When backtracking the many newsletters of the past covering the later Dry Season months, I realize we do ‘overlap’ our subjects a wee bit every year.Africa’s Dry and Wet are not much different from European Summer and Winter tales, but what seems to have made a difference are the “extremes” in weather patterns that now appear to occur all over the world.
For instance right now we still have a very full Lake Ndutu at the end of this Dry Season. It is mid October, and such a pleasant change to see a big expanse of soda-water dotted with flamingos, surrounded as we are by all the dry, yellow and the sepia views from the Lodge.
Sepia views from the Lodge yes, but of late the plains and woodlands of Ndutu have been hit by unusually strong winds, resulting in pale-brown sandstorms. All partly due no doubt to the vast herds of cattle that have grazed the surrounding areas till there is only bare dusty soil left. I suppose one good thing to say it has minimised the chances of any out-of-hand big bushfires.
So here we go and let me begin with the bigger powers that be: Grey-Shapes…. Two male elephants came and went by the Lodge during end of August and part of September every day, to drink and to scoop up the many acacia pods under the mature trees… a good harvest this year and Eleys being Eleys, it was fun to watch them wandering up to the trees, giving them a good shaking and then spending time quietly collecting the pods.
Of course eating pods for an hour or so makes you thirsty and then our small treated overflow further down the front of the Lodge is the ideal solution.
However, elephants also have a famous reputation when it comes to helping out in the garden and sure enough – even with our round-the-clock watchmen around – the elder of the two (christened for the occasion: Pod) managed to sneak in really close. He cleverly helped himself to the goodies by decapitating one of my favourite Aloe volkensii there, after hiding behind the tree trunk
Before I could ‘interfere’, he encircled his mighty trunk around the aloe and with one determined swipe beheaded another one and walked off…. A sort of victory walk, a “you try and come and get me” pace.
Oh well, Serengeti gardens are not comparable to botanical highlights in Europe and I have to admit they are a lot more natural!
The acacia pods also go down very well with the local impala herd; sitting around the campfire the crunching noise of many ‘swalapala’ (impala’s) picking up and eating pods can be quite loud! These pods are such a nutritious source of food at the end of a long dry spell and for many animals this additional extra is just that push before the rains bring the greens again.
Another rather weird happening this year has been THE HIPPO. Almost nightly (and a few times even late afternoons) an adult hippo comes wandering over from Lake Masek where all the hippos normally live along the north side of the lake, and we have seen it even in the early evening in the light of our torches! Woken up by some noise 2 weeks ago around two o’clock in the night I got up and peered out to see Hippo standing 4 meters from the bedroom window!
The most likely explanation is of course sheer hunger as the Maasai and all the cattle have cleaned out the entire Masek area and there isn’t a blade of grass left there… So for poor Hippo it must be quite a scary, dangerous safari on unsuitable shoe-ware to tackle this trip every night.
The Masek lion females, Maggie and Nosikitok and their 7 cubs until recently have valiantly managed to survive all the cattle invasions near the Causeway and Kongoni korongo and grace us with almost nightly visits to the little water overflow. One afternoon we saw lions kill a warthog as we were drinking tea in front of the Lodge. In the valley below Hugo’s Camp, Helen and Athena continue to hang out with their 6 cubs.
However, sadly one of our resident males Selous was killed recently, supposedly when “interacting” with cattle around the Masek area…
These very disturbing happenings are now almost impossible to prevent, what with the sheer numbers of so many people, cattle and wildlife trying to share the same vicinity. One hopes that in the very near future some balancing decisions will be made to deal with the ongoing pressures.
This year the invasions of cattle in the Marsh area became so desperate that eventually the Authorities were alerted after guests staying at the Lodge were hugely upset by the vast numbers that had invaded both the big and small Marsh.
After some meetings the Maasai that had started to move to the marsh were told to return to the old ‘boundaries’ and thankfully, the NCA Rangers helped clear some of the bomas and holes that were dug there.
It is amazing to see how quickly the wildlife returns! And luckily, the Marsh pride are very much back in residence now.
Hopefully when our regular guest Mzee Brian comes out again sometime in November we will be able to gather more news of all our Ndutu lions. Together with Hamisi the two of them will no doubt roam the valleys, the immediate marsh area and the surrounding woodlands to find out how all our residents have fared during this difficult period and if the cubs of various ages can make it through to the rains.
One of the few ‘outings’ I did manage was also one of the best this year: going to visit the Wild Dogs on the Makao plains one early morning in September. We arrived in good time to find the adults with a freshly killed adult Grant’s gazelle only one km away from the den area… All the puppies were at the den – interestingly of two different litters – and we had a fantastic early morning there all by ourselves on that vast open plain watching the adults return to the den and regurgitate food! Just seeing the puppies play and interact was such a treat.
One early morning our Mzee Michael, who was on duty at night, heard a noise as he was sitting in the Driver’s Restaurant and Bar overlooking the car park. When he shone his torch, he saw a leopard with a just killed adult impala female. The leopard dropped its prey, but after Michael retreated to the Restaurant building, it came back and ate half of the gazelle, pulling it over and against the wall of the Lodge right under the “Ndutu Safari Lodge” sign.
We thought it wise to remove it from there before the first guests went on their early morning drive!!
And on another occasion, a Caracal killed a dikdik in front of Room 3 and dragged it under some Justicia bushes there, rather sad, as our resident dikdik are very much part of the Lodge daily life and somewhat habituated living so near.The law of the Bush!
Every evening our truly home representatives the Genets have been “on call” in house, rather in roof. Of late though, we did enjoy one particular genet who has taken up residence in the rafter of the alcove of the dining room. One night its impressive beautiful lined long tail hung straight over the dining table with guests enjoying dinner!
And on some mid afternoons, in the same place, the roof became so hot the same genet would drape itself over the wooden beam in the same spot and pant away in a very relaxed diva posture.
Being a bit of a night sky addict, of course for me one unforgettable highlight was the Super-moon Lunar eclipse at the end of September!
Announced well in advance even here in the local newspapers, one is always very grateful that living in Africa guarantees more often than in Europe a clear sky.
I got up around four in the morning and was well recompensed with this unique view.
To see an almost orange-tomato red ball hanging in the back universe, surrounded by sparkling stars is such a rare and great experience and a true privilege.
It was just a pity not to be able to share this with more friends I knew would love to have seen it too.
As the dry season advances, our birdbath welcomes an ever increasing and amazing amount of feathered friends; whereas over breakfast the water is used mostly for drinking, the lunch birdbath is bathing time.
They seem to loose all fear of us humans around too; our cups of tea have become rather a social gathering sitting in front of the building.
Guests continue to enjoy a beautiful morning scene over breakfast and lots of photography opportunities. With many birds competing with dikdiks sharing the birdbath, I am glad these days our collected precious drinking water supply is so much better than in the past and we can afford the litres that are donated to this very thirsty cause!
There also seems to be a real “pecking” order with invasions of doves, yellow fronted Canaries and Lovebirds calling the shots most-times. Cordon bleus also arrive in blue-brown clouds.
One morning a Lovebird arrived wearing a different coat!
And over one September lunch we also suddenly saw the beautiful Violet-backed Starling perched in the Maytenus bush planted next to the Bar-Sitting area.
I would like to mention that “Hang-Wing”, as we unceremoniously christened her in the end (the Superb Starling I mentioned in my previous letter with the badly injured wing and ‘club’ foot), is still very much around, rushing over every afternoon for a part of my tea biscuit…. She stands her ground, but gets pestered and attacked by all her fellow starlings, hence she is now my favourite Superb starling.
The bees are finding it difficult this year and have remained ‘around’ much longer than usual. After the normal bee month – May – and us trying to cope with the many hives around the Lodge, they still visit us every morning for breakfast.
We have embarked on several “anti-bee-visit” strategies, and the end result is that contrary to what I thought – providing a plate with some honey and water – our bees go for a different temptation. All that is needed is a teaspoon of strawberry jam and in a beeline all zoom to the bowl!
We have to cover the fruit table dishes of course, but some individuals zooming around still favour the breakfast fare of the guests, and attention is required when enjoying our breakfast pancakes.
We are using these quieter days to do some maintenance on the buildings, to re-paint the rooms, to fill the cracks and to re-roof some of the cottages.
Like last year, there is much speculation about the forecasted El Nino threat… it did not happen then and although it would be good for the dry soils, I do hope we will be spared the impact of torrential rains in the near future as it does cause much environmental damage in parts of the Parks and creates chaos in many parts of the country.
Well, as we are approaching the last two months of the year, and as the sun is moving noticeably way over to the south again, we hope to be ready for all the excitement of the coming rains, whenever and however.
And by the look of things – it won’t be long for the rain to come as the Scadoxus Lily has long since burst into life.
We look forward to another High Season full of inspiration and “beauties of the beasts”, so Karibu Ndutu: come and share the fun!
Aadje, October 2015