July-Sep 2001

 

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September 2001

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS

The great east African wildebeest migration has once again decided to not follow its "normal" clockwise pattern through Tanzania and Kenya. During early December 2000 the migration should have been moving southwards into Tanzania's southern Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area. However due to lack of rains in the region the migration travelled in reverse from Kenya's Masai Mara back across the Mara River into Tanzania's western corridor where some rains had fallen. By late December 2000 rains began to fall in the southern Serengeti and the wildebeest made their way in reverse to their normal location.

This September finds the migration having finally arrived into the Masai Mara approximately two months later than the usual July / August arrival. And even more interesting is the fact that only about 200,000 wildebeest out of over 1 million, crossed the Mara River into the Mara. Then on September 23, 2001 the wildebeest began crossing back into Tanzania in reverse!!! Many guests are enjoying seeing the wildebeest and zebra cross the Mara River however in the opposite direction!!!

Only time will tell where the wildebeest will head next…too bad for the Mara this year as the wildebeest migration never really materialized - good thing there are about 80,000 resident wildebeest in the Mara.

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

August

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS

Yesterday morning, we had the most handsome male lion sitting in front of the lodge which was a great treat for those guests who were eating breakfast. It was one of the two males from the Masek pride, who had just stopped by to drink from the birdbath and to show off for the cameras. I must say, he did look magnificent when he sat up with his blonde mane flowing in the wind. There were three males with the Masek pride, but sadly one went missing sometime last year. The two remaining lions look fit and well and fathered seven cubs at the beginning of this year and, to my knowledge, all are still alive. The real test for them will come in the next couple of months as the dry season really starts to bite. Two weeks ago, both males walked pass the front of the lodge early in the evening along with four lionesses and three of the cubs, which was a very special treat for guests enjoying sundowners by the fire, although I did notice that afterwards everyone discreetly moved inside!

Cheetah - photo by David Marsh

This morning was the cheetah's turn to walk past! A mother and her three six month old cubs walked right past the dining room with the playful cubs trying to chase some guinea fowl, which caused quite a commotion. It's a very special treat to have cheetah walk through the lodge as it's a very uncommon occurrence, so today it was nice to see everybody enjoying it so much. Louise and I saw another exciting thing the other day. It was a cheetah hunting a black backed jackal in the Ndutu woodlands. He caught and ate the jackal, which wasn't a nice thing to see. I've never heard of this behaviour before, although researchers studying cheetahs here in the Serengeti have told me that they have been known to chase and even kill bat-eared foxes occasionally. I think cheetah do much better and are more numerous in the woodlands than people might think. But they are much harder to see in the woodlands than on the open plains, but you do come across quite a few by chance amongst the trees and maybe here jackals are actually a regular prey species???

We have the most amazing spectacle going on at the Big Marsh at the moment. Hundreds of thousands of red billed quelea, or even a million or so, of these small finch like birds are flocking together in tight formations that resemble clouds of smoke or a huge swarm of bees as they come to drink from the brackish water. They fly past with a roar as hundreds of thousands of tiny wings beat as fast as they can. Naturally a situation like this attracts predators which take any birds which fall into the water or some even try to snatch them out of the sky as they hurtle by. These include storks like the saddle bills, yellow bills and marabou as well as sacred ibises, grey and black headed herons and, at times, marsh harriers speed the flocks on their way. All this activity is being watched by Mr. Snap, the small resident crocodile at the marsh who I'm sure is not an innocent bystander. Another special thing about the dry season is the large numbers of Fishers lovebirds that come to the birdbath at the lodge. Lovebirds are brightly coloured small parrot like birds and the Fischer lovebird is endemic to Northern Tanzania while the Ndutu area has one of the largest populations in the country.

Ndutu Safari Lodge was started in the mid 60's by George Dove, a retired hunter, who along with his son, Mike, built the lodge. George sold the lodge in 1974 and they both moved to Australia. George died a few years ago but Mike returned to Ndutu this month, for the first time in 27 years. He was very pleased to see that the character and charm of Ndutu hasn't changed and even more pleased to see Marceli, Thomas and little John, who are still working at the lodge. They spent many hours chatting about the past and recalling so many of their adventures from the old days.

The night sky this month is stunning with so many shooting stars, which are just pieces of rock or, if you prefer, planetary debris burning up as it enters the earth's atmosphere. The constellation Cygnus (the swan) is rising from the east and the bright star Vega is unmistakable in the North, part of the constellation Lyra.

The Ndutu annual darts competition was a great success with Robert the carpenter walking off with the trophy. It would have been an international competition but I wasn't allowed to play, as apparently I wasn't judged to be good enough. I've consoled myself, by taking up the guitar which I think I have a gift for. Once I can figure out how to tune it and learn some chords I should get even better?

Dik Dik - photo by Owen Newman

DT, a young bull elephant in his early twenties, regularly visits the lodge to cause some sort of mayhem, generally to flatten the odd tree. I don't like to use the phrase "elephant damage" but prefer the expression "elephant improvement". I do, however, often use the expression "dik dik damage" as these tiny antelopes are probably munching up tree seedling wholesale. Sorry, I diverge! What I was going to say was that when DT comes right into the lodge grounds we try to discourage him for obvious reasons by clapping hands or making a bit of noise. The problem is that he's now so used to it that he doesn't take any notice anymore. The latest idea to frighten him off is for me to play my guitar to him when he next visits. Everyone here is convinced that it will work although, personally I think the beautiful music will only attract him and others!

(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).

Tuesday, 17 July

LOCATION    Serengeti

WEATHER     Dry

DETAILS


Ndutu is now well into the dry season. All the surrounding wildlife is starting to concentrate around the available water sources such as the big and small marsh and Lake Masek, since nothing drinks from Lake Ndutu as it's too alkaline.

Lake Masek is about two kilometres from Ndutu Lodge. It is long and thin, maybe some five kilometres in length, although it's only half a kilometre wide. It is also quite a bit deeper than Lake Ndutu. Both lakes lie in a depression, which is actually the start of the world famous Oldupai Gorge. If you kept walking from the western end of Masek you would eventually arrive at the Oldupai visitor's centre (though it would take about two days!) and the spot where Louis and Mary Leakey discovered some of our prehistoric hominid remains. The water in Masek is still alkaline but not as concentrated as Ndutu.  You don't tend to see the large numbers of flamingos on Masek compared to Ndutu but there's always a sprinkling of these pink birds at either end of the lake. There's also a small school of hippo that can always be seen and often heard, snorting and grunting, on an evening game drive. I once witnessed hippos mating there and it's the most bizarre thing since they mate in the water. How the female doesn't drown, I don't know, since the only thing visible is the tip of her nose as she tries to breathe every so often. I tried to find out how long they can hold their breath underwater. Most guidebooks will tell you it's about 4 - 5 minutes, but one book said that, as no one has ever tried to drown a hippo, no one really knows how long they can stay underwater! 


There's at least one crocodile in Lake Masek. Where it came from is bit of a mystery as no one has seen a crocodile there in many years until one day there he, or she, was. It can be seen quite often sunning itself on one of the little sand islands in the middle of the lake. We first started to see it just after the El Nino rainy season, three years ago. The nearest population of crocodile to Ndutu is in the Simiyu River in the neighbouring Maswa Game Reserve about forty miles away. There's also crocodiles at Seronera, but that's over fifty miles away, with grassy plains in between. I think it came from the Simiyi river. By looking at a map, we've worked out that it would be possible for a crocodile to follow little wet season gullies and valleys (especially during El Nino when everything was flooded) all the way to the Ndutu marshes. From there it just had to follow the river from the marsh that feeds Lake Ndutu and swim across the lake.  The only tricky bit left would be the half a kilometre walk from Ndutu to  Masek. By then it had made quite an epic journey and we'd gained a croc which, to tell the truth, we're very pleased about. 


I've no idea where the word Masek comes from or what it means but it could easily mean the place of elephants. Elephants love the open acacia woodlands and thick stands of commiphora which surround the lake. It's by far the best place in the Ndutu area to watch elephants and, thinking about the hippos I mentioned earlier, I once came across a bull elephant in the lake chasing the hippos, lots water and hippos going everywhere followed by an ample supply of trumpeting from the elephant. Once the elephant had tired of this game, which I don't suppose the hippos appreciated, he left the water and started to browse on the lakeshore. But unbeknown to him, he was followed out of the water by a tiny baby hippo that looked like a little pig. By this time the rest of the hippos were safely in the middle of the lake, the little hippo followed the elephant for about five minutes around the lakeshore with the elephant blissfully unaware. I started to get quite worried for the little chap, thinking that I was about to see him flattened. But not a bit of it, once the bull got wind of him he spun around with an almighty trumpet and charged. I closed my eyes, the elephant screamed, and baby hippo stood his ground. Once the bull realised this little thing wasn't scared of him, he just hit the brakes turned on his heels and ran in the opposite direction as fast as he could with his tail in the air and disappeared over the hill. It took a little while before the little hippo realised that he'd lost his playmate and then slowly and, to my eyes looking a little dejected, he walked back to the water and to his mother who was probably doing handstands. 


At the end of the dry season, September - October, the Maasai, move into the Masek area with their cattle. The Maasai use Masek as a last resort when all other water sources dry up, as it's probably not good for their livestock to drink this brackish water. And once the first rains arrive they leave as quickly as they came. The elephants seem to have perfected the art of avoiding them and carry on as usual, but the lions, which really don't like them at all - and for good reason -  virtually, move into the lodge grounds at this time. 

In my opinion the best thing about Masek, apart from the lions, leopards, elephants and in the wet season, wildebeest crossings is that there are a hundred and one places to have the perfect sundowner. It's the most tranquil place I know (unless you're being chased by an elephant) and watching hippos, or some of the many wading birds, which are abundant, while enjoying a sundowner, is one of the pleasures of life. 


Around the campfire this month we've been treated to the planet Mars which is rising from the East. Of special note was a partial eclipse of the sun on the 21st June. Three o'clock that day saw us up on the hill over looking Lake Ndutu with chocolate cake and tea. Solar viewing glasses  and welding goggles in hand, we had the most amazing tea party while the moon covered 60% of the sun. We also had a lunar eclipse this month and, of course without all the light pollution of town, the Serengeti is the perfect place to see the night sky. 


I seem to have run out of space with this month's newsletter without mentioning the huge male lion that sat next to the entrance road with an eland kill for four days, battling it out with the hyenas to keep it his kill. Or the very destructive giraffe that seems determined to wreak as much havoc to the lodge as is possible for a giraffe to do, but that's just life in the bush. We hope that you will be able to enjoy it with us some time. 

(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).

 

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Email Tim at mailto:TimClark@wildlifetravel.net.

       

 

 

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