It’s fairly boring to be discussing the weather, but we were meant to be pretty much swimming our way out on drive right about now. The predicted rainfall for last week was at one point in excess of 200mm; shades of the 2012 floods, when we received half our annual rainfall in 36 hours. Even the tiniest drainage lines were raging torrents and uncrossable, and the reserve became an extensive bog. Game drives turned into extended exercises in extracting Land Rovers from mud up to their axles, and no road was deemed safe. Even the well-drained marula crests were practically unnavigable.
And after the predicted 200mm, would you like to know how much rain we received?
At one point I thought I felt a drop, but now that I think about it, it was far more likely a recalcitrant spittle bug (I was parked under a Weeping Wattle at the time).
We need a few more millimetres to get us over the finish line (yearly average), but I guess we can at least be thankful that game drives continued as normal this week, and we got to see the amazing things we did.
Enjoy this Week in Pictures…
The Sand River has been fluctuating a lot; heavy rains upstream bring it down strongly, then an extended period with no rainfall makes it drop. It’s dropping at the moment, but there is still more than enough water in it to keep those that live along its fringes happy. One of the Nhlanguleni female’s cubs takes advantage of a dwindling pool to slake her thirst.
Hyenas are the first response trams of the bush. Just like we can differentiate between the different levels of impala alarm calls based on the threat level detected (maximum volume when a kill has actually been made by a predator), so can these apex carnivores. The hyena on the right had come racing in when it heard the frantic snorting of an impala herd, and managed to rob the Nhlanguleni female leopard of the kill she had made not 5 minutes before. The second hyena arrived less than a minute later and between the two of them they made very short work of the yearling ram.
Hippos generally appear to be lying in deeper water than they are. Most of the time a pod will be lying on their sides or bellies, and when disturbed will simply stand up to move away. All they really need is enough water to cover their bodies and protect themselves from the sun. This individual was moving between deeper sections, but keeping a wary eye on our vehicle while doing so. Despite their enormous bulk and fearsome teeth, even the world’s third largest land mammal (classified as such even though they enjoy a semi-aquatic lifestyle) feels threatened when exposed.
The herds of impala across the reserve are the biggest I can remember in the time I’ve been here. I think I put in a similar photo in my last Week in Pictures but it still amazes me just how prolific they have become this season. Herds of a couple of hundred are not uncommon.
And even more so than the hippo mentioned above, impalas feel threatened easily. The herd in the previous photo was spooked by a zebra stallion chasing another young male and started to run. When one moves, they will generally all follow suit, and because of the cloudy conditions I quickly switched to a low shutter speed to try for a panning shot. This is certainly not the best one I’ve ever captured, but was the most usable of the lot.
Tracking Tuesdays are back! Some of you may have watched our Instagram story from earlier this week, but in case you missed it, T.T. is an initiative started by Ranger Fin Lawlor (black cap) and Tracker Innocent Ngwenya (book in hand), to up the tracking skill level of the ranging team. Those who can make it head out each Tuesday after morning drive for an hour or so to discuss some of the more obscure tracks one can find out there, from beetles to birds to behemoths, while usually Innocent and Rob Hlatswayo are the trackers that come along to assist and instruct.
Tracker Rob Hlatswayo highlights the size of a track during Tracking Tuesday. This one was a kudu, unless I’m much mistaken.
This sighting was from a little bit more than a week ago but I wanted to share it anyway. The Ximungwe female has recently started taking her cubs to kills. They had finished an impala kill the day before this photo was taken, but thankfully were still in the vicinity, so easy to find the next morning. With all the grass around at the moment, we were incredibly fortunate that she led them to this particular pan to drink, where there was no grass cover and we could capture an unobscured photo.
After drinking the trio explored the depression in which the pan lay, clambering up a few fallen trees and taking their time moving back to cover.
The younger looking Ntsevu lioness consorts with one of the Birmingham males. This lioness could easily be mistaken for a sub-adult, so youthful does she look, but she and the other 5 females in her pride were all born in the autumn and winter of 2013 and so are roughly the same age.
There is growing concern that the Ximungwe female may have lost one of the two cubs in the photos shown above. It’s not uncommon for only a single cub to be seen for a few days, but this usually occurs when the litter is slightly older. We’ll only be able to confirm the cub’s disappearance if we have more regular sightings of her over the next week, and they continue to be with only one offspring.
The Birmingham males have been spending more time further west in their territory, and in particular around the Londolozi airstrip. Their major predecessors the Majingilane also favoured this open area as it is an effective zone from which to roar; lack of obstructions means the calls will carry far into the night, ensuring maximum reward for their effort.
Some spook more easily than others. A zebra mare runs with two foals while the rest of the herd continues to graze unconcerned in one of Londolozi’s prominent marula clearings.
Africa’s biggest kingfisher; the Giant. This is a male, easily identified by his russet chest.
A white rhino bull pauses in his morning meal of grass to look towards our vehicle, while a red-billed oxpecker pauses in ITS early morning meal to do the same thing. The enlarged base of this rhino’s horn tells us that it’s a male without needing further evidence; males have more reinforcement at the base of their horns as they use them for fighting far more than the females, who have a more gradual taper towards the tip.