This week, through the deluge of rain over Christmas and the hot, humid and termite-filled aftermath, the bush was full of diversity. We had some great highlights including some fantastic leopard sightings, but unfortunately also some lowlights with the most recent Tsalala Pride incident.
My dear friend Shaun, who was a faithful follower and supporter of the weekly photos, passed away recently. His spirit and love of the African bushveld will continue to inspire me and I’m sure anyone who had the privilege of spending time with him.
The week started off with a heavy rain which settled in for a couple of days and somewhat dampened the Christmas spirits of our sun-seeking guests. In terms of wildlife viewing, however, aside from the tracks we rely on to find the animals being washed away quickly, the rain can bring out different sides of the bush. Here, an 'implausibility' of wildebeest huddle around their soaked calves as they wait out the storm.
A lioness from the Sparta Pride braves the rain before seeking shelter under a nearby bushwillow tree. As all of us shivered under our ponchos, we were reminded yet again of the hardships these animals must face from day to day!
One of the two Sparta cubs was not so keen on the intensifying storm, and trotted to shelter long before the adults.
A flock of Wattled starlings try to dry their feathers in a brief break from the downpour. These chattery birds are often seen in large groups in the summertime following herds of herbivores, hoping to catch the insects they stir up as they graze. The male has the distinct, striking yellow and black wattle on his face.
As I've mentioned before, another benefit to wet game viewing is that leopards seem to like hunting in a light rain! Freddy and I aren't shy of a good couple of hours spent following an individual animal, and in this case we shadowed the Vomba Female as she stalked, hunted and territorially marked on another rainy afternoon. We noticed immediately that she had an injury to her right eye. I have seen similar injuries in leopard a few times which for the most part, seem to heal quickly.
After spotting a herd of impala, she ran in a crouched position into thicker cover. Unfortunately, the impala saw this and shouted alarms.
After the failed attempt at impala, she used this fallen tree for some elevation in the thicket to try to spot other prey.
As the rain subsided, her journey became more territorial than for hunting, and she continued on her typical eastwards route crossing the airstrip. However, she suddenly leapt up in an acrobatic flip, and we could only assume she had been stung by an insect!
She then searched around for whatever had disrupted her walk, looking back at us with a bit of embarrassment, it seemed!
That evening, the clouds began to break, which provided a striking scene with the Leadwood skeletons against a dark sunset.
A Fork-tailed drongo mobs a Wahlberg's eagle on a cloudy - but finally rainless - morning.
In the aftermath of rain, there are lots of puddles around, and it's always a nice surprise to drive round a blind corner to a leopard drinking in the road! The Tamboti female, apparently full from a recent feed, has a drink before beginning a very territorial walk around the Tortoise Pan area.
Showing clear signs of having been in a fight, with a big gash on her side and on her face, she scent-marked heavily and growled as she moved through the area. We are not sure who she fought with: perhaps another female for territory, or even hyenas or another leopard for her kill?
That evening, a stunning pink sunset marked the first sure sign of a sunny morning ahead!
We got some well-appreciated sunshine the next day, and the animals came out in full effect! Here, a female Saddle-billed stork shows off her brilliant colours while searching for frogs at Serengeti Pan.
After a big rain, the insects are everywhere! Specifially at this time of year, termite 'immersions' flood the sky as the winged creatures leave their mounds in swarms to start new colonies in the softened soil. This makes for incredible bird sightings, as many birds (and mammals) like this pale morph of a Wahlberg's eagle, sit at immersion sites waiting for the protein-rich insects to come out. However, it also creates an interesting aspect to our night drives back to camp: we warn the guests, 'Zip up your jackets, put your sunglasses on, and close your mouths!' Even though they are harmless, and, in fact, edible to humans, the shrieks of the guests (and sometimes rangers) can be heard for miles!
The Camp Pan Male struts towards us after a day-long snooze in the shade. He was lying next to Tortoise Pan, the same area where we had seen the Tamboti Female the day before.
He had a drink at the pan and then walked around the area, smelling curiously and scent-marking on top of the same places where we had seen the Tamboti Female scent-marking.
A Red-footed kestrel catches the late afternoon light.
On his final morning, the young Tsalala cub, or 'Shayne' as he was known by some of his biggest fans, lies away from the rest of the group. That night would be the fateful evening when one of the males, who is potentially his father, killed him as described in Adam's post yesterday. A tragic end to his short but incredible life.
A Vervet monkey keeps watch from a tree while the rest of the troop forage below.
One of the South Pride Males looks for his three companions after a day of sleeping in the long grass.
One of the other males rests his head on a branch nearby.
The biggest of the four South Pride Males walks by, showing us his stunning profile. His mane is looking very full, and they are getting stronger by the day it seems. They have not behaved territorially as of yet, but it could be soon...
A young elephant bull passes close to us, showing off his long eyelashes as well as the reason for them: with all the vegetation they move through, their damp eyes attract lots of debris.
On a less rainy day, we were able to have another sighting of the Sparta cubs, and this time they were slightly more keen to stay out in the open! Here, one of them chews on a stick after having stolen it from her sister.
Playing in lion cubs often imitates hunting behaviour in adults. Here they both playfully employ the strangle tactic on each other.
Update on the hyena den site... they just keep growing! Our visit this week luckily had one of the mothers present, so the youngsters were out and about. This cub's mother, however, was not there, so he (or she) seemed to jealously pace around the other cubs who were suckling on their mother.
One of the more exciting sightings of the week was watching the Tutlwa female hunt and kill an impala lamb, and take it back to where we presume she had left her cubs. As with any 'kill' sighting, particularly during the daytime, when we get back to camp the question is always, did you get photos? Well, I did get a photo... but unfortunately this was it! Seeing a kill is rare enough as it is, but seeing a photographable one is even harder. Here, the impala lamb was lying in the tall grass before she pounced on it. Sometimes you just have to enjoy the sighting and not worry about taking photos!
Luckily the aftermath was photographable! Here she demonstrates her strength and determination as she drags the carcass in the direction of where we think her cubs were hidden.
She walked for a very long time, pausing occasionally to catch her breath. We were secretly hoping to watch her hoist it in a tree, but also knew her main goal was to get close to her cubs, who were in an area inaccessible with our vehicle. We can only hope she and her two youngsters enjoyed the meal safely!