This past week started rather slow. The cold front that hit most of South Africa, leaving snow in some parts of the interior, stretched up into the Lowveld and brought along with it some cold, windy weather with a splash of unseasonal rain. This first cold snap, coupled with the wind, meant that finding the animals was a harder task than usual. Many of the predators would have made successful kills on the first dark windy night we had. This then pins those animals to that spot while they feed for the next couple of days – nothing unusual if it wasn’t for a light shower of rain that following morning which washes their tracks away leaving them to feed on their kills for a time without being found. The colder temperatures also simply encourage the animals to lower their activity levels and ‘wait out the storm’ from the cover of thickets and drainage lines. However, the follow-through of these conditions is what we look forward to and as the front moved on we were treated to numerous fantastic sightings as the animals got moving again.
Some of the headlines from the week’s activities include an unidentified young male leopard who wandered through, west of our camps. He caught and hoisted a young impala only to be robbed of it by the Flat Rock Male. The Nhlanguleni female also had a successful hunt of an impala ewe only to be robbed by the Senegal Bush Male that evening. The less frequently seen Nweti male was also followed late one morning into the Sand River while on his territorial patrol and the Ximungwe and Nkoveni females have also both been seen with brief views of their respective cubs – still alive and well. A long-awaited visit from the two Avoca males shuffled up the lion dynamics as one of them was seen mating with a Ntsevu lioness while the Birmingham Males have been relatively quiet after finding one of them to be injured from a fight late last week (nothing fatal). The aloes are blooming, the vegetation is thinning and the temperatures are certainly dropping… winter is here!
Enjoy this week in pictures…
Two of the Ntsevu young males keep an eye on a small herd of impala up ahead of them. The dynamics of this pride are still up in the air but we consistently viewed a group of six of them (one young female and five young males) moving around together for a few days. They ventured further west than where we are used to seeing the pride; an indication that they are beginning to broaden their horizons.
Winter is the season of the sunbirds. The aloes are starting to bloom in and around the camp pathways and several species of sunbird can be seen throughout the day. Here, a scarlet-chested sunbird inspects one of the many aloes in the Varty camp car park. Between game drives, I would highly recommend a stroll through the camps; take your camera along and see if you can grab a shot of these colourful birds.
With the recent discovery of a hyena den site just east of the camp, we have been enjoying some fantastic viewing of the clans newest members. Hyenas of the same clan will den their young in a termite mound which then becomes the centralised meeting point for the hyenas of that area. These den sites are then used for a couple of months and then relocated to a new mound largely due to the parasite build up inside the mound.
An intimidating stare down with a large rhino bull.
This beautiful secretary bird has moved into the open crests in the south-east portion of the reserve and has become a fairly regular sighting in that area. They spend their time foraging the grasslands for food and, if you have the time, following one can be quite entertaining as they catch and feed on numerous different creatures from shrews to snakes.
Two of the Ntsevu sub-adults playfully wrestle one another. While these interactions can get rather aggressive the purpose is instead to develop their skills and co-ordinations for combat and hunting which will no doubt prove to be useful for them in years to come.
It was interesting to see how the young female appeared to be ‘leading’ this small group. She would be the one to determine the direction they moved and was in fact the one who instigated most of the wrestling amongst the group – despite being the smallest by some measure. When the group came across a herd of impala (see first image) she seemed to be the only one that was interested in hunting them. Traditionally speaking, young lionesses stay with their natal pride but I wonder what the future holds for her?
A chinspot batis looks me up and down as I try sneak closer to get a better photo. Walking through the camps, these little birds can often be seen fluttering about the in middle story of the canopy.
Bee-eaters could my favourite family of birds. Their exquisite colours catch the eye and they can be entertaining to watch too, as they dart around with such agility, catching flying insects and returning to the branch to feed on them.
A slightly different edit on a photo of the plaque rock female. I found that the black background accentuated her whiskers and brought added focus to the textures of her coat. I’m still not sure if I like it but it’s always interesting to try something different.
This very relaxed crested barbet was perched on an open tree stump on the banks of the Sand River which gave us a great opportunity to get a closer view of his colourful, mottled plumage.
Jackal are not often seen in this area. Like most small predators, they are out-competed by the dense populations of larger predators like hyena and lion. However, with the grass and vegetation starting to dry out as we get into the dry season, we are starting to see these elusive canids more often than we have in the last few months.
This was just after sunrise on one of the coldest mornings we’ve experienced this year. We had tracked these lions down the road and found them tucked up on top of one another trying to use their body heat to keep each other warm. It wasn’t long after the sun hit their bodies that they got up and started moving again.
A gorgeous red-capped robin-chat sings his melody from a branch in the thicket in front of my room in the village. This family of birds are very vocal and have the ability to mimmic other bird’s and even animal’s calls.
We had a long overdue visit from the Avoca males a few days ago. They announced their presence with bellowing calls that could be heard from the camp as we were all waking up that morning. It wasn’t long before they were found just south of the river, along with one of the Ntsevu lionesses whom the one male was mating with; a bold statement towards the Birmingham Males who usually spend the majority of their time with the Ntsevu pride.
A scene I have always wanted to witness! We were returning back to camp late one morning when we bumped into the Flat Rock male. As we saw him, we knew that there was potential for him to cross through the river given the direction he was moving in. Fifteen minutes later and we couldn’t have been in a better place at a better time to see him leap across the southern channel.
A few moments after the last photo was taken, he strolled out onto a sand bank island in the middle of the river which gave us a fantastic opportunity at getting a scenic image. The river bisects his territory and we know that he regularly crosses it, however we are very seldom around to see it happen.
Its difficult to say what the young male leopard will do. For the time being he will still just be trying to avoid older, bigger males until he feels strong enough to try establish a territory of his own. He still looked fairly young so there’s a good chance he may move off soon given his interaction with the Flat Rock male.