It’s incredible how nature responds to changing conditions.
The grass at the moment is longer and, more importantly, thicker than we’ve seen it in many years, and a number of species are thriving as a result. Seed-eating birds in particular are everywhere, and species like Harlequin Quails and Kurrichane Buttonquails – that usually remain well hidden in cover, are calling all over the grassy crests.
The Harlequins haven’t been seen or heard in this number since 2009, and it is almost certainly the profusion of the grasses which has allowed their population to spike radically. They are partial migrants, flying south to breed and then returning north in the winter, and large scale irruptions occur when food is plentiful, as it is now with more grass seeds than they know what to do with, as well as an accompanying plethora of small invertebrates that constitute a large part of their diet.
Owing to their habit or remaining in the long grass until flushed, I haven’t managed to get a decent picture of a Harlequin Quail yet, so some of Londolozi’s larger inhabitants will have to do the job for now.
Enjoy this Week in Pictures..
The Ntsevu lion cubs wait patiently for their mothers to return. The cubs will often seek the heights of a termite mound while they wait, which although allowing them to see far, also makes them far more conspicuous, and if a a curious hyena should happen along, it could be disastrous. So far the cubs are doing well, with 12 of the original 13 still alive and healthy.
The elephants of the area are subsisting largely on a grass diet at the moment, with this food source being the most lush and plentiful. Since some of the best grazing is out in the open clearings, sightings have been spectacular, with a number of plains game species often mingling together.
An impala ram peers out from amongst the Indigofera foliage. With such long grass on the crests, the impala can’t afford to relax their vigilance, as the hunting for the local leopard population is as simple up on the crests as it is in the drainage lines; there is cover everywhere for them.
The hippos that concentrate around the Sand River pools and the large waterholes near camp generally keep the grass closely cropped up near the Londolozi Airstrip, and as such it is a favourite place for zebras and wildebeest to spend their time; plentiful food and good visibility are a favourable part of their survival equation.
Although spotting a leopard moving through the long grass can be extremely difficult right now, one of the advantages to the conditions is that the leopards themselves also seem to want to get out of the grass. A faceful of seeds and pollen can’t be too pleasant with each step, so we are seeing the spotted cats up in the marula trees quite often. Here the Mashaba female stretches before getting moving for the evening.
Some of the Ntsevu cubs again, seemingly resigned to the long wait they may have to endure before their mothers fetch them to a kill or for milk.
A male Steenbok pins his ears back, hoping to avoid detection. Most of the time these diminutive antelope will seek refuge in the grass, but much like the leopards in the caption above, probably find it difficult to move through and slightly uncomfortable to lie in. With such high growth along the verge of the track acting as cover, I imagine this individual felt quite safe until our Land Rover happened along.
Whatever works as a pillow…
And of course, the obligatory panning shot. Low light is the best time to experiment with photography, and zebras with their contrasting black and white stripes are an attractive subject.
The Nkoveni female and her cub in the boughs of a marula tree, their impala carcass safely stashed. Some of you may have seen this shot in our Photo Tips From the Field Instagram Story, of which we’ll be doing a lot more over the coming while…
Two zebras move off from the crowd; another shot from the Londolozi airstrip. We’re very fortunate to have such a healthy population of these grazers on the reserve, since a large number of first-time visitors to Africa actually have them higher up on their must-see lists than the large predators!
A young impala leans cautiously forward to drink. His tiny horns show that he is of the latest crop of lambs, so his age is less than 4 months.
The Three Rivers female has been scent-marking all over the south-east of Londolozi, in the old Tamboti female’s territory. It is going to be interesting to see the dynamics play out between her and the Tamboti young female, who is essentially inhabiting the same area at the moment.
The Ntsevu pride march up the road back towards where they had stashed their cubs. One of the Birmingham males can be seen just emerging from behind the grass at the back of the photo. Having the males tagging along is actually a disincentive for the lionesses to hunt, as the likelihood is that the males will hog most of the kill for themselves, should one be made. This is exactly what happened on this night, as the pride took down an impala, only to have the three Birminghams rush in to claim it within seconds.