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Ndutu XI: buffalo, jackals, fox cubs, birth of a wildebeest

What an emotionally charged morning!


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Setting off as usual in the pre-dawn darkness, we are excited to spot four lions in the far distance down on the Marsh.

“Hold on tight” Malisa instructs us as he sets off towards the big cats at quite some speed.

As we get nearer, our excitement turns to amusement: they are not lions, but hartebeest. Oh. At least it proves that even the best guide can make a mistake in the dark.

Soon afterwards Malisa briefly spots a honey badger before it disappears into the long grass. The verdant vegetation has its ups and down: there is plenty of food for the animals, but makes it more difficult for carnivores to hunt as the prey can hide so much easier. It also makes it trickier for them so spot a potential mating partner (hence why we have seen several male lions in trees on this trip). From our perspective, the tall vegetation means animals are more difficult to see, and when we do, many of them are only visible from half way up. We've been told by several people that they've not had so much rain / flood here since 1995.

Sunrise

The sunrise this morning is almost as spectacular as the sunset last night.

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As a photographer, you need to be ready as soon the sun appears – from the moment the first bright sliver peeks above the horizon until the entire sun is visible, is pretty exactly two minutes. No time to waste.

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Cape Buffalo

We haven't seen many buffalo on this trip.

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Black Backed Jackals

The buffalo have a stare-down with a couple of jackals, but they decide to go their separate ways. I am sure the much-smaller jackals would be no match for the aggressive buffalo.

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Tawny Eagles

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Coqui Francolin

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Crested Lark

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Grey Breasted Francolin

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Blacksmith Plover

Southern Ground Hornbill

There are a couple of hornbills on the ground, both of which have managed to grab themselves some breakfast.

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Ooh, this guy's got not just one lizard, but two!

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And then he's off with his take-away breakfast.

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Bat Eared Fox

As we are busy watching the hornbills, I spot a couple of fox cubs out of the corner of my eye.

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Whispering sweet nothing in my ear

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There are not just two cubs, a third one appears.

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Now there are four!

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When they start playing, all you can hear in the van is “aww” and “ahh”.

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Dik Dik

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Red Necked Spurfowl

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Harlequin Quails

Malisa spotted a Harlequin Quail earlier, but I only got a very brief glimpse of it, which was rather disappointing as it is a new one on us!

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Here, however, there are several of them. Admittedly they are running along the deeply furrowed, and massively overgrown car tracks, so not only are they difficult to see, they are extremely hard to photograph as they are in and out of blazingly bright sun and deep shadows.

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Lappet Faced Vulture

Pale Tawny Eagle

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Long Tailed Mongoose

We get a brief glimpse of this rarely-seen mongoose, just as it runs away.

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Looking for the maternity ward

For the last three days we have been on the lookout for a wildebeest mama who is just about to give birth, and today is no exception. We head down to what we jokingly call the “maternity ward” - an area full of wildebeest, many heavily pregnant.

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Soon we spot a young female (we can tell she is young because of the shape of the horns, hers are not yet fully developed) who has a pair of legs sticking out from her behind.

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We follow her as she goes about her business, seemingly without a care in the world. Before long, however, she sits down, and we are disappointed to think that we are probably going to miss the birth having seen through our binoculars how she is trying to push.

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When she stands up again, the birthing process is no further on. We worry for her. Generally the calving takes no more than around fifteen minutes for wildebeest, but this young mother-to-be appears to be really struggling.

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She walks, she tries to push, she sits down, she eats some more. Other wildebeest come up to her, seemingly to offer encouragement; but despite heavy pushing, she gets no further. After more walking, more pushing and more eating, she is finally exhausted and collapses on the ground, motionless. Is she dying? Is the baby still alive inside her? Has she lost the will to live? Will she be strong enough to finally push the baby out and look after it when it is born? We are getting distressed and seriously concerned for her safety now.

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This is way better than any documentary I ever saw – I am not just watching from the comfort of the sofa in our living room; I am here, with her, her family. I am that wildebeest.

When she finally stands up, we all breathe a sigh of relief, then hold our breath again as she starts to push once more, this time in earnest; and within a few minutes we can see the head appearing. The adrenaline in our car soars - I never expected to feel such thrill and intoxication at an animal giving birth. Willing her on, we shout words of encouragement: “Push!” “Push” “You can do it” “Come on girl” "Push".

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Then it's all over. I whoop with excitement and elation: “Yay! We're grandparents” “Good job!” Then emotion overtakes me and I cry.

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As a first-time mother, the calving was anything but easy for her. 49 minutes elapsed from we first spotted her until the baby was out. Within minutes, however, the youngster is on his feet, instinctively trying to feed while the mother licks him clean.

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Never mind the wildebeest, I am completely exhausted with all the emotions of just watching. We leave them to get to know each other and to continue on their never ending journey in the quest for greener pastures. This is the Circle of Life”

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This amazing experience would not have been possible without the excellent arrangements of Calabash Adventures, and of course our trusted guide and good friend Malisa.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:55 Archived in Tanzania Tagged animals birds sunrise africa safari tanzania eagle birding fox buffalo vulture quail mongoose wildebeest bird_watching hornbill african_safari honey_badger ndutu calabash_adventures hartebeest bat_eared_fox jackals tawny_eagle plover dik_dik spurfowl francolin big_marsh wildebeest_baby african_birds african_animal fox_cubs long_tailed_mongoose wildebeest_calving wildebeest_birth Comments (2)

Ndutu Day I Part II (Honey Badger and Cheetah)

OMG! It's the elusive honey badger!


View The Howards' 40th Anniversary Tour 2017 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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After breakfast we go and check on the lion cubs we saw earlier, to find they are all asleep; so we leave them to it and go to “see what nature will offer us”. This is one of Malisa's favourite sayings, and I love it!

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We all get very excited when Malisa spots a Lesser Spotted Thick Knee in the undergrowth. I know it is a crappy picture, but this is a lifer for us (first time we have seen one, to be added to the Life List). He is gone before I manage to get a better photo unfortunately.

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Mummy Plover is fiercely protecting her eggs, which are in a nest within a shallow hole on the Short Grass Plains of Serengeti, without any cover or other protection. We could so easily have run the nest over if Malisa wasn't so observant.

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Malisa explains that this area is the best place to see cheetah. Mind you, he said the same last year; and we didn't see any then either.

Although we can see jackals, hyenas, eland and Thomson's gazelles in the distance; I really struggle to keep awake.

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I certainly wake up and feel a surge of adrenalin when I see something in the distance and we discover they are a pair of honey badgers! Malisa races off at speed across the savannah, and I try to hold on for dear life while taking photos of the badgers. Unsuccessfully. The photography, that is, not holding on to my life.

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Trust me, these are honey badgers. Yes, really.

Here are some better pictures:

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A Thomson's Gazelle joins in with the race, just because.

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The badgers make several twists and turns to try and shake us off, but Malisa is determined not to lose them.

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Before we know it, they run into their little sett and are gone.

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What an amazing sighting: these beast are extremely rare to spot; in fact it is only Malisa's second time! Wow!

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Check out David's video showing the honey badgers in action.

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This was one of my favourite places on the 2016 safari. What a difference a year makes! Last year the valley was lush and the waterhole was full of literally tens of thousands of animals drinking and bathing. This year the valley is dusty and the waterhole dry. And not a single animal!

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I feel very deflated and quite disappointed that Hidden Valley is devoid of life. I guess unpredictable rains will have this effect on nature. However, seeing a pair of reedbucks, normally very shy animals, partly makes up for it.

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They stand and look at us for a short moment before fleeing.

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A few hardy zebra eventually arrive at the desolate valley.

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Despite being fascinated by the unusual cloud formation; I find myself feeling more and more sleepy as we cross the short grass plains towards the Small Marsh, an area famed for being a good breeding site for both cheetah and lions. My chest infection has now turned into bronchitis, and I started a course of antibiotics this morning, which seems to have completely knocked me out. All my body wants to do is sleep. All my mind, heart and photography finger want to do is to see animals. Right now my body wins, and I drift into a peaceful slumber.

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The renowned cats in this area are certainly not around today; just a few zebra and giraffes graze quietly here this morning.

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Having our breakfast with the lions this morning meant we were unable to leave the vehicle to 'mark our territory'; and by now I am getting pretty desperate. I guess there not being many dangerous animals around is a benefit as I get my Shewee out and seek shelter and privacy to pee behind the car.

I am not quite sure how to explain this without going in to graphic detail, and trust me, you don't want to know. Suffice to say, I have a massive shewee fail. So here I am, in the middle of the wilderness of the Serengeti, changing my underwear; with a very bemused giraffe looking on! The adventures of the Howards are never boring! Sorry – or thankfully in my case – there are no pictures.

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So, Malisa was right after all (of course), this is a good place for lions. Considering a couple of minutes ago I was outside the vehicle wearing very little, this blog could have had a very different story - or even ending - to it.

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Not only do we see a lion, just a short distance away is also a lone female cheetah. Acutely aware of the lion down on the marsh, she rests uneasily in the shade of a bush.

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Although lions are not considered predators as far as cheetahs go, they can and will attack cheetahs as they are considered competitors within the food chain. Probably hiding babies in a bush somewhere, the cheetah is constantly on the move, trying to shake the lion off.

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As usual, we follow her and eventually she settles down, at least for a while.

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She is still very much alert, looking left and right to ensure she is safe.

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It's tiring work dodging lions.

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There is no chance of relaxing though.

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With a jolt, this beautiful slender cat stands up, having obviously spotted something.

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The reason for her sudden unease soon becomes clear.

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The Cheetah keeps a very close eye on the lioness as she gets nearer.

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The lioness, however, does not appear to be heading for the cheetah. The cheetah is on our left, whereas the lioness is heading to our right.

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For a long time nothing happens, as they are both settled into an uneasy truce, the cheetah some ten metres to our left, the lion – hidden in the bushes – about the same distance on our right side. We take lunch here, with another car picnic.

The cheetah is taking no chances though, and moves further into the bush. We follow of course, hoping she will lead us her to her babies; who by the looks of her teats, are very young.

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She is constantly checking to see if she is being followed.

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Eventually she walks down to the marsh where she settles down. No babies to see this time.

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It is time for us to move on and "see what else nature has to offer us". Be sure to read the next instalment to see what else we saw this first day on the plains of Ndutu. Thank you to the team at Calabash Adventures for putting together an amazing safari for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:35 Archived in Tanzania Tagged africa safari tanzania cheetah lion giraffe ngorongoro honey_badger calabash_adventures ngorongoro_conservation_area coucal dik_dik Comments (1)

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