South Africa is still under lockdown with the Covid pandemic. The lodges have been empty of guests and both the international and provincial borders are closed. But we did have an incredible surprise this last month when Singita Kruger National Park was listed, by Travel and Leisure Magazine, as the Number 1 safari lodge (Lebombo and Sweni Lodges were seen together) in Africa, and tied (along with Awasi Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park) in the 9th position of “Top Hotels in the world”. Wow! What an honour!
We are deep into the winter months now. The skies are generally clear and blue and the mornings are crisp. We did experience a few brief cold snaps this month where we were all bundled up in our jackets and fleeces, but the middle of the days have been pleasant.
The grass has turned a golden yellow, except in some of the valleys where there are still some greener patches. Most of the leaves have dropped from the deciduous trees and the visibility into the bush is much better now. Bare patches of sand have appeared in certain areas such as the Central Depression.
The rivers are starting to dry up although there are still many pools and both the weir and Gudzani Dam have lots of water. Many of the seasonal pools in the valleys in the Lebombo Hills are now dry (with the exception of a few deeper ones such as Hyena Pan).
The aloes have been in full flower this last month, with bright pink or orange flashes in the hills where stands of these succulents grow. Another plant that has been in full flower this last month is the mistletoe, commonly known as the fiery plicocepalus (Plicosepalus kalachariensis), which is a parasitic plant that grows on the knob-thorn trees. This plant has bright pink flowers and is very pretty. Both the mistletoe and the aloes have lots of nectar and tend to attract the brightly coloured, metallic sunbirds. Most of the migrant birds have disappeared back north, although we do have a few altitudinal migrants that come down from the escarpment (where it is very chilly at the moment) to the warmer lowveld area. These include birds such as dusky flycatchers and stone-chats. The general game has been great this last month and areas close to pools of water have held good concentrations of zebras, wildebeest, impalas and waterbuck. We have also seen quite a few warthogs this last month and the population seems to have recovered nicely from the drought of the last few years.
Here’s a Sightings Snapshot for July:
Although we have not gone on many game-drives this last month we have still seen our fair share of lions (Singita Kruger National Park has become famous for lions and is fondly referred to as “Lebombo, Land of Lions”). The following groups / prides of lions were seen this last month.
Mountain Pride: The Mountain Pride have a territory that is centred in the central-northern part of the concession. As far as we know there are still twelve members of the Mountain Pride (four adult females, two sub-adult females, one sub-adult male, two older cubs and three new cubs). Most of the sightings that we have had of the Mountain Pride have been while we have been walking, which makes it very difficult to see exactly how many lions are there and which ones. We did have one sighting of the Mountain Pride having a conflict with another pride that we believe could have been the Northern Pride.
Northern Pride: We have been seeing three adult females and three cubs in the northern part of the concession. We believe that these could be a break-away group from the Northern Pride, which is a pride whose territory just enters into our concession in the far north and we do not often see these lions. These lions were seen feeding on a wildebeest in Cassia Open Area and were seen lying, a few days later, once again with full bellies, in an open sodic area on the north-western border of the concession.
Southern Pride: The Southern Pride is a large pride whose territory just pushes into our area from the south. The last time we were able to count them there were 17 individuals including a few sub-adult males. They have appeared at Dumbana Pools and on the S41 road (our western boundary) a few times this last month.
Shishangaan Pride: Shish Pride seem to be splitting and joining quite a bit. We have been seeing three females with four cubs and another two females with three cubs. On one occasion this month we saw three females with five cubs and so we are not certain whether one of the cubs and a female joined up with the other split. We mainly see Shish Pride in the southern part of the concession, near the lodge, along the N’wanetsi River up to Ostrich Fly Camp and to the east of the lodge in the Lebombo hills. They were seen feeding on a wildebeest, along with the Kumana Male close to camp. Toward the end of the month, they were seen feeding on a waterbuck carcass in front of the lodge.
Mananga Pride: They come in to the concession from the west and seem to like the area around Gudzani Dam. There could be up to six females, with three cubs, in the pride and they are generally seen with Xihamham (one of the Shish Males). We have not seen them frequently this month, although we are expecting to see more of them next month when the water dries up a bit and animals are attracted to Gudzani Dam.
Shishangaan Males: There are three Shish Males. Xihamham is generally seen with either Mananga Pride or Mountain Pride. The other two brothers were only seen once together this month, besides the sightings we had of a single Shish male. They are getting quite old now and with lots of sub-adult males moving through the area they could get into trouble soon.
Kumana Male: As far as we know there is only one Kumana Male left. He has been seen a few times in the company of the Shishangaan females and cubs. We have been hearing roaring frequently from the lodge at night.
Unknown males: One morning we found five unknown sub-adult male lions on the H6 public road, heading towards the concession. We are not sure if these sub-adults belong to the Southern Pride or not.
Unknown female and cub: One afternoon we found a lioness and a young male cub (+-1-year-old) on the border of South Africa and Mozambique. We are not sure who these lions are. (Maybe the younger Shirombe female who disappeared a few years ago?) The cub was very shy. They had full bellies.
A large male leopard was seen walking along the H6 road between Sonop waterhole and the lodges. He was very relaxed.
A young male leopard was found in an Apple-leaf tree with a young impala carcass, near Dumbana Pool.
Another young male leopard was seen feeding on an impala in a tree near Stream Shortcut. He was very relaxed (both with people on foot and vehicles – we found him initially while out on a walk). He then came down from the tree and relaxed in the shade in the dry riverbed and the staff who went out on a game-drive had fabulous views of him.
A female leopard and a youngster were seen on the rocks near Waterfall Crossing, in the Ntsibitsane Valley. They moved off fairly quickly when they saw the vehicle.
There has been a male leopard roaring around the lodges (particularly near Sweni Lodge) regularly at night this last month.
Two male cheetahs were seen, one day, lying on the road between Lebombo and Sweni Lodges. They were being teased by a flock of guineafowls. They were looking particularly emaciated.
Spotted Hyenas are seen fairly regularly in the concession, particularly when the cats make large kills.
One morning a leopard had made a kill and dragged the impala carcass up into a tree. A hyena was seen waiting patiently below the tree while the leopard fed. Eventually the carcass was knocked out of the tree and the hyena quickly stole it.
Four hyenas were seen feeding on a wildebeest carcass at Cassia Open Area.
On another occasion this last month a single hyena was seen, in the company of a jackal, near Cassia Open area. They were both patiently watching some lionesses feeding on a wildebeest carcass. It seems that the wildebeests that live in the Cassia area have been very unfortunate this month.
Whilst out on a walk near Monzo Open Area we came across two juvenile hyenas that quickly ran away. We assume that there might be an active den in the area. We need to investigate further.
We have had a few sightings of Spotted Hyenas on our western boundary road, when we have been checking the road for possible poacher tracks.
We have been seeing a fair number of elephants in the concession this last month. Sightings of elephants have generally been better late in the mornings or in the afternoons when they come down to drink at the river.
There has been a number of bull elephants moving around in the far north of the concession. They have been drinking at the Gudzani East waterhole.
We have had regular visits at the lodges from a particular herd of elephants. The matriarch has no tusks. They have been wreaking havoc with the lodge gardens!
There have been at least two different large herds (in excess of 150 individuals) that have been moving in and out of the concession.
We have also had a few sightings of dagha boys (old male buffalos), particularly in the valleys.
On one occasion a group of us were out on a walk when we got charged by two grumpy bulls. Fortunately, we managed to turn the buffalos and nobody (or the buffalos) were hurt. We think that these two bulls were particularly aggressive because of the presence of lions in the area.
The plains game has been fairly plentiful this last month. Large concentrations of animals have been seen, particularly in the open areas close to water (such as near Gudzani Dam, near Stream Shortcut, near Puff Adder Pool, near the Weir and in the Central Depression near Pony Pan). These herds often consist of wildebeest, zebras, impalas, warthogs and waterbuck.
Giraffe and greater kudu sightings have been good. They are often seen in the hills and in the scrubby vegetation.
Klipspringers have been seen a few times on the rocks at Xakamba Pan and on top of the cliffs near the Big Fig.
Rare animals and other sightings
Since most of the leaves have dropped from the deciduous trees and the grass is starting to thin out, we have started to see more of the unusual and smaller mammals.
We have had a few sightings of tiny Sharpe’s grysboks in the rocky and hilly areas.
We had a sighting of a side-striped jackal on the S41 dirt road one evening.
Honey badgers have been seen on a few occasions this last month. One caused chaos at N’wanetsi Staff Village when it chewed up the main water pipe! Another honey badger came sniffing around our camp-site as we were having a staff sleep-out.
Black-backed jackals have been seen fairly regularly at Golf Course Clearing, at the open areas of the N4 and in the open areas of the Central Depression.
A serval was seen, one morning, whilst driving on the S41.
Although we do see fewer species of birds in the concession during the winter months we have seen a total of 167 bird species this July.
Some of the highlights and rarer species seen this last month include common ostrich, saddle-billed stork, lappet-faced and white-headed vultures, martial eagle, dark chanting goshawk, kori bustard, Verreaux’s eagle-owl, African pygmy-kingfisher, trumpeter hornbill, southern ground-hornbill, eastern nicator and yellow-throated longclaw.
Undoubtedly the birding highlights this last month were a few sightings of pink-throated twinspots at Lebombo Lodge!