Ainslie ended her last Newsletter with a request: “please do your rain dance for us”.
Well, although I realized that this was a very sensible and to the point suggestion at the time, the reality seemed not very hopeful. The last thing I expected, having left beginning of March for Holland and returning just before the end of that month, that not a drop of rain had fallen during my absence! Statistically March is our wettest month of the year with a 30-year data history showing an average of over 111 mm of rain for the month! It turned out that the whole month had actually only received 3 days of rain totalling 34.6 mm in all.
And heading back to Ndutu that late afternoon across the plains off the main road the place looked like middle or end of Dry Season!
Then, barely after having unpacked shopping for the Lodge, three days into April, the heavens opened and we were blessed with a most wonderful late wet month and in fact as it turned out, our wettest April on record since 1985! All of 222 mm, and wow, what impact it had on flora and fauna around Ndutu!
Apparently, it even made the first great herds of wildebeest heading north near the Kenya border around the Mara river turn around and moved down south again, such was the impact of these glorious late rains which even produced a small tornado seen from the Lodge one afternoon.
Come they did, and there were wildebeest everywhere, accompanied as usual by large groups of zebra and many gazelles.
Around the Lodge, all the Aloe secundiflora’s awakened and before we knew out of nowhere over five species of sunbird were fluttering from flower to flower in an array of splashing colours.
And after quite a few years we saw a sunbird that is not common at Ndutu at all and I only observed once before, the very beautiful Golden-winged Sunbird. More a high altitude species which can be seen easily around Empakai Crater and the Crater highlands we so enjoyed watching it feeding so close to the Lodge.
As hairy caterpillars re-appeared, the familiar Didrics cuckoo song was heard everywhere. Some flocks of Queleas started their frantic nesting work near the Big Marsh again and around the lodge weavers were collecting grass for house-building.
All over the Ndutu area waterholes filled up once more; some herds of wildebeest and zebra even moved Eastwards all the way to the Salei plains, the furthermost plain of the Serengeti ecosystem. These were not the typical rains of the past but irregular storms, very localized drenching the soils.
It produced a veritable ‘second lease on life’ effect on the flora, and many species re-vitalized before our very surprised eyes!
Even the dreaded Gutenbergia, this year hardly having grown to flowering managed to lift its head and some purple flowers re-appeared around our woodlands.
Over the past three months we have seen more elephants around the Lodge again, mostly travelling past or briefly visiting the premises.
One male having perfected the trick of getting into the collecting drink water tanks did his usual trick, sneaking in ‘under cover of darkness’ and helping himself to some nice clean water, and one night managed to dig a nice hole and by wandering in the laundry area creating an impressive mess with the clothes lines too!
All in all we have been blessed with small elephant groups in the area.
Most of the present-day news about elephants is very upsetting, just to be able to watch them quietly feeding and moving around is so rewarding.
Again, in the southern Makao and Kakesio areas the wild dogs were seen and gone, in their usual fast fleeing fashion, one day here and the next miles away and the few guest groups that saw them were very lucky!
The same area is well-known for the beautiful large herds of eland antelopes, many were seen this year in larger and smaller groups.
Hidden Valley was as usual either teeming with or devoid of animals but provided some spectacular views when the migration passed through there. Especially when the zebras flock the plains between Naabi and Oldoinyo Olobaiye and come in to drink in the late morning and middle of the day, those hidden lakes suddenly are alive with thousands of wildebeest and zebra.
This Newsletter is a bit of a “house, garden & kitchen” one, as I was away in March and April and May were busy, with late June being the end of our financial year and accounts activities all around!
Not much chance to go out on a drive, hence a bit more “couleur locale” news for a change.
About a month ago amidst the melee of birds that live at the Lodge I started to notice one starling with a sort of ‘club foot’ and it’s left-hand wing hanging down. It actually could fly but not tuck in its wing afterwards… and as often happens other birds singled it out, and of course I would throw it a crumb at teatime. It soon got the message and would fly in the moment I walked out to the fire place to settle down for a cup of tea and a biscuit.
It took 2 weeks to realize that it was a she and she was looking for food for a young bird, which soon also arrived and was constantly calling mum.
Every day now she flies in, hovers around till she gets a few crumbs… then with a beak filled with crumbs and a caterpillar rushes over to her nagging fledgling and sticks it all in one go into the begging void!
Busy days for the resident Von der Decken’s (Ludovic’s son) Hornbill and partner. They continue to drive Ainslie to distraction. For some reason my house this time is spared – which was very different when father Ludovic was still around – but this mad bird never stops attacking Ainslie’s windows. One wonders whether he ever feels the impact of such perpetual banging against the glass!
Mind you: he has also taken up residence on one of our parked Land rovers and checks out both the side mirrors as well as the front glass mostly perched on the windscreen wipers!
That one does not have to move far from the Lodge to see animals was once again proven the other day; Abasi had already taken some safari chairs to the fireplace when a small herd of giraffes arrived and we quietly enjoyed our cup of tea whilst watching them munching away on those thorn-covered young acacia bushes, coming in closer and closer!
At night giraffes have moved in amongst even the boilers behind the guest-houses, their footprints seen everywhere early morning, presumably – as it is acacia pod time – to also enjoy this extra food delight into their diet.
During the day a plane sometimes has to wait a bit to depart until a giraffe has moved across the Ndutu Airstrip!
Initially and due to those past heavy rains we hardly managed to see a star in the evenings. Then in June with most of those rain clouds blown away there were some beautiful events taking place.
We watched as the new crescent moon hanging in the western sky was joined by bright Venus and Jupiter forming a perfect triangle along the ecliptic. Sometime later this was followed by a conjunction, with both planets very close together, equally awe inspiring in the clear African night sky!
In the eastern sky, Saturn has been hovering just above Scorpio’s three-star-studded head the past month, moving slowly overhead.
In June, Soltice came and went and although we did not indulge in a summer dance around the fire, we did raise a glass to the star-studded night sky to remember the occasion! All in all it reminded us once more we should count our lucky stars (and planets)!
Our ‘Ndutu’ lions continued to move back and forth between Kongoni Korongo, the Causeway, and the Marshes while the Marsh pride settled for a long time just near us in Hugo’s korongo.
One morning Ainslie and I went there early to be surprised by Selous and Katavi and two of the females and cubs playing around.
Both males were very protective of the females and there was some formidable growling going on right next to our Land rover; the cubs taken aback and trying to reunite with mum and auntie as quickly as possible.
Right now it is Lion cubby time, and we all keep many fingers crossed that with the ongoing Dry Season and the arrival of the Maasai and cattle they will be able to continue moving in this relatively small area and survive the coming lean food months!
Mzee Brian is here at the moment, with his life passion for Simbas he is having the best time seeing old friends, meeting new ones and thoroughly enjoying together with our Hamisi all these exciting reunions with his favourite cats.
Therefore, to end this newsletter I think it is only right to round off with his contribution of one of his favoured recent photographs!
It shows ….. the oldest and the youngest Ndutu lion: No Name, 17 years old, with her new cub.