The most incredible leopard cub viewing at Londolozi was early 2017. All but one of the territorial females were raising young, and a sighting of a female without her cubs almost felt incomplete. Ridiculous, I know.
Fast forward one year and things are very different. Both the Nanga and Mashaba females have birthed and lost litters within a few weeks of each other, the Nkoveni female has completely gone to ground, with scant sign of the litter she is still presumed to be raising, and a number of other females are on the verge of releasing their cubs into independence, so are spending less and less time with them. The ebbs and flows of the leopard population.
Having said that, all the females that have lost cubs will be looking to reproduce again, and we have already seen the Mashaba and Nanga females pairing up with the Inyathini and Anderson males respectively. It’ll probably be another 20 years before we see such an incredible period of cub viewing as we did early last year, but hope springs eternal…
Enjoy this Week in Pictures…
The roars of impala males are a constant background noise at the moment, as the rut is in full swing and every clearing across Londolozi is filled with the competing antelope. It’s a wonderful time to be in the bush, as the most abundant mammal is also currently the most value to watch. One can spend hours following the competition rage back and forth. f5.6, 1/3200s, ISO 1000
An Ntsevu lioness presents herself to one of the Birmingham males for mating. 5 females were together on this morning, withe the 6th nowhere to be found; we are hoping the missing lioness is still secreting cubs somewhere, but as there has not been a confirmed sighting since Alex Jordan’s of a little over a week ago, our hopes aren’t high. f5, 1/800s, ISO 320
A magnificent African Fish Eagle with its catch; a barbel. Dropping water levels in the waterholes and river mean that the fish populations will become more and more constricted as winter sets in, providing easier hunting opportunities in shallower water for the resident fish eagle population. f4, 1/2000s, ISO 640
A young tuskless elephant tries to maneouvre a scented thorn acacia branch into its mouth. Tusks provide invaluable leverage when it comes to feeding, although it is no way life threatening for an elephant not to have them, as they are more than capable of simply using their trunks to access enough food. f6.3, 1/500s, ISO 320
A helmeted guineafowl keeps its head still as it darts towards the vehicle. A lowered shutter speed allowed for the blurring of the other moving birds, but the head bob that the individual facing the camera was performing happened to keep its head still enough to remain sharp while its body was blurred. f11, 1/30s, ISO 320
The Nanga female leopard keeps a beady eye on some rutting male impalas. Late rains have kept the grass high well into the start of the dry season, so the local leopard population has had access to ample cover even on the relatively open clearings. f2.8, 1/800s, ISO 800
The source of the Nanga female’s interest; an impala ram, although this photograph was not from that sighting. Male impalas are so focused on breeding at the moment that they have little time ore energy to spare to keep watch for danger, and many fall prey to predators. It would be safe to say that the bulk of the large predators’ diets is currently consisting of impala rams. f2.8, 1/640s, ISO 1250
Although one will often read that red-billed oxpeckers (pictured) feed with a scissoring motion while their yellow-billed cousins feed by picking parasites off skin, in reality both species feed with both actions, and it simply depends on the what host they happen to find themselves on. Having said that, yellow-billed oxpeckers are more host-specific, and we don’t see very many at Londolozi. The red-billed variety is far more of a generalist, and will feed on zebras, as these ones were, giraffes, hippos, in fact pretty much all the antelope species, as well as other creatures like warthogs. f4, 1/1000s, ISO 640
Alex Jordan and Lucky Shabangu cross the causeway over Londolozi’s Sand River. The northern section of Londolozi is – a least in my opinion – its most magic, with few roads and a wealth of habitat diversity. One often finds oneself as the only Land Rover operating there, meaning that you have unrestricted and solo access to over 2000ha of some of the best game-viewing land in the world. f6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 320
The Nanga female again, crossing a mudbank in the Manyelethi river. Monkeys alarming had told of the presence of a leopard, and then squirrels alarming further upstream in the riverbed gave a clear indication which way she was moving. Freddy Ngobeni spotted her tracks on the riverbank, and within 5 minutes Freddy and Head Ranger Talley Smith had found her a few hundred metres away. The sighting was short lived, however, as with the Manyelethi recently having flowed, large sections are uncrossable for Land Rovers, and as soon as the leopard moved to the opposite bank, she was gone. f4, 1/1250s, ISO 320
A dwarf mongoose takes a last look around before retreating into its burrow for the night. Winter is the best time to view these little critters, as cold mornings often have them sunbathing outside their dens on the sides of termite mounds, waiting for the chill to dissipate. f4, 1/2000s, ISO 800
A rather dramatic sunrise, captured with a slightly bigger than normal lens. These colours aren’t natural, but in order to have the sun appear as more than a bright white, overexposed ball, I lowered my exposure, probably a bit too much. Getting out before the sunrise in winter probably helps significantly in the finding of predators; it’s almost a crime to NOT watch the sunrise, so by stopping the Land Rover and sitting quietly, one is forced to listen to the noises of the African dawn. Invariably you will hear lions roaring or a leopard calling, or alarm calls of some type. Not every time, if I’m honest, but often enough. f4, 1/2500s, ISO 640, EV -1.3
As mud wallows dry out into the winter, dust bathing will become a far more common way for elephants to protect their skin. Despite having one of the thickest hides around, and therefore being seemingly impervious to parasites or other irritants, elephants take care to keep themselves covered. f6.3, 1/80s, ISO 100
The Mashaba female scent marks on a magic guarrie bush. Having shifted her territory slightly further west over the last year (possibly in an attempt to make space for her daughter the Nkoveni female), we aren’t seeing as much of what was once Londolozi’s most prominent leopard. Having said that, we also aren’t seeing as much of the Nkoveni female, and we are yet to see the litter that we are still convinced she is hiding in the Sand River. f2.8, 1/800s, ISO 1000
The Tatowa young male silhouetted in a marula tree as the sun sets behind him. I had it in mind to capture a far less cluttered leopard silhouette than this, but unfortunately we don’t get to choose the exact trees the leopards are going to climb, and we have to make do with what we get. f4, 1/3200s, ISO 640
Some brilliant images, James! I’m pleased to see Nanga – a favorite of mine – and to know that Nkoveni has cubs again. So looking forward to our late June visit…
Great pics this week. Love the guineafowl, Alex and Lucky crossing the causeway(it bring back so many memories) and the last image of the sunset. Stunning.
That photo of the impala ram is amazing, as are the two shots of the Nanga Female!! The image of the Tatowa Young Male is also somethig special!
I was wondering why the Mashaba Female hasn’t been featuring as much in the blog posts. Still hoping for the Nkoveni Female’s cubs to be seen.
The Nanga female shot in the long grass is a bit special, maybe a little tighter cropping would make it a rather better shot, having said that it is wonderfully composed and congratulations on taking the photo of the leopard “off centre” and obeying the rule of thirds
My mornings begin with a visit to the Londolozi Blog. The best part of each day.
Beautiful photos James. Guinea Fowls are stunning and love the red sunrise.