The bush is a slightly quieter place at the moment, with many of the migratory bird species having departed for northern climes. The speed and distance of the many migrations that are currently underway varies enormously between species, but delving a little deeper into the phenomenon we uncovered some pretty cool stats.
An amazing website that tracks migratory common cuckoos had one bird called David recorded as flying roughly 3500km in 24 hours, from Montenegro in Eastern Europe, where it had been hanging around for a couple of weeks – I’m guessing stocking up on energy reserves – to the area around Mbaldia in Chad. If this figure is accurate (it’s pretty hard to believe) it means the cuckoo would have had to fly at over 140km/hour to pull it off, and cuckoos are not renowned speedsters.
The bar-tailed godwit, a small wading bird, can apparently fly from Alaska to New Zealand in only 6 days, around 1900km a day, straight over the Pacific ocean, so a cuckoo flying almost double this distance in one day would seem a bit extreme. Maybe it flew high and caught the jetstream, although the northern hemisphere jetstreams usually blow from west to east, and not from north to south. Maybe there was a lag in the GPS tracker’s updates. Whatever the case, one can clearly see on the website how the cuckoo was spending time in one specific area, then when it was time to move, made a beeline directly across the Mediterranean sea and Sahara desert, obviously both very inhospitable environments, finally coming to a stop only once it had reached an area where it was once again likely to find food.
Being the competitive bunch that we are here, we’re already organizing a competition for next season in which we each choose our cuckoo and place bets on which one gets to Africa first. Anyone keen to join? Pick your bird; Peckham, Larry, PJ… personally I’m thinking of putting my money on Selborne, I think he’s the form bird.
We’ll get back to that in a few months time. For now, enjoy this Week in Pictures…
On the subject of things departing Londolozi just before winter, the next six weeks will sadly be ranger Dave Strachan’s last work cycle after over two years of loyal service to the lodge. We wish him all the best in his future endeavours.
This dwarf mongoose had rushed for shelter in this abandoned warthog burrow as our vehicle approached, but he was cut off from the rest of his troop who were seeking refuge for the night in another termite mound nearby. Knowing he would want to rejoin the rest of them, we sat patiently until he ventured out again, sniffing the breeze before making a quick dash to join the others.
Zugunruhe is a German compound word consisting of Zug (move, migration) and Unruhe (anxiety, restlessness), and is observed in migratory creatures, particularly in birds, before they depart for the season. A number of species have already left Londolozi to head towards the approaching northern hemisphere summer in North Africa and Europe, and even further afield, but a few still remain. These barn swallows are the stragglers of their species, since many thousands have already been seen flocking on grassy crests over the last few weeks immediately before flying off.
The same morning as the previous photo. There’s drama everywhere out in the bush; the Piva male leopard was lying down in the long grass on this morning, and was almost impossible to see, but it was the swallows that were swooping low over the nearby waterhole that were of the most interest.
Head tracker trainer Renias Mhlongo leads the current crop of trainee rangers down a sandy road during a morning of Track and Sign identification.
Three baboons out of a larger troop look towards the Sand River where an nyala was alarming in the distance. There will invariably be one or more bigger baboons out of the troop (usually males) that will be up in the trees acting as lookouts as the rest forage down below.
I posted another photo like this a few weeks ago of a rare white-backed night heron, but decided to include this one as it illustrates nicely where the bird gets its name. This photograph was taken at exactly the same place as the one from a few weeks ago, so is more than likely the same individual.
With the Sand River flowing once again after a long drought, life is bursting at the seams, especially when it comes to the fish population. The local crocodiles have been taking full advantage of this, lurking in the rapids near the Causeway to snap them up as they move through the heavily oxygenated water. A 500mm lens allowed for this close-up perspective, while a lowered shutter speed blurred the water slightly, drawing the viewer’s eye to the in-focus area. This photo was taken at night, when the crocodiles do a lot of their hunting.
What is more than likely the same individual waits in the same rapid earlier in the evening. A similar approach was used, with a lower shutter speed blurring the water, while a supportive beanbag kept the camera still enough to keep the crocodile’s head sharp.
The cubs of the Xidulu female are roughly a year old by now, so their mother is able to leave them alone for longer and longer periods of time. This means that a sighting like this, of all three together and in the open, is becoming a much rarer thing these days. The Xidulu female is on the left, and of the cubs, the male is the one in front. One can clearly see how much bigger he is than his sister already.
Tracker Rob Hletswayo watches a herd of zebra in one of the open clearings which they frequent.
Two white rhinos make their way slowly across the Londolozi airstrip. With succulent grass covering the reserve now, the male rhinos in particular are becoming far more territorial once more, not having to venture as far as they did during the drought to desperately seek out any kind of sustenance.
The Nanga female leaps over her cub to the higher ground. This was an absolutely incredible sighting in which the two played in and around the Manyelethi riverbed for over an hour one morning, with only myself and Londolozi’s Head of Sales Jacqui Hemphill there to observe them. We’ll be putting out a photographic blog next week with our combined highlights from the sighting…
A seldom seen individual, the Ingrid Dam female frequents the extensive bushwillow thickets of Londolozi’s north western corner. She lay down on this termite mound just as the last rays of the setting sun were striking her, allowing for some golden light photography, and then she slunk off into the long grass and disappeared.
The same sighting, this time shot with a 500mm lens instead of a 70-200mm. The same moment can be captured in a variety of ways with different lenses, depending on what you want to try and express.