First things first; the Mystery Bird was a juvenile Black Crake.
This was a tricky shot to work off as the bird’s angle made assessing its general shape and size a bit of a nightmare. The weaver’s nest in the bottom right corner suggested it was over water, which was a big clue. Congrats to those who got it right!
Long grass tells us what a great rainy season we’ve had so far. Not only have we had enough rain, but we’ve had it at the right time: early, when most of the growth needed to occur.
But whilst we can delight in a summer that has set us up for an ecologically healthy dry season, the grass length has nevertheless made photography slightly tricker.
Leopards completely disappear in it and stray stalks can impact photos by swaying in front of an animal’s face. One needs to be patient or start getting creative in order to make things work to your advantage photographically.
The new moon has made for dark nights, and the leopards have been hard to find as a result, most likely feeding in secluded thickets on kills they made on the blackest of evenings.
There has been more than enough action this past week to see us through a slight dip in leopard sightings though, with the big event being probably the Tsalala lioness fighting a clan of hyenas over a wildebeest kill, barely 100 metres from the camp perimeter.
Enjoy this Week in Pictures…
Herds of elephants have been pouring into the reserve this past week. Elephant sightings can be fickle in summer (you would be amazed at how easily an entire herd can disappear in the thick green vegetation), but the last few days in particular have seen a surplus of the pachyderms traversing the reserve. Here a herd stops for a morning drink at Shingalana Dam, right in the heart of Londolozi.
The Nhlanguleni female is watched by tracker Life Sibuyi from the back seat of ranger Nick Sims’ Land Rover. No one has seen her cubs of late, but fresh suckle marks in this sighting told us they are alive and well, and we believe she is denning them in the boulders of the Sand River, in front of the Londolozi Camps.
Andrea Sithole, Tshepo Dzemba and Sersant Sibuyi examine the tracks of a female leopard that had walked past the night before. All three of these young men are graduates of the Tracker Academy, an organisation that strives to ensure the ancient art of tracking is preserved.
A hooded vulture at dawn. This individual was waiting for the light to increase before dropping to search for scraps where the Tsalala female had killed a wildebeest the previous morning. It’s too dangerous for vultures to be on the ground at night; they’d rather roost in safety and look for food in the morning.
Ranger Guy Brunskill considers his exit options as a rather large elephant bull emerges from the thickets ahead of him. Thankfully this bull was entirely peaceful and simply moved past sedately.
A green-backed heron eyes out possible fishing spots from the water’s edge at the Causeway. This photo highlights the importance of a stable camera in wildlife photography; the shutter speed was only 1/20th of a second, yet the heron is sharp. A heavy beanbag kept the lens from moving, and fortunately neither did the bird.
Two dwarf mongooses peer from their den in the evening light. These small carnivores prefer using termite mounds as dens; preferably those that are close to cover.
Double-banded sandgrouse are tough and easy to photograph at the same time. They lie doggo in the road until you’re almost on top of them then they explode into flight. It’s easy to mistake their inanimate forms for elephant dung, so you need to be on the alert and see them in plenty of time if you are to try for a shot. Fortunately they rely heavily on their camouflage, so even if you alight from the vehicle within 20m of them (as we did here), they will remain motionless, hoping not to be seen, so if you have a big enough lens you have a good chance of capturing a shot.
This is the male sandgrouse, identified by the double bands on his forehead. The female in the photo above lacks these markings.
Tracker Rob Hlatswayo. affectionately known as “the Professor”. This was in a sighting of the Ntsevu lions finishing a kill, and Rob grinned as he looked up and suddenly noticed the camera pointing at him.
It was a wonderful treat seeing the Nanga female one morning. Although we found her about a month ago on a kill in Londolozi’s northern reaches, sightings have been very scarce over the last 18 months. She is now our second oldest female leopard.
A view from the opposite side of the branch she was lying on…
Impalas make use of the last light of day to graze amongst the towering foxgloves. Extremely long grass at the moment means large portions of the reserve must be nerve-wracking for the herbivores to feed in, as predators could literally be hiding anywhere.
Two wildebeest bulls lock horns in a sparring session while a third bull looks on. Mock-serious contests like this let bulls test each other’s strength, and help establish a loose hierarchy within a bachelor herd.
My highlight of the week was watching the Tsalala female fight for her kill against about 15 hyenas. She had downed a wildebeest bull at dawn, and snooping hyenas had found her and begun calling for reinforcements. After 20 minutes or so a tipping point was reached and the lioness was driven off, although she reclaimed the kill after another quarter of an hour.
Immediately after driving the lioness off, one of the hyenas managed to grab what looked like the wildebeest’s liver and run off with it to feed somewhere safer.
All remained quiet throughout the day, but by evening the hyenas had come skulking back in and there were another few bouts of back-and forth over the carcass. After almost all of it was consumed the hyenas left, leaving the Tsalala female and cub to gnaw on the last dregs of meat off the spinal column.