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December 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Showers

DETAILS

Dramatic skies dominate Ndutu this month. With rain around the corner, dark thunderclouds pass overhead and distant thunder promises much. There are still lots of brilliantly coloured fireball lilies to be seen in the woodland, a sure sign of imminent rain.

With water being a scarce resource at this time of year it’s not surprising that a group of bull elephants have learnt to break into our water wells. The shallow wells where we collect our washing water have heavy steel plate lids, which are then padlocked closed.

Drinking from the wellThey’re strong enough to drive a truck over, yet this posses little problems to an elephant. They just pull the lids off! After several attempts at repair, we’ve given up and left one of the wells open, even so we still return the cover several times a day. It’s amazing to watch them drinking from these as they have to bend over forward and by lifting a back leg off the ground, can reach the water within. One particular elephant with long even tusks could only just get at the water because as he lent forward his tusks touched the ground, thus restricting his reach. The family groups of elephants are drinking from the Big Marsh where there is still plenty of water.

Driving past the wells recently I saw two bulls sparring quite aggressively. They pushed, shoved and jostled for better positions, amongst great clouds of dust kicked up by their feet. This sparring lasted for at least 20 minutes before they moved off together towards the wells. The larger of the two bulls took the first drink, just because of his sheer size compared to the younger bull. After all the exertion of sparring the younger bull was desperate for a drink. He would try to push in, only to be gently nudged back by the older bull as there was only space for one. He’d then try again from the other side, only to be pushed out by the older bull’s trunk and held at trunks length for a moment. He would then double back on himself and this time the other bull pushed him back and holding him back with an outstretched foot. For the larger bull the peace lasted for only one trunkful of water, before his companion tried to push in again and this time, obviously a little annoyed, he rumbled, what sounded like a warning to the young upstart. Taking the hint, he took a couple of steps back and then patiently waited his turn. After such a boisterous and aggressive sparring match it amazed me how gentle they were with each other. When he finally got his chance to drink, he made a complete pig’s ear of it. I suspect it might have been his first time to drink here. He didn’t seem to know how to reach the water below. He spent some time trying to dig around the top of the well, before going down on his knees, but this must have been much too uncomfortable because he soon gave that up. The light was starting to fade and we left him with the problem, hoping he worked it out, because it was a long walk to the Marsh. I saw him drinking quite comfortably a few days later with no problems so he obviously worked it out eventually and he even dug himself a hole around the top of the well so he doesn’t have to bend down nearly so far, very smart!

Great camp-fire experiences this month; from shooting stars, dik diks, hares, honey badgers, leopards and even an elephant. On one, very dark night after hearing rustling in grass, I shone my torch, only to startle an elephant that had snuck up to only a few metres away from the camp-fire. Sadly this frightened him and he walked off into the darkness. But the best thing around the campfire had to have been the serval cat that calmly walked pass and drank from the birdbath. After quenching her thirst she sat not more than a few metres from us and started to wash herself before apparently dozing for a short while. It was such a treat to have one of these beautiful, small spotted cats so close and so relaxed in our presence. It’s probably the same serval, an oldish female that the elephants chased past the front of the Lodge last year.

Lions walked past the dinning room during breakfast recently, which was a great treat. They’ve been seen feeding on giraffes on four different occasions this month. This must be quite an important source of prey for them at the end of the dry season. The cubs from both prides, Masek and Marsh are doing well and have been seen the past week. It’s been an amazing year for buffalo, which are not normally common around Ndutu. The herd of 150 seen regularly at the Big Marsh must be good news for the lions in these lean times, although I’m sure they’re not easy prey.

Stone cottages have finally replaced the last of the old rooms, which were demolished earlier this year. The rooms on the far ends of the Lodge are now honeymoon rooms with huge beds made with recycled wood from old dhows. Dhows, which use to ply the Indian Ocean carrying spices from Zanzibar and goods from the main land along the East African coast and further away. I’ve no idea how long a dhow lasts but surely some years? But once retired off, part of one of them became a honeymoon bed for Ndutu, complete with the old handmade bolts still in the wood. I think they look absolutely grand and guests love them. When the first one arrived it took six people to lift it into a room. Although guests love them because of their antique look, our resident carpenter who has been with us for 12 years shook his head and wondered if we actually paid for them? Probably thinking, if he made furniture from old wood that lay abandoned on the coast with holes and rusty bits of metal in it, he wouldn’t get any business and probably be run out of town! Although I think he’s secretly likes them.

Storks at the flamesThe very dry conditions of late saw two bush fires close to Ndutu. Some were controlled fires set by rangers that became uncontrolled and spread from the Serengeti to the Ndutu area and others were set by Maasai trying to encourage new shoots of grass for their cattle. Luckily it wasn’t a hot burn because most of the vegetation had been eaten down during the past months.

Storks at their bar-b-que We were amazed to see so many European white storks around the fires. There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of these winter visitors from Europe enjoying this unexpected feast. Some seem to actually go into the fire while trying to snatch some of the myriad of insects escaping the flames. The wind that had blown steadily throughout the day died down during the night and by morning most of the fire was out.

Fires, which by morning had died down

down onto his kneesOn a grey cloudy evening recently, we came across two bull elephants wrestling with their trunks. The smaller of the two seemed reluctant to spar with the other. The bigger one decided to reduce the size difference by getting down onto his knees and crawling up to the other to spar. Desperate to play, he looked ridiculous as wriggled along on his stomach, looking like a playful puppy. Which is quite something with an animal that weighs several tons. Once the game was over they walked away side by side, probably off to break into our wells. But who could mind! Certainly brightened up a grey evening.


Elephant playtime 1 Elephant playtime 2
Elephant playtime 3 Elephant playtime 4
Elephant playtime 5 Elephant playtime 6

This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

 

October 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS

The outside temperature on my porch – overlooking the white-dry soda expanse that at present is Lake Ndutu – reads 34 degrees in the shade... Not really surprising with only a sum total of 23 mm for the past four months; the south eastern part of the Serengeti, where we are situated, has turned into the lovely yellows and browns of the familiar dry season African savannah landscape. Some early rains have transformed other, more northern and western parts of the Park into lush, green pastures, and I am told the zebra and first wildebeest have started their annual trek south already! Well, we saw the clouds build up, we watched the lighting shows at night, we listened to the thunder at a distance, we smelt the rain and we tasted some drops!

Then followed the “Ndutu Raindance” feverish running to and fro to check the drums, tanks, drains and gutters, followed by the excitement with the sound of the first ‘coffee-coloured’ rainwater running off the roof and into a tank! At this point the quality of the water does not matter much – as we use it for mixing the cement – and are we busy doing just that!!!

Renovations still in full swing, we have achieved much during the past three months! With the help of a few extra ‘fundis’ (masons and carpenters) and many of our own staff, we are confident that we will have everything ready for the coming High Season. When it comes to that; Tanzania is having a “boom” tourist season this year, and it is unbelievably busy everywhere. Rare are the days when here at Ndutu we are without guests.

Our guests have enjoyed watching the much habituated dikdiks and hares that live around the Lodge and especially in the evenings, come right up to the fireplace in front of the Lodge. One serval cat frequented the birdbath for awhile and timed her nightly visit well when 30 guests were having dinner and could watch her drink for quite a time, whilst sipping their wines!!

Somewhat further a field, a herd of over one hundred buffalo continues to roam between Lake Masek and the Big Marsh. Scarce sightings of two small herds of elephants, both with small babies, have been a special treat too for recent visitors! The resident crocodile – Ndugu Snap – still floats around in the open bit of the water at the Big Marsh and nearby, one tourist group were very excited to see a very big python in a tree along the edge of the marsh.

Also at the marsh, three cheetahs killed a dikdik just when the cheetah researchers were watching, so that was a lucky coincidence. Another friend saw a cheetah kill a dikdik at the causeway; there seem to be dikdiks everywhere this year and sad to know they probably are providing some of the “staple” food for several larger carnivores!

There also were reports of very successful lions, with two adult giraffe and one buffalo killed, and lions found at a dead elephant near Twin Hills. We don’t know what had caused the death. It provided the lions with enough food for quite awhile during these dry months. At another occasion near the marsh, tourists saw a male lion with a freshly killed cheetah. However, not all is always well for lions, as we found out yesterday when we heard that one young male lion was killed by Maasai near Twin Hills, after apparently killing three cows!

Sunset at Lake Masek

Bird lovers will be happy to know that there was a “first” sighting of a (very) common or yellow-vented Bulbul at the Lodge!! This truly can be called one of THE most common of all African birds, yet it had never been recorded here! Equally exciting was the record of black-tailed Godwits at Lake Masek in August. Luckily Lake Masek still has lots of water and, off and on, flocks of flamingoes can be seen feeding there, and 14 pelicans have been in residence for at least two weeks, though what they were living on remains somewhat of a mystery.

A strange and sad incident at the Lodge occurred about a month ago. Sifueli, our mason had enjoyed his morning cup of tea and went cheerfully off to finish plastering a wall in one of the new cottages only to find a growling leopard, lying in front of the water tank behind the cottage! He got quite a fright, and hastily retreated, followed by the leopard! Luckily another mason saw what happened and came to the rescue as Sifueli ran towards him and actually a wheelbarrow on the path stopped the leopard from getting at them! The NCAA Rangers were informed and a vet organized to come out. The leopard by that time had slowly walked over to our birdbath in front of the dining room to drink. Its behaviour indicated it was not well, but that obviously did not stop lots of guests chancing photograph of a leopard 20 metres away from the dining room. Shortly after it moved haltingly to the big water-hole in front of the Lodge, it collapsed and died. Apparently it was a young leopard, and how sad to lose one at Ndutu!

Ndutu Safari Lodge signOn a very different and much more cheerful note, we are very lucky that Jenny Saar has come back to stay for three weeks at Ndutu. She is instrumental in the decorations at Ndutu and has all these years advised us too on materials and the interior! Jenny and I go back a long way and she stayed here for almost half a year in 1987 to help out with all manner of things! In that period she made our Logo too, which till this day graces the website, notepaper, brochures etc. She is now creating some exciting new decorations for the dining room which we hope will please the guests! All I will reveal now is that we have, on her behalf, bought lots of copper break pipe!!! I leave the remainder of this puzzle to the future guests to unriddle!

Arriving Departing

This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

July 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS

We are now very much into dry season. The grasses have turned a lovely golden brown and the sunrises and sunsets are spectacular. The days are warm and the evenings cool and clear which make for great star viewing. I really enjoy this time of year as it's how we all imagine Africa.

The lions blend perfectly into the grass with their tawny coloured coats. That didn't help the lioness and 2 cubs we watched climbing up a tree the other day. They could be seen from a long way off when they got into a muddle as they tried to climb down; it was very amusing to watch.

Lions are not very good climbers, unlike leopards. When the same lioness discovered a leopard with a kill stashed in the branches of an acacia tree a few days later, she tried to jump up after it.

The leopard shot up into the topmost branches, perching right on top of the canopy, which looked very uncomfortable. She was eventually joined by another lioness and we spent a very enjoyable ten minutes watching them trying to scramble up the tree, until they became hopelessly stuck half way up. The pair of lionesses didn't know how to get down; they finally ended up just dropping, landing with a huge thud. Luckily for the leopard a spotted hyena walked passed and the two lionesses chased off after it and disappeared. The leopard soon came down from the canopy and settled down to its kill only to find a striped hyena sniffing around the base of the tree a short while afterwards. The leopard's reaction was totally different this time merely watching the hyena, until it moved off.

There have been lots of great lion sightings this month. Guests have been lucky to see 6 tiny lion cubs at Masek this week which only looked to be a few weeks old. It's a hard time of year to be born, so fingers crossed. Two lionesses were also seen half-heartedly stalking an old buffalo bull recently, also at Masek. The buffalo was having none of it and chased them off. The buffalo only had half a tail, probably the scar from a previous attack, so maybe he was a little more grumpy than normal. I saw a lioness with two five-month- old cubs charge a spotted hyena that obviously came too close. She managed to catch the hyena and gave it a beating, as she repeatedly knocked it down and cuffed it with her paws, letting it go, then knocking it down again. She could easily have killed the hyena but she just roughed it up and let it go once she had taught it a lesson.

As I mentioned earlier we've had some great sightings of lions resting in trees lately, which has made for some great photographic opportunities. And finally one group of guests found the Masek pride eating a baby elephant this month. I don't know if the young elephant had died or the lions had killed it. I really can't imagine the lions would be able to kill a baby elephant if its mother had been present as they protect them jealously. I guess we'll never know what happened? One lucky group of guests saw five different species of cat while at Ndutu recently including a leopard that went under their car, which was very bizarre.

Cheetah Project

At the beginning of June, the Serengeti Cheetah Project booked out the whole lodge to hold a 3-day workshop to discuss cheetah conservation in Africa. Researchers, scientists and conservationists came from all over the world to participate. The meeting went very well and it was great to meet people from all over Africa and hear their tales of cheetahs. A pair of genets decided to make an appearance which held up their last lecture. They started to play amongst the roof rafters right in the middle of a very serious discussion and apparently everyone was thrilled.

On the day of departure an amazing thing happened. Some of the group had to leave very early that morning and as they were walking from their rooms down to the main lodge building, two cheetahs crossed their path to the reception. I can't think of a nicer way to leave the lodge than to have two of these beautiful cats pass by; and what luck that it happened for the cheetah conference.

This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

May 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Showers

DETAILS

This year’s April-May months are again so different from previous years. All over Tanzania the rainfall pattern showed very localized showers throughout the Wet Season.. However, Ndutu was blessed with enough rain off and on since the end of November and as everybody could read in previous Newsletters, this resulted in plenty of animals close and around the Lodge all the time!

On the surrounding plains this erratic rainfall seems to have confused even the wildebeest, who moved constantly to and fro never staying for much time in one area… more recently, large herds of zebras grazed along the two rivers leading from Naibardad or “Twin Hills” while gazelles and the large, beautiful Eland antelope were plentiful on the surrounding plain. It was a delight to see them bright as buttons in the sun.

Now, unmistakably, it seems the Wet Season is over… most carpets of
flowers are drying, the flowering grasses are turning to pure gold in the early morning sun, little pools of water are becoming stagnant mud holes and our salmon-pink aloes are starting to flower! This of course attracts the Variable and Red-chested Sunbirds and these can be seen all around the Lodge buildings, moving from flower to flower to suck the nectar.

On many nights the ground is alive with busy harvester ants and thus tons of grassy material is returned to the Serengeti soil. Bushes and grass turn into veritable pieces of art when heavy mist on some early mornings shrouds the area. When the sun finally appears these dew-laden ‘objects d’art’ show the millions of normally invisible intricate spider webs all around us!

Just along the woodland borders the red-billed Queleas are in full swing. They have just finished building their untidy nests, and now thousands and thousands of little birds are flying back and forth feeding amongst the purple-flowered Erlangea. At sunset the low fast- moving clouds of golden wings are quite a sight against the red and orange skies!

Just now the great herds of wildebeest and a lot of zebras are starting to move slowly north and most of the elephants seem to have gone to the Makao-Kusini south western woodland border. But we are still seeing a few family groups and an occasional bull elephant in the Masek area. The territorial leopards, lions and other smaller cats are all around and spotted off and on! However, it’s probably cheetah that are still the cat stars of Ndutu and most visitors enjoy seeing females with little cubs in the surrounding plains or the 3 brothers in the Marsh! They still seem to be the guests’ most favourite animal!

On the baby front, one of the Masek lion pride females was seen three weeks ago with tiny little cubs; the Masek hippo group has one baby, seen 2 days ago, and even more special: a baby croc was spotted! For the past four years, “Ndugu Snap”, as we christened the resident crocodile, has controlled the open water area of the marsh in solitary splendour so how a baby croc has arrived is still a bit of a mystery – maybe it is a case of “immaculate conception” We will try and keep an eye and a pair of binoculars on the ‘mamba’ secrets!

Early May brought us a truly wondrous spectacle in the night sky with a clear night and full moon and lunar eclipse….It was also one of the only two nights during the past four weeks that we “HP’s” or home-people (a phrase used by our staff) were without guests. We sat around our small fire in front of the Lodge, put up the scope and together with binoculars we watched with amazement how our Earth shadow slowly covered the moon. It was a memorable event and quite a few of our staff came over to look through the scope. That wasn’t the only excitement! Last night we spotted a comet with the inspiring name of C/2001 Q4 NEAT in the sky which was also wonderful on the Star front! How blessed we are with our clear skies untouched by any artificial lights!!!

On a sad note the last of the ‘old’ six rooms today was demolished; a big thud and remaining wall of room number 18 came down; a bit of history for Ndutu to those who remember the very early days here! On the bright side, when at the end of this year the four new Cottages will have replaced the last of the old rooms, all our accommodation will be the same and renovated in one style.

We are using most of the materials again for something or another and managed to save 1000 building blocs by chipping off the old plaster, and of course the wood will find a different destination or worthwhile cause too! Almost half of our regular Staff is now on leave and things have finally quieted down even though we have bookings every night. These are peaceful and calmer days and we know just how lucky we are to have one of the most unique wildlife areas in this world right on our doorstep!

This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

April 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS

What a dramatic season it's been and such a season of contrasts with such a wet December contrasting sharply from the very dry April we are having at the moment.

The last week of February saw record numbers of wildebeest and zebra in the Masek woodlands. Tens of thousands of animals came down to drink at the lake Masek. It made some super photographic opportunities as the herds moved away from the Lake in the evening and, by good positioning, it was possible to get some wonderful backlit pictures of wildebeest and zebra with plumes of dust and a golden sunset. I spent a very amusing half hour watching a zebra foal chasing guinea fowl around the woodland. Well, actually chasing one particular guinea fowl around and around a small bush. It was a great sight as he tried to nip a feather from the unfortunate bird, although he never really stood much of a chance as this comical spotted bird could always have taken to the air if it thought if was really in any danger.

There seems to be a baby boom with our small population of hippos in Lake Masek. The three tiny babies born this season make their numbers up to ten and the group can be seen at the Eastern end of the lake.

Exciting news on the lion front this month. There has been a take over by three new handsome blond mane lions of the Masek pride. We should have guessed something was amiss when there was so many mating lions to be seen at Masek just after Christmas. Also the lack of any cubs this year points to a take over, as new incoming lions will kill any other unrelated male's cubs. The lionesses soon come into estrus again and after a gestation period of around 3 months they will give birth to the new males cubs. It will take about two years for the cubs to reach adult hood. In the meantime the males will have to guard and maintain their territory and keep other males out while constantly patrolling and marking their boundaries, it's a very hard life and most male lions die young. Three months has now past, so we should be seeing lots of young lion cubs gamboling around sometime soon and that's when the hard work really begins. It's easy to find food now, when there's so much game around. By the end of the dry season they have to eke out a living trying to catch fleet footed impala or the dangerous Cape buffalo, even porcupines and hares feature in their diet. It's not surprising, that few make it to adulthood.

Other interesting sightings this past month include, striped hyenas catching a wildebeest calf, good views of side striped jackals, large groups of eland in the woodlands, and three species of whydahs in the lodge bird bath, all in breeding plumage, including straw tailed, pin tailed and the striking steel blue. Great leopard sightings include a mother with two small cubs that have been seen a number of times. Large numbers of giraffe can be seen in and around the lodge at the moment with groups of over forty moving through the acacia woodlands.

After a very successful season we will be carrying on with our refurbishments. Four more of the older style rooms will be changed for the new stone cottages. Ndutu has been voted the best place in Africa to see cheetah by Brian Jackman in a recent article in the Telegraph. The BBC's Owen Newman and Amanda Barrett have returned to Ndutu to make another wildlife film after the success of their last film Cats under Serengeti Stars and have again chosen Ndutu Safari Lodge as their base this year.

April is also a time when we start our maintenance program. The wind carries the thatch away, the sun dulls the paintwork, the soda water fades the fabrics, the termites eat all the external woodwork and elephants stand on the plumbing pipes, so there's always much to do. Our carpenters are busy making new beds; the masons are tiling the staff bathrooms and Safari, our in house tailor will soon start making new staff uniforms. Everyone helps out with all this work so his first job will be to make new sets of overalls and patch up old ones. Mirando, who is our headroom steward, and another staff member also called Safari, who is one of our cooks, does the roof thatching. The outside roofs are thatched with palm fronds and for the internal thatch in the bar and dining room, we use banana leaves.

People often ask if we ever get bored living in the middle of nowhere, but there's no chance. There's always something to do and today, I hear a honey badger broke into the staff quarters last night, so there's another bit of carpentry to be done.

I've been getting regular updates about the whereabouts of the wildebeest migration from guests. The huge numbers of animals at Two Trees and the Makao plains have amazed people this week. I went out to have a look for myself yesterday and I was completely stunned by what I saw. It was as thick with wildebeest as I've ever seen it in the past five years. They stretched out like ants on the plain in every direction as far as the eye could see. There must have been well over half a million animals there that day. So many animals can never stay still for long and constantly move and sometimes they can be spread out over huge distances. But sometimes, like yesterday, they gather to make one of those sights you will never forget, no matter how many times you've been to Africa, Serengeti, or even how many times you've seen wildebeest.

This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

7 April 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Occasional showers

DETAILS

The action continues, the plains are bursting with life - wildebeest from horizon to horizon out on the Triangle and up as far as Olduvai. We are getting sporadic rain showers, which is keeping everything green and lush, it is a great time to come and visit.

Yesterday two very lucky guests saw a pangolin trundling across the plains out near two-trees - guess which direction I am heading out today!

This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

18 March 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Wet

DETAILS

The plains around Ndutu are absolutely stunning. With over 3 inches of rain in the past couple of weeks, everywhere is vibrant green and flowers are in bloom. The vast herds of wildebeest are currently concentrated out on the Triangle right up to Olduvai and beyond. The drive down from Ngorongoro Crater is spectacular, from horizon to horizon the whole area is just full of little black wildebeest dots!

This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

18 February 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS

The full moon signalled the start of the wildebeest calving this month. If buffalo plod and aardvarks trundle, then wildebeest calves gambol! There are literally thousands of them to be seen this week gambolling around beside their mothers, and guests have witnessed many actual births. It’s always interesting to mark the time it takes for the calves to get to their feet, suckle and ultimately run along side their mothers, generally it’s only a matter of minutes. Everyone seems preoccupied with the wildebeest at this time of the year but there are many other interesting things going on.

I counted over fifty elephants in the Lodge water hole the other day. Our largest bull elephant is in town at the moment, a huge grand old animal that we call Tabasco. He is in full musth and dwarfs all the other elephants as he moves back and forwards looking for estrus females. Other animals seen in large numbers have been giraffes, a group of forty-eight were seen on the Lakeshore which must have been a spectacular sight.

It looks like there’s been another takeover of the Masek pride this year. Three young blond maned lions have moved into the masek prid 19 February, 2004 ions were seen killing cubs last month. There has also been a lot of mating activity this month as the females rapidly come into estrus. One wonders what happened to the previous males as it was only last season when they took over the pride. It’s hard enough for lions to survive the long dry seasons but without stability there’s no hope for the young cubs. Lets hope these males are more successful and can hold on long enough to sire cubs that reach adulthood.

At the Lodge itself we’ve seen plenty of action this month. Most days sees the long crested eagle perched in the top of a tree in front of the dining room. They are a truly grand sight as they fly from tree to tree, their white wing patches showing and their uncontrollable crest blowing all over the place in the wind. The black cuckoo has been heard much lately, constantly calling over and over again and I have to confess slowly driving me mad.

The last thing you’d expect to walk pass the camp-fire is a hippo but that’s exactly what happened the other day. He looked as confused as we were as he watched us watching him before setting off on his journey again. Other visitors were a little more alarming, such as the huge herd of wildebeest that stampeded through the Lodge one evening. It was a truly fantastic sight that we saw in our torchlights but a little unnerving when they came thundering past. Although we should be used to it by now as we seem to be stampeded at least once a year.

The planets Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter can be seen, weather permitting, from the camp-fire at this time. But the most wonderful thing for me has been the serval cat sightings around the Lodge. Many times we’ve watched a very tame serval cat walk by the camp-fire of an evening or hunting rodents in front of the rooms. On one particular day when we were watching a family group of elephants that had just bathed in the water hole and were slowly making their way right up to the Lodge. It was then that we noticed the serval moving through the grass very close to the elephants. The tranquillity was soon broken when one of the older elephants noticed or smelt the cat and went screaming mad chasing the serval out of the long grass and into full view. The sight of one of these beautiful spotted cats being chased by an angry elephant is something not too be forgotten.

On one of their forays to the water hole one of the elephants decided to have a scratch on the goal post at the staff soccer field. Naturally these were never built for this, so it immediately collapsed but this is a small price to pay for being in such an
exciting place.


This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 
 

10 February 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS

The wildebeest are calving! Since the full moon on the 6th of February guests have been witnessing many births. There are currently large herds out on the Kusini Road, south of Ndutu and also many scattered herds on the triangle. Cheetah, lion and leopards have been seen most days the past week and a very relaxed serval has taken to wandering through the lodge grounds.

(This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

January 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Rain

DETAILS

After months of waiting, the first rain finally fell in the middle of December. Four inches of rain fell in just over an hour. Creating a memorable flood. A fair sized river flowed through the bar area and into the verandah. Lakes Ndutu and Masek both have water and flamingos again and the frogs in the water hole went mad. Their croaks, clicks and chattering were almost deafening.

Things are a little quieter with the frogs these days. But the water hole has seen much excitement recently as hundreds of zebra and wildebeest arrived to drink daily. It was a wonderful scene that greeted visitors in front of the Lodge over the Christmas period, as there were always grazing zebra and giraffes passing by throughout the day. The peace and quiet was broken at regular intervals by the arrival of elephants. The elephant watching has been fantastic lately. Several family groups have visited the water hole on a daily basis along with 10 or so bulls. The females are very well behaved but the bulls revel in chasing the zebras in and out of the water hole and even the odd guest when one particularly truculent bull charged the bar one afternoon.

In the June newsletter I wrote about an elephant that had been caught in a wire snare. Vets from the Serengeti took over half an hour to cut through the thick wire, which had dug deep into her neck. We saw her once again the next morning and then she disappeared. I don’t think any of us thought she would survive such a terrible injury. So it was a wonderful surprise when last week she was spotted at Lake Masek. She looked great. She wasn’t exactly fat but in good condition and her calf, who was missing in June (presumed dead) was also with her, which was another excuse to have a beer.

Baby zebra are everywhere this month, which is delightful to see. Some guests were even lucky enough to witness an actual birth, waiting until the final moment when it was up on it’s feet and walking away with it’s mother. I’ve seen five tiny newborn December/January elephant calves pass through the Lodge grounds hugging close to their mother’s sides. Another special thing is the bat-eared foxes or flat-eared boxes, as they are affectionately known. These animals are great favourites with guests and they are particularly abundant this year.

The wildebeest sightings were fantastic over the Christmas holidays. They were quite spread out and there were even rumours that some of them were still in the Maasai Mara. Certainly there were reports of wildebeest all through the Serengeti but nevertheless on the day I went out last week there were wildebeest stretching to every horizon. The rain that’s now falling as I write these notes, can only make things even better, if that’s possible.

(This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

11 January 2004

LOCATION    Serengeti

DETAILS

Everyone always wants to know about the wildebeest migration so here is a refresher:

The Serengeti National Park, the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, and surrounding game reserves and game controlled areas form a complete ecosystem that sustains a very large biomass. The major players in the annual movement of an incredible body of animals are the noisy clown of the plains, western white bearded wildebeest or gnu (1.5 million), the Burchell's or plains zebra (200,000), delicate and tiny Thomson's gazelle (500,000).

In addition many other animals move within the eco-system, such as the Grants gazelle and the lumbering giant of all antelope the eland.

Contrary to popular opinion the predators do not follow the migration very far because they have to bring up young in their territories and home ranges and could not afford the close care and attention their helpless young need in the first months after birth if they were always on the move. Nonetheless the massing of game for any period of time signals a time to eat as much as possible while the stocks are present and kills are easier to observe. The annual "go-around" in search of grazing and water is not always predictable as rainfall patterns vary from year to year.

In the next few months we anticipate the main body of the migration will be moving and massing on the Serengeti short grass plains. During the early rains massing starts as the grass and herbs of the mineral rich Serengeti short grass plains can support a very large number of animals and in a relatively small area 1,000,000 wildebeest may be found. The area was covered in rich volcanic ash about 3.5 million years ago as the volcanoes of the Ngorongoro highlands were at their most active. Thus the Olduvai, Ndutu and Naabi areas will be best until about May.

In February most of the calving takes place with 90% of the calves born on the short grass plains within three weeks. This creates a glut for the predators but means many more ungulates survive than would from year round birth. Calving starts early in the day and finishes at about noon to allow the precocious young to gain strength before nightfall. They can run in as little as three hours and within three days the main predator the spotted hyena just will not bother with a sustained chase of a calf.

As the rains diminish the grazing becomes sparse and standing water dries up. There is a gradual movement to the better watered northwest, west and north.

Rutting is a phenomenon that is almost as remarkable as when the calving begins. Approximately 750,000 female gnu are serviced by about quarter of a million bulls in a frantic time of defending moving territories and rounding up passing females. The noise the bulls make is incredible and goes on day and night as bull challenges bull and as dominant bulls see off would be suitors of the lovely lady wildebeest. The sound has been likened to the sound of a million croaking bullfrogs and from a distance it sounds like the rumble of breaking waves on a distant reef.

Later in the year lines of migrating animals form as the massing phase ends and there is an urgency to move on away from the short grass plains (sometimes 40 km lines of walking and cantering wildebeest can be seen).

As the game enters the western corridor from June to August the main body starts the perilous crossing of the Grumeti river running the gauntlet of giant crocodiles awaiting their annual feast.

The move into the Maasai Mara is usually complete by July. At the end of each year the wildebeest once again move south into Tanzania to the short grass plains of the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation area.

 

15 December 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Heavy rain

DETAILS

Ndutu has had rain! On the 10th December we received 98.8mm of rain - just under 4 inches, 3 of which fell within the hour. It was incredible, thunder and lightening everywhere and with so much water falling we had quite a river flowing through the bar and dining areas! Since then they have been smaller showers and already there is a green tinge to the area and the wildebeest and zebra have started to arrive. Each day more and more arrive so we are hoping by Christmas the vast majority of the herds will once again be around Ndutu.

(This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ndutu Safari Lodge - www.ndutu.com - a lodge set in Acacia woodland overlooking Lake Ndutu just to the south of the Serengeti). 

December 2003

LOCATION    Serengeti/Tarangire/Selous

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS

Well, it's been a busy few months. With a small window of relative sanity I can bring you all up to speed on what is happening in our little piece of Heaven.

The Osunyai season has now ended, short rains in the Tarangire eco-system brought the migratory herds through camp and along with the resident herds of elephants created a wonderful finale to an exceptional season.

The only blip of course was the bush fire that took out all of our service area and some of the other tents! But looking on the bright side the camp was free of guests at the time and with the insurance payment we have been able to re-develop a whole satellite of equipment for the coming season.

The fire, which we believe, started as a result of honey poachers to the southeast swept across a huge area of Osunyai as well as a large portion of the National Park causing havoc to many campsites within the park boundaries as well as our own sand river site.

Being a positive sort of a company we quickly re-grouped and turned what could have been a painful experience to our advantage increasing the number of game walks guided by Phillip Ashby as the plains game sought out the re-growth that flushed in certain areas within Osunyai.

The Migratory herds of wildebeest and zebra have been slow to move south to the short grass plains of the Serengeti and as yet seem to be content with ambling backwards and forwards around the Lobo area and across the border into The Ngaroi which we are happy enough with for the time being however if the short rains do not start in earnest we may be faced with another difficult year for the calving herds.

"Barking Brits"

It is always a pleasure to welcome back old friends on safari especially ones that enjoy my sense of humour! So when Mark and Lois Gilbert and Robin and Pippa Cecil-Wright returned for their third safari along with 4 new friends I knew it would be a fun time!

Marianne came up with the T shirt phrase of "Barking Brits and their unsuspecting friends" which despite the irreverence seemed to fit and so with tongue in cheek the nine of us embarked on safari to the Selous and Serengeti for 12 days of exquisite game viewing.

Charles Dobie's camp in the Selous looked after us for that section which proved to be a great choice of location. The service was second to none and the game viewing from boat, open Land Rover and on foot was the best I have ever had in the Selous. Ian McDonald's guiding on foot was of particular note as was the attention to detail and management of the camp by Doug and Gabrielle.

I will always remember the first time I watched a herd of elephants crossing the Rufiji River, trunks held high like periscopes for the crossing of the deeper sections watching as the little ones were supported by elder brothers and sisters so when I was privileged to be able to see this again on this safari, not once but three times my F4 camera thought it had arrived in heaven!

From the Selous Charles Dobie piloted us himself in a brand new Caravan Cessna 208 for the flight to northern Serengeti where our own camp and crew awaited our arrival.

It is always interesting to see another company owner get excited by what he is doing so when asked to fly over Stieglers Gorge we all enjoyed breathtaking views of the Sand Rivers leading up to Stieglers. Later on in the flight we were also treated to great views of Ngorongoro Crater and Oldonya Lengai as Charles went out of his way to give us better views of the caldera and volcano.

As usual the welcome glass of bubbly kept the excitement going on arrival into camp and over the following days the excitement was maintained with elephants, lion and serval cat all within meters of our tents. In particular as we headed off for one of the early morning drives a lioness calmly walked towards the kitchen tent intent it seemed on finishing off our fresh croissants and fruit!

As a finale Mark Gilbert showed a collection of his paintings produced during the safari, which given that I had kept the program very full amazed everyone at how productive he had been!

(This update is reproduced with the kind permission of Ultimate Africa Safaris)