First things first: the mystery bird in our first challenge was a Wood Sandpiper.
Congratulations to who everyone who answered correctly. The pictures below give a comparison between the Wood Sandpiper (bottom) and the Common Sandpiper (top) which many of you also guessed.
As you can see, the Common Sandpiper has a more uniform brown plumage and a more prominent white belly, with a distinctive shoulder patch. The Wood Sandpiper by comparison has a more spotty appearance and its underparts aren’t as striking as the Common. It also has a prominent supercilium (the stripe that runs above the eye).
The next bird challenge will be in a couple of weeks and is significantly harder!
Apart from some bird IDs, the week has not been without its share of exciting events, the most notable of course being the return of the female cheetah and her two cubs. We haven’t seen her for a couple of days, and last reports indicate that she crossed the Sand River, heading east towards the Kruger National Park . The last female cheetah to raise two cubs did the same thing and disappeared for a couple of months. Let’s hope that his one returns like her predecessor.
Let’s dive right into the Friday post, so enjoy this Week in Pictures…
The Nkoveni female and her single cub have been fairly localised over the last couple of weeks, moving in and out of the thickets to the south of the Sand River and east of the Londolozi camps. With a surplus of deep drainage lines and dense vegetation in that part of the reserve, there are adequate places for the cub to conceal itself when the mother goes hunting, and at the age of roughly 6 months, its climbing skills are advanced enough that it can seek refuge in the trees if needs be. Pete Thorpe, Bennet Mathonsi and their guests get an incredible walk-by from the pair.
White tailed mongooses are only very rarely encountered in the day. Nocturnal by nature, they are the biggest mongoose species we find here, and are usually solitary. This one must have been late returning from its nightly foraging, or it had been disturbed out of its hiding place. Whatever the case, it lost no time in making tracks for shelter, only pausing briefly to look back towards the Land Rover.
Two Nyala bulls make their way to a pan for an evening drink. A lot of browsers like Nyalas (although they do eat grass and fruits, so are probably closer to mixed-feeders than pure browsers) rely heavily on the foliage that they eat for their moisture requirements, so seeing them coming to water is a special sight.
Two Bush locusts (from the family Phymateus, unless I’ve got this ID horribly wrong) copulate on a Grewia tree. Most of the time the males of the species are significantly smaller than the females, so one can only conclude that the one at the bottom of the picture is the male, who is mounting the much bigger female.
Those who’ve attended former Ranger-cum-Head-of-Finance David Dampier’s pizza evenings out in the bush will know what an impressive meal he can whip up (in true Roman style, we’re led to believe, not the Naples style). With varied toppings that range from a simple Margherita to Lobster, he has swiftly become a connoisseur of the art.
The Ximungwe female has been seen sniffing out some former den-sites (of other females), which led to the belief that she may be pregnant. Having been seen mating on a number of occasions, our hopes were immediately raised, but subsequent sightings of her have revealed no sign of pregnancy. At 3 1/2 years old, she is certainly able to fall pregnant, although it only happens for the first time for most females at Londolozi once they’re older than 4.
With the first rains still due, the bush remains very open. Bird sightings are far better as a result, as one doesn’t have to worry about a whole bunch of leaves getting in the way. Thankfully, bigger birds like this Spotted Eagle Owl generally favour more exposed perches anyway. It was a very windy night when we found this individual, which one can see by its blown over ear tufts.
Innocent Ngwenya, star graduate of the Tracker Academy and one of the industry’s brightest prospects. Innocent has a fascinating life story, and comes from a pedigree of bush masters. His father was a very experienced guide, as is his uncle, and his cousin Advice is also on Londolozi’s tracking team. Innocent was recently featured in an article in The Telegraph, which you can read by clicking here. In this photo, he was sitting next to guide Fin Lawlor, watching the Nkoveni female leopard and her cub.
Game over. Whilst this impala ram may well live a healthy life for a few more years, his chances of successfully procuring a harem come the next rut are effectively nil, without horns to be able to take on rivals. Having said this, his horns may well have broken during a last stand in defence of his females, and he may well have already passed on his genes.
The Nkoveni female and her cub again. Having had an up-and-down couple of months in terms of how prominently she has featured in the last while, this leopard is definitely on an upward trend at the moment, with sightings having been fairly consistent for the past few weeks. The extensive Tamboti thickets to the east of the Londolozi camps have seen a lot of movement of the pair, which has made photography tough, but luckily on this morning she happened to walk right into this patch of sunlight.
Hyenas generally don’t bother going for impalas in the winter months, unless the antelope are particularly sick or frail, or even injured. Come summer though, when the lambs start being born, the hyenas will once more begin scoping the herds, looking for a newborn to easily snap up. This individual was watching a group of ewes, looking for even the slightest opportunity, but walked away disappointed, with the impalas barely deigning to spare it a glance.
With a large portion of the southern parts of South Africa blanketed in snow last weekend, it was only a matter of time before the cold conditions hit Londolozi. At the beginning of the week, the mornings felt like winter was back again, and rangers and trackers were once more heading out on drive with long pants and gloves on. This small Barred Owlet was feeling the cold too, and puffed itself up to create a layer of insulated air around its body.
Another of Londolozi’s superb trackers, Life Sibuyi, and ranger Mrisho Lugenge, sit watching the Nhlanguleni female leopard, out of frame to the right. Life is the unofficial funny man of the tracking team, his quiet nature belying one of the sharpest senses of humour around. Life likes nothing more than teaching rangers the ways of the bush, and has formed lifelong friendships with pretty much every ranger who has had the privilege of working with him.
One of the cheetah cubs pauses momentarily to look towards a clearing, while ranger Sandros Sihlangu and his guests enjoy front row seats. The mother cheetah can be seen out front, and one can see how thin the cub is closest to the camera. We haven’t seen the cheetah family for a couple of days now, and it is generally now assumed that the mother’s right eye is permanently blind.
It was on one of the cold mornings mentioned above that we last saw the trio. They climbed a termite mound to take advantage of the warming rays of the sun, yet despite a number of impala in the clearings in the distance, the adult female made no move towards them. Perhaps she didn’t think her chances of success were hight, or perhaps as a result of her injured eye, she simply didn’t see them. The cheetah closest to the camera here is one of the cubs, and the swelling on the mother’s injured face can still be seen out of focus in the background.
A wonderfully tender moment between siblings, as one lies on the paws of the other.
Rangers Kevin Power (on the rock, looking noble) and Pete Thorpe (binoculars in hand, not really necessary as he has eagle eyes) scan the open clearings from the top of Ximpalapala koppie as the sun sets behind the escarpment in the distance.