Back on (a wet) Track!

Back on (a wet) Track!

Now at one of my favorite Serengeti lodges, Ndutu.
Now at one of my favorite Serengeti lodges, Ndutu.
As we enter the great migration season in Tanzania everyone ready to go (including me) wants to know the state of the veld. Well – dare I suggest it? – it looks… wonderful.

I wanted to say “normal” but normal doesn’t exist, anymore, in these confused eras of global warming. But frankly that’s what 2010 looks to be: right on the charts of normalcy for the last 30 years of climate statistics.

Which makes it very abnormal for the last 3-5 years. So in that context 2010 is on target to produce the finest scenery and best game viewing in the last five years!

Mother Nature broke the 3-year “drought” as you would expect her to: grumbling and shaking off somnambulant neglect with thunderous bursts of rain which in some places, like the western and northern Serengeti, represented some of the most incredible torrents ever seen.

On Christmas Eve 1.5-1.7 inches of rain fell in one day over most of this area. For the month of December the Serengeti/Mara ecosystem experienced nearly 7.0 inches of rain. This is nearly three times “normal”.

The deluge resulted in worries that El-Nino was battering, again, and that soon the world would float away. Didn’t happen… yet, anyway. And western climate prediction centers show a real return to normal patterns for the remainder of the year.

This is my favorite area in the world. From the Talek River in the Mara to the central Steppe of Tanzania, the veld is now a deep, rich green. On the flat prairies of the Serengeti the “wet” wildflowers are all over the place:

Little white flowers looking exactly like their nickname, Tissue Paper Flower, (Cycinium tubulosum) literally cover the veld, almost like snow. Remarkably this year, they’ve even covered the veld as far north as Samburu. Unusual and rarer apricot and red versions have been reported in abundance in the Mara salient.

A bit anxious and not normally so prolific, Kenya’s national flower, The Flame Lily,(Gloriosa superba) is already standing out. (This is one of the reason locals are worried about the deluges continuing; but I think superstition is getting in the way. Lilies are tubers and build up residual nutrient stores during dry times, and these guys are just impatient to get going!)

The wildebeest migration was normal for the first time in years. Last year it lingered in the northern Serengeti (the Mara) almost until January, as the rains further south were light. But this year the great herds were well south of the Sand River by early December… just like scientific papers crunching 30 years of data say they should.

The Ewaso Nyiro River in Samburu, the Tsavo River in Tsavo, the many rivers in the Mara including the Great Mara, the many rivers in the Serengeti, and the two lakes in Ndutu (Masek and Ndutu) are all recovering, looking normal, after spurts and backups throughout December.

Grazers including all the plains antelopes are becoming fat and sassy. Browsers, especially elephant, are still struggling, searching those areas with new growth but relying on grass until it happens. Giraffe are a bit luckier, they can reach the new, high acacia shoots.

An incredible sight was reported in mid-December as Lake Manyara began to refill, and on one day, December 14, literally several hundred thousand flamingos returned. Where had they been?

European migrant birds are down in great numbers. The massive and awesome funnels of tens of thousands of Abdim storks have been seen above the crater.

Nature is balanced, and compared to what most of us felt was a stressful several years now ended, the predators thought otherwise. It was heyday for lion, hyaena, jackal, leopard and cheetah. For them the return to normal times means predation is much harder, and already camps like Governor’s in the Mara are reporting fewer cubs surviving, more internecine fighting.

The yin and yang of the veld. But I for one feel enormously relieved. There is a stress when surveying an African veld that is distressed for lack of rain unlike any other experienced in the modern world. It is a helplessness that pivots the intellect into moments of superstitious hope. That arthritic spiritual response is agonizing, and now — at least for now, it’s gone.