Following a two week leave, my return to the bush was greeted with a dry and dusty setting. Not for years has the lowveld looked so starved of water, yet its resilience to the harsh conditions is evident and its wildlife finds a way. Long dried up wallows scar the surface, worn footpaths crisscross in sight and leafless Acacias litter the clear horizon. However, the evergreens remain, some Marula trees are showing a branch or two of new greenery and bright pink clumps of Impala Lillies complement the otherwise barren clearings.
The first sights of the returning Wahlberg’s Eagles occurred this week, as the migrants reach their destination all the way from northern Africa this month and plan to remain for our summer. Red-billed Buffalo Weavers have also been seen collecting material for their recognisably messy community nests, further indicating lengthier daylight hours as winter starts to fade away.
Lion dynamics continue to intrigue all who observe, with young males rapidly growing into their manes and even the Ximungwe young male trailing, and on occasion feeding, with the Tsalala pride. All of the above in the few weeks absence of the mighty Majingilane coalition.
The week’s variable weather patterns offered many different photographic opportunities, and a few scenarios provided us with stunning low angles on our subjects; something I enjoy thoroughly. As I have been welcomed back into this impressively hardened wilderness I have tried to appreciate its true personality; its never-say-die obstinacy and dogged determination to remain.
In an attempt to capture some of that, I hope you enjoy this week in pictures.
This misty morning shielded the sunrise, providing us with a beautiful setting glowing with a cold orange. A well-situated Giraffe couldn’t have been more welcomed. 1/800 at f/2.8; ISO 100.
The Tsalala pride spent lots of time near the Sand River, and once lay up on the riverbank presenting the opportunity for an eye-level view like this one; a perspective not often seen. A bushbuck on the far bank grabbed this young male’s curiosity, briefly. 1/1000 at f/2.8; ISO 100.
Still managing to raise her two cubs, the Mashaba female leaves them well hidden and goes on the hunt during the early afternoon hours. It is important she continues patrolling her territory and feeding herself, although with all the extra care time on her hands she is forced to do so whenever she can, even without the cover of darkness. A testing task. 1/1250 at f/4.0; ISO 1000.
A proud Lioness of the Mhangeni pride covers distance ahead of the rest, with one other only just visible in the background. A very long distance tracking display finally led us to where the thirteen were ending their night’s activity of hunting, and the light was still brilliant for photographing them. 1/1000 at f/2.8; ISO 100.
A minute later and two of the pride’s lionesses embrace in a moment of bonding; rubbing heads before settling down for the morning. Their coats and the dry savanna of the south-western Open Areas become one. 1/640 at f/5.6; ISO 200.
An observant Tree Squirrel looks down on us from one of the many cavities of this ancient Leadwood. These dense trees can live for centuries and then still stand for even longer thereafter. This particularly large and weathered one is believed to have been here for around a thousand years; wind, water and time polishing it into an immovable monument. 1/250 at f/2.8; ISO 320.
We are privileged to have the Sand River still trickling through the reserve, and all inhabitants make use of its presence. A great Elephant herd adopts playful behaviour as they take to the cool water, drinking and bathing with joy. 1/640 at f/5.6; ISO 1600.
A gloomy afternoon provided a dark backdrop to this well-lit and shadowless Tamboti female after a drink of water. Her tail was raised, exposing its bright white underside in an attempt to convince the troop of alarming monkeys in the massive ebony tree above her that she was only moving through and not on the hunt; body language is such an effective form of communication. 1/1000 at f/2.8; ISO 1000.
The Mhangeni pride treated us to some interesting perspectives (as did the Tsalala young male earlier in the week) as they rested on some raised mounds. This young male is certainly gaining confidence as we can see a fuller mane on him here. 1/1000 at f/2.8; ISO 100.
This ultra low angle is something I have always hoped to one day see, and to be able to photograph the brief opportunity was exciting. We had parked low down in a depression and only this one young female walked along the ridge, much to our pleasure. 1/800 at f/4.5; ISO 100.
My favourite display of character in the wild; a very young Elephant calf moulds his own confidence as he shows off and gives us a practice threat display in passing. Only with his mother’s close presence does this little guy act big and tough, but quickly follows her away after noticing her lack of concern in us. 1/500 at f/5.6; ISO 1000.
More frequent views of the Anderson male from the north are occurring and his infamous size is noticeable. This monochrome depiction of the huge leopard emphasises his intent eyes, which are revealed through the dappled light falling on to his face. He means business. 1/640 at f/2.8; ISO 125.
From a cold morning just over a week ago, when we last saw the lioness of the Matshipiri pride with her damaged left ear. The two males have been seen since, but without her. We will have to wait and see what has happened to her. Here though, she trails the two males into the daylight hours, effort illustrated in her breath. 1/1600 at f/3.5; ISO 250.
The week ends with an array of sunset colours behind chaotic branches and a perched Grey Heron; darkness on the way. 1/15 at f/8.0; ISO 320.
What other signs have you noticed which indicate the near ending of winter?
And did you enjoy the few lower angled perspectives of lions in this collection as much as I did? Keep experimenting and try to have additional perspectives on whatever it is you are looking at, even if you’re not holding a camera.
Have a phenomenal weekend.
Written and photographed by Sean Cresswell, Londolozi Ranger.