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

What an emotionally charged morning!


View Baby Boomers - Tanzania 2020 on Grete Howard's travel map.

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)

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