Whether it’s watching the yellow and orange leaves hang on by their fingertips as a slight breeze removes them from their host or walking through the veld as we watch the mosaic of green turn to its more uniform khaki colour, we know winter is on its way and we’re all very excited about it. As the bush begins to thin out, I can’t help but think back to what makes winter so special to me and what we can expect over the next few months.
Dusk and Dawn
Although winter only technically begins on the 21st of June with the winter solstice, we are already beginning to see the days shorten and nights getting longer and we are definitely feeling a change in temperature. At Londolozi, we experience most of our rainfall in the summer months and tend to see our last bit of rain in April. Everything then dries out and transforms into a crisp dry landscape. The lack of moisture means there is a lot more dust and airborne particles suspended in the air from the daily activities that happen throughout the reserve.
What this means for us is that dusk and dawn are nothing short of breath-taking during winter. The mornings have this fresh feel to them that beats any cup of coffee, the cool air on your face while driving is enough for me. Watching the new day begin is always accompanied by a blanket of mist that stretches throughout Londolozi. Due to the shorter days, sunset can sneak up on you but one should always take a moment and allow yourself to appreciate sunsets during winter, which are some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen.
Colour when you least expect it
The Bush has its own unique way of balance and we witness this, especially with the flowering of plants. As the majority of the vegetation is sending its reserves back into the ground to store it within the roots, energy is conserved by not flowering or looking for opportunities to reproduce. It opens the door for a few other plants that choose this time of year to flower. Two that stand out for me are, firstly, the impala lily. A brilliant white, pink, crimson, red and bicoloured flower that decorates a small succulent shrub often found growing in a dry open landscape making them stick out like a sore thumb. What allows these plants to flourish and produce such bright flowers in winter is the large underground rootstock where an abundance of nutrients has been stored from the summer. The Impala lily sports a toxic latex that prevents many animals from feeding on the succulent plant during periods of scarcity.
The second stunning pop of colour comes from the Krantz aloe (Aloe arborescens). Usually found growing in the form of a multiheaded shrub with grey-green succulent leaves arranged in attractive rosettes. The leaf margins are armed with conspicuous pale teeth. During the winter each aloe rosette will produce a single stem with multiple heads of bright orange and yellow flowers. As with all the aloes, the flowers produce nectar and are attractive to many kinds of birds, in particular the small and colourful sunbirds, which flit from flower to flower in search of nectar. The flowers also attract bees.
Not only do the aloes produce bright attractive flowers that are associated with many other colourful species. They have been hugely influential in the medicinal realm and have shown significant wound healing, anti-bacterial, anti-ulcer, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, hypoglycaemic and also alopoeic activity. The leaves have also been found to have purgative properties and the leaf sap is reported to relieve x-ray burns.
Going into winter we are fortunate enough to witness one of the most interesting events that happen here at Londolozi. Impala rams go through a process called “the rut”, where they have a heightened sense of testosterone flowing through their bodies. Giving them a strong urge to mate with the impala ewes. Due to the testosterone levels, they get very aggressive towards other rams and ewes that they are wanting to mate with.
The more dominant ram will lay claim to a temporary herd of females. While in control of this herd he will try to mate with as many females as possible, all the while chasing off and deterring other rival males who have been building up their strength and skillsets while spending their days in a bachelor herd. This could almost be seen as the training academy, where the males quickly realise the more dominant males who will have the best chances of claiming a herd of females from another male.
Rams will chase the females around trying to keep them within his control, preventing them from wandering off too far and potentially being taken over by another male. When a rival male ventures into the dominant male’s realm, a battle is likely to ensue. Locking horns in a violent encounter, each male not wanting to back down, strongly driven by the urge to pass on one’s genes. So determined and dedicated they will briefly watch a predator pass by and within seconds resume the skirmish. Some of which cost the males a horn or two, and possibly even their lives.
Although the sight of the rut is something to behold, it’s the sounds that come from these impalas that really catch my attention. When rutting they create this low gurgling sound that definitely doesn’t sound as though it should come from an impala. It is this sound that catches any predator’s attention within the surrounding vicinity. They know that the impalas are distracted and make for easier targets, especially when they can hear the clashing of the impala horns.
After having a good rainy season, with a large amount falling in mid-April, which is late for us at Londolozi. Things are bound to green up again as one last little burst of growth before it begins to cool down. There will be an abundance of water in many of the waterholes and the water table beneath the surface will be high, holding us well into the winter and allowing the bush to thrive. The riverbeds will have subterranean streams flowing underneath the river sand, which elephants are likely to dig holes to reach opening them up for other animals to make use of.
So with all the excess water around, the animals and bushveld will thrive for the months to come and yes we will see it all dry up and transform in colour but the overall health of Londolozi’s landscape will be in great condition. On top of the landscape, I am sure we can expect a fairly cool winter with lovely cold misty mornings and stunning scenery to accompany it.
Winter at Londolozi has many gems that are constantly on display. The sights, sounds and smell of winter is fast approaching and I can’t wait to welcome it all back.