With only four rain days in February it was one of the driest in recent years. Lake Ndutu was completely dry at a time when it should have been full. The huge numbers of wildebeest present in January and the first week of February moved west into the woodlands, where they remained out of view for the next few weeks. The storms of the past days are drawing them back out onto the plains once again. It can’t be an easy time for the calves this year, moving back and forth from woodlands to plains?
Water ran into the lodge waterhole for the first time last week. The lake is now full, there are hundreds of flamingoes and the hippos in Lake Masek must be very happy. Even though it’s been dry this year, the game viewing has been exceptional. With no long grass to hide in, cat sightings have been phenomenal. The lions seem very sedentary these days, not moving far from the causeway. Many lion hunts were seen there this season as lions ambushed prey from the salt bushes. Having said that, most lion sightings have been of what lions do best during the daytime-sleeping. On several occasions recently we’ve watched on, as elephants have dared to disturb this blissful sleep. It’s a grand sight to see an angry matriarch chasing off a group of lions while being backed up by her family amongst much trumpeting and screaming! During a recent torrential down pour which turned the causeway into a lake, a bull elephant was seen having much fun trumpeting at the Masek pride.
We’ve had the best leopard sightings ever, this year. Apparently there was acacia tree in the woodlands that had nine wildebeest calves stashed in the upper most branches, and obviously a very fat leopard close by! One lucky group of guests even witnessed a pair of leopards mating, which is a very rare sight. The BBC film called Serengeti 24 was shown in the UK last Month which featured much footage of Ndutu leopards. The cats, a mother and two nearly full-grown cubs provided the action for another stunning wildlife film by Owen Newman and Amanda Barrett. I think it’s these three leopards that guests have been seeing this season, as they must have become accustomed to vehicles during their filming.
The northern masked weavers have started nest building in the lodge garage again. Because of the dry weather they abandoned their nests earlier in the year. I hope the favorable conditions continue this month for them to breed successfully. The uncommon denham’s bustard was seen on the plains this week. Cuckoo’s are everywhere at the moment including African, greater spotted, didrik, black and white and black cuckoo’s which certainly liven up the woodlands with their call and antics.
Ndutu Safari Lodge and Tanzania in general has had its busiest year ever. Thankfully we’ve had Nik Hall to help out in the kitchen this season, with staff training. He is a classically trained chef with over fifteen years experience, who has worked all over the world. Although it must be quite daunting to work somewhere so far from anywhere (our nearest shop is 4 hours away and our main shopping area is 7 hours away) where the cooks speak only Swahili.
Despite all this he has thrown himself into the task and is enjoying working with the guys who according to him are the easiest and most willing to learn people he’s ever worked with. He is making all sorts of improvements from new menus to buying new equipment. We now have a food mixer so big it could probably also mix cement!
Last month Nik saw the crocodile that lives in the Big March trying to catch a zebra. He lunged at the zebra but missed and after all his efforts only received a trampling from the panicked zebra who stomped on him. Since then we haven’t seen or heard of anybody else seeing him all month, so I hope he’s all right?
Elephants have been coming and going this season. Some weeks they’re here and other weeks they disappear. There seems to have been a mini baby boom this year with lots of tiny calves running around which is delightful. Last month a huge bull with massive tusks walked right past the bar one evening which was a wonderful sight but sadly we haven’t seen him again.
Our biggest bull is around at the moment, we call him Tabasco. He is a huge and very impressive elephant but not the most handsome. A one tusker, who sadly has just lost his only tusk, and is now tuskless, which doesn’t add to his appearance. How he broke the short stubby tusk is unimaginable because he must have used so much pressure to break it. It also must have hurt as we’ve witnessed him constantly spraying dust into the empty socket over the past few weeks. After one of the recent storms an elephant walked down a very wet game drive track near Masek and left enormous great footprints all the way down the track and completely ruined the road. It must have been a particularly heavy elephant, probably Tabasco!
Yesterday there were at least 3 or 4 wildebeest crossings of Lake Ndutu involving thousands of animals. These crossings are famous, but to see one you need a little bit of luck, as the guests staying here yesterday had in abundance. You could hear the noise and see the dust kicked up by the hooves of a thousand wildebeest from the lodge. From the lake shore it must have been spectacular and guests came in from their game drives on a high.
Sitting out by the campfire last night and hearing people’s tales of the wildebeest, tree climbing lions and someone showed me a stunning piece of video of a leopard. I guess yesterday was just one of those classic days with make a safari so special and is why people come back year after year.
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
The wildebeest have arrived! They came just in time for Christmas and over a million of them with hundreds of thousands of zebra make it the greatest wildlife spectacle on the planet.
At times they passed right through the Lodge itself. One evening a herd of wildebeest came galloping through and they seemed to go on forever. I tried to count them although I soon gave up, as there were thousands. Once the last animal had past, quiet again returned to the woodlands leaving only the pleasant smell of crushed grass and the faint aroma of animals and the feeling we had witnessed something very special.
Over the Christmas period friends from the Serengeti Research Institute visited. They had been working on the Tanzania carnivore census and had been using camera traps in remote forest areas of Tanzania. We thought that it would be fun to put a camera up at the Lodge one night. After much debate and adjusting we finally put it up a short distance from the last room. We left to enjoy an evening by the camp-fire, wondering what weird and wonderful creatures might be prowling around the lodge in the dead of night? So it was with much excitement that we down loaded the pictures onto a laptop the following morning. We made one drastic error! We had forgot to tell the Night watchmen about our plan. Askaris as they are known in East Africa, are on duty to escort guests back to their rooms if lions or elephants are close by. With modern digital technology it took pictures of some very curious men with torches creeping up to this strange box, which flashed light at them. Every hour during the night we got some great pictures of their feet. When we explained what we had done the following morning, we all roared with laughter. We tried again the next night, hoping for better luck. And we weren't disappointed. We had some beautiful pictures of a white-tailed mongoose and then something that made our day, a striped hyena, which stayed for ages and posed beautifully for the camera.
After working for 35 years as a cook in Ndutu Safari Lodge, Mzee John has decided to retire, so he can spend more time with his family. It was an evening of mixed emotions at John's retirement party recently. Happy because the entire Ndutu staff were there to wish him good luck but sad to be losing such a nice person. Family members from his home near Kilimanjaro came to Ndutu for the party, and after three hours of speeches we sat down to a huge pilau dinner. Each department, waiters, room stewards and of course kitchen staff competed to give John ever bigger good-bye presents. John is personally responsible for much weight gain amongst guests and certainly the managers at Ndutu! His departure will certainly leave a void in everyone's life, as he was without doubt the nicest person to work with. It's not possible to just walk away from such a big part of your life and John has asked to come back time-to-time to help out and to catch up with old friends, so hopefully we'll still see John once in a while.
We enjoyed breakfast this morning while watching a group of hartebeest gambolling around in front of the dining room. They were later joined by some zebra, which made for an idyllic scene. DT, the notorious bull elephant has visited many times recently. Walking right up to the small birdbath in front of the dining room one morning, which caused quite a stir. Too good of a photographic opportunity to miss, one guest ran back to his room to collect a camera, but only to discover the elephant standing right outside the door. He was effectively trapped in his room for a short while until the elephant had eaten a particularly tasty bush on the path.
The Tanzania wet land bird count got under way this month. Birding experts from around the world came to Tanzania to help local birders count wetland birds. I was pleased to hear that two Norwegian birders were being sent to Ndutu to help with the count. The two soda lakes at Ndutu are very important bird habitat. Although we try to record all species each month for the Tanzanian bird atlas project, the idea of having to count thousands of turns and little stints sounded beyond me, so the help was much appreciated. We counted to the backdrop of thousands of wildebeest and fried in the hot sun, especially the Norwegians who hadn't seen much daylight in the Northern winter. There were very few flamingos present at the time, only 300 or so but huge numbers of white black-winged terns and some gull-billed terns and over a thousand black-winged stilts on lake Masek.
Also four new birds have been added to the Ndutu bird list this Month. The best for me was the collared palm thrush, which must have been blow off course during one of the recent storms. Normally you have to do a lot of rubber necking to catch a glimpse of a new bird but not this one, it's very tame and walks in and out of the gift shop. Others include little bitten, lesser honey guide and white rumped swift.
Visitors to Ndutu this past month could not have been disappointed by the profusion of wildlife present at this time of year. Over looking the causeway between the two Lakes the other evening we saw zebra, wildebeest, giraffes, impala, elephants and lions all in one view. A lioness even tried to hunt, although unsuccessful, she caused pandemonium and sent animals running in all directions except for a large bull giraffe. He looked rather confused, and while everything else ran by in clouds of dust and panic he just watched on. Once quiet had returned he was the only animal left from the hundreds that had been there moments earlier, he then continued to feed from the bush he was eating. I thought he had great composure but of course he might have just been a bit dim?
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).