April-June 2001

 

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Saturday, 9 June 2001

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS


Last night lions ran past our bedroom window so close that we could hear their footfalls. Then the windows started to rattle as they roared and, once again, they were so close that we could almost feel the vibrations. Strangely enough it's a very relaxing sound when you're safely tucked up in bed with the doors locked!   In the morning, the large pugmarks by the front door proved that we hadn't been dreaming.

We will probably start to see more of the resident  lion prides now that the area is starting to dry out and they have to  search further for food.  As it gets drier, the wildebeest and zebra  have moved out onto the plains to the north, though on drives we still come across the odd nervous group in the woodlands. You can  still see the herds towards Naabi Hill with binoculars from the verandahs.  In fact, you never know what you might see from your room, only last week two cheetahs walked through the lodge. 

The  lion cubs born in January from the Masek pride are still doing well. But times will start to get harder for them. Their parents will have to turn their hunting skills away from the relatively easy to catch wildebeest and zebra to the dangerous  buffalo and giraffes or faster, more agile impala, hartebeest and  gazelles. Warthogs and smaller animals such as hares and porcupines  will also probably be included in the lions' diet through the dry  season. There are several small groups of topi in the woodlands, which is quite unusual at Ndutu, as they prefer the long grass plains to the North; it seems we are just on the edge of their range. The Ndutu Lodge football team is known as the Ndutu Nyamera's, nyamera is the Kiswahili word for topi. So topi must have been here sometime in the past, maybe it's a good omen for the coming football season.

The Karatu Secondary school came for their yearly visit in May. The
Karatu School is the nearest school to the lodge (3 hour's drive), 
Ndutu have been inviting them out for a few days at the lodge for the
past ten years. It's a relationship we hope will continue for many 
years to come, as many of the students have never seen a lion or an 
elephant. The many visitors who come to Tanzania get to see so much 
of the country's wonderful wildlife. But children growing up in urban
areas of Tanzania don't see or even know much about wildlife, which is a shame because they are the next generation that will be entrusted to look after it.

There are thousands of greater flamingos on Lake Ndutu at the moment. The greater flamingos eat crustaceans and the conditions in the lake must be just right for them. This will probably change in the coming months and then maybe the conditions will be ideal for an explosion of the blue-green algae on which the lesser flamingos feed.  Sometimes both species are present but generally one is dominant at any one time depending on the availability of their preferred food.

African hoopoes are breeding again in the eves of room 19 for the fourth year running. These wonderful birds can be seen plodding around on the ground and they look just like clockwork toys as they search for insects to feed their young. Both male and female bring food to the chicks who stay in the nest until they are fully-grown.  As I sit here writing, dozens of guinea-fowl are racing across the ground in front of my window. There are literally hundreds of guinea fowl chicks this year, probably thousands. Life would be so much poorer without these wonderful birds clowning around in front of the lodge first thing in the morning.

We've lost Jupiter and Saturn in the night sky, they have gone down in the West, but have been replaced by Mars the red planet that is rising in the East. It could be mistaken with Antares, which lies just above Mars in the constellation Scorpius (the scorpion). Antares  (the heart of the Scorpion) is a big bright red star, technically called a red super giant, and I've just read that it's 9000 times more luminous than the sun and some 600 million miles across. Figures like that just go over my head but it does make you realise just how insignificant we are and puts everything into perspective - the Serengeti can also do that too. The Southern Cross is still very easily seen in the south. The Hadza tribe from the  nearby Eyasi area call the Southern Cross the giraffe, and with a  little imagination you can see why, the two pointer stars look like the giraffe's neck and the cross the head.

At Ndutu  we have an  elephant known as "Stumpy".  She's called this as she only has half a  tail, basically just a stump, that makes her unmistakable to  identify. Without doubt she deserves a better name because she is magnificent, the terror of tour drivers, photographers and anyone who dares to approach too close. Elephants are just starting to move back into the Ndutu area after the rainy season and Stumpy has recently given birth to a young calf. Which is great news, but it  will  probably mean that she will redouble her efforts to chase  everybody, as she may become very protective of her calf. We will  have to think up a name for the new calf once we know what sex it is.  But one thing we do know is that we are in for some exciting elephant watching in the coming months. 

(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).

Saturday, 21 April

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS


Ndutu is still green and lush after the good rains we received earlier this month. We've had several more lake crossings by wildebeest and the Ndutu woodlands are just full of zebra. But the very special thing this month is the profusion of wild flowers, which carpet the area in April and May.

The Ngorongoro highlands to the southeast are completely covered in a carpet of yellow flowers, which give the impression of being on an alpine meadow in summer rather than in Africa. In the coming weeks the same hillsides may turn white or even pink depending on which flowers are in bloom. The woodland is  a picture at the moment with  stands of purple gutenbergia and yellow bidens.  Intermingled are varieties of red, mauve and yellow hibiscuses. The plains are adorned with morning glory like flowers called ipomoeas, these along with commelinas and indigofera and many other colourful flowers bring a totally different feel to the African bush.

Lion watching has been great these past weeks. The sueda bushes between the lakes Ndutu and Masek are a wonderful place for the lions, who enjoy the shade and cover. It's lovely to see the tiny lion cubs gambolling and cavorting in the evening light with a lioness or two looking over them.  The big dark maned males are much in evidence, generally sleeping nearby or heard roaring in the night. Other cats seen in this area over the past week or so include caracal, which I think is the hardest cat to see in Ndutu, although they have been seen several times this month. Last night we saw a lovely serval cat walk out past the lioness with the cubs. Neither party seemed very concerned about the other although the serval didn't take it's eyes off the lion until it got well into the cover of the long grass.

There are six species of cat at Ndutu including lion, leopard, cheetah, serval, caracal and wild cat. Other predator sightings this month have been the many cheetah which are in the area. I think most of us at the lodge have seen a cheetah hunt in the past month. Just the other night on a short drive from the lodge we came across a pair of young cheetahs. They then proceeded to stalk and eventually chase an adult wildebeest which ended in disaster as the wildebeest stopped and proceeded to chase them, which looked a bit embarrassing for the cheetah. Other cheetahs seem to be doing a bit better as there are many cheetah mothers with young cubs. Life looks easy for the young cheetah cubs but the mortality rate is very high. Only one in twenty cubs will make it to independence which is around eighteen months old. The biggest threat to cheetah cubs is from lions and hyenas, because their mothers cannot defend them against these larger stronger predators.

The night sky has been spectacular this month. Jupiter and Saturn are going down in the west, as is Taurus (the bull). Once Taurus has gone down in the west, Scorpius (the scorpion) rises in the east. Scorpius and Taurus do not get along and are deadly enemies according to Greek mythology and must never meet. They have been placed in the sky so as never to see each other, because if they do there will be big trouble. Hydra (the sea serpent) which was the nine headed serpent that Hercules had to kill as one of his twelve labors is directly above and will snake it's way across the night sky over the next few months. Early in the morning you can see Venus which is unmistakable shinning very brightly in the East.

Interesting bird sightings of late include the Denhams bustard and an African crake which is a new bird for the Ndutu bird list. The very tame black-lored babblers who live around the lodge have just raised two chicks, the first for two years. The wire-tailed swallows have also successfully raised three chicks, which have just fledged. Large numbers of greater flamingoes can be seen on lake Ndutu. And in the evening huge numbers of cattle egrets are sweeping across the lake shore and over the woodlands in their thousands. It's truly an amazing sight, as no one can ever remember seeing so many of these lovely white birds. Why this lovely situation has occurred is a mystery as is where they go to roost at night as they drift along in huge long lines to a distant unknown place.

Sir David Attenbrough enjoyed his stayed at Ndutu Safari Lodge for a week last month, while filming for a new BBC TV series called Life of Mammals. Ndutu has always been famous for filmmakers and we have had several film crews and professional photographers staying at the lodge this season. The reason they come to Ndutu is that it's simply one of the best places to watch wildlife in quiet unspoiled surroundings away from the madding crowd.

(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).

Did you like these reports? 

Email Tim at mailto:TimClark@wildlifetravel.net.

       

 

 

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