Oops, nearly a month late, after our last Newsletter of late August. How time flies, and I hasten to update on our different happenings around Ndutu Lodge since then!
Always as the Dry Season intensifies, our “home” animals get closer and closer to the Lodge, in search of some last green sprouts under a leaking spout of a tank, or to nibble a bush next to a guest cottage!
The local ‘home’ dikdiks and herd of impalas are particularly good at reducing to basics anything green or juicy left!
As the resident gardener on the premises, it is amazing to see who eats what and where! And who uses which bushes and small trees to rub horns, nibble or debark.
Allow me to say that tending a garden in Europe provides more lasting results – although these days the invading tree-diseases cause havoc there too!
However I will gladly admit that knowing and watching the scala of animals that come to see us and “keep the flora” around the Lodge cut day and night during the dry months provides us with much more entertainment and joy!
Having only closed our Lodge twice for major repairs in 27 years we decided this year that we would finally tackle a large remaining section of our dining room floor before the oncoming High Season. It really was time to rid ourselves of the psychedelic floor crack patterns caused by the continuous earth tremors we experience here…. The price to pay for living near the Great Rift!
So for four days the staff hacked, banged, moved, mixed cement, redid and set the floor, which of course wasn’t quite ready when guests arrived on day five, but the curing/watering went on anyway!
All in all, Ainslie managed to steer the incoming guests around the still wet parts of the dining room into breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Simultaneously, roofs were re-thatched, frames varnished and mosquito gauze windows replaced… all ready to roar for the oncoming High Season!
Meanwhile when Eva Marie, Ainslie and I are using my veranda for a coffee or lunch break, there is little time to relax these days! A formidable and very demanding odd assortment of feathery friends gathers the moment we settle there or even head in the direction of the house!
Ludovic (the Von der Deckens Hornbill), Eva (the Long-tailed Starling), Peter Birch and Mustard and Mushroom (the grey-headed Sparrows), the two remaining Babblers, and some ten noisy White-crowned Shrikes have now got even more competition with the sudden appearance of a pair of Coqui Francolins! These handsome small francolins arrived two months ago out of the blue, and have cottoned on to our regular distribution of ‘bird-cookies’ (our kitchen make a special ‘batch with no sugar or salt) and eat out of hand!!
When we are not busy with the guests, the birds make sure we make up for it at coffee time!
Late October and November, more elephants arrived in small groups in the area. Whereas the males often manage to create quite a formidable scene of “tree slaughter” within a very short time, females with calves and very young bulls normally feed and behave slightly less destructively!! It’s delightful to watch the interactions of mothers and calves, the behaviour and play is one of the best things one can enjoy when in the bush!
Our ‘Christmas’ present this year was the reappearance on December 23 and 24th of 11 wild dogs at Ndutu. Needless to say, once the word was out this contributed to much driving around, searching, and passing on messages via the radios in frantic efforts to relocate the pack for the few days the dogs stayed in the vicinity!
These could be the same group of 11 individuals that were officially released from temporary holding pens in the North of Serengeti by the President of Tanzania, because that concerned the same number of dogs. As rumours of the dogs ‘spread through the ranks’ of the lodge and the camps, guests enjoyed some of the rarer sightings in Serengeti! Apparently on the cards are more trap and release plans for wild dogs and let us hope these fascinating animals will become once again a more regular feature in the Park.
Our Masek and Marsh Lion prides continued to not just entertain the tourists but also kept the researchers busy….
Young Tom was discovered one day, close to the Lodge, badly injured. Together with his father Mr. C, being the guardians of both prides, we were naturally very worried.
Blood was oozing out of a bad back wound and generally Young Tom was in quite a state… After consultations with the NCA/Ndutu Ranger Post next door, and with Ingela of the Lion Research Project it was decided to try and help Tom. The Lion Project had planned anyway to GPS-collar one of the Ndutu males in the future anyway, and this provided an opportunity to do so.
The NCAA veterinarian arrived and by then Young Tom had slowly moved very close and almost to the front of the Lodge where he just lay under an Acacia mellifora bush, well hidden, nurturing his wounds. He was darted and then carefully moved into the open and his wounds inspected, treated by the vet whilst Ingela took temperatures and measurements (vital statistics) and his weight recorded.
She also towards the end fitted him with a GPS collar.
Ingela and the vet stayed with him several hours to see how he came to and managed…
The following days we all held our breath, and he wisely crept back under the same bush, moving at night to the waterhole in front of the Lodge for a drink…
With the collar we could follow his every move closely and we were all much relieved to see him pick up after about 10 days. He continued to do small forays and eventually came the morning when Ingela and her Maasai assistant Julius saw him reunited with both females of the Masek pride, all surviving 7 cubs and Mr. C near our water wells just a kilometre away! We all raised a glass that night!!
He is now almost back to normal although not as fit as before. Father Mr. C meanwhile had disappeared and we were quite concerned about him too.
Luckily he duly re-appeared after three weeks. He does however not look that well either… Some young males have been seen trying to invade territories and let’s hope our males will manage to hang on to their home ground and the ladies a bit longer still!
The Cheetah mums have done very well getting their offspring through the Dry Season and continue to provide exciting photo food opportunities for keen photographers and tourists alike! All are doing well, and almost daily reports of cheetah sightings and behaviour are reported! Hopefully the youngsters will be able to survive now that there is plenty of food around.
Three brothers are still regularly seen both around Twin Hills-Masek, and the two Marshes area, and another three males now located on the Makao plains!
So no complaints from the guests although I could imagine that the cheetahs could occasionally do with just a little bit less attention at times!
Another exciting highlight in December was the sighting of a rhino on the Naabi-Ndutu plains and near Little Marsh where some mud footprints later were proof of this brief visit to the Ndutu area!
Two separate carefully guarded populations exist not far from us, one the Crater population and the other are the rhinos that live in the Moru area of Serengeti NP….
Occasionally some of the more entrepreneurial ones are tempted to go on a walkabout, but when this happens they are normally immediately shoed back to the fold by the Park Ranger vehicles! Would it not be wonderful if one day once more nature could run its course, and rhinos could enjoy some further travelling, roaming and returning to their haunts of old?
Around the beginning of November a very distinctive new bird sound kept us very busy for several days before we could put a name to it! After several numerous sprints out of the house with binoculars, this beautifully coloured and very active ‘hop-skip-jumpy’ pretty bird could be pinpointed and identified as a sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike, which is a new addition on the Ndutu Bird List!
However it might just have been a “one-off” as after having been in residence for at least a month and half, the Bush Shrike has now disappeared completely!
Once the rains started in earnest, of course activities on the bird front have increased dramatically! As many different – often formidable looking- hairy caterpillars came ‘out of the woodwork’, so out of nowhere appeared the Diederik cuckoo, the Great spotted and the African cuckoo! Each of their distinctive calls can be heard all day long. And right now the loud but elusive Red chested cuckoo – often associated with the rains – is constantly repeating its distinctive call. Further afield, the Levaillant and the Black and White Cuckoo can be seen as well.
Every year after the first heavy showers, over towards the Gol Mountains plains, appear what I always call ‘serengeti crocusses’, (Androcymbium melathoides), an only species in East Africa.
It belongs to the Lily family and one can admire fields of these pretty flowers in between the vast wildebeest herds grazing on the short-grass plains there.
Whereas the Scadoxus or ‘fireball’ lily has already finished flowering in November with only leaf and seed pods to show for it, as soon as the rains start in earnest the beautiful ‘pyama lily’ (Crinum macowanii) and the Ammocharis tinneana lily, belonging to the Daffodil or Snowdrop family appear as if out of nowhere!
Norwegian friends of Eva Marie who stayed with us for three nights were very, very lucky to see a Pangolin early January along Caracal Plateau… what a treat!
These rarely seen creatures are highly specialized scaly anteaters.
In his Field Guide to African Mammals, Jonathan Kingdon explains that the name Pangolin is a Malay name meaning: ‘one that rolls up’ into a ball, with their scales as protection! The Kiswahili name is: “KakaKuona”!
Their very long and sticky tongue is used to look for small insects and termites.
To see a Pangolin is a truly special, rare experience!
What else will cause excitement and what lies ahead on the fauna front these remaining High Season months?
Since the beginning of November we have received nearly 300 mm of rain. Dry spells have alternated with localized thunderstorms, and this in turn has dictated as always the comings and goings of the wildebeest and zebras in particular. Last week there were many wildebeest lake crossings, as Hamisi’s nice picture shows!
Right now we are in a dry spell, and long lines of gnus have moved from the plains to the woodland borders south-west of us near Kusini and Makao.
With the end of January already on the horizon we scan the skies for some impressive thunderstorms soon as within the time-span of ‘now’ and the coming month, we hope we shall witness one of the most wondrous spectacles of the Serengeti: the birth of thousands of wildebeest calves! Let’s hope the rains will enable them all to stay around for awhile now, I wish them well, good drinking and grazing before all the migration once more has to leave the drying plains to move West and North in May and June!