This newsletter, the first of 2014, comes with every good wish to our readers for a safe and happy new year.
Over the years, the later dry season months in Ndutu have proven to be more and more exciting! It feels as if the flora and fauna reach a point of “no further”: everything holds its breath, awaiting those much anticipated first thunderstorms!
Even now, well into the rains, one remembers those hazy, dusty windy days. The colourful sunsets, dusk taking over and sitting around the fire with a drink, surrounded by noisy demanding White-crowned Shrikes. The dikdiks visiting and checking out a few bits of popcorn or ground nuts strewn around. Near our houses in the back the local Impala herd daily walking over to the big Balanites tree to look for and chew on the round fruits and becoming more and more habituated to the Lodge movements!
Then there was excitement galore in November when I was woken at around 02.30 hrs from a deep sleep to fighting sounds right outside my bedroom window. Four lions of the Masek pride had cornered, jumped on and were dragging down one of the local male buffaloes that so often hang around near the Lodge.
Watching in the pale moonlight this all happened 5 meters from the bedroom window and whilst they were in the process of killing the buffalo – which took about 20 minutes – the lions dragged their huge and struggling prey away from my house. In the end the buffalo died 50 meters from the house. Dinner with accompanying sounds dragged on all through the remains of the night!
At dawn, the lions retreated. Apart from two quite nervous hyenas, both investigating, no more visitors appeared and the carcass was left alone. With the prevailing wind picking up mid-morning not so fresh smells started to waft through the house and in the end we decided to pull what was left of the buffalo 200 meters away from the houses!
It is always amazing to see that in the end within 24 hours, apart from bits of the head and boss, nothing would ever show that a mature male buffalo had died!
The huge mix of feathery visiting friends still frequent our houses behind the Lodge. Ludovic is having problems with his now fully grown son, who behaves too much like an adolescent and wife Leonie hovers high up in the tree, still too nervous to come down and take a few crumbs.
Just to illustrate that Ludovic is not entirely weaned on specially prepared bird cookies we were quite excited to see him on the ground near the Lodge one morning having just caught an agama lizard! Whilst I was photographing he managed to swallow this mature lizard down in one big gulp!
Of our initial flock of five visiting Coqui francolin, only the male Coco and a very nervous female still roam the premises. Coco is now so habituated that he wanders around our houses and rushes over on call; he has no problem venturing into Ainslie’s office or onto my porch! He has had an injury to his foot and maybe felt more comfortable keeping close!
Meanwhile THE dining room entertainment continues and we have decided to refer to our once beautiful now dead tree just outside as the “Fischers Towers”! Work has progressed and we already have seven flats with lovebirds having moved in… one could watch from a chair in the dining room all day and marvel at this non-stop soap opera! I can vouch for these lovebirds being the most photographed along the entire tourist circuit!
Aptly named, Rock Pigeons (or Speckled Pigeons) often frequent areas with rocky outcrops also called “kopjes”. However, with no such solid structures nearby (some 50 km away there are many beautifully sculptured kopjes both in the Park as well as in the Conservation Area), rock pigeons are rare visitors, never overstaying. Thus, when you hear the very distinct call several days running around the Lodge your attention is immediately drawn to these large attractive-looking members of the larger Pigeons. This amorous pair photographed on the roof of my house actually liked the Lodge so much they stayed at least three weeks!
Another memorable bird that arrives, comes and goes yearly is the Black-headed Oriole. It disappears for months but suddenly in early November for two weeks its beautiful melodious call was heard over and over again, out of nowhere!
So finally now the rains have come, in so far a rather localized, haphazard falling pattern. November has totalled a meagre 10 mm (as opposed to November ’12 when we measured over 96 mm!), but December rains were better (94 mm) and January had about the same. Just into February we are getting wet at Ndutu!
Good early rainfall in November really helped to get “things moving”! Lake Ndutu looks replenished although this can be deceptive as contrary to Lake Masek it is very shallow! But flamingos have returned and terns and many small shorebirds flock the lake edge at the moment!
There are few things more exciting than hearing and then seeing the first wildebeests! It sort of feels like: “here we come, we are back on base”!
Just after Christmas a group of tourists recorded one single wildebeest calf born… very early, since then there have been a few other sightings but the gnu baby boom is about to happen now in February!
As we finish this newsletter at the end of the first week of February there have been some massive storms on the short-grass eastern plains and in our woodlands. With the grass shooting up, we will soon see those well-known lines of thousands and thousands of wildebeest flocking the eastern short-grass plains again, followed by a baby birth bonanza! Good luck to all!
Now that it is wet everywhere, we miss the regularity of lions visiting the treated water overflow in front of the Lodge. Their roars can be heard further away, either from Masek or from the meadow or from the direction of the marshes. They do visit as the camera does show nightly visits, but here I will hand over to Ainslie as she can fill in further details of our larger cats roaming the Ndutu area over the past 4 months!
As we have mentioned before in many newsletters, the weather and rains play a big part in the daily running of the lodge. During high season, when we may be catering for up to 150 people (guests, staff and drivers), 3x a day, the need to be well stocked is imperative. When the ground is waterlogged, getting the supply lorry in can be a challenge. This month both our supply lorry and the gas lorry were bogged down, out on the plains, and our reliable six-wheel drive REO lorry was dispatched to help with towing and the carrying of supplies. This is one of the reasons that we hesitate to get rid of the old firewood burning stoves in the kitchen. One day, these fires may just save the day when the gas lorry doesn’t make it in!
It’s not always about wildlife at Ndutu Lodge. Just before Christmas the Standard 4 children from India’s Orphanage in Rhotia came for a few days. This has become a tradition, that their graduating from primary school is rewarded with a visit to the Lodge. It is the envy of all the other kids at the orphanage, stories told over and over again by those that have been previously and eagerly awaited as they progress through the years. The novelty of eating all they can, bedtime stories and of course seeing their first lions are memories they will never forget.
Recently, Hamisi photographed “Number 16”. She is not just any wildebeest. The amazing thing about Number 16 is that she was tagged as part of a research project thirteen years ago! We all know that to survive the migratory circuit for 13 years, is a major achievement. Think about all those miles she has walked, evading crocodiles in the numerous river crossings, and predation by big cats and hyena; and facing starvation and disease, as well as probably producing a calf every year. Well done Number 16 and welcome home!
With the migration in full swing here now, the cats are all doing really well keeping their bellies full.
Our favourite Leopard, Half Tail, is successfully raising her cub, having lost her first two last year. This time, having given birth at the start of dry season, she had many months with no cars around to be able to focus on learning to be a mum. She regularly brings her beautiful cub out for showings, and because she is so habituated to vehicles, the cub is also now becoming less wary.
Sarah Durant from the Cheetah Project spent nearly a month here over Christmas, and was delighted to record sightings of so many cheetah. Now, with their food source upped by about a million, there is an abundance of cheetah out on the plains. Many of them, having successfully raised their last cubs to independence are now starting the cycle all over again, with new ones. Like the famous Etta (mum of 3), Monica and Emily (mums to 4), we will be following closely the fortunes of these new additions to the Ndutu Cheetah.
Lions Puyol and Ramos, who successfully sat out the dry season living amongst the Maasai, continue to inhabit the Lake Masek area. Sadly it would seem that their new pride of 6 cubs did not make it through the dry season, as the mums have been seen mating again.
In the Marsh Pride, 6 of the 13 cubs are still going strong and the Thin pride successfully fed their 4 cubs through the dry season. Very happy to announce though that Spotty (Marsh pride) has just presented us with 3 new cubs!
Modern techniques such as radio collars allow researchers to follow individual animals through GPS tracking. Ingela (Serengeti Lion Project) can follow the movements of Young Tom and Puyol, registering all their movements, just sitting in front of her computer at home! “Young Tom” who last year lost his father “Mr C” at Lake Masek, has become a bit of a loner, covering a lot of miles from Laetoli to Hidden Valley, Silkum and Kusini (where he was seen with some ladies from a Serengeti pride).
Travelling all over comes with risks of invading someone else’s territory, which he did, resulting in another fight. This laid him low for a few days, triggering off the mortality signal on the collar. Researchers quickly checked him out and discovered that he was hiding in a bush licking his wounds! After a few days of R&R he was back on his feet and heading back onto home turf. We are not so sure that this is such a good idea with the new males at Lake Masek and Big Marsh so I am sure that next newsletter, the will be another update in the saga of Young Tom.
Very rarely do we see anything of his original Masek pride, the seven cubs, but we believe they are still around and will be approaching independence now.