As the early morning temperatures are rapidly warming up, winter firmly behind us, the slimmer of the rangers such as myself are now able to comfortably slip back into short pants, as opposed to the long pants I am forced to wear in winter. This bodes well for what summer has in store for us. I have no doubt this will be yet another glorious season here at Londolozi and here are a couple exciting things that I enjoy and look forward to at the beginning of summer.
The Return of the Wahlberg’s Eagles
Along with many other birds that migrate northwards for the winter in the southern hemisphere, their return is highly anticipated. The Wahlberg’s Eagles are one species that migrate for a number of reasons. First and foremost, their migration is driven by the availability of their primary food source, which consists mainly of small mammals and birds.
As one can imagine with the temperatures dropping significantly in winter, the smaller mammals and reptiles will be the ones that feel the impact the most, this causes them to either drastically reduce their activity or go into hiding until things warm up again. So without there being that much food available, like many other birds they choose to spend the colder months where they will have better chances of finding food. While here in the warm summer months, Londolozi teams with life in all forms, therefore what the Wahlberg’s Eagle eats is thriving because what their prey eats is also thriving. Essentially there is an abundance of food everywhere you look for all.
So why in particular am I excited about the return of the Wahlberg’s Eagles? They are such awesome eagles that vary in their colouration from a pale white right through to a dark brown or almost black. It is incredible to see the variation that can occur amongst one species of bird.
The Wahlberg’s Eagles breed during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, taking advantage of the abundance of prey in all forms. Whether it be the insect life, small mammals and their newborns, or the diversity of birdlife with their chicks. Raising chicks while there is an abundance of food in the summer months makes the task much easier to handle. Wahlberg’s Eagles mate for life and will return as pairs to the same area and often reuse the same nests. So we get to know the specific pairs that hang around certain areas and are able to watch them potentially raise another brood.
The reappearance of Leopard Tortoises and other reptiles
As one can imagine a cold winter will have a larger impact on cold-blooded reptiles and smaller animals more so than say a large elephant, rhino or buffalo. Ectotherms or cold-blooded animals rely on their environment to affect their body temperature, so whatever the ambient temperature is that is what the body temperature will be. Leopard tortoises exhibit fascinating seasonal behaviours in response to temperature changes over the seasons. Over the months of June to August, our winter, it is incredibly rare to see a leopard tortoise. This is mainly because they have retreated into a burrow to cope with the cold and limited food resources. They enter a state of significantly lowered metabolic rate and could almost be compared to hibernation, known as aestivation, where it is rather in response to the lack of water.
The excitement around their reappearance stems from the fact that the first rains would have arrived, and the bushveld would have begun its transformation. This means that there will be ample new growth and fresh vegetation to feed on for the tortoises. So for me seeing a tortoise means that summer is in full swing and that there is likely to be some rain around.
The First Flowers to Bloom
Throughout the winter the bushveld is often drab and filled with shades of brown, grey, yellow, and gold with the odd splash of colour from some of the flowering plants. As we transition into the greenery and more vibrant colours of summer many other plants begin o flower. Some of these are the gorgeous maroon flowers of the sausage tree and the violet petals of the tree wisteria. Another tree whose blooms signify the arrival of summer is that of the bushveld gardenias. The flowers range from a pale white to a pastel yellow. And although the trees may be covered in pretty flowers, for me it is the strong distinct fragrance that lingers around these trees. This sweet, rich and slightly musky scent can be very familiar to many, especially those who have spent some time in the African bushveld.
For me, I guess, I immediately associate the smell with petrichor, the scent of the warm, sun-soaked ground after a fresh rain shower, which is quite often the time when their fragrance is the strongest. So, even if one has never encountered a Bushveld Gardenia in person, its unique and evocative scent can also be found as the fragrance used in many home reed diffusers or scented candles, and will possibly trigger a nostalgic sense of familiarity.
Although summertime in the wilderness comes with much excitement and so many different aspects to it, these are just a few brief ones that I am excited about this year. From the return of all the migrants and the buzz around the bush as they all feast on the abundance of life, or seeing the return of the local Wahlberg’s Eagle pairs in each part of the reserve as they reconstruct their nests and hopefully raise a chick successfully. Or the leopard tortoises moving around and feasting on the fresh vegetation and new growth allowing us a chance to get an up-close view of them, signalling that a rainshower is imminent or just let up. And lastly along with the splash of colour that the flowers of summer provide I think it is the fragrances that I am most looking forward too.