In the last edition of our Newsletter we mentioned the rains – as always – and again the weather is playing around everywhere…. The Tanzania coast has had torrential downpours but also the Highlands closer to us have drenched the land, yet once those moisture-laden clouds hit the crater wall, there is none left for us beyond on those wide open plains and the surrounding woodlands. Even in Seronera in the centre of Serengeti things have dried up and right now it looks like we are already well into Dry Season! And this week the first signs of early burning in the Serengeti Park were visible late afternoon with a spectacular smokescreen sunset towards the West.
But it is very strange to see our supply cars return red mud-stained from Karatu and we truly wonder how we can be so dry here! Here we are surrounded by dry, dry but both Lake Ndutu and Lake Masek are full to the brim, which is wonderful and hopefully in a while when there is more evaporation and the ‘krill-soup’ is ready it will bring back an abundance of flamingoes once the water levels are coming down.
So this year, as early as end March the great herds left us to move west and north. Remaining are many small herds of Grant’s and Thomson gazelles which keep the cheetahs and the lions happy. Our one big resident herd of buffaloes as usual hangs around the Big Marsh, where the Reedbuck reside too and there are Giraffes to prey upon, as well as the zebras if they venture near the marshes!
Oddly enough though, several localised short rainstorms developed in the afternoons during late April and through May, always in the Triangle-Hidden Valley region. With the last year re-alignment of the NCAA-Senapa Park border in the Ndutu area, we can now use parts of Hidden Valley and so in the midst of this “dry” story of not a drop of rain here since mid April one can leave the Lodge in a cloud of dust, and within half an hour be slipping in the mud and getting stuck! Following our old ‘Boundary track’, and leaving Frontier forest to the SW you suddenly end up amidst herds of wildebeest and zebras.
There were some exciting few weeks in March and early April when the wild dogs were sighted again in the southern Makao plains; at the time Hamisi with clients saw them they had not denned yet. There is word that the group of 12 individuals is still out there and we hope that maybe this year they will den and raise pups successfully! In the next Newsletter, Ainslie will no doubt give much more detailed information about our larger carnivores, but rest me to say that the Marsh, Masek and Thin Pride have been seen and are all doing well… Occasionally, we have heard some roars at night from the east, but it has been very quiet over the past months.. Ramos and Puyol are roaming a large area between Lake Masek and Twin Hills, not always easy to follow what with all the whistling thorn the dominating bush!
As I said before, not a year is the same. From time to time over the years there have been a few unusual occurrences. In the past we have seen ‘invasions’ of thousands of Eurasian and Abdim’s storks, probably linked with an ‘army worm’ explosion after heavy rainfall, and we have had at least two Quelea invasions over the past 20 years. And this year at the end of this Wet Season we were watching another arrival and start of a huge colony of red-billed Queleas. What is so special about queleas, you may ask?
Well, it is an experience, to both our ears and eyes! This colony decided to touch down right next to the Big Marsh around the first week of April. Initially, we only noticed something because of the noise when one went to the Marsh viewpoint, just a buzzing sound not far away… As the days passed the noise increased and it is the most amazing sight to see these tiny birds follow their frantic lifestyle, flying back and forth with nesting material, and building their individual nests on top, next to or above each other in the regeneration Acacia bushes. You can park your car very close and after 2 minutes nobody takes the slightest notice any longer. Once the eggs came out the sound of thousands of hungry chicks increased to a crescendo as the parents flew back and forth with food, trying to keep up with the ever insisting demand!..
Perhaps queleas are best known for their flying behaviour, as they form dense flocks of thousands of birds moving in unison, which from a distance almost gives an impression of smoke clouds whirling! In Europe at certain times in autumn at dusk, European starlings perform similar flying spectacles, gathering in huge numbers up to thousands of birds and perform magical aerobatics in the evenings, which they now call “murmurations”.
Needless to say, all this manic activity does not only go ‘noticed’ by us; the general area now hosts a variety of raptors, all keen to chip in too, as these chicks sitting around their nests are a perfect little snack for the Long crested Hawk Eagle, the Steppe and Tawny Eagles, the Bateleurs and not forgetting the stately Verreaux Eagle Owl. A parent pair with two young of these large Owls has been seen right around the colony several times.
And maybe worth mentioning here is that right next to the quelea spectacle we saw an unusual “white” grey-breasted Spurfowl foraging with his ordinary outfitted grey-striped partner!
Another bird species that tends to travel in dense flocks and to “converge” at a certain time of the year are the highly gregarious wattled Starlings. Many were also seen ‘lifting’ on the many backs of the zebra concentrations over at Hidden Valley! The males show a yellow facial skin behind the eye and a long black ‘wattle’ hanging down. At our ‘gravel pit’ they certainly showed off numbers as they arrived in great flocks to drink!
Rains are of course linked with excitement and the birds around the Lodge respond quickly with nest building, babies and then the gathering of food exercise!
In the Maythemus bush opposite the Reception entry door we have enjoyed the company of a scarlet-chested Sunbird nesting. Their beautiful, clever and intricate nests are well-known… hanging in bushes and low trees and made of strings of bark, leaf and in this case a lining of white, downy milkweed fruit fluff! It actually looked very comfy when she sat in her nest with her face and beak sticking out of the hole! Photographed by us locals and attentive guests!!
A pair of sparrows built a nest right above one of the dining room tables and we have given the waiters express orders to only seat “home-People” there, as the very active parents are in full swing feeding and remnants – including one unlucky fledgling – are falling on the table all the time!
Even the Guinea Fowl have extended families right now, sometimes one can count up to 20 youngsters, being looked after by aunties, uncles and mums and dads… hopping along in the golden grass… but forever alert as they are much sought after by the raptors!
Our local Babbler group has fallen apart and recently re-grouped. There were for a long time three left, and I think they finally gave up on progeny and have decided to “sleep” with the enemy and are now a very noisy seven, including two young birds.
At this time of the year one needs to be a bit on the alert for snakes. Returning to the Lodge one evening Ainslie and I saw a big drag “spoor” on the road in front of us. Sure enough a bit further ahead a big Puff adder was moving along, escorted at safe distance by dove and starling!
Right at the Lodge we have already seen the first Egyptian cobra near our water tanks, no doubt attracted by the damp. In fact, this cobra came straight from some very wet soil, brought on by another “dramatic” incident!
Not long ago, we were awoken at 04.45 hrs by a bang, but more a ‘whoosh” sort of sound and shortly afterwards we discovered that one of our fresh Rainwater holding tanks of 5000 litres had exploded! Just lucky nobody was standing right next to it as that could have been really dangerous!
The remainder of that morning was bonanza time for the birds with access to delicious rainwater left here and there on the pieces of split-open rubber!
Sometime during April we noticed that one of our most regular visitors at the Lodge had died…. The sparrow named ‘Peter Birch’ who was such a daily friend and has been fluttering in and out of my porch for over four years suddenly was not there any longer. Peter was a great character with his unmistakable hairdo named after our friend and “home-fundi” Peter Birch. As soon as we settled on our veranda for coffee or lunch breaks he would shoot in and land right next to cups, or plates or the cookie jar, preferably on top of the jar, to request in no uncertain gestures we needed to jump into action! Equally smartly, over two years he and wife Mushroom would await the swallows with the first rain and watch from the nearby bush near the front door till they had finished their mud abode over the door. Then the swallows would promptly be chased off the nest and they would move in… bullying tactics!
As we are on a sad note, in Mid May I witnessed extraordinary behaviour of a female impala. Around bed time, whilst still on my computer I kept hearing impala snorts, more than the usual male-herding-his-female-herd sort of snort. So I got up and shone my torch through the bedroom window and saw many impala eyes staring in one direction and when I turned my light saw two eyes in the distance low on the ground, stationary…. Guessing a lion or Leopard had caught an impala, one of our Night watch men, Victoriani confirmed the next morning he had seen a leopard there later that night.
The next morning at 06.30 hrs I saw a female impala next to my house staring, staring and to my amazement she stayed around, returning all the time until 18.00 hrs that evening, not eating, drinking, just staring. It was so moving to see her circling and returning to the same spot each time! I think it must be quite unusual to witness a gazelle showing so much ‘grief’ and for such an extended span of time.
This year we invited Jenny Saar again for two months to teach our staff in the kitchen, which was such a help! Not only is she an accomplished Chef, but her artwork over the years has received much admiration and interest! After many years her papier mache wall piece of stone paintings was in dire need of replacement, and I asked her to think of “something matching” for the rear solid grey stonewall in the dining room. The beautiful Giraffe, Elephant, and the Wildebeest and trees are now in the company of four magnificent shiny galloping Zebra!
We are grateful for all her wonderful and original ideas, work and good company and her husband Bruce for putting up with her leaving the homestead for 2 months! Jenny helped us many times and she and I go back a long time from 1987 onwards, when she came to stay a long time in early days and sat down to design our much appreciated lodge Genet Logo!
Leaving you with a photo of Ainslie’s of a White crowned Shrike, guarding our Lodge entry in a small acacia tree opposite the Night watchman’s entry house, showing a perfect example of beautiful nest building workmanship!
Ainslie will keep you posted on our news for the next Newsletter at the end of August!