September and October don’t often have a lot of status attached to them in the South African Lowveld. Winter is June/July August (cold and dry), and Summer is December/January/February, defined by soaring temperatures and spectacular thunderstorms.
But September and October occupy a bit of a funny position in that there is nothing that truly defines them. Yes the temperatures are rising, but nothing properly dramatic tends to happen until at least November. Or so conventional wisdom would have you believe.
In fact, these first two months of spring offer some of the best game viewing of the year, with the driest time in the bush forcing everything towards what little water remains, resulting in fantastic concentrations of predators in particular.
Take a look below at what happened in October of 2014…
The Sparta Pride in full cry. We had seen this sick old buffalo cow about 20 minutes before we tracked down the lions. She was tailing onto a big bachelor herd of about 15 bulls. The buffalo unwittingly walked right in to where the lions were sleeping, and the pride immediately singled out the emaciated cow as their target. They took her down six times in total, with the bulls driving them off repeatedly, before she eventually succumbed.
I can’t even remember which leopard this was of sadly, but I suspect it was the Piva male. Either way, it’s not often you get close enough to one of these beautiful cats for such a close-up look at their rosettes.
Directly descended from the original mother leopard and therefore part of the royal lineage of Londolozi.
Hyenas will move dens when there is a significant parasite build-up, and we just happened to be lucky enough to bump into this female ferrying one of her cubs to the new site. At first we thought she was killing something, as whatever she had in her mouth was squealing and kicking up a heck of a fuss. It was only when we got closer that we saw it was a cub, clearly uncomfortable in the way it was carried, and not meek and limp like a lion or leopard cub would be in this situation.
October is a time of dust, although 2014 featured a lot more water in the Sand River. This year, with much drier conditions, there is scant relief from the dust that is pervading life across the reserve.
A pied kingfisher tries for one last meal before darkness.
The end of the dry season is a difficult time for the grazers, with the buffalo in particular losing condition. This old bull just didn’t have the strength to defend himself against the Tsalala pride, a fact which I doubt these white-backed and hooded vultures were bemoaning.
The Tsalala pride – when they were still a thing – frequented the Sand River, exactly as the lone Tsalala lioness is doing now. Again, the significant visible difference between now and 5 years ago is how much water was in the river.
The pride was raising cubs at the time – one of which is the current Tsalala female – and were all splashing around in the shallows, getting wet. Unfortunately most of their play was behind a reedbed which made photography tricky, but here is one of the lionesses shaking herself dry.
And of course, the cubs are always the ones with the high energy!
The Tamboti female had left her normal territory to venture all the way north to just downstream of the Londolozi camps; a good 4 kilometres beyond the usual edge of her territory. She had done this in order to mate with the Marthly male, who can just be seen disappearing over the rock to the left. Female leopards will attempt to mate with all the neighbouring males in the area, to get them all invested in the paternity of the cubs, should the female fall pregnant.
The Tamboti female inhabited the south-eastern sections of Londolozi, having a large part of her territory along the Maxabene Riverbed.
The Majingilane were very much in their prime back in 2014. In this sighting I think the Tsalala pride had killed a buffalo, but were robbed by the Mhangeni pride. The Majingilane calmed everything down as the prides went their separate ways, and we had some spectacular views of the big males up on the rocks along the edge of the Sand River. Ranger Lucien Beaumont and his guests watch from the background.
The greenery in the background of this picture caught my eye from the October archives. Generally the bush is much browner than this, but quite possibly a bit of rain had fallen, and some of the Knobthorn trees were already starting to leaf.
This was the 6th and final time that the Sparta pride took down the buffalo cow from the opening picture. I still find it quite difficult to look at this photo, from the very evident terror in the poor buffalo’s eye. Her fate was sealed.