The month of February saw the highest rainfall of the season so far, with a few days of heavy downpour, coupled with exquisite electric displays in the sky. Our rivers, namely the N’wanetsi and Sweni, are full to capacity, with the weir overflowing for days on end following the rain. This has been quite the spectacle as a large number of crocodiles were waiting patiently at the weir in the fast flowing water. They were hoping to catch some catfish and tilapia, who instinctively try to swim upstream against the strong current. The Gudzani and Xinkelegane drainage lines also flowed tremendously during the rain, subsequently filling up Gudzani Dam and leaving the Xinkelegane flowing with crystal clear water, with an abundance of aquatic and insect life.
Animals are now spoiled for choice with the abundance of ground water, allowing the game to graze and browse in a wide variety of habitats and vegetation types that don’t usually have water nearby. This truly is the time of plenty. The pod of hippo that usually reside in the N’wanetsi River, north of Lebombo, have all moved further upstream, allowing submissive bulls plenty of space to move around without disturbing the larger, dominant male hippo.
The landscape is littered with a colourful array of wild flowers, giving the concession a fresh new look. Waist-high grass covers the plains, and we are seeing large numbers of game in areas that they usually do not frequent in the dry season. After the short but intense rains the insect population has boomed, allowing all the migratory birds to stock up with fuel before their long, arduous journey home.
Autumn is upon us, with the days shortening and temperatures dropping. Lower mid-morning temperatures, allow us to see more nocturnally active animals later in the day, who too are enjoying the break from the relentless summer heat.
Here’s a Sightings Snapshot for February:
Lion sightings have been good although tracking has been made difficult due to the long grass as a result of the excellent rainfall during the month. The Shishangaan Pride seem to have moved further west of the concession and we are not seeing them as regularly as before.
The Mountain Pride has been seen hunting regularly in the central part of the concession, and were seen feeding on a wildebeest kill towards the beginning of February.
The relatively new Mananga Pride seem to be taking over the northern part of the concession, with the void that the Shish Pride left. The Shish males seem to be spending time with these new females, and we hope to see a lot more of them.
Leopard sightings have been good along the N’wanetsi River as well as the granophyre ridge. The Dumbana young male has been providing wonderful sightings, and was seen more than seven times during the month of February.
The young Xhikova male was also seen a few kilometres north of the lodge drinking from the N’wanetsi.
We also had a few sightings of an unknown male leopard, scent marking the area towards the west of our concession.
We had two sightings of a female cheetah this month resting in the shade of an umbrella thorn in the northern parts of our concession. With the general length of the grass being quite tall, the cheetahs seem to favour areas where the grass cover is shorter.
Hyaenas were seen scavenging on an impala carcass that the Dumbana young male leopard killed.
Both the Granophyre and Nyokeni hyaena dens have been active this month, with adults and juveniles moving between the two den-sites, with the adults venturing further away in the search for food.
Elephants have been more dispersed due to the abundance of available food and water sources.
The breeding herd movements have been less predictable and infrequent, although we have been treated to various sightings of elephants in large numbers, over 150 strong in some instances.
The elephants in general are very relaxed and content at the moment, making full use of the seasonal resources available.
As usual for this time of the year big herds of buffalos have been seen in the north of the concession and some buffalo bulls to the south and middle of the concession.
A few older bulls are enjoying the bountiful Nwanesti River, with their movements very limited.
These older bulls are reluctant to move too far away from water, and are not keen to follow the nomadic herds, as such they provided us with fairly reliable sightings.
The basaltic plains in the centre of the concession have flushed with new grass after the rains, bringing in large herds of zebra, wildebeest and impala. It is a fantastic scene watching hundreds of these ungulates grazing peacefully in the open plains.
Some of the smaller cats have been seen recently – the very domestic-looking, African wild cat (Felis lybica) has been seen sporadically, with a particular female seen with young kittens. We also had a fantastic sighting of a majestic serval!
Birdlife has been sensational, with hundreds of migrants flocking to make full use of the abundance of insects after the rain. We have seen huge flocks of white storks roaming the plains, as well as a large number of migrant lesser spotted eagles feeding on termite alates, and the occasional quelea, who are also seen flying around the plains feeding on grass seeds. The quelea colony seems to be
across the Mozambique border in Karingani, treating us to late afternoon fly-bys of gigantic flocks.
The Amur falcons and barn swallows are stocking up on insects before their long journey back to the tip of the northern hemisphere, constantly chasing the summer and the host of food it brings.
A migrant pallid harrier was also seen hunting on the open basaltic plains to the west of the concession, not a very common bird for the area!
The walking conditions are improving daily as temperatures become milder, ground becomes drier and grass becomes shorter. No doubt guides and guests alike are itching to get out there on foot, and explore this unique landscape and view its fauna and flora from an entirely different perspective.