January 2021

Chasing rainbows


Chasing rainbows

One afternoon heading out on game drive it really felt like something was brewing. Ominous storm clouds where building over the Lebombo Mountains and far into Mozambique to our east. The sun was slowly setting through clear skies in the west and gave promise that we would remain dry until at least nightfall. The plan for the afternoon was to head up towards the central depression area of our concession to see if we could find the lions of the Mountain Pride that had been seen in the area earlier in the day.

We were enjoying the journey up the N’wanetsi River, which at this time of the year is absolutely teaming with a variety of game and birdlife. By the time we arrived in the area where we assumed the lions could be, the clouds had reached us and were looming threateningly over us and it looked like it could rain at any moment. We then spotted some giraffes in the distance that seemed to be looking at something. Giraffes have excellent vision and due to their large size, they often spot lions and stare at them which is a behaviour we can use to our advantage, to successfully find the lions or any other predators for that matter. As luck would have it, that is exactly what happened. The lions were stretching and yawning in the open plains and almost comically three giraffes had surrounded them and stood dead still, looking at them with an almost morbid fascination. As we got in to position to watch the spectacle the most incredible rainbow was arcing over the Lebombo Mountains. The radio chatter which is usually focused on finding animals was replaced by everybody’s amazement at the rainbow on display.

But what is a rainbow really?  It is a phenomenon that is caused by the reflection or refraction of light in water droplets which results in the spectrum of light appearing in the sky. Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the sun. We were in the perfect position with the sun setting behind our backs to the west and we were looking towards the storm clouds in the east. Each raindrop acts as a tiny, imperfect mirror which reflects the light. The seven colours of the rainbow are said to be red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

At around the same time, at the Lebombo lodge, a photo was taken of an almost perfect double rainbow. When a double rainbow forms, a second arc is seen outside the primary arc, the order of its colours are also reversed, with red on the inside of the arc. This is caused by the light being reflected twice on the inside of the droplet before leaving it.

The sky was truly a remarkable sight on that afternoon and one that will live long in my memory.

By Garry Bruce
Field Guide