along the journey south. Then the transmitting had stopped.
Well, what followed was a bit of a hit and miss story, with a ’lucky’ ending.
We had to look for a GPS in Ainslie’s Office, I confess I do not know how to operate one, and with help of my niece Christine and Rob we struggled initially with the coordinates we had been given. The first time we went off to look for the spot, we encountered Maasai and cattle in the immediate area… We circled the spot, generally walking ever-wider circles, spent 2 hours and returned rather subdued!
The second time again, the coordinates led us to the same spot, open bits of grazed grass, surrounded by large stands of Gutenbergia cordifolia, which has taken over such large areas at Ndutu. This time we went with 4 more staff to cover more ground, hoping the extra pairs of eyes would help! Maasai cattle and people were very close by, all in all not a very hopeful scenario for success! Again we had to give up after some hours of intensive searching… Meanwhile Shay kept sending mails that the transmitter remained active!
We mounted the third expedition after by chance catching up with Ingela from the Lion Project! She set us right, and showed us that the coordinates needed just something more than we were given initially and explained that this often made a difference of up to 300 meters! Well, off we went and Bingo… We drove straight to the spot. We got out of the car and there it was, some 4 meters away lying upturned in the Gutenbergia!
It certainly explained why it suddenly had started to transmit again, as it was clear that cattle or animals had disturbed the little gadget so the tiny solar panel was facing the sun! What incredible luck! Next to the transmitter lay the ring and underneath were feathers and bones! Well, the sad ending for the stork at least had a successful ending for science.
After I contacted Shay with the good news, I asked him if he could send us some information about this bird, so here is a short history of a young stork starting his journey in northern Europe covering more than 7000 km on his journey down to Tanzania!
“The stork remains that you found was a young male tagged as a nestling in its nest in Muggendorf, Germany, on August 5th 2013. We put the transmitter on a week prior to fledgling. He had one sibling without a transmitter. He started migrating on August 18th 2013 and spent the wintering time in Tanzania. We lost contact with it on February 22nd 2014. Seven months later it started transmitting again and then I contacted you. Such a ’wake-up’ after so long a time has never happened to us before”!
“One of our aims is to understand the low survival of juvenile white storks. So far we see that about 25-30 % of the juvenile storks do not survive their first year, as opposed to adults who have about 90 % of annual survival. The mortality causes that we have documented so far are: fatigue, disease, electrocution, hunting and predation. The data of the individual that you found will hopefully contribute its part to this analysis”.
As we have an incredibly capable and active group of Bird “fundis” (specialists) in Tanzania, news had travelled fast. Before I knew we were approached to share our news story with the Dar es Salaam-based Sunday News where Anne Outwater has a wonderful “Nature Notebook” column! So in the end the stork story was published and one cannot help but hope that however sad, the stork has contributed to science and it made us feel so happy to have found the remnants of such an incredible “long-distance” performance in the end!
Anticipation for the oncoming High Season! As I write we are nearing the end of November and Ainslie has just returned from her equally long New Zealand-flying journey and back. Yesterday afternoon we went on a brief round drive to Big Marsh and Long Gully and back to the Lodge… and we found some first sizeable herds of wildebeest there, also having accomplished their yearly long walk around the Serengeti!
Ainslie will write the next Newsletter, no doubt full of exciting wildlife stories in and around Ndutu! Welcome to another wonderful Wet Season!
Aadje, November 2014