Saturday 8 February 2003
Today is the morning of small things.
We drive away from the huge concentrations of animals moving north and west of Ndutu and instead go south and east. There in the Acacia woodland we see our first African wildcat, which looks at us suspiciously for all of five seconds before darting off into a large clump of undergrowth underneath a tree. Then, only a few minutes later, we espy a pair of largely nocturnal and rarely seen striped hyenas, running together through the trees. We follow them for a while, watching their unusual manes blowing in the wind. Later we see a tree containing four tawny eagles, another containing a whole flock of noisy yet beautifully coloured fishers love birds, and yet another containing dozens of rufus tailed weavers.
Driving along the edge of the Acacia woodland where the woodland slowly thins out to become plains we see a Tawny eagle land on top of a small Acacia tree, displacing the European Roller that had been previously perched there. The roller, roughly a third of the size of the eagle (and not a bird of prey) but furious at having lost its perch, repeatedly dive-bombs the larger bird. The eagle ducks the first time, but after this does not even blink as the roller comes closer and closer, diving faster and faster. The roller keeps up its harassment for a good five minutes before finally giving up and finding a perch elsewhere. Completing the birding interest was hundreds of European storks, having migrated from southern Europe, wintering on the plains. As we drive by they fly into the air as one and for a while we feel like part of the flock all journeying together in the same direction.
Then it is the afternoon of big things.
Everyone wants to see cheetah, and so we were very happy to find a mother and three cubs sleeping on a grassy knoll. We sit watching them for an hour, hoping they may decide to go hunting as the afternoon wears on and the temperature cools. What we have failed to see however is the dead wildebeest calf unusually stashed next to the sleeping cubs, which, after waking, the cubs start tucking into with gusto. In normal circumstances cheetahs will bolt their food, pausing only to look around nervously to see if any other predator or scavenger is going to steal their kill away from them. The idea that not only would this not happen, but that there would be such an abundance of prey that they could sleep all afternoon on the open plains with an uneaten carcass next to them without being harassed is remarkable and shows what a time of plenty January and February is in the southern Serengeti. After finishing their meal the cubs licks each other’s bloody mouths clean, and then flop onto the ground and fall asleep again.
We also see yet more of the abundant spotted hyenas and manage to stumble upon not one but two dens situated only about fifteen kilometres apart. One of the dens we approach almost without realising until we are almost on top of it and, one after the other, five hyenas appear out of a large hole and started lolloping off into the distance. At this den too we see the uneaten carcass of a wildebeest calf – there is just so much food to go round at the moment!