Ndutu Safari Lodge is a classic with 34 individual ensuite cottages where once again we were to be escorted coming to and from the main lodge building at dawn and after dusk. Unlike the spear equipped Masai at Kubu Kubu, our guides here were only equipped with flashlights. We decided not to think about what would happen if there really was an encounter with unfriendly wildlife. Our cottage was comfortable and again came with a very nice shower. We had a good dinner after going over the bird list for February 22nd and after a comfortable sleep we birded on the grounds of the lodge starting just after 6:00 a.m. Then we had breakfast and were back in our safari vehicles and on the “road” by 7:30 a.m. None of the 27 species seen at the lodge were new for the trip, but we had really good looks at a Beautiful Sunbird, Mourning Collared Doves and Red Rumped Swallows.
Our birding that morning went through the Ndutu woodlands to the Big Marsh and on the Ndutu plains. Cindy decided to sit out the birding that morning and remained at the Lodge. You never know what will be seen and this decision could have been disastrous as we would see two really great male lions and then our first cheetahs, but there would be many more lions and more cheetahs as well, so disappointment turned to celebration later. On the birding side, it was another great morning as we observed 91 species of which 13 were new for the trip and four were lifers for me: Gray Breasted Spurfowl, Double Banded Courser, White Tailed Lark and Gray-Headed Silverbill. Okay there is some confusion here because I have photos of Gray Breasted Spurfowl from February 21 and it appears on our bird lists for both the 21st and 22nd but does not appear on an Ebird list until February 23rd. Rather than go back and rewrite the Ebird lists from our guide and my Blog post for the 21st, I am just going to go with the photo here. A Courser photo was included in the previous blog and I was not able to get a photo of the Lark. A photo of the Silverbills is also below.
Many of the shorebirds included in the preceding post were seen at the Big Marsh as were large flocks of both Lesser and Greater Flamingoes and we also had Marabou Storks, Gray and Black-Headed Herons, and a flock of Gull Billed Terns. We flushed a Kori Bustard off its nest revealing two large blue eggs. As was our experience in much of the open plains, we also had a number of raptors, Lilac Breasted and European Rollers, Secretarybirds, Hornbills and Bee-eaters. It was this morning that we also had a number of beautiful little Fischer’s Lovebirds, a crowd favorite.
In addition to these bigger showy birds, we also had some lovely little ones that were fun to photograph.
Without question, it was a great morning of birding but much more so, it was a super morning for animals. In addition to our “usual suspects” we had our first Eland of the trip. These are large and powerful antelopes. The males can weight up to 2,000 pounds with the females coming it a svelte 600 pounds. Males can be 6 feet high at the shoulder – the largest antelope in the world.
The Eland was great but the find that brought the most excitement – until there was an even better find – was a pair of male lions lazing on the dirt. We first noticed several safari trucks out across a mud flat and knew there had to be something good. The driver radio network confirmed that there were lions so we headed off to them. But at first it did not seem that way as they looked to be less than a mile away. We had to take a circuitous several mile route to actually get there, however, as the mud was not crossable. It was definitely worth the wait as these were unquestionably very handsome animals – our best looks at lions yet. These pictures have appeared in an earlier blog – out of time sequence. We watched these big males for 20 minutes and they barely moved. These were the only lions that we saw that were not in the grasses.
Not too long after our visit with the lions we got word that a group of cheetahs were resting under a tree and off we went – retracing our circuitous route that had brought us to the lions and completely ignoring any birdlife along the way. As I have indicated previously, our intersections with lions on this trip were better quality and quantity wise than my trip to Kenya where we had only two lionesses. I had seen more lions, including males in South Africa, but nothing close to our encounters in Tanzania. Cheetahs had also been a disappointment in Kenya, where we had only distant views of two cheetahs mostly hidden in the grass. This history was about to change as when we arrived at the “cheetah spot” we had three gorgeous cheetahs lounging together in the grass, hidden more by each other than the grass itself. They were resting and hardly active but we were pretty close and had great views and many photo ops. The bad news was that Cindy was not with us. She would be extremely disappointed to miss the two lions, but that would be nothing compared to missing the cheetahs.
We would return to the Lodge for lunch and I would have to tell Cindy what she missed. On the way back we had a distant view of a Long-Crested Eagle constructing a nest, its long crest showing well in profile. Two pictures I had missed were of Winding and Desert Cisticolas. As anyone who has bided in Africa knows, cisticolas are really tough to ID. Of the 10 species of cisticola seen on our trip, Rattling Cisticolas were by far the most common, being observed on 13 different days. I got many photos of that one but missed 50% of the group – I think. And I say that because I have photos of some cisticolas that I simply cannot ID
On the surface Cindy was really happy that we had seen the cheetahs and seemed ok, but underneath I knew she was unhappy with herself for sitting it out that morning. I consoled her that there would be more but of course there was no guarantee of that – but that was the last day she would sit out any part of the trip. We had lunch outside at the Lodge where we could watch a little water drip that was a great bird magnet visited by Blue Headed Cordonbleu, Red-billed Firefinch, Vitelline Masked Weaver, and Common and Crimson Rumped Waxbills, the latter two new for Tanzania although I had previously seen them in Kenya and South Africa respectively.
After lunch we were back in the safari vehicles birding the area around the lodge and then down to the Ndutu Lake shoreline. We had no new species until we got to the shoreline, and unfortunately, we also got no cheetahs or lions. At the shoreline we had only a single look at a single bird, but it was one that I very much wanted to add to my world list, a Chestnut Banded Plover, one of the Charadrius small plovers and very similar to the Collared Plover I had added to my life list in Mexico in 2021 and saw again in Ecuador last year. This sharp looking little guy was my 17th Charadrius plover. There are currently 32 such species, so I am only just over halfway there with zero chance of seeing them all, although that would be a lot of fun.
We had 62 species on that last birding trip for the day with only five new for the day and with one more lifer for me – a Black Winged Bishop which somehow I managed not to get a photo of despite having good looks. Probably the most spectacular birding was seeing the large flocks of Lesser and Greater Flamingoes including close up – one of the spectacles of any visit to East Africa – birding or not.
We had 114 species for the day bringing my Tanzania list to 329 species so far and my World List to 3016. Very pleased with both, I just wished Cindy had seen the cheetahs, unquestionably the highlight of yet another great day.
One of the best things about Ndutu Lodge was its smaller size and homey feel despite being far from home. It was welcoming and all-around comfortable with an appropriate understatement that felt just right. Regular visits from the Civet helped.